Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grant by Max Byrd, 359 pages

  I liked taking some time to ponder our country’s history during the era when Ulysses S. Grant, Mark Twain, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and a family member of the two Adams’ presidents interacted, back when Thomas Edison’s inventions were new, experimental, and rapidly catching on.
  I can’t say, however, that I liked the story telling. I think this content could have been told much better, so I'm not interested in reading other historical fiction by Max Byrd. If I am to read anything else about Grant, I'll look for non-fiction.

Friday, February 23, 2018

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman, 384 pages

  Seven-year-old Elsa and her 77-year-old grandma are quite the pair for others to contend with.
  The former is a precocious child obsessed with Harry Potter, straightforward to the point of adult discomfort with her never-ending questions. She is well-versed with Wikipedia content and experienced in running from children who would physically punish her for being so different.
  The latter is a retired surgeon turned grandmother who does and says exactly what she likes when she likes, very little of it socially acceptable.
  Grandmother and Elsa survive real-world "idiots" through fairy tale worlds Grandmother has created . . . until Grandmother dies . . . until Elsa is left with last missions from Grandmother that bring adventure and new perspectives of the real world, of cherished fairy tale lands, and even of Grandmother herself.
  This book was written by a Swedish author and takes place in Sweden. It's packed with dialogue, told through Elsa’s viewpoint, and caused me to laugh out loud all the way through . . . until I cried . . . and ultimately reached the end quite satisfied as should happen in all good fairy tales. The experience was delightful.
  I listened to the book as read by Joan Walker.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber, 326 Pages

I'd been eyeing this book since it hit the shelves, and I'm mad at myself that I waited this long to finally read it! It pulled me in from the first chapter, and I never felt like there were any dull moments where the book just dragged on, (which I've had happen a lot lately). 

It's been ten years since Josie Buhrman ran away from her old life. Her father was brutally murdered, her twin sister became a source of constant stress and heartache, and her mother ran away and joined a cult. Josie changed her last name, her appearance, and relocated states away, after backpacking around different countries in attempt to forget about her horrific past. She's settled in to her new life in New York with her boyfriend, Caleb, whom she's lied to about everything, even her true last name. But everything begins to unravel around her when a true crime podcast focusing on her father's murder becomes the latest fad, thrusting her family's history back into the spotlight. She is forced to return to her hometown after her mother's death, and comes face-to-face with the lies and history that she's tried so hard to forget.

The Red Box: a Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout 189 pages

Continuing with my Nero Wolfe infatuation, I listened to this one read by Michael Prichard.  Archie and Nero are confronted by a young man who insists that Wolfe leave the comfort of his office and his orchids to investigate a murder at a leading fashion design house.  A clever trick is used to get the rotund detective out of the only chair he feels comfortable in and down to the design firm.  It seems a young model has eaten a poisoned piece of candy.  The problem is that the candy wasn't hers.  The police are stumped, and the client is worried about his cousin who also models there.  Who was the intended victim and how many more will die before the truth is discovered?

This was a really well woven, enjoyable mystery.  Archie's sarcastic, confident voice was as entertaining as ever.  I highly recommend this series.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, 462 pages

This is one of my all-time favorite books.  It is the story of a Russian aristocrat who, instead of being shot in 1922 is sentenced at the age of 33, to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.  Count Alexander Rostov has already been in residence there four years but is moved from his swank suite of rooms to a small attic room.

This is a story of love in many forms, kindness, friendship and even adventure.  Almost all of it happening within the walls of the Metropol Hotel.  I listened to the book and enjoyed every moment of Nicholas Guy Smith's fabulous voice.    Two sentences on the book jacket of the print book sum up this book perfectly for me. "He can't leave. You won't want to." 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton, 362 Pages

This book was almost "too much" for me. By that, I mean that it was extremely close to having too many twists and changes in the story. It got to the point that it was hard for me to follow, but I'm glad I stuck with it because it ended up being a pretty good read. 

