Pax (Sara Pennypacker, 2016)

pax

Why did you choose this book?

It’s an adorable novel about a fox!  What more need I say?  Those of you who read my review of Tor Seidler’s Firstborn know that I have a thing about books told from the perspective of a dog/wolf/fox.

What’s it about?

Peter’s father is headed to war and sends Peter to live with his grandfather until the fighting is over.  Peter’s father forces Peter to turn his pet fox, Pax, loose in the woods.  Chapters alternate between the perspectives of Peter and Pax.  Peter runs away from his grandfather’s house, trying to travel the hundreds of miles back to Pax.  Pax runs into a pack of foxes and tries to learn to survive in the wild.

Categories

Juvenile fiction

Other recommended reads?

I know this one is old, but one of my favorite books from childhood was Child of the Wolves by Elizabeth Hall.  The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford is also a good one.

Review

I was expecting this book to be a real tear-jerker with a heartbreaking conclusion.  I read it in one sitting, being completely sucked into the story.  But I didn’t shed a single tear.  I loved Pax and wanted the best for him, but Peter struck me as overly whiny and self-centered.  I also was bothered by the unspecific setting.  It was wartime, but when and where?  We don’t know.  Definitely a cute read, recommended for animal lovers.  It’s a little unique because the portions told from Pax’s point of view don’t tell the reader his thoughts, like many other books with this sort of perspective do.  It is also difficult for adult readers to believe, since no one seemed to try to find Peter during the weeks he was gone.

Up next?

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman or The Infidel Stain by MJ Carter

 

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Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (Cynthia Barnett, 2015)

rain

Why did you choose this book?

I haven’t read very many microhistories (histories of one specific object or topic), and I wanted to give an unconventional one a try.  Most of the microhistories I’ve seen focus on things like birth control pills, corn, cotton, paper, water, etc.  Rain is a more abstract idea and an interesting one to tackle.

What’s it about?

All of the ways that rain has played into life.  This ranges from acid rain and climate change to cloud-seeding for warfare.

Categories

Nonfiction, science.  It could also be history but the overall feel was more scientific than historical.

Other recommended reads?

There are several microhistories on water.  If you like this then you’ll probably like those as well.

Review

I did learn several things from this book.  I enjoyed the discourse about different phrases used to describe heavy rain, and I learned about the use of cloud-seeding during the Vietnam War.  That being said, it took me nearly three weeks to finish this book (which is unheard of!).  It was a dense, slow read that needed to be broken up across many days.  I didn’t hate it, but I sure didn’t love it either.

Up next?

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

 

Terrorist (John Updike, 2006)

terrorist

Why did you choose this book?

As my long-time readers know, I lead the monthly fiction book discussions at my workplace.  This was our most recent read.

What’s it about?

Ahmad is half Egyptian and half Irish.  After his father disappeared from his life, he filled that void with devotion to his faith: Islam.  As Ahmad grew older, his shaikh became more and more influential in his life, eventually convincing him to give up on college and begin work as a truck driver.  Ahmad’s first job is with a furniture store, but after a few months his boss approaches him with an offer.  He wants Ahmad to carry out a terror attack.

Categories

Literary fiction

Other recommended reads?

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim.  A nonfiction book about how the son of a terrorist made his own life choices, despite or because of his father’s.

Review

John Updike won more literary prizes than most authors, including two Pulitzers.  I’ll try some of his other work, but color me unimpressed by this entry.  I felt that Ahmad and the other Islamic characters were too stereotypically drawn, with little or no motivation outside of faith for any of their actions.  I felt that Ahmad’s Irish mother was a caricature, and that Ahmad’s actions in the final chapters were sudden and the reader was not presented with the reasons behind them.  Some of the novel’s other characters were more believable (like burnt-out high school guidance counselor Jack Levy).  The novel was well-written but not necessarily an enjoyable read.  Admittedly, I read it late at night the day before the discussion, but I didn’t skim, and I think reading it more slowly would have left me with the same impression.

Up next?

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett

The Legend of the Rift (Peter Lerangis,2016)

legend of the rift

Why did you choose this book?

This is the 5th and final installment in the Seven Wonders series.  When I was working part-time as a library shelver, I started listening to long juvenile fiction series on audiobook while driving.  After getting caught up on the entirety then-published of The 39 CluesI turned to this series.

What’s it about?

In essence, Aly, Cass, Jack, and Marco carry the G7W gene, which enhances their natural talents to a superhuman level but will kill them by their 14th birthday.  It is the legacy left to them as descendants of the royal family of Atlantis.  The only way to stop this cruel fate is for the group to travel to the sites of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, retrieving magical loculi created by one of the Atlantean princes.

Categories

Juvenile fantasy, adventure

Other recommended reads?

The 39 Clues series, which I 100% absolutely adore (especially on audio).  I haven’t yet read them, but I feel like The Infinity Ring and TombQuest would be similar.  I have read Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan) and it would appeal to a similar audience.

