Monday, July 27, 2009

69. Nation by Terry Pratchett (Audio)

It was a struggle but I finally figured out how to download a book to my new Walkman. It was the perfect time to listen to Nation while I put my new Adirondack chairs together. Except for the fact that the sound of the drill drowned out some of the action, but I think I followed everything pretty well. Ermintrude is on a ship to meet her father where he is the governor on some out-of-the-way island. She is glad to be away from her domineering grandmother who believes she must behave as one who is 139 places away from the throne of England. Who would have believed that the plague would hit the country and wipe out 137 of the top royals, leaving Ermintrude's father as the next king. She doesn't know any of this when her ship is hit by a tidal wave and heaved onto a unknown tropical island, leaving only Ermintrude.

Mau is canoeing back to his island after performing his manhood tasks and looking forward to the rites that will make him officially a man when the wave hits. He survives only to find that everyone in his Nation has been killed by the wave. He finds Ermintrude who intorduces herself as Daphne (smart choice) and they begin to learn to communicate. Soon other refugees make their way to the island, and Mau makes himself responsible for them.

This is a great coming-of-age story of the two teenagers, but also a tongue-in-cheek look at politics, religion, customs and even race. The humor is not as laugh-out-loud as in the Discworld books, but definitely still there. The story of Mau trying to milk a nursing pig to get milk for an infant was hilarious. As always, Pratchett fills his book with great characters and interesting situations. And as always, I enjoyed this book. I wished I had paid a little better attention to the audio because I'm sure I missed some of the story. I may just have to listen again.

Rating: 4.25

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

68. Silence is Golden by Penny Warner

Somehow I got the impression that this book was set in Nevada. I thought Amazon was never wrong. Unfortunately, the book is set in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains in California. So I'm now trying to find another book to read for my Book Around the States challenge that is set in Nevada. Rats.

Silence is Golden is part of a series involving Connor Westphal, a deaf journalist who also has the knack of getting herself dangerously involved in crimes. She lives in the small town of Flat Skunk with an assortment of eccentric characters. I wondered how such a small town provided a livelihood for Connor's boyfriend who is a private detective. Dan does seem to be the sheriff's right-hand man but I don't know how that pays. The book begins with the discovery of gold on a local hill and suddenly the town is crawling with tourists. Then people start turning up dead. I didn't really have a clue who the murderer was until the end but it made sense. I've never read a book from the perspective of a person who can't hear and that aspect of the story was very well-done and very enlightening. However, the rest of the story was just so-so for me. I hope when I actually find a book set in Nevada, it will suit me better.

Rating: 3

Sunday, July 19, 2009

67. A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler

Book Around the States

Barnaby Gaitlin is almost thirty, has a no-future job, divorced with a daughter he visits weekly, no love life, a disappointment to his family and himself. Because of his delinquent youth, his mother is on his case continually about the money spent bailing him out. The time he spends with her really set my teeth on edge. How can a mother treat her son that way. Because, in spite of everything, Barnaby is a kind, caring person and a very valued employee at Rent-a-Back, a company that provides a service mostly for older people doing things that they can no longer do. In an effort to improve himself, Barnaby begins a relationship with Sophia who represents stability to him and his family. In the end, he realizes that he has to live his life for himself and do the things that make him happy.

At first I really disliked Barnaby. He had no ambition, his thought processes were odd and sometimes creepy, he was at time a wimp and other times, rude; and he couldn't even remember how old his daughter was. But he grew on me as he begins to value his relationship with his daughter more and to learn to like himself better. I especially liked how Tyler portrays the older people in this story. She certainly doesn't sugar-coat age and its problems, but these people still have dignity and feelings. The best parts are Barnaby's interactions with his clients. The book started out very slowly but my interest increased as I read and I ended up liking it.

