Gone Girl, a novel, by Gillian Flynn

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Both Nick and Amy are talking directly to us, the readers, in Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”. We first meet them both at a party where they are first drawn to each other. We jump ahead 8 months and they meet again, finish falling in love and get married. They seem like the perfect couple living in their brownstone, Brooklyn Heights home. Nick loses his job and they move back to North Carthage Missouri. Amy hates leaving New York.

Both characters are interesting but as the story proceeds neither really believe that they are living happily ever after. To celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary Amy got up and started making crepes and then Nick came into the kitchen, happy about the crepes, wondering why Amy was humming the theme song from “M*A*S*H.” (“suicide is painless”).

This novel is really a modern-day version of the old movie, War of Roses, the 1989 movie where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner played the parts of the doomed Roses. It is hard to tell whether both Amy and Nick are doomed as the plot takes sudden turns and we are left wondering which of the conflicting stories is true. It is obvious they are skilled at lying to each other and we wonder if they are lying to us.

Amy’s parents are successful writers of a book about a wonderful girl named Amazing Amy. Modern Day Amy seems to be writing her own life’s book as she goes through each day filled with odd details.

Nick borrowed the last of Amy’s money to buy a bar for himself and his twin sister, but Nick also has his own secret life that doesn’t involve Amy.  

Flynn’s skill in creating the plot of this novel is clear as we turn the pages, surprised from the beginning to the end and subject to sudden and unpredictable changes of mood and mind. The characters are ones we don’t want to let go of but many may be glad to let go of this couple in the end.

Quotes

“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.” 


“There's a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her.” 


“Love makes you want to be a better man—right, right. But maybe love, real love, also gives you permission to just be the man you are.” 


“It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.” 

 

Without Fail a Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

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“Without Fail”, Lee Child’s sixth book, takes place after a Presidential election with threats being made against Vice President-elect Brook Armstrong, the junior senator from North Dakota.

M.E.Froehlich  is in charge of the secret service team assigned to protect Armstrong. She wants to make sure he is safe and she wants to find someone with the real life skill to test that. It doesn’t take her long to think of Jack Reacher because she had been the girlfriend of his brother Joe (see Killing Floor book one) and she had a clear idea of how effective he would be.

Jack has no home address, travels without identification, luggage or credit cards, and Froelich’s efforts to find him required her government connections. When she first meets him, she says: "I want to hire you to assassinate the Vice President of the United States." When he learns that she just wants the VP’s defenses tested, he agrees. A few days later he returns reporting and showing pictures of how many ways he found to have penetrated Armstrong’s security.

With the test behind him Reacher is drawn into an active criminal plot where he needs to find someone who really is after the Vice President. It becomes clear that whoever is behind this has put a lot of time and work into a plan, intent on killing. Reacher is confident in his ability to solve the mystery but the Secret Service has drawn different conclusions and then with problems they have to pass the lead to the FBI.   Reacher sees what they don’t and sets off on his own.

The criminal plot and the serious threat it presents is clear long before a motive is. Reacher is the one that finds the motive.  The weakness of the story is really that the motive and some of the focus of the threat are not realistic perhaps not believable. Even with that weakness in the plot the Reacher character’s approach is to respond breaking down in every changing detail, down to a second by second accounting of the progress. This pulls us into the story, raises the tension and holds our interest to the end.

Quotes

“A good coat is like a good lawyer. it covers your ass.” 


“problem shared is a problem halved.” 

See Literary Favorite Section for more about Lee Child and links to his other book reviews - click here

 

Notes From The Underground by Fyoder Dostoevsky

Notes From The Underground by Fyoder Dostoevsky interesting, hard to follow, and the dialog rambles. It resembles the string of consciousness style of Faulkner. If comparing Underground to James Joyce’s Ulysses is unflattering to one of the two books then Dostoevsky would be the one to take offense. (opinion from the reviewer)

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Fyoder Dostoevsky thought that men lived in an indifferent and hostile world and through their own choices defined the meaning of their lives. His book, “Notes From Underground”, is presented to us by an anonymous narrator who by presenting his thoughts to us investigates the truths he feels are important.

