Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guest Review by Lea Ann - The Road by Cormac McCarthy

*** Periodically, I will feature guest reviewers on this blog. This is the first and is a review of Cormac McCarthy's The Road by a dear friend and fellow book club member Lea Ann. The views expressed in this review are her own and as I have not read The Road, I accept them as true. ***

Book: The Road

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Grade: B +

Recommended To: Readers looking for a book that asks hard questions and gives no answers.

The Road is a critically acclaimed and Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. The story follows a father and son in a post-apocalyptic journey from the north to the south of what is presumably the United States, but it shouldn't be considered in the genres of science fiction or fantasy that tackle the same subject matter. There is no explanation as to how this world exactly came about, and the events in the novel do not take place directly after the apocalyptic event, but anywhere from 6-10 years later. The man and his son inhabit a world that is in the burning, burnt, or covered with ash. There are no plants, no animals and no sun.

It's haunting. But what beauty the scenery lacks is made up in McCarthy's mastery of language. "Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it." McCarthy's ability to conjure emotion from language is startling and it was easy to feel what the characters were feeling, even though the world we inhabit is so different from theirs.

What I liked about the book were the questions that were posed by the man, through whose eyes we see the world. One question asked was: "Query: how does the never to be differ from what never was?" The book continues to ask that of the reader while McCarthy gives pieces of information with which the reader can build an answer. Where does hope come from - if it comes at all? Yes the book is depressing, but I think it's important to ask these questions and to have novels that challenge our understanding of the human condition. It's a deep book of dark times - and sometimes I just had to put it down, take a deep breath, and be thankful for all the wonderful things I have in my own life.

What I thought McCarthy may have done better was made the novel a little more accessible in places. The style it is written in works for the story, but it's not always consistent. It's hard to figure out who is speaking, the man or the boy, as neither are named in the novel and their dialogue is often short and rapid. Other times McCarthy got a little carried away with his language that made whole paragraphs sound nice but the meaning of the words were somewhat lost.

I gave the book a B+ only because I know the bleakness of the story will make the material unapproachable for some. The horrible things people do to each other in this world, and in the world the man and the boy inhabit are sometimes too much to accept.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Book: The Reversal

Author: Michael Connelly

Grade: B -

Recommended To: Michael Connelly Fans

I have read a lot of Connelly's books and he writes about a series of three characters: Mickey Haller, Harry Bosch, and Jack McEvoy, a reporter. This is Connelly's third book about Mickey Haller, but the story also includes Harry Bosch's character and the FBI agent Rachel Walling who has made an appearance in several previous novels.

Without giving too much away, in this book, Haller, a well-known defense attorney is asked to be an independent prosecutor for a retrial of a previously convicted child-killer. Haller agrees to switch sides and most of the book centers around Haller's preparation for trial and the trial itself with brief sidebars for Bosch's investigation into the past of the defendant.

Here's what I like about this book:

Connelly hits the ebb and flow of a criminal courtroom right on the head. He doesn't draw out the cross examinations and he has a knack for describing the impatience of judges and the difficulty of persuading a jury. I also like how Connelly makes an effort to highlight the reasons why an attorney would choose a particular strategy for the case. This makes the story interesting and gives a novice legal readers some background on case strategy.

Further, I like these characters, they lead interesting lives and I feel like after reading several of Connelly's novels about both Haller and Bosch, that I really know them well and can guess what they are going to do next. I feel like the characters have depth and Connelly has worked to give them dimension instead of just writing them as a stereotypical cop and lawyer. Just a note, it is completely unnecessary to read Connelly's books in order. He writes distinct stories that merely feature the same characters. They are not a series and do not build upon one another.

Here's what I wish Connelly had done better:

I don't want to give away the ending, but Connelly needed about 50-100 more pages to really create some suspense and drama at the end of the book. The end is pretty shocking, but the most shocking events happen with only 30 pages to go! That's not nearly enough time to really give the reader closure. Plus, the book ends without answering all of the questions posed during the preceding 389 pages. I suppose Connelly might want this story line to continue and will be writing another book with the answers, but for me, I wish he had just wrapped it up.

Ultimately, I gave this book a B- because of the ending. I will definitely be reading Connelly again, but this book wasn't as good as The Brass Verdict or The Lincoln Lawyer which are his two previous books that feature Mickey Haller. If you haven't read Connelly, I suggest you start there.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Book Reviews To Come

Merry Christmas!

I hope your Christmas was merry, bright and book-filled because mine sure was. I got a whopping 23 books this Christmas. This was mostly due to the fact that I only asked for books and I sent detailed and different lists of which books I would like to my various family members.

Here are some of the reviews that you can look forward to in the coming months:

  • The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
  • Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • The Silent Man by Alex Berenson
  • The Story of My life by Clarence Darrow
  • The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  • The entire Clan of the Cave Bear series by Jean Auel
  • Worth Dying For by Lee Child
  • The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol
  • The Short Works of Leo Tolstoy
  • Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule
  • The Millionaires by Brad Meltzer
  • Full Dark No Stars by Stephen King
  • The Reversal by Michael Connelly
  • Star Island by Carl Hiaasen
  • Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I'm not even sure if this is all of them because I haven't unpacked all of my gifts yet. But this is a damn good start. The pile is so high, it reaches to the top of my couch! The hardest part isn't going to be finding a place for all of these books - it is going to be choosing which book to read FIRST!

