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Pollution almost completely destroys Earth leaving humanity with no choice but to develop ecofriendly technology and adjust to a new way of living. The business sector eventually became so sustaining and productive that massive amounts of money could be put into pursuing space technology. {{Interestingly enough, our government has to keep cutting NASA funding due to our current economic issues.}} Arik, the main character in Christian Cantrell’s book Containment, awakes in the hospital from sustaining an injury outside of the contained structure in which he lives in on the planet Venus.  Arik has to figure out why he was even outside of the containment zone. What he discovers changes everything he ever believed in.

Arik believed that he lived in a livable dome on Venus. Long story short, he discovers that his dome is actually on Earth, in Antarctica. The world never recovered from environmental disaster. In fact, the air was largely unbreathable and several such domes for survivors had sprung up on earth. Space travel was not currently obtainable.  The founders of the colony wanted to protect and isolate their people from the rest of the world and thus created the illusion of living on Venus for the younger generation to believe.

This was a very good science fiction novel that included many original elements. I rate this book at 5/5 stars. The only thing I thought needed to be elaborated on was the genetic mutations that occurred to people who remained outside of livable domes. Apparently they were turned into almost zombie like creatures who were able to breathe the poisoned air. I think this was an interesting storyline that should have been followed up on beyond the brief period of contact Arik had with them outside the dome.

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After my mother reads a book she often gives it away to someone who she thinks will enjoy it. She gave me Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay several months ago. The book was made into a movie. This movie was showed at the 2012 Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference at Kutztown University – (the theme of the conference being ‘The Past as Setting: Historical Memory and Fiction of the Holocaust’). Although, I did not stay to watch it, it reminded me that I owned the book and decided to start reading it right away.

Sarah’s Key is a historical fiction novel taking place in the Paris of 2002 with flashbacks to the  Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in the Paris of 1942. Julia Jarmond is an American reporter living in Paris who is assigned to write an article on the 60th anniversary memorials of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Julia had no prior knowledge of what happened on July 16-17, 1942 in Paris. Most of the book alternates each chapter between Julia’s experience as she researches this topic and Sarah Starzynski, a young French girl living through the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in 1942.

Each chapter is rather short, and at first I thought it was annoying to alternate back and forth between narrators so often. However, like Julia’s character, I had no knowledge of what happened in Paris on July 16, 1942 and after discovering some of the atrocities that occurred it was actually a reprieve from the intensity of Sarah’s story when the narration returned to present day France. I felt that I could connect with Julia’s character as she discovered France’s ugly past during the Occupation because I too was learning this history for the first time.

The Nazi Occupation of France is not a past that France is proud of. Unfortunately, many of the atrocities that took place in France are not often discussed.  The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup was an event in which French police under Nazi direction arrested over 13,000 Jews, mostly women and children, and sent them to a large indoor bicycle track, the Vélodrome d’hiver. After several days of appallingly unsanitary conditions all prisoners were shipped to one of several internment camps within France. Men, women and children were separated and eventually all were sent to concentration camps in Germany. None ever returned.

As Julia is researching these events she uncovers the story of Sarah Starzynski, who is arrested along with her family during the roundup. She manages to hide her little brother in a cupboard to escape imprisonment. Her parents had kept her relatively in the dark and naive as to what was going on. She thought she would be coming back for her brother. The story takes us on the journey through Sarah’s imprisonment and her eventual escape. By the time she is able to get back to her home in Paris she realizes she is too late. The story is very sad and very intense. Although it is a fictional tale, the true stories of what happened to very real people can be no less horrific.

I was surprised to read some of the mixed reviews that this book had. I thought it was a great book and I would recommend it. I rate this book at 5/5 stars.

On July 16, 1995 Jacques Chirac acknowledged the role that the state had played:

“These dark hours will forever soil our history, and are injurious to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal insanity of the occupier was seconded by the French, by the French state. (…) France, home of the Enlightenment and of Human Rights, land of refuge and asylum, France, upon that day, committed an irreparable act. Breaking her word, she delivered her charges to their executioner”.

Learn move about the Vélodrome d’hiver Round-up here.

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Slaughterhouse Five is one of those books that encourages thought long after you finish reading it. This book has been banned from public schools in the past for its controversial themes. It is a notorious anti-war book. How can a person learn of the horrible destruction of innocent life in Dresden, Germany and not see how devastating and ugly war can really be. Some people think war is glorious. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the veterans who “hated the war the most, were the ones who’d really fought” (Slaughterhouse Five, 11).Those who have truly lived through war do not find glory in it.

