Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This book was released in 2008 and is the first in a trilogy. It became a popular movies series (of four movies) in 2012. I first read the books in December of 2011 after I received the trilogy box set as a Christmas gift. I promptly read all three books within a few weeks. My favorite of the trilogy is actually the second book, Catching Fire. This book is well written, captivating, and intense.

In a dystopian future where America is crippled by a war, the land is split into thirteen districts. Every year, two children from each district is chosen to participate in the games, which is a battle royale fight to the death. Pretty insane, I know (and this was well before Fortnite blew up and made the battle royale thing popular). You may have seen the movies. If you have, I hope you read the books as well, though I do think the movies did a good job following the source material.

This book series is surprisingly aimed at young adults, but I think it does a great job focusing on the characters versus the violence and allows the reader to become engrossed in the events that lie outside the main character’s control. Obviously the whole system if messed up, but Katniss, though limited, does everything she can to protect what she loves and improve the dismal world she lives in. She may not go about things in the best way, but it’s never easy going against an established societal norm. This is why I think this series will endure as a popular story. The battles these characters face can be applied as reflections of what we see in our own world.

I know sometimes people don’t want to give something a shot because it was super popular and possibly over-hyped. If you haven’t read this series because of one of those reasons, try it out. I think you may be surprised.

Happy Reading.

 

Against the Current

Garreth picked up the metal pipe that had fallen from his overloaded leather bag and kept going. He was late with his meeting before the Thinkers. He hoped that he would be able to join their ranks should they accept his invention. It had been a dream of his since he was a boy. To be a Thinker meant he would be given access to all resources to improve the city. He could travel to nearby cities as well and be given the same treatment.

He stumbled through the door to the massive Citadel in the center of the city. It was the largest building ever made, and it consisted of an amalgam of precious metals, solid stones, mixtures that dried harder than even marble, and other mysterious substances that held the structure together in certain areas. Many of which had been lost to time. Garreth believed some of the formulas still lay within the vaults of the structure. Locked up where only a Thinker could gain access.

His mind wandered at the thought of all the knowledge stored beneath his feet. His absent stride echoed through empty halls. A figure burst forth from a room further down corridor and his attention returned to the present. He eyed the figure as he approached and realized it was woman. She had stopped in the middle of walkway with her head held low as the door slowly closed behind her. Before he was close enough to ask her a question, she huffed and threw the object in her hands against the stone wall and stormed off. Garreth remained silent as she raged by. She gave him no mind at all while he observed how her black hair fluttered about her face as she took forceful steps. He even caught the soft green scattered within her otherwise brown iris.

He watched her exit. A sudden sadness came over him. One that made him wish he had spoken to her, but the thought was fleeting. He had come to join the Thinkers and that decision was soon to be made. He approached the door she had left behind. He reached for the handle and was stopped by the sight before him. The object she had thrown. It looked like fabric stretched taught between wooden rods. He found he could only guess as to the purpose of it.

Muffled voices penetrated the large wooden door. Garreth had cracked it open without noticing. Through the slit he heard the Thinkers arguing about the woman.

“The device could be useful,” a high-pitch voice said.

“It doesn’t matter how useful it is,” a deep voice boomed, “no woman will ever be a Thinker. It’s unheard of. No text has ever hinted at such a thing being the case and there must be a reason for it. We must maintain the integrity of our forebears.”

The murmuring of small conversation ensued until a composed voice rose above it. “Perhaps we should investigate the nature of Howell’s argument. If research should show even one idea within the archives was founded by a woman, we will admit Cassandra within our ranks.”

“But even then…” the deep voice sounded, then trailed away.

“You may come in now,” the composed voice called out.

Garreth knew he was the recipient of the command and entered the hall. It was a large atrium filled only with a tall, semi-circle dais and a small platform of stone one foot from the ground. Garreth came forward and stepped onto the platform. He looked up at the Thinkers, all wearing the robes of their rank, and they looked down upon him.

“You wish to become a Thinker?” The composed voice said. It came from the man seated directly in front of him. He was older and wore the signature medallion on his left breast signifying him as the Primary. The head of all Thinkers.

“I do,” Garreth managed.

“Come, show us what you have there,” the Primary requested.

Garreth pulled the pipes from his bag and began assembling them. He began his presentation as he fitted the first few together.

“This model will show you how I believe it is possible to harness the river north to provide water throughout the city.”

