Mid-life Without the Crisis

It really isn't the destination, but the journey. May be cliche, but it's true.

Book Reviews

My rating system is as follows:

:) :) :) :) :)  Five smileys for books that are life-changing.  These are the books that change my view of the world or affect me deeply.  Books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Kite Runner.

:) :) :) :) Four smileys for books that I loved.  These are books that are by authors I love or will definitely read again.

:) :) :) Three smileys for books that I liked, but I may or may not try the author again.

:) :) Two smileys for books that I didn't really like.  For me to have finished it, there must have been some nagging question, some mystery, some element that kept me going to the end, but the author failed to live up to promises.

:) One smiley for books I couldn't even finish.

I really like Anthony Bourdain.  I like how he's a chef who can't stand to see an animal slaughtered, how he travels the world and eats weird things, how snarky he gets about Food Network's Sandra Lee, and I loved his book A Cook's Tour where all of these characteristics were evident.

But his newest book, Medium Raw, just wasn't as much fun.  It's actually more of a follow-up to his best-selling book Kitchen Confidential, which I haven't read.  There were whole chapters about other chefs and what Anthony likes or dislikes about them.  But I had no idea who those people were.  I don't eat at fancy New York restaurants and I don't travel in the chef crowd, so I was just reading about complete strangers whom I didn't really care about.  I skipped whole chapters, skimming through them looking for anything to do with Anthony himself.

There were some fun chapters and I always enjoy Anthony's contrary ways, but this book is best left to those who have already read Kitchen Confidential and those who give a crap about non-Food Network celebrity chefs.


I have enjoyed Dean Koontz books for years.  Okay, not all of them.  Some are pure crap, particularly ones written under his pen names when he was still a struggling writer.  But I usually like his books and am always willing to pick up the next.  But he is sure trying my patience these days.

What the Night Knows starts out with a fairly typical Koontz family, devoted father with some kind of dark secret, pure and artistic wife, brilliant and articulate children, and the best of man's best friends (in this case departed).  But evil is out to get the family and we don't know why...but we suspect what is happening right from the beginning.

Koontz does a great job of getting us involved in these characters.  He even manages to make us feel sort of sorry for the bad buy by revealing, slowly throughout the book, how he got as twisted as he is.  By the time the climax comes and the showdown begins, we are pretty sure good will win over evil, but we don't know who might not make it through the fight or to what lengths the family members may have to go.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the ending is facilitated by a mysterious Lego toy that magically transforms.  Not that we are given any kind of explanation for why this might be true.  You just have to accept that this is a truly exceptional family and go with that.  Strange things are afoot and you don't need to know more than that.

Bull hockey!  Come on!  I can buy into all sorts of things.  Demons. Vampires.  Werewolves.  Whatever.  Just give me the set up, I'll willfully suspend my disbelief, and we'll get on with the story.  But this book just throws stuff into the mix that has never even been hinted at.  That's just someone wanting to get to the end of his story and not caring what he has to do to get there.  As my BFF always says, it's not my fault your story doesn't work, Mr. Koontz.  Don't expect me to believe your crap.

I really hope he stops giving these crazy, pat endings that don't make any sense.  That's 2 in a row, and if there's a 3rd strike, Koontz may be out.

:) :)


Henning Mankell is a Swedish author of mysteries and novels.  He has written 8 books featuring the police investigator Kurt Wallander.  The first of these, Faceless Killers, takes place when Wallander is already 42 years old and has been an investigator for many years.

Mankell's newest book is called The Pyramid and contains 4 short stories and one novelette that give us the back story to Wallander.  We get to see his first case, his early mentor, and the relationship with the woman who would eventually become his wife (and later ex-wife).

The Wallander stories are procedural dramas.  Most of the violence takes place "off camera" and we see the police work as a team, chasing down leads that go nowhere, questioning and re-questioning witnesses and suspects, and working the case the way real police do.  Wallander just happens to have a sharp eye and mind and like other fictional detectives (Monk or Colombo, for instance), he asks just the right question or notices just the right oddity to put all the pieces together.  Sometimes the climax of the stories involve a showdown with the criminal, with the explanation of the solution coming later in an epilogue, for those who didn't figure out the solution with Wallander.