During a hot-air balloon ride, thirteen passengers witness a murder on the ground down below. Shortly after, the balloon ends up crashing, killing everyone on board except one woman. She saw and took photos of the killer, but the problem is... he also saw her. Now she is on the run, and he is after her, trying to make sure the only witness to his crime is not alive long enough to report it. She has no idea where is safe or who will help her. 

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, 417 pages

  This work of historical fiction is loosely based on real 1885 Alaska exploration under the command of senior U.S. Army Officer Henry Trueman Allen.
  The novel toggles between Colonel Allen Forrester and his young bride, Sophie. After being stationed near Vancouver, Colonel Forrester accepts the challenge of leading a small group of men into Alaska to explore territory unknown to the U.S. government, leaving Sophie behind in a wilderness outpost with military personnel and a few women. 
  Also woven into the story is the development of a letter-writing relationship between a present-day descendant of Colonel Forrester and an Alaskan museum employee who lives near the area where Forrester explored.
  The words of this novel are a pleasure, vividly describing majestic scenes, abutting cultures, the light and dark and ins-and-outs of 19th Century photography, privation, emotions, and personalities. It includes adventure, monotony, survival, supernatural mystery, and important thoughts relevant for today.
  This is my first book (technically audio book) with an Alaskan setting. I enjoyed and recommend it. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz 255 pages

This book is a love letter to librarians.  When a parent railroads the school board into removing several titles, including her very favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from her school library's shelves, Amy Anne decides she needs to stand up for what she knows is right.  The problem is that standing up and speaking up about anything at all are not what Amy Anne ever does.  What's a girl to do?  How about get the banned titles and make them available to all her schoolmates through her undercover locker library?  The reason I say this is a love letter to librarians is that you have kids getting fired up over reading, over their right to read the books they want to read.  The best part is that all the titles mentioned in this book have been challenged or banned from US libraries at some point in the last 30 years.  Seeing the titles in the story, reading about other kids clamoring to get their hands on them to find out why they would be banned, is likely going to reignite interest in some of my favorite books of all time.  I love this book so much!  I will definitely recommend it to kids reading at a 3rd grade level and up, students of children's literature, teachers, other librarians, parents...basically anyone who will sit still long enough for me to gush about it. 

The Wicked Day by Mary Stewart, 417 pages

  The life of Mordred (King Arthur’s son by his half-sister) is the main focus of this last book in MaryStewart’s Arthurian series.
  King Arthur’s legendary reign weakens as does Merlin’s power. Unlike in other versions of the Arthurian legend, Mordred is quite a likable character here, and we get to know him from early childhood. I wanted all to work out well for Mordred just as much as I wanted Arthur and the kingdom to enter a new age with hope.
  This book considers, through story, if we can change our fate or if we simply must do what is ordained by powers beyond the mortal realm. The characters are challenged to have hope and patience beyond their lifespans, to believe that, ultimately, the goal of difficult and even evil days can be to produce a greater, future good.
  While I was content to end the series with book three at the height of the Arthurian kingdom, this last book was more than just an encore after the series should have ended. The story-telling was just as compelling as in the rest of the books.
  Sigh. I've reached the end of the entire tale . . . again. It was time, but, still. Sigh.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Rubber Band: A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout 189 pages

Third in the series, this book in the Nero Wolf mystery series is a really fun one.  I think it has some of the best banter between Archie and Nero of any of them.  Clara Fox has a problem.  A very interesting problem.  40+ years ago, her father, along with several other men in a Nevada mining town, helped a man escape a hanging.  They did this with the understanding that this man would make them rich when he got home to England.  The real tricky part was that two of the main players were using aliases or nicknames and not many of the original group were still around.  Clara's father was killed in the war, but wrote all the details down in a letter to his wife, telling her that he hopes she can collect on the debt and help support herself and their daughter.  Now, Clara's mother has died and passed the letter on to her.  Clara is convinced that Nero Wolf is the only man who could possibly untangle this mystery and get her father's due.  As soon as he starts investigating, though, another of the original group is murdered...a few blocks from Wolf's residence and only a few minutes after receiving a phone call there.  Wolf's genius is certainly needed for this one, but it will be Archie's quick wit and sparkling comebacks that keep you laughing till the end.  I listened to this one again read by Michael Prichard...the best Nero Wolf audiobook reader.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart, 513 pages

