Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford--and Elise--forever.

My take: 4 looks
I was prepared for more of a war/Nazi/Holocaust book but was pleasantly surprised with a wonderful story of a woman who happened to be a Jew during the worst of times in history.

Elise is used to a privileged life in Vienna. Her family seems a beautiful, artistic and safe haven for the four members. As the "ugly duckling" of the family, she is the first to leave when war threatens their country and being even a non-practicing Jew is hated.

England is a different world. Different weather, smells, customs and language. She is thrust into a life of service, setting fires, pouring tea and scouring outdoor steps. The members of the house accept her and she learns to live in this place, while worrying about her family as they are desperate to leave Vienna.

Through all of this, war looms with the hint of what England must have endured. The daily lives of the characters continue as Solomons weaves the tense feeling of war with the excitement of making new friends and falling in love.

The book is based on the actual place of Tyneham, which was "requisitioned" for the war by the British government, promised back to the landowners when the war was over; however, it became a "compulsory purchase" in 1948 and remains in use today for military training. Many of the structures had been in families for generations and are now either demolished or in disrepair. The author's great grandmother and great-aunt are the basis for the characters Elise and Margot in the book.

Highly recommended.

Maeve Binchy: 1940-2012

Maeve Binchy has passed away. I remember seeing the movie "Circle of Friends" starring Minnie Driver and Chris O'Donnell, igniting in me the desire to read the book.

The book was, of course and as it always is, better.

So started my love of Maeve Binchy books. She was a Dubliner, and she wrote of quirky, endearing and entertaining tales of Irish living.

I will read one of her books, in her honor, and treasure the time she was with us.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thr3e by Ted Dekker

By all accounts seminary student Kevin Parsins is leading a good, if not virtuous, life. But like all people, Kevin has his secrets. And someone wants them revealed.

While driving home from a day at graduate school, Kevin receives a call from a mysterious stranger who calls himself Slater. Slater demands Kevin confess his sin in the next three minutes or the vehicle he is manning will be blown to pieces.

Thus starts a harrowing chain of events. After narrowly escaping his exploding car, Kevin continues to receive phone calls from Slater, each with another riddle, another consequence, and another three minutes to confess his sin.

The problem is Kevin is unsure of what that sin might be. And Slater's cycle won't stop until he figures it out.

My take: 3 looks
By all accounts, I should have figured this one out. It was twisty, yet familiar; shocking, yet predictable. That alone deserves three looks from me. I think I may have dated Kevin years ago. A mild-mannered man-child who simmers just below the surface. After reading Thr3e, I am glad I shed myself of him.

This was a very fast book for me to read. My eyes flew over the words without compromising my comprehension. I think that fully describes the depth of the novel. It is not Sherlock Holmes by any stretch, but is entertaining enough for me to read more by this author over time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Reading at the speed of murder!

Reading at the speed of murder - what a GREAT book title that would be! A bibliophile who solves murders. Has this been done, and if no: WHY NOT?!

It occurred to me last night, as I am ripping through my latest read, Thr3e by Ted Dekker, that I am reading it much faster than my last few books.

Why? I wondered. This book is a thriller and is fairly fast-paced. You know how, when you were a teenage driver, you would drive faster if there was a fast song on the radio? I remember speeding up every time "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles came on.

I think it's the same thing with reading. Crime and Punishment was a character study. The Tiger's Wife was a character study. Thr3e is an action-induced-rollercoaster-ride of a book. My eyes fly over the words as my mind trips over phone taps, exploding cars, murderous riddles and painful flashbacks.

Isn't it funny how I read at the speed that the book sets? I wonder if other readers are prone to this. Tell me!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I remember when I was adding books to my Shelfari bookshelf and I was so excited to add that one book whch would take me to 500 books on the shelf. Then I was excited to add the book to take me to 1,000.

Now, I hardly ever look at the number, knowing deep down that there will always be more to add than I can ever know, and safe in the fact that my TBR shelf will always be greater than my Read shelf.

There is comfort in this.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Call by Yannick Murphy

Murphy presents a beautifully written novel about a family of five in rural New England, told through the charming, witty, and loving voice of the veterinarian father.

My take: 5 looks

LOVED this one! I am so glad that I own it, too. This is a book that I will read and read.

