Monday, October 19, 2009

Dune Road

Book No: 55
Title: Dune Road
Author: Jane Green
Genre: Chick LIt
Completed: 10/12/09
No. of Pages: 341
Rating: 2/5**

Jane Green, Jane Green where have you gone? After writing some of my favorite books (Jemima J, Bookends and Mr. Maybe) and a few fairly good others, I was pretty disappointed by Dune Road.

Dune Road is set in a tony Connecticut suburb, filled with trophy wives, soccer moms in designer duds and workaholic husbands. Kit Hargrove is recently divorced and trying to make a new life for herself and her children. Her best friend Charlie is a married to a successful banker (or financial planner or something) and she is a part time florist- they don’t need the money it’s just for fun. Tracy is a yoga instructor at a studio that she owns. These three women are the best of friends, always there for each other when needed (well kinda, sorta- not really). When the financial market crashes leaving Charlie destitute, Kit starts dating a new man, Tracy becomes involved with Kit’s boss and a mysterious stranger causes some havoc; everyone’s live will change. Excuse me while I yawn.

Cardboard characters, lame dialogue and some ridiculous plot lines caused me to roll my eyes a couple of times. The mystery of Steve the new man in town is pretty easy to figure out, the intent of the mysterious stranger is telegraphed from the start. I question the implausible easy forgiveness of some transgressions that frankly for me would take years to get over. By the end everyone is happy, except you because you paid $26.00 for this hardcover mess. It’s an easy read for the beach, be sure to borrow it from the library if you still want to read it.

The Physick Book of Deliveerance Dane

Book No: 54
Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 10/03/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 4/5*****

Connie Goodwin is a PhD candidate at Harvard in 1991, seeking to move along in her field of American Colonial studies. When Connie’s mother, Grace, calls from New Mexico and tells Connie she needs her to clean out her grandmother’s house in Marblehead Connie is taken aback because she never knew of this home. While cleaning things out Connie comes across an old fashioned key; a scrap of paper with the name Deliverance Dane written upon it is attached. Intrigued Connie sets out to learn Deliverance’s story; in so doing she learns some truths about herself, her family and her mentor at the University.
The premise for this book is intriguing in that explores the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It actually poses the question “What if the claims of witchcraft were true”? The book is set in 1991, but Deliverance’s story is told in several flashback chapters. As often happens with these types of books I often find the ‘older’ story more interesting than the modern one. I really got caught up in Deliverance and Mercy’s story, it was quite fascinating.
It is very clear that a lot of research went into the book and the depiction of early colonial life and the trials themselves were very detailed. I was curious as to the placement of the book in 1991 instead of today, but I read that the point was it was before many of the universities had transferred their catalogs online so that allowed for some old fashioned detective work, digging through the stacks.
I have a few quibbles;, at times for a smart woman Connie could seem a little slow on the uptake, but I’ve known book smart people who were not at all street smart, so that was somewhat believable. Connie could also seem a little boring but the romance with Sam, the steeplechaser, helped make her far more human so that was a good touch. The Boston accents, especially Chilton’s, Connie’s adviser, were a little annoying after a while and some of the storyline involving Chilton seemed a little over the top. The ending felt very rushed and a bit confusing. I did however really like the epilogue where Ms. Howe went into a lot of the background for the story.
Overall a good book that could have been better, but I would recommend it if you like books on Salem and the witch trials.

Nine Dragons

Book No: 53
Title: Nine Dragons
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 10/02/09
No. of Pages: 375
Rating: 4/5*****

I am a long time Connelly fan, in particular the Harry Bosch series. Over the years there have been some less than stellar books, but a so-so Bosch book is still better than most police procedurals out there. Nine Dragons however is among the best in the series. We get a vulnerable Bosch in this story, a man who will go to the ends of the earth to protect those he loves.

The book starts out fairly routine, Bosch and partner are called upon to look into the murder of a liquor store owner. During the investigation it becomes apparent that this murder involves a Chinese gang, a Triad, and they are notoriously violent. When Bosch makes an arrest the case turns on its head when it becomes clear that this gang has kidnapped Harry’s daughter, who lives in Hong Kong with her mother. In a race against time Harry flies to China to try and find his child.

Taking Harry out of his element brings a fresh feel to the story and the pacing of the book is at break neck speed, a sense of urgency permeates every page. We also get to see Harry in a new light, a man terrified for his daughter, bringing another facet to his personality. It is a book that keeps you turning the pages all night until you are done. There is more than one twist and a few shocking moments sprinkled throughout and the ending completely blindsided me. It also looks as if the next book is going to bring even more change for Harry. This entry in the series is a winner, a very enjoyable read and highly recommended.

The Hunger Games

Book No: 52
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 9/26/09
No. of Pages: 374
Rating: 4.5/5*****

The Hunger Games is an amazing post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel set in Panem, the former USA. This nation is ruled by The Capitol and surrounded by the 12 districts. In an effort to wield control over the Districts an annual competition called The Hunger Games is held, in which one girl and one boy from each District competes in a fight to the death, which is televised night and day during the competition. When 16 year old Katniss Everdeen’s little sister is chosen for the games she steps forward to take her place; Katniss does this knowing that she is probably going to die.

This is a concept that has been explored in many different novels over the years. It’s a bit of 1984 with a dash of The Running Man and a heaping serving of Survivor. What really sells this book though is Katniss. She is a fighter long before she is chosen for the games. She is the sole means of food for her family, hunting against the rules, dealing in the black market, a strong female protagonist who is not going down without a fight. By using her survival skills and forming an alliance with Peeta, the other contestant from her district, Katniss becomes a challenger in the games. Along the way she is also confronted with her feelings for Peeta as well as those of the boy she left behind at home.

I love that this book is written for Young Adults in a way that is exciting and engaging, while at the same time opening their eyes to injustice without it seeming like a history lesson. So many topics are touched upon; a nation filled with so many poor and a handful of very rich, the use of fear to govern, Big Brother watching every move, even the issue of our addiction to ‘reality tv’ and questioning how real it is. To have a female character that uses her brains to survive, without losing her humanity, is a great achievement, although the games and deaths are very, very brutal. The burgeoning love story between Katniss and Peeta is handled well, with just enough romance to not be mawkish and the book doesn’t wrap everything up completely, since the last line is: END OF BOOK ONE.

The tiniest of complaints is at times some of the writing feels a little repetitious, but that is a small criticism for a truly riveting story.

Now I need to get Catching Fire, book 2.

The Lace Reader

Book No: 51
Title: The Lace Reader
Author: Brunonia Barry
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/17/09
No. of Pages: 388
Rating: 2.5/5*****

Thank goodness for libraries, because had I spent good money on this book I would have thrown it against the wall more than once, but I restrained myself as I didn’t own the book.

The title is intriguing, as is the premise of the book as presented on the blurb inside the cover, promising a story about a family of women who can read the future in the patterns of lace and the generations of secrets they guard. If only the book was actually about this family of women. The Whitney family of Salem Massachusetts is featured in the book and it does focus on several of the women, but the book is really about Towner/Sophya Whitney, who introduces herself as a person who lies all the time. So we have an unreliable narrator who is telling us the story of her sister’s death and her own mental breakdown. The lace reading plays a very small part in the story, what we are left with is a fairly weak psychological mystery.

This book meanders all over the place, the construction is wildly disjointed, characters come and go with no real purpose, the narrative changes perspective for no apparent reason, time jumps happen all the time and any storyline that holds any promise is abruptly dropped. The big ‘twist’ at the end was not very surprising; I had pretty much figured it out about half way through the book. So beware the hype surrounding this story and if you feel you still want to read it - borrow it.

Fragile Things

Book No: 50
Title: Fragile Things
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Short Stories
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I have only discovered Gaiman recently, definitely because of the Author, Author group. I read Coraline and The Graveyard Book both of which I loved, and I am now working my way through his back catalog. Fragile Things is a collection of short stories and poems. I am not a huge fan of the short story, because I always find I want more than I get and often resent the ending to the story as I have just begun to get into the rhythm of the story. This collection was a very mixed bag, so I really liked several of the tales and others were just okay. Because the two previous books I read were children’s books I was a little surprised by the language and some of the sex scenes, but it’s just because I wasn’t expecting it. I would have to say my favorite story was October in the Chair, where the months of the year have a sort of board meeting, and one month gets to tell a story. I would have loved to hear each month’s story. I also really liked The Monarch of the Glen which featured an enigmatic character named Shadow; I’d really like to read something more substantial featuring this character. The few poems were lovely and because I listened to this on audio there is always the added bonus of Neil Gaiman’s beautiful voice. Overall this was an interesting if not great collection of horror/fantasy/sci-fi tales.

