Sunday, March 29, 2009

31. The Last Promise by Richard Paul Evans

I have had three books by Richard Paul Evans sitting on my shelves for ages. Avoided them like the plague and couldn't remember why I had bought them. The fact is that I don't care for romances very much and I remember Evans' bestseller, The Christmas Box, as being a little too sweet for my taste. However, a few weeks ago, the author visited Vernal and spoke at an LDS women's conference; and I was absolutely charmed. He is a fantastic speaker, both humorous and motivational. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, don't miss it. I was motivated to read those books sitting on the shelf and picked this one first.

Richard is sitting by a pool in Italy and strikes up a conversation with the beautiful woman sitting next to her. (I assume that Richard is the actual author but I believe the story is pure fiction as I will point out shortly.) He remarks that he is from Utah and she laughs because she is from Vernal, Utah. He says, "Vernal is a small town in the eastern desert of Utah: a stop on the way to someplace else. Even in Utah I had never met anyone from Vernal." Okay, I was a little offended. Yes, I live in the eastern desert of Utah, but Vernal is not that small. But it's when he talks about Eliana's graduating class of 36 that I was miffed. My son's graduating class had 500. You'd think that a writer would check out a place that is only a three hour drive from where he lives before writing about it. Or at least get on the internet and find out it's not just a tiny cow town on the edge of nowhere. It just doesn't make sense to get something so easy wrong. There are a couple of towns near here that might be that small. Why not use one of them? Sorry, that kind of error bothers me. If I had known, I would have read one of his other books first.

Back to the book, Eliana's shares her love story with Richard and that is the basis for the rest of the novel. She is unhappily married to an Italian count who is unfaithful and insensitive. Painting and caring for her young asthmatic son fill her hours. When she meets Ross, all that changes and they quickly fall in love. Naturally there is conflict and turmoil; but, like most romances, it ends happily. I admit that I am not a fan of romances because they are too sweet and implausible. And this book is both. However, there was no sex (Thank you, Mr. Evans) and the conflicts were believable and added a lot to the story. The ending was just too pat. I did enjoy the descriptions of the Tuscany countryside and Florence, adding one more to my list of places to visit. And I was interested in his descriptions of Alessio's asthma attacks since my grandson was just diagnosed with mild asthma. For a romance, this book was pretty good. I liked the characters except the husband who was such an obvious cad. I will probably read those other two Evans books but I need a good dose of something salty first.

Here's a couple of Italian proverbs that I really liked from the book:

"Love is blind. Marriage restores one's vision."

"The sound of a kiss is not as strong as that of a cannon, but its echo endures much longer."

Rating: 3

Friday, March 27, 2009

30. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fanny Flagg

Book Around the State
Personal Challenge

In 1952, Daisy Fay is eleven and about as precocious as a child can get. She is pretty naive and always commenting on things that embarrass her parents. And her parents fight constantly mostly because her father drinks so much. It obvious they love Daisy, but it's still a pretty dysfunctional family. There are some pretty humorous anecdotes in the book, more when the story jumps to Daisy's high school life; but it was still kind of flat to me. I found it just okay.

Rating: 3.75

29. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Every mother should read this book to her child right before he leaves for his first day of school. It is so sweet and has such beautiful illustrations. This picture is a favorite. Chester does not want to go to school. He prefers to stay at home and play with his mother and keep her company. She tells him all the fun things that he will do at school and the friends he will make. Finally she gives him a kiss in his palm so he can take her love with him to school. Aaaaaaah. I just loved this book. Rating: 5

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

28. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

Book Around the States
Personal Challenge

Delia Grinstead is a forty-year-old mother and wife, living in Baltimore in her family home with husband, son, and sister. Her other sister visits with her two daughters and everyone heads to the beach in Delaware for the annual two-week vacation. Up to this point, you feel that Delia is such a non-entity. Her husband talks down to her, her sisters talk over her and her kids just use her. One day she takes a walk on the beach and just keeps going. That's when you really start liking her. This novel tells about the sixteen months she spends in a small town called Bay Borough working first as a typist and then as a live-in housekeeper/nanny. Along the way, you meet a rich variety of eccentric and fun characters. I could identify with Delia as a woman of a certain age whose kids have outgrown her and who questions her place in her limited world. This book was a quiet, enjoyable read for me. Not earth-shattering or emotion-stirring, but very pleasant and often humorous.

