Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke


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Monday, December 12, 2011

Revising My Understanding of History

Claudette Colvin:  Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
(Biography)
This book has been nominated for several awards, including a Newberry Honor and National Book Award, and rightfully so.  It isn't a book you will want to snuggle up with but it is a book that is profoundly important to read.

All along, I thought that Rosa Parks was the person who initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ensuing desegregation that swept through the South.  The reason I thought this?  Well, I was taught it!  We all were--I know because I looked it up in our school's history books!  To find out it just isn't true was a bit of shock. 

Don't get me wrong-Rosa Parks was an amazing woman but her true story is even more surprising.  She has been portrayed as a poor black woman who was little more than a pawn in the hands of police.  To know that she orchestrated and was a leader in the Montgomery Civil Rights movement will have me going to learn more about her story because it certainly isn't the version I learned early on and not the one I want to teach to future generations.

This book is the story of an unknown.  Claudetta Colvin was the person who was first arrested on a bus for refusing to give up her seat; Rosa Parks staged the same thing not much later.  Claudette Colvin wasn't the image the world was ready for--a young black teen, unmarried and pregnant, was not the face the Civil Rights leaders wanted to portray.  Claudette's story touched me in a deep way because she has been denied her true place as heroine in the movement and grew up virtually unknown until this book, and her story, came out.

An important book for current and future generations--hopefully Ms. Colvin's story will get her the recognition she so rightfully deserves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Sweet Treat

The Chocolate Diaries:  Secrets for a Sweeter Journey on the Rocky Road of Life by Karen Scalf Linamen
(Self-Help)

Ladies, if you are looking for that perfect gift for a BFF, look no further.  This part self-help, part memoir would make a great gift . This would be a helpful and encouraging book to those going through divorce, depression and physical challenges.   The only disappointing part was the lack of really ooey-gooey chocolate recipes.  I don't know why I expected a cookbook, self-advice book but something about the title had me flipping through looking for a "Better than Sex" Chocolate Cake.

It was a new kind of book for me.  While I do love nonfiction, I had never delved into the self-help bucket before.  In the beginning, I felt like I didn't really need the help-to-self advice but I really enjoyed reading the author's stories.  She has a very funny and engaging style that will appeal to a lot of different kinds of readers.  Each chapter tells a little more about the author and how she overcame personal obstacles, mostly having to do with men and heartbreak.  Interspersed are motivational stories from her blog and other interviews from readers and fans.

After I started reading, I realized that many of the stories and advice really did run pretty close to home.  We all have our ow personal difficulties and seeing how another person totally made the same mistakes I did made me feel better.  Misery loveth company!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Misleading!

We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni
(Quirky Historical Fiction)

I originally picked up this book because it looked like a great paranormal read--eerie title, mysterious cover and a storyline of two girls who can communicate with the dead.  I was wrong, wrong, wrong!  And it was in this wrongness that I found an incredible book!  What I had stumbled on, instead or paranormal fiction, was my very favorite kind of book-quirky historical stories.

This is the tale of two sisters who pretend (or do they?) to be able to communicate with ghosts.  What starts as a childish game has them growing up and becoming quite famous.  The girls' fame causes them to move to bigger cities and holding seances, capturing the attention of America.  When one sister starts to believe her own stories, the other wants to come clean.  That's when the real fun begins!

What made this book so delightful is that is was actually based on true events and real people.  When I found that out, I raced to my computer and spent a couple of hours reading about these wacky, wonderful women.  The storyline seemed to hard to believe-who in their right mind would buy such a story?  This was at a time of mesmerism and spiritualism fever in the US and, really, what has changed since then?  There's even an entire channel on cable devoted to the paranormal.

These fascinating sisters and their stories kept me glued to the book the whole way through and I was sorry when their story ended.  I didn't expect so much from one story and the romance towards the end was just one nugget of fun.  I loved the heartbreaking moments and the fact that the characters so openly admitted their mistakes and fallibility.

This was one instance where I was so very glad to be so very wrong.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Cozy Mystery

Died in the Wool:  Massachusetts Mayhem Mysteries by Elizabeth Ludwig and Janell Mowry
(Cozy Mystery)
Sometimes it's nice to take a break from the stresses and realities of daily life and read a cozy murder mystery.  Strange sentence when you think about it, but that fits this book perfectly.

Monah is a small-town librarian and discovers the body of a local teacher in the bathroom.  Her boyfriend is a local policeman and is called in to solve the case.  The problem?  Monah is the number one suspect.  Can he put aside his romantic feelings and look at her objectively, as a potential murderer?

This is a charming Christian book that is a very low risk, low stress read.  No sex.  No violence.  No bad language.  The characters in the book are somewhat stereotypical:  librarian Monah is described as mousy and shy with glasses; the murder victim, a spinster teacher, is a schoolmarm, prudish and rude; the main suspect, besides Monah, is the richest guy in town.  For all that, though, they aren't flat characters at all.  

Reading this book is a bit like slipping on a comfortable pair of pajamas and settling in for a cozy chat.  Some days, that's a very welcome change.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A female Percy Jackson!

The Dig: Zoe and Zeus by Audrey Hart
(Adolescent Fiction/Fantasy)
Finally--a female Percy Jackson!  I have been waiting and waiting and wondering when an enterprising author would hit upon the idea and I have finally found it.  Zoe is all the best of Percy--funny, spunky and prone to a lot of trouble which made for one great read.

After wandering into a forbidden temple while on a trip with her archaeologist uncle and aunt, Zoe is transported to ancient Greece.  Really ancient Greece-1000 BC or so.  To find her way back, she must travel to the oracle (isn't there always an oracle) and follow said directions.  Of course, along the way, she must endure trials on Mt. Olympus, rescue various creatures from destruction and get in a catfight with a teenaged Hera.

Did I mention she also meets and falls in love with a cute teenage boy who saves her on more than once occasion.  Maybe because he's Zeus and, like, the god of everything.  His friends and girlfriend Hera are not happy with the arrangement and throw even  more deadly obstacles in the path of the star-crossed lovers. 

There is so much to like about this book.  Right away, from the very first paragraph, I felt like I knew Zoe and she was talking straight to me.  That kind of connection isn't often found in books and I relished it, reading way past the time I usually give to myself and burning a few dinners in the process.  It has a great message in it for young girls and isn't just mindless drivel like many of the girly books out there.  This is one heroine a young girl could really sink her teeth into and learn a valuable message about to boot; namely, that, the trials and obstacles in life often teach us about what we are made up of and teach us what we want in life and what is really  important.  The perfect combination of romance and adventure.

The book is a first in a trilogy so be prepared to keep reading--the first one ends in a cliffhanger that wasn't satisfying at all.  Now, I just have to wait for the next installment!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Moving Story of Veterans

Breaking the Code:  A Father's Secret, a Daughter's Journey and the Question That Changed Everything by Karen Fisher-Alaniz
(Memoir)
I hate to admit this because it will make me seem hard-hearted but I have never really been all that patriotic.  I don't attend Veteran's Day activities; I don't lay wreaths at Memorial Day; I've never attended a Veteran's Day parade; no American flags fly in my yard.  I suppose it is because no war has ever touched my life.  None of my family members ever served in the service and I know no one who has ever been in a war or battle.  While I have often read war stories and shuddered at the brutality of war, none of them ever really touched me in a personal way.

