Year 5, Book 52

52. WAR by Sebastian Junger
I quite honestly have no interest in books about war. The only reason I even considered reading this book was because it was written by Sebastian Junger of whom I am a big fan. WAR chronicles his time spent with one Army platoon at several points during their 15 month deployment in Afghanistan. I felt very much the same way about reading this book as I did watching Generation Kill. I was interested in the people and the psychology and group dynamics of being at war and in the military, but I was entirely bored and easily distracted when reading about the actual battles. If you like books about war you’ll probably enjoy this, otherwise I would give it a pass. I feel like it’s a well written book, but it just wasn’t something I could get all that into based on the subject matter. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 51

51. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert
I was on the fence about reading this book after reading Eat, Pray, Love and the middling reviews it came out to didn’t much entice me. However, it was available to check out as an ebook from my library so I went ahead and placed a hold on it figuring I might download and read it when my turn came up. Well it so happens that my turn came up the day after I saw the movie adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love which kind of sparked my interest in actually reading it. The story pretty much picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off with Ms. Gilbert and her Brazilian lover Felipe together and happily unmarried that is until Homeland Security has it’s say. Their verdict get married or Felipe will never set foot in the United States again. As a result two people who have no interest in being married, although they are in a committed relationship wind up being forced into marriage. The book covers their time together traveling outside the US while awaiting all Felipe’s papers to be in order so they can actually wed up until the actual wedding. During this time Gilbert attempts to reconcile her views on marriage by doing some research: some on the history of marriage, some by talking to the people in the countries she is vising about their perspective on marriage, and some by talking to her own family members about their marriages. For as bad as the reviews were about this book I didn’t hate it. I found much of the marriage information interesting especially in light of the recent struggle over gay marriage. I found their actual relationship less interesting. I wouldn’t say that you need to rush right out and read this book, but you could do worse if you’re looking for something to read and this is available. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 50

50. Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
One of my book clubs chose to read this book because it is this year’s One Maryland, One Book selection. This book was totally right up alley. It’s the true story of a soccer team(s) in Clarkston, Georgia composed of players whose families are refugees from other countries. Their coach is a woman who emigrated to the United States from Saudi Arabia. The story is a human interest story of the coach and some of the players and their families, but it is much more than that as well. It addresses the situations in some of the countries that caused the families to become refugees. There is also a lot of information about how Clarkston became a resettlement location for so many refugee families and the strain it has caused in the town, but also the positive things that have resulted from the mixing of so many cultures. I am very much looking forward to hearing the author speak about the book at the end of September. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 49

49. This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
This book is pretty much one big long love letter to librarians, and as a librarian I thoroughly enjoyed it. Johnson decided to write the book after having some really good experiences with librarians while researching her previous book on obituaries. I pretty much knew everything she wrote about as I keep up with all the goings on in libraryland. It did make me feel really good about my profession though and what we do and stand for. I don’t know how many non-librarians will actually wind up reading the book, but hopefully a decent number of people will so they can get a better idea of what is that librarians actually do. Hint: the answer is not they shelve books or sit around and read all day. And if you don’t know what it is we might possibly be doing instead I suggest you read this book. As an aside Marilyn Johnson will be the banquet speaker at the Maryland Library Association conference in May, and I am looking forward to hearing her speak. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 48

48. Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
I picked this book up randomly at the library. It was a nice quick read, that was fairly amusing. It’s a sort of humoristic, real life essay book written by Kogan. It’s one of those books where the author looks at fairly ordinary happenings in life and writes about them in an amusing way. It is somewhat punctuated by the fact that the author has an interesting relationship. Ultimately it’s not that exciting, but it is just generally different than the norm, which makes it notable. Late in life she became virtually a single mother. She is still involved with her 9 year old daughter’s father and has been for 17 years, but they have never been married and he lives in Switzerland with his son from his first marriage while she and her daughter live in New York. So that situation is reference frequently in her musings. The book is nothing special, but it provided me with some decent entertainment for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 47

47. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
I actually got a free pdf copy of this book ages ago, but never read it because I never felt like sitting down and reading it on my computer screen. However, having bought a Nook a few months ago I downloaded the book to that and was finally able to read it.

The book takes place mostly in 1974 surrounding the tight rope walk by Philippe Petit on a high wire strung between the Twin Towers. As an aside if you haven’t seen the movie Man On Wire, which chronicles this feat you really should.

