Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

I had not thought much about Janet Evanovich's other series of books, outside of Stephanie Plum. I needed a no-brainer read (this isn't an insult!) so I picked up The Heist from the library. This is the first book in the Fox and O'Hare series (see that clever name selection there??) and it was really pretty good.

Kate O'Hare is an ex-Navy SEAL and an FBI agent who has been tracking con artist Nick Fox for years. She finally catches him, by hitting him with a bus, and he ends up getting away. But wait! He doesn't actually get away.

He gets recruited by the FBI to help con cons and ferret out some of their most wanted criminals outside of the law....with Kate as his partner. EVERYTHING about this set up is terribly improbable. But it's terribly entertaining. Whereas Plum is inept and bungles her way out of problems, Kate is actually a damn good agent and lethal with just her hands and an eyebrow tweezer. She may spill food on her shirt all the time but even the best of us do. Nick is a too-good-at-this con artist and is naturally charming and handsome.

This is a complete suspend-belief-of-any-kind-but-at-least-the-woman-kicks-ass-and-saves-people- instead-of-needing-saving type of book.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

I know I've read this before but it apparently was before I started tracking books on Goodreads. I remember busting a gut to SantaLand Diaries but strangely.....not this time. Am I getting old?

Nah. I think I've now read enough of Sedaris' works, and listened to him tell stories, that I can tell when he was "fresh" and just starting out. Holidays on Ice is a collection of stories but they are not the Sedaris that I now know and love.

Santaland Diaries IS still a funny story about Sedaris becoming a Macy's elf for the holiday season. With all the hubbub about Black Santas, it's interesting to note that Sedaris was an elf for the black santa back in the day. Why the hubbub, bub?

Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!!! isn't very funny, despite all the exclamation points.

My favorite story, this go round, is Dinah, The Christmas Whore. I have no idea why but I laughed at this and really preferred it over Santaland Diaries.

Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol,  Based Upon a True Story, and Christmas Means Giving are the last three stories and


Try to find Santaland Diaries and Dinah, The Christmas Whore to read. That's all you need.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

This has been on my to-read list for a bit but just never made it to the top until this last week. I'll be honest, it made it to the top because it was very short (130+ pages or about 4 hours) and I wanted to hit my goal of 50 books for 2016. I'm not sorry I picked this book but I am sorry I listened to the audio and didn't linger over the writing. The audio from Librivox was just fine, don't get me wrong, but I think this book needed to be read and mulled over.

Apocalypse Now (the movie) was based on this book and I'll admit to being very curious to see it now. Marlow, our narrator, is on a ship going up the Congo River in Africa. He takes a job as a riverboat captain on his way to see Kurtz, a "remarkable, respected, intelligent" ivory trader in charge of the trading post. He's infamous and there is much legend and lore about him. Marlow encounters multiple setbacks on his journey, including having his steamboat sunk. While he waits out the repairs at Central Station, he notices "with horror" how the natives are treated. They are worked to death by the so-called civilized white people, abused and treated abhorrently. Yet, while talking to the white folks working for Central Station, it's a constant stream of how savage and horrible the natives are. This all sounds very familiar from an American standpoint too, eh?

Marlow finally gets his crew of pilgrims and cannibals and makes his way to Kurtz. Again, multiple problems seem to try and derail him, but he makes it there. Once there, for all his bluster about exterminating the "brutes" (the natives), Kurtz seems to be revered by them, seen as a god. He is very ill and is put into a cabin on the steamboat.  Kurtz tries to leave the boat and go back to his station and Marlow realizes how overcome with madness Kurtz really is.

I might put this on a re-read list. The writing was quite interesting and I discovered after Googling, that I missed some things through the audiobook that I might have caught while reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

A short little book that gives background on well, evil, and accomplices to evil. We all know Lord Voldemort is EVIL. If you pay attention you know Dolores Umbridge is also EVIL. But there's someone in here that I would not have ranked in this book but... yeah, he caused some problems.

We get some good background on Umbridge and there's not much that makes anyone pity her. Just evil evil woman. The Ministers of Magic history is pretty interesting and there are some names that are very familiar!

