An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, A Novel, by Hank Green

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Hank Green’s first novel, AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING, is itself remarkable. What seems at first a book pointed at a young internet obsessed generation turns out to be a close look at fame, where it leads and finding what is important.

Reading the Author’s Note section in the book, strategically placed as the last section of the book, will open your eyes to what the book is about. Is it better to read this last and find yourself saying “so that’s why he wrote it” or to read it first?  All I can say is I read it last.

In this section Hank Green starts out with his first sentence telling us: “Hi… I’m famous on the internet.” In the second paragraph he says: “But let’s go back to that first sentence again….Like, what does “famous” even mean, and how is “famous on the internet” any different.” This book story seems to answer these questions

April lives in Manhattan starting out just making podcasts on YouTube, just like Hank. She lives with her roommate, and perhaps girlfriend, Maya. Andy is another friend, Miranda is a scientist, and her assistant Robin are all under twenty-five and the core of April’s team.

On her way home from work late one night finds that a tall statue has appeared, hovering just over the ground, by the building where she lives. The figure looks like a person, but nothing will move it. She senses that it must be an alien from some other world and her first thought is to phone her friend Andy to come and film her introducing the alien that she has named Carl. See immediately sees herself as a first contact for this alien.

Hank told us in the Author’s Note section about the first time a stranger approached him in a grocery store having recognized him from the internet and how that made him feel but also how it led eventually to writing this book. April will soon have the same experience when she has Andy post the interview of her talking about Carl. April becomes famous.

Other Carl’s appear in major cities all over the world, but April was the first contact and she becomes the advocate of the Carl’s being here for good reasons and she is number one on the internet. She offers ideas about unlocking the mystery and has the world helping her find the password to something in a dream.

A professional hater, Peter Petrawicki, sees April’s internet success and by becoming the Anti-April he gains many followers and they push that the Carl’s are a threat, rather than potential friends. Peter’s success is from taking the opposite point of view for all that April believes in.

Green is clearly interested in how social media moves the needle on our culture, and he uses April’s fame, choices, and moral quandaries to reflect on the social fabric. The book and April leave little doubt about a sequel

Quotes

“The power that each of us has over complete strangers to make them feel terrible and and frightened and weak is amazing.” 

“Even on this most terrible days, even when the worst of us are all we can think of, I am proud to be a human.” 

“Basically, do your best to mock and deride their connection to and appreciation of you because, deep down, you dislike yourself enough that you cannot imagine anyone worthwhile actually wanting to be with you. I mean, if they like you, there must be something wrong with them, right?” 

“Just because you can't imagine something doesn't mean you can't do it.” 

The Affair, a Jack Reacher novel, by Lee Child

See Literary Favorite Section for more on Lee Child and links to his other books reviewed here

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The Affair is the sixteenth book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, a prequel set six months before his first novel in the series, the Killing Floor.

Maj. Jack Reacher is sent to the small town of Carter's Crossing, Mississippi where a woman has been found murdered, her throat slit, with signs of rape. Maj. Duncan Munro is sent to the nearby base, Fort Kelham, and both are told to investigate.  The base commander, Captain Reed Riley, is a powerful Senators son and has a reputation as a lady’s man.  It seems clear that the army wants the military and Riley cleared and someone in the town found guilty.

Reacher arrives posing as a drifter, checks into the local inn and meets the local sheriff and previous Marine, Elizabeth Deveraux. She figures out who Reacher is, they work together and have sex at the Inn.

It turns out that there are other dead women, the most recent one, Chapman, was a white woman, and two prior ones were from the poorer African American part of the small town.

When Reacher finds that Riley did in fact have something to do with Chapman's death and possibly the other two murders he is ordered to cover up the evidence he's found thus far, which he ignores the request.

Others are killed in the cover up and an independent militia from Tennessee is assigned by someone inside the chain of command to destroy evidence of the murders.

The senator and his son believe that the crimes have been pinned on Elizabeth Deveraux and meet on the base and then in town to celebrate.

Just getting to this part of the plot is complicated and like all of Lee Child’s stories the plot is compelling.  Reacher’s ability to see through to the truth is of course amazing.  Another Child book you won’t want to put down.

See Lee Child Literary Favorite Section for more on this author and links to his other books reviewed here.

Quotes

  • “He had fallen out of the ugly tree, and hit every branch.” ...

  • “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” ...

  • “The third guy was different. ...

  • “The first day of the rest of my life.” ...

  • “No one expects a head butt. ...

  • “The best fights are the ones you don't have,”

THE POWER OF SMALL by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

The Power of Small, Why Little Things Make All the Difference, by Linda Kaplan Thaler, and Robin Koval

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Our smallest actions and gestures often have the most impact on our biggest goals. Bigger isn’t always better and taking baby steps can be a competitive advantage. Steps like holding an elevator for a stranger make a difference in our lives and shape how we approach other things.  The book’s message is that if we can’t take care of the small details, how can we be counted on to deliver when it really matters?   

Bigger isn’t always better and the real secret to getting ahead is to refocus our attention on the small details. Thaler and Koval show how to get more of what you want with less.

