Thursday, December 21, 2006

Meyer Produces More Blood-Sucking Fun

Okay, so I'm back to vampires. I just finished New Moon, the sequel to Stephenie Meyer's novel, Twilight, and it was just as good as compelling as the first.

Meyer's sophomore novel continues the story of Bella Swan, a teenager who finds herself inexplicably drawn to Edward Cullen, a gorgeous senior, who just happens to be a 200-year-old vampire. In the first book, Edward spends his time rescuing Bella from various evils, including a bloodthirsty vampire named James. In the second, Edward breaks Bella's heart by leaving (for her own good, he says). In an attempt to fill the bottomless void left by her true love, Bella becomes very close to an old family friend, 16-year-old Jacob Black. As their friendship deepens, she wonders if she can ever let go of Edward and accept the love of someone else. Just as she is beginning to feel somewhat happy again, Jacob's lightheartedness changes, and Bella discovers he has secrets of his own, secrets that could destroy Edward and his family. Despite Edward's betrayal, Bella is compelled to help him, a compulsion that puts her in more danger than she could ever imagine.

Once again, Meyer has created a story full of adventure, humor and passion. I find her novels immensely readable (they are actually Young Adult novels) and extremely compelling. Although New Moon is more introspective than Twilight, it is still a blood-pumping, page-turning marvel that will suck you in completely. I love her books, and am anxious to read the next three (yes, three, according to her website) installments.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Maisie Dobbs A Different Kind of Detective Story

Jacqueline Winspear's first novel, Maisie Dobbs, is my favorite kind of book - one that takes a pinch from one genre, a dash from another, and mixes it all together to create a work that is rich, full and unique. The story opens in the Spring of 1929, as the title character is opening a detective agency in London. Soon, she receives her first assignment, to follow a young wife suspected of cheating on her older husband. As Maisie trails the woman (Celia Davenham), she begins to discover that her open-and-shut case is much more complicated than she first imagined. Maisie finds that Celia is not, in fact, meeting a lover, but trekking daily to a country cemetery to visit a grave marked only "Vincent." The detective's search for Vincent leads her to "The Retreat," a gated community for veterans of the Great War, whose wounds are so horrific that they seek refuge from the outside world. Suspicious of the site's leader, Major Jenkins, Maisie digs deeper into his past, unwittingly re-opening the emotional wounds she suffered while a nurse at the front. Trying not to become mired in her own hurts, Maisie races against the clock to expose Major Jenkins before he can inflict any more damage on men who have already suffered so greatly.
As I said before, the story offers a little bit of everything - history, adventure, humor, romance, and heartache. The plot moves quickly (although, I admit, it is pretty predictable), the characters are interesting, and the prose is succint. It's been compared to Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but I think it is much richer than Smith's story. It's a good read - not a page turner necessarily, but definitely worth reading.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Madonnas" a Vivid Look at Life and Art

So many books have been written about WWII that it seems impossible for anyone to have a fresh perspective on the subject. Perhaps that's why Debra Dean's The Madonnas of Leningrad is so striking. Whatever the reason, this finely-crafted first novel is unforgettable.

The star of the novel is Marina Buriakov, an 82-year-old Russian immigrant, teetering on the brink of full-fledged Alzheimer's. Her story swings between present day --as she attends her granddaughter's wedding -- and her days as a young woman in war-torn Leningrad. Before the war, Marina wored as a tour guide at The Hermitage art museum, a job she loved. When war breaks out, her happy existence is shattered; she is forced to huddle in the cellars with the rest of the museum staff, ekeing out a bleak life that is increasingly endangered by lack of food, heat and other necessities. As she works with the other museum employees to pack treasured artwork for transport out of the besieged city, Marina concentrates on memorizing the pieces. Her memory of richly colored, vivid paintings stands in sharp contrast to the dark, cold world outside the museum. Although Marina and her fiancee (a soldier) survive the war, they bury their painful memories, travel to the U.S. and start new lives. Now, as Marina's mind is ravaged by disease, her daughter, Helen, realizes how little she knows her mother. The reader, like Helen, soon realizes that Marina Buriakov is a woman worth knowing, and admiring.

