Sunday, January 31, 2010

9. The Liberation of Henry Belmont by Steve Gudofsky

PR Log (Press Release) When Henry Belmont learns that he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and just three years to live, he doesn’t make any phone calls. He doesn’t rush to tell his friends and family. He tells no one. He doesn’t want to be pitied for this fast approaching end to an unspectacular life.

His life could have been different. He could have been something else, maybe even someone else. But he isn’t going to waste the precious time he has left. Henry decides to spend the rest of his life doing the things that previously were relegated to fantasy.
And in the end, he will find the freedom to be the person he’s always wanted to be in The Liberation of Henry Belmont.

About a year ago, my email address was given to a publisher who would send me blurbs about recently published books that I could request a review copy of.  After requesting a large number of books and never receiving them, I had about decided to ask the publisher to take me off their list; then I received this book.  So I was excited to finally be chosen to review a book.  First off, I'm hoping this is an ARC because there were several mistakes that an editor should have caught.  The three that stick in my mind is when Helen's name is used when it should have been June and Henry's name was used in two places that should have been other characters.  That kind of thing interupts the flow a little as you have to stop and think, "Just what is out of whack here?"  But I liked the premise of a story of a dying man who is determined to go it alone without the help and sympathy of his family and friends.  I got a little confused when the narrative quickly diverts into the story of two other men:  Derek, who loves disguises, robs banks and is planning a $20 million con; and Panama Ed, who buys a condo on the beach and likes to pick up women at the local bar.  But I quickly figured out the connection between the three and carried on.   My problem with the book is that I didn't really care for any of the three men or their family and acquaintenances.  I questioned their motives and just found them to be unbelievable.  There are some sex scenes which seemed to be thrown in for good measure, but thankfully were not explicit or distasteful.  The flirting banter between Ed and June or Peter and Helen didn't ring true for me either.  The entire book seemed to be lacking a spark of morality that disturbed me.  Bank robbers and con men getting away with their escapades with no disquiet, just a sense of triumph; and casual sex leading to fond farewells.   And even though everyone's lives seem to end on a positive note and the money is spread out so everyone is better off financially, I disagree with the end justifying the means.  I feel bad that this story was not more uplifting.  On a positive note, the story was interesting even though the jump between characters a bit abrupt; and I do like that the author is donating his first-year's royalties to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  So I'm hoping that others like this book better than I did. 
Rating:  2
Disclaimer:  This book was furnished to me free of charge.  The preceding review, with the exception of the publisher's blurb, is strictly my own opinion. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

8. Mort by Terry Pratchett

Mort is an awkward young man who bungles everything he attempts. When his father decides to send him off to be an apprentice, he gets only one offer - from the Grim Reaper himself. It seems like a good job to Mort: free room and board and a secure position in a business that will never run out of clientele. He doesn't even need to die to take the job. Soon Mort is doing some of the reaping himself and he even seems to be gaining maturity, self-confidence, and the ability to walk through walls. He falls in love. But can he manage to help Death harvest souls without making a complete mess of things? Review by Eileen Rieback on

This is the fourth published Discworld book.  I've read one and two; which should be read in order; but Mort is works well as a stand-alone book, even if some characters pop up in the other books.  Mort may be the main character, but Death adds all the flavor and humor to the story.  After a brief training period, Death leaves Mort on his own and proceeds to sample mortal life.  The segment describing Death as a short-order cook is positively hilarious.    I am totally in awe of Pratchett's imagination and his gift to bring humor to these impossible situations.  My first Pratchett book was Making Money, one of his last publications, and still one of my favorites.  Granted I've only read six and completely out of order, but it doesn't seem to matter.  They are all hugely entertaining.  So if you can read the books in some semblance of order, which is a little hard to determine if you don't have a handy chart like the one Booklogged made for me, by all means do so.  But you can hardly go wrong just grabbing one and enjoying the Discworld experience. 
Rating:  4.75
I own twenty-three of the 38+ books in this series.  I find the covers on the ones published in the US to be quite bland so, whenever possible, I try to mooch one from overseas.  They have much more scope for the imagination.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I am very confused this week.  Instead of posting my review of this book on this blog where it belongs, I've posted it on my other non-reading blog.  So here is the link.  I would love to read your comments on this book either here or on Life's a Picture. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

6. Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Hegi

This book is a series of short stories told by Hannah Malter looking back at her life in post-war Germany in the small town of Bergdorf.  In each chapter, she tells about a family member, friend, or neighbor while revealing pieces of herself.  I don't normally care for short stories, but these all tie in together so well, giving the reader a glimpse of a town recovering from a horrendous war while dealing with their own lives in the 1950's.  Hegi writes so beautifully and each character is given such depth and personality.  But the main focus remains on the narrator.  Hannah's reactions to the people she tells about are so spot-on for a thirteen year-old.  Her mother is an unconventional artist while her father is a dentist who likes order in his life.  The chapter that describes how they met and their marriage was one of my favorites.  Here are a couple of quotes from the book:
The opening paragraph grabbed my attention right off:  "When my mother entered her tenth month of carrying me, I stopped moving inside her womb.  She awoke that morning to a sense of absolute silence that startled her out of the dreams filled with flute music and colorful birds, dreams she'd never had until she became pregnant with me, dreams she would have again when, two years later, she carried my brother."

As I face getting older myself, I guess I identified with this next quote:  "Though they had wrinkles and gray hair, these women didn't think of themselves as old; it was an unspoken fact that each of them carried within, a fact that didn't need to be confirmed because there was always someone who could remember them as girls and recall a half-forgotten detail, someone who--beneath the fine web of lines--still saw the child's face."

Rating:  4

Friday, January 15, 2010

5. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Twelve-year-old Prosper and his five-year-old brother, Boniface, have run away to Venice to escape being separated by their mean aunt, Esther.  She and her husband have tracked them to the Italian city and hire Victor, a local detective to find Bo, whom they want to adopt.  Meanwhile, the two boys have been befriended by a group of orphaned childre led by the secretive Scipio, who steals from rich mansions to take care of all the children.  They live in an abandoned movie theater where they avoid adults and try to stay warm and fed.  Soon enough, Victor spies Prosper and is led on a merry chase through the waterways of Venice.  In fact, Venice is as much a character in this book as any of the children and adults.  And there are some great characters in this book along with a magical merry-go-round, a mysterious Conte who wants to hire the Thief Lord to steal an odd object with the promise of an immense sum of money; and a woman who soon becomes involved with the orphans and lends them her help when the going gets pretty rough.  The whole book was just so much fun to read.  Very imaginative and well-written. 
Rating:  4.5

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

4. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen (audio)

I have been listening to this book off and on since September.  So if my review is a little disjointed, that is why.  In fact, I'm using Amazon's synposis.  It's not that I didn't like the book, but I usualy listen to books while I'm traveling.  Lock and Key is on my Walkman so I couldn't really listen to it when I traveled with someone else which seemed to be the case the few times I did go out of town, except for that very first trip when I started it. 

"Ruby, 17, is taken in by her older sister and brother-in-law when her mother abandons her. Ruby and her sister haven't spoken since Cora left for college a decade earlier. She moves from a semi-heated, semi-lighted farmhouse to a McMansion in a gated community. The theme of abandonment permeates the narrative-Ruby's mother's disappearance, Cora's perceived abandonment, and all of the small abandonments around every corner throughout Ruby's life. The plot hinges luxuriously on character arc. Ruby's drama of pathological self-reliance to eventual trust plays out through thoughtful, though occasionally heavy-handed, inner monologue and metaphor. As always, Dessen's characters live and breathe. Ruby's sweet hipster brother-in-law and Nate, the freakishly affable hottie next door, are especially vivid, and Cora's change from bitter control freak to sympathetic co-protagonist is subtle and seamless. Though Ruby and Nate don't have quite the cinematic chemistry of many of Dessen's couples, their cautious friendship into romance seems that much more realistic. The author's feel for setting is as uncanny as ever, and Ruby's descriptions of the homogenous nouveau riche Anytown are sharp, clever, and honest. The dialogue, especially between Ruby and Cora, is crisp, layered, and natural. The slow unfolding adds to an anticipatory mood. What's more, secrets and situations revealed in the second half of the novel are resolved more believably by already deeply developed characters. Recommend this one to patient, sophisticated readers."—Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library

Even though it took me so long to listen to the whole book, (I would go weeks in between sessions) it wasn't hard for me to pick up the thread because the story is that interesting.  Ruby is a great character.  I didn't really like her at first because she is understandably prickly and self-absorbed.  But as she learns to trust and believe in the people who affect her new life, she grew on me.  My favorite character is Jesse, Ruby's brother-in-law, who is so open and boyish.  It's all about who your family is and the point is driven home in a bit of a heavy-handed way but I liked the book and wished I could have listened to it without the long interruptions. 
Rating:  4

3. Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard

"Twelve-year-old Veronica Swan's idyllic life in a close-knot Mormon community is shattered when her two younger sisters are brutally murdered.  Although her parents find the strength to forgive the deranged killer, Scott Early, Veronica cannot do the same.  Years later, she sets out alone to avenge her sisters' deaths, dropping her identity and severing ties in the process.  But as she closes in on Early, Veronica will discover the true meaning of sin and compassion . . . before she makes a decision that will change her and her family forever."  From book cover

