Author: Karen Gibson (page 2 of 5)

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Orphan Train tells the stories of two young “orphan” girls, Vivian and Molly.  Vivian’s story begins in New York City in 1929, months before the Black Friday stock market crash.  We learn of her voyage from Ireland with her family, the tragedy that leaves her essentially orphaned, and then follow her journey when she is placed on a train to the Midwest by the Children’s Aid Society in the hopes of finding a placement family.  Molly’s story of her early years with her parents and her subsequent journey through the foster care system in the present day intertwines with Vivian’s throughout the book.  As unlikely as it might seem, their stories are remarkably similar and creates an unexpected bond of friendship.

This post does not contain spoilers.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Historical Fiction

 As Roberta mentioned in her Writer’s Review, Orphan Train is categorized as Historical Fiction.  Unlike Roberta, though, I am a huge fan of historical fiction and I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for quite some time.  One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that I often learn some previously unknown-to-me historical information, and Orphan Train certainly provided me with that.  I was unfamiliar with the Children’s Aid Society, a non-profit organization formed by Charles Loring Brace in 1853 to ensure the physical well-being of homeless children in New York City (not always orphans) and to provide them with the support and training needed to become successful adults.  Brace felt that placement with a family that could provide work, schooling, and a home situation would be more beneficial to the children than an institutional setting.  He came up with the idea of “orphan trains” – children were placed on a train with Children Aid Society chaperones and taken out of the city to various destinations across the country.  Notices were posted in the destination towns and when the trains arrived, the children were inspected and selected by the prospective foster families – often for the amount of work the child looked capable of handling or a specific talent, such as sewing, rather than for any altruistic desire to provide a loving home.  Baker’s descriptions of Vivian’s early placements with families exposed just how brutal and traumatic those placements could be.

The orphan trains sound like something out of dystopian novel, yet they really did happen.  Over the course of 76 years (the last train run was in 1929), more than 200,000 children rode the trains and began new lives.  Since they were required to leave any and all personal possessions behind, and many were given new first names by their foster or adoptive families, they truly were new lives, for better or worse.

The Children’s Aid Society (now called simply Children’s Aid) is still in existence, providing various support programs (medical, educational, legal, mental health, etc.) to NYC families and children, along with fostering and adoption options. Many of its child welfare programs were considered ground-breaking when begun but commonplace today.  The “fresh air” program is one that I was familiar with while growing up in upstate New York during the 1970s.  Several families I knew would have “fresh air” children from NYC staying with them during the summer.

Unlikely Friends

When we are first introduced to Vivian and Molly, they appear to have nothing in common.  Vivian inherited a business from her parents and she and her now-deceased husband were able to retire to a life of comfort and ease.  At the age of 90, she’s outlived her family and friends and is content to live an isolated life with a housekeeper to cook her meals and maintain the household.  Molly, on the other hand, has bounced around a few foster homes and feels that her current foster situation is tenuous, at best. She’d like to stay where she is currently placed until she “ages out” of the system in another few months, but her present foster mother isn’t really on board with her husband’s desire to foster.  More than once Molly pulls out her duffel bags and begins to pack her belongings while listening to her foster parents argue over whether to keep her.  Life is uncertain at best for Molly.

Molly and Vivian are brought together in a joint effort to clean out Vivian’s cluttered attic, and as Vivian reveals her life’s story bit by bit, Molly’s efforts to maintain an emotional distance from everyone in her life begin to fail.  Christina Baker Kline does a wonderful job of revealing the true essence of these two strong and capable women.

Take Away

Life is not always pleasant and rarely easy if you are an immigrant and/or an orphan child, no matter what time period you live in.  Both Vivian’s and Molly’s stories highlight that, as a child, you have no control and usually very little say over what the adults in your life decide for you.  Yet both of these young girls rise above the trials and traumas of childhood to become strong individuals.  I was struck by their resilience and tenacity.  Orphan Train also illustrates that even the smallest acts of kindness – providing a place to sleep for a few nights, a temporary job, or even just the gift of a book – can give hope and effect real change in the life of an individual, a message we should all take to heart.