Thhe Widow's Season

Book No: 49
Title: The Widow’s Season
Author: Laurie Brodie
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 9/7/09
No. of Pages: 303
Rating: 3/5*****

The premise of this book sounded very promising, a young widow whose husband is presumed dead after a kayaking accident, however his body has never been found. Three months later Sarah suddenly begins to see David everywhere. Is her husband dead? Is Sarah having a mental breakdown? Is she being haunted by a ghost? The answer to this mystery was pretty predictable and not at all surprising. Throw in the fact that I actually disliked Sarah, the protagonist of this story and you have the makings for a run of the mill story.

At first I understood a lot of the inertia and apathy Sarah has as a reaction to her husband’s death and part of her grief process. After a while I began to see that this was the way she was about everything- never taking the initiative and seeming to just do whatever is expected of her or never reacting to events around her. I found her constant analyzing and complaining about her marriage contradictory to her reactions to the apparent reappearance of her husband. I also greatly disliked the turn her relationship with her brother-in-law takes. In fact the only person I liked in this book was Sarah’s calm and competent neighbor Margaret. The revelation of what was going on was pretty ho-hum and not at all surprising, and contrary to a number of the blurbs on the cover I did not find this story haunting at all. I was hoping for a great mystery or a paranormal story and got neither, just a mediocre story that ended up disappointing.

Life's A Beach

Book No: 48
Title: Life’s A Beach
Author: Clare Cook
Genre: Chick-lit
Completed: 8/30/09
No. of Pages: 256
Rating: 3/5*****

Clare Cook has found a formula for her books that produce quick, light, beach reads. Take a woman of about 35-40, floundering through life. Mix in a quirky boyfriend or possible boyfriend, an eccentric father and a loopy cast of relatives and friends; have a few misadventures and a happy ending. Voila you have Life’s a Beach (or Must Love Dogs or Summer Blowout) Cute, light, easy to read. Cotton Candy for the brain, you enjoy it while reading it but you hate yourself in the morning.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Company of Liars: A Novel

Book No: 47
Title: Company of Liars: A Novel
Author: Karen Maitland
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/31/09
No. of Pages: 480
Rating: 4/5*****

It is 1348 and the Black Plague is racing through England. In a desperate attempt to outrun death a disparate group of travelers band together hoping to make it to the North, away from the cities and ports that have become little more than ghost towns. As they slowly wend their way through the countryside and we get to know each traveler it becomes clear that none of them are what they profess themselves to be and each of them is guarding a closely held secret.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It works as an adventure tale as well as a suspense tale with a bit of a mystery as to every character’s secret, each of which is revealed one by one. The gritty descriptions of medieval life and the customs, beliefs and superstitions of the times added a great background to the saga of this company. Some of the secrets were foreshadowed a little too heavy handedly so that not all of them were a surprise, but the tension within the group is ratcheted up little by little so that you cannot wait to turn the page to find out what happens next. The last page of the book was deliciously eerie and although you might have suspected it coming it still has an impact. If you like your historical fiction detailed and steeped in the era in which it is set and filled with engaging characters, both good and evil, then this is the book for you.

After You

Title: After You
Book No: 46
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Genre: Fiction/Chick-lit
Completed: 8/19/09
No. of Pages: 340
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I read Ms. Buxbaum’s debut novel the Opposite of Love and really enjoyed it. I was really looking forward to her latest book and was not disappointed.

Ellie Lerner’s best friend Lucy is murdered, right in front of her daughter’s eyes. When Ellie learns of this tragedy she drops everything to run to her goddaughter Sophie’s side. What we don’t know at first is that Ellie is also running from her life, her own tragedy and possibly using this as an excuse to escape reality.

As in her previous book Julie Buxbaum does not always present characters you immediately identify with. Ellie can be self-absorbed, prickly and dare we say it – stupid. Yet she is a bit of a lost soul trying to find her way through the loss of her child while trying to help her best friends child come through the loss of her mother as unscathed as possible. When Ellie stubbornly refuses to return home to her husband and he begins divorce proceedings, and when she learns some unpleasant truths about her best friend, she slowly comes to terms with the mess that is life.

I like the way the author doesn’t make everything cut and dried, good or bad, black or white. There are so many shades of grey – like life. Sometimes you love Ellie other times you wonder what the hell she is thinking. There are some predictable plot lines yet you still want to know how it will all turn out. It doesn’t all end in a neat little bow, but the ending is hopeful and more on the realistic side than usual. Enjoyable, often thought provoking; I don’t think Ms. Buxbaum has hit her stride yet, but she is getting there and I am looking forward to more from this author.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Book No: 45
Title:Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safron Foer
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 8/13/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

I have been thinking about my review of this book for the last few weeks, finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. I approached this book with a lot of trepidation; I live outside of NYC and unfortunately know too many people who lost their husband, wives, parents and children on September 11th. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for several years and finally got up the courage to read it. I am so very, very grateful that I did.

Although the events of ‘The Worst Day’, as Oskar Schell the nine year old protagonist of the story calls September 11th, form the framework of this book, the story is more about how one accepts loss and learns to move on, albeit changed and damaged in some way. The book is about the horrors of war and terrorism and all the pain that is left for the survivors to experience and try to learn how to live again. It is a book that if filled with humor, sadness, tragedy and love.

Oskar is an extremely bright child nine year old. His father died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. When Oskar finds a key among his father’s possession, mysteriously labeled Black, he decides to set out to find the lock the key will fit. His search sets him on a journey in which he encounters people from all different walks of life, each of which seems to have some small impact on his life. When Oskar finally learns the meaning of the key he also reveals a secret he has been living with since the death of his dad. Interlaced between Oskar’s search is the story of his grandparents, survivors of the bombing of Dresden during WWII.

I think part of the beauty of this book is in the depiction of Oskar. He’s intelligent, but Foer doesn’t make him sound mature, he’s still a little boy and he can be rude, obnoxious, sweet, funny, cruel and at times remarkably perceptive; he’s very much like many little boys I’ve known. There were so many times I just wanted to reach out and hug this child. I found his relationship with his grandmother very touching and often charming. The story of his grandparent’s life plays out rather slowly and at times it seems a preposterous life, but it juxtaposes nicely with Oskar’s own attempt at making sense out of unbearable tragedy. In the end we are left with a feeling of hope that healing is possible.

I love Foer’s use of language and his skill at evoking a reaction from you; he has the ability to mix humor and pathos, frequently in the same sentence. He also paints indelible pictures in your mind, not by the retelling of unfathomable events but by his characters reactions to these acts. There were times I had to stop reading because I could not see through my tears.

This was an outstanding book one that will stay with me a long time. I am planning on reading Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, very soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Falling Behind- Again!

Who ever said "So many books, so little time" knew what they were talking about. I am sadly overdue with reviews, because I just have too many books to read. I have 4 reviews to write to bring this blog up to date. I have one more book to read and review for Amazon Vine - Dragon House by John Shors. I have 2 books out from the library: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and just got a notice that The Hunger Games by Suzanne collins has come in; I am going to read that for my Play Book Tag Coming of Age read. I also need to read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe for my Bibliophile Reading Group as well as Sarah's Key for Booktivity! and to top it all off I have been reading Drood by Dan Simmons for 2 months now and am only have way through it! There just aren't enough hours in the day and for some reason my family expects clean clothes, a clean house and some hot meals! There really are just too many books and not enough time!

September Tag at Play Book Tag

The tag for the month of September at Play Book Tag is: Coming of Age

Shelfari members have tagged over 5,000 books with the Coming of Age tag, so this month Play Book Tag members will be reading and reviewing as many books as we can that have this tag. If you're interested in reading or learning about more of these books come and join us:

Play Book Tag at Shelfari

Michelle Moran Book giveaway at Ruby Loves Adventure

Michelle Moran is giving away a copy of her book Cleopatra's Daughter. To enter the contest go to this blog:

Ruby Loves Adventure

Good Luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shanghai Girls

Book No: 44
Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/12/09
No. of Pages: 309
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I’m not sure where to start with this book, because I have truly mixed feelings about it. I, like so many others, read and loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I was looking forward to this book because I had heard many good things about it and it was strongly recommended to me by my librarian. In the end I found it a disappointing book, although there were many parts I did enjoy.

The Shanghai Girls are Pearl and May, two ‘beautiful girls’ who are models for traditional Chinese calendars. They live a life of privilege and ease, often thinking of no one but themselves. When their father arranges their marriages to Chinese-American men looking for wives, the girls refuse to go to America, setting off a chain of events that leads to heartbreaking tragedy. The sisters ultimately leave for San Francisco, and spend months on Angel Island being interrogated by immigration officials. While there a secret is revealed and a pact is made between the two that will alter the rest of their lives. Eventually arriving in Chinatown, to a life much different than they anticipated, these two sisters struggle to make a life for themselves and their new families.

