Tag Archives: The Map of Time

Three Not-Quite-Mini But Still-Fairly-Short Reviews:The Map of Time, And Both Were Young, and Sideways on a Scooter

The good thing about being sick for a long time with out either internet access (besides my phone) or a television is that it gives you plenty of time to read. And my favorite thing to read when I’m sick is a book that takes me someplace I’ve never been before. This time I adventured to India, Switzerland, and the Future respectively.

The Future: The Map of Time by Felix J Palma: This three-part tome (at 609 pages, I feel I can call it that without exaggerating) was a fantastic story, blending the real personas of H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and Jack the Ripper with the fictional stylings of a carefully planned time-travel ruse that saves a suicidal youth’s life, a scam time-traveling company that fools everyone- even the Queen, a dock worker-cum-actor who pretends to be a general from the future and accidentally falls in love with a socialite who believes his ruse, and the accidental discovery of a real time traveler wreaking havoc in Victorian London.

I tried to play it cool and pretend I wasn’t obsessed with this story, but it didn’t work. I loved it! I talked about theories of time travel with my husband over dinner, and I carried it around with me in purse in spite of its considerable weight and size, which left room for little else even in my usually roomy handbag. It was, however, long. And though Palma does an excellent job of weaving the three seemingly unrelated sections together into a surprisingly unified whole, and also of turning the time-traveling genre on its ear, there were times when I felt bogged down. It was engaging, and it kept me guessing, but I wouldn’t call it fast paced. Filled with romance, intrigue, mystery, and a plethora of colorful, well-developed characters, The Map of Time is not an undertaking for the faint of heart, impatient, or short on time, but for those who do brave its pages there is much to be gained. I want to say more, but i don’t want to give anything away! I will say, however, that Palma is an expert story-teller, and I hope more of his works are translated into English soon.

India: Sideways on a Scooter by Miranda Kennedy: Kennedy wanted to leave behind her New York City radio job and be a foreign correspondent. Even more than that, she wanted to live in India, to experience the adventure of completely submerging herself in the totally foreign life of a totally foreign culture. So instead of waiting for life to hand her her dreams, Miranda boarded a plane for New Delhi and decided to take fate into her own hands. This memoir follows Miranda’s journey to discover herself in a new world and her struggles to mesh her western life and identity with the still very traditional Indian culture. It also follows the stories of seven women she meets on her five-year journey, and their struggles to adapt as their traditional, caste bound system begins to clash with a quickly globalizing city life.  I was quickly drawn in by Kennedy’s vivid descriptions and journalistic prose. She managed to cover most of the large issues confronting today’s Indian woman, from arranges marriage vs. “love matches,” to birth control and gender-picking abortions, and she does so all through the lens of these seven friends. From her Brahmin widow maid, Radha, who thinks that cats are vermin and touching a toilet is a fate worse than death, to Geeta, her spunky Punjabi friend who struggles to find a balance between her life as a “modern girl” living alone and working in the city and her desire for a traditional, arranged marriage, to Azmat, her Muslim friend who works at a women-only gym and always finds the joy in life despite her dwindling prospects of ever having a family, I fell in love with the cast of colorful and quirky, but earnest and honest characters. And though I was disappointed at the hardened edge she developed as the story went one, I also appreciated Miranda’s honesty about her own struggles, from being able to find an apartment in a country where a woman living alone often signified her profession as a prostitute, to the deeper issues of how to be truly intimate and build lasting relationships with anyone, family, friends, men, while struggling to find your identity and worth as a woman. Every woman, be they American, European, Indian, has been faced with the same dilemma: we want to be mothers and wives, but we want our passions too, be they a career or experiences or just the freedom to wear whatever clothes we choose. The world has started to tell us we can have it all, but they don’t tell us how. Sideways on a Scooter is an honest, messy, beautiful portrait of struggling to discover the how.

Switzerland: And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle: Madeleine L’Engle is quite possibly my favorite writer. Her prose is masterful, and she has a way of connecting with the reader in a way that, no matter the circumstance she is relaying, one feels instantly connected to and a part of the experience. I have never traveled via time wrinkles, but every time I read  A Wrinkle in Time, I feel akin to Meg Murray in a moving, intimate way. Certain Women is one of my favorite books, and despite the fact that my father never had eight wives and a selfish steak ten miles wide, it still resonated deep within my chest. I’ve hoping to read all the L’Engle books I haven’t experienced yet in the next few years anyway, and then I saw this article about the Madeleine L’Engle re-read (though for me this one is a first-read), and the deal was sealed. 

