Following the defeat of the zombies and the end of World War Z, the United Nations commissions a report as to the nature of the war – how did it begin?; who spread the zombie infection?; how did it end?. As the unnamed narrator writes in the introduction to this book, government bureaucracy and political correctness stepped in sanitizing the report and removing personal recollections and emotions about the war and leaving the narrator with no choice but to publish the deleted sections of his report as a book.

Thus the book reads like a series of transcripts – it would have made a great audiobook, I’m sure – as the unnamed narrator travels around the world interviewing politicians, doctors, military personnel, and citizens of countries around the world in the wake of the zombie scourge.

The member of my book club who nominated this book heard all the groans at the word “zombie” and promised the novel actually addresses society and its economic structure. I was very glad to find that was actually the case because I would have passed on this book as soon as I read the word “zombie”.  Zombies sound entirely outside the realm of possibilities given what we know about science and the human body yet the transmission of the zombie virus is so believably written that it does not seem too far fetch. People do travel to other countries to purchase kidney, liver, and other organs; China, where the zombie infection is said to start in Brooks’ novel, is a major destination for such purchases.

And the response of countries to the outbreak was absolutely fascinating. I’m not sure I can believe Israel would offer “right of return” to Palestinians when deciding to self-quarantine given recent events in the region (the novel was originally written in 2005), but I can see how some countries would turn on their people and how some would abandon them entirely. And the part with the celebrities who quarantined themselves and filmed the whole thing? Fantastic commentary on our current society’s obsession with reality stars and putting your life out there for the public to view.

I would have liked the section on how society adjusts after the war to be more in-depth because I thought its suggestions were very interesting, particularly how the US government dealt with fringe groups who managed to survive the zombie invasion and declared themselves sovereign rulers of their land. Would the world return to the borders held before then? Obviously, the case of the new Holy Russian Empire and the one-state Israel/Palestine suggests otherwise, and this is the aspect I’m most interested in discussing with my book club next week. Overall, a surprisingly thought-provoking read given the genre and one I easily devoured.

Book Mentioned:

  • Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. eBook. 342 pgs. ISBN: 9780307346605. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Crown. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.

The tenth book in Christie’s series starring the private detective Hercule Poirot crisscrossing the “Orient” from Baghdad to Beirut to Istanbul before a snowdrift stops the train in its tracks in the now former Yugoslavia just after midnight. The passengers, including Poirot, are anxious to reach their destinations and disembark the crowded train yet the train is stopped once more with the discovery of an American passenger laying inside his compartment stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

It comes to light that Ratchett, the victim, was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong, a toddler well-beloved by her mother, a socialite, and her father, who served in the United States military. The similarities to the Lindbergh kidnapping are evident; the Armstrong’s nurse commits suicide following the intense questioning just like the Lindbergh’s nurse. In this case, though, the focus is not on the murder of little Daisy Armstrong by on the murder of her accused murderer.

Christie is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the best-selling novelist of all time, and considered the “Queen of Crime” because she constructed the classic mystery structure: a murder is committed, multiple suspects exist and all conceal secrets, and the detective uncovers these secrets over the course of the story with the most shocking twists towards the end. It is a structure I am quite familiar with albeit without the chase scenes and gun violence of more recent mystery novels I have read. Thus Christie’s novel relies on sheer intrigue rather than violent interactions to carry her story; the murder ends up being much sneaker and the process of solving the crime much more intriguing.

I had an inkling who the murder might be – although, I can’t decide if that is because the ending was spoiled for me many years ago – but I fell for many of the red herrings along the way before reaching the end. Poirot is smug in his explanation at the end, and I’m afraid I might tired of such a character were I to quickly plow through the rest of the books in the series. But flipping back through the novel to reread certain passages where important pieces of evidence are subtly revealed proved just how genius Christie was so I’m considering taking the risk.

