Book Thoughts

A place for me to give my thoughts on books, history, and their influence on my life.

Review of Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer

Best Kept Secret - Jeffrey Archer

I found this third book in the Clifton series to once again have me turning pages - but the feeling of "I can't want to get back to the story" was not quite there like the first two in the series.  While I still enjoy the characters (although as I said for the last book - they are all either 100% perfect or 100% evil), it feels like the story simply goes from one incredibly dramatic moment to the next.  There was more of a long-term buildup in the first book that isn't there any more.  I will certainly continue the series as it is a fun historical fiction adventure.

Review of The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the Father - Jeffrey Archer

This book was a continuation - literally the next moment in the story - from the first book in the Clifton family series.  I loved the first book, and I really enjoyed this second entry. I would rate this one 3.5 stars.  It was a page turner and things moved quickly, but I felt that the characters were just too good or too evil.  The good guys seem to always make the best decisions and take the best actions, while the bad guys do everything wrong all of the time.  There is not much nuance to it.  With that said, I was still certainly rooting for the good guys and enjoyed it as a fun read of historical fiction.

Review of Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

Only Time Will Tell - Jeffrey Archer

I loved this book!  I bought this entire series over time because they were all discounted as e-books and I am really glad I did.  I had never read an Archer book before but I had a hard time putting this down.  I would not call it great literature, but the character building, story-telling, and historical background are all very well done. I liked how he would switch perspectives from one character to the next, but also go back in time a bit in the story to fill in holes.  I have already started the next book in the series.

Review of Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Ragtime: A Novel - E.L. Doctorow

After reading a few reviews before I read this book, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it all that much.  What a great surprise that I thought it was fantastic!  This was my first Doctorow book and he writes in a way that is basically telling the history of (in this case mainly New York City) of America by using fictional situations.  Now, rereading that I would say - well no kidding; that is the definition of historical fiction.  What I mean is that the story was not character driven at all.  It was much more focused on the history than developing the characters.  As someone who reads a lot of history, I loved it.  For someone that wasn't as familiar with the history, I can easily see how a novel written in this way would be frustrating.  I am really looking forward to reading another by Doctorow.

Review of We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan

We Stand On Guard - Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, Matt Hollingsworth

I read this book as a part of the summer reading program at my high school.  I enjoyed the premise of the book that in the future, the United States invades Canada for its fresh water supply.  The story centers around one particular woman who joins with a group of rebels.  There is a great deal of graphic violence that I didn't think was really necessary, and I thought it moved too quickly to really build interest in most of the characters.  A missed opportunity in my opinion.

Review of The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin

I enjoyed this second book in The Broken Earth trilogy.  The world building is fascinating in these stories, and the characters, while intense, are memorable.  This book built off of the first story, and it had a new focus on one of the characters that was only alluded in the first book.  I can't really say more without giving things away but I am really looking forward to the third and final book to the series.

Review of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield

I really enjoyed this book that was part memoir and part practical advice on how to approach life and work.  I loved the stories about his time in space and the preparation that goes into it.  I also appreciated his advice about living in the moment and being prepared for every potentiality in life.  His stress on tackling one problem at at time (the classic checklist for astronauts) certainly applies in our day to day lives.  Finally, I also loved Hadfield's stress on trying to really love everything you do.  Nothing here that is revolutionary, but you can't help but appreciate the life and the love of life Hadfield has.

Review of the Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin

This was a great fantasy read and worthy of the Hugo award. The story takes place in what appears to be a very distant future earth where geologically the earth is always threatening to bring a catastrophic event that would lead to widespread death and destruction (a "fifth season"). There are multiple characters with fantastical powers and the world building is very well done. The story follows three different female characters at different places and times (it was just a bit confusing to follow at times), but there is a big reveal in the later parts of the book that I for one did not see coming.

 

I think the story ends perhaps a bit too abruptly, but with two more books in this trilogy, I can't wait to read the next.

Review of Different Seasons by Stephen King

Different Seasons - Stephen King

This is King's classic collection of four novellas, the first of which led to the beloved movie Shawshank Redemption. I enjoyed two and a half of the stories in this collection. The Shawshank story was outstanding (and it was interesting to see the differences between the book and the film). The Apt Pupil story was disturbing but very good (I have not seen that movie). The third story of the kids looking for the dead body really dragged for me. I also didn't care for the whole "story within the story" technique of sharing the writing work of one of the characters. I thought the fourth story had great potential, but then it also fell back on the story within a story and, while more interesting, didn't quite capture my imagination. Still well worth the read for King fans.

Review of Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is certainly quirky, but I always enjoy his novels.  This book sarcastically looks at life and death, weapons of mass destruction, religion, and relationships.  The book moves quickly with 127 chapters - each only a few pages long.  The story itself is somewhat interesting, but really just a means to an end for Vonnegut to make his points.

Review of The Life and Times of Michael K by J.M. Coetzee

Life and Times of Michael K - J.M. Coetzee

The is my second novel by Coetzee and I am still not that impressed.  This one is depressing - it starts that way and ends that way.  I understand that the author is describing how awful wartime can be, especially for people limited by money or by intellect, but I just felt that it was overdone.  

Review of The Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry

The Face of a Stranger - Anne Perry

I liked it, but I didn't love it. This is the first in a series that I will certainly continue, and I imagine that the later books in the series will be better. The series follows a police detective in mid-19th century London. This particular novel used the old story that the detective has completely lost his memory, but doesn't want anyone to know as he returns to his cases and his life.

 

To be concise - I liked the detective story and the world building. I thought the author very much overdid it with the class divisions in the society of the time (it was an important point to make, but we were a bit beat over the head with it). I also don't really think it was necessary to use the amnesia angle - I won't say more as to not give anything away.

 

Review of Sapiens by Yuval Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari

I found this to be one of the more fascinating and thought-provoking books I have read in years.  While most of the explanations and conclusions are rather simple, I thought Harari's ability to look at history and science objectively was unique.  As someone who reads a lot of history, placing humanity (sapiens) in a global and evolutionary context was important for my thought process.

Review of The Fourth Hand by John Irving

The Fourth Hand - John Irving

This was my fourth Irving novel and while I did enjoy his writing as always, this particular story didn't move me like the previous three novels.  This one follows a main character who loses his hand, but it is really about his relationships and how he tries to put his emotional life together.  For Irving fans I think this would be worth the read, but it was not a page turner like some of his more famous works.

Review of Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars: Tarkin - James Luceno

My first Star Wars Cannon novel that was not simply a movie novelization.  I enjoyed learning more of the background of Governor Tarkin as the movies don't quite let you know why he is so revered and respected in the Star Wars Universe.  As a standalone novel, I was not really that impressed.  I appreciated the interactions with Tarkin and Vader, but overall the story did not have me turning pages.

Review of The Man From St. Petersburg by Ken Follett

The Man From St. Petersburg - Ken Follett

Not what I expected, but I very much enjoyed this read by Ken Follett.  I went into the novel thinking it would be a typical spy story centered around the events leading up to World War I, but it quickly turned into a story more about the characters and their connections/relationships throughout the years.  I can't really say more than that without giving things away.  Recommended and makes me want to read more of Follett's stand alone novels.