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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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Just Not For Me

At Season's End by Eric Herndershot
Adolescent Girl

It was a very sweet book, a very safe book-a book you could give to a young daughter without any fear of there being something questionable or inappropriate in it.  It was squeaky clean!  And yet, I found the book to be a little old-fashioned for my taste.  Not that I'm a wild child by any means, but the author's religious affiliation of Latter Day Saintliness really shone through and put me off the book.

Sal and her family are migrant farm workers and are very desperately poor but are happy to be together.  They encounter terrible tragedies, both poverty-driven and other, but the promise of the love of another migrant farm worker pulls Sal through it all.

I did enjoy the setting and time period the book.  The details and speech were very realistic and the scenes and images of migrant farm families during the Depression were heartbreaking.  Otherwise, just an empty read with no real meat for me.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Classic Mystery of Modern Times

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

Adult Murder Mystery

Kay Scarpetta has just landed the job of Virginia State Medical Examiner and not everyone in town is happy about the development.  On top of new job blues, Scarpetta's life is complicated personally.  Her young niece has just come to stay for an indefinite amount of time due to family troubles.  Her romantic prospects aren't much better--Scarpetta is more than a little attracted to a local political bigwig in a relationship that skates very close to being unethical.

Plus, if she doesn't solve her new case, then her new job might just be a thing of the past.  As one murder turns into a potential serial killing spree, Scarpetta trails the clues that is leading too close to home and when someone hacks into her computer at work, she's afraid she'll take all the heat and a killer might get off scot-free.

That's a lot of drama packed into one medium sized book--plus an intricate murder mystery that kept me guessing the whole way through.  Honestly, the ending was a complete surprise as well as a knuckle-biter.  This series reads like a dry CSI  and Kay Scarpetta is drier than ice (the dry variety).  She is humorless and clinical in her technique and Cornwell's writing matches that all the way through.  It is one of those rare books that feels as if the author IS the main character, so well-matched are the tone and voice in the book.  I love the character of Scarpetta--finally, a woman with a life as complicated as mine (minus the dead bodies) that just doesn't get all resolved by the last page.  I already downloaded all the others on my Kindle and can't wait to get started!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Historical Fiction at Its Finest

The Color Of Lightning by Paulette Jiles
Historical Fiction

This is a true story you probably haven't heard before--an unknown tale about a man and his quest for justice and love that is haunting and tragic and beautiful.

Britt Johnson is starting a new life in Texas after recently being freed from his life as a slave in Kentucky.  He and his wife and 3 kids buy a little farm and start on a new beginning.  When Britt leaves to gather supplies, Native Americans launch a brutal and bloody attack on the small settlement, attacking the women and children left behind.  While many are killed, Britt's wife and two children are taken captive.  Britt returns to find one son dead and his dreams for a new life destroyed.  Britt is determined to get his family back and stops at nothing to find and save them.

The description of the attack was so brutal and horrific and rang so utterly true that I had to stop reading briefly and walk away.  It truly bends the mind to realize what early settlers endured-such pain and conditions that most of us read about as if it were fiction only.  To see it written about and know it actually happened to a woman and her children was upsetting and sobering.  This is not a tale to be read lightly.  The life of the kidnapped family is both horrid and fascinating; reading the grim description of their ordeal and the suffering is addictive.  I had to stop reading and do some research on the stories of Indian kidnappings because of all the details in the story--it made me want to know more.  It seemed too much to be true and yet was.  Learning that some victims refused to go 'home' after a life with their captors and the many cultural understandings on both sides was mind-boggling.

Even if the story weren't so captivating, Jiles's prose would be.  Her words flow along like a river, beautiful and poetic even when describing man's most horrifying brutality.  Jiles reminds me why I love historical fiction--the best stories are those already lived through.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stone Child by Dan Poblicki
(Adolescent and Up, Fantasy)

Eddie is absolutely delighted to discover his family is moving to the hometown of his favorite author, Nathaniel Olmstead.  However, that delight turns to horror with an ominous car ride when a strange creature runs in front of the family car, causing a wreck.