Thaler says: “we often find our best clues to what a client may like or dislike during the small talk before we sit down to a formal meeting… Our point: Small talk is anything but idle chatter. In fact, it’s the glue that cements so many relationships. Yet when we make small talk, too many of us tend to turn the subject of the conversation quickly back to ourselves, a subject infinitely less interesting to the other person.”

The authors comment on what others have written about the delusion of multitasking saying:  “We may be the first generation to find that more information is actually making us dumber, and less productive.” The increased use of digital devices “thwarts our best intentions to focus on and complete the job at hand—much less overdeliver… By not fully paying attention to the other person and his or her needs, we deny ourselves the opportunity to create empathy and an emotional attachment with the other person.”

The book sums up the thoughts presented saying, “that little thing you do that is special and shows what makes you different, what sets you apart from somebody else. It is often the small act that shows you care, that proves the project or other person matters to you. It affords you a chance to show off your initiative. This can be especially important when you’re meeting someone for the first time.”

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Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

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Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck is a sequel to Cannery Row and set in the years after the end of World War II. Steinbeck said that, "Sweet Thursday" is the day between Lousy Wednesday and Waiting Friday.

Cannery Row changes during the war. Doc is a key character based on a friend of Steinbeck and he returns to a failed Western Biological Laboratories after serving in the army during World War II to a changed Cannery Row.

The Palace Flophouse is still there as is the general store, but it has been sold. The local brothel, the Bear Flag, is still there but with a new owner, Fauna.  

Suzy works for Fauna but is not cut out for the work, so she plots to push her into the unsuspecting arms of Doc. The plan fails, and Suzy just moves out and takes a job at the local diner.

Hazel is living in the Palace Flophouse and has been told by Fauna that because of a astrological reading he is going to become President of the United States.  Hazel is concerned about his destiny but plots to help get Doc and Suzy together.  The plan eventually works.

See Literary Favorite Section for more on John Steinbeck and links to books of his reviewed on this site

Quotes

“You've seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it's an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it?” 

“Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.”

 

The Forbidden Door, A Jane Hawk Novel, by Dean Koontz

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Dean Ray Koontz writes suspense thrillers where he uses the genre of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and satire.

His new book, The Forbidden Door, is another Jane Hawk novel, telling of her one-woman fight against a full-blown government mind-control conspiracy that lead to the death of her husband turning her into the #1 fugitive in the country.  

She was framed and disgraced by the FBI where she had been an agent and they are closing in on her young son, Travis, who has been hidden with friends. Jane has been untouchable by the collection of agencies that are conspiring to find her and they think finding her son will force her into the open Jane will do whatever it takes to save him.

The government forces chasing her are called Techno Arcadians and they plan to remake and control the world by injecting their enemies and with nanoconstructs, turning them into mindless robots.  Egon Gottfrey leads the group chasing her. He thinks that their group is being directed by an out of this world Unknown Playwright.  

Some exciting scenes come from some of some of Jane’s support groups also targeted by the Arcadians. In one group twelve-year-old Laurie survives the pursuit of a sadistic, brain-altered female FBI agent and the plan fails.

In the end some of the bad guys are killed and Jane moves on.

Click here to see review of “The Crooked Staircase” The prior novel in the series and the one that takes you to where this one starts.

Hondo by Louis L'Amour

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Louis L'Amour said; "I think of myself in the oral tradition-as a troubadour, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of the campfire. That's the way I'd like to be remembered- as a storyteller. A good storyteller."

Some critical of L’Amour say they find the stories unrealistic, but those that like this author it is the very deep understanding of the land and the way of life that make his stories resonate. L’Amour is not a contemporary author bringing interest to his plot with fictional villains and methods, instead his plots are true to life for the time they take place.

Hondo Lane, on behalf of the government, is scouting the Arizona dessert looking for Apache braves. He winds up at a small ranch in the heart of the Indian territory and meets Angie and her young son Johnny. She has been abandoned by her husband, is alone, and in a very dangerous place.

Hondo does some work helping at the ranch, buys a horse from her and then leaves to go to the fort in the area. Along the way he finds the remains of a viscous Apache on a small group of solders. He decides to go back to help Angie and the boy as soon as he gets to the fort to let them know what happened.

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While Hondo is away Angie and Johnny are attacked by by Apaches and when one of the braves gets close the boy takes a gun and stands up for his mother stopping the brave.  Chief Vittoro is impressed and touched by the young boy. He makes him a blood brother and the relationship leads to some safety for Johnny and Angie for a short time.

Hondo returns to the ranch. Angie’s husband follows him. The relationship with the Apaches changes. The plot has mystery, romance and as John Wayne was quoted as saying, it was the “finest western” he had ever read.

See other Books by L’Amour Reviews and see more on this Author in Literary Favorites Section Click here

Quotes

“There was a curious affinity between man and dog. Both were untamed, both were creatures born and bred to fight, honed and tempered fine by hot winds and long desert stretches, untrusting, dangerous, yet good companions in a hard land.”

 “But a long time ago I made me a rule: I let people do what they want to do.”

