Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

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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#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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#11: 10th Anniversary (James Patterson)

I’m continuing through James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series and have now read the tenth installment. Perhaps I was in a bad mood while reading this one or was still enjoying the success of 9th Judgment, but I REALLY did not enjoy this book at all.

As with the previous books in the series, several crime mysteries run simultaneously as we learn more about the four heroines’ personal lives. The crimes investigated this time include a baby-selling scheme, a rogue taxi driving rapist, and a renown heart surgeon on trial for the murder of her playboy husband. While all of this is going on, three of the leading ladies find love to one degree or another.

For this reader, all of the moving pieces made the reading tedious and lacked direction. It was only in the final 150 pages of the novel that things finally became interesting. If this had been the standard set in the earlier novels, I doubt I would have invested this much time into reading the series. Now, it’s a matter of principle! There are only 6 books currently remaining in the project. (However, if we know anything about Patterson, you can expect that there will be more to follow in the near future. A quick glance at his website does not reveal information about book 17 of the series at the time of this post.)

So once again I find myself needing to move away from these works and dive into something a little less predictable. What’s in my book stack at the moment? I just began two new books — Most Wanted (Lisa Scottoline) and Am I Alone Here? (Peter Orner). I’ll keep you posted on how those progress, but early indications are that the Scottoline is going to be another hit for this reader!

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Update: Books #3-7!

So it seems that I have been quite slothful in updating my book reviews. Although I have been almost too busy to tell anyone about the books I’ve read, I have managed to fit reading into my routine and proceed toward my annual reading goal.  In order to keep this post from getting far too long, I’m going to try to summarize my feelings about the novels quickly and succinctly.

#3 and #4:  Rejoice and Reunion by Karen Kingsbury. These were the final books in the Redemption series. I have traditionally avoided Christian fiction because I find it to be predictable and unmoving. Kingsbury’s series completely changed my opinion. I fell in love with these characters and found myself laughing and crying as their lives faced challenging circumstances that were overcome through their faith. Definitely a series that I would recommend.

#5: Every Fifteen Minutes (Lisa Scottoline). I began reading this thriller as an audio book while traveling to San Antonio for a music conference. I was intrigued by the story about a psychopath and the doctors treating patients in a prominent mental health ward. Fascinating, exciting, and well worth the time!

#6: Small Great Things (Jodi Picoult). If you have known me very long, you won’t be surprised to hear that I adored Jodi Picoult’s latest novel. This book was probably my favorite of her works yet. The story centers around an African-American nurse who faces severe racism while caring for the newborn child of a white supremacist couple. As a result of the couple’s feelings, the nurse is removed from the baby’s care team. When an emergency on the ward arises, she finds herself monitoring the baby — who suddenly experiences distress. The child dies and the nurse is now on trial for murder. Was it appropriate for her to follow the instructions of her supervisors and the wishes of the parents or should a moral imperative directed her response? Timely topic and interesting discussion for those who choose to read with an open mind and open heart.

#7: Forget Me Not (Fern Michaels). Life is going well for Lucy. She is the successful owner of a book franchise and is loving her life. A single phone call changes everything as she learns that her parents were tragically killed in a car collision. Or were they? Hidden stashes of passports, cash, and guns in mysterious home safes are just the beginning of the mystery Lucy must unlock as she discovers who her parents really were and what she has unknowingly gotten involved with. A fast, fun read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

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#23: 1st to Die (James Patterson)

Flying home for Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to finish my latest book. 1st to Die is the first installment of Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series and was a very enjoyable read.

The book opens with the gruesome death of a newlywed couple in their honeymoon suite. The couple were found in their formal wedding attire. What first appeared as a business deal gone wrong quickly transforms into a serial killer case as other couples die around the country. The case is “unofficially” handled by a quartet of women who share the information they have — the lead investigator, a gossip columnist, medical examiner, and the assistant D.A. The plot continues to twist as each woman deals with her own issues away from the case.

Patterson’s writing is fast-paced and intelligent. The short chapters lend themselves to a casual read, but the enthralling story keeps the audience coming back until the last page of this thrilling who-done-it.

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Catch-up post – Books #7-9

Life has been crazy and I haven’t found the time to post reviews of my latest reads. Here are my reviews of the books I was able to fit into the craziness.

#7:  Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching (William Brown) – What an inspirational read! I want to be the best teacher I can possibly be for my piano students. I was enthralled to read about Pressler’s life, approach to teaching, and artistry in performance.

#8: Midnight (Elizabeth Miller) – I tend to veer away from romances, but every once in a while I find that nothing else quite hits the spot. Midnight told the story of a young woman who found herself working for a Presidential candidate — and a recent widower. The love scenes were spicy (and not for the faint of heart or easily offended); they were exactly what you expect from the genre. The story, however, was well written and engrossing. The sequel is scheduled to appear later this month and I plan to read the rest of the story.