Eddie soon learns that Olmstead has disappeared into thin air years ago and everyone in town seems to be afraid to even mention his name.  The entire town seems abandoned and Eddie only finds one friend with a similar interest, a boy whose mother owns the local bookstore and who is also a huge Olmstead fan.  Eddie and his new friend discover that Olmstead's books have somehow come alive and are taking over the town and everyone and everything in it.  When Eddie's mother starts writing with Olmstead's pen, Eddie is afraid she will also be possessed.

This book was not what I was expecting but I still liked it. Based on the cover and title, I somehow expected it to be a ghost story but it turned out to be a mystery with just as much scary tingle as any ghost story.  It is a book I cannot wait to introduce to my students at school-action, adventure, mystery with a healthy dose of creepy creatures and other things that go bump in the night.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No Room for More

Room by Emma Donoghue
Fiction (Older Teens and Up)

This was one of the most affecting books I've read in a long time.

Told from the perspective of a five-year old boy who has lived his entire life in one room.  His mother was kidnapped as a college student and has been living in a shed, a room, for 7 years. 

The creativity of the writing, of the total innocent perspective of a child in such a horrific situation was unnerving and the entire story was a mystery.  Since we, as the reader, see everything through a child's eyes, we know something is not right but it takes a long time to put together the pieces.  The writer unveils the story as slowly as the rings of an onion peeling away, with each slice more painful and heart-wrenching.  The second part of the book was more tragic but also exhilarating and suspenseful.

So, when I said earlier that it was an affecting book, that's really the best way to describe it.  The book made me feel all the way through.  It was a subtle, invisible tug on my emotions--hope, despair, anger, excitement, dread, horror and, strangely, hilarity in parts.  By the end, I was an emotional wreck--exhausted.  Emma Donoghue knows just which buttons to push.  Thank you, Ms. D., I loved it and come back to it time and again in my mind without realizing it.  It is a book that will stay with you for a long time.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

In Another Life

Rose:  My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison


This was an absolutely fascinating book--almost like reading about an alien life form!  It confounds the mind to read about a woman who led such a life as this--a life that is so far from what most of us consider normal that it is almost as if we are two different creatures on the same planet. 

Rosina Harrison spent her entire life in servitude to the Astor Family, one of the richest, most powerful and influential families in both America and Britain.  For almost 40 years, Rose worked for the Astor's for 6 1/2 days per week.  The situation was almost caste like, so divided by class lines that it is almost impossible for an American to understand it.  Rose devoted her entire adult life to the care and comfort of perhaps the most notorious Astor:  Viscountess Nancy.  Lady Astor was a powerful, outspoken woman during a time when such a thing was scandalous.  Today, she is known for her wit, her scathing comebacks and her outlandish parties as well as her political and humanitarian causes.  Little, though, was written about the woman who took care of Lady Astor's every want and need for most of her adult life, Rosina. 

I was enthralled by this story-reading about a life so radically different from my own kept me glued to the pages.  My favorite parts were the stories about World War II and how both women shed their class differences for a common cause.  The book caused me to want to know about both women-especially the polarizing figure of Lady Astor. 

Finally, I didn't know whether to pity Rose or to envy her. While a life of servitude is something I would not choose, the life a 'commoner' like Rose found was one most of us can only dream of. She visited countries around the world; visited royalty and lived a life in the most beautiful homes on Earth. Was the trade-off worth it? Read and decide for yourself.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

Fairy Tale High:  The Curse of Blue Raine by CC Thomas
Adolescent and Up Fantasy

I finally got tired of waiting for all those publishing companies to discover me and just decided to discover myself.  Today, I am reviewing my OWN book.

Will I be honest?  Well, of course!  It's right up there in the Blog Title. 

Blue Raine is a girl who should have it all, right?  Her sister is Snow White, the prettiest, sweetest and most popular girl at Fairy Tale High.  And, maybe if there wasn't this curse hanging over her head, Blue's school year might go better.  And, maybe if the curse didn't have HER NAME on it, she might be more popular.  And, maybe.......what's the point of all that wishing?  The reality is that Blue has a lot to do before the night of her 17th birthday and no amount of wishing and fairy tale hoping will make it better.  If she can't get her act together by then, the fallout won't just be a bad school year; it might mean the death of the very thing she loves most in the world-her twin sister, Snow White.