Until this story.

Breaking the Code is the true story of a daughter who finds a connection to her father through his memories of war.  One day, out of the blue, the father hands his daughter two notebooks full of letters that he wrote home during the war.  While she had heard all these stories as a child, she really didn't appreciate the significance of them.

As she reads more, the full story of her father emerges and she, as well as the reader, is astonished to discover what he went through and what a true hero he is and was all along.  That is the real power of this book--to look beyond the age of a person and validate the experiences they bring to our lives.  This intergenerational story will have you looking beyond the wrinkles and familiarity when you gaze at your parents and grandparents and will make you wonder what amazing and wondrous stories have you been missing all these years?

This is also a story for all Veterans and their families and serves as a reminder of the validation they need after returning to American soil.  Even though they return to a normal life, those painful and nightmarish memories still stay inside, bottled up.  This book helped me to realize that those sacrifices of war and service last long after any battles have ended.

It is also a story of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and brings home how it can affect soldiers and their families years later; how one event can haunt and affect families.  In the end, this book is a plea to not forget our Veterans and to remember and celebrate their service. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Classic Revisited

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
(Children's Classic but Fun for All Ages)
I am so glad that between every few new fiction books I revisit an classic.  This one was a great friend from my childhood and what a delight to see Sara again!

The story is about a young girl named Sara, who is the apple of her father's eye.  He is stationed in India and when she comes of age, he wants to have her educated and 'finished'.  He sends her to a boarding school in England and subsequently dies, leaving her an orphan.  She is reduced to a servant in the same boarding house but she still keeps her hopeful outlook towards her fellow creatures. Little does she know her father's best friend is looking for her, ready to bestow wealth and a home on her--if only he could find her.  In a true Victorian twist of fate, Sara is eventually rescued and finds a home with a loving benefactor.Sara is an odd, eccentric girl who is as optimistic as Pollyanna (another BFF from my childhood) but Sara does have a bit of a temper as well.  This makes the story just that much more fun, as a perfect young lady is sometimes hard to stomach.

This book was a delight and pleasure and it is easy to see why it is a classic for any age.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sick and Twisted Presidential History

The President is a Sick Man:  Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth by Matthew Algeo
(History)

This story is about a little-known incident in US history; at least it wasn't known to me and I like to think I have a fair handle on historical tidbits.  Sometime shortly after his second inauguration, a cancerous lesion was found in President Grover Cleveland's mouth.  In order to avoid the gossip and newshounds, he secretly boards a private yacht and has surgery that removes 1/3 of his upper jaw.  How secret?  It is only now just being dished out in this juicy book.

Sound fascinating?  Maybe my description isn't; the book most certainly is!  This is an engrossing (very gross!) account of both surgical technique and life during this time in American history.  The trivia in the book is absorbing.  Who knew that a book on Presidential trivia would keep me up late at night determined to see what happened to a President I had hardly even heard of, or at least never really considered before?

The author does an incredible job of setting the stage for the reader and letting us know what else is going on in the world so that when we read it, the accounts of the surgery and the President's life makes more sense than just a straightforward history lesson.  This book passes way beyond some conspiracy theory.  There is so much proof in the way of first-hand accounts in the newspapers and interview transcripts of those who were involved that it almost reads like a detective novel.  The medical illustrations and records are irrefutable. 

Which leaves me wondering.....if a thing such as this can occur, what else have the Presidents lied to us about?

A book that has you thinking and leaves you thinking....my favorite kind!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Strange Steampunk

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar
(Adult Steampunk)
One of the many complaints about steampunk from those who dont' like the genre is that they are too dark and retro-futuristic, which is an attention-intensive and sometimes hard read.  But that wasn't my complaint with this book.  To be brief, it was creepy and I didn't like ti.

MiLady de Winter is a private eye investigating for a mysterious organization.  A series of murders leads her to the trail of an ancient object capable of giving the dead new life, or new animation rather.  Great premise!

But......

I felt like I walked into this book in the middle of the story.  While I knew this book was a sequel, it read like the second half of a story I knew nothing about.  There was too much pre-history needed for a full comprehension and I felt off-kilter the whole ride, never catching up. 

The book very much reminded me of Kafka's The Metamorphosis, a story I have always hated.  The resemblance is eerie.  And, much like that classic, the reader's connection to de Winter changes and turns, eventually severing altogether.  As a reader, I lost the story with the break and didn't particularly care what happened to the creature who used to be the main character or the original mystery that intrigued me in the first place.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Naughty Jane Austen!

Love and Friendship by Jane Austen

That Jane, she is such a naughty writer.  For those of you who think her the height of Victorian respectability and prudence, delve into the tale where she shows her wickedly funny side.

This is a collection of letters, rather than a traditional novel.  She wrote this in notebooks prior to becoming an adult and it reads like the 'rough drafts' it probably was.  Actually most of the book reads like a really funny Saturday Night Live skit.

It is a story told through letters about a young couple in love.  Naturally, one of them dies and the other is left to carry on in a cruel and wicked world.  Sound sad?  Not an all!  The entire thing is a parody of the sentimentality that was so popular in the novels of the time. A tongue in cheek classic that was delight from the first page.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sweet Story Indeed

Sweet Jiminy by Kristen Gore
(Adult Fiction)

Jiminy Davis's life is spinning out of control.  She decides to drop out of the rat race of her present reality and back into a familiar past--her grandmother's home in Mississippi where she spent a summer as a child.  However,  the past isn't quite as sweet as she remembered it. 

While Jiminy is trying to take a break from the stresses of life, she uncovers a 40-year old secret concerning a namesake she didn't even know existed.  She latches on to the mystery like a pit bull and won't let go, hoping this new focus will allow her to forget her problems.  Instead, she ends up riling up an entire town and a family that would rather just let the dead stay buried.

I truly enjoyed this story.  It had likable characters and was full of surprises.  I wasn't sure what to expect and this one had twists and turns at every corner.  This was no formulaic fiction story and didn't follow typical patterns.  I was able to relax with this story and just allow it to sweep me away from my cares--much like the main character wanted!

In addition to the great story, there was a striking message underneath it all that really resonated with today's current news and culture.  The obvious parallels between the Blacks from the 1950's and 1960's and the way that Hispanics are treated today is so very disturbing.  Overall, a great read with some great messages.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Biblical Thriller....and A Bit More

Book Of Dreams by Davis Bunn
(Adult Christian Thriller)
Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon and Shuster

This is a book that will grab you in the very first chapter and won't let you go until the very last. 

