Monday, December 31, 2012

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Summary:
In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond.

But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the count and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

My take: 2.5 looks
I am not sure what I expected from this. For some reason, I thought this was going to be an oddity, like John Dies at the End by David Wong or anything by Jasper Fforde. Instead, it was a straight-up mystery with a pretty heavy dose of character study. I had put off reading this because of my expectations, but was completely wrong.

Larry has really gotten the shaft in life. He has suffered for years for being different, and more years for being a silent victim. Son of an ass of a father and a ghost of a mother, he was destined to fail.

Silas has taken advantage of every opportunity and has succeeded in life, at least on the outside. Son of a single black woman, he was the typical success story in rural Mississippi (the reason for the name of the book).

Franklin, as an Alabama native, writes perfectly of the underbelly of the South's redneck white trash population. He has it down to a "t". It would have been nice to see this balanced with the more genteel side of Southern living, but that may have been too prosaic for the author. Instead, it felt like a story awash in Southern stereotypes, that I (as an Alabama resident) don't see in my particular corner of the world (thank goodness).

If Larry has been in law enforcement, I would have been reading In the Heat of the Night. And probably liked it better.

Not recommended.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Summary:
Meet Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, private investigator. This twenty-eight-year-old may have a checkered past littered with romantic mistakes, excessive drinking, and creative vandalism; she may be addicted to Get Smart reruns and prefer entering homes through windows rather than doors -- but the upshot is she's good at her job as a licensed private investigator with her family's firm, Spellman Investigations. Invading people's privacy comes naturally to Izzy. In fact, it comes naturally to all the Spellmans. If only they could leave their work at the office.

To be a Spellman is to snoop on a Spellman; tail a Spellman; dig up dirt on, blackmail, and wiretap a Spellman. Part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry, Izzy walks an indistinguishable line between Spellman family member and Spellman employee. Duties include: completing assignments from the bosses, aka Mom and Dad (preferably without scrutiny); appeasing her chronically perfect lawyer brother (often under duress); setting an example for her fourteen-year-old sister, Rae (who's become addicted to "recreational surveillance"); and tracking down her uncle (who randomly disappears on benders dubbed "Lost Weekends").

But when Izzy's parents hire Rae to follow her (for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of Izzy's new boyfriend), Izzy snaps and decides that the only way she will ever be normal is if she gets out of the family business. But there's a hitch: she must take one last job before they'll let her go -- a fifteen-year-old, ice-cold missing person case. She accepts, only to experience a disappearance far closer to home, which becomes the most important case of her life.

My take: 4 looks
This was a very fun book. It was a mystery, suspense, story of a dysfunctional family and romantic relationships, and hilarious. That is a feat for an author!

Isabel is a woman-child with great connections, few friendships and a riotous family. I was hooked at the very beginning and could not put it down. I made several comparisons with Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum character, but this one was more real to me. A character in the book describes her as a combination of Dirty Harry and Nancy Drew, and I thought that was perfect.

I am glad I have the rest of this series and will dive into book two as soon as I can.

Highly recommended.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

Summary:
In this wonderful novel about love and trust, hope and belief, Elizabeth Berg transports us to Nazareth in biblical times to reimagine the events of the classic Christmas story. We see Mary–young, strong, and inquisitive–as she first meets Joseph, a serious-minded young carpenter who is steadfastly devoted to the religious traditions of their people. The two become betrothed, but are soon faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Aided by a great and abiding love, they endure challenges to their relationship as well as threats to their lives as they come to terms with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of their child, Jesus. For Mary, the pregnancy is a divine miracle and a privilege. For Joseph, it is an ongoing test not only of his courage but of his faith–in his wife as well as in his God.

My take: 3 looks
This was a good book. At first, I was a little iffy on the doctrine. After all, if you are going to write about Christ, the least you can do is study and stay true to the Bible. However, it turned out to be a nice telling of the Christmas story and made Mary and Joseph seem very real.

Unlike the other book I read on the birth of Christ, Two From Galilee, this one portrayed Joseph much more like I thought he would be at the news of Mary's pregnancy. He didn't simply take it in stride, letting it fall by the wayside because of his love for her. No, he got angry and sought to divorce her privately, as it details in the Bible.

The other touching moment of the story was a forward in time to Joseph's death. The last moments of Mary and Joseph were very touching, as she prepared her heart to raise Jesus, as well as her other children, as a newly single mother, with His fate in mind.

Recommended.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two from Galilee by Margorie Holmes

Summary:
This is the  story of two real people whose lives were touched by  God: two people chosen by God to provide an earthly  home for His Son. Here are Mary and Joseph - a  teenage girl and a young carpenter - alone, frightened, in love, faced with family conflict, a hostile world and an awesome responsibility. It is a story  for young and old alike; for everyone who finds the  Christmas tale a source of timeless beauty and  wonder, a compassionate, emotional novel of divine love.

My take: 4 looks
Very good storytelling makes this a winner to read. Solid Christian doctrine makes it believable. With a combination like that, it's hard to go wrong.

I have just a few issues, though, with some of the characterizations. The first, and greatest, is with Mary's mother, Hannah. She is portrayed as a harsh, selfish, harpy of a woman who takes to her bed with headaches whenever she doesn't get her way. It was annoying at best and caused me to bristle every time she was involved in the story. When she finally broke at the end, believing that her daughter was actually carrying the Messiah, I felt no sympathy for her in the least. I was glad that she had finally received her mental comeuppance.

The other issue I had, albeit very minor, was Joseph's reaction to Mary's pregnancy. He was not angry in the least, but only confused. The text also doesn't indicate that he wanted to divorce her quietly, but that it was the urging of her father for him to do so. This story tells of a firm and steadfast Joseph who never waivers in his love and devotion to Mary. I don't think that's the way it could have happened, especially when the culture at the time called for the stoning death of the woman.

With that said, the writing was beautiful. I highlighted many passages in the course of my reading to be able to go back later and fully digest them, or to have the simple pleasure of reading them again. Mary's arrival at Elizabeth's and her reaction was a joy. Joseph's delivery of the Christ child was touching. It was a delight to read and I look forward to the other two in this series.

Highly recommended.

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci


Summary:
Disillusioned journalist Tom Langdon must get from Washington to L.A. in time for Christmas. Forced to take the train across the country because of a slight "misunderstanding" at airport security, he begins a journey of self-discovery and rude awakenings, mysterious goings-on and thrilling adventures, screwball escapades and holiday magic. He has no idea that the locomotives pulling him across America will actually take him into the rugged terrain of his own heart, as he rediscovers people's essential goodness and someone very special he believed he had lost.

Equal parts hilarious, poignant, suspenseful, and thrilling, David Baldacci's THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN is filled with memorable characters who have packed their bags with as much wisdom as mischief and shows how we do get second chances to fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams, especially during this season of miracles.

My take: 3 looks
This had the potential to be a really fun book, but it read at times like a propaganda piece for Amtrak, lobbying heavily for American rail.

