Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu 330 pages

This is a YA novel.  M. T. goes to a private girls school.  She has perfect grades, loyal friends and a budding romance.  So what could possibly be wrong?  She is illegal.  Although she is light skinned, she is Argentinian.  Her father cannot find a good job so he has 2 jobs waiting tables.  Her mother speaks little English and cannot work.  They have her in private school because she did not have the proper paperwork to get into public school and the nuns decided to look the other way so M. T. could get an education.  That is all well and good, until senior year.  Her friends are getting their drivers licenses, not M. T.  Her friends are looking at colleges, not M. T. Add to that the fact that they are dirt poor and her father beats her, it is no wonder M. T. becomes depressed.  Her grades slide, and she just wants to crawl under the covers and not come out.  Finally, she can take it no more and when she finally fears her father enough, she seeks the help she needs. 
A very thought provoking novel.  Especially since the author had first hand knowledge of what it means to be undocumented.

buzz kill by Beth Fantaskey 360 pages

This is a YA novel, and a good one at that.  I think I really liked it because a librarian plays such an important part.  Town librarian Ms. Parkins is not only Millie Ostermeyers book source, but her confidant. Millie is having quite an exciting senior year.  Her nemesis, popular cheerleader Viv had been humiliated by the head football coach, Hollerin' Hank Killdare, at a football game.  Of course, it ends up on YouTube with thousands of hits, so when coach Killdare is murdered, Millie would like nothing better than to prove Viv did it.  Guided by her favorite Nancy Drew books and assisted by new hunk at school, the elusive Chase, Millie also has to clear the name of her Dad, town mayor and assistant football coach, who is the number one suspect.  This book has lots of twists and turns and is really a great mystery and an easy read.  Lots of fun!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, 448 pages

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is book 3 in the 7-book series by J.K. Rowling.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are now 13 and in their 3rd year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  In this volume, crazed murderer Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison, Azkaban - a feat that no one has ever pulled off before.  He seems to be after Harry . . . and maybe Hogwarts isn't even safe.

Another great installment in the series.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Road Ends by Mary Lawson 352 pages

Megan is the only daughter of Edward and Emily Cartwright.  They live in Struan, Ontario, where Emily produces baby after baby, all boys, who become Megan’s responsibility.  Emily loses interest in the infants as soon as the baby stage is over. Megan’s older brother Tom is interested in aeronautical engineering but his life changes when tragedy strikes the family of his best friend.

Megan has grown up in the role of housekeeper in the family but makes her escape to England where she is successful in her new life.
Eventually matters at home make it necessary for her to decide between returning to Struan, or staying in England.

Mary Lawson does an excellent job of describing winter in Canada and the sparseness of the population around Struan.  I admit that at first I was not sure I would like this story but by the middle of the book I was caught up.  I would recommend this book and think it might be a good book club book.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, 341 pages

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is book two of the wildly popular seven book series by J.K. Rowling.

I've read and listened to the books before, but just don't seem to get tired of the story.  I'm especially drawn to them in the fall.

Harry is back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  With the help of his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, he is able to thwart the evil wizard Lord Voldemort (He Who Must Not Be Named, for you squeamish folks.)

On to the Prisoner of Azkaban . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce 212 pages

Love Me Back is a no holds barred look at a young woman named Marie who has worked as a waitress in low end restaurants and eventually winds up waiting tables at an exclusive steak restaurant in Dallas.

The timeline is mixed up throughout the book so there are sections which are difficult to piece together but Marie’s life is disrupted after she marries and has a daughter. We never learn too much about her motivations, but Marie leaves them and goes back to waitressing. 

A warning should accompany this book, as there is lots of (raw) sex and drug use and drinking.  Apparently, this is the way of life of many people employed in the food industry, but there is no sugar coating in the telling.

As a cautionary tale, this is a good read.  It is sad to think that people have lives that follow this path, but certainly not surprising.  

