Sunday, December 13, 2009

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

The novel, If Beale Street Could Talk, is primarily written from the perspective of a young pregnant female named Tish. So what’s the big deal? A lot of stories are written from the perspective of a female. This story is unique because the author is not a pregnant female, the author has never been a pregnant female, and most likely never will be a pregnant female. Mr. James Baldwin is all male. If Beale Street Could Talk is considered one of America’s classics, could this be because a male author is successful as writing female? Is Baldwin breaking the barrier between masculine and feminine writing? Can he be considered a genderless author? I think not.

Note that I said the story is PRIMARILY written from the female perspective. At one point Baldwin transitions and the fathers lead the story. I do not feel that Baldwin is a genderless writer, in fact, I feel that he is an extreme gendered writer, but unique in that he has mastered both very feminine ideas and masculine ideas. Let me explain with a few examples.

Tish is pregnant and the father, Fonny, is in jail. While Tish has a very supportive family she cannot help but feel alone sometimes. Whenever she feels alone she remembers her baby. Baldwin does an excellent job of describing how a woman physically feels when she is pregnant. “Then, it [the baby] turns, beating the water, churning, obviously becoming unspeakably bored in this element, and wanting out. We are beginning to have a somewhat acrid dialogue, this thing and I—it kicks, and I smash an egg on the floor, it kicks, and suddenly the coffeepot is upside down on the table, it kicks…” (pg, 158). Baldwin is able to explain how the baby is constantly interrupting Tish and by talking about the baby turning and “beating water” Baldwin seems to be describing something only the mother can feel, not someone on the outside feeling the belly. Baldwin takes a stand and makes it clear that he knows what is going on by using words like “obviously becoming unspeakably bored”. There is no playroom; he does not leave this section open for interpretation.

Like I said, and to prove my argument, Baldwin not only writes extremely well as a woman, he also writes extremely well for a man. There is a part in the book where Joseph (Tish’s father) and Frank (Fonny’s father) are sitting in a bar discussing what the two will do to help Fonny get out of jail. This part of the story is heavy dialogue between the two men. The story is still “in Tish’s view” but she does not play a role in what is happening, she is simply discussing events that she heard about later (122). Frank expresses his love for his son. He describes Fonny as “…a real sweet manly little boy, wasn’t scared of nothing—except maybe his Mama. He didn’t understand his Mama…I don’t know what I should have done. I ain’t no woman. And there’s some things only a woman can do with a child.” He expresses that women are supposed to be raising the kids because they can do something men cannot. Frank feels bad that he could not “save” Fonny from jail, so what does Frank do, he blames the woman. Patriarchy anyone?

Baldwin is able to take two sides, Tish and Frank, and be very feminine and very masculine. Baldwin can describe a woman’s physical feelings of being pregnant yet he can also portray a patriarchal idea. Even though he can do both, I would not call him genderless, but rather gender extreme, for both genders.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cross by James Patterson

Cross is the 12th offering by James Patterson showcasing Alex Cross, master forensic detective. You are presented with all the details of the horrific unsolved murder of Alex’s wife, which occurred years ago in the series timeline.

Cross is pulled into a search for a demented serial killer, known as the Butcher, by his former partner John Sampson. Having left the FBI and now building a private counseling service, Cross reluctantly joins in the search for Michael Sullivan, the Butcher. Lo and behold, Cross soon realizes that there is a tie between the Butcher and his wife Maria’s murder.

Patterson weaves a tale of mayhem and murder, with the story told from the viewpoint of both Cross and Sullivan. Rapid fire short chapters fill the book, as Patterson takes the reader back and forth between Cross and Sullivan. Graphic violence becomes, unfortunately in this case, more important than plot development. I was disappointed in the lack of character in this Patterson novel.

There is plenty of action in Cross, replete with Cross, the Butcher, FBI agents, and an assortment of mob characters who are ironically also after the Butcher. You may enjoy Cross as a quick read. Patterson however, has produced better quality stories.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cross Country by James Patterson

Cross Country is the 14th in Patterson’s series of mystery/thrillers featuring the brilliance of forensic Detective Alex Cross. Cross has seen it all: murder, mayhem, and madness at its worse. At least until this story was penned. The descriptions of human cruelty and depravity offered in this thriller present us with the most graphic, unsettling scenes yet portrayed by Patterson.