“I saw two beings in the hues of youth/Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill…/And both were young- and one was beautiful.” Lord Byron, The Dream, Canto II

I was hooked from the beautiful epigraph on, reading this little beauty in just over three hours. This isn’t her best work, but L’Engle does present a solidly entertaining and touching story. It has been a year since Phillipa “Flip” Hunter’s mother died in a tragic accident, and her artist father, who has to travel a lot for his work, has decided to send her to a boarding school in Switzerland so they can at least spend the Holiday’s together. Though she feels awkward and unsure around the usual cast of boarding school girls, Flip forms a friendship with Paul, a handsome local boy with no memory of his past. Through their connection, Phillipa learns to be happy where she is despite her insecurities and deep homesickness for her father, and Paul begins to heal from the trauma of his past. Though the ending is tied up a little too neatly, and the subplot of Paul’s lost-and-found memory is a little shaky, I really enjoyed this book, my favorite moment being L’Engle’s observation that it is the tragedies and sorrows of life that make us stronger, that give us depth and give joy its greatest meaning.  I certainly could have used that message when I was a teenager, and it resonates deeply with me today, only now it is from experience and not need. I also like the insight into the lives of European young adults so soon after WWII, as well as the glimpse of an awkward, bookish, artsy type we are afforded here, because that’s exactly what I was in my youth, and that is exactly what I still feel like in the quiet, still moments. Overall, a fun and worthy read.

You know what else being home-bound gives you lots of time for? Cat pictures! I bet you though I’d forgotten all about Caturday, huh? Well, for those of you who endured ’til the end, here is a super-secret, mini-Caturday:

Top left: This is what I call Cambria’s “Children of The Corn” pose, because she sits perfectly erect and totally quiet behind you, and when you turn around it’s almost creepy, or it would be if she wasn’t such a cutie-face.

Top right: Cambria’s newest obsession: the bath tub. She’s started sniffing around it when she thinks no one is looking, and she even jumped in it this week when she thought it was empty, but in fact has about an inch of water in the bottom. I’ve never seen a cat poof into a  total fuzzball so fast before, and she cleaned herself for a solid hour, mewing angrily if anyone dared speak to or touch her.

Bottom left: Cambria sleeps on the book I’m trying to read, per usual.

Bottom right: This is the position that I call “The Cat-sserole,” and when she’s in it you could set off the fire alarm in our apartment while elephants stampeded down the hallway, and she still wouldn’t wake up.

And that’s that. Happy Caturday, friends!

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Cambria, Caturday

11 Books in the 11th Month, and Also a Review of The Book of Lost Things

It is a rainy, soggy day here in usually beautiful San Diego. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’d magically moved to Seattle while I slept last night. I suppose everyone and everything else is as startled by the damp cold as I am, because I’ve discovered that my internet goes out while it’s raining, and in between showers it works again. It’s odd, and more than a little annoying. And it means that I’ve been trying to publish this difficult little review all. day. long. But it’s here now. And the crowd goes wild!

As I confessed on Wednesday, I am not partaking in NaNoWriMo. I am far too obsessive and neurotic. As it is, there are days when I forget hygiene, food, family, and everything except what I’m working on. I don’t need to make it into a month-long freak out, though I could probably stand to lose the few pounds I always drop when I go into weirdo-writer mode.

That being said, I feel a little left out. The men have No-Shave November or Moustache Movember, all the other writer’s are doing NaNoWriMo, and what does Amanda have except jealousy because she has no thing? I don’t like feeling jealous, and heaven forbid that I be “the girl without the thing.” So I made a thing.

Here’s my thing: I’m a little behind in my reading challenge for the year because of the move. I’m five books behind, to be exact, so I’m going to read 11 Books in the 11th Month!

And yesterday I finished book #1: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly!