The First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler 252 pages

The First Family Detail is a look at the Secret Service Division and how it has developed over the years into the organization it is today.  Kessler has done a good job of detailing the budgeting and staffing struggles of the Secret Service and of the challenges the agents face when dealing with the various personalities whose safety they are guarding.

There are some gossipy tidbits such as which First Lady was the meanest and rudest and whose detail was the least desirable of all first family members.  Kessler also discusses which First Ladies were the kindest and most considerate of the agents and their families, and we learn which children of presidents were difficult to deal with during their time in the White House.

Other revelations include which Vice President used almost one million in taxpayer’s dollars for flights back and forth for visits to his home and to play golf with the President and which elected officials were kind, or thoughtless or just plain strange as individuals.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the Secret Service.

Welcome to the World Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg, 467 pages

Ahh, Fannie Flagg, what a storyteller.  I ran screaming from the last book I read and needed a good pick me up.  Fannie came through.  I have complained that some of her books are too sweet.  This one wasn't.  I like real life issues, I just like them resolved in a good way by the time the story ends and Fannie kindly provided that.

Dena Nordstrom is a rising star in 1970s network television.  However, she is an orphan and has issues with getting close to people.  Her father died in WWII before she was born and her mother disappeared when Dena was 15.

There are characters here that show up in later Flagg books that I've already read and it was fun to be introduced to them here.  All around, I think this was one of Fannie's best.

Friday, September 19, 2014

All I Have In This World by Michael Parker

The premise of this novel is preposterous.  Two strangers meet on a used car lot in Pinto Canyon, Texas, as they are both consider the purchase of a Buick Electra and within a few minutes have made the decision to jointly purchase the vehicle.  However, this interaction takes place well into the first part of the book so there is a lot of story before this happens and by the time the decision to purchase is made, I found myself liking both buyers, Marcus and Maria, and really liking the book.  And I bought the premise and wanted to read more.

Maria left Pinto Canyon after disappointing herself, her parents, her boyfriend, and his family when she was a teenager.  She has not been back for 10 years.  Marcus has made some poor financial decisions and is on the move from the east coast to Mexico, where he hopes to hide out and figure out his life.  The story follows the two as they both face their past mistakes and consider the future. 

At one point Maria thinks of Marcus “he was passing through, slower than a train, faster than a drought”.  Neither of them is in a hurry to make a decision, and that makes the story even better.

Every once in a while the author inserts a chapter detailing the path that the car has taken from its first owner to the present day.

There are lots of lists and charts and there is humor as well as lots of sadness in this story.   I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tell It Like Tupper by J. Mark Powell 265 pages

J. Phillip Granby is hoping to secure the Republican nomination for the presidency and is in Iowa preparing for the state caucus.  His car breaks down and he is picked up by Glenn Tupper and given a ride to his destination.  They become acquaintances and, eventually, friends.  Soon Granby is quoting Tupper in his speeches and referencing his friend’s common sense and, as a result he is gaining ground in the polls.

What happens to slow down the momentum and threaten Tupper’s family and Granby’s future is not hard to predict but the story is a good one, nonetheless.  With references to Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Ottumwa, Mason City, Osceola, and even Trenton, Missouri, at one point, this was a fun book to read.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Matilda by Roald Dahl 232 pages

How had I made it to adulthood without having read this book?  Dahl never disappoints, I should have read this years ago.  I found myself laughing out loud at this book.  Matilda is a brilliant little girl who is thoroughly neglected by her parents.  Her teacher, Miss Honey, recognizes her genius, but is powerless to move her ahead in the school to the class where she belongs.  The school Matilda attends is ruled by a cruel tyrant, Miss Trunchbull, who frequently assaults children she feels step out of line.  In the end, Matilda (with her sense of justice quite well rounded) makes sure that the Trunchbull gets hers.  It is a very silly and perfect example of a Dahl book.  I highly recommend this one to children of all ages and to anyone who loves that British sense of humor!  As a side note, I really love the movie that was made from this book, too.  I don't often say that!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, 284 pages

I read this book for the library's book club.  I would not have finished it if it was not required reading for the book club.