There were some things I enjoyed about this book. I loved the beginning of this story, set in Shanghai in the mid 1930’s. It was very descriptive and full of fascinating detail of a city I knew very little about. Even when it gets into the invasion of the Japanese and the hardships and horrors that occurred I was fully engaged. However form the time the girls arrive on Angel Island through the ending I felt the book never reached that level of writing. I liked a lot of the history that was depicted and I learned quite a bit about the birth of Chinatown and immigrant life, but at times it felt like a history lesson, as if the author wanted to tell the history, it didn’t feel ‘lived in’.

I had several problems with the book that in the end took away from my enjoyment. The voice of the book is Pearl’s and it is her POV we get for everything, there are no other sides to the story. I also didn’t much care for the two sisters, for different reasons. May was spoiled, selfish and seemed to go through life without a care in the world for anyone except herself and what was good for her. Pearl on the other hand was the ‘good sister’ sacrificing herself again and again for May because she was her older sister and had to take care of her. I wanted Pearl to get a backbone, and when she finally does stand up for herself it is at the wrong time and has a devastating consequence. The men in the book are secondary characters, and seem to be there only to further the sister’s story along. The tragedies in this story are never ending and by the end have a soap opera quality to them – you just keep wondering what else can possibly go wrong. Some of the things that happened were predictable and when May reveals her big secret in the end I almost laughed because it was so obvious. And last but not least is the ending – there isn’t one, or at least a satisfying one. We are left with a bit of a cliff hanger, leading one to suspect a sequel.

This is actually the second book I have read this summer about the struggles of Chinese immigrants during the years leading to WWII and I found the other to be far more engaging and enjoyable, even though it was also very sad at times; if you enjoyed this book you may also like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Play Book Tag: August Tag

THe tag for August at Play Book Tag is:


We will be reading and reviewing all sorts of books that have been tagged humor by Shelfari members.

Sound interesting? Come on by and join in the discussions.

Day After Night

Book No: 43
Title: Day after Night
Author: Anita Diamant
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 8/2/09
No. of Pages: 292
Rating: 3/5*****

Anita Diamant’s latest book focuses on an aspect of WWII history that I think many of us know little about. After the end of the war and the liberation of the prisoners from the concentration camps thousands of survivors went to Israel; most of them no longer had homes or families and chose to start anew in The Promised Land. Upon arrival most of these people were placed in internment or refugee camps because they were ‘illegal aliens’ with no paperwork- an irony that is almost laughable in its stupidity. Nevertheless, these people found themselves once again prisoners, although treated far more humanely than where they came from.

The book focuses on four women who slowly form friendships, something they are afraid to do, having lost so much during the war hope had become one more thing to put aside. Little by little Tedi, Leonie, Shayndel and Zorah come together to help each other face each new day, while slowly trying to shed the unspeakable past. As each day passes in boredom and loss of expectation, an escape plan begins to be put into motion.

Over the years I have complained that books seem to be getting longer and longer and editing seems to have disappeared. In this particular case I wish the story had been longer, because I never felt an attachment to these women. Bits and pieces of their back story are revealed, yet none of them felt substantial to me; I frequently had to look at the back blurb which gave brief descriptions of the characters because they would blend together in my mind, they never took on lives of their own. There was so much more I wanted to learn of them and some of the secondary characters, Tirzah the kitchen aide in particular. When the escape finally occurs it is anti-climatic and we only learn the fates of the four women in a small epilogue; there was so much more I would have liked to have known about these women and their lives.

For a look at a little known footnote in history I found the book interesting, I just wish I was more engaged in the characters.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Book No: 42
Title: Kindred
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Genre: Historical Fiction
Completed: 7/30/09
No. of Pages: 264
Rating: 4/5*****

This book has a truly fascinating premise: What if an African American of modern day was unaccountably catapulted back in time to a time when slavery was the norm in the southern United States? What happens when her modern sensibilities are confronted with the real experience of being black in a time and place where that meant you had no rights at all? That is the scenario in Kindred by Octavia Butler and it is a riveting story.

Entwining historical fiction with science fiction Ms. Butler tells the story of Dana, an educated black woman living in NYC 1976 with her husband Kevin, who is white. Inexplicably she is pulled back in time, by a young boy named Rufus; he is drowning and Dana saves him. Rufus is Dana’s ancestor and time after time when he is in danger he somehow summons Dana to his side; she has no way of knowing when it will happen or what event will trigger her return to her own time.
Using the device of time travel Ms. Butler shows how an entire race is subjugated by the slave owners, how easily Dana slips into the life of a slave in order to survive. One time her husband is transported with her and they act as slave and owner in order to endure the times. They are both shocked by how easily they slip into their roles.

The book starts off with a bang and every time Dana is brought back in time the tension is ratcheted up a bit. The young Rufus grows up to be a slave owner and a selfish and cruel one at that. Each time you are wondering and worrying about what will happen to Dana and the rest of the slaves we become involved with over the years the story takes place. My only real problem with the book is Dana’s constant forgiveness of Rufus despite the way he treats her and her friend Alice. I understand her need to make sure nothing happens to Rufus, for otherwise she could not exist, so she is damned is she does something yet damned if she doesn’t. It’s a moral question that isn’t fully addressed; I would have liked to see Dana question her own motives more. I also would have liked to learn something of what happened to Kevin at the time he is left behind while Dana returns to the present. Outside of these two issues I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

April & Oliver

Book No: 41
Title: April & Oliver
Author: Tess Callahan
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/25/09
No. of Pages: 326
Rating: 3/5*****

I was looking forward to this book based on a review I read in my local paper. I enjoy stories about star-crossed relationships, where two people seem to be destined to be together and somehow things just never work out right; as an added bonus the book was set in my home of Long Island, so I was looking forward to some local flavor. I was disappointed on both counts, the book could have been set anywhere and the relationship between April & Oliver seemed rather dysfunctional.

April is clearly a troubled woman, looking for love with the wrong kind of men, obviously keeping some secrets about her past. Oliver is the perfect man, he does all the right things and everyone loves him. The two grew up together as family related by marriage, but not blood relatives. They are the best of childhood friends but as often happens go their separate ways when Oliver leaves for college. Now Oliver is back in town, engaged to the lovely Bernadette and he is drawn to helping April when her brother dies in a car accident.

This is very much a character driven story but the characters often seemed stereotypical –April is tragic but good, Oliver is the golden boy, Bernadette is all too understanding, Oliver’s brother Al is a bachelor always on the prowl – all people I have met in books before. Even Nana, who was my favorite character, was a nice, slightly befuddled yet well meaning grandmother. Nothing groundbreaking in the writing here; you know what will happen in the end, although it isn’t picture perfect it is certainly what you are waiting for. On the whole I found it a good if predictable story.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Will There Be Good News?

Book No: 40
Title: When Will There Be Good News
Author: Kate Atkinson
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/18/09
No. of Pages: 388
Rating: 4/5*****

This is the third book by Kate Atkinson to feature Jackson Brodie.

Once again Kate Atkinson has created a string of mysteries that slowly come together, as each of the various characters secrets are revealed. Like an onion, as you peel back one layer of the story another layer is revealed until you get to the heart of the matter.

Dr. Jo Hunter is the only survivor of a horrific crime that occurred thirty years ago. Neil Hunter is Jo’s ne’er do well husband and Reggie Chase is the Hunter’s baby sitter with a secret or two of her own. When Dr. Hunter and her son disappear, and Mr. Hunter starts fabricating some odd stories about where she is, Reggie takes it upon herself to find the missing doctor and child. She reveals her suspicions to Louise Munroe, the chief investigator in Edinburgh, who doesn’t give them much credence at first. At the same time Jackson Brodie is hurtling, literally, towards a climactic and life changing event that places him in the middle of the mystery.

As usual the plotting is intricate and the characters are so well developed that they begin to seem real to the reader. Although Louise and Jackson still have unresolved feelings for each other, they both take a back seat to the real star of this book, Reggie Chase, a survivor and a fighter for what she believes in. Atkinson deftly weaves all the plot lines together for an ending with more than one surprise, and a hint at what may be next for Louise as well as a major and unexpected change in Brodie’s life. Looking forward to the next book, although it is at least a year away.

A Separate Country

Book No: 39
Title: A Separate Country
Author: Robert Hicks
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/14/09
No. of Pages: 419
Rating: 3.5/5*****

I am not a huge Civil War buff, so I was unfamiliar with the story of John Bell Hood, upon whose life this book is based on. It is sometimes quite odd to read a novelization of a person’s life as you frequently wonder where the truth is and where the fiction begins. Suffice to say that John Bell Hood’s life was quite tragic. He was a well known, though perhaps not so well liked General, who lost a leg and the use of an arm during the war. He moves to New Orleans to rebuild his life and marries Anna Marie Hennan; over the course of the years they have eleven children. Yet General Hood is an abysmal failure at business and bankrupts his family, leaving them penniless and eventually orphaned as yellow fever ravages the city.

