PaperBackSwap Blog


Posts Tagged ‘Book Recommendations’

Fiction Review – South of Broad

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

South of Broad by Pat Conroy

Review Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

 

I’m going to make a confession here: I have never read a novel by Pat Conroy.  I’ve heard lots of wonderful things about him, but as you may or may not know, there are a LOT of books out there.  I can’t read them all, a fact I have almost accepted.  Pat Conroy, while I heard high praise for his work, was just one of those authors I never got around to reading.   

So when his novel “South of Broad” came out, I ordered the audio version.  I drive a lot, and so I listen to books as well as read them.  And I decided, for some reason, that now was the time to delve into Pat Conroy.  I am so glad I did!  

South of Broad is set in Charleston, South Carolina, a city beloved by Conroy and his characters.  We meet Leo Bloom King, an 18-year-old boy on the 16th of June, 1969.  It’s an important summer for Leo, because he meets a group of people who will become his lifelong friends.  He meets orphans Starla and Niles Whitehead, dirt-poor “white trash” from North Carolina; twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, who move in next door and immediately charm everyone they encounter; Chad and Fraser Rutledge, from Charleston’s highest social ranks, and Chad’s girlfriend Molly Huger, who is another high society girl, and finally Ike Jefferson, one of a group of African American students who will be integrated into Leo’s high school in September. 

The story plays out over the senior year of the group of friends.  We follow them through the integration of their school, the racial tensions when Ike’s father is hired as the new football coach, and the frightening appearance of Sheba and Trevor’s violent, psychotic father.  Then we move forward to 1989 to see what has become of everyone.  Leo is a well-known columnist for the Charleston newspaper.  Sheba has gone to Hollywood and become a household name and sex symbol; Ike is the local chief of police; Chad and Molly’s marriage is none too secure, and Niles married Fraser, in spite of her family’s disapproval.  While they have remained in touch through the years, it’s only when one of their group desperately needs help that they all come together and cement their bonds even more strongly. 

At one point, I actually thought to myself, “Pat Conroy has done it. He has spoiled me, with his beautiful writing, for any other author.”  This man can write.   He uses language as a tool, as a means to open our hearts and remember what it feels like to fall in love, to be hurt, to be outraged.  He uses language to make us smell freshly baked cookies, and nail polish, and newsprint.  He uses language to remind us of the common connection we all have, as human beings.  I am in awe of his talent. 

But the book didn’t get glowing reviews, much to my amazement.  I think, if everyone who gave it unfavorable reviews had listened to it, they would have felt differently.  The narrator of South of Broad did a wonderful job of bringing Leo King to life, charming southern accent and all.  He made this story breathe, and his portrayal of each character truly made a difference to my listening pleasure.  He gave me some laugh out loud moments, and I found I couldn’t wait to drive to or from work, just to hear what was going to happen next!  A reader can make or break a book, and I have to say this narrator was a wonderful asset.  I highly recommend listening to this one. 

Now that I have revealed the dark secret that every librarian has an outstanding author which he or she has never read,  I will just end with this:  I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird either.  I know, I know….  

 

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction Review – I Wish I’d Been There

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

I Wish I’d Been There by Byron Hollinshead

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)

 

“What is the scene or incident in American history that you would like to have witnessed—and why?” This is the thought provoking question that Byron Hollinshead posed to twenty of our finest American historians, with an invitation to answer in essay form. Those essays were then gathered together and put into a fascinating book called “I Wish I’d Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events That Changed America.”

This is such a fun book! First, I had to think about my own choice. If I could only pick one incident, which one would it be? That’s a hard one, but I think I’d have to say I would have loved to sit in on the first Thanksgiving. Or maybe be at Roanoke Colony, right before everyone just disappeared. Then again, it would be so neat to sit in a crowded, darkened theater and watch Harry Houdini perform.

I don’t know if the participating historians had as much difficulty as I did when choosing their one, single event to witness—but I do have to say they choose some great ones.

Mary Beth Norton, a professor of American History at Cornell University, chose the Salem Witch Trials. Of course! What really happened in Salem in 1692? Were the four young girls truly being tormented by witches…or just bored? To watch an entire community descend into panicked paranoia would be compelling. On the other hand, these accusations could have been made in order to seize lands and property, to benefit a few greedy men. Mary Beth Norton tells us what she knows, what she believes, and why she would love to have witnessed it all.

Thomas Fleming, historian and author of fine historical fiction, wanted to be with John Brown at Harpers Ferry. Being a novelist, his essay is a rich imagining of what it would be like if he had been…say, a journalist in 1859, assigned to follow Brown and report on the happenings. He drops the reader into that long-ago time, and brings us along on the raid that changed our country forever.

