Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

Shadow Divers

Robert Kurson |  Nonfiction

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In 1991 two divers discovered the remains of a U-boat deep in the Atlantic off the New Jersey coast.  But this was a U-boat that could not be there.  No American, German or British records indicated a sunken or lost U-boat anywhere in the vicinity.  As the mystery unfolded, I learned a great deal about deep diving to explore wrecks, U-boats, World War II action off the U.S. coast, and especially about the values and uncompromising integrity of the men who discovered, researched, and dove this wreck, not all of whom survived.

Shadow Divers is dense and rich with knowledge and mystery.  This is not a book you will read in an evening.  It takes thinking to read this true narrative.  You will follow six years of diving and research to positively identify the U-boat’s number and crew, 1991-1997. It is, however, quite a fascinating and satisfying read, and I highly recommend it.  The story is compelling, the characters are complex and real, the writing is engaging.  I cried reading the Epilogue. 

The New Yorker describes Kurson’s writing as “adrenalized prose.”  I will recommend this book to the "Casting Crew Book Club" as a 2019 read, and I recommend it to you.

Thank you, Dan, for this magnificent addition to my reading list.

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas

James Patterson |  Fiction

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This love story is sweet.  Actually, it slides over into saccharin.  it's just too sweet, too simple and shallow, for me.  Matt and Katie are in love ... until one day Matt just leaves.  A few days later he drops off on her front porch a journal for Katie to read. Through this journal, written by his former wife Suzanne, to their son Nicholas, we learn all about Matt's life before Katie; all the experiences he couldn’t tell her and could barely tell himself.  This is Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.

If you want to distract yourself for an afternoon and an evening sitting by a campfire, go ahead and read it.  If you want to engage your brain in something stimulating, pick another book.

This cannot REALLY be the same James Patterson, can it?  Yes, it is one and the same.  I guess he has a split personality.  Don’t bother with this one.

 

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Douglas Preston |  Nonfiction

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I am impressed when an author catches my attention on a topic I had no apparent interest in.  Douglas Preston does this in The Lost City of the Monkey God.  This is the story of the first modern exploration of Ciudad Blanca – the White City –  deep in the jungle of Honduras. No humans had been to this site in memory or recorded history.  But there was reason to believe the site existed. Preston was a part of the expedition, as the resident author.  I learned the history of the exploration and colorful details of the challenges and discoveries the team made, when they did in fact uncover the Lost City of the Monkey God.

And then, half-way through, the story-line changes.  After the team members return to their regular lives, an entire new catastrophe occurs, and we are drawn in to the health and medical implications of the team members who spent time in this extremely remote jungle, surrounded by unfamiliar insects and larger animals.

I love Preston’s vivid voice.  A random example, page 178:  "The river took a ninety-degree turn at a place of heartbreaking loveliness, with thick strands of flowers giving way to a lush meadow and a beach. The river flowed in a singing curve over round stones and spilled in a waterfall over a ridge of basalt.”

Preston has written six other nonfiction books, five novels, and 24 books with Lee Child (of Jack Reacher fame).  I would definitely read another Douglas Preston if I could figure out which one to read next!  (Do any of you have a suggestion?) and am pleased to have read this one.

Thanks, Jan, for this fine recommendation for book club!

Educated

Tara Westover |  Nonfiction/Memoir

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Hmmm, Educated is difficult to rate.  It hovers between three and two hearts, but I have settled on three.    This is the true story of Tara Westover, raised Mormon by her survivalist father and mother, never sent to school, forced to work dangerous jobs in her father’s scrap and junkyard business.  It is the story of her survival under a mean but loving patriarch.

I found her narrative at times riveting, especially once she leaves the family home and begins to pursue her education at BYU, and at times boring.  Her writing is inconsistent.  I think she is not a very good writer and includes too many details of her life.  Then again, with six siblings living in their family home in Idaho, the stories, the catastrophes, the violence, and the relationships are numerous and complex.

The abuse she endured was not like my recent reads, My Absolute Darling and The Great Alone.  There is no sexual abuse.  More, there is religious abuse.  Educated portrays very well the Mormon doctrine of the power of men, and the servitude of women.  I don’t think most of the Westover family ever sees the gross error of these doctrines.

