Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Pawn by Steven James

I liked this book! It was squeaky clean as far as language and sex goes. It was pretty gritty as far as violence, murder and torture goes, though. I was very engaged in the story--stayed up late to finish it (yeah, it was one of those). I liked the main characters.

From time to time I felt aware of the writing which, to me, indicates a little less quality of writing--a little self-consciousness on the part of the writer perhaps? But those were only moments. Mostly I was too into the story to notice the writing.

When it comes to murder mysteries, I prefer police procedurals and cozies--my least favorite kinds have crazy serial murderers, guys who love to torture and have sick desires and urges and histories. This one was a police procedural (which I like), but had a crazy serial murderer, which I don't like. Also I have to roll my eyes when our lead investigator flies a family member to stay with him in a safe house (at the location of the murder investigation) because he's worried about their relationship--especially when that family member is a young woman AND the case he's investigating is one where a serial killer is torturing and killing young women. And he's flying in this precious family member? Hello!?! That seemed pretty silly to me--an obvious device on the part of the writer to increase the tension in the story.

Other than those objections, I really did enjoy the book--it was gripping!

The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer

This is book one in "The Gideon Trilogy" and it's written for tweens--but I really enjoyed it. My daughter really liked it too.

Peter Schock and Kate Dyer have just met and are very different from each other, but because of a freak accident, they find themselves stranded together in the year 1763.

The titular Gideon is the first person they meet in 1763 and he believes their unlikely tale and promises to help them figure out how to return to 21st century England.

This is a fun adventure story that does NOT end satisfactorily because, of course, it's the first of three. My one faint complaint is that this is one of those books in which bad things happen over and over to our main characters. I get tired sometimes of all the fixes they have to get themselves out of. But! It's fun reading, even for a grown up and especially for kids.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

Another Georgette Heyer! This one takes place after These Old Shades and is the story of Justin Alastair's son, the Marquis of Vidal. The son of Justin and Leonie is far too jaded for such a young man, but he takes after his father too much, perhaps. His latest depravity, though, introduces him to the first woman he's ever loved enough to settle down--she hopes.

I like this book best of the three, I think. I like who Justin has aged into, I really like his son and, as usual, I like Georgette Heyer's smart, common-sensical, independent heroines. A fun book. 

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

This is the book that continues the story begun in The Black Moth, although all the names have been changed. In this book we get to know more about the Duke of Avon (no longer the Duke of Andover), Justin Alastair (formerly known as Hugh Tracy Clare Belmanoir, also known as "Devil").

Our duke, Justin, collides with a red-haired urchin in a less-savory area of Paris. The young boy (Leon) strikes him as looking familiar so he does something totally unexpected--he adopts him as his page.

This is one of Georgette Heyer's books where a girl dresses up as a boy and is convincing at it...and yet when she dresses as a girl she is breathtakingly womanly. Even though this book was charming and entertaining and all of that, I still always stumble at the idea of the girl/boy cross-dressing thing being actually convincing. Doesn't seem likely. AND our romantic protagonist is a much, much older man, a reformed rake, in fact (the older man-younger woman type of romance makes my mother growl--could it be because she's an older woman married to an older man? :D). AND I didn't really like our female protagonist much either. But all those are just trifling objections because mostly I just love Georgette Heyer's style. Her dialogue is so clever and her characters are so likeable. Now--on to the last book in this little series, Devil's Cub.

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer! This one is the first book she wrote and it's about Jack Carstares who is estranged from his family and his country because of something he didn't really do. He has returned to England after years of exile--but instead of returning to his family, he becomes a highwayman. He meets the love of his life, Diana, when he rescues her from being kidnapped by the Duke of Andover....and there the adventure begins.

The funny thing about this book is that it introduces a set of characters who appear in two other Georgette Heyer books, These Old Shades and Devil's Cub--except all the names are changed in the last two books. Anyway, in The Black Moth we meet the Duke of Andover, who stars (with his name changed) in These Old Shades (we meet Jack and Diana again too--but their names are changed also. Why, I wonder?) and whose son stars in Devil's Cub. They're not an "official" trilogy but they sure seem to belong together.

I really like almost all Georgette Heyer books and this one is no exception. And it's kind of unique in that it's part of a little trilogy. I don't think Georgette Heyer wrote any others like that.

The Body in the Boudoir b y Katherine Hall Page

This is a charming mystery, one of an established series. Our main character, Faith, is looking back at an event from her past and telling us the story of her wedding to her beloved husband Tom.

I really hate writing summaries. Okay, here goes. Faith Sibley, daughter of a clergyman, vows never to marry one herself--until she meets the handsome, wonderful Thomas Fairchild, who sweeps her off her feet. She agrees to marry him and go with him to New England, leaving her beloved New York City and her catering business behind. But she has a lot to take care of in the city before she can go--and her first order of business is the wedding which they plan to have at Faith's adored Uncle Sky's mansion on Long Island.

But some mysterious things are happening. And then someone is murdered at Uncle Sky's house. She begins to feel that someone is trying to harm her.

I really liked this book. It was entertaining and I never guessed who the murderer was! The one thing that bothered me is that Tom Fairchild is a CLERGYMAN who presumably is conversant with the Bible and the commandments. But still he and Faith go to bed together before their marriage (no sex scene though). Strange. I just don't get that. I thought the commandments said something about sex outside of marriage.... Well. Silly me. Anyway, I really liked the book.

The Dawn of a Dream by Ann Shorey

Hmmm. This was a very clean romance that had a message that I found unattractive. Luellen O'Connell is shocked and betrayed when her husband of only a few months abandons her. Unfortunately, he leaves a very real part of himself behind and she is forced to live with the consequences. This is the story of her emotional recovery and her pursuit of her dream to get an education and be a school teacher.

