Recent reads: Uncommon Type, The Historian, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Essence and Alchemy

rc collage 4 (2)Reading Challenge updates and gut-check time. The Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid challenge was progressing along swimmingly until July. Between an epic novel or two, and a rough end to summer, I’ve only finished 3 books in as many months. With 10 left and a finite amount of time to read, I’m double-timing the remainder of the year. My mid-July to October books covered an eclectic mix, challenge prompts are listed after the author. 

Short stories--celebrities--Fiction--Hanks
--American anthologies
--mostly heart-warming, except for that one story 
--typewriters are cool

20180919_104222Uncommon Type: some stories by Tom Hanks | short story collection ★★★☆☆

Reading this irreverent collection made me feel like an adult, a liberal, and a hipster. Although I am some of those things, rarely does reading make me feel so. Hanks’ has skills and excellent story pacing. There are interesting concepts here, even if 17 proved a few too many. The subjects clearly embody Hanks’ interests: WWII veterans, space flight, the decline of the press, parent-child relationships, respect for mom and pop businesses, the absurdity of movie junkets and die-hard love of the printed word. I’m glad I didn’t read this on an e-reader, the guilt!

The tales of suburbia were the most enjoyable, notably, A Month on Greene Street, Christmas Eve 1953, Welcome to Mars and the Our Town with Hank Feist pieces. Not all were successful; Hanks was enamored with a few characters enough to write them into three stories, unfortunately, I found them especially annoying. Then there was that one story, seemingly pleasant and charming with a total WTF ending. Can’t blame the guy for trying to shock the reader out of complacency I guess.

A memorable takeaway came from These are the Meditations of My Heart, in which the least action occurred. A youngish woman who’s starting over buys a vintage typewriter, because, as the wise typewriter repairman surmises, she is “seeking permanence.” I connected with that. Permanence in our transitory existence is one of the reasons I blog in the first place. Capturing my thoughts and opinions, sending them out into the world, storing them (albeit digitally, not on typed sheets of paper) provides a sense of stability and continuity to life. Tom Hanks gets it, permanence means something to him, too. Unsurprising if one is a fan, and why read these stories if not?

Fiction--Horror--Letters--Kostova
--Dracula
--epics
--lore
--medieval histories--Bulgaria, Istanbul, and other locales I may have lost track of

20180814_200254The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova | an epic tale ★★★ 1/2☆☆

Audio book read by Joanne Whalley, Martin Jarvis, Dennis Boutsikaris, Jim Ward, Rosalyn Landor, and Robin Atkin Downes

“Discovering a medieval book and a cache of letters, a motherless American girl becomes the latest in a series of historians, including her late father, who investigate the possible surviving legacy of Vlad the Impaler.”

The Historian aims high and nearly hits the mark. It’s a scholarly novel largely containing correspondence, in fact, it could have fulfilled the epistolary book prompt.  Kostova creates an eerie, desolate mood through setting, diction and tone and manages to maintain that ominous atmosphere throughout. The unnamed daughter introduces the mystery then becomes sidelined to the central tale of Paul, her father. Paul’s story weaves in and out of libraries, archives and sacred resting places through Europe on a wild vampire paper chase, finding love and solving decades old mysteries on his quest.

There are plenty of positives to recommend it; at it’s heart an earnest telling of a classic horror yarn and the audio narration is vividly entertaining, complete with bell-tolling sound effects. What I find a little surprising is the emotional attachment that readers hold for this book. For me, it never achieved the sinister tone the author intended. Evil ol’ Vlad himself seemed a bit unimaginative, a few characters were confusing and interchangeable, the bulk of the vampiric action happened ‘off-scene’, and the emphasis on layering minute bookish details mitigated the horror, but even worse, the mystery.