Intrigued?  I am and I know how it ends!  Really, though, I wrote it for my students at school--those girls who are reluctant readers and a bit like me.  I would never have made a good fairy princess--I'm too rude and surly and smart-mouthed and any true girly-girl feels the same.  (Plus, it's reallllly funny.  Well, I think so.  I laugh at my jokes!)

And, just to shamelessly promote myself a little bit more, here is the Amazon link:  (I know, I'm blushing as I type)

Fairy Tale High: The Curse of Blue Raine

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Goosebumps Galore!

Speed Dating With the Dead by Scott Nicholson

Fantasy/Ghost Story

Ghost stories, real ghost stories not the new paranormal ones with fantastical creatures, are my very favorite!  I love reading about things that go bump in the night with shivers, sitting all curled up on the couch with every light in the house on.  It's really hard to find a good one, though, and I am disappointed more often than not.  This book did not disappoint!  There were goosebumps galore!

Digger is a ghost investigator and has planned a conference at a famed, haunted North Carolina inn (I love stories set in North Carolina!).  His real purpose for returning to the inn, though, was a promise he made to his late wife, Beth. Digger promised to return to the site of their honeymoon and allow Beth to contact him as a ghost should she ever die.

Digger has avoided the place for years, trying and failing to come to grips with her death.  Finally, he can stay away no longer but is certain her ghost will not appear.  Not much faith for a ghost hunter!  Digger brings his ghost hunting team which includes his and Beth's daughter, Kendra.  Kendra is a very reluctant ghost hunter.  She doesn't believe in all the hype and has no respect for her father, mostly because of his spiraling alcoholism.  Digger's secret attempts to find his wife's ghost and the conference members' attempts to contacts ghost opens a gate to a demon bent on taking over and soon there are more ghosts in the inn than living people!

The ending of the book was an explosion, both literally and figuratively.  It was full of action, adventure and ghosts!  I liked the book more than I thought I would.  I have had occasion to tag along with ghost hunters myself and the author portrayed everything just as ghost hunters do things in the 'field'.  There were never any moments I felt the story was faked or false and really enjoyed getting taken on a fun, but spooky, ghost ride!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Funny Man!

Napalm and Silly Putty by George Carlin

Adult Humor

While I have watched and listened to the great comic, I've never actually read one of his books before.  Shame on me!  I absolutely laughed my butt off (not literally or this book could also go in the self-help section **okay I tried some humor in memoriam).  This book is laugh-out-loud, hold-your-side kind of funny.  There were so many times I simply handed the book to the person next to me and said, "You have to read this!  Now!  Stop what you're doing and read it now so I can turn the page and keep reading!"  He's definitely raunchy and rude so if you're easily offended, Carlin isn't for you.

I wish I could give a brief synopsis of content but it's just so random and stream of consciousness.  If you like Carlin, you'll understand that.  True, some of the book and humor is a bit dated today because it was published so long ago and some technology is changing at the speed of light, but that just makes it all the funnier.  My favorite part was the airport section where everything is misnamed and how crazy the whole airline experience is.  "They mention that it's a nonstop flight.  Well, I must say I don't care for that sort of thing.  Call me old-fashioned but I insist that my flight stop.  Preferably at an airport."  I can only imagine if Carlin could see airports now.  Section after section just reads like a rolling comedy routine. 

Now, I can't wait to read his other books!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some Say the World Will End By Fire; Some By Ice

Trapped by Michael Northrop

Dystopian/Survival Thriller/ Teen and Up

When three best friends get trapped at school because of a freak snowstorm, they are mostly excited because school is letting out early.  Scotty seems to be the only one irritated and this is just because his game will be cancelled.  Soon enough, a basketball game is the least of his worries.  What starts out as a freak snowstorm turns into a raging blizzardous nightmare as the snow just doesn't stop falling.....for days. 

