Friday, May 27, 2011
This is another Christian book. Its aim is to show that fame and fortune are no substitute for family and love and a good relationship with God. It was okay. I don't think I'll read any more of Karen Kingsbury. I liked her characters, but the situations felt a little contrived and overemotional.
One thing I object to in these Christian books is how sometimes the authors contrive to force their main characters to make extreme choices for their own happiness. Like there can be no middle ground. In this book, our main character had to choose between his life as it was--as a Christian movie star--and his family and his love. His love essentially gave him an ultimatum: I can't stand your famous life, get out of it and move to my town or we can't have a relationship. What kind of love is that, I asked myself. Hm. The situation with his family was similar. He wasn't sure he wanted to get involved with their lives because of the rabid reporters that always followed him around. He didn't want to expose his family to this.
I guess the reason I didn't really enjoy this book is because I felt a lot of emotion was expended unnecessarily--I ended up skimming pages of angst in the last third of the book especially. I felt... manipulated by the author. The whole story felt manipulated. In the middle of some of the more frustrating experiences of the characters I questioned the plausibility of what was going on. When I have time to think about things like that in the middle of reading, it's an indication that the writing is too manipulative--and I, as the reader, have felt the manipulations.
I like Karen Kingsbury's aims. I like what she's saying in her story. But I think it's important--even in a "club" genre like Christian writing where there's a lot of "hugs and kisses" between authors, reviewers and fans--to keep the writing good and honest with no obvious manipulation of plot to teach a lesson and no heavy handed preaching going on. That kind of writing makes it hard for a good message to be effective. And it's one of my greatest objections to any religious writer. The story has to be the first thing. And the uplifting message must be totally embedded. Otherwise the book loses its entertainment value AND its effectiveness as a tool to uplift the lives of others--which is every Christian writer's avowed purpose.
This book was sweet and the message was loud and clear, but the story was misshapen to make a point and that made it bit less enjoyable to read.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
This is Flavia de Luce mystery #3. The first one (it won so many awards!) is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I have not yet read the second one. Fortunately, that made absolutely no difference to my enjoyment of this third book in the Flavia series.
I was paying particular attention to Flavia in this book to see if she seemed like an 11-year-old or not. One of the complaints of my book club about the first Flavia book was that she did NOT seem like a child. It didn't bother me in the first book, though, and again it didn't bother me in this one. I admit she is a bit precocious. She knows A LOT about chemistry. She has a good memory. She's glib and smooth and all too plausible for an 11-year-old, I guess. But there's no other age for her that really seems more logical! She definitely doesn't sound like a boy and she definitely doesn't sound like a teenager. Hm.
In this book we get a little more insight into the heart of Flavia de Luce. Her father seems more human. Her sisters seem less human, but it seems that maybe someday those relationships might improve? I really don't like her sisters. Why are they so mean? Flavia seems to get along with the men in her life much better than she does with any of the women. In fact, most of the women characters are one-dimensional. The men are much more fleshed out.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. I like Flavia. I like Alan Bradley's mysteries. It was an interesting and fun read.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Another Christian book! I'm definitely reading in a pattern lately. I liked this book. It was a mystery, a journey (to Christianity, of course) and a romance. It was sweet and totally clean.
But it's not among my favorites for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it had feminist overtones and although I rooted for our main character to keep her job in a man's world and all that, I am not sure I root for that general principle. Not sure that I don't. But... Also, I felt that the injustice she experienced--her father's death, the false accusations, the unfriendly co-workers, unfriendly "friends", the theft, etc, well, it was a bit oppressive. Just a bit. And her relationship with her boyfriend lacked chemistry. If you're telling a love story, you gotta have chemistry. And I guessed the bad guy from the first--he was a stand-out wrong un. The whole story was fairly predictable.
But! It was a cute book. Fun to read. Engaging. Just not one of my favorites.
This is book #2 in the "Women of Justice" series by Lynette Eason. It was very suspenseful. I started it after dinner and shouldn't have because I couldn't go to sleep until I finished it. And then I had to cuddle up close to my husband to get to sleep and remind myself that a serial killer was NOT stalking me, so I had nothing to fear and could close my eyes and go to sleep in perfect safety. :)
This book follows "Too Close to Home" and tells the story of one of the main characters from that book.
