Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Angel Maker

The Angel Maker
Author: Stefan Brijs
Penguin Books, 2008
352 pages

I love discovering new-to-me authors from across the pond, so I was delighted when my friend Sophie (from Belgium) sent this book by Belgian author Stefan Brijs. :) 

The Angel Maker is a story told in three parts, starting with the return of Dr. Victor Hoppe to his childhood village in Belgium near the place where three borders (Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) meet. The doctor has three toddler boys who look exactly alike their father, down to the same physical defect. Unlike other boys in the village, they're kept indoors and not allowed to socialize with other children. Curious villagers gossip: What's wrong with the boys? Who's their mother and where is she? Where has Dr. Hoppe been all these years? Yet they look upon the doctor with a combination of sadness and awe, knowing that he has such a tragic past.

Section two fills in blanks on Victor's past. The only child of the odd village physician, he was born with the same genetic defect as his father. At an early age he was mistaken for mentally challenged and sent to live in a religious-sponsored psychiatric institution. In reality, young Victor is a genius who eventually becomes a doctor specializing in genetics. Like the classic Dr. Frankenstein (interesting that the two doctors share the same first name), Victor becomes obsessed with creating life. Victor is super-creepy and oddly captivating as a character. I was repulsed by him, yet I felt sorry for him.

The last section takes us in a couple of new directions as we learn the answers to all the questions that have been building up since Dr. Hoppe came to town. Things all come to a head in the uber-riveting ending, which deserves at least a 9 on the nail-biting scale. It's going to be a while before I forget The Angel Maker. I can't wait to pass it along to my nephew, who has an interest in genetics. I wonder if he'll be as creeped out as I was!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Simple Dreams

Simple Dreams
Author: Linda Ronstadt
Simon & Schuster, 2013
257 pages

One of my favorite albums of all time is Linda Ronstadt's Prisoner in Disguise. I grew up listening to her music and knew that she worked with other artists whose music I enjoyed, such as The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, and James Taylor. I liked her eclectic tastes in music -- for example, Prisoner in Disguise includes songs written by Dolly Parton, Neil Young, and Jimmy Cliff, just to name a few -- and even today I list her among my favorite musical artists. So when I learned she'd written a memoir, I knew I'd want to read it.

Simple Dreams chronicles Ronstadt's life growing up in a musical family in southern Arizona, where she was exposed to all kinds of music (opera, traditional country, Mexican, etc.), her early years as an emerging artist in Los Angeles, and the amazing career that followed. She shares stories about her experiences in the music industry and with other artists, but she never gives away any secrets or dirt on other people (which IMHO, is rather refreshing). What we have here is a musical memoir in the truest sense, with emphasis on her evolution as an artist who went from singing country/rock to old standards, canciones, and musicals.

I especially enjoyed the section in the back that provided information on all of her recordings. When you see the list of songs she's recorded and other artists she's worked with in her career, you'll probably be just as amazed as I was. I would have enjoyed knowing a little more about her life since she retired from singing. Maybe she'll write a sequel someday. :)