Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Under the Wide and Starry Sky / Nancy Horan / 496 pages / 14 discs

   How much do you really know about Robert Louis Stevenson? You probably can say he published Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but how about who or what he really was? This wonderful and engrossing novel is just the ticket. Fanny van de Grift has left her husband and taken her children to Europe. She is tired of her husband's philandering and has decided to study art in Belgium. After settling in Paris due to a misunderstanding, her life takes an abrupt turn as tragedy engulfs her family. Fanny takes her children to a quiet art community to recover where she meets a young brash Scot named Stevenson. It is this meeting that will change the course of two families and will impact the publishing world with wild adventurous tales.
   I will admit to not knowing a lot about Stevenson but this book by Horan changed a lot of my thinking. For those of you remembering how in depth her research was for Loving Frank you will not be disappointed. Fanny and Robert are good and yet bad for each other. Robert finds his muse and proves his talent for adventure tales all the while battling his fragile health. Fanny struggles to find her place besides being "Mrs. Stevenson" and fights some dark demons herself. The narrator chosen for the audio was brilliant. Kirsten Potter has a voice that just brought Fanny to life and we lived her anger, frustration and absolute joy in life. I think this would be a great book club selection but I will warn you several sections just needed a stronger editor or maybe just skip those years altogether. I can't imagine all the work Horan must have done to even get a grip on what this couple did in their life time. This is a tremendous work that will reward you and make you curious to read those adventure stories once again.

Six Degrees of Reading: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey, Richard C. Morais, 242 pages

This book traces the life of Hassan Haji from his childhood in India to his adulthood in France.  Hasan has an innate ability to cook.  A couple accidents along his journey direct him to Madame Mallory and her French restaurant just one hundred feet across the street from his home.  The author does a great job of making Hassan's early years in India come to life.  While Hassan's life evolves over a journey of many miles, it's the short journey to Madame Mallory that becomes the turning point in his life.  This was a very enjoyable book.

I Kill the Mockingbird/Paul Acampora/166 pages

Lucy, Elena and Michael have been friends since kindergarten. It's the summer before they start high school, and they have to pick four books from a reading list to read before school starts. Lucy's mother has just returned home from the hospital where she has been declared miraculously cured from her terminal cancer. The kid's favorite English teacher suddenly died last fall, but he was a huge fan of To Kill of Mockingbird and had already told them that would be their only mandatory reading for the coming summer. Since Mockingbird is also Lucy's favorite book, she wants to everyone to read it as a tribute to Mr. Robert (Fat Bob) Nowak. So the three start hiding copies of the book in every bookstore and library they can, leaving a flyer saying I Kill the Mockingbird in its place. They start a website and Twitter account to spread the news of the "conspiracy." In short, they become literary terrorists.

This is a fun read that also has some good ideas for librarians to get kids reading. There are some touching moments between Lucy and her mom. Mockingbird is also my favorite book, so I was drawn to the title, and I wasn't disappointed.

The 19th Wife: a Novel / David Evershoff / 514 pages / July Reading Challenge, Historical Fiction

This is a very interesting book about the beginnings of the Mormon religion and comparing it to one of the off-shoots that broke away when the Mormons renounced plural marriage.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young come to life in all their power and imperfections in these pages.  Two narrators provide a complex look at plural marriage and perfectly complement each other.  The first is Ann Eliza, Brigham Young's 19th wife, who broke away from the religion and campaigned for laws against plural marriage.  The other narrator is Jordan Scott, a modern nineteen-year-old who was excommunicated (read as dumped on the highway alone) at the age of 14 by the "Firsts," a sect still practicing plural marriage.  Jordan revisits his past when his mother is accused of shooting his father and he attempts to find out whether she really did it or not.  With all the true-life characters you'd expect from historical fiction and the twists and turns of a detective novel, this is a fantastic read.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Phantom Instinct/Meg Gardiner/356 pgs.

