Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
2007 Penguin Books
Rating: 4/5

     I read an article about reader’s reactions to Thirteen Reasons Why a couple of months ago and decided I wanted to read it. I almost hate to label it as such, but this is an “important” book. It is a young adult novel that can make young people think a little more about how they treat others.
     Clay Jensen, a quiet high school student, gets home from school one day to find a package with no return address on his doorstep. When he opens it, he discovers a shoebox containing 7 cassette tapes recorded by Hannah, a classmate and girl he had a crush on, who recently committed suicide. The instructions on the tapes are to listen to them and then send them on to the next person on the tapes. One the side of each tape, Hannah details what one person did that contributed to her eventual suicide. Some of the acts are horrible and others are where someone didn’t act on something that they saw or heard, but they all pushed her one step closer.
     The whole book consists of Clay listening to the tapes and his reactions to them. The whole book makes you feel uncomfortable, partly because of the subject matter, and partly through the voyeuristic way the story is told. Despite this, I read it quickly, not able to put it down. The website for the book has over 13000 comments from readers, mostly teens, and it is reassuring to read how this book affected them.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


by Stephen King
2011 Scribner
Rating: 4/5

     I am a huge fan of Stephen King's short fiction. His last book Full Dark, No Stars was one of the darkest things I have read in years. I have not read one of his long novels in almost 10 years, but the subject manner of this one convinced me to give it a try.
     Jake Epping is a recently-divorced high school teacher in a small town in Maine. He gets a call from a Friend who runs a local diner. All shows him a portal in the diver that goes back to September of 1958. Al is obsessed with using the portal to go back and stop the JFK assassination, but has so far not been able to do so. He is now ill and recruits Jake to try to stop Lee Harvey Oswald.
     Jake sets out to do that, along with fixing a few other wrongs that he thinks should be righted. What he does not count on is that time has a way of trying to keep the timeline unchanged. In the 5 years of the past he has to live through before November of 1963, Jake gets in and out of trouble, meets a wonderful woman in Josie, Texas, and tracks the movements of Lee Harvey.
     As usual, King is a master of characters and dialogue, the conversation in the book almost always ring true. The book may be a bit overlong at 849 pages, but it reads quickly. The New York Times said
 "The pages of “11/22/63” fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book’s fanciest trick."
     I got lost in this book, staying up way too late several nights to get through one more (and then another) chapter. One thing that did pull me out of King's world is that he got small facts wrong occasionally. They are things that won't bother most readers, but local sports fans or Ft. Worth residents may stop and say "That's not right!" As the book started to wind down, I became concerned that King was going in a bad direction with the ending, but he pulled it off with several satisfying twists.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Adjustment

The Adjustment
by Scott Phillips
2011 Counterpoint
Rating: 3/5

     As far as I am concerned, Scott Phillips has yet to turn out a bad book. The Adjustment is my least favorite of his titles so far, but I still had a hell of a time reading it. All of his book are dark and the characters pretty unlikable, but I still root for them. Publisher's Weekly says; "The author's unapologetic depiction of a thoroughly bad egg will appeal to hard-boiled fans who don't need redeeming features to become engaged with a character."
     Wayne Ogden has returned from to Wichita, Kansas from being a supply sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps. He is trying to fit back into regular life in after blackmarketeering and pimping across the European Theater during WWII. Now he is the bagman and fixer for the head of Collins Aircraft.
     Phillips has a sick sense of humor and a real talent for creating characters from way on the wrong side of the tracks. Wayne Ogden has appeared as a supporting character in The Walkaway, and his story is also tied into The Ice Harvest. Just a  note, Phillips' Cottonwood is one of the most twisted books I have ever read, a Western fiilled with sex drugs, serial killers, and one hell of a tornado.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


