Monday, May 23, 2016

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

image from LibraryThing
I liked Mare and the premise of this book - girl with no prospects becomes someone.

But, the Hunger Games vibe was incredibly strong - a little too strong in the beginning.

Mare is from the Stilts and she is a Red- meaning her red blood puts her in the serving class held down by the Silvers, the ruling class. She has a deep commitment to Kilorn, an orphan from Stilts and is committed to his welfare. And she is falling in love with two brothers who also happen to be princes- Cal and Maven. But the part that sent me a bit over the edge - she is an unwitting revolutionary- often operating without really knowing the bigger picture. Sound a little like Katniss?

The undercurrent of this book is making yourself someone when you have NO chances to be someone.  That is an appealing theme!  And one that many girls will identify with. There is also violence  - swords and war - which would appeal to boys. 

My overall feeling - it's an intriguing, fast read. And I want to pick up the next book.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Guilty by David Baldacci

Will Robie - the CIA operative with a heart.  He stands for right and justice. And he is one messed up dude!  His last job was more than he expected - a single shot took out a dictator in a foreign land and his daughter hidden behind him.  It messed him up just like Jason Bourne at his last assassination attempt.

So what is Robie to do?  The Blue Man sends him home to deal with his family problems - his father has been accused of murder.  In typical Baldacci fashion he begins to unfurl the murder mystery.

I was hooked - sort of.  This all felt more contrived than other Baldacci Robie books.  I am tired of him almost finding his way out of the dark of the CIA and being pulled back in.  This did it again.

I really didn't like the end of the book.  The pulled and broken father/son relationship is stretched and messed with throughout this book.  And then it is miraculously mended.  I don't really like that. It pushes the edges of Robie in a way that I don't appreciate.  And makes me even sadder when I think about it in relationship to friends with father issues  - neatly tied solutions just don't ring true!

So - did I like it?  It kept my interest and my focus on the beach in Mexico. But - i wouldn't recommend it.

Vacation Book #3

The Verdict by Nick Stone

My wonderful younger sister gave me a 3-month subscription to the Book Of The Month club - and this is the first installment from that club.  It was a great vacation reading book!!

Terry Flynt is a great everyman - the guy who is trying to improve his life after messing up at the bottom of a bottle of booze.  So to start over he is working as a law clerk in a pushy and semi-questionable law firm.

All that changes when his old best friend is accused of murder.  Now that sentence may make you think that he is also a down-on-his-look Londoner.  But - you would be wrong.  Instead, Vernon James is someone - REALLY someone! He is rich and powerful and a little shady and an accused murderer.

So - it seems like Terry Flynt is in the best place to defend his friend. Which would be true if they were still friends, which they aren't.

This is a cat and mouse game of lies and hidden agenda and Londoners and foreigners is intriguing and involved. I enjoyed all of it -didn't quite have it figured out - which always makes me happy!

Vacation Book #2
Book of the Month Book #1

The Martian by Andy Weir

image from librarything
I am not a fan of survivor stories.
I don't really need to know all the details of the heroic main character's stress and pain as they look for the one way to keep on living.
I also have an incredible case of claustrophobia - and space travel, ship travel, canoe travel, all of that just isn't something that I would voluntarily choose to do.
And I know that I wouldn't be able to exist in these stories - I would have given up long before the end of the story - so there wouldn't be a story - right!

All of that was going through my mind as I started to read this book club book.  I was ready to not really like the story.  I was also very wrong!

There is just the right amount of 'in your face' humor that made me really like Mark Watney -  mean really why would this guy even try to survive?  Why oh why?? He was stranded on a completely uninhabitable planet with no way to exist until rescue. And rescue was the only option. It wasn't like he was going to be able to create his own escape. Oh wait - he does.

I had decided I wasn't going to like this book - but I actually did.   What I didn't like was the callous view on life that NASA demonstrated - they were often much more concerned with their reputation and their future than with a single human life.   It felt often like the 'MACHINE' was much more important than a single man.  But that was balanced with the quirky nobodies who just did their job and solved the most impossible problems!

I enjoyed Watney and his ingenuity and humanity.  I liked the impossibility of this idea.  And I liked all the possibilities.

And the movie.  I really liked that. I watched it as we flew to Mexico and unfortunately the flight was shorter than the movie. So I saw it in pieces.  It was definitely worth it.  I was a little sad about the end of the movie. When Watney was getting closer to the Hermes - I didn't like the added problems. I just didn't think they were necessary. I did like the very end of the movie!  I liked to see the lives of the people continue on... that has always been a secret dream of mine - to see what happens to the characters of a book after the story ends. The movie allowed me a little glimpse.

