What I'm Reading Now:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Beautiful Room is Empty


Title: The Beautiful Room is Empty

Author: Edmund White

Pages: 240

Genre: Fiction

Grade: B

Synopsis: This novel is a coming of age book about a gay young man who grows up in Chicago before moving to New York.  The US in the 50's & 60's has not yet come to terms with homosexuality (especially in the midwest) and the author writes often about the therapy sessions focused on helping him to become normal (i.e. heterosexual).

My Review: The book is also known as an autobiographical novel, so it is hard to know how much of the book is true and how much of the book is based on the author's experiences. The narrator writes about cruising in the bathrooms of college and the subway waiting for men to present themselves under the stalls as well as looking for hookups nearly every night.  One of the main things that came to my mind while reading was about the AIDS epidemic that really came to light in the 1980's, but that hit the gay communities the hardest. After so many unprotected encounters with other men, it is not surprising that an STD spread so easily.

Disclaimer: This book does not hold back on the discussion about homosexual activity, although it was never what I would call vulgar.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Continuous Atonement


Title: The Continuous Atonement

Author: Brad Wilcox

Pages: 195

Genre: Religion, LDS

Grade: B+

Synopsis: The atonement of Jesus Christ is one of the central tenets of Christendom, but one of the least understood (and I do not claim to really have an understanding, but I'm working on it).  The more that we can figure out how to rely on Christ and apply the principles of the atonement to our lives, then we will quickly realize that we can always rely on the atonement to make the difference.

My Review:  I enjoyed this book. It's more simple and easier to grasp and understand than some of the other books about the atonement that I've read recently.

From the Book: "(Pg. 107) One speaker in Church directs, "You can't do everything. Don't run faster than you have strength". The next says, "Push yourself. You can always do more." One person advises, "Don't worry about what you can't do" at the same time someone else says, "You can do anything you put your mind to." In one hymn we sing, "I need thee every hour," and in another we sing, "We will work out our salvation". In this world of mixed messages, I never can seem to escape the nagging though, "If only I were better organized or if only I tried harder." Satan tempted Christ with the word if. He often comes to me with the words if only."

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale


Title: The Handmaid's Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Pages: 311

Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Grade: A-

Synopsis: The book is set at some future date from the 1980's when this book was written.  The handmaid is Offred, whose only role is to bear children to the leaders of the the Republic of Gilead, where she lives. Gilead is centered around the Harvard campus, but is based on skewed teachings from the Bible after too many men and women became sterile due to so much pollution.

My Review: I had a hard time getting into this book at first.  It was hard to understand the terminology and descriptions as they are describing an alternate future of our own world. I started reading summaries and analyses for each chapter as I made my way through the book and it improved things dramatically.  Once I better understood things I found this to be a very interesting book.

Disclaimer: There is some language and sex, so reader be aware.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Crimson Eve


Title: Crimson Eve

Author: Brandilyn Collins

Pages: 353

Genre: Thriller

Grade: B+

Synopsis: Carla is a realtor in the pristine town of Kanner Lake in Northern Idaho.  She is showing an older British fellow a remote house outside of town when he pulls a gun on her in an attempt to kidnap her.  It turns out that the secrets that Carla has been running from have finally caught up to her.

My Review:  This was an enjoyable quick read, perfect for when you need a quick thriller.  I've only read one of the previous two books in the series which wasn't a detriment at all.  Aside from a few oblique references to situations in the previous books, this one stood on its own pretty well.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Grapes of Wrath


Title: The Grapes of Wrath

Author: John Steinbeck

Pages: 479

Genre: Fiction, Classic, Pulitzer Prize

Grade: B+

Synopsis: The title of the book is pulled form the first verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored." This classic book about the great migration to California was first published in 1939 at the tail end of the Great Depression. The book follows the Joad family as they move from their farm in the dust bowl of Oklahoma to the promised land of California.  Conditions aren't much better in California as they find out that thousands of migrants are in camps and can't find steady work.  Those who can find work are barely working for enough to live on.  If they won't work for these wages, there are always other people who will.

