Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Top 10 Book Picks for 2008

I can't believe the year is over. The last 2 years I read between (185-187 books). This year my goal was 200. I finished the year with 206, so I was very happy.

Wishing Everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year and, of course, Happy Reading!
Here are my Top Picks for the Year.

Top 10 (FICTION) of 2008
  1. Tomato Girl; Jane Pupek
  2. The Art of Racing in the Rain; Garth Stein (audio)
  3. Molokai; Alan Brennert
  4. Every Last Cuckoo; Kate Maloy
  5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; David Wroblewski
  6. Purple Hibiscus; Adichie (audio)
  7. Testimony; Shreve
  8. Skeletons at the Feast; Bohjalian
  9. Unaccustomed Earth; Lahari (audio)
  10. The Commoner; Schwartz (audio)
Top 10 (NON FICTION) of 2008
  1. Chosen By a Horse; Richards
  2. Alex and Me; Pepperberg (audio)
  3. The Last Lecture; Pausch
  4. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid; Bryson (audio)
  5. Dreams of My Father; Obama
  6. Predictably Irrational; Arieley
  7. Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age & other Adventures; Lindberg
  8. Do Dead People Watch You Shower; Bertoldi
  9. Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World; Myron
  10. The Numerati; Baker

206 - Time of My Life; Allison Winn Scotch

I wanted to wrap up the year with another light read, so I chose: Time of My Life; by Allison Winn Scotch. The premise sounded very cute, and one that probably many women have wondered about at sometime in their life----what if I had held on to the guy that got away?

The day after a deep chi-clearing massage, Jill finds herself seven years in the past when she was a highly paid advertising executive instead of a stay- at-home wife to her lawyer husband, Henry, and a devoted mother. Through trial and error Jill rethinks her biggest decisions and finds that rarely are life’s decisions black and white.

This was a cleaver exploration of the path not taken, however, in the end there were a few issues which were left unresolved.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED 12/31/08

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

205 - As Good As it Got; Isabel Sharpe

I was looking for a light read and thought this book sounded like a fun story.

About the book:

Ann Redding has taken every lousy thing life has thrown at her and handled it very well, thank you very much. All she wants is to get her life back on track...but that won't happen till she makes her worried family and friends back off by spending two weeks at Camp Kinsonu, a retreat for suddenly single women. Now she's stuck sitting around a campfire, singing "I Am Woman" with a bunch of sandal-clad, makeup-boycotting women. If she doesn't get out of there soon, they'll be sizing her for Birkenstocks.

Kinsonu, an idyllic retreat on the coast of Maine, is supposed to be a place for new hope and new beginnings. But Ann doesn't belong in an estrogen Eden, she belongs in a corporate boardroom. Still, the camp has its compensations—she's grudgingly befriended some other "inmates," including Cindy, who honestly believes she's just killing time till her serial-cheating husband comes crawling back. And Martha, shy, overweight, and mysteriously silent about the man she's there to get over.

Maybe it was fate that brought them together at Camp Kinsonu, maybe just bad luck. But three strangers are about to bond on an adventure they didn't ask for—and discover that lives they thought were as good as it got could suddenly get a lot better.

I liked the setting of the book, a camp in the woods of Maine, and the fact that it was a story about women in their 40's trying to come to terms with a failed relationship. Although the story started out good, for the most part this book fell flat for me, and turned out to be very predictable.

RATING - 2.5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/29/08

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Reading Challenge

COMPLETED - 2/3/09
The Winter Reading Challenge runs from December 21st, 2008 through March 20, 2009; there are 13 weeks in Winter.

The rules are very flexible:

1) Choose any number of books you would like to read and post them on your blog.

2) They can be fiction and/or nonfiction including e-books and audio books

3) They can overlap with other challenges that begin in 2009.

4) Sign up on Mr. Linky.

These are the (13) books I plan on reading:

  1. As Good As it Got; Isabel Sharpe - 2.5/5
  2. Frangipani; Vaite - 4/5
  3. Outliers; Gladwell - 4/5
  4. The Space Between Us; Umrigar - 4.5/5
  5. Women of the Silk; Tsukiyama - 4.5/5
  6. Never Tell a Lie; Ephron - 4/5
  7. A Golden Age; Anam - 4.5/5
  8. The Book of Bright Ideas; Kring - 5/5
  9. Kiss; Dekker - 4.5/5
  10. Mercy; Picoult-3.5/5
  11. The Wednesday Wars; Schmidt - 4.5/5
  12. Breadfruit; Viate - 4/5
  13. Time of My Life; Winn Scotch-4/5

Saturday, December 27, 2008

204 - Do Not Go Gentle: My Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time; Ann Hood

Author Ann Hood became determined to find a miracle cure when her father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. She was the product of generations of Italian-American Catholics, and was determined to find some miracle to cure her father with whom she has a very special bond. She traveled to Chimayo, N.Mexico, where the Tewa Indians believe that the mud is curative and a chapel commemorates the healing miracles that have allegedly occurred there. She brought back the special mud for her father. Her father was willing to try anything, as he was not ready to accept his death sentence.

This poignant memoir of grief is also a love story: "My father," Hood writes, "was the love of my life." She loved the way he whistled, the way he smiled, even the way he carried boxes of doughnuts. Unlike many young adults who give up their youthful adoration of Dear Old Dad, Hood only grew to cherish her father more as a grown-up, and as she watched him die.

I thought this book was very well done. I especially enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of various places where miracles were to have occurred. Having a family member who is very ill, I thought this was just the type of book, I might need right now. I was disappointed in the fact that the miracle Ann Hood so desperately wanted to find for her father, did not help to extend his life.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/26/08

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

203 - The Christmas Sweater; Glenn Beck

The Christmas Sweater, by Glenn Beck, is a heartwarming story of forgiveness and redemption.

