Christine D. (christylisty) - , - Reviews

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The Air We Breathe
The Air We Breathe
Author: Andrea Barrett
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 13
Review Date: 10/11/2017


Andrea Barrett is quickly becoming my favorite living author. It would take most of us a lifetime to accumulate the history and vocabulary of one of her books. That she can write on so many historical topics -- from shipping to turn-of-the-century tuberculosis cure facilities in the Adirondacks -- is a tribute to her incredible research. Yet, her writing and character development are her crowning achievements. When I read her books, I am there. I am living the life of her characters and feeling their rebellions and heartaches. "The Air We Breathe" is a particularly compelling read as it pulls us through the care of patients and the poverty and incendiary politics of this era. I am stunned by the quality of Ms. Barrett's writing. May she live the longest of lives and continue writing books to be treasured.


Alias Grace
Alias Grace
Author: Margaret Atwood
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 249
Review Date: 2/6/2018


Margaret Atwood never ceases to amaze. She pumps out incredibly well-written books at an incredible rate and with nuance and variety. Alias Grace is based on an historic murder in the author's Canada in the 1800s. Not only is this a compelling mystery but it takes the reader right into those times. Every word is so carefully chosen for authenticity. I felt transported into the body of Grace and her bonnets. I lived in the prison chair where she carefully sewed dresses for the Governor's daughter while explaining her story to the alienist, our modern version of a psychiatrist. Thank you Margaret Atwood for sharing your gift with the world.


Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, Bk 1)
Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, Bk 1)
Author: Richard K. Morgan
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 55
Review Date: 7/30/2017


Richard Morgan's "Altered Carbon" is a action-powered trip into a future world where warrior Takeshi Kovacs's identity is pulled from one world into another and "sleeved" into a body with a history. His mission is to save himself and his girlfriend by figuring out why a man of power, who has body replacements, had one of his bodies murdered. Morgan takes the reader into a world of novel and brilliant futuristic concepts. His world is like being in a foreign country, one that leaves it to the reader to figure out over time what the technologies and terminologies he employs actually mean. Reading the book is like walking into a country with no understanding of its culture and language. It takes time to ultimately build a mental picture of what is happening in this book. Perhaps this was the author's purpose. I cannot tell. However, my singular criticism of this book is the author's writing style -- one that relies on short choppy sentences and minimal punctuation. It's almost as if his editor said the book was too long and he resolved the problem by the wholesale removal of words and punctuation. That said, the book did win the Philip K. Dick Award and was widely lauded. I think a great deal of praise has to go to the author's ability to imagine a world that captures fragments of today and whirls worth such a vivid tomorrow 300 years into the future.


Anansi Boys
Anansi Boys
Author: Neil Gaiman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 1/17/2018


Neil Gaiman is so much fun to read. This book is a great way to spend a few hours in the company of a master story-teller. I certainly wish I had his imagination and talent.


Black Water Rising (Jay Porter, Bk 1)
Black Water Rising (Jay Porter, Bk 1)
Author: Attica Locke
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 12/5/2017


"Black Water Rising" is a great mystery book with the added bonus of providing a great primer on some of the early history of radicalism in the Civil Rights Movement. It's a thriller conjoined with social commentary all told by a screenwriter. If it hasn't already been made into a film, I suspect it should be.


The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 490
Review Date: 6/3/2018


How can one woman be so versatile--write award-winning books across the fields of history, science fiction, comedy, Shakespearian classics, and so much more. Margaret Atwood is a writer who keeps amazing me, and this book has to be among her very best. From reading this book, I have to imagine that she grew up affluent, but when she write about poverty, I have to conclude she grew up poor. She must have lived a thousand lives. I am so lucky that she has touched mine.


Bliss
Bliss
Author: Peter Carey
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 10/15/2017


Sardonic humor isn't what I look for in a book. So, while Peter Carey's Bliss has received great reviews and is on a number of reading lists, reading it was a chore for me. The book is about an advertising executive who dies, is revived, and comes to believe he is living in hell. Complacency is replaced with greed, drive, and opportunities to push cancerous chemicals in the marketplace. Salvation is ultimately found in thick-skinned bare feet and the planting of trees in the jungle...and the love of a part-time prostitute and honey producer known as Honey Barbara.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
Review Date: 7/30/2017
Helpful Score: 2


If someone told me that I would rave about a non-fiction book on the topic of rowing, I would have totally dismissed their comment. At least that is the case before I read "The Boys in the Boat". Daniel Brown's book is a masterpiece of story telling that brings the history of the Great Depression and the life of an abandoned child, Joe Rantz, into exacting focus. By the book's end, it was as if Joe, his fellow oarsmen, his coach, and his boat-maker mentor were family. I felt, too, that I swallowed the topsoil that choked families during those dust bowl years and that I swung from ropes holding a jackhammer to build the Great Coulee Dam. It was fascinating, too, to gain insight into the 1936 Berlin Olympics and the role it played as a propaganda tool for Hitler. One of the great lessons of history is that we should carefully guard against authoritarians who foster a cult of personality. This was true then and now. I could not put this book down. It is one of those rare books that I know will always be a part of me.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 383
Review Date: 9/17/2017


This Pulitzer Price winner was about a family from the Dominican Republic and the curse that visited its wrath on each generation. It is also about all kinds of love -- for family, for friends, and the kind that looks death squarely in the eye simply for a moment of fulfillment. I loved this book even though I do not speak Spanish and could not fully appreciate everything it offers. Just understanding the English was enough to make this one of the best books I have read.