Fiction--Haddon
--autism
--banned books
--bildungsroman
--Holmesian references
--prime numbers, maps and mathematical equations

20180924_094208The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon | banned book ★★★★☆

audio narrated by John Woodman ★★★★☆

Despite his overwhelming fear of interacting with people, Christopher, a mathematically-gifted, autistic fifteen-year-old boy, decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor’s dog and uncovers secret information about his mother.” -publisher

Incident didn’t follow an expected trajectory, nor was it much of a mystery, but it resolved in a perfectly satisfying, logical way. Having worked with individuals dealing with autism spectrum disorder, I believe Haddon captures the intricate thought processes and common struggles exceedingly well, bravo to him. There were issues; Christopher’s voice rings sincere, although his tangents budge the needle toward tedium on occasion. But for a few exchanges, the text amounts to a monologue, swinging from highly imaginative theories to dull extended explanations of complex systems. Christopher required simplification and organized timetables to survive, however, his stalwart point of view oversimplified, leaving me feeling cold and remote at times.

The most enlightening part was the spectrum of reactions by those he encountered in both his neighborhood detecting and moments of extreme distress. Father’s frustration and helplessness felt real and deep, creating a background thrum of tension to Christoper’s crumbling world of protection.

A controversial novel due to swearing and atheistic viewpoint. Parallels have been made to The Catcher in the Rye and, although I vaguely see that in structure, both young protagonists are lost and wandering; they are searching for much different answers. At turns, profound and arresting, Incident is meant to unsettle before it brings Christopher and the reader home. I must mention the prime-numbered chapters, (a hoot to figure out while listening to the audiobook) that level of inventive geekery deserves a star on it’s own.

Non-fiction--Fragrance--Aftel
--alchemy, aromas, odors and the art of seduction
--perfume history
--scents for the soul

20181002_222925 (1)Essence and alchemy: a book of perfume by Mandy Aftel | a book about fragrance ★★★★☆

Renowned perfumer, Mandy Aftel, lifts the curtain on the world of fragrance in this perfume guidebook, allowing the reader to take an enticing peek inside. Being on the fringes of that world, (although I write about scents a fair bit) I truly had no idea how deep it goes. From the most fascinating origins and usefulness of scent (think gas leaks), to practical applications of building a composition from raw ingredients, to the risqué role of perfume in replicating sexual smells of genitalia; my eyes have been opened. 

Beyond the valuable informative text, recipes and scent reference, it is Aftel’s  philosophy in the Spirit of the Alchemist I find most illuminating. The intertwining of scent with memory, both powerful and comforting, it’s ability for “instantly erasing the passage of time” struck me with honest force. Her effortless approach in relaying information and synthesizing it, while capturing the heart of the perfumer, makes Essence a worthy read. Then there are the quotes; a few which knocked me out of my chair, Anais Nin’s profound wisdom comes to mind. The only critique being the frequency and copious length of the quotations interrupt the flow on occasion. But for demystifying the mystical, I don’t believe I could have read a better book. 

I am so hype about my current reads, The Lord of the Rings and The Night Circus, that I hope to get on a roll soon. Either way, I’m cutting myself some slack. The act of reading for pleasure, savoring the words and returning to gather my thoughts for review makes me a slower reader and that’s okay. What are you reading?

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3 thoughts on “Recent reads: Uncommon Type, The Historian, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Essence and Alchemy

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  1. Cut yourself a ton of slack – autumns are busy for you, and you’ve had a couple of biggies on your list as well. I’m not getting anywhere near even half of the prompts this year, although it looks like I’m on track to at least get a couple more books in beyond my – gulp – 10 of last year.

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  2. It must be at least 10 years since I read ‘The Curious Incident ……’, hard to imagine anyone banning it! I’ve managed to read 9 books on the list so far and at least half of these I would never have read except for this challenge! I’ve really been enjoying my reading this year and my next book is a recommendation from you – ‘I’ll be gone in the dark’. I’m sure fall & winter will give you lots of opportunities for reading.

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    1. I could see parents of certain religions having an issue with Incident because of Christopher’s arguments for atheism. My husband teaches high school English and has to assign independent/alternative novels for class books he was teaching with less swearing than this too. Some people aren’t comfortable with it, but it works so well as part of who the character is and for the intense emotions and frustration people surrounding Christopher had.
      Bravo on the challenge participation Mari:) I hope you “enjoy” IBGITD, but it made me slightly paranoid and held me captive for weeks. A great real-life detective/forensic story.

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