Monday, September 30, 2013

Purgatory Ridge

Purgatory Ridge is William Kent Krueger's third book in the Cork O'Connor series. It's another complex, well-thought out mystery in a series that I highly recommend checking out. At first I had a difficult time reconciling the two separate story lines with one another, but once they melded, I thought it flowed really well. I especially loved John LePere's character, and was happy to see Henry Meloux make another appearance. I find myself not wanting to say too much because I don't want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that this is a beautifully written page-turner from a very talented writer.
I'd get started on the next book in the Cork O'Connor series, but I have a few other books I need to tend to first. First up on the list is Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. I love The Shining, so I was thrilled to hear that King was writing a sequel. I read a few pages on my lunch break today and I loved what I read. I just hope I am not looking forward to it so much that I'm going to be let down.
I'm also excited about the release of Not Another Wedding, a Harlequin Super Romance by Jennifer McKenzie. I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer this year through Camp NaNoWriMo. I really enjoyed her first book, That Weekend, and am really looking forward to Not Another Wedding.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fahrenheit 451

This month my book club read Fahrenheit 451. This is one of those books that, when I finished it, I had the feeling I had read it before. I hate that feeling. Anyway, I'm still not sure if I read it before or if it's just similar to something else I read.
Fahrenheit 451 is great - there is definitely a reason why it's a classic. I especially loved Mildred with her "family" and TV parlor. I'd say it's pretty spot on for how some people are more connected with their online friends than they are with the people around them. I also saw cell phones in the seashell that Mildred wore in her ear. She was so distracted by this technology that she and her husband barely knew one another. Keep in mind that Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953. I also thought Bradbury effectively got across the feeling of panic that Guy felt throughout the book.
Other parts of the book haven't aged quite as well. While the book burning is scary and may have been believable at one time, in the age of the Internet and ebooks, I don't think it's really believable anymore. Then again, maybe that's the kind of thinking that will get us into a world like Bradbury has envisioned.
After Fahrenheit 451, I tried to get into Crowned Heads, which I got through Net Galley. This is an older book that for some reason is being published again. I found myself unable to get into it at all, so I called it quits. Life is too short to read books I don't want to read.
I've moved on to William Kent Krueger's Purgatory Ridge, the third in the Cork O'Connor series. I also started A Little History of Literature by Sutherland. The latter makes me feel like I'm in college again, but it's pretty interesting.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted is the perfect book to read on a gloomy fall day. It is written in Gothic style, and carries elements of favorites such as Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre. Eliza Caine, following the death of her father, embarks on a new adventure as a governess. The house is suitably creepy, as are the children. It's over the top at times - deliberately, I believe - just as a good Gothic novel should be. Some people might call it formulaic and not particularly original, and I suppose they're right. But for me, the formula it followed made it...I don't know, comforting, I guess. It was like hanging out with an old friend. Also, I think This House is Haunted it about more than just that. It's an homage to a kind of novel that no one writes anymore, while poking a little fun at it.

 This House is Haunted is fun and fast-paced. If you're looking for a modern tale of horror with lots of blood and guts, this isn't the book for you. If you're a fan of the classics and a little subtle humor, check this one out.

I give This House is Haunted four stars.

*I received this book for free through Net Galley.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How to Talk Minnesotan: Revised for the 21st Century

So, you want to learn how to talk Minnesotan, then. Good deal. “How to Talk Minnesotan: Revised for the 21st Century” by Howard Mohr is not too bad a book if you like that sort of thing. I don’t want you to think I didn’t like it.
I compare it to a good hot dish: there’s lots of stuff in there, and it’s pretty easy to digest, for the most part. I like books that make me laugh, but only on the inside. If you see me smirking, that means I’m having a heckuva good time. I don’t think I had the thought, “Oh, for dumb” even once while I was reading, though I suspect if you’re still reading this you may have by now.
If someone held lutefisk under my nose and forced me to pick, I’d say my favorite part of the book was the story about the guy who moved out to a farm place and tried to order some fuel oil. Depending on who he talked to, he had the fuel delivered to the Fletcher place or the Prindel place (the names of the farm’s previous owners). It only took a decade or so before he could order fuel under his own name. I thought that sounded about right.
A guy could read a book like this if he wanted to. But not if it puts you out or anything like that. If you feel like it, go ahead. Whatever.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Boundary Waters

Boundary Waters is the second book in William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series. I was first introduced to this series earlier this year and I am so happy I discovered this author. Actually, I'm a little ashamed that I didn't discover him sooner since he is from Minnesota.
When I read Iron Lake, the first book in this series, I was impressed by Krueger's use of description. Boundary Waters was no different. He has a way of making me feel like I'm there without going overboard. It takes a lot of skill to do that, in my opinion. Krueger really nails it when it comes to describing the Minnesota landscape. I love Minnesota, and to read stories in which it is described so beautifully makes me very happy.
Boundary Waters, like Iron Lake, is a great mystery that kept me engaged the whole way through. I like how Krueger's books aren't just about Cork O'Connor solving a mystery - he does a great job of advancing the characters as well. I'm not a series reader, but the combination of great description and characters I've grown to love will keep me coming back to this series. I'm already looking forward to the next, Purgatory Ridge. And, because I'm a good 10 years or so behind, I don't even have to wait for it to come out - in fact, the 13th book in the series was recently published. I've got a lot of reading to do to get there, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it every step of the way. I'm also excited to read Krueger's stand-alone books, especially Ordinary Grace, which has gotten great reviews.
My goal is to get at least a couple more of Krueger's books read before - wait for it - he comes to my library next month! Yes! I am so excited I can hardly stand it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review: Sinclair Lewis

