Friday, October 24, 2014

A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

I love Wrigley Field and was interested to see what George Will had to say about it. I went to a game this year and Wrigley was really spruced up for its 100th anniversary - I doubt it has ever looked better.

There's a lot of baseball lore in this book, much of which I'd heard before but enjoyed reading about again all the same. Will really meanders all over the place; this book is a musing on baseball more than anything else.

"There are no waves in central Illinois. There the land is flat, so some people consider the vistas dull. But, then, there are those who consider baseball dull, and as sportscaster Red Barber once said, baseball is dull only to dull minds." (p. 16)

I learned something about Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker - they detested each other, but were destined to go down in history as having played magically well together because "their proficiency at turning double plays became the subject of a famous and god-awful poem, 'Baseball's Sad Lexicon.'" (p. 38) I've certainly heard "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" often enough.

Will's basic thesis is that Wrigley Field is the cause behind the Cubs, against all odds, not having won the World Series in more than 100 years. He makes a lot of sound arguments. I was there in August 2014, on a Friday afternoon with the Cubs in last place, and there were still over 30,000 fans in attendance. I don't know how the Cubs can turn their losing streak around while still playing in Wrigley - neither does Will - but I hope they keep playing in Wrigley Field as long as I'm attending baseball games.

I doubt this book would have much appeal for someone who is not a fan of Wrigley Field, but I enjoyed it. Not a great book, but short and very readable. It can be found in the new nonfiction section of the Galesburg Public Library at 796.357 WIL.

Note for Galesburg residents: Mr. Carl Sandburg makes an appearance in this book. "Since his death in 1967, at age eighty-nine, his reputation has fallen on hard times, and has fallen from quite a height. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was what now seems like an oxymoron, a celebrity poet." (p. 21) I'm constantly amazed by how often Sandburg crops up in books I read.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drift by Jon McGoran

I bet Jon McGoran has seen a lot of Hollywood cop movies. A LOT of Hollywood cop movies. And I bet he was imagining his book Drift as a movie as he wrote it.

The hero, Doyle Carrick, is a likable guy. A Philadelphia narcotics detective on suspension for unprofessional behavior. Bit of a hot head, but with a good heart. If he’s not shooting at something or someone, he is being shot at. He loves his gun. He takes it with him everywhere – even into the shower at one point! And he’s even able to take control of a gun in the arms of a dead bad guy and use it to shoot at the other bad guys.

With nothing else to do while on suspension, Doyle heads to his parents’ house in the country when his stepfather dies. His mother is already dead. He meets a pretty girl, a stereotypical blustery incompetent chief of police, and a host of shady characters. The girl, Nola, is trying to establish an organic farm, but someone is determined to see her fail.

This book is light on romance and character development (despite the hero’s brooding over his relationship with his dead stepfather), heavy on rogue cop action. There are a lot of convoluted twists to the plot, leaving gaping holes behind. But it’s a quick read. If you like Russian bad guys, cops with a heavy trigger finger, buddy cop banter, and a pretty girl thrown in for good measure, you may enjoy Drift.

The Galesburg Public Library owns both of Jon McGoran’s ecological thrillers, Drift and its sequel Deadout.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios

Series: Dark Caravan Cycle #1
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Release Date: October 7th, 2014
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Source: ARC from Publisher

Add on Goodreads
Forced to obey her master.Compelled to help her enemy.Determined to free herself. 
Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.
Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?
I think the most important thing for everyone to know is that this isn’t a book for everyone. Some people will hate it and get so disgusted that they’ll have to give up and other people are going to love this. I know I did. Of course, had I not known a certain tid bit before, I probably wouldn’t have.

Before going into this book, you need to know that there is an awkward love triangle and one of the relationships in this love triangle is unhealthy and abusive. It’s not meant to be romantic though and that’s what you need to know. You need to know that this disgusting relationship isn’t being romanticized. In fact it’s the exact opposite. You’re meant to hate it with every fiber of your being.

Let’s start at the beginning thought. Let’s start with Nalia. Nalia is an amazingly strong female lead and you feel for her. Sold off in the slave trade when just 15, with her entire race dead and the only surviving member of her family, her brother, sent to work camp, you feel for her. She does not have it easy. Especially given that she has a crazy captor.

