Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - the movie

Went to the movie yesterday and this is a doozy!!! Somehow it's so much worse to see things happening than to just read about them.  This is not a film for the faint of heart  - Lisbeth's life is not easy to see...

But - my goodness does it keep you engrossed!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

I just finished this book. I have to say I love these!! This one does not disappoint...

The books are about Tessa Gray.  A New York girl who has been brought to London and is under the care of the Institute of London. Basically that means that she lives in the institute with Charlotte and Henry, Will and Jem and Jessamine.  Now that may sound very mild mannered - but the Institute houses the Shadowhunters - beings descended from the angels tasked with keeping the world safe from demons and evil.  Tessa is not a Shadowhunter, she is not a werewolf, vampire or other downworlder, she is not a warlock because she doesn't have a mark.  But - she is not a mundane (normal human) because she is able to change into another person with the help of something that person owned.

That sounds difficult enough - but there is a nasty dark figure stalking the Shadowhunters seeking to own Tessa.  He is the Magistrat and the mastermind behind an army of clockwork monsters ready to kill.  And he seems to be everywhere - easily finding their weaknesses through spies and clockwork creatures.

Oh yeah - and there is more.  Will is a loose cannon - irreverant, uncontrolled, unpredictable, hating everyone he comes in contact with.  Jem is the exact opposite - he is caring and kind and looks out for everyone and he is dying - addicted to a drug which is slowly killing hime and to stop the drug would kill him outright.  These two are fighting partners - paired in a special ceremony to defend each other no matter what. And they are both in love with Tessa.

Now the real problem...

I hate reading series...I really hate it...It's been too long since I read the first book and I have forgotten some of the underlying connections. So what do you do??  And the book just ends. The story doesn't - only the book.  So you are left with another year before the next installment.
Sometimes I think I should just buy them when they come out and not read them until they are all here...

Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

I clearly have been on a supernatural kick lately!  I also read the first two installments of  Heroes of Olympus.  These books follow the Roman Gods - where the Percy Jackson series followed the Greek Gods.

There is also a Roman camp - run very differently from Camp Half Blood. Everything is very military, very controlled, very scary.  Sort of the antithesis of the Greek camp. But the prophesy says that both the camps must work together to save the world. A little difficult since the camps don't even know the other on single goddess has an idea...

What if we took the heroes from each camp - bonked them on the head so they lost their memories and then dumped them in the opposite camp.  Sound like something a meddling goddess might do??

So in the first book The Lost Hero - Jason ends up at Camp Half Blood - where everyone is mourning the disappearance of Percy and are more than a little concerned about this very talented kids appearance.  The same thing happens in the next book Son of Neptune. Except this time Percy ends up at the Camp Jupiter.
Both of these boys are given a quest to prove themselves and a couple of misfit kids to help them out...

All the while both camps and campers are moving closer to fulfilling this prophecy...

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,To storm or fire the world must fall.An oath to keep with a final breath,And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

I enjoyed these books - I continue to be in awe of the understanding and research that Riordan brings to these stories! They are like textbooks for the ancient gods.  Incredible!

Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

 The Kane Chronicles are Riordan's newest journey into the ancient world of gods and their children.  These are the tales of the Egyptian gods - those who fill mortals with the spirits and fly through sand filled portals at any Egyptian relic site.

Riordan's  main characters are two siblings - Sadie and Carter Kane. Two teenagers as different as their parents were - Sadie raised rather prim and proper by her English grandparents and Carter raised by his Africa American Egyptian archeologist father roaming from one dig site to another.

In each of these books the Kanes must work together to attempt to save the world from the ever approaching god of Chaos.  Each book connects known well known places with Egyptian gods and their cohorts.  Each also reminds the reader of the importance of Egypt in the past and the present.  The Kanes slowly become more of a family as they accept the difficulties of trying to train future godlings and keep the world from succumbing to chaos.

As I read these I was reminded again and again of the other Riordan books and have become quite curious about his ease in describing gods in many different lands and ways.  It makes life quite interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rainwater by Sarah Dallas

I really liked this book.
It was one of those quiet stories that slowly drew me in and then it barreled to the end was over.

Rainwater tells the story of a sad and lonely boarding house owner with an autistic son in the middle of the dust bowl.  Into this sorry life strolls Mr. Rainwater.  He is the new boarder in Mrs. Barron's boarding house and he is dying.  That is a secret shared with Mrs. Barron when Mr. Rainwater's doctor cousin delivers him.

And that is how it begins.  

The two circle around one another polite, at arms length, waiting for something.  And then the government begins shooting cows at the neighboring dairy farms to provide a little money for the farmers.  But, those shots set off something else in the town and eventually in Mrs. Barron, Solly (her son) and Mr. Rainwater.  

There is a predictable strand to this story - but it is comfortable and sweet.

