Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bathing the Lion by Jonathan Carroll--This New Book Now Available on Bookstands!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

"Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange."  --[Cobb from the movie, Inception.] [2]

     A skilled thief by the name of Dom Cobb accepts a job to, not steal, but, plant an idea into the subconscious mind of a man--a feat he calls, "Inception." The impossible-sounding concept can only be accomplished when the target is asleep, deep within the dream state. To help Dom's team know whether or not they are within the dream state, they each carry a totem to keep them in touch with their reality.

     The "dream team," (Sorry about the silly pun, but I just couldn't resist!) enter the dream state and begin their work to plant the idea. As the team enters the dream landscape, immediately surreal things begin to happen. A train plows through the middle of a traffic-congested street, the hotel spins on its axis as gravity shifts, where the floor becomes ceiling--and then back, again, and even snipers shoot at the team from a nearby rooftop. [3]

     In the movie, Inception, the dreamer did not know someone had entered his dream, that his dream was being shaped by outside forces. Master writer, Jonathan Carroll, has taken advantage of the surreal landscape of the dream world, just as writers did for Inception, and utilized it as an important aspect in his book, soon-to-be-released, Bathing the Lion. No, the "dream team" from Inception does not make an appearance in Carroll's new book, nor do we have trains in the middle of the street, or snipers. But Carroll does get creative in dream imagery. So, let's get right to Carroll's book by first looking at the synopsis.

     The book opens benignly enough, albeit with a little anxiety-producing discussion between a husband (Dean) and wife (Vanessa) about separating from each other. Nothing is resolved and each goes off to spend a day away from each other, "to think things over." Their interactions seem to be normal enough, something that would, and does, happen in the real world. But what happens next leaves them and three others in shock.

     In the New England town in which they reside, some of the five know each other, some do not. Upon waking, each recognizes that what they thought was real was, instead, a dream; and then, each in turn, discover that five of them had the exact same dream--what does it mean? The dream seemed so real, and their reality is feeling very surreal. Soon, very soon, each member of the group will realize that, at one time, they lived the life of a "mechanic," not the car-fixing variety, but a kind of repairman who fixes things in the universe and helps to keep it all in order.

     These dreamers, these, "mechanics," used to clean up the messes of sentient beings, and also one other being--fear producing and inexorable, "Chaos." Chaos, at times, comes to town, touching down like a runaway locomotive tornado; unstoppable, Chaos ruthlessly wreaks havoc in its wake.

     Cleaning up and fixing the messes and problems of sentients and Chaos is very demanding. Living such a "grueling and exhausting" life comes at a price; mechanics wear out quickly and are forced into retirement after a period of time. A retirement that can find them in any location in the "cosmos" living a quiet life as a "civilian." As they are placed in retirement, their memories are erased and they are given new identities--ones that will fit in with the location in which they are placed. The retired "mechanics" live quietly where they are retired to, until the natural end of their lifespan.

     Yet, now, the unthinkable has happened: every single retired mechanic is being brought back to active duty. Chaos is at work, here, and has a new plan for humanity...it's not looking good, folks.

     Let's start with the cover, itself. I really love it. The imagery drew me in and had me considering the layering of images, juxtaposed one atop the other, creating an overall image of a hand--in shades of blues, with black surrounding the hand. This is highly reminiscent of a digital photograph created in Photoshop (by using "layers."). Having the layers superimposed the one upon the other results in the creation of a surreal image created in a realistic way. The photographer in me really liked this! So, even the cover art of the book reflects the inner workings of the story. Beautiful cover, and the hand as an image for the cover is so apropos--once you read the story, you'll understand. 

     The genre: Since this book is an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) from NetGAlley, I obtained the genre information from the "Title Details" page about the book, Bathing the Lion. The Title Details page indicates the genre as "Literature/Fiction (Adult)." [9] Goodreads readers list the genre as Fantasy/Science Fiction and Literature. [10] 

     Amazon readers describe the book as, not fitting into any particular genre, resists "pigeon- holing," as literature genre, and even fantasy/sci-fi/mythic fiction. [11] And then, Kirkus Reviews classifies it as speculative fiction. [12] It seems that everyone has an opinion on what genre Bathing the Lion fits into, but little consensus seems to be reached. 

     So, how do you classify any book into a specific genre? First, know that genre is a category "marked by a distinctive style, form, or content." [14] Some readers classify Bathing the Lion, as Science Fiction (or Sci-Fi). This genre usually has at its nucleus, advanced technology (usually advanced beyond what is current reality) that is treated in a way consistent with, say, militaristic principles (militaristic sci-fi). [For a review of that genre, see my blog post of Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos, by clicking the link, here and, All You Need is Kill (The Edge of Tomorrow) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, by clicking the link, here.] It is understandable that some readers would include Bathing the Lion in this genre because the "mechanics," travel the cosmos and although we don't actually see advanced technology, it can be implied. 

     If we look, instead, at Fantasy, we must begin by assuming that the world contains magic of some sort. In addition, Fantasy novels can be set on other worlds and may contain mythical creatures or even mystic personages. Many of these stories contain a hero's journey. One book I've reviewed that is an epic fantasy is, The High Druid's Blade, by Terry Brooks; see that review by clicking the link, here; also see, Words of Radiance, The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson by clicking the link, here. The focus is often on world-building, plot and setting (Note: this is often true for the Sci-fi or Fantasy/Sci-fi genres, as well.).

My favorite book  (OK, well, really,
series) in this crossover genre is
Anne McCaffery's, The Dragon-
riders of Pern. 
     In addition, you might see a bit of a crossover genre here, called Fantasy/Sci-Fi. One series that I really loved reading that is considered in this genre is Anne McCaffery's The Dragonriders of Pern books. Again, I can see why some would include Bathing the Lion in Fantasy or Fantasy/Sci-Fi because we are dealing with "mechanics" that work in the cosmos and can wield unlimited power to heal, bring back the dead, and fix anything that needs fixing that has become a problem created by sentient beings or "Chaos."

