Tuesday, December 31, 2013

If Eyeore read...Ho Hum...The Reading Slump...

I am in a serious reading slump. But, evidently, I'm not alone. When I googled "Reading Slump", there were a lot of images that came up. Here is one blogger's "confession":

The Dreaded Reading Slump
It never fails. Here I am reading along, consuming books like I need air to breathe. At my fastest, I can read a book in two days. I like reading and there are so many great new books coming out that I could probably never stop reading awesome novels. No sleep. No work. Just reading. (Ah, paradise.) But then wham! I hit a slump. For seemingly no reason, I suddenly lose interest in reading anything. Oh, the horror! It’s like being presented with a fabulous feast the likes you can’t imagine and not being hungry. Something should tickle my fancy, some sweet or candy, but I have to wait until the slump is over and I can once again read without it feeling like chore.

So, I am not alone. Most of the articles were, understandably, about beating the reading slump of students in the summer months. One site even suggested reading 10 books for $10. I can't imagine giving money to read. I am not sure that is the greatest motivation, but I guess whatever works...

I had a reading goal of 100 books in 2013, but didn't make it. I toyed briefly with the idea of actually changing my goal so I would not have the demeaning "You did not meet this goal" in RED, no less, staring at me through out time. But, alas, it just didn't feel right. I set a goal. I did not meet said goal. Set another goal and move on, woman.

Speaking my language is Marie in her Winter Break Reading Slump. Marie and I are kindred reading slump spirits.

So, I will get on with it. The first book of the year for my F2F book club is "Can't Wait to Get to Heaven" by Fannie Flagg, and I am enjoying it very much. I have high hopes!!

Good reading, all!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Author Spotlight: Jerry Pinkney

I received an email that Jerry Pinkney is going to have a book signing at The High Museum in Atlanta.

Let me say that I love that an author is having this event at a museum. Two of my favorite things: books and art. Together. Lovely.

Book SigningPinkney is from Philadelphia, my old stomping ground, so I feel connected to him on yet another level.

You can see from this photo that he is active in his presentations to children; he looks exactly what you want a children's book author to look like.

He is extremely esteemed, as shown by the extensive list of awards and honors:
  • He won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration, recognizing The Lion & the Mouse, a version of Aesop's fable that he also wrote.
  • He also has five Caldecott Honors.
  • He has five Coretta Scott King Awards, four New York Times Best Illustrated Awards (most recently in 2006 for Little Red Hen), four Gold and four Silver medals from the Society of Illustrators, and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (John Henry, 1994).
  • In 2000 he was given the Virginia Hamilton Literary award from Kent State University and in 2004 the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for outstanding contributions in the field of children’s literature.
  • For his contribution as a children's illustrator, Pinkney was U.S. nominee in 1998 for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition for creators of children's books.

I am going to suggest that my husband and I plan a trip to Atlanta on December 14th!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Flannery O'Connor's Prayer Journal

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon . . .

“I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside . . .

“I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You.”
from A Prayer Journal

In 1946-47, Georgia author Flannery O'Connor kept a prayer journal that has been hidden until now. Discovered by Georgia State University emeritus professor William Sessions, it has been published and offers a most intimate glimpse of this beloved voice of the south.

Oddly enough, Jack and Chase were talking about a short story they read in their AP English class. The story was about a family who had been killed by a serial killer while they were on a road trip. It was vaguely familiar to me, so I asked the name of it. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by O'Connor. I had read this collection of short stories several months ago, and didn't enjoy it. However, new insight into this author, who died so young at the age of 39 from lupus, has reignited my desire to give it another chance.

I love this summary of herself: “Today I have proved myself a glutton—for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought,” she writes. “There is nothing left to say of me.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
'What are you thinking, Amy? The question I've asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions storm cloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?' Just how well can you ever know the person you love?

This is the question that Nick Dunne must ask himself on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police immediately suspect Nick. Amy's friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn't true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they aren't his. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what did really did happen to Nick's beautiful wife? And what was left in that half-wrapped box left so casually on their marital bed? In this novel, marriage truly is the art of war...

My take: 3 looks
Actually, I may have to increase that rating to 4 looks eventually, because I keep thinking about this book. With that said, ***SPOILER ALERT*** on the entire review.

Amy is gone. Just disappeared, and Nick doesn't seem to mind. Truth is, Amy was a little hard to live with. I totally understand this, especially when Amy gives her definition of "The Cool Girl".

Side note: the description of "The Cool Girl" alone is worth reading this book. It's brilliant. It's true. And did I mention that it's freaking brilliant?

Every woman enters a relationship as "the cool girl", only to tire of the role and resume her normal self, persona and personality eventually. That's when the husband doesn't understand what happened to his wife. Sadly, the "uncool girl" was always his wife, just pretending.

What is what happens here. There is a lot of back story on Amy, her parents and a series of books they wrote. There is a little back story on Nick, but much of his story revolves around a weird relationship with his twin sister.

The format of the book is very interesting. Told by both Nick and Amy, alternately, and in various points of time surrounding Amy's disappearance, it is not until toward the end of the book that you get a full picture of what is happening.

The end is a good one, but at the same time leaves you a little, "what just happened?" I really enjoyed it, and recommend it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cold Fire by Dean Koontz

File:Cold Fire.jpgSummary:
The classic story of reporter Holly Thorne, who is intrigued by the strange, quiet Jim Ironheart. Jim has saved 12 lives in three months, and now Holly's falling in love with him. But what power compels an ordinary man to be a hero?

My take: 3 looks
My only book by Dean Koontz, apart from the "Odd Thomas" series. This one is an older book, and immediately drew me in. I was looking for more of a conspiracy, and read with a very suspicious mind. However, it was more cut-and-dry than that, and would have been easy to figure out if I had not been looking over my shoulder at possibilities that never materialized.

With that said, this was an enjoyable book, and a very fast one to read. Recommended

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

A young couple who move into a Manhattan apartment are approached by their elderly neighbors, who want to be their friends.

My take: 4 looks
Can you believe the short summary of this ground-breaking novel? Perhaps the editors feel that it's so iconic that no summary is needed. Perhaps that is the case.

This book was published in 1967 and open the floodgates to authors writing about the occult and demons. Until then, the supernatural in most mainstream books were monsters. It had not yet reached the bestseller list when the movie was released one year later, in 1968.

Directed by Roman Polanski, the movie is very true to the book. As a matter of fact, Polanski had Levin write the screenplay. In one scene, where the male lead is looking at a New Yorker magazine, Polanski had trouble finding the exact magazine, and dialed Levin for help.

The book is fast-paced and entertaining. It is well written and drew me in immediately. This is a scary book at its best: full of rich characters, flawed heroines, and evil grandmas, and a bit of a twist ending.

Highly recommended.

J. A. Konrath Book Festival

My take: 3 looks

I have read the first six of J. A. Konrath's Jack Daniels series. That is unprecedented for me. The only other series I have read like this is Koontz's Odd Thomas series.

