Friday, November 14, 2008

#83- Billy Collins- Live

Book No: 83
Title: Billy Collins Live
Author: Billy Collins
Genre: Poetry
Published: 2005
Obtained: 2008/Audible
Completed: 11/09/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

I am not a huge fan of poetry; it’s not that I dislike it; it is just not something I look for while searching for a good read. However I was convinced to give Billy Collins a try. A former Poet Laureate of the U.S., Collins’ collection of poems was a delightful revelation for me.

This collection of about 20 of Mr. Collins poems is read by the author. The poems are very contemporary and speak of simple things we can all relate to. ‘The Lanyard’ a poem about going to camp and making a lanyard to give to one’s mother is charming, funny and touching. The poem about a dog that has died is also funny- but once again touching. In fact I loved all the poems in this collection and plan on getting some of Billy Collins books to read and keep – to read the poems again and again as needed. If you think you don’t like poetry give Billy Collins a try-I think you will be surprised.

#82- The Photograph

Book No: 82
Title: The Photograph
Author: Penelope Lively
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2004
Obtained: 2005/Audible
Completed: 10/31/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3/5*****

The Photograph is found by Glyn Peters one day while clearing out a closet in his home. The photo shows is wife Kath, who it seems has met with some kind of tragedy. In the photo Kath is surreptitiously holding hands with her brother in law Nick, who is married to her older sister Elaine. This sets Glyn on a mission to discover if Kath and Nick had an affair, if so who knew about it and was his entire marriage a sham?

I have to say I am pretty ambivalent about this book. I enjoyed the writing which I found very descriptive, I got a real feel for the characters. The story of Kath is revealed little by little through the eyes of Glyn, Elaine, Nick, their daughter Polly and Nick’s former business partner Oliver. They each remember Kath as being extraordinarily pretty, vivacious and outgoing. Apparently nobody ever saw the darker side of Kath.

While the premise of this book is very good- how a photograph can change lives – almost in an instant. The main problem is every one of the characters isn’t anyone I would care to know and it is hard to like a book with such unappealing people. Elaine is a cold fish, Nick has major Peter Pan issues and Polly was completely self absorbed. I did kind of like Oliver but he seemed rather peripheral to the storyline. The biggest problem of all is that I really didn’t care that much for Kath, a person who didn’t seem to do anything with her life, falling back on her beauty to make it through. She didn’t really work, didn’t have any overriding interests, floating through life and for some reason we are supposed to feel sorry for her. I found the premise of a beautiful woman who no one understands a bit trite. The big secret that Kath was keeping wasn’t that astonishing, nor was the big reveal about “that day” that is referred to throughout the book. I found the ending anti-climatic and the wrap up of Elaine and Nick’s storyline unbelievable given the circumstances. Good writing doesn’t always make for a good book.

#81- The Other Queen

Book No: 81
Title: The Other Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Paperbackswap
Completed: 10/31/08
No. of Pages:
Rating: 3/5*****

This book was long, 448 pages long. This isn't usually a problem for me, I like historical fiction, but this book was an exception. For the most part it was talk, talk, talk and boring, boring, boring.

Focusing on Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, this was the story of the many years Mary was kept in 'protective custody' in England, when she was granted sanctuary by Elizabeth after fleeing rebels in Scotland. She is housed with the Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot and his wife Bess of Hartwick, who hoped to gain favor from Elizabeth by taking care of the Other Queen while Elizabeth and her advisors, including William of Cecil, decide what to do about Mary. Because she is the Queen's cousin, and many believe the rightful heir to the throne of England, there is much intrigue and plotting surrounding her.

The story is told from the three viewpoints of Bess, George and Mary herself. Although there is much that happens during the three or four years that Mary was cared for by the Shrewsbury's it all seemed rather boring in the retelling. Mary is a self absorbed woman, always plotting and never caring of the consequences to anyone involved in her schemes. George is completely besotted with Mary and this brings great unhappiness to his new wife Bess. Bess herself is a woman who has achieved her status through marriage and hard work- she is practical and overwhelmed by the thought they she may lose her home- bankrupted by the care of the Scottish Queen with no reimbursement form Elizabeth forthcoming.

The book seems well researched, although the timing of many of events seems to be compressed into a shorter time frame, and the final ending of Mary's life, which happens 15 years after the story in this book, is tacked on like an afterthought. Interesting, but not a compelling read.

#80- The Abortionist's Daughter

Book No: 80
Title: The Abortionists Daughter
Author: Elisabeth Hyde
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2007
Obtained: 2008/Audible
Completed: 10/25/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3/5*****

The Abortionist’s Daughter is Megan Duprey, a 19 year old college student; Megan’s mother is Diane Duprey a well known abortion doctor in their Colorado town. One evening Megan gets a phone call from her father Frank who is the local DA. Diana has been found dead in her swimming pool at home. When it becomes clear that Diana has been murdered the suspect list is long: fanatical anti-abortionists; Megan herself, who quarreled with her mother that fatal morning; Frank; who was often heard having loud fights with Diana; Rev. Steven O’Connell, the local leader of an anti-abortion coalition. Then there is Megan’s slightly unhinged former boyfriend, who is claiming that Diana was a meth addict. So who killed Diana Duprey?

Although this is a murder mystery, it is also a view of marriage, family relationships and the abortion issue - presented fairly equally from both sides. The best parts of the book are the prickly relationship between Diana and Megan - the dialogue between them seems very real. The problems with the book, for me, were I didn’t much like anyone in the book. With the exception of Huck Berlin, the detective investigating the case, I didn’t really care about anyone. Even Huck does some bonehead things that had me rolling my eyes. I figured out who did the dirty deed fairly early in the book, and the actual revelation was completely anti-climatic. There were several side stories that were distracting, and there was one major clue introduced at the start that was never resolved nor brought up again and that really annoyed me.

