Sunday, December 25, 2011

64. - 71. Eight Quick Reviews

64.  A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts.  A well-researched biography of a blind man who travels the world in the early 1800's.  James Holman was a remarkable man whose life makes for great reading.  I especially enjoyed learning about how the blind were treated in that era.  Rating:  4.25

65.  Dead Man's Bones by Susan Wittig Albert.  Two old women donate a large building and a good sum of money to the local theater group and proceed to make their life miserable as the first play is produced.  By the end of the book, two people are dead and China Bayles works hard to figure it out.  Rating:  3.75

66.  Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett.  Johnny Maxwell and his weird collection of friends find adventure as they travel in time with the help of a bag lady's junk-laden grocery cart.  As always, I enjoyed Pratchett's humor and storytelling abilities.  Rating:  4

67.  Dead on Arrival by Jeff Savage.  Shandra Covington is a SLC reporter who becomes involved with a series of explosions involing people who died fifty years ago.  This is a fun mystery with a heroine who is imperfect and easy to identify with.  Rating:  3.75

68.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  A greal novel dealing with the complex relationship between Southern women and their black servants.  It is a pretty accurate indictment of bias and prejudice in the 60's as well as a compelling story of the individual characters.  I can't wait to see the movie.  Rating:  4.75

69.  Royal Target by Traci Hunter Abramson.  A fluffy LDS romance with a very implausible storyline.  I'm not sure why I enjoy these but I do.  It's pretty escapist to travel to a fictional country that sounds a lot like Monaco.  But Prince "Garrett"??  Odd name choice.  Rating:  3

70.  When Christmas Comes by Debbie Macomber.  A Christmas tale involving a mother, her daughter, and a best friend.  Emily travels to Boston to surprise her daughter for Christmas.  The daughter has planned a trip to Florida with her icky boyfriend, and the friend travels to Mt. Vernon, WA to surprise Emily.  All ends well with romance abounding.  Pretty sappy love story with a dollop of Christmas cheer.  Rating:  2.75

71.  The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck.  A tragic Christmas story about a twelve-year-old boy who gets a sweater for Christmas instead of the bike he really wanted.  His mother dies and the next year follows his fight against God and those who love him.  There is a surprise ending and an interesting insight into Glenn Beck's spiritual conversion.  Rating:  3.5

Saturday, November 19, 2011

63. Lady Killer by Lisa Scottoline

Mary Dinunzio is an attornehy in South Philly where she brings in a lot of business and revenue for her firm from her Italian South Philly neighbors.  She is saving to buy a house and get over the death of her husband while fixing the myriad host of issues that come to her.  Then her nemesis from high school shows up and demands that Mary help her get away from her abusive boyfriend that she is afraid will kill her.  The whole situation blows up, involving Mary in a murder, a missing person case and a mob war.  There is some great humor in this book with the fantastic characters who populate Mary's life and she is a pretty fun character herself.  I found some of the story to be a bit far-fetched but I certainly would never have guessed who actually committed the murder.  I read a proff copy and found the spelling and grammatical errors a bit annoying, but overall, I liked the book and thought it was a fun mystery.  Rating:  3.75

62. The Pink Carnation by Laura Willig

The Pink Carnation is a fun tale that spins a sequele to the story of the Scarlett Pimpernel. Eloise is a college student who wants to discover the identity of another spy name the Pink Carnation.  She gains access to secret papers and this is the story she discovers: 

After the Pimpernel's true identity is uncovered, rendering him useless as a spy, the void is filled by another called the Purple Gentian.  Amy Balcourt, who was sent to England from France as a child, dreams as joining the league of the Purple Gentian and restoring the monarchy to the throne of France.  At the age of twenty, she is allowed to return to France along with her cousin, Jane, and a very determined chaperone, Miss Gwen.  On the trip across the channel, the three women are forced to share a room with a scholar, Lord Richard Selwick, who is naturally very handsome but also doing research for Bonaparte.  Amy hates him for being in the employ of her enemy but also is very attracted to him.  The rest of the book follows a very predictable course, but is fun and lighthearted with the exception of some pretty explicit sex scenes and stilted dialog.  Rating:  3 

61. Einstein by Walter Isaacson

I really enjoyed the many things I learned about one of histories most iconic figures.  We all know about Einstein and his theory of relativity and how it  changed physics forever.  This book explores how the man's personality, the culture he lived in and the basic scientific tenets believed at the time led him to make his remarkable discoveries.  While I did not personally get a lot out of all the scientific discussion that Isaacson included to explain Einstein's theories, I did find the in-depth exploration into his life fascinating.  He was truly a genius and deserving of the adulation that he created but also a flawed and eccentric man which made the book so incredibly interesting.   I love the picture on the cover which shows such a twinkle in his eyes.  That sense of humor is portrayed very well in the book as well as his love of humanity but a inability to connect well with those close to him.  All in all, a great book to read to learn more about one of the great ones.  Rating:  4.25

Thursday, October 27, 2011

60. When the Bough Breaks by Kay Lynn Mangum

Rachel Fletcher is fifteen, just entering high school and tired of being different.  Her father was killed four months earlier and her older brother comes home drunk every night.  And her mother is so depressed that she is unaware of the problems her children are facing.  Then the mother meets a man who lost his wife to breast cancer.  They get married and now Rachel has a stepfather and a stepbrother who also attends the same high school.  Rachel really struggles with all this complications and tragedies.  Things start to come together by the end of the book, but it is not a happily ever after type of story but an ongoing tale of facing life's challenges with courage and hope. 

I like this author.  She writes LDS fiction that is believable, deals with tough issues such as teen alcoholism, and presents a subdued picture of LDS faith that is refreshing.  Rating:  4.5

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

59. The Little Country by Charles de Lint

"When folk musician Janey Little finds a mysterious manuscript in an old trunk in her grandfather's cottage, she is swept into a dangerous realm both strange and familiar.  But true magic lurks within the pages of The Little Country, drawing genuine danger from across the oceans into Janey's life, impelling her --- armed only with her music --- towards a terrifying confrontation."  From back cover

I really like de Lint's books.  He writes dark, urban fantasies which are imaginative and clever.  The characters are complex and real.  This book differs from other de Lint books I 've read in that there is almost no reference to fairies and other magical creatures.  The story deal entirely with the use and misuse of magic.  There is a story within a story and the two intertwine in a creative way leading to a suspense-filled ending.  Just a tad-bit too much philosophizing for my taste, but overall a great read.  Rating:  4.25

58. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (Audio)

"Lara has always had an overactive imagination. Now she wonders if she is losing her mind. Normal twenty-something girls just don’t get visited by ghosts! But inexplicably, the spirit of Lara’s great aunt Sadie – in the form of a bold, demanding Charleston-dancing girl – has appeared to make one last request: Lara must track down a missing necklace Sadie simply can’t rest without.

Lara’s got enough problems of her own. Her start-up company is floundering, her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, and she’s just been dumped by the love of her life.