It was a typical Christmas book in that there are numerous characters fulfilling different roles, a bit of a problem to solve, and a happy ending. It was very easy to read and had a bit of a twist at the end. I would recommend this.

A kick in the pants!

I posted over on Bibliophile's "What are you reading for December" page:

Ugh. Okay, remember that post of mine above? Well, not one thing has changed. I still have to finish The Handmaiden and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg and Two from Galilee by Margorie Holmes.

Then I need to read The Spellman Files for the discussion.

AND I just started a book my dad gave me for Christmas: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci.

Is it too late to say, "Bah! Humbug!"?

This was Vonnie's reply:
My read-a-thon has begun today over at my blog. Maybe this can help you push yourself with your reads?

So, I am going to take Vonnie up on her "nudge" and do it! This is what I need to finish for the year:

The Handmaiden and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg
Two from Galilee by Margorie Holmes
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Lastly, I want to start and finish The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Can I do it? Sure!!
 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Recommended? No, thank you.

I have just finished listening to over seven minutes of book recommendations "to help you recover from a tense 2012". On the list:
  • Stewart O'Nan's novella The Odds focuses on an unemployed couple who are just about out of options. Marion and Art Fowler are set to divorce on the eve of their 30th wedding anniversary, in order to protect what little assets they have left.
  • Money woes and magical thinking are the dominant notes in Canada, a dazzling epic of family dissolution by Richard Ford. Set in 1960 in Montana and Saskatchewan, the story is narrated by 15-year-old Dell Parsons, whose parents hatch the bright idea of robbing a bank to pay the bills. Of course, they're quickly arrested and imprisoned, leaving Dell and his twin sister to fend for themselves.
  • Junot Diaz's exuberant short-story collection This Is How You Lose Her charts the lives of Dominican immigrants for whom the promise of America comes down to a minimum-wage paycheck, an occasional walk to a movie in a mall, and the momentary escape of a grappling in bed.
  • Katherine Boo's much-lauded book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, crowns this "best of the year" list in nonfiction. Based on three years of "embedded reporting" in the slum settlement of Annawadi adjacent to the Mumbai airport and its nearby luxury hotels, Boo's book takes readers deep into the subsistence-level lives of residents like teenager Abdul, a peddler of recycled plastic; and Manju, a dreamy young woman bent on becoming the settlement's first college graduate.

Now, I don't know about you, but I read to escape. Occasionally, I will read a non-fiction work that has sparked my attention (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Under the Banner of Heaven were two recent reads), but I am primarily a fiction reader. And my tastes vary widely, from fantasy to thriller to cozy mystery to straight up chick-lit.

However, I can say that I try to steer clear of books that make me wish they came with a razor so I can slit my wrists at the end. There are two books which come quickly to mind that made me feel like this: Zoya by Danielle Steele and White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I would be a better person today if I had never read these two books. I am sure there are more, like the mental damage that short story Guts by Chuck Palahniuk inflicted upon me, but these are the two that are on the top of my list.

So, with that said, here are my favorite books of 2012, recommended with great aplomb:

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett - This book was at my grandmother's house and I had been interested in some time to read a book by Patchett. This is a heartwarming story of a difficult time in a girl's life.

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz - The name of the protagonist alone is reason enough to read it, but you will want to read all in the series by the time you are finished simply because of the superb writing.

And Then There Were Two by Agatha Christie - Arguably the best and most well known of her works. Kept me guessing until the end!

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston - Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Should be required reading in schools.

The Call by Yannick Murphy - Loved the format of the book, which made reading a pleasure. I would consider this one a sleeper. By the time the book was finished, I loved the characters.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer - The only non-fiction of the group, I recommend this one to lift the veil of ignorance many of us are under regarding Mormonism.

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley - This is a huge roller coaster of a book. Very well done and impossible to put down. This is the only book on the list that I stayed up in the wee hours reading because I had to know what happened next.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers - Winner of the Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King Book Awards, I recommend this one because of the way it is written. The story is not a happy one, but the format is intriguing and the ending is satisfying.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - The only book on the list that made me cry. It is so beautiful and completely satisfying that I was fully invested by the end. I had to take a breather after this one, just to do it the honor of living in my soul a bit longer.

See? Not a single one here that will make you want to commit Hari Kari. There you have it! My recommendations to bring you out of your 2012 doldrums.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Summary:
 If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be worth it?

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who teaches adults for extra money. One student submits a gruesome, harrowing first-person essay about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.

Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane — and insanely possible — mission to try to prevent the 11/22/1963 J.F. Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.


My take: 2 looks

I didn't hate this one, but almost. If I had not had to read it for my Bibliophile challenge, I would have put it aside a couple of hundred pages in. It's not that the story was a bad one; as a matter of fact, the premise is extraordinary. But the execution was extremely long, drawn out, verbose, etc. A veritable tome of minutiae that didn't make the story fuller, more robust or more enjoyable. There is a difference in providing rich detail and background, but King beats a dead horse in this one. I get the idea that his editors revere him as an author too much to cut the extraneous verbiage.

I am sorry, but I can't recommend this one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

Summary:
"Whatever the reason, I find that with each passing Christmas the story of the Christmas box is told less and needed more. So I record it now for all future generations to accept or dismiss, as seems them good. As for me, I believe. And it is, after all, my story." So begins "The Christmas Box", the touching story of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Together they discover the first gift of Christmas and learn what Christmas is really all about. "The Christmas Box" is a Christmas story unlike any other.

My take: 2.5 stars
At around 100 pages, this one didn't take much time at all to read, but I found the story to be flat, uninspirational and very over-the-top. Rick, the narrator, lack depth and dimension, and caused me to feel no sympathy for him in the least. The book was too short to provide enough background to make me invested in him as a husband, father, or businessman. The rest of the characters were, again, too hastily written to seem real. The music playing in the attic, the dreams, and the pointed questions from the widow were odd speedbumps on what should have been a lovely journey through hills, dales, valleys and mountains. Instead, it was a jerky start-and-stop.

Not recommended, especially since there are so many other wonderful and inspirational Christmas books out there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank

Summary:
Theodora is the matriarch of a family that has grown into a bunch of truculent knuckleheads. While she's finally gotten them all together in South Carolina to celebrate, this Christmas looks nothing like the extravagant, homey holidays of her childhood. What happened to the days when Christmas meant tables groaning with home-cooked goodies, over-the-top decorations, and long chats in front of the fire with Pearl, her grandmother's beloved housekeeper and closest confidante? Luckily for Theodora, a special someone who heard her plea for help arrives, with pockets full of enough Gullah magic and common sense to make Theodora's Christmas the love-filled miracle it's meant to be.

My take: 3 looks
This was another feel-good Christmas book. Family squabbles, infidelities, insolent children, and a holiday run by commercialism sets the scene. Enter a Christmas "angel" in the form of a resurrected Gullah housekeeper to set things straight and you have a recipe for good reading. This is a very short one, high on Christmas magic with a dab of why Christ is the root of Christmas. You will smile as you read it.

