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Book Review: 12.21 by Dustin Thomason

122112.21 isn’t my usual kind of book: it’s the bestseller-y, Da Vinci Code type. (That said, I liked The Da Vinci Code.) I usually stick with established novels – or, at least, established authors.12.21 kept popping up on my radar, and I’d just read Hard Times and was in the mood for something lighter. And lighter it is, though it’s not what I expected. Which was hardcore disaster fun. Like The World Is Ending! California Is Falling into the Ocean! Run! Except it’s not, and I’m not sure that I’m not just a little disappointed.

It’s about a major pandemic. Some kind of virus is going around that causes insomnia. After a few days, those affected go crazy for lack of sleep. There are all kinds of theories about how it spreads, but they finally figure out that it’s airborne. Then, to find the cause! Which ties into the whole The World Is Ending on 12/21/12! because The Mayan Calendar Is Over, and We Don’t Know What That Means! thing. So some characters head down to South America to find out what’s going on. Then, Things Continue to Happen.

I must admit that I was skeptical, simply because this is the bestseller thriller type, and I never think I’ll like those. In fact, The Da Vinci Code might be the only one I’ve read, so maybe I shouldn’t be so biased against them. Anyway, 12.21 is a good read if you’re looking for something light and fun. I read through it really quickly, as I had a really hard time putting it down. If nothing else, you’ll be entertained for a few hours.

Check it out!


Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

hardtimesI read Hard Times for the first time when I was 15 because an English teacher I really respected recommended that I read it over the summer after my freshman year of high school. (She's also responsible for my love of Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood: she recommended White Noise and The Handmaid's Tale, too.) I'd almost totally forgotten what Hard Times is about. All I remembered was that a school with a mean teacher was involved. I think I wanted to reread it precisely because I didn't remember. And I love Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite novels. (I tried reading Great Expectations, though, and didn't even make it halfway.) In fact, that's the first book I read after I graduated college the first time with an English degree. I decided that even though I had a piece of paper that said I had, I hadn't read anything. So I picked up the nearest "respectable" book which happened to be A Tale of Two Cities. I don't think I expected to like it at all - and I certainly didn't expect to absolutely love it.

Brave New World

Continuing my thread of “books I can’t believe I haven’t already read,” I just finished reading Aldous Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World. I was very surprised to find parallels between this book and the last one I read I, Claudius, but I did. Both novels are about distant alien civilizations. I, Claudius is about our past and the birth of Western Civilization, and Brave New World is about our future and the death of civilization. I, Claudius is about a republic becoming a monarchy, and Brave New World is about a world political and social system that enslaves the mind to the government’s will.

Brave New World is thought-provoking and a little scary to read.

Imagine a world without families, where all children are born and raised in facilities where they are taught to be part of a strict class system. Entertainment, consumerism, and pleasure are the main pursuit of all people. Everyone partakes in the daily use of a drug called soma, which relieves its users of all emotional distresses. The chemical highs experienced from the use of this drug are referred to as “holidays.”

Above all else, individualism is looked down upon. Everyone must be happy at all times, and the only way to be happy is to spend time seeking out entertainment in the company of friends.

This novel satirizes modern civilization from all angles. It makes me despise blind consumerism, the entertainment industry, and wastefulness. It’s definitely a “look at the world you live in. Is this really what you want?” kinda story. I enjoyed this book; I like it when an author uses science fiction or fantasy to make social commentary. Science Fiction is my favorite vehicle for this. It allows authors to amplify certain aspects of our civilization and imagine what life would be like if we took things to a distant extremity.

This would not be my fist pick for a beach read. However, this is defiantly a good high school senior or college freshman read.

For fans of The Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction, which has recently become all the rage, Brave New World is a must-read. It’s the granddaddy of them all.

Read this book with a friend. You will have a lot to say when you finish.


The Night Strangers

I’m off my “classics kick” for a spell (pun intended). I considered reading some H.P. Lovecraft, to give myself a fright, but I decided to go with something more contemporary. I settled on Chris Bohjalain’s The Night Strangers. This is not your traditional ghost story. Yes, there are ghosts, and, yes, there is a creepy old Victorian home, but this is much more.

Meet Chip. He is an airline pilot. His wife, Emily, is an attorney. They have two beautiful twin ten-year-old girls. They live happily in Pennsylvania. Chip is a good pilot; he loves flying, and he couldn’t imagine any other career.

Then the unthinkable happens, the thing that we all fear when we board an airplane. The plane crashes into Lake Champlain. The crash is horrific with most of the passengers dead and only a few survivors. Chip is among the survivors. The crash isn’t his fault, and he is legally found blameless, though the horror of the crash haunts him.

Bohjalain’s description of the crash is nail-bitingly suspenseful. He puts you first in the pilot’s chair and then switches you back into the cabin with the passengers. You know the flight is doomed, but you can’t help hoping that Chip will save the flight.

In a bid to start over, the family, almost on a whim, purchase a large century old Victorian home in a remote corner of New Hampshire. The old house has charm, and the nearby village is quaint. This is just the sort of place where Chip and his family can start fresh.

But then there is the basement. Large, dark, and with a dirt floor, there is something about this space that attracts Chip. It pulls at him. He finds a door, sealed shut with bolts. Why bolt a door shut? What could be behind that door?

The longer the family lives in their new home, the more uncomfortable the family seems to become with their accommodations. The house is large and filled with dark corners. There is no cell phone service, and they experience frequent blackouts. It doesn’t help that they are nearly a mile away from their closest neighbor. But maybe you’re thinking that the quaint village will redeem the poor choice in real estate.

Yes, a lovely town with such nice people, especially the women. They like the new family. They take an interest in the young twin girls. Maybe the new friends are a little odd with all their obsessive gardening. Maybe they are a little off-putting with their constant attention. Maybe some of the family members get the feeling that there is something else going on here. Secrets, perhaps? What do these new overly friendly people want, really? Why are they so interested in tinctures and salves and herbal remedies? Some people in town call them herbalists. Others, more quietly, call them witches.

Bohjalain takes you to this remote New England community and creates a strong sense of place. For readers who have never been that far north, this book really captures some of the great gothic elements which were pioneered by early New England writers of ghost stories. Think, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Scarlet Letter.

Caution: This novel is not to be read late at night in an empty house.



Book Review: Light in August

LightInAugustLight in August is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s really an amazing novel. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his best-known novels like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Like the other books I’ve read, Light in August is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, but it doesn’t deal with the declining families there. I didn’t recognize any family names common to Faulkner novels (in fact, I didn’t know it was set in Yoknapatawpha County until I looked it up on Wikipedia).

A few things are going on in this novel: First, Lena Grove is very pregnant and travels from Alabama to Jefferson looking for the runaway father of her child, Lucas Burch. Second, a man named Christmas, who is unsure of his race, arrives in Jefferson. He meets a man who calls himself Joe Brown, and they live together in a cabin outside the house of Joanna Burden, a well-respected woman from an abolitionist family. Christmas starts a sexual relationship with Burden culminating in a house fire and a charge of murder. Third, we hear the story of Reverend Gail Hightower an outsider in the community who gets involved with the other plot lines. And that’s as much of a summary as I’m offering.

I’m not sure why Light in August wasn’t on my radar earlier. It’s pretty well-known, but it’s also long for a Faulkner novel at somewhere near 500 pages. Which explains why I wasn’t assigned it in college. It’s also more focused on race than I remember his other novels being. In any case, Light in August is so worth your time. I was hooked from the very beginning and in awe of Faulkner’s writing powers. It’s now my favorite of his novels.

Check it out!

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