Monday, July 30, 2007

Only Strange People Go To Church by Laura Marney

Maria works at a day program with mentally and physically disabled adults. She is mandated by her agency to include her clients in the larger community.  Unfortunately she is finding it a challenge to get the Scottish working-class town where she lives to welcome her clients.  She decides to put on a community variety show and invite participation from all the community groups.  With the help of her spiritual guides, Madonna and Nelson Mandela, and a fascinating group of eccentric characters, will Maria succeed in creating a hit show?

This is a funny and endearing book. The community of Hexton is full of wonderful characters. Maria’s clients are all fully realized individuals. Also helping with the show are Ray, the mysterious and charismatic furniture maker who lets Maria use the deconsecrated church he is using as a workshop to hold her show, Alice, the leader of the senior citizen can-can dancer group, an evangelical Pastor, and a transvestite Madonna impersonator. Maria has some challenges, some romance, and some moral choices to make as she tries to fulfill her mandate to include her charges in the larger community.

Having worked with children and adults with special needs for over 25 years, I can relate to Maria’s situation. The humour and humanity of this book make it a very enjoyable read.

Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

I love these books! They are funny fantasy/adventure and marvelous social commentary. Pratchett, as noted by The Times (London) is the Jonathan Swift of our day. This isn't the best of the lot, but that's like saying it isn't the brightest diamond in the pile.

A child is born and is invested with great powers. Eight years later, he arrives at Unseen University where all the wizards are happy to follow him for the greater glory of their kind. (The general population tend to ignore them.)

Almost all are happy. Rincewind, who failed most of his wizardly studies, and the Librarian, who, by mistake, was transformed into an Orangutan and prefers to remain one, are not happy. Together with Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, Nijel, a hero-in-training, and The Luggage, they set out to save the world from the Apocolypse of the Horseman and Three Pedestrians.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death opens with a clever parody of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  It describes a group of pilgrims traveling toward Cambridge in Medieval times.  Among the group is a doctor, trained in Solerno Italy in the art of examining the bodies of the dead.  More unusual even than the doctor’s specialty in these superstitious times is the fact that she is a woman.  She is traveling incognito with an investigator/spy to look into the deaths and disappearances of children in Cambridge.  The children’s deaths are being blamed on the local Jews and King Henry has asked help from his cousin, the King of Italy, to solve the murders before all the Jews in Cambridge become victims of an angry populace.

Franklin’s novel is both an engaging and suspenseful murder mystery and a detailed historical novel. The mystery of the children’s deaths, and the uncovering of the identity of the perverted child killer, is intriguing. But it is the exploration of the character of Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar that is central to the novel. Adelia is a woman of science in a time of superstition. She is an independent woman in a time when women have no power and no rights. She is an agnostic and a humanist in a time when the Church and the Crown are struggling for supremacy: when Thomas a Becket’s death is still fresh.

To do her work as a doctor Adelia must pretend that she is just the assistant to one of her male companions. Much of the fun in the book is reading how she holds her own with the men around her. As the mystery unfolds there is political intrigue, religious controversy and even a little romance. The novel has a satisfying ending yet leads me to hope there will be a sequel and another opportunity to spend time with this fascinating character.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton

An oldie but goodie, this is the first time I've ever read anything by Anya Seton. This book was first published in 1944 and was a national bestseller that was made into a movie in 1946.

I would classify it a gothic romantic tale, complete with the clueless heroine, Miranda Wells, and the lord of the manor, Nicholas Van Ryn. Miranda lives on a farm with her parents and a lot of younger brothers and sisters. She is fanciful and prefers reading and daydreaming to churning butter or milking the cows. Her mother receives a letter from a distance relative who lives in a manor in upstate New York. The relative, Nicholas Van Ryn, needs a governess for his daughter. Nicholas is involved in a loveless marriage and Miranda soon falls in love with him. The book is full of the usual dark secrets, tenant unrest, and dark overtones.

I enjoyed reading this book, but it was a bit predicable. Perhaps it is because I read so many similar books when I was younger (Gothic romance held my attention for all my junior high and high school years).

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

12 yr old Nicky was taking a walk in the forest with her father when they heard the cry that would change their lives. The cry of a baby abandoned in the snow. Follow the events which cause the shadows and questions that laid still and quiet since the death of Nicky's mom and little sister surface, as does the mother of the abandoned child. Discover the choices which lead each person to be where they are and the little details which enable them to grow to be who they destined to become.

