Monday, December 30, 2013

NOS4A2

by Joe Hill

In 1999, when Stephen King was hit by a distracted driver and nearly retired from writing, I wondered what his faithful fans (me) would read if there were no more King books. Fortunately, his "retirement" was short-lived and he has provided followers (me) with hours more fun and fright. But I think King must have also considered this quandary during his rehabilitation and determined to fix that problem by subjecting his son to a vulcan mind meld. Writing under the pen name Joe Hill, he is King, but not exactly. It's like he wandered into his father's world and camped out right between Derry and Castle Rock.


NOS4A2 is brimming with flavors and references to his father's works: The Shining, It, Christine, The Dark Towers, Joyland, 11/22/63, Doctor Sleep, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and etc. And so in keeping the King tradition, Hill let's you know where he's been and then takes you to a new place; and here it's Christmasland, and yes it's creepy.

NOS4A2 is Hill's It and Charlie Manx is Pennywise. For many of you that is enough said, but if not here is the low down. Victoria McQueen can find lost things, but not in the ordinary way. She can find them using the bridge of her imagination, which appears when she concentrates on a place while pedaling like a madman on her bike. During one of her adventures, she runs into Charlie Manx, who is "rescuing" children from their unfit parents, using a similar technique as Vic, only his transport is a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith sporting the license plate NOS4A2 (nosferatu=vampire). Although Vic slips through Manx's fingers as a teen, he is not finished with her. Years later, he returns for revenge. Let the battle begin!

Any fan of those early Stephen King's (and some of the newer ones) will love this book. If you're afraid of the dark, skip it.


Friday, December 27, 2013

What's in a Name Challenge 2013

Yes, I did nearly forget to complete this challenge. I started off the year quickly reading books to fulfill the title requirements, but then got stuck trying to find a book containing the word Up or Down in the title. Since it was early in the year, I figured I had plenty of time to sort it out, but then as the year progressed, it kind of slipped my mind. However, last week I got a notification to register for the 2014 challenge and realized I still had one book to read.

So here's last year's wrap-up:
1. Up or Down in the title: Coming up for Air
2. Something found in the kitchen in title: Red Herring Without Mustard
3. A party or celebration in the title: The Philosopher's Danse
4. Something fire related in title: The Arsonist
5. An emotion in the title: Great Expectations
6. The word Lost or Found in the title: The World We Found

This year the challenge has been moved to a new host, The Worm Hole and only has five book title requirements:
1. A reference to time in the title
2. A royal position in the title
3. Title that contains a number written in letters
4. A proper name in the title
5. A element of weather in the title

You can sign up here.

Another little challenge I am giving myself is to read at least one book a month from my "stack" either the real book one or my virtual one on Goodreads. A few weeks ago I noticed my virtual stack was getting so long I did a little weeding... too many books, too little time!

The other challenge I wanted to mention is that I completed the Bible in a Year program. I am trying to find another Bible reading plan on You Version. If you've done one that you particularly enjoyed I'd love the recommendation.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Coming Up for Air

by George Orwell

I stumbled across this book as I was searching for something to read and finish out the 2013 book challenge, which I nearly forgot! Did you know Orwell wrote anything beyond those required dystopian texts Animal Farm and 1984? Me either.  But he did, and Coming Up For Air is a surprising reflection on life, aging and remembering.

George Bowling has hit middle age and is struggling coming to grips with the mundane prospects of his future. Not only is he overweight and toothless, he feels trapped in a loveless marriage, has two bratty kids and a dead end job. So he starts remembering the good old days, before the war (WWI), and how much better things were then and how great his life was just playing and fishing. So he decides to sneak away for a week and return to the town of his youth. Only problem is that once he's there nothing is as he remembered.

While nothing eventful happens and George comes across as having a dull life, the book is far from boring. I enjoyed the reflections on England leading up to the war and George's contemplations on life. If you enjoy memoirs you'd like this book.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Burgess Boys

by Elizabeth Strout

Some authors have a unique ability to create background stories within their novels and weave the details seamlessly into the narrative, making it relevant, but I think that is a rare skill. When it doesn't work, the book ends up being disjointed and unfocused, which is exactly what happens in The Burgess Boys. There are several story lines running and it's unclear which is supposed to be the main point. First is the struggle the Burgess siblings have in dealing with the death of their father after a freak accident when they were children. Then there are all of the relationships each of Burgess kids has with their spouses and friends and kids. Finally is the hate crime story.

This book didn't do much for me. I never really cared about any of the characters and in fact found their interactions and behaviors at times appalling. I guess I just couldn't relate. However, I think if this was a book club selection it would generate some lively discussion related to the various current issues addressed but never resolved. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase to Catch Lincoln's Killer

by James L. Swanson

The whole time I was reading this book something was not sitting right with me, but it wasn't until close to the end that I finally pinpointed my annoyance; Manhunt paints John Wilkes Booth as a martyr. While I understand the value in looking at events from differing perspectives, I think it is necessary to do so honestly, and I think that was lacking in this telling of the Lincoln assassination.

To begin with, the title leads you to believe the book is about tracking Booth down as he tries to escape after killing Lincoln. In reality it is about Booth trying to avoid being captured. The difference is perspective. The majority of the book is following Booth as he is on the run, it is his perspective, his thoughts, concerns and efforts to flee. While he is in hiding and being smuggled from shelter to shelter the author repeatedly refers to anyone who might expose Booth as unpatriotic, a betrayer or Judas. Swanson also characterizes the troops hunting Booth in a negative light, particularly in the epilogue, where he makes it seem like they only wanted money and glory.

Another issue for me was how the author presented Booth's case for carrying out the murder of the president. He spends a lot of time allowing Booth to justify himself through letters (actual), thoughts and conversations (invented), and makes Booth look like a righteous defender of the Constitution and the Confederacy.  But then he brushes aside the damning motivations of Booth: his hatred of blacks, his anger over Lincoln's sympathy and promotion of equality, his anger over Lee's surrender, and his self-righteousness. The book also makes a lot of effort to build tender relationships between J Wilkes Booth and his friends and family. There are letters from him to his sister, and several endearing comments from her toward him. It makes him appear concerned over the safety of this conspirators and his partner on the lam to the neglect of his own pain, etc. But his betrayal, dishonesty and exploitation of these same friends is totally disregarded. I guess I'm just getting tired of everyone trying to make the bad guys look good.

