The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book and–if I’m honest–I didn’t think it would suit my tastes. However, I’m pleased to announce that I loved it.

I’m not sure why I was initially hesitant. It features a group of librarians–some of my favorite people–delivering books–some of my favorite things–to citizens living in the Kentucky mountains during the Great Depression.

I’ll admit that it starts off a little slowly, but that is purposeful as the author is establishing characters in order to display their tremendous growth throughout the novel. Consequently, by the time this book is over, you’ll feel as though you’ve lived these characters’ lives alongside them. It’s an incredible experience.

The author has a solid grip on providing just enough description, the perfect amount of dialogue, excellent pacing, captivating subplots, and–like I said–enthralling characterization. It’s a pleasure to read.

While it’s true that the book became a little melodramatic in the last third, I was far too invested to find such theatrics off-putting. In fact, The Giver Of Stars touched me so deeply that it managed to entice a tear or two from my old, cynical eyes.

The Giver Of Stars creates characters that will feel as real to you as your best friend enduring numerous hardships all in the service of giving people access to books. How can any book lover resist that premise?

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book to me, and it marks the first time I’ve ever read Dennis Lehane.

For some reason, I envisioned this book involving some kind of international war and intelligence officers, but that’s not the case at all. The title actually refers to a gang war breaking out in the Boston area. Patrick Kenzie is a PI hired to find a missing woman who has stolen documents from an important politician. Those documents are fueling the gang war, and Kenzie has found himself right in the middle of it all.

The book takes place in the early 1990s, which is very apparent due to  several references to music, TV, and major news events of that era. Kenzie, the PI, narrates the book and at times I found his internal dialogue cliched and trying too hard to be clever. I found the first half of the book a bit of a struggle to read because there isn’t much character development–it just keeps plugging away at the plot. Eventually the suspense of the story gripped me and I finished the last half of the book quickly, but I can’t say I ever connected with Kenzie or his partner, Angela Gennaro, on a personal level.

If you read this–be warned. The book fully embraces the racial tension that existed in Boston in the 1990s. The language is harsh, the characters are harsh, and the depictions are harsh. Some may find this “realistic,” but, in this day and age, it was deeply uncomfortable to read. On the one hand, I have to give Lehane credit for not shying away from his characters’ racism. On the other, some of the characters seemed overtly stereotypical.

I asked my friend for a quick, action-packed read, and A Drink Before the War definitely fits the bill. I was surprised to discover several other titles by Lehane that I recognized such as Shutter Island, Live By Night, Mystic River, and Gone, Baby, Gone.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A Book Review

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Where the Crawdads Sing is a fast-paced, potent, concise book that has a little bit of everything which will likely satisfy any reader.

The story centers around Kya, a young girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. When I say alone–I mean alone. Everyone has abandoned her–her mother, father, brothers, sisters, people in the nearby town–everyone. This forces her to fend for herself in a primitive shack that has neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. Though initially a child, and despite lacking any formal education, she learns to observe nature’s lessons, and that becomes the key to her survival into adulthood. Unfortunately, though the town completely shuns her, its sins will not leave her alone and she is eventually accused of murder.

Where the Crawdads Sing accomplishes so much in such a short amount of time. It delves deeply into issues of domestic abuse, abandonment, discrimination, elitism, and hypocrisy.

However, it is also a love letter to nature as it beautifully describes the vibrant activities occurring in areas most people deem uncivilized. Owens’ writing is compressed, but extremely effective. She will make you feel like you’re living in the marsh, coexisting with nature, right by Kya’s side.

Furthermore, there is a captivating murder mystery present in this book as well. Though it may sound out of place, it’s not. Owens weaves the murder mystery into the overall plot perfectly. It never feels forced nor contrived. Between Kya’s story, the murder mystery, and the convergence of the two, I couldn’t put this book down.

No matter what your taste, I highly recommend Where the Crawdad’s Sing. I believe anyone who enjoys fiction will like this book.

Pretty Deadly: The Rat – A Book Review

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This is the third book in the Pretty Deadly series. It’s written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, drawn and inked by Emma Rios, and colored by Jordie Bellaire.

If you’re unfamiliar with this series, it’s a little … hard to describe.

It’s narrated to us by a skeletal rabbit and a butterfly, and it’s generally about a young girl who is also partially a bird and has taken over “the Garden” from Death, thus becoming Death herself. She is trying to revitalizing “the Garden,” and in doing so must recollect the Reapers, former tools of Death.