The story line is all over the place: World War II Dresden, present day (1960’s when written), and on the extraterrestrial planet, Tralfamadore. Here is the book’s description from Wikipedia because I wouldn’t be able to explain it better.

Chaplain’s Assistant Billy Pilgrim is a disoriented, fatalistic, and ill-trained American soldier. He does not like wars and he is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans put Billy and his fellow prisoners in a disused slaughterhouse (although there are animal carcasses hanging in the underground shelter) in Dresden. Their building is known as “Slaughterhouse number 5”. The POWs and German guards alike hide in a deep cellar; because of their safe hiding place, they are some of the few survivors of the city-destroying firestorm during the Bombing of Dresden in World War II.

Billy has come “unstuck in time” and experiences past and future events out of sequence and repetitively, following a nonlinear narrative. He is kidnapped by extraterrestrial aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. They exhibit him in a zoo with B-movie starlet Montana Wildhack as his mate. The Tralfamadorians, who can see in four dimensions, have already seen every instant of their lives. They say they cannot choose to change anything about their fates, but can choose to concentrate upon any moment in their lives, and Billy becomes convinced of the veracity of their theories.

As Billy travels—or believes he travels—forward and backward in time, he relives occasions of his life, real and fantasy. He spends time on Tralfamadore, in Dresden, in the War, walking in deep snow before his German capture, in his mundane post-war married life in the U.S.A. of the 1950s and early 1960s, and in the moment of his murder by a petty thief named Paul Lazzaro.

Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim asks ‘why?’ Why does war occur? Why does anything happen? Kurt Vonnegut uses Billy’s trip to outer space to discuss this matter. The aliens insist that the idea of free will is unique to earth and that all other planets accept destiny as unquestionable truth. Billy questions why war must exist. This question is never really answered, but the conclusion discovered is that even without war death still comes for all making it an event in one’s life not so dissimilar to any other event in anyone’s life.

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes” (Slaughterhouse Five 26-27).

This concept cannot be discussed lightly. Although the science fiction aspect makes the book somewhat hard to describe to someone who hasn’t read it, I thought taking this approach makes the reader have to expand their imagination enough that just maybe they will also be more conducive to contemplating their own purpose and death.  To get the average person reading a fiction novel to think about these things is ingenious. Vonnegut was obviously successful; this book was banned for quite a while to protect impressionable school children from the evils of anti-war philosophy. Rated 4/5 stars.

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In general I enjoy reading historical fiction. However, since I don’t know very much about early 19th century naval etiquette I found myself feeling quite confused several times while reading this book. As a prerequisite to reading Master and Commander a course on British, French and Spanish naval battles and policies around the year 1800 should be taken. I’m only slightly over exaggerating.

For starters, Patrick O’Brian wrote the book in period appropriate language. The naval terms took a while to learn but O’Brian did a good job of introducing the reader to these nicknames by which the crew referred to them. However, what was very unclear was the story itself. The only character I truly understood was Captain Jack Aubrey. However, the character of Dr. Maturin is quite fuzzy around the edges to me. The summary on the back of the book says he is a secret intelligence agent. Did I skip a chapter? Dr. Maturin, along with a few others aboard the HMS Sophie, were part of an Irish resistance group in the past. They tried to hide that past for the sake of being allowed to serve in the British Navy. This could have been elaborated on and made a great story.  I definitely did not pick up on the fact that he was a secret intelligence agent of any sort. The lack of story details and elaboration about anything is my biggest gripe about this book. So O’Brian supposedly writes amazing naval battles? Sure, it is possible with the few pages devoted to each battle that someone could recreate a magnificent battle in their head, but that would take a great deal of imagination.

O’Brian hints that he’s got a story to tell, but falls short on the delivery. I would not recommend this book to anyone unless they are really interested in the subject matter. Do yourselves a favor and just watch the movie. 

Master and Commander is just the first in a series about Captain Aubrey, needless to say, I won’t be reading any more of them. And since I already own the second in the series, that says a lot.  I rated this book 3/5 stars. I may not think O’Brian is a good story-teller, but he obviously knows how to write. I was also impressed with the period specific language. I’m quite sure he spent a great deal of time doing research. This is the only reason I give this book 3 stars.