Finally, I have questions as to this book being classified as non-fiction. While there are many stated facts, copies of letters and news articles, photos, etc, there seems to be a lot of liberty taken in regard to thoughts of people, conversations between them, and interpretation of characters.

I'm mixed as to recommending this read. It was interesting and detailed areas of the Lincoln assassination that I'd not read about before (seen History channel documentaries, but not read), but I do wish it'd been a little more objective.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dr. Sleep

by Stephen King

I warned you in my previous post.... lots of King this year! And here it is, the long awaited sequel to The Shining, which I reread a few months ago in anticipation of this. Although I did enjoy my return to The Overlook, it was unnecessary as Dr. Sleep easily could stand alone. Even though the main character, Danny Torrence is the same and there are references to some places and situations from Danny's nightmarish childhood, you know you can't go back since the hotel blew up.

After years living in an alcoholic stupor, Danny Torrence's shining comes back in full force when he is contacted by a little girl, Abra whose shining may be stronger than Dan's ever was. She needs help after learning of a group of travelers who live off of the steam from Shiners and they want hers! The True Knot, as they call themselves, have "turned" from an earthly existence to a supernatural one that gets their strength and eternal youth from human suffering, in particular from children who shine. I loved Teenytown and the train and Danny's job of helping people cross from this life to the next.

I love how King can bring so much new to the table and also include so much from before. As always, there are glimpses of past and unrelated novels of his, and this time a reference to a Joe Hill novel (King's son).  He has such an imagination and such an ability to share it! As I've said before, just read him.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Test of Wills

by Charles Todd

For some reason, this year has been filled with Stephen King and first books in a series. A Test of Wills falls into the latter category, being Book 1 of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries. Suffering from PTSD after WWI, Ian Rutledge returns to his post as an inspector with Scotland Yard. His supervisor, wanting to find a reason to dismiss him, sends Rutledge off to solve a seemingly unsolvable small village murder.

The first section of the book is pretty good in revealing the murder and identifying a number of possible suspects, as well as building the character of Rutledge and the ghosts of his past, one of which will not leave him alone. However, once the investigation begins, there seems to be a lot of repetition without much story-building. Rutledge returns to the same suspects over and over with the same questions and results until the "surprise" ending, which seems to come out of nowhere. Even as the story progressed I expected this exact type of ending.

I think this may be a decent first of a mystery series. Easy reading with a hint of historical reference, but not enough to qualify as historical fiction (in my opinion). I might pick up another one in a pinch. If you like Maisie Dobbs, Ladies Detective Agency or Flavia de Luce novels, you'd like this one.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Joyland

by Stephen King

I can always count on Stephen King to get me out of a dry spot in reading. School has been keeping me really busy since I added a class this semester, I'm sinking in short and reflective essay grading and not having as much fun reading time... one bummer about my job. That's why I love King's writing style, he can just start the story and go, and even if it's not one of his best, his writing is so engaging you just zip right through the book, no matter how long.

Joyland is a bit of a side step from the King novels of late. First off, it is a new genre for him, Hard Case Crime. In addition, it is relatively short, considering his typical tomes this one is only about 300 pages. Even so, he fully develops each character, immerses you into the culture (this time a carnival), he gives sufficient background, he keeps the mystery alive and he keeps it moving.

The story is about a college student who spends a summer working the carnival in North (South?) Carolina, which happens to have a haunted house ride. The catch is that the house is actually haunted by a young girl whose boyfriend murdered her while riding through. Devin decides to solve the mystery and find the murderer, who came as a complete surprise.

The good: it's Stephen King.... what else do I need to say?
The not so: heavy on the "carny" stuff, the ghost, mystery and murder seemed a little sidelined by the Devin story.

I'm not real familiar with Hard Case Crime so I can't judge whether this book would be a good portrayal, but I can say it was pretty true to what SK does best, which is tell a story. And while it's not his best, it's a good read. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith

This book has been on my "to-read" list for a few years, when it was listed as candidate for the Man Booker Prize. The novel is a suspense/thriller set in Stalin era Soviet Union. The story boils down to this: one of the top Soviet MGB officers determines there is a serial child-killer on the loose, but the Soviet State refuses to accept this premise, so Leo Demidov is forced to find this madman alone. As he follows the trail of the murderer, he is haunted by Child 44, who, as one of the victims, happens to be the son of a colleague.

Here is my take: the book focuses more on the communist state than developing a suspense. While many a gruesome detail is included in the story, I found little mystery as to the culprit, although other reviewers seemed surprised by the ending. I'm also not sure how accurate his depiction of the Soviet State is because several of the scenarios seem implausible within a socialist regime. For an example, one side story involves Leo's wife and the question of her loyalty to both her husband and the State. Leo's superior tells him to investigate her, which seems rather unlikely that they would leave that to her husband.... but you never know. There is an unexpected twist toward the end of the book, but it is somewhat irrelevant, only in that it places the hero in a moral conundrum.

Again I have found myself unwittingly reading the first novel in a series. Fortunately, this was fine standing alone because I didn't love it enough to read two more. However, if you like suspense with a little history, you might enjoy these books. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

They Thought They Were Free

by Milton Mayer

I read this book on a recommendation from my little bro, who is a very selective reader, in particular of economic, historical and politically timely materials. They Thought They Were Free was written by a Jewish American who moved his family to a small German town shortly after WWII and began integrating himself into the society conducting interviews with what he calls the "average German citizen." His idea was to gain an understanding of just how Hitler was able to lead an entire nation down such a dark path. I found the information compelling and a bit troublesome given some of the attitudes and perspectives of these ten men and reflecting on the state of America at this time. The book made me think.

The best way to give an idea of this book is to share some ideas and quotes from it:

Implementing the Nazi regime wasn't about convincing 40 million Germans, it was about convincing 1 million. The real lives, that real people live in a real community have nothing to do with Hitler (or Roosevelt) or with what they are doing. Man doesn't meet State very often.

All Germany had to do for Nazism to succeed was nothing. It's actual resistance that worries tyrants.

Following Nazism was a revulsion of the people against all the haggling of politics, against Communism and the Weimar Republic. When Hitler came forward, the attitude of the people regarding their politicians was, "throw them all out!" The German people felt like spectators of politicians in races they believed were fixed and they wanted radical change. They wanted to purify Germany and were looking for a leader representative of the common man.