     Finally, looking at the last proposed category, the genre of "Literature/Fiction (Adult)," we first recognize that Bathing the Lion, is indeed fiction and is written for the adult reading audience. But does it fit into the "Literature" category? Well, let's see.

Kirkus Reviews, above, indicated that the book fit within the 
Speculative Fiction genre. Here in this diagram you can see
just how closely aligned Literary Fiction and Speculative Fic-
tion can be. While Literary Fiction, generally, utilizes
character-rich attributes, it does not exclude having a plot.
Nor does Speculative Fiction exclude character development.
We are speaking in generalities, here. HERE, we can see
just where the publishers have placed Bathing the Lion--
in Literary Fiction (Adult) genre. It really could be a tough
call for someone if they didn't know how it was placed by
the book's publishers. [19]
     Some "literary" novels (1) do not have an obvious plot, though by the time we work our way through Jonathan Carroll's book, I think we can safely say, his book has a plot. Other notable attributes of "literary" novels include (2) sometimes being published in smaller numbers; (3) some- times trying to "break the mold" to be their own literary form (or even deny having a genre); (4) sometimes "liter- ary" novels are considered to be both literary as well as mainstream novels; (5) some so-called literary novels are dubbed "literary" in attempt to add class to the novel or to a publishing house. Finally, and I think, most importantly, is the attribute that the novel tends to highlight the quality of the prose over the narrative arc, itself (which takes us back to tangentially related #1, just above.). [18]

     I went through all of these genres for you, today, basically to show you why I agree with the publishers about how they categorized this book. Of course, I really didn't start from scratch to figure it out for myself; I had a huge head start with the information I received from NetGally about the book (and they obtained the info. from the publishers). 

    Lastly, Jonathan Carroll's Bathing the Lion, is NOT magic realism (genre)--I will not cover that genre, here, as I have reviewed it, in depth, in my post about Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. To see my review of that book and magic realism, click this link, here. Carroll's emotive and charac- ter rich book has its charac- ters considering their place in, not the world, but the cosmos. With shifting lives, perspec- tives, and experiences, it is no wonder that the beauty of the "fruit," is captured with the photographer's lens (in the book) and "seen" in his digital photographs. I know, you're probably thinking, "What the heck is she talking about?" Well, if you read the book, my cryptic sentence will be made clear to you. 

     The book is surreal in many ways. After all, we start out with a dream that seems too real, and real life that is bizarre. Sometimes the plot, dialog, and even action, seem chaotic--I think that this simply mirrors the story, itself. And, yes, I really liked the quality of Carroll's prose. I found it haunting, beautiful, and memorable. By the way, you will find the end of the book resolves your major concerns, the same way that Dom had his problems resolved in the movie, Inception. And, like the movie, Inception, Carroll ends his story, similarly. You see, Carroll, in a sense, ends the story in a somewhat ambiguous (not in a bad way) manner. Oh, yeah. Just between you and me...I loved the dogs, "D Train," and "Kos." 

     The author's publisher's tell us the genre is Literature/Fiction (Adult). This book's target audience is the adult reader. Since one suicide takes place in the book, young and sensitive readers should consider before reading the novel. 

     For all the reasons I have listed, above, I rate this book 4.0 stars out of 5. Well-done Jonathan Carroll. I highly recommend this book to all mature adults. I believe this book is an important work and Jonathan Carroll should rightly be proud of his hard work and wonderful accomplishments in this literary work.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at a very interesting Adult Literature/Fiction book, Bathing the Lion. I deeply appreciate your time and attention to reading this post and considering the book I have reviewed, today. Please join me, again, next week when I will be reviewing another book for you, one quite different than the one I reviewed, today. This week, please be kind to yourself and remember to say something kind to someone else, and make their day. God bless you.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [21]
...many happy pages of reading.



[1] "Bathing the Lion." [Jonathan Carroll] amazon.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[2] "Inception Quotes (2010)." imdb.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[3] "Inception (2010)." [storyline] imdb.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[4] "INCEPTION The Dream is Real." [by Obsessive 13] deviantart.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[5] "RAW Dream Team." rawhealthintl.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[6] "Before You Divorce: Good Behavior." moneycrashers.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[7] "The Balance Between Order and Chaos...." glow-management.com. Retrieved 09-29-14.
[8] "Friday Drinking Game #49--Men In Black." bestforfilm.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[9] "Title Details Page: Bathing the Lion." netgalley.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[10] "Bathing the Lion-genre." goodreads.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[11] "Bathing the Lion--Reviews." amazon.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[12] "Bathing the Lion--Book Review." kirkusreviews.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[13] "Command of the Genre." sanddollarpress.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[14] "The Free Dictionary." [by Farlex] thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[15] "Top Ten Science Fiction Books That Every Geek Should Read." dailyindia.org. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[16] "Fantasy." indulgy.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[17] "Science Fiction Fantasy genre conroe." [by Teri Lesesne, Professor] slideshare.net. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[18] "How to Figure Out Your Book's Genre." rockyourwriting.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[19] "The Spectrums in Science Fiction/Fantasy." amazingstoriesmag.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[20] "Dark Souls II Review." giantbomb.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[21] "Pictures From My Garden.sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.
[*] "NetGalley Disclaimer--Home." netgalley.com. Retrieved 09-30-14.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn--This Book-to-Movie Available on Blu-ray & DVD!

Book Review By:
Sharon Powers.

