The Bookworm's Library

A room without books is like a body without a soul -- Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Magicians by: Lev Grossman

The Magicians Book Cover The Magicians
The Magicians

Fantasy
Viking
August, 2009
Hardcover
402
Goodreads

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless. 

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

Review:

I  have heard this book referred to as the adult version of Harry Potter.  If that is so, then Grossman seriously missed the mark.  I have always struggled with series.  My attention tends to wander and I loose interest about half way through.  Especially when that series is longer than about three books.  So for a series to captivate my interest when it brings seven books to the scene — it is really a well done story.  Harry Potter managed to accomplish this feat.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for The Magicians.  From beginning to end I felt like Grossman was simply trying to capitalize on the success of the Harry Potter series, without bringing anything of value to the table.  Simply put –the book goes on and on, with little to show for it, and no appreciable uniqueness at all.

The story really was poorly done.  Mainly because there didn’t seem to be one of any significant notice.  The setting, the situations, the scenarios — they all seemed to be a revisiting of Rowling’s creation, with a whole lot of adult content.  In fact — I felt like the adult content is all that Grossman used to try and set this one apart.  The drinking, the language, the obsessive nature, the sex (sexual abuse at that), somehow it got to be too much and all without purpose.  I felt that Grossman was trying to rely on shock value and crudity to build this story and demonstrated an absence of creativity, vision and even individuality.  

All of the characters seem to be built around character flaws and failings.  There is little of strength in any of them.  They portray teenagers — nascent magicians or not — as boozing alcoholics with little or no direction, guidance or supervision.  This, in fact, I found strange, since the entrance into the school of magic was apparently challenging and designed to identify budding magicians with strong character traits and above average skills and abilities in the magical arts.  Throughout the book, I found myself wishing it was over because all of the characters were unbelievable, and annoying to varying degrees.  

The plot was lacking altogether.  I was never sure where Grossman was going — or trying to go.  It seemed to get bogged down in each and every scene — while struggling to tie them all together into a story that actually had any purpose or point.  It simple seemed to wander aimlessly through various scenes and failed completely in capturing my interest enough to want to read any more in the series.   Overall — I thin Grossman failed in his attempt to develop a book of any profound insight.  Instead, he seemed to rely on the inventiveness and creativity of other authors, in both obvious and unsuccessful ways.

White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by: Paul Clayton

White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Book Cover White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Historical Fiction
Booklocker
December, 2009
E-book
488
Goodreads

One of the most haunting mysteries in American history - The Lost Colony of Roanoke - comes roaring back to life in White Seed, with a compelling cast of characters. Among them: Maggie Hagger, indentured Irish serving girl, a victim of rape and intimidation, driven to desperate action against a tyrant when all around her have lost hope; Manteo, the Croatoan interpreter for the English, an inhabitant of two worlds, belonging to neither, who longs for love and acceptance and finally finds it in Maggie's arms; John White, ineffective Governor, painter and dreamer, drawn to the brink of insanity and back in his efforts to rescue his people; Captain Stafford, a brave, disciplined, but cruel soldier, with the seeds of class hatred imbedded in his soul years earlier' and Powhatan, the shrewd Tidewater warlord who wages a stealthy jihad against the colonists, waiting to ensure they have truly been abandoned before launching his final assault.

Review:

One review I read on this book described it as mediocre.  Now I understand why.  I wouldn’t say that I liked it or hated it.  Rather, I came away pretty indifferent to the whole thing.  For whatever reason, there just didn’t seem to be anything about it that drew me in and made me want to keep reading.  I have tried to figure out what it is that produced this response — as I do with every book I read, which evokes a similar reaction. But somehow, there just wasn’t anything in it to set it apart from other books.

Historical fiction is a challenging genre to write.  The author is compelled to stay within the confines of a history that is already known and there are no surprises in the plot.  Consequently, there is a greater need for description,  character development and that undefinable quality that makes the time and place live and rise above the bald facts presented in text books and historical records.  That is not to say this can’t be done — and done well.  I once heard it said that History is the saga of the victor –while the conquered fall into shady obscurity.  This simple fact is the reason that history, as we believe it to be, is constantly changing, with each new discovery that comes to light.  There are always two sides to the historical coin — and a good author will find ways to open the door to the possible, on what is, essentially, a one sided presentation of the historical record.  

