Monday, October 29, 2012
Book: Waterproof: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood
Author: Judith Redline Coopey
Recommended To: Historical Fiction Fans
This is Judith Redline Coopey's second novel. I reviewed her first book, Redfield Farm, back in February. Unfortunately, her first book was her best book. I find that this often happens with authors. They get something published and then they rush to write the second book, per the orders of their agent, bookseller, whatever, and then the second book has gaps and issues that weren't present in the first.
That seemed to be the case with Waterproof. It isn't to say that this book wasn't accurate or interesting, it was both. But, the story line and the dialogue needed some work. This book is about Pam an older woman who survived the Johnstown flood and relives the experience through her interviews for the town newspaper 50 years after the flood. The story has very little about the actual flood, but is really about the aftermath and how people dealt with the deaths, changed relationships, and the negligence of the South Fork Hunting Club.
The historical bits were very good. After reading this book, we caught something on the history channel about Rockefeller and the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club which was then accused of negligently damming the river and lake that caused the Johnstown Flood, and I realized that the book was very accurate. Of course, historical fiction writers take liberties with characters and dialogue, but the book came across as accurate to the time period, the reactions of the townspeople, and the facts about the flood.
The way the story was presented was dicey. The author necessarily had to show the main character's reflections and memories but, the way this was done was very elementary. For example the main character would drift off to sleep and have a dream about her brother dying in the Flood or whatever was supposed to happen next in the story. This happened over and over again and became tedious and distracting. There have to be other avenues to "go back in time" and show a character's memories.
This book was a very average C+. It was interested because I've never read anything about the Johnstown Flood, but the choppy story structure and dialogue was a huge distraction.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Book: Twelve Months
Author: Steven Manchester
Recommended To: Those who need a new outlook and a good cry.
**This is the first book where an author has solicited me to read their book and write a review. (What!) Even though that is the most mega-cool thing to happen to this blog since an author followed it, this review has not been influenced by that solicitation. I've pledged to be honest about this book. **
Apparently my dry-spell of reading horrid books has ended. I have had several really great books in a row and Twelve Months was one of the books that made it rain.
This is the story of 50-something Don who finds out, after a diagnosis of spreading cancer, that he has 12 months to live. He does his share of initial moping and then decides to really live. He makes a "bucket" list of five things that he never got to do and makes the last year of his life worthwhile.
This book made me cry during the first chapter and I alternatively found myself grinning and laughing because Don got to go on so many adventures and crying over the pain he kept hidden and his wife's continued reaction to his diagnosis.
One of the highest praises I can give a book is that it felt real. For the few days that it took me to finish this book, I was inside Don's life. His character had extreme depth. He was both heartbroken and overjoyed. He was loving and occasionally snappish. He had regret and forgiveness. Don's character was very beautifully done. One of the parts I loved best was that Don hid a lot of the pain and fear that he had about dying from his family. It felt so accurate that a middle aged patriarch would close parts of himself off in order to spare his family.
This book really makes you think about the choices we make because of fear, time, family etc. One of Don's bucket list dreams was to do stand-up comedy. He tries and fails, but realizes that it isn't about the failure or humiliation, but about trying in the first place. This of course made me want to relive college and take an improv class.
The only real criticism I have for this novel is that it occasionally dragged a bit. It sped up and slowed down at infrequent intervals, which was distracting. But, this wasn't enough to drag the book any lower than a "B" grade.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a very heartfelt novel about living and dying.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Book: The Casual Vacancy
Author: J.K. Rowling
Recommended To: Everyone, not just Harry Potter fans. This book is NOT for kids!
In case you didn't know, J.K. Rowling has a very prolific past as the author of the Harry Potter series. I have only read through book five in that particular series, because the last two books came out when I was in college and who has time to read for fun in college? So, I missed the ending. One of my dear book club friends is slightly obsessed with HP and so she chose this book as the October book pick.
I could not have been happier with this book. The Casual Vacancy is a gritty, in-your-face story that leaves you alternately wishing for more and hoping it would be over so you finally shake the uncomfortable feeling that this cast of characters gives you. The book is about Pagford, a small town that wishes to eliminate the not so savory poverty and drug addicted citizens by eliminating the methodone clinic and by rezoning that area back to the town of Yarvil. That way, the rich kids won't have to go to school with the poor kids and Pagford won't be polluted by poor. This whole controversy comes to a point when Barry Fairbrother, the leader of the faction decidedly against rezoning, dies suddenly and the sides compete to determine who should fill his vacant council seat.
This book is so excellent because it is realistic. This scenario could play out in any number of small towns across America. It is particularly poignant because of the upcoming American elections and the polarized opinions surrounding assistance programs and the view that they are either a leg up or a hand out.
This book as some excellent character work. The characters are developed quickly and many of them have deep layers and motivations for their actions. Even Barry Fairbrother, deceased, is developed as a character through his relationships with others. At the close of this book, you feel like you know Barry just as well or better than some of the others.
I cried at the end of this book. The ending is incredibly well done and without spoiling anything, it wasn't a happy ending because it couldn't be. The book would have lost some serious authenticity if everything had turned out roses and sunshine. This book is about relationships and the bottom line is that not all relationships can have that somewhat unattainable silver lining.
I've read some of the recent views on this book and it seems like everyone just wanted Harry Potter the later years, or Hogwarts, books of spells. Or whatever. This public desire has generated some not-so-stellar reviews of this book, which honestly shocks me. The Harry Potter series was no doubt wonderful, but can't Rowling get a break? After the movies, the books, the supplemental reading, the publicity, I'm sure she just wanted to write something realistic and heartfelt. And, that is exactly what The Casual Vacancy was.
I loved this book and I recommend it to everyone who is looking for a gritty, realistic, and heartfelt story.
Monday, October 1, 2012
Book: The Boy in the Suitcase
Authors: Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis
Recommended To: Steig Laarsen Fans, Mystery and Thriller Fans.
I cannot rave enough about how much I like getting good books for 99 cents in the Kindle Daily Deal. Seriously, if you haven't signed up for the KDD yet, now is the time to do it. They send you an email every morning with one or two books for dirt cheap. Initially, because the books were so cheap, I thought they would be terrible, the books that the publishers had to push on the Kindle World in order to generate some publicity. But, I have had enormous success with these books and I definitely recommend The Boy in the Suitcase as one of those successes.
This book has a lot of characters and their names are Eastern European, so it took some time to get used to the language and characters in the book. But, at itscore this book is about a stolen little boy, aged 3, who is found by a good Samaritan type named Nina Borg. She unravels the clues in an attempt to discover the boy's mother and some very nasty characters along the way.
This mystery is very well done. One of my more recent pet-peeves is when an author has no sense of dialogue and how to make dialogue work well. These authors were excellent at creating meaningful dialogue and suspense without overdoing it. I appreciate that and because of that skill, I recommend this book to pretty much everyone.
Turns out that I read this book just in time because Lene Kaaberbol has a new book called Invisible Murder coming out tomorrow! That book also follows Nina Borg and I can only hope that it is as good as the first. Plus, I think we all know by now how much I love series books that follow the same characters through different adventures. Fave!