Thoughts on The Waste Lands (Dark Tower Book 3) by Stephen King

I continue to be entertained and ensnared by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  A somewhat slow start snowballed into a tension-filled, exciting conclusion with a heck of a cliffhanger.  (Sidenote:  I have absolutely NO idea how one would adapt this series into a movie.  It will be very interesting to see what the filmmakers do with this.)  In the third installment, our three gunslingers from The Drawing of the Three, Roland, Eddie, and Susannah, are joined by a familiar face and a billy-bumbler, an adorable dog-like raccoonish creature named Oy, who is smart and sweet and loyal AND IF OY DIES IN LATER INSTALLMENTS I WILL LOSE IT.  (But don’t tell me, please, if you’ve read this series.)

34084Man, this series is hard to write about without revealing major plot points.  The Waste Lands opens with the three slowly making their way in the direction of The Dark Tower. Roland is not feeling so hot, and Eddie and Susannah (who’ve fallen in love) are worried about his mental state.  Enter a giant sentient bear (!) named Mir who is going insane and suffering from some sort of gross disease.  He rampages through their camp and (mild spoiler, but not really because it happens pretty early on) unsuccessfully tries to kill one of the three.  When Mir is killed they find out that he’s got some kind of machine attached to his head, and it’s gone haywire.  Roland tells Eddie and Susannah about the legends of the Twelve Guardians who stand guard at twelve different portals in and out of the world. At the center is the Dark Tower.  Mir was apparently one of the guardians. So they just have to find the door it was guarding, and they’ll be that much closer to the Dark Tower. This all happens in the first 70 pages or so, and my edition was 590 pages, so there’s a lot of stuff I’m not writing about!  There’s some shifting back-and-forth in the narrative between Mid-World and our world (late 1970’s era.)  The gunslingers (plus the familiar face and the billy-bumbler) eventually end up in a seriously scary dystopian nightmare of a city for the thrilling conclusion of the book.

What I like about this series so far, aside from the inventiveness of Mid-World and the compelling overarching mythology, is the camaraderie of our gang.  Eddie and Susannah’s relationship is sweet and feels natural.  Roland is assessing his companions in a new light given their growth since being pulled into Mid-World.  They are now fully capable and on equal footing; Roland has learned to trust them.  I am becoming attached to these characters, which I have a feeling is a dangerous thing to do and I quite possibly will be shedding some tears in future installments.  I am really intrigued as to how King will resolve this series, so I definitely plan to keep reading.

I’ve read that the fourth book in the series, Wizard and Glass, goes back and fills in more of Roland’s backstory, and doesn’t pick up immediately where this one ends.  If I’d been reading this as they were being published I would have been like What the heck, Stephen King?  Six years later and you didn’t even tell me what happened to our gang?!? But I have the privilege of being late to the party on this one.  So I’m not in a super hurry to read the next one. I’m taking a little break, at least until #20BooksofSummer is over in September.  I’m kind of surprised by how much I like this series.  As I’ve mentioned before, fantasy is not a genre I’ve read a lot in, and I had previously pegged Stephen King as a writer of “scary stuff” that I was too much of a wimp to read.  But I guess it’s just another example of how, in life, we are only limited by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  I like being surprised by reading.

(This is book #6 of my 20 Books of Summer.  I’m wavering on sticking to the rest of my list.  In fact, I’m fairly confident that I’ll be substituting a whole lot of my original list with picks based on my mood for the rest of the summer.)

So what was the last “pleasant surprise” read for you, or a book or series outside of your reading comfort zone that you ended up really enjoying?

BRL Quarterly Report # 8

@thiskitschHere we are, into the third quarter of the year already!  How did that happen?  My son starts school again in about two weeks!  This year is flying by.  Time to write about the reading I’ve done the past three months.

Books Read: 20

Fiction: 19

Nonfiction: 1 (Lauren Graham’s memoir Talking As Fast As I Can)

Audio: 4 (LG’s memoir, Sense and Sensibility (read by Juliet Stevenson!  So good!,) Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Juvenile/Middle Grade:  2  (Wonder and Watsons)

YA/Teen:  3 (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North and Erica Henderson.)