Review

I loved the first two books in this series, but became disenchanted with it after the death of a beloved (by me at least) character in the third volume.  Determined to see the series to the finish, I decided to read the next two installments.  This book was definitely more serious in tone than the first couple since the group is working to save the world, but it was quite good.  The epilogue was breathtaking.  It made me smile while I read, and also made this one of those books that you just have to hug when you finish.  The epilogue made the book for me.  Let me know if you agree.

Up next?

Terrorist by John Updike

Those We Left Behind (Stuart Neville, 2015)

those we left behind

Why did you choose this book?

I lived in Ireland for a few months while in college, and had the opportunity to travel to the northern counties (still a part of the UK).  I’ve been drawn to any and all Irish fiction since those travels, and this novel is set in Belfast.

What’s it about?

Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster parent at the age of 12.  Now in his early twenties, he has been released from prison.  Ciaran is overjoyed to see his older brother, Thomas, but unsure of what to make of the world into which he has been released.  His parole officer (Paula Cunningham) and the officer who took his original confession (Serena Flanagan) suspect there is more to the story, and as strange things again surround the pair of boys, both women are determined to get to the bottom of the case once and for all.

Categories

I think it’s supposed to be suspense, but to me it just read like a mystery.  I didn’t really feel that the main characters were in danger from the “villain.”

Other recommended reads?

The overall tough detective feel reminded me of Arnaldur Indridason’s Reykjavik Nights.  A more enjoyable Irish police procedural/mystery novel is Conor Brady’s A June of Ordinary Murders.

Review

I kept this novel on my to-read pile for months, waiting until just the right moment to crack it open.  I finally decided to do so, and found myself underwhelmed.  The novel is a fast read.  I felt that it could have been set anywhere, and the only real Irish touches were the names.  I also felt that the characterization could have been stronger, with many characters (like Thomas, Ciaran, and Serena) feeling one dimensional.  I probably won’t read the rest of the series, but I don’t regret reading this entry.

Up next?

The Legend of the Rift by Peter Lerangis

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly, 2015)

these shallow

Why did you choose this book? 

The synopsis and cover intrigued me.  It should also be said that this cover is misleading.  It is not a horror novel but rather a kind of cute teen historical mystery with a tad bit of forensic science.

What’s it about?

Jo Montfort has it all – a supportive family, social status as one of the elites of 1890s New York, one of the most desirable bachelors courting her…and yet she’s a fierce and independent young lady.  While away at finishing school, her father is found dead, presumably from the accidental discharge of his revolver.  But Jo finds this hard to believe and as she investigates, she learns that he was murdered.  Through her new friendship with reporter Eddie Gallagher and city morgue employee Oscar Rubin, she tries to find her father’s murderer and bring him/her to justice, even though it means scouring the underbelly of New York.  As the other partners in Van Houten Shipping start falling to the murderer’s knife, time is running out.

Categories

Teen fiction, historical mystery

Other recommended reads?

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott features a girl on a mission, though in a fantasy world and with much more athletic prowess.  A better match would be A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, a historical mystery with a kick-ass heroine and one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Review

I thought this was quite a good book.  As I said earlier, the cover is a bit misleading.  That being said, I did not identify the murderer or motive before Jo.  I did find her a bit annoying sometimes in her insistence on being taken to the heart of the matter, regardless of the risk to herself or her companions.  The forensic science was well-done and believable, but the author’s note made her sound a bit crazy (characters speaking to her and whatnot).  The major issue I had with Jo is that she is too naive to know what a brothel and madam are, yet she has no problem kissing Eddie…

Up next?

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville (I think anyway)

The Rose & the Dagger (Renee Ahdieh, 2016)

rose-and-dagger

Why did you choose this book? 

I read the first volume last year, before I started this blog.  I found myself immediately inhabiting Sharhzad’s world and rooting for this strong woman and her love.

What’s it about?

The first novel in this two-volume set is a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights.  In this novel, Sharhzad’s newfound life as the calipha has fallen down and she is living in a desert camp with her ill father and younger sister.  Khalid remains in the capital to rebuild.  Sharhzad wants to be by his side, but also feels a duty to her family and a need to master her magic (she can make objects fly).  Sharhzad’s childhood sweetheart, Tariq, leads an army bent on destroying Khalid, her true love.

Categories

Teen fiction, folklore retelling

Other recommended reads?

Clearly, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (the first in this series).  Also the original folktale on which the books are based.  If you’re interested in Middle Eastern fantasy or fiction, I would also try Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes or Holly Bodger’s 5 to 1.

Review

This is the most all-encompassing and fantastically good work of fiction I have read in a while.  I even found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it, which is rare for me these days.  However, I wish that the author had done a recapping of the events of the first book.  There were several points when I found myself lost because it had been so long since I read the first one.  I also sometimes find Shahrzad a little too self-centered.

Up next?

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly