Written by Lauryn Smith
What do you get when you mix solitude, murder and a touch of love affair? Charles Frazier’s 2011 fiction novel, "Nightwoods."
"Nightwoods" follows the story of Luce, a woman who finds herself the caretaker of her murdered sister’s twin children. Living in an isolated, rural area of 1960s North Carolina, Luce is accustomed to seclusion, living apart from society. In fact, she enjoys it.
In "Nightwoods," Frazier, who is also the author of "Thirteen Moons" and "Cold Mountain," portrays how Luce learns to help the twins overcome their troubling past while at the same time protect them, particularly from their deceased mother’s husband named Bud, a man (not the twins’ biological father) with insidious intentions.
Frazier’s protagonist has a troubling past of her own, which allows her to relate to the taciturn children. Though Frazier seems to attempt to demonstrate through Luce’s character how a person’s past can affect his or her present, Luce ends up coming across as static—always strong, always contemplative, always passionate. The children, on the other hand, are clearly dynamic. Normally closed off, introverted and outwardly “feebleminded,” they exhibit courage and resourcefulness when conditions call for such traits. It could be argued that Frazier should have hinted more toward how Luce’s history affects her adult self. Perhaps Frazier left this aspect open-ended to prompt readers to actively conceptualize on their own.
Written by Lauryn Smith
Guess who came to town—Erik Larson! Larson is the best-selling author of a handful of nonfiction novels, including "The Devil in the White City" and "In the Garden of Beasts." This Reviewer swooned when she found out he was coming to North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, IL, for a talk and signing event April 7, 2015 (thank you, Beth). A couple of us Reviewers attended Larson’s lecture, during which he spoke about his newest release, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania," released March 10, 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of the historic disaster. Here are five takeaways from the lecture.
1. Writing Style
Anyone who has ventured into one of Larson’s novels knows that while they are extremely interesting and well written, the amount of information presented does not make them conducive to reading cover to cover in one sitting (not that it is impossible!). However, Larson made clear a humorous nuance to his writing when he read a passage from "Dead Wake" aloud. Some bits of information do more than relay facts—they also illustrate inconsistencies of thought common during the period being written about. In "Dead Wake," for instance, Larson touches on Silas Weir Mitchell’s infamous “rest cure” for female nervous conditions, the most severe cases calling for electric shock treatments in a tub of water.
Written by Beth Winters
What is the point of "The Sandman" by Neil Gaiman? I think I missed it.
I read the entirety of Gaiman’s acclaimed graphic novel series on a recommendation from a friend. He said "The Sandman" was supposed to be a super great graphic novel series, that anyone who likes graphic novels should read it. So, I thought, why not? I like a good graphic novel. ("Buffy" seasons 8, 9 and 10, anyone?) Plus, Gaiman wrote one of my all time favorite movies, Stardust, which I watch every year as a birthday treat. I still have "Stardust," the book, in my TBR pile.
But I digress. I did not understand "The Sandman" at all. I was bummed the stories are so broken up. The series pretty much boils down to this: 10 volumes, where odd-numbered volumes move the plot along while even-numbered volumes are vignettes. The story revolves around the Dream King, who is in charge of the dreaming realm. As far as the storyline goes, I am not sure I can accurately describe the series’ plot, because, as stated above, I am pretty sure I missed the point.
I enjoyed the odd-numbered volumes. It was interesting to see the adventures of the Dream King and his siblings. Throughout the series, I rooted for the Dream King. He seems to be a lost soul figuring out what to do with his immortality. The Dream King also seems very lonely, despite all the other people in his realm.
Written by Beth Winters
I really wanted to like "The Winner’s Curse" by Marie Rutkoski, but, alas, I could not seem to enjoy the plot, as I typically enjoy books with a certain type of romance between the two main characters. Here is why I was not impressed.
The story starts with Kestrel, the main female character, gambling. Initially, this start seems solid, but I was just not impressed with Kestrel. She is cocky and arrogant. Right off the bat, I was not a fan.
After winning all the available money from the gambling group, Kestrel and a friend go to a shop. There, the shopkeeper tries to sell her wares before being called out by Kestrel, as the shopkeeper tries to pass clear stone earrings off as precious topaz. I did not want to root for Kestrel because of how she refutes the shopkeeper so quickly and crudely. Though Kestrel does ultimately buy the earrings, she only does so to “save” the shopkeeper from lying to a Valorian (one of Kestrel’s people). If such a lie was told, the shopkeeper may suffer a very bad fate.
Did I mention that there is a conquered people who are treated like slaves? After buying the earrings from the shopkeeper, Kestrel and her friend wander the streets and happen upon a slave auction. They watch the auction, though Kestrel is uncomfortable… but she ends up buying a slave!
These events all happen within the first chapter. Needless to say, I was not enjoying the book much at this point—simply not my taste. I just could not root for Kestrel, a wealthy general’s daughter living in comfort who for some reason seems unhappy with her life.
Written by Lauryn Smith
In her historical fiction novel "The Museum of Extraordinary Things," Alice Hoffman invites readers to dive into dueling worlds, one mystical and breathtaking, the other dark and seedy.
Set in 1911 New York, Hoffman illustrates the time by interweaving the stories of Coralie, a young woman who assists her father’s museum of “natural” wonders, and Eddie, a young man who struggles with his unfortunate past but finds solace in his work as a photographer and life in the Manhattan wilderness. Their paths cross when Eddie accepts a job reminiscent of those he used to accept from shady characters in his youth. This time the job is seeking the missing daughter of an acquaintance of his estranged father. In addition to providing readers a true page-turner of a book, Hoffman expertly introduces readers to actual historical events, in this case the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village and the fire at Coney Island’s amusement park, Dreamland.
Hoffman, the author of more than 30 novels, seems to want to exemplify the psychological impacts of social and economic inequalities. Coralie feels trapped by the wishes of her father, who disallows her from showing her true self, going so far as to require her to glove her deformed hands, while simultaneously forcing her to train as a water-loving creature to be displayed at the museum. Eddie carries with him the watch of the young son of a wealthy factory owner, which he stole when he was a child working alongside his garment-worker father, a token that seems to represent his distaste with societal disparities. His unease is perpetuated by his craft, in which he uses his camera to capture both beautiful and sordid images. Likewise, Coralie learns that the museum of wonders that once seemed magical is actually a house of hidden horrors. How is it that the world can supply such extremes, and in such proximity?
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