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Melinda Ott has commented on (173) products.

Under the Same Blue Sky by Pamela Schoenewaldt
Under the Same Blue Sky

Melinda Ott, May 26, 2015

Folks, I'm scratching my head over this one. There are definitely some wonderful things about this book, and I enjoyed the experience of reading it, but there were issues that I just can't overlook.

I'll start with the positive. This is my second book by Pamela Schoenewaldt (Swimming in the Moon was the first) and, once again, I was drawn in by the language in this book. It is not overly verbose, but the prose is still lovely and completely readable.

I was immediately attracted to Hazel as a character. She is a young woman very much at a crossroads in her life. As is typical among young people of that age, she is restless and then she discovers a family secret that leads her to question her life as she knows it. I liked that while Hazel was a proactive character, Shoenewaldt still gave her time to process these things that go on in her life.

The real draw for me with this book is how well Schoenewaldt draws America during World War I. I've read a fair amount of WWI fiction, but I think it was all from a European viewpoint. The United States had a unique experience with the war--while we didn't join in until late in the game, the war was fought by citizens on the streets of America. Schoenewaldt captures this expertly and, for that alone, I would recommend this book.

But, as I said, there were things that just didn't work. My biggest problem is that it seemed like Schoenewaldt took 3 passes at this before settling on a plot, but the first 2 possible plots are still included, but never finished. The first of these is Hazel's family secret, which is introduced, ignored for a bit, and then brought up briefly before being dropped for the rest of the book. The second story line involves some magic realism. It is not that I don't like magic realism--I actually quite like it when done well--but I do believe that it is something that an author needs to commit to and carry through the entire work. Schoenewaldt does not do this. It happens in only one part of the book and then is dropped again. Throughout the rest of this book, I kept hoping I'd see a return, or at least an explanation, of the magic realism, but it never happened. Because of this, I felt like I was reading 3 distinct stories (or 2 beginnings of stories and one complete story) instead of one cohesive novel.

I really think that a but more editing and the removal of "story stumps" would have greatly improved this novel. But, I cannot discount the beautiful language and Schoenewaldt's description of WWI-era America. Even with its flaws, I would still recommend this book.
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The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian

Melinda Ott, May 21, 2015

Once again, I'm probably the last person around to read this. However, this time at least, there is a good reason for it. It was the selection for my book club this month and I try to read the selections within a month of the meeting. So, I've owned a copy of this book for months but had to wait (well, made myself wait) until just recently to read it.

The big question is: does it live up to the hype? Yes, yes it does. I was actually a little wary of this book going in. From what I had heard about it, I was afraid it would be a Castaway scenario where it would be one character talking to himself (or to an inanimate object). Thankfully, that is not the case. Yes, the bulk of the book is Mark Watney trying to survive on Mars, but there are also scenes with NASA and with Watney's crew as they travel away from him. And Mark never talks to a soccer ball, or personifies any other non-living thing, so that is a plus.

There is a a staggering amount of science in this book, but don't let that scare you off. I do not have a scientific mind at all and I was able to get through it. I will say I did better when Mark was going through the science than when the people from NASA or the Hermes crew were relaying it. Weir created a great voice with Mark, which is necessary since the bulk of the book is in his voice. He has a great sense of humor and even the driest science monologue was entertaining when it was coming from him. However, I am kind of amazed at how much chemical engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering he knows as a botanist (yes, I know everyone had multiple roles but...wow....)

The movie version will be out later this year and I am in now way making a dig at the book when I say I think it will make a great movie. It does have a very linear plot which translates well to film but doesn't always work on the page. Here, however, is an exception. The fact that Weir has directed everything in this book to one point is truly effective and I think that, if he had deviated at all from that, the whole narrative may have fallen apart.

I read this book in one day, which I am rarely able to do these days. Once I picked it up, I just couldn't put it down and I'm pretty sure that most people would have the same experience.
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Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland
Love and Miss Communication

Melinda Ott, May 13, 2015

Let's start with the good--and there is a lot of good here. I guess the proper review format would be to save my "bottom line" for the end of this, but I'm going to be a rebel and start with it. I really enjoyed this book and it was exactly what I needed when I read it.

Friedland's writing style is exceptionally good for this type of book in that there seems to be a fair amount depth to her writing and she fleshes out the main character of Evie quite nicely.The secondary characters are more one-dimensional, but since the novel is so focused on Evie, it isn't really an issue.

The premise of this book is both unique and timely. If you are reading this review, you are plugged in. Evie goes completely off the grid. Like, she won't even look at a computer screen (at least not when it is turned on). I know I couldn't do it and I doubt many others could either. I kept thinking there was no way she would be able to function in life without the internet, but she makes it and it is pretty awe-inspiring. Honestly, I would recommend this book on the premise alone.

