For a book about 4 people trying to off themselves, it's pretty darn good. I liked that you got to read from all four of their perspectives. And see what they all thought of one another along the way. What a motley crew to go on an adventure with. Definitely worth a read.
I admit, I had a bit of a struggle getting into this novel at the start. It does sort of just dive into things without a lot of introduction, but as the story and characters unfurled, I came to appreciate that approach. Hosseini is a master of creating characters and relationships that jump off the page. I was most struck by the story's portrayal of the power of connections over time, and the way that Afghanistan was kind of a binding force and a character in and of itself. I did think it dragged a bit in places, but it is worth hanging in with these characters.
In her new novel, Angelology, author Danielle Trussoni presents a unique and engaging mythology. It is inspired by a passage in Genesis implying that, soon after creation, a brigade of angels interbred with human women and spawned a race of human/angel hybrids called the Nephilim. The Nephilim live for hundreds of years, have unnatural power and strength and have been waging war on human society for thousands of years. Their powers weakened by centuries of interbreeding and sloth, the Nephilim seek an ancient relic and hope to regain their might. The heroes of the story are a young nun and a hipster researcher from New York's East Village who are pulled in with a secret society of angelologists (those who study angels, as the name implies) to help in their struggle against humanity's ancient foes.
The mythology of the novel is very interesting and I felt this might have worked better as a straightforward telling of the stories and legends of the Nephilim. As it is, much of the book is spent in flashback exposition, giving the backstory of these angels and angel hybrids and the story itself becomes a somewhat feeble frame built to carry the story of the Nephilim. That frame story does have its moments, but the real star of this book is the mythology. Fans of "The Da Vinci Code" and books like it will find lots to like here. For my part, I wish the story around the myths would have been stronger and given us a more distinct character or team of characters to get behind. Still, a very worthwhile and interesting read.
Whoever says this is not a "romance" is wrong! It's all the longing and skin heating up as people get near each other aspects of a romance. Ok, I'll clarify - it's a romance with some SERIOUS family dynamics going on. The whole "they are cousins, but not" is a bit twisted, but it adds that forbidden element that the vampires seem to have a death grip on lately. There are some interesting past issues of the characters that are being dealt with, but over all - the "Chic Lit Alert" is going off, Baby! I will say, the best character for me has to be Nana though. She actually seems to have the most interesting character history, and you can see why the whole family is so dedicated to her. It's an easy read, but... next time give me Nana's story instead of the "victim girl, suppressed love story" please.
I do give points to author Bernadine Evaristo for undertaking a very ambitious, controversial subject. The concept of analternate history where Africans enslaved Europeans is rife with opportunity for discussion and debate. With such lofty goals, I was disappointed to find that Blonde Roots falls short. The book follows the journey of a slave named Doris (renamed Omorenomwara by her slave masters) who was snatched from Europe as a child toendure a horrifying journey to Africa. At heart it is a powerful, potentially moving story with a well-crafted central character, but it is weighed down by somewhat sloppy execution. Blonde Roots felt to me like the first draft of a very good book. The world Evaristo creates lacks the discipline and focus needed to make the novellive up to its real potential. For example, I am very unclear about what time period this book takes place. The narrative describes sailing ships and muskets and also mentions things like Barbie dolls and modern-style retail chain storesand restaurants. I’m not sure whether this story takes place in 1790 or 1990. At times, the novel succeeds in providing a fascinating perspective through cultural role reversal. Experiencing Doris’s dehumanization in being kidnapped and thrust into a demeaning role in acompletely alien culture resonates strongly. Still, even an alternate history story needs to anchor its readers to reality. While some pieces clearly were well-researched, other bits of the author’s interpretation of African culture seem to fall into the realm of fantasy and stereotype. Things the masters’ celebration of “Voodoomas” took me out of the story. Rather than creating a made-up holiday based on European tradition, a quick Google search would have unearthed a wealth of real African holidays and cultural celebrations that could have used as a true-life historical anchor. Also, things like rebellious African teenagers wearing theirpants low and using slang stereotypical of 1990s hip hop fashion and culture were a bit cringe-worthy. Ina nutshell, Blonde Roots is a quick read with strong concepts that serves as a good springboard for discussion. With a little more research and discipline, I think this book could have been a masterwork.
This is the very definition of summer reading. It's funny, a blast to read and gives some fun insight into the person we've been seeing on TV for years. Anyone familiar with Tina Fey's work on Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock will actually hear her voice as you're reading this. It feels more like a fun conversation than an autobiography. Anyone who isn't familiar with Fey will still have a great time reading Bossypants. I laughed out loud in several places. This is a great, quick read and definitely worth checking out. I don't know where she finds the time to write a book between producing and starring in a hit TV show, but I hope she writes another one soon.
As a professed history nut with a particular interest in the ancient Roman era, I wanted to love this book. I will admit that I simply liked it. There are quite a few very good historical gems throughout and I did find myself often learning something new and gaining a different insight. The author paints an excellent picture of Alexandria and the tumultuous world that surrounded it at the time of Cleopatra. However, I don't feel like the reader ever really gets to know the person whose name is on the cover. Cleopatra is a person of some mystery and I was hoping to know her a little better after reading this. It succeeds on some level, but often gets overly caught up in odd historical tidbits and other tangents. For example, there is a giant quarter-page footnote about how pearls can dissolve in vinegar. Huh? There are some great moments here, but you have to endure some slow pacing and various historical obstacle courses to get to them.
