Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

by Harper Lee

I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and loved it. Then I saw the movie and loved it even more and watched it over and over because the story is just that good (not to mention Gregory Peck). Then I read the book again later just to remind myself that the book really is better than the movie, and yes, still loved. If you have this same love for Atticus and Scout and Jem and Boo then no matter what I say you will feel drawn, obliged even, to read Go Set a Watchman, and if I could dissuade you I would. But I know you'll read it, so be forewarned.... you'll never see Atticus and Scout the same way again.

In this story, Scout isn't Scout, she's Jean Louise. And that's good because it helps separate that beloved girl from this horrific adult version of her who is always angry to the point of being mean. And Atticus isn't Atticus either. Lee doesn't gently take him off his pedestal, she knocks it out from under him causing him to crash hard on the ground. And there is no Jem or Dill or Boo. In their places are Hank and Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack, none of whom are engaging or even really likable. There also isn't a great story that subtly tears down racism and class culture, instead there is a lot of preaching and yelling and hate.

I wish Harper Lee would have kept this hidden as it was. I wish I hadn't read it. I hope when I watch TKAM again all will be restored. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

by Christopher Scotton

Loved the title, not so much the book.

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is a coming of age story set in Appalachia during the 1980's. Fourteen year old Kevin is struggling to come to grips with the accidental death of his three year old brother. He blames himself and so does his father. So Kevin and his mom retreat to her backwoods hometown in Kentucky where Pops works on getting them both through the grieving process.

If addressing the grief thing isn't enough, Scotton also throws in the issues of coal mining and homosexuality and frankly does a disservice to all three by making them trite and overly fantastical. Here's my snarky synopsis:

Kevin, the distraught teen meets up with Buzzy, a mischievous but good-hearted hillbilly who is showing him the ropes of the hills. The all-wise and good Pops decides to take these boys on a camping trek through the mountains where they can observe first hand the devastation the evil mining companies have wreaked upon the mountains. Suddenly out of the blue, these three innocents are caught in the crossfire of a mad hunter. Pops and Buzzy are shot, Buzzy runs off (I can't remember exactly why) and it is up to Kevin to save them! Kevin, (who is a city boy and 14) removes his hiking gear and reveals his true identity as "Superboy" being able to dodge bullets, create a magical compress to staunch Pops' profuse bleeding, build a rig and drag him for miles over the river and through the woods, fight off wild animals and be strengthened by the legendary White Stag! As expected, he comes through, Pops heals and the town gathers together to sing kumbaya.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The House We Grew Up In

by Lisa Jewell

I almost didn't read this book because of the poor grammar in the title, but I did, so here's what I thought:

In the beginning the Bird family seems like any other family, a dad, a mom, 2 girls and twin boys, but that's where any semblance of normality ends. For starters there is Lorelei, the mother, and while she is fun-loving, she has a serious hoarding problem, which splits loyalties within the family. The older sister is always angry, the middle sister is a timid door mat, one twin is mean and the other has some serious social issues. And just when you think the father is the only normal one, they suffer a tragedy that sends him over the cliff.

I'd like to say this book had potential and could have been good, but I can't. When it first started with the hoarding issue, I thought it might be insightful like Still Alice was toward alzheimer's. And there were a few (few) interesting glimpses into the mental state of a hoarder, but Jewell couldn't settle on one disorder, she had to try squeezing in incest, homosexuality, drug abuse and more! It was just too much of a mess!

The House We Grew Up In was just a "toxic family" where "one disgusting lurid thing after another" happened. Don't bother, there are too many books and too little time!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Kind Worth Killing

by Peter Swanson

Lately whenever someone says, "I loved The Girl on the Train!" I respond with, "then your next read should be The Kind Worth Killing."  If you're a Hitchcock fan and sensed a little "Rear Window" while you read Girl on the Train, then this book will bring to mind "Strangers on a Train." If you're not and it didn't, don't worry, I still stand behind my first sentence.

Two strangers meet on a plane, Ted, a wealthy businessman frustrated with his life and his wife, and Lily, a beautiful traveler willing to listen to his complaints. After hours of airing grievances and making hypothetical threats, Lily takes Ted's whining at face value when she volunteers to help him plot the murder of his wife. In fact she goes one step farther by saying she'll carry out the deed, which when you consider that everyone dies eventually, she'd only be helping things move along their destined course more quickly. And just like that, the ball starts rolling.

This is a fast-paced read and despite it's rather stereotypical characters, there are some unexpected twists that make it a unique book. You may see some things coming, but you'll definitely be caught off guard by others. It's fast, it's fun and it's a bit creepy.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Speaks the Nightbird

by Robert McCammon

Finally I have picked up a series at book one! I so often find myself reading books that midway through I discover they are the second, third, or worse yet, the one I am currently reading is book 6... didn't know it. But I started from the first with Speaks the Nightbird and it is a long but well-done beginning.

This historical mystery takes place in North Carolina during a time when America was cleansing out the witches from her midst. Magistrate Woodward and his assistant Matthew Corbett have been assigned to visit the small town of Fount Royal and determine the fate of the accused Rachel Howarth, who the town has deemed a witch, blaming her for their hardships and several brutal murders. The magistrate views this as a formality and wishes to quickly dispense of the witch and move on, but Matthew is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it by uncovering the real butcher. A lot happened in this 800-page novel but it managed to keep things interesting and moving along. I can't say whether or not I'll pick up Matthew Corbett mystery book two, but don't let that deter you since I've never been one to get too caught up in a series.

If you like witch trial stories, historical fiction, or mysteries you'd probably like this. And if you like following the adventures of a particular sleuth this would be one to begin.