Graphic Novels:  1 (Squirrel Girl)

Authors of Color:  6 (Exit West, John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, Watsons, A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki)

Published in 2017:  3 (Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts, and Into the Water by Paula Hawkins)

Favorites This Quarter:  How It All Began by Penelope Lively, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, and The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.   I’ve not reviewed the two audio books, because I don’t usually review those on my blog.  I listen to them in the car pretty much exclusively; therefore I don’t have an opportunity to take notes as I do on my print reading.  So I don’t feel like I would have more than a paragraph or two to write about them.  Hmmm… maybe I’ll do a semi-regular audio book round-up in the future?  That’s an idea worth pondering.

Reading Goals:  So I’m happy to say that I’ve completed two of my reading goals for the year!  I have now read 6 juvenile/middle grade titles and have read at least 6 Random Picks (books that weren’t on my TBR at the start of the year.)  It figures that a goal that I completed already would the the random reading, ha ha!  If you’ve been a visitor here for a while you know what a mood reader I am.

In fact, as of late I’ve been considering having NO reading goals at all for 2018. I have been in the mood to just read whatever the heck I want to, with no regard for lists or challenges of any kind.  I just don’t do well with planned reading.  It’s like diets – when someone tells me not to have the cake or cookies, the thing I want most on this Earth is a piece of cake or a cookie!  So when I make a list of books I want to read in a certain time span (Hi #20BooksofSummer!), all I want to read is all the *other* books on my shelves and my Goodreads list!  Mind you, they’re ALL BOOKS THAT I WANT TO READ SO I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME, but there it is.

So how was your last reading quarter?  How are you progressing on your reading goals?  Did you make goals?  Are you chafing under them?  Why or why not?

 

The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie (#20BooksofSummer book 5)

408478My aunt is the one who started me on Agatha Christie.  She gave me an anthology with five Hercule Poirot novels in one (Death on the Nile, Murder On the Orient Express, The ABC Murders, Cards on the Table, and Thirteen at Dinner) when I was about 12 or 13.  I read The ABC Murders first and I was hooked.  I fell in love with the way Christie constructed her puzzles and the way Poirot assembled all the clues to solve the murders.  I loved Poirot’s rather healthy self-esteem and his friend Hasting’s amusement at him.  Even back then I wasn’t one to binge-read an author, though, so I didn’t make it a point to read every Christie.  I’d read one here and there throughout the years, which is why it’s taken me until now, some 28 years later, to read the very first Poirot mystery published, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. After enjoying this one so much, I think it’s high time I filled in the gaps in my Christie reading!

Set in the midst of World War One, the book is narrated by Captain Hastings, on leave from the war and at loose ends.  He meets an old acquaintance, John Cavendish, who invites him to stay for a while with his family at Styles, their estate in Essex.  The reader knows from the beginning that something shocking has happened by Hasting’s opening narration:

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known as “The Styles Case” has now somewhat subsided.  Nevertheless, in view of the worldwide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story.    

140290Cavendish explains to Hastings that his stepmother, Mrs. Cavendish, who raised him and his brother Lawrence from the time they were young, has recently remarried.  Hastings is taken aback – a quick mental calculation tallies her age at about seventy (gasp!) John explains that everyone in the family, and even Mrs. Cavendish’s stalwart “factotum, companion, Jack of all trades” Evie Howard, disdains the marriage and the new husband, and thinks it’s nothing but a money grab. We are also told that both Cavendish brothers are hard up for money, even though their stepmother has always been generous to them through the years.  So immediately the reader is alerted that there is much tension in the house at Styles, and we are invited to dislike Mr. Inglethorp, “the rotten little bounder,” even before we meet him.  Christie ends the first chapter with a delicious bit of foreboding spookiness:

A vague suspicion of every one and everything filled my mind.  Just for a moment I had a premonition of approaching evil.

Soon we are introduced the the inimitable Monsieur Poirot, who is staying in the village with some of his fellow countrymen – Belgians – who are refugees from the war.  Mrs. Cavendish’s generosity has allowed them a place of refuge.  We get a marvelous physical description of Poirot’s appearance and fastidiousness (“I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound”) but all too soon he is gone and we are back at Styles with Hastings.  The very next night Mrs. Cavendish awakens everyone in the household with her strangled cries of distress, but the doors are all locked from the inside.  When the men break down the door they find her convulsing, apparently dying from some sort of poisoning.  With so many suspects and so much tension in the air, it is up to the famous Belgian detective Poirot to start assembling the facts.  When Hastings tells him of the events of the previous night, Poirot  humorously tells him, “You have a good memory, and you have given me the facts faithfully.  Of the order in which you present them, I say nothing – truly, it is deplorable!  But I make allowances – you are upset.”  I enjoyed a good chuckle at that one.

