Thursday, July 9, 2009

Father's Day Book Review - Belated Postings

I know this is being posted late since I have been in Hawaii for 2 weeks, but think of it as one of those belated birthday cards that apologizes, with lots of excuses, but really isn't worth much after the day...

“The Charlemagne Pursuit”
Fathers Day gift books should be about manly men who live dangerous lives filled with archaeological mysteries that only they can solve. Author Steve Berry has written a series with a hero that is reminiscent of Indiana Jones. In fact, I wonder why we haven’t seen an action movie starring Harrison Ford. Berry, in a recent interview said that movie rights had not been sold but he pictures someone like George Clooney as his lead character named Cotton Malone. Ok, I can see that. Cotton is a former government agent who retired and opened a bookstore in Denmark. Like Indiana Jones he can’t resist leaving his quiet life to solve an ancient mystery and he always attracts murderous opponents.

In the opening pages Cotton Malone is searching for the true story of his father’s death. Forrest Malone was supposedly killed in a submarine accident in the North Atlantic in 1971. The submarine actually sank in the Antarctic. The mystery is why the navy kept the true mission a secret and why they never recovered the bodies. Malone wants to find the submarine and find out what really happened to his father.

His life is immediately threatened upon obtaining the top-secret report given to him in exchange for a past favor. While he is still holding the unopened folder he is attacked. Of course he triumphs and is joined by a mysterious woman ready to help him. Her family quickly joins the quest since their German father also disappeared on that voyage. But their motives are suspicious and they are keeping parts of the puzzle secret. The power-crazed American Admiral Langord Ramsey emerges quickly as the villain behind the recent murders and deceptions.

How does Charlemagne enter the story? As in all Cotton Malone stories, historical fact and fiction are woven into the story line. Apparently Charlemagne left clues about an ancient race of god-like people with incredible knowledge and ability. This lost civilization existed before even the Egyptians or Mayans and may have provided some of their mysterious knowledge. The author includes notes at the end of the book to explain how he developed his plot from historical research which makes it even more interesting.

Combining Nazis, experimental US submarines, Charlemagne and ancient peoples is a solid foundation for a Father’s Day thriller. There are nonstop fights and chase scenes to keep dad turning the pages as he watches you mow the grass from his reclining lawn chair.

And since it was 2 weeks, here is review number 2 with thanks to Mariel for lending it to me.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
It’s interesting how artists portray life. The post-modern movement in visual and written expression invigorates and stimulates conversation at museums and book stores. Two people gazing at a large vibrant painting filled with unidentifiable shapes and lines can have completely different reactions. “I don’t like that – it’s a mess and doesn’t look like a horse to me,” says the lover of traditional art. “Are you an idiot or just blind? This masterpiece is by a famous artist and his portrait of a horse is brilliant,” argues the lover of the post-modern. Could they both be right? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Yes. Sometimes it is good to step outside our usual and experience something unusual. Art provides that for all of us whether it is visual or written.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a good example of a brilliant post-modern book. If you prefer a more conventional reading experience, Jonathan Safran Foer is not the author for you. If you are in the mood for a little adventure you will enjoy this highly acclaimed novel. He is very original in his style and presentation which includes photos, blank pages and even a numerical code section that is unreadable. These imaginative pages are woven into the story line. It can be a distraction for the reader or it can enrich the experience. As a reader we are of course allowed to choose how we feel about it.

The narrator of ELIC is nine-year-old Oskar Schell who lives in New York City. His father has recently died in the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. Oskar is a brilliant, grief stricken child who begins a quest to solve the mystery of a key without a lock. His father left the key behind with the word black attached as the only clue. As he tracks down New York residents with the surname Black (he believes that is what the word represents), we meet a wide list of new characters. We also read the heart rending story of his grandparents who survived the fire bombing of Dresden through letters. Trauma and survival have haunted many generations of this family. Connecting the tragic events eventually allows Oskar some healing as a survivor.

I tend to like a little of both – traditional and post-modern in art and literature. I found Foer’s novel to be ingenious and heartbreaking. I recommend it for those that want to experience a reading selection with masterful prose and unconventional style.

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