Friday, September 28, 2012

Puppet Maker's Bones (The) by Alisa Tangredi

The Puppet Maker's Bones  (Death's Order, #1)
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

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.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn

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

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

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

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

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.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Happy Birthday to Roald Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies ever. My teenage son asked for the DVD for Christmas. We have gotten it twice in our Netflix queue. It is clever, engaging, witty, charming and will tug at your heartstrings.

The stop animation and casting of George Clooney as the title character's voice are just bonuses to top it off with a cherry.

Yes. It's that good.
When I was in grade school, I devoured Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, then Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Thirty-five years later, I still remember vermicious knids.

Excerpt from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator:

"But if they're so fierce and dangerous," Charlie said, "why didn't they eat us up right away in the Space Hotel? Why did they waste time twisting their bodies into letters and writing SCRAM?"
"Because they're show–offs," Mr. Wonka replied. "They're tremendously proud of being able to write like that."
"But why say scram when they wanted to catch us and eat us?"
"It's the only word they know," Mr. Wonka said.

Isn't that a riot?! It's funnier today than it was then, just because I understand it on a different level as an adult.

But Dahl was not just a writer. He was a fighter pilot and intelligence officer for the Royal Air Force during WWII. He was married to actress Patricia Neal for 30 years and had 5 children. When he died in 1990 a tthe age of 74, his family honored his life by burying him with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw. That just makes me smile!!

Happy 96th Birthday, Roald Dahl!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Fiction Class by Susan Breen

On paper, Arabella Hicks seems more than qualified to teach her fiction class on the Upper West Side: she’s a writer herself; she’s passionate about books; she’s even named after the heroine in a Georgette Heyer novel.

On the other hand, she’s thirty-eight, single, and has been writing the same book for the last seven years. And she has been distracted recently: on the same day that Arabella teaches her class she also visits her mother in a nursing home outside the city. And every time they argue. Arabella wants the fighting to stop, but, as her mother puts it, “Just because we’re family, doesn’t mean we have to like each other.”

When her class takes a surprising turn and her lessons start to spill over into her weekly visits, she suddenly finds she might be holding the key to her mother’s love and, dare she say it, her own inspiration. After all, as a lifelong lover of books, she knows the power of a good story.

My take: 3 looks
I enjoyed reading this book. It is wonderfully ... constructed. I struggle here because I don't want to say that it is well-written, because I don't really think it is...It is however, beautifully put together. The sentences are composed so that I smiled often as I read them. The paragraphs are descriptive and full of body. The story, though, left me wanting.

I think Breen wants me to see Arabella as a flawed heroine. Someone who has struggled her entire life with who she is and what her relationship is with her mother means. Instead, she is sophomoric, neurotic and a little pathetic. The relationship with Chuck is completely unbelievable in that it happens much too fast. She pushes him away, she runs into his embrace, she goes home with him, where "he prepares to love her". Very immature and underdeveloped to be the kind of romance that I think Breen is after: a life that Arabella's mother and father never had. Instead, it feels shallow and superficial.

The crux of the book is Arabella's relationship with her mother, who became bitter and distant after her husband (Arabella's father) dies. As Arabella reads her mother's story, she is irritated by the character of Annie, but doesn't seem to see that she IS Annie and is every bit as needy, neurotic, self-serving and one-dimensional as the character. In the end of the story, Arabella finds that the mother understands the daughter and the daughter is somehow redeemed because she is shoving her dying father's fish dinner into her mouth. <sigh> See what I mean?

Breen did not pull me into this ride. Instead, I stood on the road and admired the vehicle. The craft of the writing redeems this book for me, and I will read another by this author, in the hopes that her writing matures as Arabella never did.

Recommended, but don't rush to it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The power of the short story

Katherine Anne Porter's highly acclaimed Flowering Judas was published on this day in 1930. She is said to have written this powerful short story in one evening. Her book titled Flowering Judas and Other Stories was enough to ensure her position amoung America's best short-story authors. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for her collection of short stories.

When I was in high school, I read a story about a new mother whose husband had died suddenly, leaving her with an infant. She went about her business during the day, but at night she wept over her infant in his cradle. She did this night after night, eventually transferring her sorrow to him.

