Quickie Reviews

I realized Monday that I’ve been reading without blogging, so here is a quick list + comments about the stuff I’ve read since The Paris Wife. What good stuff have you read lately?

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Five stars. This book was great. My grandfather was on the Bataan Death March and then was a Japanese POW for years. He never spoke about it– but he did all he could to keep his sons out of Vietnam, legally. I felt like this book gave me a lot of insights into what probably happened with my grandfather. Beyond that personal connection, I felt like the story of Louie Zamperini is the stuff of Disney legend (seriously, we have a movie about Secretariat, but not this guy? Not that Secretariat isn’t amazing, but–). This book tells of Olympic near-triumph smashed by WWII, the boredom and horrors of war, the tragedy of alcoholism, and, finally, the joy (lightly touched on, really more of an afterthought) of redemption. Definitely worth reading.

You can't really look inside. I just like this cover.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
A re-read, this is my very favorite of Jane Austen’s novels. It deals with a slightly older heroine and the possibility of second chances. Love, love, love.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
I’m afraid I couldn’t get past the first seventy-five pages of this classic by Genre Master Arthur C. Clarke. It’s supposed to be super-amazing, but I got bogged down in all the technical details. It’s part of why sci-fi readers love Clarke, but it just got in my way. I’ll try again in a different mood. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more then.

The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger’s Apprentice, #1) by John Flanagan
I like the ranger as a heroic figure in this series.  Too often fantasy relies on traditional-but-not-traditional heroic figures (i.e. humble farmboy becomes strapping knight in shining armor– and then king), and I liked how Flanagan showed how being quiet and smart can be heroic also. Other than that, though, I just felt like I’d read this story before. It was ok, but not great.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman doesn’t know it, but I want to be him. I can’t think of a single thing of his I’ve read that I haven’t enjoyed. He touches on important things with humor and compassion, all the while remaining loyal to The Truth. This is a great book. Very different from the movie (which I also enjoyed), but great.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
A lot of other classes read this at my middle school, but somehow mine missed it. What I heard of it did not impress me, so I had no reason to pick it up until a job required me to do so. I wish I’d read it sooner. It’s amazing. Hinton talks about tragedy in a very real and yet very sensitive way. The more I think about this book, the more mind-expanding it is. Do yourself a favor a give it a glance if you haven’t already.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, a Daisy Dalrymple Mystery by Carola Dunn
A sweet little story, but ultimately superficial. Not enough suspense, and the things that were clearly meant to be jokes just weren’t that funny. The heroine was charming, but her entourage sort of blended together. Maybe an okay beach read, if you really can’t find something else. (And I have to tell you this: the writer in me is bitter that there are TWENTY books in this series, whereas I have been unable to get even ONE published. My mediocrity is as good as Dunn’s…)

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
I’m almost certain I should like this book better than I did. It was beautifully crafted, with a delicate, elegant style. But it failed to move me the way I think it intended to, at least until the last few pages. I feel like I’m missing some key that would unlock the true beauty of this novel. I don’t know if it’s me or the book, but there’s just something missing for me.

Oxygen by Carol Cassella
I loved this book. I almost quit reading it after the first ten pages, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s a compelling story (after the first bit) told with quiet intensity, like a thunderstorm a long ways off. A child dies during surgery, and it looks like it was the anesthesiologist’s fault. When the anesthesiologist discovers what really happened, she has to make a heart-breaking choice. Well worth reading. I’m looking forward to reading Cassella’s second novel, Healer, whenever it appears at my library.

True Grit by Charles Portis
I have wanted to read this book since I worked as a page in the library in Jacksonville, Arkansas during high school. I finally got around to it, and I wish I’d found time sooner. There’s something just plain satisfying about a book where the bad guys are clearly defined, and then shot. Mattie Ross’s moral certainty is a nice change from literary fiction’s typical cowardice (or compassion, depending on your point of view). A wonderful book; one to own, not just to read.

Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
This is the most perfect, most miserable book I’ve ever read aside from The Road. Another re-read, the story of Catherine and Heathcliff and Edgar, especially paralleled with the story of Cathy and Linton and Hareton, never gets old. This book fascinates me, like a car wreck, or a giant zit: why are these terrible, terrible people doing what they’re doing? And why on earth do people call this a love story? It’s about revenge, people! Argue with me in the comments below.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
Yowza. I can’t say that I really liked this story, but I can say that it’s really good. It’s a painful story and is correspondingly painful to read– but totally worth it. The ending was not only satisfying, but even dared to be hopeful. The author’s skill is graceful and delicate, well-suited to the fragility of her subject matter. A real gem.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
If you liked either Jane Eyre or Annie John,  you should definitely read this book. It tells the story of Jane Eyre from Bertha Mason’s point of view. More than mere fanfiction, this book adds a needed perspective into the tensions surrounding the people caught up in the British Empire’s colonization. It deals with issues of race and power that feels very contemporary. Great stuff.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
Much better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, (though that’s not saying much), this book was a fun romp through a revised history. I loved the overarching metaphor of slavery as something that was literally sucking the life out of America. Fun, but not great.


2 thoughts on “Quickie Reviews

  1. Holy Smokes! I can’t believe how much you get read! I only wish I were able to read this many books in a year… let alone such a short time as this! You inspire me, yet again! I’m going to have to add some of these to my “to read” list…

  2. “There’s something just plain satisfying about a book where the bad guys are clearly defined, and then shot.” — one of my favorite quotes ever. And now I have some new titles for my next library hunt — thanks!

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