Author: Karen Gibson (page 1 of 2)

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

I Am Ready

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a rather unusual story, in that it’s told from the viewpoint of a dog, Enzo.  Enzo belongs to Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  But Enzo knows he isn’t just a dog; he’s a dog on the cusp of being reincarnated as a man.  Enzo watched television and he heard on a program about Mongolia on National Geographic Channel that, “When a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next incarnation will be as a man.”

Not all dogs return as men, they say; only those who are ready.

I am ready.

Themes

Racing is a major theme in this novel by Garth Stein.  Every major plot turn is prefaced with a short chapter describing some aspect of driving a race car.  As a reader that is a race fan, I really enjoyed these chapters that give insight to how a race car driving thinks and reacts when on the track.  Early in the book Denny explains to his wife Eve why he is able to race in the rain more successfully than many other drivers:

“When I was nineteen,” Denny said after a moment, “at my first driving school down at Sears Point, it was raining and they were trying to teach us how to drive in the rain.  After the instructors were finished explaining all their secrets, all the students were totally confused.  We had no idea what they were talking about.  I looked over at the guy next to me–I remember him, he was from France and he was very fast.  Gabriel Flouret.  He smiled and he said: ‘That which you manifest is before you.’ “

This is a recurring thought throughout the novel, “That which you manifest is before you.”  Sounds a bit New Age, doesn’t it?  But Enzo contemplates on Denny’s statement and I have to agree with his conclusion:

Such a simple concept, yet so true: that which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

Creators of Our Own Destiny

Roberta stated in her Writer’s Review that she felt manipulated by the string of bad luck that Denny endured.  Was it all bad luck, though?  When Eve became ill, it seemed logical to Denny that Eve and Zoe should with Eve’s parents.  Eve’s parents had more money to provide care, more space for hospital beds and such, and they were retired, so they had the time to devote.  How would Denny cope with illness and hospital beds and Zoe’s care and still be able to work?  And yet he was setting himself up for long-term heartache and legal troubles.

We are the creators of our own destiny.  Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.

 

Enzo, Race Car Driver?

Throughout Eve’s illness and then the subsequent custody battle, Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene near the end of the novel, Enzo is able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle, and the way he does so makes his message impossible for Denny to misunderstand.

I first read this book in 2012 and enjoyed it thoroughly then.  Five years later, I found it to be just as enjoyable.  Enzo does his best to provide Denny with moral support and companionship.  In one memorable scene, Enzo is actually able to change Denny’s mind when Denny has decided to give up on the custody battle. In the last chapter, we discover whether Enzo was successful in his desire to be reincarnated as a human, and more specifically, a race car driver.  Was he ready?  I hoped all along that he was.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Have you written about The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.
__________________

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 80. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) – Discussion begins August 21, 2017
Gothic mystery

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as a Psychological Thriller.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Silent Wife: A Novel* by A. S. A. Harrison


*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

In The Silent Wife, we are introduced to Todd and Jodi, a couple who appear to have it all. Todd is a building contractor in Chicago and Jodi is a psychotherapist that sees a few carefully selected clients (no difficult cases or life-threatening issues) from her home. They’ve been a couple for over twenty years and live in a beautiful twenty-seventh floor condo overlooking the lake. Jodi takes great care and pride in keeping herself in good physical shape, careful grooming, and providing the perfect home atmosphere for Todd – fresh flowers, hors d’oeuvre and wine as soon as he gets home. And yet, all is not perfect. Todd often doesn’t come home and Jodi knows the reasons why, but carefully ignores the affairs. Todd’s business dealings are always on a knife’s edge, threatening to implode, but he never tells Jodi about any financial problems. Silence is the name of the game.

It’s The Title, Again

In my review of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I wrote about the importance that The Bestseller Code algorithm attributes to the title of a book. In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code the authors explain that book titles beginning with “The” are much more common on the bestseller list than those that begin with “A.”

The specificity of the word “The” asks us to trust that this goldfinch has more relevance – enough to hold an entire story symbolically, emotionally, or structurally – for more than three hundred pages.

“The” remains the most successful way to begin a title because it is a word that implies agency focused somewhere, be that focus on a place, on an event, on an object, or somewhere else. The title gives us a clue about how to relate to the story that follows.

