Blog Posts by Ultra Violet

Posted by Ultra Violet on 10/22/11
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Judy grew up in Bavaria because of her military father being stationed there. Her mother was a neurotic and exacting woman who eventually had to be hospitalized. Judy's feelings about her childhood in Germany influenced her choice in becoming a Waldorf school teacher. Waldorf schools celebrate they beauty of childhood and fantasy, encouraging even the teachers to believe in gnomes. Nothing damaging is allowed at a Waldorf school. There is no candy, no t-shirts with Disney characters on them, nothing that could ruin the natural process of growth. In this idealized setting, Judy finds herself estranged from her husband whom she discovers is hooked on pain pills. She is in a state of shock over losing her best friend to cancer, and her children are drifting away. Alone and frustrated, she finds herself attracted to one of her son's friends. Zachary is only sixteen, yet Judy engages in a physical relationship with the boy who is a student at the very school where she teaches.

Their forbidden romance cannot end well, but the culmination of Julia's punishment is a taut, intense story. This is a difficult topic to read about, but the author manages to balance the raw passion with modesty of language. I was particularly interested in the layering of symbolism of the Bavarian folk tales and Catholicism juxtaposed with our contemporary values and social mores. This is a dark, primal, and often disturbing love story.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 10/05/11
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Josie Henderson is a rarity in that she is a black woman in a field dominated by white men. She is an oceanographer with a specialty in marine mammal research. She is married to a white man, Daniel, and lives in a white neighborhood in Wood's Hole, Massachusetts. As she deals with the pressure of her work and her husband's desire to have a baby that she doesn't want, she is drawn back into the dysfunction of her family. Growing up in Cleveland, Josie's father was an alcoholic who had started out life with aspirations of becoming an author. Josie's mother was a tough but loving nurse, who kicked her husband out of the house once his drinking had gotten beyond control. Josie's brother, Tick, had a promising start. He and Josie had gone to private school and worked hard. While Josie studied science, Tick got work as a trainer for the Cleveland Cavalier's. He jeopardizes his job with his drug problems and relies on Josie to save him.
 
Written in a clear and frank style, The Taste of Salt  is an honest family story of identity and pain. Josie's dissatisfaction with her marriage and ambivalence about motherhood are well-defined and relatable elements. This book was well worth reading for the look into the heart and mind of an African-American woman who is trying to reconcile her heritage and her ambition.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 09/25/11
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Quentin, Julia, Eliot and Janet are established as the kings and queens of the magical land of Fillory after their harrowing adventures in the first book in this trilogy, The Magicians. It is well worth reading or re-reading the first book because there are many references to specific occurrences from it. The first book set up the story of our anti-hero, Quentin, and how he goes from a depressed introvert in Brooklyn to being a student at an exclusive school for magic. (Yes, it's a bit like Harry Potter, but it is decidedly darker). In this second book, Quentin finds the life of a magician king to be a bit boring. He longs for the days of danger and adventure. When trouble shows up, the others are content to leave it be, but Quentin jumps head-long into the depths of peril, while being forced to face his past and his inner self.
 
There is not quite the happy ending in The Magician King that there was in the first book, but if there is meant to be a third, that makes sense. It is a bit of a cliff-hanger. I have read reviews on both sides of the fence about this one. No one seems to be neutral about this book. You either love it or hate it. I couldn't stop reading it and I closed it thinking, "I can't wait for the next one!"
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Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/17/11
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Art Breen and his mother were abandoned by Art's father when he was just an infant. Mary Breen raised Art on her own until he was about 12 years old and she remarried to Ted McGann. Ted is a tough, manly drinker who is intimidating to delicate, young Art. Mary and Ted have two more children and lead a fairly happy life, even though Ted drinks heavily and is prone to violent outbursts. Art never quite fits in to the McGann family and is taken to a Seminary boarding school for high school. In the priesthood, Art comes into his own. He finds a way to relate to people that he never could access before. He still had a hard time dealing with men, but he found the women and children to be delightful and he delighted them. After a long, successful career at several different parishes, Art is in his fifties when he meets and befriends a young woman with a drug addiction. Kath Conlon has some serious problems and a neglected little boy. Art fears for the boys safety and for Kath's and offers free schooling for the child at the parish school. Kath is happy for the help, and Art arranges for a parishioner to get her a decent, cheap apartment. It comes as a great shock to Art and his family when Kath accuses him of molesting her son. As the story plays out, the accusation tests the faith of each member of Art's family, both in their religion, and each other.
 
