Saturday, November 19, 2016

Memory Man and The Last Mile by David Baldacci

image from LibraryThing
 David Baldacci does not let me down!  His books are the perfect travel books - short chapters and lots of action.  These two were the perfect ones to take us from Iowa to California and back again this past August!!

Amos Decker is a man with a twisted past - pro football player for one play and then BOOM and his memory turns into a permanent file - nothing ever disappears from it.  That made him a great cop.  But when his family is murdered that never-ending memory also brought to life all his darkness.  He couldn't unsee the murders - they replayed again and again until it caused him to fall off the face of the earth.

Image from LibraryThing

He is drawn back into solving crimes when there is a death much like his family's.  There is a school shooting and a truly twisted villian!!

So at the end he joins the FBI as a sort of quasi-cop.  And that starts the next book - where he is drawn to another ex-football player's story.  Melvin Mars is about to be executed for the murders of his parents.  Melvin was a college ball player soon to go pro with amazing talent.  When he murdered his parents and that was that - until his execution is stopped due to a confession by another soon to be executed convict.  That draws Amos' team to the site and the discrepancies start to add up - especially when the confession falls apart.

I really liked both of these books. Baldacci does a great job creating characters that I root for and I like that!  There are twists that I don't always see coming - but enough that you do see that keep you involved in solving the mystery. I REALLY like Amos. He is the anti-hero that I gravitate towards.  He is in this situation not by his own will and he would rather not be here - but there is a goodness in him that keeps him involved for those he might be able to help in spite of himself. And yes, I know that is a crazy run-on sentence - but that is exactly how I see him!!

I would highly recommend these books.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

image from LibraryThing
It's been a long time since I've read a science fiction/time travel book. This one is not like anything I've read before.  It's the future in England and time travel is a thing.  But - it's not what I expect of traveling to an unknown and interesting place - instead the reader is dropped into the midst of an already moving story.

You are in England of the future and all the time traveling of the day is to learn the details of Coventry Cathedral - because it is being completely rebuilt and refurnished to the moment before it was destroyed by Nazi bombers in WWII.

And poor Ned, the main character, has been shuttling around the late 1800s trying to figure out what has happened to "The Bishop's Bird Stump." The reader doesn't even find out what in the world the bird stump is until well in to the book - a hideous vase - and that really doesn't even matter.  Because Ned pulls us in to the world of Muchings End where he is to rest up and recover from his time-lagged state.  But that isn't a Muchings End of current time, but one of the the past where men wear boater hats and float down the Thames and quote poetry to Victorian women.  Into this world the befuddled Ned falls and his quest to find the bird stump slowly begins to make sense.

I enjoyed this book - I sort of liked the off-kilter feel I had as a reader.  I felt like I had come into the middle of a movie and didn't have the energy to ask my neighbor what was going I just stayed with it until it began to make sense. It's also a love story - in a very English Victorian way - and the story of a spoiled cat and a great bulldog named Cyril. By the way, there are no cats in the future.  So, Ned's first contact with a purring feline is rather funny!!

This is a good one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen

Sarah's life is not what with think of as normal. They move a lot, whenever the cold gets especially sharp and the smell of wet dog gets especially strong.  But, her mom and dad seem to figure out how to make it work, until they don't- and her mom disappears.  That is when she chances to meet Alan, the beastkeeper in the little not quite forest behind her house, and life doesn't return to normal.

This is a dreamy, dark, story woven around a fire on a winter evening of old magic and curses and pain.  It is beautifully written - lyrical and sharp at the same time.

When I finished I wanted to start at the beginning again, because I knew I had not paid attention to the right threads in this story! I have a feeling this will be a book you hear more about!

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Grace is one messed up ambassador's granddaughter.  That seems to follow here all around Adria, the country where she lands with her grandfather.  She lived in Adria with her mother for ,any Summer's before the fire and her moms death.  Now Grace has been bumped from therapist to clinic and finally landed at the last spot available- her grandfathers house.  Grace is haunted by her moms death- she smells smoke and sees the scarred face of her moms killer everywhere. Except her mom was not killed by the scarred man, and there is a death certificate to prove it.

I had this mystery all figured out, from her moms actual killer to the shady figures appearing in the empty embassy down the road.  But, I was wrong! I love it when I am wrong!  And boy was I wrong!

