Friday, August 15, 2014

Unruly Places

The title: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
The author: Alastair Bonnett
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Got it from: The library

In this unusual book, author Alastair Bonnett dives into the psychology of those places considered to be "unruly."  What makes a place unruly?  It is the spaces we overlook, the borders that aren't quite there, those islands we can't quite get a hold of.  The author uncovers both the micro (a local fox hole, gutterspaces) and the macro (the vanishing Aral Sea, Leningrad.)  In a world increasingly overtaken by Blandscapes, unruly places draw us to the unknown.

There's a lot of entries in this book, so I'll touch on a few that spoke to me.  There's a small garden in New York City that began as an art project in the 1970's which grows plants that would have been native to the city before it was a city.  There's a town just outside of Chernobyl that has been left exactly as it was abandoned in 1986, complete with a half-finished amusement park.  And if you're super-rich, you can buy an apartment aboard a luxury liner that travels the world.

Beyond the descriptions of these varied places, what I enjoyed most was the author's psychology of space.  Places have meaning for us, one that we should embrace because it makes us human.  The yearning for a space of our own, familiar and reassuring, is in our nature.  But place is also unique: it changes based on time, from person to person, from mood to mood.  All spaces are shifting and ephemeral.  Appropriately, he saves what is perhaps the most ephemeral space of all for last: the places of childhood play.  Reading about his childhood experiences playing make-believe in an alley, I suddenly felt click of connection.  No one transforms a space like a child: a clump of trees becomes a fortress, a palace, a home.  This is where we learn to shape our world.  Unfortunately, like everything else in this book, it is being lost to a digital touch-screen childhood.  If we lose it completely, we will lose an important part of ourselves.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So I changed the template

I don't really have the time or energy for a full-scale renovation, but I gave the old blog a fresh coat of paint.  Hope the larger font makes it a little easier to read, at least.

Meanwhile, please check out my latest post below!  I'm super excited about this book.

Lady Liberty

The title: Lady Liberty
The author: Vicki Hinze
Publication: Bantam, 2002
Got it from: Kobo

I am all about the political thriller romance this year.  In February it was Executive Bodyguard, now it's Lady Liberty.  There's something so addictive about the adrenaline rush these books provide.  I like that they tend to feature older, smarter women in positions of power and I like that the tension of political suspense tends to act as a foil to the romantic tension experienced by the protagonists.

There's a lot to love about Lady Liberty, which I think I enjoyed more than Executive Bodyguard, although I liked the latter.  Liberty is longer so it had more time to explore the main relationship, as well as the heroine's role and the ins and outs of Washington politics.  

Sybil Stone is the Vice-President of the United States.  She's a straight arrow in a world of crooked politicians and a lot of people hate her for that (as well as just generally for being a woman).  Among Sybil's enemies are a powerful senator who wants her job, a top Washington journalist who is looking to ruin her reputation and her dick of an ex-husband, the head of a top security company and possibly the most corrupt person in the country.

As the book opens, Sybil is abroad trying to negotiate a peace treaty with representatives from two warring nations.  Among her staff members is Agent Jonathan Westford.  Westford used to be on her security detail, but he left because he developed feelings for her.  (At one point he threatened to kill her emotionally abusive ex-husband, which was what led him to ask for reassignment.)  The only reason Westford is on the trip at all is as a special favor to the President.  Sybil also has feelings for Westford, but she doesn't realize them yet.  At this point she thinks he's just super-devoted to his job, not to her in particular, and she's also hurt that he left her detail, thinking she did something wrong.

Right away we learn that Sybil is being targeted by an international terrorist organization, but we don't know why.  She is called back to the U.S. because of an emergency.  Sybil tells her staff to stay behind but Westford insists on going with her.  He rightly senses that something's wrong.  As the plane is flying over Florida, his magic Secret Service instincts start tingling and he pulls Sybil out of the plane, even though she's the only one with a parachute.  Ten seconds later the plane blows up.  It's such a jaw-dropping holy crap opening, I knew then and there I wasn't going to be able to put this book down.

There's a whole lot going on in this story and it takes a lot of concentration to work out all the characters, their connections and secret motives.  It turns out there's a nuclear bomb set to detonate in Washington and Sybil is the only one with the key to stop it - but she and Westford are now stranded in the Florida swamps with no way to get back and no idea who to trust.  As the hours count down on the clock, they have a lot to figure out, including their own feelings for each other.  Sybil is great at being a VP but doesn't trust her judgement when it comes to men.  

One of the reasons I loved this book was that it has the same sort of dual-identity crisis that I love about superhero tropes, with the genders flipped.*  Sybil is constantly questioning whether Westford loves her or the VP.  This frustrates her, along with the fact that her personal life didn't turn out the way she once wanted it.  Part of Sybil's journey involves not just coming to terms with her feelings for Westford, but also learning to change her definition of personal happiness.  There's a wonderful line toward the end of the book that really spoke to me:

She wasn't the woman she had been when she'd created those dreams for herself.  She was the woman she had become.

How many people constantly strive for what they thought they wanted when they were younger?  And how many of us have ended up changing those dreams because we're different people now?  

Hooray for books that celebrate women in power.  If only there were more of them.

Rating:  4.5 Presidential Seals out of 5. 

*Side note - I also find it super amusing that hardly anyone discusses Sybil's looks, only her politics.  But Sybil and her best friend Gabby constantly talk about how hunky they think Westford is.  One reviewer on Amazon sums it up pretty well:
"She is tactful, and diplomatic. He is hard and sexy!!!!"