 

Have you read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline? 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

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 64. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walker (2012) – Discussion begins March 19, 2018

Genre:  Historical romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Sebold’s novel was published in 2002 and received several literary awards, including the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.  I first read this book in 2004 and enjoyed it then.  When I saw it on our reading list I wondered whether it would stand the test of time.

This post contains spoilers.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Unique Voice

Alice Sebold has written a unique character in Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who is murdered in the very first chapter and then relates what happens to herself in heaven and her family and friends on earth over the next decade.  Sebold’s take on high school, the way in which Susie’s friends react and cope with her murder, brought back to me much of the angst and joys I experienced in high school.

For a first-time novelist, Sebold has a powerful mastery of descriptive language.  Susie’s version of heaven has an interesting smell…

The air in my heaven often smelled like skunk—just a hint of it. It was a smell that I had always loved on Earth. When I breathed it in, I could feel the scent as well as smell it. It was the animal’s fear and power mixed together to form a pungent, lingering musk.

… and feel.

I turned around and went back to the gazebo. I felt the moist air lace its way up along my legs and arms, lifting, ever so slightly, the ends of my hair. I thought of spider webs in the morning, how they held small jewels of dew, how, with a light movement of the wrist, I used to destroy them without thinking.

It made me wonder what my individual slice of heaven would be like.

The Eyes Have It

They say that eyes are the windows to one’s soul and in The Lovely Bones this is certainly true.  Before her death, Susie dreamed of being a wildlife photographer and her most prized possession was her camera.  Referring to one of the early pictures that Susie took of her mother, Sebold writes:

My mother’s eyes were oceans, and inside them there was loss.

Susie used so many rolls of film that her father made her choose only a few to get developed due to the expense.  Several years after Susie’s murder, and after his wife had abandoned their marriage, her father developed the rest of the rolls.  On the very last roll he discovered a series of photos that Susie took of her mother one day just before her father arrived home from work.  This series of photos is a window to the diminished dreams Abigail experienced as she left behind the world of literature she studied in college and became first a wife, then a mother.  Susie’s father had not been aware of this change in his wife, not until he saw these photos.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father walk through the side door into the yard.  He carried his slim briefcase, which, years before, Lindsey and I had heatedly investigated only to find very little of interest to use. As he set it down I snapped the last solitary photo of my mother. Already her eyes had begun to seem distracted and anxious, diving under and up into a mask somehow. In the next photo, the mask was almost, but not quite, in place and the final photo, where my father was leaning slightly down to give her a kiss on the cheek—there it was.

“Did I do that to you?” he asked her image as he stared at the pictures of my mother, lined up in a row. “How did that happen?”

He finally comes to understand why his marriage disintegrated after Susie’s death and also, interestingly enough, from those pictures he remembers the woman he first fell in love with and falls in love with her all over again, even though she is totally absent from his life at that point.

Possession, Again?

The only bit of this book that I did not really like was where Susie and her friend Ruth essentially trade places – Susie inhabits Ruth’s body for a short while and Ruth is transported to Susie’s version of heaven.  I didn’t like the whole “inhabited body” thing in The Cross Roads and I didn’t like it here either.  I didn’t understand what Ruth was doing in heaven (Ruth was the most unusual and difficult to comprehend character in the novel), and I felt that the whole scene with Susie in Ruth’s body having a relationship with her old school sweetheart was rather gratuitous on Sebold’s part.

Lovely Bones

Upon reading the book description, you expect that the  title The Lovely Bones refers in some way to Susie’s dismemberment, although how that could be considered lovely baffles the mind.  In the very last chapter, though, we learn that Sebold uses bones as a metaphor for the bonds that hold Susie’s family together.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.

I’m glad this book was on our list and provided me with the opportunity to read it again.  I appreciated Sebold’s writing much more the second time around.