Now, the critical part. Before I go on, let me reiterate that I did enjoy this book. It is on the lighter side, and I knew that going into it, so even though I have these criticisms, they were not big issues for me.

First off, I knew exactly what was going to happen in this book. There was nothing that caught me by surprise and I knew pretty much from the start how the book would end. However, this book could fall under the "chick lit" umbrella and such books usually follow the same formula, so the fact that this book was not surprising is not surprising.

I also wish Friedland had spent more time on what Evie went through the first few days and weeks of going off-line. Did she go through the typical withdrawal symptoms? Did she eat all the chocolate in the world? I don't know, because Friedland never really went into that. It seemed like giving up the internet was just as easy as deciding to do so and I really, really, really doubt that.

My final little criticism is that the epilogue of this book just doesn't fit with the rest of the book. You could just skip it and not miss anything but, if you choose to read it, you might be scratching your head, trying to figure out how it relates to anything. Epilogue should tie up loose strings, this one just tangles up a whole other ball of yarn.

Still, this was an enjoyable read for me and one I'd recommend to anyone looking for a beach read where they don't get WiFi.
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Ladies in Low Places by Mary Ann Henry
Ladies in Low Places

Melinda Ott, May 8, 2015

Short story collections are things that I love, but somewhat hard for me to review. Obviously, reviewing something with several distinct stories can be tricky but the bigger problem for me is that I usually read short story collections over a long period of time. For example, it took me 53 days to read this 263-page book.

The fact that it took me so long to read this book is not a commentary on the quality. I just like to go slowly through short story collections, reading no more than one story a day. I like to have a little "space" between each story so that I can enjoy each one on their individual merits. Unfortunately, the fact that it takes so long for me to read books like this means it can be harder for me to keep the earlier stories fresh in my mind.

So, I'm going to address this book with an overall eye. For this book, this works well because Henry's style is fairly uniform throughout the book. This isn't to say that this book is monotone. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Henry does an admirable job of including stories of women from all walks and stages in life. You can, however, tell that every story was written by the same author, which isn't a bad thing at all. I actually loved Henry's voice and it even sounded Southern in my head as I read it.

Henry is an expert at creating the world of the Lowcountry here. I've never been there (the closest I've been was when I went to college in the Tidewater region of Virginia) but I could clearly see it in my mind's eye and, yes, I would really love to visit now. The fact that she was able to pull this off is what really holds this collection together.

This is a very readable collection and I would recommend it to readers new to short story collections, as well as to fans of Southern fiction from a female viewpoint.
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Melinda Ott, April 29, 2015

I was supposed to read this book about a year ago--it was one of the selections in my book club, but I wasn't going to be able to attend that meeting so I ended up not reading this book. Then, I needed something to read on my phone during National Library week (or whatever) and this book had come up as being the most challenged book in libraries. Well, I love a good controversy, so I finally got around to reading this.

And, here is my question...what is supposed to be so controversial about this book. According to the ALA, it is:

Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

Anti-family? Really? If anything, this book is incredibly pro-family! Junior's parents are not perfect, but they are the best they can be and they love Junior and Junior loves him,. I'm not sure how that qualifies as being anti-family. Cultural insensitivity? This is one of the most culturally sensitive books I have ever read. And, yes there are some scenes of drugs/alcohol/smoking, a few f-bombs here and there, and a description of what Junior does in his alone time (I'll give you a hint--it's the same thing almost every single 14 year old boy on the planet does). However, none of that is presented in a gratuitous way. It's Junior's life and this book would not be true with a white-washed version of his life.

Look, I'm not going to go any further arguing the so-called "reasons" for challenging this book--it just makes me too upset. I'll get off my soap box now....

Obviously, I loved this book. Junior was a fantastic character and I fell a little bit in love with him (and then went head over heels for him in the scene where he's interviewed by local media). The depictions of life on the reservation are hard to read, but I believe that they are realistic. I know life is hard on the reservations, and Alexie does not shy away from that. Yet, at the same time, he does not fall into self-pity.

What I found unexpected was how Alexie contrasts Juniors reservation world and his "white" world. In short, neither world is perfect, but neither world is doomed. People are people and everyone has their own value and their own struggles. I don't know if I was expected for own group to come out ahead of the other in some way, but I am very glad that didn't happen.

I truly feel that this is an important book for young people to read. Yes, it examines the struggles of modern Native Americans but, more importantly, it is about finding your own place in the world. And to all those people who try and challenge this book....don't worry, when my children are older, they won't be checking this book out of the library. I'm going to buy them their own copies.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)



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