Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zealot: The Life and Times of of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, 336 pages

"Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" is a biography of Jesus.  Yep, him.

I found this book fascinating.  The author, Reza Aslan, who is a scholar of religion, did not rely on the bible as his source material.  He studied historical writings about first century Palestine and Roman documents.

Jesus is such a black and white figure for so many of us, I enjoyed this more historical look at his background and the early church after his death.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult 398 pages

Truthfully, I do not know where to begin in telling you about this book. I had heard subtle rumors that the book was hard to read, so I expected an emotional, gut-wrenching story from Jodi. Typical, in other words. This story did not pull me in like some of her other novels. Alice is a scientist, she researches elephants in the wilds of Africa. Then she starts to notice how they mourn. She meets Thomas, who runs an elephant sanctuary in the US and when Alice realizes she is pregnant, leaves Africa to marry Thomas, have a family, and continue her research. Things start to unravel, though, ending with a murder, a missing person, and Thomas in an institution. But remember, this is a Jodi Picoult novel and things are not always as they seem. There is lots of interesting information in this book about elephant society. They are very matriarchal, they love their babies, value friendships and suffer grief. Sorry, I cannot put my finger on why I did not love this book. I am not sorry I read it, but it will not be included on any favorites list.


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty 318 pages

I have mixed feelings about this book.  It was recommended to me by a patron and is the 1st in a trilogy.  Sean Duffy is a Catholic detective working in Northern  Ireland during the "troubles".  A body is found in a burned out car and at first glance, it appears a paramilitary informer has been killed.  Aw, but things are rarely as they seem in a murder mystery!  The informer is gay and in Northern Ireland in the early 80's it is illegal to be homosexual.  This death if followed by other gay deaths.  Detective Duffy has his work cut out for him.  Imagine, trying to investigate a death in the middle of a war, because that is truly what is going on in Northern Ireland.  In Belfast, there are nightly bombings, the Hunger Strike is going on, the economy has tanked and policeman must check under their cars continuously for bombs!  This book really brought home how terrible it was to live in Belfast at that time!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child 353 pages

This is another great Jack Reacher tale by Lee Child and this time, it is indeed personal.  John Kott is a sniper.  He is also someone Jack Reacher put behind bars 16 years ago.  But now Kott if free and one of only a handful of men in the world capable of making a shot from over 1400 feet away.  Reacher is called upon to find Kott and prevent the assassination of a world leader at the G8 summit. But is Reacher really being used as an investigator, or as bait?  Hang on!  This fast read takes you from Virginia, to France, to England, dodging a Serbian gang, English thugs, double crosses and close calls. Well worth the short time it takes to read.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, 870 pages

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is book 5 in the wildly popular seven book series by J.K. Rowling.

In this volume Harry is a full-blown 15 year old teenager with an attitude.  The Ministry of Magic is trying to discredit him because they don't want to face that Lord Voldemort is back.  It seems to Harry that Professor Dumbledore can not be bothered to talk to him, let alone look at him this year.  And to top it all off the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge, is a Ministry plant who is determined to keep the Hogwarts students from learning any defensive magic.

Not a happy time for our hero, Harry.  However, it is a rollicking good time for those of us lucky enough to read or listen to the story.

My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt 163 pages

What would you do if you won over twenty-three million dollars in the lottery?  My Wish List is about Jocelyn, middle class shop owner in Arras, France, who does win the lottery in that amount.  She has two grown children who live in Grenoble and England and her husband who works in a factory.

Jocelyn makes the decision to keep her winnings a secret although she does collect the check and hides it in her closet.  What happens to the check and to her and her family makes for a very good read.

When Jocelyn is in the gaming headquarters she is told she must meet their psychologist.  This woman’s job is to put the fear of god (or money) into the owner of the jackpot.  The psychologist recites all the bad things that happen to winners, the leeches and swindlers and family members who will attempt to share the money at any expense.

Through the book Jocelyn makes lists of how she will spend the money and on whom she will bestow gifts.

I enjoyed this book but I did not understand the blurb on the back of the book that said “one feels unbelievably happy reading this”.  That was false advertising, if you ask me.

