The Reunion

Monday, March 31, 2014

On Sequels

It has been several years, now, but I well remember reading Game of Thrones. I read it slowly because I was enjoying the story. Even though I very much wanted to find out what would happen, I was reluctant to hurry through it, preferring to stretch my enjoyment over as long a period of time as possible.

It was a long book! The Starks of Winterfell were the good guys and the Lassiters were evil. I loved Danny, the woman who birthed the dragons. I was appalled when Edard was executed, and I was excited when his kingdom, the entire North, in fact, rose against the evil king. I turned the pages looking for their victory. I imagined ways in which Edard’s younger daughter might recue her sister from the clutches of the enemy. I hoped that Jon would leave the Wall and go south…

The book ended, and multiple crises were left unresolved.

There was, however, a sequel.

If you are at all familiar with Game of Thrones, you know that there are a host of sequels. I read only a few pages of the second book, and I suspect that I would have been no more satisfied at the end of it than I was at the end of the first.

I have a love-hate relationship with sequels.

A sequel, as we all know, is a book that continues the story or the theme that first appeared in another book. There are at least three forms that a sequel may take, three ways in which a second book – or a third, fourth, or fifth book - may be related to the original.

 Brand New Story

 Sometimes a sequel is a completely different story from the one in the original book. The original story is over. It is complete, and it can be read and enjoyed on its own, without the sequel. Readers, in fact, are often surprised when the sequel hits the shelves in the bookstores.

The sequel, in turn, is also a complete, independent story that can be enjoyed on its own. It generally occurs later in time than the original. Typically, it revolves around the same characters – or some of them. The sequel, however, is not a direct continuation of the original story. It does not pick up the day after the original ended. Although reading the original might enhance one’s enjoyment of the sequel, having read it is not essential since the sequel supplies any important background information. One has the impression that the author completed the first book and then thought, Well, I have another story to tell…

Nicholas Sparks’s book, The Wedding, is generally acknowledged to be a sequel to The Notebook. The first book is about Noah and Allie, how they met, how they fell in love, how they died. The Wedding is about Jane, their daughter, and her husband, Winston. Noah appears in both books, although he is a central character only in the first. The Wedding tells a different story concerning the same family.

In this type of sequel, the books stand alone. Each book is satisfactory in and of itself.

 Tell me more, Tell me more…

 The first book can stand alone. At its end, the story is complete, and the reader needs no more information in order to enjoy the book.

The sequel, on the other hand is closely tied to the original, very dependent on it, and cannot be understood or enjoyed if the first book has not been read. While the first book can be enjoyed without the sequel, the sequel makes no sense without the original.

Gone with the Wind and Rhett Butler’s People are an example of this type of sequel. At the conclusion of Gone with the Wind, Rhett walks away, leaving Scarlet, disappearing into the foggy Atlanta night. Rhett Butler’s People was written some eighty years later as one attempt to tell what happened next. It involves some of the same characters, as well as many new ones. It is set after the war although there are flashbacks to earlier events.

Millions of people had read and enjoyed Gone with the Wind long before even the idea of the sequel was born. A reader, however, could not enjoy Rhett Butler’s People unless she knew the story of Gone with the Wind.

Bethany Claire’s book, Love Beyond Time, and its sequel, Love Beyond Reason, follow this pattern. Love Beyond Time has a satisfactory ending, but a reader would be lost if she attempted to read Love Beyond Reason first.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone can be enjoyed with no knowledge of the remainder of the series. The Deathly Hallows, however, makes no sense without an understanding of the story contained in the other six books.

 A Never-Ending Story

 Today, many sequels seem to be planned in advance. The first book often concludes with a “cliff hanger,” a twist in the plot designed to hook the reader and obligate her to dive into the sequel in order to obtain closure. The sequel picks up immediately where the previous book ended, and neither book is complete without the other; neither can be enjoyed without the other.

The Hunger Games is, at heart, the love story of Katniss and Peeta. They find themselves participants in a “game” in which contestants publicly battle to the death and in which there can be but a single winner. Their love, so obvious to the millions who are watching the contest, forces the government to accept them both as victors. As they return home - in the final pages of the book - Katniss tells Peeta that her show of love was simply an act that was designed to assure that they both would survive. The reader knows, immediately that a sequel is around the corner. The Hunger Games has no satisfactory ending. Neither it, nor its sequel, nor the second sequel can be read alone. One must read all three books in order to enjoy the story.

