Friday, November 25, 2011
This is a children's book--well it says it's written for ages 8-12. And it is charming.
We meet an unnamed angel whose "territory" is a little town in Switzerland where the primary language spoken is Italian (I didn't know such a place existed in Switzerland!). When young Zola and her family move into our angel's house, Zola (a future social activist, to be sure) and the angel change the village and make it a happier place.
At first, the Italianate English of the angel was distracting, I thought, but I got used to it and even enjoyed some of the creative word combinations our main character, the angel, came up with. I felt bad for our little angel who seems to know nothing about itself, where it came from or who it answers to (kind of a common approach to all things spiritual these days), but I still found it a lovable character and not at all a tragic one.
This book has a gentle social message and a very uplifting conclusion. It is a sweet story that children and adults can both appreciate. I think it would be especially fun to read aloud. It's the first Sharon Creech I've read and it won't be the last.
This is a very cool book. It's book one in Mercedes Lackey's loosely connected Elemental Masters series. I've only read a few, but some of them (apparently) are sort of revised fairy tales. This is one of those. It's the story of Snow White--completely different from the traditional tale.
We meet Maya Witherspoon, daughter of an English father and an Indian mother. She has escaped danger in her native India and has set up house in London with her Indian "family" and her "pets". She is a doctor. And she is an untrained Earth mage. Does this sound like Snow White to you? Well, you will find a wicked relative, a magic mirror, an apple, poison and a kiss from prince charming. It's truly a wonderful and highly creative re-imagining of a classic fairy tale.
This was a complex book with a social message, a totally engaging story, adventure, danger and even a touch of romance. I really liked it. I will read all of this series for sure.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
This is a "prequel" to the first book in the Steampunk Chronicles, "The Girl in the Steel Corset". It's only available electronically and we downloaded it for free from Amazon.
Here we meet Findley Jayne for the first time. She is having trouble keeping a job because of her unpredictable and violent temper. In this little e-book she first learns to apply her "talents" in a useful manner. She is hired as a companion to the debutante Phoebe, newly engaged to a much older Lord Vincent. At first Findley cannot understand why Phoebe's noble mother has engaged Findley--socially fit to be merely a maid--as a companion to her daughter, but she soon discovers that both she and Phoebe's mother suspect all is not right with Lord Vincent and his wish to marry the much younger Phoebe. And it's up to Findley to figure out why--before Phoebe marries him.
Here we have fancy Victorian ball dresses and parties and social customs AND mechanical horses, electrical gadgets, sophisticated automatons, etc. It's a fun little prequel. And, did I mention? It's free. My favorite price. :)
This is subtitled "The Steampunk Chronicles" and has introduced me to a genre that I have experienced before, but hadn't identified as such.
If you've ever watched a movie like "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or Will Smith's "Wild, Wild West", you've seen Steampunk. What is Steampunk? It's history and future combined. This book, for example, was set in Queen Victoria's England, but the characters have electricity, automatons (robots) that almost think for themselves, horseless carriages... and a multitude of other such things. It's an interesting and very attractive combination of elements that make up the unique Steampunk genre.
This particular book is written for teens and is the first in a promised series. We meet Findley Jayne, who is very troubled by the dark side of her personality which seems to be taking over more and more. When she is taken over by the dark, she is unusually strong, her vision and hearing are enhanced, she becomes violent and powerful. After losing yet another job because of this dark side, she runs into a group of people who, like her, have enhanced abilities. They are led by a young nobleman who promises to help her integrate the two sides of her personality. Meanwhile, there is a different kind of darkness growing in London that endangers the entire empire. Findley and a host of other very interesting characters will have to address this danger or be subject to it.
I really liked this book. The writing is not complex, but the story is very engaging and the characters are eminently likeable. I liked the parallel stories that were going on. I also liked that, unlike many troubled teen books, there were several strong, intact and loving families in the background. There was very little overt sexuality, for which I was grateful, but there were several budding romances and some good chemistry between the characters. It was an altogether fun book to read and, if I can beg them away from my daughter (who introduced me to this book), I look forward to reading the future Steampunk Chronicles.
This is the second Alina Adams figure skating mystery that I read. It features our amateur detective: Rebecca "Bex" Levy, a researcher for 24/7 TV network. She works behind the scenes, snooping around to find the solutions that her boss demands.
This story takes place in Russia. Igor Marchenko, a Russian skater who defected from that country in his teens, is now a distinguished figure skating coach, and he has returned to Russia for the first time since his defection. While in this country, however, he collapses and dies at a practice session. Bex (and her attentive Russian translator) investigates.
This book was pretty interesting. I especially liked the brief look at what happens to the families left behind when a Russian skater defects. This book is focused more on coaches than skaters and I found it more interesting than the other that I read (Death Drop).
Again, this book was pretty clean--very little swearing and no sex scenes--and generally enjoyable if you like mysteries. I'd never seen a mystery set among figure skaters before I found this series, so I think the stories are rather unique too.
This is a mystery (one of a series) set in the competitive ice skating scene. The victims and suspects alike are skaters, coaches, parents, rink managers, past champions, etc.
Our main character and sleuth is Rebecca "Bex" Levy, a researcher for a sports network. She is my least favorite kind of detective--the amateur--and her reasons for sleuthing seem kind of silly--her unreasonable and dictatorial boss demands that she solve the murders on camera to improve the ratings of the show. Hm. But! I enjoyed reading a few of these books by Alina Adams despite these complaints. :)
In this book, an abandoned baby is found at the ice rink during a practice session for Nationals. The baby's mother has apparently hanged herself backstage. There are immediately several paternal claimants and when it is found that the young mother was murdered, the plot...as they say... thickens.
I did find the inside look into the skating world interesting. Alina Adams, the author has apparently worked as a figure-skating researcher in the past so she writes these stories with her own personal experience behind her.
The books were pretty clean, entertaining and rather interesting. I liked the two that I read. (The other is "Axel of Evil" and I'll blog that next)
Friday, November 4, 2011
This is #2 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series. The others are "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" (#1) and "The Red Herring Without Mustard" (#3). I've enjoyed them all.
Flavia de Luce is 11 years old. Her greatest love is chemistry, particularly poison--any poison. When I first was introduced to her, she didn't seem 11. In this book, however, she feels a bit more like an 11-year-old.