First, the main character is a veterinarian in a very rural area, where they don't even get good television reception. The radio goes in and out, sounding like spacement are transmitting messages. The flow of the book is in paragraphs detailing one of several prompts: Call, Action, What the Wife Cooked for Dinner, What the Kids Said to Me When I Got Home...and on and on. I love the flow of this and the clever writing style. It was very easy to follow, progressed the story nicely and indicated mood, scene and internal thought.

The Call was also a very real portrayal of family life. There are spats, tiffs, laughter, a crisis, family time, dinners, another crisis, tears, hospitals. It is one-day-at-a-time living at its best. There are no rose colored glasses here and no tidying up at the end. We never learn what the spaceship is doing (Yes! There is a spaceship). We never find out who volunteers for the Head Potty Cleaner job. Does the dog ever have puppies? What did the doctor say about Dorothy's leg?

It was like James Harriot, taken down a few notches and made much, much more real. I will read everything by this author.

Highly recommended.

Finished with the Summer Reading Challenge!

That's not actually me breaking the tape, but Erika M. of my fabulous Bibliophile group. I am the one right behind her, pumping those arms (and notice that I look a little thicker than the others - HA!).

The result is the same - I FINISHED the Bibliophile Summer Reading Challenge!

This was a lot of fun for me. I don't know if I was just in the mood to read or if the leader, Vonnie, hit upon especially fun categories. It was more than likely a combination of the two.

To update:
1. Read 3 BOTM books from June-August and MUST participate in one of the books' discussions. *NOTE: If you participate in ALL of the books’ discussions, you will receive an extra raffle entry*
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (June)
- The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (June)
- The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde (July)

2. Read a book that has a summer theme in the title.
- The Beach Girls by Luanne Rice

3. Read a book that has ONE of the sundae colors on the cover: brown, yellow, and pink.
- The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski (pink)

4. There are many adventures during the summer. Read a book tagged “adventure”.
- Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

5. Read a book that’s a Bibliophile member’s favorite.
- Forever Odd by Dean Koontz (Terry B's favorite)

Mini Challenge #1 : Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover: Read a book that only got your attention because of its cover. This challenge ends Saturday, June 23rd.
- Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson

Mini Challenge #2: 21st Century: Read a book from the list of "100 Best Books of the 21st Century" from Avery on the Airwaves. This challenge ends Thursday, July 5th.
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

Mini Challenge #3: Going to the movies: Read a book that has been turned to film. Ends July 15th
- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Mini Challenge #4: High School Reunion: Read a book most people read in high school but you haven't read. Ends on July 26th
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

And there are more challenges coming, so I am already excited about that. When the winner is announced, that will be just a bonus. It's the reading that is the prize!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde does it again with a dazzling new series starring Inspector Jack Spratt, head of the Nursery Crime Division Jasper Fforde’s bestselling Thursday Next series has delighted readers of every genre with its literary derring-do and brilliant flights of fancy. In The Big Over Easy , Fforde takes a break from classic literature and tumbles into the seedy underbelly of nursery crime. Meet Inspector Jack Spratt, family man and head of the Nursery Crime Division. He’s investigating the murder of ovoid D-class nursery celebrity Humpty Dumpty, found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Yes, the big egg is down, and all those brittle pieces sitting in the morgue point to foul play.

My take: 3 looks
This book was very character-heavy. Too much so, I thought. It was becoming almost a drudge to read to the end of the 283 pages. I would recommend an organizational chart, nursery rhyme chart, map or something to help keep everyone straight.

While it was extremely cumbersome (and the reason for not giving it four looks), it was so incredibly cleverly written that I was in awe throughout most of the book (and the reason for not giving it two looks). What imagination Fforde has! This is my first book by him, but I have his collection for Nook and will read more. After a break. I need a palate cleanser after Dostoyevsky and this one!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Jack Reacher: This one is a REAL reach.

Size matters. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are just trying not to hurt your feelings. And your size doesn't measure up.

Let's talk about Jack Reacher. This super-human character from author Lee Child has some very specific physical characteristics:
  • 6' 5" tall
  • 50-inch chest
  • weighing between 210 and 250 pounds
  • muscular physique
  • exceptionally strong
  • ice blue eyes
  • sandy blond hair

Who does this bring to mind?