Book 1 of my vacation reading.
January Book Club Book

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

image by LibraryThing
I LOVE coconut!  That drew me to this book.  My mom makes an amazing coconut cake and as I read I kept tasting it in my mouth.  And that flavor made me especially enjoy this book.

This is a love story times three.  There is the love story between chef Lou and Al the food critique.  Then there is another love story between each of these main characters and food.  Finally, there is the love story written to the city of Milwaukee, introducing us to the wonders of a nearby place.

I really enjoyed this book.  Yes, I sort of guessed the direction it would take early on.  But, that didn't really dim my enjoyment!  Instead, it made it more relaxing and comfortable - drawing me in like a wonderful soup or a creamy pastry.  Although I knew what to expect - there were some great surprises.  Like the elderly couple demonstrating what a second chance looks like, or the fashion writer who hides behind his homeless man looks or the calloused, jaded food critique who still had his grandmothers cast iron skilled hidden in his shelves.

More than anything this book made me want to cook - to really cook and enjoy the process as much as the product.  The description of the Thanksgiving meal really demonstrated that for me!

And I will admit - I was completely teared up at the end!!  Another great read!!

The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper

image from LibraryThing
I read this series years ago and decided I wanted to revisit it this fall.

Rod and I took an in-state vacation this summer - traveling over unknown roads in Iowa.  As we drove, this story came back to me.  What I remembered was the need to stay on the old ways - to remain on the roads that had been established long, long ago.  I thought about that as we drove down winding two-lane roads through NorthEast Iowa from one copse of trees to the next.

I want to be clear that these books are WAY more than that!  The premise of this series is the world contains good and evil - has since the very beginning.  And there are certain preordained times when the Light can take over for good. These books are the record of that final battle.

For me, this series was one of the first Good vs. Evil I met.  In true YA fashion the players in this battle are teenagers - three normal, average siblings, an old one (the 7th son of a 7th son) and the son of King Arthur who has been removed from his own time to keep him safe.  This group of five together with Merriman, their seasoned guide, face evil in different places and different times preparing for the final battle in the last book.

Rereading these after all these other recent YA dystopian books was interesting.  I don't know if I could entice my niece to read these - they are fairly dense - but, so rewarding!  Yes - you know who is going to win, but there is more to it than just that.  There isn't a romance or flashy techno toys - it is just the kids and the elements.  Instead there is a sense of a larger story - King Arthur's story woven through these books ties them in to a timeless story line.

I really liked these - again!!

Trans-sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

image from LibraryThing
This was the November book for our book club.

I have to admit I wasn't overly enthused by the topic of a trans-gender love affair - especially when one of the characters is an elementary teacher. As a former elementary teacher in a book club of elementary teachers my experience and understanding made me pre-judge this.

The premise - a lonely elementary teacher, Allie, falls in love with Dana. Sounds simple - but so not!  Dana is a college professor who has began the process of gender reassignment when he and Allie meet, she was a student in one of his classes.  As their love affair grows he nears the reassignment surgery deadline and a lot of decisions have to be made.

This story is told over the airwaves of a NPR public radio station managed by Allie's ex-husband and narrated by her daughter. Each of these secondary characters adds to the depth of this complicated story with their perspective.  The narrative moves between first person action and a retelling of the details.  It adds an interesting dimension.

What did I think?  As an elementary teacher I did not agree with all of the actions of Allie.  She made some ridiculous decisions as a teacher - allowing 6th graders to swim in a lake on a field trip only partially clad would never happen in my Iowa town!!  But, I did care for her. I felt the pain of her lost love - changed love  - confused love!  I don't know that it changed my feelings on the topic - but it did make me pause and consider. I think that is what a great book does - force us to face a part of life that we may not bump against very often.

We had a great discussion in book club.
And then following our meeting this happened...

I was so excited that @Chrisbohjalian tweeted me back!
I felt just like a little kid - a real author responded to me!

It reminded me again why I love technology and the immediacy of connection and the power of the words we put out there to the internet.  It also reminded me how much I love the printed word and the power of those words to remain current even 17 years after they were first published!

I am happy we read this book and I am happy for the discussion that followed.
Thanks Chris Bohjalian!