Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Faith of a Scientist - 38/81

The Faith of a Scientist by Dr. Henry Eyring, LDS books category

This was a very small book I had heard about and wanted to read for myself. Dr. Henry Eyring was a chemist and father of LDS Apostle Henry B. Eyring. The first chapter seems to be taken from a talk, but the rest are essays on various aspects of religion and science.

My favorite chapter was the one called 'The Six Worlds.' I really enjoyed the message. Eyring says we all live in 6 worlds - the subatomic world, the atomic world, the cellular world, the 'real world', the astronomical world, and the physical world. So we go from incredibly small to incredibly large, and every day, we are a part of each of these worlds. I liked the way that sort of put things into place for me.

This was a very quick read, but I recommend it for LDS readers or for those interested in the LDS view of science.

Mistress of the Monarchy, by Alison Weir, 12/81

mistress of the monarchy

In my quest to read everything I can about historical C/Katherines, over a year ago I read Katherine by Anya Seton. It was really dramatic, and the ultimate historical novel/romance, and I liked it for the most part. But I was only too pleased to find that Alison Weir recently released a biography of Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt (son of Edward III of England), and whose descendants range from most of European's monarchy and six American presidents.

I can't imagine it was easy to write this book. Fourteenth century England was not known for its accurate recordkeeping, rarely even noting birthdates, and fewer people read or wrote. Royal portraiture was even a rarity at this point. So a biography of even a well known person such as Katherine Swynford requires a combination of research, detective work, and a lot of guessing. It took me a while to get past the proliferation of probablies, perhaps, must haves, and possablies that lived in every paragraph.

Besides the occasional tedium of descriptions of every residence and means of income belonging to both Katherine, John of Gaunt, their relatives and descendants, it was quite intriguing to get a look into this world beyond the novel format where you know most of the dialogue is made up or embellished. It was an especially turbulent point in English history, affected by plague and war, and culminating in what was to become the Wars of the Roses. Also worthy of note is the reaction of various people of that time to the scandalous yet loving relationship between Katherine and John over many years, and their ups and downs. I think I actually preferred this to Seton's novel.

#31/81 THE SUMMER OF 1787: The Men who Invented the Constitution

At the time that our Constitution was written, there were many issues that were regionally at odds and numerous compromises were required before this magnificent document was complete. This book dealt with the historical events that the state delegations eventually agreed to and how the compromises were arrived at.
The most contentious issues were slavery (protection of this institution was a must for the southern states), fair representation (a monumental issue for the small states) and how the executive branch would be structured(no one wanted a monarch).
The personalities that took part in this momentous effort are not always remembered as they actually performed. For instance, James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, was not selected for many of the significant committees and over 50% of the issues that he supported were not approved by the other delegates. George Mason refused to sign the Constitution. Few remember him as a founding father even though he spurred the revolution with the Fairfax Resolves in 1774, much of his writings for the Virginia Declaration of Rights were used in the Declaration of Independence, his compact with Maryland on behalf of Virginia started the Constitutional momentum, and his demand for amendments to the Constitution resulted in the Bill of Rights. Gouverneur Morris actually was the delegate who took all the approved articles and amendments, and consolidated them into what we now know as the US Constitution. His concise style clarified issues that had been muddled from thousands of words to hundreds. Yet few know of his contribution.
Unfortunately our founding fathers would never know that the seeds that they sowed with compromise concerning the issue of slavery would eventually contribute to the Civil War.
A very good history lesson is provided in this account of the start of our nation.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill (15/81)

C2007 374pages 4 stars
Category: The Monster Mash

Aging rock star Judas Coyne finds himself pursued by a particularly nasty ghost after being tricked into purchasing the dead man’s suit. Now Jude must fight to keep both himself and those he loves alive while investigating why the spirit is after his blood.

A few months ago I heard a lot about this book. I was not familiar with Joe Hill so I looked up his author page on LT. The face I saw looked awful familiar to me... was it....Stephen King’s son?! My, my, my. I like Stephen King but I am a huge fan of his wife, Tabitha King. So I read this book out of good old-fashioned curiosity. I had to know... were the writing genes passed down to Junior? The answer is an unequivocal Yes. This book is creepy. It didn’t keep me awake at night or give me nightmares but it stayed in my thoughts constantly in my waking hours. And I think that’s exactly what Hill and his father are particularly gifted with. They write about scary things but in an everyday manner so that when you’re going about your day - walking down a hall, feeding your dog, riding in a car, etc - you’re thinking about their stories. I really enjoyed Hill’s writing style, perhaps a bit edgier than his dad’s. I’ll be reading more from him.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (25/81)

Category: Around the World
Country: Nigeria

Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of corruption and unrest in Nigeria, but it is also as harrowing story of domestic violence. Kambili lives a life of priviledge with her family, in a large house dominated by her pious Catholic father. When Kambili and her brother JaJa visit the poorer, but freer, happier home of their aunt, it leds to the ultimate disintegration of their family.
From this book I learnt about the conflict between Catholicism and the old religions in Nigeria, and the use of English as opposed to native languages, which was fascinating. There is a lot of "local colour" in Purple Hibiscus, but this is overshadowed by the constant threat of violence. The character of the father is a hypocritical bully, outwardly religious and generous to the community, but instilling fear in his family. Sadly this type of abusive personality is universal.
Purple Hibiscus was an impressive debut, but an uncomfortable read.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (23/81)

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
Category: Audiobooks

Moist von Lipwig, con man extraordinaire who unfortunately got caught, narrowly avoids dying...only to be practically forced into becoming Postmaster at the long-defunct Post Office of Anhk-Morpork. The task is, well, impossible - he has only two employees and a golem for a parole officer to make sure he stays in line. The Post Office has bigger problems than that, though, with its mail bursting out of every room and everyone using the Grand Trunk to send messages. Maybe it's a perfect job for a con man, after all.

Though the 30th in the Discworld series, you don't need to have read any of the others to enjoy the story (I've only read one other one that had nothing at all to do with this). Pratchett's trademark humor made me laugh out loud at times, and Stephen Briggs did an excellent job narrating. 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at Born Reader.

A Friend of the Earth by T C Boyle (24/81)

Category: The Complete Works Of…T C Boyle

It is 2025 and Ty Tierwater is the manager of a private menagerie of some of the last surviving animals in the world. The world has been devastated global warming, floods and winds. Out of the blue, Ty’s ex-wife Andrea turns up and Ty tells the story of his previous life as a notorious eco-warrior.

After the disappointment of The Inner Circle I was wondering if I'd made a huge mistake with this category, but thankfully this book has revived my faith in Boyle. It shared many of the qualities that I enjoyed in the other three books of his I'd enjoyed; colourful characters, believable emotions and a lot of imagination.

The story moves between 2025 written in the first person from Ty’s perspectives, to the past (late 80s and 90s) told in the third person. This changing perspective is a technique Boyle does well and here was no exception.

Some reviews have criticised it for being too preachy, but I didn't find that at all. The actions of the environmentalists are shown to have been pointless and their motivations at times questionable. It is also as much a story about loss and family, which was much more moving than the environmental aspect.

Rather a bleak depiction of the future, but a good read and I'm not feeling so daunted by the prospect of the rest of the category now.

Ice Moon by Jan Costin Wagner (23/81)

Category: Crime & Detectives (with global theme)
Country: Finland

At the start of Ice Moon a policeman, Kimmo Joentaa sees his young wife dies prematurely. Still in a state of grief, he returns to work where the latest case involves a woman murdered in her bed. Then a man is killed in a hostel, in a seemingly unconnected murder, but Joentaa feels they are the work of serial killer and that his recent loss has given him a special connection with the killer.

Although it is a crime novel, there was not a huge mystery here as we were also shown things from the perspective of the killer. So you sort of know who the killer is, but it is a case of seeing how exactly he fits in with the victims. This is an interesting angle and along with the moving portrayal of Joentaa’s grief, it raises Ice Moon above the standard crime novel.

As for the setting of Finland, it was not as large a part of the book as the settings have been in some other crime novels I’ve read, but it felt similar to other Nordic stories in its tone.

Black Magic: 13 Chilling Tales (10/81)

Black Magic is an anthology of short stories ostensibly all dealing with the theme of black magic, forbidden sorceries and texts, voodoo and diabolism. It does fall somewhat short of that, with one story about a mad scientist and another about a vampire. (By Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ray Bradbury, respectively.) However, those are both quite striking stories, so perhaps it's not so bad to break a little from the premise of the collection.

The other stories are grouped into five sections: Devil Worship, Witchcraft, Curses, Magic Writing and Incantation, and Voodoo. As well as the Hawthorne and Bradbury, there's entries from Algernon Blackwood, H. G. Wells, M. R. James, Avram Davidson, and Theodore Sturgeon. Of particular note are James' "Casting the Runes," a nicely atmospheric tale of supernatural vengance, and Davidson's "Where do you live, Queen Esther?," which reflects that author's talent for mixing the fantastic and everyday to stunning effect.

I also quite liked Margaret Irwin's "The Book," a tale of a cursed object leading to a man's doom; the story uses a rather novel approach towards the first symptoms of the curse. Blackwood's "Ancient Sorceries" was nicely atmospheric, though the end explained the strange phenomena in a way that felt a little too pat. (I would have prefered it a little more ambiguous.)

As with all collections, some stories are stronger than others, and if I had to pick a low point, it'd be "Cheese" by A. E. Coppard, which seemed like it should either be funny or scary, but didn't manage to do either quite right.

I wouldn't recommend seeking out the collection, as most of these stories could be found elsewhere. But if you ever run across this little bit of pulp in a used book store, it's definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

#30/81 DEAD HEAT by Dick Francis & Felix Francis

Max Moreton owns a restaurant in Newmarket England. After a massive food poisoning incident at a racetrack dinner where he was the guest chef and a fatal bombing at a luncheon he was catering at the racetrack the next day, you would think that life couldn't get any worse. Not so in this extremely entertaining and well-written mystery.
Max sets out to clear his reputation of the mysterious food poisoning incident and finds his life turned upside in numerous ways before successful resolving the issues.
I am definitely going to have to find more of the Dick Francis books. 4 1/2 stars!


Author: J. K. Rowling
Read: Feb 12

This cute little book relates tales and descriptions of all manner of magical creatures. All the creatures are classified as to their danger level to Wizards and Muggles alike, and where they can be found. It is extremely interesting that there are 10 different breeds of dragons as well as beasts such as merpeople, centaurs and unicorns which were given the opportunity to be otherwise classified but preferring their privacy chose to be marked as "beasts".
According to this book, only fairies, leprechauns, and unicorns have received favorable press by Muggles. Last, could it be that Bigfoot is really a Yeti?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Corpse in the Snowman - 37/81

The Corpse in the Snowman by Nicholas Blake, from Library Thing or Good Reads category

What could be more harmless and childish than a snowman? But the menace present from the beginning of the book makes it clear that this is not your ordinary snowman. There is indeed a body inside. Whose body is not revealed until the end of the book, but there's plenty of trouble before then. Nigel Strangeways is called in by an acquaintance of his wife's. She is disturbed by the behavior of a cat. Strangeways goes along to humor the old lady, but he soon agrees with her that something is seriously wrong at Easterham Manor. And the very next day after he arrives, the body of a young woman is found hanging in her bedroom. 

This has all the makings of a Golden Age Stately Home murder - the kind like Poirot or Inspector Alleyn would investigate. But the feeling soon changes to one of the more modern mysteries, with the introduction of sex, drugs, and well, not rock and roll, but definitely Not Quite. It's sort of a bridge between one type of mystery and another. Modern readers might find the beginning and the style a little old fashioned, but I did enjoy it. It is set, in fact, right on the beginning of World War II, so it's not really modern. In fact, I was prepared for revelations of a different sort and thought I knew exactly where the story was going, but I found myself surprised at the end. A great read and a good story.

A Perfect Brightness of Hope by Anita R Canfield (14/81)

The Prophet Nephi once wrote of life's jounery, "Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (2 Nephi 31:20)

But how many of us have the hope Nephi described, the powerful, expectant hope that enables us to "press forward" to the end? In A Perfect Brightness of Hope, Sister Canfield explains the power of hope in Christ, which can help us overcome all obstacles on the path of life. Hope, she notes, is a spiritual gift that comes from God through obedience, sacrifice, service, love, and studing the scriptures. We can pray with hope, even in the face of what seems hopeless, and the Lord will cause miracles to occur of us, our families, and others.

This is a book which I picked up a while back on my mission. I found it in the bargin bin and it is one of my favourite books which know matter how many times I have read it ( and it has been a few ) always amazes me. I loved it that much that I went and purchased a further 10 copies and gave them to people ...

I love the easy style of Anita's writing ... It is effortless, REAL and engaging ... It brings home that when you think you have no control over situtions and how to change them ... That you do have options open to you !!! .... And you don't have to face them alone ....

I have so many favourite quotes from this book .... And if you have ever seen my book it is one of the rare times that it is dog eared, comments written in the margins and highlighter throughout !!

"The Lord does not require us to be perfect in his covenants and commandments in this life. He doesn't require that we understand them all. He doesn't even require that we agree with him. What he requires from us is that we give him our hearts -and are willing - desire - to be obedient"

Whether we are fighting hopelessness and faithlessness because of adversity, or personal weakness, or because others have abused their agency, we have the power to use our own agency to "press forward". Turning a glimme of hope into a perfect brightness requires a lifetime of pressing forward. And that will, at times, take great courage."

"The temples that dot the earth today are witnesses of faith, hope and charity. Entering the temple is like opening the gate to eternity. For a short time, within those walls, we are in the foyer of our celestial home. What hope awaits us on that threhold!"

"True freedom is a power within. No outward force can destroy it unless we allow it to. It won't happen if we press forward. Whether in a Nazi concentration camp, on the the side of a mountain, in a hopsital bed in a cancer clinic, or on the wrong end of a flogging, we have the power to press forward toward a more perfect brightness of hope"

I could go on and on with quotes ... But the bottom line is I loved this book and will continue to re-read it often ...

I rate this book 5*****

Seven Gothic Tales (9/81)

The label Gothic can mean many things, encompassing the suspenseful realism of Radcliffe's Udolpho, the surreal Orientalism of Beckford's Vathek, and the sexually-charged diabolism of Lewis' Ambrosio. (And that's just considering works prior to Mary Shelley or John Polidori!) Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blixen) creates her own little corner of the Gothic, one that does not shy away from the supernatural but is more interested in people and their relationships than rattling chains in a cobwebbed corridor. Like many Gothic works, it features stories of people trapped within prisons, sometimes physical, but just as often social or psychological. Overall, I'd say this is a book that merits rereading, as only the most perceptive reader will pick up on everything the first time around. Even so, there were definitely some stories that stuck with me.

"The Deluge at Nordenay" is the story of four people trapped in the loft of a barn during a flood. The story takes place over the expanse of one night, during which the waters continue to rise and the four do not know if they will live to see the morning. Though resigned to their fates, they decide to spend the night telling stories. The two younger storytellers narrate their experiences of struggling with identity, of struggling with forces outside their control to exist in the world as they would choose. The older woman of the group tells of her own life and the choices she made. And then the last of the group, a religious scholar, tells a very odd tale of Peter a few days after the Crucifixion. All of it forshadows a rather interesting surprise near the end of the story.

"The Old Chevalier" is a pretty brief story of an older man recounting an experience when he was younger. He met up with a curious young lady and spent the night with her. Though the experience stayed with him, he did not see her again for many years. When he does finally encounter her again, it is a brief but haunting encounter.

"The Supper at Elsinore" features a ghost, much like that other story set in Elsinore. This ghost, though, is that of a brother come to visit the two sisters he left behind in his career of privateer, pirate, plantation owner and trader. Though beautiful and smart, the two sisters have grown into spinsterhood, always wondering about the fate of their brother. The meeting of the three allows for a final and melancholy reckoning regarding their respective fates.

"The Dreamers," like many of the stories here, incorporates storytellers and their stories into the narrative. Three men--two middle eastern, the third European--are on a boat together, sharing stories about how they have come to be on that boat. The European tells a story about how an obsession with a prostitute in Greece caused him to break off an advantageous betrothal, and how the prostitute vanished on him one day. Later he meets two friends, who have astonishingly similar stories to tell. There are some elements--mountain chases, a Wandering Jew--that almost make this story a Gothic parody, yet it also succeeds quite well on its own tragic terms.

"The Poet" is a bit of a misnomer, since the story actually has two poets. (A discrepancy which is likely intentional.) One, older and wealthy, takes a younger poet and an orphaned dancer in under his care. After realizing that the two may be falling in love, he decides for his own, not entirely cruel, purposes to marry the girl. This drives the young poet deep into despair, though he attempts to hide it. The love triangle ends, as they all do, rather badly.

These are quite moving stories of entrapment, identity, escape--all the Gothic mainstays--told through the marvellous talent of Isak Dinesen for creating a character, a place, or a situation with narrative finesse.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Thou Shell of Death - 30/81

Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake, just for fun category

My friend bcquinnsmom has been reading some Nicholas Blake and after reading her review, I decided to see what my library has of his books. I found an anthology with three books: Thou Shell of Death,The Beast Must Die, and The Corpse in the Snowman

The first one, Thou Shell of Death, features regular Blake sleuth and private investigator Nigel Strangeways. A famous aviator has been receiving death threats and wants a detective on hand to try to catch the killer during a Christmas dinner party. But come the 26th, Nigel finds the aviator dead in a shed, with only a single set of footprints leading to the building. Suicide? Or murder?

Blake throws in plenty of clues and red herrings, giving the reader a fair chance to figure it out, but I have to admit I got it wrong until last quarter of the book, and even then, there were several twists I didn't anticipate. Overall, a very fun read that has me looking forward to other two books in this collection.

The Spare Room by Helen Garner (13/81)

Helen prepares her spare room for her friend Nicola, who is flying down from Sydney for a three-week visit. But this is no ordinary visit - Nicola has advanced cancer. She is coming to Melbourne to receive treatment she believes will cure her. From the moment Nicola steps off the plane, Helen becomes her nurse, her protector, her guardian angel and her stony judge.

The Spare Room tells a story of compassion and rage as the two women - one sceptical, one stubbornly serene - negotiate their way through Nicola's gruelling treatments. Garner's dialogue is pitch perfect, her sense of pacing flawless as this novel draws to its terrible and transcendent finale.

The story and author asks, "How much of ourselves are we willing to give up to help a friend?" I found this book quite real and sometimes hard going at times not in reading it but with the subject matter. There are moments of humour throughout the book as the two woman try and deal with the illness. But then there are moments which emphasises just how hard and trying it is to watch someone you love suffer.

The book really doesn't sugar-coat how this illness effects people ... And you could completely understand the characters if you have ever cared for someone with terminal cancer ... It takes you on a ride of different of emotions ... as a carer and also as the patient ..

There is some swearing in the book but it really is just an honest story of how two woman try to cope !!

I rate this book 3***

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Uncommon Reader - 29/81

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, from LT/Good Reads category

Her Majesty the Queen is at home one day when the dogs decide to explore a bit and find the Mobile Library parked outside the palace kitchen. She investigates and feels that since she is there, the least she can do is borrow a book. She takes a book by an author she remembers meeting and feels obliged to read it.

This little act sets up a chain reaction that has quite the consequences. The Royal household is rather shaken to find Her Majesty reading when she ought to be doing Something Worthwhile.

There really isn't much more to this book than what I just said, but it's a short little book and rather amusing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman (14/81)

C1993 146pages 1 star

I had trouble staying with this book and almost didn't finish it at all. It failed to engage me and at times I struggled to remember what topic the chapters were written about. I've tried to pin down exactly what bothered me and have failed to express it adequately. When it comes down to it, I was looking to be inspired, maybe learn a little, and this book did neither for me. I would recommend Stephen King's On Writing instead.

The only paragraph that resonated with me:

"To gain the book one must give up all hope for the book. It is the only way the book can get written. While one writes one cannot simultaneously be gazing up at a glorious, abstract painting of what the book should be, a painting that is all golden glow and admirable wordless heft conveying a sense of a book like a bible, like your very own bible, penned by you - and at the same time expect to be advancing into the body of this particular earthy book. It won't work. You may gaze and gaze, but you may be sure that when you begin to write, that gorgeous ineffable volume will not coalesce on the page. Something else will appear. And then you have a choice. You can accept it, and get on with your writing, or you can throw it away, and pine for the painting. It is so beautiful! When you're not actually writing, you have the feeling it would be so simple to get it down on paper. Yet when the time comes, your sentences tangle you. They knot and seethe, grasping like desperate children, hampering you and making you fall so that the beautiful book, the infinite book, is forever out of reach."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast - 26/81

Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen for short story category.

Writer Jane Yolen is very versatile, and some of her things I've loved (Boots and the Seven Leaguers,Wizard Hall), some I've liked, (Armageddon Summer), and some were just okay (Girl in a Cage). But I grabbed this collection of short stories for my challenge knowing that I would be bound to like at least half the stories.

The title is a reference to Wonderland, and her first story is called "Tough Alice." That could be a theme too. Don't look for any helpless, passive girls here. Not all the stories feature a female protagonist, but when it does, Yolen does not spend her time writing about victims. My favorite story in the book was the last one, a neat little twist on Peter Pan. I can't say too much, or I would give the story away, but it was very clever and fun to read. A great book for young girls or their moms.

The Queen in Winter - 25/81

The Queen in Winter, by Lynn Kurland, Sharon Shinn, Clair Delacroix, and  Sarah Monette for short story category.

This was a little collection of short fantasy/romance stories, by 4 women writers, that I picked up at the library book sale. I had never tried any of the authors before, so I thought it would be a fun experiment. 

And it was fun. The first story, A Whisper of Spring, was by Lynn Kurland and it was a tale of a kidnapped elven princess and a wizard human prince who goes to rescue her. Nothing especially deep, but I just loved it. I liked the characters and the storytelling itself. I wish it had been longer, because I really wanted to read more about the characters.

The only story I wasn't especially happy with was the one by Claire Delacroix, a twist on the Snow Queen story that didn't really fit in with either the collection or the fairy tale itself. 

But as always, part of the fun in a collection like this is that you discover some new authors - ones you like, ones you don't - and everyone else has a different opinion about it. I will look for more by Kurland and by Sharon Shinn.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Underground Man by Mick Jackson (22/81)

Category: Authors that are New to Me

This book is the story of an eccentric Duke, loosely based on the real life fifth Duke of Portland William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott. Incredibly introverted, he had enough money to indulge his obsessions, most famously commissioning a series of tunnels underneath his estate that allowed him to move around with minimal contact with the outside population.

The story is mainly told through a series of the Duke's diary entries, so for most of the book we see things through the Duke's eyes. Despite the humour of the Duke's crazy schemes and wild ideas. the book is tinged with sadness as you can feel the Duke's isolation and descent into madness. His diary entries are also interspersed with accounts from servants and locals who came into contact with the Duke, and this presents a more troubled pictured.

This was a strange book. I enjoyed it in parts, but somehow felt that it benefit from re-reading so that I fully appreciate it.

Slow Man by J M Coetzee (21/81)

Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

Retired photographer, Paul Rayment, has an accident on his bicycle that leads to him losing a leg. He becomes besotted with his nurse, and contemplates life, loneliness and love. So far so good, but then things take an unusual turn…

This is the first book I’ve read by Coetzee and I was surprised by how easily readable it was. I enjoyed the slow contemplative pace, and although I wasn’t entirely sure about the intentions behind the “twist”, I found the quality of the writing compelling. It has left me keen to read more by this author. Fortunately, he has plenty of other entries on the 1001 list!

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby (22/81)

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby
Category: Books about Books/Reading/Writing

In his second collection of articles from The Believer, Nick Hornby writes his impressions of various books he has read each month. In his preface, Hornby writes about how writing these articles changed his reading - he started reading those books that he, incredibly, wanted to read - and believes that reading itself should not be, as some people think, a grand slog to read those books that one "should" read, but a fun way to spend free time. Only he says it much more elegantly and persuasively than I can.

Then, when you get to the articles, he also has fun talking about the books that he's read. Continuing where The Polysyllabic Spree left off, the articles are from February 2005 to June/July 2006, and include his thoughts on a wide variety of books. He includes short passages from a handful of his favorite reads from the year. Maybe your TBR pile will grow maddeningly or maybe, like me, you'll just enjoy reading someone else talk about books he's enjoyed and make a note of a couple of new authors to try. Either way, I highly recommend it to other avid readers. 5 stars.

Cross-posted on Born Reader.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (20/81)

Category: Around the World
Country: Dominican Republic

The eponymous character of this novel is an overweight science fiction-obsessed geek, who falls in love too deeply. His story is told by his older sister’s sometime boyfriend, but although his name is in the title, this book is much more than Oscar’s story. It also tells the story of his mother, his sister and grandfather, and of the lasting effect of Trujillo’s tyrannical reign over the Dominican Republic.

As a tale of doomed love and dictatorship, there are some pretty bleak things in this book, but it is written with a such a refreshing voice that it raises it above a chronicle of misery. The narrative is peppered with slang, Spanish and references to science fiction, none of which I was particularly familiar with, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this.

Equally I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic before reading this, but extensive footnotes explaining the history and key figures of the country provided an introduction for uninformed. The footnotes were not dry academic references, but were written in the same familiar style as the main text, which made it easy to read them along with the story.

If it isn’t already obvious, I loved this book and it was a great book for the Around the World category as the Dominican Republic was central to it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis (13/81)

C1956 158pages 4 stars

Another entry for my Hardboiled/Noir category. I first came across Goodis while watching the Bogart/Bacall film Dark Passage. I like the movie and I decided to research more about the writer. Chandler, Hammett, how could I have not read any of Goodis before now? My library didn't have a copy of the novel Dark Passage, so I settled on this little book. I say little because it's only 158 pages. Goodis was a pulp man after all.

I thought I knew what I was getting into with this story. A man on the run, bleeding, stumbles into some dive and has a quick word with the piano man before the thugs come in after him... if you've read one noir, you've read them all, right? Wrong. This one is different. You see, Eddie is not just some piano player, he has a past. Well, everyone in a noir story has a past, don't they? But Eddie has an illustrious past. Eddie played Carnegie Hall. Eddie cut albums and went on tour. So why is he playing an upright in a gin joint?

The telling of Eddie's story ripped my gut out. Seriously, I was in awe. But it's not all doom and gloom. The scene in the Buick with Feather and Morris (the aforementioned thugs) had me laughing so hard I had tears running down my face. Goodis definitely knew how to craft a tale. All of his characters were well-formed in my mind. Most of the women were able to stand on their own, and gave as good as they got. And one more thing I like about it - Goodis told a gritty tale without resorting to foul language. I love Charlie Huston's stories but the sheer quantity of profanity in his stuff wears on me sometimes. Yes, I will definitely be reading more of Goodis.

favorite quotes:

"You want it all for free, don't you? But the thing is, you can't get it for free. You wanna learn about a person, it costs you. And the more you learn, the more it costs. Like digging a well, the deeper you go, the more expenses you got. And sometimes it's a helluva lot more than you can afford."

"Like proving he still had it, the power, the importance the stuff and the drive, and whatever it takes to make a woman say yes. What he got from the waitress was a cold, silent no."


There have been many reviews of this book already so I won't bore you with yet another. I will instead review my own reaction to the re-read of this book.
After absorbing numerous books which were written by authors to advise the reader how to find the answers that were hidden in the J K Rowling books about Harry Potter and his adventures, this book still held surprises for me.
I will admit that while I was reading this book, numerous times I heard in the back of head "Oh, yeah, that was the arithmancy , with the number 4" or "Hooray, the magical brethren are finally getting together with the wizards."
In addition, I saw themes that I didn't see the first time and wouldn't have seen the second without the guides that I read.
Probably overwhelmed by the climax the first time, there were sections in the book that I had completely forgotten, that answered so many outstanding questions.
In my opinion, J K Rowling should have a Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize and any other prize for literature that she can get. The Series is tremendous and so well-written. They are the books I would want with me if I were alone on a deserted island.

Del amor y otros demonios (8/81)

Of Love and Other Demons is the story of Sierva Maria de todos los Santos, whom GGM introduces as based on a macabre story and an old legend. The macabre story is the opening of an old crypt, which reveals a skeleton of a young girl wrapped in her long, red hair. The legend is one told by his grandmother of a young girl with long hair who performed miracles but died while still young.

Sierva Maria is a young woman born of a loveless marriage in colonial-era Colombia. Neglected by her parents, she is raised by the family slaves and grows up more comfortable with their language and food than with that of her own purported social class. One day at the market with the woman who raised her, a rabid dog bites her on the ankle. So begins the worst of her troubles. Shortly, she is declared demonically possessed and taken to a nunnery to have the demons exorcized.

The question of demonic possession is left intriguingly ambiguous. While it seems quite likely that the church elders are overreacting, strange things do seem to happen around Sierva Maria. Sierva Maria begins to have an unexpected effect on the scholar priest who's come to help her, which of course only emphasizes the question of what sort of demon is possessing her.

Though a quite moving novel, I have to admit I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of GGM’s other works. The family history is somewhat less captivating than in Cien años de soledad, where it took on an epic, almost mythological, feeling. Nor does it have the intense focus of Cronica de una muerte anunciada, with its sudden and shocking act of violence around which the rest of the plot turns. Even falling below the level of those two works, it is still a captivating and lyrical work, and I would certainly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig (12/81)

C2008 381pgs 4 stars

was my Valentine's Day read and I absolutely loved it. It's for my Favorite Authors category.
This is the fourth book in the Pink Carnation series and so far it's my favorite. I don't read a lot of 'romance' books per se, but I will continue to read anything Ms. Willig puts to paper. I picked up her first novel while browsing in our branch library because the cover art and the title intrigued me. What a fortuitous meeting that turned out to be. If I had not read Carnation I would have never read this gem.
I have to say that I love the way Willig writes her male characters. All of them.
The other novels were good, but I never truly melded with the female protagonist. I usually felt a bond with Eloise, but I think that's only natural because she's a modern American female. There were so many places in this book that I wanted to be Mary. Definitely when she was with Lord Vaughn in his Chinese Room... but also when she was in Hyde Park and then again when she made her discovery backstage at the play.
My only disappointment with the novel is that I figured out the identity of The Black Tulip very early on. And I usually don't do that at all. I'm the type that needs an unveiling.

Favorite quotes:

"There was nothing like a bit of the Bard to add depth and grandeur to one's petty peccadilloes."

"Plots and counterplots, alliances and betrayals had all left their mark on his form. They were written on the thin, flexible line of his lips, designed to laugh or sneer as the occasion required; the hooded lids that shielded his eyes from scrutiny more effectively than any number of hats; the lean swordsman's body disguised beneath an incongruous armor of lace and jewels. Vaughn, Mary thought, would have made an excellent Caeser, raw power clothed in deadly pomp."flag abuse

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell (21/81)

Rogue's Home by Hilari Bell
Category: YA/Children's

(Warning: if you haven't read the first book in the series, this is necessarily going to have *spoilers* for that story.)

Michael and Fisk are on their way back to Baron Seven Oak's, knowing that Michael will soon be declared "unredeemed," when a mysterious messenger gives Fisk a letter. It's pretty much incoherent, except that his sister Anna writes "come home" and that they need him. So Sir Michael (knight errant) and his squire Fisk's second adventure begins.

As in the first book, each chapter switches between Michael's and Fisk's first-person, humorous narratives. This time, we learn much more about Fisk's background and hometown. Both of the characters are richly drawn and funny. As enjoyable as the first, the only complaint I have is that I figured out the end a bit early (but then, I am a bit older than the intended audience). 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at Born Reader.

The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine (19/81)

Early on in this book it is established that a murder has taken place as well as the identity of the murderer. It is not until almost the very end (and I do mean literally the very end) that the actual event and victim are revealed. This is classic Barbara Vine style and I love it.

Elizabeth, who lives in constant fear that she will develop a hereditary disease, moves in with her aunt Cosette who is recently widowed. The house she later moves into known as "The House of Stairs" has a long winding staircase and very odd upstairs windows which reach to the floor, only the house has no balconies. Elizabeth's aunt Cosette's generous nature becomes well known and eventually the house becomes similar to a boarding house although no one pays any rent or does any chores. Cosette, seeking to relive her youth, appears to be oblivious that she is being taken advantage of and believes that she has found true love at last.

#28/81 UNLOCKING HARRY POTTER by John Granger

This book is setup like a textbook to teach the reader how to interpret the hidden meanings that J K Rowlings inserts cleverly into all the Harry Potter books. 5 keys are used for the explanation.
After being tutored in narrative misdirection, the reader is sent to Alchemy 101 where you learn about the cycles of the series, the imagery, and the themes that carry through all the books. Finishing this course, next you move on the Hermione's favorite - Arithmancy.
Here the reader is educated in the balances that are needed with 4 being magical.
Harmony is needed in the 4 Houses at Hogwarts, 4 Horcruxes have to be found and destroyed by Harry, and 4 magical species (wizard, elf, goblin and centaur all represented in the Fountain of Magical Brethren destroyed in Order of the Phoenix) need to be united.
The reader is also taught that Alchemical works are in three stages - Black, White and Red. The black stage was highlighted in Rowlings' literary works by the death of Sirius Black. The white stage shows the purification of the characters and culminates with the end of Albus (white in Latin) Dumbledore. Are we then to expect danger for Rubeus (red) Hagrid in Book7?
Afterward we learn that Harry and Voldemort are twin opposites.
Harry has his Gryffindor spirit and the Slytherin horcrux scar while Voldemort is the Heir of Slytherin and bodily a Gryffindor because of the blood used at his rebirthing. Harry is the white side being pure of heart while Voldemort is the black side living in his own hell.
We are then reminded of the "hero's journey" in each book how Harry escapes #4 Privet Drive and his task to accomplish is defined.
Prejudice also is addressed when the author reminds the reader of the differences that are brought to the forefront in each book. We are reminded of the different treatments received by PureBloods(those that are poor vs. rich), half Bloods, and Muggle Born wizards as well as the differences in the magical species (wizard vs. elf, goblin and centaurs).
The five keys are then used to created SWAGS (Scientific Wise A-- Guess) for what will happen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
All in all, this was a very enlightening book and of all the books I have read on understanding the phenomenon and the hidden imagery, this was the best.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski (12/81)

Meet June Parker. Until the day she offered Marissa, a young woman she had just met, a lift home she thought her life was okay. She had a horrible boss, was battling to lose a few pounds and, sure, finding that special someone was tough, so things weren't exactly fabulous, but she was happy enough. She didn't know that Marissa was going to die ... and it would be her fault. As she washes away the blood from Marissa's handbag so she can return her belongings to her family, June discovers a list - '20 things to do by my 25th birthday.'

The guilt weighs heavily until a chance meeting six months after Marissa's death finds June committing to finish the list. Some of the tasks aren't too difficult ('Run a 5K') but others are near-impossible ('Change someone's life'). As June races to achieve each goal before the deadline, she learns a great deal more about herself and her own life than she ever bargained for.

This book is a quick read and you would class it as a chick book ....

The concept is interesting that because of the guilt that June feels pushes her to complete a list of 20 things which Marissa ( the girl who died ) wanted to do.

It really is a journey more so for June than anybody else ... Some of the tasks are easy and others are more difficult, and some of them don't necessarily finish the way June expected. There are moments that you will laugh out loud ... but there are some swear words littered throughout if you are sensitive to that and one scene which I could have done without !! ... But all in all it is a OK book and I did enjoy it and made me think of starting up my own Bucket List !!

I rate this book 3***

Someone Like Me by Elaine Forresal (11/81)

Life is pretty normal for Tas, until Enya moves into the farm next door. Enya, with her mysterious Irish family, brings with her more than Tas could bargain for. The violence of the world she thought she had left behind catches up with her, and changes Tas's life forever.

Ok this is one that I class as HOMEWORK literally ... as my daughter is reading this book at the moment in her class and my hubby and I have been asked to come in and talk about the book as one of the main characters is from Northern Ireland.
It is quite an easy read and I read it in an afternoon it is told from Tas's perspective as a young boy.

I found I could relate to Enya as being brought up in Northern Ireland myself but it will be interesting to see the reactions and questions of my daughters class. It is sad to say that violence and looking over your shoulder was just every day of life for me growing up and you did get used to it. You just thought that this was life and everyone goes through the same things ... Which is not the case !!! ...

I am keen to talk to the kids to let them know that Northern Ireland is not all violence but that is a beautiful country with the most loving friendly people you can meet but does have its problems which other countries suffer with as well ...

It is an interesting book for young people and there is a nice wee twist at the end which does make you pause for thought

I rate this book 3 ***

Los Angeles without a Map by Richard Rayner (19/81)

Category: Non Fiction

This is a memoir of an Englishman who can't drive who moves to Los Angeles. I'm an English woman who also can't drive and is going on holiday to LA soon, so I thought this book might be good preparation! Richard Rayner, however, moved to LA on a whim having become obsessed with a wannabe actress/bunny girl he met on holiday - this is something I'm unlikely to do!

The Los Angeles he finds is one filled with crazy people, all determined to find fame and fortune in the film or music business, but filling their time and paying their rent doing mundane jobs. It is a typical "fish out of water" story, but highly enjoyable mainly due to Rayner's great way of describing the characters he meets.

Sometimes his actions are hard to comprehend, in particular I didn't really get a sense of what was so great about the woman, Barbara, who he'd become besotted with. Some of the things that happen also seem unbelievable and I wondered how much artistic license had been used to make a good story, but really that didn't matter as it was a good fun read.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (18/81)

Category: Dystopia

Guy Montag is a fireman, but in this vision of the future, firemen don't put out fires, they start them. Their job is to burn books, which are now illegal, being blamed for causing unrest in a population discouraged from thinking. After meeting a free-spirited young neighbour, Guy begins to question his life and work.

As an avid reader, I found the idea of a world without books an appauling, chilling prospect, so I was fascinated by the premise of this book. Unfortunately I did not feel that the book itself delivered on the promise. It is quite a short book, more of a novella, but apparently it was fleshed out from an even shorter original. Still at this length, I felt it lacked depth, both in the characters it portrayed (who never quite seemed real to me, just types to convey the story) and in the society which didn't seem as fully realised as the dystopia of Brave New World. Perhaps it did suffer in comparison in my mind to Brave New World as I loved that so much. I thought this seemed rather dated now, not so much in the dystopian vision which still has resonance, but in the writing.

I read the 50th anniversary edition which contained an introduction and afterword by the author that explained the genesis of the book, coming from several short stories he had written, which made me think that they might have been more interesting or this would have been better kept as a short story.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Familiar Vows

Familiar Vows by Caroline Burnes

Harlequin Intrigue
January 2009
224 pages (mass market paperback)
Romantic Suspense
A Fear Familiar Mystery

I need to tell you a little about Familiar first. You meet him first in Fear Familiar and he's a lab cat. It isn't a "good" lab and Familiar helps his new owner solve the mystery, earning himself something of a reputation.

In this book, Familiar is at a wedding reception. One of the groomsmen notices a second photographer and when she leaves, he follows and demands her film. She doesn't give in and Familiar hops in her car. While she's dealing with the cat, the man takes the memory card and film out of her camera.

Familiar notices the the photographer has a show coming up and goes to it. One of the photos is of the bride. The bride in question is a federally protected witness and her cover has been blown.

Why was the photographer there to begin with? I thought the man got her film? Could anything else go wrong?

This one is fun but you have to suspend belief for a bit about the cat. I think I've read & own all of these (17). The one previous to this came out in 2006 so when I saw this book on the shelf, I grabbed it!

Quick, fun, happy ending.


As you read the Harry Potter books, questions pop into your head and many are mirrored in this book.
Have witches always used broomsticks? Why do centaurs avoid humans? If Dumbledore is so powerful, shouldn't he fight Voldemort? What is the most important language for wizards? Why are Mirrors Magical? These questions and so many more are addressed in this book and some of the answers are surprising,
This book is a pleasant companion to the Harry Potter books.

Mistaken Identity

I read a book earlier this year called Eye Contact and thought it was a mother's worst nightmare, getting a phone call from your child's school and hearing "I'm sorry, your child is missing from campus". Then I read Mistaken Identity with the late night/early morning phone call, and "there has been a terrible accident" and "I'm sorry, your child didn't make it".

Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope

Don & Susie Van Ryn and
Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak
with Mark Tabb

Howard Books a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
March 2008
288 pages
Non-fiction > Biography/Religious

Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby when you read this one!

This book drew me in and kept me hooked. I finished it in one night and then just sat there. I didn't go check my children's beds but I thought about it. The faith and compassion of these families would be unbelievable if I hadn't see something like it for myself. The way the community of Fort Worth came together for the Van Ryn family is next to miraculous.

A friend suggested they start a blog to avoid so making so many phone calls. Soon, comments were being made from far off places. Prayers were being said by people they didn't know and faith was being restored in some who followed the blog. It has since been shut down but I think I would like to have been one who followed, who cheered and cried and prayed. Getting it all in one night (and not ALL of it) was a bit overwhelming.

Taylor University is a Christian school and the families involved quote scripture and hold family prayers. It didn't detract from the story, quite the opposite for me, just a heads up.

This book was written in response to intrusive media. "The story has been told, leave us alone". The paperback is scheduled for release late next month.

I've also posted what the back cover says on my blog, along with a cover picture and the above information.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1 by M.T. Anderson (20/81)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
Category: Award Winners

Octavian, a slave owned by Mr. Gitney (aka 03-01) of Boston, and son of an African princess, doesn't realize that his childhood - consisting of Latin and violin lessons, experiments and the measuring of his waste - is odd. His narrative begins with impressions from his younger days and gradually follows a more chronological path as he becomes older and more aware of the revolutionary world beyond the College of Lucidity.

This exceptional historical fiction received the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2006. It doesn't strike me as a particularly teen/ya novel (even though it's billed as such), but seemed like one of those books that appeals to adults more, overall. The plot took awhile to get going, especially with the short, impressionistic glimpses we get of Octavian's earliest memories, but the writing is superb and the characters so well-drawn and sympathetic that I couldn't help but read on. In the end, I was ready to start the second book as soon as possible. 5 stars.

Cross-posted on my blog, Born Reader.

The Open House by Michael Innes - 24/81

The Open House by Michael Innes, just for fun category

John Appleby, formerly of Scotland Yard, is traveling through unfamiliar countryside when his car breaks down. After setting off to find an inn and get a place to spend the night, his flashlight dies. He has no choice but to hike along the dirt road hoping to find shelter.

He is stunned - literally - when he discovers a large house blazing with light. After he recovers, he heads for the building, hoping to find someone at home. But he can see no one. He discovers dinner on the table, laid for one, a fire and pajamas in the bedroom, but not a single person. He finds the library and helps himself to a drink.

Just like that, Appleby has stumbled onto another of the strange sort of mystery stories that typify Michael Innes. It reminded me of Death by Water or Sheiks and Adders, with that same sort of beginning. Not quite as much fun as those two books, it was still a good read.

The Temple of My Familiar

The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
417 pp.Rating: 5 of 5
I'm ashamed to admit that this one sat on my shelves for perhaps 15 years. But clearly, there was a reason I held onto it: it is a beautiful, magical, devastating, lyrical treat! Even though the narrative drifts like a winding river among a cast of intertwined characters, plots, and settings, somehow they are all connected. I can't recommend this book highly enough, but I must warn you to be patient. I urge you to just pick it up and go with the flow. Not all questions are answered in the end, but...well, that's reality, isn't it? I'm sure the author would agree with me that, ultimately, all things are connected and the journey is its own goal.Best treat of all: We get to spend more time hanging out with the delightful Misses Celie and Shug from The Color Purple. I am just so pleased that they get to grow old together.The Temple of My Familiar is much longer, more complex, and intense than The Color Purple. It felt like an epic on the level of 100 Years of Solitude
(which believe it or not I had to read in Spanish back in college!! )
or Les Miserables (which no I have not read in French!)
only from a strong female-centered perspective.

It's not nearly as long as either of the above mentioned (only 417 pages). But it's every bit as intense.

Sloth, by Wendy Wasserstein 5/81

This book is one of seven in a series on the seven deadly sins. Originating in a series of lectures, Oxford University Press has published them. This volume consists of Wendy Wasserstein's musings on sloth. Written as a parody of a self-help book, Wasserstein tells us that sloth is the new route to health and happiness. This is a funny book. Wasserstein is a comic talent, and she shows it here. Wasserstein mocks the impulsive culture of diet and self-improvement, but there is a serious side to her critique as well. In her last chapter, Uber-Sloths, Wasserstein dishes out some directed criticism at people who do a whole lot of nothing. The people who race from gym to group to meeting to engagement, enjoying none of it, and all for the sake of being so important as to be busy. This book is a quick read that made me laugh, and also made me nod in agreement.

Category: Reading the Dewey Decimal System 1/9, 5/81

Wendy Wasserstein, Sloth (Oxford, 2005) ISBN: 0195312090
Cross-posted at In Laurie's Mind

Song of Kali (7/81)

I generally think horror stories have one central criteria: scare me. Characterization can be nice, as can dialogue or style, but in a horror novel those aspects should be subordinate to the author's talent at freaking me out.

And whatever its flaws, Song of Kali manages to achieve an almost brutal atmosphere of dread. This dread centers on the Indian city of Calcutta, to which the protagonist Robert Luczak, along with wife and newborn, has travelled in search of the renowned Bengali poet M. Das. That Das has a new poem or that Harper's is wanting to publish excerpts and has funded Luczak's trip would be entirely unremarkable if not for the fact that Das has been dead for nine years.

Though warned about Calcutta, Luczak is not prepared for what he finds when he arrives. The Calcutta in Song of Kali is a nightmare city to rival any in horror, where the combination of teeming humanity and abject poverty yield a place where the violence is barely concealed. So skillful is the portrayal that what violence does take place seems only representative, as if the reader knows that the same terror is repeated countless times just beyond the reader's sight. It is this quality that lends the novel such an oppressive sense of dread, even before much of anything happens.

Soon, Luczak meets a scared and shifty young man who tells what he knows of the poet M. Das, a story too wild to believe, involving members of a dangerous cult that may have their own designs regarding the poem. By degrees does the trap close around Luczak, bringing him and his family into danger, one Luczak seems utterly unprepared to handle.

Admittedly, the novel is not without its flaws. It edges rather close to racism. Its portrayal of the struggle between good and evil seems to draw the line between those two forces right along the Western/Indian border, a point that Simmons chooses to emphasize about halfway through the novel and which is further underscored by having every Indian character be basically obnoxious, treacherous, or both.

Orientalism aside, there are a few other flaws, such as that the main character is somewhat unsympathetic and the nature of the supernatural threat left a little too vague. However, with the strong atmosphere of dread present in the city of Calcutta, it makes for a pretty solid horror novel.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Cross by Arthur Blessitt (19/81)

The Cross: 38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission. by Arthur Blessitt
Category: Nonfiction

The subtitle "38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission." is a little misleading, perhaps suggesting that this is Arthur Blessitt's account of his carrying a cross to every nation on the globe from 1969 to 1998. This is only incidentally the case. The story is very much about The Cross, but instead of being organized chronologically, every chapter is a theme such as "following God's call on your life" or "tearing down walls." Within that chapter, various stories from different years and countries highlight the point as Blessitt challenges his readers to do this in their own lives. Ultimately, it's about his 1 mission to point people to Jesus.

Though his storytelling is mediocre, his passion for evangelism and loving people really shines through. Arthur Blessitt's theme of following God's call no matter what and encouraging others to do the same loosely holds the book together. His approach to writing and inclusion of God's words to his heart, a vision, and phrases most familiar to those who have grown up in church (such as "the miraculous power of God was manifest" (p.121)) may make this book less appealing to some, but it will definitely challenge readers about their own lives. I had such mixed feelings reading this, it took me awhile to decide how to rate it. The writing didn't impress me, but his passion did. Maybe it's a little high, but I give it 4 stars.

Cross-posted at Born Reader.

The Summer of Cotton Candy

a young adult novel (cover picture and book details at my blog.

Candace and her best-friend-since-kindergarten have plans for the summer before their senior year. Plans that DO NOT include working. However, Candace's dad says get a summer job because I won't be giving you any money this summer. Yikes! To make matters worse, the best friend is wealthy and is willing to pay for EVERYTHING if Candace doesn't work.

Candace applies at a local amusement park and gets the 2nd to last job available and it seems that everything goes downhill from there. So many things but finding out what happens & how she gets out of trouble is part of the fun of this book.

Candace, who hates to be called Candy, gets her name tag on her first day of work and it says Candy. Well, Sue's name tag says Mary so at least they kind of got it right. Candace is a church-going girl and her schedule doesn't always allow her to attend services with her family. Church going but not preachy or scripture quoting, just a nice girl who has some bad things happens and prays to God for help.

This book is fun as well as funny. There are many growth experiences and Candace is not the only one doing some growing. This is book one in a series of four and I would read the rest even if they didn't fit in so well with my challenge.

The main character maybe be going into her senior year of high school but I'd let my 5th grader read it if they had the skill. Candace dates, even kisses, but the book is so clean and sweet I'm going to loan it to some church friends and my MIL.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (20/81)

This one is a toughie. I haven’t decided whether I liked this one or not.... yet. I’m leaning towards the not liking direction though.

The story revolves around the lives of the residents of a luxury building on Fifth Avenue. A place that just by living in it or being seen entering or exiting from it - meant wealth and power. Each resident of One Fifth is interconnected somehow and it was neat to see how one of their actions would cause an effect in one of their neighbors’ lives. I also liked that architecture was the center-piece of the story. I will say, that there were a lot of characters (each written in the first person) introduced all at once, which was confusing at first, but once I got passed that and actually started focusing on who was who and what was what it became easier to read and the pages began turning. The writing was very hip and fresh and I loved her comments on 20-somethings, bloggers and the Internet.

But in the end, it just didn’t strike a note with me. I don’t know if it was that I just didn’t connect with any of the characters or that we have no similarities in common, but I found that none of the characters were likeable. There was one character that I did like but she was the one that we barely read about (figures). I got the impression that this book was expressly written to become a movie or tv series.

All in all, if you like reading stories about New York City life, sex, lies and money, (Drama, Drama, Drama), then this is something that I’d recommend you read.

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, 4/81

This is an utterly bizarre and tremendously enjoyable read. This novel follows a summer in the lives of professional idler Ebin Willoweed and his family: the perennially unhappy and tyrannical Grandmother Willoweed, the family servants, and Ebin's three children, including the daughter who is clearly the product of her mother's affair, as she is half black, and Ebin Willoweed is not. One might think that this forms the storyline, but it does not. Hattie Willoweed is completely accepted by family and community. Her mother's infidelity adds a layer to the already dysfunctional antics of the Willoweeds. The real story is miserable plague, which follows close on the heels of a flood. As villagers become horribly ill then commit suicide in fits of fury, it becomes clear that something strange is afflicting the town. Comyns recounts for us what happens to the undeniably bizarre Willoweeds in a bizarre set of circumstances. The consequences are bittersweet and surprising. I stayed up late reading this book- it really kept my attention, and I read it all in one sitting.

Barbara Comyns, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Penguin, 1987) ISBN: 0140161589

Category: Virago Modern Classics, 2/9, 4/81

No Time for Goodbye - 21/81

No Time for Goodbye, by Linwood Barclay

Cynthia was a fairly bratty teenager who gave her parents a rough time now and then. But she wasn't prepared to wake up and find that her entire family - mom, dad, and older brother - have all disappeared. 

25 years later, Cynthia is married with a daughter of her own and she's still wondering what happened. Were they murdered? Why was she spared? Did they just leave? Why didn't they take her too? Are they still alive and looking for her?

When she decides to find some answers, strange things start happening - things that might just have some unpleasant consequences.

I enjoyed this book. It's called a 'surburban thriller' on the cover, and that's not a bad description. The most terrifying plot, to me, is the one that strikes very close to home. This one had me guessing. It's narrated by Cynthia's husband, and I think that made it even more suspenseful, since we couldn't get a look inside her head, but had to guess, like he did, on what she was really thinking. Some raw language in this one, more than I was comfortable with. But a solid plot that twists even at the very end.

Monday, February 9, 2009

#25/81 The tales of Beedle the Bard

The Tales of Beedle the Bard was mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The introduction states that this version is a new translation by Hermione Granger from ancient runes.
There are five fairy tales in this book; The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Warlock's Hairy Heart, Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump, and The Tale of the Three Brothers. Following each of the fairy tales are personal notes and analysis by Professor Dumbledore, the late headmaster of Hogwarts School.
These fairy tales are short and enchanting with morals that fit reasonably well into the universe of both Magic and Muggle.
Dumbledore's notes, however, are truly what makes this a unique and special treasure for those that are Potter fans. The witticisms by Dumbledore show his warmth and mischievous humor all the while seeing into the spirit of the wizard Harry Potter fans love and revere. The Tales of Beedle the Bard are a very welcome addition to any Potter collection.

#24/81 The science of Harry Potter : how magic really works

This book starts off slowly talking a lot of science and mathematics and you wonder, is this what it's going to be like throughout. But wait. It does get better. The writer eventually discusses the unique animals in Harry's world - Fluffy, hippogriffs, nifflers, - inferring that with the coming of gene manipulation such animals may one day exist. Potions are merely herbs, plants, and such that are used in their natural state while medicines are many times refinements of these same plants. Then there's Skele-Gro - that amazing elixir that will grow bones back. There is a Professor in NY who believes he understands how it works with special cells being activated... well you see what I mean. This book is full of "possible" explanations for the magical world of Harry Potter.

#23/81 New Clues to Harry Potter: Book 5

This book, very much like its predecessor, reviews all the clues that are presented by JK Rowling in the Harry Potter and the Order of he Phoenix. It breaks the clues down to specific chapter for that book and/or shows how it is related to the entire septology. The book also points out the connections between names and numbers to events and people. Again, this book also leans more toward the UK version rather than the US version.
However, this edition for Book5 does not paraphrase the section of the chapter discussed but only shows the explanation of the clues. This manner makes it much harder to follow unless you have the actual book open with it.

Tea: The Essence of the Leaf (3/81)

If you're at all "in" to tea then you probably already know most of the information contained in this book. This is a basic primer on tea: how it's grown, processed, prepared, and enjoyed. Scattered throughout this information literary passages relating to tea, recipes that incorporate tea, and absolutely beautiful photographs. Indeed, the photographs are essential to enjoyment of the book. I would recommend this book to someone who's just gaining an interest in tea and wants a one-stop source for basic information. Tea aficionados will likely find little they don't already know, though the recipes do sound good, and I'm planning to try some of them.

Sara Slavin and Karl Petzke, Tea: The Essence of the Leaf (Chronicle Books, 1998) ISBN: 081181632X

Category: Tea 2/9, 3/81

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly (10/81)

The secret of the Seven Ancient Wonders was only the beginning... After their thrilling exploits in Matthew Reilly's rampaging New York Times bestseller, 7 Deadly Wonders, supersoldier Jack West Jr. and his loyal team of adventurers are back, and now they face an all-but-impossible challenge. A mysterious ceremony in an unknown location has unraveled their work and triggered a catastrophic countdown that will climax in no less than the end of all life on Earth. But there is one last hope.

If Jack and his team can find and rebuild a legendary ancient device known only as the "Machine," they might be able to ward off the coming armageddon. The only clues to locating this Machine, however, are held within the fabled Six Sacred Stones, long lost in the fog of history. And so the hunt begins for the Six Sacred Stones and the all-important knowledge they possess, but in the course of this wild adventure Jack and his team will discover that they are not the only ones seeking the Stones and that there might just be other players out there who don't want to see the world saved at all.

From Stonehenge in England to the deserts of Egypt to the spectacular Three Gorges region of China, The 6 Sacred Stones will take you on a nonstop roller-coaster ride through ancient history, modern military hardware, and some of the fastest and most mind-blowing action you will ever read.

Well this was a real roller coaster of a book and I loved it !!!

This is this months book club novel and I cannot wait now until the next installment comes out to find out what happens !!!

If you love adventure then this book is for you !! It is a real page turner and you cannot help but visualize Jack and his team battling their way out of impossible predicaments !!! It is so like Indiana Jones that you just see Jack as a true hero out to save the world !!!

Although some people will say that this is a boys book because it does go into detail of guns, tanks, planes etc but I loved it ( may be because at the moment with playing Call of duty on X-Box I actually know which guns he is talking about ... lol ..... ) But as a girl reading this book I loved it ...... Maybe it is the action Hero which every girl looks to ........ not to mention that he has cool gadgets like 007 ........

This is the second book in the series and I will definitely be rushing out to purchase the 1st one !!! YOU can read this book without reading the first one and thoroughly enjoy it and understand the plot ...... BUT you will prob be like me and be dying to read how Jack's adventure started !!! ......... The only sucky thing is that we where left with a cliff hanger at the end and have to wait for the next installment .........

If you haven't read any Matthew Reilly books yet ................. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO OUT AND GET ONE !!!

I rate this book 41/2 ****

Here's the man himself talking and showing us where he writes !!

#22/81 Quidditch through the Ages

This is a cute little book which documents the development of the greatest game on broomsticks! We hear stories of the beginning of the game as well as how the equipment has changed over the years. We are given a detailed list of the teams that play the game all over the world and the special moves used in the game. Remember if you want to play Quidditch, be sure to get a Firebolt!

#21/81 Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

First in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, Crocodile on the Sandbank introduces the reader to Amelia Peabody, a wealthy spinster determined to see the world. In her first adventure, she meets up with a "ruined" young woman down on her luck at a time when Amelia needs a companion. Together the two set off for Egypt to see the Pyramids and Egyptian artifacts. The two ladies encounter two gentlemen in Cairo who allow them to join their expedition and dig. The book is well written since the plot builds and there is rarely a lull in the action. Full of historical background, the story does not lack for mystery or romance. The characters are vibrant and forceful. The heroine is witty and charming and the gentlemen are just what you expect for the time period. This book was delightful and informative while being very entertaining and I look forward to the next in the series.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - 20/81

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, for Library Thing/Good Reads category.

I *LOVED* this book. 

Writer Juliet Ashton has come through World War II more or less intact, although her flat was destroyed by bombs. But she's doing all right and ready to start a new project. Around then, she starts a correspondence with Dawsey Adams, an inhabitant of the tiny island of Guernsey. They've been cut off from all communication with England for 5 years and are desperate to catch back up to what they've missed.

Soon Juliet (and through her, the reader) finds herself completely drawn into the wartime history of this small community. Through letters, she makes friends with people she's never met, and must reexamine what she wants out of life.

It sounds just too heartwarming and sappy for words, but I thought it was great. I actually remembered a little of the history of Guernsey before I read the book, but I found myself horrified at some of the things I read. I kept telling my husband - "Guess what!" and then telling him something I had read.

The characters are wonderful, funny and tragic and pathetic. The setting is so well done. I have to add the isle of Guernsey to another of the places I would love to visit.

I really recommend this book! It's one of those books that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to go back and read it again.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

20/81 Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter Analysis of Books 1--4

This book reviews all the clues that are presented by JK Rowling in the first 4 Harry Potter books. It breaks the clues down as to specific for that book and/or related to the entire septology. The book also points out the connections between names and numbers to events and people. However, this book also leans more toward the UK versions of the book rather than the US version.
I liked the sections for each chapter where the action is paraphrased and then it is followed by the explanation of the clues. Then each chapter is summarized for oddities and questions raised.
This approach definitely makes you look at the books from a different point of view. However, I'm not sure that it really helps the appreciation of the story.

The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout - 19/81

The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout for audiobook category

The feud between the Bureau of Price Regulation and the National Industrial Association has been long and bitter, but few thought it would end in murder. At a large public dinner, however, that's just what happened. Nero Wolfe takes the NIA as a client and agrees to find out who murdered BPR president Cheney Boone. With Archie Goodwin providing the legwork and goading his boss into action, the case moves along until a second murder changes everything. I have enjoyed Nero Wolfe mysteries for a long time, but not as much as some other mystery series. Maybe it's because there are just so many of them that they do get to be a little too similar. This one, though, stands out as the case that actually caused Nero Wolfe to leave the house. If you enjoy mysteries and you haven't tried writer Rex Stout before, this is not a bad place to start.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman (17 and 18/81)

Maus: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and
Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman
Category: Graphic Novels

These two graphic novels chronicle the Holocaust experiences of the author's father, Vladek Spiegelman. The action moves back and forth between the present, with Art and his father talking and bickering, and the story Vladek tells his son about living in Poland during World War 2. The art complements and extends the meaning of the conversations, often playing off stereotypes (for example, the Jewish people are represented as mice, the Polish people as pigs) that bring home the events described all the more powerfully.

Absolutely deserving of the 1992 Pulitzer Prize it received, Maus is not an enjoyable story, but an absolutely necessary one to remember. I highly recommend this sobering, powerful work and would definitely read it again. 5 stars.

Cross-posted at Born Reader.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat who Touched the World - 18/81

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat who Touched the World, from Library Thing/Good Reads category.

You should see the cat on the cover. How can you resist such a face? But this book is a lot more than a cute cat story. I like cute cat stories well enough, but there's a reason this book has been so popular and it's not just because of the cat. Writer Vicki Myron takes us through the history of the little town of Sheridan, the farm crisis in the 1980s and 1990s and right into the heart of the Midwestern small town.

That being said, Dewey is a very special cat. He was able to unite the whole town (well, almost) and bring a little love into some desperate hearts. Anyone who loves cats, libraries, or small town America will find much to love in this little book.

The Last Knight by Hilari Bell (16/81)

The Last Knight by Hilari Bell
Category: YA/Children's

Michael, a knight errant about 200 years after it's a common thing to be, and Fish, his reluctant squire that's just waiting until he can get away from his insane master, free a lady from a tower only to find that she may be a murderess. In alternating chapters, Michael and Fisk tell the story of how they have to chase after her and redeem themselves. The plot is uneven and a little meandering at times, but Michael and Fisk's characters, their humor and being able to see each of them through their own words and in how the other sees him, makes up for this admirably.

Hilari Bell is one of my favorite young adult fantasy authors, and this story didn't disappoint. I loved Michael and Fisk as characters which made up for any flaws, and was rather disappointed when the story ended. 4.5 stars.

Cross-posted at Born Reader.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Pleasure of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser (15/81)

The Pleasure of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser
Category: Books about Books

For the bicentenary of the publishing house W. H. Smith, forty writers of the English language talk about their early experiences reading, what reading they do now, and (if possible - not everyone did) their ten favorite books. Many authors -- such as Catherine Cookson, Doris Lessing, A.S. Byatt, and Margaret Atwood -- were names I recognized, though the only author I have read to date is Ruth Rendell. Keeping in mind that the book was published over 15 years ago, however, it's quite an impressive list.

I loved reading the variety of experiences each author had with reading and books. In particular, I loved seeing the same books or author mentioned (like Enid Blyton or The Biggles), but with very different responses. Also, the various approaches to "top ten" (in order, alphabetically, with a few more titles thrown in) were fun. I kept wanting to write my own essay or agonize over a top ten list or talk back to the authors that had a particularly nice point. An absolute pleasure to read; my only regret is that I don't own it. 5 stars.

Cross posted at Born Reader