Friday, May 29, 2009

49. The Wonderful World of Oz by L Frank Baum

Book Around the States - Kansas

I chose this book for my Kansas book even though very little of it takes place in that state. Even so, how many of you think of Oz when Kansas is mentioned?

The first thing you encounter in this edition is a long, tedious introduction by J T Barbarese, a children's literature professor. How can people claim to say that's why the author said this or this is the secret meaning behind that? I was annoyed. Plus, he did many comparisons to the 1939 movie with Judy Garland. I understand better after reading the book but I thought he dwelt too much on the movie. Having said that, it is immediately apparent after starting the actual book that the movie is very different. I wonder how I would have felt about the book if I had never seen the movie. It does color your perceptions. The characters are a little flat. Dorothy is a ten-year-old girl who wants to go home to Kansas although you never get a feeling that she is that attached to her home. I did like the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion very much. They are not cartoonish as the movie portrays them. In fact, the Scarecrow is very smart, the Tin Man very caring and the Lion is very brave. They just don't see those qualities in themselves. Maybe Baum is saying we need to recognize our abilities and accept who we are. Or maybe it's just like he said in an interview that he wanted to write a "modernized fairy tale." It seems the book was taken from stories he would tell small children while working at his store. That seems to fit as the narrative is so simple and straightforward just like it was being told to children. It's not the least bit scary (I was terrified of the Witch in the movie) and the action moves from one scene to the next very quickly. Still I found it quite charming to read; and the illustrations were great fun.

Rating: 4

Thursday, May 28, 2009

48. Damien the Leper by John Farrow

Book Around the States - Hawaii
While visiting Tahiti, Hollywood film director, John Farrow, was inspired by the life of Father Damien, a priest who spent the last fourteen years of his life in a leper colony in the Hawaiin islands. His book follows the priest from his early childhood in a small village in Belgium, through his training to be a merchant, the change to the priesthood and his posting to Hawaii. After serving in two different locations where he was extremely succesful, he volunteered to transfer to the leper colony on the island of Molokai, knowing he would stay there the rest of his life. Farrow's descriptions of conditions in the colony are quite harrowing as are those of the inhabitants. It is easy to understand why the disease is so dreaded. Unfortunately, the book wasn't all that interesting to me. Damien was certainly an admirable character with his immense energy and drive, but I never felt a true connection to him. I did do some further research on leprosy and the islands, which was interesting, but was quite glad when the book was over.
Rating: 3

Sunday, May 17, 2009

47. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd

Book Around the States

Jean Shepherd's humorous story reminded me a great deal of Bill Bryson's book, The Thunderbolt Kid. He tells about Ralph's growing up in a steel town in northern Indiana during the Great Depression. It's hilarious what trouble boys can get into. I really like the format Shepherd used for telling the story. Ralph is visiting his old hometown of Hohman, Indiana to do a story about where he grew up. He feels vaguely superior after living in New York City for many years. When he finds his old friend, Flick, at his bar; they being to reminisce about their younger days. Ralph then tells the story behind each memory. As the afternoon passes, the two become drunker and maybe more maudlin; but it seems like the conversation any couple of friends meeting after many year would have. At first, Shepherd uses the stories to show how right Ralph was in leaving Indiana behind; but towards the end, he becomes more nostalgic for those glory days. I enjoyed reading about simpler times and how people coped with the problems of that depression. They kept on going, continued to have good times, and did the best they could.

This quote reminded me of the stories parents tell of walking to school in snowdrifts up to their waists, uphill both ways. It made me chuckle to picture school kids bundled up in about forty layers of clothing for protection in sub-zero weather: "Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper would be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind."

Ralph's memory of the Christmas he wanted a BB gun was absolutely priceless. I also laughed when 10-year-old Ralph writes a book report for his beautiful teacher, knowing this is the report that will convince her that Ralph is her one and only. The book is the one he finds on his parents' nightstand and is more than a little racy. Of course, in that era, a ten-year-old boy has no idea what he just read. And the blind date story that Ralph grudgingly agrees to go on to help out his friend. The girl turns out to be gorgeous, and Ralph talks incessantly in an effort to impress her. At the end he realizes that he is actually the blind date. Good times.

Rating: 4

46. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I finally finished the last book that Cassie gave me for Christmas last year. It's a book of short stories so I just read it at my leisure. Actually it became my bathroom book.

"Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas--abstracts, invisible, gone once they've been spoken--and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created." Author's Introduction

I've said this before but, I think Neil Gaiman may have one of the most gifted but twisted minds in the world. He writes absolutely beautifully. I've never really liked short stories until I read these. It's amazing to me how quickly you can be drawn into a story, go through a wide gamut of feelings and then reach a satisfying conclusion. Gaiman also includes some poetry that I skipped. That's right, I don't read much poetry. I loved the introduction in which Gaiman talks about each story. Sometimes he tells why he wrote it (one was a birthday present for his daughter) or his feelings about it, etc. I was always going back to the introduction when I started or finished a story. Of the thirty-one selections in these book, my favorites were: "October in the Chair", a story about the twelve months holding their annual meeting at which October is this year's chairperson; "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire", a humorous story of a writer who hates what he is writing; and "Monarch of the Glen", the longest story in the book about a traveler who visits northern Scotland and becomes caught up in a really odd ritual. There were a few stories I really didn't like. They were either too gory, macabre, or just plain creepy. But even in those stories, Gaiman sets the tone and draws you in. He really is a fascinating personality. Rating: 4.5

Sunday, May 10, 2009

45. The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic is Terry Pratchett's second Discworld novel and follows the adventures of Rincewind and his friend, Twoflower. The two are miraculously rescued from falling off the rim of Discworld and are now faced with saving the world and its inhabitants from a quickly approaching red star. As they make their way back to the city of Ankh-Morpork, they meet all kinds of fantastic, strange or dangerous characters. I like Rincewind much better in this book. He is still a coward but always finds a way out of danger. Of course, he gets a lot of help from The Luggage and the eighty-seven-year-old hero, Cohen the Barbarian. The whole result is just hilarious. I love how Pratchett personifies just about every inanimate object with such humor. It's a great book. I look forward to continuing on with the series. Just not all at once. Rating: 4.5

Friday, May 08, 2009

44. The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (Audio)

This abridged version was perfect for a trip to Salt Lake and back. And it was a pretty good abridgement; not too choppy and not missing a lot of important facts. (At least, none that I know of) The story starts with Julia, who buys an old home after her divorce, and digs up a skeleton in her planned garden spot. The story then moves to a Boston hospital in 1830, where women are dying after giving birth. After a description of the unclean conditions, you quickly understand why. shudder . . . There are a few gory details when people start getting murdered and an amputation is performed. But I enjoyed reading about Julia and her research to learn about what happened to the people who lived in her home 180 years earlier and finding out who the murderer actually was. The identity of the bones found in the garden was not revealed until the very last but it was kind of obvious. There is a modern-day romance and a 1830 romance that were pretty rushed probably because of the abridgement, but that's okay. All in all, a good medical mystery and an interesting look at more primitive medical beliefs and practices. As always, I enjoy the way Gerritsen writes. I really need to get back to her Jane Rizzoli series. Rating: 4.25

43. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I have read other Pratchett books, loved them, and decided it was time to read the very first one. I enjoyed reading descriptions of key characters and continents and other explanations for some of the things going on in the Discworld series. I found this information to be very helpful because there really is a lot going on. And I am totally blown away by the scope of Pratchett's imagination and humor. Having said all that, I will say this book was not as good, in my opinion, as the two I read featuring Moist von Lipwig. Probably because I liked Moist better than the wizard, Rincewind, and the tourist, Twoflower. And there really was so much going on, it kind of lost some impact for me. Minor criticisms because the book was still fun to read. I am now reading The Light Fantastic which continues with Rincewind's story.
Rating: 4.25

Sunday, May 03, 2009

42. The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook

Book Around the States
New Mexico

"In the 1890s, Hannah Bass, a Harvey girl working a remote hotel in New Mexico meets, and then marries, a famous surveying engineer for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, a man patterned after William Raymond Morley, the discoverer of Glorieta Pass. The political conflicts of pre-statehood New Mexico, the ever-expanding Santa Fe, and the disappearance of Hannah's husband all weave into a story in the present day, involving Hannah's granddaughter and her discovery of a legendary, long-missing journal written by Hannah. " Alexander Craghead, Review posted on Amazon

I'm cheating again with someone else's review, but it was so nice and succinct. And it was not as easy for me to summarize the book. I did enjoy the historical aspects of this novel and the facts about that part of New Mexico, a state I have never visited. The characters were not as easy to like. Meg, the great-granddaughter, lives her life by reacting against the dictates of her domineering grandmother, Bassie, Hannah's daughter, who first published the journals. Their fights and tirades were tedious. However, a mystery is uncovered when a man's bones are excavated at the site where Bassie's dog was supposed to have been buried. Discovering who that man is and what really happened to him was a very compelling component of this book. I also enjoyed Crook's writing style which made the characters and scenery come alive.

Rating: 4