Review: The Big Sky

The Big Sky
The Big Sky by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. I liked the beginning with Boone dealing with his Pap and running away from home and his trouble with the law. After that, though, it was hit or miss for me. Until the ending, which just sucked.

Young Boone decides he’s not gonna let Pap hit him anymore, so he steals his old man’s rifle, takes a cooked chicken his mom gave him, and sets out for the American West. The rifle is stolen by a man he shares his camp with and later Boone finds the man and starts a fight with him to get the rifle back, but ends up in jail for attempted robbery. Once out, he gets to the Rocky Mountains and becomes a mountain man. There are some adventures, some good and some bad, and a long search for a young Indian girl he wants to marry and finally does. More bad stuff happens.

Boone isn’t a very likable character. For a while Guthrie balances this by switching the point of view to two of his companions, but that really just seems to interrupt the flow of the story, and with Dick Summers there’s just way too much introspection, bogging down the plot until you’re begging for Boone to get mad and kill somebody before you do it yourself.

Bottom line, it isn’t a bad book. But it wasn’t good enough to make me want to read the two sequels, either.

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Review: The Age of Odin

The Age of Odin
The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is outside my usual genres, but I do love Norse mythology, and it was recommended to me by a good student, so I gave it a try. I liked a lot of it, but there were some plot issues that left me unsatisfied, which is why I gave it only three stars.

Gid was kicked out of the British army after an IED damaged his hearing. He tried working as a civilian, but mostly he got in fights and got arrested. His wife left him and he doesn’t get to see his young son much, so when he sees an ad looking for mercenary soldiers, he and his buddy, named Abortion, set off to join up. Car crash. Gid and Abortion walk to their destination, which somehow happens to be Asgard, home of Odin, Thor, et al. Abortion gets eaten by wolves. At first Gid resists the idea that the old one-eyed fella is Thor, but after he meets up with some frost giants he buys into the whole thing and jumps right in to help defend Asgard against Loki, who is masquerading as the female president of the United States. Ragnarok ensues.

My biggest problem was the ending of the book. I can’t say much about it without giving it all away, but it was definitely unsatisfying. The student who loaned me the book warned me it would be that way, and he was very right. I thought I’d figured out how it would end and didn’t like my idea, but the reality was worse. Not so bad it ruined the story, but … I didn’t like it.

Okay, so, if you like Norse mythology and modern military adventure stories, you’ll probably really like this one. I was hoping for something more like American Gods, more cerebral, but this one is pretty much straight-on action. Lots of violence, not much introspection, just balls-out fighting and killing. It isn’t bad at all, so long as you know what you’re in for.

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Review: Glory Trail

Glory Trail
Glory Trail by David R Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The eighth installment of David R. Lewis’s Trail series gets Rubin, Marion, and Homer saddling up to protect a wagon train of black folk as they wade through racism to get to Glory, Kansas, an all-black community.

I have to admit I wasn’t as engrossed in this one as the previous seven books. I just felt like the anti-racism message was hammered a few too many times, and then SPOILER … the marshals turn the wagon train over to other protectors before getting it to its destination. That bothered me. END SPOILER

What I did like in this one was the further development of Rubin and his family and Marion Daniels. I wouldn’t mind a whole book just about Rubin’s family life in Deer Run.

So, while I didn’t love Glory Trail as much as I did the previous seven, it’s still a heck of a fun ride and part of one of my new favorite series.

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Review: Orbiting Jupiter

Orbiting Jupiter
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In many ways this book reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The narrator, the tone … It just put me in mind of the other book. That’s a pretty good thing.

Our narrator here is Jack, a sixth grader whose parents decide to foster Joseph, a troubled 14-year-old boy who’s spent time in juvenile detention after fathering a child with a rich girl the same age as himself. Joseph, of course, is not the thug most people think he is. What he is, is desperate to see his baby daughter, Jupiter.

Jack and Joseph grow close as brothers. Joseph’s father causes problems. Joseph’s age and history cause problems. The ending isn’t happy.

It’s a good story, and short. I enjoyed it a lot and recommend it.

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Review: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, read when I was in 8th grade, was a real eye-opener to me at the time, and I re-read it every few years now as a reminder that we can be better than we are. The only other Bach book I’d read previous to Illusions was The Bridge Across Forever, which I also enjoyed, but not in that life-changing way of JLS. Many people said Illusions was as transformative for them as JLS, so I was looking forward to reading it, especially since I’ve been in kind of a mental funk.

