Monday, October 15, 2018

October 2.0

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My grandmother was a university librarian, my first babysitter was the county library, and my first crush was Mrs. Pyle, my school librarian who wore purple earrings and chose me to stamp the date cards. So yes, I am a lover of libraries and everything about them; so is Susan Orlean. This New Yorker writer has a few bestsellers (think Orchid Thief) and her latest is sure to please many bibliophiles. Revolving around the story of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central library, this is a love letter to all things "library" - the history, the buildings, the administrators, and the frontline people who devote their lives to books, as well as some investigative journalism over 'whodunnit.' I cannot tell you how many lines I highlighted or how many times I gasped aloud at the fascinating trivia on either Los Angeles or the library itself. I found this book completely engrossing, utterly fascinating, and extraordinarily well-researched. Highly recommend to anyone who has a love affair with books.

A Well-Behaved Woman  by Therese Anne Fowler
I have been chomping at the bit to start this novel, as I loved Fowler's first book Z about Zelda Fitzgerald, and having read a non-fiction book on the Vanderbilts last year, I was curious as to a historical-fiction look at their lives. Alva Vanderbilt, wife to the patriarch's second grandson, is used to build the story. Alva comes from an old Southern family, must marry wealthy to support her sisters, and ultimately shows the deep and desperate climb up the social ladder of New York, to ensure that the family sits atop with the Astors. Ultimately, I was rather disappointed in this book. For the first two-thirds, it is a looooong litany of the social climbing, the back-stabbing, the petty insults, the family feuding over money with little deep character development. Alva is not admirable, nor is she detestable; she is just 'meh' for me. I wanted to better understand her ultimate transformation - what drove her to give up her drive for social status? With a weak plot line, I quite frankly found it rather boring. Six pages on the description of the costumes and conversation at her famous ball was overkill. The last third of the book was more interesting as we see Alva breaking free of society's rules, becoming involved in the suffragette's movement. After reading the notes at the end concerning Alva's latter years, I wish the story had included more of that as it would have been a more compelling read for me. Thanks to Net Galley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker
The first in a trilogy, this Viking saga is pretty awesome. Granted, I grew up being read The Tales of Asgard by a mother with Norwegian ancestry, but it does not matter your background as long as you like heroic wartimes, some blood and gore, and some battled-tested characters. Brother and sister, Ragnvald and Svanhild, (yes, names are brutally difficult and hard to keep track of at first) are in a bad situation in 9th century Norway: grandpa was a stud but dad was an idiot, mom remarried dishonorable man, arguments ensue and both siblings must find their own way in the world. For the record, really not easy if you're a woman. Svanhild must form an alliance with Solvi, a complicated occasionally unlikable but disarmingly charming hero (or is he an anti-hero?). Ragnvald, in his search for glory, has to figure out which king to swear allegiance to and who is ultimately going to prevail in their quest to bring Norway under one rule. If you like GOT, or the stories of Thor and other swashbuckling heroes, and if you like a girl who has to use whatever skills she has in the time period in which she lives to survive, you'll like this book.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Yes, it took me far to long to finally pick up this book after all the rave reviews for the last two years. Question is...are the reviews correct? Is it amazing? Here's my two cents. First, the narrator and main character, Count Alexander Rostov is quite lovely. After returning to Russia in 1922, he is tried, convicted, and put under 'house' arrest at the Metropol hotel in Moscow. The Count is witty, intelligent, introspective, curious, and kind. He creates for himself, in this new life within four walls, a microcosm of society that is fascinating to watch unfold. His friendships with a famous actress, a young girl, the head chef, a Politburo member all contribute to a shockingly full life lived within the confines of a hotel. And when another little girl enters Rostov's world, his heart grows even more full. While I thoroughly enjoyed 2/3rds of this book, I will say it got a bit long and verbose for me. Plot-thin at times, it is definitely a character-driven novel and luckily, the Count is as delightful a main character as you can find. It would definitely be a intriguing, if long, book club choice.