Not only are these stories interesting from a mystery standpoint, but are a must-read for Wallander fans to see how he started out.  The title story is especially good and ends right where Faceless Killers begins, bringing Mankell's works full circle.

:) :) :) :)
Perhaps you've heard of, or read, Stieg Larsson's book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its 2 sequels.  It is pretty graphic for some people, both in violence and sexual content.  However, Larsson is not the only Swedish mystery writer easily available to read in English.  I happened across a list of some others and added a few to my To Read list.  I finished the first the other day.

The Darkest Room is by Johan Theorin.  Apparently it is his second (I'll have to add his first to my list) and it is a real page turner.  Theorin successfully does something I really enjoy in stories, he interweaves stories from the past with the present.  In addition, the way the various sub-plots all come together in the end is fascinating.

Basically, the story is about a young couple who buy a house near 2 lighthouses on an island off the coast of Sweden.  The wife dies in a supposedly accidental drowning and the husband and children deal with their loss in various ways.  Meanwhile, the new local cop is not so sure it was an accident, but she has her hands full trying to figure out a series of local break-ins, gathering information about the grandfather she never knew from her aging great-uncle, and dealing with her own romantic dissolution.

The history and tragedy of the lighthouses and keepers lends an air of creepiness since the place is supposedly haunted, and the reader wonders just how much of its sordid past is affecting the current situation.  It's an exciting ride finding out how it's all connected.

:) :) :) :)

P.S.  If you are interested in trying some other Swedish writers, head over to the Nordic Bookblog to find more suggestions. 
I was doing some research on viruses for a project I'm working on and ran across the title of the book The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston.  I checked with my local library, they had it, and I ran up there to get it.  I started this book on Saturday evening and finished it Sunday night.  It is sooooooo fascinating.

The book is the non-fiction story of the eradication of smallpox as a disease and how the failure of the elimination of all remaining samples has led to new bioterrorism worries.  The book manages to be technical about how viruses work, but reads like a thriller.  I literally could not put it down.

I'd heard about smallpox, of course, and was aware of how it devastated Native American populations.  But I did not know that it is the all-time deadliest disease on the planet.  It is estimated to have killed over a billion people.  Learning about how it works and how it was stopped is just so amazing.  I can't rave enough about how interesting and informative this book was.  Definitely check it out.  I'm going to look for Preston's other books, as well.

:) :) :) :) 1/2


Full Dark, No Stars is the newest release by Stephen King.  I've been reading King since I was about 13.  Sometimes I really enjoy his books, and other times I find them kind of blah, or even horrible.  This wishy-washy reaction to his writing definitely holds true for this book.

The book is actually a collection of 4 short stories (I guess they may be long enough to be novellas).  Two of them I liked and two I didn't.  The first and 3rd stories focused on men making terribly selfish decisions with horrifying consequences for those in his life.  The 2nd and last stories were about women facing horrible violations who have to find a way to deal with what they've been dealt.  While I don't condone their choices, I understood them.

King said in the afterword that he likes writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and exploring how people react.  I generally enjoy that process, but this time, not so much.

:0 :0 :0 (Instead of smileys, King gets screams. :) )
So my first review is for Worth Dying For by Lee Child.  After reading Child's previous book, 61 Hours, I was extremely upset.  I was afraid there would be no more Jack Reacher novels.  I was so happy just to find out Jack was alive and back for more when I heard this book had come out, I didn't even mind waiting on the library's hold list for ages.  It was worth the wait.

Jack Reacher is a former U.S. Army MP who now lives off the grid, wandering from place to place just seeing the country and being his own man.  However, he frequently comes across people in need of help, and he always helps.  He can't say no to an innocent victim in need.  However, his form of help is usually violent and swift.  These books are not for the faint of heart.

In Worth Dying For, Jack stops for a night in a small town in Nebraska only to discover that the town is run by a family of men who may be involved in something illegal, and certainly have the town's citizens under their thumbs.  Jack uncovers secrets and takes care of the innocent while eliminating all known enemies with extreme force.

Lee Child has written 15 Jack Reacher novels.  Each is a tour de force of justice, Reacher style.  Check them out if you like a lot of action.

:) :) :) :) 1/2 (I love these novels soooo much, but I don't guess they're really life changing.)

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