by Jeffrey Eugenides
2002 Picador
Rating: 4/5

     Yes, I am almost 10 years late to the party on this winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction. It has been recommended to me by many friends and customers, but I just never hit that tipping point that got me to read it. I recently read an excellent review of The Marriage Plot, the author's newest book, and decided I needed to seek out this previous title.
     Middlesex is the story of Cal Stephanides, a hermaphrodite man raised as a girl. The first half of the novel is about Cal's family, and depicts his grandparents' escape from Smyrna, a Greek city in now in Turkey, to America 1922. I found this part of the book fascinating. I loved the characters and their assimilation into American society. The first two generations of the family's struggle to make it in the Detroit area was well told, a great dose of history along with wonderful storytelling.
     Unfortunately, I felt the second half of the book, with Cal's discovery that she is a man, fell short of the power of the first half. Other than the physical and genetic problem, Cal was not anywhere near as interesting a character to me as the rest of her family. For me, Middlesex was a fantastic read, just not quite as good as I was expecting.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
2011 Little, Brown, and Company
Rating: 5/5

     I loved this book! Sometimes, timing can be everything and I am sure that affected my thoughts on the book. "The Art of Fielding" is a beautifully written book that loves baseball. Reading it while the Texas Rangers are making a run at the World Series just made me like it that much more. It has the feeling of a John Irving novel, which is always a good thing for me.
     It takes place at a small college in Northern Wisconsin that becomes as much of a character as the people in this story. The main character is Henry, the team's star shortstop and the descriptions of how he plays the game highlight what I love most about baseball. The ballet of a great fielder and the camaraderie and teamwork that makes the player work as one.
     One day in the middle of a game, Henry seriously injures his roommate and teammate with an errant throw to first. This destroys his confidence and damages both his personal life and his ability to play the game. As they book starts, you believe that it will just be the story of Henry, but as you get into it, other fascinating characters are introduced and I ended up caring about what happened to all of them as much as I did Henry.
     This book is so much more then just a baseball book. The New York Times says; "The Art of Fielding is not only a wonderful baseball novel--it zooms immediately into the pantheon of classics, alongside The Natural by Bernard Malamud and The Southpaw by Mark Harris--but it's also a magical, melancholy story about friendship and the coming of age that marks the debut of an immensely talented writer...Mr. Harbach has the rare abilities to write with earnest, deeply felt emotion without ever veering into sentimentality, and to create quirky, vulnerable and fully imagined characters who instantly take up residence in our hearts and minds."

Monday, October 24, 2011


by Charles Frazier
2011 Random House
Rating 4/5

     "Nightwoods" starts slow, just like the other Charles Frazier books I have read, but then the characters and plot just suck you in. Most of the book is set in the same bleak Appalachian landscape as "Cold Mountain" and the time frame of the story is hard to nail down - the late 50s or early 60s. Luce lives as a caretaker in an old hunting lodge, across the lake from a small town. She is a loner and not especially very likable at first. When her sister is murdered, she takes in her niece and nephew - two emotionally scarred children. "Nightwoods" is filled with strong supporting characters and a beautiful, yet brutal setting. And the dialogue is sparse, but hard hitting. "Cold Mountain" is one of my all time favorite books, but with "Thirteen Moons" and now "Nightwoods", Frazier has proved himself as a consistently great American writer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Swamplandia To HBO

This could be interesting. From the Hollywood Reporter:

     HBO is going to Florida with Scott Rudin. The premium cable network has picked up Swamplandia, a half-hour comedy project from Rudin based on Karen Russell's book of the same name. Swamplandia revolves around Ava Bigtree, a 12-year-old alligator wrestler who embarks on an improbable journey through the mangrove wilderness of southwest Florida as she searches for her lost sister. A search is under way for a writer on the project, with Rudin attached to executive produce the comedy and author Russell consulting.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Death In the City of Light

Death In the City of Light
by David King
2011 Crown Publishing (Advance copy from Publisher)
Rating 3/5

