Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Reviews

The Redbreast
By Jo Nesbo
Harpercollins, 2006. 519 pgs. Mystery

The plot to this wonderfully complicated thriller/mystery begins at the German Eastern front with a group of Norwegian soldiers fighting the Russians for the Nazi regime. This historical story is told amid a modern story starring Harry Hole, an unlucky inspector for the Norwegian Security Service. The two narratives are expertly woven together and the plot takes a number of fantastic and unexpected turns.

Harry Hole is a terrific protagonist for this mystery series. Nesbo is a good writer and unfolds his story with a great deal of insight into the human psyche. It does have a dominant European feel and I would readily recommend The Redbreast to anyone who enjoyed Larsson’s popular series but would like to try something with a little less graphic violence and sex. I am eager to continue to read of Harry’s further adventures in the second book in the series, Nemesis!

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography
By Rob Lowe
Henry Holt & Co., 2011. 308 pgs. Biography

Rob Lowe’s autobiography takes readers through his early mid-western childhood, his introduction to fame and the addictions that followed, and finally to his recovery and eventual professional and personal success. The narrative moves quickly as Lowe describes his journey through the obstacles of life in the limelight. He does, indeed, tell some great stories and he includes a star studded line-up of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.

Lowe proves himself a good writer and I could easily list Stories I Only Tell My Friends among the best celebrity autobiographies I’ve read. You could almost accuse him of name dropping, except that he makes it so much fun. Celebrities pop up consistently and Lowe’s behind the scene stories make this a perfect book for fans of the Brat Pack and all things 80s. Warning: Readers should be prepared to feel a serious need to Netflix The Outliers, St. Elmo’s Fire, and the first four seasons of The West Wing.

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
By Mitchell Zuckoff
Harpercollins, 2011. 384 pgs. Nonfiction

High in the unexplored mountains of New Guinea, just as World War II was wrapping up, a plane full of servicemen and women crashed and was swallowed by the dense jungle terrain. They had set out on a sightseeing expedition to fly over a hidden valley frequently referred to as Shangri-La. Survivors of the fiery crash would need to find a way to signal search planes and then survive until a rescue mission could be attempted. After weeks of surviving in and exploring the exotic region, survivors and their rescuers were finally able to escape the hidden paradise and return to civilization.

What makes this book great are the amazing people involved in the rescue and the survivors themselves. Their stories are fascinating. Also, the natives of the valley add a great deal to the story as readers glimpse a community of people completely isolated from the outside world. What was a little disappointing was that the actual rescue operation took up only the last several pages and, while it was certainly daring and fraught with danger, it still left me a little underwhelmed. Despite that, this is a wonderful piece of nonfiction that can easily be recommended to World War II enthusiasts and armchair adventurers.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich
By Eric Metaxas
Thomas Nelson, 2010. 591 pgs. Biography

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born the son of a respected psychologist in Germany just after the turn of the century. Raised as an intellectual, Dietrich surprisingly decided to dedicate his career to the study of theology. As he began to study religion, he quickly became a sincere and prolific Christian at a time when devoted religious practices were far from popular. When the Third Reich gained control of German politics, Bonhoeffer’s beliefs placed him prominently against the Nazi Party. His tremendous patriotism and desire to truly live his religion ultimately required him to make the greatest sacrifice possible.

This was such a great book about a truly inspirational man. Many are familiar with the Valkyre plot to kill Hitler. However, the story behind the brave men who had been placing themselves in opposition to Hitler from the outbreak of war have had less notoriety. Bonhoeffer’s biography brings many of these heroes to light and his theology, deeply rooted faith, and very personal relationship with God make this a recommended read for many reasons.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School
By Alexandra Robbins
Hyperion, 2011. 436 pgs. Nonfiction

Alexandra Robbins new book focuses on her ‘Quirk Theory’ which states that the very characteristics that make some students outcasts during their middle school and high school years are the characteristics that may make them more successful adults once they enter the real world. To prove her point, she introduces readers to seven people representing the “lunchroom fringe”. We me meet the loner, the popular bitch, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the band geek. Each of these characters is given a challenge to change other’s perceptions of them by stepping outside their comfort zone and engaging with others.

If you are reticent to return to the awkward moments we all had in high school, I’d veer clear of this book. However, if you are interested in the psychology of cliques and teen self esteem this is a great place to get an honest look at what it means to be a teen in today’s high schools. It is difficult not to start rooting for each of these characters as they try to make a difference and gain the confidence we wish all young adults had access to. Robbins ends the book with a list of things teens, parents, teachers and administrators can all do to improve the social aspects of our educational system. I believe the one overwhelming lesson to be taken from her narratives is that we need to encourage the celebration of diversity and individuality in ourselves and others, not only in high school, but far beyond.

By Karen Russell
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 315 pgs. Fiction

On a small island in the rural swamplands of Florida lives Ava Bigtree and her family. They run a tourist attraction headlining Ava’s mother, Hilola, who swims with and wrestles the alligator. Business was never booming but when Hilola dies of cancer the family is left with a gaping hole and no star performer for Swamplandia!. The family begins to crumble apart as Grandpa’s dementia requires he be sent to a home on the mainland; Ava’s brother’s resentment of their father’s desperate attempts to keep the park open eventually forces him to run away from home; her sister hides from her disappointing life by communing with the spirits which haunt the swamp; and Ava is left trying to hold the family together as she desperately clings to the only life she has ever known.

Florida’s Everglades is a great setting for an interesting coming of age story and family drama. However, I never felt a real connection to the characters or their stories. Ava’s older brother, Kiwi, was the most believable or at least the most accessible of the characters and his efforts to acclimate himself to life off the island were some of my favorite parts of the story. But I felt the ending was unexpectedly dark and a bit contrived leaving me somewhat unsettled.

The Dangerous Edge of Things
By Tina Whittle
Poisoned Pen Press, 2011. 281 pgs. Mystery

Tai’s life is already a bit complicated. Despite her brother Eric’s adamant disapproval, she has inherited her uncle’s gun shop and is in the midst of establishing a new life for herself in Atlanta. So when she finds a dead woman in a car parked outside Eric’s home she is quickly in over her head. To help her in his absence, Eric hires a security firm to protect her, a job that would be infinitely easier if she could overcome her uncontrollable curiosity. Trey Seaver, her protective service agent, has his work cut out for him as he tries to keep her safe while keeping her from discovering his own secrets.

This book has been compared to Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. It does share a fairly incompetent female protagonist placed is situations she is far from being equipped to handle and a cast of intriguing and entertaining supporting characters. However, Whittle’s new series doesn’t include the madcap hilarity, not to mention the language and sex, Stephanie Plum is famous for. Despite these differences, and possibly because of them, I found The Dangerous Edge of Things completely enjoyable and I look forward to reading more of Tai’s adventures in the future.


Jessie said...

I am loving your review since I don't even know how to hold a book anymore. Miss you!

Stacey said...

I believe "couple" means two. I seriously can't comprehend your reading speed.