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Rocket Men

Robert Kurson did his homework. Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon is a comprehensive and entertaining examination of the first manned space flight around the world.

I love all things related to space and astronauts and memoirs relating to space. This book is among the best I have read. It is written as narrative nonfiction and tells the story of the trip around the moon from many perspectives. What I liked about the story was the fact that Mr. Kurson included discussion of other things that were happening at the time this mission happened – the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Viet Nam war, the Cold War. He discusses how volatile the U.S. was in 1968 and that this mission – run over Christmas – brought some healing to the country and brought people back together. He weaves all these events into the compelling story of how we flew men around the moon – 250,000 miles from Earth – in a rushed mission to beat the Soviets to the moon and fulfill Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon before the end of the 60’s.

Kurston doesn’t sacrifice space for the political and social happenings of 1968. He weaves the events together to provide the reader with a fantastic overview of all the events that were happening at the same time. This is important to me, because I was not born when all of this happened and it helped me to understand how big this mission was when put into the perspective of all of that. I loved the stories of the astronauts, naturally. But I found myself liking the stories of the wives and children who had to wait all those days to see if their husbands were going to make it back to Earth. At the time Apollo 8 launched, NASA was unsure of whether these three men would live through this mission. Things were predicted – and amazingly happened – to the second. The amount of technical knowledge and forethought that goes into a space flight is described with poetic beauty in this book.

I loved this book. It was informative and entertaining. If you are at all interested in how we got to the moon and probably the most important space mission we have undertaken to date, read this book.

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Code Of Conduct

I have read all over the Scot Harvath books to this point. A couple have been okay. Some have been outstanding. Some have been bad. I know this one has gotten some great reviews from people I respect, but this book just didn’t do it for me. I think Brad Thor is getting a bit preachy about things and I don’t understand why thriller writers have to be high and mighty and political in their books. They would be much better without it. I also do not like the way, in this particular book and in most of the Harvath books, he is trying to seem “enlightened” about women’s rights, but still come off as caveman and misogynistic.

Harvath is tasked to go to Africa to check out a situation for CARE. He meets a group of British mercenaries on the ground and a doctor, who is female. And I’m just going to say right here that I HATED the doctor. I liked the fact that she demanded to be treated with respect because she’s a doctor, but really? Who cares if they look pretty in the jungle? Ugh. Only a man would write a woman like this. I also was offended by the way Thor made comments like, “Harvath was taught not to hit a woman…” He wanted to hit her because she would not bend her ethics and do something unethical. Thor makes it sound like she’s the one in the wrong for not being “morally flexible.” I found that offensive.

The plot revolves around an American Pro-Palestinian who sets a virulent virus on the loose, which is meant to wipe out half the world’s population, especially all of Israel, and allows a coup to be performed in America, which, of course, Harvath (and Harvath alone) can stop.

I found the plot to be a bit ridiculous, though, I guess somewhat feasible. I just didn’t like the preachy tone of the book and how Thor makes Harvath the put-upon hero who is irritated when others don’t see his point of view. I would have preferred more action to philosophizing. And while I’m on the critical bandwagon, I would also like to say that anyone who reads this particular genre is used to a certain amount of “salty” language. Anyone who knows me knows I swear worse that the worst sailor you know. So “Harvath was thinking of a word that started with “f” and rhymed with truck” is about the stupidest thing I have read in a adult book. Really? 6-year-olds are not reading this book. I think we can dispense with the cuteness. It’s not cute.

Maybe this book was bad timing for me. Sometimes, I have to be in the mood to read a certain book and maybe this book hit me at the wrong time. I may read it later and decide it wasn’t so bad. But for right now, I am not impressed. I hope the next one is better. I don’t like giving up on a series, but I will if I read another book like this one.