When twelve year old Eddie receives a handmade sweater from his financial strapped single mother for Christmas instead of the Huffy bike he believes he deserved, it starts a series of events that will teach him life lessons about what is really important in life.

Based in part on the author's own childhood, it's a story of suffering, regrets in life, and redemption centered around his rejection of a gift from his mother. There are life lessons to be learned from this story for everyone; sometimes the storms we face in our own life are self created.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/24/08

Monday, December 22, 2008

202 - The House on Tradd Street; Karen White

The House on Tradd Street , is the first in a new series by Karen White. The story is set in Charleston, South Carolina and has some great elements: part mystery, part Gothic ghost story and part romance. Real Estate agent Melanie Middleton inherits an old Tradd Street mansion from a virtual stranger she met a few days earlier --the stranger senses Melanie can help unravel some long hidden secrets. There is one hitch, the elderly man who left her the house states in his last wishes that Melanie is to live in for at least one year, and she must also restore the old house. Melanie prefers new homes--free from history or ghosts. Few people know this but Melanie has seen ghosts since her childhood, and at the Tradd Street property more ghosts are strutting their stuff. Jack Trenholm, is a good looking, true crime writer who believes that there are diamonds from the Civil War hidden on the property Melanie has just inherited. He convinces her to let him help her restore the property, and before long an attraction is formed. The author did a great job of giving the reader a real feel for historic Charleston. The ghosts added a fun element to the story in helping to unravel the mystery. The book was not perfect, but still a fun read. RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/22/08

Sunday, December 21, 2008

201 - Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival; Bernd Heinrich

I have had this book on my shelf for a few years. Yesterday, after receiving about 10" of snow here in New England, it seemed like the perfect reading choice for me. I curled up near the fireplace and front windows where the bird feeder sits, and watched some of my tiny feathered friends brave the elements to fill their bellies. I quickly became fascinated with the book: Winter World; Bernd Heinrich.

The author is a biologist, and an illustrator, and this book has the most wonderful hand drawn illustrations. By exploring the the woods and studying the environment, mostly here in New England (Maine and Vermont) we learn some of the survival approaches employed by turtles, mice, squirrels, bats, bears, beavers, bees, beetles, birds and butterflies.

The general question is how do animals survive winters, when food may be scarce and temperatures extreme? We learn how birds, mammals, amphibians and insects are able to survive and some even thrive in the cold and snow covered lands. The chipmunk, for example, builds a 12 foot burrow system that includes a nest chamber three feet underground, several food storage chambers, and escape tunnels as well as the main channel. They hibernate not only when it's cold but, also when there's a low food supply.

This book full of amazing facts and details that answered a lot of the questions I've had for years about the challenges our furry and feathered friends face each winter. A perfect winter read. RECOMMENDED!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

200 - Sing Them Home; Stephanie Kallos

I anxiously awaited the release of this book as I loved the author's first book: Broken for You. This book was scheduled for a January 2009 release but hit the stores and libraries earlier.


Sing Them Home is a moving portrait of three siblings who have lived in the shadow of unresolved grief since their mother’s disappearance when they were children. Everyone in Emlyn Springs knows the story of Hope Jones, the physician’s wife whose big dreams for their tiny town were lost along with her in the tornado of 1978. For Hope’s three young children, the stability of life with their preoccupied father, and with Viney, their mother’s spitfire best friend, is no match for Hope’s absence. Larken, the eldest, is now an art history professor who seeks in food an answer to a less tangible hunger; Gaelan, the son, is a telegenic weatherman who devotes his life to predicting the unpredictable; and the youngest, Bonnie, is a self-proclaimed archivist who combs roadsides for clues to her mother’s legacy, and permission to move on. When they’re summoned home after their father’s death, each sibling is forced to revisit the childhood tragedy that has defined their lives.

I usually love books about family sagas, family secrets and, stories with quirky dysfunctional characters. This book certainly contained those elements, but I found this book to be a HUGE disappointment. The only part I really enjoyed was reading the entries in Hope's journal right up to the time of her disappearance. The other criticism I had was that at 500++ pages the ending seemed to be rushed.

In summary, I found this book easy to put down and harder to pick up afterward. It took me about (2) weeks to finish this one. I am glad I borrowed it from the library.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/17/08

Monday, December 15, 2008

199 - Feng Shui for Today's Living; Mary Lambert

I've heard lots of talk about the calming effects of Feng Shui, and since that is what I need right about now, I decided to try Lambert's 2008 book: Feng Shui for Todays Living.

Feng shui — which literally translates to "wind and water" — is the ancient Chinese art of placement. The goal is to enhance the flow of chi (life force or spiritual energy), and to create harmonious environments that support health, beckon wealth and invite happiness. At its most basic level, feng shui is a decorating discipline based on the belief that our surroundings affect us. (Based on personal experience this is so true for me at least).

All of us respond to colors, yet the use of some colors seem to work with more success than others. As an example, the Chinese believe that red brings luck, probably the reason that Chinese brides wear scarlett. They paint their front doors red as an invitation to happiness. Pinks, plums and purples would have the same effect. Green is considered to be a color of freshness, growth and peace, which makes it ideal for a bedroom. Dark greens, and other dark colors, are considered too heavy for indoor use. Light blues work well, but dark blue shades are thought to make one too introspective. Yellow, the color of the sun signifies longevity. White is a symbol of death for the Chinese. Overuse of white can deliver too much cold energy. It is important to add pots of colorful flowers and other touches of color to offset this effect.