     An interesting, but slow story or Marcel Petoit, a French doctor that killed 60+ people in Paris during World War II. David King tries to emulate "The Devil In the White City", but this story is just not as fascinating.
     Petoit was a doctor, a mayor, and even elected as a representative for his district before the war. Once the war started he lured in victims, many of them Jewish, by claiming he could help them escape the Nazi occupiers. He would get them alone, kill them, and take all their possessions. The book gives a good overview of Paris under the German, populated with stories of Picasso, Sartre, and Camus, but the story of Petoit himself moves rather slowly.


by Carl Hiaasen
2012 Knopf (Advance copy from Publisher)
Rating: 4/5

     Another wonderful kid's book from Carl Hiassen. I believe that Hiaasen's strength is that he doesn't write down to kids, these book can be read and enjoyed thoroughly by adults as well.  He won a Newberry Honor for his first children's book, "Hoot", and all his subsequent kid's titles have been great sellers. They all have a strong pro-environment theme without beating the reader over the head with it.
     "Chomp" reads a bit like a lighter version of the book "Swamplandia", one of my favorite reads this year.Wahoo lives with a huge collection of animals, his father is a Florida animal wrangler for TV and movies. They both end up working on a TV survival show starring a Bear Grylls like star. Wahoo ends up working as a calming influence between his tempermental father and the show's star. When things go wrong, it turns into a fight for survival in the Everglades. High adventure, lots of humor, and even a litle romance - I think kids will love this book, I know I did.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ready Player One

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
2011 Crown Publishing
Rating: 5/5

     Ever read a book or seen a movie and thought, “Wow, that was made specifically for me!”? That is what “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline felt like to me. It is a perfect read for those of us that geeked out in the 80s. My wife and I formed our first real relationship over the controls of the Tron standup videogame at Chuck E. Cheese. Reading this book immediately made me flashback to those times.
     “Ready Player One” is part “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory”, part “WarGames”, part “The Last Starfighter”, and part your favorite Japanese giant robot series (and it references every one of those at some point). It is set in 2044 and the world is not a pretty place. Wade is a high school student who, like much of the rest of the world, escapes that reality by visiting OASIS, a huge virtual utopia that lets you be whoever you want to be. You can use OASIS to do your online shopping, go to school, take on dragons & orcs, watch movies, listen to music, captain the S.S. Heart of Gold and fall in love. However, when the creator of this virtual playground dies, he leaves behind a quest: find the 3 keys he has hidden in the virtual reality by completing challenges and you will inherit the company that runs it and his huge personal fortune. Wade and every other gamer start hunting for clues, not knowing the time it will take and the dangers they will face.
     The book is fast paced and I would have loved it just for the adventure, but what took it to the next level for me were all the pop culture references. The creator of OASIS grew up in the 80s and was obsessed with it. So the players in the adventure have to immerse themselves in the films, books, TV, music and especially the computer and video games of my favorite decade. You can’t turn more then a page or two without coming across a line from or a reference to classics (?) like “Family Ties”, Monty Python, “Buckaroo Banzai”, Rush, Gundam, Robotron, or “Brazil”. If you are a gamer, a science fiction/fantasy fan, can recite the Castle Anthrax scene, or just love a great adventure, I highly recommend “Ready Player One”.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Okay For Now

Okay for Now
by Gary Schmidt
2011 Clarion Books
Rating: 5/5

     While I enjoy reading some Young Adult titles, I rarely read Intermediate children's books unless the author is J.K. Rowling or Carl Hiaasen. A blurb in Entertainment Weekly pointed me towards this book and I decided to give it a try. I am glad that I did, it is neck and neck with "The Sisters Brothers" for my favorite book of the year.
     It is 1968 and Doug has just moved to a small New York town with his abusive father, meek mother, and his always in trouble brother. He goes to the local library and discovers a folio edition of James Audubon's "Birds of America". A helpful librarian, a new female friend, and a new job help Doug to deal with several misfortunes his family has to deal with. Gary Schmidt obviously has a love of baseball, art, and the 1960s, as they are all major parts of this book and "The Wednesday Wars", which this is a very loose sequel to.
     "Okay For Now" does not feel like a children's book and some of the things that it deals with may be over their heads, but it is an amazingly well written book. I was shocked at how moved I was by passages in this, as well as how often I laughed out loud. Schmidt has written two previous books that were Newberry Honor titles, i would love to see this be the book that actually wins the award.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Night Circus - Bestseller!