I really dislike summarizing books. Here goes: a famous puppeteer and his assistant come to the village and entrance children and adults alike with their puppet show. But there are dark events in his history and he ends up murdered. Flavia can go places adults can't or don't go and she hears all sorts of gossip and sees things she shouldn't...which makes her a unique detective.
I totally enjoyed this book, a more unqualified enjoyment than I felt at the first book, I think. I'm really liking the Flavia de Luce mysteries! (although I still feel bad about her sisters being so mean! Why are they??)
Monday, October 31, 2011
This is a Midnight Louie mystery, and Louie is a cat. Yes, this is a cat mystery in the tradition of Koko and Yum Yum and Sneaky Pie. Except I like Louie and his "little doll" Temple Barr way better than Koko, Yum Yum and Quill (who is insufferably perfect, especially in Lillian Jackson Braun's latest books).
Midnight Louie narrates a chapter from time to time and he also is on the scene picking up clues and making rescues as needed. Our main character, though, is PR specialist Temple Barr, a petite dynamo who is addicted to shoes (I can relate to the shoes). Temple Barr and Midnight Barr live in Las Vegas--lots of fodder for murder and mayhem in Vegas, for sure.
This mystery takes place in the midst of a stripper competition. Carole Nelson Douglas, along with presenting a nifty little mystery, also superficially explores the ideas of stripping being exploitation OR art OR acting out previous abuse, etc. So there's a little extracurricular thinking going on in this mystery.
There was a very little bit of bad language and no sex scenes, although that might have been because Temple is between relationships. :) I liked the book, but probably not enough to go back for more. It took me a little while to get into the story and I didn't particularly like Midnight Louie's "voice"--especially at first. Generally, though, while I enjoyed the book well enough, it's just not my favorite style, and that's why I probably won't read more of Midnight Louie.
This is another Miss Zukas mystery. The first one I read (and loved) was Miss Zukas and the Library Murders. This one was just as charming.
A record-breaking snowstorm hits the Bellehaven area and closes down nearly everything--but not the public library. Miss Zukas diligently skis to work on this blustery day. Unfortunately, the frigid weather doesn't keep local billionaire Franklin Harrington from being killed in an explosion at the site of the new library that he has donated! What was he doing there? Was the explosion an accident or murder? And what was Randall Rice doing there? Most importantly, will Miss Zukas be able to convince Franklin Harrington's remaining family to continue funding for the new library?
One of my favorite things about this series is that our amateur detective, Miss Zukas, isn't unnaturally nosy. She has an eye for detail and she's a stickler for structure and so she naturally observes things. She's also unable to leave a library-related problem unsolved. And sometimes in the course of her observations and problem solving she is able to draw some savvy conclusions that the police find helpful. I also like her very understated "romance" with the chief of police. And, of course, I just like her personality. Her quirkiness is endearing.
It was another fun read. I think I liked Miss Zukas and the Library Murders slightly better, but I look forward to reading the whole series.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Is there anything better than finding an author, new to you, whose books you really like? And, more, one who is prolific?! I REALLY liked this book.
This is actually book #6 in Mercedes Lackey's "Elemental Masters" series. I haven't read the others yet, but I just ordered #1, which is a retelling of "Snow White". I can't wait to read it.
In this book, Suzanne Whitestone, abandoned by her father at birth and left to be raised by servants, is an Earth Master. When she is 21 she comes to the notice of her father in a dark and frightening way and she must learn to defend herself against him. All this happens against the backdrop of World War One.
I don't like reading book reviews that are lengthy summaries, so I've just barely scratched the surface of what happens in this book. I found the descriptions of WWI in England, Belgium and France both deeply interesting and deeply sad. I felt sympathetic to Mercedes Lackey's characters and I felt very engaged in her storyline. The book was exciting, interesting, clean and a lot of fun to read. I am so glad to have discovered not just this series, but the other ones that Ms. Lackey has written!
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I am totally converted to graphic novels. I guess I've never outgrown liking the picture books. Should one outgrow such a thing?
Every time I have an inclination to re-read this little graphic novel I have to go hunting for it in my daughter's room. She loves it!
It is a slim volume and I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the novel is squeezed into it. It's very entertaining. The cover looks like a magazine cover, so it's a little misleading. This is the Pride and Prejudice story in comic book style.
I didn't really like the way the sisters were portrayed. It didn't fit my mental image, if you know what I mean, and Elizabeth looked downright unpleasant in quite a few frames--her facial expressions were, from time to time, a little repulsive.
Having said that, this is still an enjoyable little piece of art and I love having the graphic novel versions of my favorite classic stories.
Yes, I'm going through another Pride and Prejudice phase. I've watched the 5 or 6 movie versions I have, I've read the graphic novel, I read this one again and now I will re-read the novel itself. Seems like every few years I have to do it all over again.
I have quite a few P&P spin-off novels and they are all very similar to each other. I've read both Janet Aylmer's and Pamela Aiden's Mr. Darcy stories also, and I think that Amanda Grange's is probably the best. Not that, as I mentioned, there is a whole lot of difference between them. I like the Aylmer the least--there's way too many direct Austen quotations.
This one is sweet and relatively short. One thing I always think is strange in "diary" books, though, is when the diarist journals conversations! I am a dedicated journal writer and I'll often write the gist of a conversation, but very rarely the whole conversation in quotations and everything! I think the conversation thing really undercuts the "diary" approach, but it didn't make the book less enjoyable. It's not a must-read or anything, but it's fun if you are an Austen enthusiast. As I am.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
This was a great book. One of my book clubs chose it to read. I was interested right from the first because my grandmother had this condition after her stroke, only my grandmother was left handed, and I think that caused her condition to be reversed--she was RIGHT neglected. It was fascinating to see how the right side of her world just did not exist. She did not recover very much of her right-side abilities. She passed away this past spring.
This book was about a younger woman, a wife and a mother of 3 young children. She is a powerful executive with a busy, too-full life. This all changes after she has a car accident that causes a brain injury which leaves her with left neglect. The balance of the book (after her car accident) tells how this changed her life. We read about her hard work at recovery, the effect of her disability on her family relationships, her search to contribute to her family's finances and her driving desire to find purposeful ways to contribute to the world around her.
