Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#14: The Book of Air and Shadows (Michael Gruber)

This New York Times bestseller has been on my shelf for a few months now, but I never got around to actually picking it up. I suppose I was a little intimidated by the cover. It just looks so academic somehow. When I read “About the Author” my intimidation grew.  The bio begins with this sentence:  “Michael Gruber has a Ph.D. in marine sciences and began freelance writing while working in Washington, D.C., as a policy analyst and speechwriter for the Environmental Protection Agency.” Tell me that doesn’t sound like some serious writing is ahead.

When I finally dove into the book, I was thrilled with an intelligent novel about the world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. The premise of the novel is that Shakespeare wrote an additional play about Mary, Queen of Scots that has never been seen by human eyes since the author’s death. The story line waltzes around the law offices of Intellectual Property, the basement of a New York bookstore, and the New York City Library.  Filled with characters — including powerful Russian Jew mob bosses! — the story also provides an entertaining dialogue between Shakespeare and his “cousin” written in Elizabethan English.  Add in a cryptic message and the search for the elusive manuscript and you have a really neat story on your hands.

While I was pleased with the story, what was the greatest joy was the beautiful language that Gruber used to form his tale.  Here are three of my favorite passages from the first half of the book.  These won’t give away anything from the plot, but give you a flavor of the quality of writing that is the strength of the novel.

“Perhaps he had snapped under the strain.  Professors go batty too, perhaps more often than other people, although owing to their profession their madness is less often remarked.”  (p. 44)

“I suppose we can blame Shakespeare himself for starting it, because he made up people who were more real, though false, than the people one knew.  Dick Bracegirdle understood this, which was why he set out to smash Shakespeare and all his works.  I took a history course at Columbia — Haas will recall it too, because I took it on his recommendation — a man named Charlton taught it.  It was English medieval history, and although I have expunged the Domesday Book and all the kings and queens from my mind, I recall very well his take on history in general.  He said there are three kinds of history.  The first is what really happened, and this is forever lost.  The second is what most people thought happened, and we can recover that with assiduous effort.  The third is what the people in power wanted the future to think happened, and that is 90 percent of the history in books.”  (p. 91)

“He ate when he was upset, he knew, and if he didn’t watch it he was going to look like Orson Welles, without that person’s early achievement to balance out the flab.”  (p. 199)

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#13: The Innocent (David Baldacci)

From the master of thrillers comes this tale of a government assassin whose path unexpectedly crosses a 14-year-old girl running for her life after witnessing the brutal murders of her parents. As the multiple scenes unfold early in the story, it is easy to forget that we are dealing with Baldacci and assume that the images are completely irrelevant. An exploding bus, a ordered hit gone wrong, and the assassination of a Middle Eastern prince propel this fast-paced story to its unexpected conclusion.  It wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but once again this audio book made the miles pass without a moment of boredom.

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#12: Night Road (Kristin Hannah)

“Time heals all wounds.” Does it really? Whose wounds are healed — those of the victim, the culprit, or the survivor? These are the types of questions explored in Night Road, the 2011 novel by Kristin Hannah. I discovered Hannah's writing earlier this year as I listened to Home Front on audio book and immediately realized this was an author that spoke to me. Night Road found me at the perfect time and place.

Night Road follows Zack and Mia, twin children of Jude and Miles, during their school years and early adulthood. This close-knit family is the epitome of the American dream. Mia, however, struggles with loneliness and lacks a close friend. That situation changes when Lexi moves into the neighborhood. Lexi has survived the foster home system and is now moving into a new situation with a elderly aunt she never knew existed. Lexi and Mia become fast friends; Zack becomes the object of Lexi's attention as well. The three become inseparable……until tragedy strikes.

Night Road beautifully explores the concepts of grief, redemption, restitution, and forgiveness against the backdrop of non-traditional families and the constancy of loving friendships. Kristin Hannah is a gifted storyteller whose words weave a well-crafted cocoon for her characters to fully develop and experience transformation. I found myself laughing between the tears repeatedly and was unable to begin another book immediately since I wasn't ready for the story to end.

The best compliment I can give the book is that I will certainly pick up another of Hannah's novels in the future to get a fix of my latest reader's addiction. To learn more about the author, check out her website at http://www.kristinhannah.com.

 

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#11: The Dinner (Herman Koch)

The Dinner is the critically-acclaimed Dutch novel centering around two brothers who lives could not be any more different. One is a powerful politician set to become the next Prime Minister. The other is a history teacher forced to resign his post due to controversial statements in the classroom. The lives of these estranged brothers once again intersect due to the criminal actions of their teenage sons. The two men and their wives meet for dinner to discuss how they plan to handle the situation.

The structure of The Dinner is delicious. Each course of the meal moves the novel into a different section. The appetizers are constructed simplistically and with little depth. As the meal moves into the entree portion, the language becomes rich as does the story itself. The final section of the novel — the dessert — left me unsatisfied and longing for something more.

