My Constantly Evolving List of All-Time Favorites.

Kyle 's favorites books montage

Gone Girl
The Night Circus
The Woodcutter
The Graveyard Book
Sharp Objects
Dark Places
Shutter Island
The Passage
The Twelve
Rules of Civility
The Aviary
Heir to the Glimmering World
Wool Omnibus
The Weird Sisters
A Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones

Kyle Uniss's favorite books »

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

No dinner out and The Dinner by Herman Koch

Last night we made plans to take the girls to dinner at our local Mexican restaurant. I grew up on Mexican food, and moving to Ohio has not provided us with many great chances for good Mexican food-except in our little town. We have a great little hole in the wall with  good chimichangas, decent burritos and great Margaritas. They are inexpensive and Tuesday is kids eat free night. And it means I don't have to cook or do the dishes. But we didn't make it.

Now, I am a lucky woman because my husband can cook and does cook. He went to culinary school and worked as a chef for many years. He left the profession a couple of years ago, so he likes to cook at home. I know I am lucky--it is one less thing I have to worry about during my work day. But I actually enjoy cooking, and I hate doing dishes. And our deal is whomever cooks does not do the dishes. This has never worked in my favor, because when I did cook it was because he wasn't home, so I did the dishes any how.

So, tonight I really wanted to get out of the house, get away from our four walls and check out the world away from our neighborhood, the Y and any sports event featuring 8-10 year old girls. BUT the hubs decided he could make better Mexican, and he made really good enchiladas. Really good. But we didn't get out of the house AND I had to do the dishes. Very depressing. The hubs needs to get this mama out of the house before I lose my mind. I think he got the message, though.

On to what takes my mind away from these four wall--BOOKS.

“... technically, just like with the rings of a tree or Carbon-14, it had to be possible to measure the passage of time by the melting of vanilla ice cream.”

This week I finished a book I've been wanting to read for awhile. I was disappointed, and I wasn't. The characters are awful people, but the book sets up a great moral dilemma. And it raised some interesting questions in my mind about what is really going on. I can't discuss my ideas without giving the book away, but when you finish let me know and I will let YOU know my weird, wacky thoughts.

When I started this book I could not put it down. You know it’s building to something big, and I read and read, wondering when it’s going to get there. And slowly but surely it did, but only after I realized all the characters are horrid and I didn't want anyone to be the good guy. It's a book without heroes.

 The story takes place in Holland and narrated by Paul, a man with an unknown illness, or syndrome, which makes him prone to fits of temper and makes him unemployable. The story centers around he and his wife Claire and their dinner with his brother, Serge, a famous politician that is on the verge of becoming the Dutch Prime Minister, and Serge’s wife Babette.

We learn quickly that Paul does not like, actually really resents, his brother. He hates everything about him, to his seemingly limited intelligence to his summer house in France. In fact, it seems that Paul really pretty much dislikes everyone except his wife, his son, and Serge’s wife, Babette (he’s torn here, because sometimes Babette doesn’t like Serge, so that’s when he likes her).

The dinner is in a very high end, exclusive restaurant at which Serge has an ‘in’, allowing him to get great service and an instant good table without a reservation. The story is divided into courses, and by the main course I was ready for dinner to be OVER! Slowly, though, we are building to the point of the dinner—the kids.

The three boys—one for Paul and Claire, two for Serge and Babette—have gotten into trouble. Serious, psychopathic trouble. And it is the way that everyone reacts that makes you wonder about them. And I guess that is why I kept reading the story. I can't really say more without blowing the story.

I would recommend this book, but I would add a caveat—it’s a book worth reading, but you’re not going to love it. It will start conversations, and I would add that I want you to read it so that I have someone to talk to about this book. I have some strange theories, and I need someone to discuss them with someone!!!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Getting to the gym and my new obsession with Harry Hole

Silly me. I signed up for a gym challenge at our wonderful YMCA for the month of March. The challenge gives us a whole month to finish an Ironman triathlon.  A whole month. That's 2.4 miles of swimming, 26.2 miles of running and 112 miles of biking. The swimming isn't bad--I swam in high school and college and it came back to me pretty easily. Even the running isn't horrid--the elliptical counts and I like the elliptical. The hardest for me? You guessed it; it's the biking.

Biking kills me, and not because of the strain on my legs. I like that--I feel like I'm gaining muscle and losing fat. It's the strain on my tailbone. I have done something to my tailbone in the last year or so that exacerbated an old injury, and every time I do something that means contact with my tailbone it HURTS! That means sitting for too long (at my desk, in the car, on a bike) or jarring it up and down (in a spin class, for example). You know it's gotten bad when sitting in your office chair makes you cry.

BUT I will prevail. I am more than half way done, and feeling pretty good (other than the bike). I have loved getting back in the water and think I will continue swimming after my month is up. I even think I have convinced my hubs to get me a waterproof iPod for Mother's Day. If that does happen, I will HAVE to continue swimming.

Well, enough about me. It's time for books. And today it is a wonderful character named Harry Hole and the mysteries of Norway.


