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The Brothers Karamazov

My gosh. I can’t believe I finished this book. It took me months! I’ve been reading off and on since the spring, and today, I sat down, knocked out the last 25 pages, and completed this beast!

Crime and Punishment is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it several times. I’ve taught it several times. I truly think it is a masterpiece. That said, it doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to this one. These brothers are something on an entirely different level.

The book is over twice as long as Crime and Punishment, with good reason. There is a lot of religious commentary in it, but none of that drags. It’s fascinating, honestly, and I would love to do some research into Dostoevsky to see what his religious beliefs were. This book is also a reflection of Russian politics and criminal world. About halfway through the book, a murder is committed. The second half is dedicated solely to finding the killer, the confession, the trial, and the sentencing and aftermath on all the parties involved. Learning about the Russian jury system, prosecution, and trial procedure of the time was really interesting.

If you are new to Russian literature, get your feet wet with C&P. It’s a lot more reader friendly. And once you are hooked, grab this monster and enjoy.

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No One Knows

I managed to get a lot of thrillers from Netgalley, including this one. I like a good mystery, especially one that is unique, has a great plot twist, or leaves me thinking. And up until the last few pages, I was ready to give this book four stars. However, the forced plot twist at the end dropped it to two stars. I was really disappointed by the time the book was over.

Without giving too much away, the main character, Aubrey, is mourning the death of her husband. He went missing five years ago and, since so much time has passed, he has been declared dead. Aubrey has spent much of this time either incarcerated, drunk, or barely hanging on. She was suspected of her husband’s murder, given the amount of blood found in their home, but was found not guilty due to the lack of evidence. She drank a lot just to numb the pain. But after hitting rock bottom, she cleaned herself up, got a teaching job, and is putting her life back together. Until a man, looking much like her husband, enters her life.

I really was okay with the majority of this book. Is he dead? Did she do it? Did his mother, due to inherit a lot of money? Did his jailbird father? What about his mystery man who seems to know a lot about Aubrey? All of this, thankfully, is resolved by the end of the book, and there are a few plot twists along the way, but the final one just did me in. It was so unbelievable completely out of the realm of possibility given the rest of the book, that it just infuriated me. I have pretty high standards when it comes to plot twists. Even if I see them coming, that’s fine, but it has to be plausible. That’s my one requirement, and this book failed it, miserably.

 

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Treasure Island

For my “book that takes place on an island” I just went with the obvious choice. I’ve started this book a few times and just never got into it. However, this time around, reading was a breeze and a joy! I can’t believe we don’t teach this book more often. It’s really kid friendly. It has enough destruction to keep the attention of most kids, but is also easy enough to read and understand.

Basically, a kid whose family owns a tavern comes across a pirate who dies while living with them. The kid and his mom go through the man’s belongings to see what mysteries he was hiding. Bad guys come for the kid because he learned the secrets. The kid gets on a boat that is destined for mutiny, all to find the dead man’s treasure. Or something along these lines… Ha! I finished it a couple weeks ago and just haven’t had a chance to blog, so the details are a bit muddy already.

Anyway, the kid gets all wrapped up in the mutiny, has to choose sides, changes loyalty (or does he??) and has many adventures along the way. Thoroughly enjoyable quick read. I have taught Jekyll & Hyde, which is a great book, but much more challenging than this one. I also enjoyed that one, but in a different way. Treasure Island is just a really fun read.

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The Accidental Tourist

A friend recommended this book ages ago and has been hounding me ever since. Honestly, I knew it was a movie, but had no idea it was a book. And to meet my “book from a library” category, I used this one. Granted, it was an ebook, but I still checked it out, so it counts.

I really don’t understand what’s great about this one. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The main character, Macon, has lost a lot. His son died, his wife left, he broke his leg, his house has flooded, and his dog is attacking people. In walks, Muriel, the dog trainer, who might be the most annoying character ever. Okay, hyperbolic, but still! I just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be with her. Macon lives with his sister, temporarily, who is just as bad. The family is just so set in their ways that nothing can alter their routine. And even though Muriel does just that, Macon is such a flat, dry character that we never really learn whether or not he appreciates Muriel’s craziness.

Unfortunately, the next book I have from the library is another book by this same author, completely by coincidence. It’s the only book with my profession that I could find and that wasn’t a “how-to” manual about being a mother. I’m not looking forward to it, now. But maybe it will be better than this one. Fingers crossed.

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Sarah’s Key

A few friends recommended this book to me last year. And for my 2016 book challenge, I needed a book set in Europe. I’m not a big historical fiction fan, but books about WWII and the Holocaust are too important to avoid, so I took the plunge and read this book, even though I was told that it would rip my heart out.

