Saturday, August 29, 2009

83. Peak by Roland Smith

Peak was a book that had listed on my recommendations. It's book like this that make me pay attention when Amazon makes recommendations. All right, many of the books they recommend are crap and have no correlation to me or my taste in books; but Peak was a happy surprise. The story is told as an essay written by fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello for an assignment by his English teacher. It begins with him being caught at the top of a skyscraper he had just scaled and spray painted. So Peak is in trouble facing three + years in juvenile lockdown. Along comes his father who he hasn't seen for seen years and who comes up with a compromise that will satisfy the court and the media and keep Peak out of jail. They travel to Thailand but make a surprise stop in Kathmandu. Peak's father, Josh, owns a mountain climbing guide service and he plans to make Peak the youngest boy ever to scale Everest. I'm not terribly interested in mountain climbing, but this book held my interest from the get-go. Peak is a pretty amazing young teen in his climbing abilities, his tender feeling for his twin half-sisters; and his sensitivity to others. He is also pretty normal in that he has a hard time curbing his temper, gets impatient and jealous. Reading about the thrills and dangers of climbing Everest through Peak's eyes was a great experience and definitely the closest I'll ever get to that mountain. This was a fantastic young adult book that I heartily recommend.
Rating: 4.75

Friday, August 28, 2009

82. Receive Me Falling by Erika Robuck

I borrowed this book from Booklogged because she gave it a pretty good review and I usually agree with her taste in books. This one was a bit of a disappointment to me though. It's the story of a young woman, Meg, with everything going for her when her life falls apart. She travels to the Caribbean island of Nevia to decide what to do with Eden, a plantation left to her by her recently deceased parents. The story than switches between Meg's present-day story and that of Catherine, the young lady of Eden who lived in the 1830's. I enjoyed the descriptions of the island, and was horrified as always by the ghastly treatment of the slaves; but, with the exception of Catherine, I didn't really find myself involved with any of the characters. There's a bit of a ghost story, a bit of a romance, a bit of a historical mystery, a bit of embezzlement, etc, etc. Some of the story lines are wrapped up, not always satisfactorily; and some never did come to completion. On top of all that, I found the ending to be flat and anti-climatic. The cover is wonderful and ties into the story, but this was part of the unsatisfactory ending. I guess the book just never quite captivated me which explains why it took me a week to read it. Rating: 3.5

Friday, August 21, 2009

81. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

This is the second Kinsella book that I've read. (I actually listened to to the first one.) Secret is every bit as funny even without the British accent reading it to me. True, there is too much profanity. True, the heroine comes off too ditsy for words and you can't understand why guys are attracted to her. Of course, it's told in the first person and she doesn't really brag about her looks other than to say she weighs too much and lies about it. That's the whole premise for this book. Emma always tries to tell people what they want to hear to make herself look better so she is keeping a bunch of secrets. That she is able to keep up with all these lies is pretty amazing. On a plane trip home from Scotland, she's had too much to drink and the plane hits turbulence sending Emma into a panic. She turns to her seatmate and spills all her secrets. Naturally, that man turns up in her life all too soon and the results are so hilarious. It's a light and fluffy book, very fun to read. I think Kinsella has a way of capturing the female psychic in a way that makes us relate without feeling too much pain. We all need to laugh at ourselves. If it wasn't for the profanity and sexual innuendos, I would read a lot more of Kinsella's books; but probably won't. We'll see. Rating: 4

Thursday, August 20, 2009

80. Life Support by Tess Gerritsen

First of all, I want to say that this cover has nothing to do with the story in this book. Well, maybe the main character takes a shower but it's a sentence, not a major plot line. Very annoying. Since I got that off my chest, I'll go on to my next problem with this book. It probably wouldn't haven't been a problem if I hadn't just read another Gerritsen book. I decided that there is a kind of formula to Gerritsen's books: smart, attractive female doctor discovers sinister goings on and starts to investigate. The male doctors who are usually in powerful positions are violating all kinds of ethics in their efforts to make more and more money. They take exception to the lady doctor's interference and her reputation is sudenly in question and her life is in peril. The good female doctor triumphs and the bad guys are caught or killed. This whole formula thing could be very off-putting except for the fact that Gerritsen writes such a gripping and tight medical thriller that you're drawn in in spite of the fact that you know how it will end. There's all that medical jargon and hospital drama. Very captivating. Maybe it's because doctors seem so godlike and we really want to trust someone who holds our lives in their hands. So there is a great deal of suspense involved with reading about doctors gone bad. This book deals with a procedure that helps the elderly regain their youth, but of course ethics are massacred along with some folks who come to pretty ghastly ends. Another gripe: a romance develops in this book amidst all that jeopardy and I had a hard time buying into that. It happens too fast. Even so, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the others I have on the shelf. I'll wait a while so it won't seem quite so formulaic to me. I know I would have liked this one much better if I had waited a few months. Rating: 3.75