I found this book to be completely engrossing and could not put it down until the last page was turned. I could feel the emotions emanating from the characters. I was impressed with the vividness in which Anita Shreve was able to bring them to life. I found myself on a wild emotional roller coaster ride as I turned the pages. A must read.

BM Listing:
Light on Snow

Review by Tesse aka blissful2beme

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

Imagine for a moment that you genetically engineered as a child with avian DNA grafted to your human DNA by some really really bad scientists. The results of the experiment are superhuman strength and with wings that can even fly. Imagine for a moment that you were not the only successful DNA mixing experiment, instead of wings the other specimens were mixed with lupine DNA and were created to hunt and kill you. Imagine what kind of life you would lead if you escaped from the labs only to find out you were supposed to save the world in some manner no one is nice enough to tell you.. then what would you do....especially if you were also responsible for the care of your 5 siblings in your flock. And to top it all off you were only 14 years old to boot. Well this is the story of Max who just happens to be all of what I just asked you to imagine.

My reaction to the story: I ate it up in one day, well the first two books. The third is still on my wish list. I found the story to be full of action suspense and mystery. The story was refreshing and almost movie like. I would not be surprised if they did end up making a movie out of it. I found the characters to be believable as children and was happy with the character development. I liked it so much that I am considering to go buy book 3 just so I do not have to wait for a wish list

Books in series are:
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride)
Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (Maximum Ride)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees is the story of Missy Greer from Pittman County, Kentucky. She graduates high school, buys an old Volkswagon and leaves. She doesn't have a plan, she doesn't know where she is going, just that she wants a change. She drives till her car runs out of gas in Taylorville. There she decides to change her name to Taylor. Later, she stops for a burger and coffee at an old bar in the middle of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. As she goes back out to her car, a woman approaches her and puts a baby in the front seat of her car telling her to take it. When Taylor protests, the woman tells her she is the sister of the baby's mother. Then she leaves. Taylor takes the child with her and calls her Turtle because she clings to things like a mud turtle. Taylor's car has a blow out and she has no money for new tires. She has made it as far as Tucson, Arizona. She finds a job and rents a room from LouAnn Ruiz, another native Kentuckian. LouAnn has a brand new baby and they have been abandoned by LouAnn's husband. The story is about how they make a family out of themselves and the people around them that they grow to care about.

I really liked this book and I want to read the follow-up book "Pigs in Heaven". I went to a book talk by Barbara Kingsolver a couple of months ago and this was one of the books I purchased. I had never read anything by her before seeing her, but now have audios of several of her books and a copy of her newest book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" on my list of TBRs.

Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice

Cloud Nine is a tender very moving story of love and loss.
After a near-fatal battle with cancer Sarah Talbot gets a second chance at love. When a friend arranges a ride in a chartered plane for her birthday, she meets Will, a man still grieving the death of his son several years ago and his teenage daughter Susan. When she later hires him to fly her to the remote island where she grew up to reconcile with her father and son, Susan stows away.
The story of Sarah and Will's romance is as sweet as it is heart-wrenching. It is a testament to the life-changing power of love.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

I saw the movie version of this book before I read the book itself. I loved the movie so much that I mooched the book at BookMooch that same night when I got home from the cinema! I was curious to see if the movie and the book were remotely alike (considering how often movie versions of books end up nothing like the original storyline) and I was not disappointed.

The storyline is a disturbing one; a female teacher becomes involved in a sexual relationship with a teenage male student. This isn’t as farfetched as you might like to think (or hope) it would be as such events have been prominent in the news over the last few years. Zoe Heller’s intriguing and slightly distasteful tale introduces two of the most captivating characters I have encountered in a novel, Barbara and Sheba. Barbara is the quintessential almost elderly spinster and Sheba is the fey like upper class bohemian. The juxtaposition between these two women only serves to reinforce the many diametric opposites that permeate this novel.

The supporting characters are almost as intriguing and it would be interesting to hear their version of the events that make up this story. However the reader is only ever exposed to Barbara’s perspective. Even though Barbara maintains that Sheba has related events so many times that she (Barbara) feels like she was actually there for all of them, Barbara’s own biases are more than apparent and it is because of the filter they provide that we are spared much of the insufferable romantic outlook Sheba has on the whole affair.