So - I would definitely recommend this one!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Relentless by Dean Koontz

This is the first Koontz I have read and it was an enjoyable and super fast read. In fact, I read it all in one evening because I so wanted to see how it could possibly be resolved.
Relentlessis the story of Cubby Greenwich (famous author), his wife, Penny (famous children's book author), their son, Milo (6 yr old nicknamed Spooky for good reason), and a book critique named Shearman Waxx. Cubby has just finished a book and receives a scathing review from Waxx. It just keeps bothering him - he can't get it out of his head. It seems so unfair, and so obvious that Waxx did not even read the book. Through more luck than detective work Cubby an Waxx end up in the same the same bathroom...and then...

"Doom." That is the single word that Waxx speaks to Cubby and the beginning of a an altered life for the Greenwich family. Waxx is beyond a psychotic. His first contact with the family is simply wandering through the house - but the very next time there is a taser and a darkened room are involved.

The violence escalates as does the bottomless fear - especially as more of Waxx's victims turn up on the internet....a poison pen review is only the first step - you have been marked for elimination as a writer and as a human being!

So - this book creeped me out. Waxx seems to be everywhere and able to do absolutely any horror he deems necessary. But - Koontz's humor and odd, fringe details about Milo and his bizarre machine and his levitating, disappearing, grinning dog really balanced out the horror of the torture in this book. I hate reading suspense novels...they simply eat me alive.. but this was different! The conversations between Cubby and Penny and Cubby and Milo were hilarious and boring and so typical of a normal family. This was in sharp contrast to the unthinkable horror that Waxx's previous victims were subject to.

There was also another layer of bizarreness...Cubby tells the story of the night his parents were killed - through the eyes of a 6-yr-old. Creepy beyond measure and terribly interesting!

I enjoyed this escapism book. It was the perfect antidote to tech and teaching overload as we prepare to start our first day of school on Monday.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This is another excellent book that our book club read a few months ago. I loved the pace of the book - quiet and peaceful and steeped with memories - like turning the pages of your grandma's photo album. You know there is so much there right under the surface, but the years have tempered it all to a quiet hum. That is this story!

This is Henry's story, a boy in the early late 30s and early 40s. His father is a proud Chinese and sends him (with a button declaring that) to the all white school outside Chinatown in San Francisco. Henry HATES it -he is so lonely and harrassed and alienated - he doesn't fit in the English world or the Chinese one. Finally his life is made better when Keiko begins at the school also. Their friendship grows and grows - but Keiko is Japanese and Henry's father HATES Japanese more than any other group.

The WWII begins. Keiko and her family are threatened and eventually sent to an internment camp. Henry professes his love and promises to wait. And he faithfully does. Sending letters weekly over the years of Keiko's internment. And they make a promise to reunite.

But, Keiko never comes. Henry waits.

But, another love has been growing and eventually Henry chooses second best.

This is a book about hard realities and choices and continuing on. I like that the book begins with Henry as an old man. There is a hotel at the edge of Japantown and artifacts have been found in the basement. Artifacts from Japanese families sent to internment camps and never collected. Henry begin searching for Keiko's life and that is where the story begins.

This is a wonderful book. It respects the hard decisions our government and our families made without oversentimentalizing them. Instead they are treated as a matter of fact, and life continued on. This also demonstrated the deep prejudices on all sides of our country.

I would highly recommend this!

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

This is the second in the Leviathan Trilogy - the story of Deryn Sharp - midshipman on the fabricated airship Leviathan for the British Army at the start of WWl. Deryn is hiding a deep secret - he is a girl! But that is not the secret hidden away in this installment. Alek - future king of Austria - is also hidden away on the Leviathan. As are three eggs waiting to hatch with fabricated 'beasties' of some sort.

The story picks up where Leviathan ended. The huge ship is making it's way to the Ottoman Empire to drop off the beasties. On the way they pursue two German ironclad ships - a seemingly simple task. After all, the Leviathan is a huge airship. But the German ships have a new weapon hidden on their decks - a Tessla cannon. We might call it a lightening cannon. One shot of that cannon an lightening strikes any and all metal surfaces.

As the Leviathan moves closer to the Ottoman Empire the world becomes filled with Clanker machines - huge moving robots shaped like elephants, Gollums, waking beds and an Orient Express train that can walk and grab things. It's a world of machines belching black smoke and filling the air with their clanks and whirs. It is also a world on the brink of war. The streets are filling up with Germans as the Sultan decides whether to side with the Brits or the Germans. One side offers him fabricated beasts like the Leviathan and the other amazing machines like the Orient Express.

With the help of Deryn and an escaped Alek the resistance forces help the new Sultan decide which side to join.

This is a good installment. Full of action and intrigue. I like Deryn and I want her to succeed - but as she falls in love with Alek I don't really think there is any hope. Too many secrets.