Meg Gardiner keeps getting better and better! If you like non-stop suspense, this is the book for you. Bartender Harper Flynn watched her boyfriend, Drew, get gunned down during her work shift. In the ensuing chaos, it was determined that there were two gunmen responsible, and they died at the scene. The case was closed; Harper insisted that there were three gunmen. Fast forward to a year later. Aiden Garrison, one of the officers present at the scene, also believes that there could have been one more gunman. The only problem is that Aiden suffered a traumatic brain injury at the scene leaving him with Fregoli syndrome--a type of "face blindness" causing him to believe random people are actually one person changing disguises. These two team up to try to get to the truth. Harper's past comes into play, along with other twists and turns. I couldn't put this one down. So good!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Cowboy and the Princess / Lori Wilde / 384 pages

The Cowboy and the Princess is a delightful tale of a runaway princess.  In many ways the book fits in well with other light-hearted books and movies of the same theme, but has interesting personal details about the main characters to keep it interesting.  This book shows what happens when a European princess comes to Texas.  If you like the typical romance novels, then you will love this book.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where nothing is long ago / Virginia Sorensen / 213 pages

This 1955 book is from the Newbery author of Miracles on Maple Hill.   It is a memoir of sorts as it is a group of stories from the author's childhood growing up a Mormon in a small Utah town in the 1920's and 1930's.  It was very interesting and each chapter could stand alone as a short story.  Although she writes from her child point of view, she has insight into the time period, the Mormon religion, and women.  It is quite good and, unfortunately, the last copy with no other books by her in the district.

Natchez Burning/Greg Iles/791 pgs

This is the first installment of the long awaited trilogy from Greg Iles.  It is a continuation of the Penn Cage series and was supposed to be one title which turned into three.  I have been listening to this series on CD because Dick Hill was the narrator but that has changed with this title.  Don't like the new guy as much but still love the writing.  Penn Cage's dad, Dr. Tom Cage is being accused of murdering his former nurse.  Penn is trying to help his dad but Tom is being very closed mouth about things.  The case is also bringing up old civil rights murders that have never been solved, so there is a lot going on.  At first I wasn't sure how they were going to make three books out of this but I can see now how this could happen.  Can't wait for book 2 - The Bone Tree - but that isn't until April!!

The Book of Life/Deborah Harkness/561 pgs

This is the final book of the All Souls Trilogy.  In this one, Diana and Matthew have returned to modern day.  And Diana is pregnant with twins so there is going to be problems with the Congregation of witches, vampires & daemons.  They are also continuing the search for the missing pages of The Book of Life.  It is a very good book for the most part - towards the end it gets a bit strange but then it is a story of the supernatural.  The basis of the story deals with family and caring and that families will not be perfect or fit into a mold - it is what you make it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lovers & Dreamers / Nora Roberts 752 p.

Nora Roberts weaves a contemporary romance around the Templeton family.  This very successful hotelier family resides in Monterrey, Calif.  It features siblings Laura and Josh, adopted cousin Kate, and the single housekeeper's daughter, Margo.  Raised like one of the family, Margo seeks acceptance by her mother.  She finds a huge success as a model, living the very high life.  But when she falls, she falls far when her money is gone and she is left with a huge pile of bills.  She is a strong woman yet she has a lot to learn.  And back home, she begins to change.  Kate, orphaned at a young age, finds a path to success as an accountant.  She has always tried to be perfect.  When her world also falls apart, she is unable to take action.  She floats into the business started by Margo and Laura.  And Laura has her trouble too.  Her husband is a cad.  And he turns to others and absconding with all her money and their children's college funds.  Divorced, Laura struggles to pay the bills (she refuses to appeal to her parents).  All three women have a lot to overcome and their roads to romance are rocky.  It is so nice to see characters grow and develop and return.  And to see the warm interaction between the characters.

Big Book Challenge ; December Challenge: 5 Gold Rings

The Lincoln Myth: A Novel (Cotton Malone), Steve Berry, 448 pages

Cotton Malone is once again called to help his old boss, Stephanie Nevelle.  He is to go to Sweden and pick up an agent.  Of course things do not go that easily and Malone is once again travelling through Europe and the States to help his old boss and preserve the United States as we know it.  What is the secret left behind by the Founding Fathers?  And even more intriguing, what part do the Mormons play in preserving this secret?  Toss in Cassiopeia Vitt and  get ready for an action packed story.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War / Dakota Meyer / 256 pages

Into the Fire chronicles the events that happened in 2009 to Dakota Meyer (recipient of the Medal of Honor in 2011) while deployed in Afghanistan.  The one thing I liked about this book is that it gives you a personal experience of the soldier by telling about his life growing up and how he came around to joining the Marines.  If you want to get a boy to sign up, tell him he can't handle it.  Fast forward to the battle of Ganjigal -- Meyer is outside the front lines waiting to receive orders but the only order that comes is that he must remain in position and not advance.  Imagine how difficult this is when you have close to a hundred men making calls on the radio for air/artillery support and it doesn't come despite the fact they are being told multiple times that it will be "15 mikes" (15 minutes) from now.  Meyer, of course, disregards the orders to stay put and charges into the fight with machine guns, grenade launchers, and Afghan soldiers.  The battle that follows is intense and leaves one biting his or her nails (especially if you are listening to it like myself) -- it is raw and real.  The story continues after the battle and how he handled the MOH nomination, his struggle with PTSD, and life as a civilian.  I was not a fan of the narrator, but other than that, I thought it was interesting getting the perspective of a Medal of Honor recipient.

