Terrific Tuesday: Brave New World

Posted 1 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Brave New WorldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Published by Harper Collins on 1932
Genres: Classics, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 268
Goodreads
five-stars

A fantasy of the future that sheds a blazing critical light on the present--considered to be Aldous Huxley's most enduring masterpiece. "Mr. Huxley is eloquent in his declaration of an artist's faith in man, and it is his eloquence, bitter in attack, noble in defense, that, when one has closed the book, one remembers."--Saturday Review of Literature "A Fantastic racy narrative, full of much excellent satire and literary horseplay."--Forum "It is as sparkling, provocative, as brilliant, in the appropriate sense, as impressive ads the day it was published. This is in part because its prophetic voice has remained surprisingly contemporary, both in its particular forecasts and in its general tone of semiserious alarm. But it is much more because the book succeeds as a work of art...This is surely Huxley's best book."--Martin Green

Another one of my top ten all time favorite books. I love dystopian novels, and if Brave New World doesn’t fit that mold, I don’t know what does. I love almost every part of this novel from the test tube babies to the constant drug use to keep from feeling depressed, from Bernard’s recognition that life should be something more — it’s a frightening picture, even more so when you look at the parallels for modern society and what has come to pass.


At points some people may feel that it’s a difficult read. There are whole chapters of dialogue that the reader must carefully read to figure out who is saying what. I’ve never found this book difficult (I revisit it every few years), but I know there are people who do.

Try it out. It’s fantastic.

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#659 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010).

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Madness: Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Posted 30 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: Darkness Visible: A Memoir of MadnessDarkness Visible by William Styron
Published by Open Road Media Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Depression, Medical, Mood Disorders, Personal Memoirs, Psychology, Psychopathology
Pages: 96
Goodreads
five-stars

Styron’s stirring account of his plunge into a crippling depression, and his inspiring road to recovery In the summer of 1985, William Styron became numbed by disaffection, apathy, and despair, unable to speak or walk while caught in the grip of advanced depression. His struggle with the disease culminated in a wave of obsession that nearly drove him to suicide, leading him to seek hospitalization before the dark tide engulfed him. Darkness Visible tells the story of Styron’s recovery, laying bare the harrowing realities of clinical depression and chronicling his triumph over the disease that had claimed so many great writers before him. His final words are a call for hope to all who suffer from mental illness that it is possible to emerge from even the deepest abyss of despair and “once again behold the stars.” This ebook features a new illustrated biography of William Styron, including original letters, rare photos, and never-before-seen documents from the Styron family and the Duke University Archives.

 

“The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.”

More of a long essay than a book, this piece is fantastic. It’s beautifully written by an author that many think was a major literary force in our time. (I sadly, have not read anything else by him but this.)  More importantly this piece accurately describes the feelings of being truly clinically depressed in a way that may be beneficial to individuals with a loved one who is dealing with the disease.

Depression, all mental illnesses really, are mysterious and misunderstood by those fortunate enough not to have ever experienced them. That’s why pieces like this are so important to educate the public at large, giving people some small insight – really just a glimmer – on what it is like to live day to day with some sort of mental illness. In this case of course, depression.

Though Styron’s journey ends in a way that is atypical to those suffering from clinical depression, the bulk of the book is extraordinarily accurate in its depiction of the disorder.

The brevity of this piece makes it a must read for everyone — especially those suffering from or living with someone suffering from a depressive mental illness.

“In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come—not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

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Suspenseful Sunday: Gone Girl

Posted 29 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Suspenseful Sunday: Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Published by Ottawa Books on June 1st 2012
Pages: 410
five-stars

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media -- as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents -- the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter -- but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

It took me awhile to get around to this book. But true to form – there’s a time for every book, and when the time for this one came, I only wished it had been sooner.

Gillian Flynn is a damned genius. She’s only written three books but they’re all fabulous. All of her works are what I classify as ‘beach reads’, just meaning that they’re easy and fun. You don’t have to sprain your brain the way you do when you’re reading David Foster Wallace or Faulkner. 

But about Gone Girl, I hate the next eight words but:

I don’t want to ruin it for you.
Read it. 
 
