Sunday, December 20, 2009

127. Forest Born by Shannon Hale

Forest Born is the fourth in the Bayern series of fantasy books which Hale has so wonderfully created.  The Goose Girl remains my favorite but I can get carried away in any of her books.  I loved her foreword where she states that the series was supposed to end at three but then she had to tell this tale but it is the absolute last except . . .  She has a great sense of humor and that shows in her writing, plus she is gifted in her wordcraft, creating characters and descriptions that pull you in.  This book tells the story of Razo's sister, Rin, who has the gift of tree-speaking; but also the terrible gift of people-speaking.  Rin is so afraid that she will misuse her gifts, that she doesn't use them at all.  There is a lesson here to develop your talents but to also make up your mind immediately to use them for good and not be swayed by selfish and unworthy intentions.  If you haven't read Shannon Hale's books, now is a good time to start. I've read all but two and loved them all.  Rating:  4.5

123 - 126. Short Christmas Stories

The Mitford Snowmen by Jan Karon  This is a very short story about the townspeople of Mitford spontaneously building snowmen on Main Street.  It has many of the characters we come to know and love in the other Mitford books and is written with the same gentle humor and love. 
Rating:  4

Christmas in Haggerty by Betsy Brannon Green  Green's Haggerty series involve a young LDS mother, her FBI husband and their odd Southern neighbors as they work together to solve mysteries.  In this fun Christmas tale, the mystery involves geneaology and finding out about the crying baby Kate dreams about each night.  The side tale covers the town of Haggerty's Christmas door decoration contest and how several women try to one-up each other in order to win the prize.  It's all good fun and heart-warming as well.  Rating:  4.25
 Up on the Rooftop by Jean Z Liebenthal  It's Chritmas, 1937 in the small town of Wind Valley.  Through the mouth of  a seven-year-old girl we fee the nostagia of a more simple and wholesome time.  The Christmas spirit comes through as we follow the tales of children being children and neighbors being neighbors.  There is a Christmas pageant and a wonderful ending as the narrator learns the truth about Santa Clause and the true meaning of Christmas.  Rating: 

 I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day by Lloyd and Karmel Newell  For several years, my mother has given all of her kids and grandkids Christmas books to be opened before Christmas.  This is the one she gave me this year, saying this is her favorite Christmas Carol.  The illustrations by Dan Burr and absolutely breathtaking as we follow Henry Longfellow through his life up to the writing of this poem.  The Newells also includes historical facts about the customs of the era, the Longfellow home, and  other interesting tidbits.  At the end of the book is a piece written by Daniel Warner called, "Longfellow's Christmas."  In an accompanying DVD, Edward Hermann does a wonderful dramatic presentation of this piece from the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra in the background.  And listening to the Choir sing this song with the bells ringing at the end gave me chills.  Thanks, Mom, for a great Christmas experience.  Rating:  4.5

122. Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah

I don't read too many romances and really only care for those that include a healthy dose of humor.  But I felt a romance with a Christmas setting would probably be more palatable so I hunkered down with Comfort and Joy, looking for some love and Christmas spirit:.  Joy Cabellero is not feeling the Christmas sprit in her home or her job as a high school librarian.  She is recently divorced after finding her husband in bed with her best friend who also happens to be her sister.  One night, she arrives home with a scrawny Christmas tree strapped to the top of her car only to find her sister waiting on the front step.  Stacey begs forgiveness but also needs to tell Joy that she is pregnant and to invite Joy to the wedding.  Losing it completely, Joy drives to the nearest airport and boards a charter flight to a place called Hope.  The place crashes, but Joy walks away from the crash and finds herself at an almost defunct bed and breakfast.  Here she meets 8-year-old Bobby and his father, Daniel.  You guessed it, love is in the air.  Up to this point, the story is well-told.  The author does a great job of portraying Joy's despair and loneliness, Bobby's sorrow at the death of his mother and anger at the father he hasn't seen for four years; and Daniel's confusion and ineptitude in dealing with the son he knows so little about.  Still, it is all very predictable but sweet and Christmassy.  Then the story takes a huge twist which should have made it more interesting but which was so unbelievable and odd that I couldn't get past it.  Like all romances, it ends happily.  I just didn't like the plot twist. 

Rating:  2.75

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

121 Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

There must be dozens of versions of the Cinderella fairy tale, but this one belongs at the top of the list.  Ella is a great character who was given a terrible gift at her birth.  That gift curses her throughout her life as others learn about it and take advantage of her because of it.  But she manages to be a fun, intelligent, courageous girl in spite of the curse.  The story includes the standard fare of the mean stepmother, two ugly stepsisters, a handsome prince, and a fairy godmother; all much more enjoyable characters than in the basic story.  There is just more substance to them, bad or good.  I really enjoyed this fun, light story and hope that the other book I have by Levine is just as good.  I haven't seen the movie based on Ella Enchanted, but I heard it wasn't as good as the book.  Too bad as I enjoy Ann Hathaway.  Maybe I'll watch it anyway.  Stay tuned.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, December 13, 2009

120. Silent Night / All Through the Night by Mary HIggins Clark

This book contains two short novels that Mary Higgins Clark wrote specifically for the holiday season. My problem is that her mysteries have always seemed formulaic so I haven't read her books for quite some time.  After listening to her autobiography, I thought I would give her mysteries another try. She is just very likeable.

Silent Night  Catherine is in New York City with her two sons, Brian and Michael, on Christmas Eve.  Her husband is in the hospital being treated for cancer.  She and the two boys decide to pass some time seeing the Christmas sights but she accidentally drops her wallet.  Brian, the younger son, sees the wallet fall and be picked up by another woman.  He knows it contains the St. Christopher medal which they are taking to Dad the next morning which he knows will guarantee Dad's recovery.  He follows the woman to try and retrieve the wallet and the medal.  Cally had picked up the wallet without thinking.  She is desperately poor and thinks the rich woman who dropped it will probably never miss it.  Unfortunately, her escaped convict brother is waiting when she arrives home, sees Brian, and decides to use him as a hostage.  The rest of the story deals with how Cally and Catherine deal with their circumstances and the police investigation.  It is really a story about the power of faith and prayer.  While it is sappy, it is still a good read for the Christmas season.

All Through the Night  This story features a couple Higgins has written about before, Willy and Alvirah.  A young woman gives birth in her hotel room and leaves the infant with a note at the front door of St Clement's church.  However, at the same time, a man is stealing money and a silver chalice from the church, sees the baby pram and uses it to help him make his getaway.  He is surprised to find the baby inside and takes her home to his great aunt.  Seven years later, the man is planning to take his "daughter" to Mexico; and the woman is searching for her child.  Willie and Alvirah see her visiting several times at the church and take her under their wing.  At the same time, a friend has been disinherited by her sister; and Alvirah is sure the will has been created under shady circumstances.  This story is even sappier than the first, but Willy and Alvirah are such fun characters that it makes the drippy ending more bearable. 