Sunday, August 16, 2009

79. Harvest by Tess Gerritsen

I was under the impression that this book was part of the Jane Rizolli series, but she is not where to be found. Which is all right, because Harvest is a great stand-along medical thriller. Abby DiMatteo is a resident in Bayside Hospital's surgery program. Her life is going great; she impresses the chief of surgery with her skills and intelligence and she has moved in with a handsome and talented surgeon who is a member of the presitgious transplant team. When she is asked to join that team, her dreams are complete. However, things are not quite what they seem (are they ever?) and Abby finds her life falling apart just when she thought she had it made. Unwilling to accept the status quo, she delves into unanswered questions and puts her life in jeopardy. The whole issue of cash for organs come into play as Abby and Detective Katzka of the homocide sqaud investigate the unknown origins of donated organs as well as some suspicious deaths. As the other Gerritsen books I've read, Harvest captivates you from the beginning. It is a well-written thriller that is sure to keep you awake to the final page. Rating: 4.25

Friday, August 14, 2009

78. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Book Around the States Challenge
South Dakota

I bought a full set of the Little House on the Prairie books back when I was still in high school. I'm ashamed to say they have sat on the shelf ever since. Maybe my daughter read them, but I never did. The books would be in pristine condition if the pages weren't so yellowed. Luckily, this is one of the few books I can find that is set in South Dakota. So I finally read one of the books, not even the first one. It took me two tries to even get started. It didn't grab my attention so I set it aside looking for another South Dakota book. There were just biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder and it seemed silly to pass up basically the same thing that I already owned. So I gave the Ingalls family one more try. And I'm glad I did. The description of the vast prairies without a tree in sight (How did they stand it?) were so vivid. I finished the book with an even greater appreciation for those pioneers who braved the dangers and discomfort of moving west, not just Indians (The only one in this story helps the Ingalls immensely) but wolves, shady men, mosquitos, rough railroad workers, and the cold, cold blizzardous conditions of winter. The black and white illustrations just added to the charm. I'm thinking I may do this challenge again in a couple of years and read the whole set. There's at least four states involved in those eight books.

Rating: 4

Thursday, August 13, 2009

77. Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce

I bought this book for obvious reasons --- I liked the name. May I say it really lived up to my expectations? Framed is a delightful and funny book that is entertaining for kids, who will enjoy the madcap adventures; and adults who will enjoy the sometimes tongue-in-cheek humor.

Dylan is nine-years-old and the only boy in his school in the small town of Manod, Wales. His family owns and runs a gas station but it's failing. The whole town is painted in shades of gray and the inhabitants seem to match. Due to a flood, the National Gallery in London moves all its painting to the abaondoned quarry at the top of the local mountain; and Dylan strikes up a friendship with the caretaker. Even though the friendship is based on false assumptions, Dylan is able to take his mom and various neighbors up the mountain at different times to see paintings before they are shipped back to London. The reactions to these different paintings change the people's attitudes and the face of the small town. Dylan is such a great character who, everytime he opens his mouth, seems to insert a foot. Not that he realizes the significance of the things he says, but the consequences are hilarious. He has an older sister, Marie, who is obsessed with her looks but can also fix almost anything. His younger sister, Minnie, is a genius and wants to carry out the perfect crime. There are so many things going on in this small town and with this unusual family that you just have to read the book to sort it all out.

Rating: 4.75

Monday, August 10, 2009

76. Wedding Ring by Emilie Richards

Book Around the States - Virginia
From the Back cover:
"Needing time to contemplate her troubled marriage, Tessa MacRae agrees to spend the summer helping her mother and grandmother clean out the family home in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. But the three women have never been close. Helen, the family matriarch, is domineering and sharp-tongued. Nancy, Tessa's mother, appears to be little more than a social climber. And Tessa herself is in turmoil following a family tragedy that has affected them all. Now, with the gift of time, Tessa's eyes are opened, and she begins to see her mother and grandmother for the flawed but courageous women they are. As she restores a vintage wedding-ring quilt pieced by her grandmother and quilted by her mother, the secrets that have shadowed their lives unfold at last. And each woman discovers that sometimes you have to clean house to find the things you thought were lost forever."
I was surprised that I actually quite liked this book. I've always wanted to visit the Shenandoah Valley and enjoyed the descriptions in this book. The three women are always interesting if not always likeable. There were some fun moments and a few surprises. The romance bits would have been better for me without the sex scenes, but at least these were quite few and restrained. The ending was very predictable but it was fun getting there.
Rating: 4

Saturday, August 08, 2009

75. A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor (Audio)

"An extraordinary American comes to life in this vivid, incisive portrait of the early days of the republic—and the birth of modern politics hen the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of American politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s newly minted capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain in 1812, Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and, by her death in 1849, was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she’s best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House, or as the namesake for a line of ice cream.Why did the Americans of her time give so much adulation to a lady so little known today?

