Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson 423 pages

I literally just finished reading this book and I am still undecided about it.  It was not my kind of book, but it was compelling from beginning to end.  The focus is on a young woman, Elisa, 16 years old when we meet her on her wedding day, who has been chosen as the bearer of the Godstone.  The Godstone is literally a gem that was placed in her navel by God when she was a baby.  The author did a really unusual thing...made the heroine a chunky lass and drew a lot of attention to it.  Her body changes as much as her spirit, maturity and wisdom throughout the story.  The author has a message there, too.  In fact, there's even a note from the author at the end that is definitely worth reading regarding a different kind of glass ceiling that women face not only from men, but from other women.  Elisa learns to be a leader and finds strength she never imagined she could possess.  I definitely recommend this book to younger readers, it's a Truman award nominee this year, even though I have no interest in carrying on with the series.

Champagne for one by Rex Stout 205 pages

This Nero Wolfe mystery begins with Archie Goodwin going to a swanky party as a favor to a friend.  The catch at the party is that it is an annual event held for just a few unmarried mothers who availed themselves of Grantham House, an institution set up to assist women in that particular need.  While there, one of the young women warns him that another girl has cyanide in her purse and has threatened to kill herself in the past.  Archie is on high alert and watches like a the girl dies.  He knows for a fact it was not suicide, because he was watching and certain she did not poison her drink.  If it had been anyone else, perhaps it would have been dismissed, but Wolfe, Cramer and the homicide department know better than to doubt Archie's powers of observation.  Now the question is, who would have wanted to kill her and how could they do it when the champagne was being poured and delivered randomly to everyone?  If anyone can figure it out, it will be the genius, Wolfe, but only with the assistance of Archie.

Read by Michael Prichard and wonderful, as always!

Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout 285 pages

This is the first book in the Nero Wolfe series.  It's a great introduction to the characters and is a really spectacular mystery, too.  We get to meet Wolfe, Archie and Fritz, not to mention Saul, Orrie and Fred in one of the most confusing mysteries Wolfe ever had to tackle.  When a young woman hires Wolfe to find her brother, no one can see the connection between the death of this "nobody" and the death of a major player on the social scene.  No one, except Wolfe, of course.  I'm not going to give anything away in this one, the twists and turns are too good to miss.  Archie's voice was already well-tuned, even though this was the first ride with him and Wolfe.

This is read by Michael Prichard (who would want to listen to Nero Wolfe books read by anyone else?) and is a really great story.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Variant by Robison Wells 376 pages

Wow, this was a weird one.  Really interesting story, though.  I had trouble putting it down.  A young man who has bounced from foster family to foster family his whole life finally wins a scholarship to a very exclusive private school.  The catch?  Once he gets there, he discovers it's more of a prison than a school.  The other students have separated themselves into factions, but they all follow the basic rules of the school.  The alternative is death, so it's not entirely unbelievable that they would.  There are no adults anywhere...ever.  Cameras watch the students' every move.  The students have jobs for which they are paid in points and then allowed to shop the school's catalog, but there appears to be no rhyme nor reason for some of the punishments that are meted out at random.  Are they being tested?  Are they being trained?  Nothing makes sense here, but Benson Fisher is determined to get out...or die trying.  This is a nominee for the Truman Award this year and is a great book for 6th graders and up. 

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber 258 Pages

Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber interested me because it takes places during the 1920's in Kansas and Missouri.  Most of the story takes place in Wellsford, Missouri.  Iris is 15 years old and lives with her father in Kansas.  Her mother died when she was very young.  Her father recently became engaged and has plans of moving his bootery to Kansas City, Missouri with his new wife.  Iris assumed that she would be moving to Kansas City too.  She soon learns that her father has found her a job working for a small town doctor who needs help caring for his elderly mother.  Iris is sent off to live in Wellsford, Missouri, leaving the only home and friends she has ever known.  Iris struggles with feeling of abandonment and betrayal by her father.  What Iris learns while living with Dr. Nesbitt and his mother are invaluable.  Life is hard and unfair for Iris and when tragedy strikes again she soon experiences warmth and understanding like she has never known. 

