The Hanged Man’s Song

John Sandford’s The Hanged Man’s Song may have been ahead of its time in 2003, but it did not age well. The story and characters revolve around computer hackers Kidd and LuEllen and an underground world of deceit and political highjacking. Their world starts to feel the pressure when super-hacker Bobby is murdered. Bobby was a criminal mastermind with a terminal illness and confined in a wheelchair when he was attacked.  Someone only stole his laptop that had everything on it to possible connect all the hackers in his network to crimes. Of course, Kidd and LuEllen, along with some other friends, had to get the laptop back.

The book is filled with shootouts, sex, politicians, criminals, etc. It was an easy book to read, but it wasn’t great. It would be a perfect book to read while sitting on the beach drinking margaritas, but not under the cold, cloudy northwest sky.

Read January 2015

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Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is Deborah Harkness’s second novel following Discovery of WitchesAs from my review and memory, I liked the first novel and was looking forward to reading this. Shadow of Night is a continuation of the story and picks up where Discovery of Witches ends.

We pick up the story with Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont (or Roydon, or de Clermont) crashing into England in 1590. Diana has to immerse herself to this new world and Matthew’s former life, while Matthew gets to pick up with his old friends, many of whom he’s not seen since the 16th century. Matthew’s friends include, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare, and many other names recognizable from history and science classes. It makes sense that a powerful vampire would cavort with powerful people in all periods of time, and history only remembers those who had the power. But it felt contrite. Its like Harkness picked up an almanac to find interesting characters that lived in this time period and couldn’t help putting them all into her novel.

The romance continues between Matthew and Diana as they are wed formally by the custom of Matthew’s powerful father. We learn more about Matthew’s past and his family, plus interesting things about Diana’s lineage. I learned more about the clothing of this period that I ever thought I wanted to know. All the while, Diana is trying to find Ashmole 782 and learn more about her witchcraft. Throughout this novel, Diana makes friends everywhere she goes, including an unwelcome friendship with Holy Roman Emperor while in Prague. Its been awhile since I read the first in the trilogy, but I remember Diana being aloof and almost friendless. Maybe I have it wrong, but I felt like her character changed too much. Instead we have a character that gets everyone to like her and gets what she wants even under unlikely circumstances.

Overall, I was disappointed in this book. I don’t know if it was the change in characterization or the fact that the story felt too much like a romance and not a supernatural thriller. But there was something missing. This is a long book and it felt like a chore to get through it. I remember being captivated by Discovery of Witches and that wasn’t the case with Shadow of Night. As with all books that I don’t like, I can share the blame of disliking it. Who knows if the sophomore book wasn’t as good as its freshman performance, or I was somehow expecting something different. Depending on time, I might still read the third in the trilogy, if only to see how the characters, to which I’ve now devoted over 1,000 pages of reading, turn out.

Read January 2015

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is a tragic love story between two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, who both have battled cancer. Augustus lost his legs to cancer but is in remission. Hazel undergoes an experimental treatment that keeps her cancer at bay but keeps her perpetually weak and requiring oxygen. Hazel had been terminal prior to the treatment and still lives life separated from her peers. Her mother makes her attend a cancer group for kids where she meets the charismatic Augustus.

This is a teenager’s story written for teenagers, but there’s a lot to like about this book. Most of the main characters are suffering and dealing with issues that I, as an adult, have yet to come across, yet they are still so young and immature and hopeful. There’s a lot in the book is unrealistic but it allows the characters to experience places that they wouldn’t have otherwise. One way the two connect is by reading and loving a fictional story about a kid with cancer, An Imperial Affliction. Not only can they both relate to the story of cancer, but the author left the ending ambiguous. As if the kid just died while writing it and there was no more to know.

I read quite a few reviews that stated that both the characters were unbelievably intelligent and thats what makes their conversations so interesting. But reading this as an adult and having been around kids who have been sheltered from normal childhood things, I don’t think its their intelligence that makes it so well written. I think Green gets that these are kids who had to grow up quick. These are kids that spent an abnormal amount of time hanging around with adults and not enough time with kids. But these are still kids. Hoping to grow up. Hoping that tomorrow will be a little bit better, or at least not a little bit worse. And Green gets us to hope with these young souls that the world won’t be a horrid place filled with hospitals and treatments.

