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 29, 2014

Warmed Up Leftovers--The Magisterium #1: The Iron Trial

The Magisterium #1:  The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Adolescent Fantasy

A young boy with a mysterious past and a scar suddenly finds himself thrust into a magical school with two sidekicks, a boy and a girl, who soon become his best friends and help him to understand his past and withstand a prophetical future.  Sound familiar?  If you're thinking another Harry Potter, you're right. 

There's nothing really new here...Callum Hunt is a young boy who is forced to attend a magical school to develop his latent powers.  He pairs up with a boy and girl who grow into his best friends.  They have adventures and find out Callum has a dangerous secret that could destroy them all.  Harry Potter, much?  I wish the co-authors had changed something...anything.  Maybe had the protagonist be a girl instead of a boy?  That's what really holds the story back for me. The entire time I kept thinking this was just a retelling, and one that wasn't as good as the original.  Even the setup of the book is Potter-like right down to the font and the beginning of each chapter with a cool drawing above the beginning.  That, in the end, lessened my pleasure.

And, yet, I found myself really liking the story, the characters, and the writing.  The characters are intriguing, the writing is solid.  Still.....I can't more than half-heartedly recommend it. From two amazing authors, it was a bit of a disappointment.  I wanted more and, because of the similarities, my brain couldn't help but do the comparisons automatically.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Picture Book for Adults--Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods by Rick Riordan


I've always thought it not fair that the best picture books are wasted on children who are too young to read them and truly too young to appreciate the stories and artwork.  Alright, so I'm a little jealous.  All those marvelous picture books!  There should be something for adults like that.

And, now there is.  Thank you, Rick Riordan.  This huge book is truly a picture book adventure for young adults (or adults still stuck in their youth, like me).  I felt like a little kid again every time I opened those pages. I loved the silky feel of each new chapter. I ooohed and aaaahed over the amazing illustrations.  There was nothing NOT to love about this book.

This book is told to us by Percy Jackson, hero of Riordan's other books.  In this one, Percy tell us the ancient stories of the Olympians and the Titans, going back to the very beginning of Greek history and Greek story.  While I consider myself something of a "Jeopardy"-brain about Greek myth, there were many stories in there I hadn't heard of.  What fun!  It was sometimes hard to tell where Percy was embellishing, so I often had to rush to the computer or other books to read more.  These are my favorite kinds of books--ones that light fuses I have to read more to put out.

The book is a delight from beginning to end.  It would be a good read-aloud for younger kids but is a great Greek myth introduction to older kids and teens.  And, if you're even older than that (like me), you won't be disappointed either.  It's a book to love reading again and again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Sugary Treat--Seven Up: Stephanie Plum #7

Seven Up:  Stephanie Plum #7 by Janet Evanovich

Mystery/Thriller/Romance

If I were a bounty hunter, I suspect I would be a lot like Stephanie Plum.  I am mostly certainly clumsy enough and have the shin and knee bruises to show it.  I often put my foot in my mouth without warning, almost as if a giant, evil mastermind were controlling what came out my pie hole.  And, I like food a lot.  (I don't have Plum's metabolism so I can't eat that much cake, but I do enjoy living vicariously through her.)

And, if I had two hot guys after me, I would most certainly sleep with both of them (remember this is dream me; real me has been happily married for 20+ years).

Perhaps that's why I enjoy these books so much--complete and total escape from reality.  Plum is a lot like the Tastycakes she snarfs down--sugary fun.

If you've never read any of the Stephanie Plum mysteries, be sure to read them in order, starting with the first one.  The romantic plot is worth following and resembles a tennis match played with a live grenade.  I'm not sure of the title of the next one, but I know that "Eight" won't be enough for me!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worth All The Trouble--Trouble in Paradise: Jesse Stone #2

Trouble in Paradise:  Jesse Stone #2 by Robert B. Parker

I am a huge Parker fan and will read anything with his name on it.  That rule has never failed me, which isn't always true of every writer.  This book was no exception.

This is the second installment in the Jesse Stone/Paradise series.  I would certainly recommend reading these in order as Jesse's private life is nearly as exciting as the murder and mayhem going on around him.  It's a little disturbing to think that such a tiny town as Paradise seemingly is could have so much crime so soon--I shiver to think what future books hold.  Perhaps, though, because of its quaint smallness, a gang of robbers and just all-around bad guys target it for the heist of the century, planning to rob banks, homes, and anything else not nailed down.

In the mix is Jesse and his on-again/off-again romance with his ex-wife.  And his on-again/off-again romance with his ex-lover.  And a new on romance that looks to be off soon.  What I really like about these is how very human Jesse is, full of mistakes and quirks and pain and confidence issues. A man after my own heart.  While he certainly struggles in his private life, he is one super cop and that part of these mystery thrillers is great to read, full of action and adventure at every turn.  Jesse reminds me of Jack Reacher in that respect, except he isn't nearly so scary!

Thanks, Mr. Parker, for another delightful winter evening spent reading by the fire!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Moronic Bonnie and Clyde

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Classic Noir

I'll have to be honest.  I didn't get this book.  And, I don't get the title.  Can someone explain it to me?  Mercifully, it was a short read. It's a story that was shocking for its time, but quite tame by today's standards. You should read it only for the novelty.

The book felt like an episode of "America's Dumbest Criminals", except without the humor.  The story centers on a drifter named Frank who's no good.  He is apparently more endowed in his pants than his brains as Cora, a restauranteur's wife, falls for him.  Or, she is so obviously bored with her older, overweightt foreign husband that it's any port in a storm. Frank wants to have sex with Cora and be on his way, but the sex is hot and Cora is complicated and Frank is stuck whether he likes it or not.  Frank has a hankering to escape and he wants Cora to become a traveling tramp with him.  She has a different vision of their life together--one that doesn't include her husband.  So, the two of them are up to their eyeballs in a botched murder attempt.  Only their first, as it turns out.

The story left me feeling sad and a little dirty, like I took part in something distasteful.  Their deeds and greed ruin them both and corrupt their love, which wasn't pure to begin with.  It's impossible to find a character to relate to or liek.

