11/22/63 by Stephen King

May 3, 2015

11-22-63 Plot summary (from the publisher): In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Jake was a mostly good character with whom to go on this journey. Sure, he was fairly vanilla (especially for a King protag), but at least he didn’t have too many annoying traits that would get on my nerves in a book this long. I liked him and was rooting for him to succeed.
  • Despite the book’s length and some boring spots, King still has a knack for making readers want to turn the page. I finished this one in just a few days because, yes, it was that engrossing.
  • The shoutouts to IT and Richie/Beverly were AWESOME!!!
  • When this book was first published, I had zero interest in reading it because I’m just not into the whole Kennedy assassination/Lee Harvey Oswald/CIA conspiracy theory thing. I couldn’t really get past the title of this one and didn’t investigate further. But then I saw some random comment thread on Reddit that talked a bit more about the plot and decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did, because actually the JFK thing was more of a MacGuffin than not. It was the driving force behind the protag’s action, but wasn’t front and center the whole time. Good deal!
  • King’s time travel scenario actually felt plausible. I tend to stay away from books that contain these supernatural elements (and sci-fi is a definite no-no for me), but King didn’t get bogged down in details or try to explain how this “bubble” to the past would even be possible. I guess some folks might consider that weasling out; but I trusted King (he’s earned it for sure) and just went with the flow. I wasn’t disappointed.

Disliked:

  • I thought there was way too much time spent on the minutiae of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life in the period leading up to 11/22/63. Obviously King had to get him involved in the story somehow, but all the arguments with his wife about banal things, the descriptions of his job, his daily routine, etc. just felt like filler in a book that didn’t need the extra pages.
  • I wasn’t that invested in Sadie or the love story. As this turned out to be the major plot point, it was a big miss for me.
  • I didn’t like the ending at all. The shithole the world turned into as a result o JFK being saved made Jake’s choice to reset time and save Sadie way too easy. Who wouldn’t do that? King should have made the “JFK lives” timeline a utopia so Jake would have to struggle with doing what’s best for the country or for just one person.

Rating:

I actually went in to 11/22/63 not expecting to like it very much. I thought it would be too full of JFK’s presidency, possible conspiracy theories, and LHO’s life. But that didn’t turn out to be the case at all. It was more about Jake Epping struggling to find his place in time and to do what was “right” given the hindsight that he had as a man from the future. The book was captivating and the characters’ motivations convincing. I give this one 4 stars out of 5.

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11th Hour by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

April 24, 2015

11th hour Plot summary (from the publisher): Your best friend

Lindsay Boxer is pregnant at last! But her work doesn’t slow for a second. When millionaire Chaz Smith is mercilessly gunned down, she discovers that the murder weapon is linked to the deaths of four of San Francisco’s most untouchable criminals. And it was taken from her own department’s evidence locker. Anyone could be the killer–even her closest friends.

Or a vicious killer?

Lindsay is called next to the most bizarre crime scene she’s ever seen: two bodiless heads elaborately displayed in the garden of a world-famous actor. Another head is unearthed in the garden, and Lindsay realizes that the ground could hide hundreds of victims.

You won’t know until the 11th hour

A reporter launches a series of vicious articles about the cases and Lindsay’s personal life is laid bare. But this time she has no one to turn to–especially not Joe. 11TH HOUR is the most shocking, most emotional, and most thrilling Women’s Murder Club novel ever.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • Like all of Patterson’s co-authored books, this was a blazingly fast read made up of over 100 very short chapters.
  • The main characters seemed a bit toned down in this book. I remember being turned off from the series because of some over-the-top actions from the Women’s Murder Club members, but their individual “quirks” were less of an annoyance this time around.
  • There was more focus on the casework in this book and less on the personal relationships with husbands/boyfriends or how the ladies need to use the Other Woman house cleaning service since they’re so busy with work, which I greatly appreciated.
  • The cases were actually interesting and made me eager for answers.

Disliked:

  • Although both cases (the severed heads in the movie star’s garden and the vigilante cop) were interesting enough, I felt that each got short shrift by being covered in the same book. Why the need for two main cases here? Either one could have been beefed up enough to fill an entire book on its own — especially a book as short as these Murder Club installments.
  • I absolutely despised Lindsay and Joe’s argument. She became convinced he was cheating on her, so she kicked him out of the house without bothering to listen to his side. I don’t know what kind of relationships people tend to have, but it seems to me that this kind of thing would ONLY happen in a book, TV show, or movie. Who values their husband so little that she wouldn’t even let him speak out in a situation like that??? Especially when Joe had done nothing (to that point) to make Lindsay distrust him. WTF?
  • I don’t really like how these cases are solved. The whole investigation seems very passive, and as a reader, I don’t get a chance to test my own P.I. chops in an attempt to figure out whodunit. The author provides scant suspects, pointless interviews, and zero clues. The whole solution basically hinges on an accidental discovery or a fuckup on the part of the perp. Not very fun from a reader’s perspective.

