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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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Not Your Momma's Fairy Tale

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

This is not usually a book I would pick up.  It looks a bit too much like a girly-girl book for my taste.  However, when I started reading it, I was so glad for the recommendation because it's exactly the kind of book I love. 

It's a cross between a fairy tale and dystopian novel.  The main character is America, so much symbolism in that name and what a perfect choice.  The other main character is Prince Maxim, who has reaching marrying age.  In a future world, this would make a great reality show.  Bachelor, anyone?  At the insistence of her mother, America submits an application to be considered as one of Prince Maxon's marriage potentials.  She is stunned to learn she is only of only 35 to read the final stage, the Selection.  In order to do this, American must big goodbye to Aspen, her true love but social inferior.  Still, she figures once the Prince chooses someone else, she can take the prize money to help her family and then get her romance, and life, back on track.  When she meets the Prince, her feelings on lots of things starts to change and she's no longer sure she wants to lose the contest.

I loved the futuristic feel of the book and the fact it still felt like an old-fashioned fairy tale.  It was a perfect blending of the two genres and pure genius.  It reminded me a bit of Ally Condie's "Matched" series, but America is more of a rebel, which I loved.  I also loved the political undertones.  It is part of a trilogy and not a stand alone boo.  You'll have to read them all, in order, to see how the story really ends.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Humanity and Its Best and Worst

The Postman by David Brin

Dystopian Adult Fiction

I really love the dystopian genre.  Not because of the darkness and chaos that is so prevalent, but because I love to see how humans retain such incredible sparks of humanity in the face of eternal darkness and destruction.  The Postman is a perfect example of that and one of the better dystopian books I've read. 

Gordon is a trader and scavenger--barely living by his wits until he comes across the remains of a postman in an abandoned vehicle.  He takes the postman's clothes and gear, never knowing how such a simple act of survival will change his life and his world.  As he wanders into villages and towns, Gordon (as the postman) becomes a symbol to people of what they lost with the destruction of their society through war and disease.  Almost accidentally, Gordon starts the US postal service and begins to connect peoples and towns with simple acts of social letters.  Of course, there are those who don't want him to succeed and the last half of the book is an adventure worthy of any action movie.

My only wish with the book was that the female guerilla fighters had been given more time and attention to.  Or, since I'm wishing anyway, their own book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Worthy Classic

Pollyanna #2:  Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter

Classic

I do love the classics!  This sequel to the original Pollyanna was actually better the first book, which is really saying something.

Most people probably hear the phrase "being a Pollyanna" and have no idea where it comes from.  The phrase comes from this beloved book character, a perpetual optimist who has so much reason to be a pessimist.  In this book, her uncle has died and left the family in dire financial straits.  Pollyanna tries so hard to use her unfailing optimism and bring her aunt back to happiness, but that is a tall order.

In the story are old friends, like Jimmy Bean, and new friends. What made the book so wonderful, though, was seeing Pollyanna struggling with her first love.  I love these books and am sad there are only these two.  True, they are a bit sappy, but in a world that loves to criticize, it's a nice reality break.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

An Uncomfortable Read

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Psychological Thriller/Mystery

I chose this book because of all the buzz generated recently and because it has been compared to Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl".  I felt, after reading, it didn't quite live up to my very high expectations and I could find no similarity to the other book, other than both left me feeling uncomfortable after reading them.

In this book, Rachel is a girl on a train.  She rides into the city everyday, hiding the fact she's lost her job due to her chronic alcoholism.  During her daily travels, she looks out the window and starts to fantasize about the daily lives of those she sees living in a house that used to belong to her...until her disease destroyed her marriage and life.  One day, she discovers the person living in her old home has gone missing and she thinks she might have a clue that could help solve the crime.  No one, however, wants to believe her.

This book made me uncomfortable from beginning to end.  That is always the case with an unreliable narrator and I don't think I've ever seen more of an unreliable character than Rachel.  She is a hot mess from beginning to end.  Her actions, bordering on insane at most points, made me so angry at her stupidity and weakness that I wanted to throw the book.  I alternated between anger, pity, and sadness--as did Rachel herself and all those whose lives she interacted with.  The ending, though, made the journey worthwhile and it's one of those twists that are impossible to see coming.  Overall, it was a great read...just not worthy of the 5 stars I had wanted it to be.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Funny, Nostalgic Read

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Adult Fiction

I didn't expect to like this book nearly as much as I did.  Actually, I had loved the old movie so much that I avoided this on my Kindle until it just begged to be read.  What a waste of time, the waiting that is.  I suppose, since I am of the television, record-playing age, I should have expected to identify right away.

It isn't, though, that I identified, or even liked very much, the main character.  Rob is a pain, to the reader and to everyone in the book, apparently.  His girlfriend, Laura, has recently left him and it's easy to see why.  He's whiny, obsessive, and incapable of making decision.  He's just like a friend I have, and probably everybody has, who has everything going for them only they're too self-absorbed to realize it and end up throwing it all way for an ideal that never turns out just the way they expect. 

