Sunday, February 10, 2019

When by Victoria Laurie


Since she was young, Maddie Fynn has been able to see people's death dates. She first recognized it on her dad's forehead, but wasn't aware of what it meant until he was killed in action. Now a teenager, Maddie's mother is a drunk and Maddie is convinced her mom blames her for her dad's death. To try and make ends meet, and pay for mom's habit, Maddie sees clients who want to know when they will die. A lady brings a picture of her daughter who is undergoing treatment for a medical issue to determine if she will survive. Maddie gives her the good news that she will survive, but her son has a death date within a week. The mother leaves in a huff, unbelieving what she has been told.

When that boy is found murdered the next week, the mother points at Maddie as a suspect and the FBI investigates. Thinking she may be responsible for the boy's death, they look in to Maddie and her friends, making life very uncomfortable for everyone. Maddie was just trying to help though. And when she sees the death date of a cheerleader on the opposing team, she knows she can't keep quiet.

This was definitely a unique concept and though I doubt FBI would treat teenagers the way they did in this book, it made you turn the pages and figure out what would happen. It was pretty easy to guess who the killer was, but that didn't really take away from the book. This isn't prize winning literature but it was fun.

First Line: "I'm not exactly sure when I first started seeing the numbers."


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Charleston by John Jakes

Historical Fiction

This epic tale of the Bell family spans three generations. The Bells are from Charleston, South Carolina in the time leading up to the Civil War. One side of the Bell family is progressive and believes in the emancipation of slaves, the other side of the family treats their slaves horribly and are incredibly racist. The story of this family starts in Charleston during the revolutionary war when the British controlled the city, then the time period between the revolutionary war and the civil war while racial tensions ran high, and finally the Civil war.

The focus is on the more progressive side of the Bell family. They free their slaves, treat them well, and one of the family members ends up travelling eastern USA to speak out against slavery. This makes no friends in Charleston, including with the other side of her family, and makes returning to Charleston hard for her.

This book has a lot of Charleston history in it, much of it I was not aware of. However because of this history, there were problems with pacing of the novel sometimes. Jakes would start talking about generals and presidents and governors which had nothing to do with the characters for a full chapter, taking you away from the characters he was trying to get you invested in. Because of this, the 530 page book took me 3 weeks to read, which is a pretty long time for me.

First Line: "One night in early November 1779, he dreamed a terrifying dream."


Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman


Natalie Marx is just a kid in 1962, looking forward to a family vacation. When her parents call up the Inn at Lake Devine, they quickly are turned away for being Jewish. Her parents move past it but Natalie can't. She needs to see this place and learn why the inn-keeper acts the way she acts. Eventually, Natalie gets an invite with a friend when her friend's family is going for a summer vacation there. At first, the inn-keeper doesn't realize that Natalie is Jewish and she really enjoys her time, including getting friendly with the children of the owners. But eventually the owner finds out and the reception is much cooler.

As Natalie grows older, the inn stays in the back of her mind. Eventually she runs in to the friend that invited her on that family holiday to find out she is engaged to the eldest son of the owners. Natalie finds herself back up at this inn and the owner is no nicer than she was in the past.

Despite the racial undertones of this entire book, it really is a romance. There are a couple of relationships focused on in the book, though obviously Natalie's is the focus. It's not a typical romance that's sappy in nature but a pretty relaxed and gentle romance.

This was an easy book to read. The characters were well flushed out and felt real. When the antisemitism issue was finally addressed it was a bit underwhelming, but the rest of the book made up for it.

First Line: "It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel; they didn't want Jews; we were Jews. "


Monday, December 31, 2018

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson


In this short book, Tyson takes on the major topics of astrophysics and tries to explain them in a way that is digestible. We start with the big bang and how the universe was created. There are still so many things that we don't have complete understandings of though and it makes you wonder who the next scientists will be with the next big discovery and when these discoveries will happen.

I was expecting a bit more of a dumbed down version of astrophysics than what was presented in this book. I did most of my reading of this book before going to sleep and it's just not a 'before sleep' kind of book. The subjects are pretty complex and there are many facts thrown out there in a single sentence. It was overwhelming and I missed a lot because of it.

