Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Sickness and In Hell by Stefan Barkow

Book:  In Sickness and In Hell

Author:  Stefan Barkow

Grade:  B

Recommended To: Philosophers, People who like a creepy story.  Perfect for Halloween. 

This book is now available for purchase at: Amazon.com

I enjoyed this freshman effort by Barkow.*  In Sickness and in Hell is a collection of short stories that included themes ranging from forgiveness, to the supernatural.

I liked the vast majority of the stories in this book.  There were a few that seemed a little over my head and comprehension, but that's not to say that they were bad, just a little too thoughtful for a train ride home.

The absolute best part of this book is Barkow's writing. It is excellent. He has a strong gift for creating scenes and characters in a very short format.  Short stories are hard to write because so much must be conveyed in small number of pages and Barkow does this exceedingly well.   He is also very good at writing dialogue.  One of my biggest pet peeves in books is dialogue that is chunky and detracts from the story; not true in Barkow's work.  The dialogue adds to and supports the stories so well that I found myself marveling over how accurately Barkow captured his characters through dialogue.  Most reviews are subjective, but if there is one thing that cannot be argued with; it is that Barkow's writing is superb.

Because the stories are so short, it is hard to summarize them without giving it all away, so I will just point out a few of my favorites.  I really liked the cover story In Sickness and in Hell, which was truly a gem in regard to dialogue and plot twist.  I also enjoyed Forgive Me, Father, which included a different perspective on a well known and traditional bible story. The Definition was creepy and fun and very short and left me thinking about and re-reading the plot twist.

Finally, I enjoyed the theme of change that ran through the entire book. In Jen,Now, Barkow explores how people grow and change and that sometimes we love the image of a person, a past person, that can no longer exist.  This theme resonates throughout the stories and Barkow introduces a fresh perspective on change and how it effects our relationships with ourselves and others.

Overall, I really enjoyed this whole collection.  I don't know how many other stories Barkow has written, but although the stories were distinct, they include the same themes and worked well together in a compilation.  This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to read and review it.

Happy Reading!

*Full disclaimer, I went to high school with Stefan and he is my brother-in-law's best friend.  He asked to to read and review his book and gave me a free copy.  I tried very hard not to let that influence my review, but I do think it is super cool to know someone with a published book!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Hit by Melvin Burgess

Book:  The Hit (Take it. Live it. Do it)

Author:  Melvin Burgess 

Grade:  D

Recommended To:  I would only read this book if I had one book left to read to achieve my Goodreads goal and I didn't have any other book options. 

I got The Hit from my friend who received an Advance Reader Copy on Goodreads.

The Hit is completely misdirected.  It had a decent premise, but it fails to deliver on that premise which is disappointing but unsurprising.  With a cover like that, no one thought that this was going to be a "bestseller."  Also, no one believes that Mr. Burgess' first book, apparently titled Junk, was also a bestseller.

So, the cover ain't doing it for me.  The content was even worse.  This book features a drug called Death which gives the person one week to live, but that week is the best week of the person's life.  The main character, I've already forgotten his name, takes the drug and then uses it to convince his girlfriend to sleep with him.  Death apparently also makes the user lose all moral sense.  They also steal somethings, drive a fast car, and then she gets kidnapped.  Then it starts to get really weird because naturally the people that take Death regret it and start riots because they have "nothing left to lose."

The book gets really crazy with the introduction of an underground terrorist cell that kidnaps people and manufactures fake Death which is loosely related to a crazy guy who likes to paralyze people at the C4 vertebrae, but can't get it right.  WTF am I writing?!

I'm sure you can already tell that this book ain't great.  The plot is incredibly weak, the characters are stupid (no really, they are actually dumb), and this book did not deliver on whatever weak promises it plied me with.  This book gets a D instead of an F because it was short and I didn't have to suffer reading it for very long and because the premise on the back cover was intriguing.

Melvin, this is a miss.

Happy Reading!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

Books:  The Clifton Chronicles.  There are four books in the series, the newest was just released and I finished it in three days.

Author: Jeffrey Archer 

Grade:  Variable:  From B+ to C+ 

Recommended To: Fans of British writing.

I picked up the first three books of the Clifton Chronicles on Amazon for two bucks apiece.  I hadn't heard of Jeffrey Archer before and after reading the first book, I blazed through the rest. I couldn't possibly parse out the stories for complete reviews of each book now, so I am combining them all into one review.  I thought these books were delightful!   The grades do not necessarily reflect how much I liked reading this books, but let me explain.

This is a British family saga story.  It is about Harry Clifton and his life from boyhood at an English prep school on a choral scholarship to his eventual adult life as a married man with children.  Then, the story branches out and includes the lives of his best friend Giles, his mother, his children, his wife's siblings, etc.  Each family member is devoted to a few chapters that eventually advance the story.  Occasionally the chapters retell a portion of the story from a different perspective.