Happy Reading! I know I'll be busy for the next 6 months!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Book: Holidays on Ice

Author: David Sedaris

Grade: B+

Recommended To: Anyone - it is a great time.

Holidays on Ice was my book club's pick for December. Let's be serious about what happens at book club - most of us read the book, we all get together for wine and food, and we gossip. Very little "discussion" actually happens about the book - but this is the perfect book for that situation. David Sedaris's book is a series of short stories about the holidays and he has included a few new stories from his other books in this new edition of Holidays on Ice.

Here's what I absolutely love about David Sedaris:

He has the ability to write about the most mundane and ordinary family events and make them sound exciting and extraordinary. For example, in one of my favorite stories he tells of how his neighbors arrive in costumes begging for candy on the wrong day. His mother answered the door and told her children to go get some of their own candy to give to the kids. Sedaris panics and immediately begins separating his candy into piles of "worth." The story ends with him cramming chocolate bars into his mouth to save them from the clutches of the neighbor kids - and I literally cannot do this story justice by retelling it. You MUST read it first hand for yourself and be prepared to wet your pants - just a little.

Some of the stories are repeats from his earlier books including the Halloween story above, but nonetheless, they are a rich collection of hilarious and poignant tales that could describe any family around the holidays.

I gave this book a B+, again because I reserve my A's for the best of the best, but I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of holiday cheer with a glass of wine and a great book.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nature Girl - Carl Hiaasen

Book: Nature Girl

Author: Carl Hiaasen

Grade: B+

Recommended To: Comedy fans.

I recently discovered Carl Hiaasen's novels even though he's been writing comedy for years. I remembered that I had read one of his books, Skinny Dip years ago and decided to try out more of his novels this year including Nature Girl. Hiaasen writes comedic fiction and his attention to the bizarre detail is excellent. His books are literally laugh-out-loud funny. Do you remember the last time you actually belly-laughed when reading a book? No? Well, pick up any Hiaasen book and prepared yourself for sore abs.

In Nature Girl, a single mother gets a phone call from a telemarketer during dinner and immediately begins hatching a plan for revenge. She begins her own eco-tour company and coerces the telemarketer and his mistress to Florida with promises of seeing the wild everglades by canoe. This one event spirals into a fascinating and fast-paced story where the many characters finally come together on a distant island in the everglades.

I like Hiaasen's novels because they are always set in Florida and they are always WILDLY environmental. There is always an underlying theme that the thousands of people moving to Florida for the beaches and the weather are actually destroying a precious natural resource can't be restored. Hiaasen's novels are also never disappointing in the sense that the "bad guys" are always distinct and they always get what they deserve. Sometimes, you just need a book where you aren't torn between which characters to enjoy and which characters to hate.

I also like Hiaasen's novels because the real comedy comes from his descriptions of the characters. He has this gift where he describes a character but takes it far beyond what is needed for an adequate mental picture. He adds these ridiculous and funny details that make the story perfect and never over blown.

I gave this novel a B+ mostly because I reserve my A's for really extraordinary things but I recommend Hiaasen to anyone who is looking for a fast, funny read, you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Book: The Corrections

Author: Jonathan Franzen

Grade: B

Recommended To: Anyone: you might like it!

The Corrections is the first book that I've read by Jonathan Franzen and it might be the last. I received this book on because his newest book Freedom had been getting a lot of press, but I'm 900th in line to get that book and I wanted to at least get a taste of his writing style.

This book follows a family of characters, a mother and father, and their three grown children on their quest for ... something ... happiness, perhaps, or at least peace with themselves and one another. The entire time I was reading this book it felt like background that all came before the story - but unfortunately, it WAS the story.

Franzen alternates his chapters between a narrative of the different lives of his characters and although I found some interesting (Chip and Denise), others (Enid and Gary) were just infuriating. I thought at times the behavior of the characters was unrealistic. Gary for example exhibited no redeeming qualities and in one of the more upsetting passages of the book nearly refused to help his aging parents install a shower stool and rod so his father could properly bathe. Upon reflection, it was probably Franzen's intention that the reader be astonished at Gary's behavior, but to me it made Gary's character feel flat, predictable and one-dimensional.

One of the problems I had with this book was the writing style. The novel takes place in various locations, but all of the characters either currently live or grew up in the Midwest. As a product of of a Midwestern childhood, I thought Franzen's language and word-choice was often overblown and instead of giving a note of realism to his novel, it instead pushed the reader further away.

Finally, the book merely ended. Many of the characters experienced no growth what-so-ever at the end of the novel and presumably just continued their sorry, joyless lives.

I gave this book a B because Franzen really does have descriptive talent. His ability to describe the anger, frustration and despair of his characters is astounding and it is that talent that has obviously launched him into the sphere of Great American Writers. I suppose that it is not his fault that I couldn't relate to the characters in his novel. After all, my book list would be incredibly short (and boring) if all authors wrote about people like me. Maybe I'll get up the courage to read Freedom but I can't promise that it is going to happen anytime soon.

