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


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. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

by Julian Rubinstein

The complete title of this book is The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: a True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives and Broken Hearts and that's the book in a nutshell! An incredible story that combines the true antics of Attila Ambrus, hockey player, pelt smuggler, robber with the history of Hungary's transition from a socialistic to a free market economy. When Attila fled Romania, he entered Budapest penniless and homeless. He was immediately accepted onto a national hockey team, but as it was a non-paying position he had to serve as team janitor in order to receive a paycheck. Still, this was too meager a salary to live upon, so Ambrus soon became involved in a pelt smuggling scheme. Once that enterprise ended, he took up bank robbing. Attila would get drunk, disguise himself, enter a small bank and kindly ask for the money, which was promptly handed over. After thanking the teller, he'd dart out the door managing to escape the bumbling police force. He became a national folk hero, rooted to success by the public, who endearingly referred to him as the gentleman robber. His capers are so absurd as to seem unbelievable.

If you like history or humor you'll like this one!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cormoran Strike Books

by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling

I know, so rare for me to read a series! And two in one year even! Actually, I'm not sure if Rowling plans to write more in this series, but after #3 I'm not sure I'd keep going.

 The Cuckoo's Calling: Cormoran Strike is a disabled vet turned detective who is struggling to make it. By accident he ends up with a temporary assistant, Robin, who he actually likes but can't really afford. Until a former friend calls him to resolve the apparent suicide of his sister, who he believes was murdered. This story takes a while to get going and frankly there isn't much of a plot. Nevertheless, the characterization is good. The people are imperfect, quirky and ring true. What they say, how they say it and their actions are spot on. Enjoyed characters enough to read the next one.

The Silkworm: Another not so great story with really great characters, despite they were all a pretty awful bunch! Cormoran and Robin are hired to discover who killed the author of a tell-all book (very gruesome). The suspects are MANY, all of whom have good reason to murder. Unfortunately, there are so many of them and each is more nasty than the first that when it's all over and done, you're just glad it's all over and done. Cormoran seems to luck into most of his investigative feats while Robin is detail oriented enough to work through to some logical conclusions. I like Strike and Robin, but am ready for them to move forward. They're a little stuck where they are and it's getting redundant.

Career of Evil: It seems like the further JK delves into her stories, the darker they become. It happened with the Potter books and it's happening with Strike. In this story, Corm and Robin are hunting down a serial killer who has a penchant for dismemberment. This book had too much graphic violence and not enough substance to make it good. And while I like both of the main characters, Strike needs to get over his previous flame and Robin needs to step away from hers.

You might wonder why Rowling published under a pseudonym, but it's good that she did. This is not another YA series, these books are NOT for kids.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mr. Mercedes Trilogy

by Stephen King

Review of the Bill Hodges trilogy from a Constant Reader (if you know what that means you'll know what I think). I have done my best not to give spoilers, because you'll want to read these books.

 Mr. Mercedes: In the beginning there is a nice man looking for a job, waiting in a long line for the opening of a job fair. Although he is desperate for a job, the young single mom next to him may need a job even more, so he offers to help her out. But before he can do that, Brady Hartsfield (a crazed maniac) comes careening through the crowd in a stolen mercedes, which kills and severely injures hundreds of innocents. In comes Bill Hodges, retired detective with a bleak outlook, to save the day. Except it takes a long time and at least one more tragedy to get there. The final blowout leaves Brady in a bad way.

Finders Keepers:  A bit of a spin off from book 1, taken from the family of a job fair victim still struggling to get back on their feet. The son, Pete finds a hidden treasure of sorts and is trying to work a way to capitalize on it, but instead winds up in a terrifying blackmailing scheme. It falls to Bill Hodges and his cohorts to try and rescue Pete.

End of Watch: In this final episode, we return to where it all began, with Brady. He is still suffering the effects of that final incident, but it seems to be working on him in an odd way, giving him some unique mental powers. As he secretly masters these abilities, he begins planning revenge on Hodges and his friends. In this book, King joins the supernatural with the psychotic in ways that give you the creeps.