This particular volume focuses upon a man whose niece has died in 1930s Hollywood. He takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of her death, and in doing so runs across Ginny, the Reaper of Vengeance and friend to the new Death. Ginny helps the man, and the two of them realize that the niece led a complicated life intertwined with several other Reapers.

Pretty Deadly has never followed narrative convention, and The Rat is no different. It has a plot, but the plot doesn’t unfold or conclude as you might expect. This is what I admire so much about Pretty Deadly. It tells stories, but it does so in a unique fashion that really is unlike anything else out there. Some will find it too convoluted, or maybe even too nonsensical. I can’t argue with those who have that opinion. For me, though, it’s a breath of fresh air.

If you’re looking for an innovative read, Pretty Deadly: The Rat might just satisfy. This particular volume is a little bit horror, a little bit mystery, a little bit noir, and a whole lot of inventive mythology.

Rios’ art is captivating; Bellaire’s colors are mesmerizing; DeConnick’s stories and dialogue are cutting-edge. What more could you want?

East Of West (Volume 9) – A Book Review

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Author Jonathan Hickman continues to captivate with his East of West series from Image Comics. In this word, our idea of the United States has been divided up into many factions, and they all await the end of the world. The Four Horseman roam freely, and it’s only a matter of time.

East of West is a wonderful blend. It’s got strong roots in the Western, Science Fiction, and World Mythology genres. Death, our main character, is a stark white cowboy with a chip on his shoulder and everything to lose.

In this particular volume, Death and his fellow Horseman, War, air their grievances and near a climatic battle. We also discover relationships that we didn’t know existed, as well as important events from the past that most definitely influence the near future.

And that future is very near, for this is the second to last volume of the series.

As always, Hickman delivers a sparse, quick script that explains much with very few unnecessary words. Nick Dragotta, the artist, keeps getting better and better with his clean, dynamic lines. I think the real star of the series is Frank Martin, though. His colors really make everything pop off the page. Who knew characters comprised of almost a single color could look so amazing?

If you’re searching for a graphic novel series to read, East Of West is among the highest of my recommendations.

The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me. We have a mutual admiration of Stephen King, and he knows I’m a writer, so I think he believed I’d appreciate Olson’s writing technique. My friend was most definitely correct!

The Singing Wilderness is a series of essays depicting the various seasons in northern Minnesota. Olson somehow finds a way to describe local animal life, lakes, forests, rivers, and insects in a dynamic, captivating, and unique way throughout the length of an entire book.

And while Olson’s style is brilliant, The Singing Wilderness spoke to me on a far deeper level than simply craft. Even though it debuted in 1956, his words and style transcend time. Reading this book isn’t like stepping into a time machine, though–it’s more like passing through a portal into the wilderness.

As Olson says, there is something in us that loves nature, that needs nature, that wants to coexist with nature. Until relatively recently, we didn’t just visit nature, we actually lived in it. The Singing Wilderness somehow captures that dynamic and makes our heart yearn for the sights and sounds that our ancestors experienced.

I’m no outdoorsman, but The Singing Wilderness inspired me to get outside. Not just my backyard, but local state parks and nature preserves. I’ve already developed a plan to visit several this summer with my wife and young daughters.  I feel confident the book will equally encourage you.

If you love nature or masterfully written sensory language, I highly recommend The Singing Wilderness. You can find a copy at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Are You an Average American? You Should Read Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People – A Book Review

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If you’re anything like me, when you first heard Andrew Yang’s idea to give every American citizen $1,000 a month, you probably scoffed. In fact, I’m so cynical that I bypassed any kind of reactionary positive response at all. My immediate thought was, “Where’s this money going to come from?”

However, after hearing Yang on the radio, I grew interested. He sounded intelligent, informed, involved, and interconnected with the general American society. I wanted to know more, so I picked up his 2018 book The War On Normal People.

To say this book altered my outlook regarding American’s future is an understatement. It served as a wake-up call, to be sure. The next five to ten years are not going to be kind to the average American. Automation and AI are going to severely transform the labor industry. Those without college educations are likely to suffer the most. The average American does not have a college education–this is, statistically speaking, normal.

Yang spends two-thirds of the book detailing the struggles of the current normal American. He uses legitimate statistics to make his point about how little money the average American actually has, how volatile the average American’s job is (such as retail, customer service, transportation, administrative support, and food service), and how much financial aid our country already provides. The truth is, the first part of this book literally kept me up at night. It’s horrifying.

