Tag: books

Jan 17 2017

Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is best known for her role in the Star Wars franchise as the iconic Princess Leia.  Many of us who are now adults spent long hours of our childhood pretending to be characters in the Star Wars universe.  Whether we were the snarky Princess escaping the clutches of the evil Lord Vader, the equally snarky and jaded smuggler Han Solo, or even the wise and stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars left an indelible mark on our formative years.  (Except for the prequels – those don’t actually exist)

What fewer people realize though is that in addition to being an accomplished actress, Fisher was also a prolific author.  Given the impact of Star Wars on my own childhood, and the recent revelation of Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original movie, I was excited to acquire a copy of Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.  Soon after came the news of Fisher’s sudden death, making her most recent book her final book.

Fisher opens her memoir with a recap of highlights from 1976, the year she began filming A New Hope.  A number of things happened in 1976, Fisher notes.  Apple was founded, Interview with a Vampire was first published, and U2 was formed.  It was also a year of significant world events including Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford in the Presidential election and Son of Sam killing his first victim.  Finally, it was the prelude to the year in which Fisher feels her life radically changed forever.

Before auditioning for Star Wars, Fisher played a minor role in Shampoo.  Having grown up in a Hollywood household as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher comments that at the time the last thing she thought she wanted to do was go into show business.  Nevertheless, she auditioned for Shampoo on a lark, thinking at 17, that it would be exciting to be wanted by Warren Beatty “in any capacity at all.”  She got the role and went back to living at home, hoping that perhaps she would be able to soon move out now that she was “hip”.

Two years later, having dropped out of high school and bored with college, Fisher auditioned for Star Wars while home on Christmas break.

George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. Fisher auditioned for both – originally hoping for Carrie over Star Wars because she thought “Carrie in Carrie would be a casting coup.”

DePalma primarily led the auditions as Lucas sat mostly mute, simply observing.  After stumbling through the seemingly inane questions of “I see you were in Shampoo, how was it working with Warren Beatty?” and revealing that she would drop out of college if given either role, Fisher was convinced she had bombed the audition.  Much to her amazement, however, her agent called her a couple of weeks later with the news that she had been cast.

At the start of filming, Fisher recalls trying to remain under the radar so that nobody would notice that she had not lost the 10 pounds that were part of her casting contract.  She muses that the now famous Princess Leia hairdo may have been used in part to keep her face from looking too big.

Fisher then dives into what she dubs “Carrison”:  i.e. her three month long affair with Harrison Ford.  Fisher starts by stating that she had spent so long not talking about the affair that it was hard to know where to begin talking about it now and in fact her thoughts on it are somewhat reticent and disjointed.

The affair began, she reveals, in the back of a taxi on the same night Ford rescued her from some crew members who had purposefully set about to get her drunk as a prank.  They had intense and frequent sex on the weekends while studiously ignoring each other during the week.

Although Fisher admits she entered into the movie with the idea of having an affair with a crew member or cast mate, she was surprised that it became Ford given that he was married at the time, and she had intense feelings of guilt over that issue.

Fisher writes with a style that is conversational but rambling.  She begins passages on one thought, finds another thought in the middle, and finally, ends on yet a third thought.  While her recollections are humorous, I found her style to be rather labyrinthine and as a result frequently re-read passages in an effort to keep track.

A vast portion of the middle of the book contains transcriptions of the diaries Fisher kept during her time filming the movie.  In these, she reveals a deeply insecure young woman who was extremely conflicted about her relationship with Ford.  In one entry, she laments her penchant for inaccessible men noting previous experimentation with gay men and then men whom she knew would treat her poorly.  In another, she notes that she thinks Ford is boring which he tries to make look deliberate as if he is “the strong silent type.”  Eventually, towards the end, she admits that she is falling for him hard and muses that things might have gone better for her if she had fallen for Mark Hamill instead.

At first reading, these entries seemed like the melodramatic over the top lamentations of a teenager.  Then, thinking about it, I realized that is exactly what they were as Fisher was not quite 20 during filming.  She may have been finally telling the story as a 60 year old, but the feelings and thoughts were still that of her 19 year old self.  Given that, it was easier to understand her perspective and even smile a little bit at the heightened drama.

While the book starts off slowly, it improves as Fisher eventually figures out what she wants to say and actually says it.

Fans of Fisher’s previous works such as Postcards from the Edge or Wishful Drinking will likely enjoy The Princess Diarist.  Fisher employs the same conversational tone in each and reveals much of her struggles with poor self-image and becoming permanently tied to the role of Princess Leia at such a young age.

Some readers may be put off by her snarky and sarcastic descriptions of fan interactions, while others may cringe good naturedly and recognize a bit of themselves at fan conventions or autograph signings.

Overall, The Princess Diarist is a quick and somewhat enjoyable read with several moments which will evoke feelings of poignancy in light of Fisher’s now posthumous telling.

 

Rating: 

Nov 15 2016

Review: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

The issue of bullying in teens and children has had an increase in awareness over the last few years, with countless news articles about teens or pre-teens who have been either victims or perpetrators.  Statistics show that approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day due to issues of bullying.  With those numbers in my head and a further awareness the bullied teens are nearly 10% more likely to consider suicide, I decided to review It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt.

It Looks Like This centers around Mike, a 15 year old boy whose parents have recently moved Mike and his little sister Toby to Virginia from Wisconsin.  Mike’s father is authoritarian and religious.  His mother is equally religious but quiet and almost subservient.

The book opens after its ending.  A short chapter shows Mike recalling a memory of a time watching the sunrise with the other main protagonist, Sean.  This moment sets the stage for the second chapter which jumps back to the beginning where Mike is revealed as the narrator.

Dismayed that his son is “soft”, Mike’s father pushes him towards sports and similar activities in an effort to “toughen him up.”  Mike, recognizing that he is a misfit both at home and at school, tries to appease his father but has neither the talent nor the passion.

After Mike is paired on a project in French class with another boy in his class, Sean, things begin to change.  The two quickly strike up a close friendship and the tentative beginnings of a romantic relationship.  Unfortunately, neither Mike nor Sean can escape their fathers.  Nor can they get away from Victor, another boy in their class who has targeted Mike with his bullying.