When several of my friends (and blog friends) found out I was reading this particular book, I got the same response: “It’s good, but it’s definitely creepy!” I’m not a big scary anything girl. I don’t go see scary, or even slightly-too-suspenseful movies. I avoid the horror genre in both literature and other entertainment like a plague. I cried during the preview of a Saw movie once, and my poor brain just cannot handle The X Files, but this was, somehow, different. My friends were right, the book was very good, and it certainly was creepy, but not in the I-can’t-sleep, wish-I’d-never-read-this way, but in the delicious, perfect-for-Halloween-week, face-your-own-fears way. The few times it got to be too much, I put it down, did something else, and when I came back to it I was fine. I found that the expectation of the scare was worse than the thing itself.

David is a young, bookish boy of perhaps ten when his mother dies. He is left with just her memory, and her books. She was the one who first ignited his love of stories; she believed that books are alive, or at least they come alive when human eyes read them, or human lips speak them aloud. When we read a story, we give it breath, we make it real. So David continues to read her stories, even though her memory is painful. All the while, World War II is lashing at the windows of his world, but his father chooses to keep him in London since his son is all he has left in the world. In the following months, David falls into a deep sadness, and in his despair he begins to hear books talk, and see things, specifically a crooked man, which belong in stories and not out of them. When his father marries a new woman and has a second son, David’s plight becomes worse, and he starts passing out for long times, dreaming of a strange world that seems foreign, yet familiar.

In his new house, with his new family, David begins to see strange things more and more. In waking dreams, David discovers oddities about his new home. There is a sunken garden with a hole in the stone wall, and out of it he hears the voice of his dead mother. One day he takes a walk in the woods behind the house, and looks up to his room only to see the crooked man flipping through his books, and sometimes his room smells oddly for no reason. He knows the crooked man is there for him. One night, the voice of his dead mother is particularly talkative, and David decides it is time for this to end. He follows the voice to the hole in the wall of the sunken garden and finds himself in a new world, one of malignant fairy tales and unspeakable dangers.

Through battles with the Loups, a mutant race of half-men, half-wolves, the loss of the Woodsman and the knight who protect him, the out-witting of trolls, friendship with communist dwarves, and the constant threat of the crooked man and other foes, David traverses this odd new world, defeating his fears and slowly transforming from a boy to a man.

As my friends noted, there was a creepy aspect to the novel, but for me it was mostly before David entered the new world. There, the crooked man, evil though he may be, belongs. It’s when he’s in our world that he freaks me out a little bit. That, and the huntress who like to play Frankenstein, but I’ll let you discover her for yourself.

There were two things I appreciated most about this book. First, I loved that Connolly intertwined so many classic stories, everything from Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” and Sleeping Beauty, to subtler influences, such as The Goose Girl, The Water of Life, and even the slightest twinge of the Biblical story of Queen Esther. Every good story finds the roots of its inspiration in yet another story, and fairy tales, as Connolly so wisely puts it in an interview printed in the back of the book, are “the first stories, the essence of later tales.” I especially like that he did not give into sentimentality. These are not the soft Disney fairy tales of your childhood, but brutal warnings closer in kin to their earliest ancestors, and though they are not cuddly and nice, they are truer in some ways, despite their crueller edges.

Secondly, I loved what this book had to say about growing up, about those awkward places where your person distorts and stretches and pulls as you transform from yearling to fledgling adult. To transform successfully we all must face down a lot of fears and figure out some truths about ourselves, and though we may not get literally lost in a world of story to do so, the stories we read to help us along the way. In so many ways, this story is hyperbole at its best, a demonstration of the way stories help us become better versions of ourselves on a scale more grandiose that real life, but not less real. It is a coming of age tale that, once you get past the gore and creepers, will resonate deeply within the pit of your soul.

Overall, this was a fascinating read, and I would definitely re-read it, for I’m certain there are little strokes of genius that I missed. Connolly included a guide to some of the folklore included in the story in the back of the book, which was incredibly informative, but it also pointed out a lot of connections with the story before David entered the new world and David’s adventure there that I had missed until he pointed them out.

And now I’m ready for another good adventure. The soupyness of the day made it perfect weather for staying in and starting a new book, which I did, because I am smart and I hate getting unnecessarily wet. In keeping with the fairy tale these, I began (and have nearly finished) The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, and I also finally feel ready to tackle The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma.

So here it goes, 11 Books in the 11th Month!

  1. The Book of Lost Things: John Connolly

8 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Books