Book Review: Beware the Wild

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This book pulled me and didn’t let me go, much like mud in the swamp at the heart of the story. Sterling Saucier (pronounced SO-shur) was a great character. I felt her worries, her sense of urgency, her confusion as she tried to hold on to the memory of her brother and deal with a whole new set of memories, of a sister, which shouldn’t have been in her mind. She struggles against feelings for this sister, all while knowing that she shouldn’t have these memories of her.

Sterling’s mission seems clear – get her brother back from the swamp, set things right again. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. All magic comes with a price, and the magic of the Shine is no exception. Sterling has to find a way to get Phin back without losing herself, or anyone else, to the Shine. She has to deal with a town that denies the existence of the Shine, that fears the swamp and fences it away without ever daring to talk about or even think about why. There’s power in memory, power in fear, and power in where things (and people) are from. Sterling has to figure out how to work with all of that in her efforts to save her brother, and the one thing she can’t evade is the cost of the Shine.

Sterling has a cast of other great characters around her. There’s Candy, her best friend and the undeniable leader of the group; there’s Heath, who understands what she’s dealing with; and though he isn’t there, her memories of Phin make feel her attachment to him. Even Lenora May turns out to be more complicated than she seems at first. The only character who really falls flat is Abigail. We’re told she’s black and Lesbian, but we don’t get any real sense of her a person. It feels like she’s there to check some box and that’s it.

All in all this was a great read and I look forward to meeting the author at Midwest Writers Workshop later this year!

My Favorite Tale of Revenge

I have enjoyed various versions of The Count of Monte Cristo since I was in high school.  It began, not with Dumas’s novel, but with an old movie version starring Richard Chamberlain.  It was part of a double-feature one Friday night on TNT or TBS.  My parents remembered it and recorded it (along with another favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel).  My father liked the sword-play and that is most of what I remember about Chamberlain’s version.

In college the University theater did a production of the story, adapted by one of the faculty.  The student performers were joined by one professional actor, brought in to play Edmond.  I went with a friend and we both fell for the actor at once.  Going back stage to meet him was a thrill.

I hadn’t thought of the story for some time, until I came across the 2002 movie version.  The cast list alone made me gape:  Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Luis Guzman, and Herny Cavill (with such a baby face you’ll hardly recognize him).  How was this not a run-away hit?  Somehow it wasn’t, but it is most definitely my favorite adaptation of the tale.

You probably know the story.  Edmond Dantes is betrayed by his best friend, Fernand Mondego.  He goes to prison for 13 years.  His fiancee is told that he’s dead.  His father hangs himself.  His boss winds up swindled out of his business.  Edmond, in the meantime, suffers beatings and near starvation.  He also meets a fellow prisoner who, as they attempt to tunnel to freedom, teaches him to read and write, mathematics, economics, philosophy, and fighting.  With his dying breath the man tells him where a treasure is.  He urges him to use it for good, but Edmond says no, he will use it for his revenge.

In Dumas’s novel, the revenge plot becomes convoluted.  Here it is simplified and straight forward.  It is my favorite part of the tale.  Edmond plays his enemies like violins, using their own greed and lust for power against them.  He sets the traps but they enter them willingly.  They bring about their own destruction.  There is justice in what befalls them.  Everything goes perfectly, save one thing.  Mercedes, the woman Edmond was to marry, is not so easy to deal with.  He wants to hate her.  She married his best friend, the chief architect of all his suffering, and yet he cannot.  His henchman urges him to take his treasure and Mercedes and to leave – to give up his revenge and go find happiness.  Edmond refuses, at least at first.  Here again we deviated from Dumas.  Mercedes doesn’t slink away to live in a convent.  She confronts Edmond, tells her side of the story, and he realizes that it will not enough to destroy the men who hurt him.  He wants the chance at happiness with her.

In Dumas’s tale Edmond has a single-minded quest for revenge.  In this film version, the story becomes about more than just pursuing revenge.  Edmond lost his way in the prison, but in the end he is able to find it again.  He started out on a quest for vengeance but in the end he finds a chance for redemption and he chooses that.  Of course, Fernand being the petty man that he is, he can’t let Edmond go and there must be a final confrontation (with swords, naturally, because Dumas did write the original tale).

It’s a fun tale, with great visual spectacle, an amazing cast, and a highly satisfying conclusion.  If you haven’t seen this version, I highly recommend it.  As I said, it is my favorite.  Besides, look at that cast!

Slowing Down

The other day I got a notice that someone liked one of my reviews on Goodreads. I went to see what it was for and realized that I had no memory of reading that book. Last year. I’d given it a good review, so clearly I’d enjoyed it, and yet I couldn’t remember any details about it. I had to dig on the site and in my head until I got a vague recollection of what the book had been about.
That really gave me pause. I’m a competitive person. I like to “win.” Now, because I’m not particularly gifted athletically, I’ve always competed against myself. The goal back when I was a kid swimming was to swim a best time. Now that I run, it’s to run a personal best. And apparently that’s carried over to my reading. Goodreads has yearly reading goals, and I’ve been trying to up my number of books read per year each year. I had set myself a goal last year of 100 books. I dropped it to 85 as we hit December and it was clear I was never going to get to 100. I made 85, just, but I was disappointed. I decided I’d be more realistic this year and stretch myself with a goal of 90. After the whole what-did-I-read debacle with the review though, I’ve dropped that to 75. What is the point of plowing through books to hit some self-imposed goal if I can’t remember what I’ve read six months later? I enjoy reading for it’s own sake – I don’t need to get caught up in numbers and lose that. 75 seems like enough of a challenge to make a good goal, but not so large a number that I won’t be able to slow down and savor a good book as I go. I’m going to give it a shot and try to stay flexible so that, at the end of the year I’ll have had x number of quality reads.