It Looks Like This touches on issues of homophobia, cyber-bullying, and conversion therapy.  Religion is a very significant specter in Mike’s relationships with his family and friends.  Several of Mike’s friends at school are also part of his church.  His father’s mercurial temper is deeply intertwined with his religious convictions.  His is the final word in the household, and Mike’s mother is either too afraid or too conditioned to speak out against her husband.

It Looks Like This contains a good but not a great story.  Much of the blame for this lies in the characterization.  Mittlefehldt paints many of his characters with the same brush.  All the men in Mike’s church are stern and distant, while the women are meek and submissive.  The church minister is a stereotypical hellfire and brimstone preacher.  Certain characters are introduced as if they are meant to have some impact on the storyline and then dropped with no significant development.

Many of the scenarios presented in It Looks Like This fall prey to cliche and stereotype.  Mike’s sexuality is suspect due to his disinterest in sports and his strong artistic talent.  The only two characters who defy stereotype and convention are Mike’s sister, Toby, and Mrs. Pilsner, the mother of one of his friends.

Finally, the overall undercurrent of gay bashing feels suspect.  The reader, who is privy to Mike’s inner thoughts and recounting of the events, is given occasional hints that he is gay, but to the outsider, there would be no reason to suspect, other than the fact that he is not athletic and enjoys art.

Readers who enjoyed It Looks Like This might also like Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian, or The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan.  Each of these books address issues of bullying, adapting to a new environment, and first loves.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda specifically deals with the issue of cyber-bullying and has a far lighter tone, although both it and It Looks Like This veer toward the predictable.  Simon Vs. the Homospiens Agenda never fully addresses the consequences of the characters actions.  It Looks Like This goes slightly further yet still does not show the events as having any long term consequences for the perpetrators.  In fact, it is Mike and Sean who suffer the greatest consequence from the actions done to them.

In contrast to It Looks Like This, Cut Both Ways takes a more serious approach to the issue of bullying and creates more realistic scenarios, placing it somewhere between Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and It Looks Like This in tone.

As with Cut Both Ways, The Tragedy Paper treats the issue of bullying with a serious tone.  Like Mike, Tim becomes the target of one particular individual who seeks him out with malicious intent.   Also like Mike, Tim stands out as different and awkward, though Tim’s differences are primarily physical whereas Mike’s are that he is quiet, introspective, and uncertain of his sexuality.

Other similarities between The Tragedy Paper and It Looks Like This include a singular tragic event for which both boys blame themselves and which will shape both their futures.  Mike, however, unlike Tim in The Tragedy Paper, has a minor but direct role in the tragic event.  Also, while Tim is targeted by Patrick the jealous boyfriend of his crush, no particular reason is given for Mike being targeted by Victor other than a subtle implication of self-directed homophobia.

It Looks Like This is enjoyable, although the first half drags somewhat.  I found that the pacing increased almost exactly half way through, as I had just reached the point where I was ready to give up when the momentum increased.  As such, the second half of the book was stronger and more enjoyable than the first half.

In addition, I found the books formatting to be distracting.  Mettlefehldt does not use quotation marks to indicate who is speaking, but rather depends on line breaks and “he said” or “she said”.  While the “he said” and “she said” is standard usage, the lack of visual indicators for speakers made it difficult in places to differentiate narrative and dialogue.  This choice is based on the fact that Mike is retelling events that have already happened, but I felt that it detracted from the story and interfered with my enjoyment of the book.

 

Rating: 

 

 

 

Jul 12 2016

Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day is a comedic auto-biography.  Well known within the blogging/vlogging community, Day is also something of a minority, as she is a prominent female gamer.  In addition, she has gained acclaim for her web series The Guild and is noted for her accessibility within the fan community.  As part of this, Day launched Geek and Sundry, a fan-oriented community in 2012.

Day begins her book by introducing herself to those who “have no idea who the hell I am.”  She recalls an incident during which she stopped at Build-A-Bear.  Having some time to kill, she is soon recognized by a few girls from the Hot Topic next door.  As they clamor to get pictures, a mother who is also shopping there asks “Are you an actress?”  Day explains she is also a producer and writer and then realizing she is rambling says “Yes, I’m an actress.”

What follows is a surreal moment in which neither the mother, her daughter, or the sales clerk recognize her, raising the defensive ire of the “Hot Topics” as Day has dubbed them.

Extracting herself from the situation as gracefully as possible, Day heads to tour the Virgin Galactic hangar as part of a social media invite.  Such is the surrealness of her life, she reflects.

Based on those two factors, Day makes the assumption that the reader is either extremely excited to read her book (“OMG! FELICIA DAY WROTE A BOOK!”) or extremely confused (“Who the hell is this chick?”)  For those in the former category, she thanks you.  For those in the latter category she hopes you will stick around.

The first chapter, “Why I’m Weird”, details Day’s eccentric childhood.  Having attended regular schools for kindergarten and first grade, Day is sent to a conservative Lutheran school for second grade.  Her parents were not religious, but the school was the best in their Alabama community.  Day reflect that she enjoyed the school except for having to attend chapel everyday.

Due to a chapel illustration involving the burning of money, Day is soon pulled out of the Lutheran school and placed into a school that practices “unschooling.”  Day states that she does not remember much about that place except that they quickly closed, having embezzled the parents’ money.

Soon Day’s father is transferred from Huntsville to Biloxi at which point it is decided that Day and her brother Ryon will be home-schooled.  This goes well for about a week until any semblance of structure in their lives gradually ebbs.

Having just moved and not being on any official government lists, there is no one to supervise their schooling.  Art becomes something along the lines of “Can the doodles in the margins of my geometry chapter count as art?”  “Sure!”, and history becomes driving around the state visiting all the Civil War sites.  The one constant in their education is that they are expected to read constantly.

