Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: x0

Title of Book: x0
Author: Sherrie Cronin
Published: February 20, 2012
Available: Amazon

x0 is a compelling tale of worlds apart and how they come to interact. The author has drawn extensively on her own personal experience in the field of geophysics where she has interpreted seismic data in the oil industry for many years, as well as her research into Nigeria: covering its historical, political, economical and social  aspects.

While the leading plot appears to be the tale of a woman ruthlessly misused as a pawn in a dangerous political game, and the efforts of those who set out to save her - what I found most compelling is the web of human interaction, not only weaved through our increasing immediate access to each other through technological means, but also through the telepathy of the key characters.

When we think of telepathy, many of us still think back to the Duke University experiments, where a person in one room was meant to transmit, through mind alone, images to a person in another room. x0 takes a much more sophisticated approach to the whole notion of telepathy - or better stated: levels of communication which go beyond what is generally accepted as possible according to “natural” laws. Some people might think that we are entering here into the area of Science Fiction, but I don’t think so. Many of us have experienced things that we cannot explain by so-called “natural laws” - usually things involving people we are close to. x0 is taking this one step further - building upon what appears to exist and hypothesizing on where it may take us.

Perhaps what appears the most far-fetched in the book is the philosophy of the secret organization, which calls itself x0 (or ONE). Yet, even here, the author doesn’t pull us away into a fantasy world. The organization’s philosophy is just that - a “philosophy” - which is accepted even to different degrees by the members of the organization, themselves.  What is also interesting is that the members of this organization can find their own special place within the organization, no matter if they believe themselves to be religious or not - or whether or not they believe in God.

I found the book well written and a compelling read. Moving back and forth between the minds of the key characters proved to be quite effective and the characters are constructed in such a way as to complement each other in the telling of the story.

The one thing that I found difficult to relate to, however, is the inclusion of “links” in the book. I am not against the idea of introducing links, especially if this creates a type of hypertext which allows the reader to interactively decide in which direction the plot will lead him/her. But this is not the case here. The introduction of links is meant to optionally supply more information about certain things mentioned in the book. However, I can’t see a reader following these links in the midst of reading without losing an essential part of the rhythm. Also the sudden appearance of the word “Buy” beside links to a song, tends to suddenly exclude us from the writing, if only for a moment. In this case, I would have  preferred the author to have used footnotes - putting a number beside each place where a link is desired and include all of the numbered footnotes as a list of links in a special section at the end of the book.

I look forward to reading more works by this author.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: Margaret of the North

Title of Book: Margaret of the  North
Author: E Journey
Published: April 25, 2012
Available: Amazon, Smashwords

The romantic classics follow a rather simple recipe. Man and woman meet. There is immediately an underlying attraction, but before they can act upon it, events lead them astray and they grow to despise each other, even more so because of the sexual tension which haunts them. But, in the end,  it is true love which conquers all and our hero and heroine join together in a passionate embrace, ensuring us that they will live happily ever after.

There is something smugly satisfying in reading such a happy ending. It doesn’t really matter if we really believe that they will live together happily ever after. For a moment, we collectively share a leap of faith, believing that all is possible, if only we find the right person.

Such endings have satisfied people for a long time - centuries, in fact. But lately, readers seem to want more. They want to know what happens next. Do Darcy and Elizabeth marry? Do their passion and newly found intimacy stand the test of time?

And this is where the sequels fit in. Not sequels written by the original authors. They have long since left this world. But sequels written by new authors.

In most cases, the new authors try to maintain the colour and texture of the original work. Where they decide to take us, regarding the progression of the plot, is another matter. Much of this depends on their own view of the world. Do they believe that love will continue to conquer all, despite the mundane trials and tribulations of daily life? Or do they believe that passion and intimacy will slowly fade away.

In “Margaret of the North”, a sequel to Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North and South”, E. Journey chooses the first course. Throughout the sequel, the passion and intimacy between Margaret and John not only show no signs of fading, but appear to grow in intensity. But, whereas this may pay homage to our romantic desires, it does not make for the best reading. Much of the strength of the original story was in the conflict between Margaret and John which leads to their realization of their love for each other in the end.
Our expectancy, as to where this conflict may lead us, makes for compelling reading. But in the sequel, things are a little too perfect, and although the repetitive text informing us of their love for each other may be reassuring, it leaves no room for expectation, and makes for very slow reading at times.

Another source for conflict in the original story was the goings on at the mill. Would the mill keep on running, would the workers strike, would the owners of the mill understand the needs of the workers better. These concerns were not only an integral part of the evolving plot, but also had a significant effect upon the relationship between Margaret and John. However, this compelling conflict is lost in the sequel. Margaret has received a sizable inheritance and John no longer needs to worry about how to finance the reopening of the mill. Margaret also has the means now by which to finance her progressive ideas about improving workers’ conditions, something which John fully supports. The only real remaining source of conflict is Margaret’s relationship with John’s mother. John’s mother cannot find it in her heart to accept or like Margaret. However,  except for the sadness that this causes in Margaret’s heart, it has no significant effect on John and Margaret’s relationship, nor on other things which take place.

