Friday, December 17, 2010

73. thru 76. Catching Up

I really need to post something about these four books before I forget all, so I willjust do a really short review on each. Then I've got to get back to packing.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
I didn't like this book nearly as much as Broken for You.  It was about a very weird family whose sick mother disappears in a tornado leaving her husband and three small children.  They grow up and live odd lives but eventually come back to the small Nebraska town after their father is killed by lightning.  Something about the weather, I guess.  Rating:  3.5

The Gift by Pete Hamill
Another disappointment.  This is a biographical story of Pete's leave from the Navy after boot camp to visit his family for Christmas.  He is only seventeen and brokenheated because his girlfriend has broken up with him.  Not a heartwarming Christmas story at all.  Rating:  3

The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning
I like this mystery series about a retired cop who takes up selling rare books but still manages to do a lot of detecting.  This story takes place in Idaho and California and follows the racing crowd.  There are still a lot of wonderful books involved.  A good mystery.  Rating:  4

The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters by Lorraine Lopez
I found this book quite interesting when the four sisters were young.  Each chapter is told with a different sister as narrator.  But when the sisters get older, it is told mostly from Loretta's point of view and she is very dark and depressing.  So I quit about halfway.  DNF

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

72. Mistaken Identity by Lisa Scottoline

Bennie Rosato, an attorney famous for her ability to root out police corruption, gets called to the local prison.  Alice Connolly want Bennie to defend her in her upcoming murder trial.  The surprise is that Alice is a dead ringer for Bennie and claims to be her twin.  I suppose that element is supposed to be part of the suspence of this book, but I found it annoying and cloying.  Nice rhyme, huh?  The actual who-done-it and the courtroom histrionics were mostly well-done and gripping.  Bennie finds herself in danger by a group of rogue cops while she goes about trying to prepare her defense in a week's time.  That the one officer who is the mastermind behind a drug ring makes a pretty dumb mistake which leads to his downfall was a bit unbelievable; but for the most part, this was a good book with some thrills and spills and a surprise conclusion to the murder mystery.  I did find the actual ending to be a bit flat.  Rating:  3.75

Thursday, November 11, 2010

71. The Last Queen by C W Gortner

"Spanish Princess Juana, 13, watches as her parents, King Fernando and Queen Isabel, unite Spain, vanquish Moors and marry their children off to foreign kingdoms for favorable alliances: Princess Catalina becomes first wife to Henry VIII; Princess Juana, who narrates, is shipped off to marry Philip of Flanders, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. Although Juana balks at leaving Spain for the north and a husband she has never met, their instant chemistry soon turns to love. Years and children later, Juana unexpectedly becomes next in line to the Spanish crown and must carefully navigate every step of the journey from Flanders to Spain, fearful of alienating husband or parents or both. Emotional and political tensions soar as Juana’s loyalties are tested to their limits. Disturbing royal secrets and court manipulations wickedly twist this enthralling story, brilliantly told. "  Publishers Weekly

There were so many interesting events covered in this historical fiction that were absolutely riveting.  Unfortunately, the author also includes some things that I guess were meant to rev up the story, like some graphic sex that I could have done without.  I had never heard of Juana of Castile; and her life certainly contained a lot of tension and politcal maneuvering.  She gave birth to five children, several of whom she was forced to leave when she returned to Spain from Flanders.  There were some disturbing aspects to her story and it was amazing how little power she had as a ruling woman.  Apparently there are some unanswered questions and myths about Juana's life that the author created fictional answers to.  So I picked up some great historical tidbits which is always good, but found the story just so-so.  Rating:  3.5

70. Widdershins by Charles de Lint

"Jilly Coppercorn and Geordie Riddell. Since they were introduced in the first Newford story, "Timeskip," back in 1989, their friends and readers alike have been waiting for them to realize what everybody else already knows: that they belong together. But they've been more clueless about how they feel for each other than the characters inWhen Harry Met Sally. Now in Widdershins, a stand-alone novel of fairy courts set in shopping malls and the Bohemian street scene of Newford's Crowsea area, Jilly and Geordie’s story is finally being told.

Before it’s over, we’ll find ourselves plunged into the rancorous and sometimes violent conflict between the magical North American “animal people” and the more newly-arrived fairy folk. We’ll watch as Jilly is held captive in a sinister world based on her own worst memories--and Geordie, attempting to help, is sent someplace even worse. And we’ll be captivated by the power of love and determination to redeem ancient hatreds and heal old magics gone sour.
To walk “widdershins” is to walk counterclockwise or backwards around something. It’s a classic pathway into the fairy realm. It’s also the way people often back slowly into the relationships that matter, the real ones that make for a life. In Widdershins Charles de Lint has delivered one of his most accessible and moving works of his career."  From

I have had this book for the longest time.  Maybe I waited so long because I wasn't sure in what order deLint's Newford books should be read.  I'm still not sure so I just jumped in.  He's a fantastic author who creates great characters and a fantastic world where magic happens all the time.  I loved it.  I do wish I had read The Onion Girl first.  Widdershins refers to events that take place previously that I wish I had known more about; but it was still a fantastic read.  Rating:  4.5

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

From Booklist

In enormous lettering the first page warns: "Do not read beyond this page!" The reason? The book contains a secret so nefarious as to be dangerous even to innocent page-turners daring enough to venture forth. The first few chapters present a tricky little exercise in metafiction in which the story about a secret is revealed as being itself too secret to tell, a ploy sure to tickle more puzzlesome readers. But then the intrusive narrator, who is equal parts snarky and delightful, strikes a deal and deigns to tell the story with fake names in Your Hometown, as long as you agree to "forget everything you read as soon as you read it." Then follows a not terribly shocking story wherein two intrepid kids uncover a mysterious society bent on immortality, which gets them in and out of all manner of trouble. While some may be disappointed that there is no mind-bending secret at the bottom of it all as promised, most junior Da Vinci Coders will likely be having too much fun to notice. Chipman, Ian
I usually enjoy children's literature because it is more imaginative with very little violence and sex.  Unfortunately, this book didn't appeal to me.  The whole thing with the narrator talking to the reader seemed overly gimmicky and just plain silly at times.  I really did give a fair shot by reading almost half the book but then decided to give up the struggle.  What a relief that I won't feel compelled to keep on with the series.  Rating:  DNF

Sunday, October 03, 2010

69. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Kate is a fourteen-year-old misfit when she first meets Tully, "the coolest girl in the world."  The two become friends for life.  Even though Tully seems cool, she has all kinds of issues with her mother making her incredibly ambitious and hard-nosed.  As we follow the two through high-school, college, first jobs, marriage and child-birth; their differences become more pronounced making the lasting friendship more incredible.  Everything is not sweetness and light as there are several falling-outs with the inevitable reconciliations.  There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some sad moments and some moving moments.  However, overall, the book for me is just okay.  Tully was not very likeable for me and some of the things she did without understanding why Kate was so upset, made no sense to me.  She is too intelligent to be that stupid and blind.  Kate's ambivalent feeling toward Tully's influence on Kate's husband and daughter make more sense to me.  But Kate's daughter is such a brat.  Jeez.  There were also some headline stories incorporated into these two lives that just rang wrong to me.  I enjoyed it better when the two were younger and I thought the ending a bit overwrought.  Probably not a great ending for me given what's going on in my life right now. 
Rating:  3.5

68. Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

From back cover:
"It is Carnival in Quebec City and Gamache has come not to join the celebration but to recover from an investigation gone wrong.  But death is inescapable, even in the sanctuary of the Literary and Historical Society--where an obsessive historian's quest for the remains of the founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, ends in murder.  Could a secret buried for nearly 400 years be so dreadful that someone would kill for it?"
I already love Louise Penny's books but I think this one is the best one so far.  I can wait for the next in the series, but I don't see how she will top Bury the Dead.  It is so well-written with an incredible story line, actually three storylines.  I couldn't put it down.  Besides the murder which takes place while Gamache is visiting Quebec City, we also follow the investigation gone wrong with its tragic consequences as well as reopening the case concluded in Penny's previous book.  Even though there is a lot going on, I didn't get lost but just immersed myself in all it.  Fantastic book.  I really need to visit Quebec, but not in the winter.
Rating:  5

Sunday, September 26, 2010

67. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I'm sorry to see this trilogy end.  Collins has written a creative and suspenseful set of books that I found very appealing.  While I didn't like this one quite as much as The Hunger Games, I still thought it was fantastic.  I found Gale to be a bit annoying with his overzealousness and missed Peeta in the first part of the book.  Katniss continued to be as conflicted and determined as ever.  It was a weird setting as all the survivors of District 12 find refuge in District 11, and underground city that offers protection but a loss of self-determination.  Katniss finds she is still playing the Game just on a much larger scale, with so much more at stake, and against the most devious competitor of all, the President of the Federation.  This was the first book I read on my new Kindle, so I will always have it with me; but it is kind of hard not having a book cover to set a feeling for the book.  Even so, I found it very satisfying to know how the story ends even though the ending seemed rushed to me and tied up a bit too neatly.  But a great book which I recommend.
Rating:  4.5

66. Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

The first Heyer book I read, Why Shoot a Butler, was so much fun to read.  It was set in the twenties in England amid an upperclass group with a good-looking, sarcastic leading man who solves the mystery and falls in love.  I really enjoyed it.  So Envious Casca was quite a disapppointment to me.  It likewise takes place in Enland 1920's with uppclass characters.  The problem is the characters are snobby and unlikeable.  They mystery was too easy to figure out.  After the murder, the local police come with a detective who is not sympathetic or incredibly smart, but competent.  Eventually, Scotland Yard is called in and the Chief Inspector finally solves the case.  The problem is that the reader doesn't even connect with the sleuth because the solution is divided up between the two detectives.  There is a slight romance at the end which was satisfying but entirely predictable.  I don't know if I will read any more Heyer books if this is a true example of her work.  Any recommendations??
Rating:  2.75

Saturday, September 25, 2010

65. Fantasy in Death by J D Robb

I listened to this book while traveling to Salt Lake several times in the last two months.  Admittedly, that's not the best way to listen to a book if you forget as easily as I do, but I was able to follow along pretty well.  The "In Death" mystery series features Lt. Eve Dallas of the New York Police Homocide Dept.  The series takes place well into the future and I enjoy the author's creativity in the plots involving her odd characters and advanced technology.  This particular book deals with the murder of a game creater who is beheaded while playing his creation in a locked room.  As always, I find Eve Dallas to be a strong, intelligent woman who manages to solve the crime with the help of her hunky husband, Roarke, and her partner, Delia,  and Delia's boyfriend who is also part of the homocide squad.  Listening to the story changed it up and I found the reader did a good job portraying each character.  All in all, though, it was just okay.  There is obligatory sex scene between Roarke and Eve that is ever so tiresome and too much profanity as always.  The mystery itself was okay but farfetched even for being placed in a sci fi setting.  It was just hard to get into.  I would probably have liked it even less if I had read it instead of listening.
Rating:  3

Sunday, September 12, 2010

64. Dragon by Michael Connelly

I'm not sure what dragons have to do with this book, except that it involves the Chinese community of LA and a visit to Hong Kong.  Harry Bosch, the star of many of Connelly's books, is called to investigate the murder of a Chinese owner of a liquor store.  Small pieces of information leads him to a Hong Kong triad where he focuses the investigation.  An arrest is made when Harry receives a text from Hong Kong showing his thirteen-year-old daughter has been taken captive.  He travels immediately to rescue her and creates a swath of violence as he narrows down her location and finally is able to retrieve her and bring her back to the United States.  By the time he gets back to LA, the suspect has been released because of lack of evidence, but Harry continues to work the case.  There is a big twist at this point, which I'm not going to go into because I don't want to spoil the story.  While there was some interesting elements to this story, I found it a bit disappointing.  Maybe it just took me so long to read it because of other things going on in my life, that I just lost interest.  Come to think of it, I believe the triad had Dragon as part of its title.  At least I cleared that part up for myself.  Anyway, it was just okay for me.  Rating:  3.75

63. Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

I would proably have read this book just because the cove is so pretty, but I have also liked other books written by this author.  Spindle's End is a twist of the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty but it does follow the original story quite closely.  Princess baby is born, naming ceremony is held and gifts given by all the fairies until the evil, unvited fairy shows up to curse the baby with death by finger prick on spindle at the age of twenty-one.  During the resulting chaos, the baby is given to Katriona, a fairy from a faroff corner of the kingdom.  She takes the baby home and raises her until her twenty-first birthday.  The twist is that Rosie, the princess in disguise is not at all like a princess and doesn't know her royal heritage at all.  She has the gift of animal-speak and uses that gift to work with the local black smith and to cure the local animals.  The story ends with a confrontation at the 21st birthday party and then taking on the evil fairy to wake all those asleep in the castle.  It was a fun story and well-written.  I enjoyed the departures from the original and the surprise ending.  Rating:  4.5

62. The Time Thief by Linda Buckley Archer

Book Two of the Gideon Trilogy finds Kate returning to the present with her father and Peter stranded in 1763.  He was shoved out of the way at the last minute by the villaneous Tar Man, who has a hey day in the 21st century, once he figures out how everything works.  He also starts to figure out ways to move back and forth between the past the and the present which creates all kinds of problems.  Kate finally finds a way to return to 1763 to rescue Peter but goes to 1783 instead.  The machine was broken in the travel and they travel about Europe to find a scientist who can fix it.  There is no definite solution at the end of the book, setting the reader up for the third and final book.  Still, I enjoyed the author's attention to the details of the earlier time and the history included in the story as well as the characters and their motives.  The Tar Man is certainly a fun villain to follow, but he is really getting out of hand.  It will be interesting to see how everything comes together in the end.  Rating:  4.25

61. The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

Gerritsen really does write interesting medical thrillers but this one veers off that path into Satanism and a study of pure evil.  Jane Rizzoli is still the copy who investigates the crimes and Dr. Maura Isles, the medical examiner.  Helping in the investigation is a group called the Mephisto Club who study evil in the hopes of containing the demons who have existed since the time of Adam's son, Seth.  Apparently, there is a Book of Enoch which was left out fo the old Testament telling of fallen angels who impregnate human women, creating this demonic rae.  I found the book to be quite thrilling with some surprising twists along the way, but did not enjoy the Satanic storyline.  Just not my thing.  Rating:  3.75

60. The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantease

14th Century England is the setting for this hirtorical novel which revolves around the illicit translation of the Bible into English, bringing about a change in the entire religious atmosphere of the country.  Several historical personages are part of the story including John Wucliff, the priest who takes on the the Ensligh translation, the Biship of Norwich, a corrupt priest who abuses his power and is willing to almost anything to prevent any change to the status quo, the Sheriff of Norwich, a man trying to enlarge his own estates and wealth, and John of Gaunt, the regent to the young King of England.  The main fictional characters are Lady Kathryn, a middle-aged widow and mother of two sons struggling to make ends meet while holding on to her estates in the face of pressure to marry the sheriff and incresing taxes from the Bishop; and Finn, a talented illuminator hired to create drawings for a local abbey.  The abbey pays kathryn to rpovide lodging for Finn and his daughter while he complete his work.  Not only do they fall in love, but his daughter and one of the sons fall in love as well.