#9: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – Let me start by saying that I love Charles Dickens’ works! I had read Great Expectations several years ago and loved it, so when Jacqs suggested we read it for the April installment of our reading project, I was ready to go. Maybe it was the crazy schedule I was dealing with or the fact that I was reading in short spurts, but I thought I would NEVER get to the end of Pip’s adventures. Since I didn’t have the luxury of time to dive into Dickens’ thorough descriptions, I found myself resenting the words. This was not a good experience for me at all. I’m just thankful that I have had many good reading experiences with the master and won’t allow this reading to influence my opinion of his works. What’s up next for Jacqs and me? We’re reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in May. As soon as finals are over next week, I’ll be diving in to this novel that has always intrigued me, but has never actually made it into my “to read” stack.

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#7: Still Life with Bread Crumbs (Anna Quindlen)

A very busy spring semester brought my reading life to a complete halt.  As soon as one of the schools began finals, I made a much-needed trip to the library and came home with an armload of books.

The first book of the summer was Still Life with Bread Crumbs. The novel tells the story of Rebecca Winter, a photographer whose career seems to be waning. As financial problems mount, Rebecca sublets her NYC apartment and moves into a tiny cabin in the country.  While hiking through the woods, the photographer encounters a series of white crosses that will ultimately become the basis of her next set of prints.  What initially appear to be randomly placed grave markers prove to be linked to a single story that impacts Rebecca’s world directly.

Laced with charming characters, exquisitely described locations, and an honest examination of contemporary success, Still Life is another wonderful novel from Quindlen that is certain to please her loyal fans.

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#23: Lit (Tony Reinke)

Since I'm making significant progress on the 3 books I'm reading on this mini-vacation, I thought I should probably write up the review of the other book I read at the end of the school term.

Lit was not exactly what I was expecting. Tony Reinke divides the book into two sections. Part 1 explores the importance of reading in the Christian life and then proceeds to give tips for improving your (non)-reading life in the latter half. While I found Reinke's concept that reading both sacred and secular texts is crucial to the development of a Christian worldview, I thought his logic was a bit skewed at times. I also thought it was an extreme argument to say that EVERYTHING we read should be chosen in light of how it will develop our spiritual walk with Christ. I'm sorry…..there are books that we read that are not going to improve or destroy my Christian walk. That doesn't mean I should not read them because they have no value. After all, we live in a fallen world. I am to avoid what will sever my relationship with Jesus as I walk in the world. Jesus Himself prayed that we would protected from evil while we are in the world, not that we be taken out of the world. (John 17)

Part 2 was geared toward the non-reader and tended to focus on non-fiction works. I did appreciate a few of the recommendations. Always reading with a pen in hand is a great idea. I like to mark my own books with passages I want to remember or that especially moved me, but I tend to avoid it because I never remember where I saw the passage. Reinke also has a solution to this issue (although it seems to be time consuming). The author suggests creating a database of quotes on your computer, organizing them by topic and including author, title, and page. This allows for cross-reference between books that discuss similar concepts. I've committed to doing this for a couple of months to see how it works, how much time it requires, and if it looks promising.

The other suggestions that I found most helpful were about how to raise children who are readers. Two concepts that I especially liked was a daily oral reading time and family book reviews. The oral readings can occur throughout the day and come from a variety of books. (The author was clear that it is not necessary to read only fictional narratives aloud.) The reading is not the most important component; the discussion that occurs in response to the reading is where the learning happens and the love for reading is developed. It sounds like a very involved process, but when you consider that it can take 15-20 minutes at the end of a meal together the time commitment seems to be insignificant.

Reinke offers to keep his children in books constantly as long as they are willing to share the three passages they found most interesting as well as explain why they agreed (or disagreed) with the concept. This insures that children are not simply plowing through the words on the page without comprehension and allows parents insight into the topics that are of greatest interest to their child while observing the moral, ethical, and logical development. While it may not work for every family, it certainly is an interesting concept and one I would like to try with my own children one day.


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#32: The Memory Thief (Emily Colin)

At Christmas dinner, my nephew-in-law (Is that the correct term for the man who married my niece?) asked if he could expect to see my 32nd book review completed before the end of the year. I wasn't completely sure I would make it since I was suffering from brain damage a broken pinkie toe and didn't feel very intellectual at the moment. I'm happy to say that I DID finish the book on the last day of 2012, which allows me to proudly say that I topped last year's number of books read by 1. (Nothing like waiting until the last minute to mark another resolution off of the list!)

The Memory Thief is the first novel of author Emily Colin. The book traces the story of Maddie and her young son, Gabe. Maddie was married to a mountain climber, Aidan, who was killed in a Alaskan climbing accident and his body has not been recovered. On the same day as Aidan's accident, Nicholas, a teacher in North Carolina, was involved in an automobile accident. Though Nicholas survived, his memory has been completely wiped clean. He now begins to experience memories of another life — the life of Aidan.

