55. Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker
I read this book for one of my book clubs and found it to be a very interesting story. It covers how the idea for Watson came into being, the challenges that came with designing the computer, and how they were able to pull of the Jeopardy match. I had no idea how hard it was for IBM to even convince Jeopardy to go along with this venture, and all the requirements that were placed on them to make it work. The author managed to bring the appropriate amount of tension to a story that everyone reading probably knows the outcome to. It’s a well written behind the scenes tale. I give it a 7 out of 10.
54. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Freefall Part 1 (Season 9, Volume 1) by Joss Whedon
This is the first collected volume of comics in the continuation of the Buffy series. I’m still really enjoying following the characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in graphic novel form. I did have a hard time following the beginning of this story though. After rereading it twice and then once again after I finished the whole volume I think I finally figured out what was going on, but I definitely think it was needlessly confusing. Either that or I’m really slow on the uptake. Though more of the story is already release in single issue comics, I will just eagerly await the next volume in the series before continuing to read it.
53. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
Based loosely on the author’s own experiences during the war in Cambodia, this novel is told from the perspective of 7 year old Raami, who witnesses the horrors that her family is put through after the Khmer Rouge take over. It is of course a haunting story, and the fact that it is told from the perspective of a child means you are brought into this world without understanding what is really happening or why. It would have been antithetical to the point of this decision to make the child the only narrator, but I would have liked to have more inclusion of the actual war and what was driving the different factions, particularly the Khmer Rouge. It’s entirely my own fault that my knowledge about this period in Cambodian history is sketchy at best, but I felt like it was difficult for me to truly understand what was happening as the Khmer Rouge often felt like nameless, faceless evildoers. I suppose this is the same place that the child in the book was coming from though and perhaps many adults in the country as well. I give it a 6 out of 10.
52. Between You & Me by Marisa Calin
This is a young adult novel told somewhat in the story of a screenplay. Phyre and the character only ever known as You in the book are high school students who have been life long best friends. Phyre begins questioning her sexuality when she develops a crush on their new drama teacher, Mia. Meanwhile it seems that You’s feelings for Phyre have become more than just friendly, but Phyre is too wrapped up in her own problems to notice. This book might appeal more to the age group for which it was intended, but I found it to simplistic and soapy for my taste. I give it a 4 out of 10.
51. The Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
This story centers around a young man nicknamed The Kid, who was convicted of sex crime and upon his release from prison is being monitored via an ankle bracelet and is unable to live anywhere within 2500 feet of where children might gather leaving him to take up residence with other convicted sex offenders under a causeway. He is befriended by a sociology Professor who shows up at the encampment claiming to want to study it and its residents. After the encampment is swept away in a hurricane the Kid begins to rely on the Professor to him create a new life until dark secrets from the Professor’s own past begin to surface.
I enjoyed the beginning of this book with the intial story of the Kid and his life under the causeway. The book went off the rails for me though once it started focusing on the Professor and his bizarre secret past. It also felt way too long and started to really drag in the middle for me. I give it a 5 out of 10.
50. Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman
This story is told in 5 different parts by the 5 main characters Helena, her cousin Nick, Nick’s husband Hughes, Nick and Hughes daughter Daisy, and Helena’s son Ed. It also covers a span of about 20 years starting right after World War II. The family is living in a house on Martha’s Vineyard called Tiger House. Each character tells the story from their own perspective filling in further what happened during each time period while adding in additional parts of their own story. I was not overly in love with this book. It was well written, but I just couldn’t get into the characters. I didn’t really care about any of them and consequently didn’t care what happened to them. I give it a 6 out of 10.
49. You Take It from Here by Pamela Ribon
I loved this book so much that I have anxiously been awaiting the chance to even sit down and write a review of it. I’ve enjoyed Ribon’s previous three books, but I definitely think this one is my favorite.
Before I get into the review indulge me in a metaphorical tangent about why I liked this book. This book can be classified as women’s fiction, which is generally an indication to me that I should avoid it as far too often I find that it means I’m getting a romance novel or so-called “chick lit”. I’ve never cared about romance novels in which the whole story revolves around a girl getting a guy. It’s just not my thing. The only romance novels I read are the ones written by my mother. Filial obligation and all that. “Chick lit” books seem to either be about girls mooning ridiculously over guys and shopping like in Bridget Jones or spineless girls who can’t stand up to horrible bosses/friends like in The Nanny Diaries or The Devil Wears Prada. Either way they make me feel stabby. None of this is to condone people who enjoy these books, they’re just not my bag. I do however enjoy a good romantic comedy movie. I only bring this up because my mother doesn’t understand how I can hate romance novels and chick lit but like romantic comedies. I’m not sure I have a good explanation, but I can tell you that You Take It from Here, despite not actually being a romantic comedy, pushes all the same buttons for me.