I’m also pretty psyched about the movie. Ben Affleck is much better cast as Nick Dunne rather than Batman. 
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Scary Saturday: The Store

Posted 28 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Scary Saturday: The StoreThe Store by Bentley Little
Published by Penguin on July 1st 1998
Genres: Fiction, General, Horror, Thrillers
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-stars

In a small Arizona town, a man counts his blessings: a loving wife, two teenage daughters, and a job that allows him to work at home. Then "The Store" announces plans to open a local outlet, which will surely finish off the small downtown shops. His concerns grow when "The Store's" builders ignore all the town's zoning laws during its construction. Then dead animals are found on "The Store's" grounds. Inside, customers are hounded by obnoxious sales people, and strange products appear on the shelves. Before long the town's remaining small shop owners disappear, and "The Store" spreads its influence to the city council and the police force, taking over the town! It's up to one man to confront "The Store's" mysterious owner and to save his community, his family, and his life!


I came upon the author when I read one of Little’s short stories in the collection 999: 29 Tales of Horror and Suspense. I liked the story so much that I sought out a novel.

The Store is fun. I highly recommend it for anyone who dislikes Wal-Mart or other major corporations/big box stores, especially discount retail outlets. It’s extraordinarily satirical and spooky at the same time.

It’s also dated (published in ’98 I believe). I don’t suppose that’s really the author’s fault, though.

Fun read. Do it.

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Feminist Friday: Surfacing

Posted 27 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: SurfacingSurfacing by Margaret Atwood
Published by Simon and Schuster Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 208
Goodreads
four-stars

Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented...and becoming whole.


Another victory by Margaret Atwood. 

Surfacing is a fantastic novel, everything from the language to the imagery to the depth and breadth of the book is amazing. I really felt like I was inside the character’s head. 

The feminist undertones are present throughout but it isn’t until the climax of the novel that you feel their full implications. There do seem to be some “anti-American” sentiments in the book, but by the end I think the Americans are more symbolic of waste and a disrespect for nature than anything else. 

Great great great book.

Tell me of your favorite Atwood novel. She’s one of my all time favorites authors. As an American I wish we could claim her for our own… like the moon. Alas, I’ll just have to accept her as being a NORTH American. Hurray for ‘Can-Lit’!

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#339: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2010)

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Thoughtful Thursday: The Casual Vacancy

Posted 26 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Thoughtful Thursday: The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown on September 27th 2012
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 512
Goodreads
three-half-stars

A big novel about a small town...When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems.And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.


I started off classifying this book as a ‘beach read’ after I completed it I reclassified it as ‘contemporary literature’, because it’s extraordinarily well written and, well… literary.

I didn’t anticipate Rowling being able to so fully develop the inner lives of her characters and weave the events in their lives together so seamlessly. The characters in The Casual Vacancy are close to approaching characters in a weaker John Irving novel and that man does characters like nobody’s business. 

Some don’t’s. DON’T pick up this book just because it has Rowling’s name on it. DON’T pick up this book anticipating a murder/mystery – more than anything it’s an extraordinary character study. DON’T pick this up as a kids book.

This novel is thoroughly enjoyable and definitely shows that Rowling has the chops to write stories for adults that are just as compelling as the Harry Potter novels were for kids (and adults).  There has been some criticism that Rowling threw in gratuitous sex scenes and language just to make the novel more ‘adult’. I disagree. The sex and the language are all necessary to fully flesh out the characters in all their faults and realness. 

Greatgreatgreat segue novel away from the land of magic and into real life.

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World War II Wednesday: Atonement

Posted 25 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

World War II Wednesday: AtonementAtonement by Ian McEwan
Published by Knopf Canada on March 19th 2009
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 496
Goodreads
five-stars

From the Booker Prize winning author of Amsterdam, a brilliant new novel.On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, son of the Tallis’s cleaning lady, whose education has been subsidized by Cecilia’s and Briony’s father, and who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By day's end, their lives will be changed – irrevocably. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not imagined at its start. And Briony will have witnessed mysteries, seen an unspeakable word, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone…

Atonement was a slow start for me. The first half has a style that is reminiscent of Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters, neither of which are quite my favorite genres.


But the second half of this book completely sweeps any boredom that the first half may have brought. It’s not often that a novel touches me and makes me ache the way this one did.

See it through, you’ll be glad that you did.

