Sunday, April 13, 2014

Winter's TaleWinter's Tale by Mark Helprin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

768 pages of creativity run amok. Part 1 is lovely. Most of Part 2 could be sacked with little being lost. I like the politics, the explanation of justice, the imagery, but the story keeps getting sidetracked with additional characters, endless detail and descriptions, and words, words, words. This is a romance lost in in a jungle of words.

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Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2 stars? 4 stars? I didn't really like this, but the author gets high marks for a compelling read which I couldn't put down and at the same time wished would end. There is drama, but it is not entertaining, not instructive or cautionary (no lesson to be learned), not uplifting or inspiring, has no humor, it doesn't even offer an escape. Crude sophomoric language & descriptions. Still… it had me hooked in a voyeuristic way from the beginning. This is a portrait of a sociopath and the dissolution of a marriage. I have known both. I was disappointed with the lack lustre yet realistic ending in which the antagonist wins. It left me feeling yuk. yuck. & was responsible for a bad night of restless sleep.
I listened to the audio version which is superbly done.
a few favorite quotes:
“There's a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.” - true
“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.” - truer still
“My mother had always told her kids: if you're about to do something, and you want to know if it's a bad idea, imagine seeing it printed in the paper for all the world to see.” -I'm going to tell my seminary students that one.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Only Time Will Tell (The Clifton Chronicles, #1)Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fast paced, family mystery storyline that hooked me from the first read/listen (audio book). The writing is skilled and is loaded with twists and turns, which Archer does better than most, but it does not approach fine literature. It is narrated first person by the 5 main characters with each of their unique viewpoints.
Kudos to Jeffry Archer for always creating an interesting tale, with sympathetic characters, that is difficult to put down…all this with no foul language or gratuitous descriptive sex. I have read several of his novels and will read the sequel to this.
Warning: the end of the novel is a cliff hanger and what happens next is told in at least two sequels.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Delightful book! I loved the main character Flavia, a quirky precocious 11 year old, and will definitely read more in the series. It is a real authorial feat to make a murder mystery so light-hearted and humorous.

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The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulkner: You know it is going to be depressing, tragic. You can also count on it being real with characters you have known or recognized at some point in your life. Benjy, a nonjudgmental, personally involved narrator, gives a fractured portrayal of a deteriorating fractured family. I read this because it was the only one of his books I had not read and it was on my bucket list. Counted as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, I reveled in Faulkner's mastery of language and characterization, his humor, and his heart wrenching empathy, the talents that made it a classic, nevertheless I did not love it.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this at least 35 years ago, and it still at the top of my best books I've ever read list. Solzhenitsyn wrote a riveting tale which deals with his arrest for daring to present a differing view from Russia's prevailing totalitarian regime and his subsequent incarceration in the vast Soviet prison system. Despite the heavy subject matter - the stark chaotic realities of life (and death) in Stalin's Russia and the suffering of the inmates in the Gulag's deplorable prisons - the book is highly readable. Solzhenitsyn's first hand account reads more like a novel than an autobiography. He was able to outlive the rotten system that persecuted him and drove him into prison and exile, and finally wrote about his vindicating return to his homeland. It is an eye opening, poignant, and touching tale which should be read by anyone who thinks government (the State) exists to protect its citizens.

Favorite quotes:

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

"the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. ...And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

“Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.”

“It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that "past" which "ought not to be stirred up.”

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Thread of GraceA Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was deeply moved by this story and am impressed by Mary Doria Russell's ability as an author. She has created characters that one can't help but love and care about. Favorite quote, and summation of the book's message ....“No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace.”
This is a beautiful but painful book that will stay with me for a long while.
more favorite quotes:
“God save us from idealists! They dream of a world without injustice, and what crime won't they commit to get it! I swear, Mirella, I'll settle for a world with good manners.”
“The world is filled with unreasonable hate. What's wrong with unreasonable love?”
“I suppose I should warn you, Padre. In the absence of male supervision, my mother has become a revolutionary." ~Renzo Leoni”

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Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't even like sci-fi dystopian novels, am not a gamer, geek, or techie. I was too busy being a mom to 5 kids in the 80's to be little more than worried about the influence of its pop culture. I was not only terrible at Mario but I could see no point in wasting my time as it made me tense and jittery. Now as a grandma I have even stronger feelings about online gaming and its violent, addictive qualities. All that being said, I REALLY liked this crazy book about an unattractive, overweight male teen who barely has a life outside of gaming. I don't think it is very well written, but due to the compulsive nature of my reading it, in the end I decided it doesn't matter, because I liked it.
I agree with another reviewer who pointed out that the book looks at how we deal with the online "friends" we've never actually met and how certain segments of society wall themselves off from the real world living almost exclusively in a virtual world.
It is a fun, escapist read, a blend of "tech version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," The Matrix, and The Hunger Games. I predict a sequel and a movie adaptation.
I listened to the audio version which is exceptionally well done. I don't think I would have enjoyed text version as well. I knocked off a point for crude language and mediocre writing.

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A Thousand SunsA Thousand Suns by Jim Haberkorn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh man, this was an excellent read and I can't believe I didn't rate and review it 8 months ago when I read it….undoubtedly because I was in the process of moving (twice) to new homes and a new town. One does not often read a second book by a new author that is as good as the first book, but that is certainly the case here.
In fact, this book was even better than Haberkorn's first book, which I also rated 5 stars. I'm hoping there will be a third novel! If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down and which also has some truly wonderful humor, look no further. His characters are well drawn and believable, the settings varied and descriptive, the story exciting, and the writing is superb. I especially give it kudos for being a squeaky clean read, proof that such a thing is possible even in gritty modern spy novels. Yay!

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Almost 5 stars. This was difficult to follow at first, perhaps because I listened to audio version (?), and it was a few chapters before I really got into it but then I couldn't put it down and truly I didn't want it to end. It is a beautifully told tale with many people and their individual stories and how after 60 years they meld into a satisfying conclusion. The book really touched me. Did not feel it was quite as good as Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but will likely appeal to readers who did not enjoy those books due to the darkness in both, but although much of the book deals with Afghanistan and its people the storyline and overall theme of this book is completely different, more positive and heart warming.

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