And... I would love to fly on the Leviathan - a hydrogen filled whale! Or the amazing human kite that Lillit flies away on...maybe sometime!!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

This was another really good one! I must say I didn't really expect to like it...I hate snakes and creatures that crawl and slither and the thought of hanging out in the Everglade absolutely does me in...well that was a great way for me to begin this story!

Sarah is the poor scholarship kid at an elite high school (her mom is one of the lunch ladies) and everyone knows that she doesn't fit in...everyone but her parents who have done all they can to get her into the school. So, when she decides she wants to go on an overnight science trip to the Everglades they happily let her go.

As soon as the snooty kids arrive at the camp Sarah notices Andy - working on some cars in the parking lot -and a little flirting gets her an invitation to a ride on his airboat the next day. She fakes a stomach ache and the two set off. Ater a stop at a hunting cabin they make an AWFUL discovery...After washing out the boat that morning Andy neglected to replace the plug in the bottom of the boat and it sank!!

So - they are stranded at a hunting camp with nothing but the clothes on their backs and 10+ miles of Everglade swamp between them and civilization. There are tears, yelling, accusations and then cold, hard reality. Sarah is scared - petrified - of everything. Andy is very knowledgable, but he is also a kid who has always had an adult (a semi-abusive) father in charge. Oh yeah, and they had rescued a baby duck when Sarah killed off the mother with the airboat. That is how they start.

When they are rescued three days later they are not the same. Sarah's fear has turned to rock hard determination and Andy's surety has been tempered by reality. But - most of all they are friends.

This is more than a story of survival. It's more than a story of friendship. It's more than a coming of age novel. It's a great combination of all three with a healthy dose of respect for a disappearing spot on our national landscape.

It is also based on a true story...that seems to add to it...from Ginny Rorby's website...

Lost in the River of Grass is based on the true story of my husband’s ill-fated trip to the Everglades with his then girlfriend in his airboat. While they were ‘visiting’ one of the hunting camps in the Everglades, the airboat sank. It took them three days to walk out. I wrote the original story of that ordeal for Fort Lauderdale’s Gulf Coast magazine, published in the late 1990s.

It's a great read for reluctant nature lovers!

The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

Loved, loved, loved these!
This is the way I started my summer this year. My old favorites - YA fantasy! And these did not disappoint. Well, actually they did only because there is one more book in the series due out next year. A whole year!!!

Anyway, I am ahead of myself. For those of you who are Harry Potter fans - in the first Harry Potter book the Sorcerer's Stone is owned and hidden by Nicholas Flamel. A man who was an alchemyst and discovered the secret of immortality via the stone. At least that was the story in Harry's world. Well, it turns out there was a real alchemyst named Nicholas Flamel. He really lived! Is that cool or what. This is how he is described on Michael Scott's official website Michael Scott

Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel both existed. Nicholas was
born in France in 1330, and not only do his diaries and writings
exist, his house at 51 rue de Montmorency still stands in
Paris today.

In his diaries he writes extensively about discovering the
Book of Abraham, and his long quest to translate it. He claims
he discovered the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone – how
to turn base metal into gold – and also the secret of eternal

From being a poor bookseller, he became extraordinarily
wealthy and founded schools, churches and hospitals in Paris.
In recognition for his charitable works, there are two
streets named after him and Perenelle.

He lived simply and when he died in 1418, his tomb was broken
into by thieves looking for his vast wealth.

His tomb – and that of Perenelle – were both

In the centuries that followed, there were several sightings
of Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel across Europe.

I think that is my very favorite part of this whole series. It started with a real person. Then Scott does a Percy Jackson thing and uses real characters and mythological beasts.

So - let me start at the beginning. The story if of twins - Josh and Sophie. Josh works in a bookstore for the summer and Sophie works across the street in a coffee shop as their archeologist parents are away on a dig. One morning Sophie watches a car pull up in front of the store and has a bad feeling...the evil Dr. John Dee - attacks the bookshop to steal the Book Of Abraham which provides immortality to Flamel and his wife Perenelle. Josh is able to rip out the last few pages of the book before Pernelle is kidnapped along with the book.

That is the beginning. From here Sophie and Josh witness the downfall of ancient worlds and legendary leaders as Dee tries to return the world to the Elders. Through the process Sophie buys into the flawed process of saving the world that the Flamels have embarked on via a bit of a prophesy- rescuing twins and giving them ultimate power to defeat the Elders only to have them die in the process. But, Josh questions the real motives of the Flamels and eventually sides with Dee.

There are many twists and turns and the fate of the world rests on the understandings and decisions of a pair of teenagers. But, I really liked them. I especially liked Pernelle - an amazing sorceress and an equally wise woman. The love between Pernelle and Nicholas is so sweet - made even sweeter because the lack of the Book of Abraham is causing their accelerated death. The death of an immortal is not an easy thing!

I can't wait for the final book! And I do have to wait - until next summer!

Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix

What happens when you are raised believing one story only to have it ripped away by reality? That is Cecilia's story. She was raised in small village by a nanny being tutored by a knight and believing she was the true princess of Suala - a country constantly at war with it's neighbors.