I'm thinking Chris Hemsworth. Thor! Yeah!
David Beckham. Sexy but hard-edged! Yeah!
Michael Dudikoff. American Ninja! Yeah!
Jason Statham. The Transporter! Yeah!

These are just a few. You know who does NOT come to mind?

Tom Cruise.

Remember Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire" movie? She personally asked Julian Sands to be the vampire Lestat. Do you remember who received the role?

Tom Cruise.

This is what Anne Rice had to say about that: Cruise was "no more my vampire Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler" and the casting was "so bizarre; it's almost impossible to imagine how it's going to work". She later recanted, I am assuming because the director and producer of the film went ballistic at her lack of support. I can't imagine that she ever really liked Cruise in that role.

Jack Reacher? I think not.

Tom: Size DOES matter, my man. And you do NOT measure up.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her money. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker's money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless parasite. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of, and even have the right to, do such things. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by connecting himself mentally with Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose, only to find out he "... is not a Napoleon."

My take: 2 looks
While I read this book, I kept thinking, "This is just a very verbose retelling of Edgar Allen Poe's short story A Tell-Tale Heart".

That may be a bit simplistic, but at the heart, they are the same. Both men commit murder for the stupidest of reasons, albeit different. Both men are crazed and even more so afterward, becoming paranoid. Both men break at the end and confess. The difference is, Poe was able to tell his version in a compelling short story while Dostoevsky must have been paid by the word.

I found a few things irritating and hindered the flow, but perhaps that was the intention. The most glaring, cumbersome and repetitive was the mood swings of the main character, Raskolnikov. I would think that if it were a literary tool, his swings would have been more pronounced later in the story, as his situation progressed. However, he was bipolar from the beginning with no apparent trigger.

Another odd recurring action was men falling in love with Dunya, Raskolnikov's sister. Three men over the course of the novel fell for her. She was either very beautiful, which I didn't perceive, or they were in desperate times.

Why this book is such a studied classic is beyond me. Even as verbose as it is, it is well-written (if I can say that about a translation) and not beyond reading. However, I didn't enjoy the read and found that I finished it out of a sense of responsibility. I hold fast to my thought that Poe's short story is much more worth the time and analysis. To do the same thing in a fraction of the words, and 23 years earlier than Dostoevsky gets my attention.

Read if you have to, but I cannot recommend it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

On this date in 1951...

On this date in 1951, the Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger was published.

The main character, Holden Caulfield, made earlier appearances in a few of Salinger's short stories, sold as many as ten years before this book.

It has held the distinction of being both the most censored and second most taught book in public schools. It is among the top ten most challenged books. A teacher was fired in 1960 for assigning it.

It is rife with teenage rebellion, expletives, drinking, implied homosexuality, smoking and sex.

While not really a coming-of-age novel, there is debate on whether Holden Caulfield matures at all throughout the story. Some believe he does not while others believe that he reaches a new level of self-awareness.

I read this book in college and remember very little of it. I remember that Holden was somewhat of a misanthrope, whiny punk. I was relatively unimpressed. I may read it again at some point, benefiting from my adult perspective. Perhaps I will see more than surface writing the second time around.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia.

My take: 3 looks
This is the typical 3 looks for me: I didn't dislike it, I didn't love it, I may or may not read more by this author.

This is the type of book that I lump together with Life of Pi, Cutting for Stone and others which are driven by character more than action or forward-moving story. There is a definite story here, but it is more about the progression of character development. The storyline moves back and forth in time and character perspective, but the rhythm is easy to follow and soon the back story merges with the current one. There was much symbolism here, much more than I understood. War, death, immortality, murder, fear. It was a very good book, but not my favorite type of writing. I may give it another read in a few years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What Should I Read Next?

What Should I Read Next? is a very excellent link that someone tagged me in on Pinterest. I went to the link and it offered a treasure trove of suggestions based on an author that I entered.

Launched in 2010, it gives you the ability to enter an author, book title or ISBN number. This is how it works, according to its FAQ:

WSIRN produces recommendations based purely on collective taste: when books are entered into the same favourites list, they become associated with each other. The more often particular items appear on different lists, the stronger that association becomes. Purely and simply, WSIRN represents mass opinion about books. Over time the recommendations should get better and better as the database grows. (Note that books by authors you have entered won't appear in the results - we've assumed that you've thought of reading those!)