The man can tell a story-- just read him.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What Angels Fear

by C. S.  Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr is a nobleman who's been accused of murder. All the evidence points to him, but he swears he is innocent. His father wants to send him away so he won't have to face prosecution, but Sebastian is determined to find the true killer and clear his name. As he is dodging arrest, he is blamed for killing an officer as well and now the police are on an all out manhunt.

Sebastian is assisted by some stereotypical cohorts, an ex fiancee turned lady of the night and an Oliver-esque kid on the streets. And as is the case with many of these period English stories, it can be confusing keeping up with all the characters due to the many names and titles by which they are called. There are some pretty gross crime scene descriptions and ahead of the times police work, but even so, What Angels Fear incorporates some Regency history and is a good start to a who done it series.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Paper Magician

by Charlie Holmberg

Somehow I missed the tidbit about The Paper Magician being a YA novel (because it wasn't mentioned), but even that doesn't excuse this POOR writing, characterization and plot- or lack thereof. Not even sure I should continue this review except for you Twilight fans out there, who may like this book too.

After Ceony receives high marks on her final exam, she is apprenticed to a paper magician to learn the craft of magical paper folding, about which she is less than excited. Her tutee is sort of a recluse, who she dislikes and falls in love with, in all of 10 pages. His ex-fiancee, Lira, also a paper magician, is angry with him and on a mission to destroy him. Once under her spell, it is up to Ceony to save him.

I generally give bonus points to author's with unique storylines, but this was so poorly executed I have a hard time extending awards to it.

Shockingly there are three books in this series, so some people liked it, just not me.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hard Magic

by Larry Correia

There's a lot going on in this first installment of the Grimnoir series! For starters, it is a semi-historical alternate universe of the 1930's; a place where various types of magic runs through a special segment of the population, some who use it for good and others for evil. Jake Sullivan, an ex-war hero and ex-con, joins forces with Hoover and the FBI to hunt down some of these bad guys in order to get an early release. He teams up with several other "specials," in particular a teen from Oklahoma who seems to have more than one kind of magic, something almost unheard of. There are multiple fighting, shoot 'em up scenes, and an ending that doesn't quite leave you satisfied... because of course there are another two books (and perhaps more)?

Correia has done a good job of making a believable world with interesting characters and a unique story. There are a lot of pages, but it's a relatively fast read. Hard Magic is kind of fantasy, noir, historical and action/adventure wrapped up in one tale. I think this book would appeal to a variety of readers, it's pretty fun.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Head Full of Ghosts

by Paul Tremblay

Merry was 8 years old when her older sister Marjorie started seeing things and acting weird and causing trouble in the family. They quickly come to the conclusion that Marjorie is possessed by a demon and the whole family goes into turmoil as they determine how to deal with her Head Full of Ghosts.  First they agree to become a reality tv show and fill the house with cameras that record all the unusual incidents. Then they send Marjorie to a psychiatrist for counseling and medication, which doesn't work. Ultimately, they bring in a priest to perform an exorcism.

The book is ok, but could be better. The story is told by Merry as she is recounting it to a writer who wants to publish a book about these events. And there are some strange "interruptions" in the story by a blogger, which was out of place and annoying. It was kind of a combination of The Exorcist, Poltergeist and The Omen.... only not scary. However, if you liked those books, you'd probably like this too. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Ex

by Alafair Burke

The Ex is a crime courtroom drama about a middle-of-the-road attorney who gets talked into defending her ex-fiance after he is accused of murder. Because Olivia has some long held guilt over their breakup, when Jack's 16 yo daughter calls in a panic, Olivia comes to the rescue, despite this being a case she should never take, she is confident Jack is incapable of the crime. Despite there being a few plot twists, this wasn't my favorite read. I didn't like any of the characters, so didn't care what happened to them and I couldn't buy the premise. I found the story forgettable.
However, if you like stories with some courtroom action you may enjoy this book. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole

Ignatius Reilly is a fat, lazy, 30-something who lives with his mother, can't keep a job, is paranoid and is writing his life work on Big Chief notepads that he stores under his bed. Other than attending school in Baton Rouge, Reilly hasn't left the New Orleans French quarter, where he has some spectacular encounters with a stripper, a "flamer," a nightclub owner, an elderly secretary and a policeman who is trying to arrest him. A Confederacy of Dunces is a comedy of errors!  The story is fun and funny and a tiny bit irritating. Ignatius is a Louisiana cross between Kramer and George Costanza, sarcastic and obtuse.

