Monday, August 22, 2011

Raven Stole the Moon

I chose this book because I liked The Art of Racing in the Rain so much and wanted to see if the author could hit another home run with me.  I thought I was picking up a newer work but it turned out to be an older work republished.  Not that it matters. 

Mr. Stein wrote a compelling story of a marriage trying to survive the death of an only child.  The story begins two years after the boy's death.  The couple, Jenna and Robert, are having difficulties in their marriage, Jenna not able to get past her grief and Robert not able to acknowledge his.  In a moment of impulsive action, Jenna finds herself on her way to Alaska, to her grandmother's village near the resort where her son lost his life. 

Although the story at this point turns to the supernatural as ancient Indian beliefs manifest themselves in the village Jenna is in, I found the characters and their actions very believable.  The author admits to perhaps taking liberties with the Tinglit theology and legends, but I very much enjoyed their inclusion in the story. 

I have a bit of a hard time recommending this book because of the oddness of the Tinglit legends come to life. Even accepting the legends as real, there were aspects of it that I couldn't make sense of.  However, the relationships and the insights gained of them through the events of the story made it a worthwhile read. 

Four of five shots.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Me & Mr. Darcy

Me & Mr. Darcy
by Alexandra Potter

I have to start this review with a rather embarrassing confession:  I have never read Pride & Prejudice.

There.  I’ve said it.

I’ve seen it in several movie formats and loved it, but as to Jane Austen’s pen & paper story, I am still a Fitzwilliam Darcy virgin.  Scandalous!!

That being said, you may have some reservations about my stating that “Me & Mr. Darcy” is a modern day Pride & Prejudice story centered around or within the Pride and Prejudice story.   It definitely falls into the genre of Chic Lit and is a lot of fun to read, but I think I may have enjoyed it even more if I was one of the many many women who have read Jane’s pen & paper book and fallen hard for Mr. Darcy time & time again.  I have fallen for Darcy, but only once or twice and specifically in the body of Colin Firth.  Sigh.  *Hand waving coolness to face.*

The book starts with Emily finishing up a disastrous date from hell.  (I’ve had worse, myself, but this is about Emily, not me).   She declares she is done with dating and prefers to enclose herself in her job as a bookstore manager, my dream job, right?  Her employee and best friend will have none of that and insists she join her for a post Christmas trip to Mexico for singles.  To avoid going to Mexico, Emily books a Jane Austen tour in England for the same time period and begins her Mr. Darcy adventure. 

Like most Chic Lit, it’s pretty obvious from the git-go who the real love interest will be and the big mystery is how the story gets there.  In M&MD Emily meets the *real* (yet fictional) Mr. Darcy and falls heartily for him, all the while dismissing her *real* (flesh & blood) “Mr. Darcy.”  Ms. Potter writes a good story leading us to question whether Mr. Darcy is truly as wonderful as we’ve believed all these years and keeps us enchanted.  By the time the story comes to its ending I was left to wonder if Jane Austen’s England was truly enchanted & magical or if sleep deprivation was at work.  You think you might know the answer to that question and yet…  some questions cannot be explained away. 

Very fun book to read.  I give it four shots of five. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein

Enzo is a dog. An old dog who knows his time has come. But he’s not afraid of the end, he is prepared for it. He wants his master to be unburdened by his existence. And he knows that he himself will be reincarnated as a human.  He learned it from a television documentary.

Before Enzo leaves this life he tells us the story of his life with his master, Denny, starting as the pup Denny selects from the litter. Enzo is a dog of the times, knowledgeable in many things as an ardent student of television.  But his love for race cars comes from Denny who aspires to be a great race driver and the rare occasion Enzo rides with him. But Enzo is an intent listener and knows all about the sport from Denny.

Their lives together include Denny’s marriage to Eve and the birth of their daughter, Zoë. Enzo’s relationship with Eve is a bit tentative but he takes his responsibility as protector of Zoë seriously. He is a very sophisticated dog and watches himself closely. 