Eventually Day’s father becomes concerned, and Day and her brother are signed up for an  extensive array of lessons.  Ballet, jazz, martial arts, watercoloring, etc.  If it was available and fit into their schedule, Day and her brother were signed up for it.  Eventually Day makes her way to the end of her education and, during the writing of her book, realizes she has two college degrees but no high school diploma.

Having done some acting and modeling as a child, Day decides to return to Los Angeles after college to pursue an acting career.  Two months after moving, Day wraps up her first real acting stint and is cut a check for 90 dollars which bounces.  On follow up, Day finds out that the production company had shut down and disappeared.  She never got paid.  She does, however, decide to frame the check as a funny story to tell on Actors Studio after she is successful.

In 2005, at the peak of what Day refers to as her “auditioning for burger commercials” career, her brother invites her to play a new game called World of Warcraft.  Through the game, Day is able to connect with her brother and make new friends, but quickly becomes addicted, forgoing auditions, personal relationships, and most outside activities.  Day later draws on her experiences during this time in the creation of her web series The Guild which, in turn, is the work that finally launched her career.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a fun and honest look into the early life and struggles of someone who has managed to make a career out of being socially awkward.  The Guild has won several awards for online series, and in 2009 was labeled “one of the Nets best serial shows” by Rolling Stone.  Geek and Sundry was launched in 2012 as part of YouTube’s 100 million dollar original channel initiative.

Day writes in an easy, conversational voice.  The tone of her writing belies the fact that Day is, in fact, an intense intellectual who started college at the age of 16 and graduated in the top four percent with dual degrees in mathematics and violin performance.  While her insecurities may seem off putting to some readers, Day manages to remain relatable with her comedic self-deprecation.

Readers who enjoyed Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton, or Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson should enjoy You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).  All three books are written by celebrities who exude more of an Everyman persona.  Each of the authors is well known for their approachability and their frequent, personal interactions with fans.  All three authors have also shared intimate details their mutual struggles with anxiety and depression, allowing insight into their treatment, how these issues have impacted their careers and their creative efforts.  Finally, the three authors have developed lasting personal friendships with each other.  This has resulted in overlap in not only their books, but many of their professional endeavors.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a fun and quirky read accessible even to those who have never heard the name Felicia Day.

 

Rating: 

Jun 21 2016

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Over the course of his career, Neil Gaiman has written a number of essays, introductions, and speeches.  The View from the Cheap Seats pulls together over sixty of these pieces in one place for the first time.

For veteran fans of Gaiman, many of these writings will revisit previously seen works.  For newer fans, The View from the Cheap Seats is a rare and quite interesting look into the mind of one of the greatest modern writers.

The book’s preface sets the tone the collection with Gaiman’s personal credo: a very brief summary of the basic tenants by which he lives his life and which influence his writings.

Many of Gaiman’s beliefs seem self-evident: killing or maiming others to suppress ideas doesn’t work.  Neither does attempting to control the ideas or thoughts of others.  Gaiman argues that ideas in and of themselves are neither good nor bad – they simply exist and members of society should be free to express those ideas no matter how vile or reprehensible they seem to others.  Rather, Gaiman states, it is up to each person to counter and persuade those representing the vile and reprehensible over to their side.

From there, Gaiman jumps into a speech on the importance of libraries that he gave in 2013 for the Reading Agency, a U.K. charity whose mission is to help people become more confident readers. Gaiman admits that, as an author, he is biased towards libraries.  He also gives the reader a small insight into how libraries and librarians shaped his path when he was a child.  During the summer months, his parents dropped him at the library on their way to work and picked him up on their way home.  There he worked his way through the card catalogue looking for books on vampires, witches, detectives, and other wonders.  After he had finished with the children’s library, he began on the adult books.  During this process, the librarians nurtured his love of reading by teaching him about interlibrary loans and steering him toward other books he might enjoy.

Touching on his personal credo from the opening of the book, Gaiman later talks about Charlie Hebdo and the PEN literary gala.  Since six tables had pulled out of hosting tables and so Gaiman was asked if he would step in to host one.  He agreed and what follows is a deeply personal and touching moment between him and his wife, Amanda Palmer.  Palmer tells him he is doing the right thing and then asks “Will you wear a bullet proof vest?”  Gaiman argues that security will be tight and tries to assuage her fears by assuring her a vest will not be necessary.

“But you should wear a vest anyway.” Palmer argues.  “Remember, I’m pregnant, and our child will need a father more than a martyr.”  In the end, Gaiman does not wear the vest, but the exchange is a startling reminder of the power of ideas and words.  Comics and cartoons can viscerally offend, Gaiman argues, but that does not mean they should not be defended.  In closing, he quotes the editor in chief of Charlie Hebdo “Growing up to be a citizen is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images can be shocking.  Being shocked is part of democratic debate.  Being shot is not.”

The View from the Cheap Seats is an odd mixture in both quality and subject matter.  Some of the writings are deeply personal, giving the reader a rare and intimate view into the writer’s childhood, school life, and very early career.  Gaiman shares his personal insecurities in interviewing authors he has long admired and reveals the origins of his friendships with figures such as Tori Amos, and Terry Pratchett.  Included among these is a moving tribute to Douglas Adams.

Other elements of the book are as ungainly as their titles suggest, such as “A Speech to Professionals Contemplating Alternative Employment, Given at PROCON, April 1997.”  As a reader and a reviewer that particular entry was a head scratcher.  Even in the seemingly banal, however, Gaiman manages to shine by offering an intriguing look into the publishing industry just before the Internet exploded and changed everything.

Throughout the book are numerous personal anecdotes of people famous and otherwise with whom Gaiman has formed close relationships over the course of his career.  Few though are as touching as the tribute to his wife’s late surrogate father, Anthony.

