Tag Archives: book review

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Redd Becker Book Review

Ruth Ozeki covers a lot of ground in A Tale for the Time BeingShe juxtaposits a sixteen year old, troubled Japanese teenager with a Canadian writer’s older perspective. Both characters search for meaning in their live’s. Their thoughts touch on the cord of how similar we are despite distance or age. by Ruth Ozeki

Nao spent most of her childhood in Silicon Valley, before returning to Japan. Back in Japan her father spirals into depressive, leaving Nao on her own to deal with the change. She gains some reprieve in her 104 year old Buddhist great-grandmother. Across the ocean, in a secluded island of British Columbia, Canada, Ruth finds Nao’s diary. The diary inspires the writer who’s career and life lack the spark it once did. 

The book is a little long at four hundred pages. Although the story integrated lots of great information about environment, culture and philosophy into each of the heroine’s journeys, Oseki could cut or integrate some into another book. That said, A Tale for the Time Being is a book to savor. It’s not where the plot is heading that makes this an interesting read, but how it gets there.  An ultimate compliment to the author is that a reread would bring additional insights; learning, seeing, smelling and enjoying the story.

Ruth Ozeki Writes in Two Points-of-View

Chapters alternate between Ruth’s and Nao’s point-of-view (POV). Ruth’s story comes through a step removed in third-person limited, while Ozeki presents a more intimate first-person POV for her Japanese teenager in the guise of the girl’s diary.

Sometimes the change of POV is disconcerting, although most of the time it works well. Lots of great footnotes on Japanese culture at the bottom of pages add another dimension to the story.

If you enjoy A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki has written many other books you may be interested in.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Published by Viking on March 12th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Historical Fiction
Pages: 422
Goodreads

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future. 

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on Mars

Redd Becker Book Review

Andy Weir’s tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars captured my mind as well as my imagination. This is my second read of The Martian and the details of the story fascinate me. I particularly admire Andy Weir for figuring out The Martian by Andy Weir, a story from Marsthe science required to execute the story.

The plot is simple–the struggle for survival under unsurmountable odds. An astronaut becomes stranded on Mars, when a dust storm and equipment failures cause the rest of the crew to leave. Fortunately the stranded astronaut’s background as a botanist and chemist enables him to devise incredibly ingenuous solutions.  The logs of his progress tell the story. Although his prospect of survival appears dim, it’s clear Mark doesn’t loose hope in being rescued.

I really enjoyed The Martian. Weir writes about what interests him and it comes through in every scene. Regardless of the geekiness, the book was fun. Even the ending didn’t disappoint, including Weir’s philosophical summary.

The Magic is in the Details

The trials of growing  food enough to sustain him for over a year was only one of our hero’s challenges. Although Weir describes it all, including technical calculations and equipment issues that reflect Weir’s knowledge of the space program, his descriptions aren’t dumbed-down for lay readers. I can imagine many a learned mathematician and scientist reviewing the details to prove or disprove Weir’s descriptions for themselves. For most of us, however, the story felt plausible.

The chemicals, gases and equipment descriptions add to the story and in many respects make it the hit it became. The story contains more technical details than you think you want, but it went smoothly and just when my interest of the technical wained, something changed to renew my attention.

For a majority of the story, Weir writes in first person, which draws you into the Mark’s situation. Although emotions are largely missing, Weir interweaves plenty of dry humor to keep your spirits up. When contact with NASA finally occurs, Weir shifts to third person in order to present happenings from the Earth perspective, as well as what his comrades, who remain in space as they return home, are doing.

A Geek’s Adventure on Mars for Everybody

This geek’s story of survival hits a universal chord with most readers, as shown by their reviews on Goodreads. With over half-million reader’s the average review remains over four stars. That’s an excellent recommendation for so many readers to agree on.

If your interest in Mars goes deeper, National Geographic wrote an interesting article on why we haven’t planted ourselves on Mars yet.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a sci-fi adventure on MarsThe Martian by Andy Weir
Published by Crown on February 11th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 369
Goodreads
four-half-stars

A mission to Mars.

A freak accident.

