Author: Karen Gibson (page 3 of 3)

#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.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review of Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Let’s take a look at Little Bee by Chris Cleave from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

 

Chris Cleave’s Little Bee


(*Amazon affiliate link)

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is the fourth book we’ve read from The Bestseller Code’s 100 Bestsellers List and yet again, we are presented with a novel that is quite unlike the previous books we’ve read.  Little Bee is a 16-year-old female refugee whom we first meet in an Immigration Detention Centre in England, although we don’t learn her exact age until quite late in the book. Little Bee’s story is a difficult one to read – you know something horrific happened in her Nigerian homeland, and while she can hardly bear to relate the events, facing those horrific memories, along with the resulting pain and emotional turmoil, is integral to her story.  She must face it all, and so, thus, must we.

The second main character is Sarah Summers, a thirtyish magazine editor living in a London suburb, whose life became intertwined with Little Bee’s when Sarah and her husband were “on holiday” in Nigeria.  She, too, has her own memories to face and life decisions to make.  Can Little Bee & Sarah deal with their past?  And, if so, how will their decisions impact their futures?

I cannot remember when I last felt this emotional while reading a novel.  I found myself reading Little Bee in small chugs, sometimes only a few paragraphs, and then setting it aside for hours or a day before picking it back up again.  I needed that time to deal with the swirl of emotions – dread, anxiety, fear, confusion, horror, anger – before I could pick the story back up and read some more.

The blurb on the back cover of the book tells very little about the story:

  We don’t want to tell you too much about this book.  It is a truly special story, and we don’t want to spoil it.  Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this:

It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific.  The story starts there, but the book doesn’t.  And it’s what happens afterward that is most important.  Once you have read it, you will want to tell everyone about it.  Please don’t tell them what happens.  The magic is in how it unfolds.

To be honest, I don’t remember anywhere in the book that was “extremely funny.”  The only levity I remember is from Sarah Summer’s four-year-old son, Charlie, who clings to the belief that, as Batman, he can overcome the “baddies” of the world.  Without Charlie, Little Bee would be impossible to read.

Little Bee is the story of any refugee from any land at any time.  It is certainly a story for our time.  And while the story is painful and difficult to read, the author leaves us with hope – if not for Little Bee herself, then for all the Little Bees and all the Charlies yet to come.

What did you think of Little Bee? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. Little Bee 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 96 on the list, The Last Child by John Hart (2009) – Discussion begins January 2, 2017.

 

#Bestseller Code100: Primary Colors by Joe Klein From A Reader’s Perspective

As part of our ongoing challenge to read through the 100 best of the bestsellers as listed in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, let’s take a look at Primary Colors, by Joe Klein, from a Reader’s Perspective.  (Discussion is rounded-up here.)

This post contains spoilers.

Joe Klein’s Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics*

(*Amazon affiliate link)

 

We have now read 3 of the 100 potential bestsellers listed in The Bestseller Code:

#100 – Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

#99 – State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

#98 – Primary Colors, by Joe Klein

Even though the algorithm discussed in The Bestseller Code considered the same parameters, these three books illustrated just how diverse a result can come out of those parameters.  Shutter Island is a mystery/thriller, where the weather and the sea (water) are a main theme and everything looks gray and feels damp and drearyState of Wonder is a literary adventure where the Amazon (both the river and the jungle) is a main theme, providing color with plants, animals, and the indigenous tribes.

Primary Colors, a political novel, is infused with its own distinctive color colorful language, colorful descriptions of rooms, and colorful descriptions of the character’s clothing.  The story is told mainly through dialogue – so much dialogue!  As an introvert, I was almost overwhelmed with the onslaught of dialogue.   And then there’s the number of characters introduced – so many that the book really should come with a list of them.

In Primary Colors, Henry Burton becomes an integral member of Jack Stanton’s presidential campaign.   Jack Stanton is the Democratic governor of a small southern state, the penultimate politician, who has aspired to be President all his life.  His wife Susan, whom he met in law school, helps direct his campaign.   Is this sounding familiar?  If not, consider that the book was written in the mid-90s, a couple of years after William Jefferson Clinton’s first successful run for the Oval Office.  Joe Klein was a political journalist for 25 years when he wrote Primary Colors, and it is evident that he had the inside scoop on the world of politics and how politicians think and operate.

Reading Primary Colors right after this year’s Presidential Election was almost surreal – then again, this year’s election WAS surreal.  Maybe it was the timing, but I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would.  I gained some insight into the synergistic relationship between politicians and the media.  And it also gave me pause to consider how we American’s love to build up our political candidates and then just as quickly turn on them, finding all the faults and flaws, and then magnifying them to the extreme.  I don’t know how politicians handle the scrutiny.  And does that scrutiny really gain us anything – do the very best candidates withstand the scrutiny?  Or only those that have the toughest skins?

The version of Primary Colors that I read had an afterword by the author.  The last few paragraphs of the afterword were most noteworthy:

People often ask me what the Clintons thought of the book.  I’m not sure.  The president did ask me once, after one of the end-of-administration-interviews he’d granted me, why I’d written it.  “Well, I saw it as a tribute to larger-than-life politicians,” I said, which was the truth.

The first lady snorted derisively.  “Well, First Lady,” I said to her, “would you rather have a larger-than-life president or a smaller-than-life president?”

