Wednesday, September 24, 2008

#74 - Black Out

Book No: 74
Title: Black Out
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Suspense/Thriller
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Shelfari
Completed: 9/15/08
No. of Pages: 358
Rating: 4/5*****

I have read and enjoyed both of Unger’s previous books Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth, which featured Ridley Jones. This book is a standalone and once again presents a roller coaster ride of suspense, physiological terror and string taut tension.

Annie Power’s is living a fairy tale life as the wife of a well to do businessman, Gray and mom to her beautiful daughter Victory. She has a fabulous home, cars, money live in help, and everything you could ask for. Annie Power’s however is hiding a huge secret- five years earlier her husband Gray, who is involved in private security, helped her fake her death to escape from the clutches of psychopath Marlowe Geary, a serial killer who Annie had been involved with during his killing spree. Annie remembers almost nothing of the years she spent with Marlow, suffering from disassociation and memory loss. Although her husband has assured her that Marlowe is dead, when a necklace Marlowe once gave her shows up in front of her home Annie is sure he has come back for her. As she begins to remember more and more of her past she also begins to suspect her husband is lying to her about his work and is plunged into a cat and mouse game with a corrupt police officer when she is witness to a crime. As more and more of her memories come back Annie knows that she must face her past in order to have a future.

This story had really intense pacing and made me stay up way too late at night trying to get to the end of the book. I did find the ending a bit convoluted but overall this was a non-stop ride through an unsettling landscape of some very dark and twisted characters. Read it with the lights on.

#73 - Kissing Games of the World

Book No: 73
Title: Kissing Games of the World
Author: Sandi Kahn Shelton
Genre: Chick Lit
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/First Impressions ARC
Completed: 9/7/08
No. of Pages: 385
Rating: 3/5*****

Jamie McClintock is living a quiet life in a small town in Connecticut. Her son’s father abandoned Jamie and Arley shortly after he was born. So Jamie came to stay with her sister but needs to leave and find a place of her own. Eventually she moves in with Harris Goddard, an older man raising his grandson Christopher. Thw two have them have settled into a platonic friendship, raising the two boys together and helping each other out. When Harris dies from a massive heart attack Jamie’s life is thrown into turmoil when his estranged son Nate Goddard comes back to claim both his father’s home and his son, Christopher.

Nate Goddard is good looking, rich and as arrogant as they come. He has big plans to sell the property to developers and take Christopher to live with him in California. Although Jamie and Nate detest each other on sight, they try to get along for the sake of their sons. Nate is engaged to be married and Jamie is planning on moving to Vermont to be an art teacher. But the best laid plans don’t always work out.

This was a sweet if predictable book. You know from the first meeting where this book is heading. It was an enjoyable and easy read, good for a day at the beach or a cold day in winter, curled up with a cup of tea. Nothing earth shaking, just a pleasant story with amiable characters.

#72 - Lady Macbeth

Book No: 72
Title: Lady Macbeth
Author: Susan Frasier King
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/
Completed: 8/31/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3/5*****

Shakespeare’s tale of Lady Macbeth is completely rewritten here. This Lady Macbeth is no murderer, and does not walk the halls at night bemoaning her crimes. Gruadh inghean Bodhe, Rue, is descended from former Celtic Kings. Married against her will to Gilcomgan of Moraya a man much older than her, Rue has adjusted to her life and is expecting her first child when Mac bethed mac Finnlaech arrives at her castle to tell her of her husband’s death in battle and to claim her as his wife, which he could do as the victor in the battle. Suspecting that Macbeth has murdered her husband so as to strengthen his own claim on the Scottish throne, she eventually forms an uneasy truce with her husband and begins to help him put into action his plan to take the throne of King Duncan, setting events into play that will eventually bring his own downfall and murder.