Quite a fun and funny little book. I laughed out loud on more then one occasion. Parzybok uses great descriptives and it helps portray some fun physical comedy. Which I love! The characters were very relatable. I swears I was friends with all three of these guys in college. I also liked the idea of something magical happening to 3 complete goofballs. It's like the Harry Potter for adults. Thom observed, "...isn't this what everyone wants, for something different to happen to them?" Thom, Tree and Erik get sucked into a magical world, each dealing with the adventure with their unique mild-superpowers. I heard a comedian once talk about how we all have mild superpowers. The comedian's being the ability to assess whether furniture would fit through a door or not. In this case, we had Thom's intellect and "big guy" strength. Tree, his openness to the crazy and his prophetic dreams. Erik his coning nature & linguistics ability.... Go with your mild superpowers, gents! Overall, very fun book if you can stay open to the strange.
Cryptic Spaces: Book One: Foresight
As a matter of full disclosure, I should note that I am probably about as far from the intended audience of Cryptic Spaces as you can get. It might be like asking a die-hard Metallica fan for their take on the latest Katy Perry album. So while this book wasn't exactly up my alley, I thought it was well written and a compelling enough story to keep readers engaged. While sometimes I may read a book and think, "How could anyone get into this?" this is a case where I could acknowledge that, while not exactly for me, I could see young readers really taking to this. Complex characters and a grabby, efficient plot that really keep things moving. There is also enough pre-teen outsider angst so that young readers will connect and identify on that level too. If you are into adventurous teen books you will like this one. I will happily pass this copy along to my niece and nephew and my guess is that they will like it quite a bit.
Holy Schnikies!!! This book completely blew my mind and has haunted me since I finished it. I'd say more on that, but - I can't - or it would ruin it for you. Excellent writing and I loved getting to know these characters. Mitch, Julia and Horace give us great glimpses into life in Owl from various perspectives. I actually really dug the fact that after an enjoyable 100 pages or so you just had to wonder where the heck it was going, but the book was excellently tied together in the end. This is the first time I have read any of Klosterman's work, but I will be back to read more. He seems to take after my favorite author, Tom Robbins, a bit and sprinkles in brilliant observations in the midst of a story. Love those thoughts, man!
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
I love Tom Robbins and this was one of my favorites! I just love his streams of thoughts and the random profound ones thrown in there as you go that have a way of smacking your thoughts every which way and leaving you just saying "whoa!"
One of my favorite quotes from this one is, " I've reminded you that you and me - you and I: excuse me - may be every bit as important as the President or the pope or the biggest prime-time icon in Hollywood, but that none of us is much more than a pimple on the ass-end of creation, so let's not get carried away with ourselves.... Self-esteem is for sissies. Accept that you're a pimple and try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace - and maybe even glory."
So I'll admit that with some novels, I will shift into kind of a quick-scan mode to sort of get the gist of things and get to the end quickly. Some books are well-suited to this tactic, others absolutely are not. Gone Girl would fall into the "absolutely not" column. There is so much going on here and the author does an incredibly nimble job playing with the reader's expectations. This is an engaging novel with gasps and shocks to spare. Not for the faint of heart, but a great read.
I'm sure just about anyone can relate to the issues at the heart of this story. Sometimes there are people that, no matter how much love, concern and opportunity they are given, seem intent on a path of self-destruction. "In Leah's Wake" does a good job of exploring this theme and giving us a window into the pain of parents watching a child slowly slip off the path. How much intervention is too much? Or too little? It is a tricky line. And so is telling a story like this. There are some very tense and touching moments, but the book does occasionally lean toward melodrama. I think the narration is at its best when it's in the mind of the parents, which strikes me as the perspective the author best understands. Jumping back and forth between the points of view of five different characters (Leah, Justine, Zoe, Will and the police officer) was a bit much. I think the story could have been a bit more focused if told from a more fixed perspective. All that said, it is an interesting and insightful read.
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
I have to start this review with a sad admission. I had never read a David Sedaris book before. I say this is sad because after reading Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, I discovered I've wasted a lot of time NOT reading his work. His writing somehow manages to be clever, insightful, disturbing and hilarious all the same time. The book is basically a collection of strange stories and essays touching on a vast array of subjects ranging from sanitation in China to his tales of growing up as a complete oddball in a conservative family in North Carolina. There are several standout stories, but the one where he visits a bizarre taxidermy shop in London had to be my favorite. It's impossible to describe Sedaris or his stories, but I think what makes it work so brilliantly is the fact that he seems to write without a filter. Here is a man very in touch with his own quirkiness and is able to communicate in such a way that brings his readers into his world. Having not read his other books yet (and I intend to now), I don't know how this work compares with this more high-profile books like Naked or Me Talk Pretty One Day, but it's definitely worth checking out. You may find yourself laughing aloud, as I did.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)
It's hard to really write a coherent review of this book for a couple of reasons. One, it's not the kind of book that follows a strict narrative structure or even works like a traditional memoir. Second, it's just so much fun to read, trying to explain it in a few sentences is like trying to explain to a friend something funny that happened to someone your friend has never met. You're laughing and gasping for air as you remember this hysterical thing and your friend just stares at you until you finally just say, "you had to be there." In this case...you have to read it! Jenny Lawson has a delightfully fresh, brutally honest, and deliriously convoluted prose that is just plain fun to read. This is excellent summer reading. But beware if you read it in public, because you may just bust out laughing now and then.
Looks Easy Enough: A Joyful Memoir of Overcoming Disease, Divorce, and Disaster
Right off the bat, I have to say that "Looks Easy Enough" will definitely inspire and touch many who read it. At its heart, the book is a tale of some very nice people who endure some tough times. Great stuff for its target audience...thing is, that I'm about as far off that target as you can get. I don't really believe in "healing balls of white light" that the author, Scott Stevenson, is constantly sending to people like some kind of wizard in a role-playing game. While I find some of his philosophy at times interesting, I also tend to disagree with him on things like how to comfort one's wife who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Stevenson feels that telling her that she chose to have cancer as a life learning experience is the way to go. I'm not sure I'd find that terribly comforting, personally. But that's the kind of world we're living in within this book. Of course, you root for the characters, but I admit to also being annoyed by them. We're constantly reminded about what a cute couple Scott and his wife are because they have apparently thousands of nicknames for each other. Babe-O, Bub-O...Brill-O, I dunno. There were so many names, I felt like I was reading a Russian novel. Early in the book he'd offer some explanation for each increasingly goofy nickname, but later on the author got lazy and when a new nickname would be introduced he would just say, "sometimes Susan likes to call me [insert cutsie-poo nickname here] and I don't know why." Fascinating.