Sight Unseen/Iris Johansen & Roy Johansen/324 pgs.

Kendra Michaels, once blind, has exceptional sensory skills. Her main career is that of a musical therapist, but because of her extraordinary observational skills, Kendra is brought in by law enforcement as a consultant in difficult cases. This go around, Kendra is asked to help with what appears to be a copycat serial killer. The "master" the serial killer is copying is on death row--thanks to Kendra. Kendra is now the serial killer's target, and no one associated with her is safe. This is action packed, suspenseful, and leaves the reader with some unanswered questions--a sequel has to be in the works!

Her Last Breath/Linda Castillo/398 pgs.

This is another  in the Kate Burkholder series, and it keeps the reader guessing! What looks to be a routine hit and run accident, soon becomes a murder to be solved. Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called to the crime scene only to learn that the husband, and two children, of her childhood friend, Mattie Borntrager, are the victims. The book takes off from there, keeping the reader guessing as to who are the good guys, and who are the bad. It's a very fast and engrossing read!

Murder at the Art & Craft Fair (Book 6 Dekker Cozy Mystery Series), Steve Demaree, 213 pages

Lt. Dekker and Sgt. Murdock are planning to have a great weekend with their special ladies until they find they will be shopping till dropping at he local Art and Craft Fair.  Both men share much in common, love of good food, reading mysteries and just recently have added a Wii fit plan to their activities.  To both men's surprise they enjoy the fair and make several purchases.  What looks like a great weekend gets knocked off track when a murder occurs at the fair.  As the two work the case they encounter some unusual suspects and find themselves spending a night in a double seater outhouse!  Be prepared for some unusual banter between the two officers and lots of old fashioned police work. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Hurricane Sisters / Dorothea Benton Frank / 326 pages / April Challenge Rain

Told from alternating points of view/voices, this tale set in the hurricane-ridden Lowcountry of South Carolina recounts a family's struggle to deal with the conundrum that is life.  Ashely, the daughter who is an artist with a Jacqueline Kennedy fixation, is in an abusive relationship with a state senator; Her brother Ivy is gay and lives in California with his partner.  Maisie, the eighty year old grandmother, is living with her driver, a sixty-five year old who owns a lama farm.  Liz, the mother, runs a nonprofit organization for battered women and children.  Husband/father, Clayton, is involved in a New York affair that rocks the entire family.  This book has something for everyone and is a delightful, insightful, and entertaining read.

"The gene pool is a mighty big place and...there's literally no lifeguard."

Horns / Joe Hill / 370 pages / 12 Drummers Drumming December Challenge / April Challenge Rain

Reading the Author's Note at the end of Mr. Mercedes, I discovered that Stephen King has a son, a novelist, Joe Hill.  I immediately decided that I needed to read some of his books.  Horns was the first.  It is the story of one Ignatius Perrish who wakes up one morning to discover that he has grown horns.  "The horns called snakes and sins alike from the shadows, beckoning them out of hiding to show themselves."  People spontaneously confess to Ig and he discovers secrets he'd rather not know.  Will someone confess to the murder of Merrin, Ig's girlfriend - the murder of which he is accused?  This is a gripping tale, alternating between past and present.  The author's justification for Ig's transformation is creative, believable in a weird, "it's fiction after all" sort of way, and lends credence to an otherwise contrived plot.

"When you think about it, most of the good ideas came along to make sin a whole lot easier."

Elizabeth Is Missing / Emma Healey / 303 pages / April Challenge Rain

Maud suffers from dementia and constantly writes notes in an attempt to remember significant things.  She has several carers and a daughter, Helen, and a granddaughter to remind her who she is and what she is about.  She is extremely concerned about her friend Elizabeth whom she thinks is missing.  She is relentless in her determination to find her friend, frequenting the police station to report her loss.  Her intransigence is instrumental in solving the seventy year old disappearance of her sister, Sukey.  Miss Healey did a masterful job of crafting the character Maud.  The reader is drawn to her, fears for her, and perhaps fears for her/him self as he/she falls victim to occasional memory losses...