Barbara is the sort of friend that you can never work out if you want them in or out of your life and the naive Sheba is enmeshed in her web. While Barbara comes across as somewhat frightening with her stalker like manner, Sheba’s ingĂ©nue makes you want to slap her. One has to wonder what would make an educated, attractive wife and mother in a position of authority take up with a student such as Stephen Connelly. Whatever it is, it is real as this type of behaviour seems to be becoming more common in the wider community. While there doesn’t appear to be any malice in Sheba’s actions and she doesn’t mean Connelly any harm, there is no excuse for her abuse of her position of power. But for some reason the reader is left not knowing whether to pity her or condemn her. A similar conundrum is experienced in relation to Barbara’s character and many of the supporting cast. I think this is a good part of why Heller’s tale is so captivating. It captures the essence of the human condition in that there is good and bad in all of us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

July Reviews: High Five and Memory Keepers Daughter

High Five by Janet Evanovich.
Fifth in the Stephanie Plum series. I wonder if I'm ever going to get tired of these? Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I probably wouldn't give it an A, simply because a book needs to do more than entertain to really hit the "A" level in my personal, completely subjective grading system. However, I love that Stephanie's world has moved forward from the 1980's to the 1990's, seemingly without taking much time at all.

The Memory-Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards.

I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook. It is a very flowery book, with tons of over-description decorating it everywhere. Normally, I would find the style irritating. In audio format, however, it's not quite as bad. I listened to it while driving and, more often, while knitting. It's definitely a good "while knitting" book. Your eyes are already engaged in something treat-ful, and then your ears start passing all this flowery imagery to your brain, so it basically gives you an overdescription high.

As for the content of the book, I sort of liked it. I think I was looking for something a little different than these very sad lives orbiting each other, each person unaware of the pain the others are in. I never found any emotional honesty between the main characters (the people who actually had agency to change). For that reason, I would label this as a family tragedy.

I give this one a B. It's good, but has some flaws that make it less than excellent.

Wating: True Confessions of a Waitress by Debra Ginsberg

Waiting: True Confessions of a Waitress is not a restaurant exposé from the point of view of a server. Rather it is one woman's memories, impressions and insights about the professon at which she has supported herself and later her son for 20 years.
Ms. Ginsberg examines "waiting" from all angles and illustrates her perceptions and theories with stories from her own experiences and those of her friends and co-workers. Beyond this it is also the story of her life and the life lessons she has learned while "at the table" and she tells this story with honesty, wit and often humor.
Having worked as a server for many years I was able to strongly identify with many of her tales and with her analysis of the interpersonal dynamics between the server and everyone else in the restaurant - the other staff and the customers.
For anyone who has ever worked at this demanding profession, you will undoubtedly see a reflection of your own life in some of her experiences. For those who have never "waited" perhaps it will give you a better understanding of the person serving your dinner.

Cheryl Brigham

Monday, July 16, 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman

I frequently wonder about character motivations and backstories. This novel provides this information about superheroes and super villains (as in comic books).

What if Batman and the Joker had actually gone to high school together? In this book, the villain was the kid who was a geek, picked on and pushed around, overlooked by all the popular kids unless they wanted something from him. The heroes were the popular kids, the jocks and the pretty girls, completely unaware of the damage they did to the villains-to-be. This book appealed to the band geek I used to be, still resenting the plastic popular people, happy to go to one of my reunions and see the cheerleaders had become obese. I found myself rooting for the villain.

I loved this book. I read it on a long car trip over a weekend. It isn’t a taxing read, and it is so entertaining! I highly recommend it, even if you don’t read much science fiction. The psychological aspects of the characters are fascinating, and the writing is so vivid it is almost like watching the comic book unfold.

Softspoken, by Lucius Shepard

Some narrators are unreliable. The reader cannot trust everything they tell. In this novel, every character is unreliable. Motivations are unclear. Actions are suspect. Why do characters do what they do? Does the narrator believe what she says, or is this a complicated, albeit entertaining, lie?

The narrator’s name is Sanie, a deliberate play on words. She is living with her husband at his ancestral home in backwoods South Carolina while he studies for the bar exam. Sanie is bored and disillusioned. The weather itself is almost a character. The author uses the drowsy-hot, humid days and the lack of transportation to depict how completely Sanie is removed from the world. For entertainment, Sanie has taken to walking the miles to town, sitting on the porch of the gas station swilling beer, talking to the men who venture in. Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Sanie’s husband has closed himself off in the library while his sister wafts through the house like a shadow and his brother seems to drift in and out of a peyote induced dream. Sanie believes the house to be haunted, and her brother-in-law encourages this idea. He claims he sees the ghosts better when he is under the influence, so he shares his drugs with Sanie. Are the apparitions she sees real, or are they peyote hallucinations? When Sanie finally makes a decision to take care of herself and what she needs, her husband and his family show themselves for who they are. The conclusion is as nebulous as the novel, leaving the reader to decide what did, or did not happen.