This is a no-nonsense murder mystery series. The bad guys are very, very bad and the good guys are flawed, persistent and extremely likable. I have read a few reviews that the series is too violent, but it is a murder mystery series, so I disagree completely with this. It is not a cozy series, and reminds me very much of the CSI and Rizzoli and Isles typical story lines.

All three of these were good. There was an arc storyline through these with one arch nemesis which wove a thread through these three, and I must admit that I was glad when the "Alex" storyline was over.

It was very satisfying in its ending and resolution, and I look forward to reading number seven to find out where Detective Jack Daniels is headed.


Lot of Reviews to Write!

So much going on this summer...now it's firmly fall-moving-into-winter and I need to get back on track with my book reviews! I am sure the TWO people who read my blog are breathing a huge sigh of relief. :)

I have been reading, reading, and reading. I went through a bit of a slump. Well, I think it was actually television that got me off the reading track. Football season started and the fall season of my three must-see shows started.

I am back on, though ... racing toward my reading goal for the year.

Standby for take off!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wordplay: Bailiwick

This word is generally used in a metaphorical sense, to indicate a sphere of authority, experience, activity, study or interest. A bailiwick (German: “Ballei”) was also the territorial division of the Teutonic Order. Here, various “Komtur(en)” formed a Ballei province.

The term survives in administrative usage in the British Crown dependencies of the Channel Islands, which for administrative purposes are grouped into the two bailiwicks of Jersey (comprising the island of Jersey and uninhabited islets such as the Minquiers and Écréhous) and Guernsey (comprising the islands of Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Brecqhou, Herm, Jethou and Lihou). Each Channel Island bailiwick is headed by a Bailiff.


At Bicester in Oxfordshire, the lord of the manor of Market End was the Earl of Derby who, in 1597, sold a 9,999 year lease to 31 principal tenants. This in effect gave the manorial rights to the leaseholders, ‘purchased for the benefit of those inhabitants or others who might hereafter obtain parts of the demesne’. The leaseholders elected a bailiff to receive the profits from the bailiwick, mainly from the administration of the market and distribute them to the shareholders. From the bailiff’s title, the arrangement became known as the Bailiwick of Bicester Market End. By 1752 all of the original leases were in the hands of ten men, who leased the bailiwick control of the market to two local tradesmen.

The term originated in France (bailie being the Old French term for a bailiff). Under the ancien régime in France, the bailli was the king's representative in a bailliage, charged with the application of justice and control of the administration. In southern France, the term generally used was sénéchal who held office in the sénéchaussée. The administrative network of baillages was established in the 13th century, based on the earlier medieval fiscal and tax divisions (the 'baillie') which had been used by earlier sovereign princes.

In English, the original French bailie was combined with '-wic', the Anglo-Saxon suffix meaning a village, to produce a term meaning literally 'bailiff's village' – the original geographic scope of a bailiwick. In the 19th century, it was absorbed into American English as a metaphor for one's sphere of knowledge or activity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

National Punctuation Day

First of all, I can't believe there is such a thing as "National Punctuation Day". I will leave it at that.

Secondly, I can't believe someone would have the audacity to suggest additional punctuation. But that is exactly what French writer Herve Bazin did. In his 1966 essay Plumons l’Oiseau (“Let's pluck the bird”), Bazin proposed six new punctuation marks:

Hervé Bazin's Punctuation Marks

His manuscript:

I don't know about you, but I find this extremely ... ridiculous. He has an explanation for each new mark, but they are not necessary, in my opinion. Do you really need to make question marks into a heart, like a 15 year old girl, to note love? The line through the exclamation point denotes that you really, really mean it. The irony point is placed at the beginning of the sentence so the reader will know that the statement is meant to be ironic. As Steve Lovelace writes, isn't pointing out irony a bit ironic?

You see my point. It was audacious, moving toward foolhardy, to suggest this. I am just glad that no one took it seriously.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

For more than thirteen years, devoted father and husband Ethan Ford has been running from his past. But one day the police show up at his door-and his life as an irreproachable family man and heroic volunteer fireman begins to come apart.

My take: 4 stars
It took me an inordinately long time to read this book. Maybe because I was reading an actual book, as opposed to an electronic version, and I tended to save it for outdoor reading. It was not a difficult book to read, was not character-heavy or full of plot twists. No, it was a relatively straight-forward plotline and was interesting.

So, having finally decided to finish the darn thing, I started plowing through it yesterday and finished this afternoon, with tears in my eyes.

You find out quite early in the novel that Ethan is, in fact, guilty of murder, so I don't consider this a spoiler. There is really no question. The lovely part of the book is the reality of the changing people around Ethan, who have loved, trusted, befriended, and relied upon him. Each character is drawn out, shaped, pounded, left to rise, and worked over again, reminding me of a baker making an artisan loaf of bread.

Jorie, the wife, is traumatized. The mother-in-law is in denial.  The best friend is paralyzed with grief, then turns to action. Jorie's best friend Charlotte has troubles of her own. Twelve year old son Collie is the most damaged, but the reader sees how his friends are affected, as well. The story is so completely blossomed at the end of the story that I turned the last page with a satisfied sigh.

Highly recommended

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rusty Nail by J. A. Konrath

Lee Child, David Morrell, and M.J. Rose all agree: Jack Daniels is the one to watch! Anthony Award finalist J.A. Konrath’s latest novel featuring the feisty female police detective serves up another thriller Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels of the Chicago Police Department is back, and once again she’s up to her Armani in murder. Someone is sending Jack snuff videos. The victims are people she knows, and they share a common trait -- all were involved in one of Jack’s previous cases. With her stalwart partner hospitalized and unable to help, Jack follows a trail of death throughout the Midwest, on a collision course with the smartest and deadliest adversary she’s ever known.

During the chase, Jack jeopardizes her career, her love life, and her closest friends. She also comes to a startling realization -- serial killers have families, and blood runs thick. Rusty Nail features more of the laugh-out-loud humor and crazy characters that saturated Whiskey Sour and Bloody Mary , without sacrificing the nail-biting thrills. This is Jack Daniels’ third, and most exciting, adventure yet!

My take: 4 looks
J. A. Konrath knows how to write a fast-reading-story! I finished this one as quickly as the other two, and am already looking forward to the next one. What CSI, Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU did for gruesome murder mysteries on television, Konrath does on paper. He goes just to the edge with his descriptions and personas, then ties it up nicely with a very satisfying ending. If you love a good mystery that doesn't hold back on the darkest side of killers, wrapped in humor and made personal, this is the series for you.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bloody Mary by J.A. Konrath

Start with a tough but vulnerable Chicago cop. Stir in a psychopath with a unique mental condition that programs him to kill. Add a hyperactive cat, an ailing mother, a jealous boyfriend, a high-maintenance ex-husband, and a partner in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Mix with equal parts humor and suspense, and enjoy Bloody Mary – the second novel in the funny, frightening world of Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels.

When Jack receives a report of an excess of body parts appearing at the Cook County Morgue, she hopes it’s only a miscount. It’s not. Even worse, these extra limbs seem to be accessorized with Jack’s handcuffs.