Malek is cruel yet on top of that all, he is also very emotionally manipulative. Nalia, having been mistreated for so long, living only on the hope of seeing her brother and freeing him, is immediately drawn by his ‘gentle’ side and falls for his lies. I say lies because no matter how much he claims to love her, he will never see her as anything but a possession.

It will break your heart to see her go through all these ordeals and when Raif comes into the picture, you cheer, you cheer like crazy and hope for Nalia to snap out of it and realize how unhealthy her relationship with Malek is. It’s beautiful to watch her go through that character development.

Raif is a wonderful character AND a love interest. What I love about him is that in spite of everything, he does put his faith in Nalia, he chooses to trust her. It isn’t that he isn’t vary of her, heck yeah he is but seeing that he needs her help, he, in the end, chooses to trust her instead of making the whole thing some awkward dance.

It’s why their romance is so beautifully developed. It starts with variness of one another and leads to trust. It may be a tad fast paced but it’s still no less wonderful. Romance based on trust rocks doesn’t it?

The world building in this book is amazing. Heather does NOT hold back on us. She uses her gorgeous prose to paint beautiful pictures of Arjinna. That isn’t it though, she makes this world come to life by creating different races of jinnis thereby giving the book her own original twist and she also throws in a fun language.

The plot was amazing. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, on the tip of your toes and you kind of just fly through the book.  I mean it’s a big book but I was surprised by how quickly I got through it. The stakes are quite high in the book which really does amp up the anticipation levels. 

I am definitely looking forward to where things will go with the sequel and I only hope that Raif and Nalia’s relationship improves.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is looking for something a little more original in Paranormal YA and won’t mind feeling some discomfort in the search of a good book. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley

I checked out the audio version of A Carrion Death for one reason - Simon Prebble. I was about to take a car trip and I love listening to his narration. He really excelled on this book. He was required to do a large number of voices and did them superbly.

This is a long book - 14.5 hours - and I didn't finish it on the trip. By the time I listened to the final chapter I'd forgotten some of the details at the beginning. There was one thread involving an orphaned child that I wanted more of. I didn't understand some of the plot twists.

A Carrion Death is the first book in a mystery series. It is set in Botswana, and I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape and the native plants and animals. It was nice to hear the words and names pronounced correctly. (If you read the print book, there is a cast of characters with phonetic pronunciations at the beginning.) The main character, assistant superintendent David "Kubu" Bengu, was well drawn and very interesting. (His nickname means Hippo, and he is a big guy who loves food, nice things, and life.)

I would think fans of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency would also like to meet Kubu. I am definitely going to read additional books in the series. It's up to four. The Galesburg Public Library owns all four titles in print and the first in audio. The books can be found in the Fiction area under the author's last name, Stanley.

No Dawn for Men by James LePore and Carlos Davis

Reading No Dawn for Men was a guilty pleasure, because I have to think J.R.R. Tolkien would have hated it. Let me explain: in 1938 Germany, Tolkien and James Bond author Ian Fleming join forces to prevent the Nazis from gaining control of an ancient artifact that would allow armies of the dead to be brought back to life. They form a “fellowship” to return the artifact to a certain location where it can be destroyed by fire. They meet dwarves (with beards and murderous skill with axes) and beautiful, tall, beardless youths who have a way with nature and provide them with “honey wafers” that keeps them on their feet for days. They meet and are aided by a mysterious "ranger."

Fleming also is threatened with torture in a bottomless chair and falls in love with a woman who may or may not be trustworthy.

Tolkien is in Germany to talk to the Germans about translating The Hobbit into German; Fleming is ostensibly there as a reporter, but he is in fact a spy. Although the premise is ridiculous, I still thrilled at all the references to the Lord of the Rings. (For example, the person with the artifact says, "The parchment and the figurine must be destroyed together. If they are not, there will soon be no more dawns for Berlin, no more dawns for men." (p. 68))

I’m not a Bond fan and I’m sure I missed many of those references. The narrative is definitely more Bond than Middle-earth. The styles of the two authors are quite different and the language felt quite forced at times, the two styles almost clashing.

