Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Against Odds

by Dick Francis

A few weeks ago my high-school best friend called me from her home in Alberta, Canada.  We chatted for some time when the conversation turned to books.  She asked for some authors and books I really like.  I go blank when people ask me point blank for anything and I did then as well.  So I told her I'd email her a list, which I did and let me tell you it was not all that short!  She may regret asking me, but in return I asked for a list of her favorite authors and books.  I don't regret asking.

One author she recommended was Dick Francis.  I remember reading two or three of his books 20 or 30 years ago and liking them but I lost track of him.  I did a little internet research and discovered that 4 of his books feature an ex-jockey turned private detective, Sid Halley.  So I mooched those and started the first, Odds Against.

Sid Halley, an injured jockey, becomes a private eye and carries out some work for his father-in-law, who believes a man is trying to financially ruin Seabury racecourse, so that it can be sold to property developers. Sid and his father-in-law have a laughable relationship, though at the same time it is warm and endearing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, the characters and the mystery.  I'm anxiously looking forward to reading the next book featuring Halley, Whip Hand.  And then I'll be reading some of the stand-alones.  A big thanks to Diane for this recommendation.

I found this interesting write-up about Dick Francis on alibris.
Dick Francis was one of the most successful post-war National Hunt jockeys. The winner of over 350 races, he was champion jockey in 1953/1954 and rode for HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, most famously on Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National. On his retirement from the saddle, he published his autobiography, The Sport of Queens, before going on to write forty-three bestselling novels, a volume of short stories (Field of 13), and the biography of Lester Piggott. 
During his lifetime Dick Francis received many awards, amongst them the prestigious Crime Writers' Association's Cartier Diamond Dagger for his outstanding contribution to the genre, and three 'best-novel' Edgar Allen Poe awards from The Mystery Writers of America. In 1996 he was named by them as Grand Master for a lifetime's achievement. In 1998, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 2000. Dick Francis died in February, 2010, at the age of 89, but he remains one of the greatest thriller writers of all time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Think Twice

by Lisa Scottoline

You all know I love mysteries and I love Lisa Scottoline so when I stopped at the library to get some books for my mother and saw this on the new shelf -- well, you know!  To my credit I did finish the book I was reading before starting Think Twice.

In Think Twice we get to catch up with the fabulous characters that make up the all female Rosato & Associates Legal Firm.  Bennie Rosato's twin sister shows up again and causes untold problems for Bennie.  

The format reminded me of a Mary Higgins Clark novel - chapters switching between characters and action of the story.  Chapters shuffled between Bennie, her twin sister Alice and Mary DiNunzio until all 3 characters come together for the final chapters of the book.

The pacing is fast and I zipped through this book in a hurry.  Had to get answers and find out if Alice was going to totally fool Bennie's boyfriend.  

I love Scottoline's stand-alones but it's always fun to come back to this series.  What Scottoline needs to do is write one stand-alone and one Rosato book every year - or more often, I won't complain!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl

by Fanny Flagg

I actually read this one earlier in the year, but forgot to write a review until now.  I borrowed this book from my brother after he, my mom and one sister read it and recommended it.  Fannie Flagg was an author I had heard about and was on my list of to-read authors.

There was so much to love about this book and I did love it all.  The characters in the small town of Elmwood Springs, Missouri and Dena (Baby Girl) and Dr. O'Malley, a psychiatrist that falls in love with Dena.  I can't believe how patient he is with Dena.

Dena is America's most popular female newscaster/journalist in the 1970s.  The change of TV news into sensationalism causes her to question her career.  The commentaries made about the change in news was worth reading and hit the nail on the head.  I can hardly stand to watch the news anymore.  I wish they'd just tell us the facts without all the over-hyping!

When Dena falls gravely ill, she returns to her home town from busy New York City, to the doting, loving care of Aunt Elner who is the personification of small town kindness.  While in Elmwood Springs Dena begins to search for roots to her past and discovers a shocking secret.

The picture on the cover is the home of Neighbor Dorothy who hosted a daily radio broadcast from her home, hence the tower in the back.  Her story makes me wish I had lived back in the 30's or 40's so I could turn on the radio everyday and hear about the news from Elmwood Springs and hurriedly scribble down the  recipes that were shared.

I liked this book so much that I bookmooched Daisy May and the Miracle Man and Can't Wait to Get to Heaven.  I need to get my hands on Fried Green Tomatoes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Deceptive Intentions

by M. L. Malcolm

I actually read this book about a week ago but didn't get the review written in a timely fashion.  This is the follow up to Silent Lies that I read earlier in June which has been recently released as Heart of Lies.  I don't see why they have to change the title, it only confuses us and the second title doesn't seem any better than the first.  Both fit the story perfectly, however.

Deceptive Intentions will be released sometime in the future as Heart of Deception.  I'm glad I already had access to both books (my daughter owns them) because when I finished the first I would have gone berserk if I had to wait for the second.  As it was I went straight from one to the other.

