Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Last Camel Died At Noon

by Elizabeth Peters
Rating 4/5
What can I say? I'm on a roll. I don't know that I've ever read 3 books in a series so close together before. This is book #6. I'm really enjoying the series at this point. Amelia and Emerson's son, Ramses, saved their lives and gained much deserved respect from his parents. It's about time! I guess I will substitute this for one of the books on my original From the Stacks list. I have all of this series on my TBR list so I'm still crossing off those books. Wow! It feels good to be making some headway.

I'm struggling through Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. The major problem is not sitting down and reading more than a few pages at a time. I'm going to force myself through it before I pick up Brother Odd by Dean Koontz, which I pre-ordered from Amazon and it arrived today right on schedule. Ohhhh, I can already feel my resolve melting. I think I have a workable idea - before I can read Brother Odd I must first read 15 pages in The Baron that day. Eureka!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Birds of a Feather

by Jacqueline Winspear
Rating 4/5
Birds of a Feather is book 2 in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, which takes place inEngland during the 1930's. Maisie is a shy 30-something private investigator. She was born poor but has been fostered by a wealthy widow whom she used to work for as a maid. Now she has a room 'upstairs' which places a strain on her relationship with the house help. She's not quite a gentlewoman so she feels out of place in that world as well. In the past she has had a close relationship with her father, but as she matures, Maisie reminds him more and more of his dead wife. This has created tension in their relationship. Maisie's 'true love' is in a convalescent home and will never again recognize her, so she is coming to turns with dating. In addition to all this, is the mystery of the story.

I enjoyed book 1 of the series, but thought this one was even better. I'm looking forward to reading the 3rd in the series, Unpardonable Lies.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Warning About "The History of Love"

I've read The History of Love twice and was awed by it both times. And I'm not a re-reader. There was so much symbolism and layers of meaning that I will probably read it again some day.

So, why the warning? Tonight was my book club and everyone HATED the book. I mean they HATED it, not just dislike, but HATE. I was the one who chose the book and was supposed to conduct the discussion. The first lady that came asked me if I had read the book before suggesting it. I answered that I had and that I loved it. She said, "Really, because I hated it and everyone I've talked to hated it." Two more people straggled in after that. They had the same reaction. They said they didn't like how it went from one person to another and back and forth. One said it reminded her of the Poisonwood Bible. Then she puts her hand over her mouth and says, "Whoops, you recommended that one, too, didn't you?"

They thought it was pathetic. I talked about the idea of survival and how each character had a method to help them survive. Wasn't it interesting that a teenage girl in New York read and reread the Wilderness Survival Guide? Didn't they feel the triumph of each person's spirit? Didn't they think Leo was lovable with his quirky little ways? No, they thought he was crazy. Well, obviously he is, but he made the most of it and he had a great sense of humor. They worried about the author's personal life, thinking she must be a bit screwy to write such a weird book.

I tried to get them to discuss the idea of authenticity that ran as a theme throughout the book. I mentioned a few examples: Leo's love for Alma - was it authentic or was it built up on his part. Did she love him in return? Who knows? Why did he hold to it so tenaciously? What was Bruno's role? Was the book Leo wrote real or another fabrication of his imagination? If not real, then why was Alma named after the main character? And why was the book written in Spanish since Leo was from Poland and never went to South America?

I went to book club thinking we were going to discuss a meaningful book in a thoughtful way. Was I ever disappointed. We talked about the book for maybe 10 minutes, maybe. Then we talked about a trip to Vegas, the plot of the Spenser for Hire books, a husbands job with the park service and how he likes the Nevada Barr books. Did I say WE? One lady dominated the whole hour. That was all her stuff we talked about. It went on to include the Qwilleran books (The Cat Who . . .), the baskets they were putting together at her church, the book about a quail. Forgive me, one other lady did get a word in edgewise - she told us how she had a complete set of Louis L'Amour books (all 130) in a leather bond collection. She's starting to reread them.

Oh, my gosh! I thought I was going to die. I don't mind that nobody liked the book, but I do mind that we couldn't discuss it at book club.

Anyway, I thought I'd better issue a warning that you may not like The History of Love, especially after I raved about it earlier this month. I guess this book is NOT for everyone. If you do pick it up, keep in mind that it will be confusing at first. You will have questions. There are several different threads that will eventually work together. It's not told with one event smoothly happening after the next. It's multilayered and thought-provoking. And if you hate it, that's okay, too. Just remember that I did warn you. But I think it's completely AWESOME.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Alchemist

by Paulo Coelho
Rating 3.5/5
My nephew recommended this book. It's one that I would have enjoyed more when I was younger, but I'm still glad I read it. It's an inspirational tale of a young shepherd who is in search of his 'Personal Legend' embedded with lots of platitudes.

