Over the past year as I would research books to read and add to my Kindle Wish List, I kept coming across Ender’s Game and the thousands of five star reviews it had garnered. It was obvious that this 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card had become a cult classic. Still, I was hesitant to read it because like The Hunger Games, it was classified as both YA (Young Adult) and science fiction, two areas that don’t terribly interest me (The Hunger Games Trilogy excluded).
About two weeks ago, I finally pulled the trigger and added it to my books on my phone.As it turns out, I enjoyed Ender’s Game. It was creative, unique and it held my attention. It requires that you sort of suspend belief but that’s OK, too.
Ender Wiggin is a six year old tactical genius recruited by the government to go through an intense multi-year training program in the hope of developing leaders who will be able to destroy the “buggers” and save the Earth. There had been two previous massive wars with these alien ant-like creatures and everyone agrees that the earth was victorious only through some dumb luck. It’s a tough life for young Ender as he is separated from his family and secluded for the most part even from his fellow recruits. Ender distinguishes himself at the Battle Camp and is clearly the one recruit who is head and shoulders above the other.
Do we in the war or is the Earth destroyed by these invaders? You will just have to read Ender’s game for yourself to find out. I will tell you it is worth reading. Ender’s Game will be released as a full length feature film in November of 2013. It will be interesting to see if it has the same strong following as The Hunger Games. Meanwhile, I gave this book four stars.
The full title of this book by Katherine Boo, a staff writer on New York magazine, is Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a MumbaiUndercity. If you enjoy uplifting stories that bring joy and hope to the human spirit, then grab anything OTHER than this book. This one is 300 pages of what I felt was total despair. It is the story of several families who strive mightily to get through each day in the God-forsaken slums of Annawadi, a cardboard and tin hovel sliced between the modern MumbaiInternationalAirport and the luxurious four-star hotels of what the world perceives as a new economically powerful India.
Reading this book, for me, was not unlike observing a train wreck. You know what’s coming but you just can’t look away. Katherine Boo, who is married to an Indian man, spent three years living with the people of Annawadi. We get to meet several of them and come to understand what real poverty is like. The corruption, hopelessness, lack of education and paucity of value for human life is heartbreaking. Young children spending their waking hours scouring the area for whatever piece of trash and garbage might have any value and then having to sneak home past police who demand extortion to older boys who steal their day’s findings and beat them unmercifully. It is little wonder suicide becomes an everyday thought process.
I would love to tell you that I can’t reveal the ending because good things happen to improve the lives of the people we have come to know in Annawadi. It ends as it began, the garbage, rat bites, head lice, sickness and death that make up each sunrise and sunset continue. There have been few days since I finished the book that I have not thought about it. It’s a powerful portrait of a world I knew nothing about. I gave this book four stars because it makes you “feel” and any book that can do that deserves reading. I would feel better though, if this had been a novel.
Once again, I feel bad that I am disparaging a book that has received lofty praise from so many others. Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale tells the story of PeterLake, abandoned at birth, raised by a tribe on the shores of North Jersey then set free in Manhatten to ply his trade as a thief. While robbing the rich mid-town apartment of an absent owner he discovers the sickly young daughter home alone and a May-December romance blossoms. I am not going to tell you what happens from there, not because I fear ruining the story for you but rather because at about that point, maybe page 257 or so, I gave up on this book. I just couldn’t go any further.
Winter’s Tale is a big book, 768 pages. It begins slowly and, in my opinion, loses momentum from there. I kept waiting for it to get better and it never did. Mark Helprin has a great command of the language and paints pictures with his words, but the story was told as sort of an epic myth in a setting of old New York that was either imaginary or semi-science fiction and it lost me early in despite my best efforts to hang on.
The reviews on Amazon range from “Sheer Insanity and Gorgeous Magic” to “too much non-sensical gibberish”. Guess which camp I am in? One lonesome * for this one.
I feel like a heretic giving River Jordan’s “Praying For Strangers” only 3 and ½ stars. In my rating system that means I enjoyed the book and I’m glad I took the time to read it. I can recommend it to others but I wouldn’t have them stop what they are doing and get it immediately. If you read the reviews on Amazon you will quickly find that my opinion is NOT shared by anyone. There are 39 reviews for “Praying For Strangers” on Amazon and all 39 have awarded this book FIVE stars. Maybe, like me, no one wants to be the first to offer a contrary opinion.
First of all, it took some time to fully believe that someone named River Jordan is writing a book with a religious theme. Actually, it was more difficult to grasp that she is an accomplished author who has written several books and they do NOT have a religious theme. Toward the end of 2008, as Ms. Jordan was contemplating her New Years resolutions; she was both sad and fearful because both of her sons were going off to war, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. It came to her that rather than focusing all her thoughts on her own worries she should force herself to think about others. And what better way to do that than to find a stranger each day to pray for. She began to find them everywhere in the course of her daily travels. It was like someone was choosing them for her; the woman in front of her at the bank, the guy with whom she collided shopping carts, the traffic guard at the local school. She would find them and offer special prayers for them on that day. I think all of us could do that but Ms. Jordan felt it was important to let each of these people know she would be praying for them that day and inquire of them whether they had any special needs that she should focus on while praying for them. This is what makes the book what it is. It takes some courage to open yourself up to others and this didn’t come easily to River Jordan. She was amazed at the positive responses she received and how this one little offering on her part seemed to make such a difference to so many that she encountered.