One man's struggle to survive.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, Mark won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.
As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive.
But Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)

Redd Becker Book Review

Pintip Dunn fills every chapter of Remember Yesterday with driving action.  by Pintup DunnWe quickly learn our heroine’s sister, Callie, committed suicide to stop future memory research. The nation’s leader pushes on, however, with her vision to mold a society with precognition. A society that already knows its future because future selves send information backward in time. The chairwoman’s plans include winnowing out anyone who doesn’t have precognition. The young Jessa commits herself to fulfilling her sister’s wish to stop the project.

Jessa makes an intriguing heroine. She’s dynamic, conflicted and opinionated. Since she and her twin possessed the power of precognition, she believes she has a chance of stopping the research.

The tension of romance muddles Jessa’s perspective, however, when she collaborates with the young scientist, Tanner, to save her sister. Jessa is both aroused and ethically repelled by what Tanner represents to her. But the twist at the end puts their relationship in new light.

Pintip Dunn’s story comes full circle by the conclusion. Fresh imagery make this a fun read. This is the second book of the series, and Dunn leaves plenty of room to continue to story.

Pintip Dunn Wins the  RITA

Although Goodreads readers didn’t classify Dunn’s book in the Romance genre, Dunn won the RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America for Forget Tomorrow in 2016. Dunn placed in many other award lists as well, which recognizes her fresh writing style, intriguing heroines and driving plots.

For a list of 25 great paranormal romances, check out the  Best Fantasy Books website.

Remember Yesterday by Pintip Dunn (Forget Tomorrow #2)Remember Yesterday (Forget Tomorrow, #2) by Pintip Dunn
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Goodreads

Follow-up to the New York Times bestselling novel, Forget Tomorrow!
Would you change the past to protect your future?
Sixteen-year-old Jessa Stone is the most valuable citizen in Eden City. Her psychic abilities could lead to significant scientific discoveries, if only she’d let TechRA study her. But ten years ago, the scientists kidnapped and experimented on her, leading to severe ramifications for her sister, Callie. She’d much rather break into their labs and sabotage their research—starting with Tanner Callahan, budding scientist and the boy she loathes most at school.
The past isn’t what she assumed, though—and neither is Tanner. He’s not the arrogant jerk she thought he was. And his research opens the door to the possibility that Jessa can rectify a fatal mistake made a decade earlier. She’ll do anything to change the past and save her sister—even if it means teaming up with the enemy she swore to defeat.

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #6)

Redd Becker Book Review

Darynda Jones writes cross-genre novels that highlight romance, by Darynda Jonesmystery and the occult. Her writing style captures her protagonist’s sharp, irreverent personality and keeps you in Charley’s mind set. Jones breaks the traditional literary approach, but she punches her story up with fun similes, creative descriptions and unexpected subplots that take the reader on tangents into the world of angels, Lucifer’s children and the afterlife.

The protagonist, Charley, sees ghosts. She inherited the role of ‘grim reaper’ which gives her the power to help souls transition, but additional powers, hinted-at, lurk beneath the surface. With a compassionate perspective and defiant approach, Charley blunders forward resolving crisis for the living and dead alike.

To spice the story up romantically, the devil’s son, Reyes, entangles Charley in his sexy-hot tentacles which creates tension, titillation and intrigue.

For me, a muddled middle of subplots left me wondering. By the end I was left wondering. Many of the subplots don’t resolve cleanly and the ending opened as many doors as it closed. Regardless, plenty more books in the series carry Charley’s tale forward.

Darynda Jones Writes with Wit

Darynda Jones’ fresh writing (as writing coach, Margie Lawson, would say) entertains and keeps the reader captivated. Her characters verge on the hilarious; such as a corpse with a hard-on who rides shot-gun in her car.

A review on the first three Charley Davidson novels at FictionVixen provides the foundation for the series, although it contains spoilers.

Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #6)Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson, #6) by Darynda Jones
Series: Charley Davidson #6
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 20th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 326
Goodreads

Few things in life can come between a grim reaper and her coffee, but the sexy, sultry son of Satan is one of them. Now that Reyes Farrow has asked for her hand, Charley Davidson feels it's time to learn more about his past, but Reyes is reluctant to open up. When the official FBI file of his childhood abduction lands in her lap, Charley decides to go behind her mysterious beau’s back and conduct her own investigation. Because what could go wrong?
Unfortunately, another case has fallen into her lap—one with dangerous implications. Some very insistent men want Charley to hunt down a witness who is scheduled to testify against their boss, a major player in the local crime syndicate. If Charley doesn't come up with an address in 48 hours, the people closest to her will start to disappear.
Add to that a desperate man in search of the soul he lost in a card game, a dogged mother determined to find the ghost of her son, and a beautiful, young Deaf boy haunted by his new ability to see the departed as clearly as he sees the living, and Charley has her hands full. The fact that Reyes has caught on to her latest venture only adds fuel to the inferno that he is. Good thing for Charley she's used to multi-tasking and always up for a challenge…especially when that challenge comes in the form of Reyes Farrow.

