Monthly Archives: January 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Twists

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Jackie says, “I love books with complicated plots and unexpected endings. What is your favourite book with a fantastic twist at the end?”

So, today’s question is in two parts.

1. Do YOU like books with complicated plots and unexpected endings?

2. What book with a surprise ending is your favorite? Or your least favorite?

I enjoy all kinds of books–both those that I refer to as mental bubblegum (good which you read it, but you forget them a few days after you’ve read them…I put Dean Koontz into this category) and those that have more complex plots and require a bit more attention.  Both are good and I enjoy them.  I also like a twist ending, provided the author has set it up well and it’s not a twist for the sake of a twist.

As for a favorite twist,there are a couple that are interesting to me.  I did like the twist in Ian Banks’ “Use of Weapons” a great deal.  And, of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my all time favorite books, “Ender’s Game.”

On the least favorite, I think because someone ruined it for me it has to be “Murder of Roger Ackroyd.”  I wish I hadn’t had someone give away the twist as I like to discover them on my own…


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“The Off Season” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

The Off SeasonD.J. Schwenk is back for the follow-up novel to “Dairy Queen.

D.J. is just your typical high school rising junior in a small town…well, except for one small thing.  She plays on her high school football team.  As the season begins. D.J. is a starting defensive star and dating the quarterback of the crosstown rival.  At least, he’s coming by her farm and they’re doing a lot of kissing.  The boy in question seems to deny that he knows D.J. whenever they encounter each other outside of her farm, though they do talk on the phone nightly and spend some time together.

Meanwhile, D.J. is concerned about helping her father keep the family farm going and overhears some conversations about how tight things are for her family.

“The Off Season” deftly balances some serious topics along with some amusing moments.  While D.J. is clearly caught up in her own personal drama (a reporter from “People” comes by to interview her and she lets slip about her relationship with the star QB), there are also some other more serious threads in the book.  The story takes a serious turn in the later stages when D.J.’s college age brother is injured in a football game and D.J. is forced to travel and help take care of him.

Told from the first-person perspective, Catherine Murdock succeeds in making D.J. an interesting, sympathetic and believable character.  We hear her frustrations with herself, see her giddy doting on her boyfriend and watch as she struggles to make the choices that are best for she and her family.

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“From Peanuts to the Pressbox” by Eli Gold

From Peanuts to the Pressbox: Insider Sports Stories from a Life Behind the MicYou may wonder why an avowed Tennessee fan would read a book written by the radio voice of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

I have to admit I wondered that a few times myself, especially as I got into the chapters in which Eli Gold talks about working for the Crimson Tide.

But beyond the loyalty and love of one school over the other, there’s something more to “From Peanuts to the Pressbox.” The book is the journey of Gold from a young boy who loved sports and always wanted to get into the broadcasting side of the sport game as he worked hard, followed his dreams and learned the ropes.

And while there may be time the prose suffers a bit (Gold relies too much on exclamation points in the book), the enthusiasm and love for what he does always shines through.  In many ways, this book is the embodiment of the old adage “If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  Gold clearly has that love as the voice for just about every sport in the world and it comes through in his stories, recollections and memories.

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“Lock and Key” by Sarah Dessen

Lock And Key Unabridged Compact= When I first started listening to “Lock and Key,” I had to keep reminding myself that this was a different book from “After.”  Both novels are read by Rebecca Soler and both start out with a female protagonist facing some difficult life situations and both being abandoned by their mothers.

And while “Lock and Key” is probably a bit tamer than “After,” it still features a female protagonist facing some major life choices, changes and challenges to her assumptions.