I enjoyed the hsitory involved in this story but found the romance and consequent turmoil too sad and tense.  Even so, I wanted to keep reading to see what was going to heppen next.  That kept me going right up to the end, which I hated.  Rating:  3.75

59. Hold Tight by Harlen Coben

Tia and Mike Baye have a great life in the suburbs.  He is a doctor and she is a lawyer.  They love each other and their family, but lately the son, Adam, has been acting strange.  They decide to spy on his computer usage to see if they can learn how to help him; but the messages they see involve them in something way over everybody's head.  On the other hand, a serial killer is on the loose, torturing and mutilating women in the area.  How these two story lines converge and become resolved is intense and griping.  I haven't been disappointed by a Coben yet.  His stories are thrilling and keep you on the edge of you seat.
Rating:  4.25

58. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Twin brothers are born in a hospital complex in Ethiopia, joined at the head by a thn piece of tissue.  No one was aware of the impending birth as the mother was a beautiful nun and surgical assistant who hid the pregnancy from all around her.  The father, a brilliant British surgeon, freezes at the difficult delivery:  the mother dies and the father disappears.  The twins are raised by the remaining medical personnel, mostly a gynocological surgeon who becomes their adopted mother.  Both grow up with a fascination for medicine but they have completely different personalities.  Marion is conscientious and considerate of those around him.  SHe is deeply in love with the daughter of a nurse at the hospital.  Shiva, while medically brilliant, is self-centered and unthinking, not in a horrible way, but his behavior causes a deep rift between the two brothers.  Because of the rift, Marion flees Ethiopia in the midst of its revolution and complete his surgical training in New York City.  There he meets his surgeon father and develops his own talents, while Shiva ramins in Ethiopia and becomes an expert on treating genital mutilation common amont the young women in that country.

I loved this book which surprises me because of the subject matter.  Still, it is full of wondrful and diverse characters who lend so much flavor to the story.  And Marion, the main character, is a deep, complex person, who makes understandable mistakes, gets hurt by those he trusts; and makes you root for him throughout the book.  It's a beautiful story of love and betrayal and redemption.
Rating:  5

Saturday, July 24, 2010

57. The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

Thanks to Jennclair for sending me this book.  I enjoyed the Swedish setting especially since my son served part of his mission close to where this book takes place.  The frozen atmosphere helped me keep cool during this hot July weather.  I think there were some places where the translation didn't quite work for me.  The phrasing seemed wrong, but overall I liked the book.

Ericka is a biography author struggling to complete her next book while dealing with the recent death of her parents.  While out walking, a elderly man drags her up to the home of her childhood friend, Alexandra, where she finds her naked in a tub of ice, her wrists slashed and blood all over.  She becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Alex, uncovering 25-year-old secrets and becoming reacquainted with another childhood friend, Petrik, who happens to be a cop investigating the death.  It was a great mystery, didn't see the end coming at all.  Part of the book deals with Ericka's sister and her personal problems that didn't really have anything to do with the mystery but added to Ericka's overall angst.  The resolution to those problems seemed a bit too neat for me.  There were some other side stories involving the elderly man, an old teacher, etc., that I found distracting and far too much time spent on what the characters had for dinner.  You expect that in a culinary mystery, which this isn't, and I found it a little annoying.  But overall, it was a good book, darker than I usually like but very interesting look into people's mind and actions.
Rating:  4

Since Jennclair was so generous to give this book to me, I'm going to pass it along to someone else.  If you're interested, leave a comment with your email address and I'll draw a name on August 15. 

56. The First Patient by Michael Palmer

The First Patient begins with the presidential helicopter landing on a small ranch in Wyoming.  It's President Andrew Stockton coming to ask his old college roommate, Dr. Gabe Singleton, to be his personal physician in the White House.  The president is less than candid about his reasons, but Gabe soon discovers that the most powerful man in the world seems to suffer from periodic bouts of insanity.  What follows is a fast-paced, action-filled story about government intrigue, medical advances, the 25th  Amendment (policy about presidential succession), with some romance and true evil thrown in for good measure.  Some of the story is predictable.  I saw the resolution about Gabe's past coming a mile away, but the mastermind behind the president's potential demise was a complete surprise to me.  Granted the whole premise was pretty far fetched, but Palmer makes it believable and certainly entertaining.
Rating:  4

Saturday, July 17, 2010

55. The Host by Stephanie Meyer

I enjoyed the Twilight series but put off reading this book because the storyline didn't sound appealing to me.  I'm not a sci-fi fan and this book is definitely science fiction.  The whole idea of a body being taken over by an alien who tries to erase that person's mind was kind of creepy to me.  Then the alien falls in love with the man in the actual person's memories.   It just didn't sound like my kind of book.  But when I was able to mooch the book, I did.  And since it is a large book and takes too much room on the book shelves, I decided to read it quickly so I could mooch it forward.  Well, what can I say.  I really liked this book, much better than the Twilight series.  Wanderer, the alien (called a soul), is a fantastic character as is Melanie, the human striving to remain alive in her taken-over body.  They are strong, interesting and not completely perfect.  When they are able to find a small group of human survivors, the conflict between the humans, especially Jared, Melanie's love interest; and the host body of Melanie is intense and intriguing.  Plus the world they have created for themselves in order to survive and hide from the souls is pure creative delight.  It's not an easy world but  believable.  I found this book to be very imaginative and well written.  Even the romance is interesting, not an easy love, but conflicted, twisting and turning, with all kinds of impediments.  While I may never read the Twilight series again, since I found the first movie disappointing and Edward and Bella so far from what I imagined; I plan on keeping this book around for a future reread.  So much for clearing off the shelves.  Of course, when a movie comes out, the casting may be as awful and make it impossible to read the book again with the same enjoyment.  As for my interest in science fiction, I may have to rethink that as well.  I really liked this book and loved Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.  What other great sci-fi's am I missing?
Rating:  4.75

Saturday, July 10, 2010

54. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Thanks heavens, I finished it.  It was hard, I really slogged through the first two-thirds; but it did get interesting towards the end.  There is a very real gothic feel to this book with a sense of menace permeating throughout.  That Mrs. Danvers is a very creepy character.  But overall, I was quite out of patience with the second Mrs. de Winters (we never learn her first name) who narrates the story.  She is such a namby-pamby.  The story would have ended at two hundred pages instead of 416 if she had just talked to her husband or if he had talked to her about anything they were feeling.  Honestly!!  I didn't expect the part about finding a boat in the bay but that is where all the excitement comes in.  And then the ending is so abrupt that you feel dropped, even though the first chapter of the book takes place after the ending; so you're not very surprised, just dropped.  This is my second du Maurier book which I liked better than the first but not much.  I still have Jamaica Inn sitting on the shelves.  What is your opinion?  Should I try it or give it up before I waste my time. 
Rating:  3

53, The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

I'm not sure how you would classify this book:  chick lit?  kind of,  fantasy?  maybe,  LDS fiction,  I guess.  The thing is it has elements of all of these but not enough to really meet all the criteria.  I guess I would go with LDS fiction because the main character, Becky is an LDS housewife; and the book does incorporate a lot of her beliefs and lifestyle mostly as a way of showing who Becky is and not as a means of preaching or pushing church doctrine. (The scene of Felix attending a ward dinner is a riot.)