This was a smart, delightful beginning to Hercule Poirot’s mysteries, and I can’t believe it took me all this time to read it.  I have to say that I was once again bested by Christie’s brilliance and had no clue who was behind the murder.  Hastings and Poirot have a playful, light and easy rapport, with Hastings standing in for the clueless reader as Poirot sheds light on the case.  Poirot gently needles him throughout and Hastings exhibits a generous spirit while an easy target.  There was one glaring instance of casual racism that took this twenty-first century reader out of the narrative for a moment.  It involves the discovery of a chest of dress-up clothes and disguises that the Cavendish family use from time to time during a “dress-up night.”  Apparently it was great fun to put on wigs and costumes to impersonate people of other ethnicities.  I know that this was published in 1920, so I make allowances for that sort of thing, but it still jarred me for a moment.

Yet it was a minor detraction from an otherwise superb mystery, and a grand introduction to a classic detective and his straight man.  A glance at the Goodreads list of Poirot mysteries tells me that I’ve many more books yet to enjoy, and I’m thrilled at the prospect.  Just don’t expect me to read them all anytime soon!

So this was my fifth book for #20BooksofSummer.  I am starting to doubt that I’ll be able to complete all 20 by the beginning of September, and I’m certain that if I do, I won’t have reviewed them all by then.  My blogging pace this summer has been glacial.  (I’ve made my peace with that – I think.)  If you’re participating in Cathy’s annual tradition, how is it going for you?  Are you on pace to complete all 20 in time?

 

 

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (#20BooksofSummer book 4)

Another week has passed and I’m just now writing a post.  This summer my son has been staying up a little later at night, and by the time he’s asleep I’m just TIRED, y’all.  I just want to read a bit or watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a minute and then GO TO BED.  I know that when we get back in our routine and he’s going to sleep by 8:30 I’ll have more time to myself at night, and hopefully more energy for blogging!  Tomorrow’s his birthday!  He’s been bouncing off the walls and I’ve been consumed with party plans.

tb-cover-993x1500But I did read another book for #20BooksofSummer, and it’s also my book group’s pick for June.  (We meet to discuss in about a week.) Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being was one of those books that I had avoided reading until now, despite near universal acclaim and one very persistent library patron telling me that I MUST READ IT.  I know, I know, I’d say – it’s on my list! Only for some reason I wasn’t all that excited to read it.  If it hadn’t been our book group pick, I probably never would have.

And that would have been a real shame!  I am quite glad that I was forced to read it.  It was strange, occasionally beautiful, sad, mind-bending, and startlingly original.  I didn’t wholeheartedly love it, but I very much enjoyed it.

It was a slow start for me, however.  The first 150 pages or so were not really landing. Here’s the Goodreads description, because it’s a super tough book to try and summarize:

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

I usually enjoy dueling narratives, flashes forward and backward in time, all of that.  I enjoyed the playfulness of the contemporary character, Ruth, being a novelist named Ruth, living in Canada with a husband named Oliver.  (All things true of Ms. Ozeki.)  But the novel didn’t take off for me until Nao goes to stay for a while with her amazing great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun, at her monastery.  That’s the point where I became fully invested in the book, and remained so for the next 250 pages.  While I empathized with Ruth and was interested in her search to find out of Nao ever really existed or was still alive, it was Nao’s narration that I was more eager to return to.  Nao’s life was really hard – her struggle for identity, feeling more American than Japanese, having grown up in America; her father’s depression and suicide attempts; the insane cruelty of her classmates’ bullying.  Ozeki doesn’t shy away from dark topics, yet there are flashes of humor throughout.  Ruth and Oliver have a cat named Pesto, who they call “Pest” for short (cute.)  And there’s this line from early on in Nao’s diary:

My dad wants me to apply to an international high school.  He wants me to go to Canada.  He’s got this thing about Canada.  He says it’s like America only with health care and no guns, and you can live up to your potential there and not have to worry about what society thinks or about getting sick or getting shot. 

