*Not My REAL Bookshelf

*Not My REAL Bookshelf

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"The Girl On The Train", by Paula Hawkins

Not too long ago, our book club took on an assignment of the bestselling thriller The Girl On The Train by British author Paula Hawkins. It was timed to coincide with the release of the film, which we watched as a group after having read the novel. Ultimately, I found the film to be seriously lacking in comparison with the book for a variety of reasons, which is nothing new. But as this is a book review, I'll try my best to stick to that instead.

Rachel Watson is a woman in her twenties with a life in shambles. Abandoned by her ex-husband for another woman, stuck with a judgmental roommate, and nursing a not-so-secret habit of heavy drinking, she's watching her existence fall to pieces around her. Her only joy in life is during her daily work commute into London, watching a happy couple from her old neighborhood whom she has dubbed Jason and Jess. One day she witnesses something shocking from the train which shatters her illusions about the couple she has grown to envy and admire. This is further complicated when a disappearance makes the news in the area, and it haunts her in ways she cannot reconcile with her memories of the day in question. Now sober in the face of this turn of events, a newly-unemployed Rachel decides to become an amateur sleuth to puzzle out the details of the situation. The realities she unearths along the way bring her to the precipice of dangers she could not have foreseen. This allows her to unveil a truth connecting the circumstances of the present to her old life, which left me floored and speechless.

The story moves slowly at the outset, fraught with the complexities of a narrative based solely on Rachel's emotional and drunken mindset. It requires a measure of patience to arrive at the place where the action becomes intriguing. But once that point has surfaced, you won't be able to tear yourself away from the gripping tale of the protagonist's treacherous quest to discover the truth. In this case, the juice was worth the squeeze. :)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

Back in 2013, a film was getting ready to premiere for a bestselling book -- Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Since I am a person who prefers to read a book before I see the movie version of it, I picked up my daughter's school copy to give it a read.

Ender's Game chronicles the journey of a child whose family has three children instead of the approved two. The third child, Ender, is expected to do great things because of the government's approval for his family to bring him into the world. His lethal defeat of a schoolyard bully makes him eligible for a special academy to learn to defeat the Earth's alien invaders using a computer program. Employing his smarts and his interpersonal skills, he rises through the ranks of the school's students. Even in the face of a higher power pulling strings behind the scenes, his leadership ultimately brings the Earth to victory over the alien forces. All told, it is a novel that many consider to be a veritable classic.

Unfortunately, it is not a novel that I found to be enjoyable in the slightest. To me, it was immature fart jokes and a tediously tiresome read. While I can appreciate the quality of the writing that many would find to be immensely entertaining, I simply did not find it so.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Into Thin Air", by Jon Krakauer

A couple of years ago, I was waiting for a bus to work on a sleepy Saturday morning, enjoying my usual people-watching schadenfreude on the UT campus. (Apparently, 7:45 A.M. is the customary time for the inevitable Walk of Shame back to one's apartment after a night of debauchery. There were dozens of raccoon-faced, scantily-clad undergrads slouching and stumbling home every weekend. This one was no exception.) As I stood up to catch my bus, I turned to ensure that I wasn't leaving anything behind before boarding, and noticed a book lying there on the bench. It wasn't mine, but I picked it up to give to the driver, so it could be taken to the Lost and Found in case the owner was seeking it. The driver told me basically to shove off, and to just leave it there, which I couldn't bear to do with rain clouds threatening, so I stuck it in my bag to return to that bench later on. The title was Into Thin Air, by a name I recognized -- Jon Krakauer. You may recall his accounting of Chris McCandless' ultimately fatal journey into the unsettled Alaskan backcountry, which bears a film of the same name -- Into The Wild.

Since that workday was interminably slow, I decided to go ahead and read the book before returning it to its previous resting place. The cover heralded the book as "A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster", which to me meant that Krakauer had interviewed the person(s) who were on that particular expedition. I was stunned to discover that this so-called personal account was exactly that -- his own retelling of his team's disastrous trip to the summit of Everest. Upon that discovery, I fell straight into the rabbit hole, emerging hours later shocked and horrified to my core with the terrors his group had experienced on that fateful trek.