If you enter your email address, it will remember past books, favorites and recommendations. The site promises that they will only send the occasional email about updates to the site and will not share the email with any third party. I haven't used it extensively yet, but plan to try it out. Will let you know!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Still a mess

I am still all a-jumble over the state of my unorganized books upstairs. I went up this weekend to empty the bookcases, order them and reshelve. Sounds simple, right? I fairly swooned at the daunting task and, since there was not a fainting couch anywhere to use, I had to pull myself together and go back downstairs.

I need a game plan.

Here is what I am thinking:
Bookcase 1: Books to read
Bookcase 2: Books for PBS
Bookcase 3: Books that have been read and added to my permanent library.

Again, sounds easy, right? What the heck is my problem? <sigh> I will try again today.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Reading Challenge

What on earth is it about these reading challenges that FIRE ME UP?!

I am all about my Bibliophile group's summer reading challenge, and am reading nothing but challenge books. I don't care if I win or not (don't get me wrong, it would be such a bonus!), I just want to make it through all of the criteria.

Every book I open these days must meet one of the challenge points. I have the added benefit of an extensive TBR list, so I have a 99% chance of choosing a book that I already planned to read anyway. There are a few exceptions (I probably would not have read The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, but I found it at the Friends of the Library store for $2 and am quite enjoying it).

Reading is such a joy. I just can't imagine not loving it. And being excited about reading because of a challenge is just one of the best feelings ever! Here is my progress to date on the challenge:

1. Read 3 BOTM books from June-August and MUST participate in one of the books' discussions. *NOTE: If you participate in ALL of the books’ discussions, you will receive an extra raffle entry*
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (June)
- The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht reading now

2. Read a book that has a summer theme in the title.
- The Beach Girls by Luanne Rice

3. Read a book that has ONE of the sundae colors on the cover: brown, yellow, and pink.
- The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski (pink)

4. There are many adventures during the summer. Read a book tagged “adventure”.
- Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

5. Read a book that’s a Bibliophile member’s favorite.
- Forever Odd by Dean Koontz (Terry B's favorite)

Mini Challenge #1 : Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover: Read a book that only got your attention because of its cover. This challenge ends Saturday, June 23rd.
- Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson

Mini Challenge #2: 21st Century: Read a book from the list of "100 Best Books of the 21st Century" from Avery on the Airwaves. This challenge ends Thursday, July 5th.
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

Mini Challenge #3: Going to the movies: Read a book that has been turned to film. Ends July 15th
- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Friday, July 6, 2012

Everything is all a jumble!

I did some redecorating in my kids' rooms this week. I had bookcases in each room, each with a different purpose for the books they held.

Chase's room had a bookcase containing books I have already read and have listed on PaperbackSwap. Jack's room had a bookcase of books that I have yet to read and are relatively new purchases. Strat's room contains a unit full of older books that I have not yet read, and another bookcase with books that I have read and want to keep.

When we redecorated, the boys removed the books and stacked them in the hallway and bathroom. Willy nilly. No rhyme or reason. Now that the bookshelves are painted and the boys have restocked them with books, there are books everywhere with no specific task in mind.

I went upstairs to find a book last night and my head fairly spun. On the other hand, I am actually looking forward to separating the books and placing them back in the appropriate bookshelves in alphabetical order.

How SICK is that? haha

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We feel like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books—but we are real.....

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in becoming like you. We have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know. And they will follow us until we are all caught.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.

They killed them all.

I am Number Four.

I am next.

My take: 3 looks
This is a very good YA book. It is gripping and suspenseful and I can see why they made a movie of it, which I am now interested in seeing. It follows the epic tale of two worlds at war. The Mogadorians decimate every planet they inhabit and continue to have to overtake other planets for their survival. When they overtook the people of Lorien, the Loriens sent 9 "Guards" to Earth for the future reinhabitation of their own planet.

Full of intriguing alien "truths"  and nonstop action, this was a very intriguing book and I will read the next in the series.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review system

I have noticed that I am giving more and more books three looks, and this troubles me. There is a huge spectrum in my three looks than is apparent in the number alone. It could be just a notch above two, which I consider a bit of an insult and means that I probably will not read more bu that author. But it's not quite a four, which means to me that I will think about the book often after reading it. I really need a scale of one to ten to adequately rate many books.