Elena is a psychologist in London, grieving for the loss of her husband and still trying to get on with the normal business of living when a client walks through her door and turns her life upside down.  The client is having the same repetitive mysterious dream and while it should be a simple case of counseling, Elena soon finds she is thrown into a world of international and political financial intrigue.  She also finds she is able to interpret and help others after she becomes the recipient of an ancient manuscript that allows her to see messages from God, becoming a conduit for those around her who both seek and turn away from God.  In short, it is a story about being open to God's word and listening to his prompts.

The topic of the book is both relevant and frightening and can hold its own against any political thriller on the market today.  Many readers tend to dismiss Christian fiction as light; don't make that mistake with this book.  It cuts straight to today's headlines.  The book itself was masterfully written and each chapter ended in a way that made you want to race to the next.  While the last few chapters started to drag, the ending was a surprise and points the way towards a series that is sure to be on the bestsellers' lists for a long time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Old-Fashioned Detective Story

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir
(Adult Mystery)

Old-fashioned gumshoe detective stories are really things of the past.  Modern stories are all CSI-ish with crime labs and fingerprints and all that technological stuff that makes solving a crime really hard for the average reader.  Not so with this story.  It is a throwback to the good, old days of Raymond Chandler and other masters of the art of sleuthing.

The story centers around Ray, who used to be a cop.  An injury from a gunshot wound has him off the force and making other plans for a living and he isn't handling the change well.  He's cranky and mean to those around him and he drinks-a lot.  There are only two people who seem to be able to tolerate him:  1. an assistant, a young man who lives with him and does all the muscle work.  he appears to be semi-literate and is being tutored by 2.  a Bible-thumper from Ray's past who wants to convert him and is being quite successful, although she doesn't know it.

Ray is called in on a case of business theft.  The thief is a rogue cop and Ray has to solve the case before the theft turns to murder.  As he digs deeper, he finds that the business isn't quite as clean as first thought.

While I really liked the story, I loved the ending!  A last minute curve ball really threw me and for someone who is into mysteries like me, that is hard to do.

If you like old-fashioned detective stories, give this one a go.  It's a fun read and a throwback to an era in mysteries that I miss.  If you want the glitz and glamour of CSI, look elsewhere.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Supernatural Cliff-hanger

Borrowing Abby Grace by Kelly Green
(Teen Thriller)

My favorite series are those that have lots of changes:  I hate when I am stuck in one place with one person too long (after all, if I want that, there is my own life to live). My favorite heroines are those that has a little chutzpah in them: pushovers make me want to throttle someone.  My favorite books are thrillers:  ones where I can't wait to turn the page and keep on with my roller-coaster read.

Borrowing Abby Grace ticked all those boxes for me.  The premise is so original and is sure to keep me coming back for more.  Abby, or the main character who may yet be someone else altogether, wakes up in the back of a van, apparently in the middle of a kidnapping, with amnesia. How's that for the first chapter?  And from there, the action just keeps going.

After foiling the kidnappers and returning home, Abby is told that she is a Shadow-a creature that inhabits the body of another person in order to help them in some way.  If she can't figure out what they need and in a timely manner, she might just be trapped forever in this body and never figure out who she is or how to get home, if she can ever remember where home is.  The family she has landed in has huge problems.  How exactly is she supposed to know what to do and when to do it?  What I love is that the author didn't pull any fast ones here.  I loathe books where the ending is a trick, something the reader had no way of knowing but that neatly sums everything up.  This book doesn't do that--we follow right along as the main character bumbles her way through.

I love series, like this, that you can just drop in on. I like the idea of a new story and new characters in every single book and this one is setting me up for one grand adventure after another. These kinds of books give the reader a chance to get to know the characters as they grow and develop.  Abby is one of my favorite types of heroines.  She is charming and funny with just the right amount of spice.  I am pulling for her all along, even though I don't know much about her because she doesn't know too much about herself.

All in all, I loved this first installment.  It holds lots of promise and I can't wait to see where the next book goes.  I have to read it--to answer all my questions and theories about who this person is!  The idea is very unique in a market that tries to hard to be like every other supernatural best-seller.  The real treasure here is not the measure of 'sameness' it has, but the measure of uniqueness. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A New Favorite Book of Poetry

She Walks in Beauty:  A Woman's Journey Through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy
(Poetry)

What a beautiful book!  From the front cover to the color and fonts and even the inside shadow pictures of flowers-every detail is so meticulous.  It is an absolutel delight to the senses from sight to sound.  This book of poems was hand selected by Caroline Kennedy.  While she didn't write any of the poems, seeing the ones that she selected as her favorites gives me an insight into a person I have always looked up to.

The poems are divided up into the different eras of a woman's life and include:  Falling in Love; Making Love; Breaking Up; Marriage; Love Itself; Work; Beauty, Clothes, Things of this World; Motherhood; Silence and Solitude; Growing Up and Growing Old; Death and Grief; Friendship; and, How to Live.  Each section includes a variety of poems, both well-known and scarcely known and run the full gamut of emotions.  Some had me cracking up, some had me crying and more than a few made me want to burn a bra or two in protest.  What fun--and isn't that what a poetry book is supposed to be?  If you're one of those hoity-toity poetry people who snap your fingers instead of just laughing out loud, you'll be fine.  This is a book for all of us.

I do have some new favorites after reading the book and invite you to take a glance at these :  "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps" by Galway Kinnel; "Summer with Monika" by Roger McGough; "Unfortunate Coincidence" by Dorothy Parker; and "I'm Going to Georgia", an old folk song.

If you're looking for a nice coffee table book to show how cultured you are, this one would be impressive.  If you're looking for a poetry book to read over and over again, one that will get you through bad days and good, one that will resonate within all your 'woman-ness' (I know it isn't a word, but it should be), this one is it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Naughty Steampunk

The Gaslight Chronicles:  Photographs and Phantoms by Cindy Spencer Page
(Adult Steampunk)

First, a definition of steampunk for those of you unfamiliar with this particular genre of book. Typically, it will include:
  • an alternate history that involves technology not yet invented but that could have been used in history
  • steam engines, for whatever reason
  • usually set during the Victorian era with strong hints of futuristic technologies and/or supernatural entities
I have read steampunk before and while I don't love it, there are some quite crafty steampunk novels floating around (namely the Scott Westerfield series beginning with Leviathan).  This novel by Page sounded more promising because of the  hints of paranormal romance.  I'm a sucker for that!  So combining paranormal romance with steampunk really got my interest.

To say this novel completely shocked me would hardly be an understatement.  It all started innocently enough.  Amelie, the main character, come from a magical family.  Her grandmother had foresight, the ability to see into the future or see beyond what mere mortals see.  Amelie is an independent Victorian woman and spend her days making a living taking photographs of tourists by the seashore.  She is shocked to discover her own precognition abilities....many of her photos shows a hazy blur in the form of a snake strangling the person in the photograph.  That person soon turns up dead.  Enter Lord Lake, from the Order of the Knights of the Round Table, to investigate.  Sexy, aloof and powerful in the magical arts.