Karen Thompson Walker is a great writer but the story was depressing.  The rotation of the earth is slowing and the planet is dying, along with all its inhabitants.  The protagonist is Julia, who is now 23 and is writing her account of what happened when the "slowing" started when she was 11.

No hope here folks.  That's it, this is the end.  Um. . . no thanks.  I'm cleansing my bruised literary soul with a Fannie Flagg pick-me-up now, thank you very much.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum 331 pages

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is the story of what happens when a man cheats on his wife.  The man, Englishman Richard Haddon, is married to beautiful Frenchwoman, Anne-Laure, with whom they have one daughter.  Richard has an affair, which he blames partly on the fact that “I married my lover, time turned her into my sister.”  In other words, the thrill is gone.

Richard’s wife finds out about the affair after the mistress, Lisa, has broken it off.  Richard is banished and comes to learn that he values his wife and his family and wants to mend things. In some ways it is just another story about a cheating husband, but there are pitfalls and humor in some of the husband's antics as he tries to win his wife back. 

I enjoyed the book, the writing is good, and there are some good laughs in the story.  In some ways I was reminded of Jonathan Tropper’s writing.  The story is told by Richard and the book is written by a woman.  I thought she did an excellent job of writing in Richard’s voice.  I look forward to more books by this author.

One Plus One by Jo Jo Moyes 384 pages

The only other book I have ready by Jo Jo Moyes is Me Before You, which I really enjoyed.  One Plus One is another good book, fast paced, with lots of twists and turns.  Jess is a single mother struggling to make ends meet while raising a ten year old daughter, Tanzie, who is a math genius, and a teen age stepson, Nicky.  Nicky is being bullied for being different, hints point to a Goth style of dressing and makeup wearing. 

The fourth main character in the book is Ed, who is well off and successful until he commits the crime of insider trading, at which point he is in danger of losing everything and going to jail.  Ed meets Jess and her tribe (she also owns a big smelly dog), and the story takes off from there.

This is one of those books where just when you think things cannot get worse, they do get worse.  However, things always seem to sort out and the story is a good one throughout.  The four characters alternate telling the story, and it makes for a really good read.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, 496 pages

The book opens with Alice waking up after she hit her head in a step aerobics class.  Alice thinks it's 1998 and she is pregnant with her first child and madly in love with her husband Nick.  It is actually 2008, Alice is the mother of three very busy children, she and Nick are divorcing and Alice has a new boyfriend.

The book was in turns laugh out loud funny and sad and bittersweet.  The story is told through three major characters.   Alice's story is told through a narrative.  Elisabeth, Alice's older sister, who has been struggling with infertility for six years tells her story through the journal entries she has been requested to write by her psychiatrist.  And then there's Frannie,  Alice and Elisabeth's grandmother whose story we get through her blog entries.

Alice struggles for about a week living this strange life with the children she doesn't know but instantly loves.  We get the aftermath too of what happens when Alice remembers.  This book was recommended to me and I recommend it to others.  I really enjoyed it.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams 432 pages

The Secret Life of Violet Grant is written about two very independent women at two very different times in history.  Violet Grant is a scientist, in 1914 in England and later in Germany, who marries another scientist, who is many years her senior.  He turns out to be something of a sex fiend, not just with her but with other participants.  She stays, uncomplaining, in the union until she meets Lionel Richardson and her whole life changes.

Violet’s niece, Vivian Schuyler, lives in NYC in the 60s and has chosen a life as a writer over the traditional role of women at that time as wife/mother.  Vivian receives a suitcase in the mail which belonged to Violet and she then begins an investigation into what became of her aunt.

The writing is very good in this book, there is no way to confuse the stories of the two women.  Those stories are told in alternate chapters and it is a page turner, to say the least.

Beatriz Williams wrote A Hundred Summers, which was another excellent read.  A couple characters from that book reappear in Violet Grant, but they do not play important roles in the stories of Violet and Vivian so it is by no means a sequel, or series, which I appreciated.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Sea Garden by Marcia Willet 302 pages

Some will point out the Marcia Willet’s books tend to be formulaic and I will not argue that, but I still enjoy her writing enough to read most of what she writes.  I especially like the idioms and diction of her English characters and in that respect, The Sea Garden does not disappoint.