With lots of twists, turns, and surprise developments, The Memory Thief is definitely a page-turner that keeps the reader guessing how things will ultimately work out for everyone involved. The primary characters of Maddie, Nicholas, Aidan, and JC (Aidan's best friend and fellow climber) are beautifully developed with charm, wit, and compassion. I found myself sad to leave these new-found friends behind when I reached the final pages of the novel. I won't be surprised if Emily Colin publishes another work that continues the story of these exquisite characters.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I must point out what I perceived as a few of its flaws. It seems that there is a trend in mainstream fiction at the moment to tell stories from multiple perspectives, shifting narrators with each chapter. I enjoy the use of this technique, but found myself confused by the shifts occasionally. For instance, when a chapter attributed to Nicholas begins with a dream he is seeing from Aidan's perspective, the duality of the narration made the storyline unclear and perplexing. As I continued reading, I became aware of Colin's use of italics to signal these occurrences; even though I was aware of them, it didn't necessarily make them easier to handle.

Secondly, I'm not certain Colin was always aware of the intended audience. The story essentially is one of the timelessness of love and was character driven from the beginning. Thrust into the story line were extensive descriptions of romantic escapades in Maddie's life. While I understand the reason for including these episodes in the story itself, I found myself wondering why a cheap romance novel had been slipped into this beautiful love story. While the scenes certainly raised the temperature of this Colorado-based story, the steaminess left this reader feeling dirty and that the romance was becoming nothing more than a tawdry roll in the sheets. Along the same lines, I found some of the language used off-putting. I know that words have power to express emotion (that's why I love to read and write), but I found the use of mundane vulgarity in intense scenes lessened their impact….especially after reading some wonderfully crafted sentences leading up to the climax. In many ways, it felt as though Colin was taking the easy way out of dealing with authentic emotion.

Lastly, I must admit that the idea of possession (a term which was finally used on p. 372 of the novel) made me a little uncomfortable. By the time the author clearly identified what was going on, I was so near the end of the story that I needed to know how things were going to turn out. The only thing that made me feel a “little” better was that it was not suggested as an evil possession; rather it was a individual's spirit attempting to bring closure to situations before moving into the afterlife. Morally, it's still not something I am entirely comfortable with, but I must admit that I enjoyed reading the novel as a work of fiction. I will be interested to see if this metaphysical trend continues in Colin's future works. Personally, I hope not.

I enjoy exploring the first works of authors. Based upon my experience with The Memory Thief, I am looking forwarding to reading Emily Colin's next novel.

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Update – Gone With The Wind

Even though I am still plowing through this massive novel, I thought it might be worthwhile to give an update on how it's going and my general impressions so far.

I just began part IV of the novel at the beginning of the week. I began reading the saga of Scarlett while on vacation in late July with the plan to be done by early November (in time for Mitchell's birthday celebration). Reading became non-existent for a few weeks as I battled illness and began a new semester of teaching. I'm not as far into the novel as I had hoped to be by now, but I think I'm still on target for finishing up by my deadline. I have experienced times of needing to lay the book aside and read something else, mainly because I felt as though I was reading a synopsis of a bad soap opera. Honestly, how many times do I really need a description of Scarlett's dresses? Enough is enough!

My reaction to the novel so far has been mixed. On one hand, I find myself enthralled with the descriptions of the grandeur of the South and mesmerized by the characterizations presented. However, I must admit that much of the book seems a bit generic. Of course Scarlett is not able to have the man she truly loves! Anything else would be too contemporary for the American society that birthed Gone with the Wind.

One trend that has truly surprised me has been the portrayal of the men in the novel. Has anyone else noticed that every man in the novel is essentially weak and flawed? I have not found an exception to this rule yet. Each of Scarlett's beaux are easily manipulated by her charms. Gerald completely falls apart at the death of Ellen. Male slaves are dominated by the wills of the dominating cooks. Men who are presented as self-confident and powerful are viewed as ogres throughout the novel. I suppose I never realized what a strong feminist thread ran through the work. These characterizations may also explain why I am having a largely negative response to the novel as a whole.

I also struggle with calling Gone with the Wind a great American novel. While I value its historical place, I don't find it speaking to universal themes. Neither does it make a significant statement about important issues facing our society. When I think of great American novels, I am looking for something on the level of To Kill a Mockingbird's stance against prejudice or Huck Finn's pursuit of freedom and self-identity on the waters of the mighty Mississippi. Scarlett O'Hara's life raises many issues, but the novel fails to rise above the depravity of her self-indulgence.

I'm hoping that my opinion of the novel changes when I reach the final page. For now, I continue reading in order to say that I HAVE read the book and to laugh at the utter ignorance that Scarlett displays while the world around her is truly in despair.