Sunday, April 26, 2009

41. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Grave is the first in a series starring Lady Julia Grey. I believe there are two more completed novels, but don't know how many are planned. The first two sentences of the book grab your attention immediately: "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." At first, I didn't care for the two main characters much. Julia is too meek and innocent and Nicholas is too cranky. But they grew on me. I especially liked that Julia is not immediately beautiful and intelligent. She is quite brave and impetuous but does some really dumb things. There is a great deal of attraction between her and Nicholas but the author wisely draws this out. In this book, they kiss only once but I'm interested enough to continue reading the series to see how they will eventually get together. The investigation into the mystery itself takes quite a while to get going. I think the book would have been much better if some of the extraneous information had been deleted. Julia has an eccentric family which may explain why so many of her behaviors are not what you would expect of a Victorian aristocrat, but she still pushes your belief. Overall, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the next one. Rating: 4

Thursday, April 23, 2009

40. Daddy's Girl by Lisa Scottoline (Audio)

Book Around the States

Thanks to Booklogged for suggesting Lisa Scottoline's books for my Pennsylvania. I had this audio on the shelf and took a trip to Provo and back which it fit in perfectly. This audio version was wonderfully narrated by Kate Burton. She voiced the main character, Nat, so well that I really liked her in spite of the fact that she lets everyone push her around. It's a great mystery and a gripping thriller . . . lots of suspense and danger. Just the kind of book to keep you awake on an afternoon drive. In the course of trying to maintain her own life and prove herself innocent of murder, Nat grows up and learns to stick up for herself. I just didn't care for the way the book ended; and I didn't really like Angus Holt, the man Nat falls. Still, it did contain some descriptions of the Westchester County, PA which satisfies my state challenge.

Rating: 4

39. West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I became interested in this book when it was described as being about the first woman who flew across the Atlantic traveling eat to west against the Atlantic winds. If I had known how much it involved Africa, I might not have read it, never feeling a lot of interest in that continent. What serendipity!! This is one of the best memoirs I've ever read and I found Markham's descriptions of Africa to be poetical and breathtaking. I read on Wikipedia that there are questions as to whether she is the actual author. Whoever wrote it did a fantastic job. I suspect another writer would probably have included more of her racy life. The book is full enough with Markham's adventures as a horse trainer and a pilot in the late 20's and early 30's. The flight across the Atlantic was hair raising. And the whole book is quite the ode to Kenya. Here are some passages that I marked to illustrate the exquisite writing.

"Competitors in conquest have overlooked the vital soul of Africa hereself, from which emanates the true resistance to conquest. The soul is not dead, but silent, the wisdom not lacking, but of such simplicity as to be counted non-existent in the tinker's mind of modern civilization."

"How can I compare a race like this to music? Or how can I not? Will some perfectionist snug in the arms of his chair under the marble eyes of Beethoven shudder at the thought? I suppose so, but if there's a fledging juggler of notes and cadences, less loyal to the stolid past, who seeks a new theme for at least a rhapsody, he may buy a ticket at any gate and see how they run. He will do what I cannot. He will transpose and change and re-create the sound of hooves that pelt like rain, or come like a rolling storm, or taper like the rataplan of fading tympani."

"You could expect many things of God at night when the campfire burned before the tents. You could look through and beyond the veils and see shadows of the world as God first made it and hear the voices of the beasts He put there. It was a world as old as Time, but as new as Creation's hour had left it. In a sense it was formless. When the low stars shone over it and the moon clothed it in silver fog, it was the way the firmament must have been when the waters had gone and the night of the Fifth Day had fallen on creatures still bewildered by the wonder of their being."

