Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

 


Goodreads Overview:

When she is sent to an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth Harmon soon discovers two ways to escape her surroundings, albeit fleetingly: playing chess and taking the little green pills given to her and the other children to keep them subdued. Before long, it becomes apparent that hers is a prodigious talent, and as she progresses to the top of the US chess rankings she is able to forge a new life for herself. But she can never quite overcome her urge to self-destruct. For Beth, there’s more at stake than merely winning and losing.

Review:

My husband watched the Netflix series and said I HAD to watch it, so of course I had to read the book first. I know absolutely nothing about chess, but I still found this to be a highly entertaining read. 

Beth Harmon is orphaned when her mother is killed in a car accident at the very beginning of the book. She goes to live at Methuen orphanage, where she is given tranquilizers along with the rest of the children to keep them calm. She developed an addiction to the pills, which led to further problems with addiction down the road.

One day she observes the school janitor, Mr. Shaibel, sitting at a chess table debating his next move. She become intrigued and eventually asks if she can play. He is reluctant, but agrees to teach her the basics. It quickly becomes clear that she is an exceptional player with endless potential, but when she is adopted by the Wheatley's, she is no longer able to play. She doesn't have a chess set at home and there isn't a chess team at her school. When she is able to scrape up enough money to enter a local tournament and wins some prize money, Mrs. Wheatley finally sees Beth's potential. She isn't supporting Beth because it is something she enjoys, but because of the income she can bring to the family. They have been struggling to make ends meet and this could be the answer to their problems.

The rest of the book details Beth's struggles with addiction and the training and focus needed to become a Grand Master. She quickly moves up the rankings, but her addiction is a constant struggle that could prevent her from reaching her ultimate goal. There were a lot of detailed scenes describing moves in chess and the various games she was playing, which went COMPLETELY over my head. If you play the game, this may be something you can appreciate and learn from, but I had no clue. I could still appreciate the amount of focus and dedication that was required and the fact that she was an outsider trying to make it to the top of a man's world. Nobody gave her the credit and respect she deserved until they were on the losing end of a match with her.  Not only did she have to overcome the gender hurdle, but the belief that it took years if not decades to achieve greatness in the game of chess. Here she was at the age of 13 beating the best of the best and the chess elite could not explain it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have already started watching the series. I am two episodes into the seven episodes and Netflix has nailed it so far. They are sticking pretty close to the original storyline and I am enjoying seeing these characters brought to life. I can see why this series was such a huge hit.  I would highly recommend the book and the series if you haven't already read or watched it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

 


Goodreads Overview:

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

Review:

This was one of the choices for my son's junior year summer reading, so I read it along with him. This wasn't my favorite John Green novel, but it did have some good messages.

Colin is a child prodigy, but is obsessed with achieving greatness. He spends countless hours working on his relationship theorem because he believes that is what it will take for his life to matter. People use their life experiences to set goals for themselves and to determine their successes, failures, and self worth. Colin learns that he needs to live in the moment and not to force greatness. He will be remembered for his life story regardless.

Another theme that was expressed throughout the book is to be yourself. Colin meets a girl named Lindsay when they stop in Gutshot to visit a tourist attraction on their road trip. Lindsay wasn’t popular as a child and changes who she is to  make people like her. Throughout the book Colin notices how she changes her personality and accent based upon who she is with. She eventually learns there is no point in changing for others because there is always someone who will love you as you are.

Overall, I felt like there were some great messages in this story that readers could learn and benefit from. I'm sure that is why it was selected for their summer reading, but it was quite tedious reading some of the dialog regarding the theorem and all of the Katherines. What Colin eventually discovers from his calculation is enlightening to readers, but it took a long time to get to the point. Unless you are also a child prodigy or a mathematician, you will probably want to skim over those sections. My son listened to the audiobook and was completely glassed over with all of the square roots and power of Xs. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Review: Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

 


Goodreads Overview:

From the Academy Award®–winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges - how to get relative with the inevitable - you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”

So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.

Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.

It’s a love letter. To life.

It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights - and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.

Good luck.

Review:

I listened to the audio book and would HIGHLY recommend listening instead of reading this book. It is narrated by Matthew and he does an AMAZING job, which you would expect from an actor. I literally laughed out loud a number of times. I do not believe the story would have come across the same way without his tone and manner of telling these sometimes unbelievable stories.

Matthew did not come from a wealthy celebrity family. He shares what his family life was like growing up and what it took to make it in Hollywood. His rise to fame did not happen overnight. He tells the struggles of a poor actor living on people's couches and how he travelled the country in his van with his dog. He eventually buys an Airstream that he calls Canoe that he still has today. I can't even imagine the look on people's faces when Matthew McConaughey pulls into the campsite next to them. I can appreciate the anonymity camping provided him and why he would prefer that to the mobs of fans that likely flock to him everywhere else he goes. Campers understand the desire for peace and quiet and are also looking for some relaxation and solitude. The chances of someone at a campground venturing over for an autograph or a selfie is highly unlikely. He did mix with some of the people he met along the way and it seemed like he fit in just about everywhere he went. Whether it was with the locals in the Amazon as he floated down the river or on a disastrous exchange trip to Australia. Regardless of how bad the situation was, he always seems to find a greenlight.

This book is very inspiring and motivational. You definitely have to give McConaughey credit for his honesty and ability to turn his everyday life into a book that everyone can appreciate and learn from. We should all spend more time looking for the greenlight in what may appear to be a red or yellow light situation. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Review: Point of Origin by Patricia Cornwell

 


Goodreads Overview:

Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner and consulting pathologist for the federal law enforcement agency ATF, is called out to a farmhouse in Virginia which has been destroyed by fire. In the ruins of the house she finds a body which tells a story of a violent and grisly murder.

The fire has come at the same time as another even more incendiary horror: Carrie Grethen, a killer who nearly destroyed the lives of Scarpetta and those closest to her, has escaped from a forensic psychiatric hospital. Her whereabouts is unknown, but her ultimate destination is not, for Carrie has begun to communicate with Scarpetta, conveying her deadly - if cryptic - plans for revenge.

Chillingly mesmeric in tone, labyrinthine in structure, Point of Origin is Patricia Cornwell at her most dazzling.

Review:

I am still plugging away with the Kay Scarpetta series. This is the 9th book in the series, but there are currently 25 books, so I have a long way to go. At the rate Cornwell is going, I don't think I will ever catch up. I do enjoy the series and was shocked by what took place at the end of this novel.

This time around Kay is investigating an arson that took place on a horse farm. It appears to be an isolated case, but she soon connects it to some other cases. Besides the fact that a roaring fire consumes the houses with way more fuel than there should have been based upon the contents and structure, there doesn't appear to be a connection. The victims are not linked and they can't determine how the fires are getting so large. Gasoline or other traceable fuel sources aren't detected, but in each case the fire appears to be concealing evidence related to a murder.

Carrie Grethen is a returning character who wreaked havoc previously in this series. She was finally locked up in a psychiatric facility awaiting trial, but manages to escape. Now that she is on the loose, Kay and her niece Lucy are not going to be safe until she is recaptured. Carrie is toying with them throughout the novel and has a huge part in the ending. 

Benton and Kay are now essentially living together, but their relationship is a bit strained. She can't seem to get away from the job and is constantly putting her personal life on the back burner. They were supposed to get away for a vacation, but this case hits too close to home and she once again can't pull herself away. 

I will not give anything away, but the ending was CRAZY. Kay, Marino, Lucy and the rest of the team get to the bottom of this case, but I don't think they will ever be the same after this. On the plus side, we should be finished with Carrie once and for all. I do not really care for how Cornwell continues to rely on previous cases to propel this series forward. I prefer more of the structure of the Women's Murder Club or Stephanie Plum novels that are independent stories with evolving characters and personal relationships. I do not want to relive the previous cases over and over again. Hopefully after this installment we can finally move on to something fresh. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Review: The Paris Mysteries by James Patterson

 


Goodreads Overview:

The City of Lights sets the stage for romance, drama and intrigue in the latest Confessions novel from the world's bestselling mystery writer!

