Review: A Gathering of Old Men

A Gathering of Old MenA Gathering of Old Men
By Ernest J. Gaines
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679738909, June 1992, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

A short but powerful read.

The Rest of It:

Borrowed from Goodreads:

Set on a Louisiana sugarcane plantation in the 1970s, A Gathering of Old Men is a powerful depiction of racial tensions arising over the death of a Cajun farmer at the hands of a black man.

If you’ve been watching the news lately, racial tension is at an all-time high. How fitting that our book club chose A Gathering of Old Men for this month’s meeting. Of course, we picked the book back in January so we had no idea how it would mesh with current events but mesh, it certainly does.

The story is told very simply and perhaps that is what makes it so powerful. The book opens with the death of a Cajun farmer and in order to protect the person who did it, Candy, a white woman, confesses to the crime. Realizing that many will not believe her story, she gathers a group of elderly black men, all with shotguns, thinking that it will be impossible to investigate the crime if she and others come forward and take responsibility for what happened.

This story has many narrators, all of them distinct. With so many narrators, sometimes it’s hard to follow a story through but I enjoyed the different points of view. This is a book that you should take some time reading. It’s short but there is a lot to digest and think about. And when these men come together to stand-up for what they believe in, the outcome is somewhat unexpected.

My book club will be discussing this book during the holiday gathering that we have every year so I hope we actually get to discuss the book. I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at MemorialFive Days at Memorial
By Sheri Fink
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780307718969, September 2013, 576pp.)

The Short of It:

A nearly impossible to believe account of what happened at Memorial Medical Center after the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Rest of It:

I don’t know what I was doing when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 but let me tell you, I had no idea that any of the accounts in this book took place. Fink provides a detailed account of the five days immediately following Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that affected Memorial Medical Center. I will provide some highlights:

  • The lack of power was a problem, as was the lack of fuel for the emergency generators which happened to be below flood level.
  • Hospital staff was limited, and those that were there had their families and pets staying there with them.
  • No running water, meant no use of the facilities and the back-up of human waste was impossible to contain.
  • Many patients required life-saving assistance and without power, the care of said patients posed a problem.
  • Rescue was made by helicopter but getting patients to the helipad without elevators presented a huge challenge.
  • It was hot. SWAMPY hot and without AC or fans, some of the patients declined rapidly.
  • DOCTORS ADMINISTERED LETHAL DOSES OF MEDS TO THOSE WHO MAY NOT SURVIVE THE ORDEAL.

Did you read that last one? After five days, there were still patients in the building with no way to get them out. These were the most critical cases or in some cases, the most elderly. The staff was told that they MUST evacuate which meant leaving these patients behind. One doctor in particular, Dr. Anna Pou, made the choice to “make patients comfortable” by giving them what was essentially a lethal concoction of two medications to make them sleep…forever.

The first half of the book provides a detailed account of those five days and the second half covers the legal proceedings that followed. The first half was riveting, the second half, not so much and could have been shortened up, in my opinion. This was a hard book to digest for many reasons. The idea of a doctor deciding a person’s fate is alarming but don’t they do it all the time?

While reading, I found myself thinking “No! These people are bat-shit crazy!” but then a few pages later my opinion would change. In the back of my mind, I have convinced myself that something else could have been done, but these people were exhausted. Were they even capable of making such big decisions? No sleep. Limited food. Horrible conditions. I’m not sure.

My main problem with the book, and one that kept coming up for me over and over is that Fink didn’t appear to have an opinion of her own on the situation. She’s a journalist but she received her M.D. from Stanford so she must have a medical opinion on what took place. Right? If it was there, I didn’t read it.

I think anyone who works in the medical profession can learn something about disaster recovery by reading this book but really, anyone interested in disaster recovery can learn a lot from all of the mistakes made. The hospital and the administration and staff were not prepared for such a disaster. Simple things like outlet placement by windows, or the fact that the generators were in the basement below the flood plain, stuff like that.

This book was read for my book club and it was a lively discussion.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Revival

RevivalRevival
By Stephen King
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781476770383, November 2014, 405pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

A young, impressionable boy is taken with the local minister and his ability to make things magical, but when their faith is tested, both battle their own demons to survive.

The Rest of It:

Jamie Morton is only six-years old when Charles Jacobs comes to town. Jacobs, married with a young son of his own, quickly takes a liking to Jamie and his family. In fact, many of the folks in town begin to attend church again just to hear what the new minister has to say and when Jamie’s brother loses his voice in a freak accident, Charles Jacobs comes to his aid and heals him. Not with spiritual healing, but with electricity.