The atrocities of Nazism came step by step, not all at once. When step C came, it wasn't so much worse than step B, so no one made a fuss. But eventually people realized they were accepting things, which wouldn't have been tolerated five years earlier, except then it was too late to fight.

For me the main insights in the book came within the first half, the second part becomes more of a statement on the German National Character and a bit more dry. This book gives an interesting perspective on Germany prior to WWII. So often we hear only the horrible after effects, but fail to consider how it all came about. Several years ago I read The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, which also comes from a similar perspective. It is a great book about five sisters whose paths take them on drastically different life courses. It was the first book I'd ever read that gave a somewhat sympathetic perspective of the German people between Wars. Prior to that I had never considered what was going on in the lives of the average German citizen and how Hitler's initial actions might have been beneficial for them. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman

Another genre that I seldom venture into is fantasy, but here it is and "adult fantasy" no less, which I will say right off did not work for me. I don't think it's because I am too practical, since I did enjoy the Potter series and Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and Watership Down. I think it was just that the fantasy in this book was so puzzling and pointless. The Ocean at the End of the Lane had potential, it was an interesting idea, but for me it lacked development and focus, and the true climax of the story kinda went by without much to-do.

In this story an adult male narrator is recalling a traumatic event from his childhood in which he accidentally becomes host to a "varmint" who travels back into our world. As it turns out, this varmint looks like a normal and nice person to everyone around him except for the three ladies who live at the end of the lane. The varmint causes chaos in the boy's world and he needs the help of these women to be set free. I did like the writing style in the last quarter of the book, an intermingling of some classic literature with this boy's current circumstance and the parallels between them, but otherwise it was just too jumpy and confusing. I also found some of the situations in the story bizarre and disturbing.

I haven't read any of Gaiman's previous books, but if you are a fan you'd probably like this since he claims it is his favorite. I also have a limited scope on fantasy, so maybe for you readers too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mistress of the Art of Death

by Ariana Franklin

Yes, I stumbled into another series, but at least this time from the beginning. In the midst of the second crusades, Cambridge England finds itself in a battle of another kind, to find who is killing their children. When four bodies turn up badly mutilated, King Henry Plantagenet solicits assistance from Salerno's medical school to investigate. What they get is the Mistress of the Art of Death, Adelia Aguilar, one of the only women trained as a doctor, let alone an investigator of the dead. As a mystery goes this is a pretty good story and although you might figure out the culprit ahead of time, there are some unexpected twists to throw you off. Up until the time when the killer is discovered I liked the book, but after that it started slipping. Without spoiling, I just could not accept that Adelia's defense in that pit stopped this crusader of a madman. The other thing that put me off was the little romance thrown in, which seemed out of line for the character and took the story a bit off course.

If you're a fan of historical fiction I wouldn't put too much stock in Franklin's information. Much of the time I questioned its validity particularly relating to medical facts and sometimes doubted attitudes and actions of characters. I've been known to really berate books for attributing details to times in which they don't belong, but for some reason I wasn't as bothered by these... maybe because I was listening to it and not reading?  I might even go so far as to read the next one, but it'll be a while.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Bone Orchard

by Daniel Judson

I'm not sure how I started reading "book 2 in the Gin Palace trilogy" which was clearly added as a subtitle, but it wasn't until about a third of the way through when I realized the book was referring to things of which I knew nothing, but it assumed I was fully aware. By that time I was already in the midst of the action so I just kept on reading. In hindsight, what I missed in book one didn't make too much difference.

For me, reading The Bone Orchard was like reading a James Bond script, heavy on action, light on substance. This is very much crime fiction noir with the cynical and unlikeable characters and the dark and seedy backdrop. The main character, "Mac" joins up with the small town's heavy in an effort to get his friend out of trouble. Just as in all Bond movies, you know from the start how it ends, which eliminates the suspense and the mystery. And just as in all Bond movies there are run-ins and fights galore. This book lives up to that as well. The bigger problem for me was that each fight was literally reading a blow-by-blow that went on for pages, which made this more like a movie script than a novel.

If you're a Raymond Chandler fan and enjoy hard boiled crime you would probably like this series and you might like to start with book 1. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

by ML Stedman

It's easy for me to think I'd always do the right thing in the face of a tough decision. I tend to be a rule follower and I want others to follow the rules or face the consequences of not doing so, but sometimes what's right isn't always clear and some situations call for rule breaking. The Light Between Oceans presents a dilemma in which doing the right thing will hurt someone but doing the wrong thing will hurt someone else; so who do you choose to hurt?

The reader's digest version of the controversy is over keeping an infant who was found drifting in a boat with a dead body. Tom Sherbourne and his wife have tried repeatedly to have a child but instead have suffered repeated miscarriages and still births, now this baby seems like an answer to prayers, but where did she come from?

For those of you who like a good catch-22, you should enjoy this book. It is well written and believable, if not a bit of a downer, but would provide for a lively book club discussion. In fact, my kids and I had a good debate over the subject on our return from St.L. I was a little surprised that my daughter expressed such a strong opinion and her viewpoint and reasoning was very sound. The problem for me in these type of books is that there is no good answer. I can see both sides of the coin and either heads or tails leads to pain. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

I don't read a lot of YA literature, but this book was recommended from a friend who had just read my Auschwitz post a few days ago. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also a concentration camp story told from a different perspective, that of the son of the Commandant of Auschwitz. Bruno is a very naive and immature nine year old boy. He is angry about all the changes happening in his life and family, one of which is a move to a place he thinks is ugly and lonely. In his lone wanderings, he comes upon another lonely young boy who is trapped on the other side of a fence. These two boys (one German one Jew) strike up an unlikely friendship..... and thus the story proceeds.

I can see this as a good introduction to children regarding the atrocities of Nazi concentration camps, it is extremely surface level and always dancing around the terrible truths, which would be perfect for mid to late elementary age students. However this book is marketed to "grade 9 and above" and I just can't buy that. The writing style is as simple and immature as the coverage of the subject matter. The childishness of Bruno is almost beyond belief for his age. He has no idea what his father does or what is happening on the other side of the fence. He can't ever pronounce Auschwitz or Fuhrer correctly, calling them "out-with" and "fury" despite constantly being corrected by family (although neither term is ever stated/written in the text), but at the same time he's aware enough to keep his new friendship a secret.

