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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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Teenage Creepfest

Sleepwalkers by J. Gabriel Gates
(Young Adult Horror)

This book is deceptive.  It starts off with a simple mystery to solve.  Caleb is about to go off to college but decides to take a break for the summer.  He receives a letter from a childhood friend asking for help.

It starts so simply and then so quickly turns to something full of horror.  When Caleb and his friend Bean travel back to his childhood home, everything goes wrong.  When trying to find Christine and help her, they discover she is being held prisoner in a dream asylum and when I used the word horror, I meant it.  True Stephen King-horror.

Caleb's childhood hometown has a big problem.  Hundreds of people (mostly children) are missing.  Memories Caleb doesn't want to remember are resurfacing and what is he going to do to solve the problem.  He can't just ignore such atrocities.  Can he?

This book should clearly be for older teens or young adults--NC17 rating or older.  Besides the horror aspect, there are other mature scenes that are just inappropriate for much younger readers.

Plus, it absolutely scared the pants off me!  I totally see this turning into a great horror movie one day. It plays to your darkest fears and pushes the envelope--don't read it late at night.  You will be sorry!  The action, characterization and setting are dripping full of scary and the ending just segues into waiting for the next installment.  If scary is your thing, this book is it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not Just for Christmas

Christmas at the White House by Jennifer Boswell Pickens
I first started reading this book around the Christmas season but found I just couldn't finish it all as quickly as I would have liked.  I often have this problem with reading a photography book-especially one as breathtaking as this one.

This book is the story of different Presidential First Ladies and their personal and public Christmas trees as well as the unique contribution each woman, and family, had on the White House, both monument and home.  The book was written by a variety of contributors and many of the essays were written by the First Ladies themselves so the writing is filled with both personal warmth and public awe.

Some of the most amazing stories come from Jackie Kennedy (whose themed trees and ornaments were made by and for less fortunate orphans, abandoned children and the disabled); Lady Bird Johnson (who decorated for Christmas and transitioned the country in a time of mourning and horror of the Vietnam War); Pat Nixon (who started the traditions of an ornament representing each state, candlelight tours and a gingerbread house); Betty Ford (who fashioned and encouraged handmade ornaments to reflect the country's economic reality); and Rosalynn Carter (who brought mental health out of the closet and onto the nation's Christmas tree).  Each First Lady comes across as a woman, wife and mother first and then a decorator last.  The stories are charming, funny and sad.  In short, this just isn't a book that can be breezed through.  It isn't one to leave on the coffee table for visitors (who will be most impressed with the photographs, most of which I've never seen); but is a book to be read and thought about. 

Through it all, one fact remains--each tree was a symbol of the family and woman who lived there and transcends the mere decorations to allow the reader to see something personal and warm and so very human.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Better Than Percy

The Lost Heroes of Olympus, Book One:  The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
I'm a bit angry with myself.  I avoided this book series for so long because I thought it just couldn't be as good as the Percy Jackson series.  How wrong I was--and how much time I wasted!

This book started off with a bang-just like all Riordan's other books.  A wonderful combination of humor, adventure and loss-all carefully designed to pull the reader in and never let her go.  Only a very few authors reach this lofty goal and Riordan is one of the best.

The format of the book is the same as Percy:  same three character set up-2 boys and a girl (Jason, Piper and Leo) with a latent romance simmering in the background.  At first, I was disappointed because I knew the same formula couldn't capture the magic of the other series. But, then I saw the two minor characters weren't minor at all and I really liked that part.  Each seem to be equally important with their own secrets and agendas. 

Jason is the main Main character and is suffering from one mother lode of amnesia.  He remembers pits and pieces of things but his real character is a mystery to him and the reader.  Truly, it isn't clear if he is the bad guy or not and this aspect is so tantalizing.  Piper has some secrets of her own and she's more than a little miffed that her true-love, Jason, doesn't seem to remember her.  Leo is the third in this trilogy and isn't the playful goof he seems to be.  He has his own dark curse that he wants to keep hidden.

The three are told early on they are the children of gods and are given a task:  rescue Hera....or else.

What I loved most about this series was the Roman mythology.  It totally sent me into a spin and had me rushing to brush up on Roman gods and goddesses.  I actually like this series better than the Percy Jason one, which really surprised me.  There was more action and more mythology and a mystery that had me guessing along to the very last chapter.  Book One ends gearing up for the very next chapter in Book Tow and snap!  Just like that, Riordan has me hooked again.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Must Have Been Written for Matthew McConaughey

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
(Adult Crime Thriller)

As soon as I started reading this book, I could totally picture Matthew McConaughey playing this part and this was well before the movie came out.  It was amazing how much it reminded me of John Grisham and ALL the roles McConaughey has played.

Michael "Mickey" Haller is a sleazy defense attorney.  His ex-wife is in the prosecutor's office and his second ex-wife is his secretary.  How does he do that?  Even though there is much to dislike about him, you can't help but fall for his charm.