After a tragic accident, Jacobs faith in God disappears entirely and what he chooses to hold dear, are the electrical experiments he’s developed over the years. Traveling from town to town, he reinvents himself, peddling what is essentially lightning and a whole lot of fanfare. It’s at this point in his life, that he runs into Jamie again. This time Jamie is an adult, battling a wicked heroin addiction. Can Jamie be saved?

King has said in many interviews that Revival is his return to true horror. I believe his definition of horror and mine vary greatly these days. Perhaps writing about a heroin addiction IS horrific, given King’s personal battle with drug and alcohol addiction but the story itself is not scary in that “clowns in the sewer” way. Nope. It reminded me a lot of Frankenstein and the one Mary Shelley reference did not escape me. I hardly think it was a coincidence that he included it because just as I was thinking ‘Frankenstein’, the name dropped.

Without being specific, lots of terrible things happen and they are all devastating. Devastating enough to absolutely wreck a person and let me tell you, it tore me up. These characters are damaged and flawed and King does damaged and flawed so well.

But…

The story lagged for me and since I was expecting a real horror story, I was slightly disappointed with the direction that it took. It seemed too safe and yet, I still enjoyed it. What King nailed is childhood itself. Those moments where Jamie is young and all of the wonders that go along with childhood… King was spot-on with them. That sense of innocence lost? Heartbreaking.

ReviveMe 2014

A group of us read this together and I must say, it was pretty quiet on Twitter. Nearly everyone was curious as to where the story was going but there wasn’t a whole lot to discuss. Compared to his other novels, the ones he is known for (IT, The Shining, The Stand, Carrie), this one seems a little thin but if you dig deep, there is substance there and some well-developed characters to spend some time with.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
By Robin Sloan
(Picador, Paperback, 9781250037756, September 2013, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

At the intersection of high-tech gadgetry and old school methods, you’ll find Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

The Rest of It:

This is one of those rare instances where I went into a book without knowing a thing about it. I mean, I knew nothing. I figured from the title that it would be about a bookstore and it is, but we are not talking dusty bookshelves filled with the classics. This bookstore operates 24-hours a day, is run by a quirky little man named Mr. Penumbra and things gets interesting when the new guy working the graveyard shift, Clay Jannon, discovers that along with regular books, they lend out special books that happen to be written in a secret code.

Clay’s web designer background leads him to delve deeper into the store’s database and when he meets Kat Potente, a data visualization specialist for Google, the two attempt to decipher the code and figure out the puzzle. To complicate matters, Clay and Kat realize that they are not the only ones trying to decipher the text, a secret society called the Unbroken Spine is also attempting to solve the mystery and then Mr. Penumbra goes missing leaving Clay and Kat to wonder what this is all about.

This story is a wondrous mix of old verses new. Tech-lovers will be dazzled by the Google references, the high-end book scanners and the time spent at Google headquarters, Kat’s place of employment. Others will be fascinated by the Unbroken Spine and their rigorous research methods. Or, you might find yourself somewhere in the middle. Either way, Sloan tells a good story. There’s a lot of action and just enough nerdy goodness to wrap your brain around. There’s also quite a bit of humor which I tend to appreciate in a novel when it’s handled well, as it is here.

There are definitely two types of people in this novel, the types who cannot live without technology and the types who cannot live with it, but I hazard to guess that Sloan falls somewhere in the middle because neither side is really played-up to be better than the other. That can be argued if you take the epilogue into account, where everything is summed up nicely and tied with a bow but I was okay with it.

This is a really fun read. There’s something for everyone but don’t expect it to be a traditional bookstore story because it is definitely not that.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Read-Along & Final Update – Part Three)

Something Wicked

Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury
(Avon, Mass Market Paperback, 9780380729401, March 1998, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

The calliope music signals that the carnival has arrived, but the carnival itself is a host of horrors for the inhabitants of this small town.

The Rest of It:

I can sum this story up in just  a few words. Hallucinogenic, batshit craziness.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about part one and part two and today, I am happy to report that our read along is complete! Part three, titled, ‘Departures’ was both strange and welcome. It’s been a crazy ride. Bradbury’s imagination was all over the place and it was hard to work the reading into my other reading. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but like it? Not really. It’s not really the type of book you like. That said, I can’t imagine reading it at any other time of the year because the setting and time frame just beg to be read in the Fall. Yes, I think WHEN you read this is very important. It DOES put you in the mood for Halloween and out here in sunny, Southern California with our never-ending 85 degree temps, I need all the help I can get.

