Author: Roberta (page 1 of 32)

#BookBeginnings The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

Today I have the most recent in the  No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

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Summary:  Precious Ramotswe, owner and chief detective of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, allows herself to be pulled into running for a seat in a local Botswana election. To help her stay on top of everything, her apprentice Charlie takes over the case of a hit-and-run victim, perhaps before he is ready.

First Sentence:

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and one of the finest mechanics in Botswana, if not the finest, was proud of his wife, Precious Ramotswe, progenitor and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

Discussion:

Isn’t it clever how Alexander McCall Smith introduces two main characters and the setting in the first sentence? I immediately wonder why Mr.  Matekoni is proud of his wife.

One of the things that has made these novels so popular is the Botswana setting. For instance, I always find the names of the businesses to be so memorable.

These are not high tension mysteries, but instead more of a stroll.

What do you think? Have you read any of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series novels?

 

#BookBeginnings Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Today we’re getting ready to start the next novel in The Bestseller Code Challenge ListMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Courtney Sullivan

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Four Kelleher women gather their families at their summer beach house in Maine, each bringing their own secrets and issues.

Genre:  Domestic fiction

First Sentence:

Alice decided to take a break from packing. She lit a cigarette, leaning back in one of the wicker chairs that were always slightly damp from the sea breeze.

Discussion:

Already I wonder why she’s packing up the summer home before anyone else arrives.

Although this looks like a summertime beach read, it also might be a great way to escape from the February blah weather.

What do you think? Have you read Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan? Would you like to read it?

Join us on social media:

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 46. Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) – Discussion begins March 11, 2019
Literary Fiction

#BestsellerCode100: Informal Discussion of The Casual Vacancy

Rather than doing two formal reviews of each novel, Karen and I have decided to discuss each title from  The Bestseller Code 100 list more informally on our facebook page and post an edited version here. We’ll see how it works.

This post does contain spoilers.

This week we have The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: In the little town of Pagford, Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the council comes open when he dies unexpectedly. Behind the scenes of Pagford’s idyllic small town atmosphere are different groups of residents who are regularly at odds with each other; rich fight with the poor, teenagers battle and annoy their parents, wives attack their husbands, teachers grapple with their pupils. Before long, however, Barry’s empty seat on the town’s council soon becomes prize for the biggest brawl the town has ever seen.

Our Thoughts

We’re moving on to The Casual Vacancy. Have you read it? Any interest in reading it?

Karen  I’m still getting to know the characters. It’s interesting that the very first chapter the pivotal character dies…or at least it seems like he’s going to be a pivotal character.

Roberta Yes, the character’s death is an inciting incident. I’m looking forward to seeing what, if any, elements are common to Rowling’s works.

Karen  I just finished a segment where social worker Kay, Gaia’s mother, is at the home of Terri Weedon, a drug addict. This is definitely not the fantasy world of Harry Potter.

Roberta  She seemed to want to make it very clear this wasn’t a children’s book, with all the expletives, sex, violence, and drugs. She might have taken it too far to make the point? That said, there are some commonalities. For example, kids at a school play a big role. Plus, she creates an enormous cast of characters.

Karen  I took a break for a few days is illness and travel, but I’m still reading “Casual Vacancy.” This is one of the more complex books we’ve read so far, both in the number and depth of the characters and their intertwined lives. You almost forget the overarching plot of Barry Fairbrother’s death and resulting vacancy in the board. It’s nothing like the Harry Potter books and yet it is.

Roberta  Rowling’s ability to create and weave together so many interesting, relatable, and largely likeable characters — who are each memorable and unique — is a remarkable talent. I will refrain from saying more until you finish.

Karen  Finished! So much happened in the last 10% or so that I’m going to have to reread it. Wow.
More thoughts on “Casual Vacancy” – I reread the last 15% of the book and then skimmed through the beginning to find segments of Barry Fairbrother’s funeral. 3 deaths, as foreshadowed in the song sang at the funeral. And unexpected deaths/funerals bookend the novel.

Of all the books we’ve read, this is one that has wormed it’s way into my brain. I keep considering the characters, how they intertwined, how they changed throughout the story. None come through unscathed.

This novel is categorized as Tragicomedy? Obviously I don’t understand the term comedy. There’s no humor anywhere. Why would this not be literary fiction like some others we’ve read, such as “State of Wonder” or “Little Bee?”

Roberta Perhaps the “comedy” is the ridiculousness that results in the tragic events? What could be described as “cruel jokes”? But, I agree, nothing to grin or giggle at.

As far as literary, I think that literary is an exploration of one person’s inner life in detail, and this is much too distant from any one character to qualify for that. In Casual Vacancy we see binocular-range views of many characters, rather than a microscope-level view of one or a few people like State of Wonder? At least that’s my understanding how literary works.

