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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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.