I enjoyed this book very much. It is a short novel that drew me in quickly and was a speedy read. It made me think, and would be a good novel to read with someone else so discussion could be had. Some people might be put off by the dreamy tone of the writing.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Validate Me Quick, I'm double Parked! by Toni Sorenson Brown

Follow the heroine Shirley, mother, wife, friend, business owner and daughter as she heads through life feeling loss seeking something that is elusive. Something many women seek but can not put words to... validation. Discover how Shirley gets the validation from the people she thinks she needs it from and how she discovers the one person who she needs validation from isn't a person she ever put on her list.

I found this book to be a quick and fun read. I found myself nodding my head in agreement to many of her revelations as she discovered more about herself then she knew before. It almost read like a self-help book but instead of bullet points it was all narrative. I recommend this to any woman or man who seeks some form of validation out of life and needs some humor along the way.



If any admin can please delete this post, I tried, but it seems that I cannot.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Inside out

Inside out By:Terry Treuman
Really great book.It is about a young adolescent who is a schizophrenic.You see the world through his eyes.The world in his eye is hurtful and confusing.He is never sure what is real and what is not.
When two teenage brothers attempt to hold up a Spokane coffee shop where Zach, 16, is waiting for his mother to bring his antipsychotic meds, he is among those held hostage. Thus begins this slender, but harrowing novel that depicts the standoff between the desperate pair and the police outside-all narrated by Zach, who is driven by impulsive outbursts, hateful voices in his head, and difficulty with processing reality. Chapters open with a brief passage that illuminates the history of his illness and suicide attempt, and interventions by his mother and psychiatrist. A phone call from the police to the robbers results in freedom for the others, but Zach, now overdue for his medicine, agrees to remain hostage. An odd bonding ensues among the troubled teens, all of whom are portrayed sympathetically. With no ammunition in their guns, the brothers are basically decent boys, scared and worried about their single mother's unemployment and cancer. Tension builds when one of them is wounded by a stray police bullet. They surrender, and Zach is reunited with his mother, his meds, and the simple comfort of a maple bar he had craved. A stark news article three months later imparts word that the unexpected hero of the crisis has committed suicide, the victim of his tragic illness. Trueman uses Zach's narration to challenge readers to feel the confusion and dark struggle of schizophrenia. The effect is disturbing, if somewhat didactic.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dark Moon by Lori Handeland

This is the third instalment of the Moon series by Lori Handeland.
This time we get the story of the rather cold and aloof Elise, briefly shown in the previous books. She is a hardcore scientist trying to find a cure for the werewolves.
Now we will know more about her, understand her story and her troubled past, as well as her relationship with the boss, who turns out, is more to her than just a boss. And of course, very early on in the novel we understand that she is a werewolf herself. No wonder she is so hell-bent in finding a cure!

Just as she meets after several years her long lost love, NIck, her compound is blown to bits and she has to run for her life. Nick, now an FBI agent, acompanies her to Fairhaven, where her boss and other team members are located currently. Fairhaven is the place where suddenly a lot of people go missing, with no traces at all, except for some blood on the floor, so the Jagersucher team is searching for clues...

If you've read the previous two novels, you will be on very familiar grounds with this novel, as the stories sort of repeat themselves, for the series veterans there are no major surprises. But if you have never read the series, I recommend you pick it up, even starting from this book. Each book is standalone and you don't need to have read the previous ones. However for the sake of continuity in the storyline and to understand better the interaction between the people, I recommend you start from the first book, Blue Moon.

You can find the book at

My bookmooch inventory

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Burning by Bentley Little

In the distance a trains whistle roars though the night sky. Its song bearing the great agony of a people cruelly wronged and a past seeking revenge. Join the diverse gathering of characters as they each encounter an evil which will leave them forever changed and perhaps even destroyed. A park ranger who faces an evil so beautiful it drives him to the edge. A mother and son on their way to a new beginning with hopes of a bright future ahead of them till they see what is lurking outside their window. A freshman college student discovers the true meaning of separation from friends by facing the darkness that lurks below her apartment. And the young man who longs to journey across America and blaze a trail to a new start discovers that the darkness will find him no matter where he goes.