I doubt if these two tales will become standard holiday reading at my home, but they are short and filled with Christmas spirit; so I will probably read them again in the future.

Rating:  3.75

Friday, December 11, 2009

119. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Shadow is the third in the Ender series that I have read.  I loved Ender's Game  and really enjoyed Speaker for the Dead.  I just find the character of Ender fascinating and interestingly complex.  But Shadow is actually more about another character, Bean, a young boy incredibly small for his age who is even more brilliant that Ender.  I found I had to work hard to suspend my disbelief at how much the infant and toddler Bean was able to do in order to survive.  Eventually the story explains some of his unnatural abilities and ably ties that information into explaining some of Bean's shortcomings.  Card wrote this book quite a while after Game, but wrote it as a parallel story, just from Bean's perspective.  More than anything, it made me want to go and reread Ender's Game with this new perspective on what happened.  And also, because I loved the character of Ender, and this book almost expalins his abilities away.  Having said that, I still thought Card wrote a brilliant book with such a creative premise for the future.  I just want Ender to remain a hero in my mind like he was after reading the first book.  Now his heroism and talents are more ambiguous.
Rating:  4.5

Sunday, December 06, 2009

118. A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

Oswald T Campbell is a loser.  He's an alcoholic, has emphysema but still sneaks a smoke, his ex-wife is his only friend and his doctor has just told him he only only a few months to live.  In order to prolong his life, Oswald moves to a small town in Alabama.  Again, Fannie Flagg has created a townful of quirky characters including Jack, the redbird who lives in a small grocery store.  In this sentimental tale, Oswald grows to love the town and its citizens especially a small child named Patsy who has been abandoned by drifters.  In an effort to get Patsy the medical attention she needs, Oswald and the town grow even closer together with a culminating event right after Christmas.  Yes, it's predictable and super sweet; but at Christmas time, it fit right into my mood and gave me a good Yuletide lift. 
Rating:  4.25

Friday, December 04, 2009

117. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A few years ago I listened to A Thousand Splendid Suns by this author and found it dark and dreary.  I wished I had read instead of listened to it because I sensed I would have enjoyed it much more.  But because it was quite depressing to me, I put off reading The Kite Runner.  About all I knew was it took place in Afghanistan; and I haven't really liked the books I've read about that country.  I should have paid more attention to the reviews of others because this is a fantastic book.  The author begins the story before the overthrow of the Afghan monarchy, before the Soviet invasion, and before the regime of the Taliban. So I was able to get a sense of what the country and culture was like when it enjoyed a more peaceful and prosperous time.  Peace and prosperous are relative terms here as I believe many of the inhabitants were always quite poor; and it has always had a history of violence.  But I liked getting a look of that earlier time period. 

The story revolves around a young boy, Amir, and his relationship with the family servant's son, Hassan.  There is a pivotal event which shapes and colors Amir's actions for the next twenty years.  The reader also follows Amir's complicated relationship with his father through this time period as they flee Afghanistan to settle in the United States.  Amir eventually returns to his boyhood home to finally redeem himself for his actions when he was twelve. 

I loved Hosseini's writing.  It is lyrical, expressive and haunting.  This book will stay in my mind for a long time.  The story itself is so compelling.  At first I didn't really like Amir or his father; but as the characters develop and the book follows them over the course of the years; I developed more feelings for them.  And the theme of redemption is wonderfully presented.  Halfway through the book, as Amir returns to Afghanistan, I could hardly put the it down.  This is one of the few books I've read that makes me want to see the movie.  I highly recommend it.  There is some profanity (not much), some violence; definitely filled with stark realism; but so beautifully written and such a moving story that you shouldn't miss out on it.

Rating:  5

Monday, November 30, 2009

116. Bloodroot by Susan Wittig Albert

This novel departs from the usual China Bayles mysteries.  It doesn't take place in Pecan Springs; and the usual eccentric Texas characters are missing.  China travels to her mother's childhood home, a plantation in Mississippi, to help care for the aunt who raised Leatha.  Aunt Tullie is old, grumpy and suffers from a rare genetic disease.  This discovery is just one of the many things whihc concerns China about her aunt's situation.  Shortly after China arrives, an old childhood friend is found in his truck which has been covered by the Bloodroot River.  An young servant at the plantation turns up missing as well.  She remembers seeing a body being dug up in the garden when she was ten.   There are a lot of mysteries and drama going on and China eventually solves all of them.  I just missed the Pecan Springs setting and people.  They make the books so much more fun and interesting.  This one was a little flat for me.
Rating:  3.75

Sunday, November 22, 2009

115. 13 1/2 by Navada Barr

I love the Anna Pigeon mystery series that Barr writes which all take plae in National Parks.  Anna is such a great character and I love learning more about the parks.  I was excited to read this book which is a departure from the other series. 

I would call 13 1/2 a psychological thriller rather than a mystery.  There are flashbacks in the lives of the two main characters:  Dylan, who is sent to prison at the age of 11 for killing his parents and baby sister, and Polly, who runs away from her abusive mother after her stepfather attempts to sexually abuse her.  The details of the family murder are pretty brutal and so is Polly's life before she leaves home.  Of course, the book has a twist.  I figured that  part out quite quickly, but I'm not sure that the author was trying to keep it a big mystery.  The true suspense comes form wondering if the characters in the book will figure everything out before history repeats itself.  Barr does an incredible job in keeping the reader on the edge of her seat as the final drama unfolds.
Rating:  4

Sunday, November 15, 2009

114. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

Let me begin by telling you what this book is not.  It is not an LDS mystery or romance; it is not an LDS conversion story; and it is not an exposĂ© of unsavory secret Mormon practices.  Elna Baker is a single, Mormon comedian living in New York City and this is her story of how she tries to reconcile her belief system with the social practices of the Big Apple.  Throughout the memoir, Baker shares her experiences at seven Singles Halloween Dances.  Her costumes are a riot, but her hopes of meeting "The One" Mormon male are dashed each time.  Then there are the other single pitfalls (pratfalls?) just lurking for the naive young Mormon.  At first, she is overweight, but losing the weight brings a whole new set of problems:  dating a lot more but with non-Mormons who don't understand the "wait until marriage" mentality.  I think her experiences are spot on for a lot of young single LDS women.  What I really liked about Baker was the way she would turn to God and the scriptures for answers and help.  I liked how she shared the peace she felt when receiving answers.  I loved some of her stories, so hilarious; others made me cringe, what was she thinking to share that with the whole world.  Her complete honesty was totally refreshing except for a few times when it was too too much.  To be fair, in her dedication; she does warn her parents:  "This book . . . aside from the nine F-words, thirteen Sh-words, four A-holes, page 257, and the entire Warren Beatty chapter . . . is dedicated to you.  You might want to avoid chapters twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, anything I quote Mom saying, and most of the end as well.  Sorry, am I still cute as a button?"   It's always a good thing when you start a book laughing, isn't it?  I like that she tested her beliefs which in the beginning only strengthened them.  What I struggled with was the way she tried to make deals with the Lord, never a good idea because what you want may not be the best for you.  As in any life, faith is on ongoing process; and it seems fitting that it is still ongoing for the author as well.  I really did enjoy the book except for the profanity and some sexual encounters, again way too much information there. 
Rating:  4.25

