Q1 Book Review

Q1 2015 Book Review

Every year I set up with a reading goal. This year was no different, except that I scaled back the number of books. I didn’t exactly reach my goal last year. This time around I’m attempting to read 50 books. Now, you might be asking, how do I manage to read that many books. Audio books! They’re a wonderful invention! They’re pretty much the only way I’m able to read books any more. There’s nothing like going for a walk or a run and listening to a great book. Also, they’re awesome for road trips. Mind you, you have to road trip with other audio book lovers. All others, can get chatting and interupt the flow. I have yet to master driving, listening to a book,  and talking at the same time. That’s just way too much multi-tasking for me.

So what did I read during the first quarter of the year and what did I think? I’m so glad you asked. There have been several really great books and some, that if I never see or hear of them again, I will be more than happy. So, in no particular order:

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers―some willingly, some unwittingly―have been involved in science’s boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.” – Amazon.com

My Take: This has been on my list for years, ever since my sister read it and said she loved it. It took me a while to get around to it but I’m so glad I did. Overall, a totally interesting story about what happens to human cadavers and what happens to our bodies after we’re gone. Really liked it. 4/5 stars

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country, the most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history, was an immediate worldwide bestseller in 1948. Alan Paton’s impassioned novel about a black man’s country under white man’s law is a work of searing beauty.

Cry, the Beloved Country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

The eminent literary critic Lewis Gannett wrote, “We have had many novels from statesmen and reformers, almost all bad; many novels from poets, almost all thin. In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country the statesman, the poet and the novelist meet in a unique harmony.”

Cry, the Beloved Country is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.” – Amazon.com

My Take: I’m not sure why I waited two years before reading this book. Everyone should read this. It should be on every high schoolers reading list. This has inspired me to learn more about apartheid and more about Africa in general. Liked it. 3/5 stars

Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III

“After their parents divorced in the 1970s, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and everyday violence. To protect himself and those he loved, Andre started pumping iron and learned to use his fists so well that he became the kind of man who could send others to the hospital with one punch, and did. Irresistibly drawn to stand up for the underdog, he was on a fast track to getting killed—or killing someone else.

Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds between town and gown, between the hard drinking, drugging, and fighting of “townies” and the ambitions of well-fed students debating books and ideas, couldn’t have been more stark or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father. Only by finally putting pen to paper himself did young Andre come into his own, discovering the power of empathy in channeling the stories of others—and ultimately bridging the rift between his father and himself.

An unforgettable book, Townie is a riveting and profound meditation on physical violence and the failures and triumphs of love.” – Amazon.com

My take:.By no means is this a book that will leave you uplifted. It’s dark and gritty but well written. A few years ago I watch the film House of Sand & Fog, well, this is a book by the same author, and I really like his storytelling. It’s real, it’s honest, and it can be hard to swallow at times. His books are not not for the faint of heart. Really like it. 4/5 stars

Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

“FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: When college student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating.  The unworldly Ana realizes she wants this man, and Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian’s secrets and explores her own desires.

FIFTY SHADES DARKER: Daunted by Christian’s dark secrets and singular tastes, Ana has broken off their relationship to start a new career. But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought. They rekindle their searing sensual affair, and while Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Ana is forced to make the most important decision of her life.

FIFTY SHADES FREED: Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to turn Ana’s deepest fears into reality.

This book is intended for mature audiences.” – Amazon.com

My Take: I’ve been putting off reading this series because, let’s be honest, I am not a fan of genre. Never have been and probably never will be. While, not terrible, it was also not very good. Pretty much a waste of time.

One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good by Regina Leads

“Who would you be if you felt at peace and had more time and money? An organized life enables you to have more freedom, less aggravation, better health, and to get more done. For nearly twenty years, Regina Leeds-named Best Organizer by Los Angeles magazine-has helped even the messiest turn their lives around. Anyone can get organized-she’ll prove it to you! One Year to an Organized Life is a unique week-by-week approach that you can begin at any time of year. Regina helps you break down tasks and build routines over time so that life becomes simple, not overwhelming. Master time management Make your kitchen efficient Permanently organize closets and drawers Deal with your finances Reclaim “dumping grounds” like the guest room, garage and basement Declutter the kids’ rooms Organize your travel plans-and the vacation photos and souvenirs Entertain with joy Regina reveals her magic formula for organizing anything, plus her method to stop the chronic cycles of clutter, misplaced items, and lateness. Whether you’re living in chaos or just looking for new ways to simplify, this essential book will help you get the whole household organized-and stay that way.” – amazon.com

My Take: I had hoped this would have something of interest but it didn’t. I guess I’m already organized. Worst book I’ve read this year. 1/5 stars

The Bat by Jo Nesbo

“Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case.  Harry is free to offer assistance, but he has firm instructions to stay out of trouble. The victim is a twenty-three year old Norwegian woman who is a minor celebrity back home. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Harry befriends one of the lead detectives, and one of the witnesses, as he is drawn deeper into the case.  Together, they discover that this is only the latest in a string of unsolved murders, and the pattern points toward a psychopath working his way across the country. As they circle closer and closer to the killer, Harry begins to fear that no one is safe, least of all those investigating the case.” – Amazon.com

My Take: I’ve read other books by Jo Nesbo and they’ve all been consistently good. He’s been compared to Stieg Larsson and while I’d like to agree, I don’t. I’ve found Stieg Larsson’s books to be better. Jo Nesbo continues to deliver a good murder mystery and, what can I say, I love a good who done it. Liked it. 3/5 stars.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

“When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days-as he has done before-and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives-meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before… A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.” – amazon.com

My Take: Last year I read, The Cuckoo’s Calling Robert Galbraith, also known as J.K. Rowling, and really liked it. So, this year I’m trying to read her other books, The Silkworm being one. Overall, this was a really good story. Some of the twists and turns were unexpected and I’ve come to find myself always rooting for Cormoran Strike. Plus, it’s set in England and I have a love of all things from across the pond. Really liked it. 4/5 stars.

