The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert [book review]

 

Summary: Morgan Fletcher is a disfigured recluse living on an isolated country estate with only his housekeeper, Engel, as company.

One day, mysterious children begin to appear at the house. Where they come from and why they are coming is unknown.

Morgan and Engel take the children in and give them a home (as though this is the usual and expected thing to do when strange children appear at one’s door).

Morgan finds the children to be both a source of great happiness and of horror. As he gradually unravels the tangled threads of the children’s purpose and its connection to him, he comes to understand something about his own past and purpose in the world as well.

Thoughts: The Children’s Home is a brief, deceptively simple story featuring elements of surrealism, magical realism, mystery, and horror.

The tone and style suggest what the result might be of a collaborative effort between A. A. Milne and Stephen King, combining the quiet charm of the former with the abrupt violence and insidious unease of the latter.

The plot is vague, and much is left up to the imagination of the reader (i.e. not explained or made clear). I didn’t find the story very enjoyable or interesting, but I did find it worthy of some thought.

I would describe the arc of the story as unsatisfying, like glimpsing a form in mist. Many things are hinted at or suggested, but never made certain. The ending leaves the reader largely in the dark, still groping for explanations. It seems as though the characters discover or learn something, but the reader is never let in on the secret. This provokes the reader to wonder if she’s wasted her time, or if she simply missed something, or if she needs to think about the story differently.

The book never truly becomes anything, which may be the main source of frustration. Rather like someone trying to write a story based on a vague dream, and having filled in the gaps in the background and setting, and peopled it with a cast of characters, still finds it to be little more than an idiosyncratic curiosity – a creation with no point or significance outside itself. Which some might argue is a definition of art.

Conclusion: I would recommend this curious novella only if one’s tastes run to the odd and vague, and the presence of creepy children in a story is viewed as an unqualified asset.

Book Details:

  • Title: The Children’s Home
  • Author: Charles Lambert
  • Date published: January 5, 2016
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • My source: Public library

 

Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. [Book Review]

Zika: The Emerging Epidemic tells the story of the mosquito-borne virus from its emergence in Africa to the current health crisis in the South and CenImage result for zika book mcneiltral Americas. It is a compact, fast-paced, journalistic book, and it does an excellent job of covering multiple facets of its subject both thoroughly and concisely. The average reader will  find it interesting and readable.

I enjoyed how the author weaved his experiences as a journalist covering Zika (the back copy says he covers “plagues and pestilences for the New York Times“) into the story of the virus’ emergence, the discovery of the link between the virus and brain damage in fetuses, and the reactions of the public, governments, and health agencies of different countries. The relation of his phone and email conversations with various contacts in the scientific and public health communities gave the story a dramatic element, which it hardly needed but which helped lend momentum to the narrative.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Zika virus, or who is interested in viruses and the natural history of disease.

Book details:

  • Title: Zika: The emerging epidemic
  • Author: Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
  • Date published: June 28, 2016
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Format: Paperback, 208 pages
  • My Source: Public Library

January Craft and Reading Update

My creative effort this month has taken the form of a crocheted cat doll made from a pattern I found in the adorable book “Amineko” by “Nekoyama.” My amineko did not turn out exactly like the pictures in the book, but I think it’s not bad for my first crochet project in something like 10 years, and definitely my first actually following a pattern.

I think if I made another one it would be better, because apparently crocheting, like most things, requires time and effort and practice in order for there to be improvement. With my “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none” personality, however, I will probably move on and try my hand at something else.

On another note, I will probably not finish “The Gene” by the end of January. I only read about a third of it and then it was due (I borrowed it from the library) and I had to give it back because other people were waiting for it. I also borrowed it on CD for my dad, however, so maybe I can listen to the rest of it.

Paradoxically, my dad enjoys books but not reading. He has a bit of ADHD, so he’s never been able to sit down and concentrate on a book for very long, although he does fine when he has to — he’s great at his job, and finished a master’s in counseling with no problem. Recreational reading, though, was never his thing — until my mom and I started getting him books on CD from the library. It seems he can pay attention to audiobooks with little or no trouble. Now the difficulty is simply that he doesn’t like to pick them out on his own, and prefers that I select his reading for him.

It’s both easy and challenging to pick out books for my dad. He’ll listen to just about anything I give him, but it’s hard to get him to pinpoint what exactly he likes to listen to. For the most part, I just get him books that I’ve read and enjoyed, and that I think he’d like too, but my tastes run mostly to nonfiction, especially anything science-y or medical. He seems to enjoy these sorts of books too, but it would be easier if he’d just try to identify a few topics of interest on his own.

Some of the books I pick are fun and light, like Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars” (his current selection), while others are ponderous and more demanding (“The Emperor of All Maladies” comes to mind). We’ll see how far he gets into “The Gene” (and how for I get, for that matter).

I’m also reading “Zika: The Emerging Epidemic” by Donald G. McNeil Jr., which is short and reads like a popular magazine article. I doubt it’s available on audiobook through the library, but I’ll check. I think my dad would like it too.

Wet Weather Woes & Wonders

The storm that came through this week kept me from going to work for two days. That’s the trouble with living on the wrong side of the mountains… I felt that, since I was taking a forced vacation, I should do something exciting and vacation-worthy, like try a new restaurant, or go to the theater. On the other hand, I’m feeling very conservative about money at the moment. Last month some car trouble put a load on my credit card of the sort I’ve been careful to avoid for years, and I’m reluctant to spend much of anything until it’s paid off.

In the end I stayed home the whole time. The closest I came to doing something interesting was taking a few macro shots of moss, which was enjoying the weather quite a bit more than I or my soggy dogs.

2017 Garden Goals

My goal for my garden this year is to grow enough food in enough variety to make it almost unnecessary to shop for vegetables during the growing season.

This will be my ninth year messing about with the garden. To date, my method has been to grow whatever seems interesting to me and plant it wherever there’s room. I haven’t paid much attention to the growing needs of specific types of plants, or to the quality of my soil beyond adding bagged dirt and fertilizer now and then. Consequently, I’ve had varying degrees of luck with different plants, and even with the same plants. Some years there are too many tomatoes to handle, and other years there are barely enough for a bowl of salsa.

This year I’m actually going to plan.

My gardening wish list includes growing lights, warming coils or warming pads, and either a digital soil tester or a soil test kit.

2017 Reading Goals

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything, but I hope to post more consistently in the coming year.

My reading goal for 2017 is to read at least one nonfiction book and one fiction book each month. For January, my selections are “The Children’s Home” by Charles Lawrence for fiction and “The Gene” by Siddhartha Mukherjee for nonfiction.

Since earning my undergrad degree in literature, I’ve hardly read anything that could be classified as “literature.” Most of my fiction reading has fallen into the categories of horror, sci-fi, and (dare I say?) paranormal romance. While “The Children’s Home” is classified as horror, it’s described as literary horror, which is supposedly superior to other categories. I’m looking forward to “The Gene” because I loved Mukherjee’s 2010 work, “The Emperor of All Maladies.”

Happy New Year, and happy reading!