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An Anonymous Girl

Jess is a makeup artist in New York. She moved there from Pennsylvania. She helps her parents support her sister, Becky, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was little. Jess goes to a makeup appointment for two NYU students and finds out about a psychological study that will pay $500. Jess needs the money so she goes to the study, even though she wasn’t invited. Enter the mysterious Dr. Shields.

Jess answers some fairly invasive questions about herself based on morality and honesty. As Jess gets drawn further and further into the study, her life becomes no longer her own. Jess finds out that Dr. Shields wants Jess to tempt Dr. Shields’ husband, who has cheated on Dr. Shields in the past. Jess gets completely wound up in Dr. Shields’ life and tries to find out what happened to subject number 5, who died.

I read The Wife Between Us and loved its twisty-turny nature. This book is similar, in that it takes a while to get going, but once it does, you don’t want to put it down. It also kept me guessing until the end. In fact, I didn’t see that ending coming. The book is suspenseful and entertaining.

The only reason it didn’t get five stars is because it was slow in spots and some of the writing was spotty. Otherwise, it was a fantastic, suspenseful read.

I won this book from goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for my review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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The Heart Between Us

Megan and Crystal are twins. Crystal is an architect, living in New York City and married to a firefighter, Brian. She works too much and her marriage is falling apart. Megan works part-time at a library and lives with her parents in Minnesota. Megan is the recipient of a heart transplant. She goes to a fundraiser for the hospital where she received her new heart and runs into Caleb, who also had a heart transplant and who was Megan’s best friend.

Caleb is a photographer and travels the world. Megan was supposed to be his writing partner. But she turned down Caleb’s offer to come to London and write. Megan gets a letter in the mail stating that the heart donor’s parents want to meet her. She hesitates, then decides to meet them. She is given Amanda’s journal and sees that Amanda made a bucket list. Megan decides to honor Amanda by completing the bucket list.

Her mother freaks out and gets Crystal to go with Megan on the “trip of a lifetime.” Crystal and Megan are estranged and don’t talk often. The trip is a chance to mend some fences. They also meet up with Caleb along the way. Crystal is also working on a project proposal that could earn her a promotion to Senior Architect, a goal she has been working for her whole career. Crystal is out of inspiration and looking for some. She thinks the trip will give her a renewed inspiration for her big project.

When Crystal comes home early because her big presentation has moved up, she goes back to her old ways and causes Brian to move out. She thinks her marriage is over. Megan finishes the bucket list with Caleb and, despite all she has accomplished, goes back to the safety of her part-time job and community in Minnesota, even though she knows it’s not what she really wants. The question then becomes how much, if at all, are they willing to change to find happiness?

The Heart Between Us explores the sisters’ relationship, along with Crystal and Brian’s relationship, and Megan and Caleb’s. There were a couple of point in the story where I either cried or almost cried and really, only Nicholas Sparks does that. I liked this book. It’s a story about finding your courage and confidence. It’s about deciding whose expectations you’re striving to meet. It’s about love and taking people for granted, and finding your own happy ending.

There are a lot of references to God, but I understand, based on the topic of the book. Sometimes I felt it was a bit annoying, but that was probably just me. Overall, I really liked the book. It was well-written and the characters were, for the most part, well-rounded and believable. If you interested in a travelogue and romance, this book will fit the bill.

I won this book and received no other compensation for the review I have provided. The opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

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A Measure Of Darkness

Last year, I won Crime Scene by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman. It introduced me to Clay Edison, Coroner’s Investigator for Alameda County. I liked the book so much, I bought A Measure of Darkness when it came out. And it was a good investment.

This time around, Clay responds to the scene of shooting at a party in Oakland. There are several gunshot victims. There is also someone who was run over by a car, attempting to escape the chaos. Then the police find another victim in the backyard – not a shooting victim. This woman was strangled. Clay ends up with her case and the hit-and-run victim. At first, he is unable to identify the strangling victim. And the id he gets for the hit-and-run victim is complicated by the fact that she is actually a he.

