Category Archives: Book Review

The Girl on the Train

I finally got a chance to read The Girl in the Train, and Paula Hawkins did not disappoint.

The story follows the lives of three women: Rachel, Megan and Anna. We meet Rachel first, a divorced alcoholic who rides the train into London every day. Right off the bat, Rachel’s character is established as shaky, and we aren’t certain if she is struggling with mental health issues, or simply the affects of being an alcoholic– or both. But every day, Rachel observes the people in one certain house, imagining what their lives might be like. In her mind, they are perfectly happy and in love.

In reality, Megan, one half of Rachel’s couple, is struggling with her own mental health issues. Her husband is, in the least, borderline emotionally abusive, and Megan is haunted by her past. She is seeking help, trying to find what she needs to do to be whole, healed and happy.

Finally, Anna is the wife of Rachel’s ex husband, and lives just a few doors down from Megan. Paranoid about Rachel and protective of her family, Anna is on alert for any sign of Rachel in their neighborhood.

Their three stories cross when Megan goes missing and Rachel, convinced she can help but unsure of what she knows, tries any avenue that comes to mind.

Hawkins does an excellent job of showing how someone can have one part of the story, and make assumptions to fill in the blanks. The narratives are full of facts that manage to mislead you, leaving you guessing right up until the end. And yet everyone’a conclusions make sense as they’re reaching them, which makes it all that much more of an intriguing read.

The Girl on the Train keeps you on the edge of your seat, taking the pieces of narrative and trying to reconcile them to each other. And it’s not until you approach the end that you realize how many assumptions you’ve made yourself.

The Push

As the possessor of an active imagination, I’ve already read books and thought how cool it would be to live the story, imagining myself in it or doing something similar. Not often do I really wish to have that life. However, reading Tommy Caldwell’s book definitely woke something different in me, and while I don’t want all his experiences, I do wish I had the freedom and money and talent to climb whatever whenever.

I first heard about Tommy Caldwell in 2014, when he and Kevin Jorgeson climbed the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. And even though that was something I only knew about from a friend, I followed the last half closely, and when I found out Caldwell was going to write a book, I awaited its release with lots of excitement.

In The Push, Caldwell talks about growing up outdoors with his family, doing challenging climbs and mountaineering feats with his dad at young ages. He relates his experience of being a hostage in Kyrgyzstan and how that affected his life for years after, and how, in a way, it led to his passion/obsession with the Dawn Wall.

Caldwell’s story is one of perseverance, if nothing else. He dedicated seven years to the Dawn Wall, unable or unwilling to give up without successfully completing it. Nestled inside his honest, somewhat cavalier writing are some quality truths about failure as a tool to inspire greater success.

I appreciated his honesty as well in regards to how various things in his life truly affected him. Caldwell uses his book as a means of reflection, admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers and that his choices may not always have been stellar. But his honesty prompts a feeling of self-reflection in his readers, or at least in me.

Even though, having followed the climb as it happened, I knew how he story ultimately ended. Yet the book is so much more than the story of climbing the Dawn Wall, it’s the story of how Caldwell developed a need for the Dawn Wall, and how upon completion, he understood what was behind the need.

It’s an exciting, fun, and funny read. And whether you climb or don’t climb, it’s worth the time.

The Light Between Oceans

I know this book got really popular when the movie was announced and came out, so when I got the chance, I snagged a copy so I could see what the buzz was all about.

The book begins with Tom and Isabel Sherbourne discovering a dinghy washed ashore with a dead man and a baby inside. Having lost a third baby only weeks before, Isabel convinces her husband to keep the child. Lightkeepers on a remote island and committed to three-year stints, Isabel and Tom say the baby is theirs, knowing it will be some time before they get shore leave and anyone meets the baby.

From there, the story floats back in time, establishing Tom as a military man who served in World War I and showing his upstanding character. When Tom and Isabel meet, they are instantly drawn to each other, and end up marrying.

The story then picks up where it left off in the beginning, and we see them raising the baby–a little girl they name Lucy. But while life on the island is wonderful, when they return for shore leave, things get more complicated, and thus starts a string of events that takes them down a painful and unintended road, and they must face the consequences of having kept the baby, and consider whether their actions were right.

The story starts out kind of slow and it isn’t an action-packed, dramatic story. Instead, as is fitting with its themes, it is a methodical story that establishes its characters and gives reasoning behind their actions. This story largely deals in grey areas of motives, and it challenges readers to deeper thought. Although readers can understand and sympathize with the Sherbournes in the beginning, as the story progresses, you second guess, and you find yourself caught up in the same questions all the characters wrestle with: what is best for Lucy?

This book deals with some heavy stuff, and it hits you right in the heart, for sure. But it’s a good read and a good story, and worth the time to read.

