Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Texicans

by Nina Vida

Here's the write-up from the back of the book:
Joseph, a Polish-Jewish schoolteacher, has become a rancher by chance. He marries Katrin, an orphaned immigrant from Alsace, to save her from an Indian chief, but he becomes obsessed with Aurelia, a Mexican girl who may be a witch. Together with two runaway slaves, and assorted Comanches, Tonkaways, and vaqueros, they struggle to settle in Texas.

The story is set in the mid-1800s and follows this disparate group who face many challenges making a place for themselves in the rugged plains of Texas.

The book starts out with Aurelia whose father earns money by selling healings. It seems young Aurelia can heal just by looking in the ill person's eyes. Then we leave Aurelia for awhile and are introduced to Joseph Kimmel. Both are interesting characters with human foibles and flaws, but very likeable. At least for most of the book. My heart ached for Katrin, though. None of these people had easy lives, but I thought Katrin silently endured the most.

I liked this description of Joseph - He hadn't made many friends at the school, preferring to be left alone with his books. It wasn't that he disliked people. It was more that with his somber personality, there was no sense inflicting himself on others.

Another time Joseph is visiting with a man named Castro, who tells him that he's done a good thing by helping so many people. Joseph's reply - I don't know that I have. I've been circumspect all my life. Unencumbered. solitary. Somehow I've lost sight of that in Texas. I've ruined my life. I'm a fool, an idiot caught by my own conscience and trapped by sympathies I never knew I had and I'm too stubborn to change my mind.

And when Joseph first met Captain Dawson, a Texas Ranger. Dawson kept talking even though he was reaching for the door knob and Joseph thought to himself - Some men just needed to linger, even when they were ready to go and there was nothing more for them to do. Isaac was like that. Joseph used to tell him that he'd get a lot more sewing done if he would't talk so much to his customers. You can fit them for their suits and talk to them at the same time, Joseph would tell him, but why do you have to keep talking when they're ready to leave and you can see in their eyes that they've got places to go? Why do you have to tell strangers everything you know in the world? Captain Dawson looked at Joseph that way now, as if he were going to plub his memory all the way back to the day he was born, was going to tell Joseph what the weather was like that day and how many glasses of water his mother drank before she squeezed him out.

I loved this book! And highly recommend it. I remember wondering during the first 30 pages if this was going to be a book I liked, but as the events progressed I found myself totally engrossed. And I loved the writing. It seemed to fit this place in history. I thought about holding a giveaway for this book but decided instead to pass it along to my mother.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1st To Die

by James Patterson

I've read a couple of books by Patterson over the years and have enjoyed them very much. One of my favorites was Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas.

Over the years I've read some good comments about his Women's Mystery Club series. So I jumped right in and started with the first book in the series.

Four women-four friends-share a determination to stop a killer who has been stalking newlyweds in San Francisco. Each one holds a piece of the puzzle: Lindsay Boxer is a homicide inspector in the San Francisco Police Department, Claire Washburn is a medical examiner, Jill Bernhardt is an assistant D.A., and Cindy Thomas just started working the crime desk of the San Francisco Chronicle.

I plan on reading the rest in the series so I'm going to list them in order here so I know where I'm going and what I've read. It helps that the titles include numbers.
1. 1st to Die
2. 2nd Chance
3. 3rd Degree
4. 4th of July
5. The 5th Horseman
6. The 6th Target
7. 7th Heaven
8. The 8th Confession

Is anyone else reading this series? What books have you read? Does the series hold up as new books are added?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Did It!

In an earlier post I shared with you the activities required for my library's adult summer program. Activity #9 was 'Learn to Blog'. Since I had been blogging for over 3 years, I decided to do something else related to my blog - I designed my own layout and header. This July 4th layout is my own design. I'm quite tickled with it. Although I think the red star paper is a little too distracting when trying to read the posts. I'll look for 'quieter' paper to go behind the posts in my next layout.

I also designed the layout for one of my other blogs, In Season. It didn't turn out quite as well - the column lines don't measure up quite right. Something else to improve upon. I didn't get a header made for In Season, though. All-in-all I've had a lot of fun learning how to do this and I didn't have to buy a program to help me, just relied on some good online tutorials and my thimbleful of html knowledge.

***Note added later: I changed the red stars for a plainer paper which makes it easier to read the posts.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Library's Summer Reading Program

Every summer my local library features a reading program, usually geared at young people, but they always have a program for adults, too. When teaching I always looked forward to joining because I was anxious to sit for hours and read - something I very seldom found the time to do with the rigors of lesson preparations. I wrote a post in 2006 explaining the program and what books I planned to read. (That was the first year of my blog.) In 2007 I didn't participate because Candleman and I took a 5 week trip in the summer. I know I blogged about the books I was reading for 2008, but I can't find that post so I can't include a link.

