Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood |  Fiction

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At first, I was chastising myself for not reading this 1986 classic sooner.  And then I arrived at page 93, Chapter 16, when the Commander and the Handmaid have sex and I discovered that image had been carved by a wood burner into my memory.  I realized I had read The Handmaid's Tale before.  But I recalled little and was inspired to continue reading it again.

Briefly, the story — there has been a cultural and social revolution resulting in civil wars and a totalitarian society in Gilead. This is a dystopian novel of what happens to the women, especially, when roles are proscribed and freedoms removed and families broken up, and tolerance disavowed.

No surprise, Atwood’s writing is exquisite and powerful.  Our narrator, one such Handmaid, whose primary job is to bear a child for her Commander and his Wife, weaves the story of her past into the telling of her present life.  As with any dystopian novel, it caused me to wonder ... could we fall victim to such a regime; such a cultural shift?  And to what extent have we already, without realizing it?

If you haven’t read this, you owe it to yourself.  If you've read it decades ago, consider rereading.

And my burning question is ... have you seen the television series?  How is it?  Should I track it down?

 

Thunderstruck

Erik Larson |  Nonfiction

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Thunderstruck, the interwoven stories of Guglielmo Marconi, credited with the invention of the wireless, and Hawley Crippen, a physician, perhaps eventual murderer, isn't Dead Wake or Devil in the White City.  I was disappointed that the narrative lacked a strong sense of mystery and urgency. Thunderstruck read more like history than narrative non-fiction, to me.  At times it was dry and repetitive.  I began to skim the sections where Marconi is testing his wireless, after about the 15th or so iteration of such tests.  One reviewer said Larsen “was exhaustive without being excessive.”  I beg to differ.  I thought Larsen included too much detail about Marconi, his company, his competition, and his endless wireless tests.

That being said, I never once considered putting it down.  Larson's storytelling is good.  He excels at creating a whole picture of his characters ... not just what they accomplished, but their personalities, their foibles, their strengths, their loves, their obsessions.  I think he just included a bit too much in this tale.

The last 20% of Thunderstruck, the chase for the fugitives, was the page-turner part!  I do think Larson's editor should have insisted on a clearer distinction as the chapters shift in time.  The Crippen story occurs mostly ten years ahead of the Marconi story until they at last intersect. 

So, do I recommend Thunderstruck?  Yes, with some reservation.  Read Thunderstruck if you particularly like Larson, or you are intrigued by the development of modern-day communication devices, or you particularly like the social and technological leaps and bounds society encounters at the turn of the prior century. Otherwise, I don't suggest this book leapfrog to the top of your list.

The Power of Meow

David Michie |  Fiction

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This is the third book in David Michie's trilogy about Buddhism through the eyes of the cat adopted by the Dali Lama.  (No, you didn’t miss the second one – turns out my library didn’t have it. I just requested it.) His Holiness’s Cat (HHC), aka Rinpoche, Little Sister, Snow Lion and other names, is delightful!  Smart, articulate, able to read and understand human conversation, she allows us to see Buddhism through her innocent and curious eyes.  These short novels are really fun!  If I were to subtitle this book, it would be, The Power of Meow; In Which HHC Learns to Meditate. 

HHC never reveals the name of celebrities who meet with the Dalai Lama, but in this book, we meet the CEO of an American social-media company, the name of which rhymes with “litter.”  Ha ha ha.

These are quick, enjoyable, fun and enlightening reads!  However, read The Dalai Lama’s Cat first, the initial book in the trilogy, so you learn how HHC came to be the meowing voice of Buddhism principles.

The Flight Attendant

Chris Bohjalian |  Fiction

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Cassie is a flight attendant with enough seniority to work the plum international routes.  She also, to use her own words, “binge drinks” and has “binge sex.”  One might in Dubai; she partakes of both of her chosen activities and wakes up next to Alex Sokolov, his blood pooled on the bed and his throat quite emphatically slit.  Did she do it in a blackout?  If not, who did?  And why?  And why was she still alive?  Cassie leaves the scene, wiping away all traces of herself.  Thus begins a tale of intrigue, mystery, and suspense.