The Paradise Trap / Catherine Jinks / 344 pages

Marcus is video/online game player and is quite good at it.  His plans for the summer involve his gaming and not the beat up trailer which his mom bought so that can spend the summer camped at the beach.  The summer continues to disappoint, when their camping spot is way away from the beach.  Things look up for Holly, Marcus's mother, when she encounters Coco, a friend she had made while summering at Diamond Beach as a young girl.  Marcus's summer turns interesting and frightening due a magic cellar beneath their trailer...  Fans of Brandon Mull should gravitate to this similar trek into the magical unknown.

Mr. Mercedes / Stephen King / 437 pages / April Challenge Rain

Brady Hartfield work two jobs.  He is a part of the Cyber Patrol at Discount Electronix and he drives an ice cream truck.  He was also responsible for the City Center Massacre, killing eighteen and injuring fifteen.  He engineered the suicide of the lady whose Mercedes he stole to effect the killing.  Now he is determined to do the same for retired detective Kermit William Hodges, who led the investigation to ferret out the "perk" - perpetrator.  Retirement has not been kind to Hodges.  He put on weight,  watched too much TV, and obsessed over his father's service revolver, but he is determined to catch Mr. Mercedes.  Mr. Mercedes is equally fixated on Hodges.  With two unlikely assistants, Bill attempts the near impossible.  As always with King, parts of this book are horrifically shocking.  Although it may not be one of his best, it is a memorable walk down memory lane with one very twisted villain and a hero determined to thwart him.

Risky Business / Nora Roberts / 344 pages / 5 Gold Rings December Challenge

Elizabeth Palmer owns and runs The Black Pearl Dive Shop on Cozumel.  When Jerry Sharp fails to report to work and is discovered by Elizabeth while she is conducting a tour, shot and with an anchor tied around his chest, his twin brother, Jonas, an attorney comes to investigate.  Jerry had a stash of money in the room he was renting and was apparently involved in cocaine smuggling.  Liz is threatened by drug dealers following the money trail.  Jonas and Liz are attracted to each other, (of course, this is a Nora Roberts' book) and Jonas is compelled to protect her.  This is a good beach read/listen, with just the right amount of romance, suspense, and wounded family dynamics.

River's End / Nora Roberts / 664 pages / April Challenge Rain

Olivia's life became a nightmare the night the monster came.  He killed her mother and found her in her bedroom closet.  She was still there when Detective Brady came to investigate the homicide.  Although her father had no memory of committing the murder, he was convicted and sent to prison.  Now, as he is about to be released and is dying of brain cancer, her wants to tell his story.  He chooses Noah Brady, a true crime writer and son of the detective whose testimony helped convict him, to write it.  His daughter, Olivia, was adopted by her grandparents and taken to their camp in the Pacific Northwest to escape the publicity and notoriety of her famous parents.  Noah wants to interview her and all her family for the book.  Sam Tanner wants to see his daughter one more time.  Is he the murderer?  Does he plan to kill her, too?  The suspense is excellent, the relationships well-crafted, and the denouement is inordinately satisfying.

Otherwise Engaged / Amanda Quick / 483 pages / 5 Gold Rings December Challenge

"Amity Doncaster woke up to find herself notorious for the second time that week."  Once for saving a man's life, the second was for quite possible ending one...a serial killer known as The Bridegroom.  Ms. Doncaster wields a tessen, a deadly weapon which masquerades as a fan, as well as credible medical skills which she learned from her father.  She also writes travel pieces for The Flying Intelligencer.  When Benedict Stanbridge, the mans whose life she saved, returns to London from America and hears that Amity's name is linked to his in scandal, his solution is to say that they are engaged.  There is no doubt that there is some spark on the ship voyage they shared from the Caribbean to New York, but the engineer in Benedict has been searching for "a proper, predictable female, one who possessed all the qualities of a fine clock.  She would be reliable and dependable...He would wind her up on a regular basis and she, in turn, would not surprise him..."  Benedict, Amity, her sister, Penny Marsden, and Inspector Logan from Scotland Yard embark on an investigation to discover the identity of the killer kidnapper, if he is, indeed, still alive.  This book offers something for almost everyone - Russian spies, pioneering inventions for utilizing solar energy, interesting facts on fashionable London attire, feisty females, romance...