But as Lara spends time with Sadie, life becomes more glamorous and their treasure hunt turns into something intriguing and romantic. Could Sadie’s ghost be the answer to Lara’s problems and can two girls from different times end up learning something special from each other?Random House review

Like all Kinsella books that I have read, there are parts in this book that made me wince because I can just see disaster coming for the main character.  Of course, things always work out for the best giving you a very predictable ending.  Still, it was a fun book to listen too with the narrator's English accent and Kinsella's irreverent humor. 

Rating:  3.5

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

57. The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok

This book took me forever to read.  Potok's books are quite dreary and this one is no exception.  The main character, Gershon Loran, takes the whole book trying to figure out his life and what to do with it.  He goes to rabbinical (sp) college and studies Kaballah.  But you never get the feeling that he is touched by anything he learns, just amassing knowledge.  After his degree, he becomes a chaplain assigned to Korea.  This is the most interesting part of the book as Gershon shows himself to be compassionate and approachable to the men he serves as well as astute about the best ways to do his work.  At college, Gershon rooms with Arthur Leiden whose father helped build the atomic bomb.  Arthur also becomes a chaplain in Korea and fights against the feelings he has about the destruction his father helped caused.  As always, Potok's books give the reader a view into the conflicts of Judaism, but it seems his other books offered comforts from that faith as well.  I didn't feel that with this book.  Plus, there never seemed to be any resolution to Gershon's inner search.  I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters and find some of the philosophy tiresome.  Rating:  3

Sunday, October 09, 2011

56. A Woman Named Smith by Marie Conway Oemler

"A Woman Named Smith is a delightful surprise. Originally published in 1919, the main character is Sophy Smith, a businesslike thirty-something New England bred spinster. Her staid world is turned upside down when she inherits a South Carolina mansion from her eccentric great-aunt by marriage. Heading south with her best friend, confidante, and protegee, the beautiful young Alicia, she turns the mansion into a winter retreat for wealthy clients. In the process, she acquires friends and cats, solves a mystery, and finds romance. The "down sides" to the book include occasionally archaic language, and an old-fashioned view of race relations. Otherwise, it's a fun if lightweight read." Diane Peabody Review on Amazon.

This book was a fun read.  Sophy is fantastic, matter-of-fact, smart and knows how to stick up for herself.  Not a stereotypical woman of the early 1900's.  My only complaint was the racial slurs which would never be published in this day and age.  It was a free download to my Kindle so I was pleasantly surprised.  Rating:   3.75

55. Blessed Are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch

"Set on a small Irish dairy farm, this tender and funny debut novel follows two lost souls as they try to carve out new lives amid a colorful cast of characters reminiscent of those in the hit film Waking Ned Divine. Abby has been estranged from the family farm since her rebellious mother ran off with her when she was a small child. Kit is a burned out New York stockbroker who's down on his luck. But that's all about to change, now that he and Abby have converged on the farm just in time to help Corrie and Fee, two old cheesemakers in a time of need. Full of delightful and quirky characters--from dairy cows who only give their best product to pregnant, vegetarian teens to an odd collection of whiskey-soaked men and broken-hearted women who find refuge under Corrie and Fee's roof--BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS is an irresistible tale about taking life's spilled milk and turning it into the best cheese in the world."  From back of book

I really liked this book.  Corrie and Fee are great characters and I really like Kit once he gets to Ireland.  The book is full of delightful characters and the story is funny with a touch of magic thrown in.
Rating:  4.25

54. To Have and to Hold by Josie Kilpack

Emma is twenty-one, newly divorced with a fifteen-month old daughter.  She moves back to Utah to rebuild her life and perhaps find her place in the LDS church.  But she struggles finding a job that will allow her to support her daughter.  In steps Andrew Davidson, a rich developer who lives in California and keeps a home in SLC.  He hires Emma to keep house for him and learns that she is also a fantastic cook.  Then he finds that he stands to inherit a fortune if he meets the stipulation that he geet married and stays married for a year.  He gets Emma to agree to marry him for part of the inheritance and the rest is pretty predictable.  Even if you know immediately how the story will turn out, Kilpack still tells a good tale.  There isn't a lot of deep thinking involved, but also no profanity or sex and an interesting look at a medical condition that I had never heard of before.  I like LDS romances and this book is a pretty good example.  Rating:  3.75

54. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

This book is a slow, easy story about the life of boy growing up in rural Kentucky.  He travels around a bit as a young man and learns the barber trade.  Finally, he ends up in Port William, Kentucky close to his boyhood home.  From the door of the his barbershop with an apartment above, he watches the goings-on in the small town and becomes friends with his customers.  He tells about his life and those of his neighbors in a straight forward manner with quite a bit of philosophy thrown in.  Some of the stories are funny and some heartbreaking.  The saddest story is how progress and growth changes the sleepy, easy going nature of the town.  I enjoyed reading about times back in the thirties and forties and about some of the great characters that Jayber comes to know.  There is a love story that is a bit weird but overall I liked the book.  Rating:  4

Thursday, September 01, 2011

53. How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini by Heather Horrocks

I thought this looked like a cute LDS romance with a writer whose play just failed on Broadway moving to Brighma City to write a gardening column in the local newspaper.  The fact that she pulls this off when she knows nothing about gardening is a bit unbelievable.  On the whole, the plot is predictable and the main areas of conflict seem a bit forced and easily solved.   Still, the characters are likable and there is some fun LDS humor.  Rating:  3.5

52. A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block (audio)

Several years ago, I really enjoyed reading Block's "Burglar" series, but this is the first I've read of  Matthew Scudder.  It was a good enough mystery to help me stay awake as I drove to Salt Lake and back, but I found Scudder spends way too much time thinking about his drinking.  It's obvious that he is an alcoholic but he hasn't realized it yet.  I suppose that will happen in a future book, but I don't think I will stick around to read it.  Scudder is a former policeman who became disillusioned with the job and goes into free-lance detecting.  He is hired to solve the murder of a woman who was killed nine years earlier and was originally believed to be the victim of a serial killer.  Of course, he is able to solve the crime through an amazing piece of luck but loses his love interest and drowns his sorrow in the bottle.  Just so-so.  Rating:  2.75

Saturday, August 27, 2011

51. Desert Storm by Logan Forster

I found this book in some of the mom's old books and remember loving it when I read it as a girl.  So I decided to give it another go before giving it to my brother whose name in on the front page.  It was just as fun to read as I remember:  a great story about a boy who rescues an Thoroughbred filly and nurses it back to health so she is able to run in the Santa Anita race.  There were a few things  that struck me as odd that I would never have noticed when I was young.  Both Ponce and Barbara had some very immature moments for fifteen-year-olds; especially when Ponce seems abnormally wise and mature the rest of the time.  Still, I enjoyed this walk down memory lane with an old friend and recommend this book to third or fourth graders.  Rating:  4

50. Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

This book tells the tale of the first fifty-seven years of the Plymouth Colony.  Beginning with William Bradford's conversion to Separatism in England, his journey to Holland and then crossing the Atlantic on the Mayflower, Philbrick delves into some rich history and interesting facts about our forefathers.  I'm amazed at how little I knew about these intrepid travelers.  There was much to admire about these people:  their bravery, determination and spirituality.  There was also bad qualities as well:  racism, narrow-mindedness, and some pretty stupid decisions.  Of course, it is easy to judge the Pilgrims with 20/20 hindsight.  I don't think I had ever heard of King Philip's War and the devastation it caused to both the colonists and the native Americans.  All in all. I found Mayflower to be a fascinating look at this country's early history.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, August 21, 2011

49. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The sequel to Stargirl was just as enjoyable and fun to read.  Stargirl has matured and maybe toned down her outrageous behavior but not much or it would be boring.  After leaving her boyfriend, Leo, in Arizona when her parents move to Pennsylvania with no closure or resolution of their mixed up relationship (WARNING:  run-on sentence), Stargirl is lonely but determined to make the best of her new home.  She once again makes friends with a host of odd characters and has all kinds of fun and heartwarming adventures.  The novel is told in a series of letters that Stargirl writes to Leo over the course of a year but never sends.  You can't help falling in love with her as she is quirky, strong-willed, determined and very human.  It's an especially good novel for young women with a great message.
Rating:  4.5

Monday, August 15, 2011

48. Land of Echoes by Daniel Hecht

This book is a classic ghost story.  Tommy Keeday is attending a boarding school for gifted Navajos when he starts exhibiting all the signs of possession.  Cree Black, a renowned parapsychologist, is called in to investigate.  She soon becomes embroiled in all the drama of a aging beauty queen against the son of her rich ex-husband who died a few years earlier.  So is the ex-husband the ghost or is it Tommy's parents who also died recently?  In order to learn the answers, Cree must get close to the spirit while trying to save Tommy from the practioners of more traditional medicine who want to medicate him and weaken his resistance to the possession.  Normally, I don't like ghost stories or tales of hauntings, let alone possession by a foreign spirit; but this book is very well-written with some intriguing characters, beautiful descriptions of the harsh landscape of New Mexico, and a great study of the Navajo culture. 
Rating:  4.75

Sunday, August 07, 2011

47. Glass House by Jane Haddam

I have always loved the Gregor Demarkian mysteries.  They used to always be named after some holiday, but I guess the author ran out.  I tried reading the one before Glass House but couldn't finish it because it seemed to run on for pages about these far right groups planning some big event.  When I quit, Gregor still had not been introduced into the story.  Fortunately, this book jumps right into the mystery and Gregor's odd life.  He is really is a great character and surrounds himself with very colorful people.  This book involves the serial killings of eleven women.  Gregor is called in by the Philadelphis police because they have picked up an alcholic scion of a Main Line family and want to make sure the charges stick.  It's a very convoluted mystery, but Gregor figures it out quite quickly all while trying to get his own life back in order.  In fact the ending is a bit anticlimatic because it wraps up so quickly.  Still, it was a fun read.  Rating:  4

Saturday, July 30, 2011

45 & 46. Counting Stars & All the Stars in Heaven by Michelle Paige Holmes

Both of these books are Mormon romantic novels.  In Counting Stars, Jane is thirty and single in a church structured around marriage and families.  She answers an ad in the singles page and meets Paul, the dying father of twins whose wife just dies in a car accident.  He is looking for someone to raise his children and Jane is the perfect one.  She soons loves the babies and is ready to take on their care after Paul dies.  After his death, she learns that she is co-guardian with Peter, Paul's brother who has been serving in Iraq.  You can figure out the rest.  Rating:  3.5

All the Stars in Heaven is a much darker and more interesting book.  It involves a corrupt police chief, his talented but cowed daughter, and a recovering drug addict who is attending Harvard to get a law degree.  There is plenty of adventure and a pretty good love story.  Rating:  4

44. Jane of Lantern Hill by L M Montgomery

This is another charming book by the master of charm.  Jane is a lonely young girl living with her overbearing, mean-spirited grandmother and her mother who does whatever the grandmother tells her.  Even though they have every thing money can buy, Jane is unhappy and restless.  Then she is summoned to Prince Edward Island by her father who she can't remember.  Jane doesn't want to go; but once she meets her father, she loves him immediately and embarks upon a  summer filled with fun, friends and adventures.  The ending is very predictable but satisfying and Jane is almost as fun to read about as Anne of Green Gables.  Rating:  4.5 

43. When Madeline was Young by Jane Hamilton

From back cover:

"When Aaron Maciver's beautiful young wife, Madeline, suffers a head injury in a bicycle crash, she is left with the mental capabilities of a six-year-old.  In the years that follow, Aaron and his second wife care for Madeline with deep tenderness and devotion as they raise two children of their own."

Even though this is an odd premise, I liked the book.  The story is told by Aaron's son, Mac, who is pretty normal but not nearly as daring as his cousin, Buddy.  It is a great look at the U.S. during the early 80's with the beginning of the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War.  Over all, a pretty good book.  Rating:  4

42. I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson (audio)

Kate Reddy is a working mother of two and a wife.  She also works full time as a hedge fund manager.  With her demanding job, she is always trying to justify her time away from home and try to appear as good as all the other mothers.  The books is quite funny at times, but mostly just nerve-wracking.
Rating:  3.5

41. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Chevalier writes historical fiction that center around known historical figure, in this case, William Blake.  Well, he is not as well known as those in her other books, and mostly just a side character.  The main story involves Tommy Kellaway, new to London from a small village; and Maggie Butterfield, a young girl who has grown up on the streets of London.  It is an interesting look at 18th century London, but overall, the story is not very engaging.  Rating:  3

37, 38, 39 and 40. The Dale series by Gervaise Phinn, Books 1 through 4

Gervaise Phinn is a school inspector in North Yorkshire.  These four books tells of the humorous things that happen when you're working with children.  His obvious love for teaching and children makes these books heart warming and enriching.  During these four books, Gervaise visits multiple schools to observe and help teachers improve their skills in teaching literature, poetry and English.  What a wonderful system.  The children do and say the funniest things and Gerviase's reactions are priceless.  He also falls in love and gets married, deals with an overbearing administrative assistant, and his other colleagues, who are quite the characters.  The school system  has a meeting facility where they hold seminars and showcase the children's work.  The janitor at this place is one of the funnest characters of all.  All the books are great fun.  Rating:  4

Sunday, July 03, 2011

36. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

All her life, Valancy has been told how plain she is.  At the age of 29 and still single, she is a disappointment to her sour mother.  The rest of her extended family treats like a joke and control her every move.  When she learns she has a heart condition and could die at any time, Valancy decides it is time to start living.  She starts by keeping house and looking after the dying daughter of the town drunk.  Her family is horrified and tries to have her committed, but Valancy perseveres and finally starts to experience all the things she was afraid to do before.

