Monday, August 24, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set A Watchman
Harper Lee
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-0-06-240985-0
$ 27.99
280 pages

How does anyone write a sequel to a legend?  To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other literary awards.  So how do you write anything else?

To Kill a Mockingbird awoke the world to the truth the everyone in the South knew existed, but no one ever had put into words.

Go Set a Watchman continues the story with Scout returning to her home for a two-week vacation.    Now she is twenty-six.   How has she changed since she was eight?  Does she still wear overalls?

To be fair to all the hype and criticism of this book, I decided to reread To Kill a Mockingbird.   It is amazing how much I enjoyed the book since reading it back in junior high.   I also question how much I probably did not understand in the book from a teenager's perspective. I strongly felt I needed to read two books to see if I also questioned whether Harper Lee actually wrote both books.

What is disturbing is what Go Set a Watchman is missing.   Very little is given as to Scout's life in New York City.  Doesn't the reader want to know how she lives there, how she works, who are her friends, and many other questions?

Also To Kill a Mockingbird obviously went through a long editing process.   Few books today are given that attention which can turn a book into greatness.

The story continues while missing some major characters from the first book.  It takes a while to reveal why they are not in the story.  I really missed these supporting characters and unfortunately no one replaced them.  Harper Lee loved her characters in the first book.  In this one, the love is not there.

Go Set a Watchman has flashbacks of incidents that happened supposedly in Mockingbird
and during Scout's other school experiences.  This feels like snippets just to fill the space.  The relevance to the story is not a continual line but jumping between the present and the past. These flashbacks greatly enrich Go Set a Watchman.  The problem is that these memories although significant change the tempo in reading due to their significance.

The sequel has the same number of pages but close to half the words.  Larger print was utilized to make the book as a physical duplicate of the first book.  

The book feels as if someone combined possible story events into this book without the love of the characters.   However, the does change in the last third of the book.  When Uncle Jack is explaining the Civil War to Scout, there is no question in my mind that this voice is Harper Lee.  The frankness, truthfulness, and awareness of the Southern culture changes dramatically in this section.  This is someone who truly understands the South.

As a mixed-child with a mother from the South and a Yankee father, I loved her vision of the South.
The book was worth reading just for those five pages.   That is the exquisite writing I expect from Harper Lee.

Would I buy the book again? No.  Will I buy any future finds of Harper Lee's?  Probably not.

A Killing in Iowa

A Killing in Iowa
A Daughter's Story of Love and Murder
Rachel Corbett
Byliner Originals
San Francisco, California
ISBN: 978-1-61452-018-4
$ 1.99 Kindle book

How many of us have questions about our family's past?   The problem is often that the question needed to be asked years ago or the only person who could have answered the question is now dead. So how do you find these answers?  That is what Rachel Corbett is asking.

Rachel grew up in eastern Iowa.  Her mother like many others was a single parent who had temporary dads.   One of these dads who seemed more permanent and more fatherly to her ended up murdering a former girlfriend and then killing himself.   To Rachel this was confusing.  This man was always loving and caring in her household.  Why the complete change?  Could the victim have been her mother?

Scott Johnson was the man and the killing happened on May 13, 1993 in Vinton, Iowa.  This is a small town where life seems to stand still.   Everyone knows everyone.  There is little change throughout the years.   The village looks very similar today as it was in 1993.

Rachel Corbett has been haunted by this event and has constantly questioned this man who was a caring father to her.   She returned to the town to find answers to the change in this man.

What has bothered Rachel throughout the years was that she didn't understand the reasons for the murder/suicide.   Scott Johnson had been a loving and caring man when he was living at their house for years.  Could the murdered woman have been her mother?  What had caused this violence?   Scott had been with Rachel's family earlier the day of the incident.  What had changed?

Eighteen years before the author wrote this memoir, she could never have imagined the violence or the actions by Scott.

Rachel Corbett now lives as an arts writer in New York.  She has written for the "New York Times," "The Nation," and the "New York Observer" as well as being the news editor at "Art Net Magazine."

A Killing in Iowa beautifully describes much of the state, especially the rural areas explaining the multi-generational homes and towns where everyone does know everyone and many things have not changed for years.

A Killing in Iowa journeys Rachel's past childhood as each person slowly reveals their perspective to the author. As the truth through various sources is revealed, Rachel still discovers that the answers she is searching for just are not there.  Many are a waste of her time as is realistic in any investigation.  Being that she was a child at the time of the murder, she needed to read the newspaper and police accounts to attempt to find out why.  Why had this man who had been kind and caring to her change into someone violent?