In addition to the title beginning with “The,” this title also includes a sociocultural role:

When it comes to sociocultural roles, the word “wife” is popular in bestselling titles, but it is always qualified. The title is not just The Wife. She has more to contend with than this. Titles about a woman in marriage that hit the lists are titles such as The Silent Wife, The Paris Wife, A Reliable Wife. The names of these novels are meant to make us wonder what happens to this woman when put in relationship to Paris, to silence, to reliability as well as, given what “wife” implies, to her husband. How do her options and her likely conflicts change?

…any quick look at the bestseller list will tell you that troubled marriage appears to be a big hook for the reading market at the moment. The books making the lists are evidence of our contemporary fascination with the roles of women in their place in the family, in marriage, and in the public sphere.

The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer & Matthew L. Jockers. Chapter 5. Pages 150 – 154

Silent AND Wife

So here we have The Silent Wife and both words – silent, wife – have major implications in the novel. Jodi is silent, prides herself on her silence, whether it be about events and issues from her childhood or dealing with Todd’s recurring infidelities. Silence means she can ignore the issue. If it’s not talked about, it doesn’t exist. Both Jodi and Todd view silence as power and it’s been a sustaining feature of their relationship.

He breaks the connection and it dawns on him that this is typical of his and Jodi’s life together: the stubborn pretense, the chasms of silence, the blind forging ahead. He must have known this, but the weirdness of it, the aberrance, has somehow never struck him. Other couples are loud, vocal, off and on again, working things out, but with Jodi and him it’s all dissimulation. Put up a front, go through the motions, don’t say a word. Act as if all is well and all will be well. Jodi’s great gift is her silence, and he has always loved this about her, that she knows how to mind her own business, keep her own counsel, but silence is also her weapon. The woman who refuses to object, who doesn’t yell and scream – there’s strength in that, and power.

Jodi considers herself to be Todd’s wife and passes herself off publicly as Mrs. Gilbert, but she never actually married Todd, even though he proposed to her several times. The lack of a marriage certificate is a major contributor to the complete breakdown of their relationship and, ultimately, murder, and we learn in the second paragraph of the book who will be murdered and who will be the murderer.

Psychological thriller

I don’t consider this novel to be a “thriller” as much as it is suspenseful. As stated above, we are told right off who will be killed and who will do the killing. The questions to be answered are why and how. The suspense comes in watching the disintegration of the “marriage” – Jodi’s carefully structured world and Todd’s lifetime of self-delusion shatter in pieces – and in seeing just how far a person can be backed into a corner before self-preservation takes over. While neither Jodi or Todd are particularly lovable, they are believable and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to understand how any one of us might act similarly, given similar circumstances.

Author A. S. A. Harrison was a psychotherapist, in addition to writer, so Jodi is a believable psychotherapist, at least to one who has never gone through any type of therapy. Sometimes the technical descriptions of psychoanalytical theories is a little heavy, but overall, they play well into the story line and provide insight into both Todd and Jodi’s characters. Both Todd and Jodi had deeply flawed childhoods that impacted who they became as adults and how they view marriage and life, although Jodi is able to gloss over and “forget” the worst of her experiences. Jodi naming her dog “Freud” is a not-so-subtle reminder, though, that no experiences are ever truly forgotten.  They dwell in our unconscious mind and govern our behavior throughout our lives. Harrison’s message in The Silent Wife seems to be that, instead of using silence as an avoidance technique, Jodi and Todd (and maybe each and every one of us?) would have benefited by bringing issues and experiences to the light of day, examining them, and coming to some sort of resolution. Considering the end resolution for Todd in this novel, who can argue with that message?

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also 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 after its start date.

The next book is number 81. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008) – Discussion begins August 7, 2017
Literary fiction told from a dog’s point of view

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This novel is categorized as Historical Fiction.