Ruby is a seventeen-year-old girl who comes home from school one day to find her mother has vanished.  It’s nothing new for Ruby to not run into her mom for a few days, due to her mom’s working odd hours and sleeping for extended periods of time, but after a few days Ruby realizes she’s been abandoned.  Hoping to keep things going until she turns 18, Ruby is found by her landlords to be living alone in squalor with the utilities turned off at various points.  Ruby is sent by social services to live with her older, married sister Cora and her husband Jamie.  Ruby lost touch with Cora years ago when Cora headed off to college, receiving only an invitation to her college graduation.   Rudy assumes that Cora left she and their mother behind and created her own new life.

At first, Ruby tries to rebel against the new life she’s been given.  She’s enrolled in a private, expensive school, far from her old friends and on-again/off-again drug dealer boyfriend.  Ruby meets the boy next door while trying to run away on the first night and reluctantly accepts rides to school with him to avoid having to get up earlier to catch the bus. Rudy also resists wanting to put down roots or re-establish her relationship with her sister since she figures she’ll be out on her own in a few months anyway.

But along the way, Ruby is assigned a school project to define the world family and the novel charts her grappling with the term and how it impacts her life.  “Lock and Key” has its serious moments, is packed with teen angst and has some humorous characters that come into Ruby’s life. But it never goes for the cliche or predictable and comes across with a real feel of authenticity from not only Ruby but the rest of the characters and situations.

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Book Through Thursday: Author No One Is Reading

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Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

Right now, I’d have to say it’s probably Jonathan Tropper.  I discovered him via the library e-reads audio book of “How to Talk to a Widower” and went out and found several other books by Trooper as soon as I could.  Tropper writes in a similar style to Nick Hornby.   But unlike a lot of books I’ve read with a first-person male protagonist who seems stuck at a certain age and maturity level, facing a crisis, Tropper is able to really take the style and make it his own.  You’ll feel like he’s channeling the same spirit as Hornby without copying Hornby, if that makes sense.

And his latest novel, “This Is Where I Leave You” was one of my favorite books from last year.  It’s a good entry point and his strongest work I’ve read.

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“The Caves of Steel” by Issac Asimov

The Caves of Steel (Robot 1)While “I, Robot” may be more recognized as the source for Asimov’s famous three laws of robotics, it’s his series of books about the partnership between a human detective, Lije Bailey and his android partner, R. Danell Olivaw, that are the more compelling and fascinating.

“The Caves of Steel” is the first (and best of the four) entry in the series, introducing us to Bailey, Daneel and a future world in which humanity lives inside massive, interconnected steel domes. Humans rarely venture outside and Earth is slowly dying due to overpopulation. A group of aliens called Spacers are colonizing other worlds, using robotic help but have limited how and where humanity can colonize.

When a Spacer is killed, Bailey is called upon to solve the case. Bailey must overcome his prejudice toward Spacers and robots to work on the case and with the robotic partner. It’s the conflict between Bailey’s dislike and distrust of robots and Spacers that drives a lot of the novel and makes it an utterly compelling, character-driven, world-building effort by Issac Asimov.

If you’ve only read his “Foundation” novels, you’ve missed out on one of the biggest pleasures in all of science-fiction by overlooking the Robot stories. Yes, later in life Asimov did work to tie these books into the Foundation series, but the first three in the series can be enjoyed purely on their own merits.

Add to all that world-building, a fairly well done murder mystery and you may have one of the most perfect gems in not only science-fiction but also all of literature. Asimov said that he could create a mystery within a sci-fi story without having to resort to a deus ex machine type of resolution and he does here. He establishes the rules for the universe early in the novel and doesn’t change them to fit the ending or solution he wants or needs.

A fascinating book and one of my favorites. Definitely worth reading or reading again.

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“Under the Dome” by Stephen King

Under the DomeIf you’re not careful Stephen King’s latest tome may hurt you.  Weighing it at close to 1100 pages and almost four pounds, “Under the Dome” is a return to form for one of the best-selling authors of the past thirty years.

King says he began writing this novel 30 years ago, but wasn’t quite ready to give it the effort it needed.  Thankfully, he didn’t abandon the concept of a small group of people cut off from the outside world because “Under the Dome” is one of the better King novels we’ve had in a long time.  And given that with his new publishing contract that his books are better edited these days and he’s really delivered some great books, that’s saying a lot.