“The Apache don't have a word for love," he said. 
"Know what they both say at the marriage? The squaw-taking ceremony?"
"Tell me."
"Varlebena. It means forever. That's all they say.”

 

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Earnest Hemmingway often was critical of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald for wasting his talent and for pompous musing.  The Roaring Twenties presented in The Great Gatsby provides a critical social history of America that seems overly grand and self-important. The story takes place in the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg on Long Island in the summer of 1922.

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Nick Carraway, a Yale graduate and veteran, narrates the story and lives in West Egg on Long Island next door to Jay Gatsby’ mansion. He is aware of the lavish parties next door but doesn’t attend.  He often eats dinner at his cousin, Daisy Fay Buchanan and her husband Tom, who lives in East Egg.  Tom has a mistress, Myrtle, and even keeps a special apartment in New York to meet her and others and have wild parties.

Nick eventually receives an invitation to one of Gatsby's parties and attends learning that they both had been in the war together. He also learns that Gatsby had by chance meet Daisy Buchanan a few years back, is in love her, and has been hoping she would show up at his lavish parties, so she could see him in his wealth and grandeur.

Gatsby uses Nick to meet again with Daisy. Gatsby and that leads to an affair over the summer.  When her adulterer husband Tom learns of her interest and involvement with Gatsby he is upset. He confronts Gatsby and tells his wife that Gatsby is a criminal having made his money bootlegging.

The story has more surprising twists and turns and whether it is an important social history story or just drama you will have to decide.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

“Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.” 

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” “Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.” 

“You see I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad things that happened to me.” 

Echo Burning, A Jack Reacher Thriller, by Lee Child

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Echo Burning is the fifth novel in the Jack Reacher series and begins in a Lubbock Texas saloon where Jack pushes back against a drunk bully. He breaks his nose and finger and then leaves, but the next morning he sees the bully, a local policeman, with three others, coming his way obviously planning to arrest him.

He avoids capture and escapes, walking out of town hitchhiking. Carmen Greer, a good looking Mexican lady in a fancy car, stops to give him a ride.

Carmen has her reasons for stopping: she wants Jack to kill her abusive husband, Sloop, who is going to be released from jail in a few days. Jack Reacher is a character who never hesitates to get involved in the troubles of those he meets.  He refuses to help her kill Sloop but agrees to help protect her and goes with her to their ranch in Echo County, Texas just outside of Pecos.  

Soon after Sloop is released he is found dead and Carmen is arrested. The facts make it look like she did it and she even confesses.  Jack doesn’t believe the assumed facts or that she is guilty and starts looking into both Carmen and Sloop’s past.  Carmen’s daughter Ellie is taken away for adoption, but it turns out that she was really kidnapped.  

Jack involves Alice Amanda Aaron, the pro bono attorney, in the case and they meet with Hack Walker, the Pecos County district attorney and an old friend of Sloop's who seems to want to help them.

What starts out as a what seems to be a silly old-fashioned plot takes some very surprising twists and turns and by the time Jack Reacher has saved the day and moved on you will wind up realizing you have read a very well thought out story.

Quotes

“I know I'm smarter than an armadillo” 

“Short of a shotgun, a pool cue is the best barroom weapon ever invented. Short enough to be handy, long enough to be useful, made out of fine hardwood and nicely weighted with lead.” 

“Reacher smiled. Bad luck and trouble, been my only friends.” 

What starts out as a what seems to be a silly old-fashioned plot takes some very surprising twists and turns and by the time Jack Reacher has saved the day and moved on you will wind up realizing you have read a very well thought out story.

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck

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John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony contains four related stories. The best-known story is “The Gift” where young Jody Tiflin is given a red pony by his rancher father which he names Gabilian. Billy Buck is a ranch hand who teaches Jody to care and train the horse. Gabilian eventually catches a cold and his head and neck fill with puss and the only way to save him is to poke a stick in the horse’s neck to open it up so the horse can bring saving him but then only to have him escapes the ranch corral  one night and be found dead.

In another story Billy Buck and Jody’s father decide he should raise a colt from birth. A mare named Nellie is chosen and Jody takes her to be bred. When the colt is born something goes wrong and it becomes necessary to kill Nellie and cut the colt out of her stomach.

This isn’t a cute little book about a boy and his horse, it is about some hard reality of life and death on a ranch.

Eventually Jody’s grandfather comes to the ranch for a visit. Jody is interested in knowing more about his grandfather’s life and how he crossed the plains and came west. Instead of the expected inspiring story he is told that his grandfather wonders whether it was all worth it.

Even with the many struggles Jody aspires to grow up and be a leader. This seems a little surprising considering that the stories this book tells are about hard slices of life.

Quotes

“Why, a trick horse is kind of like an actor—no dignity, no character of his own.” 

“No matter how good a man is, there's always some horse can pitch him.” 

“It would be a dreadful thing to tell anyone about it, for it would destroy some fragile structure of truth. It was truth that might be shattered by division

“I take a pleasure in inquiring into things. I’ve never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon.”  (this quote from East of Eden)