Perhpas it made a better movie.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Too Much of a Fantasy

Pegasus and the Flame of Olympus:  Pegasus #1 by Kate O'Hearn

Adolescent Fantasy

You must completely suspend belief to read this.  The plot is unbelievable; the characters aren't realistic at all; and, the dialogue is stilted and false.  Yet, slowly, I started to enjoy it.  By the last page, I thought I'd give #2 in the series a try.  Maybe.

Emily's life isn't great to begin with.  Her mother passed away two years ago and her father is largely absent.  It goes from bad to worse when a winged horse crashes onto her roof in New York City during a thunderstorm. (A warning here:  beware of violent plot shifts like this!)  For some reason, the horse (Pegasus) trusts Emily and she enlists the help of a surly classmate (Joe) to save the horse with large amounts of breakfast cereal.  Pegasus is fleeing because Olympus has fallen.  Don't get excited--Channing Tatum will not make an appearance!  Instead, a group called the Nirads have attacked the Greek stronghold and are looking for the winged wonder.  Pegasus was unable to save Olympus because a petty thief (Paelen) stole his magical harness.  Now Pegasus needs to retrieve it; the goddess Diana is PO'ed; and, Paelen has been captured by some FBI/Greek God type of group.

Rick Riordan doesn't need to worry.  It's not a female Percy Jackson.  It's a series that doesn't end on the last page, if you care to keep reading after that strange, but accurate, summary.  It was just a little to fantastical for me to be too keen on it.  Still, the character of Emily is likable and you just can't help rooting for her.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pure, Classic Fun

Tarzan of the Apes (Tarzan #1) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Classic Adventure

100 years old and still a great adventure read--that's why it's a classic!  Although some of the story is politically incorrect by today's standards and some of the details are scientifically incorrect, it is still worth suspending disbelief for.

Tarzan starts with a love story--a husband and wife who can't bear to be separated so she accompanies him on a military trip by ship.  The trip is fraught with strife, and soon the two are abandoned by the mutinous crew on a deserted tropical beach.  As things will happen, Lord and Lady Greystroke have a child and then die, leaving the infant at the mercy of the elements.  An ape tribe finds the infant, and he is ultimately saved by a female named Kala, who had just lost her own baby.  Kala treats him as her native-born son, taking him into the tribe and raising him.  During adolescence, Tarzan discovers that he is not an ape, but a man.  He finds his family's hut on the beach and teaches himself to read.  One day, a ship lands with other humans, and Tarzan is captivated by Jane, the professor's daughter, so much so that he leaves his wilderness behind and travels to England to become civilized.

At that time, Africa must have seemed like a distant planet and I love the imagination Burroughs used to describe this lush, tropical wonderland.  Burroughs has to be the master of the cliffhanger endings--you have to keep reading to the next one to find out what happens to our main characters.  I absolutely loved the story--the writing was amazing and the book has it all:  romance, adventure, danger!  I can't wait to start reading the next one.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Zombie Plague for Vampires

The Strain by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan

Horror

What an incredible opening--an airplane lands, the shades are pulled down, and communication is lost.  Fearing terrorists, the police and bomb squad are called in.  What they find is much worse than their worst thoughts.  Everyone on board is dead, except for four people who are dying.  It's a race to figure out what killed the others and decide if this thing is infectious.

Eph Goodweather is head of the CDC and gets the call (I know I'm going to love a book when the CDC is in it.  I love it when they get involved.  The CDC should totally have their own series on TV.  That stuff will scare anybody).  He has no idea what's going on, but he knows it isn't good.  (Is it ever good when the CDC gets called in?)  Abraham Setrakian has been awaiting this moment his whole life.  He learned the stories of darkness and evil at his mother's knee. 

I really liked this book.  My favorite parts involved the character of Eph, a captivating man with a complicated past that gets in the way of his job.  The plot--a vampire plague and a scientist racing to discover and stop it--really had me hooked.  It's not exactly a unique vampire story, but if you're really into the genre, it's certainly worth a read.  There's definitely enough meat in it (no pun intended) to carry over into the next book.  This is first in a series so the action won't end on the last page.  The book was published just a few years ago, but it has a very 1980's vibe to it, which isn't a bad thing.  I like it when characters muddle around in the dark without the benefit of technology giving them an automatic answer.  Plus, the vampire are very bad-ass, which is the best kind.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Always Better Than the TV Version

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Horror

This is only the fourth Stephen King book I've read, so I can't say it was classic King, but I can say that it was good!  It's about a thousand page book, but it doesn't feel like it.  It just flies right along.

This tale takes place in ,perhaps ,the scariest setting of all--small-town America.  On one normal, ordinary day, a clear dome slams down around Chester's Mill, Maine, trapping the townspeople inside and barring everyone else outside.  The clear dome is like an electric field, and there are plenty of explosions and grotesqueries to start the action.  The outside world is flummoxed.  Scientists can't figure it out the military can't blow it up.  The monsters inside (much like the real-world) are small-town politicians whose power-hungry egocentrism are ruining the tiny world.  There are so many main characters to keep track of, but don't worry.  Not all of them survive!  Barbie is an Iraqi vet and a wild card--an out-of-towner who won't buckle; Julia, a newspaper owner who wants to expose corruption; and, Big Jem Rennie, the evil SOB in charge.

What's so scary about this book?  Imagine if you were trapped in a small space with limited food, air, water, and there's a moron in charge.  Did I mention his son is suffering from a brain tumor, has had a psychotic break, and is on the way to being a serial killer?  Yeah, that complicates the plot a bit.  What's so scary is that the monster is your neighbor, your lover, even you.  Skip the awful TV corruption and stick with the book (always my advice).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wickedly Awful

Wicked:  The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Fantasy

I saved this book to read over a long holiday because I knew it would be so good. What a disappointment.  I absolutely hated it!  I don't understand what all the hype is about.