Our homes and offices, in line with Feng shui philosophy, can be thought of as a metaphor for our lives. A cluttered house is a cluttered mind. Get rid of the old and make room for the new! Declutter, declutter, declutter to restore clam and harmony to your life.

Whether you buy into feng shui's philosophies or not, many of its principles simply make good design sense. Simple feng shui principles can make your interiors look great and feel fabulous to live in. Room by room, feng shui expert Mary Lambert shows you exactly what to do to achieve a look that’s cool, uncluttered, and truly you. She shows you how to combine element colors and shapes for a harmonious atmosphere, and how to let go of your junk to energize your space. I must admit that just reading this book and focusing on it's colorful illustrations lifted my spirits. It is a recommended book for anyone looking for peace and harmony in their home.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/15/08

Saturday, December 13, 2008

198 - Blindness; Jose Saramago

About the Book

A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers-among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears-through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century, Blindness has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses-and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit. The stunningly powerful novel of man's will to survive against all odds, by the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature.

I first read this book in 1999, but since it has been made into a movie recently, I wanted to read it again. The first time, I enjoyed the book, but not the writing style. This time I had the audio version; it was very good. A few things that made this book unusual were that all the events happen in an unnamed city, in an unknown land. None of the characters are mentioned by name. The story evoked a sense of panic or tension, and the author, through this story reflects many of the deepest fears about ourselves. The author seems to be describing a world not simply as it might be but as it is and has been. He shows us the worst of human nature. But in the end I found the book to be an unforgettable lesson about respect and love, about loneliness and despair, about hope and forgiveness.

RATING - 4.5/5 - COMPLETED - 12/12/08

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

197 - A Cedar Cove Christmas; Debbie Macomber

Every year I look forward to reading a few Christmas themed books. Debbie Macomber is not an author I read (I only tend to read her Christmas books). A Cedar Cove Christmas this years book was a disappointment. It was just so predictable, that you could have just read the dust jacket and figured out the story.


Mary Jo Wyse who is very pregnant goes to Cedar Cove on Christmas Eve, searching for David Rhodes, her baby's father. He told Mary Jo he'd be in town, but he's no where to be found. Mary Jo is stranded and there is no room at the local inn so Grace Harding brings Mary Jo home to her nearby ranch. She and her husband, have a houseful of guests, but they offer her a room over their stable, which is currently sheltering the animals—including a donkey and a camel—for Cedar Cove's Nativity pageant.

Predictably, Mary Jo goes into labor that night. Mack McAfee, a paramedic, comes to her rescue, just as her brothers—the three Wyse men — show up in town. The people of Cedar Cove join them in celebrating the birth of baby Noel, and as far as Mack and Mary Jo well you can plainly see where that's headed.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/9/08

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New York City for the Holidays

So yesterday was our annual trip to New York City for shopping, lunch and a visit with family.

ROCKEFELLER CENTER was a mob scene, but it was worth the shoves to be where the action was.

The SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, crystal infused windows were amazing, and what would a trip to the City at Holiday time be without a stop in SAINT PATRICK'S Cathedral. The warmth, beauty and tranquility of just being inside was worth the trip.

We also had to hit THE STRAND BOOKSTORE, and it's 18 Miles of Books, at 12th and Broadway. I was lucky enough to come home with (10) ARCS at just $1.49 each (they use to be 99 cents).
  • Seamstress; Peebles - 2008
  • Stone Creek; Lustbader (2008)
  • Kissing Games of the World; Shelton - 2008
  • Climbing the Stairs; Venkatraman - 2008
  • Schooled; Lakahani - 2008
  • Descendants; Hemmings - 2009
  • Apologize, Apologize; Kelly - 2009
  • Burning Marguretite; Brown - 2009
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet; Ford - 2009
  • The Sky Below; Derasmo-2009
We finished our visit to NYC with a tour of the PALACE HOTEL, for something to drink and to warm up a bit. Pure Luxury. The decorations were so lovely for the holidays.

BTW>>>I resisted the knock-off bags sold by the street merchants.

196 - We Are Eternal; Robert Brown

Robert Brown psychic investigator and medium to the stars was born in London, England in the 1950's; his mother was almost 40 years old at the time, and he had several siblings as well. The first time he actually remembers seeing anything he was 5 years old. His mother was giving him a bath in the sink, when she had to leave to answer the door. He states that she was gone no longer than five minutes when he looked at the window and saw a man laughing at him. He started screaming and, of course his mother came running. He adds, "before you start thinking it was a 'Peeping Tom' we lived five floors up". This would not be the last he would see of the laughing man. The next time he was 8 years old. Looking through some very old photographs ( which he had a great fascination for doing ), he came across an old photo tucked behind another. It just fell out, he says and he knew instantly that he had seen the face before. He wasn't scared, just curious and went to ask his mother who the man was. It turned out to be his mother's brother whom he had never met. He had died a tragic death, some years before Robert was born.

Robert Brown answers a lot of questions about mediums and psychics, but honestly I had a hard time finishing this 256 page book. This book could have benefited by a good editor; very scattered and poorly written in my opinion. I have read many better books on this subject. I was happy I only paid $1.00 for this one at a book sale.

RATING - 2/5 - COMPLETED - 12/5/08

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

195 - A Dog Named Christmas; Greg Kincaid

A Dog Named Christmas, by Greg Kincaid is a uplifting book just in time for the holidays.

Todd McCray is a developmentally challenged young man who learns that the local animal shelter needs some temporary homes, over the holidays for its dogs since the shelter will be terribly short staffed. He begs his parents to allow him to select a dog to care for over the holidays. Todd's dad is reluctant, as he had lost two special dogs years ago and does not want the family to experience the pain he experienced.