I can't think of any book like it, but if you're a fan of Seinfeld you should give it a read. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

City of Liars and Thieves

by Eve Karlin

Interesting subject matter; a story of the first recorded murder trial in New York City. Elma Sand's body is found at the bottom of a well and the leading suspect is the brother of the town's bigwig who is starting a public water system company. In efforts to gain popularity, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr team up as defense council.

Unfortunately the book is poorly written. If you're interested in finding out about that murder, I'd suggest Google.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes

by Diane Chamberlain

Oh the stupid things girls will do for love! Why is it that young women will surrender everything they profess whenever a guy gives them some attention? Can we blame the curse-- Gen 3:13b?

Anyway,  The Secret Life of Ceecee Wilkes is another story about a naive young girl who sacrifices her ethics for some handsome smooth-talker who cons her into believing he loves her just to manipulate her into helping him kidnap the governor's wife. (if you want to read this book, you have to overlook a lot of implausible scenarios). The governor's wife is pregnant, Tim and his brother coerce Ceecee into guarding her while they negotiate ransom. While they're away, a terrible accident happens and Ceecee has to go under cover for the rest of her life. But then, about 25 years later the boyfriend is apprehended and put on death row for murder and Ceecee has to decide whether or not to fess up.

This is one of those books that you could read on a trip because it doesn't require much thought and it's easy to set down and walk away from. If you're a Jodi Picoult fan you'd probably like it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Life We Bury

by Allen Eskens

Joe Talbert, a struggling college student is assigned a research project for his English class that he isn't too excited about. He has to interview a stranger and write their life story. Joe's stranger happens to be a Vietnam veteran who was convicted of rape and murder, but is living out his last days in a nursing facility. Carl, like most convicted murderers, claims innocence, but after 30 years in a high security prison, he has become hard and angry. However, Joe gets him to tell his story, and soon is on a mission to clear Carl's name. Besides this main plot The LIfe We Bury has a few sidelines going on, Joe's alcoholic mother, his autistic brother, and his cute but unapproachable neighbor.

If you like stories about life and relationships, where every loose end is carefully tied, then you'll like this book. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

For the last couple of years, whenever I'm searching for a new book to read, Ready Player One has come up. And when I'd read the description I'd always be intrigued but then pass for something else. Well, I finally buckled... and very glad I did! Although it's not in my typical genre, it was a fun, fast-paced adventure, full of action.

In a future world that is near destruction, people have turned to a cyber world where they can explore and learn and escape their reality. This virtual world was created by James Halliday, a long dead computer nerd who grew up in the 80's. In 2042, several stereotypical high school students discover some clues hidden by Halliday in the code that will lead to a treasure for the one who can solve all the clues. Thus begins the battle to win the prize! The story is fraught with references to 80's pop culture: music, movies, tv shows, arcade games and history.

I'm not sure this story can really be categorized into any genre, perhaps sci-fi? But gamers or children of the 80's would probably like it, even if it isn't what you'd generally go for. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Burning

by Jane Casey

Tough female detective stories seem to be all the rage right now, unfortunately I haven't found many that work for me. The main problem being, writers seem bent on adding a love interest, which generally seems to be really stupid choices for these supposedly strong women. It's either an unsupportive male at home or she's infatuated with one of her co-workers. In The Burning you get both.