Someone has plans for Jack. Very bad plans. Plans that involve everything and everyone that she cares about.
Jack must put her train wreck of a personal life on hold to catch an elusive, brilliant maniac---a maniac for whom getting caught is only the beginning…

My take: 4 looks
I read this fun ride of a book in one evening. Regardless of writing, storytelling or plot lines, that rates an automatic 4 looks in my mind. Like Lisa Lutz's series The Spellmans, this detective series is fun and entertaining. The bad guys in this series, however, are a little worse that the Spellman story lines. Regardless, it ends with satisfaction and made me turn immediately to the next in the series. There is no better recommendation than that!

Highly recommended.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson's Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.

Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.

My take: 2.5 looks
This looked suspiciously like a Christian fiction book at first, but with the smattering of minor curse words, takes it out of the running for church libraries across the Bible-belt-south. It was a nice story, told from the perspective of the older brother, 40 years later. The action moves a little sluggish at times, and the reader is torn between a murder-mystery and a character study. I don't think the author ever figured it out, either.

With several (large) loose threads hanging, this felt like a book written in the infancy of an author's trade, however a look at Krueger's bio and you'll see that he has over 20 books spanning more than a decade. That info makes the book even more disappointing. The action pics up at the end, making the last 75 or so pages fly by, but it was simply mediocre. I can't recommend this one with so many better novels available.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bands named after books

From the Barnes and Noble Blog:

  1. The Boo Radleys.
 This name of this alternative-rock band comes from Harper Lee’s famous novel To Kill A Mockingbird. (In the book, however, Boo Radley is pretty reclusive—not exactly a rock-and-roll star.)
  2. Steely Dan. This was the name of a dildo in William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch.
  3. The Doors. See Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors Of Perception, which, in turn, referenced William Blake’s quotation, “When the doors of perception are cleansed, things will appear to man as they truly are…infinite.”
  4. My Chemical Romance. Before Mikey Way was bassist for the band My Chemical Romance, he worked at Barnes and Noble, where he noticed the book Five Tales of Chemical Romance by Irvine Welsh. Bandmate Gerard Way added the “My,” to make it more personal.
  5. Titus Andronicus.Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s most bloody, violent works.
  6. Der Plan. British author Gordon Rattray Taylor used this phrase to describe what distinguishes humans from animals in The Biological Time Bomb.
  7. Heaven 17. In Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Heaven 17 is the fictional band name mentioned by a woman browsing records.
  8. Marillion. The band’s original name was Silmarillion, after a J.R.R. Tolkien book, but was eventually changed to avoid legal problems.
  9. Modest Mouse. The Mark On The Wall, by Virginia Woolf, includes the line “…and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people.”
  10. Of Mice & Men. This name comes from one of John Steinbeck’s most famous works, Of Mice And Men. Steinbeck was inspired by a Robert Burns poem, To A Mouse, which contains the line, “the best-laid schemes of mice and men/Go often awry.”
  11. The Velvet Underground. Inspired by Michael Leigh’s book about sadomasochism, The Velvet Underground.
  12. Billy Talent. “Billy Tallent” is a character in Michael Turner’s Hard Core Logo.
  13. Opeth. In Sunbird, by Wilbur Smith, Opeth is the name of a Phoenician city in South Africa whose name means “City of the Moon.”
  14. As I Lay Dying. The San Diego-based Christian metalcore band lifted their name from the 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner.
  15. Steppenwolf
. Taken straight from Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. If you’ve read the book, you know Hesse refers to the protagonist’s animalistic nature as a “wolf of the steepes.” Gabriel Mekler, the producer for the band’s debut album, suggested the name.
  16. Veruca Salt. Who could forget snotty little Veruca Salt from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
  17. Oryx and Crake.Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalytpic novel by Margaret Atwood.
  18. The Romany Rye.
 Luke MacMaster was inspired to use the name because he likes the protagonist of George Borrow’s The Romany Rye—a young man who joined a band of Gypsies.
  19. Belle & Sebastian. From Belle et Sébastien, a children’s book by French writer Cécile Aubry.
  20. Gogol Bordello. The gypsy punk band from New York City’s Lower East Side didn’t pull their name from a book title, but from the Ukrainian-born Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Gogol is famous for forging a path for writers like Kafka and Dostoevsky, and the band intends to do the same, merging Eastern European music into the English-speaking world. (Is anyone else reminded of The Namesake?)
  21. Nine Stories. Before Lisa Loeb was Lisa Loeb, she had a band named Nine Stories while attending Berklee School of Music in Boston—a name is inspired by the J.D. Salinger book written in 1953.
  22. Silverchair. The group was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, the sixth installment of the Narnia series.
  23. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Nick Cave might have been referring to the 1956 movie The Bad Seed when he named his Australian alt-rock band, but seeing as he’s a writer, it’s likely he was talking about the book.
  24. Pylon. Pylon is the name of a William Faulkner novel, first published in 1935.
  25. Soft Machine. William S. Burroughs wrote the book Soft Machine, “a surreal space age odyssey through the wounded galaxies,” which is the first book in his “cut-up trilogy.”
  26. Genesis. Duh. (We can also thank Genesis for Avenged Sevenfold, who pulled their name from the Genesis line, “If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.”)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

For the first time in Spellman history, Isabel Spellman might be the most normal member of her family. Mom has taken on an outrageous assortment of extracurricular activities. Dad has a secret. Her brother and sister are at war, but neither will reveal the source of the conflict. While domestic disturbances abound, there is one source of sanity in the Spellman household: Demetrius Merriweather, employee of the month for eighteen months straight.

Things aren’t any simpler on the business side of Spellman Investigations. First, Rae is hired to follow a girl, only to fake the surveillance reports. Then a socialite has Isabel tail her husband, despite a conspicuous lack of suspicion. A man in a sweater vest hires the Spellmans to follow his sister, who turns out to be the socialite. Izzy won’t stop hunting for the answers—even when they threaten to shatter both the business and the family.

My take: 4 looks
I love these books! Lutz writes with such wit and smarts that I find them a pleasure to read. The characters are richly drawn and grow in each book in the series.

This is the 5th book in the Spellmans Series, and one of the best. There is so much going on, but it causes no confusion. By this time, the reader is familiar with the characters and their individual idiosyncrasies...the storyline flows nicely and rapidly and propels this family forward just like real life.

I highly recommend the entire series, with this being one of the best. But read them in order, so you get the maximum effect.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

October Baby by Eric Wilson

"You saw me before I was born." Psalm 139:16 (NLT) As the curtain rises, Hannah hesitantly steps onto the stage for her theatrical debut in college. Yet before she can utter her first lines, Hannah—unscripted—collapses in front of the stunned audience. After countless medical tests, all signs point to one underlying factor: Hannah's difficult birth. This revelation is nothing compared to what she then learns from her parents: she was actually adopted … after a failed abortion attempt. Bewildered, angered, and confused, Hannah turns for support to Jason, her oldest friend. Encouraged by his adventurous spirit, Hannah joins his group of friends on a Spring Break road trip, embarking on a journey to discover her hidden past … and find hope for her unknown future. In the midst of her incredible journey, Hannah finds that life can be so much more than what you have planned.