It was very exciting. The religion felt much more natural to me. Of course, it stretches the bounds of credibility that one family could experience so much murderous mayhem within the space of two years, but I guess.... since they're all cops, it's a bit more likely? In any case, I had no trouble suspending reality and getting totally caught up in this story.
And I must say that I knew who the crazy serial killer was "disguised" as from the very beginning of the book. He was not very well disguised and since I learned from the first book in this series how Ms. Eason likes to hide her killers in plain sight (is this giving too much away?), it wasn't hard to figure that out right away. However, that took nothing away from the suspense of the book and the unfolding of the mystery.
Really liked it. Kind of tired today from staying up late finishing it. I think I'm going to have to get #3 in the series. Sigh.
This is... well, it's a Christian book. Very Southern Presbyterian. A different culture from the Christian culture that I am familiar with. So in some ways I couldn't really relate to the story. (This is basically the story of how a young stockbroker finds God.) Other parts I could really relate to.
I loved the setting. Most of the book was set in South Carolina and Ray Blackston made that place come alive for me. I really liked his narrative style. At first it seemed a little awkward, but I quickly got used to it and enjoyed it. This is actually kind of a chicklit kind of book, but written by a man and from a man's perspective. I liked that. I thought the Christian singles scene that he wrote about was interesting too.
Did I like this book? Hm. Well, I really enjoyed reading it. I liked all the characters, I LOVED that it was squeaky clean and I always like Bible references. But! I really didn't like the resolution of the book. I think the conclusion was too black and white. Too... give up everything for the one thing. And why? I never got the feeling that the choice our main character made was what he really wanted. Is this because the author meant to be a little bit ambivalent? Was this because he was trying NOT to be heavy handed? Or was it just because he's a guy and didn't really need to include the details that I wanted? :) So, a dissatisfying ending. To me.
And my last mild complaint is also a categorizing. This book goes in the less spiritual Christian book category. It is the story of a man's complete conversion, but it just didn't have that universal spiritual feel to it. Read C.S. Lewis. Any Christian can feel what he's saying. And my current favorite Christian author Karen Witemeyer--any Christian person (well, perhaps mostly Christian ladies) can relate to her characters. But this book felt more cultural than religious to me. If I'm reading a Christian book, I look forward to being edified, even taught, as well as entertained. This one, as entertaining as it was, was not edifying. Fun in a lot of ways, but not a lot of depth.
I hate to end this review on any kind of negative note, though. It was a light-hearted, fun, entertaining book!
Friday, May 20, 2011
This book is C.S. Lewis' account of his earliest years and his journey from Christianity to atheism and back again to Christianity.
Just like everything C.S. Lewis has written, there are a multitude of eminently quotable passages in this book. I had numerous "aha!" moments and I experienced again C.S. Lewis' surpassing gift of putting into words just what we all have felt or have thought at one time or another. He has such a way of saying it like it is in the most beautiful and eloquent way. I found a lot to think about in this book.
This wasn't my favorite of his books though. For one thing, it kind of jerked the man himself off the pedestal I had him on (he probably wouldn't mind that at all), what with his descriptions of his forays into the world of sex and the world of mysticism. But the biggest thing I disliked in this book was, as the title suggests, the main conceit--Lewis' idea of JOY. I had trouble visualizing JOY as he described it,and that bothered me some. I eventually found my way to something of an understanding of what I thought he was saying.
According to his account, the sensation of JOY was one he sought all of his youthful life (so far, so good). One expects, therefore, that Lewis' reconversion to Christianity will bring a resurgence of this JOY, a conclusion to his searches. However, it is at this point in his autobiography that the concept of JOY is left in the dust. The dots are not connected. The thought does not feel finished. The reader feels a little deprived. I did not like that.
There were a few other things that I found bothersome: pederasty in his boarding school was one of the biggies. Why does any mother in the British Isles send her sons to boarding school? Lord of the Flies, indeed.