Dr. Sleep / Stephen King / 568 p.

The Shining is my second favorite of King's books. I did not find Dr. Sleep near as terrifying as The Shining, but it was still a very good read and I was happy to read about Danny as an adult. Instead of just dealing with ghosts and an evil hotel, Dan now has to also deal with the "True-Knot." This group of gypsy-like travelers prolong their evil lives by murdering innocent people. They are particularly "nourished" by people like Dan--who have the "shine." Dan is now the one in the position to help a special child. And Abra turns out to be special in more ways than one for Dan.

The Dinner / Herman Koch / 292 pages

This is a most unusual book.  It is set in an elegant restaurant and the story revolves around the various courses of the meal.  The story involves the accidental murder of a homeless person and the culpability of the perpetrators...and parental reaction to said violence.  Quite startling!!

Pardonable Lies / Jaqueline Winspear / 415 pages / 2 Turtle Doves December Challenge

This third Maisy Dobbs book finds Ms. Dobbs investigating the death of a veteran of World War I.  She has taken this assignment in exchange for a notable attorney's agreement to represent a fourteen year old accused of murder.  The attorney believes the reports that his son died in a fiery crash when his plane went down on a mission.  His wife believed her son to still be alive and her deathbed wish was that he be found.  This is a wonderful atmospheric piece for the period during and after World War I and deals with, what would have been at the time, a most controversial topic.

Natchez Burning / Greg Iles / 791 pages (1389 LP) / American Historical Fiction / 700+ page book

The Double Eagle Group was founded in 1964, an ultra secret splinter cell of the White Knights of the KKK.  Reporter Henry Sexton believes them to be the deadliest domestic terror cell in American history.  Natchez mayor, Penn Cage is "a crusading lawyer with a savior complex and a part-time novelist.  Deep down he's just a boy who wants to save his own town."  He's also trying to save his father, respected Dr. Thomas Jefferson Cage, by solving a murder mystery linked to decades old civil rights murders, drug running, and corrupt politicians, police officers, and a wealthy bank owner.  This gripping epic is a must read.  Although the length is gargantuan, the plot never bogs down.  Stephen King said Natchez Burning is "extraordinarily entertaining and fiendishly suspenseful. I defy you to start it and find a way to put it down."  An interesting sidebar...Author Greg Iles thanks "The Rock Bottom Remainders for forcing [him] to have fun regardless of what life throws at us," in the Afterward.  Rock Bottom Remainders is a band comprised of well-known authors such as Stephen King.  Not only does Natchez Burning provide insights into the underbelly of America, it illustrates modern day heroes and heroines struggling to live up to the ideals and integrity of a moral America.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly / Jaleigh Johnson / 386 pages / 8 disks / narrated by Kim Mai Guest

     I love trains! I don't know about you but they are the coolest thing. Riding across the countryside watching the world whiz by is just about Heaven for me. So when I read about this girl who escapes from trouble by jumping a train I was very interested. Meet Piper who lives in a world that isn't a thing like ours. It is a mining town that has weekly meteor showers not of rocks but of objects from other worlds. Things like books, dolls or mechanical devices like a music box and such. Piper is a scrapper meaning she earns her living by repairing the items she scavenges from the area.
     During one of the showers, Piper sees a small caravan trying to make it to safety across the meteor field. She watches helplessly as the wagons are destroyed and when she investigates finds an unconscious young woman who is barely alive. After getting her home Piper is told by neighbors there is a mysterious man asking about a survivor from the wagons. When the two meet Piper realizes he isn't who he says he is. They escape by jumping on the 401, a train that travels the width of the country delivering people and packages on behalf of the King. Piper discovers a group of people on board who become her allies in the search for answers. Who is the young woman and why does the man want her and what is it about the Head of Security that is so fascinating?
    What an enjoyable and thrilling story. I was sucked in from the beginning and it was hard to put it down. Piper is a feisty young woman who has a stubborn streak when is comes to finding out the truth. She also discovers magic and that it is a part of her. I enjoyed the ride on the 401 and the adventures in each of the towns where the train stops. I am hoping this is a beginning of a series. It felt like it but the story did tie up at the end. I heartily recommend this novel to adults as well as some younger ones. You will be rewarded.

Six degrees of Reading: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald and The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.

