Monthly Archives: September 2014

Review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David MitchellBefore this review really gets going, here’s an upfront declaration of love: David Mitchell is one of my favorite authors of all time. I love Cloud Atlas; it would absolutely be on my desert island list of essential reading. So it was with both excitement and trepidation that I awaited the arrival of The Bone Clocks. I avoided reading any reviews so I could form my own impressions, and I’ll try to keep this review relatively spoiler-free so as not to ruin the fun for anyone else.

In The Bone Clocks, a teenage girl named Holly Sykes makes a series of really bad life choices: dating an older man, thinking he loves her, running away from home to move in with him, running even farther when she realizes he’s cheating. It soon becomes clear, however, that Holly’s familiar teenage narrative is strangely intertwined with mysterious forces engaged in a secret and deadly battle. As a child, Holly heard voices in her head and received visits from a woman named Miss Constantin. What she thought was a long-ago hallucination ultimately proves to be a very dangerous reality.

After a jump in time, Holly’s vivid and distinctive voice gives way to a second narrator, Hugo Lamb. At first, this was extremely irritating–I wanted to know what happened to Holly, not what this jerk was up to. As it turns out, Hugo is a complex and fascinating character, a sociopath with a gift for charm, an utterly selfish monster who nevertheless engages in apparently selfless acts–whether for show or to attempt some karmic balancing act. Eventually, Hugo has to make a more lasting choice, between Holly and the dark side; for his sake I wanted him to choose Holly, but for hers, I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t.

Each temporal leap forward brings with it a new narrator and a new perspective–a war journalist torn between his work and his family, a criminally vain author who peaked too soon, an ancient voice in an unfamiliar body– but Holly is the common thread throughout. She is singular, and carries within her the possibility that good can triumph despite long odds.

The lingering question remains as the final chapter ends, in a future where fuel is scarce and connection with the wider world a mere memory: how much of our lives are predestined, decided long ago by a mysterious power or an ancient explosion at the dawn of time? Are our lives scripted or do we have meaningful choices? Can we see what is to come and change it? Or will the forces of savagery and greed inevitably tear away the foundations of society?

I love that Mitchell connected The Bone Clocks to his other novels. Hugo is the cousin of Jason from Black Swan Green; Dr. Marinus from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet plays a pivotal role; and the Prescients, last seen in Cloud Atlas, make a timely appearance. In the world of Mitchell’s novels, everything is connected and one character’s act of kindness or generosity, cruelty or selfish greed, has implications for everyone. That’s just one of the reasons I love his books so much, and The Bone Clocks is no exception.

Genre: Literary science-fiction for the ages

Read it if: You are already a David Mitchell fan; you are fascinated by the idea of reincarnation; or you love nothing more than a genre-bending, multiple point-of-view, epic tale of herbivore versus carnivore, epiphyte versus killer parasite.

Skip it if: You hate it when bizarre things introduced in the very beginning of the book aren’t explained until the very end; you dislike morally complex characters; you would prefer not to contemplate human mortality or the future decline of civilization.

Movie-worthy: No comment. I still haven’t worked up the courage to see Cloud Atlas–and I probably never will. Sometimes I just want to remember the book I saw in my head.

Giveaway: Banned Books Week 2014


Welcome to this stop on the Banned Books Giveaway Hop! Thanks once again to I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and BookHounds for hosting this annual tribute to the freedom to read.

It’s always eye-opening to check out the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books, but particularly startling (at least to me) is the list of most frequently challenged classics. There’s something deliciously ironic about someone attempting to ban George Orwell’s 1984, don’t you think?

Enter for your chance to win one of the classic books from the list below (or check out the list on the ALA’s site here.)

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell

11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

23. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
24. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
25. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
26. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son, by Richard Wright
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
29. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

33. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

36. Go Tell it on the Mountain, by James Baldwin

38. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren

40. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

45. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
49. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

53. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

55. The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie

57. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron

64. Sons and Lovers, by D.H. Lawrence

66. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
67. A Separate Peace, by John Knowles

73. Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love, by D.H. Lawrence

80. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer

84. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller

88. An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

97. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike


Just like last year, I will throw in a surprise bonus book that matches the spirit of the classic. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Burma Book Binge

At long last, my family and I have settled into our new home in Rangoon, Burma (aka Yangon, Myanmar.) Of course, we don’t actually have our stuff or our car, but that will all come in time–for now it’s just a major relief to be in our own space.