However, this book was still very worth the reading. There was so much to glean. He is always the Christian everyman and what he says reaches everyone. And! I started reading some G.K. Chesterton at Lewis' recommendation and I'm really enjoying that so far. But more about that another time. Even though this wasn't my favorite C.S. Lewis book, it was still a good one. He's one of the best!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I bought this e-book--yes I actually paid money for it!!--because I really liked another Kate Collins book, "Act of Violets" --such a cute mystery and clean too! But this one--not so much. It was rather disappointing.
For one thing, this historical romance had the one thing above all others that I REALLY dislike to see in historical romance--premarital sex scenes. You can't tell me that the majority of "good" girls and men in those days had sex in haylofts or bedrooms or in carriages or whatever BEFORE marriage!! Aaaugh! Drives me crazy! This one had two premarital sex scenes and one post marital sex scene. And they felt so matter-of-fact, so ho-hum, so I-just-put-it-in-because-the-editor-required-it. Ugh. That alone was a dealbreaker to me. I should have just quit reading after the first unlikely encounter. But that's the seductive thing about an entertaining story--you're likely to finish what you start even after you encounter something you object to. Sigh.
But I also disliked the whole premise of this book. There were so many unnecessary lies told by our main female character! I actually almost didn't like her.
On the upside, it was an engaging book. Once I started it, I really did want to finish it. Yeah, that's the upside. I think from now on I'll stick to Kate Collins' mysteries.
This one was a Christian mystery. Who knew there were so many Christian genres, eh? It's set in the modern day and is a police procedural--my favorite kind of mystery.
I really enjoyed it. I was hooked pretty much from the beginning and didn't stir far from my comfy chair until it was finished. I found the characters likeable and believable. I found the mystery engrossing. I liked the relationships between all the main characters. There was a lot of killing--I admit I like it much better when the characters that are killed off are not ones that I like or that get relatively well developed.
The religion in here didn't quite feel natural. The religious phrases (you know how each Christian denomination has almost its own language) often felt trite and meaningless to me. I think the quoted scriptures and other religious maxims could have been used to better effect. They almost felt like merely "lip service" in some places. There were, though, several religious parts that were touching--the letter from the cop that was killed, the reaction of the church to the shooting, the fellowship of church youth. Those were all very good. So I guess there were parts that did feel meaningful, it's just that the religious applications didn't feel completely consistent throughout the book. That's kind of nitpicking, though--it was a good book!
I really did not find much to complain of in this book And I am always grateful for these Christian books that are are squeaky clean and have so many uplifting elements. I especially liked this one and I just may have to buy the next one in the series (it's NOT free--curses!).
Awww! I totally loved this book. I read it as an e-book (and it was--again--free). It was a historical Christian romance.
This was my favorite type of Christian romances. The religion was natural and embedded. The characters changed as they seriously pursued righteousness and asked God for help in resolving their prejudices and problems. And there was good chemistry between the main characters. Cute cute cute!
This book is a combination Christian romance/self-help book, I think. Gary Chapman wrote one of my very favorite marriage books ever, "The Five Love Languages", and the principles he introduces in that book are clearly embedded in this one. He wrote this book with author Catherine Palmer as a companion to another marriage book that he wrote, "The Four Seasons of Marriage". It is supposed to illustrate the ideas he introduced in that book. I haven't read that one, but that concept is very obviously placed in this book.
I've read reviewers that felt his messages in this book were heavy handed. I didn't really find it to be so. I read this book more as a story--I was interested in the characters and in what happened to them. It wasn't, however, a life changing or even an instructive book to me. It was just an entertaining story told about likeable people. I especially appreciated how marriage as WORK was portrayed. Marriage isn't always work, of course, but every happy couple who has been married for more than 10 years knows that a happy marriage requires constant upkeep. This was reflected in this book, which I liked.
I mostly read this book because of my love of the "5 Languages" book. Oh, and because it was free. And I liked it. Not life changing, but engaging and uplifting.
I read this as an e-book (it was free! I'm such a tightwad when it comes to a book I can't hold in my hands).
This is a story of a pastor and his estranged wife finding their way back to each other. She also finds her way back to the church. It's an interesting book. Not outstanding, but interesting and generally uplifting.