I can't remember the name of it or the author, or even how it ended; but 30 years later, I still remember the impact it had on me.

Edgar Allen Poe was a brilliant writer of short stories. His thrift with words left nothing undone for the reader, but served to enhance the reading experience because of the brevity of the story.

The point is that an author does not have to write a tome to have an impact on his reader.  Read "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson or "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. These stories impacted publications, society and changed the author's lives. You can feel the emotion in them, smell the air and see the walls move. The ability to enrapture a reader in less than 10,000 words. A complete mental vacation in, as Poe put forth, a single sitting.

What is a short story that had an impact on you?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weekend Warriors by Fern Michaels

Nikki Quinn is devastated when her best friend Barbara is knocked down and killed by a hit-and-run driver who claims diplomatic immunity. But Nikki has her work and her lover, fellow lawyer Jack Nolan, to keep her going, whereas Barbara's mother, Myra, has nothing.

Festering in a sea of recriminations and hatred, unable to gain a sense of perspective, Myra is lost...until one day she switches on the evening news and sees Marie Lewellen, mother of a murder victim, take matters into her own hands and stab her daughter's killer. An idea is born, and within months Myra and Nikki have drawn together a group of women who have one thing in common: they have been failed by the American justice system, they're down but they're not out, and they're ready to find their nemeses and make them pay.

First up is Kathryn, a long-distance truck driver who was raped at a road stop by three motorcyclists as her paralysed husband watched, helpless. Banding together, the Sisterhood plot the ultimate revenge - but with dissension from inside the group and out, there's no saying if the plan will work until the moment of truth arrives.

My take: 3 looks
My mother got hooked on this series, and talked about it so much that I thought I would give it a try. What a fun book! A group of women who have been seriously wronged take justice in their own hands, but murder is not the solution. Very easy and fast read.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout. Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of "the system," cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences.

For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life. As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth.

My take: 3 looks
This is a very raw and real look at a minor in prison, written for the YA crowd. Written in an intriguing screenplay-manner, it is easy to read and provides a clear mental image of what the author, the young man on trial, is going through.

I liked his viewpoint of the effects of his arrest and trial on the attorney, his mother, and especially his father. It is a real look at the consequences of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I highly recommend this book.

A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

When Blinking Jack Stokes met Ruby Pitt Woodrow, she was 20 and he was 40. She was the daughter of Carolina gentry. He was a skinny tena nt farmer who had never owned anything in his life. They didn't fall in love so much as they simply found each ot her and held on for dear life.

My take: 4 looks
I do not like the summary above, so I went to GoodReads to see what they had. Sadly, they had the same, but with this added:
In A Virtuous Woman, Gibbons transcends her early promise, creating a multilayered and indelibly convincing portrait of two seemingly ill-matched people who somehow miraculously make a marriage.

This book is a very, very sweet telling of a lifetime of love between a husband and wife. Told in alternating viewpoints of the husband, then the wife, you get a complete picture of their past, their meeting, courtship and years together. Ruby dies from lung cancer, and the story continues with how her passing changes Jack's life.

To say that these two "held on for dear life" is so dramatic and untrue. They found one another and settled into what the other needed. I saw them more as two halves of one whole as opposed to two people spinning through life like a combined tornado. Their love was slow, steady and constant. Just what you want it to be.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

Valerie's sister was beautiful, kind, and sweet. Now she is dead. Henry, the handsome son of the blacksmith, tries to console Valerie, but her wild heart beats fast for another: the outcast woodcutter, Peter, who offers Valerie another life far from home. After her sister's violent death, Valerie's world begins to spiral out of control. For generations, the Wolf has been kept at bay with a monthly sacrifice. But now no one is safe. When an expert Wolf hunter arrives, the villagers learn that the creature lives among them - it could be anyone in town. It soon becomes clear that Valerie is the only one who can hear the voice of the creature. The Wolf says she must surrender herself before the blood moon wanes... or everyone she loves will die. The blacksmith would marry her, the woodcutter would run away with her, and the werewolf would turn her into one of its own.

