December Books Read

Total Books Read: 4

Favorite Book: The Tale of Halcyon Crane

Least Favorite: The Secret River

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Faithful Place

— 4.5—

First, let me say, that this woman has me hooked!  What fantastic books she writes!  The Tana French novels (In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place) are spellbinding!  Exclamation points abound!  But it is really hard for me to put into words what makes these novels so much more captivating than your average police procedurals.  They are, just simply, hands above the rest.  French’s novels each stand alone; you don’t have to read the first in order to enjoy the next.  She takes a minor character from the novels before and makes them the protagonist.  The magic formula starts with a great setting.  All these occur in Ireland.  And a great time period.  While set in the present, all relate back to events in the 1980s.  So already this is unique in comparison to your typical New York City police story.  And as in the first two, Faithful Place begins with this same recipe.

Frank Mackey works undercover.  He was mentioned in The Likeness, and I didn’t remember much about him, but like I said, it doesn’t really matter.  Because by page 2 I was incredibly invested in his life.  I even remarked about this to my BF, because it caught me so off guard.  Here I was, two pages in, knowing nothing about the character and nothing had really even happened yet, but I was completely committed to this character.  But I digress.  Mackey works undercover, he is divorced, he has a fantastic young daughter, and comes from a mess of a family.  He is not in touch with his relatives, except one sister who keeps him semi-in-the-loop.  He hears from his family, who live in Faithful Place, when a suitcase belonging to his high school girlfriend is discovered.  Mackey had assumed she had run off without him.  This, of course, left him more damaged than he realizes.  Finding the suitcase makes him question his abandonment.  What really happened to his love, Rosie?

Mackey is too close to the case to be officially allowed to work it.  But he also too stubborn to let it go.  So he returns to Faithful place, to the neighborhood that has barely changed and the family he tried to escape.

French is superb at combining your typical who-done-it with the story of a dysfunctional family and a definitive time period in Ireland.  She transports you into the Mackey home, where you feel like one of the Mackey children sitting on the doorstep with your dysfunctional siblings.  And you mourn for Rosie, who’s true fate has been hidden for years.  I loved Frank Mackey, and the mystery itself is beautiful.  And when I closed the last page of the book I was so sad to leave the world of Faithful Place.  Anyone who hasn’t read Tana French must do so now!

4.5/5

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Bloodroot

—4.5—

Family sagas don’t get much more lyrical and expansive than Amy Greene’s remarkable Bloodroot.  The setting of this haunting story plays more than a minor role; the essence of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is vital to the life and outcomes of the characters.  The story weaves itself around Myra, a girl who is as much of the mountains as the rocks and the trees, and her home, Bloodroot Mountain.  We are told the intertwining stories of Myra’s grandmother, Byrdie, and the mountain magic she posses.  Then we learn of Myra’s mother’s fate, which leads into Myra’s herself.  Finally we follow the path of Myra’s twin children, Laura and Johnny, as they try to understand their mother and how the family’s story culminated in them.

The story is told by multiple narrators through the generations.  I first felt the story was slow and plodding; the first narrator was a young man who had been sweet on Myra when they were children and adolescents.  And after that was Birdie, the grandmother who must explain the history of the generations preceding Myra’s story.  This portion was necessary to set up the story that was to come, and so while slow to start it was important for the rest of the saga.

Myra as a character is enchanting, frustrating, maddening, awe-inspiring, brave, and cowardly at different times throughout the story.  It is what made her a truly realistic character instead of a stereotype.  And while Appalachian stories can fall into the trap of stereotype, this story presented both the beauty and the hardships of this section of America.  Better than the characters however, is Greene’s writing.  The landscape jumps off the page.  The reader can picture every ridge, every path, every home; can smell every tree and every town, and can hear every voice and every thought.  The descriptions are what make this exceptional storytelling, and even if the characters were half as interesting this would be a lovely story.  But because the characters are remarkable themselves, Bloodroot becomes more than that and is a wonderful American family saga.

4.5/5

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November Books Read

Total Books Read: 4

Favorite Book: The Woman in White

Least Favorite: The House at Midnight

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The Lost City of Z

—4—

I love good nonfiction.  Not everyone reads nonfiction, perhaps it makes people think of schoolwork, but great nonfiction is nothing like textbooks.  Nonfiction can be just as exciting, mind-bending, heartbreaking, romantic, and literary as fiction, if not more-so.  I am a big fan of nonfiction, especially nonfiction that deals with science, medicine, and exploration.  There are times in my life where nonfiction is difficult for me to read; it often takes a little more attention and focus during reading, but when I get in the mood it can be more exhilarating than any novel.

