Monday, June 14, 2021

ARIADNE By Jennifer Saint

Jennifer Saint

    Ariadne is Jennifer Saint's debut novel. Ariadne is a princess of Crete, sister to the infamous Minotaur who roams Daedalus's labyrinth beneath the palace. Ariadne is essentially the story of King Minos and the Minotaur told from Ariadne's point of view. Ariadne helps Theseus, who arrives in Crete to kill the Minotaur, and then leaves with him for Naxos. We learn of her life with Dionysus and her younger sister Phaedra's life in Athens.

    I did not particularly care for Ariadne. It felt to me like a Circe (by Madeline Miller) wannabe, and I loved Circe. I am tired of the myth of the Minotaur, and I do not care for Dionysus. The book is dark; there is a lot of death and destruction, particularly involving animals. This is something that I do not enjoy reading in general, and I find it worse to tackle during pandemic times.

    Saint's writing is fine, and I appreciate her presenting a new perspective on an old myth. Nonetheless, I was not thrilled with this reading experience.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Bill Clinton
and James Patterson
(Expected publication June 7, 2021)
    The President's Daughter is the second novel written by Bill Clinton and co-authored with James Patterson. I enjoyed their first collaboration, The President Is Missing, and have been looking forward to this book. And, Clinton and Patterson did not disappoint; I love this book!

    In The President's Daughter, we meet Matthew Keating, a former Navy Seal and a one term president of the United States. After he has served his one term, his daughter is abducted by a terrorist, and the former president has to knock the rust off his Seal's training to plan and carryout a special op to try to rescue her.

    The President's Daughter is a true thriller; its pages are filled with thrill. From the outset, this reading experience felt like riding a thoroughbred who broke well from the gate and went wire to wire at a record setting pace. The President's Daughter did not slow from page one. 

    It has been a long time since I have become so lost in a book that I had to work to control the need to continue to read it. But at 608 pages, this meaty text seems to require some pacing. And, the short chapters did not help that compulsion, as "just one more" becomes difficult to deny.

    As with the first novel, this book is well written with interesting, well-drawn characters and a rich and complex plot. The ending is bittersweet, both in the substance of the book and in my realization that I am going to have to wait a long time for Clinton and Patterson to write another 600 pages.

    The President's Daughter is highly recommended.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

NOMADLAND by Jessica Bruder

Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
Jessica Bruder

    Nomadland, the movie currently nominated for a number of Academy Awards, is based on the book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, by Jessica Bruder. The book was a Discover Award winner, a New York Times Editors’ Choice and Notable Book, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, a Library Journal Top Ten Book, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Selection. It was also a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.

    Nomadland is about the new American migrant worker, some of the displaced older members of our society. This community of mobile laborers move around the country, following whatever employment opportunities they can find: for example, campground hosting positions; bringing in beet crops; and, seasonal work in Amazon warehouses. The majority of these new migrant workers are older Americans who have lost homes and jobs and who, despite qualifications, cannot locate new jobs. Many end up traveling and living in used RV's or vans to work these temporary, low paying positions in order to survive. These communities of migrants -- a new class of "retirees" in America -- seem to encompass all walks of life. They have created new families with others in similar situations, helping each other create a "home" in his/her RV or van, thankful that they are not homeless.

    Bruder befriended and followed these itinerant workers for three years. She bought her own used van to travel, work, and live with her subjects. So, the result of this time spent, namely Nomadland, is not a detached, academic study of a growing plight of older Americans; rather, the book is a heartfelt, insightful examination of the genesis of the problem. Although the situation described in the book can be depressing, the resilience shown by these people is remarkable. They face so many challenges -- for example, how to receive mail; how to obtain/maintain a valid driver's license; how to keep the RV/van warm (or cool); and, where to park without having to pay (and without being arrested) -- and it is incredible to read about the often ingenious methods used to resolve the problems they encounter.

    It is disconcerting to learn of this growing community. They are often unseen by most of us who have been unaware of their situation. But, Bruder does a great job introducing us to the issue, educating us as to what has been going on around us. Nomadland is well-written, thought provoking, and an all around powerful reading experience. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Yaa Gyasi

    Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi's debut novel, winning the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Novel, the Audie Award for Literary Fiction and Classics, and the American Book Award. It was also shortlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, and nominated for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the International Dublin Literary Award, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal.