House of Gold by Natasha Solomons
Based loosely on the famous Rothschild family, showing their power and ties with all the European countries and royal families, it is now the Goldsteins as the family members get pulled into WWI with their Austrian and British families on opposite side of a conflict that neither support. On one hand, I was pulled into the characters of Otto and Greta, the Austrian siblings, and Albert, the son and heir of the British banking side. The slow love story of Greta and Albert is compelling, and Otto's wartime friendship with a Jewish orphan is powerful. Yet the story moves too slowly for me, as the war slowly begins; I found the second half more powerful once the war finally begins. Admittedly, I am also not a lover of gardening so the pages and pages of garden description and yard work is a bit too much for me. This book was full of interesting historical detail, focused on an extremely privileged family at a traumatic moment in 19th century history, yet also drew in at times how this war impacted people of poverty.  Overall, I enjoyed the book but do wish it had been a bit shorter. Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2018

October

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer #2)by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor is one of the very best YA fantasy writers of today, and I use the YA category cautiously as her writing is so gorgeous, so lyrical, so evocative that her books could occupy adult fiction shelves as well. The first one in this series, Strange the Dreamer, has over 30,00 reviews on Goodreads with an average of 4.3 stars...and that's in just a year and a half. Seriously, she is that good. In the second book, Taylor outdoes herself again. In this world of heroic characters illustrated through warriors, mothers, gods, and monsters, one sees every human emotion. Lazlo, the scholarly orphan with deep secrets, is back once again, as he searches for the answer to who he is. Sarai, the goddess of dreams and nightmares, is one of the most beautiful, as well as the most heartbreaking characters in fantasy today. Using these two characters, Taylor shows us a creation of worlds, of wrenching decisions, of love lost and re-found, and of towering heroism. And if you typically say, "I don't read fantasy," as I used to, I would challenge you to try this series; I suspect you would fall madly in love with this world of beauty just as I have.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Best-selling author Picoult has taken on many controversial issues: school shooter, transplants amongst family members, hidden Nazis, suicide, racism, etc. Using a unique timeline, the plot involves an abortion clinic shooting, unspooling backwards, beginning at the conclusion of the standoff and ending with the first hour of the terror. Each chapter is one hour, as we see into the minds of each occupant of the clinic during that hour: the traveling doctor, the nurse, the aunt with a young niece, the swat team cop who is the niece's father, the anti-abortion protester as well as a young woman having an abortion, the retired college professor, and the shooter himself. One might think repetition would occur, but instead it forces the reader to look at his/her own prejudices and assumptions. This is a powerful story, that shows that emotions run deep around the issues of choice. We see that one's past provokes action in one's today, that both right and wrong answers exist, that finding the grey area is the only way to open one's ears and listen, and that the past can give us many of the answers for the way forward. This would be a provocative bookclub choice, on whichever side of the issue one lands.

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
After a decade away, the author of the classic Peace Like a River is back with a beautiful story of life in the hard luck town of Greenstone on the shores of Lake Superior. The story begins with Virgil Wander flying off the cliff in his old Pontiac, suffering a traumatic brain injury and needing his eclectic group of friends to heal him in every way: the Finnish man in search of his son; the widow and her son caught in a constant loop of uncertainty; the hermit-like wealthy son, steeped in ugliness; the mayor trying to lift her town back into relevance; the handyman who searches for meaning and purpose; the hardscrabble family who battles poverty and a big fish. Virgil is the axis they all spin around as the heart of this community is revealed. Enger's new book will grip your heart and make you smile as it engulfs you in this kite-flying, stolen-movie-watching, endearing crowd.

