Saturday, October 14, 2017

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

by David Sedaris
159 pgs

I mentioned in my last review that I rarely read back to back books by the same author. I can definitively say, until now, I'd never read three in a row. This is a first.

Unfortunately, this third one was a departure from the last two. Instead of a collection of essays relaying short, humorous accounts of his travels, childhood, relationships, or observations of the state of the world, this time Sedaris gives us his version of Rudyard Kiplings Just So Stories. It didn't work.

While Sedaris's views of the world are quite a bit further to the left on the political and social spectrums than mine are, in the first two books I didn't care. His sense of humor overshadowed those aspects of his writing, and I couldn't help but enjoy myself. This time, there was no humor, just an assortment of barnyard animals and small woodland creatures, anthropomorphized and placed on Sedaris's soapbox to demonstrate the absurdity of the opinions and viewpoints he doesn't share.

I know I'll continue to read his books going forward. But I think I'll stick to his traditional material from now on.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

by David Sedaris
275 pgs

So, I finished my first David Sedaris book and immediately started another one. I don’t usually allow myself to read back to back books by the same author, but I decided this time I’d disregard my self-imposed dogma and just go crazy. Frankly the decision might have come as a direct result of the insight his last book gave me into the life and mind of someone as rigid and compulsive as he is. It made me a little nervous about any quirks I might have, albeit minor as they may be. So, it’s two Sedaris books in a row.

With Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls Sedaris compiles a series of his essays that serve as part travelogue and part an insight into his family—and what an insight it is. Many of the essays have liberal political or social undertones, but I doubt those who associate themselves with the far right are going to be reading his books. But that’s their loss. They’re missing out on his masterful telling of his first colonoscopy and his father’s fixation on Donny Osmond. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When You are Engulfed in Flames

by David Sedaris
323 pgs

A few months back I attended a David Sedaris book signing. Before the event formally began, Mr. Sedaris invited those who had books they wanted signed to line up and he’d get to as many as he could before his reading. As I stood in line I listened to the conversations he was having with the people in front of me as he signed their books. With each person he would begin by asking them a random question, one you would never think to ask someone you were meeting for the first time. “How is your relationship with your father?” “Who’s your dentist?” and when I got to him, “Any chance you plan to be in Seattle this weekend?” Each question prompted a brief conversation that was friendly, entertaining, and funny. That was my first insight into the mind of a writer I’ve since grown quite fascinated by.

When You are Engulfed in Flames is the first of Sedaris’s books I’ve read. At times it’s hilarious (and not safe to be listening to while driving), like his recounting of the time he accidentally spit out his throat lozenge onto the lap of the woman sleeping next to him on the airplane, or the time he ended up sitting in the waiting room of his doctor in Paris wearing nothing but his underwear because he didn’t understand French. At other times it makes you feel sorry for the man, as he tells stories of his childhood and the upbringing which has obviously resulted in at least a few neuroses and a very successful writing career.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reincarnation Blues

by Michael Poore
371 pgs

At its heart, Reincarnation Blues is a love story. As I’ve thought about it, I don’t know if I had ever read a love story before this one. I may be wrong, but I can’t remember any, if I did. So why was I so excited to read this one when I heard about it? It’s because the book has such a fantastic premise. Milo is the oldest soul on earth. So far, he’s lived 9,995 lives. He has yet to reach “perfection”, so each time he dies, he’s reincarnated as someone, or something else and given another chance. But dying is the only way for him to see Suzie (aka, Death), who greets his soul each time he passes and spends time with him until he’s born again.

Over the thousands of years, thousands of lives, and most importantly, thousands of deaths, Milo and Suzie have fallen deeply in love with each other. And whether they’re able to spend hours, days, or hopefully weeks together before they’re separated again, the two of them have fallen deeply in love with one another.

But Milo only has five tries left to achieve perfection, otherwise his soul will be “cancelled.” He’s stuck between the threat of oblivion and the love of his…can’t say life or even lives…the love of his deaths.

I’m glad I saw this book at the bookstore, although I suspect the neon-sign-like cover was designed with the intent of making it hard NOT to notice it. Poore masterfully uses flashbacks to tell of many of the lives Milo has already lived, which are often hilarious and end absurdly. But while the story has many laugh-out-loud moments, it’s also very thought provoking and emotional. This is a big-ideas book and Poore pulls it off with finesse and style.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, October 2, 2017

Camino Island

by John Grisham
290 pgs

Camino Island is another departure for Grisham from his typical legal thriller. Years ago, it was his departure from that genre to write books like A Painted House, Bleachers, and Skipping Christmas that ended my love affair with his writing and led to our trial separation, which lasted for many years. This time, fortunately, his departure was entertaining enough to keep our relationship going.