That said, Clayton’s characters are well developed and have dimension.  But it was easy to figure out their motivations.  Clayton was up front about what drove his characters.  There wasn’t any real feeling of discovery — a process that in the real world we refer to as getting to know someone.  This journey is essential for any one individual — real or fictional.  Half the fun of getting to know someone is finding out “what makes them tick.”  In creating characters that had little left to discover — Clayton took the mystique and sense of enjoyment out of the book that comes with getting to know someone new.  

The story, itself, never really delved into the realm of the possible.  Yes — we know that the colony disappeared.  The reasons were probably myriad.  A series of errors, misjudgments and poor planning.  But this leaves a lot of room for Clayton to develop an intriguing story.  But he seemed satisfied to rely on the well known facts for story development.  His speculation into what really went on in those last days — the daily life that led up to the problems that ultimately resulted in tragedy — is lacking.  I felt like he was simply going through the  motions, without delving deeper into the story behind the historical facts.  

Another aspect that is imperative for historical fiction, is a great use of description. Where we already know the basic structure and image –it is essential to fill in that basic outline.  Clayton never really accomplished this.  The story is lacking in light and shadow. The perspective is generic and broad.  I think Clayton would have been better served to tell this story from one side– rather than all of them.

Ultimately — Clayton ran into trouble all the way around.  If it was his intention to write a history, he brought little new to the history books already  written.  I could have found as much in my old high school texts.  If it was his intention to write a fictional account of a historical event — he failed to bring life and dimension to the mono-colored historical record.

 

The Dovekeepers by: Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers Book Cover The Dovekeepers

Historical Fiction
Simon & Schuster
October, 2011
E-book
504
Goodreads

Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. 

Four bold, resourceful, and sensuous women come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The four lives intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.

Review:

This is a book that I found simply stays with me for numerous reasons.  But I think, perhaps, the most powerful aspect is just that — the power of skillful writing throughout the story.  I have had an on again off again opinion of Hoffman’s books.  Many of them I have either had a hard time getting in to — or I have struggled to relate to the characters.  I get really frustrated with an author at times — and I realize this is simply unfair.  The author has an artistic vision — and they must stay true to that insight and story.  But, one person’s vision does not always work for someone else.  That is the struggle I have had with Hoffman’s writing.  Somehow, I just struggle with the style overall — which makes it difficult to get into a story, with the staying power to get through to the end.  Consequently, it was with some trepidation that I picked this one up.  In the end — it was the subject and title that drew me in.  I have always loved history — and historical fiction is certainly one of my preferred genres.  Stories that are set in the early Hebraic faith, and the history and challenges faced among the Jew’s have always captivated me.  So — Hoffman had her work cut out for her — at least with me, as a reader.  I had a great deal of expectations in relation to what I wanted to find in this book.  Simply put — Hoffman delivered in spades!

The women of this book are amazing in the stories they have to tell.  Each of them have beautiful lives to share and those lives are as unique as they are powerful.  Set in a time of great upheaval in the land of Israel — the Jewish people were being hunted, enslaved and annihilated.  The Romans were going to great extremes to bring the Jews to heal — and the resulting devastation was truly horrific.  In the midst of this upheaval, each of these characters — Yael, Revka, Aziza and Shirah — make up the foundation of this book.  Their stories manifest the challenges, joys and heartaches that accompanied life, as women in ancient Israel.  Their struggle to find and hold onto faith in the midst of rebellion and chaos really give a sense of realism to this story.  Hoffman’s research adds depth and dimension — allowing the reader to see into the minds and hearts of these four intriguing women.  Each of them manifests the struggles of being considered inferior in their families and among society.  Each of them gives insight into how women learned to live in this society, where they were denied so much — while at the same time so much was expected.  Each woman was the product of heartbreak and tragedy, and it is these back stories that allow the women to go from being characters — to being individuals with depth and dimension.  

