Books Read in 2016
I lost my original copy of this page, so had to recreate it.
I couldn't find
reviews for all of the books.

 

Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion


Return to Freedom by Alec Clayton
Fans of Garrison Keilor's "Lake Woebegone" stories will love this book. It has the same comfortable home-spun narrative by a writer who knows how to use words beautifully. This is Book 2 in Clayton's "Freedom Trilogy" (sadly, I did not read Book 1 first). Residents of the small Mississippi town of Freedom have been severely affected by a hurricane, which brought death and destruction, but the town rebuilds and the bulk of the book takes place a year after the hurricane and follows principally the lives of three families, who move into a newly built condo as they try to get their lives back together.

There's the movie idol coming home for a break from the hurly burly of Hollywood, the Preacher with a Past who runs a very successful group for the town's teens, a coffee shop owner who learns a lot about her sexuality, a traveler in a trailer who changes her life, a melodramatic teenager, a grieving family with an alcoholic mother, and a parade of other unique individuals.

Characters are well drawn and well fleshed out so that you really get to know them, though there are so many of them you sometimes feel like you need a cast of characters to refer to. As in Lake Woebegone, a lot of the action takes place at the town coffee shop, a good place to gossip about your neighbors. The Big Scandal doesn't take place until about 3/4 of the way through the book and while riveting, doesn't last long, but changes everyone involved.


Talking to Alzheimer's by Claudia Strauss


Memory Man by David Baldacci
This must be my month for school shootings. A mass shooting at a school is at the heart of this story, and when I finished it and started another book (by Jodi Picolt), that also starts with a mass shooting at a school. Amos Decker returns from a police stake-out to find his wife, brother-in-law, and 6 year old daughter slaughtered in their home. This sets off a tremendous slide into oblivion as he quits his job, eats himself into gargantuan proportions, loses his home and becomes a street person, working occasionally as a private detective. Because of a terrible accident he endured when hit during a high school football game, his brain has changed and he is no longer able to forget anything, so every detail of his family's murder is as live as when he first discovered them.

More than a year later, a man walks into the police department and confesses to the murder of Decker's family. At about the same time there is a mass murder at the local high school and Decker is asked to help with the investigation. As he works the case, he begins to suspect the massacre and the murder of his family are two connected events. The search for the killer (or killers) takes turns you would never expect before the case is solved.


Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
"...we live in a twisted world where everything, both big and small, is subject to our surveillance, and where anything worth money will always be exploited." If there is ever a thought which hits home, it's this one from this book. By the time you finish Spider's Web, you'll be convinced that computer hacking is child's play and that somehow not only Big Brother, but Big Sister and the rest of the family know everything you do every day. It will make today's headlines seem much more credible.

Lagercrantz has written the next book in the late Stieg Larson's Millennium series, which began with "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It has been so long since I read the first 3 books that I can't really say whether he captured Larson's flavor or not. I just know that once you get past the endless names of Swedish streets that you can't pronounce and gloss over the technicalities of how everything in the world (it seems) gets hacked, there's a darn good story here, which when it finally grabs you, keeps you reading until you've finished.

This time it begins with the murder of Frans Balder, who is on the verge of a discovery that will change the world, which he is about to reveal to Larson's hero Mikael Blomkvist, Sweden's most popular newspaper columnist, when he is murdered. As the investigation moves forward, all seems to rest on Balder's autistic son, who holds the key to uncover everything, locked away inside his brain. As usual, Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander communicate via computer and together they are drawn into a world of spices, criminal, assassins, and Lisbeth's own sister. And Lisbeth discovers that the young boy is not as uncommunicative as people have thought, but is actually brilliant, perhaps on a level of her own brilliance.

A promising start for continuance of the Millennium series.


Merle's Door by Ted Karasote


Home by Harlan Coben
Myron's back! Win is Back! Esperanza and Big Cyndi are back! I don't know if this is the start of more Myron Bolitar books (I thought the last one was The Last One), but this one was wonderful, and such a great welcome back to old friends. Under an overpass somewhere in London, Win sees a boy who looks very much like one of two 6 year olds who had been kidnapped 10 years before (one of them was his nephew). He calls Myron to help search for the boys, which takes the pair into the dark world of child trafficking in England and to all sorts of unexpected places. So much fun to watch them at work again, chasing guys like "Fat Gandhi" through the dark underbelly of London and other spots around the world, unraveling the mystery of where the boys have been for 10 years...and could they find the second boy, after rescuing the first. The epilogue to this story is one of my very favorite Coben chapters ever, but don't try to read it first or you might not understand it at all.


