Book Review: So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary


Author: Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary
TitleSo Close to Home
Narrator: Elijah Alexander
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

The severity of the German u-boat campaign on American ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the early days of World War II is often overlooked.  Tougias and O’Leary tell that history through the story of the Downs family of Texas as they sail on the cargo ship Heredia from Costa Rica to New Orleans.  The ship is destroyed by torpedoes on the May 19, 1942, and the Downs family are separated in the wreck, each having their own survival journey along with some members of the crew.  It’s a very gripping tale, but Tougias and O’Leary have a bigger story to tell based on the records of u-boat captains and the crews who were big heroes in Nazi Germany.  This means that the Downs’ story is broken up by long sections about the u-boat warfare in general and the experiences of their crew.  Perhaps the Downs’ story was too thin to make a book of its own, but the approach taken here makes the narrative very uneven.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into an overlooked period in American history.

Recommended booksUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Rating: ***

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: George by Alex Gino


Author: Alex Gino
TitleGeorge
Narrator: Jamie Clayton
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This novel tells the story of George, a fourth-grader coming to terms with identifying as a girl when presenting as a boy.  It’s set against a class performance of Charlotte’s Web in which George desperately  wants to portray Charlotte.  There are a lot of stock characters in the novel, including the school bully, and the former friend who now hangs with the bully. And there’s a temporary falling out between George and her best friend Kelly, as much over Kelly getting cast in the staring role as George outing herself as transgender.  But the novel shows even how people with good intentions can hurt – from George’s mother who doesn’t want George to put herself at risk of discrimination, to George’s older brother who was more ready to accept a gay sibling, and George’s teacher who hides behind the idea of fairly parceling out roles in the play to boys and girls.  At the end of the novel, George and Kelly get to enjoy a perfect day out with George presenting as a girl for the first time, which is a delightful outcome for the fictional character, and one I hope real life transgender children get to enjoy.

 
Favorite Passages:

“My point is, it takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination…Don’t ever lose that.”

“The play will begin at six sharp. Parents and family, I hope you’ll stay for the PTA meeting that will follow.” A few parents coughed in response. George knew that coughing was the adult equivalent of groaning.”

Recommended booksEvery Day by David Levithan, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell,  and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Rating: ****

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik


Author: Naomi Novik
TitleHis Majesty’s Dragon
NarratorSimon Vance
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2007)
Summary/Review:

I imagine the author read the Aubrey/Maturin series and thought “I’d like to write that same type of book. With dragons.”  Set in the Napoleonic Wars, this is a historic novel for the most part, with the exception that dragons are real and used by the British and French for airborne battles.  It begins when Naval captain Will Laurence captures a dragon egg from a French ship and forms a bond with the young dragon Temeraire after he hatches.  Laurence and Temeraire quickly form a close relationship, but Laurence is forced to resign from the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, which is not only mysterious and dangerous, but has very low social standing.  Laurence learns that life in the Aerial Corps is more relaxed than in other branches of the military, and that women are paired with dragons and afforded equal standing, so the book is also a comedy of manners in many ways.  Plus, there are cool aerial battles.

I’ve learned that this is the first in a series of 9 books, and while I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure I want to commit to the whole series (I couldn’t even get through all of Aubrey/Maturin).  If you’ve read them, let me know if it is worth continuing.

Recommended booksMaster and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Games by David Goldblatt


Author:  David Goldblatt
Title:   The Games
Narrator: Napoleon Ryan
Publication Info:  Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

I received a free audiobook copy of The Games through the Library Things Early Reviewers program.

Goldblatt’s history of the modern Olympic Games from 1896 to the present is a top-down overview of the International Olympic Committee and organizing committees more than the stories of participants in the games and particular events that I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting look at general trends and growth of the Olympics.  For example, in the early 20th century the Olympics were more of a sideshow to World’s Fairs (Paris, St. Louis, London) held over several months  rather than discrete sporting events.  Yet, the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens, which were inline with the Olympic movement’s founder Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of a quasi-religious sporting ceremony, yet Coubertin refused to attend.  The Olympics came into their own in the 1920s and Los Angeles and Berlin used the games to make major vision statements for the future.  After some quieter, austere post-war games, Rome, Tokyo, and Munich all used the Olympics to reintroduce their countries to the world, while Mexico City and Montreal attempted to introduce themselves to the world stage.  The Lake Placid and Moscow games are the clearest examples of how the Olympics being outside politics was never true.  The Los Angeles and Barcelona games showed that the Olympics could make a lot of people a lot of money, but Atlanta, Beijing, Sochi, and Rio showed that the Olympics makes money through the most exploitative and neoliberal practices possible.

