The Expats

Book Jacket  4W, 4H  Audio

Pavone, Chris., (c. 2012).  The Expats.  Read by Mozhan Marno.  Books on Tape. 10 discs (12 hrs, 24 mins), $32.95.

ISBN: 9780307990310

Reviews

NY Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Ex CIA agent Kate Moore becomes the picture perfect ex-pat in Luxembourg until a new couple activates her well-honed instincts and she knows their survival is at risk.

Summary:  

Kate Moore is a typical expat mom with two kids supporting her husband in his new job in Luxembourg.  She left her job, her life in Washington D.C. knowing that it was a good move for her family, hoping that her past would finally be behind her.  But she can’t ignore her CIA training when questionable behavior starts coming to her notice.  Who is this couple that has suddenly popped into their lives and what exactly does her husband do and why has he become so evasive?  Soon Kate is traveling around the European continent hoping to find answers through her CIA contacts.  Is she over reacting or is she protecting her family?  This taught tale of intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat, uncertain as to anyone’s intentions.

Evaluation:

Although the audio book was entertaining, this type of story in audio format can get confusing with all the characters coming in and out of the scenes along with the clandestine behavior that may be easier to follow in print.  Regardless, Pavone has created a wonderful heroine who is more chameleon than mom when it comes down to survival.  The plot is full of twists and turns reminding me of vintage Robert Ludlum.  Taking the reader on a tour of modern Europe, this is a great read for anyone who loves international intrigue along with a heroine who does not just sit by and let the world determine her place in it.  She is definitely a take-action kind of girl.

Author’s Website:

Chris Pavone

Genre/Subgenre:

Fiction/International espionage

Awards:

New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award Winner

Anthony Award Winner

Readalikes:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Kate’s character is constantly evolving.  Which role seems to fit her best or does she successfully incorporate them all?

2. Kate had led a double life and now is faced with the fact that her husband might be too. Is she setting a double standard or just responding to her well-honed skills?

3. Dexter sites human gullibility as a weakness yet he becomes ultimately gullible.  What makes him gullible?  Is he ultimately blameless?

4. What does this novel say about trust?  What does this novel say about marriage?

Reasons for selection:

I wanted to read something with international intrigue so I found this while on NoveList as a read-a-like for Steig Larsson’s “Dragon Series” and thought I would give it a try.  I’m glad I did.  Pavone definitely packs a punch and has the talent to intertwine multiple plots and characters for a very satisfying read.

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The Last Policeman

Book Jacket  3W, 4H

Winters, Ben H., (c. 2012).  The Last Policeman.  Quirk Books. 288 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 978-1-59474-576-8

Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews, Petoskey News

Annotation:

With only six months before the asteroid destroys the earth, Detective Hank Palace can’t ignore the superstitious death of local man whose hanging seems out of the ordinary.

Summary:  

In six months an asteroid, nicknamed Maia, is going to hit the earth destroying everything for hundreds of miles.  The problem is, no one knows exactly where its going to hit but they know its coming.  Newly promoted Detective Hank Palace understands why people around him have given up on their careers to fulfill their personal bucket list but its harder for him to deal with those that have given up permanently.  Concord, New Hampshire has been dubbed “Hanger town” because that seems to be the trend for dealing with the inevitable impact of Maia.  But when insurance man Peter Zell is found hung with an up-market belt in the stall of a McDonald’s bathroom, Hank suspects that something more is in play.  Surrounded by people that don’t understand why he even bothers, Hank doggedly pursues the leads in a town that is ready to die.

Evaluation:

This is a first novel of a trilogy that deals with a town that is preparing for destruction.  Although the pace is a little slow, the premise is enough to propel the reader through the intricacies of the crime.  Winters successfully illustrates the diversity of human reactions to this apocalyptic threat.  Some are permanently checking out, others are living life to the fullest, while even more are despondent and unsure of how to act.  And then there is Hank Palace, a man who takes his job seriously and won’t let a six-month sentence stop him from doing what he believes to be the right thing by his community.  Side stories including Palace’s ex-girlfriend, his sister and her radical husband may detract from the story a bit but it is a trilogy so their introduction may be necessary for the continuing story.  This is an easy book to recommend to those that enjoy a mystery but want something a little more to think about.

Author’s Website:

Ben H. Winters

Genre/Subgenre:

Science Fiction/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Paperback Original

Readalikes:

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Hank Palace’s character.  Why does he feel compelled to continue with his job while everyone else is “cashing in”?

2. Concord, N. H. has become a “hanger town”.  Why this method over any other?

3. If you had only 6 months until the world ended, realistically, what do you think you would do?

4.  How does Winters effectively develop the feel of this pre-apocolyptic world?

Reasons for selection:

Another on Nancy Pearl’s “Gift Book” list for 2013, this first in a pre-apocolyptic series intrigued me from the start.  Plus, the movie rights had just been bought so I knew it was going to be a popular series as the movies came out and working in a Public Library you need to stay on top of that stuff.

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.

Gone Girl

Book Jacket  4W, 4H

Flynn, Gillian, , (c. 2012). Gone Girl.  Crown. 416 pages , $25.99.

ISBN: 9780307588364

Reviews:

The NY Times, The Guardian

Annotation:

On their fifth anniversary, Nick returns home to find his wife missing.  Following the clues, he realizes the desperate game being played and that he’s the target.