"Don't forget that everythin you deal with is only one thing and nothing else."

". . . he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure."

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure."

This is book four for me in From the Stacks Winter Challenge. Yeehaw - four off my list. Okay, so I've added a million gazillions from everyone else's list, I'm at least having fun reading some good books.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Deeds of the Disturber

by Elizabeth Peters
Rating 3.5/5
My last review of Peters' Amelia Peabody book was not very robust. I enjoyed book #5 in the series much more and so I will probably continue to read a few more. This mystery takes place back home in London. A couple of things happen that force Amelia to take her son a bit more seriously and offer the poor boy a modicum of the respect he deserves. I still get a chuckle out of Amelia and Emerson's relationship, although things become a little sappy touching at times.

While trying to find information on the Vicky Bliss mystery series, I found that Elizabeth Peters is a pseudonym used by Barbara Mertz. Mertz holds a PhD of Egyptoloty and has written several non-fiction books in that field of expertise. Mertz has also written 25 or so romantic suspense novels under the name Barbara Michaels.

Back to Vicky Bliss - I did read one in that series - Naked Once More. I really did like it, just didn't realize it was part of a series.

I am going to change my original From the Stacks list to include Deeds of the Disturber instead of Witches Bane by Susan Wittig Albert. I am finding that I don't do real well at keeping to my list, but I still am reading from the stacks. So I'm still making headway! Truly a good feeling to scratch off the list instead of adding to. Thanks Michelle. This is book three for the From the Stacks Winter Challenge.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lion in the Valley

by Elizabeth Peters
Rating 3.5/5
This is book two on my From the Stacks Challenge. This is book 4 in the Amelia Peabody series. I have enjoyed them, but I feel some of the magic disipatating. I'll probably read another one or two. But I did get another book marked off my list. Whipeeee!

Monday, November 13, 2006

The History of Love

by Nicole Krauss
Rating 5/5
This is not one of my challenge books. I suggested this book for my f2f bookclub and so that means I will be presenting it this month. I felt like I needed to read it again. I am so glad I did. I think this book is beautiful, a literal masterpiece. In this reading I was able to watch for the repetition of ideas and symbols. One theme that runs throughout is that of authenticity. What is real, what is believed but not real, and what is fake. Along with that is the idea of validation.

One of the lead characters is Leo Gurksy, an 80-yr-old single man who says, "All I want is not to die on a day when I went unseen." He spills his popcorn at the theater so people will notice him. He even poses nude for an art class. He is quite the quirky, yet lovable character. He needs to be real and to be validated.

Later, another main character, Alma Singer, writes in her journal, "I am invisible to my mother." Again, the need to be seen, noticed. Alma's father died 4-5 years ago and she's trying to hold on to his memory and she's trying to keep his memory alive for her younger brother so she elaborates on his virtues. What's real, what's not. What is imagined?

When I finished The Book Thief I knew I would be disappointed by the next book I read, whatever that book would be. I thought my best choice would be a light, cozy mystery because I wouldn't be expecting much. But I had The History of Love I needed to reread. It turned out to be a perfect choice. Both books hold up greatly next to each other. I've requested a copy of The History of Love for Christmas, because I will want to read it again. The History of Love and The Book Thief are two of my top 10 favorite books I've ever read and I was fortunate to read them back to back.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

13 Mystery Series

I post my Thursday Thirteens at my other blog, In Season. Since this week's post is about books I thought I would mention it on my reading blog. I welcome comments about mystery series that you are reading and mystery writers that you keep an eye on.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak
Rating 5+/5
There are no words in my vocabulary to describe the beauty and power of this book. It is definitely in the top 5 on my list of all-time favorites. By now you have all read reviews and you know the book is about a little German girl who belongs to Hitler's youth group and lives with her foster parents in a small German town. The story is narrated by Death, who interestingly enough, is afraid of humans. The girl, Leisel steals books. Her Papa, a kind, good-hearted man, teaches her to read. Amidst the dismal backdrop of Hitler's Germany, Leisel learns the meanings and the power of words. She learns to love them and she learns to hate them.

The author effectively conveys the meaning and power of words in the arrangement and choice of the words he uses to write the story. Zusak is a master. Let me give you a small sampling. Death is describing a neighbor man by listing the five contradictory politics of Alex Steiner. "Point Five: Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out."

After Leisel stole her first book, Death described her as "the book thief without the words." (because she didn't know how to read yet) Death continues, "Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain."