The thoughts of the narrator seem like an endless stream of consciousness often leaving us wondering if he really has a point to make? He tries to assure us saying “everything that can be said about him, and more particularly about him, he already knows………He has overheard it all, anticipated it all, invented it all.” This leaves us realizing that even if he is sure of himself, he is using his on dialog to investigate or maybe really invent a variety of truths and were still left wondering what the point is.

The novel begins with the narrator telling us “I am a sick man……..I am a wicked man.”  He adds to this his declaration that he is “sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am.” We also learn that he is also a minor civil servant living in nineteenth-century St. Petersburg, Russia and he has withdrawn into what he calls the “underground” in total alienation and isolation from society.

The "underground", or mind of the narrator, is full of fears and desires. He approaches many of his concerns as a psychologist commenting on industrialism, utopianism, western markets, the grip of science and technology on truth".

When this book was written Russia was beginning to absorb the ideas and culture of Western Europe at an accelerated pace and the Underground Man is responding rejecting the new thoughts and feeling man’s free will needs defending.  Or perhaps it was just a license to ramble on about everything.

Quotes

“How can a man of consciousness have the slightest respect for himself”


“I've never been a coward at heart, although I've always been a coward in action;”


“an intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool who becomes anything.”

“I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”

 
“To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”

 

Elevation, a Novel, by Stephen King

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Stephen King in talking about this book said it was “a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together—a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.” The book is only 146 pages long and has no blood or monsters.

Scott Carey, the main character, is a big guy at 240 pounds, but when we meet him, he has begun losing weight, a few pounds every day. After 28 pounds he tells his doctor friend about it. His body size and appearance doesn’t change and no matter what clothes he puts on or what weight he is carrying in his hands or pockets his weight doesn’t change.

His outlook doesn’t suffer, and he reaches out to help his neighbors two lesbians whom he has been trying to make friends with. He also wants t help his town. He is just a nice guy. O yes and a couple of political side bar comments are in the dialog for no real reason.

So how do you write a review of this book without adding spoilers. The answer is you don’t. Interesting plot. You don’t want to put it down well written.

Killing Floor A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

 

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“Killing Floor” is the first novel in what is now 25+ books in the very successful series featuring Jack Reacher. If you have read, or plan to read, a lot of these books, this first book might be even better if you read “The Affair”, the sixteenth book in the series, a prequel, set six months before his first novel. It will add depth to the Reacher character who just seems to find himself in once coincidence after another in book one.

The Killing Floor starts after Reacher has spent his entire life in the military serving all over the world.  He is thirty-six, six months into civilian life after being been honorably discharged, with no ties to anyone or anywhere, traveling aimlessly around the country.

Reacher finds himself in Margrave, Georgia, where he gets off a bus making a last-minute decision about even going to this town, and walks into town, goes into a diner to have breakfast and is immediately arrested for murder.  Reacher finds himself in the town jail with a local banker but are both taken to the area prison to sit out the weekend. The are told they will be on the 6th floor where weekenders from town are held but they are taken to the 3rd floor and left for the night by mistake.  

The next morning, they are both approached by violent prisoners’ intent on killing them. This is only the first experience on Killing Floors in this story but thanks to Reacher they remain alive and the obvious plot does not work. Both men are released a day early.

Finlay and Roscoe, an attractive lady officer from the police department, had worked hard to verify Reacher’s alibi and cleared him but they also learned that one of the men he was accused of murdering was his own brother who was working undercover for the Treasury Department in the area. Reacher can see that these two, and a friend at the FBI, are the only ones he can trust.  He moves in, of course, with Roscoe and is determined to find out what happened to his brother.  

The town is the center of a huge Treasury Department investigation with lots of secrecy surrounding everything.  Margrave is a town on a payroll with manicured lawns, successful businesses with no customers and everything polished and perfect: they all seem to be in on something.

They learn that counterfeiting is involved and that a deadline for something big is coming in a few days. Reacher and his new friends uncover a huge-scale criminal operation. The bad guys don’t tolerate mistakes and they brutally kill those they can’t trust who cross them.

Reacher and Finlay eventually solve the mystery.

