Author: Karen Gibson (page 2 of 3)

#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.

#BestsellerCode100: A Reader’s Review of The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

 

The first line in The Horse Whisperer sets up the tone of the book quite well:

There was death at its beginning as there would be death again at its end.

After reading that line, how can you not read quickly through the first chapter to see who is going to die and how?

Horses And More

This story has all the components needed to suck you in: forbidden love, a life-threatening accident, a ruggedly handsome cowboy (Tom, the horse whisperer), a driven professional woman seeking healing for her daughter and herself (Annie), a teenage daughter in emotional pain (Grace), a supportive husband who fears he’s losing his family (Robert), and the big sky of Montana. Oh, and horses.  Lots of horses.

While I’m not exactly a horse person, I liked almost everything about this novel.  The characters were multi-dimensional, the storyline compelling, and the descriptions of Montana made me want to hop in the car and go see it for myself.

Initially I was shocked and angry with the story resolution.  I wanted a fairytale ending, which, of course, wasn’t possible.  “There would be death again at its end,” remember? (By the end of the book, I’d forgotten that tidbit of information.)  The only question was, who would die?

Philosophy Of Life

Early in the book we learn Tom’s philosophy of life:

“I guess that’s all forever is,” his father replied. “Just one long trail of nows. And I guess all you can do is try and live one now at a time without getting too worked up about the last now or the next now.” It seemed to Tom as good a recipe for life as he’d yet heard.

In the next to the last chapter, Tom is brought face to face by the “next now” that his living “one now at a time” has created.  Author Evans is pretty clear that Tom had options – he’s just not clear why Tom made the choice that he did.  I was left wondering if Tom was really being altruistic in his final scene or if he took the easy way out of what had become a very messy situation.

Notwithstanding the ending, I really liked this novel.  The writing was lyrical and I highlighted many quotes throughout that I thought had real depth to them.  Here are a couple:

In chapter eight, Tom explains to his soon-to-be first wife why he is leaving college and going back to being a cowboy in Montana:

“When I was working as a hand, I just couldn’t wait to get back in at night to whatever I was reading. Books had a kind of magic. But these teachers here, with all their talk, well . . . Seems to me if you talk about these things too much, the magic gets lost and pretty soon talk is all there is. Some things in life just . . . are.”

Acceptance

In chapter twenty-two, Tom has just forced Grace’s horse Pilgrim through a process that both Annie & Grace perceived as emotionally cruel and designed to break Pilgrim’s spirit.  Tom wants them to understand what really happened:

“He [Pilgrim] had the choice to go on fighting life or to accept it…. It was hard as hell, but he could have gone on. Gone on making himself more and more unhappy. But what he chose to do instead was to go to the brink and look beyond. And he saw what was there and he chose to accept it.”

“Sometimes what seems like surrender isn’t surrender at all. It’s about what’s going on in our hearts. About seeing clearly the way life is and accepting it and being true to it, whatever the pain, because the pain of not being true to it is far, far greater.”

Perhaps, at the end, Tom was simply seeing clearly the way life had to be for those he loved and being true to it.

 

Have you read The Horse Whisperer? 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.

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.

90. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (2012) – Discussion begins March 27, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review One Day by David Nicholls

One Day by David Nicholls is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

David Nicholls’ One Day*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

One Day follows the lives of Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley over the course of about twenty years, beginning July 15, 1988, the day they both graduate from university.  In the opening scene, they are lying in bed together, discussing the future and what they see for themselves now that college is over.  Even though they seem to have little in common and their lives take divergent paths, “Dex” and “Em” maintain a connection that is revealed as each subsequent chapter covers the events on the same date each year, July 15th.

It was interesting to read this book right after Olive Kitteridge.