Rating: 4

Sunday, March 22, 2009

27. S is for Silence by Sue Grafton

Book Around the States
Personal Challenge

I'm not sure if this book is a great choice for the state of California. But as the 19th book in the Kinsey Milhone mystery series, all taking place there, it works. I think the series give the reader a flaver of California outside the beach, Hollywood, and San Francisco arena.

This novel doesn't give us a lot of background on Kinsey. Grafton probably figures we all know her heroine quite well. She's gritty, opinionated, and smart. All wonderful qualities for a P.I. In Silence, she is hired to investigate the 34-year-old disappearance of Violet Sullivan, her employer's mother. Kinsey knows she's on the right track when she finds her tires slashed; and, sure enough, the clues lead to a final conclusion. The reader gets to know all those involved in the mystery through the investigation and through flashbacks telling us what actually happened in 1953. I thought Grafton misled her readers through the flashbacks. We are led to believe certain people are responsible without any clues that may have made us look elsewhere. After 19 novels, I was impressed with this departure from Kinsey's usual investigations.

Rating: 3.75

Thursday, March 19, 2009

26. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green

BookAround the State
Personal Challenge

From back cover: "The summer that Patty Bergen turned twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she's Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee, Anton, not as a Nazi -- but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own, who understands and appreciates her in a way her parents never will. And Patty is willing to risk losing family, friends -- even her freedom -- for what has quickly become the most important part of her life."

What did I like: There is something gripping about this tragic story, and it held my attention throughout. The characters are well-drawn, Patty especially. Green evokes a wonderful sense of time and place in this small 1941 town. She does a fantastic job in showcasing the evils of prejudice, bigotry, racism and the mob-mentality.

What I didn't like: Sometimes Patty acts just like a 12-year-old should, but I found her love for the German soldier to be way too mature. Then again, she needs someone to love. In her own life, there is just Ruth, the "colored woman" who is babysitter and housekeeper. Her parents just seem to hate her and that never made sense to me. True, she lies but that is mainly to make herself more appealing; she's not as pretty as her younger sister, but still attractive. I don't know, it just didn't make sense that her mother would deliberately sabotage her by sending her to a beautician who was sure to ruin her hair; and her father would beat her almost senseless for even slight infractions. Why?

It is a very sad story, but has hope at the end. You get a sense that Patty will overcome the limitations her parents place on her and survive to become a strong, intelligent woman, much better than those who raised her.

Rating: 4

Monday, March 16, 2009

25. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Book Around the States
Personal Challenge
Codi Noline returns to her childhood home of Grace, Arizona to care for her father who has Alzheimer's. Codi has an ambivalent relationship with her father (He named her Cosima and her sister was named Halimeda, for heaven's sake). Codi is at loose ends with her boyfriend and her work, and Hallie is going to Nicaragua; so this seems like something she can do to pass some time. She's hired to teach biology at the local high school because she almost completed her training to be a doctor. She renews old acquaintances including with Loyd, a good-looking Apache trainman. Kingsolver covers a lot of issues in this novel: the death of a river by the local mining company; the U.S. supported Contra war in Nicaragua; relationship issues between children and parents; friendships and romance. In the year she spends in Grace, Codi recovers lost memories, learns to accept herself and find a place in the world, suffers great loss; and helps the town fight a major battle for its survival.

