My Best Friend Death is a joyless cycle of loss, guilt, and gullibility

maMy Best Friend Death by Michael Anthony, published June 8, 2014

I don’t even know where to begin. This book is all over the place and so devoid of hope or any redeeming qualities that I just can’t wrap my head around it. So let the SPOILERS begin while I try to muddle through this review.

Damien, whose mother died in childbirth, spent his 16 years of life trying to protect his brother Joey from their alcoholic, verbally abusive father only to be killed and brought back to life by Death and his alter ego Life. It’s a second chance to lead a normal, fun teenage life. He gets one year to be happy and be the teenager Damien never had a chance at being until he will once again die. Now named King, he starts over his new life in a new body at his old school. King gets the best friend and girlfriend that Damien never had. And then begins the endless cycle of loss, guilt, and gullibility.

First, King makes a mistake that results in his father’s death. Then there’s a school shooting where nine people die, then Joey commits suicide. Through this all, Death and King are like brothers. Living together, laughing together, getting high together. King believes everything Death tells him. Even when he does question things, he’s quick to swallow Death’s explanations and turn all the blame on himself. Even in the end when he discovers that Death killed him (Damien) to begin with, he still sets himself up for the ultimate betrayal.

The book ends so abruptly that it feels incomplete. I got to the last page and thought, what was the point of any of this? When I read the blurb, I thought it would be a story of Damien trying to outsmart Death to save his brother. It’s nothing like that. It’s a constant flip flop between King wanting a new life and King feeling guilty over where his family has ended up. The premise promised in the blurb never really comes to pass, and I just couldn’t find a way to like this book. Some of the things the characters did seemed so unlikely for high school students that they felt out of touch with reality. And I won’t get into how annoying the many typos and errors were. Editing is essential, peeps.

Sorry, but my recommendation is to skip this one.

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How It Looks Going Back, a nostalgic memior of growing up in wild Montana

How It Looks Going Back, Growing Up in the Montana Woods by Doris Knowles Pulis – Riverbend Publishing, 2009how

In the summer of 1949, Darwin and Marilyn Knowles did what few others would ever consider doing during the economic progress following World War II. They packed up their household and their two daughters and moved from bustling California to the Yaak River Valley, a wild, unforgiving wilderness nestled in northern Montana. Foregoing easy access to stores, schools, and electricity, they made their home in a cabin by a lake with no running water, no electricity, no central heating, no indoor plumbing, and no idea what was really in store for them. Their neighbors were miles away. The only road leading to town was dirt and easily flooded or became a car-swallowing mud hole when the snows melted each spring. The local school, with merely a handful of students, was often closed due to weather. On the other hand, they had easy access to hunting and fishing, an endless supply of fresh mountain air, and a close-knit community that is a rarity in today’s America.

Told from the point of view of youngest daughter, Dee, readers follow the adventures of a girl growing up in a manner that isn’t an option to 99% of the population today. Dee and her sister Bob learned to become self-sufficient by living without modern conveniences. And when they weren’t doing that, they had adventures that must’ve turned their parents’ hair gray. From horseback riding to adopting feral cats and chicken-killing dogs, Dee and Bob are a hilarious handful, and Dee is a great narrator. Innocent and mischievous, she has a knack for introducing readers to a wonderful cast of Yaak characters in a manner that will make you laugh out loud. A fun, fast read for anyone who is in the mood for a nostalgic look back at the good old days.

A fitting end to the Mortal Instruments series, er, not really

hfYes, it was a fitting end, but it’s not really the end, is it? As we learned with the introduction of Emma and the Los Angeles institute, the series will continue. The amazing world that Cassandra Clare created in the Mortal Instruments will live on in The Dark Artifices series coming next year. But back to City of Heavenly Fire. Yes, I’ve griped a lot about the time gap between City of Lost Souls and the series ender. Yes, I said I was annoyed by Clare taking time to write so many Bane Chronicles when she should be giving us readers the ending we deserve. Yes, I said my interest had waned. And yes, my humble pie tastes delicious.

