Saturday, July 31, 2010

"The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers"

Jason Fireson is perplexed when he wakes up and finds himself naked on a metal table with a sheet over him. His confusion increases when he sees his chest riddled with bullet holes, and he can't remember how he got there or why he's alive.
With a beginning like this, this book had me hooked from the start. Set in the Depression-era Midwest, this is the story of Jason & Whit Fireson, a fictional pair of bank robbers who flirt with immortality. With various other gang members they travel the Midwest robbing banks to provide for their families. Some view them as saviors, some as villains, as they work their way up to Public Enemy Number One.
But this is not just a rollicking ride of adventure. The book deals with family relationships and public perception. I enjoyed the historical details of the creation of the FBI and references to actual criminals such as Pretty Boy Floyd. I was also fascinated with the details of life during the Depression and how similar some of those are to our lives today during this recession. There is also a bit of mysticism dealing with their deaths, and an ending that will have you scratching your head. (Probably a good book club read.)
I did enjoy this book and thought that Thomas Mullen's writing was beautiful. I'd recommend it as a 4-star book rather than a 5-star one.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"The Judas Strain"

After plowing through Wolf Hall for two weeks, I knew it was time for a fun read. I read a Lisa Gardner thriller in a day, but it just didn't do much for me. Then I picked up The Judas Strain by James Rollins. Wow.
My disclaimer for this book is that it is probably a lot of silly nonsense--especially if you have a medical or scientific background. Having said that, I really enjoyed and had fun reading this thriller.
"The Judas Strain" refers to a strain of bacteria that turns friendly, everyday bacteria into something that can devour and kill you. This bacteria, first noted in the time of Marco Polo, has arisen again and threatens the world. The Sigma Team, a group of trained "good" scientists, is racing against The Guild--the bad guys--to control the disease and find a cure.
This novel speeds from Sumatra, to Washington D.C., to Italy, to Turkey, and to Cambodia. It's exciting and entertaining, and I had trouble putting it down. It seems to be a combination of the medical intrigue of a Michael Crichton book and the race for information of a Dan Brown book. Whether the science is accurate or not, I enjoyed the drama of it all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Wolf Hall"

It took more than two weeks, but I finally finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, an advisor to King Henry VIII. I truly enjoy historical fiction, and the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I is of particular interest of me. The fact that this novel won the Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award was the clincher in convincing me to read it.
This book is part of the story of Thomas Cromwell--it begins with him escaping his home as the beaten pre-teen son of a blacksmith and progresses until he becomes the Master of the Lists and valued advisor to the King of England. The main focus of the story is the desire of King Henry to divorce his first wife so he can marry Ann Boleyn and the religious repercussions that follow that desire. Unlike many books about the time period, this story is told through the behind-the-scene backroom dealings of Cromwell, not the grand announcements in court.
I really enjoyed the book as I read it, but I have mixed feelings about recommending it. I enjoyed the historical information, and I enjoyed hearing the story of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn from the viewpoint of another person. I loved the witty dialogue and the insider's view of court. The book is detailed--I mean really detailed--which may not appeal to everyone. Although the time period is the same, this is not the same story as The Other Boleyn Girl.
The most frustrating aspect of this novel is the author's inability to make clear who was speaking. She used first names and titles interchangeably, and names such as "Ann" and "Thomas" were common and therefore vague. Sometimes she used quotation marks with conversation and sometimes not. Worst was the vague "he" which could refer to anyone in the story. For example, in the sentence, "The evening before Fisher is to die, he visits More," "he" refers to Cromwell with no other reference to him whatsoever. It made the reading quite difficult.
While I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I can understand why not everyone might. Hilary Mantel is writing a sequel novel to finish Cromwell's story, and I am sure that I will read it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"The Dakota Cipher"

"The Dakota Cipher" by William Dietrich was a random pick at the library because the description was interesting. When I began the book, I was disappointed to discover that it was third in a series of books and I had not read the first two. I went ahead and read it, and I was glad that I did!
Ethan Gage is a self-described "treasure hunter," a loveable womanizer and gambler with a heart of gold. After adventures in Egypt, Italy, and France during the turn of the 19th century, he is led back home to America on a mission for Napoleon Bonaparte. He is under orders from Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory. This is merely an excuse for him to search for the ancient treasure of Thor's Hammer, supposedly buried in America by Viking explorers during the 1300's. Ethan sets out with his Norwegian companion Magnus to accomplish all of this and to still have a great time!
The plot of the book was a little outrageous, but I put up with it to be in the company of Ethan Gage. He is a combination of Indiana Jones and Owen Wilson's character in Shanghai Noon. He can't help but pursue the ladies, but when it comes down to it, he'll always try to do the right thing. I enjoyed this book enough to go back and read the first two, but they won't be at the top of my list. This book was a fun distraction, and I always love historical fiction!

Monday, April 26, 2010

"The Happiness Project"

I just found out that the book I'm reading that is due today has been put on hold, so I'm trying to race through and finish it! And it's so worth it! I am loving The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin, a mother and writer from New York (originally Kansas City) knows that she is generally happy, but she also knows that life is short and she could be happier. This non-fiction book documents her one-year quest to bring more happiness to her life. She tries different things each month; some work, and some don't, but she learns new things about herself and life each step of the way.
This book could be considered one of those trite, one-year project books that are popular lately, but this one really appeals to me. Maybe it's because I relate so much to Rubin, a closet children's book reader and organizing fanatic. Maybe it's because everyone wants to be happier, so why not give it a try? I do know that Rubin tells you up front that what works for her might not work for you, so she gives you a framework for you to fill in your own resolutions. I love her quotations and rules for life. Some things that she says, I know I will never think of again, but others I find myself thinking of daily and beginning to apply in my life. I have found that just reading this book has made me a happier person!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"The Mortal Instruments"

I've spent the past week reading the first two books of the Young Adult "The Mortal Instruments" trilogy by Cassandra Clare. A teenage friend and an adult friend had both read and recommended them. The covers of the books describe them as a cross between "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Harry Potter," which is pretty accurate with an emphasis on "Buffy."

When Clary Fray witnesses some tattoo-covered teens murder another teen at a club, she can't tell anyone about it because the victim turns to dust before her eyes. She discovers that these teens are "Shadowhunters"--human hunters who protect the world from demons. She should not be able to see them, but that is explained when she discovers that her mother is a Shadowhunter in hiding from a rogue Shadowhunter element.

Parts of the book are quite exciting, parts are repellant, and parts are cliche. The usual teenage angst is thrown in, and I was not quite sure how much I cared about the characters. However, when I finished the first book, I went to the library the next day because I really wanted to read the second book. I liked the second book better, and now I'm left needing to go to the library again to find the third book! (The author is currently working on a new book, which will be a prequel to the series.)

This is not great literature--it's not written as well as some other supernatural books I have read--but it is an interesting adventure. I'll let you know after the third book whether or not it was worth it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ranger's Apprentice

About three years ago I discovered the "Ranger's Apprentice" series of books when I was looking for a good book for Brian to read. As a family we listened to the first book on CD while travelling, and we all really enjoyed it. When we got back home we bought the second book and took turns reading it. Now Erin, Brian, & I read the new books as they come out, and I finished Ranger's Apprentice Book 7: Erak's Ransom today.

Written primarily for 10 to 13 year-old boys, these books are fantastic. They are full of strong characters, including strong girls, and suspenseful plots. In Erak's Ransom, the apprentice ranger Will goes on a mission to save a new ally in a desert wasteland. Maurading bands put his friends in danger, and it is up to him to save them.