Again, I recognize my personality just conflicts with a lot of the sort of new-age thinking in play here, but beyond that I think it's fair to say this book is about twice as long as it needs to be. Weighing in at 451 pages, some stretches would be somewhat compelling and then you'd be in about 40 pages of talk about laying foundation and pouring concrete. It's great that the author built his own house, and I'd be proud of that too, but I don't think I'm going out a limb saying that most readers interested in pouring concrete aren't terribly into alternative healing and life magic, and vice versa. In a nutshell, there are a handful of inspiring or thought provoking moments in here, but you have to dig through a lot of pet names, drywall and new age "magic" to get to it.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
I know the old cliche is to never judge a book by its cover, but I have to give props to the author here for a great title. It's a grabber and nicely implies the intrigue and light-hearted eccentricity of the story. This is a really fun novel with enough quirky humor and just enough mystery to keep the pages turning. The characters are offbeat but manage to be believable and it's really easy to be drawn into the story. I really jumped in with Clay and his quest into weird secret society world of the Unbroken Spine. This is a great read and I think most anyone would enjoy it.
For whatever reason, I never really felt like I got the hang of Nightwoods. It wasn't that it was a bad read or that it wasn't well written. On the contrary, I think the prose style is skillful and unique and the characters are artistically drawn. Something about this just didn't quite connect with me. I appreciate Frazier's craft and could definitely understand why his fans like his work, but it was a bit slow-moving and dismal for my taste. Reading this, I felt a bit like I do about some indie films I see: I can see the artistry, but I'm just not that drawn in by watching a bunch of miserable people be miserable. I give Nightwoods plenty of style points, but certainly not the most uplifting holiday read. Though not as bad as the time I brought The Guns of August on vacation as beach reading. Bad idea.
Olive Kitteridge: Fiction
The book, Olive Kitteridge, is an all encompassing look at a complex woman. Here we get to see how Olive's life touches so many. Aside from the book drawing on a bit and being loosely tied together at times, Olive Kitteridge was a fascinating look into the minds and lives of the cast of characters in Olive's life and the role she played in their lives. And "Oh, godfrey" are there is a cast of characters! It kind of leaves you thinking EVERYONE is messed up in there own way, and everyone is normal. Aside the nice flicker of hope at the end, I did feel like I got a tad infected by Olive with crankiness. She is definitely NOT a bundle of sunshine, but by seeing her interludes with everyone we see a softer, more vulnerable Olive that is not apparent on the surface. The book was was interesting, but mostly just ok for me, though I highly doubt I am the target demographic. ;)
I thought one line toward the end of "Our Tragic Universe" nicely summed up what I saw as the overall philosophy and vibe of the book. The narrator, Meg, thinks to herself: "We were just two people, two of what Tolstoy called randomly united and fermenting 'lumps of something' and we were going to be in a room together. That was all." The novel deals with a group of adults falling into and out of love and relationships with each other and is infused with all kinds of philosophy to back that up, ranging from New Age and Zen to hard science. The prose is very thoughtful and engaging and the characters are very real, even if the overall attitude toward relationships is anything but positive. Like Meg herself, maybe the greatest human contradiction is that we at once long for companionship and solitude. This book doesn't try to answer or explain that, but does do a good job exploring it.
I give a lot of credit to author Emma Donoghue for taking on an extremely challenging story and making it work. Challenges abound here. It's hard enough to tell a dark story in a way that still allows room for uplifting moments, but to do it from the perspective of a five-year-old boy is particularly challenging. But Donoghue succeeds and the result is Room, a story about a young boy named Jack who has spent his entire life in a tiny room. He and his mother are prisoners, but Jack doesn't know any better because he has never seen the world and his mother has done all she can to keep his spirits up and shield him from the horror all around him. As the story unfolds it is at times unsettling and at times triumphant. The horrors of the situation are handled in a way that is not gratuitous or manipulative and really does offer a window into what it would be like to experience the world for the first time at age 5. It is well written, well paced and gives the reader plenty to think about. Plus if you live in a kind of small place (as I do), it makes you really appreciate the space you do have. And doors.
Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
It's safe to say that you probably haven't read a book quite like Savage Harvest. I am a sucker for good history and good storytelling and this book has a great deal of both. The author investigates the mysterious 1961 disappearance of Michael Rockefeller, a young man just out of college who also happened to be the heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world. He traveled to New Guinea to collect ancient and "primitive" art and vanished while doing it. He was never found and presumed drowned, but stories emerged of his being captured and killed by a tribe of cannibal headhunters. The author retraces the steps and dives into the culture of the Asmat warriors rumored to have taken Rockefeller. The reader is immersed into a fascinating convergence of a young man's journey to liberate and find himself against a backdrop of decaying colonialism and a primitive, isolated culture on the edge of humanity. While at times a bit prone to conjecture and outright guessing, the narrative still is engrossing and engaging. A very interesting and odd bit of history.
So Brave, Young, and Handsome: A Novel
What an adventure our uninspired author, Monte, finds himself on! Although his conscious mind seems to want to continually get back to the safety and security of his family and simple life (possibly becoming even simpler soon by resuming his post at the post office), something deeper or unconscious seems to keep quoting the Godfather, "Just when I think I'm out, they keep dragging me back in again." And he is off to continue his adventure with an ex-outlaw, a newly formed outlaw, and an invincible outlaw chaser with scruples all his own.