This was at times a very difficult book to read, for the character of General Hood is not very likeable throughout much of the book; it was at times quite difficult to see what attracted his wife to him. However over the course of the story there is redemption for the General, who begins to come to terms with the choices he has made and seeks forgiveness for some of his failings as his life comes to an end. The story succeeds mostly because of its vivid depiction of life in New Orleans after the war. There are times you can almost feel the heat and miasma of the city enveloping you; you can relish in the coolness of the ice house as the general and his acquaintances seek relief there. You can hear, see and smell the life all around you, that is how lush the descriptions are.

This story is told through journals and diaries of John Hood, Anna Marie and a former soldier Eli Griffin. Each of these voices is distinct yet at times their retelling of stories would over lap which often seemed redundant. The book is also very long and at times moves a bit too slowly, but in general I found it extremely well written, if steeped in sadness. Definitely a good read for any fan of historical fiction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Book No: 38
Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/15/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

This book is so aptly named, because it focuses on both the bitter and sweet times in the life of Henry Lee and his first love Keiko Okabe. The story goes back and forth in time, from 1942-45 and 1986. The story of Henry, a Chinese-American, and Keiko, a Japanese- American, and their friendship during the war years is told in flashback when Henry learns that a collection of items left behind at the Panama Hotel have been found. These were items stored there when many Japanese Americans living in Seattle were ‘relocated’ and basically interred in concentration camps. The finding of these possessions brings back a flood of memories of Henry and Keiko’s friendship that turned to love, even after Keiko’s family was uprooted from their home and sent to Camp Harmony and later Idaho.

I have always been fascinated by stories and books that relate to this time period and the brutality of the relocation of so many Americans simply because of their ethnicity. It was not America’s most shining moment and this book brings to life so many of the indignities suffered by those who were born in this country, many second or third generation Americans yet treated as if they were enemies of the state. I thought the author did a great job with the many details of life at that time and the many prejudices toward Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I loved the depiction of a young Henry and Keiko falling in love while listening to jazz music, and their determination to forge a relationship in spite of so many obstacles.

The book also offers a lot of insight into the many problems that Chinese Americans endured in trying to become assimilated into American culture while trying to maintain old traditions and how difficult it was/is for those who have no knowledge of their parent’s lives in another country, and how they feel caught between two worlds.

Although the ending of the book was somewhat predictable, the journey to a satisfying conclusion is well worth the trip. For those who have fond memories of first love this is a book to delight in. I hope to read another book by Mr. Ford in the near future, for this one was a joy to read.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Amazing Read

Play Book Tag has a new game starting August 1st, it's a reading game loosely based on The Amazing Race. If you might be interested all details are here:


Stop by, you might have some fun!

Little Bee

Book No: 37
Title: Little Bee
Author: Chris Cleave
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 7/12/09
No. of Pages: 266
Rating: 4/5*****

This is a portion of the blurb on the inside cover of this book:

“Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.”

Pretty interesting request isn’t it? Yet I have to agree with it, the beauty of this book is in the unfolding. I do need to write a review so I’ll be as informative as I can without revealing too much.

Two British citizens, Sarah and Andrew, are vacationing in Nigeria. They have an encounter on the beach with a young Nigerian girl, the Little Bee of the title, and her sister. What happens on the beach that day will have ramifications for all four of these people; ramifications that completely alter their lives.

Two years later Bee is in a relocation center in England, when she reaches out to Sarah and Andrew, the only people she knows in England and her reappearance in their lives sets off a series of events and revelations that reopen old wounds that were always festering under the surface.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Little Bee’s and Sarah’s point of view. The writing is beautiful and heartbreaking, some of the lines in the book are meant to read over and over. I could not put this book down and read it in one day; I had to know how everything would turn out. The ending isn’t an all’s well that ends well finish, but it is realistic and hopeful.

So you may wonder why not five stars? Honestly it was because of the character of Sarah and her friend Lawrence. I didn’t like them, not at all. They seemed selfish, self absorbed and even when they try to do something good it seems as if there is always an underlying motive. However the character of Little Bee and her story made the whole book for me. I promise that you will think about refugees in a whole new light.

My favorite quote from the book:

“If your face is swollen from the severe beatings of life, smile and pretend to be a fat man.” – Nigerian proverb.

Missing Mark

Book No: 36
Title: Missing Mark
Author: Julie Kramer
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/11/09
No. of Pages: 273
Rating: 3/5*****

Second book to feature Riley Spartz, Stalking Susan is the first.

I like Riley Spartz, the investigative reporter for Channel 3 news in Minnesota. I enjoyed Stalking Susan and was looking forward to Missing Mark. Although I liked the book well enough there were some things here that really missed the mark – so to speak.

First and foremost there is an opening scene where a man is found murdered in a house that Riley wants to buy – skip to chapter 2, the murder never comes up again. It just seemed that Riley would investigate this crime, or mention it again, but the next topic for her investigation is the story behind an ad for a never worn wedding dress. It seemed an odd choice for the gutsy Riley. Secondly the ‘mystery’ of the missing bridegroom wasn’t all that interesting or challenging, I had it figured out in about 10 pages. There are two more subplots, one involving a fish stolen from an aquarium and a neighbor who has constant garage sales. The first one was kind of lame and led to a very improbable coincidence near the end of the book and the second one was so obvious that the fact it takes Riley half the book to figure out was a little out of place since she is supposed to be a seasoned investigative reporter.

What saves the book from a little lower rating is the easy reading style and the character of Riley, who is someone you might want to be friends with, and her relationship with retired detective Nick Garnett looks promising. The supporting characters are fun, but in danger of becoming clichéd if there isn’t any growth, but there is potential for that as revealed in the epilogue, a plot device which I am not too fond of.

Overall a light and breezy mystery series, good for a lazy day read.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Play Book Tag - July Tag

I'm an administrator at Play Book Tag, which is a Shelfari group. Every month we choose one of the Top 200 Tags at Shelfari and everyone tries to read a book that fits that tag. This month our tag is American Literature. So if you are interested in reading some AL, or maybe interested in reading some of the reviews please stop by a take a peek. You'll also find some other book chatter as well as information on an upcoming new game involving books, which will start August 1st.

Stalking Susan

Book No: 35
Title: Stalking Susan
Author: Julie Kramer
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 7/10/09
No. of Pages: 308
Rating: 3/5***

Stalking Susan is a debut novel, which looks like a promising start to a new series.

Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for the local news station in Minneapolis. When one of her sources, Det. Nick Garnett, decides to retire from the police force he gives her his files on a couple of cold cases he believes are related; several women have been murdered, all named Susan and all on the same day. Riley decides to investigate the case and all too soon is up to her neck in trouble.

This was a very quick read and I really enjoyed it. I think the mystery was not the best part of the book, any seasoned reader of this type of book will quickly figure most of it out. What made the book so enjoyable was the appeal of Riley, she has a really interesting back story, she’s smart but doesn’t take herself too serious and she’s got an interesting set of friends and acquaintances that add some comic relief when needed. There is also the obligatory boss from hell and egotistic politicians and authority figures, but it doesn’t feel as cartoonish as some of the other female investigator books out there. There are some moments of real suspense and lots of clever banter between Riley and her buddy Garnett. Julie Kramer is a former television reporter so her insight into all the behind the scenes working of a network added a lot of reality to the novel.

A very enjoyable read and I already have the sequel, Missing Mark, lined up.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Heart of Ice

Book No: 34
Title: Heart of Ice
Author: Gregg Olsen
Genre: Suspense
Completed: 6/2
No. of Pages: 6/28/09
Rating: 4/5*****

I discovered Gregg Olsen last year when I read A Wicked Snow, a very taut and fast paced thriller. At the end of the book was a teaser for his next book. So when I saw Heart of Ice, I picked it up and realized part of the way in that this was actually a different book, a sequel to the book A Cold Dark Place. Normally I would stop reading and get the other book because I hate to read series out of order. I was so caught up in the story already there was no way I was going to stop reading.

Heart of Ice focuses on two separate murder investigations, one involving a missing woman, Mandy Crawford, who Sheriff Emily Kenyon believes has been murdered by her husband, although she only has circumstantial evidence. At the same time a serial killer has been attacking college sorority girls, and soon it becomes clear that Sheriff Kenyon’s daughter Jenna maybe his ultimate target.

Once again this is a suspense book that moves fast and can be very graphic, especially in detailing the brutal childhood of the serial killer. The characters are quite believable although the solution to the serial killer storyline seemed very abrupt, the Mandy mystery had a very believable ending with a good twist.

Two small complaints must be mentioned. One is the idea that this is apparently not the first time that Jenna Kenyon has been the target of a killer, a coincidence that was a little far-fetched. The second is the depiction of the sorority girls, it was very cliché. My daughter is in a sorority that has one of the highest GPA’s in her college and as a whole the Fraternities and Sororities across the country raise millions of dollars for charities every year; so even though this was fiction I wanted to mention that.

