Sunday, July 29, 2012

63. Miracle Cure by Harlen Coben (audio)

I've found that mysteries and thrillers are the best books to listen to while I'm driving to work and back each day.  This book was particularly compelling with its twists and turns.  I was quite far into the story before I began to suspect who the culprit was.  It's a good thing not to be able to solve the mystery too soon.   Here's a synopsis from the back of the book:

"They're one of the country's most telegnice couples:  beloved TV journalist Sara Lowell and New York's hottest basketball player Michael Silverman.  Their family and social connections tie them to the highest echelons of the political, medical, and sports worlds -- threads that will tangle them up in one of the most controversial  and deadly issues of our time.

In a clinic on Manhattan's Upper West Side, a doctor had dedicated his life to eradicating a divisive and devastating disease.  One by one, his patients are getting well.  One by one, they're being targeted by a serial killer.  And now Michael has been diagnosed with the disease.  There's only one cure but many ways to die . . ."

I find it interesting that the book cover does not spell out the name of the disease which is AIDS, but it was published in 1992 when the disease was much more controversial than it is today.  I also just read recently that they may have found a cure for AIDS which this book is all about.  The difference is that in 1992, so many people wanted to ignore AIDS because of its link to the gay community.    But, all that aside, the book is a great mystery, with a scary hit man and a surprising person who orders the hits.  I especially enjoyed the police detective who investigates the murders.  Max is a boyish-looking, Jewish, closet-gay man who hates violence, doesn't carry a gun, but is intellectually brilliant at putting the pieces together.  Great character.  While the book is dated (no cell phones), it is still a good read.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, July 22, 2012

62. White Midnight by Dia Calhoun

From Amazon

Rose Chandler, a fifteen-year-old bondgirl who lives on Greengarden Orchard, fears everything: the dark, the moon, other people, and the Dalriadas from the Red Mountains who are at war with the Valley folk. But Rose especially fears the Thing locked in the attic of the Bighouse, home of Mr. Brae, the Master of Greengarden. Rose loves Greengarden and dreams of saving it from Mr. Brae’s neglect. That love gives her the courage to confront her fears one by one, until at last she comes face-to-face with the Thing in the attic. There, when Rose lights a candle in the dark, a nightmare beyond her worst imagining comes true, and she learns Mr. Brae has betrayed her. Then the Thing – and the intensifying war – present Rose with a terrible dilemma. Will she have to give up the land she loves in order to save it?

I didn't realy enjoy this book.  I found Rose tedious with her fears, although I was glad to see her overcome them in the end.  The Thing was obnoxious as was Mr. Brae.  But the worst was Rose's relationship with her family.  That was just sad.  Rating:  3

61. A Wild Ride Through the Night by Walter Moers (audio)

Twelve-year-old Gustave is the captain of his own ship when it becomes entangled between sister tornadoes.  That is how he meets Death, who gives him six tasks to complete to avoid becoming another soul used to feed the sun.  During the his quest, Gustave runs into dragons, monsters, treacherous terrain, and is even abandoned on a small asteroid in the middle of the universe.  It is a fun story and made even better by  the terrific narration of Bronson Pinchot.  (Remember Balki?)  He does incredible voices and portrays each character so well.  He makes Death's voice so deep and sinister, the donkey sounds a little like the donkey in Shrek and the most fearsome monster of all is scary but also very funny.  Very fun book to listen to.  I'm not sure I would have liked it as much is I had read it, but Pinchot made it great.  Rating:  4

59. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

This novel tells the story of the daugher of the Emperor of Hindustan who built the Taj Mahal as a mmonument to his deceased wife.  Princess Jahanara is raised to be strong-willed and diplomatic like her mother.  But she is married off to a cruel, disgusting man in an effort to strengthen the empire.  Then her father asks her to oversee the construction of the immense building.  She meets and falls in love with the architect, further complicating her already dramatic life.  Not only must she hide her love, she tries to help her older brother become the strong prince he must be to withstand the machinations of her other brother.  So the book is more about Jahanara, her love life and the struggles she has with her brothers than it is about the actual monument.  In the end, I found it just okay.  Rating:  3

58. Magic Street by Orson Scott Card


In a peaceful, prosperous African American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mack Street is a mystery child who has somehow found a home. Discovered abandoned in an overgrown park, raised by a blunt-speaking single woman, Mack comes and goes from family to family–a boy who is at once surrounded by boisterous characters and deeply alone. But while Mack senses that he is different from most, and knows that he has strange powers, he cannot possibly understand how unusual he is until the day he sees, in a thin slice of space, a narrow house. Beyond it is a backyard–and an entryway into an extraordinary world stretching off into an exotic distance of geography, history, and magic.

