Review: The High Mountains of Portugal


The High Mountains of Portugal
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels where I know I was missing something. I could see that there was something bigger going on, but couldn’t quite see the big picture. I’m sure I’m still missing a lot of it, too.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a tale told in three parts, over three different time periods beginning in the early 20th century. Tomas goes in search of a mysterious crucifix, Dr. Eusebio Lozaro is visited by his dead wife, who brings Agatha Christie novels and explains that they echo the Gospels before he does a very, very bizarre autopsy, and finally Peter, a retired Canadian senator, buys a chimpanzee in Oklahoma and goes to live in his ancestral home in the High Mountains of Portugal.

The first part of the story, with Tomas, is rather boring. He drives his uncles car, and there is a lot — I mean, A LOT — of information about the car. Most of the people he encounters in the country have never seen one, and their reactions are interesting, but seem a distraction from the story. Of course, the car turns out to be pretty important.

The part with the pathologist and the mystery novels and the autopsy was, by far, the weirdest. Honestly, it was a bit hard to swallow, unless the whole thing was a dream. Maybe it was.

My favorite part was the third, with the senator and his chimp. Peter was a very relatable character and I could appreciate his desire to get away from everything and enjoy the quiet countryside after the death of his wife.

Chimpanzees are an important symbol to the book, as all three stories feature one (or more) in some way. Relationships between fathers and sons and surrogates is also important. There’s more, and a closer second read would likely help me understand it more, but unlike Life of Pi, I don’t feel the desire yet to revisit The High Mountains of Portugal.

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Review: Hard Winter: A Western Story


Hard Winter: A Western Story
Hard Winter: A Western Story by Johnny D. Boggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Johnny D. Boggs has become my second favorite living Western author. His books are always interesting and unique, and Hard Winter was no exception. It grabbed me from the beginning and held my interest all the way through, despite not one single shootout.

The story is told by 50-year-old Jim Hawkins on a ride with his grandson to visit some old haunts from Jim’s younger days. He tells about leaving Texas after a harsh winter killed too many cattle, about coming to Montana, stringing barbed wire, avoiding a range war, and eventually facing a winter even worse than the one in Texas. It’s a story about friendship, coming of age, and life on the northern frontier.

It’s labeled as juvenile fiction, but the only place I really felt like it held back noticeably was when Jim wouldn’t tell his grandson the actual cuss words being said as events unfolded. And, like I said, there were no shootouts, no hangings, no on-screen murders, etc. It’s a good, clean story, fit for younger readers, but with plenty of meat for older folks.

I listened to this on audio and I have to say that William Roberts did an excellent job voicing Jim Hawkins.

This is a fine book by an excellent author. I definitely recommend it.

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Review: The Lonesome Gods


The Lonesome Gods
The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had the same problem with this The Lonesome Gods that I’ve had with all of Louis L’Amour’s fiction. All of his lead characters are supermen and they know it. He rhapsodizes about their abilities without ever showing how they got those abilities (other than educating themselves in various vague ways).

This is the story of Johannes Verne. His mother is dead when the story starts. He sees his father killed. His grandfather leaves Johannes to die in the California desert, but instead Johannes becomes one with the desert. Later he moves to Los Angeles, where he falls in love while various and sundry bad guys plot to kill him. Blah blah blah, he saves the girl and kills the bad guys.

L’Amour uses his position of writing in the late 20th century to “predict” things that would happen in Los Angeles after the time of the story, which I found rather annoying. He also repeats himself quite a bit, emphasizing whatever point he’s trying to make.

This review sounds pretty negative. The Lonesome Gods isn’t a bad book. It’s probably even my favorite by L’Amour. It is definitely an epic adventure and was worth the read, but it was the third L’Amour novel I’ve read this year and I’ll be taking a break from his style for a while.

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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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