John Glenn: A Memoir

I’ll admit, I was interested in this book, not because I knew who John Glenn was, but because I’d looked it up for a customer at work and saw that it was a biography on an astronaut. Sometimes I think that if I could go back, knowing what I know about myself now, I probably would have pursued a career in science, and maybe even my dreams of being an astronaut. But, on to the book review.

The book is an autobiography that explores John Glenn’s life from childhood during the Great Depression, to his joining the military and becoming a fighter pilot during World War II, all the way through his two trips to space–the last when he was 77 years old (maybe it’s not too late for me!).

Glenn writes in a very plain way, unassuming. You get the feeling he is just telling his story, not trying to brag about anything he’s done or reap glory for being an American icon and hero. It feels very much like sitting down and listening to your grandfather regale you with stories from his life. Sometimes you can almost here the laugh that goes along with a funny anecdote.

Glenn’s biography is encouraging and inspiring too, a representation of chasing dreams and making a difference through hard and dedicated work. Not to mention just cool to see how much history this guy lived through.

Overall, it was a fun and pretty fast read, considering it’s more than 500 pages. If you like history, science, airplanes or politics, it’s the read for you.

The Forgotten Girls

With a title like that, how can you not be intrigued?

Though I’d never even heard of Sara Blaedel, apparently Denmark’s queen of crime,  the synopsis on the back of the book was enough to convince me to bring it home.

The story is about Louise Rick, head of a new police unit for missing persons. Her first case is kind of a reverse– a woman was found dead in the woods, and no one has identified the body, despite telltale scarring on the woman’s face.

When her identity is finally uncovered, it leads Louise down a new path in search of the dead woman’s twin sister and answers as to why both women were issued death certificates 30 years earlier.

Everything leads back to the small town area where Louise grew up, dredging up her past and bringing up even more unresolved questions.

Though the book deals with potentially touchy topics– both the missing girls and other characters have mental disabilities– the book takes a look at how far people are willing to go for their families, and the choices some people make in the name of the greater good. Like Louise, I found myself feelingboth disgusted and just a little sympathetic to characters.

Blaedel does an excellent job with the story, weaving narrative from Louise’s life and past into narrative of the case, and all the characters are lifelike. As you begin to understand motives, you can imagine a situation in which bad choices are better than worse choices, even if neither choice is great.

Finally, Blaedel wraps the story up in a prefect but incomplete way, making readers anxious to follow Louise’s life and understand her past.

I’ll admit, I did guess the ending of this book, but I was probably about two thirds in, and the pieces were starting to fall into place. I would imagine that was exactly how Blaedel intended the book to be read.

The Great Zoo of China

Every now and then, you just have to choose a random book that sounds so outrageous it piques your interest.

Such was the case with The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly.

CJ Cameron, veterinarian and renown reptile expert is one of a small group of Americans invited to visit the Great Zoo of China. When she and the others arrive, they discover that China has been nursing dragons in secret for years, preparing to unveil their dragon zoo– the one thing that will put them on the map and reinstall them as a major world power.

Naturally, when they arrive at the zoo, things quickly begin to fall apart.

Now, I’ve never read Jurassic Park, but I’ve seen the movies, and this book was reminiscent of the films, but different enough to be engaging.

It’s not a mind-blowing book, but it’s fun. The pace is fast, with action sequences coming one after the other. And, it’s not a mental workout to read, like some books. (Don’t get me wrong, I love those too, but sometimes it’s nice to read and not think.)

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, fun book, The Great Zoo of China is for you.

Just Try to Stop Me

This week I returned to thriller author Gregg Olsen, and I was no disappointed by the twists and turns.

This story returns to sheriff’s detective Kendall Stark and forensic pathologist Birdy Waterman as they hunt the escaped serial killer Brenda Nevins, first introduced in The Girl In the Woods.

Nevins finds a man she can manipulate, and with his help, kidnaps four cheerleaders as part of her plan for revenge. With the body count already climbing, Stark and Waterman are racing the clock to find Nevins’s hideout before it’s too late.

Woven into the story are elements of real life–snap shots into the lives of Stark and Waterman that really make the characters come alive.

Olsen did a great job giving readers enough information that they feel in control of the story, only to sweep in with an unexpected but completely logical twist at the end that changes everything, one of those twists where you look back and see the clues there the whole time.

The one challenge about this book, for me, was the sex. Not really my thing to read, yet it was part of who Brenda Nevins is, and part of the way she manipulated and controlled people and situations. It could be that, if I were the writer, I would have toned it down, left more to imagination, but each writer makes that choice, and each reader decides if they want to keep reading.

Overall, however, Olsen is still, in my book, and excellent thriller writer, and one I would turn to when I need a quick read that will keep me engaged and guessing, right up until the end.