Rating:

As far as the Women’s Murder Club series goes, 11th Hour is actually one of the better books in the series. The cases are intriguing, the characters are (mostly) on their best behavior, and the story as a whole was entertaining. But the book comes off as merely average when considered in light of the larger crime fiction genre, so I give it just 3 stars out of 5.

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Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais

April 22, 2015

stalking the angel Plot summary (from the publisher): Bradley Warren has lost a very valuable thirteenth-century Japanese manuscript, the Hagakure, and hires Elvis Cole to recover it. Elvis and Joe Pike search through Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo and the nest of the notorious Japanese mafia, known as the yakuza.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • So far, Elvis is still funny to me. His wisecracking ways haven’t gotten under my skin (yet), and I still like him a lot. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time building up my tolerance thanks to Myron Bolitar. (Incidentally, the similarities between Elvis/Myron and their taciturn, ass-kicking partners Joe/Win is so strong that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a lawsuit!!)
  • The plot kept clicking along for the most part. I can’t recall any overly boring parts that made me want to put the book aside in favor of another. This was a breezy, brainless, entertaining read — which is very necessary every once in a while.
  • Some of the Hagakure/samurai code/yakuza stuff was interesting; but then again, I have no way of telling how much was accurate. Everything could be made up or flat-out wrong for all I know!

Disliked:

  • There wasn’t enough Joe Pike! I thought Elvis and Joe were supposed to be full-time partners? (Maybe I’m wrong; I’m still new to the series.) I think the books work much better when the two are together, because Elvis seems like the kind of guy that operates best with an audience.
  • Could have done without the incest angle. Even now I can’t tell you if Mimi was making that up as an excuse to shoot her father or if it was true. I skimmed over that stuff because incest is one of those topics that makes me feel queasy.
  • Elvis and Joe are a little too invincible for my taste. They went up against martial arts experts and got the best of them every time. Yeah, Elvis does some sort of martial arts posing/stretching himself, so he’s not exactly a noob, and Joe did use a shotgun on Eddie. But I have a feeling the constant victories against untold numbers of baddies will wear thin after a while.
  • BTW, Tang? Is sooo not a Japanese name.

Rating:

Overall, Stalking the Angel was just your average crime thriller. It has a fun main character and good pacing, but some of the plot elements were hard to swallow or just plain distasteful to me. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

April 19, 2015

quiet Summary (from the publisher): At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Reaction:

I thought Susan Cain presented her case for introverts in a clear and logical manner. She used anecdotes throughout the book to back up her points about introverts being just as (or more) intelligent, capable, and thoughtful people as extroverts, and most of the anecdotes were interesting.

I particularly appreciated the way Cain demonstrated that presentation is often valued more than substance in business settings. The part where she talked about Asian businesspeople in Cupertino taking classes to help them be more assertive and vocal was especially poignant. These were highly intelligent men and women who should have been able to go far based on ability alone, but who were reduced to having to take this kind of extra class essentially because they weren’t as loud and obnoxious as their extroverted counterparts.

I did have a few issues with the book. First, I would have liked it if Cain worked from a more rigid definition of introversion. She basically admitted she was using a cultural (read: pop psych) definition rather than anything found in an actual textbook. With such a flexible definition, it’s easy to stretch and mold the “data” to support her case. Almost anyone can be made to be an introvert — or at least have introverted tendencies.

Another problem I had with the book is that it started to feel very repetitive by the end. Then again, I guess there are only so many ways you can show that being quiet, thoughtful, deliberate, bookish, etc. aren’t negative qualities.

And finally, I wish Cain hadn’t ended the book with tips on how to deal with/overcome introversion. After spending all that time showing how introversion should be viewed as a positive rather than a negative attribute, it seemed odd that she would need to include such tips. Thus, I’m choosing to ignore that part and embrace the side of me that’s more comfortable staying at home on a Saturday night looking for an organizer for my pots and pans than going out with a group of people.

Rating:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a decent read that provides some good insights into what makes introverts tick and shows that they can be every bit as productive and valuable as extroverts. However, it’s not a hard-hitting book that plumbs the depths of the topic or that offers much in the way of further research. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

March 28, 2015

tramp abroad Summary (from Wikipedia): A Tramp Abroad is a work of non-fiction travel literature by American author Mark Twain, published in 1880. The book details a journey by the author, with his friend Harris (a character created for the book, and based on his closest friend, Joseph Twichell), through central and southern Europe. While the stated goal of the journey is to walk most of the way, the men find themselves using other forms of transport as they traverse the continent. The book is often thought to be an unofficial sequel to an earlier Twain travel book, The Innocents Abroad.