While I didn't care for Poisonwood Bible, I have enjoyed two other Kingsolver novels. I absolutely loved this book. My favorite by far. I was engrossed right from the start. Yes, Codi is whiny at the beginning, but it made sense. I liked and understood her. There were so many fantastic characters in this novel including the town of Grace, itself. The romance never got sappy or overblown. I think I fell in love with Loyd myself. There was sadness and humor, controversy and resolution. And Kingsolver writes so beautifully. Here's a couple of quotes I really liked:

"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. What I want is so simple I almost can't say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed." Hallie

"Animals dream about the things they do in the daytime, just like people do. If you want sweet dreams, you've got to live a sweet life." Loyd

Definitely a keeper.

Rating: 5

Friday, March 13, 2009

24. Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott

Jo's Boys is the final installment in Alcott's tale of Jo March. Jo was so much fun in Little Women. What happened to her? In this book, she has become a famous author and seems so patronizing to her fans. She has all the boys figured out as they mature into men; and, sure enough, all her prophecies come true. Very annoying. For a while, I was liking this book more than Little Men, but then Dan had his downfall. Jo graciously forgives him for killing a man in self-defense and his year in prison, but knows he can never marry. "Few women would care to marry Dan now, except such as would hinder, not help, him in the struggle which life would always be to him; and it was better to go solitary to his grave." Please. She says this after he almost gets killed rescuing twenty miners trapped in a cave-in. I was so disgusted. And the year in prison was worse than the killing. What happened to redemption? So she sends him off with all her love to live out his solitary life. In fact, in the last few pages, she passes judgment on all her boys. The only one who really makes a change from his earlier station in life is Nat; and he was so namby-pamby and boring. Dan was truly the most interesting character in the book, but just couldn't overcome his lowly beginnings to the satisfaction of his betters. This book is probably a good indication of how people in Alcott's position in life really felt but I didn't like it. I think I'm done reading Alcott.
Rating: 2

Sunday, March 08, 2009

23. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Book-Around-the States- Challenge
Other than the fact that this book takes place in Sitka, Alaska; there is very little tie-in to the state at all. I should have used that last Dana Stabenow book as my Alaska read, but I'm too lazy to change things now.

Publisher's Weekly describes this book as "a murder-mystery speculative-history Jewish-identity noir chess thriller." It's very interesting how Chabon ties all these elements together. I will try to summarize this novel as briefly as possible: Back in 1948, FDR proposed Sitka as an alternative site for the displaced Jews. This book takes the notion that the Jews were driven out of Israel and settled in Sitka on a temporary basis. Sixty years later, The U.S. is about to displace them again. In this period of unease, a young man is discovered with a bullet to the back of his head; and Meyer Landsman, a drunken, divorced homicide detective tries to solve the case. There are very few clues other than an unfinished chess game. Landsman breaks all kinds of rules trying to get answers causing all kinds of grief for his boss who happens to also be his ex-wife. It's pretty ingenious and more than a little convoluted how Chabon works all this intrigue into the final who-dunnit-scene.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. Landsman is not a very likeable person, a disaster waiting to happen. He is surrounded by all kinds of depressing sorts. Even the landscape and weather seem depressing. Plus the book is written in the present tense which is always hard for me. There were all kinds of Yiddish terms and cultures that I didn't understand. And I don't really care for chess. But this was my Alaska book, so I stuck with it. Eventually I found myself interested in the story of the victim as well as Landsman's story. Even the chess elements were interesting. I got used to the tense which probably helped differentiate between the histories of the characters and the ongoing story itself. And Landsman, though a depressed, self-destructive, crazy man, has a certain amount of integrity and begins to redeems himself. I didn't care for the profanity and found the story a little over-the-top; but Chabon's descriptions were wonderful. I love an author who can evoke so much atmosphere with so few words. I can't say I loved this book, but if someone told me about another book he had written with a better storyline, I would be sure to give it a try.

