Sunday, August 31, 2014

Finished (E-Reader): California by Edan Lepucki

 Am about 3/4 of the way through California by Edan Lepucki.  I've been reading a bunch of dystopian novels over the past few years, as my daughter has an interest in them (e.g. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent).

I, like everyone else, is reading California because it is published by a company that Amazon is refusing to sell on their site.  Stephen Colbert advertised this book and pointed to several non-Amazon sites where it could be ordered - a very successful, though inadvertent, sales increase for Lepucki's book - over 60,000 pre-orders.
California is set in the near future, there hasn't been anyting as dramatic as a nuclear war, but Lepucki has extended climate change, income disparity and post-911 security fears and extrapolated all a few years into the future.  Our current social supports have eroded, severe weather and flues have decimated much of the U.S. population, and the wealthy have retreated to walled cities.

The main characters live in the post-world, basically alone, squatting in an abandoned shed.  Life isn't terrible, they do see a travelling trader, so are able to get some "old world" stuff, and living in California, they haven't been experiencing severe winters.  However, without the internet, without power, and without fuel, there really isn't much news around - they couldn't pinpoint what's going on elsewhere, and have a very 1700's level of locality - the know their neighbourhood, but not much beyond.

I'm quite enjoying the book and look forward to the final quarter.  Given the nature of the book, having a corporate giant (Amazon) making it difficult for the little guy to survive seems most fitting.

Update:  Finished the book.  Still like it, but like all of the dystopian novels and comics I've read, the big reveal is early - finding out how the new world is different than "our" world, and how it came to be.  The rest of the story about the characters and what happens to them becomes secondary.  The book resolved reasonably, but I found the idea to be greater than the character-driven part of the story.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Finished (E-Reader): "Mr. Mercedes" - Stephen King

Mr. Mercedes is a typical King book - by that I mean an easy to get into book with a compelling storyline and enough odd characters to make it all work well.

The basic storyline starts with a queue for a job fair getting run over by a Mercedes in the early dawn hours, killing several - the perpetrator gets away, case unsolved.

The other characters are the crusty, now retired detective from that case, a young acquaintence who is pretty smart, and a middle-aged woman struggling with significant psychological issues who comes to the fore.

Perfect for the summer days I lolled around reading it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Finished (E-Reader): "White Lines" - Jennifer Banash

I found this "White Lines" while searching for the "other" "White Lines" book by Tracy Brown.

Brown's book was from an inner-city perspective, crack users and dealers, and both the success (e.g. money and power for the dealers) and the costs (generally downward spiralling) to the users.  The main characters are a young woman, who ran the gamut, having been a user, being turned out as a prostitute, "recovering", having a stable relationship with a successful dealer, relapsing etc.

The Banash book is from an entirely different perspective.  The main character is an upper class late teen (17 years old) from a split family with a distant father and an abusive mother - not the best situation, but even at it's worst, was better than the Brown character lives.

The girl lives alone in an apartment paid for by her father, and has fallen into the club scene, where she works assisting in hosting parties for the partying crowd.  She is exposed to and takes cocaine, some heroin (by accident) and ecstasy.  However, for the most part, the drugs are commonplace in the environment she's in, and quite "normalized".  She has some overdose experiences, but doesn't land in the hospital over time, and has some awakenings as she realizes how "cold" her real life has become and how reliant on drugs she's become to get by.

Side by side they portray very different lives, except for the purchase of drugs (which occurs off-scene in Banash's book as drugs are prevalent and sometimes it is not even clear who is providing them) it would be difficult to imagine interactions between the worlds.

As Banash's main character, Caitlin, is young, healthy and rich, there seems to be no permanent cost to her drug play.  I had a similar "complaint" about Brown's book as well - even though there are perils and hurdles, the main characters in both books seem to have survived, with relatively little lasting impact.