There is a serial killer in London who is killing women and then setting them aflame. When a fifth victim is found, DC Maeve Kerrigan is put on the case. As she begins her investigation, she discovers inconsistencies that cause her to question whether these murders have all been done by the same killer. This plot could have worked if the obvious answer hadn't been exposed in the first few chapters, so the rest of the time you were reading unnecessary details and wondering why DC Kerrigan took so long to figure it out.

You might like this if you are a fan of Tana French.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Treasure Island

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Part of my literature class this semester involved a road trip through the South. Riding on a bus for a million hours offers plenty of opportunity for discussion and given the nature of the class it's predictable that we discussed favorite reads. Treasure Island was one book mentioned by several people, which is also one book I missed reading as a kid. The great thing about books is that age doesn't matter!

Everyone dreams of finding a hidden treasure, striking gold or winning the lottery.  In this story Stevenson gives a young Jim Hawkins a treasure map with a warning to be on the lookout for a peg-legged traitor. Jim enlists the help of the town doctor to help him, and they quickly gather a boat and a crew and begin their search. Unfortunately some of those aboard have ulterior motives, including the infamous Long John Silver! Thus we are whisked away on a tale of adventure, piracy and deceit as Jim faces some hard knocks into maturity.

A fast and fun read for all ages! It'd be a great summer read aloud-- for those of you with kids still at home, particularly boys.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Empire of the Summer Moon

by Sam Gwynne

The Plains Indians and America's westward expansion like you've never read! Growing up in StL, my history consisted mainly of Marquette, La Salle, Lewis and Clark and other explorations of the Mighty Mississippi and our focus with growing America dealt with the Louisiana Purchase. And while that is all fine and interesting it seems childsplay in comparison to what kids in OK and TX might get to learn. If their textbooks told any story like Gwynne relates in Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History  then it should come as no surprise that Texans are so prideful.

Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a Texas girl, Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by the Comanches at the age of 9. He would become a great warrior and mediator for his tribe as they navigated land battles with both the Mexican and US armies. Although Parker and the Comanches are singled out as stars in this book, Gwynne doesn't neglect the other Plains nations and their roles in the territorial conflict. Gwynne treats the Comanches with much admiration when he tells of their skills as fighters and horsemen and even though he also refers to them as savage and hostile, it is mainly in response to techniques and treatments of captives. He also relates the stories of several US Military men and their struggles to conquer the west and its inhabitants. He accurately portrays their frustrations and errors in dealing with the Plains Indians, as well as the numerous treaties that were violated by both sides.

If you like history you would like this book. If you are a Texan it is required reading. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


by Peter Clines

A pretty fun read, 14 is a little bit mystery, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit weird and Scooby Doo jumbled all together. As soon as Nate moves into his new apartment, he starts to notice strange things like UV lighting coming from his incandescent bulb, and roaches with an extra leg and apartments with padlocked doors and some rather odd neighbors. Throughout at least the first half of this novel, Cline builds an interesting mystery/haunted apartment type story and then he changes gear delving into the sci-fi as this assorted group of tenants come together to solve a mystery.

Most of this book worked but some of it just went way off the grid. Going far out can work, as in many SK novels, but the characters need to remain consistent and that didn't happen here.  Once these guys seem to solve the riddle and step beyond #14, things unravel and they all seem to lose their brains in the vortex. But if you ignore their lapse into stupidity and just go with it, you'll enjoy this read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

In my previous post you may have noticed my fleeting mention of finishing the book because it was required reading for a class.... Invisible Man was also required reading for my Civil Rights Literature class.
This is another book about racism, but it is approached in a completely different manner than Coates' missive. Ellison tells the story of a young black man beginning his journey into manhood. He is leaving the south for a college in NYC. It is in this very first opportunity that his eyes start to open about the stereotypes he will encounter. The novel is very cyclical, the young man enters into a situation, is faced with an expected role he should assume, he fights against it and concludes that these imposed values limit his own personal choices. Ellison inserts his man into most typical life circumstances: college, work, organizations, love and family and portrays the prejudices a black man faces in each. He realizes that these expectations make him invisible and cause him to want to hide. Ultimately however, he understands that the only way to be recognized is to be assertive and proactive in making his voice heard apart from the crowd.