113. This House of Sky by Ivan Doig

Let me start by saying that I loved Doig's English Creek.  And House of Sky contains the same lyrical, breathtaking prose and cowboy realism.  After getting his PHD in history, Doig decides instead to write a book about his father, a Montana sheeprancher; and his grandmother, the mother of Doig's mother who died when he was six.  The two have a hate/dislike relationship but overlook that in the interests of raising Ivan.  Still, they're both quite the characters.  I learned a lot about sheep ranching, enough to confirm that sheep really are stupid animals and a lot of work.  I learned that a family can live with so little, overcome so much; and still develop that binding love that remains with you all your life.  As I said, Doig writes beautifully and tells a good story.  However, midway through the book, I lost a little interest.  The final scenes were pretty gut-wrenching and I was glad to have Kleenex close by.  While I didn't like House nearly as much as Creek; I'm still looking forward to reading the rest of Doig's books which are sitting on the shelf.  I classified these as western literature.  If you like the great outdoors, ranching, horses, tough men and tougher women; you should read this book.
Rating:  4

Friday, November 13, 2009

112. The Fairy's Mistake by Gail Carson Levine

Every once in a while, it is fun to read a book in just one night.  I can do that when there are only 84 pages involved.  The Fairy's Mistake tells the tale of twin sisters, one good and one bad and her mother's favorite.  Rosella does all the chores including fetching water from the well.  She graciously gives an old woman (the fairy in disguise) a drink and is rewarded by spewing jewels from her mouth every time she speaks.  Myrtle (bad sister) tries to find the fairy to get a similar reward but offends a knight (again, the fairy in disguise) and is punished with bugs and snakes coming from her mouth whenever she speaks.  Yuck.  Shortly, a prince joins the tale and things don't go quite as the fairy envisioned them.  It's such a cute, funny story, written very simplistically so children will enjoy it as well.  Great way to spend an evening.
Rating:  3.75

Sunday, November 08, 2009

111. English Trifle by Josi Kilpack

English Trifle is the second in a series of culinary mysteries starring Sadie Hoffmiller.  This book sees Sadie and her daughter, Breanna, visiting England with Breanna's boyfriend, the next Earl of Garnett.  As they wait in the manor's sitting room for Liam to come down to say goodbye before they head back to the States, Sadie and  her daughter discover a body pinned to the wall with a fireplace poker.  Naturally, they miss their flight and tumble into all kinds of trouble as Sadie pokes her nose into everything, getting more things wrong than right until it all works out in the end.  While I loved Sadie in the first book, now I found her to be a sort of a caricature of the busybody, gauche American.  Some of her actions just didn't seem to be believable, although she does become more likeable as the investigation progresses.  The story also had your stereotypical patronizing English lord and snooty British servants.   And it just didn't seem as humorous as the first one.  Having said all that, the book did become more interesting the further I got into it as it was a good mystery.  And there were some fun recipes for English cuisine.  I just feel bad that I didn't feel the same connection with Sadie that I did in the first book.  I still plan on reading Kilpack's next book, Devil's Food Cake.  Sadie is back in America and I hope I find her more appealing.
Rating:  3

Saturday, November 07, 2009

110. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

After reading six books straight from the Narnia series, I felt I needed a good dose of adult realism.  Ahh, Jodi Picoult, just the ticket, get myself immersed in some real life issues and away from children's fantasy and C. S. Lewis' Biblical retelling.  Like the other Picoult books I have read, this one deals with some social, medical, political; and, to my dismay, religious issues.  While it is certainly not children's literature (a man is stabbed in the throat with the end of a broom handle), there is definitely an element of fantasy to this book as well.  It took me about halfway through the book to just suspend my disbelief and read the story for what it was.  Here is a synopsis from Amazon:
Picoult bangs out another ripped-from-the-zeitgeist winner, this time examining a condemned inmate's desire to be an organ donor. Freelance carpenter Shay Bourne was sentenced to death for killing a little girl, Elizabeth Nealon, and her cop stepfather. Eleven years after the murders, Elizabeth's sister, Claire, needs a heart transplant, and Shay volunteers, which complicates the state's execution plans. Meanwhile, death row has been the scene of some odd events since Shay's arrival—an AIDS victim goes into remission, an inmate's pet bird dies and is brought back to life, wine flows from the water faucets. The author brings other compelling elements to an already complex plot line: the priest who serves as Shay's spiritual adviser was on the jury that sentenced him; Shay's ACLU representative, Maggie Bloom, balances her professional moxie with her negative self-image and difficult relationship with her mother. Picoult moves the story along with lively debates about prisoner rights and religion, while plumbing the depths of mother-daughter relationships and examining the literal and metaphorical meanings of having heart. The point-of-view switches are abrupt, but this is a small flaw in an impressive book. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
Eventually I began to enjoy the religious issues that Picoult presents because she lets the reader draw her own conclusions.  I've heard very little about the Gnostic Gospels and found that information very interesting.  I felt that she did carry the Messianic comparisons a little far, but she also capably portrayed the polarizing effects of religion; something mankind has yet to find a way to overcome.  I like the use of four narrators as it allows you to get to know those characters so well as they unfold the story.  Picoult's research into so many different topics never fails to astound and impress me. I always learn something when I read her books.  It's always good to see other viewpoints.  Even though I struggled with this book at first, I ended up liking it very much.  Except for the epilogue; that was over the top.
Rating:  4.25

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

104 - 109 The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

A year ago, I decided to begin at the first reading this series of books. Loved The Magician's Nephew. There's no explanation for the fact that I had not read the rest, but now I have remedied it. I wanted to read all the books before any more movies are made to color my reading. I'll do a brief synopsis of each book for those few who, like me, have never read them. I understand there is some controversy over the order of the books, but I'm calling The Magician's Nephew number one and going on from there.

