March 29, 2017

End of the First Quarter 2017 Wrap-Up

I'd been trying to do monthly wrap-ups last year, but I just can't seem to get on schedule.  So, I'm going to try quarterly this year.  I'm a little early this time around, but I have plans this weekend.

I haven't finished any challenges -- yet!  I have visited 11 US states...well, 10 and Washington, DC which isn't a state but is on my list.  I've also visited 4 countries.  I've actually visited more than that, but I'm not counting places that are just stop-overs.  They have to be a real part of the story.

My favorite new-to-me book this time around is State of Fear by Michael Crichton.  My absolute favorite, however, was a re-read, The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King.  It would likely be my favorite under almost any imaginable circumstances.  2017 has been a great reading year so far!

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

I reviewed this book just a couple of years ago, back in 2015.  My original review is here.  I'm not going to do a full review again, just some new thoughts.  I was a little angry when I read this book last time around.  I'd waited so long for the Dark Tower series to be completed and then, about eight years later, a new book was added.

"I want a bumper sticker that says I Waited Out the Starkblast in Gook."

Today, now that the book is no longer "The Addition Just When I Thought I Was Done", I find it much better than I did the last time.  It was scary and wonderful and well worth a higher rating.  It shows the incredible bond of friendship that has grown between Roland and his ka-tet.  I'd give it a 10 easily.

"A person's never too old for stories, Bill.  Man and boy, girl and woman, never too old.  We live for them."

Some of my favorite quotes remain the same (some day, I will have that bumper sticker!), but I found a new one that I'm not sure how I missed the last time around.  We are never too old for stories, indeed.

Updated Rating:  10 / 10

March 26, 2017

Faery in Shadow by C. J. Cherryh

Title:  Faery in Shadow
Author:  C. J. Cherryh
Pages:  310
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 1994
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  A curse, a sin, and a dark bargain with the Sidhe had condemned Caith mac Sliabhan to wander the wild woods, outcast from all humankind.  Only Dubhain -- a pooka, a Sidhe sprite -- was his companion.  Caith now was bound to do the will of the Sidhe, always fearing that his own taint would somehow make him cause pain and sorrow to others...

But even an outcast like Caith could not resist taking refuge in a forest cabin, where two mysterious golden youths, boy and girl, dwelled.  "Husband and wife, we are," the boy said, but Caith would have sworn they were twins..

The mysterious couple were under a spell themselves -- and despite his curse, Caith felt compelled to aid them.  Caith soon fell into a dark adventure that led him and the Sidhe into the evil hands of the notorious witch of Dun Glas.

Review:  C. J. Cherryh is one of my top three favorite authors, yet this book has languished on my shelf since 2010.  I love this author's science fiction, particularly her Foreigner series, but her fantasy is sometimes wonderful and sometimes not.  So, her fantasy novels are often neglected because I'm half-afraid they won't be as good as I expect them to be.

This one, however, was strange and fey and darkly magical.  I won't say I adored it, but I will say I couldn't put it down this weekend.  It was hard to read in places.  The characters' accents are difficult to translate at times.  It was very much worth reading, however, and I'm sorry I waited so long to give it a try.

Rating:  6 / 10

March 23, 2017

The Associate by John Grisham

Title:  The Associate
Author:  John Grisham
Pages:  373
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Doubleday, 2009
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  If you thought Mitch McDeere was in trouble in The Firm, wait until you meet Kyle McAvoy, THE ASSOCIATE.

Kyle McAvoy grew up in his father’s small-town law office in York, Pennsylvania. He excelled in college, was elected editor-in-chief of The Yale Law Journal, and his future has limitless potential. But Kyle has a secret, a dark one, an episode from college that he has tried to forget. The secret, though, falls into the hands of the wrong people, and Kyle is forced to take a job he doesn’t want—even though it’s a job most law students can only dream about.  Three months after leaving Yale, Kyle becomes an associate at the largest law firm in the world, where, in addition to practicing law, he is expected to lie, steal, and take part in a scheme that could send him to prison, if not get him killed.

With an unforgettable cast of characters and villains—from Baxter Tate, a drug-addled trust fund kid and possible rapist, to Dale, a pretty but seemingly quiet former math teacher who shares Kyle’s “cubicle” at the law firm, to two of the most powerful and fiercely competitive defense contractors in the country—and featuring all the twists and turns that have made John Grisham the most popular storyteller in the world, THE ASSOCIATE is vintage Grisham.

Review:  I didn't care for the main character, Kyle McAvoy, all that much.  My favorite character was actually Kyle's father, John McAvoy.  He was sensible and loving and funny.

This was a really fast-paced, impossible to put down story.  Of course, that's true of most of John Grisham's novels, so I wasn't surprised.  I am continually surprised at how many different stories he has to tell, though.  This was a really good one.