No single book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy is satisfactory by itself.The Game of Thrones series is another example. My wife reached the fifth book, and she is no closer to anticipating the ending than I was after reading the first.

 I love sequels of the first two types!

When I enjoy a book, I frequently find myself constructing sequels, imagining what might happen next, what crises might occur, who might fall in love with whom. At the end of December, I completed Dunham, an excellent book by Mariah Jovan. I thought about the book for days, imagining various scenarios involving several of the characters.

When I truly enjoy a book, I am happy when I find that the author has enjoyed it, too. When I like the characters enough to create additional plot lines, I am excited to find that the author has chosen to do the same thing. When I want to know more, I am pleased when the author chooses to tell me more.

I object to sequels of the third type.

When I reach the last few pages of a book, only to discover a new twist in the plot, one that cannot possibly be resolved in the space that remains, I feel cheated! I purchased the book in good faith, expecting to enjoy the story and the experience of reading it. I should not have to read a second or third book, or more, in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

This pattern occurs so frequently, today, that marketing plans are built around it. When the sequel is published, one of the books will be offered free, the author knowing that anyone who wants to enjoy either book must also purchase and read the other one.

So, as I said, I have a love-hate relationship with sequels. “A Brand New Story”? Bring it on! “Tell me more, tell me more”? Bring it on! “A Never Ending Story”? Don’t even let me start the first book!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

He Belongs to Me by Theresa Rizzo

 I've enjoyed two of Theresa Rizzo's books. I like them both, but this one is the better one! 

Catherine and Thomas married when Catherine was about four months pregnant with twins. They lived with Catherine’s parents for a while in their Chicago mansion. One of the children is sickly, he dies, and Thomas is accused of murder. Even though he is exonerated, they part ways. He has a scholarship to college in Michigan. At her father’s insistence, Catherine leaves her son with her parents and enrolls at Stanford. Four years later, Catherine has completed college. Her parents and son come for graduation. She is expecting her son to be moving to California to live with her, but he arrives with a single suitcase. Her parents have decided to retain custody Catherine finds Thomas, they reunite, and they set about winning custody of their son. Before the chapter ends, you love Catherine, and you despise her parents. Your feelings never really change. 

You will not believe the twists in the plot, the extent to which her parents will go to retain custody of the child, the final arguments in court. The story caught my attention early in the first chapter and never let me go. 

Rizzo seemed to understand how a man would feel in this situation. She ably describes Thomas’s feelings – his anger at losing his wife and child, his hesitancy to love Catherine again and to allow her to return to his life, his antipathy toward Catherine’s family.  

The book is well-written. The narrative flows well. The story of Catherine’s and Thomas’s love permeates the story and you long for a happy ending. 

I have conflicting feelings when I read a book like this. I find myself caught up in the story, so I rush to complete it. I find myself enjoying the story so much, that I don’t want it to end! I read He Belongs to Me in late 2013. I was completely blown away! It was the very best book that I read that entire year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dunham by Mariah Jovan

My Review

The strength of the story is character of Celia. Known as Captain Jack or Captain Fury as she stands on the deck of her ship, she is an American privateer, preying on British ships during the final years of the American Revolution. She is all that you might expect a pirate to be: dangerous, lusty, always in command of those around her.

She is more complex than this picture, though. The same woman who decapitated her former captain as she led a mutiny against him also giggles like a teen-ager as she reads bawdy passages from a novel. The daughter of a high-ranking British navy officer, she plunders and sinks British ships, killing men without hesitation; she protects cabin boys against a predatory captain. She will lie to attain her goals, and she sings the Hallelujah Chorus from the deck of her ship as three pirate crews hang on every note and the sun rises over the ocean. She has a degree in mathematics, and she sails into battle stripped to the waist, scars covering her body from a flogging she once received for refusing to cut her hair.