The library has a new children/teen reading director this year who has completely changed the adult program. I can't say that I like it better or worse - it's just different. This year there are 12 learning activities that we are to choose and do eight. Some of these fit well into my Vigorous Mind paths of cross-training and some were new ideas that were fun to do and provided further cross-training for me.

Here's the program and the 8 activities I chose:
1. Learn to use Picasa digital photo editing. My daughter had given me PhotoShop a few years ago so I decided I should concentrate on learning that program instead of downloading something different. I figured that would be just too confusing for me. I have followed several tutorials offered online, inculding one from my daughter on inked edges. She has a couple more tutorials and there are loads more on other sites. I'm looking forward to doing many more of these.

2. Learn to Twitter or how to use Facebook. I had already signed up to use Facebook, but I don't use it very often. I did do some searching on features and learned to play Farkle, but I'm not really "into it". So I joined Twitter. I totally don't know what to do there. I'm all the time seeing on blogs requests to Twitter about a book giveaway. I still don't see how anyone would every find out about those giveaways from Twitter. Guess I better search for a Twitter tutorial.

3. Try a new recipe from a a library book. This one was easy. I made a recipe on page 81 of Taste of Home Ground Beef cookbook. Can you believe that's all I recorded - not the name of the recipe or how we liked it?! I guess I wasn't all that impressed.

4. Go on a "Staycation" see one of our local history sites. I didn't do this one, although I plan to attend the quilt show in August at the museum. The library's summer program will be over by then, so this won't count.

5. Download a book from the libtrary's Overdrive digital media collection. I spent hours and hours on this simple sounding activity. I've been downloading audio books for years onto my computer and then transferring them onto the iPod. I ran into problems finding a book, but there was a security line that was wrong in my version of Windows Media Player. I ended up searching for an update that still didn't work. Finally, on an obscure little question an answer page set up by someone else having the same problem I found several 'possible' solutions. The last one finally worked. Someone had written to the company and they had sent him a little bit of html to fix the problem. Good grief! I'll just check out audio books from my library!

6. Paint something. Check out a book from the library and be creative. I'm passing on this one.

7. Learn how to do Zentangles. The library is offering a class on these, but I didn't want to wait so I searched them online and found several tutorials, including videos, that provided sufficient instruction. I was quite tickled with my first attempt at this art form. My daughter decided to try her hand at it and created 2 very lovely zentangles - one is actually a zendala. If i can learn how to photcopy hers and transfer them to the computer I'll post pictures. If you want to see others' pictures just search images using the word zentangle. So many and some are very amazing.

8. Learn a foreign language with interactive audio using Mango. This program is free but I think you need to get to it from your library and using your library card number. What a magnificent site. Mango offers 12 foreign languages. Initially I wanted to learn Latin, but that was not an option so I chose French, a language I've wanted to learn since I was young. It wasn't offerend in my schools. I've spent hours working on the first lesson. I can sit at the computer and see the words, hear them pronounced, see the pronunciation hints and still not speak it as well as my husband and daughter who are only listening! Grrrr! Besides I've spent more hours doing it they have. I'm presently working on lesson two out of 100 lessons offered.

9. Learn to Blog! Since I've been doing this blog for 3 years I just about skipped this one, but then I decided there were many things I could do to improve my blog. I decided to add some pertinent ads. I've always wanted to learn how to design my own page layout. So I've been reading tutorials. I am to the point that I think I'll need to purchase a program before I can design anything that will satisfy me. I've picked up a basic knowledge of html - very basic. I will be spending many hours still on this activity.

10. Attend a library sponsored program. Last night I attended the library's book club. They discussed A Thousand Splendid Suns. It had been two years since I read it so my memory wasn't allowing me to make many meaningful comments, but I enjoyed those refreshed by others' comments.

11. Learn your family history by using at the library. This is another one that I'm skipping for the time being. Before I had children I spent hours and hours doing genealogy. It was fun, but so compelling. I know that once I start up again, I will be consumed with the desire to spend most of my days doing it. So this one's going on hold for awhile.

12. Learn to make a folded book for our display at the library. There's a class this afternoon that my daughter and I are going to attend. The library will provide 2 books for each patron and teach us how to fold the pages so they can be folded artistically. I've looked at some that have already been done and they are quite fascinating. The finished display promises to be quite spectacular. I'll try to get pictures.

As you can see the Adult Summer Reading Program is not really about reading but about life-long learning. Great idea! I still thing I will do the old reading program as well. Hopefully I will get my books chosen for the different categories and post them soon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Split Second

by David Baldacci

I read Hour Game by Baldacci back in January without realizing it was book 2 in a series. It could have been a good stand-alone, but I was delighted to find out there were more books featuring former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.