salt to the sea by Ruth Sepetys

Redd Becker Book Review

The brutality of war from the civilian refugee perspective comes to life in Ruth Sepetys’ historical fiction novel salt to sea, the story of refugees evacuating Germany during WWII.

by Ruth SepetysRussia’s invasion of Germany comes alive through four refugee’s perspectives. While they flee, the atrocities behind their struggles and the secrets they carry haunt them. Joanne struggles to protect her travel companions, while nursing everyone she can. Alfred, a german soldier stationed on a ship, writes letters in his head. His love back home destined not to receives them.  Emilia, a fifteen year old polish girl who lost her family, fights the demons trapped in her mind. And Floria, a German civilian who saved Emilia’s life, distrusts everyone, especially himself, as he runs from the country he once honored.

Written in first person point-of-view, Sepetys’ story focuses on  individual refugee’s perceptions and internal struggles.  Short dialogue sequences capture interactions between them.

It’s clear a lot of research went into Sepetys’ plot, but she manages to create a story that touches the cord of humanity so deeply that the historical components of the story support the characters, rather than the other way around. It would do us well, however, to remember this harrowing piece of history lost in common knowledge.

Ruth Sepetys Writes for Writers

Beyond the integration of history in Sepetys’ story she offers much to learn for any writer. She uses every means she can to develop character. Note the sparse language used to create settings and establish emotions, while still driving the story forward.

Instead of each chapter telling what that person did, Sepetys often choses to develop characters through others’ observations. An example from Emilia’s chapter follows. “The shoe poet woke early, rapping our feet with his walking stick.”

Another example from Joanne’s perspective: “I had woke in the middle of the night and imagined I saw the German standing above me in the dark. When I blinked he was gone and I realized it was a dream.” or was it?

The climax wraps around the converted cruise ship Wilhelmina Gustoff. For pictures and a history of the Cruise Liner Wilhelm Gustloff check out feldgrau.com

salt to the sea by Ruth SepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel Books on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Adventure, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Goodreads

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
Yet not all promises can be kept.
Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.

 

 

The Immortal Throne (The City #2) by Stella Gemmell, author of The City

Redd Becker Book Review

The Immortal Throne by Stella Gemmell portrays a saga of war. As in war, a plethora of characters with conflicting perspectives vie for by Stella Gemmellattention. Gemmell moves in and out of point-of-view in order to connect the reader with the complexities of her characters. The emotional connection with them, however, was not strong for me. I would like more reason to care, besides the complexities of war.

That said, Gemmell’s settings and plot development reflect her strengths as a writer, which are lofty accomplishments. The settings in The Immortal Throne cover a kingdom/city and its environs, but it’s difficult at times to envision the immensity of it through all the details. Regardless, it’s clear the author envisions the settings completely. Her descriptions leave little doubt. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m not a fan of books based on setting, but I often read them, because buried within the plethora of descriptions are interesting characters, concepts and plots.

Gemmell Works her Plots

Gemmell doesn’t let you down with plot. She works it like an intricate pattern of lace. Characters find themselves facing a broad array of challenges. Moles, traitors, double spies. Even the innocent  play their part. Greed, loyalty, mythic faith and love bind and drive characters to the end, when Gemmell reveals all. It’s then readers realize the most hidden motives behind the ‘Immortals’.

The final chapter brings the Immortal’s history to light, however, justifications for their actions felt trite and the explanations weren’t required. They added little to the overall story. The message that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely‘ came to life through the Immortal’s actions in the saga. No further explanation was needed.

As a reader, my interest lay in Rubin. The youth opens the story and plays a pivotal role throughout. He ultimately stands as a sort of sentinel at the end.

As with war, most characters came through as pawns of the plot, not drivers of it, but by the end, Gemmell ties up each character’s life. Readers are not left wondering about anyone.