In Olive Kitteridge, the main character, Olive, is revealed through her interactions with others and her own inner thoughts.  Each chapter introduces new characters and settings that in some way impact Olive, an ungainly and cranky woman who has difficulty finding her place within her community and difficulty connecting on an intimate, emotional level with those closest to her, including her own husband and son.  It’s only at the very end of the book that Olive realizes she has let opportunities for intimacy pass by and decides she doesn’t want to be alone anymore.  Unfortunately, I never really connected with Olive and thus didn’t really care at the end what her self-revelations were.

In One Day, we learn about Dexter and Emma through their own thoughts and actions and their interplay with each other in each chapter.  In the very first chapter, where their relationship begins with what Dexter intended to be a one-night stand, we see their short-comings, their fears, their loneliness.  For the most part, they already know who they are.  Throughout the book we see how they navigate adulthood and try to follow their dreams.  We follow the ups and downs of their relationship and wonder if they will ever admit to each other the true depth of their feelings.

I was able to connect with Dexter and Emma.  Their uncertainties, their dreams, their actions, all seemed believable.  I’ve felt them; I know friends and relatives that have done and acted similarly.  What wasn’t clear to me, and wasn’t revealed until the very end of the book, is why their bond formed on that very first day.  Exactly what did Emma see in Dexter that led her to hang on to their friendship through the difficult times (although she did ultimately break off communications for a couple of years).  Those last chapters in the book revealed new depths to Dexter, depths we might not have believed if we had seen them at the beginning of the book, given his subsequent actions.

I really liked One Day and thought it was the book that Olive Kitteridge wanted to be.

Both Olive Kitteridge and One Day were made into movies and I’m looking forward to watching both and comparing the movies to the books.  Have you read the books?  Seen the movies?  Tell me what you thought of either, or both!

 

What did you think of One Day? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

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 91 on the list, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (1995) – Discussion begins March 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009.  It was reviewed with phrases such as “Perceptive, deeply empathetic,” (O: The Oprah Magazine); “Glorious, powerful stuff,” (USA Today); “gutsy emotional punch,” (Entertainment Weekly); and “Mesmerizing,” (Tampa Tribune).   And, it was liked so well that it was made into an HBO mini-series.  Mesmerizing?  Really?! Did they read the same Olive Kitteridge that I read?

Olive Kitteridge consists of a series of short stories involving the residents of fictional Crosby, Maine.  The stories span twenty-five years and each story introduces new characters; however, in each story Olive Kitteridge herself makes an appearance.  Olive is a retired middle-school math teacher who is married to the town’s pharmacist, Henry.  Olive and Henry have one son, Christopher, who appears in a couple of the thirteen chapters.  Olive is a very difficult person to like.  She’s gruff, abrupt, and emotionally volatile. In some of the short stories we see glimmers of more positive characteristics, but throughout the book, Olive rarely takes the high road in any situation and rarely sees the positive in any situation.

Small Town Lives

The small town lives that author Elizabeth Strout presents are sad, depressed, and lonely – lives filled with jealousy and adultery.  Only rarely are we given glimpses of love, hope, faith, happiness.  I have spent the majority of my life living in small town America and it saddens me to think that people reading Olive Kitteridge will believe that fictional Crosby is representative of small town life.  Yes, people in small towns can be petty and it is impossible to avoid the rumor mill.  Adultery does exist, as does suicide, another running theme throughout Olive Kitteridge.  But my experience is that small town America is also filled with hopeful, helping, optimistic, and loving people.  It is possible in small town America to live a good and happy life, positively affecting those around you and bettering the world.  Olive Kitteridge shows us none of that.

It was only the very last chapter that I felt made the book possibly worth reading.  In the last chapter, Olive overcomes her fears and loneliness to reach out to another, admitting that she needs love, even admitting to herself that she squandered the love she had with her husband Henry.  Only in the last chapter did I feel there was any real character growth.  Maybe it took twelve chapters to show us the true Olive, warts and all, so we could appreciate her choice in the final chapter?  For me, it wasn’t enough.

