Friday, December 1, 2017

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Masada is a powerful place because it has a powerful story, and the magnitude of what happened there so long ago eloquently comes through in Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers. Told through four, first-person accounts, we re-live not only the trials on Masada itself, but the invasion of Jerusalem and the flight of the Jews from the holiest of cities.

Each narrator has a different piece of the story to tell, sharing their own struggles and sorrows even as they guide you up to the tragedy which forever marks Masada. Yael is only a child when she's forced to leave her home with a father who doesn't love her. She grows into a determined and resourceful young woman over the course of her journey. Revka is a fighter amidst all the horror and tragedy she witnesses. She's fiercely loyal to her family and friends. Aziza is trapped between genders, happiest as a warrior navigating the uncertain times by taking action. Shirah is known as the "Witch of Moab," and possess more passion and intelligence than one would imagine for a woman forced to survive on her own. All four women come together inside the dovecote as they care for the Masada doves who help sustain the community, for a time, in more ways than one.

What struck me most about this story was how unique each character was, even beyond the four, central storytellers. When you hear about Masada, from a historical perspective, the community of Jews who lived out there are just that, a big group. Because individual stories would have to be primarily fictionalized, that personal element was always missing. It never detracted from the impact of the story. It didn't stop the tears in my eyes as I watched the sun come up standing on the mountain where my ancestors gave their lives. But, I'm glad Hoffman made character development such a critical part of her story.

This really is a beautiful book, full of hope and sadness that mirrors the environment Masada was -- a temporary oasis in an unforgiving desert. Hoffman builds such complete characters into this hopeless tale, giving them so much life, that it is painful to read the inevitable as the book concludes. She makes her women smart and strong, resilient and defiant in ways that make them all survivors regardless of how the story ends. Never once did anything feel out of place in the narrative; it's a perfect combination of history and imagination.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dovekeepers and highly recommend it. Hoffman is a favorite author of mine in general, but this departure from the relative present, so far into the past, is really something special.

Other Alice Hoffman books reviewed on this site:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

This book was simply a great read. The tone, characters, and story played perfectly with each other.

With a hefty nod to Shakespeare's collected works, The Weird Sisters, introduces us to Rose, Bean, and Cordy, three sisters having crossed over into adulthood with issues. One can't convince herself it's okay to leave the sleepy, little college town they all grew up in as daughters of a professor. One is forced to return home against her will as a consequence of living it up too much. The last sister, more of a wandering soul, isn't sure if she's home for good or just passing through. They're reunited to help their parents cope with their mom's cancer treatment.

By no means is this a perfect family. The author makes no pretense of that, yet the endearing imperfections of each character, interlaced with Shakespearean quotes and a unique narrative touch (the sisters narrate collectively as 'we') propel you along though a story of personal growth and life-defining choices, ending with the three sisters finding their place and their happiness.

I'm hesitant to call this a beach read or chic lit when trying to put this into a genre even though the focus is on female characters. The edges of this story are softer than that, lacking the sarcasm and exaggerated criticism you can typically find within these popular book categories. This story feels honest and simple in an engaging and pleasant way. You're going on a journey of personal discovery with each sister as they just get over it -- the 'it' being different for each sister.

Riding alongside the story of these sisters is Shakespeare. He's an interesting passenger, bringing originality to the, "my family is so weird," statement we've all uttered at some point. The girls are named for Shakespeare heroines, they've memorized just about all of his plays, and they constantly fill conversational voids with direct quotes. Their father is most guilty of this, as the professor whose passion has brought these girls up reading the Bard rather than watching TV. 

I feel like this is a book to be passed on to other readers, that it will leave you feeling content with the time you spent getting to know all the characters in the small town of Barnwell. It's not a page-turner, but a complete story about interesting people. I feel as if you don't see books like this as often anymore, with a more subtle gimmick to differentiate itself. It's a standout read for me and one I highly recommend.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Taltos by Anne Rice

I finally finished re-reading The Mayfair Witches Trilogy. I feel as if I put off this last book because there was nothing drawing me to it. I didn't remember what happened, and was pretty sure that nothing jaw-dropping was within its pages. I was right.

This trilogy definitely fades as the books go on in excitement and depth of character. I feel as if the characters you meet in the first two books, who are so vivid, dim considerably in Taltos, and while the mythology of the series is fully flushed out, it's missing the combination of history and character development that shapes the other two books.

Everyone is second-guessing themselves in Taltos or simply out of their mind. Frankly, it's annoying. These are all characters who have seen so much, who know so much of the story, who are able to make definitive decisions and take immediate action - what's happened to them? Maybe Rice shouldn't have wrapped up so much of her story, maybe she should have left more pieces open-ended. I certainly feel she should have left more conflict than we ended up getting.

There's not much to say for this book. Most of the plot points to share would create spoilers for the story. All I can say is that everyone gets what's coming to them and all the fear we're left with from The Witching Hour and Lasher is heavily tempered by the end of Taltos so that you don't really care what's next for the characters you've followed through the series. It's still an amazingly intricate story that's worth reading, but maybe don't feel guilty if you pass on the third installment.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Circle by Dave Eggers

This is a terrifying story. It's so disturbing in so many ways, yet it lacks the stereotypical components of a thriller - there's not really much suspense. It reads like a matter-of-fact piece of fiction where the world of the story is presented and we're given insight into the lives of a few characters. It's an interesting duality.

So, why am I so freaked out?

Because it could actually happen.

At the root of The Circle is the concept of privacy. Are we really entitled to it? In this technologically-driven age so we really need it? Couldn't full transparency solve all the world's problems? The employees at The Circle believe so as they endeavor to destroy everyone's right to privacy (because it's like keeping a secret from the world.) By encouraging its employees to think up and then develop new software to bring people together and/or keep tabs on certain people, the company is quickly growing into the sole owner of information, and most everyone, somehow, feels like this is a good move. This is what completely freaks me out, the idea that I could live in a world where I owned none of my own information, where I wasn't in control of who knew what about me as a private citizen. Actually...what's worse is thinking of a world where it's acceptable to demand full transparency from everyone. That expectation alone feels unethical and dangerous, not to mention a little stalkerish.

But, that's the ultimate goal of these 'circlers' - opening up the world - and Mae quickly becomes the star employee espousing this mission no matter what it costs those closest to her. From humble beginnings as a customer service rep, Mae rises in the ranks to become the first fully-transparent employee at The Circle. Wearing a camera on her chest pretty much all the time, she's only allowed to turn it on for brief periods to use the bathroom. If she takes too long, her viewers get testy. She becomes a live You Tube channel more or less giving the world insight into The Circle. 

Mae ends up taking massive swigs of the company Kool-Aid forcing transparency on her parents and ex-boyfriend in a way that makes their lives unbearable, and Mae simply can't understand why they can't handle it. Shouldn't everyone want to share every moment of their life with the world? Aren't they doing the world a disservice by keeping secrets? This mentality of the world having a right to know is taken beyond an acceptable limit with frightening consequences.

By the end of the book, I was left with the icky feeling of having just witnessed the brainwashing of an entire society all in the name of technology (and no such thing as TMI.) Getting passed the fear imposed by the subject matter, the story is a fully flushed-out journey with such a colorful variety of characters making things interesting, eventful, and surprising. This is a good read for the summer, but don't agree too much with the "great" ideas coming from 'circlers.' You don't want to complete the circle.