Saturday, January 29, 2011
Book: The Monster of Florence
Author: Douglas Preston
Recommended To: Non-Fiction Fans, True Crime Fans.
This is an amazing account of a serial killer roaming the hills of Florence and the botched investigation into the murders. Starting in the late 1960s, young Italian couples were being murdered after parking their cars in secluded places to have sex. No one knew when or why the murderer would strike, only that the man would be shot immediately with a .22 caliber pistol and the woman would be dragged out of the car, shot, and mutilated to provide the killer with a "trophy." (Thomas Harris based the character Hannibal Lecter loosely on these murders.)
This book follows the career of Mario Spezi, a journalist, who reported on the murders and covered the subsequent investigations and trials in Florence and Douglas Preston, an American author, who moves his family Italy and unknowingly rents a house near one of the murder scenes. Preston meets Spezi and quickly becomes fascinated with the story. They decide to start their own investigation using the extensive files Spezi kept through the course of his career and come to their own conclusion about the identity of the murderer. Unfortunately for them, their theory contradicts the official version of events, and puts both Preston and Spezi in danger. Preston is questioned as an accessory to murder, and Spezi is accused of being the Monster himself!
This book gets an A-. It includes a lot of background information on the Italian criminal justice system; how it's organized, the functions of the polizei, the carabineri, prosecutors, judges and courts, which is very helpful to the reader. It really makes you appreciate the rights that Americans have in our courts, even though our own system is imperfect. The only thing I didn't love about this book is that I think the authors are a little too close to the subject. I understand that they wanted to tell the story of what they went through, but I think it may have benefited from an outsider's voice telling their tale.
The investigation into the Monster killings remains open to this day and dozens of people have been arrested, tried, convicted and released for these crimes, including the authors. This investigation is truly bizarre and very enjoyable to read about!
Friday, January 28, 2011
I am a member of a website called GoodReads.com - it's free! You should check it out. GoodReads tracks all of the books that you read during a year and then tells you how many pages you've finished. GoodReads is far more fun than I've just made it sound because you can also track what your friends are reading and win free books!
GoodReads told me this morning that I've read 7 books in January! Boom! I'm roasting this goal.
I'm also looking for Guest Reviewers for this blog. It seems that even though I read at an alarmingly fast rate, I still can't post as much as I would like to. So, if you've read something awesome in the past few weeks, and feel up to the challenge of writing a guest review, then please comment on this post, or contact me. There are a couple of rules just to keep things uniform, but they are basic and I'll let you know when you commit.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Book: Worth Dying For
Author: Lee Child
Recommended To: Jack Reacher fans - he is superhuman!
This is my second Lee Child novel and my second in the Jack Reacher series. I really like when authors create a great character and realize that they've got a good thing going and then they keep that good thing going for more novels than anyone can count. That's what the Jack Reacher series is for Lee Child. A gold mine!
Let's face it, none of these books are going to be on your kids 10th grade english reading list. Are they stellar fiction? No. Are they fabulous for the train when it's busy and you don't want to try very hard to keep track of what's going on? Absolutely!
This book places Reacher in the middle-of-no-where, Kansas where he discovers a group of townspeople being terrorized by a family that runs a transportation company. The family extorts the farmers through fear and intimidation to make more profit for hauling away their crops. Of course it wouldn't be interesting unless the family was also doing something illicit.
Jack Reacher is basically superhuman in this novel. He takes on whole teams of football players and crazy middle eastern thugs. He is somehow the smartest man in entire place because he can figure out exactly what the next move is before it even happens.
This is a good book. It is entertaining, fast and fun. Reacher is gorgeous (in my imagination) and he's probably the perfect man. In parts the story is not that believable - why wouldn't these people just call the police if they are terrorized? It's not super plausible that the police are "60 miles away." Really? That's an hour, tops. Someone could call - no one has that much power.
The one thing I didn't like about this book was that it was incredibly violent. Reacher is a take-no-prisoners kind of guy and there were many unexpected deaths. I thought it was a little over the top.
This book is a solid B. I definitely recommend it for people who love Lee Child and for those who think Jack Reacher wins the sexiest fictional man award.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Book: The Red Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Grade: B -
Recommended To: Phil Greggs and Historical Fiction fans, Women.
With this blog, I really try to space out my reviews of of certain genres so that this blog doesn't become about any one thing. But, after reading the horrible Paris Vendetta last week, I really needed something that I knew was going to be excellent and that I knew would rekindle "reading for fun."
