Books Read in 2018

Holes by Louis Sachar
I read this because Brianna is going to be here next month and wants to have a book club meeting to discuss this book.  I read it in one sitting.  Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten- pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Stanley is found guilty of a crime he did not commit (stealing shoes) and sent to a juvenile correctional facility out in the middle of nowhere where he is tasked, along with the rest of the boys, with digging a hole a day in the blazing sun.  The hole has to be 5 feet wide and 5 feet deep. In the movie (which I watched when I finished the book) the desert is dotted with hundreds of these holes.  We don't learn what the holes are for until Stanley runs away to find his friend Zero, who is sure to die alone on the desert.  The closing statement of the book was a surprising revelation.


Drums of August by Diana Gabaldon
In anticipation of the start of Season 4 of the Outlander TV series, I decided to re-read the book to remind myself of what is coming up. I remember this from when I read it in 2010.  The review I wrote then on my database was short and sweet "Not the best Gabaldon."  In my FTW review, I said that it "dragged terribly." But I wanted to be ready.  I don't know what I didn't like about it in 2010The descriptive passages that I didn't like I barely noticed this time.  I was upset at how much Claire's daughter Brianna, in the 20th century was in the book, but thanks to the TV series, I've enjoyed her parts this time.  The book has everything t hat should make a TV episode exciting -- Indians, wolves, bears, rape, pirates, and all the intimate relationships between Claire and Jamie that we have come to expect.
 


The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
I watched Great American Reads this week and one section was dedicated to this book, which everyone who read it absolutely loved.  I knew it was about a woman with Alzheimers and obviously that intrigued me.  I was also looking for another quick read, still recovering from the Kavanaugh debacle.  So I ordered it and finished it in one sitting.

I don't know what to say about this book.  It's a lovely love story--the kind of forever after love that everyone hopes to have, fraught with first love, heartbreak, and reuniting, but tinged with the tragedy of Alzheimers.  My problem is that the Alzheimers just didn't ring true.  I know everyone is different but Allie, who suffers from Alzheimers after nearly 50 years of marriage, seems not to be able to recognize the love of her life, but accepts him as a new friend and their story is fresh whenever he tells it...but  though she does not know his name or who he is, she has lost none of the ability to speak eloquently and that is SO contrary to what I am experiencing with my mother that I just couldn't believe that part of it.  The letter she writes to Noah as they are about to enter a senior facility, knowing that her symptoms will become worse, was so perfect that it could not possibly have been written by someone whose Alzheimers had progressed to the point of needing to move to a facility.
 


This is Me, Debbi, David by Alec Clayton
This may be Alec Clayton's best book yet.  Debbi Mason is NOT a stripper, she insists; it's art.  She's a fun girl, tattooed to the hilt, and unafraid of speaking her mind.  She's been with David Parker for a couple of years.  David, a Tulane English major is solid, predictable, and ... well, kind of boring.  Debbi meets Bryce, a tall, handsome, rich man who can offer her an easy life, wealth, and security.  She walks out on David and moves from New Orleans to Dallas to live happily ever after.  The stories of Debbi and David are told in alternating voices, following her less than happily ever after and his move to New York to pursue a career as an actor.  David's story line is perhaps more fun because of the cast of colorful characters he encounters on his way to New York...and in New York, and draws heavily on Clayton's own experience as a theater critic.  Debbi's is more predictable, with a few twists that make it surprising.  On the whole the story is fun and so engrossing I read it almost in one sitting.


Russian Hill Murders by Ty Hutchinson
This was my Kavanaugh distraction book.  I could not listen to one more word by Trump or one more discussion about which of the Republicans might grow a spine and vote against Kavanaugh, so I turned off the TV and chose the book I thought would require the least thought, a freebee from Amazon Kindle a few months back.  I chose this one because it was set in San Francisco, my home town, my neighborhood.

A pair of killers is committing murders in San Francisco and leaving body parts behind.  FBI Agent Abby Kane begins putting the murders together into serial kills and with assistance from SFPD Kyle something or other sets out to trap the killer(s).  They discover it's part of an on-line game, with the killers' instructions coming in each step of the game they are playing.