Not my favorite Montgomery book, but still charming and old fashioned. 

Rating:  3.75

35. Domestic Pleasures by Beth Gutcheon

From back cover:

"After her husband dies in a plane crash, Martha Gaver is horrified to learn that the executor of Raymond's estate is charlies, the conservative, insufferable lawyer who represented Raymond in their bitter divorce.  Yet soon after they reenter each other's lives, Martha, Charlie, and their teenage children find they have moe in common than they imagined as they struggle to rebuild their lives . . . and that opposites really do attract."

This is the second book by Gutcheon that I've read.  Although it is not quite as good as the first, I still really liked it.  The characters are engaging and it's a great plot which kept me captivated.  I did get a little tired of the teenage angst and the ex-wife's manipulations; but overall I liked the book.
Rating:  4

Sunday, June 19, 2011

34. Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

My sister recommended this series to me so I jumped at a chance to mooch this book.  It's about the third in the series; and, after reading it, I would recoemmend starting at the first.  I know there is some bakground I am missing that would have added to my enjoyment of this book.  It takes place in London shortly after World War One.  Maisie Dobbs was a nurse in the war and then trained to do investigations.  she has left her mentor and started business on her own.  A young woman from a wealthy upperclass family hires her to find out the truth about the death of her artist brother.  He fell from the scaffolding while preparing for an exhibition of his work.  Georgina is sure it was not an accident.  Maisie is such an interesting character, very insightful but also questioning of her own motives.  The author also touches on the plight of the veterans in the city as well as the inequality between the haves and the have-nots.   I enjoyed both the mystery and the background.
Rating:  4.5

33. The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble

This was one hard book to get into.  It begins with Candida Wilton's journal as she tells about her recent divorce and move into a small flat in a less-desirable past of London.  She takes a class on Virgil and meets some women there that she develops kind-of friendships with plus she maintains contact with a really annoying woman from her old home in Suffolk and an old college friend who has fallen on hard times.  Candida si the most colorless character and I didn't care for her at all.  But she gets a small win-fall and decides to visit the places described by Virgil and invites the three women she met in her class along with the old friend and the annoying old neighbor.  The seventh woman to join their group is the tour guide.  During the trip, Candida becomes much more interesting,  When the trip is over, the book takes a reallay odd turn.  I need to quit reading books about older women who are alone and don't know what to do with themselves.  And it was depressing but there is hope at the end. 
Rating:  3.5

32. The Song Reader by Lisa Tucker

Leeann Buth tells this story about her life with her older sister, Mary Beth.  Mary Beth works to support them both while practicing a unique talent of song reading.  She helps people overcome their problems by analyzing the songs they hear in their minds.  A tragedy develops and Mary Beth is blamed.  She goes into a tailspin and it affects all those around her.  Kind of a depressing book that I found just so-so.

Rating:  3

29. - 31. Uglies -- Pretties -- Specials -- by Scott Westerfield

Tally is about to turn sixteen which is when all everyone turns pretty.  In this futuristic series,  the government has decided that wars, strife, petty misunderstandings, jealousy etc. can all be avoided if everyone is pretty.  In the first book, Tally meets Shay who isn't sure she wants to be pretty and runs away, leaving Tally with instructions on how to find her in the unpopulated wilderness.  In Pretties, Tally becomes pretty but knows something is missing and can't remember what.  The last book takes Tally beyond pretty into becoming a Special, part of a police force who are not only pretty but possess unique physical characteristics, almost super natural.  I found these books to be great reads, lots of adventure, a moral of accepting yourself for who you are that is not slammed over your head, and some great characters.  Definitely a young adult book that I would recommend to anyone.
Rating:  4

28. The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini

When Sarah moves to a new town with her husband, she is at loose ends and having trouble finding a job.  The reclusive owner of Elm Creek Manaor offers her a temporary job preparing the estate for sale.  Sarah agrees when she learns Sylvia is a master quilter and is willing to share her secrets as part of Saraah's compensation.  During the lessons, Sarah learns more about Sylvia's life and develops respect and admiration for the older woman.  I like this quote from the back of the book:  "Just as the darker sections of a quilt can enhance the brighter ones, the mistakes of the past can strengthen understanding  and lead the way to new beginnings." 

As a beginning quilter myself, I was interested to read this book, but thought the story a bit simplistic.  It was also very heartwarming.  I just wish I could pick up quilting as fast as Sarah seemed to. 

Rating:  3.5

Saturday, May 21, 2011

27. Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

This story, all four books, is about the making of a hero. It's also about a very stubborn girl.

Alanna of Trebond wants to be a knight of the realm of Tortall, in a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors. Rather than give up her dream, she and her brother--who wants to be a mage, not a knight--switch places. She becomes Alan; Thom becomes a student wizard in the school where she would have learned to be a lady.
The quartet is about her struggle to achieve her goals and to master weapons, combat, polite behavior, her magic, her temper, and even her own heart. It is about friendships--with the heir to the throne, the King of Thieves, a wise and kindly knight--and her long struggle against a powerful enemy mage.
She sees battle as a squire and as a knight, lives among desert people and tries to rescue an independent princess. Singled out by a goddess, accompanied by a semi-divine cat with firm opinions, somehow she survives her many adventures to become a most unlikely legend.   Tamora Pierce website

I was into the third story before I realized that my book is actually a compilation of four smaller books.  Aaah, that explains what I thought was unnecessary explanations about things I had just read about in the previous "chapter."  So that was just a minor annoyance in a really good fantasy.  Alanna is a tremendous character as she struggles to learn to become a knight while disguised as a boy.  There are lots of really great characters and evil villains in these four books and the magic and adventure are riveting.  My only gripe is the depiction of Alanna sleeping with her three love interests (not at the same time, but this is a young adult book).  While there is nothing graphic, I thought it was unnecessary and even a bit disturbing in its casualness.  Other than that, I thought the story was great.  Rating:  4

26. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb," the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation-one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.

He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials-an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force's plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover worked behind the scenes to have a hearing board find that Oppenheimer could not be trusted with America's nuclear secrets.

American Prometheus sets forth Oppenheimer's life and times in revealing and unprecedented detail. Exhaustively researched, it is based on thousands of records and letters gathered from archives in America and abroad, on massive FBI files and on close to a hundred interviews with Oppenheimer's friends, relatives and colleagues.

We follow him from his earliest education at the turn of the twentieth century at New York City's Ethical Culture School, through personal crises at Harvard and Cambridge universities. Then to Germany, where he studied quantum physics with the world's most accomplished theorists; and to Berkeley, California, where he established, during the 1930s, the leading American school of theoretical physics, and where he became deeply involved with social justice causes and their advocates, many of whom were communists. Then to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he transformed a bleak mesa into the world's most potent nuclear weapons laboratory-and where he himself was transformed. And finally, to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which he directed from 1947 to 1966.