Karen  You have a much better understanding of of these genres than I do!

Roberta  Looking at the characteristics of literary fiction on Wikipedia, it does fit the first and last of them well: concern with human condition and the overall dark storyline.

I’m not seeing the inner story, introspective aspect as much, and this one has a clear plot.

What do you all think about the style and complexity of the writing? Is it lyrical? “Fancy?”

Karen  I didn’t find it lyrical. More gritty and real-life. She’s definitely lived the life of the have-nots.

Roberta Yes, it is well-known that she lived on government assistance as a single mother and her experience shows.

That wraps up our discussion for this novel.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Join our discussion on Facebook or follow on other social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 47. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011) – Discussion begins February 25, 2019
Domestic Fiction

#BookBeginnings The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Have you seen The Library Book by Susan Orlean yet? Let’s take a look for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Nonfiction

Summary:  Using a horrific arson fire in the Los Angeles Public Library on April 29, 1986 as an “inciting incident,” Susan Orlean explores not only multiple facets of the crime, but also the importance of libraries and librarians.

First Sentence:

Stories to Begin On (1940)
By Bacmeister, Rhoda W.
X 808 B127

Begin Now – To Enjoy Tomorrow (1951)
My Giles, Ray
362.6 G472

A Good Place to Begin (1987)
By Powell, Lawerence Clark
027.47949 P884

To Begin at the Beginning (1994)
By Copenhaver, Martin B.
230 C782

Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention.

 

Discussion:

Do you see it?  The author has started the chapter with book titles and their call numbers relating to “beginning.”  All the chapters start with appropriate book titles like this. Isn’t that cool?

I am glad I sprang for a hardcover edition because the book has so many extra special touches, starting with deckle edges. The end papers have the standard book jacket blurb in the front — printed on the endpapers — and an image of one of those old-fashioned library card pockets in the back. The image is so 3-D that it looks real at first glance.

I am really, really enjoying this book.

Have you read The Library Book? Would you like to read it?

#BookBeginnings The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

Today we’re starting the next novel in The Bestseller Code Challenge List, The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When four men on horseback dressed as Templar knights steal rare artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, archaeologist Tess Chaykin, who witnessed the theft,  and FBI agent Sean Reilly team up to investigate.

This novel is a historical thriller of sorts. Some say it is similar to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, an author who also has a book on the challenge list.

First Sentence of Prologue:

The Holy Land is lost.

And so starts the prologue, set in Acre, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1291.

First Sentence, Chapter 1:

At first, no one noticed the four horsemen as they emerged out of the darkness of Central Park.

The setting in Chapter one is modern day (for a book published in 2005) New York City.

I’m actually about half way through and I’m enjoying the action. It seems like the plot is a bit less convoluted than The DaVinci Code, but the author hasn’t revealed everything yet.

What do you think? Have you read this? Ever read The DaVinci Code?  How do you think they compare?

 

Have you read The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury? Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 47. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (2011) – Discussion begins February 25, 2019
Domestic Fiction

More About About the Haiku Monster #nahaiwrimo

Regarding yesterday’s post, this month is National Haiku Writing Month or Nahaiwrimo.  I found out about it while listening to the radio. Our local public radio station has a new podcast series that highlights the literary arts. The first  was about Nahaiwrimo.

Why do I call it Haiku Monster? To me, writing haiku is so addicting that it could take over my life, eating up my time and creativity with delicate little nibbles. If I can contain it to a single month, however, it won’t be quite so dangerous.

By the way, these are first, spontaneous drafts.

Today’s contribution:

blanket cloud sky
speckles drip in mirror pools
breathing fogginess

 

Public Domain Photo from ABSFreePic

The Haiku Monster Strikes for #nahaiwrimo

tender green spears
grow lush under Cassia
must be weeds

#BookBeginnings The Spy and The Traitor by Ben Macintyre

Today I’m reading a true spy story recommended by a friend, The Spy and The Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Spy and The Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This is a nonfiction biography of Russian spy Oleg Gordievsky, who secretly worked for Britain’s MI6 during the cold war years. Britain hid him from the CIA, but the Americans wanted to have a piece of the pie. CIA officials assigned Head of Counterintelligence Aldrich Amos to find out the Russian’s identity.  In a spy thriller-worthy twist, Aldrich was secretly spying for the Russians. Which spy will win?

First Sentence:

For the KGB’s counterintelligence section, Directorate K, this was a routine bugging job.