Rating:  9 / 10

March 20, 2017

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal 2017

I really had trouble with my theme last year and ended up changing it part way through.  This year, I'm keeping it easy!

My theme is (drum roll, please!):

Books, Books, and More Books!

I'll post about books I love (obviously), but also about authors and books in general.  In other words, anything to do with books is on the table.  I wrote a few posts in advance, but not all of them.  It'll be fun seeing what I come up with and then visiting others to see what they came up with!

March 19, 2017

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

Title:  The Witches of Eastwick
Author:  John Updike
Pages:  340
Genre:  Fantasy / Fiction
Publisher:  Random House, 1984
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane and Sukie, bewitching divorcĂ©es with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious.  Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream.  Their happy little coven takes on a new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play.  Thenceforth, scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick -- and through the even darker fantasies of the town's collective psyche.

Review:  Ever since I saw the movie starring Jack Nicholson that is based on this book, I've been dying to read it.  Unfortunately, none of the fun of the movie is present in these pages.  The writing is difficult to read.  The descriptions are overdone.  And Darryl Van Horn is gross, slobbery and insulting.

To make it worse, the only real message in this story seems to be, 'No woman can possibly be happy without a man in her life'.  Ugh.  Maybe the author was trying to be ironic, but it didn't come across that way to me.  The writing was so dull, even the parts that were meant to be exciting were like watching paint dry.  All I came away with was a strong desire to throw the book in the garbage (I didn't, maybe someone else will like it) and an even stronger desire to get my wasted time back.

It's the same basic tale as the movie, but it's just really awful and impossible to get interested in.  I have the flu and was stuck in bed all weekend and still I could barely get through to the end.  I kept hoping it would get better.  It just didn't.  Very disappointing.  This is the second novel I've read by this author (the first was The Terrorist) and I didn't like either of them.  I won't be trying a third one.

Rating:  1 / 10

March 18, 2017

Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Title:  Wizard and Glass
Author:  Stephen King
Pages:  672
Genre:  Fantasy / Romance
Publisher:  Plume, 1997
Series:  The Dark Tower, Book 4

"It wasn't blood but roses."

Synopsis:   Stephen King invites readers back into the world of Roland the Gunslinger, in this, the eagerly anticipated fourth volume in his epic series of horror and fantasy. Wizard and Glass picks up where the last book left off, with our hero, Roland, and his unlikely band of followers escaping from one world and slipping into the next. And it is there that Roland tells them a story, one that details his discovery of something even more elusive than the Dark Tower: love. But his romance with the beautiful and quixotic Susan Delgado also has its dangers, as her world is torn apart by war. Here is Roland's journey to his own past, to a time when valuable lessons awaited him, lessons of loyalty and betrayal, love and loss. As he did in the first three volumes in the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands, Stephen King displays his marvelous talent for storytelling. Wizard and Glass is Stephen King at his very best.

Death for you, life for the crop.  Charyou tree.

Review:  This is probably the most difficult book of The Dark Tower series for me to get through.  A great deal of the story is about Roland's past.  His childhood takes several horrible twists and turns.  I know it's required.  How else would he become the Gunslinger he needed to be later in life?  But, that doesn't make the story any less tragic.

I also never loved the way this book brings portions of the The Wizard of Oz into the mix.  It just seemed strange and unnecessary to me, although I admit it does create an oddly scary backdrop for the meeting with Randall Flagg.  It can be argued that Maerlyn's Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz fit together seamlessly, even if it is in a twisted fashion, but the fit seems just a little too forced, a little too bizarre, and somehow out of sync.

All that aside, this story is a necessary part of the quest.  It defines how, when and why Roland began the quest and why, after all this time, he must continue it to the bitter end.  It's also a great story, even though I find it strange in places.

Rating:  9 / 10

March 9, 2017

By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz

Title:  By the Light of the Moon
Author:  Dean Koontz
Pages:  431
Genre:  Thriller
Publisher:  Bantam, 2002
Series:  Stand Alone

"No Goldfish, no pee, no fold."

Synopsis:  Dylan O’Connor is a gifted young artist just trying to do the right thing in life. He’s on his way to an arts festival in Santa Fe when he stops to get a room for himself and his twenty-year-old autistic brother, Shep. But in a nightmarish instant, Dylan is attacked by a mysterious “doctor,” injected with a strange substance, and told that he is now a carrier of something that will either kill him...or transform his life in the most remarkable way. Then he is told that he must flee--before the doctor’s enemies hunt him down for the secret circulating through his body. No one can help him, the doctor says, not even the police.

