Book Review ~ Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlistch

Tomorrow and TomorrowSUMMARY ~ “Yesterday can’t last forever…

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.”

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WHOA!  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of TOMORROW AND TOMORROW directly from the author, Thomas Sweterlistch, aka my brother-in-law, a few months ago.  “Whoa” is the word I kept repeating to myself as I read this intense, dark, skillfully written, deep, creepy, heartbreaking, detailed and extensive book.  I continued to pinch myself from the first page to the last because I was continuously amazed and impressed with Tom’s writing.  The imagination on this guy blew me away!  Tom is a sweet, quiet, shy and soft-spoken man who adores my sister and my little niece, loves his adopted home of Pittsburgh, and has a great love and understanding for the classics, poetry and philosophy.  All of these things shine through in this world and story he has woven together. 

The main character, Dominic, is a tortured soul.  He’s one of the darkest, saddest and devastated characters I’ve ever read.  My heart poured out for him as his heartbreaking story unfolded.  The world Dominic lives in is one he wished didn’t exist.  He longs for the days of old, when his since-obliterated home town of Pittsburgh still stood in the hills and along the tangled rivers of western Pennsylvania.  The life he misses was shared with his beloved and sorely missed wife and their unborn daughter.  Fortunately and unfortunately there is a digital version of his, and many other’s, Pittsburgh that can be visited from the comforts of their new homes across the world via an extensive network called “The Archive”.  This access creates an addict of sorts of Dominic.  The detail with which Tom has written this experience is nothing short of impressive.  The imagery that is created from his words allows the reader to experience Pittsburgh through The Archive as Dominic does.

Pittsburgh isn’t the only city that Dominic finds himself in.  My hometown area of Washington, D.C. plays a definitive role in Tomorrow and Tomorrow as well as a couple of other well-known world cities.  (You’ll have to read the book to find out which ones!) Dominic finds himself in these cities, trying to figure out a mystery that is dark, horrific and disturbing.  The thing is, the mystery is so crazy and terrible because it could easily happen in real life!  Tom’s writing enveloped me in this world he created, this mystery I joined Dominic in trying to solve. 

Politics, murder, digital magic and a hint of a world that isn’t too far from our reality is what is waiting for you in the pages of Tomorrow and Tomorrow.  Vibes and echos of MINORITY REPORT and SEVEN kept running through my head as I read.  I swear I am not just saying these things because Tom is family.  I stepped out of my comfort zone of prefered genres when I read this book and it still haunts me today as I see scenes clearly in my imaginiation.  I continue to be amazed by Tom’s talent and am so thrilled with the accolades he and his debut novel are receiving on the eve of its release, Thursday July 10th.  You can learn more about Tom on his website HERE.

Rating: 5 stars

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Book Review ~ The Dinner by Herman Koch

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It’s been a while since I read a book from cover to cover. I was familiar with The Dinner by Herman Koch by Herman Koch. I had read reviews and heard chatter about it here and there, so when I received an email from the lovely Kayleigh over at Random House asking me to consider reading/reviewing the novel on my blog I said, “Sure!”

I haven’t read a book like The Dinner before. The story rolls along at a slower pace than I’m familiar with but it was comfortable and fit the vibe of the book. The Dinner is narrated by ‘Paul’, a husband and father, and brother to a candidate for Prime Minister. All of these roles are tested in this book. The book begins, and continues to take place at a formal dinner in a high end restaurant in Amsterdam. Of course there are the informative flashbacks that help to create the narrative for two families and one fateful night, but Koch manages the transitions cleverly and smoothly. Sometimes narraters are neutral parties to other characters in the book but not in this case. Our view of the story and the characters are biased thanks to Paul’s experiences and opinions. His brother is obtuse and egotistcal. His wife is the love of his life and can do no wrong in his eyes. Their son Michel is their only child and they will always stand by him, no matter what. It’s this way of thinking and parenting that makes for a story of loyalty, deviousness and consequence.

The tone is dry, with a slow build. I have seen reviews of The Dinner calling it “dark”, “shocking”, “provacative” and “tremendous”. I think “dark” is a good word to describe The Dinner but “shocking” may be going too far. In a world where the nightly news is full of real darkness and shocking headlines, I was a bit disappointed after hearing all the hype. It was still a good read and I found it interesting to read a book that had been translated to English from it’s native Dutch. I enjoyed the pace of the book and if you’re a fan of conversational as well as strong descriptive writing, then pick up a copy of The Dinner. The moral questions it proposes are interesting and unfortunately relevant in this world we live in, full of school shootings, bullying and questionable consequences in our present day societies. I would advise this title if your book club is looking for something that isn’t violent but still provides the hard to imagine situations you hope you only encounter in the pages of a book.

Thanks to Kayleigh at Random House for asking me to read an review The Dinner by Herma Koch. The paperback edition was released October 28th and back in February The Dinner was named as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month.