Praying for Strangers is an uplifting account of how one person can make a difference in the lives of others. It is also a testament to the power of prayer. Finally, it affirms that we aren’t really strangers to others and that we all face each day trying to do the best we can and we are joined together in that noble pursuit. It’s a book worth reading and I gave it ***1/2 stars.
Eli and Charlie are the Sisters Brothers. They are hired guns. The Sisters Brothers is a western novel. I am not a fan of western novels as a genre. I very much enjoyed reading The Sisters Brothers. I realize there is some contradiction there but that’s because The Sisters Brothers can’t really be pigeonholed into any one type of book. It’s quite unique and it’s a well-told story with action, humor, violence, compassion and even a little sex thrown in. The western aspect just happens to be the background for all that goes on in the story.
Eli and Charlie Sisters are hired by a nefarious individual named The Commodore to kill a gold prospector by the name of Herman Kermit Warm who done The Co0mmodore wrong. We are never quite certain just what transgression Mr. Warm committed against The Commodore and it is obvious Eli and Charlie could care less. They simply know they need to travel from Oregon to San Francisco and find this Warm guy and kill him. It is what happens to the two brothers on their journey that makes this novel such a wonderful read.
The tale is told from the point of few of Eli, a killer with a conscience, who questions the lifestyle that he and his brother have chosen. You will enjoy traveling with Eli and Charlie and find yourself laughing out loud just before someone else dies a violent death.
Patrick DeWitt is an excellent writer. His characters come alive through his words. The Sisters Brothers was short-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and DeWitt is certainly an author to keep an eye on for future offerings. I gave this thoroughly non-western western four ****stars.
If I could give stars based entirely on the creativity required to develop a unique idea for a novel, The Attack would undoubtedly rate FIVE stars. Dr. Amin Jaafari and his wife, Sihem, have made a good life for themselves. He is an Arab doctor, a surgeon, living in Tel Aviv. Despite the difficulty one might expect an Arab living in Israel to encounter, Amin and his wife are well-respected in the community and have made many Jewish friends.
During a weekend in which his wife is off on a three-day visit to her family near Nazareth, a suicide bomber wreaks death and destruction on an outdoor café killing 20 people, including many children. Dr. Jaafari fights desperately to save as many of the injured as possible during 48 hours on duty at the hospital. Upon returning home, tired to the bone after endless hours of surgery, he finds that his wife has not yet returned from her weekend trip. As he sleeps for the first time in days he is awakened by a phone call from the hospital asking him to come back. When he returns he learns that his wife’s body has been discovered amidst the carnage at the café. As devastating as this news would be, he is then told by his friend, Navid, a local police detective, that his beloved, Sihem, is suspected of being the suicide bomber. As it becomes evident that she has indeed been responsible for this horrific crime, Dr. Jaafari’s world is shattered. How could this happen? Why did he not see any clues? He begins to question everything about their marriage as he himself is investigated by the Israeli police who wonder if he assisted her in any way.
Once cleared, Dr. Jaafari breaks from his duties at the hospital and travels to the West Bank in a quest to find the answers as to who recruited his wife, how did they get to her and why was he so blind to what was happening. He is in a dangerous world of Palestinian terrorists but he is determined to unravel the mystery of why this happened.
I am not certain exactly why, but the story seemed to drag a bit as he investigates why his spouse became a murderer. Had the book maintained the pace of the first half, this could have been a five-star account. I enjoyed it for the most part and I gave it ***1/2 stars.
The small hill towns of Western North Carolina can be a peaceful and bucolic setting. They can also be the home of evil. In A Land More Kind Than Home that evil manifests itself in the local town preacher, Carson Chambliss who uses his power and influence over his congregation to “praise the Lord” in his own bizarre manner which includes poisonous snakes.
The story is told from three different points of view. The first is young Jess who feels the burden of being responsible for his older brother, Stump, a deaf-mute. The second is the local mid-wife, Adelaide, a parishioner who is able to see through the charms and spells of pastor Chambliss and finally, Sheriff Clem Barefield whose job it is to bring justice to the small town of Marshall, NC.
A terrible tragedy strikes one of the characters and the book progresses from the three viewpoints which tell the story.
Wiley Cash, in his debut novel, proves to be a wonderful writer. His soft, almost poetic, style is perfect for conveying the mood of the town and the uniqueness of the area. His writing is powerful and some of the scenes are gut-wrenching but every page is a tribute to his writing skills.
A Land More Kind Than Home is an excellent book. It’s quite different from most of the books I have read and I am certainly glad I read it. I am giving this one four **** stars.