Then there’s Clay’s personal life. Things are going really well with his girlfriend, Amy. His brother, Luke is just out of prison and Clay is having a hard time dealing with him. Luke shows up to Thanksgiving with a fiancé, who Clay isn’t all too fond of.

I really like Clay. He’s real. I like the way he’s written. I love that he is not a police officer. You get to see the case from a different perspective. Clay is dedicated to finding the truth and he works hard at it. He is earnest, but not annoyingly so. He’s got just the right amount of cynicism to balance it out.

I also enjoyed the story. It kept me guessing to the very end. It was well-constructed. And Alex Delaware made another cameo, which I enjoyed.

The only complaint I had about the book was that the ending felt rushed. I felt as though the dynamic between Clay and Luke could have been expanded upon a bit. But honestly, that’s a really minor complaint. Overall, I liked this book as much as I like Crime Scene. I will keep reading the Clay Edison books. They are really good.

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Hoarder or Not?

I’m going to be honest. I own a LOT of books. Probably more than 1,000, though I have never counted them. I have read a big chunk of them. I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 boxes of books in my garage. They are in my closet, on my nightstand, on the floor by my nightstand, and on my dresser. There are 10 bookcases full of books. I know it irritates my husband that there are books everywhere. It doesn’t irritate me, but house cleaning isn’t one of my virtues.

Some people joke that I am a book hoarder. I don’t think that’s really an apt description. I also don’t think collector covers it either. I’m not sure what covers it. Tsundoku is the Japanese term for someone who buys books, lets them pile up, and doesn’t read them. I guess the same as a hoarder. But I don’t think I’m a hoarder. First of all I do, occasionally, get rid of books. I don’t own multiple copies of books. I have read probably two-thirds of the ones I own. I hand on to them, thought. I’m loathe to loan my books largely because I do not get them back. It bothers me.

I changed schools right before I started fifth grade. I had a horrible time making friends at my new school. I spent most of my summer vacation alone. I was babysat by my grandparents. My grandmother took me to the library every week. I must have read Baa Baa Blacksheep a dozen times. She gave me Agatha Christie to read. And James Harriott. I do not remember not having books in my life. When I was really small, I had a little golden book about an elephant on roller skates. You better believe I found that book when I had my son and read it to him. Books have always been part of my life.

I like having books in the house. First of all, television is pretty much shit. There is almost nothing on, despite having access to a trillion channels, Netflix, Hulu, etc. There is very little on television that feeds your brain. I am not a snob. I watch the Real Housewives of Orange County. I watch Little Women: LA. But, given the choice, I would rather read. I would rather use my brain to imagine what characters looks like and the places they go, the things they do, and the people they meet. I would much rather read something entertaining or nerdy or funny.

Books give you the opportunity to exercise your mind. They provide entertainment that doesn’t have batteries that die. They provide knowledge. Quite frankly, I think a lot of people need some knowledge these days.

Maybe one day, I’ll live in a house that will allow me to have a library where I can put all my books. Or a she-shed. At some point, I would love to be able to display them all. I hate that I have boxes of books in the garage. So, call me what you want. I will stick with bibliophile. Works for me.

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Three Things About Elsie

Three Things About Elsie is a really good book. It’s a mystery. It’s a meditation on aging and how the aged are treated. It’s subtle, but still manages to smack you in the face in a way that you don’t realize you have been smacked….at first.

Florence, Jack, and Elise are residents of a home for the aging (nursing home) in England. They are fine until a mysterious new resident moves into the community – a resident that Florence swears has been dead for 60 years. But how could Ronnie Butler (aka Gabriel Price) be alive? He drowned. After he ran over his wife in his car.