My take: 1 look
Hannah is in college, finds out that she is adopted and completely freaks out on the only parents she has ever known, leaving them in her dust to find the woman who tried to abort her and get some answers.

This is the reason I don't enjoy Christian fiction. It's forced, smaltzy, and lame. The main character is so irritating and whiney and self-righteous that I couldn't swallow any of it. The adoptive father is over-the-top protective, prying and suffocating to his daughter. She's an adult, for goodness sakes! This book is written on, I would guess, a sixth grade level. So, if you are a 12-17 year old girl, enjoy.

All said, I didn't finish this one and do not recommend it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Run by Ann Patchett

Since their mother's death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children—all his children—safe.

Set over a period of twenty-four hours, Run takes us from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired Catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from each other, and how family can include people you've never even met.

My take: 2 looks
This book left me very flat. I am a steadfast fan of Patchett and her beautiful, fluid writing style, but this story was completely unbelievable to me.

The adoption of two boys, the mother who never truly leaves them, the older brother with issues, the father who is good and yet vacant, and the young girl who runs like the wind. Too, too much going on here for one 24-hour period. Introductions to all, but no meat to any of it.

Sullivan: What is the story on the Sullivan's stealing? What truly motivated him and how was he caught? How does he feel now? What is the sarcasm hiding, deep in his psyche?

Teddy and Tip: They seem very well adjusted for two black boys adopted by the Irish family who turns out to be Boston royalty. And that sea-change at the end, only to go back again. Really? Are they that selfish?

Tennessee and Kenya: Is it just me, or do these names reek of what Spike Lee would call "coonery"?

The statue: We are introduced to a family dispute at the beginning to have it go nowhere. And the statue's ownership at the end surely must have caused some controversy...nothing.

So much more could have been done with this 24-hour period. Instead of taking on all characters and painting a thin layer of each, I would have preferred a more compact story with greater detail. However, if you've seen Patchett interviewed about her books, you know enough to not criticize or ask for more detail without extracting some venom.

If you like Patchett, read this so you will have her entire repertoire, but don't expect another Bel Canto.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train is a gripping story of friendship and second chances from Christina Baker Kline, author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.

Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse...

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.
Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

My take: 3 looks
This was a very nice story, but I felt a little was lacking. For example, as Molly and Vivian were going through items in the attic, it would have been a nice touch for an item to bring back a memory, and tie the story together that way. Also, the ending twist (I won't spoil it for you), was a bit abrupt and lacking substance. I wanted to know more about the situation, emotions, people involved and see the results a little more clearly.

Overall, this was a nice read, but left me wanting more.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Whiskey Sour by J. A. Konrath

Lieutenant Jacqueline 'Jack' Daniels is having a bad week. Her live-in boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, chronic insomnia has caused her to max out her credit cards with late-night home shopping purchases, and a frightening killer who calls himself 'The Gingerbread Man' is dumping mutilated bodies in her district. Between avoiding the FBI and its moronic profiling computer, joining a dating service, mixing it up with street thugs, and parrying the advances of an uncouth PI, Jack and her binge-eating partner, Herb, must catch the maniac before he kills again....and Jack is next on his murder list.

My take: 3 looks
What a fun book! Who wouldn't love a book with this title, starring a protagonist named Jack Daniels?! The mystery good, the characters are likable and the action is fast. This was a very fast and entertaining read. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard

The Virgin of Small PlainsSummary:
Small Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his father’s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow around her. Even dead, she is the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. It is a moment that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him.

The mysterious dead girl–the “Virgin of Small Plains”–inspires local reverence. In the two decades following her death, strange miracles visit those who faithfully tend to her grave; some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, word of the legend spreads. But what really happened in that snow-covered field? Why did young Mitch Newquist disappear the day after the Virgin’s body was found, leaving behind his distraught girlfriend, Abby Reynolds? Why do the town’s three most powerful men–Dr. Quentin Reynolds, former sheriff Nathan Shellenberger, and Judge, Tom Newquist–all seem to be hiding the details of that night?

Seventeen years later, when Mitch suddenly returns to Small Plains, simmering tensions come to a head, ghosts that had long slumbered whisper anew, and the secrets that some wish would stay buried rise again from the grave of the Virgin. Abby–never having resolved her feelings for Mitch–is now determined to uncover exactly what happened so many years ago to tear their lives apart.

My take: 2.5 looks (rounded up to 3)
Love the title and the premise: A girl is found dead and no one knows who she is or how she died. Or do they?...

Even though this novel read a bit like a debut writing, I was caught up in the story and enjoyed the book. However, there were a lot of loose threads that I don't feel were ever really explained to my satisfaction. Motives and reasons were not clear and were not explored deeply enough. Because of that, I found myself a little skeptical about the events and the reactions of the main characters. There was a great story here, but it was not tightly drawn and could have used a lot more detail (and maybe more editing for those part that were superfluous).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

Eleven-year-old Roz (Rosalind) Anthony and her family have just moved to Mills River, Illinois, to escape an abusive situation. Only days after settling into their new home, they are surprised to find the previous owner, Tillie Monroe, on their front porch reading the newspaper. Though her sons have sold the house and sent her to a facility for the aged, she is determined to die in the place she lived her life, and somehow manages to find her way "home" day after day. Feeling sympathy for the elderly woman, Roz's mother allows Tillie to move back in.

Mara Nightingale becomes Roz's first friend in Mills River. In spite of their many differences, the girls discover they have something in common that binds them together--both are hiding secrets. So they make a promise--"cross my heart and hope to die"--never to tell anyone else. When danger stalks the Anthonys, Tillie exhibits unimaginable courage and selfless love in her determination to protect the family she has adopted as her own.

My take: 2.5 looks - SPOILER ALERT!!

A wonderful premise for a book, and loved the addition of Tillie as a "squatter" turned grandmother, this book fell flat in many ways for me. First of all, it was extremely predictable. You know that Tillie is not going to leave. You know that Tom is not going to stay. You know that neither Roz nor Mara's situation with their fathers is going to end well.

While the story was an easy one to read, several of the dynamics were bothersome to me. First of all, Tillie's insistence to everyone that this was still her house, even though she knew that she was living with the Anthony's, initially uninvited. The "steamroller" attitude of hers was irritating, especially since she never acknowledged the kindness extended to her, even in private.

Another dynamic that bothered me was the climax with Alan Anthony. I suspected (and expected) the confrontation to escalate to violence, but I didn't think it would start there. It was a bit over the top to me, feeling contrived.

And the climax was a huge letdown. The entire book leads to Alan coming back home, and when he finally does, it is over with very little fanfare and description. Like a huge firework that turns out to be a dud. The best part of this book is the epilogue, where most of the threads are tied and you can move on.

Recommended if you need a short, easy read to cleanse your "reading palate".