City of Heavenly Fire was everything a series ender should be. Packed with action and suspense, I wondered throughout if we would get a happy ending or if everything would go to pot and leave us devastated. As usual, I will avoid spoilers, but I will say that I am glad Clare took the time to wrap up the storylines of characters whose lives we have followed for seven years. Our characters grew so much in this book. They aren’t children anymore, no matter their ages. They’ve seen too much death and experienced too much loss to be innocent, and they know it. I loved the insight that Clary and Jace had into themselves and into each other in this book. They have matured so much, and it was obvious in their thoughts and observations, like when Clary reaches this conclusion:

“She had thought once that there were good people and bad people, that there was a side of light and a side of darkness, but she no longer thought that. She had seen evil, in her brother and her father, the evil of good intentions gone wrong and the evil of sheer desire for power. But in goodness there was also no safety. Virtue could cut like a knife, and the fire of Heaven was blinding.”

The book, at a weighty 725 pages, is a lot to absorb. There are many storylines to follow and to remember from previous Mortal Instruments books and Clare’s Infernal Devices series. My advice, if you’d like it, is to reread City of Lost Souls and Clockwork Princess for a refresher before reading City of Heavenly Fire.

So, did anyone else get to the end of Heavenly Fire and immediately want to go back and read the entire series? Had anyone else forgotten just how much they loved Clare’s characters and the dark world of the Shadowhunters and Downworlders? Who’s going to read the new Clare series next year? I know I will. Hopefully, our favorite Shadowhunters, warlocks, and werewolves will make an appearance or two or three.

Caught in the Crossfire lacks firepower

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, a young boy at bible camp tries to reconcile his beliefs with his growing attraction to another boy. Unfortunately, the book never lived up to the intrigue of the premise. I found the first half boring and skimmed most of it. When Jonathan finally acts on his feelings for Ian, the story that enfolds just didn’t delve deep enough. The characters all felt a little too cliché. There was everyone I expected to be in a book like this (homophobic bible-thumpers, peer bullies, disapproving parents, token supportive guy) but no one I didn’t expect, no surprises.

Then there was the counselor who outs Jonathan to his mother. Considering that Jonathan is in a turmoil about coming out to his parents, the fact that it never actually happens in the story is a tremendous letdown. There was no discussion, just a few words with his mother that didn’t lead anywhere. It was all a bit anti-climactic in the end and rather disappointing.

 

I am the Mission should have been called I Am the Cliffhanger

Allen Zadoff takes readers for one helluva ride in the second book of The Unknown Assassin Series. Our favorite assassin formerly Ben now known as Daniel but really named Zach is having serious doubts about himself and his purpose in the secret agency he works for. To make matters worse, The Program is questioning his loyalty after his most recent mission. As a test, he is sent on an impossible mission to infiltrate an anti-establishment camp hellbent on thwarting the U.S. government and kill its leader, Eugene Moore.

missionSeems impossible for most people. For a boy assassin, it seems doable until Daniel gets inside and everything he has been led to believe starts to unravel. Who is The Program and what is Daniel to them? What really happened to the assassin who The Program sent in before Daniel? Was he discovered by Moore and killed or did The Program terminate him when he failed to complete the mission? When all communication with The Program is lost, Daniel must face his greatest opposition and make decisions based on what he knows while understanding that every mistake could be his last.

Zadoff’s latest is as page-turning as the first, but I liked it even more than I Am the Weapon. Some of the issues he addresses, like a nation’s dissatisfaction with a failing government and how people either feel helpless or rebellious in the face of it, are very real and ongoing. Zadoff also goes places with Daniel that are hard for a reader to follow and support. Something Daniel does in the camp (I will not mention it as this is too much of a spoiler) just killed me. I hated that Daniel did this. I kept hoping that he hadn’t. That it would be a misleading twist that somehow had a happy outcome (stupid, I know but I held out hope anyway). I don’t know if there is any redeeming himself after such a move, but I know I will keep reading and hoping because I love the story and hope to once again love the character as much as I did in the beginning.

One thing I love about Zadoff’s writing is his ability to drop hints without revealing too much. Like the one he drops at the end of Weapon (again, not going to drop a spoiler here). Zadoff builds on that even more in the second book, giving us a few morsels to keep us hungry for the truth to come out. Another skill I like about Zadoff is that he maintains a fast pace without ever taking away from the plot to do so. He has such a knack for keeping the story interesting without sacrificing the fundamentals of great writing: strong characters, plot development, and – with a book in this genre – suspense. Which readers get plenty of with how this book ends. Total cliffhanger! But that’s okay because it just makes me that much more eager to read the next book…

…which does not have a publication date yet….