The Cat Who Went to Paris by Peter Gethers
This has nothing to do with the delightful "Cat Who..." mysteries by Lillian jackson Braun. This is the feline equivalent to "Merle's Door" by Ted Kerasote, which I am also reading. Peter Gethers, an American publisher, screenwriter and author of television shows, films, newspaper and magazine articles, and novelist; the author of several books, was a self-confessed cat hater until he was given an adorable Scottish Fold kitten, whom he called Norton (after Ed Norton of *The Honeymooners*). It was love at first sight and the two became inseparable. Gethers even carried the light-weight cat around New York in his pocket and later n a special bag he could wear over his shoulder. As Merle, this was a special cat, who understood more and behaved unusually, made friends everywhere. The book is an easy read and just a delight reading about Norton's and Gethers' adventures together. I was afraid I would be reduced to tears at the end, but fortunately it is not Norton who dies.


You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams by Alan Cumming
I made a huge mistake with this book. I saw Cumming on TV talking about this compilation of snapshots (believe me, he's no "photographer"!) and anecdotes from his life. It sounded like fun and I decided to order it. I thought I was ordering the real book, because I knew a book of photos on my old, old Kindle would be terrible. I waited and waited for the book to arrive but it never did. When I went to check on the order, I discovered I had accidentally ordered the Kindle version. I wasn't about to reorder the regular book, so I read the whole thing in one afternoon at the book store.

As I figured it would be, it's a crappy collection of photos--too small, too fuzzy, too dull, black and white. You can see most of most of them, but it wasn't what I hoped it would be -- my own stupid fault. However, the stories he tells are no surprise that they are well written, clever, sometimes bawdy telling tales of downright debauchery, but then I would have been surprised if they did not. That sort of thing does not bother me. It's a fun backstage look at TV and Broadway, and some warm stories of the people in his life that he loves or has loved. The stories of his dog were particularly sweet. Mostly, I found it an entertaining read. Now I want to find it in a real book store and flip through the photos to see what I missed!


Being There by Jerzy Kosinski
I saw this movie years ago, when it first came out and was pleased to get the audio book. I thought it would explain the unusual ending in the movie.

Chance has lived his entire life in the home of a wealthy man. He has his own apartment in the basement and he takes care of the garden. It is hinted that he seems to be slow mentally. He has never left the house. When the man dies, the executors of his estate are confused by Chance. There is no record of him ever living in the house, and all they can tell him is he must leave. All he knows of the world is what he has seen on television. As he wanders rather aimlessly, there is an accident and he is hit by the limousine of a wealthy man, whose wife brings him home to recover They understand him to say his name is Chauncey Gardner and his simple responses to questions, especially when he talks about a garden (which listeners take as a metaphor for life) he is seen as brilliant. Ultimately this is a satirical look at American media and how we are fooled by it. But in the end, it differed significantly from the movie, so I never did find out what the end of the movie meant.


Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn
Vince Flynn was a master of suspense and action. What a loss to the reading world his premature death in his mid-40s of prostate cancer. Flynn's hero is Mitch Rapp, a CIA counterterrorism operative, who saves the world in each book. In this book, the White House is captured by a group of terrorists. The president is hustled off to the famous "bunker" but many innocent civilians are taken hostage. The terrorists set up bombs all over the While House and bring in a safe cracker to get into the bunker (which will take a few days). With the assistance of a former White House employee (now retired), Rapp moves through the White House trying to free the President and keep the hostages safe, but a high-level government person is working against him.

This book keeps you on edge throughout most of it and I give it highest ratings.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I saw the first trailer for the move made from this book and figured that I'd better hurry up and read it before I learn too much from buzz about the movie. This book has been compared to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and I guess I can see the similarities. "Gone Girl" tells the story from two points of view, the girl who disappeared and her husband, and the closer it comes to the denouement the more intense it gets.