The tragedies that forced these women into the troubled lives they live — also drove them and the remains of their families into a tragic appointment with destiny.  They ultimately find themselves in the last bastion of Judaism – Masada – where they will ultimately meet a troubling, mysterious end.     While history records the events leading up to the tragedy of the mass suicides of Masada — the questions of why continue to haunt the historical and archaeological records.  This story dares to ask not only why — but also to delve into the last, desperate motivations that would ultimately lead to the final collapse of the Jewish state, through the ignominy of death at their own hands, as opposed to the alternative — death or enslavement at the hands of their oppressors.  The feeling that Hoffman captures in the Masada stronghold forces the reader to step out of themselves and consider the struggle of the last choices facing this handful of people.  

Hoffman demonstrates a real aptitude for incorporating thought and emotion into the lives of her characters.  The myriad motivations that continuously trouble the characters are both moving and powerful.  And yet — the story is simple, in that the ending is already known.  But it is this knowledge that lends a sense of fatalistic desperation in not only the lives of the characters — but also in the mind and heart of the reader.  The desperation is, at times oppressive it is so powerfully developed.  But for all of that — the reader just can’t seem to walk away.  

This book makes for a great read.  It is captivating in the questions it explores, while relying on the history, to give depth and emotional tension to the whole experience.  Hoffman demonstrates a strong mastery of the use of language, and demonstrates how eloquent an author can be, when combining the drama of history with a well accomplished gift for language.  This is one that I would recommend to those who love historical fiction, drama and history.  It opens the door on what might have been, while reflecting on the struggles of a once condemned people.  

Shantaram by: Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram Book Cover Shantaram

Fiction
Scribe
2004
E-book
936
Goodreads

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaram is narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay's hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city's poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas---this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

Review:

This is one of those books that it is simply fun to take the journey.  A fictional account based on the Roberts’ life, this book is an amazing read.  Not only is Roberts’ own life and story compelling, but the novel presents a powerful look into the world of India.  The setting, the characters, the eloquence with which the story is told — it is all an amazing example of what excellent writing can do.  This is a book that I look forward to revisiting time and again — with little concern that it won’t live up to the first time.  Every read adds depth and greater perspective in a very philosophical way.  

Reading this as an American reader — I think one thing that I found both troubling and graphic, is the portrayal of the penal facilities and the occurrences that Lin experienced.  It may be naive — but living in the United State I take certain things for granted.  This book challenged not only my commonly held belief that prisons are humane and appropriate in their treatment of prisoners — but it also challenges many of my beliefs and understandings about the world as a whole.  I frequently love to read books that are set in other countries, cultures and times.  But rarely do these books challenge my perceptions of the world.  It is difficult and sometimes painful to have one’s beliefs challenged, especially when your beliefs are strong and loyal to a certain ideal.  But the change that ensues leads to a broader perspective of the world, expanding understanding and bridging the gap between people and cultures.  This is one book that works as a catalyst for this type of change.  

The story is haunting.  This is a word that I see frequently in book reviews.  However, in this instance it is most applicable.  The book not only provides an experience to the reader, but also a feeling.  It lives, indelibly marking the reader.  It demands that the reader pay attention, engage and delve into a world both foreign and familiar.  I love the feeling, although at times it was filled with pain, discovery, wonder, love, hate, and ultimately defined the term beauty.  

I particularly loved the characters.  These characters are more than simply creations of Roberts’ imagination.  They are very real, tangible and over the top influential.  Each of them demonstrates a powerful personality that continuously draws the reader deeper into the story — which in turn makes for an amazing reading experience.  Lin is a strong character, in both presence and insight.  But that strength comes not from just a well developed character.  He is strong in his weakness, demonstrating myriad aspects of the human personality.  Prabaker is one of those characters that add life and enjoyment through his carefree, loyal dedication to not only his friend — but his acceptance of the world on its terms.  He does not force the reader to adopt Roberts’ idea of his character, but allows the reader to find in Prabaker the truth and understanding that they will, simply through knowing him.  All of these characters in this story manifest this same quality.  Reality through simplicity and good character development.

