ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 41-45

41. 11/22/63, by Stephen King. King fans familiar with his horror stories may have found this one to be a surprise (although King has written in other genres before). Here, King delves into historical fiction, asking that intriguing and tantalizing question: What if we could go back and change history. Here, that bit of history is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Jake Epping, a high school teacher, is shown a portal where he is taken back in time to September 9, 1958. He is told he could spend days, weeks, even years in there, but when he comes back it is only two minutes later. And each time he goes back, time resets itself. He is sent by a dying friend to the past to stop the assassination of Kennedy and, hopefully, change the future for the better.
There is a lot to like in this story. One, are all the little nods to previous King classics, such as Christine and It. There's a lot of detail about the time, and one thing I liked is that while the innocence and simplicity of the time are captured, the ugly side of that time period (such as racism and the lack of attention to spousal abuse) also is shown. It's way too easy to look at the 50s and early 60s through rose-colored glasses and forget it was not a happy time for all, nor was it perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But I digress.
Near the end, when Jake sees the result of his actions, almost ruined it- some things were just a bit over the top. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but it was so bizarre it took me out of the story. However, I thought the very end was fitting, if bittersweet. All in all I really enjoyed this one. Even people who don't like most of King's other works may want to give this one a shot.

42. Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich. Not the best book in the series involving intrepid bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, but still fun. In this installment - shorter than the previous books - Vinnie, Stephanie's cousin and the owner of the bonding agency Stephanie works for has been kidnapped. Vinnie has run afoul of mobsters by running up a six-figure gambling debt. So Stephanie, Lula and Connie plot to get Vinnie back, safe and reasonably sound. The funniest moments involve the alligator and the Hobbit-con (which brings back one of my favorite characters, Mooner).

43. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson. I read Larson's Devil in the White City and really enjoyed it. This is another hit, and a must-read for history buffs, especially those who study World War II. It's 1933 in Germany, Hitler is Chancellor, and the Nazi party's power is on the rise. William E. Dodd has just been appointed as the ambassador to Germany from the United States. Much of the story is told through his letters, journal entries and correspondence. Another large part of the story is told through Dodd's daughter Martha, through her letters. Ironically, William Dodd took the post in hopes that he would be able to take a break from his demanding university teaching schedule to work on a book series detailing the South. Instead, he and his family had front-row seats into a Germany that grew darker and more militant with ever passing year.
Dodd was, as described by a contemporary "a square academic peg in a round diplomatic hole." He's an interesting character study, a bit of a fish out of water in his position. He made several mistakes, although most of those were mistakes in hindsight. Tragically where he seemed to run most afoul with the establishment was the fact that he was middle class in a world of multi-millionaires, a self-described Jeffersonian Democrat who hated the lavish and regular parties thrown by the others in the diplomatic circle, who loathed the opulent settings he lived in and who eschewed the conspicuous consumerism of the others. He insisted on living within his modest salary and protested the extravagance of his staff. Dodd either walked or drove his own car, an old Chevrolette. He didn't believe early reports about the dangers the Nazi regime posed and, like many, thought that the Nazis would fizzle out. That was a common theme- no one took Hitler seriously. Martha compared him to Charlie Chaplin, looks-wise. No one seemed overly impressed or overly worried with this average-sized, overly excitable hothead. Yet as time went on, Dodd started to pick up the banner of those who advised caution and nipping the Nazi's rise in the bud, a theme he'd lecture and counsel on even after his ambassadorship and up to his death. In general, I came away with the view that Dodd was a good man caught in an incredibly bad situation, a situation no one could have appreciated at that time.
His daughter, on the other hand... I understand I have benefit of hindsight here, but her behavior was more fitting a young teenager rather than a woman in her mid-20s. Martha was a young woman possessing a plethora of beauty and a paucity of sense- a bad combination. Her dalliances with the "young and handsome men" - including some top Nazi officials -- would raise eyebrows even today. It wasn't until much later she realized the danger the Nazis posed.
The book also looks into how many clues there were even early on as to Hitler's intentions. The persecution of Jews, violence even against tourists for not saluting or observing the SS military parades had already started even then. Even after "Operation Hummingbird," or as it is more commonly known, the Night of the Long Knives in the summer of 1934, where Hitler executed his infamous purge of traitors, world reaction was muted and Germany's reaction largely positive. Again, only a few (including by this time, Dodd) saw the dangers.
Again, a very good read -- it's long, but well-paced and reads very quickly.

44. Pop, by Gordon Korman. Probably the most serious and nuanced of Korman's books (at least of the one's I've read). There's still a lot of Korman's quirky humor (including one hilarious scene towards the end involving a major football game and the passing around of equipment) but the overall tone is bittersweet.
The story is mostly told from the point of view of Marcus, who just moved to town in the middle of summer with his mom. His mother and father (whom Marcus refers to as Comrade Stalin) have just divorced, and his mom has moved to take a job with a local paper and to work on her photography book. Marcus spends much of his time practicing football by himself at a local park in hopes of getting into his new high school's championship-winning football team. One day, however, a middle-aged man Charlie comes by and starts practicing- and teaching- Marcus. Turns out that Charlie is Charlie Popovich, a well-known ex-NFL player nicknamed "The King of Pop" for his bruising tackles. However, Marcus finds himself as a bit of an outsider after the high school quarterback takes an instant dislike to Marcus, especially when the quarterback's ex-girlfriend Alyssa starts flirting with him. To make the situation even stickier? This star quarterback is Troy Popovich, Charlie's son. Even more aggravating to Marcus is Charlie's odd behavior -- never showing up on time for their sessions in the park, letting Marcus seem to take the fall for a couple pranks gone wrong and more. Charlie seems to be a big kid at times.
What I really like is that Troy and his sister come off as jerks at first, until you realize what is going on with their father, and the secret is heartbreaking. Some parts of the book briefly tell the story from their point of view. The ending had me wanting to cry.

45. Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld. A very different take on the vampire genre. Or, pardon me, peeps, or parasite positives. In this world created by Westerfeld, a condition resembling vampirism is caused by a parasite. Cal Thompson is a carrier for the parasite - he has it and can spread it, and even feels some of the benefits from it (such as greater strength and night vision). But he doesn't suffer from some of the nastier effects, such as eating people, avoiding the night and detesting things they once loved, such as Garth Brooks and Elvis. Cal is hired by the Night Watch, a sort of secret society that monitors and captures peeps, to track down and capture his old girlfriends whom he unwittingly passed on the parasite to. He also tries to find the woman who gave the parasite to him during a one-night stand. Along the way, he meets Lace, a journalism student, and the two together uncover some discomforting truths - including things that seem to contradict what Cal has been taught by the Night Watch. This was a fun, fast read. Westerfeld intersperses the story with tidbits on actual parasites, and among other things offers a believable explanation behind some of the tropes involving vampires. Despite the topic, it's fairly light on the gross-out and darkness factors. Much of the tone of the book is darkly comic, with Cal trying to figure his way around this new world he has been thrust in.

Currently reading: The Strange Death of Father Candy, by Les Roberts.
Tags: historical fiction, history, non-fiction, young adult

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