Perhaps a Sequel from Stella Gemmell

The Immortal Throne could have been broken into two books. At 547 pages it is a tome, but new characters and aspects of the city’s complex history and war are introduced so frequently readers remain engaged. The Immortal Throne is the second of a series that could go on indefinitely. For a review of The City check out the foundingfields.com.

The Immortal Throne (The City #2) by Stella Gemmell, author of The CityThe Immortal Throne (The City, #2) by Stella Gemmell
Series: The City #2
Published by Bantam Press on March 24th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 576
Goodreads

The emperor is dead…long live the emperor! The fervent hope of the victorious rebels and the survivors of the uprising that liberated the City from tyranny is that the accession of Archange to the imperial throne will usher in a new era of freedom, peace and stability. If only that were so... As the the City struggles to return to something resembling normal life after the devastation brought on by the rebellion, word arises of a massive army gathering to the north. No one knows where it has come from or who leads it, but it soon becomes apparent that its sole purpose is to destroy the City and annihilate all - man, woman and child - who live within its battered walls. And while warriors go forth to fight and die on the battlefield in defence of their homeland and all that they believe in, bitter family feuds and ancient rivalries, political and personal betrayals, and mindless murder surface within the palaces and corridors of power: it seems the City is under siege - from both without and within . . . With this new novel, Stella Gemmell brings the astonishing story of the City to a spectacular climax and confirms her place as a master of the genre.

 

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10

Redd Becker Book Review

Many of you are familiar with Louise Penny’s Québécois inspector, Armand Gamache. A character full of warmth, compassion and, by Louise Pennyalways necessary for a great inspector, an ingenious perspective. When Gamache’s friend and neighbor’s husband fails to show up for a date on the one year anniversary of their separation she wants to know why. The search for his whereabouts leads Gamache from Paris, to Italy, to the recluse reaches of wilderness Canada, where the estranged husband has gone to redeem himself.

Penny paces her mystery. She takes the reader on circuitous paths that develop characters and enriches the overall ambiance of the story. By the end we are as fond of the isolated community of Three Pines, where Gamache lives, as the characters directly connected with the mystery. Fear not, however, as Inspector Gamaches’ patience and understanding of human psychology prevail to unravel the mystery.

Louise Penny Writes with Style

Once again I enjoyed Penny’s mystery. She writes in third person omniscient, developing the plot with care and paying attention to the details.

I didn’t like the end of The Long Way Home. It was too expected–although perhaps necessary in order to remain within the mystery genre’s expectation.

For those interested in writing: Take a look at Penny’s use of sentence fragments. She builds paragraphs on incomplete sentences that create images with the least amount of words. Penny uses this style to its fullest effect in her later novels.

Point-of-view shifts often, sometimes for only a short period of time. This technique builds rapport with multiple characters.

Although Penny breaks some of the rules teachers advocate these days, her fragmented sentences and word choices create a familiar atmosphere appropriate for the caring Inspector Gamache.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #10The Long Way Home (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #10) by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books on August 26th 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 373
Goodreads

Happily retired in the village of Three Pines, Armand Gamache, former Chief Inspector of Homicide with the Sûreté du Québec, has found a peace he’d only imagined possible. On warm summer mornings he sits on a bench holding a small book, The Balm in Gilead, in his large hands. "There is a balm in Gilead," his neighbor Clara Morrow reads from the dust jacket, "to make the wounded whole."
While Gamache doesn’t talk about his wounds and his balm, Clara tells him about hers. Peter, her artist husband, has failed to come home. Failed to show up as promised on the first anniversary of their separation. She wants Gamache’s help to find him. Having finally found sanctuary, Gamache feels a near revulsion at the thought of leaving Three Pines. "There’s power enough in Heaven," he finishes the quote as he contemplates the quiet village, "to cure a sin-sick soul." And then he gets up. And joins her.
Together with his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and Myrna Landers, they journey deeper and deeper into Québec. And deeper and deeper into the soul of Peter Morrow. A man so desperate to recapture his fame as an artist, he would sell that soul. And may have. The journey takes them further and further from Three Pines, to the very mouth of the great St. Lawrence river. To an area so desolate, so damned, the first mariners called it The land God gave to Cain. And there they discover the terrible damage done by a sin-sick soul.