The last third of the book is, as you would expect, a pitch for the presidency. However, he’s not wrong about anything he says in the first part of the book. Whether we like it or not, AI and automation are going to change everything. If you’re in the factory industry, it already has.

During his bid for office, though, he actually does make a compelling argument in regards to what he calls a Universal Basic Income. (That’s the $1,000 a month idea.) He makes a point to mention that Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon, Stephen Hawking, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bernie Sanders have all entertained a variation of the idea. He breaks down how it could work, how it could help the average American, and how it could stimulate local economies.

The fact is, to me, Andrew Yang seems the most invested in society of any of the current presidential runners. He understands the real America. He’s been to our decaying cities. He’s talked with the hopeless, the forlorn, and the disenfranchised. He understands our need to work, our need to provide, and our need to feel useful.

Furthermore, he has two young children himself. (One of those children happens to be autistic.) He’s married. He’s a first generation American. He’s only 45 years old. This is a man who cares deeply about America, his family, your family, and the economical conditions in which those families will live.

I’m not saying you have to vote for Andrew Yang, but I think you should at least read his book. It will probably hit closer to home than you ever expected. It did for me.

 

 

The Ride Of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – A Book Review

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No one is more surprised that I’ve become a Disney acolyte than, well, me. The serious devotion began after visiting Walt Disney World. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to Disney’s dealings–both past and present. The acquisition of Pixar, securing Marvel, getting hold of the Star Wars intellectual properties, taking Fox, introducing Disney+ … these are impressive feats!

And the man leading the way in all of these endeavors? Robert Iger.

The Ride Of a Lifetime is a brief, simple read, but it is filled with captivating information. Iger spends a little bit of time discussing his rise to prominence from rather humble beginnings, his careful navigation of the Disney hierarchy, as well as his core tenets regarding business.

However, for this reader, the primary joy of the book derived from learning about how Iger and Disney managed all of their most recent, and momentous, accomplishments. Iger is careful to talk about each acquisition respectfully and he is incredibly thoughtful in regards to Steve Jobs and George Lucas in particular, yet he also surprised me by some of his rather candid remarks pertaining to certain Disney executives as well as some of the competition.

If you are interested in Disney, business, or the entertainment industry, I highly recommend The Ride Of a Lifetime. It is well-written, informative, and–best of all–fun to read.

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods by Laird Hunt – A Book Review

When browsing the “new” section at my local library, the cover to In the House In the Dark Of the Woods demanded my attention. Admittedly, I’ve never head of the book nor it’s author–Laird Hunt. Anyway, I read the inside cover, which sounded very interesting, and decided to take a chance on it.

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods is a brief, strange, even confounding read. It takes place during colonial times and features a woman who gets lost while walking in the untamed woods. She wants to return home to her young son and overbearing husband, but simply can’t find her way. She eventually meets a series of women, all of whom seem both helpful and dangerous. They also each wield a dark, supernatural aura–for though they each claim to want to assist the woman in finding her way, they never quite agree on what exactly “way” means.

Hunt brings you a book incredibly detailed in some facets, yet frustratingly vague in others. Like being lost in the woods, the reader stumbles around in this book quite a bit as though searching for a clearing. However, nothing is particularly clear with In the House In the Dark Of the Woods. 

Due to its brevity, I found In the House In the Dark Of the Woods an interesting,  fun read. It certainly kept me alert as I endeavored to make sense of it all. Hunt is a talented writer who executes some beautifully constructed passages. His descriptions are consistently easy to imagine, and the dialogue he provides is unique to each character. The plot, however, is not quite so discernible, but I suspect that’s the point.

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods is certainly worth your time if you’re interested in a fast, unusual read that feels “literary” but smothers itself in the arcane.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy described as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Foe by Iain Reid – A Book Review

I found Foe at the Normal Public Library as I wondered the new books section. The title initially caught my attention, plus the fact that it’s pretty thin. I read the inside of the jacket and was sold.

This book absolutely riveted me. I read it in three days, which, for me, is very fast. I really don’t want to tell you too much about the book for fear of spoiling it. However, I will say that it is sparsely written, quickly paced, and a real page-turner.

I thought I had this book figured out about half way through it, but Reid introduces so many possibilities, I couldn’t be sure I was right until the very end. And even though I had it right, Reid managed to throw in an unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming.

If you’re looking for a fast, captivating read with a plot that will enthrall you, I recommend Foe by Iain Reid.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1