Some of the situations felt rather contrived. Really, after 6 years apart, they wait for intimacy until their congregation feels okay about it? Strange. Also, her big secret and his reaction to it seemed overly dramatic. I think that's a situation that's tragic to some and natural to others. To me it didn't seem to merit the pastor's extreme reaction. I also felt his reaction was out of step with his general character and his tolerance and acceptance of his wife's return and her struggles back into a relationship with him and with God. He really was generous about it--just as you'd expect a man of God to be. Except about the secret--which wasn't really so horrible. He just flew off the handle in an uncharacteristic way. I thought the "secret" part was kind of lame.
Other than that, it was a lightweight, pleasant and moderately religious story. I enjoyed it.
This is a Christian romance. I read it as an e-book (bonus: it was free!). There seem to me to be a wide variety of types of Christian romances. There are the ones that are full of church and scriptures and prayer and that have no chemistry between the main characters. Ugh. There are ones where church and scripture and prayer are kind of "there"--appended, but not necessary, to the plot. There are the heavy handed ones, with a hammered home message all about God. And there are the ones where the religious message is gentle and natural. And then there are my favorites: those where the main characters' relationship with deity, their study of scriptures and attendance at church actually inform the plot--our protagonists change through their pursuit of God's will. Their actions throughout the book illustrate their good characters and subtly teach the reader. AND there is good chemistry between our main boy and girl. These are the ones I like best.
This book was one of the type where the Christian stuff is appended to the story, but not really necessary for plot progression. The Christian part just made the story clean and very readable. The plot was actually about an emancipated (but Godly) woman of the early 20th century. She runs for office against two other candidates. She learns to love one of them. It was an entertaining story full of very likeable characters. The messages--about the strength of women, about misjudgments and power misused, not to mention the Christian message--were all pretty lightweight. It was an enjoyable book. I'd like to read the next in the series (but it's not free and I haven't decided if I want to pay for it!).
I totally loved this book! It's historical fiction--a mystery solved by none other than Abigail Adams. It was set in Boston during the time of the British occupation. A British man is murdered and an American patriot is accused.
Lots of times when a "detective" character is just a regular person, I feel that the detecting is contrived. But Abigail just set out to help a friend and asked questions in a fashion that felt natural and easy. Her character is totally likeable. The mystery is very enjoyable and I figured it out JUST before Abigail did--what a great ending!
But the best part about this book was the way it brought history alive for me. This period in history--when America was becoming--is my all-time favorite one and the Adams are some of my most beloved patriots. This made this book especially enjoyable for me. I didn't feel that Barbara Hamilton took liberties with the characters of the patriots she includes in her story, but that she gave just enough detail to make it all feel real. I believe that this book is part of a series too, and that's a happy thing! I really enjoyed this one!
This was a terribly written book! The characters were one dimensional and stereotypical, the plot was full of holes and the writing was stiff. The resolution of the mystery was awkward and unrealistic. The group around which her plot revolves are all around the same age, supposedly, but when you meet the characters during the course of the book, some seem in their 50s, some in their 20s. Imagine my surprise when I was told (at the end of the story) that they were all schoolmates! I also could see who the bad guy was very early in the book, which is kind of disappointing. AND the main character, who can't stand to be touched and who hasn't allowed herself to be touched by ANYONE--even those she loves--for years, has casual sex (no descriptions)!! What? What kind of character consistency is that? Finally, I always feel like it's cheating when the bad guy turns out to be a functional psychopath. Especially when everything else in the book doesn't really hang together either. Sigh. When I read a book like this I always think: "Even I could do better than this!!" So disappointing!
The only good thing about this book was its setting--in an orchestra. It was interesting to get an insider's glimpse of that. Otherwise, this book was a complete disappointment.
This is part of the "chicklit" genre that I really dislike. But there are a few key differences that make me actually kind of like this book. First of all the journey of our main character, Tracy, felt genuine to me. Her unfolding realization of the situation she had allowed to develop in her relationship with her boyfriend and within her own heart felt very natural to me. Also, this book wasn't all about hooking up with that one perfect guy. It was about unhooking up with that one guy who absolutely WASN'T perfect. That made this book interesting to me.
There was sex here, but no sex scenes. It's just taken for granted that single people who like each other have sex. I don't like that assumption, but it wasn't the main theme of this book. There are also some very likeable homosexual characters. If that's offensive to you, you'll want to skip this book.