So, The Red Queen was the obvious choice for a sure thing read. Generally, I liked this book though I don't at all believe that it is Philippa Gregory's best work. In a sense, this book is the opposite of the The White Queen which chronicles the story of Elizabeth Woodville the powerful York Queen. The Red Queen is a bit misleading because Margaret Beaufort is the mother of King Henry Tudor VII and never actually becomes queen, but the story is about her life as an extremely "pious" woman who works tirelessly to get her son on the throne.
This story overlapped quite a bit with The White Queen and centered on the exact same wars, time period and rumors that surrounded the women. Even though this is the second book in the series, because of the overlap, these books can probably be read in either order.
I think the character of Margaret Beaufort felt flat in this book. Elizabeth Woodville was a strong character. She had dimension and even though the White Queen had some mystical elements that could have been unbelievable the story felt passionate.
The Red Queen in contrast made me feel like Margaret Beaufort had no depth. She had her son at a young age and he was third in the Lancaster Line to take the throne of England. Then, she devotes her life to putting him on the throne, but large chunks of time pass in the novel where nothing happens at all. (I'm sure this is historical, it takes time to raise armies and start a war). But, Margaret experienced little growth throughout the novel. She reveres herself as a saint, but although she prays for almost half of the novel, she is far from saintly. It felt like Gregory was repeating herself - she didn't delve enough into the character of a woman who could work so passionately and tirelessly to aid her son's rise to power.
Plus, Margaret Beaufort isn't that likable of a historical figure and instead of bringing out her good qualities, and let's face it she had to have some good qualities, Gregory just stuck to the surface.
Overall though, this was an enjoyable read. It went very quickly because this is one of Gregory's shorter novels and for some reason the publisher used at least a size 16 font when printing the book. Philippa Gregory fans will love this book and will certainly look forward to where she is taking this Plantagenet series after this book. I can't wait to see what she comes up with about Henry Tudor VII's reign.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Book: The Paris Vendetta
Author: Steve Berry
Recommended To: No One. Save yourself the time and money.
I picked up this book at the used book store, Shake Rattle & Read, by my house because they were having a sale. And aren't used book sales the greatest place to try new authors? Two bucks for a book really means that if it sucks, then at least you didn't pay 10 bucks for a brand new copy.
Also, a friend and guest reviewer on this site recommended this author as being close to Daniel Silva, and by God, I love Daniel Silva. Unfortunately, The Paris Vendetta is the most god-awful work of "spy" fiction that I've ever had the displeasure of reading.
Never in my life have I wanted to look out the train window at the back of buildings instead of reading the book that I brought along. I think it is a bad sign when I keep rolling my eyes at the dialogue and characters. If only the author had been on the train with me I could have told him that his book made me think for the briefest of seconds that reading wasn't fun anymore. Gasp! I thought giving my previous review the critique that the book was boring was the worst that could happen on this blog. But, I hadn't yet started The Paris Vendetta.
Berry is trying to be Dan Brown and failing miserably. I was 185 pages into this book (and let's be serious, that's as far as I got, I'm not finishing this crap) and literally NOTHING had happened. Or to be more accurate, a whole lot of something happened that didn't come close to full circle 1/3 of the way through. I will never find out why the main character was chasing some website guy through a museum - and that is just fine with me. 185 pages to tie all of the pieces together is just too long. This guy needs a new profession or a serious editor.
I had really high hopes for this book. I thought it was going to be a fast read, and at least in that sense I was not wrong, because I ended up skimming half of the pages in hopes of finding something interesting. I give this book a solid F. Skip it: save your time and your money.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Book: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Grade: B -
Recommended To: Book Clubs
This book was chosen for our January Book Club selection and it was great for that purpose. It was an incredibly fast read and I ended up finishing it in one day! I love books like that. You start it in the morning and bam, by the end of the day, everything is resolved. This book was written as a series of letters and took place immediately after WWII in England.
The main character is an author and is searching for her next book idea when she gets a letter from a man who is a member of a small book society that was created as an excuse for breaking curfew in German occupied Guernsey. She starts corresponding with the members of the society and eventually moves there and gets to know them all very well.
The letter-style of this book is intriguing but sometimes it is hard to follow. It also made the story lack a bit of detail and narrative that would have been present in a book that was just written, without letters. I also thought it was a bit of a stretch occasionally when the letters contained a lot of detail that wouldn't necessarily be contained in a letter.
I really really liked that this book was about books. If you haven't noticed, the new quote in the "blog description" area is from this book. There were some deliciously juicy quotes about books and how fabulous books are. The society itself was also pretty interesting and I thought the book was well written from a historical standpoint.
I gave this book a B- because at points it was simply boring. The story just didn't have enough to keep me going and at times I questioned why I was still reading it. Ack! That's the worst criticism I can give a book. I think this is a great read for book clubs, women, and letter writers. It is definitely worth a shot especially because it went so quickly.
