Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Passage

by Justin Cronin

Please Mr. Cronin, tell me there was a mistake at the publishers and they accidentally merged two entirely different books together, thus leaving The Passage Part One unfinished. Please tell me you didn't write The Passage Part Two, or if you did that it wasn't really the ending to the story with that mysterious little girl, Amy who everyone was trying to steal and save and figure out just what her special abilities could do and how to use them. Really there had to be a mistake!

The Passage Part One is an interesting and fast-paced drama set mainly in current midwest America. Six year old Amy is a child with unique abilities. She can speak to animals with her mind and make strange things happen, which is why the US government wants her. Her mother, in a desperate attempt to save her, drops her off with some nuns, where she finds a kindred spirit in Sister Lacey.  But even Lacey's special abilities can't protect Amy from the Feds. Once Amy is captured though, Detective Wolgast takes a liking to her and risks his life and career to help her escape. The characters in Part One are engaging and draw you quickly into their turmoil. But just when you're sucked in, POOF! they're gone.

The Passage Part Two is a slow-paced, apocalyptic, vampire-creature novel set a hundred years in the future west America. In this future most of humanity has been eaten by the Virals and the survivors have built protective communities to hide from them. The main focus is on a domed community in California whose leaders guard their children by locking them up in collective housing and patrol outside until they themselves are eaten by the Virals. This is their existence about a hundred years, but now their power source is running out, so a group of teens is going to venture out into the world for help. And here all kinds of unbelievable things happen. They connect up with a young girl who has been surviving on her own in the world. This girl speaks to them through her mind and seems to be able to communicate with the Virals. The brave teens take her along with them on their mission to somewhere in Colorado where there is supposedly help for all of them. Part Two is full of dull characters with rambling backstories that don't connect and drawn out occurrences that don't ring true to the circumstances. And even though you could care less about this story it goes on and on and on and never stops.

If you decide to read this 800-page nationally acclaimed novel, I'd recommend either stopping after about page 250 where begins an entirely different book written by an entirely different person or else skipping over those pages entirely. Maybe if you never knew about Part One you could enjoy Part Two and the sequels. Perhaps somewhere in books two or three Cronin returns to complete The Passage Part One, but I just don't have enough interest to invest another fifty hours to read the additional 1200 pages and find out.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Kill Me Again

by Rachel Abbott

As the year comes to a close and I find myself so far behind in reviewing all the books I've read I typically choose ones I like and drop the bad ones. However, two years ago I read Sleep Tight by this author and thought it was a decent thriller, so I felt after reading Kill Me Again, I owed you this critique so you wouldn't waste your precious time. In fact, it was so poorly written I'm questioning my judgement on that other book! 

For starters, it has a weak plot, no plot twist, no mystery, no thrill, nothing..... except a main character who is a complete idiot! I'm astounded when authors create a female character wanting her to be a smart, self-sufficient woman, but then have her consistently doing stupid stuff! What smart woman, who is a defense attorney no less, marries a man who has no family or friends, doesn't share any of his past, keeps things locked away in a cabinet but demands to keep it secret and gets private messages on his phone? That would be Maggie Taylor. And she did all this because (you guessed it) she just loves him so much! Then when people who look just like her start turning up dead and all fingers point to her beloved husband, she just keeps doing dumb things because she loves him and can't believe he'd lie to her. So she dispenses with reason, lies to her sister and puts her children's lives in jeopardy because she loves him. Ugh!

I vote NO!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown

The headlines of the 1936 Olympics definitely focused on Jesse Owens and his string of gold medal runs. But Daniel Brown tells another story of an unlikely victory from that same Olympic Games, the US men's rowing team and their struggle to the gold.

It begins with Joe Rantz, a poor, semi-orphaned farm boy who makes his way to Washington State University and onto its rowing team. What follows is a detailed history of rowing, boats, races and the other Boys in the Boat.  Alongside them were their coach, Al Ulbrickson and the legendary boatmaker George Pocock. There are a few times when the narrative lags into too much information, but for the most part Brown brings these people, their struggles and triumphs to life and shares a little known piece of history. Overall, it's a great story. If you liked Hillenbrand's Unbroken  and  Seabiscuit  then this is right up your alley.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1)

by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants is a transcription of interviews of an undercover operation that is unearthing pieces of a giant robot. The group does not know where the robot came from or what its purpose is, but they believe it is a weapon. They have assembled a specialized team of scientists and linguists to help with putting the parrts together and operating the robot. Throughout, you are never really sure whose "side" they are on or who is conducting the interviews.