This story didn't begin or end with this book.  This continues on in the next book. But there are details that are cleared up. Grace solves part of the mystery- and realizes she is not all alone. That makes a big change for her!

I liked this- it was a mini Bond-there was spy work, some acrobatics and diplomacy between embassiesand some pretty big twists. I enjoyed this quick read.

The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

Image from LibraryThing

Hallelujah, not the best name for a cool girl-so when Hallie was welcomed in to Luke's group and then his arms she as sure she had arrived.  Instead, she became the butt of harassment and ridicule. And it just wouldn't stop.  Life in school and church had deteriorated to the point that Hallie's only real wish is to disappear. And the it was time for the youth group camp out.

When Rachel, the new girl, tries to make friends Hallie one more time and Hallie snubs her- that is the end.  Rachel breaks off the hiking group and starts back to the camp . Hallie feels bad and joins her and Jonah, Hallies old friend joins them.  It should be an easy walk down the mountain.

Should be., but it isn't.  There is a rain storm, a mudslide, and that is all it takes for these three to become hopelessly lost.

So- this is a pretty predictable story.  The there have to depend on each other to make it back.  There is a bear, some unexpected injuries, no food and a bear.  The part that wasn't as predictable was their relatives bishops with God and how that is woven into the story.  I appreciated the honesty and the non- preachy attitude. I also liked that it wasn't all tied up neatly at the end. Hallies questions remained.
I would recommend this one. Survival stories are a hit, weave in a love story and a growing friendship and this was really good.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Crash by Lisa McMann

image from LibraryThing
Jules is haunted by an image of a fiery crash and body bags. This private video plays again and again on billboards, road signs and her computer screen.  Her own private hell to watch over and over.  And if that isn't enough - the video slowly adds details, including the face inside one of the body bags - and she knows him!

Mental - right!  On top of that, Jules father is a hoarder. His mental illness makes Jules fear that she is also losing her mind!   Her dad's breakdown was traced to the beginning of a feud with a rival pizza family.  And it just happens that the son of the pizza dynasty is the face in the body bag that Jules sees!  Oh yeah, and he is her secret love!

What is a girl to do???

That is the story.

This premise really intrigued me.  How would you convince someone else that you know something bad is/might/could happen to them without everyone thinking you are completely off your rocker?  Because really, visions can't be true - right?  But, what if they are true?  What if ignoring this vision brings Sawyer's death?

It was a little weird to read a book that centers so much on pizza following Saint Anything which also focuses on pizza!  It made me hungry!!  Just an odd coincidence.

This is a slim book - and the first of a series, the vision seems to be moving on to other characters. There is a bit of a Romeo and Juliet feel to this - but with a vision twist. I would recommend this book.  It grabs the reader quickly, with very little background and keeps your attention throughout.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

image from LibraryThing
I like a good Sarah Dessen! I can count on strong female characters, a bit of a love interest, a family plot and some sort of twist.  But, most of all, I can count on a happy ending - there will be a resolution!

That is just what I found in Saint Anything.  This is the story of a girl, Sydney,  hidden in the enormous shadow of her older brother, Peyton.  That is just fine - until Peyton veers farther and farther from the straight and narrow and ends up in prison.  And then Sydney realizes the depth of his shadow on her parents - they simply don't see her at all!

In an attempt to start over, Syd transfers schools and slowly makes friends with Layla and her family at Seaside Pizza, the family restaurant.  That sets the stage for this book.  Inside the pages there is a creepy, lurking friend of Peyton's, a band competition, a moment of alcohol and a medical emergency.  Through it all, Sydney learns to trust her heart and finds her voice. And her parents finally see her as the individual she is.

I would say finding what is lost in an unexpected way is the theme of this book, whether that is friendship, strength or a new and different reality.

I enjoyed this book and it's comfortable predictability!
I recommended this already to my niece and my daughter!
As I said - Sarah Dessen doesn't disappoint!

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

image from LibraryThing
I liked Mare and the premise of this book - a girl with no prospects becomes Someone (with a capital S).

But the Hunger Games vibe was incredibly strong - a little too strong for me in the beginning!!

Mare is from the Stilts (the lowest of the low) and she is a Red (meaning her red blood puts her in the serving class) held down by the Silvers (silver blood and special powers), the ruling class.  She has a deep commitment to Kilron, an orphaned friend from the Stilts, and is committed to his welfare at all costs.  And, she is falling in love with two men - who just happen to be brothers and princes - Cal and Mavern.