I think I'm going to find a biography about Beryl Markham and learn more about her. Rating: 5

Monday, April 20, 2009

38. No, I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year By Virginia Ironside (Audio)

Marie Sharp is about to turn 60, and unlike many of her peers, she has no interest in taking up paragliding or living for three months with a Masai tribe in Africa. She's intent on accepting this new phase of her life, which brings with it the freedom to do old things, such as getting a pension and free prescriptions and, as her neighbor helpfully points out, "tekkin' it eezee, man." Marie, in fact, has such an easygoing attitude toward aging that her friends are constantly inviting her out to dinner and on vacation. She's also excited about becoming a grandmother and babysitting for her grandchild, who has "the air of a very clean goblin" given to "laughing rather inappropriately." And though Marie has declared herself done with romantic entanglements, there's a very kind old friend, recently widowed, who has a crush on her. For Marie, old age is looking pretty wonderful. Ironside is pretty wonderful herself, offering a witty and, at times, poignant depiction of the challenges and freedoms that come with getting older. Joanne Wilkinson Copyright © American Library Association. This was such a fun book to listen to. I laughed out loud when Marie questions her doctor about her knees hurting because of her age. She's never taken exercise so her knees should be in "like-new" condition. She was a true child of the sixties but now thinks all those drugs were wasted on your youth when they could be so much better used now that she's sixty. And all the parts about being a grandma went right to my heart. If the author had left out all the references to sex at sixty (eeewww, I'm fifty-three so I can eeewww if I want), it would have been much better for me. Also, the profanity is always jarring in an audio version. Rating: 4.25

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mrs. Shumak's Boarding House by Marty Kam

I got this book to satisfy my need for a book from Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish it. Mrs. Shumak's family has owned the house for 150 years and it is falling down around her. In order to save the house from an avaricious developer, she must find the money to do massive repairs. Supposedly this book is humorous and heartwarming, but I never found it in the 82 pages I did read. So I gave myself permission to put it aside and move on to the next book. I still need a book from Pennsylvania and hope I find something more to my taste. Rating: DNF

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

36. - 37. Two Audios by Stuart Woods

Wolf Willet is a successful Hollywood producer living in Santa Fe. When he reads about his brutal murder along with his partner and wife, he knows things aren't right. Hiring the best defense attorney in Santa Fe, Ed Eagle, he goes to the police and quickly becomes the chief suspect of a triple homocide. Together the two set about to prove Wolf's innocence, even though he remembers nothing about that night.

Jesse Warden, a former federal agent, is in prison for stealing money and murdering his partner. Suddenly the Justice Department pulls him out of prison and offers him a complete pardon if he will infiltrate an Aryan church stronghold located in Idaho. Jesse assumes a new identity and heads to Idaho where he plans the downfall of the charismatic head of the church.

I had a hard time with these audio books. True, they are abridged, but there is so much of the story cut out that they make no sense. Both books include romances, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind them. Also, it's hard to believe how quickly Jesse infiltrates the church and becomes a trusted member. I'm not sure if I would have liked the books better if I had listened to a less cut-up version, but it is possible. The narrator, Tony Roberts, did a great job. His gravelly voice seemed perfect for this genre.

Rating: Santa Fe Rules 2.75, Heat 2.5

35. The Smithsonian Institution by Gore Vidal

Book Around the States Challenge
District of Columbia

"T. is 13 in 1939 and possesses, albeit unknowingly, the secret formula that will complement Einstein's theory and possibly alter the outcome of history as we know it. Because of his doodles on an algebra exam, the powers that be (and readers are never quite sure until the end who the powers are) arrange for him to be deposited at the doors of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Once inside, he is seduced in the Native American exhibit by a charming young thing he calls Squaw, but who turns out to be Frankie Cleveland, one of the women (a very young one) from the First Ladies exhibit. He soon realizes that the Institution contains many exhibits that come alive when the doors close, as well as laboratories for secret experiments. In his travels, he soon understands that he can visualize mathematical possibilities and respond to Einstein, Oppenheimer, and other scientists who are closed up in the museum along with a lobotomized Abraham Lincoln and even a statue representing T., killed in action during World War II. Obviously, much belief must be suspended and the time-travel episodes and glances at history both as it was and might have been are convoluted, but Vidal does know his American history. Through this disjointed, lightweight page-turner, readers pick up a historical awareness, especially of the presidents, almost painlessly. T.'s coming of age and subsequent romps with Frankie are risqu?, but all in fun and might be a further inducement to read on. An intriguing introduction to Vidal as well as enjoyable historical fiction." Susan H. Woodcock, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

