Adult Book Reviews

In the Kingdom of Men
Barnes, Kim
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

My introduction to this book was through an NPR interview with the author. I really connected with the things she was saying about her life in general, though our early lives were nothing alike. Not only did I know that she would be a prolific writer, and she is- using lyrically beautiful phrases that have an almost heart-wrenching clarity, but her ability as a storyteller is almost unmatched by anything I've read lately.

'In the Kingdom of Men' is a fictional tale that, in some truth, describes the lives of Americans living in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s on the Aramco Oil Company compound, which really did exist. The compound is a 'Little America' of sorts, with everything (and more) that the wives and husbands could need while spending their lives in the desert. Virginia Mae McPhee and her husband Mason have escaped Oklahoma to a new kind of withering heat. Virginia, or Gin, is at first uncomfortable with the level of luxury she is now living in:
houseboys, gardeners, a private car to take them everywhere. Even then, it all comes at a price, and Gin soon finds herself wanting much more than the oppressive life she seems destined to lead. In the land of emirs and oil princes, women are even more invisible than they might have been in America.

There is something more to this story, and plenty of colorful characters, adventure, and action to keep the reader fascinated and fully engrossed in the education of Gin McPhee and land where sand meets sea.

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Un
Boo, Katherine
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

It has taken several days since finishing 'Behind the Beautiful Forevers' for me to put together what I might like to say about it to others. Before now I've basically just resorted to, "Yeah, you should really read this book."

But, yeah, you should really read this book. Even if you're not like me, and you DON'T try to pick at least ONE book about India every time you pile up your requisite stack from the library, you should still really read this book.

Narrative non-fiction books are some of my favorites, and Katherine Boo does an incredible job of telling a true story that reads like a novel. The action takes place in the slum of Annawadi, one of the many shantytowns or slums in the city of Mumbai, India. Mumbai has one of the highest concentrations of people in the world, and nearly 3/4 of the population lives in poverty. Poverty that is abject beyond anything you would see in the United States. No electricity or running water, and diseases that have long been extinct in other developed countries.

Boo has chosen to chronicle the stories and lives of a few of the slum's inhabitants, and it actually gives the reader a closer look at how a specific group of people have inserted themselves into the global market. In a place where so few have so much, and so many have so little, even trash is a commodity that is bought, sold, and traded. Many of the people of Annawadi scrape out a meager existence on the scraps of plastic and metal that are thrown away and discarded by others. I don't think I'll ever look at trash in the same way.

In summary, an excerpt from the advance praise on the book jacket aptly describes the book like this: "There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them. If we receive the fiery spirit from which it was written, it ought to change much more than that." ~Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

The Shipping News
Proulx, Annie
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Poor Quoyle. The quiet, miserable hulk of a man has lost his two-timing wife in an accident- leaving him with their two daughters to raise. Joining resources with an estranged aunt, he decides to make a new life in their ancestral homeland of Newfoundland. There, Quoyle and his timid girls find a home amongst the briny townspeople and rediscover what it is to love and be loved.

Slow, deliberate pace gives way to lush descriptions of landscape and characters. Nothing much really 'happens,' per se, but the daily lives and emotions of the characters keep the pages turning. I've heard this was made into a movie, but I can't imagine it could soar to the heights that the book does. Proulx is a master of prose and shapes a town, a landscape, and most importantly- a man- into shards we all find within ourselves.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
Seal, Mark
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Could. not. put. this. down! I literally read it in about 27 hours. I was amazed by the story itself and also by the fact that I don't remember anything about it when it happened (2008). You, too, will be transfixed by the web of lies and false persona this man has been able to weave. It's truly fascinating that he was able to get away with it for so long. If you get as interested as me, there are Youtube videos that show some of the interviews with him after all was said and done.

Book Review: The Road
McCarthy, Cormac
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Scary and haunting. There were times when I actually had to put this book down because I was so terrified by what had just happened or what I thought was going to. Cormac McCarthy can take a sparse, post-apocalyptic nothingness and turn it into a setting rich with emotion and detail. I find myself still thinking about this story; wondering, hoping...unable to let go of the images it leaves behind.