In the Brown book, the turmoils were much harsher - actual gunplay, physical violence, becoming prostituted, but none actually seemed to be detrimental to the main character - she ended up in an environment much more stable and financially secure than would have been likely coming from that particular neighbourhood and household than would seem possible through "normal" channels (e.g. hard to imagine a stellar high school and college career, with 2.5 kids and a law degree).  Banash's Caitlin likewise seems none the worse for ware - she probably flunked out of high school, but no real mention in the concluding chapter, but is living with a now-living parent in a financially secure setting (with servants), having seemingly kicked the drug habit and kept all her druggie and non-druggie friends alive and intact.

I probably liked the Banash book more than the Brown, though that is primarily due to higher expectations in the Brown book - the lower class neighbourhood, criminal associations - I expected more angst and much more reflection on how close to disaster all the players were.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Finished (E-Reader): "If I Stay" - Gayle Forman

Wow.  Saw the preview for the "If I Stay" movie and though I'd read the book ahead of the movie.  It's goin' to be a tearjerker.

Quite a nice read - topic is difficult - but the soul searching and feelings are strong and well written.

Give it a shout.  I started reading, when, maybe yesterday?  I think this one will stick a little while.

Reading (E-Reader): "White Lines" - Jennifer Banash

I recently read "White Lines" by Tracy Brown, but found a second book with the same title, so I decided to read it as well.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Finished (E-Reader): "Ocean at the end of the lane" - Neil Gaiman

I read "Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman as a recommendation from my daughter, so I had no expectations, high or low.

It was a very fast read - start and finish in two days (without really trying).

It was an interesting read, I hadn't expected the supernatural aspects of the book - much of what I get from my daughter are the John Green stories of young/teen biographical stories.

I did like the mix of supernatural into a small town environment, with a young boy seeing what is happening through naive eyes.  The basic storyline is that a border in the young boy's house is found a few km away at the end of a lane, having stolen the family car and committed suicide.

The boy accompanies his dad to recover the stolen car, a seeming joyride dropoff.  However, they discover the dead man in the car.  A young girl (a few years older than the boy) comes out to take him away from this crime scene and into the house near the abandoned vehicle.  The first evidence of supernatural is the amount of details this girl, her mother and her grandmother know about the victim - the seem to know his "story" (he apparently took his money and money he was holding for others and gambled it all away in an evening of poor choices), and referred to a note in the vicitim's pocket which hadn't yet been found (and even implied that they "pushed" the investigating officer to look in the correct pocket).

The boy then becomes involved for a short while with the family and their unusual existence, becoming immeshed in one of their adventures.

Not sure if this book is part of a series, or "world" where the details might be more relevant or revealing, but the book did stand alone as a quick summer read.

Finished (E-Reader): "White Lines" - Tracy Brown

I ran across the book "White Lines" by Tracy Brown as a woman at work was engrossed in it and recommended it.

The book is basically a biographical story about the crack epidemic in the U.S. in the '80's.  The book covers several characters (dealers, users, recovered and relapsed users) in a couple of NY neighbourhoods.

When looking for this book (there are two with the same title) I ran across a few reviews.  One of which I fully agree with:  the characters in the book seem to have it "too easy" in the way they seem to have little remorse for the terrible things they have done, and have experienced.  For example, in one scene, the main dealer's girlfriend has been stealing crack from him and using (secretly).  He suspects, and he accosts his intermediate distributors, beating one nearly to death, mainly to see if she'll admit to stealing to save this innocent guy (a lifetime friend).  She doesn't, the guy survives and goes to the competition - no remorse, no attempt to explain/payoff/apologize to the innocent party, and no lasting recriminations.

Similarly, the key female character is abused, becomes an addict, is turned into prostitution by her mother's "boyfriend", recovers, has a good relationship/wealth/security, relapses and loses it all.  Still, not much in the way of angst.

The book does show the paths that lead to horrendous outcomes (e.g. the move into prostitution to feed addiction) but to some degree normalized this behaviour and, perhaps in order to make the characters likable, avoids some of the responsibility for choices and actions.  Though, to be fair, I don't have any experience with these issues, so maybe the only way to survive is to adopt a relatively guilt-free existence to avoid going down even darker and more pessimistic paths.

All in all, I did enjoy the book, but perhaps had too high an expectation for the book to achieve.