This book tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.  With a main character like that, it should be a slam dunk; yet, Maguire has turned her into an Eco-terrorist, scared of all human interaction.  She's weird and unlikeable, a main character that is impossible to connect to.  Elphaba was an autistic-like child, but green.  Her condition most likely a result of a forgotten tryst between her alcoholic, nymphomaniacal mother and an ef.  The only person who could possibly love her was her staid, minister "father".  When she goes to college, she ends up with Glinda as a roommate.  There is very little to like about Glinda before she turned into a good witch..  She is  snobbish and treats those around her very selfishly.  Still, those two seem to bond and grow fond of one another with a grudging sort of self respect.  Elphaba commits her life to overthrowing The Wizard of Oz, a corrupt power-hungry politician.

The one good thing I can say about this book--it was so boring that it would cause me to nod off frequently while reading it.  So, I was well-rested.  Maybe it would be better with music and dancing.  It can't be worse.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Imagine

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

Nonfiction

This book has won multiple awards, and rightly so! 

The author poses these simple questions:  What if all the human beings on earth just disappeared?  What would happen to the world without our interfering?  How long would it take for the Earth to forget all about us?  These are fascinating questions, but then the author goes on to describe exactly what would happen without us here.  Turns out, the world would keep on turning.  Mother Earth doesn't need us at all.  It's a humbling, sobering thought for a species who thinks the world revolves around them and their needs.  It's amazing how quickly creature comforts would erode without man's constant intervention.  Some major cities would either flood for catch fire withing day.  Yet, what other creatures need these comforts but man?

Even though the book was written more than five years ago, the research and facts are still relevant today.  (Although I am not a scientist!)  Weisman's writing isn't boring or dry.  He injects the perfect amount of drama into a very scholarly subject.  It is not an easy book to read, but it is a fascinating one.  It is a great book for those interested in preserving our natural resources.  It shows what an amazing machine our Earth is.  There are some very disturbing facts about how we have ruined the Earth, maybe forever, and a lesson on how the Earth is slowly, slowly, reclaiming herself.  If more people read this book, and others like it, our environment would be in much better shape--it's that important of a read.  It gives the genre "dystopian" a whole new meaning!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Far From Normal

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Paranormal

I didn't really like this book at the beginning.  It seemed like another adolescent fluffy paranormal piece, but the farther the story went on, the darker and more convoluted it became.  Thus, I was hooked:  a story with meat--and one that could keep readers going through several more books.

Evie's life is not normal, even for a paranormal book!  She works for (lives at and is chaperoned by) the International Paranormal Containment Agency, an agency that tracks and monitors the world's magical creatures.  Evie is far from normal herself.  She has the unique ability to see past 'glamours' to the truth about paranormal creatures.  This makes her dangerous to some, so she needs protection.  And, it's also her job.  She goes out to locate and bring back these dangerous creatures. 

This is first in a series that I will definitely keep reading.  One of my favorite characters was the evil fairy, and Evie's ex-boyfriend.  This back story would be fascinating.  I liked him way better than the current boyfriend, who was boring a little suspicious.  Evie does act in very immature and irritating way for some of the book, but she is 16, so her actions and dialogue are credible.  I also loved that Evie can't figure out what is going on with who or what she is.  Perhaps the prophecy in the book is about her?  I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What's With All the Fuss?

Vampire Diaries #1:  The Awakening by L. Smith

Adolescent Paranormal Romance

With all the hype and hullabaloo, I expected to fall in love with this series.  I haven't watched the show and don't intend to.  I'm judging the book solely on the writing.  But, I didn't love it, at least not with this first installment.  Still, I liked it enough to keep going.

It has all the right ingredients to be a good series:  a beautiful, thoughtful, longing heroine; a tragic, misunderstood, sexy hero; an ancient and deadly curse that stands in the way of their love. 

Yet, it still felt a little false to me,  a little staged, and not quite real enough.  A lot of the dialogue felt really forced.  The main character, Elena, is very hard to like or connect with in the beginning of the book.  She is mean, petty, selfish, and shallow.  I couldnt' find a way to sympathise with her at all. Elena does show some promise.  She starts opening up and change some, but her "love at first sight" devotion comes across as slightly false. 

I did like the character of Stefan.  He is dark and brooding with a tragic past and a secret.  There's enough in that to keep me coming back one more time.  I also really liked how the story flashed back to Stefan and Damon's past--the how and why of becoming a vampire.  It shows there's a reason for Stefan's angst.  Stefan is a much more magnetic character and my only reason for the reading the next book. 

Still, I'm a bit worried about the next book.  Elena most certainly doesn't deserve Stefan and he's only interested in her because she bears a striking resemblance to his dead love.  That's not much to base a romance series on.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No Paranormal Witches, Some Math.....Yet, I Still Liked It!

The Witch of Agnesi:  Bonnie Pinkwater #1 by Robert Speller

Mystery

This isn't normally a book I would like, seeing as how it had mathematical influences and all.  But, I really liked it--and there wasn't enough math to fry my brain.

Bonnie Pinkwater is  a respected teacher and academic coach, and when one of her students disappears on her watch, she can't just leave it to the local police.  When the student turns up dead, Ms. Pinkwater knows she must rush to find the killer before another young person winds up dead.  Add to the mix a witch coven, domestic and child abuse, and a science teacher/love interest, and you have all the ingredients for a really intriguing tale.

This was a great mystery read; one that kept my attention the whole way through, trying to guess the next turn of events.  That is one thing I really liked about this book.  I just couldn't predict what was going to happen next. It kept me zipping right through the pages.  I loved that the main character (and detective) is a teacher, even if she does teach math!  I've never read about a teacher detective before.  Very unique!  It was a mystery where the characters were more important than the crime.  I also liked the humor in it, and the romance was a nice twist.  I love it when aging teachers get their groove on.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Try This At Home

Stealing Air by Trent Reedy

Adolescent Fiction

It is a story of dreams and bullies and science.  Brian and his family have a lot of adjusting to do.  They've just moved to Iowa, and Brian's father is desperately trying to refine his invention before the whole family falls apart.  Add a bully and a nerd to the mix and you have the makings of a fairly interesting plot.  Brian has some of his father's inventive spirit and, before too long, he's teamed up with the science nerd on a plan that might save his father's business and his family.