 

What did you think of Olive Kitteridge? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

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 92 on the list, One Day by David Nicholls (2009) – Discussion begins February 27, 2017.  This books is classified as Contemporary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Stieg Larsson first introduces us to Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (check out my review at Musings, Mischief, and Mayhem), where Lisbeth and Mikael team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of 16-year-old girl more than forty years ago.  The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the saga, with Lisbeth eventually confronting her father, the terror of her childhood, with disastrous consequences.  In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Larsson pulls the various story lines from the preceding books together for a thrilling conclusion.

When I first saw this book on our list, I knew I would be reading all three books in the trilogy for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hate reading books out of order
  2. To compare the three books to figure out why only the third book showed up on our list

Each of the books in this trilogy became bestsellers, so why did the computer “kick out” this particular book as the best of the best and not the first two in the trilogy?

After reading all three books, I believe the answer is in the level of human interaction that Lisbeth achieves in this third book.  More than one character throughout the books made the observation that Lisbeth might be autistic.  She has extreme difficulties making and maintaining friendships and in sharing personal details about herself with others.  Partly this is a learned response – during her childhood, authorities repeatedly ignored her statements and requests.  Even worse, there was a government group that conspired to incarcerate her in a mental institution as a preteen in order to protect the identity of her father.  But even Lisbeth knows she’s different; she just doesn’t view friendships and social norms the same as others do.  She expends great energy, time, and expense in the first two books protecting her personal privacy to the point of anonymity.  Yes, that’s partly due to safety issues, but also because that’s how she prefers it.  Even those closest to her have learned they will never really know anything personal about her.

Personal Crisis → Growth?

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, though, Lisbeth undergoes a trial by fire that brings her to a personal crisis.  She must decide whether to take the advice of others, to rely upon others, to resolve her legal issues.  Without their help, it’s certain that she will end up incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of her life.   Only with their help does she have a chance to be free.  And then when she achieves that legal freedom, Lisbeth goes through more personal conflict before she ultimately admits to herself that she has friends, that she needs friends, that she wants friends, and opens herself and her life up to them.

Larsson’s trilogy is Lisbeth Salander’s story, and it is in this third, and final, book that we see real character growth in her. Without this growth, even though the series wraps up nicely, we would not care as much for Lisbeth.  If she continued her solitary life, continued to ignore and block out of her life those who helped her, all she went through in the three books would have been pointless.  She might as well have allowed those conspiring against her to lock her back up.  Instead, Larsson allows Lisbeth to open the door to a potentially more fulfilling life.  And that, I believe, is reason enough for book three to make the 100 Books List.

What did you think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

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 93 on the list, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

Let’s take a look at The Mill River Recluse: A Novel by Darcie Chan from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse: A Novel*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Mill River Recluse, by Darcie Chan, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

Mary McAllister has lived alone for sixty years, rarely leaving her house or meeting with anyone other than her only friend, the parish priest.  From her house overlooking the sleepy Vermont town of Mill River, she pretends to herself that she is a member of the community.  But she’s not, and most of the residents of Mill River think of her as rather peculiar, if they think of her at all.  Everyone in this story has a secret to keep, some benign, some not so benign.  In the end, a feeling of real community is kindled once all the secrets are revealed.

So far, all the books we’ve read have been intense, evoking strong emotions from the reader – either you really liked or really disliked the book. The Mill River Recluse is the first book in this challenge that left me feeling rather disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong!  It is a nice read and leaves you feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside.  The small amount of violence is really rather subdued if you compare it to our previous book, The Last Child by John Hart.  I was left feeling like it could have been much more, though, than just a nice read.

Amazon lists The Mill River Recluse as a psychological thriller.  As such, it leaves a lot to be desired.  It seemed more like your run-of-the-mill episode of a seventies detective series, not much in the way of character development for the bad guy (so much for “psychological”) and certainly not much of a “thriller” in his actions.  He comes across more a bumbling fool than a terror.

By now you might be asking yourself why this book is on the 100 Books List.  I know I was.  So I pulled out my notes from The Bestseller Code and checked what the computer algorithm looks for when choosing a likely bestseller.