After investigating multiple homicides and her family's decades-old skeletons in the closet, Tandy Angel is finally reunited with her lost love in Paris. But as he grows increasingly distant, Tandy is confronted with disturbing questions about him, as well as what really happened to her long-dead sister. With no way to tell anymore who in her life she can trust, how will Tandy ever get to the bottom of the countless secrets her parents kept from her? James Patterson leads this brilliant teenage detective through Paris on a trail of lies years in the making, with shocking revelations around every corner.

Review:

This is the third book in the Confessions series. While it is set in Paris and there are a number of interesting facts and secrets that emerge, this wasn't my favorite book in the series. I gave it a generous three stars and will continue with the series, but I did not like one of the angles the plot took at the end. Perhaps there is an explanation and things will go in another direction in the next installment, but it just seemed so random and incomprehensible. 

This time around Tandy is trying to find out more about her family's past, specifically her Grandmother who's house they are now living in. In addition, she is investigating what happened to her sister Katherine and the mystery man she was with at the time of the accident. This part of the story I did enjoy along with the twisted connections back to her uncle and her family's pharmaceutical company. 

The other major part of the book was trying to find Tandy's boyfriend James Rampling, who is pretty much in hiding because of his father's controlling ways. Once they are reconnected, he splits again without any sort of explanation because of "the danger their relationship will put Tandy in if his father finds out". This is a complete load of crap in my opinion as evidenced by events that took place later in the book. I really do not see why Patterson did a complete 180 with this character and how it will benefit the series in the end. The same is true for Tandy's "best friend" C.P. who turns out to be the worst friend in history. She was such a sweet character and was dating Tandy's twin brother Harry before they left New York. How things shifted so dramatically in such a short period of time is beyond me. 

There is only one book remaining in the series, so I hope Patterson and Paetro will get things back on track. After reading the description for Confessions The Murder of an Angel and some of the reviews on Goodreads, I do not plan on rushing into reading this final book. As one reviewer put it, "It ends with a fizzle" and another says "the first book in the series was the best of all and it was downhill from there - especially the fourth book". This does not sound promising. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

 


Goodreads Overview:

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says good-bye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets GaĆ«tan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Review:

I purchased this book at BEA shortly after it was released due to all of the hype. It was a Goodreads choice award winner back in 2015 and I had just started reading more historical fiction. I am not sure why it sat on my TBR shelf for 5+ years before I finally got around to it, but I am glad I finally did. This was an exceptional story that easily earned the 5 stars I rated it on Goodreads.

This book tells a very realistic and heart wrenching tale of what it was like for the women, children, and elders that were left behind in France while their husbands, fathers, and other loved ones went off to fight in the war. The Nazi's were increasingly more aggressive and violent as the war went on and resources such as food, fuel, and clothing became more and more scarce. The locals were left to starve while the soldiers lived relatively comfortably on the provisions they stole from the area residents.

There can't be a novel based upon WW2 without focusing on the Nazi's treatment of the Jews. One of Vianne's closest friends is Jewish, so we get to see first hand how the persecution escalated and what could happen to sympathizers. Vianne even takes it upon her self to start hiding Jewish children who were orphaned, which was an extremely dangerous thing to do, but it was her way of contributing to the war effort. 

In addition, we get to see how Isabelle helps allied soldiers escape German occupied France.  This was an EXTREMLY dangerous job physically in addition to what would happen if she was caught. 

It seems like there are so many historical fiction novels out now that are set during the WW2 time period. So far I have read this book and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Both of these books were fabulous and I would highly recommend them. I am planning on reading All The Light We Cannot See, since it is also an award winner, but I am probably going to wait until next year. I do not think I am ready for such heavy material again so soon.