     "The Night Circus" debuts at #1 on the Indie Best Seller list in its first week on sale. The word going around is that it will appear at #2 on the New York Times Best Seller list of October 2!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick DeWitt
2011 HarperCollins
Rating: 5/5

     I read a starred review of this title in Publisher's Weekly around the beginning of the year and added it to my list of books to read. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy a short time later. If this does not end up being my favorite fiction title of the year, it will certainly be near the top.
     "The Sisters Brothers" is an excellent Western novel featuring two professional gunmen named Eli & Charlie Sisters. They do the dirty work for a man known only as the Commodore. They are sent on a quest to track down someone in San Francisco who crossed the Commodore. The book was both touching and laugh out loud funny, it felt more like a Coen Brothers film then anything else I can think of. The story is narrated by Eli, who seems to be somewhat of a buffoon to start out with, but grew to be someone I really liked and cared about. I was genuinely sorry when this was over. The Washington Post said “Weirdly funny, startlingly violent and steeped in sadness… It’s all rendered irresistible by Eli Sisters, who narrates with a mixture of melancholy and thoughtfulness.” It is no wonder to me that this wonderful novel has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


by Karen Russell
2010  Alfred F. Knopf
Rating: 4/5

     The main reason I picked up "Swamplandia" is that Stephen King said in an early review; "Brilliant, funny, original . . . This book will not leave my mind.” Then the book came out and the other reviews were not as glowing, so it sat on my To Be Read shelf for several months. I am so glad that I finally got around to it. This is another fabulous debut.
     "Swamplandia" is the story of thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree and her journey to save her family and their island home/gator-wrestling theme park. After her mother dies and a new big money theme park opens nearby, the family struggles to keep Swamplandia going. Ava's father leaves temporarily for another job, her brother runs off to work for the other park, and her sister disappears into the swamp with her ghostly boyfriend. Ava meets a local who tells her he will help her find her sister and they set off into the swamp. Ava is a wonderful character and you really root for things to work out for her, but there seems to be little chance of that happening. The story takes a very dark twist deep into the book that I wasn't expecting, but that helped explain things that up to that point had not really rung true to me. It is not an easy book to read. but it is definitely rewarding if you do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern
2011 Doubleday
Rating: 4/5

      "The Night Circus" is a wonderful debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. This is a beautifully crafted book with wonderful characters. The Night Circus itself immediately joined the list of fictional places I would love to visit. The book is something of a slow starter, and with all of the jumping back and forth between timeframes and characters, it takes a little while to get into the rhythm. But once you fall into the book, you will not want to escape.
     The beginning of the book reminds me of Ray Bradbury's fantasy:
"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black and white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick. But it is not open for business. Not just yet."
     This is the kind of magical novel that has your mind working overtime to keep up in imagining what the circus and it's attractions would look like. If I have any complaint about the book, it is that the story is not as strong as the images and characters. I think that it could have been a bit more complex. But I do highly recommend this book, it is a title that I would love to handsell to my customers.

New Beginnings

     The bookstore for which I have worked at for the last 14 years (on & off) just closed it's doors for the last time. At least for the time being, I am not going to be able to talk books with people as much as I am used to. I have had friends and customers ask if I had a blog, so I am going to give it a try. I am not a writer, so please forgive me it this is a bit rough at times.
     My plan is to post a mix of current books as I finish them and some of my favorites from the last several years. I do still occasionally get advance reading copies from publishers and will let you know if I am reviewing a book that has been sent to me. I look forwarding to hearing your comments about my reviews and the books I read, whether you agree with me or not. It's going to be pretty boring here if you like every single book I mention.