Well although it comes as no surprise, Todd does get to select a dog, which he names Christmas. Despite the lack of a surprise element in this sweet little book (fewer than 200 pages), the book is more about the message: how small acts of kindness can make such a difference to both humans and the animals as well.

A Recommended read for the holidays or it might make a sweet gift for an animal lover.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 12/1/08

Sunday, November 30, 2008

194 - Island of Lost Girls; Jennifer McMahon

I was a big fan of Jennifer McMahon's earlier book: Promise Not To Tell, so for the last few months, I've been meaning to read Island of Lost Girls-- it just never happened until this weekend.

About the book....

One summer day, at a gas station in a small Vermont town, six-year-old is abducted by a person wearing a rabbit suit while her mother is buying lottery tickets. Rhonda Farr is the only witness, and she does nothing as she watches the scene unfold. The incident seemed so surreal, that she hardly realized a crime was in progress, and that the girl was being kidnapped. The little girl gets into the VW Bug with the rabbit , smiling while the rabbit even takes the time to fasten her seat belt.

The kidnapping forces Rhonda to face another disappearance, that of her best friend from childhood - Lizzy Shale who disappeared (13) years earlier. A person in a rabbit suit was around at the time of that abduction as well. Rhonda helps join in the search for the latest missing girl, partly out of guilt for her lost friend.

This book was one of those creepy, psychological thrillers, that makes some people (like me), a bit uncomfortable--squirming, and feeling a little hestitant to turn the next page. There were just 276 pages, culminating in a somewhat predictable conclusion. The book was still a worthwhile read, but in my opinion, it does not compare to Promise Not To Tell.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/30/08

Saturday, November 29, 2008

193 - A New Earth; Eckhart Tolle

I have been listening to A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle, for the last two weeks each night before I fell asleep. I must admit, I was a little skeptical about this book, but I found it very soothing and relaxing at bedtime. The first chapter drew me in immediately. When I was finished, it really made me think about the concepts, and how I could immediate apply these concepts to my personal situation.

The audio book is read by the author, and is about 8-9 hours of listening time. This book was originally released in 2005, but has become an overnight sensation thanks largely to Oprah's enthusiastic endorsement. In fact, Oprah has hosted a 10-week web based course conducted by Tolle; some two million students participated.

According to the author, The key to more joy and purpose is by living in the present moment. Rather, “being” in the present moment. This is accomplished by slowly dismantling the "ego". Many authors have written about the desirability of living “in the Now,” but few have laid out such a clear method that one can understand. The chapters are as follows:

  • Chapter 1: The Flowering of Human Consciousness
  • Chapter 2: Ego: The Current State of Humanity
  • Chapter 3: The Core of Ego
  • Chapter 4: Role-playing: The Many Faces of the Ego
  • Chapter 5: The Pain-Body
  • Chapter 6: Breaking Free
  • Chapter 7: Finding Who You Truly Are
  • Chapter 8: The Discovery of Inner Space
  • Chapter 9: Your Inner Purpose
  • Chapter 10: A New Earth
Although I really enjoyed listening to this book, I did find that some of the information seemed to be repeated a lot, but perhaps that was to reinforce the message. As an audio book, some of the concepts were a bit difficult to grasp and retain, so for the serious reader who wants to absorb every detail of Tolle's message, I would suggest getting the paperback copy as well to refer to.

This book is highly recommended.

RATING - 4.5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/29/08

Friday, November 28, 2008

192 - Alex and Me; Irene Pepperberg

Alex and Me, an avian memoir was such a joy to listen to. The reader was terrific. The story was poignant and funny at the same time.

About the book - POSSIBLE SPOILERS

Partly autobiographical, Irene Pepperberg's memoir reveals info about her own life, starting with her lonely, bleak childhood where her best friend was a dime-store parakeet called "No Name."

The author was an overachiever. She was just 16 when she was accepted by (M.I.T.) Massachusetts Institute of Technology with her latest pet parakeet. After graduating, she earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at Harvard. But she found herself more compelled by the field of animal communication.

She chose African Grey parrots for her research because of their intelligence and clear speech. In 1976, the baby bird she named Alex — an acronym for Avian Language Experiment — was chosen at random from a cage in a pet shop.

When Alex died on September 6, 2007, it was a shock, because African Grey parrots generally live 50 to 60 years in captivity. His passing was devastating because Alex wasn't your normal, run-of-the-mill African Grey parrot; Alex was special. For the last 30 years, Alex had been the focus of research into the cognitive abilities of African Grey parrots. The goal was to see if Alex could "think", and he could!

Although his brain was no bigger than a walnut, when Alex died, he could identify 50 different objects, had a vocabulary of about 150 words, recognized quantities up to six and distinguished between seven colors and five shapes. More importantly, he had a grasp of concepts. He could tell you which objects were bigger, smaller, the same or different and why.

Alex would say, "I'm sorry," if he sensed that a researcher was annoyed with him. When he would get tired of his work and the questions, he'd say, "I wanna go back" (to his cage).

Alex and his owner developed a strong emotional relationship. When Alex died in September 2007, his last words to Pepperberg the day before were: "You be good. I love you."