This post does contain spoilers.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet* by Jamie Ford


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

We’ve now read eighteen of the one hundred books recommended by the computer model in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers.  Most of these books were of genres that I do not usually read and, to be honest, many of them I did not like.  If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to write a review, I would have set a couple aside without finishing them.  I’m happy to say, though, that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford does not fall into this category.  I really liked this book!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in one location, Seattle, but in two time periods: 1942-45 and 1986.  Ford obviously knows Seattle well, and his descriptions of Seattle during the WWII years really drew me into the story.  I found those sections of the novel to be the strongest in all areas – settings, characters, dialogue, and plot.  The 1986 sections didn’t feel as strong, and I thought that Ford could have done a better job in conveying the relationship between Henry and his son Marty and also in more fully developing the son’s character.  But it still worked for me, mainly because I could envision the lack of communication and the misunderstandings between father and son.  Also, the fog that seemed to envelop Henry due to the long illness and recent death of his wife Ethel was easily attributed to grief and an intentional device by the author, rather than poor writing.

What’s in a Name?

In Chapter 5 of The Bestseller Code, book titles are discussed:

What’s in a name?  Well for a start, sometimes, ten million dollars.  So it is worth thinking a bit about how to get it right.  Some bestselling titles refer to physical settings.  Cold Mountain.  A Painted House.  Black House.  Shutter Island.  Maine.  We learn something from each of these titles about the prominence and agency of place.

The place in these novels provides the impetus for the story, or it will if the novel is well named and well written.  By the end of such a novel, we will feel an intimacy with the fictional place as though it’s its own voiceless character.

The title Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet describes the Panama Hotel, which acts as a keystone to this story.  As Roberta states in her #BookBeginnings post, the Panama Hotel is mentioned in the very first line of the book. In 1942, the Panama Hotel “stood as a gateway between Seattle’s Chinatown and Nihonmachi, Japantown,” thus setting up one of the main themes of the novel.  Henry Lee, who lives in Chinatown, has been indoctrinated by his father to hate all Japanese, including Japanese-Americans.  And yet he develops a school friendship and eventually a romantic relationship with Keiko Okabe, a second generation Japanese American who resides in Nihonmachi and is removed to an internment camp.  In 1986, items stored by the interned Japanese-Americans, including Keiko’s family, are discovered in the basement of the hotel, and Henry is finally forced to acknowledge his long buried feelings for Keiko. So not only does the title tell us something about the place, but also sets up the tone of the story, bittersweet.

Love’s Bittersweet Memories

Anyone who has had a childhood sweetheart or a lost love will identify with Henry and Keiko.  Like Romeo and Juliet, from the start you know their friendship, and then their romance, is doomed to end tragically.  Yet you hope this story will be different.  Henry will find a way to save Keiko from the internment camp.  Or when the war ends, they will reunite and live happily ever after.  But that doesn’t happen, which makes this story all the more believable.  Both Henry and Keiko move on after the war, finding new loves and creating new lives.  But neither of them forgets their first love and what could have been, had the war and Henry’s father not intervened.  Ultimately, even though it takes forty-some odd years, there is a happy ending.

Historical Fiction

One of the reasons I love reading Historical Fiction is the opportunity to learn about specific times and places in history.  If the author has done his/her research well, the story line and characters create the opportunity to more fully understand how people were impacted by a specific historical event.  Such is the case with Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Other than a brief mention in my high school American History textbook, I’ve never read anything about the internment camps of WWII, nor the details of how the internment of our Japanese-Americans occurred.  I’ve read that German-Americans were stigmatized and targeted during WWI, similar to the experience of the Japanese-Americans, although internment camps were not part of the equation for them.  I always found it interesting that many German immigrants and first generation German-Americans enlisted to fight in WWI, both as a way to protect their families at home in the States and also to prove their loyalties as Americans.  I was unaware that the Japanese-Americans did the same thing during WWII, even though they and their families were placed in the internment camps. Can you imagine volunteering to fight in a war for the country that had removed you and your family from your home, forcing you to leave behind all but a few meager possessions, and placed you in a internment camp where you were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards?

Even though most of us in the United States are descended from immigrants, within a couple of generations we lose the memories and stories of what life is like as an immigrant.  We come to believe that our outlook on life, our day-to-day experiences as Americans, are the norm.  It’s good and even necessary to read books like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in order to remind ourselves of the challenges and prejudices immigrants face every day, even today.  Especially with the insular political climate of today, we need more books like this, books that allow us to view life from the eyes of immigrants, our newest Americans. For that reason alone, I would recommend adding Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to your reading list.  The fact that it’s a bittersweet story with a happy ending is an added bonus.

