Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#22: 14th Deadly Sin (James Patterson)

I am getting closer and closer to being current with the Women’s Murder Club series and I am looking forward to settling into a slower pace of reading these Patterson novels. Having said that, I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed 14th Deadly Sin. In this installment, Lindsey and the SFPD are plagued by a string of robberies and murders that are being committed by a band of masked bandits wearing police windbreakers. Who can be trusted if police officers are now committing crimes against the citizens of San Francisco?

Yuki leaves the District Attorney’s Office in order to work for a not-for-profit firm that defends the poor who are being treated unjustly. Her first case pits her against her former boss as she sues the city in a wrongful death suit. A young African-American boy was arrested when he was found fleeing the scene of a massacre in a drug factory. Although circumstantial evidence pointed to his guilt, during the sixteen hour interrogation, the youth maintained his innocence and provided viable alibis. When promised his freedom if he would only confess to the crime, this intellectually-challenged boy confessed — and then found himself locked in a jail cell awaiting his trial. The trial never came — the boy was murdered while in custody. Yuki’s case hinges on the wrongful arrest and interrogation. Could this case possibly be connected to the Windbreaker Bandits?

Joe finds himself without a job, so he begins to unofficially investigate a string of stabbings that have occurred for the past 5 years on Claire’s birthday. As he pieces together what seems to be a connection, Joe quickly finds himself moving deeper into a realm of darkness and danger.

As you can see, 14th Deadly Sin keeps the reader turning pages in order to stay on top of the interwoven story line. The novel ends with a threat to Lindsey and her family that should influence the plot line of the 15th novel in the series.

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#21: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (Matthew Sullivan)

My latest novel took me to a used bookstore that is a home-away-from-home for its quirky employees and eccentric patrons. The book’s opening scene features Joey, one of Bright Ideas’ most regular customers, dangling from a noose. His body has been discovered by Lydia, the lovable and loyal bookseller. As Lydia lower Joey’s body from the rafters, she discovers a photograph in Joey’s pocket. Is this a clue to the reason for Joey’s suicide? No….it actually raises more questions because the picture was taken at Lydia’s 10th birthday party — and was one of the last times she saw her friend Carol before she was tragically killed. Why does Joey have this picture? He and Lydia first met a few years ago…..long after her birthday celebration.

Lydia’s story is not without complication as well. As a young girl, Lydia was having a sleep over at Carol’s home on the night that their world would be turned upside down. While playing in a blanket tent in the living room, Carol and Lydia witnessed a stranger enter the house with a hammer in his hand. As the girls heard the sounds of Carol’s parents being murdered, Carol raced to aid them and lost her life in the process. Lydia found a hiding place under the kitchen sink and escaped the Hammerman’s violent rampage. The criminal’s identity has remained a mystery ever since the murderous night and has crippled Lydia in the process.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore weaves together the two mysteries of Joey’s tragic suicide and the Hammerman mystery into one story effortlessly. It is an exciting read that will keep the audience glued to its pages until the final revelation is made in the closing chapter. Thankfully, the violent scenes were not explicitly graphic and a welcome change of pace for my reading adventure.

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#20: Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

Cutting for Stone can only be described as a lush novel filled with rich language and mesmerizing characters. Narrated by Marion Stone, the twin brother of Shiva, the story follows Marion and Shiva’s relationship from its earliest beginnings in Ethiopia to its conclusion on the East Coast of the United States. Together, the twins experience many ups and downs as they struggle with issues related to love and personal identity while dealing with their own feelings of abandonment.

Marion and Shiva are the children of Thomas Stone, a renown surgeon, and Sister Mary Joseph Praise. The two boys were conjoined twins — connected by a stem from their heads — and were quickly separated after birth as their mother died in delivery. In his grief, Thomas Stone abandons his newborn children and the boys are raised by friends of their mother. The lives that began with desertion and loss are destined to have a painful existences.