To help with this, I decided on a picture system. That way, when I finish a book, I can choose the picture to which I most relate as I think of said book.

Here is my picture for one-look books. This is a book that I have either invoked the "100 page rule" on or finished and thought it was just terrible. I think the boy here says it all. He has just taken medicine or perhaps he has been kissed by an overweight and equally overbearing distant relative. Maybe he walks in the house from an afternoon of playing outside to smell the cooking of broccoli (and you know how cooled broccoli stinks - why is that?).  He is my perfect one look face. I will cross this author off my TBR list.
My choice for two looks is this sad feline. This is not the look of a terrible book, as seen above, but the look of complete disappointment. I invested the time to read (and finish!) the book and I will never be able to retrieve that lost time. The book was not worth it and I probably will not read more by this author, unless it comes highly recommended.

This is where most books fall for me. I hate to call a three-look book average or mediocre, but the fact of the matter is that it has simply and only met my expectations. It was well-written and I will probably read more by that author. I will not, however, think of the book later, will easily be able to pick up another book, and will not rush out to recommend it to others.

I love this picture! It portrays exactly how I feel about four-look books. This is a book that I really don't want to rush to the end because I want it to last a bit longer. What keeps it from being five looks? Perhaps it is a bit predictable. Perhaps the writing style is somewhat common. Perhaps the reading level is lower than it could have been. Whatever the reason, I will talk this book up and add the author's other words for reading in the near future.  

And this is five looks. Love, consuming, aflame. These are books that I could not put down, will read again, bought after reading, took in my purse so I could share with others, couldn't get out of my mind, read the same author immediately and still think of weeks, months and years later. There aren't many in this category.
 Now, with all of this explained, I scratch my head at times over the scores that I have given books in the past. Perhaps the book really spoke to me at that point in my life and I gave it five looks (Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie comes immediately to mind, which I would never give more than four looks today, and very probably three at the most). However, I am loathe to change a score once I have conferred it because it speaks to my impression at that time.

I am also curious about my own reluctance to bestow five looks. I think a book must be life-changing to achieve that score. The whole thing makes me chuckle and I remind myself that this is just for fun...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beach Girls by Luanne Rice

Luanne Rice is a rarity among novelists today; she's a true storyteller. Her unique ability to weave together the bonds of love and family with the challenges and rewards of everyday life has garnered her eight consecutive top-ten New York Times bestselling paperbacks. With Beach Girls , Luanne Rice returns to the place that she was born to write about—the Connecticut shore—to tell a story about a family of women whose lives encompass three generations, their histories intertwined with that of the mystic coastal town that has forever bound them to one another. Beach Girls explores the complex and contradictory territories of love, family and friendship. Luanne Rice's sensuous prose and unforgettably rich and textured characters guide us toward a truth that lies within and sometimes beyond our dreams—an enduring strength that we all must embrace to find our way home and into the hearts of those we cherish most. Beach Girls is an enthralling novel of haunting beauty that will resonate long after the final page is turned.

My take: 3 looks
I read this book solely for a Summer Reading Challenge from my very fantastic online Bibliophile group, where I had to meet the criteria of "Read a book that has a summer theme in the title". I am notoriously short on imagination, so I went for the obvious.

This is a series, evidently, with Beach Girls being the fifth, I think. It was a nice stand-alone story, though, with no trouble at all in not reading the others in the series. I am under the impression that the common thread throughout the series is the location and not the characters, which is an intriguing basis for a series and makes for easing reading out of order.

Story of a widower and his daughter in the aftermath of a horrible car accident, the story is familiar and predictable, but still good storytelling. Throw in the Connecticut coast, a dilapidated castle, a hermit rumored to be a witch and two celebrated artists and you have yourself a nice summer novel!

I was fairly uninvested in this one, but not because it was not a good book. I was uninvested because I had already read my "palate cleanser" book of late in the Melody Carlson book Christmas at Harrington's and I was not yet in need of another. I would recommend this one, but only if you need a light and predictable read to cleanse you from a book you can't get off your mind.