American Prometheus is a rich evocation of America at midcentury, a new and compelling portrait of a brilliant, ambitious, complex and flawed man profoundly connected to its major events-the Depression, World War II and the Cold War. It is at once biography and history, and essential to our understanding of our recent past-and of our choices for the future.

This is such a massive book that I blatantly used someone else's summary.  Don't be dismayed by the size of it.  It has to be big since it took twenty-five years to write, but it's well worth the effort.  Not only did I learn about the enigma that is J Robert Oppenheimer, I also learned about the creation of the atomic bomb, America in the 40's and 50's and the whole McCarthy anti-communist movement.  While Oppenheimer is a hard man to like, his story is compelling.  The book won a Pulitzer prize and I can understand why.  Rating:  4.5

Thursday, May 05, 2011

25. Survivor in Death by J D Robb (audio)

I always need a good action book to keep me awake when I'm driving by myself; and, for the most part, Survivor in Death did a pretty good job.  I like the Eve Dallas series for several reasons:  1.  It takes places in New York City in the year 2059 and some of the technology is outrageous.  2.  Eve Dallas is the ultimate strong woman, perfect cop with a heart of steel with just a touch of marshmellow at the center and a past that still gives her nightmares.  3.  Roarke, Eve's husband, is the most delicious male character ever written.  4.  The mysteries are always gripping with great details and interesting twists.  5.  The humor between straight arrow Eve and her fellow police officers keeps things from getting too serious and makes the books even better.  What I don't like is the profanity which is impossible to get away from on an audio version and the explicit sex which is very easy to skip as you see it coming a mile away. 

This particular book involves the mass murder of a family while they are sleeping.  The killers make one mistake and kill a girl who is sleeping over while the real daughter has gone to the kitchen for a snack.  When she sees the shadows, she calls the police and then hides.  Eve finds her and takes her to her home for protection when she realizes the killers will not be satisfied until the mission is completed.  When 9-year-old Nixie is taken to say good-by to her her family in the morgue, it is pretty gut-wrenching.  You don't often find that sort of emotion in an Eve Dallas book, but I thought Robb did a good job with the way she portrayed the little girl's grief and loss.  I did find the rehashing of Eve's early childhood trauma to be tedious as it is covered in almost every book.  Probably important if this is the first of the series you had read, but I would suggest starting at the first and then you might get tired of the angst as well.  I do want to give a shout-out to the narrator, Susan Erickson.  She does an excellent job with the different voices, especially Roarke's Irish accent.  With her narration, I had no problem keeping up with the story and the characters.  Rating:  4

24. Dead Sleep by Greg Iles

Photojournalist Jordan Glass is visiting a museum in Japan and finds herself face-to-face with a painting of herself naked and sleeping.  She quickly realizes that the painting must be of her twin sister who has been missing for a year and Jane is not asleep, she is dead.  Jordan realizes that all the paintings in the exhibit called "Sleeping Women" are actually of dead women.  She quickly returns to the U.S. and joins forces with the FBI and an investigator in New Orleans where most of the women disappeared.  As she tries to find out if here sister truly is dead and who took her,  Jordan begins to also learn more about her father, a famous photographer who went missing in Vietnam twenty years earlier.  This mystery had plenty of suspense and action; and its view into the high dollar stakes of the art world was very interesting.  However, I found the romance that develops between Jordan and the investigator to be implausible and contrived.  Rating:  4

23. Spirits in the Wires by Charles de Lint

Spirits in the Wires is the second de Lint book that I have read and it should have been read before Widdershins.  I would have enjoyed them both even more if I had read them chronologically.  Even so, I really liked this book.  The town of Newford is a magical place even if very few of the resident humans realize what is happening around them.   But, when people start disappearing into a website called Wordwood, everyone takes notice until the site master controls the flow of information and makes it seem as if computers are not involved at all.  Christy (a guy) Ridding's girlfriend is one of those who was sucked into the site; and with the help of his friends, both magical and otherwise, they journey to the otherworld to rescue Saskia.  This story is fantasy and science fiction rolled into one and a great tale of computers run amok.  The visual of being inside a website and the dangers of viruses and crashing is absolutely stunning.  What an imaginative and intriguing book.  I look forward to reading another Newford novel soon.  I should deduct a little for the cover which I don't feel added to the story at all, but I won't  Rating:  5

Sunday, April 17, 2011

22. The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn

From back of book:
"The year is 1880, and Bertie, having just arrived in New York with her family, is grateful to be given work as a seamstress inthe home of textile tycoon, J. P. Wellington.  When the Wellington family fortune is threatened, Bertie's father boasts that Bertie will save the business, that she is so skillful she can "practically spin straw into gold."

Amazingly, in the course of one night, Bertie creates esquisite evening gowns -- with the help of Ray Stalls, a man from her tenement who uses an old spinning wheel to create dresses that are woven with crimson thread and look as though they are spun with real gold. Indebted to Ray, Bertie asks how she can repay him.  When Ray asks for her firstborn child, Berties agrees, never dreaming that he is serious . . . "

As you can tell, this is story is based on the old Rumpelstiltkin fairy tale.  It just doesn't have the tension or menace that the original story has.  In fact, it was pretty bland and the ending wrapped up too quickly and neatly.  I would call this a pleasant read but nothing too compelling.  A bit disappointing.  Rating:  3.5

21. The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

"Joey Margolis is a mouthy Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn. After one too many beatings from the neighborhood bullies, he claims NY Giants' 3rd baseman Charles Banks is his best friend. When he's pressured for proof, Joey writes to Banks to request a home run, starting a flurry of funny, emotionally authentic letters. The letter exchange - peppered by miscellaneous newspaper articles, report cards and psychiatrist's transcripts - continues over a period of seven years, chronicling Joey and Banks' tumultuous but fiercely devoted friendship. The unlikely pair crack jokes, poke fun, threaten, boss, cajole, confide, advise and offer support to one another as the two face extended tours, Bar Mitzvahs, first girlfriends, last girlfriends and absentee fathers.

It is not only Joey's coming of age that is revealed in their notes, but Banks' too. Yeah, there's some baseball talk, but although the sport is what brings the characters together, it's still secondary to the sincere, funny, totally believable relationship between a boy and his reluctant hero."  axisgrid
I loved this book, enough to use someone else's review because it said what I wanted to say so well.  I love the letter, ephemera, clippings, etc format.  It made the book a quick read but let you see into the characters minds so well.  And Joey, Charlie and the rest of the cast are fantastic characters.  The humor is wonderful and the story, heartwarming.  Definitely a keeper which I highly recommend.  Rating:  5

Sunday, April 10, 2011

20. The Catalpa Tree by Denyse Devlin

"When Jude is orphaned at fourteen, her father’s best friend comes to the rescue. Oliver wants to remain her friend as well as her guardian, but spirited Jude isn’t a girl you can shelter from the world – not after she’s already suffered so much heartache. And with each passing year, both Jude and Oliver struggle in their own ways against the ties that bind them. What place has love inside and outside of their relationship?"