     Do you remember what movie plot that had a husband conspire to get his wife pregnant by Satan? More hints? Well, the husband helps neighbors drug his wife so she can't resist when the demon rapes her. She gets pregnant and in the end she agrees to raise the "demon spawn." The creepy horror movie is none other than Rosemary's Baby. [2]

     No, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is not a supernatural thriller with demons, nor does Flynn's story contain fallen angels, like Azazel, in the movie, Fallen. And, it doesn't even have a killer sniper like the movie Phone Booth. Yet, the popular novel is, indeed, a mystery, thriller--just one without a supernatural bent to it...and no snipers.

     I'm very excited to talk to you, today, about Gillian Flynn's popular mystery/thriller, Gone Girl. So, let's get started by taking a look at a short synopsis of her novel.


     It's a beautiful, warm summer morning when Nick gets up and wonders if he's ready; he tiptoes downstairs to find his beautiful wife making crepes for their five-year anniversary breakfast. Nick watches Amy for a few minutes until she spots him in his grubby boxers and unkempt hair. Amy leans against the kitchen counter and says, "Well, hello, handsome." Then, "[b]ile and dread inched up [his] throat. [Nick] thought to [him]self: Okay, go." (7)

    Later when Amy turns up missing, the cops begin focusing on Nick as a suspect. He doesn't seem capable of doing anything right. Nick smiles at a press conference and the picture is widely circulated. Nick hires an attorney who has only repre- sented guilty clients, and to make matters worse, Nick's mistress calls a press conference and lets the world know about Nick's infidelity to Amy. And then, Amy's diary turns up revealing her fear of Nick and that she thought he might kill her.

     Nick's life just keeps unspooling. Pressure from Amy's parents, being labeled as America's Most Hated Man--he can't even get served drinks at a bar, and then, he is arrested for murder and gets out of jail on a bond. Whew! And Nick's lies just don't stop. Nick is a liar, he is unfaithful to his wife, gets drunk when he shouldn't, gives interviews when he knows it is just wrong, fails miserably at breaking up amicably with his oh-so-young mistress, and acts inappropriately wherever he goes. 

   Family, friends, law enforce- ment, and reporters ask Nick if he killed Amy. No other suspects are on the radar, yet, Nick adamantly denies killing her. The only important question is, is he lying, yet, again? Law enforcement believe Nick is guilty. They build a case against Nick, he is arrested and a trial date is set. They will ferret-out the truth. 

     This book is full of great quotes, but I chose one I think really carries the tone of the book as well as revealing what Nick and Amy's relationship is like under the skin. Here it is:
Yes, I am finally a match for Amy. The other morn- ing I woke up next to her, and...tried to read her thoughts. For once I didn't feel like I was staring into the sun. I'm rising to my wife's level of madness. Because I can feel her changing me again: I was a callow boy, and then a man, good and bad. Now at last I'm the hero. I am the one to root for in the never-ending war story of our marriage. It's a story I can live with. Hell, at this point, I can't imagine my story without Amy. She is my forever antagonist. We are one long frightening climax. (413)
     Wow! This is a story he can live with? What? What? What? He is going to bring a baby into the world with a sociopath mother and raise that child in an environment of a "never-ending war story," with his mother as a "forever antagonist"? And what about the fact that he is rising to his "wife's level of madness"? If any two people shouldn't have a child, it is these two--that is a really scary thought.

Some traits of a sociopath. [7]
     This passage is fraught with anxiety due to the cool and dispassionate way Nick delivers the quote.  A child will be born into his parents' psychotic world. The child, undoubtedly, will be the pawn, the tool, of two horrible parents...with the end result, the child will become just like his parents. Gillian Flynn masterfully creates an unsettled feeling of imminent peril for the expected child that that anxiety is transmitted to the reader. I also felt sorry that Nick changed so much that he became part of Amy's sick world. Gillian Flynn's writing is shockingly beautiful and scary, but it is done well. 

     As I've mentioned in other posts, any author who manages to write a novel that garners the attention of film makers to the point where it comes to the big screen, should be justifiably proud. And so it should be for author, Gillian Flynn, since her book-to-movie comes to the big screen on October 3, 2014. Let's take a quick look at one of the available trailers for this movie:

     Directing Gone Girl is David Fincher, with writing credits going (surprisingly, ha, ha, ha) to Gillian Flynn for her novel, and Gillian Flynn also for the screenplay. Well-known stars have been cast for this movie, including Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike as Amy, Neil Patrick Harris will portray Desi, Tyler Perry will fill the shoes of Tanner Bolt, Nick's attorney, and Sela Ward will portray Sharon Schieber. Rounding out the cast will be Emily Ratajkowski as Andie (Nick's mistress), Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne (Nick's sister), Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney, and many others. [9]

     The movie run-time is 145 minutes and is listed by IMDb as a "Drama/Mystery and Thriller." The metascore from Metacritic.com is 87/100 (from a total of 12 reviewers). The Motion Picture Rating (MPAA) Rating is: "R," for bloody violence, strong sexual content and nudity, and for language (There is a lot of cursing in the book, and I guess, now we know, the movie, too.). [9]

     There has been speculation that the movie ending has been changed from the book's ending scenes. We just won't know what's in store for the viewing audience until the movie opens. What a switcheroo if Gillian Flynn rewrote the ending for the screenplay, basically, rewriting how the story in the book ends, too. What do you think? Just food for thought....!

     Gillian Flynn certainly has the ability to write a novel that can captivate a reader's interest in a manner that leaves the reader pensive and filled with anxiety for the protagonist. This, I believe, is Gillian Flynn's trademark style. She definitely knows how to write in the mystery/suspense genre with success.

     So, let me tell you how the book is organized. Flynn has divided the book into three main sections: Part One: Boy Loses Girl, Part Two: Boy Meets Girl, and Part Three: Boy Gets Girl Back (Or Vice Versa). The novel begins with Nick telling us his story about what's going on in the present; the second chapter is from Amy's point of view (but we only get to see her from the words in her diary starting in 2005). This is the pattern the rest of the book follows, alternating points of view and characters, getting each side of the other's story as we move through time.