Becky is eight months pregnant and in Hollywood to sell her screenplay.  While talking with the agent, in walks Felix, her screen idol, who is famous for hisromantic comedies.  They clash in an amusing way and end up having dinner together.  Because he can't understand his strange attraction to a not-so-beautiful and hugely pregnant woman, Felix follows up by bringing his wife to Utah to delve into his feelings more.  Becky is happily married to Mike, but the connection with Felix is so strong, that they become best friends.  And for the most part, the spouses are supportive, while friends and family question the advisability of the whole relationship.  I found the whole premise to be completely unbelievable but I love the way Hale writes and this book is no exception.  She almost makes it plausible, but not quite.  If the book wasn't written so well, the characters so interesting and the dialog so funny; I probably would have quit the book mid-stream because the actual plot was so odd.  But I did finish it.  There is a heart-breaking scene which made me cry and another scene near the end of the book that made me uncomfortable.  I did like how the book ended as it was totally in sinc with everything else that takes place throughout, but overall, it was my least favorite Hale book.  Still I'm giving it a good rating, because of the great Hale touch and  her humor.
Rating:  4

Friday, June 25, 2010

52. Bread Alone by Judi Hendrix

"Not suited for teaching high school and hopeless at selling real-estate, thirty-one-year-old Wynter Morrison has long ago given up any pretense of being a career woman and drifted into the role of a trophy wife. So after seven years of marriage, when her husband David informs her that it was all a mistake, she is left emotionally devastated and directionless—wondering how she let herself become so dependent.

Desperate for a change of scenery, Wyn leaves behind her pampered life in Los Angeles and ventures north to Seattle, where she spends hours at a small local bakery sipping coffee and inhaling the aromas of freshly made bread. These visits bring back memories of her apprenticeship at a French boulangerie, when her passion for bread making nearly led her to abandon college for cooking school. When offered a position at the bakery, Wyn accepts, grateful for the comfort of a routine.

Turning her schedule upside down to work all night and sleep during the day, learning to coexist with Linda, the irascible bread baker; making friends with earth mother Ellen, her artistic partner Diane, and Tyler, the blue-haired barista—Wyn happens upon some truths that she apparently missed while living the good life in Hancock Park. And soon she finds that making bread—the kneading of the dough, the scent of yeast hanging in the air—possesses an unexpected and wondrous healing power—helping her to rediscover that nothing stays the same: bread rises, pain fades, the heart heals and the future beckons."  From Author's Website

I enjoyed the journey of Wyn changing from a selfish, spoiled society wife to a person who is aware of others and more aware of herself.  She is a fun character, sometimes exasperating, confusing, heart-warming, and just plain dumb.  But never boring. 
Rating:  4.5

Thursday, June 24, 2010

51. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling (audio)

I was able to purchase this used CD at a reasonable price and decided to give it a listen on my recent trip to Vegas.  I don't normally listen to audio books that have ten discs and so it took me considerably longer than the trip to finish this one.  I had just watched the movie a month ago and was surprised at the things that were left out.  It was a lot of fun reliving the whole adventure. 

I won't bore you with a synposis of the story.  Most people know what happens.  I'll just share what I liked and didn't like.  First of all, Jim Dale is an amazing narrator.  He has the gift of differentiating each voice so you recognize that character each time he/she speaks.  However, I found his voice for Hermione to be very annoying.  He makes her drag out the last syllable to Harry's name so it just got on my nerves.  But that is a very minor flaw.  I looked forward to listening to the book each time I got into my car.  The Harry Potter books are amazing and entertaining and so imaginative.  I really would like to listen to the entire set and don't even care if I do it in order. 
Rating:  5

Sunday, June 20, 2010

50. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

This book is so reminiscent of Arthur Ransom's and E Nesbitt's books in which a group of basically good children have adventures and get into trouble along the way.  The grownups are on the sideline for the most part.  In a way, the story seems like it was written 100 years ago, when it was actually published in 2005.  There is a bit more angst than in, say, The Railway Children, but still pretty much a fun and light hearted story. 

The four Penderwick sisters go on vacation with their father and stay in a cottage on the Arundel estate.  They meet Jeffrey, whose mother owns the estate, and they have lots of summer adventures.  But Jeffrey's mother is a big snob and disapproves of the Penderwicks and their influence on her son.  Soon Jeffrey is facing leaving soon for military school where he will learn some discipline.  So there are a couple of mean adults in the book who make life difficult for everyone.  The oldest daughter, 12-year-old Rosalind, falls in love with a 17-year-old boy which makes for another intersting storyline that you wouldn't find in any of those older children's novels.  But the children are adorable, the dog is loyal and rambunctious, and the father is absent-minded.  What else could you wish for?  Fun story for children and adults who enjoy a light read.  There is a sequel but I haven't heard how good it is.
Rated:  4

Saturday, June 19, 2010

49. The Icing on the Cake by Elodia Strain

This book is a well-written LDS chick-lit.  Annabelle Pleasanton is the typical female heroine:  lacks self-confidence, gets into strange and embarrassing situations, prettier than she realizes, and has a heart of gold.  I liked her a lot.  She is a fledging writer at a magazine who drives two-hundred miles to buy a cake to impress her boss.  On this trip, she meets Isaac, a photographer, and a romance is born.  I found Annabelle to be very real in her relationships with her friends and with Isaac.  Isaac starts off as almost too good to be true, but with the conflict of the book arises, I found his reaction to be less believable but making him more human.  It was a slight stumbling block for me, and he overcomes it.  He really is the perfect guy.  Annabelle puts herself in all kinds of ridiculous situations trying to impress Isaac or her boss or someone else; but there is an integrity inside her that keeps her from completely losing herself.  Overall, the book is hilarious, I loved Annabelle, want Isaac for my daughter, and plan to read the sequel, Previously Engaged
Rating:  4

Friday, June 18, 2010

47-48 Silent in the Sanctuary and Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

I read the first book in this series, Silent in the Grave, about a year ago and liked it, even though I found Lady Julia Gray a bit annoying.  But she grew on me and I really like her in these two books.  She come from a very unconventional aristocratic family who isn't very well accepted in society because of its idiosyncrasies.  She is a much more interesting character than if she had been a typical upper-class Victorian lady.  The other main character is Nicholas Brisbane who helped Julia solve the murder of her husband and influenced her to actually start living instead of merely existing.  She insists on helping with his investigation and her meddling continues with the next two books.  I really like Brisbane.  He is good-looking, intelligent, and athletic, as you would expect in any hero.  But he also suffers from debilitating migraines, has a nasty temper; and is often unreasonably contrary.  Very interesting man. 

In Sanctuary, Julia returns from Italy to her family home at Christmas.  She is surprised to find Brisbane as one of the guests.  The chemistry between the two grows although both fight the attraction.  A murder takes place; and Julia and Brisbane investigate, sometimes by cooperating and other times by going their own way. 

Moor continues the story several months later.  Brisbane has bought a home in isolated Yorkshire and proceeds to ignore Julia; in fact, forbids her from visiting.  She ignores that and shows up on the doorstep with her sister and brother in tow.  The family who previously owned the manor still live there as they are destitute.  The oldest brother who spent the family fortune had died leaving a room full of Egyptian artifacts.  There is an attempt on Brisbane's life which almost succeeds and Julia nurses him back to health.  The mystery in this book is who tried to kill Brisbane.  It's not hard to figure out; but the Allenby family are so odd and twisted, that it made the book hard to put down.