The small town of Chester’s Mill is having a reasonably ordinary day when a giant dome literally cuts the town off from the outside world.  The first hundred or so pages look at the dome’s fall and its immediate impact–from birds crashing into the dome to a plane crash to animals being chopped literally in half by the dome.  The story them follows a huge cast of characters in the town as they struggle and devolve into political factions.  The town’s leadership is hiding secrets, including the fact that second Selectman “Big Jim” Rennie is the mastermind behind one of the largest crystal meht operations in the state.  Rennie has been playing fast with the rules, lining his own pockets and hoarding certain town resources.  Finding out who is involved in this elaborate conspiracy is just one of the fascinating journeys that King takes readers on in the just under 1100 pages that the novel unfolds.

Big Jim is a classic King villain–a guy so convinced of his own divine right to rule and that his decisions are what’s best for everyone (because they’re what’s best for him)–that you can’t help but root against him.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Dale Barbara, an Iraqi war vet on his way out of town when the Dome leaves him stranded.  Barbara (or as we come to know him by his nickname of Barbie) has crossed paths with Big Jim’s son and several buddies during a bar fight.  Barbie won the fight, but lost the war when he realizes that leaving town might be his best move.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it out in time and is trapped as well, leading to some further complications when the President puts him in charge of the situation.  To say Big Jim is not happy is an understatement.

The story unfolds over the course of four days under the dome with King examining the conflict between good and evil and looking at how ordinary people react to extraordinary circumstances.  In that, “Under the Dome” is vintage King. But King takes the dome concept a bit further, looking at the environmental impact the dome has on the Mill and its surrounding area.  In some ways, it’s almost along the lines of apocalyptic thriller along the lines of “The Stand” though there are probably King fans who would argue that “The Stand” is better.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, this is a must read.  Carve out some time, settle back, do some hand exercises (holding the book until you read the 200 page and pass the 900 page mark will require some strength and dexterity) and enjoy a superb read by one of the masters of contemporary fiction.

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“E Squared” by Matt Beaumont

e Squared: A NovelGoing in to “E Squared,” I had no idea it was a sequel to an earlier novel.

Thankfully, the novel is accessible enough that you don’t have to have read the first book to enjoy this one, but I have a feeling a few of the jokes might have been funnier if I’d read the first one.

Told through the use of blogs, e-mails and other on-line communications, “E Squared” tells the story of Meerkat360, an advertising agency that is full of fascinating people and interesting personalities. Matt Beaumont is able to give each person his or her own voice in the novel, making it easy to follow who is speaking or telling part of their story. The novel has some laugh out loud moments in it, including the running joke about items from the company disappearing and then an E-Bay listing suddenly appearing.

Of course, there are some plotlines that will generate more interest than others. I found the story of the harried company executive and his wife who are expecting a new child in their 40s to be well done, as are the the moments and problems they have in raising their two teenage children. Also interesting is trying to piece together exactly what is happening around the company based on the conflicting information given by the various e-mailers in the story.

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“Steal Across the Sky” by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the SkyIn the near future, a group of aliens arrive and establish a colony on the moon. The aliens, who call themselves the Atoners, tell the world that they’ve interfered in human development and call for several teams of three to be sent to other worlds to observe and figure out exactly what was done.

“Steal Across the Sky” follows one such team to two different worlds and shows the team figuring out exactly what happened. This story takes the first half of the novel, with the second half devoted to the repercussions of that discovery and its impact on the entire world and the characters we meet.

The books is fascinating and interesting until right before the end when it suddenly takes a very different turn and rushes to an ending, all while leaving things open enough for a sequel.

Can’t we just have a standalone sci-fi novel these days that doesn’t feel the need to set itself up for a series or unending sequels?

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