Recommended Holiday Reading.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Aunt Dimity's Christmas by Nancy Atherton

Summary:
Lori Shepherd and her family spend Christmas in the cottage willed to her by her late Aunt Dimity, but when she discovers a stranger barely alive in the snow, she teams up with a priest and together they unveil the tragic secret that led the stranger to her door.

My take: 2.5 looks
This was very easy to read and was fairly entertaining. However, the main character (Lori) got all over my last nerve. Her obsession with Kit was not a healthy one, and I felt that the author conveyed it with such a heavy hand that the story suffered. Also, her attraction to Julian was completely unnecessary.

It all ended well, but this recalls my dislike for her character in the first book. I enjoyed the second in this series so much more because the main characters were Derek and Emma Harris, and not Lori.

I recommend this as a nice, light and quick read, but be ready to get your hackles up, if you are like me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

Summary:
The popular Mary Kay Andrews delivers a tasty holiday treat as she brings back the winning characters from Savannah Blues and Savannah Breeze for a little Southern cheer. It's the week before Christmas, and antiques dealer Weezie Foley is in a frenzy to do up her shop for the Savannah historical district window decorating contest––which she intends to win. She throws herself into putting up a Graceland/Blue Christmas motif, with lots of tinsel, an aluminum tree, and all kinds of tacky retro stuff. The project takes up so much time that Weezie is ready to shoot herself with her glue gun by the time she's done, but the results are stunning. She's sure she's one–upped the owners of the trendy shop around the corner.

But suddenly, things go missing from Weezie's display, and there seems to be a mysterious midnight visitor to her shop. Still, Weezie has high hopes for the holiday––maybe in the form of an engagement ring from her chef boyfriend. But Daniel, always moody at the holidays, seems more distant than usual. Throw in Weezie's decidedly odd family, a 1950s Christmas tree pin, and even a little help from the King himself, and maybe there will be a pocketful of miracles for Weezie this Christmas eve.

My take: 3 looks
I didn't think I was going to like this one. Too much controversy at the beginning. Mean, gay neighbors who seemed to be pilfering Eloise's store display, a beloved dog who is missing and a boyfriend that I suspected was married.

However, it was a quick read and turned out to be quite enjoyable. The gay men weren't really mean at all (although there was that loose thread on who left the back gate open for their boutique dog), the boyfriend really was busy at work, and the beloved dog was found quickly and was fine.

What set this one back for me was the implausibility of the family dinner (one or two crazies per family, please; not a half dozen!) and the tidy relationship subplot of Daniel's. Although I really should have seen that coming, since Andrews dropped so many hints.

All-in-all, this was a pleasant book that set me back only one day. I will probably read more by this author, and now that I realized that this is a series, I will start at book one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Summary:
The New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box returns with a holiday novel of hope, love, and redemption.

My take: 4 looks
How is that for a short summary? ha! Here is my summary: James Kier is a ruthless businessman, a terrible father and a selfish (almost ex-) husband. However, he reads his obituary in the paper one day and his life changes.

I found this book to be a very fast read and perfect for the hectic holidays. It was a bit far-fetched and hard to believe in that a man who has become this ruthless and bitter would not be changed by a simple misprint in the paper. But I always want to believe in the best in people, their ability to improve themselves and the miracle of Christ at Christmas. All of those components are here and make for a heartwarming tale.

It was a nice story and is recommended.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Be an American Housewife by Maraget Dilloway

Summary:
A lively and surprising novel about a Japanese woman with a closely guarded secret, the American daughter who strives to live up to her mother's standards, and the rejuvenating power of forgiveness.

How to Be an American Housewife is a novel about mothers and daughters, and the pull of tradition. It tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI, and her grown daughter, Sue, a divorced mother whose life as an American housewife hasn't been what she'd expected. When illness prevents Shoko from traveling to Japan, she asks Sue to go in her place. The trip reveals family secrets that change their lives in dramatic and unforeseen ways.

Offering an entertaining glimpse into American and Japanese family lives and their potent aspirations, this is a warm and engaging novel full of unexpected insight.

My take: 3.5 looks
Read on the heals of The Buddha in the Attic and a re-read of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I seem to be on an Asian-theme in my reading. This was a great character study and exploration of familial relationships and culture clash. I liked the difference voices of the characters and their moving from Japan to America, through generations. It was a very easy and quick book to read and is recommended.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Reading Challenge on Bibliophile

Vonnie posted the new Winter Reading Challenge for the Shelfari Bibliophile group and it's a doozy!! Here it is:

Rules:
1. You read as many books as you want. Each book you read will be worth different points.
2. To earn points, you must read books that are part of the categories listed below. These points determine how many raffle entries you’ll earn at the end of the challenge to win the prizes. So choose wisely!
3. You must read at least ONE BOTM from December to February to be qualified to enter the raffle.
4. A book could be combined with no more than 4 categories.
5. Themed books are worth 10pts and could only be combined with one other challenge category. It excludes BOTMs. No more than 2 themed books per month.
6. All BOTM books read must have group participation.
7. You must create your own comment thread within this thread to keep track of what you read and what points you are claiming.
8. All books read must have a review under your personal comment thread. (Please no multiple threads. Keep it all under one; this means you have to comment on your own thread).
9. Have fun!

Categories:
Read a book that is (a)…
- BOTM (Dec.-Feb.)= 6pts This is our group and it’s a must. Also, you must answer at least two questions from the discussion! I know…it’s horrendous.
- 500+ pages= 5pts Reading a huge book is just plain scary, especially when the world will end.
- 1001 Books to Read Before you die= 4pts The world is ending. Quick! Grab a must read book! Visit http://agirlwalksintoabookstore.blogspot.com/2011/01/1001-books-you-must-read-before-you-die.html for the list of books that you should read before you die.
- Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic = 3pts Read these books to help you prepare if the world ends.
- Utopian/Dystopian= 2pts A world different from ours could be frightening.
- Suspense= 1pt The end of the world could be quite suspenseful!

Monthly Themes (10pts each):
*Maximum of 2 books per month. Does not include BOTMs and could only be combined with one other challenge category for extra points*
December- Read a book that has a seasonal word(s) in the title
January-
February-

What the points mean:
50-55pts: 1 raffle entry
56-65pts: 2 raffle entries
66-75pts: 3 raffle entries
75-85pts: 4 raffle entries
86-95pts: 5 raffle entries
96+pts: 10 raffle entries

Prizes:
Prize 1- The person with the most points will receive $15 GC from Amazon.com gifted by Vonnie(this person will not enter the raffle)
Prize 2- Choice of combined BOTM books from 2012 under $25 plus a bookmark gifted by Mimi.
Prize 3- Choice of 2 ARC books gifted by WonderBunny.
Prize 4- Mystery box of books plus swag from Vonnie’s collection.

*Also, a mini challenge will be given out once a month (a total of three). Be in the lookout for these since they will have a short timeline to complete*
THIS CHALLENGE RUNS FROM DECEMBER 1st TO FEBRUARY 28th

I added the color. Fun, huh?! I will post later what my reading plan will be. Since I won the Summer Challenge (yay!!), I will not win this one; but it's the journey, not the destination!