This was a really fun book to read. And although she was not a central character, I wanted to applaud Monte's wife, for pushing him to be all he could be, for supporting him in his quest to find himself and for being such a cool chic all around.
Great book of self discovery and I loved the message that sometimes you need to step away from your regular day-to-day in order to see what you really enjoy, what is important to you/life and what you want to focus on with your life.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
I had somehow never gotten around to reading a Ray Bradbury book until now, but always wanted to. Now that I have read "Something Wicked This Way Comes," I still find myself not exactly sure how to feel about it. The title nicely describes the sense of foreboding and dread in the novel. I found the writing style at once intriguing and kind of offputting. It was meandering at times, but does win some points for being unique and just plain odd.
Starvation Lake: A Mystery
Well done! Having grown up in a small town in the midwest, Cruley really captures the ways, attitudes and intertwined lives in small town, USA. There can be so many unspoken things going on that half the town knows about and yet never talks about that it is crazy! Gus being an "insider" yet clueless was perfectly executed. It lent itself well to some great discoveries of the present and past. The story line could have almost been anything, as it was just so entertaining to watch the characters interact. Though the story was extremely well developed also. Gus is just a great relatable character overall. I'll look forward to his next adventure.
The Age of Miracles: A Novel
There are many different kinds of horror, and different types resonate with different people. Some are really rattled by tales of suspense, and others by gory slasher stories. I tend to be more deeply affected by quiet terrors and in some ways, "The Age of Miracles" is the most terrifying book I've read in a long time. It is very well written and spins a quiet, character-driven tale of someone coming of age as the world around her literally comes apart and society begins to unravel. As someone who spends a good amount of time worrying about the planet losing patience with us (climate change, overpopulation, etc.), this story rattled me. Karen Thompson Walker makes it all seem very real and the matter of fact way she describes the changing world make it even more scary. This is an efficient, well-crafted story that made me want to cover my eyes, but I still couldn't look away.
What a lot of great lessons packed into an adventure. Aside from the "big picture" though, I'd have been a little ticked off if I ended up where he ended up in the end. Favorite quote, "The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness." Very inspiring book and it makes you want to o searching for your own personal legend (and hopefully you can find your Fatima along the way too).
I thought this was a generally solid read. Set during World War I, which is an interesting and not often addressed period of history, it provides a unique take on what it must have been like when these small villages lost nearly all their men, husbands and sons, to the war. Sari is an interesting character that keeps the reader engaged, even if the story veers into pretty oddball territory. It is generally well written, though it does have its flaws. What stood out the most to me (and I may just have missed something), was that it took me at least 50 pages to figure out where this story was taking place. Cultural context means a lot in a story like this, so that is kind of an important tidbit. But overall, the story moves a good pace and kept me with it. It did seem kind of herky-jerky and uneven in the end, but still a unique and worthwhile story.
Props to Carlos! There are SOO few books that aren't completely predictable. This one definitely keeps you guessing! You never quite knew what was gonna happen next in this story - and that rocks! Though with all the stories and side tracks going on, that quote from the movie "Clue" just kept going through my head where Wadsworth says, "To make a long story short..." and the rest of the crowd interrupts with "Too late!" ;) Although "The Angel's Game" went on a tad long and tangenty, there is SURE to be some great dialogue generated from this book at book club! It's definitely a book that will make you think if you take the time to. Random fabulous thoughts make this book a definite winner!
The Art of Racing in the Rain
WARNING- do not read in public. I don't care how tough you think you are. You will cry when you read this book, probably several times.
CLARIFICATION- Read in public when you read it the second time. That way you do not look like a wuss crying, but you look like a nice guy and girls will strike up a conversation with you.
This is one smart, insightful and good dog! Everyone should be so lucky as to have a pet like Enzo. Happily, my dog, Wrigley, IS just as cool. She is sure to be a human next time around! The book is a very nice read and does make you think.
Great quote, "No race has ever been won in the first corner... but plenty of races have been lost there."
I bark twice at the book!
The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart
Overall I say thumbs up. Very interesting story line and I liked the historical references and how all that tied in. The ending was a tad unsettling to me, yet completely appropriate at the same time... but I won't give that away for those who have not read it.
If you read enough novels, you discover that some clumsily plod from one chapter to another, and others just plain work. "The Borrower" just plain works. There is nothing super earth-shattering or mind-blowing about the story of a librarian on the run with an oddball kid on the run from his family. There are no big, unexpected plot twists or gimmicks. But you care about the characters and the story keeps you going from one page to the next. It's easy to empathize with Lucy who truly means well and is looking out for the well being of her young friend, but winds up way over her head. And there is enough happening along the margins with Lucy's friends and shady Russian family (I think Lucy's father might be the most interesting character in the book, actually) to keep what is a pretty basic story interesting. This book is light on its feet, and a fun read with a thoughtful ending. And on a totally unrelated note, I really dig the cover art. Looks good on my bookshelf.
I actually read this book on a flight back from London, so I was definitely in the right frame of mind for a story of British small town class drama. Or at very least, the accents were clear in my head. There were some fascinating character studies and overall, this was a very gripping, well-written book. I will say that I found it start slow, but if you can get through the first hundred pages or so, the novel really picks up steam as it gets going. To me, the children characters were better formed than some of the adult characters (could be that young adolescents are Rowling's literary specialty) and some of the stories were flatter than others, but considering the sheer magnitude of characters, stories, motivations and subpolts (and for that matter, pages), Rowling juggles it all very well into an engrossing piece. Yes, it could have been a bit tighter, but you could say that about most books. It's good writing and definitely worth your read. And reading it while on my way out of London, I definitely related to the character of Gaia, who spends most of the book wishing she was back in London. London is pretty darn cool.