A few years later tragedy comes into their lives when Eve is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Denny is devastated but allows Eve's parents to persuade him to let them to care for and nurse her in their home.  He even, albeit reluctantly, agrees to Zoë living with them too, to be close to her mother in her final days.  Then shockingly, Eve’s parents demand custody of Zoë upon Eve’s death. 

Although Enzo obviously can’t know all that is happening in the legal arena, he tells it to the best of his ability, including his own antics to try to sway the outcome.  Dirt and dirty tricks are indeed at play during the three years of the custody fight.  

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever loved a dog.  Enzo is charming and truly delightful. His telling of the story made me both laugh and cry. If perhaps you are not a dog fan (gasp!), the story of Denny, Eve and Zoë is by itself worth reading despite the narrative being that of a dog.

I give this book five shots of five!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


By Erik Larson

I have looked at books by Erik Larson before, the covers always intrigue me.  I finally decided it was time to give one a go.  I chose Thunderstruck, which intertwines the history of wireless telegraphy with a story of murder.  It all sounded very interesting and, in fact, was.  But drawn out and boring and little connects the two stories until the very end. 

Indeed.  Through much of the book, jumping between stories, they are not even in the same year.

The history of wireless communication is told in regard to the inventor, Marconi.  Although he didn't discover or invent all the technology involved, he was instrumental in refining the technology and pushing the limits of how far wireless communications could be sent or received.  Although interesting, the story mired down in the the details of his protagonists, his travels abroad and back for experiments, and his single minded obsession with secrecy.  Far too much detail and too little meat. 

The tale of Doctor Crippen's murder of his wife was also slow but more entertaining in its telling than the telegraphy account.  Toward the end of the book when the British detectives begin to realize that Dr. Crippen really was capable of killing his wife and discover the evidence they need to prove it, may have been the most interesting section of the book.  Although morbid, I found it a fascinating contradiction to the man described up to that point. 

Where the history of telegraphy and Dr. Crippen's crime intersect is during Dr. Crippen's attempted escape at sea.  Prior to the wireless, discovery of a fugitive at sea could not have been relayed to shore, and no authorities dispatched to take the fugitive into custody upon arriving in port.  The wireless became largely responsible for Dr. Crippen's capture. 

I was not thrilled with this book.  I give it 2 of 5 shots.  However, I am not dissuaded from giving another Erik Larson book a try. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
by David Ebershoff

This work of historical fiction had my attention from the very start. The author cleverly wrote two books in one, telling the story of Brigham Young's 19th wife, Ann Eliza and relating a current day polygamist tale of murder in Southern Utah. Switching effortlessly between stories Ebershoff held my attention in both the past and present day stories.

I applaud the research done by Ebershoff in preparation of writing this book. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that he resides in New York and not in Utah among the people and landscape of which he writes.

Having lived in Utah for three years and longing to move back there, I was personally entertained by the details which corresponded to my life in Utah. Young Ann Eliza's mother lived in Cottonwood. I so clearly remember looking at an incredible home in Cottonwood while house hunting. It was an average neighborhood and even an average house, but the owner was a concrete contractor and had one amazing things inside the house with concrete. Six years later I still recall that house with a bit of awe.

Mention of the local papers in Brigham Young's day referred to the Tribune and the Deseret. I made the assumption that the reference was historical fact which took me by surprise as those two newspapers exist still today. They are delivered in different colored plastic sleeves. You can tell walking through your neighborhood which homes subscribe to the Trib and which to the Deseret, which of course is the "Mormon" paper, just by the color of the wrapper. Such little, seemingly insignificant details such as these, which reminded me of my time lived in Utah, brought me such delight!

David Ebershoff weaves the story of polygamy and the Mormon faith through the eyes of Ann Eliza, 19th wife of Brigham Young, starting with Ann Eliza's parents prior to the Mormon move to Utah. Historically based, the story is a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations of the Mormons under the leadership of their Prophet, Joseph Smith, until his death and then Brigham Young. The story tells of the dangers the Mormons faced because of their faith, their seclusion from the Gentile world, and the decree by Joseph Smith that God's command was to practice polygamy to be assured a place in heaven. Although Ann Eliza grew up in the faith, her awareness of her parents' relationship and the effect polygamy had on it troubled her. She did not view the taking of multiple wives a practice that pleased God, but rather a religious endorsement of adultery. Indeed, the way the story is told, it's difficult to see it as anything other than "legalized" adultery. After her separation and eventual divorce from Brigham Young, Ann Eliza went on lecture tours and wrote her own book, The 19th Wife, in opposition to the practice of polygamy. This is historical fact.