The book begins with a heist. Five original manuscripts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books, including The Great Gatsby, are stolen from the Princeton University Library. Authorities catch two of the five men responsible for the theft, but never recover any of the priceless manuscripts. As the case goes cold, the story transitions to Mercer Mann, a young novelist who achieved critical acclaim for her first novel, but who is currently struggling to come up with an idea for her next book.

Mercer is contacted by a company trying to locate the lost manuscripts and recruited into their elaborate scheme to get them back to Princeton. They believe the manuscripts are located on Camino Island, off the coast of Florida, and are now among the possessions of Bruce Cable, the owner of one of the most successful independent bookstores in the country. They want Mercer to relocate to Camino Island, where she spent much of her childhood, insert herself into the literary scene there, become friends with Cable, and somehow verify whether he indeed has the manuscripts.

The book isn’t in the same league as A Time to Kill, The Firm, or The Chamber, but it’s a fun and entertaining story that kept me interested throughout. A big part of the book’s appeal for me was Cable’s description of his vast collection of signed first editions. As a collector myself, I probably enjoyed those parts of the book more than the suspense and intrigue. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dreamer

by Brandon Sanderson
31 pgs

Dreamer is a short story Brandon Sanderson wrote, which was included in the Games Creatures Play anthology. As he’s done with some of his other short stories, he pairs two of them together and releases them as a small hard cover double book, where you read one story, then flip the book around and read the second. He paired Dreamer with Snapshot and brought them with him to this year’s Salt Lake Comic Con, where I picked up a copy.

Dreamer is the shortest thing Sanderson has ever published and it shows he doesn’t need hundreds (and sometimes many hundreds) of pages to tell a good story.

It’s a story about a group of friends who have the ability to jump from one person’s body to another, suppressing that person’s soul while they possess it themselves for a short time. The group likes to play games, like ‘capture the flag’ and ‘cops and robbers.’ The rules vary from game to game, but the group plays them without regard to the safety of those whose bodies they use. If the body they’re in becomes injured or dies during the game, they simply jump to the next body and continue their game.

Dreamer is a dark fantasy story and much different from what I’ve come to expect from Sanderson. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was well worth the 20 minutes it took to read.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Gwendy's Button Box

by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
170 pgs

In Gwendy’s Button Box Stephen King accompanies friend and coauthor Richard Chizmar to Castle Rock. The small town in Maine which served as the locale for many of his earlier books. But don’t let the fact that there’s a second author’s name on the cover dissuade you from reading it. It has Uncle Stevie’s prints all over it.

As the story begins, Gwendy Peterson is a 12-year-old girl who is starting to feel self-conscious about her weight. She has decided that this summer she’s going to lose some of that extra weight and return to school in September looking better and ready to shed the “Goodyear” nickname some of her peers use when referring to her. So, each day Gwendy races to the top of the stairs at the park known as the Suicide Stairs.

One day, when she reaches the top, she’s met by a man wearing on old-fashioned hat. The man speaks to her as if he’s known her all his life and proceeds to give her a strange wooden box with different colored buttons and levers on it. The man tells her the box will give her gifts, but that the gifts are compensation for the responsibility she will bear in keeping it.

Each time Gwendy pushes one lever, the box dispenses a small chocolate animal. It’s delicious and satisfies her appetite to the point that Gwendy no longer overeats. When she pushes the other lever, the box dispenses an 1891 Morgan silver dollar, in mint condition. They’re worth hundreds of dollars apiece and will allow her to attend the Ivy League college she dreams about. But the buttons each have destructive powers, and Gwendy soon learns just how important it is to guard the box and make sure it never gets into the hands of someone who would use those buttons with evil intent.

The story is short, but is a prime example of what has made King so well liked. It’s a great story and I think it’s King providing an analogy to how he feels about what he has spent his lifetime doing. Pushing buttons and pulling levers on a small box his entire career has given him everything he has ever wanted, or needed in life, but it hasn’t come without a sense of importance and responsibility.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