2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  If you haven't read this book, surely you've seen the movie. I had and maybe that's why I hadn't read the book. I thought it was fun, James McAvoy cute, and the entire production quite inventive. Overall though, it was just okay for me. So I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the book so much and didn't have images of the movie in my mind as I read it. Basically, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy explore a house they are staying in during the evacuation of London in WWII. They come upon a wardrobe, hide in it and magically find themselves in the land of Narnia. There is an evil witch who uses Edmund for her wicked purposes. The other three find their way to Aslan, the Lion ruler, who helps in the battle against the witch. Strong Biblical symbolism like the first book.
Rating: 4.5
3. The Horse and His Boy  What's not to love about a talking horse. I'm sure Mr. Ed was patterned after Bree, the Narnian horse who helps Shasta escape from Calormene. Shasta is a very heroic boy who does what is right even though he is petrified. Susan, Edmund and Lucy play small parts in this book, but as adults. Rating: 4.25
4. Prince Caspian  I also saw the movie based on this book and enjoyed it very much. Therefore, I was disappointed in the book. There is not nearly as much interaction between the Pevensies children and Prince Caspian as was depicted in the movie. Romance between Caspian and Suan? Not at all. In fact, Susan whines a lot. There just seemed to be a lot more traveling in this book and not as much action. The talking animals were fun though, and I love the descriptions of the trees awakening. Rating: 3.5
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia bringing their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubb, along. They join King Caspian on his ship, the Dawn Treader, as he goes on a quest to find the seven noblemen banished by his uncle in the last book. They must sail to the End of the World to complete the quest and have some great adventures along the way. Joining them is Reedicheep, the fighting mouse, who brings some great comic relief to the whole voyage. This book is one of my favorites in the series. Lewis shows great imagination and his descriptions are so vivid. Rating: 4.75
6.  The Silver Chair  Isn't it sad that as the children age, they are no longer able to return to Narnia?  I miss the four Pevensies; but fortunately, Eustace Scrubb is no longer obnoxious and can still visit.  On this go-round, Scrubb and a schoolmate, Jill Poole, are sent into Narnia with the task to find and rescue Price Rilian.  Puddleglum, a Marsh-wiggle, serves as their guide and is one of the funniest characters in the series.  He is such a pessimist but also brave and resourceful.  Scrubb, Poole, and Puddleglum have some great adventures as they travel to the northern world of the giants and then underground into the lair of the wicked witch.  Another fun read.  Rating:  4.75
7.  The Last Battle  In this book, Scrubb and Poole return to Narnia where many years have passed since their last visit.  An ape has convinced many Narnians that a donkey wearing a lion skin is really Aslan and commands them to do things in Aslan's name.  In this way, he slowly gives Narnia over to its enemies.  Tirian is the king and along with his friends makes a last stand against the Calorenes and evil.  While I know there is a lot of Biblical allegory in all the books, it is certainly the strongest in this one, which may explain why I didn't like it as well.  In the others, I could enjoy the adventures and the fantasy; but Battle is so Biblically heavy-handed that the story suffered for me.  Or maybe I just got tired of the whole series.  Or I'm not into stories about Armageddon.  Whatever.  Not only that, but I really hated what happens to Susan.  Sorry, can't tell you more.  Rating:  3.25

My seven books in this series were published by different publishers.  The first four were from Harper Trophy and I definitely liked them the best.  Each book had a map of Narnia and outlying areas in the back, plus a map in the front which showed greater detail of where that book's action takes place.  I love maps.  Plus the cover art on these four by Chris Van Allsburg was wonderful, reminded me of The Goose Girl cover on the first edition.  The Silver Chair did have a map and a listing of the main characters of all seven books.  Always helpful.  I know there are those who feel the books should be read in the order that Lewis wrote them as it helps the reader to understand the allegories better.  I read them chronologically and liked that just fine.  It's pretty hard to miss the symbolism anyway.  I liked reading my own feelings into them except for the last book pretty much spelled it all out.  I think my favorite book was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  My favorite characters were Puddleglum and Shasta.  Overall, I really liked this series and wished I had read it when I was younger. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

103. A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

I've said it before so I'll say it again.  Armand Gamache is one of the best crime solvers in the fiction world.  Here's a description from the book that illustrates him and Penny's fine writing.  As a segueway, Penny has just described Gamache's two associates:  "And Gamache?  He knew he was neither the hound nor the hunter.  Armand Gamache was the explorer.  He went ahead of all the rest, into territoy unknown and uncharted.  He was drawn to the edge of things.  To the places old mariners knew, and warned, "Beyond here be monsters."  That's where Chief Inspector Gamache could be found.  He stepped into the beyond, and found the monsters hidden deep inside all the reasonable, gentle, laughing people.  He went where even they were afraid to go.  Armand Gamache followed slimy trails, deep into a person's psyche, and there, huddled and barely human, he found the murderer."  This man is one of fiction's great characters.  Penny also develops fantastic supporting characters.  In this book, the Morrow family (the chief suspects) are far from likeable, but always interesting.  The staff at the Manoir Bellechasse where the murder occurs are also drawn well.  One of the things I really liked about Rule was the delving into Gamache's history with his father, coinciding so well with the family dynamics of the Morrows.  The mystery was not easy to solve, I didn't have a clue; but at the conclusion, I thought it made sense and small clues had been thrown into the story.  Here's another quote from a character counting his blessings that I really want to remember:  "We're all blessed and we're all blighted.  Every day each of us does our sums.  The questions is, what do we count?"  This book is a keeper and I am anxiously awaiting the paperback publication of Penny's next one.
Rating:  4.75

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

102. The Tale of Briar Bank by Susan Wittig Albert

This book is the fifth in Albert's Beatrix Potter mystery series.  They contain interesting tidbits about the famous author who created the Peter Cottontail books.  Each story follows Beatrix as she visits her favorite place, her Holly How farm in Near Sawrey.  A mysterious death occurs and Beatrix helps solve the mystery.  The parts that I don't like quite as much are the conversations of the animals who share the village with the humans.  It's all a little too cute but not over the top.  That is until The Tale of Briar Bank.  More than half of the book revolves around the animals, especially the badgers, and their conversations and ideas of how Mr. Wickstead really died.  The actual facts of his death were actually silly to me.  Plus, there is not enough of Beatrix Potter and the interesting people who live in the surrounding area.  On top of that, the author talks to the reader a lot more than I remember her doing in the previous books.  I found it quite distracting.  On the whole, this book was quite disappointing to me.  I still plan on reading the rest of the series because I'm enjoying the budding relationship between Beatrix and Will, but I hope the animals will play a smaller part in the next novels.
Rating:  3.5

