Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Book Reviews: 11 - 15 of 2018

The Queen of Spades is a classic Russian short story. A young man learns of a woman who was told the perfect combination of cards to play to make her fortune and save her from ruin. The woman is now old, so the young man starts making overtures of love to the old woman's companion. Once he gains access into the house, he surprises the old woman and tries to threaten her into telling him the combination. Much to his dismay, the old woman dies from shock and he is left with guilt and no winning cards. After paying his respects at her funeral, the old woman's ghost comes to him in the night and tells him the cards and how to use them as well as making him agree to the terms that were handed down. The very next night he tempts fate and tries to play the cards to a rather interesting outcome.

I am surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It's a quick story, but it really is an interesting idea and it really could apply to any period in history. This was my first experience reading Pushkin and it definitely made me want to read more. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Portable Dorothy Parker is a great collection of her work. The book is made up of various short stories and poems as well as a few articles. The overall tone was snarky and poignant. I really loved The Big Blonde - I think that was the most touching story in the bunch, interesting that it is based off her own experience. Miss Parker is able to look at the women of her time and show them in a sarcastic way that they probably didn't see themselves. The poetry is admittedly of a style our time hasn't really been taught to appreciate. Also the poems were mostly about how death would be, so not something everyone can relate to but an interesting window into that way of thinking. As this is a short story and poem collection, you can just keep listening through anything you don't love and something new will come up soon. It's worth the read for sure. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

State of Wonder is the story of Marina Singh, a medical doctor turned pharmaceutical worker who finds herself on an adventure in the Amazonian rain forest. The company Marina works for has financed a new miracle fertility drug and they need someone to go down to Brazil and check the progress so they have a timeline for a return on their investment. Marina's lab partner went first, but when the company receives word that he died of a fever they ask Marina to go and find out what happened. Marina finds herself in a remote Amazonian village with her old college professor and a tribes-people whose women are able to get pregnant into their 70s. Marina assists in the research while trying to learn more about her deceased partner as well as helping the local tribes with medical complaints so the other researchers can complete their work. Eventually Marina learns to true point of the research and what it can mean for the rest of the world before a pretty interesting twist at the end.

I really enjoyed this book. The idea is pretty crazy - a fertility drug that could let women of any age have a child - yet at the same time feels fairly plausible in our modern world. The book is very well written and I was able to just focus on the plot unfolding. I'll confess that I wanted to read this book after Liz Gilbert's mention of it in Big Magic - I had to see what this story was that the two authors were both inspired by. I was much happier with this book than the other Ann Patchett I read a few years ago. I definitely can recommend this one though - I constantly wanted to know what would happen next.  I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Til We Have Faces is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. I was intrigued about this book when I found out C.S. Lewis felt this was his best work. The book gives a different take on the myth we are taught, giving the whole story through the eyes of one of her sisters. In this tale the oldest sister loves and raises Psyche after her mother dies. As Psyche gets older, her beauty grows to the extent that the people in her kingdom believe that she is a God. Eventually the town decides to sacrifice her in hopes of appeasing their God and removing their famine and other hardships. They chain her up on a mountain and leave her for the God, assuming she will soon be dead and not worry about her any further. Her sister is stricken by the loss of her favorite sister, so she goes to collect Psyche's remains for a proper burial only to discover that her body is not there. Psyche appears and explains that she is now the wife of a God, but she does not know which one because she is forbidden to look at him. Her sister thinks Psyche is crazy and comes up with a plan to help her see "the truth". She brings an oil lamp the next time she visits and makes Psyche swear she will look at the God, thinking this will show that the God is a monster or not a god at all. Things don't turn out how she anticipates and she has to live with this for the rest of her life.

Overall this was an interesting idea and it definitely humanizes the classic myth. The original story has both sisters jealous of Psyche's husband so they maliciously conspire to wreck things, and I can appreciate this telling much better. This method feels more natural - that the motives are all in the best interest of the victim but that they go horribly wrong. I think this version makes the story more palette-able even for a reader that is not interested in Greek mythology. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Secondhand Time should be required reading. The book is made up of interviews with various Russians who lived through the Soviet regime, covering everything from the revolution to perestroika to the modern switch to capitalism. There are those who miss Stalin, those who hate him, and those who worked with him. There are true Russians as well as those from other Soviet states like Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia, and many more. Alexievich interviews the young and the old alike, which comes across as the indoctrinated and the disillusioned. This book shows the true mix of feelings on the Soviets and opens up about things I never learned about before I read this book. Some of the tragedies people endured were truly heartbreaking, yet they still continue on in a stoic and accepting manner. If you have any interest in the state of modern Russia and how its recent history has brought it to where it is now, you should read this book. It was excellent. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

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