9 Mini Reviews for August / September
This month's mini book reviews cover a little bit of everything - it's been a busy, eclectic reading month. Full reviews are published on some of the other books I finished this month. Rebecca was one of the few classics I've been able to get through and sort of enjoy. Other books in this edition of mini reviews are: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux. The Black Sky by Timothy Minneci (free from the author), Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and Devoted by Dean Koontz.
Rebecca by Daphne du Mauier
Genre: Classic, General Fiction
Award: National Book Award
Published 1938, 386 pages
Originally picked as a Buddy Read before the libraries closed, I finally got my copy. Told in the first person by the second Mrs. de Winter, I found it too mired in her dreams, nightmares, wishful thinking and daydreaming. I can see where Mrs Danvers gets her notoriety and the estate of Manderley is it's own excellent character. Rebecca is a surprise. Otherwise, I can't say I loved it. It's an average read for me.
"Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind."
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
Genre: General Fiction
Published March 2020, 320 pages
Marketed as a thriller, I found it a somewhat light entry in that category. It's the story of a Munchausen by proxy mom who keeps her daughter sick until she's a teenager. She gets caught, goes to prison (not a spoiler) and the twists start when she's out of prison and her daughter, as an adult, takes her in. The book is okay. A quick read with a minor twist that wasn't hard to see coming.
Reading Challenge: #Popsugar20 #21: a book with olympic gold, silver, bronze in title
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Genre: General Fiction, Middle Grade
Published 2010, 120 pages
A powerful book based on the life of Salva Dut and his formative years in Sudan. Sudan is at war in the early 2000s and he is separated from his family, becomes one of the "Lost Boys" as he walked across countries from refugee camp to refugee camp. Simply told, and perfect for middle graders, this is an informative book that gently shares very ungentle information, making it digestible for that age group and yet impactful for adults. Highly recommended.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction
Award: Pulitzer Prize
Published 2014, 531 pages
Though I read this a few years ago, it was so good I want to recommend it here, on Bookshelf Journeys. Set in WWII it's the story of two young teens - a blind French girl and a German boy - told in alternating chapters. We learn about their lives and how they end up in a place where their paths cross. Beautiful writing and short chapters in this character-driven story makes it easy to stay engaged and makes the 500 pages fly by. Set during war and evocative of the places, the ending seems to be full of hope that people can/will help those in need in spite of their differences. Highly recommended if you haven't read it.
A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux
Genre: YA General Fiction
Published 2009, 192 pages
This short YA novel is impactful because it tells the story of a young boy and Gloria, his "mom", trying to leave a war-torn part of Russia for a safer life - ultimately trying to get to France. It describes the hardships and small pleasures of growing up from 10-13 years old and wraps up when he's about 20. Starving, freezing, lonely, sometimes overtaken by "the despair", the little boy is encouraged and cajoled by Gloria who teases and tells him stories and loves him enough to keep him moving. While a sad and sometimes grim story, it's not graphic in the descriptions of the hardships and there are some hopeful nuggets of happier truths the boy learns. It describes some of the challenges and hardships faced by immigrants as the boy finds his way to France and tries to fit in.
"We didn't need to talk to understand one another; each of us had gone through the hazards of life - hunger, border crossings in the middle of the night, the fear of patrols, the noise of Kalashnikovs - and had known distress that rips your guts out when you're alone in the world. Our memories and our feelings acted like cement; we were as united as the bricks of a wall. This was very important because no one can live without human warmth."
I feel like it's a good upper middle grade level story with lots of heart. I read it from a recommendation list at #ModernMrsDarcy for "translated by women" month. (translated from French)
The Black Sky by Timothy Minneci
Published Aug 28, 2020, 308 pages
I received an early copy of this book from the author and the opinions are my own.
This debut novel is a pretty quick read with lots of action - chase scenes and escapes and close calls. The dystopian story is set in the future when an asteroid hit has decimated most of the world and the US has consolidated into 15 walled cities. Everywhere else is a wasteland populated by gangs and thugs.
The premise is interesting: a man (with some former military experience) is asked to drive thru the wastelands, retrieve someone from another city and return to walled-city Manhattan within 48 hours. The dangers he faces along the way, the people he meets that change his outlook, and the final confrontation are all somewhat formulaic and kind of superficial. I don't feel like there was enough attention given to the why in his change of heart. None of the characters was particularly memorable; they had fairly common personalities.
For me, the book had too much in the way of tech toys to be truly dystopian, so from that standpoint, it didn't meet my expectations - which is no fault of the author's. If you enjoy action stories with a strong military vibe and some cool new tech stuff, this is likely a book you'll enjoy.
Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2018, 392 pages
Great title, right? The scandal in this case is a charming, powerful Minister in Parliament is accused of rape. Part legal courtroom drama and part the back story and how everyone ended up in the courtroom. Though it might seem the story is about James and the accusation against him, it's really about the women in the story - his wife, the co-worker accusing him, and the female prosecutor of the case. Each of the women are good characters and their internal struggles are well portrayed.
I did have a little trouble at the beginning sorting out the characters and which back story I was reading.....especially because they overlap in college. The middle of the book is the trial and it's a good courtroom drama - I particularly enjoyed seeing a bit how the British courtrooms function differently from the US. The wrap up is a bit round-about and not quite satisfying.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Genre: Sci Fi
Awards: Hugo & Nebula
Published 1985, 324 pages
I reread this for reading challenges this year and though I remember loving the book, I really had forgotten most of the details. I guess that's why rereading occasionally might be a good idea though I almost never do.
I gave this book 5 stars 20 years ago and I'll do it again now. This version has an introduction by the author that gives a little perspective on a book that has become almost a classic. Card discusses the responses the book has received, from "terrible book, kids don't talk/think like this", to "great book, I'm a gifted kid and it's the first time I've read something about someone like me". As usual, each reader finds their own connection to a story.
If you haven't read it, it's set some time in the future where a select few children have been genetically enhanced, hoping to create the perfect space pilot warriors. At 6, Ender is taken to Battle School and taught/pressured, manipulated into becoming the best - the best at everything. The book is all about preparing these extraordinarily gifted children to become warriors for an upcoming battle against another world.
The movie is pretty good but focuses mainly on the action and leaves out some key story elements that help explain Ender's personality and reasons. As usual, the book is better than the movie for seeing inside the thoughts of the characters and sometimes that really matters.
Devoted by Dean Koontz
Published March 2020, 380 pages
This most recent Koontz novel is about super smart dogs with special telepathy powers, an autistic boy, a genetically infected serial killer, and filled throughout with Koontz's philosophy on the relationship between dogs and humans. It often reminded me of an earlier book of his, Watchers (published in 2012), also about an unusually smart dog. Kipp, the smart dog, finds himself telepathically called to help Woody, the autistic boy, so sets off across states to get to him. Kipp has adventures along the way and meets a man who helps him get to Woody. Then the story becomes about the connection between Kipp and Woody and how the family and friends work together to survive the serial killer. An example of the intelligence of the dog community in this novel:
"Bella [a dog] turned the pages either by snorting out a blast of air or by the careful brush of a paw, so as not to crinkle a page. Stories were as delicious as food. As important as food. Bella could not live without stories. Stories were the greatest blessing of intelligence. They were food for the soul. They were medicine. You could live a thousand lives through stories - and learn to shape you own life into a story of the best kind."
It's a quick read, plenty of action, some heartwarming moments, and a healthy dose of philosophy. Worth a read, especially if you love dogs and a good dog story!
I hope you found something interesting in this collection of mini-reviews - something you'll pick up at the bookstore or the next time you're at the library. Happy Reading.