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton 306 pages

I really enjoyed reading Florence Gordon by Brian Morton.  The story begins with Florence setting out to write her memoirs, at the age of seventy-five, in New York City where she has lived all her life.  Her daughter-in-law, Janine, and her granddaughter, Emily, have been in NYC for several months.  Her son, Daniel, a Seattle policeman joins his family for a vacation.

Florence is a published essayist and has been a force in the feminist movement for years.  The character of Florence Gordon is outspoken, opinionated and brusque.  I really enjoyed her.  She decides at one point that she needs an assistant and employs Emily to do her research for her.  This interaction gives us a chance to learn more about each of these characters and what limits they will enforce in relationships.

Emily has a needy and troubled boyfriend, named Justin and Janine starts a flirtation with a fellow researcher named Lev.  All the characters are well developed and the writing is excellent.  As I said earlier, I enjoyed this book but I had some problems with the ending.

What did Janine decide?  What about Daniel?  What happened to Justin?  We do learn what becomes of Florence but I still had questions as to the details of her fate.

I would still recommend this book, regardless of the questions I had at the end.  I think it would be a good book club book.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, 265 pages

Bear with me for this review.  It took me 3 1/2 months to read this book.  Not because I didn't enjoy it!  I did.  There was just a new small person in my house that kept me from reading as often as I would have liked.  :)  That said, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to review it for the blog.

Stella Bain is an American woman who served as a British nurse's aid in World War I.  She is suffering from amnesia.  She goes to London  because she knows she needs to get to the Admiralty.   After being found at a park in London and rather ill, she is taken in by Dr. Bridge and his wife, Lily. While she recovers from her illness, Dr. Bridge tries to help her overcome her amnesia through talk therapy.  

After several visits to the Admiralty, Stella finally has a breakthrough.  Someone recognizes her and says her real name, Etna Bliss.  The first thing Etna remembers is that she has children.  

The story unfolds from there as Etna returns to America to face her abusive husband and try to regain custody of her children.  It also flashes back to the time Etna spent serving in the war.  A custody hearing and more therapy after being diagnosed with "shell shock" ensue before Etna finally has her children back.

Deadline by John Sandford 388 pages

I love John Sandford’s Davenport and Flowers books and look forward to each new publication.  Deadline, the newest Virgil Flowers book, however, is not what one is used to in either of these series.  Instead of the fast pace and constant action in a usual Sandford book, the plot of this book is pretty much not a mystery, the conclusions are not surpising.

Even the subject matter is toned down: dognapping in a rural community and, in the same community, a school board whose members are embezzling large sums of money (hmmmm….).  There is very little interaction between Davenport in St. Paul and Virgil in the boonies.  About halfway through the book old regulars Jenkins and Shrake show up to help Virgil out and the humorous dialogue we have come to expect in Sandford’s writing starts to appear.

Even with the slower pace and calmer plot I enjoyed the book.  Fans of Virgil’s nickname will get a belly laugh at the end when Virgil is talking of his new sidekick, a yellow dog.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Deadline by John Sandford 388 pages

This novel by John Sandford is the latest in his Virgil Flowers series.  I always enjoy Sandford's books and this one was especially good.  Why?  Well, because it was about dogs, of course!  The school board of a small Minnesota town has been skimming funds for years!  Then a local reporter starts sniffing around.  He may be one of the down and out town drunks now, but in his day he was a great investigative reporter and the school board decides he must be silenced.  Meanwhile, one of Flowers' good buddies asks for his help.  Local dogs are disappearing, stolen from their owners.  Small dogs, big dogs, expensive hunting dogs, family pets are being round up and sold to medical labs.  Virgil gets drawn in to both dramas, but never fear!  There is a happy ending and Virgil goes home with a dog!