While this is a very sad book, about sad things, the sweetness of the romance and young love fill the book with hope. I would recommend this book, another one with a box of tissues, to everyone. Not just the young adult crowd.

Read January 2015.

The Hour I First Believed

Several friends have recommended that I read a Wally Lamb novel for a couple of years now. Their recommendation was based on how well Lamb grasps characters and the intense emotions he shares. Every story told about his books ended with the friends describing how they cried throughout the whole book.

Its hard to begin a book that you know will emotionally rip you apart. Which is why it took me awhile to pick any of them up. I found The Hour I First Believed while randomly browsing my local library, so I figured that fate was telling me that it was finally time to read Wally Lamb.

The Hour I First Believed begins the weekend before the Columbine school shooting. It uses the killers real words and the victims real names so that the victims are not forgotten. Just from that description, I’m sure any reader can guess why this story is emotional. But Lamb takes it further. Not only do the main characters work at the school, Caelum is a teacher and Maureen a school nurse, but Maureen was in the library in the middle of the rampage. Caelum luckily (?) wasn’t there because he was across country taking care of his dying aunt.

Caelum races across the country to find out what happened to Maureen. When they reunited, they need to face their own grief and Caelum finds himself in a strange teacher role dealing with the kids who have less life experience to deal with the tragedy that the teachers themselves.

Without fulling dealing with their emotions about the Columbine shooting, Caelum and Maureen return east to Caelum’s family farm in Connecticut. Its in Connecticut that Caelum must deal with his past, both personal and family past. Lamb reveals one thing after another, to make it seem that the life Caelum and Maureen are trying to save, just won’t let them. There’s bad luck and then theres the luck that these two have. Affairs uncovered. Hit and runs. Jail time. Alcholism. Throughout its hard to tell whats keeping them going. Is it guilt? Obligation?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can say that I cried throughout the book. Just like my friends recommendation, this book emotionally ripped me apart but by the end I was hopeful. Ripping my heard out through reading is tough, but putting the hope back in is even harder. Wally Lamb truly gets real human emotion. Its complex, but amazing.

I heartily recommend this novel, but with a box of tissues.

Read December 2014.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

Barbara Kingsolver and her family chose to live and document their challenge to live a year on locally produced foods, either from their own modest farm or their surrounding farms. I initially listened to the first half of the book as an audiobook which I normally enjoy. But for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life I didn’t like it. Barbara Kingsolver may be a great story teller, but I found her voice to be just shy of whiny. Maybe I spend too much time around toddlers, but I had a hard time listening to the book.

Once I got ahold of a hard copy, I breezed through the book. The premise is very interesting to me. I live as a vegetarian due to the environmental impact of a meat based diet. The idea that eating a banana in the middle of the winter is more destructive that eating meat intrigued me. I can’t say that I fully subscribe to the idea of eating locally as a sustainable diet, but this book made me think about the produce that I purchase on a regular basis. I’ve also started paying attention to the flavor of fruits and vegetables when they’re in season versus out. Before reading this book, I already dabbled in homemade items like sauerkraut, sourdough bread, and kombucha, but after reading I successfully made my own mozzarella cheese. While daunting and hot, I did feel a weird pleasure eating cheese I made from scratch. Although, to be honest I didn’t think it tasted better and the cost of the milk plus cheese products didn’t make it cheaper to make.

Kingsolver really let the reader into her farm and family. She has her oldest daughter and husband write excerpts in the book based on their experiences and findings which add to the depth of this family experiment. Overall, I enjoyed the facts of the book and many of the side stories of other farmers and locavores, but I found myself getting bored with some of the details.

Overall, this was an interesting read and would recommend for its insight into our food system as well as the storytelling.

Read Decemeber 2014.