Faith is written from multiple perspectives and spans several decades in the telling. Jennifer Haigh does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the Irish Catholic experience in Boston. The honest analysis of the crisis of the pedophile priest controversy and how it has impacted the faith and futures of individuals and families is well-worth writing about. Definitely a thought-provoking story.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 08/08/11
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At her full adult height Lavinia Warren Bump was 2 feet, 8 inches tall, yet she was a proportional dwarf, meaning she was a "perfect woman in miniature". Melanie Benjamin was inspired by her appearance in the E. L. Doctorow masterwork, Ragtime, to write Lavinia's fictionalized autobiography.
 
The book traces her life from the Massachusetts farm where she lived a protected life with her family, to her achievement of becoming a school teacher, to her disheartening and sometimes shocking life on a Mississippi riverboat as a performer. Lavinia maintained her dignity and grace through it all. It was her most distinguishing characteristic. She returns home to find that she misses the lime-light, and approaches P. T. Barnum with a business offer. Barnum takes her into his troupe and Lavinia Warren becomes a household name. With a bit of manipulation from Barnum, Lavinia meets and marries the famous General Tom Thumb, who is only a few inches taller than her. The wedding of the tiny people was the event of the year. It even bumped the news of the Civil War off of the front page of the New York Times. They travelled the world together and amassed a fortune. Nonetheless, Lavinia had many hardships to endure.
 
Any reader interested in P. T. Barnum, or Gilded Age America will enjoy this historical treat. It is rich with detail about the period, including clothes, customs and lifestyles of the rich and famous, such as the Astors and Vanderbilts.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 07/13/11
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Dr. Jennifer White had a stellar career as a hand surgeon until early onset dementia forced her into retirement. Her best friend, who lives only a few doors down, is murdered and Dr. White is a prime suspect. There is no evidence of forced entry or struggle and the victim is missing fingers from one hand. There were expertly removed, even Dr. White commends the work when she is shown the pictures. However, she keeps forgetting that Amanda was killed, as she keeps forgetting everything. Dr. White's son and daughter are alternately a support and an annoyance to her as they struggle with losing their mother and their own neuroses. The entire book is told from the point of view of Dr. White and it is painful and frightening to get inside the head of someone in the situation of slipping away. It is especially hard for Dr. White because she has always been such a powerful woman. If one has gone through the despair of witnessing a loved-one with dementia, this book will be difficult to read, but cathartic as well. LaPlante has achieved something very special in that she has written a work of literary fiction that is also an exciting thriller as the murder investigation unfolds.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/27/11
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Andrew Harrington is a wealthy, handsome, Victorian gad-about who has fallen in love with the model in a painting at his Uncle's home. He is understandably shocked to find that she is a common prostitute from White Chapel. His wily cousin, Charles, had commissioned the portrait and gifted it to his father as a joke. However, the knowledge of her low status doesn't dampen Andrew's ardor for the girl. Through Charles he finds out her name, Mary Kelly. Andrew begins evening forays to White Chapel to meet her, and he even takes a cheap room for their liaisons. Imagine his horror when he finds her completely mutilated by Jack the Ripper in the very room where they had shared so much happiness. Seeing that his cousin was genuinely suicidal, Charles goes to Andrew with the news of a time travel company that is offering trips to the future. Charles convinces Andrew to go with him to meet the eccentric man behind the company to beg him to take them into the past to save his precious Mary. From that point on, the story gets weirder, deeper, wittier, and thrilling.
 