So, do I recommend it?  Yes, I guess, but not wholeheartedly.  I think you will just have to try it on for size!

 

Theft by Finding

David Sedaris |  Nonfiction

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David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day and numerous others) decided to revisit his diaries, which he began in 1977.  Though the first few years were handwritten, when he printed off the digital diaries, he had 8 inches of paper to wade through!  Wow!  He decided to edit selected passages from his diaries into two books.  Theft by Finding is the first volume, 1977 through 2002.  The second volume (I cannot find the title) will cover 2003 – 2017.

I knew Sedaris had a rough start, but this book is depressing.  Drugs, poverty, and violence are much of the tale he tells.  I actually think he may have been better off if he didn’t self-edit his own diaries to create these books.  He seems obsessed with people who are differently abled ... in wheelchairs, sight-impaired, have acne scars, or who are mentally unstable.  He has an extraordinary number of stories about being approached for a cigarette or money by very angry people, and a whole trove of times he was assaulted on the streets of New York for appearing gay.

He has a proclivity for telling his life story with these depressing episodes.  About halfway though, he begins to mature, have success, and find love.  But the sum total of his relaying to us his experience of meeting Hugh is two short sentences, something like, “I met this cute guy, “ and “I think I am falling in love.”  I would have been much more engaged in this book if he were able to share more of his internal emotional experiences, and less of how he found abuse in the world.

Two-thirds of the way through (I kept reading because I AM interested in his long-term love with Hugh, and his success as a comedic and serious writer, and I wanted to read some of these entries), I realized this book was probably supposed to be funny sometimes.  Now, it is a character flaw on my part, I know.  I seldom find the written word funny.  You could read aloud to me from an amusing book and I would laugh.  But when I read the same words on paper, I don’t find them funny.  I laughed only once when reading Theft by Finding.

Theft by Finding depressed me, disappointed me, and was often confusing.  Actually, I suspect his second volume will be better, because his life will be less dire, but I don’t have the stomach for another Sedaris right now.  I even removed his newest book, Calypso, from my library list.  Sorry to say.

 

Truth or Dare

Jayne Ann Krentz |  Fiction

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I was camping for five days, so, yes, in addition to hiking, kayaking, and watercolor, I read two books.  Another blog post will follow this one!

Truth or Dare by Krentz is a fun read.  It’s a mystery, not a heavy read, but with interesting characters, especially the women.  Zoe and Ethan are recently married, and almost just as recently, acquainted!  It seems they just met in a prior Krentz novel, and married within a few weeks.

He is a private investigator; she an interior designer with strong psychic abilities.  They both bring difficult checkered pasts to this new relationship.  Other characters include Arcadia, who Zoe met when they both resided in a mental hospital (from which they escaped); Harry, Arcadia’s new love; and Bonnie, Ethan’s sister.

The writing is warm and engaging.  There are many threads woven into this narrative, and I was pleased Krentz followed them all, leaving no loose ends, but still causing me to want for more.

Truth or Dare lay on my side kitchen table, where books from friends accumulate.  I don’t know who gave me this one, but she/he has good taste! Krentz has written over 50 books.  I’ll definitely try another in a similar mystery genre (she also writes romance).

Exit West

Moshin Hamid |  Fiction

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I cannot categorize this book. Is it a love story?  Sort of, but not really.  Is it a dystopian novel?  At times, but not overall.  Is it magic?  Well, yes, magic does play a part.

We don't know the setting of Exit West.  It may be a city in the author's home country of Pakistan, but it could just as easily be in Syria or Libya or other countries.  What we know for certain as the novel opens is that it is “a city swollen by refugees, but still mostly at peace, or at least, not yet openly at war.”  It is a city where “Islam prevails, but sex, ‘shrooms and smartphones are also prolific.”  (Time.com)

In the beginning, Saeed and Nadia meet in a class and fall in love in these turbulent times. And then the war invades their city, their lives, and their love.  How might they escape through one of the magical doors to safety?  Yes, there are magical doors. At first I thought the “door” was simply a metaphor, but it is not.  You find and pay an agent, a mule of sorts, and he leads you to a hidden magical door.  You walk though this door, and you are in another part of the world.  Saeed and Nadia inhabit a number of cities in the world in this concise novel, as they try to make their way to a place of home and of safety.

