Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ambrea's Read Harder Challenge, Part 3

I’ve discovered some more books as part of my commitment to the Read Harder Challenge of 2016, and I’ve found some great stories in my explorations.  I’ve managed to:
1.      Read a horror book
2.      Read the first book in a series by a person of color
3.      Read a play

Usually, I don’t read horror novels.  Dracula and Frankenstein are about it for me, but I have managed to read Stephen King’s The Shining and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, among a handful of other novels that are considered good and scary.  And so, in order to satisfy my challenge criterion and read a horror story, I read Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard.

Although I didn’t initially lump Dennard’s novel into the horror genre, I reconsidered my stance after necromancy and ritualized violence became involved.  The novel is pretty mild, all things considered—I mean, I certainly wouldn’t put it at the level of The Walking Dead or Stephen King, or even Dracula—but it’s still rather gory and riddled with a tough kind of suspense that leaves readers hanging on the edge of their seat, hoping for more answers.  However, I think it’s the zombies that pushed it over the edge and helped me give it a final designation as a horror novel.

I wouldn’t call Something Strange and Deadly one of my favorites, but it isn’t a bad book; in fact, I initially enjoyed it.  I liked the creepy atmosphere it evoked, coupled with the turn of the century setting, and I even liked the story:  a wicked necromancer comes back from the dead to terrorize Eleanor Fitt, while the Dead continue to rise from their graves across Philadelphia.  It’s an intriguing adventure, to say the least; however, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the story when I examined it in retrospect.  The phrase “shut pan” annoyed me to no end.  (Part of me began to think the author found a new, novel phrase and decided to run with it.)

Next, in reading the first book in a series by a person of color, I picked up My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due.  As the first book in the African Immortals series, My Soul to Keep fit the bill perfectly to fulfill this challenge and check it off my list.  I stumbled across it purely by accident, finding it in audiobook form on my local library’s website—and I was immediately hooked.

I was intrigued by the premise:  an Ethiopian warrior stumbles across the secret to immortality and spends the rest of his eternal life alternating between identities, enduring a number of years as a slave on a Southern plantation, before becoming a Civil War soldier, a jazz singer, and, finally, a college professor and author.  His is a story of sorrow and loss, a tale of desperation in which he tries to hold tight to the ones he loves.  I was riveted from the first word, from the first moment the narrator spoke and started to weave a complex, beautiful story about Dawit—David—and his wife, Jessica.

At just over eighteen hours long, it took me a number of weeks whittling away at the story to complete it, but I have to say I was thrilled.  It’s detailed and strongly written (and narrated by Peter Francis James, who has an amazing voice by the way), and it’s absolutely riveting.  The story packs a punch, pulling together a myriad of religions, myths, cultures, and countries to create a flawless tapestry of history and suspense, beauty and sorrow.  I became emotionally invested in Dawit and Jessica’s story, and I found myself hoping for the best outcome—and crying (just a little) when tragedy strikes.  Tananarive Due is an excellent writer, and I highly recommend picking up My Soul to Keep.

Last, I worked on Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  Having read a portion of the play during a theater history course in college, I was intrigued about the prospect of reading the entire play this time around.  It was just my good fortune that I found a copy of the play for a dollar at my local used bookstore.  It’s almost as if it were fated to be.

A Doll’s House is an interesting play, not action-packed or suspenseful (like Something Strange and Deadly or My Soul to Keep above).  For the time period, it’s a thought-provoking work and, even now, it raises a lot of questions about women as spouses and mothers—and it makes one wonder about the typical roles of women in society.  It’s a play that’s designed to make an audience think, rather than thrill.

I thought it was fascinating to see how Nora managed to flaunt convention, managed to get what she wanted and needed despite the restrictive constraints of her time that were placed upon her gender, and, more importantly, proved she was capable of making her own decisions.  Personally, I found it was slow going, but I think it’s definitely worth reading once, especially for readers interested in theater.

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