Coyote Blue
Coyote Blue
Author: Christopher Moore
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 168
Review Date: 6/28/2017


Coyote Blue, by Christopher Moore, was hilarious, irreverent, and absurd -- the kind of book we all need to put us off balance and bring out a smile. It is the story of an American Crow Indian who, fortunately or unfortunately, acquires the trickster, Coyote, as his Spirit Animal. Imagine a legendary trickster god discovering video games, Las Vegas, and other trappings of modern life, and it's easy to understand how everything can suddenly go both wrong and right. Thank you Christopher Moore for this fun-filled ride.


Crossing to Safety
Crossing to Safety
Author: Wallace Earle Stegner
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 93
Review Date: 7/12/2017


"Crossing to Safety" is a work of great distinction. It is the semi-autobiographical story of a lifelong friendship between two academic couples. When I sat down to read this Wallace Stegner masterpiece, I would not have thought that the the unadorned lives of two couples who were young during the Depression years would hold my interest as to dod. However, I began to feel that I knew these individuals as if they were a members of my own family. I understood why they held to each other and what drew them apart. I understood all these things while having the privilege of reading glorious literature. My only wish is that I had a stronger classical education so that I could grasp the full intellectual depth of everything Stegner had to write.


Cutting for Stone
Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 495
Review Date: 12/5/2017


"Cutting for Stone" is the often luminescent story of twin brothers born to a nun, who dies in childbirth, a medical prodigy father, who runs to another continent following their birth, and the East Indian couple that raises the twins in Ethiopia. The story is told with the reign of Haile Salassie as backdrop and precipitator of conflict in the lives of its characters. It is also the story of the development of practice of innovative medicine and how those innovations influences the lives of its characters. The book is written so beautifully that it demands that the reader spend time dwelling on phrases and passages. It is so chocked full of cultural, historic, and medical technology insights that this, too, requires contemplation and time for awe. This stand among my favorite books.


Dark at the Crossing: A novel
Dark at the Crossing: A novel
Author: Elliot Ackerman
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 2.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/17/2017


From the Jacket: Haris Abadi is a man in search of a cause. An Arab American with a conflicted past, he is now in Turkey, attempting to cross into Syria and join the fight against the regime. But he is robbed and taken in by Amir, a charismatic Syrian refugee and former revolutionary, and Amir's wife, Daphne, a sophisticated beauty haunted by grief and the unknown fate of a child she never found when her building in Aleppo exploded.

For me, the book revolves around Daphne's loss and Haris' guilt over unintentionally setting up a scenario that killed a mercenary for whom he was an interpreter. These emotions compel Daphne and Haris to cross into war-torn Syria.

Even though this novel won lots of accolades and was one of five National Book Award finalists in 2017, I kept drifting as I pushed myself to finish, even going to sleep at a couple of junctures. Yes, it has all the checkboxes that are supposed to make a good novel, but its characters were not ones that resonated with me. And while I like to learn about new places and cultures through books, the characters and locations seemed less than authentic -- perhaps too Westernized.


The Dark Forest (Three-Body Problem, Bk 2)
The Dark Forest (Three-Body Problem, Bk 2)
Author: Cixin Liu
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 1/8/2018


I love hard science fiction, so when I discovered Cixin Liu's trilogy, beginning with "The Three-Body Problem", I moved through multiple dimensions and galaxies for two weeks. It is amazing to find books in which most of the characters are physicists, living lives confronted with scientific challenges that threaten human as well as universal existence. It is even more amazing to see the technical paths they take to resolve these confrontations. This trilogy is so well imagined and presented that I feel that I have actually traveled into a fourth dimension, ridden a fusion-powered ship, and shared the threats to human civilization presented by the author.

What is even more stunning is that the author and translators present a story that while tailored to Chinese culture, appeals to any culture. This is what the very best science and literature does. Liu's Trilogy, which proceeds from "The Three-Body Problem" to "The Dark Forest" and to "Death's End", presents the darkness in cultures as well as the light; it imagines the structures of cities built in space, evolution toward the feminine and masculine, haunting axioms about the nature of trust in social structures, and the strengths of cynicism balanced against the ultimate need for nurturing.