I also loved that Roberts didn’t develop this story in the idealized world.  Rather, it is set in the slums, among the criminal element, among the ex-pats and even within prison walls.  This does two things.  First — it provides a strong counterpoint to those parts of the story set in the upper, influential class.  Especially in a very class conscious society.  Second — It helps the reader find reality in fiction.  This book steps beyond story telling into a living quality that is so worth the read.  At over 900 pages — it can appear daunting.  But from the first chapter — the reader is captivated. Suddenly time, length and the outside world go away and there remains simply the book — and all the messages it has to tell.  

 

A Stranger in the Kingdom by: Howard Frank Mosher

A Stranger in the Kingdom Book Cover A Stranger in the Kingdom

Fiction
Mariner Books
September, 2002
E-book
432
Goodreads

Howard Frank Mosher has earned both critical acclaim and a wide readership for his vivid historical portraits of northern New England residents in his fictional Kingdom County, Vermont. A Stranger in the Kingdom tells the unforgettable story of a brutal murder in a small town and the devastating events that follow. The town’s new preacher, a black man, finds himself on trial more for who he is than for what he might have done in this powerful drama of passion, prejudice, and innocence suddenly lost . . . and perhaps found again.

Review

This is a book I found on Bookbub.  It looked interesting in some ways — but in others I had reservations.  Frequently when I struggle to make a decision about reading a book, I find that I fall in love with it.  It is usually the books I know I want to read and pick them up without much thought that give me trouble.  This one, unfortunately, was an exception.  I struggled with this one right from the first, but kept reading hoping it would get better.  Most of the reviews I have read on this one were good — in fact they were excellent — with only a few exceptions.  Because of this I settled in for what I was looking forward to as a good read.  Over 200 pages in, I was still waiting.

To say the beginning (200 pages worth) of the book was extremely slow is a misnomer.  In fact, I would have to say this is an understatement.  Mosher could have provided the background information and insight into Jim’s family in a quarter of that — half at the most.  It just seemed to go on and on.  Add to that the fact that the editing was atrocious and it makes for a painfully tough read.  I try to have patience with editing issues when they crop up and not let them influence my opinion of a book and its story.  But in this case the editing errors were so blatant that they actually disrupted the story.  Punctuation in the middle of sentences, incorrect words that made absolutely no sense, grammar issues and more.  Simply put — I found it almost impossible to follow the story because every page there were editing issues.  

The story, itself, started out with an uphill battle.  Unfortunately, it comes across as a mirror image of To Kill a Mockingbird if it were poorly written.  The narrator — Jim Kinneson — is an interesting character.  But he spends more than half the book simply telling background, and family anecdotes that appear to have nothing to do with the story, whatsoever.  And while I understand that the purpose of all this background information is important for not only providing foundation for the story, but also helping to develop characters — it just got to be too much.  I started to feel like Mosher lost sight of where he was going with the story and was bogged down in the immediate chapter he happened to be writing at that time.  

For all of that development, the characters never really took on much depth.  Or they were sporadic at best.  Some of the characters seemed very well developed, like Reverend Andrews, his son Nate and Jim.  The were colorful and lively and easy to identify with.  But for the most part — the characters were transparent and predictable.  Many of them were extremely stereotypical in the most obvious ways, with no depth beyond exactly what the reader expected them to be.  I felt like Jim was the male version of Scout and very poorly matched at that.  And the character names were simply obnoxious in the extreme.  Elijah, Resolved and Welcome Kinneson was the over the top examples — but the book is full of character names that simply challenged all belief and once again detracted from the story.

The technical writing was well done, if lacking in creativity.  I started to wonder if Mosher was obsessed with Baseball and fishing.  The two subjects play such a central role that they almost overwhelm the whole book.  Not only that — but they are presented using the slang and topic specific jargon — as if everyone in the universe knows about baseball and fishing.  More than once I had to look up terms — just to figure out what Mosher was talking about.  I don’t mind having to look up words that I don’t know what they mean.  It expands the vocabulary and adds depth to a book.  But when it becomes excessive — simply because the author assumes that the reader shares these interests so much that they know every reference to the game of baseball — it comes across as a little overbearing and presumptive.

Overall — I don’t know that this is one that I would recommend.  The story gets lost on more than one occasion and the reader has to really work just to follow wherever the book is trying to go.  It fails to live up to the expectations of the read — which, unfortunately for Mosher, are exceptionally high because he decided to challenge a real classic in literary art from the outset.   