What did you think of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet?  Have you read any other books about the Japanese-American internment camps?  Do you think books like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet can help us inculcate a better understanding of our current immigrant population?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

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 after the discussion begins.

The next book is number 82. The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison (2013) – Discussion begins July 24, 2017
Genre: Psychological Thriller

#BestsellerCode100: A Readers’s Review of A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge. This novel is categorized as Literary Fiction and was nominated for the Booker Prize.

This post contains spoilers.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

A Spool of Blue Thread is the latest novel (and possibly the last, according to a recent interview) by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler.  In  looking over the list of twenty books she has written, I was surprised to discover that I had not read any of them.  How is that possible, since all of the titles sound so familiar? Literary fiction is not my usual reading choice, though, so that likely explains it.  And I’ve never been one to pick up a book just because it’s popular or on the bestseller shelf.  A Spool of Blue Thread, therefore, is my introduction to Anne Tyler and her character-driven novels.

The Wrong Title

First off, let me state that the book has the wrong title.  While blue is definitely a color that is mentioned throughout the book, the spool of blue thread is a very small part of the book.  Instead, the house that Junior Whitshank built for a client and eventually bought for his family’s residence is an integral part of the story – it could even be considered one of the characters – and so the book might more aptly be titled “The House on Bouton Road.”

Character Driven

Tyler does a nice job of fleshing out her characters, revealing both strengths and foibles through their interactions with family members.  As in many families, birth order determines the characters’ actions and family dynamics.  The opening chapter is devoted to Denny, the youngest child until the family quasi-adopts the younger Stem. Denny’s prickly demeanor, his obstinacy and anger, and the way he distances himself from the family, sometimes disappearing for years at a time with no contact, create issues for the family throughout the book.  His storyline is the nearest thing to an actual plot and resolution that I could find.

Family Stories

As Roberta states in her Writer’s Analysis, the Whitshank family has two stories that they tell and retell.  The family tells these stories with pride, as they show that family members acquired things (or people) they wanted by working patiently to those ends.  But the stories also reveal that these things were acquired through stealth and possible chicanery, and maybe even some amount of lying and backstabbing on the part of Merritt concerning her best friend’s fiance.

One story that is not part of the family lore is how Linnie Mae and Junior met and eventually married.  At the beginning of the chapter that reveals their relationship, it appears that Junior holds all the power and Linnie Mae is his under-aged victim, but by the end of the chapter it is obvious that Linnie Mae is just as intentional and devious as Junior.  Eventually Junior realizes that he’s been the unwitting “victim” of Linnie Mae’s designs to leave her hometown and get married and that Linnie Mae is not the gullible and naive young girl she seemed to be.  I enjoyed this back story of Junior and Linnie Mae as it revealed the quiet power that the matriarch of the Whitshanks had and showed that daughter Merritt’s actions in acquiring her husband might not be totally due to traits she had inherited from her father, but possibly also from her mother.

Why Read Literary Fiction?

As I previously stated, literary fiction is not my normal choice of reading material.  I prefer a book with a well-crafted plot and a satisfying resolution, a book that takes me somewhere I’ve never been and allows me to experience something I’m not likely to do myself.  But Roberta and I have noticed that whenever we read a book classified as literary fiction, we end up discussing family situations and family dynamics from our youth.  A Spool of Blue Thread was no exception.  Roberta’s family took in “strays” when she was a child, as did my husband’s family, and my family had a member who was “farmed out” as a teenager.  Obviously these books, whether we like them or not, are providing us with food for thought and topics for discussion.  Maybe that’s the point of literary fiction – not to take you to some new place, but to take you back to an old place or time in your life and allow you to see it from a fresh perspective.

Are you a fan of Anne Tyler? Do you have a favorite Anne Tyler book that you would recommend, one that would give me a better understanding as to why her books are so popular?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also 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 83. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) – Discussion begins July 10, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Klone and I by Danielle Steel

The Klone And I, by Danielle Steel, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This is touted as a high-tech love story.