Sounds like a great set-up for a unique story, then POW!  Like an express train from nowhere, Ms. Amelie turns into a seductress of epic proportions.  She turns Victorian staid and respectability into a graphic sexual scene that had me blushing a bit.

And, then the story is over.  Just that quick. 

Honestly, I wanted a little bit more.  Not the graphic scenes but the other parts, the parts that had me intrigued in the beginning.  The paranormal romance, the hints of precognition and magical genius, the main character who  I really was starting to like before she flung her clothes off like .....I don't even know of an instance in real life where one would throw one's clothes off so quickly.

So, in short, I really liked the story...up until a point.  If graphic sexual writing is not your thing, move on to another steampunk.  If this is just the kind of steampunk you enjoy, you will love this installment in the Page line.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Heart-breaker and Heart-healer

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
(Inspirational)

It isn't often that a book can grab me in the introduction in a grip so tightly I can scarce put it down; but, this one did.  It isn't  often I read a book where every word resonated within me like a bell; but, this one did, clanging loudly and forcefully.  It isn't often a book makes me re-examine my core beliefs and values; but, this one did, leaving me shaking some moments, laughing at others and crying at still more.  It is a book that is oddly hard to put down yet I had to walk away after every chapter to think about it (and grab a few more tissues).  It is a book that stays with you and tickles your conscience; one that keeps you up at night asking yourself questions you don't really want to confront.

This is the story of a young woman named Katie Davis who abandoned her Mid southern upbringing just after graduation from high school to travel across the world and become a modern-day American Mother Theresa.  She spends her days ministering to the sick, feeding the poor and changing the family tree of almost everyone she comes in contact with.  At the tender age of 22, she has adopted 13 young girls and has created a loving home in the face of adversity that most of us cannot even begin to grasp.  Her story is so outrageous that is seemed impossible to me before I started reading.  Page by page, word by word, Katie had me hooked.  She has a way of writing, of telling her story, that feels like two friends having a heart-to-heart.  And what a heart that girl has!

I came to believe absolutely what she does to the core:  that one individual can change the world, one person at a time.  She makes it seem so easy.  But Katie believes it so much more strongly than any one person I have ever read about and that is what made this story so inspirational for me.  Ultimately, it wasn't only her Christian convictions (which are cement-hard and awe-inspiring); it is her bravely in the face of absolute defeat and diversity.  To face daily the struggles that she does (poverty, disease, famine, abuse and endless, endless need), and keep on going make her a hero that any reader could find inspiration from. 

But her Christian conviction bothered me.  Because this book changed me and I didn't really want to be changed.  This is where all Christians should be warned because after reading this book, you cannot remain the same kind of Christian you were before.  This is a book about stepping out of your Christian comfort zone and living the religion and while that kind of talk is popular right now all over churches all over the land, this girl did it.  This book is powerful and comfortable and so very true. 

It isn't a book you can cast off after you've read it. It isn't one you can put aside and then move on to the next great hero. It is a story that will stay with you and change you and will cause you to look for ways to create the kind of change you see in the book.

And after you've read, what are you going to do about it? 

Because the first question I had was 'How is it possible to do what she did?' 

Now I am left only with this question, 'How is it possible not to do what she did?' 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reading Fundraiser


Author BK Bostick is hosting a fundraiser in relation to his latest book, Huber Hill and the Dead Man's Treasure.  His neighbor, Alyssa, was diagnosed with a Meningioma brain tumor on December 5, 2010.   Says Bostick, "The only way to get it out was through surgery. It took four surgeries to get out as much of the tumor as they could and now she's almost finished with her radiation treatments. Alyssa is an inspiration to me. Her positive outlook and attitude while facing something so terrible is truly remarkable. Because of the inspiration she's given me, I am trying to give back. I will be donating 100% of royalties from all pre orders of Huber Hill and the Dead Man's Treasure along with sales during the first two weeks of launch (Oct. 1-16) to Alyssa and her family. "

Visit www.treasureforalyssa.com for more information.

Bostick is also offering to give away a replicated gold coin bookmark to each reader who goes to his author page on Facebook and clicks 'like'.  Go to: http://www.facebook.com/bkbostickauthorpage



Sunday, October 2, 2011

Young Adult Action Adventure

Huber Hill and the Dead Mans' Treasure by B.K. Bostick
(Young Adult Action Adventure)

This book has all the best of what I love in an adventure story:  kids actually getting outside and having an adventure rather than a cyber-adventure; a treasure map with ghosts and Spanish bullion and swords; an adventure that hinges upon an ancient mystery; and a great message about never giving up and the importance of keeping your word and believing in family.

Huber Hills is an oh-so-typical adolescent.  His parents are on the brink of divorce; he is competing against his smart, athletic and popular twin sister; and he is also the victim of a relentless school bully.  The only sure thing in Huber's life is his Grandpa Nick. 

When his grandfather suddenly dies, Huber is devastated.  But Grandpa Nick left something behind for his favorite grandson-a treasure map and a story of riches beyond belief.  Knowing he has to try and find the treasure, Huber enlists the help of his sister and once-bully turned friend.  They all head into the mountains for the adventure of a lifetime.  And Huber is determined that nothing will separate him from this last request of his grandfather.

What a great and fun read!  I never get tired of old-fashioned adventure stories like this.  They always take me back to my youth and the hours I would spend reading of dashing heroes and lost treasures.  These kinds of books are so few and far between.  As a teacher, I scour bookshelves and lists looking for that next great story to recommend to my students.  This one I will have no problem finding a willing and eager audience for!  A great first read by this author and the best news yet?  It's only the first in what I suspect will become a favorite new series for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Victorian Jersey Shore

Lady Susan by Jane Austen
(Classic)

Who knew that Lady Austen was so very naughty?  This book read just like a Victorian Jersey Shore.  The story centers around Lady Susan. At first glance, she appears to be a harmless coquette, a flirty young widow misunderstood by jealous wives of friends.  Soon, though, her true character emerges.  Think of a truly evil femme fatale and you have the character of Lady Susan.  She is trying to marry off her innocent daughter of 14 or so to some count of duke.....unless of course she can snag the man for herself.  The whole time she is also trying to pull the wool over the eyes of her family and acquaintances so she can continue to enjoy their financial support.

It isn't like a regular novel.  The story is told through a series of letter, from and to various characters in the book.  Austen occasionally does with her stories and I love to see the inside intrigues from various points of view.

This was probably my favorite Austen of them all.  I loved the absolute naughtiness of it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Musical Tragedy

The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down With the Titanic by Steve Turner
(History)
Just when you think you've read all the books on the Titanic, here come one with new information and a completely different slant.  It is told from the viewpoint of a musical historian and focuses on one of the best loved myths surrounding the Titanic.

It is a story of eight regular guys turned heroes.  A story of working band members who took up their instruments in a moment of tragedy and panic to bolster the spirits of their fellow shipmates.  And, they kept playing and playing.  Even as the ship sank, even as the lights extinguished, even as the frozen waters claimed them.  Their eternal contribution to the world is not just the haunting refrain of "Neared My God To Thee" but a reminder that music has a responsibility to those who hear it and those who play it. 