This book is told from the point of view of 3 women, Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Rachel rides the train to London every day because she is embarrassed let anyone know that she was fired months ago for coming to work drunk. Her train passes by a certain house and she builds a fantasy around the man and woman who live there, creating a fantasy life for what she assumes is the happy couple she sees through the windows and on their deck. She is interested in them because a house nearby is the home of her ex-husband and his new wife (Anna) and Rachel is still in love with her ex, Tom, and determined to get him back.

When Megan disappears, Rachel has an uneasy feeling that she knows something about the disappearance, but was very drunk that night and can't remember what happened. She intrudes herself into the investigation by giving the police what she thinks is important information.

Rachel's mostly unsuccessful battles with alcohol make her a totally unbelievable witness, and a nuisance for both Tom and Anna, as well as a support for Megan's husband Scott, whom she allows to think she was a confidante of Megan.

The suspense builds slowly but inexorably and I was glued to my seat for the last quarter of the book as the plot twists and turns in all sorts of unexpected directions. I'm glad I read it before seeing more about the movie (which I probably don't want to see, now that I know that plot!)


Caught by Harlan Coben
I don't know if my problem with this book was the book itself or the narrator of the audio version. It certainly is an intriguing story, finding a young girl who has disappeared, but the plot had more twists than a zig zag road through the mountains. Not that this is a bad thing. It certainly kept me reading. But in the end, this was not my favorite Coben book, though it was a nice surprise to find several characters from the Myron Bolitar series popping up to help move the story. The original disappearance leads to the suspicion of a plot against a bunch of roommates from Princeton many years ago, all of whom became successful, all of whom underwent devastating rumors which ruined their businesses. The two events are connected, but I didn't figure out till the end why.


Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain by Scott Adams
Scott Adams is the cartoonist who creates Dilbert. This is a book of over 150 pieces, I think from his Blog. Reviews on the back cover compare him to Dave Barry and say he is almost as funny. I have read Dave Barry and he's OK, but I've never found him laugh out loud funny, which I did with Adams' book, many times in the 150+ pieces, on everything from lunar real estate to serial killers, not to mention politics, religion, dating, underwear, alien life, and the menace of car singing. The chapter on "My History Learning" is very funny, talking about Jesus turds. And his take on the presidential election is perfect, if depressing: "We're judging how a candidate will handle a nuclear crisis by how well his staff creates campaign ads. It's a completely nonsensical process."


Third Helpings by Calvin Trillin
The capsule reviews on the back of this 1983 book say things like "this is the quintessential book for people who love to eat...and laugh." and "You'll laugh out loud."

Well...maybe people were more easily entertained in 1983. I didn't laugh out loud. Not once. I did smile several times. It's a quick, fun read (that I could finish in a day at the book store) which cover such things as the reason for replacing the Thanksgiving turkey with spaghetti carbonara, how to read menu Japanese for traveling to Japan, and an exhaustive comparison review of carnival fair, mostly Anthony Bourdain's favorite food--tubed meat. It was a fun read, but not side splittingly funny. Maybe so many similar books have been written since 1983 that it just pales in comparison.


Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth
Ever wonder what the Phantom did after Christine dumped him to marry her handsome suitor? Well, this book answers that question. In fact, it begins before his years underground, in the Paris Opera House, introduces us to the woman who changed his life, and takes us along on his journey to the United States, where he develops an empire and becomes the Donald Trump of his day (all through a surrogate, so he never had to appear in public). The woman who changed his life very early, also changes his life at the end of her life and gives him, perhaps the greatest gift anyone had ever given him. A fun, fairly short read.


With a Feather in my Nose by Billie Burke
Definitely dated but a delightful story behind the Good Witch of the North. Don't look for any Oz trivia. It is "covered" in one paragraph, but you'll learn a LOT about Florenz Zigfeld. I loved it.