This book had me sitting on the edge of my seat all day long as I read it. I found it nearly impossible to put down. In fact I was an hour late to work because of it. It does contain graphic violence and sex scenes that may offend some. I nearly did not make it past the first sex scene myself but it was the only book I had with me at the laundry mat. I found the fact that the characters were not the only ones to see the monsters very refreshing. I get tired of everyone thinking the main characters are crazy. For some reason it made the story more plausible. I had the time of my life retelling the story to my friends who would listen . Bentley Little reigns up with Stephen King and Deane Koontz in my books. A must read for horror buffs. This book gets the Tesse Stamp of Approval. :)

I have put my book up for mooching

Review by Tesse aka blissful2beme

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter takes place in the 1960s, when a doctor’s wife gives birth to twins during a snowstorm, in the doctor’s office, with only his nurse there to witness it. The first baby, a boy, is born healthy, but the second baby is born with Down Syndrome, and the wife (sedated with gas, as they did in those days) is told by her husband that the baby died. While the wife was sedated, the doctor handed the baby to the nurse and told her to take the baby to an institution for the feeble-minded, and leave her there. (Remember, this was in the days where they more commonly did such things.) The nurse attempts to do it, but can’t bring herself to leave the precious baby in the depressing home, so she runs off with the baby girl.

That’s only the beginning. The rest of the story deals with the results of that night . . . the guilt of the father, the grief of the mother (whose baby is “buried” without her ever seeing the body), the life of the unmarried nurse raising the baby, and the son who grows up without his twin sister. Lots of dysfunction in this family. They really could have used some family therapy!

I enjoyed the story, although this writer’s style is way too heavy on the descriptions for me. I don’t really need to know what every person smelled like, for example. As for the characters, I liked the storyline of the nurse, but I didn’t care for the family very much, with all their dramatics.

This book is a bestseller, though it’s one of those where some people love it and other people hate it. Give it a try and see what you think. Ultimately, I guess I was glad I slogged through it, though at times it took effort.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, a Hercule Poirot mystery

I have not read Agatha Christie before, so I wanted to see what a mystery by one of the masters of the genre was like. She sets up a good story with a variety of interesting characters, and has a sly, dry sense of humor, poking fun at human nature with sometimes rather comical characters. The mysteries are timeless, though I caught an anti-Semitic statement in there (this was written in the 1920s). The British words and phrases sometimes confounded me, as well as spelling the word “clue” as “clew.”

I tried to figure out “whodunit” on my own, but I guessed wrong. The problem is that we are not privy to all the clues that Christie’s hero, the great detective, Hercule Poirot is. He painstakingly put together all the subtle “clews” that I glossed over, and in his final summary revealed some things that I, the reader, didn’t know, so don’t feel bad if you don’t guess correctly! It’s a fun, quick read that kept me interested. I would like to read more of her books now and then. Maybe I’ll try something starring her heroine, Miss Marple.

The weight of numbers by Simon Ings

I chose two books at random this and Ghostwritten yet both have structures and plots that jumble time, place and character. Spooky or what!

In Weight of Numbers we weave up and down and across time and join and leave life’s entering into hope or its reality. Some characters we follow to the end others we leave. Characters collide in the sixties and their consequences are unravelled in the in the 90’s. African politics is interwoven with the first man on the Moon and Grange Hill stars. Real events and people are seen from the front or from the side with invented characters commenting on them. Each of the characters is engaging, and each of the stories is interesting - ranging from child kidnapping; people trafficking; the loneliness of homosexuality during the War; east African civil war etc.

The writing is beautiful and evokes images of Mozambique on a dusty afternoon or the radical squats of the 60’s. Most stories are told with perfect clarity, but you soon loose track to is who when. And miss reading it for a couple of days and you wander lost. Images stay with you and most sections are good but after a while you wonder what the point of the story is. Having read it I don’t know, unless the point is that the life we have now is not the life we dreamt of or the life we will end with.

Would I recommend it? A reluctant yes but try and read it in one sitting or read it twice: skim to get the characters clear then slowly to enjoy the story.

The Time and Space of Uncle Albert by Russell Stannard

Physics was never my best subject. I switched from a social sciences major to humanities just before the critical point where I was going to flunk. Humanities majors could get by with only biology.

Living in the mountains, we do not receive radio, which made for boring car rides until we discovered audiobooks. Currently, we are listening to Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe. (Sometimes my husband gets to choose the book.) I like and understand the simple bits: Life. Nick likes and understands Universe. Isaacson's book is so well written, though, I almost get parts of the science, particularly if I stop and let Nick re-explain them to me half a dozen times. So, I thought I'd take another crack at The Time and Space of Uncle Albert. Which I flunked the first time.