There are so many choices! We have essays on the day Abraham Lincoln was shot; the day Chief Joseph surrendered; the day Lewis and Clark first see the Rocky Mountains; the day Jenny Lind debuts in America, courtesy of P.T. Barnum. Each historian chose a fascinating snippet of American history, and the enthusiasm and longing for that snippet comes through in each chapter. Not every choice was from our distant past, either; there are essays about sitting in on the meeting between JFK and his brother Robert when they discussed America’s role in Vietnam; one historian wanted to march on Washington with Martin Luther King; one wished he could have been in the White House on March 13, 1965 when Lyndon Johnson confronted George Wallace. Read: at one point, Johnson says “Now look, George. don’t think about 1968, think about 1988. You and me, we’ll be dead and gone then, George. Now you’ve got a lot of poor people down there in Alabama, a lot of ignorant people. You can do a lot for them, George. Your president will help you. What do you want left after you die? Do you want a great big marble monument that reads George Wallace—he built? Or do you want a little piece of scrawny pine board that read George Wallace—he hated?” That meeting would have been something to see.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Each participating historian offers a well-written, well-reasoned explanation of the slice of history he or she wishes to have witnessed. And to be honest, I wish I could have been at each one of these events too. It certainly makes one think: which historic event do you wish you could have witnessed?

 

 

Fiction Review – Someday, Someday, Maybe

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

 

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

So, I suppose I should start this review with a disclaimer.  I love Lauren Graham.  I loved her in The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood.  When I found out Lauren had written a novel (yes, we’re on a first name basis), I had to add it to my list of books to read.  Granted, it took me a few years to get to it (I mean, in my defense, I’ve moved twice and had four surgeries since it was released so I’ve had some things going on).  But, this summer, it was the perfect go-to for pool reading.

Here’s the breakdown of Someday, Someday, Maybe: Franny Banks has placed herself on a timeline to become a successful actress.  She has given herself three years to really be able to make a living as an actress, no more waitressing and odd jobs to make ends meet.  Someday, Someday, Maybe picks up with only six months to go on Franny’s timeline.  We follow Franny on her ups and downs during these final months of auditions, call backs, agent interviews, acting class, waitressing gigs, boyfriend drama, and a family wedding.

I won’t give away the ending, you’ll have to read the novel yourself to determine if Franny finds her success as an actress.  With excerpts from a handwritten daily planner dispersed amongst the chapters, Graham has a funny, fast-paced novel that was quirky but enjoyable.  The sections of daily planner really took me back to my college days when my life was chronicled by the notes in my daily planner.  I’m not sure that was even an intention of Lauren’s, but I rather loved it!

I also really enjoyed the reader’s guide at the end of the paperback edition I read that included a conversation with Lauren and her Parenthood co-star Mae Whitman, whom I also love. But the thing I loved most about this novel was the character of Dan.  Dan is one of Franny’s roommates and the scenes with him are some of the best in the novel.  His personality is endearing and his changing relationship with Franny was, for me, what pushed the novel along. The questions about their relationship kept me interested almost as much as wanting to know if Franny would get that big break for her acting career!

If you want a novel that is both lighthearted and heartwarming this summer, give Someday, Someday, Maybe a chance.

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Death and Taxes

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Death and Taxes by Thomas B. Dewey

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This Detective “Mac” mystery was published in 1967. Mac’s first and last names were never revealed in these PI novels, which went on from the early 1950s to about 1970. Mac never aged either, staying in early middle age for the entire run.

Mac is assigned to deliver a million dollars in cash to the daughter of his client, a notorious gangster Marco Paul, upon the thug’s death. However, Marco Paul is gunned down in an old-style gangland hit before he has a chance to tell Mac when he stashed the stacks and stacks of hot cash. Gangsters being awful gossips, plug-uglies sniff the existence of the million and assume that Marco told Mac of the location of the cache. This makes Mac’s life difficult, as he becomes the subject of strongarm tactics to get him to tell. This is a hard-boiled mystery for 1967 so the strongarm scenes aren’t disgusting. So Mac needs to catch the killer and find the cash fast.

There are two attractive female characters in the mix, but Mac, as always, is chaste. Mac, in fact, is rather a worrier, who wears his emotions and concerns on this sleeve. After reading lots of Dashiell Hammett lately, I feel that Mac rather pales beside the rugged but human Op. Mac is based in Chicago, but besides street names there is little local color. Finally, Mac doesn’t wrestle with The Ambiguities like Phil Marlow or Lew Archer. Nor does Mac seem to have any kind of life outside of detecting (his lives in an apartment attached to his office).