From an LDS viewpoint, there were some annoying discrepancies in this book about the Mormon faith and culture:  a temple in Cedar City, and the father and daughter taking the baby boy to the temple to be sealed to the family, father's blessing morning and night are just a few.  I read she stayed with a Mormon friend in the area while researching the book.  Would it have been so hard to have the friend read the book and correct these fallacies?  Mostly I found them annoying because, not only were they incorrect, but the things she got wrong didn't add to the story  line at all.  But I never felt that Mitchard was being disrespectful to the Mormon religion and that was appreciated.  And I do think explaining Veronica's (Ronnie) beliefs about forgiveness and retribution explained her actions very well. I found the story to be pretty compelling and Ronnie was a great character.  Some of the things she did were kind of far fetched and the writing is clearly geared toward young adults.  Still, I enjoyed the book and feel good about crossing it off my challenge. 
Rating:  3.75

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Atonement by Ian McEwan

  Catching Up Challenge

I've owned this book for three years now, read several reviews; and until this challenge, could not bring myself to read it.  Right from the first, I found the writing to be very elegant and poetic.  But it left me a little cold with the big words and involved descriptions.  The book starts with the story of 13-year-old Briony, who is excited to put on a play she wrote for her brother who is arriving hoome that evening.  We get a glimpse into Briony's mind, that of her older sister, Cecilia, her invalid mother, and the charlady's son, Robbie.  And that is as far as I got.  I read about a hundred pages and really only liked the character of Robbie.  The rest seemed so self-involved and a little weird.  Then Robbie writes two versions of a letter to Cecelia and the wrong-one gets delivered.  I found myself feeling a little sick because there is plenty of intimation that this event will change everyone's lives.  Then the is the sexual encounter in the library and I just decided that I really didn't want to continue with this book when I was struggling with it anyway.  So I quit.  I just read the synopsis on Amazon and maybe I made a mistake.  The storyline sounds really interesting, but I was a third into and hadn't felt it yet.  Maybe someother day, maybe not.
Rating:  DNF

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2. Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer

Why Shoot a Butler? was written in 1933.  As I read it, I could tell it wasn't contemporary but couldn't really place the era.  It's sort of a timeless book.  Frank Amberley finds a woman standing by a car in which he discovers a dead body.  Being of considerable intellect, he determines the woman, Shirley, didn't commit the crime; but sets out to find who did.  Okay, Frank and Shirley are not names authors use these days for the hero and heroine so that did date the book a bit, plus I could have looked at the cover more closely.  Anyway, Frank is brash, rude and a pain-in-the-butt for the local police; but he always solves the mystery.  He reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in his condescension and his uncanny ability to unravel even the most meager clue.  But his sarcastic remarks are so funny to the reader even if they typically go right over the head of his intended target.   Frank may be quite the cad, but he also showed a soft side to his friends and relatives.  There were some other great characters in this book: Frank's country squire uncle who can't understand the bothers of such unpleasant events as murder; his seemingly dimwitted aunt who is actually very sharp; the police sergeant who almost knows better than to question Frank's opinion and the chief inspector who is always wrong.  Frank Amberly would have been a great movie role for Cary Grant.  I guess we won't get to see that but it would have been fun.  This was a delightful, well-written book with clever repartee and an interesting mystery. 
Rating:  4

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Catching Up Challenge

I used to be such a challenge queen.  One year, I completed over twenty challenges.  Guess I got a little burned out because I didn't join any challenges last year, completing two joined the year before and my personal challenge, Book Around the States.  Once again, I've decided not to join any challenges this year except for a personal challenge I am setting for myself.  At the first of every year, I review my TBR list (which you can see for yourself by clicking on the link on my sidebar), and I've noticed that I tend to get sidetracked by my latest acquisitions.  The first list I ever published on January 1, 2007 had 225 books on it.  (My last count of the TBR list was 472)  Many of those have been read and many have been deleted because my interest in them waned (lovely word); but I found 30 books still on my list and on my shelves.  So the challenge is for me to get those books read this year.  That still leaves me lots of leeway in reading other books that strike my fancy at any given time.  Here's a long list of the languishing literature left to be looked at.