History on Azkaban, polyjuice potion, cauldrons and potions fills in some space but I was pretty interested in Horace Slughorn. He seemed...kindly but a bit inept in the book and movie. But I see now that he wasn't inept, he was quite smart, and he was terrible inclusive and snobbish. His need to have his ideal students love him led him to reveal to Tom Riddle (aka Voldy) how to create Horcruxes (and we all know where that leads).

Another great little book with extra information on our favorite wizarding world.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide by JK Rowling

I read this out of order, although I don't think it matters. This is technically book 3 of the trilogy of short books behind the scenes, so to speak.

Am I the only person who didn't realize Hogwarts was in Scotland?? How did I miss that?

This little book is a quick 79 pages of insight into Hogwarts and how JK Rowling came up with some of the things we all love. We learn more about the Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 3/4. Got some good info on the Sorting Hat and the 5 minute rule.

The castle itself was explored with the Hufflepuff Common Room, which we've never seen, and the Marauder's Map ("I solemnly swear I am up to no good"). Time travel is discussed via the Time-Turner as well as all the Castle residents - ghosts AND portraits!

Lastly, we get the secrets of the Castle. Very good background information!

I love these little books!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The strange thing about re-reading books you read in high school is how your age and (I assume) wisdom, changes how you view the book. I remember reading this and despising Phineas and Gene. I didn't know why I didn't like them, I was a dumb teenager, but I didn't like either of them.

After a re-read, I still do not like Gene but Finny has a pass. I realize, now, that the codependency of the two is what led me to not like either of them. I've never been a codependent person, never needed someone around all the time. I don't need to be a leader, I don't want to be a follower. Relationships like this have always irked me. But now I see that Finny became codependent out of necessity. Gene still sucked.

Set in a boy's school in New England, Gene and Finny are roommates and best friends. Finny's personality is outgoing, confident and incorrigible. Gene is meek, quiet and self-loathing. The leader-follower relationship is set. As Gene becomes more envious of Finny, he causes a deliberate accident that causes Finny to shatter his leg, thus ending his athletic dreams. Shitty move, Gene.

Finny eventually comes back to Devon, the same but crippled, and is forced to rely on Gene. Gene is still hating himself for what happened (which he should) and actively delves into daydreams and trying to become "Phineas" for Finny. Keep in mind that while this is all happening World War II is going on and each student at Devon is in danger of being drafted. The book never goes near the war, it just keeps it as a dark cloud over everyone and influence their decisions.

Just to keep the spoilers at bay, know that Finny and Gene's story gets more complicated with help from Brinker, another self-important student at Devon. Things do end badly and lessons don't entirely seem to get absorbed.

I couldn't remember anything about this book when I picked it up, except that I read it and it was set at a boy's school. Each page gave me deja vu and I realized it was there all along. I just didn't realize the plot I had in my mind was to A Separate Peace.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

A quick (about an hour) audiobook I found on my iPod. Gillian Flynn is known for Gone Girl and if you've read that, you might know what to expect with this.

This starts off with a ....bang

“I DIDN’T STOP giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it. "

A young woman, never named, works in the back room of a psychic giving handjobs but when carpel tunnel ruins that career she moves to the front of the shop to predict futures. Susan Burke, a mousy rich lady, walks in and needs help. Her stepson is crazy and she lives in a haunted house. Our con lady cum hooker is all to happy to help and see how much she can scam from Susan.

Being a Flynn story, I knew we'd be taking some hairpin turns. We did....actually, several of them. And I'm not entirely sure what road we ended up on. Great little novella!

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks

I've had this audiobook on my ipod for some time and decided that I would listen on my commute into work. It's hard to commute when there are tears in your eyes and an ache in your chest.

The audiobook is about 40 minutes long and covers four of Sacks' essays about his mortality. After he was diagnosed with cancer that had metastasized to his liver he began writing these essays.

Mercury is the first one and it's his reflection on turning 80. My Own Life is after learning he has cancer and his time is short.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

My Periodic Table is next and he contemplates turning 82 with knowing he will not see another birthday.