God Save the Child by Robert P. Parker
This is Book 2 in Parker's Spencer series (only 25 more to go). Spencer is contacted by Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett, distraught over the disappearance of their 15 year old son, Kevin. They want to hire Spencer to find him. There are all sorts of problems, writing-wise, with this book. There is immediate animosity with the police who threaten to arrest him if he interferes with their investigation, for no reason, he never asks the parents anything personal about the boy and little things like that. But let it pass. The plot is good. Parker goes into excruciatingly complete detail about every scene. By the time you've finished three chapters, you are convinced you could find the kitchen and brew yourself a cup of coffee just by having read the description of the house. But let that pass, too. It became annoying, but the plot is good.

The Bartletts are not going to win Parent of the Year award. Once having hired Spencer, Mrs. Bartlett is more concerned about her personal appearances and social engagements than hearing about her son. In fact, when Spencer finds where the boy is and gets Mrs. Bartlett to come with him to pick Kevin up, her first response is "I can't leave the house looking like this" and has to go change and put on fresh makeup. At one point a murder takes place and a body of a friend is found in the living room of the Bartlett home. Mrs. Bartlett's first response is "Oh no! I have 65 people coming for a party tonight!" (bear in mind she is still without her son at this point.)

However, the party scene had one of my very favorite comments about a mess following a party: "the detritus of jollity." I must work that into my vocabulary.

Despite my complaints about the writing, the story kept me reading for 3 hours until I finished it.... It has a little sex, a few drugs, some rock and roll, some bad guys, some good guys who turn out to be bad guys and in the end Kevin turns up...but definitely not the way anybody expected.


Airframe by Michael Crichton
I had a weird relationship about this story of the investigation of the accident of a big airplane that killed 3 people and wounded 56 more. There was a point when I was going to start this review warning people that if they read the book, they might never fly again, since it covers in minute detail the little things that can affect the plane's stability (one was a bent screw). There are also lots and lots of charts of technical stuff, which I admit to having just skimmed over. The book is actually two stories, the story of the airline trying to figure out what caused the problem, and the TV show that wants to do an expose on how unsafe the airplane is. Fascinating to read the mindset of the TV people, who could care less about learning the problem, but want to exploit the sensationalism. In the end, I have to admit that I felt a lot safer about flying than I did halfway through the book, though I suspect it will stay with me for a long time.


Still Alice by Lisa Genova


Found by Harlan Coben


Seconds Away by Harlan Coben
The first Mickey Bolitar book ended with such a cliff hanger that I had to immediately order the second one, which I did...and I read it all in a day...and then immediately ordered the third (and final, thank goodness) book. "Seconds Away" continues Mickey's search to learn about his father and to find out more about Bat Lady and her secret past. Myron has a slightly bigger role in this book and Mickey is surprised to learn he has been asked to be the bodyguard for a famous celebrity, who figures more prominently in Mickey's life (and past) than he ever imagined.

While continuing to search for the Butcher of Lodz, the mystery consuming Mickey and his friends is the shooting of their friend Rachel, which leads them into a drug smuggling ring and, again, aids the police in the solving of a crime. At the same time Mickey is trying to get on the basketball team and being bullied terribly. If it isn't threats by gun, it's threats by fellow students. Mickey just can't win.

Again, this book ends at a spot where you absolutely cannot resist buying the third book to figure out how it is all going to end, which I figure I will be doing today.


Shelter by Harlan Coben


Broadway Tails by Bill Berloni
When I was doing research on a recent version of Legally Blonde which was opening at Sacramento's Music Circus, and which I would be reviewing, someone told me that a member of the original cast was coming out of retirement to do this show one last time. It was Chico, the Chihuahua who had been the original "Bruiser Woods" and he had been trained by a guy named Bill Berloni.

I did a little research on Berloni too and found that he is "the" guy to go to if you need an animal trained for stage work. I also discovered he had written this mini autobiography, 243 pages of behind-the-scenes theater stories in a career that spans more than 30 years (and which won Berloni a special Tony recently for his contribution to theater on Broadway).

It turns out to be a fascinating book. At 19 he was part of the backstage team for the about-to-be launched original Annie, with Andrea McArdle. He was given the task to go and find a "Sandy" for the show. He rescued the original Sandy literally from the jaws of death, as he was about to be euthanized (and thus began a career-long habit of using rescue dogs for his shows, and then finding good forever homes for them). He knew nothing about dog training, but somehow he got a good dog, he worked on instinct and the show was a rousing success.