Well … I really liked the book, but so far it hasn’t really had the impact of JLS. The story is built around the narrator, Richard, a barnstormer giving airplane rides for $3 for 10 minutes (it was the early 1970s) and how me meets Donald Shimoda, a messiah who gave up that job and is now also giving airplane rides. Don gives Richard a Messiah’s Handbook and proceeds to teach him that, basically, he controls his fate, his reality, and that everything he sees in the material world is an illusion.

The conversations, and especially the bits from the handbook, are insightful and interesting. But some of the concepts, like swimming in the earth, seem far fetched. Have I lost the imagination I had in 8th grade? Or are these things like earth-swimming and vaporizing clouds symbolic for how we can control other things in our lives? If I go around vaporizing clouds, won’t that just create drought and crop failure? I’m probably overthinking it.

This is a book I’ll re-read. Probably fairly soon. In fact, I may just carry it with me for a while and re-read it a little at a time. I do recommend it. The wisdom is important, reminding us to slow down, to think differently than the world would have us do.

Among the many sayings include is this one, maybe my favorite: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” Accept no limitations. Be you.

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Review: My Ántonia

My Ántonia
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are some fantastic lines in this novel. Some great scenes. I liked the characters a lot. But ultimately … nothing happens. There’s no crisis. No villain. No problem that has to be overcome. It’s just kinda there.

What’s the story about? Well … the male narrator presents a friend with a manuscript entitled My Antonia. It’s his recounting of a Bohemian girl he grew up with. They’re friends, her grandfather blows his brains out, the girl grows up, working for families in town, loves to dance, has a passel of kids, then end. That’s pretty much it.

As I said, there are some wonderful lines and Cather does a great job of making the reader visualize the Nebraska farmland of the early 20th century. But there’s no real story.

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The Year of Horses and Porn

It’s time for my 2016 year in review in terms of books I read. There are a lot of Westerns on the list. There’s also a lot of erotica. I swear, though, that stuff was for market research purposes. Honestly!

I read 55 books last year. I don’t know if this is a personal record or not, considering I’m ancient and can’t remember a time I didn’t love to read. But it’s certainly a high point since I started keeping my stats on Goodreads. Because there are over 50 titles, I’m not going to go over all of them. Most of the reviews were published here and you can find them if you care. Here are the highlights and maybe a couple of lowlights.

The highest highlight for me this year was David R. Lewis’s Trail series of Western novels. I read the first seven books one right after another and had to stop myself from going back to the beginning and immediately starting over when I finished the seventh one. I love Lewis’s characterization, his use of dialect, his mix of action and character development … just everything. I only gave each book 4 out of 5 stars because they are not complex plots, don’t rely on symbolism or other literary devices. Yes, I did it because as an AP English teacher I’m something of a snob. I regret it now. They deserve five stars for the entertainment they gave me. I read several other Westerns, but didn’t enjoy any of them as much as this series.

The single book I enjoyed the most was probably Derek B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night, and this was a surprise to me because, as a thriller, it’s pretty much outside my normal reading area. But this story about an elderly Vietnam veteran helping a young boy despite all their differences was just a fascinating story.

I reread some John Steinbeck, and added a couple of his books I had not yet read. Of those, I really liked To a God Unknown, an early work that showed the master coming into his own. This is a book about a family and their relationship to the land. I also reread The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and read The Pastures of Heaven for the first time.

Some other books I reread were The Book Thief, which I still think is one of the best books I’ve read in the last five years, but it did lose a little magic rereading it so soon after the first time, and Salem’s Lot, one of the first horror novels I ever read. It had been at least 20 or 25 years since I read it last, and it reminded me why Stephen King’s early work was such an influence on me.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t finish Richard Adams’ Shardik. I really tried, but I lost interest. Then the great man died.

In nonfiction, I read Eric Weiner’s Man Seeks God, a book I really enjoyed, but found difficult to use in the classroom. I liked David R. Lewis’s Endless Journey better. I also read Conversations with John Steinbeck, a collection of media interviews, and Wolf, a nice biography of Jack London. Oh, and a short piece in which William Peter Blatty talked about his career.

Erotica. Most of that stuff is poorly written, not copy edited, and frankly, pretty boring.

I finished 2016 with three books going, which is one more than typical. I’m currently reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia, David R. Lewis’s Glory Trail, and Richard Bach’s Illusions.