This post does contain spoilers.


(*Amazon Affiliate link)
 

Years and years ago I read several of Danielle Steel’s novels.  I remember enjoying her themes of women struggling to combine career and family and love, trying to have it all.  The women seemed strong and independent, and at the end of the day, the importance of family bonds was always the most important thing.  At least that’s how I remember her novels.  After reading The Klone and I, I have to wonder just how reliable my memory is.

Stephanie, the main character in The Klone and I was a disappointment in many ways. She is indecisive, inattentive, self-centered, and naïve.  I suppose being naïve is not a bad thing, but reading about someone that naïve after the life experiences she had gone through – divorce, raising children – made her unbelievable.  Maybe it was the trust fund that enabled her to go through life without seeming to really commit to life.

And speaking of unbelievable, shall we discuss Paul, the clone?  I had to keep reminding myself that this book was written in 1998 when computers were just beginning to become an integral part of our lives, but still seemed quite magical.  Anything was possible if a computer was involved, including life-like clones.  Paul, though, is so over-the-top that I simply could not buy the whole premise.

I understand why this book made The Bestseller Code’s top 100 list, because it is 100% about relationships, mostly Stephanie and her relationships with her ex-husband, with Peter, and with Paul. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Stephanie.  I didn’t like the dismissive attitude she often had about her children.  I didn’t like how easily she was swayed by the fun and free-wheeling Paul while knowing he wasn’t real and that he was using Peter’s money to buy all the gifts for her.  I found Stephanie to be shallow and self-absorbed. Overall, The Klone and I was a disappointment.

What did you think of The Klone and I?  Did you find Paul believable as a clone?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

__________________

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.

The next book is number 84. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015) – Discussion begins June 26, 2017
Literary Fiction – nominated for Booker Prize

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Easy Prey by John Sandford

Easy Prey by John Sandford is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  This book is #11 in a series of twenty-seven (so far) novels starring Lucas Davenport, a police officer and war games designer.  Interestingly, all twenty-seven books include the word “Prey” in the title.  Does that tell you anything about the series?  In Easy Prey, the body count mounts quickly.  

This post does not contain spoilers.

Easy Prey* by John Sandford

This review is written about the first half of the book, up to Chapter 19.

Police Procedural

Easy Prey is a police procedural novel, which means that the murder mystery is solved by those trained to solve murders, the police, and the story is heavy on the police process.  This is a new type of mystery for me to read and, so far, I like it.  As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, this book has a lot of characters, but I’ve been able to follow along and keep them all straight without too much difficulty.  I was struck by the amount of detail Sandford gives for each character. For example, in Chapter 6 we are introduced to Lapstrake, a police officer from the Intelligence division.

Lapstrake was a bland, twenty-something guy with a home haircut who wore blue Sears work pants and a blue shirt that said “Cairn’s Glass” on the back.

A blue shirt wasn’t descriptive enough.  Sandford added “Cairn’s Glass” to the back of it.  I had to wonder why Cairn’s Glass, if that would be significant to the story later on, but it did succeed in making Lapstrake’s character more memorable.

Appreciation of Women

Lucas Davenport is not your typical police officer.  For one thing, he’s wealthy; he invented board games to supplement his police income, which turned into computer games and led to his own company selling simulations to law enforcement.  For another, Davenport has an innate appreciation of women, especially beautiful women.  He notices and responds to small things about women that seem atypical of a middle-aged male, let alone a street-hardened cop.  For example, in Chapter 2 he interacts with the wife of a friend:

She and Lucas had always liked each other, and if things had been different, if the Clays hadn’t been quite so happy with each other…She smelled good, like some kind of faintly perfumed soap.

Later, when Davenport is home, he continues to think of her:

Clean, mellow, starting to fade, the memory of Verna Clay’s scent still on his mind, he dropped into bed. He was asleep in five minutes, a small easy smile on his face.

Each woman Davenport interacts with affects him in some physical way, and he interacts with several in this book, in multiple ways.  I feel I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, meeting Davenport midway through the “Prey” series; throughout the book there are mentions of past relationships that I am certain were main themes in previous novels.  He is a character that I want to see from the very beginning in order to watch his growth and learn how far he’s come.

