Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss (read June 2006)
This book is amazing, unusual, confusing, provactive, creative, tender, sad, humorous and multidimensional. It's moved onto my favorite-of-all-time books' list. There's no way to describe it or even explain the stroyline. I thought at times that I was going to loose my mind trying to figure things out. I was compelled to keep reading, even more so than in many mysteries, because I HAD to know how everything was going to come together. I still keep thinking about little things from the book even though I've finished it. I suspect I will read this one again. If you think you might want to read it don't let anyone tell you too much about it. I went in knowing nothing about the plot or characters and so it was all pure wonder. Krauss is a gifted writer. I can't comprehend how she knew when to change from one character to another, from one story to another, from one situation to another; and then weave them so artfully together into such a complex and intriguing tapestry. WOW! I hope someone (anyone of my links) reads this one soon so I can discuss it with somebody. This book rates a 5.

Friday, June 23, 2006


by Diana Gabaldon (read June 2006)
This was my Romance selection for the Summer Reading Program. I usually skip this genre even when challenged, but this one was intriguing because of the time travel element and the reviews on were glowing.

Claire, the main character, served as a nurse during WWII while her husband served in the English army. After the war Claire and Frank are getting reaquainted and settling down to life, when Claire quite accidently slips 200 years back in time. The majority of the book takes place in the 1700's. I was a little disappointed that she never gets back to her life in the 1900's, at least not in this book. But not to worry - this is book one of a trilogy. Gasp! That about put me off because, not only is the book is 850 pages long, I certainly did not want to get hooked on another series. I read the first 500 pages and, even though I enjoyed it, I felt like I wouldn't be compelled to read the rest of the series. By page 600 hundred I knew I'd be reading the whole series, but not right away. After finishing, I'm anxious to read the next book.*

Claire is forced to marry the fiery, virile Scot, Jamey Fraser, in order to save her life, even though she's alread married to Frank. There is definitely romance (really good romance!) but there's also lots of adventure. I loved and hated the main characters. The bad guy was detestable. I'm finding it hard to summarize a book this long. Suffice it to say, I loved it and give it a rating of 5.

*BTW, I checked on the trilogy. Turns out it was supposed to be a trilogy, but turned in to 6 books instead and each of the other books is longer than Outlander. Whoa! It may take me the rest of my life, but I think I'll try to read them all. I won't read them consequetively, because my attention span needs breaks - I need to go from one thing to another and then back again. So even though I'm dying to read book 2, I will read something else first.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Folding Paper Cranes: An Atomic Memoir

by Leonard Bird (read June 2006)
Very enlightning. I've read several books about what happened in China under the rule of Mao ZeDung and was appalled at his treatment of his own countrymen. Paper Cranes is a foldover story about the personal effects of the atom bomb on U.S. soldiers forced to watch the detenation of several bombs in the Nevada desert and the Hibakusha, survivors of the bomb, in Hiroshima. This is a slim book with a powerful message that every American should read. Bird doesn't dodge punches about the horror administered to him and other soldiers or the devastating effects of the bomb on Hiroshima, but he also helps us understand why Truman may have felt the only answer to end the war was to use the atomic bomb. In addition to his adept writing, Bird also includes a few of his poems that vividly and powerfully add to the overall effect. I rate this book a resounding 5.

While visiting Hiroshima, Bird meets a former captain in the Imperial Army during WWII who lost his wife and children to the atom bomb that fell on Hiroshima. These men discussed their pain, but Tanaka also taught Bird about hope. On one visit Tanaka said, "Your Jesus said we will never know the time until it comes. In the meantime we light our lamps. In Buddism, too, light is necessary. It is important to shed a little light."

As Bird was flying home he had this thought: "Though sometimes inevitable and unconquerable, despair is a slough in which one wallows and ultimately suffocates. Hope is a beacon that, however weakly it may sometimes shine, leads us toward life. That frail beacon encourages us to act in good faith."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Husband

by Dean Koontz (read June 2006)
Now I can go on with my life. I had this book on hold at the library, but they hadn't even order it yet. I kept choosing easy, slim books to read so that I could hurry and finish them if The Husband should show up. I knew I would want to drop everything else and read it. The time came when all the easy books on my summer reading program were read and still no Koontz. So I picked up the 850 page, small print Outlander and began reading. Sunday my daughter comes come from a trip and hands me The Husband. She bought it for me. Is that about the sweetest surprise ever?! Outlander went on the back burner.

The Husband is in typical Koontz style, except that it started out slower. Though not among my favorites of Koontz novels, I liked it a lot. Easy to read, keeps you turning the pages and wanting answers. I give it a 4 rating (out of 5).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The View From Saturday

by E.L. Konigsburg (read June 2006)
What a wonderful book. One of my favorite Newberrys, along with The Giver, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Holes. I had planned to read the 2006 Newberry Award book, Criss Cross, but the librarian shared her opinion that The View from Saturday was much better. I thank her for directing me to this book.

The story features four 6th graders and their teacher. We focus in on each of the children one by one and experience their journeys of emotional and social growth. The journeys are not catastrophic; just parts of their lifes that help them grow. The ribbon that runs throughout is an academic team contest at the end of the school year. I know, the storyline does not sound that intriguing, but the book IS magnificient. I rate this book with a 5.

Towards the end of the book the 6th grade teacher, Mrs Olinski, is meeting her former mentor and principal. She watches this older woman who she has greatly admired and thinks, "A turquoise jogging suit. Tuquoise!" She had always regarded turquoise, like shocking pink and chartreuse, as the color equivalent of the word ain't: quaint when seldom used but vulgar in great doses.