Book Mentioned:

  • Christie, Agatha. Murder on the Orient Express New York: Berkley, 2004. First published 1934. Print. 322 pgs. ISBN: 9780425200452. Source: Library.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover © Berkley. Retrieved: August 24, 2014.

Barry Fairbrother’s sudden death in his early forties leaves residents of the town of Pagford in shock – and eager to capture his seat on the parish council. Barry had supported a local council estate, which we in the United States would call a housing project or “the projects”, known as “the Fields”, and those in Pagford who want to do away with the Fields and the Bellchapel clinic see the open council seat as an opportunity to do so. But poverty is only one issue addressed in Rowling’s first novel for adults and the cast of thirty-four characters experience a range of social issues, including rape, racism, drug addiction, domestic abuse, child abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

If I had known there were thirty-four characters in this novel, I would not have listened to the audiobook version because while Hollander did a great job of narrating the novel, there are some characters whose names and backstories escape me. Others, like the voice of little Robbie saying “want chocolates”, have continued to haunt me long after I finished the audiobook.

Robbie is, after all, a little boy who was victim of circumstances and completely ignored by the members of the parish council and those in Pagford who want to join the council. His mother, Terri Weedon, is a heroin addict and prostitute attempting to rehabilitate at the Bellchapel clinic, and his sister, Krystal Weedon, is a teenager who loves her brother fiercely but is ill-equipped to raise him (and herself) alone. Barry Fairbrother was writing an article about Krystal’s plight in the hopes of garnishing support in Pagford for the Fields before his death, and his wife blames Krystal and the rest of the Fields for causing his death, although Barry died from an aneurism. Following his death and the death of her Nana, Krystal loses all her champions and decides the only way to keep from losing her brother to foster care is to get pregnant by Stuart “Fats” Wall because his parents will undoubtable give her money and the council will assign her a flat in the Fields where she can raise her baby and Robbie without her mother.

Stuart is also best friends with Andrew Price, who secretly hates his father for his abusive behavior and his mother for putting up with it. Simon Price, Andrew’s father, decides to stand for election to the parish council so he can receive bribes, but his candidacy implodes after Andrew posts about the computer his father stole as “The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother” on the parish website. The username is then used by Stuart and Sukhvinder as a tool of revenge towards other members of the council, including Sukhvinder’s mother Parminder, whom Krystal blames for the death of her great-grandmother.

Complicated, no? And yet I managed to keep nearly all the characters straight, although I did have to look up how to spell some of the names, and follow the complexities as the story as Rowling revealed layer after layer of secrets and family drama. And I loved how characters rather than action drove this novel because it allowed me to focus on a piece of Rowling’s writing that I think is rather underappreciated within the Harry Potter series. The novel is a great demonstration of Rowling’s ability to construct multifaceted, intriguing characters – villains and victims, alike – regardless of the genre. The majority of the characters had very distinct voices; I blame the few that didn’t on the fact that Hollander can only change the pitch of his voice so many times.

In a way, I’m glad I don’t have the same love for the Harry Potter series as my friends because most of them paned this book and were unable to finish it. I expected to be the same way yet, to be honest, this is the kind of book I would normally read regardless of who the author is. And I think that allowing the description rather than the name to sway you is best way to approach the book because if you expect magic, you will be severely disappointed. But I, for one, find something magical in the ability of an author to tackle the difficult truths of life in a poignant, moving, and complex way.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Rowling, J.K. The Casual Vacancy. Read by Tom Hollander. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2012. Audiobook. 17 hours, 50 minutes. ISBN: 9781619695009. Source: Gift.
Book Cover © Little, Brown & Company. Retrieved: August 22, 2014.

Although I have seen the 1939 movie adaptation several times and a few other stage and movie adaptations, I never felt a desire to read the original novel until I finished slogging through Gregory Maguire’s prequel to Braum’s tale. The novel tells the story of a little girl from Kansas named Dorothy who is swept off to the land of Oz by a tornado with her house and her little dog, Toto. The house lands on top of the unnamed Wicked Witch of the East, whose silver shoes are given to Dorothy in thanks by the Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins, and Dorothy wears them during her journey to the Emerald City to beseech the Wizard of Oz to help her home. Along the way, Dorothy makes friends with a cast of characters who all claim to be missing a vital characteristic – brains, a heart, and braveness.