Intertwining themes of living and dying, Gaiman reveals the path of his relationship with Palmer and by extension, Anthony.  Ironically, Gaiman and Palmer meet as a result of her commissioning Gaiman to write a handful of stories and poems for her album “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?”  During their first date, she introduces Gaiman to Anthony who proclaims that he thinks Gaiman would make a good boyfriend.  Despite not yet realizing Anthony’s importance to Palmer, Gaiman is nonetheless pleased.  Anthony soon becomes not simply Palmer’s close friend but a trusted confidant and counsel to Gaiman.  Then, approximately six months after Gaiman and Palmer are married, Anthony is diagnosed with leukemia.  In the midst of this, two other of Gaiman and Palmer’s friends die unexpectedly.  Finally, the news is delivered that Anthony is in remission.  Sadly, however, a post-script reveals that Anthony in fact died from leukemia in June of 2015.  What is not revealed in the piece, but is of importance, is that three months later, Palmer gave birth to a son, named Anthony in honor of their dear friend.

Fans of Gaiman’s previous works will find themselves enthralled with The View from the Cheap Seats.  Gaiman has long had a reputation for being open and accessible to fans.  The View from the Cheap Seats, however, offers a deeper, more intimate look at Gaiman’s early life and career.  One can easily imagine from his prose a serious and quiet little Neil Gaiman stuffed into the corner of his local library.

Those previously unfamiliar with Gaiman should enjoy his conversational style and dry humor.  Gaiman is that rare mixture of both famous and unassuming.  It is clear from his writing and the stories he relates that he is exactly as he seems: a somewhat befuddled English bloke who likes to tell stories.

 

Rating: 

May 10 2016

Review: Books to TV shows

Having previously done a review on books made into movies, I decided this month to tackle books or book series that are currently in development of or in the midst of their first television season.

Shannara by Terry Brooks begins with the The Sword of Shannara and currently continues through The Darkling Child.  Brooks’ primary work has been the Shannara series, but he is also well known for the Magic Kingdom at Landover series.

The Shannara series takes place on Earth, approximately 2000 years after a great nuclear holocaust has destroyed most of the planet.  Over the years following The Great Wars, mankind evolves into four distinct races:  Men, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Trolls.  In addition, Elves have emerged after centuries of hiding.

The television series begins with characters and events of the second book in the series, The Elfstones of Shannara.  The novel introduces the reader to Wil Ohmsford, (grandson of Shea, the main character in the first novel)   Wil inherits the Elfstones and through the instruction of the druid Allanon teams up with Amberle Elessedil, (granddaughter of the King of the Elves) and  Eretia, a Rover (a race of humans who live as gypsies).

Together the three, accompanied by Allanon, embark on a quest to save the Elcryss, a magical tree which keeps the Demons locked away from the Four Lands.

Brooks has long been a favorite of fantasy lovers, and the Shannara series makes it clear why.  Long compared to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, Shannara pulls the reader into a world that is every bit as compelling as Middle Earth without the over verbosity for which Tolkien’s work is known.  Readers who enjoy the Shanarra series may also enjoy the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind or The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

 

Rating: 


The Magicians by Lev Grossman has been frequently described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups.”  The novel centers around Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior from Brooklyn.  Quentin has long been obsessed with a series of books about a group of children who discover a Narnia-like land called Fillory.  On the day of his admissions interview to Princeton, Quentin is instead evaluated for and admitted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.  Here he becomes engrossed in learning magic and in the fight against a mythical enemy called “The Beast”.

There are significant changes from the books to the television series, including aging Quentin and the other characters from high school seniors to adults in their mid-20’s embarking on graduate school.  In addition, in the television adaptation, more emphasis is placed on Quentin’s depression.  In the opening of the television series, he is shown being released from a mental hospital. None of that occurs in the books where he is portrayed as simply being more aloof or disaffected than his peers.

The Magicians is at times a brilliant piece of parody, acknowledging and perhaps mildly poking fun at similar books such as the Harry Potter series and The Chronicles of Narnia.  At other times it drags slightly with the characters appearing overly negative or cynical.  These issues are easily overlooked, however, against Grossman’s excellent use of dialogue and characterization.

Readers who grew up on Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia may find themselves drawn to The Magicians based on the obvious similarities, and indeed, it would be easy to dismiss The Magicians as a Harry Potter or Narnia rip off without deeper investigation, but readers will quickly realize that Grossman has created a darker, more grown-up world which acknowledges the fantasy of the other worlds but which also recognizes that being magical does not guarantee greatness.

Readers may also enjoy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke or Soon I Will Be Invincible by Lev Grossman’s brother Austin Grossman.

 

Rating: 


American Gods by Neil Gaiman centers around the idea that the ancient stories of gods and mythological creatures are real.  Since people have stopped believing in them, they have faded into obscurity having been replaced by new gods of technology, drugs, and celebrity.

The novel opens with Shadow, a convict who, days before he is due to be released on parole, receives word that his wife and his best friend have been killed in a car accident.  Consumed by grief, Shadow takes a job as a bodyguard for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who appears to know a great deal about Shadow’s life without having been told.  Soon they embark on a journey across America where Shadow learns the truth about all the gods, old and new.

Gaiman is an established author known for books such as Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and the acclaimed graphic novel Sandman.  In addition to American Gods, Gaiman’s Sandman spin-off, Lucifer has also been made into a current Fox TV show.

Gaiman shines throughout all of his writing and American Gods is no exception.  From the easily imaginable physical descriptions, to Gaiman’s solid use of dialogue, readers will be drawn into the world of American Gods and Shadow’s life.  As with many of Gaiman’s previous novels, American Gods draws on the idea that ancient legends and fairy tales have a foundation in reality.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane Gaiman created a world in which fairies co-exist with mortals.  In Lucifer, Satan  has become bored with ruling Hell and has instead taken up residence in Los Angeles as the owner of a piano bar.  In American Gods a world is imagined in which the gods of Norse, Greek, and other cultures co-exist with mortals.

Readers starting with American Gods should investigate Gaiman’s other works such as Coraline, Neverwhere, or Good Omens (co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett).  Readers familiar with Gaiman’s work may also want to consider John Dies at the End by David Wong or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams.

Each of these novels provides a good foundation for their TV adaptations, and readers should find something to enjoy in all of them.