Cecilia's only real friend was Harper, a village boy who will grow up to play a harp to keep him from the wars that killed his father. Together Cecilia and Harper are relatively happy. Until the night that Cecilia's house is attacked and she decides to head for the capital city to tell the fake princess Desmia that she is the real princess.

Sounds like the naive ramblings of a preteen doesn't it. Who hasn't wanted to believe they are really royalty or an heiress or at least adopted. Cecilia is living that fantasy. Until she reaches the capital, is imprisoned for her claims and realizes things are really REALLY not what they seem.

One of the characters of this book is Ella from Just Ella . I loved this spunky Cinderella turned realist character! - if the reader knows Just Ella, if not they are missing much of the undertones that work to highlight the personality of Cecilia.

I really liked this story. I think it will appeal to many YA girls...the end is rather contrived. I was a little disappointed. But - I haven't read the next book...maybe it would make more sense!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This was an excellent book too!

I was completely drawn into the world of Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. Each woman fighting their own battle in their own way...winning some days and losing other days. Skeeter is the gangly, unperfect daughter of a perfect Mississippi Lady - yes with a capital L. Her dream is to be a reporter...and yes it's a dream. Through a series of rather embarrassing phone calls with the editor of a New York magazine she begins a task that changes the lives of many people around her.

Aibileen is the governess/nanny/maid/servant/Help of one of Skeeter's childhood friends. Aibileen has thanklessly focused her love and attention on 17 white children over the years - quietly reminding them that they are beautiful and wonderful and black is not awful and dirty. Aibileen's quiet and steady prayers draw people to her and give her the strength to begin telling her story to Skeeter.

Then there is Minny. The best cook in all of Jackson, Mississippi and a mouth that has gotten her fired from one too many jobs. Her fire is perfectly balanced by Aibileen's peace. Their friendship gives both courage.

Ok - this sounds a bit dull as I am describing it...but it isn't! This is a story of civil unrest and disobedience on a very grassroots level. As Aibileen and Minny tell the stories of their lives and encourage others to do the same - things change. White women who would not have had the courage to march, or even disagree with their husbands, quietly support their help.

This is a story of humanity and suffering and love and class distinctions an cruelty and forgiveness...and I loved it! I was cheering for Skeeter all the way.

But - I think my favorite part is the worlds are crashing and being rebuilt - life goes on!

Another strong recommendation - I hope the movie does it justice!!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I loved this book!
It is the story of Lavania and the family that she has created for herself. The story opens with Lavania being deposited at the kitchen house by the Captain. Lavania is a frightened and deeply disoriented little girl whose parents have both died on the Captain's ship as it crossed the Atlantic. Her older brother was sold into indentured servitude and the Captain didn't know what to do with her so she was given to the slaves at the kitchen on his plantation.

What a lucky turn of events for Lavania!

Through Belle and Big Mamma, two of the kitchen slaves, Lavania slowly comes to her senses and begins to grow -to blossom. We find out about the terrible disfunction of this plantation where the Captain is away for long periods of time and his wife is too doped up on Opium to be sensible. The slaves are run by a horrible overseer - sounds a little stereotypical - but probably true too.

This is a window into the world of a plantation through the eyes of a scared, lonely girl who slowly grows into a beautiful colorblind woman. Being colorblind in the south before the civil war is not always an easy thing - as Lavania learns again and again.

The only part of this book I didn't like was the beginning. The book opens with a scene that actually takes place much later in the story. It made me dread that moment and jump to conclusions about it. I'm sure that is what Grissom wanted - but it really took away from the story for me. I actually stopped reading for a day because I didn't want it to happen. And then I felt a bit manipulated.

But - aside from that I would strongly recommend this! I read it right after The Help. Interesting to have those two stories back to back in my head...the South from long ago and not so long ago with many of the same issues still there...

Read it!

I am embarrassed

After all these years of reading I look forward LONGINGLY to the summer when I have time to read. This year I had the time and I simply didn't do it. Can you believe it??
And the books that I did read I didn't blog about.
I am ashamed and embarrassed.

So - I am turning over a new leaf!
Seriously I have enough changes to make I should actually be turning over a whole tree...
But, I will start with a leaf.

I am going to write short summaries of the books I have read...I don't want to forget anything.

And then I will do better!!!!


Friday, April 22, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

This is the April book for our book club. It was not one of my favorites - but it has to the potential to be a book full of discussion spots.

The premise: Amy Chua has two daughters and she has determined they will be raised as good Chinese daughters because she is the perfect Chinese mother. That means she bullies, screams, pesters, sacrifices, prods and accepts nothing less than absolute PERFECTION!

Her husband is only a shadow in this story, but he has given his wife full control of this part of their life and my goodness she takes over. Sophia, the older of the girls is molded into a piano prodigy. Lulu the younger is molded into a violinist extraordinare. At least that is the plan...