Wow, reading this book kind of makes me want to write this on a manual typewriter and mail it in instead of going online. It's very tough to write a good, relevant and timely societal critique, and The Circle succeeds at all of the above beautifully. We have come to take for granted things like the interconnectedness that comes with social media and the work/life tether that comes from smart devices with anytime, anywhere access, and this novel does a great job of making one question all of those things. Living our lives in public has become the accepted norm, but is that a good thing? I think what struck me about the book was the way that Eggers' Circle presented these technological advancements...an all-inclusive online identity and Orwellian items like the SeeChange cameras...as something to be applauded rather than feared and reviled. It is technology as cult and it is not hard to see these things playing out in real life. Interesting, well-written characters, and engaging story and a treasure trove of ethical and moral issues to discuss. The Circle is that rare book that has a lot going on thematically but still manages to just tell a really good story.
If even a fraction of what this book says about history is true - wow! What a fascinating story line that you just can not put down. If it is all false... man, does Dan Brown have an incredible imagination. I loved the adventure, the history, the art and most of all that it makes you really think about how we are getting fed believes. And, now I really want to go to Europe and see everything. I know, "Tourists!" But some day you will see me a the Louvre with a big old camera around my neck!
The Heretic's Daughter: A Novel
Although the book kind of drags on for the beginning, I thought it was quite interesting. Of course my previous knowledge of witches and the witch trials was limited to what I learned when I briefly dated a witch. (I must add here that - witches rock! What a peaceful group. I highly recommend getting to know some if you can.) To bad the people of Sarah's time did not see it that way. Disbelieve and anger were my overwhelming feeling towards the accusers. What they got away with was obsurd! It is so hard to switch your brain to the mentality of the times, but Kent does do quite a job of making the time real. It struck me how much time Sarah spent thinking with her stomach... it was one of the nice ways that Kent brings you into the reality of the time. The last 1/4 of the book really makes it worth the read. Lots of interesting dynamics going on, you just need all the back story before then so it all makes sense.
The Hierophant of 100th Street
I have to admit, the writing style bugged me a bit. On the one hand kudos to the writer - most writers have to have a thesaurus by them to mix things up. Dorn did not seem to have that problem at all. But... I feel the story could have flowed a little better with less "heady" phrases & words. As far as the story goes, it was an interesting look at the dynamics of growing up in a tough neighborhood. But it was kind of like two books in one for me. 1. Being all the sub-characters and their ways of dealing with their situation. Which I really enjoyed and thought their stories flowed together really well. And 2. Adam's journey into his spiritual beliefs. Which was also good and served as a nice contrast to the reaction of most of the other characters. But maybe that is the point. Ahh... isn't it good to make yourself think about the book! It's Adam's story and the other character's provide the contrast to his story. Ok, now it fits together better for me. Adam's spiritual beliefs and the "paranormal/psychic" stuff was interesting and was for the most part not to overwhelming. If you don't let your personal spiritual beliefs get in the way, it is a panegyrical narrative guaranteed to have you deliberating our unearthliness as well as the activities taking place in the microcosm of our current carnal expedition.
This book took me through a range of opinions. I started out a little confused and bored, and then became engrossed in the characters, and then a bit underwhelmed in the end. All in all, though, I think credit needs to be given to Jean Thompson for some really, really good character writing. Where this novel stumbles a little is when it tries a little too hard to tie random story elements together. In short, when the book is about the characters, it does very well. When it starts to get mired in "plot," it gets murky. The thing is that the connections she tries to draw don't really even need to be there. What connects these characters aren't random plot points or coincidence...it's the fact that they all have scars, whether they be emotional, physical or both. In that, the book makes a brilliant point about the very imperfect nature of humanity. If that would have been allowed to speak entirely for itself, I'd say this novel would have gone from being quite good to great.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
We all know that a lot of very complex science goes into the medications and vaccines everyone often takes for granted, but seldom do we think to put a human face on it. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks gives us a compelling look at one of those faces. Henrietta Lacks was a very poor, African-American mother who unknowingly donated her cells to medical science and spawned a revolution in biotechnology. Long after she died of terribly aggressive cancer in 1951, her cells continue to live on to this day and have played a major role in curing diseases and furthering science on many levels.
Author Rebecca Skloot tells the story of the person behind the cell cultures and describes the epic struggle her family endured. They had to cope the death of a loved one while striving to come to terms with the strange and difficult truth that a part of her quite literally lives on. The reader must grapple with difficult ethical questions. Henrietta’s cell culture has saved and improved countless lives, but was taken secretly and against her will. Do the ends justify the means? Many have profited from the research and discovery gained from her cell cultures, but her family lives in poverty and with little or no access to health care. Heroine or victim or both, this largely unknown woman has indirectly touched the lives of almost everyone on Earth. At times disturbing and at times uplifting, the book provides a window into the biotechnology industry which, in the not very distant past, has done terribly unethical things in the name of science and the greater good. As we watch the Lacks family go through periods of anger, fear, paranoia and confusion, the reader is taken on a journey filled with horrors and triumphs. This is a fascinating book brimming with philosophical questions and, perhaps most importantly, a very respectful literary monument to the memory of a woman who has long awaited the recognition she deserves.
One thing I found interesting while reading "The Leftovers" is that almost anytime I would explain the premise to someone else, I would get a wrinkled face response, as if to say "Ewww. You're reading what?" I would then have to explain that it is not some kind of born-again Christian book lecturing we the damned, and that it centers around a "Rapture-like" event, not necessarily the Rapture as described by televangelists and wannabe prophets. Certainly the concept of the Rapture brings out strong feelings in people, one way or the other. I thought this novel did an excellent job of using the event as a thematic pillar without getting too caught up in the morality or the science of it all. This story is about how people struggle with their own identities, loss, and trying to re-establish something like real life again in the aftermath of a truly shattering shared experience. It was interesting to see how people tried coping and how relationships were made and unmade. It made me wonder what the aftermath would be like, and I felt like the author really hit a few nails right on the head. I particularly liked the way that people would delve into the lives of those who were taken, picking at their apparent sins and bad habits and wondering "why them and not me?" It's a quietly engaging book that doesn't beat you over the head, but instead presents very real characters dealing with very unreal circumstances.