Discussion:

This has been very exciting to read so far. The first paragraph reveals the spies sprinkled radioactive dust in their targets’ clothing and shoes, so they could track them with a Geiger counter. A few paragraphs later we learn the spies made a small, but critical error which let their primary target know they had breached his home. Still, his life is in extreme peril.

 

What do you think? Have you read The Spy and The Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre? Is it something you’d like to read?

 

by Ben Macintyre

#BookBeginnings The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Today we’re getting ready to start the next novel in The Bestseller Code Challenge ListThe Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  In the little town of Pagford, Barry Fairbrother’s seat on the council comes open when he dies unexpectedly. Behind the scenes of Pagford’s idyllic small town atmosphere are different groups of residents who are regularly at odds with each other; rich fight with the poor, teenagers battle and annoy their parents, wives attack their husbands, teachers  grapple with their pupils. Before long, however, Barry’s empty seat on the town’s council soon becomes prize for the biggest brawl the town has ever seen.

First Sentence:

Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner. He had endured a thumping headache for most of the weekend and was struggling to make a deadline for the local newspaper.

Discussion:

I missed reading this when it first came out because I knew I’d be disappointed because nothing could match the Harry Potter books and my expectations were too high. Now, enough time has probably passed that I can give it a fairer reading. Plus, I did like the first three of Rowling’s mysteries.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What do you think?

___________________

Karen and I have been reading through the 100 novel challenge list and doing formal reviews of each novels, which is time consuming and no one reads them. So instead, we invite you to take part in our casual discussions on facebook. If we get enough interest, we’ll post a discussion summary here on the blog.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling? Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 48. The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury (2005) – Discussion begins February 11, 2019
Mystery/suspense

#BestsellerCode100 Writer’s Review of The Martian

Let’s take a look at The Martian by Andy Weir from a writer’s perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

The Martian by Andy Weir

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When a freak accident leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded alone on Mars, — with no one aware that he survived — his chances of making it back to Earth safely are nonexistent. That, however, doesn’t stop the rebellious mechanical engineer/botanist from figuring out how to survive.

Path to Publication:  The Martian became a bestseller in an unusual way. Andy Weir started out publishing a chapter at a time via a newsletter to about 3000 science and technology-oriented readers. He admits he did that because he didn’t think the novel would have mainstream appeal. However, after he self-published it (giving it away for free at first!), it was picked up by a traditional publisher. Eventually he sold over 5 million copies and the novel was made into a major movie (See more details at StoryFix.)

Characters

At the beginning of the book, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded alone on Mars. How do you create a compelling story with one lone character? First of all, Weir makes Watney endearing and someone who readers will root for.

He also puts his main character in the direst of circumstances. At first neither the crew on Earth nor the astronauts who left him behind know that Watney has survived and there isn’t any way to communicate with them. Although there is another landing scheduled, it isn’t for an number of years and may be cancelled because of his supposedly fatal accident. He is quickly running out of supplies, especially food. The tension is incredible. How can he possibly survive?

Instead of dialogue, Weir reveals Watney’s thoughts and feelings through a diary/log. He writes in a conversational, humorous tone, which helps move the story ahead quickly.

Plot

Weir says he used a series of problems and solutions to drive the plot. Each time either Watney or the supporting characters solve one problem, they either discover another or the solution causes another problem. And the problems just keep coming.

If you are interested, StoryFix also deconstructs the plot by finding pinch points, etc.

Setting

The secret to Weir’s success is in the scientific details. By picking the planet Mars, Weir has chosen an intensely real setting for his science fiction. Weir did a lot of research, including creating trajectories for his spacecraft and even picking a particular launch date, although no dates are given in the text.

Since publication, we have learned a few things were inaccurate. For example,  recent studies have shown Martian soil has more water than Weir thought. Still, the Mars setting makes the story realistic and concrete.

 

Mars Dust Storm NASA

Discussion

The Martian is truly a one-of-a-kind novel. It is a perfect mix of compelling storytelling and hard science underpinnings. The unbearable tension and rapid-fire action make it an excellent read. This is one of the best novels on our list so far and one that all writers — not just those work in science fiction — should study.

Edit:  Here’s a bit of our discussion from Facebook:

RG — I was thinking about his problem/solution plot structure — which is often used in thrillers — when I realized the novel also reveals something bad is going to happen and the suspense is whether or not the protagonist can stop it from happening. It is a classic thriller set up. So, it is a science fiction thriller?

KG — Good point. I think that is one reason I enjoyed it so. It wasn’t filled with off space creatures, but instead every day problems that just happened to create life or death situations. And it was up to our hero to overcome every challenge thrown his way, even sometimes those he himself created.

Join us on social media:

__________________

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number49. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (2012) – Discussion begins January 28, 2019
Tragicomedy

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