This was an interesting take on the story of Lady Macbeth, but overall I found it to be somewhat boring and uninvolving. It seemed as if Rue, who is the narrator of the story was rather aloof and detached from the story and it never really came to life for me, I was never fully involved with the characters and their story. I learned a lot of Celtic life and superstitions, but I never felt as if I really knew nor cared for either Lady Macbeth or her husband.

#71 - The House at Riverton

Book No: 71
Title: The House at Riverton
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Fiction/Gothic
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Paperbackswap
Completed: 8/31/2008
No. of Pages: 473
Rating: 4/5*****

Grace Reeves is 98 years old and living in a nursing home. A movie is being made about the notorious death of the poet R.S. Hunter at Riverton House. When a young filmmaker contacts Grace as the last living person to have knowledge of the events leading to his death, Grace is thrust back in her memories to that time just before World War I, and her life as a housemaid at Riverton. Deciding she wants to tell the truth about all that happened she begins recording her story for her grandson, so he can know the truth of what she witnessed.

This book tells the story of Grace in alternating chapters of the past and present. It has a gothic tinged tone to it, as we learn of the lives of the ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ people that populate Riverton. Starting out as a young girl of 14 Grace is slowly enmeshed in the life of the three siblings Hannah, Emmeline and David, the privileged upper class children who live at Riverton, eventually becoming Hannah’s personal maid. As the Great War begins it wreaks havoc on many of the characters in the book, and at the end of the war many cracks are apparent in the separation of the English classes. Soon both Hannah and Emmeline begin to rebel in ways that will have tragic results.

I really enjoyed this story that involved a mystery, two love stories and an impending feeling of doom. There were a couple of good twists in the narrative but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else, so I will just say it kept my attention throughout, and I am looking forward to another book by Ms. Morton.

#70 - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Book No: 70
Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Borders
Completed: 8/30/08
No. of Pages: 288
Rating: 4/5*****

This is an absolutely delightful novel, filled with charm and characters so real you forget it is a novel.

Written in an epistolary style, the heart of the book revolves around Juliet Ashton, a columnist who wrote stories of the war in London and its aftermath. Set in 1946 London the story begins when Juliet receives a letter from Guernsey, from a man who found her name in book her read and wanted to know if she knew of other books of that type. So begins a series of correspondence between Juliet and the residents of Guernsey and members of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Slowly Juliet realizes she wants to write a book about these people and their tragedies as well as heroic responses to war and deprivation. She goes to visit Guernsey, a trip that will change her entire life.

I am a big fan of books told in letter format and this story was such a feel good experience and one that still brings a smile to my face when I think of it. A lovely and touching novel that I have been recommending to everyone.

#69 - Such a Pretty Fat

Book No: 69
Title: Such a Pretty Fat
Author: Jennifer Lancaster
Genre: Memoir
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Target
Completed: 8/23/08
No. of Pages: 400
Rating: 4/5*****

This is the third book by Lancaster I’ve read in the past few months, so now I’ll have to wait a while because that’s her entire inventory. As usual Jen’s take no prisoners style of writing and humor had me laughing my a** off, and shaking my head in agreement or shaking my head in disbelief at some of the things that come out of her mouth.
This time around Jennifer is confronting her issues with weight, and the realization that she needs to get healthy before she has a slew of health problems. Her denial, realization and then grappling with the reality of learning to take care of herself is mad funny and something all of us can probably relate to on some level. Never lacking for self confidence Jen is sure that she can lose this weight her way- and it’s not a realistic approach. Eventually she accepts the truth of her lifestyle choices and faces it head on - but we are laughing all the way and rooting for her success.