I was hesitant to record this book on my blog just cuz it's the kind of book I typically avoid--just not what I like to read. I grabbed it at the library because it looked like a journey book rather than a boy/girl relationship book. And it turned out to be a bit of both, with plenty of "modern" lifestyle assumptions included. But I decided to put it on the blog because I appreciated the message of the book--being true to self, asking hard questions, doing the right thing even when it's painful. If I'd known what this book was really about before I read it, I'd probably have given it a miss. But I did read it and even though it's not the kind of book I like to read, it had some things to say that were worthwhile.
"The Dressmaker" is historical fiction, taking place in the mid 19th century. It is the story of Ellen Gowan and her journey from beloved daughter of a poor country cleric to famous and well-off London dressmaker. There's lots of good stuff in between. I found it entertaining and heart-warming--it had a happy ending and I am always a sucker for a happy ending. There was nothing original about this story, but it was full of great historical details and interesting characters. And a married sex scene that I didn't find offensive. No bad language either, I'm happy to say. It was a very entertaining book, an easy read, a nice story. It wasn't particularly memorable, but I certainly enjoyed it.
This book is subtitled "An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon the English Language. You've seen some of the stuff published here floating around the internet. If you like this sort of thing--silly mistakes from newspapers, magazines, speeches, student papers, etc--it was funny enough, but a lot of it I'd heard before. Still, there were enough that I hadn't heard to afford me a few good laughs. I was thinking somehow (from the cover probably) that this book would be a little more sophisticated than it was. It was a quick read, so it wasn't too much of a waste of time.... but I wouldn't read it (or anything like it) again.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
This is one of a series of mysteries all starring flower shop owner Abigail Knight. I think this is the 4th or 5th. In this one, Abby Knight is threatened by a clown who ends up being murdered. Abby is shocked to find that her boyfriend, Marco, is the main suspect! He is a part time PI but can't investigate his own case so he asks for her help. She must unravel the mystery to save him from prison.
I usually dislike mysteries where the detective is an ordinary Joe. It just seems so unnatural. First of all, what innocent and upstanding citizen is involved in ONE murder investigation, let alone multiple investigations!? Seems like if there's a person who commonly gets herself involved in unsavory events, it might be that SHE'S the unsavory one. But! TV series are made and book series are enjoyed that are based upon just such a premise. And I really did like this book.
Of course, me being me, the reason I like this book is probably because I really liked the main character, Abby Knight. And the chemistry between her and her boyfriend was perfect. I was amazed that Ms. Collins wrote an interesting mystery--with a seriously sexy love interest for the main character--without any foul language or sex!
It was an easy and quick read with no jarring language or situations. I guess this kind of mystery would be described as a "cozy"--one of my two favorite types of mysteries (the other being police procedurals). I found Kate Collins to be a charming writer and I'll be reading more by her.
This book was written (and set) in the 70s. The story takes place at Harvard University. Visiting professor and retired policeman Homer Kelly unravels the mystery of the Memorial Hall bombing and the disappearance of a popular faculty member, musician and chorus leader Hamilton Dow.
This was one of those books where you know who the bad guy is just because you can't stand him! When I read mysteries I often look for the character that the author makes me hate. If there is a stand-out unlikeable guy, he will often end up being the murderer. If I can identify the murderer right away like this, then the story better be entertaining enough to make the book fun to read even though the mystery is a bit transparent. This book was interesting and I really liked the characters. But! It wasn't quite captivating enough to overcome the transparency of the mystery, although what created very readable tension in this book was the uncertain fate of the man trapped in the dark. Who is he? Will he survive? And I can't deny that it's very satisfying when the hated character turns out to be the bad guy and comes to a suitably bad ending.
There was a lot of detail about Cambridge the town and Harvard the university. I did get a good sense of the atmosphere surrounding Memorial Hall and the university in general. I didn't get a clear vision of it at all, but I did get a "sense" of it, if you know what I mean when I differentiate the two. I also felt very much in the 70's as I read the book. That was kind of cool. I enjoyed the illustrations--by the author herself! I also liked how alternate chapters told two different parts of the story--I was caught up in whether or not our trapped character would be rescued! Well, I knew he would be, but when?!