The first time Liesels' foster mother made her knock on the door and ask for the laundry from the mayor's wife. Liesel was scared to death. "Liesel's blood had dried inside of her. It crumbled. She almost broke into pieces on the steps."

The whole book is filled with beautiful and unexpected arrangements of words. This alone is not what makes the book so outstanding. The story is compelling. The characters are flawed but important. You love them. You care about them. You worry and cry for them. Even Death.

This is a must read and I don't believe it will let you down like The Thirteenth Tale did. Compared to The Book Thief, TTT was only an interesting story.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern

by Lillian Jackson Braun
Rating 3.5/5
I listened to this book on audio. I checked it out from the library to listen to while we drove to Salt Lake City for the Book Festival a week ago. Needless to say, with my mother, sister and I we didn't listen enough to finish this short book. Too, too much talking. (Meanwhile, my daughter is listening to her music with headphones.) I finished listening to it on my little jaunts around town.

There are 21 books in this series. Take heart! Even those there's many, you won't ever feel compelled to read them all. I've only read two, I think and neither in any order. TCW Ate Danish Modern is only book 2 in the series, which features Jim Qwilleran and his cats. In this 2nd book there is only one cat, Cocoa, who is joined at the end of the book with a female cat named Yum Yum. The cats are instrumental in helping Qwilleran solve murder mysteries.

This cozy mystery series is very light and it's easy to keep track of the story while listening to in short increments. The books are also quite enjoyable.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

From the Stacks Winter Reading Challenge

Michelle over at Overdue Books is hosting an awesome challenge that will help us whittle down the number of books vying for attention on our shelves. Reading a few of these will help relieve the guilt and pressure of owning books that we neglect. I NEED this challenge! Here's how Michele words the challenge: "for this challenge we would be reading 5 books that we have already purchased, have been meaning to get to, have been sitting on the nightstand and haven't read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

"The time frame would be Nov. 1st until Jan. 30 and there will be some small, fun prizes awarded to random participants and/or those with clever review posts. There will be one random drawing for a prize to those who submit their list of books in the comment section by Nov. 15th but feel free to join any time. There will be another random drawing for those who submit five reviews by Jan. 30 for a small gift certificate to Amazon."

Most of the books on my list for this challenge are from my book stacks, but a couple are from my never-ending To-Be-Read list. I hope that will count.
Here's my list:
1. Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (I've had this on my list for over 7 months)
2. Lion in the Valley by Elizabeth Peters
3. Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
4. Triangle by Katharine Weber
5. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Bonus Books: (My list is really long and I'm going to make an effort to reduce it even further. If I don't get to them, so it be it - they'll be there on another day.)
6. Deeds of the Disturber by Elizabeth Peters
7. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
8. Birth Marks by Sarah Dunant
9. Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen
10. Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dirty Blonde

by Lisa Scottoline
Rating: 4.5/5
The dirty blonde is a 30-something, attractive judge, who has just recently been appointed as a federal judge. After issuing a ruling in favor of a television producer, that producer is shot to death. The next day the man who was suing the producer commits suicide. Thus starts an intriguing, suspenseful, and well-crafted murder mystery.

Judge Cate Fante is young, attractive and shows a great lack of judgment in some areas. This lack along with her feisty personality get her into big trouble and a few life-threatening situations. I found myself liking this woman. I hope Scottoline will do a few more books featuring her.

Cate's secretary Val, who Cate refers to as Invaluable, gives Cate some good advise when her world seems to be crashing down all around her. Val tells her that the other judges will probably give her troubles, other's will joke and people will talk. "When that happens, tell yourself that none of it matters. None of it. That's all outside, and nothing that's outside matters. Not the other judges or the TV or the gossips. Nothing matters but what's in your heart. Don't think on what they say, because you don't have to get yourself right with them. You have to get yourself right with you."

Somewhere I read an unenthusiastic review of Dirty Blonde that almost convinced me not to bother reading it. I'm glad I didn't listen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Murder on the Orient Express

by Agatha Christie
Rating: 4/5
Listened to the audio while driving to and from work and around town. It takes quite awhile to listen to a book when you live in a small town. I only live 4 minutes from the high school where I work. I get most of my listening in while waiting in line for chicken selects. Sometimes I think a longer commute would serve my listening library better.

I enjoyed the story and thought the infamous Hercule Poirot was quite charming. Hugh Fraser did a nice job of reading. I must of heard of the plot sometime in my life, because I figured out the solution to the murder early in the story. I don't know that I'll be rushing to read anymore of Agatha Christie's work, but it's nice to be introduced to her work.