Goldblatt’s narrative makes it clear that whatever lofty goals the Olympic movement professes the contemporary games fail to live up to them, and that this is pretty consistent with the Olympics’s history.  Whatever joys the Olympics bring, it does more harm than good.

Recommended books:

Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper, How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer, and Eight World Cups by George Vecsey
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchet


Author: Ann Patchet
TitleBel Canto
Narrator: Anna Fields
Publication Info: Blackstone Audiobooks, 2001.
Summary/Review:

This novel is set in an unnamed Latin American nation that lures a powerful Japanese business man to a birthday party in his honor with an intimate performance by his favorite operatic soprano.  A group of revolutionaries attacks the mansion and takes everyone hostage and settle into a hostage situation that carries on for months.  Patchet is great at narrating the interior lives of various characters – hostages and captors alike – and the relationships that grow among them until rather surreally they settle into patterns where the lines between the two groups are blurred and daily life becomes something of a prosperous summer camp.  Patchet is great with the character work – the Japanese businessman and the opera singer are joined by the gracious host of the Vice President, a shy girl among the terrorists, the indispensable translator, and the Swiss Red Cross negotiator among others.  The plot grows increasingly absurd and stretching credulity in the latter parts of the novel, but nevertheless an entertaining with even doses humor and underlying tension.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Great Bridge by David McCullough


Author:  David McCullough
TitleThe Great Bridge 
Narrator: Nelson Runger
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2006)
Previously Read by the Same AuthorJohn Adams1776, and The Wright Brothers
Summary/Review:

What’s the longest period that a book has been on your “to read” list before you actually read it?  For me, it may be 33 years as I got a copy of this book around the time of the Brooklyn Bridge centennial in 1983, looked at the pictures a lot, but never got around to reading.  Since my copy of the book is falling apart, I listened to it as an audiobook.  It’s a straightforward history of the planning, construction, and aftermath of Brooklyn Bridge and it’s effect on the cities of New York and Brooklyn.  Central to the story are three people: John Roebling – the great bridge builder who designed Brooklyn Bridge but died as construction was beginning in 1869, Washington Roebling – who emerged from his father’s shadow as chief engineer but suffered greatly from illness and injury that kept him away from the job site, and Emily Roebling – who stepped in to manage the chief engineer responsibilities when her husband was indisposed.  The construction of Brooklyn Bridge faced many challenges including the physical demanding work of the laborers leading to injury and death (particularly the notorious caisson’s disease), a rivalry with James Eads – then constructing a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis, and the revelations of corruption of the Tweed Ring that were tied up in the bridge project.  All three of these things lead to efforts to remove Washington Roebling that would be defeated.  If there’s one flaw to this book it’s that McCullough tends to pile on the details and repeat himself in ways that make this a less engaging read than it could be, but otherwise it’s a fascinating story of a significant monument in American history.

Recommended booksBoss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York by Kenneth D. Ackerman, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood, A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczy, and Five Points by Tyler Anbinder
Rating: ****

Book Review: Amsterdam : a history of the world’s most liberal city by Russell Shorto


Author: Russell Shorto
TitleAmsterdam : a history of the world’s most liberal city
Narrator: Russell Shorto
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2013
Summary/Review:

Shorto’s history of the Dutch city of Amsterdam is built on a principle that the city defines liberalism in both senses of the word.  There’s economic Liberalism – the principle of laissez-faire in free market capitalism, and there’s social liberalism – which values communal action and individual liberty.  While these two interpretations of liberalism are at odds with one another in much of the world, Amsterdam is a place where individual enterprise and community spirit work together surprisingly well.  This may have its origins in the creation of the city itself, literally reclaimed from the water by dint of communal work, and yet the new land became property of individuals at a time when most land was owned by royalty or the church.  Shorto describes how the notable Dutch tolerance is based on the idea of gedogen, turning a blind eye rather than strictly enforcing the law.