Jude and Oliver are fantastic characters and the story really draws you in.  You admire Jude for the way she handles the death of her father and being forced into a family that isn't always comfortable for her.  Her growth as a teenager into a young woman is very believable and was so thoughtfully written.  She is not perfect, quite selfish and self-centered, moody and often irritating, but never boring.  I loved Oliver.  He is handsome and urbane; but loving, giving and humorously neurotic.  Although it is hard to become parent to a fourteen-year-old girl, he never gives up on her or their relationship.  I really enjoyed this book, right up to the end which I absolutely hated.  It made no sense to me and it was depressing.  I can't say much about it because I would hate to give the ending away.  Others may like it.  (Cassie??)  Rating:  3.5 (I deducted a full point cheating me out of a better end.)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

19. Last Witness by Jilliane Hoffman

This is the second book starring C J Townsend, an Assistant State Attorney in Miami.  If you want to read this series, start with the first; I always felt I was missing something because I hadn't. 

In this book, cops are being brutally murdered and a pattern soon emerges.  Only CJ makes the connection between the murders and herself.  Her guilt and fear drives a wedge between her and her boyfriend, Domick, who is a Special Investigator with eh state working on solving the murders.  While there is a proper amount of suspense in the book, there is also a lot of explicit carnage, blood and violence.  I also had a hard time sympathizing with what CJ does to cover up past misdeeds.  She just didn't mesh with me.  The reader is given broad hints throughout as to who the murderer is so the solving of the myster is quite anticlimatic.  A bit of a disappointment.
Rating:  3

Sunday, April 03, 2011

18. Long Spoon Lane by Anne Perry

I haven't read any Charlotte and Thomas Monk book for several years and had forgotten how enjoyable this couple is.  Charlotte comes from an upper-society family but fell  in love with Thomas (gasp, he is a lowly policeman) in the first book in the series.  They defy family and society and get married.  In this book, they live in a normal home with their two children and a housekeeper.  Thomas has been forced to leave the police department and is now working with Special Forces in an attempt to curb the anarchists who are trying to create a new society.  The book is full of police corruption and intrigue at the higest levels of Parliament.  Thomas forms an uneasy alliance with an old enemy to thwart the ambitions of a mutaul enemy.  I like the historical aspects of this book (late 1800's, I believe) when the police were just beginning to be accepted.  Plus Thomas and Charlotte are wonderful characters.  It was a good book with a good mystery, danger, and action.  A great series.  Rating:  4.25

17. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Deilemna by Trenton Lee Stewart

Once again, the four kids find themselves in a perilous situation with the evil Mr. Curtain trying to take advantage of their gifts and gain control of the world.  At the time, the children and their families are all living with Mr. Benedict in order to protect them from Mr. Curtain and his minions.  (Minions is a delicious word, isn't it?)  Of course, things go awry and the children find themselves in a prison where they attempt to escape and send a warning to Mr. Benedict.  The fact the Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain are brothers, and both suffer from narcolepsy just adds to the humor of these books.  And there is plenty of adventure and drama as well.  Great books for older children to read.  Rating:  4.5

Saturday, March 26, 2011

16. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Take four gifted children  (Reynie, a young boy who has a gift for analyzing information and making the right conclusion, Sticky who remembers everything, Kate, who is gifted both physically and mentally, and 3-year-old Constance who is grumpy and a real pain but also psychic) and send them on a treasure hunt around the world.  The hunt turns out to be for life-and-death stakes against the nefarious Mr. Curtain who has managed to kidnapped Mr. Benedict and his right-hand assistant, Number Two.  This book is loaded with adventure, humor and suspense.  It's just a fun read and I'm diving right into the third book in the series.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, March 20, 2011

15. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Here is part of an interview from the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog with David Small, who illustrated this well-written children's novel: 

David’s most recent illustrated work is The Underneath, Kathi Appelt’s impressive debut novel (published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in May and reviewed here at 7-Imp). The novel—which tells the story of an old hound, a calico cat, two kittens, the muddy Bayou Tartine of East Texas, a man named Gar-Face, an Alligator King, and an ancient, mystical creature trapped inside a large jar at the base of a tree, buried centuries ago—is a wonder, at turns magical and mysterious, and Appelt’s prose mesmerizing.

We asked David what it was like to read the novel for the first time and if he could talk a bit about creating the illustrations for it.

“I was amazed by the twists and turns of the story,” he said, “by the range of characters, both animal and human, and by the tone of mournful, nostalgic poetry in the prose. My biggest problem illustrating it was in keeping those kittens from looking too adorable. (This was not the Disney version.) Also, what to do with Gar Face’s horrible face? I decided the best thing to do was not to show it, which led me to use some camera angles I might not have considered otherwise.”

The illustrations are amazing and you can read the entire interview here.

At first, I didn't love this book.  The sentences are quite choppy and the story jumps from character to charcter and between different time periods.  But there is a poetry to the narrative that is quite magical and you soon get drawn in.  It's very sad, suspenseful and has a beautiful ending.  I recommend it.  Rating:  4.25

14. Saints by Orson Scott Card

I love so many of Card's book:  the three Ender series books I've read and Enchantment:  that I really hesitated to read his historical fiction based on the early days of the Mormon church.  But I'm trying to read the really big books on my shelves; and, at 712 pages, this one called out to me. 

We first meet Dinah Kirkham at the age of ten in Manchester, England in 1829.  What a horrible time and place to be poor.  More than a third of the book follows the Kirkham family as they struggle to survive and better themselves.  Card portrays this stark existence so well along with the conflict between Dinah's two brothers, Robert and Charlie.  Then the mother, Dinah, and Charlie meet a Mormon missionary and are converted overnight.  I'm not sure I buy the overnight conversion; but in the interest of the story about a family and early Mormonism, I'm glad the author didn't spend a lot of time following a more believable conversion process.  Like all the other English converts, the Kirkhams are called to emigrate to Nauvoo, Illinois.  The harrowing ocean crossing was heart breaking as well as the description of early Nauvoo.  It's Dinah's immediate attraction to Prophet Joseph Smith and his to her that left me cold.  Let's face it, most of us Mormons like to remember the truly great things that Joseph accomplished in his short life.  And we're not comfortable with the plural maariage issue.  I do think Card's depiction of polygamy helped me understand it more.  Even if the Lord commanded the practice,  it makes sense that a man would want to marry women that he loved if at all possible.  I know the Church doesn't really talk a lot about Joseph Smith being a polygamist, maybe because his wife, Emma, was so adamant against it.  And the book is pretty hard on Emma.  She is not very likeable at all although Card never suggests that Joseph felt anything less than total love and respect for her.  In fact, Joseph is shown to be very human, sometimes vain, sometimes too trusting, (how does a Prophet of God let a man like John Bennet into his inner circle?), obviously untruthful to his wife, but always determined to follow the commandments he receives from the Lord and always compassionate to his followers.  Brigham Young is shown in quite an unfavorable light and yet Dinah marries him after the exodus to Utah.  The story touches on much of the persecution which the early Saints suffered  but never digresses from the actual story of Dinah and her family.  Card makes Dinah sound like a true historical figure but she is obviously based loosely on Eliza R Snow, a much venerated early pioneer woman.  From the pictures I've seen of her later in life, she seems to have been quite formidable.  As always, Card tells a compelling story with fascinating characters.  I'm glad I read it, but I know I won't want to read it again.  Rating:  3.5