It's a winner, Vonnie!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Titles!

By now you know that I judge a book by its cover. I know, but people get paid TONS of money to entice (entrap?) people like me!

There is a lot of appeal in a title. For example, I remember the first time I saw Carl Hiaasen's book Sick Puppy. I was amused, but not enough to read the summary.

However, these books REALLY caught my eye, and only because of their titles:

  • The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
  • By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coalho
  • Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stranger-Ross
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

These I have added to my TBR based solely on their titles:
  • A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois
  • , said the shotgun to the head. by Saul Williams
  • This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It by David Wong
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis

And yet more that I will consider adding, once I read a summary:
  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • Evening Is the Whole Day by Pretta Samarasan
  • The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal

See what I mean? How can you not pick up a book with such a carefully crafted and well-thought-out title? I guess that is not really judging a book by its cover, but it IS definitely choosing a book by its title!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Son by Lois Lowry

Summary:
Told in three separate story lines, Lois Lowry’s Son  combines elements from the first three novels in her Giver Quartet— The Giver (1994 Newbery Medalist), Gathering Blue, and Messenger —into a breathtaking, thought-provoking narrative that wrestles with ideas of human freedom. Thrust again into the dark, claustrophobic world of The Giver, readers will meet an intriguing new heroine, fourteen-year-old Claire. Jonas from The Giver is here, too, and Kira, the heroine of Gathering Blue. In a final clash between good and evil, a new hero emerges. The whole Quartet has been redesigned in honor of this long-awaited grand finale!

My take: 3.5 looks
I liked this last installment in Lowry's "The Giver" quartet. I read The Giver over two years ago and it has stuck with me. When I read a fellow reader's review of one of the sequels, it sparked my interest in reading the other three. They were extremely easy to read and left me with a feeling of good-over-evil and a desire to read the next in the series.

I was pleasantly surprised by the layout of this last story, with three sections which addressed three characters that devotees have loved since The Giver was published to accolades in 1993. The sections flowed seamlessly into one another, but were all different stories with different trials and outcomes. It was like reading three novellas to make one large story arc. Brilliant.

Since these are YA books, I appreciate the tidy ending to each story, but feel that real life was addressed through aging, death, and a very real evil present in their lives. This is a very good series with an equally satisfying ending. The only thing lacking is the prospect of another in the series. I expect these books will become classics. It makes me want to go back to the first in the series for a re-read, and what can be better than that?

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Aunt Dimity and the Duke by Nancy Atherton

Summary:
A broken heart, a missing lantern, and a dead rock star... thank goodness being dead won't stop Aunt Dimity from lending a helping hand.

Emma Porter is forty, fat, frumpy, and a passionate amateur gardener. When her longtime lover dumps her for a younger woman, Emma escapes the cloying sympathy of family and friends by setting out on a summer-long driving tour of England's glorious gardens. A Dimity-contrived coincidence brings her to Penford Hall, a sprawling Gothic mansion in Cornwall, where she finds a duke in search of a missing lantern with extraordinary powers. Suspecting there's more than one mystery to be solved at Penford Hall, Emma accepts the duke's invitation to stay on and restore the once-glorious chapel garden to its former beauty. The dark rumors surrounding a rock star and the near-death of the duke's beautiful cousin confirm Emma's suspicions, and set her--with Aunt Dimity's ghostly guidance-on the path to Penford Hall's secrets and the pleasure of unexpected love.

My take: 3 stars
I actually liked this one better than the first. I thought the characters were better-drawn and were more real to me. The story was intriguing with just enough of the paranormal to not get weird. Emma as the lead role in this story was so much more believable than Lori in the first book, Aunt Dimity's Death. I found her to be introspective, sincere, and appropriately emotional. The love between Derek and Emma was predictable but that did not stop the flow of satisfaction once it occurred. The supporting characters were fun and I hope to see them in the upcoming installments of this delightful cozy mystery series.

Recommended.

Monday, November 19, 2012

John Dies at the End by David Wong

Summary:
The word-of-mouth phenomenon read online by over 50,000 readers is now available in print! Telling the story now, I'm tempted to say something like, "Who would have thought that John would help bring about the end of the world?" I won't say that, though, because most of us who grew up with John thought he would help end the world somehow. It's a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can't.

My take: 3.5 stars
This is the weirdest, craziest, oddest book I have ever read. And that's saying a lot. It is weird, yes, but oh so entertaining.

Warning: Do not read this if you are at all offended by the "F" word, kittens being kicked and dogs being blown up, penis envy and adoration, or gratuitous blood and gore.

However, if you can breeze past these things, you are in for one wild ride.

John and David are modern day heroes. They are borderline slacker-college-drop-out-losers, but step up to the plate when they see that their way of life, heck-probably the very planet, is in danger. Armed with a drug called "soy sauce" and very little fear, they jump with both feet into saving the world.

At 658 pages as an iBook, but was about 200 pages too long for me, but to persist is to benefit from a crazy, made-up ending and a taste for the sequel. This has been made into a movie, set to release in January 2013. I don't know how they made this into a movie, but I thought that about "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", too. Like that one, I will probably skip it on the big screen in favor of the images in my head. The book is always better.

Recommended.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Biblio-Mat at The Monkey's Paw in Toronto

At a bookstore in Toronto, owner Stephen Fowler installed the Biblio-Mat book vending machine. The bookstore, The Monkey's Paw, described “Toronto’s most idiosyncratic second-hand bookshop,” stocked more than just books, but this latest addition is causing quite a stir.

For $2 each, a random book is dispensed. This is how Fowler describes the selection of books: "The books in the machine are two dollars each – that’s not enough to make any profit, but the nature of the second-hand book business is that I end up with a lot of books that are interesting and worth keeping and disseminating, but have no practical retail value. Historically in the used books trade there has always been the dollar cart in front of the store. This is just a spin on that."

The look of the machine is as cool as the idea itself. Painted retro-green, it has a very vintage vibe, from the title at the top to the font used to announce "Every Book a Surprise", "No Two Alike", and "Collect All 112 Million Titles". Set in the corner of the store, the customers love it. Well, for the most part. You have to realize that most of the fun comes in the action itself, and not the "prize" that the book will be. If you lack imagination and a sense of adventure, you need not deposit your coins in the slot. If you feel lucky, however, you may feel a what Fowler calls a psychic connection with the book title you receive.

Makes me want to take a road trip to Toronto!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton

Summary:
Lori Shepherd thought Aunt Dimity was just a character in a bedtime story ...
... Until the Dickensian law firm of Willis & Willis summons her to a reading of the woman's will. Down-on-her-luck Lori learns she's about to inherit a sizable estate--if she can discover the secret hidden in a treasure trove of letters in Dimity's English country cottage. What begins as a fairy tale becomes a mystery--and a ghost story--in an improbably cozy setting, as Aunt Dimity's indomitable spirit leads Lori on an otherworldly quest to discover how, in this life, true love can conquer all.