It was an okay read for me.  I can't recommend you run out and buy it, but if it happened to be placed in your hands, you have nothing to lose.  It is worth the time you will spend reading it.  The story takes awhile to get into but is a solid read.  The characters are very believable and realistic, but the plot sometimes stretches credulity.  The romance with the bully's sister was a nice twist.  The real pleasure for me in this book was seeing a group of young people set their sights on a common dream and do everything in their power to make this come true.  It's a good role model for a generation of young people who sit around watching TV and playing video games.  Go outside!

There are some parts of the book I found horrifying, as a mom and teacher.  I hope no real child would ever do the airplane test.  It's a great way to end up very dead, very quickly.  Of course, this danger aspect will make it very appealing to young male readers.  There's a lot about skateboarding and building homemade airplanes.  It should come with a warning:  don't try this at home!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Next To Last

A Series of Unfortunate Events #12: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snickett

Adolescent Thriller

This book was the thickest yet in the series, with information flying so fast and furious that it felt like a crescendo--a race to get it all in before the final act.

Th Baudelaire trio has met up with Kit Snickett, shadily related to Lemony, and she has taken them to safety, to a hotel where many other volunteers for good will soon arrive and assures them that many of  their questions will be answered.  'Safe' is a word that doesn't usually apply to the Baudelaires.  Soon, the hotel is crowded and they don't know who to trust, regardless of the murky clues and ridiculous passwords.

This one is much better than the last six in the series, probably because it was less formulaic.  It was also much darker and more desperate than the others, as if the Baudelaires know their story is almost over.  Some of the story is the same--ridiculous characters in unbelievable situations.  Why does it always seem to work?  Although, after twelve of these, I am definitely ready for this to be over and jump into something new by this author.  I do so enjoy Snickett's writing style, his strange wit and sense of humor.  I also always love the formats of the hard cover editions.  The front cover art and deckled edges are so classically SUE.   This phenomenon will be missed.  This series has been so unique and will not be triumphed, a rare compliment from a bibliophile. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Liking It Still

The 39 Clues:  Cahills Vs. Vespers #4:  Shatterproof by Roland Smith

Adolescent Thriller

Roland Smith is one of my favorite YA authors.  I always know to expect a great adventure when I see his name on a book.  Smith did not disappoint!

This one has the same basic plot as all the others.  The characters are starting to become more interesting than the plot, though.  Dan and Amy are still at the control of Vesper One and, this time, Vesper One wants the duo to steal the world's largest diamond.  Vesper One show that he (or she) is willing to waste their lives to get what he (or she) wants.

This is a series that keeps getting better and better as the characters grow and mature.  The series continues to get darker.  Amy and Dan are depressed and seriously in need of counseling.  They are in danger of becoming evil geniuses instead of the good guys.  I also loved that this one had a bit of romance in it.  It makes the characters less flat and one-dimensional and more like real, actual people.  I do love that these are hard cover; it's a really attractive little read.  There are so many surprises n this one.  Things that no fan will predict or see coming.  My students at school love these books---if they read the first series.  It's a great series for reluctant middle grade readers.  It's beginning to appeal to a narrow fan base since, technically, this is about the 14th book in the series.  If you haven't been reading all along, don't start here.  It feels like these books will never end and that Amy and Dan will never be out of trouble.  But, if we're a reader of the series, what choice do we have except to keep going?  I can't leave Dan and Amy hanging!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

British Version of the Odd Couple

My Man Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Humor

This book was an absolutely delightful surprise.  I am so glad I happened upon it.  It is a classic deserving of that rating.  It's a British comedy, but you don't have to be a fan of that unique British humor to like this.  It's just funny, no matter your nationality.

It is part of a series.  I'm not sure where this one comes and not sure if it even matters.  Apparently there is also a TV show, but I've never seen it.  It was just fine as a stand alone read.  It's a collection of short stories with the same character, Jeeves, but no other connection to one another.  The stories are told through the narrator, Reggie Pepper, who has Jeeves as his butler, or 'man'.  Reggie Pepper gets into the most ridiculous situations, and leaves it up to Jeeves to get him untangled.  It's like a British version of "The Odd Couple".

The book was so very charming, so delightful, so utterly British.  Funny, but also a little sweet.  Reggie is such a great character.  He's so naive and perfectly innocent.  He's the perfect foil for wise and worldly and competent Jeeves, who is so clearly the focus of these books, if not the main character.  The stories are a bit formulaic--Reggie always gets into a situation over his head; he has to ask Jeeves for help; Jeeves almost seem clairvoyant in his answer;  Jeeves often makes the problem worse,with hilarious results.  The formula doesn't really get old.  Just a good, old-fashioned, fun read.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Classic.....in Name Only

The Cabman's Story:  The Mysteries of a London Growler by Arthur Conan Doyle

Classic Short Story

This is a classic, but would it still get published today, on its own, if not for the famous author's name?  Most assuredly not.  Why is this story read today?  If the answer is only because of the name of the author, that's not enough of a reason. 

It's an extremely short story (8 pages) of a very long-winded narrator.  Like many of Doyle's non-Sherlock stories, this one focuses on the mundane situation of a normal family.  First, you have to know what a 'growler' is--a Victorian version of a cabbie.  And, based on this story, cabbies haven't changed much!  A family goes on vacation to the countryside for an extended time.  There are so many people, and so much luggage, that the father has to ride up front with the cabbie.  The cabman relates several tales of things that have happened to him over the years and things he has seen. I'm sure today's cabmen could relate.  My favorite story (and only really memorable one) is the tale of a burglar who not only hid in the taxi after a robbery, but also used it as his escape vehicle.

I just didn't like this, even as a free read and even though it was a short read.  I just wanted to rush and finish it.  It just wasn't as good as some other short stories by Doyle and I felt like a teenager who had been assigned this as a homework assignment--not a pleasant feeling. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blimey, A Moral Dilemma!

The Red Road by Denise Mina

Mystery

This is a Scottish mystery--a first for me.  As expected, I struggled with some of the lingo a bit.  Things are just different there so expect to be a little confused about descriptions and turns of phrases.  It was harder to read than a British mystery, but well worth the effort.

