Odd Thomas

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Koontz, Dean., (c. 2003).  Odd Thomas.  Bantam Books. 512 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780553802498

Reviews:

The Guardian, The Examiner

Annotation:

Odd Thomas has a secret.  He can see ghosts. This is interesting but would be more so if he knew why.  Until the borachs arrive bringing evil to town.

Summary:  

Odd Thomas is a 20 year old cook who likes staying under the radar in the sleepy California town.  Only the Sheriff is aware of his sixth sense and he wants to keep it that way.  Well, his girlfriend Stormy knows the truth but she’s special so that’s OK.  Odd, which is his real name, can see ghosts, at least those that have unfinished business that needs to get cleared up before they can move to the final destination.  Odd has gotten used to having these surprise visitors but since they can’t talk, he has to figure out what they need and what they expect him to do about it.  Along with this “gift” is the other kind of ghost with which he has to deal, the borachs.  These apparitions swarm around people who are evil.  Of course, they don’t communicate either and Odd knows better than to try but since he’s the only one who even knows they are around, it’s up to him to not just figure out their purpose but to stop the evil before it destroys the town he loves.

Evaluation:

Odd is well, odd.  And that’s just part of his charm.  He is that low-key crime fighter who stumbles into mayhem and must beat the bad guy before the bad guy succeeds in causing mass destruction.  Koontz has created a wonderfully normal character who’s talent puts him in a unique position to thwart the bad guy while needing to remain low-key.  In a world where we are bombarded by people seeking the spotlight for every little accomplishment, this is a refreshing look at one young man’s commitment to keep his town and loved ones as safe as he possible can.  Although a slow start, the story is one that sucks you in and compels you to keep going.  I was a little skeptical at first glance but when finished, I immediately sought out the second in series.

Author’s Website:

Dean Koontz

Genre/Subgenre:

Horror

Readalikes:

Ash by James Herbert.

Deadtown by Nancy Holzer

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Talk about the name “Odd”.  Is it fitting?  Does it define the character?

2. Why did Odd write the book and what were his intentions of doing so?

3.  Why did Odd worry about people finding out about him but was able to share his “talent” with the town sheriff?

4. Why is Stormy’s character a good match for Odd?

Reasons for selection:

I had not picked up a Koontz novel for quite some time and was eager to happily fall into one of his weirdly realistic worlds.  One of my co-workers suggested the Odd Thomas series (I always perk up at the mention of a series) so I thought I’d try it.  Odd Thomas is truly odd but in true Koontz-style, believable in that weird other-worldly way.  I would recommend this book to anyone able to set aside reality and jump into a world that is so like ours but so not.  Similar to Stephen King, it will keep you looking over your shoulder for that elusive borach.

The Giant’s House: a romance

  3W, 3H

McCracken, Elizabeth, (c. 1996).  The Giant’s House.  Dial Press. 259 pages , $19.95.

ISBN: 9780385314336

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, NY Times

Annotation:

Unattached twenty-six year old Peggy Cort,  the town librarian, is inexplicably drawn to the 6’ 2” 11-year old boy who befriends her.

Summary:  

Peggy Cort is 26 years old and unattached, the librarian in a small Cape Cod town.  She is drawn to 11 year old, James who even at this young age is notably different from everyone else at 6′ 2″.  She finds herself thinking about this young boy who comes into her library every day and eventually becomes a part of his life by getting to know his family and spending time with them.  Peggy seems to be the only one who truly understands the physical difficulties that James faces and works with his family to create a living space that will accommodate his eventual 8 foot height.  Always loved and supported by his community, James is approached by the local shoe store to help market their products into a side effect of his size creates problems.  When he accepts the offer from the Circus, Peggy accompanies him to New York where he is given a boost of confidence that unfortunately comes too late.  The doctors had always told James that he would not live a long life but it isn’t until his final days that realizes what love really means.

Evaluation:

This is a different kind of love-story that seems so unrealistic at first glance but becomes plausible as the story unfolds and the characters take shape.  Peggy is herself an outsider who does not easily conform to the community in a “normal” way.   Her attraction to someone that physically stands out seems a natural fit since James, although a child is the more balanced of the two.  McCracken successfully creates an environment where something as shocking as a 26 year old woman and an 11 year old boy almost seems normal. She downplays the age by having Peggy openly ponder her intentions and then dismissing them for her concern for James’ well-being.  A unique and interesting take on a romantic journey that is surprisingly satisfying.