I LOVE LOVED this audio book. There was just one thing that I was disappointed about. When Alex died unexpectedly at the young age of 31, they mentioned that they had a necropsy performed to determine the cause of death. Unfortunately, there was no mention of the results, which to me left unfinished business for the reader. Even if they were unable to determine the cause of death, something should have been mentioned at the end about this. Despite that, if you are an animal lover, be sure to give this book a try. I doubt that you will be disappointed.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/28/08

191 - A Virgin River Christmas; Robyn Carr

Although I really do not read many romance novels, every once in a while, a feel good story is just what I need. Last month I read Robyn Carr's: Virgin River (#1 in a series), and really enjoyed the story. So much so, that I purchased: book #2 - Shelter Mountain, and Book #3 - Whispering Rock. I haven't read them yet.

A Virgin River Christmas
, is Book #4 of the series, however, I don't think I missed anything reading this one out of sequence.

In this story we meet Marcie Sullivan for lost her young husband Bobby last Christmas. This Christmas she sets out for Virgin River with very little money in her pocket. She has gone to Virgin River to find Ian Buchanan, a fellow Marine of Bobbys, who saved his life by dragging his shattered body in Fallujah for years earlier. By this heroic act, Marcie was able to be with in her life Bobby for three more years.

Since then Ian has seemed to have gone missing, and Marcie's letters to him have gone unanswered. Marcie tracks Ian down in the tiny mountain town and finds an emotionally wounded man. She pushes her way into his reclusive life and finds a kind, but damaged soul beneath hiss rough exterior. And, of course, Christmas is the season of miracles, and in Virgin River, that is no exception.

The story was a predictable, but I still enjoyed the book very much.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/27/08

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

190 - Raven Stole the Moon; Garth Stein

Having absolutely loved Garth Stein's, The Art of Racing in the Rain, I wanted to read his 1998 debut novel: Raven Stole the Moon. It was good, but honestly, not my cup of tea.

About the book.....
Two years ago in a remote Alaskan village, Jenna Rosen's five-year-old son, Bobby, fell out of a boat and drowned, and Jenna was unable to save him. Unable to come to terms with her grief and sinking deeper and deeper into depression, Jenna leaves her husband in Seattle and returns to the site of the tragedy. Hoping to get some closure, once there, she encounters an assortment of sinisterly quirky characters and learns much about the Indian part of her heritage. She soon comes to a startling conclusion.

Since I have never been one to enjoy myth, legend, or fantasy, this story started to lose me when its focus involved: Tlingit Legend---that the kushtaka are shape-shifting soul stealers who inhabit a kind of twilight region between the living and the dead. To me, I would have preferred that the story stay focused, more on grieving and coming to terms with loss.

RATING - 3/5 - COMPLETED - 11/24/08

Sunday, November 23, 2008

189 - Change We Can Believe In; Barack Obama

Change We Can Believe In outlines Barack Obama's vision for America.

This trade sized paperback is just 288 pages, but inside the pages you will read about specific ideas about how to fix our ailing economy and strengthen the middle class, make health care affordable for all, achieve energy independence, and keep America safe in a dangerous world. They writing is clear and succinct. I especially enjoyed reading his speeches, as it has been many months since I first heard some of them. The eloquent manner in which his speeches were spoken came to life once again as I read his words.

Change We Can Believe In asks you not just to believe in Barack Obama’s ability to bring change to Washington, it asks you to believe in yours as well. Yes We Can!

RATING - 4.5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/22/08

Saturday, November 22, 2008

188 - The Spy Who Came for Christmas; David Morrell

It’s a snowy Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, but among the revelers on Canyon Road, a decidedly unholy scene is taking place. A desperate man, dressed all in black, feverishly seeks refuge for himself and the squirming bundle he holds tightly against his breast. Agent Paul Kagan’s bundle is a baby who has the power to change the course of global events. His pursuers are his former colleagues—members of the Russian mafia who will stop at nothing to accomplish their mission. Now Kagan is a spy on the run—he must ensure this baby’s survival, even if it will cost him his own life.

Just a short distance away, Kagan will find an unexpected pair of allies—a mother and her young son, who huddle together after a horrible episode of domestic violence leaves them home alone, with no means of transportation.

And so, with the exquisitely honed skills of his profession and the help and good faith of a weary woman and a disillusioned boy, Kagan must take on forces that will stop at nothing. In the course of a wild and violent night, the unlikely trio learn lessons of generosity, courage, and selflessness, discovering within themselves the luminous strength of the true Christmas spirit.

Not exactly my typical holiday type of read, but still enjoyable. This book has a good amount of suspense, great cover art and was just over 200 pages. In addition, the story has a touching theme about family and redemption.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/21/08

Friday, November 21, 2008

187 - The Bonesetter's Daughter; Amy Tan

I will rarely reread a book because there are just so many other books out there that I really want to read. One book I really enjoyed in 2001 when I read it was Amy Tans: The Bonesetter's Daughter, and, since I needed a good audio book for a short trip, I decided to try this story one more time. I was not disappointed. The author and actress Joan Chen were co narrators of this audio book, and they did a flawless job alternating between the Chinese and American accents.

The Bonesetter's Daughter is a story about a mother and a daughter raised different cultures. Ruth is an American born Chinese woman, and her mother Luling was born and raised in China.

Ruth Young is a 40-something ghostwriter in San Francisco who periodically goes mute, a metaphorical indication of her inability to express her true feelings to the man she lives with, Art Kamen, a divorced father of two teenage daughters. Ruth's inability to talk is subtly echoed in the story of her mother LuLing's early life in China.

LuLing has always been a burden to Ruth, overbearing, accusatory, darkly pessimistic. Now, at 77, she has Alzheimer's, but she had recorded in a diary the extraordinary events of her childhood and youth in a small village in China during the years that included the discovery nearby of the bones of Peking Man, the Japanese invasion, the birth of the Republic and the rise of Communism. LuLing was raised by a nursemaid called Precious Auntie, the daughter of a famous bonesetter.

