Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Secret Race, etc.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All CostsThe Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If the litmus test for predicting enjoyment of The Perfect Mile was being able to identify what event is taking place in its cover image, here are a few for The Secret Race:

1. Do you know what a/the peloton is?
2. When you listen to Yanni, are you reminded of the Tour de France...just a little bit?
3. Can you do a pretty good Phil Ligget impression?

If you answered 'yes' to any or all of the above questions, then boy, do I have the book for YOU. It's The Secret Race.

When you grow up with Craig Walker as your dad - like I did - you spend the Julys of your formative years immersed in the Tour de France - like I did. Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, Miguel Indurain, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich, and yes, Lance Armstrong - these were household names as I was growing up. Reading this book brought back vivid memories of a (kind of odd, now that I think about it) childhood obsession with all things professional cycling.

The sad thing is, we now know that a lot of - OK, pretty much ALL of - those guys were doping to some extent. This book tells that story. But it does it in such a joyful, non-bitter way. Is that even possible? As the reader, I was totally sucked into this world, and it was so great to re-live some of those great racing moments, especially in the Tour de France. You really feel each triumph and each setback described by Hamilton.

This is true even when these triumphs and setbacks are brought to you by EPO, or blood-bagging, or testosterone pills. Those just make the story more interesting and heartbreaking. The point of this book is not to bring down any one individual (ahem, Lance), or even exonerate a different individual (the author, of course). It's just a totally amazing story about elite cyclists and their lives during the mid- to late-1990s and early 2000s.

Give this book a try, even if you have only a glimmer of interest in the topic. If you are a cycling nerd, however, this is a must-read.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look up Tour de France highlights from the mid-1990s on YouTube.

For Darkness Shows the Stars (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #1)For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What you MUST know about this book: It is a sci-fi/mildly dystopian adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Yeah.

Other thoughts: Well, Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen, so I figured this book would be either love (it's perfect!) or hate (she ruined it!). Fortunately, it was LOVE. The author has transferred the original story to a new setting and time period (and world, almost). As such, she has necessarily changed some details, some characters, some plot elements, etc. And yet, the spirit of the story remains the same. It really is something to behold.

Just like Persuasion, this book has that exquisitely dull ache of sadness running through it. And sometimes, you just need to read a book with an exquisitely dull ache of sadness running through it.

By the way, this is absolutely a stand-alone book. I had no idea it was part of a series until I logged in to Goodreads to review it.

The Book of Blood and ShadowThe Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book probably deserves more like three stars, but I had so much fun reading it that I'm giving it four. I really could have loved loved loved this book (as much as I loved loved loved the experience of reading it) if only the central mystery had been clearer. But it really fell flat.

So how could I have loved reading a book whose central component basically failed? Well, even if I wasn't always able to follow what exactly was going on with the letters at any given time, I enjoyed being with the characters as they figured it all out. I loved the setting (Prague) and all the Czech used in the book and the way that parts of the mystery were actually figure-out-able (even if it didn't work as a whole, at least not for me). The writing was fantastic in a way that didn't draw attention to itself. It was only after finishing the book that I noticed how much I had appreciated it.

Definitely recommended, at least for the adventure of reading it.

Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobook. I've been working on this one for almost a month.

I can't remember the last time I finished a book and then thought, quite seriously, "what was the point of that book?" That's how I feel about this one. It was nice, and thoughtful, and interesting, but I'm not sure why it is there. I can't even really decide if I liked it. It kind of just exists, independent of anyone's opinion.

I've never read another book like this, so I'm not sure what to make of it. Definitely worth a read, if the blurb sounds interesting to you.

Winterborne (Universe Unbound #1)Winterborne by Augusta Blythe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm too old to be reading books like this. But I mean that as a commentary on the book, not on my age. The best YA books are worthy of an adult's attention. This one, not so much. Amazon always gets me with these "99 cents today only" Kindle books. I've bought a few and they've all been mediocre to middling at best...

...except for Angelfall, which was AWESOME.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To enjoy this book, you will need to get over the fact that the main character has a gemstone as a belly button, and it was put there by God on her naming day. Just get over it right now, because that happens pretty much on the first page.

Ready? OK. I had a love/like relationship with this book. Most of the time I LOVED it, settling into LIKE for some portions of the story. It reminded me of Princess Academy and Zorro and (if you can believe it) The Book of Mormon. Carson has created a fascinating world that maybe could exist in real life...but also kind of not (see gemstone as belly button, above). I really liked the main character and finding out more about her story at the same time that she did.

And oh, the food in this book. I gained 10 pounds in my imagination just from reading the descriptions.

I happen to think the cover for this book is awful, by the way. Shame.

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sooooooo much fun to read. Dangerously so. Yeah, so I don't really buy the larger context of the world this story takes place in, and sometimes it smacks of teenage-girl-wish-fulfillment, and yes, it could be said to be heavily influenced by books like The Hunger Games and Princess Academy and Beauty Queens. But guess what? I TOTALLY LOVED THOSE BOOKS. So there.

And for once, a cover image of a girl in a fancy ball gown is actually an accurate representation of some of the events of the book! That's a first.

1 comment:

Suzanne Bubnash said...

If Hamilton had written the Secret Race in such a way that exonerated him from wrong-doing, it would have been worthless. But he was sucked in to the doping, admits it, and describes the experience. I can see why he felt he had to do it. The world-class competitive cyclists were just that, world-class, because they WERE doping. At least in most cases.


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