The book begins with an initial discovery of the giant's hand by Rose, an 11-year old girl. Fast forward 20 years, Rose grows up and is now leading the discovery team. You'll just have to set aside the unbelievable idea that the hand would be ignored for 20 years. The first two thirds of the book are a fast paced adventure, but then it takes a turn into a Lisa Nowak (you remember her, the astronaut who went berserk over a boyfriend) type love story that abruptly ends, leaving you hanging.

The second installment is due to be released next Spring. I found the book's format added to the plot even though it left the characters a bit shallow. And had it not been for the romantic turn of events I would not have hesitated to read on, but not so sure now. Still, if you are a Sci Fi reader, you'd probably enjoy this book.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

by Jack Weatherford

This book had been on my to-read list for several years, but every time I looked at it I thought it'd be over my head. So I started with trepidation but immediately got sucked into the narrative. Weatherford bases his account on "The Secret History of the Mongols" and therefore he is presenting a kinder perspective of Khan than the traditional idea of a massacring conqueror.

Some interesting things about Genghis Khan: he seemed committed to the idea of community. He introduced ideas that were counter to current culture, in particular that all people were subject to the laws, including the rulers. He purported equality of all people and freedom of religion. His battle tactics were also unique. He began by sending in scouts to a region, having them get a sense of the people, their skills and their ability to be influenced. He would find ways to use their own weaknesses against them, confuse them and cut off their food and supplies. According to Weatherford, he did not use massacre campaigns, but killed only those unwilling to subject themselves to his rule. He attempted to take advantage of each culture's skills and use them for his advancement. Afterward he would begin spreading rumors of annihilation in the hopes of scaring surrounding communities into subjection.

Unfortunately, the account of Genghis is really abbreviated. I would have preferred more information on him before the successor follow up. I am sure scholars could find all sorts of flaws in this version, but it is a different outlook that was easy to read and I found interesting. If you like history you should read this book. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wonder

by R.J. Palacio

A favorite of my super-reading buddy, Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a preteen boy with severe facial abnormalities. Palacio openly reveals the emotional tribulations Auggie faces as he decides to start school for the first time, having previously been homeschooled. In this story we get a lot of different perspectives on Auggie, all of which seem very real. His sister, Olivia, loves Auggie but at the same time feels a bit neglected and guilty. His mom who wants to protect him, his dad who wants him to get into the real world and new friends, some who are rather mean. Throughout, Auggie's voice is loud and clear. He wrestles with being untouchable, being teased and called names, and even with how to respond to cruelty. Although this is a middle grade reader, the life lessons translate to all ages: choose kindness. My husband has a quote on his blog that says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." And isn't that the truth!

Hollywood is making this into a movie being released next Spring. You should read it before then!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman

I was rather taken aback at the beginning of this story, which opens with Ove going through the motions of hanging himself. Reading those step by step preparations was startling. After the death of his wife, Ove is very depressed and just wants to be done with his life, so he begins a series of attempts to end it. He has a lot of grudges against rule breakers, kids, neighbors and the routineness of every day. He yells at people and holds years-long resentments and just wants to be left alone. Despite that, Backman somehow manages to make him likeable.

I will say, it was a little hard for me to buy the relationships he had with his neighbors. Why would they go to him for help if he was so mean? When I was growing up we had a curmudgeony old neighbor who yelled at us for using his tree as third base and we all just steered clear! However, the hardest thing for me to swallow was his age! Here is a guy who is retired, knows nothing about a computer or ipad, doesn't use a coffee maker, drives too slow and thinks makeup and high heels are inappropriate. And yet he is 59 which Backman makes seem ancient! I just couldn't reconcile his age with his incompetence. (perhaps my offense is personal)

It may seem out of place to call this a feel good story since the main character is a grouchy old man on a mission to end his life, but ultimately that is what it is. If you like grumpy old men you'd enjoy A Man Called Ove. It's a quick and easy read and ultimately I kinda liked it too.