….or a title….

…..or even a mention on Zadoff’s website.

How long exactly do we have to wait for Unknown Assassin #3 ?!?!

Not even a tentative publication date on goodreads.com??? That’s just cruel, Zadoff. Really cruel. Then again, this is the man who dreamed up The Program. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. I feel like Zach between missions. I have to agree with him. I hate waiting too. Gives a person (be he reader or assassin) too much time to think. And guess at what will happen and then second guess and then scream in frustration. Oh well, I know the wait will be worth it!

Weighing Readers Down with a Series-Ending Behemoth

I came home to find something waiting for me. Judging by its heft, I thought someone had sent me a cinder block or a headstone or something used for ballast in the ships of old.

None of the above.

The item, which could double as a piece of gym equipment or a weapon against intruders, was in fact the latest tome from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Book 6: City of Heavenly Fire.

When I realized what it was, my heart sank. I wasn’t ready for this. Oh, I’m ready for the series to be over. I’m ready to end the more than two year wait since book five was published. I’m just not ready for this massive volume of work, this brick of a book, this 725 page monstrosity that is currently threatening to collapse my coffee table. I’m not sure I can make the commitment that 725 pages requires. During the two-year gap in the series, my interest waned. And by waned, I mean it crashed like a motorcycle running on demon energies when the sun rises. As if that hadn’t deflated my eagerness, the abysmal movie version ate my remaining interest like a Ravener demon.

Why such a long book now? This isn’t Harry Potter!

And what happened in book five? Seriously, anyone got the Cliff Notes version? I can only remember about three details, and I don’t want to read City of Lost Souls again because I didn’t care for it that much the first time around, and I’m not invested enough to put that kind of time into this series anymore, which is a shame because I loved the first three books and really thought the series should have ended as a trilogy. Has anyone read City of Heavenly Fire yet? Is it worth it? Should I commit to this gargantuan collection of pages? Should I bite the silver bullet and just get it over with? Or should I use Heavenly Fire as a doorstop and move on?

Please weigh in and stop this book from weighing me down!

Vanished: nonfiction that reads like a mystery, a thriller, and an action adventure all rolled into one

vanVanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II by Wil S. Hylton is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read on the Second World War, and I have read plenty of them. Hylton’s style and approach is so well done that the book reads like a mystery wrapped around a thriller and rolled up in an action adventure.

When three B-24 Liberators crashed near the island of Palau during the war in the Pacific, their families were left wondering about their fate for the next 60 years. That is until Pat Scannon, a licensed physician with a Ph.D. in Chemistry who’d built his own corporation from the ground up, traveled to Palau and spotted something in the water that would change his life and the lives of MIA men’s families forever – the right wing of a B-24 Liberator.

The sight of that wing awakens something in Scannon that takes his life on a new course with a new purpose: to locate those planes in order to bring closure to the relatives of the men, who six decades after the end of the war, were still listed as Missing in Action. To put into perspective the scale of those affected by MIA designations, consider this. Over 73,000 U.S. servicemen from WWII are still listed as MIA, and 43,000 of them were from the Pacific theater of the war (p. 91). With these three planes, Scannon has the opportunity to put to rest the fate of at least 30 of those 43,000.  With that in mind, he begins a 17-year search for the planes and the men who flew in them.

Hylton weaves the past with the present as he lets the tale of the Liberators unfold. It’s an informative read, not limited to the Pacific Theater or the search for the planes. Instead, he touches on the interconnected history of Palau and England and the American Revolution. He explains the birth of JPAC, the military unit that identifies and recovers the remains of MIA and POWs. He delves into the history of Japanese treatment of POWs and its erosion from the First World War to the second. He explains the first psychological research regarding MIA grief. The book is a wealth of history but the pace is steady and it never bogs down the way some nonfiction tends to do.

One of the most honest and interesting things I took away from this read is that not all mysteries can be solved and some questions will never be answered. Even after 17 years of research and a large amount of success, plenty of mystery still surrounds the crew of one of the B-24s; however, through commitment and perseverance, Scannon is able to answer enough questions to bring peace to the families of the men who were missing in action for 60 years.

Vanished is a great read for history lovers, military buffs, or anyone who enjoys and intriguing read.