Sunday, July 29, 2012

63. Miracle Cure by Harlen Coben (audio)

I've found that mysteries and thrillers are the best books to listen to while I'm driving to work and back each day.  This book was particularly compelling with its twists and turns.  I was quite far into the story before I began to suspect who the culprit was.  It's a good thing not to be able to solve the mystery too soon.   Here's a synopsis from the back of the book:

"They're one of the country's most telegnice couples:  beloved TV journalist Sara Lowell and New York's hottest basketball player Michael Silverman.  Their family and social connections tie them to the highest echelons of the political, medical, and sports worlds -- threads that will tangle them up in one of the most controversial  and deadly issues of our time.

In a clinic on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a doctor had dedicated his life to eradicating a divisive and devastating disease.  One by one, his patients are getting well.  One by one, they're being targeted by a serial killer.  And now Michael has been diagnosed with the disease.  There's only one cure but many ways to die . . ."

I find it interesting that the book cover does not spell out the name of the disease which is AIDS, but it was published in 1992 when the disease was much more controversial than it is today.  I also just read recently that they may have found a cure for AIDS which this book is all about.  The difference is that in 1992, so many people wanted to ignore AIDS because of its link to the gay community.    But, all that aside, the book is a great mystery, with a scary hit man and a surprising person who orders the hits.  I especially enjoyed the police detective who investigates the murders.  Max is a boyish-looking, Jewish, closet-gay man who hates violence, doesn't carry a gun, but is intellectually brilliant at putting the pieces together.  Great character.  While the book is dated (no cell phones), it is still a good read.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, July 22, 2012

62. White Midnight by Dia Calhoun

From Amazon

Rose Chandler, a fifteen-year-old bondgirl who lives on Greengarden Orchard, fears everything: the dark, the moon, other people, and the Dalriadas from the Red Mountains who are at war with the Valley folk. But Rose especially fears the Thing locked in the attic of the Bighouse, home of Mr. Brae, the Master of Greengarden. Rose loves Greengarden and dreams of saving it from Mr. Brae’s neglect. That love gives her the courage to confront her fears one by one, until at last she comes face-to-face with the Thing in the attic. There, when Rose lights a candle in the dark, a nightmare beyond her worst imagining comes true, and she learns Mr. Brae has betrayed her. Then the Thing – and the intensifying war – present Rose with a terrible dilemma. Will she have to give up the land she loves in order to save it?

I didn't realy enjoy this book.  I found Rose tedious with her fears, although I was glad to see her overcome them in the end.  The Thing was obnoxious as was Mr. Brae.  But the worst was Rose's relationship with her family.  That was just sad.  Rating:  3

61. A Wild Ride Through the Night by Walter Moers (audio)

Twelve-year-old Gustave is the captain of his own ship when it becomes entangled between sister tornadoes.  That is how he meets Death, who gives him six tasks to complete to avoid becoming another soul used to feed the sun.  During the his quest, Gustave runs into dragons, monsters, treacherous terrain, and is even abandoned on a small asteroid in the middle of the universe.  It is a fun story and made even better by  the terrific narration of Bronson Pinchot.  (Remember Balki?)  He does incredible voices and portrays each character so well.  He makes Death's voice so deep and sinister, the donkey sounds a little like the donkey in Shrek and the most fearsome monster of all is scary but also very funny.  Very fun book to listen to.  I'm not sure I would have liked it as much is I had read it, but Pinchot made it great.  Rating:  4

59. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

This novel tells the story of the daugher of the Emperor of Hindustan who built the Taj Mahal as a mmonument to his deceased wife.  Princess Jahanara is raised to be strong-willed and diplomatic like her mother.  But she is married off to a cruel, disgusting man in an effort to strengthen the empire.  Then her father asks her to oversee the construction of the immense building.  She meets and falls in love with the architect, further complicating her already dramatic life.  Not only must she hide her love, she tries to help her older brother become the strong prince he must be to withstand the machinations of her other brother.  So the book is more about Jahanara, her love life and the struggles she has with her brothers than it is about the actual monument.  In the end, I found it just okay.  Rating:  3

58. Magic Street by Orson Scott Card


In a peaceful, prosperous African American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mack Street is a mystery child who has somehow found a home. Discovered abandoned in an overgrown park, raised by a blunt-speaking single woman, Mack comes and goes from family to family–a boy who is at once surrounded by boisterous characters and deeply alone. But while Mack senses that he is different from most, and knows that he has strange powers, he cannot possibly understand how unusual he is until the day he sees, in a thin slice of space, a narrow house. Beyond it is a backyard–and an entryway into an extraordinary world stretching off into an exotic distance of geography, history, and magic.