Bodies Galore

I’m only halfway through the book, but the body count is up to six and potentially there are at least two different killers, maybe more.  It’s a lot to keep track of, and even more to consider for motives and means, but I’m hooked.  I’m eager to finish this review so I can get back to reading!  And then I’ll have to track down the first book in the “Prey” series, Rules of Prey.

Do you like police procedural mysteries?  What did you think of Easy Prey?

Related posts (links will be added as posts go live):

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

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.

The next book is number 85. The Klone and I by Danielle Steel (1998) – Discussion begins June 12, 2017.
Touted as a high-tech love story.

#BestsellerCode100: World War Z, A Reader’s Review

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.  This book is categorized as Apocalyptic Horror and is a follow-up to Brooks’ zombie survival manual, The Zombie Survival Guide.  A movie with the same name was made from World War Z in 2013, starring Brad Pitt.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War* by Max Brooks (2007)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Zombie War Interviews

World War Z is different from any of the other books we’ve read so far in that it is a series of interviews of survivors of the Zombie War, which decimated the earth’s population and drastically altered the political and religious makeup of the world.  Since the interviews are of survivors, it’s obvious that humans won the war against the non-humans, although there are still millions of zombies “surviving” in the cold zones of the world and in the depths of the oceans.  In addition, the interview format creates a “distance” from the events that seems to minimize the “horror” aspect of the story, which was good for me, as I am definitely not a fan of horror anything.

In my last review (Weird Sisters), I mentioned that I was going to read The Bestseller Code again in an effort to make more sense of how the books we’ve read so far made it on the bestseller list and hopefully better appreciate the subsequent books we plan to read.  In fact, both Roberta and I wanted to read The Bestseller Code again, so we decided to give ourselves a three -week window for reading and reviewing World War Z.  As so often happens, though, life intruded and I have not yet completed The Bestseller Code, but it’s time for this review, so I’ll go with using the information gleaned from the first two and a half chapters.

Understanding the Theme and Topic

Chapter Two of The Bestseller Code talks about theme and topic, and Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, the book’s authors, often use those two words interchangeably, which I found rather confusing. I was taught to think of theme as being the main idea or underlying meaning of a book, while topics (or subjects) being the avenue used by the author to present his underlying meaning.  In high school English class, theme seemed to be an important thing to figure out if you wanted to pass the test, but it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on whether a book is a bestseller or not.  Instead, the topic is much more important and The Bestseller Code goes into great detail about what topics are used most frequently in bestsellers and those rarely used.

It’s easy to confuse theme with genre.  One of the most popular book genres is romance novels, but the theme of romance novels isn’t really “romance” as much as it is the experience of love.  Readers want to feel an experience – an emotional, mental, imaginative experience.  And in order for the author to convey that experience, the topics they choose are vital.  Equally important are the percentage of topics used within the novel.

Signature Topic – Human Connections

Surprisingly, the computer model created by Archer and Jockers showed that some of the least successful topics to use if you want to write a bestseller are sex, drugs, and rock and roll.   The most successful topic is human closeness and human connection.  The most successful bestseller writers who have mastered writing about “human closeness” and “human connection” are Danielle Steele and John Grisham.  In Chapter Two, The Bestseller Code states that these authors “have only one signature theme, not two, that takes up a whole third (on average) of each of their novels.  This likely helps with their branding.  All the many other topics each writer employs are used in tiny percentages.” (This is one instance where the authors use the term “theme” when it really seems they mean topic.)

So how does a book about zombies and a global war become a bestseller?  It does so by employing the topic of “human closeness and human connection” in each and every chapter.  World War Z main theme is a social commentary on several fronts, including government ineptitude, corporate greed, and isolationism.  Each chapter highlights this theme by interviewing another zombie war survivor who relates his/her story of family loss, fleeing zombie-infested zones, and fighting side by side with comrades.  Each chapter is a roller coaster ride of emotions – anxiety about which family member might present symptoms of the zombie virus next, fear of being found by zombies and infected themselves, hope when they discover other non-infected humans they can band with, and relief that they might just survive after all.