101. Kitchen Privileges by Mary Higgins Clark (audio)

I believe I've only read one Mary Higgins Clark mystery so I'm not sure why I mooched this audio version of her memoirs.  However, I'm glad I did.  It's great when an author narrates her own book because you know that emphasis is placed where she wants it and the lines are read the way they are meant to be.  I was also surprised by Clark's Bronx accent.  It made her seem more folksy and less like the high-powered hoity-toity author that I imagined.  I know she is high-powered and rich and has well-connected friends; but in her memoir, she comes across as likeable and funny.  My mom and I listened to the book as we drove to Salt Lake and back.  There were several incidences where we chuckled and even laughed out loud.  Clark related some great experiences:  some were so sad, others heroic, most all were interesting.  She is a remarkable woman to have gone through all she did, raise five children mostly alone, sending them to college and still hang on to her dream to publish a novel.  It wasn't until the kids were in college because she really hit the big money with her second novel.  And we shared in her elation and joy.  I don't know if I will become a Mary Higgins Clark mystery fan or not, but I do admire the woman and recommend her memoir.
Rating:  4

Sunday, October 18, 2009

100. Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper by Peter Hill

In 1973, Peter Hill is a Scottish, hippy art student had two ambitions as a child:  to be a lighthouse keeper or a marine biologist.  He gets the chance to fulfill the first dream, and this book is the memoir of his six months spent in three lighthouses off the west coast of Scotland.  Hill writes beautiful descriptions of the places he visits and the characters he meets.  Some of the anecdotes he shares are hilarious.  There is a lot of in-depth description of the routine in keeping a lighthouse, which was mostly fascinating.  What really intrigued me was how the people in Scotland responded to Watergate and Vietnam, watching the news and commenting on Richard Milhouse Nixon and Kissinger.   As a high school student, I was truly bored with the news reports of both; so I was amazed at the response of these ordinary people in Scotland.  Another fun aspect of this book was the pop culture of the early 70's.  It was also one part where I lost interest as I am so unfamiliar with the British TV and music scene that Hill discusses so much.  Overall, it was a well-written, informative and fun book that I truly enjoyed, with some points off for profanity.
Rating:  4.75

Friday, October 09, 2009

99. Seventy-Seven Clocks

This book follows Arthur Bryant and John May in 1973 as their experimental unit, the Pecular Crimues Unit, or PCU, moves to a new location.  PCU and the two detectives quickly become the focus of attention as a bizarre set of murders take place targeting an old English watch-making family.  May is a urbane and GQ kind of guy while Bryant is rumpled and eccentric.  They think differently which has always led to their impressive crime-solving success.  But these particular crimes may be the undoing of the unit as there seems to be little pattern or reason for such wildly odd, almost Victorian murders.  The family's attorney dies with a snake bite, one brother is killed by an exploding watch while the other has his throat slit by a substitute barber, the sister dies from poisoned face powder.  The extended family is gathered together but are critical of the police effort and not cooperative at all.  Through it all, May and Bryant rush around London trying to find clues in outlandish ways while keeping their tempers when dealing with the Whitstable clan.  I really enjoyed the characters of Bryant and May.  Their sarcasm and sensitivity blend so well.  Also, Fowler writes with a great deal of humor which I always enjoy in a mystery.  The description of the watchmaking guild as well as other London locales I've never heard of added to my interest.  I found the whole book to be an engrossing thriller, keeping me involved from start to finish.  My only complaint is that the solution to the crimes is quite outlandish, bordering on Jules Verne type science fiction.  Even so, Fowler wrote it so that it made sense; it just wasn't something I could have figured out on my own.  I just found out my sister has several more in this series so I'll probably be borrowing on in the future.
Rating:  4

Sunday, October 04, 2009

98. Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo

I love the cover of this book, she's so dramatic.  I wonder how many women out there read Jane Austen only to realize that marriage was not necessarily the happily-ever-after Jane wrote about.  Emma Grant did and now she wants to bring Jane down.  A college professor who specializes in Austen, Emma's life is in shambles after catching her husband with her teaching assistant and being accused of plagiarizing same assistant.  Out of a job, broke and desperate, Emma flees to London to find the lost letters of Austen and reestablish  her creditability.  Along the way, she becomes reacquainted with an old boy friend from college who is a college professor and meets a handsome English professor from California.  You'd think she'd be suspicious but she's pretty focused on those letters.  So this book combines romance, mystery and history.  I learned more about Austen than I had known before and enjoyed the mystery and romance aspects.  Along the way, Emma has to face her own choices both past and future.  It was a fun and easy read.  I enjoyed it very much.  Here's a great book quote:  "My life was disaster, but there were still books. Lots and lots of books.  A refuge.  A solace.  Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning."
Rating:  4

Saturday, October 03, 2009

97. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

This is the second book in The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I loved the first book and was not disappointed with Catching Fire.  We follow Katniss and Peeta as they return to District 12.  Things are considerably different than before the Hunger Games took place, but there is great conflict between Katniss and Preisdent Snow, the leader of their world.  Rumors of rebellion across the twelve districts are being heard and President Snow hold Katniss to blame.  With her life and those of her loved ones in grave danger, she does all she can to mollify the president and still hold true to her principles.  While some of the action is a repeat from the first book, Collins is able to create different dangers and turmoil to afflict the victims of the despotic ruling class.  There is so much intrigue and suspense that the book is hard to put down.  Plus the story is one that remains in your thoughts.  Katniss is truly a memorable character and I really enjoyed her.  At first, I was a little put off by a repeated storyline but I soon became engrossed in the action.  My only complaint with this book is the abrupt ending.  What a cliffhanger, and I don't even know how long I have to wait for Book Three.  Rats.  These books remind me a bit of a book by Gerald Lund, The Alliance, where a super strong central government, even though much more benevolent than the Capitol, still strives to control all those who are under its power.  It's one of my favortie Lund books and features similar struggles by people who want more freedom in their lives.  Definitely put me in the ranks of all those who are loving this trlogy. 
Rating:  4.75

Friday, October 02, 2009

96. Murder on a Bad Hair Day by Anne George

This is the second book I have read in this series and I liked it even better than the first.  Two people are murdered in different ways; and their connection is the Outsiders art displayed at a local gallery.  Sixty-year-old Patricia Anne attends the gallery opening with her older sister, Mary Alice; and soon become involved with the suspects, possible victims, and investigating police.  It's a good mystery, but the real joy of these books is the relationship between the two sisters.  Their obvious love for each other is couched between teasing, sibling rivalry and memories of long-ago disagreements.  They're great characters and this book is hilarious.  A great one when you want a cozy mystery with humor.
Rating:  4

Monday, September 28, 2009

95. Borderline by Nevada Barr (audio)

After reading Nevada Barr's last Anna Pigeon book which took place on Isle Royale, I was afraid that Barr had lost her touch.  I really did not like that book.  But, I am happy to say that Anna Pigeon is back in top form in this book:  Recovering from the ugly killings on Isle Royale, Anna has been granted a leave of absence to pull herself together and try to save her Park Service career.  She and her husband, Paul, travel to a national park along the Rio Grande and take a river trip with four teenagers and their river guide.  Before the day is over, there are three bodies and a newborn baby.  With help and hindrance from park service officials, politicans and some nefarious characters, Anna solves the murders at the peril of her own life. 

