Monday, November 30, 2009

116. Bloodroot by Susan Wittig Albert

This novel departs from the usual China Bayles mysteries.  It doesn't take place in Pecan Springs; and the usual eccentric Texas characters are missing.  China travels to her mother's childhood home, a plantation in Mississippi, to help care for the aunt who raised Leatha.  Aunt Tullie is old, grumpy and suffers from a rare genetic disease.  This discovery is just one of the many things whihc concerns China about her aunt's situation.  Shortly after China arrives, an old childhood friend is found in his truck which has been covered by the Bloodroot River.  An young servant at the plantation turns up missing as well.  She remembers seeing a body being dug up in the garden when she was ten.   There are a lot of mysteries and drama going on and China eventually solves all of them.  I just missed the Pecan Springs setting and people.  They make the books so much more fun and interesting.  This one was a little flat for me.
Rating:  3.75

Sunday, November 22, 2009

115. 13 1/2 by Navada Barr

I love the Anna Pigeon mystery series that Barr writes which all take plae in National Parks.  Anna is such a great character and I love learning more about the parks.  I was excited to read this book which is a departure from the other series. 

I would call 13 1/2 a psychological thriller rather than a mystery.  There are flashbacks in the lives of the two main characters:  Dylan, who is sent to prison at the age of 11 for killing his parents and baby sister, and Polly, who runs away from her abusive mother after her stepfather attempts to sexually abuse her.  The details of the family murder are pretty brutal and so is Polly's life before she leaves home.  Of course, the book has a twist.  I figured that  part out quite quickly, but I'm not sure that the author was trying to keep it a big mystery.  The true suspense comes form wondering if the characters in the book will figure everything out before history repeats itself.  Barr does an incredible job in keeping the reader on the edge of her seat as the final drama unfolds.
Rating:  4

Sunday, November 15, 2009

114. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

Let me begin by telling you what this book is not.  It is not an LDS mystery or romance; it is not an LDS conversion story; and it is not an exposé of unsavory secret Mormon practices.  Elna Baker is a single, Mormon comedian living in New York City and this is her story of how she tries to reconcile her belief system with the social practices of the Big Apple.  Throughout the memoir, Baker shares her experiences at seven Singles Halloween Dances.  Her costumes are a riot, but her hopes of meeting "The One" Mormon male are dashed each time.  Then there are the other single pitfalls (pratfalls?) just lurking for the naive young Mormon.  At first, she is overweight, but losing the weight brings a whole new set of problems:  dating a lot more but with non-Mormons who don't understand the "wait until marriage" mentality.  I think her experiences are spot on for a lot of young single LDS women.  What I really liked about Baker was the way she would turn to God and the scriptures for answers and help.  I liked how she shared the peace she felt when receiving answers.  I loved some of her stories, so hilarious; others made me cringe, what was she thinking to share that with the whole world.  Her complete honesty was totally refreshing except for a few times when it was too too much.  To be fair, in her dedication; she does warn her parents:  "This book . . . aside from the nine F-words, thirteen Sh-words, four A-holes, page 257, and the entire Warren Beatty chapter . . . is dedicated to you.  You might want to avoid chapters twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, anything I quote Mom saying, and most of the end as well.  Sorry, am I still cute as a button?"   It's always a good thing when you start a book laughing, isn't it?  I like that she tested her beliefs which in the beginning only strengthened them.  What I struggled with was the way she tried to make deals with the Lord, never a good idea because what you want may not be the best for you.  As in any life, faith is on ongoing process; and it seems fitting that it is still ongoing for the author as well.  I really did enjoy the book except for the profanity and some sexual encounters, again way too much information there. 
Rating:  4.25

113. This House of Sky by Ivan Doig

Let me start by saying that I loved Doig's English Creek.  And House of Sky contains the same lyrical, breathtaking prose and cowboy realism.  After getting his PHD in history, Doig decides instead to write a book about his father, a Montana sheeprancher; and his grandmother, the mother of Doig's mother who died when he was six.  The two have a hate/dislike relationship but overlook that in the interests of raising Ivan.  Still, they're both quite the characters.  I learned a lot about sheep ranching, enough to confirm that sheep really are stupid animals and a lot of work.  I learned that a family can live with so little, overcome so much; and still develop that binding love that remains with you all your life.  As I said, Doig writes beautifully and tells a good story.  However, midway through the book, I lost a little interest.  The final scenes were pretty gut-wrenching and I was glad to have Kleenex close by.  While I didn't like House nearly as much as Creek; I'm still looking forward to reading the rest of Doig's books which are sitting on the shelf.  I classified these as western literature.  If you like the great outdoors, ranching, horses, tough men and tougher women; you should read this book.
Rating:  4