 

Have you read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold? 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

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 65.  Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (2013) – Discussion begins March 5, 2018
Historical fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Dean Koontz is a prolific writer, with 14 hardcover and 14 paperback novels making the number one position on the New York Times Bestseller List.  With that many books, I’m rather surprised that I have not read a single one. I guess all those flashy book covers and prominent positioning in books stores are wasted on me.

This post contains spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Pleasant Surprise

 Since I have not read any of Koontz’s books, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up The Darkest Evening of the Year.  I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in immediately by both the characters and the plot.  I loved the interplay of conversation between two of the main characters, Amy Redwing and Brian McCarthy.  They sounded like an old married couple, and yet further reading would reveal that they had only known each other a few months.  Their connection on multiple levels was immediately apparent and made several future scenes of the book all the more believable.

“I love October,” she said, looking away from the street.  “Don’t you love October?”

“This is still September.”

“I can love October in September.  September doesn’t care.”

“Watch where you’re going.”

“I love San Francisco, but it’s hundreds of miles away.”

“The way you’re driving, we’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“I’m a superb driver.  No accidents, no traffic citations.”

He said, “My entire life keeps flashing before my eyes.”

“You should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.”

“Amy, please, don’t keep looking at me.”

“You look fine, sweetie.  Bed hair becomes you.”

“I man, watch the road.”

Koontz obviously has a flair for writing memorable characters.  The two main antagonists, Moongirl and Harrow, are as fascinating as they are evil. The only complaint I have is that I would have liked to learn more of Moongirl’s backstory.  We are given a glimpse into Harrow’s childhood and can see the influences that helped create the sociopath he is as an adult, but we don’t aren’t given the same depth of backstory with Moongirl.

Supernatural or Spiritual

There are aspects of the supernatural in The Darkest Hour of the Night; Brian’s marathon drawing session, the golden retriever Nickie, Amy’s phone call from the long-dead nun.  Or did the author intend the reader to see a more spiritual theme running through this novel?  There were many references to the sounds and shadows of angel wings and a scene of miraculous healing.  Even though this book was categorized as a psychological thriller, I found the spiritual aspect of it much more believable than our previous book, Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, which was considered Christian fiction.

Koontz’s love of dogs, specifically Golden Retrievers, shines throughout the novel like a warm candle glow, lighting the way in even the darkest hour.  His belief in the redemptive and healing powers of a dog’s love is one of the main themes of The Darkest Hour of the Night.  Nickie is much more than a dog in this novel – she’s one of the main characters and also the conduit for angels (and thus God) to eliminate evil and right the wrongs perpetrated by the evildoers.

 The Title

 We’ve been reading these books to discover why the computer algorithm in The Bestseller Code chose them as bestsellers.  One of the variables looked at by the algorithm was book title.

Bestselling titles might also capture an event, and we can presume that if an event makes the title page it is not just a plot point but something that provides the story with a more fundamental structure and meaning. Accident is one such title…. Nothing will be the same before or after that moment, that day, that kiss, that accident.  The fate of the characters is to respond, to react, to reacclimatize.  But the characters are not the primary agent: the event is bigger than they are.

The Darkest Evening of The Year is an apt title for this bestseller. We know even before we begin to read that something dire is going to happen, that the darkest night isn’t referring to a lunar eclipse.  Every page, every theme, every plot device is propelling the characters forward on an inevitable trajectory to that darkest evening and we are along for the ride.  It’s definitely a ride worth taking.

 

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 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young Reviewers

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Wm. Paul Young is also the author of the international bestseller The Shack and its sequel The Shack Revisited, all categorized as Christian fiction.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Who Cares?

 I found Cross Roads to be incredibly difficult to read.  In the first chapter the reader is introduced to Anthony (Tony) Spencer, an extremely successful business man, but also an obnoxious and unlovable human being.  The author goes over the top in presenting Tony in the most unflattering light, to the point where, by the end of the chapter, when Tony suffers a brain aneurysm and is in a coma, you are 1) relieved to not have to deal with his obnoxiousness anymore and 2) you don’t care one iota what happens to him, either physically or spiritually.

