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33 quick book reviews

Feb 26 2015

Since the 1st of the year, I’ve read a lot – something in the neighborhood of a book a day. Most of these came either from Oyster or the Yuma Public Library. (I used to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, but I like the browsing on Oyster better.) So last week or thereabouts, I got the idea to share some of these, because some of them were so wonderful. My memory is less than perfect, so with the aid of the handy-dandy list Oyster provides I was able to recall the books I read there. Not so much with the library books, as they don’t provide a list like that, but there were a few that stood out in some way.

Book reviews are not my favorite things to write. These will not be long, considered treatises on the pros and cons of a book; rather they are short impressions of my reactions to the works. You may not agree with my opinions! You are welcome to post your opposing review in the comments section.

So let’s get started, shall we?

 

 

 

Fiction

 

BEAUTIFUL YOU - CHUCK PALAHNIUK

Improbable and a little icky at times, but pure escapism!

THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS - MICHEL FABER

Great if you like books with no ending. I was glad I hadn't paid full price for 7/8 of a book.

A SUDDEN LIGHT - GARTH STEIN

I was disappointed. Too many plot threads left unresolved.

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS - ANDREW SEAN GREER

It's a time travel romance, but I quickly became so confused by who was who, doing what in what time, I had to give it up before the end of the first chapter.

BEAUTIFUL RUINS - JESS WALTER

An entertaining love story across several decades with some plot twists to keep it from ever getting boring. The beginning is set around the filming in Rome of the Burton-Taylor film Cleopatra in the early ‘60s.

THE BELIEVERS - ZOE HELLER

The daughter of lifelong activists loses her socialist religion after four years in Cuba, returns to New York and begins to explore Orthodox Judaism. The author has taken a lot of flak for this realistic portrayal of the lives of social justice warriors, mostly because a couple of the characters are truly despicable human beings. Worth a read no matter where your politics lie. One small annoyance – though the book is set in New York City, it didn’t seem to occur to the author to have her characters speak American English.

TO HELEN BACK - SUSAN MCBRIDE

Very little makes sense in this Illinois town that holds New England style town hall meetings, and everyone talks and acts like it's 1962. One of a series of murder mysteries, but I could not make myself care whodunit.

STILL ALICE - LISA GENOVA

I haven't seen the movie, but the book is well worth your time. It's a pretty accurate fictionalized account of a woman's experience with early-onset Alzheimer's. I could be wrong, but I don't think the disease progresses as fast as depicted in the book.

THE FEVER - MEGAN ABBOTT

A mysterious illness strikes a small town high school. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but I was pleasantly surprised.

FLIGHT BEHAVIOR - BARBARA KINGSOLVER

I still haven't forgiven her for the nasty things she's said about Arizona farmers, but I figured I'd give this one a shot, b/c I used to love her books. Had I known it was going to be science fiction I might've enjoyed it more.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS - M.L. STEDMAN

A powerful and heartbreaking story, with enough technical information and background on the life of a lighthouse keeper to prevent it being just another novel. I enjoyed this so much I bought a paperback for my daughter-in-law, who loves lighthouses.

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY - GABRIELLE ZEVIN

This was the first book I read after falling and breaking my ankle on New Year's. I was glad to have found a good one! Upbeat and positive.

THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN - KATE MORTON

I was glued to this one from start to finish. It's a story of a little English girl abandoned on a ship bound for Australia just before World War 1. Some of the biggest questions aren't answered until practically the last page. Block out some time to read this -- you won't regret it!

A WELL-TEMPERED HEART - JAN-PHILIPP SENDKER

I had a hard time remembering this one. It was improbable, but OK.

THE ENGLISH GIRL - DANIEL SILVA; MOMENT OF TRUTH - LISA SCOTTOLINE; LADY KILLER - LISA  SCOTTOLINE

I lumped these together because they were all a relief to read. I found these right after a series of books that were loaded with typos and mistakes; to the point I wondered how they were ever published in the first place. I was so glad to read some books that were professionally written and edited; where the authors had clearly done their research and cared about their readers.

THE CROWN & THE CHALICE - NANCY BILYEAU

These are the first two books in a trilogy on Tudor England. They were delightful, and really told a good story of the time. I anxiously await book three.

OUTLANDER – DIANA GABALDON

I hesitated to read this as I’d read, or tried to read one or two of this author’s works several years ago. I got on the library’s hold list on a whim, and though it took three months to get it, I was glad I did. I’m now in line for the second book in the series, and hope I can find the rest of them on Oyster.

