Tag Archive | fiction

Book Review: The Descendants

The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings

It was hard to get George Clooney out of my head, since I know he stars in the film adaptation of this book.  But that might have been the best part…

The Descendants

The Descendants tells the story of Matt King, a descendant of the last Queen of Hawai’i.  His father has died and he is now the executor and largest shareholder of a family trust containing the family assets.  The family is looking at selling off the land, as they no longer can afford to maintain it.

But meanwhile, his adventurous, beautiful, impulsive wife has been severely injured in a boating accident and lies in a coma in the hospital.  Her doctors do not believe she will recover, and she has a living will that indicates she does not want any life prolonging efforts to be taken.

Matt has been a successful attorney, working long hours, but now he must figure out how to relate to his two daughters, to be able to parent them through this time of profound grief. 

This novel offers a lot of twists and turns, but I felt like Hemmings was trying too hard.  The family trust/land sale story-line didn’t add much to the story.  The character development was lacking, and left the reader feeling unable to relate.  What should have been a tough, raw story of grief and reconciliation seemed trite and superficial.

I had high hopes when I started it, but this novel left me wanting more. 

3 stars.


Book Review: The Jury

The Jury, by Fern Michaels

I picked this one up out of a Little Library; three CD audiobooks all in one package.  I figured I would give it a listen.  I had heard of the author Fern Michaels but don’t know anything about her.  I was expecting some sort of feel good friendship novel; boy was I wrong.

The Jury (Sisterhood, #4)

The premise here is a group of women who take turns choosing who they want to get revenge on.  For whatever wrong of the past they choose, they can mete out a punishment to fit the crime.  Every quarter the women meet and decide who will be the target of their wrath.  Then then plan and carry out the revenge as a group.  It could be a drunk driver who killed a family member, someone who abused animals, or a spousal abuser.  The revenge is no holds barred…

I found this novel rather disturbing; the eye for an eye kind of justice that isn’t part of our mainstream culture.  The women were good at what they do too, which was a little unbelievable as they seemed to be socialites and soccer moms and I’m not sure where they’d pick up the ‘beat someone within an inch of their life but not leave identifiable evidence’ type of skills.  I supposed it is entertaining to think that someone that evil just may get what they deserve, but I think karma doesn’t really work that way in real life. 

The writing style was choppy and there were too many plot lines in a very short novel.  Michaels would have done better to keep it more focused.  Not having read any of her other books, I’m not sure if that is typical of her writing style.  Michaels is an author who really cranks out the books, and it shows…  At any rate, it was a quick ‘read’ at only three discs, and it was a freebie, but I wouldn’t pay for any of Fern Michaels’ books.

2 stars. 

Book Review: A Regular Guy

A Regular Guy, by Mona Simpson

I read Anywhere But Here about 20 years ago, and enjoyed it, so at some point picked up this one by the same author and never read it.  But the time finally came for me to pull it off of the TBR shelf!

A Regular Guy

Two young adults fall in love, have a wild fling one summer, and make a baby.  But Tom Owens doubts the baby is his, and doesn’t take responsibility for his daughter Jane.  Mary struggles to raise Jane alone, in and out of a series of hippie communes, and shacking up with a series of men who never go anywhere.  Meanwhile Tom has made it big in the bio-research industry, founding his own business.  But his hippie roots are hard to shed and he lives a fairly itinerant lifestyle for a millionaire, living mostly in one room of a dilapidated mansion with his long-time girlfriend that he never marries.

Mary decides that she can’t take it anymore when Jane is ten years old, and teaches her to drive so she can make a middle-of-the-night trek down the mountain alone to her father’s home.  But what will he do when she shows up?  Will he accept responsibility?

I had trouble appreciating this novel.  The characters were annoying, with nobody ever seeming to take accountability.  Mary never acts like an adult, just expecting a man she hasn’t been with in over 10 years to take care of her.  Tom never lifts a finger to go out of his way for anyone, only doing what is convenient for him at the time, an entitled rich kid.  Jane is more adult than either of her parents, yet they both impose ridiculous rules on her, like not going to school. 

The places in the novel are confusing and detract from the story.  Simpson tells about real cities in California, but then chooses to fictionalize others.  It was unnecessarily distracting.  Choose one method; either all the places are fictionalized, or none.  The plot meanders, with no real direction and no real point.  I couldn’t tell you the purpose of the plot, or the climax, other than to teach a moral lesson that some people shouldn’t be in relationships, and shouldn’t have children. 