The history of Amsterdam is broad and Shorto both compresses a lot of detail and tends to overstate Amsterdam’s significance, but appropriate to Amsterdam’s characteristic of establishing individual identity, he focuses historical periods through the eyes of specific historical Amsterdam personages.  These include:

  • Rembrandt van Rijn – the portrait artist who explored human interior life
  • Baruch Spinoza – rational philosopher who foresaw modernism
  • Frieda Menco – a contemporary of Anne Frank who also went into hiding in Amsterdam and then to concentration camps.  Shorto refers to extensive interviews with Menco
  • Robert Jasper Grootveld – anarchist organizer of the Provo movement who helped make the 60s counter-culture a permanent facet of Amsterdam
  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a feminist activist known for her outspoken opposition to Islam

I found this an engaging history of this fascinating city.

Recommended booksAmsterdam: A Brief Life of the City by Geert Mak and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs


Author: A.J. Jacobs
TitleThe Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
Narrator: Geoffrey Cantor
Publication Info: Highbridge Audiobooks (2004)
Books Read by the Same Author: The Year of Living Biblically
Summary/Review:

A.J. Jacobs sets out to “become the smartest person in the world” by reading the Encylopedia Britannica in its entirety from A-to-Z.  If you think this is a book about a man reading an encyclopedia and listing the facts he learns, well that’s exactly what it is.  But to be fair many of the facts are interesting and/or funny.  In between encyclopedic entries, Jacobs narrates his personal life.  This includes his relationship with his wife as they try to conceive a baby.  Then there’s his absolutely hilarious father who is also greatly interested in learning.  And Jacobs has a nemesis in his brother-in-law who is an even bigger – and more confident – know-it-all.  Along the way Jacobs attends adult education courses on speed reading and memorization, visits the Britannica publishing offices in Chicago, and appears on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?   I expect that Jacobs might be a tad bit annoying if you met him in person, but in his writing he is funny and charming and this is an enjoyable book for nerds like me.

Recommended booksThe Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester, Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, Dishwasher by Pete Jordan and Because I Said So! by Ken Jennings
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


Author: Oscar Wilde
Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Narrator: Paul Lincoln
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC (2016) [Originally published in 1890]
Summary/Review:

Sometimes you decide that you should make up for having never read any works of Oscar Wilde and learn that this book is far weirder than you ever imagined.  The Picture of Dorian Gray is highly melodramatic and is tuned to Victorian era sensibilities of morality.  This portrait in this book famously ages while it’s subject remains young and beautiful, but the story is not about aging but the representation of Dorian Gray’s evil acts in the visage of his picture.  I was also surprised about how frank this book is about homosexuality for the time.  At any rate, it’s a nice surprise to finally read a book you think you know what it’s about, only to find yourself very surprised.

Recommended BooksDeath in Venice by Thomas Mann
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Fever of 1721 by Stephen Coss


Author: Stephen Coss
Title: The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics
Narrator: Bob Souer
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster (2016
Summary/Review:

I received a free advanced readers copy of this audiobook through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

1721 is a pivotal year in Boston history.  Coss details how a popular party of elected representatives challenge the rule of the Royal Governor establishing the ideology and some of the organizations that would be used by the Revolutionary generation 50 years later.  At the same time, The New England Courant is launched as the first colonial newspaper completely independent of the government’s imprimatur and challenges the political and religious leaders of the time.  Tying them together is an epidemic of smallpox and the effort of some learned people in the town to try to fight it using a new idea, inoculation.

There are five pivotal figures in this book:

  • Elisha Cooke, Jr., the popular party politician whose election as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representative leads to a showdown with Royal Governor Samuel Shute, who dissolves the House and calls for new elections.
  • James Franklin, publisher of The New England Courant, who publishes opinions that scandalize the established elites and religious leaders of the colony, while also aiming for a more entertaining and literary journalism than offered by the two existing newspapers.  While generally on the side of reason against tradition and superstition, Franklin’s Courant comes out strongly against inoculation.
  • Benjamin Franklin, James’ much younger brother and apprentice who educates himself with materials at the print shop and makes his first impression by anonymously submitting the Courant‘s most popular opinion pieces under the pseudonym of Silence Dogood.  Franklin, of course, is a direct connection to the Revolutionary period of the 1760s & 1770s.
  • Cotton Mather, the conservative Puritan preacher and theologian, seeking redemption for his part in the Salem Witch hysteria.  Surprisingly he is also a man of science who initiates the call to attempt inoculation against small pox which he learns of from his African slave Onesimus and the writings of physicians in Europe.
  • Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, a middling physician who answers the call to attempt inoculation and continues to do so despite strong opposition in the town and threats to his life.  Boylston ends up successfully inoculating nearly 250 people for smallpox despite being a provincial doctor with no formal training and doing so before anyone in Britain had attempted to do so.

While I was familiar with a lot of the aspects of this history, I found it fascinating how Coss tied them together and showed how they influenced one another and lasting impact on Boston and Colonial America.  It’s a fascinating and engaging historical work.

Recommended booksThe Pox and the Covenant: Mather, Franklin, and the Epidemic That Changed America’s Destiny by Tony Williams,  Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore, and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Rating: ****

Book Review: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill


Author: Jenny Offill
TitleDept. of Speculation
Narrator: Jenny Offill
Publication Info: Holland, OH : Dreamscape Media, LLC, [2014]
Summary/Review:

This work is an experimental novel about a writer in Brooklyn, her marriage, and parenthood.  It’s written in a series of short chapters and vignettes.  Sometimes it feels like the narrator is going on about little things, but then sometimes there is a sentence or two that pithily captures a truth about the human condition.  No one in the story has a name – just the wife, the husband, and the daughter.  The child grows and changes, the husband commits adultery, they move to the country.  Everything is kept at a distance only to be periodically punctured by pain and regret.  I appreciate what Offill is trying to do, but on the other hand this book didn’t really resonate with me.

Recommended booksA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan,  Monkeys by Susan Minot, and Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer


AuthorAndrea Cremer
TitleThe Inventor’s Secret
NarratorLeslie Bellair
Publication Info: Listening Library (2014)
Summary/Review:

This is the first in a series of an alternate universe dystopia in which Great Britain suppressed the revolution in the American colonies and have created a deeply stratified industrial tyranny.  I actually thought it was supposed to be set sometime in the far future, but since its  in the steampunk genre, it’s supposed to be in the 19th century despite the advanced technology.  The protagonist is Charlotte, a 16-year-old member of the resistance living with other children in camp hidden away from the empire.  When a mysterious newcomer arrives, it moves forward a plot for Charlotte, her brother and other companions to infiltrate the imperial society in New York.  It’s an interesting concept, but the story didn’t engage me .  I could see it’s appeal for younger readers interested in a mix of fantasy, alternate history, and romance.

Rating: **

Book Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore


Author: Jill Lepore
TitleThe Secret History of Wonder Woman
NarratorJill Lepore
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2014)
Previously Read by Same Author:

Summary/Review:

The story of Wonder Women begins as a creation of William Moulton Marston, a something of a quack psychologist previously known for inventing the lie detector test.  Marston worked closely with his wife  Elizabeth Hollaway and Olive Byrne who lived with them in a long-term relationship (and continued living with Holloway after Martson’s death).  Through Byrne they were also connected to her aunt Margaret Sanger who looms large in this book and the history of Wonder Woman.  Lepore shows how the triad’s interests in feminism and unconventional sexuality are expressed through Wonder Woman comics which contains themes of ruling with feminine love and bondage and submission.  Lepore relates an interesting history of Marston, Hollaway, Byrne, Sanger, and others in the women’s rights movements of the 20th century, and Wonder Woman’s unexpected role in the center of it all.

Recommended booksThe Mad World of William M. Gaines by Frank Jacobs, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy
Rating: ***

Book Review: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz


AuthorAnthony Horowitz
TitleMoriarty
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt and Derek Jacobi
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (2014)
Summary/Review:

Horowitz follows up on his authorized Sherlock Holmes novel House of Silk with this mystery set in 1891 immediately after Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarity are believed to have fallen from Reichenbach Falls.  The narrator is Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective who travels to Switzerland seeking American criminal mastermind Clarence Devereux whom he believes will rendez-vous with Moriarity.  In the wake of the supposed deaths of Moriarity and Holmes, Chase joins up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones who displays a skill in deductive reasoning. Based on the title, one wonders if Jones is Moriarity in disguise?  Or Holmes in disguise?  I won’t tell.  Chase and Jones return to London to continue the search for Devereux and find themselves pulled into the brutally violent underworld of expatriate American criminals.  It’s a gripping mystery with a lots of twists and turns, and a great companion to the Holmes’ canon.  The performance of Rhind-Tutt and Jacobi on the audiobook is particularly entrancing.