Lulu does not take kindly to this plan. Slowly she becomes a formidable opponent for her mother's zealous mothering. The battle brews throughout the story and explodes. There is an interesting that I won't give away.

What do I think...
I have been a teacher for my entire adult life. I have rubbed up against many different types of parents - all of them "Western" parents. I could not quantify them in a few sentences or a generalize what they are. Amy does this continuously throughout the book. She constantly explains what 'western' parents would do rather than the wonderful "Chinese mother' method. I HATED THAT!!! This entire book is a stereotype! Earlier I called Amy zealous, but that is being generous to mom...she is so far beyond that I can't really quantify her. This description makes me want to assume that all Chinese Mother's are Tiger Moms. But based on my teacher past I am sure that is not true!! ARGH!!! That is exactly what I hate about what she did.

So what did I get from the story...A push to understand again that parenting is an extremely personal task which most of us fail miserably at and yet we end up with INCREDIBLE kids. We try our best with our abilities and our stereotypes, and our kids are both the guinea pigs and unknown element.

And that brings me to the other reminder for me as a teacher... I sometimes assume I know what the parenting is like in a family. But, I can't. The parent can do exactly the same thing with tremendously different results!!

Finally - I am SO pleased I didn't grow up in a family like this. I don't think I would have survived!!!

So...I would say this is the kind of book you can ask someone else to describe to you, or check it out at a your money and borrow my copy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven. 4 year old boy. Heaven.
Not necessarily a combination you expect. But, that is exactly what this story is... a little boy with a terrible appendicitis and an experience that has changed the lives of many adults.

The book is written by Colton's dad, a minister from Nebraska, several years after the actual experience. So - it travels forward and backward throughout the book. Basically, Colton has a heavenly experience when he is in the hospital following a ruptured appendix. He meets his grandfather, his older sister (a miscarriage) and many people who aren't old and don't have glasses (that isn't allowed in heaven.)

Colton drops these details slowly over several years sort of out of the blue. He is completely convincing. He describes things that most 4 year olds wouldn't know or understand...rainbows around God's throne, Jesus' sash and other details. And, it's a place he really wants to return fact, when reminded that he is NOT to run out in the street because he could be killed he seems a bit excited because that would get him back to Heaven.

This is a book that reads very quickly. I had chills many, many times as I followed the story. Colton paints a picture of heaven that I want to join. A picture of a God that is HUGE and full of love and wants us to be there! It is also a book that challenges the reader to question exactly what we believe and expect. What is heaven - really.

In Colton's words - heaven is for real...maybe that is enough!

Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

War and love and noise and teenage angst and aliens and weapons and unity and terrorism and leaders and death and love and...

That is the world of Todd and Viola - two teenagers struggling to stay alive, ward off a world war and greet a new spaceship of pioneers. Their story begins in a Todd's world - a world of men whose noise (thoughts) is heard by everyone at all times. As Todd nears his life changing 14th birthday in Prentisstown in which he will become a man - he meets Viola lost and mute in the swamps - the first and only girl he has ever met. And their journey begins. A journey that takes them across a planet poised for war between the Ask (men) and the Answer (women). Each is lead by a neurotic leader so focused on winning an ongoing war that neither is above destroying the entire planet if that's what it takes. This includes terriost attacks (Answer) and mind control(Ask) and the natives (Spackle) becoming not just restless but violent and full of revenge for the horrible treatment of a small group.

Ness creates a world that I absolutely HATED!! It is a dark and scary world where no one is to be trusted even though you can read half the populations mind all the time. I was sick of the Mayor and the Mistress and their lies and twisted dealings with this very young couple. I considered quitting reading this more than once. In fact I absolutely was not going to read the third book. I was so mad at the end of the second I was not going on.But -then there is Todd and Viola. They turn everything on it's head. They are innocent and guileless and helpless and naive and sweet and in love. I wanted to know if they make it - if they can stay alive long enough to force the idiot adults back from the brink of mutual annihilation.

This is also a story of the bleakness of war. It was hard to read parts of it as a pacifist. The decisions that both the Ask and Answer were hard for me to comprehend. The war was the end for both of them and no end of pain, humiliation and destruction were off limits.

And then I got to the end...I can't say anything because I don't want to give it away...


Sunday, March 27, 2011

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Picoult continues to provide something to think and think and think about. How does she do that??

This was our March book club book and I am just finishing it right now...I know a little slow, but it was well worth it!

This is the story of Jacob, his mother Emma and his younger brother Theo. It is also the story of how a family copes with an all-consuming, life altering, diagnosis. Jacob has Asperger's. He is brilliant and unable to connect, obsessed and childlike all at the precise moment. His meltdowns span of shirts with buttons and eating the wrong colored food on a specific day and have torn apart his family. Mom is ultra-focused on Jacob and Theo breaks into 'normal' family houses.