My Review: I loved this book, but be prepared because it can be awfully depressing. At times the descriptive language gets a little flowery, but at the same time the descriptions make it easy to visualize the story as it moves along.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Police


Title: Police

Author: Jo Nesbo

Pages: 14 discs

Genre: Mystery

Grade: B

Synopsis: A serial killer appears to be working in Oslo and targeting police officers and detectives.  The famous detective Harry Hole has retired from detective work, but the police are desperate for his help solving these mysteries.

My Review: Apparently Detective Harry Hole is famous because he starred in the 9 books of the series previous to this one.  This is the first book of Jo Nesbo that I've read, and it stood on its own decently well.  Lots of twists and turns and surprises as one would expect.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Aviator's Wife


Title: The Aviator's Wife

Author: Melanie Benjamin

Pages: 13 discs

Genre: Historical Fiction

Grade: B

Synopsis: This book is the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the modern hero-explorer Charles Lindbergh and mother of the famously kidnapped Charles Jr. Everybody is familiar with Charles' accomplishments, but not as many people know Anne's story and she was a brave, strong woman in her own right.

My Review: Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.  I actually really liked this book, but the writing style and dialogue was too awkward and all of the dialogue and interaction with their children just felt strange to me. My one other gripe was that the book could have been about 2/3 as long as it was.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Alexander Hamilton


Title: Alexander Hamilton

Author: Ron Chernow

Pages: 731

Genre: Biography

Grade: A-

Synopsis: Alexander Hamilton was born and orphaned in the Caribbean before he made his way to New York City in his late teens where he worked hard to get into college and study to become a lawyer.  Eventually he lands on George Washington's staff during the Revolutionary War and eventually lands a role in Washington's first cabinet.  The rest is history, although with so many twists and turns and ups and downs that you can barely believe it.

My Review: Alexander Hamilton has a story fit for a musical.  And after reading this book a hip-hop inspired musical came to mind, before I found out that Lin Manuel Miranda had beat me to it.  Oh well.  While I didn't feel that this biography was quite as good as those written by David McCullough, it was still a fantastic piece of work.

From the Book: "(pg. 481) Whatever his disappointments, Hamilton, forty, must have left Philadelphia with an immense feeling of accomplishment. The Whiskey Rebellion had been suppressed, the country's finances flourished, and the investigation into his affairs had ended with a ringing exoneration. He had prevailed in almost every major program he had sponsored--whether the bank, assumption, funding the public debt, the tax system, the Customs Service, or the Coast Guard--despite years of complaints and bitter smears. John Quincy Adams later stated that his financial system "operated like enchantment for the restoration of public credit." Bankrupt when Hamilton took office, the United States now enjoyed a credit rating equal to that of any European nation. He had laid the groundwork for both liberal democracy and capitalism and helped to transform the role of the president from passive administrator to active policy maker, creating the institutional scaffolding for America's future emergence as a great power. He had demonstrated the creative uses of government and helped to weld the states irreversibly into one nation. He had also defended Washington's administration more brilliantly that anyone else, articulating its constitutional underpinnings and enunciating key tenets of foreign policy. "We look in vain for a man who, in an equal space of time, has produced such direct and lasting effects upon our institutions and history," Henry Cabot Lodge was to contend. Hamilton's achievements were never matched because he was present at the government's inception, when he could draw freely on a blank slate. If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Island of the Blue Dolphins


Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Author: Scott O'Dell

Pages: 184

Genre: Children's Fiction, Newbery Award

Grade: B+

Synopsis: Karana was a young woman when her people decided to leave the island of their home.  She got left behind and for years and years she waited, watching for a ship that would take her to her people. This is the story of how she lived and fought her enemies, the wild dogs.

My Review: Amazingly, this book is based on the true story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, which is an island just off the coast of California and south of the Channel Islands.  I vaguely remember reading this book when I was younger.  It was great to read it again.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Peter Pan


Title: Peter Pan

Author: J.M. Barrie

Pages: 176

Genre: Children's Fiction

Grade: B

Synopsis: This is the book based on the original play by the author J.M. Barrie.  It's a familiar story about Peter Pan, the boy who would never grow up, the fairy Tinkerbell and the Darling children, Wendy, John & Michael.  The children fly with Peter Pan to Neverland where they encounter mermaids, Indians and the villainous Captain Hook.

