Saturday, March 26, 2011

16. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Take four gifted children  (Reynie, a young boy who has a gift for analyzing information and making the right conclusion, Sticky who remembers everything, Kate, who is gifted both physically and mentally, and 3-year-old Constance who is grumpy and a real pain but also psychic) and send them on a treasure hunt around the world.  The hunt turns out to be for life-and-death stakes against the nefarious Mr. Curtain who has managed to kidnapped Mr. Benedict and his right-hand assistant, Number Two.  This book is loaded with adventure, humor and suspense.  It's just a fun read and I'm diving right into the third book in the series.  Rating:  4.5

Sunday, March 20, 2011

15. The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

Here is part of an interview from the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog with David Small, who illustrated this well-written children's novel: 

David’s most recent illustrated work is The Underneath, Kathi Appelt’s impressive debut novel (published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in May and reviewed here at 7-Imp). The novel—which tells the story of an old hound, a calico cat, two kittens, the muddy Bayou Tartine of East Texas, a man named Gar-Face, an Alligator King, and an ancient, mystical creature trapped inside a large jar at the base of a tree, buried centuries ago—is a wonder, at turns magical and mysterious, and Appelt’s prose mesmerizing.

We asked David what it was like to read the novel for the first time and if he could talk a bit about creating the illustrations for it.

“I was amazed by the twists and turns of the story,” he said, “by the range of characters, both animal and human, and by the tone of mournful, nostalgic poetry in the prose. My biggest problem illustrating it was in keeping those kittens from looking too adorable. (This was not the Disney version.) Also, what to do with Gar Face’s horrible face? I decided the best thing to do was not to show it, which led me to use some camera angles I might not have considered otherwise.”

The illustrations are amazing and you can read the entire interview here.

At first, I didn't love this book.  The sentences are quite choppy and the story jumps from character to charcter and between different time periods.  But there is a poetry to the narrative that is quite magical and you soon get drawn in.  It's very sad, suspenseful and has a beautiful ending.  I recommend it.  Rating:  4.25

14. Saints by Orson Scott Card

I love so many of Card's book:  the three Ender series books I've read and Enchantment:  that I really hesitated to read his historical fiction based on the early days of the Mormon church.  But I'm trying to read the really big books on my shelves; and, at 712 pages, this one called out to me. 

We first meet Dinah Kirkham at the age of ten in Manchester, England in 1829.  What a horrible time and place to be poor.  More than a third of the book follows the Kirkham family as they struggle to survive and better themselves.  Card portrays this stark existence so well along with the conflict between Dinah's two brothers, Robert and Charlie.  Then the mother, Dinah, and Charlie meet a Mormon missionary and are converted overnight.  I'm not sure I buy the overnight conversion; but in the interest of the story about a family and early Mormonism, I'm glad the author didn't spend a lot of time following a more believable conversion process.  Like all the other English converts, the Kirkhams are called to emigrate to Nauvoo, Illinois.  The harrowing ocean crossing was heart breaking as well as the description of early Nauvoo.  It's Dinah's immediate attraction to Prophet Joseph Smith and his to her that left me cold.  Let's face it, most of us Mormons like to remember the truly great things that Joseph accomplished in his short life.  And we're not comfortable with the plural maariage issue.  I do think Card's depiction of polygamy helped me understand it more.  Even if the Lord commanded the practice,  it makes sense that a man would want to marry women that he loved if at all possible.  I know the Church doesn't really talk a lot about Joseph Smith being a polygamist, maybe because his wife, Emma, was so adamant against it.  And the book is pretty hard on Emma.  She is not very likeable at all although Card never suggests that Joseph felt anything less than total love and respect for her.  In fact, Joseph is shown to be very human, sometimes vain, sometimes too trusting, (how does a Prophet of God let a man like John Bennet into his inner circle?), obviously untruthful to his wife, but always determined to follow the commandments he receives from the Lord and always compassionate to his followers.  Brigham Young is shown in quite an unfavorable light and yet Dinah marries him after the exodus to Utah.  The story touches on much of the persecution which the early Saints suffered  but never digresses from the actual story of Dinah and her family.  Card makes Dinah sound like a true historical figure but she is obviously based loosely on Eliza R Snow, a much venerated early pioneer woman.  From the pictures I've seen of her later in life, she seems to have been quite formidable.  As always, Card tells a compelling story with fascinating characters.  I'm glad I read it, but I know I won't want to read it again.  Rating:  3.5