To me, Ellison's writing is empowering to everyone, but especially blacks. He encourages people to be individuals, to take charge in their identity and make a place in the world that is uniquely their own. It is a long book, and due to the regular pattern throughout it can at times feel long, but it is a timeless classic that I'd recommend to all readers. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Between the World and Me

by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Before you read this post, know that I am expressing my thoughts and reflections about this book. I am not addressing the injustices perpetrated upon Blacks in America, I am merely considering the thoughts expressed in these writings.

Between the World and Me is a long letter from a black father to his black son and was written in response to the Ferguson, MO police shooting of Michael Brown. This essay has received many rave reviews and has skyrocketed Coates into fame and fortune.
Frankly, I found this letter to be extremely eye-opening, but not for the politically correct reasons Coates is being praised for. I do believe there are many valid points made throughout this narrative, but what spoke to me more than Coates' criticism of  the "people who think they're white" and the "dreamers" was his attitude. I found Coates to be extremely pessimistic, negative and without hope.

I find the blame game offensive and debilitating and divisive. Blame creates victims and victims have no choice about what happens to them. I think it is a shame that Coates is perpetuating victimization of Blacks instead of empowering them! I think it's sad to pass to his son such hopelessness and distrust. I think it's too bad that Coates only rants and raves and is angry about how Blacks are treated, but seems to be telling his son to respond likewise---hate them back!  How can we mend relationships within an atmosphere of hate?

This is a relatively short book and I read it rather quickly, until there were about 30 pages left, and then I hit a wall. I just stopped and didn't want to keep reading. I knew what he was going to say and I didn't want to read it (and I wanted to hope that I was wrong). It was a few weeks before I actually read those final words, and only because it was required reading for a class I was taking.....
And I was correct, it was not a positive message, it was sad and depressing and without hope. I know the history and agree it was a travesty, but I have a hope for a better future, and I wish Coates did too.

Even so, you should probably read it.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Winter in Madrid

by C.J. Sansom

A look at pre WWII Madrid as the country is digging themselves out of their own civil war and Franco is entering into negotiations with Hitler about another bigger war. Into this Harry Brett is sent from Great Britain to spy on an old classmate who is in cahoots with the General. While there, Brett reconnects with another friend who is serving in the Red Cross and on her own mission to rescue a lover from the Spanish concentration camps. Sansom does a good job conveying the people, place, politics, culture and struggles of the period, but it's an overly long Winter in Madrid with a disappointing conclusion.

I've read a number of his books and while he may be wordy, he has a knack for picking interesting times and topics to write about. If you like historical fiction, WWII type stories you'll like this book.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fates and Furies

by Lauren Groff

Lancelot (Lotto) [a spoiled rich boy and aspiring actor] and Mathilde [an art historian with a sketchy past] meet at a wild college party and are instantly attracted. This attraction leads to a quick marriage, against the wishes of Lotto's mother, who immediately discontinues his financial support and cuts him out of the will [and his sizable inheritance]. Their life is a continuous string of drinking and parties and plays and sex and play writing and deception [but only one of them knows about this aspect] and climbing up the ladder of success. You get to hear about all this fun from Lotto's perspective [Fates] and then Mathilde's [Furies] and see just how differently the two viewed and managed their married life.

I don't know anyone like these people. Perhaps they exist [I suspect only in the movies] but if they are real and you know some of them maybe you'll also gain some insight into marriages. The book is rife with Shakespearian references and very fantastical and quite popular. For me, the fates section dragged but I stuck with it because commenters said it picked up in the furies part, and there did come a moment when I got hooked! Briefly. And then it passed. [but I finished it anyway].

