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, January 29, 2012

A Home-Crafting Mystery

Lye in Wait by Cricket McRae
(Adult Mystery)

Sophie Mae Reynolds runs a home business making soaps, bath salts, lotions, etc.  Should be a cushy life, one far away from murder and mayhem.  Yet, when Sophie finds her next-door neighbor and handyman murdered in her studio, crime comes crashing through the back door.

When police determine that Walter, the handyman, died in Sophie's studio after drinking lye, she turns into their number one suspect.  Sophie is determined to prove them wrong and clear her name.

I really liked the characters in this book.  Sophie is both hard-headed and stubborn and those traits lead her to uncover some clues that point to the murderer.  Her detective skills are both exasperating to local law enforcement agent Barr Ambrose and endearing and the romantic side-note is a nice surprise.

What I especially like about it was more than just the cozy feel. Sometimes, cozy mysteries can leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed but this had quite a bit of unraveling to do and kept my attention right to the end.  I loved the multi-generational feel to the story.  It is one that many family members could read and decode together--something for everyone.  No grisly murders, no bad language-nothing that would offend a young adult or elderly grandma.   In all, a pleasant introduction to this series and author and one I will be checking out again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Sweet Read

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
(Adolescent Fiction for Girls)

The Sweetest Thing is one sweet read--akin to chocolate in that it is both sweet, yet bitter; loving, yet biting;  nourishing, yet heartbreaking.  This is one book that has it all.

Sheridan (a teenager with wisdom and guts beyond her years) lives in Michigan and runs her own cake-decorating business.  Her mother abandoned Sheridan and her father when she was young and decorating cakes is the only connection they have left.  She pours her heart and soul into everything she makes, hoping her mother might just show back up and appreciate the bond they once shared.  Sheridan has been secretly trying to find her mother for years and is determined to bring her family back together through sheer force of will.

Her dad just got his own reality TV cooking show and wants to move them to New York.  That would mean Sheridan's mother wouldn't know where to find her plus she would lose her best friend AND the hottest guy in school who just might have a crush on her.  Pretty much everything in Sheridan's life comes to a head and it seems as if nothing is going right.  Haven't we all had times like this?

I absolutely loved this book.  The characters are so real I am sure they must actually exist somewhere. I wish they did-I would love to call Sheridan up and either hug her or kick her or maybe just give her some strong advice.  Either choice, she is a character I WISH was real because she's a person I would really like to know and one I am adding to my literary BFF list (right behind Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstockings).  I love female characters with some chutzpah and this girl has plenty.  She isn't afraid to tackle the big issues and isn't going to give up her dream, no matter how hopeless.

 The book was both funny and sad and stubborn.  The heartbreak throughout was so real it jumps off the page.  By the end of the book, I just sat and cried.....and cried.....and cried.  One I would recommend to any adolescent reader out there-it is Chic-Lit at its very best.  A great read, a great cry.  Thank you, Ms. Mandelski.  I hope you have many more up your sleeve.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The End of the Series...or Is It?

39 Clues:  Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix
(Adolescent Thriller)

The most interesting thing about this entire series is that it was written by different authors, some of the very best adolescent authors writing today.  I was delighted to find Haddix at the helm of this latest, and last, installment.  She is one of my favorite adolescent authors and I knew she would not disappoint. 

Watching the book and trying to determine how this author's style is different from the one before it is kind of like a puzzle. This book had much more reflection in it than Rick Riordan's go at the series, which was mostly adrenaline on the run.

In case you don't know what the series is about, it concerns two siblings, Amy and Dan.  Orphaned at a young age, they are left a mysterious challenge by their grandmother in her will:  Find the 39 clues and become the holder of the greatest knowledge the world has ever known along with fabulous wealth.  Each book in the series has them one step closer to the ultimate mystery, while simultaneously competing against warring family members.

In this last installment, Amy and Dan and all the youths in the book are coming to terms with their past decisions and their family's shortcomings while trying to decide for themselves the adult they want to become.  They start questioning the decision of their parents and not just following their orders.  This last one is so unique because it is the first time the reader gets to see the inside thoughts of Ian Kabra and Jonah Wizard, two main antagonists from the beginning.

This last book in the series wrapped up nicely and paved the way for a brand new series with these characters, which I have just ordered. 

One suggestion:  read the series straight through with no books between them.  It was very easy to forget important clues and the book right before it. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A New Favorite Detective

Nick of Time by Tim Downs
(Adult Mystery)

I am going to wax so eloquent about this book that some of you may think I am the author's mother...or perhaps I have been paid for the review.  Not so!  This is truly one of the best detective stories I've ever read and I have fallen in love with the main character.  (You know, in just that literary way.)

Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist-a scientist who studies bugs that are attracted to human remains.  Think Gil Grissom of CSI.  He is weird, coldly calculating and excruciatingly odd.  And, about to be married.  Lucky girl.  Nick has to leave Alena, his fiancee, just days before the wedding at he request of a friend who needs help with a murder investigation.  When that friend is also murdered, Nick has just a few days to solve the crime and be back before the wedding. 

Honestly, I wanted to stop reading on page 2 so that I could go back and begin this one with the first in the series (I believe this is the 7th one in the Bugman Series). 

The book was absolutely hilarious-witty and flippant and had laughing loudly at very inconvenient times.  Nick's comebacks and one-liners had me losing myself in the story, absolutely convinced he is too 'real' to be 'fake'.  The realistic characters and a plot that keeps you coming back was just icing on the cake.  I loved the ending and rushed right to my computer to start this series all over again.  Ahh, a new mystery man to love--what a great way to start a new year!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Book About Books

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

This is the story of libraries-how they are created; how they are managed; how they are loved--a story of eccentricities and changes of how and what we read.  It is the story of the author's own library as well as famous historical libraries and little-known yet fascinating libraries.  Think this subject isn't book-worthy?  Then, I shall quote from the book itself, "There speaks a dolt, someone utterly insensitive, in intellectual or any other terms, to the experience of reading."