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
I have read all the books written by this best-selling Australian writer and she has yet to disappoint me. Once again, she has created a story full of historical tidbits, gothic ghosts, and page-turning mystery. The nexus of this story is a house, Birchwood Manor, built on the bend of the river, protected by a Fairie Queen and an ancient promise. Through this house marches a plethora of complex characters: the Magenta brotherhood, fans of the Romantic Age, lovers of beautiful women, painting, and intrigue; Elodie, the daughter of a famous cellist, an archivist due to marry soon but who is pulled into the mystery surrounding the manor; James, a detective looking for a diamond, with heartbreak in his past; Leonard, a former WWI soldier suffering from PTSD, whose research adds to the mystery surrounding a murder; Lucy, the young girl who defies convention and is obsessed with the science of the world; Tip, a young boy whose family escapes the London Blitz; and most important, Birdie, the clockmaker's daughter whose life and stories binds them all together. Be forewarned: this author always writes very long books, but they are un-put-downable.

The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
This is a taut, well-constructed thriller that is sure to be a hit this fall. Told in two different viewpoints and time periods, the connection between the two stories takes quite some time to figure out. One side of the story focuses on Beth and Doug, an English family living in a small village twenty years ago, raising a daughter who shows every characteristic of a sociopath. Some deep, dark secrets exist in this family and the author spins them out slowly. The other story is of Clara and her missing boyfriend Luke, as she and Luke's best friend do their own detective work to figure out what happened in today's world. Luke's family has some pretty mysterious secrets of their own, particularly considering their first child disappeared years ago as well. I had a hard time putting this book down, yet was a tad disappointed in the ending and ultimately not all that surprised. The do-it-yourself detective work was also a bit unrealistic for me but perhaps I am being too picky? Close to a 4-Star for me, but missing just a couple pieces. This is a great vacation read if you love a good thriller. Thanks to Net Galley for a free book in exchange for an honest review.

The Fallen Architect by Charles Belfoure
I loved Belfoure's first book, The Paris Architect, as did thousands of other readers. I really liked his second book, House of Thieves, but his latest was just 'meh' for me. The story begins with an architect being released from five years of prison for manslaughter following the collapse of a balcony at his newly-built London theater. As Layton attempts to rebuild his life and forge a new identity, he also becomes enmeshed in the search for the true culprits of the tragedy. My problem with this book was the weak characterization; I never felt deeply drawn to any of them, the main characters or the minor ones, though I did kinda like some of the quirky theater folks and the love interest was kind of a badass. The second half was decidedly better, but I would have liked richer more complex development of the main players.


Friday, September 14, 2018

September 2.0

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This is one of the most creatively plotted books I have read in years...Agatha Christie meets Stephen King on an Alfred Hitchcock set. The premise is unique: the main character has eight days, in eight different bodies, to find out who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, a young privileged woman newly returned to the family estate in England. The consequences of failure are severe - being stuck in the loop of time forever. The wide variety of characters is impressive: the likable drug peddler, the overweight brilliant aristocrat, the devious artist, the shockingly complex maid, etc. - and they all have their roles to play. Be forewarned that this book takes a little time to quash the frustration and confusion, but be patient. By page 50, you will be beyond hooked, unable to put down this clever, well-written book until you know all the "whodunnits." This is the perfect book for a stormy day, nestled in a cozy chair with a cup of tea. In a word, it is brilliant.

Heartland:A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
For those of you who loved My Name is Lucy Barton, or Nickled and Dimed, or Hillbilly Elegy, you will need to add this book to your TBR pile. Debut author Sarah Smarsh chronicles her life, and generations of her family, as they try and survive living and toiling in Kansas during the past century. The difference in this story for me was the fact that it is told from a female perspective, as well as focusing on the matriarchal struggles of generations of teenage motherhood, abusive marriages, and the lack of education. The idea that one can pull oneself up by the bootstraps is turned upside down when one does not even own any boots. This is an engrossing book that I read voraciously in just 24 hours, unable to put it down, unable to relate in many ways, and also seeing many of my former students in her stories. I wish I had known years ago what I have spent the last few years learning: that the chance of skin color, economic class, and geography has more to do with a person's ability to 'make it' than just about anything else. Yes, there are those anomalies, the poor kid who hits it big like Andrew Carnegie, but they are fewer and fewer than in years past. This book will provide any book club with some provocative conversation and food for thought in our own communities.