While a home without much stuff is still a home, a home without books is simply inconceivable. That’s why I ordered a whole shelf-full of books about Burma, a purchase fully justified by the educational value of learning about the country where we’ll spend the next two to three years. Right?

Friends had actually given me the first book on my Burma list before we even left India: From the Land of Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe. In this moving memoir, Pascal Khoo Thwe describes his journey from the Padaung village of his childhood to university in Mandalay. That in itself was an extraordinary accomplishment, but the author soon finds himself caught up in the democracy movement demanding political change in the late 1980s; after experiencing devastating tragedy, he flees to the refuge of the jungle, where armed rebels battle  government troops on the Thai-Burmese border. How a dissident student from a remote Burmese village made it to Cambridge is a remarkable and inspiring story, made even better by the fact that Pascal Khoo Thwe was recently able to return to Burma for the first time in many years. He even attended last year’s Irawaddy Literature Festival in Mandalay (more on that later!)

I picked up the next selection, Not Out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay, at Monument Books here in Rangoon. Set in the colonial days just before World War II, this tragic novel relates the story of a young Burmese woman, Way Way, who marries an older man. Her husband is the Burmese representative of a British company, and although Way Way is initially dazzled by her husband’s adoption of British ways, she quickly becomes disillusioned, ultimately suffocating under his controlling, obsessive affection. This was a truly fascinating look at traditional Burmese culture, by an author who was an extraordinary woman.

The first of my new Burma-themed books to arrive was The King’s Rifle by Biyi Bandele, a sometimes surreal account of a young Nigerian soldier fighting under British command in Burma during World War II. This trippy, tragic story mainly made me glad I’m not taking any anti-malarial medications. It also made me want to read more about the Chindits, the small mobile units that fought an untraditional war against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma.

Next up on my Burma reading list are the following books:

Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke, “The inspiring story of an unlikely hero and the animals who helped him save lives in World War II.”

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, a novel about an Australian surgeon who survived a Japanese POW camp on the “Thai-Burma Death Railway.”

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin, a journalist’s memoir of her year spent traveling through Burma in the footsteps of George Orwell.

Burmese Lessons by Karen Connelly, a journalist’s memoir of her love affair with a Burmese rebel leader and her immersion in Burmese culture.

The Trouser People: Burma in the Shadows of the Empire by Andrew Marshall, a journalist’s account of his journey through Burma inspired by the diaries of Sir George Scott, a Victorian-era British colonialist.

A little heavy on the non-fiction, but I’m still excited to dive in. Of course, I’ll have to alternate with some of my more typical reading fare, just to keep things interesting. Right now, I’m off to read The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, a book I have been very much looking forward to!








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Review: Gated by Amy Christine Parker

GatedWhile I was visiting relatives in Tampa, Florida a few weeks ago I stopped by a Barnes & Noble and stumbled upon author Amy Christine Parker signing copies of her debut YA novel, Gated. I overheard her outlining the concept for the novel to another shopper and couldn’t resist picking up a copy of my own.

Gated relates the story of Lyla Hamilton, a teenage girl who has spent most of her life at Mandrodage Meadows, an end times cult masquerading as a reclusive gated community. Lyla’s parents found solace in the teachings of Pioneer, the cult’s leader, after the unsolved disappearance of Lyla’s sister. They agree with Pioneer that the outside world is full of evil, dangerous people and believe his predictions that a punishing disaster of global proportions is coming. Only the residents of Mandrodage Meadows will be safe in their underground bunker.

Lyla, however, doubts that she can live up to Pioneer’s expectations; she has qualms about shooting the human-shaped targets during rifle practice and she wonders whether outsiders really deserve the fate supposedly in store for them. When the local sheriff comes sniffing around, bringing along his teenage son, Lyla finds an unexpected connection to the outside world, one that will change everything.

Gated gradually ratchets up the tension until it’s almost unbearable. Even if the entire world isn’t going to end, Lyla’s world is increasingly in jeopardy. I really enjoyed the way the author took a popular genre, the YA dystopia, and set it in a completely plausible real-world environment. I look forward to finding out how Lyla fares in the sequel, Astray.

Genre: Contemporary YA with a dystopian flavor.

Read it if: You love dystopias but are tired of SF/fantasy/futuristic settings, you enjoy almost painful levels of suspense, or you wonder what it would be like to grow up with zero clue about the world around you.

Skip it if: You have an aversion to first-person present tense narration, you prefer peaceful resolutions to conflict, or you are currently leading your own end times cult.

Movie-worthy: Done right, this could be turned into a first-rate thriller; done wrong, it would be a better than average Lifetime movie.


Category: Reviews