Still, the book was easy to love, especially if you grew up listening to and loving real music from real records.  It was a pleasant, nostalgic read with very engaging characters and led to me updating my song list on my iPod.  After all, I'm no Rob.  I can march along with the times.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Definitely a Treat

Hallowe'en Party: Hercule Poirot #36 by Agatha Christie

Classic Mystery

One (out of many) of the things I love about Christie is that it isn't necessary to read her books in order.  Serial mysteries become tiresome as one scrambles about trying to figure out which to read next and getting angry when one has read the wrong book out of sequence.  Christie's books aren't like that and it's a pleasure finding them in garage sales or old book sales and buying them without a thought of whether it comes next or not.

This one is actually the first I've seen which relied one a book previous, although the references weren't really important.  In this book, Poirot has been called in to investigate the death of a child during a Hallowe'en party.  The child was forcibly drowned in an apple-bobbing bucket during a busy party, but no one can figure out the who might have done it.  Poirot's investigation unveils some very unpleasant skeletons in a few family closets and there are soon many suspects.  Don't think you'll guess the secret, though!  Unless you're as clever as Poirot (or Christie), you'll be guessing right up to the last page.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Great Book for Adolescent Girls

Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye

Adolescent Action/Adventure/Survival

Cat has slowly rebuilt her life after her father's death on nearby Storm Mountain.  She has a healthy respect for the environment and has devoted her time to learning everything she can about mountain climbing.  Her cousin Ty is the exact opposite, although he also lost his father, twin to Cat's, on the same mountain during the same storm.  Ty is a devil-may-care, hang by the seat of his pants kind of person and Cats knows how very dangerous this attitude can be while mountain climbing.  Ty gets the brilliant idea to release their fathers' ashes at the site of their deaths on the anniversary of that date.  Cat says no--she isn't ready to let go of her father yet.  Not to be deterred, Ty steals the ashes--and Cat's dog--in the middle of the night and heads to Storm Mountain and right into a blizzard.  With both their mothers gone and the storm getting worse, Cat has no choice but to swallow her fears, ignore reason, and plunge into the storm to save Ty and her beloved dog.

What I loved about this book was the strong female character.  There are so few action adventure books for adolescent girls.  The adventure story turns into one of survival as Cat struggles to keep them all alive during a blizzard and avalanche.  There are also great messages about grieving, knowing when to say goodbye, making a new start, and the important of family.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hate Math, Loved This Book

Freakonomics:  A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunbar

Nonfiction


I would never have thought that I would ever read an economics book.  And, if I did, I would never have guessed I could have stayed awake, much less found it fascinating. But, I did and I did.

Even if you abhor any scent of mathematics, as I do, this book is so eminently easy to read.  One of the authors is a journalist and crafts each chapter in a way I found to be interesting and relevant and eye-opening.

The focus of he book is with Steven Levitt, a guru of economics who doesn't write to think about boring, old statistics.  Well, actually he does but he presents them in a way that are too interesting to ignore.  Some examples:  why do real estate agents so eager to settle for less money on a sale when it means less money in their pocket? What do abortions and national crime rates have in common?  Why do drug dealers live with their mothers?  If you've ever thought any of these seemingly random thoughts, this is probably a book you would enjoy.

What I really like about it is that the authors don't shy away from controversial topics and just let the numbers speak for themselves.  And, while I don't like math, I know that numbers can only be manipulated so much; they just can't lie.  I'm a bit hooked on the topic now and am rushing to get the next book by the two, Superfreakonomics.  After reading this, you'll probably be a bit freakish about numbers too.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

It's Always a Pleasure to Read a Brown

Inferno by Dan Brown

Fiction/History Mystery/Adventure/Thriller

I always wait with gleeful anticipation the next release of any of Dan Brown's books.  He can always be counted on to provide a solid, engaging read with unexpected plot twists and delicious historical mysteries.

This book was no exception.  In this latest installment of the adventures of Professor Langdon, he is suffering from amnesia and wakes up in a hospital being shot at. His rescuer, a young doctor, soon becomes involved in the chase and two try and backtrack to help Langdon discover why anyone would want to kill him.  Naturally, the reasons are long and convoluted and filled with both historical fiction and fact.  This book focuses on the real-life Dante and his work, "Inferno".  If you've never read, don't worry.  There is enough explanation in the book for even a casual literary lover.

I do love Brown's work, but, honestly I'm getting tired of him.  I mean, come on!  How can one guy have so many adventures?  It's starting to stretch believability a bit too much.  This book would have been much better if there were another main character and Langdon was relegated to an advisor of some sort.  I am also a bit perplexed by the ending. Talk about a cliffhanger!  I hope it means this book might just have a sequel.  There's definitely enough left undone that a complete other book could remedy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cute, Sweet Read

Friends:  Snake and Lizard by Joy Crowley

Elementary Fiction

Wen I first ordered this book, I went off the information provided that it was for "primary" readers.  This is most certainly not the case.  The book would be a great read-aloud for primary-aged children, in bits and chapters.  But an independent reader couldn't tackle the book until elementary school.  It's a fairly lengthy chapter book.