Stunned, disbelieving, Dylan is turned loose to run for his life...and straight into an adventure that will turn the next twenty-four hours into an odyssey of terror, mystery--and wondrous discovery. It is a journey that begins when Dylan and Shep’s path intersects with that of Jillian Jackson. Before that evening Jilly was a beautiful comedian whose biggest worry was whether she would ever find a decent man. Now she too is a carrier. And even as Dylan tries to convince her that they’ll be safer sticking together, cold-eyed men in a threatening pack of black Suburbans approach, only seconds before Jilly’s classic Coupe DeVille explodes into thin air.

Now the three are on the run together, but with no idea whom they’re running from--or why. Meanwhile Shep has begun exhibiting increasingly disturbing behavior. And whatever it is that’s coursing through their bodies seems to have plunged them into one waking nightmare after another. Seized by sinister premonitions, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to crime scenes--just minutes before the crimes take place.

What this unfathomable power is, how they can use it to stop the evil erupting all around them, and why they have been chosen are only parts of a puzzle that reaches back into the tragic past and the dark secrets they all share: secrets of madness, pain, and untimely death. Perhaps the answer lies in the eerie, enigmatic messages that Shep, with precious time running out, begins to repeat, about an entity who does his work “by the light of the moon.”

"Feel how it works, the round and round of all that is."

Review:  I was expecting this to be really scary.  It was frightening in many ways, but it is definitely a thriller and not a horror.  The main characters are all very likable.  Shep is one of the three main characters and he hardly ever speaks and, when he does, it makes very little sense.  He's autistic.  But, whether he speaks much or not, he steals the show.  He's a wonderful young man.

I liked this book very much.  It was really easy to get into and nearly impossible to put down, especially at the end.  It was humorous and thrilling and heart-warming.  The descriptions are so wonderful, it's like you're right there.  It was everything a good novel should be.

Rating:  8.5 / 10

March 4, 2017

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Title:  Doomsday Book
Author:  Connie Willis
Pages:  445
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Bantam, 1992
Series:  Stand Alone

Synopsis:  For Kivrin, preparing for on-site study of one of the deadliest eras in humanity's history was as simple as receiving inoculations against the diseases of the fourteenth century and inventing an alibi for a woman traveling alone.  For Dunworthy and her instructors in the twenty-first century, it meant painstaking calculations and careful monitoring of the rendezvous location where Kivrin would be retrieved.

But a crisis strangely linking past and future strands Kivrin in the most dangerous year of the Middle Ages as her fellows try desperately to rescue her.  In a time of superstition and fear, Kivrin -- barely of age herself -- finds she has become an unlikely angel of hope during one of history's darkest hours.

"Anno Domine," the clerk said from the bed.  He tried to lick his lips with his swollen tongue.  "One thousand three hundred and forty-eight."

Review:  I originally read this book some time in middle school.  I remember checking it out of the library and sitting up late, reading it.  I was lucky to have parents that allowed me free range of the library, even the adult section.  I read many wonderful books and this one is no exception.  It is a great story.  I found this copy for sale at a used book store and grabbed it, thinking some day I'd re-read it.  I'm glad I did.  It scared me then and it still scares me.

In December of 2054, at a university in Oxford, England, Kivrin is supposed to be sent back to December, 1320, in the hopes that she'll be dropped near enough to Oxfordshire to see how things really were.  She will stay for three weeks and learn all about the Middle Ages first hand.  Unfortunately, the technician makes a mistake and Kivrin ends up in 1348, just as the Black Plague is sweeping through the land.

Called the 'blue illness' or the 'black death' by the people of the time, the bubonic plague was nearly always fatal.  Kirvin watches helplessly as the people she has come to know die, one after another, while she survives -- she got inoculated back in 2054.  It's a horrible way to die and this author does not pull any punches.  It's gruesome and awful in places, sad and pitiful in others.

In the end, however, this book is mostly about the strength of the human spirit and that spirit shines brightly in Kivrin; in Dunworthy, her mentor; and especially in Colin, a young boy from 2054 who has courage to spare.  Father Roche, the priest of the village Kivrin stays in during her time in the past, out-shines them all.  His faith, compassion, and goodness are extraordinary.  If you love time travel books, aren't too squeamish, and are a fan of the Middle Ages, I highly recommend this novel.

Rating:  9 / 10

March 1, 2017

Blogging from A to Z - 2017

I found this blogging challenge last year and it was really a challenge for me.  I'm not great at writing.  I'm certainly not great at blogging daily.  The challenge is to blog for 26 days in April, each day for a different letter of the alphabet.  I'm still thinking about my theme, but I'm pretty sure I know what it'll be.  The rules have changed a little from last year, but I think that's a good thing.

I love this new addition especially:  Each day of the Challenge, we'll add a post with the letter of the day to the A to Z Challenge blog. When you've posted your entry to your blog, post a comment to the Challenge blog with a link to that day's post on your blog.

And I found the support and community created by this challenge to be wonderful.  I can't wait to try again!
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