The Wind Through the Keyhole / Stephen King / 309 pages

This is the last written of the Dark Tower series, but King suggests putting it between books 4 and 5.  This novel starts where Wizard and Glass leaves off, and is again a glimpse of Roland Deschain's past.  The majority of the novel is Roland's telling of a fairy tale his mother used to read to him.  We also get a better resolution to Roland's relationship with his mother than in Wizard and Glass.  This is a fast read and an interesting look at another aspect of Mid-World.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen/ Lindsay Ashford/ 420 pages

We went 20 minutes over in our discussion and we didn't even get to the clips of the BBC documentary on youtube, I had queued up!

Anyway, you can pretty much tell what the book is about by the title.  You really end up learning a lot about Jane Austen's family, which I found very interesting.  But, Jane Austen died at age 41 after a long illness and there is suspicion of fowl play.  The narrator is a lesbian, but really the book is not about that--although the introduction might have you wondering.  So, lots of different things to talk about with this title!  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keeping the Castle / Patrice Kindl / 272 pages / 6 disks / narrated by Bianca Amato

   I have discovered a fun and unexpectedly hilarious YA novel for Jane Austen fans. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl has a heroine who must marry and marry well to save her family and their ancestral home. Unfortunately Althea tends to speak her mind quite plainly and has thus sabotaged many a relationship. Her father loved castles and built Crawley Castle in a remote region of Yorkshire. Though at one time it was fully functional, it is now falling down around their ears, literally. With her brother only four years old, it is pressing Althea marry soon.
  Also living in the crumbling castle are two stepsisters. These two are the perfect twin for Cinderella's evil stepsisters. Their father married Althea's mother and he had the misfortune to die two weeks later. The father left his money to them. Despite depending upon Althea's mother for their necessities they are reluctant to spend money on any one or thing besides themselves. One of my favorite parts is the ruse Althea cooks up in order for them to help pay for a partial new roof. It is done rather magnificently.
   Then comes the news the new Lord Boring and his friends will be visiting Lesser Hoo (oh the names are just perfect) in the coming weeks and all the countryside are atwitter. These people who come from the city must be handsome and also most importantly very rich. So Althea and her two stepsisters set their sights on finding a husband for themselves. Let the tournament begin!
    I think you can see there are several parallels to the Austen books but also that of Cinderella fairy tales. Althea is a wonderful narrator who is fully reminiscent of Emma and her machinations to have everyone marry everyone else. You can foresee the ending but the journey to get there is deliciously fun. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone who wants a bit of snarky spice in their romance novels.

Six Degrees of Reading: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.

Wizard and Glass / Stephen King / 672 pages

Wizard and Glass is the fourth volume of The Dark Tower series.  The Dark Tower features Roland Deschain (along with his ka-tet of Eddie and Susannah Dean, Jake Chambers, and Oy the bumbler) and his epic quest to save his world from decline and corruption by finding the dark tower.  The series is inspired by old westerns and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, with pop culture thrown into the mix.  Roland's world is connected to ours through doors or death, and parts of his world will remind you of your own.  This book is largely a flashback to Roland's early years and the beginning of his quest for the dark tower.  We get much more information on Roland's parents, his friends (Alain and Cuthbert) and his first love.  This book briefly visits the world created in Stephen King's The Stand, and reading The Stand first may add to your enjoyment of that portion.  I would recommend this book to Stephen King fans or Tolkien fans who want a different version of the epic quest.  As with any Stephen King, this is not a book for children.  Parents should read the book before encouraging teens to read it. 

Invisible/James Patterson & David Ellis/399 pgs

This is the third novel that James Patterson has written with David Ellis (Guilty Wives & Mistress are the others).  I think it may be the best one also.  Emmy Dockery's sister has died in a fire that Emmy thinks may be linked to a number of other fires.  All the fires are considered accidental and no one believes her.  She finally goes to her ex-fiance, who just happens to be a retired FBI agent and they find a link to all the fires.  The story is interspersed with recording sessions from the killer which you think are giving you an idea of who the killer is but you may be surprised at the end of the book. 