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich 305 pages

What can I say? This is a typical Stephanie Plum novel. Stephanie and her cohort Lula are tasked with saving short, little, Randy Briggs. Randy is (was) the accountant/bookkeeper for Jimmy Poletti. Poletti was caught running a human trafficking ring out of his car dealership. Now someone is using a rocket launcher to try and get rid of Randy. Add to this the fact that something awful has happened over at Rangeman and there is a pack of feral Chihuahuas on the loose and Stephanie really has her hands full! The best part of this story was Grandma Mazur's bucket list. Among her goals are getting revenge on Joe Morelli's Grandma Bella and seeing Ranger naked! You will just have to read the book to see how she accomplishes these 2 goals!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, 352 pages

Set in Australia in the 1920s, this is the story of Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabel.  Tom is a lighthouse keeper on a remote island.  Isabel happily goes to the island but after she suffers three miscarriages, life is not as happy as it once was.  Soon after the third miscarriage a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a live baby.

Isabel convinces Tom they should keep the baby because God obviously brought them the baby and the story that follows is the consequences of that decision.  This is one of those books where I thought, how can this turn out okay?  But I found the ending satisfying and truly enjoyed the book.  This is a book I will recommend to others.  We'll be discussing it soon at the library book club and I'm looking forward to hearing what other book club members thought of it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Italian Wife by Ann Hood 283 pages

The Italian Wife is a book written in chapters and sections that might well be read independent of each other and they would still make sense.

In Italy in 1889, Josephine is married at the age of fifteen to a man who is eleven years older than she is, a marriage that the families have arranged.  After moving to America the couple have seven children and the book follows these children as they grow up, marry and have children.

Josephine is a practicing Catholic and is true to her Italian heritage.  Her children drift from her traditions.  Her grandchildren are even further removed than her children. Many of the struggles the characters face are related to their sexuality.

I really liked this book and would recommend it.  I believe it would be a good book club book as well.

2 A.M at The Cat's Pajama's by Marie-Helene Bertino 272 pages

How can a book about a legendary jazz club in Philadelphia remind me of The Milagro Beanfield War?  The answer is, it just did, and I am not sure how.  Maybe it was the part about all the characters having hope, despite the odds being stacked against them.

This is a book that begins at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve and ends twenty-four hours later.  The story revolves around Madeleine, who is almost ten years old,and who aspires to be a jazz singer.  She attends a Catholic school, has lost her mother to cancer, and lives with her father, who is so bereft he hardly notices that she exists.

The host of characters in the book include Madeleine’s school teacher, principal and acquaintances.  The owner of the Cat’s Pajamas is named Lorca and his band and compadres at the club make up the rest of the colorful characters.

The story moves quickly, a lot of history is packed into the pages.  Everyone has dreams and aspirations and, some are realized and some are not, by the end of the book.  There is a little magic, but not enough to put the readers off (like myself) who do not want a book to be all about magic.

I would recommend this book.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

we were liars by e.lockhart 225 pages

I could not wait to finish this book, Sorry, that is not a good thing. This is the story of a perfect family that is not so perfect. They are wealthy, privileged, own their own island and have wonderful mansions full of wonderful things, over which they all fight. The grandfather rules all and is not above threatening to disinherit if someone makes him mad. This story is told by Cadence "Cady", the first grandchild. She tells about idling away the summers on the island, being bored, etc. All the hype talks about the surprising ending, and yes, it does have a twist, but believe me, it is not worth slogging thru the rest of the book to get to the end. This book was a waste of my time and I do not see my teens identifying with or enjoying this book.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the Woods by Tana French 429 pages

I can't help it!  The song that runs through my head when I think of this book is "What a long, strange trip it's been.."  Don't get me wrong, there were lots of things I liked about this book.  It will freak you out, for sure!  Rob Ryan is a detective in Dublin.  He and his partner, Cassie, are investigating the murder of a young girl whose body was left on a sacrificial altar in an archeological site.  The thing is, Detecitve Ryan is the only survivor of an attack in the same area 20 years ago.  His two friends were never found and he was discovered clutching a tree for dear life with scratches on his back and blood in his shoes, his memory wiped clean. 

This book is a great detective story, but do not expect a quick read.  Tana French weaves a tapestry with words.  This book has been descirbed as "richly atmospheric and utterly convincing" and I could not say it better. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, 752 pages

Things are heating up for Harry Potter.  He's in his 4th year at Hogwarts School and though only 14, is mysteriously entered and chosen to be a participant in the Triwizard Tournament.  Who could have entered his name?  Who indeed?