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The first Dean Koontz book I read was Intensity, you can read the review  here.  Koontz is one of the most popular authors in the horror genre. I thought the book was quite good, except for the ending.

 Koontz devoted several pages to making sure the book had a happy ending and so we could feel all warm and fuzzy inside after such a scary story. The ending was awful. The book has 12 chapters, I suggest you only read 11 of them.

My first experience with Koontz was bitter-sweet. Great book. Horrible Ending. I’ve now read a total of 5 Dean Koontz books and most of them have been excellent, except one which good story line was ruined by the ending (Your Heart Belongs to Me), and another whose ending I’ve decided to forget exists (Intensity).

Seize the Night

Finished September 12, 2011

Seize the Night is the second book in the Moonlight Bay Trilogy featuring Christopher Snow, a man suffering from a rare disorder called xeroderma pigmentosum which forces him to avoid the sunlight which is harmful to him and to carpe noctem (seize the night). Chris lives in Moonlight Bay, a town haunted by a past of government genetic experimentation in which his parents had participated. Those experiments were long over and the military base was abandoned, or so it was thought. When the town’s children begin to disappear Chris and his friends follow the trail to Fort Wyvern and learn that the base wasn’t entirely abandoned and that many sinister things still exist at the base.

I rated this book 5/5 stars. It included aspects of science fiction and the paranormal, as well as horror and suspense. Although this is the second installment in a trilogy, I did not have a hard time picking up on the character relations without reading the book’s prequel.

Relentless

Finished September 21, 2011

What happens when an author responds to a negative review a critic gave him? Well hopefully not what happened to Cullen “Cubby” Greenwich. He just wanted to talk to the critic Shearman Waxx. Cubby takes his son Milo to lunch at a restaurant that Waxx frequents hoping to spot him. What starts out as a very humerous situation at the restaurant soon turns deadly. Waxx critiques others, he does not tolerate criticism of his own work. Shearman Waxx is a relentless psychopath who utterly destroys anything or anyone that attempts to question his literary criticism.

This book grabbed my attention immediately. The story is fast paced and at some parts quite chilling. I rated this book 5/5 stars.

The Good Guy

Finished October 13 2011

Timothy Carrier was just having a beer at the bar when a mysterious man slips him an envelope with Linda Paquette’s photo, address and some cash. He was mistaken for a contract killer the man had hired. Timothy considered it his moral duty to make sure this woman was safe. Eventually it is discovered that Timothy was not in fact a contract killer and he finds himself also being hunted by a killer.

The Good Guy is a stereotypical Koontz thriller. The main characters find themselves being chased by a psychopath who won’t stop until they are dead. Koontz creates many twists and unexpected events in his novels that keeps each story unique in its own right despite the similar plots.

Your Heart Belongs to Me

Finished December 16, 2011

Your Heart Belongs to Me starts out with a great storyline. People dueling about who gets pushed to the top of the heart transplant list. Those with enough money are able to buy an organ without questioning where it came from. Ignoring the clues that suggest the heart came from a recently living healthy person who fell victim of a murderous scam. Ryan Perry is one of those ignorant men who received one of these transplanted hearts. Soon he discovers he is being stalked and terrorized from a member of the victim’s family.

About 75% of this book is great. However, the ending is just awful. This book is rated 3/5 stars. All of Koontz’s books have happy endings (at least the ones I’ve read). Sometimes it flows with the story. But in this book it does not. Sometimes a great story needs a sad and suspenseful ending. I would not recommend this book.

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The only thing that trumps time is desire

This was a wonderful book filled with a vast amount of cultural detail about the Cherokee tribe in North Carolina in the 19th century.  Charles Frazier also wrote the popular book Cold Mountain, which I will review in the future.  Frazier is one of the best storytellers of modern times. His words are incredibly captivating and drew me into the story like few other authors have been able to.

The novel is narrated by Will Cooper, former senator, business man, and Cherokee chief. He looks back at his life and how it intertwined with that of the Cherokee Nation. His story, just the same as his people’s, is dramatic and heartbreaking. Yet, it is one of those sad tales that we should all know. Thirteen Moons is a work of historical fiction. Each single detail may not have happened. But the suffering of the Cherokee at the hands of the U.S. government was very real. President Andrew Jackson wanted Indians completely erased from the American landscape. His 1830 Indian Removal Act called for all indians to be moved west of the Mississippi River. Many indians did migrate, but some remained. Thirteen Moons is about the Eastern Band Cherokee, those Cherokee who did not migrate to the reservation in Oklahoma.