While there may be debate over the title of that last song and some particular details, this book settles the rumors once and for all.  The myth is true. 

The author painstakingly researched every bit of detail possible, providing pictures and first-hand accounts of those not normally connected to the Titanic in such a way.  I really liked the perspective of hearing from a musical historian.  It forced me to look at the story in a different way, a way not familiar to me, being 'unmusical'. 

The author found tidbits of information and connected it to the story that made the tragedy so much more personal, more human, more like something that wasn't found in some dusty history book or museum but a story of people I might have known or been connected to.

It is a look, simply, at the short lives of a group of men in a band who were nothing really remarkable but have become quite unforgettable. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Animal's Look at Humanity

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
(Adult Fables)

This book is a hilarious look at the inhumanity of humans as portrayed by various beasts and these creatures really make us, the people, look like the biggest animals of all.

It is a series of short stories, or fables, told from the various view points of squirrels, chipmunks, mice, owls and other assorted wild and domesticated animals.  The stories range from love lost, slippery infatuations, toxic relationships, taking a chance and trying to see things from a different perspective.  The lesson here?  Sometimes taking that chance can just, in the end, have you looking up a hippo's butt hole. 

At least, that's the lesson I learned.  And there are many lessons to be learned. (Yes, political correctness can go too far.  Is it really racist to call a snake, well, a black snake, even though it really is one?)

If you like books that are dry, dark and extremely naughty, then David Sedaris is just the author for you and I can't think of a better book to start with than this one. (Caution:  keep away from the kids.  It looks suspiciously like a book younger kids will like but does not make a good read-aloud...as I learned to my chagrin!)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Uncomfortable Reality and Bittersweet Truths

Sarah Court by Craig Davidson
(Adult Fiction)

Take a look around your subdivision, or neighborhood, or black.  Peel back the roof and look inside the lives of five random families.  Not the outside personas, the faces put on for the public; but, the real heartbreak and grit of churning out a life.  We all like to think we are unique and independent but do we really know how much we rely on those around us, in healthy or unhealthy ways?  Are our secrets really a secret from those who know exactly when we take our trash out and our papers in?

This is the story of five neighbors in a small town in Canada and how the threads of their lives are connected.  Those threads are not like a smooth running seam in a beautifully wrought blanket, but a messy and dirty knot that takes time and care to unravel on a pair of old and smelly sneakers, the ones we love even though they are past usefulness and are even beginning to smell a little. 

There is Abby, a power lifter pushed past endurance by her father; Patience, a collector who adds a real life baby from Walmart; Collin, a daredevil who flings himself over Niagara Falls; there are demons in boxes a hit man with a soft spot for candy and each one of them is connected in a weird, and mostly bittersweet, way.  This is a story of broken people who are relying upon another broken soul  to prop up their own spirit.
The book is very funny in a dry and dark way.  And, then it is pitiful and then, at times, sweet.  It is a roller-coaster of emotions and circumstances and a joy to read from the first to the last.  It’s one of the books you want to read again and again, just to see what you might have missed the first time.  And, at the exact same time you squirm while reading parts because it is so uncomfortable, like hearing your neighbors arguing again over the backyard fence or hanging out your underwear on the line, the ones with stains that won’t quite come clean.

It was an incredible read and I can’t wait to pick up another by this author.  Welcome to my literary world, Craig Davidson!  I can’t wait to pick up your other books and count myself into what will become a huge fan base.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not the Last of Holmes

His Last Bow:  An Epilogue of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
(Classic)

"Honour is a medieval concept" 

This story starts off rather strangely for a Sherlock Holmes tale.  Usually we enter the scene at Holmes's study, 221 B Baker Street.  Holmes usually already has his nose on the scent of a crime and we are pulled along for the adventure.

This story starts with a study, but it is very clearly not Holmes who is the center of attention.  In this very short story, Holmes has come out of retirment as a bee-keeper and has gone undercover to pose as a traitor to the British government, willing to sell secrets during WWII.  In a classic double-cross, Holmes reveals his hand at the last minute to trap a German spy. 

Since we only get to see Homes at the very end of the crime, we don't get to see any deductive powers in action, which is what makes Holmes so great.  This story is a very typical WWII British tale with a lot of anti-German sentiment.  If you've never read Holmes, don't start with this one.  If you're a Holmes-phile, you might enjoy knowing he retired briefly to keep bees.  Who knew?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Before There Was Even Dracula

The Castle in Transylavia by Jules Verne
(Classic)
Jules Verne was such a visionary.  At times, it's a little creepy.  While most certainly known as the Father of Science Fiction, so much of what he wrote about would later become just another fact of our crazy world--submarines, travel by balloon, travel to the moon, etc.  And here is just one more example:  Verne started the vampire craze?!?

Before there was even a Dracula on the market (published in 1897), Verne had published The Castle of the Carpathians in 1893 (Carpathians don't sound nearly so scary as Transylvanians, hence, perhaps the re-release).  While this book was most certainly republished to captitlize on the current paranormal fad, I'm glad.  Otherwise, I might never have stumbled on this gem. Plus, if it gets people reading Jules Verne, who am I to judge?

The story ironically begins with this quote:  "We are living in a time when anything can happen--one can almost say, when everything has happened.  If our tale is not very likely today, it can be so tomorrow, thanks to the scientific resource that are the lot of the future...."  That is still a quote any sci-fi reader or writer could take to heart, over 100 years later.

And the story itself is Victorian to the very end.

The castle in the Carpathia countryside has been vacant for years so when strange smoke and sounds are observed in a nearby village, there is panic.  Enter a young count upon the scene.  His is a strange connection to the castle and to the village.  He is wandering the countryside, trying to get over the loss of his fiancee's sudden and tragic death.  In the prime of her life and fame, the fiancee was the victim of a stalker and, quite literally, scared to death by him.  This stalker was none other than the Baron who owns the castle.

When the count investigates the castle, he is startled to see his beloved, or her ghost, and is a man determined to reclaim her.  Thus begins his improisonment and attempt to escape which leads to a supernaturl encounter with the Baron and the beloved singer they are both obsessed with.

I loved this story, an old-fashioned ghost and science fiction classic.  I loved that the book uses such words like 'phantasmagoria'.  We just don't use words like that anymore.  Our language today is slowly becoming narrowed to words like 'yo'.  Sigh.

And, we just don't get to read stories like this where the true horror comes the madness of a deranged lover.  The supernatural and special effects of phonorgrams and optical illusions is just enough for any sci-fi junkie of the 1800's and I bet a lot of haunted houses could learn a thing or two from Verne.

If you've never read Jules Verne before, start with this one.  And, if you're a true vamp tramp, then start with the one that started the legend.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chic Lit to the Extreme

The Literary Ladies:  Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas
(Adult Inspirational/Literary)
It's hard today to be a 'writer' and the label 'author' can only be ascribed to those lucky few who can make a living at it.  Ah, the good old days when it was easy to get published.  Not so fast!  This book showcases the hard work and determination of a set of women who had very little luck but lots of pluck.

