Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wives and Daughters

A novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. I read and enjoyed Gaskell's book North and South, so I thought I would enjoy this classic as well. I was wrong. The pace was slow, for one thing, and I just couldn't be enthusiastic about any of the characters. I can see the worth of the novel, but I finally had to abandon it. A rare thing for me. Perhaps it just wasn't the right time and if I pick it up again someday I'll be able to enjoy it. Perhaps not.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

What Happened That Night

A gripping novel by Sandra Block. Dahlia is a senior at Harvard, successful and pretty. Then, one night at a party, she is brutally attacked. Her memory of the assault is vague, and she is left with a cold rage. Five years later, she is tattooed as a survivor, working as a paralegal, depending on her gay best friend to get her through the pseudo-seizures that PTSD leaves. Then a video of the attack surfaces online; and her rage becomes white hot. With the help of James, the awkward IT guy, Dahlia vows revenge on her attackers.

The author describes depression accurately. She also is spot on in her description of a character with Asperger's Syndrome, and what he does to compensate for his differences. I saw the final twist coming, but I am intuitive and at one time made a steady diet of books such as this in my reading life. I still stayed up way too late to read this well-crafted novel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

A Lisbeth Salander novel by David Lagercrantz, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, translated by George Goulding. Lisbeth Salander has never before had access to the secrets of her traumatic childhood, until now. She enlists the help of Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of the investigative journal Millennium. Nothing will stop her from getting answers about her past; and plenty try. She aids a young woman to escape the brutality of her Islamist brothers; a prison gang leader puts a curse on her; her evil twin, Camilla, tries to chase her down; and there are people who will do anything to keep buried the pseudoscientific experiment known as the Registry. You hardly get a chance to catch your breath in this novel.

Code Talker

A fabulous memoir by Chester Nez, with Judith Schiess Avila. This is history at its best. Nez grew up in the Checkerboard region of the Navajo Reservation of New Mexico in the 1920's. He was given the name "Chester Nez" in kindergarten in boarding school and was forced to speak, read, and write in English although he didn't yet know the language. As a teenager, the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor spurred him to enlist in the Marines (Native Americans did not yet have the right to vote at that time).

During World War II, the Japanese had broken every code the Americans used. The Marines turned to the Navajo recruits to develop and implement a code based on their native language. They created the only unbreakable code in modern warfare and helped assure victory over Japan in the South Pacific. Chester Nez was one of those man who developed the code and used it in battle. This is his story.

The Good Son

Fiction by You-Jeong Jeong, translated by Chi-Young Kim. 25-year-old Yu-jin has an odd relationship with his mother. She must know where he is at all times, he must be home in their apartment in Seoul by 9:00 pm, he must take his medication. He simply assumes she worries he will have an epileptic seizure. One morning he wakes to the smell of blood and finds his mother's murdered body  at the bottom of the stairs. He feels he has had a seizure, and has only a vague memory of his mother calling his name. Was she calling for help? Or begging for her life?

The novel covers three days as Yu-jin struggles to recapture what happened that night, and to learn the truth about himself and his family. It's an incredibly bloody novel with a highly unreliable narrator.

Monday, July 9, 2018


Book one of the Incubation Trilogy by Laura DiSilverio, a young adult dystopian novel. Jax is a researcher at her Kube, trying to discover how to eradicate the locust swarms that plague Amerada. Until she finds out the Proctor of the Kube has been lying to her about her parents. Her best friend Halla has gotten pregnant, if she stays at the Kube her baby will be taken away. Wyck, the boy Jax likes, gets his papers to serve as a border sentry; he doesn't want to serve the Pragmatists in any way. So they run away from the Kube. They head first from Jacksonville to Atlanta to try to find Loudon, Halla's boyfriend, an IPF recruit (the Pragmatist's National Guard). They then plan to go to an outpost. But they come up against all sorts of trouble, eventually ending up in an organization known as Bulrush, an underground railroad for pregnant women to get away from the people who would take their babies.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