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oprah's Book Club

What is with Oprah's book club selections? I have practically gone to a "if it was on Oprah's list, avoid it" mentality with these books. They are all gloom, doom, abusive, unloving and melancholy tales. There may be a few pick-me-ups here and there, but those would be exceptions. Examples:

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard was the very first book in Oprah's book club, started in 1996. Summary: The Deep End of the Ocean imagines every mother's worst nightmare--the disappearance of a child--as it explores a family's struggle to endure, even against extraordinary odds.

Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi: The protagonist is Trudi Montag, a Zwerg -- the German word for dwarf woman. As a dwarf she is set apart, the outsider whose physical "otherness" has a corollary in her refusal to be a part of the fictional town of Burgdorf's silent complicity during and after World War II. Trudi establishes her status and power, not through beauty, marriage, or motherhood, but rather as the town's librarian and relentless collector of stories. Through Trudi's unblinking eyes, we witness the growing impact of Nazism on the ordinary townsfolk of Burgdorf as they are thrust on to a larger moral stage and forced to make choices that will forever mark their lives.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family. In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Toni Morrison is a favorite of Oprah, as is Wally Lamb. Again, both write very difficult novels to read.

That is really not what I want in a book. I know that readers read for different reasons, but this is my blog, and you get the benefit of my reasons alone. I want to be transported. I wanted to learn. I want to see through another's eyes what I think I already see clearly. I want to invest, engage, care and connect. I don't want to cringe, grimace, skim, or dread. I don't want to be damaged at the end of the book. I don't have to read about horror to know that it exists.

Quite the opposite, Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:
"There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it."
I, of course, wholeheartedly disagree.

I don't encourage you to avoid Oprah's book club. Not in the least. After all, you can see from the influence that this book club has, making millionaires out of authors, it is clear that no one comes close to Oprah's clout: Publishers estimate that her power to sell a book is anywhere from 20 to 100 times that of any other media personality.

In 2009, Winfrey's book club had even spread to Brazil with picks like A New Earth dominating Brazil's best-seller list. The club generated so much success for some books that they went on to be adapted into films, including The Deep End of the Ocean and The Reader.

So, it does what it is supposed to do: gets people reading. With that in mind, it can't be all bad. Just the choices in books, in my opinion.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Driving with Dead People by Monica Holloway

Small wonder that, at nine years old, Monica Holloway develops a fascination with the local funeral home. With a father who drives his Ford pickup with a Kodak movie camera sitting shotgun just in case he sees an accident, and whose home movies feature more footage of disasters than of his children, Monica is primed to become a morbid child. Yet in spite of her father's bouts of violence and abuse, her mother's selfishness and prim denial, and her siblings' personal battles and betrayals, Monica never succumbs to despair. Instead, she forges her own way, thriving at school and becoming fast friends with Julie Kilner, whose father is the town mortician. She and Julie prefer the casket showroom, where they take turns lying in their favorite coffins, to the parks and grassy backyards in her hometown of Elk Grove, Ohio.

In time, Monica and Julie get a job driving the company hearse to pick up bodies at the airport, yet even Monica's growing independence can't protect her from her parents' irresponsibility, and from the feeling that she simply does not deserve to be safe. Little does she know, as she finally strikes out on her own, that her parents' biggest betrayal has yet to be revealed. Throughout this remarkable memoir of her dysfunctional, eccentric, and wholly unforgettable family, Monica Holloway's prose shines with humor, clear-eyed grace, and an uncommon sense of resilience. Driving with Dead People is an extraordinary real-life tale with a wonderfully observant and resourceful heroine.

My take: 3 looks
Very nicely written, but a bit too long for my taste. I think the same story could have been told as poignantly in fewer pages.

This book is, at its heart, about the horrors of childhood with an abusive father and emotionally absent mother. The tales of growing up are difficult to read and the fact that this is a memoir make the words, actions and denial even more bone-crushing. The aftermath of living in this environment proves to be a difficult one to rise above, only two siblings facing the issues head-on to try to move past the hurt and betrayal.

This is a raw, painful and real story that will make you want to protect the children and beat the hell out of the adults.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Go the F**K to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Go the F**k To Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world, where a few snoozing kitties and cutesy rhymes don't always send a toddler sailing off to dreamland. Honest, profane, and affectionate, Adam Mansbach's verses and Ricardo Cortés' illustrations perfectly capture the familiar—and unspoken—tribulations of putting your little angel down for the night, and open up a conversation about parenting in the process.

My take: 5 looks

Okay, I have to say that this book is hilarious! Yes, it is crude and crass and has the F-bomb on each and every page. But, having three kids in one year, I can assure you that this is how I felt almost every night from their birth to around age 2. You have to read this with a sense of humor to truly enjoy it the way it was intended, tongue-in-cheek and funny as can be.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Some stories live forever . . .

Sage Singer is a baker. She works through the night, preparing the day’s breads and pastries, trying to escape a reality of loneliness, bad memories, and the shadow of her mother’s death. When Josef Weber, an elderly man in Sage’s grief support group, begins stopping by the bakery, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite their differences, they see in each other the hidden scars that others can’t, and they become companions.

Everything changes on the day that Josef confesses a long-buried and shameful secret—one that nobody else in town would ever suspect—and asks Sage for an extraordinary favor. If she says yes, she faces not only moral repercussions, but potentially legal ones as well. With her own identity suddenly challenged, and the integrity of the closest friend she’s ever had clouded, Sage begins to question the assumptions and expectations she’s made about her life and her family. When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?

In this searingly honest novel, Jodi Picoult gracefully explores the lengths we will go in order to protect our families and to keep the past from dictating the future.

My take: 4 looks
This is my second Jodi Picoult novel, and my favorite so far. My book club read this one, and I don't know what I expected, but I drawn into the story completely and found the writing to be very nice.

Sage Singer, at first, was a bit over-the-top for me, but as her story unfolded throughout the novel, so did my understanding of and compassion for her. This is a young lady with serious issues on several fronts, and Picoult handled the complexity of the story beautifully. Monster or Human? Forgive or not? Questions that all of us face at one time or another, in varying degrees, that enables the reader to complete submerge into the story.

I loved the common thread of baking bread throughout the novel. The descriptions were so lovingly painted that I could see, smell and taste the dough. Bread is vital in so many ways to the story and I completely fell in love with the art of breadmaking.

Excellent writing, excellent story and highly recommended.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Private investigator Isabel Spellman is back on the case and back on the couch -- in court-ordered therapy after getting a little too close to her previous subject. As the book opens, Izzy is on hiatus from Spellman Inc. But when her boss, Milo, simultaneously cuts her bartending hours and introduces her to a "friend" looking for a private eye, Izzy reluctantly finds herself with a new client. She assures herself that the case -- a suspicious husband who wants his wife tailed -- will be short and sweet, and will involve nothing more than the most boring of PI rituals: surveillance. But with each passing hour, Izzy finds herself with more questions than hard evidence.