The book takes a turn towards the magical realism/speculative genre towards the end, and I don’t want to give away too much.  I’ll say that for a brief time I was left wondering whether or not I was a character in a book that someone was reading, and I’ve never felt that particular feeling before because of a book.  I felt a bit dizzy when I finished reading this, and I took that as a good sign.  I think it’s going to be a very good book for discussion at my book group meeting.  There’s an experimental vibe to the book that was interesting, unique, and trippy, but somehow it didn’t add up to a book that I could say that I loved.  I’m glad I read it, however, and sometimes that’s enough.

20-booksHave you read this?  What’s the determining factor for you in rating something either a 3 or a 4 on Goodreads?  Have you ever been so flummoxed that you couldn’t give a book a star rating?  I’d love to read your thoughts.

 

 

#AnneReadalong2017: Anne of Avonlea (Book 3 of #20BooksofSummer)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

“Having adventures comes natural to some people,” said Anne serenely.  “You just have a gift for them or you haven’t.”

My reading of the second book in L.M. Montgomery’s classic series was a bit more of a chore than my experience of the first one, I have to admit.  I did enjoy it, but I found it all too easy to set the book aside when I’d finished a chapter.  It consisted of vignettes about people in Anne’s life and Anne herself, just like the first.  But I felt that there was less forward momentum in the narrative, almost as if each chapter was a short story rather than part of a novel.

9780770420208-us-300Anne is 16 now and a teacher of some of the very children who were recently her schoolmates.  She still lives with Marilla, who is still experiencing poor eyesight and can’t do any close up sewing or crafting or reading.  However, they are soon joined by twins Davy and Dora, six years old, distant relations who are orphaned and need a temporary place to stay. Davy is a deliberately mischievous “handful” and Dora is… well… boring. Dora might as well not exist, in my opinion.  She’s only referenced in contrast to Davy’s behavior, and Anne and Marilla both admit to liking Davy more.  Poor Dora!  I wondered why Montgomery even introduced her in the first place.  Why not just have little Davy come to stay at Green Gables?  But I’ve not read the rest of the series – perhaps Dora has a meatier role to play in the future?

In any case, Anne is busy with teaching and with the newly formed Avonlea Village Improvement Society, in addition to her adventures with the twins and assorted neighbors and friends.  My favorite part of the book came towards the end, when we meet the “old maid” (“forty-five and quite gray”) Miss Lavendar Lewis.  Miss Lavendar is as romantic and imaginative as Anne is, and they become fast friends.

“But what is the use of being an independent old maid if you can’t be silly when you want to, and when it doesn’t hurt anybody?”

I very much enjoyed the whimsical Miss Lavendar, and was quite moved by her affection for Anne’s favorite pupil, sweet, sensitive Paul Irving.  The plotline involving Lavendar and Paul’s father, Stephen, felt romantic and satisfying.  Anne herself has just a taste of romance, her first conscious thought of what may lie ahead with Gilbert, in the book’s last pages.

Favorite line:  “… Mrs. Lynde says that when a man has to eat sour bread two weeks out of three his theology is bound to get a kink in it somewhere.”

Rating:  Three stars.  We got to meet some fun characters, but overall it felt lacking compared to the richness of the first.  Davy was a big drag for me, quite frankly. However, the book had a sweet spirit and Anne still exhibited her trademark appreciation for nature and creative daydreaming, which I enjoyed.  I do look forward to reading more about Anne’s adventures as she heads to Redmond College.  I’m hoping the change of scenery will add more momentum to the story!

20-books(This was book 3 of my #20BooksofSummer list.  Combining reading challenges!  Yes!) 

 

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (#20BooksofSummer Book #2)

I had low expectations going into Paula Hawkins’s second novel, Into the Water.  I liked The Girl on the Train – liked, didn’t love.  I certainly turned the pages fast enough, reading it in less than two days.  But I didn’t think it was worth all the tremendous, overwhelming hype that it got, and I certainly didn’t think it was the best mystery published in 2015.  But I knew that her next book would be one of the most popular of the year, and I was curious enough to give it a go.  I’m very glad that I did, because it was a compelling, layered, twisty mystery with an almost Gothic feel that kept me wanting to return to its pages.