A short novel by Shirley Jackson. I found this book, though highly recommended, to be just ... weird. I didn't like it at all. It's narrated by Merricat Blackwood, a teenager, (though she comes across as younger, her emotional growth has been stunted). Merrckat, her sister Constance, and their disabled Uncle Julian live together in a large house. Merricat runs their errands in the village, where the villagers treat her with disdain. The rest of the Blackwood family has died through poisoning four years before. Connie had been tried and acquitted for their murders. One day Cousin Charles shows up, a mercenary soul who has heard the rumors that all the Blackwood money is kept in the house. He woos Connie, befriends Julian, threatens Merricat. A fire chases him away and shows the nature of the villagers. (Horrible, all of them.) Merricat and Connie salvage what they can and move into the kitchen, the only inhabitable room. It's an overview of obsession, greed, mob mentality, remorse (on the part of some of the villagers), but it's just weird.

In the Kingdom of Ice

The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides. I'd never heard of this particular polar expedition, which was apparently a big deal in it's day. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching his reporter, Stanley, to find Dr. Livingstone in Africa. (Never mind that Livingstone wasn't actually lost - he sold tons of papers!) Now Bennett wanted to recreate that sensation on an even grander scale. He funded an official U.S. Naval expedition to reach the North Pole, choosing as its leader a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland.

July 8, 1879, De Long and 32 men on the USS Jeanette set sail from San Francisco. North of the Bering Strait they were trapped in pack ice, where they remained for two years when the hull was breached, sinking the Jeanette to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The men found themselves marooned on the ice cap a thousand miles north of Siberia with three open boats and only the barest of supplies. Thus began their march across the frozen sea. Facing various hardships, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they struggled for the Siberian coast.

After the Crash

A mystery by Michael Bussi. December 23,1980, a night flight bound for Paris crashes in the Swiss Alps, killing all but one of the 169 passengers. The only survivor is a three-month-old girl thrown from the plane before fire consumed it. The problem? Two infants were on board. Is the "Miracle Child of Mont Terri" Emilie Vitral, whose grandparents sell snacks from a caravan on the beaches of northern France or is she Lyse-Rose de Carville, whose grandparents are in the oil business, wealthy, powerful, and dangerous.

18 years later, a private detective given the task of solving the mystery of the girl known as "Lylie" is on the verge of giving up and committing suicide when he sees a secret in plain view. Will he live to tell it? And Lylie, a lovely young university student, gives a secret notebook to Marc, the young man who loves her, and disappears. After Marc reads the notebook, he frantically searches for Lylie. But he is not the only one searching for her.

This one had a twist I didn't see coming at all. A thrilling read.

Under Rose-tainted Skies

A young adult novel by Louise Gornall; difficult to read at times. Norah is seventeen, smart, funny ... and afraid to leave her house. She has a number of fears and phobias; her mental health is so fragile that she stays indoors, communing with the world through windows and social media. Then Luke shows up on her doorstep. He sees her as smart, funny, and brave. He researches her mental illnesses. He becomes her friend. Their relationship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girlfriend, one at least not afraid of kissing! Can she let him go for his own good? Or can she see herself through his eyes?

Everything All at Once

A magical young adult offering by Katrina Leno. Lottie Reaves plays it safe to avoid getting hurt. Then her beloved Aunt Helen dies. Aunt Helen was the author of the Alvin Hatter series, about a brother and sister who discover the elixir of immortality. She was beloved to a generation of readers as well, who learned the magic of words through her writing. In her will, she leaves a series of letters for Lottie, designed to get her to take a leap. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret - the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie is faced with a choice and confronts her greatest fears, once and for all.

Gone with the Gin

Cocktails with a Hollywood Twist, by Tim Federle. A drinks cookbook to pair with the best films of all time. Includes movie-themed snacks and drinking games. If you don't like puns, you won't like this book!

Absent in the Spring

Written by Agatha Christie under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, this was not her usual fare of mystery, but general fiction. Joan Scudamore is traveling back to England after visiting her daughter in Baghdad, and the rains have caught her between trains on the Turkish border between trains. Stranded in the desert with nothing to do and nothing to read, Joan is left to simply reflect on her life, her family, and come to grips with some harsh realities about herself. I found this novel gripping, perhaps because of Christie's keen observations of people, and I found it ultimately disappointing, because of Joan's final decision.