What is more delightful than wandering down stacks of books, entire worlds waiting at your fingertips?  What is more frustrating than deciding how to organize and re-organize your own library?  All questions and musings will be asked and mused over.

But, it isn't just idle reflections gathered in these pages.  Real stories and dilemmas linger there, too.  Consider:
  • With all the new digital media formats, will books as we know them ever become obsolete?  If all books become a digitized file, what happens if there is a collapse of our technological world; will all that knowledge then become obsolete?
  • The poignant and powerful and secretive libraries that sprung up in the concentration camps during the Holocaust.  Somehow, a book would be smuggled in and the victims of the camp would be allotted one hour, alone, to read before passing on the book to another.  "Another young Polish victim, recalling the days of fear and discouragement, had to say:  The book was my best friend, it never betrayed me; it comforted me in my despair; it told me I was not alone."
  • If either of these stories peak your interest, a plethora more await in this book.

If I had to compare this book to music, it would be of the classical bent-peaceful, serene, timeless, something important to read because it will make you a better person, a better reader.

If you love the smell and feel of a book, old or new....look no further.  "Lys ce que voudra Read As You Please"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Mystery with a Female Detective

The Shoeless Kid by Marcelle Dube
(Adult Mystery)

A mystery with a female detective, especially a police procedural one, is hard to find.  Dube doesn't disappoint.

When Kate takes over as a small-town police chief, she in unprepared for the 'good-old-boy's' club in the department.  The staff undermines all her decisions and she soon begins to second guess everything she does and knows. 

When a rookie at the station has a funny feeling about a tennis shoes brought in by a homeless man, Kate almost passes on the case, thinking her female instincts need to be tamped down.  After, no crime has been committed.  The funny feeling gets to Kate.  But should she trust her instincts?  That led her wrong once before and she has a lot to prove to the mostly male department she is currently assigned to.  However, old habits die hard and Kate launches an investigation that leads to a thrilling mystery ride.

This is probably not a crime thriller that most men would be interested in.  There is  a lot of soul-searching and self-reflection by the main character and the book seems to be more about Kate's filling in her new shoes as police chief rather than figuring out the mystery of a shoeless kid.

As a woman, I enjoyed the introspection, the trumping of male chauvinism and the mystery.  Overall, an author I'm glad I was introduced to and one I will be on the lookout for.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An Important,Guilty Read

Field Notes from a Catastrophe:  Man, Nature and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

On the inside front cover of the book, there is this claim:  "The Most Important Book About Life on Earth in Over Forty Years".  I expect it has lived up to that. 

This nonfiction book is an extremely scientific look at our mother plant with measurements, tables and data.  Be prepared to study and cogitate with this read.  It reminds me of Al Gore's prize-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth.

The book was published in 2006 and was dire news even then.  Consider these sobering stats:
  • 15 to 37% of plants and animals could go extinct by climate change and man taking over their areas of habitation
  • Drought is considered 'severe' across the US and likely to continue to deteriorate
  • US policy is embarrassing and ridiculous and any strides made in 2006 have since been mostly repealed and/or abolished.
How much worse is it today?  A quote from the book, "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advance society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing."

The book made me cringe, alternating between shame at my species and shame at my own personal laziness.  After reading it, I have changed my slovenly way and have vowed to do more of my own personal share to change this earth, including reading more books like this one and doing more research.  If you know of others, send them my way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Complex Mystery

The Rock Hole: a Red River Mystery by Reavis Wortham
(Adult Mystery)

Set in 1960's post-Vietnam in a small border community of Texas and Oklahoma, this book had more depth than I am used in a mystery.  Usually, even with graphic, gritty mysteries, I can allow my mind to simply skip along and not have to worry too much about characterization or intricate plot twists.  Not so with this selection.

An animal mutilator and torturer is on the loose.  It's simply a matter of time before his victims turn to humans.  Aging Constable Ned is afraid the killer is a member of his close-knit community.  When his grandson Top comes to stay, the killer starts to target Ned's family.  Ned has to start relying on more than his experience and traditional ways of crime-solving if he wants to stop the next strike.

The plot of this story rolls along like the Red River described in the book, winding to a surprising and satisfying climax.  The vernacular is well-done and really adds to the story.  It is told from different points of view ranging from an elderly grandfather to a 10-year old grandson and had me searching for clues in all their thoughts and speeches.

It isn't your typical mystery.  If you're ready for a complex story about complex lives, look no further.  I shall certainly be checking out Reavis Wortham's other books.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Constitutes a 'Classic'?

La Mare au Diable (The Devil's Pool) by George Sand

I suspect this book is a classic in only one sense of the word--it's oldness.  Goodness knows, there is no other reason to read it. 

The first part of the book is a preaching by the author against popular culture and the public's need to celebrate it.  Not much has seemed to change since 1846, huh?  Instead, Sand states, we should celebrate the life of a simple man.

The second part of the book is the story of a simple man.  Germain is a hard-working widower with three children.  At first glance, he seems little more than the cow he tends, an animal of drudgery.  But he unexpectedly falls in love with a neighbor's daughter and the pace picks up a little.  The problem?  She claims he is way too old her her.  He's, like OMG, 28, and past his ripeness.  When he saves her virtue from a highwayman, she relents and agrees to marry him.

The last part of the book is the most interesting.  It is a fascinating account of the rituals of a French peasant wedding, lasting three days and involving an unique use of cabbage.

There is little in this book to interest the average reader, so unless you're really into French peasants, skip this one altogether.