  In this third book of Mary Stewart’s four-book Arthurian series, Arthur is the strong and admirable King Arthur of Legend. Battles rage. Alliances are made. Camelot and the round hall are built. Gwynevere joins Arthur as his queen, and knights join with him as brave and respected friends.
  Merlin is needed differently by King Arthur than he was by Arthur the boy, so he is able to turn his attention to the borne-in-magic threat posed by Arthur’s half-sister, Margause. Merlin longs for an apprentice of his own, finds love, and caused this reader’s heart to beat quickly with concern throughout his adventures.
  Even if you’ve read, watched, or heard other versions of King Arthur, I encourage you to read Stewart’s unique rendition. 
  The book comes to a satisfactory close, and I would have been content if the series ended with book three. Good news for those of us not quite ready to let the characters and legend go yet, satisfactory close or not: one more book awaits before the full tale reaches its end!

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris 253 pages

Okay, I admit that I read this simply because I love Neil Patrick Harris.  That being said, it was well worth it!  It was never too heavy, had lots of heart, celebrated diversity and threw in some magic trick how-to's just for fun!  The story follows a boy, Carter, who is excellent at sleight of hand, but has been raised by a less-than-honorable uncle who wants him to use his skills to relieve others of their belongings.  The whole experience has made Carter quite certain that there is no such thing as real magic.  When he runs away, he runs into a group of people who love magic tricks as much as he does.  He will have to decide whether he can trust anyone when it comes to magic, facing off with more bad guys in the process. Do not pass this one up, it's a great story with lots of heart and humor!

The League of Frightened Men: a Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout 302 pages

I've decided to listen to all the Nero Wolfe mysteries again, this time in order which I've never done before.  I love the characters so much, but I've always bounced around to whichever book was available.  I think it might be fascinating to see their development as a natural progression.  That being said, this is the second book in the series.  A group of friends is sure that one among them, one that they wronged back in college with lasting effects, is picking them off one by one.  They hire Wolfe to remove him as a threat or source of concern.  Wolfe always picks up on things no one else does and the solution to this one caught me by surprise.  The ever-so-rotund genius will earn his fee whether people like it or not!  Read by Michael Prichard, this was a pleasure to listen to again.

Fer-de-Lance: a Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout 285 pages

I just listened to this one again and I think everything I said before still holds true.  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.

John Dies at the End by David Wong 384 pages

I decided to listen to this book, because the sequel titles cracked me up and I remember really liking the movie.  The book is insane!  I mean, it's hilarious and awful and twisted and...oh, you wouldn't believe me if I tried to explain...  If you read it or listen to it, don't get distracted and miss even a paragraph, you'll be hopelessly lost in the story.  That much happens in a very short time!  This mix of horror, sci-fi and wacky humor was really fun.  I will say that some outdated and non-P.C. is used frequently, so if that stuff really upsets you, give this one a pass.  If you can skim that over and just roll with the story, I think it's worth the effort, especially if you like roller coasters that move in more than just our 3 dimensions. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Library Book by Tom Chapin, Michael Mark and Chuck Groenink, 40 pages

 This book is easily one of the cutest picture books of 2017. I had never heard the song it's based on. You can watch the video on YouTube. The text in the book is slightly different than the song. As a librarian I see the day to day happenings of the library. I had a friend read it and her first comment was "She walks to the library alone?!?!?!?". If I had a dollar for every kid that came in the library alone I'd be rich. The artwork is adorable. Of course I love the story line about the library. I think anyone that picks this up will enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Alcoholics Anonymous by Alcoholics Anonymous, 575 pages