“Harness the river? How?” The deep voice called. Garreth noted the man immediately. He was toward his right. A larger man with a mustache which still contains remnants of the man’s breakfast.

“Here,” Garreth said, pointing to the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “is where it begins. We build this structure at the beginning of the waterfall north of the city. The water flows into the pipe where is can be diverted to various spots around the city.” He pointed to several points along his matrix. “Where the water can be stored in containers for regular use.”

“The river would be fully diverted? This would prevent water from reaching the irrigation channels further south.” It was the higher pitched voice. Garreth registered the man. Young, thin frame with large eyes. A genial look on his face that Garreth believed to be both an eagerness to learn despite a deep well of knowledge.

“The water,” he lifted a jug and poured it slowly into the open pipe at the top of his contraption, “would be diverted through the city, past the collection points, and guided back to the riverbed before it reaches the channels, therefore it would not disrupt the food supplies.” The water exited the web of pipes into the collection pan he had set at the base.

“Impressive,” the high-pitch voice said.

“What would this structure consist of?” the mustachioed man asked.

“Marble.”

“Why?” the Primary followed.

“To prevent contamination. The water would be river water, but if the materials were metal or a baser stone, then we would risk particles being released into the water that could be harmful even when boiled.”

“You’ve tested materials?”

“Yes. Marble proves the best suited for this project.”

“It would take years to complete such an undertaking.” This came from the fat mustache.

“Perhaps too long,” the Primary said.

“No longer than it took to build the bath houses,” Garreth said. He meant it as fact only but could see from the look of the bigger man that offense was taken.

“You know the intricacies of masonry?” the deep voice boomed.

“Not all.”

“Then do not falsely claim to know deeply of things you have only seen in passing.”

“I made no such claim.”

The bigger man rose from his seat on the dais to grow a few feet more above Garreth.

“You dare to-”

“Calm yourself Baron,” the Primary called, “You do not act your station at the moment.”

The mustache rumbled as Baron let out a huff at the Primary’s words and returned to his seat.

“Garreth, is it?” The Primary asked.

“Yes sir.”

“You have brought an interesting proposal before us. We thank you for this. We shall deliberate upon it and make our decision momentarily. We ask that you wait outside the Citadel for our response.”

Garreth thanked each of them and gathered his contraption. He wandered outside before stopping to properly dismantle the remainder of his model. He slipped a pipe into the bag. The clink of metal on metal was followed by a woman’s voice.

“You want to become one of those idiots?”

Garreth turned to see the girl from earlier. Her cheeks slightly flushed from recent tears. The name he overheard flashed across his mind. Cassandra.

“To become a Thinker is great honor. There is much to learn in the Citadel.” He looked up at the large doors he had just left. Cassandra followed his gaze.

“You are right. Too bad it’s all a farce.”

“How do you mean?” He asked it despite knowing she was telling a truth she did not fully understand.

“They are all old men. Too tied up in traditions to live up to the reputations created by those before them. I’d say the Citadel lost its ingenuity a few centuries ago.” She sighed.

“What was it?” Garreth asked impulsively.

“What was what?”

“The thing you left behind.”

“Ha,” she huffed, “It was a device that would let us harness the wind. Turn it into a mechanical force.”

“Really?” He stepped closer to her eager to hear more about it.

“Doesn’t matter now,” she said, “It’s impossible to build anything new without the Thinkers money. It wasn’t even hard to build.”

“Could you show me?”

She stared at him. Slowly the suspicion faded from her eyes as she realized he still held the spark of curiosity. She picked up a piece of straw from the street and began drawing in a patch of dirt at the base of the Citadel wall. She explained the intricacies simply and Garreth found himself inspired. He couldn’t fathom how she hadn’t been granted the robes of a Thinker. Then he remembered the discussion he overheard before his own presentation.

“This is fascinating.” He meant it, and she must have accepted his words honestly because she smiled. “As you said, this wouldn’t be hard to construct. Have you considered building it yourself?”

“Even if I had the money, only Thinkers get permits in the city.”

“What if you built it outside the city?”

She looked at him as if he had asked her to build it beyond the stars. The doors opened behind them and a courier presented Garreth with scroll. The Thinkers seal was pressed into the wax. Inside would be their decision. He held in his hand the answer to his future.

“Have fun being a Thinker,” Cassandra said as she got up. She smiled at him and walked away.