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
Powerful. Crushing. Frightening. Inspiring. This is the power of a new book by the Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post journalist. More than just a treatise on escaping a powerful belief, it is a tale of the rise of white supremacism in the very midst of the American experiment with democracy. Following the life of Derek Black, son of the creator of StormFront, an infamous Neo-Nazi website as well as the godson of David Duke, we see the incredible power of this movement. Derek was steeped in hate, in racism, in anti-semitism literally from his birth and groomed to be the next big leader of the movement. However, at his small Florida liberal arts college, Derek is surrounded by a small group of friends, who hate his beliefs, love him anyway, and show him through their lives and their words a way out. Saslow's story also shows us the blatant manner in which the Neo-Nazi movement has infiltrated the common political world of today, as well as mainstream media. Well-written with detailed investigative reporting, this book has a heart as well as a warning.

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge, M.D.
After ten months of chronic pain due to shoulder surgery and frozen shoulder, my physical therapist recommended this book; it has changed my life. Based on the many studies of how our brains can morph, change, and heal, the area of neuroplasticity is a whole new world. I actually listened to this book first, and then bough a paper copy as it contains so much information that I want to refer back to over time. The chapters deal with a variety of medical research and studies on Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, learning disabilities, tinnitis, autism, stroke recovery, and pretty much anything involved in neural pathways. I found it utterly fascinating, well-researched, and full of solutions that can change lives. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson
I loved Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Atkinson, but this latest book left me disappointed. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a straight historical fiction or a farce, which is problematic. The premise of the book is a story of a young British girl who goes to work in WWII for MI5, the domestic spy group. As Juliet is dragged from a secretarial role of transcribing secret recordings of Nazi sympathizers in London into actually being a spy, the story rolled off the tracks for me. Characters that just did not make sense to me, plot twists that were so contrived they were laughable, and an ending that was a complete let down all combined to make this book a big "miss" for me. Thanks to Net Galley for a free book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

September

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
First, the cover of this book blows; it looks like the potboilers my mother used to buy at the local grocery store...blech. However, inside this horrendous cover, is a shockingly awesome book that I could not put down. Each chapters chronicles Evelyn's life as it unfolds during her marital years to a particular husband - yes, it sounds like a bad made-for-tv movie. But what saves this book is Evelyn herself, an incredibly complex, refreshingly honest, and provocatively intelligent woman. She uses her wiles and her talents to break into the Hollywood of the 1950's, making both friends and enemies along the way, and hiding a forbidden love. This book is a page-turner, and while it may look like 'brain candy' on the outside, the inside is rich and satisfying.

Little Comfort (Hester Thursby Mystery #1)by Edwin Hill
Looking for that next great mystery series? I found it for you:) Coming from one of the smaller publishers, be sure to search your indie bookstore and ask to have it on shelves as this story is worth every penny. Debut author Edwin Hill has created a spectacular main character: Hester Thursby, librarian and private investigator on the side, a fireball of a 4'9" woman, lives with a man she refuses to marry, foster mom to her best friend's daughter. The mystery begins with a search for two young men who disappeared a decade ago. Ultimately, the story involves identity theft, sex trafficking, high society, codependent friendships, military PTSD, and murder, all while little Hester Thursby sticks her nose into everybody's business. The characters are incredibly well-drawn, with both admirable and frustrating traits, as well as some seriously baaaaad people who need their comeuppance. And let's face it, I'm a sucker for beautiful syntax and this man can write! I absolutely loved this book, could not put it down, and cannot wait for the second installment.

