Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie 230 pages

Ariadne Oliver, the well-known mystery authoress, calls her friend Poirot to come assist with a murder hunt she's planning.  The planning is all done, but she has a foreboding that something is just not right.  She says it's as though she's being pointed to add things to her hunt that wouldn't have been there otherwise.  Poirot comes to the village, meets the cast of characters (the residents of the house) and prepares to enjoy himself at the fete.  Everything seems to be going as planned until the play murder hunt turns into the real thing.  Now Poirot has to sort out what matters and what doesn't to solve a very sinister and devious string of murders.  I listened to this classic by Agatha Christie.  It was read by David Suchet, who plays Poirot in the A&E adaptations of these novels.  It was very enjoyable.

Old Souls: Compelling Evidence From Children Who Remember Past Lives by Tom Shroder. 253 pages

I am not one for reading any books about the paranormal as I generally find it all unverifiable bunkum, but this title crossed my desk as a possible donation to the collection, and in looking at the writing style and decent reviews by legitimate sources such as the Chicago Tribune, I was intrigued.
The author, Tom Shroder, is an award-winning journalist, and more important a skeptic when it comes to anything otherworldly; he comes down solidly on the side of the scientific method and the need of proof and duplication. Given that, he was also intrigued by a report about a physician and psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, who has spent the last 37 years investigating children from all over the world, who, from the first moment they can talk, insist they are someone else. These are not vague recollections but specific details of who they believe they really are and it is usually a person who died in a horrific way just minutes, weeks but sometimes years before the child was born.
     Usually the child is so insistent the family will try to find out about the person and visit the family. This is where things get very strange and not easily dismissed. The author Shroder, travels with Stephenson as he revisits some of the cases. Stephenson, too, is looking for some kind of verification – all he knows is that the stories are very similar and compelling. Is it reincarnation? Is it some sort of memory transmutation; is it all lies that imaginative children tell? It’s a good read that will leave you also wondering what exactly is going on.

 This book is being added to the Downtown collection.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. 488 pages

Elizabeth Gilbert, famous for her bestseller “Eat Pray Love” has hit another one out of the ballpark with this new novel. “Eat” was autobiography, and “Signature” is historical fiction, but under Gilbert’s pen, the characters are so well drawn, you’d swear it was biography.
The story centers on Alma Whitacker, the fiercely intelligent only daughter of Henry Whitacker, a young  man born to poverty, who pulls himself up by his wits to become the richest man in Philadelphia during the 1800s. Alma, homeschooled by her equally intelligent Dutch mother, is fluent in seven languages at a young age but her passion is her lifelong study of mosses. Her academic achievement becomes intertwined with romance, exotic adventures and rivalry with an adopted sister. Gilbert not only writes remarkable prose within a tight storyline, but also offers great quotes such as this one from Henry Whitacker commenting to Alma about marriage: “Poorly matched pairings are as thick as flies in this world.” A feast of a book.

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews, 294 pages

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay Andrews is the fourth title in her Savannah series.  I'm always a fan of Mary Kay Andrews and I was happy to have my hold come up for this book a few days before Christmas.

Weezie & BeBe are back!  This time with a wedding (Weezie's) and a baby on the way (BeBe's.)  Weezie's down to the last week of wedding planning and her fiance, star chef Daniel Stipanek is in New York City working as a celebrity chef.  When Weezie sees a society photo of Daniel and his new boss out on the town, she starts to get suspicious and decides to surprise her fiance with a quick trip north.

BeBe is just a few weeks away from the birth of her first child with Harry.  Harry would love to marry BeBe, but BeBe's been burned by marriage before and isn't ready for all that again.  Things get even more complicated when BeBe discovers that her ex-husband (so she thought) never filed their divorce papers.  8 months pregnant and completely stressed out, BeBe decides to hunt down her ex herself and make sure those papers are filed ASAP.

No spoilers here, but I will mention that everything in this story gets wrapped up quite nicely, with a pretty little bow.  A little too quickly for me though.  Weezie & BeBe are usually partners in crime, and this story had them separated almost the whole time.  It was definitely not my favorite in the Savannah series.  That said, if there are more Savannah stories to come, I'm sure I'll still read them!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, 347 pages

Fannie Flagg, where have you been all my life? I laughed, I cried, I enjoyed every word. You are a wonderful storyteller and I promise to go back and catch up on your previous books!

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion is the story of Mrs. Earl Poole, Jr., otherwise known as Sookie, and her odyssey to find herself in present day Alabama. It is also the story of women pilots in World War II, called WASPs, specifically three sisters from Pulaski, Wisconsin. The stories intersect in a wonderful way. I'm recommending this book to everyone.