Folly Beach / Dorothea Benton Frank 336 p. American historical novel December Challenge 5 Gold Rings

This is Frank's 9th in her Lowcountry tales.  Cate Cooper returns to her childhood home in Folly Beach, South Carolina.  Her late husband committed suicide leaving her to deal with the fallout of his poor business dealings and leaving her flat-out broke even her wedding ring is a fake.  In Folly, she renews her dreams.  Interspersed with her story is the story of Dorothy Heyward, who with her husband DuBose, turned his novel into the play Porgy. As Cate's new life is revealed, that of the Heyward's and Gershwin in the 30's is also told.  Inspired by living in the "Porgy House", the Heywood home, her play writing dream comes to fruition as she develops a script about Dorothy.   Written with charm, Folly Beach is about a woman, her family, and her dreams as well as a historical novel, incorporating the true story of the Dorothy and DuBose Heyward and George Gershwin right down to the Cunningham piano used.  Now I want to visit the Porgy House and see George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.  And there is a wedding proposal too, not to give too much away.

Folly Beach is near Charleston.  The Porgy House has been restored to the 1930's time frame.  The Cunningham piano used by Gershwin is at the Charleston Museum.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Perfect Ghost/Linda Barnes/310 pages

I read this book based on recommendations from colleagues (Mizzou'77 and others).  It took me several weeks(months) to read this book due to the busy-ness of my life, but after reading other reviews for this title, it looks like they also felt that the story bogged down in the middle. The main character Em, who began the book by feeling physically and emotionally overwhelmed shopping for a cardigan at the mall suddenly becomes Nancy Drew, bravely looking for clues. The transformation didn't ring true. Besides, she was a more interesting and unusual heroine at the beginning, when she crippled by fear but courageously venturing out. The end of the book had a surprising twist that maybe I would have seen if I hadn't taken so long to finish. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It Happened One Season / Stephanie Laurens/Mary Balogh/Jacquie De'Alessandro/Candice Hern 617 p. Dec. Challenge 5 gold rings

The readers have spoken!  The four authors have the same story line provided and selected by readers.  A handsome war hero returns home from war, weary and seeks solitude; family duty comes into play, and he must find a bride.  The bride is all but on the shelf, not expecting to every marry.  Each author tells a wonderful story of romance between these unlikely characters.  What fun to see where these authors take the story line.   All are sensual even when set in post-Napoleonic War times. Where one is looking for read-alikes, each fit for the other's style, yet each are unique.

December Challenge: 5 Gold Rings

Vanishing Violin / Michael D. Bell 329 p.

The Red Blazer Girls are back with their second mystery.  Margaret, a super violinist, is offered a fab violin if she can solve the puzzles and clues.  Sister Bernadette hires the girls to find out who is sprucing up their high school.  And the RBG have to solve the crime of the stolen violin.  The violin disappears while under lock and key and security alarms.  Only a button is left at the scene.  Only later do the the RBG's discover that the two cases are related.  And of course they have to keep up their schooling and friendships and play a trick on a classmate.  Pre-teens will have fun with the interesting puzzles.

Monday, July 14, 2014

See you at Harry's / Johanna Knowles / 310 pgs.

"Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible in her family, where grumpy eighteen-year-old Sarah is working at the family restaurant, fourteen-year-old Holden is struggling with school bullies and his emerging homosexuality, and adorable, three-year-old Charlie is always the center of attention, and when tragedy strikes, the fragile bond holding the family together is stretched almost to the breaking point." - From Catalog.

Once in awhile, the right book falls into the hands of the right person at the right time; and it is Exactly what they needed.  This is what happened to me as I just grabbed this book off the shelf only because it was a Truman Award Nominee and I had a three day 4th of July weekend coming up.  I had only started the book when I left for the holiday weekend to visit family.  When I returned, I was shaken and saddened over a terrible tragedy that befell one of my distant relatives over that weekend.  Overall I just felt helpless in not knowing what I could say or do to help and comfort my family members

I was at first disturbed when I continued reading this book only to find out that the "tragedy" was very close to what had just occurred in my family's life.  However, I kept reading because I wanted to see if the book had any insights into how to explain the un-explainable.  Why do terrible things seem to randomly happen in life?   and when tragedy strikes, what can we do to pick up the pieces?  Of course the book cannot explain why bad things happen, but it acknowledges that life can be terribly unfair at times.

I would never suggest that someone who has been directly affected by a loss and is grieving be given this book "to make things better".  But I am suggesting that anybody, especially teens, that want to understand what kinds of thoughts and emotions a grieving person goes through should read this book.  The book does a great job showing the main character's process and conflicting emotions from anger, helplessness, loss of faith, feelings of guilt and blame, extreme sadness, and loneliness.  It also shows the things people do and say to help bring a grieving family back to life after such sadness.

