Review: Take Me with You


Take Me with You
Take Me with You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early on, I was thinking this was going to be a 5-star book. But the second half just didn’t hold up to the promise of the beginning. That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy the story despite some issues with it.

August is a high school science teacher and a recovering alcoholic. He lost his 19-year-old son to a drunk driver sometime before the book begins. Every summer he takes his RV out on the road to explore national parks and such. As the story opens, his rig has been towed to a little shop where the mechanic offers him the repair for free … if August will agree to take, Wes, the mechanic’s, two young sons with him for the summer while Wes serves another jail sentence for, you guessed it, DUI. August agrees, and the road trip begins.

I loved this part of the book. I mean, I was wondering how I could get copies of this book to use in my AP Literature class. But then things just didn’t keep building like I hoped. I expected more symbolism, a stronger theme, etc. There is a theme that I’d love to teach, about how we have to live our lives, letting the benefit outweigh the risk and accepting that sometimes bad things will happen no matter how many precautions we take. But, things like Henry running away was just glossed over after the incident. I expected more when August and his ex-wife met. And then there was the eight-year jump in time and the continuation of an emotional attachment with very little shown to sustain it during that time.

One thing I have to note is about the scene where the RV breaks down and Seth has to go for a water pump. There was no discussion about the core charge/refund for the old pump. Sorry. I guess it’s a minor thing, but with all the going back and forth and concern over money and getting the wrong part first, I just expected there to be something said about it.

I’m walking too close to the line with major spoilers. It’s a good book. In fact, I talked myself up from 3 stars to 4 as I wrote this review. It didn’t live up to the potential I saw for it in the beginning, but I certainly did enjoy it and recommend it.

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Review: A Man Called Ove


A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across A Man Called Ove while browsing Audible.com, not looking for anything in particular. The reviews were good, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s a strong character study about an old Swedish curmudgeon who learns to love before it’s too late.

Ove has always been a man of few words, like his father before him. He worked hard until he was told to retire, and now all he has to keep him going is making sure his unruly neighbors are following all the rules of their neighborhood association, something Ove helped establish before he was deposed as the leader of that by his former friend Rune, who now suffers Alzheimer’s. When a lanky man, his head-strong Iranian wife, and their two daughters move in next door, and an almost-hairless beat-up cat decides to adopt Ove, well, his life has to change. For instance, he can’t seem to find the time to kill himself to join his wife in the afterlife.

The book made me smile several times. Fredrik Backman had Ove determine a lot about people by the cars they drove. That was kind of nice, but not being very familiar with Saabs and Volvos, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I assume it would be like me driving a Ford and thinking Chevy people are defective.

By far, my favorite character was Parvenah, the Iranian neighbor. She caught on to what Ove was up to and, instead of confronting him about it, did what a smart woman who understands people would do. That’s really the strength of this book, the interaction between the characters and how they understand and relate to one another.

I had a little trouble with the ending. The bit with the journalist and the others confronting the man in the white shirt was, I thought, a little too coincidental. But really, it wasn’t enough to spoil a very good story.

The audio was extremely well done, too.

It’s a really good book. I recommend it.

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Review: Flowers for Algernon


Flowers for Algernon
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somewhere, sometime, somebody failed me. How is it I had never read Flowers for Algernon until now? Even my youngest kids say they read it in eighth grade, and they almost never read anything.

I make my AP Literature seniors do a tapestry of books they’ve read at the end of the year. A lot of them had Keyes’ novel on their tapestries. Then, Flowers for Algernon played an important role in Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. So, it was like Fate decided it was time I read this novel. I’m glad I finally did.

This is the story of Charly Gordon, a mentally retarded man who undergoes experimental surgery and in the course of a couple of months becomes a genius smarter than the university professors who operated on him. Now there are two Charlies. The old one, innocent, kind, naive, and mentally handicapped, and the new one, arrogant, immature, violent, but brilliant. And there’s a running clock when Charly finds the flaw in the professors’ experiment.

That’s the plot. The real story is about what it means to be human. The professors see Charly as a lab specimen. Charly’s old “friends” see him as a buffoon there for their entertainment. Charly, meanwhile, who only wanted to be smart before the operation, struggles to reconcile the person he was with the person he is … and the person he’s becoming.

This is a wonderful, but very sad novel. It’s a book that will make you look at yourself, your attitude, and question what is important in your life.

I listened to this as an audio book. Jeff Woodman did a brilliant job. As retarded Charly struggled with spelling, I thought at first I was missing out by not seeing the text, but Woodman’s narration more than made up for anything I might have missed by not reading the words myself.