As the novel reaches its climax, a series of coincidences lead to the boys separation…..as well as Marion’s reunion with figures from his past……and ultimately with his entire family. As the reader looks back on pivotal plot points, they seem inevitable in the course of events. However, the appearances of these plot twists are surprising and shocking, yet entirely believable. 

Cutting for Stone is not a novel that was read quickly. Instead, I found myself getting lost in the rhythm of Verghese’s language and lounging in the beautiful settings he described. Although much of the novel is set on the plains of Africa, the story does not feel “foreign” at all. Instead, it is a universal story of family, love, and loss. Cutting for Stone is definitely a novel not to be missed!

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Reading Update – August 23, 2017

I am still working my way through Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. At this point, I have read roughly 375 pages of the novel and am just over half way through.  As I continue reading, I am understanding why those who have recommended it over the years have held the book in such high esteem. It is superbly written and the character development is insightful and authentic.

Let me tell you a little about what has happened so far without giving too much of the plot away. The twin boys, Marion and Shiva, have entered their teen years as a government coup has occurred in Ethiopia that involved members of their safe world. While both boys are central to the story, at this point, everything centers on Marion. His interest in medicine and surgery are growing — making for constant comparisons between the child and his deadbeat Dad. Marion’s sexuality is blooming as he begins to have his first encounters and all of the questions and confusions that accompany them. In an instant of danger for themselves and their family, Marion and Shiva must make a decision that has lasting consequences beyond anything they could have imagined. Marion must now deal with the personal demons that haunt him as he struggles with the ethical implications of his choice while keeping a potentially explosive secret from everyone.

Cutting for Stone is a pleasure to read. It is not a beach-read though. My reading pace has become significantly slower through this novel because each page contains a scene that will have consequences for our characters as the story progresses. I find myself taking my time in order to make sure I don’t miss a word. That means that my daily reading goal is only 50 pages…..and there are days when that lofty goal is too difficult to accomplish. I would love to finish the novel in the next week….and I think it’s possible now that I’m entrenched in the drama…..but it may be just a little too much to accomplish now that the fall term is underway.

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Reading Update – August 16, 2017

After finishing Behold the Dreamers, I was ready for something lighter. That means I returned to James Patterson. After spending a couple of days with the next novel in the series, I realized that I probably would not be able to finish the book before leaving the Geriatric Ward on Sunday. Since I only borrow these novels from a library and hadn’t gotten very far into the reading, I decided it was time to make a trip to the bookstore and change directions.

Now as I’m sitting on my couch in my Plainview apartment, I have a stack of books sitting next to me that I’m looking forward to reading. Listening to book reviews on the drive back to west Texas also meant that my TBR list grew (that’s “To Be Read” in case you are wondering). So with packing, driving across state lines, and slowly returning to my normal work routine, I am slowly making a dent in reading my latest novel — Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

The novel has been recommended to me by multiple people in the past few years. There was always something about the title that caused me to pause. I also tend to shy away from books that are longer than 400 pages; every time I’ve attempted a book much longer than that, I tend to lose interest before I reach the end and find myself stuck or trying to plow through when I really want to walk away. With its 650 pages, I am hopeful that Cutting for Stone will be a different story. I have only managed to read a little over 150 pages so far, but I am engrossed by this story and Abraham Verghese’s prose. I suppose that may be one of the reasons the novel was a national bestseller. I also find it very intriguing that this work was Verghese’s first novel.

So I’m going to continue reading….and I’ll tell you more about the story in a future post.

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#19: Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue)

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is the 2017 selection of Oprah’s Book Club. The novel tells the story of Jende and Neni, Cameroonian nationals that have recently come to America, and their two children, Liomi and Timba. The novel is a family saga. It is an exploration of the modern American Dream. It is a chronicle of the difficulty of immigrants in the major cities of the United States.