Tyson also gets in to the major elements that form the universe, but is that really astrophysics? My expectations of this book were completely different than what I got out of it.

First Line: "In the recent years, no more than a week goes by without news of a cosmic discovery worthy of banner headlines."


Thursday, December 27, 2018

After Dark by Haruki Murakami


After dark in Japan, sees a teenager nursing a coffee in a Denny's, reading a book. A young man walks up to her and recognizes her. He knows her sister and asks if he can join her. Her name is Mari but she doesn't find out what his name is. He talks about her sister and how he had a crush on her. He leaves to go to band practice and soon after, another woman walks in frantically looking for her, because she has heard that Mari speaks Chinese. A woman has been assaulted but only speaks Chinese. Can Mari help?

Throughout the night, the story switches between Mari, the young man, and the Chinese woman. We learn more about Mari's sister and how she is sleeping her life away.

The interactions between the characters were interesting and the concept of one night in Japan was unique. However by the end of it, literally nothing has happened and you're questioning what the point of the book was.

First Line: "The eyes mark the shape of the city."


Friday, December 21, 2018

Final Approach by John J Nance


A storm in Kansas City has pilots concerned. Thunderstorms are rolling through and the airline doesn't take kindly to delays. One pilot is on the ground and decides not to take off, another is in the air and despite hitting a microburst on his first approach, he circles around and tries again. When he comes down, he ends up landing directly on the waiting plane, tearing it in half and killing most people on board the two flights.

Joe Wallingford from the NTSB is called in to investigate. He must determine what the cause of the crash was and it could be everything from pilot error to plane malfunction to weather to sabotage. Despite doing his best job to investigate, there's a lot of political powers at play who only care about climbing up the ladder rather than doing what's best for the NTSB. There are so many things for Joe to investigate, but he's getting blocked from getting some of the information he needs.

Having read and enjoyed a few Nance books in the past, I was looking forward to this one. Final Approach was easy to get in to, had a very slow middle, and an action-packed ending. I wish some of the action from the end had been spaced out a bit better because I was getting a little bored in the middle of the book. I also felt like the romance introduced for Joe added nothing to the plot and could have been done without.

First Line: "A lightning flash blinded Dr. Mark Weiss momentarily through the rain-smeared windshield, illuminating his wife Kimberly in the passenger seat of the family's station wagon as she turned in his direction."


Thursday, December 06, 2018

Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi


Slahi is a Muslim originally from Mauritius, but lived for stints in Germany in Canada. While in Canada, the police followed him around at the US' request. The Americans were convinced he was part of the Millenium plot to bomb LAX. Slahi decides Canada is not the place for him and returns home where he is asked to turn himself in. Since he believed he had nothing to hide, Slahi dutifully turned himself in and the start of his horrific 14-year journey began. Again, acting on behalf of the Americans, his own country questions him and his involvement with Al Qaeda. Slahi doesn't give them much because there's not much to give them. His government believes him, but the American pull is bigger and he gets transferred to Jordan. Jordan is where torture begins for Slahi, but those officers also find that there isn't much Slahi is giving them and that's when he gets transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

This is where the real torture starts. In this redacted version of Slahi's journal, it's surprising that the American government allows the stories of Slahi's torture to reach the public. Slahi was beat, forced to stay away, forced to stand for hours, made to listen to heavy metal music on repeat, put in very cold conditions and then doused with water, etc. Eventually and not surprisingly Slahi breaks and tells his captors what they want to hear. His life gets easier but he isn't allowed to leave.

At the end of the book, Slahi is still in prison and he remains there until 2016. All for knowing the wrong people. If this book came out before the Abu Ghraid scandal, it would have been shocking. That scandal desensitized us to what American imprisonment of terrorists involves. It's still surprising, and pretty depressing to me, that the world superpower would resort to this. I feel bad for Slahi and his family and while I'm glad he's out now, it's far too late. It also begs the question, who else is in that jail that is innocent and just rotting there?

First Line: "⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛, July ⬛, 2002, 10 p.m."