Tuesday, April 6, 2021

read: The Four Winds (4 stars)

The Four WindsThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relentless. That's my one word summary of this book.

Elsa, the main character is relentless in her love for her husband and children (but sadly, not herself). She somehow finds the strength, day after day, in circumstances that would crush most of us, to get out of bed and do whatever it takes to take care of her family.

The weather and its impact on the people and the society of the Dust Bowl years is also relentless. The heat. The dust. The simple grind of trying to eek out of living from the land, when it won't cooperate in the slightest.

The story is also relentless. It kept me caring about the main characters and whether or not they would survive the relentless weather and the grind of living through a time of historical destitution. The writing is straightforward and the characters might be perceived as one-dimensional. Or both can be seen as stripped down to the bare essentials of what it takes to survive.

This is not a book to be read for pure enjoyment. But it is well done and satisfying and paints a vivid picture of a time that shares some aspects of our own. Recommended.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Friday, January 15, 2021

read: Marauder (4 stars)

Marauder (Oregon Files, #15)Marauder by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid story about the valiant crew of the newly replaced spy ship, Oregon. They are facing another seaborne menace that may be too much for them, even with their upgraded (though unfinished) weaponry. Not to mention a crisis that threatens the balance of power in Asia.
Not quite as gripping as other recent entries in the series. This one is still fun and satisfying.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 31, 2020

My 2020 in Books

According to the Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge, I read 45 books this year. That's a bunch of reading. But is 3 short of my goal of 48 (94%). I think the main excuse I have for missing the number is that I was stymied from listening to audio books during commute and gym time because I've been working from home for the past 300 days. I did well on my sub-goal of reading more current titles: 14 (almost 1/3) were published in 2020. Another sub-goal was more non-fiction (that also wasn't a biography or about writing): 7 titles fit that description. On the flip-side, this meant that I only read 2 titles out of my backlog of physical books. But I did manage to read a majority of physical books that I purchased via my local bookstore. Here are some highlights:

  1. Non-fiction. These four really stood out:
    1. The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Laren - I read this early on during the pandemic lockdown. Oddly enough, reading about what the people of London had to endure during The Blitz in WWII helped put my own situation into perspective.
    2. What Unites Us by Dan Rather - I read this around the time of the election and post-election furor and I, along with many others, found it a quite comforting portrait of what the United States is really about.
    3. Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski - A deeply personal and moving rags-to-riches, hard-work-pays-off Hollywood story without being cloying, sensational or scandalous (by the creator of the TV series Babylon 5 and Sense8).
    4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - made me think differently about the idea of "race" in historical and modern America.

  2. Netgalley. I limited myself to previewing 5 titles on Netgalley this year, including some authors that are new to me.  I was happy to post early reviews for all of them. My favorites:
    1. The Last Agent (sequel to The Eighth Sister) by Robert Dugoni - the second installment is even more thrilling than the first.
    2. All We Buried by Elena Taylor - excellent first book in a new crime series by a local author that uncovers the (fictional) secrets in a small town.
    3. The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal - third book in the Lady Astronaut series, which I highly recommend for fans of early space flight, NASA and good writing.

Some other treats this year:

  1. Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré - His most recently published novel and le Carré at his best. Boiled down. Insightful. At turns appropriately humorous and cruel. His spies find action in inaction and waiting. In talking their way through confrontations, rather than shooting.
  2. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks) - is a fun collection of short stories that all manage to incorporate the use of a typewriter (he's a big fan and collector of them).
  3. Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin (audio book) - tells the story of one particular 19th Century ship and her crew as they explore the South and North Poles. I loved hearing the excitement in the author's voice as he read this.
  4. Faster: How a Jewish Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Beat Hitler's Best by Neal Bascomb - a quite fascinating read about the early days of auto racing and what is now Formula 1.

My Goodreads.com 2020 wrap-up is at https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/19861064

I'm planning a similar strategy in 2021. Clear out my backlog, yet keep up with some current titles, choosing authors I don't usually read. And I'll be sure to read some challenging non-fiction. But this year I will set a lower overall number and tackle some longer works that I've been avoiding in order to keep my numbers up. Who knows? I may even be able to find more time to read this year.

Keep reading! And share a book with a friend.

Friday, November 13, 2020

read: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (5 stars)

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reflections of a lifetime in America. From growing up in a small town in Texas to reporting on some of the biggest stories of the last century.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 17, 2020

read: Network Effect (4 stars)

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5)Network Effect by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reasons to love Murderbot: It just wants to be left alone with its media. It's also not a murderbot. It also cares deeply about its human clients and the occasional bot it befriends while doing its job. It's also very good at its job, which is protecting its clients, and it is much better at relationships than it gives itself credit for.
Reasons to love this novel-length Murderbot story: it allows enough time and space for the author to go deeper into the construct's relationships and feelings, even if it would be horrified to know that has either one. Thankfully, the length provides an actual novel-length story and not just a series of adventures or episodes strung together. But the fast pace and quick humor are still in place, although subdued ever so slightly.
This book can be enjoyed on its own. But why would a reader deprive themselves of the other stories and the added context they provide? Read them all.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 21, 2020

read: Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing (4 stars)

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better WritingTake Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been writing first drafts for NaNoWriMo by the seat of my pants for several years. Every once in a while I try a lightweight outline method to 'really be organized, this time' and still wound up with a mess. I quite enjoyed this author's lighthearted approach and I think the light may have finally gone on about how to formulate a meaningful story. This probably isn't the silver bullet for killing the beast of writing a novel. But I'm going to give it a quick rescan and see if I can apply it to this years' NaNo.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 14, 2020

read: Long Bright River (4 stars)

Long Bright RiverLong Bright River by Liz Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up at the beginning of 2020 because it was a best-seller and getting truckloads of good reviews. I figured I should be in-the-know on at least one 'hot' book this year. Then I started reading and wondering what all the fuss was about.

The writing was pretty good--easy to follow and all, even with the author's offbeat way of writing dialog. But it didn't click for me. What started out as a police procedural was suddenly some sort of family drama. And the gritty setting on the streets of Philadelphia was more offputting than I could deal with at the moment. I set it aside for something more appealing.

When I picked it back up, I found it was still the same story. But I somehow found it more engrossing. It's not really a police procedural, even though the protagonist, Michaela ("Mickey"), is a cop. She's not a very good one. She doesn't fit in well with the rest of the department and her street presence is awkward at best. Plus, she's not really trying to solve a crime. She's trying to find her drug-addict sister, Kacey, on those gritty, crime-ridden streets, mostly to make sure she isn't a victim of the same killer.

It's also not quite a family drama, because Mickey is completely estranged from her dysfunctional family and spends little time with them. We gradually discover more about that as we flash back and forth between "Then" and "Now". Most of Mickey's relationships are with strangers and neighbors and her ex-partner. These are also awkward because Mickey's childhood issues and current agendas create barriers for actually relating.

All of this makes it sound like the story is a failure. But it's not. Once I got back into it, I was fascinated by the way the author deftly intertwined the different aspects of Mickey's life into something that worked. During the last chapters, I could almost hear the mechanisms click into place as mysteries were solved, tragedies explained and relationships healed. Some come very close to being cloying, family-drama tropes. But there is enough depth to the background to avoid that cliff.

A thriller reader will have to invest a little extra energy to hang with the slower pace. It's worth it.

View all my reviews