And let me tell you. It didn’t. At a couple points in the book, I thought, “Oh, that’s sad,” but that’s about it, honestly. Partly because the big reveal that usually happens toward the end of the book happens in the middle. I wasn’t invested enough in the story to be truly emotionally hooked. That said, I’m not like post people. I don’t cry about books, really. But if you are looking for an emotional upheaval, this book probably fits most people.

A good chunk of the book is told in alternating chapters, past and present. I enjoyed the present day ones more, but I really don’t have a reason why. The main character is writing a story about a particular event in Paris history,¬† (The Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup ),¬† but people aren’t talking. So she has to do some investigative work. The story from the past is Sarah’s, who was one of the children picked up in the roundup. Why she has a key is a particular tragedy, and one that is eventually resolved in the book.

Overall, this was a good book. Not as good as others, but still worth reading. I’m happy to report that I do not need therapy (as was suggested) after reading it.

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Conversion

For my “book recommended by someone you just met” I walked into Barnes and Noble and asked the first employee I saw. He was probably in his early twenties and his name was Tristan. My only caveats were that I needed a book I hadn’t read before, and a book that wasn’t in the middle of a series. He first recommended Troublemaker by Leah Remini, but I already had that on hold from the library for my ‘book written by a celebrity” so I asked for another. He lead me to the YA section and handed me Conversion by Katherine Howe.

I used to teach HS English, so this book was right up my alley. Girls at a boarding school start to have mysterious illnesses ranging from verbal/facial tics, hair loss, headaches, coughing up pins!!!, etc. The girls just recently read The Crucible, also. In between modern day chapters, we meet Ann Putnam, in Salem, while she tells her story and involvement in the Salem Witch Trials.

This book *should* have been really great. It had all the right ideas. But I just never could get into it. The mystery disease is thought to be one thing, then another, then another, and finally a diagnosis is given. However, you are never fully sure that an illness is truly behind all the girls’ ailments. This story does take place in Danvers, Mass, formerly known as Salem.

And at the very end the author’s note is where I was completely irritated. This story isn’t her own. Not that she plagiarized or anything, but a case like this really happened a few years ago. She pulled details from that news story and made a fictionalized account merging the current story with the Salem story. I’m not a fan of ripped from the headlines Law & Order. It feels too much like fan fiction for the real world. And this book felt much like the same.

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Knights of the Hill Country

For my “book from your hometown” 2016 book challenge, I had to fudge a bit and go with my home state. Last year, I read Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now for a book of the same category, so I thought I would stick with him again this year. I liked The Spectacular Now a little bit. The main character just isn’t the best guy, even though, he is trying, but even though he is given the opportunity to change and grow and evolve, he doesn’t. I rarely see a main character in a young adult novel who doesn’t learn anything at all. But, I was willing to give Tharp another try.

I disliked this book even more, though. The main character is a good kid who is the star of the football team, but longs for something more. He realizes football and popularity isn’t all that meaningful. He meets an unpopular girl who sees him for who he really is. This is just about the same plot as The Spectacular Now. The only difference is the main character in this book has awful grammar. So awful that I could barely read this book because it was so distracting. And books with bad grammar are my pet peeve. I understand giving characters voice and authenticity. However, a “dumb jock” from small town Oklahoma¬† with bad grammar is just a stereotype that does not need to be perpetuated. When kids read books like this, do they really need bad grammar reinforced? Do we really have to keep making kids dumb (as the main character saw himself) to make them relatable?

Even though this book was short, I could only read it in short spurts because the grammar was so hard to get through. I eventually skimmed a good chunk of it just to get the plot points. Maybe I’m being too hard on the author, or expecting too much, but I just don’t think we need to expose kids to improper grammar more than they already get from society.

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We

When I had to read a dystopian book for my 2016 book challenge, I knew I would have a problem. I’ve read them all. Well, obviously not them all, but when I scroll down the Goodreads list of popular dystopian books, I have read 19 of the top 20. So finding one that wasn’t a series (I enjoy a good series, but I just don’t have time to invest in one right now) was going to be a challenge. Then I remembered We. I’ve had it on my list for awhile. Published in 1924, We is one of the earliest dystopian novels of the modern literature.

I was first introduced to the genre with The Giver, then by 1984, both works affecting me greatly. 1984 is still my favorite all time favorite book, mostly because Orwell was a brilliant writer and could truly see our future. It is the scariest book I’ve ever read, mostly because it is coming true every day. And reading We was very reminiscent of 1984. It is clear Orwell got his inspiration from this book. However, Huxley says he wrote Brave New World before reading We. But all three books are clearly aligned, not only in subject, but also in writing style.