Recently I ordered a Cobb Salad for lunch at a restaurant where I had never ordered a Cobb Salad before. I really like Cobb Salads and was excited to try this one. The more I ate of it, the more I realized it just kind of missed the mark. Not terrible, but just not hitting that Cobb Salad vibe. I've had all kinds of variations on this classic salad, so it's not like I'm not OK with doing things a little different, but this particular version was just sort of bland and limp.
The Most Dangerous Thing made me feel just the way I did when eating that Cobb Salad. It's generally well written, has some fairly interesting characters, and does move along, albeit pretty slowly. Still, there is something that just didn't click. Maybe it tried to do too many things with too many characters. I never felt like I got to really know any of them. And for as much effort as the book makes to play up this horrifying twist of an ending...the real story turns out to be pretty much exactly what you think it's going to be for the entire book, with a couple random extra pieces attached that don't seem to make much sense in the context of the characters. The first 300 pages seem slow and plodding and the last 40 or so rush through a bunch of matter-of-fact explanation that should draw gasps from the reader, but just don't.
The story gets on big tangents telling the stories of the parents of the main characters for reasons I can't still really comprehend. It felt to me like the author just hadn't worked out the details of the five main characters and was somehow avoiding them. And this Chicken George guy...if the story would have spent any time actually showing us who this person was and making us care about him, the reader might actually feel something about what happened to him and the mystery surrounding it. As it is, he is just a plot point. Might as well have been the light-filled briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
And while we're on the point of Chicken George, a tiny pet peeve for me was that reading a book with characters called Go-Go and Chicken George made me feel like I was in third grade, reading an Encyclopedia Brown mystery. And how many times do we have to go through the "Go-Go...I mean Gordon" routine in the dialogue? 500? 1,000? We get it...people keep mixing up the child and adult versions of the person. I think I got that point by page 30, but we had to be reminded constantly.
All in all, it's an acceptable book, but this feels like the first draft of a much better book. A little more focused character development would have gone a long way. And as for that Cobb Salad, it's good to have bacon, but you don't want it to be overpowering the avocado. It's all about balance.
I gave this book the benefit of the doubt. I'm enough of a sci fi geek to have been at least mildly intrigued by the alternate universe concept at the heart of the story. But ultimately, it just doesn't work. On rare occasions with a book or film, I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when I turned against it, and this is one of those stories. In the beginning, I was buying Quinn's sneaking off to her other life here and there and getting more and more anxious about getting back in time. So when she randomly goes through a portal when checking out a place for her brother's wedding and winds up in Fiji...yeah, that was it for me. I slogged through but I never really bought into Quinn's motivations for doing much of anything she did. Neither love story made a whole lot of sense and I didn't understand how Quinn could constantly go back and forth between being on almost obsessive mother to thinking about leaving her family entirely to spend time with her mother who had been dead for 7 years and who, as far as I could tell, was mostly a lousy mother to begin with. And the ultimate explanation of why she could travel between universes didn't make a lick of sense to me. The characters were vague and the ending was unsatisfying. Bits and pieces of the writing are well done, but the whole thing just doesn't hold together for me. Maybe it hits a home run in another universe, but in this one "The Other Life" kind of stumbles.
This book really spun me for a loop and it's hard to know what to make of it. I can't say I really loved the novel as a whole, but I am intrigued by Wallace's writing style. The preface to all this is, of course, that the book is unfinished. And parts of it feel extremely unfinished. Long swaths of the novel are punishingly dull and undisciplined, but then other parts...like the college flashback...were excellent. But to mine those parts out while navigating the rest of the book (including the seemingly endless and odd author's notes that are more footnote than narrative) is going to be far too much for the average reader to deal with...including this one. The concept of the novel is interesting and there is a good story at its heart, but it's just way too much. This was an extremely rough draft that still needed quite a lot of work. One wonders what it would have been like if David Foster Wallace could have finished it.
Tackling historical characters in what is in essence a fictional novel (even one based on true events) and doing it with respect and realism is no easy task. Doing all this with larger than life characters like Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald is unbelievably gutsy. And Paula McLain pulls it off beautifully with The Paris Wife.
The novel works well on two levels. One one level, it is an engaging love story between Hadley and Ernest, two very different people with very different goals and desires trying to find their way in the world. Hadley gives and gives and gives, sacrificing much of herself to allow the work of her genius husband to grow and develop. On another level, the audience gets a window into a fascinating era in literature in art. Through Hadley's grounded perspective, we are given a picture of a crux point in 20th century literature.
Well written and filled with human drama, The Paris Wife is one of those books that makes you want to go out and read other books. (Yes, I have lots of Hemingway to catch up on.) Paris, Spain and other European locales become real characters in the story. But in all this sweeping scenery and huge characters, we feel every high and low with Hadley, a very real person filled with love for a person who was exceedingly difficult to love. Her relationship was like a moth to a flame. It's easy to understand the attraction and just as easy to get burned.
Whether it's a TV show, a movie, or a book, there are times we want to be enriched and challenged and there are times we just want to sit down, be entertained and not have our minds blown. I think The Professionals fits that mood very nicely. It moves along smoothly and is well enough written to keep the reader engaged. The story is one that's been told about 5,000 times, but there is just enough depth given to characters like Pender and Marie to keep things interested. I did find myself caring what would happen to them and it was interesting to see how they each adapted to the ever-growing pressures of a situation gone horribly wrong. Both probably wished they had a chosen a more "normal" life, but one dove deeper into the life of crime and one moved a bit further away. I didn't much buy the "will they or won't they" vibe between Stevens and Windermere, and that subplot really didn't seem to go anywhere, but it wasn't really enough to put me off. Overall, I think this is perfectly acceptable, light summertime reading and a solid caper story.
