Monday, July 21, 2014

Power Play by Danielle Steel 339 Pages

Danielle Steel steers away from her usual formulaic plots and tries a new style of writing. Unfortunately, she is not successful and this book is a work of tedious boredom. It took a lot of perseverance on my part to get through this book. And then I am disgusted with myself for the wasted time.

The premise of the book is this: males who are at the pinnacle of the business world believe their power enhances their charisma and becomes their drug of choice. Only to have it ultimately blow up in their faces. In this case, numerous affairs and a second hidden family. Females, in the same position, where power and success anesthetizes them and dulls their sexuality, lead very lonely personal lives. 

Who cares?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry p156

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

p 156
Grades 3-5 (but truly for anyone)

While working at the library I have been exposed to so many great books that I have not had the opportunity to read in school.  So I am taking the time now.  I started out with Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.  This Newberry award winning book gives a wonderful insight into how Christians and Jews conspired to resist the dominance of the Nazis in Denmark and how a young friendship can stand the test of time.

The intended audience of Number The Stars is middle school aged children, however, it can make an impact on anyone.  I was pulled into the "ordinary" lives of the Danish people during World War II through the authors words and felt that I was viewing the characters experiences first hand. Ms. Lowry works her magic by describing how attending school and playing with friends for those within middle school intertwines with more grown up realities of food rations, German soldiers on the street corner, and mandatory curfews.  

This is an amazing story that I would recommend for anyone.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons 221 Pages

I don't quite remember how I discovered Anne Rivers Siddons, but it was late rather than early in her literary career. And I fell in love with her Southern landscapes and not so genteel Southern characters. Saying this, I was somewhat disappointed in her latest novel, The Girls Of August, besides the lackluster plot, it is so short I consider this a novella rather than a novel. 

She tells a story of four friends, wives of doctors who met when the husbands were in their residency at Vanderbilt (Vandy) Medical Center in Nashville. The women started a ritual where the wives-only vacationed one week in August every year at the beach. They christened themselves The Girls of August. Due to divorce and death the number dropped to three, but now there are four again, and the new wife is 20 years younger, nubile and without an ounce of cellulite. The three old friends have their baggage, extra pounds, wrinkles and secrets. Despite decades long friendships, can they still trust each other?

Maybe the book should be called The Girls of Anguish?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith, 455 pages

by Robert Galbraith

Wow. What an amazing ride! I will start by admitting that mysteries are usually not my genre of choice, but I will read anything written by JK Rowling (Surprise! If you didn't already know, Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling's pen name for her Cormoran Strike mystery series.). 

Her prose often comes off very crisp and workman-like, leading to criticism that she's not a good enough or "literary" enough writer. On the contrary, she's not trying to do anything new or explosive here. This is really a beautiful exercise in executing a literary genre. She's mindful of the generic expectations of private detective novels, and she's making the most of those stylistic mores. She's playing this genre like a virtuoso. However, every now and then she writes these beautiful lines, normally out of place in a boiler plate mystery, that take you aback and remind you of what a brilliant writer she is, no matter what genre she's doing (British school novel mixed with fantasy in HP, quasi-Victorian social issues novel with The Casual Vacancy). 

But to cut to the chase, I would say that while I liked the first book in this series, The Cuckoo's Calling, I LOVED this book. The pacing problems of the first novel are non-existent in this, and we've come to be more and more committed to this series's main characters, Cormoran and Robin. JK Rowling is especially delicious in this one when she's skewering the literary world, one which seems like is hard to live in (having to choose a gender neutral name for her books to appeal to boys, having to use a pen name to get a fair reading by critics, and having her writing called "pedestrian," "plodding," and "heavy on cliche").  

Do yourself a favor and read this book; it's a summer read at its best.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand 357 Pages

Warning! Warning! This is a tear jerker!  But I haven't read such a novel that was so complex, it's characters such a mess, the book was just fantastic! With references to Erich Segal's Love Story, this is a story of old loves, new loves, forgiveness, and an untimely death. It is a page-turner. I failed at prolonging the enjoyment of the book, thus I am writing this on little sleep. It is that good.