This was a great book to listen to on my trip last weekend.  Anna dealing with the newborn was a great touch of humor with some aaaaah moments thrown in.  The mystery was tight and, even if I figure it out early on, there was an unexpected twist involved.  I've read most, if not all, of this series.  With two exceptions, (see above and the one about spelunking which just made me uncormfortable, she described the caves so well) I have enjoyed them all.  It's a great way to learn about some of national treasures and the park system itself.  I think my favorites were the one taking place in Mesa Verde National Park and the one on Ellis Island.  
Rating:  4

Friday, September 25, 2009

90 - 94. The Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason

The five books that make up this series tell the story of Victoria Grantsworth who discovers she is part of a long-line of vampire slayers called Venators.  In fact, she is the last in the direct line of the Gardellas, who serve as the leaders of the Venators.  Each Venator wears a piercing that gives them abnormal strength and senses which aids greatly in the battle against the undead.  Her great aunt begins Victoria's training and introduces her to other Venators who form this small army around the world.  Max Pesaro and Sebastian Vioget are two men who play a huge part in Victoria's struggle against the vampires and also play on her emotions.  Lillith is the most powerful vampire in the world, the daughter of Judas Iscariot; she also has an unhealthy obsession for Max.  Here is my brief take of each book:
The Rest Falls Away  I struggled with the first book.  I found Victoria to be self-centered and pig-headed.  In fact, that weren't a lot of characters I really liked.  Sebastian comes across as a dirty old man, Max is dark and arrogant; and Lillith is just creepy.  Well, creepy is fitting for a vampire but still.  I just found the whole concept of vampires being created after Satan claims Judas Iscariot's soul to be too disturbing.  I did like how Gleason creates an atmosphere of suspense and I liked the historical setting.  Also, it was good to see the vampires cast as truly evil beings even though they seem to entice the unwary into their grasp by their hypnotic and sensual gaze. Rating:  3.25
Rises the Night  The Venators convene in Rome to fight a horrible threat from a vampire hoping to become more powerful than Lillith.  Victoria puts herself in danger because of her bull-headedness and pride.  Max has his own agenda and hasn't shared his plans.  We do learn that, far from being a dirty, old man, Sebastian is actually extremely attractive, especially to Victoria.  In fact, the sex in this book lowers my rating.  It was over the top.  And Victoria is a bit of a sleaze.  There is more staking of vampires which can get old after a while; but the main conflict was very gripping and I was completely taken by surprise by some of the outcomes.  Rating:  3
The Bleeding Dusk  I almost didn't continue with this series because the first two books didn't appeal that much to me.  I'm glad I kept on with it, because this book captured my attention.  Maybe it's because Sebastian and Max became more real to me and I started to understand their motives.  Victoria is also starting to grow up and act more like the leader she needs to be.  I found the introduction of demons, Satan's other army and mortal enemies of the vampires, to be a bit silly but at least the fighting changes.  You don't kill demons by staking them.  I was able to recognize the sex scenes earlier and skip them so I wasn't bothered with that.  Whatever, I enjoyed this book and was eager to follow the action in the next installment.
Rating:  4
The Twilight Burns  The vampires are becoming cagier, creating more problems for Victoria, Max and Sebastian.  There were some surprises in this book and interesting developments with Victoria.  Again, I liked this book and was quite engrossed.  Rating:  4
As Shadows Fall  If this is the last book in the series, there are a lot of unanswered questions.  What really happens to Sebastian?  What about the potion recipe that was given to Lillith?  What is the future of the Venators?  I don't like unanswered questions, so I'm hoping for a sequel.  By this time, Max and Sebastian have grown on me, Victoria, maybe a bit.  I really like her maid though.  Great comic relief amidst all the fangs and stakes.  Rating:  3.75
Overall, I would recommend the series, especially if you like vampire romance books.  I don't love romance novels and probably would have liked these books better with a little less romance and more intrigue.  Except I got to where I enjoyed Sebestian's flirting with Victoria.  It's just her response to him that struck an odd note with me. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

89. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

"The House at Riverton is a true historical novel, in all senses of the term. Told from the first person perspective of 98 year old Grace, the narrative alternates between present and past, the story flowing seamlessly from the recesses of her memory and more than 50 years of painful reflection. Riverton has many themes: the myriad damages wrought by war, the relentlessly impersonal evolution of society, the slippery intricacies of relationships, the crucial importance of self-actualization. It is mystery in reverse: from many clues, from the atmosphere of secrecy and suspense, we know with absolute certainty that something dreadful happens, but the exact nature of the tragedy becomes fully apparent only on the final page. Ms Morton's characters, Grace, the sisters, the men in their lives, the servants, are genuine and vibrant, real people that the reader comes to know, love, hate, and care about in one way or another. By the conclusion of this finely crafted novel, we know Grace the best, and as she faces her own death, we understand that she has learned important lessons from the past, has truly learned to live her own life on her own terms."  Reviewed on Amazon by Linda "Katknit"

Again I copied another reader's review because she described this book so well.  At first, I had a hard time getting into the story because of the transitions from past to present and back again; but it really worked well when you considered the age of the woman telling the story.  It was quite fascinating to read how invisible servants were in that era.  Even though I didn't really care for most of the characters in the book, even Grace as a servant is pretty bland; when I finished I said to myself, "That was really good."  The author does write beautifully, drawing you into the time and place and into the conflicted lives of both Grace and Hannah.  I look forward to reading more books by Morton.  Hopefully, they are not all 600 pages long.