"Sick is a relative concept. We’re all sick. The question is, what degree of functionality do we have with respect to the rules society sets for desirable behaviour? No actions are in themselves symptoms of sickness. You have to look at the context within which these actions are performed."

  I have been intrigued with Scandinavian mysteries lately. Some of the most interesting and complex works have been coming out of the Scandinavian countries. If you don’t count Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg in 1993, which was well written but very slow moving, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy was my first endeavor—and I was HOOKED!!! Next I read The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, a pretty good mystery that takes place in Sweden. I heard wonderful things about Jo Nesbø, but was reluctant to switch to another unknown country (I did a lot of research on Sweden while reading Larsson so I could sort of understand where everything was taking place), so instead I went to Germany (I know a little about Germany—that was my thinking) and read Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus. It was pretty good, but not as good as Larsson’s books. So I finally succumbed to the siren of Norwegian mysteries and jumped into Nesbø and Harry Hole. I am hooked. 

I started with The Redbreast, which is actually the third in the Harry Hole series. It was a good place to start, but I will have to go back and read the first two. The Redbreast is amazing. The pace of the book is wonderful and the writing is easy to read but not simple—part of the credit for this (and all translated books) has to go to the translator; in this case, Don Bartlett. 

 This book is written in the present (well, the past, but present tense)of 1999-2000, but it flashes back to World War II. At first the flashbacks seem out of place, but they add to the mystery of the book and come to make sense. 

 Hole is a great detective with some jarring flaws that only make him more likable and believable. He’s an alcoholic loner, a lonely man afraid to let his defenses down. He does let them down, though, and we like him for it. He follows his gut and it usually takes him to the right place. Hole is a hero we can believe in, flawed but trying to find his way. The villain in this story is also wonderfully complex, spanning time and probability. I even liked him a bit, and I think Hole did, too. I have a feeling he will be returning in some shape or form. 

 This book is wonderfully written; Nesbø writes not only a great mystery but also a great piece of literature. This is definitely a book with reading.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Love and Hate for Daylight Savings and Love and Religion in I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits

Time change today--which I love and hate all at the same time. Losing an hour in the morning is tough, but an extra hour of daylight is nice. Because they had to get up early (I made them go to 9:00 am Mass, which felt like 8:00 am), my girls have gone to bed pretty easily. It was also beautiful today in Central Ohio, so that made the lost hour seem worth it if it meant an extra hour of sunshine.

I walked the dog, watched the girls play outside, hit the gym and did some preparations for the upcoming lacrosse season for the older daughter. Dad is coaching this year, so he gets to be the driver for this particular sport. I get to be the team secretary and the biggest cheerleader, which is perfect for me!

This week I finished an awesome novel, I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits. It was a great look into the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community, a very insular group of incredibly religious people. The author grew up in the Hasidic world but fled it for personal freedom and education, so she writes from experience and from her heart. Here are my thoughts on the story:

"God torments the few who do not sin to permit them to reach a higher station in the next world." 
I know very little about the Jewish Hasidic community, and nothing about the Satmar Hasidic Jews. The big hats, the side curls and the women trailing behind the men--this was about all I knew. To me they seemed liked the Amish of the Jewish world.

Anouk Markovits gives a glimpse into this world. She opens a window just a little, uncovering a world of extremes. Things we take for granted, like reading books, are forbidden to this community, and for the women the list is longer. The world is fraught with peril; a trip outside of the community could mean meeting a non-Jewish man, spying a statue of a saint or glimpsing the symbol of a pagan god.  A wife is required to keep track of her clean and unclean days, which are marked with a ritual bath after which she is declared 'kosher' and ready for 'relations' with her husband. They definitely cannot visit the library and cannot read a Goyim newspaper. News outside the community is definitely forbidden.

I Am Forbidden’s focal point is the Satmar, a very isolated, very regulated Hasidic Jewish sect. The story spans pre-World War II to modern times, following two orphan’s intermingled lives from Transylvania to Paris to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is a tragic love story stemming from people trying to do the right thing, make each other happy and follow Hasidic law--a feat which is not easy and usually makes all parties unhappy.

There is no gray in the Satmar community--there is black and white, man and woman, married and unmarried, clean and unclean, Godly and worldly. What is right and what is Holy aren’t always in harmony, and this torments the characters. The characters live with memories of the Holocaust and the troubling thought that their leader may have bargained with Nazi leaders to save his own life while not saving his community.

Author Anouk Markovits grew up in a Hasidic home, leaving it for a life of freedom and expression. She knows of what she writes, and I wonder how much of this book comes from her life. You feel the pain she felt, and understand what went into her decision to leave. This book was lovely, sad, tragic and beautiful. It isn't often that a book and make you feel deeply and teach you something all at the same time. I definitely recommend this book.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Getting back into the swing of life, The Strain and Snow Crash

After most vacations I moan that I wish I had a week to recover from vacation. Well, if you are my school-age daughters, you get your wish, thanks to Mother Nature and a mom who didn't look at the school calendar when planning our vacation.