The story really begins when a gang of ruthless teenagers invade a home, then proceed to terrorize and kill and entire family of five. Cross is called to the scene by his lover/fellow Detective Brianna Stone (Bree) and discovers that the mother of the massacred family is none other than his first romantic involvement from college days, Eleanor Cox. More grisly murders occur in the Washington DC area, all connected by one thread: All victims and their families were investigating the crime syndicate controlled by the Nigerian warlord Tiger. In addition, Cross discovers that his first love, killed by the gang, was recently in (you guessed it) Nigeria, Africa. “Ellie” was working on a book exposing the rampant crime in central Africa. Cross fishes for information from the CIA, but comes away with nothing but the feeling that there is more to the story than the CIA is willing to admit.

Cross heads to Nigeria in pursuit of the Tiger, having come up short in the pursuit of the warlord in the U.S. In true Alex Cross style, he immediately finds trouble in Nigeria. Corrupt officials, unspeakable crimes, and graphic violence meet and follow him across Nigeria. He ends up in an African prison, where for three long days he endures torture until the CIA finally springs him. By the time Cross is deported, the body count has reached horrific proportions.

Back in the States, tables are turned when Cross realizes that the Tiger is back, hunting Cross. The story becomes typical Patterson and the ending does not disappoint. However, this yarn is more action than the usual psychological fare Patterson’s readers usually expect. Warning: Not kidding about the graphic nature of the material.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

Reviewer’s note: Please have read the previous three, Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse before you dive into this novel. Regardless of what you have heard, if you do not have the background of the others, Breaking Dawn will be disappointing and confusing. Caution, this review has spoiler potential.

Breaking Dawn, the final chapter in the Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, treats the reader to a whirlwind of emotions: heartbreak, loyalty, family bonds, fears, grief, and hope but to name a few. The story is definitely one of Bella’s and Edward’s eternal love. It is clear that nothing can break the bond between the two. Oh, yes, did I mention that Bella became pregnant with Edwards’ child after marriage but pre-vampire change? This child (you have to read yourself to see if the half-human/half-vampire is a boy or a girl) will frankly take you on a roller coaster ride, both during and after the pregnancy.

And what about Jacob, that pesky werewolf who haunts Bella in the previous entries in this series? Fear not, Jacob plays a part, nay; he plays a pivotal part, one I defy you to try to guess.

Bella, our dear Bella, finally comes to realize that she does in fact have a power all to her own. Having lived in the shadow of both Edward’s and Jacob’s supernatural powers, her gift, alluded to and quite frankly a large part of previous volumes comes to the front to the amazement of all parties. Even the Volturi, who we met in Italy, have to come to grips with Bella’s gift in Breaking Dawn. No more will Bella be viewed, as some have stated, as a woman who lacks an independent spirit or power of her own.

The final confrontation brings you face to face with an amazing cast of characters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hang on, dear reader.

And least I forget: Shaman alert… Jacob and his fellow tribal pack mates turn out to NOT be werewolves.

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

If by some chance you have not already read Twilight and New Moon, the first two installments in the Twilight saga, you best go back and study up a bit, at the minimum. Author Stephenie Meyer, in Eclipse, the third book, doesn’t “catch you up” on the ongoing storyline. Without some background, you will be thinking “What?” if you read this vampire novel first.

That said, and assuming you have read the first two novels, here goes my take on Eclipse. Ok, Edward and the Cullens are back in Forks, Bella’s high school graduation is coming up, Bella is planning on becoming a vampire after graduation, Jacob is now a werewolf, Edward loves Bella, Bella loves Edward, Jacob loves Bella, Bella loves Jacob as a brother (much to Jacob’s chagrin), the vampires hate the werewolves, the werewolves hate the vampires and well, you get the idea. Oh yes, there are now bloodthirsty vampires running amok in nearby Seattle, with a rising toll in violent human deaths.

A large portion of the book follows the tumultuous triangle of relationships between Bella, Edward and Jacob. Bella wants to be changed into a vampire after graduation, even though it will mean a self-imposed quarantine from all human contact for, uh, years. If a new vampire wants to become “vegetarian” they must get over their lust for human blood, we are told. Well, as you can imagine, Jacob is going berserk over Bella’s desire, and Edward’s insistence that Bella marry him before she is changed adds fuel to Jacob’s fire. Suffice to say that the emotions run high, and are dealt with in agonizing detail by the author. Keep in mind that this series was written with a teen/young adult target audience.