Answers to both womens' problems are revealed as the reader hears Luling's touching story of growing up in an orphanage.

One of my favorite passages:

These are the things I know are true:

My name is LuLing Liu Young. The names of my husbands were
Pan Kai Jing and Edwin Young, both of them dead and our secrets
gone with them. My daughter is Ruth Luyi Young. She was born in a
Water Dragon Year and I in a Fire Dragon Year. So we are the same
but for opposite reasons.

This was just a beautiful story, which demonstrates how we really are a product of the environment in which we were raised; how the past affects our future. I was especially touched by the mother/daughter relationship, as Ruth became involved in the care of her aging mother.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/21/08 - (REREAD)

Friday Finds: By Chance, Martin Corrick

By Chance, Martin Corrick By Chance is both suspenseful and thought-provoking, a philosophical tale that is rivetingly readable. 'The events that resulted in Bolsover's presence at the Alpha Hotel are closely related to his memories of his wife. James Watson Bolsover is an apparently normal middle-aged man, a shy yet soulful engineer turned technical writer who for many years shared a passionate marriage with his lovely wife, Katherine. Bolsover's wife and his deep interest in his work made his life perfect, but then - by chance, misfortune, bad luck - he lost Katherine and, with her, his innocence. Now he travels by sea to a remote island and checks into what seems to be an ordinary hotel; in this safe haven he hopes to understand the past and start afresh. But we quickly discover that all of the hotel's occupants, like Bolsover himself, have uncertain histories: All of them are 'someone else, seeking to leave their former lives behind. As Bolsover grows accustomed to his new surroundings and close to a new woman the truth of his life trickles out like blood from a wound. He is not quite the simple fellow he seems, but a man who has carefully shielded his own history not only from others but also from himself. Culpability, identity, morality, and luck - all these play a part in a story that echoes our own lives. Writing in terse, elegant, and irresistible prose, Martin Corrick proves himself a new British master. By Chance is an unforgettable novel that combines intelligence with emotion, and lingers in the mind.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

186 - The Hour I First Believed; Wally Lamb

I could not wait for The Hour I First Believed to be released on November 11th. My Amazon copy arrived on Wednesday 11-12-08, and I immediately began to read, and read, and read. This book was 752 pages, and for me (8) days of reading.

I have been a huge Wally Lamb fan after reading: She's Come Undone, and I Know This Much Is True. This new book comes after a 10 year dry spell. One of Lamb's talents has always been the ability to write so beautifully about damaged people. This new novel is no exception.

Caelum Quirk is a forty-seven-year-old high school teacher, married for the third time. His younger wife, Maureen, is a school nurse at the same school-- Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In April 1999, Caelum returns home to Three Rivers, Connecticut, to be with his aunt who has just had a stroke, but Maureen stays behind. She finds herself in the school library at Columbine, cowering in a cabinet and expecting to be killed, as two vengeful students go on a carefully premeditated, murderous rampage. Miraculously she survives, but at a cost -- she is unable to recover from the trauma. Caelum and Maureen flee Colorado and return to an illusion of safety at the Quirk family farm in Three Rivers. But the effects of chaos are not so easily forgotten, and further tragedy ensues.

The Columbine portion of this story reminded me of Jodi Picoult's : Nineteen Minutes, however, Lamb, chose to use the actual names of the shooters and the victims in this story. This novel, is not just a story about Columbine, although the aftermaths of the shooting follow Maureen and Caelum throughout the story. This novel is about so much more. In fact, within this book are stories which span five generations. Caelum uncovers secrets of his past, and that of his ancestors after finding old diaries, letters, and newspaper clippings in an upstairs bedroom of his family's house. Piece by piece, he reconstructs the lives of those who came before him, and along the way as secrets emerge, he is better able to understand his own troubled past.

It is evident that this book was painstakinly researched, and brilliantly written. I really liked this book, but I felt that the book dragged in parts. It is almost like there was way too much going on in this book, and in my opinion, the book might have benefited from a little more editing.

I did come across this fabulous interview with Wally Lamb about the book, but BEWARE it does contain spoilers, but for those of you who have read the book, it explains so much.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/20/08

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

185 - If You Give a Cat a Cupcake; Laura Numeroff

Well I am having a little trouble focusing on Wally Lamb's new book: The Hour I First Believed, right now --I've read 580 pages in 6 days, but still have another 200 pages to go. It's not because the book isn't any good, it's just a tough subject, and since I've been dealing with some depressing issues myself, I need to take a little break some days.

So I decided to treat myself to this adorable children's book.

If you give a cat a cupcake, he’ll ask for some sprinkles to go with it. When you give him the sprinkles, he might spill some on the floor. Cleaning up will make him hot, so you’ll give him a bathing suit . . . and that’s just the beginning!

This parable teaches kids that if you give a cat a cupcake then soon after the cat expects much more. The cat just asks for sprinkles at first, but next thing you know, the cat's dragging the child to the beach, the amusement park, and the museum, forcing the child to carry all its stuff, and then making the child clean up the mess behind.

The lovable cat who first appeared in If You Give a Pig a Party now has his very own book! Written in the tradition of the bestselling If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond’s newest story will show everyone that Cat is where it’s at!

A must read for young and old. Fun illustrations and a cute story as well.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/17/08

Saturday, November 15, 2008

184 - Bats at the Library; Brian Lies

I'm taking a little break from a great serious read, Wally Lamb's: The Hour I First Believed -- Very good, but 750+ pages.