Michael Brown is a scumbag and belongs behind bars for his latest crime.  However, police detective Alex Morrow discovers that one of his earlier crimes might be a setup.  She hesitates because the discovery could release him from jail.  At the center of the crime is Rose, a young girl orphaned and abused by her all around her.  She commits a heinous crime in self-defense which, as a reader, I didn't find morally wrong.  But, the wrong person is arrested, which is bad.  But, he turns out to be a criminal so, that's all right.  But, he might not have been a criminal if he hadn't been charged with the crime.  ARRGHH--so many moral dilemmas!

I really liked the characters in the book--strong women with real struggles.  Alex has a lot on her mind--her finances, her one year-old twins and her full-time job as a police detective.  Her mind wanders during the investigation, which I liked because it made her seem like a normal working mother and not just an uber-detective.  And, Rose--a woman who has worked so hard to pay back her benefactor.  I wanted so badly for a fairy tale ending for her.

Apparently this is the fourth one in the series.  I wasn't lost and didn't feel left out of something important.  It probably isn't necessary to read these in order.  The crime/mystery is more important here than the detectives or characters involved.  It took me awhile to figure out who the main players were. The story line kept switching back and forth between twenty years ago and modern times. It take times to figure out which crime and which of the myriad characters to focus on.  It is a book with a lot of brain work required, but a really good story, one that will keep you thinking and plotting on your own to make things work out.  Jolly good show! (Oh, wait--that's a British saying, right?)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Just Bought All His Books

Burial Ground by Michael McBride

Thriller

I absolutely loved this book!  It ticked all the boxes for me as a thriller/adventure book and was much better than I thought it would be.  It was so good that, after reading it, I went straight out and bought all the author's other books.  It was a cheap Kindle download and definitely worth even a $10 read (how I rate Kindle books....books I am willing or unwilling to spend the money on).

This book had me with the blurb on the back--steaming mountain jungles of Peru, hints of a lost civilization, a missing archaeologist, an ancient treasure.  How could I lose?  I didn't!  What I really loved was that the author didn't sacrifice character for plot.  It was a very well-rounded book, in that, all parts were good!

The story is told from several main characters, most of whom don't make it to the end, but I'm not saying who. Of course, the coup de grace was the ancient enemy unleashed into our modern world, a monster that is all to easy to believe in.  The characters were all so believable, not like stock, cardboard characters at all.  The plot develops because of their unique personalities, exactly like a plot should.  The writing makes you feel as if you were right there in the jungle, struggling to stay alive.  Why in the world is this author not more famous??  This is definitely on par with the New York Times bestsellers I usually read.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

You Don't Have to Be a Cat Lover to Love This

The Cat Who #1:  Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun

Mystery

This is the book that started it all.  It's not as good as some of the later titles, but I still  loved it.

Jim Qwilleran is an old newspaper fogey who needs a job.  The only one available at a local newspaper is for an art correspondent.  Qwilleran thinks beggars can't be choosers and how different could it be than reporting on real news?  Qwill used to be a big-time news reporter and it's a little unclear why the step down from grace; apparently, he had a drinking problem that ruined his career and now he's just trying to start over.  This is definitely a main character with so much more to discover.

Qwill's infamous mustache is twitching as soon as he hits the art scene.  He find galleries full of ugly art and fake art critics.  It isn't long before all these clues turn up a murder and Qwill is right in the business, where he belongs.  Qwill rents a room from a snobbish art critic and fellow newspaperman.  There's something that Qwill likes about him, even thought everyone else hates him, and it's more than just the man's cat.  When the art critic also ends up dead, Qwill decides to inherit the cat, a cat who wants his owner's murderer found.

Our first introduction to Koko already begs the question...who is in charge here?  Just who is the real detective and who is the pet?  Heck, who is the real main character--man or beast?  This is a reread for me, but a series I have enjoyed so much I've decided to do them again, in order this time.  The book doesn't read as if it's over thirty years old--it's fun and relevant even today.  And, I'm not a cat lover so don't think you have to be one to like these books.  You don't.  You just have to like mysteries.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Not Redeemable

Beautiful Redemption by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Teen Paranormal Romance

This is the finale to the Beautiful Creatures series, a series I'm glad is over.  It never really lived up to the promise of the first book, although I would say this one was probably the second best in the series.  I really feel as if the authors could have skipped books two and three and made this one next.

The cliffhanger from the last book has Ethan jumping off the town's water tower.  But, since there's a new book, there must be more to the story.  And, there is.  Ethan discovers that, contrary to what he thought when he flung himself off the tower, he wasn't really supposed to have died, and he restores the balance of the worlds.  Again.

I will say I did not see the final twist coming--which was pretty cool.  There were a lot of surprises and twists I just didn't expect.  I liked the plot of the story much better than the characters.  I would love to read a series about John and the young librarian.  I started liking these two and Link and Ripley so much more than Ethan and Lena, who are just so depressing and whiny.  I just felt like the characters didn't change at all and I never really understood why the two main characters loved one another.  "Just because" is too immature a reason for long-lasting love, but that seemed to be the case.  I also find it interesting that the whole story was told from a male perspective, Ethan, but the book is so obviously a book for females.  If you love paranormal romance, you'll probably like these. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Better With Age

All That Remains:  Kay Scarpetta #4 by Patricia Cornwell

Forensic Mystery

Like wine and cheese, Scarpetta keeps getting better with the years. 

Scarpetta gets called to a young couple, found dead in their car.  The girl is the daughter of an important political thriller.  Everyone seems to think the killing was politically motivated, but Scarpetta feels differently and she is soon on the case of a serial killer.  It's a tough case (one that I, as the reader, had no hope of solving), and one that Scarpetta struggles with.  It will keep you involved and guessing the whole way through.  Marino is back.  I really like him and the reader gets to see a little more of his tender interior.  This is a nice touch and goes far towards explaining why Scarpetta likes him so much.  This book has lots of red herrings, which makes the case so much more exciting.  It's a complex read and one you'll have to pay attention to.