The book begins by giving a small excerpt of the apex of Krakauer's journey, then proceeds to chronicle the history of Everest voyages -- from Sir Edmund Hillary to George Leigh Mallory, and of the Nepalese government's extreme reluctance to allow anyone to climb the mountain in the first place. As with most things worth doing, making the summit of Everest is not a thing lightly undertaken or easily done. There was much in the way of backstory regarding Krakauer being chosen for an expedition at all, and of the planning that had to be undertaken in preparation of such an excursion. He was an avid climber in the years preceding the Everest expedition, and was excited to have been selected for this trip. There were narratives about the trip to Nepal, of the mixed feelings from being at the height of the summit inside the aircraft while flying through the Himalayas, and of meeting up with his fellow climbers and the Sherpa crew that would be accompanying him to the top. There were stories of their trip to the base camp at the foot of Everest, and of the journey to each of the camps that followed. Air grew thin, suffering began from altitude sickness, climbers began requiring extensive oxygenation between camps. Murphy's Law was in full effect for these ill-fated climbers, though they were not yet aware of just how perilous their journey was about to become. A multitude of factors that alone would have been manageable and minuscule, combined to engender a dangerous and essentially catastrophic turn of events. It cost the lives of many in their group, and none who survived were ever the same again.

By failing to properly respect the dangers that an Everest climb could trigger, the expedition was bound to run into trouble before the end. But it was a freak storm that developed suddenly as their party approached the summit that was the ultimate factor in their calamitous outcome. Visibility reduced to nothing, while climbers were scrambling to make it back to camp, resulted in many disappearances that have remained missing to this day. Several members of the group were discovered having frozen to death while trying to find their way back to safety, while others who made it back were suffering from extreme cases of frostbite and worse. Communications were disabled due to the extreme weather, making it impossible to have anyone removed to safety via helicopter. It truly became a clusterfuck of massive proportions.

After those who survived were safely off the mountain, and climbers began journeying home, the tone shifted into the melancholy. Krakauer suffered tremendous guilt for his perceived faults in several of the deaths on the mountain, and his accounts of these thoughts were utterly heartbreaking. Reading about widowed spouses and fiancees, along with the grief of various family members and friends, was gutting. I found myself in tears for more than one passage.

Overall, the book is hard to review in any concrete sense. The things that you'll read in this story have to be experienced in the imagination firsthand, rather than through an impartial reviewer's lens. To attempt to convey Krakauer's masterpiece myself would be to do it and those who are its subjects a grave disservice. I give as vague an outline as I can muster out of respect to his own storytelling. I can't recommend this book highly enough, though I will caution that the reading of such a thing will leave you changed irreparably. It is brilliant and devastating all at once.

Rating: ★★★★★

Monday, March 6, 2017

"The Heist", by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

One of my favorite things to do is haunt the book section at the local Dollar Tree and see what kind of interesting reads I can find there. I do the same with the Clearance section at Half Price Books, and I almost always emerge triumphantly with one catch or another. On one of my more recent jaunts, I found this interesting title cadged in between a copy of the Bible and Jennie Garth's book, just begging to be rescued. It did not disappoint!

FBI agent Kate O'Hare is a kickass, take-no-prisoners type of woman. She is professionally apt, a former Navy Seal, and always gets her man...until the ever calm and collected Nicolas Fox comes along and throws her tidy world into disarray. By the time we meet this protagonist, she has already been kept on the ropes by Fox for a number of years. As luck would have it, she is on the cusp of capturing him for good with a brilliant operation. But after a ruthless and shocking betrayal, she finds herself in a position she never imagined -- working as a team with her own personal enemy, and a whole host of those who also live their lives outside the law. Getting to know this motley crew of criminal dynamos is only half the fun of this novel, which is energetically written and full of sharp and witty dialogue. Each character has a backstory worthy of its own novel outright, and I dearly hope to see more of them in the novels that follow in the series!

The Heist is a quick read, filled to the brim with action, romance, and belly laughs you'll feel the next day. Their description of the Salton Sea is both incredibly true and hysterically funny! (I can attest to this from my brief stint living in SoCal, a mere ten miles from that very spot.) I've enjoyed Janet Evanovich's work since the Stephanie Plum days, and I look forward now to reading more from Lee Goldberg after enjoying this work so very much.