This is not a great book. It could have used some editing. (For example: "In a few minutes they uncovered a dark, anvil-shaped stone as high as Shroeder's waste [sic]." (p. 241)) It’s hard for me to imagine that someone who is not a big fan of either Fleming or Tolkien would get anything out of this book. But if you are a Tolkien fan, you might find yourself, like me, enjoying the Lord of the Rings reminders. Guiltily.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Written by the same author who wrote The Secret Life of Bees, this novel is a well-written historical piece inspired by two sisters from Charleston, South Carolina, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who dedicated their entire lives to ending slavery while at the same time promoting equal rights for women. What's not to love? The book opens with 12-year old Sarah Grimke receiving her birthday gift from her parents: A 10-year old slave named Hetty (a.k.a. Handful) complete with a lavender ribbon tied around her neck. Sarah is both horrified and embarrassed, and the next day pens a certificate of manumission to set Hetty free. Sarah's mother takes the certificate, shreds it and leaves it for Sarah to find to show her who's really in charge. There are parallels between Sarah and Hetty, as both live in the same household and neither have any control of their lives whatsoever. Sarah wants to be a lawyer, which could never happen because she is not a boy, and Hetty wants to be free. Both are prisoners in their own home. This novel spans about 35 years, so we get to watch these two women grow and change, and it really is fascinating to witness social change in action. At the same time, because this is a historically accurate piece, and since we are dealing with this timeframe in history, there are a lot of things in here that are hard to read and to be reminded of. This novel has encouraged me to read more about Sarah and Angelina Grimke, because they are truly worth knowing more about. If you like historically accurate period pieces that will inspire you to learn more, then this would be a great book for you! Read On!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Young Adult
Release Date: September 16th, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Source: ARC from Publisher

Add on Goodreads

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.
The Vault of Dreamers was an interesting book to say the least. I didn’t love it to bits and pieces but it was definitely something that got the wheels turning in my head. It’s a book written more to mess with your mind than to actually provide answers so if that’s not your thing, you may want to give this book a pass.

Rosie Sinclair isn’t the brightest thing out there but she served her purpose. That said, there were times when I just wanted to shake her. She could be so impulsive at times and didn't really think things through. Impulsiveness does not help uncover a dystopic plot, in fact, it’s more likely to get you caught.

This was one of the reasons why I spent a good chunk of the beginning being skeptic, I kept on wondering when the other shoe would drop and the book would start reading like a generic dystopia. Luckily,  that didn’t happen. That isn’t to say it was unlike a typical dystopia, because it was, in some ways, but it also managed to stand out on it's own.

Linus and Burnham were interesting additions to the story. At first I thought it was going to be some weird love triangle but I was incredibly thankful that that wasn’t the case. I think what upset me about Burnham though was the fact that there was just not enough of him. There were some major things that he could have been a part off but wasn’t. I was also really curious to know what he knew and was upset we never really got to find out. With Linus, I was just never really a 100% sold on him. He was the love interest too so that not a good thing. I was always a little suspicious of him and I never quite felt like he genuinely cared for Rosie. I think a major reason for this could be that the romance was not nearly as well developed as it could have been.

It didn’t come out of nowhere and the L word didn’t pop out of nowhere either but there was just this awkwardness to it. I felt like there was no real transition into a relationship and that’s what made it hard for me to ship the two as a couple.

The world building was a tad disappointing yet really intriguing at the same time. I think the fact that we were kept in the dark was vital to the story but as someone who tends to be more than a little curious, it can be hard to not know all the facts. I closed the book with so many questions on my mind yet at the same time I wasn’t angry that the author didn’t give us more information. 

The saving grace of the story was the interesting twist that popped up. I had no idea that the author would choose to go down that road and that’s what made the story stick out to me. It’s what set it apart from all the other dystopias out there. It made me question some of the things the author had already laid out and made me come up with my own theories about what was going on and just made the book a lot more interesting. The twist also made our narrator unreliable which is always fun (but we may have different definitions of fun). 

I think the ending was interesting too. In most other cases, I probably would have been really angry but it worked with the context of the story. Given the things this story is dealing with, an easy solution wrapped up with a bow tie just wouldn't work. 

Given the way it ended though, I feel like a follow up would be interesting but at the same time, I am content with the way things ended.  

Really, if you're just looking for a fun book for a rainy day that is bound to mess with your mind, why not give this a shot?