Review & Giveaway of DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow

I am not very well versed in politics, government or military history, but I do enjoy listening to NPR, watching national news broadcasts every evening and the occasional talking head shows, including The Rachel Maddow Show. I had downloaded the audiobook version of her book DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power last fall but hadn’t listened to it yet. Then, out of the blue, I received a nice email from Jessica over at Crown Publishing a few weeks ago. She offered me a copy of the new paperback version of DRIFT. I quickly accepted and after some pleasant email banter with Jessica, receiving my copy of the book and diving into the book, I am ready to share my thoughts on DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

DRIFT paperback

What a history lesson! I did finally listen to a bit of the audio version while sewing, since you can’t “read” and “sew” at the same time, and that helped to set the pace for reading the book and not approaching it like a text-book. I am not a regular reader of nonfiction so I was a little nervous, but there was no need to be. Maddow’s conversational story telling style of writing made for an enjoyable read.

Going into detailed depth on topics that run the gambit from Thomas Jefferson and his thoughts on the young U.S. Military and how to manage reserves and active duty members, to Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign and then administration, to Vietnam and LBJ’s fear of stirring unrest within the country, (instead of calling up the military reserves who were trained and had chosen to be in the position of fighting for their country, he upped the numbers of a draft, sending fresh troops half way around the world to a living hell where hundreds of thousands made the ultimate sacrifice), to the United States role in today’s wars and developments in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. It’s an incredible number of points in our nation’s history that is discussed here.

Dusted with her humor and wit, Maddow has written a book with great thought and in my opinion, balanced opinion without preaching. I loved one part in particular. At the end of the book she has made some suggestions, in bullet point format, to our leaders and to us, as American citizens, on how to get back to what is important and what could work to make us a more united country once again.

I think the most important quote of the book, and a great way to sum up the message Maddow is trying to get across to her readers, and really our government leaders, begins the epilogue. Maddow has selected a quote by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2007-2011.

“If the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Having friends who are members of our great military forces, and knowing that a small percentage of my other friends have little knowledge of what sacrifices these people and their families make on a daily basis for our country, this book really hit home with me. If you would like an in-depth, understandable, yet conversational recap of our military, this country and the world they effect, and has been effected by, then pick up or download a copy of DRIFT: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow.

* I am hosting a giveaway here at Planet Books of two copies of the new paperback edition of DRIFT that comes out today, March 5th, 2013. Please leave a comment below sharing your favorite news show by midnight, Saturday March 9th PST, and you will be eligible to win one of my giveaway copies Jessica from Crown Publishing has provided. Thanks Jessica!

To finish… or not to finish? That is the question.

I’m 42% into reading The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson and I’m faced with a decision I need to make, and soon.  Do I keep reading, although I don’t feel attached to the story, some of the characters and I feel like I’ve plateaued out, or do I keep going and maybe take another two weeks to get through?  I think I just answered my own question.  I have such a hard time with the guilt I feel when I don’t finish a book I have invested a good chunk of time in, but that’s how I end up falling off the reading wagon.  I have to be more assertive and realistic with myself and just let things go when the time is right.  In this case, the time is here.

The Family FangThe Family Fang had potential!  A story about a brother and sister who were unwillingly, and sometimes willingly, subjected to participate in their parent’s odd public acts of live art as they were growing up.  Then as adults, brought back together with their parents due to times of change and tragedy in their lives.  Their parents angered me every time the story focused on them and their antics.  I did like the way the story moved from present day to the family’s past where the parents had taken their kids to some far off small town to execute their live art events.  Most of these live art events were not art in my opinion but I let the story be told.  The present day story lines were good too, actually.  I just got bored and tired of waiting for something to happen.  I believe something should happen in a book earlier than 42% in.

So, with that all said, I don’t think The Family Fang is a bad book.  I think it is a good story full of good ideas, but I’m looking for something better than that in my reading experiences this year and in years to come.  Is that so wrong?

{Rating ~ 2.75 out of 5}

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go To Slee[Before I Go To Sleep, or as Hubby said, “50 First Dates meets Memento” was a thrilling and gripping book.  (Thank to Lisa from Books On The Brain and TLC Book Tours for “telling” me to read it NOW.) It’s also the first book I have finished since last spring.  It was just what I needed!

Before I Go To Sleep is the tragic but somehow realistic story about Christine, a woman suffering from extreme amnesia.  Watson is clever with her storytelling and introduction to her main character.  Christine has suffered from a debilitating amnesia that wipes her short-term memory clean every night when she goes into a deep sleep.  This has been going on for twenty years!  She wakes not knowing who she is, who the man is in the bed next to her, not even how old she is.  She wakes some mornings thinking she is still a child and sometimes no older than her mid-twenties.  It’s a shocking moment, repeated every morning in the bathroom mirror’s reflection, when she sees a forty-seven year old woman, wrinkles, cellulite and all when she expects to see someone at the beginning of life.