My take: 3 stars
This was a very cute start to a prolific cozy mystery series. It was recommended to me by a friend after I asked for a "light read" and I am officially hooked.

The story grabbed me from the beginning and I felt the "hard-knock life" of orphan Lori. Just as I was getting used to her cash-strapped plight, her future started looking up!

Perhaps it is my naivete on this lifestyle, but I soon found her distrust of all things good and hopeful to get a little tiring. It seemed to me that she had not been through quite the dire straits necessary to be so negative and jaded. If someone bought me a closet full of new clothing, I would be delighted! If a wealthy, eligible bachelor kept smiling at me like the Cheshire cat, I would be intrigued. Instead, Lori did her best to repeatedly bite the hand that fed her.

Though this was a bit of a hindrance to the reading for me, it caused more light irritation and comments under my breath like, "What are you doing, Lori? Take the compliment!" rather than making the book less enjoyable. The introduction of Aunt Dimity and her unusual manner of communication were so entertaining that this turned into a page-turner for me. When I was finished, I immediately started the next one in the list!

Highly recommended.

Book Clubs are FUN!

Last night was book club, which is each Wednesday night at 5:30. It is a small group of ladies, but we are voracious readers and it is always so much fun!

What makes it fun? I wondered, as I reflected on the discussion from last evening.

Is it the lively social time, as we prepare coffee and peak at the treats that someone brought? Is it the actual discussion of the book, which always offers new insights and perspectives, even if I have read the book more than once? Is it the fact that I just like these ladies and respect their opinions? Is it that we always laugh?

No, I don't think it's any of those things, and I will tell you why.

While I love all of these things about my face-to-face book group, I also love my on-line book group. I don't see any of these folks and have never laid eyes on them before, they are a mixture of men and women, they join the discussion at various times, and different people comment on each book.

And yet, it is as enjoyable as my F2F club.

The answer is a simple one: We all share the love of books. Good books, terrible books, popular books, hard-to-find books, classics and newly published books. We have this in common: we are all bibliophiles and that seems to be all it truly takes for a phenomenal reading, reflecting and reviewing experience.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My December Reading Theme

I am thinking of having a Christmas theme to my reading list for December. I tried to do this with scary books in October, but I feel that I didn't quite make the mark. Although, now that I look back on it, I did read two ghost stories and a book with witches.

I counted books in my collection with "Christmas" in the title and found ten, but I am just counting nine because I don't consider Lewis Black's "I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas" quite in the same spirit.

So, here they are, in no particular order:
The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank
Aunt Dimity's Christmas by Nancy Atherton
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews
Silent Nights - Two Victorian Christmas Mysteries by Anne Perry
Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

There. That's six, and that's enough for this busy time of year.

What are you reading for December?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dark Glamour by Gabriella Pierce

Summary:
Jane Boyle married her prince charming and moved into his upper east side castle--but she didn't get her fairy-tale ending

It's hard to live happily ever after when you discover your demanding and controlling mother-in-law is literally a witch, determined to steal the magical powers you didn't even know you had. Jane narrowly avoided Lynne Doran's clutches when she escaped on her wedding day, and has been hiding out in New York City. But she can't hide forever.

When Jane learns of the one thing Lynne wants most, she sets out to provide it, hoping her good turn will persuade her mother-in-law to stop hunting her. Unfortunately, Jane's daring plan will send her right back into the witches' den--the Doran clan's multistory town house on Park Avenue. But thanks to a tricky spell, blond architect Jane will be transformed into Ella, a dark beauty with a whole new look . . . and all of Jane's budding powers. Though the stakes are life or death, nobody said "Ella" couldn't have a little fun along the way, too.


My take: 2.5 looks
This is the second book in the "666 Park Avenue" series (book three is scheduled to be January 2, 2013). This one didn't grab me like the first did, and I found some of the themes a little tiring. The good points of the book are that it is a very easy read (took me a day), it is borderline mindless fluff, and it will in no way change your life. It had been a while since I read the first book, and Pierce did a nice job of summarizing characters and events that affected the story here.

The negatives are few, and just as shallow as the positives. Jane is annoyingly promiscuous. She is married to a man still in hiding, sleeping with another man while also wanting to sleep with her best friend's boyfriend. I mean, come on! And I really wanted some sort of mention of condom use. Instead, they rip their clothes off and he "takes her right away". Not good for the teens who are surely reading this.

I also wanted more of the matriarch, Lynne Doran's story. I found her to be the most interesting and complex character in the first book, and the mother/daughter relationship in this book would have provided a very rich and fertile area for exploration. Instead the relationship was restored and written as an assumption, which was completely unbelievable. The fact that it was left to the very end of the book also presented it as more of an afterthought.

The other negative was the abrupt ending. It really leaves you hanging in a way that the first one did not: While you knew there would be a sequel which would take the story farther, it didn't rush to the last page like a train wreck. I didn't consider this an intriguing twist or even a cliff hanger, so much as the author finished in a hurry and did so, in my opinion, a little recklessly. This caused so many loose ends of items that were not fully introduced that, instead of foaming at the mouth for the next book, I have more of an unsatisfied feeling.

Recommended if you need a quick read, but know that you will be left disappointed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Summary:
From the author of the contemporary classic "When the Emperor Was Divine," a tour de force about a group of women brought from Japan to San Francisco in the early 1900s as mail-order brides. In six unforgettable, incantatory sections, the novel traces their new lives as "picture brides:" the arduous voyage by boat, where the girls trade photos of their husbands and imagine uncertain futures in an unknown land . . . their arrival in San Francisco and the tremulous first nights with their new husbands . . . backbreaking toil as migrant workers in the fields and in the homes of white women . . . the struggle to learn a new language and culture . . . giving birth and raising children who come to reject their heritage . . . and, finally, the arrival of war, and the agonizing prospect of their internment.

My take: 4 looks
The subject of Japanese Americans during WWII is not a subject in which I am well versed, and I found this book intriguing. The summary calls the writing style of the novella "incantatory", which is an apt description of the staccato-like cadence of the writing. Many voices speaking about the same subject and separated by an ellipses. The tone is perfectly set in Otsuka's writing style in that it gives the impression of faltering, hesitant, circumspect recollections.

The chapters are written to highlight a particular part of the journey, moving chronologically from the war brides' time on the boat to America to their eventual internment during the war. Each chapter provides a collage of the event (meeting their new husbands for the first time, bearing children, forced into migrant work, etc.). It is a very concise yet stunningly completely view of the scene.

This will make me run right out for Otsuka's other book, When the Emperor Was Divine.