The Circle by Dave Eggers 491 pages

This book is a must read for anyone (me!) who is concerned with our lack of privacy and with the direction that technology is taking us toward becoming a "big brother" society.  The premise is that Mae Holland goes to work at an internet company and is soon equipped with a device which gives millions of viewers complete access to her every move, with the exception of a 3 minute span when she can turn the device off when she has a bathroom moment. 

The Circle is able to track it's members even to the extent that what is on their pantry shelves is known so that the company store will automatically restock when supplies are low.  Mae's ex-boyfriend, Mercer, refers to this control as "central tracking".  He also makes a good point of how social media has "elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication".

Needless to say, Mercer is against the tools the Circlers use, and tries to distance himself from Mae, who relentlessly pursues him, trying to convince him of the usefulness of the tools.  At one point Mercer writes in a letter that soon there will be two groups of people, those who live under the surveillance dome and those who will try to live apart from it.

Eggers' A Hologram for the King was an excellent book, a light hearted look at the world in which technology is taking over our lives.  The Circle is downright scary.  I think it describes the inevitable result of what our society will look like once transparency and lack of all privacy are the norm.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher by Sue Halpern 310 pages

I highly recommend this book to everyone, not just dog lovers.  I thought this would be a book about therapy dogs with cute stories about how they interact with patients.  And it is...but it is so much more.  The author takes us on a philosophical journey throught the lives of the people in this home, their current form of live, not how they lived before they ended up in a nursing home.  She states repeatedly that all nursing homes are not like this one.  This is a community nursing home in a small town with lots of support.  Lots of volunteers, lots of activities and lots of caring staff.  She repeatedly states it is nothing like the horror stories you often hear. However, it is not easy.  The residents, while they are not well, are still very much alive.  Sometimes all it takes is someone, even someone with a wagging tail and bushy eyebrows, to bring out their personalities.  Each chapter in the book covers a virture:  Restraint, Faith, Hope, Charity/Love, Fortitude and Prudence.  She quotes theologians like Augustine and Aquinas and ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.  This is a very inspirational book, one that bears reading again.  I would like to quote a few of the last lines, "I didn't expect to start thinking about virtue by following my dog into a nursing home--who would?  But it was hard to butt up against mortality and not be reminded, week after week, that though you were rich in life, you had a good chance of squandering your inheritance, so maybe you'd better start thinking about how not to do that." Just be sure to have your tissues handy!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sycamore Row by John Grisham 464 pages

Welcome back, Jake!  Yes, Jake Brigance is back and involved in another controversial trial. Seth Hubbard is a sick old man.  Dying of cancer, he meticulously plans his funeral and burial.  Then he locks himself in his office, produces a legal, handwritten will leaving 5% to his church, 5% to his long lost brother and 90% to his black maid, cutting out his children.  He also writes a letter to Jake, directing him to enforce his will at all costs. The next day, Sunday, he goes to church, chats with the preacher, then hangs himself.  Let the fireworks begin!  Why, OH! Why?  Why would Seth leave so much to Lettie Lang?  Seth has his reasons but you will have to read the book to find out what they  are. In the mean time, enjoy reading about the inner workings of the legal system in rural Mississippi!
A great legal thriller!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. 406 pages

The Marriage Plot

I loved Eugenides’ book “Middlesex.” It was so rich in character development and detail. I was absolutely convinced that the writer had to be an hermaphrodite because his insight was so convincingly drawn. Nope, he’s an unambiguous male. Expecting the same depth of writing for the “Marriage Plot” I was slightly disappointed. But it could be that the angst of the college dating years tend to no longer hold interest for me. And that is a major thread of the book. The heroine, Madeleine, is going to grad school to study the 18th century novel with particular interest in how the marriage plot plays out in the likes of Bronte and Austen. The plots don’t differ. Eugenides takes that plot and applies it to dating and marriage of the 1980s in the aftermath of women’s rights. Madeleine is the test case and as she navigates life between two men, we understand what has changed, and what has stayed exactly the same.