 

Rating: 

Apr 28 2015

Review: Trigger Warning and Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman

As I was planning this column, I began thinking about the concept of fairy tales – not fairy tales in the Hollywood Disney sense, but rather fairy tales as a learning tool, an instruction that the good guys do not always win.  With that in mind, I chose two recent books by Neil Gaiman, whom I consider a master at telling modern fairy tales.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman is the third collection of the author’s short fiction.

The titular concept stems from the phrase which is often used to warn readers or viewers of potentially disturbing or graphic material.  Gaiman developed the idea after seeing numerous uses of the phrase online.  He wondered if at some point it would be applied to his own works and whether or not it should be.  Finally, he decided he should be the one to do it first.

Each story has appeared previously in various anthologies or collected works.  Trigger Warning, however, collects them all together for the first time into a single cohesive theme.

From the lightest to the most terrifying, Gaiman creates a world of unconventional and sometimes whimsical fairy tales for adults.  In keeping with his own theme, Gaiman cautions readers in the forward:  “Many of these stories end badly for at least one of the people in them.  Consider yourself warned.”

Gaiman’s collection starts out simply enough in “Making a Chair”.  In the simple prose about struggling through a creative block, Gaiman muses as to whether or not building a book should come with the same sort of warnings a chair does.  “Do not use as a stool or stepladder.  Failure to follow these warnings can result in serious injury.”

In many ways, the story comes across as a mockery of the idea of trigger warnings.  Gaiman subscribes to the Aristotle way of thinking.  Aristotle believed that seeing horrors committed on stage would allow people to experience those horrors and the feelings they evoke in a safe environment and would keep them from acting out their urges on society.  Gaiman takes a similar approach.  He purports that the things which shock or disturb, are the things which most make us think and grow.  With that in mind, it does appear at times that Gaiman is making a particular effort to disturb the reader.  Such is the case in “Down to a Sunless Sea” in which an old woman wears a bone from her dead son as a necklace and in the end reveals a terrible secret.

“Orange”, written completely in questionnaire form, is a brilliant cautionary tale about becoming addicted to tanning lotion.  While many of the answers will illicit a chuckle, there is an underlying sinisterness to the tone, and readers will be longing for Gaiman to fill in the gaps.

“Click-Clack the Rattlebag” begins innocuously enough with a young man meeting his girlfriend’s little brother for the first time.  The little boy takes an immediate liking to the boyfriend and asks to be told a story.  Specifically, a click-clack the rattlebag story.  As the story unfolds the boyfriend learns all about the click-clack rattle bag and the reader is left with an ending that will leave even the adults checking under the bed at night.

Gaiman also lets loose his fanboy side.  “The Case of Death and Honey” follows Sherlock Holmes into retirement and reveals the true reason Holmes took up bee-keeping in his retirement.  “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was written as a present for Bradbury’s 90th birthday.  It is a poignant tale of loss, and Gaiman writes it with such sadness and eloquence that one can’t help but mourn the loss of things forgotten.  Finally, “Nothing O’Clock” delves into the world of Doctor Who.  Gaiman is well known for having written two episodes of Doctor Who and one can see hints of those stories in “Nothing O’Clock.”

 

Rating: 


Hansel and Gretel, Gaiman’s most recent book for children, makes a fine companion piece to Trigger Warning.  A re-telling of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel takes a similar approach to Trigger Warning in that Gaiman thinks children should be exposed to dark things, stating “…if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up.”  He then adds “…it is really important to show dark things to kids—and in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back. Tell them you can win. Because you can, but you have to know that.”

One notable change in Gaiman’s version from the more recent editions is that Gaiman takes care to preserve one of the more controversial elements of the Grimm Brother’s version:  the mother.  At some point in the mid 19th century, the female antagonist transitioned from biological mother to step-mother.  Gaiman restores the original version, allowing the story to take on a macabre overtone.

Gaiman’s witch is also a more sinister character than later tellings.  In the modern tellings the witch comes across as a deranged caricature – a demented hag who perhaps is not fully cognizant of the fact that she is eating children.  In Gaiman’s version, the witch is instead simply a bitter, dragged down old woman who happens to have a taste for human flesh.

Illustrations by Lorenzo Mattoti enhance the creep factor of the fairy tale. Initially the black and white ink sketches appear haphazard and non-cohesive.  Upon further inspection, however, the reader sees the subtle features of the main characters as they are lost in the forest or as Hansel sits in jail waiting his execution.  Rather than detract, these illustrations evoke a sense of heaviness and even dread in the reader.  Patches of white are used sparsely until the final Happily Ever After where the white fills nearly the entire page, deftly filling the reader with a sense of joy and victory.

Though perhaps not recommended bedtime reading, at least not for the easily frightened, Trigger Warning and Hansel and Gretel will easily become new favorites for fans, young and old, of Gaiman’s work.

 

Rating: 

Feb 24 2015

Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler recalls the relationship between Isabelle McCallister and Dorrie Curtis, her hair dresser.  The novel begins with a brief introduction by the main character Isabelle.  She confesses that she feels she acted horribly towards Dorrie on their first meeting: her regular hair dresser had quit and Isabelle is not a big fan of change.  As the years pass, they form a friendship which on the surface seems unlikely.  Isabelle is 89 and white, whereas Dorrie is in her mid-30’s and African American.  Although neither woman says it out loud, they come to depend and rely on each other and their bond deepens to that of a mother/daughter relationship.

Still, Dorrie is taken aback when Isabelle approaches her and asks Dorrie to drive her from their home in Texas to a funeral in Cincinnati.  Isabelle does not initially say who the funeral is for, and Dorrie, in an effort to respect her privacy doesn’t ask.  As the two travel, Isabelle begins to recall events from life as a young woman of 16 to the present.

Told in alternating perspectives, starting with Isabelle in 1939, the reader discovers alongside Dorrie how Isabelle fell in love with and married Robert Prewitt, the son of her family’s “colored” housemaid.

As the story unfolds, Kibler allows the reader to experience Isabelle and Robert’s relationship almost as an intimate participant.  We learn of Isabelle’s overbearing mother, her good old boy brothers, and her caring but ineffectual father.  Interspersed in this, we also see Dorrie’s reaction and how it impacts her dealings with her own family and romantic relationships.