I listened to the audio recording of this book, so I couldn't skim over the parts that I found less interesting. Therefore, I particularly noticed all the slow parts which I may not have noticed had I been reading it for myself. And there were plenty of slow parts. I got tired of the descriptions, the side stories, the occasional ramblings. I felt they were padding. But I have to admit that, despite my occasional impatience to just get to the story, I did remain interested enough to finish the book very quickly. And as the story ended I felt that satisfaction and warmth that follows a good book. It was well worth reading and I did really enjoy it. A good recommendation from my book club!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
This was a very uplifting book. The protagonist's father, Rex Conner, has an experience in his youth that defines his life--an experience that took only 17 seconds. This book is about how his son Cole Connor teaches others about his father's experience and how he uses what his father learns to help people change their lives.
A bit heavy handed on the emotional punches, this book was still a lot of fun to read and a good reminder of what our interactions with others should be.
If you're feeling cynical, save this book for another day because it is full of happy endings and good things coming out of bad experiences, and relationship resolutions and other such things--the stuff that you hope life contains, but you fear it may not. I felt very manipulated by the author, but I still felt good when I turned that last page. It's a quick, pleasant, uplifting read.
This is a mystery--a cozy, as a matter of fact, one of my favorite types of mystery. Victoria Trumbull, is our 92-year-old protagonist. The book is set in Martha's Vineyard.
It was a cute book. Not unforgettable, but pleasant to read.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
I really, really liked this book. For one thing, I found our main character, straight-laced, OCD Helma (short for Wilhemina) Zukas absolutely enchanting. She was both amusing and interesting and her interference in this mystery--a murder in her library!!--was natural and clever. I generally dislike mysteries where the "regular Joe" steps in to work on something that should be left absolutely to the police. But I didn't have those feelings about our Helma Zukas.
Helma is a detail-oriented librarian, who, after a dead body is found in the fiction stacks, finds herself involved in a mystery. She cold shoulders those whose behavior is unacceptable, blushes in the presence of the chief of police and loves--despite herself--her lifelong friend, Ruth--an unconventional, sloppy and trouble-prone artist named Ruth.
The mystery itself was rather less interesting than Jo Dereske's characters, but it was still interesting enough to make this book an enjoyable read. I will definitely read more of these!
Helma is a detail-oriented librarian, who, after a dead body is found in the fiction stacks, finds herself involved in a mystery. She cold shoulders those whose behavior is unacceptable, blushes in the presence of the chief of police and loves--despite herself--her lifelong friend, Ruth--an unconventional, sloppy and trouble-prone artist named Ruth.
The mystery itself was rather less interesting than Jo Dereske's characters, but it was still interesting enough to make this book an enjoyable read. I will definitely read more of these!
Oh, how I love classic mysteries. This one was written in 1944 and takes place in Britain during WWII.
In a military hospital during the Blitz, a patient dies on the operating table during what should be a straightforward procedure. Inspector Cockrill is called in just to make sure everything is on the up-and-up, but when the chief nurse is murdered, he knows something is seriously wrong. He narrows the suspects to six friends and we, the readers, get to sweat it out with them as the murderer is forced into confession.
I really liked this book. I've never read Christianna Brand before! I've been missing out. I loved her characters, I was completely fooled about who the murderer was and I was totally engaged in Christianna Brand's story for the whole book. I also really enjoyed a look into Britain during the war. I must add that there is something about England--is it all the green, shadowy places? It is the cool, cloudy climate? Is it the antiquity that clings to everything? I don't know, but that island is such an effective setting for these types of understated, shallow-water-runs-deep mysteries. On TV, in movies and in books, a mystery set in Great Britain sure seems especially atmospheric and gripping to me.
This is a Christian romantic mystery (it is book number 2 of the Mercy Falls series, I understand. I haven't read any other Colleen Coble books, though).
Miss Katie Russell is a telephone operator who accidentally overhears a phone conversation that ends in a disappearance. Thus starts her involvement with piracy, kidnapping, blackmail, murder, mystery AND her involvement with handsome lighthouse keeper Will Jesperson.
I liked it! The mystery was very good, the romance was sweet and the writing was not too heavy-handed on the religious front. I've mentioned before how in Christian stories I like to see applied religion--how a person actually uses their Christianity to grow and to deal with difficult situations. Most Christian books have plenty of prayers and give-the-credit-to-God moments, but very few examples of HOW a Christian applies his/her faith to enrich life. Too many Christian books treat God like their genie-in-the-sky, their characters asking and getting anything from a sporting victory to protection from murderous villains--all from Heaven, completely overlooking the many times that the All-Knowing One leaves us to struggle through things with just His peace in our heart and His words to guide us. This book was no different. That lack, however, made it no less enjoyable to read. It was squeaky clean and very entertaining. I liked it a lot.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
This book is subtitled: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution. I picked it up at the library because several years ago I read "The Wal-Mart Effect" by Charles Fishman. "The Wal-Mart Effect" condemned Wal-Mart's business practices as all-around damaging. Fishman said that Wal-Mart hurt: other local businesses, suppliers, the environment, general merchandise quality, its own employees, etc etc. Our book club read it together and some members decided not to shop at Wal-Mart after reading the book. This book, however, seemed to indicate on its cover that it was a more positive look at a Wal-Mart that has made some changes since 2006, which was when Charles Fishman wrote his book. I was interested in reading something positive about Wal-Mart, one of the only stores that I think makes the consumer its top priority as far as price goes, if only to get a bit of balance in my head about what others think of Wal-Mart
So. I actually had NO idea that Wal-Mart has put (and is still putting) so much effort into sustainability! It is definitely a massive organization that has many world-wide effects, some positive, some negative. But, according to this book, Wal-Mart has voluntarily decided to use its great market power to change some aspects of the world market for good--it has gone "green".
The book is fairly interesting. So many "information" books (like this one) are about one idea that could actually be summarized in a long essay. This book is no different. It's a long magazine article padded into becoming a book. I got tired of reading about halfway through and really tired about 2/3 of the way through, but I soldiered on.