The book is not particularly well written, but the plot is different and what I liked best about it was that I learned about my city.  For example, a body is left in "Fay Park," a park I'd never heard of, which turns out to be (Wikipedia tells me) a small park 3 blocks from where I grew up, donated to the city and opened in 2006, many years after I left.  I also read about what is supposed to be the best Mexican restaurant in the city (El Farolito) and when I checked its menu discovered it had what I'd been looking for for years--cheese flautas, which we used to eat in a restaurant in Berkeley and which I look for whenever we go to a Mexican restaurant (they all have beef and chicken, but nobody has cheese--now I know where to look.

Oh yeah--and they caught the bad guys and then discovered it's only part of a world-wide plot, which leads to many more books.  I probably won't read them.


A Star is Born: Judy Garland and the film that got away by Lorna Luft and Jeffrey Vance
I became a Judy Garland fan in 1954 when this film came out and have probably seen the whole movie, or part of it, 100 times over the years, so I was happy to see this in-depth coverage by daughter Lorna and movie historian Vance.  The entire history of the story is told from the first, What Price Hollywood, in 1932 to the first of the name A Star Is Born, a 1937 drama, starring Janet Gaynor, to the 1954 musical Garland version, to the 1976 travesty by Barbra Streisand and even touching on the about-to-be released version with Lady Gaga in the female role.  Lorna was a child when her mother died in 1969 and never saw this movie until she was 13 years old--and didn't like it much, but has come to appreciate it as the pinnacle of her mother's career and how it was sabotaged by Warner Bros, robbing Garland of her deserved Oscar.  She tells stories not only of the filming, but also of the later re-release, with added footage cut from the film before it was released  (I was at that release screening and sat behind James Mason!)  This is a lavishly illustrated book with lots of photos, many of which are private photos fro Lorna's collection.


Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
This is a story told in the voice of 6 year old Zach survivor of a school shooting that kills his 9 year old brother, among others.  It shows in the believable innocence of a child what happens to a family in the aftermath of such a terrible tragedy.  The is a first novel by this author, and is very promising.


While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky
This book showed up in my mailbox with no note, no nothing except a return address with a name that sounded vaguely familiar, but I didn't know from where.  I checked all the sources I could think of but could not identify the sender.  So I sat down to read the book to see if I could figure out why a stranger would send it to me.  Is it a good book?  Not particularly, but it is enjoyable chick-lit about a runner who collapses during a morning run from, as it turns out, a massive heart attack.  The book covers a couple of weeks while Robin lies brain dead and her family comes to terms with her death...and her life, and the secrets that are revealed when sister Molly begins to sort through her things. 

I kept reading because there was an amazing amount of material that spoke to me -- the mother dealing with grief over her daughter's death, the sister trying to deal with her sister's death, the grandmother with Alzheimers.  I've had many of these conversations in the past fifty years in several different settings, dealing with more than one death.. 

The next day I received a letter from the sender and I remembered why it was that she was writing to me, though I don't think she had a CLUE how strongly this book would speak to me!
 


Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben
This book was finished on our last trip to Santa Barbara.  Detective Nap Dumas never recovered from the death of his twin brother and his brother's girlfriend on the railroad tracks, when they were in high school.  At the same time, the girl Nap thought he would spend his life with, Maura, also disappeared and nobody knows why.  The tragedies haunt him throughout his adult life, until Maura's fingerprints show up on the rental car of a suspected murderer.

Trying to track Maura down reveals more secrets than he dreamed there were, about his brother, about his friends, and about the abandoned military base that was part of their childhood fantasies (about what was going on behind the fences)

Set in a small town, Coben paints a beautiful picture of the town, the people.  He twists and turns the reader from the beginning and makes this another riveting Coben mystery.


The President is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton
Oh, James Patterson, what do I do about you.  I read recently that Patterson is tired of writing and just likes to write plots and let others do the writing, which explains a lot about why the quality of his books has slipped so badly lately.  Now he has a new quirk -- get the president involved.