The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel
The Pursuit of Other Interests is many things. It is a character study of a self-absorbed workaholic who loses everything and tries to rebuild his life and his family. Charlie Baker is an advertising executive and pretty much the perfect portrait of an egomanical jerk of a manager. Most of us have encountered bosses like Charlie at some point, so when this insensitive, overpaid boob gets fired in the first act, it’s hard not to cheer a little bit. The brilliance of this novel is where it goes after that. The author, Jim Kokoris, is able to give this seemingly unlikable character real humanity and before long, we’re rooting for him as he picks up the pieces of his life, rediscovers who he once was and works toward redemption.
On a deeper level, the novel is a sort of reflection of post-boom America. Like our society as a whole, Charlie got caught up in the high times. Like the U.S. when the recession hit, he is forced to deal with a totally new reality when everything comes to a screeching halt. He is not at home the cavernous house he had barely lived in and now can’t really afford. He has to readjust to living like a real person. His wife and son have become strangers and the reader gets to be with him as he gets to know them again. Charlie spends a large chunk of the book fighting through his own vanity and ego. He struggles to accept that he has lost what he for a long time felt was most important…his job…and now risks something far more vital…his family and his soul. The themes of this novel are as old as the hills--what you need is no farther than your backyard--but the writing and execution are very fresh and current. It’s funny, hopeful and has a great deal of heart. We all lose sight of what’s important sometimes, but stories like this one help remind us to appreciate what we have.
I know vampires are all the rage these days and there are lots of people who can't get enough vampire stories. I am not one of those people. Never been a fan of the vampire genre. In fact, the only piece of vampire entertainment I really like is the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula" movie. That being said, I enjoyed "The Radleys" much more than I was expecting to. It is a pretty fresh take on a mythology that has been beaten to death over the years. The characters are well-rounded and real. Particularly with Clara and Rowan, you could really feel the struggle they felt between being good and being powerful. (Tough choice for a teenager, especially.) At points I felt Peter was a somewhat unfinished character and there were some odd strokes here and there. I thought the running gag of vampire art and movies for vampires...like "Smokey and the Vampire" and Miles Davis' vampires only album "Kind of Red" (as a jazz fan I found that one particularly groan-worthy) was rather dopey and unnecessary. But in general, I thought "The Radleys" was inventive, fresh and fun. It's a pretty quick read and worth a look.
"Who's on first?" I gotta say, that was pretty much my feeling the whole time I was reading this one - Who are they talking about? What does that word mean? Why am I reading about these people? What is the significants of this? - yet, despite that, I still found the book to be an enjoyable overall. Couple of points to make:
1. There is A LOT of English history.... most of which was lost on me, but it did make me more interested in all the medieval schenanigans. Overall, the whole book felt like a sneaky way to try to teach English history. And that is concept I actually like a lot. Cause who really wants to learn about that stuff from a history book? Infuse it in a book with a hottie nun who solves mysteries and goes on secret missions and now we have something that my ADHD might learn some English history with!
2. The mystery was of the murderer was ok, but overshadowed by the maneuverings of it's characters and the many many sub plots. I think I would have enjoyed all of the sub plots more had I read her first book, "Hangman Blind" beforehand. When taken in context that this is a series it all seems quite interesting. On it's own, the book seemed scattered.
3. Hildegard must have been one hot nun! All the guys wanted her. This I like too- that she was interesting. I like that she is strong, devoted, can take care of herself, has two faithful hounds, and must be sexy as all get out in that habit and red leggings.
4. Overall interesting read and though I was confused much of the time, I liked traveling with Hildegard and would consider reading more.
The Sense of an Ending (Borzoi Books)
I am generally a big sucker for the big epic plot and clever storyline...books where the story takes the reader all kinds of places and is filled with surprising zigs and zags. The Sense of Ending is not one of those books. It is a somewhat quiet character study, focused on a pretty small series of events, but viewing them both from the standpoint of youth and maturity. It also, in my opinion, one of the most well-written books I've encountered in some time. The writing is sharp and efficient, but never feels sparse. A lot is left unsaid, but yet you know the characters and feel Tony's journey through this. This book probably isn't for everyone, but I think the selective approach to the narrative is so well done and unique, it's worth checking out.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The protagonist, Flavia, has got to be one of the most likable characters around. She is the ideal mixture of smart, moxy and 11 year old innocence. Perfectly illustrated when she was planning how to get out of a predicament by knowing to and wanting to "kick the man in the Casanovas" but being unable to.... as she did not knowing where the "Casanovas" were. She was fabulous! Watching her investigate the mysterious death of a stranger found (by her) in their cucumber patch was very fun for the most part. Though I did find myself getting annoyed a few times at some of her lines of deductive reasoning, I had to remind myself despite her intelligence, she was in fact 11 and some silly reasoning should be allowed. (But if I was in a movie theater I probably would have yelled at the screen.) Great historical references, and overall great cast of characters. The mystery of the book was intricate, but overall that was just ok and a tad predictable. The mystery gives this a "Unleash it" from me, but Flavia's fun character makes it "Very Unleashable" for me. I am pleased to see that this is going to be a series, just so I can snicker, connive and sleuth with Flavia some more.
The Thieves of Manhattan: A Novel
The best genre satire also works well within the framework of the genre it's poking fun at. Adam Langer's The Thieves of Manhattan does just that. It's a send-up of phony memoirs, popular fiction and the book publishing industry as a whole. While doing all that, it still manages to be light on its feet and fun to read. Even though it is steeped with literary references and publishing industry "in" jokes, it still reads like a popular novel and keeps the reader jumping from one situation to the next. Ian is a character that most anyone who has ever had any aspirations of writing can relate to (and probably learn from). He's a literary everyman surrounded by a colorful cast of characters that range from a mysterious Romanian (or is it Ukranian?) ex-girlfriend to a hipster artist co-worker and a puffed-up gansta' as rival author. While the author's sights are clearly set on phony memoirs, I felt like this was a great deconstruction of popular fiction done in a very clever way. The book is far from perfect...there are some plot points that seem to get glossed over a little too quickly and the scheme does leave you scratching your head from time to time, but the characters and overall personality of the book are enough to keep you going and forget about the little flaws here and there. This is a fun read that also has some depth.