The message I didn't like? That seemed a little 21st century for this 19th century book? It was that a woman's education and career is more important than any other consideration in her life. Our Luellen put it before every other loved one in her life. I admire Luellen's grit and determination, but I didn't agree with her choices. She made herself and others miserable in pursuit of her great obsession with her own career. Hm.

This was also one of those books that kind of beats the reader down with all the misfortunes that befall our main character. Poor Luellen just doesn't seem to get a break! It all ends well, though, I suppose.

All in all, it was an engaging and clean read with a hard-working protagonist who tries hard to do what she feels is right. If the book wasn't exactly to my taste, it was by no means an unpleasant or unsatisfying read.

Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley

A very charming book written for middle schoolers, Bella at Midnight feels a bit like the story of Cinderella, but better and fuller.

Bella is born a nobleman's daughter, but is rejected by her father and sent to live with a foster family, who raises her with love. When she's about 13, however, her father wishes her to return to his house and Bella's life is turned upside-down.

This is a charming little adventure full of magic, mystery and romance (and even a pair of glass slippers!). It praises virtue and goodness and has a happy ending. Just the kind of fairy-tale story I like (and my kids liked it too).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Perfumes--the A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

Remember the book The Emperor of Scent? It was about the scientist Luca Turin? Well, he and his current lady-friend (also an experienced perfume enthusiast and a writer herself) are the authors of this very large guide to over 1,800 perfumes.

The most entertaining parts of this book (to me) are the essays that come before the actual perfume reviews. They are titled things like "How to Connect Your Nose to Your Brain" and "Beauty and the Bees" and "Masculine Elegance and What It Smells Like" and are entertaining and informative. I really enjoyed those.

The reviews themselves are, of course, highly subjective (if the authors hate your favorite perfume, you will strongly agree with me here), if expert, but also quite entertaining. I like learning to recognize what type of ingredients are in each perfume and which category each is in. I appreciated the indications of the expense of each one. I liked the top ten lists in the back... I just liked the whole book. I love perfume--I find the whole (rather mysterious to me) world of perfumery and scent rather fascinating, so I particularly found this book entertaining. Highly recommended if you are interested in perfume at all. However, if you just want to know what they said about your favorites, I'll be happy to look them up for you! :)

Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

Don't you wonder about the alchemy of a popular book? What makes a bestseller? Is it the publicity or the hype? Is it the content? The author? I wonder.

This book was both entertaining and informative. It took me awhile to finish because it's not exactly gripping, but it is fun to read and it is pretty straightforward. I liked the voice of the author, a writer who takes a journey to Machu Picchu in the footsteps of early explorer Hiram Bingham III. He was amusing and honest and as ignorant (so it seemed) about this part of Peru as his average reader probably is. So he's easy for the reader to engage with.

Of course, there aren't many answers to all the questions about the Mayans, so Mark Adams can't really help with all that. But he makes the trip feel pretty real to the reader and he introduces us to some modern day explorers and residents of the area around Machu Picchu who are eminently likeable. He has a gentle tone and a good way of explaining things. It was a fun book to read!

P.S. I wished for more pictures, though!

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

I read this with a book club. An author daughter of one of our members recommended it as her very favorite book. At first we were confused by her high recommendation--it seems like a sweet, rather ordinary book. But she schooled us in what to look for--the symbolism of the greyhounds, the relationship between the women, the quiet and inevitable changes that occurred in their lives and in the town around them... and then we liked it quite a lot.

There was nothing particularly outstanding about the book. It's a lovely story. I enjoyed the portrayal of a series of GOOD mother-daughter relationships. I liked the quiet strength of generations of women. The characters were all very likeable.

In this story you'll meet a teenager and her mother, a grandmother, a ghost and you'll hear the stories of all of them. It's a lovely little book that will give quiet satisfaction.

Death Comes to Pemberly by PD James

Well golly. Somehow I kept expecting something really unusual or mysterious or exciting to happen. But it never did.

This was indeed a mystery but it was rather understated. Not in the crisp, pungent P.D. James style that her readers love. In fact, it felt a little like a sure-fire cash-in on the author's good name AND the current mania for all things Jane Austen. I didn't think it deserved all the hype it has received.

However, I will be charitable and say that the book was rather entertaining and none of Jane Austen's characters were messed with too much--all were recognizable even if some were worse or better than they were when Jane left them.

It was a quietly pleasant book. Read it if you like Jane Austen. If you're a hard-core P.D. James fan and not into Austen, you can safely skip this one.

A Damsel in Distress by PG Wodehouse

Okay, I think pretty much anything by PG Wodehouse is amusing. This book was no different. And you can get it for free on your electronic reader, btw.

Here's the clever little teaser from the back of the edition of the book I have: "In a sunny story which involves chorus-girls, the theatre and a ball at the castle during a two-week house-party, Wodehouse deftly unties all the knots which he had so cleverly tied around his characters in the first place."
This description makes me laugh because the chorus-girls, the theatre, the ball and the house-party are but incidents in the larger story of an American, George Bevan, pursuing an heiress, Lady Maude. Maude, however, is in love with a Welshman and her aunt and father are determined to marry her off to her step-brother. Can George possibly prevail?

PG Wodehouse is classically witty and his characters are pithily drawn. I enjoyed this book a lot.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

Okay, this is a pretty amazing book. It reminds me of Eating Awareness Training, only expanded and explained and backed up by research studies and years of clinical experience by its two authors.

Tribole and Resch outline 10 principles of Intuitive Eating that, if followed, promise to free a person of all his/her harmful ideas about food, diet, body-image...big promises!

Intuitive Eating is easy to read and well organized. It has a good balance of information, statistics and tales from the clinic. It is not a diet or a menu plan or even a guide to healthy food. It's a set of principles designed to help a reader depart from the manic diet/body culture that pervades our society.