The book follows the writing lives of twelve famous female authors:  Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L'Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stow, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf.  Really, these women more deserve the title of writer because this book shows the absolute rock-hard determination of each to get their ideas, thoughts, and books out into the public hand.

The book focuses not on the lives of these women but on their musings of their writing life:  the failures, disappointments and rare joy.  It allows us to look at women we think of today as great success and peel back the veneer of writing and see the ugliness of making a living.  The little doubting seed inside us all lived inside them too. 

That is what I found perhaps the most inspirational.  At the very least, it motivated me once more to pick up my own writing, dust it off and try again.  And if I don't succeed at first?  Well, then, I will be in very good company.  A great read for the struggling female writer!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
(Teen Paranormal Romance)

Lush, hot magic.  Swamp voodoo. Doomed love. Ethereal and menacing ghosts. The civil war.  Vampires, werewolves and beasties.  What's not to love about this book?

Ethan Wate has lived in the same small South Carolina town his whole life and thinks nothing exciting will ever happen.  That is, until Lena DuChannes comes to town.  When Ethan meets her, he realizes she's the girl that's been haunting his dream.  Now, he just has to figure out why the two of them have such a connection, one that seems to transcend even time.  He'll also have to confront ghosts, vampires, haunted mansions and the mystery of his mother's death.  Don't feel sorry for him, though.  Lena has it a little bit tougher.  She'll have to decide, on her sweet 16, if she wants to destroy the human race or not.  With just a few weeks in between, these two star-crossed lovers will take the reader for quite a thrill ride.

It is always such a delight to stumble across a book like this--one that hits all those little details that make it almost magical to read.   As an author myself, I absolutely marvel when I read a book that is obviously so carefully planned out.  From the very first page until the very last, the master plan unfolds like seeing the architectural underpinnings of a majestic cathedral.  I love it when that happens!  It's the kind of book you want to read again and again, because you know you've missed a nuance along the way.  To say nothing of the fact that it's a series....I love that too because it's also a story that you just don't want to end on the last page.

While teenage fans will absolutely devour this book, it also holds a draw for those of us who just love an old-fashioned, ghost/love story.  It's a book that has it all--all the bells and whistles for those of us who anxiously await the next great paranormal romance tale.  Look no farther-this is it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Covers are Too Far Apart

The Third by Abel Keough
(Adult Apocalyptic Fiction)
"The covers of this book are too far apart."--Ambrose Bierce
Thus begins my review of a book that took too much and gave too little.

The Third takes place in the year 2065, a futuristic apocalyptic world where citizens are only allowed 2 children.  The concept is so overdone already--for a great book on the same plot, try Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  In this version, Ransome Lawe has just found out his wife has become pregnant with their third child, a move he is not happy about.  However, being the great husband that he is, he swallows his feelings of frustration and blame (barely) and tries to find some way to legally keep the child.  When this fails, there is no other way but to escape to a utopian land called 'Minnesota'. 

It isn't only the plot that makes this story a drudgery to read.  There were so many capitalization errors that is was frustrating and distracting to work all the way through. That's a minor problem.  The bigger problems are with details.  As a reader, I was brought forcefully out of the story and had to keep stepping back from the book and asking questions to an author I wish I had an email address for. 

For example,
1.  In this future world where resources are terribly scarce, why do people still use pencils, papers and clipboards?  My doctor's office doesn't even use this stuff now.  Everything is on a laptop and there are computers in the book.
2.  Why does EVERY woman have to come to the clinic for a monthly blood test to check for pregnancy?  Seriously, we can just pee in a cup today.  In 50 years, there still won't be a better test?
3.  Why are these people still using birth control?  TODAY there are better methods than the pill and the author doesn't even try using other reproductive or counter-reproductive technologies.
4.  The main character complains about paying $2 for a Coke to show how outrageous prices are.  Um, there is a machine at Universal Studios in Orlando that charges $3.50.

It just seems as if the author were writing from 50 years ago.  None of the main plot supports even begins to suggest why this should be a realistic or believable story. When a reader delves into futuristic fiction, it should be cutting-edge looking beyond what we have today and imagining for the reader how our future technologies will morph into something either for good or ill.  This book just doesn't do that.  If you are into Dystopian fiction, I have plenty of other suggestions that will blow your mind....Hunger Games, Among the Hidden series, Uglies,......I can go on and on and you should too.

Go on to another book, that is.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Women's Murder Mystery Club

Triple Threat Series:  Heart of Ice by Lisa Wiehl
I have read several other reviews of this book and most of them compare this series to James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series.  That's a mistake....because this series is so much better!

This book (2nd in the series; the first was Hand of Fate)  involves three best friends:  (1) Allison, a prosecuting attorney who is happily married but suffering from a recent miscarriage; (2) Nicole, an FBI agent single mother who just found out she has breast cancer; and (3) Cassidy, a crime reporter.  These three women serve as a kind of every woman--in each of them there is a little bit of every woman I know:  women who struggle with the balancing act of career and love and friendship and health and responsibility.  I can see a little bit of myself in each of these women and seeing their struggles with their own personal devils makes me feel a little bit better, a little bit less lonely.  This book is first about the relationships and then the plot seems to grow from that--just like a book should!  In these times, that almost seems like a lost craft.  Too many books are heavy on plot, special 'effects' and glamour, but light on the part that matters-connecting the reader to the people we are reading about.  There was never any doubt these women were real people and it was easy to lose myself in the story.

On top of everything else (just like real life!), there is also a serial killer in their midst.  Elizabeth is a coldly calculating femme fatale who is able to manipulate everyone around her.  The part of the story told from Elizabeth's point of view is chilling.  To see how she thinks and looks at life is like looking at a dangerous panther through a thin pain of cracked glass.  Sexy, but deadly.  When she stumbles into the midst of the best friends, her days are numbered and unraveling the mystery is pure fun.

In essence, the strength of the story lies in these 3 women who try to overcome their demons, physical and emotional, with their faith while unraveling a murder mystery at the same time. It is so unique-the only book like it that I've ever read. Which just makes me that much more eager to go back for more!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

This short novel was so interesting to me because it was orginally a play written by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and was performed all over England, even in front of Queen Victoria.  Apparently it was performed to rave reviews and even caused tears in the auience.  It was based on stories of Arctic expeditions which was so popular at the time.

Okay, I didn't cry but it was quite a captivating story of Victorian England. The plot involves a lover's triangle.  Clara has someone become the love interest of a rather intense sailor named Richard.  He assumes they are to be married and leaves on a long trip.  Clara has never promised herself to Richard and during his absence falls in love with Frank.  When Richard returns and finds his love betrothed to another, he becomes rather crazy and vows revenge on Frank.

As fate would have (or a good plot twist), Richard and Frank are paired up on a sailing expedition to the Arctic.  In what has to be the epitome of a Victorian romance, the fate of Frank hangs in the balance as he is stranded on the ice with only Richard to save him.