Rating: 4

Saturday, July 18, 2009

66. Whiteout by Ken Follett

"This book is a bio-thriller taking place over a wintry Christmas holiday in northern Scotland and well larded with family drama. Toni Gallo is the driven head of security for Oxenford Medical (aka the Kremlin), a research facility working on a cure for Madoba-2, an especially virulent strain of Ebola. She also has a running feud with her ex, a local cop, and is pestered by the attentions of newsman Carl. But she really wants to be with her widower boss, Stanley, whose daughter Olga's husband, Hugo, is paying unwelcome attention to his sister-in-law, Miranda, herself in uneasy love with a milquetoast boyfriend, Ned, whose daughter, Sophie, is the object of young Craig's budding affections. It is not until midnight on Christmas Eve that all this soap is rinsed away, and the plot kicks into high gear, as a band of desperate, violent thieves, led by Stanley's wastrel son, Kit, lay siege to the well-defended Kremlin in the midst of a terrible blizzard. Predictably, things go suddenly, frightfully wrong. From here on out, Follett's sure hand at the controls of a high-octane plot delivers the expected thrills in expected ways."
David WrightCopyright © American Library Association.

I found this thriller pretty good up to the point about a third of the way when Follett throes in a really crude sexual line. A few pages later, he does it again. I almost quit, they were so sleazy and unnecessary, but decided to see if those were just anomalies. With the exception of a couple of teenagers fooling around, a bit that really had something to do with the plot and was written much better, Follett played it pretty straight until the very end when he decides to throw in a whole paragraph of ick. Actually this was not a bad story for its genre, but I was appalled at these few instances of smut. The worse part was that they were just stupid, had nothing to do with the story, and almost seemed to be written by someone else. I don't know if this is Follett's way of making the story more sexy (didn't work) or what. Anyway, I took a full point off my rating for the really dumb sexual nonsense.

Rating: 2.5

Thursday, July 16, 2009

65. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I hope my grandson loves to read when he is old enough to tackle this book. It was such a fun fantasy. The characters are wonderful from the skinny, always eating Number Two to tiny Constance Contraire to evil Mr. Curtain; I enjoyed them all. Maybe it's a little too black and white between the good guys and the bad but it fits well with this story. Mr. Curtain has hatched an evil plot to take over the world through subliminal messages. Mr. Benedict knows the only way to thwart him is with children so he tests children all over the city to find a team that will be able to infiltrate Curtain's stronghold. The four children: heroic but average-looking Reynie; skinny, fearful and bald Sticky (George) Washington; athletic Kate Weathers; and tiny and stubborn, obstinate and cranky Constance combine their talents to become the tools Mr. Benedict will use to save the world. There is so much humor in this book along with a few subtle self-esteem building lessons. And the suspense was just right. I can't wait to read the sequel. Rating: 5

64. Death Dance by Linda Fairstein (audio)

I had training in Provo yesteday so this Book-on-CD was my choice to keep me awake on the trip out and back. I really struggled driving out Tuesday so maybe the story just wasn't quite gripping enough. Assistant D.A. Alex Cooper specializes in sex crimes and the book begins with one; but the real mystery involves a murder at the Met that her colleague, Mike Chapman, a homocide detective, enlists her help on. (Sorry about that run-on sentence) The sex crime involves a Turkish doctor who drugs and then has sex with his unconscious victims. The case seems pretty cut and dried to me but the judge is quite the Neanderthal. I found his crude and sexist remarks quite unbelievable for a New York judge in this era. Maybe twenty years ago, judges viewed rape victims as asking for it, but do they still? The main mystery involved the murder of a prima donna ballerina who is thrown down an air shaft at the Met. We are introduced to some shady characters who are rich and powerful in the theatre scene. My real problem is that there are not very many clues that lead you to the actual murderer. But there is a good rescue scene and the descriptions of some of New York's theaters. Rating: 3.5