We is very sparsely written. It’s more of a stripped down version of a story. Granted, it was originally published in Russian, but the English version is really streamlined. There isn’t a big focus on why, or how. But just of what is happening right now, told through journal entries. Where 1984 adds in the emotion of the time period with the “Two Minutes Hate” and the relationship between Winston and Julia. However, Brave New World ramps it up even more with all the sex and Soma.

Even though I didn’t love this book like I do others in the genre, it was a really interesting book to see where the genre (mostly) originated.

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Shopgirl

I’ve been a fan of Steve Martin’s since I saw Roxanne as a kid. He is simply a comedic genius. However, I have a feeling he got his writing gig simply by his name. As a reader, I notice a lot of about writing styles. By no means am I a writer, but I am able to critically analyze writing. Some styles are so unique and seamless that I notice them for positive reasons (I’m thinking Cormac McCarthy, here) and some authors have a tried and true style (like Steinbeck or Hemingway). But Martin employs some odd style choices.

First of all, he wrote this book in present tense. It was jarring enough that I noticed it and couldn’t stop myself from wanting to put it back in its proper past tense. Maybe I’ve just read way too many books written in past tense and the occasional present tense is my own personal issue. But it was also written in 3rd person. I guess this isn’t surprising because it really did feel like watching a movie, like I was reading one big voiceover for someone’s life. Martin also told me a lot, rather than showing me. Lesson one in writing is “show, don’t tell.” He doesn’t follow this rule, though. He explained a lot of character emotions by just putting the info on my plate, rather than leading me down a path of understanding. Finally, he uses a strange fast forwarding technique (months later….) several times and it was really jarring. I didn’t really understand the timeline of the story. These two characters are together for awhile, but with all the strange fast forwarding, I have no idea how long. A year? Two years? It’s a mystery to me.

I gave the book 3 stars because I did want to keep reading and see what happened to the characters, but I really wasn’t invested in them. I didn’t bond with them because they were pretty emptily written. I will forever be a fan of Martin’s movies, and have heard nothing but amazing things about his Broadway show, but his writing career isn’t his best work.

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The Terrorist’s Son

This book is hard for me to write about, given today’s society. If you have any empathy for Muslims, you are viewed as anti-Christian. If you support the current administration, you are a Muslim sympathizer, which means you are anti-Christian. I have been called a moron, an idiot, a sheep, a follower of the second Hitler (Obama). I have been told people are embarrassed for me for being liberal. I have been told to think for myself and not to blindly follow the liberal media. I’ve taken this criticism via social media for, oh, 8 years now, since Obama took office. Side note: I do support our president. I do not think he is a Muslim. I do not think he wants to take away Christian rights. And, amazingly enough, I do think for myself. I actually listen to the other side all the time. I am not an emotional person. I look at fact and logic. My entire belief is about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And yes, this includes Muslims, African-Americans, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, and anyone else who may cross my path. I’m not quick to judge.

When a friend recommended this book, I knew I had to read it for my 2016 book challenge for a “book of an unfamiliar culture.” I admit that I don’t know as much as I would like to about the Islamic belief, and I certainly don’t understand radical thinking of any kind. And 93 pages later, I have hope. A tiny sliver of hope. TED talks brings us the story of a boy growing up with a radical Muslim father. The father, born in Egypt, hates America. He hasn’t always, but some recent events have led him down this path. The boy, Z, was born in the US. His mother, born in PA, converted when she was 18, met the father, and was married 10 days later. Life was good for a number of years. Then the father had some trouble, met some people, and events were put into motion. The father, El-Sayyid Nosair, was convicted of murdering a rabbi, and helped orchestrate, from behind bars, the 1993 bombing of the WTC. Wikipedia Z was just a small boy when all this happened. His world was taken away by his father’s actions. He was bullied growing up, mercilessly, for who he was, who his father was. It wasn’t until his mother changed their surname, moved to Florida, and gave her family a new start that Z started to find himself.

A normal coming of age story deals with homework, dating, getting a job, buying a car. Z’s story deals with coming to terms that his father chose terrorism over his family. Z no longer speaks to his father. He has chosen to lead a life of peace, speaking out against violence.

In today’s world, where violence is so shocking, yet so pervasive, we should all take a page from this book. Z took the more difficult path. The path of escape from his radical father. It would have been easy to throw himself into his father’s footsteps, join the war, support the radical beliefs. But he didn’t. And that is what true strength is.