As we learn about her, we find that he same person can be good and bad, kind and cruel, full of love and full of hate. We read of piracy, murder, naval battles, and intrigue. We discover that one’s behavior may stem from multiple motivations, that love is a complicated emotion, and that our explanations for events are not always accurate.

Be warned -this is a long book, over seven hundred pages. Reading on a Kindle, I had not known its length when I began! My feeling is that the story could have been told well in fewer words.

The first part of the book – the first of four sections - consumes approximately four days, which Celia and Elliott spent primarily in bed. The descriptions of their activities are extended and detailed. While we do learn details of their lives and some about the life of a privateer during the American Revolution, I found little purpose to this section, other than to establish, in current American thought, a basis for their love. I almost gave up halfway through the section.

However, the real story begins in part two, with the real meat in parts three and four. In these sections, the story grabs you and moves forward. There is action and suspense. I found myself reading all afternoon, anxious to discover what would happen. The story is captivating; the writing is excellent. I highly recommend it!


Monday, March 10, 2014

It is the Story that Counts

It was once said that elevators would replace stairs.
Why would they not? After all, elevators provide faster access than do stairs, are more efficient than are stairs, and cause less stress to the human body than do stairs. Why would one choose to tromp up a long flight of stairs instead of stepping into an elevator and being whisked away to another floor?
Of course, it didn’t happen. We have elevators, we have stairs, and we have escalators –moving stairs. They co-exist, each serving the same purpose, that of moving people and things from one floor, one level, to another.
We have all read the speculation that Ereaders – Kindles, and Nooks, and iPads – will ultimately replace books. Indeed, sales of Ereaders have soared while bookstores have closed.
The writer who reported the early speculation about elevators, however, asserted that the demise of the printed book is as unlikely as the demise of stairs.
Now, argument by analogy is a tricky business. No analogy is perfect, and it may well be that the suggested link between the future of books and the future of stairs will not hold. Modern inventions have, in fact, replaced many of the things we formerly used.
We write on paper, not papyrus. We pull plows with tractors, not horses. We fly across the Atlantic rather than sail. Cars have replaced carriages, digital has all but replaced film, clocks have replaced sun dials, and my wife maintains that cell phones are replacing wrist watches.
The question of whether books have a future was brought home to me a few weeks ago when it was announced that a Books A Million store in our city was closing, leaving just three full service book stores in a metropolitan area of over 785,000 people. Only a year earlier, there had been six stores in the city.
Nevertheless, I tend to believe that Ereaders will not completely replace books.
I take this position as one whose wife gave him a Kindle Fire last August as an anniversary present. Amazon identifies it as “David’s Fifth Kindle,” (although two of the five actually have belonged to my wife). I have used a Kindle since shortly after I first read about them in the New York Times. I love my Kindle and the ability it gives me to take a single volume on vacation, rather than having to choose between three or four thick, heavy books and the second pair of shoes that I really need for river rafting.
Ereaders are terrific for straight reading, when you start on page one and read directly to the end. I review books for The Kindle Book Review. Last fall, I sped through each volume on my Kindle. It was great!
Yet, there are situations in which I prefer a book, a printed book.
Some texts are complicated. Financial Intelligence, a book I’m currently reading, describes how to understand and use various financial documents. For the chapter on how to read a balance sheet, there is a sample balance sheet – in the appendix. When the text discusses “cash on hand,” for example, I turn to the appendix to see how “cash on hand” actually appears in a balance sheet.
With a book, I’d stick a piece of paper – or my right index finger – at the appendix and flip back and forth as needed. With my Kindle, I bookmark the page in the appendix. To consult it, I tap the top of my screen to access a menu. I choose “Bookmarks,” locate the correct bookmark, and touch it. To return to the text, I touch the arrow at the bottom. In the next paragraph, the text discusses “depreciation,” and I repeat the process. It is as complicated in practice as it is in my description. Thumbs and sheets of paper work much better!
Have you ever looked at images, charts, or tables in an Ereader? My Kindle Fire produces beautiful color images. But they are small. Have you ever tried to follow the flow of a line graph across a screen? When I do find the balance sheet in the appendix, can I even read the entries? I have to touch the screen to enlarge the image and touch it again when I have finished with it. Give me a book any day!
When I read Mariah Jovan’s book, Dunham, I read it straight through. On one occasion, though, I had forgotten the significance of a particular character and had to page back to find who he was. It was not fun – flipping backwards, having to remember my location in the book rather than marking it, locating the reference, then selecting “go to” in the menu and typing in the location when I was ready to read again. I can imagine reading a technical work, something difficult to understand – Steven Hawkins’s book, A Brief History of Time comes to mind – and having to frequently page back to find a previous reference. Lost is an understatement. Ereaders are not optimized for this activity.