Scotty and his two best friends miss their only chance to leave and find themselves trapped in the school with a teacher, two class misfits and two of the most popular girls--and this is both a dream and a nightmare.  When the blizzard continues, the power fails and the small group realizes this after-school adventure is going to be a fight for survival.

Dystopian fiction is my absolute favorite and this one could certainly fit in that genre.  It has all the classic earmarks of a world gone mad and the reader isn't sure if this is just one bad snowstorm or something much worse.  Mostly I read dystopian fiction about plagues, viruses, earthquakes, etc. but an apocalypse by snow was very new.  While it could also be categorized as a survival story, I think the ending leaves an opening for future speculation. 

I really liked this book.  It had me hooked in the first chapter and even though it was blazing summer when I read it, I shivered in places at the description of the frigid horror of the main character.  I would have to recommend it PG13 and higher, though, because of a few sentences that might be inappropriate for adolescents.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Good Writing, Bad Host

Hostage by Robert Crais

(Adult Thriller)

In his former life, Jeff Talley was a hostage negotiator.  When a case went wrong, and a hostaged child murdered, Talley blames himself and has a complete breakdown.  He retreats to a bedroom community to serve as sheriff and abandons his old life--including his wife and daughter. 

When three locals punks rob a store and shoot the owner, they run straight to Talley's corner of the world, much to his horror.  Panicking, the three find a house to hide in, taking the occupants hostage.  They couldn't have picked a worse house as the owner is an accountant for the Mob.  Talley is thrust into the role of negotiator once more, although he fights it all the way.

While this story had all the plot points going for it, I just didn't enjoy it at all.  Jeff Talley seemed like a very static character to me and very whiny.  I so disliked him that I just couldn't identify with any of his decisions.  I was yearning for someone else (anyone else) in the book to take over and tell the story.  Because the writing was stellar, I am willing to give Robert Crais another try but I hope never to meet Jeff Talley again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

Two For the Dough by Janet Evanovitch
(Adult Comedy/Mystery)

This second book in the series was just as much fun as the first!

In this installment, Stephanie Plum has some new cases to solve without any real new tricks to solve them.  I've never seen a more inept detective (or bounty hunter), which is, of course, what makes these so fun!

Plum's new case is finding a bail jumper who also just happens to be cousin to Joe Morelli, her arch-nemesis and......potentially more.  Stephanie looks for help in some very nontraditional ways-by following her grandmother to funeral homes around town.  G'ma knows everyone but turns out to be as clumsy and nosy as her granddaughter.  When a shady undertaker hires her to find some missing caskets, Stephanie and Joe have to work together.  Just like in the first book, this is where the fun and trouble begins.

I actually think I liked this one even more than the first now that the romance is heating up between Stephanie and Joe.  Stephanie is just plum full of fun!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't Judge the Whole Series by This First Attempt

Artscape:  Ike Schwartz Mysteries by Frederick Ramsay

Ike Schwartz has retreated to his hometown in sleepy Virginia to 'semi-retire' from the FBI and serve as the local sheriff.  Normally, nothing exciting happens around town but when a multi-million dollar art heist occurs at the local college with 2 kidnapping victims and a murder, Ike knows he has to dust off his skills and put his private pain behind him.

Local college president Ruth has no intentions of turning over the case to bungling local law enforcement.  Soon, sparks are flying between the two as they race to solve the case before the FBI takes over and before the college loses a lot of needed funding.

This book is first in a series about Ike and Ruth.  I decided to read this because I had actually read a later book in the series and loved it and wanted to start at the beginning.  Honestly, I was a little disappointed.  The later books in the series are much more well-written and engaging and this one seems like an early first draft.  With that being said, I did actually like the book.  It is a light-hearted mystery that a lot of cozy fans will enjoy.  The background romantic tension and history of Ike is interesting.  The book is told from a variety of viewpoints, which threw me a little, but helps keep the action plugging along.

Don't judge the whole series by this first attempt-keep reading.  They get much better!