I found this wonderful children's book at the library: Bats at the Library, written & illustrated by Brian Lees. The book was released in September-2008. Written in rhythm and rhyme style. This batty adventure is full of silliness, but also references some classic children's literature. In the illustrations, children may recognize some characters from books they may have already read. The illustrations are terrific too. Recommended for children 4-8, as well as for young at heart adults--like me.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/15/08

Friday, November 14, 2008

183 - The Gate House; Nelson Demille

This review of The Gate House is based on the unabridged audio book by Nelson DeMille and read by Christian Rummel. This is a sequel to the earlier bestseller, The Gold Coast, which was written some 10 years earlier.

This story is set in a world still coming to terms with the effects of 9/11. It continues the story of John Sutter and his ex-wife, Susan. Susan, rich and heir to a fortune, had an affair with a mafia don, whom she later shot and killed. The Narrator, Christian Rummel does a great job with the main character, John Sutter by using a mix of sarcasm and dry humor. The narrator also does a great job with the other voices involved in the story.

In The Gate House, John Sutter moves back from England to the Gold Coast and starts to put together the shattered pieces of his relationship and all that this entails. Throw into the mix more mafia involvement, this time Anthony Bellarosa, the son of the dead don, who has a grudge and a score to settle, and the plot starts to get a little interesting, but that is short-lived.

I had such high hopes for this book; I could not wait to get my hands on it, having enjoyed The Gold Coast, and many other DeMille books so much.

This book was almost 700 pages, or in my case 19 discs and 22 hours of listening time. The reader was great, the story started out good, but soon became long and drawn out, with no plot twists -- just a bunch of sarcasm, sex scenes and jokes along the way. I skipped discs 17 and 18 to get to the end, and honestly don't think I missed a thing. Even the ending was disappointing.

If you are looking for an exciting thriller --this may not be the book for you, but if you like lots of sarcasm, repetition, and ethnic jokes, give this one a try.

RATING - 2.5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/13/08

Monday, November 10, 2008

182 - Goodnight Goon - A Petrifying Parody; Michael Rex

Goodnight Goon: a Petrifying Parody, by Michael Rex was released in October --just in time for Halloween.

"Goodnight tomb. Goodnight goon. Goodnight Martians taking over the moon.”

Attention ...............Goodnight Moon fans, this beloved classic gets a kind-hearted send up in this utterly monsterized parody. This time there are spiders, bats, gravestones and skulls in the a cold gray tomb. The tone is still rhythm and rhyme. The illustrations are colorful and just fabulous as is the story; very cleverly done. The book was scary enough, but not too scary for a young child.

This book is a keeper!

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/10/08

181 - Lost and Found: Dogs, Cats, and Everyday Heroes at a Country Animal Shelter; Elizabeth Hess

Lost and Found is an eye opening and heart-felt book that looks at the inner world of an animal shelter.

For years Elizabeth Hess volunteered at an extremely humane animal shelter in New York. In this book she describes in detail, the inner workings, the day to day operations of the animal shelter. Many of the people that work in shelters, do so strictly for the love and welfare of the animals. This shelter, like many others is short on money and staff, but long on abandoned and surrendered animals. She describes in detail the many myths and misconceptions people have about shelter pets --they are not animals with behavior problems; a good percentage are purebreds.

More than 20 million animals end up in US Animal Shelters each year. Many of the cats and dogs (and some rabbits, ferrets, birds etc) came to the shelter from loving homes, mostly because their owners were no longer able to keep or care for them. As the author put it, "when a crazy dog arrives at the shelter, there is usually a crazy owner at the end of the leash".

I had volunteered at our local no-kill shelter for several years, and found most of what the author says to be true about the staff, animals , and the individuals who adopt and surrender animals. In my opinion, shelter animals often make the best pets. Every cat we ever adopted from the shelter was so grateful to be with us, and showed their love and affection daily, in return for a second chance at life.

My recommendation -- read this book and --think about adopting a shelter pet, and saving a life at the same time. You will be glad you did.

RATING - 5/5 - COMPLETED - 11/9/08

Sunday, November 9, 2008

180 - Songs for the Missing; Stewart O'Nan

What would do if your teen aged daughter disappeared without a trace? When—if ever—do you stop looking for her?

This is exactly what happens to Kim Larsen, age 18, popular, a small town Ohio girl just weeks before she is to leave for college. She spends an afternoon at the lake with her friends then never shows up for work that evening and is never seen again. It is not until the next morning that her parents, and 15 year old sister, realize Kim is missing.

The book starts out like a mystery, but it soon becomes very much a character study about how people act when a family is in crisis. When one person keeps themselves busy and involved every minute of the day, others may turn inward and shut the world out. What if normal grieving? Is there such a thing? Do remaining family members grow closer or more distant in times of crisis such as this. These are the questions I found myself thinking about as I read this book.

I expected that this book would be more of a mystery. So initially I was a bit disappointed, but it still was very very well written, and I am not sorry that I read it.

O'Nan is a really good author, and even when his books are not necessarily what you might have expected, I have always found them enjoyable.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/8/08

Friday, November 7, 2008

179 - I See You Everywhere; Julia Glass

I See You Everywhere, is a story of two sisters which spans 25 years ( 1980-2005). The story of their lives is told by the sisters, often versions of the same events. These two well bred sisters could not be more different. Growing up, the sisters seem to also be competing against one another all the time.

Louisa is smart, practical and a bit neurotic; she is also jealous of her free spirited younger sister. Clem, the favored child is a rebel, one who jumps from one relationship to another.

At the beginning of the book, Clem, just out of college, moves to Vermont to be near her 98 year old aunt Lucy. She does this to please her father. I liked the aunt, she enjoys lavish shopping sprees, evidently believing she'll be around forever, and also shares some juicy family secrets. As the story unfolds, in addition to the family secrets, there are a few real life crises, and a shocking conclusion.