Calling Me Home will draw immediate and obvious comparisons to Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.  Both are debut novels which deal with race relations in the United States during the early and mid days of the Civil Rights Movement.  In contrast to The Help, which takes place in the 1960’s and surrounds the lives of an extensive group of people, Calling Me Home focuses primarily on Isabelle, Robert, and their immediate families.

In addition, The Help touches on the impact people such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X have on the characters’ lives, whereas Calling Me Home takes place before those figures rose to prominence.

Finally, in Calling Me Home, Isabelle is a naive and idealistic woman in love, whereas in The Help, Skeeter views herself as an activist.

Calling Me Home drew me in from the beginning and even now, weeks after finishing, has not fully let go.  I became so fully immersed in the book that I had to stop in the middle of a shopping trip to find a place where I could sit and finish it.  In the end, I felt as if I had been put through an emotional wringer.  While the book ends on a positive note, it does not neatly tie up all the loose ends – much like real life.

Calling Me Home is likely to prompt considerable discussion among readers.  The novel does an excellent job of showing the reader that while society has progressed considerably since 1939, things are still not where they should be in the year 2015.  Seeing the characters dealing with concerns such as where their marriage will be legal or clergy who tell them their marriage is an abomination or un-Biblical, drew significant parallels for me in the current struggle for gay rights and marriage equality.  In addition, reading this novel in light of the recent events of Ferguson and elsewhere shows the reader how little certain things have changed.

Kibler writes with a style that draws the reader deep into the story in a subtle and eloquent manner.  I found the story so engrossing that I experienced a certain element of culture shock coming out of the novel.  The slow but natural development of Isabelle and Robert’s relationship over the course of many months felt neither rushed nor drawn out.  Many moments of their transition from passing acquaintances to newlyweds had me waiting with a sense of anticipation to see what would bring them together and what would be the factor that tore them apart.  Isabelle and Robert both read as true to life characters.  Robert is cautious where Isabelle is spontaneous, which is in keeping with their respective roles in society.  At first I struggled with the idea of Isabelle as the pursuer in her relationship with Robert, but as the book progressed, I began to see how Isabelle would be drawn to Robert’s quiet personality.  Both are intellectuals and voracious readers, are misfits within their own families, and have an idealistic desire to change the world in which they live.

While Kibler did an excellent job of developing the primary characters of Robert and Isabelle, I did find myself connecting less with Dorrie and some of the secondary characters.  Dorrie came off as unnecessarily angry and while Kibler adequately explained that Dorrie had been deeply hurt by her ex-husband and other significant family struggles, I did not feel they warranted her hostility towards society as a whole.

I also wanted to understand more of Isabelle’s father.  It is clear by his actions that he did not agree with the societal view towards African-Americans.  He encourages Robert’s aspirations of becoming a doctor, takes time out of his own schedule as a physician to tutor Robert, and contributes funds in order to ensure Robert’s proper education, but is completely ineffectual when it comes to his own daughter.  In contrast, the characterization of Isabelle’s mother was solidly written.  The reader came to discover how her lower class background drove her fight for a place in “proper society”, and the lengths to which she would go to keep up her carefully crafted appearances.

Calling Me Home is a compelling tale that handles decades of race relations with sensitivity while not shying away from harsher elements.  Certain scenarios are predictable and familiar, but Kibler doles out the story in small enough increments to keep the reader hanging until the surprising end.

Jan 13 2015

Review: As You Wish and What If?

Nearly everyone who grew up during the 1980’s has a special fondness for the movie The Princess Bride.  Adults who would have been in their teens when the movie was first released understand the special meaning of the phrase “As You Wish”, are perhaps just a little suspicious of anyone with six fingers, and know that you should never get involved in a land war in Asia.

In honor of the movie’s twenty-seventh anniversary, Cary Elwes, best known as Westley, has released a behind the scenes retrospective.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride recalls Elwes’ memories of landing the role (a Bill Cosby impression is involved) and working with director Rob Reiner and writer Bill Goldman.  Elwes also discusses working with actors such as Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Billy Crystal, all of whom he interviewed for the book.  In addition, Elwes recounts the various challenges and setbacks that went into getting the film to the screen.  Since the book’s publication in 1973, a number of big names from Robert Redford to Francis Truffaut had toyed with trying their hand at a film.  The issue was that no one quite knew what to do with a sometimes silly, sometimes serious, and sometimes satirical swashbuckling romance.  Finally, Rob Reiner, fresh off the success of Stand By Me was offered a carte blanche choice by Columbia Studios.  By that point, The Princess Bride had earned a reputation as unfilmable and did in fact meet with a mediocre response at best upon opening.  Thanks to the advent of the VCR, however, The Princess Bride found it’s way into the homes of millions and became a sleeper hit.

Elwes’ writes as if he and the reader are two chums recalling old times while sitting in front of a fire.  Each knows all the stories of the other but still can’t resist repeating them just one more time.  His narrative style is casual with a few previously unknown bits of trivia thrown in for good measure.  As a reader, I found myself wanting just a little more, while as an avid fan of the movie I found myself enjoying the sidebar bits from others involved in the movie.

Casual fans of the movie or those looking for a sensationalistic soap opera will be disappointed.  Hard core fans who can recite every line on a whim, will find enjoyment.

Interesting bits of trivia include Elwes detailing the intense training he and Patinkin endured in order to pull off “the sword fight to end all sword fights”, Billy Crystal’s ad-lib “have fun storming the castle”, and Shawn’s constant fear that he would be replaced by Danny DeVito.  One is left with the feeling that perhaps Elwes is holding back even as his praise of his co-stars is ebullient.  Overall, As You Wish makes a nice book for the more earnest of fans, but will fail to impress casual readers.

 

Rating: 


What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe does exactly what the title says.  Munroe, a former roboticist for NASA, is best known for his webcomic xkcd.  Drawn primarily using basic stick figure characters, xkcd address issues from love and life to scientific or mathematical in-jokes.  Occasionally the strip features intricate landscapes or mathematical patterns.  In July 2012, Munroe launched a secondary website entitled What If? in which he answered reader submitted questions.  This book is compiled from those questions.