Meanwhile, Spellmania continues. Izzy's brother, David, the family's most upright member, has adopted an uncharacteristically unkempt appearance and attitude toward work, life, and Izzy. And their wayward youngest sister, Rae, a historic academic underachiever, aces the PSATs and subsequently offends her study partner and object of obsession, Detective Henry Stone, to the point of excommunication. The only unsurprising behavior comes from her parents, whose visits to Milo's bar amount to thinly veiled surveillance and artful attempts (read: blackmail) at getting Izzy to return to the Spellman Inc. fold. As the case of the wayward wife continues to vex her, Izzy's personal life -- and mental health -- seem to be disintegrating. Facing a housing crisis, she can't sleep, she can't remember where she parked her car, and, despite her shrinks' persistence, she can't seem to break through in her appointments. She certainly can't explain why she forgets dates with her lawyer's grandson, or fails to interpret the come-ons issued in an Irish brogue by Milo's new bartender. Nor can she explain exactly how she feels about Detective Henry Stone and his plans to move in with his new Assistant DA girlfriend... Filled with the signature side-splitting Spellman antics, Revenge of the Spellmans is an ingenious, hilarious, and disarmingly tender installment in the Spellman series.

My take: 4 looks
The third book in The Spellman Files, this did not disappoint. Book two fell flat for me, as Izzy's antics were less humorous and more obsessive and irritating. Revenge of the Spellmans gets back on track, with hilarious quips and comebacks, matched with unusual (but plausible) situations. The introduction of Maggie is a nice one and the back-seat of Petra is welcome (I didn't haven't forgiven her for book two). Izzy and Henry's tensions break through the ice a bit, in a way that serves to move the dynamics of their relationship forward. Rae is growing up nicely, and the tension of Olivia as she nears empty-next is evident. All-in-all, these are real characters and I am enjoying them immensely.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson

With extraordinary emotional power, Linda Olsson's stunningly well-crafted debut novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two women. Veronika, a young writer, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who slowly becomes a presence in Veronika's life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Set against a haunting Swedish landscape, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters' secrets are revealed.

My take: 4 looks

This was a beautifully written book. Full of description, character development and emotion, it depended solely on the movement of the characters and environment rather than action.

Two women from very different backgrounds, generations, experiences and lifestyles come together one season and forever change one another's lives.

Astrid is poignant, funny, witty, and completely endearing. The story tells of her childhood, relationships with her parents, marriage and solitary later life. Veronika is a world-traveler with close ties to her father and a lifetime ahead of her. Events bringing these two women together are completely random, yet very serendipitous.

So beautiful, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Beach House by James Patterson

Jack Mullen is in law school in New York City when the shocking news comes that his brother Peter has drowned in the ocean off East Hampton. Jack knows his brother and knows this couldn't be an accident. Someone must have wanted his brother dead. But the powers that be say otherwise. As Jack tries to uncover details of his brothers last night, he confronts a barricade of lawyers, police, and paid protectors who separate the multi-billionaire summer residents from local workers like Peter. And he learns that his brother wasn't just parking cars at the summer parties of the rich. He was making serious money satisfying the sexual needs of the richest women and men in town. THE BEACH HOUSE reveals the secret lives of celebrities in a breathtaking drama of revenge with a finale so shocking it could only have come from the mind of James Patterson.

My take: 3 looks
How does Patterson do it? How does he never let me down?

I needed to read a book set on a beach for my summer reading challenge, and I happened to have this one on the shelf. I started it in the morning and didn't put it down until I had read the last word at almost midnight. I did very little the rest of the day. I even shooed my husband away when he came to sit next to me on the sofa.

The tale of rich vs working-class hits right on the nose, with feelings of the hit TV series "Revenge" throughout. You can see the smug, self-satisfied looks on the rich faces as they know their sins will not catch up with them; you can feel the defeat and frustration of the blue-collar population who realize the law is NOT on their side.

And when justice finally DOES prevail, it is sweet, indeed. This is a page-turner, very fast-paced and intriguing. Recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg

Exhilarating short stories of women breaking free from convention Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman rebels, kicks up her heels, and commits a small act of liberation. What would you do, if you were going to break out and away? Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want–and then some? Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life–or your marriage? Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places? Imagine that the people in these wonderful stories–who do all of these things and more–are asking you: What would you do, if nobody was looking?

My take: 4 looks
What a delightful book of TRUTH! This middle-aged, female reader laughed out loud more than once and nodded in agreement too many times to count.

Which story did I love the most? Goodness! I loved the title story, and the sad truth that it is, indeed, not as fulfilling as you think or hope it will be when you throw caution to the wind and eat it all.

I loved the story of the 50 year friendship between two ladies who were still so playful with one another that they had a very difficult conversation using a Ken and Barbie doll.

I loved the closure the woman received when the very man who walked into her dating service turned out to be a long, lost love with no memory of her. The closure...and the new beginning with her own husband.

Every story was a good one, a true one, and I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

14 by Peter Clines

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches. There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

 At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends. Or the end of everything...

My take: 3 looks

What a fun read! In the style of "LOST", indeed! You really don't know whom to trust in this one. You suspect everyone, and yet you like every one of the characters so much that you want them all to be heroes.

The characters are extremely stereotypical: Nate is an everyman, Xela the rebellious artist, Veek the computer geek, Andrew the religious zealot, Clive and Debbie the perfect couple, Tim the mysterious older man. The others are written well, but a bit superfluous as far as the action goes. You can point to any of these and relate to them.

The story is riveting in the way all locked doors are: you can't wait to see why it's locked and what it hides. However, the opening of #14 and the quick aftermath was a bit too far-fetched for me. I loved the references to history and historical figures, but the blending of the supernatural was too forced and too unbelievable to the storyline. I thought the characters were perfectly set up, and the story sucked me in like a black hole, but the climax and finale were too over-the-top to be fluid to the rest of the story.

With that said, it was a fun book to read and I will definitely read more by this author. I have already downloaded his "Ex-Heroes" and "Ex-Patriots" book series.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The story opens with the immortal words 'I was lying dead in the churchyard' (spoken, astonishingly, by Flavia herself) and ends with a funeral watched by the De Luce family on a newly-installed television set. In between, Alan Bradley weaves a hauntingly nightmarish tale that involves Punch & Judy - and in particular Mr Punch's nemesis, the hangman, Jack Ketch - a frighteningly realistic puppet show, and a hitherto unexplored corner of Bishop's Lacey known as Gibbet's Wood.

The plot, beginning with the arrival in Bishop's Lacey of a travelling puppet show, features a grisly murder during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in the village hall and reaches back to an earlier, even nastier crime centring on an ancient, rotting gibbet that has lain like a shadow over the village for years.

 For Flavia, undoing the complex knot that ties these strands together will test her precocious powers of deduction to the limit - and provide a shocking insight into some of the darker corners of the adult world.

My take: 4 looks

Once again, Flavia de Luce proves to be one of my favorite characters. She is so tenacious, bold and witty that you can't help but love her (and despise her sisters just as much!). Here she is on the case again, always at the right place at the right time, and with the right resources.