The book details many of the animals you have loved over the years from dogs to cats to birds to even a pig, a couple of lambs and some rats. It's a great read. The thing that leaped out at me on so many pages is how much he had to fight for cooperation from surly stage managers and demanding producers. He would arrive at the theater and find he had no dressing room and that it was too expensive to have rehearsal for the animals...but they were expected to be perfect. In the process he met and married his wife and they now have a farm which is a kind of animal sanctuary (much like Jon Stewart and his wife have). This book was a lot of fun and I enjoyed reading it. I also learned a lot about the workings of theater...and here I thought I already knew a lot!


Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Years ago, Walt and I were in Cambridge, England and I saw a display in a book store window. The book was Bryson's "Notes from a Small Island," a book he wrote driving around England, where he and his family had lived for many years, for one last look before returning to the US. Walt and I were driving around England and Bryson's book became our most delightful tour guide, as he visited many of the spots where we visited. Bryson is the master of the little known fact about things you never realized. In this new book, he is taking another tour of England to see how it compares with his first book. As in "Notes," this one is chock full of information you didn't realized you wanted to know and things about people you never heard of before. Like Thomas Pritchard, who designed the first iron bridge in the world, in Shropshire. Pritchard had never done anything in cast iron, because nobody had before, yet he never got to see it because he died before it was finished.

I also leaned about Building B30 at Sellafield, which is "the most hazardous building in Europe." It and the building next door are filled with slowly decaying fuel rods and contaminated hunks of metal and machinery.

But mostly, this book is filled with tales of marvelous vistas, beautiful, walks, quiet beaches, quirky locations, eccentric people, and quaint little towns you have probably never heard of but suddenly desperately want to visit. And who knew that more people are killed in England by cows than by bulls..?

This book celebrates the best...and the worst of Bryson's adopted country. It's a great read.


Secrets of the Savannah by Mark and Cordelia Owens


The Blackbird Papers by Ian Smith


Private by James Patterson
Finally another book by Patterson that I liked and didn't roll my eyes at. Jack Morgan, who inherited an investigative agency and several million dollars from his incarcerated father has turned the business into a thriving one. He is in the middle of investigating a big NFL bribing scandal and a serial killer on the loose murdering school girls when his best friend's wife is found murdered in her bedroom and the police suspect her husband, so Jack sets out to prove his innocence.

Somehow all three threads weave together along with Jack's evil twin who is out to destroy him. Paetro has developed as a story teller and it's nice that Patterson lets her do his work for him.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I read this for book club...and then found out I had read the wrong book, but it was a good mistake because I enjoyed this book so much. It's totally not what I expected from what I had read about it. It tells the story of two young people growing up in the waning days of World War II. Marie Laure is a blind 14 year old, living with her grandfather after the death of her parents. Warner is an electronically talented orphan living in a mining town in Germany whose expertise with electronic gadgets wins him a place in the brutal Hitler Youth.

Chapter by chapter, the book follows each character's life, through the war, the bombings, the atrocities, the terror. Their lives intersect briefly in Saint-Malo in France, where Marie Laure has lost everyone in her life and Warner is realizing that Germany is about to lose the war and he will probably be killed. The meeting changes both of their lives, but not in any way I would have predicted.

Doerr's writing is what makes this read so enjoyable. Like a master class in constructing a story.


The Woods by Harlan Coben
20 years ago, chief prosecutor Paul Copeland was a counselor at a summer camp. One night he sneaks off into the woods with his girlfriend for a bit of a bit of hanky panky. Four other kids, including his sister, sneak off too. Two of them are found murdered. Two (including Cope's sister) are never found. As this book begins, Cope is presented with the body of a murder victim who, despite his identity, is really one of the supposedly missing and murdered kids. He suddenly wonders about his sister. Did she make it out alive? Is she still living somewhere?

This plot intertwines with a rape case Cope is trying, two rich kids who raped a stripper and the "machine" that is working to dig up dirt on Cope and his family to prevent him from prosecuting the kids.

This book zig zags back and forth, connecting so many threads together with the precision of a Turkish rug maker. It is a non-stop adventure and the questions never stop, not even at the conclusion. Highly recommended.