The rest of the novel presents Tony in some altered state of existence spiritually, while his body is still in a coma.  In this altered state he is forced to come to terms with his past behaviors and given the chance to grow spiritually.  It all sounds well and good, but like I stated in the previous paragraph, I had ceased to care whether Tony grew spiritually.  I had ceased to care about Tony at all!

Possessed

Tony meets Jesus, “The Grandmother” (the Holy Spirit), and even God, albeit in an unconventional form, in this altered existence, and they send him back to earth to “inhabit” the bodies of various individuals as an opportunity to grow and learn and redeem himself.  This is the point where I almost gave up on the book.  Not only did he inhabit these bodies, but he could talk to the owners of these bodies and they could hear him and talk back to him, carrying on long conversations.  And then he could be passed to another body by a simple kiss. I felt like I was reading a science fiction or fantasy novel.

To Finish or Not To Finish?

I’ve made it a personal rule to never start reading the next book in our challenge until I’ve written the review for the previous book, and for the most part I’ve stuck to that rule.  Often I read at least one other book in between the books in our challenge as a way of “resetting” my reader’s brain, if you will.  I wanted to get ahead a bit in my reading, though, as I have a rather busy February, so I started reading The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz the very next day after finishing Cross Roads.  Wow.  What a difference!  Whereas I had to force myself to finish reading Cross Roads, I simply cannot put down The Darkest Evening of the Year.  The writing style is compelling, the characters are fascinating, and the plot reveals all come at just the right time.

Christian fiction is not my favorite genre or one I normally seek out, so that could explain some of my dislike of Cross Roads and my disbelief in the whole “altered state” and “habitation of souls” concepts that this novel relies so heavily on.  But more than that, I disliked the author’s writing style, his phrasing (choppy, strident, almost military in feel), and the way he obfuscated his message, talking in circles without really saying anything clearly.  I’d read an entire paragraph and not have a clue what the author really meant.

If you enjoy Christian fiction or stories of spiritual journeys, you might like Cross Roads.  From the number of stars the book has garnered on Amazon, it’s obvious that many people have enjoyed reading it.  From my perspective, it was a waste of my time.

 

Have you read Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young? 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

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 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz (2007) – Discussion begins February 5, 2018 — Psychological thriller

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Goldfinch (2014) is Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

This post contains spoilers.

The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews. Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer. While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth. As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Descriptive Power

Tartt is a master at descriptive prose. Here we see one of the antagonists, Lucius Reeve, for the first time:

Though he was tight and elegant in his speech and gestures, and his suit was modishly cut for a man his age, his demeanor made me think of a puffer fish—or, alternately, a cartoon strongman or Mountie blown up by a bicycle pump: cleft chin, doughball nose, tense slit of a mouth, all bunched tight in the center of a face which glowed a plump, inflamed, blood-pressure pink.

Usually long passages of description cause me to skim the text, anxious to get to the real action, but this was not the case with The Goldfinch. I soaked up Tartt’s descriptions like a sponge, reveling in the tastes and smells and sights she provided, even when they were unpleasant or painful.

For unknown reasons, the gust of energy that had swept me up and fizzed me around all summer had dropped me hard, mid-October, into a drizzle of sadness that stretched endlessly in every direction: with a very few exceptions (Kitsey, Hobie, Mrs. Barbour) I hated being around people, couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying, couldn’t talk to clients, couldn’t tag my pieces, couldn’t ride the subway, all human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness, there was not a squeak of light anywhere I looked, the antidepressants I’d been dutifully swallowing for eight weeks hadn’t helped a bit, nor had the ones before that (but then, I’d tried them all; apparently I was among the twenty percent of unfortunates who didn’t get the daisy fields and the butterflies but the Severe Headaches and the Suicidal Thoughts); and though the darkness sometimes lifted just enough so I could construe my surroundings, familiar shapes solidifying like bedroom furniture at dawn, my relief was never more than temporary because somehow the full morning never came, things always went black before I could orient myself and there I was again with ink poured in my eyes, guttering around in the dark.