#68 - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Book No: 68
Title: Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Author: David Sedaris
Genre: Humor/Essays
Published: 2004
Obtained: 2008/Kindle
Completed: 8/12/08
No. of Pages: 272
Rating: 3.5/5*****

David Sedaris’ take on life is just a little left of center. He is droll and entertaining in this collection of stories that mostly focus on his family’s loony adventures and skewed sense of the world. I’m really glad he is not my brother because the man has no mercy in his depictions of his sisters, brother and parents. No one escape’s unscathed, not his boyfriend Hugh or their eighty year old neighbor or David himself. Some of the stories are laugh out loud funny, others are more than a little gross, but like a bad accident you can’t help but look (or read). I have to say that my first book by Sedaris was When You are Engulfed in Flames, and it was an audio. As much as I enjoyed reading this book, I realize that something is lost when reading this as opposed to listening, and it is Sedaris’ inflections and pauses and dry tone that make him such a great storyteller. So I liked it a lot- but would have loved to listen to it.

#67 - Isabella Moon

Book No: 67
Title: Isabella Moon
Author: Laura Benedict
Genre: Suspense/Thrillers
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Paperbackswap
Completed: 8/05/2008
No. of Pages: 368
Rating: 3/5*****

Kate Russell is a recent transplant to the small southern town of Carystown, Kentucky. Recently she has come to believe that she is being haunted by the ghost of Isabella Moon, a young girl who disappeared two years earlier. Convinced she knows where Isabelle’s body is Kate goes to the sheriff with her story. When Sheriff Delaney reluctantly follows up on the lead, he does find Isabella’s body. But now Kate is one of the prime suspects I the case and she has many secrets of her own to conceal- including why she came to this town in the first place. When another murder takes place some dark secrets of the town’s residents come bubbling to the top.

This book was a real page turner, and I really liked it, even if some of the plotting was familiar or obvious. The WTF? ending had me completely flabbergasted, and not in a good way. I just hated the conclusion and it took the overall rating of the book down a notch.

#66 - The Street of A Thousand Blossoms

Book No: 66
Title: The Street of A Thousand Blossoms
Author: Gail Tsukiyama
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2007/ Middle Bay Raffle
Completed: 7/30/08
No. of Pages: 422
Rating: 4/5*****

Gail Tsukiyama is one of my favorite writers. Her books are always graceful, peaceful, eloquent depictions of people caught up in events that they cannot control, yet always seem to become better human beings because of or in spite of the tragedies they face.

Hiroshi and Kenji are two brothers orphaned at an early age and raised by their loving grandparents. The book begins prior to WWII, and the deprivation and hardship of this war on the Japanese civilians is vividly rendered and brought to life. Continuing through the next 30 years, through post war occupation and rebuilding we watch each boy become a man, finding their places in the world. Hiroshi enters the world of Sumo wrestling while Kenji has a more artistic bent, learning to create the masks of the Noh theatre. Through their loves and losses we are completely immersed in the brother’s and the country’s struggles to rebuild from the ashes of a lost civilization, to find a new place in the world. With compassionate portrayals of both these two brothers and the strong women in their lives we become part and parcel of their struggles, defeats and successes. A completely different book than the other WWII book I read this month, this one far more riveting and heartfelt.

#65 - Cover the Butter

Book No: 65
Title: Cover the Butter
Author: Carrie Kabak
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2005
Obtained: 2005/Audible
Completed: 7/29/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

Kate Cadogan is a forty year old Welsh woman, trapped in a loveless marriage for 20 years. When she comes home one day after spending a weekend away with her husband she finds her 20 year old son has had a big party while they were gone. Her home is trashed, her son is completely indifferent to her anger and her husband only wants to look at the telly and watch the latest sports. When Kate fuels her anger with alcohol she falls into a tormented sleep. Through her dreams we relive Kate’s life with a controlling and distant mother, an ineffectual father, a love thwarted and an unplanned pregnancy. It is this dream that awakens Kate to the need to live her life for herself.

While I applaud certain aspects of this book, set in the early 60’s through today, I actually wished Kate wasn’t so wishy-washy. Until the turning point in her life every decision she made was to please someone else. I longed for her to stand up for herself just once, and when it finally happens it seems like such a long time coming it is almost anti-climatic. Still I could appreciate the themes of love lost and found and finding out who you are.

