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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#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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#12: Most Wanted (Lisa Scottoline)

Lisa Scottoline is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors when I’m looking for something interesting and fun to read. Every Fifteen Minutes was one of my favorite books that I read in the spring and Most Wanted certainly lived up to my expectations. Not only was the story fast-paced and told quite well, but the novel also raised issues that have been discussed and debated for hundreds of years.

Christine and Marcus have struggled to have a child since the earliest years of their marriage. Since Marcus’ health issues are discovered to be the problem, the pair decide to use an anonymous donor in their insemination procedure. Now that Christine is carrying a healthy child, the couple has become very excited for their new arrival. 

Christine’s happiness is marred in the blink of an eye. While attending a baby shower, she catches a glimpse of a man in a CNN news report that looks strangely familiar. The good looking blonde man has been arrested in connection with a series of murders of nurses in the area. Why does he look so familiar? Christine finally realizes that the serial killer bears a striking resemblance to the donor photograph that was provided by the sperm bank. 

Most Wanted follows Christine’s turmoil as she attempts to determine if the prisoner is truly the biological father of the child she is carrying. Are the serial killer’s violent tendencies something that will be passed genetically to her unborn child? Can she protect the baby from an uncertain future just by loving him? Will Christine and Marcus ever be able to see the baby as anything other than the child of a psychopath? Scottoline weaves a fascinating thriller with a loving look at the modern “family” in all of its forms while exploring the “nature vs. nurture” debate as well as the role of science in modern society.

This book is fascinating and certainly one that should not be missed! Great read!

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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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Books #9 and #10

When finals hit this week, I felt as though I finally had more of my own time back. What did that mean? READING! Here’s a quick summary of the two books that I finished this week.

#9: Lit-Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives (David Denby). I started reading this fascinating book while in Albuquerque over Easter break. Denby explores sophomore English classes at three schools in New England to discover how they encourage students to become lifelong readers. Much of the focus is spent with Sean Leon’s class in New York City’s Beacon School. By departing from the traditional reading lists (with the blessings of his administrators), Leon challenges students to discuss important issues while realizing that literature continues to speak to our modern situations regardless of how “old” the story might actually be. Students read the expected authors — Hawthorne, Huxley, Orwell, and Faulkner. What is surprising is the inclusion of Plath, Hesse, Vonnegut, Dostoevsky, and Sartre among others. Mr. Leon’s students didn’t just “read” these works either; they struggled with the themes and entered into the settings and wrestled with the authors’ messages for contemporary society.

I found Lit-Up fascinating. When I first began my academic journey, I seriously considered pursuing a career as a high school English teacher. Looking back, I realize that the decision was triggered by my conflict with music professors who I refused to allow to have the death grip they were maintaining over my life. Thankfully, I saw the light and found my way back into the music field. However, my passion for literature and literacy remains. Do I think this model would work for every student? Probably not. However, I do think that Lit-Up reveals the impact a gifted, passionate educator can have on a group of students when they are given the academic freedom to follow the unscripted path that is dictated by the class’ interest and understanding. I’m tired of hearing about teachers being forced to “teach to the test.” Our students do not fit a nicely-formatted pattern; neither should their curriculum.

 

#10: The 9th Judgment (James Patterson). As the end of the week rolled around, I realized that I needed a physical book to hold in my hands, but it also needed to be a novel that I could finish before returning to Arkansas for the summer. I made a impromptu trip to the Unger Library and decided to return to my reading of the Women’s Murder Club series. I flew through this episode because I simply could not put the book down. This installment of Patterson’s series focuses on the Lipstick Killer that is haunting San Francisco with his mysterious messages of FWC and the realization that his targets are mothers and their young children. Claire, our strong medical examiner, recommends that the women of the city arm themselves in order to assure their safety while Lindsey finds herself as the only member of the police force that the lunatic serial killer will communicate with. This page-turner will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the read and ends with a cliff hanger that will force the audience to quickly dive into the next book in the series. (I’m already planning a trip to the library as soon as I get home…..because I’ve got to know what happens next for Lindsey!)

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#8: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)

My reading life has been a bit slow so far this year, so when I found myself with some free time to dive into a novel, I wanted to make sure that I found something that was well-written and moving. That means I returned to My Library Shelf project and began reading Please Look After Mom, a touching story of love, loss, and family.

As you might guess from the cover art and the author’s name, the novel is set in South Korea. Mom and Dad are country people whose four children have moved to urban areas to pursue their careers. As the parents travel to Seoul by train, the two become separated in the busy train station and Mom is lost. The novel now revolves around the family’s efforts to locate their missing mother in this massive and fast-paced city.

As each child participates in the frantic search, the children reflect upon their relationship with Mom as well as numerous interactions with her throughout their lives. How did they fail to notice that she was becoming sicker with each passing day? Why did her questions frustrate them? Were they ashamed of her? Did they view her as an inconvenience and a nuisance instead of a treasure and source of wisdom?

Please Look After Mom came into my life while I was already struggling with being separated from my own parents. The novel’s messages have continued to resonate with me in light of my mother’s health challenges in the past week. (Thankfully my family was not facing that crisis while I was reading the novel; I’m certain that would have sent me over the cliff!) Shin’s novel is not an easy read. The English translation can sometimes be cumbersome while attempting to maintain as much of its distinctly Korean aspects as possible. Despite its occasional awkwardness, Please Look After Mom was a beautiful story of love, regret, and hope that is common to all families and will definitely stay with this reader for many years to come.

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