Dean's literary power lies in her descriptive abilities. She is especially effective at contrasting different elements, such as the priceless museum paintings and the bleak, cold world of Leningrad. The imagery is so strong that it stays in the readers head long after he/she has closed the book. It's not a feel-good book, but it is an amazingly powerful, heart-wrenching one, that should not be missed.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Ruins: DiVINEly Creepy

On Halloween night, my husband took the kids trick-or-treating while I handed out candy at home. Since I didn't want to just sit there, I picked up the library book I had started recently - Scott Smith's The Ruins. Talk about a mistake - I jumped every time the doorbell rang. The book is that engrossing, that creepy. It's a good read; in fact, if it wasn't for the annoying ending, I would call it a great read.

The story begins with 4 friends vacationing in Cancun. After a few days soaking up the rays on the beach, they decide to join a German friend, Mathias, on a day trip to visit some ruins. Mathias' brother had followed his girlfriend archaeologist to the site, encouraging Mathias to join them by following a crude map he had drawn. So, the 5 of them, plus a Greek they just met, head off for a remote Mayan village. Strange happenings occur right off the bat - the group's taxi driver warns them the place is "no good," the locals try to run them off, and the archaeologists are nowhere in sight. Soon, the group finds itself stranded on a hillside, surrounded by armed Mayans. The hillside is eerily silent, devoid of animal, insect or human life - the only thing that's living is the vine that grows thickly all over the hill. As it becomes increasingly clear that they won't be leaving the hillside anytime soon, the group has to figure out how to survive on little food and water, and how to avoid turning on each other. As if they didn't have enough problems, the mysterious vines seem to have a life of their own...

The story is, in a word, creepy. The first half, especially, is taut, and breathtakingly suspenseful. You won't be able to turn the pages fast enough. The only thing I really didn't like about the book was the ending - the characters became wimpy and annoying, and the mystery of the vine was never solved. Should you read it? Definitely. It's an incredibly suspenseful book - just watch out for the vegetation!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mary Higgins Clark Tame but True

I just finished Mary Higgins Clark's newest mystery, Two Little Girls in Blue. I've been a big Clark fan ever since I was a teenager, but lately I've found her stories very predictable and tame. Still, I like the fact that her books are clean - very little foul language, sex or outright violence. This new one is typical Clark fare - a quick, easy read that will keep you turning pages.

The story revolves around 3-year-old twin girls, Kathy and Kelly Frawley. One night, while their parents are out, the girls are snatched from their beds by a group of greedy thugs. Although the ransom is soon paid, only one of the girls (Kelly) is returned to her family. As the police scramble to find the missing twin, it becomes increasingly obvious to them that Kathy has been killed by her captors. Margaret, the girls' mother, refuses to believe the grim news, especially when Kelly insists that she is communicating with her sister. What follows is a tense race-against-the-clock hunt for the kidnappers, written in the taut, staccato chapters for which Clark is famous.

Like I said, the book is a bit tame and predictable, but worth the read nonetheless.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

'Cold Sassy' Hilarious Depiction of Small Town Southern Life

I'm probably the last person on Earth to read Olive Ann Burns' Cold Sassy Tree, but now that I have I can see why this novel has become such a classic. It's a book with a little bit of everything - humor, romance, tragedy and redemption. The story is told by Will Tweedy, a 14-year-old boy who finds himself smack dab in the middle of the biggest scandal the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, has ever witnessed. The buzz begans on July 5, 1906, when Will's grandfather, E. Rucker Blakeslee, elopes with the local milliner, a younger woman and a Yankee to boot. As if that isn't bad enough, Rucker's wife of several decades has been dead for less than three weeks! Scandalized, the townspeople shun Rucker's new wife as a low-class golddigger, and proceed to make her existence a miserable one. Both Rucker and Love have too much pride to let the town unrattle them, so they proceed to cause even more uproar by holding their own church services at home, buying a motorcar, and taking a luxurious trip to New York City. Will's caught in the middle, torn by loyalty to his outrageous grandfather and his obedience to his pious father and scandalized mother. To make matters worse, Will catches Love kissing a strange Texan, and then he finds himself in a similar situation with a no-count millworker. When tragedy strikes Will's family, he is forced to see his colorful grandpa in a different light.

Like I said, this book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, (mostly because of its zany characters and Will's own funny adventures) but it is also surprisingly poignant. Some of the situations are startling and heartbreaking. Overall, it is a vivid and colorful portrait of small-town Southern life that sparkles and shines. Don't miss it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Peace Like A River Flows Beautifully

I just finished Peace Like A River by Leif Enger and, wow, what a book! Honestly, it's the best novel I've read in quite awhile. I loved it.