The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise: A Novel
Few would think to set a love story in the Tower of London. Fewer still would think to make the main players in that story a Beefeater and a woman who works in a lost and found agency of the London Underground as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their beloved son. What makes this novel work so well is that the characters that inhabit the odd world the author creates, while quirky and offbeat, are at heart very real. You really feel with Balthazar and Hebe and root for them, even as they drift further and further apart. The writing style is deceptively simple but very clever, efficient and filled with feeling. While the story is melancholy, there are many funny moments woven in. And when you reach the end, I defy you to not be moved. It left me beaming and a little choked up, which I think is a good summary of the emotional nature of this book as a whole.
A year or two ago, Time magazine published an article that discussed a new study theorizing that siblings actually have more influence on a person's development and upbringing than parents do. As one who grew up with two sisters and two brothers, I can not only attest this to be true, I'm a little surprised it took behavior scientists and psychologists that long to figure it out.
The Weird Sisters runs with this premise and does it with real grace and skill. I admit I was a little skeptical at the start because there seemed to be many opportunities for the book to veer into the realm of cliché. The three sisters themselves are introduced as archetypes: there is the oldest, Rose. She is the smart, overly-responsible mother hen. Next is Bianca, or "Bean," the beautiful, vain, ambitious one who couldn't wait to leave home for the adventure of New York City. And then there is Cordelia, the youngest and a Kerouac-style wandering free spirit. Throw in literary parents and a professor father who constantly quotes Shakespeare and this novel had all the makings of a cartoon.
But the pleasant surprise is that it isn't a cartoon. The author, Eleanor Brown, not only makes these characters real, she makes the reader really care about them and pulls you into the trials of a family hitting lots of tough patches all at once. It would have been easy to make this melodrama, but instead it's very real, human and an immensely enjoyable read. The reader feels each of the characters grow as individuals and as a family unit. Brown uses the unique literary device of using the narration in a first person "we" perspective, as if the three sisters are one entity, telling the story. And indeed they are.
The Year of the Flood: A Novel
It's been described as a "dystopic" masterpiece... so I looked up "dystopic" (Not in dictionary.com, so I did not feel as bad), but "dystopia" was. It means: a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. After reading that, I have to agree that it is a "dystopic masterpiece" after all. After the first 200 pages I could not wait for the stinkin flood to come and kill them all off!... But perhaps that was the point? But then it got better. As you know I like any book that makes you think, and this book does do that. Made me think: could I survive without all my little luxuries - like electricity, is this really where society is heading, would I be as kind to an enemy as Toby, was that kind? And the list went on and on. So for that reason I liked this book. However, do I want to spend 400+ pages reading about a dystopic world? Aghh, not so much. Yet at the same time I'm kind of curious about that "Oryx and Crake" novel that rumor has it ties in. So to sum it up: if you are reading for pleasure - skip this book. For a book club though - great discussion point and conversation can result. But bring the wine to book club too, as you will need to shed the depressing heebie and jeebie you get from the book and get your laugh on instead.
Definitely takes a more "out there" look at how to grow rich, but I liked it and felt I got a lot out of it. So much to like, but here is one of the quotes that really stuck with me, "No one is ready for a thing until he believes he can acquire it. The state of mind must be belief, not mere hope or wish. Open-mindedness is essential for belief. Closed minds do not inspire faith, courage, and belief." Believe and stay open... you just never know where that can take you!
If you are a man of Dominican descent who grew up in New Jersey, had a seemingly endless string of girlfriends and problems with the concepts of fidelity and monogamy, then this book is for you. If you are anyone else...not so much.
The entire time I was reading this book, I felt like there was some kind of inside information I wasn't privy to. It can be fascinating to have a window into another culture, but in this case it was just plain dull because the author didn't seem to take the time to take his readers along with him. The story didn't seem to follow any logical progression and it was hard to care about any of the characters. I tried, but just couldn't warm up to this one. On the positive side, it was a somewhat quick read, so at least it didn't weigh me down for too long.
I thought this was a pretty entertaining concept in that you don't often see Irish reincarnation stories. It was a fun bit of fusion with some good characters, but overall it just didn't knock my socks off. I did think it was probably a lot longer than it needed to be and, as I believe others have commented, I sometimes got lost and confused over whose story was who's. And the whole Irish dialect in the writing wavered between being endearing and annoying to me. Still, it's a worthwhile read and a little something different.
Walking to Gatlinburg: A Novel
"Walking to Gatlinburg" is a book that pulls the reader into its mood more than its story. It is a pretty dark commentary on human nature, set against the historical backdrop of the Civil War: the bloodiest war ever fought on U.S. soil. The story is more a means than an end. We follow a young man named Morgan on his quest to find both his brother and his own self-redemption. Along the way he encounters many strange characters, some of whom are notably demonic, and also struggles with his own conflicting tendencies toward love and destruction. I noticed one of the other reviews already made the comparison to "Apocalypse Now," which is exactly what I was thinking as I read this novel. Morgan's journey creates a definite mood and expresses the insanity of war in a way similar to that film. All the while, in the midst of the atrocities all around, the author tries to find the bright side of human nature while asking why we have to do the sorts of terrible things we do. Morgan himself is a good expression of that question. While not cheery beach reading, this is an interesting read. There is a lot happening on an allegorical level and I almost felt like I may need to read it again to catch it all.