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Recent Reads and Reviews

It’s just my Opinion

I do not have an English degree. If you are looking for a real book critics review, you won’t find it here. These are my gut reactions, conjured emotions, and provoked thoughts that the authors or texts invoked. Sometimes, a book that I’d normally enjoy I just can’t get into. My mental state has a lot to do with how I process words, plots, characters, themes, styles….all the components. Take my opinion with a grain of Pink Himalayan salt, and find out for yourself.

MOST RECENT REVIEWS ADDED AT THE TOP OF PAGE


The Tomb: The Watchers Book 1

Carl Novakovich 2021

I came away with a slightly different perspective than most of Mr. Novakovich’s readers, but I was still pleased to have been asked to review the book.

I’ll say up front that thrillers are not a genre that I normally read. Keeping that in mind, my issues were far less concerned with personal reading preferences than the overall feel and writing of the text.

The first person POV in this story was jarring and pulled me out of the narrative. It was difficult for me to follow John’s perspective. Sometimes he would be giving you a moment-by-moment play, and other times he’d be recalling the scene in past tense. He talked to the reader as though there was an active conversation happening–answering questions that he assumed the reader asked. It was bizarre. None of this is wrong, it was just very difficult to follow.

As a character, John was fairly one-dimensional. He was either on or off with his emotions and reactions. My guess is that his arc will be more developed in the following books. It’s probably just me, and it’s not the end of the world, but I find all the fat references about Walter a little distasteful. I could see what the author was going for, and the first couple did the job. But it went on far longer than needed.

Beth, in contrast, was a bit more compelling. Unfortunately, while her dialogue was obviously different, her inner voice wasn’t. There were a couple of times I actually had to flip back because I wasn’t sure who I was reading.

The Tomb hit every possible trope for an end-of-time story. Not much surprised me, but I did find the Chicago Fire of 1871 reference clever.

All of my criticisms being said, the book moved at a rapid pace. The length of the chapters was spot on for the scenes, and each chapter ended on a good cliff-hanger. It definitely held my interest.

I think the author has a knack for delivering a story that fans of this genre want to read. I do I truly appreciate being asked to review it. Writing any book takes an incredible amount of work and persistence. Asking for a review takes an insane amount of courage. Best of luck to Mr. Novakovich and his team! 2 stars.

D: A Tale of Two Worlds

Michel Faber 2020

I was really excited for this book. I got it for my birthday and I loved the premise. Right out the gate it had a Narnia/Wonderland vibe, yet it didn’t feel forced. The MC was updated while still maintaining the charm of the classic adventurer. I loved that she was a bit older, yet not so much so that she dismissed the improbable.

I’m a big fan of Michel Faber’s work, especially since “The Crimson Petal and The White” was the first book I read outside genre fiction–it opened my literary world up to other possibilities past medical mysteries. Yet, ‘D: A Tale of Two Worlds’ fell a little bit short. It didn’t have the page turning pull that I expected. And since I didn’t feel that magnetism, it took me over a month to finish. I had to keep going back and figuring out who the characters were.

Overall, this book was pleasant. A lovely escape and genuine nod to the classics. But it’s not one I’m likely to read again. Fear not, Mr. Faber! I’m still going to read everything you publish. 3.5 stars

OF MICE AND MEN

John Steinbeck 1937

It’s probably been 15 years since I last read this classic. I came to it with a bit of hesitation, knowing the outcome was going to be difficult for me. But I was entirely surprised by my reaction. The relationships in this book are difficult but beautiful, and the time in which it is set (The Great Depression) give the story such depth. Perhaps time has given me a different outlook, but I felt so much more compassion for George and his action in the end. It’s a masterpiece. 5 stars.