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Ghost War by Alex Berenson

Book: The Ghost War (John Wells #2)

Author: Alex Berenson

Grade: C

Recommended To: Anyone who enjoys a quick action novel, but doesn't mind a lot of plot holes.

The Ghost War is Alex Berenson's second book and like many authors he has chosen to focus on one character and place that character in a different situation in each novel. That character is John Wells who is a Jack Bauer/ 24-esq type figure that can basically save America, no matter what. In this novel John Wells has to stop a imminent war between China and the United States.

Here's what I liked about the novel:

1. It is a fast read. Alex breaks up his novel with short paragraphs and large text which made the 539 pages of this paperback fly by. Further, if you don't really care about plot and just want something entertaining, then this is a great book. But, I found that the holes were too numerous and treacherous to allow me to enjoy this book.

Here's what I didn't like about the novel:

1. Compared to the first John Wells novel, this plot was extremely thin. Berenson spends 500 pages working up to a finale that is only about 50 pages long and then struggles in those last few pages to explain the first 3/4 of the book.

***Spoiler Alert***

The reason that China is in a struggle with the US is that one man, Li, wants to rule China all by himself. So, he orchestrates an incredibly complex plan involving Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea in order to provoke the US into attacking China. Honestly, WHAT? The whole "reason" presented behind this nonsense is that Li thinks he can do a better job of running China than the current guy in charge. I felt like I waited 450 pages to find out the excellent reason behind this "war" and then was totally disappointed as Berenson struggled to put some emphasis behind this completely ridiculous reason.

2. Berenson has obviously researched his novels, even though his plot line is inexcusably weak, and he likes to show off his knowledge by making the dialogue authentic. So, he uses a lot of military and CIA lingo that the average reader probably wouldn't know. Then, annoyingly, he explains what the lingo means even before allowing the character to finish the sentence. This results in a series of asides where the narrator is explaining a bunch of stuff to the reader that adds nothing to the book and just draws attention to the choppiness of the narrative. It. is. distracting.

Overall, I give this book a solid C. I think it was a marked step down from The Faithful Spy which was his first John Wells novel and merited at least a B grade. Look for that review in the coming weeks as I try to catch up on everything I've read this year!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

Book: Innocent Traitor

Author: Alison Weir

Grade: B+

Recommended To: Anyone who loves, or even just likes, Tudor period historical fiction.

Innocent Traitor was my 51st book of the year and it was excellent. I hadn't read anything by Alison Weir before and this book was a really great first read for this author. This book is about the Lady Jane Grey who was condemned to die at 16 for ascending the throne for 9 short days. Weir puts her own spin on the book, of course, and writes that Jane in fact did not want the throne but was forced to take the crown by her parents and the all powerful Northumberland after the death of King Edward. Unfortunately you find out early on - the first few pages - that Jane has been condemned to die for taking the throne over the rightful heir, the eventual Queen Mary.

This book was enchanting - I really loved the attention to detail that Weir put into this novel. Weir tells this story from many different points of view, including Lady Jane, her mother, Queen Mary, and Jane's childhood nurse. There are few if any male viewpoints and it is a very strongly dominated female cast of characters.

I especially liked the discussion of why it was so important in the 16th century to have the "right" monarch on the throne. If you haven't read much about the Tudor period and are interested in historical fiction then you should know that the religious battles are fascinating. Weir is essentially documenting the birth of Protestantism and I loved how she focused on the differences between Protestants and Catholics and how divisive some of those differences were in England in 1550.

In modern day, I think it is difficult for Americans to imagine that English citizens were forced to convert over and over again to either Catholicism or Protestantism merely on the whim on the monarch in power or else risk being burned for heresy. Weir does an excellent job of creating palpable tension in this novel over the religious fight. There was a real sense of danger about this book and was one of the more realistic historical fictions novels I've read in a while.

I gave this book a B+ because of its outstanding attention to detail and Weir's ability to craft a truly enlightening story of the life and extraordinarily short reign of Lady Jane Grey. This book certainly made me an Alison Weir convert and I recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in Tudor England.


Hi Everyone,

I started this new blog as a way to review and keep track of all of the books I read. As an attorney who is no longer forced into reading long and dry cases for law school, I have renewed my love of books. I've read over 50 books in 2010 and decided that starting a blog was the best way to share my love of the written word with the world.

Generally, I like to read spy, action novels and historical fiction (particularly books on Tudor England). But, I'll read almost anything, especially if it is recommended to me by a friend or if I get it as an ARC. I believe that one of the best gifts I can get is a book and I often find myself with stacks and stacks of books to choose from when I've finished reading my current selection.

I have no idea where this blog is going to take me, but in the unlikely event that there's a movie made about my blog or I become a famous - just remember that you saw it all here first. Further, I have my incredible book club to thank for supporting me and pledging (even before creation) to write guest book reviews for this blog. I intend to hold all of those ladies accountable for that promise!

Happy Reading!