Monday, January 17, 2011
*** Periodically, I will feature guest reviewers on this blog. This is a review of Jon Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory” by Jon. The views expressed in this review are his own. ***
Book: Where Men Win Glory
Author: Jon Krakauer
Recommended To: Everyone
I must admit at the beginning that I am not an avid reader. My ideal day does not include peace, quiet and a good book. However, “Where Men Win Glory,” impacted me in a way that I have not felt since reading books about the holocaust.
Jon Krakauer’s portrayal of Pat Tillman evokes a series of emotions both good and bad. After reading the book, there is a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I cannot acknowledge the source of.
Jon Krakauer’s portrayal of Pat Tillman evokes a series of emotions both good and bad. After reading the book, there is a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I cannot acknowledge the source of.
All I knew of Tillman before the book was that he passed up a lucrative career to serve his country. In this book, Krakauer provides a fair portrayal of an American idol. I say idol because after reading the book Tillman is more than a hero, he is a man I wish I could emulate. Krakauer does not shy away from anything in his portrayal of Tillman and covers both his faults and his ideals. The book does not come off as a highly edited fluff piece about a war hero. Instead, it is a story about a man and the set of ideals that caused him to turn down millions of dollars and leave his wife to serve his country.
As far as my criticism of the book, Krakauer spends a considerable portion of the book discussing the pitfalls of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the beginning of the book this helps to provide the landscape for the events that led to Tillman’s death. But Krakauer does little to mask his distaste for how the war was conducted by the Bush Administration. By the end of the book this begins to distract the reader from the true hero, Pat Tillman.
As a fair warning, there are large segments of the book that will make you mad. It would be impossible to make a movie about Tillman’s time at war because so many of the events that led to and resulted from Tillman’s death are beyond comprehension. But the one thing that is easily understandable is that Pat Tillman was a great man who deserved more than what he got.
I hope that you will enjoy reading this book. I realize that an A is the highest honor possible on this blog and I believe that this book deserves it. If nothing else, I highly recommend that you check out the Wikipedia page on this American idol.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Book: Full Dark, No Stars
Author: Stephen King
Recommended To: All SK fans, plus everyone else.
I love Stephen King. I've read nearly everything that he's ever written with the exception of that crazy Dark Tower series that took too long to come out. I even ordered one of his banned books from the UK just so I could have it in my collection. (It is called Rage, and it isn't exactly banned, just not printed anymore because it is about a school shooting that has perverse similarities to Columbine, but was released prior to the shooting.)
SK is at his peak when he writes about people in everyday situations that become hairy. For a bit, he dabbled in psychological horror (Duma Key, Lisey's Story, Dreamcatcher) which I found unappealing and difficult to grasp. Now it seems that it is back to basics and King is doing what he does best. This happened with his 2010 book Under the Dome and he did it again with Full Dark, No Stars.
This is a book of 4 short stories that are on-the-edge-of-your-seat horror. In one, a husband and son kill the wife and their lives unravel into crime and a schizophrenic break. In another, the hardest to read in my opinion, a female writer is raped and left for dead, but then seeks revenge. He ends the book with a story about a wife who discovers that her husband is a serial killer. I recommend that these stories be digested slowly, one at a time, otherwise it is nearly overwhelming.
King is excellent at assaulting you with situations that could perversely happen in your own life and leaving you thinking about these stories for days and weeks to come. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is a Stephen King fan or to anyone who wants a creep-tastic evening.
I don't have much negative to say about this work, and I would probably have give it an A if those weren't so hard to come by. Pick up this book - it will not disappoint.
Happy (or horror?) Reading
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Book: The Devil in the White City
Author: Erik Larson
Recommended To: All Chicago Lovers!
Ok, I can't give this book an A because if I give too many of those out this blog just becomes a bunch of books that I like and not a serious book review blog. Also, I had some issues with it, but we'll get to those in a sec. Otherwise, I completely loved it. There were shocking moments, laugh-out-loud moments, and really endearing moments. Overall it was an incredibly honest assessment of Chicago's performance during the "fair that changed the world."
This book had two parallel stories that probably belonged in different books, but both stories were well presented and very well researched. First, of course, there is the story of the construction and planning for the 1893 World's Fair that was hosted by Chicago. This story follows the main architect Daniel Burnham and his quest to change the world with his fair. What I really liked about this book were the references to Chicago - you find out at the end that one of the Fair's buildings was turned into the Science and Industry museum! Awesome!