The dystopian part of this novel is this:  in every city they travel to, war has broken out between the natives, called “nativists” and the immigrants/refugees.  And in every city, immigrants are beginning to take over, though nativists are violently resisting them.  I think this novel is very timely and for this reason alone, we all should read it.

Exit West is short, well-written and a novel that will make you think.  I recommend it without hesitation.  And I look forward to reading what you think of it …

My Absolute Darling

Gabriel Tallent |  Fiction

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Wow.  I heard My Absolute Darling was quite disturbing, as  it portrays the mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of 14-year-old Turtle by her father Martin, a survivalist.  Well, yes, it is disturbing.  Their relationship is central to the novel, and, as she loves him dearly and knows no other relationship norms, it is not a pleasurable relationship to explore.

However, I think the plot is actually not about abuse, but about how Turtle carves an identity for herself in spite of her horrendous circumstances.  She is stunningly courageous and brutally honest with herself.

Tallent's voice is astounding. His writing draws you in.  I had trouble putting this book down.  His use of language is beautiful, especially as he displays his extensive and fascinating knowledge about Mendocino flora and fauna, where the novel is set.  His apparent familiarity with guns is chilling.  I had to Google "Sig Sauer."  What I don’t know about guns can fill a novel this long.

This is a difficult read ... if you are looking for a pleasurable beach novel, choose the last book I blogged about, The Things We Keep.  If you want a compelling read that touches your heart and soul and will stay with you, read My Absolute Darling

I think a sentence from Stephen King’s review on the back cover captures this novel very well.  “This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting.”

The Things We Keep

Sally Hepworth |  Fiction

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Do you know the Kincaid Grade Level Analysis?  It is a way to analyze your writing, to ensure that it is clear and easy to read.  Some good copywriters will tell you to keep your copy in the Grade 4-7 range (which means it can be read by 9-12 year olds), and even white papers and tutorials below 9 (9 Grade level can be read by the average 14 year old).  This is good advice for the choice of words, the sentence and paragraph structure, and so forth.

I want to talk about the content, however.  I believe there is a similar “grading” – at least, there is in my mind.  But it refers more to intellectual content than to the style of writing and choice of words.  Romance novels, for example, even though they may have sexual content, are written in a very simple style – and can appeal to people with quite a range of intelligence.  Political and historical and scientific tomes may represent the other end of the scale, requiring high levels of intelligence, concentration, analysis, and focus to read and absorb the information.  (Do you know of a scale that actually measures these differences?)

Anyway, my point is The Things We Keep falls a little too low on the “intellectual” scale for my liking.  This is the story of Anna who, at age 38, has been diagnosed with “young-onset Alzheimer’s.”  In a residential facility, she falls in love with Luke, the only other young person in the care facility.  Eve is another major character.  She is hired as the cook and cleaner in the care facility. And has her own set of secrets and difficult circumstances.  She works to keep Anna and Luke together when others feel the relationship is not safe.

The story is an easy read, and an entertaining one.  I simply had hoped for more.  I had hoped to get a better understanding of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and the disease’s progress and impact.  But instead I read a story … a nice story, an interesting story, a story that I was drawn in to and wanted to resolve … but I wanted more.  I wanted to learn more, to have the tale be, well, more “intellectual.”

This is a beach read.  That’s the best way to describe it.  It is light reading ... lighter than you might expect from such a difficult subject.  Unfortunately, there are no beaches here in the high desert!!

list.

Midwives

Chris Bohjalian  |  Fiction

I so enjoyed Chris Bohjalian's novel, The Flight Attendant (blog post in May 2018), I was quite looking forward to reading another book by him.  After struggling with Midwives for nearly a week, and falling asleep reading it, and forcing myself to open it and read the next chapter, I am admitting defeat.  I find it slow, boring, and without any pizazz or energy.

The plot sounds intriguing and strong ... a midwife, on an icy Vermont night, takes desperate measures to save an infant's life by performing an emergency caesarean on what she believes is the dead mother.  But, was the mother really dead?  Therein lies the appealing plot.

Too bad the writing wasn’t as appealing.  I’m off to something else.