P.S.  What's with the Harlequin Romance cover?  It made it hard for me to want to read this at all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

13. The Tale of Applebeck Orchard by Susan Wittig Albert

Once again, we visit the beautiful Land Between the Lakes and follow Beatrix Potter as she becomes embroiled in the life of Near Sawrey.  Potter is making one of her rare visits to her beloved farm right when controversy strikes in the form of a public pathway being boarded up.  The villagers are up in arms, shots are fired, a haystack is burned down and a ghost is seen walking through the orchard.  Of course, there are several side stories involving the romances of some of the villagers and Potter herself.  Along with the human drama, the book also includes that goings on of several of the local animal life especially Max the Manx and Bosworth Badger.  So I initially found the parts with the animals to be cloying and a bit silly, but the author managed to charm me into accepting it with her early 1900 language and asides to the reader.  Mostly the books just make me want to visit this part of England and experience it for myself.  Rating:  4

12. Death of a Dreamer by M C Beaton

I like Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series much better than the one with Agatha Raisin.  he is a more sympathitic character, handsome if a bit lazy and a good policeman who is content to stay in the small hamlet of Lockdubh.  Dreamer has the usual murder, this time an unpleasant woman who recently moved to Lockdubh and has alienated most of the population.  It's fun to read how Hamish solves the mystery while contending with the attention of three attraactive women.  Just a fun, light-hearted read when you don't want to think to hard.  Rating:  3.75

Sunday, March 06, 2011

11. Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

I can always count on Dame Christie's books to captivate me with a good mystery and some great characters.  In this story, we find Elinor Carlisle in the docks, accused of murder.  The case against is her is almost too good to be true; and Hercule Poirot always finds that a bit suspect.  He is hired to find evidence that Elinor did not commit the crime so we are taken back to the beginning of the story when Elinor and her fiance travel to visit an invalid aunt and the young woman who is helping to care for her.  The fiance falls for the young woman, the doctor falls for Elinor, the aunt dies, the young woman is poisoned and Elinor is the only likely candidate.  As always, Agatha Christie writes a gripping mystery that kept me guessing right to the end.  Just what I needed.  Rating:  4

10. Forever by Pete Hamill

I loved Pete Hamill's North River, but was very disappointed with The Gift.  Still I had high hopes for Forever because it had such an interest premise.  Cormac O'Connor is a young man growing up in Ireland in the early 1700's.  His father is a blacksmith and his mother tells him beautiful stories and surrounds him with love.  His world is rocked when the mother throws herself in front of the Earl's carriage to save Cormac's life.  Several years later, his father is killed by the Earl's henchman because the Earl want his horse.  Cormac swears vengeance against the Earl, to kill him and any children he may have.  He follows the Earl to New York City where he becomes involved with the Irish community as well as a burgeoning black community.  During an uprising, Cormac is given the gift of eternal life as long as he remains on the island on Manhattan or until he meets a woman with spirals on her body.  So we get to see the growth of New York from a village to the a modern-day metropolis through the eyes of a Cormac, who never dies.  I was really intrigued by this storyline when I bought the book but became disappointed the more I read.  The first quarter of the book takes place in Ireland, then follows Cormac to America.  It describes 1730's New York, a bit of the Revolutionary War on the island, jumps ahead to the 1840's, then a bit about Boss Tweed and ends with modern Manhattan.  I know it couldn't follow everything that happened in the growth of the city, but I found these choices a bit odd, even though there was some interesting history included.  And there was way too much time wasted on sexual exploits.  I do think Hamill is a gifted writer in the pictures he builds through his words, and I liked the way the story ended; but the first quarter of the book and the last two pages didn't make up for the rest of the story which just did not satisfy me.  Rating:  3

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

9. Soul Searching by Shannon Guymon

After my last book, I decided to read something light and fluffy, and an LDS romance seemed perfect.  This is a story about a young woman, Micah,who feels out of place in her ward and unable to meet the expectations of her demanding father.  Of course, she is totally gorgeous and smart and just doesn't realize her potential because she has been verbally put down by her father so often.  Then her father marries a girl younger than herself who is the exact opposite of Micah which leads to her rebellion and finding out that she is a pretty great person after all.  Sounds a little trite, doesn't it?  Well, it is; and there are just so many things going on in this story, all neatly wrapped up and solved in the last few pages.  Even though it met the criteria for light and fluffy, it was not as satisfying as I had hoped.  Not my favorite Guymon novel.  Rating:  3

Monday, February 28, 2011

8. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Set in Barcelona shortly after WWII, this book is the story of the young son of a bookseller who becomes obsessed with a book called The Shadow of the Wind written by Julian Carax.  Daniel wants to learn more about the author and only finds more mystery and intrigue as he grows older and more involved with the intrigue surrounding Carax.  This review by Stephen King sums it up, "If you thought the true gothic novel died with the nineteenth century, this will change your mind.  The Shadow of the Wind is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots . . . This is one gorgeous read."   I have to admit this book was a little too dark for my tastes, but there came a point when I really did become caught up in the story, where all the subplots started to come together.  I think my daughter, Cassie, would really like it.  Zafon does write beautifully and I've included some wonderful quotes about books:

"Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul.  The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it.  Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens."

"Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.  Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later--no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget--we will return."

Really beautiful writing but the story was a little too disturbing.  I did like the ending, I liked the story of Daniel and Bea, Fermin and Bernarda, but overall, just a so-so read for me.  Rating:  3.5

Sunday, February 20, 2011

7. The Lottery by Patricia Wood

I know I got this book because I had read some great reviews about it.  The premise of a man with a low IQ winning the lottery grabbed my attention.  Right now, I'm having a hard time deciding what to read next, so I picked this one simply because it's a bigger book and hard back.  (Trying to make more room in the library by reading the big books first)  I like the character of Perry.  He is simple and good hearted, works hard and loves his grandmother.  What's not to like?  What I didn't like was the overwhelming use of the F-bomb.  After twenty or so pages, I called it quits.  Unless someone gives me a compelling reason to try this again, I will probably sell it at my yard sale next summer. 
Rating:  DNF

6. The Society by Michael Palmer

I think I am done with medical mysteries.  They all seem to follow the same story line:  bad doctors get rich and powerful and kill to protect or increase their power.  Rogue doctor stumbles on secrets and is framed to keep anyone from believing him/her.  There is always a love interest which develops incredibly fast possibly because of the intensity of the dangerous situation the couple find themselves in. 