The thing that makes this book so interesting is that Florence, from whose perspective most of the story is told, may or may not have dementia and may or may not be seeing what is really happening. Some of what Florence says makes no sense. Some of it makes too much sense. Florence relies on Elsie and Jack to help her remember.  On top of the appearance of Ronnie Butler, Florence has been put on “probation” by the nursing home and is being evaluated for transfer to the dementia/Alzheimer’s home, to which she desperately doesn’t want to go. She thinks that Ronnie is responsible for ordering a bunch of pizzas, claiming to be her, or buying a cupboard full of cakes, when Florence swears she bought just one. Or moving the ceramic elephant on her mantle. All of these things make Florence look like she needs the dementia home.  There are a couple of jaw-dropping plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming. And like I said before, the book puts them out there in a subtle way that makes you have to re-read just to make sure you understood what you thought you read.

Other than being mildly unhappy with the ending, I really liked this book. It is a reminder that we place so much value on youth in this society that we forget what our elders can teach us. It is also a reminder that people, while their bodies may be failing (or even their minds), have a lot to offer.  Joanna Cannon is a lovely writer. She is masterful at turning a phrase – and this book is full of quotable phrases and passages. It is almost lyrical the way it’s written. I truly enjoyed the writing as much as the story. I got hung up on some things that are clearly British and I had to Google, but that isn’t even a fault because I learned.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s a mystery, but it’s also a meditation on getting old and society’s disregard for the elderly. It’s just a well-written story with characters you won’t soon forget.

I won this book from Goodreads and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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November Road

“Please. I don’t know what the hell’s happened to me. My life made sense to me before I met you. Now…it’s like I bumped into you and the girls and something inside of me tumbled off a shelf. No. It’s like all of me fell off the shelf and broke to pieces on the floor. I don’t…” Words were failing him. When in Guidry’s life had that ever happened?”

I’m not sure what it is about this passage, but I love it. November Road by Lou Berney is an amazing book. Set in the days immediately after the assassination of JKF, it’s about a mobster running from a mob boss and a woman running to a new life.

Frank Guidry works for Carlos Marcello. He realizes that he dropped off the assassin’s get-away car in Dallas. He is tasked to go to Houston to get rid of the car. Frank realizes that when he does that, Carlos will get rid of him. Frank decides to go to Vegas to get help disappearing from one of Carlos’ enemies.

Charlotte is married to an alcoholic. Though he’s not violent, he can’t hold down a job and Charlotte wants more. She works for a photographer, who keeps her from being a photographer because he doesn’t want to lose her work in the dark room. She has two daughters – Joan and Rosemary – and she wants more for them. After a family dinner, she takes the $300 her in-laws have given her and she packs suitcases for her and the girls and they leave. Her destination is her aunt in Los Angeles.

In the meantime, a hit man is chasing Frank. He knows this and is trying to think of a way to be inconspicuous. He sees Charlotte and the girls on the side of the road….

That’s enough plot. You will have to read the book for the rest. I was so excited to read this book. I am a nut about the Kennedy assassination (though, it’s really only a tangential matter here) and I love mobster stories. But this book is really much more than that. Lou Berney has a gift that is so rare – he shows instead of telling. He has an eye for detail and mind for brevity. He writes more in one sentence than some people do in entire books. That’s not to say that his writing is simple, short, or uncomplicated. It’s just perfect.

Every character – from Frank to Charlotte to Barone (the hit man) to the paint-by-numbers, small-town sheriff have a purpose and are richly drawn. I can see the jail cell Frank is in. I can see the Hacienda resort in Las Vegas with the miniature golf course and go cart track. I can see the places so clearly in my mind because Lou Berney writes them so clearly on the page.

Aside from the near perfect writing, the story is amazing. It’s a thriller and a kind of love story. There are plot twists, but they aren’t manufactured or trite or used to manipulate the reader. They are the kind that make you think, “I didn’t see it coming, necessarily, but wow does that make the book even better.” The thing I loved most about the story is that it is so human. The characters are flawed and do not do what you think they should. And even though it might not end the way you expect or want, you can sit back and say, “I’m satisfied.”