Though a math and science book at it’s core, What If? presents its subject matter in a light hearted, easily accessible manner.  Questions range from the reasonably serious “How dangerous is it, really, to be in a pool during a thunderstorm?”  (Answer:  Pretty dangerous) to the more silly such as “From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?”  (Answer: you can’t really.)  Interspersed among the explanations, Munroe has inserted xkcd-style illustrations which create a better understanding for the reader.

Sprinkled throughout the book are twelve questions that Munroe decided not to answer or gave very abbreviated answers.  Labeled “weird and worrying questions from the inbox”, these include questions such as “Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself?”  or “What if I swallow a tick that has Lyme disease?  Would I get Lyme disease from the inside out?”  In some respects I found these more entertaining than the rest of the book, in that they are of a more personal nature.

Non scientific or mathematically inclined readers should not be put off by the subject matter.  Although some of the explanations involve equations and scientific premises with which I was unfamiliar, they are presented in an easily understandable and accessible manner.  In addition, the book presents some interesting real life application to the science fiction or fantasy world.  For example, the Death Star in Star Wars essentially created a 15 magnitude earthquake on Alderaan.  (This segues into an explanation of what it would be like if earthquakes with a negative magnitude hit your house.)

Readers familiar with Munroe’s work will find the same dry humor in longer form.  With more room in which to create his explanations, Munroe is able to stretch the humor and create a better set up for the sketches.

Newcomers or casual acquaintances will find themselves hooked from the disclaimer gracing the first page.  Even the book itself maintains the xkcd style in that the inside cover is actually a full-size infographic of what the Earth would look like if the oceans were drained from the bottom of the Marianas trench.  Instead of the normal praise from other authors, the back of the book is a collection of things the reader might want to know before making their purchase.  For example, “Humans can’t digest the cellulose in paper, but if we could, eating this book would give you about 2,300 calories.”

What If? is a highly entertaining book which will make the reader laugh at least as much as it makes them think.

 

Rating: 

 

 

 

Dec 23 2014

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian by Andy Weir begins as a typical castaway tale:  the protagonist finds himself suddenly alone in a barren wasteland dependent only on his wits to survive.  In this case, however, the castaway is astronaut Mark Watney and the barren wasteland Mars.

A sudden sandstorm forces the Ares 3 crew to abort their mission early.  Mark, having been impaled by a satellite antenna and then seen tumbling down a hill, is presumed dead and left behind.  Mark survives his injuries but awakens to the realization that he is alone, the next manned mission isn’t scheduled to arrive for four years, and even with rationing he only has enough food to last a little over a year.

From the first line of the novel (“I’m pretty much fucked.”), Mark approaches his situation with humor and ingenuity.  Possessed of a firm stubborn streak, Mark decides that rather than be the first person to die on Mars, he’s going to be the first person to live on Mars.  So begins the “Mark Watney doesn’t die” project.

Quickly engaging the reader, the story follows Mark as he works to keep himself alive for the next four years.  Using personal log entries, Mark chronicles his successes (farming potatoes using a mixture of Earth and Martian soil combined with water made from rocket fuel) and his failures (nearly blowing himself into oblivion while trying to make said water).  Things get even more interesting when NASA realizes through analyzing satellite imagery that Mark is still alive.

Interspersed with the log entries are alternating chapters (told from a third person narrative) which show NASA in crisis mode and give the reader insight into the minds of those making life or death decisions from almost 250 million miles away.

Other reviewers have compared The Martian to Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, or even to early science fiction classics such as Rex Gordon’s No Man Friday or Welcome to Mars by James Blish.

Life as We Knew It shares very little with The Martian in my mind.  Both feature strong protagonists of above average intelligence, and both have a strong set of secondary characters designed to help the main character achieve survival, but the similarities end there.  The Martian  reads more in the style of classic science fiction, where Life As We Knew It, reads more like another in a long line of post-apocalyptic YA novels.

Comparing The Martian to No Man Friday or Welcome to Mars is far more fair, but both fall victim to their time period.  The scientific accuracy of No Man Friday is quite plausible for the mid 1950’s.  The narrator, Rex Gordon, follows much the same process as Mark Watney in producing oxygen and water, and the ship used to carry the seven astronauts to Mars bears a marked resemblance to the pointy rockets used in the early space race.  In addition, both novels clearly owe a considerable amount of their plots to Robinson Crusoe, and No Man Friday in fact references it frequently.  At this point however, their plots diverge as Gordon discovers and tries to communicate with giant Martian centipedes, while Mark remains alone.

In Welcome to Mars, eighteen year old Dolph Haertel invents an anti-gravity device and then, telling his parents he’s going camping for the weekend, sets off for Mars.  I am in fact not completely convinced that Welcome to Mars was not deliberately farsicle.  The novel is set sometime between the 1980’s and 1990’s and yet man has not yet travelled to the moon.  Also, Haertel’s science is described in the novel as having “swallowed Einstein the way Einstein swallowed Newton…”

Hartel is conveniently joined by his Earthly girlfriend with whom he left the instructions for his anti-gravity device and together they discover oxygen producing lichens growing on the planet.

Aside from the common element of becoming stranded, I did not feel that Welcome to Mars is a fair comparison to The Martian by even the most generous stretch of the imagination.

Searching for more reasonable comparisons, I found The Martian far more comparable to Year Zero by Rob Reid.

As with Year Zero, The Martian’s protagonist is a completely believable character.  While it would have been easy to create a hero who is in all ways better than everyone else, Weir avoids this by creating Mark as someone who is more likely to annoy others with his glib humor than incite hero worship.  As a reader, I enjoyed the gallows humor and sarcastic quips, but to others this may be off-putting.  While Nick Carter in Year Zero was decidedly more self centered than Mark Watney, both share the same devil may care attitude, and a tendency to channel their inner twelve year old when cracking jokes.