Some of the great cultural detail in the novel include:

      • The Cherokee concept of time.
      • The Ghost Dance Movement.
      • Visions, speech, and writing.
      • Hunting rituals.
      • Interactions with nature.
      • Food.
      • Menstrual huts.
      • Gender roles.
      • Marriage.
      • Names.
      • Religion.
      • Magic.
      • Mourning.

These are just a few topics that popped out of the book that I recognized as accurate from my previous Cherokee research. Frazier’s meticulous research shines through the story. I am very much appreciative for his efforts.  It is a sad story, but a beautiful book.

“…That was then. The people had been fighters, but after two-hundred years of mostly losing to white men the fight had been beat out of them. They had become dirt farmers. It is tempting to look back at Bear’s people from the perspective of this modern world and see them as changeless and pure, authentic people in ways impossible for anybody to be anymore. We need Noble Savages for our own purposes. Our happy imaginings about them and the pure world they occupied do us good when incoherent change overwhelms us. But even in those early days when I was first getting to know Bear and his people, I could see that change and the brutal loss had been all they had experienced for two centuries. Many of them were busy taking up white ways of life that baffled them. With every succeeding retreat of the Nation and every incursion of America, the old ways withdrew a step farther into the mountains, deeper up the dark coves and tree-tunneled creeks. it was not any kind of original people left. No wild Indians at all, and little raw wilderness. They were damaged people, and they lived in a broken world like everybody else.”

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The 1939 film is one of my favorites! Maybe it is for this reason that I had higher hopes for the book. I would recommend it to anyone like myself who enjoys reading those books that are considered to be ‘classics,’ but the movie really is much better.

However, the story line and characters in L. Frank Baum’s book are original. Keeping with the tradition of giving moral lessons, this fairy tale has many great things to teach.

 

These are my observations:

Dorothy wanted to be somewhere else (home) so badly she was completely oblivious to the wonderful experiences she was having.

The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman revealed that it is important to have both brains and a heart.

“All the same, ” said the Scarecrow, “I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.”

“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodsman; “for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

The Cowardly Lion teaches the importance of self-confidence.

The Wizard of Oz is viewed as a god-like figure who is both terrifying and good. He does a few magic tricks and the people are obliged to bow down to him. We often hold people in such high esteem that they become gods. The Wizard is the proof that everyone, even those we put on a pedal stool, are human and make mistakes.  Once you get to know them they really aren’t so different from anyone else, perhaps just more manipulative?

The movie, however, represented the Wicked Witch of the West as a much more terrifying character than in the book. The winged monkeys are also much different. They are controlled by a magic gold cap which enables the owner to make three requests (wishes) of which the monkeys must obey. Dorothy and Glinda, the good witch of the South, also used the winged monkeys for their purposes after the Wicked Witch is killed.

Comparing the book and the movie, I don’t think there are too many differences that drastically change the story. I honestly preferred the movie much more than the book. The one adventure in the book that  adds an important lesson that was not included in the movie is the passage through the china country. Dorothy and her gang cross through a country entirely made of porcelain. People, animals, buildings, etc. Everything is fragile and subject to breaking very easily. The lesson learned here is that although you may complain about your life (having no brains, or heart, or courage, etc), there is always someone less well off.  It is important to be thankful for what you do have and not what you think you don’t.  (This can actually get more philosophically confusing since the Scarecrow thought he did not have brains, but he actually did.)

“And I am thankful I am made of straw and cannot be easily damaged. There are worse things in the world than being a Scarecrow.”

What confuses me the most about this story is that L. Frank Baum wanted this to be a modern (in 1900) fairy tale that did not include heartbreak and horror like many fairy tales do. However the chopping of limbs and death was a popular occurrence in the book.

  • The Tin Woodsman did have his heart broken and was once a man of flesh but was chopped to pieces and rebuilt of tin.
  • The Woodsman’s axe was continually used to behead potential attackers.
  • Animals are thrown to their death and are “dashed to pieces” when they fall on sharp rocks.

I don’t see how this story has any less “horror” than some other popular fairy tales. Especially when these events happen over and over again on each adventure.

 Brief Side Note: In the book Dorothy has silver slippers. Her slippers were ruby red in the movie due to the bright color contrast.

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