Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Grown-Up Girl's Guide to Style by Christine Schwab

I actually really liked this one! For one thing, it's refreshing to read a "style" book that's directed at anyone older than 24! For another thing, I agreed with most of what she had to say about clothing and make-up and you know how easy it is to like a book that agrees with what you already think!

I didn't necessarily agree with what she had to say about hair or about plastic surgery. But I loved her advice on clothing. In any case, it's always interesting to collect this sort of information. With our society's obsession with youth, looks and sex, it's hard to figure out how to "age gracefully" if you're a woman. I'd like to think that the eternal pursuit of slenderness, firmer breasts, finer skin, and youthful features can be left behind as naturally as age takes them away. That's not exactly what Christine Schwab advocates. She is in hot pursuit of the perfect face and the perfect hair and a slender and toned body. But what I liked a lot about her perspective is that she allows older women to dress beyond trends and styles. She acknowledges that modest and classic clothing is what is most suitable for a modest and classic woman--two adjectives that I know I'd like to describe me as I age!

Anyway, it was entertaining to read and I've added some ideas to my (large) bank of opinions. Not a book I need to own, certainly, but worth reading just to clarify my own ideas about aging and style. Fun!

Hope Unseen by Captain Scotty Smiley

This was an uplifting Story of Scotty Smiley's faith triumphing over his adversity. It was a good read that I enjoyed.

I qualify my praise, though, with a few notes: the book has kind of a bragging tone to it. I also could not help but observe that Captain Smiley was not a war hero in the strictest sense of the word--he did not injure himself saving others, but in the dangerous course of a job that he was determined to do. This alone makes him a brave and dedicated warrior, even a hero. But there are many others who died or were injured because they specifically put themselves in harm's way to save another. Also I wondered why this boy's injuries were to be lauded any more than any other soldier who lost parts of him/herself. Many have lost limbs, mental and emotional health and even lives over the course of this war. Is Scotty Smiles especially lauded because of his high profile friends? Was he able to stay in the military because of the powerful influence of his military friends that were his superiors? It really does appear that way.

This book, however, was the story of a patriot who is also a religious man. This is the kind of man that we want our sons to be like. I enjoyed reading of his struggles and the effort it took for him to rise above them. There are still overtones of self-pity and bitterness in the book, but these only make him easier to relate to--because which one of us wouldn't feel those things? It was a good book, uplifting and heart-warming. This country could use many, many men just like Scotty Smiley.

The Jackal's Head by Elizabeth Peters

I thought I owned and had read every Elizabeth Peters book out there. But I somehow missed this one! This is one of her many stand-alone romantic adventures. I love them all! I think this one must be one of her earliest (it was written in 1968) --before Amelia Peabody certainly--because this one is very reminiscent of the Emerson/Peabody series.

Althea Tomlinson ("Tommy") goes back to Egypt to attempt to clear the name of her dead father. Little does she realize that she is walking into a very messy situation.

This book wasn't quite as flawlessly crafted as Elizabeth Peters' later novels. Her hero is pretty rough--we don't even start to like him until towards the end of the book. Tommy herself isn't as clearly characterized as Elizabeth Peters' other heroines. Still, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Elizabeth Peters, an Egyptologist herself, always makes Egypt come alive in her books. She's one of my very favorite authors.

Fortune's Hand by Belva Plain

This is the first Belva Plain I've read--she came highly recommended to me. But I think I chose poorly for my first experience with Belva Plain. This book was heavy handed with its message and its characters were not engaging. And I found the ending pretty depressing.

Robb MacDaniel is all set to start his teaching job and marry his sweetheart in his home town when a sudden windfall allows him to fulfill a dream--and go to law school. And this is the beginning of the end for him. He goes to law school, falls in love again with a wonderful woman and (dumps the hometown girlfriend) marries her, has a couple of kids, gets rich.... and then it all goes downhill from there.

This is a teaching book. We learn about the lure of money, the consequences of betrayal and lies, we see the growth and death of love.

I didn't like the book. I also didn't like that all the couples were lovers before marriage (no descriptions). I really liked that there was no bad language in the whole book. I always appreciate an author who seems principled in her books. I will try another Belva Plain and hope I make a better choice.

The Anodyne Necklace by Martha Grimes

This is one of Martha Grimes' Inspector Jury mysteries. I've read a lot of them in years past. She used to be one of my favorite authors. Now I'm struck by the strangeness of Melrose Plant's help in many investigations, which seems unnatural. And I find Jury less of a serious figure than I used to. I also found her characterization of some of those that we meet in London to be stereotypical, even overdone in their predictability of speech and action. I think I compare Martha Grimes to P.D. James and I find P.D. James far superior. (I also dislike the bad language that Martha Grimes punctuates all of her novels with)

Those complaints noted, though, I found this to be an entertaining mystery with a satisfying ending (although beware of several instances of bad language).

The Finding of Jasper Holt by Grace Livingston Hill

Sigh. I guess this is a western. Or a romance. It was written very early in the 20th century and has adventure, peril and rescue, romance and integrity. It was very, very sweet. It's the story of misunderstood ne'er-do-well Jasper Holt and how meeting Jean Grayson changed his life and hers forever.