Lee Child’s Reacher character is presented as very strong, professional, a good guy who is patient and cautious: he has no hesitation about killing the bad guys. The story is, like the town of Margrave, a little too neat. If this is really the first book you read about Jack Reacher it may be a while before you really get hooked on this series, but it will happen.  

Quotes

“No, I'm a man with a rule. People leave me alone, I leave them alone. If they don't, I don't.” 


“A person less fortunate than yourself deserves the best you can give. Because of duty, and honor, and service. You understand those words? You should do your job right, and you should do it well, simply because you can, without looking for notice or reward.” 

“I'm a rich man. To have everything you need is the definition of affluence.” 

“I'm not afraid of death. Death's afraid of me.” 

Toni Morrison Explained by Ron David

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Toni Morrison was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was also an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Ron David has presented his thoughts on Morrison in his book, “Toni Morrison Explained”.

The book is a good overview although not a literary critique, or in depth look into her life. David’s approach is chatty, with a lot of talking about what she accomplished or failed to. He offers thoughts on the meaning of some of her best-known books: Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eyes, Sula, Tar Baby, Beloved, and more.

Morrison’s writings reflect her own views of the bible and its doctrines, as well as her use of music and myth to make her thoughts clearer and resonate. David offers a range of interpretations to Morrisons work and is well worth reading even if you have already read her works.

In a 1988 interview Morrison answered a question on feminism. She was asked why she didn’t identify her works as feminist in a 1998 interview. She replied: "In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can't take positions that are closed. Everything I've ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book – leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, re visitation, a little ambiguity." She went on to state that she thought it "off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I'm involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don't subscribe to patriarchy, and I don't think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it's a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things."

The question on feminism is an example of the depth of thought Morrison brought to her writings and if all we had was the overview of David’s book on the subjects of her writings, we would have missed a lot.

Morrison is an intellectual force and Ron David’s book is very good in what it does, but alone it would be inadequate in understanding Toni Morrison.

See more about Toni Morrison in Literary Favorites Section click here

Quotes

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” 
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” 


“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

 “At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.” 

“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” 

Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.” 

The Reckoning by John Grisham

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John Grisham’s story “The Reckoning” takes place in 1946 in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi. It is his sixth novel to take place in this town and like Stephen King’s Castle Rock Maine it may become a signature for him.

Pete Banning is the patriarch of the family that has been part of the town’s history for generations. He owns 640 acres debt free, is a successful cotton farmer, and faithful member of the local Methodist church.

Pete’s World War II service in the jungles of the Philippines distinguished him a decorated war hero, but his capture and time fighting after he escape leave him lucky to be alive. He longs for his family and for Liza his beautiful wife. After being missing and presumed dead he returns, and everyone is surprised, shocked and thrilled to have Pete, a genuine war hero, return.  

A few months after his return Pete gets up and goes about his normal activities before going into town, where he walks in on Dexter Bell, the pastor of the local Methodist church, and pulls out a gun and shoots three times, killing Bell.

Sheriff Nix Gridley arrests Pete and takes him to jail.  Pete will not answer the question as to why he did it only saying, "I have nothing to say."  It becomes clear that Pete was not afraid of death and was willing to take his motive for the shooting to his grave.

The mystery in this plot is why would a respected war hero cold-bloodily gun down the local pastor and why does he refuse to allow his attorney to plead insanity?  Pete has no intention to let us know the answer to this.

Liza falls apart, even before the murder, and is committed to an insane asylum. We want to know if the shooting has something to do with Liza, but that is unclear until late in the book

This novel is unlike anything Grisham has written before, taking us from the Jim Crow south to the jungles of the Philippines and back to the Clanton courtroom.

The timeline of the novel doesn’t start at the beginning and we learn about the war experiences looking back from Pete’s return, leaving us with uncertainties as to why we need to learn about those experiences at first. The ending of the story pulls it together and it is a interesting story, but it takes a commitment to stay with it.

See Literary Favorites for more about John Grisham and links to the other Grisham books reviewed here.

 
 

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis brings to us his book, The Great Divorce, and we learn of its message through a narrator who we meet standing waiting at a bus stop on the way to Grey Town.  The bus arrives, is then filled with passengers, and it leaves, flying over the very large city ahead.  On the bus everyone is visiting about how they had died, and some are upset finding themselves on the same bus as others they had known during their life.