This book is politically liberal. It's taking all the environmental ideas and conclusions that have been made by activists as literally true. (I'm not saying they're not true.) Sometimes I find myself, as I read for "information", thinking that I'm reading a balanced account. This is never true. All authors write their individual biases right into whatever piece of fiction or non-fiction they are writing. This author takes a few hits at the "other" political party and embraces all environmentalist claims as real. The author also advocates the government making laws to enforce sustainability for all businesses in and out of the U.S. that supply U.S. markets.
It was a book worth reading. I'm happy to know that Wal-Mart is making so many positive changes. I was glad to read about the products that have not achieved full sustainability (like fish) in Wal-Mart and other stores. I believe that sustainability choices must be just that--CHOICES--and not laws. I liked reading about the whole process of the outside consulting company representative coming to the CEO of Wal-Mart and convincing him of the necessity of pursuing sustainability because, in my opinion, this is just the process that will be the most successful if U.S. businesses are to become more "environmentally friendly". The government can certainly (and does certainly) pass laws to force businesses to be sustainable, but how much better would it be if these businesses saw for themselves how financially wise these methods are and launched into them voluntarily. Convincing, not forcing, is the key and this process is beautifully illustrated by Edward Humes' account of Wal-Mart's huge changes. I will watch the progress of Wal-Mart's sustainability commitments with interest.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Another Lynn Kurland Medieval/Modern romance. It was set in England this time and our main characters even paid a visit to Elizabethan England--and met Shakespeare.
I always appreciate Lynn Kurland because she's clever and she's clean. This book was probably the least enjoyable of all of hers I've read, but it was still entertaining and sweet.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
My 16-year-old daughter and I are studying a few Shakespeare plays this month and I have found that very often this kind of stuff (classic literature, I mean) is best approached from a variety of different angles. At first when we studied a classic piece of literature I would have her read the original first and then we'd take a look at the many variations out there--movies, simplified versions, graphic novels, spin-offs, etc. But I found that, in many cases, by the time she'd slogged through the original text, she'd lost all her enjoyment of the story and was so DONE exploring it that she was unwilling to look further. Worse, she would develop a firm dislike of the piece of literature that I love and was so looking forward to sharing with her! So, I have flip-flopped my approach. Now we read the variations first, so that she gets a good grip on the basic story and so that she gets to enjoy the many more accessible versions out there first. Once she's got the story down, we go to the original text. This works much better for us.
And so, this week it is Hamlet, the famous Dane, possibly Shakespeare's best-known and most quoted play. I really liked this graphic novel. For one thing, I really liked the text. I thought that much of Shakespeare's original plays on words and his clever prose was well reproduced. I also liked the illustrations. They were both stark--probably because they were in black and white--and expressive, almost fantastical. I guess when you're talking about ghosts and madness a little fantasy is in order. I studied this play in high school and college and have watched it more than a few times. But I don't think I ever really "got" it in the same way I "got" it from reading this book. Is it because I've always focused on the parts and not as much on the whole? Is it because I float away on the iambic pentameter without really taking note of the story? I don't know, but reading Hamlet this way, as a graphic novel, illuminated the story for me in a way I haven't seen it before. I really enjoyed it.
Be warned, Shakespeare is earthy and bloody. That stuff is more palatable when it's in Elizabethan rhythmic prose. It's a bit more, er, graphic, here. But just a bit. I'm pretty sure I said this before, when I read the graphic "Macbeth", but I'd like to collect graphic versions of ALL of Shakespeare's plays. There's nothing like the bard's flowing and clever prose in its original, or even live on the stage, but I find that these graphic novels enrich understanding and add enjoyment. And, after all, Shakespeare was always meant to entertain and to bring enjoyment, right?
Hmmmm. Another book about the "perfect way to eat". This one was full of science, conspiracy theories, anecdotes, and advice. The authors strongly advocate a whole foods, plant-based diet. It's all about why everyone should be vegan.
I found the reports of the scientific studies a bit mind-numbing--there are plenty of graphs, many data analyses, reports from various studies, numbers, technical terms. I didn't read the book straight through--I've been picking it up and putting it down for the past several months--and that made the data reports even less comprehensible to me. However, after the first chapter the reader can clearly understand the point that the authors are explaining: animal protein is toxic to the body. Their studies were done on rats and then generalized for humans. They used the studies of others and the massive quantity of data gathered (and analyzed) from a long-term cancer study done in China to underscore their own conclusions. And they were unflinching in their advice: animal protein causes disease (most specifically, it causes certain types of cancer to grow) and therefore should be completely avoided.
Like most food books, it is passionate and unbalanced. Only the data that supports the authors' conclusions is cited. I think this is pretty normal. When one marshals a convincing argument, one uses only the proof that supports one's point. When the Campbell's book is criticized, these are the criticisms that are most clearly voiced: it is only a partial picture of what is going on. Can the solution to so many American diseases really be this one-dimensional? I wonder.
Still, I found the book valuable and interesting. And convincing. At the very least, it is an excellent reminder to the reader to watch much more carefully what he/she is eating. At the most, it could be life-changing, even life-saving.
Was I convinced of the authors' premise? Well, I was certainly inspired to choose what I eat more carefully. I, however, am not yet convinced that eliminating certain foods is the answer to good health. I lean more to believing that part of what ails Americans (and many other wealthy cultures) is the over-refinement of most of what we eat. Nearly everything we buy at the grocery store (except maybe the produce--but that's a whole other issue) is preprocessed for our consumption. Meat, dairy, poultry, fish, canned goods, frozen goods, crackers, cereal, pasta, bread.... everything has been changed dramatically from its original form. Food bought at restaurants--especially fast food restaurants--is even worse. I was fascinated by "The End of Overeating" by David Kessler and its account of what is added to our food that fools our bodies into wanting more and more. I think that The China Study further convinced me that what we put into our bodies should be as close to its natural state as possible--and by this I don't necessarily mean it should be raw, but that it should be unrefined, unprocessed, unfortified, etc. My journey to understanding and to taking care of my body is unfinished. I am always learning more. Reading the China Study was one more step along the way.
By the way, there is a movie that follows the studies and explains the conclusions that are found in this book. It's called "Forks Over Knives" and it's interesting. And much quicker to watch than this book is to read (I found it on Netflix).