The Golem and the Jinni by: Helene Wecker

The Golem and Jinni Book Cover The Golem and Jinni

Fiction
Harper
April, 2013
Hardcover
496
Goodreads

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. 

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. 

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Review

I have decided that those who coined the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” were simply not readers.  Ok — this statement my not be entirely true — I don’t make judgments about how good a book will or will not be based on its cover,  but I certainly have a propensity for deciding to pick up a book and read it based on its cover and title.  This is one more example of a book I picked up due to the both the title and cover.  When I saw it, I literally wandered around Barnes & Noble for more than an hour looking at books, all the while carrying this one and trying to decide if I wanted to read it.  However, in the end I was intrigued enough to make the purchase.  The book proved to be everything I hoped for and more.

The Golem and Jinni are two of the lesser known mythological creatures — interestingly enough originating from the Jewish and Arabic cultures.  This, of course, set the stage for the first aspect that I loved about the book.  Growing up in a world, watching the clash of these two cultures, I came to appreciate the significance of this story. It presents the idea that even the worst rivals can overcome differences and learn to love and live together.  Simplistic?  Maybe — but there is nothing simple about this story.  The characters, for being mythological creatures are profound in the greatest sense.  Each is developed to a degree that their struggles in learning to live has humans, among humans, while desperately wishing to return to their own states of being, is a moving and well developed element of the story.  This longing is the greatest overtone of the book — while still demonstrating the challenges that arise in the human condition.  The supporting line up of characters are just as well developed, which makes for a powerful conjoined story of both reality and mythology.

The story is also well presented in addressing one of the most important aspects of life — that of learning to be true to one’s self.  Chava’s and Ahmad’s struggles to constantly be something they are not leads to pain, discomfort and a constant feeling of displacement.  The longing to return to what they truly are, in the world they were created for, is a strong presentation of a longing that exists, deep down, in all of us.  They can recognize the truth only in each other — while everyone around them cannot see the reality of who and what they are.  Others are so consumed with their own lives, that the supporting cast of characters are incapable of seeing the struggle raging in both of these individuals.  Consequently, Chava and Ahmad seek comfort in the only place they can find — each other.  This portrayal in the story is both powerful and profound.  I, as a reader, came away literally aching for them.  I easily identified with the overwhelming sense of wanting to find some place that I belong — and can never quite seem to find.  This internal connection was so intense that I found myself living the story and not just reading it.  

The story also asks the question — how do we define being.  Are people just isolated individuals — adrift in a vast world of suffering, conflict and difficulties, with only small islands of joy that are difficult to find?  Or is there something more?  What is the worth of an individual — no matter how different or unusual they may be?  And yet, Wecker manages to ask these questions without coming across as condescending, preachy or trite in her interrogatories.  She simply presents a story that, at its foundation, rests on these questions — developing them in both subtle and constant ways.  She calls into question how we define humanity — and how that definition fits into the larger world.  Is the term human subjective?  Or is there more to our existence that brings us together in the challenging processing of living?  

I was also captivated by the actual presentation of the mythology behind the story.  Both the Djin and the Golem are creatures I have come across in my various reading journeys.  But I have never had the chance to delve too deeply into their background and origins.  And since they don’t have the same presence as the Roman and Greek mythology — I wasn’t as familiar with the stories.  But this is beautifully written in such a way that the supporting mythology comes through — while still not losing sight of the story Wecker is telling.  These are some beautiful tales of mythological creatures that represent not only the Jewish and Arabic cultures — but also the culture struggle that has existed between these two nations.  I have often found mythology to be an expression of cultural naissance, evolution and maturity.  This is no less true in the tales of the Djin and Golem.  The are elegant, instructive and mystical creatures of depth and insight.  Wecker does an amazing job of bringing this presence to her story in such a way that the reader learns to appreciate how this mythology works in creating  an elegant novel.  

Overall, I simply cannot recommend this book any stronger.  This is one that is well worth the time!  It is well written and well developed — everything that a reader could possibly want it a book! The only thing I regret is that it took me so long, hanging out in a bookstore, debating if it is something I would like.  I fell in love with this one and now consider it one of my favorite books.  Definitely a must read!