These books are procedural mysteries to the extreme with gore and graphic descriptions, but necessary since the main character does autopsies.  It feels like you're doing them too, right beside Scarpetta.  I also really enjoyed some 'historical' characters coming in:  Abby, an old friend with some serious secrets that might derail Scarpetta's case; Benton Wesley, Scarpetta's old FBI boss who has some interest in the case that he won't share; and Mark, an old flame that she doesn't know whether she wants to rekindle or not.  These can be stand alone mysteries, but if you want to follow the intricacies of Scarpetta's life, her personal struggles, then read them in order.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A New Detective to Love

The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Potzsch

Historical Mystery

I didn't expect much from this book.  I don't know why--maybe because it was a free Kindle download and I have had such bad luck with those.  But, this book, I loved!

The premise of the book is so fascinating and unique.  I've never read anything like it before.  It's a fascinating history of the role of an executioner and the importance of superstition in the 1600's.  Jacob is the town's official executioner and it seems as if he has an unfortunate and unique quality of attracting death.  When a young boy is pulled from the river with a witch's mark on him, Jacob knows he has to act fast or his executioner's cart will be full of accused witches.

I loved everything about it.  I loved the front cover.  It fit the mood of the book perfectly.  Knowing the author is a descendant of a family of hangmen made the story that much more credible--and incredible!  The character of the hangman was my favorite part of this book. And, he's now one of my favorite main characters.  Large and in charge--he doesn't like his job as official hired killer, but he is so good at it.  Plus, he's funny and clever and comes across as warm and someone you definitely want to meet.  The book was full of great characters.  I also loved the hangman's daughter and her love interest.  I can't wait to see more about them. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

G is for Great!

G is For Gumshoe:  Kinsey Milhone #7 by Sue Grafton

Mystery

I liked this one the best so far.  I believe I have made that same statement for each of these books so I might not be the most reliable reviewer.  Apparently, I am prone to exaggeration.

This novel takes Kinsey cross-county.  I loved the new setting.  I love that Grafton doesn't stay in the same locale but that she goes to other places in search of her case, her story.  Grafton's gift is making the setting integral to the story and making it come alive for the reader.  Kinsey is on the case of a missing mom while a contract killer is hunting her down.  What a perfect time to leave town.  Kinsey is hired to find a crazy old recluse by the daughter, who is herself a crazy old recluse, except rich.  The mother is truly gone--abandoned her hovel trailer and taken all her belongings, but Kinsey doesn't give up.  She wants to follow the course to the end.  And, of course, she always gets her man.

It amazes me how very different in plot each of these books are.  Usually, series detective novels follow a similar pattern that gets old after a while.  But not Grafton. You just dont' know what to expect.  These books are not too high-brow or a technical police procedural.  Kinsey is easy to hang out with and downplays her drama well.  I really liked the romantic twist with Milhone's bodyguard.  It made her seem more like a real person with real emotions.  Grafton's/Milhone's clinical expository is often lacking in emotion.  This plot twist made Kinsey seem like a more dynamic character.  I hope Dietz is a recurring character-he's good for Kinsey.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Teenage James Bond-ette

Only the Good Spy Young:  Gallagher Girls #4 by Ally Carter

Adolescent Spy Thriller

I was a little worried about this book because I so disliked the last one in the series.  I needn't have worried. Cammie is back to her old, neurotic self.

Cammie was hoping the life and death aspect of her last spy adventure was over, but it seems as if her dangerous life as a spy has just begun.  When Cammie's most trusted teacher, Joe, is accused of being a spy, and promptly disappears, Cammie no longer knows who to trust--including her own family.  This time, Cammie isn't satisfied with sitting around, waiting for things to come to her.  She's not acting like the "frozen-with-fear" Cammie, like in her last book.  Zach is back!  Yay!  He was glaringly absent in the the last book and he adds a kink in the plot.

I liked this one much better than the last, and almost as much as the first one which was my favorite so far.  You definitely have to read this series in order.  There was action from beginning to end, which is why I fell in love with this series.  Cammie is such a strong female character.  She questions her decisions, she cries--but she gets stuff done!  She's a great role model for how real girls act (except in the last book, but everyone can have a bad day so I forgive her).  The books are very funny and relate-able.  Cammie still has her innocence and immaturity and that makes her so believable and so likable.  The end was both amazing and maddening.  It was definitely a cliffhanger and so unexpected.  Now I can't wait to read the next one!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro

Historical Fiction

I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but I loved it!  The reason?  Because I fell in love with the main character, Prudence.  She's my favorite kind of main character--plucky, curious, courageous, questioning, and hopeful.  I also love her quest for knowledge.  At a time when education for women was expensive, nearly impossible, and scholarly girls were on the path to old-maidhood, Prudence doesn't give up.  She pushes the boundaries and lines so she can learn more and become smarter.

Prudence begs for, and finally gets permission to, leave a girls' finishing school in order to get a real job, working for a scientist.  It's a perfect job for her and one that challenges her itch to learn.  The backstory is about Mary Mallon, "Typhoid Mary", and is fascinating.  I have read nonfiction about Mallon before but this book finally turned her into a real person for me.

I learned so much reading about Mallon this way rather than all the dry accounts.  Chibarro really made the history come alive, weaving in facts seamlessly to be part of the story.  The book clearly shows how the mindset of that era was different and that "Typhoid Mary" was not a cold-blooded killer, just an average citizen who didn't know how germs were spread.  Deadly is a great snapshot of life in Victorian times, both the attitude and the background.  This would be a great book for a book club.  There are so many things to talk about--a busy book!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Detective

A Caress of Twilight:  Meredith Gentry #2 by Laurell K. Hamilton

Paranormal Romance/Erotica

This book starts just where the last one left off.  When we last saw Fairie Princess Merry Gentry, she had just been ordered by the Queen to have unstoppable sex with her buff bodyguards until she was pregnant.  It's so hard being a princess!  Tough life, that.

Still, it's not all fun and games.  Merry is in a reproductive race with her cousin, Prince Cel.  And, if she doesn't have a baby first (the heir to throne), her days are numbered.  Cel would love to kill her with his own hands.  In her spare time, she also has a day job as a detective.  Now that her cover has been blown, she's taking on paranormal  cases.  Her newest case involves a goddess who has been exiled, and solving this case could also mean Merry's death.