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
I had hopes that this book would be reminiscent of Orphan Train, a rich historical tale of the Great Depression. The story begins with a down-on-his-luck reporter, taking a photo of two boys holding a sign that shows them to be "For Sale" in 1932 Philadelphia. As the tale unwinds, this photo causes lots of problems for both the reporter and the office assistant who involves herself in the newspaper publishing of the story. I found the main characters to be quite thin, the minor characters to be tedious, and the plot to be without much-needed tension as well as a tad saccharine. I am sure there are many readers who love this type of book; it just is not me. Thanks to Net Galley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
This is a creative story of life, love, and second chances. At first, I was not sure this was a book for me; admittedly, I tend towards the dark, dramatic, historical, tragic tales, but the premise of this novel is intriguing. Based on a classic conversation in every classroom I've ever led, the question begins with "Who would you invite to dinner, dead or alive, fiction or non-fiction, if you could?" This was always the start of some fascinating English lit class discussions. In Rebecca Serle's book, she tips it a bit towards family and friends, and away from famous and historical. At first, the literary snob in me was put off - where was Shakespeare, Homer, or yes, even Harry Potter? Why do I want to read about a dinner with Sabrina's old college professor, ex-boyfriend, best friend, dead father, and the obligatory famous person, Audrey Hepburn? Ah, the answer is because Serle makes me care. This story wraps itself insidiously around your heart as once again I was reminded that life is not fame and fortune, but the small moments...like when you meet the love of your life, the first apartment with your best friend, a night with a new baby, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed this short, sweet little story.

Lies by T.M. Logan
This new thriller by debut British writer is fine, but nothing memorable for me. When driving his young son home one night, Joe, a public school teacher who lacks ambition and passion, hears his son say that he's seen Mum's car, forcing Joe into a hotel parking garage where the trouble begins as he confronts a husband of a friend. When said husband then pulls a runner and cannot be found, Joe finds himself the main suspect. It is a page-turner, I will give it that. The problem for me was that Joe is just so stupid; he chases every wrong clue, won't listen to legal advice, and has unaltered trust in people whom he shouldn't. Yet, at least this time around it is the guy being dumb and not the stereotypical woman so that's a plus! Regardless, I would say it's a good vacation read, but a bit forgettable for me. Thanks to Net Galley for a free book in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August 2.0

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
This book by a debut author addresses a conundrum: what does one do when seeing a child neglected and abused? Do you report it to the authorities and hope the foster-care system doesn't mess it all up? Or do you do what main character, Sarah Walker, does and just take five year old Emma? Yep, it's a problem. Emma is smart, beautiful, and sad; abused by her mother, ignored by her father, she wears the same clothes to school each day. When Sarah's life weirdly interconnects with Emma more than once, perhaps it is karma, perhaps it is her job to abandon her successful business, perhaps her wretched breakup with long-time boyfriend was meant to be? Admittedly, some plot holes glared at times for me, but I could not stop reading this book. The question of what Sarah would ultimately do with Emma, how Emma's mother handled the situation, and how Emma adapted kept me turning pages quickly. It is a good 'brain candy' book for sure.

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson
His earlier book, The Kind Worth Killing, was a dark and creepy thriller that gave me the heebie-jeebies, and yes, I loved it. This second book was solid, but not quite as good. The premise revolves around an apartment swap. A young British woman, suffering from PTSD as well as a long-term anxiety disorder, finally finds the courage to leave London, arriving in Boston to live in her cousin's Beacon Hill home. Of course, a murder occurs in the apartment next door, which plays to all of Kate's fears (hence the title). The cousin, now staying in her London flat, has a bit more of a secret life than anyone (Kate, neighbors, or even us, the reader) had ever suspected. As the rabbit hole we go down to see Corbin's past gets darker and creepier, the threads of the murder start to come together. This was definitely a page-turner and a solid thriller, but a bit too predictable of an ending for me.

