Posts filed under ‘December 2013 reads’

Ms. Roth is ready for her close-up – “Divergent” by Veronica Roth

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth, Published in 2011

Writing science fiction is tough. Scratch that, writing good science fiction is tough.  If the writer is creating a whole different world for the reader then there has to be a lot of extra care and quality writing to make sure the reader understands the setting, the society, the technology.  Without good descriptive writing, the reader is just guessing and that can get, well, annoying.  Let’s just get down to it, Ms. Roth wrote “Divergent” so it could be a movie.  Not only was she riding the “Hunger Games” hype (kudos to her) but she was obviously hoping that the ride would take her book into movie production. And yippee it is  – March 2014 coming to a theater near you. But you see Ms. Roth forgot to actually write anything but a character story. While I am aware this is young adult fiction, even for this genre her writing is shallow.  I have no idea how anything looks in this new world.  It is like “Twilight” meets the “Hunger Games” meets some CW show.  Was it enjoyable? Sure. Was it something I would recommend? Not really, unless you have read every book on your “to read” list and have nothing else in the house and are terribly, terribly bored.

Beatrice is a teen living in a futuristic society (Chicago years from now). This society is divided into five factions and each faction has a strength or focus – one is bravery, one is truth, one is knowledge, and I think you get the picture.  While each child grows up in a particular faction, when they reach 16 years old they are tested to determine what faction would best fit them. However on the day of appointment, the teen can decide which faction they would like to join, not necessarily based on the test results.  Once you make a choice to change factions your new family is your new faction and you leave your old life and family behind.  Beatrice’s test is inconclusive and so she is something very dangerous – divergent.  But she still must make the choice of whether to stay with her family and remain selfless or change factions and head into the unknown *insert dramatic music*.

Perhaps most notably, Ms. Roth gives us some tips on writing in the back of the book. This was her first book and she already had writing tips for us small folk.  I read them. Apparently I too can dream of someday writing a book about a strong teen girl who doesn’t fit in but is special and falls in love and saves the world. Or something along those lines.  I will call it “The Twilight Games,” make it a trilogy, and get a movie deal.  I am pretty sure that is what Ms. Roth was trying to tell me…I could be wrong.

December 27, 2013 at 8:17 pm 2 comments

Beauty wedded to meaning – “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch (1654), showing Fabritius' use o...

The Goldfinch (1654), showing Fabritius’ use of cool colour harmonies, delicate lighting effects, and a light background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, Published in 2013

I am awestruck by this novel. It is harsh and tough to read in parts but so amazingly beautiful.  It is long (700+ pages) but worth every page. And the last twenty pages are written so poignantly – I promise it is worth the investment.  I have been wondering how I should talk about this book, because I try hard on this blog not to have spoilers. But I  have read reviews on this book and it seems that they all share the same facts so I don’t think I am giving anything away.

Theo, at thirteen, lives with his beautiful mother in New York. His father, an abusive drunk, left them months before with no forwarding information or money to survive.  On an ordinary day in May, Theo and his mother are on the way to meet with the principal of his school – he has made some missteps and is being suspended – when his mother decides they will stop on the way to the art museum to view a painting she has always loved, Carel Fabritius‘ “The Goldfinch.”  And it is then that ordinary day that becomes a “rusty nail on the calendar.” The museum is bombed and Theo finds himself lying in the rumble next to an elderly gentleman who gives him an address, a ring and points to “The Goldfinch” as though he would like Theo to take it. And he does. Theo, dizzy with a concussion and ears ringing, helplessly watches the old man die and then walks out a back door of the museum with the painting.  What follows is an agonizing couple of days waiting for his mother to come home. Of course she never does.

He then is temporarily placed with the Barbour family, the affluent friends of his parents.   While there he finds the address he was given by the elderly gentleman and meets Hobie, who restores antique furniture.  He also meets Pippa, who had caught his eye in the museum before the explosion. She too has suffered greatly from the explosion and Theo finds their connection gives him the first peace he has known since he lost his mother.  Only then his father makes an odd and untimely appearance – taking him back to his McMansion in Las Vegas in a suburb of vacant houses.  Theo’s father is as troubled as he always was but now has made a living (or maybe not) as  professional gambler.  His girlfriend is a bar manager hopped up on cocaine.  Theo finds himself alone.  Until he meets a boy named Boris, who has lived all over the world and is equally alone.  They become fast friends and he becomes one of the few constants in Theo’s life, apart from the painting.  And Theo’s life continually changes but always with the painting in tow or close.  It is, in a way, the thing that moors him to his mother, to his loss, to his sanity.   It defines him but it also weighs him down, he, like the goldfinch in the painting, is chained to his decision on that fateful day in the museum.

I will not rehash more of the storyline, there is a lot to rehash.  And I would hate to give away too much. But Tartt has an understanding of youth and art, the relationship between beauty and loss, that is stunning.  She is able to grasp that thing that makes us so needful of beauty and explain it to the reader – “images that strike the heart and set it blooming like a flower, images that open some much, much larger beauty that you can spend your whole life looking for and never find.” Perhaps more importantly Tartt understands that the objects we love or even hate but hold onto have meaning often because of something else.  And that we do not love objects merely because they are beautiful.

“The pursuit of beauty is a trap, a fast track to bitterness and sorrow, that beauty has to be wedded to something meaningful.” 

We hold onto things, we hold onto memories, even painful ones, because leaving them behind means we will lose the beauty of our past or even our present.  Sometimes we hold onto objects because we have nothing else and life keeps moving us on to the next thing when all we want is to stay.  Tartt wants us to understand that life is tough, it throws everything at you. It is painful and anyone who tells you differently is lying to you and themselves.  But beauty and love, they are what make us get up each day and face the music.

“That life- whatever else it is- is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it.  That maybe even if we’re not always glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.  And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.” 

Other reviews to check: 

December 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm 6 comments


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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