In A Perfect Union, Catherine Allgor reveals that while Dolley’s gender prevented her from openly playing politics, those very constraints of womanhood allowed her to construct an American democratic ruling style, and to achieve her husband’s political goals. And the way that she did so—by emphasizing cooperation over coercion, building bridges instead of bunkers—has left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics."

My mother and I listened to this audio book when we traveled to Salt Lake City. It is filled with great historical information about the time leading up to James Madison's presidency, the eight years spent in Washington, the War of 1812, and then the Madison's retired life. I'm not too sure that Allgor doesn't idealize Dolley a bit too much, crediting her with changing the very course of American politics. Even so I enjoyed learning more about the political structure of that era, how Dolley decorated the White House before its destruction and the famous story of how she saved George Washington's portrait. She really was a fascinating person. Having said all that, I have to admit that this was not the most gripping tale to listen to on a long trip. I would advise reading it or listening to it in small tidbits as I did with the last disc. Plus, I feel like she skated through the last years of Mrs. Madison's life while presenting a huge amount of details of her life in Washington. On the reverse side, James is kind of overlooked during the presidential years but more is said of him after his term ends. I think I would like to read a book about Dolley that maybe I could pay better attention to.

Rating: 3.5

Friday, August 07, 2009

74. Charleston by Alexandra Ripley

Book Around the States Challenge
South Carolina
I had a hard time getting myself to read this book. My copy doesn't look this one, it looks like a potential bodice-ripper romance, so I was leary. Fortunately, the book deals with a great deal more than romance. It is 549 pages after all. Charleston begins in the waning years of the Civil War and moves through 1898. That's a lot of ground to cover, but I think Ripley did an outstanding job portraying this Southern city and it reaction to all the changes it had to go through during this time, including Reconstruction, freeing the slaves, a tycoon, and a massive earthquake. I found the history to be quite compelling and was glad to be able to learn more about this place and its culture. And, apparently, Charleston has a culture quite different from any other place on earth. The story mostly follows two main characters Pinkney Tradd and his little sister, Lizzie. Pinkney is a bit too good to be true. But then, so is Lizzie. While I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, I couldn't quite get caught up in Pinkney's and Lizzie's lives. I just couldn't really identify with them. Since the Tradds belong to the upper class society of Charleston, even when they are on the verge of poverty, I was able to read about how their lives followed the old Southern chivalry and rigid sets of rules and manners. Sometimes, the ability they had to overcome adversity and maintain a certain civility was admirable; but I got tired of a general sense of superiority and pride exhibited by many of these people. I don't regret the time I spent on this book because much of it had value, but I won't be reading it again.
Rating: 3

Thursday, August 06, 2009

70 - 73. The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter by Susan Wittig Albert

I've had the first three of these books for such a long time. When my sister bought the fourth, I decided it was time to read them. At first, I was a bit put off, thinking they were a little too precious and sweet; but I found myself enjoying the books immensely. I like how the author included actual history about Beatrix Potter and her love for animals shines through. The animals of the village of Sawrey are important characters in these books and I really started to look forward to seeing them again and again. As in her China Bayles series, Albert creates memorable and fun characters that are such a pleasure to read about. I plan on reading the next two that are out or almost out and see from The Cottage Tales website that two more are planned. Here's a brief synopsis of each book from that site:

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (2004) —The Tale of Hill Top Farm tells how Beatrix Potter acquired her farm in the tiny hamlet of Near Sawrey, and how her farm began to change her life.

The Tale of Holly How (2005) —A shepherd falls from a cliff, his sheep have gone missing, and Tabitha Twitchet, Crumpet, and Rascal, want to know how, why, and who. Add to this the mysteries at Tidmarsh Manor and Bosworth Badger's Brockery on Holly How, and Miss Potter has her hands full.

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (2006) —Rats, cats, fairies, and a lady with a mysterious past. Is she a witch, or just out to cause trouble in the Land between the Lakes? Beatrix discovers all the answers.

The Tale of Hawthorn House (2007) —A foundling baby, gypsies camped in the meadow, a fox on the loose, and a nest of unhatched eggs. Miss Potter has another flock of mysteries to solve!

They may be a touch on the fluffy side, but absolutely delightful, fun and easy to read.

Rating: 4.25