The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

time traveler

So I wasn’t planning on including a discussion/review on this book but then I saw on television that The Time Traveler’s Wife has been made into a movie and is being released this month.  The preview reminded me that it really was an excellent story and that I enjoyed it and it is worth talking about.

The reason I wasn’t planning on writing about it was only because I listened to the audio book version during a long road trip rather than reading it myself and since I don’t do that often, I can’t help but think that it may have changed my perception of the book.  Every once in a while, for example, one of the readers (there were two, one male, one female reading each of the two main characters’ parts…and the male sounded like Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live, which was distracting…) would use emphasis or inflection that would change the meaning of a statement from how I think I would have interpreted it myself.  It’s also easy to sort of zone out for a few lines while listening and I was less likely to go back on the CD to listen again when I would’ve definitely backtracked in the book had I been reading it.

But anyway, there are plenty of great things about this book regardless of the medium.

A quick synopsis (if possible):  Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to spontaneously travel through time to places, people or events that have been or will be significant to him during his lifetime.  There are certain things that can trigger it, like watching television, or high-stress situations, but for the most part it is completely unpredictable and when Henry goes, he takes nothing with him, not even his clothes.  Clare is Henry’s wife and soul mate and has known him since she was six years old and he appeared for the first time as a naked 41-year old man in her parents’ back field.  The entire story jumps around chronologically as the pieces are gradually put together to complete their lifelong story.  Each chapter is prefaced with the date and with Henry and Clare’s ages to help keep things straight.

I thought the time-traveling aspect of the book was really unique.  There are no paradoxes to complicate things.  In fact, Henry actually travels back to help his young self deal with his “disorder.”  Using his own boyhood memories as a guide, he offers young Henry tips on how to stay safe when he finds himself in unfamiliar or dangerous situations.  He refrains from telling either his younger self or young Clare details about the future so that they can continue to live their lives and make decisions with minimal influence.  Henry time travels often, and the amount of time that he is away from the present varies, leaving Clare to wonder where and when he is and when he’ll return.

Apart from the science fiction, the book was also a very poignant love story, not only regarding the couple’s enduring romance, but also their heartbreaking struggles to start a family.  Any fetus that inherits Henry’s disorder has a chance of spontaneously travelling outside of Clare’s womb, either to places unknown or in bed next to her, which is quite possibly the most tragic thing I can even conceptualize.  I’m not sure if it was because of the voice actors, but it really seemed to be an especially emotional  book, even unashamedly, violently so.

Henry has a geneticist working closely with him to try to pinpoint his exact chromosomal anomaly, but in the meantime he has traveled to the future and been told about his death and so is racing to find a “cure”  in order to change his future before it is too late.

The story is excellent and the writing is pretty good with only occasional weirdness.  I would suggest reading it for the unique, romantic story.  The Time Traveler’s Wife, which was released in 2003 was a national bestseller.  Since then Audrey Niffenegger has penned two graphic novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress.  According to Wikipedia her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, is due out this fall.

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Published in: on August 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

lovingfrank2

This past Christmas my mother decided to try something new.  She bought thirteen books from her bookstore, put them all in a bag and on Christmas day, after presents were all opened, she passed the bag around and told everyone to pick a book.  We could choose whichever book we wanted, it didn’t really matter since theoretically we’ll each end up reading all of them anyway.  Once we’re done with a book we are supposed to write a quick note in the back about what we thought and give it a 1-6 rating.  (1-6 so that someone can’t be lame and just rate a 3, not saying if they liked it or not.)  Then you’re supposed to trade with someone or see what’s been returned to the bag and pick another book.  The hope is that everyone will read most (if not all) of the books and next year at the Thanksgiving dinner table we’ll be able to sit around and talk about them.  It seems that she did a pretty good job putting together a varied collection and I thought I’d include those titles as I read them over the next few months.  One of the books I’ve already read and reviewed — Three Cups of Tea — and in my notation in the back I gave it a rating of 5.  Loving Frank was the first book I pulled out of the bag and I gave it a score of 4.5.

Loving Frank is a work of historical fiction based upon the true facts of the love affair between architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Martha (Mamah) Borthwick Cheney in the early 1900s told from Mamah’s point of view. 

Succinctly:  I loved the book.  It pushed all of the right buttons for me.  It was a detailed and interesting period piece, it was about architectural history and it was a good love story (passionate and compelling but not mushy).  I credit my enjoyment of the book largely to Horan’s ability to build a complete framework of historic facts around which to flesh out her story.  Whenever possible she used factual details, even including excerpts from real letters, newspaper articles and lectures.  The interview with the author at the end of the book goes into greater depth regarding her research and sources and her excitement at discovering the existence of letters written by Mamah Borthwick to her friend and colleague, Ellen Key, essentially giving Mamah a true voice and personality.