LOIS LOWRY – THE GIVER; GATHERING BLUE; MESSENGER; SON

A quartet of Young Adult novellas focused on a post-apocalyptic theme.  Like others of this genre, (Hunger Games, Divergent) the series does not come to any overarching conclusion, which is a real disappointment after reading all those books!

 

NON-FICTION: Biographies, Memoirs, General non-fiction

 

WHEN WE WERE THE KENNEDYS - MONICA WOOD

A memoir that provides a clear picture of life in the early '60s. I was glad to have read it. Almost everybody in Mexico, Maine, works in the big paper mill. When the dad of a young family dies of a heart attack while getting into his first-ever new car, his wife and four girls are left to manage without him. They aren't destitute, due to Social Security and savings that had been meant for a new house, but the family is never the same.

 

THE GLASS CASTLE - JEANNETTE WALLS

On the other side of the country, a family in the Southwest lives hand-to-mouth with parents who are irresponsible and emotionally damaged. Though the dad is a mining engineer, he only works sporadically due to alcoholism and paranoia. Their neurotic mother can't be bothered to care for the four children, leaving them to their own devices much of the time. In between short-term jobs, the parents rely on fraud and other crime to survive. Eventually the family lands in the hills of West Virginia living in a cabin without water, plumbing or electricity. Somehow the kids manage to overcome all this and go on to better lives.

 

NOTHING DAUNTED - DOROTHY WICKENDEN

Two privileged girls from Auburn, New York head out to Colorado to teach school in 1916. A (mostly) well-written slice of history. The writer has a tendency to veer off topic, but it's not hard to skip over the immaterial bits if you're more interested in the experiences of the teachers.

 

FOOD A LOVE STORY - JIM GAFFIGAN

The joke in this book by comedian Jim Gaffigan gets old fast.

 

JOHN LENNON: THE LIFE - PHILIP NORMAN

If you like biographies, you'll like this one. Some surprisingly new material here.

 

NEW SLOW CITY - WILLIAM POWERS

Oh, puhleeze! A New York writer yearns for the simple life and attempts it in the West Village. The tedium was unbelievable as this guy pursued his own self-admiration.

 

WISHFUL DRINKING - CARRIE FISHER

It was OK. Decades-old Hollywood gossip, but a good portion of it was new to me.

 

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE - MICHAEL GREENBERG

It's a memoir of surprising honesty as the author documents the terrible bipolar episodes of his 15-year-old daughter. It's not hard to have a lot of respect for this family as they do their best to cope.

 

ENTER THE DARK NET: THE INTERNET’S GREATEST SECRET - CONRAD JAEGER

WTF? Mostly a list of links with very little commentary or explanation.

 

ENSLAVED BY DUCKS - BOB TARTE

If you aren't an animal lover you won't get this one. I found it sort of charming.

 

IF WALLS COULD TALK; an intimate history of the home - LUCY WORSLEY

British historian Lucy Worsley delivers an entertaining account of the evolution of kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms over the centuries. Even if you're not a history buff, it's worthwhile and never boring.

 

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS - DAVE EGGERS

I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time. Still, reading from the perspective of a grandma I felt sorry for these kids muddling through with no adult to provide support or assistance. Hope things worked out OK for them.

 

KATHERINE LOSSE - THE BOY KINGS: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network

A memoir from one of the first women to work at Facebook. It's worthwhile from a historical perspective, but I had a hard time getting past the constant scorekeeping & whining about sexism. Likewise, I could not feel sorry for her pleading poverty as she shopped at Nordstrom's, where the prices at even their bargain outlet are no real bargain. She also had a rent subsidy and meals provided at work. After all, she chose to work at Facebook.

 

SO, ANYWAY - JOHN CLEESE

This was mystifying. Supposedly an autobiography but he left out most of the details of his personal life, and was apparently unaware of the 60s happening while he pursued his career. Some insight on techniques of comedy writing if you're interested.

 

Hope you liked the reviews! Right now indications are that I’ll be stuck at home another 2-3 weeks, so maybe I’ll take a crack at the books I’ve got on my Kindle. Most of those are indie-published and/or nonfiction.

 

 

 

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Meet Trudy

Trudy W. Schuett chairs the Regional Council on Aging for Arizona's Region IV, which includes Yuma, La Paz, and Mohave counties. She is also a member of the Governor's Advisory Council on Aging, and sits on the Board of Directors of Arizona Humanities. She lives in Yuma, but this year spent the summer in Glendale helping out with the grandkids. Carley and Tori are now in third and fourth grade.

Meanwhile back in Yuma, her husband Paul is watching the calendar. In November 2015 he retires from Marine Corps Community Services, where he's been teaching Marines how to fix their cars since 2000.

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