Uncle Albert, who may or may not live in New Jersey, has a niece, Gedanken. Gedanken, who may or may not be around 11 or 12, has to do a science project for school. The projects her classmates have chosen strike her as really boring: dinosaurs, volcanoes. . .you know, the usual. Her teacher's suggestion, Energy in the Home -- "double-glazing, electric toothbrushes and that sort of thing," strikes her as even more mind-numbing.

Gedanken and Uncle Albert are discussing her problem one evening, sitting and watching the stars, when Uncle Albert recollects the wonder he felt as boy upon discovering how far away the stars are: so far their light takes years and years to get here, even though light travels at 300,000 kilometres a second. That's 186,000 miles a second. Or, to put it another way: five times round the Earth in the time it takes to say "rice pudding."

Lately his interest in light has been rekindled. Maybe Gedanken could help him with his research and write about it for her project. So begins Gedanken's adventures. Travelling in a space ship that appears in a thought bubble above Uncle Albert's head, and with the help of Dick, the computer, Gedanken discovers slow-motion time, squashed-up time, heavy energy and how to live forever.

And I almost did, too. (So that I don't spoil the fun, so you might want to look up gedanken experiment in a big dictionary.) By the way, this is a kid's book.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Where You Once Belonged by Kent Haruf

Where You Once Belonged by Kent Haruf

Take a side road and Holt County, Colorado to get a glimpse into the richness of the people who live there. In this book we follow the life of Jack Burdette as he goes from the town hero to the most hated person in town. See how his actions affect the various people in his life as he rushes toward what he wants out of life.

This novel delivers a powerful story that had me enthralled to the end. Though I found the ending disappointing and kind of heart wrenching. I enjoyed the various story lines that flowed with in the pages and felt a true connection with the narrator. I would recommend this book for those who love a small slice of life with their coffee at reading time. :)

Review by Tesse aka blissful2beme

Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf

Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf

Every tale has two sides and what you see may not be the reality of what really happened. Go back in time and follow the story of Eighty-year-old Edith Goodnough and discover why she is in the hospital facing murder charges. Discover the roads that she traveled to become what she is and hear the story from the boy who loved her with all his heart.

I personally love Ken Haruf's books. I first read Plainsongs last month and had to mooch the rest of his books and I must say this one touched me as much as plainsongs did. It made me cry by the end and left me wishing for more. I give it rave reviews and recommend it for anyone who likes small town stories and insight into human nature.

Review by Tesse aka blissful2beme

June reviews

I missed my June reviews, so here they are now:

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. First, let me point out that I've seen the last 10 minutes of the movie, which meant that the Big Reveal in this book was utterly ruined for me. Having said that, I could find very little sympathetic about the protagonist, who seems to me to be not only a completely unreliable narrator (something I usually love), but also a sociopath with little or no remore for his actions, something I abhor in my protagonists. I am glad I forced myself to finish the book, but I doubt I'll be reading anything by this author again, no matter how much my friends cajole me.

No Matter How Loud I Shout by Edward Humes. A non-fiction account of the overwhelming-ness of juvenile criminal court, primarily in LA, but using LA as a case-study for the rest of the US. This book was distressing, disturbing, and detailed. It didn't successfully reach me with it's call to action, but it did reinforce my conviction that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed. I'm a big fan of the TV series Judging Amy, and I can see where a large number of plotlines, stories, and events from that series were obviously drawn from events depicted in this book (which predates the TV series by a couple of years). Good book. Did not make me think the narrator was a psychopath.

July TBR books:
High Five by Janet Evanovich
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

This is one of those books that seems to be everywhere you look - in all the bookstores, mentioned in random publications, etc. So when I saw it at the library, I figured why not? and picked it up.

I'm glad I did. I found the story reasonably compelling and the characters interesting, although often pretentious; their emotional dilemmas were well-drawn, and though plenty of plot-holes abounded, they weren't obvious enough to derail the story for me. The premise was interesting (although not as original as mainstream lit seems to think), and reasonably well-executed.

Basic story intro: Henry is an involuntary time-traveler. His body will reset on a genetic level, and he'll find himself elsewhere in time: naked, sick, and not sure where or when he is until he can find a reference point. He meets Clare when he is 36 and she is 6; they are married when she is 22 and he 30. This book is the story of their lives, together as often as they can be, and trying to make a 'normal' life from one with very little chronological cohesion.

It took me a while to get past the writing style and into the story itself, though. And I don't mean the structure of the story - the flipping around in time didn't bug me, the *writing* did. It's overly simplistic in places, particularly from Clare's point of view; a little sophistication in the sentence structure wouldn't have hurt. And wouldn't have left me struggling through the start while I tried to get over the feeling that I was reading a ten-year-old's english composition homework. Albeit a ten-year-old with a very good vocabulary.