Silent Lies left me hanging and yearning to learn what would become of Leo and his daughter Maddy.  I have read reviews of Heart of Lies and people seem content to wait for the 2nd book, but I certainly was not.  I felt like they needed to be read back to back as one large story.

Loved Malcolm's writing and her splendid storytelling.  I was totally enthralled with these books and highly recommend them.  Actually, I've had a very good reading month and have totally enjoyed each book I've read.

Lady of the Butterflies

by Fiona Mountain

Sometimes reviews are easier to write than others.  The problem doesn't always lie with the book but with me.  Tonight my mind just doesn't want to turn out anything but gushing praises for this book - the writing was great, story very interesting, time period and setting right spot on, characters fully fleshed out and intriguing, my interest in the facts were sparked and my scientific interest satisfied.  I loved this sweeping novel featuring Eleanor Glanville, a lady ahead of her time and out of sync with the superstitious believes of those around her.

In my last post I interviewed my Mom about a book she read.  As I was sitting staring at my empty screen with my blank mind I decided I would try answering the same questions I asked my Mom.  This is not a new idea but it will be the first time for me.

1.  What did the title have to do with the story?
The whole 527 pages of this book tells a fictionalized story based on the real Eleanor Glanville who lived in the late 1600s and developed a deep passion for natural sciences, especially the study of butterflies.  This passion was not understood by society and her family.
2.  Why did you decide to read this book?
    I requested a copy from the LibraryThings Early Reviewer Program after reading the description.  Being a former biology teacher I wanted to learn more about Eleanor and her struggle to study science in the late 1600s.
3.  How does the author make the setting important?
    Lady of the Butterflies is set in Somerset before the moors were drained.  The author describes the cold, muddy winter well and, though they sound horrible to me, they provided a way of live for the tenet farmers, eel fishers, sedge-cutters and water-fowl hunters that live around and rely on Eleanor's Tickenham Manor.  A great deal of conflict arises when discussion of draining the moors threatens to hurt so many people's livelihood.  The setting is also important because of the butterflies that lived there and were studied by Eleanor.
4.  How does point of view shape the book?
    The story is told from Eleanor's perspective, so the reader sees and sympathizes with her, in her relations with her father, her two husbands, her children and her friends.  We feel justified when she is angry and suspicious of Richard.  We want her to have some of the "colors" of life that she longs for and is missing in her father's strict Puritan ways.  We are thrilled with Eleanor's discoveries and her reasoning skills and see them as she does not as the superstitious and unlearned people of the tenants see her.
5.  Did this book remind you of anything that has happened to you?
    When I was still working on my college degree to become a biology teacher I remember a fellow student saying something to the idea that if man can figure out how light is split apart by droplets of water to make a rainbow that it disproves a God because we can see it's nature and not God who makes a rainbow.  That was so surprising to me because I feel like knowing the properties of light and its ability to be split into colors helped me appreciate how God uses natural laws.  I saw science as one way to learn and understand the ways of God.  Granted, there is a long way to go and much knowledge gathering to be done, but each new discovery fills me with wonder and awe at the magnitude of God's knowledge and ability.  On p 270 Eleanor just learned how white light can be split into the colors of a rainbow.  She says, "If experiment can reveal the components of light, maybe it can illuminate the rest of God's works."  My feelings exactly!
    Eleanor lived at a time when spontaneous generation accounted for flies coming from dung, frogs from mud, etc.  She had heard talk that some botanists of the day claimed butterflies metamorphosed from worms.  Near blasphemy!  Not long ago I had a monarch caterpillar that I put into a jar along with some of a milkweed plant.  I watched it make it's coffin (as Eleanor called it) and one day when I was watching the butterfly came out.  I held it on my finger in the sunshine for over 30 minutes as it's wings dried and it got its bearings before it flew away.  It was Eleanor's hope that if metamorphosis was real that she would get to see it.  I hoped all the way through that she would be rewarded with the good fortune to see it as I did.

I absolutely loved this book.  There were times when plots were being laid and foundation information unfolded that I wondered if this book could have been a little shorter, but now I don't think so.  Can't wait to hear from someone else who has read Lady of the Butterflies and we can discuss it together.

You can learn more about the book at Fiona Mountain's website.  It's very interesting.  And you can find out about the other books Fiona has written.  I know I'll be checking out another one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Whiter Than Snow and an Interview With My Mother

A few years ago my mother read Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, an author from our neighboring state of Colorado.  Mom enjoyed it and lent it to me at a time when I had so many ARCs demanding my attention that I had to set Prayers for Sale aside.

In February we were discussing Prayers for Sale and wondering if Dallas had a new book out.  Checking we discovered Whiter Than Snow was going to be released on March 30.  A few days later I received an offer for an a review copy. I jumped for joy.

When the book arrived I gave it to my mother and asked her if she would be willing to do an interview about the book.  She graciously accepted.

Before I share the interview, let me tell you a little about this amazing lady that I am fortunate to have for a mother.  She's 88 years old and is starting to slow down slightly.  My 2 sisters and I used to collapse on a bench when we'd shop with her and occasionally say, "Oh, there she goes..."  Not one of her seven children can keep up with her.  When we travel she doesn't sleep because she's afraid she'll miss something.