The cleverness I mentioned is how Christine starts keeping a journal to document her daily discoveries.  At the suggestion of a doctor who wants to help her, but also study her and write a medical paper about her situation, Christine is able to wake, receive a phone call from this doctor who reminds her where she keeps her journal, and then read her own words and learn about what her life has become and what it was.  She is told she loves her husband but is also warned of things that scare her.

Before I Go To Sleep had me fearful for Christine and second guessing things in her journal.  Unfortunately I started having a hunch of what the twist could be early on in the book, but I continued to second guess myself which was fun.  I don’t like predictability in books.  I want to be surprised, learn something new and be thoroughly entertained.  This book brought all three of these things to me for the most part.

I learned that a film adaptation of the book is in pre-production.  I hope it makes it to the big screen because, if done well, it could be a hit.  Nicole Kidman is slated to play the role of Christine.  Okay, well Nicole, let’s see what you could do with this character.  It could be great!

{5 out of 5 stars (4 stars for the twist at the end alone)}

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Summary ~ Ready Player One ~ At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

Are you ready to take a ride? Because that is what this book has in between its covers. A roller coaster ride into the future with some wonderful visits of nostalgia along the way. I can honestly say that Ready Player One is unlike any book I’ve read because it is SyFy and totally out of this world. It is like many books I have read though because of the human emotion and relationships built between the four main characters along the way.

Wade is just another teenager who hates his life, hates where he lives and wishes for something more. His sanctuary is a virtual reality where he finds peace and can be the best version of himself. This sanctuary is called OASIS and it is an online universe created by a mastermind software designer. The world has fallen apart because no one wants to look right outside their door. Instead they would rather live a virtual life in OASIS. Wade attends high school on the school planet in OASIS and his best friends are people he only knows virtually. Everyone creates an Avatar to meet their needs, be it almost true-to-life or something completely unexpected.

When Halliday, the designer and developer of OASIS dies his will is made public. It states that the first person to complete the ultimate computer game will win his entire fortune and control of OASIS. Let the race begin! Ready Player One is a wonderful story that takes the reader on a memorable and wild ride through the depths of an online world and into our past, specifically the 1980’s. From video games to movies, the challenges that Halliday created for the Gunters (honest to goodness Halliday fans who love him and all he stood for) and the Sixers (of course there are bad guys!) are fun and clever.

It’s not hard to understand why Ready Player One is a perfect read if you are a Geek, 80’s fan or just plain love action and adventure. Author Ernest Cline’s movie FANBOYS (2009) is a Geek fest of a film and a cult favorite. I agree with the critics who say that you don’t have to be a videogamer to enjoy this book. In my case I love to play the occasional video game (God Of War anyone?!) but I never dabbled in RPG’s like D&G, I love 80’s movies and music and I loved Ready Player One.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Thanks Katie at Random House for offering me a brand new copy of Ready Player One to read and review. You must have read my mind that I wanted to read this! Also thanks to Mike at Books On The Nightstand podcast for you contaigous enthusiasm about Ready Player One. It’s all your fault! 😉

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

 Summary ~ War Horse ~ In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey’s courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer’s son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?

War Horse is the story of Joey and his master Albert.  They meet on Albert’s family’s farm when his father buys Joey at an auction.  Joey tells his story like other literary horses before him, most well known is Black Beauty.  Joey’s a wonderful spirit and narrator who finds himself sold into the British Calvary in WWI.  A scary time for any soldier, he is faced with devastating conditions, heartbreak and danger.

War Horse was published in 1982 and is a young adult novel.  There was definitely a hallow feeling to the story.  In my opinion, when compared to young adult novels such as The Book Thief (one of my all time favorite books!) and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas which both take place during WWII, War Horse is a very light read.  Yes it covers the difficult topic of war but it is an easier read by far.  Easier on the mind.

I had to read War Horse because every time I saw the trailer in the theatre I found myself crying uncontrollably.  I had to find out what happened in the story so that I would hopefully stop crying but I discovered this morning that even though I know that all ends well, that movie horse makes me weep like a little girl.  Hubby says I am not allowed to see the movie. 

I’m glad I know the story though and enjoyed Joey’s voice and liked the story that Michael Morpurgo set him in.  I would recommend War Horse for advanced middle school aged readers and with the film coming out December 23rd it would be a great opportunity to read the book before going to the theatre.  If you are lucky enough (and I have my fingers crossed that I will be) War Horse has also been adapted for the stage.  It is a five time Tony Award winning play in New York City brought over from London.  The most incredible attraction to the play is the fact that the horses of the story are life-size puppets handled by the most amazing puppeteer.  The visual impact of these puppets is breathtaking!

{Rating 3.75 out of 5}