Doesn’t sound like a man engaged to be married and dizzy in love, does it?

By the way, that passage above? It’s all one sentence! The editor side of my brain sure had a tough time while reading The Goldfinch, but Tartt makes it work. The pain and depression that Theo feels would not come across nearly so well in nice, neat, short sentences, would it?

Truisms and Real Literature

Some of the reviews I read blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message. The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader. These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten. The same discussion occurs with art. What is art? What makes it art? Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel. Literature is the same. It challenges us individually. It speaks to us individually. It affects us individually. For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read. It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

 

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 68. Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young (2012) – Discussion begins January 22, 2018
Christian fiction

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Although this book is considered to be Díaz’s debut novel, he published a collection of short stories a decade earlier.  Drown is considered by some to be semiautobiographical; in 10 short stories, Yunior (also our narrator in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) relates the journey of his immigrant family from the Dominican Republic to New Jersey.

This post does contain spoilers.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Culture and Language

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is steeped in the culture and history of the Dominican Republic, so much so that it includes dozens of footnotes to explain historical references, specifically to the era of its dictator Rafael Trujillo.  I’ve rarely read a novel that included footnotes and one would think these would be helpful. Unfortunately, the few I read were so long that I nearly forgot the storyline while reading the footnote.  Also, in the Kindle version, the footnote numbers were not very noticeable and I missed the bulk of them, not seeing them until the end of the book, at which time they were totally useless.

Díaz mingles English with Spanish, Spanglish, and slang continually throughout the book, with no attempts to translate for the reader.  If you come from a Latin American culture or know Spanish, this probably wasn’t an issue, but for me, it was a huge drawback.   I could glean very little from the context and my Kindle version didn’t translate or couldn’t find most of the words I asked for, so I finally gave up and just skimmed over those sections.  Yes, I could have Googled for translations, but the time that would have taken would have been astronomical.

Wondrous Descriptions

As Roberta noted in her Writer’s Review, Díaz created vibrant images.  He brought alive the people and locations of his novel.  Díaz described the Dominican tyrant Trujillo as the

portly, sadistic, pig-eyed mulato who bleached his skin, wore platform shoes, and had a fondness for Napoleon-era haberdashery.

With a description like this, who needs a picture?

Unfortunately, vibrant word images were not enough to make me care about the characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, especially the main male characters, Oscar and Yunior (the narrator).  I felt that the story would have been stronger if the main character had been Oscar’s mother, Belicia.  In an extended flashback, we learn Belicia’s tragic history in the Dominican Republic, but her story essentially ends when she leaves her homeland in her mid-teens, immigrating to New Jersey.  How she overcame her heartbreak, the obstacles she faced in America, could have been more compelling than Oscar’s continual quest to get laid.  While I felt sorry for Oscar in many ways, I felt like a good dose of antidepressants and a personal trainer would have gone a long ways to improve Oscar’s life.  It was difficult to feel sympathy for a middle-class nerd from New Jersey after the flashback to Abelard, Oscar’s grandfather, who ran afoul with Trujillo, was imprisoned and brutally tortured and, in the end, lost everything – home, family, fortune, businesses, and eventually his life.

Not My Cup Of Tea

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao had been on my “want to read” list for quite some time, ever since a friend mentioned how much she loved it, so I was looking forward to reading it. My friend’s taste, though, tends to be a bit different than mine and this book is one glaring example.  While I loved the writing itself – in places it was lyrical and evocative – I didn’t care for the style, the mixture of Spanish and slang, and I didn’t care at all about the main character Oscar.

Several of the novels we’ve read during this challenge have led me to further explore other books by the same author.  In fact, I am currently reading two such books – Us by David Nicholls (One Day, book #92) and Rules of Prey by John Sandford (Easy Prey, book #86) – and I have The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lustbader (The Bourne Betrayal, book #71) on my nightstand to start next.  I’m sorry to say that I won’t be looking for any other Junot Díaz books to add to that list.