There are several threads going throughout the book and you don’t really find out how all the characters connect until the end. The story begins with two brothers who emigrated to New York from Ireland. The one brother, Corrigan has been over several years and is a priest of sorts. He lives in tenement housing and spends his life trying to help out and fight on behalf of prostitutes in the area. Some of the prostitutes have their story told, as well as a couple who are involved in an accident with the priest and some of these prostitutes. There is also a judge and his wife who lost their son in the Vietnam war who figure into the novel as well as the support group of other women who lost their sons that the judge’s wife meets with. Petit’s walk becomes the background for the story and in some ways touches off the events that lead them to all be connected in the end.

I really enjoyed the book at the beginning, but found myself langering somewhat in the middle because I couldn’t figure out where it was going or how all the characters that were being thrown at me were related. I was satisfied at the end though, and felt like McCann brought it together well in the end.

I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 46

46. Heat Wave by Richard Castle
I am almost ashamed to say I read this book. I love the television show Castle, and this book was a promotional tie-in done by ABC for the show. The main character on the show Richard Castle, is a murder mystery writer. On the show he wrote a book called Heat Wave, and so ABC actually hired someone to ghostwrite the book on behalf of the character and published it. The only reason I actually read it is because I was looking for something light for some beach reading to download to my Nook and this book was available. I figured it doesn’t get much lighter than a murder mystery book based on a TV show and written by an author that doesn’t really exist.

This by far is not my usual genre of choice and even if it were this book would not rate very highly. It was mostly interesting to read the book in relation to the TV characters. The mystery itself was not that compelling. I’d probably only bother reading the book if you’re really into Castle.

I give it a 4 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 45

45. Almost Home: Stories of Hope and the Human Spirit in the Neonatal ICU by Christine Gleason
This book is written by a neonatalogist who has spent her career in the NICU. The overall path of the book takes you through her career while also touching somewhat on her personal life, but each chapter is devoted to a single NICU patient that she was involved in treating. It was a really interesting look into the life of the NICU, and I appreciated the fact that she did not shy away from sharing the hard stories where the patient doesn’t survive and the outcomes are not good as well as writing about the uplifting overcoming the odds type cases. I give a 7 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 44

44. Straight Man by Richard Russo
Coincidentally my other book club also chose a Richard Russo book to read for the month of July, and I didn’t have anything to do with the choice. Like Empire Falls I had previously read Straight Man. I don’t remember having strong feelings about it one way or the other the first time I read it, but I think reading it this time back to back with Empire Falls definitely influenced the way I looked at it.

As I mentioned in my review of Empire Falls it is not only my favorite book by Richard Russo but one of my favorite books of all time. Straight Man is definitely my least favorite book by Richard Russo. Like Empire Falls it is short on plot and is more of a character piece. Unfortunately I didn’t much care for the characters in this book. Part of the beauty of Empire Falls is how realistic I found the characters and their actions. Straight Man on the other hand is full of a lot of broadly drawn, absurd characters.

The story revolves around an English department at a small college in Western Pennsylvania. The main protagonist Hank Devereaux, Jr. is the interim chair of the department, who has done his best to alienate all the other members of his department. The action takes place during about a week’s time and involves a lot of academic political situations involving both the English department and the school at large.

If you’re going to read a book by Richard Russo I would suggest reading something else. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 5, Book 43

43. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
I reread this book recently for one of my book clubs. We are taking turns hosting and selecting a book by our favorite author to discuss. July was my month and this is the book I chose. I read it when it first came out and loved it. It was the first book by Richard Russo that I had ever read, and I quickly read all of his other works. Empire Falls is still my favorite.

I’m not normally someone who rereads books even those that I love because there are just too many books in the world to read. I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t feel the same way about the book on a second reading, but I didn’t need to fear. I still was just as much in love with it the second time around.

The book is very character driven. There is virtually no plot in the entire book, so if you are not someone who is interested in the subtleties of character development and character interaction then this book is not for you. It kind of reminds me of watching Friday Night Lights or Mad Men. Nothing much ever happens on those shows, but just watching them so realistically play out life can be spine-tingling.

The book takes place in a small mill town in Maine that has seen better days. The factories have pretty much all closed down, and the town is pretty much owned by the Whiting family. The main character Miles Roby works tirelessly running a diner owned by Mrs. Whiting for whose bidding he is constantly required to do. Miles past and present and how it is connected to the Whiting family is the main thrust of the novel, but there are many other characters who are explored including his daughter Tick, father Max, and ex-wife Janine.

Most people in my book club enjoyed the book, but a few people couldn’t get past the fact that there wasn’t really much plot. It was the most in-depth discussion we’ve ever had, which we all noted was due to the depth of the character development in the book. Even the people who didn’t necessarily enjoy it as they read it agreed that they had a greater appreciation for it after our discussion.

I give it 10 out of 10.