Also, the aforementioned plot-holes? Could've used a decent editor.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read, and well-worth the time, although not exceptional.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Ghostwritten by David Mitchell was his debut novel in published in 1999 and so over shadowed by his second book Cloud Atlas that I had no idea that he had written an earlier book. We start the story in Japan in the aftermath of the cult subway poisoning and see these events from the perspective of the cult killer. We then move through nine disparate but interconnected tales exploring notions of community, coincidence, causality, catastrophe and fate.

Each episode is related in the first person, and set in a different international locale.

The gripping first story introduces Keisuke Tanaka, aka Quasar, a fanatical Japanese doomsday cultist who's on the lam in Okinawa after completing a successful gas attack in a Tokyo subway. The links between Quasar and the novel's next narrator, Satoru Sonada, a teenage jazz aficionado, are tenuous at first. Both are denizens of Tokyo; both tend toward nearly monomaniacal obsessiveness; both went to the same school (albeit at different times) and shared a common teacher, the crass Mr. Ikeda.

Other performers include a corrupt but (literally) haunted Hong Kong lawyer; an unnamed, time-battered Chinese tea-shop proprietress; a nomadic, disembodied intelligence on a voyage of self-discovery through Mongolia; a seductive and wily Russian art thief; a London-based musician, ghost-writer and ne'er-do-well; a brilliant but imperilled Irish physicist; and a loud-mouthed late-night radio-show host who unwittingly brushes with a global cyber-catastrophe.

As the plot progresses, however, the connections between narrators become more complex, richly imaginative and thematically suggestive. A pattern emerges in which chance events ripple around the world and through time to end in ways that one of the characters had always hoped for.

The prose is clear and the shift in genres acts as the motor to drive you through the story in the place of more traditional character or plot development.

I would highly recommend this book not as the herald of one yet to come but a good read in its own right.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fat Land: How Americans Became The Fattest People In The World

On one level I found this book to be absolutely enthralling, on another I found it incredibly superficial.
Journalist Greg Critser has written an engaging account of why Americans are the fattest people in the world. Unfortunately the misleading facts start with the title. Americans are actually not the fattest people in the world, the South Sea Islanders are weightier. Because Critser doesnt utilise footnotes, it is difficult to establish the validity of the "facts" he cites and this detracts from his credibility.
What is a fact, is that the US Surgeon General has declared obesity as an epidemic. (This is interesting in itself as an epidemic by definition is a disease... last time I checked being overweight wasnt a disease no matter how life threatening it maybe. But I digress...). According to recent statistics (which of course are always questionable), approximately 61% of Americans are now overweight, 20% are obese and Type 2 diabetes is rampant. According to Critser, the excess being carried by the nation is a direct result of one man - Earl Butz.
I had never heard of this villian of the highest magnitude prior to reading Fat Land either. As it turns out, Mr Butz was the US Agriculture Secretary back in the 1970s and it was his determination to lower American food prices by ending restrictions on trade that ultimately led to the downfall of the nation. Prior to Earl's reign of terror, about 25% of the American population was overweight. A decade later, the numbers began to spiral upwards and now stand at around 60%. Not only that, but the number of overweight children in the US has doubled in 30 years. Along with Earl Butz, Critser points the finger at parent's reluctance to monitor their children's dietary intake; the marketing tactics of fast-food companies which force us to overeat (like we have no say in what we eat); fad diets and the phasing out of physical education in schools. He also claims that making "plus size" clothing readily available in mainstream stores only encourages people to become fat and to stay fat. I vehemently disagree with that assertion but he is entitled to his opinion...
Critser describes in great detail the physical suffering that come from being overweight. However he doesnt begin to delve into the emotional suffering that accompanies it. In fact Critser believes that our culture "condones obesity". Again, I would vehemently disagree. While Critser alleges he was overweight himself, I find it difficult to believe that he has a true understanding of what it is like to live as an obese person in our society. If he did, he would not be able to say that obesity is condoned. Anyone who has lived as an overweight person knows how false that assertion actually is. Losing weight is not as simple as Mr. Critser seems to believe and his underlying attitude of "obesity is the same as laziness and the culture is just promoting it" is more than apparent in his choice of language.
Fat Land provides no real solutions to the "problem" of obesity. It does provide an interesting account of potentially contributing factors as to why, as a culture, we are this way.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