Envy by: Sandra Brown

Envy Book Cover Envy

Contemporary Romance
Piatkus Books
August, 2002
E-book
549
Goodreads

Sandra Brown, the #1 New York Times bestselling author, keeps readers turning pages with an explosive tale of a long-ago crime and the victim's plan for revenge...When New York publisher Maris Matherly-Reed receives a tantalizing manuscript from someone identified only as P.M.E., its blockbuster potential-and perhaps something else-compels her to meet its author. On an eerie, ruined cotton plantation on a remote Georgia island she finds Parker Evans, a man concealing his identity and his past. Maris is drawn into his tale of two young friends and a deadly betrayal ... and to Parker himself. But there's something especially chilling about this novel, its possible connection to Maris's own life, and the real-life character who uses her, or anyone, to get what he wants.

Review

I have known people who will go see a movie time and time again, to the point of becoming obsessed with it and everything about it.  I have always wondered what can possibly be that interesting, once they have seen it and know where it is going to end.  I guess I am one of those that enjoys the journey.  Even people who read books over and over have always left me shaking my head.  When I think about rereading  a book, I am always afraid that it just won’t be as good the second time around, as the first time I read it.  I am always afraid that much of the magic will be gone, since I know the story and I know the ending before the book is even open.  Usually, the books I read I wouldn’t want to read again.  The journey was interesting enough once (or not), but making it twice falls in the category of “been there, done that” to use a trite phrase.  Even the very few books that make it to my elite category of rereads, I have to talk myself into revisiting them.  However, like with this one, once I am there I find that my enjoyment is as great, if not greater, than the last time I opened the book.  

This is an interesting and amazing read due to the way it is written and the adept handling of the story development.  Brown demonstrates that she doesn’t need a pat format to produce an amazing book.  It is really interesting to see the story and characters develop while they are in the process of transcending into something more.  It allows the reader to see the end during the journey — making both aspects of the story work.  Written on two different levels of development — the story and characters have a tremendous amount of depth, due to the mastery with which it is written.  It can’t be easy to develop one book — but to create two of them within one and have them both work is an amazing feat for an author.  

All of the characters in this book are well written.  Having the dual story line helps to give depth and insight into the characters, their motivations and background on why the evolved into who and what they are.  Usually in a book each character will take on a life of their own.  Consequently, some of them are stronger and more pronounced than others.  In the case of Envy all of them develop into captivating and thoroughly enjoyable individuals.  What was particularly refreshing with these characters was the fact that they weren’t one dimensional.  Each of them had their strengths and weaknesses.  While there are those that you love to hate and those you are apathetic in your love — they all take on a human quality of mixed traits that make them less characters in a book and more human in their existence.  

The story is well written for being a contemporary romance with the skin, innuendo and outright sex scenes.  But it isn’t that aspect that particularly captivated me — and I was thrilled that these scenes were kept to a minimum.  The story is one that could stand on its own, without any overtly sexual tones — due to the strength of its writing.  The description of places and situations are just enough to place the reader in the “then and there,” without being overwhelming and overpowering the story.  But it is also interesting to have a glimpse into the writing process at the same time.  I am sure this is no where near what it takes to turn out any book — but it is an interesting dimension to the story that really works.  

Overall, these are just a few of the reasons that I love this book and consider it one of the few that I will revisit fairly regularly.  The book is worth the time and effort and more than that — it is one that is simply fun to read.

The Last Kind Words by: Tom Picarilli

The Last Kind Words Book Cover The Last Kind Words
Terrier Rand

Fiction
Bantam
June, 2012
E-book
336
Goodreads

From International Thriller Writers Award winner and Edgar Award nominee Tom Piccirilli, this mesmerizing suspense novel explores the bonds of family and the ways they’re stretched by guilt, justice, and the chance for redemption.
 
Raised in a clan of small-time thieves and grifters, Terrier Rand decided to cut free from them and go straight after his older brother, Collie, went on a killing spree that left an entire family and several others dead. Five years later, only days before his scheduled execution, Collie contacts Terry and asks him to return home. He claims he wasn’t responsible for one of the murders—and insists that the real killer is still on the loose.
 