Haller is hired by a man accused of rape and murder.  That case soon leads to the trail of a serial killer and ties in with another, older, case of Haller's.  What I at first thought was going to be  run-of-the-mill lawyer thriller turned into a story with more depth than my aunt's lasagna and with just as much spice.

The entire  book is one mystery within another that can only be solved through Haller's genius court skills, and it's doubtful he can pull the whole thing off.  The book is at times humorous and sad but always full of action and suspense and left me with some hope for Haller in the next book (there has to be another!)  And, like all good books, I doubt very much the movie can compete with such a great story.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lots of Meat in This Crime Thriller

The Sausage Maker's Daughters by AGS Johnson
(Adult Thriller)

Every story, and sausage, should have a spicy recipe:  This story is part drama, part courtroom thriller with just the right amount of betrayal, secrecy and tragedy thrown in for a great read.

Kip is the youngest of four daughters of a famed sausage maker in Wisconsin.  Her mother died quite young and each member of the family still struggles with that loss.  At the very beginning of the story, Kip is arrested for the murder of her brother-in-law and ex-lover.  He is found dead and aroused in Kip's bed with her standing beside him, dripping wet and confused.

What follows is a series of flashbacks that showcases how all these young women dealt, or didn't deal, with losing their mother so young.  Through it all, the reader is pulled along, becoming so involved in the family drama that you almost forget there is a mystery to solve.

At first, I though the background of the book seemed a bit tedious, but when the trial of Kip begins, I saw how very necessary all the details were.  The pace of the story skyrockets during the second half, the trial part of the book, and speeds along so quickly that it became impossible to put the book down. 

And, at the end, I discovered that the mystery and trial of Kip wasn't the real focus of the book at all, but the completely dysfunctional family that was absolutely riveting to the last period in the story.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Great for Any Teacher

The Journey of the Raindrop by Suzanne Burkett
(Children's; Motivational)
I decided to read this book because of all the reviews that talked about the great motivational read.  However, with my lenses of a schoolteacher, I saw it in an entirely new light.

In summary, it is the story of Little Raindrop, who falls to earth one day. He is startled and fearful and is swept along on his life adventure and misadventure.

This very short story would be a terrific teacher book.  All the time I was reading, I kept picturing lessons on personification, onomatopoeia, story sequencing, the water cycle.....As a motivational story, I also saw amazing lessons on making decisions, being afraid, taking chances, trusting in your instincts.....It would a great aloud, having students illustrate the story as you go or as a reader's theatre, having students read and act it out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


South of Salem: An Allegra Fairweather Mystery by Janni Nell

Allegra is a paranormal investigator, a job her mother hates until she need Allegra to help her current husband who just happens to haunted by a ghost.  Allegra is helped in her career by a guardian angel named Caspar that she has the serious hots for and he seems to reciprocate, or he would if it weren't against the guardian angel code.  In the midst of all this drama, there is also some serious sister rivalry and mother jealousy and the main character's own angst that her family can't accept her for just who she is.  Not a light mystery to just toss aside; this one will keep your attention the whole time with the intricacies of the plot.

My only complaint about this book was that it seemed to be the second in a series.  There was some background information I didn't feel privy too so I wonder if there is another one out there....

Otherwise it was a great story!  (Fully deserving of the previous exclamation point which I don't give out lightly.)  Books don't usually scare me but this one had me creeped out.  The ghost in the book was so malevolent that I had goosebumps running up my arms at several points.  I also loved the mystery.  It was my favorite kind-family secrets and history; the kind that kept me glued to the pages until the very end.  This is a series I will definitely keep checking out.

Monday, March 5, 2012

It Had Me At "Hello"

Moonlight on Linoleum: A Daughter's Memoir by Terry Helwig
(Adult Memoir)

To over use a trite phrase, this book had me at "Hello".  To be honest about it, it had me at the "Foreword" (but that doesn't sound nearly so good).  As soon as I started reading this book, it pulled me in and smothered me and just wouldn't let me go until I read every blessed word.o
Terry tells the story of her life--being the daughter of a mother who is mentally ill and struggles with substance abuse.  Ultimately, it is the story of a child balancing adulthood and childhood and being the parent to a patent.  I'd love to give it more of a summary, but that is best part--boiled down to the truest substance.

It is hauntingly and beautifully written.  This is the book of a true master, weaving her story like a spider and pulling the reader in, line by gossamer line.  It is a story of sadness and tragedy; but, more importantly, it is also a story of hope and enduring love.  It calls to mind a favorite quote of mine by Jan Karon, "Everything that is loved cost a price."  To know that one can survive such heartache as is depicted and then look back on it unflinchingly is a thing to be marveled at.  I don't know how to say more--it's like trying to give words to a beautiful sunrise.  It just is.......beautiful.

(Note:  I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books, for my honest review.  The opinions expressed here are my own.)