Again, if you love Victorian English literature, this is truly a delight.  Plus, the free Kindle price makes it really hard to pass up.  While I was not moved to tears, I did enjoy it

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Book for Hurricane Season

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
(Adult Paranormal Thriller)

This book had all the ingredients for one of my favorite types:  one heaping helping of thrilling; a big dose of history and a pinch of paranormal.  Really, with such ingredients, it’s hard not to win. 
There are many things I loved about the book-the historical backdrop of the Key West/Islamorada Hurricane was fascinating!  I haven’t read anything about it before and it had me racing to the computer to do some background research.  I loved the setting.  The South is always one of my favorite locales-the characters are usually a bit crazy and the heavy humidity just oozes out of the page through dialect and description.

Something I didn’t like?  The main character, Arlen.  He was just, well, not a very nice man.  Quite frankly, I wished at several times during the story he would die and someone else would step up to become the new main character.
Arlen has something he’d rather not, the sight, a ‘gift’ of seeing if someone is going to die.  Arlen doesn’t see it as a gift, but rather a curse.  He has spent most of his life trying to ignore it and where has it gotten him?  On a train full of men getting ready to die.  He doesn’t know how or when, but he knows the what.  Arlen talks his friend into stepping off the train and taking their chances.

Unfortunately, they step into a bigger mess than the one they left behind.  The small Florida town is right in the path of the Key West Hurricane of the 1930’s, a local love interest is being bullied by the local police goons and Arlen is stranded.
While the storyline was tight and interesting, I found myself wishing for a bit more paranormal and a bit less normal.  With such a gift as Arlen has, I just felt that the entire story would have been much stronger if this particular part of the book would have been more prevalent to the storyline. 

All in all, though, a good read.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not a Research Book!

Melungeons by Bonnie Ball
(History)

A few years ago I watched a PBS special about a group of people referred to as the 'Melungeons'.  This group of people live in Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains.  They are atypical of the area, even today.  They are not white but aren't black or Native American, either.  So, what are they?  Who are they?  How did they get there?

That topic is fascinating to me and I was so eager to read this book to see if those questions could get answered.  And the author did provide some interesting ideas to consider:  Portugese sailers lost and moved inland; the Lost Colony of Roanoke; etc.

However, I found most of the book to be disturbing.  The tone was so overtly racist and demeaning that I spent most of the book cringing and wincing.  Being from that area, I am familair with that particular kind of racism, and I do understand that the era the author was born in an era where that type of thought was much different from today.  However, the obvious disdain the author had for the subject clouded the whole book.  Repeatedly, she calls this group of people lazy, shiftless, ignorant and amoral.

As it that weren't bad enough, there is very little research in the book.  Most is just conjecture and hearsay.  As a historical reader, I was mostly disgusted that such a book would find its way into print and its way into my hands.  I wanted to wash them when I finished.  Skip this book completely!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies, Oh My!

The Abused Werewolf Support Group by Catherine Jinks
(Young Adult and Up)

I am always up for a new supernatural book adventure and just as frequently disappointed by the results.  Many of the newer ones seem just lazy attempts by authors and book publishers to plug into this hot-selling genre with no real attempt to make a meaningful experience for the reader.

Not so with this novel by Catherine Jinks!  From the very first chapter, the action and adventure started zipping right along, pulling me with it.  The main character Toby wakes one morning to find himself in a dingo pen at a local zoo.  Toby has no idea how he got there and is disturbed to discover he doesn’t really remember much from the night before.  He also can’t explain weird scratches and marks on his body.  His mother is frantic and starts taking him to doctors who eventually diagnose some type of epilepsy.  The local police aren’t buying it and are sure Toby was up to mischief and probably criminal proceedings.  As it that wasn’t enough to worry your average 13-year old, a priest shows up telling Toby he has a rare and dangerous disease.
Toby doesn’t know what to do but is intrigued enough to investigate further.  What he finds in an abused werewolf support group-werewolves, like himself, who just want to be treated equally and fairly, without the prejudice and abuse that has so haunted their kind.  And, oh yeah, there is the matter of the kidnapping and werewolf-fighting that Toby is being forced into!

What I absolutely loved about this book was how different it is from all the other paranormal books out there.  First, what an absolutely incredible concept!  To see werewolves as creatures needing understanding rather than how they are usually portrayed was a stroke of genius.  How refreshing to see a new idea.  And it was hilarious!  There was as much humor in the book as terror and adventure.  The authors first book was The Reformed Vampire Support Group and there were a few of these pathetic creatures mixed in.  Just enough to force me to go out and buy that one as well.
I admit it.  This one hooked me!  It has everything a paranormal junkie would love plus a good dose of originality and creativity.  I guarantee you won’t have read anything like this.  Wickedly funny, nail-biting adventure and a politically correct satire of paranormality.  What’s not to love?

My only complaint?  Now I have to wait for the next installment (which I’m just guessing might be about the perspective of zombies). 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Young Adult Poetry

Poetry Speaks Who I am With CD:  Poems of Discovery, Inspiration, Independence and Everything Else by Elise Paschen and Dominique Raccah
Poetry books have to be read differently than the way other things are read.  First, you can't just plunge through the whole thing, going from page to page until it's finished.  Rather, poems should be read singly, and slowly.  Like sipping fine wine rather than guzzling a water bottle.  You have to let a poem sit for a day or so and thing about it and come back to it.  Also, some poems are just better read aloud, either by you or someone else.  A poem sounds completely different hovering in the air rather than just floating inside your skull.

Fortunately, this book has both those things covered.  This book is a compilation of poems by some of the greatest poets ever, both living and dead.  I has some old favorites like Robert Frost and Langdon Hugher and newer poets I've never heard of but enjoyed nonetheless.  The topics range the full gamut of emotions and circumstances.  It is targeted as a book for young adults but there is really enough meat in here for the savviest adult.  What makes this book so much more enjoyable was the CD that came with it.  There are several of the authors reading their own work.  It was amazing to me how much different the poems sounded when the authors read it than when I heard it in my head.

If you're not a poetry lover or never really found a book you could really sink your teeth into, I suggest giving this one a try.  While not every poem will resonate with you, you are sure to find at least one you love.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Young Adult Fantasy at the Core of the Earth

Skipping Stones at the Center of the Earth by Andy Hueller
(Young Adult Fantasy)

How many of us remember those days when we were smaller and reveled in the moments when we first learned to skip a rock?  For me, it was my grandmother and I still remember every quiet, reverent moment.  I hope that all of you had a moment like that in your childhood-one so special that it remains with you years later.  I hope that all of you had a person like that in your childhood-one who saw past the outside ugliness and awkwardness to the potential inside.
Calvin Cobble is one such boy who has both that moment and that person.  Good thing, too, because little else goes his way.  Calvin Comet Cobble (I want his name!) lives at an orphanage deep inside the earth.  (What a powerful statement on throw-away kids like those who languish in orphanages!)  Calvin is subjected to tyrannous treatment by bullies, teachers and principals and decides one day to run into the darkness because that has to be better than the light.  The darkness is the ‘other side’ of the island where they keep prisoners. (What a powerful statement on throw-away adults!)  Once in the darkness Calvin meets a mysterious man who helps him to unravel his own life mystery.