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones
I seem to have an opposing view on this book from many other reviewers; I give it 2.5 stars at best. First, the premise is creative as this time the 'other woman' is the mother of the boyfriend/fiance. That's a nice twist. The problem I had was the complete shallowness of the main characters; the girlfriend who continuously stays in an abusive relationship with both the man and the mother; the boyfriend who is a nasty drunk but loves his mother obsessively for unexplained reasons; the brother who, even in the end, is not fully flushed out and makes a muck of things; and the besties who stand by and don't yank poor lil Emily miles away from this man. Not even the dark and twisted ending could salvage this book for me. I hate hate hate weak, gullible, static women - protagonists like this merely perpetuate the myth of spineless women trapped in toxic relationships. Try giving us a trapped woman who gets herself out through her strength and smarts, someone to aspire to, someone to give us hope. Aargh. Thanks to Net Galley for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1)) by Tomi Adeyemi
Debut author Tomi Adeyemi is a gorgeous writer with a depth of knowledge on African mythology, and she uses both skills brilliantly in this first of a new YA fantasy series. Set in the world of Orisha, the magic has been vanquished years ago through murder and destruction, killing the maji off and leaving their children, the diviners behind. The diviners have no magic, but have stark white hair against their brown skin to set them off. Enslaved and abused, the diviner society is set for rebellion. Thus enters our cast of characters: Zelie, a young diviner, whose mother was a Reaper who could call upon the souls of the dead; Tzain, her brother, a strong athlete devoted to keeping Zelie and her father safe; Inan, the son of the murderous king, torn between his knowledge of moral rightness and his need for his father's approval; and Amari, daughter of the king, scared and weak on the outside, a lion in her heart, who begins the whole rebellion with a stolen scroll. This is an incredible gift of storytelling to the world. If you like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and every other magical tale of friendship, loyalty, family bonds, destruction, power, fear, you name it, pick up this book. You will not regret it.

What Truth Sounds Like: Robert F. Kennedy, James Baldwin, and Our Unfinished Conversation about Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson
Recommended by none other than #44, Barack Obama, this book is a must-read for American citizens, as it gives a thoughtful look at how history has shaped race relations in our country. Focusing on essays and events involving black writer and activist James Baldwin, as well as Robert F. Kennedy as his understanding of race relations evolve, Dyson explores every aspect of American life today and its intersection with race: the world of entertainment, politics, professional sports, music, you name it, that world is dissected looking through the lens of race. This book opened my eyes in so many ways and made me realize how little I truly know and understand, as I live in a predominantly white PNW college town. I highly recommend reading it not listening to it, as the language is beautiful, and the narrator was truly terrible.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August


Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Debt author Youngson uses the actual artifact of the Tollund Man (an Iron Age mummy) to explore a relationship between a grieving widower and head of the museum with an aging British woman who is questioning her life choices and future direction. The story unfolds through the letters these two write one another, as they share the lives of their children and grandchildren, the grief over marriages, and their exploration of the Tollund Man and what his place was in his time and community. The author speaks to those of us at a ‘mature’ age, which is a breath of fresh air in the literary world of page-turning thrillers, fabulously wealthy characters, and no one over the age of thirty. Be patient – this book will slowly and quietly wrap its arms around you and give you much food for thought about aging, love, and friendship.

Rust & Starlight by T. Greenwood
The infamous book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov had an inspiration in the kidnapping of Sally Horner by a middle-aged child rapist in 1949 New Jersey. Author T. Greenwood uses this real crime to explore the story that inspired a classic. Told through the viewpoints of first the family, and then sprinkling in the various fictitious characters who interact with young Sally, the story unfolds slowly. We see the childhood taunting and bullying that begins the entire horror, the insidious mix of fear and charm that Frank LaSalle uses on his victim, and the cross-country odyssey of ugliness. Greenwood creates some quirky, creepy, and heroic minor characters that flush out Sally's tragedy and shows the need for strangers to care about other humans. It was a bit of a slow burn for me, even considering putting book down about 20% in, but ultimately the story gripped me, voraciously reading the last half, wishing so desperately for an elusive happy ending. The author uses the true-crime to tell a suspenseful, tragic, and fascinating story.