A time travel book with Jack the Ripper, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker and Henry James as characters isn't really so strange these days; what makes Map of Time special is the multi-layered deception and misconception and fact, fiction and science. This is the most creative book I have read in years. Not everyone will enjoy the mental gymnastics it takes to keep up with what is going on here. But if one is willing to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride, The Map of Time is exciting, and delightful. I was particularly impressed with the fact that Felix J. Palma is Spanish and yet he created a tremendously believable Victorian England. But what stands out the most is the complexity of the intricate web of the plot. Get ready for a wild ride!
Posted by Ultra Violet on 06/07/11
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Audrey and Randy come from hearty Iowa farm stock, and they are living out the American dream in their suburban house with four children. They find strength in their stoic Norwegian, Lutheran traditions. But it's the late 1970s and the lives of their children will take some very unexpected turns. Their eldest daughter, Anita, is the consummate girly cheerleader who wants nothing more than to get married and stay home with her children. Her husband is on the fast track to success as a banker and her future seems all planned out. It doesn't take long for Anita to find the joys of motherhood leave her cold, and her husband's drinking habit becomes problematic. After a DUI, Anita takes more control of her life and finds a new side of herself as a realtor. Second oldest, Ryan, has continual trouble with the women in his life, and is unfulfilled in his job as a computer programmer. Ryan finds an uneasy friendship with his burnout, Vietnam vet cousin, Chip. Even though Chip tends to cause Ryan trouble, he is also a voice of reason that grounds Ryan in reality. Blake is the next child in line. Blake finds a career in construction and a good life with a wife and kids. The youngest child, Torrie, had been the one with the most promise. She was a beautiful and impetuous young woman who excelled in school. On the way back from a funeral, Torrie is involved in an accident that shatters her dreams, but opens the door to a new world.
 
Jean Thompson creates characters that are breathtakingly real. There isn't a page of this book that doesn't ring true. It covers issues as diverse, controversial and relevant as alcoholism, Vietnam veterans, Native Americans, farm subsidies, motherhood, and women's roles. It is political and intimate at the same time. Every family in America has dealt with some of these issues in one way or another. This is definitely not a light summer read, but a perfect choice for a book club or for someone who is looking for a contemporary family saga that is painful at times, but hopeful in a way that never gets sentimental.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 05/18/11
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Journalist, John Thigpen, is sent to cover a story about bonobos, a primate species that can communicate through sign language. What seems like a routine story gets more complicated when the scientist, Isabel Duncan, is critically injured in a bombing shortly after the interview. Thigpen has become infatuated with the lovely young scientist, and is devastated to learn of her injuries. Worse yet, his story is stolen out from under him by his co-worker and he quits his job in a fit of anger. Seeking consolation from his wife doesn't work out very well since she is suffering from depression because of her failed writing career. Amanda Thigpen wants to have a baby and John has just quit his job. The tension rises between them when Amanda takes a job in LA writing for television. John is reduced to writing for a tabloid just so he can be assured of being assigned to follow the ape story. The apes were taken and sold when the bombers broke into the lab. John and Isabel have to get very creative if they are going to get the bonobos back.
 
Bonobos are a rare species of great ape that has more in common with humans than any other animal. They are very affectionate, matriarchal, peaceful creatures. They have their own form of communication which scientists have been unable to decipher and yet they can learn to understand and use American Sign Language in addition to being able to understand spoken English and respond in ASL. Ape House is a novel with great deal of research behind it. The human story is completely fiction, but the interactions with the bonobos were taken directly from the author's conversations with the bonobos at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa.
Posted by Ultra Violet on 04/28/11
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Hugh Laurie is best known for starring in the TV series, House, or for his role in the popular BBC series, Jeeves and Wooster, but not many people think of him as an author. The gun seller is a witty, gritty espionage thriller packed with black humor. Under-employed ex-Scot's Guard, Thomas Lang, is offered a substantial sum of money to kill a wealthy American businessman. Lang, being and all-round good egg, not only refuses, but tries to warn Wolf, the American he is supposed to kill. He ends up getting involved in an international affair that is much more than he bargained for. He can't get out, or the gun sellers will kill Wolf's daughter. The first half of this book is very funny and ironic, while the second half gets down to the serious action, but I found both parts thoroughly enjoyable.

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