He watched her walking away, then turned his attention to the scroll, then down to the drawing in the dirt. He shoved the scroll into his pack without breaking the seal and ran after her.

“Wait,” he called as he caught up to her.

“What? You want to gloat?”

“I know of a town about a day to the east that could really benefit from your idea.”

A dubious look filled her features.

“I’m serious. You could really improve their lives out there. Isn’t that why you wanted to be a Thinker? To help others?”

“Don’t you have business in the Citadel?”

He shrugged. “It can wait. I’d hate to see your idea lost. It’s a Thinker’s responsibility to preserve ideas. To help those with the spark flourish.”

“You think I have the spark?” she asked with an incredulous tone.

“I know you do, and I know this world can’t afford to lose it.” He smiled in an attempt to convince her.

A moment passed before her own smile spread across her cheeks. “Where is this town?”

Book Recommendation of the Week

This week’s book recommendation is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). With Disney’s animated movie based on this book, released in 1951, and their two live-action versions of based on this book and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, I think nearly everyone knows of this story. However, I think the number of people who have read the book would be surprisingly low, which is why I’m recommending it. Have you read this book?

It is an easy read. You can usually find a version that includes both Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking Glass in one volume (as I did). The first book was published roughly 150 years ago and was influenced by an actual girl named Alice. I’m much less certain about the origins of other beloved characters such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter.

I believe so few actually read the story nowadays because there are so many versions out there (mostly movies). Several books have been based on the original Alice stories as well. I have yet to read them, but I know about two “retelling”s of the story itself that take the story in a drastically different narrative. One I believe is actually quite dark. (Side note: A quick Google search produced at least 83 modern versions of this story which is insane, but it is popular for many reasons.)

My reason for recommending the original story is twofold. It is a good story and it’s always good to read the original content, and it is a glimpse into history. Sure, this book probably seemed insane when it came out 150 years ago (I mean, they did have drugs back them too), but Queen Victoria like it! They didn’t have nearly as many forms of entertainment back then that we do now, and it was definitely not as accessible, but this fun little story has persisted through the years to entertain us. I hope it will entertain you as well.

Because it came out that long ago, and Mr. Carroll/Dodgson is long gone, I can provide a free copy of both books to you without an ounce of worry. Feel free to jump right in.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Happy Reading.

The Pendulum Clock

Val slipped through the open window. The security in this high-rise was lacking compared to many others she had visited. Perhaps the guards on the main floor were meant to create a sense of safety. Only a fool would think harm could or would come from one source. Luckily, tonight she was hunting a fool, but nonetheless she found it all alarmingly simple.

There were no cameras within the apartment. All the lavish furnishings and open room were left untouched. Spotless. No eyes viewed the precious artworks on the walls except the owner, and then only when he spared a moment to look. They were each worth over a million dollars. Priceless to some, mere tomes on the shelves in a lawyer’s office to others. Trophies. Benjamin Gally was a man who came to money easily through donation or inheritance, or bribery. He was a public figure who cared little for the public, which was why Val made him her next target.

She strolled through the parlor and prepared her catch before locating the controls on the far left wall. She scrolled through the library and found a tune she thought fitting to the scene. Miss Murder blew through the open room as Val hid carefully above the control unit. Benjamin Gally rushed into the room. He surveyed it briefly before walking to the controls and shutting it off.

“Hello,” he called to the emptiness. He was still in his perfectly tailored suit and tie, sans jacket. He pulled out his phone and Val whipped it out of his hand with the heel of her foot. In one swift motion, she laced the ribbon around his feet and hit the reel. He was lifted into the center of the room. His head swung only a foot from the polished granite.

Val stood, composed herself, and switched the music back on only to dim it so a proper conversation could be had between them. She tied his hands behind his back. He was still too shocked to resist properly.

“Who are you?” he screamed.

“They always want to know who I am before they why I’m here. It’s rather annoying.” She circled around and sat down on the cold granite so she could look into his upended face. “I have no qualms about giving a dead man my name.”

“Do you know who I am?” he snarled.

“Of course I do,” she replied calmly, “You are Benjamin Gally. Founder of Handiman. Son of Christopher Gally. Inheritor of sixty million dollars and thief of five-hundred and seventy more. No wife. No children, at least claimed that is. No next of kin. That’s why I’m here.”

“What?” Confusion flickered across his face. “I’ve stolen nothing.”