Rating: ★★★★★

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Hot In Hellcat Canyon", by Julie Ann Long

There is nothing on Facebook that annoys me more than the People You May Know sidebar clogging up my feed with random strangers. It's not unlike a terrible game of Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon that you never agreed to play, yet you find yourself assaulted with nonetheless. This feature is further amplified on shopping and movie apps, always trying to sell you on what their algorithm believes is the true love you hadn't realized you wanted. Mostly, I find their assumptions to be as obnoxious as those of the Book of Face. However, in this case their intrusive guesstimations were right on the money. I originally downloaded Hot In Hellcat Canyon as a sample, and was hooked from the very first sentence. (No, I'm not exaggerating.)

Imagine my shock and dismay upon discovering that there was no complete version available for download to my Kindle app -- only paperback to purchase and suffer through the torture of USPS shipment times. Hissy fits of a most alarming nature then ensued. Thankfully, I was finally able to locate an iBooks digital download, and promptly inhaled the addictive book in a single evening. Here follows my assessment.

As previously stated, this book had me one hundred percent invested from the get-go. Julie Anne Long's witty and intelligent prose captured my attention in a way that a romance novel rarely does, appealing immensely to my Scripps National Spelling Bee-style vocabulary and my love of sharply intellectual writing.

Britt Langley is a gun-shy bar waitress, hiding out from the stresses of the world after enduring a painful end to a marriage-turned-domestic-violence-story. John Tennessee McCord is a down-on-his-luck actor, landing in Hellcat Canyon in between acting gigs to lick his wounds after a brutal dismissal from his facile mega-celebrity ex-girlfriend and a resounding NO from the casting agents for a part he was destined to play.

When McCord saunters into the Misty Cat Tavern to have lunch, he becomes enchanted with Britt. They then exchange a brilliant verbal repartee, leaving him feeling intrigued by the skittish server and her jocular quips. A great deal of time is spent with each of the two advancing on and retreating from the other, only to ultimately flit away again to avoid being burned by love once more.

The sudden appearance of a pair of rivals for Britt's and McCord's respective affections forces their hands, resulting in a series of grand gestures designed to make plain what they seem incapable of simply saying aloud. I did feel a touch of whiplash right up to the end there, watching them fly together and break apart over and over again. Luckily for us, Ms. Long is not the cruel sort who leaves either a devastating cliffhanger or a less-than-happy ending to a novel. Bottom line? This book is wickedly brilliant, and just plain fun to read. I fully anticipate this book becoming one that I read and reread incessantly, as I am wont to do with the ones I enjoy the most.

Rating: ★★★★★

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado", by Nancy Mathis

Shortly before my 17th birthday, the movie Twister was released in theaters. I've always had a morbid fascination with these mercurial storms, and have had more than a few very close shaves with their presence in my lifetime thus far. So of course, when a blockbuster movie about tornadoes was released in theaters, I HAD TO SEE IT. And it did not disappoint, though the quality of the graphics has not quite held up over time. LOL

My best friend and I drove an hour away to the closest theater for the privilege of watching the film, and we walked away that night even more in love with tornadoes than ever. I began studying all the information on these meteorological beasts that I could lay my hands on, and became quite obsessed.

Fast forward two years, almost exactly to the day that we made the trip to that theater. We were all grown up, graduated, and I had met the man I (foolishly) believed I was going to spend the rest of my life with. While babysitting my cousins for the evening, the TV programming in our tiny Texas Panhandle town two hours northwest of Lubbock was interrupted for a special news bulletin about Oklahoma City, of all places, and the current state of affairs in their neck of the woods. All it took was one little word: TORNADO. I was officially hooked to that screen for the duration of the evening. I watched in abject horror as the city was devastated by wave after wave of large-scale twisters, one right after another. It was, and remains to this day, a weather outbreak phenomenon unlike any that had come before it. By the time I left for home, I was shell-shocked by all the weather carnage I had witnessed. That day has stayed with me for all the years since, tempering my reckless regard for the power of these storms. The date was May 3, 1999.