Recommended booksThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Martin Harry Greenberg,Sherlock Holmes and the Red Demon by Larry Millett, and A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry


AuthorDan Barry
TitleBottom of the 33rd
Narrator: Dan Barry
Publication Info: [New York] : Harper Audio, 2011.
Summary/Review:

I’ve long been aware that Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game in history, a 33-inning affair between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings in 1981.  I knew that the game featured two future Hall of Famers, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken.  Barry’s book fills me on a lot that I didn’t know.  For example, the game was played well into Easter morning and the weather was so miserably cold that the players burned broken bats in barrels to keep warm.  The game was allowed to play so long due to a misprint in the International League rule book that left out the paragraph about curfews.  Thus a rather stubborn umpire continued the game until receiving word from the league president at 4:09 am.  I also didn’t know that when the game was completed in June of that year, it received international attention boosted by the fact that Major League baseball players were on strike at that time.

Barry tells a compelling story of the game, building tension in the relentless procession of pitches, hits, and outs. He draws on recordings of the Red Wings’ radio broadcast and interviews with players, managers, coaches, media, players’ wives, umpires, spectators, and even the bat boy who were present for the game.  If the book were about only the game it would fall apart quickly, but Barry weaves in the lives and careers of many of the participants before and after that game.  It makes for a lively bit of sportswriting at it’s best.

Recommended books: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella, Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland by Stefan Fatsis, and Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues by David Lamb.
Rating: ****

Book Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin


AuthorGeorge R.R. Martin
TitleA Clash of Kings
Narrator: Roy Dotrice
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2011)
Previously read by the same author: A Game of Thrones
Summary/Review:

The second installment of A Song of Ice and Fire was gripping to my ears as I plowed through the audiobook.  Despite the title, there is not much clashing for most of the novel, but there is a lot of moving of chess pieces around the board.  There’s also a grim portrait of the effect of war on the ordinary people in Westeros.  Having watched the television series, I notice that it diverges more from the source material than in A Game of Thrones, but not so much that I’d wonder why they make the changes.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
ISBN: 0545091020
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot.  The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts.  Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead.  The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.

With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development.  The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents.  One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience.  Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition.  On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.

The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series.   The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.

Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen


Author: Jonathan Franzen
Title: The Corrections
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2001)
ISBN: 0743510003

Summary/Review:

I’ve avoided reading Franzen and if it weren’t for my book club, I wouldn’t have read this book but I was pleasantly surprised.  Pleasant may not be the best word for this novel as it is an unpleasant story about a dysfunctional family and I swiftly found myself hating every character in the book.  It is a credit to Franzen’s writing that I was still interested in finding out what happens to them.  I was particularly impressed by the opening of the book where the narrative would follow one character until he met up with someone else and then the story would rather cinematically tag along with another character.  Franzen also did well at capturing the sense of dementia in the family patriarch and the spreading effect that had on the family.  Still, this book is not an easy read as these are nasty, nasty people.

Recommended books: No specific books, but I find parallels with the writing of Richard Russo and Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson


Author: Greg Mortenson
Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World… One Child at a Time
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2006), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1400102510

Summary/Review:

I’m probably the last person in the United States to read this book but here is my review anyway.  This memoir/biography tells the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who after a failed attempt at summiting K-2 is received warmly in a remote village in Pakistan.  As a means of paying back the people of Korphe for their hospitality he promises to build them a school.  Fulfilling this promise is wrought with many challenges but leads Mortenson to a new mission in life, eventually founding the Central Asia Institute to support education in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially for girls as a means of promoting social change and peace.  This is a nice, inspirational work and if you haven’t read it, check it out.

Favorite Passages:

“In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.” — Greg Mortenson

Recommended books: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy, and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby.
Rating: ***