This is a book for older kids or younger teens. It was written over 40 years ago and takes place in Ohio, where a professor, his wife and their 3 young children move into a historical house. This is a house that was built as part of the underground railroad. Its original owner, Dies Drear, built many hidden compartments and passages into this house to hide fleeing slaves. He is a man of legend, with a legendary hidden treasure too. This book is a bit historical, a lot mysterious and rather suspenseful as well.
It took me awhile to get into the story. I found the narration to be disjointed in parts--I felt lost from time to time. I didn't care for the writing style in general. The suspense felt heavy handed and self-conscious for the first half of the book.
One notable thing about the book, though, is that this book about some of the history of slavery hides the race of the main characters for the entire first half of the book. Does she do this on purpose? Or was I being a particularly dense reader?
I finally became engaged in the story in the back half of the book. I became more interested in the characters and part of the mystery was resolved.
Did this book actually have a plot? Well, kind of. It certainly wasn't a clear cut plot and was very slow to develop. It was almost like the retelling of one incident, rather than the unfolding of an actual complete story. There is a second book to this little chronicle, "The Mystery of Drear House"--written some 20 years after the first. I'm hoping that book is better than this one and that it finishes this tale, which definitely felt unfinished at the end of this book, "The House of Dies Drear".
At the very least, however, this book gives a look into a little bit of history and a little bit of race culture. I did like our protagonist, Thomas, who is also our narrator. I liked his relationship with his father and his little brothers. It's nice to read about a family that is loving and unified. And the author, Virginia Hamilton, did create a powerfully evocative setting for her story (such as it was). The Drear home and the home of its caretaker, Mr. Pluto, were both very atmospheric.
So...some good things and some not so good things. I'm looking forward to reading the next one. I'll let you know how it all finishes up.
Monday, September 5, 2011
I bought this for my 13-year-old son to begin his school year with (we homeschool). My plan was to read it before he did (to prepare, right?) and then spend a week or two reading it and discussing it, section by section, with my son. However, as soon as I finished it, my 16-year-old daughter snatched it up and read it and then that 13-year-old son picked it up and read it as well. All in one day. So much for my plan. :)
This is a very cute book. In each chapter the reader is instructed to begin by reading the appropriate chapter in the Book of Mormon. Then, David Bowman rewrites the chapter--only from Lemuel's point of view. Included are the stories told as if they were: texted, posted on facebook, skyped..... very clever. David Bowman is a gifted illustrator and his illustrations make this book especially entertaining. Each story is followed by the lessons the teenager (or adult) can learn from Lemuel and his brothers. Each chapter has a specific point to make.
My kids really enjoyed the book and so did I. I will read it again with my son for school and we will look up all the scripture references and discuss each chapter's conclusion. I'm really looking forward to it. Highly recommended!
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Well, this was a very interesting book. It's a Sigma Force Novel, if that means anything to you. It's one of those "National Treasure" type books. An ancient secret, powerful warring groups, treasure, cataclysmic events, battles, a little romance... this book has it all. It was pretty much a series of crises--flowing adrenaline throughout the whole novel.
The most interesting thing about this book to me was its speculation on the Nephites and Lamanites, the peoples in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is approached in this novel as a historical record and the ancient secrets sought after by the opposing forces in this book originate with the Nephites, the "pale Indians". Very interesting. I worried that the author would fill his story with clever slams against the Mormon church, but he didn't. There were some events and references in the book that seemed to indicate general ignorance of Mormon practices and history, but there were no derogatory passages. That was nice (for a change).
Warning: there are some very foul words sprinkled throughout the book. There is no sex. I'm glad I read it, despite the dozen or so jarring and ugly words. It was interesting to see an outsider's possible interpretation of the Book of Mormon. Of course, to him it was purely a story or maybe even a history--not the spiritual record that members of the LDS church value it as. Still, it was enlightening to see things from a different (and friendly) perspective, and all the adventure and excitement was fun too.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
I so like Helen MacInnes! This one was one of her good ones. A chest is hidden deep in a dark, frigid lake in the Austrian mountains. It contains secrets from the Nazi regime and is carefully guarded by the Nazis who have gone underground in the small Austrian town of Unterwald. But three other nations want to own those secrets. One man drags that chest from its hiding place and begins a deadly treasure hunt in which agents from many countries work together--and against each other--to find that chest. American lawyer Bill Mathison finds himself smack dab in the middle of all the chaos.
This one was engaging all the way through. I really liked Bill Mathison. I find these cold war stories so interesting. I guess it's because the cold war was big news for my childhood and much of my youth as well. It's fixed in my mind as the major conflict of those years. And I'm a sucker for books that have dashing spies, a touch of romance and in which all the bad guys either die or go to jail.
This was an interesting book. I can't decide if I like it or not. A group of dignitaries visit a third world country to gather for an exclusive opera performance--at a birthday party for a Japanese executive. Terrorists burst in on the party and take all the guests hostage. There follows a study in Stockholm syndrome. When the hostage situation is over (after many weeks), those who were once terrorists no longer seem so terrible.
This was an absorbing story. Completely unrealistic, I thought. Not that I necessarily expect fiction to be realistic--in fact sometimes it really bothers me when fantasy attempts to imitate "reality" in jarring ways. I'm not sure if I can explain this idea...it bothers me when gritty reality is portrayed in a story that is otherwise in no way realistic. I really thought that the relationships imagined in this book could never have happened. In that way it felt like fantasy. However, the end was quite realistic, jarringly so. It was an appropriate ending. There could have been no other ending I guess. But the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality bothers me always. Just a personal thing, I guess.
It was a very different book. Such a combination of the unexpected and the cliche, the pleasant and the horrifying, the fantastic and the gritty.
FYI, there were two very foul words in this book. They were unnecessary, but there anyway. There were also 2 sexual relationships (both outside of marriage) depicted. Those were part of what made part of this book very unrealistic. Because of these two things, I cannot comfortably recommend this book.
This one's another graphic novel--art by Wagner, Francavilla and Lucas. I liked it. It was a pretty typical Zorro novel--the story was generally familiar to me. I especially liked the story of Bernardo's muteness; Bernardo doesn't talk, you know, and Ms. Allende's explanation of why was interesting. Wonderful illustrations (naturally).