Lost in a Good Book

Book No: 33
Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 6/30/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 3/5*****

I really enjoyed Fforde’s first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair, I found it funny and entertaining and loved all the literary references. Lost in a Good Book is also funny and entertaining in spots, it just seemed to have everything thrown into this book, including the kitchen sink. The essential plot seems to involve Thursday trying to get her husband Landon back after he is eradicated by Spec-Ops, but there is so very little of that plot and so many other things going on that the plot line seems to disappear and reappear as needed.

The best parts of the story are when Thursday is jumping into books. Her apprenticeship to Miss Haversham from Great Expectations is extremely funny and entertaining as are her meetings with the Chesire cat and other literary characters - even the lowly appliance manual character. It’s at these times the book shines and I enjoy it the most. But it is very hard to keep all the time jumping, dodo birds, Neanderthals, pink goo, Chronoguards and Goliath villains straight. The name puns wear a little thin after a while too. Jack Schitt isn’t all that funny the 50th time you read it. Most unsatisfying of all is the lack of a resolution to the Landon story line, the book ends with a bit of a cliff hanger.

I already own The Well of Lost Plots, and I will read it eventually, just not too soon.

Green Darkness

Book No: 32
Title: Green Darkness
Author: Anya Seton
Genre: Fiction- Historical/Paranormal
Completed: 6/29/09
No. of Pages: 621
Rating: 3.5/5***

Green Darkness was one of my all time favorite books having read it about 30 years ago. This year I chose to do a re-read, something I rarely ever do; now I know why it’s not a good idea to mess with memories.

According to my copy, an original 1972 copy, this is a story of a great love that spans from 16th century to the present day and a brilliant reconstruction of the Tudor period; only part of that is true.

Green Darkness mixes a story of reincarnation and its roots in a love story from 500 years earlier. The problem for me this time around is I didn’t find the love story all that interesting.

Celia and Richard Marsdon are recent newlyweds and have come to Richard’s family ancestral home; soon the two are acting very differently to each other and during a weekend house party Celia collapses and is hospitalized. While Celia slips deeper and deeper into a catatonic state, one of her guests, Dr. Ankanada, very familiar with past life regression believes this is the only way to help Celia and so we journey back in time to the story of Celia Bohun and Father Steven Marsdon.

The bulk of this story takes place 1552 and 1559, a time of huge upheaval in English history, with the succession of three monarchs, Edward I, Mary and Elizabeth I. The country goes from Protestant to Catholic and back to Protestant in that short time frame. The affect on the ‘regular’ people as well as the nobles and churches is depicted very well and I love the attention to historical detail, much better than some of the more recent historical fiction of this time period I have read. This was without doubt the best part of the book. The problem is the love story between the monk Steven and Celia, a poorer relation to Sir Anthony Browne of Cowdray castle. Celia lives here with her aunt and Steven is the house priest, living in hiding at the start of their story. For being what is the entire lynchpin of this story there was actually very little to the romance and I actually didn’t much care for the two star crossed lovers. Steven was often too sanctimonious and Celia was a selfish and foolish young girl, I felt no connection to either of them. After the ending of their story we are back to the present (1968 in the book) and the resolution of Celia and Richard’s story, which was rather abrupt and a little too perfect.

While I enjoyed the writing, I found the book a little too long, and some of the most important elements of the story seem to happen so fast and are over with in just a few paragraphs. This is not the great love story I remembered, it was just average and ultimately brings the overall rating down. So here is my advice: be careful when going back to an old well loved book, time may change your perspective and tarnish a memory.

The Black Echo

Book No: 31
Title: The Black Echo
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 6/18/09
No. of Pages: 482
Rating: 4/5*****

My first Harry Bosch book was City of Bones, which I read unaware that I was mid-series. I became an instant Michael Connelly fan, and have kept up with the series as well as reading several of his stand alone novels. This year I decided to go back to the start and read those books I missed the first time.

The Black Echo is the first book which introduces us to Harry Bosch, a Vietnam Veteran and world weary detective who seems to have seen too many of the bad things in life but still strives to be a good cop, investigating crimes even when he has to bend the rules and go against the rules, frequently bringing nothing but trouble upon himself.

The storyline involves what appears to be the accidental overdose death of a known junkie. When Harry recognizes the victim as a former Vietnam Vet he begins to dig a little deeper, eventually becoming involved in an FBI investigation that leads to a romantic entanglement and a complex crime that involves far more than murder.

Connelly is terrific in slowly unpeeling the many layers of the investigation, and it’s great fun to watch Harry gradually and methodically but the pieces together. This is a police procedural novel at its best. I have a few little complaints, some of the police characterizations were a little clichéd and over the top, in particular the internal affairs officers, who were a bit buffoonish in their stupidity. The romance angle was okay, I can see two lonely people coming together, but it never felt genuine. Outside of that I found the mystery entertaining and well plotted. The Black Echo is a great introduction to the Bosch series, which I feel keeps getting better with each book.

The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances

Book No: 30
Title: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances
Author: Mark Millhone
Genre: Memoir
Completed: 6/16/09
No. of Pages: 192
Rating: 3/5*****

Mark Millhone and his family had a tough year, no doubt about it, the near death of their son, the passing of his mother, his father’s cancer diagnosis and his other son was bitten in the face by the family dog. All of these misfortunes have put a huge strain on the family, but most especially his marriage. So how does he deal with it? He buys a used BMW on eBay, leaves his family to fly to Texas with his dad, a man for whom the word stoic was invented, and drive the new car home. I don’t know about anyone else but if my husband did this without telling me I would not be pleased. So it comes as no surprise to me that this trip drives another wedge into the marriage.

While the tone of this book is often funny it is just as often fairly mundane. It’s a short book, with some interesting back story of Mr. Millhone’s upbringing in a clearly dysfunctional family, but for the most part there was no overwhelming feeling that I needed to find out what happened, unlike some other memoirs I have read in the past that were compelling and gripping in their execution. This was a nice, simple, easy read but the ending seems abrupt and while it wasn’t a bad book, it almost could have been a novella or short story because almost nothing really happens. I enjoyed the start of the book and the idea of the book, but in the end it was just okay.

The Blue Notebook

Book No: 29
Title: The Blue Notebook
Author: James A. Levine
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 6/15/09
No. of Pages: 210
Rating: 5/5*****

What an extraordinary book, one that is unrelentingly graphic in its portrayal of the life of a child prostitute, but beautiful in its depiction of the human spirit and the will to survive.

Batuk Ramasdeen is nine years old when she is sold to a sex trader by her father. Sold to the highest bidder looking for a young virgin she is then brought to an ‘orphanage’ where she becomes trained in her new profession. Batuk lives in a small cage on the Common Street, in Mumbai, India; here she is prostituted on a daily basis in exchange for some food and a place to sleep. Using her imagination and her ability to write, a skill she learned while housed in a missionary hospital, Batuk escapes the horrors of her existence by writing and telling stories. It is here that this book shines, for Batuk’s tales are beautifully written and her descriptions of her escape in her mind’s eye are lyrical. The author’s juxtaposition of such beauty in the midst of unrelenting horror cuts to your heart.

When it seems that Batuk’s life may have taken a slight turn for the better, a small flame of hope is ignited in the reader, but our heroine is not so easily fooled. She knows that to most of the people she comes in contact with she is no more than an object to be used; a whore, a bitch, a toy, a dolly but never a human being. She has no illusions about her existence and knows her only escape will be through her stories, which gives her life meaning.

I believe this is the author’s debut; I will certainly be looking for another book by him. In many ways the story reminded me of The Kite Runner, a book that opened my eyes to a world that I know so little about. As an added incentive all proceeds for the U.S. sale of this book will be donated to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children, so by reading this phenomenal piece of fiction you will in some small way help these children.

The Forgotten Garden

Book No: 28
Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 6/14/09
No. of Pages: 560
Rating: 4/5*****

The Forgotten Garden is a long, sprawling mystery that spans over 100 years, loaded with Gothic undertones. We have a spooky old Victorian mansion, an overgrown maze, a derelict cottage on a cliff, a forgotten garden, wealth, poverty, love, betrayal, good and evil all wrapped around an abandoned child.

Told through the perspectives of three women, Nell who is found when she is four years old, abandoned on a dock in Australia, with very sparse clues to her identity; Eliza who is the mysterious Authoress whom Nell vaguely remembers and whose book of fairy Tales is in Nell’s tiny suitcase and Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter, who tries to put together all the pieces of the puzzle after her grandmother’s death.