While the sequel is fairly well written, I found that the method of telling the story through the eyes, and more specifically - through the minds of the characters, left me somewhat detached. Reflections ran on for a little too long and I found too much of the text repetitive. And without elements of conflict, the characters seemed too one dimensional, at times. I also found that too much effort was invested in retelling many of the events that took part in the first book, as if only in this way could we truly understand what was transpiring. I would have preferred that the understanding of events in the original to be more subtly presented.

As  you may have guessed - although I consider myself a romantic by nature - I am also a pessimist as to how long romance can last. If you do not share such pessimism, you may see many of the things I have written about quite differently in your own reading of the book.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: Chattanooga

Title of Book:  Chattanooga
Authors:  Chet Raymo & Dan Raymo
Published:  May 23, 2011 by Platypus Multimedia
Available:  Amazon

Chattanooga uses a clever format in which each chapter is told through the eyes of a different character, and each character is an essential part of the mosaic which makes up a unique and dysfunctional household. As we weave through the story, we witness the same events through varying viewpoints, and realize just how much our rendition of things is based upon selective memory.

The characters each have a distinct, unique flavour, accentuated by differing dialects, accumulated baggage and a clearly separate way of looking at the world. The strength in the depiction of the characters is in the stark appraisal of their humanity. Some characters are more favourably portrayed than others, yet none are spared a harsh revelation of their weaknesses. But we are also witness to their strengths, no matter how frail they appear at times.

We learn that the most intricate ties are not solely based on the physical structures  in which we are housed, but still carry on, even when these physical edifices are torn down, albeit differently. The ending is a simple and fitting testimony to the subtle manner in which we touch each other at times.

It is not easy interweaving the testimonies of the individual characters and maintaining the momentum of the unravelling plot, at times.  Although I felt myself carried along during the first half of the book, I found that things struggled through the next few chapters, but was caught up again as things began to come together towards the end.

If you enjoy character driven plots and an unusual approach to story telling, I think this is a book you will want to read.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Call Me Tuesday

Title of Book:  Call Me Tuesday
Author:  Leigh Byrne
Published: February 15, 2012 by Create Space
Available:  Amazon, Nook, Smashwords

This is a book which is difficult to read at times - for the pain in the writing is so poignant and artfully expressed. A pain that most people would probably want to forget and leave behind. But the author knows that she has a story to tell, a story that needs to be told, so that others may be spared the trauma that Tuesday went through. Which requires remarkable courage, in going through it all - not once, but twice - this second time page by written page.

We usually view motherhood as something sacred, but in “Call Me Tuesday” motherhood is anything but that. The book begins with a pivotal event, where her mother appears as an inhuman monster and Tuesday is at the height of her despair. We are then taken back to a much earlier time, when her mother was still a loving parent and Tuesday had not yet been robbed of her childhood. This is skilfully done, for we know that at some point in the book, we will reach that point again. But for now, it is for us to try and put the pieces together, in such a way that may somehow explain the change in her mother, and in her life. And as we go through a journey of mental and physical abuse together with Tuesday, witnessing the world through her eyes, we are unable to find the answers. Even after Tuesday has managed to break free, neither she nor we are any closer to understanding how such a thing can happen.

For how can a mother abuse her child? Day by day, year by year. Mothers are supposed to protect their children, care for them and nurture them. Children trust and believe in their parents, and when a parent turns on them, the child is helpless, with nowhere to turn. In most cases, the people nearby: neighbours, relatives, teachers... sense that something is wrong, but do nothing to help, perhaps not wanting to believe that such things are possible. And even now, I am sure that there are people who read this book and rationalize it away as being a solitary case. But the truth is, this is becoming much too common. Perhaps it has always been this widespread, and only now, in the digital age when new avenues of communication open up to us, it is much more difficult to keep such things hidden. Hopefully books, like this one, will encourage others to speak up, have the courage and support to unveil these dark secrets.

The book is very well written. We see Tuesday's world totally through her own eyes. The detailed descriptions of her surroundings effortlessly blend into the running plot and we are carried along, not able to put the book down - not wanting to hear more at times for it becomes almost too difficult to hear - but having to see it through, for we have come too close to Tuesday's inner turmoil than to desert her now.

Perhaps another testament to the strength of Tuesday’s character is the fact that she can still feel love for her mother, despite all that has happened to her. Maybe we need to learn from her. I, for one, think I could never be that forgiving.

I hope that others will read this book and learn from it. And that those in dire need of help will come upon it and through it find strength. And that
Tuesday, after breaking free and setting out on a new beginning, will now live a happy life.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Review: Web of Lies - My Life with a Narcissist

Title of Book:  Web of Lies - My Life with a Narcissist
Author:  Sarah Tate
Published:  Feb. 22, 201
Available: Smashwords, Amazon

There are times, when reading this book, that we must ask ourselves - How could these things have happened? How could an apparently intelligent woman allow herself to be continually deceived by the verbal manipulation of a man who clearly suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Perhaps there was no reason for suspicion during the courtship stage, when he showered her with attention, lavished her with gifts and impressed her with his intelligence. Perhaps she was blinded by her concern for her children when their apparent financial stability started to come apart at the seams. But there came a time when she still wanted to believe, even when all of the signs told her otherwise. And even then, she was unable to make the decision to leave him.