     One thing I like about Flynn's writing is that even though her characters may not start fully fleshed-out, as her story develops, the characters also develop. For example, in Gone Girl, Nick starts out looking a bit of the dufus with his "grubby boxers and unkempt hair." But, that's just the beginning.

     Then we see Nick nervous--we don't know why...yet. We gradually get more and more glimpses of Nick and find out he lies, and then he lies through omission, and then he just lies some more. We also get to see him make stupid, bad choices, and struggle to make sense of everything. By the end of the book, Nick has changed, dramatically, and then he gives us the quote I gave you above, as my favorite quote. The same type of fleshing out of character occurs with Amy. The way Flynn uses the couple, each with their own story, as unreliable narrators contributes mightily to the feeling that something is really wrong with this picture.

         While the character development was really very good, it fell apart, somewhat, near the end of the book. Learning that Amy was a sociopath explains her ability to charm others through her beauty and manipulation. It seems, though, that Amy goes against some of her own character traits.

     Remember, Nick was her object of vindictiveness and vengeance. Since Amy had the reputation of holding grudges for years and years, why let Nick off the hook? I expected Amy's retribution to result in scorched fields. Why not just have Nick sent off to prison, or death row?

     The two nefarious creatures, Greta and Jeff, who rob Amy of all her money, well...it was a clumsily done scene. Amy, so careful, organized, thoughtful, and hyperaware would not have let the two get a drop on her. Amy didn't fight, but just lamely surrendered the money. That whole scene seemed contrived, something that wouldn't have happened to Amy. It would have been far better to have Amy robbed at the point of a gun while she was in a convenience store somewhere.

     Also, Desi's murder at Amy's hands. I can actually see that Amy might have been able to kill Desi; the problem I have with the murder is all the loopholes. Earlier in the book, Desi always appeared with his mother close by. She seemed to always interject herself into the scene and take control. So when Amy and Desi get together for the last time--Mama has dropped off the face of the planet. Also, any investigator would check to see if Desi had an alibi for the date of Amy's abduction--he can't be in two places at once. It would likely have been Amy's downfall.

     The ending. What can I say? Well, it just doesn't work well, does it? Again, all this forgiving Nick is so out of character with Amy. Nick says (in my favorite quote, above) he is rising to Amy's level of madness...wouldn't it have been better to have a stalemate between the two spouses? Nick could have held on to the manuscript and given it to his lawyer in the event of his untimely death with the last lines saying, "I catch [her] looking at me with those watchful eyes, the eyes of an insect, pure calculation, and I think: This [wo]man might kill me. So if you find this and I'm dead, well..." (p.205) If he is rising to her level, he shouldn't have burned (deleted) the manuscript but kept it as leverage.

     The other thing Flynn could have done was to make Nick the killer for a great twist at the end. Have him stage his own frame-up and later, when Amy's body is found floating down the Mississippi, to have other evidence found to exonerate Nick. Of course, it would be Nick leaking evidence to exonerate himself and inculpate (to frame) someone else--perhaps Desi. We find all this out after Nick is released from prison (and it looks like justice has been served and the good guy is out of prison) and he goes to look at his hidey-hole where he has stored his notes and plans for Amy's murder--we realize Nick is the murderer.

     So, while the book has much to recommend it, the latter third of the book falls down with numerous problems. Too many unlikelihoods from the characters find the plot failing at the end, as well as the characters. Flynn's novel is really a good yarn in many ways, but falls short at the finish line.

     Gone Girl, is a book rich with discussion material. I have only scratched the surface, here, in this blog post and book review. For example, I have not covered a number of delicious themes, such as: Is the book misogynistic (against women)--Flynn's novels have been accused of portraying women in a negative light. What do you think? Also, I've covered a bit about Nick's lying ways. What about dishonesty in the marriage, dishonesty by Amy or the media, and even the police?

     The media seemed to have convicted Nick in the court of public opinion. Many attorneys claim they can't get their clients a fair trial because of one-sided media reporting. How do you feel about this? How do you feel about Amy stealing money from Nick's and Amy's joint accounts? Should Nick be forgiven for his infidelity? How much blame does Amy hold for the failed marriage--does the fact that she is a sociopath alter that fact? Can she be excused because of her mental problems? Do you feel like marriage is "a long con job?" (the way Amy seems to feel). Well, I can't cover everything, but I hope these few ideas prompt you to give the book a little additional thought. [18]

     One reason I brought up Rosemary's Baby, Fallen, and Phone Booth, at the top of this post is that none of these movies have happy endings. Does a book have to have a happy ending to be good? Can a book be good if the ending is ambiguous? In Gone Girl, Amy wants to punish Nick for his lies, deceit, and infidelity, yet Amy doesn't consider her lies, deceits, and even murder as wrong or that she should be punished. This seems eerily like the ending in Phone Booth where the sniper has made Colin Ferrell toe the mark and be honest to the people in his life or die. Ironically, the sniper kills people yet doesn't hold himself accountable. Do you like stories where the bad guy or woman gets away? How about Gone Girl?

     Since the MPAA rating for the movie is "R" for bloody violence, strong sexual content and nudity, and for language, I think we can use that as a guide for the book, as well. Anyone who is young should not read this book, nor persons sensitive to violence, rape, or psychological injury. Also, anyone who does not like cursing, then this book may not be for you--there's a quite a lot of cursing and swear words in the novel. But, however, anyone in the intended audience, mature adults, this book should be fine.

     For all the above reasons I have given you about Gillian Flynn's novel, Gone Girl, above, I rate the book at 3.5 stars out of 5.