Highly recommended, but with adult themes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

Summary:
In a dusty corner of a basement in a rambling Victorian house in northern New Hampshire, a door has long been sealed shut with 39 six-inch-long carriage bolts. The home's new owners are Chip and Emily Linton and their twin ten-year-old daughters. Together they hope to rebuild their lives there after Chip, an airline pilot, has to ditch his 70-seat regional jet in Lake Champlain due to double engine failure. The body count? Thirty-nine. What follow is a riveting ghost story with all the hallmarks readers have come to expect from bestselling, award-winning novelist Chris Bohjalian: a palpable sense of place, meticulous research, an unerring sense of the demons that drive us, and characters we care about deeply. The difference this time? Some of those characters are dead.

My take: 3.5 looks
What a nicely done ghost story, especially after reading the milquetoast The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

This was a truly gripping, suspenseful and scary book. The ghosts were believable and the witchcraft seemed very plausible. I was looking for a few twists and turns that turned out not to be, but this was a straightforward telling of a good old-fashioned ghost story. The use of language was well done and stayed true to the storyline; for example, tincture, sibilant, liminal and obfuscation. The references to arcane devices like the vertical chamber apparatus had me dashing to the internet for a better understanding. Even simple household items, like the dining room chandelier containing light bulbs shaped like faces lent to the electric air for the reader.

Well done, Mr. Bohjalian!

Recommended.

Monday, November 5, 2012

MacGuffin

What is a MacGuffin, indeed?

This is a term coined by the great film director Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. The formal definition is: an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.

So, my question is: What is the difference in a MacGuffin and a Red Herring? I found a very good explanation here:

A MacGuffin is a person, incident or object that motivates the other characters. It is the thing everyone is searching for or talking about-the stolen jewelry, the mysterious contents of a case in Pulp Fiction and Ronin, the money Janet Leigh’s character steals in Psycho, Jack Sparrow’s compass in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The real story, however, lies in what the MacGuffin motivates the characters to do, it doesn’t matter, in the end, what the MacGuffin is.


Unlike MacGuffins, Red Herrings are meant to distract the audience and lead them in the wrong direction, diverting attention to the incorrect conclusion in a mystery or a crime drama. They are a sleight of hand that distracts from the real story, the right solution to the crime or a problem. The army of the Twelve Monkeys in Twelve Monkeys is a good example, as is Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Many critics feel that red herrings are overused and are becoming cliched attempts to impose plot twists on poorly written stories, but Red Herrings remain a necessary element of telling a story.
And have you also heard of Chekov's Gun? I had heard this before, and never knew what it meant. Well, I ran across that, too: There’s an old writing rule attributed to Chekhov: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there.”

Further:
The main difference between a Chekhov’s Gun element and a MacGuffin is that the Chekhov’s Gun seems insignificant at first, and we later learn that it is very important; whereas a MacGuffin or Red Herring seems incredibly important, but we later learn that it is not.

Don't you just love all of this?!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Summary:
Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, the sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House. Unaware of the tragic secrets which lie there, wreathed in fog and mystery, it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black - and her terrible purpose.

My take: 2 looks
This one was almost a stinker. The only reason for 2 looks is the writing was very descriptive and lovely at times. However, the ghost story was just like the cover of this book: blah.

Arthur was a milquetoast, annoyingly stubborn and pig-headed, the people of the town were aloof and vacant, the storyline was predictable and the ending was not at all fulfilling.

The beginning of the book, which sets up the story to be told in retrospect, had great momentum. The characters seemed real and the protagonist seemed to be a thoughtful patriarch to the family. However, when the storytelling began, it went downhill. Written in the vein of Victorian novels and intermittently rich character descriptions do not save this disappointing tale.

This is not recommended and I will probably not read another by this author.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Genius of Philip Smith

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
I love reading on my iPad and Nook. They are both light, convenient and I can take numerous books with me almost anywhere.

However, nothing will ever compare, in my mind, with holding the bound pages of an author. There is something about the feel of a hard cover, the concise size of a mass market paperback, the slick cover of the trade paperback...

The smell - is it new and smell of paper and ink? Is it used and from a smoker's home? Do you wonder if the previous owner ate spaghetti and caused that faint orange stain on page 98? Has it been perused so many times at the book store that the new looks and feels used?
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The look of the page, quality of the paper...Is the paper yellowed from age with thick black (and probably smudged) print? Are the margins narrow and words tiny? Do you try to keep from cracking the binding of a new paperback, or do you go right into bending the pages back behind as you read them?
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
 
...and I love book bindings. I am sorry to admit that I do choose a book by its cover. Font matters to me. Busy-ness on a cover is a turn-off. Color and word placement catch my eye. I am talking primarily about softcover, of course. Today's hardcover books are plain with paper jackets. There is really no embellishment on the binding itself save for the title and author.

King Lear by William Shakespeare
Philip Smith takes book binding to a new level. Have a look at the books here and see if you can identify them. Can you imagine owning one of these beauties? Wow.

I guessed the Alice in Wonderland and Moby-Dick right away, but had to look up the others. Here is the link to the Philip Smith Book Art Galleries site. I can't believe the reader is rewarded with the actual book inside these gorgeous walls.

And I say again: WOW.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Pawn by Steven James

Summary:
Special Agent Patrick Bowers never met a killer he couldn't catch... Until now. Called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, Bowers finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Cunning and lethal, the killer is always one step ahead of the law, and he's about to strike again. It will take all of Bowers's instincts and training to stop the man who calls himself... the Illusionist. Thrilling, chilling, and impossible to put down, The Pawn will hold you in its iron grip until the very last page.

My take: 4 stars
WOW! This was a fantastic thriller/mystery. I had to text my friend (who is reading the same book) to tell her that the prologue made me queasy, but I could NOT put this one down. I have three weeks to read this for book club, but read the almost-700 pages (on the iPad, at least) in two days.

While it is gruesome in places, it doesn't cross that line into gratuitous gore. However, you have to expect a book about a pair of serial killers to have some serious moments. The action is compelling and the characters are excellently drawn. This being the first in a series, I expect the characters will be developed and explored in future books.

This is a Christian fiction book, winning the Christy award for suspense. God is mentioned, but the relationship between characters and God is not explored. Again, I expect this will be detailed later. The good thing is that there is no foul language, rampant in like novels.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Summary:
Johannes Cabal, necromancer of some little infamy, returns in this riotously clever and terrifically twisted tale of murder and international intrigue. In this genre-twisting novel, infamous necromancer Johannes Cabal, after beating the Devil and being reunited with his soul, leads us on another raucous journey in a little-known corner of the world. This time he’s on the run from the local government. Stealing the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal takes passage on the Princess Hortense , a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape, until he comes face-to-face with Leonie Barrow, an enemy from the old days who could blow his cover. But when a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears, Cabal begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts result in a vicious attempt on his own  life—and then the gloves come off. Cabal and Leonie—the only woman to ever match wits with him—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more narrow escapes, involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction, not to mention resurrected dead . . . Steampunk meets the classic Sherlockian mystery in this rip-roaring adventure where anything could happen . . . and does.

My take: 3 looks
Not as good as the first in the series, but the sheer cleverness of the writing is a winner! I was bogged down a bit in the steampunk aspect of this one. I think the aspects of the murders were a little more complicated than they needed to be and hindered the story. I found myself skimming, but the action and resolution at the end was satisfying.