I don't want to totally dismiss this book because I do think it would be great for the right audience, I just think they overshot their target. If you have a 4th-6th grade kid, this is a good read that would get them thinking and questioning. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Murder of the Century

by Paul Collins

I think this book was trying to be too many things and therefore couldn't be any of them very well. The Murder of the Century is a true crime murder mystery, a courtroom battle and the history and evolution of the newspaper in New York City all wrapped in one. Independently each of these stories could be a very good book in its own right, but all together it is too much information to do justice to any one of the subjects, but still it's pretty good.

The murder happened in the summer of 1897 when some boys discovered a torso floating in the river. Shortly afterward, the lower half of the body was found across town in a ditch and so begins a search for the head, the identification of the hacked-up person and capturing the person who committed this heinous crime.

At the time of the discovery of the dismembered body, William Randolph Hearst was breaking in to the newspaper business with his NY Journal and his fiercest competitor was the NY World headed by John Pulitzer. This was the battle that ushered in a new type of journalism known as "yellow journalism" where the headlines did all the talking and the articles themselves contained little factual information. It also produced a journalist who was out to MAKE news rather than report news.

Shortly after the identity of the body is discovered two suspects are named and brought to trial, Martin Thorn and Augusta Nack. Theirs is a love triangle gone wrong and now they will have to pay. But that is only if the prosecutor can do his job!

Overall, I liked this book. It has lots of interesting information and a writing style that captures your attention. The biggest problem is that it lacks focus because too much is being covered. I'd say this would appeal to you more if you like history than if you want a good true crime or murder mystery novel. The facts of each subject are well researched and Collins does make it interesting and readable.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

by C.W. Gortner

If you've followed me long you'll know my penchant for historical fiction, and particularly when it inclines me to do some digging on my own. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici was that kind of book for me and not only to get more facts on Catherine, but her husband, children allies and enemies. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings surrounding this queen, but a few things are definite, she was passionate about power, she had exact ideas and did not tolerate those who might not align with her perspective, she was ruthless, she was controversial and as long as she was behind the scenes there was no peace in France.

Written from a first person narrative, this story covers the entire life of Catherine de Medici, which is unusual as her own death approaches. This perspective allows much sympathy toward her decisions, which cost the lives of thousands of Protestants, some of her friends and possibly her two eldest sons. She explains away her involvement in astrology, her close ties to Nostradamus, her dabbling in sorcery and uses of poison all as means of protecting the country and children that she loved. True history buffs may be frustrated at how glossed-over her schemes, betrayals, murders and massacres are in this book, but it is in keeping with the frame of reference (her own).

If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Withe Queen, etc) you will like this read. The writing styles and approach is very similar. It leans a bit more to the romance than is my preference, but easy to read and interesting history. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Testing

I am going to try something a little different for a while on my book postings, I'm going to drop the star ratings. I have had several of my followers mention they would only read a book that is rated 5-star because they don't read a lot and only want to read the good stuff. While I can appreciate that, I also have to say that I tend to be tough when rating. When I was participating in book club one of the things we each did was rate the book on a 1-10 scale and mine was invariably the lowest rating (except for Wicked, which I liked but none of the others did). 

The thing about books is that people are drawn to and enjoy so many different things in a story that the rating system really isn't an effective method of recommendation. I know plenty of books that weren't my favorites, but as I was reading knew people who would really enjoy it. What I will try to do is a better job of mentioning who might like the book based on others that may be similar. 

I'm not sure how this will work, but want to give it a try. If you have an opinion, please let me know though, because this isn't set in stone.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Auschwitz

by Miklos Nyiszli

On the face of it, Auschwitz is just another Nazi concentration camp story telling of the horrors, torture and massacre of thousands of innocent Jews. The thing that sets this book apart is the perspective from which it is told. Miklos Nyiszli was not only taken captive as a Jew, he was selected from among the prisoners because of his skills to serve among an "elite" group of commanders whose job was to assist Dr. Joseph Mengle in performing autopsies for Mengele's human research experiments.

Although the Sonderkommando were given certain authority and privileges beyond other prisoners, they were also informed of the mass executions of their fellow captives and were aware of their own impending death. These groups were routinely replaced every 3-4 months. Dr. Nyiszli was a special favorite of Mengele and therefore was spared death on a number of occasions.

Nyiszli raises an interesting question in his reflection: Why would thousands of men, women and children walk willingly to their deaths? Why was there no uprising against the Nazi guards when these people were being led into gas chambers? Even though the prisoners weren't told they were going to die, they had all seen the same thing happen to other groups of inmates, so subconsciously they knew their fate. Nyiszli believed that any resistance among the prisoners would have impaired the Nazi's, even if only temporarily. But of the 13 Sonderkommando units that were led to their death, only one put up a fight.

If you like reading these type books, you'll like this account. If you've never read books written about concentration camps, this is a good version that is a quick read. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

What a disappointment. I went into this novel with high expectations after having read two previous novels by this author, but The Plague of Doves fell short for me. In general, the combined short stories within this novel tell the history of three generations of Indians living on reservation land in North Dakota and how a murder that occurred in 1911 intermingled the lives of all these families, as Mooshum tells his granddaughter, "nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood."
The book was just too disjointed with so many characters, who also had nicknames that made it difficult to keep up with and connect with them. There were also many different narrators, but it wasn't always clear who was telling or when a transition had been made. In addition, when the murderer is finally disclosed, it is very anti-climatic and leaves lots of unanswered questions.

On a side note, it seems that in order to publish a novel these days, you must include a homosexual encounter.... it's getting old, particularly when it serves no purpose in the development of the story.

I like the writing style of this author and I liked the previous books of hers I read: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse  and The Master Butcher's Singing Club. Try one of those instead. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sister

by Rosamund Lupton

As my brothers would say, "meh." No new plot line, not really much of a mystery or thriller, overly dramatic characters but an idea that had promise. When Beatrice is told her sister, Tess has gone missing, she hurries home to help in the search.  Unfortunately, Tess turns up dead in a public restroom. The police quickly conclude she has committed suicide, but Bea knows better and begins her own investigation into the death.

Sister was okay.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card

Long before Harry Potter saved the wizarding world, Ender Wiggin battled the buggers to save the universe. As one of the youngest students ever to enter soldier training, Ender's intelligence and compassion set him apart from his classmates in a number of ways. In each stage of his training, the instructors use isolation techniques to help mold Ender into a commander who they believe holds their only hope of victory against the invading armies of buggers. While Ender is in space making a name for himself, his siblings, left behind on Earth, begin plotting a take-over to gain their own recognition.