This is not a series that I love. The book is very long without the action needed to make reading it seem effortless.  You'll be hard-pressed to find one male character to root for.  No one guy stands out, which is maybe why I don't love this series.  I am an old-fashioned girl like that, I suppose. I refer to these books as 'paranormal pornography', although they are really more erotica.  I like a good romp in the hay as well as the next girl, but this is just too much.  I'm exhausted just reading about her sexcapades.  One thing I that I really didn't like was Merry's sexual tryst with the brownie/elf.  For most of the book, she described this creature's innocence much as a child and treats it like a pet.  This part was particularly distasteful to me--almost like bestiality. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Creepy Crawlies Galore

Infestation by Timothy J. Bradley

Adolescent Science Fiction/Horror

I bought this for the boys in my classroom--a book that looks like something they would be interested in.  Bugs!

Andy isn't having the best day.  He's on a smelly bus on his way to a special boys' school for juvenile offenders and none of the other kids look like they want to become new buddies.  Andy's day gets worse the further he drives out into the desert.  They are miles of parched heat away from the nearest sign of civilization; there is a mean bully at the school; the guard in charge acts like  a marine drill sergeant; and, the head of the prison is clearly crazy.  Worse still, Andy learns this might not be a temporary assignment, but a permanent one--if he displeases the warden.  To make matters worse, there is an earthquake, which is bad.  What it reveals is worse:  a secret lab experiment gone horribly wrong.  A giant race of ants has invaded the school and is exterminating all the people in it.  The boys all have to learn to work together to conquer a common enemy.  What a great lesson!

The story felt like a throwback to a 1950's horror movie classic.  Too many of today's horror stories rely on gore and inappropriate themes, but this was just good, old-fashioned scary.  It was fast-paced and thrilling all the way through.  The action never stopped.  Andy is a likable character.  His crime?  Destroying the motorcycle of his abusive foster father, so we don't have to feel bad for cheering on a criminal.  The other characters are sympathetic as well.  They are not a bunch of hooligans, hoodlums, and hardened criminals--just misunderstood youth.  Solid reading for young boys!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

As Dark as a Tunnel

The Black Echo:  Harry Bosch #1 by Michael Connelly

Detective/Mystery

Harry is a vice cop called in on a murder --a dead body in a drain tunnel.  He knows it won't be an ordinary case--because he knows who the victim is!  The dead man is a blast from Bosch's Vietnam past, and not a happy one.  Bosch and the victim were tunnel rats in 'Nam, bomb diffusers who crawled through the tunnels to find and destroy bombs before they exploded.  Harry knows it can't be a coincidence he found the body, but what does it mean?  How does it fit together?  The incident brings back bad memories for Bosch.

I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to keep going.  It felt very noir and dark to me, not usually the type of book that I like.  It had a very 'Vietnam' feel to it, if that makes any sense.  It was procedural and gritty and realistic.  I felt like Bosch was an actual vice cop relating a case to me.  The romance with a fellow worker eased the tension and bleakness of the book a little.  It made Harry seem more like a normal person.  It was extremely detailed and it kept my attention.  There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot.  It's a book you can't second guess, like one of those roller coasters that twist and turn.  I do like the character of Harry--he is a rebel and he thumbs his nose at the establishment, a man after my own heart.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Misdemeanor

The Associate by John Grisham

Legal Thriller

I labeled this a legal thriller although 'thriller' is really too exciting a word to be placed on this book.  It's not one of Grisham's best; just an okay read.

It's about a young man set to embark on a legal career, so it's a little different from Grisham's norm.  Kyle McAcoy has played it safe all his life--good school, good grades, doing all the right things.  Should one bad night ruin his whole life?  What if that bad night involved something immoral and illegal?  Kyle has a chance to become an associate at the most prestigious law firm in Manhattan.  But, a college "indiscretion" jeopardizes all that.  Soon, the job is the least of his worries as he battles thugs, fights for his life, and is being blackmailed to commit fraud and treason.

This book involved an incident that will make you question the main character, at least I did.  There are some things for which there is NO excuse and I think Kyle got the consequences he deserved (at the very least), even though he was a passive criminal.  His silence was enough.  I know many will disagree with me, but he got his just desserts.  And, I'm pretty sure Kyle feels the same way as I do about the situation, which made him redeemable enough for me to keep reading about him.

The book was both interesting and depressing.  It's a look into the life of a corporate lawyer.  Is money really worth all that?  It was just okay for me.  It was not really the gripping legal thriller I was hoping for.  It felt very tame and only mildly interesting.  The ending was so ridiculous that is wasn't even credible and I walked away feeling a little cheated.  Very unsatisfying.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Deader is Better

All Together Dead:  Sookie Stackhouse #7 by Charlaine Harris

Paranormal Romance

I just love this series!  It never gets old to me.

Sookie has taken up with Quinn.  Don't get me wrong--I like him and the sex scenes are hot, but...he's no Eric!  When is Eric coming back???  Gross.  Bill is still around.  Stalker, much?  Of course, when Bill, Eric, and Quinn are all in one place with Sookie, delicious things happen. 

Sookie has been "hired", read forced, to attend a vampire convention and act as a human Geiger counter for the vampire queen of Louisiana, measuring what humans are thinking but not saying.  The vampire queen, 14-year old Sophie Leclerq, just happens to be on trial for the murder of her new husband, which happened in the previous book.  Of course, when you get that many vampires together, somebody is bound to wind up dead.  And, now Sookie has to solve that crime too.

Although this one wasn't quite as good as #6, I still loved it.  I hope the author isn't waning--I hate that.  There was plenty of action and adventure and romance and death-defying and I loved that Sookie always has to be her own hero.  My favorite part (in this book and every book) is when Eric saves Sookie.  I love that they are two magnets who can't help that attraction.  Sookie gets deader, and better, with each new book.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Perfect for Tech-Savvy Teens

Defriended:  Point Horror #1 by Ruth Baron

Teen Horror

This had a very unique storyline.   Kids who are really savvy with technology will get into this.  For the rare teen who doesn't at least have a cell phone, it might be hard to relate.  It reminded me a little of the MTV show "Catfish", except gone very wrong! 