Have you read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz? 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

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 69. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013) – Discussion begins January 9, 2018
Literary fiction, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader

The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  The Bourne Betrayal is Book #5 in the famous Bourne series first written by Robert Ludlum (Books 1-3) and then continued (with approval from the Ludlum estate) by Van Lustbader (Books 4-14).  Van Lustbader is also the author of many thriller and fantasy novels outside of the Bourne series.

Since this is book 5 in a series, there is some back story the author assumes the reader already knows.  If you’ve seen the movies, you have most of that back story.  I was a bit aggravated, though, that I had not read Book 4 in the series, which adds some to Bourne’s back story – I really wanted that tiny wee bit of knowledge, knowledge which this book gave clues to, but didn’t elaborate on.  Otherwise, though, this book does stand alone (if you’ve seen the movies or read the first three Ludlum books).

This post does contain spoilers.

The Bourne Betrayal* by Eric Van Lustbader

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Thrillers

I’m glad bestselling novels come in a variety of genres.  Our last book was a fun, sexy romance and here we jumped right into a non-stop action thriller.  And thrilling it is! By now almost everyone is familiar with the Jason Bourne character, thanks to the blockbuster movie series.  Before the movies, though, there were the Robert Ludlum novels, which I loved – all of his novels, not just the Bourne trilogy.  I was unaware that the Bourne series had been continued, though.  I guess I stopped looking for them when I heard that Ludlum had passed away.  So when I saw that this was a continuation authorized by the Ludlum estate, I was hopeful that The Bourne Betrayal would be worth reading – and it was!

In true thriller form, the chapters are short, the action is intense, the characters hop around the globe, the hero is almost superhuman, and sometimes the lines blur between the good guys and bad guys.  While Bourne is chasing the bad guys in Africa and Afghanistan, he gains a useful ally, Soraya, (female, of course) back at the CI in Washington, D.C, a necessity when he is deemed expendable by the Old Man (the head of the CI).  I like the introduction of Soraya – I’m sure she makes further appearances in the subsequent Bourne books, possibly even as a future love interest for Bourne and/or head of the CI.

The short chapters keep the reader bouncing between multiple characters, and each chapter reveals just ever so slightly more bits of the twisting and turning plot that the reader is compelled to read “just one more chapter” and then one more, and then one more.  I spent a couple of very long nights reading way past my bedtime because I simply could not put the book down.

Downsides

Many of the characters in The Bourne Betrayal have Arabic names and I always have difficulties keeping straight characters with unfamiliar names, be it Arabic or Russian or any of the other usual bad guys in spy adventure / thriller novels.  It’s a personal issue, but I was a good halfway through the book before I was able to keep straight the two sets of terrorist brothers.

There were a couple of times while reading where I almost laughed aloud, because so much happens to Bourne physically that he must be superhuman.  There’s no other way to explain how he can just keep going through knife wounds, accidents, attempted strangulations, and explosions.  But then again, this is Jason Bourne we’re talking about.  His superior training and past experiences – many of which he cannot remember – all make him into the ultimate secret agent, the one guy you need to save the world!

The Continuing Bourne Series

I can’t say that Van Lustbader’s writing is as exceptional as I remember Robert Ludlum’s writing.  It’s been far too long since I’ve read any Ludlum novels to be able to make an accurate comparison.  But I did enjoy The Bourne Betrayal and feet that Eric Van Lustbader carries on the intensity and plot twists that were key to the original Bourne trilogy.  I’ve already acquired Book 4, The Bourne Legacy, and queued up Book 6, The Bourne Sanction, to read, if that tells you anything.  If you like non-stop action, exotic locations, and a puzzle to solve, then you’ll enjoy reading The Bourne Betrayal.

 

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 70. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (2007) – Discussion begins December 26, 2017. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst

The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  As a romance, The Marriage Bargain provides the reader with a modern day tale of a marriage of convenience, a bargain agreed upon by two adults for reasons having nothing to do with love.  What can go wrong?

