Friday, January 31, 2014

The Tell-Tale Start by Gordon McAlpine 224 pages

Identical twin boys, Edgar and Alan Poe, are the great-great-great-great grandnephews of the famous writer Edgar Alan Poe. Edgar and Alan are quite a pair; they have been described as two boys sharing one brain. They live with their Aunt Judith and Uncle Jack and their black cat with a white figure eight on his tummy, Roderick Usher.

Some would say that Edgar and Alan are too smart for their own good. After learning of the disappearance of Roderick Usher, Edgar and Alan devise a plan to trick the social worker into believing that they are being over worked in their homeschooling by Aunt Judith. Thus begins the adventure to Kansas to retrieve Roderick Usher from Professor Marvel, who owns a Dorothy Gail amusement park.

Along their way to Kansas, Edgar and Alan receive discrete messages from their great-great-great-great uncle Edgar Alan Poe, from the Great Beyond. You see, Poe works in a cubicle in the writing department under the supervision of William Shakespeare. Usually, Poe communicates to the boys through fortune cookies, however Poe is not supposed to be intervening in their lives and his messages become mixed up. The boys eventually learn the real meanings behind the messages, but almost a little too late. 

This was read by Arte Johnson. 

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy 157 pages

One of the reviews I read of this book called it “unsettling” and I totally agree with that assessment.  The story is set at a vacation villa where Mitchell and Laura are vacationing with Joe/Jozef and Isabel and their daughter, Nina.  One day a young girl, Kitty Finch, is discovered floating in the pool, which is described as more of a pond than a pool.  Isabel invites Kitty to stay in one of the extra bedrooms, later commenting “who needs five bathrooms?” to a curious neighbor.

Tensions rise between the couples and between the two families.  Nina and Kitty spend time together, but it cannot be said that a true friendship forms.  Kitty has written a poem which she wants Joe, who is a published poet, to read and comment upon for her.  It is also pretty apparent early on that Kitty is interested in a relationship with Joe.

It is not a long book and keeps your attention by switching points of view between the five main characters.  The ending is sad but somewhat predictable.  This was another of the “odd” books I really like, but I am not sure I could explain why I thought it was so good, if I were asked.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming 208 pages

Mike, on his way home from being out too late, almost hits a girl who is standing in the middle of the road. After dropping the girl off at the end of her road, he realizes that she left her saddle shoes. As he tries to return them back to her, Mike learns that she really is dead and resides in the cemetery close by. After arriving at the White Cemetery, Mike learns that there are more ghosts looking to tell their stories of how they died.   

There are ten stories in total, all having a supernatural death. One boy’s death comes from being eaten by grow-your-own mutant pets from a comic book. Two girls die because they looked in the looking glass and saw their dark sins, envy and vanity. Who knew that going into an abandoned insane asylum could be bad for your health?

This book kept me on my toes and I kept coming back for more. Though this is a children's book, I would recommend it for middle school age on up.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 184 pages

Charlotte’s Web was a required reading for my children’s literature class. I had read this book several years ago while in elementary school, but after reading it again I felt that my perspective of the book has changed. I do not remember the book being so violent, even starting out with Mr. Arable headed out to the pigpen with an axe. I also don’t remember how depressing this book was. Once Wilbur is at the Zuckerman farm, he is very lonely and depressed. Wilbur misses Fern very much and no one wants to associate with him. I also do not remember Charlotte to be so stern with Wilbur; multiple times Charlotte would tell Wilbur to go to sleep or other various tasks.

Overall, I am glad that I reread this classic as it is a very good book. 

Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie 217 pages

When Miss Lemon, Hercule Poirot's nearly infallible secretary, makes three mistakes on one letter, Poirot knows there must be something terribly wrong.  It seems Miss Lemon's sister, the equally efficient Mrs. Hubbard, is experiencing strange happenings at the youth hostel where she is employed.  A nonsensical string of seemingly unrelated events (thefts and destruction of property) fill her with unease.  Poirot realizes that sorting it all out is really the only way to get his virtually perfect secretary back on her game.  Shortly after he gets involved, however, a murder occurs...and then another.  Someone is desperately trying to hide secrets. Can Poirot sort it out and catch the killer?
This was an audio book read by Hugh Fraser, who plays Hastings on the A&E mystery series Poirot.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cross My Heart by James Patterson 419 pages

It is official.  James Patterson drives me nuts!  I may never read him again!!!!  Yes, he is a masterful writer!  Yes, his books are page turning thrillers!  But this book!  This books is evil!  Alex Cross is being taunted by Marcus Sunday, who claims to know how to commit the perfect crime.  Then, he proceeds to show Alex by kidnapping his entire family.  Marcus Sunday is evil, the devil personified!  But the ending to this book...Let's just say I about tossed this book through a window. Beware!