So there was my plug for people to try more nonfiction.  And for those looking for a good nonfiction to begin with, The Lost City of Z by David Grann is a nice starting point.

In 1925 Colonel Fawcett, a well-known British explorer, sets out to find the city of Z.  Z is thought to be a lost Amazon civilization, and Fawcett and his son think they have what it takes to find it.  They never return.  Since then, countless other hopefuls, from explorers to actors, have searched in vain for Z and for signs of Fawcett’s expedition.  The others had little luck in their quests as well.   Author Grann, a writer for The New Yorker, wants his turn at discovering Fawcett’s fate.  He heads to the deadly Amazon rainforest in search for clues.  Grann’s tale is interwoven with Fawcett’s, and as Grann explains Fawcett’s obsession and explorer psyche.

I have had some experience reading about arctic explorers and their journeys.  The Amazon is a whole different ball-game.  Swarming with insects, deadly diseases, dangerous native people, river rapids, extremes of heat and humidity, and little food to be had in a place you would expect to be lush, these explorers go through hell!  I love to read about the extremes people can persevere through.  My only complaint is the way the book wraps up at the end.  I can’t go into too much detail without spoilers, and I understand that nonfiction has to end how the real story ends, I just felt Grann could have presented it in a different way or wrapped up with more of a bang.

P.S. I hear the movie version is set for release in 2012 and Brad Pitt is attached to the project.

4/5

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

—4—

Amazon.com released its lists of the 100 best books of 2010, one list ranked by editors, the other by readers.  Here is the top 10 by the editors:

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  2. Faithful Place: A Novel by Tana French
  3. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
  4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
  5. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  6. Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
  7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
  8. To the End of the Land by David Grossman
  9. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  10. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

And #1 is… The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which was an Anderson Book Club pick this year!  So did I think it was the best book of the year?  Not necessarily, but I did really enjoy it.

Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly summary:

Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about faith, science, journalism, and grace. It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women—Skloot and Deborah Lacks—sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah’s mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line—known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta’s death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children.

Well, I like science and I like medicine.  And I am very interested in the history of medicine.  And this book didn’t disappoint.  Medicine has changed a lot since Henrietta died and her cells were harvested without her proper knowledge.  But in many ways medicine has not changed as well.  Informed consent is on the lips of every medical professional and administrator, but that doesn’t always translate to the patients.  This book impressively walks the line between the family who has been used and underestimated in their ability to understand Henrietta’s disease and legacy, and the medical establishment that was working within its (now outdated) regulations searching for a tool to advance research and better treatment.

Skloot does an excellent job in interviewing the family, and expressing the scientific concepts to the reader in laymen’s terms.  Personally, I would have enjoyed more of the science, but I think I would be a minority in that.  Skloot takes a topic that very few know about, namely Henrietta Lacks and her immortal HeLa cells, but has impacted almost all of our lives in some way, and makes it accessible, exciting, and intelligent.  Very good nonfiction.

4/5

Posted in Anderson Book Club, Best Sellers, Book Reviews, Nonfiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Magicians

—3.5—

First of all, November is the month of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS movie release.  Therefore, despite the fact that I hate cold whether, this becomes the BEST MONTH OF THE YEAR.  I am more excited about Harry Potter than I am about Christmas.  Now, you may ask what the heck this has to do with today’s book review.  Well, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has been described as the “post-adolescent Harry Potter” by Publisher’s Weekly.  AKA Sadie must read this.  Plus, I really enjoyed Codex, also by Mr. Grossman.  So in September 2009 I added it to my TBR list, and because this list is huge, I read it in September 2010.

Quentin Coldwater (cool name) is finishing high school.  He is rather gloomy and pensive.  He has fallen for his best friends girlfriend.  He is obsessed with a Narnia-esque children’s book series about a family of children and their adventures in the magical land of Fillory.  He is setting out for college interviews when he encounters a different kind of post-secondary education.  Brakebills Academy is a school of magic, and Quentin (“You’re a wizard Harry… I mean, um…Quentin”) becomes one of the top pupils.  Part of the book is spent with him and his fellow students learning spells and learning about each other.  The second half of the book is spent post-graduation.  These magicians are sent back out into the real world.  It is unclear to all of them what to do with their magic in normal society.  They fall into depression, drinking, and boredom.  But then they find a way into Fillory, and their lives get turned upside down.

So what did I think about this?  First, I have to say, this is no Harry Potter.  Okay, so these peoples got some magic.  But it just about ends there.  There is no “wizarding world” lurking in hidden parts of our own.  And, personally, I think J.K. Rowling’s greatest triumph is her detailed, comprehensive, fantastical while still utterly believable underworld of magic.  That being said, can another book ever really be HP?  No, I don’t think so.  So I don’t really fault Grossman or his book on this.  I fault the Publisher’s Weekly quote a little, perhaps, for being misleading.  But despite this, I think this is a pretty decent book HP or not.