Passing through the skinny house that no one else can see, Mack is plunged into a realm where time and reality are skewed, a place where what Mack does and sees seem to have strange affects in the “real world” of concrete, cars, commerce, and conflict. Growing into a tall, powerful young man, pursuing a forbidden relationship, and using Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream as a guide into the vast, timeless fantasy world, Mack becomes a player in an epic drama. Understanding this drama is Mack’s challenge. His reward, if he can survive the trip, is discovering not only who he really is . . . but why he exists.

Fantastic, creative, hard-to-put-down.  While Ender's Game is still my favorite book by Card, I really enjoyed this book.  Mack is such a mesmerizing character, coming from a true evil that he struggles with and that goes against everything he is raised by his adoptive parent to be.  Rating:  4.75

Saturday, July 07, 2012

54. - 57. The Shadow Children Series, Books 1 thru 4 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My cousin, Tracy, recommended this young adult series to me; and I found it to be very thought provoking.  The books tell the story  of a future society where the government has become a dictatorship, and the ruling class has all the money and most others are extremely poor.  Because of a famine at some past time, families are only allowed to have two children.  Third children have been outlawed.  Still hundreds of third children are born and kept hidden in their homes.  If discovered, the penalty is death.  Luke is one of these children.  When he faces potential discovery, a rich neighbor helps him to escape to a boys school with a fake ID.  The four books follow Luke as he adjusts to living without his family and finds other third children along the way.  The books are well-written, full of suspense and pathos.  The author does a fantastic job in creating characters who are trying to adapt in a society where they are unwanted and frightened of any changes in their life.  Imagine being scared of the outdoors because you have always lived inside with the blinds pulled.  There are three more books in this series that I look forward to reading soon.  Rating:  4.75

53. Straight on Till Morning by Mary S Lovell

Beryl Markham was a South African horse trainer and pilot.  She most famous for being the first woman to fly aross the Atlantic from East to West.  The author spent about a month interviewing the woman in her late eighties and going over all her memorabilia to write this book.  It is a portrait of a most unconvetional woman for her time.  Born in 1904, Beryl grew up in Kenya with her father who left her mostly to her own devices.  She had a gift with animals and became a well respected horse trainer.  Later she learned to fly and became very proficient, enough to make her celebrated flight.  She also was a pretty amoral person, using others to gain her own ends and had a many affairs during her lifetime.  While her abilities and accomplishments were very impressive, she doesn't seem like a very likeable person, even though the biographer seemed to admire the older woman she interviewed.  Rating:  3.5

52. One Last Chance by Jerry Borrowman (audio)

Artie Call is a juvenile delinquent in Boise in the early 1930's, but with a sad story.  He is coerced into helping some really bad, bigger and meaner guys into robbing a mansion while the owner is out.  Unfortunately, the owner, Mary Wilkerson, surprises them and Artie saves her from being beat to death by the others.  They are sent to prison, but Mary takes Artie under her wing and begins to reform him.  With the help of her chauffuer and the cook, Artie gains confidence in himself and his ability to resist temptations.  His bigget trial is the local banker, David Boone, who refuses to believe that Artie can change and accuses him when his home is vandalized. 

Reading about Boise in the 30's was fun.  It was definitely a simpler, more innocent time; but I found Artie to be almost too good to be true.  Things just fall into place for him.  At least, David Boone realistically resents his good fortune even if his persecution of Artie seems out of place.    There were some heartwarming moments, but I found the dialog to be stilted and the characters were unbelievable.   Artie is the bad boy with a heart of gold who turns out good and Mary is the curmudgeonly rich old woman who is redeemed by loving the young boy she saves.  So-so read.  Rating:  3

51. The Rope by Nevada Barr (audio)

From Amazon:

Anna Pigeon has been a ranger with the National Park Service for many years, but she had a very different life before tragedy sent her west seeking something new. Now Nevada Barr finally tells the previously untold story of Anna’s first foray into the wild, and the case that helped shape her into the ranger she became. Thirty-five years old, fresh off the bus from New York City, and nursing a shattered heart, Anna Pigeon takes a decidedly unglamorous job as a seasonal employee of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. On her day off, she goes hiking into the park never to return. Her co-workers think she’s simply moved on - her cabin is cleaned out and her things gone. Anna herself wakes up, trapped at the bottom of a dry natural well, naked, without supplies and no clear memory of how she got into this situation. As she slowly pieces together her memory, it soon becomes clear that someone has trapped her there, in an inescapable prison, and that no one knows that she is even missing. Plunged into a landscape and a plot she is unfit and untrained to handle, Anna Pigeon must muster the courage, strength, and will to live that she didn’t even know she still possessed in order to survive, outwit, and triumph.