A main theme in the novel is the Woman Movement (as it was then called).  Mamah is an active supporter of the movement, even prior to the starting point of the novel.  We see how her views of gender equality effect her decision to leave her family to be with Frank.  Through the years she challenges and modifies her own ideas regarding the roles of women.  As a character, Mamah changes and becomes more fulfilled, though the fulfilment comes at a price.

The novel is perfectly written.  I couldn’t put it down.  (Though I guess it’s not the type of book that would usually be considered a page-turner.)  Horan’s early 20th century world is so textured and artistically visceral that it’s very easy to become immersed.  I certainly hope this will not be Horan’s last. 

And then there’s the ending…

If you have any intention of reading this book and do not yet know the facts surrounding this portion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life I’d strongly discourage you from doing any research about it until afterward so that the ending can be just as tragic and surprising as it likely was when it actually occurred in 1914.  The ending definitely shocked me, and again, I give credit to Horan’s storytelling.  She refrained from overindulging in foreshadowing as authors are often wont to do.  It was a complete surprise.

Published in: on February 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

In the late 1800s, Gemma Doyle is a 16 year old English girl who has lived with her family in India all her life. She longs to go to school near London where she can participate in the glamour and revelry associated with her coming of age in society. Although her parents have always insisted in keeping Gemma away from London culture, a terrible twist of fate finds Gemma enrolled in Spence Acadamy, an English school for girls.

As Gemma settles in and begins making friends, she discovers there is a secret history to Spence involving a mystical and powerful Order of women. Gemma also soon realizes that she has powers of her own which she cannot completely control. Gemma struggles to understand them and to uncover the mysteries of the past involving Spence, the Order and her mother.

The story in the Gemma Doyle trilogy is imaginative and captivating, but what I really enjoyed, and what I feel the real strength of these books are, is the detail in which the author, Libba Bray, illustrates Victorian London society and the role women play within it. The second book especially, which takes place during Christmastime in London, is so rich with Victorian culture that it’s easy to get swept up into the thrill of holiday balls, shopping, teas, hopeful debutantes and courting propriety. Woven throughout is Bray’s macabre mystery, a dollop of romance and a strong feminist message: Gemma struggles with the societal expectation that she fashion herself into a suitable wife as well as the pull of the independent, dangerous nature of the women of the Order.

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy:

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Rebel Angels

The Sweet Far Thing

The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer

The Twilight Series

The Twilight Series

If you’ve been living under a rock the past couple months you may have missed the excitement surrounding the release of Breaking Dawn, the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s popular vampire romance series.  Though perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on you if you are out of the loop; I actually came a little late to the party myself, having discovered the Twilight saga only a few months back, before the final installment was released.  I devoured the first three books and thankfully only had to wait a short time to read the conclusion.

The series is extremely popular among females (ages about 12-112) though I’ve heard a number of guys who begrudgingly admit to being hooked.  My husband, a football-watching, beer-drinking, bare-handed-spider-killing manly man, subtly asked me last night when I was going to bring the third volume home for him to read.  There is something universally appealing about the series, and if you haven’t read them yet, I envy you the pleasure of sinking your teeth into Stephenie Meyer’s fantastic story.

The first book in the series, Twilight, introduces our heroine, Bella Swan, an emotionally mature high school junior, who has decided to move from Phoenix to the small town of Forks, Washington to live with her father for her last two years of school.  Shortly after starting at Forks High, she takes notice of the Cullen family, five attractive and aloof teens who are members of the local doctor’s adoptive household.  In particular, Edward Cullen intrigues Bella after his bizarre and frightening reaction to her in a class they share.  Bella resents his seemingly misplaced dislike towards her until he saves her life in supernatural fashion.  Things get complicated as the two realize there are significant feelings between them that cannot be ignored, despite the danger inherent in such an unusual relationship.

On the surface, the series may seem like another teen romance story.  In fact, the books are full of exciting and unpredictable plot twists and surprises.  The characters, including Bella, her father, the Cullens and Jacob Black (who is fully fleshed out in the second book, New Moon) are all fantastically developed and interesting.  Meyer has a knack for gently molding her characters so that you can’t help but feel what she hopes you’ll feel towards them, and in that way the books are very emotionally engaging.  There are often multiple storylines developing simultaneously and by the final book all conflicts come to a head in an exciting finale.

Breaking Dawn is the crowning glory of the series.  I remember wondering in anticipation what choices the characters would make in the final installment and fully expecting to be disappointed in some way.  Instead I was actually PROUD of Meyer for her commitment to the story.  She did not let her readers or her characters down and I had a great sense of satisfaction when I closed the book in the wee hours of the morning.

Oh, and the movie Twilight is coming out in November…exciting!!

The Twilight Saga:

Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn

Published in: on August 24, 2008 at 3:42 pm  Comments (1)  
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