In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu
One might ask, why would a middle-aged woman who lives in the Pacific Northwest read a book written by a former mayor of New Orleans? Easy answer: it is on Obama's summer read list. More complex answer? Because the more one knows about every square inch of our country, the more I can wrap my brain around the direction our country is heading. Mitch Landrieu narrates the book himself, and he's got a unique, pugnacious style to his reading voice; I kinda enjoyed it. And the story itself is compelling, fascinating, and ultimately quite inspiring. We see Mitch's long-time politically involved family (dad was mayor and HUD secretary, sister was U.S. senator) but Mitch doesn't focus on the power around these positions, but more on the ordinariness of family life, of tough choices that were not easy but were right, and on the pull of government service. We see the devastation of Katrina, and how local politics led the way to recovery. We also see the powerful argument to take down the statues, the fact-based argument that is hard to ignore. One of the most memorable sections to me was when Landrieu discusses the reason of being for government: to serve and aid its citizens, not to make a profit. Powerful stuff.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
After seeing this book on everyone's Must-Read lists in 2017, I am not sure why it took me so long to read this one. Perhaps the length? Perhaps I hate to follow the crowd? Regardless, I now understand the rave reviews; this is a beautiful piece of story-telling. Lee tells of a Korean family from the early 1900's, following their broken lives as they emigrate to Japan and attempt to build a life: the young woman who marries a man with a cleft palate; the daughter who is unmarried and pregnant; the missionary who searches for health and God in Osaka; the brother whose only goal is to care for his family; the sister-in-law who becomes an entrepreneur; the brothers who seeks two different paths. All the strands of this family come together under the roof of a Japanese society who treats the Korean as less than human, who denies them citizenship, status, and common decency. I was riveted by this story. Yes it is long (500 pages), but it reads quickly as the tale is so compelling.

The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes
I know, do we really need another political memoir of the Obama years? Is it only going to make me sad and depressed about an era that seemed normal in comparison to what the White House acts like now? Can it add anything to my knowledge base of the past decade? The answer is YES to all of these questions, but it also leaves one with hope for the future if intelligent, dedicated, thoughtful people can once again be in charge. Ben Rhodes was Barack Obama's closest advisor on national security, beginning from the time he ran for president as well as all eight years in office. Rhodes' memoir focuses merely on those years; his personal life is only mentioned as it impacts his professional life. So yes, this is truly a political memoir. I found it utterly fascinating as Rhodes only tells about what he was a part of, with no second hand stories told, only firsthand accounts. Benghazi, the financial meltdown, saving the auto industry, decisions on troop deployment, Osama Bin Ladin, the Russian hacking, you name it, it's in here if it is about national security. I listened to this book voraciously, as the behind-the-scenes look at what really happens on a grand scale is gripping.


Monday, July 16, 2018

July 2.0

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl
Having loved her previous book, Night Film, I was excited to pick up this new YA book by Pessl. And wow, it is a page turner, mixing a mystery of a young man's death along with time travel, or should I say time standing still? Here's the deal: five young adults back from their first year of college, still reeling from the death of their sixth member from their last year in boarding school, are all out carousing one night. On their drunken drive home, they have a scary incident with a tow truck and are run off the road. However, it is more than a 'close call;' it is a snag in time. These five are now stuck in this one day, over and over again, and the only way out is to vote on who should be the one who gets to live. Without consensus, this day replays endlessly so they decide to spend their eternal day trying to figure out how Jim died. Was it really suicide or something more sinister? Your mind will be blown.