Snow White Must Die
Neuhaus, Nele
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Snow White Must Die is an excellent police procedural/mystery. It is by German author, Nele Neuhaus, but the translation is flawless. It doesn't read like a stiffly translated book. If this hadn't been the Manitou Library's book club selection, I probably wouldn't have read it since I don't care for translated books. Snow White Must Die is outstanding and I am looking forward to reading Neuhaus' other books. I don't want to give away the plot, so read it for yourself. It is in hardback and on Overdrive.

Gaiman, Neil
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Beautiful little story, full of fantastic imagery and good feelings.

It revolves around the journey of a young man in search of a fallen star for his love. He travels through the magical land of Faerie and encounters many wonderful, strange and malicious beings. A great book with a happy ending.

The Lover's Dictionary
Levithan, David
4 stars = Really Good

This book is set up as a series of dictionary entries that portray one couple's roller coaster of a love story. As such it follows no specific timeline and lets the reader try to piece it together one entry at a time.

There is at least one word for each letter and the corresponding "definitions" range from a few words to multiple pages making this book a quick read at only a little over 200 pages.

The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier
Davidson, Jim
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Absolutely amazing! This is not at all the type of book I usually read, but the author is going to be coming to speak at our library so I wanted to learn more about him. I could NOT put it down (even thought it was about 12:30 a.m.)! Will be highly recommending this book.

Book Review: Mud Season
Stimson, Ellen
1 star = Yuck!

I was really looking forward to this book, and it started off very well - there were quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. But toward the middle, the author seemed to start rambling. The stories jumped around and it was more of the author flitting around her memory for cute stories rather than one cohesive tale. It got to the point that I had to put the book down. Her habit of ending a paragraph with a telling "clue" of the next story became annoying as well.

Book Review: Life After Life
Atkinson, Kate
4 stars = Really Good

Wavering between three and four stars. While I appreciated the intricacy of Ursula's many lives (I kind of saw it as a Sliding Doors type of book), there were points when I was madly flipping back and forth trying to remember what happened the LAST time she died and who the myriad of characters were, which was frustrating and took me out of the story. I do think the writing was amazing, and read this much faster than I anticipated.
I agree with other reviews I have read in that I'm not sure how it should have ended, but the one it had was not as strong as the rest of the book. I may change the rating once I have the chance to digest this book a bit more!

Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Shaffer, Mary Ann
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

This was a wonderful book written by the characters in the form of letters to each other. The story line was engaging. Historical fiction that takes place shortly after the Nazi occupation of an island between England and France. It felt as if you had spent time with new friends at the end of the book. Charming!

Book Review: The Book Thief
Zusak, Markus
2 stars = Meh

This book was too long and the author tried too hard to make it deep and poetic. But I read the whole thing, so it wasn't bad. I liked hearing about Hitler's reign from a German non-Jew perspective. Death as a narrator was okay, I guess. I don't know, it just didn't really work for me. Also, although it's technically a teen book, I think it's more suited for adults.

Book Review: Keeping Hope Alive
Hawa Abdi
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I undertook Dr. Abdi's book with some trepidation. The glossy photos of her mugging with such celebrities as Katie Couric and one of my least favorite presidents made me doubt whether or not I could handle the political angle of the work. However, the book's straight forward style and charming asides soon won me over. It's a tale of a horrific slide into anarchy of once-promising country and the struggles of people who refuse to let go of their dream of what things could be, rather than the harsh realities they suddenly find crowding in on all sides. While shocks and tragedies to permeate the book, Dr. Abdi's consistency of spirit and her practical approach to medicine and everyday life leave the reader with a sense of what can be accomplished, not by believing in what everyone else is saying, but rather by believing that people have it in them to be great, no matter what evidence you are currently observing in their behavior.

Book Review: The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Adams, Douglas
4 stars = Really Good

I finished 3 of the 5 books. Books 1 and 2 were AWESOME, 5 stars for sure, but Book 3 got a bit convoluted. But I love Hitchhikers, especially the bizarre jokes that manifest themselves throughout the book. Great bits include the bovine animal at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe that tries to tempt Dent and friends with various parts of its body for dinner; Slartibartfast and his award-winning fjords; The planet that tricked its mid-level personnel to leave it for Earth; The fact that Earth is actually a giant computer made by mice to determine the Question to the Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Good stuff. Very, very funny.