Friday, December 27, 2013

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen 336 pages

Ostensibly this book is about the deep love between Jack and Jackie Kennedy in the final year of Jack's life.  However, the first 280 pages or so chronicle Jack's womanizing during his time in office, as much as it chronicles their marriage and his number of dalliances is so high and so varied, it is hard to think this man was true to his wife in any conception of the word.  The team of men who surrounded him and helped him to meet with the many women, and conceal their trysts, is amazing.  It is also amazing that he had time to run the country, with all his hobnobbing and partying and traveling here and there.  Several times reference is made to the fact that Jackie Kennedy was aware of JFK's philandering but that as long as she did not suffer public humiliation, she was willing to put up with it.

One of the author's tactics is to use conversation in his retelling of these stories.  That technique is always disconcerting to me when the actual encounters took place so long ago.

Considering the high level of security that presidents and their families now endure, it is interesting to read about the many travels of this famous couple, both in the United States and and abroad, during JFK's presidency.  

The author contends that the death of their son, Patrick, in August 1963, dealt a decisive blow to the marriage and was what started the couple moving back towards each other.   As with most Kennedy biographies, any conclusions are conjecture.  This was interesting to read, but still left many questions unanswered. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

To Hell on a Fast Horse by Mark Lee Gardner, 336 pages

The complete title of this book is To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West.

I'm not a fan of westerns, but Mark Lee Gardner recently visited the East Hills Library and put on a great show where he sang and spoke about his newest book which is about Jesse James.  Even though reading about the American West is not my favorite thing, it is one of my favorite places to visit.  Somehow, that was a good enough reason for me to read this book.

I recommend this book to anyone who is into the "Old West."  Probably everyone knows about Billy the Kid.  Pat Garrett was the lawman who shot and killed him.  This book provides lots of details on both their lives and life in general in the 1870s-early 1900s in New Mexico.  After reading this book I am very happy to be alive in 21st century Missouri!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White 336 pages

This is a well written book with lots of juicy descriptions of food, food preparation, food consumption, etc.  There are three main characters, Alice, Bobby and Amelia and yes, their stories are connected and interweave with each other, but I was disappointed with the choppy way the author made this happen.  All three of these characters finds themselves at odds with some part of where they came from and who they were expected to become.  All three of them eventually settle in New York City and food eventually brings them together.

The story begins with Alice and is set in the 1920s in North Carolina.  From there it jumps to another era and we follow Bobby for a good part of the book.  He eventually ends up in New York City and the story concludes in the 1980s.  Amelia has a very minor role in Bobby's story and then the last small part of the book follows her and her troubled marriage.

I would still recommend this book because the writing is good and there is a lot of good descriptive narrative, but I felt that the transitions made by the author were disruptive rather than seamless.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Liberator by Victoria Scott 352 pages

This is the second book in the Dante Walker Trilogy. In the first book, The Collector, Dante Walker is a collector of souls for the Boss Man (aka, Lucifer). He was given the mission to collect Charlie Cooper’s soul. The thing that Dante had not expected was falling for Charlie. After collecting Charlie’s soul, Dante “dies” trying to protect Charlie from Rector, another collector. After waking up in a hospital bed, Dante finds out that he is now a liberator for the Big Guy (aka, God).

In The Liberator, Dante is given the assignment of collecting Aspen Lockhart’s soul for heaven. To complete this assignment, Dante must leave Charlie to go to Colorado, something he is not looking forward to. After meeting Aspen, Dante realizes that Aspen is a female version of him. Parties, booze, and breaking rules.

Soon after Charlie and company arrive to Colorado, Aspen learns the truth about Dante and how he was sent to collect her soul. Aspen believes that her soul cannot be saved but when Dante decides to retrieve Charlie’s soul from hell, Aspen volunteers to go with him saying that she was meant to help. As Dante and Aspen venture into hell, they try to avoid other collectors and demons. However, one doesn’t make it out while the other learns of their destiny.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein. 162 Pages

I was drawn to this book because I like Epicurus. Most people think of the Epicurean life as one full of binge drinking, slatherings of rich food and an orgy or two…or three. But the Greek philosopher is not a bit like that. He is all about what really makes us happy and it’s seldom sex and a bottle of tequila.

Daniel Klein, a 73-year-old American philosopher, decides to go to Hydra, a Greek island devoid of cars –and in this silence, contemplates the suggestions from Epicurus and other philosophers about what might be the most satisfying way to live when you get old. He watches how the old Greek men pass their days and compares their lives to the old American men he knows.

Klein is honest in his assessments of old age and does mine some nuggets of wisdom from the old ones, wisdom worth heading. Thankfully, it is not face lifts and Viagra.  
(This title was requested through Interlibrary Loan)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman, 400 pages

This is the first Laura Lippman book I've read, but it won't be the last.  I found this book to be subtly suspenseful and a compelling read.

