Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

powerofdog_new2Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
Book Discussion
Wednesday, January 25 @ 6:30 pm

Exceptional books illuminate, allowing us to see the world or ourselves in a way previously obscured. Sometimes, this new light reveals something awe-inspiring, beautiful, and mysterious. Other times, it reveals something brutal and horrifying, and maybe the lights should have just stayed off, because what is seen can never be unseen. The “Power of the Dog” is one of those books.

Unofficially America’s longest war, the Drug War is a failure. The bodies pile up, but the drugs continue to flow into people’s lungs, up their noses and through their veins. Meanwhile, the cartels that peddle them amass wealth, power, and influence. Winslow dramatizes this brutal reality in “The Power of the Dog.” We view it through the perspectives of Art Keller, a rogue DEA agent, and Adan Barrera, Keller’s former friend who consolidated power to become the Drug Kingpin of all of Mexico, el patron. Through the eyes of these rivals, we witness 25 years of brutal violence, heartbreaking betrayals, and empty victories in a game that nobody ever wins.

The seriousness of the issue and the depth of the characters separate “The Power of the Dog” from the average crime fiction. The Drug War and Cold War intertwine, alliances tangle, and Faustian bargains are the only options available. Keller knows the battle against the cartels will cost him everything, but his addiction to this dogfight is as powerful as any drug. Barrera would like to run the cartel with the banality of a corporation, but the cost of being the king is paid in blood.

Wars aren’t fought by two people alone. Reluctant killers, left-wing priests, perspicacious prostitutes, Mexican cowboys and an alphabet soup of government organizations on both sides of the border have agendas of their own, and nobody comes out of this combat unscathed. Some pay in dollars. Some pay with their lives, and some pay with their souls.

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

girl-on-trainRachel is a hot mess. She drank herself out of her marriage, out of her job, and out of her friendships. In order to maintain the illusion of normalcy, she continues to take the train to “work” every single day. She uses this opportunity to stare out the window, pound gin and tonics, and fantasize about the life she had, the life she wanted, and the life that was stolen from her. Every day, she witnesses the “perfect couple.”  In the mornings, their smiling faces enjoy breakfast and coffee. In the evenings, they relax with their dinner and their wine. Rachel lusts after this life. This was her life, but her current life is little more than a boozy fog, so she takes comfort in the warm fantasies of the people she watches from the train. This fantasy too is steamrolled.

One morning, the perfect man isn’t there, and the perfect woman is kissing another man. That same day, the perfect woman goes missing. Rachel would be a key witness, except that she can’t be trusted. She stalks her ex-husband, harasses his new wife, and spends most of her life on the verge of being blackout drunk. Neither her memories nor her motives are trusted by the police. The dark cloud of an alcohol induced blackout hangs over that day, obscuring her recollection of the events. All she knows is that she woke up with bumps and bruises, along with the desperate feeling that key elements of the story have been buried deep within her psyche. Can she stay sober long enough to unearth the facts, and maybe even grasp the root of her addiction?

Book Review: Good and Cheap

good and cheap

Click image to find in library

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day is an essential cookbook, not just one for those trying to eat on a budget. So many cookbooks are loaded with complicated recipes with ingredients that nobody can pronounce with a straight face. This book strips cooking down to it’s essentials, and is driven by the idea that simple, fresh ingredients are the key to eating well. It’s also a commentary on the assumption that one has to be rich to eat well these days, and that it’s cheaper to eat fast food or instant processed food. This book shows that with a few basic cooking skills and the knowledge of which ingredients to buy, one can eat for a day on less than what the average “value meal” at McDonald’s costs.

Lately, we have seen many books of this nature. Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan have become celebrities and best selling authors by promoting the “real food” movement. With such lines like, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” the real food movement has been rapidly gaining fans. This book is a perfect addition to those already on the bandwagon, or for those who are looking for an easy and inexpensive way to convert to a simple, nutritious, and delicious diet.

For those interested in the book, it can be borrowed from the library here, or the author has made it available for free via pdf download here.

The Martian

the martian by andy weir

Click image to check for availability

The Martian by Andy Weir

In The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney is abandoned by his crew and left for dead. He shouldn’t have survived the freak accident that appeared to kill him, and when he realizes it didn’t, he knows that his chances for long term survival are bleak. Despite having enough food to last a year, being the only inhabitant of Mars’s red desert presents numerous challenges to the unwilling Earthling immigrant. Nobody knows he’s there, and even if they did, it would take years to get a rescue ship to him.


The story is mostly told through Watney’s space log where we get an appreciation of his ingenuity and self-deprecating humor. The book brilliantly demonstrates humanity’s instinct to persevere in the face of impossible odds. Watney uses his engineering skills to continuously find ways to extend his lifespan, and his observational wit to keep him sane as Mars’s loneliest resident.


The book does a great job of mixing the tension of a sci-fi thriller with a constant stream of one-liners from Watncy. His ability to keep his sense of humor despite leap frogging from one life threatening emergency to the next makes him easy to identify with and pull for.
The Martian is a page turner, and one of the funniest science fiction books ever written. It’s a must read for all sci-fi fans, and also fans of survival stories and thrillers. It’s being made into a movie starring Matt Damon.