LIfe on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. 527 Pages

If you live anywhere near the Missouri/Mississippi River, you have to read the Mark Twain classic. I had only put it off for 36 years. I suppose I thought it would be heavy and possibly a bit dry for a female not in the least interested in steamboats. I was wrong. Even the minutia of how to navigate a steamboat down the river, in Twain’s hands, is light, funny, informative and woven with the most enchanting local stories. Colorful characters come and go; riverside towns sleep, then rouse to sounds of the riverboat, then sleep again. The river is forever changing itself and 21 years after Twain quits being a steamboat captain and comes back as a passenger, the river has become unrecognizable to him.  Even the types of people he was used to seeing on the river, are no longer part of the scene.
It’s the early 1800’s and Twain describes that world in vivid color, but the reader also begins to realize, that it’s life as we know it, too; humans are humans and change is both embraced and lamented.

The Final Deduction by Rex Stout 140 pages

There's been a kidnapping.  The wife of the victim comes to Nero Wolfe for help getting her husband back alive.  However, things go from weird to worse when murders start popping up around everyone involved.  It's going to take some heavy thinking to puzzle this one out, but they don't come much heavier than Wolfe.  Archie Goodwin is there to do the legwork, leaving the genius brain to deal with his own schedule.  As always, this was a fun audio book.  Goodwin's voice is perfectly conveyed by Michael Prichard's reading.  I highly recommend all of these audio books to anyone who loves a great detective story!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Storm Front by John Sandford 376 pages

This is a Virgil Flowers novel. Sandford fans will know him as "That f--ing Flowers". Flowers is a investigator for the Minnesota BCA and reports to Lucas Davenport, another of Sandford's recurring characters. In this novel, Virgil is on the trail of an Indiana Jones type character. An ancient artifact has been smuggled out of Israel by a local preacher/archeologist.  Virgil tries to track down the criminal, but complicating the matter are all the other characters wanting to buy or retrieve the artifact including a Mossad agent, a collector from Texas,  and a local red neck with 5 kids by 5 different men who is trying to seduce Flowers.  It doesn't take much effort. At one point in this book, Davenport comments that he is confused by all the different characters after this artifact. Me too, Lucas. Too many characters!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sycamore Row by John Grisham, 464 pages

John Grisham has written another fun legal thriller.  I stopped reading him for several years because I got tired of the same old story, but I picked him up again a few stories ago with "The Litigators."  Boy, was that one fun!  "The Racketeer" his next one, was just okay in my opinion but I wasn't ready to put him aside again.  I'm glad I didn't.

In "Sycamore Row"  Grisham brings back Jake Brigance, the young lawyer portrayed in "A Time to Kill."  It's 1988, about three years after that trial and Jake is still struggling to put his life back together and make it as one of the many lawyers in the small Mississippi town of Clanton.  No criminal case this time.  In this story a man writes a will the day before he kills himself and names Jake to defend the handwritten will.  The will cuts out his kids and leaves the bulk of his 24 million dollar estate to his black maid.

When I started the book I wondered if the story would keep my attention all the way through . . .um, yeah, no problem there! 

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival by Louise Murphy 320 pages

I got to read this book again because it is a selection for the library book clubs this year.  I love this retelling of the Hansel and Gretel fairytale.  The elements are all there: Hansel and Gretel, the stepmother who forces their father to leave them in the forest, the bread crumbs, the witch and even the oven.

Oh but it is so different too.  This is a story of two Jewish children in Poland during World War II.  The stepmother forces their father to leave them in the forest so they have a chance to survive as all four are fleeing from the Nazis.  The witch is Magda, who is part gypsy, and has avoided being sent away to the camps by the Nazis.  She takes in the children and fights to protect them.

