Sunday, December 20, 2009

127. Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Forest Born is the fourth in the Bayern series of fantasy books which Hale has so wonderfully created.  The Goose Girl remains my favorite but I can get carried away in any of her books.  I loved her foreword where she states that the series was supposed to end at three but then she had to tell this tale but it is the absolute last except . . .  She has a great sense of humor and that shows in her writing, plus she is gifted in her wordcraft, creating characters and descriptions that pull you in.  This book tells the story of Razo's sister, Rin, who has the gift of tree-speaking; but also the terrible gift of people-speaking.  Rin is so afraid that she will misuse her gifts, that she doesn't use them at all.  There is a lesson here to develop your talents but to also make up your mind immediately to use them for good and not be swayed by selfish and unworthy intentions.  If you haven't read Shannon Hale's books, now is a good time to start. I've read all but two and loved them all.  Rating:  4.5

123 - 126. Short Christmas Stories

The Mitford Snowmen by Jan Karon  This is a very short story about the townspeople of Mitford spontaneously building snowmen on Main Street.  It has many of the characters we come to know and love in the other Mitford books and is written with the same gentle humor and love. 
Rating:  4

Christmas in Haggerty by Betsy Brannon Green  Green's Haggerty series involve a young LDS mother, her FBI husband and their odd Southern neighbors as they work together to solve mysteries.  In this fun Christmas tale, the mystery involves geneaology and finding out about the crying baby Kate dreams about each night.  The side tale covers the town of Haggerty's Christmas door decoration contest and how several women try to one-up each other in order to win the prize.  It's all good fun and heart-warming as well.  Rating:  4.25
 Up on the Rooftop by Jean Z Liebenthal  It's Chritmas, 1937 in the small town of Wind Valley.  Through the mouth of  a seven-year-old girl we fee the nostagia of a more simple and wholesome time.  The Christmas spirit comes through as we follow the tales of children being children and neighbors being neighbors.  There is a Christmas pageant and a wonderful ending as the narrator learns the truth about Santa Clause and the true meaning of Christmas.  Rating: 

 I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day by Lloyd and Karmel Newell  For several years, my mother has given all of her kids and grandkids Christmas books to be opened before Christmas.  This is the one she gave me this year, saying this is her favorite Christmas Carol.  The illustrations by Dan Burr and absolutely breathtaking as we follow Henry Longfellow through his life up to the writing of this poem.  The Newells also includes historical facts about the customs of the era, the Longfellow home, and  other interesting tidbits.  At the end of the book is a piece written by Daniel Warner called, "Longfellow's Christmas."  In an accompanying DVD, Edward Hermann does a wonderful dramatic presentation of this piece from the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra in the background.  And listening to the Choir sing this song with the bells ringing at the end gave me chills.  Thanks, Mom, for a great Christmas experience.  Rating:  4.5

122. Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah

I don't read too many romances and really only care for those that include a healthy dose of humor.  But I felt a romance with a Christmas setting would probably be more palatable so I hunkered down with Comfort and Joy, looking for some love and Christmas spirit:.  Joy Cabellero is not feeling the Christmas sprit in her home or her job as a high school librarian.  She is recently divorced after finding her husband in bed with her best friend who also happens to be her sister.  One night, she arrives home with a scrawny Christmas tree strapped to the top of her car only to find her sister waiting on the front step.  Stacey begs forgiveness but also needs to tell Joy that she is pregnant and to invite Joy to the wedding.  Losing it completely, Joy drives to the nearest airport and boards a charter flight to a place called Hope.  The place crashes, but Joy walks away from the crash and finds herself at an almost defunct bed and breakfast.  Here she meets 8-year-old Bobby and his father, Daniel.  You guessed it, love is in the air.  Up to this point, the story is well-told.  The author does a great job of portraying Joy's despair and loneliness, Bobby's sorrow at the death of his mother and anger at the father he hasn't seen for four years; and Daniel's confusion and ineptitude in dealing with the son he knows so little about.  Still, it is all very predictable but sweet and Christmassy.  Then the story takes a huge twist which should have made it more interesting but which was so unbelievable and odd that I couldn't get past it.  Like all romances, it ends happily.  I just didn't like the plot twist. 

Rating:  2.75

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

121 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

There must be dozens of versions of the Cinderella fairy tale, but this one belongs at the top of the list.  Ella is a great character who was given a terrible gift at her birth.  That gift curses her throughout her life as others learn about it and take advantage of her because of it.  But she manages to be a fun, intelligent, courageous girl in spite of the curse.  The story includes the standard fare of the mean stepmother, two ugly stepsisters, a handsome prince, and a fairy godmother; all much more enjoyable characters than in the basic story.  There is just more substance to them, bad or good.  I really enjoyed this fun, light story and hope that the other book I have by Levine is just as good.  I haven't seen the movie based on Ella Enchanted, but I heard it wasn't as good as the book.  Too bad as I enjoy Ann Hathaway.  Maybe I'll watch it anyway.  Stay tuned.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, December 13, 2009

120. Silent Night / All Through the Night by Mary HIggins Clark

This book contains two short novels that Mary Higgins Clark wrote specifically for the holiday season. My problem is that her mysteries have always seemed formulaic so I haven't read her books for quite some time.  After listening to her autobiography, I thought I would give her mysteries another try. She is just very likeable.