Jende is a simple man. He has not completed a degree at a University. He has no marketable skills. He is living in New York and needs to provide for his wife and young child. (Timba is born while the couple resides in the United States about halfway through the novel.) Since he does not have a green card, Jende accepts a job as a chauffeur for the Edwards family, a upper crust Manhattan family led by Clark — a Wall Street mogul. Life is good for Jende and his family until the housing crisis hits and leads to the desemation of the Edwards family, which results in Jende losing his job. Without employment and without a green card, Jende finds himself facing a new struggle — the threat of deportation.

Struggling to keep his family fed, Jende begins to dream of returning to Cameroon. Neni, however, has no desire to see herself or her children leave the American Promise that she has now found. She turns to religious organizations for help. She considers divorcing Jende and re-marrying an American citizen for a few years in order to stay in this country, continue her education, and follow her dreams of becoming a pharmacist. Ultimately, Neni must accept the fact that the country she loves does not want her family to stay.

Behold the Dreamers is much more than a simple story about a Cameroonian family. The immigrant family is constantly contrasted with the the Edwards family and their struggles and successes as an American family. The reader learns much about the inner workings of ICE and the federal government’s expectations of immigrants. America is portrayed as a land of hope and opportunity, but also as a place that keeps those dreams just out of reach of all but the most elite. The novel, while beautifully written, is a challenging read that forces the reader to pull back the curtain and take an honest look at American immigration in the 21st century.

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Reading Update – August 2, 2017

In an effort to make my posts on Reading for Me a bit more regular…..and to help me see what is happening between the actual review posts about each book…..I’ve decided to begin providing a weekly update about my reading when a new review is not ready for publication. In other words, when I haven’t finished reading a book within the week, I want to talk about what’s been going on and why the book isn’t getting read more quickly.

After finishing James Patterson’s Unlucky 13, I decided it was time to dive into something a little more intellectually stimulating and began working my way through Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. Shortly after getting started, I managed to sprain my ankle and have been hobbling around on crutches and a cane for most of the past week. Now, I can hear you asking what a sprained ankle has to do with my failure to read…..all I can say is that my brain must have moved to the little toe of my left foot this week! It was far easier to spend time with Hulu and Netflix while recovering than in deep thought trying to read Mbue’s novel. I am slowly making my way back to the book as my foot is finally getting better after a re-injury.

Let me tell you my thoughts about the book so far. Behold the Dreamers is the newest selection for Oprah’s Book Club and has received wonderful reviews from the New York Times. The story centers around two men — Jende and Clark — and their families. Set in New York City around the time of the Lehman Brothers’ 2008 collapse, Clark is a senior executive for the bank. Jende is a Cameroonian immigrant who works as Clark’s chauffeur in order to provide for his family. The story centers around how the lives of these two families intersect and how they have contrasting views of the American Dream, success, and family.

I’ve read just over half of the novel’s 382 pages so far. I’m finding it a challenging read thus far. Part of the issue is my lack of familiarity with the Lehman collapse and the economic principles at work. Additionally, the legal challenges facing the Cameroonian immigrants are fascinating and thought-provoking, given the current political climate. I’ve decided to savor the pages and allow myself to become engulfed in Jende’s experience that Mbue has written so beautifully. 

That’s where I am. I plan to have my final review of the book ready for your consideration next week. What’s up next? Back to James Patterson and 14th Deadly Sin…..I’m really ready to be current with the Women’s Murder Club books so I can move into something else.

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#18: Unlucky 13 (James Patterson)

The Women’s Murder Club continues to excite in the 13th novel of the series. Lindsey and Conklin are searching for the criminal that is using “belly bombs” to terrorize San Francisco by hiding delayed-reaction bomb capsules into the ground beef used by a popular burger chain. Cindy is hot on the trail of a lead that will result in the headline story that will define her career — if she doesn’t get killed first! Yuki and Brady are enjoying an Alaskan cruise for their honeymoon until the ship is attacked by pirates. Yuki is one of the first “volunteers” to be executed if the cruise line doesn’t come up with the demanded ransom.