This is a beautiful, sad, uplifting, horrifying, wonderful tale of what we humans do so wrong and so right.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay 498 pages

A patron recommended this book to me.  She said it was a real page turner and she could not put it down.  Well, for me, not so much.  I really had a hard time getting into this book.  It seems like the enitre 1st part of the book is spent explaining Whirl360, a computer program that allows you to see street views of any city in the world.  Thomas, is a schizophrenic, who is obsessed with this program.  It is his goal to memorize every city in the world.  It is his belief that one day a virues will wipe out all computer images and maps, there will be no paper maps left, as we are dependent on the computer. The government will need him to reconstruct the maps of the world, and in the meantime, if a CIA agent is lost in a city, they can call on Thomas to rescue them! While memorizing the streets of New York, he notices an image in a window.  What is that?  It looks like a woman being suffocated by a bag over her head!   He convines his brother, Ray, to travel to New York, find this apartment, and solve the mystery of this image.  Talk about your proverbial can of worms!  Little did they know that by flashing around this one image, they would be putting their lives at risk.  I will admit, that about the middle of the book, I did get caught up in the drama of how these brothers would survive with a very efficient, ice pick/plastic bag wielding assassin after them. Lots of twists and turns in this story.

The Whole Enchilada by Diane Mott Davidson, 384 pages

Diane Mott Davidson writes culinary mysteries featuring caterer Goldy Schulz.  The books always include recipes and before starting to read, I tend to look at the recipes and think, "that looks good but hard to make."  By the end of the book, I always convince myself to copy at least one or two of the recipes because they sound so darned good when described in the book.

This is not great literary fiction.  I always get a bit frustrated while reading this series because I think no way would life happen that way.  If as many people died around me, as died around Goldy Schulz I would be looking for a new line of work, or I would be in jail.

But notice I said I always . . . when I read this series.  I complain, but I keep reading them when they come out.  They are a decent escape and sometimes that's good enough.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson 432 pages

This book is not my usual cup of tea and if it was not on the Truman reading list, I might not have read it. However, I cannot say I did not like it. Many things happened in this book. It contains magic, a little romance, and some conflict.

Elisa, princess of Orovalle, is not your normal princess, she was chosen by God to carry a Godstone. Every 100 years a new bearer is chosen to fulfill a service in the name of God. After Elisa marries Alejandro and is swept to his kingdom in Joya d’Arena, she must keep their marriage a secret, as well as her Godstone. When a group of revolutionaries learn of Elisa’s Godstone, they decide to kidnap her, as they believe that she can save their people.

I recommend this book for children in 8th grade and up, based on some of the topics in the book.  

Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta 246 pages

Great jacket photograph, eh?
Like many people I used to be a fiction snob and would not read short stories, or would avoid them, if at all possible.  I have changed my tune in the last few years and am glad that I did because I have read a few collections which have really paid off.  One collection I really liked was Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy.
In Nine Inches, I found another collection that I enjoyed.  Tom Perrotta is at his best when he writes about the lives of high school students, their parents and teachers.  Election stood out as one of the best books about that subject.  The short stories in NIne Inches are all good except the one about baseball.  For some reason, that is a subject I have no interest in delving into (sorry, Grandpa G.), no matter how well written the story.
Lots of the characters in these stories are just plain sad, but even the saddest are not without hope and charm.  Some will argue that there is no resolution to some of the dilemmas faced by the characters, but isn't that what life is all about?  Just trying to keep on keeping on?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Immortal City by Scott Speer 384 pages

Maddy Montgomery doesn’t understand what the big deal is with Angels. It’s all anyone wants to talk about. Even Maddy’s best friend Gwen is angelstruck.

Jackson Godspeed is one of the most talked about angels. In just one week, he will be commissioned to be a Guardian Angel. Becoming a Guardian Angel is what all angels strive for, protecting those who can afford it.

When Maddy and Jackson meet, she doesn’t even know what he is. This fascinates Jackson and he just can’t stay away. Maddy gets drawn in to Jackson’s life of glitz, glamour, and murder. A serial killer is mortalizing angels by taking their wings and killing them. Suspicion turns to Jacks, and it is up to Maddy to help save him.

This is not my usual type of book, but I liked this one. This is the first book of the Immortal City Series.