Jason has an online flirtation going on with Lacey.  She's cute.  She's funny.  Can she really like Jason?  She seems too good to be true.  Maybe she is.  Lacey refuses to see Jason in person--and he soon figures out why after doing some research.  She's dead.  This launches a mystery for Jason.  He has to find out if his mystery girl is alive (and the Facebook memorial page is a joke), or if she's dead and someone is playing a cruel hoax on him.  This is a mystery that Jason will have to uncover if he wants to know the truth about Lacey.  But, the more he learns and knows about Lacey, the less he realizes he knew her.  But, if it wasn't Lacey he knew, who was it?  Jason and his friend use technology and old-fashioned detective work to find out the truth.  These parts are hilarious and are a nice break from the creepiness.

The front cover was perfect for enticing reluctant readers--very scary!  This is definitely PG13, and a book for teens and older.   It's perfect for teens who are heavy in social media.The book kept me hooked all the way through.  I wanted to find out what was going on right along with Jason.  I didn't guess where this was going or how it was going to end.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Sad Goodbye

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest:  Millennium #3 by Stieg Larsson

Thriller

I saved this book for several years, knowing it would be the last one by Larsson and I just hated saying goodbye to all the characters, especially Lisbeth.  I always feel such sadness when I end a series, especially one that is truly over with no hope of a comeback.  While I have read that another author is going to take up the series, it just won't be the same without Larsson at the helm.

At this book opens, Lisbeth is lying in a hospital bed with a bullet in her brain--just where the last book left off.  When she awakens from her coma, she finds her father, and the man who tried to repeatedly kill her, in the same hospital just a few doors down.  It's a race to see who will be mobile first--to strike like a deadly cobra.  Oh, the tension from a hospital bed!  Genius! 

I have always loved the character of Lisbeth.  There are so many reasons for her to engage in self-pity, but she refuses to become a victim and, instead, becomes an advocate for womens' rights.  For a change, though, Lisbeth can't do this all on her own.  She has to call Mikael for help--who comes running right away.  Love that guy!  This story ties all the loose ends up with a bow.  Nothing is left out or left unanswered.  I loved that Larsson didn't have a chippy/happy ending for everyone.  Some books, some characters, just don't get that and that is exactly, perfectly right here.

Even though I saved it for years, this book was not a disappointment.  It truly lived up to my expectations.  I am only disappointed there will be no more.  I have been reading some other Swedish authors but none come close to Larsson.  If you know of a another author like this one, please, oh please, pass along a new recommendation.

Monday, January 6, 2014

ARGHHHH!

Nevermore:  The Final Maximum Ride Adventure #8 by James Patterson

Fantasy

I hate to stick with a series, through thick and thin, for years and years, only to have the author drop the ball at the end.  But, that's just what happened here.  Typical James Patterson!  So, really, it's my own fault for expecting more.  Such laziness from this author.  He had so many loose ends to tie up and he took the lazy way out.

There's nothing new in this last one.  Same old characters.  Some constant, pointless fighting.  Same "Save the World from____"  (I forget what because there have been so many reasons.)  Some things that were confusing and were solved, not really by plot resolutions-just by bad writing:  Maya, Max's weird clone/twin; problems with entire human population; and, EVERYTHING on planet Earth.  You want unbelievable?  How about a tsunami and an asteroid as a way to solve some problems. 

The best thing about the book is that it's over.  Or, is it?  If James Patterson can make a buck on it, it will be back so, of course, the ending is left a little open.  And, Max, once such a strong female character, has turned into a two-timing, fly-off-the-handle, stubborn whine bag.  She's very unlikeable in this book.  It's so disappointing.  I want a refund for the time I wasted reading all these.  It would have been a better ending if everyone had died--that way, I wouldn't feel like they're out there, waiting on me. Because I will NOT read a new series with these characters! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Favorite Killer

Joe Pike #2:  The First Rule by Robert Crais

Thriller

This second book in the series was just as good as the first one.  And, yay--Elvis Cole is back as wingman!

When an ex-military friend of Pike's is brutally slaughtered along with his young family, Pike sets off to avenge the murder and find the killers.  Along the way, though, Pike and others start having questions about his late friend.  Was he the doting father, happy husband, successful businessman he appeared to be or a cold-blooded mercenary thief who got what he deserved?  Pike ignores the evidence. He ignores advice.  He relies on his memories and his gut instinct to guide him to the truth.

The action in this book never stops, from beginning to end.  If you've read the Elvis Cole series, know that this series has a completely different tone.  Cole is humorous and friendly, which gives his book a warm feeling.  Cole is someone you want to grab a beer and have a pizza with.  Pike is like cold, hard steel--a killing machine.  As a reader, you can't get close to him.  So, these aren't as good as the Cole books but are pretty good nonetheless.  It's a good escapist read, definitely a beach read.  The plot is pretty basic:  revenge at all costs.  So, you can pick it up and lay it down without getting lost.  As always, there's another story behind the story, which usually involves a foreign mob run amok.  I will definitely keep on reading these, if only to catch those glimpses of Elvis Cole!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Better Than the First One

Farm Boy by Michael Morpugo

Adolescent Fiction

This is a sequel to War Horse but it was so different that it almost seemed to be written by different authors.  It is a sequel, but the books have completely different styles and feelings to them.  I loved Farm Boy and only kind of liked War Horse.  Farm Boy is 1/2 illustrations and 1/2 story, a quick and easy read. 

The story is about Albert's son, who is now grown up and an old man.  He reminisces on  his life with Joey and Zoey after the war, which took place in the first book.  The great-grandson of Albert has come to stay for the summer with his grandfather, a man with a secret he's been hiding his whole life.  The grandson spends his summer helping his grandfather with this secret and listening, probably not for the first time, of stories of the old man's younger days.  The main story centers around one incident when a bragging neighbor bet that his new tractor could cut a field of hay faster than the old man and his two old farm horses.  It is like a tortoise and hare retelling, really, with "modern" farm machinery against traditional values of man and beast. 

I was crying by page 20 and that lasted all the way to the last page.  I really liked this story.  It was such a fast read, more like a short story than a novel.  The illustrations reminded me of another childhood favorite, The Little House on the Prairie series.  The story reminded me of my own youth, long summer drives with my own grandmother listening to the stories of her youth.  It was sweet and touching and a beautiful story to share with young people.