It was fun going back to book one, Split Second, and learning how King and Maxwell met each other and became partners. In addition, it was a gripping, page turning mystery. I look forward to reading book three.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Language of Bees

by Laurie R. King

The latest addition to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series was very satisfying. I can't believe that I read the first, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, nearly 15 years ago. Where does time go and why is it going faster and faster?

I took this brief synopsis from Laurie King's website:

In a case that will push their relationship to the breaking point, Mary Russell must help reverse the greatest failure of her legendary husband’s storied past—a painful and personal defeat that still has the power to sting…this time fatally.

For Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, returning to the Sussex coast after seven months abroad was especially sweet. There was even a mystery to solve—the unexplained disappearance of an entire colony of bees from one of Holmes’s beloved hives. But the anticipated sweetness of their homecoming is quickly tempered by a galling memory from her husband’s past.

Mary had met Damian Adler only once before, when the promising surrealist painter had been charged with—and exonerated from—murder. Now the talented and troubled young man was enlisting their help again, this time in a desperate search for his missing wife and child. When it comes to communal behavior, Russell has often observed that there are many kinds of madness. And before this case yields its shattering solution, she’ll come into dangerous contact with a fair number of them.

From suicides at Stonehenge to a bizarre religious cult, from the demimonde of the CafĂ© Royal at the heart of Bohemian London to the dark secrets of a young woman’s past on the streets of Shanghai, Russell will find herself on the trail of a killer more dangerous than any she’s ever faced—a killer Sherlock Holmes himself may be protecting for reasons near and dear to his heart.

I felt like the book started out at a nice measured pace, as do all the books in the series. A great deal of the book focuses on Mary with brief contact with Holmes. She is left to solve the mystery of the empty bee colony and then decides she can't dismiss her concerns for Holmes' safety and looks into the mystery of Damian's missing wife & child in her own way. Mycroft is featured more in this book than in the others. I found him to be quite a likable character.

Another blogger mentioned how after the pace of the book increased, she was annoyed by an overly long episode with a plane ride that seemed to disrupt the flow. I can see why she would have felt that way, but I felt like that was intentional. As Mary, and the reader, are racing toward the climax of the mystery before us, that darn plane ride threatens to hinder her life-saving mission and could even cost her own life. (Of course, I didn't question that she would survive.) I could imagine in the movie version we would be chewing our nails at some points of that plane ride.

And the ending - definitely a cliff hanger, begging for the next book to be published TOMORROW! I was satisfied with the ending and even liked it. That's all I can really say about that without giving anything away.

While reading this book I've about talked myself into buying all the books in this series for a reread someday. I don't own any of them at this point because I don't do rereads, but I'm sorely tempted. How can I justify reading 9 books that I've already read when there are so, so many books I haven't read and am dying to? That's my quandary.

Other reviews of The Language of Bees: A Garden Carried in the Pocket, Books & Other Thoughts and A Striped Armchair.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Look Again

by Lisa Scottoline

Over the last few years I have added Lisa Scottoline to my list of favorite authors and am always on watch for the release of her latest work. Look Again was released in April 2009. When I spotted it at the library a few days ago, I added it to the stack of books I was checking out.

I have come to expect suspenseful mysteries from Scottoline, this one was not very suspenseful, but as a contemporary life drama it was excellent.

Here's the premise of Look Again- When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a "Have You Seen This Child?" flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops. The child in the photo looks exactly like her adopted son, Will. Could the child in the photo really be her son?

Everything inside her tells her to deny the similarity between her son and the photo, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she's a journalist and won't be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can't shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up?

She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her life — and that of the son she loves.

In this emotionally charged, heart-pounding thriller Lisa has broken new ground. Look Again questions the very essence of parenthood and raises a moral quandary that will haunt readers long after they have finished the last page, leaving them with the ultimate question, "What would I do?" (taken from the author's website)

I disagree with the "heart-pounding thriller" notion, but I still recommend this book.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

by Neil Gaiman

I listened to this collection of short stories and poems read by the author. The introduction told a little about each story and how Gaiman came to write them. That part was interesting.