I really enjoyed this story, I enjoy multi-generational family sagas and I found this one to be absorbing and well written and I liked the mystery and all the introduction of little clues. The changes in the perspectives could get a little confusing at times, and it would be hard to leave one story that was really getting interesting, to be taken back to another time and place but after a while I got accustomed to that. The best part of the book were the fairy tales written by The Authoress, lovely but spooky stories that all have clues to the mystery of Nell’s identity. I also enjoyed Ms. Morton’s inclusion of Frances Hodgson Burnett as a minor character, an obvious tip of the hat to the author of The Secret Garden, which clearly inspired portions of this book.

I didn’t care for the male characters in the book, they all seemed ephemeral and weak, but I’ve read many a book where the women were relegated to the background, so it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of this book. Overall a very good read.

Pardonable Lies

Book No: 27
Title: Pardonable Lies
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Completed: 6/08/09
No. of Pages: 340
Rating: 4/5*****

Pardonable Lies is the 3rd entry in the Maisie Dobbs series and again the author creates an atmospheric novel, set in the times between the two world wars.

Maisie Dobbs is an investigator/psychologist who is asked to look into 3 cases, a young girl accused of murdering her stepfather, a man who wishes to know for certain his son died in the Great War and her close friend Priscilla Partridge asks her to locate where her brother Peter died during his time in service. Slowly the three cases become entwined and Maisie must face her own memories of the war. With her life at risk her admiration and friendship with her mentor Maurice Blanche is put to an extreme test and her faith is badly shaken.

Winspear really knows how to evoke an era of class structure, a nation still in recovery from the destruction inflicted by a World War, of people and families destroyed, damaged and haunted by the conflict. The characters, particularly Maisie are so well developed; there are so many shades of gray – nobody is all good or all evil. Some lies are pardonable when there is a no win situation.

The writing is very well done and the mysteries are complex and brought to satisfying conclusions. I did have a problem with the solution to the last mystery, it seemed a little “Nancy Drew” like, but that is my sole complaint in a gem of an addition to a wonderful series.

Lessons in Heartbreak

Book No: 26
Title: Lessons in Heartbreak
Author: Cathy Kelly
Genre: Chick-lit
Completed: 6/07/09
No. of Pages: 435
Rating: 3/5*****

Lessons in Heartbreak is chick lit trying to be family saga/historical fiction/ social commentary all tied up in one uneven package. It is the story of three women from one family and their struggles with heartbreak. The overriding theme through it all is adultery from three different perspectives. We learn the stories of Izzie a thoroughly modern woman working in NYC and struggling to understand how she became entangled in a love affair with a married man; Anneleise a woman coming to terms with the end of her marriage after her husband leaves her for her best friend and Lily, Izzie’s ninety year old grandmother who falls ill still harboring her own secret of an affair during World War II.

The tales of these three women is told in alternating voices and the jumping back and forth in narration can be jarring at times, just as you are deeply involved in one story you are thrust back to another. Although the characters of the women are delved into in good detail most of the men are rather stereotypical and one dimensional. By far the most interesting story in the entire book is Lily’s, as it touches on a lot of the class distinctions of England and Ireland that kept many people in servant class, unable to break free of their place in life because of the family they were born into. Lily’s refusal to be cast in that mold made for the most engaging story. Izzie was interesting only when she was in the work place, almost everything about her involving her love affair was cliché and predictable. The character of Anneleise was irritating at best and although she was presented as a counter balance - providing the voice of the woman left as opposed to the other woman, in the final analysis she took all the blame for the failure of her marriage, relieving the straying husband of all culpability; I think it would have been a more interesting story if she was shown as a really strong woman instead of the annoying character she was.

This book is marketed as a story of an Irish girl, but there is almost none of that feel to the book, it could have been set anywhere at all there is no Irish atmosphere present, although many portions of the book set there. One other small annoyance was the constant use of the word darling, if I read it once I read it a couple of dozen times.

Although I found some of the narrative engrossing overall the book was just okay, garnering three stars because of Lily’s story, which is what kept me turning the pages.

The Graveyard Book

Book No: 25
Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Completed: 5/31/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

Neil Gaiman is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. I recently read Coraline, my first Gaiman, and I loved it. Now I have completed the Graveyard Book and thought it was brilliant!

Although this book is fantasy and filled with ghosts, ghouls witches, hellhounds and more it is really a story of a boy trying to find his way in the world. Nobody “Bod” Owens is orphaned after his family is murdered and he somehow escapes the killer and wanders into the graveyard adjoining his home. Taken in by the ghosts residing in there he is given the freedom of the graveyard and is raised by his parents the Owens’ and a guardian Silas, who provides for him because he can leave the graveyard and wander the world as a human; although never stated he is probably a vampire. Bod must remain in the graveyard because it is only here he can be protected by the killer who is still after him, for reasons that are not made known until late in the story.

The tale is told in a series of vignettes that most children can relate to – learning to spell and read, making friends, going to school, a first love and unexpected loss. It is all told in suspenseful, funny, and touching way with a good amount of horror but also a lot of love, Bod for his ‘family’ and guardian and they for him. The ending was so touching and bittersweet I actually cried. That’s a rare book that can touch me so much.

I listened to the audio version, which was read by the author himself. He brings so much to the storytelling and has one of the best (and sexiest) voices ever. I am going to pick up the hardcover version, but this audio is certainly one than can be listened to again and again. Shortly after I finished the book it was announced that it had won Audible of the Year and I can say it was very well deserved. Well done Mr. Gaiman.

Summer Blowout

Book No: 24
Title: Summer Blowout
Author: Clare Cook
Genre: Chick Lit
Completed: 5/26/09
No. of Pages: 242
Rating: 3/5*****

I’ve read Must Love Dogs by Ms. Cook and generally enjoyed it. This book however seemed like a re-hash of that book, although not quite as charming.

We have Bella, recently divorced, part of a rather large and slightly eccentric family with step-mothers, step-siblings, an over the top father, it all feels ‘been there, done that’. It has some appealing moments, including Bella’s dog-napping of her one true friend Precious the Chihuahua. There is a meet cute of who is obviously the soon to be new man in Bella’s life, complications with the ex who is now with her sister, but it all seems a little forced. It was an appealing little book, pure fluff and nice for a day at the beach.

As a side note I found the constant product mentions very distracting- MAC, Maybelline, Paul Mitchell, OPI - with no signs of stopping, it was kind of annoying after awhile.
Cute but forgettable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Serpent's Tale

Book No: 23
Title: The Serpent’s Tale
Author: Arianna Franklin
Genre: Historical Mystery
Completed: 5/26/09
No. of Pages: 371
Rating: 3.5/5*****

The Serpent’s Tale returns us to 12th century England and all of the plotting and intrigues of Henry II and his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Adelia Aguilar, introduced to readers as The Mistress of the Art of Death in the first book in the series, is living a quiet life in the fens when she is once again summoned by the King to employ her skills to learn who has murdered his mistress. Eleanor is the main suspect and in order to avoid a civil war Adelia joins forces with Rowley Picot, now a Bishop, but also Adelia’s former lover and father of her infant daughter. Taking along her trusted servant Mansur and Gyltha, her friend and nursemaid, Adelia once again uses her knowledge of the sciences to find a murderer.

This book starts out extremely well with the intriguing prologue that lets us know that there is an assassin at work and an extremely clever one at that. The scenes involving the labyrinth where Rosamund Clifford, the King’s mistress, lived and died are creepy and set a very eerie tone to the start of the story, but a lot of that dark suspense is lost when the tale moves onto to the snowbound convent that Adelia and her party are isolated in during a blizzard and where the body count is rapidly rising. This part of the story seemed to drag on a little too long.

A lot of the things that made “Mistress’ such a great read aren’t present here. The mystery is not as complex, there is not enough of Mansur and there is almost none of the romance between Rowley and Adelia that made the first book so much fun. That said I find Franklin’s writing very accessible and love all the historical details she provides. I am not a purist when it comes to historical fiction and don’t mind some of the liberties taken with historical facts, I do appreciate the notes included by the author at the end, which clarifies some of the liberties taken.

Overall I found this to be an entertaining read and a nice blend of historical fiction and forensic mystery. I’m looking forward to book three in the series Grave Goods.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Book No: 22
Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 5/20/09
No. of Pages: 373
Rating: 4/5*****

Ladies and Gentleman meet Flavia Sabina De Luce, the most precocious, obnoxious and at times funniest eleven year old you will ever have the pleasure to meet. It’s 1950, England and Flavia lives in her slightly rundown estate Buckshaw. Surrounded by an eccentric cast of characters, her family and extended family/staff, Flavia spends most of her time in her chemistry laboratory, a leftover from one of her ancestors who died in the lab 20 years earlier. Untouched since then it has become Flavia’s escape from her two sisters, who barely tolerate her existence and her father who rarely acknowledges her. When Flavia discovers a body in the cucumber patch one night and her father is arrested for murder Flavia decides to solve the crime.