Rating:  4.25

Monday, September 14, 2009

88. Grin and Bear It (a bear ate my ex . . . and that's okay) by Leslie LaFoy

I've decided that I quite like Harlequin Next novels.  They are romances without the sleaze, served up with a big helping of humor.  This book includes a mystery and I loved the way it played out.   The heroine, Stacy, is in the middle of a rocky divorce.  Her husband has left her for a strip tease dancer and wants everything.  But then, his plane crashes on a mountain slope in Montana and the body seems to have been dragged off by a hungry bear.  But his actions prior to his decline have caugth the interest of law enforcement and Stacy finds herself under suspicion.  Along the way she meet a fine-looking and upstanding county deputy and a darkly good-looking insurance investigator.  Her two co-workers are the kind of women who are characters but always have your back.  And Stacy is just enough of a mess to keep the humor going.  What a fun surprise this light, fluffy book was.
Rating:  4.25

Saturday, September 12, 2009

87. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

In Michael Chabon’s gleeful new novel, a pair of 10th-century soldiers of fortune scramble up and down the trails and gorges of the Caucasus, engaging in a brawl or a boondoggle as regularly as they pause for a meal. Zelikman, a blond European scarecrow whose heart has “turned to stone,” and Amram, a towering African, are apt if unlikely companions on the Silk Road’s shifting social terrain. Each has his pet passions — Zelikman for his hat and his horse, Amram for a sword called Mother-Defiler — and they bicker like the two leads in a buddy film, in this case bound together by the accident of birth that made them both Jewish. But atypically for Jews of the medieval era, they look for the main chance while swinging their blades right and left.

The action is intricate and exuberant. After a spectacular bit of con artistry, Amram and Zelikman receive a windfall: They ride away with an adolescent “stripling,” Filaq, who happens to be in line for the throne of a legendary Jewish kingdom now controlled by a wicked warlord. Fierce of spirit and itchy of foot, young Filaq longs for his home and throne but hides a secret that may keep them out of reach. He also shows a flair for startling escapes and for raising small armies.

With their purse in Filaq’s hands and their fates increasingly linked to his, the gentlemen fling themselves into new exploits. They tangle with a cyclopean mahout, a hired killer, hordes of rampaging Northmen and an elephant of many talents, not the least of which is a gift for drama. Amram, Zelikman and Filaq are regularly parted and reunited, sometimes wounded and even pleasured. The stripling’s secret is duly revealed, and after Filaq endures a last horrible assault, they all steal into the Khazarian stronghold for a suitably bloody climax.

A hillside fortress burns “zealously, sending up rolling shafts of black smoke veined at their root with fire and moaning like the mouth of a cave.” An invalid Northerner, “white as a fish belly,” is dragged from his hiding place and “slashed open like a gushing sack of wine.” On a rare break from the riotous action, Zelikman comes to rest on a “carpet that smelled like rutting sheep, in the cramped gloom of a circular dog tent constructed, as far as he could tell, from equal quantities of rancid felt, dung smoke and the acrid shadow cast by a naphtha lamp.”
Review by Susann Chokal in the New York Times, Octobe 28, 2007

I listened to this short novel on my trip to Provo and back this weekend and really enjoyed it.  I decided to use someone else's review because it's a hard book for me to describe and I had no idea how to spell anyone's name.  There is a lot going on this adventure and the two 10-century conmen are right in the middle of it all.   Amran and Zelikman are fantastic characters and made me laugh several times.  It was a fun book to listen to, especially with the author's afterword  describing why he wrote an adventure story involving Jews when adventure is not a big part of his real life. 
Rating:  4.25

Monday, September 07, 2009

86. The Sleeping Beauty Proposal by Sarah Strohmeyer

From back of book:
"Genie Michaels's commitment-phobic boyfriend is finally proposing.  On national television.  To the woman he's been seeing on the side.  It's a major wake-up call for a girl who's hit the snooze button a few too many times . . .
But no names are mentioned on the broadcast, and Genie finds herself flooded with presents and congratulations.  It's up to her to explain the mistake, but sometimes waking up is hard to do. 
Even as her parents start planning the reception, she can't help enjoying herself.  Why call off the so-called engagement just yet?  It's fun to play princess.  But unless the prince shows up -- and soon -- this dream could start getting weird . . ."
I had this book listed under the Fairy Tales genre because of the title, but it is pure chick lit.  I do like the opening paragraph:
"If you ask me, the best part about the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is that she didn't have to do anything to get a man.  She just lay around for a hundred years.  And one day, a cute guy with lots of ambition and extra time on his hands rode up on an expensive horse, hacked through a bunch of brambles, ran upstairs, and kissed her.  VoilĂ  !  Instant husband."
And after the proposal, Genie's best friend claims she is like Sleeping Beauty, waiting around in a coma for something to happen.  I like that Genie finally does something besides waiting; but the whole experience is like waiting for a train wreck to happen.  Which is what makes the book so funny.  The best friend is such a great character, egging Genie on to do things she would never have dared to do before.  This is one of the better check lit books I have read, no profanity and the sex is more understated.  Maybe not quite as funny as Sophie Kinsella's books, but just as fun to read.  Just the thing for a light, easy read.
Rating:  3.75

Friday, September 04, 2009

85. They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth

I read this book when I was 12 or 13 and absolutely loved it. I looked for it through the years but never found it until I happened upon it on Amazon. It's always fun to revisit an old childhood friend even if this one isn't quite the way I remembered it.
Martitia is an orphaned, sixteen-year-old, solemn city girl who is brought to live with the family of the kindly Quaker doctor who treated her dying parents. The family consists of a very elderly grandfather, a reserved but efficient mother, five boisterous, laughing boys, and a crusty young daughter. The boys scare Martitia with their antics and constant teasing. Ruth, the daughter, feels Martitia is helpless and useless and speaks her opinion. She really is a baby when she goes to live with the Gardners, but soon finds the fortitude to change herself and learn to become an resource to the family. There is some conflict between Dr. Gardner and Martitia's uncle over guardianship; and there is some romance and tragedy.
There were many interesting aspects to this book that I probably didn't appreciate years ago. It was a great look into the ways of the Quakers, early 19th century North Carolina, silk harvesting and even the culture of education. Still, while I loved the book as a young girl, now I found it to be a little too sweet and Martitia was a bit insipid. But then she showed great determination and courage in overcoming her helplessness and fear, even to the point of playing tricks on the brothers to get even. It was good to see her finally show some spirit. I found it interesting to read that this book was about the author's great-grandfather and his wife. He became the governor of North Carolina after the Civil War and his future in politics was alluded to in the story. It was a fun, easy book to read and I would certainly recommend it, especially to young girls.
Rating: 4

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Book Around the States Challenge Finished