The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham
If you want to be inspired that our country is not taking a one-way trip to hell, this is the book for you. Meacham explores the different periods in America's history where we had autocrats, demagogues, and conmen leading the way. Each time the goodness in humanity prevailed, whether through politicians who finally stood up for what is right or through the populace's voice demanding a different direction. It is a fascinating listen, though I will say Meacham is not the best narrator; I was thankful he only did the intro and conclusion. And seriously, you can skip the intro and just go straight to the first chapter - you won't miss a thing! This book gave me hope that we will survive the hateful policies and divisiveness that characterize today's politics in America...I wait patiently for the angels to appear.

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall
I am a bit torn by this book. On one hand, it is an interesting look back at New York City post WWII, as young women attempt to continue marching into the work force following WWII. In 1949, Charlotte wants a career before marriage, is attempting to complete a college degree, and is fighting to be chosen Miss Subways as part of an ad campaign that she believes could help save her father's business. At times, Charlotte is a feminist, and at other times she acquiesces to the rules of the day, making some statements about men and life which made me nauseous, but however made sense historically. However, the story of today (Olivia as an ad campaign exec, trying to win the business of the NYC subway system) is more problematic for me. She waffles between being a badass and being just a wimp; in love with her boss, it colors the story in a frustrating way for me, challenging her ability to be seen as competent employee and to deal with the blatant sexual harassment from another employee. An interesting read, but ultimately too predictable with a lack of characters I could truly cheer for and an abundance of cliched writing that just was not my style. Thanks to Net Galley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Believe Me by J.P. Delaney
Let me preface this review that I really loved the first book by Delaney, The Girl Before. I was excited to pick up the second but that faded quickly. Here's the short preview: British actress in NYC has immigration issues so chooses to work for police to try and entrap a serial killer into confessing. It is a completely implausible plot line - what police department in America, much less NYC, would ever use a psychologically damaged civilian to run a legitimate legal operation? Good grief, I've watched enough Law and Order to know better! Sorry, but this was just a laughable 'thriller.' I like my mysteries clever, twisty, and thought-provoking. Thanks to Net Galley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Double Life by Flynn Berry
This mystery kept me thinking and turning pages for the first half of the book; a young woman continuously searches for clues to her father's existence, the father who murdered her nanny and violently attacked her mother while both children were in the home. Claire is a well-educated doctor who loves her drug-addicted brother and seems to be mildly interested in helping her patients, yet she is obsessed with the idea of finding her father, the only sitting Lord accused of murder, who fled the country years ago. Unfortunately the plot line takes a turn towards the implausible and ridiculous side of things in the last half and at times the constant switching of time periods is hard to follow needing smoother segues. And honestly, the last twenty percent just seemed rushed, as if the author just didn't care about a thoughtful conclusion or was not sure how to wrap it up creatively yet thoughtfully - very disappointing. Thanks to Net Galley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
I read the rave reviews on this one and wondered what the heck I missed?! I did not find it deep, nor powerful, nor profound. I found it to be narcissistic, shallow, and ultimately quite boring. This story follows a year where a young white woman, privileged and entitled, chooses to spend a year in her NYC apartment popping enough pills to put her to sleep for 365 days. Within this year, we see echoes of her past with both parents dying while she is at Columbia University, a sad and pathetic job at an art gallery, hilarious conversations with a complete wackjob of a therapist who hands out drugs like candy, and a cruel and selfish so-called 'friendship' with another messed up young woman. I am sure I was supposed to feel sadness for the tragedies in their lives, but all I felt was contempt. I have read gorgeously sad fiction (we all remember Jude in A Little Life), and witnessed in real life many tragedies; I know what it is like to have my heart pummeled, to weep for the unfairness in life. I just attended a memorial service for a former student, cut down by cancer in the prime of his life; that is true tragedy, not this pathetic young woman's story. This was a total miss for me and a waste of three hours. Thanks to Net Galley for a preview copy in exchange for an honest review, and yes, I am always honest:)