Recent Reads and Recs: November 2012 Edition

Brief thoughts on books you may or may not want to explore on your own. 

Care to chat with me more about these books or others? Leave a comment or find me on Twitter – @ProfeJMarie.


A Good American cover A Good American, by Alex George

This debut novel is overall a sweeping family saga – of a sort – beginning with a young couple immigrating to the United States in the early 1900’s from Germany and ends with their grandchildren. It is filled with stories about this family, connected, but without an overarching plot. As an historical piece, I think George does a nice job of giving a glimpse into life and progress in small town Missouri. What worked best for me while reading this was to simply enjoy the fun, and on occasion, quirky side of human nature as a whole rather than a family history. It reminded me a bit of Philip Gulley’s Harmony book series (and if you haven’t read those, you would be in for a treat to try at least one out). Some of the characterization felt underdeveloped and what might be called the climax of the story didn’t really grab me, but George has some good storytelling going on.

Naked in Death, by J.D. Robb Naked in Death cover

I’ve a bunch of friends on Twitter who have been raving about Robb’s/Roberts’s In Death series for as long as I’ve known them (2 years, I think?) so while I was at the library a couple of weeks ago I happened to find the first one to finally give it a try. This is a romantic crime/suspense series following Lieutenant Eve Dallas and uber-rich and powerful businessman Roarke. This first book has Roarke as a suspect at first, but I don’t think it’s really spoiling anything to say that of course, he isn’t the murderer, since the series is well established. It’s decently written, although the futuristic setting threw me a bit as it is not part of any jacket summary I’ve ever read and I guessed who the killer was very early on even though I’m not one to work hard at that kind of thing in this genre. The end also had a very cliché bit with the murderer doing a “tell all” monologue and I have no idea how it took Dallas so long to jump to the right conclusion about the guy.

In spite of all that, I can see the appeal, and I kind of like Eve, but the thing is, I know I’m supposed to like Roarke, and I know that he is supposed to grow on me as he falls into the dominant, controlling, used-to-always-getting-what-he-wants male archetype for this kind of novel. I could even get past the almost no variation on a theme except for at least two incidents in the novel where he crossed the line that absolutely didn’t sit well with me. And those two incidents made me really dislike the character. A character can rub me the wrong way and keep me with him/her, especially when I know he’s not all that he is represented to be. However, actions speak louder than words, and I did not like his actions. Knowing what I know about the rest of the series, is it enough for me to give another book a try? I am still undecided. If it’s on the shelf — maybe.


Don't Look Down cover Don’t Look Down, by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

This is the second book this year I have opted not to finish. I probably would normally have not picked up this particular Crusie novel as it was co-written, but it was a loaner and after reading the Robb novel, I felt like more light-hearted reading. I had read one of her novels before (Bet Me) and enjoyed it. I gave this one 111 pages, but in writerly language, I would describe those 111 pages as being a great deal of telling vs showing and note that the tone was all off. The first chapter had a lot of dialogue, but it was interrupted so often with character thoughts and actions, that the dialogue didn’t really “say” anything. In readerly language, the male character is a Green Beret and there was not a half page with him in it that we weren’t beaten over the head with this information. It was hard to follow which character perspective was going on, and with regard to the Green Beret – his characterization was scattered all over the map that even though I knew I was supposed to be impressed by him and like him for the romantic interest, I couldn’t get any real read on him.

In reassurance that this problem only occurred because of the co-author, I quickly read two others of hers – Fast Women and Charlie All Night. These restored my faith in Crusie. If you are looking for more chick-lit romance, you will like Fast Women better than the more standard romance faire of Charlie All Night.


Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher Thirteen Reasons Why cover

I have seen very mixed reviews for this novel and after reading it, I completely understand why. Hannah, a high school student, committed suicide, but just before she did, she recorded seven tapes that explain why. She calls them her 13 reasons why she chose to end her life. These tapes are making their way – covertly, for the most part – through various people that she names on the tapes. Each name seems to imply a part in her reasons why. The stories she tells include both small, little things that we don’t think about as being hurtful (especially to this extreme and especially in the adolescent years) such as the things we say or don’t say, laugh along with or don’t, and bigger issues that should never be overlooked.

It’s a powerful story and I have my own mixed feelings about it. As an adult well past adolescence, but one who still works with them in a different capacity, I see and understand the pain that Hannah tries to convey in her tapes. I don’t like this idea that Hannah has cast about blame – which she really seems to (and I’m also not sure it is authentic at that late stage), but on the other hand, I like how the idea that little things (and bigger, of course) have more impact than others. However, there is a ton about Hannah that we don’t know, and as an adult reader, I know this, but as a teenager reader, would I know this? Would I recognize that my stupid words and actions (or inaction) might not necessarily be a direct cause.