Only as I was sitting down to write this review did I learn that author Mona Simpson is the biological sister of Steve Jobs, who founded Apple Computers.  He was put up for adoption as an infant, and only as adults did Steve and Mona meet and develop a relationship. This novel is apparently a loose fictionalized version of his life.  When I think about it after the fact, it makes sense in terms of some of the events in his life.  Perhaps this really was what Steve Jobs was like, but ouch, her portrayal of him stings. 

While it was a quick read, there are far better novels of family.

2 stars. 


Book Review: The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

Elizabeth Hadley Richardson was the first wife of author Ernest Hemingway; they married in 1921, after meeting in Chicago.  This historical novel tells her story, the fictionalized account of Ernest and Hadley’s time in Paris during the 1920s.

The Paris Wife

I knew nothing about Hadley Hemingway, but was drawn into the narrative as told by Paula McLain.  Their marriage was tumultuous, with all the usual troubles of newlyweds, including money troubles and issues associated with finding your own way in the world.  Hemingway was a heavy drinker, and the two regularly drank and fought.  Hadley struggled to find her way in a marriage where she felt overshadowed by Hemingway’s larger than life personality. 

The novel details the period when Hemingway was writing The Sun Also Rises, arguably his most famous novel.  The couple traveled to Pamplona, Spain several times, while he is researching and writing the book.

The two genuinely loved each other, but this novel explores the very real problem of love not being enough. 

I appreciated McLain’s writing style, and the fact that while fiction, she adhered to what is known about Hadley and her marriage to Hemingway.  I was drawn into her life, the trials she faced, and her strength in adversity.

Note: A Moveable Feast, a memoir of Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s, chronicles the period when he was married to Hadley Richardson, and she was included in the book.  It was published posthumously in 1964, by Hemingway’s fourth wife Mary.  I might have to dig up a copy!

5 stars.


Book Review: Wild Fire

Wild Fire, by Nelson DeMille

On Columbus Day weekend, an agent for the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force goes missing while on an assignment in upstate New York during a surveillance of the Custer Hill Club.  

Wild Fire

Once his boss learns about the missing agent, Detective John Corey and his wife, FBI Agent Kate Mayfield, are assigned to look into the disappearance.  Unfortunately, they are soon pulled off the case.  However, Corey and Mayfield are convinced that something fishy is going on and they aren’t willing to give up so easily in the search for their friend.

They embark on a mission to find out what happened to their friend, and to figure out what kind of secret plot is going on at the Custer Hill Club.  Will they puzzle it out in time to save lives, before their colleagues find them and pull them away from their investigation?

This was the first Nelson DeMille book that I have read, but I was intrigued by this thriller.  Set in the post-9/11 days, the plot built on the Islamic terrorism threat, but with some very fascinating twists.  

I listened to the audio book version, and it was narrated by one of my favorite readers, Scott Brick.  He captures John Corey’s dry humor perfectly, and really manages to play on the relationship between John and his wife Kate.  

4 stars.  

Book Review: All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy

I watched this movie when it came out in 2000, but I had never read the book.   Interestingly, I feel like I liked the movie, but don’t really remember anything about it clearly.  So, on to the book!

All The Pretty Horses

John Grady Cole is a teenager from a ranching family, whose childhood ranch is sold off after his grandfather dies.  He and a friend decide to head down to Mexico to work on a ranch.  It is set in 1949 according to other reviews, but the novel does not make it very clear.

John and his friend Lacey meet up with another teen named Jimmy along the way, and once in Mexico, they get into trouble when Jimmy loses his horse in a thunderstorm.  They end up finding the horse in a nearby village, but its ownership is no longer clear.  And that, is where the trouble begins…

In true Cormac McCarthy fashion, it is a very dark novel.  The young men learn about the dark side of men and power.  In my mind while listening to the audiobook version, I see a world of gray.  McCarthy’s prose is very lyrical, but the book is depressing, with no happy endings.  My overall impression: not great, not terrible, and definitely a book to make you feel better about your own circumstances in life.  

3 stars.

Book Review: The Columbus Affair

The Columbus Affair, by Steve Berry

I’m back with another Steve Berry book, but this time from a different line of his adventure novels.