First, these books cannot be described as well-written.  But, there is a vast difference between passable writing, a literary genius, and books that are just plain terrible.  Archer's series is an example of the first.  These books are not literary works, but Archer can put together a sentence and he can keep a story moving.  Think Daniel Silva or John Grisham.  These authors do not write prize winning literature, but their writing is decent enough so that I keep buying.

Second, is Archer writing something totally new and fresh?  Probably not.  But, his characters get themselves into scraps and scrapes and come out somewhat fresh and changed, which can't be said for some other writers (AHEM, Veronica Roth).  I know, I know, you want to know why on earth I like these books since I'm usually the most critical of flat characters and overdone plots.  But, I found the situations interesting.  The books keep pace very well.  They don't lag or drag.  The reader knows exactly who to root for at all times, so the reading is fast and easy.

Third, although Archer uses some of the same literary devices again and again, I oddly wasn't bothered. Just about the only device in Archer's arsenal is the cliffhanger.  Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. I admit, it is repetitive, but the story kept moving and Archer resolves almost all of the cliffhangers by the next chapter or book.  Instead of becoming irritating, I found the cliffhangers endearing and a minor hurdle for the sake of the story.

Ultimately, these books kept my attention and made me laugh.  For example, there is one scene in the most recent book where the wife of one of the "bad" characters leaves her husband and takes only the left shoe of all of his shoes.  That's hilarious!  I found myself chuckling out loud several times while reading these books because of the crazy situations that the characters find themselves in and because of the revenge exacted.

Are these the best books ever written?  No, of course not.  But, are they fun, lighthearted, easy reads? Yes!  And I absolutely recommend them for summer reading.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Boys in the Boat by Danial James Brown

Book:  The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Olympics. 

Author:  Daniel James Brown 

Grade:  A 

Recommended to:  Everyone. This is a non-fiction must read. 

I can't say enough good things about this book.  The Boys in the Boat is the story of the Washington team that rowed their way to victory at the 1936 Olympics.   The story is primarily told from the viewpoint of Joe Rantz, one of the boys in the boat.

I know nothing about rowing.  And, I always thought that rowing was one of those sports for eastern uppity colleges. This book taught me a lot about rowing without being boring, the fatal flaw of non-fiction writing.

 This story is very American.  It is a book of struggle, perseverance, and it is the exact opposite of my perception of rowing.  The Washington boys all came from rough beginnings.  They worked long hours at crappy jobs to pay for college, aced their classes in order to stay on the rowing team, and rowed in freezing rain, snow, and ice to become the world champions.  That sounds like a spoiler, but it isn't.  There's zero chance that Mr. Brown would have written about these boys if they had failed to make it to the Olympics.  

One of the best parts of this book is Mr. Brown's ability to capture the suspense of a rowing race.  He is inside the head of the coxswain and the rowers.   He writes as though the reader is there listening to the race on the radio or watching on television.  It is an incredibly talent that is particularly useful in sports stories, especially racing sports.  I couldn't put this book down, especially during a race sequence.

The book also included short chapters about the enormous propaganda campaign waged by Hitler, Goebbels, and a filmmaker that I hadn't heard of, Leni Riefenstahl, who created an entire Olympics to fool the world into believing that Germany was peaceful.  Those portions of the story were also extremely well written.

In my opinion, this book rivals the big non-fiction thrillers, Unbroken and The Devil in the White City.  This book is at least equal in quality and caliber, if not better.  I absolutely recommend it to everyone looking for a good sports story

I'm sorry for the massive delay in posts and updates.  I'm going to write a bunch of posts tonight and slowly release them, so hopefully I don't get behind again!   We have been very busy with the house and work has picked up.  So, I'm definitely going to make this blog a priority again!

Let me know what you think of The Boys in the Boat and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

Book:  The Curiosity 

Author:  Stephen P. Kiernan

Grade:  C

Recommended To:  Not sure, this book too me a very  long time to get into and the ended was dissatisfying. 

This book was okay, not good, not great, just okay.  It took an incredibly long time to get started and although the science portions were interesting, those were limited by the eventual and very strange love story that occurred between two of the main characters.

The premise of the story is decent.  Jeremiah Rice is found cryogenically frozen in an iceburg in the arctic circle.  A scientist, speaking only in second person (Why? Why!), brings the man back to life and then basically has no idea what to do with this person.  There is a lot of moral ambiguity that was interesting, but could have been better written.  There are protesters, of course, that are only portrayed as right wing crazies, which seems disingenuous because probably a lot of people would have moral concerns about reviving a man from the 1800s.

