Separate Kingdoms: Stories by Valerie Laken

3/5 Stars.
(ARC) Paperback, 224 pages.
Read from December 07 to 08, 2013.

I’d like to thank Goodreads for free ARC copy of this book. This is a refreshing collaboration of intricate and intriguing short stories. This book was a quick read and I enjoyed the similar themes of division, loss and love and the emotional depth that each story contained.  The author played with the dynamics of how each of these themes affect us. No matter who you are, where you are from and who you are with we all share the same pursuit for love and will all be faced with our own losses and divisions in that pursuit. Some of the stories are heart-retching while others make you feel a bit uncomfortable but I believe that is the desired effect.

I found the story of the woman who lost her leg particularly touching.  The story is narrated from the point of view of the husband as he struggles to reconnect with his broken wife who has yet to come to terms with the loss and actually embrace and love the body she now has.  What was particularly effective was how you were able to get a perfect idea of the spite and hatred the wife had for her own position despite the story having been narrated from the husband’s point of view. It just details how well the husband knows his wife. It’s torture to see what the husband has to deal with in terms of being mindful of his wife’s turmoil but in also trying to address his own needs to reconnect with his wife and ultimately help her improve her well-being. The story’s ending was, thankfully, hopeful.

The story involving the adoption of a child I found difficult. There was so much tension between these two very different women over the selection of which child they were going to adopt together. This story was narrated from just the one woman in the relationship so I felt the need to take her maternal side (despite having not children) as her partner seemed eager to have the process over with and didn’t seem to be too bothered with which child they ended up taking home with them. The couple’s predicament felt very real and in a way and had a sense familiarity to it. The overwhelming urge the narrator had to adopt the one specific child, while the story never went there, was going to have explosive implications for the couple and Laken did an excellent job in depicting this.

Overall I enjoyed Laken’s writing and would recommend this novel for anyone with an appreciation for well-written short stories.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

3/5 stars.
ebook, 154 pages.
Read from November 07 to 13, 2013.

“…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His observations as a scientist in combination with his experiences as a Holocaust victim allowed him to create a form of Psychotherapy called Logotherapy. Logotherapy was created with the Greek word “logos” which translates as “meaning” and is based off Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning”. This book was one of the first to define his new form of therapy which helped many Holocaust survivor’s get through their experiences.

This book is remarkable in so many ways and was unlike any Holocaust memoir that I’ve read. Viktor did not reiterate the horrors of the events he experienced but rather outlined what he did to get himself through it. Even more interestingly, was how academic the book was written. You don’t expect a memoir to be written in this manner but it was effective for what Viktor was trying to get across to his readers, which, in its simplest form, is about being able to choose a positive attitude, perspective and approach to your life and if you can find meaning within suffering. Or as Viktor quotes Nietzsche, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how‘”.  Viktor’s direct and brief writing style epitomizes his simple yet potent ideologies. However, if I had a criticism, I would say that his academic approach, while effective, I found that it takes way some of the emotional power of his story and his ideas a bit. With that also being said, his approach also meant that he was able to provide poignant advice without coming off like a self-help book.

Viktor’s story is inspirational and he truly makes us take a look at our own lives and what we have to grateful for and how we can use the power and reasoning of our minds to overcome any obstacle.  I would recommend this book to everyone as I believe that Viktor’s approach is effective and that we severely undermine the power of our own thoughts.

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 761 pages.
Read from September 10 to November 04, 2013.

Another solid novel by Martin. Admittedly though, I feel like I have become comfortable with Martin’s writing so there were not as many surprises in this novel as in comparison to the first one, which I suppose, is the be expected to some degree. Regardless, I am still enthralled with the majority of the characters and most of the plots. My only fear is that so many of these precious details that Martin puts into his work that make his stories unique and exceptional will be lost in the coming novels. He has been successful in not missing too many so far which has provided some enthralling twists but, well there are just so many details in this novel and as reader, there are some that I don’t easily forget. Such as with Ayra’s direwolf, Nymeria, who was released to escape death in the first novel, will she return to Arya? I’m hoping so.

I think what I can appreciate most and what I think Martin could attribute the success of his novels to is the expansive and intricate characters that he creates. Even for those who don’t care for fantasy can still appreciate a well-developed character. For example, you don’t know whether to love or hate some, whether their intentions are for the better good or for their own means or if they are truly as heartless as they appear because Martin gets inside each and everyone of his characters. You’re able to see just how human they are, with all their quirks and faults, and empathize with each in one way or another. The characters that are straight forward and innately likeable, Martin doesn’t seem to keep around for very long (ie. Eddard Stark). Even with this second novel alone, some of the characters have changed so much from the first and are starting to show their true colours (ie. Theon Greyjoy).

While I have enjoyed this novel and the one prior, I don’t know if I would continue them were it not for the fact that my boyfriend really wants to continue watching the television series. There is just so much out there to read and if I’m already feeling too comfortable with Martin’s work I’m hesitant to continue and dull the excitement. However, I just can’t stand watching something that’s based on a book without having read it first! Since I have now finished this second book we can proceed in watching the second season. I hope that Martin continues to deliver.