If you noticed my brackets ..... it's something I picked up from Fates and Furies and if you read it you'll see them. Lots. [One word sentences are another winning technique] And these must be winning techniques since it is Amazon's best book of 2015, an NYT bestseller, a National Book Award finalist, and NPR book club selection. I was trying to be a bit neutral in my review since this is such a wildly popular book, and I'd be willing to discuss it with someone who loved it so maybe I could catch the love. But I didn't like it, and then I thought I might, and then I didn't really. I'd recommend it to certain readers, but I'm not sure what type of reader would like Fates and Furies, so I leave it up to you to decide if you're it. [and let me know]

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Big Trouble

by Dave Barry

After mentioning my hysteria over Dave Barry's history of America, a friend of mine suggested I try one of his suspense novels.... didn't know he'd written these. Bearing in mind it's Dave Barry, you can pretty much assume the book is short on suspense and big on humor. Even though Big Trouble isn't intended to be strictly humorous, the entire premise automatically shifts it in that direction.

The students at Coconut Grove High are engaged in an elimination game involving shooting people with squirt guns. Matt has chosen to "kill" Jenny, the daughter of a mobster type businessman, Arthur Herk. At the same time, some hit men have been hired to knock off Arthur. Both shooters appear at the Herk home at the same time and thus begins the chaos! Most of this book is Three Stooges type humor, but there are a couple of events that are so NOT funny they seem a bit out of place.

Either way, it's a fast and mostly fun read. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In a Dark Dark Wood

by Ruth Ware

I'll just cut to the chase here and say, "don't waste your time." This book is not a psychological thriller except for the psychological imbalance of every single character within. And the mystery is limited to them as well, which is somewhat surprising since the main character, who is a crime fiction novelist, is completely blind to all the obvious clues pointing to the murderer.

Enough said about In a Dark Dark Wood.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Isaac's Storm

by Erik Larson

The full title of this book is Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, which is quite a mouthful, but really sums up the whole thing in a nutshell. Isaac is Isaac Cline, one of the earliest meteorologists in the fledgling US Weather Bureau who was sent to Galveston TX as their expert weatherman. The time is 1900 when Galveston was trying to win the battle with Houston over which city would be THE elite place to dwell. A good chunk of this book is devoted to such struggles over making a name and a place and an impact, which is exactly what the US Weather Bureau was trying to do at the time, with men such as Cline who wanted to establish themselves as an elite forecasting group.

The first portion of the book details a history of Galveston, the weather bureau and advances in forecasting. Midway through you finally get to the hurricane that put a damper on all of it. Due to some unfortunate but prevalent beliefs in 1900's America, Galveston went from glory to devastation in a matter of hours. It is the assertion of Larson that many lives could have been spared but for some egotism, however the destruction of the city would have been the same.

This book is very typical of Larson's others, so if you like those this would be a good read for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Truth According to Us

by Annie Barrows

A story about a small town and the Federal Writer's Project, which the FDR administration put into place during the Great Depression in order to fund & support writers (you're welcome, I won't go there). Although this story had a lot going on, it was slow moving. The daughter of a US Senator, Layla Beck rebels against her father's wishes for her future, so he sends her off to live among the commoners in the hopes of teaching her a lesson. She is assigned to the town of Macedonia, WV where she dives right into the middle of the strange happenings of the founding family.

The bulk of The Truth According to Us is told from the perspective of the 12 year-old Willa Romeyn as she too is trying to uncover some of the mysteries surrounding her family. And that is where I think the book falls flat, because there are just too many of them to follow. Willa's father is mixed up in some bootlegging venture as well as having some shady past related to the family business. One aunt has two secret loves, two others have some convoluted marriages and living arrangements, there's an old arson mystery and some dead people who are haunting everyone. Oh, and there's more! For some reason, the entire town resents this family, there is some sibling rivalry between the two brothers, there's some sneaking and spying and flirtations and on and on it goes.