I have always enjoyed the Anna Pigeon series and reading about the national parks.  It was fun to read how she became a ranger and to learn that she wasn't always the tough infallible crime solver we see in later years.  The audio story was very gripping, just the thing to keep me awake on the drive to work and back.  Rating:  4.25

Saturday, June 23, 2012

50. Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Hannah owns her own cookie shop which keeps her very busy along with dodging her mother's matchmaking efforts.  But she still finds time to help her brother-in-law, Bill, solve two murders that have rocked their small Minnesota town.  The whole plot is a little unbelievable as Hannah goes about town, questioning everyone with very little push back considering she is not a police detective.  And Bill lets her because solving the murder will help him get a big promotion.  Why his boss doesn't know that Hannah is the true crime-solver is beyond me.  Still, Hannah is likeable and her cookie recipes look great.  Rating:  3.50

49. 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie (Audio)

From back cover:
For an instant two trains run together, side by side.  In that instant, Elspeth witnessed a murder.  Helplessly, she stared out of her carriage window as a man remorselessly tightened his grip around a woman's throat.  The body crumpled.  Then the other train drew away.

But who, apart from Jane Marple, would take her story seriously?  After all, there were no suspects, no other witnesses  . . . and no corpse.

This is another great story written by the mystery master.  I love Christie's books and am amazed at how she was able to write so many with such differing plots.  This mystery was quite intricate and it really challenges Miss Marple's abilities.  But she enlists a friend, thirty-two-year-old Lucy Eylesbarrow who owns her own cleaning service, to help find the body.  Marple has figured out where a body would have been thrown from the train and Lucy gains employment with the family who owns the estate.  Eventually the body is found and the murderer discovered but it is a wild ride going through all the clues.  I would never have figured it out.  Through the book, two of the suspects show a romantic interest in Lucy.  After making the arrest, the chief inspector asks Miss Marple is she knows who Lucy chooses.  And she answers, Of couse, she knows.  And the book ends with that statement.  I'll bet Dame Agatha had a good laugh leaving us all hanging.  Rating:  4.25

Thursday, June 14, 2012

48. Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

With every book featuring them, I enjoy Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg more.  They're hilarious.  In this book, the two witches have decided to travel to Ank Morpork to find Agnes, a girl from their village who they believe should join them as a third witch.  Agnes, who is a very large girl with a beautiful voice and loads of common sense has gone to the city to join the opera.  Yes, there are shades of the Phantom of the Opera in this story, but so funny.  Opera characters are strange even by Discworld standards.  There are some murders which Granny and Nanny help to solve and they are able to make their pitch to Agnes.  I'm not sure if she changes her career, maybe in another book.  I surely hope to read more about the witches as they have really grown on me.  Rating:  4.75

47.Replay by Sharon Creech

Leo is not sure he fits in with his family who calls him fog boy or Sardine.  He spends a lot of time fantasizing which adds some fun to the book.  While searching through the attice, he finds his father's journal written at the age of 12 and it opens his eyes up to the man who seems so sad most of the time.  The book culinates witht eh family viewing Leo in his school play where he has the part of "old crone."  While this was not my favorite Sharon Creech book, it was still a fun read and a great book for kids.  Rating:  3.75

46. Death of a Dustman by M C Beaton

"When Mrs. Freda Fleming, tyrannical member of the Strathbane Council, appoints the dustman (trash collector) of Lochdubh to be the "environmental officer," Fergus Macleod becomes a bigger bully than he was before. He also specializes in blackmail as he uses the bits of information he finds in the rubbish against the local residents. No one is surprised when his body turns up in a recycling bin. That's when policeman Hamish Macbeth steps in to investigate, but he has a difficult time trying to get the locals to talk. And then, another murder complicates the entire process. Beaton once again entertains fans of the series with delightful escapades of the Scottish populace and a good mystery. She uses Hamish not only as the main character, but also as a foundation for learning about the culture, activities, and other people in the village. Clarry Graham, Macbeth's constable who specializes in cooking, lends additional humor to the story line."  Amazon review

Another Hamish McBeath mystery with colorful characters and a great mystery.  Rating:  4

45. Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

In 1945, Marjorie and her college roommate, Marty, move to New York City to live and work for the summer.  They are able to get employment at famed Tiffany's, and this book tells about their adventures during that summer.  Even though teh country is still at war, the girls still manage to have fun, experience the city and learn more about the rarified world of Tiffany's.  Hart's memoir is a fun look at the end of WWII that gives a different perspective from other things I've read about this time.  Rating:  3.75

44. Maggie Again by John D Husband

In 1926, Maggie moves from Indiana to New York City.  Her three best friends, Tom, Alfie and Gordie hop a train to visit her and disappear.  At the age of 74, Maggie remembers her friends and wonders again what happened to them. And then, they are in New York, still 14, 15 and 16 years old.  This is a fun time travel story that was totally unexpected to me.  I really enjoyed reading about the 1920's, the stock market crash and then following Maggie through the years.  A great "what if" story.  Rating:  4.25

