Book Review: Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

 

Saturn Run, US hardcover

I’m not gonna lie, when I see a single name (Ctein, Madonna, Cher…) listed on anything – movie, book, album – my expectation is going to be set high from the start!  Thankfully, this book did not disappoint.

John Sanford has written well over 30 books, and Ctein has degrees from Cal Tech in English and Physics. Ctein is also a world-renowned photographer for his unparalleled photo printing abilities. Together, they put together an adventure story with enough detail to make it believable but also the entertaining dramatic conflict to keep the reader hooked until the end.

To summarize the plot, an intern at Cal Tech monitoring a section of outer space notices some irregular movement near Saturn which he thinks could represent a spacecraft. This leads to a race between the US and China to Saturn – and whoever arrives first will potentially have the privilege of being the first humans to encounter another intelligent life form. As far as stakes go, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

How much evidence does it take to start planning a trip to another planet? What kind of technology does it take to get to Saturn? What kind of technology might another intelligent species possess?

The book made me excited about space travel again – and reading science fiction. I am usually not a sci-fi reader, but this story which takes place in 2066, seems more likely a fun adventure thriller, elevating it beyond science fiction.

My only complaint is that it took too long to get to the meat of the action. If you can get through the first 100 pages, the rest is an enjoyable trip.

 

 

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Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

(Five stars out of five stars)

I am sometimes wary of prize-winning books. They can be political choices reflective of current cultural climate, chosen carefully in an effort to shape public opinion.

However, in this case, this Pulitzer Prize winner is a beautifully written story that is satisfying to the heart and soul. It follows the lives of two characters who eventually meet during World War II in a walled city in France.

A blind French girl, Marie Laure, is raised by her father who works at a Museum in Paris. He helps his daughter learn how to find her way in the city by building her a replica of their neighborhood, then takes her outside and challenges her to navigate her way to a particular destination and back home. He teaches her to love reading (buying her Jules Verne in Braille), and makes her small puzzles inside which there is some kind of gift. He raises her to be clever and resourceful, and aware of the world she lives in.

Marie Laure and her father are evacuated, and barely escape to a walled city elsewhere in France, where she waits out the war with relatives.

Werner is a German orphan who is adept at fixing radios and is raised in somewhat of a group home that includes his sister Jutta. While his fate is supposed to be that of a miner, he is instead enrolled in a selective military academy where he witnesses cruelty unlike any he has seen before. At the academy, the weakest boys are culled out in sometimes brutal fashion, shocking Werner, but not changing his outlook or strength of character.

The book feels long at some points, but as a reader, it doesn’t matter because you know that these two characters will eventually meet, under what circumstances is the mystery that keeps you hooked. A variety of supporting characters shape Marie Laure and Werner into the people they will become during one of the most grueling times in recent history. I fell in love with the two characters as I saw them grow up. They both experience terrible losses, but there is some mysterious spark of hope inside each of them that drives them to survive.

This is one of those rare books that leaves you not with the ashes of a story you just read, but feelings deep in your chest that you carry long after you have closed the back cover. I was initially skeptical, thinking This is just another historical novel set around WWII, but it transcends the typical historical fiction genre. It gives a new perspective about what it must have felt like to grow up during that dark period in human history, and how it is possible to survive and thrive despite the conditions we are in.

I highly recommend this book, and would love to hear other viewpoints as well!

Thanks,

Liz

 

 

 

 

Review – A Man Called Ove

I’ve just finished A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh this many times. It is an enjoyable book featuring a Swedish curmudgeon named Ove (pronounced ooo-vuh) who struggles finding a purpose living as a widower. He is every grumpy old man you’ve never met who has stood up at a city council meeting arguing against a zoning change, or the man you’ve seen bargaining at a garage sale to pay twenty-five cents below the asking price for a used hammer.

The book is told in several anecdotes about seemingly everyday things, but it is the sum of those stories that show us how Ove has become who he is. His gruff exterior puts many people off in his life, but the author shows us how Ove developed his idiosyncrasies over the course of his life. He is obsessed with hating any car that isn’t a Saab, and has been removed by force from his position with the homeowners association (a coup d’état as Ove puts it).

He has principles and he’s not afraid to use them.

I almost hate to say too much about what happens in the book for fear of ruining some of the humorous moments. Certainly if you’ve ever argued arbitrary merits of, let’s say, Ford vs. Chevy, or if the next generation will work as hard as the last, or stated out loud in the grocery store (to no one in particular) the rising price of anything, you will enjoy this book.