Unfortunately sometimes answers to the questions from the past cannot be resolved.   The tale of the investigation is completely haunting.

How well do any of us know anyone?

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks
David Mitchell
Random House
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6567-7
$ 30.00
624 pages

"The world wasn't made of stone, but sand. I'm afraid. One bad storm is all it will take."

Unfortunately this is the reality of life. Our lives are simply blown into sand with the wind constantly changing directions, reshaping our priorities. We like to think our lives are carved in stone. Perhaps that is why we are so resistant to change. Think of how much less stress each of us would feel, if we would simply shift with the sand.

Horology is the study of the measurement of time with the skill and art of making time pieces. Is time consistent everywhere or is it relative? Do we change through time? Is time the cause or the effect?

Holly Sykes seems like the typical teenager. She argues with her mother about anything and everything. She does have an unusual gift. She is able to talk to beings that are not present for most of us. Who does she talk with?

As a child she connected with "the radio people". She has a psychic sense but has yet to discover if this is a gift or a curse. Can it be both or neither?

The Bone Clock feels like multiple unconnected events and people for much of the book. Once the reader starts understanding the connections, this evolves into a page turner.

The author, David Mitchell has had two of his novels on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize and The Bone Clock was on the 2014 long list. He is the author of Ghostwritten, Number9Dream, Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. He lives in Ireland with his family.

The book is composed of six novellas featuring different characters explaining things from their perspective. Holly is the focus of the first novella but makes appearances in others. At first the six stories which progress into the future in ten years progressions seem unconnected and at times rambling. However their significance does eventually appear into a single conclusion.

The characterizations are phenomenal with the reader easily visualizing each character with their flaws and natural gifts.

The pacing with each of the novellas is unevenly bothersome. The first story regarding Holly flows quickly and evenly. Then the pace dramatically slows. This can easily cause a reader to lose interest but this book is definitely worth reading as the pace picks-up.

The Bone Clocks is fantasy dealing with possession and psychic gifts and warring psychological factions.

The Incidental Spy

The Incidental Spy
Libby Fischer Hellman
The Red Herrings Press
Chicago, Illinois
ISBN: 978-1-938733-84-0
181 pages
$ 7.99

How does anyone become a spy? Oftentimes it is not the person that chooses the profession but the profession which chooses the person. Lena became a spy because of who she was, who she knew, and how she could be controlled. Lena was forced to be a spy. She felt that she had no choices.

Being a Jew has frequently been dangerous throughout history in many places in Europe. This was especially true for those families who lived in Europe prior to the Second World War. For Lena, her life is no different than many people of the time, only much more complicated.

Lena is in love with her childhood sweetheart who is also Jewish. Josef just doesn't look Jewish but Scandinavian. The two know that their souls are destined to be together and truly believe that somehow, they will be together. Their intention is to marry, but the threat of the Nazi party throughout Europe force the families to move.

Lena is fortunate. Her family sends her to an aunt living in the Chicago area. She expects her family to join her eventually as well as Josef. However the Nazi movement overtook the people of the neighboring countries faster than expected. Lena had to learn to connect with her family and friends through the infrequent letters. Sometime she feels guilty leaving her love ones behind.

Lena's aunt arranges to have her educated in English and even assists her in a job at a local university as secretary to the physics department. Her aunt knows that Lena needs to be busy and to develop a new life in her new country.

Lena's new life changes everything including marrying another man and having his child. She is happily adjusted to her new life when her husband is killed. Suddenly being s single parent supporting a child makes life difficult. She just doesn't realize how difficult and complicated will become. Can Lena be forced to become someone that she does not choose to become?

The Incidental Spy is a page-turner. Viewing the situations of the time period with what would become the Manhattan Project through Lena's eyes makes the reader contemplate what would be their choice in the same situation. Unfortunately, Lena has no choices, forcing her to become a pawn in a dangerous game in becoming a spy.

The story is short, but superbly developed into a logically thrilling story with well-developed characters that seem too human many times.

The Incidental Spy is a riveting tale for anyone who enjoys a haunting and memorable story.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola
Timothy Schaffert
Riverhead Books
Penguin Books
New York, New York
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59463-343-0
$ 16.00
456 pages

A hot-air balloon has just crashed into a farmhouse on the lonely Nebraska prairie begins the adventure in the unconventional tale by a local author called The Swan Gondola. The unintended pilot, Ferret Skerritt tells of the circumstances of 1898 Omaha World's Fair and his escapades to the two elderly spinsters who reside at this home, Emmaline and Hester. Their home was the unfortunate landing spot for this stolen hot-air balloon.