This is not a children’s book.  There’s drinking and sex, and weird arcticfox sex, and geese, and lots of other adult things (I guess geese aren’t really “adult”, it was just weird).  So don’t give this to children for Christmas because they love Harry Potter.  But this is a pretty interesting book.  I liked that the characters were older; I suppose because I am older.  And despite not being magically-inclined, I was able to relate to the post-graduation stupor of wondering what-to-do-next with my hard earned knowledge.  This are smart kids, and flawed, which I liked.  And their Fillory venture was rather exciting.

I was weighted down in the middle of the novel.  There were many times, actually, where I felt the pacing was off.  Some portions were brushed past too quickly and not fully flushed out, while other parts became repetitive.  Also, as I mentioned, some weird stuff happens, for example the geese (trust me).   But overall, it was pretty entertaining.  It basically boils down to a coming-of-age novel, it just happens to involve a little magic.

Oh, and apparently this is the first in what is to be a series.

3.5/5

Posted in Best Sellers, Book Reviews, General Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

October Books Read

Total Books Read: 2 (sad)

Favorite Book: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Least Favorite: American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps (but only because there were only 2 books this month, this was also great!)

 

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American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

—4—

Halloween is my favorite holiday to read for.  Granted, there are not that many other holidays that lend themselves to seasonal stories, except Christmas.  But who wants heartwarming Christmas stories when you can read blood-curdling Halloween stories?!  For reals.

I have finished the 600+ page collection of short stories American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps edited by Peter Straub.  Now, it is very difficult to review a collection of short stories, because, well, some were awesome and some were less than awesome.  That being said, this is a pretty comprehensive collection of horror from some pretty famous American authors.  They are arranged chronologically, and the first was published in 1895, and the last in 1939.  The second book in this anthology picks up from this date.  It is American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940’s until Now, which I plan to read for next Halloween.  But for now you will have to do with the oldies.

This anthology includes an impressive array of authors:

Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Kate Chopin, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Now I know what you’re thinking (well, probably not, but it is a good transition for what I want to say next).  “It is two days before All Hallows Eve and you have given a review of a 600+ page book!  That is useless; I want to read something scary now!”  This is a great anthology; and this collection would be excellent to own for any horror aficionado.  But another great thing is that due to their publishing dates, many of these stories are in the public domain, which = free to all readers!

So here are my favorite of the scary stories, with a link to archive.org, a great site to read or listen to many classics.  Most are in compilations with other stories, but you can find them by title within.  Enjoy being spooked!

The Adventure of the German Student (or The Lady with the Velvet Collar) by Washington Irving.  Set in France during the reign of the guillotine, this story reminded me of one I was terrified of as a child, in the book In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. Bravo, Mr. Irving.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman- I’ve read this one before, but it is still as haunting as ever.  This is not a true horror story in the “ghosts and ghouls” sense, but instead as a look into the darkness of the psyche.  This was written in response to the 19th century attitude towards women’s mental health.

Luella Miller by Mary Wilkins Freeman- a story set in a country village about a woman who sucks the life, literally, from all who care for her.

For the Blood is the Life by F. Marion Crawford- I really loved this one.  A Demon?  A Vampire?  Evil for sure.  CREEPY.

Afterward by Edith Wharton- This short story manages to be both beautiful and scary.  It is the story of a husband and a wife, living happily in the countryside in an old mansion.  The husband goes missing mysteriously, and his wife slowly learns the terrifying truth of his disappearance.

The only one I wasn’t able to finish was the Henry James story The Jolly Corner.  And not because it was too scary, but because it was too dull.  Which disappointed me, because I so look forward to reading the Turn of the Screw.   The other reason I gave this collection a 4/5 and not more is simply because short stories are not my cup of tea.  But that is really not their fault, is it.

Happy Halloween!

4/5

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My 3rd HOP

Book Blogger Hop

And now for my third foray into The Book Blogger Hop!  This is a weekly meme hosted by Crazy-For-Books that allows book lovers to discover new book blogs to love and cherish forever.  So welcome fellow hoppers!

The question for the week is:

“What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?”

First and foremost I would love to have a giant bookshelf that covers an entire wall, and of course a giant wall for this to happen.  I would also love a chaise lounge to put next to the giant shelf in order to read in comfort.  Maybe add a fireplace, and a comfy blanket… man I’d be set for the winter!

Thanks for visiting!

 

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