She shrugged in agreement, and I pressed the case: “And larger-than-life politicians have larger-than-life strengths and larger-than-life weaknesses.”

Mrs. Clinton nodded at me with a twinkle, then looked over at her husband, and said, “That’s for sure.”

 Like I said, given this past year’s presidential election, surreal.

Related posts:

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

 

You can also join us on social media:

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

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 97 on the list, Little Bee by Chris Cleave (2008) – Discussion begins December 19, 2016.

#Bestseller Code100: State of Wonder, A Reader’s Review

This post contains spoilers about State of Wonder. Join the main discussion here.

As part of our challenge to read through the 100 Bestseller List presented in The Bestseller Code, I read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (Book #99 on the list).  In State of Wonder, Dr. Marina Singh works for a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota.  The story begins with her boss/lover, Mr. Fox, reading her a letter stating that her co-worker and friend, Anders Eckmann, has died of a fever at the company’s research site in the remote Amazon jungle.  Dr. Eckmann was sent to Brazil to discern the progress of research into a fertility drug, research led by Dr. Annick Swenson.  Since Dr. Swenson was an early mentor of Marina’s, Mr. Fox believes that Marina will be able to complete Eckmann’s mission and bring back the information.  So, he sends Marina to Brazil.

*Affiliate link

This book couldn’t have been more different from our previous read, Shutter Island, #100 on the list.   Whereas Shutter Island grabbed my attention from the very beginning, I felt quite literally like I was slogging through the Amazon jungle, hacking a pathway through the first third of State of Wonder.  Was this the author’s intent, leading the reader to feel they had left the modern world behind for the slower pace of the jungle?  If so, it didn’t work for me.  Instead, I found myself skimming the story, trying to fast forward in hopes of discovering a reason to keep reading.

Marina eventually makes contact with Dr. Swenson, and from there the pace of the story picks up.  And yet, I still didn’t care.  I found the main character, Marina, oddly passive throughout most of the story, letting others set the course of her life, as though she had no opinions of her own and didn’t care which way they turned her or where they led her.  It was difficult to feel strongly about her in any fashion, other than to maybe want to give her a strong shake and say, “Wake up!  It’s your life!”

When I finished reading, I was in a “state of wonder” – wondering what the story was about and why I’d read it.  Wondering how the computer algorithm from The Bestseller Code could have chosen this book, which was so different from Shutter Island, as a bestseller.  Obviously I missed the point of the story somewhere, possibly taking a wrong turn down a tributary only to be lost in the jungle.  So I picked the book back up and starting rereading it at Chapter Five, which is where Dr. Swenson appears.  And I’m glad I did that.  Several of the story lines became clearer to me on the second read through; I paid closer attention to conversations, and found some answers I had previously missed.

Ann Patchett explores several important topics in State of Wonder – the impact of the modern world upon the Amazon and its inhabitants, the priority pharmaceutical companies place on developing new drugs for profits over the beneficial impact upon humanity, the need humans have to feel that they belong culturally, and more.  It’s all there, if you care to cut through the vines and peer through the murky waters.

Will I read another Ann Patchett novel?  Normally, I’d say no.  But I do wonder if all her books are similar in character development, plot pace, etc.  I’m open to suggestions.  Post your favorite Anne Patchett novel in the comments, along with why you recommend it.  And if State of Wonder is your favorite, kindly tell me what I missed!

 

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 98 on the list, Primary Colors by Anonymous, Joe Klein (1996) – Discussion begins December 5, 2016.

#Bestseller Code100: Number 100 Shutter Island Review

This post contains spoilers about Shutter Island. Join the main discussion here.

Shutter Island: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
 

 

Shutter Island: A Novel, by Dennis Lehane, is #100 on the 100 Book List created by the computer model described in The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers (see Bestseller Code 100 post).  Host Roberta will be reviewing this book later from the writer’s perspective, but today I will review it from a reader’s perspective.

I’ll admit up front that this is not a book I would have picked off the shelf to read.  The cover graphics on the paperback are menacing and The New York Times review blurb begins with, “An eerie, startlingly original story…. A deft, suspenseful thriller….”  In fact, I’m glad I read it first on the Kindle so I didn’t see all that before I began reading.  I usually steer clear of psychological thrillers, having read far too many of them a few decades ago when I had young children.  I decided at the time that any book with the words “psychological” or “thriller” as a description was ultimately not good for my peace of mind.

That said, I really liked Shutter Island.  It sucked me in quickly and by the time I was halfway through, I couldn’t put it down.  Duties were neglected!

Teddy Daniels was a great character – strong, flawed, human.  I believed him. I believed in him.  And that made the twist towards the end all the more upsetting.  I didn’t want him to be an inmate!  He was the hero, the one who would escape the island and expose to the world the horrors occurring there.

Then Roberta pointed out in her post, The Narrator in Shutter Island, that Teddy was not the narrator of this story.  I had forgotten there was a Prologue!  I quickly went back and reread it.

Does the knowledge that Dr. Lester Sheehan is the narrator change the ending?  Probably not.  Either way Teddy/Andrew undergoes the lobotomy.  The only thing left unclear is if Teddy is really Andrew.  Or is Teddy actually the Marshall and he failed to escape the island.

What do you think?

 

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