#64 - The Zookeeper's Wife

Book No: 64
Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife; A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
Genre: Non-fiction
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2007/Smart Reader
Completed: 7/28/31
No. of Pages: 342
Rating: 3/5*****

This book was such a disappointment for me. I usually like books about WWII and of those people who risked their own lives to save those being persecuted by the Nazi’s. Unfortunately this book left me cold. I had no connection at all with any of the characters, from the rescuers to the rescued. I read the entire book just wishing it was over.

During the time of the German invasion of Poland, Antonina and Jan Zabinski harbored hundreds of Jews and members of the Polish underground for as little as a few nights to several years. Risking their own lives and those of their children they provided refuge in their home and in the various cages of their former zoo. All in all an admirable and truly remarkable story. However Ackerman would go into detail about the playing of one song on the piano and glide over many of the logistics of this incredible charade. It is never made clear exactly how this subterfuge was carried out, and one never feels close to any of the people in the book. The writing is either so dry it is like choking down crackers or so overblown it is like smothering in verbosity. I read another book about WWII just after this one, and the difference was remarkable. I really wish the Zabinski story could be told by a more gifted writer, this book had then sensation of a distant look back, without any warmth or true feeling.

#63 - Belong to Me

Book No: 63
Title: Belong to Me
Author: Marisa De Los Santos
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/ARC-Les
Completed: 7/25/08
No. of Pages: 395
Rating: 5/5*****

This book is a sequel to the fabulous Love Walked in that I read last week. Once again I was completed captivated by the characters established in that book and the new ones introduced here.
Cornelia Brown is now married and has moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia after deciding to leave New York City in the wake of September 11th. Here Cornelia seems to run into a brick wall- usually able to make friends without a problem she struggles to fit in with the very cliquey women in her new town, especially Queen Bee Piper Truitt. As each of these women struggle with personal problems, both within their marriages and within themselves a most unexpected friendship is born.
I love De Los Santos’ way with characters, words, images, friendship and marriage; the whole nine yards. She writes about people we all wish we knew, but gives them real life problems to deal with. I can’t believe it will probably be another year or two before I can read another one of her books. Totally delightful!

#62 - When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Book No: 62
Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Genre: Memoir/Essays
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Audible
Completed: 7/21/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4/5*****

I have been hearing that I have to read Sedaris for some years now. Not a big listener of the radio I had no idea who he was. So when I found this available on audio, when I was looking for something light I finally decided to give him a try. And guess what?? I freaking love David Sedaris. I laughed out loud so many times while driving in my car that I am sure I scared more than one driver. This collection of essays was funny, sad, poignant, sweet, cute, and hysterical. One story after another with Sedaris doing the reading, it was just a great way to spend time in the car. The scary thing is wondering who is watching you and taking notes- Sedaris bases his tales on people and events that he has observed, his notebook and pen always handy to jot down a few notes. The story entitled Solution to the Saturday Puzzle was one of the funniest I have ever heard and I wonder what the star of the piece, Becky the nasty plane seat-mate, thinks of it- if she has indeed ever seen it. The ending essays, which cover Sedaris’ trip to Japan in order to quit smoking, run the gamut of emotions and were also among my favorite pieces. I just downloaded Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to my Kindle. I want to compare the listening experience to the reading experience because I so enjoyed listening to Sedaris’ rendition of his stories. I think I have found a new favorite, and that always makes me happy!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Boy Have I Fallen Behind

Summertime was busy, busy. Packed daughter up and moved her back to school (University of Florida--GO GATORS) the week after I last posted, then was busy doing nothing but chillaxing (by 16 year old's word). Spent a week in Montauk on the beach and at the pool, and then it was back to school time and I am just now getting back into a regular schedule. It takes some time to readjust to alarm clocks and deadlines. So I am quite far behind in my postings, but I didn't stop reading, so I'll be catching up the next few days. The photo is of my daughter and her friend, in Montauk at sunset.