My Review: Similar to The Wizard of Oz, the movie version is so iconic that I felt that the magic exceeds the book.  Granted, I'm probably out of the target age-range for this book.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Graveyard Book


Title: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

Pages: 312

Genre: Fantasy, Newbery Award

Grade: A-

Synopsis: Nobody Owens (who goes by Bod) has grown up in a graveyard.  After his family is killed when he is an infant he is raised by a guardian, who is neither living or dead, and by the ghosts in the graveyard. In the graveyard Bod is protected, but if he leaves the graveyard he will come under attack from the Man Jack.

My Review: It took me a little bit to get into this book, but once I did I really enjoyed it.  It's a book geared toward a younger crowd, hence the well-deserved Newbery Award.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Witch of Blackbird Pond


Title: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

Pages: 6 discs

Genre: Historical Fiction, Newbery Award

Grade: B+

Synopsis: The book is set in the late 1600's.  Kit Tyler had been growing up in Barbados when her grandfather passed away, leaving her an orphan.  She elects to hop on a ship to go stay with her only remaining family in the Connecticut colony, where Puritan ideals and witch hunts are still a part of their lives.

My Review: I find books about the Puritans very frustrating.  The snobbery and judgmentalness (is that a word?) that they show just grates on me and makes me mad.  Kit Tyler, however, is a perfect heroine and example of love, compassion, kindness and acceptance that even today should be emulated. I listened to this book with Ada while driving to the Southern Utah ski resorts and she tells me that she liked everything about it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Double Cross Blind


Title: Double Cross Blind

Author: Joel N. Ross

Pages: 372

Genre: Fiction

Grade: D

Synopsis: The early days of December 1941 were eventful in the United Kingdom.  The Allies have captured a Nazi spy who was trying to infiltrate and take down their own spy network.  At the same time, an American who had enlisted with the Canadians in order to fight in the war is locked in a British Military Asylum, but may be just the person the British need in order to get information out of their captured Nazi spy.

My Review: Ok, I gave this book the old college try. In fact, I made it through more than 2/3 of the book when I realized that I really dreaded reading it, that I didn't care how it ended and that I really didn't understand what was going on.  The plot was extremely complicated and just never really caught my attention.  It's been on my 'to-read' list for years.  I've had a few books on that list lately that have really let me down...

Monday, October 30, 2017

Flash Boys


Title: Flash Boys

Author: Michael Lewis

Pages: 10 discs

Genre: Non-fiction

Grade: B+

Synopsis: The book opens with a very interesting description of a new fiber optic line to be installed between Chicago and New York.  It will take the straightest path possible at any cost.  The builders and investors of this line are banking on the potential profits that will come by trimming a few milliseconds off of the market trades between New York and Chicago.  For years the market had essentially been rigged by the big Wall Street banks, but in a way that had not been noticed before.  A new high-frequency trading exchange is setup in the attempt to eliminate these benefits for the big traders and banks.

My Review: I realize that my synopsis above is likely confusing and certainly not book-jacket material, but I found this book to be very interesting.  Lewis is an expert at taking a subject that you know nothing about and making it digestible and interesting.  This one is no exception.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

the perks of being a wallflower


Title: the perks of being a wallflower

Author: stephen chbosky

Pages: 213

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction

Grade: B

Synopsis: Charlie is a sensitive 15-year-old boy who is writing letters about his life to an anonymous recipient who he chose because he thought this person would not be judgmental towards him. During the course of the book, Charlie deals with suicide, abuse, drugs, sex and mental illness.  He is an introvert who is trying to find his place.

My Review: Honestly, I didn't remember a whole lot about this book (it's been a few months since I read it), so it's not one that left a significant impression on me.  I had to re-read a few plot summaries in order to jog my memory.  The book was alright, but I remember thinking that it was a little to contrived for my liking.