“You’ve stolen plenty, or had it handed to you without question. No favor worth a hundred and twenty mil can be honest or easy. It doesn’t matter now. That money gets a second chance at helping people once you’re gone. In this state, it goes to the Board of Education. Maybe it can fund a library for all the intercity kids so desperately wanting an opportunity to grow up without finding themselves on the other side of the law.”

“Let me go and I’ll build that library. Twenty million. I’ll invest it into my property on fifth avenue.”

She pushed him so his face swung by her she spoke. “That’s the thing. You could have been philanthropic and built such a place. Helped thousands of people, but you only think of it now. When your life is on the line and you’ve lost the control you grew drunk upon. It wasn’t even your idea. And you have the audacity to limit the project cost to a measly twenty mil? You’ve probably spent more on hookers.”

“One hundred million then.”

“You don’t get it do you?” She pulled out a knife and watched it register in his eyes as his swinging slowed. “It’s too late for you. The only good you can do for this this world now is to die.”

She pushed him again so he swung higher, then held the knife out in front of her. With each pass, she edged the blade forward until it nicked his scalp. Blood began dripping as he continued to swing like a pendulum in the room. Painting the glossy floor with a steady stream of life. The granite stripping the heat of each drop.

“You’ll bleed out in about forty minutes like this, maybe less,” she said, “The blood flows freely along the skull, and gravity will speed things along.”

“Who are you?” he repeated.

“Again with the who. Like it will make any difference to your situation.”

“I have friends-”

“Yes, and they are on my list too. Don’t worry.”

“They’ll hunt you.”

“They’ll try, but they won’t find me. They won’t even try until they themselves are scared. Even then they won’t look. They will bolster defenses which will only make my work more interesting. It won’t slow me down. I promise.” She cleaned the small shade of blood from her knife and hid it away. “Besides, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue where to look.”

His face remained bright red as blood continued to drip freely from his scalp. His features began to show the amount of blood he lost. The eyes attempting to drift backward. The mouth growing slack. His speech grew slurred.

“You….won’t….change any….thing…..you can….can’t hide….forever.”

“You’re right there Benjamin. All your buddies have had similar predictions.”

His eyes flashed a gleam of focus at the mention of his friends.

“Yeah, that’s right. Your missing friends. Carlton Dieson. Harold Bennington. I’ve made their acquaintance. Not much to them to be honest. Just anger and bitterness as they drifted into the ether. Leaving their spoiled bodies behind. Their money helped fund the much-needed public transportation renovations, but Governor Harris decided to keep a few million of those public funds for himself. It seems my list only continues to grow.”

She realized she had let her thoughts wander. Looking back at the man in front of her, swinging gently, making circle patterns in the blood pooling together at her feet, she realized he was dead. They never ask why, she thought as she stood up and surveyed her work. The music made its way back into her senses and the room seemed vacant. She was very much alone and she felt the loneliness creep within her.

Before it could grab hold, she disappeared back into the world she loved. She began dreaming of what would be done with the hundreds of millions Benjamin Gally just left behind for the public to better itself. The body that was Benjamin Gally hung in the high-rise apartment. The blood dripped, slowly spreading across the unforgiving granite, until the dripping slowed to a crawl and stopped completely.

The Light of Our World

Malee struck a match and held the flame beneath the soaked twine until the fire danced along the ring. The sides of the simple box lantern glowed revealing the markings written on each side. Each side held a name and each name held a lifetime of memories. For each of them were a part of her.

Preeda had died when they were young. All Malee could remember of her oldest and favorite sister was a joyful smile. Every memory contained those perfectly white teeth smiling. The thought of them spread warmth throughout Malee’s now weathered features. She found her smile again, but it was never as big as Preeda’s.

Sunan was the was the name of her child who had never seen sunlight. He was her second son. He passed away, softly, in another hospital room while Malee sat in her own and listened to doctors tell her she would never have another child.

Arthit, her first-born, passed away in a truck accident while returning home from work late one night. Malee had been on her way to visit him in America and meet her future daughter-in-law. Instead of a wedding, she spent the two weeks arranging his funeral. She had not seen Arthit in two years.

Somchai was with her as they buried both of their sons. He gave her strength enough to endure that heartbreak while he endured the loss of his sons alone. God tested her when Somchai died. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Malee lifted the lantern and let it slowly drift into the sky joining the thousands of others that bore the memories of the living. Bright stars against the night. She knew that, as the lanterns crossed beyond her world, her family would find their names and know that she was okay.