You will find Ender's Game on nearly every Top 10 Sci-fi books list, but don't write it off as a simple space story, it is much more than that. Card delivers a story of personal growth and relationships, of society and humanity.  His characters are interesting and believable (in relation to the scenario), the plot is engaging with a little surprise thrown in for good measure, and while this is the first in a series, the cliff hanger doesn't leave you unsettled.

This book is being made into a movie expected to come out Fall 2013. I'd recommend reading the book before then, it is fast and fun, and I think has lots of movie potential. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Shining

By Stephen King

I decided to do a re-read of The Shining since King is coming out with a new book in September featuring Danny Torrence. Many of you know my introduction to Stephen King in the early '80's with The Dead Zone (which hooked me for life- if you haven't read it, do), followed in quick succession by Carrie and The Shining then reading whatever else he wrote (almost). So it's been many years since reading this one. Anyway, I remembered the story pretty well. Jack and Danny and redrum and the Overlook Hotel are hard to forget (in part due to the movie, which I didn't see). A few things I picked up on in this re-read were some themes King brings out in later novels (he is a master of this! If you've read many of his books, you learn to look for connections from and to his other works). For example, when I read It, a few years later, I didn't recall how many times the bad spirit in the Overlook was referred to as "it", there's the swarm of wasps, which kinda reappear in The Green Mile and I was reminded how King loves a good explosion!

This book isn't overly scary, it's kind of a mix between a creepy psycho and a haunted house story. I never saw the movie because I'm a chicken, I don't do scary movies well and Jack Nicholson creeps me out! And I still don't think I could see it, mostly because of Jack (Nicholson) not the story line.

Even though this book isn't one of my favorites, I am biased when it comes to Stephen King, the man can pull you in and keep you going. Just read him!

If you need to know where to start just ask. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Professor and the Madman

by Simon Winchester

Subtitled: A tale of Murder, Insanity and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, which should instantly hook you and drag you right in! Ok, the murder and insanity part, but making the dictionary? As impossible as it may seem that a book about writing the dictionary could hold your attention, Winchester manages to pull off a very entertaining and engaging history of the demand for and the 70-year mission to create a dictionary of English words, their derivation and the development of their usage.

The project was led by James Murray, who sent out requests to the public interested in reading, identifying and quoting any and all words of the English language. Surprisingly, hundreds of volunteers sent thousands of "catch word" slips daily to the Professor. The requirements for each entry were specific: word spelling, pronunciation, etmyology, quotation(s) including source material, and definition; and Murray was an exacting master. One of his most dedicated and valuable contributors was Dr. William Chester Minor who furnished more than 10,000 definitions. It wasn't until years after Minor's involvement began that Murray discovered Minor was an involuntary resident in the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

As I am such a fan of little known history, this book was right up my alley. If at times it is a bit melodramatic, it is well researched and a quick interesting read. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Mill River Recluse

by Darcie Chan

Just say NO! Do not be tempted by the $.99 kindle download, you will feel ripped off. Do not be misled by the rave reviews, Ms. Chan must have a very large family. And particularly if you're a lover of mysteries or psychological thrillers, do not read the book description and be duped. The Mill River Recluse is neither.

I almost didn't include the hyperlink because I don't want to be held accountable to anyone who reads this book. 

The Age of Innocence

by Edith Wharton

It seems like sociology was a major theme for writers in the late nineteenth century. If so, The Age of Innocence falls right in place, exposing much of the social structure in New York City during the late 1800's. Wharton details class attitudes, cultural mores and gender expectations through the relationship of  May Welland and Newland Archer. May is very conventional and is concerned about her place within her circle, her attire and the way her peers might judge her. While Archer also holds to these traditions, he struggles with the rigidity and desires change and freedom. 

While this was not my favorite book in this genre, it is very well written and adeptly expresses the atmosphere of that generation. My particular aversion to this novel was with the internal struggle faced by Newland Archer and the way in which May responded to his trial, despite the fact that I am certain those were both typical reactions. Personally, I'll say this book was okay.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In the Shadow of the Banyan

by Ratner, Vaddey

In the Shadow of the Banyan tells to story of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975. Ratner was a child when her family was uprooted and separated by the Khmer Organization, and this book is somewhat of a fictionalized account of their experiences. While I can see some value in the choice to narrate the story from the perspective of a child, I think the disadvantages outweigh that option. As a child, much of the atrocity of the situation was not realized or understood, therefore a lot of  the Khmer brutality goes untold, or told seemingly in passing. Particularly in the beginning, this telling avoids the horrors in lieu of poetry and fairy tales. When finally some of these details are told, the style is still so lyrical it doesn't make the required impact. Since the story is also very reflective and descriptive, the mature voice of the seven year old Raami doesn't always ring true. 

A very sobering tale told with too much sugary language to give credence to the gravity of the subject. While this book ultimately manages to give a glimpse into that brief period of Cambodian history, it is no Anne Frank story. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Update

Bible reading:

In the Old Testament, I have read through I Samuel
In the New Testament I have read through Romans 
And I am part-way through both Psalms and Proverbs. 

My plan provides daily readings from the OT, NT and either Ps or Prov.  At the moment I am a bit ahead of schedule. So far so good!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Destiny of the Republic

by Candice Millard

You might wonder why someone would choose to write a book about James Garfield, considering he held the office of president less than 200 days, and you also might question reading such a book, but Destiny of the Republic is about much more than our nation's 20th president, it is about the people and the events surrounding him that helped shape the future of America. Candice Millard manages to reveal current inventions, controversies among the medical community, political rivalries and expose the deranged life and mind of Garfield's assassin that surrounded him during his lifetime.

I did not know that James Garfield never ran for the office of president; he was elected as candidate on a whim during a lengthy Republican National Convention in which there was a stalemate between Grant and Blaine. In fact, Garfield did not want the office, and once nominated, on more than one occasion expressed his feelings of disquiet in this election. The lesson here: trust your gut!

His assassin, Charles Guiteau truly was delusional. One of the examining physicians said of Guiteau that all of the links for intelligence were strong, they just didn't form a chain. Fortunately for America, there was no Jose Baez, F. Lee Bailey or Robert Shapiro at the time or Guiteau just may have walked for shooting the president since his defenses of insanity and medical incompetence were both true.