     Thank you for joining me this week as we got to look at Gillian Flynn's, Gone Girl, coming to the movies on October 3, 2014. And, thank you for taking time to read my post and consider the novel. Please join me again next week as we leave the world of mystery, thriller, and suspense and travel to the genre of science fiction. Take care, my friends and do a little reading every day.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [21]
...many happy pages of reading!

My best to you all.


[1] "Gone Girl." amazon.com. Retrieved 09-15-14.
[2] "Rosemary's Baby." imdb.com. Retrieved 09-20-14.
[3] "Rosemary's Baby." [graphic image] imdb.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[4] "The Most Hated Man in America." [by Sharon Powers] memegenerator.net. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[5] "Liar Liar Pants on Fire." allthingslearning.wordpress.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[6] "You Don't Really Understand...." catlumb.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[7] "Sociopath Characteristics." buzzle.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[8] "Gone Girl Trailer #1." youtube.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[9] "Gone Girl (2014)." imdb.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[10] "Thrillers: Mystery and Suspense." nlg-steampunk.blogspot.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[11] "Character Development." deeannwaite.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[12] "When it fell apart." soundcloud.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[13] "Gone Girl." amazon.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[14] "Gillian Flynn." gillian-flynn.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[15] "Gillian Flynn." wikipedia.org. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[16] "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing." askdrrobert.dr-robert.com. Retrieved 09-23-14.
[17] "Since You've Already Been Convicted by the Media...." condenaststore.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[18] "Summer of Monuments: Gone Girl." en.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[19] "JK's Movie Blog: Rated R." thatdutchfilmlover.wordpress.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[20] "3.5 stars (out of 5)." dpnow.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.
[21] "Pictures From My Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 09-24-14.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Walk Among The Tombstones by N.Y. Times Best Selling Author, Lawrence Block--This Book-to-Movie Now in Theaters!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     "When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth." [2]

     The Grim Reaper, the personification of death, is usually depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a black cloak and hood. He carries a scythe and often is portrayed as riding a white (or pale) horse with skeletons (those whom he has slain) around him. Many times he is described as being one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

     Death, another common name assigned to The Grim Reaper, is symbolized many ways, in everything from skulls, poppy plants, and tombs, to tombstones and graveyards. Oftentimes, symbols of hope appear simultaneously with those of Death, or The Grim Reaper. In Lawrence Block's, A Walk Among The Tombstones, Ray Callander could easily be a stand in for The Grim Reaper, performing Death's grizzly activities. Death has yet, another AKA: Ray Callander. We will soon see Callander in Block's exciting Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Suspense novel, on the big screen. The book-to-movie comes to theaters on September 19, 2014.



     Book 10 of the Matthew Scudder Series, A Walk Among The Tombstones, finds Matthew Scudder, an ex-cop-turned-private investigator and a sober recovering alcoholic, working for some of the people he despises--drug dealers. How did he get roped into this one? Anti-hero, Matthew Scudder's conscience, won't let him walk away from the case. A case, he learns, where the wife of a Lebanese drug dealer, Kenan Khoury, was kidnapped, ransomed, and, when Kenan paid the ransom, his wife was returned to him--in pieces. 

     Scudder soon learns that two death dealers prey on those living outside of the law, and they use that fact to exact silence from their victims. The result is that occasionally a body turns up in a graveyard, but police aren't able to find much evidence or connect cases since no one knows that the killing was done by serial killers or that they are methodically killing women from drug dealers' families. 

     Matthew Scudder agrees to turn the killers over to Kenan Khoury to exact his vengeance on them. Even so, Scudder has his work cut out for him. In the beginning of the investigation very little evidence existed to give him a place to start. Then, there is the fact that the two killers, Ray and Walter, are systematic and disciplined, unlike so many other serial killers. 

     But it isn't long before Matthew is getting help he didn't expect. A team is formed: a young black teenage, street smart kid (TJ), a call-girl (Matthew's long-time girlfriend, Elaine), two teenage computer geeks (the Kong brothers), and colleagues from his days on the police force.  

      Everything heats up in the middle of the investigation when the fourteen-year-old daughter of a Russian drug dealer is kidnapped and a million dollar ransom is demanded. No one believes it will end well. 

     Even moving quickly to ransom the girl, everyone rea- lizes she may already be dead. Will the team be able to rescue the girl and get the killers? After prolonged negotiations, the a- rrangements are finalized. The money will be paid. But they will only know if they've succeeded, and saved the girl, after they've taken a walk among the tombstones of the cemetery. 

MY FAVORITE QUOTE:             
     Many good quotes exist in this suspenseful book, but I picked one, albeit a very short one, because it really exemplifies the way I think we should all live. Matthew Scudder is musing about the brother of Kenan Khoury--Peter Khoury. Matthew had seen Peter at a Tuesday meeting of AA and then he saw him at the current AA meeting. Thinking about Peter and one of AA's slogans, Matthew thinks this:
In the meantime he [Peter] was sober, He only had a day [being sober], but in a sense that's all you've ever got. (p. 204.)
      Obviously, Matt is talking about being sober, but in a larger sense, he is also talking about life. If you live in the present, you only have one day. You can't live in the past or future, so you only have today. I wrote about living one day at a time in two paragraphs, but Lawrence Block did it all in just one beautifully eloquent sentence.


     As I mentioned above, the movie comes to the big screen on September 19, 2014. This highly anticipated movie  stars Liam Neeson. IMDb is listing the movie in the Action/Crime/Mystery genres, and, also according to IMDb, the MPAA rating is R for its use of "strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity." OK. Let's take a quick look at the trailer:

     The similarities of the movie plot to Taken are obvious (Neesom rescuing a woman, uses a gun, threatens bad guys on the phone, etc.).  Also obvious, once you've seen the trailer, is this movie isn't cheesy, nor is Neesom saving anyone he knows. He is an unlicensed private eye working outside of the law. He knows the men he tracks will be killed by Khoury in vengeance for torturing and murdering his beloved wife. I've seen Taken, a power-packed action movie. Looking at the trailer, it appears the movie will NOT be a remake of Taken.