I liked Frank. He kind of reminded me of Marlon Brando’s Sky Masterson in Guys & Dolls. A kind of happy-go-lucky gangster, who has seen everything and has wisdom to spare – until he meets the woman who knocks him off his feet. Like Sister Sarah was for Sky in Guys and Dolls, Charlotte is that woman for Frank. She’s from a small Oklahoma town, about as far away from the mob as you can get. But she sticks on Frank’s soul. Just like Sarah did to Sky. And that is part of what makes this story and this book so endearing to me.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. I am so incredibly thankful to have won it because it is, by far, the very best book I have read this year – and in a very long time.

I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone. Any use of quoted material from the text is used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.

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The Lincoln Lawyer

I listened to this book on audio. I read it about six years ago. But I decided that I wanted to reread it and I am glad I did. I had been in the mood for a good legal thriller. The Lincoln Lawyer fits that bill.

Michael (Mickey) Haller is a criminal defense attorney. He doesn’t have a traditional office. His office is the back seat of a fleet of Lincoln Towncars he owns. He has a former client who is trying to work off his fee as a driver.

Through a bail bondsman, Mickey gets hooked up with a “franchise” client. Louis Roulet has been accused of beating and trying to rape a woman. He wants Mickey to defend him. Mickey agrees. Roulet has money. He will pay more than $100,000 for his defense. That is a franchise client. Rare in the criminal defense world.

Louis swears he’s innocent. He says he was set up by the woman, who, it turns out, is a prostitute. Mickey believes him – until things start lining up to make Mickey wonder whether Louis is, indeed, innocent.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot because I don’t want to ruin it for the three or four people who don’t know the book. I love this book. While not an attorney, Michael Connelly knows the law. He writes really good courtroom scenes. But more than good, they are accurate. And that is what I love most about this book. It is a well-written, tightly woven legal thriller.

If you like legal thrillers or just a really good book, I recommend this one.

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The Word Is Murder

Anthony Horowitz is shadowing a police consultant, writing a true crime book about the murders of a mother and son. That is the basic plot of “The Word Is Murder.” I cannot say enough great things about this book.

This book blends a real person (Horowitz) with fictional murders. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the seamless blending of reality and fiction. Celebrities like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have cameos. It is one of the best mysteries I have read in a long time.

Tony (only Hawthorne calls him “Tony”) is shadowing Hawthorne. Tony met Hawthrone while working on a tv show Tony was writing. Hawthorne asks him to partner on a true crime book based upon the crime that Hawthonre has been asked by the police to consult on. Tony doesn’t want to do it, but does it anyway.

Diana Cowper visits a funeral home to plan her own funeral. Some hours later, she’s dead. Murdered. In her own home. She is the mother of Damian Cowper, a famous actor, who is about to star in the television show “Homeland” in America. Who would want to kill Diana? She was a widower who lived with a missing cat. She sent her son a mysterious text before her death, saying she saw the “lacerated” boy and was afraid.

Diana Cowper was involved in a hit-and-run accident that killed one boy and lacerated the brain of another nine years and eleven months ago. Is her murder related to that accident, in which she was driving without her glasses and fled the scene? Is her murder related to her famous son? Or is it related to something else entirely?

Shenanigans happen at the funeral and Damian ends up dead shortly thereafter. It’s up to Tony and Hawthrone to figure out who the killer or killers are. And while the clues to the killer’s identity are laid before the reader, just as they are for Anthony, you probably won’t figure out who did it.

I loved this book. It kept me guessing. Plot twists and misdirection are expertly employed to keep you on your toes and guessing. I like the unique way that Anthony Horowitz tells this story and how he weaves his real existence into a fictional story with fictional characters. At one point, I even Googled Damian Cowper to make sure he was, indeed, a fictional character. The blending is that seamless.

Anyone who likes a good mystery will like this book. Agatha Christie would love this book and wish she’d thought of the plot. I highly recommend this book.

I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.

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