Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Excavation by James Rollins

     I really like James Rollins. I am starting to really like this genre--adventure--even though I have already found that the quality of the writing and originality of the stories vary greatly from author to author. Actually, there are not a lot of original adventure stories out there, are there? So I guess perhaps it's the writing that makes the real difference. And James Rollins has the touch for sure. I have liked every book I've read by him. This one was not an exception.

     This book starts out and finishes in the Andean jungle. The adventure starts when the disappointing mummy that Professor Henry Conklin finds turns out to contain a mysterious and powerful secret. Then the reader begins a Indiana-Jones-like archeological adventure that doesn't stop from the moment the dig caves in to the moment the plane lands in Cuzco.

     The book was a bit of a slow starter; it took me a few chapters to really get grabbed, but by page 40 I was totally caught.

Sex: None, although there is some sexual tension between some characters and some kisses are exchanged.
Bad language: There is plenty. I counted about 20 serious swear words in the 416 pages of this book. I scribbled them all out so I could add the book to my shelf and not worry if my kids wanted to pick it up. Ha.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

     This was a very lovely book. It is mystery, history, romance, chick lit, a ghost story... a little bit of everything. I really, really liked it.

     Willa Jackson still lives in the little North Carolina town that her great-grandparents used to dominate. Their wealth, power and generosity was a legend until they lost everything when the logging industry collapsed. Today Willa lives modestly in the town she was raised in, working in her organic sports wear shop in the trendy area of town. But when her great-grandparents' old house is renovated, a mystery is uncovered and Willa's perception of her family and herself is changed in a way that changes her relationships and her life permanently.

   That summary doesn't really cover it. My favorite part of the book was its portrayal of the kind of friendship that binds women together for life. In fact, I got this book in the mail from my bff and I couldn't help but feel it was a bit of a love letter from her to me, a warm hug to me from a sweet friend. I closed the book with warm and fuzzy thoughts about the way women help each other and they way we SHOULD help each other.

    And of course I loved the two love stories that developed over the course of the book too. I love a good love story. I highly recommend the book, with the provisos listed below. Mostly I just loved it.

Sex: Yup. Both couples begin sexual relationships outside of marriage. There is a brief petting scene and several non-descriptive sex scenes.
Bad language: I don't remember any...I think there is some mild swearing, though.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

     There are so many books that have been made into movies, and it is such a pleasure to see characters that you've read come alive on the screen. I saw the movie version of this book many months before I finally read the actual story by Winifred Watson. She wrote Miss Pettigrew in 1938 and her little story was made into a movie starring the adorable Amy Adams in 2008.

    Which is better? Well, I tend to think that a person likes best the version he or she encountered first--if you see the movie first, you'll tend to like it better than the book and vice versa. I saw the movie first and I do indeed like the movie better than the book, but I also thought the book was cute as well.

     However, I do have some mixed feelings about the book. Had it been written in the 21st century, it would be pretty racy, with Delysia and her multiple lovers, her possible illegitimate children, her boyfriend's gifts of cocaine, drunken luncheons, rows in the night club, Miss Pettigrew's fall from exact virtue (although not yet all the way into depravity), the cold comfort of the "righteous" and the warm and charitable welcome from the "wicked" (and on and on)...all these elements are pretty unsavory to me. But this softened version is a sweet, ugly tale glamorized and made uplifting. So it's a Cinderella tale with a fast, dissipated setting yet told in a heart-warming way. Hm. Delysia is a lovely effervescent character and her friends are endearingly accepting of our poor Miss Pettigrew, who has fallen to such a low in her undistinguished and difficult life. Miss Pettigrew finds happiness in vice, which seems wrong, but we can't help but hope that she finds her fairy-tale ending, however unlikely that might seem. (Can she really be happy with the philandering and superficial set of folks that have gathered her in? Will she find love and security with Joe?)

     So. Although the movie is lovely and the book is charming, the story at the bottom of it all is one of finding happiness in vice and I just don't think that is really possible. The book is much more explicitly this way. The movie softens it and makes the happy endings more conventional (maybe that's another reason that I prefer the movie?). So I recommend it with reservations.

Sex: Lots, but no descriptions at all
Bad language: none
Drugs: Delysia has cocaine, but doesn't take it (Miss Pettigrew throws it away in horror). There's plenty of alcohol and Miss Pettigrew gets drunk. She also smokes a cigar to protect Delysia.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

    Well, this is DEFINITELY a book for women. It's a little like The Help, but not as stirring. It takes place in a small town in Ohio and also, most notably, in Savannah Georgia. Our main character is the young girl Cecelia Rose Honeycutt and the main action of our story takes place in the 1960s.

     CeeCee's momma is going insane (really) and her daddy is absent, leaving CeeCee to carry the burden of worry, care and embarrassment that her mom's mental illness heaps on young CeeCee every day. Suddenly one day when she is 12, CeeCee's life changes with the death of her momma and the arrival of her great aunt Tootie, who sweeps her up and carries her away to her gracious home in Savannah, Georgia.

     This book was pleasant, with a glowing portrait of Savannah and the gracious life of the wealthy white and their black servants (who are also their friends) being the most memorable part of the story, I think. There was no powerful punch here, even though poor CeeCee had to work out a lot of negative feelings as a result of her difficult childhood. Everything was romanticized and softened. That's usually just the way I like it, but something about this book just rang very false and made it nothing more than a pretty story to me. I don't think it's the gritty details that make a book feel real--I wasn't missing those exactly--but somehow this book felt very contrived, like something that almost happened, but never really could. The adventure on the beach, the slingshotted slugs, the exotic next-door neighbor, the lovely group of garden party ladies, the glaring lack of any good men at all (unless they're dead)....it all felt very carefully constructed and not at all genuine.

     However! I am wasting too much time on criticism when this was really a pleasant book filled with glistening word pictures. I think the best thing about this book is how lovingly Savannah Georgia is painted. Makes me want to move there right now. That is, IF I had money enough for the gracious living described. As far as the book being set in the 60s, I think the setting had more of a timeless feel. It didn't feel firmly tied to that decade but it didn't feel distractingly anachronistic either. It was a lovely book that was an easy and engaging read.

Sex: There are no titillating sex scenes, although the mildly villainous neighbor plays around (in her sheer lingerie) with the married sheriff on her porch.
Swearing: A few swear words--I think I counted 2.