I also thought there were some really funny parts in the book. For example one of the exhibits, the Algerians, arrived at the Fair an entire year ahead of schedule! Plus, there are all sorts of fun and goose-bump-inducing suspenseful moments, like where the author doesn't reveal the name of the creator of the most impressive structure at the fair until far into the novel. If you've ever seen a poster for the World's Fair, you know it is the Ferris Wheel, but it so fun to be "surprised."
The second story that this book follows is the story of H. H. Holmes who was a doctor/mass murderer of women. He was completely creep-tastic and his story was enthralling especially because he was so clever in hiding the fact that he killed anyone. The one issue I had with this book was that the stories seemed disconnected. The only similarity between the stories was the fact that they happened at the same time.
If you live in Chicago this is a must read. It is so exciting to hear about Graceland Cemetery, the Lakeshore, the Ferris Wheel, and the L in a city that is often dissimilar to the one we live in today. This was a very powerful work and I rediscovered "pleasure reading" when I read it.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Recommended To: Book Clubs, people with a lot of time on their hands.
I faithfully read (almost) every word of this book for a book club meeting and wished fervently that it had been 150 pages shorter. I think this was a book that I was supposed to like because it received so much acclaim when it was released and even won the Pulitzer Prize(!), but evidently this is why I'm not on the committee that picks the Prize winners. I would probably pick all espionage and spy novels instead of books that are actually "good."
I recommend skipping this book for the following reasons:
1. It was WAY too long. If you don't know the premise of this book, it is about an intersexed (this is the PC term for hermaphrodite, thank you, Sister) individual's journey to self-discovery, but the book begins with a long and drawn out history of Cal's ancestors and the alleged reason why Cal was born intersexed. This history took up the first 3/4 of the book and included some really ridiculous descriptions that went on for pages and pages. Books like this generally rub me the wrong way See The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, I have a vivid imagination and prefer to exercise it over allowing the author to corral me into one stagnant image.
2. The exciting stuff didn't happen until the end! Callie soon-to-become-Cal finally finds out that he's different from everyone else, runs away from home and joins a sex circus. Ok, if you don't agree that that is the most interesting part of the book - then you are obviously a member of the Pulitzer Prize Committee. Eugenides waited until the end of the book to even have Callie discover that she's different from other women and oh hey, wants to live as a man.
3. Finally, there is a lot of criticism surrounding this book from the intersexed community. Apparently, there is a lot of speculation and very little medical proof that incestuous ancestral relationships are actually ever the cause of hermaphroditism. This gives the book a lack of authenticity and made me dislike the author for not researching it properly.
I gave this book a C and think that it would be great for a book club read. There are redeeming qualities about this book - it has some great themes, the end of the book is actually interesting, and it did provide a lot of fodder for my book club. So, its not a total loss, though I still think that I should have a hand in picking the Pulitzer Prizes from now on.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Book: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Recommended To: Women will appreciate this book more than men. Guaranteed.
So, I typed "Shanghai Girls" into google to get the book image and did not initially get the book. Apparently that is a common search for something other than Lisa See's novel.
Anyway, I got Shanghai Girls after waiting months for it on Paperbackswap.com and it was worth the wait. In my honest opinion, it is a great pick for a book club, but in general it is a throw-away read that I probably won’t remember in a year. This is the first book I've read by Lisa See and after doing some research it appears that she writes a lot of fiction about China and the Chinese-American experience.
The book follows two sisters who escape Shanghai on the brink of the Chinese-Japanese War to get to America where they live with their new (arranged-marriage) husbands and the husbands' family. Throughout the novel the sisters encounter many unexpected twists and turns including an unplanned child, love, and much strife as Chinese-Americans during WWII.
I really liked the detail of this book, but I'm not certain about the accuracy. Some things are easy to check, such as the location of the Chinatown where the girls worked, the food, the conditions that Chinese-Americans lived in during that time period, and practice of bringing young men to American as "paper-sons." But, some of the fictional story line was tough to swallow as a 21st century American woman.
For example, one sister has a baby, but not with her husband. In a moment of desperation, she gives the baby to her sister to raise as her own and shockingly not one of the 100 or so women they are living with at the time is any wiser about the switch. Ummm, really? I know that show "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" features women who
have claim to have no idea, but how on earth could a woman 1. hide her pregnancy for so long or 2. pretend that she was pregnant for 9 months. Sounds tough, and unbelievable.
Despite these portions of the book, the novel (if accurate) was a great story about the Chinese-American experience and how difficult it was for new immigrants to make the United States their home. For those reasons, I gave it a solid B and recommend it to anyone looking for a pretty good historical fiction or just some awareness about the American immigrant experience.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Book: In Cold Blood
Author: Truman Capote
Recommended To: Everyone + my law geeks
I realize that I'm a bit late to the In Cold Blood phenomenon since this book was published when my Aunt was a child and she read it at the age of 12. But, my dear Aunt thought I would enjoy this book and popped it under the tree for me for Christmas.