The book though, it’s very disjointed. Odd. Feels a little nightmarish. I had two read-alongers listen to the book on audio and they gave-up on it. I think it would be very hard to follow on audio and that’s a shame because listening to a spooky book is so much fun, usually. What was Bradbury trying to accomplish with this one? That is the question I keep asking myself. The first part really set the stage, but the middle section was very difficult to make sense of. I will say this, it came together at the end and I found the end notes very interesting.

Peril the Second

This book counts towards the R.I.P IX Challenge!

Did you know that Gene Kelly was the reason this book was written? Apparently, Bradbury was good friends with him and always wanted to work with him, so he pulled out some of his story ideas and Kelly decided that this story, would be great to adapt in some way. It never worked out, but Bradbury then took it and turned it into a novel which later became a movie after all.

I’ve never seen the movie version of this book but recently, on American Horror Story, a new character was introduced (Mordrake) who reminds me a lot of Mr. Dark. This season of AHS seems to be paying homage to classic horror movies like Halloween and the like, so seeing Mordrake  in the freak show background does make me think that maybe the movie of Something Wicked might be better than the book.

Have you read this book or seen the movie?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: A Sudden Light

A Sudden LightA Sudden Light
By Garth Stein
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781439187036, September 2014, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

It feels so good to pick-up a book and immediately know after just a few pages, that it’s going to be a good story.

The Rest of It:

My “book picker” is finely tuned this year. I’ve read some interesting and fun books and I have to say, that this year seems to be the year for atmospheric reads because I have read so many and used that word so many times to describe what I am reading that I think I may need to come up with a new word.

A Sudden Light, is no exception. Fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are on the outs. His father, Jones Riddell, takes him back to his family’s home which is infamously referred to as Riddell House. Situated on the edge of a forest and overlooking Seattle’s Puget Sound, it’s massive and full of secrets. The Riddells of the past ran a timber company which produced quite a bit of wealth but Jones and his sister Serena want to sell the house and property so they can build their nest eggs elsewhere. Their only problem is convincing the grandfather, who is battling dementia, that selling the property is the right thing to do.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a slight supernatural element, a lot of family history and secrets, hidden rooms and well-drawn characters. The family dynamic is touching and Trevor is such a great kid. They are all so consumed by this house and what it stands for, that they often can’t see the forest for the trees. Pun intended. Nature lovers will find this book especially appealing because there is a conservation thread to the story that is skillfully woven in.

This book is a little different from The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein’s runaway bestseller, but I really got caught-up in the story and look at that cover!

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave
By Solomon Northup
(Graymalkin Media, Paperback, 9781631680021, February 2014, 248pp.)

The Short of It:

A true account of a free black man, kidnapped and forced into slavery.

The Rest of It:

While in Washington, D.C. on a business trip in the mid-1800’s, Solomon Northup was kidnapped and forced to be a slave for what became twelve long years. His story, as told to David Wilson, is shared here in this memoir.

Many of you may have seen the movie, which received several Oscar nods but as with most books made into movies, I am always interested in reading the book first, whenever possible so I have yet to see the movie myself. The book, although short, gives you just enough of the horrors of what he went through as a slave and it will make you angry. His relationships with the other slaves is the one saving grace. But the frustration over his situation is felt throughout his story and the worry and fear about his family is very compelling.

In one sense, it’s hard to believe that such a thing could happen and for so long, but his twelve years as a slave is riddled with pain, worry and fear over what will become of him. He encounters many slave owners during this time and although most of them are easy to anger and will stop at nothing when it comes to a delivering a good beating, there are others who treat their slaves as people, with the respect and dignity of an owner who appreciates hard work.

The story itself is very compelling and yes, unbelievable at times but the delivery of the story seemed a little formal to me. The language used to tell the story is very formal and dare I say it, somewhat cold and clinical. It’s as if this story was told to me at arm’s length, in a detached sort of way which of course took me out of the narrative many times. It’s very short, yet felt much longer than it should have. Perhaps the formality of it all added to this.

This was the September selection for my book club, chosen by me and of course that is the one meeting I had to miss due to back to school night, so I really don’t know what the others felt or how it compared to the movie. Will I see the movie? I had planned to prior to reading the book but now, I am not so sure.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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