Remember the mob of vampires running amok in Seattle? You guessed it; here they come to Forks, driven by a vampire out for revenge, with Bella as the target. Can it be that the Jacob and his family of werewolves and Edward and his family of vampires can become uneasy allies in a battle of supernatural proportions?

Eclipse is both a romantic novel, bordering on soap opera, and vampire/werewolf adventure novel. You will want to read the final book after you are done with Eclipse. You won’t be able to help yourself.

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer, continues the saga of Bella Swan and her ‘star-crossed’ love for Edward Cullen, mysterious and gorgeous vampire with whom she is hopelessly in love. The serious nature of her desire to be with Edward, and by proxy, his family of vampires, becomes evident in the second of the series. A lavish party to celebrate her 18th birthday is hosted by the Cullens. Bella, known for her clumsiness, manages to break glass, cut herself, and bleed profusely. This triggers a feeding frenzy in Jasper, one of Edward’s family.

Soon after this narrow escape from disaster, Edward, in his need to protect Bella, leaves Forks to keep Bella from continuing a life around vampires. His rather harsh pronouncement of his decision to never want to see Bella again, coupled with the entire Cullen family departing, crushes Bella.

Bella’s withdrawal into a lonely and heartbroken existence soon takes its toll on her friendships with her human friends. She begins to follow a path that leads to dangerous activities. Still haunted by her love for Edward, she imagines that she hears his voice as she partakes of activities best described as dangerous.

Enter Jacob Black, her friend from the Quileute tribe nearby. Jacob gleefully assists Bella in her new adventures. He is a co-conspirator in her quest to repair and ride a motorcycle, something that Bella’s dad Charlie frowns upon. As if involvement with a vampire isn’t enough, we soon learn that members of Jacob’s tribe have a history of becoming werewolves. And, of course, Jacob is one who is cursed with this heritage. Bella once again is thrust into a relationship with one who loves her, and is supernatural as well. Bella’s first person narrative reveals her anguish, and she even refers directly to her perceived life as a parallel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Did I mention that werewolves hate vampires, and vice versa?

New Moon somewhat drags along, without the continuous fast pace of Twilight. However, Alice Cullen returns near the end bringing news of Edward’s impending doom. Only Bella can save his life, a daunting and virtually impossible task that must be played out in Italy. Meyer does not disappoint the reader with the fast-paced climax of this, the second in the Twilight series.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Twilight by Stephenie Meyers

Well, I finished Twilight. Here is my “formal” Review:

The story is of one Bella Swan, a 17 year old who moves from her mother’s home in desert Arizona to her dad’s place in Forks, a small, gloomy and boring town in the ridiculously rainy Pacific Northwest. A new school must be attended, new friends must be made, and she must rebuild a relationship with her dad, Charlie, the local police chief. Enter Edward Cullen, who, with his family, also are considered “outsiders’, two years after moving to Forks as well.

You probably know or have guessed the storyline: Edward is a Vampire. So is his “family”. Bella falls in love with Edward. Intermixed are all of the interpersonal relations that Bella builds (and sometimes resists) with her school mates. Edward, knowing that his interest in Bella is star-crossed, valiantly tries to resist to no avail.

Bella learns of the history of the “cold ones” from a local member of a nearby Native American tribe. Jacob, her tribal friend, tells the story of the feeding habits of the Cullens. Politically correct, the Cullens only hunt animals, not humans. “Vegetarian” vampires! Now that’s a twist, enabling the Cullens to be good guys, and to have a shaky treaty with the tribe. You will also be introduced to ‘bad’ vampires as well, not to worry!

This romp into the world of teen love, vampires, supernatural abilities, and Native American lore will keep you fascinated. The 1st person presentation through Bella’s eyes is sometimes frustrating, as you will long for more details from other characters’ viewpoints. You will learn more in the other three books in the series. I am glad my daughter recommended this novel to me.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What I'm Reading

I am reading "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer, the New York Times best seller which has been into a movie. I have already seen the movie, don't worry, it doesn't spoil reading the book. While I enjoyed the movie, the book is much more detailed and explains more about the powers of the Vampire's. I'm only half way thru the book and am enjoying it. I'm to that can't put it down point.

The book is good for any age that likes to read. My 14 year old grandson really liked it. My 21 year old daughter liked it. Hubby couldn't put it down. I'm listing it as a good read, may change as I get further into it.