I highly recommend this book, either in print or audio.

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Review: West Texas Kill


West Texas Kill
West Texas Kill by Johnny D. Boggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

West Texas Kill was pretty good, but certainly isn’t Johnny D. Boggs’ best novel. The structure is well done, with most chapters ending in a cliffhanger. The pace is non-stop action. The characters, though, were just lacking. The only one I really liked was Moses.

Boggs doesn’t let the story drag with too much historical detail, but he has enough real place names, real situations like tired horses, slow travel, empty guns, to keep it gritty and realistic. No one just uses a gun. Boggs is always very specific about the brand and caliber of the weapons being used.

I guess my biggest problem with the book is simply that it was pretty predictable. That notwithstanding, I enjoyed the ride quite a bit.

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Review: 14


14
14 by Peter Clines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, for many years, all I read was horror fiction. These days, my reading tastes vary pretty widely, with horror popping up … rarely. You read too much in one genre, you get burned out. That’s how it was for me, anyway. Now, when I dip back into the horror pool, I need for the book to be really good. Peter Clines’ 14 managed that.

Nate Tucker got lucky and found a nice apartment at an affordable price in an old building in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the building is also a machine that is keeping Lovecraftian horrors at bay. More unfortunately, some weird cultists have found the machine and want to shut it down so that Cthulhu and his buddies can feed on humanity.

On the one hand, I wanted to say Blech! when the full plot twist was revealed and real people like Lovecraft and Tesla were used to advance the plot. However, Clines did such a good job at creating his very believable cast of characters that I went along with it. And I enjoyed nearly every minute of this ride. There were a few things, like the constant movie references and the cliche of … who the bad guy is that were a little annoying, but they were only minor annoyances.

The book comes across like a mystery, with the horror not rearing it’s slimy head until you’re way into it. But you know it’s coming. And you know it’s gonna be big and bad. Clines delivers on that. It’s a good book and I highly recommend it. I listened to it on audio and can definitely recommend it that way, too.

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Review: Everything, Everything


Everything, Everything
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never heard of this book or author until I saw a preview for the movie based on the novel that will be out soon. The movie trailer intrigued me, so I searched out the book. I’m very glad I did, as it was an excellent story.

Madeline is 18 years old at the start of the story and has lived all of her life as far as she can remember in a house that protects her from the dangers of the outside world. She’s sick and exposure to almost anything could trigger a fatal reaction. Then a troubled family moves in next door and Madeline meets the boy, Olly, first through pantomimes at the windows, then through electronic messaging. Love blossoms. Madeline begins to question whether the life she has is worth living, or if risking it all for a short time with Olly is the better option.

The love story is sweet in the way young adult stories about first love typically are, but without being sickly. Madeline and Olly are well-rounded, believable characters. My favorite character, though, was the nurse, Carla. The story here is fast-paced without ever seeming to leave anything out, and the ending is a nice twist. (I’d love to go into that more, but won’t to avoid spoilers.)

I actually listened to this as an audiobook and the narration was very well done. So, whether you read it or listen to it, I highly recommend it. Check it out before the movie hits theaters. You won’t regret it.

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Review: Unteachable


Unteachable
Unteachable by Leah Raeder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this book. The author was new to me, the “new adult” category was new to me. And the subject matter was … edgy.

Maize is an 18-year-old high school student who meets (and has sex with) an older man at a carnival. She ditches him, but guess what. Turns out he’s the new film studies teacher at her high school. So they have a real affair. Maize gets blackmailed, has a male best friend who betrays her, learns her 33-year-old boyfriend has secrets, and has to deal with her junkie mom. True love may or may not win out in the end. I’ll let you figure that one out.

I expected this to be pretty much a young adult book. Umm, no. The graphic descriptions of sex would never make it through the editor of any YA novel. I mean, there’s A LOT of sex, and not much is left to the imagination. Plus, the fact she’s banging a teacher is pretty much a YA taboo, I think.

One thing that kind of made me go back and forth on how much I liked this book was the use of language. Maize has an incredible vocabulary and can paint with metaphors and similes like the great Italian masters used paint pallets. For the daughter of a drug-addled whore going to public school and not really being academically focused, her diction and use of imagery was just a little unbelievable. But then, as a writer and English teacher, I did like it. So … yeah.

Unteachable is a good story. A little predictable, but it’s a fast ride. Probably won’t be on the shelves of too many school libraries, though.

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