I didn't care for many of the stories - a few were okay, but none of them really grabbed me. I wish now that I would have stopped listening and gone on to a different book.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Just Take My Heart

by Mary Higgins Clark

I just have to say that this is one of the ugliest covers I've seen. The one I posted looks a little better than the one I checked out from the library. On mine you don't see the face or the arm on the left or any hint of a waistline, so all you really see is the ugly dress and the girl's hand. Everything looks flat, nondimensional and blase (if anyone knows how to type an e with the little mark over it to make it French, I would love to know). When I saw it on the shelf I had to do a bit of searching to convince myself that it was by the real Mary Higgins Clark and not another, rip-off author. The back cover convinced me. You know how Mary is always pictured on the full back cover looking all fixed up? I find myself wishing they would always show more of the background. I want to see the whole room. A home magazine should really do a feature on her house. Maybe I'm assuming too much, maybe the pictures aren't taken in her home.

Anyway, I saw this at the library and knew it was the perfect thing to read to get my reading going again. (May was a slow month.) It was just what I needed - a good, light, interesting and captivating mystery that was fast to read. I think this book was better than the last several. It's the first time I remember Higgins writing a courtroom drama. There were a few things I thought were cheesy, but all-in-all I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

I don't usually do Booking through Thursday but I saw this at 3M's 1 More Chapter and thought it looked fun. After doing yesterday's meme and trying to keep my list to one or two books, I thought the freedom of being able to list 15 would be much easier. We'll see.

Here's the instructions from the official Booking Through Thursday blog.

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

1. Book of Mormon
2. Bible
3. Poisonwood Bible by
Barbara Kingsolver
4. Jane Eyre by Chrarlotte Bronte
5. Book Thief by Mark Zusak
6. The Magic of Believing by Claude Bristol
7. Skeletons at the Feast
by Chris Bohjalian
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
9. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
10. From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz
11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
12. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
13. Anne Perry's WWI series (starts with No Graves As Yet)
14. The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
15. Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett

I probably should have added Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, but I didn't think of it until later.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Fun Book Meme

Just the other day Framed was saying she was in the mood for a meme. It made me realize that I haven't done one for a long time either. When I saw this today on Rebecca's blog, Lost in Books, I thought it looked fun. So Framed I hope you see this and it appeals to you, too.

1. What author do you own the most books by?

I own 14 books by Terry Pratchett. Next in line is Dean Koontz, Anne Perry and James Patterson.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?

Anne of Green Gables - I love that book but why do I own 4 or 5 copies?

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

Bother me? I didn't even notice.

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

No one comes to mind, so I guess I'm not that much in love with him. (If you asked me about TV, I would say that one guy from Criminal Minds. I don't remember his name on the show or what his real name, but I really do like him.)

5. What book have you read the most times in your life?

I'm not much of a re-reader, but I have read the following books twice: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Giver by Lois Lowry.

6. Favorite book as a ten year old?

Nancy Drew - Oh, I need to read one of those.

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Interesting that as I looked over my last year's books the 3 that stood out were The Book Thief, The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society and Skeletons at the Feast - all 3 dealing with WWII. My favorite of the three - probably The Book Thief.

9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

I encouraged everyone I knew, including my book club, to read Poisonwood Bible and The History of Love. In both cases there were many who didn't care for them. I'd like to encourage everyone to read The Book Thief. I don't recall anyone who didn't like it.

10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

The Camel Club books by David Baldacci

11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

I didn't finish it but intend to attempt it again someday - Octavian Nothing.

12. What is your favorite book?

I don't know if you've noticed yet or not, but I have a real hard time narrowing these things down to one book. I absolutely love The Poisonwood Bible, History of Love, The Book Thief and Jane Eyre.

13. Play?

The Merchant of Venice

14. Poem?

The Lesson by Carol Lynn Pearson

15. Essay?

A Storyteller in Zion by Orson Scott Card

16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Stephanie Meyer

17. What is your desert island book?

Don't you mean - What books will be in my desert island box? If I have to be limited to just one it would be the scriptures.

18. And . . . what are you reading right now?

Finally, an easy question with only one answer. I just started Language of Bees by Laura King.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Winners of "Bound" Announced

I'm a day late in announcing the winners of the historical novel Bound. I can't explain how I've let this happen, but I'm going to amend the situation right now!

Thanks to Catherine at Harpers who is providing three copies for 3 lucky winners. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was another story that helped me be aware of and thankful for the blessings of living in this country during this time period. You can read my review HERE.

I would like to thank all those who entered and left suggestions of historical novels. Luckily, I'd had already read some, but there were enough that my TBR list put on a few inches.

Candleman helped me draw names. Without further adieu I will announce the winners in the order their names were pulled from the hat (well, bowl).

Gentle Reader
from the blog Shelf Life (don't you love that name?)

from Becky's Book Reviews (her blog looks so lovely)

from Bookfoolery and Babble (she has such an incredible sense of humor)

Congratulations to the 3 of you. I hope you enjoy the book and it causes you some introspection as it did me. I look forward to your reviews. Please email me your snail mail addresses and I will forward them on to Catherine who will mail your books to you.