This is Miss Marple's FIRST mystery. A widely disliked man is murdered in the vicarage study. Several people confess. Miss Mahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifrple figures out who really did it. I love Miss Marple, better even than Hercule Poirot, I think.
I read this mystery right after I read Sleeping Murder--Miss Marple's last mystery. I was a nice pairing. I can always highly recommend Agatha Christie. Who can't?
This is another graphic novel (I was visiting my sister and she and her kids LOVE them and had a bunch of them), comic book style. This was typical comic book stuff: voluptuous women, bloody battles, muscular men... etc etc. I liked it well enough. I've always liked comic books!
I've never read an Agatha Christie that I didn't like. This one is Miss. Marple's final case. Clever Miss Marple makes an extended stay in the village of Dillmouth in order to help a young couple who fear they have moved into a haunted house. When the young wife starts "remembering" a 20-year-old (or so) murder, she is advised to let sleeping murders lie, but she cannot. Miss Marple assists.
This is a good one.
I read The Odyssey by Homer many years ago when I was in high school... or maybe college... and I thought I got the gist of the story, all while telling myself how lovely the language is. This is the graphic novel and it was great! Odysseus and all his journeys and all his troubles. Offend the Gods and pay for YEARS. Anyway, I've never understood The Odyssey better than I did from this graphic novel. I love the great classics translated into graphic form! I highly recommend this one.
Well, I read a Nicholas Sparks book. I felt like such a cliche on the airplane, a plump matron reading a romance. Sigh.
The plot summary: volunteer firefighter Taylor McAden meets single mother Denise Holton when he comes to her rescue. He has some tragic issues from his past that keep him from maintaining permanent relationships with women. It takes his response to another tragic event for his eyes to open to what he must overcome to build a relationship with Denise.
There's nothing original about this story. It's engaging and sweet. It has a nice ending. The main characters do have a sexual relationship before marriage. Sigh. Not too many details. I won't read another Nicholas Sparks.
This is a typical Helen MacInnes: a political thriller with a romantic element slipped in as well. This one takes place first in Paris and then on a little Greek island as well. It's all about beating the Communists again--it takes place in the late 1960s. The cold war is hot and heavy and Nazi criminals are still being hunted and tried. Innocent civilian John Craig gets involved with an episode of espionage. It's always the clever civilian who is the hero in Helen MacInnes' stories. He's also the one who gets the girl. :) I enjoyed meeting some of the characters I liked from another MacInnes--agents Frank Rosenfeld and Christopher Holland. That was fun.
This one is actually the least exciting one of Helen MacInnes' that I've read. I still really enjoyed it, but it didn't have the fast pace that some of the others I've reviewed on here did. Still, her writing is substantial, with well-researched settings. I love her characters and I get caught up in the suspense. I always enjoy her books.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
(I read the e-book)
This is a young YA book (as opposed to some of the more sophisticated YA books). It's about Tansy. Angry at her father, at her mother, at the world, she begins to experiment with rebellion. Enter Chrissy, her amateur fairy godmother. Tansy gets three wishes and ends up transported to the time of Robin Hood. Fairy tale adventures ensue as she is forced to re-write the ending of the fairy tale she's in the middle of. The moral of the story? She has to figure that out too.
This was a really fun book. I was engaged the whole time. Tansy is a senior in high school, so we've got some teenage angst, but it's not overdone and Tansy is mature enough to learn from her adventures, so there's a nice ending, with a good message. Seems like good messages in books directed to teenagers are few and far between, but this is a very positive message--genuine without being heavy handed. The book is also squeaky clean.
I catch myself thinking that teenagers can't fall in lasting love, but I know that's not true--I fell in love with my husband my junior year in high school and 28 years later I love him more than ever! I enjoyed reading about Tansy's romance as well. She is a likeable character from start to finish. I found her rebellious tendencies easy to understand. I like the way her estrangement from her father was portrayed. There were some deep feelings in the book that were illustrated in realistic, positive ways.
It was a good book, full of adventure from start to finish. Nothing is resolved the way you think it will be, the fairies aren't particularly reliable, and the truth is a far cry from the written account of it! Fun!
Thursday, July 7, 2011
I really like Margaret Truman's mysteries and it's been awhile since I've read one. So I'm going to try and avoid generalities about her mystery series (since I don't clearly remember the others I've read) and just tell you about this one.
The book takes place in Washington DC (as do they all, I believe). This is part police procedural (one of my favorite kinds of mysteries) and part Perry Mason-esque lawyer procedural. Our main character (who appears in her other books too) is Mackenzie Smith, former criminal lawyer and now law professor. He is well known in Washington DC, with a good reputation as a criminal lawyer, with many friends in high places, with classes full of students who are there because of his skill and popularity as a teacher.
A senator's intern is found murdered in the alley right outside of Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. Ford's Theater is famous as the place where the Shakespearian actor Booth murdered President Lincoln. Throughout the book the reader learns all sorts of interesting details about this historical event. Detectives Moses Johnson and Rick Klayman are assigned to investigate. There are many suspects and plenty of little twists and turns.
I really enjoyed the book. I like Mackenzie Smith and his wife Annabel, I liked both detectives and I love reading about Washington DC as seen through the eyes of Margaret Truman. It was an engaging read all the way through. I appreciate Margaret Truman even more because her mysteries are always "clean". There may be murder and sexual shenanigans, but Ms. Truman does not include graphic scenes in her novels AND she eschews all foul language. I SO appreciate that!
This book reports the science behind the way a body and mind reacts to food, with plenty of witty phrasing and cartoon-like illustrations. The authors include a food and exercise program as well as some solid advice on how best to re-train the reader's approach to eating well and exercising.... and just generally taking care of his/her body.
I came away with a few solid ideas that I felt I could use in my own efforts at being more healthy: walk 30 minutes a day WITHOUT FAIL; the waist measurement (32 1/2" or less for a woman) is the definitive measurement for health--NOT weight... The book was very informative. The diet and exercise plan was pretty standard.
I got very tired of the clever little metaphors stuck in all over the place--it felt like they were there to lighten up a whole bunch of heavy scientific explanations. Sometimes I found them almost patronizing. I also found the illustrations almost completely unhelpful. Also, I will admit that my eyes glazed over in some parts. Too much information. But I think this is stuff that people should know--it has always seemed unfortunate to me that we humans know so little about our bodies and they way they work.
