Last week we read “The Poet” by Michael Connelly, a crime mystery/thriller, in book club. About a week before the meeting, one of the other club members asked if I had finished the book yet, and when I said I had only gotten in a couple chapters, he looked at me in surprise and exclaimed, “But I thought you were presenting! Cutting it kind of close, aren’t you?”
I’m actually a very fast reader, but yes, that was cutting it close for that particular novel. It’s not the sort of story that you can just breeze through. The mystery is involved, the writing has a literary flair, and there are a fair amount of characters that the reader needs to keep straight. I ended up taking a long lunch and finished the book ten minutes before the meeting.
While I felt the characters were each a bit underdeveloped, especially the main character, Jack McEvoy, (I actually felt like FBI Agent Rachel Walling was better developed and would read her story next if she had one dedicated to her – do you hear me Michael Connelly? Give Rachel her own book!) I loved the story and became an instant Connelly fan for his style of writing. I’m looking forward to diving into his Harry Bosch series, as well as reading what happens next to Jack McEvoy in “The Scarecrow”. I liked this story well enough to add it to my shelf of Mysteries I’d Recommend on Goodreads.
In preparing to be presenter, which it turned out I was not, I started looking for discussion questions. I found a starter set on Goodreads. You can check it out here:
I also found some fun trivia questions on the site:
I didn’t think the questions on Goodreads would be enough for a one-hour discussion with my club, nor did I love all the questions already available, so as I continued to read, I wrote out a few of my own. Here they are. Feel free to use them in your discussion groups.
My Favorite Quote from the Book:
“In the long run, all wrongs are righted, every minus is equalized with a plus, the columns are totaled and the totals are found correct. But that's in the long run. We must live in the short run and matters are often unjust there. The compensating for us of the universe makes all the accounts come out even, but they grind down the good as well as the wicked in the process.”
While I still very much admire the quote above, it is originally from Robert Silverberg's "Lord Valentine's Castle" (1980). Many thanks to Beaux for kindly correcting me. I've added Silverberg to my reading list.
I just finished Persuader by Lee Child, the sixth or seventh Jack Reacher novel for me in the last couple years. And can I tell you...I love the Jack Reacher novels. Love love. I can't even begin to tell you how much. In fact, I think Reacher ended up worming his way into my character, Pierce, in ARGENT GLASS. Of course, I do not do Pierce justice when we put the two side by side. Reacher's far more sexy than Pierce and Lee is a far better writer than me.
There is something about a tall, strong man who is completely comfortable in his own skin and who isn't afraid to use the weapons he was born with, much less the ones he acquires on the road. Men like him because he's a man's man - he knows all the details of the weapons he uses, did time in the military, and lives a carefree, unencumbered life - he hasn't gotten sucked into raising children and getting "a real job" or any of that other nonsense that being a family man entails. (And yes, I know most fathers would say, "I love my family. I love having children." Of course you do, but honestly, I think all of us parents fantasize, at least occasionally, about a life on the road, free to do what we want, when we want to.) Us ladies, though, we like him because, along with the normal, natural sexy stuff he does in the stories, he respects women. He isn't intimidated by how smart they are or by any kind of power they might hold over him. Okay, he's not really intimidated by anyone, but it takes a special kind of man to not be intimidated by smart, strong women.
Gush. Gush. Gush. I know. It's sickening. But he's a great character, the kind I wouldn't mind stumbling into at my local department store where he'd be picking up a new white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. And he's submerged into well-crafted adventures, novel after novel, without losing any... ummm... Reacher-ness. The beauty of the series is that you can pick any Reacher novel up and start reading. There's no need to start with Book 1. And, if you put off watching Jack Reacher, the movie, because "Who picked Tom Cruise to play blond-haired, 6'5", 250 lb., 50" chest Reacher," which is the criticism I've heard from many people, give it a try anyway. I think Tom embodied the spirit of Reacher, even if he doesn't live up to the character description in the novels. If you watched the movie and want to read the book, look for One Shot.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is written in verse. I did not realize this when I selected the book to read it. I chose it strictly based on the what the cover looked like. (This is a great lesson for me in cover design. I wonder how many people choose their books solely by their covers?) When I started on page 1, I thought, "Oh, what a nice way to start the book. A short poem." Then I turned the page. And then I turned another page. Swipe swipe swipe. "The book is all poems? Oh, no. How did I pick a poetry book to take on vacation?"
I was pleasantly surprised to discover, that while the whole book is written in a poetic style I don't typically read, one chapter lead to the next and then the next and so forth, telling a rich and engaging story. So rich and engaging, in fact, that I could not put it down.
I was captivated by the narrator and her love for her family and especially touched by the scene when she discovers her brother has brought a beloved companion on-board for their journey. When his friend perishes and he is unable to let go, she selflessly wraps it in the arms of her treasured mouse-bitten doll before sending it into the depth of the sea, regretting it as any child would, a moment later:
Alone at the back of the ship I open Mother’s white handkerchief. Inside lies my mouse-bitten doll, her arms wrapped around the limp fuzzy body of his chick.
I tie it all into a bundle. Brother Khôi nods and I smile, but I regret not having my doll as soon as the white bundle sinks into the sea.
I treasured the lessons with Miss Washington and hope I have touched at least one life in the way that she does before my life is done. And I wholeheartedly agree with the author, "Whoever invented English should be bitten by a snake."
I took a couple days off from writing in order to read "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. The novel is an enchanting story of a blind girl and a young orphan boy brought together at the end of World War II by the circumstances of war. One running with her life in her father's hands, and one inducted into Hitler's regime, their stories intertwine
This was one of those books that, after reading, makes me think I do not deserve to ever call myself "author." Like Marie-Laure's father has the gift of bringing small pieces of wood and putty together to build elaborate an elaborate cityscape for her to explore and learn, Doerr has that rare gift of fitting together words just so to bring to light the beauty of what often is an ordinary or even downright ugly world. "All the Light We Cannot See" will keep you thinking about what you have read for days following.
One scene in particular left me aching. It was the thought that a country like Germany, which was completely devastated in terms of its population by the sheer numbers of men and boys who were inducted into the regime and subsequently killed in action, left the elderly, the women and the children after the collapse of the regime without defense. This allowed other countries to sweep in and take whatever they desired, and this included souls. And where is the beauty in that, you might ask. I think it is the only thing left when the world has become a bastion of torment: Hope. Doerr has captured this perfectly without letting any character off the hook.
Whether WWII fiction is a genre you enjoy or not, this story's 500 words are well worth the read. I absolutely LOVED this novel. The Pulitzer was well-deserved!