We got home late Monday night, in fact it was so late that it was early Tuesday morning. Between that and the two hours of sleep lost in the time change, I decided to let the girls sleep in and get to school late. They rarely miss school nor are they ever tardy (because they ride the bus), so it seemed like a good decision. They got home from school that afternoon in time for an early March snow storm to bear down on us. No school Wednesday. And half way through the day I looked at the school calendar only to realize there is no school Friday. So that means they came back to one full day of school for the week. Now that's the way to ease back into life!

I got to finish two more books in the last couple of days. On the plane I finished The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Not bad, but not my favorite. It's available right now for your Kindle for $1.99 on Amazon.

The book starts off with a bang, hooking you in from the start. But it turns predictable, as the main character goes through the crisis of job vs. family and the vampires get to spread their virus/parasite because the CDC is made up of politicians instead of doctors. 

This story did not reinvent the vampire myth as it claims. It is evolved a bit, explaining the vampire blood lust as a virus or a parasite (the "blood worms" are seen by the characters, so I'm thinking parasite) that changes the way the body evolves and functions, but it is really just vampires. They have to bite to pass it on, and there it is evident from the get-go that there is a "Master" vampire.

The characters are a bit cheesy, including the old man with all the knowledge. He first encountered "The Master" as a young man in a concentration camp, so by the time this story comes to light he has to be at least in his 80's. Despite his age he is the go-to guy, and won't stop until he gets his vamp. Whatever.

The biggest problem was that I didn't fall in love with the characters. I will probably read the last two books in the trilogy at some point, because that's what I do. This doesn't need to be a trilogy, though. It could have been done in one.
"Rage is never blind. Rage is uniquely focused."

I also just finished Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. This has been on my to read list for a long time. It is definitely worth reading. Stephenson is one of my favorites--he seems to have infinite amounts of knowledge and does a lot of research.
The main character is Hiro Protagonist, a young man who delivers pizzas and collects information for the Central Intelligence Corporation (freelance), for a living. He is a hacker by trade and knows how to sword fight, petty much stays "jacked in" to the "Metaverse", an interactive world where is somewhat of a star and is the world's greatest swordfighter.

Hiro watches a friend and a great hacker as he is exposed to the drug/computer virus Snowcrash, seeing him disintegrate in the Metaverse and finding later that he has suffered serious brain damage and is in a coma. He stumbles upon Y.T., a young skater girl with a lot of spunk and a great sense of humor, and the two set out to figure out Snowcrash and end up saving the world.

This is a funny book protraying a dark, alternate world that is slightly depressing. But that's cyberpunk. The humor is so in your face. I mean, the names say it all. The fact that the hero's name is Hiro Protagonist, which is pretty funny! And Y.T. for the white girl skater? Pretty good. I liked the Sumerian-myth link, connecting it to viruses, computer viruses and how viruses and computer thinking has been around since the beginning.

 There is a lot of information in this book and it is sometimes heavy, but the parts that move, well, they move FAST. It isn't surprising that this was first developed to be a graphic novel or a comic, because it moves that way. It would be a good movie, and I'm surprised it hasn't been made into one yet.

". . .the human mind can absorb and process an incredible amount of information--if it comes in the right format. The right interface. If you put the right face on it."

That's it for today. My advice, get reading! You never know what you'll find!!!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vacation, Reading and The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson

It's a Saturday in early March in Arizona, sitting on Mom's back patio enjoying the sunshine. It has been a wonderful trip--Grandma got to take the girl's shopping, we all hit a wildlife park and got an African-style safari and today we are chillin' in the sunshine. We may hit a spring training baseball game, but we may not. This is the fun of vacation.

I have had a chance to finish two books while here and loved them both. Mom joked that she hasn't ever seen a book that I didn't like--but I have read many books that I don't like. I am a much more critical reader than I used to be, and I have realized I am a character-driven reader: if a character is well developed, I love the book. I think this is true for most readers.

On the plane and the first day we were here I finished "The Name of The Star" by Maureen Johnson. This was the perfect vacation read--if I were on my way to a beach, I would pack this book. Johnson does a good job of setting the scene and telling the story of Aurora or Rory, a Louisiana girl at a London boarding school for the first time who suddenly realizes she can see the dead. She is called into service when the Jack the Ripper murders are being re-created around her school, and it's up to her and The Shades, a band of sanctioned ghost police, to stop the killings. The story has the creepy factor, but its told with humor and feeling.
"Maybe that's what bravery is. You forget you're in trouble when you see someone else in danger. Or maybe there is a limit to how afraid you can get, and I'd hit it."

"The Name of The Star""  was set up for sequels, and I was happy to find out that book two, The Madness Underneath, is available. I like this set up--London is a city that has been built and rebuilt so many times that it has layers of 'ghosts'--and Rory can help the Shades in London for awhile. After that there is the possibility that she return to Louisiana and/or New Orleans, a city with its own history of ghosts.

This is a fun read and is highly enjoyable.  It's not high literature, but it's not suppose to be. The story won't make you think too hard, but it will whisk you away from your day-to-day for a few hours.