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!!!!