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#43 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Advanced Review: Karma Gone Bad

Posted 24 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Advanced Review: Karma Gone BadKarma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. on November 5th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Cultural Heritage, Personal Memoirs, Women
Pages: 336
Goodreads
one-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Made in America. Outsourced to India. At Home with Herself? A charming yet honest memoir of one Upper West side housewife who finds herself saying good-bye to Starbucks and all her notions of "home" when she and her husband are outsourced to Hyderabad. Jenny Feldon imagined life in India as a glitzy yoga whirlwind. Instead she found buffalo-related traffic jams. Jenny struggled to fight the depression, bitterness, and anger as her sense of self and her marriage began to unravel. And it was all India's fault—wasn't it? Equally frustrating, revealing, and amusing, this is the true story of an accidental housewife trapped in the third world.

Really, it only took me two days to finish this Karma Gone Bad? It felt like forever. 

Okay, so about this. I hated the narrator for the first 75% of the book, she came across as spoiled, xenophobic, and incredibly overprivileged. It was a string of complaints and insecurities. (Oh no! I can’t get a latte! Why are all these brown people staring at me?! Why can’t they wait in line properly like Americans?! My dog!) She manages to redeem herself the last quarter of the book by at least making the effort to enjoy and embrace Indian culture. 

I’ve lived abroad and yeah, things are done differently, it can be scary and uncomfortable. But the narrator seems to dismiss other cultures as ‘less than’ because they’re not American (or even western). Overall this book annoyed me more than it enlightened me.

I’ve never read her blog and I probably won’t. The writing itself is at the level you would expect to find in a memoir, meaning: not bad. If you want a ‘traveling the globe-finding myself memoir’, read Eat, Pray, Love instead. 

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Monday Madness: Requiem for a Dream

Posted 23 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby
Published by Thunder's Mouth Press on 1978
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 279
Goodreads
four-stars

In this searing novel, two young hoods, Harry and Tyrone, and a girlfriend fantasize about scoring a pound of uncut heroin and getting rich. But their habit gets the better of them, consumes them and destroys their dreams. "Selby's place is in the front rank of American novelists. His work has the power, the intimacy with suffering and morality, the honesty and moral urgency of Dostoevsky's....To understand Selby's work is to understand the anguish of America." -- The New York Times Book Review

Requiem for a Dream is fabulous. It’s a perfect description of the subtle decline in to addiction and what a slippery slope the ‘I can stop any time.’ and ‘I would never do THAT for [enter addiction here]’.

 
The writing style is almost Faulkner-esque, so you have to pay attention or it’s really easy to lose who’s talking and what exactly they’re talking about (or doing). 
 
Highly recommended.
 
A short aside, I’m almost frightened to see the movie because of the power this book has, there are some horrible images that I think if presented properly in film, I would never be able to rid myself of them.
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#291 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Supernatural Sunday: ‘Snake Agent’

Posted 21 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Supernatural Sunday: ‘Snake Agent’Snake Agent by Liz Williams
Published by Open Road Media on September 17th 2013
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Mashups, Paranormal, Urban
Pages: 426
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

When a soul goes missing, an occult detective ventures into Hell to retrieve itWhen the fourteen-year-old daughter of Singapore Three’s most prominent industrialist dies of anorexia, her parents assume that Pearl’s suffering has come to an end. But somewhere along the way to the Celestial Shores, Pearl’s soul is waylaid, lured by an unknown force to the gates of Hell. To save their daughter from eternal banishment, they come to Detective Inspector Wei Chen, whose jurisdiction lies between this world and the next.A round-faced cop who is as serious as his beat is strange, Chen has a demon for a wife and a comfort with the supernatural that most mortals cannot match. But finding Pearl Tang will take him further into the abyss than ever before—to a mystifying place where he will have to cooperate with a demonic detective if he wants to survive. It’s easy, Chen will find, to get into Hell. The hard part is getting out.Snake Agent is the first of the five Detective Inspector Chen Novels, which continue with The Demon and the City and Precious Dragon.

Decent writing and a novel concept, that the substance between one world and the next are infinitely thinner than we could ever imagine them to be. 


The detective story itself is a bit blasé, but the colorful cast of characters and scenery that envelopes the reader is thrilling. There’s more backstory I’d like to hear about Detective Inspector Chen (and his wife), so I guess you might say I’m looking forward to the next book. 

The backdrop of modern China also leads this American reader to feel like I’m exploring a place not just supernatural, but exotic. 


It also reminds me of an ill-fated show on Comedy Central called Ugly Americans. I really enjoyed that show. 

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