The mystery and family dynamics blend well in this, the second of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series. I adore the sisterly spats between the three girls, with Flavia's love of chemistry (and especially poisons) taking it to a hilarious level. Her sisters know where to push her buttons, and she knows the chemical configurations to make them pay for it. Like the first book, this one contains a small thread of revenge that plays out throughout the book. A bit of a mystery-within-a-mystery.

We meet several more characters of Bishop's Lacey, and another member of the de Luce family. We also learn more about deceased mother, Harriett. The stories are perfectly standalone while building on the former. Just perfectly done, in my opinion.

Like any mystery, the book is character-heavy, but Bradley is such a great storyteller that the reader is familiar with each and the flow of the mystery is wonderfully fluid. The use of red herrings is pure perfection and slight twists and turns are very satisfying.

This entire series is highly recommended.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lyrical Poetry set to Music

As I have made no secret, I am not a big fan of poetry. I love Haiku in all it's forms, but I find strict-double-down-nitty-gritty poetry to be unctious (don't you LOVE that word?!). Those modern-day beatniks who spout their ideals with a backdrop of music just make me want to laugh while puking. If you want a good example, go here: Levi the Poet's "Resentment".

See what I mean? Wow. I must say though, my 18 year old son, Strat, LOVES him. Ugh.

But this is my point: some song lyrics are pure poetry, and I love them. Here are two snippets from Jack Johnson's "Taylor":

They say Taylor was a good girl
never one to be late
complain express ideas in her brain
Working on the night shift
passin out the tickets
you're gonna have to pay her
if you want to park here.
Well mommy's little dancer's
quite a little secret
working on the streets now
never gonna keep it.
It's quite an imposition
And now she's only wishin'
That she would have listened
To the words they said.
Poor Taylor.
See? That is a story in itself, and only the first stanza of the song. Poor Taylor, indeed. Her future was so bright and now she's only wishin' that she would have listened. Haven't we all experienced that hindsight?
The second stanza is even better:
Peter Patrick pitter patters on the window
And Sunny Silhouette won't let him in
and poor old Pete's got nothin 'cause he's been fallin'
but somehow Sunny knows just where he's been
He thinks that singin' on a Sunday's gonna save his soul
but now that Saturday's gone
Well sometimes he thinks that he's on his way
but I can see, that his break lights are on
There is nothing better to describe some phases of life than to say, "sometimes he thinks that he's on his way but I can see that his break lights are on." Indeed.
Other stories and poetry in songs from my day belong to Paul Simon and Don Henley. I still love "Last Worthless Evening" from the latter. I waited all my life for a man to tell me that this was the last worthless evening I'd ever spend. Matchbox 20's lyric from "If You're Gone" is still the most romantic phrase in music: "There's a little bit of something me in everything in you."
This is the true poetry set to music. Not some rambling, stacatto, angst-ridden, self-mutilating, self-righteous young adult who doesn't appreciate the liberty he has to post his unctious videos. and I say again: Ugh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson

In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual family is driven by the science of its day: spontaneous combustion, phrenology, animal magnetism, electrical shock treatment, psychosurgery, genetic research. As they make their way in the world, New York City, too, evolves—from the dark and rough days of the seventeenth century to the towering, frenetic metropolis of today. Like Patrick Süskind's classic novel Perfume , Kirsten Menger-Anderson's debut is a literary cabinet of curiosities—fascinating and unsettling, rich and utterly singular.

My take: 3 looks
What an interesting book!

The premise is smartly done: A doctor in the 1600s, just after the middle ages, starts the book with his story, then progresses very nicely through the generations of his family tree ... doctor after doctor after doctor. The chapters read as short stories, and indeed, some were published separately in various publications apart from appearing in this book.

Not all of the stories center around the doctor. Some center around how the doctor is treating the main character. There is talk of bleeding someone as a cure, drinking a tincture to become pregnant, shock therapy, a very early lobotomy, and the move away from silicone breast implants. The stories follow the latest in medical procedure and technology, ending in the year 2006. And not all treat physical ailments. The science of phrenology is examined, as is "hysteria" and retardation.

Very compelling, very clever, nice writing and extremely fluid, giving the single thread that weaves through the book. Highly recommended for a different sort of reading experience!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher


Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Or Other Entertainment

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever.

There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get...interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

My take: 3 looks
A fast and easy read. Very entertaining first book in a series of what the author states will be 20 installments in The Dresden Files. In this introduction, we meet the wizard, Harry Dresden, a lovably sarcastic and cynical man with one foot in this world and one foot in the "nevernever". Murphy is the police captain who is a bit grating, but I am sure she will flesh out as the books continue. Susan is just plain irritating, but (again), I expect her to grow on me. I liked Bill quite a bit, and the idea that he is very, very old and experienced, plus lives in an old skull, is very intriguing.

The mystery was a good one. Not too complicated, with a wide variety of villains (I hope to see more of the Marcone character), demons and monster-sized arachnida. The ending was satisfying and loose ends were tied. Excellent beach read for the summer.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Bibliophile Summer Reading Challenge!

Time for the newest reading challenge from my Shelfari reading group, Bibliophile! That means, as the picture suggests, there will be an "all stop" on unnecessary activities until said challenge is over. ha!

Here it is:

Bibliophile's Summer Reading Challenge 2013!!!!

This summer, we are going to the beach! So grab your reads and join the fun!

Here are the rules:

BOTM to read in the sand- Read a June-August BOTM and participate in the group discussion.

Endless activities available to pass the time- Read a book with a verb in the title.

Amazing colors as the sun sets over the ocean- Read a book that has one of the sunset colors (blue, purple, red, orange, or yellow).

Careful not to overdue the fun- Read a book that’s 400+ pages.

Hot dogs, chips, or seafood at our reach- Read a book that has food on the cover.

This makes a total of 5 books to read for the summer, which earns you ONE entry in the raffle.

Bonus: Read 3 BOTMs from June-August and earn an extra raffle entry.

Challenge runs from June 1st to August 31st

Here's what you can win:
Prize 1: $25 Amazon gift card from Mimi
Prize 2: Swag from Los Angeles Times' Festival of Books from Vonnie
Prize 3: Handmade bookmarks from Wonderbunny

I won the prize for last year's summer reading challenge, so I will recuse myself from any prizes, but I love to participate and see how far I can get. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

My take: 4 looks
This one started off a little slowly for me. So slowly, in fact that I didn't know if I would enjoy it.

However, once the characters were established, and I got into the rhythm of the story moving back and forth in time, I was able to enjoy it very much.

Dolly and Vivien were very interesting characters, and the supporting players were just as lively (thinking of Lady Caldicott). I was at first confused by Jimmy's draw to Dolly, as she seemed to be very high maintenance, but then I came to understand as the story moved along.

In present day, the siblings gathering to honor and then say goodbye to their mother was just as compelling. I very much enjoyed Laurel's story and would like to read a book based more on her life, and not just the effects of this particular story at this particular time. She seemed nicely drawn and complex, as opposed to the others.