Like all of Patterson's books lately, this one is ho-hum for the first 2/3 and gripping for the last 1/3, the difference being that it is blatantly obviously when Clinton writes a section.  TMI best describes it.  While it is nice to know the ins and outs and back story of what happens in the White House, his sections make the plot drag.  The part about how he leaves the White House and manages to make a covert meeting alone with a terrorist, without Secret Service coverage was kind of interesting, but it went on and on and on. 

All in all, this was more a novelty than a good, solid book...though finding out how a hated president saves te world may be wishful thinking on Clinton's part.  (Interesting that Clinton gets top billing on the book cover)


The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
We finally finished the audio book we've been reading for months.  It's an average length for a Connelly book, but we just don't drive long distances much any more so it takes forever to finish a book.  This is Harry Bosch #17.  Following the death of the victim of a shooting ten years earlier, Harry and his rookie sidekick Lucia Soto are out to prove that it was murder and that the death was caused by a bullet lodged in the victim's spine for all these years.  The investigation gets hot fast and leads to places they had no idea it would (of course).  Was the death tied to a fire which killed several children 20 years ago?  The hunt leads to the highest places of local government, and a convent in the hills of Mexico.  As usual, Connelly not only spins a great yarn, but also instructs the audience in the ways of police procedures as well.


White Houses: A Novel by Amy Bloom
While the author claims this is a novel, I think it is better classified as historical fiction.  I have read a lot about the years-long lesbian relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt (our first--that we know of--lesbian first lady) and reporter Lorena Hickock (as well as FDR's romantic liaisons during the same period) to get the sense that she used the existing information as a diagram on which to add fictional dialog, situations, etc.  It's a beautiful book written in Hickock's voice, which covers her (Hickock's) background and Roosevelt's background before they met in 1932, while Hickock was reporting on FDR's first presidential campaign.  It was that blissful time before everyone's private life became public fodder and reporters looked the other way at dalliances in the White House because there was more important news to report, and because they respected the president (when was the last time that situation existed??)  Though the situations and dialog come from Bloom's imagination, they read so beautifully that who can tell they didn't actually happen that way?  Many bits, I'm sure, came from Eleanor's letters to Lorena (Lorena destroyed any remnants of her letters to Eleanor), many of which have been published elsewhere. 

We learn a lot about FDR's polio, its aftermath, and how it was handled privately and publically.  We also learn of his great love, Missy LeHand, his secretary for more than 20 years, and his unending depression following her stroke and death (as well as his shameful treatment of her, ignoring her completely, after she became disabled).

We see how Lorena's love and support gave Eleanor the self confidence to become the great stateswoman that she was, and how even after the end of their affair, Eleanor was there for Lorena, allowing her to live in the White House for many years with her new partner because she was unable to get a job.

There is much joy in this novel, there is pathos and great sadness.  But mostly it is the story of an enduring love which was, for a time, physical, but which lasted long after the physical part ended.  It was interesting reading this book while at the same time watching Ken Burns' story of The Roosevelts.  I also think it's an important part of American history which I am glad has now come to life.


No Second Chance by Harlan Coben
Dr. Mark Seidman wakes up in the hospital.  He has been shot, his wife killed, his six month old daughter abducted.  Police investigations yield no clues to finding the perpetrators and Seidman is ready to give up until he reads a mysterious note demanding a $1 million ransom.  This leads to a year-long chasing after the child and uncovering a baby selling ring, rediscovering an old love, and a series of set backs and deception.  We "read" this over a few months as an audio book and spent the last 15 minutes driving aimlessly around Davis waiting for the end to come.

Coben does go on and on and on with descriptions of the smallest details until you want to fast forward to the actual plot, but otherwise this is a great read.


Dark Sunshine by Dorothy Lyons
Continuing my escapist reading, getting away from the heavy political books I"m reading, I took time out to read this book, one of my favorite girl-tames-horse books when I was growing up.  Blythe, who is recovering from polio, rescues a wild young mare trapped in a valley, tames her, trains her, and the two end up saving each other.  Not as good as I remember it being when I read it as a kid, but there wasn't ONE single mention of Donald Trump, which was wonderful.



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