Elin Hiderbrand's thirteenth novel takes place on Nantucket with native Nantucketer Dabney Kimball Beech set to kick-off the annual Daffodil Weekend. She is the head of the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce and she is also a matchmaker, not professionally, but she has 42 successful matches under belt. You see, if she sees a rosy aura, it's good, really good. If it is a green fog, it is really bad. Divorce-is-in-your-future bad. Dabney receives an email from her one and true love 27-years after he left her and their daughter for the far east. He is returning. Tomorrow. Dabney's daughter is coming with her much disliked fiance for dinner tonight. And Dabney is not feeling very well, at all. Oh, and did I mention she is OCD and an agoraphobic. She can't stand to leave Nantucket due to a childhood trauma, unless her life depends on it. Dabney is a walking poster board for Nantucket, a wonderful friend and mother, and she is not-so-passionately-in-love and married to a famous economist. Her lover is coming back home, and did I mention she is not feeling so great? This is all in the first chapter.

I can't say enough fabulous things about this novel. This author is at the top of my list for the best writers in the women's fiction genre today. Brava! Brava!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Maddaddam Trilogy, Margaret Atwood, 1199 pages

Over the course of the last month, I tackled Margaret Atwood's ambitious dystopian Maddaddam trilogy. All of Margaret Atwood's "speculative fiction,” such as The Handmaid’s Tale or The Blind Assassin, is so intricately plotted and deeply philosophical, all while feeling eerily realistic. What I mean is that I agree with her preferred term for her work-- not “science fiction,” but "speculative fiction;" which she defines as “stories set on Earth and employing elements that already exist in some form." Her works really impact me as a reader because I could image them happening, and thus it helps me relate to both the characters and the situations. 

The Maddaddam trilogy hypothesizes a world in which humanity has destroyed the planet. The novel’s employs ecocriticism to consider what if major corporations governed our country, top scientists are kidnapped or murdered, and the environment is genetically altered or harmed for profit. At the heart of this story is personal perspectives on what the world was like before and after a mysterious plague that wipes out the majority of the population.

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood happen simultaneously but present different points of view on this catastrophic event.

Oryx and Crake follows Snowman (or Jimmy as he is known before the plague) as he grapples with the fact he may be the only human left, as he watches over the Children of Crake, a genetically altered, “evolved” human race, and reflects on his life (particularly with the enigmatic love interest Oryx and the childhood friend turned influential scientist Crake) and how it led him to his chaotic present.

In my opinion, this is the least successful book of the bunch. While Jimmy is an interesting, well formed character, he is not that sympathetic, and the conclusion/climax of the novel feels rushed, compared to the amount of time spent building up Jimmy’s childhood. While this may be intentional on the part of Atwood, giving the sense of how quickly and painfully it happened to Jimmy--the person we’re receiving the action through--it didn't work for me as a reader. Also, I believe Atwood succeeds more fully when she crafts a female narrative voice, as she does in the later books. That’s not to say Jimmy isn’t a powerful narrative voice, but whether it’s because I am a female reader or because Atwood is such a feminist powerhouse, I prefer the later books.  

The Year of the Flood shares its narration between Toby and Ren, at one time both members of the God’s Gardeners, a group seeking to oppose the current ecopolitical situation before the plague. We as readers witness how each woman comes to the group and how the group affects them as individuals. I can’t praise enough the voice Atwood crafts for these women; each woman comes off as a distinct character, and I for one was deeply moved by each of their experiences. In this harsh world of the novel, women really suffer at the hands of powerful men, and Atwood doesn't shy away from depicting these injustices, but more essentially, she shows how these women stand up to these injustices in the ways that they can. Toby especially shines as a narrative voice, and I welcomed her as the main narrator of the final book of the trilogy. In my opinion, this book is the best of the bunch—rare that the second in a trilogy is the best.

