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