Of course, not all good ideas can be applied generally, but I loved the book and highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Throne of Jade by Nomi Novik

This is the second book in the Temeraire series. In book one Temeraire learns some surprising things about his heritage and what he learns then sets the stage for this book--their adventure in China.

This was another totally absorbing book. Although I found all the battles and deaths distracting (you know I'm addicted to happy endings) I still found this book wholly entertaining. Again I was interested in Temeraire's questions as he seeks answers to what the life of a dragon should be like.

I think there was actually one F-word in this book--bothersome. Why is it there? Also, Temeraire has a...what do you call it with dragons? affair, I guess you could say. No details, no descriptions, no scenes, just mention of it. His first night with his love interest (and it really is not a big part of the story at all) results in some pretty rough consequences for Laurence.

Overall, this is a series I am really liking. I look forward to reading the rest of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

This is the first book in the Temeraire series. It takes place in Europe during the Napoleonic wars. Ship Captain Will Laurence finds himself unexpectedly in possession of a dragon's egg that is ready to hatch. He knows his duty...and he knows that it will possibly end his career in the Navy.

There are a lot of dragon books out there. But I've never read one set in the time of Napoleon. And I've never read one where the dragon is somewhat autonomous. Temeraire is an especially intelligent dragon and he asks questions about his role in the war, his subjection to the British government...he's a thinking dragon.

I really liked Naomi Novik's characters. I especially liked Will Laurence and his formality, his gentleman-like ways. I loved the close relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. 

I didn't like the many battles and the inevitable deaths--I like happy endings best, of course. I also didn't like the free and easy moral code of the Aerial Corps. Why is this lifestyle idealized this way in so many novels? But those are just small irritations in a book that I really, really liked a lot. I look forward to reading the whole series.



Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the book that follows Shades of Milk and Honey and continues the story of our Jane and her husband.
In this book they travel to France and get entangled with Napoleon's army.

This book was much more involved and exciting than the first book. The magic that Jane is mastering is much more useful in this story as well--in the first it was used only for entertaining.

I've enjoyed both books a lot.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

I really liked this book. It's like Jane Austen only with magic. I think there's a whole genre full of this stuff. Anyway, this one was lovely.

Plain Miss Jane Ellsworth envies her beautiful sister's looks even though she has great talents of her own... in magic. Not a particularly ladylike talent. This is her love story.

I really, really liked this book. There are a lot of stories about magic and it's interesting when an author has a fresh little twist on this oft-encountered theme. I have to admit that I found the carriage chase towards the end a little confusing...and the book wasn't perfect in its period details, and I got very irritated with Jane's sister's jealousy of Jane...but all in all I liked Mary Kowal's characters and her unique take on magic in this entertaining story.

Squeaky clean, too, by the way!

Bloodline by James Rollins

This is part of the Sigma Force series. The Sigma Force is a group of warriors who works for a division of the government--I'm a little foggy on the details of their little task force, but those aren't important anyway. This is essentially an adventure story--lots of mystery, intrigue, danger, even a little romance. There's also usually some science in there. In fact, at the end of each of his books, James Rollins gives references for the factual items that he bases his fictional stories on.

I really like this series. I like the characters and I like James Rollins' imaginative conflicts. It's hard to see how one author can think of so many plots in which the safety of the world is at stake! In this book the Sigma Force group finally unravels the mystery of "the Guild". If you've followed this series you will know the importance of this.

This was interesting, exciting and very fun to read. James Rollins is inconsistent in his use of bad language. I've read books of his where there is very little and then books where there is a lot (Sandstorm, for instance). This book had a few very bad words in it. Two, I think. Other than those little shockers, it was a great read.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt

When I was young, my sister collected many Victoria Holt books and she and I gleefully read them all. I saw this one at the library and brought it home to see if it still gives me the same pleasure that it did then.

Victoria Holt writes romantic adventures--rather gothic, always mysterious. In each of her stories, our heroines unfailingly find themselves endangered by their love situations before their heroes inevitably find them and rescue them and all is well.

In this book Helena Trant, always enchanted by the lore of the Black Forest, meets her doom there--thrice! Once as a schoolgirl and twice as an adult.

I do still enjoy these stories. I find Victoria Holt's dialogue a little stilted, but I have always enjoyed the stolid sensibility of her heroines. They always find themselves in fantastic situations that they somehow digest with British common sense. Still, despite the phlegmatic natures of our leading ladies, the dashing men in their lives find them irresistible and this, of course, leads to all their trouble and then, in the end, to their blissful resolutions.

Victoria Holt doesn't use bad language in her books and she doesn't include sex scenes either (although there are plenty of love scenes, they are not explicit in any way). Her stories are romantic and rather predictable and always entertaining. They may not be quite as enchanting to me now as they were when I was younger, but I still enjoy them.

Vienna Blood by Frank Tallis

This is a historical mystery. It takes place in (as you might gather from the title) Vienna in the very first years of the 20th century. Our main characters are Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt and his friend, psychologist Dr. Max Liebermann. The story opens with the slaughter at the zoo of the emperor's favorite snake. This killing is closely followed by the brutal slaying and mutilation of several women of dubious reputation. Detective Inspector Rheinhardt is called in to investigate and he consults Dr. Liebermann (a student of Freud) about the possible mental/emotional state of what is shaping up to be a serial killer.

The relationship between the two men is interesting. They are both very musical and find a musical connection with the murders as well. I found the political background of the mystery very interesting too. One gets a sense of the social turbulence that preceded the coming war. I started reading the next in this series, but found it a little too Freudian for my taste. A little Freud goes a long way, I believe. Still, this book was captivating and I enjoyed it very much.

I have to mention that Frank Tallis must have the largest vocabulary of any writer I am familiar with. I encountered at least a dozen words in this book (a mystery, no less!) that I had to look up in order to define. So fun! I was romanced from the beginning by Mr. Tallis' use of words like "fenestrated", "hierophant", "horripilated", "batrachian" and "crepitating". Sigh. Loved that.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

This is one of those sweeping generational novels. It's also a bit of a romantic adventure.