The stories inside deal with the friendship of Snake and Lizard, who live in a desert and have not-so-remarkable adventures, which is not to say the book is boring.  However, what is remarkable to a couple of cold-blooded desert dwellers is old hat to humans who have seen more of the world.  Their naiveté is charming and the stories are cute, filled with fun.  Many of them have valuable, but not preachy, lessons about friendship, how to treat others, lying, exaggeration, etc. 

I believe this is the second in a series, but you won't suffer from confusion if you start with this one first.  Overall, a sweet and funny read.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Excellent Gift Book

The Galapagos:  A Natural History by Henry Nicholls

Nonfiction/History

This book is one of those that are so delightful to own and to read.  It is a tactile pleasure for the true bibliophile, one of those rare breed who love the feel of a book as much as the words within.  The cover illustrations immediately draw the reader to the pages and are reminiscent of John James Audubon's best work.  The deckled edges, heavy paper, and cream tone make it feel like a gift book.  If you're thinking of purchasing, definitely buy the print version because the physical components are as important as the ideas.

The ideas, though, are quite fascinating, if you're into Darwin.  I had been reading a lot of Darwin and happened upon this book.  I wanted to read more of his theories without having to delve into his original works, parts of which I've read and found a bit boring.  This book did provide a bit more excitement, but it won't make you grit your teeth with thrills.  It is, instead, a fascinating and gentle historical read about natural selection as seen upon the Galapagos Islands.  I do not claim to be a naturalist and could only name about 15 birds by sight if I were hard-pressed.  However, the text and explanations were fascinating to me and I think even a casual reader of natural history would find something in this book to love.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Deep Waters

Jesse Stone #3:  Death in Paradise by Robert Parker

Mystery/Thriller

I so enjoy reading Jesse Stone books.  What I most like about them isn't necessarily the mystery (which is always superbly plotted), or the adventure (which is often knuckle-biting), it's the character of Jesse.

Jesse is a human with a lot of human mistakes.  He is an alcoholic, not recovering, and has real issues with his on-again, off-again ex-wife.  I love that Parker doesn't make any excuses for Jesse's behavior and that Jesse doesn't make any for himself.  Usually, in a book, the character is recovering from some addiction.  In this book, and the others in the series so far, Jesse isn't recovering.  He fights his demons in front of the reader and it's so refreshing to read about a "real" person with problems who isn't always successful in dealing with them.

In this series installment, Jesse is hot on the trail of a murder.  A local teenager is found floating in the lake and Jesse and his not-so-crackpot team of police dive in to the mystery only to discover the waters are a lot deeper than they look.  Soon, the tiny police force is mixed up in the gang, prostitution, and child molestation. As always, the plot is so tightly written.  It's a pleasure to see Jesse's mind at work and I love that he is changing man, book by book. Can't wait to read the next one!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bizarre

Survivor by Chuck Palahnuik

Adult Fiction

I am becoming less and less a fan of Palahnuik.  I have read several of his books and think I must have peaked early on because they get worse and worse as I go.

This book is about a religious cult survivor who has become a maid or cleaning person who also, apparently, runs a suicide hotline advising people to commit suicide and has the hots for a girl who can tell the future.  Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it.

There are so many things to loathe about the book. Every character in it is dislikable and confusing.  The plot is confusing, especially since it doesn't really get going with a plot until about 75% in.  The formatting is so awful.  It is NOT worthy to abandon traditional forms of punctuation.  Punctuation has a purpose--it makes things readable.  When you don't use it, things become unreadable.  This is unreadable.  Although, even if it had formatting, everything else about it was so awful, I still wouldn't like it.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fun, Mystery, Adventure

Death of a Kingfisher:  Hamish Macbeth #28 by M.C. Beaton

English Mystery

This is my second Hamish Macbeth mystery and the 28th in the series. I'm starting to count myself a true fan, even though I'm not really reading them in order. I like them so much, I'll probably go back to #1 and start properly. It isn't complicated to follow, but there are some romantic allusions I'd like to have the backstory too because Hamish just seems so irritated by his exes.

In this story, a Kingfisher bird is found hanged and its nest and young are destroyed and poisoned. While detecting that crime, other crimes start popping up all over town and soon Hamish is on the trail of a thief, birdkiller, and murderer. The plot is complicated by a love interest for Hamish, one he should ignore because she's probably a criminal. Hamish is unable to control his urges, though, and flits through the book bouncing from one unpleasant feminine encounter after another.

These are light-hearted, fun mysteries to read (well, except for the murders, of course). I'm quite a fan of Hamish. He reminds me a bit of Don Knotts's character Barney Fife in "The Andy Griffith Show". Hamish is a bit of a goof, although he does seem to have a bit more common sense and detective prowess. Watching him bumble along and get irritate and then irritate those around him is so funny. M.C. Beaton has never disappointed and I'm delighted to follow her on another mysterious, humorous adventure series