I enjoyed both books and especially liked that the series concludes after three books.  I'm not sure the kind of emotional tug of war involved in this romance would continue to be entertaining after too many more books.  I think Raybourn ended it at the perfect time.  I don't know if she has written any other books.  I hope so because I would love to read them.
Rating for both:  4.5

Saturday, June 12, 2010

46. Cordelia Underwood by Van Reid

"Reading Van Reid's first novel, Cordelia Underwood, is a little like moving to a small town where everyone knows everybody else and has for generations. Certainly the novel boasts a cast of if not thousands, at least dozens of characters ranging from the spirited title character, Cordelia, to a bear named Maude. The story, such as it is, begins in the year 1896 and involves a mysterious inheritance--a parcel of land in the north of Maine that Cordelia's Uncle Basil has left to her. But readers will find themselves less interested in Uncle Basil's bequest than in the kaleidoscope of eccentrics who involve themselves in it. The subtitle of Reid's novel is The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League, and it is with the formation of this secret club that much of the novel concerns itself. Every character has a story to tell and each fresh tale seems to spawn another; there are balloon ascensions, phantom sailors, mysterious notes, and determined suitors; fortunately, everyone is so charming and their yarns so entertaining that you don't really mind the many, many digressions from the purported main point of the book, namely Cordelia and her inheritance. Set in the 19th century, Cordelia Underwood exhibits some of that century's literary conventions, as well--originally published in serial form in a regional newspaper, it is a sprawling tale populated with singular personalities and intended to entertain. In short, it's perfect reading for those long, lazy dog days of summer." Review

This was a fun book to read, absolutely loaded with eccentric, funny characters.  Even the villain is likeable.  I disagree with the above review that the main point of the book is Cordelia's inheritance.  While she is a prominent character, the star of the book and subsequent sequels is Tobias Walton, a portly, older gentleman who loves adventures and loves to laugh.  I think the main point of the book is the forming of The Moosepath League and Walton's invitation to be the chairman of that club.  I like the book enough to add its sequel to my wishlist on Bookmooch.  I hope there is some conclusion to what happened to Cordelia, but it looks like it will be mostly about Tobias and his fellow clubmembers.  The ending is a bit of a cliff hanger which was a surprise to me as I didn't know about the sequels.  That is my only complaint.  Otherwise, it is a totally charming book.
Rating:  4.25

Friday, June 11, 2010

45. Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Audio)

I so enjoyed reading Framed by this author, that I was excited to find this audio version of another of his books as such a reasonable price.  It was only four CD's and barely got me to Park City and then down to Provo, but I enjoyed listening to the narrator's English accent.  Here's the description from the back cover:

"It was a one-in-a-million chance.  A bag crammed with cash comes tumbling out of the air and lands right at Damian's feet.  Suddenly, the Cunningham brothers are rich.  Very rich.  They can buy anything they want.  There's just one problem--they have only seventeen days to spend all the money before it becomes worthless.  And the crooks who stole the cash in the first place are closing in--fast."

Damian seems a bit too innocent to me for his age.  But such a sweet kid who wants to give the money to the poor.  He starts by stuffing several thousand into the mail slot of his next-door neighbors, the Mormon missionaries, thinking they will surely find some poor people to help.  The next day, he sees a van unloading a dishwasher, flat-screen TV's and various other items at the house.  I had to chuckle at that.  Damian and his brother, Antony, also pay the kids at school to do things for them, but find their prices skyrocketing as all the kids now have so much money.  They have to spend the money before England converts to the Euro and two young boys can hardly go into a bank and take care of that.  When they realize that the crooks are after them, they start taking the money with them everywhere they go.  The lesson of the burden that money can be is quite heavy-handed but still effective.  It just shows that your life can't be centered around money and taking care of it.  I think I've learned this lesson well and could probably be trusted to have a large sum of money without it taking over my life.  So when is my bag of cash going to fall at my feet?
Rating:  3.75

44. Leave It To Psmith by P G Wodehouse

This is the second Wodehouse book that I've read.  The other is part of the Jeeves series and very funny.  In the introduction, it states that this is the beginning of Wodehouse's comic books that made him so famous and, apparently the most important to him, very wealthy.  I thought the book was hilarious.  I giggled when Psmith leaves his name at a home he is calling on:
"Ah well," he said, "we must always remember that these disappointments are sent to us for some good purpose.  No doubt they make us more spiritual.  Will you inform her that I called?  the name is Psmith.  P-Smith."
"Peasmith, sir?"
"No, no.  P-s-m-i-t-h.  I should explain to you that I started life without the initial letter, and my father always clung ruggedly to the plain Smith.  But it seemed to me that there were so many Smiths in the world that a little variety might well be introduced.  Smythe I look on as a cowardly evasion, nor do I approve of the too prevalent custom of tacking another name on in front by means of a hyphen.  So I decided to adopt the Psmith.  The p, I should add for your guidance, is silent, as in phtisis, psychic, and ptarmigan.  You follow me?"
As you learn more about Psmith, spiritual is not a word that describes him well.  But confident, dandy, lucky, sly, dashing, and good-looking are fit quite well.  He is just one of those con-men that everything always works out for the best.  In the story, he is hired by Freddie, Mr. Keeble's nephew,  to steal a necklace from Mr. Keeble's wife who keeps a very tight grip on the household's purse strings.  The necklace will then be sold and the proceeds used to pay Psmith, payoff Freddie's gambling debts, and allow Mr. Keeble to finance a business venture for his stepdaughter and her husband.  Mrs. Keeble will only see a withdrawal from the account to buy her a replacement necklace.  It's a fun premise, laden with all kinds of pitfalls and pratfalls.  The book is great for a light, summer read.
Rating:  4.25

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

This book tells the true story of the murder of three-year-old Saville Kent and the efforts of Detective Jonathan Whicher to determine who killed the young boy.  I had been looking forward to reading this book for some time but found myself disappointed quite early into it.  First of all, I didn't realize that the victim was practically a baby and that broke my heart.  The author is quite matter-of-fact about Saville maybe to keep the reader from becoming attached to him; but it was a hideous crime that was upsetting.  Second of all, Summerscale is very diligent in her efforts to portray the new detective force of Scotland Yard as the novelty that it was in 1860.  She includes excerpts from novels written during that age including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  There are all kinds of facts about the culture and mindset of English people of the time; lots of information about what things costs and what people earned.  I guess it could be interesting, but I was looking forward to a true-life mystery and felt all the facts detracted from the actual story of who killed Saville.  At least for me.  I read about half of the book but found myself falling asleep too many times.  I don't know if the murderer was ever discovered and I don't care.  If you want to read a book about how the great detective evolved and about mid 19th century England, I would recommend this book.  I think Summerscale did some great research and presented the information in an interesting format.  It just wasn't my cup of tea.
Rating:  DNF

Thursday, May 27, 2010

43. The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper

From the Back cover:
"How do you ignore a ghost?
Sparrow Delaney absolutely, positively does not want to be a medium like her six older sisters, her mother, and her grandmother. She does not want to see, hear, smell, or talk to ghosts. If she sticks to her rules and doesn't let anyone know that she can do all those things—everywhere, all the time—Sparrow just might pass as a normal tenth grader at her new high school. She makes a new best friend and meets an irritatingly appealing guy in her history class. But when another boy catches her eye, all Sparrow's dreams of being ordinary go up in smoke. Becausethis boy is a dead one—a persistent, charming, infuriating ghost, who won't let her be until she agrees to help him Move On."