A little girl is left on the dock in an Australian port town. She doesn't know her name and can't say where she traveled from or where she is going. She is eventually adopted by the dock master and raised as a daughter in his home. She is very happy....until he tells her on her 18th birthday the truth of her origins.

This book is the story of her search for her roots. The mystery is not quite unraveled in her lifetime, though. It is her granddaughter who finally digs out the whole story.

The book was entertaining and interesting. But. It all hinged on one very unlikely co-incidence that felt very contrived (the fall on the boat, fyi). And that kind of thing really bugs me. Still, despite a predictable ending, the story was engaging enough and I enjoyed reading it.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

This classic novel is an active piece of abolitionist literature. It's full of religion, suffering, hope, terror, joy.... and it is beautiful.

We meet some slaves who live in Kentucky, close to the border of Ohio, on the estate of a benevolent master....who finds himself in difficult financial straits and decides to sell two of them. We follow these two for the next several years. We meet their fellow slaves and we follow them through their experiences--good and horribly bad.

Can there be any good endings in a book about slavery? In this book Harriet Beecher Stowe makes even the awful parts seem better by the nobility of her characters and their integrity even in the midst of their suffering. I felt uplifted by the dignity of Uncle Tom. He touched for good every one that he encountered.

Still, it is a book meant to make a strong statement against slavery and in defense of the natural intelligence and competence of these people who were stolen from Africa--and it really does.

I was surprised at how much I liked the book. I highly recommend it to all ages.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

This is a Regency Romance in the classic style (not a "bodice ripper"). I love Georgette Heyer. Well, I love her romances. Her mysteries are entertaining, if unexceptional, and her histories are rather dry--or at least I find them so--but her romances are witty and sweet and perfect.

This book is about the arranged marriage between the Earl of Rule and Elizabeth Winwood. Except Lizzy is in love with a solider and doesn't really want to marry the earl. She knows she must, though, to save her family from financial distress. Enter Horatia ("Horry"), Lizzy's much younger sister, who decides to offer herself to Rule in place of  Elizabeth, thereby saving Elizabeth from a loveless marriage and enabling her to marry her soldier. Horry, we are told, has glowering eyebrows and a stutter, but is also entirely engaging. Will Rule accept her offer?

This is not one of my favorite Georgette Heyers, but it is still charming and entertaining. Somehow all of the Heyer ladies are captivating and all the men romantic and masterful. I always enjoy her romances.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Civilized World by Susi Wyss

This books takes place in Africa. Susi Wyss set out to write a book to, as she says, "represent the Africa I know and love, not the sensationalistic one people hear about in the media. Yes, famines exist, as do civil wars and AIDS. But people still live their lives, with the same joys and frustrations and desires all of us experience. I pictured characters who were like people I'd known, often struggling, sometimes succeeding--both supported and held back by their rich traditions."

I think there is no doubt that she did just that in this book.

The Civilized World is actually a collection of short stories that connect to form a bigger story. Some of the stories are independent of the bigger story, but most of them are interconnected.

I enjoyed her female characters especially. Her male characters are either flawed or flat generally, and her portrayal of marriage is rather negative. But her writing is clear and evocative and the book is definitely a good read.

One note of caution, there is a sex scene (married) in the chapter titled "Waiting for Solomon".

The book is well worth reading.

The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

There was a time when I was an avid reader of all things by Anne McCaffrey. I LOVED her Pern series and gobbled up each book as it was released. I believe I've read every single book she's written, even the early ones! However, like so many current authors, her books are all too often less about the story and more about social commentaries and this book is very much in that vein. I think I have lost my taste for the Pern series.

If you have been keeping up with current events on Pern, you will know that the Red Star has been moved out of its dangerous orbit in regards to Pern and that, after this turn, thread will no longer fall. This means that the dragonriders must find another occupation in order to support themselves, since the holds and halls will no longer be tithed to support them in return for their services to Pern. This book chronicles, in large part, this search for and discovery of a meaningful future for the dragonriders.

I was engaged throughout the whole book, as is usual for me with any of McCaffrey's books. I have loved getting lost in her stories for many years. But I found this one particularly heavy handed with its messages of sexual freedom, liberality, tolerance and "down with tradition"! I still read the earlier Pern books with enjoyment, but this one is not nearly as transporting.

Pause for an airing of another one of my opinions (go ahead and skip to the last little paragraph if you want):

 I acknowledge that every author includes his/her opinions and points of view in each book he/she writes. One of the things I really like to do is discover a hidden message, to winkle out how I, as the reader, have been led to feel or think a certain way, to like or dislike a particular character. Mysteries are fun because they trick the reader and then surprise him at the end! Romances are entertaining because they mislead the reader, gently manipulating her emotions all through each book. This is one of the things I really enjoy about reading. But what I do NOT like is when I can really feel myself being manipulated. I look for the subtleties, the ambiguities that gently nudge the reader but still leave room for ambivalence. To be honest, I like best when either a book A) completely agrees with my personal point of view (don't we all!!) or B) challenges my thinking in a subtle way, making me ask questions, but not forcing me into a defensive position.

This book fails to do this. The storyline is still entertaining--Anne McCaffrey is so good at that!! But the social messages that are shoved down the reader's throat are so loud that they distract too much from McCaffrey's fine storytelling. This is an unbalanced book.

Still, if you like Pern, you'll find it a good read.

The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr

This book is the story of a scientist and how he discovered and then proved that scent is not a "shape", but a "vibration".