Generally I found the book solid but uninspiring. There are a bunch of other diet books out there that offer the same advice: change your eating habits, stay away from sugar, get plenty of exercise (walking and weight training). There are others that give the body info in more interesting and even more palatable formats too. I guess I'm glad I have this one on my shelf as a reference--it can answer a lot of my questions about how the body uses food, but when I'm looking for inspiration or motivation, I won't be consulting "You On A Diet".
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
This is the second in this series. The first is "Poison Study" (my favorite) and the last is "Fire Study" (my least favorite). In this book Yelena returns to Sitia to meet her family and to be trained in the art of magic.
This book is most interesting to me because of Yelena's family and because of the continuing development of her relationship with Valek, who I can't help but adore. I also like the glimpses of the other characters that I've learned to love--Ari and Janco and even the Commander (and his "cousin"). We also meet new likeable characters--Bain, his apprentice (whose name I can't call to mind right now and I'm too lazy to walk into the next room to get the book), the horses... and some not-so-likeable characters like the wannabe king and his unsavory henchmen. And Roze, one of the master magicians.
I was sorry that the conflict in this story involved yet another sadistic man, raping and killing a series of girls. Get a new storyline, will you? Why all the torture and rape? I also was not particularly interested in Yelena's magic. I liked the first book a lot more because Yelena's character was developed so fully apart from magic. She had experienced awful things and yet managed to overcome them and become a whole, strong person. I really liked that. This book was just Yelena being a maverick, running off and solving all the problems in Sitia almost single-handed.
I still liked this, though, because it tied up the loose ends from book one, "Poison Study". It was worth reading just because of that. Oh, and because reading about Yelena and Valek's unique bond and the way it works to assist both of them is pretty cool. I like Valek so much! Sigh.
Book 3, "Fire Study", however, is just more of the same maverick behavior from Yelena. There's more of the characters we like, but this story did not capture me the way the first book did. I'll go back and re-read it eventually and review it here, but later.... Meanwhile, read "Poison Study". It's so good!
This is the story of Yelena--a prisoner on death row in the commander's dungeon. She has murdered her benefactor's son, but has been given a second chance at life--as the commander's poison taster. She begins her study of poisons, but her life is complicated as her former benefactor seeks her death and as she learns self-defense and discovers that she is the possessor of a magical talent--a possession that is illegal and if discovered will lead to her execution.
This is one of my very favorite YA novels. It has adventure, magic, complex emotions, love, fighting... I really like it. I really engaged with the main characters and I find the contrast between Ixia and Sitia (the North and South countries on this continent) very interesting. It compares two governments: a military dictatorship and a committee/council-led government. The evils and benefits of both are dispassionately noted. I actually end up preferring the military dictatorship in this book even though in real life I find the idea horrifying. Actually, I'm jumping ahead a little bit. This book "Poison Study" is the first book in this 3 book series and it takes place completely in Ixia, the country of the military dictatorship. The second book "Magic Study" takes place completely in Sitia and that allows the comparison. My next review will be for "Magic Study".
Be cautioned: Yelena was tortured and raped before she was sent to prison. Throughout this book she remembers these experiences as she tries to recover from them emotionally and mentally. I found this marginally disturbing, but her recovery and her revenge made it interesting enough for me to not be too bothered by her memories. Another caution: There is premarital sex here. In a dungeon, in rotten hay, after Yelena has vomited repeatedly and after she and her lover have been in the dungeon for at least 24 hours. Oooh. Sexy. Another instance of fictional sex that I daresay would NOT be in the least plausible in real life by normal people. That's kind of weird, and I wish it weren't there, but... it is. And it's not graphic in the least.
A very memorable book. The best in the series, as a matter of fact. I really like this one.
We checked this one out of the library to listen to on our long road trip. It is not a book written by one person, but is a collection of works by different authors. Each ruling house is written about by a different historian.
I found this book very interesting. It told the history of England through the lives of its kings and queens. Of course, not a lot is known about some of these monarchs, but what is known is interesting. There were no sensational accounts here, but all accounts seemed to be balanced and based on true history. My 15-year-old nephew thought it was the most boring thing ever, but I found it engaging from the start to the end. It DID get a little drier towards the end as the government of England became more complex--all those prime ministers and Tory and Whig governments and parliament and all that jazz.
It was particularly interesting to me to hear a British point of view on the much vilified King George (the 3rd, I think)--the guy who "lost" the American colonies. According to the British historian, he was a good guy who had bad advisers at the time. Hm.
I enjoyed getting a timeline-like picture of the history of England from the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings (that's the right name, I hope--there were so many battles!) right up to Queen Elizabeth and her disastrous daughters-in-law. And since it was a long book, it took up many driving hours and kept me awake and alert. A good one if you like history.
This one took place in China (you could tell that from the title, eh?) and dealt with the antique trade there. I liked this one better than the Moai one. It was a little more complex, had a GREAT side story (the secondary tale that's hundreds of years old) and was more engaging generally.
Our protagonist, Lara McClintock, travels to China to bid on an antique silver box for a friend. She thinks she's taken on a relatively simple assignment, but she becomes embroiled in danger and intrigue. This one was fairly believable and was interesting without being too scary (I don't like too scary). And even though some bad things were happening in China to Lara and some others, the reader comes away from the story with a positive feeling about the country. That's an accomplishment for the author, I think.
I will probably read more from this series.
Ugh. We got this book on tape to listen to during a long drive. It was BORING! I've read others in "The Cat Who..." series and have moderately enjoyed them. But not only did I get tired of the insufferably attractive, intelligent, wealthy and gifted Jim Quilleran (enough already!), but there was barely a mystery to be found here! We were on the last disc before anything mystery-like took place and the book ended with a lame resolution. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
I enjoyed some of the earlier "Cat Who..." series, but the newer ones just get more self-congratulatory and plot-less. Disappointing.
This book is billed as "an archaeological mystery" and it takes place on Easter Island--the one with the big carved heads, which are called Moai.