I borrowed this biography of Sinclair Lewis, written by Richard O'Connor, from my sister. I saw her rating of it (three stars) on Goodreads and wondered how a biography of such an amazing writer could have gotten anything below three stars. Then I read it.
Sinclair Lewis is one of my favorite authors. I believe I've read seven of his books (Main Street, Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith, Ann Vickers, It Can't Happen Here...yep, that's seven), and Main Street is one of my favorite books. They're all pretty fantastic. And even though I love his writing, I know very little about the author. I've visited his childhood home in Sauk Centre and gone to the interpretive center there that is dedicated to him, but I've never read much about him.
I thought this biography started out really well. I was really enjoying reading about Sinclair Lewis's life.  Then the author started inserting his own personal opinions about Lewis's work. He thinks Dodsworth is a better book than Elmer Gantry? Wait, what? Nuh uh. Surely he must be joking, I thought.
Now, I know that my opinions are my own and not everyone will agree with me. But I disagreed with a lot of what O'Connor said about Lewis's books, and I found myself wondering why he felt the need to put in his feelings about his work at all. Was it not enough to tell us what the critics thought, and whether people bought the book? Instead he bashes Carol Kennicott (sorry, dude, you do NOT bash Carol Kennicott) and puts Dodsworth above Elmer Gantry. Maybe Elmer Gantry has aged better than Dodsworth, or become more relevant (the O'Connor biography is 40 years old). I suspect that may be the case. I also seem to think a lot more of Ann Vickers than O'Connor does.
Even though I found myself shaking my head at times, one good thing about this biography is that it left me wanting more. I've had another book about Sinclair Lewis, Rebel from Main Street, sitting on my shelf for a long time. I don't know why I haven't read it before now, but now it's definitely on my list of books that I need to read soon.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Review: Havisham

Havisham, by Ronald Frame: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (See what I did there?) Okay, I know. Wrong Dickens book. But still, I found myself having a love-hate relationship with Havisham, much as I often do with Dickens. I'll get an urge to read one of his books and spend half of it wondering what the hell I was thinking. Miss Havisham is absolutely my favorite Dickens character. I'll never forget when I met her, sitting in her yellowed silk gown among the rotting remnants of her wedding feast. I wanted Ronald Frame, in Havisham, to create magic for me. Bring me into that cobwebbed world of hers and tell me how she got there. And, for the most part, he did.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. For about the first half of the book (I know that seems like a lot), I found myself getting impatient. I was bored by Catherine's description of her childhood, and the time she spent with the Chadwyck family. There were some good parts here and there (the Hermitage, for one), but mostly I felt like if I had to read one more scene about acting out some play or attending a masked ball, I was going to give up on this book. I'm happy I didn't, because when Catherine returned home, Havisham gave me everything I'd been hoping for, and I was not disappointed. I loved the wedding and everything that followed, even though I'd figured out exactly what happened before Catherine did.
In looking back at my time spent reading Havisham, I'm reminded of a quote by Mark Twain: A classic is something that everybody wants to have read, and nobody wants to read. Like Great Expectations (or any other Dickens novel), reading Havisham was hard work at times, but in the end I'm happy I did. One thing that helped me get through it was to tell myself to treat it as I would a classic. I tend to give those more leeway when reading them, because I think if it's a classic surely there must be something worthwhile to keep reading for. That's what I did, and I was well rewarded.

*I received a free copy of this book through Net Galley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book review: Persepolis

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is like nothing I've ever read before. I'd never even considered picking up a graphic novel until I heard about this book. I'm so happy I decided to give it a chance.
Persepolis follows Satrapi's life as she grows up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It's a subject I knew very little about beforehand, and likely never would have learned more about if it hadn't been for Persepolis. I thought the graphic novel format worked really well. It allowed me to absorb a lot of information without feeling overwhelmed by it. One thing that really impressed me about this book was that Satrapi does not try to make herself look like some sort of hero. She did some awful things, and puts it out there for all of us to see. It makes her character really relatable. It's almost painful at times, looking back at those events from her past, but before judging her too quickly I had to remind myself that I did some stupid things in my youth as well.
Sense of place and belonging are a strong theme in Persepolis. Marji is sent away by her parents to protect her from the unrest that is going on in her country. While it's almost certainly the best thing for her, it does have some negative effects. While studying in Vienna, Marji doesn't feel like she fits in there. And when she returns home, she doesn't fit in there, either. She feels as if the struggles she endured are nothing compared to what her friends and family endured during that same time. In the end, I felt that she was able to find herself. If she hadn't, I don't think she would have written Persepolis.