Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#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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#15: Hillbilly Elegy (J.D. Vance)

I first heard about J.D. Vance’s memoir while watching a news magazine interview. I was intrigued by the topic and the exploration of the Appalachian peoples. When I saw the full title, I knew I would have to read the work. It’s called Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.

Much of Vance’s memoir is about his own troubled family and childhood. He was born to an addicted mother and his biological father was no where to be found. This began a constant revolving door of “father figures” into the lives of both him and his sister, Lindsey. As circumstances grew increasingly worse, Vance was finally cared for by his grandparents that he lovingly referred to as Mamaw and Papaw. Family members find themselves strained financially and have to follow the prospect of a stable job, leaving their home and family in rural Kentucky for the “greener pastures” of Middletown, Ohio.

Vance’s family are not the only ones to migrate to Ohio. He finds that the hillbilly culture that was finally escaped by leaving Kentucky has followed him to his new home. Surrounded by poverty and poor education, children are convinced that there is no hope for a better life. The situation constantly moves from desperate to hopeless. Yet somehow, J.D. manages to escape the cycle and attends both Ohio State and Yale Law.

Hillbilly Elegy is an honest glimpse into the lives of a large sector of the American society. While the book focuses on Kentucky hillbillies, I saw similarities to my own experience on each page. It truly became clear that Vance’s “culture in crisis” is not an overstatement of reality. The book should not be read by the timid. Vance’s use of vulgarity can be shocking at moments, but often is necessary in order to adequately convey the gravity of the situation. Neither should the book be read by those who think the problems addressed are solely due to the quality of the nation’s educational system or government involvement (or lack thereof). Vance clearly states that the enormous problem does not have a single cause that we can “fix” quickly. The solution lies within the mindset of the people that are most effected — and that is the greatest challenge to overcoming the cultural crisis we now face.

This memoir was certainly a departure from my normal reading fare. However, it is a work that caused me to think deeply about important issues facing America while exploring my own experiences with poverty, class warfare, and the overall sense of hopelessness that plagues much of rural America’s youth. Hillbilly Elegy is definitely a worthy read for all who care for the youth of America.

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Update: Titles 13 & 14

This summer has not seen regular blogging from me on any avenue. Now that I’m finally getting over nasty sinus infections and regaining strength in my hand, I’m hoping to get back to normal and return to blogging and reading.  Here’s what I’ve read most recently.

#13: Chasing Fireflies (Charles Martin). A young boy is found next to a rural railroad track while the car he was traveling in burns in flames, the casuality of an apparent suicide. The child has suffered horrible trauma, marked by the lashes on his back and the evident malnourishment he has withstood. Is it any wonder that the child does not speak either? The only question is if he is incapable of talking or simply choosing not to. Chasing Fireflies is a beautifully written story about the healing power of love, our search for identity and belonging, and a fresh look at what it takes to make up a “family” in our modern world. This is definitely a story to read when your faith in humanity needs to be restored.

#14: 11th Hour (James Patterson). It was time to return to the stories of the Women’s Murder Club series. In this installment, drug dealers are being taken out systematically throughout the city. It seems as though their killer has personal knowledge of them and their movements. When the SFPD realizes that the murder weapon is a missing gun from the evidence room, the force must face a frightening reality — one of their own uniformed brothers has gone rogue! Every member of the vice squad as well as homicide that had access to the evidence room is a suspect. Lindsey is putting more on the line than just her own life, too….she must think about the child she is carrying while trying to repair the strain that her new marriage to Joe is already facing. Patterson returns to true form with this intriguing and engrossing story. My hope for the upcoming stories in the series is finally being restored.

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