In general, Barrows does capture the feel of a small town but spreads her story too thin to capture interest in the people living there. It's just ok.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

From the Corner of His Eye

by Dean Koontz

Within the first few pages of From the Corner of His Eye   a tragic event occurred that had me turning back the pages to see if I'd missed something! But no, Koontz presents a very unassuming character and then shows you how wrong a first impression can be. And he doesn't stop there, the book has twists aplenty many of which I didn't see coming. Corner of His Eye is a mixed bag of genre: suspense, thriller, supernatural and drama that meshes well and keeps the reader fully engaged.Without providing spoilers, let me tell you that for the first 3/4 of this story I was completely intrigued with the characters, their development and the suspense and thrill as the plot progressed to the final solution. Although there are a few things you'll need to overlook, like the 3-year old prodigies, their dialogue, the stereotypical perfectly perfect people and the noir PI. There are some interesting concepts, which always wins my favor and allows me to give leeway on other things. You should also just stop reading after the bad guy meets his demise because the story suffered from the attempt to tie a neat bow on a package that didn't need it. Overall fast-paced thrill read.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Take Me WIth You

by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This is one of those feel good books along the Mitch Albom or Nicholas Sparks line, and if you're a fan of those, you will love this book! August Schroder loses his son in a car accident. In the process of coming to terms with his loss, he decides to take an RV trip to some National Parks and distribute his son's ashes. Along the way, August picks up 2 boys whose father is going to prison. Take Me With You tells about their relationship and August's healing process.

The sweet/sappy isn't my favorite reading, and this story was a bit preachy, but good enough. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century

by Peter Graham

Several years ago (probably more like 20), I began reading a mystery series written by Anne Perry, which was a decent enough series for me to read several of the books. When I read this title, I thought Anne Perry must have written about some infamous murder and was rather taken aback to learn that Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century was actually a story about a horrific murder committed BY Anne Perry! When she was a teenager, Perry, whose given name is Juliet Hulme, together with her close friend Pauline Parker conspired together to brutally murder Pauline's mother. The act was premeditated and vicious and neither Hulme nor Parker at any time were remorseful or regretful about what they had done. The girls were very matter of fact in stating that Mrs. Parker wasn't a very happy person who was interfering with them being together so she needed to be eliminated. In New Zealand, minors committing criminal offenses served terms "at the pleasure of her majesty", which for Hulme and Parker amounted to barely over 5 years in prison. Upon their release, both girls' names were changed, and Anne Perry went on to become a very successful mystery writer.

This was not a very well-written book, there was a lot of unnecessary background information, a disjointed timeline, and much repetition. Plus Graham was very heavy-handed in providing excuses for the girls. However, I was intrigued by the murder and trial details due to the fact I was familiar with Perry's books. If you were interested, I'm sure you could find a better account or there's even a movie. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Dave Barry Slept Here: A Sort of History of the United States

by Dave Barry

Once again I am starting off the new year by signing up for a reading challenge. Last year I just did the Goodreads choose the number of books you'll read, and while that was fine, I kind of enjoy the type that give you some parameters for book selections. The one I've chosen this year (besides the Goodreads #) is called Full House challenge, hosted by Book Date. The thing about these type of challenges for me is I tend to read books I'd not choose otherwise in order to meet the specific criteria and check off the box. And that is how I came to read Dave Barry Slept Here.  The "laugh out loud moments" category. I don't typically read humor, not because I don't like a funny book, but it's just not what I gravitate toward. So I spent a lot of time agonizing over what to read that might really make me laugh out loud (Like Confessions of a Shopaholic, which if you've not read and need a laugh, read it). After all my research, I decided I'd read Confederacy of Dunces, but the library doesn't have it in electronic format and I'm sometimes too cheap to want to actually BUY a book, so I ended up with Dave Barry, who I knew to be funny because I'd read his column before. After finishing it, I discovered we actually have a hard copy of Dunces on our bookshelf, so may read that as well.

Barry provides a rather accurate historical timeline, but by mixing in some pop culture and confusing and combining events, his history of America is pretty hilarious. Did I actually "laugh out loud"? Yes, while I was in the outpatient waiting room where my husband was in for some spinal epidural shots I was almost in tears I was laughing so hard! I had to stop reading for a while because I was embarrassing myself (and some people are in there for serious stuff so laughter may be frowned upon). Another great thing about this book is that it is short and sweet. Barry knows just when to move on so as not to bore or tire you of his nonsense.