Monday, August 31, 2020

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Myer—a book review


On Goodreads Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer has approaching 30K reviews with an average rating of nearly four stars. That's not so shabby. Do you remember that Meyer began writing this book back when Twilight was popular and the partial draft got stolen and posted online? She stopped writing it and said she wouldn't pick it up again until someday when we'd all forgotten about it. Despite having read the online excerpt, and enjoying it, that was so long ago I'd definitely forgotten about it. 

In fact I had no idea this book was out. Once I did, I tried to get a copy but there were none to be had. (I wanted a hard copy.) A kind reader mailed me one. I took it to a local lake house for my one and only vacation this year, and read it sitting by the lake. It took me all week to finish the whopping 658 pages. 

It wasn't just the size that slowed me down. It's that throughout the entire book I kept drifting into the realization that I'd read this book before. It's the entire first Twilight book from Edward's perspective and I mean it's that entire book scene by scene. Sometimes I'd stop reading to hunt down a young adult and quiz them about the Twilight world. I couldn't figure out why I knew so much about the vampire's perspective in Midnight Sun as I read it. Why were the rare bits of new information that weren't in the original Twilight books still so familiar to me? 

The young adults told me because it's the same book, with the haughty disdain of people who don't want to admit to their teenage obsession. A couple of them told me that the Twilight books are popular with women "my age" and not theirs. Years ago I wrote a review for Twilight, admitting I liked the books. I don't entirely believe that millennials don't plan to read the latest book. Thirty thousand women "my age" didn't leave all those reviews on Goodreads. I know this because many of them don't even know how to leave a review on Goodreads.

One of the reasons I've defended Twilight to my serious reader/writer friends is simple. If a book sells millions of copies and spawns fan clubs and movies, it has succeeded in taking readers into another world and is an undeniable success. Picking on the writing or characters feels like sour grapes to me. If you want a higher brow book, read one or better yet, write one. I read a bit of everything—fiction to non-fiction, literary to Twilight. Sometimes I want to be educated and sometimes I want to escape.

All that said, I wasn't crazy about this book. I plodded through the last couple hundred pages, muttering to myself. I had a copy of Glennon Doyle's book with me too, Untamed.  I didn't want to finish it on vacation though because it makes me yell at my husband. I thought there would be more new information in Midnight Sun, but the greater bulk of the book is Edward's feelings and they're not all that different from Bella's. There was also what seemed like some justification of Edward's actions—you know his stalker behavior. Not to mention some justifying Bella's wimpier moments. I didn't care, but sometimes it made me chuckle because he did stalk her (and I'd bet most stalkers feel their actions are justified), and sometimes we're all wimps and we justify those times to ourselves too.

It didn't matter to me. Though there were also times I enjoyed the mental gymnastics of all the justifying. I write and it's great insight to really dig into your characters. But it didn't forward the story for me. It didn't matter. Sure, I could have stopped reading it, but what if I missed something interesting?

The beginning is fun, though I couldn't tell where the stolen online excerpt info ended and the new book began. It seemed like halfway in. The pace is slow. There is some new information, but it felt like panning for gemstones in all Edward's feelings and they can be a bloody mess. The ending gave the greatest amount of new information, yet even the part where the Cullen's are tracking down James the tracker didn't really tell much that was new. I did enjoy the details of the car race through Phoenix to the ballet studio. I enjoyed how Alice's vision works. I would have liked to know more about Jasper's brilliance. Emmett is a great side character, and Rosalie's cussing out Edward at the top of her mental lungs was probably my favorite detail.

Despite my criticisms, if Stephenie Myer's writes all the books from Edward's perspective, I'd probably read them. It's fun. You can only put so much detail into a book without slowing it down and boring your readers, but doing it like this does enrich a story with it's depth. Yes, I said Twilight and depth in the same sentence. Midnight Sun is a nice enough summer read and I enjoyed some COVID escapism. Kudos to the author on that accomplishment alone. We all need to go somewhere these days. If it's a familiar neighborhood we all used to like, what more could you want? Hopefully you'll read it too and come argue your perspective with me. Especially you millennials. Read what you like, and like what you like, no apologies. That's advice from a woman "my age". 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L'Engle—a book review


The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L'Engle is a delightful anthology of short stories she'd written throughout her life. Most readers know L'Engle from A Wrinkle in Time. She brought Science Fiction to the YA world and introduced many of us to tesseracts for the first time. 

