Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ten Books

My friend Jen Forbus from Jen's Book Thoughts recently tagged me on a Facebook post asking for a list of ten books that have stuck with me. The instructions said not to put too much thought into it, just make a list. So here is my list, in no particular order, and with brief explanation.  

I first heard of this book when my third grade teacher, Mrs. Alice McClelland, read it to our class. She read to us everyday, right after lunch, for about ten minutes. She read many great books to us that year: Superfudge, Charlotte's Web, The Boxcar Children, and Where the Red Fern Grows to name a few. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was first, and it introduced me to novels. I'm forever grateful.

The Twentieth Century is a textbook I was required to read in college at Eastern Michigan University. However, it is notable for a few reasons. One reason is that all four of its authors were professors at EMU, which, because I was a student there, was really cool. Another is that it was written differently than many of the text books I had read: it was interesting! It told a story. It wasn't dry and boring. It was very readable. But the biggest reason it made the list is because it introduced me to a history of more than just the west. It included Asian and Middle Eastern history, too, and it is fascinating. 

Son of the Revolution is a book I was required to read for the class that used The Twentieth Century as its text book. Of course, I didn't start it until the day before the final, and only got partially through! But, it was a great book written by a man that grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. It was so compelling, I finished it immediately after the semester was over. 

This is the first book I read after college even though I didn't have to. I was working a side job at my local library one day and as a staff member was leaving for the day he asked how I was. I told him I was bored. He said, "You're in a library, pick up a book!" He recommended The Death and Life of Bobby Z., and said if I didn't like it by the end of the first chapter, he'd never recommend another book again. He was right, the book grabbed me. But he didn't have to recommend another book, I was eager to find more on my own and have had a pile waiting for me ever since!

This book is about World War I, told from both the side of the military in Europe and the protesters and soldiers at home in England. First of all, it is the most I ever learned about World War I. It was the first ware of the Twentieth Century, when officers were still commissioned because of the family from which they came, and how much they could pay for their rank. It was a meeting of two eras. Second, it was a great example of how leaders are sometimes unable to changes, despite the devastation their actions, or inactions bring. Finally, it showed the birth of communism, which at that time was more of a means to end the tyranny of the Russian monarchy and a method to get England out of the war. It was a people's government, which at the time was practically unheard of. 

This book made the list for its title. Sorrow's anthem refers to the cacophony of sound made by the sirens of emergency vehicles responding to an emergency. It is a sound I know well, and it is almost always accompanied by sorrow. Someone hurt, sometimes killed, a home lost to fire, a couple fighting; the possibilities are endless. And the sorrow is not always lost on those who respond.

This is a book about the Iraq war during the Coalition Provisional Authority. It shows how political the Iraq War was from the beginning, and how the arrogance that ruled the day ruined any hope for success in post-Sadam Iraq.  

This book includes two murders. Neither are what you think. Things are not always black & white, and maybe a good friend might have to kill you for your own good.

I read this book in junior high school. It was the first time a book brought me to tears.

How can a tragic story be told with elegance? When it's written by Toni Morrison. 

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: King and Maxwell by David Baldacci

     Sam Wingo had a mission. Drive a truck across Afghanistan and deliver its forty-eight hundred pounds of cargo. But, as one might expect, it's easier said than done. When he arrives at his destination, the recipient wasn't who he expected. Instead, a group of men identifying themselves as CIA operatives told him the plans had changed, and he's to deliver his cargo to them. Despite his orders to destroy it, along with himself and anyone else in the blast radius, Wingo decides he'd like to play it out and live to fight another day. But when he contacts his superior to explain the missing cargo and that he's alive, he's suspected of double crossing the government and stealing the truck's contents. 
     Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell nearly run over Tyler, a teenager running in the road during a rainstorm. The boy was distraught, running from home after learning of the death of his father, a soldier in Afghanistan: Sam Wingo.  But when he receives an email from his father, after the time of his supposed death, he suspects there is more to the story, and hires King and Maxwell to look into it. 
     Tyler's suspicions are correct, and the more King and Maxwell look into the death of Sam Wingo the Army warns them off the case, followed by the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. But what starts as Michelle's desire to help Tyler, and by extension help heal her own emotional wounds, turns into Sean's desire to solve a case that has the makings of an international incident that could disrupt an entire region and involve the United States President in a potentially unrecoverable scandal. 

David Baldacci

    King and Maxwell is the sixth book in a series by David Baldacci featuring the two Private Investigators, both disgraced former Secret Service Agents. Baldacci has been a favorite of mine since I read Last Man Standing over a decade ago, and he did not disappointed with King and Maxwell. I enjoy the relationship of the two protagonists. Sean is older, more experienced and diplomatic, with a career full of contacts throughout Washington; Michelle is youthful, full of energy, bold, sometimes rash, and extremely physically fit. But they work well together, each generally using their strengths towards the mission. There is an obvious mutual attraction between Sean and Michelle, and although it hardly dominates, I look forward to their relationship progressing in future books.
     The ghosts that haunt Sean and Michelle clearly motivate them throughout the book, but I can see it being difficult for those not familiar with the characters to understand why. Baldacci mentioned that Michelle had been inured while they were working on a high profile case, how each had saved the other's life many times, and that they left the Secret Service after personal and professional failures. However, even minor details of those events were not explained for readers new to the series or whose memory of the previous books is a lacking. It might have been more helpful and less intrusive to dedicate a paragraph or two to a summary of Sean's and Michelle's past so readers could appreciate the history of the relationship. The smaller but seemingly constant reminders throughout the book were effective at demonstrating their dedication, but failed to explain its origin. 

     In King and Maxwell, the antagonist is haunted by the death of his parents, which he blamed on a government scandal decades earlier. When he learned of an opportunity to avenge those deaths, he took it. Although I don't know if it was Baldacci's intent, the story could be a warning about the far reaching implications of the actions of those in power. Decisions made on a large scale, considering only the bigger picture, have consequences on individuals, too. Recklessly making decisions with without consideration of those viewed as inconsequential, especially if those decisions are more about preserving political power at the expense of others, could create problems that are far reaching and unpredictable.

     King and Maxwell accomplished what many thrillers have difficulty with: a fast paced story that is well told combined with strong, consistent, well developed, dynamic characters. 

Baldacci, David. King and Maxwell, Grand Central Publishing, November 19, 2013.
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455521319

King and Maxwell was provided to The Thirty Year Itch courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.  No other compensation was received in exchange for this review or its content. 

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