Monday, May 28, 2012

40. When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

"Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

"In a small town square of a sleepy Georgia town, seven-year-old Annie sits at her lemonade stand, raising money for her own heart transplant. At a nearby store, Reese flips through the newspaper, thinking about the latest boat hes restoring. As a beat-up bread truck careens around the corner, a strong wind blows Annies money into the road. Reese looks up in time to see Annies yellow dress fluttering in the wind as she runs into the road. What happens next will change both of their lives forever. Richly atmospheric and evocative, with the kind of characters that move into your heart and take up residence, Charles Martins new novel will resonate with fans of God-haunted southern fiction, and with anyone who enjoys a solidly crafted, heart-touching story."  Amazon Review

"The human heart is remarkable in that it is designed to pump continuously  for a hundred and twenty years without ever needing to be reminded what is was meant to do.  It just does it.  In all my reading and study, I have come to know one thing without any shadow of doubt:  if anything in this universe reflects the fingerprints of God, it is the human heart."

I loved this book.  I learned so much about the human heart . . . really fascinating facts about the organ we all take for granted but simply can't live without.  But the book also explores the heart as the center of our feelings, thoughts and experiences.  It is beautiful how Martin intertwines these two views in a wonderful story about love and redemption.  Through the whole story, Reese fights against what he is meant to do until a final gripping experience shows him the way.  Rating:  5

Monday, May 21, 2012

39. Village School by Miss Read

Miss Read is the schoolmistress at a small school in the village of Fairacre.  In this book, you meet Miss Read and the teachers she works with and all the children in the school.   Although a time is not given, I think it takes place shortly after WWII.  The school does not have running water and toilet facilities.  They burn coke for warmth and the children all walk to school.  There is not a lot of wealth in the village.  It's small and everyone knows everyone's business.  It's a feel-good story, the first of a series, but not one I feel the need to continue with.  Rating:  3

38. Half Magic by Edward Eager

Jane is the oldest and Mark is the only boy. Next comes Katharine.  Martha is the youngest and very difficult.  Their mother works all day and they are spedning the summer being watched by Miss Bick, who is a bit sour.  It seems like they are facing a long, boring summer until Jane finds a nickel and puts it in her pocket.  She wishes there were a fire to liven things up and suddenly fire engines are racing down the street to put out a snalll fire on the next block.  The children figure out that the nickel is magic but only grants half the wish.  They take turns making wishes but make sure they wish for twice what they want.  Of course, sometimes they forget the formula and chaos ensues.  It all makes up for a fun, humorous read and a great book for kids.  Rating:  3.75 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

37. Death of a Valentine by M C Beaton (audio)

A Hamish Macbeth Mystery

From the back cover:
"Amazing news has spread across the Scottish countryside.  The most famous of highland bachelors, police sergeant Hamish Macbeth, will be married at last.  Everyone in the village of Lockdubh adores Josie McSween, Macbeth's newest constable and blushing bride-to-be.

While the locals think Josie is quite a catch, Hamish has a case of prenuptial jitters.  After all, if it weren;t for the recent murder of a beautiful woman in a neighboring village, there wouldn't be a wedding at all.  For it was a mysterious Valentine's Day package -- delivered to th victim before her death -- that initially drew Hamish and Josie together on the investigation.  As they work side by side, Hamish and Josie soon discover that the woman's list of admirers was endless, confirming Hamish's suspicion that love can be blind, deaf . . . and deadly."

I enjooyed the murder investigation part of the novel quite a bit.  Hamish is a good detective who just wants to do his job and avoid promotions.  The mystery is interesting without the solution being too obscure. The characters of his village are humorous as they matchmake and gossip.  However, the thing between Josie and Hamish was incredibly annoying.  I can't say too much without giving away the ending, but this was not my favorite Hamish book, although I did enjoy listening to the story in a Scottish brogue.  Rating:  3

Sunday, May 13, 2012

36. Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Thre three witches are back but one, Magrat, has had a falling out with the other two.  She moves to the castle where she is soon to be wed to the king.  A more odd royal couple does not exist.  Magrat is a witch and Verrance used to be the fool to a past king.  They know nothing about ruling and so study books to learn about the proper etiquette of their jobs and tasks, including producing the future heir.  In the meantime, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are busy trying to prevent a takeover of the land by elves.  In this book, elves are not the fun and fey creatures I've read about in other fantasies.  They are beautiful, mean, cruel and devious.  Four wizards including the Librarian (an orang-utan) travel to Lancre from the Unseen University to attend the wedding and become enmeshed in the unleashing of the fury of the elves just before the wedding takes place.  As usual, the book is filled with the most hilarious quips and antics.  Here is one quote I marked:  At circle time, when the walls between this and that are thinner, when there are all sorts of strange leakages . . . Ah,  then choices are made.  then  the universe can be sent careening down a different leg of the well-known Trousers of Time."  I find Pratchett's imagination and humor to be breathtaking.  Rating:  4.75