Author’s Website:

Elizabeth McCraken

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance

Awards:

New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Salon Book Award Finalist for the National Book Award

Readalikes:

Up Island by Ann Rivers Siddons.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Why do think “a romance” is included in the title?  Is this a romance?

2. How did this book make you feel?  Is the relationship plausible?

3. How does McCracken justify Peggy’s choices?

4. Discuss the impact of James’ father throughout the story.

Reasons for selection:

I was stuck in a “mystery” mode and had stumbled across this title in search of a “different kind” or romance.  And yes, I was intrigued by the cover.  After picking it up, I couldn’t put it down so intrigued by the characters and the predicaments that were addressed.  Although far from being a traditional love story I found it very satisfying and thought provoking.

Cold Hearted

Book Jacket  3W, 3H – Audio

Barton, Beverly, (c. 2008). Cold Hearted.  Read by Lisa York.  Phoenix Audio. 10 discs (11 hrs, 30 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-5977-7212-9

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Everyone loves Jordan Price.  Including Rick, the investigator hired to find her husband’s killer.  But while he’s protecting Jordan, could he be her next victim?

Summary:  

When Rick is hired to investigate the State Senator’s death, he is drawn to his widow, Jordan Price, who does not seem as affected by the death as he would have thought.  As a matter of fact, upon further investigation, several men in her life have unexpectedly met their end by accident or suicide.  A coincidence?  Rick isn’t willing to bet on it.  But as he gets to know Jordan better, it is harder to see her as a Black Widow, especially as he starts falling in love with her.  Is loving Jordan worth the risk?  Could Rick be the next victim?

Evaluation:

I listened to this selection and looked forward to every time I had to jump in my car.  I’m the reader that was guessing all the way to the end.  I realized I was gracefully led into every theory Barton laid out  only to be thwarted about the same time Rick figured it out.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves some romance with their mystery.  Lisa York, the reader, deftly handled both male and female characters using her southern accent aptly to distinguish between the players.  I could easily follow who was talking.  No fault of York’s and probably part of the appeal of the suspense tactic, it usually took me a few lines to figure out when the story switched to the viewpoint of the killer.  But I think that was intended since there were so many suspects.

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance/Suspense

Readalikes:

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockman.

Deadline by Sandra Brown

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you like Jordan Price?  Has she created the world around her and if so, how?

2.  If this were made into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

3.  Of all Jordan’s family members, which one has the most redeeming qualities?

4.  When did you figure out who the killer is?  What gave them away?

Reasons for selection:

I used to read romance all the time and now I’m more into a mystery mode.  Romantic Suspense is the perfect combination for a fun read.  I had read Barton a few years back and remember the plot and characters being thoroughly entertaining.  This selection did not disappoint.  I look forward to listening to more from this author.

Amy Falls Down

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Willett, Jincy, (c. 2013).  Amy Falls Down. Thomas Dunne Books. 324 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9781250028273

Reviews:

The NY Times, Publisher’s Weekly

Annotation:

Amy Gallup is satisfied with her life far away from the best-seller list.  But after a hitting her head on a birdbath, she’s got a lot to say.

Summary:  

Amy Gallup has not written anything in 30 years.  She teaches online writing workshops to make ends meet and keeps company with her basset hound, Alphonse.  She scorns the publishing industry and what it has turned into but does so quietly since she enjoys being a bit of a recluse.  After all, things are easier that way.

But then she trips and bangs her head on the side of the birdbath and seems to forget exactly how it happened.  No problem.  She’s up and everything is fine; until she forgets to cancel the interview that afternoon with a reporter from the San Diego Tribune.  But she’s feeling good and quite confident until she forgets why the reporter is even coming and only realizes that she’s waving goodbye to the reporter without any recollection of what transpired between them.  As the interview goes viral with reviewers calling her a “genius”, Amy’s career is taking off again and she reluctantly tries to keep up with it.   Full of satire and wit, Amy learns to deal with her own demons.  But that becomes more difficult as the numbness wears off and she is confronted with the fact that she has become a celebrity.

Evaluation:

I was looking forward to a light read and figured that this was going to be a funny book about an aging writer.  I was happily surprised to find that it had much more depth than I originally anticipated.  Amy Gallup is a character that has all the sarcasm needed to keep most people at bay while still drawing them in with her insights and doggedness.  I immediately took to the character because she is not only self-aware but simultaneously suspicious and intrigued by her increasing celebrity status.