Uncertain whether his brother is telling the truth, and dogged by his own regrets, Terry is drawn back into the activities of his family: His father, Pinsch, who once made a living as a cat burglar but retired after the heartbreak caused by his two sons. His cardsharp uncles, Mal and Grey, who’ve recently incurred the anger of the local mob. His grandfather, Old Shep, who has Alzheimer’s but is still a first-rate pickpocket. His teenage sister, Dale, who’s flirting with the lure of the criminal world. And Kimmy, the fiancée he abandoned, who’s now raising a child with his former best friend.
 
As Terry starts to investigate what really happened on the day of Collie’s crime spree, will the truth he uncovers about their secrets tear the Rands apart?
 
Walking the razor-sharp edge between love and violence, with the atmospheric noir voice that is his trademark, The Last Kind Wordsdemonstrates why Tom Piccirilli has become a must-read author.

Review

This is one of those books that really captivated me when I first saw it.  The premise was intriguing and spurred me into reading it.  It is the story of two brothers, a dysfunctional family, an unexplained murder of seven people, one brother seeking a means of getting out of the family business of burglary, petty theft and grifting and one just days from his execution.    There is plenty in this story to build on and a great deal of possibility.  Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to the expectation.   There were some things that Picarilli got right — and then there was the rest of the story.

One thing I did like about the book was the interplay between Terrier and Collie.  The tension and animosity that had built over a lifetime of competition, contention and outright abuse really comes through.  The struggle that Terrier faces in returning, at the request of a brother he all but hates, to the town he thought he had left behind permanently,  is very real and very compelling.  These are two brothers that have a very volatile history and this comes through poignantly.  The shear audacity of Collie, to make a request to find the killer of a young girl he is convicted for killing, is a tall order — one that Terrier has no reason to give.  But it is this unstable relationship that makes this part of the story so real.  Terrier is caught between his duty and obligation to his family — his brother included — and his desire to simply leave it all behind and never look back.  

What I didn’t understand is how this same compelling writing didn’t carry over to the differences that exist between Terrier and his family.  Picarilli makes it clear from the beginning that when Terrier left, with no explanation or goodbye to his family, that there was a rift created.  They felt abandoned and betrayed and challenged Terrier’s loyalty upon his return.  But Picarilli never quite developed this into the underlying foundation it could have been.  His mother’s pain and desire to incorporate him back into the family, his father’s understated wish for him to get out of the family “business” since he was never really cut out for it, his struggle in coming to terms with his sister’s maturing into young womanhood and the bizarre relationships he has with his uncles, law and former associates all could have been so much more.  They seem superficial and just not a driving force.  

I also had quite a bit of trouble with the characters.  For starters, I am not quite sure what the purpose was behind naming the entire family after dog breeds.  It was just bizarre in the extreme.  If dogs were considered great in the stealthy business of theft I could see it — but somehow cats are more adept in this department than dogs.  I just didn’t understand it.  But considering the character development — this was the least of the issues I had with the book.  The characters never really developed beyond the superficial.  One review I read called them transparent — and this is a great descriptor.  There just didn’t seem to be any substance.   I guess I found them stereotypical in the extreme.  It made it very predictable.  Terrier, as a petty thief, turned investigator seemed to be Picarilli’s attempt at irony — but somehow this part of the story didn’t work either.  It just came across as trite and a bit condescending for the characterization and ended up falling flat.  Generally, I came away feeling like character development wasn’t one of Picarilli’s strong points.

Overall — I guess this would be a great, light summer read.  But as far as a great story that I simply couldn’t put down — it just never quite made it.   I felt like Picarilli was so focused on just telling a story that he rushed the detail.  It is a classic example of an interesting story that could have been great, if more time had gone into developing the supporting details and filled it out.  There needed to be more for the reader to move from passive reading to total engagement.  

The Book Thief by: Marcus Zusak

The Book Thief Book Cover The Book Thief

Historical Fiction
Knopf Books
March, 2006
Hardcover
552
Goodreads

It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids - as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

Review

Wow!  This is one of my favorite books because it is so well written.  This is a story of beauty, horror, resilience and everything that is both good and bad about the human condition.  It is really one of the best fictional stories I have read about the World War II era.  Not to over-propagandize this one, it really does belong on a must read before you die list.  It is also one of those that — like Schindler’s List — you really don’t want to read, but know you have to.