   Writing credits go to Scott Frank (screenplay) and Lawrence Block (book). Starring in the film will be: Liam Neeson as Matthew Scudder; Brian 'Astro' Bradly as TJ; David Harbour as villainous Ray Callander; Sebastian Roche as Yuri Landau; Marielle Heller as Marie Gotteskind; and Patrick McDade as the bar owner. Most surprising to me is that no where on IMDb's Cast List did I see Elaine, the Kong Brothers, or Kenan or Peter Khoury. I suppose they have been written out of the movie. Wow. I wonder how they are adapting the book to the movie media given major characters are no longer there. Hmmm. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. [9]

(1)     I love the title of this book, A Walk Among The Tombstones. Looking at the literal view, we have someone who takes a walk in a cemetery where tombstones act as monuments for the deceased. In the literal view, in this novel, we know that bodies have been dumped in the cemetery by the serial killers.  Also, the ransom exchange is arranged to occur in the cemetery.

(2)     The second way of looking at the title is metaphorically. Block layers the title, not only with symbols of death, but themes that he has skillfully woven in through the novel. For example, one theme, burying your past and walking forward in life, can be seen with Matthew Scudder. He left the police force and drinking behind and moved forward to sobriety and work as a P.I., from working inside the law to working outside the law. Here's another: Elaine, Matthew's long-time girlfriend, leaves prostitution behind to become a student "Art Historian."

After her murder, Kenan cremated his wife
and with her cremation, his own flames of
vengeance flared up to consume him. [10]
     It gets more serious, though, for Kenan Khoury after his wife has been killed--he is left with a profound desire for vengeance that he does not want to leave behind. Nor can Kenan bury what he's done in his life. He cannot move forward in life. His brother, Peter, attempting to recover from drug addiction, attends lots of recovery meetings. He seems stuck for a while, going back and forth between using and not using.

(3)     Another theme I like, connected to the title of the book, is that of burial. Funerary rites vary around the world; cremation, for example, is  more than an acceptable form since it symbolizes purification, sublimation and ascension. Kenan's wife is cremated after her murder and her defilement at the hands of her torturers, purified. Another character, ________ (who shall remain nameless), commits suicide by drowning. This, too, burial at sea (water), is a symbol of death, yes, but also of purification and rebirth. This character's sins, symbolically, have been washed away.

(4)     Also connected to the title of the book, is the epitaph. An epitaph usually includes a persons first and last name and their date of birth and death. Sometimes the person is praised, poems engraved, or pictures included. TJ and Matt have a unique perspective on grave markers:
[TJ] 'Cemetery's weird, man. I can see havin' a stone, tells who's underneath it, but some of 'em has these little houses an' all....Would you want somethin' like that?' [Matt] 'No.' [TJ] 'Me neither. Just a little stone, don't say nothin' on it but TJ.' [Matt] 'No dates? No full name?' [TJ] He shook his head. 'Just TJ,' he said. 'An' maybe my beeper number.' (264)
     For TJ anonymity on the streets meant safety. Matt tells Kenan, "One thing you learn on the street, you don't want to be too quick to tell your business to people...Or even your name." (124) But I guess TJ figures after he's dead, everyone can have his pager number--but no name! How ironically funny. (He was just so proud of getting that pager.) Most people want to be remembered, and that brings us to one last theme, here.

(5)     One huge hallmark of AA is anonymity. No names. And, at one point in the story Elaine and Matt discuss how many people they know...but don't know, relying on first names or monikers only, like TJ, Danny Boy, Kali, Mick, and the Kongs.  The two admit they really don't know that much about their friends, like last names, addresses, etc. Also, there is anonymity is the use of public pay phones (especially those with numbers removed to stop dope peddling). Ray Callendar even manages to get ID with a fake address so no one can really track him down. And the most gruesome anonymity of all, the dumping of bodies anonymously in the graveyard by night.

     I can't talk about every theme in the book because there are just too many. I've picked a few that don't give away too much of the book and that I hope are somewhat interesting to you. A few I didn't cover are relationships, murder and torture, violence, sublimation of urges, racial bias and slurs, drugs of choice, and the living walking among others who are metaphorically dead (spiritually, morally, or ethically dead).

     While I thought Lawrence Block's writing most excellent in many respects, in a few places, the book bogged down and became a bit ponderous. I realize that the book is one in which a detective is searching out clues and must beat the pavement to find those clues. Even so, it just bogged down a bit here and there. All-in-all, I would say that this is an excellent book for adult readers of this genre.

     By now, you should have been able to tell that this book contains scenes of extreme violence, mayhem and murder. It discusses rape, torture, and mutilation of bodies. It also discusses drugs, alcohol, and drug use, drug dealing, cursing, suicide, and prostitution. Sensitive and young readers should not read this book or this book review. All others, mature adults, who enjoy this genre, will enjoy Block's exciting novel. Even with all the dark themes, this book is not depressing.


     For all the above-listed reasons, I rate this book 4.0 stars out of 5. I very much enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the movie. Thank you for joining me this week, taking time to read this blog post and consider the book. Please join me again next week for another new book review.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [15]
...many happy pages of reading.

All my love to you.