As the two men make their way through Germany, the Alps, and Italy, they encounter situations made all the more humorous by their reactions to them. The narrator (Twain) plays the part of the American tourist of the time, believing that he understands all that he sees, but in reality understanding none of it.

Reaction:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Mark Twain, probably back to Huck Finn in high school. But I’ve now gone through A Tramp Abroad and Life on the Mississippi in a matter of a few days, and am totally reevaluating my thoughts about Twain. He might turn out to be my favorite American writer yet!

The humor in A Tramp Abroad has held up surprisingly well over the years. I found it to be laugh-out-loud funny in a number of places, and absolutely loved his diatribe about the nonsensical assignation of gender to certain German nouns. As a former language student, I could feel his pain through every bit of that hilariously written passage.

If there was one thing I didn’t like about the book, it would probably be the portrayal of all Americans as oafish, rude, and unworldly. I had no idea that negative stereotype of Yankee travelers dated back so far!

Rating:

I truly enjoyed A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, not particularly as a travelogue, but more as a humorous series of sketches about odd people and situations encountered while wandering through Europe. This book makes me want to revisit all of Twain’s work, which is why I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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Charm City by Laura Lippman

March 13, 2015

charm city Plot summary (from the publisher): Reporter-turned-p.i. Tess Monaghan loves every inch of her native Baltimore—-a quirky city where baseball reigns, and homicide seems to be the second most popular sport. Business tycoon “Wink” Wynkowski wants to change all of that by bringing pro-basketball back to town—-a laudable mission that’s greeted with widespread cheers . . . and a muckraking front page exposé of his past in the Baltimore Beacon-Light. The “Blight’s” surprised editors are sure they killed the piece. Instead, the piece kills Wynkowski, who’s discovered asphyxiated in his garage with his car’s engine running. Now the paper wants former newshound Tess to track down the rogue computer hacker whose prank took a human life. But there’s more than cyber-crime involved her-e—and Tess is about to discover firsthand that trying to stay alive in Charm City is murder these days.

Warning: MAJOR spoilers below!

Liked:

  • One of the things I disliked about the first entry in this series was how much time the author spent describing Tess’s rowing activities and various gym workouts. That stuff was blissfully absent in Charm City (save for a few brief references), which made the book much more bearable.
  • I still like Lippman’s writing style. I think she gets the tone just right, and makes her prose interesting enough to be noticeably different (better) than other books in the genre without over-writing and taking too much attention away from the actual story.
  • There was less of the sexually liberated aunt in this installment than in the previous one, which I considered to be a bonus. Characters like that are best in small doses, and the aunt definitely overstayed her welcome in the first volume.
  • Is it weird that I thought “Charm City” was some kind of reference to jewelry? Click here for an example of what I mean. Who knew this is a nickname for Baltimore??

Disliked:

  • I hated everything having to do with Crow. I have a thing against grown men with long hair, so every time Crow’s physical features were described, it was just a huge turn-off for me. I’m glad Tess broke up with him to pursue Jack Sterling, and I was thrilled that Crow didn’t take her back after Sterling turned out to be the killer. That would have been dumb.
  • Why did Whitney and Tess have to fight? Why couldn’t they have had a healthy friendship that didn’t devolve into the usual catty competition over men, careers, and looks? Not ALL women are like that!
  • Jack Sterling’s motive for murdering Wink seemed a bit thin. The crime they committed together as teenagers was sealed, so it seems to me Jack didn’t really have anything to worry about. I get that the NBA would have performed a thorough background check on Wink before letting him buy a franchise, but not even they have the power to unseal juvie records.
  • The scene where Jack beat the shit out of Tess had me cringing. I hate even just reading about violence against women, so this was tough to take.
  • The references to beepers and car phones really dated this book. Yikes, I didn’t realize it was written 16 years ago!
  • I could have lived my whole life without knowing that there are people out there that buy retired racing greyhounds and let others hunt them down for a fee. I also did NOT need to hear about how the greyhounds’ ears were chopped off to make identification impossible. Good grief.

Rating:

Charm City, the second entry in the Tess Monaghan mystery series, was a solid effort by the author. She didn’t really bring anything original to the table, and there weren’t any real “twists” to speak of in this novel, but Lippman executes the crime story formula fairly efficiently — and with enough doses of humor to keep the reader entertained throughout. I give this one 3 stars out of 5.