The beginning of this book introduces a huge cast of men and women. The periods of time spanned in the story and sheer number of names put me off a bit.  However, sorting out the characters was not too difficult and I enjoyed the story, even though it was a simple one.

For fans of Willet, this will be another good read.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher 180 pages

Dear Committee Members is a book made up of letters of recommendations (LOR) written by Jason Fitger, a professor of English at a college in the Midwest.  His private life and his relationship with his colleagues, his ex-wife and an ex-lover are in a shambles and he laments his situation in many of these LOR.

The LOR include descriptions of the decrepit state of the building on campus that the English department occupies and discussions about Fitger’s book “Transfer of Affection”.  Fitger also spends a large amount of time touting the writing of one of his students, who may or may not have written a masterpiece.

The letters are entertaining and the concept is interesting.  I would recommend this book.

This book’s author, Julie Schumacher, wrote Black Box, which is one of the best teen novels I have read.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, 320 pages

It's that time of year again, it is beginning to be fall so that means I need to drag out the Harry Potter books and enjoy them one more time.

Jim Dale narrates the audiobooks and he truly brings the characters to life.  It is such a treat to listen to them again.

I have reluctantly put aside the next Harry Potter book so I can keep up with my "other" reading, but am looking forward to pulling out Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in a few weeks.

The Next Accident by Lisa Gardner, 416 pages

This is book 3 in Lisa Gardner's Quincy & Rainie series.  I have read several more recent Lisa Gardner books so it was fun to get the background on the main characters in this book: Pierce Quincy, Lorraine (Rainie Connor) and a young Kimberly Quincy.

This was another great suspense novel from Lisa Gardner.  She knows how to write them and I hope she keeps doing so.

Monday, September 1, 2014

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, 384 pages

This was my first Jojo Moyes novel.  She is a British author who writes humorous women's fiction, or at least that is how I would categorize this book.  My sister brought it to the beach and this is the book that got read quickly and passed on to the next person in our group so they could enjoy it too.

Jess Thomas is a single mother, struggling to make it in a small resort town in England.  Her estranged husband left and moved in with his mother 2 years ago because he couldn't cope with life.  Jess is raising her 10 year old daughter, Tanzie, and 15 year old step-son Nicky all on her own, struggling to pay the bills.  Nicky is being terribly bullied and math prodigy Tanzie is facing the same fate.  Tanzie has a chance to go to a posh private school, but Tanzie needs to win some money at a math competition in Scotland to help make that happen.

Meanwhile, Ed is a rich software developer who is in hot water with financial regulators because he gave a crazy girlfriend he was trying to gently dump insider trading secrets so he wouldn't feel so bad about dumping her.  He needs to get out of town.

Ed ends up driving Jess, Nicky and Tanzie to Scotland.  Problems and romance ensue.  Put this one on your list to read if you need a fun, light fiction escape.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, 416 pages

I am going to hazard a guess that this is Fannie Flagg's most famous book.  I have known about this book for years, along with the movie, but somehow had missed reading it and watching the movie.  It's always been somewhere on my "to be read" list and now I've got it done.

The story begins in 1980 with 48 year old Evelyn, meeting old Mrs. Threadgoode at a nursing home.  Evelyn is premenopausal and extremely unhappy.  Mrs. Threadgoode loves to talk and tells Evelyn all about Whistle Stop, a railroad town that mostly disappeared when the railroad pulled out.  With the help of Mrs. Threadgoode, Evelyn begins to find her way to happiness.

The story goes back to the 1900s through the 1960's telling the story of the Threadgoode family in Whistlestop and Idgie and Ruth in particular, who ran the Whistle Stop Cafe.  The story is full of southern charm and the book even includes recipes at the end, including you guessed it - Fried Green Tomatoes.