The Truth About Alice

Click image for availability.

Click image for availability.

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

The following review for “The Truth About Alice” deals with mature themes and uses strong language.

So basically this story is about a girl named Alice Franklin who is a “slut” because she slept with two different guys at the same party. It is also well known that she killed Brandon, the star quarterback, because she was sexting him while he was driving and he died in a car accident.

This story is written from four different points of view and then lastly Alice’s. Elaine, the popular girl. Josh, the average jock. Kurt, the nerd that nobody likes. And Kelsey, who is Alice Franklin’s ex best friend. All of these people (except Kurt) helped some way in Alice’s downfall.

This was a great story to read, although it had many clichés, and it was kind of predictable, the characters and their stories made the book pretty great. It definitely will tear you apart seeing how teenagers (or really anyone) can be so selfish that they would spread rumors to make themselves more popular. I’m looking forward to future books by Jennifer Mathieu.

–Alyssa Plowman

Cinder: Book #1 of the Lunar Chronicles

 

Click image for availability

Click image for availability

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

4/5 Very Good!

Teen fiction has become less and less awesome as the years progress, with vampires, werewolves, and more dystopias than anyone cares to read. That all tends to get really old really fast. Enter Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This modern fairy-tale remake keeps some of the old classic story (Cinder being a social outcast due to her metal bits; she lives with an evil stepmother and an evil step-sibling; she loses a “shoe,” etc.) while new stuff happens. Even the new parts of the story aren’t entirely new, like the plague that ravages the city and kills the emperor, or the conspiracies of a princess everyone assumes is dead (think Russian revolution).

Aside from the classical fiction aspects and the semi-historical facets, the characterization is a large part of what makes this book so enjoyable to read. Cinder is not a princess. She’s a mechanic, meaning she doesn’t really care what people think and she is often covered in oil or something equally un-girly. She refuses to admit to having any feeling for the handsome Prince Kaito, whom she meets when he asks her to repair his android. She does have feelings, for her sister, her android friend Iko, and she acts on these feelings, the way teenage girls do. Cinder is as real as any human in her story or teen girl reading it.

There are some downsides to this delightful sci-fi fairy tale. First off, it drags. At times, the pace is too slow. The descriptions are decent, but sometimes, they’re too much, especially for the plague, which could make the average reader gag and give up, fearing more grossness. Finally, the biggest issue is that the most important plot probably isn’t going to surprise anyone.

Despite these shortcomings, Cinder redeems itself with interesting action and, throughout the rest of the series, a very well-developed plot and lots of fun characters with their own backstories and personality quirks. It’s definitely worth reading the rest of the series, because this is a dystopian fairy tale like nothing ever seen before.

–Shyela Reimel

Fargo: Season 1 Review

Click image to check availability.

Click image for details.

5/5 Brilliant!

Fargo, the series, is a celebration of the sublimity of the simple life. The one thing the two Fargos have in common above all else is a profound appreciation of kindness and decency. That might seem like a contradiction considering the franchise is known for harsh, striking Minnesota landscapes, cold brutal violence, and subtle dark humor, but that bleak backdrop provides us with the contrast necessary to bear witness to the divine glow of idyllic Americana.

Fargo depicts a world in which people who turn to the dark side can always find themselves on thin ice. Those who are simple and good don’t have it easy, but they have a chance to find truth and beauty in the small joys of life. It doesn’t give us the good versus evil of Tolkien or Star Wars, but gives us an appreciation of the seemingly mundane aspects of our life, and offers the perspective that contentment will always be covetousness in the long run.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens book

Click image to check availability.

Book Review of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. 5/5

Some books take more effort than others to read. Sapiens is one of those books, and considering the ambitious goal of the author to summarize the entire history of mankind in a single 400 page book, a certain level of density must be accepted. For those of us unafraid to challenge ourselves with our reading selections, the bird’s eye view of humanity offered by Sapiens is an opportunity to fundamentally change our perspectives, our ideas of ourselves, and our ideas about the human race to which we belong.

This is a rare book that takes non-fiction to the level of art. Along with non-fiction classics like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Sapiens has the power to enlighten us by illuminating unseen forces that are at work every day shaping us culturally and biologically. What truly makes it brilliant though is its ability to inspire awe at the long journey the human race has been on, and to make us delightfully aware that we’re currently holding the baton of this timeless relay race with an unknown destination.

Harari takes us from a pre-historical time where Homo sapiens competed with Neanderthals and other early humans for dominance to the emergence of the agricultural revolution which led to the evolution of money. From there, cities could begin to take shape. Governments and religions grew in power and influence. Technological advances started to change the landscape and change the way we interacted with each other. As technology grew exponentially, humans found themselves in a strange land that didn’t conform to our biological instincts and tendencies. He leaves us not with an answer, but with a startling question. Will the world that we shaped with our technology force us to evolve into something that can no longer be considered human?