Monday, July 13, 2009

62. Lemon Tart by Josi Kilpack

I have read other books by Josi Kilpack and have enjoyed them a great deal. She writes with a great deal of humor and insight into her characters. Lemon Tart is her first mystery and is part of a series of culinary mysteries. I know there are a lot of mystery series out there that include food and recipes and I've enjoyed them all. What I really like about this book is the heroine, Sadie Hoffmiller. She is a fifty-six year old widow, a little padded in the hips and doesn't always look perfect. She also is caring. generous, loves to cook and is the quintessential busybody. So when a neighbor is murdered, Sadie just can't stay out of the investigation. The results are often hilarious, sometimes sad, scary and unexpected. I really liked this book and the recipes look pretty good too. Unfortunately, I'm not much of a cook. Still I look forward to the next Sadie mystery.
Rating: 4.5

Sunday, July 12, 2009

61. The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

Book Around the States
I guess it would be unrealistic to read a book from each state and not get one that deals with the Civil War. This is the story of Carrie McGavock and her attempts to make some sense from the battle that took place near her home. The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee is considered to be the bloodiest in history. 9600 men died within the space of five hours. It also created such a crushing blow for the Confederacy that the war ended at Appotomax just four months later. While the book includes details of that horrific battle, mostly it tells a fictionalized version of the hospital that was set up at Carrie's home and her efforts to take care of so many dying men. Two years after the war ended, she learns that a neighbor plans to plow up his field where fifteen hundred corpses are lightly buried. She gets permission, and with the help of many of the townspeople, the dead were dug up and reburied in a cemetery next to her house. Those are the facts. The rest of this pretty long book creates characters to suppose what could have happened to Carrie, her family, and some of those soldiers. I'm not sure if there is any basis for the relationship that develops between her and one of the amputees, but it seemed a little far-fetched to me. It was an interesting and very moving story, especially about the family who visits their son's grave many years later. Even so, I had a hard time getting through the whole thing. Hicks writing was beautiful and the historical was nicely blended into the fiction. I think I just had a hard time liking most of the characters including Carrie McGavock. Plus I'm not really a Civil War buff.
Rating: 3.75

Thursday, July 09, 2009

60. If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern (Audio)

From the back cover: ~~"Everything in Elizabeth Egan's life has its place, from the espresso cups in her gleaming kitchen to the swatches and paint pots of her interior-design business. Order and precision keep life under control--and keep Elizabeth's heart safe from the pain and hurt she has suffered in the past. Being a reluctant mother to her six-year-old nephew while trying to keep her design business on tract is a full-time job for Elizabeth, and one that leaves little room for error--or fun. Until one day, when Ivan unexpectedly comes into their lives. The mysterious Ivan is carefree, spontaneous, and always looking for adventure--everything that Elizabeth is not. Yet just when Elizabeth is starting to trust him, it turns out that Ivan isn't at all who she thought he was. ~~Playful and at times intensely moving, this is a novel about how seeing isn't always believing. Full of Cecelia Ahern's trademark warmth and poignancy, If You Could See Me Now is a story of enormous heart--and just a little magic." ~~This book is a little bit romance, a little bit fantasy, with some psycho analysis thrown in. I'm not sure if I would have finished the book if I had read it. There was a point about half-way in the second disc that I became impatient with the somewhat heavy-handed messages that seemed imbedded into the story. I found Elizabeth to be humorless and mean-spirited and Ivan a bit fey. But I was on my way to Provo and I needed the book to keep me awake which it barely did. And I love the Irish accents of the two narrators. Plus I was quite concerned for the fate of Luke, the nephew, who seemed to be at the mercy of uncaring adults. Luckily, the book picks up and I began to enjoy it and to like Ivan and Elizabeth much better. I was kind of sorry to have it end. The ending itself was happy/sad which was perfect for this story. Because the audio was an abridgement, I wonder about the parts that were left out; but I can live with that. I recommend the audio with the male and female narrators and background music. I would gladly listened to more of Ahern's books--I may even read one. Rating: 4