Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

November 14, 2013 Books to Read, Memoirs, Nonfiction 0

WildNonfiction – Memoir (Released June, 2012)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
A twenty-six year old woman tries to recover from her divorce and the death of her mother by spending three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone.

My Thoughts:
I heard great things about this book before I read it – from friends and online reviews – but, I was still skeptical about how a virtual one character story about a woman in the wilderness was going to stay interesting for 300+ pages. Happily, I was wrong and loved this book!

I enjoy hiking, but my version of hiking is a couple hour excursion with some friends, so I cannot say that I went into this book with a keen interest in “hiking” in the PCT sense. Yet, Strayed’s storytelling and writing style managed to keep me engaged on every page. She interspersed the admittedly colorful details of her “before” life with her hike on the PCT, giving the story many dimensions and additional characters. 

Strayed is a complex person. At times, I found her self-pitying, rash, self-absorbed, and irresponsible. At other times, I found her inspiring, mentally tough, brave, and resourceful. Overall, I think her complexity as a “character” was part of what made the story compelling and she ended up being someone I rooted for.

Finally, I can add the PCT and long distance hiking as a topic that I’ve learned a bit more about, an outcome I always appreciate in a good book. 

Wild is on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: The Pat Conroy Cookbook by Pat Conroy

November 13, 2013 Books to Read, Cooking / Food, Nonfiction 0

The Pat Conroy CookbookNonfiction – Cooking / Memoir (Released July, 2009)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
Pat Conroy’s “memoir”, which centers around the best meals he’s eaten and cooked and the stories behind them.

My Thoughts:

Pat Conroy is one of my favorite authors (his novel, Beach Music, is on my All-Time Favorites List) and I was so excited to find out he also loves to cook.

Though this book does contain recipes, it is a book you actually read. Each recipe is accompanied by stories from Conroy’s life and travels (including Europe, Thailand, and obviously the American South), which are told in his masterful style. You even get the stories of people from his real life who were the inspiration for certain book characters and real life scenes which ended up in his books.

If you are a Conroy fan, but not a cook, you will still love this book.

Finally, since this book does contain recipes, you may want to (gasp!) spring for the “real” book version, rather than the e-book.

The Pat Conroy Cookbook is on my Cooking / Food Books List.

Book Review: Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace

November 11, 2013 Books to Read, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Sports, Young Adult 1

A big thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and for inviting me to be a host on this tour.

MuckersFiction (Released October, 2013)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story, quarterback Red O’Sullivan and his underdog Hatley High School football team attempt to bring hope to their failing mining town by winning the 1950 Arizona state championships.

My Thoughts:
My first thought when I started reading Muckers was that the team and the setting were a bit like the East Dillon Lions in “Friday Night Lights” (the TV show version), which made my day, as I think “FNL” was the best show that’s ever been on TV in my lifetime.

Though Muckers is technically fiction, it’s based on the true story of the “Muckers” football team in Jerome, Arizona, a once prosperous copper mining town that essentially became a ghost town when the mine closed. Many of the characters are based on real people and many details in the story are true.

Muckers is a heartwarming story of David vs. Goliath and the football team is the one bright spot in an otherwise depressing existence for the residents of Hatley. But, the story is about much more than football. It deals with class, race, poverty, Communism, and the effects of war on the home front (WWII and the Korean War, in this case). For what is being called a Young Adult book, these are extremely hefty topics. But, they give the sports angle depth and make Muckers appealing to adults and “young adults” alike.

The characters, particularly Red and Cruz (Red’s best friend and star receiver) are typical boys who rib each other constantly, talk about girls, etc, but are trying to overcome massive odds both in life and on the field. They show heart, determination, loyalty, leadership, and, yes, attitude. Most importantly, they will do anything to win – even push Hatley High’s school bus around for tackling drills since the school didn’t have dummies (a true detail pulled from the real “Muckers” team).

Muckers is an inspiring story of the underdog, but also a unique look at a one industry town in the 1950’s. It’s going on my Sports and Books for Guys lists.

You May Also Like:
The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski


TLC Book Tours

Book Review: The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane

November 10, 2013 Books to Skip, Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers 1

A big thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and for inviting me to be a host on this tour. 

The Stranger You KnowFiction (Released September 24, 2013)
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
Casey Woods and her team at Forensic Instincts (FI), a private investigative firm, partner with the NYPD to investigate a string of murders of red-headed college girls beginning 15 years ago.

My Thoughts:
This is my first time reading Andrea Kane, a best-selling novelist specializing in romance and 
thriller “series”. The Stranger You Know is the third book in her Forensic Instincts series.

This book felt a bit like one of those mysteries you can find in the grocery store book section. Some people love this type of book and The Stranger You Know certainly has all the elements that would make it successful with this type of reader – it’s easy to read, suspenseful, and is completely plot driven.

However, I tend to be drawn to books that are beautifully written, have a bit of humor, and have interesting, multi-faceted characters (a suspenseful plot doesn’t hurt either!), and I didn’t get that from The Stranger You KnowMy impression was that the writing was a bit cheesy and the characters’ dialogue was unimaginative.

I also thought the characters were too black and white. The good guys (the Forensic Instincts team) were 100% good and the bad guys were 100% bad – there was no nuance in either type of character. The members of the Forensic Instincts team (Casey included) were a bit too perfect and earnest about their work. They all were “geniuses” in their respective areas of expertise, completely passionate about their jobs, and didn’t seem to have any outside family obligations that would preclude them from working around the clock on this case. All of these things are obviously qualities you want in a work force, but are pretty unrealistic in real life and made the FI team lack humanity and normalcy as characters in a story.