Accused by Lisa Scottoline 351 pages

Yay!  Rosato and Associates are back! Mary DiNunzio has been made partner and gotten engaged, all in the same night!  Now she has been approached by her first client since making partner, a 13-year-old who believes her sister's murderer is innocent and wants Mary to prove it!  Allegra Gardner, from a wealthy family, has a trust available to her. She wants to pay Mary to investigate her sister Fiona's tragic death 6 years ago.  She belives Lonnie Stall is innocent.  But Lonnie changed his plea from innocent to guilty, in the middle of the trial and claims he is at peace with being in prison.  Mary is stone walled by the powerful Gardner family who try to keep Allegra and Mary off the case.  Add to this the fact that both Mary's mother and her future mother n law insist Mary wear their wedding gowns and Mary's growing uncertainty that she should get married at all!  Wow! Lots of twists and turns.  Welcome back, ladies!

Naked to the Waist by Alice Elliott Dark 261 pages

The short stories in this book are all about people, usually in their 20s or 30s, who are struggling with self-doubt, self-definition, and purpose in life.  The dialogue is crisp, even when the decisions of the characters is muddled.  Some of the characters are unsure of their sexuality and some are unsure of what their commitments to their partners mean to them.

I enjoyed this book and the writing.  Also by Alice Elliott Dark: In the Gloaming: Stories; and Think of England: A Novel. Both excellent reads.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, 294 pages

I could hardly wait for this book.  Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors and while I am a true believer in waiting my turn and checking out books from the library as opposed to buying them, I splurged and purchased a copy from the day it came out.  And I'm glad I did.

Sarah Addison Allen has written another magical story, though this time she's left North Carolina.  Lost Lake is in Suley, Georgia and is a rundown resort owned by Eby Pim, who has just decided to sell it.  At the same time, Eby's great niece, Kate, has just awoken from a year of grief and decides to visit Lost Lake with her daughter Devin.

There is a wonderful cast of quirky characters and gentle magic dispersed throughout the story.  Sit back, relax, breath deep and enjoy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

the Secret Keeper by Kate Morton, 484 pages

I read the Secret Keeper (I love how "the" isn't capitalized on the title) for bookclub.  Not that I wouldn't have read it, but no one had recommended it to me. I am recommending it to you. 

The Secret Keeper opens in 1961. Laurel is a typical 16 year old.  She's the oldest of 5 children.  She has 3 sisters and a 2 year old brother, Gerry.  She lives an idyllic life in the English countryside with parents who love each other and their children.  Then something happens when Laurel is hidden in a tree house deciding if she will join the family birthday party for Gerry, down by the river.

Laurel's mother, Dorothy, has returned to the house with Gerry in order to get the birthday cake knife.  As Dorothy and Gerry leave the house a stranger comes up the driveway.  Laurel hears him say "Hello Dorothy" and then Dorothy stabs him in the chest with the knife.  And the story begins . . . 

The story flows between 2011 as Dorothy's children gather at their childhood home while Dorothy is dying, the London Blitz in 1941, 1961, and the late 1920s and 1930s to get background information on all the characters.

This is a fabulous mystery and readers are rewarded at the end.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie 180 pages

Miss Marple is recovering from a slight illness in the Bahamas, thanks to her nephew's generosity.  She enjoys the sea and the sun, but misses the excitement that always seems to be brewing just under the surface back in her own village of St. Mary Mead.  As she usually does, she starts seeing similarities between her current companions and the folks back home.  One of her pastimes is sitting with old Major Palgrave, who loves telling stories of his adventurous nauseam.  It's not so much that people mind his stories, as that he tells the same ones again and again.  However, after telling Miss Marple the story of a murderer and announcing that he had a snapshot, he rapidly shoves the photo back in his wallet and abruptly changes the subject.  This doesn't worry Miss Marple terribly until the poor old Major shows up dead the very next morning.  People keep insisting that he had high blood pressure, but no one can remember who might have told them that.  Miss Marple fears the worst.  Why kill an old blowhard who could be laughed away, unless the murderer was really there and preparing to strike again?  If anyone can sort it out, it's Miss Jane Marple. I listened to this on audio and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman 101 pages