WooHoo!!! I Made It!!
That's right, folks, almost exactly two years ago, I started this challenge to read a book from every state and the District of Columbia. That's a long time to work on one challenge, but I DID it!! For the most part, this was a great challenge for me and caused me to discover some books I probably would never have read. Of course, there were some bowsers along the way also. My biggest challenge was finding books for each state. Nevada, West Virginia, Michigan, Idaho were some of the most difficult. I think about repeating this challenge in the future (I even bought a book just for Nevada) but it's going to be quite a while. Here's a list of the books I read and my ratings with my favorites marked in red:
Alabama - The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley, Rating 4.75
Alaska - The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon, Rating 3.5
Arizona - Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver, Rating 5
Arkansas - Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene, Rating 4
California - S is for Silence by Sue Grafton, Rating 3.75
Colorado - The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, Rating 3.5
Connecticut - Sacred Cows by Karen E Olsen, Rating 2
Delaware - Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, Rating 4
District of Columbia - The Smithsonian Institution by Gore Vidal, Rating 3.75
Florida - Marley and Me by John Grogan, Rating 4
Georgia - The Woodsman Daughter by Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Rating 2.75
Hawaii - Damien the Leper by John Farrow, Rating 3
Idaho - Whatchagot Stew by Patrick McManus, Rating 2.75
Illinois - Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Rating 4.75
Indiana - In God We Trust by Jean Shepherd, Rating 4
Iowa - The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, Rating 3.5
Kansas - The Wizard of Oz by Fran Baum, Rating 3.5
Kentucky - Clay's Quilt by Silas House, Rating 3.75
Louisiana - The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey, Rating 4.5
Maine - More Than You Know by Beth Gutcheon, Rating 5
Maryland - A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler, Rating 4
Massachusetts - Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott, Rating 4.5
Michigan - True North by Jim Harris, Rating 2
Minnesota - Pontoon by Garrison Keillor, Rating 3
Mississippi - Daisy and the Miracle Man by Fannay Flagg, Rating 3.75
Missouri - Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg, Rating 4
Montana - English Creek by Ivan Doig, Rating 5
Nebraska - My Antonio by Willa Cather, Rating 4
Nevada - Silence is Golden by Penny Warner, Rating 3
New Hampshire - The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery, Rating 3.5
New Jersey - Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich, Rating 2
New Mexico - The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook, Rating 4
New York - Let Me Finish by Roger Angell, Rating 5
North Carolina - The Valley of Light by Terry Kay, Rating 4.75
North Dakota - Peace Like a River by Lief Enger, Rating 5
Ohio - The Prize Winner of Definance, Ohio by Terry Ryan, Rating 4.5
Oklahoma - Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, Rating 4
Oregon - The Boxmaker's Son by Donald Smurthwaite, Rating 5
Pennsylvania - Daddy's Girl by Lisa Scottoline, Rating 4
Rhode Island - Gods of Newport by John Jakes, Rating 2
South Carolina - Charleston by Alexandra Ripley, Rating 3
South Dakota - By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rating 4
Tennessee - Widow of the South by Robert Hicks, Rating 3.75
Texas - A Dilly of a Death by Susan Albert Wittig, Rating 4
Utah - Nothing to Regret by Tristi Pinkston, Rating 4
Vermont - Second Glance by Jodi Picault, Rating 4
Virginia - Wedding Ring by Emilie Richards, Rating 4
Washington - Broken for You by Stephanie Kallas, Rating 5
West Virginia - October Sky by Homer Hickam Jr, Rating 4.75
Wisconsin - Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, Rating 5
Wyoming - Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg, Rating 4.25
I have to admit as I was typing my list, I was thinking several times, "Really, I rated this one that high?" There are even a couple that I would probably rate higher after this much time has elapsed. I added to my TBR list and bought ten books by authors that I enjoyed while doing this challenge. Eighteen of the books I read were ones I either bought or borrowed to meet the challenge that were not on my TBR list. Only one of those was highlighted in red. So maybe I shouldn't do this challenge again since my goal is to get more books read from the TBR list. So, if I don't buy any more books (not counting the twelve I just ordered from Amazon) or add more to my list, I could have the TBR list read in four years at my current rate. Than I could do this challenge again. Not going to happen, is it?

84. October Sky By Homer Hickam Jr

Book Around the States
West Virginia

Many of you have seen the movie that was based on this book, orginally named Rocket Boys. I loved the movie and usually don't like to read books tied to movies because I'm usually disappointed. October Sky proved to be a wonderful exception. First of all, the movie and the book are quite similar with just a few less important things left out of the movie like Homer, Jr's (Sonny) crushes and romances. I don't remember the hostility between Sonny and his brother, Jim. I don't remember a number of things and I think I'll just watch the movie again. (I love Jake Gyllenhall). First and foremost, this is a story about following your dream. "Sometimes one dream is enough to light up the whole sky." I really appreciated how following their dream with the support they received changed the lives of these five boys, all of whom went on to graduate from college. (A rarity in this corner of West Virginia in the 1950's) But you also learn about the different types of love and caring that exist: within a family, within a group of friends, between students and teacher; within a community. The support that Sonny and his friends received from the hard-pressed mining community was phenomenal. Another think I missed in the movie was the love that Sonny had for his home. This book doesn't sugar coat the remoteness of Sonny's town or the fact that it revolves around the coal mine; but it also paints a beautiful picture of the West Virginia mountains. I've driven through West Virginia and found it fascinating but can't imagine those kids traveling on a bus in the middle of winter up and down three or four mountains and around sharp curves with abrupt drops into gaping chasms. The book also gave me a glimpse into what the U.S. was like during this Cold War era with the Russians reaching space first. Hickam didn't sugar coat the difficulties of his community or within his own family and certainly was more than fair concerning his own shortcomings. But he told a gripping and heart warming story that I think anyone would enjoy.

Rating: 4.75

Saturday, August 29, 2009

83. Peak by Roland Smith

Peak was a book that had listed on my recommendations. It's book like this that make me pay attention when Amazon makes recommendations. All right, many of the books they recommend are crap and have no correlation to me or my taste in books; but Peak was a happy surprise. The story is told as an essay written by fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello for an assignment by his English teacher. It begins with him being caught at the top of a skyscraper he had just scaled and spray painted. So Peak is in trouble facing three + years in juvenile lockdown. Along comes his father who he hasn't seen for seen years and who comes up with a compromise that will satisfy the court and the media and keep Peak out of jail. They travel to Thailand but make a surprise stop in Kathmandu. Peak's father, Josh, owns a mountain climbing guide service and he plans to make Peak the youngest boy ever to scale Everest. I'm not terribly interested in mountain climbing, but this book held my interest from the get-go. Peak is a pretty amazing young teen in his climbing abilities, his tender feeling for his twin half-sisters; and his sensitivity to others. He is also pretty normal in that he has a hard time curbing his temper, gets impatient and jealous. Reading about the thrills and dangers of climbing Everest through Peak's eyes was a great experience and definitely the closest I'll ever get to that mountain. This was a fantastic young adult book that I heartily recommend.
Rating: 4.75