Tuesday, June 30, 2009

59. Spanish Dagger by Susan Wittig Albert

I really thought that after reading these two books, I would be caught up with the whole China Bayles series; but I find there are five more I haven't read. Yay, something to look forward to. I usually get tired of a series after reading seven or eight and probably did with this one a couple of years ago. But I was ready to jump in again and have enjoyed the dip. In a few months, I'll look for some of those I've missed.

Again, this book begins with China planning a workshop with a friend, only this time they are making paper from native plants. But the real mystery revolves around the disappearance of Ruby's boyfriend. There are two murders in this book, and I figured out the murderer quite quickly. I must be getting into the author's rhythm. And even though Ruby and McQuaid, two characters I really like, play very little part in this book; I still enjoyed it a touch more than Indigo Dyeing. The pace was quicker and the Rottweiller is a fantastic character. As in all the Bayles books, Albert includes recipes using herbs and begins her chapters with usage, histories and myths involving various herbs. I recommended these books earlier as a great summer read, they are also fast reads. Sometimes that is just what you need.

Rating: 4.25

58. Indigo Dying by Susan Wittig Albert

I love the China Bayles mysteries. I have definitely not read these books in any kind of order, but it is still so easy to pick one up and get involved with China and her Texas friends. Each book also covers some craft or hobby that seems to fit into the mystery. This particular book, as you may imagine, begins with China and a friend planning a workshop to teach participants how to make dyes from native plants. The mystery itself was pretty easy for me to figure out, but I enjoyed the journey. First the town bully of an almost ghost town is killed by a booby-trap he created. Then a gorgeous journalist is found bludgeoned to death. Along with following China and her clairvoyant friend, Ruby, as they track down leads, Albert manages to throw in some environmental issues and lots of relationship twists. There are 18 books in this series now. If you can read them in order, do, because than you can follow how the relationship between China and McQuaid begins and develops. If, like me, you just grab one and get started; it's still okay. It's pretty easy to figure out what's going on. The books are great for a light summer mystery. Try to squeeze in two or three each year.
Rating: 4

Saturday, June 27, 2009

57. The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey

Book Around the States
I've put off reading this book because it didn't look very interesting to me. So I was pleasantly surprised with Bailey's telling of this true tale. He originally meant to write a treatise about slavery in the 1800's but found this story and knew he could incorporate his research into telling about Sally Miller. His facts are heartbreaking, unbelievable, and always thought-provoking. It's hard to understand the mentality that created and sustained slavery for so many years.

Sally Miller is believed by many to be a German girl who went missing at the age of five and was later found by other Germans when she was over thirty and a slave. The subsequent detective work and trial make up most of the story and it was pretty gripping stuff. I'm not sure I agree with Bailey's conclusions but it was still a great story and a sobering look at one of America's greatest shames.

Rating: 4.5

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

55. The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman - Audio

Harry Houdini was a fascinating man and this abridged audio of the book certainly makes him even more so. According to the authors, Houdini acted as a spy for the government before WWI and helped train American troops in the art of escape. It was interesting to learn how Houdini learned about locks which led him to train and develop muscle and breathing techniques that allowed him to survive while extricating himself from various predicaments. A great portion of the book deals with Harry's attempt to reach his mother on the other side. Because of his training in magic and sleight of hand, plus a stint of a medium early in his career, Harry was able to spot the tricks used by spiritualists of the day. He became an avid debunker of these frauds, costing him his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was a strong supporter of the Spiritualists movement. According to the authors, Harry continued to search for a true medium but was always disappointed. The book also suggests that Houdini's death from peritonitis caused by acute appendicitus was caused by foul means. Apparently it was his custom to allow men to hit him in the stomache. On the final occasion, a student hit him many times in the abdomen without giving his a chance to tighten the muscles. The mysterious student seemed to be in the pay of the angry spiritualists who were known to do away with their detractors. One of the most fascinating things about the book is how they explain many of Houdini's feats. He never claimed to be supernatural and always testifed that his act was always performed by natural means. Even so he was quite extraordinary. It was a fun book to listen to while traveling to Salt Lake this weekend. Rating: 4

54. Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg

Book Around the States

Mark Spragg writes his memoirs of growing up on a dude ranch just east of Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern corner of Wyoming. You certainly get a feel for the ruggedness of this state while reading Spragg's book. His family bought the ranch when he was twelve and many of the chapters tell of the way he grew up learning to work really hard, his love for horses and nature, and his relationships with his brother, father and the cowboys who worked on the ranch. As for the guests who come to hunt, they are just background for some great stories. Some of the stories are fun, some are heartbreaking, but always beautifully told. So I really enjoyed this book until Spragg starts telling about his adult years. For a boy who seemed so well-adjusted and happy, he grew up to be pretty morose. Here he describes the ever-present wind of Wyoming which is enough to keep me from moving there. He says the state has the second highest incidence of suicide in the nation. I can understand that and maybe it explains why his adult chapters seems so depressing. The chapter where his mother is dying is so sad and hopeless. Spragg writes incredibly well, but I found the boyhood chapters so uplifting that the final few chapters were quite a let down.