35. A Night Too Dark by Dana Stabenow (audio)

This audio book was just the ticket for my 45-minute drive to and from work each day.  Kate Shugak is a great character; and I've read all the other series up to this point.  There have been a few that didn't live up to my expectations but this one was great.  Most of the story takes place in the Park in the state of Alaska where Kate is serving as the head of the Niniltna Native Association.  Along with trying to work with the life-changing discovery of gold on state-owned lands in the Park, she must also investigate a couple of suspicious suicides.  As always, there is humor in the way Kate deals with her fellow human beings, especially those she doesn't care for.  She is a strong, capable woman who those who know her treat with a touch of fear and a great deal of respect.    Thankfully, there were only a couple of sex scenes which I was able to fast forward through without any problem.  However, the profanity was profound, to say the least, and lessened my enjoyment of this book.
Rating:  3.75

34. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman

Not really an autobiography, this book is a collection of writings and speeches by Richard Feynman, an outspoken Nobel Prize-winning scientist.  While the introduction by Albert Tibbs laments the fact that the book doesn't include enough of Feynman's scientific accomplishments, I found there were more than enough for my taste.  Let's face it, I am not fascinated by details of physics.  By his own admission, Feynman is not just a brilliant physicist (he never says that about himself), but he is also a bit of a womanizer, a liberal, and a very curious guy who likes to learn about an eclectic range of subjects.  You can get an idea about Feynman's wide range of interests from the titles of the chapters.  Here's a few:  "Who Stole the Door?", "Meeeeeeeeeee!", "Safecracker Mets Safecracker", "Certainly, Mr. Big", "But Is It Art?", and "Alfred Nobel's Other Mistake." 

Here's the description from the back cover:
"Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize in physics, was one fo the world's greatest theoretical physicists and thrived on outrageous adventure.  His eyebrow-raising behavior once shocked a Princeton dean's wife to exclaim:  "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!"  Feynman was surely the only person in history to solve the mystery of liquid helium, to be commissioned to paint a naked female toreador, and to crack the uncrackable safes guarding the atomic bomb's most critical secrets.  He traded ideas with Einstein and Bohr, discussed gambling odds wiht Nick the Greek, and accompanied a ballet on the bongo drums.  Here, woven with his scintillating views on modern science, is Feynman's astonishing life story -- a combustible misture of high intelligence, unlimited  curiosity, eternal skepticism, and raging chutzpah."

I've enjoyed reading the biographies of Richard Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein; but I think this may be my last.  The stories were mostly humorous and interesting; but by the end, I was tired of the book.  Rating:  2.75

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

33. Bleeding Hearts by Susan Wittig Albert

China Bayles is back, working her butt off at her herbs shop, cartering parties with her new catering business and running a tea shop in the back room.  But she manages to find time to help the principal of the local high school investigate the rumor that the school's popular and winning football coach was involved with a student at his former coaching post.  She learns that the girl has committed suicide a few years after the affair and has a hard time finding any hard evidence.  In the meantime, she is dealing with her teenage stepson's girlfriend problems and worrying about the man her business partner, Ruby, is madly in love with.  There's a lot going on here, but it's all worth reading.  I even like the herbal tips and recipes included in the book, although I will probably never get around to using them.  If you like the China Bayles series, you should like this one as well.  Rating:  4

32. Killrod: The Cross of Lorraine Murders by Bill Ison

From back of book:

"A sculptor in the film studios, Hart St. James, wakes up with a bloody head next to Hollywood's most luminous film star.  Kelly Moran is dead, her skull brutally crushed and her eyes taped open.  The unlikely relationship between a movie star and a studio craftsman hass not survived their first night together.  Why?

St James, a Vietnam veteran, is determined to find out who and why by following the slender, treacherous threads of a trail that ultimately leads to a professional assassin and the very inner workings of the federal government."

Even though the main character ends up in bed with the murder victim, there is very little sex in this book which I liked.  The violence is not graphically described although it is definitely there, since some of the main clues in this case come from the way the victims are killed.  Still, Hart St. James is a great character, flawed, luckily still alive, and smart enough to take on a very canny killer.  This book is one of the better thrillers that I have read in a while, smart and gripping.  Rating: 4

31. Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite authors for children's books.  She creates such authentic characters with interesting storylines that you don't have to be ten years old to enjoy.  Dallas and Florida are thirteen-year-old twins who have lived at the Boxton Creek Home for Children as long as they can remember.  The couple who run the home have a long list of strict rules which the borther and sister have a hard time obeying.  So they are always in trouble.  And when they get placed in a foster home, it doesn't last and they end up back at Boxton.  When an older couple decide to go on separate trips, they ask for the twins to accompany them.  Before the trips begin, the twins live with the couple in their cabin in Ruby Holler, practicing hiking and river rafting.  The way the couple treats these two orphans is so heartwarming and, when the actual trips begin, hilarity ensues.  Rating:  4.25