Sunday, November 30, 2014

44 Scotland Street

by Alexander McCall Smith

Perhaps you recall a few months ago I reviewed the first book in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series written by this same author, and my not being as in love with it as many of my friends, but offering to try another of his series. Well, here it is 44 Scotland Street the first in a series of the same name. These books, there are 9 of them, came into being as a weekday story published in The Scotsman in 2004. This book is the collective of six months articles featuring the residents at 44 Scotland Street. The major players are Pat, a confused girl working at an art gallery during her "gap" year, Bruce, Pat's narcissistic roommate, Domenica, the adventurous 60-ish neighbor, and the Pollack family, mainly Bertie the six-year old wonder child and his mother Irene.

I liked this one! It is a fun, fast read. This isn't a collection of short stories, it is an assortment of snapshots into the daily lives of these residents. Chapters are very brief, but at the same time giving a new little tidbit of information on the latest saga of one or other character.

Fun to read, in fact I just started episode 2! I'm not sure if I'll read through all nine, I tend to lose interest after a few books, but we'll see. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Catherine the Great

by Robert K Massie

Robert Massie delivers a very thorough examination of the life and times of Catherine the Great from her childhood until her dying days. As a young German girl, Catherine's mother was obsessed with arranging a "big" marriage for her daughter and went to tremendous lengths to accomplish it. Much of her motivation came from her own desire to be important, but Catherine was just as ambitious and determined to make an impact. I think the whole process of those royal marriage arrangements was very messed up, which comes across loud and clear in this one. The Grand Duke Peter, chosen heir to the Russian throne, was a distant nephew of Elizabeth, didn't care at all for his aunt, hated Russia, and had no desire to marry Catherine! For her part, from the beginning Catherine was committed to becoming a great Russian empress. She changed religion, learned the language and the culture and ingratiated herself with the Russian people. Needless to say, Catherine and Peter did not have a happy union and both found lovers outside the marriage.

Catherine loved to learn, loved to read and loved art. In fact she amassed some of the most impressive libraries and art collections in the world. Catherine lived a very opulent lifestyle in addition to providing generous living allowances and positions of rank for her numerous lovers and several favored servants. Despite her personal extravagances, Catherine took her position as Empress very seriously, always trying to find ways to elevate the common man and modernize Russia.

To be expected in a novel this lengthy, there are sections that run overly long full of seemingly unnecessary detail, but as a whole this is an interesting overview of one of Russia's most loved rulers. If you like history, lives of royalty, etc., you'll enjoy this read.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Orphan Train

by Christina Baker Kline

Molly is a 17-year old on the verge of aging out of the foster care system. Throughout her time in DHS she has been shuffled from home to home and as a result has developed a bit of an attitude and a reputation for being difficult. In this, her last house, she gets into a bit of trouble and is required to perform community service. To fulfill this demand in her small town, she is assigned to clean out the attic of the town's wealthy old recluse. As Molly sorts through boxes, she digs up Vivian's past and the two hit it off when they discover how much they have in common. Vivian shares the story of her life as an Irish orphan during the depression in NYC and being shipped off on an Orphan Train to Minnesota.

There's a lot of interesting information in this book about how orphans were handled as our government started getting involved. There's also a hint of the life of children going through DHS and the foster care system today, but I wish this aspect had been further explored and developed. I have a particular interest in this subject as a board member for Lilyfield whose mission is to provide stable and loving families for children in need. The latest project has been to provide support for girls aging out of the system.

Anyway, regarding the story, it was pretty predictable, but a decent read on a cold day, sitting by the fire with your hot chocolate!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

by Carol Rifka Brunt

I actually didn't finish reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home, so typically I would not write a review, but I read enough to get a very good idea of the story so I made an exception because I found this book too disgusting to leave it alone. I am intentionally not providing a link to it on Amazon because I would not want to encourage anyone to read it.  Moreover, I find it particularly unsettling how many recommendations this book has received and even been named one of the best books of the year on a number of lists. Especially that Oprah would recommend it given her past.

The story is about June, a pre-teen girl coming to terms with the death of her favorite Uncle Finn, who died of AIDS. June then befriends her uncle's boyfriend, Toby, who is also dying of AIDS so they can commiserate together. And that is why I think this book got these accolades, because of the gay relationship and the AIDS story.

So my big beef with this book is the absolutely inappropriate relationships portrayed throughout this story. Here is a 14-year old girl who idolized and had a crush on her gay uncle. This uncle not only seemed to enjoy the adoration, but encouraged and reciprocated it. Now that Uncle Finn is dead, the uncle's boyfriend is taking over in this relationship! This guy is at least 20 years older than June and is suddenly spending a lot of time with her, getting her to skip school, to drink and smoke and even pose for romantic pictures with him! It is repulsive!

I am dumbfounded that for the sake of supporting a gay story so many people would overlook the pedophilia.

Don't read it!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Firebird

by Susanna Kearsley

Too formulaic. The Firebird is another parallel story, past & present, which follows the script perfectly. A 20-something art dealer, Nicola receives an old carving that she needs to authenticate. Because she has a special ESP ability, she knows the item is the real thing, she just has to prove it. So, she picks back up with a past love interest, Rob, who happens to be even more psychically gifted, and they head to Russia to get their evidence.

The sections on 18th century Russia had potential, but were underdeveloped. It's like the author had read just enough history to provide some tidbits to make it relatively believable, but not enough to make it interesting. Bear in mind that I was simultaneously involved in the tome on Catherine the Great (review to come). Regardless, it was just too sparse. Then the present day part was just silly and unbelievable (and a bit too romance for my taste).

Ultimately, the book is ok, but I think I've had enough of this concurrent story thing for a while. If you like a little romance and a little history, then you'd like this. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reading but not writing

It's been more than a month since I've posted on my reading... there're all kinds of excuses, but in the end, I am really behind. I'm not sure I will actually be able to review all the books I've read this year before the year is over either, but I'll give it a try. It's just that as I look ahead to the next 6 weeks (yes, just 6 weeks left of 2014), I don't see a lot of spare time!