WARNING: This book is full of foul language. The author quotes the scientist, one Luca Turin, and Luca apparently can't explain himself without a lot of swearing. Strange. I always imagine that the well-educated grow out of that kind of language. But not Luca Turin. In fact, he seems, although brilliant, to be a little morally un-evolved. So I can't recommend this book without serious reservations. If you're the kind that can't overlook more than a few dozen F-words, then skip this book. Or borrow mine cuz I blacked them all out. I found them very distracting.

I stuck with this book (despite the language which is usually a deal breaker for me) because for a long time I have found the study of scent fascinating. I love perfumes of all kinds--the ones you apply, the ones you burn, the oils, the sprays, the lotions... and I've always been very interested in the evocative power of scent, said to be the most powerfully evocative of all the senses. Luca Turin is a perfume expert and there's a lot about perfume in this book. I really liked those parts. But his theory of scent--the vibration theory-- is very interesting as well.

Because of the lack of any willing advocates for the opposing theory (the shape theory), this book is less balanced than it could be. The author excuses this by explaining that the proponents of this theory all refused to be interviewed for this book. In fact, the scent industry as a whole seems to have completely ignored Luca Turin's very convincing work. It is convincing to the reader, of course, because it's all from his point of view and the failure of any other scientists to be interviewed robs the reader of this balanced point of view. We see it all from Luca's side and he is very convincing. I was convinced, anyway. :)

Luca Turin is characterized as a turbulent, sloppy, sometimes crude, controversial, visionary scientist. It's always interesting to me when I, the reader, both dislike and believe in a character. It's a testament to good writing when I can be sympathetic to a basically unsympathetic character. That's the tightrope that Mr. Burr seems to walk when chronicling these years of Luca Turin's life.

I did learn a lot from this book. There were parts that were less interesting than others, but I was continually engaged in this book up until the end, which is saying something when one is talking about a scientific book. Despite the terrible language, I consider this to be a worthwhile read. Come and borrow my copy.

Jovah's Angel by Sharon Shinn

This is book two in this series. The first one is Archangel. This one is set in Samaria, of course, but it takes place some 150 years after the first one and the archangel Gabriel, who is the main character in Archangel is now just a legend.

In this book we meet Alleluia, the newest archangel, and Delilah, a fallen archangel, among a large cast of other characters. Both angels are unhappy and this book chronicles their separate journeys to reach where they both truly belong. There's also flooding, communication problems with their God, interstellar travel, disillusionment, miracles, an exodus... you know how much I dislike summaries. (I do like making lists, though.)

I liked this book a lot. I saw a lot of religion in the first book and if one reads this one from the same point of view, one might be....disturbed? The question of God is further investigated and the conclusions are very ambiguous.

This book was also much more reminiscent of Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series. The political intrigue, the relationships between a "higher" class of beings...I don't want to make any more comparisons lest I give too much away.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I am really enjoying the writing of Sharon Shinn. Oh, there is one thing that bothers me in this series (and in the McCaffrey series too) and it's pretty subtle here (less subtle in McCaffrey) and that is that the most sympathetic characters are also the most inclined to glorify extra- or pre-marital sexual relationships. As if these are the most evolved and most enlightened kinds of romantic relationships and those that are more chaste are rather backwards. Hm. Sharon Shinn isn't particularly heavy-handed with this very socially current theme, but she's included it in no uncertain terms. It bothers me. But! There are no graphic sex scenes and no bad language. It's an interesting and an entertaining book. I still really enjoy all the religious references. I find them thought provoking. So far I find this series very good.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

This is an adorable, totally feel-good book that will join my top ten group of books to read when I feel in need of an uplifting escape (or....more prosaically, they will join my collection of "thumb-sucking" books. As a devotee of the habit when I was young--for far longer, in fact, than my parents would have liked me to have been--I have, in remembrance of that simple source of peaceful comfort and quiet joy, labeled this particular group of go-to books as my "thumb-sucking" collection. So.)

A squeaky clean Regency romance, this one is also uplifting and clever. There are some laugh out loud moments and, of course, there is one very satisfying ending.

Marianne Daventry pines for the country. Her mother recently dead, her father mourning in France, Marianne has been bored and lonely in Bath, staying with a gruff but lovable Aunt. When she's invited to spend a few months in the country with her sister at the estate of the man her sister wants to marry, Marianne jumps at the chance. An encounter with an aloof stranger, a hold-up by a highwayman and a wonderful friendship later, she finds herself conflicted and confused. But don't worry! It all ends well.

I really loved this book. It's not particularly deep, but there are a few layers and a whole bunch of good characters, a gorgeous setting, a lovable hero and heroine...I think I'll read it again tonight.

A Matter of Magic by Patricia Wrede

There are two books in this volume: Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward. They follow the story of Kim who has been raised in the streets of London and trained to be a thief. She is hired to steal something from a magician but he catches her and invites her to join him. This is when her life begins to change.

This was a charming pair of books that I enjoyed reading. They were quick to get through and the main characters were very likeable. They're set in Regency England but the setting doesn't feel as prominent as it does in some Regency books. In fact, these stories are simpler than many--definitely in the Young Adult realm. Still, they are engaging, squeaky clean and fun to read.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This review is by Isaiah, age 14

This book is about a boy called Huckleberry Finn who ran away with a runaway slave named Jim. They build themselves a raft and go on many adventures on the Mississippi River. It's set in the South during the time of slavery, in the 1880s.

My opinion on this book is that the language is hard to understand. Not only is it older language, but there is a lot of slang, especially from Jim. This made the language very hard to understand.I didn't particularly enjoy reading the book, but I didn't mind listening to the book (on CD). I suppose the book is more enjoyable and easier to read if the reader already knows about the storyline, so next time I read a book like this I'll read a summary or some sort of short version first before I read the full length novel itself.

I enjoyed the story very much, though, especially the part where Huckleberry Finn needed Tom Sawyer's help to get Jim out of jail (after he had been recaptured). The beginning of the book wasn't half bad either.