The incompetence of Garfield's attending physician is shocking! Dr. Doctor Bliss (yes, his given name was Doctor) was a pretentious boob who wanted to make a name for himself. In the end he did so, only not the name he had hoped for. He rejected the discoveries of both Pasteur, regarding germs and Lister regarding antisepsis, both of which would have saved Garfield.

At times, Millard gets a bit gross in her details of the suffering of President Garfield, but that can be overlooked in light of all of the interesting information she includes along the way. If you are a fan of obscure history you will like this book. It is a fast and engaging read. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Prayers for Sale

by Sandra Dallas

Imagine yourself on a cold winter night, snuggled up under your favorite blanket, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot cocoa and a great book; that about sums up Prayers for Sale.  And that is really when you'd want to read this story, not on the beach, not on a plane, but snuggled under your blanket in front of the fireplace. Lucky for me, Oklahoma weather cooperated even in May!

Eighty-six year old Hennie Comfort relives her life through a series of stories shared with a new young neighbor in the mining town of Middle Swan, CO as she comes to terms with having to leave her home to move in with her daughter.  Life on the Swan during the Depression is hard and winters are harsh, even so it is hard for Hennie to imagine living anywhere else. Hennie's story is full of love, tragedy and trial, one (predicable) regret and one nagging bit of disquiet that she must settle before moving on. I don't think it's an accident that Hennie is a quilter and quilting references abound as she re-pieces her history and comes to terms with some of life's difficult lessons.

This is a nice story where everything is tied up with a neat (albeit unrealistic) little bow.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In this short novel the world is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and his new roommate Dr. Watson. When you've seen dozens of movie and tv renditions of this famous detective, it's a little hard to start reading the books without any pre-conceived notions, but I've wanted to read them to get an idea of the character that Doyle imagined. Here's what you get from the first story: Sherlock is smart, he gathers lots of information, but only that which he deems valuable to advance his profession, he assists the top Scotland Yard detectives, his powers of observation are on steroids and he might possibly be manic-depressive.

The Study in Scarlet presents Holmes with two murders and he determines to take Watson under his wing to prove the power of observation in resolving mysteries. And so in the first half we get it all, right up to the arrest of the murderer, which is abruptly interrupted with part II that fills us in on all the back story that led up to the murders. In this case it stems from issues within the Mormon church, so we learn a great lot about their settling in Salt Lake City and a bit about their hierarchy, which doesn't paint too good a light on the Mormon's, but makes a good motive for these murders. And then, just as suddenly, Holmes is wrapping it all up in a neat little package and passing it off as elementary.

This is a fun and quick introduction to Sherlock Holmes. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Cider House Rules

by John Irving

I'll give John Irving credit, he can weave a good yarn! I'm not sure why it took me so long to read another of his novels after A Prayer for Owen Meany, which I read years ago (actually twice in one year), loved and would highly recommend! I might even rank Irving's story-telling up there with Stephen King, despite their very different subject matter, they can both keep you turning pages. What is a bit amazing about the two Irving novels that I've read is how he intertwines such deep and controversial subjects into a story, making you truly consider all aspects of the point, while not hammering you over the head with his opinion, yet expressing it nonetheless.

On the face of The Cider House Rules is the subject of adoption and abortion, "the work of God and the work of the devil," "delivering babies or delivering mothers." But the underlying themes of love, faithfulness and rules play a big part as well. How can you really love two people? At what point do you give up hope on someone who's gone missing? When in Rome are you expected to do as a Roman? Whose rules are you following?

Another thing Irving has mastered is character development. When you finish the book you know the characters and you like them (or dislike them as you should). Each person is unique and much care is given even to minor appearances. While the main focus is on Homer Wells and Candy and Wally and Dr. Larch, you get to know the nurses and the orphans and the migrant pickers and not only the current stationmaster but his predecessor, and it wasn't a distraction to have met them all.

Cider House Rules was made into a movie years ago, which I never saw. After reading the book I can't imagine it being done well and I'm not sure I'd want to see it anyway. I saw the Simon Birch movie, which was supposedly based off A Prayer for Owen Meany, and was sorely disappointed in the lack of resemblance to the book.

I liked this book, but would recommend Owen Meany first.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The World We Found

by Thrity Umrigar

I have a habit of getting stalled when reading books that I don't care for, and that is what happened with The World We Found. I kept trying to engage with the story line and I kept trying to care about the characters, but it never happened, which was a huge disappointment given how much I liked Ms. Umrigar's previous novel The Space Between Us.

The theme had potential. Four girl friends who have been separated by time and circumstance try to reunite when one discovers she is dying of cancer. The problem was their friendship seemed to rest solely on one event that Umrigar kept rehashing. And although the characters had some interesting aspects, they were underdeveloped and came across poorly.

In this book, Umrigar tried to present both political and religious tensions in India. Through one of the women's marriage, she offered a compelling perspective on the status of Muslim women within their homes and societies, but then failed to take a stance. She also highlighted some political and social tensions through the husbands, but again just presented the issues without a particular point of view, which is good for a newscaster, but not so much for characters in a novel.

At least this meets one of the reading challenge's title requirements.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two more books about fasting

A Hunger for God
by John Piper

In this book, Piper presents an in-depth look at the Christian discipline of fasting. He lays out the history of fasting in scripture and explains why we should incorporate fasting in our lives today. Whereas Franklin's book was a general overview, A Hunger for God delves deeply into the subject, explaining how fasting is an effective way to glorify God and bring us into a closer relationship with Him.
While the why's of fasting are completely divulged, this is not a practical book for a how-to.



Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough
by Elmer Towns

Here is the "how-to" of fasting! In Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough, Towns gives a brief introduction stating a case for fasting then gets right to the point. He introduces nine basic fasts found in scripture and gives the purpose and some specific devotional ideas to guide you as you abstain from eating. His devotions include fasting for: freedom from addiction, to solve problems, for evangelism, to overcome fears, for wisdom in decision making, and more.




Both of these books use Isaiah 58 as a main text.