Year Zero’s tone is far more reminscent of Douglas Adams, but both novels intermingle a bit of fun within the seriousness, and each has more than a few laugh out loud moments.  Mark and Nick’s approach their respective situations creates a sense of of levity, offsetting what could otherwise turn into a festival of wallow and self pity.

Mark’s experiments with modifying the NASA Hab for long term use, show not just unique creativity, but also serve to demonstrate the extreme lengths to which a person is driven by the simple will to survive.  As a reader, I found myself quickly engrossed in the storyline, cheering for Mark with each success and feeling a genuine sense of disappointment or anxiety with each failure.

Weir’s attention to detail and his scientific accuracy is nearly impeccable.  Those looking for plausibility will be hard pressed to find fault in Weir’s research.  Those with a less technical mindset or without a fairly advanced level of scientific knowledge may find themselves bogged down by some of the details.  I found myself having to stop on more than one occasion to Google various aspects of Mark’s McGyver-like maneuvers, which was at times jarring due to how engrossed I had been in the book up to that point.

I would encourage the reader to stick with the book, however, as The Martian features a complex, fast paced plot that immediately draws in the reader, making them eager to follow along on Project Mark Watney Doesn’t Die.

 

Rating: 

Nov 11 2014

Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple centers around Bernadette Fox and her family over the course of several months.

Once a renowned architect, Bernadette now spends most of her time sitting in an Air Stream trailer parked in their backyard.  Bernadette’s husband, Elgin, is a high level executive at Microsoft, and her daughter Bee has just graduated from eighth grade at Galer, a prestigious local prep school.

Told in the first person perspective, the book opens with Bee asking her parents for a trip to Antartica as a graduation present.  For Bernadette, who is already reclusive and borderline agoraphobic, the idea of such a trip becomes the catalyst for an emotional breakdown.

Soon she is outsourcing the majority of her daily tasks to India and becomes engaged in an all out war with several of the mothers at her daughter’s school, who she refers to as “gnats”.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? begins as a humorous and lighthearted tale.  Bernadette’s long and rambling emails to Manjula, the virtual personal assistant she has hired, give the reader hilarious insight into Bernadette’s inner workings.  Remarks that might otherwise seem mildly offensive come out of Bernadette with an unabashed matter of factness.  In the midst of the humor, however, Semple gives the reader tiny glimpses of an underlying darker storyline.

Bernadette’s marriage is in trouble.  Her husband Elgin takes the Microsoft bus to work every day so as to escape his wife an hour early.  Bernadette decries what she views as the Seattle chic while her husband thrives in the same environment.  Bee loves both her parents deeply but feels abandoned by her father due to his long working hours and is burdened by worry over her mother’s growing eccentricities.  Bernadette in turn has been worn down first by several miscarriages, then by worry over Bee’s childhood health issues, and now from the haunting of past failures.

Semple presents all these with humor and grace but does not fall into the trap of painting her characters without fault.  Bernadette thinks herself smarter than nearly everyone else and has come to the belief that all of life’s problems can be solved with money.  In the midst of this, Semple introduces a bevy of supporting characters such as Audrey, one of the Galer moms, Audrey’s son Kyle who is the school drug dealer, and Soo-Lin-Lee-Segal, Elgin’s assistant and possible lover.

Semple does a brilliant job of creating characters the reader is eager to hate but winds up feeling sympathetic towards.  Audrey is oblivious to her son’s extra curricular activities and is dealing with a crumbling marriage of her own.  Soo-Lin-Lee is a recent divorcee, newly single mother, and a charter member of Victims against Victimhood (VAV).

Often in novels, supporting characters fade too quickly into the background or fall into the trap of becoming cliched.  Semple, however, brings each of them to the foreground just often enough to be integral to the overall storyline but not so much as to interfere with the plot of the main characters.  In addition, Semple confronts the cliches head on and treats them with a humor that is almost surgical in its precision and delicacy.  Semple divides Where’d You Go, Bernadette? into seven parts.  Each part deals with a different aspect of the titular question, weaving it into a complex literal and metaphorical form.

Viewers of Mad About You or Arrested Development will already be familiar with Semple’s comedic style as she was a writer on both shows.  Readers who enjoyed Rob Reid’s Year Zero may also enjoy Where’d You Go, Bernadette?.  In both cases, the author draws heavily from significant personal experiences.  Reid drew from his career in the music industry, and as with Bernadette, Semple struggled with adapting in her move from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Each book shares the same sense of satire and the same poking fun at the “societal elite”.  In addition, Semple and Reid manage to avoid the bitter, angry tone that is so often infused into satire by injecting a healthy amount of self-deprecation.  Also the two novels combine a sizable chorus of characters into a single coherent storyline.

Year Zero though more of a sci-fi novel in the same vein as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, reminded me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette due to similarities in humor style and the mixing of darker undertones.

As with Nick Carter in Year Zero, Bernadette finds herself caught in a series of events that spiral beyond her control almost before she is even aware of them transpiring.  Also, both Nick and Bernadette find themselves in situations where they must play victim to those they have previously victimized.  Finally, Bernadette like Nick, discovers that the secret to finding herself might mean placing herself in the middle of her deepest fears and insecurities.

I found Where’d You Go, Bernadette? to be a quick and easy read.  The light-hearted tone in the beginning sets the mood and remains upbeat despite more intense plot developments.  Semple’s primary strength is characterization.  She does an excellent job of taking characters that are otherwise unlikeable and making them likeable.  One element that was of particular interest to me was that despite Semple’s talent for and background in creating witty believable dialogue, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is told from a first person narrative using emails, police reports, and other documentation.

Overall I found the characters fit into the storyline well and did not overly detract from the plot.  In the case of Kennedy (Bee’s best friend) and Kyle, however, it seemed that Semple built two characters and then lost track of what to do with them.  Kennedy, in particular, gave the impression of having a more significant role only to abruptly fade into the background.  Kyle, although important in terms of the impact his actions had on other characters, seemed to have no purpose other than to serve as filler in places where the plot began to slightly drag.  Finally, Semple’s ending was abrupt and did not fit well with the rest of the novel.

 

 

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