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Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

March 12, 2015

killing jesus Summary (from the publisher): Millions of readers have thrilled by bestselling authors Bill O’Reilly and historian Martin Dugard’s Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, page-turning works of nonfiction that have changed the way we read history.

Now the anchor of The O’Reilly Factor details the events leading up to the murder of the most influential man in history: Jesus of Nazareth. Nearly two thousand years after this beloved and controversial young revolutionary was brutally killed by Roman soldiers, more than 2.2 billion human beings attempt to follow his teachings and believe he is God. Killing Jesus will take readers inside Jesus’s life, recounting the seismic political and historical events that made his death inevitable – and changed the world forever.

Reaction:

Having read and mostly liked this duo’s previous two books about Kennedy and Lincoln, I decided to give their third collaborative effort a try. But it was difficult to take Killing Jesus seriously, given its tendency to follow the page-turning, cliffhanger-chapter formula of modern thrillers. Still, I worked my way through to the end, which fortunately didn’t take very long.

Actually, if the authors had limited themselve to talking only about Jesus, the book probably would have been only one-third as long as it turned out. They spent many chapters setting the stage for Jesus’ crucifixion by detailing the political happenings in and around Rome at that time — even wandering so far afield as to give time to Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s hookups in Egypt.

But with the serious dearth of historical material about Jesus, I guess I can’t blame them too much for trying to pad the book with some kind of substance.

Still, I can’t help feeling that I came away from this knowing absolutely nothing new about Jesus’ life or death. And mind you, I am by no means religious nor have I ever read or studied the Bible. The bits and pieces I’ve picked up from casual religious discussions, movies, TV, and other pop culture references were apparently all that can be definitively said about Jesus’ life because that’s pretty much all these authors included about him.

Rating:

Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard is a book best suited to someone who doesn’t know anything at all about Jesus and wants to get a chronological overview of his life and times. This was a quick read despite its frequent detours, but the lack of anything new or insightful compels me to give the book just 2 stars out of 5.

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New bookcase for home

March 9, 2015

modern bookcase I have been buying ebooks almost exclusively for the past few years, but I still have a bunch of physical books leftover from my school days that I’m not ready to part with. They’re basically just shoved in a closet right now, which is obviously not a permanent solution. That’s why I’m currently looking for a cool bookcase for my living room or office.

I really like modern styles, and think this website has great selection of the kind of bookcases I’m interested in. Buying isn’t something that’s high on my list of priorities right at this moment, but maybe after my tax refund comes in I can give these another look.

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Abandoned books

March 8, 2015

I hate abandoning books. The ones I’ve left unfinished in my lifetime can counted on two hands and still bother me to this day. In fact, several times a year I dedicate myself to pushing through a book or two that I had previously abandoned. Sometimes the perseverance pays off (Portrait of a Lady, Gulliver’s Travels); sometimes it does not (Middlemarch).

So this post is serving as a reminder to myself of the books I need to revisit in the very near future:

  • The Wealth of Nations
  • The Crying of Lot 49
  • The Pursuit of Love (Mitford)
  • The Executioner’s Song (ugh, the mere thought of this one…)
  • Money by Martin Amis

I want to finish at least two of these before the year ends!

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The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

March 7, 2015

silent wife Plot summary (from the publisher): Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I was looking forward to a modern take on the whole “woman scorned” trope (none of the usual fainting fits and smashed perfume atomizers typical of Victorian lit), especially since this time the wife of 20 years was a common law wife. The premise was interesting, but unfortunately, the author never delivered.

Disliked:

  • Jodi’s transcribed therapy sessions were pure torture to read. I get that the author wanted to provide some psychological basis for Jodi’s later actions, but the method she chose was just so boring! And to have the result be sexual abuse at the hands of an older brother? How…trite.
  • I thought the ending was utterly ridiculous. Sure, Todd was an asshole, but are we to believe that TWO people (ordinary citizens at that, no criminal/mob ties at all) ordered a hit on him AT THE SAME TIME and for THE SAME DAY? And that the execution (no pun intended) of the crime would be so similar that the cops could plausibly pin the deed on Natasha’s father rather than Jodi? Riiiiiight.
  • There were absolutely no likable or sympathetic characters in this book at all. These people were all despicable in one way or another, which made reading about them neither enjoyable nor instructive.

Rating:

The marketing team for The Silent Wife did a good job of playing this up as another Gone Girl. This comparison is what piqued my interest in it in the first place. But this was NOTHING like Gone Girl, which at least had enough suspense to keep me turning the pages. The only reason I kept turning the pages of The Silent Wife is that I wanted the damn thing to end. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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