L'Engle's grandaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, went through her papers after her death and read through her short stories. This book is a result. It contains eighteen of them. Some were from college complete with grades (A- for Gilberte Must Play Bach). It's a brilliant collection and I enjoyed every story. They inspired me to spend more time writing short stories myself. 

It's difficult to pick which stories I enjoyed most. That Which is Left stunned me with the selfishness of the narrator (that's the same reaction Voiklis had when she read it), but the truth of that story also left me reeling because we have only to look around to see examples of such horrible selfishness. The Foreign Agent, Poor Little Saturday, A Sign for a Sparrow, and the story that the book is named for The Moment of Tenderness, are all works that leave no doubt about the author's incredible talent. Much as I want to say more about them, I won't because I don't want to spoil the stories for you.

Let me just say this is a collection of many types of stories, spooky, non-fiction, small town life, big town life, and fantasy. All of them are good and it's short, quick, escapism just when you need it. 

If you haven't read L'Engle, don't let the YA (Young Adult) label on her most popular books fool you. All of her books are for anyone who enjoys good story. They're fast, concise, and brilliant. As popular as A Wrinkle in Time is, and as much as I loved Charles Wallace and Meg, I think my favorite book was Many Waters (it's about the Murray Twins with a touch of Noah's Ark thrown in), at least it was until The Moment of Tenderness. Now I only wish for more of her writing. I hope there will be another collection.

Monday, August 3, 2020

War with the Newts by Karel Čapek—a book review and recommendation

This book by Karel  Čapek (pronounced Chap-ick) came highly recommended by a Czech friend. In fact she sent me a copy with the best English translation she could find. Imagine my surprise to see a blurb on the back cover from none other than Kurt Vonnegut
"God bless Catbird Press for calling the attention of Americans to a great writer of the past who speaks to the present in a voice brilliant, clear, honorable, blackly funny, and prophetic." ~ Kurt Vonnegut
War with the Newts is about a Sea Captain who finds salamander-like beings who help him harvest pearls. I love the way it's written. It's fast-paced with the help of newspaper clippings that one of the characters collects about the newts. 

It stunned me to realize how absolutely relevant this book is in today's world. I didn't get very far in before the Sea Captain was deep into racial slurs for pretty much the entire planet. He hits up a lawyer he remembers from the old neighborhood as a "pimply Jewish kid". Captain J. Van Toch had bullied Bondy in school and now he asks for his help with his newt enterprise. They're old men at this point and both remember the old days fondly, which both made me roll my eyes and chuckle a little. 

Blacky funny it is, but also horribly prophetic in turn. Mankind enslaves the newts. They're used in medical experiments, treated with no regard other than economic needs and help in underwater engineering endeavors (something they're profoundly brilliant at). This book made me see on yet another level how absolutely inhumane and disgusting slavery was.

My first impression of the book was knee-jerk judgement for the racist language and the stereotyping comments about Czechs, English, Americans, and pretty much every nationality. That quickly gave way to the realization that this author knew exactly how to get his point across. What blew my mind was that this book was published in 1936, after World War I, but before World War II, yet it foreshadowed the Second World War at every turn. Another thing that shocked me was that the stereotyping in this book is precisely the same kind still espoused about countries and peoples now.

It even had people in the southern half of the United States trying to give the newts religion and occasionally lynching them. What I think you get from this book is how little the world has changed in nearly a hundred years, how selfishly cruel humanity can be, and how exceedingly short-sighted and stupid we can be when we look at everything first from an economic standpoint. 

If I could have one wish after reading this, it would be that everyone in the country would read this book. Karel  Čapek was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times. He introduced the word Robot into our language. He and his brother, Josef, were famous for their work. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) Karel was considered Public Enemy Number Two. They weren't aware he'd already died of pneumonia, but his brother, Josef, died in a concentration camp. They weren't Jewish, but were well-known to be anti-fascist. 

War of the Newts is a short book and a brilliant read. I'm already hunting up more of his work. It's absolutely that good. I cannot possibly recommend a book more. No amount of stars can do it justice. Read it. You will be blown away.