Friday, November 13, 2009

112. The Fairy's Mistake by Gail Carson Levine

Every once in a while, it is fun to read a book in just one night.  I can do that when there are only 84 pages involved.  The Fairy's Mistake tells the tale of twin sisters, one good and one bad and her mother's favorite.  Rosella does all the chores including fetching water from the well.  She graciously gives an old woman (the fairy in disguise) a drink and is rewarded by spewing jewels from her mouth every time she speaks.  Myrtle (bad sister) tries to find the fairy to get a similar reward but offends a knight (again, the fairy in disguise) and is punished with bugs and snakes coming from her mouth whenever she speaks.  Yuck.  Shortly, a prince joins the tale and things don't go quite as the fairy envisioned them.  It's such a cute, funny story, written very simplistically so children will enjoy it as well.  Great way to spend an evening.
Rating:  3.75

Sunday, November 08, 2009

111. English Trifle by Josi Kilpack

English Trifle is the second in a series of culinary mysteries starring Sadie Hoffmiller.  This book sees Sadie and her daughter, Breanna, visiting England with Breanna's boyfriend, the next Earl of Garnett.  As they wait in the manor's sitting room for Liam to come down to say goodbye before they head back to the States, Sadie and  her daughter discover a body pinned to the wall with a fireplace poker.  Naturally, they miss their flight and tumble into all kinds of trouble as Sadie pokes her nose into everything, getting more things wrong than right until it all works out in the end.  While I loved Sadie in the first book, now I found her to be a sort of a caricature of the busybody, gauche American.  Some of her actions just didn't seem to be believable, although she does become more likeable as the investigation progresses.  The story also had your stereotypical patronizing English lord and snooty British servants.   And it just didn't seem as humorous as the first one.  Having said all that, the book did become more interesting the further I got into it as it was a good mystery.  And there were some fun recipes for English cuisine.  I just feel bad that I didn't feel the same connection with Sadie that I did in the first book.  I still plan on reading Kilpack's next book, Devil's Food Cake.  Sadie is back in America and I hope I find her more appealing.
Rating:  3

Saturday, November 07, 2009

110. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

After reading six books straight from the Narnia series, I felt I needed a good dose of adult realism.  Ahh, Jodi Picoult, just the ticket, get myself immersed in some real life issues and away from children's fantasy and C. S. Lewis' Biblical retelling.  Like the other Picoult books I have read, this one deals with some social, medical, political; and, to my dismay, religious issues.  While it is certainly not children's literature (a man is stabbed in the throat with the end of a broom handle), there is definitely an element of fantasy to this book as well.  It took me about halfway through the book to just suspend my disbelief and read the story for what it was.  Here is a synopsis from Amazon:
Picoult bangs out another ripped-from-the-zeitgeist winner, this time examining a condemned inmate's desire to be an organ donor. Freelance carpenter Shay Bourne was sentenced to death for killing a little girl, Elizabeth Nealon, and her cop stepfather. Eleven years after the murders, Elizabeth's sister, Claire, needs a heart transplant, and Shay volunteers, which complicates the state's execution plans. Meanwhile, death row has been the scene of some odd events since Shay's arrival—an AIDS victim goes into remission, an inmate's pet bird dies and is brought back to life, wine flows from the water faucets. The author brings other compelling elements to an already complex plot line: the priest who serves as Shay's spiritual adviser was on the jury that sentenced him; Shay's ACLU representative, Maggie Bloom, balances her professional moxie with her negative self-image and difficult relationship with her mother. Picoult moves the story along with lively debates about prisoner rights and religion, while plumbing the depths of mother-daughter relationships and examining the literal and metaphorical meanings of having heart. The point-of-view switches are abrupt, but this is a small flaw in an impressive book. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
Eventually I began to enjoy the religious issues that Picoult presents because she lets the reader draw her own conclusions.  I've heard very little about the Gnostic Gospels and found that information very interesting.  I felt that she did carry the Messianic comparisons a little far, but she also capably portrayed the polarizing effects of religion; something mankind has yet to find a way to overcome.  I like the use of four narrators as it allows you to get to know those characters so well as they unfold the story.  Picoult's research into so many different topics never fails to astound and impress me. I always learn something when I read her books.  It's always good to see other viewpoints.  Even though I struggled with this book at first, I ended up liking it very much.  Except for the epilogue; that was over the top.
Rating:  4.25

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

104 - 109 The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

A year ago, I decided to begin at the first reading this series of books. Loved The Magician's Nephew. There's no explanation for the fact that I had not read the rest, but now I have remedied it. I wanted to read all the books before any more movies are made to color my reading. I'll do a brief synopsis of each book for those few who, like me, have never read them. I understand there is some controversy over the order of the books, but I'm calling The Magician's Nephew number one and going on from there.

