Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Cruelest Month: A Three Pines Mystery / Louise Penny / 320 pages / 10 cds

     The third volume in the Inspector Gamache series. Once again a murder has happened in the tiny village of Three Pines. This time it is during a seance in the mansion on the hill. Some of the villagers had meant to celebrate the arrival of Spring and hopefully rid the house of its evil reputation. Unfortunately one of the members dies of fright during the ceremony. Gamache and his team is sent to investigate. Story lines left over from the previous two volumes figure into this story. Not only is Gamache trying to ferret out a murderer he is trying to find out who is sabotaging his reputation. Is this the result of an earlier investigation where the highest authority was challenged and found wanting? The cruelest month plays out its reputation!
     As mentioned in previous reviews, Gamache's team all have been rescued so to speak by him and they are loyal to a fault. Or is one of his team trying to make him fail? I feel this is one of the best in the series. Yes the debut was awesome but Penny has just ratcheted up the tension to the point you are afraid to start a new chapter (or disc in my case). Is this the end of Gamache? What about his team? And who is the murderer? Louise Penny is a wonderful author who peppers her story with history, humor (the relationship between Gamache and his wife is hilarious) and some not so subtle pokes at today's world. A real twister - thought I had the right person but once again I missed it.

Six degrees of reading:  Bruno, Chief of Police: A Novel of the French Countryside by Martin Walker, Death in a Strange Country: A Commissaro Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King.

A Fatal Grace / Louise Penny/ 320 pages / 9 cds

     This is the second volume in the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series. I am still in awe of the intriguing Gamache. After the spectacular ending in the debut volume we pick up the story a few months later. C.C. de Poitiers has been murdered in the village of Three Pines. Or more specifically in the mansion at the top of the hill. She and her family had moved in the vacant mansion and managed to alienate everyone there. No one was all that upset about her murder. C.C. left behind a daughter named Crie (say it out loud and you will get the hurtfulness of the name) and a burgeoning empire. But when the police begin to delve into C.C.'s past, it turns out not all is on the up and up.
    So again Gamache must approach the village and begin to dig into their lives. Penny has some fun with the clues in this book. I can't give specifics because it would ruin the surprise but here's a hint: know your French history. We meet more of the villagers in this volume and learn more of the Quebecois history. Once again Agent Nicole is present and even more rude than the last volume. You begin to wonder if there is a purpose to why Gamache puts up with her insolence. More of Gamache's past is revealed and the viper's nest that is the Surete hierarchy hurts Gamache where it counts the most. Was totally thrown by the big reveal at the end - bet you won't see it coming either.
   Just a note: if you are interested in reading this series, I would seriously recommend trying the audio books. Ralph Cosham who reads the entire series is beyond awesome. He has the reassurance of Gamache, the over eagerness of Jean Guy Beauvoir, and the pettiness of Nicole. The French phrases trip off his tongue so beautifully. I am amazed by this man. Probably why I am so fond of Gamache.

Six degrees of reading: Hunting Shadows (Ian Rutledge) by Charles Todd, To Dwell in Darkness ( Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones) by Deborah Crombie, Blood on the Water (William Monk) by Anne Perry.

She is Not Invisible/ Marcus Sedgwick/ 218 pages

I read this book for the Mock Printz discussion coming up at the December YA meeting.  If you can suspend your disbelief at the beginning of the story, it's actually pretty entertaining.  However, I don't think it's a Printz winner...  This is the story of Laureth and her brother.  Laureth has decided that her father is in trouble and goes to America to find him (she lives in England) while her mother is gone for the weekend.  The really interesting challenge: she is blind and she has taken her 7-year-old brother to be her guide in America.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet/ Jamie Ford/ 285 pages

This is a sweet story about Henry, a Chinese man, who grew up in Seattle during WWII.  His childhood sweetheart, Keiko, and her family were taken to a Japanese internment camp.  The story is told in flashbacks to his childhood and then relating his current relationship with his son.  Great story.

Still Life / Louise Penny / 473 pages / 8 cds

     I have a confession to make. I am in love with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Montreal police. He is a man not given to publicity seeking actions but is a quiet man with deep understanding of the human psyche. Armand is older, hair beginning to gray but with the biggest brown eyes that can see through someone's false story. Inspector Gamache is summoned to a tiny village of Three Pines just north of the U.S. border. There has been a murder. He summons his team and as they arrive we meet them one by one. There are four primary detectives: Detective Beauvoir & Agent Lacoste and a new member Yvette Nicole, As they begin their investigation, the reader begins to sense there is a deep undercurrent to everyone's actions.
     A beloved member of the community has been found murdered in the woods. She had been to a dinner party the night before so those 5-6 people are the last to see her alive. How the investigation begins and the directions it takes are like a police procedural but you have the human side of the detectives interfere. Beauvoir takes a dislike to an older woman and those feelings collide with the need to be impartial. Nicole seems to be a thorn in the side of everyone and constantly bungles instructions but is there a purpose to it? Gamache's past comes calling and those decisions begin to taint the investigation in Three Pines. A wonderfully complex debut mystery. I am looking forward to seeing where the rest of the series takes me.
     Louise Penny's novels have been called cozy mysteries and I agree with that descriptions but there is so much more. We learn about Quebecois history, the city politics of Montreal and their police, the history of Three Pines and what is means to the people who live there. The village isn't on any map and the residents had fled the big city in the hopes of starting all over again. We learn about the art world through two rather intriguing characters who I think will be part of a overlying story arc in the continuing novels. I certainly came to feel these people were part of our community and I would see them at any time. I would love to live in the village of Three Pines. Heartily recommended to anyone who lives an intriguing mystery, human nature and a well-plotted novel. Bet you don't figure out the murderer before Gamache does!!

Six degrees of reading: The Secret Place (Dublin Murder squad) by Tana French, Vertigo 42 (Richard Jury mystery) by Martha Grimes, Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents/Ronald Kessler/253 pgs.

Ronald Kessler gives a behind the scene look into the lives of Secret Service agents. In doing so, he reveals aspects of several presidents' lives and that of their families, plus those of the vice presidents and their families. Kessler makes it patently obvious that he feels that the management portion of the Secret Service Agency is very mismanaged, and has been for quite some time. After reading this book, I'm surprised that there haven't been more successful assassination attempts on our American leaders. It's a disquieting read.

Mean Streak/Sandra Brown/409 pgs.

Dr. Emory Charbonneau is a pediatrician, plus a marathon runner. She and her husband, Jeff, are having marital issues. He doesn't want her to run a mountain road in North Carolina, but Emory goes anyway in order to give herself time "to think." On the run, she is knocked unconscious, and awakens to find herself at the mercy of an unknown man in a mountain cabin. Her "rescuer" won't tell her his name or anything about himself, leaving Emory's imagination to run wild. All is not what it appears to be: was Emory's concussion an accident? Why does Jeff wait so long to report her missing? Most importantly, who IS the mysterious rescuer, and why is he being hunted? It's a fast read, and pretty standard "Sandra Brown." I will admit, I felt "duped" by the end of the novel.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Chocolate Rose / Laura Florand / 245 pages

"When it comes down to it, there's no point doing something like this halfway.  Never choose half of anything just to be safe when you have a chance to have something whole and perfect."  What perfect advice!!  Gabriel, a world-renowned chef, is suing Jolie Manon's father for stealing one of his creations and displaying it on the cover of his newly published cookbook.  Several of the recipes in the book were developed by Gabriel when he worked under Jolie's father.  Jolie has come to Gabriel's celebrated restaurant to try to convince him to cancel the lawsuit.  Her father has just had a stroke, is suffering from depression, and has lost the will to work.  She is afraid the lawsuit could kill him.  Sparks fly immediately between Jolie and Gabriel.  The love affair is almost too good to be true, but great, satisfying fun!

The Young World / Chris Weitz / 373 pages

"This is just like Lord of the Flies meets the Hunger Games."  Only teenagers are left in this dystopian brave new world.  A super virus killed all the kids and adults, and continues to wipe out the teens on their eighteenth birthday.  With the eradication of adults, except for one old man, civilization comes to a standstill, as everyone with knowledge of how to run things is deceased.  The young are fighting for their very existence.  A few brave members of one New York tribe embark on what could be a suicide mission to save the world - Jefferson, Donna, Peter, Brainbox, and See Through.  Along the way they are attacked by human-eating ghosts at the New York Public Library!  Although the above quote is an apt description for this book, some of the dialogue was lost on me as I wasn't up on the current slang, clichés, or kitschy language.

"We can't blame God for the things people do."
"The only constant is change."

The Mark of Athena / Rick Riodan / 697 pages

Heroes of Olympus Book 3
Two ancient cultures clash in this third Heroes of Olympus book.  Camp Jupiter vows revenge against the ancient Greeks led by Percy Jackson.  Jackson and his crew are determined to outwit Gia and save Hazel's brother, Miko.  Annabeth and her friends, Jason, Piper, and Leo have flown in on the Argo II.  Annabeth longs to be reunited with Percy but fears his time in the Roman camp may have changed him.   She carries a gift from her mother and a command to follow the Mark of Athena.  This is an amazing tutorial on the complexities and similarities of the gods of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome couched in a riotous adventure story, gently steering toward romance.

"Being a hero doesn't mean you're invincible.  It means being brave enough to do what needs to be done."
"More Americans died in the Civil War than in World War I and World War II combined."

Last to Know / Elizabeth Adler / 327 pages

Harry Jordan has a Harvard law degree and a trust fund set up by his grandfather that made him rich.  He is senior detective for Boston PD, recently broken up with his fiancé, Mallory Malone - who had quit her investigative TV detective show for him.  Harry has gone to his lake house to get away from it all and to do some serious thinking.  He decides to chuck it all and join Mallory in Paris, for the first time putting her above his career.  Unfortunately, an explosion, devastating house fire, and murder interfere.  This is a masterful who-dunnit with  resonating human relationship aspects.  Although multiple suspects are presented, the reader invariably solves the crime, experiences some doubt, and is finally gratified to learn that he/she is every bit as smart as he/she thought he/she was.

"Regret is a terrible emotion; it erodes the soul with its what if's and might have been's and if only's."

Her Last Breath / Linda Castillo / 308 pages

Painters Mill police chief Kate Burkholder investigates a hit and run accident that resulted in the death of a father and two of his children.  Can the surviving child shed light on the tragic accident?  Was it deliberate?  Was the intended victim the Amish wife?  Kate's life is complicated by the discovery of human bones in grist mill.  Are these the remains of the man she killed when she was fourteen?  Can agent John Tomasetti, who recently bought a house in the area, help her again? From the jarring prologue to the ending, this Kate Burkholder thriller will keep you rooting for Kate, Tomasetti, the Amish, and justice.  Interesting facts about Amish deceases caused by shallow gene pool add additional interest and relevance to this piece.

The Son of Neptune, Heroes of Olympus Book 2, Rick Riodan / 521 pages

This is the second book in the Heroes of Olympus series and once again we have the inimitable Percy Jackson as our main protagonist.  Percy has lost his memory but luckily not his skills.  He has some intermittent flashes of memory but the only thing he remembers for sure is the name Annabeth.  Percy has arrived at a camp for half-bloods on the West Coast, Camp Jupiter.  This camp harbors Roman progeny. (Camp Half-Blood was Greek.)  Percy undertakes a quest with two misfits from the camp, Hazel and Frank.  The quest is an unbeatable adventure featuring amazing characters, descriptions, edgy word plays, riptide - the pen that turns into a sword, and goddesses throwing Ding Dongs.  (I really liked that part.)  This book is a must read/must have.

Terminal City / Linda A. Fairstein / 379 pages

Wow!  Who knew of the vast city beneath Grand Central Station (N.Y.)?!  This is the fascinating setting for this murder mystery/thriller.  Assistant DA Alex Cooper and detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace race against the clock to apprehend a serial killer who carves train tracks onto his victims' bodies.  The president of the United States is due to arrive at Grand Central Terminal.  Can Alex wrap the case in time, or must this visit be cancelled/rerouted?  Aside from a wee bit of repetition, this book was an eye-opening, educational look at an unbelievable aspect of New York, its thriving life above and below the streets, and a riveting detective story.

The Silkworm / Robert Galbraith / 455 pages

Cormoran Strike had a "short but inflexible personal code of ethics that he carried with him all his adult life: do the job and do it well."  Although his fledgling detective agency is struggling, he takes on a missing husband case whose client may not be able to pay.  When the client is arrested for the murder of her writer husband, Strike and his partner, Robin Ellacott, work indefatigably to clear her and place the blame where it belongs.  The wounded ethical veteran character of Strike, his failed relationship with his beautiful ex, his current relationship with Robin, and his extraordinary, intuitive detective skills justify this read.  Add to this the horrific murder and multiplicity of seemingly guilty personages and you have a read guaranteed to keep you up at night...or neglecting all responsibilities during the day.

Rooms / Lauren Oliver / 305 pages

Sandra and Alice are two ghosts inhabiting the Walker house at Coral River.  The Walkers - Caroline, Minna, Amy, and Trenton, have returned after the death the estranged patriarch, Richard.  We learn the history of the ghosts and the family.  Through them we learn that the whole process of life is separation, a long, slow process that can only be cured by reabsorption into everything - ultimate death.  Trenton has decided upon suicide, and wonders "what was the point of trying at all, if in the end you were no better, no longer, no more real than a bathroom sink and a rust stain?"  In this riveting ghost story, we have a missing girl, a philandering husband, a suicidal teen, an alcoholic mother, a sex-obsessed sister/daughter, and 2/3 very unhappy ghosts.  This psychological tale deals with the very essence of life and life after death.

"That's what everyone wanted, in the end: to be part of something bigger."

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court / Mark Twain / 410 pages / Dead Author Challenge

Missouri's own Mark Twain has done much to dispel the myths of Arthurian legend with this tongue-in-cheek visit to historical merry old England.  Using Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century resident of Hartford, Connecticut (Twain's own home), as a vehicle, Twain relates cumbersome aspects of chivalry and knighthood and the church's untoward control over the lives of the common man.  Morgan is determined to use his superior technological knowledge to modernize, improve the lives of the people, and bring knighthood to its knees.  Inspired by one Twain's dreams and his financial reverses, it is a cynical look at both the romanticized past and Twain's own present.

Stuart Little / E. B. White / 131 pages / Dead Author Challenge

This classic by the author of Charlotte's Web is an awesome story about friendship, adventure, heroism, and indefatigable spirit and determination.  Stuart Little is indeed little - less than two inches tall, and a mouse...  He never allows his handicaps (size being one) to interfere with his spirit of adventure and his desire to do the right thing.  He risks his life to come to the aid of others and leaves his home with all its comforts and support to find and rescue his lost friend, Margalo.  Perhaps not quite as compelling as Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little is an endearing story with an admirable role model.

The BFG / Roald Dahl / 219 pages / Dead Author Challenge

This was a most delightful, entertaining audio by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Twits, etc.  Sophie is abducted after she witnesses a giant doing something mysterious to some neighborhood children through their window at night.  The BFG kidnaps her to keep his secret safe.  He is the Big Friendly Giant and does not eat children, unlike the nine other frighteningly named giants.  He and Sophie work together to save the queen, and indeed the entire world, from their dastardly plan.  The BFG's speech patterns alone make this a most amusing, endearing tale.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Love Letters/Debbie Macomber/306 pages

This is the newest entry in Debbie Macomber's Rose Harbor series.  The series follows Innkeeper Jo Marie, who opened the Inn at Rose Harbor following the sudden death of her husband.  This story introduces two more couples who visit the Inn and tells how a love letter can make a big difference in their lives.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Summer Knight / Jim Butcher / 371 pages

I have read all the Harry Dresden novels and this latest one is the bomb! Lots of fun and a fast read with lots of action. I wish Harry lived in my city --Chicago is close, but not close enough-- I think I would ingratiate myself to him, maybe as a cat sitter for his cat. He might come across as a big dufus sometimes, but Harry kicks some serious ass. If you haven't read this series yet, pick up the first book...NOW! Find this book in the catalog.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cat o' Nine Tales / Jeffrey Archer 341 p.

Jeffrey Archer presents short stories, many based on true stories, collected during his visit at the expense of Her Majesty.  Some feature scam artists that get their just dues or maybe not and some that backfire.  The Man Who Robbed His Own Post Office where one may buy a business even, a post office business and sell at retirement and expect to make a return on one's investment...that is until the government downgrades the business and leaves one out to dry unless one get's creative.  And so go many of the stories. The twists are so interesting and the results not always predictable.

Started Early, Took My Dog/Kate Atkinson/ 371 pages

When newly retired Tracy Waterhouse sees a known "working girl" dragging a young girl through a mall while berating the youngster, she makes a split decision. She offers the woman $3,000 pounds in exchange for the girl. Kelly jumps at the money that Tracy was planning on paying the contractor at her house. Now Tracy, unmarried and childless, is in possession of young girl who hardly speaks but seems easy going enough. That exchange, witnessed by two other people and the security cameras, is just the beginning of the story that stretches back to a murder decades earlier.

This is part of the Jackson Brody series, and my book club's selection for November. The story seemed rambling and disjointed to me. Without having read the previous books, this one didn't fill in the back story enough. I'd suggest reading the series in order to get the most out of this story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Horrorstor / Grady Hendrix / 243 pages / Horror

The book  is clean, fresh and attractive, even if the format, a furniture store catalog, at first seems odd. Then, you realize that it has to do with the content of the story, and it adds to the fun. It's a quick read, and I stayed up till 2AM to finish it, perhaps that was due to the fact that the nature of the  story reminded me a little of Clive Barker's Hellraiser movies.  Side note:  It drives me crazy that the main character sometimes makes decisions bordering on the idiotic (really? you're going to go through the creepy hallway that cannot possible be there?) but when you get to the end, it somehow makes sense. Horrorstor is enjoyable and I will never see Ikea the same way again.

But back to the cover/book format........There's clearly no way I can ignore how awesomely packaged this book is, so I'll begin there. It's designed like an Ikea catalog (which I ordered after receiving the book for review consideration, because I'm cool and wanted to compare.  Also, I love Ikea) with the beginning of chapters featuring different products and their descriptions (which slowly got creepier as the story progressed, but I'll get there). There were coupons for the store, an order form, and a map of the showroom. It was all wonderfully put together, and even though I initially thought it would be difficult to read because of the different column sizes and text, it was not at all, and my ability to read the book was not at all affected by the design, making it a super win.

Next I want to talk about just how imaginative this story was. It wasn't scary per se, but it was one of those that left me turning the pages quicker because I really just wasn't sure how things were going to turn out. It took so many twists and turns that I couldn't possibly have tried to guess the outcome, nor would I have wanted to!  No plot reveals here.....you'll just have to experience it yourself!

Best of Me / Nicholas Sparks / 292 pages / Contemporary Romance

In the small town of Oriental, Amanda Collier, a beautiful teenage girl from a wealthy and respectable family, falls in love with Dawson Cole, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks with a notorious criminal family. Alas, their relationship is doomed because neither of their families approve of the romance and they eventually part ways. However, their love was so intense and passionate that neither of them can forget the other. Twenty-four years later, after the death of their mutual friend, Tuck, they are brought back together again. 

I don't know if it's because I've read so many of Nicholas Spark's books but I found this novel to be very predictable. I also found the plot to be unbelievable and far-fetched, for instance, how many men would go their whole life without having a romantic relationship, or even have a one-night stand with another woman, all because they can't get over their first love? 

This novel was quite similar to Nights in Rodanthe and The Notebook, which is how I was able to guess how things would end for Dawson and Amanda halfway through the novel! And I guessed about that little twist on the final page about 30-40 pages before the end. It was extremely obvious! 

I found it hard to connect with the characters (probably because the story was so far-fetched and unrealistic) but I did feel sorry for Dawson. [Don't read the next sentence if you don't want the ending spoiled for you - The poor bloke had such an awful life, first he was abandoned by his mother, physically and emotionally abused by his father, lost his one true love, lived a lonely desolated life and then finally when he has a chance for happiness, he gets MURDERED! ]

If you're new to Nicholas Sparks novels, you will probably like this one a lot better than I did. 

One Plus One / Jojo Moyes / 368 pages

What can I say? I simply fall in love with Jojo Moyes' writing and her characters. I can feel the tension between them almost as though I'm sitting in the backseat, watching this story play out.

This latest tells the story of Jessica Rae Thomas, a single mom, working 2 jobs trying to stay afloat and barely succeeding at all-- but not without giving it her best shot and having relentless optimism. Her modern family consists of her stepson, Nicky-- who struggles with bullies and guy liner, and her daughter Tanzie-- a maths genius. Enter in Ed Nicholls, one of her patrons in her cleaning business. Ed is recently on trial for insider trading. Fate brings these two together and the dynamic between them is palpable.

I fell in love yet again with these characters and am left wanting to know what they are doing now...

ARC provided by Goodreads Firstreads Program-- THANK YOU!!!

Silver Bay / Jojo Moyes / 338 pages

Ignore the little tag-line on the front cover – “You have nothing to lose but your heart” – because this book is not the heap of slush that that phrase would imply. (Publishers must really annoy their authors sometimes, because I suspect that Jojo Moyes would have taken those simpering little words and thrown them overboard to rot on the beach.)
Silver Bay is a sparsely-populated paradise in New South Wales where Lisa McCullen is hiding herself and her daughter Hannah from past tragedies and communing with the whales which pass by on migration every year.  Then, real-estate developers arrive in the shape of Mike Dormer who has come to scope the place out for a hotel and leisure complex designed to make mega-bucks for his boss in London, his future father-in-law. The different pace of life, the beauty, the whales, the dolphins, Hannah – and Lisa - all get to him, however, and his priorities change.
This is a well-crafted book with an interesting plot-line revealed in appropriately timed snippets. It is written from the alternating first-person point of view of each of the main characters which serves to bring them alive extremely well. It can sometimes be difficult to remember whose skin you’re in as it is difficult to write an authentic voice for everyone from an 11-year-old girl to an Aussie beach-bum who thinks he’s God’s gift to women, but confusion is surprisingly rare.
As the story of Lisa’s past life is gradually unfolded, along with the tales of the other residents of Silver Bay, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you reading, and although you know from the start there’s going to be a happy ending (it’s a romantic novel, okay?) the actual ending is so impossibly happy that you really don’t foresee it. I cried, dear reader, real tears......

Where She Went (If I Stay #2) / Gayle Forman / 264 pages / Young Adult - Realistic Fiction

Where She Went takes place 3 years after Mia's accident, is in Adam's POV, and spans 24 critical hours. Adam's last day in New York, before leaving on tour, he happens to run into Mia. Is fate giving these two another chance? Will Adam finally get answers to the questions that have haunted him for the past 3 years? How is Mia dealing with her choice to stay?

“There are so many things that demand to be said. Where did you go? Do you ever think about me? You've ruined me. Are you okay? But of course, I can't say any of that.” 

A lot has changed for both Adam and Mia. Their dreams have come true musically, but is it enough, if they don't have each other? This was a great follow up of these characters and their very special story will surely hold a place in many young hearts. 

 "You don’t share me. You own me." 

If I Stay (If I Stay, #1) / Gayle Forman / 201 pages / Young Adult - Realistic Fiction

Brief summary
Seventeen year old Mia is riding in her parents car to go visit some family friends and then in the blink of an eye she's standing next to her body that's been critically injured in a car accident. Taking place over the course of about 24 hours, this book is about love, loss and a choice that is Mia's alone to make.

What I liked
This book was heartbreaking, but beautiful. I loved Mia. I felt so connected to her while reading about her current situation and her past.  I really don't know what to say to do this book justice. Maybe just that it's beautifully written and well worth reading.

What I didn't like
I wasn't expecting it to end as abruptly as it did, but it doesn't bother me as much as it would have if there wasn't a second book to read. If it would have ended like that with no sequel, then I would have been really upset. 

Brief thoughts
I'm not a fan of sad books at all (I seriously HATE to cry), but this is absolutely a book worth reading, even for someone like me. I will definitely read Where She Went as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. I'll just have to remember to keep a box of tissues handy.

The Girl You Left Behind / Jojo Moyes / 384 pages / Historical Fiction

This book is all about a painting during wartime World War I, but don’t let that put you off.   The setting of two different time periods is well presented and it is very clear in which era you are. In fact when it turned to the 21st century and then went back to 1917, it was almost as if you were in a time machine, revisiting the familiar story you had left behind. The author created a dilemma for me over what the main 21st century character did regarding the painting, did I agree?, didn’t I?, it changed with each page.  A fabulous story that I will remember for a long time to come.  

The writing in this book is exquisite. I don’t use this word lightly, I dislike wordy, over descriptive writing, where the writing distracts from the story. Not so with this book, this writing is at its best with excellent use of the English language such as “cacophonous daylight”. The characters are very well drawn and realistic, you find yourself caring about what happens to them. I found myself being absorbed by the book, turning pages eager to discover what was going to happen next. Thinking about the characters even when I wasn’t reading the book. It is a book with twists and turns, a few surprises, one so shocking I actually cried out (luckily I was at home at the time!). 

And the Mountains Echoed / Khaled Hosseini / 404 pages / Literary Fiction

It is 1952, in a small village in Afghanistan. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father, stepmother and baby stepbrother. Abdullah raised Pari when their mother died in childbirth and the two are extremely close. In the afterword, Hosseini mentions that the title for the book was inspired by this phrase in a poem by William Blake: "The little ones lept, and shouted, and laugh'd/and all the hills echoed". However this idyllic upbringing is soon to be abruptly ended.

This is quite a different book to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Whilst a large part of the book is set in Afghanistan, the impact of the Russian war and the Taliban's rule is only peripheral to the narrative. This is a smaller book, about family relationships. Again and again, we explore the relationships between children and their parents, whether the children are biological or adopted, whether the adoption is known or a secret. And yet, while the stories are intimate, the story spans 60 years and the terrain is epic, moving from the Middle East to Europe to the US and back again. The book begins and ends with Abdullah and Pari, but in between the stories will encompass characters as diverse as a Bosnian nurse, an American doctor, a French poet, a Greek housewife and an Afghan warlord. All are connected - sometimes closely, sometimes remotely - to the central story. Many characters will face difficult ethical dilemmas and sometimes they respond in ways that surprise the readers.

Heroes of Olympus Series - Book 5 The Blood of Olympus / Rick Riordan / 528 pages / Fantasy & Adventure

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan is the fifth and final book in The Heroes of Olympus series. This fantasy, young adult, Greek mythology is full of adventure, action, magic and romance.  It brings to full circle the adventures of seven demigods in their race against time to prevent the awakening of the earth goddess, Gaea. This has been an incredible journey for fans of the series beginning with The Lost Hero, the first book in the series, and it has been getting bigger and better with each book.

In The Blood of Olympus, it is the day of reckoning for everyone - the ultimate showdown. The heroes of Olympus - Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Reyna, Nico, and the rest of the crew of the Argo are pitted against Gaea's evil Earthborn children, the giants. A daunting battle lies ahead. Percy and his friends must stop Gaea from awakening and gaining control of the earth. It is an all-out battle of the forces of good versus evil. Will Percy and his friends succeed or will Gaea have her way and have two demigods sacrificed in Athens?

The final chapter in Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series is a huge, huge delight from start to finish. Percy and his friends will captivate and mesmerize you, leaving you in a state of delirium. This is a story that not only brings new life to Greek legends; but also offers a gratifying conclusion to a series that has been a part and parcel of many readers' psyche for the past few years. However, a word of caution may be appropriate if you come looking for a strong POV of Percy and Annabeth. They are there but this final installment is more about Jason, Reyna, Leo, Nico and Piper.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Edge of Eternity / Ken Follett 1098 p.

Ken Follett completes his Century trilogy with Edge of Eternity which continues the stories of 5 families: American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh as they move through the tumultuous times of 1961-1989.  Through these families, Follett tells the history of the times: the rise and fall the the Berlin Wall, the Freedom Rides, assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and crumbling of the Kremlin.  The third generation gives voice to the tragedies and hard times of this era.  It is the personalization that give life to the stories and compels the reader to keep turning the pages.

Those readers who enjoy this series may also enjoy the works of James Michener, North and South by John Jakes, and Edward Rutherfurd's Dublin Saga.

Check the library catalog.

Food: a love story/Jim Gaffigan/340 pgs.

Anyone familiar with comedian Jim Gaffigan's stand-up routines will enjoy this book. In his unique style, Gaffigan critiques food, restaurants--anything pertaining to food--in such a humorous fashion that the reader can't help but laugh out loud. I enjoyed it more than his previous book, Dad is Fat. Very entertaining!

I Work at a Public Library/Gina Sheridan/152 pgs.

Public librarians talk about writing down "interesting" encounters with the public, but Sheridan has actually done it! The subtitle of her book, "a collection of crazy stories--from the stacks" sums up the book quite nicely. Arranged Dewey decimal style, the book is an entertaining read about the "characters" and situations one deals with in a public library environment. What a fun read!

Hansel & Gretel (a Toon Graphic)/Neil Gaiman/53 pgs.

Along with illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti, Neil Gaiman retells the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. The ink illustrations add a creepy dimension to an already horrifying version of the story told by Gaiman. Very interesting, but will probably give little children nightmares!

Pudd'nhead Wilson/Mark Twain/139 pgs.

The concept of children being switched at birth is not uncommon in fiction, but in this case, it's a black slave's child switched with the white owner's son. Roxy, a light skinned slave, takes care of her son, Valet de Chambre (Chambers), and the master's son, Thomas a Beckett Driscoll (Tom). Both boys are easily mistaken for one another, so fearing that her son, Chambers, will be sold and taken from her, Roxy decides to switch the infants. Each lives the life to which he was NOT born--the privileged one becomes the slave, and the slave becomes the privileged one. There is a lot packed in such a small book: the reflection of slavery in the mid-19th century, prejudice, murder, and suspense. I highly recommend this book!

Light Between Oceans: a Novel/ M. L. Stedman/ 343 pages

The Light Between Oceans, written by M. L. Stedman takes place on a remote island 100 miles off the coast of Australia.  Tom and Izzy enjoy their solitude on the island and hope to start a family.  When a baby in a row boat washes on shore the impact on their lives echos back to the Australian mainland.
This book would appeal to the reader who likes adventure as well as a thought provoking book examining human nature.

If you liked this book, you might also like the following: The Orchardist, Latitudes of Melt, or The Lightkeeper's Wife available for checkout at the library.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Blood of Olympus / Rick Riordan / 502 pages

This book was a fitting end to the Blood of Olympus series.  All of our favorite characters are back and all of their storylines are mostly resolved.  We find out more about several of the characters as they deal with the ghosts of their past, before coming to Camp Half-blood or New Rome.  As always when finishing one of Riordan's books, I wanted more from each of the characters, but perhaps they will make appearances in the next series coming out next year.

Blackwood Farm / Anne Rice / 530 pages

The writing in this book is well done and the level of detail was wonderful.  However, I found myself hating the primary character, Tarquinn Blackwood, from the first chapter.  I wanted Goblin, Lestat, the Talamasca, or Petronia or kill him just so I wouldn't have to read his incessant whining any more.  Most of the other characters were interesting, except I couldn't figure out why any of them loved the main character.  This is the first of Rice's books that I've read, so I hope the rest are better.

The Last Anniversary/Liane Moriarty/388 pages

Scribbly Gum Island has always been a source of fascination for Sophie Honeywell. It's the setting for the famously unsolved Munro Baby mystery. Over seventy years ago, a baby was found abandoned in remote house with no sign of her parents anywhere. An overturned chair, a couple of spots of blood, a still warm unfrosted cake and a boiling kettle were the only clues to the couple's disappearance. The mystery has made the island a tourist attraction that keeps the island's extended family quite busy. Now Sophie has been named the heir to the home of the woman that found the baby and ultimately raised her as her own. Sophie had only met Connie a few times when she was dating Thomas, Connie's great-nephew, but Connie was taken by her and her obvious love of the house. Now that Thomas has married someone else and has a newborn and is also living on the island, will Sophie be able to make a home there too?

This novel is much darker than Moriarty's other books. There's post-partum depression (if not psychosis), mental cruelty, in addition to other secrets besides the Munro Baby mystery. I wasn't sure I liked this story as much as her others until I got to the surprise ending. Then I found myself laughing at her ability to shock me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Only Enchanting / Mary Balogh 387 p.

Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, is devastated by his fiance's dropping of him after he returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a massive brain injury that leaves him unable to talk and with incredible gaps in his memory in this 4th installment of the Survivors' Club series.  To add to his misery, his ex-fiance is marrying his best friend.  Unable to communicate, he destroys his drawing room.  His family sends him off to join 4 men and 1 woman where they work to heal themselves and each other of horrific, life-shattering events.  Functioning well, despite a brain that still lacks chunks of his memory, Flavian meets Agnes at the annual meeting of the Survivor's club.  Family let him know that the widow Velma, his ex-fiance, is back and she and the family are uniting to get him wedded to her.  He finds himself drawn to Agnes, and convinces her to marry him before returning to the bosom of his family.  Both he and Agnes have trust issues.  Mary Balogh describes the feelings and situations of both Flavian, Velma, Agnes' sister, in this Regency romance.  One feels that one knows these characters.  It is delightful to have recurring characters so as to get know them even better.

SCCCLD November Challenge

In honor of Day of the Dead, the November Book Challenge will be to read a book written by an author who has died, or a book written about an author who has died.

Why Day of the Dead?  

We might have missed a challenge or two this year, so you will earn 3 bonus points for each book.  So brush off those copies of Patriot Games, Hawaii, All Creatures Great and Small, Romeo and Juliet, the list could go on and on!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Homecoming / Robyn Carr / 352 pages

In a small town, reputation is everything. In her latest novel, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr explores the burden placed on a young man returning home to face his mistakes—the first step in claiming the life he was meant to live. ~ www.robyncarr.com

The Homecoming is the sixth book in the Thunder Point Series by Robyn Carr.   Best friends since the age of four, Seth Sileski and Iris McKinley had a falling out their senior year of high school. Although Seth left Thunder Point for bigger and better things, life doesn't always turn out as expected. It's been 15 years since they have seen each other, Iris is now a high school guidance counselor, and Seth is the new town deputy.  Seth has never forgotten Iris and wants her back in his life, and his plan is to wear her down until she comes around to his way of thinking.
I really enjoy the three series by Robyn Carr: Grace Valley, Virgin River (spin off of Grace Valley) and Thunder Point (spin off of Virgin River).  Unlike most of the books in the Virgin River and Thunder Point series, you haven't really gotten a chance to get to know these two characters from previous books.   Usually there are characters in the books that you say to yourself,  "Oh, I can't wait for his or her story to be written."  So maybe this is why I am feeling kind of ho hum about this one.  Regardless, Seth and Iris are a really cute couple, but now I'm saying to myself, "Oh, I can't wait for Grace and Troy's story."  It's called One Wish and is coming out in February 2015

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

And the Mountains Echoed / Khaled Hosseini / 404 p.

There is no doubt that Hosseini has a gift for story telling.  I needed to read this for my book club and even though I had liked the Kite Runner, I was not looking forward to the sadness I expected.  And there is sadness, betrayal, and sacrifice.  But there is also love and hope.  The novel reads much like a series of short stories but they are all tied together with intertwining lives of a few families over the course of six decades.  Afghanistan is the dominent setting but the story also includes Greece, Paris and California. A very worthwhile read.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Glass Kitchen/ Linda Francis Lee/ 375 pages

When Portia Cuthcart was seven years old, her mother and grandmother knew she had "the knowing." The knowing is what her grandmother called her intuition that led her to bake and cook what was needed by the customers of her café, The Glass Kitchen. Portia and her sisters end up living with her grandmother after their parents die, and Portia learns to cook with her grandmother. After her grandmother's death, she marries and her husband's disapproval of her instinct makes her learn to suppress it until it nearly disappears. Fast forward three years, Portia's husband has divorced her in favor of his pregnant girlfriend, her ex-best friend. Portia moves to New York from Texas to join her sisters who made the move years before. She decides to live in the garden apartment of the building her aunt left to the three sisters. Olivia and Cordelia have already sold their apartments in the building to Gabriel Kane who also wants to buy Portia's. She backed out of the sale at the last minute and intends to live there. Soon, she finds that she can no longer suppress the knowing and begins to make plans to open a restaurant.

Complete with recipes, The Glass Kitchen is a whimsical story of magic, food, family and relationships. The conflicts between Gabriel and his daughters strike a cord, and the relationship between the Cuthcart sisters rings true as well.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird / Paul Acampora / 166 pages

"Sometimes the world is a puzzle waiting for us to solve it.  Other times it's a mystery to appreciate and accept."  Elena, Michael and Lucy, three friends since kindergarten, decide to honor their late eighth grade teacher, Fat Bob, by getting all incoming ninth graders to read his favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird.  They promise that "no mockingbird will be hurt in the making of this conspiracy."  Lucy's dad is the principal of St. Bridget School, (The school from which the three just graduated.) and her mom was just pronounced cancer free.  Told from Lucy's point of view, the story is humorous, sad, insightful, and filed with literary references and a love for books and reading that should appeal to all bibliophiles.

"To Kill a Mockingbird is not about symbols.  It's about people."
"People live or die based on good medicine, good luck, and the grace of God."
"We are all broken, but sometimes the jagged pieces fit together nicely."
"Dickens' novels are like roller coasters.  You have to enjoy the ride."
"Life is a gift.  Going to church is like sending a thank you card."
"A book connects to the universe like a cell phone connects to the Internet."

The City / Dean Koontz / 571 pages

Young Jonah Kirk (These are just two of his many names.) is both blessed and cursed by circumstance.  His father, Tilton, comes and goes while his grandfather, a piano man, and his mother, a beautiful, struggling singer are constants.  Another, somewhat mysterious presence is Miss Pearl, who has revealed to Jonah that she is the city.  Although Ms. Pearl and his grandfather and mother, and later, his friends are integral to Jonah's formation, his own integrity and sense of justice  mold him into a hero for the generations.  This engaging, at times, supernatural, novel takes the reader on an informative walk through 1960's America and the 1940's Japanese internment.  The characters are fully and richly drawn, and the supernatural aspects are made believable as always by Mr. Koontz's command of his craft.

Station Eleven / Emily St. John Mandel / 333 pages

Is this how the world as we know it will end...gradually, and then suddenly?"  "Time had been reset by catastrophe."..."Any expectation of a return to normalcy were long gone."  After the massive Georgia flu pandemic, time was counted as year one, year two, etc.  The world's changes wouldn't be reversed.  No one was coming to the rescue.  The taken for granted miracles of transportation and communication have ceased to exist.  The virus had a fast incubation period.  If you were exposed, you got sick within 3-4 hours and were dead in a day or two.  Early reports had put the mortality at 99%.  Rioting occurred worldwide outside hospitals.  A slow-moving mass exodus had clogged almost every road.  In this apocalyptic setting, the main characters move back and forth through time before, during, and after.  A Hollywood star, his best friend, his wives, a journalist turned paramedic, and a child actress navigate the tempestuous seas of this new world.  Given the current ebola virus scare, this book is certainly timely...and cautionary...Information relating to Shakespeare and his times was of profound interest, particularly as the plague impacted/inspired his career.

NOS4A2 / Joe Hill / 692 pages

If only Joe Hill had emulated his father's early style, I would have said this was one the best horror stories I have ever read/heard.  Unfortunately, it was rife with profoundly objectionable language.  Do not under any circumstances listen to this story while in the presence of others!!  Having made this disclaimer, NOS4A2 - German for vampire, is a horrifying, riveting tale written in a style reminiscent of Stephen King.  It is about a young girl, Victoria McQueen, who uses a mysterious, magical disappearing bridge to find things, and an equally magical and mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith that Charlie Talent Manx uses to abduct children and take them to Christmasland.  I was impressed that one of the main characters was Maggie, the librarian, who used Scrabble tiles to clarify ideas and cut through reality.

"The difference between children and adults was the difference between imagination and resignation."

Chesapeake Blue / Nora Roberts / 501 pages

Seth Quinn, a well-known artist, returns to his home and family on Chesapeake Blue, Maryland.  He had gone to Italy to escape his abusive, neglectful, greedy mother.  His adoption by Ray had perhaps literally saved his life.  Ray's three adopted sons became Seth's brothers and, in time, their families his.  But his drug-addicted, booze-drinking mother keeps begging him for money.  When she threatens his family and his new love, Dru Whitcomb Banks, Seth decides to draw the line.  The confrontation scene is priceless...and the romance not too shabby either.

Storm / D. J. MacHale / 481 pages

Sylo Chronicles Book 2
"Maybe there are no good guys."  Tucker Pierce, Tori Sleeper, Olivia Kinsey, and Kent Berringer escaped from their home on Pemberwick Island in Storm, book 1, only to discover that Portland has been abandoned.  Maybe they're in the middle of the second Civil War.  "One side's got the air force, and the other has the navy and SYLO."  Tucker's mom had warned him not to trust anyone.  Turns out this was good advice.  Not all questions are answered in this second SYLO book, and it ends in a real cliff hanger, leaving the reader hanging until the publication of book 3.

QB 1 / Mike Lupica / 261 pages

"Friday night (high school football) meets the Manning Brothers."  High school freshman, Jake Culen, is not sure he likes the position he's in.  His father is a local football legend in Granger, Texas, and his older brother, Wyatt, is a can't miss QB prospect who led the varsity team to the state title last season.  Of course, expectations are that Jake will follow in their footsteps.  His father attends Jake's games only when they don't conflict with Wyatt's.  One of the young coaches on the team takes Jake under his wing and alters his throw from what his QB father had taught him.  The consequences are monumental both on field and off.  Although there was a bit too much play by play for my taste, this was an engaging read and I must admit caused me to learn much about the game and develop an appreciation for it and for high school football in particular.

"Control the things you can, then leave the rest to God and Texas."
"Football is a thinking man's game."

Keeping the Castle: a Tale of Romance, Riches, and Real Estate / 261 pages

"A book as frothy and fizzy and light as a champagne cocktail - think I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice."  Seventeen year old Althea must marry well - that is, for money, lots of it.  She must support her widowed mother, younger brother, Alexander, and her two stepsisters, plus she must see to the upkeep of the somewhat derelict Crawley Castle and its staff who are dependent upon it and herself for their livelihood.  When the dashing Lord Boring arrives on the scene, Althea thinks she has found her match.  Will she wed for love and money?  As the opening quote from the CD jacket proclaimed, this is a fun romance with some delightful twists and a few profound ideas.

Peter Pan Must Die / John Verdon / 440 pages

"Every so often in his life as a detective, Gurney got the feeling he was juggling hand grenades."  The Spalter case may have bee the worst.  Although he was retired, he owed an old friend a favor.  Jack Hardwick lost his job when he passed along unauthorized info on the Shepherd case.  Jack wants revenge on those who forced him out.  He and an attorney have decided to re-open the investigation into the Spalter murder.  They believe misconduct on the part of the investigating officers and poor representation caused the conviction of the victim's wife.  Jack asks Dave to join the investigation.  Dave Gurney uncovers numerous suspects including one Peter Pan, an international assassin who loves his job too much.  This page-turner is nearly impossible to put down.  It features an amazing portrait of functional...and dysfunctional family dynamics...and perhaps, an epitomization of a hero.

Delicious! / Ruth Reichl / 380 pages

I was really disappointed with this book when I started reading it.  Although it had been recommended on the blog, I found it to be somewhat slow moving, a tad boring, and not particularly to my liking.  I almost decided to quit reading in order to read a more fascinating book.  Thank goodness I persevered!  This book is awesome!  Amazingly well drawn characters, an in-depth look into a culinary magazine publishing office, and informative, emotive letters detailing the rigors of World War II more than compensate for the somewhat slow beginning.  Billie Breslin is a phenomenon.  Having grown up in her beautiful big sister's shadow, she considered herself quite unremarkable.  She has a flair for cooking and, with her sister, owned and operated a spectacularly successful bakery.  Now she refuses to cook.  Her life is radically altered when she moves to New York from California to work at Delicious magazine.  Probationary testing leads to unusual friendships, experiences, and opportunities.  When the magazine is impacted by the recession, etc., Billie is retained to answer customer complaints, concerns, and requests.  When she inters the library and discovers a hidden room, she unearths a wealth of correspondence, a most unique card catalog, and an intriguing mystery.

"Sight is not a gift but an act of will."
"Letters can tell you far more about read life than the work of any scholar."
"History is the story we tell the future about the past and we have an obligation to get it right."
"A great meal is an experience that nourishes more than your body."
"Working is the only thing that keeps you young."

Rapunzel Untangled / Cindy C. Bennett / 294 pages

Rapunzel never wondered what was right outside her door until Fane.  Her mother told her she had a fatal auto-immune disease and that it would kill her to go beyond her suite of rooms in the tower at Gothel Mansion.  She met Fab Fane on Facebook.  He introduced her to many of the things she had missed - pizza, M&M's, poker, Egg McMuffins...kisses.  With her mother out of town, they discover a sinister room in the basement.  Does this room have anything to do with the world-saving prophecy that involves Rapunzel and her fifteen foot long hair?  Miss Bennett wrote this retelling of the fairy tale set in a modern world in which the fairy tale had never existed.  This is a clever, creative twist on the traditional fairy tale, filled with suspense and just the right amount of scary tension and romance.

"She wasn't sure why, but chocolate always made her feel better."

Truman Award Preliminary Nominee 2015-16

Fantastic Mr. Fox / Roald Dahl / 81 pages / Day of the Dead Challenge

I listened to this fantastic read-aloud on audio-CD.  Read by the author himself, it was an absolute delight!  Mr. Fox steals from the meanest farmers around to feed his family.  The three - fat Boggis with his prize-winning fowl; short, troll-like Bunce with his ducks and geese; and lean, mean Bean with apple cider, have teamed up to capture Mr. Fox.  They intend to barricade and guard the entrance to his home, preventing future raids and starving his family.  Mr. Fox, however, is much too clever for this and devises a plan of his won to thwart his enemies and reward his friends.

The Trumpet of the Swan / E. B. White / 210 pages / Day of the Dead Challenge

I would highly recommend this audio-CD of E. B. White's classic The Trumpet of the Swan read by the author himself and enhanced with trumpet music where appropriate!  It is most intriguing for its premise as well as its theme.  Louis, a trumpeter swan is born with a speech defect - he can't, but uses ingenuity, determination, and friendship to devise clever coping mechanisms.  His father proves that he will do just about anything to help his son, and Louis proves that wrongs, even those done out of love and for the right reasons, must be righted.  This is a delightful, heart-warming, and most informative story.