This book was a cross between I Capture the Castle and Nancy Drew. Mixing murder, kidnapping, magic and stamp collecting it was a clever mystery with a truly original protagonist. Flavia knows her way around poison, it may be risky to have tea with her. She has an appetite for revenge on the sisters who largely ignore her, including one delicious little bit including lipstick and poison ivy. At times you don’t know whether you want to shake her or give her a hug. Trust me by the end of the book you will be a little in love with Flavia and looking forward to another one of her adventures.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

John Adams

Book No: 21
Title: John Adams
Author: David McCullough
Genre: Biography
Completed: 5/19/09
No. of Pages: N/A
Rating: 5/5*****

Most school children probably know John Adams was the second President of the United States, in between the more lauded George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; they probably also know that he was married to Abigail Adams, was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President and that he signed The Declaration of Independence. For most of us that would be the sum total of our knowledge of one of our Founding Fathers. David McCullough has stepped in to reacquaint us with this fascinating portrait of Adams and his life, including his considerable role in the founding of this nation.

Written in a very enjoyable and easily read style, this biography is well researched and full of detail about much of Adams' life as a country farmer, revolutionary, diplomat to the courts of France and England emissary to Holland and eventual rise to the Presidency of the fledgling nation. McCullough tackles the often prickly relationship between Adams and Jefferson, a lifelong friendship that had many ups and downs. Using many of the letters written between Adams, Jefferson and his many friends and relatives, the story that evolves is that of a man who was clear in his convictions, often stubborn and just as often brilliant. Almost all of his life was devoted to public service, often sacrificing his own pleasures in his family and home, enduring years of separation from Abigail and his children.

For me the most enjoyable parts of this book involved the relationship and obvious love and respect between Abigail and John. Quite clearly she was his bedrock and as they often addressed one another in their correspondence they were each other's `dearest friend'. Abigail Adams was a remarkable person, enduring many hardships as a woman alone in New England, raising a family and keeping the home running smoothly during some harrowing times and hardships. She was truly the great woman behind a great man.

I came away from this book with a genuine admiration for the sacrifices made by Adams, and many of the other patriots and a thirst to read and learn more about this fascinating time in our American history, in particular some of Adams own writings, starting with his letters to Abigail. I recommend this book very highly to anyone interested in learning about one of the men who helped establish some of the very freedoms we cherish in this country.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It Sucked and Then I Cried

Book No: 20
Title: It Sucked and Then I Cried
Author: Heather Armstrong
Genre: Memoir
Completed: 5/11/09
No. of Pages:
Rating: 3/5*****

I had never heard of Heather Armstrong prior to reading this book, I’ve never been to her blog and had no idea what was. I do however enjoy books written by women who look at life with a lot of humor and a slightly skewed view of the world, Jen Lanacster, Laurie Notaro, and Chelsea Handler to name a few. So when I read the description of this book, a funny look at pregnancy, birth, motherhood and postpartum depression, all things I have dealt with, I felt sure it would be right my alley. In the end I was disappointed.

There are a number of good things in this book, some laugh out loud moments. Her descriptions of pregnancy and the alien inside your body were extremely funny and her depiction of labor was right on target. Heather’s love of her daughter shines through on every page and the lovely letters she writes to her throughout the book were very sweet and poignant.

There were a number of not so good things in this book too. For one thing it reads just like blog postings, which apparently is where many of the stories in this book originated. There were far too many descriptions of poop and boobs, and way, way too many CAPITAL LETTERS and I grew tired of feeling like I was being screamed at. The post partum depression seemed glossed over a bit, in that it didn’t seem so terrible at times, not worse than many people have dealt with and then suddenly she is in a mental hospital, where she spends four days and comes home all better. It seemed very rushed and although I felt her pain it seemed to happen in a blink of an eye.

I believe Ms. Armstrong has a talent for writing and taking on a subject like the difficulties of motherhood and making you read it and nod your head in agreement, even when she is being way over the top. I would like to see her write an actual book and not just a rehash of her blog entries. I also think that for those looking for a book on postpartum depression Brooke Shields book Down Came the Rain would be far more informative.

True Colors

Book No: 19
Title: True Colors
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 5/7/09
No. of Pages: 343
Rating: 3.5/5*****

Kristin Hannah’s books are some of my favorite reads, focusing on women, family, friendship and what I suppose is often labeled chick lit or women’s fiction.

True Colors centers on the three Grey sisters, Winona, Aurora and Vivi Ann, sisters who have a special relationship because their mother died when they were young and they have been each others closest allies and friends since then. When Vivi becomes engaged to Luke, whom older sister Winona is secretly harboring a long time crush on, the sister’s loyalty to one another is put to the test. A murder tears the family apart as one sister turns her back on the other. Over the next sixteen years a fragile peace will be forged between the three, until questions are raised about the murder, reopening old wounds as one sister tries to atone for her betrayal.

I have to admit that I had a little trouble getting into the story at the start, as the three women seemed written as stereotypes, the fat sister struggling to prove she is good enough, the middle sister trying to keep the peace and the oh so perfect beautiful young sister who seems to sail through life. Although it took a while for me to warm up to the story once I became involved with the characters the pages began to fly, especially the last third of the book. My biggest quibble is with the father of the Grey girls- there seemed to be no depth to him and I would have liked a deeper look into why he was the way he was.

As usual Hannah knows how to tug at the heartstrings and sometimes I felt a little manipulated, but all in all I enjoyed the story, was happy with the ending and look forward to another book in the near future.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Help

Book No: 18
Title: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 4/27/09
No. of Pages: 464
Rating: 5/5*****

From the first paragraph of this book I was captivated by the story of “The Help”. Set during the very early years of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s this is the story of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan a privileged young white woman and her slow awakening to the injustices heaped upon the black people of her community. When she decides to write about the maids of her town she finds two allies in Aibileen and Minnie, maids who are good enough to raise and care for the white children of their employers, but are made to use their own outdoor bathrooms. The book is told in alternating chapters of the differing viewpoints of these three women.

When reading books set in this time frame the vernacular of the blacks of that time period can often come off as almost comical if not done well, but Ms. Stockett manages to keep the tone and cadence just right. The development of Skeeter from a naïve and sometimes insensitive girl into a morally responsible and aware woman of the sixties was also nicely depicted. The description of the first time Skeeter hears a song by Bob Dylan is priceless; I identified with her reaction having felt much the same when I first heard Dylan.

The stories of Aibileen and Minnie, two women who deal with prejudice and discrimination every day, but still hold their heads high really tugged at my heart, even though they both dealt with things in very different ways. I really came to care for these women and their struggles. I was so sorry when I came to the last page of this book; I wanted it to go on so I could spend more time with all of “The Help”.

This is Ms. Stockett’s debut novel and I am already anxiously awaiting her next book, I hope it won’t be too long.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

One Good Turn

Book No: 17
Title: One Good Turn
Author: Kate Atkinson
Genre: Mystery
Completed: 4/18/09
No. of Pages: 418
Rating: 4/5*****

Jackson Brodie, the world weary detective from Case Histories is back in this follow up novel.

Now retired from police/detective work, Brodie is in Edinburgh with his girlfriend Julia, an aspiring actress. While exiting the theatre where Julia is rehearsing, Brodie is witness to an act of road rage that leaves a man badly injured. Other witnesses include mild mannered author Martin Canning and suburban housewife Gloria Hatter. All three will become linked through a series of events and crimes, revealed layer by layer in a web of lies, secrets, betrayals and more than one murder.

As in her previous novel, Atkinson links together several individual stories, culminating in one final confrontation when all the connections are revealed, including a closing unexpected revelation with the very last sentence.

There is a lot going on in this book and at times it can be hard to follow all the plot lines, but the characterizations are great and the pieces of the puzzle fit so snugly together it makes for a very enjoyable and literary mystery.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Book No: 16
Title: Freakonomics
Author: Steven d. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
Genre: Non-fiction
Completed: 4/10/09
No. of Pages: 336
Rating: 4/5****

The subtitle of this book is a very apt, if slightly exaggerated description: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Steven Levitt is certainly a rogue economist in that he uses the concepts of economy to look at many ‘givens’ in a completely new way. The results are often startling and thought provoking, although he certainly doesn’t look at everything-at least in this book.

Most of us probably suffered through economics in school and the thought of reading a book about it when we don’t have to does not sound like fun. Levitt, however, takes this science and spins it on its head, making it both entertaining and informative. By taking economic theory and applying it to everyday questions Levitt comes up with some theories that sound improbable and then proceeds to prove them. Many of his theories may cause some consternation; most outrageous of all is the idea that the reduction in crime over the years has less to do with more police and far more to do with the Roe v Wade decision.