I can't even begin to describe this book except as a mixture of time-travel, sci-fi, historical fiction, satyr and a bit of "Night at the Museum." And I had a hard time following the line of the story at times. Even so, I found Vidal's writing to be enjoyable and humorous; the tidbits about past presidents and other historical figures were fascinating; and the sexual encounters, blech. I think I may have to read some of Vidal's historical fictions. Any suggestions? I also thought this was a great book to read for D.C. Even though I've been to the Smithsonian, there is obviously a lot there that I missed. Rating: 3.75

Sunday, April 12, 2009

34. A Dilly of a Death by Susan Wittig Albert

Book Around the States

I have always enjoyed the China Bayles mystery series. I can't remember how many I've read, and it's probably been over a year since the last one; but they are fun and interesting mysteries. As you may know, China is a former defense attorney who cashed it all in to open a herbal shop called "Thymes and Seasons" in the town of Pecan Springs, Texas. A Dilly of a Death has the usual complement of eccentric characters who amuse and entertain the reader. The characters also seem to embody the spirit of Texas to me. In this book, the rich owner of the town's pickle factory disappears along with her much-younger boyfriend just before the annual Pickles Days Festival. Soon she is found dead, and China and her friend, Ruby, become involved in solving the murder as well as a series of robberies that have taken place. To make the books even more fun to read, the author includes recipes that fit along with the story as well as tidbits about the title herb. How does "Lavender Scones", "Rose Geranium Pound Cake", or "Dilled Beer Bread" sound?

Rating: 4

Monday, April 06, 2009

33. The Woodsman's Daughter

Book Around the States
Personal Challenge
This is one of those eipc stories that follow three generations. Monroe Miller is the father of two daughters, the beautiful Dahlia and blind Nellie Ann. He owns thousand of acres of pine trees whose sap he uses to make turpentine. Unfortunately, Monroe has a serious drinking problem, low social connections; and committed adultery once with disastrous results for himself and his family. After her parents' and sister's death, Dahlia is left almost penniless. She moves to another town and begins her search for a rich husband. Her first marriage is a mess, resulting in the birth of a son, Marion, who she loves but is unable to show that love. Her second marriage to a sweet, gentle man gives her the daughter she always wanted. She is overprotective of Clara Nell but also spoils her rotten, leading to . . . you guessed it . . . disastrous results. Clara Nell decides to break out of the net her mother has created around her with . . . disastrous results. Overall, I didn't care for this story very much. There were a couple of characters who played small parts in the story that were sympathetic, but mostly, I found the characters to be incredibly flawed and unlikeable. Even though the story begins in the 1880's and ends in the 1920's, it didn't create a feeling for those time periods. I do think the author did a good job making me feel the atmosphere of Georgia with its hot and humid climate versus the pouring rains or the rare light snowfalls. Rating: 2.75

Friday, April 03, 2009

32. North River by Pete Hamil

North River is a beautifully told story about a doctor serving the lower-incomed people in his neighborhood along with the occasional mobsters in the later 1930's of New York City. A flawed but caring man, Delaney moves from day to day in a cloud resulting from his wife's abandonment and his daughter's pregnancy and marriage a few years earlier. He fills his lonely days by caring for those around him. He returns one day to find his daughter has left his grandson, Carlito, at his house while she searches for her missing husband. His anger at his daughter intertwined by his wonder at the gift that is Carlito are wonderfully dewcribed and so believable. Rosa enters his life as a housekeeper and nursemaid but soon becomes much more to the doctor. Color is added to his life and he finds reason to truly live his life. Then Delaney becomes involved in a gang war that threatens not only his life, but that of Carlita and Rosa. Sometimes his decisions may not be the most ethical but they are the ones that will keep his family safe. This story runs the gamut of suspense, deep emotions, a sense of community, romance and tragedy. Just as absorbing is the backdrop of 1930's New York City. And the wonder of the a three-year-old boy as he is introduced to the sights of that city was absolutely charming. I really enjoyed this book. Rating: 4.75