Despite the writing and one dimensional characters, I have to say that the book did affect me enough that I had to stop reading it at night. It was scary and I had a nightmare about it! So, I guess it did have the desired effect. If you’re into “grocery store” mysteries, certainly give The Stranger You Know a shot, but I don’t think it would appeal to someone who’s not into that particular genre.


TLC Book Tours

Book Review: The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski

November 8, 2013 Books to Read, Nonfiction, Sports 0

The Miracle of St. AnthonyNonfiction – Sports (Released January, 2006)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:

The Miracle of St. Anthony chronicles Coach Bob Hurley (father of Duke basketball legend Bobby Hurley) and his nationally ranked high school basketball team.

My Thoughts:
The Miracle of St. Anthony is far more than just a sports book. It’s about overcoming obstacles, shaping lives, supporting teammates and the community, and creating a dynasty in the process.

How does a team that doesn’t have a “home” gym become one of the best in the country? This is the kind of sports story that will give even the most lackadaisical sports fans goose bumps.

You also get to hear what it was like for Bobby Hurley to be coached by his father in high school. Let’s put it this way, he definitely did not get any special treatment.

The Miracle of St. Anthony is on my Sports, Books for Guys, and Book Club Recommendations lists.

Book Review: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

November 7, 2013 Books to Read, Nonfiction, Sports 1

SeabiscuitNonfiction – Sports (Released July 1, 2003)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
The true story of the race horse, Seabiscuit’s, rise from crippled looking underdog to racing dominance during the 1930′s.

My Thoughts:
Seabiscuit is the Rudy of horse racing. This is a feel good sports story that is filled with colorful characters (particularly Red Pollard, the jockey), which makes it read like fiction at times.

Like The Blind Side, Seabiscuit will appeal to people not interested in sports, as well as to sports fans.

Seabiscuit is on my Sports Books List.


Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

November 6, 2013 Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 0

In the Garden of BeastsNonfiction – History
Released May, 2011
466 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

Told through the eyes of Martha Dodd, the US Ambassador to Berlin’s daughter, Larson paints a picture of how the German people remained oblivious as Hitler very gradually accumulated the power to enable him to pull off the Holocaust under their noses.

My Thoughts

In the Garden of Beasts tackles Hitler and the Holocaust from a totally different angle than the one in the history books (at least the ones I studied in school). He was able to capture how Hitler and the Third Reich managed to convince the German population that he was the best leader for their country and that he and his fellow Nazis did not have more sinister motives. A brilliant P.R. coup.

Martha Dodd loves to party and hangs out with numerous sketchy characters – including many prominent Nazi party officials, which adds intrigue to the more historical aspects of the story.

Larson also covers how William Dodd’s (the U.S. Ambassador) many warnings of the Third Reich’s increasingly alarming actions went generally unheeded by the U.S. State Department.

In the Garden of Beasts is a fascinating look at Hitler’s rise to power while the rest of the world sat on their haunches and is on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

November 4, 2013 Books to Read, History, Nonfiction 0

UnbrokenNonfiction – History (Released November, 2010)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
Louis Zamperini, an ex-Olympic track star and WWII Air Force Lieutenant, is shot down over the Pacific and ends up in a Japanese concentration camp.

My Thoughts:
Astounding is the only word I can use to describe Unbroken – there is a reason for the hype. This story is so amazing that my husband stopped reading it because he determined there was no way some parts were true. I didn’t agree with him, kept reading, and was so glad I did.

I also learned a lot about the Japanese concentration camps during WWII, which I feel were skimmed over in school in favor of the German ones (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention then).

Unbroken is on my Book Club Recommendations List.

Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

November 3, 2013 Books to Skip, Fiction 0

And the mountains echoedFiction (Released May, 2013)
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:
In 1950’s Afghanistan, Saboor, a poor villager, sells his daughter, Pari, to a wealthy family in Kabul, which causes ripple effects for generations.

My Thoughts:
Before I talk about the book, I have to say that I loved Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, but thought his A Thousand Splendid Suns was just so-so.

And the Mountains Echoed was one of those books that many critics say is “beautiful”, but is actually a bit boring and hard to follow (I come across so many of these, that I think I’m going to start calling them the “beautiful borings”!).

Hosseini tells a few interlinking stories that span generations and continents (the Middle East, the U.S., and Europe). Unfortunately, his structure is incredibly disjointed and the scene often jumps to something entirely unrelated without any warning or transition. I found myself having to go back a few pages to figure out how we so abruptly got from one place to another.

I enjoyed the writing itself and even the central story of Pari and her new mother, Nila. I just wish Hosseini had a tighter focus and avoided including story lines that were only tenuously connected to this central one. For example, the story of Markos, the subsequent owner of Nila and Pari’s Kabul house, takes up an entire third of the book even though he was only a minor character in Pari and Nila’s story.

If Hosseini and his editors had structured the story better and pared down the content, And the Mountains Echoed could have been a truly beautiful book!

Book Review: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

November 2, 2013 Books to Skip, Fiction 0

The Tiger's WifeFiction (Released March, 2011)
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Link to this book on Amazon

Plot Summary:

Natalia explores the myths/stories of the tiger’s wife (a deaf-mute girl in her grandfather’s childhood village who is befriended by a tiger that escaped from the zoo) and the “deathless man” to find answers to her grandfather’s death.

My Thoughts:
I kept seeing this book on the New York Times bestseller list and various “editor’s picks” lists (it was also a finalist for the National Book Award); however, I found it painful and hard to follow.

The central story about the tiger’s wife actually doesn’t make up that much of the book. There were too many tangential stories that were boring, pointless, and distracting.

I also felt Natalia’s character (the narrator) development was lacking – Obreht didn’t make me care about her at all.