In The Society, the bad guys are not all doctors, just the rich heads of HMO's who are denying care to middle America.  Dr Will Grant is a member of the Hippocratic Society which is fighting the callousness of the HMO's.  Of course, he finds himself drugged and at risk of losing his medical license and facing possible drug charges and a malpractice suit; but he finds love in spite of it all.  And the whole HMO system is brought to its knees because of the greed of the ones in this book. 

Palmer does raise some pretty scary questions about the state of medical care in the U.S.  I know there is no easy solution, but it is a huge mess.  He seems firmly against HMO's but doesn't give any ideas on how to make medical more affordable or how to tackle the whole issue of insurance, etc.  Not that I want to read about any of that in a murder mystery, but still . . .
Rating:  3

Thursday, February 17, 2011

5. Dearly Departed by Tristi Pinkston

The second book in the Secret Sisters Mystery series was a quick, fun read.  Ida Mae Babbitt finds herself depending on the Relief Society sisters after a couple of accidents leaves her with a broken ankle and wrist.  She chafes at her inability to serve others and being forced to be the recipient of the service of others.  In the meantime, Arlette's granddaughter, Eden, gets pulled into a murder mystery.  Soon the whole ex-Relief Society Presidency gets pulled into an investigation of a care center where all is not as it seems.  Tristi has written an interesting, crisp  mystery that makes sense but is not too easily solved.  Her humor shines through every page without becoming slapstick.  The dynamics of the ladies gels even more in this sequel and I liked the romantic side stories.  I also enjoy reading an LDS book where the religion is portrayed throught he characters lifestyle without any sermonizing.  The book doesn't attempt to convert or cover doctrinal issues.  But we get glimpses of what Mormonism is by who these ladies are.  I look forward to the nest installment in this issue.  How are you coming along on that, Tristi?
Rating:  4.5

4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson

Hornest's Nest takes off exactly where the previous book ended with Lisbeth in the hospital and bodies being discovered all over the place.  I found this book harder to follow as the cast of charcters becomes incredibly large and the plot incredibly complicated.  There is a lot of discussion about Sweden's constitutional laws which I found tiresome.  The book follows the investigation into the murders from the 2nd book and another investigation into a secret department within Sweden's Secret Service.  While the conclusion was satisfying, I thought there was too much going on and not enough of Lisbeth and Mikhail.  These two characters make the books.
Rating:  3.5

3. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

I rarely read a series back-to-back, but this one called for it.  I'm glad I had the second book ready so I could keep up with a growing cast of characters and try to keep all the events straight.  There is a lot going on in this book as we foolow Lisbeth and Mikhail on two different paths to solve the same crime.  In this book, two of Mikhail's colleagues are brutally murdered and Lisbeth is blamed.  A massive manhunt begins to find what the papers characterize as a violent, Satanic sociopath.  Lisbeth manages to elude capture because, contrary to what the media is reporting, she is incredibly smart and wily.  Like the first book, this one has way too much violence and sexual content and would be better without it.  But the action is gripping and the mystery unfolds layer by layer, drawing you in.  The end of this book is a definite cliff-hanger which explains why I downloaded the third to my Kindle.  More on that in the next review.
Rating:  4

Sunday, February 06, 2011

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Well, there's too much sexual content, profanity and violence in this book, but I still liked it.  There are two main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Mikhail Blomkvist, who don't even meet until halfway through the book.  Mikhail is a journalist who has just lost a libel case and will be spending three months in jail.  He is offered a job by a billionaire to solve the murder of his niece thirty years ago.  Along the way, he realizes he needs help and also learns that he was investigated before getting the new job by a crack investigator, Lisbeth.  Now here is a hard-to-define character.  She has been declared incompetent with violent tendencies by that state and has to report to a guardian.  She is anti-social and has a weird sense of morality.  And she can hack into any computer.  Together the two develop a relationship while solving the case and uncovering some really rotten family secrets.  Mikhail is a likable, interesting character right from the start, but Lisbeth grows on you.  And the mystery is pretty compelling.  The book lives up to all the hype it has been receiving.  I'm now reading the second in the series; and it's pretty gripping.  More to follow . . . Rating:  4

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1. To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S Monson by Heidi S Swinton

Cassie gave me an authographed copy of this book for Christmas which was very exciting.  As the president of the LDS church, Thomas S Monson is a much-admired man and I was anxious to know more about him.  This book does not disappoint.  At first, I was a little put off by the writing style.  As early incidents in the prophet's life are described, Swinton would tie them into later experiences as a type of foreshadowing.  But I soon got over it.  The fact is is that Monson is a remarkable man.  He grew up in normal circumstances and seems to have been a pretty good kid but not a saint by any means.  The book gives a great lesson in how important it is to teach your kids to serve others and to love the Lord.  What I found most impressive about President Monson is his immense capacity to serve and the total energy he has to give.  And he was still able to give his family quality time, read books and continue learning, and raise prize chickens.  I love that he raises chickens.  I am so amazed at his mental abilities as well.  I have always felt great love from this man and the book reinforces that as well.  I love that there are lots of photos included so you can see his ancestors, children and associates.  Obviously, the author is a huge admirer of her subject, but can you blame her?  Even though I am trying desperately to downsize my library, this book is a welcome addition.  Thanks for the great gift, Cassie.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

78. The Cat Who Came for Christmas by Cleveland Amory

Every year at Christmas, I like to read a few Christmas novels to help me with my seriously lacking Christmas spirit.  The author, an animal activist who runs a animal rescue foundation and a self-proclaimed dog person, tells how he becomes the owner of a straggler, half-wild cat on Christmas Eve.   First of all, it's not really a Christmas story so that was a disappointment.  Second, I'm not an animal activist but I found some of his stories about efforts to relieve animal suffering around the world interesting but didn't really relate.  But mostly, I found his conversations with the cat became a little tedious after a while.  I've owned several cats in the past and loved them, but I never felt like they were actually talking to me.   I'm probably not a good listener.  I did like the fact that the cat does not die at the end of the book.  That was a refreshing change from other cat books that I have read.  Several times I considered quitting the book mid-stream but did manage to finish it, just didn't love it.  Maybe if I had read it at a different time, I would have enjoyed it more??  Rating:  2.5

77. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Whenever I need a good laugh, I can always count on Terry Pratchett's books to provide one.  This book is no exception.  It tells the tale of a wizard rushing to a remote location to pass his staff on to the eighth son of an eighth son just as the baby is born.  Unfortunately, the baby turns out to be a girl; but the wizard is taken by Death just as the transfer is made.  But girls can't be wizards.  So a witch takes Esk under her wing to train her to use the magic within her.  But the staff is always there in the background; and it become apparent that Esk should try to attend the Unseen University to become a full-fledged wizard.  The whole book is highly entertaining.  I'm not sure exactly what book follows this one in the recommended reading order because my chart is packed in some obscure box, but I'm hoping to read more about Esk, Granny the witch, and Simon.  As always, Pratchett has created a bunch of great characters in a tale that pokes fun at everything.  Rating:  4.5