I really enjoyed this young adult book.  The message of learning to be yourself and accepting who you are is a great one; and the book presents it without being preachy or pushy.  The story is a fun one as you can imagine when it deals with a reluctant medium.  Sparrow Delaney is a great character, easy to relate to, very likeable, with a stubborn core that makes her human.  Her six sisters, mother and grandmother are much more shadowy which probably fits right in with this story.  
Rating:  4.5

Sunday, May 23, 2010

42. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

From the back cover:
"January 1946:  Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name."

What I can say about this book that hasn't already been said?  If you've already read it, you know what I mean when I say I absolutely loved it.  If you haven't read it, please do.  It was such a charming, delightful surprise.  The entire story is told through a series of letters to Juliet and her answers, with a few amongst her friends thrown in.  I haven't always loved the books I've read that use letters as a literary device, but in this book, it works marvelously.  Each character reveals himself/herself more as the correspondence continues; and you simply fall in love with these people (with a couple of exceptions whose letters make them humorously unappealing).  Not only is this a great story, but it contains so many details about the occupation of Guernsey during WWII.  I had never heard about this piece of history and found the stories of deprivations and how both the English and Germans adapt to the situation fascinating.  The Literary Society came into being during the occupation when a few soon-to-be members were found out after curfew. They used a literary meeting as an excuse and continued to meet thereafter.  Friendships were born and reading was promoted.  Juliet, who lives and writes in London, receives a letter from Dawsey who had bought a secondhand book with her name and address in it.  "I wonder how the book got to Guernsey?  Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers." Juliet  I love that thought.  Maybe that's why I book mooch: sending out books that will hopefully find their perfect readers and hoping others find their way to me.  The Guernsey Literary Society is one book that I will be keeping and reading again.
Rating:  5

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

41. The Last Continent by TerryPratchett

Rincewind, the most incompetent wizard alive, find himself on a hot and dusty continent, looking rocks for grubs to eat.  But Rincewind is not destined to die even though he meets Death several times in this book.  His destiny is to save the last continent which bears a striking resemblance to Australia.  His adventures as he tries to avoid his destiny are hilarious as usual.  Actually there are two stories to follow in this book.  The other story involves the head wizards at the Unseen University back in Ankh Morpork who vaguely remember a misfit wizard named Rincewind.  They decide to search out a lesser known wizard in the far reaches of the University and behold a tropical paradise outside his window.  They all go through the window and soon find themselves trapped on the other side of Discworld and in a completely different time.

There truly were some laugh-out-loud moments in this book.  Pratchett's descriptions and parodies are spot-on.  But I was also confused many times trying to figure out exactly what was going on.  There are people or animals watching others and I just didn't want to stop to figure it out.  But great humor regardless.
Rating:  4

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

40. Gone for Good by Harlan Coben (audio)

This is the second audio version of Harlan Coben's book that I have listened to.  While both books were great, I really liked the narrator of this version better.  His voice is clear and easy to understand; and he is able to change his voice just enough so the listener can follow who is speaking.  Great job.
As for the story itself, it was full of twists and turns; had a nice romance without any gratuitous sex and the romance worked right into the story itself; and the characters were believable, some were a little too black and white:  Will was a bit too innocent and clueless but definitely a good guy, while McWayne was as evil as they come.  Other characters you think you know only to find what you thought may be wrong.  But they all grasped your interest from the start.  The mystery surrounds a murder that took place eleven years earlier when Will's brother was accused of killing his old girlfriend, Julie.  The brother disappears and there is a taint attached to the family from then on.  When his mother dies of cancer, Will's girlfriend disappears as well, and the action just escalates.  This was an abridged version of the book which contributed to my confusion of what was going on as well as the fact that I listened to it over the course of three days.  It would always take me a minute or two to remember what was going on or who someone was; sometimes longer than a minute or two.  Even so, I really enjoyed listening to this book  and was interested and surprised right up to the final sentence.  I have two Coben books sitting on the shelf.  I hope they are as much fun to read as they are to listen to.
Rating:  4.5

39. Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Interesting Times picks Rincewind up right where Sourcery left him.  On a deserted island.  We find him being approached by a group of Amazons who need a male to continue their line.  Unfortunately, Rincewind is magically relocated to another continent where the wizards of Unseen University have sent him acccording to a secret deal with a rule of a devious ruler of that country.  Here he runs into his old friend, Two Flower, who is plotting a revolution against the ruling class, in the most politest possible way.  On another front, seven barbarians, including Cohen from another book, have entered the country with takeover in mind.  Honestly, the barbarians are the most hilarious part of the whole story.  One of the seven is actually a retired teacher, who tries to civilise the other six, who are older than dirt with no intentions of dying any time soon.  How Rincewind survives is a masterful tale of his own ineptness and incredible luck.  The whole book is just one giggle after another.  Since I am skipping the illustrated novels for now, I have one more book to read in the Rincewind series and then I will take a break from Pratchett for a while.  But I am looking forward to seeing what happens to the hapless wizard as he visits the Last Continent, which bears a striking resemblance to Australia.  Sounds like another good laugh.
Rating:  4.5

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

38. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Sourcery is another romp through the weird and wacky Discworld.  It also marks the return of Rincewind, a minor wizard with limited magical powers but possessing the all-important gift of staying alive.  That's not easy for a wizard to do on Discworld.  Especially when a powerful sourcerer shows and takes over the Unseen University, the home of most wizards and the repository of magical knowlege.  A huge war begins begins the wiarding factions with towers springing up everywhere.  Rincewind just wants to avoid the mess but gets tangled up in it anyway.  The Luggage is in this book as well, but in a more limited capacity.  As always, the book is filled with hilarious analogies and personifications; but it is also very hectic and jumps from one site of action to another.  Personally, this is probably my least favorite of Practchett's books that I have read so far. All seven of them.  There's tons more to go.  And even though it is my least favorite, I still enjoyed it a lot.  Anything that makes me laugh is a good thing.  Now I've started Interesting Times and looking forward to more good times.
Rating:  3.75

Saturday, April 24, 2010

37. The Oak Leaves by Maureen Lang

Here's a book that been sitting on the shelf for quite some time.  I love the picture of the little boy picking up leaves on the cover.  So cute. 