Basic premise:  Single mom Nel Abbott is dead, turning up in The Drowning Pool, a stretch of river in the English town of Beckford that has seen many women taking their lives in its waters.  Or have they been victims of foul play?  Only a couple of months earlier, a high school girl was found in the river, an apparent suicide, with stones in her pockets.  She was the best friend of Nel’s daughter, Lena.  Is there a connection between the two events?  Nel was writing a book about the sordid history of the river and its victims.  Did she come too close to the truth for comfort?

61OLegHQzvL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Told from multiple perspectives, including the type-written pages of Nel’s manuscripts, this mystery was layered with secret upon secret.  It seemed every person in the town had a grudge against Nel, even her own estranged sister, Jules. It’s Jules’s perspective that we get the most of, and we see the sisters’ complicated history in flashbacks.  Her grief is overshadowed by something she thinks Nel played a part in  when she was thirteen and Nel was seventeen, something Jules has never recovered from emotionally.

Some of the women you wrote about are buried in that churchyard, some of your troublesome women.  Were all of you troublesome?  Libby was, of course.  At fourteen she seduced a thirty-four-year-old man, enticed him away from his loving wife and infant child. Aided by her aunt, the hag Mary Seeton, and the numerous devils that they conjured, Libby cajoled poor blameless Matthew into any number of unnatural acts.  Troublesome indeed.  Mary Marsh was said to have performed abortions. Anne Ward was a a killer.  But what about you, Nel?  What had you done?  Who were you troubling?  

I liked the feminist tone of the book.  Issues of domestic violence, sexual assault, and statutory rape play a part in the town’s sordid past and present.  In fact, now that I think about it, almost much all the men in the story are creeps.  Not that the women are saints – they’re pretty messed up too, only they don’t seem to be holding the power.  I liked Detective Sergeant Erin Morgan, an outsider to the town brought in to help local police with the investigation. She injected a bit of humor in an otherwise pretty dark book.  I chuckled at her frustration when I read this bit:

Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides, and grotesque historical drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head.

20-booksWith so many suspects and secrets I admit I didn’t know the identity of the murderer until the very end of the book.  It wasn’t a shock so much as a “Yes!  That makes sense!” feeling.  It was a satisfying ending for me, considering all the plot elements swirling through its pages.  I would say that this book was not about the “big twist” or the surprise ending as so many contemporary thrillers are.  Instead, it’s a book about the complexity and unreliability of memory, and the ways in which “troublesome” women have been dealt with over time.  So my second book for 20 Books of Summer was a hit!  I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like this, and I will definitely be putting Ms. Hawkins’s next book on my TBR.  If you plan to read it, know that it’s pretty different from her first book; for me, that was a good thing.

 

#20BooksofSummer REVISED: Because I’m Awful At Planning My Reading!

I knew that when I signed up for this 20 Books of Summer thing I would have trouble with it!  It’s kind of funny.  I mean, it’s only mid-June and I’m already revising my list. But I am just horrible at planning my reading.  I am a creature of whim when it comes to my books – plus I am in a book group that meets monthly.  WHICH I TOTALLY FORGOT to take into account when I wrote my first post EVEN THOUGH I’VE BEEN IN IT FOR TEN YEARS! Good grief.

140290I’m cutting out five books from my original list. One I started reading and just didn’t like (J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints For All Occasions.  A shame, since I very much liked her other books.)  So I have already subbed in an Agatha Christie (The Mysterious Affair At Styles.)  And since I’ve become hooked on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I’m subbing in the third book, The Waste Lands, because I don’t think I can make it to September without reading it!

Then I’m adding my book group books for June and July to my list.  Our book for this month is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being.  I’ve heard so many good things about this – I hope it’s good!  I’m going to listen to it on audio and read it, so I can try and finish it by our next meeting.

Taking Out:

  1. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen
  2. Discontent and Its Civilizations by Mohsin Hamid
  3. Ghana Must Go by Taye Selasi
  4. Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton

tb-cover-993x1500Subbing In:

  1. A Tale For the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
  2. The Waste Lands – Stephen King
  3. Unnamed Book Group Pick for July
  4. Unnamed Book Group Pick for August

I do still want to read the four I took out, but I also want to get as close to finished 20 books as I can, so they will have to wait.  This is hard!

I’ve finished the second book from my list (Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.) I really liked it.  Four stars!  I’ll be posting a review in the next couple of days.

So how are you faring with your lists?  Are you having to cut and add things like I am?