Willett has developed a just-short of cynical character (is it a depiction of herself) who is fed up with the publishing industry while wanting to be a part of it again.  The bump on the head and subsequent interview are just the type of strange occurrence that can propel any career in this strange connected world.

Excerpt from the author’s webpage (I’m not sure that website would be the appropriate term):

“Jincy Willett

…has a life, as, I’m sure, do you. And yet here you are.”

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Humorous

Readalikes:

The Last Original Wife  by Dorothea Benton Frank.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

Book Discussion Questions:

1. In a radio interview, Amy Gallup comments that, “There may still be more readers than writers, but surely we’re approaching some kind of catastrophic tipping point.”  How does this exemplify Amy’s feeling about the world of publishing today compared to the past?

2. What seems to be stopping Amy from moving on with her life?

3. After reading this conversation with Jincy and  editor Thomas Dunne, how could this story be seen as autobiographical?

4. How does the role of “accident” play in all of our lives?

Reasons for selection:

This is another selection from Nancy Pearl’s “Books That Make Great Gifts” list presented in December 2013.  I liked that I could read it without having to read the prequel published in 2008 and I was drawn to the unique layout of the book cover.  I can’t help it; I do judge a book by it’s cover…initially.  In my quest to try new authors, Willett seemed to be a great fit.  She successfully combines writing, sarcasm and Southern California.  I was not disappointed.  And after viewing her webpage, I am an immediate fan!

The Quilt

   3W, 3H

Bunn, T. Davis, (c. 1993). The Quilt.  Bethany House. 125 pages , $12.99.

ISBN:  1556613458

Reviews
Blogger Review, Bookloons

Annotation:

Mary’s arthritis grew worse yet she needed to make one last quilt.  With guidance and prayer, the quilt helps the town rediscover life’s true gifts.

Summary:  

Mary is like everyone’s grandmother, a sweet, elderly woman who was known not just for her kindness but also for her amazing quilts.  One day, while twisting her arthritic hands, she tells her son that she needs to make one last quilt.  Although the task is physically impossible for Mary, she is determined to make it happen.  With assistance from her daughter in laws, friends and fellow church go-ers, Mary instructs them on how to make the quilt emphasizing the importance of saying a prayer of thanks with every stitch made.  Soon all the women in the town are pitching in to make Mary’s quilt.  They are drawn to the serene and spiritual atmosphere surrounding the project.

All involved in the creation of Mary’s quilt, walk away from the project knowing more about their lives and the importance of His divine guidance.  With this increased understanding of God’s presence the quilt takes on new meaning and brings light to the those surrounded by Mary’s kindness.

Evaluation:

This is a quick read with writing that is leisurely and reflective.  For those who enjoy Christian Fiction, this book could bring comfort and reassurance to those that may have forgotten the power of prayer.  With pleasant characters and little if any angst, this story is peaceful and may be just the thing for someone who wants to be reminded of how important faith is in everyday life.

Genre/Subgenre:

Christian Fiction

Readalikes:

Katy’s Way by Marta Perry

Homecoming at Hickory Ridge by Dana Corbit

One Shenandoah Winter by T. Davis Bunn

Book Discussion Questions:

How does Mary draw people into the project?

What does the quilt represent?

What impact does this project have on the community?

The author never states a time or place for the story.  When do you think it takes place and where?

Do you think something like this could happen in today’s world?

Reasons for selection:

I am unfamiliar with Christian Fiction so found the selection by searching the genre in NoveList.  T. Davis Bunn has written many novels in this genre so I am pleased to have read one of them.  It was a short and pleasant read which should satisfy my initial knowledge of this subject.

Quesadillas

  3W, 3H

Villalobos, Juan Pablo, (c. 2012). Quesadillas.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 168 pages, $14.99 (pbk)

ISBN  978-0-374-53395-3

Reviews:

New York Times, The Guardian

Annotation:

Orestes, one of seven children in 1980’s Mexico, tells of his adventures as he escapes the boredom and upheaval of a fraudulent society.