So, it was fun to read, but not at all gripping. I probably won't read more by this author, although I did really like our detective, Homer Kelly. He didn't seem to do a whole lot of detecting. The whole mystery was unraveled almost by accident! But he was very likeable and so was his wife. They aren't as well developed characters as some detectives are, but they are both charming and easy-going and comfortable. It was a cute book.
This is both a historical novel and a mystery. Two stories are going on--they are told in alternating chapters. One is the story of a few months out of the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. Graham Moore takes the true outlines of Conan Doyle's life and extrapolates. We meet Bram Stoker and we get a taste of Oscar Wilde's personality. We meet some suffragettes and are introduced to a few philosophies on the subject. We get a glimpse into the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle as he "murders" his best known creation, Sherlock Holmes. We begin to see why he resurrects him, 8 years later.
The second story takes place in the modern day and is the mystery. The newest Sherlockian, Harold White, is caught up in the search for Arthur Conan Doyle's missing diary when the man who claims he has found it is murdered.
Both stories are mysteries, really, because both men are unraveling a crime.
I had a hard time getting into the book at first. I picked it up and put it down for days. About a third of the way in I was finally hooked. Part of the problem for me is that I didn't really like any of the characters. And I found Harold White to be a little unbelievable. That he was able to unravel a mystery that many Holmes experts had failed to up to that point seemed like a stretch. A big stretch.
It was an okay book. Definitely not one of my favorites. There is some crude and foul language--surprisingly used by the early 19th century characters, not the early 21st century ones.
Entertaining and interesting (once I got into it), but not great. That about covers it.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
I have never read a book like this one before. For one thing, it's a western, a genre I have not yet learned to appreciate. For another thing, I think it's totally unique. It's subtitled: "The First Vegetarian Western" and that is the reader's first clue that this is not your ordinary tale.
17-year-old Wylie Jackson, orphan son of a mild-mannered cotton broker (a tragedy he feels obliged to live down), joins his first cattle drive as an assistant cook. Before he leaves, his strong-minded friend Alice Beck assigns him to watch over her pet cattalo, Roselle, and make sure the animal gets safely to her aunt in Enid, Oaklahoma. Wylie Jackson eagerly leaves Odessa Texas and begins a series of VERY unexpected adventures that make a man of him.
This book is full of laugh-out-loud descriptions and one-liners. And recipes. And villains. And heroes. And Indians and cowboys and horses and doctors and wisdom and maturity. I'm having trouble describing it because it took me by surprise. It was charming and quirky. I loved it.
I really liked this book. I got my copy from the library, but it's one I would like to add to my collection. It's been labeled a classic because of its portrayal of early 20th century Africa--a time that has been romantically portrayed in many books and movies.
This is a memoir. Beryl Markham was born in England in 1902 and was taken by her father to East Africa in 1906. She learned horse breeding and training from him and struck out on her own doing this when she was just 17. Years later, when she was in her late twenties and early thirties, she learned to fly and carried mail, passengers and supplies in her small plane all over Africa. She ends her memoirs by writing about her flight in September 1936--solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She was the second person to do it and the first woman to do it. (Some accounts claim she was the first person to do it).
Not only was her life very interesting, but her writing is absolutely captivating. She's witty, self deprecating, wise and very entertaining. I loved her voice. Upon investigating her life further, I found she had left out MANY details of her life, some rather scandalous. She was apparently pretty wild. Our book club enjoyed discussing how so many of her life choices (that were not chronicled in the book) seem to belie her wisdom and warmth that come through so clearly in this book. It was truly a joy to read. I don't know if I'd have liked Beryl Markham in person, but I certainly do in her memoirs.
I really really like Helen MacInnes. She writes political suspense novels and always includes a little romance as well. This book was published in 1980, but the story could just as easily have taken place now--with some nationalities and ideologies shifted just a bit. It's about terrorists and those that are used by them and those that work against them.
Nina, our female main character, is being used by a terrorist group and Robert, a friend from Nina's youth, chance-met on a street in Amsterdam, is working against terrorism. They meet accidentally and neither knows what the other is involved with. Yet.
Helen MacInnes joins Mary Stewart as one of my very favorite romantic suspense novelists. They both share the ability to completely engage without horrifying. And who can resist a little love interest along the way? I liked this book a lot.