Finally, if the book is something that I want to keep, I want it printed on paper. I have the Book of Common Prayer on my Kindle, and I pretty much read in it six days a week (I hear it read on Sunday). My prayer book, though, is on a table beside my chair in the den; the copy on my Kindle is simply for convenience.
I have published two books, both of which are available on Ereaders (The Reunion and, recently, The Handfasting) and in print. I have copies of them both on my Kindle, but I assure you, printed copies can be found on the desk in my office. I love Greek icons, and I have books with reproductions of numerous images. I want these on paper where I can page through them slowly, enjoying their beauty, finding meaning in the details, something that would likely be impossible on my Kindle.

We know that technological innovations can be fleeting. In a decade, will .mobi files be readable on any device? Have you heard an eight-track tape recently? How about TRS-DOS, the operating system once used by Radio Shack’s computers? Paper survives. Today’s digital files? Maybe.

It is true. Ereaders may replace books. I’m thinking that they won’t, but in the end, does it really matter?
Children’s author Eric Carle once told a reporter, "I like to hold books and touch them. But in the future, who knows? When they invented papyrus, someone probably said, ‘Storytelling was so good. Why did we have to go and put it on papyrus?’ But one thing doesn't change: It's the story that counts. The medium doesn't matter."*
“It’s the story that counts.” Well said.


*USA Today, November 14, 2013


Monday, March 3, 2014

Just Destiny by Theresa Rizzo

My Review

Jenny’s husband, Gabe, dies as he pushes her from the path of an oncoming truck. They have been happily married for two years, and Jenny has just discovered that she is pregnant. It was an unintentional pregnancy. Gabe has two college-age children from his first marriage, and, at the time of their marriage, he and Jenny had both denied any interest in having children. As Gabe lies in the hospital, Jenny miscarries.

When her husband is declared to be brain dead, Jenny is called on to make decisions. She must decide whether to disconnect Gabe from life support. She is asked to donate his organs. Even though he was a physician, he left no directives.

Jenny consents to removing him from life support. She donates all of his organs that can be used. She asks that his sperm be collected so that she can be artificially inseminated and have his child, even though he has died.

Jenny finds that people have strong feelings concerning her plans, and the author does an excellent job as she presents an array of reactions. Nearby sperm banks refuse to accept the sperm because her brain dead husband had not given his consent to have them stored. Gabe’s uncle objects to the termination of life support, to organ donation, and to the collection of Gabe’s sperm. He sues to prevent Jenny from being inseminated. The press senses a sensational story. She has difficulty finding an attorney who will represent her. Steve, her next door neighbor who has had a crush on Jenny since she and Gabe moved in, finds the idea of insemination to be disgusting. In contrast, Jenny’s mother and Judith, Gabe’s first wife, are totally supportive.

As the case unfolds in court, family secrets are revealed. Jenny ultimately must decide if she really wants a child or whether she wants a child simply as a means to hang on to her husband.

Although it would never have occurred to me that Jenny’s plan would have caused her any difficulty at all, I ultimately understood some of the negative reactions, although I did not sympathize with them. Gabe’s uncle still strikes me as a vindictive, bitter old man. Steve still seems to me to be an insensitive, insecure clod! I somehow do not believe that the author intended me to feel this way about Steve, but I’m just saying…When you finish the book you will unerstand!

Just Destiny is an excellent book! It is well-written and so believable, an absorbing story, one that is difficult to put down. The conclusion is satisfactory, although I would have preferred a different ending.

Theresa Rizzo’s first book He Belongs to Me, was outstanding. In Just Destiny, she has another winner!