While the plot is difficult to explain without giving too much away, it isn’t a difficult read. Reading the book felt just like those skipping stones of my youth—quiet and powerful and filled with meaning.   It is one of those books that has an adventure just waiting for the reader on the next page and, like the stone that is skipped, the reader jumps to the next page, not sure of the how’s or what’s but following the author confidently along.
The author’s writing style is beautiful; there just aren’t other words for it.  Reading the story was peaceful and quiet and true.  There are so many moments in the book that just took my breath away, moments where I put down the book and said, “So true.  I’m glad someone else noticed this.”  Truths about curiosity…”The talented educator understands that when Curiosity visits a classroom, magic happens.”  Truth about stones…and life….”But you can’t control the water.  You cannot…what you can control is the stone you throw.” 

This won’t be a book for every child but, if you own one of those unique kids who love an adventure, a story, a fantasy, a mystery, then this is a sure bet.  Adventure, wonder, mystery—a story for any author or reader to be proud of spending time with.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Gastro-Romance to Delight All Your Sense

Amore and Amaretti:  A Tale of Love and Food in Italy by Victoria Cosford
(Adult Travel and Food Memoir)

Love, food, wine.  If that encapsulates you, then read on!  Amore and Amaretti :  A Tale of Love and Food in Italy is the gastro-memoir of Victoria Cosford.  Cosford is an individual lucky enough to be able to write of a life spent loving Italian men, loving Italian food and loving Italian wine-not necessarily in that order.

This book is a full-on assault of the senses-gastro and otherwise.  From the very beginning, the long and rambling descriptions of Italian villages and villagers had me itching to buy a ticket, sell everything I owned and begin the wine life.  The author’s love affair with food is the one that stands out the most strongly; so much so that I would label this book a romance.  The culinary descriptions had me salivating in a deeply uncomfortable and erotic way.  Often I would set the book down, race to the kitchen and try a new recipe.  And they did not disappoint.  The spaghetti alla Puttanesca was just one of many delicious and easy recipes to make. 
This memoir is unlike others I’ve read.  The author makes no apologies for such a gluttonous existence.  She occasionally laments her weakness for food and men, but don’t we all?  Traveling the countryside, sensually sampling all the best that Italy has to offer is a life well-lived, I say.  Viva la Wine!  There really isn’t a plot of any kind, just observations of life in all its winding ways. That takes the pressure off as a reader.  With this book, just relax and enjoy.  If I had to summarize, it is about the author’s yo-yo relationship with some Italian men who share her love of the food they create.  A gastro-romance, if you will.

The book’s theme?  Mangia che ti passa.  Eat and you will feel better.  For those of us concerned about the waistline, read the book instead.  It will make you feel better-richer, luxurious and saving up for that plane ticket.  Italy, here I come!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Love of Money

The Doings of Raffles Haw by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Raffles Haw is the new guy in town and the whole population is atwitter with gossip.  When his home is overtaken by workmen and strange boxes are seen coming and going, it only adds to the intrigue.  Robert and Laura are his nearest neighbors and are soon delighted to meet this eccentric new addition to the small English town.

When the brother and sister pair find out how filthy rich Haw is they swear to remain untouched by his wealth.  That much money, though?  What would you do?

This is an interesting short read (free on Kindle) about the the love of money and how that love can corrupt a soul.  Those words ring true still today (this book would make an awesome reality TV show!).  The is a story very much like something Jules Verne would write with some interesting tidbits about inventions and chemistry in the pursuit of gold and power.  If you like Doyle and Victorian literature, it's a fun read.

Even though you know how it's all going to end.  That much money?  What would you do?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

For Mathletes Only

Napier's Bones by  Derryl Murphy
(Adult)

I was skeptical about reading this book.  The blurb about it advertised math as some sort of positive thing, a math mystery.  I am the complete opposite of math-illogical, unreasonable and I have serious trouble with anything involving numbers.  I often confuse phone numbers, birth days and I am one of a handful of women who occasionally forget their own anniversary (the 3rd or the 4th). 
But, I love mysteries so I forged ahead.

I should have listened to my first instinct.
The initial part of the book involves a young man named Dom who can control numbers as it they are some sort of magic surrounding him, surrounding all of us.  And, I love the concept!  How unique.  But, I just couldn’t see it.  I couldn’t visualize these patterns and numbers the author kept referring to. 

Dom is on the hunt for a mystical historical object (which is not clearly described until the latter part of the book) and he is being hunted by some sort of mystical creature that wants said object.  Along the way, Dom is aided by a spirit of some great math renown and a girl who has an untamed math magical potential.  They are later helped by giant creatures of the earth, ancient beings created by numbers.
If that description has your head reeling, don’t even attempt to read this book.  If you were doing advanced algebraic problems in your head waiting for me to get to the point, buy the book now!

While I did struggle with some of the concepts in the book, I was very intrigued by the idea of John Napier and Napier ’s bones and the adventure of capturing such a piece of mystical history.  It did have me running to the computer to do some research.  That part of the book, the last half, was an adventure I enjoyed very much.  If I were a math-lete, this book would have held some magic for me.  Overall, though, it made me want to skip entire paragraphs just to get to the action.
In short, know thyself.  If you have a math brain (weirdo!), then this is probably just the book for you.  If you have a literary brain, the mystery and fantasy probably won’t be enough to make this a wholly satisfying read.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Raiders of the Lost Ark for a New Generation

Guardians of the Hidden Scepter by Frank L. Cole
(Teen Adventure)

It's so hard to find a good, old-fashioned adventure story anymore.  Most of those stories now rely on techno gadgets, explosions or visits from alien spacecrafts.  But, this book reminded me of those Indiana Jones movies or that book, King Solomon's Mines.  Just good fun, a good mystery and an adventure you can really sink your teeth into.

Amber is an archeology student who loves research, has 3 great friends and dotes on her college professor.  When that professor goes missing, it is up to Amber and her firends to find the professor and solve the mystery of the hidden scepter before its power can be unleashed on the world.  If they manage to succeed, it will be the archeological find of Biblical proportions.

Seriously, doesn't that just sound exciting?

Well, it is!  It rings with mystery and intrigue from the first page.  Plus, it's my favorite kind of mystery-a biblical mystery. Amber has to use the clues left by the professor to track down Noah's lost ark before the bad guys get their first.   I especially liked the uniqueness of the story.  I could definitely see a series here and would be eager to follow along for more stories like this one.

This is a great story for teens or adults who love excitement, chases, research, history and humor.  It's a book for boys or girls, bookworms or kids who love to be outside.  Realy, it's a book everyone can enjoy.  Good, clean fun with an old-fashioned feel.  Indiana Jones would be proud.