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Marriage Bargain* by Jennifer Probst


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Romances

If you are looking for a light-hearted romantic romp in some expensive surroundings with a good bit of sexual heat, then The Marriage Bargain might just be the ticket.  I usually prefer historical romances, as I’m often more interested in the historical settings and times than in the sexual heat of the story.  Even so, this story kept my attention to the end, with only the occasional skimming through the sex scenes.  The characters were engaging and there were enough twists and turns to keep me suitably engaged.

Cliches Everywhere

In a romance, cliches (or the Tropes that Roberta wrote about) are to be expected, but I thought Probst did a good job of presenting a fresh take on some of the more obvious cliches.  I enjoyed the interplay between animal-hating Nick and animal-loving Alexa, especially when Alexa tried to hide from Nick a room full of dogs from the animal shelter.  Seriously, what could go wrong there?

There was really only one section where I actually cringed.  Nick goes to a poetry reading and upon seeing Alexa across the room, thinks:

Her true sexiness lay in her ignorance of her effect on men.

It’s not the first time I’ve read such a statement.  Lately, though, when I see this and similar statements, I have to wonder why anyone would think that true sexiness can only be evident when the woman is least aware of her sexuality. The idea persists that a woman cannot be sexy and still worthy, that somehow knowing she is sexy diminishes her in some way.  Unfortunately, this dichotomy continues to persist in the romance novel world.

Billionaire Series

The Marriage Bargain is the first novel in The Billionaire Marriage trilogy.  I was interested enough to find out what happens to Nick’s sister and Alexa’s best friend Maggie May that I read the next in the series, The Marriage Trap, which I actually liked a bit more than The Marriage Bargain.  In The Marriage Trap we meet up again with Nick’s business partner, Michael Conte, and are then introduced to all of Michael’s Italian family, so there are quite a few more characters in this second novel of the series.  These new characters, plus the fact that this book was set mostly in Italy, made it all the more enjoyable.  I now need to read book 3 in the series, The Marriage Mistake, as it concerns Michael’s youngest sister, Carina Conte.  Writing a series where the characters are related is obviously a good way to ensure readership!

Do you enjoy reading romances?  If so, do you have a particular type you enjoy?

 

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 Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst? 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 71. The Bourne Betrayal by Eric Van Lustbader (2007) –  Discussion begins December 11, 2017
Thriller

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Gudenkauf’s novel hooked me from the first page of the Prologue, where young Calli appears out of the woods and speaks for the first time in three years.  Why is there a deputy sheriff on the scene? What happened in the woods that caused Calli to speak?  What did she say?  And why did she quit speaking in the first place?  Who is Petra and why does her father crumble to the ground when Calli speaks?  So many questions to be answered!

This post does contain spoilers.

 

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Clear Your Calendar

Don’t plan on getting anything else done when you pick up this book.  I stayed up way too late two nights in a row to finish this book.  Several times I put it down to try to sleep and lay there thinking about the characters, wondering what was going to happen next, and then ended up picking it back up to read more.  By presenting the story from the viewpoint of different characters, the plot line moves along quickly and the suspense builds throughout.  Several character options are presented as the possible bad guy and since each are plausible, you really cannot guess who “did it” until the very end.

Silence

At first it seems apparent that the word “silence” in the title refers to Calli Clark, who has been a selective mute for the past 3 years.  Calli’s silence is only the most obvious.  Several other characters employ various modes of silence in order to cope with untenable situations.  Calli’s mother Antonia creates in her mind alternate versions of the episodes of abuse she suffers at the hands of her husband, Griff, hiding from herself how truly bad her family situation is.  Sheriff Lewis kept silent years ago when Antonia told him that she was marrying Griff,  when he knew he should have spoken up and tried to prevent that marriage, and he continues to subsume his love for Antonia, to the detriment of his own marriage.

Difficult Topics

The Weight of Silence deals with some very uncomfortable topics – alcoholism, spousal abuse, kidnapping, child sexual assault – so if these topics are not something you can handle, then you should skip this book.  That said, Gudenkauf handles these difficult and uncomfortable topics in a very tasteful manner, if that’s possible.  Certain subjects are carefully alluded to without being graphic or gory.