Walt Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodman
Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodman takes a break from writing presidential biographies ("Team of Rivals," "The Bully Pulpit," "No Ordinary Time," etc.) to write a very personal history of her childhood and growing up a Dodger fan. Goodwin is one month older than I and grew up in a home devoted to baseball. I didn't get interested in baseball until the Dodgers and Giants moved to California, one of the big losses in her life. This delightful coming of age story that parallels the history of baseball and brings back names I remember from my own childhood, like Jackie Robinson, PeeWee Reese, and the new kid, Willie Mays, is an absolute delight.


Elephant Memories by Cynthia Moss
I loved this book. Moss spent 13 years in Amboseli National Park, following elephants and observing their interactions, their behaviors, how they handle everything from birth to death. What happens during a drought?

Rather than a dry scientific paper, this is told with the emotion of a novel and you come to love her "friends," Slit Ear, Teresia, Tuskless and the whole crew. She suffered through the inevitable deaths and gave us a peek at the joyful births. At the end, you feel you really have a feeling for the lives of these magnificent creatures. There is quite a bit about ivory poaching, but since the book ends in 1986, with a postscript written in 1999 and much has been doing to try to eradicate poaching, that information is not really informative, other than historically. For anyone who loves elephants, I highly recommend this readable, fun, informative book.


Alex and Me by Irene M. Pepperberg
Though I never read "Dr. Doolittle," I have been fascinated by the possibility of communication among different species. I became fascinated by Koko, the sign language communicating gorilla and ever since I became obsessed with elephants, I have been fascinated by elephant society and communication among themselves. The Alex of the title was an African Grey parrot who lived 31 years, 30 years of which with animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. In that time her experiments with him and ultimately other grey parrots, showed that being a "bird brain" was more of a compliment than a put down. Alex had a vocabulary of over 100 words, but more than that, he showed that he understood them. And he also had a stubborn streak when he used words to insist that he get what he wanted. He also learned to make connections between words, such as refusing to say the word "apple" because it tasted to him like a combination of banana and cherry, so he insisted it be called "ban-berry."

After his death, he was mourned all over the world, a full page obituary ran in the (either the New Yorker or New York Times, I can't remember). He had been called "the smartest bird in the world," but work with him just proved that animals are thinking more than we may think they are.

The book starts and ends with his death, so there is no doubt about what happens to him. Still it is a tear jerker, especially Alex's final words for Pepperberg, "You be good. I love you." A wonderful book.


Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
I was so looking forward to this book. Though it's not my usual genre, Eilis is a shy girl (like me) from Ireand (the land of my ancestors) coming to America to make a life for herself in the 1950s, the decade that I was growing up in too. And there was Oscar buzz about it.

But it was a huge disappointment. It has all the excitement of a Grandma Moses painting and is written as if the author was a scientist dispassionately recording the activities of a bunch of monkeys. There is nothing that lets the reader know much about Eilis except that she is a wimp who is afraid to say anything to anybody about anything for fear of saying the wrong thing, wear the wrong thing, THINK the wrong thing. Even mildly interesting scenes, such as buying a bathing suit, where there is the potential of something actually happening between her and someone else, the incident is glossed over and never mentioned again. I wanted to shake her all through the book (or shake the writer to tell him we wanted to like Eilis, not be frustrated with her for 275 pages).

Toward the end of the book, when she returns to Ireland for a vacation there is a hint of what this book could have been, but then the end just kind of peters out. I was very, very disappointed.


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Bittersweet story of a widow, Addie Moore and a widower, Louis Waters. Both have been living alone in their neighborhood houses, both very lonely. Addie makes an unusual suggestion which will change both of their lives and the life of Addie's young grandson as well.

Haruf's writing style is unusual and takes a bit of getting used to, but it is simple and, in its own way, eloquent once you get into it.

The story is filled with joy and heartache, but is full of simplicity and meaning. The author wrote it when he knew he was dying and was perhaps making a statement about it never being too late to find love.

The ending was probably inevitable, given the nature of people, but it was difficult to read as well. Was named Amazon's best book of June 2015.