This book was fine. It was fairly interesting, fairly educational and pretty good. Faint praise, I know. It took me awhile to get into the story; it moves pretty slowly. It also took me a little while to warm up to the main character. For one thing, she and her best friend are both a feminists. I found that a little distracting at first. I am afraid that feminism, to a great extent, has made many women unhappy and I don't like to see it glamorized in books. But! Our character ends up being pretty likeable. Mostly.
The mystery in this story is solid. It's logical and interesting. I LOVED how there's a double storyline, albeit one is much less developed than the other. But it was interesting to read a the little snatches of a story that took place hundreds of years before our mystery did. And I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Easter Island and its history and inhabitants.
Not a bad book at all. I have a few of these by Lyn Hamilton in my library book pile and I'll probably read at least one more of them. If you're looking for an interesting, slightly educational, low-key read, you'll like these mysteries.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
This was a gently interesting book. I had a hard time getting really interested in the book for about the first half, but then I became engaged with the characters and the story held my interest a little better. There is A LOT about bees and after the first little while my interest waned a bit. But soon the plot thickened and I was caught once again. Bees are indeed fascinating and Sara George's characters are endearing. I appreciated their integrity and the affection and loyalty they showed to each other.
This is the story of a blind beekeeper/scientist, M. Francois Huber and his manservant/secretary, Francois Burnens. We learn a lot about bees as the account of each observation is recorded by the secretary, Burnens, whose journal accounts make up this story. As he puts it, he, Burnens, has the sight, but Huber has the vision--and together they produce the foremost monograph on the subject of bees. We get a full and lovely picture of the Huber family life. We get some insight into the life of a blind man--M Huber lost his sight at the age of 19. We also follow the maturation and growth of Francois Burnens, who comes into the Huber family just out of boyhood and leaves, a man.
The story takes place in Switzerland during the turbulent events of the French revolution. It is interesting to read about that revolution from the point of view of the Swiss. Some names from history clicked into place for me as the Huber family and Francois Burnens discussed such people as Voltaire, Marat (and his famous murder), Lavoisier, Priestly... very interesting.
I closed this book with a sigh. It was a lovely book. Quiet, scholarly, insightful, gentle and lovely. I highly recommend it.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
This is another Amelia Peabody mystery. It was okay. The main story recounted here is the discovery by Howard Carter, and his patron, of the tomb of the Egyptian King Tut. The "mystery" in this story was much less prominent and not very interesting nor satisfying--and had very little to do with King Tut. In fact, there were several mysteries going on and, unlike the other Amelia Peabody mysteries, there was no overarching plot that needed to be unraveled. In my opinion, the book was rather slow and a little too sentimental. It took me forever to get into and never became particularly gripping.
The character of Amelia Peabody is always charming, though; I enjoyed her as always. Some of the other regular cast of characters were a little more one dimensional than usual. The whole feeling of this book was almost a "goodbye" feeling--loose ends were tied up, the family dispersed to different corners of the world for different reasons....
On the whole, not my favorite of Elizabeth Peters book, but since I really like the series, it's inconceivable that I would leave this one out of my collection. :)
Saturday, June 11, 2011
How I enjoy Elizabeth Peters! I have read the Vicky Bliss series, the Jacqueline Kirby series, all of her stand-alones AND her Amelia Peabody series. This book is the latest one in the Amelia Peabody series, although it does not follow the one published before it in the chronology of the Emerson family. This one takes place in 1910 in Jerusalem (placing it, for those of you who are into this series, between "Guardian of the Horizon" (1907-08) and "The Falcon at the Portal" (1911)).
This one is less excavation and more intrigue, full of the humor that is one of the most entertaining things about the Amelia Peabody books. "A River in the Sky" is different from many others in this series in that the Emersons do not set foot in Egypt, so many of the figures we are familiar with are not present on this adventure--although Daoud and Selim are imported (along with all the members of the family, of course).
It was entertaining, engaging and even educational--like all of the others of this series. I love Elizabeth Peters!
Friday, June 10, 2011
Check out this book cover! Harlequin published this back in the day!! Before it became all nasty romance. I read this book as a free e-book though, thanks to the Gutenberg project and my Kindle.
And I LOVED it. It's another pre-WWI intrigue. It involves a great masquerade, spies, murder, romance.... Sigh. I loved the ending. I have a strong taste for vintage stories of almost any kind--romance, adventure, political thriller, etc. This one joins the others on my shelf of particular favorites.
Well hm. This is a mystery novel. Christian. Our hero, Wayne (I dislike that name) must fight his personal demons as he unravels a very tangled mystery. He finds God, belonging and maybe even love along the way.
I liked Wayne. I liked all the other characters we met too. I didn't particularly like Bunn's style of writing. It felt very abrupt, almost elliptical. He had a tough guy style that I found distracting. It took me about two thirds of the way into the novel to be able to overlook his writing style and get lost in the adventure.
I have one major objection to the faith experiences in this book. Mr. Bunn uses prayer as fortuneteller, oracle and prophet. The anodyne to all conflicts, the immediate answer to all questions. I did NOT like this, it didn't seem realistic to me at all. I also do not enjoy as much Christian novels that include actual church experiences--the conversion to a church congregation more than the conversion to Christianity. It makes the experience more cultural than spiritual. There was a bit of that going on here.
Those objections aside, this was an exciting story with likeable characters. Will I read more Bunn? Probably not.
I have to review these two together because the first one (Courting Trouble) is NOT a sweet, uplifting story UNLESS you follow it quickly by its sequel (Deep in the Heart of Trouble). They are both Christian historical fiction. They are romances.
Courting Trouble introduces us to spinster Essie Spreckelmeyer and chronicles her attempts at love. Her character is not particularly likeable. She seems agressive, misguided and even rebellious. And, if the ending can be considered faithful, it cannot be considered exactly "happy". She does NOT get her man and she loses something precious.
Deep in the Heart of Trouble makes it all better, though. Essie finally gets her man. And we get to read about the bicycling fad of the late 1800s AND the Texas oil boom that happened during the same time period.
Read as a pair, Essie's story is very engaging. I don't want to say too much more about the plot because to discuss it is to give away the main event upon which the whole thing hinges. I DID end up liking Essie a lot more by the end of the second book. This is one of those stories, though, where so many troubles enter the life of just one character that you feel a little bruised just reading about it. After all, how many conflicts can be shoe-horned into one story? I did enjoy the books, though, once I got into them.