So for me this was not such a good book. Some parts were interesting but for the most part I just felt much uninvolved, almost as if I were watching a play from a distance.

#79- Amagansett

Book No: 79
Title: Amagansett
Author: Mark Mills
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2004
Obtained: 2006/Paperbackswap
Completed: 10/20/2008
No. of Pages: 392
Rating: 3.5/5*****
A very character driven and slowed paced mystery set in post WWII Long Island.
I really enjoyed this book. The pacing was slow, the characterization rich and the mystery quite involving. It's was also set in Long Island, where I live, in one of my favorite areas of the island - so I 'knew' many of the places mentioned in the book.
When Conrad Labarde is out fishing one morning he finds the body of Lily Wallace - the daughter of one of the wealthier 'summer people'. The local police officer, Tom Hollis, a recent NYC transplant is willing to accept the coroner's cause of death as suicide by drowning; until Conrad begins to point out some conflicting evidence. Conrad then mentions one name to Hollis, Lizzie Jenks, a young victim of a hit and run two years earlier. What does Lillian have to do with Lizzie and more to the point what does Conrad know about it?
Very complex, beautifully written and well researched this is a book to savor. The portrait of the Long Island fisherman, once the main livelihood of the east coast, now virtually extinct, is fascinating in and of itself. Not for lovers of slash and burn thrillers, this is a more literary take on a murder mystery.

#78- What I Was

Book No: 78
Title: What I Was
Author: Meg Rosoff
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Paperbackswap
Completed: 10/15/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 2.5/5*****

This is a coming of age story told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. He is 100 years old, it is the middle of the 21st century and he is recalling a period in his life during the early 1960's. Miserable in his boarding school, in an isolated area of England, and unhappy with his strained relationship with his parents, his lack of social graces and lack of friendships the protagonist comes across a boy named Finn, about his age, who lives alone and self sufficiently in a small beach hut not far from his school. Our narrator becomes friends of a sort with Finn. This friendship eventually leads to tragedy and the revelation of a secret that changes both their lives.

I cannot put my finger on what I didn't like about this book, except that I figured out the secret quite early in the book and after all the events unfold the narrator gives an anti-climatic telling of his life after the events of that year - yet I wanted to know more about some of the things he mentioned in passing. Also there was a bit of environmental doom preaching that seemed contrived.

The author usually writes YA books, and I think that although this book is marketed to adults it might resonate more with older teens.

#77- Certain Girls

Book No: 77
Title: Certain Girls
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Genre: Chick Lit
Published: 2008
Obtained: 2008/Paperbackswap
Completed: 10/4/2008
No. of Pages: 384
Rating: 3.5/5*****

Eight years ago Jennifer Weiner introduced us to Cannie Shapiro-single, over-weight and recovering from a very bad break-up. She writes a book about her relationship that becomes an overnight sensation and changes her life completely. This was the premise of Good in Bed.
Fast forward 13 years and Cannie is married and the mother of a 12 year old- Joy. Joy is a typical teenager- fighting with and embarrassed by her mom. Cannie is an overprotective Mom just trying to make the world a safe place for her daughter. When Joy learns that Cannie's book is a very sexual retelling of her life she reads it and begins questioning everything she knows about herself, her mom and her family.
Humorous as always - this is a very different book than Good in Bed. It wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be, but I did enjoy it very much- although some of the twists were completely unexpected.

#76-- Dark Horse

Book No: 76
Title: Dark Horse
Author: Tami Hoag
Genre: Suspense
Published: 2003
Obtained: 2003/Audible
Completed: 10/5/2008
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

This was quite an enjoyable mystery set in Palm Beach, Florida with the horse set as the background.

Elena Estes is a former Palm Beach cop, who left the force in disgrace after the death of a fellow officer during an undercover sting operation. Nursing both her physical as well as emotional wounds she is approached by a young girl, 12 year old Molly Seabright, who wants to hire Elena to find her missing sister. Intrigued despite herself Elena begins an investigation that exposes the under belly of the wealthy equestrian set. A good mystery with lots of seedy characters, multiple plot lines and a romance I enjoyed reading this book, although I did unravel art of the mystery early on.
Easy and fun reading.

#75- In the Company of the Courtesan

Book No: 75
Title: In the Company of the Courtesan
Author: Sarah Dunant
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2006
Obtained: 2006/Audible
Completed: 9/26/08
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4.5/5*****

This is my second book by Dunant that I have read this year, and she is surely becoming a huge favorite of mine. This book languished in my TBR pile for more than 2 years, and I am so glad I finally got around to it- thank goodness for reading challenges!

This was a fascinating look at the life of a courtesan in Venice c 1530. Told from the perspective of Bucino Teodoldo, a dwarf and business partner with Fiammetta Bianchini, one of the most celebrated courtesans in Rome.

When Rome is sacked in 1527, the two escape with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and a few jewels they saved by swallowing them. With this small purse they set off to Venice to re-establish Fiammetta as a great courtesan in their new home.

Filled with intrigue, politics and more than one betrayal this is historical fiction that is vividly brought to life. Mixing both fictional and real historical figures, the book was inspired by the portrait the Venus of Urbino by Titian, who is a character in the book. Great characters, beautiful writing and plotting that will keep you reading long after the lights should be out. I cannot wait for another book by Ms. Dunant.