At one point the narrator is surprised to find he has no body, only a spirit, and he starts to see the others as ghosts. When they arrive at the next bus stop Grey City is behind them and ahead are beautiful mountains and bright lights and colors. Spirits with bodies are there greeting the ghosts and asking them to come to the mountains with them. The tell the ghosts they can come but will have to give up hate and begin to love and they learn that hate is evil, and love is accepting God. Everything at this bus stop is motionless and the ground where they are is hard and it is difficult to walk, or even stand on, so they need to decide which way to go.

Most of the ghosts do not choose to go with the spirits with bodies and go back to the bus wanting to return to Grey Town.

A great quote from this book sums up the message and story, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." Lewis’s point is that: All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss having it.

Quotes

“You cannot love a fellow creature fully till you love God.” 

“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” 

“There is no other day. All days are present now. This moment contains all moments.” 

The Simple Truth, by David Baldacci

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David Baldacci’s novel “The Simple Truth” will likely remind you of John Grisham’s novels. The plot is interesting, compelling and holds your interest. The lawyers, law clerks, and the conspiracy that involves the U.S. Supreme Court are very much Grisham-like.

It takes a good plot and characters to hold a reader interest and this book has both. Rufus Harms, a large slow-witted black man, is in a Virginia military prison convicted of killing a young girl on an army base twenty-five years ago. He finds a way to get a letter sent to Supreme Court that presents evidence that he was forced to commit the murder.

The letter is first seen by Mike Fiske a senior court clerk and he wants to learn more before processing it, but he is killed. John Fiske, Mike’s brother and a cop-turned-lawyer, is drawn to the case and finds help from Sara Evans, another Supreme Court clerk. Harms, helped by his Vietnam Vet brother, escapes from prison and John and Sara try to find him before those who plotted to keep him in prison and quite can find him.

The book has a believable romance as John and Sara get to know each other escaping to the spend a summer night on the Potomac.  We see the genuine goodness of Harms, even after spending much of his life in the cold reality of a prison cell.

The intricate workings of the Supreme Court when seen through the eyes of two of the rival justices and the clerks is intriguing. The book shows how important truth is and you will not want to put it down.

Quotes

“Small mistakes tend to lead to large ones. Ours is a lifetime appointment, and all you have is your reputation. Once it's gone, it doesn't comeback.” 

“Depending on the situation, sometimes you can know a person better in ten minutes than someone you have crossed paths with all your life.” 

“The real worth of a person came from how he acted during the bad times. (John Fiske)” 


“Confidence is one thing, disrespect is quite another. (Justice Elizabeth Knight)” 

Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, by Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou’s first book first essays, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, was published shortly after she recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" (Click Link to Poem) at President Bill Clinton's 1993 inauguration.

The book presents several short essays, some autobiographical, along with two poems. The subjects vary in length and include fashion, entertainment, sensuality, pregnancy, racism, and death. The poems were about her mother Vivian Baxter and an untitled poem about the similarities between all people, despite their racial and cultural differences.

Angelou used the essays to tell her own story using the stories to bring out something that allowed her to just add in her own humor and moral advice in a light-handed way.

An example this is shown in the “Power of the Word,” which was about Angelou’s experience with her grandmother in Stamps Arkansas during the Great Depression. She wrote about the colorful clothing that she loved but also own troubles as a single mother.

In the essay n “Extending Boundaries,” Angelou’s wrote of her early days as a writer in New York City and some of the mistakes she made.

Her writing style was simple, direct and even her essays had a poetic tone to them. When you read her poetry or essays you wanted to spend some time pondering what she meant. Her advice holds true for proper living advice today.

The book may leave you looking back at your own life journey and see the value of the struggles.

Quotes

“What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.” 

“Whining is not only graceless, but can be dangerous. It can alert a brute that a victim is in the neighborhood.” 

See Literary Favorite Section for more about Maya Angelou and links to her other books reviewed on this site………..click here

See Poem………… “On the Pulse of The Morning by Maya Angelou” click here to link