It would be too easy to judge, from the outside looking in. Why didn’t she listen to her friends, why didn’t she listen to her family. Why didn’t the fact that he was married twice before, and one of his wives had committed suicide, not to set off an alarm far earlier than it did? And why didn’t her concern for her children lead her to leave him rather than convince her to stay with him, until it was almost too late?

But most of us know someone who has been in a similar situation. That is why Sarah Tate’s book is so important. To tell an important story - a confession of sorts. An open, honest and often painful appraisal of her life and who she was during this time. Perhaps, when we know of friends who are lying to themselves in similar situations, we should simply give them this book to read, rather than offer advice that we know they will ignore. Let them read and recognize her words as words that they could have easily uttered themselves.

We live in a world where reality is very elusive. Virtual relationships rest on the power of words alone - words which create identities and worlds in common. It seems too easy to create something out of nothing, without the person on the other side knowing the difference. We claim that such things happen because we do not meet the other face to face, see the other in his/her “real” environment. Yet the “Web of Lies” shows us how this can happen in the so-called real world as well. Sarah was deceived into believing in a world through words alone. Words which created a dream world for her, and words which then explained why it no longer existed. Her being in close physical proximity with the man, only served to strengthen the deception, rather than the opposite. At least, for a very long time.

The “Web of Lies” is well-written and carries us along at a fast pace. It is told totally through the eyes of Sarah, and she warns us beforehand that some parts may be the result of a very subjective memory. And there are times, when her rolling narration take us into the depths of her despair, and she tries to rationalize it away while still wanting to believe in him - that we want to reach out and slap her - tell her to get out of it. And this shows how well she has captured us in her prose, leading us to understand the world she is experiencing through her own eyes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Ideally Speaking

Title of Book:  Ideally Speaking
Editors:  Steve Hellmann and Lindsay Talmud
Publisher:  Lexicon Books (April 13, 2011)
Available: Amazon

“Ideally Speaking” presents an excellent study of South African Jews who were exposed to strong ideological influences in their youth and thought that they would “make the world a better place”. The book, through a series of interviews with a wide cross-section of those who stayed in South Africa and those who left, presents us with a fascinating look into their memories, thoughts and present day activities as we trace the changes in their ideology and in the world around them.This is not only an exploration into the past, but also a look towards the future, against the backdrop of Israel's struggle to sustain a credible democracy and the many challenges facing post-apartheid South Africa.  

The nature of the interviews, conducted by the two editors: Steve Hellmann and Lindsay Talmud, not only provide a deep understanding of the South African experience, but also touch on universal themes relevant to us all.

What struck me most about this book is the way in which people have opened up and attempted to honestly reflect upon the different stages in their life. Most of the people interviewed have led a long and rich life, taking on demanding roles through which they have definitely left their mark. And although their paths have varied: some deciding to fulfill the Zionist dream of settling in Israel; others deciding to stay in South Africa and fight against the policy of Apartheid; and others ending up somewhere else in the world - most of them appear to have struggled with the same deliberations, albeit with different results and conclusions.

And although their immediate experience was quite different from mine, there still are many significant similarities, and their reflections have helped me better understand my own.

I am sure that many of you who read this book will feel the same.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: The Man Clothed in Linen

Title of Book:  The Man Clothed in Linen
Author:  Robert Earle
Publisher:  MC Writing (October 7, 2011)
Available:  Amazon

“The Man Clothed in Linen” is a compelling look, not only into the story of Jesus, but into the complex political climate of the times. Being well acquainted with both Old and New Testaments, as well as living in Israel these past 30 plus years, I can appreciate the amount of research that went into the writing of this novel. The end result feels quite authentic, although - of course - there is quite a bit of speculation.

The narrative is seen through the eyes of Nicolas, a Greek who served the key figures of the time: tutoring the children of Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, serving as advisor to King Herod and later Herod’s sons in Israel, as well as advisor to the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife  Livia in Rome. By basing the narrative on someone who is neither Roman nor Jew, we are seemingly presented with a much more objective and comprehensive look at a very complex situation. And understanding the complex political situation is vital in attempting to understand who Jesus was and the role he was to play.

The description of the life of Jesus in the New Testament is based on a small number of carefully selected texts. At times these texts appear to be carefully constructed to glorify the man, rather that present the reality of the human condition, and attempt to simplify a very complex situation. “The Man Clothed in Linen” not only helps us understand better the realities of the time, but also allows us to see better how Jesus would be viewed during his own lifetime.

While challenging many of our pre-conceived concepts, the book does not necessarily present an alternate reality. In fact, it leaves much of this open for us to decide. For example, we are led to believe that Herod was the father of Jesus, however there are conflicting accounts in the book as to whether Herod was capable of conceiving a child at this time of his life, and the later mention of Jesus being the son of a King often holds possible double meaning.  

I found the descriptions, the running dialogue, the development of characters and the manner in which the various story elements are tied together - extremely effective and warmly recommend this book.