Another rousing adventure brought to us by J.K. Rowling.  These books never get old and tired for me.  Hence, the repeated listenings.

I hope to get to #5 soon, but other reading calls first.

Can't Look Away by Donna Cooner 265 pages

This is a Young Adult novel.  Torrey Grey is a famous internet fashion vlogger.  She has thousands of followers.  Then, one day, her younger sister is killed by a drunk driver, run over in front of the mall where Torrey is trying to get her to video.  Torrey's perfect world implodes.  The family moves from Colorado to Texas and Torrey must try to fit in.  A new school, new friends, all while trying to remain anonymous.  You see, it is all over the internet.  Torrey and her sister having words right before her sister steps into the street.  It makes Torrey look like a monster, and she already has the guilt to go with it. As el Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, draws near, Torrey hears fasinating stories from new friend Luis and his family about this day honoring the dead.  Torrey will have to look inward to see how to mourn her sister, privately, out of the public eye, so that the healing process may begin.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams 247 pages

Oh, how I love Douglas Adams!  He can say the most mundane thing in such a way as to make me spit my stew all over my lovely paperback.  In this book, we don't even meet the namesake, Dirk Gently, till nearly halfway through the book.  Not a lot happens, really, but boy is it a fun time finding that out!  Dirk has an annoying habit of being right about things he oughtn't even have a clue. This is especially troublesome as it has landed him in prison...well, how could he have known that the test he "foretold" all the questions and answers would be almost identical to the one actually administered to the people he sold it to?  Now Dirk has a detective agency where he doesn't investigate so much as intuit the solutions to problems.  This is good and bad for his old college roommate, Richard, whose boss is mysteriously murdered.  There is far too much going on in this book where nothing much happens for me to describe more, but trust me when I say this is well worth your time!

Horton Halfpott, or, The fiendish mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, The loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's corset by Tom Angleberger 206 pgs

I picked this book up because I needed something to read one day on my lunch break.  I figured I could read the first few chapters in order to able to tell kids what it was about and "sell" it more effectively.  I admit that I got dragged in by its goofiness and held by its colorful writing.  If you like silly, British authors, you would likely enjoy this.  It is for a young audience, I would guess anywhere from 3rd to 5th, but it was still an enjoyable read.  It reminded me a bit of reading Roald Dahl.  Young Horton is a kitchen boy for the stingy, brutish Luggertucks.  When M'Lady decides one day to loosen her corset, the entire household feels it, setting into motion a chain of events that result in a famous detective being called in to solve multiple thefts.  It was, as I said, very silly, but highly enjoyable.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner 400 pages

This was a very well written and thought provoking book.  The story of Clara, a nurse on Ellis Island in the early 1900's is book ended by the story of Taryn, the widow of a man who was killed in the collapse of the World Trade towers.  Clara is working on Ellis Island to be in “an in between” place, to allow time to pass because she has suffered a great loss.

Both women need to come to terms with their losses and their past before they can move forward. This book does a lot to discuss that old phrase “everything happens for a reason”.

The author writes so well, and the description of the life on Ellis Island is so interesting, I was sorry to see this book come to an end.   I loved this book and would highly recommend it.  I believe it would be a good book club selection. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

This Is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell 240 pages

Overall, I liked this book but I read some reviews after I had finished it and was surprised to see that so many previous readers thought this was “a love story”.  The book is separated into five chapters which follow the five years in a couple’s relationship.  The book is told by an “I” character who describes his actions and his point of view.  He refers to a “you” character as he chronicles his lover’s movements and her reactions to his behaviors.

The lovers each have a child from previous relationships.  They move in together, then move the two children in with them, then they split up and live apart, all the while trying to figure out the boundaries of their relationship.

What confused me about calling this a love story is that both the man and woman see other people, cheat on each other, deceive each other, and question their commitment to each other, throughout the story.  I guess that is “love” if it is defined as a work in progress, however, it seems to me that all that would take place before a couple described themselves as being in love.

The writing is great, however, and while the time line skips around somewhat, it is not enough to lose the reader.  I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.