Elizabeth Lerner was 15 when she was kidnapped and held for six weeks by Walter Bowman, a serial rapist and murderer.  Eliza Benedict, as she is now known, is happily married with two children.  No one except her husband, her parents and her sister know what happened to her when she was 15.

Out of the blue Eliza receives a letter from Walter, who is only weeks away from execution.  He wants to talk to Eliza . . .

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd 291 pages

Being a landlord has never appealed to me but the main character in this book, Celia Cassill, is a landlord of a unique 4 apartment dwelling in Brooklyn, and she seems to make it work.  Celia is a young widow who is still struggling with the circumstances surrounding her husband's death five years ago.  She lives on the ground floor of her building. The other three apartments are occupied by tenants she has picked for their ability to respect boundaries and privacy.

When one tenant asks to sublet to a friend named Hope, Celia has to reexamine her rules, but decides to say yes.  The result brings Celia to question herself and the life she has been leading and to open up to the struggles and difficulties faced by her tenants and other people her tenants bring into her life.  

The building itself is described over the course of the book and is almost an extra character.  My favorite tenant is a retired ferry boat captain who rents the top floor because he can see a slice of the harbor.  Celia's relationship with him is charming and protective.  I enjoyed this book and expect it will be one I will think about for a long time.

An Angel for Christmas by Heather Graham 330 pages

I was looking for something that would lift my Christmas spirit, be light and quick and still have an okay enough storyline to keep me reading until the end.  An Angel for Christmas by Heather Graham was just the right book.  Was it predictable?  Yes.  Did it have moments that made me roll my eyes?  Yes.  But was it a fun read?  Yes.

Morwenna MacDougal (can you believe that name?...first eye roll) and her two brothers and parents are all gathering for Christmas.  Morwenna has a big city job, brother Shayne is a recently divorced doctor (this comes in handy later) and the youngest brother, Bobbie is "try to find himself" and has dropped out of college again.  They all travel to the family cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains where their family goes every Christmas. 

Then there is Gabe and Luke.  Gabe is the cop and Luke is the bad guy.  Of course!  Gabe is chasing Luke through the.....you guessed it!  Blue Ridge Mountains and manages to get away.  Gabe is hurt and is found and cared for by Morwenna and her family.  He worms his way into their hearts and settles in for a nice Christmas at the cabin. 

Woe!  Wait!  There is still that bad Luke running around in the woods.  What will happens when he decides that he needs to find Gabe and finish him off to truly get away with his crimes?  The suspense is killing you, isn't it?  Well, read An Angel for Christmas and find out if the MacDougal family has a happy Christmas after all.  Does Bobbie find himself?  Is Shayne really as divorced as he thinks he is?  Does Morwenna find love or is her big city/fast paced job too alluring to give up? And is that bad boy Luke served justice? 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Deadline by Sandra Brown (large print) 673 pages

Sandra Brown has done it again!  Because of her I have lost sleep, I just did not want to put this book down.  Dawson Scott is an award winning journalist. He has recently returned to the States after covering the war in Afghanistan, embedded with the troops, and is suffering from PTSD, having horrible recurring nightmares.  His new editor and nemesis orders him to cover some fluff piece, but instead, he is guided by his godfather, who is also a FBI agent, to cover a trial involving a story that began 40 years ago.  That was when FBI Agent Headly narrowly missed capturing anarchist Carl Wingert. Now, there is a murder trial involving Wingert's biological son, Jeremy Wesson.  Is Jeremy really dead?  How is Carl involved in this?  Will Dawson help bring closure to this 40-year-old story?  Will he lose his heart and gain a family in the process?  Read and find out!  You will not regret it.

Inferno by Dan Brown 299 pages

I must confess I did not read all of this book.  I posted it as 299 pages because that is where I gave up.  It actually has 461 pages. Those of you really interested in art history and architecture will love this book.  The author gets a bit wordy on these subjects to the point where I personally, felt as if I  was reading a text book.  I am sure this book will make a great movie and I can just see Tom Hanks in the recurring role of Professor Langdon.  I just gave up and went on to read something else.

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich , 320 pages

The early Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich were laugh-out-loud funny. Now I occasionally chuckle as I'm reading, or in this case, listening to the book. Never heard of Stephanie Plum? She's a bond enforcement agent, or does her klutzy best to be one.

All the characters we're familiar with are in Take Down Twenty. Stephanie, her boyfriend Joe Morelli, her crush Ranger, side kick Lula, cousin and boss Vinny, Grandma Mazur and Stephanie's parents. It's another crazy caper with Stephanie struggling to bring in the bad guys who have jumped bail. Joe's Grandma Bella is back putting the Evil Eye on Stephanie once again. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the giraffe.