Talie is a young happily married mother of a one-year-old son.  He life seems perfect.  She is excited to find a journal of her great-great-great-great grandmother among some of her father's effects.  However, reading the journal begins to make her take a look at her son's slow development and she struggles with trying to hide the truth from herself and her family.  The author effectively weaves the two tales of Cosima in The English 1800's and Talie's modern life in Chicago.  The transitions were smooth and, once I got used to the liberal references to God, Christ and faith, it was an engrossing tale.  And I don't know how families deal with the kind of problems these two faced without that kind of faith.  The book is the author's way of telling about her own experiences with Fragile X Syndrome which affects her young son.  And it was very informative and moving.  The romance involved in Cosima's story was well-done if a little implausible, high praise coming from someone who steers away from romances.  Mostly it was a good book dealing with a heart-wrenching story of learning to deal with life's disappointments and how love gets you through it.  One thing I wondered while reading the book was why the author never suggest adoption as a possible avenue for families who know they carry the Fragile X gene.  I thought that could have been explored as a way of creating more hope.  Overall, I would have preferred a little less doctrine, but I liked the characters, especially Cosima and Beryl from the 1800's; and I enjoyed the story. 
Rating:  4

36. Whisper to the Blood by Dana Stabenow

Whisper to the Blood is Dana Stabenow's sixteenth in the Kate Shugak series.  And I have read them all.  A few years ago, when all I read was mysteries, this would not have been too unusual, but now I struggle to read an entire series when there are so many other books that I have discovered waiting to be read.  But I really like the character of Kate Shugak.  She is a tiny fireball of energy and determination, intelligent and stubbborn.  I like her independence and drive.  I have to admit that I struggled with the series when one of my favorite characters died a few books ago, but I have come to terms with that and am moving on.  In this book, Kate is still trying to figure out her relationship with Trooper Jim Chopin, a good-looking womanizer who is also puzzled by his fascination with Kate.  While other Shugak books have included way too much explicit sex, this one only had one scene that was easily skipped.  (So I don't know if it was too explicit or not, but it probably was.)  While I'm not terribly interested in politics, I like the way Stabenow weaves Alaskan culture and issues into the story.  The Park inhabitants, where Kate and her native relatives reside, face a change in their way of life when a gold mining company purchases a large lease and proposes to build an open-pit mine.  While the mine will provide a thousand jobs for those in the area and promises some much needed prosperity, it also threatens the delicate eco-system of the surrounding mountains and rivers.  Most of the tribal members live on dividends and their subsistence hunting and fishing.  It is a recurring theme in the Shugak books and is not solved in this one either.  The book describes an interesting culture and presents a credible look at life in Alaska.  I know I'm not cut out for the frozen environment of our northern-most state, but I do enjoy reading about the people who do decide to make a life there.  While the mystery was just so-so; I really liked this book for the dynamics that play out among the various characters; especially Kate's struggle to maintain her independence while being pulled into tribal politics.
Rating:  4.25

Sunday, April 18, 2010

35. Miss Julia's School of Beauty by Ann B Ross

I just visited Ann B Ross's website and see that she has written a score of Miss Julia books.  I don't know where my read falls in the order of things but it became immediately apparent that I was not reading the first book.  Maybe if I had started at the first, I would have liked Miss Julia a bit better.  She's an older woman who is bound by convention and rules of etiquette.  Having just remarried by eloping a few weeks, she is distressed by the news that the marriage may not be legal.  Naturally, she tries to keep everything a secret to avoid public humiliation and also moves her new husband to an upstairs bedroom to satisfy her moral compass.  In the meantime, Hazel Marie, her first husband's mistress who now lives with Miss Julia (I know there is a great story here somewhere.  I may have to find this book and read it), has been put in charge of a local beauty pageant to raise money for the sheriff's canine unit.  She enlists Miss Julia's aid in training the contestants in manners and deportment.  There are some humorous situations going on within this book, but mostly, I found the characters to be a bit too cartoonish and Miss Julia too hidebound and judgemental.  I did like that sex is only alluded to although it crops up more often than Miss Julia is comfortable with.  She really is a prude, but also has a heart of gold when push comes to shove.  Her husband, Sam, is my favorite character.  He seems to have a twinkle in his eye all the time and handles Julia's concerns with a light touch.  He makes her much more likeable.  All in all, I found the book to be cute but a bit silly. 
Rating:  3.5

Thursday, April 15, 2010

34. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

So far, I have read all of Louise Penny's Three Pines series, and in order, no less; and have thoroughly enjoyed them all.  The secret to that enjoyment is, of course, the main character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  He is such a complex person, thoughtful, quiet, intelligent, kind and always determined to find the murderer.  That he inspires the fierce loyalty of all those on his team is no surprise as he guides them and trains them to be better than they thought they could be.  I just love him.  However, I was a little disappointed in this story.  The victim is a nameless hermit that no one seems to know, but he is found one morning on the floor of the bistro with a massive blow to the head.  It was immediately apparent to me that the body had been moved there, but Penny makes that discovery seem to be the result of long, intensive research and astute detective work.  Then Gamache becomes involved in solving so many aspects of the unknown man's life, some of which seemed to be left hanging at the end of the book.  Questions were resolved with no tie-in to the murder and other questions were raised with no satisfying conclusion.  So I was just a touch dissatisfied.  Still, it was a gripping mystery with great twists and turns.  I like how Penny doesn't protect her characters that we all know and love from the previous books from having foibles and serious character flaws.  And this is the first book that I really begin to like Ruth and her pet duck, Rosa.  While I didn't love how the mystery concluded, I did love the ending of the book.  It's not my favorite book in the series, but still a fantastic read.  I look forward to the next one.
Rating:  4.5

Sunday, April 11, 2010

33. Summer in Paris by Michele Ashman Bell

I listened to a book by Bell a few months ago and enjoyed it even though the quality of the recording was quite poor.  It was an romance, I believe written for an LDS audience even though there is no mention of the church in the book at all.  I know I've mentioned that I don't really care for romances, but the LDS type are different.  They usually include humor, no sex and there is more to the story than just the romance.  Summer in Paris is no exception other than it was written for a young adult audience.  Just to keep your feet on the ground, we are not talking about Paris, France; instead, the story is set in Paris, Idaho.  Apparently there is a Paris in Idaho and it sounds like an idyllic but bucolic location.  However, 15-year-old Kenzie is a New York City girl through and through and would much rather be in France than Idaho.  But her father has suffered a devastating financial blow and she is shipped to Idaho to spend the summer with relatives.  Kenzie is an interesting character.  In some ways, she is incredibly shallow and spoiled; but she is a dedicated, hard-working dancer and loves her mother and father.  I like how Bell treats the family dynamics which changed forever when 8-year-old Benjamin passed away seven years earlier.  The loss totally changed how Kenzie's parents related to each other and their daughter.  That change sets up the rest of the story and makes it much more than just a teen romance.  I found the romance to be a little unbelievable and too pat; but still sweet.  Bell certainly created a compelling character in Adam.  Kenzie's transformation was predictable, but she is a fun, likeable character who you root for even when she is being whiny or bratty.  I especially liked her Aunt Frankie, a no-nonsense woman who shows Kenzie there is more to life than shopping.  Kenzie finds that teenagers in Idaho are quite similar to those in New York; some are shallow but others have more depth when you take the time to know them.  There is also a mystery in the story.  While you pretty much know who didn't set the fires, it was a surprise to learn the truth.  All in all, this is a heartwarming tale about finding yourself, friendship, and family ties, and learning about what's really important in life. 
Rating:  4
Disclaimer: This book was furnished to me free of charge. The preceding review is strictly my own opinion.