Into this mix come Jess Oglivy. She is Jacob's social skills tutor and the object of Jacob's love. She is also found dead in a culvert behind the house she was staying in wrapped in Jacob's quilt.

I do have to say I had this figured out way before the end - I think Picoult wanted you do to that though. The purpose of the book was not figuring out what happened to Jess - instead it was figuring out what happens to a family who suspects one of their own. The story is about the trial of Jacob for Jess's murder.

How does a parent who has forfeited her life handle the idea her son may be a murderer? What about the father who deserted them? How does the legal system deal with an man with Asperger's on the stand - one who needs sensory breaks and can't stand loose hair around a woman's shoulder or the sound and sight of a crumpled paper?

In typical Picoult fashion the reader is drawn into a world too painful to really understand, one where surprising moments of pure joy and peace appear and the bad guys are not always the bad guys.

I loved it!!! Read it!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sarah's Quilt and Sarah's Star Garden by Nancy Turner

Due to some health issues I've been spending a lot of time reading this past week - and having a couple of good books certainly helped pass the time quickly. My book club read These is My Words by Nancy Turner in the past year. These are the next two installments to Sarah Prine's life in the Arizona territories of the early 190s.

These are good books - full of excitement, pioneer vim and vigor and the impossibilities life. They are also rather predictable. But, that predictability is not ridiculous - more like what you expect when you turn on an old western.

Sarah and her family are stuck on the edge of the Mexican/Arizona desert - trying to make a living on a drought stricken ranch with too many mouths to feed and not enough rain. In the midst of this drought her Mexican neighbor gets a bit too big for his britches and tries everything to rid the countryside of her family.

The books are filled with family lives and goings on, with the day to day hardships of living and trying not to die. You really care about them. You want to see them succeed, you want to see them live.

So, I liked them and am glad I read them - but they aren't as good as the first book fact they get a bit long on Sarah's descriptions and the longing for something she can't quite find...and of course it's right in front of her nose. I also really hate the titles...all three titles are not particularly enticing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

I really wanted to like this one. I like John Grisham. But, the things I like about Grisham - minute details about the law process, characters built with lots of background and history, don't work in a young adult book. Or rather the lack of those writing elements sort of make the story fall flat.

The premise is a good one.
Theodore, son of two lawyers and nephew of a third, LOVES the law and all the trappings. He has his own tiny office in his parent's office, is on first name basis with everyone from the secretaries to the security guard to the most important judge at the court house, and hands out free law advice to any fellow student who asks. His advice seems to be sound and based on a vast knowledge of the system and unlimited access to web info through passwords and codes available from his parents.

So far, so good.

There is a huge murder trial in town - a husband is accused of murdering his wife. But, the evidence is all circumstantial. Theodore is able to get tickets for his government class to attend the opening day arguments through all his connections.

Then Theodore is told a secret. Can you hear the ominous piano music in the background as this happens?

This secret is so big the entire trial will hinge on it. But, unlike surprise witnesses on TV (you know that isn't really real) Theodore must play by the rules. He must decide what to do with the information - it could be the difference between a conviction or an acquittal.

The most frustrating part of this book is the end...
Let me just say SERIES...

My vote is not over the top. It's interesting, quick and will catch those kids who enjoy all the law and order shows on TV, but it's isn't his best!

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I am not sure I really like Olive Kitteridge. The book, I liked. The character...well. She is not a woman to be taken lightly, or ignored. She is a bore, a bully, an emotional bag of wind and well you get the picture. At least I think she is. Then again...

Let me try to explain.

This is one of those books that I had to keep asking myself if I really liked. There are TONS of characters and it doesn't seem to really fit together until you are way into the book. And each chapter has a cameo at least of Olive..she is the glue, or the peanut butter or at least the sticky jam that makes it hang together.

The book is a little like window peeking. As the reader, you are walking down the street in small town Maine (or Vermont ) and pausing at each house to listen in to what is really happening behind the doors. This is not the glitzy, sweet small town glimpse that idolizes the drugstore and the quaint seaside village with it's church steeples and odd characters. Instead, it's more like what people look like first thing in the morning without makeup or brushed teeth. It's a bit raw and uncomfortable...and that's precisely when Olive seems to appear.

But, there is a part of Olive, buried deeply in the rolls of her ample body, that is able to pause with her hand on the spiked haired head of an anorexic girl. This Olive tears up without wanting to, meaning to, or hardly even realizing as she talks to her dear husband Henry on the phone after his stroke. She is a bundle of opposites. She hates to be at home alone, but she also hates the jobs and people that are out there...

Life isn't what she expected...but she didn't really have any expectations...

I really liked the complicated pictures of the people in this book. I liked that I was often a bit confused. I liked that I didn't like Olive and then she took me totally by surprise. I liked that New England was not perfect and Norman Rockwellish. I liked that even when Olive took a step forward - like reconciling with her son - she still messed up and panicked and ended up right back where she started. I liked that the story just ended.