Monday, February 25, 2013

Fasting

By Jentezen Franklin

I have been involved with Moms in Prayer International (formerly Moms in Touch) for about 10-12 years and have learned a lot about prayer, praying and the power of prayer from this association.  Being on their email list, I periodically receive notices about upcoming events or prayer requests. However, last fall I got two messages that have started me on a learning and growing expedition. Both of these emails dealt with fasting, the first was a statewide month of prayer and fasting challenge and the second was sent from national headquarters declaring that the staff has set aside every Wednesday to pray and fast for our students and their schools and encouraging us to join along. I did not heed either of these requests at the time, but recently the subject of fasting has been continually brought to my attention. And so, I am doing what I generally do: reading, studying. learning and applying. 

After a topical search in The Bible, I picked up a few books on the subject. The first one I read is Fasting, which is a very quick, light and easy discussion on fasting. I think it is a good starting point, but definitely leaves a lot out. I think Franklin did a good job of explaining the difference between fasting and abstaining from food (or dieting), particularly since the latest rage in dieting seems to be something called intermittent fasting. He also pulled in several scriptural references and situations in which people in the Bible fasted. I do think he took some liberty, but understood his points. And he did mention the benefits of fasting to us spiritually, emotionally and physically. What I didn't care for was his focus on the rewards of fasting in his book. He included many anecdotes of people being healed or getting things after they had spent time fasting. While I am not discounting the physical and material rewards, I think he neglected the personal gains and growth that may be the greatest rewards. I think he led readers to believe that if you fasted all your worries would disappear, yet I know many women who fast and pray faithfully and their physical rewards remain unmet, their healings have not occurred, but they have some mighty strong bonds with the Lord.

Elementary Fasting 101. Worth the read.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Arsonist

by Victor Methos

Another psychological thriller and as can be determined by the title it is about an Arsonist. Not being acquainted with the mind or methods of a typical arsonist, I would guess that the person depicted in this novel was at the extreme end of the spectrum, since he was as much delighted in torturing his victims as in setting fire to them and their homes. Although Methos tries to give you a glimpse into the mind of a pyromaniac, he is not nearly as successful as Gillian Flynn was in exposing the crazies in Gone Girl.

I found the main story line hard to follow because of an undeveloped side story involving one of the detectives, which never made sense to me and included distracting diversions. There was also a situation in a church that was so unbelievable it was hard to keep going with the plot. The book included a number of fights, gun battles and car chases that popped up from nothing and didn't make sense in the context. I didn't really like any of the characters, their dialogue was unnatural and they over-used the F-word. I also didn't like all the unnecessary and mindless detail, I don't mind details that benefit or progress the story, but don't need purposeless information that just wastes my time.

Not a favorite, but the title does meet a book challenge requirement. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tales of Terror

by Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of Terror is a collection of short stories each containing some element of death, guilt and fear. This compilation included: The Tell-Tale Heart, Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, Hop Frog, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat and The Cask of Amontillado. A few of these stories I had read in middle or high school, but some were new to me. I didn't remember the similarity of the plots and themes in these stories, but gather Poe was paranoid about being buried alive, facing a vicious murder and orangutans! Poor Edgar Allan Poe, I would not have wanted to live in his mind. One funny thing to me was recognizing some of these ideas carried over to popular tv shows (one Frazier episode) movies (a particular scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and lots of other books.

I listened to these stories, and I wouldn't recommend the version I heard. Sound quality was very poor and the narrator's accent was sometimes indecipherable. However, I would recommend these creepy stories, particularly for campouts or teen-age over nighters. These are eerie without being gruesome. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Philanthropist's Danse

by Paul Wornham

Here is a book written true to the classic whodunnit, reminiscent of And Then There Were None, a little mystery, a little suspense and a few twists thrown in for fun. In The Philanthropist's Danse, Wornham brings together a cast of twelve interesting characters whose mission of dividing the estate of their recently deceased billionaire father and friend wreaks havoc. Each person involved holds some secret that their benefactor would have either rewarded or punished, and it is up to them to quickly determine who should receive the lion's share of the wealth.

The author does a good job of pulling you in and keeping the story moving along. I thought the actions and responses of the characters was realistic and I liked the whole premise. After the first few twists in the story, I was really waiting for that big surprise ending, which unfortunately never came. In the end, everything was all wrapped up and resolved, I just was expecting a bigger bang.

It's a good, fun and quick read for anyone who likes a typical mystery. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Year With Eleanor: A Memoir

by Noelle Hancock

After losing her job and staring 30 in the face, Noelle Hancock is distraught and afraid, unsure what to do next. So she does what any unemployed, New York twenty-something would do, throws caution to the wind in an effort to "find herself." Using Eleanor Roosevelt as inspiration, Hancock embarks on an adventure of self-discovery and self-indulgence. Throughout her year of facing fear, Noelle learns to be a trapeze artist, goes shark diving, participates in a fighter pilot dog-fight, takes stripper classes, spends a week at a silent retreat, does stand-up comedy, runs naked through her apartment building, spends a week assisting in a funeral parlor in Ohio (because apparently none exist in NYC), climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro, and there's more! Hancock justifies her activities using various quotes or life examples from biographies of Ms. Roosevelt, which makes it all ok.

The events in My Year With Eleanor are so overly fantastical it's hard to believe it hasn't been embellished. I also really struggled with the author's flippancy toward money and expenses as she was a jobless New York City resident with no income during the height of the recession but had no problem going on these extravagant adventures and taking extremely costly trips. And despite her constant criticisms of her conservative and practical parents, who she looks down her nose at, she doesn't blink an eye when taking money from them to support her indulgence.

I enjoyed the references to Eleanor Roosevelt's life, but would have been better served just reading one of the biographies mentioned. Perhaps I'm too old for this book. Not to mention too conservative and practical!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The LIttle Stranger

by Sarah Waters

Seems I am on a roll of disappointing reads. I had high expectations for The Little Stranger, especially because of Stephen King's endorsement, but I wonder if he actually read the book or just a summary of it. The premise is good, a post WWII haunted house story set in a crumbling mansion estate in GB,  the characters are well developed, including Hundreds Hall itself and the writing is descriptive. But it was a roller coaster of building up to a climax that never came, building up a ghost that never appeared and building up an awkward romance that falls flat.

It seems that Ms. Waters wanted to write a Gothic horror the likes of Rebecca or Jane Eyre, but wasn't capable of blending the suspense with the romantic, which left the story jumping between the ghost business and the people business without satisfactorily resolving either.