With a taste of Baum's The Wizard of Oz, this tale begins to unwind as a storyteller slowly reveals each layer of this unconventional adventure.

Ferret Skerritt is a ventriloquist/pickpocket. He earns money as a wandering artist attaching himself to various traveling productions. With friends who possess a multitude of bizarre talents both natural and learned, many of his motley crew of friends prove that descriptions and appearances can be deceptive.

Love at first sight does exist for Ferret and he is immediately smitten and obsessed by the beautiful actress who is part of a traveling company. He must meet this elusive, but charismatic woman. Like many who have this ability, she has a secret that is kept in her traveling carpetbag.

The Swan Gondola tours the fair through Ferrit. Fortunately throughout the book, the reader is privileged to attend the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. Chicago had been the host city of a previous world fair but Omaha was not established and respected. The city was still young and more often than not, resembled a Wild West Show. Many early business wanted to attract the world to this new city and financed this fair in their investment of the future. This entire fair complete with a lagoon in the northern part of east Omaha was meant to be completely temporary to display the world's best, newest, and most modern attractions.

The story is told by Ferret who is not always honest or likeable. The perspective is through Ferret's eyes and his eyes see things that most of us would never notice. He observes pickpockets and the light criminal side.

How can Ferret attract Cecily to fall in love with him? He arranges for their first true date in the swan gondola on the lagoon after the fair closes for the day. This tale of history and adventure is full of surprises and twists with unique characters that are visually realistic.

The author, Timothy Schaffert is a Nebraska native, currently residing in Omaha while teaching writing and literature at the University of Nebraska located in Lincoln. The Swan Gondola is his fifth novel following The Coffins of Little Hope, The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters, Devils in the Sugar Shop, and The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God.

Who would enjoy this book? The Swan Gondola is for those readers who appreciate well-researched historical fiction in an unusual tale.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Skip's Game Plan

Skip's Game Plan
Steve Sigafoose
Publish America
Baltimore, MD
ISBN: 978-1-4512-5798-4
$ 24.95
204 pages

Starting a new school is not enjoyable for most students. For high school students it can be a nightmare. However, Calvin Hawkings is conscientious, works hard, and focuses on what he should in high school, his classes. His friends are his books and one is always close to him. He is not athletic even though he is close to seven feet tall. Why isn't someone who is almost seven feet tall on the basketball team?

Skip Weber is on the basketball team and plans to play on the varsity team this year since he is now a junior. Most of last year's team graduated leaving only one senior for the varsity team. That leaves room for many juniors making varsity this year but no one has any height.

Skip is determined to make this varsity team the best possible this year. Could this new student be the answer to a successful year for the basketball team?

Skip lives, eats, and breathe basketball. His classes are not really important to him, basketball is his world. Wouldn't it be great it this Calvin played basketball? This could be just what his high school team needs.

Calvin has never played basketball. Skip is determined to make Calvin his friend, but what do they have in common? Can there be a friendship between a scholar and an athlete? Can Skip turn a tall scholar into an athlete? Would Skip learn anything from this relationship

Skip decides to make friends with Calvin. Could Calvin be the basketball center the other players dream about?

Skip's Game Plan is a book about high school basketball. As the friendship develops between Skip and Calvin, they learn how friendship can benefit everyone. Perhaps Skip could utilize some of Calvin's study skills as Calvin learns about his basketball skills.

Skip's Game Plan is outstanding with explaining basketball skills and what is needed to develop a winning team. The sporting observations and skill building ideas in the book would benefit any team.

I did thoroughly enjoy reading this novel but was bothered by one aspect. What high school boy is not interested in girls and cars? Apparently the ones in this book have little interest in either. Is that realistic?

Who should read this gem of a novel? Everyone who enjoys a well-written novel set in a high school without foul language, sexual situations, or violence. Even high school students would enjoy Skip's Game Plan, especially those who play or dream of playing basketball.

Being that this book was published through a self-publication, there are some spelling errors that occasionally distract from the story.

The author, Steve Sigafoose retired from working at the Council Bluffs' Nonpareil. He is a former sports editor who covered high school and junior college games over thirty years in Leavenworth, Kansas and Rome, Georgia as well as Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Skip's Game Plan is a great book for everyone to read, learn a little basketball strategy, and to thoroughly enjoy.