No Regrets by Shannon K Butcher

Hobby cryptologist Noelle Blance has learned since a child that her knowledge of decrypting codes could be used against the people if in the wrong hands. That's why when she got offered a grant to crack a potentially very important code for the government, she declines the offer, even if it means losing her job at the school where she teaches.
In the meantime, David Wolfe, a former Delta Force, is brought back into action to bodyguart Noelle, since she is the last great cryptologist in the US, since the previous 4 ones have been merciless tortured and killed by the Swarm, a terrorist group, which also killer his wife, Mary, two years ago.
Realising that at that time he hasn't killed all of the Swarm's group, he takes this last job, to revenge his wife's death while the Swarm is going after Noelle.
But of course, as in every romantic suspense novel, the sparks between the two main characters are sizzling until they are ready to erupt, burning everything in the process, including them in their desire for each other...
It was a typical romantic suspense, great for a beach read. Readers of this genre will adore this book.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Spellbinder by Melanie Rawn

Melanie Rawn is best known for her fantasy series Dragon Prince and Dragon Star. This book is a departure from the sword-and-sorcery genre of her earlier works. It takes place largely in post 9/11 New York and is a romantic fantasy.
The subtitle of the book, A Love Story with Magical Interruptions is an homage to Dorothy Sayers’
Busman’s Honeymoon: A Love Story with Detective Interruptions (one of my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey titles). Like the Sayers book, the romantic elements of the story are as important, or even more important than the mystery/adventure.

The heroine of Spellbinder is Holly McClure, a successful best-selling author of historical fiction. She also happens to be a hereditary witch, whose major talent is as a Spellbinder. Her blood can be used to strengthen any spell or ritual. This makes her very valuable to other magic doers, both good and evil. She is romantically involved with Evan Lachlan, a federal marshal. Part of Evan’s job is to act as a bodyguard to a federal Judge who is secretly the leader of the witches in the New York area. The coven of witches, of which Holly and the Judge are a part, becomes involved in a fight with the leader of a satanic cult and his search for power. He needs Holly’s blood to achieve his ambitions.

But all of the magical daring do takes the back seat to the growing relationship between Holly and Evan. Evan struggles to come to terms with Holly’s success and independence. It is that struggle, even more than both characters’ need to accept Holly’s magical heritage and overcome the evil Satanist, which is at the centre of the novel.

I liked that Rawn’s book goes into such detail about the history and motivations of her main characters. In spite of the use of plot elements familiar from shorter and lighter romance novels, Rawn’s book goes into more depth into the conflicts and developments of the characters. Issues are not resolved in 10 pages or two weeks. In spite of the characters’ rather unlikely habit of getting into long philosophical discussions in the midst of crises, I enjoyed the richer texture of what could have been a very lightweight paranormal romance.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Africa House by Christina Lamb

In the last decades of the British Empire, Stewart Gore-Browne built himself a feudal paradise in Northern Rhodesia, a sprawling country estate modelled on the finest homes of England, complete with uniformed servants, daily muster parades, rose gardens and lavish dinners finished off with vintage port in the well-stocked library and music room.

He wanted to share it with the love of his life, the beautiful unconventional Ethel Locke King. She, however, was nearly twenty years his senior, married and his aunt. They kept up an almost daily correspondence for the whole of their lives and their letters provided a detailed picture of Gore-Browne's inner and outer lives.

After leading a border surveying project, he found his paradise on the edge of a crocodile-infested lake, one of whose inhabitents had made a meal of Livingston's dog. Then he had to postpone his dream for six years when the First World War broke out. He served with distinction in France, but saw the friend who was to partner him in his adventure killed on the Somme.

He loved two women named Lorna, mother and daughter. He eventually married the daughter, taking her to Africa where they had two children. For awhile, Lorna the Second shared his dream. She ran the estate with him and, in his absences, managed it on her own.

At its peak, the estate employed almost 1,000 Africans: making bricks, building, distilling essential oils, hunting, raising crops and farming animals. Along with the house, there came to be an entire English village in the bush: houses for the labourers, a post office, a school, a shop and, eventually, a hospital.

Gore-Browne gave large sums of money for the education of the African children and supported their parents farming efforts. He invited Africans to his dinner table to the unamused astonishment of his English guests. He beat his servants, but served port to the house staff after dinner. At the end of his life, his closest friend and confident was his black driver and valet.

He entered African politics working toward a goal of a shared government but came to champion an independent, Black-ruled Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). He remains the only white man knighted by Zambia and given a state funeral.

A fascinating book about a fascinating, complex man and the social and political milieux of his times.

In my inventory.