Auden used to say that one should always celebrate one’s birthday, no matter how one felt

Lastly is Sabbath and that is my favorite. He writes of growing up in England in an Orthodox Jewish community. How everyone stops working on the Sabbath and appreciates the people around them. He writes of turning away from the faith when his mother calls him an abomination for being gay. It was a moving piece.

“my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.” ― Oliver Sacks, Gratitude

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dust by Hugh Howey

I'm done!!!! And I'm so happy how this turned out! There are 3 books in the Silo series and it's taken me a bit of time to get through them all. The audiobook was over 12 hours long and I devoured it.

Jules was sent outside to clean (and die) in a previous book but she lived. She found another silo that had survivors and came back to her own determined to dig her way through to the other silo and help the folks there. Silos? Survivors?

Start here with Wool:

Then go here to Shift:

Caught up? Now to Dust.

Because most people in the silos do not believe there are other silos, they believe Jules is crazy and dangerous. Add in a religious "cult" and soon most people in the silo turn against Jules. Silo 1, the head silo with it's finger on the button, has 2 people: Charlotte and Donald who are awake and hiding and trying to save the poor suckers in the silos before the head of silo 1 terminates them all.

I think I just did a poor job explaining this, but it's worth the read. Howey does a fantastic job in creating this post-apocalyptic world and then pushing to set the characters free. Getting down to the last 20-30 minutes was torment. I was trying to drive home and cheer on my friends!


Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

I almost didn't read this one but I made myself. I never like reading or watching war stories and when I read this was based in Nazi Germany in a concentration camp, I didn't want to go there. But I did go there because as painful as it is to read about, I have to remember that people lived through this, people who are still alive now lived through this. And I don't I owe them to not let their horrific ordeal be forgotten?

I think this book is historical fiction - based in history but seen through the eyes of a fictional character. Rose Justice is a very young girl from Pennsylvania who wanted nothing more than to enter World War II as a pilot to help out. She ended up in London piloting planes around for the forces. She's not in the military. She's a civilian pilot. But even civilians, Americans to boot, are up for grabs if they land in the wrong place.

Rose ends up at Ravensbruck, a terrible and notorious women's concentration camp. The story here is told through Rose's writings, poems and in her journal as she tries to come to terms with what happened to her. She was held for 6 months before escaping and even the stories of those 6 months were horrible. A good deal of the story focuses on the Rabbits, young girls who were used as medical experiments by the Nazis, and how the other prisoners banded together to protect them.

Some portions were difficult to read but I had to remember that Rose is a young woman, a teenager when this all started. So her flights of fancy could be forgiven. She was incredibly lucky throughout her imprisonment. Somehow she always fell into the right hands and circumstances which is obviously not true for the millions of other prisoners. But her luck allowed Rose to tell her story. And with that, allowed the author to tell the story of Ravensbruck and the Rabbits.

I need to read more like this. We don't want history repeating itself.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Another recommendation from Books on the Nightstand and, while it was a good novel, I had trouble finishing it. But finish it I did.

Josie is a dentist, who has had to sell her practice to pay off a lawsuit. At the same time, her deadbeat boyfriend, Carl, with whom she has 2 kids, finally leaves after 8 years of never working and never spending time with the kids. In the beginning, I didn't feel like Josie was a person who made smart decisions.....

And she's off to Alaska with her children! In a rented, run-down RV! And no cell phone! With no idea where is she going or why she's doing it! In the midst of horrible wildfires happening in Alaska! All to avoid what she thinks is Carl's ploy to take the kids to show his future in-laws that he's an awesome dad. All of Josie's "decisions" seem like horrible leaps of thoughts that just don't connect.

The RV apparently is not a fun place to live so they end up breaking into B&B's and empty cabins along the way. When Josie contemplates, "Am I a bad mother?" I always answered her with "Yeah, you kinda suck".

I think Josie and her kids were meant to be whimsical and adventure loving people. That I was supposed to look past all the trials they endured and see what free spirits they ended up being. I couldn't, though, because all of Josie's reasons for running were not really based in reality. The trials they endured were brought on by Josie, not chance or fate.

Eggers is a great writer, however, so you can easily ride the story line. For me, though, I didn't like Josie enough, or respect her enough, to cheer her on.