  • 3 or 4 central themes, with the most frequently occurring and important theme involving human closeness, followed by home, work, kids in school, and modern technologies.  The Mill River Recluse is 100% about human closeness, both at home and at work, and also include interaction with kids.  Checkmark on this one!
  • Plot lines with a regular beating rhythm.  The chapters in The Mill River Recluse alternate between the 1940s and present day, building the backstory of Mary while at the same time introducing us to those who live in present day Mill River.  Checkmark this one!
  • Style. The author should have an understanding of everyday language, i.e. working experience in journalism or similar field.  Darcie Chan worked in the legal field before becoming a successful author. Checkmark this one!

So maybe the computer did pick a winner.  The fact that this book was on the New York Times bestseller list for several months backs up the computer’s choice.  Just because I think this book doesn’t have the literary or emotional “heft” it should have to belong on the 100 Books List is the fault of my own expectations.  Obviously, a heart-warming, feel-good book can be a bestseller if it is well written.  After all, bestsellers aren’t all thriller / mysteries or literary adventures.

What did you think of The Mill River Recluse Child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Mill River Recluse landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

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 94 on the list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (Originally published in 2007) – Discussion begins January 30, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Last Child by John Hunt

Let’s take a look at The Last Child by John Hunt from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

John Hunt’s The Last Child*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Last Child, by John Hunt, is the fifth book we have read for the 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Like Shutter Island, the first book we read, The Last Child is a Mystery / Thriller, but that’s where the similarity ends.   In the first book, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, is sent to Shutter Island, a hospital for the criminally insane, to locate a lost inmate.  By the end of the book, though, we come away uncertain about who Teddy really is – the strong, capable law enforcement agent or an inmate himself who created his own reality as a way to deflect dealing with a tragedy in his life.

In The Last Child, Johnny Merrimon is a thirteen-year-old boy who has endured unimaginable losses and pain over the past year – his twin sister, Alyssa, was kidnapped and never found; his father, unable to handle the grief, ran off; his mother, Katherine, has withdrawn into a haze of drugs and alcohol; and his mother’s boyfriend physically and emotionally abuses both Katherine and Johnny.  And yet, through it all, Johnny exhibits perseverance, dogged determination, and an inner strength that seems to elude most of the adults in his life.  Johnny believes that his twin is still alive, and when a second girl is kidnapped, Johnny redoubles his search for her.  This search unearths dark secrets in this small North Carolinian town, secrets others are willing to kill to keep.

Author John Hunt covers a number of adult topics through the character of young Johnny – grief, abuse, sex predators, family love, hope, faith, friendship, sin, courage – topics we don’t want to think that a thirteen-year-old should have to deal with, and yet I found Johnny,  both his thoughts and actions, very believable.  I felt his pain, understood his determination, marveled at his unfailing belief that his sister was still alive, and hoped beyond hope that he would be able to find her.

I won’t reveal the outcome, but I did appreciate the fact that all the loose ends were neatly tied up at the end of the book.  Likely that is one reason I thought The Last Child was the best of the five bestsellers we have read so far – no open-ended, “what to you think happened?” ending.

I also really appreciated Hunt’s ability to write about his native state of North Carolina with such great intimacy.  Many scenes in the book take place in the countryside – riverbeds, forests, abandoned homesteads, swamps, old cemeteries – and his writing took me back to childhood hikes through woods, wading in the stream behind our house, and finding refuge in a nearby cemetery.  He evoked the smell of a decaying forest bed, the slippery danger of moss along the rocky stream, the sudden warning silences of birds in the trees.  The only other author I’ve read recently that really made me “feel” the setting was Pat Conroy with his Prince of Tides.

The Last Child most certainly belongs on this list of 100 Bestsellers, and it will most certainly NOT be the last book I read by John Hunt.  I’ve added all of his books to my Goodreads “want to read” list and intend to find the time to read them soon.

What did you think of The Last Child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. The Last Child landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.

 

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 95 on the list, The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan (2011) – Discussion begins January 16, 2017.

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