  I read the fourth and latest edition of the Big Book.
  If you struggle with any substance abuse or addiction or care about someone who does, this is a valuable read. It could be considered "Self Help" inasmuch as reading it could help you take a step away from life-destroying addiction and toward a 12-step group.
  This blue book is a primary piece of literature for Alcoholics Anonymous, aimed to be a tool to help those in recovery and those seeking sobriety guide each other through meetings and personal contact. The first section of the book describes how the program came about and how it is designed to work, along with notes to family members and employers of alcoholics. The majority of the book consists of personal stories written by individuals in recovery, each one sharing his/her own struggle and path to sobriety. The appendices are also much-used tools.
  The book retains the Foreword from each of the previous editions that, when viewed back to back, are awe inspiring. In 1939, the Foreword identifies Alcoholics Anonymous as “nearly one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.” In 1955, the group had “mushroomed into nearly 6,000 groups whose membership is far above 150,000 recovered alcoholics” in the all 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii, all the Canadian provinces, plus communities in six other countries. The 1976 edition conservatively estimated more than one million recovered alcoholics among their ranks belonging to 28,000 groups in more than 90 countries. The 2001 edition celebrates more than two million recovered alcoholics finding sober lives through Alcoholics Anonymous via more than 100,800 groups in approximately 150 countries. Impressive life changes across the globe stem from this book!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, 432 Pages

I've been waiting months to read this book, and it did not disappoint. I felt like it definitely had a slow start, but once it took off, I couldn't put it down. I can't recommend this enough. 

Anna lives alone in her multi-million dollar home, in New York City. In fact, she's a prisoner to her home. She was diagnosed with agoraphobia, (the fear of going outside,) 10 months ago after a horrific accident caused her family to fall apart. She spends her time playing online chess, mixing wine with her multiple medications, watching black-and-white movies, and spying on her neighbors. When the Russell's move in across the way, Anna spends a lot of time watching them, trying to figure them out. While watching them one night, she witnesses something she shouldn't, and it quickly takes over her life. The problem is, most of the people around her know that she isn't in the right state of mind, so no one believes her. Secrets come to the surface and everyone is wondering what is fabricated, what actually happened, and are people in danger?

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart, 475 pages

  This is the second book in Stewart’s Arthurian series. It picks up right where The Crystal Cave leaves off and continues on with Merlin’s life, now with the addition of Arthur, the boy who will be king, as part of the story line.
  Merlin is in the prime of his life and has become a man who understands himself, his purpose, his powers and how to use them as much he ever will. He accepts that his cousin, Arthur, who has not yet been born when the book begins, will become the king the land’s people need and that his own role will be to protect, train, and guide.
   I love that I got to adventure to other lands with Merlin during the lightest years of his life. I also love that Arthur’s life is without burdens that will come once the weight of a kingdom is transferred to his authority. Arthur goes through childhood as a child, protected, while growing into who he is to be without the knowledge of who he is thanks to Merlin. This portion of the series is magical and exciting and builds to the last page in such a way that you’d better have the next book, TheLast Enchantment, ready to read immediately.
  When I’m extra enthusiastic about a book, my husband sometimes feels compelled to pick it up when I’m not looking and then stay up reading it while I sleep to reach the end before I do. That happened with this series. Luckily, I’d read it all before, so technically I still reached the end before he did. Right?

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks, 405 pages

Loved. this. book.  I listened to it, read by the author, who also happens to be Tom Hanks, the actor. 

It's a collection of short stories, hence the title.  A handful of the stories feature typewriters, there are a couple sci-fi stories and the last story is more like a radio play production, with actor friends reading the parts.  Remember Peter Scolari from Hank's "Bosom Buddies" days?   Woe unto the reader who doesn't get to hear that one.

Hope, friendship, love and good people are featured throughout the stories.   What a treat!