While I don’t read everything my kids read and don’t feel I need to, this is the type of book I would want to read with my child instead of hoping he just “gets it” on his own.


Once Was Lost Once Was Lost, by Sarah Zarr

This is my first novel by Zarr and I loved it. Sam is a pastor’s daughter, but with an alcoholic mother who went into mandated rehab, she has not only feeling lost in her faith, but just overall lost period as her father seems oblivious to her emotions through it all. Additionally, a 13-year old girl has been abducted, so Sam’s father is even more unavailable as he is needed to help the missing girl’s family.

Zarr expresses Sam’s turmoil so well, that I very nearly wanted to cry for her every time I picked up the book. Sam’s emotions are not over-dramatic; they are authentic not only to the adolescent experience, but the human experience as well. I wanted her father to really talk with her, but also understood when he didn’t. I wanted Sam to really talk with her friends and her father, but also understood when she didn’t do this either. I know teenagers can relate to this story and I also like the reminder, as an adult reader, that communication between adults and teens is tough. We have to try to walk in their shoes since they don’t know how to walk in ours, yet.

(By the way, Zarr says that this book is going to have a title change. This is the first time I have ever experienced this and I’m not sure, yet, what I think about it. I’m not sure I like the idea, but maybe I’ve read books that have done this and just haven’t realized it. Books have cover changes all of the time – but a title? Check out what she has to say, here. What do you think?)


The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann The Peculiar cover

This book got some high reviews in a couple of different places and it has a great cover, so that was all good enough for me to try it out. The “peculiar” are mixed blood humans and faeries and a full-blooded faerye is trying to track one down that will serve as door between his own world and that of the humans. Long ago the door had been opened and hundreds of them had become trapped in England as a result. Unfortunately, the faerye in question also wants to control the door and not give any regard to the safety of those on the human side. Bartholomew’s sister is the one captured to become this door.

The story has a very straightforward plot with a standard “unlikely” hero. As an adult, I found it difficult to understand how this unlikely hero had the know-how or wherewithal to do what he did, but I’m pretty sure my 10-year old wouldn’t have the same problem. I felt the prologue was a bit more violently graphic than I’d like for this level, but the remainder of the novel was a little more appropriately toned down. I would have liked more world-building – especially to better understand the magical/non-human side of things. The characters are interesting and the author has clearly left an ending that indicates more to come in the future which makes it a big winner these days for middle grade reading.


And that is my month.

Currently I am reading Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.

More importantly: what are YOU reading? What should I be reading next? Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Leave a comment or send me a shout out on Twitter – let’s chat!

This entry was posted in Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Recent Reads and Recs: November 2012 Edition

  1. So glad that you loved the Zarr novel, because I read another by her and thought it was one of the best YA novels I’d read in a long time. I’ll definitely start reading her others.

    I’ve actually read a few of the ones you mentioned today. Let’s see- you were more forgiving of In Death than I was. I’m starting to decide that these kinds of series just aren’t for me (which is to bad- I like romance! I like crime stories!), because now I’m reading the 2nd of the Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels and it’s just not doing it for me.

    I also read 13 Reasons Why, and on that novel we agree completely. As an adult, it made a compelling read, and while I’m sure it would as a teen too, I found the blame aspect really problematic. Definitely one to read together.

    Loving Code Name Verity, one of your past recs. I’m about to veer off into the land of non-fiction and read The Revolution Was Televised (woohoo, a book about tv!) and The Overspent American (because it’s Christmas, yo).


    • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) says:

      I think if I didn’t know so many who really love the In Death series, I would not be so forgiving… but a wide range of people like them, so that is something, too. I like the idea of a long series of quick reads, too.

      It could be first books… or maybe it’s just the commercial thriller/mystery genre. I wasn’t keen on Evanovich’s 1st Stephanie Plum novel or James Patterson’s 1st Alex Cross novel. Maybe I should have a “second-book-in-a-series” month.

      I sometimes wish I were someone who read more non-fiction, but I just love the escape far too much with fiction that a non-fiction title rarely entices me enough. This is why I should take a class here and there….


  2. Pingback: Recent Reads and Recs: March 2013 Edition | It'll All Work Out

What do you think? I'd love to discuss!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s