I simply have to ask one question. What's all the fuss about? Don't misunderstand. I found the book interesting in its concept. Portions of the writing were simply delightful. As a whole, though, the novel felt a bit contrived to me. It seemed as though Koch was attempting to write the second half of the book in a high literary style that was not in agreement with the beauty that opened the work. It almost felt like he decided to try to impress his audience by showing us what we should read instead of giving us more of what drew us into the book in the first place. This was a case of finishing a book because I was so near the end and not because I was drawn into another world by the power of the words.

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#10: Private Games (James Patterson)

I must be honest. I've always viewed the writing of James Patterson as second rate novels with mass market appeal that lacked any real substance. When I selected Private Games from the audio rack, my expectations were quite low. I discovered a well-wrought novel with lots of thoughtful writing and highly developed characters.

Private Games is set against the backdrop of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Just before the Opening Ceremonies, a member of the organizing committee is brutally murdered. A sports reporter at the Sun receives a letter signed by Kronos (of Greek mythology fame) taking responsibility for the homicide and claims that he is cleansing the Olympic Games of all manner of corruption. The Games are plagued with attacks by Kronos — including the poisoning of the American flag bearer and murder of Chinese gymnastic coaches during a medal ceremony — leading up to the fury of the Closing Ceremony. No event is safe. No security plan seems to be impossible for Kronos to infiltrate.

A private security expert is hot on the case. Through ever twisting plot developments and new revelations, Patterson's novel keeps you guessing until the book's stupendous conclusion. Even when Kronos' identity is revealed, the mystery continues to unravel and grips the reader with intrigue. Now I understand why Patterson's works are considered page turners! I'm not sure I would invest the time to read one of his books in the traditional manner, but as an audio book it was certainly a lot of fun and passed the miles quickly. I found myself looking for excuses to get back in my car and find out what was going to happen next!

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#9: The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult)

Every February, I anxiously look forward to the release of Jodi Picoult’s newest novel. I have read almost everything she has written and she has become my favorite living author. This year’s novel, The Storyteller, thrilled me while moving me to tears.

Sage is a baker whose face has been scarred by an auto accident that led to the death of her mother.  To deal with her grief, Sage attends a grief support group and so becomes acquainted with a charming senior citizen named Josef. As the two come to know each other, Josef requests that Sage assist him in dying. Sage cannot understand why this man is so eager to die, so she presses him for answers. Josef reveals that he was a Nazi officer in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. Sage’s horror is magnified as she begins to understand that it is possible that Josef was responsible for the suffering of her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.

As the story weaves between the horror of 1940s Europe and modern day America, Picoult explores issues of forgiveness, morality, and justice in a complex tale that is filled with love and tantalizing plot twists. This complex novel is one that I certainly anticipate returning to again and again.

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#8: Hannah’s List (Debbie Macomber)

My driving this week has been made enjoyable with the beautiful love story by Macomber. Michael is a doctor whose wife, Hannah, died a year ago after fighting cancer. On the anniversary of her death, Michael’s brother-in-law delivers an unexpected gift — a final love letter from Hannah. In her letter, Hannah tells Michael that it is time to get on with his life and find love. Hannah leaves nothing to chance and provides Michael with a list of three women that she considers potential mates for her husband.

As Michael meets each of these women, his reactions are honest and humorous. Macomber paints a lovely image of those who have lost love to death and divorce while honoring the importance of finding true love. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this story was much more than just a standard romance novel. The book was entertaining and thoughtful while maintaining a level of decorum not always found in works in this genre.

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#7: The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman)

Being sick wore me out, so I’m a couple of days late in posting the review of my most recent read. I thoroughly enjoyed The Light Between Oceans!

The story centers around a married couple who care for a lighthouse on a remote island off the coast of Australia.  After several painful miscarriages, the unimaginable happens: a boat washes ashore bearing a dead man and a tiny baby girl wrapped in a blanket.  The baby is very much alive. The couple find themselves facing a moral dilemma:  report the child’s arrival in hopes of reconnecting her with family or raise this sea-borne child as a gift of Fate.

Lucy grows on the island and becomes the center of her parents’ world as well as the source of constant guilt over their decisions. When the child’s birth-mother is discovered, the novel takes on the question of whether it is blood or circumstances that truly connect us with our family.

The novel got off to a somewhat slow start for me, but I am certainly glad that I decided to stick with it for a few more pages! The Light Between the Oceans was another great read of the year.

I’m discovering that I’m constantly stating how much I’m enjoying the books I’m reading, so I’m going to steal an idea from the blog 101 Books.  After every 10 books completed, I’ll provide a complete ranking…..based entirely upon my opinion and preferences at that moment in time. I think it will be a fun addition to the blog.

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