This is my second Julia Glass novel. I have not read Three Junes, but I have read, The Whole World Over, which I did not love, but did enjoy.

My major complaint with this book was the writing style.........I did not enjoy the way the story (over 25 years) unfolded. I did not feel invested in the characters or the story. I asked myself if the reason I did not care for this book was because I never had a sister (only brothers)? But, in the end, I don't think that was the reason. For me, it really was the writing style I disliked. I did LOVE the cover art that was selected for this book and for The Whole World Over ---stunning.

The reviews seem to be mixed for this book, so my recommendation is to try it for yourself and --you be the judge.
RATING - 2/5 -- COMPLETED -- 11/7/08

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

178 - A Walk in the Woods; Bill Bryson

Having fell in love with the audio version of Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, I decided to give A Walk in the Woods a try. This audio is also read by the author.

Bill Bryson moved to Hanover, New Hampshire, and soon after realizes the the Appalachian Trail, at least part of it, is close by. After doing some reading about the trail, he thought it would be pretty cool to hike the trail which runs from Georgia to Maine. He solicits friends and family to join him, and even puts notes in his holiday cards inviting people to hike "the trail".

The only person to respond to his invitation was an old college buddy, that he never got along with too well...Steven Katz. The two of them are like the "odd couple". Bryson is very prepared, having shopped for all the essentials for the trip, and packed very well. Katz, is like Oscar with his duffle bag well packed with Snickers Bars and Little Debbie cakes, all the essentials he felt he'd need. When Katz' bag gets a little too heavy, he tosses the water bottle...who needs water on a hike in the South right?. Their hike began in Georgia, and last about 6 weeks or 500 miles.

The book was very amusing. In addition there is a bit of history about the Appalachian Trail, as well as environmental and ecological issues neatly laced into the story. Great travel Memoir.

RATING - 4/5 - STARTED 10/08 - COMPLETED - 11/08

Monday, November 3, 2008

177 - The Cellist of Sarajevo; Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway is a work of fiction that was inspired by an actual event that occurred in Sarajevo in 1992.

In the actual story a musician, by the name of Vedran Smailovic, witnessed 22 friends and family members die from mortar fire while they were waiting to buy bread. As a memorial to these individuals he sat at the site where those 22 people had died and played his cello for 22 days honoring these people.

This story itself involves four characters: the cellist who witnesses the bombing that kills 22 people; a female sniper named Arrow whose job is to protect the cellist, but soon begins to question what her job involves; a man named Dragan, a lonely man who has sent his family away so that they would be safe, and then there is Kenan, who travels regularily on dangerous terrain to gather water for his family and neighbor.

Although the cellist plays a small role in the story, people living there begin to bond together. They meet on street corners, food stands or water gathering locations to talk, to tell others that the cellist has survived one more day without being shot.

I must admit I knew very little about the actual details that occurred in Bosnia, before reading this book. It was sad to see the shattered lives of the people, and how they tried to maintain a little piece of dignity in the face of overwhelming despair.

I would have rated this book higher, however, I found some parts seemed to drag a bit, despite the fact that there were only 256 pages to the book. Still, this book is a worthwhile read.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - 11/3/08

Sunday, November 2, 2008

176 - An Abundance of Katherines; John Green

This audio book was actually one from October that I forgot to post. I listened to it on my IPOD, so I didn't have the actual book around to remind this aging brain to blog about it LOL. It is a YA title that was recommended by a cyber-buddy. It was really a fun read.

About the book: Green's eccentric narrative follows the exploits of Colin Singleton, a fading prodigy whose hobbies include making anagrams, dating girls whose names are Katherine, and coming up with mathematical equations that explain why said Katherines have dumped him. After "Katherine the Nineteenth" breaks his heart, Colin and his best friend go on a road trip that lands them in Gutshot, Tennessee. Jeff Woodman delivers a solid narrative voice brimming with enthusiasm and energy. He embodies Colin by vocalizing his frustration and aimlessness while also executing great personalities and accents for the various characters Colin encounters. Woodman's smooth, animated tone produces an engaging atmosphere for this amusing novel.

This book, although a fun read, would be far more enjoyable to teens I am sure. Great narrative, memorable characters, but just not much of a story. It did make walking fun though, and any book that does that for me, can't be a bad book.

RATING - 4/5 - COMPLETED - Mid October-08

November Stack

Picked out my November stack yesterday. Funny how some of these same titles have appeared a few months in a row now.
  • The Meaning of Night; Michael Cox - book group read Dec
  • Pocketful of Names; Joe Coomer - love this author
  • A Recipe for Bees; Dargatz
  • The 19th Wife; Ebershoff - cuz I heard it was good
  • The Gate House; DeMille (audio) - sequel to The Gold Coast - love this author- 2.5/5
  • A Walk in the Woods; Bill Bryson (audio) - 4/5
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo; Galloway - 4/5
  • The Childrens Blizzard; Larson
  • Lost and Found:Dogs, Cats and Everyday Heroes at Our Country Animal Shelter; Hess
  • I See You Everywhere; Julia Glass - 2/5
  • The Tenderness of Wolves; Penney
  • Telex from Cuba; Kurshner
  • We are Eternal; Brown (NF)
  • Death With Interruptions; Saramago - left over from last month
  • A View From Garden City; Baugh
  • Black Swan Green; Mitchell - left over from last 2 months :)
  • Certain Poor Shepherds; Thomas
  • The Hour I First Believed; Wally Lamb - to be released on 11/11/08 - 4/5