Summary:  

In the Jalisco region of Mexico in the 1980’s, thirteen year old Orestes, or Oreo, grew up in a large family surrounded by political fraud, political upheaval, out of control inflation and rich Polish neighbors.  His father, a high school teacher, was a “professional insulter” who shouted at the television whenever any politicians were attempting to make a point and his mother dutifully fed the seven children, constantly grilling quesadillas for the family meals.  Oreo is an opportunist that knows that life is not dished out with equal fairness.  He was “well aware of the roller coaster that was the national economy due to the fluctuating thickness of the quesadillas (his) mother served at home.” (p. 9)

Oreo steals from his rich neighbor to embark on a journey where with the help of a “red-buttoned clicker”, he is able to support himself and relish the independence of not being the second oldest or part of a large family.  But he decides to go back where he must own up to his wrong-doings and suffer the consequences for stealing by working for the neighbor.  Oreo’s adventures are punctuated with sadness, sarcasm and a bit of awe for the audacity of existence that was seen as normal life in Mexico.

Evaluation:

This story takes off with a bang and never stops.  Thoroughly enjoyable if you like satire with a punch.  Villalobos does not hold back when it comes to recalling life in Mexico where the distinction between the poor, poorer and very poor were not that different from the middle class.  Oreo is a typical thirteen year old who enjoys poetry (thanks to his father the teacher), is not a push over (thanks to his oldest brother) and sees his surroundings as nothing more than a never-ending bad joke and landscape of survival where you can not ignore the opportunities.  If you enjoy Christopher Moore you will definitely enjoy Villalobos.

Genre/Subgenre:

Satire

Readalikes:

Modelo Antiguo by Luis Enduardo Reyes.  Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Book Discussion Questions:

Villalobos uses quesadillas both literally and figuratively.  How does he work both into Oreo’s story?

Which is your favorite sub-character and why?

Why do you think Villalobos chose cow semination as the Pole’s profession that Oreo has to learn?

Reasons for selection:

I found this selection on the Shelf Awareness newsletter and thought I’d give it a try.  I enjoy humor, especially satire, and have not read many stories based in Mexico.  Villalobos is a great find and I look forward to reading his other works.

Favorite line:

“After paying the bill, my father showed me the total on the receipt;  it had seven figures.  He told me I was going to pay him back this amount, that I would have to find myself a job….Since he didn’t mention indexing the balance for inflation, it was a steal.  All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks for the currency to be devalued 8,000 per cent and I’d pay him back.” (p.99)

Dream Boy

Book Jacket 3W, 3H  (audio)

Grimsley, Jim, (c. 1995).  Dream Boy.  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 195 pages, $15.49

ISBN  9780684829920

Reviews:
NPR – You must read this, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

A tale of first love between two teenage boys in the rural south encompassing the pain, confusion and joy of a budding, yet forbidden romance.

Summary:  

Nathan, an intelligent sophomore, begins his school year in a new town at a new school.  This is nothing new for him since his family moves around the rural south a lot.  This time they get to live in the country next to a family whose son, Roy, is two years older than Nathan, plays baseball and drives the school bus.  Roy and Nathan discover that their attraction for each other is both beautiful and exciting yet they know they must keep it a secret.

Through the overhanging cloud of Nathan’s abusive father and Roy’s misunderstandings and denial, Grimsley captures the awe of first love and the natural relationship that grows from those feelings.  Yet society doesn’t see things so clearly and  both Nathan and Roy must figure out if they can hold on to each other.

Evaluation:

Grimsley writes beautifully and pulls the reader into the story immediately.  The tone of the work is lyrical and skillfully portrays the intimate thoughts and actions of a sensitive boy that has to deal with a lot of ugliness in his world.  Roy’s character clearly exemplifies the typical high school boy who fears the feelings that come so naturally to him when he meets Nathan.  The story has two definite settings with pacing to match.  The first 100 pages exemplifies the title and seems almost dream-like in its telling.  The second half of the novel, which takes place during a camping trip, becomes taught with tension, mystery and violence leaving the reader a bit befuddled by the ending.

Genre/Subgenre:

GLBTQ/Romance

Awards:

Stonewall Book Awards:  Barbara Gittings Literature Award

Readalikes:

 A House Is Not A Home by James Earl Hardy Mark by Lonnie Coleman.

Book Discussion Questions:

How does the title capture the tone of the story?

Do you think the characters are believable in their actions and reactions?

There’s a definite split in the narrative.  Was this essential for the story’s outcome?

Reasons for selection:

I am new to the GLBTQ genre so need to catch up to understand what is good and not-so-good in these stories and the issues that appeal to the genre’s fans.  Grimsley’s novel struck me as a good place to start.  It is beautifully written and deals with two social situations that are polar opposites of each other but that many tend to be view in the same light; a tragic display of society’s fear of differences.