There have been many incarnations of the “grumpy old man” archetype, but this is the most rewarding one I’ve seen and read (or heard) lately. There were bits that reminded me of Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool,  Peter O’Boyle’s character in Everybody Loves Raymond, and of course the loveable back-and-forth between the two main characters played by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men.

Also, if you liked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, I think you’ll find the lightheartedness and tone is similar and the ending rewarding.

Liz

I recommend looking at your local stores first, but here are other options…

A Man Called Ove – Amazon.com

A Man Called Ove – Barnes and Noble

 

Trip back in time…and a poem from 20-year-old me written 20+ years ago

My snot has been brown from all the dirt I inhaled while cleaning out our storage unit this week. I threw away a ridiculous amount of stuff that was just taking up space. My husband and I have been married for nearly 19 years and have amassed a ton of crap, imagine that.

While sorting, I found two things I hadn’t seen in several years: a 3″ thick binder of writing from my Composition 354 class in college, and the spiral bound book from the end of the semester which includes samples from all of those students.

The cover is a collage of things we put on a Xerox machine. There were action figures and other 3-dimensional items that didn’t make it onto the final cover due to operator error.. While trying to come up with a title for the anthology, one of the students suggested the title you see in the picture. Pretty much covers everything in any book.

I submitted two items – the first was a short piece about being separated from my then boyfriend (now husband) while he went to school in England for a year. I went to visit him and a friend for two weeks over Christmas break in 1994, and the three of us traveled through England, France, into Barcelona, then across the south of France to Italy, ending in Rome. Makes me a little lonesome for the trains just thinking about that trip.

The second item was a humorous poem called Confessions of a Catalog Shopper. (And before people started using the word “confessions” in their titles.)  Remember, in 1995 there was no shopping online and no – gasp – Amazon! I was inspired by a home décor catalog to write this poem, and I really enjoyed re-reading it. The story, however, was not as enjoyable. I was 20 years old when I took the trip and wrote the story. Now, at the age of 41, my perspective is so much different that those problems seem silly.

Anyway, I decided to share this poem, just for fun. It is best enjoyed when read out loud.

Confessions of a Catalog Shopper, by 20-year-old me

Catalog shopper (click here for the word doc)

I love you

My new mail-order

Teal terrycloth towel

The comfort of combed cotton

So soft

Monogrammed

Nine dollars, everyday

Just for me

(click on the link above for the entire poem)

Resolutions worth sticking to

I really want to make progress on a resolution for once in my life.

Historically, I have not been a big personal setter of annual resolutions. I can’t remember ever being able to keep a resolution past the end of January. I decided that 2016 would be a different story, however. I decided to set the following goals for myself:

  1. Learn to draw. Not Picasso level stuff, just good enough so I am able to move beyond stick figures. Progress as of today’s post? I spent many hours and dollars on books, YouTube tutorials, and can say that I have become a fan of the “urban sketching” movement. Sadly, I do not live in an urban environment, mostly because I prefer a lower population density. Skills are slowly progressing.
  2. Publish one of my “work-in-progress” novels. 2014 marked the serious beginning of my writing career. As of now, I am editing a draft of a novel I hope to get into print sometime before the end of the year. It is the history of a family told on separate timelines. There’s love (of course), death, and indentured servitude (I know – really exciting!). It spans from the mid 1600s Scotland to the contemporary Midwest, but the people are connected in unexpected ways. It is improving slowly,  and if nothing else, I have learned how to manage large amounts of my writing, trying to edit, organize, and generate new material. This is the resolution I feel most strongly about accomplishing this year.
  3. Spend quality time with my family. It’s too easy to let the petty stuff of real life get in the way of making memories with my kids and other people in the fam. Part of this is reducing responsibilities that don’t add value to my life.
  4. Go on a fun trip on which I can do some genealogy work. I have had a lot of fun the last few years researching my family tree. There are amazing stories I have found and would like to share. There are stories linking me to Abraham Lincoln, to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, even to George Washington. I expected that I would find a bunch of stories about people who came over in boats from Europe, but instead, I found a large number of people who helped settle the continent more than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence. More than once, I had to push my chair back from the desk and say “unbelievable.” There may or may not have been some expletives involved, in a good way.
  5. Use fewer expletives. This is probably a good one for a lot of people I know. Any job where you work with public can be challenging. You hold in your opinions and thoughts all day long until you think  you will burst with all the nutball things strangers say and do.

This year, if I can only accomplish two goals, I pick #3 and #2.

Liz