Recommended

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson

Summary:
What haunting legacy awaits deep beneath the barrios and wealthy enclaves of Southern California? An idyllic Spanish mission collapses in the eighteenth century atop the supernatural evidence of a shocking crime. Twelve generations later the ground is opened up, the forgotten ruins are disturbed, and rich and poor alike confront the onslaught of resurging hell on earth. Caught up in the catastrophe are... • A humble shopkeeper compelled to leave her tiny village deep in Mexico to preach in America • A minister wracked with guilt for loving the wrong woman • An unimaginably wealthy man, blinded to the consequences of his grand plans • A devoted father and husband driven to a horrible discovery that changes everything Will the evil that destroyed the MisiĆ³n de Santa Dolores rise to overwhelm them? Or will they beat back the terrible desires that led to the mission's good Franciscan founder's standing in the midst of flames ignited by his enemies and friends alike more than two centuries ago? From the high Sierra Madre mountains to the harsh Sonoran desert, from the privileged world of millionaire moguls to the impoverished immigrants who serve them, Athol Dickson once again weaves a gripping story of suspense that spans centuries and cultures to explore the abiding possibility of miracles.

My take: 4 looks
I must say that, for the Christian fiction genre, this book is at the top of my list. More like historical fiction, it grabbed me from the beginning. The story is a very good one, but the way Dickson moves between the 1700s and present-day in such a clever, fluid way that I found it a very compelling way to write. The transition sentences are beautifully done, making the back-and-forth seem natural and not confusing.

With respect to the religious genre, this one is brilliant. As the telling of an ancient Catholic mission, the foundational story of evangelism for Jesus Christ is a given, so there are no surprises with the storyline. It is presented as an innate part of being a believer and I didn't find it preachy at all.

This is the second Dickson book I have read, "The Cure" was the first. I had issues with that first novel, but the strength of this one is enough to have me revisit "The Cure".

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Messenger by Lois Lowry

Summary:
For the past six years, Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man, known for his special sight. Village was a place that welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close it to outsiders. Matty has been invaluable as a messenger. Now he must make one last journey through the treacherous forest with his only weapon, a power he unexpectedly discovers within himself.

My take: 3 looks
This is a wonderful series by Lowry. The commentary on life is worth the read alone, and the fact that she is such a good writer is the perfect bonus.

In this installment, we see characters from the second book in the series, Gathering Blue, but this is still a stand-alone story not requiring you to read them in order. The topics in this one range from family, handicaps, coming of age, greed and selfishness, and individual gifts or specialties. It is a very good YA book, and highly recommended.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Summary:
Kira, an orphan with a twisted leg, lives in a world where the weak are cast aside. When she is given a task that no other community member can carry out, Kira soon realizes that she is surrounded by many mysteries and secrets. No one must know of her plans to uncover the truth about her world—and to find out what exists beyond it.

My take: 3 looks
The second in the 4-book series of "The Giver", I had read this one before. Because of a discussion on my Bibliophile reading group site, I picked it up again and gave it a re-read. It must have been a long time since I read it because, while there was a bit of deja vu, it read like a fresh novel for me.

It is a standalone story, so don't worry if you haven't read "The Giver". While it deals with the same type of dystopian society, "Gathering Blue" tells of a different set of characters with different issues, struggles and lives.

I liked this one so much that I have already started the next book, "The Messenger" and look forward to the combining of all of the main characters in the series finale, "The Son".

Recommended

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Worldly Adventures of a Teen-aged Tycoon (The) by Roger Eddy

Summary:
A collection of short stories written from the perspective of a teenage boy during the Great Depression.

My take: 5 looks
While lunching with my mother recently, the friend who happens to be a retired middle-school librarian stopped me to tell me that I had to read this book. I, of course, had never heard of it. She was so sure I would love it that she dropped it off at my house that very afternoon. She was right!

Hilarious look at everyday life through the eyes of a teenage boy. The series of short stories was originally part of the book The Bulls and the Bees, and covers the minutiae of life with Seinfeld-esque humor.

The story The Symphony centers around a trip by mother, father and son to the symphony. After the father tries to get out of going, then falls asleep during the performance, the mother decides to teach him a lesson by leaving him at the venue when it's over. Lamenting that she doesn't have any interesting friends (like musicians), she and her son leave the city and she then sleeps on the couch, racked with guilt at her mean trick. She awakens stiff and contrite to her husband enjoying breakfast and reading the paper. As she glances at the paper after he departs for work, she sees that, in her leaving him at the opera house, he has made friends with the conductor and beautiful harpist, and has had their picture published in the society pages.

This is only one of the many situations that caused me to smile at the least, and chuckle out loud at most. If you can get your hands on this one, and it will be difficult, buy it so you can read and re-read it.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Summary:
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her into the backwater of ugly waistcoats, Scotland, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband - if she feels like it.

My take: 2 looks
This second book in the Parasol Protectorate series did not grab me like the first one did. Perhaps it was the introduction of the characters and very different premise of the vampire/werewolf story. Perhaps it was the introduction of steampunk as an integral part of the Victorian world. This book included those items, but they were established this time. Characters were brought back, but I was very frustrated by the lack of development of newly introduced Channing and no building at all in the recurring characters. All of these things lessened my enjoyment.

On the other hand, I tend to think the first one was just more cleverly written. Alexia was strongly drawn in the first novel, wielding her parasol and her independence like the weapons they were. In this case, she was more of a tool to move the story than the story itself. There was no true antagonist, even to the end. When the "whodunit" was finally revealed, you had already guessed it.

The sexual tension between Alexia and Conall in the first was reduced to mere wanton lust and sex in this installment. I wanted more of the playfulness and shared respect in their coupling, and not simply a pile of discarded clothing on the floor. It reminded me of an animal being in rut, and I don't think that's what Carriger intended.

Lastly, the ending was shockingly inappropriate. I literally stared wide-eyed and mouth agape as I read the last few pages. It was so out of character and unnecessary to add this extremely negative ending. It was not the interesting and heart-stopping twist that I suspect it was meant to be. I found it so distasteful that I may not read the third book for a while, if ever.

With that said, I can't recommend this one.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Puppet Maker's Bones (The) by Alisa Tangredi

The Puppet Maker's Bones  (Death's Order, #1)
Summary:
An angel of Death in Los Angeles. A psychopath kills a young boy, a quiet teen, then an entire family before setting his murderous desires on Mr. Trusnik, an elderly shut-in from across the street. But Mr. Trusnik is not like other people. Although very old, he is far from helpless. He is an angel of Death...and he is waiting.

My take: 4 looks
What a wonderful book! It is most definitely a suspense/thriller and is so beautifully written. I am not at all sure why this book has resonated so with me, but I could not put it down.

I adored the characters, how they were drawn, the feelings that consumed them, some ripping their lives apart. I even felt a bit of sympathy for the serial-killing-teen at the end.

A wonderfully unique premise in a sea of cookie-cutter novels. Read this!!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (The) by Maggie O'Farrell

Summary:
In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. 

Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she's still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

A gothic, intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will haunt you long past its final page.

My take: 3 looks
I didn't like this book at all in the beginning. I felt that it was fragmented and disjointed, reading like a person watching action with little to no understanding of the inner workings of the characters themselves.

However, once I gave myself over to the book, reading story and getting to know the characters, I realized that the writing style became more complicated as the story itself did so. Beautifully written, I was invited inside these people, growing up with them and seeing through their eyes what they saw and felt. I could feel the green satin and the father's slap across his teenage daughter's face.

The one thing from keeping me from giving this book 4 looks was the unbelievably incestuous relationship of Iris and Alex. Instead of being glad they came to grips with their feelings for one another, I was repulsed by the electricity between them. The book would have been so much richer with that distracting story line left on the editor's floor.

This book was heartbreaking, real and had the most bittersweet ending I have read in a long time.

Recommended.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn

Summary:
A dream interpreter is thrown into a world of espionage and danger when she inherits a book that unleashes the power of her gift.

My take: 3 1/2 looks
I liked this book more and more as I read. The summary above is a sad description of this very timely story. 

Set in the world of world economies and financial markets, it hints at the real powers behind governments. Money makes the world go 'round, and Elena has landed in the middle of a world that she knows nothing about, trying to move through the grief of losing a husband, stop a murderous duo, and bring together a team of people who would never have otherwise met.

This is the best of Christian fiction, in my opinion. God is ever present and powerful, but these people are dealing with very real situations with no rose colored glasses.

At times intense, suspenseful and altogether engaging, the author walked the very fine line of providing a fulfilling ending while leaving much room for a sequel. Highly recommended! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Summary:
Ex-MP Jack Reacher goes into action to find his brother's killers, after a series of brutal crimes terrorizes tiny Margrave, Georgia, only to uncover the dark and deadly conspiracy concealed behind the town's peaceful facade.

My take: 3 looks
This is the first of a long line of Jack Reacher novels. Reacher is a man's man and a killing machine. I was reminded very much of James Patterson's Alex Cross while reading this.

This book was almost too long. It was interesting, intense and engaging, but I think the editor could have taken out what would amount to a few chapters of description and detail. It just was not needed, in my opinion, even though this is the "set-up" book for the series. Much of the description was repetitive and didn't not add to my view of the characters or my feelings for them.

There is a movie being made of the Jack Reacher character, starring Tom Cruise. Casting Cruise as Reacher is abhorrent. I can only assume that his fee was very low for him to make the cut. I could see Chris Hemsworth (he may be too young, though), Jason Statham or Dwight (The Rock) Johnson. Tom Cruise? No way.

Despite the page count on this one, I will read more and recommend it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

Summary:
Jen Lancaster was living the sweet life-until real life kicked her to the curb. She had the perfect man, the perfect job-hell, she had the perfect life-and there was no reason to think it wouldn't last. Or maybe there was, but Jen Lancaster was too busy being manicured, pedicured, highlighted, and generally adored to notice.

This is the smart-mouthed, soul-searching story of a woman trying to figure out what happens next when she's gone from six figures to unemployment checks and she stops to reconsider some of the less-than-rosy attitudes and values she thought she'd never have to answer for when times were good.

Filled with caustic wit and unusual insight, it's a rollicking read as speedy and unpredictable as the trajectory of a burst balloon. Story based in the famous Bucktown of Chicago.

My take: 2 looks
I actually listened to this one, and found it very amusing. However, I discovered that a little sarcastic and sardonic wit goes a long way. I would rather have a drink with the author than read another by her. To write a book, let alone a number of them, where the author is the main character borders on the narcissistic.

I didn't dislike it, but I can't recommend it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

Summary:
Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra as seen through the eyes of the Romanovs’ young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.

My take: 4 looks
This was a well-written book and a nice, if not short, historical fiction look at what the last few days held for Russia's Romanov family.

The narrator is an aged man who was a member of the Romanov's staff during their exile in Siberia. A boy at the time, the tale is woven through the eyes of youth, health and loyalty. The end of the book makes this one a must read and will drive me to the next in this trilogy.

Highly recommended

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I Love Recommendations!

I love me some book recommendations! That is, by far, the best way to build your TBR list. You can read reviews out the wazoo, but a recommendation from a trusted source will hardly ever let you down.

While at lunch this week, I ran into an acquaintance who spent her career as the librarian at one of the local schools. She made a point to tell me that she had a book she wanted me to read.

The book she had in mind is called "The Wordly Adventures of a Teen-age Tycoon" by Roger Eddy. This is actually an excerpt from his "The Bulls and the Bees". What a fantastic title!

The book was printed in 1971 by Scholastic, but she assured me that it is very much a book for grown ups. I was so intrigued that I added it to my list immediately upon my return home and went straight to the internet to find out more.

Well, let me tell you...there is precious little out in cyberspace about this book. It would appear first publication was in 1957, with Scholastic printing it later for mass market. Here is the summary (the only summary, mind you) from GoodReads:

Twelve stories humorously recounted by a precocious child of the 1930's who take a slightly skewed and often comedic view of the doings of those enigmatic adults around him.

Can't wait to read and review this one!!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Divine Appointments by Charlene Ann Baumbich

Summary:
Josie Brooks, at the age of 47, thought she was leading an enviable single life. A successful consultant, she calls her own shots, goes where the money is, and never needs to compromise. But her precisely managed world begins to falter during a Chicago contract when an economic downturn, a bleeding heart boss, and the loyalty and kindness between endangered employees ding her coat of armor.

Throw in hot flashes, a dose of loneliness, a peculiar longing for intimacy, an unquenchable thirst—not to mention a mysterious snowglobe with a serene landscape, complete with a flowing river and lush greenery that seems to be beckoning her in—and Josie’s buttoned-up life is on the verge of coming completely undone. Maybe her solitary existence isn’t as fulfilling as she has convinced herself to believe.

It will take a few new friends, a mystical encounter, and an unexpected journey to set Josie on her own path to “right-sizing” and making the life changes that really matter. Filled with laugh-out loud moments and a gentle dash of inspiration, Divine Appointments is another heartwarming charmer from a master storyteller.

My take: High 2 Looks / Low 3 Looks

I am giving this one a "high 2 looks / low 3 looks" because it was the typical Christian fiction book. All of the story lines were predictable, loose ends were tidily closed and everyone lived happily ever after. In that same vein, hard personalities softened, anger gave way to forgiveness, relationships were on their way to restoration. The only thing missing was a rainbow in the sky at the end of the story.

The huge problem that I had with this particular book was the heavy hand that God seemed to have in making sure everyone got what they wanted in the end. He was never outright credited for the massive "coincidences", but the effect of prayer in this story is a very clear "ask and you will receive in no uncertain terms and with very little effort on your part...and let's answer it right now so you don't have to wait." Sorry, people, that is trite, incorrect and does God's plan a huge disservice.

I will probably not read more by this author and can't recommend this one.