I can accept and even enjoy all those details. But, there was one detail that just pushed it over the edge.  She is also an unwitting revolutionary - operating without seeing the big picture - a pawn for both sides.  That was a little too Katniss-ish for me.

The theme is - making yourself someone when you have NO chances to be someone.  That is appealing to all of us middle of the class, miss average, invisible readers.  And there is LOTS of violence - swords and war and matches to the death and blood and gore - which appeals to a different part of the reader's' psyche.

My overall
feeling - it was an intriguing and fast read. It is the first of a series and even with my doubts I would like to know what happens to Mare, so I would read the next one!

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Guilty by David Baldacci

Will Robie - the CIA operative with a heart.  He stands for right and justice. And he is one messed up dude!  His last job was more than he expected - a single shot took out a dictator in a foreign land and his daughter hidden behind him.  It messed him up just like Jason Bourne at his last assassination attempt.

So what is Robie to do?  The Blue Man sends him home to deal with his family problems - his father has been accused of murder.  In typical Baldacci fashion he begins to unfurl the murder mystery.

I was hooked - sort of.  This all felt more contrived than other Baldacci Robie books.  I am tired of him almost finding his way out of the dark of the CIA and being pulled back in.  This did it again.

I really didn't like the end of the book.  The pulled and broken father/son relationship is stretched and messed with throughout this book.  And then it is miraculously mended.  I don't really like that. It pushes the edges of Robie in a way that I don't appreciate.  And makes me even sadder when I think about it in relationship to friends with father issues  - neatly tied solutions just don't ring true!

So - did I like it?  It kept my interest and my focus on the beach in Mexico. But - i wouldn't recommend it.

Vacation Book #3

The Verdict by Nick Stone

My wonderful younger sister gave me a 3-month subscription to the Book Of The Month club - and this is the first installment from that club.  It was a great vacation reading book!!

Terry Flynt is a great everyman - the guy who is trying to improve his life after messing up at the bottom of a bottle of booze.  So to start over he is working as a law clerk in a pushy and semi-questionable law firm.

All that changes when his old best friend is accused of murder.  Now that sentence may make you think that he is also a down-on-his-look Londoner.  But - you would be wrong.  Instead, Vernon James is someone - REALLY someone! He is rich and powerful and a little shady and an accused murderer.

So - it seems like Terry Flynt is in the best place to defend his friend. Which would be true if they were still friends, which they aren't.

This is a cat and mouse game of lies and hidden agenda and Londoners and foreigners is intriguing and involved. I enjoyed all of it -didn't quite have it figured out - which always makes me happy!

Vacation Book #2
Book of the Month Book #1

The Martian by Andy Weir

image from librarything
I am not a fan of survivor stories.
I don't really need to know all the details of the heroic main character's stress and pain as they look for the one way to keep on living.
I also have an incredible case of claustrophobia - and space travel, ship travel, canoe travel, all of that just isn't something that I would voluntarily choose to do.
And I know that I wouldn't be able to exist in these stories - I would have given up long before the end of the story - so there wouldn't be a story - right!

All of that was going through my mind as I started to read this book club book.  I was ready to not really like the story.  I was also very wrong!

There is just the right amount of 'in your face' humor that made me really like Mark Watney -  mean really why would this guy even try to survive?  Why oh why?? He was stranded on a completely uninhabitable planet with no way to exist until rescue. And rescue was the only option. It wasn't like he was going to be able to create his own escape. Oh wait - he does.

I had decided I wasn't going to like this book - but I actually did.   What I didn't like was the callous view on life that NASA demonstrated - they were often much more concerned with their reputation and their future than with a single human life.   It felt often like the 'MACHINE' was much more important than a single man.  But that was balanced with the quirky nobodies who just did their job and solved the most impossible problems!

I enjoyed Watney and his ingenuity and humanity.  I liked the impossibility of this idea.  And I liked all the possibilities.

And the movie.  I really liked that. I watched it as we flew to Mexico and unfortunately the flight was shorter than the movie. So I saw it in pieces.  It was definitely worth it.  I was a little sad about the end of the movie. When Watney was getting closer to the Hermes - I didn't like the added problems. I just didn't think they were necessary. I did like the very end of the movie!  I liked to see the lives of the people continue on... that has always been a secret dream of mine - to see what happens to the characters of a book after the story ends. The movie allowed me a little glimpse.

