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.