Unlucky 13 is another page-turner in Patterson’s series, but this novel doesn’t feel as though it is using the same formula employed in many of the earlier books….and it is a welcome change. Our quartet of women are finding more adventure away from the Hall of SFPD and the authors continue to develop each lady’s personal story. I’m very happy to say that I am once again fully enjoying the Women’s Murder Club novels and looking forward to continuing the adventure.

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#17: 12th of Never (James Patterson)

I’m back to the Women’s Murder Club series and totally enjoyed this installment! The story moved quickly and smoothly — unlike the slow plod of the last few novels. 12th of Never gave me hope that the adventure that the series began with will make a return appearance.

The 12th episode of the series centers around a sleazy lawyer that Yuki is prosecuting for murdering his wife and young daughter. The trial scenes are nothing if not interesting. Claire is forced to take a leave of absence as coroner when one of the bodies under her watch mysteriously disappears. Lindsey and the SFPD are up to their eyebrows as they deal with convicted serial killers, NFL players, and a Stanford professor who seems to be vividly dreaming about murders hours before they actually occur. 

Additionally, our characters face personal crises. Cindy and her fiancé may call it quits because they cannot agree about the possibility of having children. Lindsey and Joe face uncertainty as their newborn daughter is inexplicably sick and everything seems to point to cancer. Yuki’s career may hang in the balance if she is unable to get a win in this highly publicized case.

12th of Never will keep the reader glued to the page and hoping for quick resolution. The book concludes with a cliff-hanger that will certainly be the source of much tension for our friends in the 13th novel of the series.

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#16: Harmony (Carolyn Parkhurst)

 This week, I returned to novels with Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst. I decided to pick this one up based on a review I heard on the podcast “All the Books.” I liked the fast-paced writing and the intricate story, but I found myself getting annoyed with the novel as I got closer to the end. Once I was within 100 pages of the end, I was just ready for this reading experience to be over.

Harmony tells the story of the Hammond family. Josh and Alexandria Hammond live in metropolitan Washington, D.C. with their daughters Iris and Tilly. At first glance, everything appears normal, but something is just not quite “right” with Tilly, the older of the girls. Her intellectual skills are far superior to those of her peers, but her social skills are the cause of much harassment at the hands of her classmates. Tilly is obsessed with vulgarities, constantly requires precise explanations of mundane daily occurrences, and will often be found licking various surfaces. While she does not exhibit the traditional symptoms, medical and psychological professionals place her condition on the autism spectrum.

Tilly’s behavior becomes more challenging for her family and teachers. In an act of desperation, her mother seeks out the advice of a child-rearing guru, Scott Bean. Alexandria does her best to vet Mr. Bean before buying into his advice entirely. Her initial description of Scott Bean expressed ideas that I have longed hope people would understand:  “He has training in education and speech pathology. Your [Alexandria’s] age, but he doesn’t seem to be married or have kids of his own. Which raises a couple of question marks for you, but you’ve met enough good childless teachers (and enough bad parents) to know that raising kids isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for understanding how they work.” (Harmony, 106) For the record, that is where any similarity between me and the character Scott Bean ends!

Scott becomes a valued resource for Alexandria as Tilly’s behavior spirals downward. Ultimately, Scott recommends that the Hammond family join him at a new camp in rural New Hampshire that he is establishing for families in crisis. The Hammonds sell off their possessions and make the journey to New England, removing themselves from society’s reach while living off the land in an effort to commune with nature. Camp Harmony, as Scott has christened the plot of New Hampshire woodland, at first appears to be a mix of a camping experience and commune. Quickly, it becomes clear that something unusual — perhaps sinister — is happening in the woods surrounding the camp….and Tilly and Iris are in the thick of it.

Harmony was a great exploration of the vastness of autism and the impact the illness can have on families. The book’s strange mix of family drama and thriller felt contrived to me at times. I will not spoil the ending, but I will tell you this….I HATED the ending and wanted a clearer resolution to the issue of Scott Bean. And that’s where I struggle with this review…..I was fascinated with the book until the plot began to wrap up. By that point, I was invested in the characters and felt that Parkhurst whimped out without giving the reader the satisfying conclusion they deserved.

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