The introduction to the edition I borrowed from the library explains how this is the first American fairy tale and how Toto is actually the unsung hero of the book. It is Toto who leads Dorothy to Oz after heading into the house rather than the storm cellar during the approaching storm, who reveals the Wizard’s true identity, and who saves Dorothy on more than one occasion during her cross-country voyage home to Kansas. Having now read the book, I would certainly agree with that assessment – poor Toto deserved more than being held by his ear!

One aspect I loved about this novel is – spoiler alert! – the fact that the characters are searching for what they already have. The Scarecrow laments how he lacks any brains yet, when we first meet him, it is the Scarecrow who instructs Dorothy on how to get him down from his perch. It is the Scarecrow who figures out how to save Dorothy from the toxic poppies with the Tin Man. The Tin Man says he has no heart, but his story before he was turned into tin and his actions afterwards show he is capable of forming relationships with people. The Cowardly Lion does not hesitate to leap across places along the Yellow Brick Road where the bridge has crumbled away. And even Dorothy, despite her fervent desire to go home, is able to craft a home-like environment and new family in the land of Oz. The whole purpose of the novel, therefore, is not to travel to the land of Oz but to show readers that sometimes what you think you lack, what you are searching for is something you already have.

I always thought the transition from black and white to color in the film, which completely surprised me the first time I saw the movie, was a clever film technique meant to show off the availability to create films in color. In actuality, the “technique” is codified in novel with Braum using drab, dreary words to create Kansas and more colorful words to describe Oz. (Although, silver shoes are decidedly less colorful than red.) Auntie Em is a cold woman unaccustomed to a child’s laughter unlike the film where she is actually very loving towards to Dorothy, and it struck me as odd that Dorothy was so eager to leave colorful Oz for drab Kansas. But, I suppose, Dorothy noticed how easily people can become blinded to the important things in life by false coloring and imagery.

I can certainly understand why this tale is considered a classic and why, according to the introduction, this book became so immensely popular when it was first published in 1900. I only wish I had read it when I was younger – either before or after I saw the movie – as I think it would have really captured my imagination just as the film did.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Braum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. New York: Signet Classics, 2006. Originally published 1990. Print. 220 pgs. ISBN: 9780451530295. Source: Library.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

Book Cover ® Signet Classics. Retrieved: August 21, 2014.

Convinced their grandfather hates them, the Alden children run away following the death of their parents so they cannot be forced to live with their grandfather and stumble across an abandoned boxcar. The children work hard to set up the boxcar as their new home with Jessie and Violet keeping house and a watchful eye on their little brother, Benny, and Watch the watchdog while older brother, Henry, performs odd jobs for the doctor in the next town over.

I was recently reminded by Warner’s series, although I cannot recall exactly how or why now. The Boxcar Children, the first book in the series, was one of those novels that sparked my imagination as a child. I turned my bedroom into a boxcar casting my dog as Watch and gathering provisions in a box in my room. Milk in a water bottle packed amongst ice pack still spoils, if you were wondering.

Having now reread the first book in the series, I’m amazed at how clearly I remember every event and detail — the visit to the dump where Benny finds his pink cup, the mean woman at the bakery, the foot race, and the ending, of course. I’m not sure I could say the same of other childhood favorites, and I enjoyed my returned to the boxcar. Almost makes me want to revisit more in the series (my public library has three shelves full!), although I cannot recall if I ever read more than the first book in the series so it may not be a return by rather an introduction.

Book Mentioned:

  • Warner, Gertrude Chandler. The Boxcar Children. Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 1989. Originally published 1942. Print. 154 pgs. ISBN: 9780807508527. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Albert Whitman & Company. Retrieved: August 19, 2014.
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