Konigsburg also wrote the 1967 Newberry Award From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I'm thinking I'll read it for next summer's reading program.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ship Fever

by Andrea Barrett (read June 2006)
I love Barrett's writing, she takes one strand after another and weaves them together so that at the end of a story she's created a very pleasing and satisfying piece of work. This collection contains eight stories - six are marvelous, the other two are so-so.

"In the graphic title novella, a self-doubting, idealistic Canadian doctor's faith in science is sorely tested in 1847 when he takes a hospital post at a quarantine station flooded with diseased, dying Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. The story, which deftly exposes English and Canadian prejudice against the Irish, turns on the doctor's emotions, oscillating between a quarantined Irish woman and a wealthy Canadian lady, his onetime childhood playmate." - from Publishers Weekly. This is a most remarkable story. Even if you don't read the other stories in this book, you should read this one.

The English Pupil dealt with the end of Linneaus' life when he suffered from Alzheimers - sensitive and sad. The Behavior of Hawkweeds is a modern story with links to Mendel. Rare Birds is about 2 women in 1762 who behaved most unladylike and conducted experiments to disprove Linnaeus' theory that sparrows wintered over by 'hibernating' in frozen lakes.

I rate this book 4.5 - deducting a little for the 2 lame stories.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Color of Magic

by Terry Pratchett (read June 2006)
This is the first of many books in the Discworld series; the 2nd one I've read. Magic was enjoyable, and very cleverly written. Rincewind, is a wizard school dropout who is assigned to protect and act as tour guide for Twoflower, who comes to Ankh-Morpork with luggage (that walks) filled with gold. The gold, rather the greed it inspires, brings them into many dangerous experiences. I'd rate this book 4.

This 1st quote is just plain cute:
The spell chose that moment to vault into the temporarily abandoned saddle of Rincewind's consciousness.

Oh, heck! I can't find the last quote. Thought I'd just memorize the page. If it comes to me, I'll enter it here. Let me just say it was a good one!

The other Pratchett novel I've read that I highly recommend is Mort.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

If I Could Speak In Silk

by Judy Johns (read June 2006)
Johns is the 2006 Utah Poet of the Year. I enjoyed this little collection of poems and I love the title. Reminds me of another author who said, "Oh, that I had the voice of an angel." Both create a single ping of longing in my soul for the same gift. Several of the poems in this collection encapsulated feelings I have or have had. I would like to record all those, but I settled on just this one:
The Bad Poets Prayer
Let me wake up with the gift
to see humor in grass,
pathos in telephone poles,
rhythm in parking lots,
and color in pigeons.
Lift me from the quicksand
of cliche and tired images
which weigh like cement shoes
on my poor murdered verse.
Others have this gift,
I have a craving as
stong as any addict
for the rush, the high
of knowing that no other poet
could capture this same moment
as perfectly.
And if that is too much to ask,
then take away this urge
to commit to paper
evidence that I lack the gift.

I identified, not because I have any talent for writing poetry, but because I have talents in other areas and sometimes I feel that the results I produce are only good enough to be trampled on by cement feet. When will I ever feel like what I do is good enough?! Haven't we all felt that from time to time? I guess that's why we enjoy poetry and other written work.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Ship That Flew

by Hilda Lewis (read June 2006)
Written in 1939 for an English audience The Ship That Flew is a timeless tale. I read it in eighth grade and enjoyed it every bit as much at 55 as I did then. One things strikes me different from today's world and the way things were back then: The children had hours of free time to wander about without any supervision. Today children may be unsupervised, but they are not outside playing for whole afternoons and evenings at a time. It's too bad that there's so much to fear in today's world.

The ShipThat Flew is a fantasy in which a young boy buys a magic ship and learns that it can fly to other places and through time. He and his siblings take adventures to visit the tombs in Egypt, Normandy England, the Norse Gods and several other places and times. I can't wait to be able to read this book to my grandkids when they get just a little bit older.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Utah Blaine

by Louis L'Amour (read June 2006)
I have done several 'first' this year. Earlier I read my first Stephen King novel-it was somewhat enjoyable. Now I've read my first Louis L'Amour novel and I liked it, too. Utah Blaine is the main characher, just the kind you need in a western - good looking, broad shoulders, excellent and fast shot, and he falls in love with the right girl. L'Amour is not the best writer in the world, but he does tell a fairly interesting story. If ever you need to read a western for some kind of assignment, this would be a good one. It is short, which is another reason I chose it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Madonnas of Leningrad

by Debra Dean (read June 2006)
A beautifully told story of a Soviet immigrant, Marina, who is slipping fast into the clutches of Alzheimer's. She drifts back and forth between her present life in Washington state and the past when she was a tour guide in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad at the beginning of WWII. As the Germans approach the city, Marina and other museum workers remove pieces of art to be shipped from the city. They were told to leave the frames hanging on the walls. Marina creates a 'memory place' in her mind based on the rooms and the artwork. These memories provide a retreat from the devastions of war - the hunger, cold and terror. It's interesting to me that the memories of the museum and of the war provide Marina with a 'memory place' to escape from her present day confusion.

In an early scene in the book Marina is standing at the kitchen sink holding a pan of water. "But she has no idea why. Is she rinsing the pan: Or has she just finished filling it up? It is a puzzle. Sometimes it requires all her wits to piece together the world with the fragments she is given: an open can of Folgers, a carton of eggs on the counter, the faint scent of toast. Breakfast. Has she eaten? She cannot recall." She questions if she is hungry or not, but can't tell. She decides she's hungry. When her husband walks in the room carrying the dirty breakfast dishes, he finds Marina poaching eggs.

Dean makes a comparison to the ravages of war and the ravages of Alzheimer's without spelling out what she is doing. The effect is subtle but powerful. An incredible book that I will be thinking about for years to come.