1.  Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley Archer
2.  Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
3.  Tara Road by Mauve Binchy
4.  Farewll Summer by Ray Bradbury
5.  Jany Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
6.  And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie
7.  Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper
8.  The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
9.  The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
10.  Inside the Dream by Katharine and Richard Green (had this book for years)
11.  The Secret River by Kate Grenville
12.  Floating in My Mother's Palm by Ursula Heigl
13.  Boston Jane by Jennifer Holm
14.  Armed Funmen, True Facts & Ridiculous Nonsense by Richard Kallam
15.  Father's Arcane Daughter by E L Konigsburg
16.  The Great Divorce by C S Lewis
17.  Norman Rockwell by Karal Ann Marling
18.  1776 by David McCullough
19.  The Great Bridge by David McCullough
20.  Atonement by Ian McEwan
21.  Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern
22.  Savage Beauty - The Life of Edna Vincent Millay by Nancy Mitford
23.  Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson
24.  Sam's Letters to Jennifer by James Patterson (I may have already read this one.  I'll remember when I start it again.  If so, this one comes off the list.)
25.  Mort by Terry Partchett
26.  The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
27.  How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
28.  Franny and Zooey by J D Salinger
29.  The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins
30.  Cage of Stars by Jacqueline Mitchard

Why have I never read these books?  I certainly meant to.  By the end of the year, I will have.  This may become an annual assignment to read the books that interested me three years before.  I'm just afraid that the list is going to be considerably longer in the coming years.  I can't seem to quit buying books.  There's eight more books on the way.  I don't have two years of food storage and may starve to death; but at least I won't be bored. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

1. Time and Again by Jack Finney

Time and Again is called an illustrated novel.  It's story of travel through time to New York City in the 1890's is both unique and ingenious.  I loved looking at the pictures of the city 90 years before the story takes place (1970).  The hero, Si Morley, is an artist drawing boring little pictures of butter and such at a NY ad agency when he is recruited by a secret government agency to take part in a secret experiment.  He accepts the offer and soon is learning all about customs and culture in the late 19th century.  His instruction also includes learning self-hypnosis.  It is through hypnosis that he is able to actually transport himself, mentally and physically,  back in time.  He has requested to return to a certain time when a letter was posted by an unknown person to his girlfriend's grandfather.  He later committed suicide because of that letter.  On Si's first visit, his girlfriend is actually able to go with him because of her physical contact with him.  Subsequent visits are made alone.  He uses his artistic talents to draw pictures of how the city appeared before towering skyscrapers, automobiles, and pollution.  On one visit he meets a photographer who luckily gives him copies of prints of pictures he has taken with his new camera.  The art and the photos add a wonderful quality to this book.  Here is one of The Dakota, an apartment building still standing in NYC, but taken in 1892 from a point in Central Park.   You can hardly imagine all those tall buildings which eventually surrounded what was once an isolated structure. 
The story does become a bit tiresome with all the detailed information about the past times but there is the storyline about the mysterious letter that adds some real adventure and intrigue right when it is most needed.   Then the are the moral issues that crop up when people start messing with time that added a twist to the story as well.  I liked the book even though it lagged a bit in the middle.  It is a wonderful look at the past and Si Morley is a great character.
Rating:  3.75

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2009 Reading Review

The year is over and it's time to look back at the great books I read or listened to.  I reached a grand total of 113 books read with 36,340 pages and 14 audio books listened to.  Woohoo.  I finished the following challenges: 
Book Awards Challenge
Canadian Challenge
Book Around the States Challenge

While I have enjoyed challenges in the past, I did not enter any new challenges in 2009.  I don't plan on entering any this year either except for one personal challenge (I'll discuss that on another post.).   At the start of the year, my TBR list was close to 500 books which I have whittled down to an astonishing 472 books of which I own 356.  For the first time in years, I've actually read more books than I've added to the list.  That deserves another big WOOHOO.  Here's a list of my favorite books read from the past year:

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Still Life by Louise Penny
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
Animal Dream by Barbara Kingsolver
North River by Pete Hamil
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Peak by Roland Smith
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Stargazing:  Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper by Peter Hill
A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis
The Silver Chair by C S Lewis
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

There were a lot of other books read this year that I really enjoyed almost as much.  In fact, only two books got tossed aside and a mere handful received ratings below a 3. (5 being the highest)  Right now, I have an audio book on the Walkman that I have been trying to finish since October.  There are only a few chapters left but I keep forgetting to put the earphones on.  I'm also reading Time and Again by Jack Finney.  I've been working on that since the 20th.  It's pretty interesting but not in a I-can't-put-this-down-until-I-finish-it kind of way.  True, there's been a lot going on in my life the last two weeks; but this is a long time for me to spend on one book.  Hopefully, I will post reviews on both books in the next week.  I hope you all read some great books in 2009 and here's wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with health, happiness, and great literature.