Rating: 3.5

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Canadian Book Challenge II - Finished

Other than my own personal Book-Around-the States Challenge, this is my final challenge to complete. I have really enjoyed participating in both of John Mutford's Canadian challenges and will probably join another time this summer. (I plan to read a bunch of L M Montgomery books) To find out more about John and his challenge, click on The Book Mine Set link in my sidebar. Here's my results:

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs, rated 3. A Temperance Brennan mystery
Niagara, a History of the Falls by Piere Berton, rated 4.25. An interesting look at Niagara Falls and the issues on both sides of the border.
Barameter Rising by Hugh MacLennan, rated 4.25. A gripping tale of the Halifax explosion.
Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson, rated 4. A hilarious look at two single brother, their bed and breakfast and the guests who visit.
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny, rated 4.5. A first-rate mystery which takes you all over the frozen wilds of Canada.
Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman, rated 4.25. A light-hearted romance looking at Royal Canadian Mounties back in the Wild West.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, rated 3.75. An historical fiction that tells a lot about Newfoundland. It was great to learn more about my birthplace.
Still Life by Louise Penny, rated 4.75
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny, rated 5
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny, rated 4.5. These are the first three in the Armand Gamache mystery series. Penny does an excellent job with all three.
Dragonflies and Dinosaurs by Kate Austin, rated 4. A travelogue from Vancouver to Manitoba with a middle-aged spinster and her two teen-age nephews.
Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp, rated 1.5. A depressing coming-of-age novel.
Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson, rated 4. An imaginative tale of famous reincarnated persons who come back as cats inhabiting the cemetery where they were buried. Very funny.

The last Canadian challenge, I found that a lot of the books were kind of depressing; and ran into a couple like that this year. But I also discovered a great mystery series and read a couple more of Bill Richardson, a very funny man. I've loved all the challenges I've done over the past two years, but right now it'll be fun to just grab whatever I want off the shelf.

Book Awards Challenge - Finished

This challenge runs from August 1, 2008 through June 1, 2009, but I managed to fnished a little early. The challenge is hosted by 3M and it includes reading ten award-winning books. I just noticed that she has a list of eligible awards and I may have some that aren't on that list. Drat. But I read twelve so maybe that will count for something. Here's the books I read with their award and my rating. (5 is the highest score I give)

The Changeling by Zilpha Keathley Snyder (Christopher Medal) Rated 4.75

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E L Konigsburg (Newbery) Rated 5
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Alex Award) Rated 3.75
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (Alex) Rated 4.25
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (Costa Award) Rated 4.5
The Borrowers by Mary Norton (Carnegie Award) Rated 4
The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle (Spur) Rated 3.5
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Alex Award) Rated 5
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Gouge (Carnegie) Rated 3.5
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Whitbread) Rated 4.25
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (Hugo/Nebula) Rated 4.5
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newbery) Rated 4
The Temptations of Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe (Governor General) DNF

I feel bad that I couldn't get into Big Bear, but most of the others were really good books. I can easily see myself re-reading Peace, Speaker, and Mrs. Frankweiler. I'm glad I entered this challenge and finished it. Thanks to 3M for sponsoring it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

22. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Up to this point, Eight Cousins has always been my favorite Alcott novel. Little Men definitely did not change my opinion. I was looking forward to another light-hearted romp with well-behaved youngsters written in the mode of days gone by. This book has all that except for a few less-well-behaved boys who really are the most interesting characters. The problem is that every antic or adventure ended with moralizing and preaching. You see, Little Men is the story of Jo and Franz Baer's school for boys as a sequel to Little Women. And Jo and Professor Baer never miss an opportunity to teach those boys plus two little girls a lesson. Which gives Alcott an opportunity to preach to the reader. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood, but I found the children too precocious and the outcomes too easy. The whole story was just too precious. I did like the idea of a school with twelve male students and two female students and two teachers. They were able to gear lessons to what each student was interested in. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic, Daisy was able to pursue her interest in cooking, Nan in medicine, Dan in botany; and so forth. It would be wonderful if education could be so individualized today. But more important than education was building the children's character, and Alcott brings that in with an iron fist. I still have Jo's Boys to read. Maybe they will already have developed sterling charcters in this book so the preaching will be minimized. Rating: 2.5