In the spring of 2007, I was working at a Home Depot not far from my home here in Austin. During a particularly humdrum day, a new copy of Reader's Digest was left in the break room for us to enjoy. I was thumbing through the pages when I came across a book excerpt for a novel called Storm Warning: The Story of a Killer Tornado, by an author named Nancy Mathis. I've never found an RD story about tornadoes to be anything less than captivating, so I settled in to read. By the time my break was over, I knew I had to own the book. It was a chronicle of the weather events that had helped to shape the history of Oklahoma City on May 3, 1999. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I had the book in my hot little hands in no time. It now holds a place among my all-time favorite books, and very likely always will.

The story begins with the narrative of the elderly grandmother of the author, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, performing her annual Native American traditions to ward off the evil wrought by these capricious storms. On the heels of that comes the tale of one Ramona Kolander, and her heartbreaking experiences with deadly Oklahoma tornadoes. These stories have a natural segue into one another, serving to weave a tale of the history of not only twisters in Oklahoma, but of the science of meteorology in general and the National Weather Service as we know it today -- through ALL of its various incarnations over the years based on whatever politics were prevalent at the time. Threads of this tale include the United States Air Force, the WWII nuclear attacks by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (or NOAA), the Texas Tech University Wind Science and Engineering Department, and a host of brilliant scientists and meteorologists such as Gary England and the late great Tetsuya "Ted" Fujita. Somehow, this novel encompasses and ties together the scientific and the personal so seamlessly that you can't help seeing the innate connections between them.

Of the 74 named tornadoes that touched down that day across Oklahoma and Kansas, the most devastating by far was the F5-rated A-9 storm. The bulk of the storytelling regarding the destruction of OKC and its southern suburbs of Newcastle, Moore, and Bridge Creek were in reference to that single funnel. Eyewitness accounts from residents and visitors alike combine to tell a tale of such frightening complexity that it will leave you breathless with sorrow and dismay. I cannot imagine enduring such a thing and surviving. The book engenders a myriad display of emotions, from fear to sadness, and from hope to righteous anger. I walked away from the experience of reading this book with a wealth of knowledge that leaves me both floored and humbled. I would honestly give it ten stars, rather than my usual five.

If you're searching for a meaty read that will leave your brain well-fed and sated, this is exactly the book I would recommend. The author calls it "a little book about a big tornado". It is equal parts enthralling and educational, and it will stay with you after you're done.

Rating: ★★★★★

Monday, February 27, 2017

"Bad Boy", by Olivia Goldsmith

Next on my list of literary gems is Bad Boy by Olivia Goldsmith. This is another book that I've owned for many years, and have read dozens of times over. It is also a book that brings me humor and heartache in equal measure, along with the hope that the main character may actually exist somewhere out there in the world.

Hapless Jonathan Delano is the sweet and loving guy that women the world over bemoan the lack of, while simultaneously pursuing cad after asshole after jackass. He's independently wealthy, humble, fiercely loyal, selfless, thoughtful, and intelligent -- everything a woman should want, yet not a single one does. Meanwhile, his WASP-y best friend Tracie Higgins is as clueless as she is shallow, inventing merit for her hopeless loser of a boyfriend where none exists and blatantly ignoring an obviously better choice for her affections. Seeing how Tracie openly flouts her preference for these "bad boys", Jon makes a deal with the devil and asks to be made into one for the sake of his love life.

Hilarity ensues as his training progresses, though it is a hilarity filled with empathetic groaning at the embarrassing means he employs to pick up women at the outset of his journey. But soon enough, he finds himself right where he had always hoped to be -- smack in the middle of a gaggle of groupies, without an end in sight to his queue of new and potential paramours. His behavior alienates almost everyone in his life that he actually cares about, and does wind up costing him a great deal in his work. His race to correct his missteps nearly ends in a dangerous disaster.

After the fallout begins to settle, these two friends begin a journey of rediscovery. New alliances are formed, lives are changed, and realizations spring to life in regards to what each wants to gain in the future. I won't be so disgraceful as to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that all is right with the world when the final page is read.

Full Disclosure: This is not some masterpiece of classical literature, as many other reviewers will be quick to point out. It is a chick flick in book form, and would make a delightful romantic comedy someday. Be that as it may, I don't love this book for its ability to further my education in any way. It is comfort food for my soul, and that's all it needs to be. If you're looking for something highbrow, perhaps a book with a hot pink cover called "Bad Boy" is not going to suffice. Just saying.

Rating: ★★★★☆