Some of the characters are overwhelmingly flat.  One of the characters, the news reporter that has the exclusive on the reanimation is exceedingly terrible.  So much so that I found myself skipping large chunks of his narrative because hey, its not like he was going to change in the next 20 swipes.

The love story is also ridiculous.  The one female scientist who has apparently worked her entire life to obtain this very lucrative position falls in love with the reanimated man, Jeremiah.  So, she takes him around to grocery stores, suit shops, and various places in Boston to acquaint him with life in the 21st Century.  Over and over he's amazed that you can buy oranges in stores.  Nobody cares, dude.  Also, they have the most awkward non-conversations about sex ever.  It is like watching this scene from 90 Day Fiance when Mike thinks that any girl other than this mail order bride from Russia wants to get with him.  Awkward!

So, I give this book a C for a decent plot line, generally and terrible execution.  You should save yourself the 10 days that it will take you to finish this book.  It ain't worth it.

Happy Reading.

Also, I note that this is my first review since New Year's Day.  Lawrd.  I need to pick up the reading pace in 2014!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014!

Happy New Year!! 

I love the New Year. It is so fun to reflect and look back on the changes of the previous year and to make plans for the year ahead.  I try to do this on my birthday also, so really, it happens twice a year!

2013 was a great year for reading! I read 76 books this year and surpassed my Goodreads goal by a full 11 books.  I'm thrilled and I can attribute that to taking a hour long round trip train ride every day.  Without that, my reading time would be seriously limited.

In 2013, I read 75 books, which accounted for 29,370 pages (thanks Goodreads, I didn't count them all!).  My blog also hit 20,000 hits in November and that was AWESOME!  Thanks everyone for reading and then coming back for more.  I am humbled.

Longest Book:  It by Stephen King at slightly over 1000 pages.  And each page was awesome!

Shortest Book:  Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich.  This book literally took me 2 hours.

Most Disappointing Book:  Divergent by Veronica Roth and subsequently Insurgent.  These books were so hyped up and were so so bad.

Most Rewarding Book:  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I cried at the end and I almost never do that unless the book is extra amazing.

Worst Book: The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson.  Also wins the award for most racist.

Best Non-Fiction:  We Band of Angels by Elizabeth Norman.  I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and it was awesome!  It won out of the 14 non-fiction books that I read this year.  I didn't realize that I read so many!  That's 18%!

Funniest Book:  I Am Not Myself These Days and The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer Purcell.  These are two different books, but they were both hilarious and I love love love these goat farmers.

Favorite Book:  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  This is a toss up with The Book Thief and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger which was just phenomenally good.  But Imaginary Friend was by far the most original and well-written book that I read this year.

I also loved Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.  That book wounded my soul and it took me days to recover.  You should absolutely read it.  I'll probably blog about it eventually because it was so lovely.

Best Rated on Goodreads:  The Boy Who Said No by Patti Sheehy.  This book is rated at 4.49.  I gave it four stars and I'm surprised by this.  I liked this book, but the best rated?  Maybe you should read it.

Also surprising is that The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is so well rated.  That book sucked.

Worst Rated on Goodreads:  The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli.  I'm less surprised by this one.  I thought this book was a hot mess.

I set some goals for 2013 and here's how they panned out:

1.  Read 65 books in 2013.  Check!  76 books! 

2.  Finish an entire book series.   No dice on this one.  I think I was referring to the Kinsey Milhone alphabet series and I absolutely did not finish it.  Those books are repetitive, yo.  I also failed to finish the Divergent series and the Outlander series.  So, this one was a big fail. 

3.  Update this blog 1/week.  That's 52 updates.   Also a fail.  I posted exactly 27 times in 2013, which interestingly was the same number of times as 2012, so at least I didn't backtrack. 

4.  Buy a house.  CHECK!  We bought a house!  But, most of my books are still in boxes in the basement waiting to be unpacked 9 months later because we are renovating and I didn't want to pack up all that shit a second time. Because let's be honest, books are heavy! 

I was only 50% successful on my goals for 2013, except really, buying a house?  That's a million percent success.  Here are my goals for 2014:

1.  Read 70 books.  I think 76 might have been a fluke and 70 seems manageable.
2.  Alternatively, read 30,000 pages.  I keep getting really close to 30,000.  This year I am only 640 away!
3.  Post to this blog 30 times.  Let's get out of this 27 slump nice and easy. 
4.  Continue my One-Line a day journal.  I love keeping records of my day to day and I hope this journal will help me do it.  
5.  Actually read the books that I buy.  My to-read shelf is bigger than the shelves of books that I've read.  I am going to try to buy fewer books this year, get more books from the library (FREE), and make a dent in the to-read pile.  

Do you have any reading goals for 2014?

Happy 2014!!  I hope your year is full of life, love, laughter and fabulous books.