[1] "A Walk Among The Tombstones." [by Lawrence Block] amazon.com. Retrieved 08-31-14.
[2] "Bible." [English Standard Version: Revelation (6:1-8)] buzzle.com. Retrieved 09-16-14.
[3] "Reaper and Death Horse." [by AlmightyShadow] bhiggins1218.deviantart.com. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[4] "Private Eye Logo." wdsassoc.com. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[5] "Team Builders, Inc. Home." teambuildersinc.net. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[6] "Man Walking Among Tombstones at Night." lay-out.gr. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[7] "Rare AA 4 Year/Month One Day at a Time 'Sunshine' Bronze Medallion Token Chip K4." ebay.com. Retrieved 04-17-14.
[8] "A Walk Among The Tombstones Official Trailer HD." youtube.com. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[9] "How To Successfully Adapt A Book To A Screenplay." scriptmag.com. Retrieved 09-17-14.
[10] "Vengeance." venitism.blogspot.com. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[11] "Moved To Heaven." movedtoheaven.com. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[12] "History From Headstones." historyfromheadstones. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[13] "Grunge Rubber Stamp with workd Anonymous..." 123rf.com. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[14] "Dark Souls II Review." giantbomb.com. Retrieved 09-18-14.
[15] "Pictures From My Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 09-18-14.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Book-to-Movie Now Available on Blu-ray & DVD!

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     What is as fascinating and perplexing as a trip to the carnival to visit the house of mirrors? What can give the reward of a spiritual journey as you walk through a garden path or stroll through the woods? What tradition fits in with the spooky atmospheres and scary games children and adults utilize as a Halloween activity? What can be as entertaining and educational as a simple game in a Kindergartener's coloring book? And... what prize can you sometimes get from a Cracker Jack's box as a novelty and fun game calling upon your eye-hand co- ordination? You've probably already guessed that the answer to all the questions is, a maze. [2]

     The Museum of Unnatural History tells us that a maze is a "confusing, intricate network of winding pathways; specifically with one or more blind alleys..." and that a maze is nothing more than a puzzle that requires a solution and, therefore, "usually has a goal which is meant to be reached." [2]

     Scientists have studied rats' ability to remember the pathways needed to work their way through mazes set up to test those abilities. Scientists have tested rats utilizing rewards, such as food, no rewards, smells and various other conditions. The rats were tested to determine their spacial learning and memory. The studies conducted with rats and mazes helped scientists understand "general principles about learning" that were then applied to humans.

     With a title like, The Maze Runner, we shouldn't be surprised that the characters in the novel will be faced with some kind of goal that needs to be reached and to reach that goal, they must traverse the confusing and intricate network of some kind of maze. By the title, we can assume that James Dashner wants the reader to understand what it is like to have to run a maze similar to those the scientists used to test rats abilities. The title prompts me to ask why is the runner running the maze? Is the "Runner" being tested like the scientists tested the rats? And then, almost immediately, I thought of the maze that Harry Potter (and a few other competitors) had to run, in which the runners had to face all sorts of danger and even death. To get started, let's take a look at a short synopsis of the book.

     From the School Library Journal we find out that Thomas, the protagonist of the book, awakens to being in an enclosed space, an elevator, and that the only thing he can remember at all is his first name. Thomas is confused and panicked and he wonders where he is.

     Coming out of the box, Thomas finds himself with a group of teenage boys, (he thinks) maybe 50 or 60, who look at him and call him a "klunk, shuckface." Feeling confused, Thomas hears someone say that he is now in "The Glade." Thomas asks questions and wants answers, but no one will give them to him. He wants to get away from all these boys, from his "Captors," he thought. The boys seem suspicious of Thomas, but when one boy, Chuck, is assigned to help him, he soon makes friends with him. [5]

     Thomas must adjust to the life in the Glade, an agrarian community that the boys must work hard to maintain. Life can be harsh for a "Glader"; violation of the rules can cause you to be expelled into the maze, essentially a death sentence. Thomas learns that the boys are looking for a way out of their prison-like environment through the maze, but after two years of searching, they are quickly losing hope. [5] 

     Will Thomas and the other boys be able to figure out the secret of the maze, find out why they are captive, and who is behind all the manipulation? Will Thomas and the other boys ever have their questions answered? Suddenly, the boys are all shocked out of their complacency--everything changes. A comatose girl is delivered via the box (elevator) to the group, then the sunlight is turned off, the food deliveries stopped, and the huge gate into the maze is left opened to let the maze's monsters roam the compound. Now they have only one question: How long can they last? [5]


     Some books are literally filled with memorable quotes. In John Green's, The Fault in Our Stars, for example, there were so many that I had such a really hard time selecting just one as my favorite. This book, The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, has the opposite problem. While the prose is simple, straightforward, and eminently readable, I had a difficult time selecting a memorable quote because there were so few. In any event, I did select a quote; here it is:
Thomas swallowed, wondering how he could ever go out there. His desire to become a Runner had taken a major blow. But he had to do it. Somehow he KNEW he had to do it. It was such an odd thing to feel, especially after what he'd just seen... Thomas knew he was a smart kid-he somehow felt it in his bones. But nothing about this place made any sense. Except for one thing. He was supposed to be a Runner. Why did he feel that so strongly? And even now, after seeing what lived in the maze? (p. 39)

     Thomas grapples with conflicting emotions of fear and courage in the face of his desire to become a maze Runner. He feels the strangeness of the juxtaposition of those conflicting feelings and seems to almost take a step back to observe those feelings that he longs to understand. I think many people, especially teenagers in this society, have conflicting feelings because it is so difficult to navigate through the tough teenage years and into adulthood. I am sure that even adults have conflicting emotions at times and may identify with Thomas, too. This is why I think this particular passage was so well-done.