So - I guess it's ok not to love the main character, not to even like her most of the time, and end up with a book that makes me wonder and ponder and revisit.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

I just finished this one...
image from LibraryThing

This is a book which was recommended by many people I know...acclaimed to be the best book they have read.

As I started reading I kept wondering when this was going to turn into that book...and you know it did without me even noticing. This is one of those that gets under your skin and keeps me thinking...returning to Marion and wondering.

The story is told by Marion Praise Stone, the twin son of a dead nun and an AWOL surgeon in Ethopia in the 60s. The story moves back and forth from Marion and Shiva, his brother, growing up and the story of the way their mother and father met, worked and his mother died. The story unfolds in a mission hospital in Addis called Missing by the natives. Marion and Shiva are mirror image twins who were born attached to one another by a thin strand on their skulls. Although the connection is long gone, they continue to find solace when their skulls rest side by side. The two are raised by loving parents...Ghosh and Hema. Ghosh is a surgeon at the hospital and the resident theologian, He,a is a gynocologist and a feisty Indian woman.

In this description there may be nothing that really calls you. But, this is a story of deep and profound love...Marion for Ganet, the daughter of his nanny. Ghosh for Hema...he followed her across a continent and offered her a yearly wedding contract in case she changed her mind. Ghosh and Hemas love creates a home that allows MarionShiva to grow and blossom, but the love between Marion and Ganet is one-sided and eventually brings a ruin no one expected.

Marion, as the lone storyteller is honest and confused and hurt and curious and I really liked him. I cared when his heart was broken by first his father then his brother and his sweetheart. I cheered him on as he began a new life..and more

I can't say this is the best book I've heart belongs to The Time Traveler's Wife but, it was a very memorable story!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

What a great read!

This is the story every overweight girl (and woman) wants to be able to tell - the year her life changed...she lost weight, found a boyfriend and a girl friend, and stopped allowing the nasty girls to control her. (OK - so an overweight woman's goals may be a bit different...)

Yes, it's a bit of a fairy tale. But, it's told so sweetly and so honestly that it is ok.

Rosemary is facing the worst Christmas ever, her skinny mom gave her a treadmill and her skinny aunt gave her tickets to a weight loss workshop. And Rosemary didn't ask for or want any of this. What she wanted was a date with her favorite guy...Mr. Hershey or Mr. M&M. But a chance conversation with an obese woman in her mom's salon forces Rosie to face what her life is and will be. When 300+ pound Mrs. McCrutchin says they look just alike, Rosie is freaked out...Really! She looks just like this huge woman.

As much as she is grossed out by that thought, food is her comfort. Especially as her mom and aunt become more and more secretive. Turns out her mom has cancer and her aunt is overprotective and more than a little mean. Rosie decides to start on a liquid diet without telling anyone.

And, the really cute guy, Kyle, notices her.

This is not a wake up one morning and life is wonderful, instead it's work. It's early morning workouts, gastric issues from liquid diets, the fear that any solid food will make all weight fly back on and the reality that the face looking back in the mirror might always seem like a fat girl.

You have to root for Rosie though. She is willing to try and she realizes that the life she has is not really a life. The first basketball game she attends in high school is by herself in the top row.

I really liked this - I would recommend it to all girls. So weight may not be their issue - but Rosie faces the demons in a way that would be helpful for any young gir.

at the MS library

The September Sisters by Jillian Cantor

So, how does a family continue after a daughter disappears? Especially if it is the sweet little sister, the one that everyone loves, the one who trusts and smiles and makes her older sister jealous? How can life go on?

That's what this book is all about. How do you continue?

Abigail is a 8th grader and her younger sister, Becky disappears from their house one night. No one knows what happens. She was just gone. As is the life that Abigail and Becky knew.

Suddenly people look at Abigail differently, her father and mother are both suspects and that makes everyone even more suspicious. Then school starts...Abigail's friends begin to fall away - her dad is overly protective and won't let her out of his sight and her mom can't seem to get out of bed.

This is a story of loneliness and friendship, of love and hate, of fear and freedom and of the surprising people who help you understand it all.

In the MS library

Wolf Rider by AVI

So, this is another book with an unfortunate title. It's an excellent suspense novel - but I expected it to be about Native Americans or Eskimos or something - who else would ride a wolf.

Instead this is the story of a boy, Andy, who answers the phone one evening and is told about a gruesome murder committed by the man on the other end of the phone. But, no one believes him. NO ONE! His father thinks he's crazy, his guidance counselor thinks he is hiding his anger, the police think he's making it up, and the girl who was the victim thinks Andy is coming on to her when he tries to warn her.

This story draws on the angst and frustration of a teenager who has information that NO ONE else believes. What can he do but try to solve it himself.

This is a cliff hanger and page turner!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

What a title -'s more than a mouthful. But, it is the heart and soul of this story. A story of friendship, betrayal, World War II, love and simple things.