This book was very entertaining, written in an engaging style. My biggest complaint is the New York Times article reprints at the end of the book, which basically re-hash what we have already read. The book is also too short and since I hated economics is school I find it ironic that I could want more!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Still Alice

Book No: 15
Title: Still Alice
Author: Lisa Genova
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 3/28/09
No. of Pages: 293
Rating: 5/5*****

Alice Howland is leading a pretty good life. At fifty years old she is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Harvard and is an expert in linguistics. Her husband John is a respected research scientist also at Harvard. They have 3 adult children and a happy marriage. As Alice begins to notice that she is becoming forgetful and losing things more often she chalks it up to menopause, stress, over work and her very busy life. When she gets lost just a few blocks from her home on a route she knows by heart she knows something is wrong. Scheduling an appointment to see a neurologist she is preparing herself for a diagnosis of a brain tumor. What she gets is a diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and everything in her life will never be the same.

Lisa Genova has written a powerful and deeply moving book of the descent into Alzheimer’s from the point of view of Alice. By putting a very human face on this disease, we are drawn into the destruction of this illness, not only Alice’s losses, but those of her friends, colleagues and family. I found the writing to be beautiful and felt I really knew Alice and took this journey with her. It has changed the way I think about this disease and its devastating effects.

Anyone who has ever dealt with any overwhelming medical diagnosis can relate to many of the situations portrayed in this story. The most significant message of all is that those who love you and that you have loved are the most important parts of your life, for they will hold their memories of you in their hearts and minds, even if you can’t remember them.

Love the One You're With

Book No: 14
Title: Love the One You’re With
Author: Emily Giffen
Genre: Chick-Lit
Completed: 3/22/09
No. of Pages: 342
Rating: 2/5*****

Let me state up front that I have enjoyed Emily Giffen’s previous three book and was really looking forward to Love the One You’re With, her newest offering.

What a huge disappointment. To put it in perspective it took me 6 weeks to read this book and I can generally read 1-2 books per week. I actually read 3 other books in between because I had no desire to pick this one up after I would put it down for the night, it just wasn’t a compelling book.

The premise of the story is pretty basic. Ellen and Andy are newly married, just 3 months in fact. One day while crossing street in Manhattan Ellen sees her ex-lover, Leo. A few minutes later her cell phone rings (lucky girl she has the same phone number she had eight years ago- the last time she saw Leo) and who is on the phone- none other than said Leo. Before long Ellen is questioning her marriage, friendships, and career choices, all because she can’t seem to stop obsessing over her old flame.

The biggest problem I had with this book was Ellen. She is e-mailing, calling, texting, and meeting with her ex boyfriend all on the sly, without telling her husband. She keeps trying to justify these lapses by finding fault with everything her husband does, just so she can rationalize her behavior; after all she isn’t having an affair. She may not be sleeping with Leo, but she is cheating on her husband and her marriage with every lie and omission. Although Andy comes off as a little too perfect, the only reason Ellen seems to want Leo is he’s sexy. There doesn’t seem to be any other character trait to justify her fixation with Leo. She hasn’t seen or spoken to the man in 8 years, yet she still sees him as perfect, despite the fact that she keeps saying she loves her husband. I just wanted her to be honest with herself just once. When her moment of clarity finally comes it is anti-climatic and no surprise. This book was a total let down.

A Thousand Acres

Book No: 13
Title: A Thousand Acres
Author: Jane Smiley
Genre: Fiction
Completed: 3/17/09
No. of Pages: N/A Audio
Rating: 4/5*****

This book was a very tough read. It is dark and tragic, a tale of a dysfunctional family and how their seemingly normal life careens out of control.

The story is set in the late 70’s and is narrated by Ginny Cook, one of three sisters that were raised on the family farm in Iowa. Rose and Ginny still live on the farm when the story opens. Larry Cook is the girls remaining parent, clearly the dominating factor of their life and master of his domain. Although in their thirties the two sisters live in close proximity on the farm and share the daily care of their father and his home. The third sister Caroline has moved to the city to become a lawyer. When Larry decides to give the farm to Ginny, Rose and their spouses, cutting Caroline out completely, and then reverses his decision, long held secrets and resentments are brought to light.

There are many layers to this tale, as each secret, betrayal and lie is revealed. Throughout it all Ginny seems to be our voice of calm and reason, until she too plans an act so heinous it takes your breath away.

It took a while for me to get into the story, almost half the book before it took up speed and then I couldn’t stop reading. At times it got very depressing, for there is one tragedy after another. Frequently I found the “He said, she said” relaying of conversations annoying and the detail too overdone. However the insular life of a small town is clearly depicted and the bitterness and anger that can often be found within one family is often painfully illuminated. I have to say that I didn’t like a lot of the people in this book, yet I haven’t stopped thinking about them and their story since I finished the book and for me that is the sign of a tale well done.


Book No: 12
Title: Blindspot
Author: Jane Kamensky & Jill Lepore
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages: 512
Rating: 4/5*****

I really enjoyed this bawdy tale set in the years just prior to the American Revolution. The subtitle of the book is By a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise sets out the basic premise of the book.

Stewart Jameson is the gentleman in exile, a newcomer to Boston colonies. Jameson has fled Scotland due to an outstanding debt, which leads us to believe he is a scoundrel, but the nature of that debt is one far more noble and when we learn the reason for it, it allows us to care about Jameson.

The Lady in Disguise is Fanny Easton, once the daughter of one of Boston’s leading citizens. Fanny has fallen from grace and has ended up in the Manufactory House; there she works long hours for food and lodging, scarce as it may be.

When Jameson sets up shop as a portrait painter he places an ad for an apprentice. Seeing the ad Fanny devises her plan to pass herself as a young boy, Francis Weston, and use the job as a way out of poverty. Of course mush confusion occurs when Jameson falls in love with his apprentice and Fanny, in love with Jameson, must keep her secret. When a local prominent politician is killed Francis/Fanny, Jameson and their friend Dr. Alexander, himself a runaway slave, decide to discover who the murderer is.

The story is told in alternating voices, with Jameson writing in a journal and directing his story to us, the Reader. Fanny’s tale is told through her letters to a close friend, the only one who know her secret. Interspersed throughout are several news articles from the Boston Gazette, which lets us know of the political upheaval going on all around our two protagonists.

There is a lot going on in this book besides cross dressing and forbidden love. We have the politics informing us of the start of the uprising of the colonies. There is much discussion of slavery, a contradiction of the Bostonians fight for freedom while they themselves keep slaves. There is the murder, a mockery of a trial, betrayals, insanity and more. The style of the book tries to be true to the timeframe, so the language often sounds stylistic. The humor is often ribald and the sex scenes a little steamy, trying for the tone of some of the classic books of the time (i.e. Tom Jones). However the heart and soul of the book is the love story of Jameson and Fanny.

My Horizontal Life

Book No: 10
Title: My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands
Author: Chelsea Handler
Genre: Memoir
Completed: 2/14/09
No. of Pages: 213
Rating: 4/5*****

Warning: Chelsea Handler is not for everyone. She can be insensitive, profane and politically incorrect but she is also likeable and best of all funny, funny, funny. She’s a girl who just wants to have fun, so what if her idea of fun is vodka and a man??

These essays are humorous and there are a few that everyone can relate to. Some are over the top but all of them are funny, even the ones that make you cringe a little. It is a book that makes you laugh, or roll your eyes and wonder: What was she thinking? It’s also a book that you can share with your friends, because everybody knows somebody like the people in this book.

If you like your humor a little twisted and enjoy Chelsea, who is clearly a hot mess, then read this book.

Murder List

Book No: 9
Title: Murder List
Author: Julie Garwood
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Completed: 2/15/09
No. of Pages:
Rating: 2/5*****

This was a free book available to Kindle owners. I would think that if a publisher is going to give a book away, to create interest in an author that has a fairly large catalog, they would choose a very good to great one. This book did not fall into that category and hasn't ratcheted up my interest in reading more from this author. It isn't a terrible book; it's just formulaic and only mildly suspenseful.

Regan Hamilton Madison is beautiful, but doesn't appear to be aware of this fact (please), extremely wealthy, but drives a 10 year old car (again, please!). Her best friends have been her friends since kindergarten (possible, but unlikely). When her friends convince Regan to help them with some amateur investigation of a self-help guru she goes along with the plan, even though it is a harebrained scheme. While at a seminar with the 'guru' everyone is asked to make a list of people they wish were no longer a part of their lives. Regan makes her list; including a mean salesgirl and a few other people she had run-ins with that day. A few days later these people begin turning up dead- and Regan is put into protective custody - with a gorgeous and single cop (you were expecting something else?!). Together they work to solve the mystery, while of course being very attracted to one another (yawn).

The characters were one-dimensional and very unrealistic. The plot was pretty basic and I had figured out the 'surprise' about 1/4 of the way into the book. The dialogue was frequently unbelievable and there was no suspense throughout the book. It was predictable and I'm glad I didn't pay for the book or I'd be very annoyed. It helped pass the time while I was on vacation, but I don't think I'll be rushing out to by another book by Ms. Garwood anytime soon.