My take: 3 looks
Intriguing premise to retell the story of Little Red Riding Hood! This book follows the original closely, even down to filling the belly of the wolf's body with heavy stones. The back stories of the characters are nice additions and very plausible in a story that has wolves talking.

It was a nice, easy read, which I needed after finishing my last (rather intense) book. I read this one in a few hours.

Recommended as a great "palate cleanser" between books.

So many great tools for book lovers!

I recently received a comment from Debbi (thanks for reading, Debbi!) about an online cataloging site that was new to me, LibraryThing.

LibraryThing is just one of several tools out there for bibliophiles to keep track of books they have read, share book titles they are currently reading, and keep track of (at least in my case) a massive to-be-read (TBR) list.

I use Shelfari, but that's only because it was the first one to which I was introduced.

Plus, I love the name! What is reading, if not a safari: 1. An overland expedition, especially one for hunting or exploring. 2. A journey or trip. Shelfari is a clever play on words and I love a clever play on words. But I digress.

My fabulous friend Deanne introduced me to Shelfari, and after entering 1,454 books to date, I am loathe to start over anywhere else. You can set reading goals (and get the very irritating message "you are behind your reading pace" as encouragement), join groups, see which books are popular, see which members are posting the most books/reviews/comments, see which readers are most like you (through a comparison of what you have recently read and are currently reading)'s pretty good.

GoodReads is another tool that seems to be very popular. I like GoodReads because the summary of the book is usually a little more concise than that of Shelfari. But that's the only reason I go over there, normally. It is very similar to Shelfari, in which I am already invested.

And that brings us to Debbi's comment on LibraryThing. The immediate and coolest thing I note on this site is the Zeitgeist tab at the top. (NOTE: Zeitgeist: ideas and spirit of time: the ideas prevalent in a period and place, particularly as expressed in literature, philosophy, and religion). It is a compilation of the "top" of several categories. Top 25 most reviewed books. Top 25 works by rating. 50 largest libraries. Very cool stuff!

I am still poking around this one, but it seems to be about the same as my beloved Shelfari, with enough cool extras to make me bookmark it. Overall, these online tools are indispensable for the organization of many books, finding new books, and sharing thoughts and ideas with other bibliophiles across the continents. If you haven't already, check one of these out, or let me know if you use another one.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I won!!

My Shelfari Bibliophile group's Summer Reading Challenge is over, and I won the top prize!!

A recap of the reading I did:

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

Mini Challenge #5: Hello, TBR! Read a book from your TBR pile that was randomly chosen by a friend/family member (please make sure to tell us who picked the book for you).
- Thr3e by Ted Dekker (my teen boys picked the book for me)

Mini Challenge #6: Summer Olympics: Read a book with an athlete in it or a book set in London.
- Soulless by Gail Carriger

Mini Challenge #7: There's no life without water- Read a book that takes place near a body of water such as an ocean, lake, pond, creek, or river.
-By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

SOOOO, I finished with 9 points, along with several others. And my name came out of the hat! I have a $30 Amazon gift card and am in quite a quandry about what to get!

Thanks to Vonnie, the challenge leader, and congrats to everyone who participated. When your TBR list goes down by several books, everyone's a winner!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dogwood by Chris Fabry

Will returns to Dogwood intent on pursuing Karin, the only woman he has ever loved--only to find there is far more standing in his way than lost years in prison. The secrets of Will and Karin's past emerge through a young boy who wishes he hadn't survived the tragedy that knit those two together and then tore them apart.

My take: 3 looks
I kind of struggled through this one at the outset. Chapter after chapter of reading but not really understanding what was going on. I got to know the characters, but the story seemed so fragmented and disjointed. As I neared the end, I realized why and the book instantly moved from 2 looks to 3 looks. I was not completely surprised at the end, but did find it was a nice twist.

While this is Christian fiction, winning a Christy Award in 2009 in the Contemporary Standalone category, it is not your typical book in the genre. It is engaging and easy-to-read without being in-your-face evangelistic or full of too-good-to-be-true characters. Very easy to read, t took me a morning to read finish it.