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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.
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.
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.
BlissAuthor: Book Type: Paperback2
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.
Review Date: 7/30/2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review Date: 6/24/2017
The Invention of Wings is by Sue Monk Kidd, the author of the best-selling book, The Secret Life of Bees. It is the story of two Charleston, S.C., sisters and the young slave girl that was given to one of the sisters wrapped up with ribbons for her eleventh birthday. I find it difficult to read about topics such as slavery and the holocaust because I find it difficult to hold on to hope and the promise of something better when immersed in these topics. Yet, this book of historical fiction provided a glimpse of how everyday people can rise to greatness in refusing to accept slavery then and continued racism and sexism today. This beautifully written book gave me hope that we can all rise to build a world that values each person and respects the creativity that each of us brings to life.
Review Date: 7/16/2017
I don't know how I missed this book when I was younger or how Ursula Le Guin had so much insight in 1969 into issues that have become so very poignant today, such as sexual identity and climate change. "The Left Hand of Darkness" is an exquisite work of imagination, philosophy, and science. It is the kind of work that could only flow from someone, such as Le Guin, whose father was an anthropologist and whose mother was a writer. It is the story of an envoy from 80 unique worlds who comes alone to see if a world on the cusp of something new --very likely, a war -- has an interest in taking a more enlightened path. The inhabitants of this world are vividly imagined as having the capacity to become male or female, providing a whole new backdrop for the examination of sexual stereotypes, morality, and friendship. This work of science fiction is worthy of the many awards it has received.
Review Date: 9/28/2017
Neil Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer, and while "Neverwhere" might fall in the genre of young adult fantasy, it is with guilt that I admit I enjoyed every minute of it. I've read two other books since this, yet his characters linger as does the alternate world he created in the London underground and subway system. There was never a moment when I was bored or wanted to put this book down. Given that I'm many decades older than Gaiman, this is a testament to his writing skill and his ability to create an entire world from pure imagination. Loved it. Love this writer.
Review Date: 11/12/2017
"The Poisonwood Bible" is a classic that I simply didn't get around to reading when it came out. It is the story of a white missionary family led by a fanatical father intent on imposing his religion and culture on pagans. More than that, it is the story of three girls and their mother, who recognize the dangers, evil, and hypocrisy of this man but struggle with familial inertia until all is broken and lost. I may never be able to go to Africa, but by reading this book, I feel that the people of this village are my neighbors.
Review Date: 6/13/2017
The Sense of an Ending is about the harsh passions of youth and the fog of memory with age. It describes like no other book I have ever read how our memories become wisps of detail, some meaningful and some merely sensory impressions. I read the book in a single sitting, aching, like its protagonist, to resolve the misidentified clues to his life. This book is also profoundly sad. Many people of a certain age will identify with the protagonist's dissatisfaction with having lived an average life. While those who are older will identify with Julian Barnes' masterpiece, it is a book that every young person should read to better understand anger, passions, loss, redemption, and what lies ahead. This book won the Man Booker Prize for very good reasons: beautiful writing, a deep understanding of human nature, and philosophical prowess. It will resonate with readers, philosophers, Dvorak lovers, and those who remember the Moody Blues.
Review Date: 9/28/2017
Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods" gets terrific reviews, but unfortunately I cannot join the throngs who enjoy his books. At the beginning of the book, I found his satire humorous, but I struggled to keep reading as everything under the Sun, and including, the Sun, was satirized. Even as I neared the end, I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so underwhelmed with plot and overwhelmed with satire. My husband, who is a big fan, told me in advance there is something amiss with Pratchett, and after reading this book, I whole-heartedly agree. The book was just too much -- too much satire, too many characters, too much details; and too little in the way of character development, measured chapters (the whole book is one chapter), reader explanation, and reader empathy. For me, it was just imagination let loose to run amuck.
Review Date: 10/7/2017
This Booker Prize winner is truly a great tale of early Australia and the poverty that leads people into crime. It is replete with horse thievery, highway banditry, and motherly love. Still, it is the first Booker Prize selection that I could not read to its completion -- perhaps because I am American, and not British. The author's use of anachronistic language and the phrasing of this time period renders the book simultaneously a masterpiece and incredibly difficult to follow. It requires the reader to keep reading without trying to understand content, trusting that everything will ultimately make sense. It also requires reading without interruption or delays. I was three-quarters of the way through the book when it came time to take a week off. I didn't want to bring the book on vacation, and after vacation I knew I would be totally lost if I tried to pick it up once again. So, it's one of a handful of books I've failed to complete during my life.
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