No one who reads the series will be surprised to know that everything works out in the end. Need an afternoon escape? Don't want to think too much? Read this book. There's a lot of stress during the holiday season and all that can go away for a few hours. I had a long drive and this was a great companion book for the drive. I could pay attention to the road and listen to the book at the same time. Sometimes I don't actually want to think too hard and a Janet Evanovich book is just the ticket.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler 325 pages

This was a beautiful novel.  It was recommended to me by a patron, and I owe her big for it!  The story is told in present time and flashback.  Initially we meet Dorrie, a black woman in her 30's, and Isabelle, a white woman in her late 80's.  Dorrie is Isabelle's hair stylist, but over the years they have become very good friends.  Isabelle actually feels like Dorrie is a daughter to her.  One day Isabelle asks Dorrie if she'll drive her from Texas to Ohio.  Dorrie, being a single mother and business owner, realizes that it must be very important for Isabelle to ask her to do this, so she works it out.  Along the long drive, the two women discover that they really didn't know as much about one another as they had taken for granted.  Isabelle fills Dorrie in on her youth in a very segregated town.  This book has a lot of heartache in it, but it is absolutely beautiful.  I think the only thing I didn't like about it was when the author was trying to write in Dorrie's voice. That felt a little forced at times.  I definitely recommend this book to just about anyone.  I don't usually go for this genre...whatever it may be, but I loved this book!

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris 275 pages

David Sedaris is one of the funniest authors out there.  All of his works are mostly autobiographical, with the exception of his goofy fake stories/letters from uptight white women.  David's pieces draw largely on his experiences growing up with his family.  Lately, he has been writing more about living abroad, but we still get lots of hilarious peaks into his childhood and formative years.  If you have never read nor listened to a David Sedaris book, I highly recommend Me Talk Pretty One Day, as it remains my favorite of all of his books.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed by any of his works.  Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls didn't have me shaking with laughter as much as some of his others, but it was definitely funny!  Also, I have always listened to him read his own books.  I think there is something charming about him, and listening to how he tells his stories has always appealed more to me.  Other people I know don't like his voice and prefer to read his stuff.  I think they're missing out, but you can be the judge.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, 752 pages

I loved I Know This Much Is True. Wally wrote that in 1998? That long ago? Well, anyway. I loved it. I don't think I caught the significance of some of the mental and social ills he wrote about then. Looking back, he was prophetic in some ways.

Lamb attributes his enormous writing success to Oprah including She’s Come Undone in her famous Book Club list in 1996. (all hail wikipedia) Before I succumbed to her list (it took librarians a while to get on board with idea that someone famous, and not a librarian, could prescribe a reading list for the entire United States, and beyond, I guess) and read I Know This Much Is True in 1998, I'd never been taken and turned around in circles until I landed in a heap of depression before like I was with that book.

Wally still writes with that sense that he knows you and that he's telling you his story over a cup of coffee at the local greasy spoon. And I expected this to be a sad story, but it wasn't as sad as it was difficult to stay with it. This time, he is Caelum Quirk. teacher, and his wife, Maureen, school nurse, is the tragedy, or so it seems, until he finds more and more out about his own family’s past.

Caelum tells about his family whose historical farm is near a fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut which has a correctional institution for women on it and his third wife’s tragic misfortune of being in the library at the Columbine shootings.

The prison was the result of his great-grandmother’s fight to equalize rights for women and provide incarcerated women with decent prison accommodations around the time of the American Civil War. In real life, Wally teaches a writing class for women at a correctional institution. It seemed as if I could pick out characters in the story that might be patterned after some of the women he might meet in a prison setting.

Lamb is truly gifted in the way he vividly describes the setting and the characters. When I mentioned to two friends that I was listening to Lamb's CD, they groaned. They said, "Oh why? He's so depressing." Something I happen to like, I guess.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George, 736 pages

This is the 18th book in the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George.  I didn't love this one, but I did want to finish it.  The story is long and convoluted and involves action in both England and Italy. One frustrating aspect of the book is that there is quite a bit of Italian dialog.  Sometimes Elizabeth George lets us know what was said and sometimes she doesn't.  Geesh!

For those who have read the series, this book focuses mostly on Scotland Yard Detective Sargeant Barbara Havers, her neighbor Professor Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Hadiyyah.  The book picks up right where "Believing the Lie" (#17) ended.  Barbara pretty much goes wild in this book, first helping Azhar find Hidiyyah and then struggling to protect him when he runs amuck with the law.  I just found it difficult to believe as a reader that Barbara would go so far. 

Inspector Thomas Lynley is here too and it is nice to see him putting his life back together.  (No spoilers here about what happened previously.) 

I also enjoyed a new character, Chief Inspector Salvatore Lo Bianco, who is based in Italy but I hope he gets the opportunity to interact with Lynley and Havers in future books.