2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  If you haven't read this book, surely you've seen the movie. I had and maybe that's why I hadn't read the book. I thought it was fun, James McAvoy cute, and the entire production quite inventive. Overall though, it was just okay for me. So I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the book so much and didn't have images of the movie in my mind as I read it. Basically, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy explore a house they are staying in during the evacuation of London in WWII. They come upon a wardrobe, hide in it and magically find themselves in the land of Narnia. There is an evil witch who uses Edmund for her wicked purposes. The other three find their way to Aslan, the Lion ruler, who helps in the battle against the witch. Strong Biblical symbolism like the first book.
Rating: 4.5
3. The Horse and His Boy  What's not to love about a talking horse. I'm sure Mr. Ed was patterned after Bree, the Narnian horse who helps Shasta escape from Calormene. Shasta is a very heroic boy who does what is right even though he is petrified. Susan, Edmund and Lucy play small parts in this book, but as adults. Rating: 4.25
4. Prince Caspian  I also saw the movie based on this book and enjoyed it very much. Therefore, I was disappointed in the book. There is not nearly as much interaction between the Pevensies children and Prince Caspian as was depicted in the movie. Romance between Caspian and Suan? Not at all. In fact, Susan whines a lot. There just seemed to be a lot more traveling in this book and not as much action. The talking animals were fun though, and I love the descriptions of the trees awakening. Rating: 3.5
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia bringing their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubb, along. They join King Caspian on his ship, the Dawn Treader, as he goes on a quest to find the seven noblemen banished by his uncle in the last book. They must sail to the End of the World to complete the quest and have some great adventures along the way. Joining them is Reedicheep, the fighting mouse, who brings some great comic relief to the whole voyage. This book is one of my favorites in the series. Lewis shows great imagination and his descriptions are so vivid. Rating: 4.75
6.  The Silver Chair  Isn't it sad that as the children age, they are no longer able to return to Narnia?  I miss the four Pevensies; but fortunately, Eustace Scrubb is no longer obnoxious and can still visit.  On this go-round, Scrubb and a schoolmate, Jill Poole, are sent into Narnia with the task to find and rescue Price Rilian.  Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, serves as their guide and is one of the funniest characters in the series.  He is such a pessimist but also brave and resourceful.  Scrubb, Poole, and Puddleglum have some great adventures as they travel to the northern world of the giants and then underground into the lair of the wicked witch.  Another fun read.  Rating:  4.75
7.  The Last Battle  In this book, Scrubb and Poole return to Narnia where many years have passed since their last visit.  An ape has convinced many Narnians that a donkey wearing a lion skin is really Aslan and commands them to do things in Aslan's name.  In this way, he slowly gives Narnia over to its enemies.  Tirian is the king and along with his friends makes a last stand against the Calorenes and evil.  While I know there is a lot of Biblical allegory in all the books, it is certainly the strongest in this one, which may explain why I didn't like it as well.  In the others, I could enjoy the adventures and the fantasy; but Battle is so Biblically heavy-handed that the story suffered for me.  Or maybe I just got tired of the whole series.  Or I'm not into stories about Armageddon.  Whatever.  Not only that, but I really hated what happens to Susan.  Sorry, can't tell you more.  Rating:  3.25

My seven books in this series were published by different publishers.  The first four were from Harper Trophy and I definitely liked them the best.  Each book had a map of Narnia and outlying areas in the back, plus a map in the front which showed greater detail of where that book's action takes place.  I love maps.  Plus the cover art on these four by Chris Van Allsburg was wonderful, reminded me of The Goose Girl cover on the first edition.  The Silver Chair did have a map and a listing of the main characters of all seven books.  Always helpful.  I know there are those who feel the books should be read in the order that Lewis wrote them as it helps the reader to understand the allegories better.  I read them chronologically and liked that just fine.  It's pretty hard to miss the symbolism anyway.  I liked reading my own feelings into them except for the last book pretty much spelled it all out.  I think my favorite book was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  My favorite characters were Puddleglum and Shasta.  Overall, I really liked this series and wished I had read it when I was younger.