The Story Beat

These emotional highs and lows in each chapter, or moments of conflict and resolution to use more literary terms, produce a “beat” that is discussed in Chapter Three of The Bestseller Code.  Those beats, or emotional turns, as Archer and Jockers refer to them, cause the reader to “feel” the book like one would feel club music.  “The more frequent the peaks and valleys are, the more of an emotional roller coaster for the characters and for readers.”  The Bestseller Code presents 7 different graphs that plot out the moments of conflict and resolution, and while they don’t reveal which of these graphs go with each book on the 100 Bestseller book list that their computer algorithm created, World War Z obviously fit one of those seven graphs.

World War Z is not a book I would have chosen to read on my own and while it was a bestseller, it didn’t impress me much – a week after I finished reading it, I could remember only one character from one chapter.  Possibly that is because I never bought into the whole “zombie” or “undead” premise, so it was difficult to become emotionally encumbered by any particular character or the book as a whole.  I did find certain themes thought provoking, though.  Specifically, I had an interesting conversation with my husband about the fact that during the Zombie War, the least useful individuals in the new world order were highly educated professionals and business people.  In a world without electricity, without modern day conveniences such as computers and cell phones, CEOs and accountants and computer specialists were essentially dead weight, while people who had a skill or had worked what were considered “menial labor” jobs – farmers, plumbers, carpenters, etc. – were suddenly at the top of the social hierarchy.  World War Z highlighted a disturbing trend in our present day world, where so many people can no longer do simple repairs or grow their own food, and only know how to rely upon technology to find an answer to a question.

What did you think of World War Z?  Were any of the characters memorable to you?  Did it inspire you to tell anyone about the book or discuss any of its themes?

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also 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.

The next book is number 86. Easy Prey by John Sandford (2001) -mystery (series)- Discussion begins May 29, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: The Weird Sisters A Reader’s Review

Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post contains spoilers.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Women’s Fiction

Weird Sisters is categorized as Women’s Fiction, a genre I normally do not read much of, and this book reminded me why that is so.   If you like reading a book that leaves you with a vague sense of feeling good and some gentle moral reinforcement, then this might be the book for you.  I expected more from a bestseller.  Here’s just a bit of what disappointed me:

– The main characters – the three sisters, Rose, Bean, and Cordy – were stereotypical.  Why was it the youngest who was irresponsible and became an unwed mother?  Wouldn’t it have been more interesting for the eldest, responsible Rose, to make some crazy mistake and be the unexpectedly pregnant daughter?

– The plot was slow and boring (was there a plot?).  Mom has cancer, so all the sisters come home ostensibly to take care of mom, but in actuality to hide from and ultimately resolve their secrets.  There were small moments of despair and moments of success, but nothing momentous.

– The ending was predictable (halfway through it I guessed correctly how things would end up for 2 of the 3 sisters).

Sisterhood Voice

Also, as Roberta mentions in her review, the narration is written in the omniscient first person plural, as the voice of the combined sisters, which I found confusing.  I was never quite sure if just one sister was speaking or if they were narrating as a combined sisterhood.  It was unique, but just didn’t work for me.

Time For Another Read Through

As I was reading, I kept asking myself why this book was chosen by the computer algorithm from The Bestseller Code.  I certainly wouldn’t have considered it a bestseller.  Since I seem to be having similar thoughts about several of the books we’ve read, I’ve decided to reread The Bestseller Code.  Hopefully now that I’ve read 12 of the books on the list, reading the book another time and reviewing how the list was created will make more sense and lead to a better appreciation of the subsequent books we plan to read here at The Bestseller Code Reading Challenge.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first few lines of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

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.

The next book is number 87. World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) – Discussion begins May 8, 2017.   This book is categorized as Horror or Apocalyptic Horror.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  For a synopsis of the book, check out Roberta’s Writer’s Review.

This post does not contains spoilers.

 

Unaccustomed Earth* by Jhumpa Lahiri


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Short Story Collection

Unaccustomed Earth is a bit unusual in that it is actually a collection of short stories.  Part One consists of five different stories and Part Two has three stories centered around the same two main characters over the span of several decades.  All the characters are Bengali immigrants adjusting to life in America.