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

“When the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel, Inspector Harry Hole is dispatched from Oslo to help hush up the case.

But once he arrives Harry discovers that this case is about much more than one random murder. There is something else, something more pervasive, scrabbling around behind the scenes. Or, put another way, for every cockroach you see in your hotel room, there are hundreds behind the walls. Surrounded by round-the-clock traffic noise, Harry wanders the streets of Bangkok lined with go-go bars, temples, opium dens, and tourist traps, trying to piece together the story of the ambassador’s death even though no one asked him to, and no one wants him to—not even Harry himself.” – amazon.com

My Take: The second book of the series and we learn more about Harry and his past. The more I learn the more I want to continue reading the series. I’m thinking I might just read all of them just to see where the story goes. Like it. 3/5 stars

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

“Twelve Years a Slave (Originally published in 1853 with the sub-title: “Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana”) is the written work of Solomon Northup; a man who was born free, but was bound into slavery later in life. Northup’s account describes the daily life of slaves in Bayou Beof, their diet, the relationship between the master and slave, the means that slave catchers used to recapture them and the ugly realities that slaves suffered.

Northup’s slave narrative is comparable to that of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Ann Jacobs or William Wells Brown, and there are many similarities. Scholars reference this work today; one example is Jesse Holland, who referred to him in an interview given on January 20, 2009 on Democracy.now. He did so because Northup’s extremely detailed description of Washington in 1841 helps the neuromancers understand the location of some slave markets, and is an important part of understanding that African slaves built many of the monuments in Washington, including the Capitol and part of the original Executive Mansion.

The book, which was originally published in 1853, tells the story of how two men approached him under the guise of circus promoters who were interested in his violin skills. They offered him a generous but fair amount of money to work for their circus, and then offered to put him up in a hotel in Washington D.C. Upon arriving there he was drugged, bound, and moved to a slave pen in the city owned by a man named James Burch, which was located in the Yellow House, which was one of several sites where African Americans were sold on the National Mall in DC. Another was Robey’s Tavern; these slave markets were located between what are now the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, within view of the Capitol, according to researcher Jesse Holland, and Northup’s own account[1].

Burch would coerce Northup into making up a new past for himself, one in which he had been born as a slave in Georgia. Burch told Northup that if he were ever to reveal his true past to another person he would be killed. When Northup continually asserts that he is a freeman of New York, Burch violently whips him until the paddle breaks and Rathburn insists on Burch to stop. Northup mentions different kind of owners that Northup had throughout his 12 years as a slave in Louisiana, and how he suffered severely under them: being forced to eat the meager slave diet, live on the dirt floor of a slave cabin, endure numerous beatings, being attacked with an axe, whippings and unimaginable emotional pain from being in such a state. One temporary master he was leased to was named Tibbeats; the man tried to kill him with an axe, but Northup ended up whipping him instead.

Finally the book discusses how Northup eventually ended up winning back his freedom. A white carpenter from Canada named Samuel Bass arrived to do some work for Northup’s current owner, and after conversing with him, Northup realized that Bass was quite different from the other white men he had met in the south; he said he stood out because he was openly laughed at for opposing the sub-human arguments slavery was based on. It was to Bass that Northup finally confided his story, and ultimately Bass would deliver the letters back to Northup’s wife that would start the legal process of earning him his freedom back. This was no small matter, for if they had been caught, it could easily have resulted in their death, as Northup says.” – amazon.com

My Take: To be honest, I had never heard of this book prior to the movie release (I still have yet to watch the movie) but the book is really good. Everyone should read it. Especially every American. Best book I’ve read all year. 5/5 stars.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

“Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Though she’s long been a part of the revolution, Katniss hasn’t known it. Now it seems that everyone has had a hand in the carefully laid plans but her.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the cost.” – amazon.com

My Take: Is it just me, or did it feel like this series could have been condensed into one book. It seems to drag on. Maybe that’s because I took my sweet ol’ time getting through it. I just couldn’t get into this one. Disliked. 2/5

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austin

“Sense and Sensibility is a novel by Jane Austen, and was her first published work when it appeared in 1811 under the pseudonym “A Lady”. A work of romantic fiction, better known as a comedy of manners, Sense and Sensibility is set in southwest England, London and Kent between 1792 and 1797, and portrays the life and loves of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. The novel follows the young ladies to their new home, a meagre cottage on a distant relative’s property, where they experience love, romance and heartbreak. The philosophical resolution of the novel is ambiguous: the reader must decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged.”

My Take: I’m slowly trying to make my way through the classics. Jane Austen would probably be an easier read if it was part of a book club or something. I struggle to get through most of her work. Possibly, because it just takes forever and that might be due to the fact that I’ve seen all the movies so I already know the end before I even start reading the first page. Liked it. 3/5 stars

What is everyone reading? Any recommendations?

Cheers-

Susan

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