Sunday, June 03, 2012

43. Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick

This is not the kind of book I tend to read, but both my sisters recommended it along with my brother who left me his copy.  So I decided to read it to not be left out of any family discussions and am glad that I did.  The book covers one of the Little Rock Nine and the girl yelling at her in the picture that became a famous icon of that era.  Both girls are fifteen, one are wanting to get a better education so willing to brave the crowds of segregationists who oppose her attendance at an all-white school; and the other wanting to gain attention and be part of the in-crowd.  Mostly the book focuses on Elizabeth Eckford and her struggles attending school and the post-tramatic-stress syndrome she suffers for the rest of her life.  Hazel Bryan transferred out of the school shortly after the picture is taken and comes to grips with her shameful part in the episode later in life.  Their interactions are well-documented and the whole story is presented in a very interesting way.  The book educates without being boring.  I would have liked a different ending, but you can't get that with a book covering history.  It is a sad commentary on how cruel people can be and stresses the need for all of us to take an active part in making sure all Americans have the same advantages regardless of their race.  Rating:  4.5

42. I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella (Audio)

"I've lost it. :( The only thing in the world I wasn't supposed to lose. My engagement ring. It's been in Magnus's family for three generations. And now the very same day his parents are coming, I've lost it. The very same day! Do not hyperventilate, Poppy. Stay positive :) !!

Poppy Wyatt has never felt luckier. She is about to marry her ideal man, Magnus Tavish, but in one afternoon her "happily ever after" begins to fall apart. Not only has she lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill but in the panic that follows, her phone is stolen. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect!

Well, perfect except that the phone's owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn't agree. He wants his phone back and doesn't appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life.

What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other's lives through emails and text messages. As Poppy juggles wedding preparations, mysterious phone calls, and hiding her left hand from Magnus and his parents... she soon realizes that she is in for the biggest surprise of her life."  Amazon Synopsis

I admit that I found the narrator of this audio book to have a very annoying, chirpy, high-pitched voice.  It was hard to get into because of that.  However, the story is hilarious and I soon got into it.  I enjoyed the experience very much except for one problem. . . the profanity was over the top.  It's hard to ignore that with audio so I'm taking off a full point for it.  So it's a great story, fun characters and hilarious story . . .  with too much swearing.  Dang.  Rating:  3.75

41. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

"Welcome to New Avalon, where everyone has a personal fairy. Though invisible to the naked eye, a personal fairy, like a specialized good luck charm, is vital to success. And in the case of the students at New Avalon Sports High, it might just determine whether you make the team, pass a class, or find that perfect outfit. But for 14-year-old Charlie, having a Parking Fairy is worse than having nothing at all—especially when the school bully carts her around like his own personal parking pass. Enter: The Plan. At first, teaming up with arch-enemy Fiorenza (who has an All-The-Boys-Like-You Fairy) seems like a great idea. But when Charlie unexpectedly gets her heart’s desire, it isn’t at all what she thought it would be like, and she’ll have resort to extraordinary measures to ditch her fairy. The question is: will Charlie herself survive the fairy ditching experiment?"  Amazon Synopsis

I've read several reviews of this young-adult novel that really praise it.  I found it very creative and different, but also annoying.  The story centers almost exclusively on Charlie's quest to rid herself of a fairy and get a new one.  There is a strong lesson about friendship which was nice and another one about accepting yourself or changing what you don't like.  But, in the end, Charlie still needs a fairy to really excel.  I wished it that part had been a bit different.  Rating:  3.5

Monday, May 28, 2012

40. When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

"In a small town square of a sleepy Georgia town, seven-year-old Annie sits at her lemonade stand, raising money for her own heart transplant. At a nearby store, Reese flips through the newspaper, thinking about the latest boat hes restoring. As a beat-up bread truck careens around the corner, a strong wind blows Annies money into the road. Reese looks up in time to see Annies yellow dress fluttering in the wind as she runs into the road. What happens next will change both of their lives forever. Richly atmospheric and evocative, with the kind of characters that move into your heart and take up residence, Charles Martins new novel will resonate with fans of God-haunted southern fiction, and with anyone who enjoys a solidly crafted, heart-touching story."  Amazon Review

"The human heart is remarkable in that it is designed to pump continuously  for a hundred and twenty years without ever needing to be reminded what is was meant to do.  It just does it.  In all my reading and study, I have come to know one thing without any shadow of doubt:  if anything in this universe reflects the fingerprints of God, it is the human heart."

I loved this book.  I learned so much about the human heart . . . really fascinating facts about the organ we all take for granted but simply can't live without.  But the book also explores the heart as the center of our feelings, thoughts and experiences.  It is beautiful how Martin intertwines these two views in a wonderful story about love and redemption.  Through the whole story, Reese fights against what he is meant to do until a final gripping experience shows him the way.  Rating:  5