For the most part, Lahiri’s stories were easy to read, with characters keeping secrets and experiencing life’s disappointments and hardships.  Some of the stories were more memorable than others.  A week after reading Part One, I could only remember three of the five short story plots.  In Part Two, the voice changed to first person and took a while to get used to.  Just when I was used to one voice, it changed to the second character’s voice, and then the final chapter was back to third person.

Pervasive Sadness

Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize winning author who has a penchant for ending her stories abruptly, with no follow up of the characters.  She likes to leave you guessing as to what happens in the future.  Sometimes that works, but more often I was aggravated.  I wanted more and felt cheated.

While I feel I have a better understanding of how immigrants and their children adjust (or do not adjust) to life in a new setting, Unaccustomed Earth left me sad and depressed, like I’d just spent a week without any sunshine.  Lahiri’s characters reminded me of Eeyore, from Winnie-the-Pooh, always thinking, “Woe is me.”   She would have us believe that immigrants rarely experience joy in their new country.  I hope that is not reality.

 

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also 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.

The next book is number 88. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011) – Discussion begins April 24, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, is our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Orphan Master’s Son*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Orphan Master’s Son was an extremely difficult book to read in many ways.  The book is divided into two distinct parts.  In Part One we meet Pak Jun Do, the Orphan Master’s son, who named himself after a Korean Martyr heralded for his loyalty, and thus foreshadows the ending of the novel.  From Pak Jun Do’s early childhood well into adulthood, his journey felt disjointed, with jumps in time and location.  We learn what life is like in present-day North Korea – the hardships, the loss of personal will, the disinformation, and the need for blind adherence to the rule of “Our Dear Leader.”  In Part Two, Pak Jun Do assumes the life of legendary Commander Ga, who is married to the renowned actress Sun Moon and father of their two children.  Also in Part Two we are introduced to a “soft-torture” Interrogator of Division 42, the interrogation headquarters where enemies of the state are tortured for confessions.  Throughout this part, the story alternates between the Interrogator’s personal and professional life – including his interrogation of “Commander Ga” – and the flashbacks of Pak Jun Do’s life as Commander Ga.

Trauma Narrative

I almost didn’t finish reading the book due to Part One.  I didn’t like the voice of Pak Jun Do and found the time jumps disorienting.  More than that, though, I felt like I was reading a dystopian novel of life on some distant planet.  Surely this could not be taking place on Planet Earth?  As Roberta wrote in her Writer’s Analysis:

According to the back matter, the author has described it as a “trauma narrative.” …  In other words, it feels as if it was written by a person who has experienced severe trauma. He says that it would be a mistake to shape it any other way and I have to agree it makes sense.

Trauma narrative is a very accurate description.  I felt traumatized just reading it.

The second part was an easier read, although it did take a while to adjust to the jumps in time from the present day interrogation to the previous year of “Commander Ga’s” life.  I read with amazement and disbelief as everyone walked around the elephant in the room – Pak Jun Do was obviously NOT Commander Ga, and yet he was able to assume the life of Ga because he dressed as Ga and said he was Ga.  In North Korea, you just do not question what anyone in a position of leadership above you says or does.  To do so would mean immediate banishment to the camps and certain death.

Choice and Freedom

Ultimately, this story shows us how the regime of North Korea purposely destroys the concepts of individual choice and personal freedom throughout its population.  The fact that both the Interrogator and Pak Jun Do practice personal choice and experience freedom at the end gives hope that all citizens of North Korea might eventually be able to attain true freedoms, if given the chance.

The Orphan Master’s Son is one of those books that stays with you for a long time and not necessarily in a good way.  There is so much symbolism and so many layers that it really warrants a second reading.   It would be a great choice for a book club to read and discuss, as long as the members were aware of the violence and disturbing nature of the story line ahead of time.  I was not really prepared for that and set the book aside for long enough that the library ended my ebook loan, which has never happened to me before!

 

What did you think of The Orphan Master’s Son? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  4. After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

You can also 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.

The next book is number 89. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) – Short story collection – Discussion begins April 10, 2017.

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