Passing through the skinny house that no one else can see, Mack is plunged into a realm where time and reality are skewed, a place where what Mack does and sees seem to have strange affects in the “real world” of concrete, cars, commerce, and conflict. Growing into a tall, powerful young man, pursuing a forbidden relationship, and using Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream as a guide into the vast, timeless fantasy world, Mack becomes a player in an epic drama. Understanding this drama is Mack’s challenge. His reward, if he can survive the trip, is discovering not only who he really is . . . but why he exists.

Fantastic, creative, hard-to-put-down.  While Ender's Game is still my favorite book by Card, I really enjoyed this book.  Mack is such a mesmerizing character, coming from a true evil that he struggles with and that goes against everything he is raised by his adoptive parent to be.  Rating:  4.75

Saturday, July 07, 2012

54. - 57. The Shadow Children Series, Books 1 thru 4 by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My cousin, Tracy, recommended this young adult series to me; and I found it to be very thought provoking.  The books tell the story  of a future society where the government has become a dictatorship, and the ruling class has all the money and most others are extremely poor.  Because of a famine at some past time, families are only allowed to have two children.  Third children have been outlawed.  Still hundreds of third children are born and kept hidden in their homes.  If discovered, the penalty is death.  Luke is one of these children.  When he faces potential discovery, a rich neighbor helps him to escape to a boys school with a fake ID.  The four books follow Luke as he adjusts to living without his family and finds other third children along the way.  The books are well-written, full of suspense and pathos.  The author does a fantastic job in creating characters who are trying to adapt in a society where they are unwanted and frightened of any changes in their life.  Imagine being scared of the outdoors because you have always lived inside with the blinds pulled.  There are three more books in this series that I look forward to reading soon.  Rating:  4.75

53. Straight on Till Morning by Mary S Lovell

Beryl Markham was a South African horse trainer and pilot.  She most famous for being the first woman to fly aross the Atlantic from East to West.  The author spent about a month interviewing the woman in her late eighties and going over all her memorabilia to write this book.  It is a portrait of a most unconvetional woman for her time.  Born in 1904, Beryl grew up in Kenya with her father who left her mostly to her own devices.  She had a gift with animals and became a well respected horse trainer.  Later she learned to fly and became very proficient, enough to make her celebrated flight.  She also was a pretty amoral person, using others to gain her own ends and had a many affairs during her lifetime.  While her abilities and accomplishments were very impressive, she doesn't seem like a very likeable person, even though the biographer seemed to admire the older woman she interviewed.  Rating:  3.5

52. One Last Chance by Jerry Borrowman (audio)

Artie Call is a juvenile delinquent in Boise in the early 1930's, but with a sad story.  He is coerced into helping some really bad, bigger and meaner guys into robbing a mansion while the owner is out.  Unfortunately, the owner, Mary Wilkerson, surprises them and Artie saves her from being beat to death by the others.  They are sent to prison, but Mary takes Artie under her wing and begins to reform him.  With the help of her chauffuer and the cook, Artie gains confidence in himself and his ability to resist temptations.  His bigget trial is the local banker, David Boone, who refuses to believe that Artie can change and accuses him when his home is vandalized. 

Reading about Boise in the 30's was fun.  It was definitely a simpler, more innocent time; but I found Artie to be almost too good to be true.  Things just fall into place for him.  At least, David Boone realistically resents his good fortune even if his persecution of Artie seems out of place.    There were some heartwarming moments, but I found the dialog to be stilted and the characters were unbelievable.   Artie is the bad boy with a heart of gold who turns out good and Mary is the curmudgeonly rich old woman who is redeemed by loving the young boy she saves.  So-so read.  Rating:  3

51. The Rope by Nevada Barr (audio)

From Amazon:

Anna Pigeon has been a ranger with the National Park Service for many years, but she had a very different life before tragedy sent her west seeking something new. Now Nevada Barr finally tells the previously untold story of Anna’s first foray into the wild, and the case that helped shape her into the ranger she became. Thirty-five years old, fresh off the bus from New York City, and nursing a shattered heart, Anna Pigeon takes a decidedly unglamorous job as a seasonal employee of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. On her day off, she goes hiking into the park never to return. Her co-workers think she’s simply moved on - her cabin is cleaned out and her things gone. Anna herself wakes up, trapped at the bottom of a dry natural well, naked, without supplies and no clear memory of how she got into this situation. As she slowly pieces together her memory, it soon becomes clear that someone has trapped her there, in an inescapable prison, and that no one knows that she is even missing. Plunged into a landscape and a plot she is unfit and untrained to handle, Anna Pigeon must muster the courage, strength, and will to live that she didn’t even know she still possessed in order to survive, outwit, and triumph.

I have always enjoyed the Anna Pigeon series and reading about the national parks.  It was fun to read how she became a ranger and to learn that she wasn't always the tough infallible crime solver we see in later years.  The audio story was very gripping, just the thing to keep me awake on the drive to work and back.  Rating:  4.25