Black Arts : A Jane Yellowrock Novel
Hunter, Faith
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Black Arts is the 7th book in the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter. Jane is a tall, native american skinwalker who began her career as a rogue vampire hunter, who got into the security business protecting high level vampire properties in Louisiana as a result of her expert skills. Those skills are greatly enhanced by her "Beast", the spirit of a puma she accidentally trapped when she was a child, turning into a symbiotic working relationship. Beast, by the way, provides excellent humor in her "voice", and terms for "stupid pack animals" and her direct impressions of how silly humans can be.

In this book, Jane is still trying to fit into working within a team, Yellowrock Securities, after working most of her life alone. In rapid succession Jane is asked to help her missing best friend, two "ladies of the night" from Katie's Ladies who have gone off and not returned, spearhead the security preparations for a high level vampire gathering while trying to keep herself together as her personal world crumbles around her.

Black Arts takes the reader on an edge-of-your-seat, roller coaster ride of tension and emotion so artfully done that at the end of the book the reader is literally stunned. I bought my copy, ask the library for one, you won't regret it.

Book Review: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
Fielding, Helen
4 stars = Really Good

Yay! I love Bridget. I can't help it. She has a special place in my heart. At times sad, at times frustrating, at times very funny, and completely full of heart, this book is the perfect homage to perhaps the most endearing heroine in chick lit.

Book Review: Still Foolin' 'Em
Crystal, Billy
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Listen to the audio version of this book. Billy Crystal reads it and it's awesome. He's got such a great attitude about his life and his gratefulness permeates the pages. Thumbs up!

Book Review: Peter Pan
Barrie, J.M.
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

From the moment Wendy realizes she'll grow up, to the very end when Peter stole Mrs. Darlings thimbles, this book was brilliant, sad, and filled with adventure. I loved that Tinker Bell was a a 'common' fairy and that Hook was more three dimensional and not an all evil figure. The narrative was beautiful, clever, and even a bit melancholy. Peter is the tragic figure here. But of course, he's fine and happy. I loved how Wendy's daughter and granddaughter played into the mix. Perhaps you stay young forever through your offspring.

Michael Hague illustrates this volume brilliantly.

Book Review: Doomed
Palahniuk, Chuck
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Doomed was the amazing sequel to Damned by Chuck Palahniuk. He, being one of my favorite authors, has yet to let me down, though I admittedly have always been skeptical of sequels. There was nothing disappointing about Doomed. It fulfilled all the same curiosities, gruesome details, excitement and dark humour that Damned had. The series is an account, written by a 13-year old girl as blog entries (Damned was written as letters to Satan).
Madison Spencer died and was sent to Hell to pay for her earthly crimes. It details her heroism and her mission to save the rest of the planet from going to Hell as she did. It's very imaginative, easy to read, and captivating.

Book Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redempt
Hillenbrand, Laura
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Wow. This book was gripping! The resilience involved with surviving as a POW in Japan was amazing to me. Louie Zamperini is one-of-a-kind. There was a dogfight towards the beginning of the book which ended the life of "Super Man" that was so astonishingly realistic I literally could not put down the book. Awesome. I highly recommend this book as a portrait of the World War II psyche.

Book Review: A Stolen Life
Dugard, Jaycee
4 stars = Really Good

Wow, this book was at times disturbing, perplexing, and heart-wrenching. It was interesting to hear about Jaycee's abduction from her point of view. I can see how it lasted 18 years as she was afraid of what would happen if she defied her abductor and as she wanted to protect her daughters. I couldn't help but feel for her mother, who must have been beside herself with worry. Jaycee is a very strong, brave, and resilient woman and I wish her the best.

Book Review: Little Girl Gone
Campbell, Drusilla
4 stars = Really Good

This was a well-written portrait of an abused woman and her dependence on her boyfriend. I never understood how women could stay in abusive relationships, but this book showed how the situation can happen and how a woman can feel trapped, even deserving of such treatment. I didn't want to like the protagonist, after all she's assisting her boyfriend in an abduction that results in the stealing of the captive's newborn child. But she was a sympathetic character that grows with her friendship with Django. All in all, this is a good book that makes you think about abuse from the abused point of view.

Book Review: Gone
White, Randy Wayne
1 star = Yuck!

Waste of paper.

Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
McCall Smith, Alexander
3 stars = Pretty Good

This was a good book. I enjoyed the adventures of Mma. Ramotswe. It was very insightful and funny and it was interesting to learn about Botswana and Africa in general. I'm not really a 'mystery' person, so that's mainly why it only got 3 stars.