You Take It from Here is not a high work of literature, but it is completely satisfying. I liken it to the Dairy Queen ice cream cone I insisted on getting for dessert following the fancy pants meal at the restaurant where I got engaged. The meal was reading a Pulitzer Prize winning novel while You Take It from Here is the equally as satisfying but for completely different reasons DQ dessert.
The story (hey look at that I’m finally actually going to talk about the book for real) revolves around long time best friends Danielle (whose name I have a surprisingly hard time remembering given that it’s my own) and Smidge. When Danielle returns home to Louisiana from LA for the annual trip she and Smidge take together she finds out that Smidge has terminal lung cancer and would like Danielle to take over her life, raising her teenage daughter and marrying her husband after she dies. The book is written as a letter to Smidge’s daughter Jenny detailing the decisions Danielle made to try and honor what might be her best friend’s final wish, which I thought was a lovely detail.
It’s a wonderful story about friendship and family. There were some scenes that were so realistic that they almost took my breath away. The characters in this book felt so real that even a week and half after reading it I can’t stop thinking about what is happening to them. I definitely didn’t always agree with the things they did or the way they acted to the point that I wanted to slap both of them at various points, but the characters are so well written that even when their behavior bordered on outlandish I was still able to find it believable. I initially wasn’t entirely happy with the ending because I wanted to know more about what happened to the characters, but I got over that very quickly and decided it was in fact the perfect ending to the story.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Go read it now. You won’t regret it. I rate it a 9 out of 10.
48. Home by Toni Morrison
Home is short novella about a man returning from the Korean War. He obviously has PTSD and has been placed in a mental institution due to that fact, but escapes when he learns that his sister is in trouble. The story follows him and his sister where they are presently as well as pointing back to their past. It was a fine book, but it fell far short of the standards I typically hold Toni Morrison to. It may be unfair, and I might have given this book more leeway at the hands of a different writer, but knowing what Morrison can do and I felt didn’t do in this book make me give it a lesser rating. It’s a quick read though, and if you’re a Morrison fan I would still give it a whirl. I give it a 5 out of 10.
47. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield
After a recent spate of reading excellent YA novels, I hit a snag with Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone. It wasn’t a horrible book, but it wasn’t anything special in my opinion either. It definitely felt like more of a teen drama to me than other YA books I’ve read, though I would definitely caution readers that it is for older young adults as there is some pretty graphic sex and violence in it.
On the day Becca graduates from high school determined to get out of the small town in which she is from, an unidentified girl is found dead on the side of the road. Becca spends her summer trying to balance her feelings about leaving her town and her boyfriend while worrying about who murdered the dead girl. Her story is intercut with Amelia Anne’s story, who the reader knows is the dead girl even though the other characters in the book do not. Eventually the stories meet and you find out how Amelia Anne wound up dead in this small town.
I found the ending to be kind of ridiculous leaving me more dissatisfied with the book than I might otherwise have been. I give it a 6 out of 10.
46. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
The Stranger’s Child is a sweeping novel that begins in 1913 and ends in the present. Just prior to the start of World War I, George Sawle brings home his good Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, who is already a poet gaining recognition in Britain. During his visit Cecil composes what is to become his most well known poem about Two Acres, the Sawle’s estate, as a gift to George’s younger sister Daphne.
Cecil and his poem are the fruit of speculation for the rest of the novel with various people just interested in Cecil or literary history investigating him, his family, and the Sawle family. Much of the speculation surrounding many of the characters has to do with whether or not they are homosexual. I really enjoyed the beginning of the book and they way it was starting to portray the changes in the acceptance of homosexuality over time. However, Hollinghurst took it too far in that it seemed like eventually almost every male character was suspected to have been homosexual by at least one other character at some point or other in the story. It just got to be ridiculous. Also, most of the second half of the book is spent with one of the characters trying to uncover the truth of Cecil’s past for literally decades, which is extremely boring for the reader given they in fact have known what actually happened since the beginning of the book. The book started off with great promise and then totally fell apart for me. I give it a 5 out of 10.