This is an airplane book.  If you want to pass the time, fully engaged in a mystery novel, and not hearing your flight attendant or the passenger in the seat next to you, this is an excellent book to engross yourself in.  It will pull you right along as you try to solve the mysteries along with Cassie, the FBI, and other indeterminate players.

Bohjalian has written 20 books.  His voice is clear and it seems he can tell a sharp, creative story.  I think I will try more of this author; I just requested an earlier work, Midwives, from the library.

Call Me By Your Name

André Aciman |  Fiction

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It is unusual for me to read a book after seeing the movie … I prefer to do it the other way around.  Then, since the movie is never as rich as the book, I can add scenes as I watch the movie.  But something compelled me me to read this novel after seeing the movie.  As much as I enjoyed the beautiful cinematography of Call Me By Your Name, the excellent acting, and the grip of the love story, I felt that the movie was more about what occurred than about the emotions of the two main characters, Elio and Oliver.  I hoped the book would shed some light.

From the very first page, I was not disappointed.  I found myself wanting to watch the movie again with this book in hand … the movie did such a beautiful and profound job of communicating the external story, and the original novel did an exquisite job of communicating the internal landscape.

Elio, the only child of a literature professor and his wife, spends summers with his parents in a home in a small village in Italy.  Every year Elio’s dad invites a student, a protégé of sorts, to spend the summer with them, doing paperwork and correspondence, as well as research and study.  The setting, the weather, the town – all are idyllic.

This summer Elio is 17, and the guest student is 24-year-old Oliver.  This book is the story of their love ... the long slow path to its consummation, and the intensity of its passion and intellect.

This is one of the most sensual books I have ever read.  Aciman is a master.  It is also beautifully written, with lovely words and phrasing.

If you have seen the movie and liked it, I think you will enjoy this book as I have.  If you have not seen the movie, I don’t know how well the novel will land.  The story line is simple and rather slow.  I just can’t tell if it would be a good read or not.  If you read it, let us know!

 

 

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Matthew Dicks |  Fiction

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I LOVE this book!  It is sweet and delightful and a pleasure to read.  (Thank you, Janey!)

Max is an unusual 8 year old boy.  He likes to be by himself.  He has poor social skills.  He needs a schedule, and commitment to it.  He doesn't like change.  And sometimes he gets “stuck.”  But he does have an imaginary friend, Budo.  This delightful story is all about Max's imaginary friend.  And the fun part is, it is written by Budo himself!

Budo is invisible to everyone but Max and he can go wherever he wants, which makes him a great storyteller!   We learn what it is like to be imaginary.  Budo can be seen by other imaginary friends, like Graham and Puppy and Teeny and Oswald.  But all imaginary friends are just what their makers imagine.  Budo can walk through closed doors, because that’s how Max imagined him.  But he can’t sleep, because Max didn’t think of that.  Some imaginary friends can fly.  Some, like Puppy, are not very smart.  Budo, of course, is very smart!

Imaginary friends live until their makers forget about them.  Many of them “disappear” the first few days of kindergarten, as their makers begin to interact with, well, real kids.   But some live on much longer.

Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a child?  Someone you could talk with, play with, or seek wisdom from?  Please tell us about him/her!  I didn't.  However, I do have an imaginary friend now.  His name is Beryl.

 

The Great Alone

Kristin Hannah |  Fiction

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I don’t know Kristin Hannah’s work well, but it seems she has a real gift for breathing life into her characters.  The Great Alone is haunting and complex.  

This novel takes place mostly in 1974 and 1978, with a resolution and completion in 1986.  Ernt Allbright has returned a changed man from serving in Vietnam, and he suffers nightmares, anger, and violence.  He can’t find his way back to the man he was before, even with the unfailing love of his wife Cora and daughter Leni.  After losing jobs and relocating his family many times, he finally decides to move them to a wild and remote corner of Alaska.  This is the Alaska that is fiercely independent, where people are isolated and all their energy goes to survival in a wild, beautiful, unrelenting, frozen land.