I know this book is a "classic" and I think it's worth reading. But I recommend that the young reader looks up the storyline first so they go into the novel with a good idea of what is going on.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Piano Practice and Performance by Barry and Linda Wehrli

This is actually one of the most helpful piano books I've purchased over the last few years. I bought it on my Kindle, though, and I'd much rather have a hard copy of it.

The foreword asks: "Have you ignored recurring mistakes . . . set aside a challenging piece in favor of easier music . . . not met your progress or performance expectations?" and then promises to help get you (the pianist) "back on track". It's written, say the authors, for both students and aspiring professionals.

The book is divided into sections covering correct practice routines, extinguishing problem spots, enhancing various piano playing techniques and strengthening memorization.

I found much good advice in this book and will put into practice--for my students as well as for myself--many of the authors' recommendations. It was a short book full of practical concepts--well worth reading.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

This is the first book in a murder mystery series starring Chief of police Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson (yes, she's a woman). The books are set in the small New York town of Millers Kill. The other two books that I've read from this series are A Fountain Filled With Blood and Out of the Deep I Cry. I'll review all three books briefly in this blog.

I'm not sure this book (and its fellows) belong on my "Out of the Best Books" blog, actually. The mysteries themselves are fairly interesting. But what keeps the reader engaged is the relationship between the deeply religious Clare and the very married Russ. By the end of the first book, these two are in love. Their relationship is unconsummated, it's true. But they are both unfaithful to their vows (hers to God and his to his wife) emotionally. It's basically an adulterous relationship--not qualified to be a "best book".

That bothers me quite a bit. What bothers me even more, however, is how subtly the reader is led to root for this adulterous relationship--we really want the two to be together. We never meet Russ' busy wife so we never come to like her. This makes it easy for us to wish her to be cast off in favor of Clare, who we do know and really like. I find this whole idea disturbing and it's taken me three books of this series to figure out how I'm feeling about Clare and Russ and therefore how I'm feeling about this series.

In book two, A Fountain Filled with Blood there are plenty of exciting parts--including a helicopter crash which draws Clare and Russ even closer to each other. The plot in this book is a little vague--there's a heavy-handed homosexual message that doesn't seem to fit in with the overall motives for murder that end up being (sort of) uncovered. There is bad language scattered throughout the book--not from every character on every page, but enough so that when I finished the book, one of things I remembered clearly about it was the occasional bad language.

In book three, Out of the Deep I Cry there are, again, plot twists which bring our characters closer to each other. There's a historical aspect to this book that is interesting. There is bad language scattered throughout.

It's so interesting to me how beautifully I have been drawn into this series. It is a compliment to the writing of Julia Spencer-Fleming that she's written books filled with relative morality, adultery, foul language and violent situations in a series where one of the main characters is actually an active priest and the other an upstanding chief of police! Very good writing indeed.

This is a well-written series with mysteries that are engaging enough, but with an adulterous subplot that is guaranteed to draw in the reader. Caveat emptor.

Persuasion, a Latter-Day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison

This book is subtitled "A modern twist on Jane Austen's classic romance." I bought it on my Kindle because it was cheap and it got great reviews (and because, as I said in an earlier review, I am on a Persuasion kick). Much to my delight, I discovered as I read that it was an LDS book! I guess the title should have tipped me off....or perhaps I didn't really read any of those reviews? Anyway, it was a pleasure to read a clean love story along the lines of that of Frederick and Anne and to find so many little LDS (Mormon) references along the way.

Unlike many Christian novels, there was no heavy-handedness, no preaching. There was an extra twist to the basic Persuasion plot. I really liked our main characters, Neil and Anne. It was a fun read. I would be interested to see more from this author.

Captain Wentworth Home From the Sea by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Another Persuasion spin-off, this one is novella length and features Captain Wentworth after he has experienced a traumatic brain injury. He has been invalided out of the navy and returns without his memory to Kellynch hall and his sister Sophie. Anne just happens to be there housekeeping temporarily (the housekeeper is on a little vacation) for Sophie and her Admiral. So the reader is led to wonder: without a history behind them, can Frederick and Anne still fall in love?

That's the plot behind this "re-imagining of Jane Austen's Persuasion". 

As you can see, I'm on a bit of a Persuasion kick. There's one more of this type of novel that I have yet to review. This one is...okay. I didn't feel quite as at home with Ms.Simonsen's characterizations of this famous couple as I did with Susan Kaye's. Both main characters seem rather one-dimensional and stiff. Nothing was added to my knowledge or perception about either Anne or Frederick. Of course, if you are a Persuasion enthusiast, it's just fun to read about the characters in almost any setting...

Note, there were a few married sex scenes that were not too graphic.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Frederick Wentworth, Captain "For You Alone" by Susan Kaye

This is book two, following Susan Kaye's None But You. It was very nice. I think I've said all I need to about these two books in my review of the first (follow the link above).

Oh. These books are, unlike some of the awful spin-offs out there, squeaky clean, as is consistent with Jane Austen. Well, except for at the end of this one there is a modest married love scene. It doesn't seem out of character for these novels.

Persuasion is one of my very favorite Austen novels and I am very pleased that these books are not a departure from a story that I really like. If you're a Jane Austen fan, you'll enjoy these two books from Susan Kaye.

Frederick Wentworth Captain "None But You" by Susan Kaye

This is book one in Susan Kaye's two-volume retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. This version, as you can tell from its title, is Miss Austen's story from the point of view of Captain Frederick Wentworth.

I've read many spin-offs of the Austen books, but I think this one and its companion, For You Alone may be the best of the ones I've read. I really liked Captain Wentworth's voice. I felt that Susan Kaye's account of Frederick's activities when he was "off stage" in Jane Austen's book were consistent with what we know of him and with what we know of Persuasion. Of course, it was not perfect, but there were no glaring faults that distracted from the flow of the story. I liked it a lot.