Author Heather Gudenkauf hit a home run the first time out with her debut suspense novel.  I’ve recommended my local public library acquire all of her novels and look forward to reading them soon.

Disclaimer:  I had so very much more to say about this excellent book, but have been sick since Thanksgiving Day and my fuzzy brain isn’t working on all cylinders.  My apologies for an abbreviated review.

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:

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

Have you written about The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf? Feel free to add a link to your review to 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 72. The Marriage Bargain by Jennifer Probst (2012) – Discussion begins November 27, 2017
Romance

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan

A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Author Terry McMillan is known for her strong female characters, specifically African American women in professional and/or matriarchal roles.  If you’ve not read any of her books, I’m willing to bet you are still familiar with them, as many have been made into big-screen or made-for-television movies – Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Disappearing Acts, and A Day Late and a Dollar Short.

This post does contain spoilers.

 

A Day Late and a Dollar Short*


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Strong Matriarchal Voice

As Roberta noted in #BookBeginnings, the first voice we hear is matriarch Viola Price, who quickly establishes herself as a woman with strong opinions and the will to voice them. She doesn’t takes guff from anyone and that includes her estranged husband and her four children. Maybe it’s no accident that none of her children live near her or that her husband has moved out and found a new, younger, less strident woman to live with. Vi is about as subtle as a steamroller.

Even though I didn’t know any African American women when I was growing up, I instantly recognized the voices of a couple of my aunts.  The language Viola uses and her patterns of speech might be different, but her fearless and frank admonitions and advice to her children and extended family are similar to those I heard in my childhood from certain aunts.  If they thought you needed a verbal slap upside the head, they didn’t hesitate to give it to you, whether you had asked for it or not.  Don’t we all have at least one relative that calls it like it is?  I believe this is why McMillan’s characterization of Viola rings so true.  And even though Viola dies partway through the book, her presence is still a force to be reckoned with throughout the entire book.

Family Tree

McMillan provides Viola and Cecil Price’s family tree in the print copy of the books (there was not one in the Kindle version, much to my dismay) and, at the beginning, I  definitely referred to this tree often to keep track of all the characters.  Each chapter is presented from the viewpoint of another character, and they are all vivid, memorable, and believable.  Because of this, it doesn’t take long before you recognize each voice right from the first few sentences of each new chapter.

The family tree is our first clue to just how dysfunctional the Price family is.  Almost every member of the family has had multiple marriages and children from those multiple marriages.  As the book proceeds, the Price family members experience a seemingly unending series of crises – teen pregnancies, an abusive step-father, substance abuse, jail sentences, infidelity – and that’s just in the first few chapters!  Each family member does their best to hide these crises from their parents and siblings, presenting the “all is great” facade to the world.  Viola does her best to hold the splintering family together, but she knows she may not survive her next asthma attack.

For a while I found it difficult to believe that so much could happen to one family in such a short time, but then I lost myself in the characters and ceased caring if it was believable or not.  I only wanted to know what would happen next and if they would all come through the flames intact.

Letters from Viola

Even though Viola dies partway through the book, she remains a vital part of the story. I especially liked how McMillan brought Vi’s voice back in the last chapter.  The entire family gathers together at Thanksgiving and they read aloud the letters Vi wrote to her husband and children before her death.  It was an effective way to bring about a reconciliation.  And though the ending might be too neatly wrapped up, as a reader I appreciated the feel-good ending.  I wanted the Price family to have their kumbaya moment and McMillan came through.

I listed in my opening paragraph all the McMillan novels that have been made into movies.  Amazingly enough, I’ve never seen any of those movies, nor read any of her books.  I will be adding all of them to my “must see” and “must read” lists.  That’s how much I enjoyed A Day Late and a Dollar Short.  How about you?  Did you enjoy reading about Viola Price and her family?

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 73. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (2009) – Discussion begins November 13, 2017
Genre:  Suspense

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