Girls like Us by Gail Giles 210 pages

I highly recommend this Young Adult novel.  It is a short, easy read (I read it in about 3 hours) and would make for a great book club discussion. 

Biddy and Quimby are both graduates of their high school's special ed program.  They are speddies.  Both have been neglected and/or abused.  Now they are 18 and are partnered together in an independent living situation.  Biddy is given the job of caring for an older, wealthy lady on whose property they live, and Quimby works in the bakery of the local grocery store.  They each find they both have natural talents well suited to their positions.  As they become more independent, they begin to rely on each other, both facing past challenges and an unexpected trauma.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Lost Key by Catherine Coulter and J. T. Ellison 447 pages

This latest FBI thriller by Catherine Coulter features the duet of Brit turned agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner Michaela (Mike) Caine. It is Drummond's 1st day and right out of the gate they are sent to investigate a stabbing murder on Wall Street.  By the end of the day, Nicholas faces a hearing because 2 more are dead on his watch, by his hand.  But that becomes the least of their worries.  Somehow, some way, a submarine from WWI holds the key, literally, to the future safety of the world and Nicholas and Mike must find it before the mad Manfred Havelock.  Hang on to your seats!  This one is a page turner!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

same kind of different As me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore 235 pages

This book is an emotional and inspiring tale of a dirt poor drifter, Denver, who grew up as a sharecropper on a plantation.  But really, the system was no better than legalized slavery.  Denver became a homeless, uneducated drifter, until the day Deborah Hall entered his life.  You see, Deborah had had a vision, she saw Denver's face and knew that they would make a difference in each other's lives.  But as this true story unfolds, you will wonder just who made the bigger difference, just who inspired who, and in the end, what a powerful thing faith can be. This would be an excellent book club selection and includes a reader's guide.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Burn by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge 401 pages

"Burn" is the latest installment in the Michael Bennett series.  Michael and his crew are back home in New York and Michael has been but in charge of a rag-tag Outreach squad in Harlem.  It is somewhat of a demotion but things quickly heat up, literally.  One of the squad is murdered while investigating a domestic abuse case.  Then between the diamond heists and the cannibalistic cook-outs, Michael barely has time to tend to things at home, especially since Irish nanny Mary Catherine has had to go home to her dying mother. This is a fast paced easy read!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore, 321 pages

Christopher Moore's books are always witty and funny.  This one also has some sci-fi and Save the Whale leanings.  Nothing wrong there.

Marine Behavioral Biologist, Nate Quinn has spent his career trying to figure out why male humpback whales sing.  He finds that out and more in this novel that includes a cast of zany characters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Edge of Eternity, Book Three of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett, 1098 pages

The first thing I have to say about this book is: it weighs a TON!  Seriously, this is one heavy book!
This third installment in the trilogy takes us from the early sixties, JFK, the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights, Rock and Roll, to the dismantlement of the Eastern Bloc of communist countries.  It ends with the falling Berlin Wall.  Each historical event is told thru the eyes of members of 5 entwined families: American, German, English, Welsh and Russian.  This is a fictional tale, of course, but it made you think about each event, the political nonsense behind it and the affect it had on real people and families.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones 235 pages

I loved this book.  I think because I have read quite a few books about the raw and raunchy side of life lately, this especially appealed to me.

The story is a simple one, Wilfred Price asks Grace Reece to marry him and not soon afterwards, realizes he has made a mistake.  Not only is he not in love with Grace, he finds himself to be infatuated with another woman, Flora Edwards.

The story is set in a small village in Wales in the 1920s and is a wonderful depiction of life in that day.  Wilfred’s mother died when he was born and he has lived with his father for his twenty-seven years.  Wilfred is an undertaker by trade and throughout the book he remembers advice and wisdom from his apprentice-master, Ogmore Auden.  Auden’s voice gives Wilfred courage and strength to pursue his heart’s desire.

The bond between Wilfred and his father is a strong one and is enjoyable to read about.  The unfolding of Grace’s tale and the consequences of Wilfred’s proposal to her are also interesting.  I enjoyed the descriptions of Narberth, Wales.  I would highly recommend this book.