When I picked this book out on audio, I was surprised to find it was only one disc.  I love Neil Gaiman, so I'm not complaining, I was just expecting maybe a higher reading level and a longer story.  This is probably a bit closer in reading level to his Wolves in the Walls.  It's a farcical story about a dad who is left in charge of his two children for a few days while Mum is away.  No worries, she left him a list of what to do.  One of those things was to get more milk, as they were nearly out.  Well, Dad forgets until it's too late and his children are staring mournfully at their dry bowls of cereal.  Worse, he'll have no milk for his tea, so he hops to the store to get more milk.  After waiting a very, very long time, the children are getting worried.  What has happened to their father?  Fortunately, he appears...with the milk...and a very silly story about his delay.  Fortunately, the milk made it home.  I highly recommend this.  It was read on audio by Gaiman, and even though it is probably suitable for 2nd-3rd grade, it was a really cute story.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 318 pages

Hazel and Augustus meet at a support group for children with cancer. Hazel has stage IV lung cancer and needs to carry an oxygen tank around with her everywhere. Augustus is a cancer survivor and has a prosthetic leg. When they first meet, Augustus cannot take his eyes off Hazel.

Hazel introduces Augustus to An Imperial Affliction, a story about a girl who dies of cancer and when she dies, the book ends. Neither Hazel nor Augustus can deal without knowing what happens to the girl’s mother, her hamster, or the Dutch Tulip man. This leads to Hazel and Augustus taking a trip to Amsterdam to meet the author in an attempt to receive answers to their questions. Upon their arrival home, Hazel learns some bad news about Augustus' health. 

This is a heartbreaking story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters and how they cope with the side effects of cancer. Be prepared for the use of tissues. 

This was read by Kate Rudd. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson 264 pages

Four high school boys in a small town in Wyoming form a band and form deep friendships.  Two of the boys grow up and leave the town and state.  Mason Kirby moves to Denver and is a successful lawyer.  Jimmy Brand eventually ends up in New York City and is a writer.  Craig Ralston marries his high school girlfriend and takes over his father’s hardware store in Oakpine, Wyoming.  Frank Gunderson also remains in Oakpine and owns a bar.

Jimmy returns to Oakpine 30 years after leaving it because he is dying.  Mason also returns but for other reasons.  The story of their return and the rekindling of their old friendships intersperses with the story of their last year in high school.  The dialogue is sharp and the descriptions of Wyoming are beautiful.  I really enjoyed this book.

The Paperboy by Pete Dexter 307 pages

The sheriff of Moat County in northern Florida is brutally murdered and Hillary Van Wetter is tried and found guilty of the crime and is in jail awaiting execution. Charlotte Bless studies the trial and decides there were mistakes made by Van Wetter’s attorney and enlists the help of two young newspapermen, Ward James and Yardley Acheman, to investigate and uncover the truth.  In addition Charlotte has been corresponding by letter with Van Wetter and has decided she is in love with him.

The descriptions of Van Wetter are of a loathsome and chilling individual, but an intelligent one.

The story is mostly told by Ward’s younger brother, Jack, and is full of menace and violence and tension.  The Van Wetter clan is a large one and the encounters the three young men have with the members of the family are fraught with conditions of poverty and desperation and fear.

This is a very well written book and will not be one I forget for a long time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

King and Maxwell by David Baldacci 419 pages

In this 6th installment of the King & Maxwell series, we are shown once again how Baldacci draws us in, hold our attention and keeps us turning those pages until we reach the conclusion! 
It was a dark and stormy night...literally, when Michelle Maxwell spots a teenager running down the side of the road with a gun in his hand.  Tyler Wingo has just been informed that his father was killed in Afghanistan, leaving him alone in the world except for a step-mother he really does not know.  Then, a couple of days later, he receives an e-mail from his father.  How can this be?  Tyler hires former Secret Service agents turned private investigators, King and Maxwell, to find the truth about his father.  It will not be easy, but you better believe it will be exciting!  This book is a thriller filled with a little bit of sexual tension thrown in for good measure.  I recommend it to all mystery lovers.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Death of the Black-Haired Girl by Robert Stone 281 pages

Professor Steven Brookman is having an affair with his student/advisee Maud Stack and she dies.  Not so simple!  Maud is also a writer for the campus newspaper and writes an inflammatory article about abortions. This brings her into contact with Jo Carr, the campus counselor, who is a former nun who spent time in South America and has vivid memories of the violence she witnessed there.  There is some question about whether someone read Maud's article and reacted in anger and had something to do with her death.

For such a short book, there are a lot of characters and a lot of bizarre associations.  Maud's roommate is a successful actress who had an early unhappy marriage and now has a restraining order on her ex-husband.  Her dad is a retired police officer (Catholic, of course) who has family ties with the "Irish mafia".  Brookman's wife is Ellie Bezeidenhout, a Mennonite who hails from White Lake, Saskatchewan, and is also a professor at the college.  It is a simple story but with lots of twists.

I was slightly put off by all the peculiar characters and their histories, but enjoyed the book in the end.