This book had so much potential that after investing the time it made the end a greater let down. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Once Upon a Time is Now

by Stephen Carpenter

The author of this book, which is the first in a series based from Grimm's fairy tales, is the creator of the TV show Grimm. Although I have never seen the show, I have friends who really like it so I thought I'd read some of the books. Well, that's not going to happen! This book reminded me of one my husband once read and hated so much that he tore it up so no one would accidentally pick it up and read it. Ditto for Grimm Curse. Its only salvation was that it was short and free.

The concept of Once Upon a Time is a 16 year old boy discovers he is the sole descendant of the Grimm brothers, who were not writing fairly tales at all, but documenting real events. Because they are the only ones who can see and remember these witches, ogres and ghouls, they have been granted the task of keeping regular citizens safe from harm. Doesn't sound bad.... but it is!

The writing could have been done by a third grader. For one thing, the story kept shifting perspectives from first person to third; awkward. The sentence structure is very poor, needs a good editor. There is little character development or detail. The plot lacked strength and stability. And worst of all, the author seemed to think using all capitals would give meaning and emphasis to the story, for example: Kara SCREAMED. "And an INNOCENT one at that!"or many instances of onomatopoeia, like in a comic books: SCREECH! CRASH! WHAM! These tactics were used multiple times on every page, which made them pointless and annoying.

I honestly don't know who would like to read this, but several people who rated it on Amazon said it was excellent, well-written and a brilliant idea. Can't imagine they read much. I even debated about including a link. 

Reading through the Bible

I had dinner with a friend last week who told me about a Muslim celebration she had recently attended. The party was honoring a 10-12 year old girl upon her completion of reading the Quran, which she read in Arabic despite the fact she didn't understand the language. This was a big event for the family and their entire community joined in celebrating. It reminded me of Jewish children's bar/bat mitzvah. Afterward my friend was talking to the parents of the child who, knowing she was Christian, asked at what age Christian children are required to read through the Bible. Hmmmmm....

Last year my daughter read through the entire Bible. She committed to it and even fell behind schedule several times, but worked hard to catch up and complete it! When I was in college, the Stillwater church started a program to read through the Bible in a year using the Chronological Bible and I joined along. It was hard for me to stick with not only because I was a student, but because Jesus was pretty new to me and my life at that time. Although I wanted to read the whole Bible, I found the chronological style tough; I kept wanting to "get to the good stuff." I did complete it, but have not tried since then to read the Bible in a year, until this year... inspired by my daughter.

I am using a reading plan on the You Version app on my iPhone, which gives scheduled daily readings of selections from the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms or Proverbs each day. So far I haven't had a problem keeping up, although it's still early in the year, but the app also allows you to set reminders, which helps!

You Version is free and available for phones, tablets and computers. It offers numerous versions/translations of the Bible as well as reading plans on many topics and varying lengths. It's a simple way to get into the habit of spending time in God's word.

I decided to update my progress throughout the year as another incentive for me. So far I have completed Genesis and Matthew.

I'm still pondering the aforementioned question posed by my friend's Muslim friend..... at what age? in the original languages? Very intriguing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Historian

by Elizabeth Kostova

You may recall that I planned to read The Historian this summer, but was side tracked when a friend told me I should read Dracula first, which I did, and now I know why she said that. Although The Historian stands alone, Stoker's novel and vampire lore are mentioned throughout Kostova's book, which makes Dracula a handy point of reference.

Unlike current pop culture vampire stories, The Historian presents a lengthy account of several people's searches for the real Dracula, akaVlad the Impaler. The nameless narrator is a 16-year old girl who lives with her father in Amsterdam when she discovers some of his letters that lead her on a journey to find him before it's too late. The letters she finds reveal the story of her parent's voyages through Eastern Europe as they uncover the mystery of the undead and search for their friend and father Dr. Rossi and ultimately Dracula himself.

This book includes lots of scholarly research about Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Ottoman's, the travels of 15th century monks and especially Vlad the Impaler, who tortured and killed thousands of people during his reign in Wallachia. These facts combined with Romanian and Bulgarian folklore and the vampire legends of Bram Stoker lend to an engaging adventure.

I had a few minor issues with the book: while the information of the monk travels was interesting, it was a bit off track and overly lengthy, the ending was rather abrupt, especially given the detailed storytelling up to that point. I thought the author did a great job of making Dracula the vampire real up until the Rossi incident, which I won't divulge so as not to create a spoiler. I also found the epilogue unnecessary and obscure.

If you like history and anthropology, mysteries and travel adventures you will like this book. If you want a creepy vampire story, it has that too. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Red Herring Without Mustard

by Alan Bradley

Last January I read the first of the Flavia de Luce mysteries and said I'd probably read another. Well, here it is. This book is filled with many of the same characters and Flavia struggles with many of the same family troubles as mentioned in the first novel. These interactions give a rather morose tone to the overall story, which takes away from the fun.
The story centers around a gyspy, who after reading a villager's fortune is found nearly dead in her caravan. A day later, the likely suspect is found dead, hanging from the trident at Poseidon's fountain. So the search for the killer begins. Unfortunately, in Red Herring, there really isn't much of a mystery, I think any reader could pick up all the clues long before the heroine does.
In his novels, Mr. Bradley references a variety of other literary works as well as providing little factoids about chemicals, their interactions, their uses and their founders.
I read this book for the reading challenge. After this one, I think I've had my fill of Flavia. These books should be marketed to a younger audience.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

Creepy!
When I finished Gone Girl my first thought was, "that was creepy!"

My overview of this book has to be minimal in order to preserve the mystery for those of you who have yet to read this best-seller. In a nutshell, this is a dysfunctional marriage gone disastrously wrong beyond your imagination. The novel is divided into alternating narrations between Nick Dunne and his wife "Amazing Amy" telling their perspective of the relationship and encouraging readers to pick a side. Halfway through, Ms. Flynn introduces a twist, which throws readers into some confusion and doubts. These people are sick, they are psychotic, they are unbelievable! And there is the problem, by the time part three comes along, the characters and the story-line becomes unbelievable. It seemed like the focus shifted, the story lost momentum and although issues were resolved, it was unsatisfactory.

I give credit to Flynn for entering the minds of these clearly disturbed people, she wanted you to experience the mind of a wack-a-do, and did a great job of it! I can see why this has been a popular read. It is creepy, but doesn't leave you with the lingering anxiety received from Silence of the Lambs or Misery