Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CBR V # 3 - Between a Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston

I first heard about this guy from the movie 127 hours. I wanted to watch the movie, but again, I always want to read the book before the movie.  Ralston first learned to love the outdoors when his family moved to Colorado when he was just a kid.  He was an outdoor sports hobbyist until he quit his cushy engineer job to work at a ski shop in order to be nearer to the mountains he loved and have more time to climb them.

Aron went to a weekend trip to Utah for some trekking and maybe partying after.  Since the destination was spur of the moment (his original plans fell through), Aron told no one his itinerary.  It was an ordinary hike with a difficulty level well within his capabilities as an outdorsman.  However, as fate would have it, he met a loose boulder which managed to pin his arm to a wall of the canyon.  After spending five days pinned to the wall, he did the only thing left to do to save his life. He cut off his arm.

When I first heard about the book, I thought why the heck would it take a whole book to talk about how you got trapped and cut off his arm.  I mean, its not like he had to hunt animals to survive or anything like.  I thought it would be a fairly monotonous (albeit harrowing) 5 days.  The book doesn't just dwell on the actual event itself.  You learn about Aron and his life and how he thinks it is that he ends up where he was.  These memories are interspersed between the time spent trapped, which was actually pretty interesting too since he didn't just spend it lying down (or standing up, as it is) but actually tried to devise some ways to try to free himself like digging and making a pulley to try to pull the boulder off him.

It was so weird because when he talked about his love for the mountains, it actually brought tears to my eyes.  Maybe I was hormonal, but I think I got what he was talking about.  I used to climb here. admittedly, our mountains here much less grander in scale and way more tropical.  But when he waxes poetic about that feeling of achievement, and beautiful isolation about how it feels like to be on top of the world, I get it, and it touched me.

Aron (the Aron in the book) was far from perfect.  He was arrogant and reckless and seemed to have a deathwish or felt invincible.    Well, we all at one time in our lives, felt invincible.  I know I felt that before I had my kids.  However, there was so much more good and inspiring in his attitude.  It was so cool how his logical mind just jumped to try to find solutions and his steely resolve made him able to execute it.

The experience was harrowing.  His journey to how he got there was interesting and instructive.  His escape was inspiring.  It's pretty good writing and it's a pretty compelling story.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CBR V # 2 - The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I have been resisting reading Philippa Gregory books for a while cos it's the kind of books my sister reads, girly historical fiction/romance and I've read that many scholars are disputing the accuracy of the book.  But I got curious so...

This is another long-ass book.  It tells the story of how the Boleyns/Howards caught King Henry, but not really.

The story focuses and is narrated by Mary Boleyn, the youngest of the Boleyn siblings (in the book).  Mary is married but catches the eye of the King Henry.  She becomes his mistress and the scheming family try to make her queen.  But then beautiful and volatile Anne comes home from French Court and through strategic flirting, manages to catch the King's heart and steal him away not only from Mary, but from the Queen.  And thus begins the race to bear an heir for the king before he finds a new distractions among the many willing ladies in waiting.

The story is told from the perspective of Mary Boleyn, who was relatively innocent and good hearted.  A simple sort of girl who wants true love and a quiet life.  Anne is portrayed as very smart and cunning but kinds of evil with a raw ambition.  Like she would totally do her brother for an heir kinda ambition.

It was fun to read about the machinations and a sort of insidey look at what purportedly went on at court during the Tudor times.  It was a horrible time for women, that thing is for sure.  They were portrayed as nothing but pawns to gain power for the family and were either mere objects of desire or a vessel for an heir.

However, the book got kinda boring in that the cycles would repeat.  Mary would go to her children in the country estate, Anne would call her back.. so on.  It was quite repetitive actually.  We have numerous paragraphs about Anne looking drawn and being sooo tired from all the acting, prayers that offspring would be male.. That sorta thing.  What I'm saying is, they could have skipped a few years and went a little more directly to the point.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I had an urge to read about the real historical happenings being referred to in this work of fiction.  I will probably read the rest of the series.  I think the other books are shorter.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

CBR V # 1 - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A long long time ago, Northern England was ruled by a powerful magician king, The Raven King, John Uskglass.  Magic was abundant and many famous magicians learned and taught the craft.  However, for hundreds of years since its heyday, magic has been dead in England.  Gentlemen who call themselves magicians, are in fact, mere scholars of magic, debating and collecting spellbooks without doing any practical (or even impractical. heh) magic.

But in the 1900's, along came Gilbert Norrell, the only living practical magician and the only practical magician England has seen in a long time.  Norrell is secretive and bookish and not very unlikeable, quite unlike what one would think a magician is (as the book itself points out).  However, Norrell manages to rise in society and government by bringing back to life the dead wife of a high ranking official.  

Then along comes Jonathan Strange, who is quite the opposite of Norrell.  He has and innate talent in magic and taught himself with very little books (since Norrell hoarded most of the magical spellbooks). He is sociable and genial.  Because they the only magicians around, Strange becomes Norrell's student.  They ultimately quarrel and break apart due to different philosophies. From then on moves the story which includes humans enchanted and kidnapped by faeries and other such magical matters.

The book is divided into 3 parts, the first is where we are introduced to Norrell.  The second is when we are introduced to Strange and his path intersects with Norrell.  The third part is entitled John Uskglass and takes us to the final story.

The book is written in a charming and formal manner but the writing is very witty.  In fact, I who am known to be humorless among my peers (i.e. I don't watch comedy) chortled a few times.  The book is veery long but its the kind of book I like.  It wanders around for quite a while but never becomes boring.  The story gains momentum during then end and becomes quite exciting.  There are wonderful footnotes, and really, it's like an alternate history of England if magic were around to help in the Napoleonic wars and other historical events.  

I really liked it and would recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy and doesn't mind long books.