32. City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling

I have been very interested in reading this book as the history of New York is just so interesting to me.  The story begins with Lucas Turner and his sister, Sally, as they leave England to travel to the New World in 1661.  Lucas is a barber surgeon and Sally is an apothecary.  The two have a falling out; and the book follows the family feud down through the years to just after the revolutionary war.  Both families include physicians and surgeons (I had no idea there was so much antipathy between these two studies); and there is a lot of graphic description of crude medical practices of that time.  Looking back from my standpoint in modern times, it was appalling how people were treated and amazing that so many survived the crude and barbaric things that were done because they didn't know any better.  Actually, the medical history was probably my favorite part of the book.  I found the change from one character and storyline to the next to be way too abrupt.  Often you would follow one character and then it was ten years later with no really satisfying conclusion to what happened before.  Some historical facts were included:  how the city grows to the north on Manhattan island, for example; but not enough.  My main problem with the book is the amount of sexual content.  I found it way over the top and way too much detail.  Plus I couldn't really relate or like too many of the characters.  And the ending leaves you hanging.  Never a good thing in my opinion unless there is a sequel, and that is pushing the envelope for me.  I had high hopes for this book, but ultimately, I was disappointed.
Rating:  2.5

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Catching Up Challenge Finished

This is the only challenge I have set for myself this year although I may enter The Canadian Challenge this summer.  The goal was to read thirty books that I have had sitting on my shelves for three years or more.  I was just tired of seeing those books and feeling guilty whenever I acquired a new one.  Here's a list of the books:

1. Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley Archer,  Reviewed March 11, Rated 4.5

2. Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer, Reviewed January 10, Rated 4
3. Tara Road by Mauve Binchy, Reviewed February 5, Rated 3.5
4. Farewll Summer by Ray Bradbury, DNF
5. Jany Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Reviewed January 26, Rated 4.5
6. And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie, Reviewed February 9, Rated 4.75
7. Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper, Reviewed March 24, Rated 4.25
8. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, Reviewed March 7, Rated 4.5
9. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, Reviewed January 15, Rated 4.5
10. Inside the Dream by Katharine and Richard Green, Rated April 4, Rated 4.75
11. The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Reviewed February 23, Rated 3
12. Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Heigl, Reviewed January 18, Rated 4
13. Boston Jane by Jennifer Holm, Reviewed March 6, Rated 4
14. Armed Gunmen, True Facts & Ridiculous Nonsense by Richard Kallam, This was a short book filled with examples of redundancies.  Funny but not something I wanted to review.
15. Father's Arcane Daughter by E L Konigsburg, Reviewed March 26, Rated 4
16. The Great Divorce by C S Lewis, Reviewed March 28, Rated 4.25
17. Norman Rockwell by Karal Ann Marling, Reviewed February 1, Rated 4
18. 1776 by David McCullough, Reviewed February 7, Rated 4.25
19. The Great Bridge by David McCullough, Reviewed March 5, Rated 4.5
20. Atonement by Ian McEwan, DNF
21. Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern, Reviewed March 19, Rated 4
22. Savage Beauty - The Life of Edna Vincent Millay by Nancy Mitford, Reviewed Feb 21, Rated 2.75
23. Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson, Reviewed February 8, Rated 4
24. Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson, Reviewed March 26, Rated 3
25. Mort by Terry Partchett, Reviewed January 29, Rated 4.75
26. Time and Again by Jack Kinney, Reviewed January 5, Rated 3.75
27. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, Reviewed March 14, Rated 4
28. Franny and Zooey by J D Salinger, Looked everywhere but couldn't find this book. 
29. The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins, Reviewed February 11, Rated 3
30. Cage of Stars by Jacqueline Mitchard, Reviewed January 13, Rated 3.75

Whew, I'm glad to have finally read most of these books.  There were so many good ones, with a few clunkers thrown in.  I may still have another go at Atonement, but haven't decided yet.  I'd say my favorite book was And Then There Were None, a classic Christie mystery; but I enjoyed the majority.  I don't know if I will attempt this challenge again next year.  I suspect there might be a lot more books since I really started adding to my library about two years ago. 

31. Inside the Dream

By Katherine and Richard Greene
This is a large coffe-table-size book but it is filled with fun stories and facts about the genius who created an entertainment dynasty.  It is not a complete biography but includes many great tidbits about his personal and family life along with how he and his brother, Roy, developed the Disney Studio.  I especially enjoyed the format of this book.  Each two or three page spread would deal with different aspects of Disney's life.  One spread would talk about how he met his wife followed by a few pages describing what he was doing professionally about that same time period.  There are wonderful pictures of Walt, his family, his co-workers and friends and, of course, his many creations.  Over seventy people were interviewed for a TV documentary which couldn't include all the material.  This book is the companion to that documentary and it is a fitting tribute to the man.  Naturally, there is very little derogatory things in the book other than he had a temper, was a perfectionist and didn't like naysayers.  But I didn't really want to hear all that.  It was enough to wallow in the nostalgia that this beautiful book creates, bring back many happy memories to me of the productions that I enjoyed growing up and still do.  Rating:  4.75
Catching Up Challenge

30. Secret Sisters by Tristi Pinkston

I was excited when this book arrived.  Let's face it, we all love getting books in the mail.  Plus I have read three other books from this author, two historical novels and a romance/thriller, and have enjoyed them all.  Secret Sisters may be my favorite so far. 

Warning:  This review assumes you are familiar with LDS culture and the setup of its church congregations.

Ida Mae Babbitt is a sixty-something Relief Society President who notices something amiss with one of the sisters in her ward.  With the help of her three counselors and her nephew, she sets out to investigate while still looking after other sisters in Relief Society who need her help.  The four ladies call themselves The Secret Sisters.  I'm not sure how Ren, the nephew, feels about that; but he is in the thick of things with his surveillance inventions.  Yes, these people break all kinds of laws in their efforts to help; and I found that part of the story hard to swallow.  However, the real charm of the story is following Ida Mae as she tends to her flock.  While the mystery was quite predictable as was the romance; the book was still such a fun read because Tristi incorporates such great humor into the story.  I also liked how this is an LDS fiction that does not proselyte or preach but just includes the church as part of the background.  Mormons are people who care about each other and service is a part of that caring.  The characters in the book are believable:  good people with human failings who are trying to become better.  Ida Mae especially is trying to overcome her tendency to judge people, feeling especially bad when a "good" girl in her ward turns up pregnant.  "In labeling her that way, was it possible that her needs had been overlooked?  Had they been so busy shepherding the "lost sheep" that they forgot to feed the ones in the pen?"  I look forward to seeing what trouble Ida Mae and her secret sisters get into in the next installment. 
Rating:  4.25
Disclaimer: This book was furnished to me free of charge. The preceding review is strictly my own opinion.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

29. The Great Divorce by C S Lewis

I had a really hard time getting into this book.  I had no idea what was going on at first; and the setting seemed so dreary and hopeless.  It made so much more sense when I realized that the people on the bus were traveling from Hell to Heaven to see if they wanted to make Heaven their home.  Lewis writes in his preface, "Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good."  This book tells of the choice we must make in order to move toward good.  So many of the passengers on the bus, when they reach heaven, are unable to make that choice.  They can't give up their passions, or favorite sins.  They feel out of place and seem more comfortable below in the dreary environs of Hell.  Some cannot fathom or accept the great joy that is to be attained at they move forward towards the mountain peaks of the heavenly place where the bus has taken them so they turn back.  Some are just afraid to move forward.  Some of the characters depicted in this book were so miserable that you couldn't feel bad for them; others made me stop and reexamine my own feelings.  And this book definitely makes you think; and that it is probably its greatest aspect.  Here are some quotes I marked:

"The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."  There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery.  There is always something they prefer to joy -- that is, to reality.  Ye see it easily enough in a spoiled child that would sooner miss its play and its supper than say it was sorry and be friends.  Ye call it the Sulks.  But in adult life it has a hundred fine names --Achilles' wrath and Coriolanus' grandeur, Revenge and Injured Merit and Self-Respect and Tragic Greatness and Proper Pride."

"There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."  All that are in Hell, choose it.  Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.  No soul who seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek find.  To those who knock it is opened."

"Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place.  I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell; and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself."

My favorite Lewis book is still The Screwtape Letters but this short story (77 pages) is certainly a thought provoking essay from a great Christian philosopher. 
Rating:  4.25