Leni is the protagonist in The Great Alone.  She is 13 when the novel begins, and this is her story about learning to love and survive in Alaska.  She struggles to reach womanhood, when her primary task is to attempt to protect her mother from her father, which she fails at over and over again.  There are other wonderful characters in the community in which the Allbrights carve a home.  The local wealthy guy, Tom; Large Marge; and Mad Earl ... whose names give you clues to their personalities!  And then there is Matthew.  But I'll leave you to discover these people on your own.

Before I began this book, and every single time I picked it up to read it, I had to take a deep breath (which is easier said than done since my bout with pneumonia) and steel myself, because there was a chance that Ernt was going to beat his wife Cora.  There's a lot of domestic violence in the middle third of this book.  Be prepared.

Hannah's depiction of the three main characters is what makes this novel, despite it's sad premise, compelling and difficult to put down.  Their intense and difficult love for each another, and how they fall in love with the challenges of surviving in stunning Alaska, will keep you glued to the page, and staying up later than you intend to.  Take a breath and be transported to a wild place of incomparable beauty and pain.

 

The Lying Game

Ruth Ware|  Fiction

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Like the best seller, The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware has written another intriguing mystery novel.  I am struck by the complexity and intricacy of the stories she tells ... she’s just not like many mystery writers where the plot is:  “Someone is killed.  Who did it?”

Four dear friends, Kate, our narrator Isa, Fatima, and Thea, who attended a boarding school together when they were 15, reunite 17 years later, when a body is found in a tidal estuary near London, just a short distance from Kate's home.  Three of them receive the text from Kate they hoped they never would receive.  It says simply, “I need you.”  And thus begins the disentangling of what really happened 17 years ago among these four inseparable friends.

Absolutely, read it.  It's for fun, for intrigue, for wondering what the real story is and trying to figure it out, and for resolution.

 

 

 

Shadow of Night

Deborah Harkness |  Fiction

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This is the second book in a trilogy by Harkness.  The first one is called A Discovery of Witches.  (See my blog posting on 01/23/2018).  I liked this second book a lot; was never bored, and it entertained me through all 592 pages.  It was the perfect read while recovering from unexpected surgery.

This second book is also a fantasy, featuring witches, vampires, daemons, and humans.  It is set in 1590, as Matthew (a vampire) and Diana (a witch) have time-traveled back in time to find a witch to help Diana learn her skills as a witch, and to search for the all-important book, Ashmole 782.

I rated it three hearts instead of four because it is all about relationships – and there isn’t much action.  The relationships are fascinating, interesting, and teach us a lot about Elizabethan London.  However, I think it may a bit slow for Outlander fans, with its pattern of relationship – crisis – relationship – crisis.

Matthew and Diana grow together and it is fun to meet their extended families.  (Well, mostly Matthew’s, since we are in the 16th century!)   I think if you like book 1, you will like book 2.  I intend to read Book 3, The Book of Life, when it is warm and sunny on my back deck this summer.

 

No One Can Pronounce My Name

Rakesh Satyal |  Fiction

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This is the Deschutes County Library 2018 community read.  And so I really WANT to give it four hearts, but it doesn't quite slide into that category for me.  No One Can Pronounce My Name is the story of Indian-Americans living in Cleveland.  Some lived in India earlier in their lives; some were born here, all identified as Indian.  This was their story about how they maintain their culture (my mouth often watered as many social events were held around homemade pakoras and samosas); how they integrate; how they assimilate; how they befriend one another; how they deal with traditions and values and norms both American and Indian; what they gain and lose when they do assimilate.

It is not a heavy read … you will laugh and cry sometimes.  The main characters are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They are gay, straight and questioning.  They desperately want friendships and intimacy, and don’t always find the vehicles to create meaningful relationships.  Their jobs and passions differ, and the overlap of the circumstances of their lives happen by coincidence, a chance, sharing a workplace or a moment in a bar with an unlikely other.

I learned something about the challenges of building a new social structure.  I chose three stars because I found the writing confusing at times and that made it a little less engaging than I had hoped.

If you live in Deschutes County, read this and go the workshops that are sponsored by the library and hit Bend High to hear the author speak.  If you are not local, yes, I still recommend it, just not with my full heart and enthusiasm.  It’s worth a peruse as you make your own decision.