Summary:  

On the Dunne’s fifth anniversary, wife Amy goes missing bringing on a firestorm of media, speculation and marital missteps.  Nick knows that he is innocent of foul play but everything clue points directly back to him and the role he has played in their “picture perfect” marriage.  Amy, whose parent’s entire career is based on their “Amazing Amy” books, leaves a diary behind that becomes more and more disturbing and layers are peeled away during the investigation.  Filled with plot twists, disturbing characters, and the most devious of all plots, Gone Girl will keep you guessing and simultaneously cringing as it exposes the side of humanity that is best left hidden.

Evaluation:

A brilliantly crafted thriller, this story is not for the light of heart.  Even if you are not a horror fan, you will be pulled into the twisted lives of this seemingly ordinary couple where power is everything and manipulation is the weapon of choice.  What makes this story so disturbing is that if deftly explores the institution of marriage making it an eerily plausible plot.  Flynn highlights the fact that we are at our best when we first meet, becoming people that we may not really be in order to impress our future mate.  Nick and Amy’s story takes that premise, adds some disturbing details and produces a set of circumstances that surprises and repulses simultaneously.

Reminiscent of the movie “War of the Roses”, it is hard to recommend a book where each character is more loathsome than the next.  This is definitely not a gory read, but a psychological journey into some very dark minds.  Although I did not enjoy the reading experience, I would suggest it to anyone who enjoys the genre, great writing and does not have a need to like the characters.

Author’s Website:

Gillian Flynn

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological

Readalikes:

Precious Things by Collette McBeth.

The Perfect Ghost by Linda Barnes

Awards/Lists:

  • Goodreads Choice Awards: 2012
  • Library Journal Best Books: 2012
  • Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award – Best Mystery & Suspense: 2012
  • The Reading List (RUSA): 2013

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Do you like Nick or Amy?  Do you find yourself rooting for either one of them?

2. Why was Amy’s diary so effective both as a strategy for the author and as a manipulation used by the character?

3.  Amy described herself as “the cool girl” and her friend’s husbands as “dancing monkeys”.  How does this reflect back on Amy’s character and how she views the world.

4. Amy’s parents – there may not be enough time to discuss their overarching role, but give it a shot.  Why are they so important to the story?

5.  If you were to rewrite the ending, how would you do it?

Reasons for selection:

I first found this book on the Stop Your Killing Me Newsletter which I receive each month.  After reading it, I thought I had finally found the book that I would never pick up again.  I am admittedly a “sensitive” reader in that what I read definitely impacts my outlook.  I found this book depressing because the characters were so loathsome.

But then, it was chosen as a book discussion selection for this class.  I was encouraged to participate because I had such strong negative feelings about it.  So, I re-read the book and even though it still made me feel “icky”, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and took great pleasure in siting all the ways I detested Amy.  It proved to be a cleansing experience and now I will feel good about recommending it to those who enjoy the genre.

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.

The Reader

  4W, 3H

Schlink, Bernhard. (p.1995). The Reader. New York; Vintage Books. 218 pages. $13.95 pbk.

ISBN #: 978-0-307-45489-8

Reviews:

New York Times, Bestsellers

Annotation:  

Young Michael Berg has a passionate affair with Hanna, an older woman, only realizing her true past when she is charged with a heinous crime.

Summary:  

Fifteen year old Michael Berg meets Hanna, a woman twice his age, when he gets sick outside her tenement building on his way home from school.  When he returns months later to thank her for her kindness, a love affair begins.  For reasons known only to Hanna, she disappears.  Michael does not cross paths with her again until ten years later when she is in court on charges of war crimes committed as an SS Officer.

Part I of the story is a sexual feast as experienced by a 15 year old young man who has captured the interest of an older woman.  The guilt and confusion that inevitably build from the relationship affects Michael throughout the novel.  Part II, ten years later, takes the story through the trial where Michael is faced with the truth of Hannah.  Part III allows for the adult Michael to dissect his experiences and attempt to find meaning and justification not just for his actions but also for the actions of those Germans who are still dealing with the horrors of the previous generation.

Evaluation:

Narrated in the first person, The Reader is a complex, beautifully written story that explores German society post World War II through the eyes of a young man.  Michael’s character is simultaneously questioning and accepting of the events surrounding him ultimately shaped by his affair with Hanna, a woman he really never knew.  Although some may find the subject and situations objectionable (i.e. the affair of a fifteen year old boy with a 35 year old woman), the characters portrayed are dealing with issues pertinent to the era that many may not have even considered.   The writing is compelling and almost lyrical.  It enhances the narrator’s inner turmoil as the story unfolds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Adult Fiction

Readalikes:

 Beatrice and Virgil by Yan Martel

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

 Awards/Lists:

New York Times Notable Books-Fiction and Poetry – 1997

Oprah’s Book Club – 1999

Book Discussion Questions

Do you think The Reader is a love story? How would you describe Michael and Hanna’s relationship?

“So what would you have done?” (p. 111)  How would you respond to this question posed by Hanna to the judge?

Do you think their is a connection between literacy and morality? Do you think Schlink is suggesting such a connection?

Reasons for selection:

The Reader is a well-known novel later made into a movie starring Kate Winslet.  When I told a librarian about my RA project and need for a variety of literature, she recommended this book to me.  I’m glad she did.  It was not something I would have normally picked up but I was drawn into the story from the start.