P.S.  What's with the Harlequin Romance cover?  It made it hard for me to want to read this at all.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

13. The Tale of Applebeck Orchard by Susan Wittig Albert

Once again, we visit the beautiful Land Between the Lakes and follow Beatrix Potter as she becomes embroiled in the life of Near Sawrey.  Potter is making one of her rare visits to her beloved farm right when controversy strikes in the form of a public pathway being boarded up.  The villagers are up in arms, shots are fired, a haystack is burned down and a ghost is seen walking through the orchard.  Of course, there are several side stories involving the romances of some of the villagers and Potter herself.  Along with the human drama, the book also includes that goings on of several of the local animal life especially Max the Manx and Bosworth Badger.  So I initially found the parts with the animals to be cloying and a bit silly, but the author managed to charm me into accepting it with her early 1900 language and asides to the reader.  Mostly the books just make me want to visit this part of England and experience it for myself.  Rating:  4

12. Death of a Dreamer by M C Beaton

I like Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series much better than the one with Agatha Raisin.  he is a more sympathitic character, handsome if a bit lazy and a good policeman who is content to stay in the small hamlet of Lockdubh.  Dreamer has the usual murder, this time an unpleasant woman who recently moved to Lockdubh and has alienated most of the population.  It's fun to read how Hamish solves the mystery while contending with the attention of three attraactive women.  Just a fun, light-hearted read when you don't want to think to hard.  Rating:  3.75

Sunday, March 06, 2011

11. Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

I can always count on Dame Christie's books to captivate me with a good mystery and some great characters.  In this story, we find Elinor Carlisle in the docks, accused of murder.  The case against is her is almost too good to be true; and Hercule Poirot always finds that a bit suspect.  He is hired to find evidence that Elinor did not commit the crime so we are taken back to the beginning of the story when Elinor and her fiance travel to visit an invalid aunt and the young woman who is helping to care for her.  The fiance falls for the young woman, the doctor falls for Elinor, the aunt dies, the young woman is poisoned and Elinor is the only likely candidate.  As always, Agatha Christie writes a gripping mystery that kept me guessing right to the end.  Just what I needed.  Rating:  4

10. Forever by Pete Hamill

I loved Pete Hamill's North River, but was very disappointed with The Gift.  Still I had high hopes for Forever because it had such an interest premise.  Cormac O'Connor is a young man growing up in Ireland in the early 1700's.  His father is a blacksmith and his mother tells him beautiful stories and surrounds him with love.  His world is rocked when the mother throws herself in front of the Earl's carriage to save Cormac's life.  Several years later, his father is killed by the Earl's henchman because the Earl want his horse.  Cormac swears vengeance against the Earl, to kill him and any children he may have.  He follows the Earl to New York City where he becomes involved with the Irish community as well as a burgeoning black community.  During an uprising, Cormac is given the gift of eternal life as long as he remains on the island on Manhattan or until he meets a woman with spirals on her body.  So we get to see the growth of New York from a village to the a modern-day metropolis through the eyes of a Cormac, who never dies.  I was really intrigued by this storyline when I bought the book but became disappointed the more I read.  The first quarter of the book takes place in Ireland, then follows Cormac to America.  It describes 1730's New York, a bit of the Revolutionary War on the island, jumps ahead to the 1840's, then a bit about Boss Tweed and ends with modern Manhattan.  I know it couldn't follow everything that happened in the growth of the city, but I found these choices a bit odd, even though there was some interesting history included.  And there was way too much time wasted on sexual exploits.  I do think Hamill is a gifted writer in the pictures he builds through his words, and I liked the way the story ended; but the first quarter of the book and the last two pages didn't make up for the rest of the story which just did not satisfy me.  Rating:  3

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

9. Soul Searching by Shannon Guymon

After my last book, I decided to read something light and fluffy, and an LDS romance seemed perfect.  This is a story about a young woman, Micah,who feels out of place in her ward and unable to meet the expectations of her demanding father.  Of course, she is totally gorgeous and smart and just doesn't realize her potential because she has been verbally put down by her father so often.  Then her father marries a girl younger than herself who is the exact opposite of Micah which leads to her rebellion and finding out that she is a pretty great person after all.  Sounds a little trite, doesn't it?  Well, it is; and there are just so many things going on in this story, all neatly wrapped up and solved in the last few pages.  Even though it met the criteria for light and fluffy, it was not as satisfying as I had hoped.  Not my favorite Guymon novel.  Rating:  3