As a woman, I find some male science fiction writers leaning almost exclusively toward a male perspective; and throughout this series, I was critical of the author for creating a series of weak, even destructive, female characters. I am so glad I resisted the temptation to stop reading. The author ultimately shows that the noblest characteristics in both sexes are what science and the universe requires.


Death's End
Death's End
Author: Cixin Liu
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 1/8/2018


I love hard science fiction, so when I discovered Cixin Liu's trilogy, beginning with "The Three-Body Problem", I moved through multiple dimensions and galaxies for two weeks. It is amazing to find books in which most of the characters are physicists, living lives confronted with scientific challenges that threaten human as well as universal existence. It is even more amazing to see the technical paths they take to resolve these confrontations. This trilogy is so well imagined and presented that I feel that I have actually traveled into a fourth dimension, ridden a fusion-powered ship, and shared the threats to human civilization presented by the author.

What is even more stunning is that the author and translators present a story that while tailored to Chinese culture, appeals to any culture. This is what the very best science and literature does. Liu's Trilogy, which proceeds from "The Three-Body Problem" to "The Dark Forest" and to "Death's End", presents the darkness in cultures as well as the light; it imagines the structures of cities built in space, evolution toward the feminine and masculine, haunting axioms about the nature of trust in social structures, and the strengths of cynicism balanced against the ultimate need for nurturing.

As a woman, I find some male science fiction writers leaning almost exclusively toward a male perspective; and throughout this series, I was critical of the author for creating a series of weak, even destructive, female characters. I am so glad I resisted the temptation to stop reading. The author ultimately shows that the noblest characteristics in both sexes are what science and the universe requires.


Downbelow Station (Company Wars, Bk 1)
Downbelow Station (Company Wars, Bk 1)
Author: C. J. Cherryh
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 17
Review Date: 9/20/2017


What a delight to find this older science fiction book that is a classic that I'd never read. I thought I'd read most of the really great science fiction authors. Down Below Station creates unique worlds with complex personalities, challenges, and technologies; yet, it adheres to the best in human narratives and story-telling. While the book is chock full of characters, it's still possible to understand what drives each one and be surprised as layers unfold. The plot would make an outstanding film. I'd love to see the special effects in this saga of interplanetary worlds, stations, merchant ships, and beneficent creatures.


Dragon's Egg
Dragon's Egg
Author: Robert L. Forward
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 8
Review Date: 10/4/2017


A daring adventure to study a neutron star finds an unlikely new lifeform. Cheelas are creatures that resemble amoebas and live 100 years within every human hour. So, within the timespan of the human exploration circling their star, the cheelas live for generations, initiating agriculture, fighting wars, giving the observation of the spacecraft religious significance, and much, much more. What is so incredible about this book is its basis in real scientific speculation by an author who is a astrophysicist, Robert Forward. The descriptions of gravitational forces and what it would take for lifeforms to survive is lifelike. This book is not only a story well told but an adventure in science.


Future Home of the Living God
Future Home of the Living God
Author: Louise Erdrich
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 2/6/2018


Louise Erdrich is a beautiful writer. I read this review after hearing a review asking if we needed another book about a dystopian future where women are rounded up to help breed the children of the future. The reviewer said, "Yes", if the writer is Louise Erdrich. And she was right. Erdrich's scenario of backward evolution is certainly original even though her plot isn't quite as tight as her contemporary Margaret Atwood. Yet, the poetry of her writing surpasses Atwood. Erdrich, as she matures, is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. It is also captivating that much of her story is in Minnesota, so I know exactly where her fictional characters live and meet. This is rich treasure of a book.


The History of Wolves
The History of Wolves
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 11/12/2017


Moments from this book linger in my mind as if they are my own memories -- the freckle on Patra's eyelid, the lake in the morning, a headache caused by the teeth on a stolen blue headband. The History of Wolves haunts me, and the sadness of its young protagonist makes my heart ache. What an incredible gift author Emily Fridlund has to pull outsiders directly into her paper and ink and the soul of her characters. Despite its darkness, I was so involved with the characters that I could not stop reading until I had finished this story set in the countryside of northern Minnesota. The beauty of the place is married to economic privation as well as the greater loss of meaningful family and friends. Yet, wealth ultimately exists in nature and its observation. And lest you think this book is purely observational, it is also an unfolding tragedy that plays itself out as a kind of mystery within the glorious fabric of Fridlund's writing. I hope we see many more novels from Ms. Fridlund. Thank you for touching me so profoundly.


In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Bk 6)
Review Date: 2/6/2018


I read this book when it first came out and recently received another copy as a gift. It is hard to believe these books, including the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, are written by a man. We should all be married to a guy like Alexander McCall Smith because he understands women perfectly. The books in this series leave an indelible picture of day-to-day life in Botswanna, the importance of drinking tea, and the mysteries of an often cheerful universe. This is a lovely read.


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