    In light of all these accolades, it feels presumptuous (and perhaps a tad pretentious) of me to say, but I did not like Homegoing. I very decidedly did not like this book. Part of intense dislike might be unfortunate timing: I undertook Homegoing shortly after completing There There. There are similarities between the two, and those are the parts that I disliked in each; perhaps my dislike is even more intense toward Homegoing because I had just "endured" the same experience with There There

    But, like There There, Homegoing feels like a literary fiction wanna be. The modern literary fiction appears to be one that has a plethora of characters and spans a large time frame and/or vast areas. I think the first book like this that I read was The Overstory, by Richard Powers. The Overstory has actually become one of my favorite modern novels; but, when I initially encountered the first part of the book, the part where the reader is introduced to the nine disparate characters, it felt like a collection of unrelated short stories. Other books that I have recently read that are similar to this - with a number of main characters and tracing through time and/or area - include Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips, The Weight of a Piano, by Chris Cander, and the abovementioned There There, by Tommy Orange. It might be clever how the authors weave through locations and times, eventually connecting up the multitudinous characters, but as a reader, I found the experiences to be confusing and frustrating.

    And, unlike these novels, Homegoing has at least fourteen major characters. It spans from the eighteenth century to present day, and involves, at the least, Africa and multiple locations in the United States. It felt to me like Gyasi looked at the format of award winning modern novels and decided to make hers even bigger and broader.  But, in addition to this breadth, it felt like the book jumped back and forth; you might be in civil war America in one chapter and back in the African slave trade in the next. 

    I found it all very confusing, and I could not get beyond the frustration to appreciate any redeeming literary value that the book might have. Perhaps this says more about my lack of literary sophistication than about the book; nonetheless, it is my honest opinion of my experience with the book. And, my plebeian opinion does not recommend this book.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

ONCE A CROOKED MAN by David McCallum

David McCallum

    I have long been a fan of David McCallum, the actor, and of mysteries. So, I was excited when I heard about McCallum's debut novel, Once A Crooked Man. It is a crime novel. Nonetheless, the characters, the plot, the writing - none of it appealed to me, and I found it difficult to get through. I was very disappointed.

THERE THERE By Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange

    There There is the debut novel by Tommy Orange, winning the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the American Book Award. It was also shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.

    The book is centered around Oakland, California. It follows twelve different Native American characters and culminates in the Big Oakland Powwow.

    I have mixed feelings about There There. Much of the time, I did not like the book. It seemed to me to be a literary fiction wanna be. I found the ending to be predictable, and when I reached the end of the book, it felt abrupt and not well wrapped up. There were so many characters that I had difficulty keeping track of them, although this may have been exacerbated by the fact that I was listening to the audiobook.

    On the other hand, there were some interesting and thought-provoking parts: for example, when grandkids who were being raised by their grandmother wondered what made the grandmother an Indian; what was it about her that others who met her knew that? Also, Orange did a good job portraying the plight of the modern, urban Native American. Hence, it was even more poignant when it was evinced that the modern day plight, as depicted in culminating events, was carried out by the modern, urban Native American.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

John Sandford

    I am a longtime fan of John Sandford's Lucas Davenport series and his Virgil Flowers series. I feel like I begin every Sandford review like this, but it is true, and I believe that knowing this should help potential readers who consider my review. I feel like I've been here for the long haul, even sticking around when I suspected either one or the other of the series took a wrong turn and was headed down the drain.

    So, once again, I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review an advanced readers copy of Sandford's latest book, Ocean Prey, the thirty-first installment in the Lucas Davenport series. I was even more excited to learn that the book is also the thirteenth installment in the Virgil Flowers series. Two of my favorite detectives in one book!

    Ocean Prey begins as a Davenport book. A fancy boat stops and picks up a diver in the middle of the water off the coast of Florida. An off-duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard witnesses the suspicious activity and calls it in. The Coast Guard is in pursuit, but the men on the boat kill the pursuing Coast Guard members and get away. The subsequent investigation stalls, and U.S. Marshall Lucas Davenport is called in to do his thing. When Lucas runs into difficulty, he calls in his longtime friend and associate, Virgil Flowers.

    I think Ocean Prey is one of the best prey/Lucas Devenport books. Although Sandford usually does a good job at leading the reader step by step through the investigation, this seemed more apparent in Ocean Prey. Ordinarily in prey books, when Lucas enters a case, it feels like everything moves at a rapid fire pace. Here, however, Lucas's investigation seems to proceed at a slower rate, and obstacles impede his investigation. I am still in shock over one such impediment (a spoiler which will remain unnamed); I both dislike and deeply respect Sandford for making that move. But, the obstacles and the seemingly slower pace make Ocean Prey feel more realistic. I also think Ocean Prey is one of the best Virgil Flowers books. I am not a fan of Frankie, so the same old Virgil working a case with Lucas in Florida (i.e., far from Frankie) makes it an outstanding Virgil Flowers book. 

    Quite simply, Ocean Prey is outstanding - one of Sandford's best books ever. Highly recommended.