Long Lost by Harlan Coben
 


Finding Fraser by KC Dyer
 


Live Wire by Harlan Coben


For One More Day by Mitch Albom
 Mitch Albom has done it again. The author of "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "Five People You Meet in Heaven" has written a book which explores the changes that can happen in a person's life if given one more day with a loved one who has died. Charlie is on a downward spiral and has decided to end his life. His plans are interrupted unexpectedly when he encounters his mother, who died five years before. He spends one last day with her and gets a new outlook on his past and his future. At 197 pages, this is a fast, easy read, but packs a wallop.


Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
This story, told in the voice of 13 year old Frank Drum. relates events that happened in the sleepy town of New Bremen (near Mankato, for "Little House" fans!) in the summer of 1961. Frank's dad is the town Presbyterian minister. His mother is quite artistic, and brooding. There are 3 Drum children. The musically gifted Ariel is the oldest. She hopes to go to Julliard in the fall. She has few friends because of the repair of her cleft palate, which has left her with a disfiguring scar. Frank's younger brother is Jake, with a terrible stutter, who is Frank's shadow. Before the fall, the town will have dealt with five deaths and the repercussions. Frank finds himself in an adult world that includes secrets, lies, adultery, betrayal, murder, suicide and gender identity (not nearly as accepted then as it is now). The book moves at a fast clip and is an easy, enjoyable read.


We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
This is not an easy read, but it describes in very full detail the lead up to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. I wanted to know the difference between Hutus an Tutsis and what all the killing was about anyway, and it answers my questions very well. We have heard ever since the end of World War II and the liberation of the Nazi death camps that we should never forget, and never allow it to happen again, yet the entire world turned its back when nearly a million Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda.

Ironically, the UN came in to help when they learned that in the death camps in Rwanda there were dogs who were eating the dead. "They never used their excellent weapons to stop the extermination of civilians, but it turned out that the peacekeepers were very good shots. The genocide had been tolerated by the so-called international community but the corpse-eating dogs were a health problem."

When the killing was over, the UN established a tribunal to bring the perpetrators to trial. After 20 years (and spending $2 million), the tribunal shut down. They only convicted 61 men, mostly high ranking officials.

It should be an international disgrace that every country that the Tutsis called on for help (including the United States) ignored them.

Who the hell cared about Rwanda? I mean, face it. Essentially, how many people really still remember the genocide in Rwanda? We know the genocide of the Second World War because the whole outfit was involved. But who really is involved in the Rwandan genocide?


The Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
Well, this was such a page turner that rather than prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, I sat in a chair and did not get up until I finished (fortunately, I still had a day left to prepare). This is the latest in the Rizzoli-Isles series. I prefer the books to the TV series because the books meet my mental image of the characters far more than the actresses on the screen do. Also, Maura Isles is not the annoying pedant that she is on television.

This story involves three families who are massacred, each leaving one child living. The child is placed in foster care and each foster family is also massacred, again leaving the child untouched. As the massacres occur in vastly different parts of the world, nobody suspects a serial killer at large, but Rizzoli begins to see patterns, after she begins her investigation following the murder of the foster family of young Teddy Clock.

The children are put in a very secure school in Maine, with high tech electronic security, hundreds of acres of forest, and seemingly impenetrable fortress, until suddenly it doesn't seem like it is. Strange things are happening. A teacher commits suicide. Scary signs appear in the woods. And at the same time, Rizzoli is beginning to uncover the thing that connected all three of the murdered families.

The last quarter of the book will be impossible to put down, and the ending was a surprise I certainly didn't see coming.


Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman
ven if the story weren't so compelling, this is a worthwhile book because Guzeman's writing is so beautiful. But she also weaves a wonderful story of a once-famous artist who stopped painting more than forty years ago because of a trauma that included himself and two young sisters he met on a summer vacation. He suddenly calls an art historian to reveal a hitherto unknown painting that he wants to sell. It is the center panel of a triptych which depicts himself and each of the young women. When the art world knows of its existence it will be worth millions. He says he will only sell if the other two panels can be found, which begins a search for the young women. The surprising secrets that are revealed kept me reading until 3 a.m. and then, 3 hours later, for another 2 hours until I finished it, in tears. Highly recommended!!




Journal Home