     Any author should be proud of having their book come to the big-screen. Not only will Book 1 of this series be seen on the silver screen, but because the trilogy is so popular, chances are better than good that we may see subsequent book-to-movies from this series. Let's take a look at the trailer:

      Directing the movie is Wes Ball with writing credits going to James Dashner (book), Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin (screenplay). Dylan O'Brien will play Thomas, Ki Hong Lee will play Minho, while Aml Ameen will play Alby, Blake Cooper as Chuck, Thomas Brodie Sangster as Newt, Will Poulter as Gally, Dexter Darden as Frypan, and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa. This movie is rated PG-13. [10]


     This book's audience, geared to grades 6-10, I would say is primarily focused on boys in grades 6-10. Even so, I would not exclude girls of these ages from reading this book because I used to read stories like this when I was in middle school and high school. So, if you are a girl that likes not only dystopian novels, but one in which the protagonist is a boy, then go for it. And...girls, don't forget that the one girl in the novel is an important player!

     I think young men of this age in our society face many of the feelings the protagonist feels. Young men can easily identify with feelings, say, of confusion and anger when restricted to their home or bedroom, or put on suspension by parents. Some of the themes of the book deal with imprisonment or confinement, holding cells, and unjustifiable injury, pain, and death, inflicted as a result of being confined in "The Glade."

I loved this graphic showing
authority manipulating society
members! [13]
     Second, I like other themes in the book, as well: Fear and Confusion; Rules, Justice, and Judgment; Freedom, Exploration; Memory and a Loss of identity; Mystery and Secrets, Trust and Sacrifice and a real big theme, the Manipulation of the children's lives by unknown, unseen others. James Dashner has a lot going on in this book, but the one big advantage he has in addressing these themes is that with "Dystopian" novels, many of these themes are readily present.

     The messages in the book seem to convey to the reader those that are typical of themes and messages found in other dystopian novels. I've reviewed a number of "dystopian" novels, two, for example, are The Giver by Lois Lowry; and Divergent by Veronica Roth (You can see those reviews and discussions of dystopian society by clicking on the links). Dystopian novels typically criticize society and the brutal methods they employ to control citizenry through usurpation of power.

This is Henslowe, from the movie, Shakes-
peare in Love
. One of his (and our) favorite
bits of dialogue is, "It's a mystery." [14]
     Many things work for me in this book. Dashner's ability to create a mystery for not only the character in the book, but for the reader to experience, as well, is amazing. Even at the end of the book in the "Epilogue," where we learn more about the "Chancelor, Ava Paige," (and her "Associates"), mystery still pervades the story. The information we learn about what the mysterious group intends--through a "Memorandum" that the Chancelor sends to her Associates--is shocking and is, quite naturally, the springboard with which Dashner propels us into the next novel of the trilogy.

     The writing style is simple and straightforward, dialog (at times) perfunctory, but effective. Style and word choice is typical for readers in this age group. Finally, since Dystopian novels are all the rage right now, it seems a great vehicle in which to write about teens struggling to survive, grow, feel safe, and be able to trust. Well-done James Dashner.


Here is a famous race: the hare stopped to take a nap
and lost the race. [15]
     While Dashner kept the story moving well from the beginning, and showed us how intelligent teenagers can be, how innovative and courageous and capable they can be, and infuses lots of good action sequences in the story, he kind of blows it all at the end. In highschool, I was running a race in a track and field event. I was ahead and knew I would win, I crossed--what I thought was--the finish line and stopped running. It wasn't the finish line. I had made a mistake. Everyone ran passed me and I lost the race.

     Up until we get to the last couple of chapters it went well, but then something happened and the story immediately lost the momentum it had all along. Those chapters are like my track and field event where I stopped running. We then get to the Epilog where the story picks up again. Shocking events propelling us into the next book are given us. Those last couple of chapters should have been cut out, entirely (of course, leaving in the Epilog). Lawyers have a saying that applies here, too. "When you've finished presenting your case, stop talking."

     The intended readers for this book, as I said, above, is for grades 6-10. Many heavy-duty themes exist in this book, everything from death, mayhem and violence, societal abuse of children (including theft of children), horrible suffering of children (the change) including screaming, judgment of death by children against other children, etc. My point is, anyone who knows they are sensitive to these themes in literature should consider before they read. Parents, you know your child best, and must judge whether or not your child is mature enough to read about these themes.

     That being said, many redeeming qualities exist in this book. Children will, most likely, be able to identify with certain characters or situations. Moreover, the teens in this book exhibit noble qualities, like bravery or courage, tenacity, steadfastness, intelligence, loyalty and integrity. So, a balancing of considerations may be in order. As a guideline, the movie is rated PG-13 for "thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images."

     MY RATING: Because of all the reasons I have stated, above, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. If the ending had not stalled-out, I would have given the book a better rating.


  Thank you for joining me this week as we got to take a look at a very exciting dystopian novel for young people grades 6-10 (or adults--after all, I enjoyed it and I'm an adult!). I sincerely appreciate that you took the time to read my book review of this trending novel that is coming to theaters September 19, 2014. Please join me again, next week as we look at another exciting new read. Have some fun this week and don't forget to read at least a little bit everyday.

Until next time...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon [18]

...many happy pages of reading.

My love to you all.

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[2] "Amazing Mazes." unmuseum.org. Retrieved 09-12-14.
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[8] "...I Feel Conflicting Emotions...." reddit.com. Retrieved 09-13-14.
[9] "The Maze Runner Official Trailer #2." youtube.com. Retrieved 09-14-14.
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[14] "Henslowe: 'It's A Mystery'" memegenerator.net [by Sharon Powers]. Retrieved 09-14-14.
[15] "The Tortoise and the Hare." mollyspencer.wordpress.com. Retrieved 09-14-14.
[16] "Identity is Motion." [violence graphic] superflat.typepad.com. Retrieved 09-14-14.
[17] "My Thoughts: 4 Stars." odetojoandkatniss.wordpress.com. Retrieved 09-14-14.
[18] "Pictures From My Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 09-14-14.