When I first began the book it seemed a little syrupy to me, but I soon became engaged with the characters and what seemed goopy at first, then became perfectly sweet. This is one of those old-fashioned stories where heroes are strong and full of integrity, heroines patient and true and, love is pure. I loved it.

p.s. I read the e-book version (it was $1.99) and it even came with two illustrations.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler

This book is subtitled: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. These catastrophes include: the world's oil supplies being tapped out (which leads to famine, lack of transportation, and tons more bad stuff), climate changes, natural disasters, disease, the collapse of financial markets... all of which will lead to vast social and community changes which some may survive, but many won't.

Whew! According to Kunstler, every single thing that we consider "progress", especially "technological progress" is entopic and subject to vastly diminishing returns, i.e. it will kill us in the end.

This may be true. Or not. Who can say with any certainty?

The big missing figure in his equations is always the will of God, which of course he has totally discounted as "mythological" and which any sane person must seek or be as doomsday minded as Kunstler is.

It's a depressing book filled with history (always fictional because it's so dependent on perspective and interpretation, right?), "scientific" studies, facts and figures...

Can you tell that I really didn't like this book? It's an interesting perspective on our world. It may be true. One of the things I most dislike about apocalyptic-type books (like this one) is their absence of hope or solutions. I see no purpose in tearing things down if one can't suggest a way to rebuild. It's just an invitation to be ignored--no one can swallow a dark prognostication with no hope for redemption. And that's just what this book is. A very interesting, well-researched, intelligently expressed placard reading: The end is coming!!

Read it if you like. I preferred "Ere His Floods of Anger Flow"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Agatha Christie An Autobiography (by Agatha Christie)

I LOVED this book. I found it very interesting, sweet, nostalgic, intelligent, charming...a very entertaining read. Touching too! Her voice is humble and clear. Her memories capture a time of great change in the world: airplanes, motorcars, WWI and WWII. She looks back from the great age of 75 at her entire life, her parents, her homes, her loves, her family, her extensive travels, her books and plays. She paints a lovely, somewhat idealized view, concentrating most on the times that brought her joy but not leaving out the times of great sorrow that she experienced. I especially loved her memories of childhood and girlhood. I really enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes, especially her stories of Baghdad--a loving portrait of an area that has changed SO MUCH from the way she remembered it. She would be heartbroken over its travails today.

It was a beautiful book. I highly recommend it.

Princess of the Sword by Lynn Kurland

This is the conclusion to the story of Miach and Morgan. I really liked the whole little trilogy BUT I prefer books #4 and #5, the story of Sarah and Ruith.

I just did not like the softened Morgan as well as the original Morgan. And I didn't like how she and Miach are always trying to leave each other behind to protect the loved one. If she hadn't been so clearly established as tough--tougher than most men--in the first book, it probably wouldn't have bothered me so much!!

However, I'll say again, that all the Nine Kingdom books are fun to read and I appreciate SO MUCH their squeaky clean romances.

The Mage's Daughter by Lynn Kurland

Book two of Miach and Morgan! Lots of interesting things going on. I like the story a lot, but there was WAY too much crying going on in this book and the next one. WAY too much emotion, especially for Morgan, who was originally characterized as tough and non-emotional. I was disappointed at her lack of spine. And I felt that the interaction between Miach and Morgan was a little...unrealistic. For instance, long after they have admitted to loving each other, and Morgan has cried and cried about all the surprising discoveries she's making about herself (establishing her character as very marshmallow-y), Miach is still talking about removing her weapons from her reach when he's about to break bad news to her. I found this silly. It's pretty obvious by now that rather than reach for her weapons when she's upset, Morgan cries instead. Sigh.

But! Those are pretty trivial complaints. I still did enjoy this book. I like Lynn Kurland's books in general a lot!

Star of the Morning by Lynn Kurland

This is the first of the Nine Kingdom books. We meet Morgan and Miach and they meet each other. Morgan (like Sarah in books 3, 4, and 5) intensely dislikes magic. Of course, Miach (whom she finds herself liking a lot in this book) is a powerful mage (and is hiding it from Morgan). And the story goes on from there...

The two couples that the 9 Kingdom series are all about are actually very similar to each other. And they both fight the same evil, but different aspects of it. They visit the same places, they kill the same creatures, they face very similar dangers. All this similarity! It doesn't make the books less enjoyable.

I really liked Morgan in this book, and I liked Miach too. I found Morgan to be a unique character--very different from Sarah. I liked her toughness and lack of emotion. However...... books 2 and 3 didn't uphold these qualities...but I'll write more about that in the next reviews.

A good book!

Spellweaver by Lynn Kurland

This is book two in the Ruithnead of Ceangail/Sarah of Doire saga. As so many other reviewers have said, this book has less action and more relationship development, more self-discovery. Which was all just as enjoyable, for me, as the first book in this trio was.

I feel I have a clear picture of the Nine Kingdoms and I really like the combination of romance, fantasy and adventure in Lynn Kurland's books. A good one! Too bad the concluding book won't be released until 2012!!