But what will get you is the incredible tablecloth-removal-trick as the story draws to a close. I had to go back and reread a few pages to make sure I had understood what I thought had happened. It was a clincher at its best, and one I never saw coming. The last several chapters make the entire book worthwhile.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

It is the middle of the twentieth century, and in a home economics program at a prominent university, real babies are being used to teach mothering skills to young women. For a young man raised in these unlikely circumstances, finding real love and learning to trust will prove to be the work of a lifetime.

In this captivating novel, bestselling author Lisa Grunwald gives us the sweeping tale of an irresistible hero and the many women who love him. From his earliest days as a “practice baby” through his adult adventures in 1960s New York City, Disney’s Burbank studios, and the delirious world of the Beatles’ London, Henry remains handsome, charming, universally adored—and never entirely accessible to the many women he conquers but can never entirely trust.

Filled with unforgettable characters, settings, and action, The Irresistible Henry House portrays the cultural tumult of the mid-twentieth century even as it explores the inner tumult of a young man trying to transcend a damaged childhood. For it is not until Henry House comes face-to-face with the real truths of his past that he finds a chance for real love.

My take: 3 looks
I find the summary to be a bit heavy-handed. Phrases like "portrays the cultural tumult", "explores the inner tumult", and "trying to transcend a damaged childhood" are a bit over-the-top and melodramatic for this book, in my opinion. Is cultural change presented? Yes. How could it not be when the book moves the story and its characters through more than 20 years. Inner tumult? Yes. However, who among us had not experienced inner tumult at times? Damaged childhood? Maybe, but not altogether sure on that.

In my opinion, this is a marvelous premise for a delightfully written book. A home-ec program in the 1950s that uses real babies! Henry is one of the "house babies" and has a different childhood, for sure. Henry is an interesting character, as is all of the "mothers", the instructor, and the various women whom Henry encounters as an adult. However, the damage done to Henry is not quite plausible to me. After all, what is the real difference in today's daycare and this home-ec class? You still have a number of women taking care of a baby throughout the day, with one consistent "mother" throughout it all.

The fact that Henry learns at a young age how to manipulate these women, therefore the relationships, was also a bit far-reaching, but probably more viable than his lack of emotional attachment to any one of them. Meeting Peace and seeing that she, too, suffered the same lack of emotional attachment, along with the underlying suggestion that all of these "house" babies were likewise marred, was (again) a stretch.

What made the book delightful? I loved the very complex characters of Henry's mother, Martha, and the contrast of one of the house mothers, Betty.  Martha was perfectly drawn and so compelling. I could taste her longing to be a mother, her love for Henry, her ache and pain at his response to her. I loved how she grew emotionally as the book progressed, from a starched matron to a place of quiet wisdom.

Betty was a surprisingly complex character, as well. Her wishy-washy youth, lost young adulthood and final descent into the world she ultimately chooses. Both of these women made the book very satisfying for me. I liked everyone else, too, but these two were the pillars on which the (Henry) House was built.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

A captivating, beautiful, and stunningly accomplished debut novel—the story of a lighthouse keeper and his wife who make one devastating choice that forever changes two worlds.

In 1918, after four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes only four times a year and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Three years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel is tending the grave of her newly lost infant when she hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up on shore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the dead man and the infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim the child as their own and name her Lucy, but a rift begins to grow between them. When Lucy is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world…and one of them is desperate to find her lost baby.

My take: 4 looks
The summary pretty much tells the whole book. I hate that in a summary. If you simply read those few paragraphs, you may never read the book, which is such a great character study. The characters in the book are so real and excellently portrayed that each one brings both sympathy and anger. I completely understood the decisions made by each one. I didn't agree, but I also couldn't argue that I would have acted any differently. It is heart-wrenching and hopeful and devastating and satisfying. What more could you want in a book?

Highly recommended.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

"While I lingered yet, my hand resting lightly on my ship's rail as if on the shoulder of a trusted friend. But, with all that multitude of celestial bodies staring down at one, the comfort of quiet communion with her was gone for good."

The Secret Sharer is a popular early 20th century novel written by author Joseph Conrad. The story taking place at sea, is told from the perspective of a young sea captain. Not knowing his crew ahead of time except for the previous night, he struggles to see if he can life up to the authority role that is a must among captains. The Secret Sharer is a an excellent book for those who are interested in novels dealing with the sea and also those who are fans of the writings of Joseph Conrad.

My take: 3 looks
Not a novel at all, at 62 pages, or even a novella. I would classify this as a short story. A weird little short story. Basically, there is another sailor rescued by the captain in the middle of the night. This man committed murder aboard his ship, and swam (naked, may I add) for his life afterward. The captain of our ship finds him and decides to keep him a secret.

The interesting question in this story is whether or not there is actually another person. The captain speaks repeatedly of their resemblance, stating several times that looking at this man is like looking in the mirror. The captain's actions and communications also seem to be odd and noticable by both the first and second mates, raising additional questions about his mental stability. He turns out to be a very unreliable narrator, and the reader is left with more than a few questions once the stowaway disembarks.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

29 by Adena Halpern

What if you closed your eyes, blew out the candles, and your wish came true? Ellie Jerome is a young-at-heart seventy-five-year-old who feels she has more in common with her twenty-nine-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, than her fifty-five-year-old daughter, Barbara. Ellie’s done everything she can to stay young, and the last thing she wants is to celebrate another birthday. So when she finds herself confronted with a cake full of candles, Ellie wishes more than anything that she could be twenty-nine again, just for one day. But who expects a wish like that to come true?   29 is the story of three generations of women and how one magical day shakes up everything they know about each other. While Ellie finds that the life of a twenty-something is not as carefree as she expected, the sheer joy of being young again prompts her to consider living her life all over. Does she dare stay young for more than this day, even if it means leaving everyone she loves behind? Fresh, funny, and delightful, 29 is an enchanting adventure about families, love, and the real lessons of youth.

My take: 3 looks
As far as straight-up chick-lit goes, this was entertaining. Having an entire book center around one person for one day was just a bit of a stretch, but overall, it was a very easy and enjoyable book.

Ellie is in a unique position to shed 46 years for one day, which is almost ruined by her daughter and best friend. I loved that it was not just her "little secret", but won't say more to spoil it. She lived it to the fullest, and seemed to have the option of whether or not to return to her advanced age, or stay where she was. That was my only question: COULD she really have stayed if she had truly wanted to? Wouldn't she have been terrified every single day of her (new) life that she would awaken one morning wrinkled, saggy and stiff?

If I could go back to any year and live it for just a day, I may go back to high school and give the girls who tormented me a piece of my grown-up mind. Or I may return to my early 20s and enjoy a day in the life of a free spirit. Or I may go back to a fateful day in 1993 when I should have said, "I don't think so," instead of "I do". However, I am who I am because of what I did, when I did it. Would I really want to change that? I kind of like who I am, and am perfectly content to tweak a little here and there.

If I knew that one wish I made on my birthday would come true, I would probably wish for health and happiness for my children, close my eyes and blow.