The story is told by Reuben Land, an 11-year-old asthmatic, whose life chnges forever when his older brother, Davy, is jailed for murdering two boys who had been threatening the Land Family. Reuben and his colorful little sister Swede miss their brother terribly, as does their father whose worries take a toll on his health. When Davy's trial takes a turn for the worse, Swede decides it's time to break their big brother out of jail; their plan is foiled when both siblings fall asleep waiting for a chance to sneak out of the house. To their surprise and delight, the family discovers that Davy has broken himself out while they slept. Thus begins their journey to the Badlands in hot pursuit of their outlaw brother. With a federal agent tracking their every move, the Lands follow their hearts and their father's uncanny "inspiration" from the Lord to find their beloved brother.

What really sparkles in this story is the characters. Reuben is helplessly flawed; his cowardice weighs him down, but his honesty makes him true and noble. Swede absolutely sparkles as the imaginative, spunky little sister who can weave tales out of thin air and foil the "putrid fed" by sabotaging him with maple syrup. She is an incredible, irresistible character. Jeremiah Land provides an interesting twist to the story. He is a kind, wise father, who talks regularly with the Lord and reads his King James every morning. In fact, Reuben describes him as a literal miracle-worker, equating him with Jesus Christ Himself. As far-fetched as it sounds, you come to believe Reuben's view of his humble, steadfast father. The Lands are believable, likeable and utterly impossible to forget.

If you're looking for a beautiful novel about family, faith and innocence, pick up Peace Like A River - I promise you won't be able to put it down!

Friday, September 01, 2006

1 Remorseful Doctor + 1 Resentful Wife + 1 Rebellious Son = 1 Bleak Novel

Like all good ghost stories, The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, begans on a dark, stormy night. In this case, it is also a snowy night, a night when Norah Henry's ob/gyn is stranded by the weather, and her husband is forced to deliver their baby in his own clinic. While Norah sleeps under anesthesia, David discovers that his wife is pregnant with not one, but two babies. The first is a healthy boy, the next a girl obviously afflicted with Down's Syndrome. Shocked, David hands his daughter to a nurse, instructing her to give the child to a local home for the mentally retarded - a standard practice in 1964, but one that will haunt David for the rest of his life. He elects to tell Norah that their daughter died. What David doesn't realize is that the nurse, Caroline Gill, can't bear to leave the newborn baby at an institution. Instead, she takes the baby to Pittsburgh, where the two begin a new life.

Back in Kentucky, the Henrys are haunted by the ghost of their daughter. Despite her happiness with her baby boy, Norah can't get past the immense feeling of loss that seems to accompany her every waking moment. David's relunctance to talk abut the death creates a gulf between he and Norah, a fissure that widens with every passing day. As their son, Paul, grows up, he can feel the tension between them, and mistakenly construes it as his fault.

When a tragedy strikes, the past comes flying into the present, and the Henrys must face the mistake David made so many years ago.

This book is beautifully written, although in a very stark and haunting way. Even Caroline's story, which is supposed to provide a bright counterpoint to the Henrys sad story, is described in a sad, bleak way. The plot is very engrossing and fast-paced, but undeniably sad. Although the book is eventually about redemption, it is ultimately sad and depressing. I thought the book was interesting and very well-written - I just couldn't get over its incredibly bleak tone.

Friday, August 18, 2006

No Bones About It: Reichs Knows Her Stuff

Okay, so Kathy Reichs' newest, Break No Bones, isn't as original as some of her other books, but it is just as compelling. The novel stars one of my favorite characters in crime fiction: Temperance Brennan. "Tempe" is a forenisc anthropologist who works cases in both The United States and Canada. In this story, she is digging with a group of students in South Carolina when some grisly remains are discovered. As a favor to her coroner friend, Tempe studies the body, finding strange marks on the bones. Since her friend is battling her own issues, Tempe agrees to take on the case, which will change "[her] dig, [her] summer, and [her] views on human nature."

To complicate matters further, Tempe's estranged husband has taken up temporary residence in the same beach house where Tempe is staying. This situation doesn't go over well with her boyfriend, Detective Andrew Ryan. When both men end up at the beach house to help with Tempe's case, things get very complicated. Her personal life is always just as interesting as her current case!