FISHING THE SLOE-BLACK RIVER

Colum McCann 2013

This collection of short stories was positively riveting. I felt like I was sitting next to the characters as they were telling me about their adventures–not coming of age quests, or epic fantasy tales–everyday life in all its mundane beauty. I could feel the tension within the scenes and laugh when they did. The style was so conversational and welcoming, not something I’ve found very often in published short story collections. I borrowed it from the library, but will certainly purchase a copy for my own collection. 5 stars

LETTERS TO A YOUNG WRITER

Colum McCann 2017

This book nourished my soul at a time when I was deeply despondent. Each essay was not only beautifully written, but also practical. I found myself moved to tears many times. I strongly encourage not only young writers, but any writer who is discouraged to pick up this book and find some hope. 5 stars

THE POWER OF HABIT: WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO IN LIFE AND BUSINESS

Charles Duhigg 2012

I actually read Duhigg’s second book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of being Productive in Life and Business prior to this. I loved them both. I sometimes feel that with nonfiction in this style, business management, self-improvement etc., that most of the book is repetitive. The author tends give you the punch line in the introduction or forward but then beats you with it for 200 pages. It feels like a slow death of cited studies, interviews, and random anecdotes that aren’t nearly as funny as they are supposed to be. Not so with The Power of Habit.
I felt engaged the entire length of the book and read it over a couple of days. The examples and case studies used were both interesting and provided just the amount information needed to prove his point. He managed to weave stories of all socioeconomic backgrounds into his text, which I appreciated. Most of the time you only hear about CEOs and the top decision makers of Fortune 500 companies, but this book was relatable for a wide spectrum of people.
Duhigg balanced the conundrum of habit formation in biology and free will. He advocates for taking responsibility of your actions and habits, but he also gives you a set of tools to help you change them. I feel like there was as much practical information in this book as there was theory, and I’ve already started applying some of his methods to replace old habits with healthy new ones. I definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in psychology, neurobiology, or who wants to make changes in their life. This gets a solid 4 stars.

WHERE THE PAST BEGINS: A WRITER’S MEMOIR

Amy Tan 2017

Amy has a beautiful way with language and an astonishing ability to craft art on a line level. I’ve always enjoyed her fiction and felt as though I could wrap myself in both her stories and her words. I didn’t know prior to reading this that she has a PhD in linguistics, but it makes perfect sense. This memoir didn’t resonate with me as much as I anticipated it would. It didn’t have a linear timeline, not that it needed to, but it was a bit difficult to follow some of her stories. She was also fairly repetitive. I think she must have mentioned that her grandmother died when her mother was 9 perhaps six times. In fairness, she does warn the reader in the prologue that is a different kind of memoir, a book that she agreed to write in one draft. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t my favorite. It was honest, but not polished. It was heartfelt, but rambling. It served it purpose and I know more about the author. I’ll keep her history in mind next time I read one of her books. 3 stars

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

Ta-Nihesi Coates 2015

This was the second book I read by Ta-Nehisi and I was very much looking forward to it. I positively loved the Water Dancer, so I had high expectations, especially since it was written as an essay to his teenage son. But of all the books I’ve recently read on racisms, both personal accounts, and the systemic problem in general, this by far comes in last. While it was written beautifully with very descriptive language, and while he speaks directly to his son with lots of details, it doesn’t feel honest. It feels preachy, and I felt like I was being constantly pummeled the entire time, not for having white privilege (which I absolutely do), but for “calling myself white” which I am. I made myself finish it. I will definitely read more fiction by this author, but I think I will shy away from nonfiction. One is enough. 2 stars

THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER

Kim Edwards 2005

This book had elements in it that I normally enjoy, but is just became tedious. It moves through time, chronicling the parallel lives of twins separated at birth. The catch is that the father gives up the little girl because she has Down’s Syndrome, and he hides this from his wife, telling her the infant died. There is decent character development. But at 278 pages, I had to stop. Nothing of significance had happened except that the kids were 16 years old and I was board out of my mind. This is one I may give another go. But I had to break up with it. 3 stars

Have you read any of these titles? What did you think of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if they were different from my own.

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