One thing that sets it apart as a really unique story is through the narration.  Told through a third person narrative of the voice of death, it really gives insight into the troubling events, both large and small, that made up the horrors of World War II.  As strange as it may sound, the voice of death brings depth, insight and wisdom regarding humanity.  The weaknesses, strengths valiant nature and depraved character of men are all portrayed as aspects of individuals — and more significantly they exist in all people.

Another thing that I really loved about this book is Zusak’s use of color.  The red, black and white of the Nazi flag become central to the entire story.  These colors create the setting, the action and all the drama of the backdrop to a powerful story.  Each of these colors start with one interpretation and evolve into many different perceptions throughout the entire story.  They change and impact the story in subtle, graphic and powerful ways — giving both depth and reality to Zusak’s writing.

Each of the characters live and breath, making a powerful narrative.  These characters are drawn so as to make it easy for the reader to engage and step into the reality of this time and place.  The characters each portray the various ideologies, beliefs and characteristics that ultimately came together to cause the occurrence of the Second World War.  Liesel is particularly powerful, in that she is an orphan of communist parents, who has been placed in an adoptive family, where she first comes to know the power of relationships and love.  She evolves into a very sympathetic character who brings the rest of the supporting characters into a powerful foundation for the book.

Most who are familiar with the Nazi era, know of the reputation and role that books played in this troubling time in history.  This is the reason that books play a central role of the story.  Liesel’s passion for books, from the first one she steals to the last one she rescues, are all powerful commentary on the events that happened in Nazi Germany.  From the Handbook for Burials to the book rescued from the Mayor’s troubled wife — they each help her to form strong relationships with a vast array of characters, all of whom are both victims and heros in the the evolving story.

This book is really a must read.  It is elegant, well written and very much worth the time and effort.  It is a book that changes lives and beliefs — while challenging perceptions that we each hold of the human experience.

Words of Silk by: Sandra Brown

Words of Silk Book Cover Words of Silk

Romance
Grand Central Publishing
April, 2005
E-Book
224
Goodreads

Laney McLeod's life changes the minute she gets stuck in an elevator in Manhattan-and relies on handsome stranger Deke Sargent to help her fight her claustrophobia. When the power comes back on, Deke and Laney find themselves in a passionate embrace that leads to a night of love. Shocked at her indiscretion, Laney disappears the next morning. Months later, she receives an even greater shock: Deke shows up in her life with an astounding announcement. Unable to forget the chemistry between them, but afraid that she's just another notch on this wealthy playboy's bedpost, Laney is about to discover an even deeper fear...one that she must face or forever lose the one man she can't resist

Review

Like all readers, I have my go to shelf — filled with books that are life long favorites.  These are the books that I turn to when I am looking for comfort, companionship and simply a little time away from the madness of my world — into somewhere that appeals much more at that time and place.  Usually, this shelf is a last resort for a nightmare day, catastrophic event or life altering moment that I am struggling to deal with.

This is one of my chosen favorites primarily because there is nothing but escapist chick lit within these covers.  But, for all of that, I really enjoy the idealized story of boy meets girl; girl runs; boy chases and steam rolls his way into her life —  permanently.  This is one about the mythological, frequently scoffed at love at first sight, idealization of the love story that simply gives me a moment to imagine my life as I still like to dream it can be.

Both Laney and Deke are the personification of perfect characters, in that everything they do and say is easily anticipated and without let down.  They create a great, modern rendition of the Cinderella story.  Brown keeps the Cinderella story alive, while still adding the trappings of modern ideologies.  There isn’t a lot of depth in this book — but for the idealized summer beach read, this one is a great go to.

If the truth be told, I love Cinderella stories. They remind me that somewhere in this world — even if it is only in my mind — someone still believes in the perfect romantic happy ending. This book certainly fits that bill and sits on the same mental shelf as Pretty Woman. Completely escapist, completely indulgence and completely romantic fantasy at its finest. Brown does a great job of the short and sweet.

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