The Columbus Affair

In the Columbus Affair, Tom Sagan is a former investigative journalist who was discredited as a result of a fraudulent article he wrote.  He is depressed and suicidal, until he learns that his daughter is in trouble.  

Bad men are insisting that Tom exhume his father’s remains and turn over a packet of information that was buried with him, in order to save his daughter.  But what does it contain?  Tom decides he can’t just give up this information so easily, and starts to investigate to discover why they are so interested. 

Tom and his daughter end up an around the world adventure looking for a lost treasure left in the New World by Christopher Columbus, that has been hidden and protected for the last 500 years by a series of guardians.  But what makes this story even more unusual is the fact that the the treasure will challenge everything we thought we knew about Columbus and his journey to discover the New World.

This book was interesting, and Scott Brick did a great job narrating the audiobook.  It was not nearly as compelling as Berry’s Cotton Malone series though.

3 stars.


Book Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit

The Charlemagne Pursuit, by Steve Berry

This is another in the series following Cotton Malone, a former Justice Department agent, who owns a rare book shop in Copenhagen.  But somehow he keeps managing to get pulled back into the adventures he tried so hard to leave behind.

The Charlemagne Pursuit (Cotton Malone, #4)

Malone brings it upon himself this time, as conversations with his son lead him into a new desire to learn the truth behind his father’s death in 1971.  He knows that he died in a submarine accident in the North Atlantic, but what went wrong?  

Malone asks his former boss to get him a copy of the still classified file, which leads him on a pursuit he never expected.  His father, in fact, did not die in the North Atlantic, but instead while on a mission in Antarctica.  But why?

Malone learns that as he is trying to learn why his father died, there are powerful men who want to ensure that the secret never comes out.  His pursuit to find out the truth leads him to uncover the ancient secrets that his opponents don’t want him to know.  

As usual, this is a fast paced book with several twists and turns.  Unfortunately, I feel like this novel sort of fell flat on the believability index.  It was disappointing, because I never really bought it since the story is just a bit outside of the realm of reality.  That said, it was still an interesting read.  

3 stars.

Book Review: Bones

Bones, by Jonathan Kellerman

Bones is a murder mystery; the story of the search for the murderer of a woman with a bright future.  She is a musical prodigy, working as a tutor for a rich family whose son possesses the same bright talent.  She is discovered murdered in a bird marsh in Los Angeles.  The investigation uncovers several additional bodies buried in the marsh; they are all local prostitutes.

Bones (Alex Delaware, #23)

Detective Milo Sturgis calls in assistance from psychologist Alex Delaware; the different types of victims are providing a challenge.  Together, the two of them, along with assistance from a new detective in training, must find the killer.

It was an interesting murder mystery, full of twists and turns, where you never quite know who did it.

3 stars

Book Review: The Alexandria Link

The Alexandria Link, by Steve Berry, read by Scott Brick

This was another book in Steve Berry’s series featuring Cotton Malone, a retired Justice Department Agent who moved to Copenhagen to open a rare book shop.

The Alexandria Link (Cotton Malone, #2)

In The Alexandria Link, Cotton Malone is drawn into the chase when his son his kidnapped.  The kidnappers want information related to a previous case Malone worked on, and that only he possesses.  Making sure his son is safe will require him to revisit the previous case, and make sure what has been hidden remains that way.

And what is that secret information?  Well imagine for a moment that the Holy Land as named in the Bible is not actually in Israel and the region of Palestine?  What if Israel, as created after World War II, is not actually located where today’s version of the Bible says it is?  And along those lines, how would you prove it?

The adventure sends Cotton Malone on a search for the lost library of Alexandria, the huge research library of the ancient world, that was supposed to have been located in Alexandria, Egypt.  The library was said to have contained scrolls of the Old Testament prior to their translation into modern languages.  And those scrolls would hold the key to whether the location of the Holy Land, as described in the Bible, was within the modern state of Israel.

But why would that matter?  Because…  Modern day Christians, Jews and Muslims all make claim to the Holy Land.  But if it were in the wrong location, what do that do to the already tense situation?  Would an all out war ensue?

Berry’s writing style keeps the reader engaged throughout the whole book and his creative interweaving of history and hypothetical scenarios makes you think.  Plus, Scott Brick is one of the best narrators out there!

4 stars.