FYI, this book ends shortly after Louisa Musgrove falls during their pleasure trip to Lyme. Then of course you won't be able to rest until you acquire and read the second half of the story. Sigh. I can't help but feel that when authors do this their primary purpose is to double dip into my wallet. Why else would they split up this story? Urgh.

My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt

This is a charming little book written in the epistolary style--why do I like books that are written in letters so much? In her letters, we meet Elinor Cowper, sister to the Dear Charlotte whose absence makes possible the reading of our story.

This is kind of a Jane Austen-type novel--except it isn't really because it's a mystery. Mrs. Woodstock, an unpleasant, domineering lady of the neighborhood has, after many years of complaining (vociferously) of ill health, passed away. But was it a natural death? The local magistrate, Sir Edward, must investigate. And of course Elinor must report all she learns from Sir Edward and her other neighbors to her absent sister Charlotte.

This is a gentle book--not suspenseful, not unexpected in any way, but charming and sweet, with a satisfying ending.

The Lazarus File by Donn Taylor

This is another very entertaining book by Donn Taylor. It is a spy thriller that takes place in Colombia, Costa Rica and other locations in that part of the world--with a foray or two into the U.S. Our hero, Mark Daniel, is a pilot deep undercover in the world of illegal drugs. He faces danger from the powerful men he flies drugs for and from the mole that is leaking information from the Agency.

 Unlike so many of this type of books, there was ZERO bad language and ZERO sex. Go Donn Taylor! There was a little romance and a lot of fights, suspense, danger....

I really liked this book. Donn Taylor leaves little relationship cliff hangers at the end of his books....they make a reader want to know more about his characters! I want to read more from him (especially more about Mark Daniels and Preston Barclay) but the only books I've found that he's authored are this one, his mystery Rhapsody in Red, and a book of poetry. For your next book Mr. Taylor, I vote for another Preston Barclay book!


Murder on Gramercy Park by Victoria Thompson

This is a mystery that takes place around the turn of the century in New York City.

Sarah Brandt, a midwife from a socially prominent family, is summoned by Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy to assist the wife of Edmund Blackwell, a magnetic healer. Mrs. Blackwell is in labor upstairs, and downstairs Mr. Blackwell is dead, apparently by his own hand. Detective Malloy would like Sarah to just stick with her midwife responsibilities, but of course she won't. They've worked together before, so they have a friendly relationship. Their relationship, as a matter of fact, is one of the most charming parts of the book.

I liked this book. It's part of a series, I believe. Victoria Thompson has been compared to Anne Perry. I like Anne Perry. I liked this book. The mystery was interesting and the main characters were very likeable. I particularly liked a book set at this point in history in The U.S. There are so many that are set in Britain, it seems. I liked reading about my own country's history.

Rhapsody in Red by Donn Taylor

Donn Taylor is a Christian author unlike most. His characters are not always actively religious, but they end up in situations that cause them some religious introspection. And. This little touch of religion is but a small, small part of the overall book. Donn Taylor's personal religious philosophy shows up, though, in the overall squeaky clean nature of his writing. I love that.

This book is a mystery. Our main character, Preston Barclay, is a college professor of history. He is also a widower of several years (4 I think) and is still deeply mourning his wife. An interesting thing about Professor Barclay is the musical hallucinations that he has suffered ever since the death of his wife (who was a pianist). This means that there is an unexpected musical counterpoint to every experience and thought that he has--an interesting and entertaining touch for the reader. I thought it might be distracting from the story, but it really isn't.

Preston's colleague Mara Thorn (she's a comparative religion professor) ends up working with him in investigating the murder of another instructor at their college. They must contend with threats to their jobs, to their freedom and even to their lives.

I really liked this book. The ending just begged for a second book in this series, but this, I discovered, is the only one!! Sigh.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner by Lisa Wingate

I think that I really like Lisa Wingate. The only other book I've read of hers is Talk of the Town, which I really liked. This one is along the same lines.

It takes place in Texas, where Lindsey Atwood has gone to spend some time with her family and friends while her daughter is spending some time with her dad (Lindsey's ex-husband) in Mexico.

I don't like writing summaries.

I like it when main characters are dynamic--where they experience growth. In this book Lindsey:  learns to trust her ex-husband a little, she investigates a mystery, she lets her little girl grow up a bit AND she meets someone she may be able to fall in love with.

Yup, this is a romance. And it's squeaky clean and uplifting as well. I didn't find it quite as engaging as Talk of the Town, but I liked it well enough to be very interested in reading the rest of Lisa Wingate's books. I like her characters, I like her settings (she makes Texas look like such a great place to live!) and I love her clean romances.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley is one of my all-time favorite authors, and this book does not disappoint. It is unusual and very lovely.

Mirasol has always been sensitive to the earthlines, but she never expected a call to be Chalice. The violent deaths of the former master and chalice have left the demesne in a chaotic state and not only does Mirasol have to figure out how to be Chalice, and try to balance the earthlines, but she must also work with a new Master who is not quite human.

I so loved this book. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but I enjoyed every minute of trying to get the big picture of this story. I loved that Mirasol was a beekeeper--Robin McKinley draws such lovely pictures of the bees and their relationship with Mirasol.

Robin McKinley is a lyrical and original writer. All her stories are all her own, full of bright characters and rich settings. I really, really enjoyed this book.

Gift of Magic by Lynn Kurland

This is the last installment of the Nine Kingdoms story of Sarah of Doire and Ruithneadh of Ceangail. Their story started in A Tapestry of Spells and continued in Spellweaver.

This book was pretty good--a satisfying end to a good saga. I really like Sarah and Ruith, so I enjoyed reading the conclusion of their story. And of course I always appreciate how very clean Lynn Kurland's romances are. I really like that. There's chemistry, but no sex scenes. 

There wasn't as much action in this book as some of the others and it felt a little more meandering...a little like filling pages rather than the plot driving the story. And it bugs me just a little bit that even though we know Sarah and Ruith are very much in love, there's still the silly little places where Ruith sees Sarah is angry and is in doubt as to whether or not she's going to pull her knives on him. Oh please. And they seem to always be uncertain of each other even after significant commitments have been made between them. That's irritating. It's like the romance resolves and then is uncertain over and over again.

Aside from those minor irritations, I liked the resolution of their "mission". It was a little bit unexpected and definitely interesting. I was glad to have their romance finally settled. It was a good book. I have enjoyed reading the Nine Kingdom series, especially these last 3 books. Will we read more about the Nine Kingdoms? Probably. I'll look forward to it, I think.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I really like Shannon Hale but I had put off reading this book because of the title--silly, I know, but I kind of have to be in the mood to read a "princess" book.

However, I was surprised by this book! It's not really a "princess" book at all. It's a book about courage, change, education, friendship, family, love and a little bit of mysticism. I really liked it.

It's set in the mountains in an extremely remote village where the only industry is the quarry. In fact, to these people, the quarry is everything. But what happens when it is decreed that the prince will choose his bride from among the girls in this village? More than you can imagine, actually.

This is the kind of book that I enjoy most. It has: strong characters that change through adversity, varied positive messages, and an uplifting ending. I guess it's been marketed for the voracious female "tween" market, but it's a sweet read for anyone. Highly recommended.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I actually read this book several years before I started this blog. I've been thinking about "good writing" lately and this book came immediately to mind--without its title or author. Of course. So after searching for and finding it on the internet, I decided to add it to the blog.

This is probably the most beautifully written book I've read in a very long time. I found the language transporting. Who writes like this today? I can't think of a single person. Suggestions, anyone?

However, the reason I do not have this book in my collection is because the story itself is heartbreaking. In common with so much beautiful literature, the writing is fantastic but the story is not. Why is this? In today's literature it seems almost as though the story trumps the writing and, while there is nothing actually wrong with this, I would really love to read a book that has both transporting language AND an uplifting story line.

This is the story of a refined Eastern young lady who falls in love with and marries (and ultimately betrays and is never forgiven by) a rough and gifted Western young man. Stegner sets this on the Western frontier and he makes that time come vibrantly alive.  Several years and hundreds of books later, I still have bright pictures in my mind of his characters and their surroundings. This is truly a memorable book.

If you have the stomach for an unhappy ending and have a desire to read some truly wonderful writing, give this book a try.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

This book is subtitled "A Novel of the Last Tsar" and it tells the story of the last few weeks of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children--from the kitchen boy's point of view.

I've read a few things about this family, most notably a big compilation of Nicholas' and Alexandra's letters to each other and Nicholas' diary entries. Very interesting and equally heartbreaking. I thought this was just another point of view on the same tragic story... and it was, but it was also surprisingly different.

The kitchen boy is telling this story as he is an old man. He's recording his version of this story for his beloved granddaughter. He has a legacy for her and a mission for her.

And the end of this book is great. I was totally surprised. I really enjoyed it.

Warning: there is a bit of graphic violence in here--the royal family is horribly murdered, after all--and there is one very foul word (the soldiers are awful).

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

This is another of Malcom Gladwell's very interesting books. It is subtitled "The Story of Success" and it's all about the elements that line up in the lives of people who have found great success in many different areas.

As usual for me with one of Gladwell's books, I found it both engaging and very interesting. I think I like it even more because it convinces me that success is just as much about timing and location and just the right circumstances as it is about hard work and talent. Sort of makes a girl feel like that the only reason that extraordinary success hasn't found her yet really has nothing to do with her (lack of) talent and hard work. Don't you have to laugh at yourself a little when one of the reasons you like a book is that it fits your idea of the world or feeds your vanity? What's not to like about that?

Anyway, it was a fascinating read that introduced me to some new ideas. Do I think they're true? Hm. Maybe. In any case, it's cool to understand the possibilities. I'll be watching for the background stories of some of these wildly successful people from now on. And I've already blamed my temper on my Scottish heritage. A useful book in many ways. :) I really liked it. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manhunt by James L. Swanson

I've had the YA version of this book for many months, waiting on my shelf to be read (along with dozens of other books--yay!). The books are the same story, of course, but the YA book is somewhat condensed. And (I think) it has better pictures.

This is the well-researched story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the 12-day hunt for John Wilkes Booth and all of his accomplices. It was very interesting. In some places it was gory. In some places the writing felt overly dramatic. The whole book, though, was engaging and educational. It was not at all dry. James L. Swanson used, in many cases, the actual words of those who had been witnesses or even participants.

I found it interesting that, while the reader naturally condemns Booth for his criminal killing of the president of the United States (and cheers his hunters), Mr. Swanson portrayed Booth in such a way that the reader also feels a measure of sympathy for him. Those 12 days after the assassination were miserable ones for Booth.

I particularly liked the end of the book where Mr. Swanson wrote about what happened to each of the main characters AFTER all the excitement was over. That was cool and sad in a way too. It was a great book. It definitely has a place on my history shelf.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

This is the first of a series of mysteries featuring our title character, Maisie Dobbs. She is a highly intelligent, very well-trained, not too young lady who has a unique type of detective skill.

In this, her first case, her personal story is shared with the reader. We read about Maisie's childhood, her adolescence and the time she spent nursing in the war. Then we fast forward to her first case as an investigator on her own. And this particular case forces her to sort out her feelings about what happened in her life during the war.

I really liked this story. It wasn't lighthearted--not to be considered a "cozy" (which type of mystery I usually really like)--but it's not as gritty as PD James, perhaps. I found all of Ms.Winspear's characters likeable and I lost myself in Maisie's story. I look forward to reading the books that follow this one.