She was so RIGHT! I don't usually read nonfiction unless it is something that I'm super interested in, like Mormons or Mount Everest, but this true story of the Clutter family and their murderers captured me right from the beginning and didn't let go. I must give a bit of a warning though, it is a terrifying book. It isn't really a secret, so I don't consider this a spoiler, but Capote tells the story of two ex-cons who murder an entire family of four in hopes of finding thousands of dollars. They walk away with 40 bucks.
One of the most powerful scenes comes at the end where a well known attorney is giving the rebuttal closing argument and asks the jury whether each of the four lives was worth 10 dollars. Wowza. That's the sort of thing that you don't stop thinking about for several days afterward.
I really liked how this book really spelled out the various tests for insanity. These murders happened at a time when the M'Naghten test was failing in the federal courts in favor of the much less restrictive Durham/product test. Honestly, the way the author described the controversy surrounding these insanity defenses made them clear to me for the first time. Oy. Thanks In Cold Blood for teaching me something that law school couldn't.
Finally, this book doesn't read like a regular non-fiction. Capote does such a good job of researching his "characters" that it feels like he was right there with the killers on their travels around the US, or with Nancy, the all-star daughter, as she ran her many errands on the last day of her life.
As you can see, this is the only book that I've given an A to so far and it was well worth it. I recommend this book to anyone who needs a refresher on the insanity defenses and to anyone who wants to read a creepy, true-crime, thriller.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Book: The White Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Grade: B +
Recommended To: Phil Greggs and Historical Fiction Fans.
Phil Greggs is one of my favorite authors. She writes the super popular Other Boleyn Girl series and The White Queen is her first novel in the new series that follows the Plantagenet family who ruled England before the Tudors. In this book, Gregory retells the story of the two boys, heirs to the throne, who were lost in the Tower of London and were never seen again.
This by far one of Gregory's best first novels in a series. I read nearly all of her books and this one beats most of them in inventiveness, attention to detail, and solving a historical mystery. This story follows Elizabeth Woodville, the daughter of a nobody who marries the king and has two sons and many other children (she spends the majority of the novel pregnant) with him. When there is a grab for power, Warwick has Elizabeth's sons sent to the Tower "for safe keeping." Right, as though the Earl of Warwick has ever looked out for any interests but his own. So, the boys disappear and Gregory does her best to explain this mystery of history. (rhyming book reviews? What, What!)
Some parts of this book were strange. For example, Elizabeth comes from a long line of strong women who practice magic and can commune with nature and the elements. This could get weird, but this magic vein allows Gregory to explain the unexplainable and added an element of intrigue to the story that would otherwise have been missing.
I recommend this book for people who love a good historical fiction read. Gregory is well known for the accuracy of her novels and even though in this book she was forced to take certain liberties to explain a little known historical event, she still wrote an excellent and entertaining novel. I got the second Plantagenet book The Red Queen for Christmas and will be reviewing that in the coming months.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Recommended To: Historical Fiction Fans.
Happy New Year!! What is better for a new year than starting a whole new book series? I had never heard of Diana Gabaldon, but a friend recommended her series. This book follows a woman who time-travels (a little weird, I know) back to 18th century Scotland. There, she is accused of being a witch, marries a sexy Scot, and frees said husband from jail.
I really liked this book, but of course, I had some issues. The language in this book is exquisite. Gabaldon has a way of weaving together words that leaves you craving more. She is an incredibly descriptive writer and although sometimes it can be too much, that feeling is rare.
This book also had a really intriguing story. I was warned about the time travel before I read the book, so I was prepared, but it actually made the relationships and interactions in the book more interesting. Plus, it made the book a bit easier to understand from a 20th century point of view. The main character reacted in much of the same way that I would have reacted and that made the book seem that much more realistic.
One thing I didn't like about the book were the many rape scenes. I have no idea if that was historically accurate, but I felt like the scenes were too prevalent and were insufficiently vague to lend anything to the book. Further, the Jamie and the main character (this book is written in first person, so damned if I can remember the woman's name) have sex at least every third page in the book, but the descriptions were either romance novel specific or abstinence-only education vague. I wish there had been some middle ground, because I often found myself wondering what had happened.
Overall, I liked this book but gave it a B because I felt like it. There are 5-6 books in the series and I believe that they all follow the same couple and series of events. I'm going to at least try the rest of them so look forward to those reviews.
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!