I still recommend these hard-boiled mysteries, with a tight stories, a minimum of violence, and no foul language, for readers to this old-school genre.

 

 

 

Free Book Friday Winner!

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

The Winner of the brand new copy of

Burn What Will Burn: A Novel
by 
C. B. McKenzie is:

 

Michelle G. (flagirl)

Congratulations, your book will be on the way to you soon!

 

Thank you to everyone who commented on the Blog!

Nonfiction Review – The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

 

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
by Douglas Preston

Review by Gail P. (TinkerPirate)

Picture yourself looking through a bookshelf and randomly picking up a book titled “The Lost City of the Monkey God”.  The premise is a group of scientists are searching for a lost city in a deep South American jungle.  You figure you are in for a finger-nail biting, thrill ride.  Then, you learn that many of the scientists develop symptoms of a mysterious disease that takes trips to far-away countries and months to diagnosis.  Oh, yes, you know you have a book that will keep you up at night.  Lastly, you see that the author is Douglas Preston.  Now, you know you have a great read in your hands and you clear your calendar for non-stop reading.  Then, comes the unexpected curve…it’s all TRUE!  “The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story” is Preston Douglas’ eyewitness account of a 2012 expedition in search of this lost city. 

The book set in an area of eastern Honduras called La Mosquitia that consists of tropical rain forests, marshs, and savannahs.  It contains the largest wilderness in Central America and is considered largely unpopulated.  While there are some areas inhabited by people, the vast majority of La Mosquitia is home only to animals that can amuse you, annoy you, or kill you.   In addition to being considered a World Heritage site, it is reportedly the location of a legendary city of immense wealth.  That city is called La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) or Lost City of the Monkey God.  

The search for the Lost City of the Monkey God is not for the faint of heart.  Since the time of the conquistadors, men have been trying to find this lost city.  Many have boasted of finding it, but none have provided evidence of its existence.  Preston provides descriptions of a number of these previous attempts.  His narrative of those expeditions are not only entertaining, but informative.  Along the way you will discover interesting pieced of history about Honduras and the role the United States has played in creating its present state of unrest.  I was surprised to learn the origin of the term “banana republic”.

I went into the book expecting a good read about an expedition into the unknown and some history into indigenous culture. What I got was much, much more.  While the first 60 pages or so were slow, Preston does an incredible job of presenting dry subjects such as Central American politics, archeologic processes, epidemiology, etc. in a way that makes the book a real page-turner.  He brought me into the adventure as an eye-witness to one of the greatest discoveries in the 21st century.

Key things I walked away with: 

  1. Great civilizations fail for the same reasons. 
  2. Humans have an amazing capacity to protect natural and historical wonders, but, unfortunately, more of us just want to exploit whose wonders. 
  3. In a battle between nature and humans, nature wins. 
  4. One of the greatest dangers to us has been around since dinosaurs walked the earth and little is being done to control it. 
  5. Never under estimate the power of a dream. 

 

 

Young Adult Fiction Review – Paper Towns

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Paper Towns by John Green

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

Paper Towns won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, was number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and was written by the same author who gave us The Fault in Our Stars.  I had very high expectations.

Meet Quentin and Margo, neighbors who were close as children, but who have grown apart as teenagers.  They have had very little to do with one another until Margo climbs into Quentin’s window one night during their senior year of high school.  Margo takes Quentin on a reckless ‘adventure’. Margo dishes out some teenage justice to those who have wronged her and Quentin lets go of some of his ‘good boy’ personality for a few hours.  And then Margo is gone.  Did she run away or did something more malevolent happen to her?  Thus, begins a quest to find Margo.

There were a couple of things I really liked about this book.  One, Quentin’s friendship with Ben and Radar and two, the dialogue between the characters. Ben and Radar reminded me of those fabulous friendships where you can say almost anything to one another and still be loved.  They provided the brutal honesty and constant ribbing perfect for any situation or for any emotion.  Ben and Radar provided the levity that was much-needed in the more complex, difficult to understand mentality of Margo.  And Green did not disappoint with the dialogue between the characters.  Witty and quick-paced, it read like a natural conversation and had me smiling or laughing out loud at times.

While there were things I liked about the book, I did feel it was a bit of a letdown in the end.  In my opinion, the character of Margo and her perceived complexities came off as artificial and forced. I thought the other characters were much stronger, so having the character I considered the weakest at the center of the story made it a bit harder to truly appreciate the novel as a whole.

Overall, I think the premise was a good one but the lack of character in Margo impacted the result in the end, so I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend The Fault in Our Stars more heartily than Paper Towns.  You can also read my review of The Fault in Our Stars on the PaperBackSwap.com blog.