Beyond Belief:my secret life inside Scientology and my harrowing escape/Jenna Miscavige Hill/404 pgs.

The subtitle of the book says it all! Jenna Miscavige Hill is the niece of David Miscavige, the current leader of the Church of Scientology. He took over the leadership of the church after founder L. Ron Hubbard's passing. Having been indoctrinated into the Church of Scientology at a very young age, Jenna grew up knowing nothing but life in the Church. Her story, and ultimate rejection of Scientology, gives an insight into a Church that does its best to keep its operating ideology from the rest of the world--and even its own members. This was a highly informative look inside an organization about which I knew very little.

Gone Missing/Linda Castillo/277 pgs.

Number four in the Kate Burkholder series, Gone Missing is just as riveting as its predecessors. This latest entry in the series focuses on Rumspringa, the period of time in a teenage Amish person's life when he/she can experience life without all of the rules of the Amish community. When an Amish teenager goes missing, and ultimately turns up dead, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, and state agent John Tomasetti become involved in solving the murder. As in the previous books in the series, there are twists and turns, mystery and suspense. It's a fast, engrossing read!

The Silver Dream/Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves/240 pgs./Neil Gaiman challenge

This is called the sequel to Gaiman and Reaves' The Silver Dream, but by the ending it's obvious there is at least one book coming. Also, according to the cover of the book, the story was conceived by Gaiman and Reaves, but was actually written by Michael and Mallory Reaves. Putting all of that aside, The Silver Dream picks up where Interworld leaves off. Joey Harker is a Walker--he can "walk" between dimensions. Originally from Earth (as we know it), Joey is now part of InterWorld, an "organization" whose goal is to keep the universe in balance. A new "person" enters the story line--Acacia Jones--whose true purpose isn't revealed until closer to the book's end. This is science fiction, action, and suspense all rolled into one. Middle -schoolers should find this very entertaining!
Salvaged Love: A Historical Novel of Key West, Susan Blackmon, 348 pages

Abigail Bennington and her father set off on a voyage to Jamaica and Alabama.  He is visiting Jamaica to check on his business ventures and to sail aboard his newly constructed ship the Abigail Rose.  Abby is traveling with him in the hopes of putting off an unwanted suitor.  When their ship hits a reef they find themselves in Key West waiting out repairs that will allow them to continue on their journey.  The author does an excellent job presenting the history of Key West up to the period of the story.  The characters are likable and the story moves along at a good pace.  My only disappointment in this book stems from the historical material presented as an introduction.  I was expecting the book to follow along in the lines of James Michener, but it reads more as a romance novel with limited historic details.

Top Secret Twenty-One/Janet Evanovich/341 pages

Stephanie Plum is back trying to track down FTAs (Failure to Appears) with Lulu for her cousin Vinnie's bail bond business. She ends up partnered with Randy Briggs who is being targeted as the next person to knock off because of his involvement with Jimmy Poletti, one of Steph's FTAs. Ranger has his own problems because he's being targeted by an old nemesis who wants to kill him after torturing and killing the people around him, AKA Stephanie. Throw in Grandma Mazur's bucket list and a pack of feral Chihuahuas, and you have a typical week in Plum's life.

Not a bad entry in the Plum saga. There was a lot going on and that takes away from some of the silliness of the some of the characters, and I appreciate that. Some of them had turned into caricatures instead of the loveable people I had first enjoyed.  

The Silent Wife/A.S.A Harrison/326 pages

Jodi Brett and Todd Gilbert have lived together as husband and wife for decades. Although Todd wanted to get married during the early years, Jodi refused. She was happy with living together without any legal binds. Since she never planned on having children, she didn't see the need. Todd is a successful developer and has a roving eye. Jodi is a part-time psychologist and turns a blind eye to Todd's wandering until one day when she can't anymore. Todd's latest affair is pregnant and insists he leave Jodi and marry her. Thus, the stage is set for the drama of the rest of the book.

Unfortunately, that drama doesn't have much oomph to it. I've heard people say it this novel was so much better than Gone Girl and others describe it as horrible. I don't agree with either. It was okay. Maybe less than okay. There really wasn't any suspense. The one unknown left dangling at the end of the story wasn't interesting enough to make me give it more than a moment's thought. I can't recommend this one. It's our book club selection, and we meet tonight. I'll edit this if I hear something that will redeem this for me.