Rating: 4.25

Sunday, June 14, 2009

53. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Book Around the States - Missouri

First sentence: "After Elner Shimfissle accidentally poked that wasps' nest up in her fig tree, the last thing she remembered was thinking, "Uh-oh." " I chuckled right off the bat with this book and continued giggling through the first half. After that, it gets a little frantic and far-fetched. Elner is such an eccentric and fun character, that you fall in love with her just like everyone else in Elmwood Springs. Her niece, Norma, is high-strung and neurotic; but, just when you can't stand her, she does or says something to let you know that she is still a caring and giving person. When asked what she wanted readers to take from this book, the author said, "I'm hoping they will think of something I am trying to remember as well -- that the old cliché is true: life really is what you make it, and a lot is up to us. As Abraham Lincoln once said, 'People are about as happy as they make their minds to be' " Elner Shimfissle is one happy person and, through the events in this story, most of her friends and neighbors learn to be happier people as well.

Rating: 4

Friday, June 05, 2009

52. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

From the inside cover:
"In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love."

Well, all I can is Wow. I really loved this book. Even though I checked this out at the library, I am going to buy a copy for myself because I am sure to read it again. Katniss is such a fantastic character, so prickly and alone; but she discovers a caring side while competing against twenty-three other contestants. Collins descriptions are so in-depth and the action so compelling that I had a hard time putting the book down. Just when I thought things were winding down, she would throw in another twist. As I turned to the last page, still not sure how it would end, I was thrilled to see it wasn't ending. There's a sequel! I'm so glad to know this book lived up to the glowing reviews I have read. Add my recommendation to the list.

Rating: 5

Reading Meme

Thanks to Booklogged for finding me a fun meme. It's been such a long time since i've done one. Now I see she has another one on her blog but I'll have to think about that.

1. What author do you own the most books by? I'm too lazy to go count but I own a whole slew of Terry Pratchett, L. M. Montgomery and Dana Stabenow. Pretty eclectic, aren't I?

2. What book do you own the most copies of? I don't think I own more than one of any book. There have been a few times when I buy or mooch a book I already own. I just have to grit my teeth and mooch the extra off.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? What are you talking about?

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with? Connor Larkin from Trinity by Leon Uris

5. What book have you read the most times in your life? When I was young, I read Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brinks 16 times. I've also read Anne of Green Gables quite a few times.

6. Favorite book as a ten year old? See my last answer

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year? The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be? The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie? I just finished The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It would make a brilliant movie.

11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read? The Brothers Karamazov.

12. What is your favorite book? I love so many books that are so different that I can't really pick one. So I'll list some: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, Anne of Green Gables By L M Montgomery, The Boxmaker's Son by Donald Smurthwaite, An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker, Trinity by Leon Uris . . . I could go on and on.

13. Play? The Importance of Being Earnest

14. Poem? Wee Willie Winkie

15. Essay? No idea

16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today? Danielle Steele

17. What is your desert island book? I would die with just one book.

18. And . . . what are you reading right now? I just finished reading The Hunger Games (review will be posted shortly) and will be starting The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poor Hawthorne, The Hunger Games will be a hard book to follow.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

51. Agent in Lace by Tristi Pinkston

Agent in Lace is Tristi Pinkston's new book and a departure from her usual historical novels. I've decided that it's my favorite. Definitely written for the LDS audience, I appreciate the way she includes LDS culture in the book without interpreting it, just assumes we know what she's talking about. Also, this book is pure entertainment, no overt attempts to hit you over the head with Mormon doctrine. It's just part of who these people are and that's the way I like my LDS fiction. There's not much mystery in the book, you know who the bad guy is right off the bat. The conflict revolves around whether Shannon and her FBI agent/bodyguard can stop him from killing her. Great suspense there. And the romance included was just right. Shannon and Rick, FBI guy, meet but there's no unnatural sparks or explosions. Their attraction builds slowly but in a way that would normally follow two people exisiting under dangerous conditions. I really like the characters. They are believable people. Not so good-looking and perfect that you hate them, but attractive, fun, sometimes klutzy, willing to laugh at themselves, caring of others. People you would like to know. Except Mark, of course, he's the bad guy. And Tristi includes just the right touch of humor. She really is funny. Just visit her blog (see sidebar) and read some of her posts. My only quibble is with the rate of return on those investments. I don't hear about too many people doubling their investment in six months and I work at a bank. I'll have to ask our consultant and see if he can hook me up with something. Anyway, very minor. I really enjoyed this book. It's a fun, quick read. Rating: 4.5

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

50. The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery

Book Around the States - New Hampshire
Sy Montgomery has traveled extensively around the world to research her books about animals and the way humans interact with them. In this book, she tells about the adventures which occur at her own home in Hancock, New Hampshire when she and her husband become the proud parents of an emaciated piglet. The runt is named Christopher Hogwood (named after a British composer because pigs love classical music. . . who knew?) and, after surviving a precarious babyhood, he grows into a charming 750 hog. Along with sharing thirteen years of the antics of the sometimes greedy but always loveable pig; Montgomery also includes antecdotes from her own travels, her relationships with family and friends and satisfying tidbits and history of porkdom. I truly enjoyed the way she wove those into Chris' story. While I enjoyed the book and the glimpses into the lives of Montgomery and her neighbors, this probably isn't a story that will stay with me for a long time. Fun, interesting read even so.
Rating: 3.5