Silent Night  Catherine is in New York City with her two sons, Brian and Michael, on Christmas Eve.  Her husband is in the hospital being treated for cancer.  She and the two boys decide to pass some time seeing the Christmas sights but she accidentally drops her wallet.  Brian, the younger son, sees the wallet fall and be picked up by another woman.  He knows it contains the St. Christopher medal which they are taking to Dad the next morning which he knows will guarantee Dad's recovery.  He follows the woman to try and retrieve the wallet and the medal.  Cally had picked up the wallet without thinking.  She is desperately poor and thinks the rich woman who dropped it will probably never miss it.  Unfortunately, her escaped convict brother is waiting when she arrives home, sees Brian, and decides to use him as a hostage.  The rest of the story deals with how Cally and Catherine deal with their circumstances and the police investigation.  It is really a story about the power of faith and prayer.  While it is sappy, it is still a good read for the Christmas season.

All Through the Night  This story features a couple Higgins has written about before, Willy and Alvirah.  A young woman gives birth in her hotel room and leaves the infant with a note at the front door of St Clement's church.  However, at the same time, a man is stealing money and a silver chalice from the church, sees the baby pram and uses it to help him make his getaway.  He is surprised to find the baby inside and takes her home to his great aunt.  Seven years later, the man is planning to take his "daughter" to Mexico; and the woman is searching for her child.  Willie and Alvirah see her visiting several times at the church and take her under their wing.  At the same time, a friend has been disinherited by her sister; and Alvirah is sure the will has been created under shady circumstances.  This story is even sappier than the first, but Willy and Alvirah are such fun characters that it makes the drippy ending more bearable. 

I doubt if these two tales will become standard holiday reading at my home, but they are short and filled with Christmas spirit; so I will probably read them again in the future.

Rating:  3.75

Friday, December 11, 2009

119. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Shadow is the third in the Ender series that I have read.  I loved Ender's Game  and really enjoyed Speaker for the Dead.  I just find the character of Ender fascinating and interestingly complex.  But Shadow is actually more about another character, Bean, a young boy incredibly small for his age who is even more brilliant that Ender.  I found I had to work hard to suspend my disbelief at how much the infant and toddler Bean was able to do in order to survive.  Eventually the story explains some of his unnatural abilities and ably ties that information into explaining some of Bean's shortcomings.  Card wrote this book quite a while after Game, but wrote it as a parallel story, just from Bean's perspective.  More than anything, it made me want to go and reread Ender's Game with this new perspective on what happened.  And also, because I loved the character of Ender, and this book almost expalins his abilities away.  Having said that, I still thought Card wrote a brilliant book with such a creative premise for the future.  I just want Ender to remain a hero in my mind like he was after reading the first book.  Now his heroism and talents are more ambiguous.
Rating:  4.5

Sunday, December 06, 2009

118. A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Oswald T Campbell is a loser.  He's an alcoholic, has emphysema but still sneaks a smoke, his ex-wife is his only friend and his doctor has just told him he only only a few months to live.  In order to prolong his life, Oswald moves to a small town in Alabama.  Again, Fannie Flagg has created a townful of quirky characters including Jack, the redbird who lives in a small grocery store.  In this sentimental tale, Oswald grows to love the town and its citizens especially a small child named Patsy who has been abandoned by drifters.  In an effort to get Patsy the medical attention she needs, Oswald and the town grow even closer together with a culminating event right after Christmas.  Yes, it's predictable and super sweet; but at Christmas time, it fit right into my mood and gave me a good Yuletide lift. 
Rating:  4.25

Friday, December 04, 2009

117. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A few years ago I listened to A Thousand Splendid Suns by this author and found it dark and dreary.  I wished I had read instead of listened to it because I sensed I would have enjoyed it much more.  But because it was quite depressing to me, I put off reading The Kite Runner.  About all I knew was it took place in Afghanistan; and I haven't really liked the books I've read about that country.  I should have paid more attention to the reviews of others because this is a fantastic book.  The author begins the story before the overthrow of the Afghan monarchy, before the Soviet invasion, and before the regime of the Taliban. So I was able to get a sense of what the country and culture was like when it enjoyed a more peaceful and prosperous time.  Peace and prosperous are relative terms here as I believe many of the inhabitants were always quite poor; and it has always had a history of violence.  But I liked getting a look of that earlier time period. 

The story revolves around a young boy, Amir, and his relationship with the family servant's son, Hassan.  There is a pivotal event which shapes and colors Amir's actions for the next twenty years.  The reader also follows Amir's complicated relationship with his father through this time period as they flee Afghanistan to settle in the United States.  Amir eventually returns to his boyhood home to finally redeem himself for his actions when he was twelve. 

I loved Hosseini's writing.  It is lyrical, expressive and haunting.  This book will stay in my mind for a long time.  The story itself is so compelling.  At first I didn't really like Amir or his father; but as the characters develop and the book follows them over the course of the years; I developed more feelings for them.  And the theme of redemption is wonderfully presented.  Halfway through the book, as Amir returns to Afghanistan, I could hardly put the it down.  This is one of the few books I've read that makes me want to see the movie.  I highly recommend it.  There is some profanity (not much), some violence; definitely filled with stark realism; but so beautifully written and such a moving story that you shouldn't miss out on it.

Rating:  5