It was my mother's example of life-long learning that has encouraged my love for reading.  She graduated from the University of Nebraska the same year her second child graduated from high school.  Most of her years in college she had all 7 of us living at home.

1.  What did the title have to do with the story?
 A tremendous snow slide is the focus of the story and as it crushes and whitens everything in its destructive path, the lives of all the people are changed--whitened.  Priorities are changed and old grudges and grievances are overcome and forgotten. 
2.  Why did you decide to read this book?
I had read and enjoyed Dallas’ Prayers for Sale, so when I read a review of this soon to come out book I added it to my to-read list. The setting for both books are little gold-mining camps high in the Rockies above Denver. Brought back memories of a radio soap opera that we used to listen to when I was growing up. ?? I was attracted yo Prayers for Sale as I knew piecing quilts was an integral part of the story. Quilts were only mentioned in this book , mostly as being plentifully available to wrap survivors in.
3.  How does the author make the setting important?
The setting is the very basis of the story. Life in a mining camp shapes the characters of the residents. They endure many tragedies and hardships. Some have come to seek the isolation of the camp and to others it is the only life they know or want. Some want to escape but the hold on them is powerful and leaving is difficult.
4.  How does point of view shape the book?
I am a reader who does not often internalize stories. Most of what I read is purely for the enjoyment of a good story with an interesting plot and memorable characters.

5.  Did this book remind you of anything tha has happened to you?
As mentioned above--the old radio program. Also I thought of our trips through the Rockies and some of the little mining towns we drove through. I would like to visit a little town like Swandyke.

6.   What did you feel towards the main character?  Was there another character you found to be more interesting?
I am not sure just who was the main character. So many were strong characters with such a diversity of backgrounds, hang-ups, fears, secrets. Etc. I particularly am drawn to the to two single men whose children did not survive the avalanche,, Joe and Minder. Telling of them made a very strong ending for the book.
 Thanks so much to my Mom for reading and reviewing this book.  I'm looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Silent Lies

by M. L. Malcolm

I gave this book to one of my daughters for Christmas several years ago because I had seen it favorably reviewed on some one's blog.  I thought she would enjoy it and then I'd get a chance to read it, too.

It took me years but I finally got to a point where I remembered it and asked to borrow it.  I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed the story and the characters. 

The book starts in 1940 and quickly jumps back to 1910 in Hungary.  The dates span both World Wars so I prepared myself for some sad scenes.  The main character is a young Hungarian who has an amazing talent for learning languages.  This talent provides some interesting opportunities for Leo throughout his life.

First, Leo has the opportunity to study and live in Budapest where his life is transformed from a poor son of a Hungarian farmer to a foster son of a wealthy Jewish couple.  His life experiences changed again with Hungary's collapse after WWI.  I was interested in the Bolshevik take over of Hungary and why many blamed it on the Jews, so I did some further research online and filled in some gaps in my European history knowledge.  (So much more to learn...)   Leo meets the love of his live on a trip to Paris but when he is implicated in a counterfeit scheme he flees to Shanghai. 

I found the twists and turns in Leo's life provided an interesting story and making it an even better book is the backdrop of historical events that I am familiar with but told from a different location and angle.

My one suggestion is to reread the first page after you finish the book.  Also a warning - this is book one of two.  I didn't know that when I bought the book.  Luckily for me, my daughter bought the 2nd book so I didn't have to wait before diving right back into the story.  Perhaps, I should offer one other warning since I recently complained about a sex scene in O' Artful Death.  There is a much more colorful sex scene early on in Silent Lies, and though it didn't need to be so 'juicy', it wasn't just thrown in.  It's the only one in the book so just get passed it and worry no more.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge

It's been 18 months since my last reading challenge. Oh heck, that's not entirely true - I tentatively joined 4 last year. I say tentatively because I don't know that I even added my name to the challenge site. One that I officially joined was Heidenkind's Art History Challenge. I only read one of the four required books before the challenge ended. I don't see it as a total failure though because I've been more mindful of this category and I have read several books since that fill that category.

In the time of my challenge hiatus I've acquired some control over my reading appetite and think I can safely take on one challenge.  Since my favorite genre is mysteries, I feel some hope at being able to complete this one.

As you can see from the super-cute button, the challenge is hosted by Book Chick City.  It runs from Jan 1, 2010 - Dec 31, 2010 and you can sign up anytime, even as late as I am!  The challenge is to read 12 books.  I'm going to include some of the books I've already read this year so I'm not so far behind.

My list:
1.  4th of July by James Patterson
2.  Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters
3.  O' Artful Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor
4.  Silent Lies by Mary Lee Malcolm
5.  Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline
6. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
7.  The 5th Horseman by James Patterson
8.  Witches' Bane by Susan Wittig Albert
9.  The New Maisie Dobbs mystery by Jaqueline Winspear
10. Face Down Beside St. Anne's Well by Kathy Lynn Emerson
11. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
12. The Brutal Retelling by Louise Penny