Olivia (olivialove) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books No. 1-2

Mr. Eternity by Aaron Thier/ Publishing Aug. 2016/ 272 pgs
Read via NetGalley/Kindle
Description: Key West, 2016. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying. In short, everything is going to hell. It's here that two young filmmakers find something to believe in: an old sailor who calls himself Daniel Defoe and claims to be five hundred sixty years old.
In fact, old Dan is in the prime of his life. It's an incredible, perhaps eternal American life, which Mr. Eternity imagines over a millennium: a parade of conquistadors and plantation owners, lusty mermaids and dissatisfied princesses, picking up in the sixteenth century in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and continuing into the twenty-sixth, where, in the future Democratic Federation of Mississippi States, Dan serves as an advisor to the King of St. Louis.

This book is an adventure woven by ruins, plastic, the jungle, the ocean, clowns, pirates, slaves, filmmakers, the destitute, a delusional despot, a princess, and a quiet witch-doctor, while the immortal Dan Defoe threads them all together. And it is all meshed between past, present and future.

There are five stories that take place in this novel.
Two take place in historical settings (1560 & 1750), two take place in the future (2200 & 2500) and one in present day (2016) acts to bisect past and future. The slicing of time is cleverly executed, and I could see how having only one story of past and present each instead of two would have made less of an impact on the themes and overall narrative. However the jumping back and forth between five different timelines, occasionally grew confusing, and details of one time line would get mentally mixed with details of another. Also because of the brevity of time spent on each story, I never really became fully invested in any of the characters. Although they were all interesting to watch, I never got to the point of caring about them as I usually do when I read a novel.

That aside, I think my favorite aspect of the book were two specific themes, climate change and unreliable history. I liked the varying hints at man's mutilation of the earth, that went as far back as 1750 when Dr. Green remarks that carrier pigeons were once said to be so numerous they clouded the sky, and yet now they seem to be disappearing. He dismisses the idea that humans could ever cause such a dramatic change in nature because it seemed too preposterous. Then of course there are the 2016 filmmakers, and their fixation with climate change, plastic, and the geological disasters to come. Additionally, the back drop to the two future stories give illustration to the extent of the aftermath of reckless human activity. Cement ruins, cities under water, plastic everywhere, poverty, drought, extinct pine trees, total absence of snow...All of it provides a valuable weight to the novel as a whole, while simultaneously never quite becoming a focal point.

The second theme of historical inaccuracies was fascinating, also I believe it was critical to the cohesion of the novel as a whole. What makes history truth? Why do we believe the things we do without ever thinking about the point of origin? How are we to really know this fictional account we are reading is any more or less true than the accounts of events in history books? I am old enough to recall being taught in school that Christopher Columbus was a hero, the discoverer of America! And yet now, my child learns a different story in school, he learns that Columbus did not in fact discover America, and that he was not a hero, and in fact brought destruction and disease with his voyages.. Then there are all the other historical "facts" we are taught that are not true but are accepted facts (such as Galileo inventing the telescope, Edison inventing the light bulb, Franklin figuring out electricity with a kite etc). True facts become muddled by perception, bias, faltered memory, lies, desires, corruption and recounting events inaccurately. Then things are recorded, but why and by whom? We must ask ourselves, as Jasmine does, "what is left when you cease to distinguish truth from fictions?" (81) Each of the five stories explores this question in their own ways, and usually through Daniel Defoe.

So all in all, it was an enjoyable novel and I give it 3.5 stars and would read another book by this author.
I would have given it more because I really enjoyed the subject matter, however it did not engross me the way I generally like a read to do.

Late Harvest Havoc
by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane/ Publ. 12/15/15/ 167 pages
Description: Winter is in the air in Alsace and local customs are sowing trouble, piquing the curiosity of the famous winemaker from Bordeaux, Benjamin Cooker. While the wine expert and his assistant Virgile settle into their hotel in the old city of Colmar, distinguished vineyards are attacked. Is it revenge? The plot thickens when estates with no apparent connection to one another suffer the same sabotage just days prior to the late harvest.

I almost never read mysteries. I came across this one on netgalley and was interested because of the food and wine aspect of the writing, and because I hadn't read a mystery in so long I thought it was overdue.
So that being said, I did not like it at all. It felt shallow, one dimensional, under-developed, and just overall lacking substance.
However, as previously stated, I do not normally read mysteries, or serial mysteries, so I do not know if this is normal or not. Since it is a short read, it makes sense that it could not be very deep. But for this reason, I really did not enjoy it.
I thought the murder in the very first chapter of the book would somehow be connected to the overall mystery but it wasn't, it was totally separate, random, and pointless. Why add that at all then?
The interactions with the police chief seemed unbelievable. Why would an officer really divulge pertinent case details to a stranger?
I don't know... all of it seemed off to me.

However what I really did enjoy about this book were all the food and wine references, and the sporadic technical details of viticulture, such as commenting on soil mineral content, or how the slope of a hill impacts the taste of wine (Riesling in this case). So because I enjoyed this aspect of the book, I do not consider it a wasted read.

I am going to try out Agatha Christie's most famous novel, before I decide whether or not to swear off mystery series' forever.

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