Reichs is a talented writer, who also happens to be an expert in forensic anthropology, a field in which she has worked for many years. She has been accused of using too much jargon in her stories, but I believe she uses just enough to be interesting without being overwhelming. Her plots are always taut and exciting; her characters (even down to Tempe's pet dog and cat) believable and rich in personality; and her cases fascinating. If you love CSI, Reichs is for you.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Slavery: A New Perspective

So much has been written about slavery it's hard to believe that there are still fresh insights out there, but pick up The Known World by Edward P. Jones, and you will find some. This Pulitzer-prize winning novel focuses on Henry Townsend, a freed slave who becomes wealthy enough to own his own plantation, complete with a passel of slaves. All of his property is strictly controlled. When he dies, however, the operation of his estate falls into the hand of his wife, Caldonia, who weakly tries to keep things together. Although the slaves admire the "missus," several see their chance at freedom and take it. Soon, the plantation has dissolved into chaos, with slaves escaping, fighting among the men, and a troublesome overseer trying to procure his freedom by seducing Caldonia. The novel stays mainly with Henry and Caldonia, but it also offers perspectives from every corner of the plantation, from slaves to their owners, to the local sheriff and his patrollers, to various friends and foes of the Townsends. It is a compelling look at slavery, with all of its moral complexities.

While I found this book interesting, I can't say I really liked it. The storyline is very disjointed, although in an artsy kind of way. I found few of the characters to be likable. Make no mistake, the book is extremely well written, it's just not a story you can read casually. Would I recommend reading it? Yes, for the fresh and incredibly interesting view on slavery, no, if you are looking for an easy, well-plotted story.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

An Inspirational Read

I finally finished one of the two books I've been reading lately, The Peacegiver by James L. Ferrell. On its surface, the book is about an LDS couple that is struggling to keep their marriage together. As Rick stews and frets about his relationship with his wife, he dreams of his beloved grandfather, who had passed away. In the dream, Grandpa Carson takes Rick on a journey of discovery, "showing" him scriptural stories to teach him about Christ's Atonement. As Rick "travels" with his grandfather, he realizes that the only way to save his marriage is to follow Christ's example of unconditional love. The frame story (which is rather cheesy and not very well written anyway) is really only a tool to help us better understand the Atonement and how it relates to our everyday lives. Ferrell analyzes scripture and the Atonement itself in such depth that you will look at the familiar scripture passages in an entirely different way than you have before. And, as you work with Rick to apply these new insights to his situation, you will realize how you can implement them in your own lives. The message of the book is really about turning to the Lord for help with your own sins and shortcomings, then trying your best to see other people as Christ sees them.

My husband and I have had this book sitting in our master bathroom for several weeks now, and we have been reading it simultaneously. We have had many great discussions because of it; it's been amazing to see how differently we interpret the information we've read. We were both deeply impacted by the book, and I think it's helped us to look more closely at our own sins and less judgmentally at others'. Whether or not you're LDS, I think this is a great, thought-provoking read. I highly recommend it!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Blogging About Books

Welcome to the new home of my reading journal. I think a blog will be an easier format for my book reviews and recommendations. Right now, I'm "double-booked," or right in the middle of 2 books. I'll post when I finish one of them. For now, welcome and enjoy!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Michael L. Printz Project



Who: Suey and Jessica, hosts

What: A challenge to read all of the Printz Award-winning books

Where: All the info is here

When: Ongoing

Why: To find more great books, of course!

The List

2011

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi - my review

Stolen by Lucy Christopher - my review

Please Ignore Vera Deitz by A.S. King

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Nothing by Janne Teller

2010

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973 by John Barnes

2009

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - my review

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart - my review

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan


2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Dreamquake: Book Two of the Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke

Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill


2007

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - my review


2006

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography by Elizabeth Partridge

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson


2005

how i live now by Meg Rosoff - my review

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Chanda’s Secrets by Allan Stratton

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt


2004

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson - my review

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly - my review

Keesha’s House by Helen Frost

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler - my review


2003

Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer - my review

My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos


2002

A Step From Heaven by An Na

The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson

Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art by Jan Greenberg Abrams

Freewill by Chris Lynch

True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff

2001

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

Many Stones by Carolyn Coman

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman


2000

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Skellig by David Almond

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - my review

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

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