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The Epic Adventure: From Cincinnati to Utah and From Japan to Dreamscapes

I approach what I read with such little thought that I sometimes wonder what the connecting thread is. Throughout August I kept coming back to a common theme: Epic Adventure. While I myself was planning for and going on an adventure in Arizona and Utah, some of the people I was reading about were having adventures of their own. Some were EPIC tails like I used to read in English class, while others others were epics of a much, much smaller scale.

The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Benjamin

I received a copy of The Anatomy of Dreams as part of a payment for cat sitting. (The best kind of payment, BTW.) I picked it off my shelf for the cover art only. I mean, it’s beautiful. The tale inside though … its horrible. Good horrible! Like good to read but god forbid it happens to you.

Sylvie Patterson meets her boyfriend, Gabe, while away at boarding school. He and her school headmaster Dr. Adrian Keller play a crucial role in her life trajectory. Keller is conducting research about the subconscious mind, dreams and the human psyche. And what you think is real, is not.

With that last line, I sort of spoiled some stuff. But goodness! The Book unexpectedly turned into a thriller and I couldn’t put it down! Was it an awesome book? Not really. Will you enjoy it? Yes, and even more so during the last third or so of it.

The Suitcases by Anne Hall Whitt

Anne Hall Whitt was only 53 when she wrote The Suitcase, but it reads like the memoir of a much older woman. An advocate for foster children, Whitt wrote about her own experience as a foster child. It’s heartbreaking, but also a very real glimpse into real life. It was sort of cute reading the things she marked time and change by. Access to toys and candy, freedom to play and souvenirs from her different homes.

After the reading The Suitcases, which has inexplicably been on my To Read list for years, I looked up more information about it. According to the author’s obituary, a condensed version of the story was distributed by Reader’s Digest in 21 countries. As a means by which to further the discussion about foster care, she accomplished her mission.

The Last Hiccup by Christopher Meades

The Last Hiccup has also been collecting dust on my To Read list. I suspect I added it because I liked the cover art? It was not what I expected.

Set in Russia in the early 1900s, The Last Hiccup focuses on Vladimir who, at age 8, catches a case of chronic hiccups – chromic like they never go away. The search for a cure takes him on an epic adventure that helps him grow up but does little for his hiccups. Twelve years later, Vladimir comes home and the story only gets more interesting.

My only concern about this book, and maybe it’s a touch of a spoiler, is that I know the end will frustrate some folks. My mom asked for some books to read and I included this but think she will be so angry if she gets to the last page. I expect phone calls.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko has gotten a lot of press and space on bestseller shelves in bookstores. When my local library suggested it via my audio book app, I was all over it.

Following four generations of a Korean family, starting in the early 1900s in Korea and ending much later in Japan, Pachinko reads like an epic adventure of sorts. Rather than a hero on a quest, it’s about a family questing for a place to call home.

Author Min Jin Lee does a beautiful job of weaving together family members’ stories, with moments of great joy but also moments of great sadness. I was especially struck by the discrimination  Korean immigrants faced in Japan. It simply wasn’t something I had any familiarity with.

If you’re looking for a meaty novel – one that will help you “read harder” – check out Pachinko.

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

Books by the Banks is a Cincinnati literary event happening in late October. I like reading books by some of the authors visiting so I have a connection to some of the speaking panels and an opportunity to meet authors of books I like.

A Million Junes didn’t turn out to be for me so much. I liked it, but I definitely didn’t love it. I think the magic described in it skipped some necessary details for me as a reader to follow along. If I look past that, what author Emily Henry created is a very pretty story.

Jack “June” O’Donnell is growing up without her father but with all of the stories he told her before he died. These include stories of magic, ghosts and coywolves, as well as a deep-rooted hatred of the neighboring Angert family. June goes on an adventure to discover if there is any truth to the stories and to resolve the family feud.

A Million Junes is a young adult book. If you have a young reader in your life who likes a touch of magic or fantasy, they may enjoy this novel.

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

I am very okay reading young adult novels (see above), but This Raging Light was young adult. The upside of that is that I read it in just one day. The downside is that it sort of left my head as soon as I was done. So … I can’t say much more.

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

I already shared a review of sorts of Hello, Sunshine that goes into enough about the book. No need to write more!

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Selected both for book club and because the author Catherine McKenzie will be at Books by the Banks, I was excited to read Fractured. It’s set in Cincinnati and a sort thriller whodunnit. I’ve recently tried to embrace crime novels as an extension of my love for television crime dramas. So far, it’s not translating too hot.

In Fractured, author Julie Prentice and her family move to Cincinnati so they can escape a stalker. Almost immediately, the new family doesn’t fit in and Julie makes an obviously romantic connection with a neighbor. Drama ensues, including a death. That’s established early on, using a flashback style of narrative. But who died? And who did it? That’s what you have to read to find out.

McKenzie does wrap up the crime well. But then I felt like she played a cheap trick with the reader by closing with a question. If I ignore that question, four stars! With it, three stars and I feel like that’s generous. It irritated me so much! But I don’t know how to explain it without giving away too much plot. What I will say for McKenzie is that she nailed the Cincinnati setting. I’ve read other authors’ attempts at the same with much worse results, so I was very pleasantly surprised. I read the book in just a handful of days and, as I made my way further into it, couldn’t wait to find out the answer to the mystery.

Just that last question…

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

Among the shows that Netflix suggests I might enjoy are Murder She Wrote and Columbo. I suspect they’re right. I like rather old-fashioned crime dramas. Bonus if they’re British dramas, which usually come with steady pacing, funny insults and much less violence. I’ve only recently acknowledged that my love of a televised murder mystery could translate into liking mystery novels. Time of Fog and Fire is from the middle of the Molly Murphy  Mysteries, which I have not read before. Much like my British crime dramas, I found this book delightful, entertaining and a little forgettable, which, for a vacation read, was fine by me. Are these books something I would put at the top of my reading lists for the future? Nope. Would I read more of them? Absolutely.

A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

Another of my books-as-payment-for-cat-sitting reads, A Working Theory of Love helped span different areas of my life, in a way that seems to happen so often. At work I am learning more and more about augmented reality, virtual reality and smart machines. None of these are topics about which I would independently seek out material, but they’ve turned out to be interesting and relevant to my everyday life.

In A Working Theory of Love, Neil Bassett is helping to create artificial intelligence, based on the detailed journals of his deceased father. The goal is to create a computer that can beat the Turing Test, which was established by Alan Turing in 1950 and says that for a computer to achieve artificial intelligence, it needs to convince a person that the machine is actually a person more than 30% of the time. Neil’s business partners work to code different aspects of personality into their computer and then it’s up to Neil to do the testing. In essence, he is seeing if the computer is convincing enough as his deceased father. This leads to personal conflict and deep dives into a painful past that are fascinating because of how intertwined they are with technology.

I really enjoyed A Working Theory of Love for its exploration into artificial intelligence. There were other plot lines involving romance and cults that were … less enjoyable. Still worth a read, though, and definitely an excellent form of payment for pet sitting!

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The Epic Adventure: From Cincinnati to Utah and From Japan to Dreamscapes


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