As much as I loved it I have to confess that I can't remember the details very well. I read it all in one sitting - in my bathtub. So, needless to say there was quite a bit of skimming going on!

Basically the book follows an author who has finished a successful series and is sort of poking along for another idea. She receives a letter from a man from Guernsey (a small island off the English coast) who has a book that used to be hers. This is the start of a friendship which slowly grows as Juliet, the author, and Dawsey, the Guernsey native.

Through this friendship she learns of the five year Nazi occupation of the island, the decision to send away the island's children prior to the Nazi arrival, the prisoners who were worked to death on the island and the ways that the natives sustained themselves right under the Nazi's noses.

This is one of those books that grabs your imagination and pulls at your heart. As you find out about the austerity measures and starvation, the rules and limitations.
As Juliet travels to the island to really find out about these people. As she becomes friends and discovers who they really are and what has motivated them.

This is a great WWII book, but it's so much more than just that.

Enjoy it!!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Hot Flash Club by Nancy Thayer

This is the January book club book. It was my suggestion and I was a little nervous about it...I was told to make a suggestions that was light and fun to read. I was very afraid this was going to be light and dumb! But, I was pleasantly surprised. It was one that I really enjoyed. A great fast December read!

The premise is four women meet at a retirement party. They are unknown to one another. Each has been introduced to the reader in previous chapters - for some of them we know a little too much! Each lady comes to the party with fears and hesitations and a problem of some sort.

Through the course of the party they bump together - bond - decide to flee for chocolate - all in WAY to short a time. But, it's a book after all.

Each woman family problem: a daughter whose husband might be having an affair, a woman approaching the upper limits of her career and sure her coworker is attempting to run her out of her job, another whose husband really doesn't know she exists, and one who has a dream of opening her own spa. Over more than one dessert they decide to attempt to solve each others problems.

Now this sounds quite contrived and ridiculous - and actually it is. But you really get to like the women and that makes it easier to overlook the book's flaws. It's all about suspending disbelief...

My very favorite part is a wonderful description of what love is for a happily and very long married couple and how that has evolved and changed. Faye is describing what she misses most since her husband's death. It is poignant and telling - it made me believe that Thayer herself is in the midst of a very long-term and loving marriage. It brought tears to my eyes!!

This is the first of a series -and I didn't love it so much that I want to rush out and read the rest.

These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 Arizona Territories by Nancy Turner

This is an EXCELLENT book!
I was a little hesitant when this book was chosen for our book club. Why did I want to read an old diary and who would ever want to live in the Arizona Territories? It had to be hot and boring!

Well - I was mistaken! Sarah is the daughter of a pioneer who believes that girls should have the same skills as boys - so she could ride and shoot and work. Her family was moving East to Texas. Yes - east...
On the way they are attacked by Indians and her papa is killed. Mama goes a little off in her head and Sarah is the one getting things done. That continues when the other family in the wagon train - a Mormon family with prissy, beautiful girls, is caught up in a terrible attack. It is Sarah who has the sense to react - much to the families dismay.

The story follows Sarah back to Arizona and her toils to begin the horse ranch her Daddy wanted. It continues through a horrible, loveless marriage, the birth of her daughter and death of her husband. It is there that Sarah thinks her life will end...but... Turner doesn't stop it there.

Woven through the tail is Captain Jack Elliot. He was army leader of the wagon train and seemed to catch Sarah's eye. He appears a time or two at her ranch - finally being rescued by Sarah after his horse had gone off a cliff and trapped him. The two love/hate/love/like each other, finally, coming together in a wonderful marriage of love and respect.

Sarah is the kind of woman I imagine I would have been back there in pioneer times. But, would I have been willing to fight off a crazed mountain man as a young girl, live through a marriage to a man in love with someone else, and brave an unknown life in the growing town of Tuscon. Probably not!

I was struck again and again at how hard these women had to work. I mean REALLY hard. Late in the story, when Sarah is wealthy, living in one of the largest houses in Tuscon she still has to slave over an a hot fire to do laundry, cook, heat water for baths... I am so happy to be able to push the button for the washer and crawl into a deep relaxing bath.

Turner has created a main character that I cared about and really wanted to know.
There are two other Sarah Prine books..Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden. They are both in my shelves and hopefully soon on my bedside table!

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott

I really wanted to like this book. It has a great title and an interesting picture of a pale heroine on the cover. But, she is not the assassin. And the book just didn't quite live up to it's potential.

There is a damsel in distress, a dashing young man, a mysterious evil older man, a hard-working and overly involved brother. All those ingredients should add up to a great story...

The story even takes place in France at a time when all the old is being overthrown by the new. It's the Revolution and the wealthy are having a hard time holding on to what they have as the poor get fed up with being hungry all the time. It's a time of sword fights, horses and carriages and even the guillotine.

So, I would challenge you to read this story and tell me what you think. Did I miss something?