Book 1 of my vacation reading.
January Book Club Book

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Coincidence of the Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

image by LibraryThing
I LOVE coconut!  That drew me to this book.  My mom makes an amazing coconut cake and as I read I kept tasting it in my mouth.  And that flavor made me especially enjoy this book.

This is a love story times three.  There is the love story between chef Lou and Al the food critique.  Then there is another love story between each of these main characters and food.  Finally, there is the love story written to the city of Milwaukee, introducing us to the wonders of a nearby place.

I really enjoyed this book.  Yes, I sort of guessed the direction it would take early on.  But, that didn't really dim my enjoyment!  Instead, it made it more relaxing and comfortable - drawing me in like a wonderful soup or a creamy pastry.  Although I knew what to expect - there were some great surprises.  Like the elderly couple demonstrating what a second chance looks like, or the fashion writer who hides behind his homeless man looks or the calloused, jaded food critique who still had his grandmothers cast iron skilled hidden in his shelves.

More than anything this book made me want to cook - to really cook and enjoy the process as much as the product.  The description of the Thanksgiving meal really demonstrated that for me!

And I will admit - I was completely teared up at the end!!  Another great read!!

The Dark is Rising Series by Susan Cooper

image from LibraryThing
I read this series years ago and decided I wanted to revisit it this fall.

Rod and I took an in-state vacation this summer - traveling over unknown roads in Iowa.  As we drove, this story came back to me.  What I remembered was the need to stay on the old ways - to remain on the roads that had been established long, long ago.  I thought about that as we drove down winding two-lane roads through NorthEast Iowa from one copse of trees to the next.

I want to be clear that these books are WAY more than that!  The premise of this series is the world contains good and evil - has since the very beginning.  And there are certain preordained times when the Light can take over for good. These books are the record of that final battle.

For me, this series was one of the first Good vs. Evil I met.  In true YA fashion the players in this battle are teenagers - three normal, average siblings, an old one (the 7th son of a 7th son) and the son of King Arthur who has been removed from his own time to keep him safe.  This group of five together with Merriman, their seasoned guide, face evil in different places and different times preparing for the final battle in the last book.

Rereading these after all these other recent YA dystopian books was interesting.  I don't know if I could entice my niece to read these - they are fairly dense - but, so rewarding!  Yes - you know who is going to win, but there is more to it than just that.  There isn't a romance or flashy techno toys - it is just the kids and the elements.  Instead there is a sense of a larger story - King Arthur's story woven through these books ties them in to a timeless story line.

I really liked these - again!!

Trans-sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian

image from LibraryThing
This was the November book for our book club.

I have to admit I wasn't overly enthused by the topic of a trans-gender love affair - especially when one of the characters is an elementary teacher. As a former elementary teacher in a book club of elementary teachers my experience and understanding made me pre-judge this.

The premise - a lonely elementary teacher, Allie, falls in love with Dana. Sounds simple - but so not!  Dana is a college professor who has began the process of gender reassignment when he and Allie meet, she was a student in one of his classes.  As their love affair grows he nears the reassignment surgery deadline and a lot of decisions have to be made.

This story is told over the airwaves of a NPR public radio station managed by Allie's ex-husband and narrated by her daughter. Each of these secondary characters adds to the depth of this complicated story with their perspective.  The narrative moves between first person action and a retelling of the details.  It adds an interesting dimension.

What did I think?  As an elementary teacher I did not agree with all of the actions of Allie.  She made some ridiculous decisions as a teacher - allowing 6th graders to swim in a lake on a field trip only partially clad would never happen in my Iowa town!!  But, I did care for her. I felt the pain of her lost love - changed love  - confused love!  I don't know that it changed my feelings on the topic - but it did make me pause and consider. I think that is what a great book does - force us to face a part of life that we may not bump against very often.

We had a great discussion in book club.
And then following our meeting this happened...

I was so excited that @Chrisbohjalian tweeted me back!
I felt just like a little kid - a real author responded to me!

It reminded me again why I love technology and the immediacy of connection and the power of the words we put out there to the internet.  It also reminded me how much I love the printed word and the power of those words to remain current even 17 years after they were first published!

I am happy we read this book and I am happy for the discussion that followed.
Thanks Chris Bohjalian!