Maddaddam moves beyond the events of the first two novels to depict how the survivors, Snowman-the-Jimmy and the God’s Gardeners, come together to face the challenges of the post plague world. While at times the novel feels a little too precious (all these people happen to have met each other in the pre-plague world), and there is too heavy a focus on a threat from a group of Painballers (I’ll leave you to read the novel to see who these villains are), I appreciate the questions Atwood raises in this novel about how to face a world undone and the ways in which the humans interact with the Children of Crake. The ways in which the Children of Crake change and evolve in ways their creators couldn't have expected provide particular readerly pleasure. While it’s hard to be funny in the face of potential annihilation, Atwood succeeds in making this book quite funny at times, especially when she shows the interaction between Toby and the Children of Crake, as she tries to tell them stories of the world and the people they know (the God’s Gardener members, Jimmy) in ways that the Crakers can understand. We often get this mystified, mythical stories told to the Crakers, then the actual lived experience from the people the story depicts. It’s a fascinating practice in what is truth and what is fiction, and how do they overlap.  

While it's a commitment to get through the whole series, I highly recommend it to those looking for excellent writing and a unique plot. Also, as a bonus, it was just announced in the news that HBO will develop a drama series based on the books with Oscar-nominee Darren Aronofsky at the helm. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

For All Time by Jude Deveraux 383 pages

Jude Deveraux brings us another book from the series Nantucket Brides . She seamlessly picks up from the last novel with the continuation of the start of a wedding. Her books in this series figure prominently, of course, with a wedding, but also with a mystery, where the main characters seem to be able to see or go back in time to the early 1800's to fix a family-wrong on Nantucket. The author writes so realistically you actually feel that this is possible and the anticipation gives you shivers.

Bridesmaid Toby and Graydon (cousin of the groom and Royal Prince of Laconia) meet at Jared and Alix's wedding. Graydon is an identical twin, and legend has it the woman who can tell the twins apart will be one of the twin's true loves. Toby is having none of it and tries to keep her distance. But Graydon is on a mission to win her and her heart. And so is the house and spirits across the street.

I love this series. Although I was expecting it to be on the sugary side, Deveraux manages to keep the saccharin level at a minimum.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs 360 pages

The second book in the Bella Vista Chronicles series, the author continues with the family saga of the Johansens. This time featuring Isabel Johansen, sister of Tess (The Apple Orchard), a renowned regional chef  and the family caretaker. But who is there to take care of Isabel? Writer Cormac O'Neill comes on the scene to write a biography of family patriarch Magnus Johansen and family secrets and intrigue come to see the light of day, ending the book with a wedding and another mystery. Another good reason to look for the next book in the series, probably next year.

Fans of Susan Wiggs will gobble this one up, wishing that the next book is just around the corner. If you haven't read the first book in the series, that won't be a problem as most writers tend to write their series books as if you haven't. But I recommend you do. She's that good.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor 359 pages

Another fictional account of the sinking of the Titanic, I wondered how many different ways can the same story be told, especially when you already know how it ends. So when I read a short blurb of the book: Titanic survivor tells story 70 years after the fact to great-granddaughter in order to help her find direction in her life, I was intrigued.

The story alternates back and forth between April 1912 and 1982, with seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy (the great-grandmother) leaving Ireland with her Aunt Kathleen, and 12 others from her town of Ballysheen. Grace Butler, Maggie's great-granddaughter, suddenly loses her father, and finds herself adrift with no purpose to her life. A black carrying case found in Maggie's attic reveals the story of the sinking of Titanic and how Maggie became one of only 705 survivors.

Not an overly complicated book, the story tended to be told a bit too simplistic. Enough that you wanted to start skipping sections, my attention waning. But the story did tend to pick up some steam by mid-book. A different approach, with an expected ending, no surprises here.

A Long Time Gone by Karen White 417 pages

A recently discovered author, I fell in love with her stories and the sometimes odd culture of the South.  I quickly gobbled everything up that was Karen White. Quirky family members with past and present woven stories, Karen White usually succeeds in her story telling, ultimately delivering a very enjoyable book.

Unfortunately, this book left me unsatisfied. Bored. Way, way too long (417 pages), the author's editor could have done a much better job. A shorter, more to the point story, would have made a more enjoyable read. The story is of four generations of Walker women who leave their children to find themselves. Ultimately passing on the emotional damage to each generation. They return, realizing what they were searching for was ultimately at home all this time.

Read White's other books.

Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises p 348

I really enjoyed Rick Riordan Percy Jackson & the Olympians series as well as his other series: Heroes of Olympus and Kane Chronicles.  So I was looking for another series similar to this.  I happened upon Seven Wonders: Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis.  I was excited to read it as it was endorsed by Mr. Riordan himself.

The book begins with Jack McKinley collapsing in the middle of the street.  When he wakes up, he is in a strange hospital and does not know what to make of his surroundings.  His room is being looked after by a sleeping guard and greeted by some weird kids who live at the hospital.  Jack is informed by Professor Bhegad, who runs the hospital, that he has a genetic trait inherited by one of his long ago ancestors who ruled over the city of Atlantis before it collapsed.  This genetic trait gives him superpowers, however, his body can not handle how fast he is gaining his powers.   If he does not continue to have surgical procedures to filter the powers, then he will die.  To complicate matter even further, Professor Bhegad informs Jack and the rest of the kids that they need to find seven magic Loculi which were stolen and hidden when the city of Atlantis collapsed.  The Loculi need to be found so that the magic does not fall into the wrong hands.  Jack and the others begin their journey to find the seven Loculi in the Colussus Rises.

I was disappointed with the cohesiveness  and development of characters and action scenes within the book. I felt that the journey to the climax of the story was not as developed as much as I wanted.  One thing about the book that I did enjoy was the characters had to work through puzzles and mathematical problems to progress through the story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch 387pages

I was disappointed in this book.  After reading Koch’s book, The Dinner, I was expecting great things.  Summer House with Swimming Pool feels like a rehash of The Dinner.  Both deal with privileged individuals who are icons of propriety on the outside but are actually callous and conniving on the inside often to the point of being monstrous. 

The plot of Summer House with Swimming Pool revolves around a summer vacation that a physician takes with his family.  This family is not the only ones staying at the summer house and doctor’s eldest daughter gets sexually assaulted.  It isn’t clear who the assailant is.  The good doctor sets about finding the answer.  One member of the vacationing group seeks medical care from the doctor months after the incident and mysterious dies under his care.  Has the doctor punished the vacationer responsible for the harm to his daughter?

                For me, the ending of this novel was slightly confusing and not satisfactory.   I felt like the author was trying to make too many commentaries about society and the message ends up getting muddled.  Maybe Herman Koch dived into the deep end of the swimming pool without his floaties on.

Taking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past by Ransom Riggs 366pages

 Anyone that has read the book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, knows that its author, Ranson Riggs, has a fascination with unusual photography.  Talking Pictures: Images and MessagesRescued from the Past is a compilation of interesting photos of strangers.  Riggs does not know any of the individuals in the photos.  Rather, he bought most of the photographs at garage and estate sales.  The only criterion for purchase was that the photo had a memorable inscription. Some of the pictures are memorable because their captions are surprisingly funny or heartwarming while other inscriptions leave you scratching your head.  I share Rigg’s fascination with the lives and artifacts of strangers so this was a highly enjoyable read for me.  I recommend you peruse it yourself.

"Stealing everything I could get my hands on. Ha, Ha."

"Certainly my legs won't cause Betty Garble any envy. Tear this up."

"I'm NoBody's Baby."

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Body Book by Cameron Diaz 280 pages

The Body Book 

by Cameron Diaz with Sandra Bark 

280 pages

               Even though Cameron Diaz looks amazing on the cover, this book is not about the latest celebrity weight loss fad.   In fact, this book reads more like your eighth grade health science textbook.  That might sound like a bad thing but it is actually pretty awesome.  Yeah, we all say we know all the major muscles groups in the human body.

               Not only will this book help you bone up on the interworkings of your body.  It also has some great health tips.  My favorite one and the one I have most utilized is about water.  Cameron says drink a large glass of it as soon as you wake up in the morning.  It will really help wake up your brain (more so than coffee) and it will get your digestive system going. (Yep, Cameron covers poop in this book.)  Furthermore, this might seem obvious but it is still a great reminder: Keep drinking water all day long even if you don’t feel thirsty.  By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. This book also includes some good workout tips.

               Checkout this book if you are feeling ready to make some simple changes to your life that will make a big difference in the long run.