At the same time we are learning of the early Mormon life another story unfolds through the eyes and voice of Jordan Scott, a young man who has been thrown out of a present day polygamist colony. Ebershoff calls these people First Latter Day Saints as they believe they carry on the true beliefs of the Latter Day Saints and were opposed to the church's denouncement of polygamy in 1890. They do exist today and call themselves Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and continue to practice polygamy.

It's not uncommon for young men to be excommunicated from an FLDS community on relatively slight "wrong doings." The reason for this is to ensure there are plenty of wives for the older men of the community. Jordan's leader/prophet banished him from their community and his mother simply drove him out of the community and left him on the side of the road in the desert. Eventually his father is murdered and she is accused of the crime. He returns to Utah from California to see his mother and becomes involved in the solving of his father's murder. Through this fictional story which is told through the book along with Ann Eliza's story, the reader learns some of the truth of polygamy in today's world.

And like any good novel, the end of the story is a bit of a surprise, or at least was for me. I'll not give it away.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but would caution the reader that it is historical fiction. Mr. Ebershoff shares his resources in the end of the book and I was delighted to find them. One book, Under the Banner of Heaven, is one that I have longed to read and is on his list. Initially, I thought I'd read it next, but have started another book instead. I most likely will look into some of the other books his research came from.

This book receives five of five shots from me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven

Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven
by Susan Richards Shreve

Somewhat disappointed by this memoir. The author writes of her experience at FDR's Polio facility at the age of 11 through 13. It was interesting enough to learn about the facility and the disease and the types of surgeries and such, but the story itself was rather flat and disjointed.

Near the beginning of the book Shreve tells her story of racing wheelchairs down a hill with a close friend from the facility. Before finishing the story she goes back and starts at the "beginning." Of course this is a common way to tell a story but I felt Shreve did so very poorly.

Telling her anecdotes and of the child she was and strove to be, was a journey of disjointed and often confusing paths. Often a story would stray a bit off the path apparently to interject some small, insignificant information that seemed to have nothing to do with anything, other than Shreve's desire to share it. Too often I found myself wondering why am I reading this when I thought I was reading about that? And often confused at to the time line since Shreve didn't make the reference.

I give the book 3 of 5 shots, but only because the subject was of interest to me even though poorly presented.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

90 Minutes in Heaven

90 Minutes in Heaven
by Don Piper with Cecil Murphy

I thought I'd follow up "Heaven is for Real" with this book, sort of as a compare and contrast project for myself. However, this book gave me a bit of a different focus than I was expecting. If I could re-title this book, I'd call it "90 Minutes in Heaven and 2 Years in Hell."

Don Piper is a pastor in a Baptist church and after an out of town conference he is involved in a fatal accident. Pronounced dead at the scene by several people he returns to life 90 minutes later after an on scene prayer vigil by another pastor.

Mr. Piper's description of visiting heaven for those 90 minutes is pretty flat and one dimensional. He spends a few pages telling of his experience but I found it less revealing than other experiences I have read about. The remainder of the book details his excruciating pain and road to recovery. He questions God over and over why he had to return to earth and gives us a lot of insight into the terrible condition he was in, how no one expected him to live or recover, and what a hellish patient he was for the months and months of his recovery. The final portion of the book deals with how God has used him and his experience to witness to others.

I had no problem getting through the book, it was an interesting read, but really not what I was expecting. And now I will tell you right up front that I am going to be petty with this review.

One thing that particularly sticks out for me is Mr. Piper's whining about how he let his twin sons down, how he wasn't there for them to take them camping or fishing or to teach them team sports. He never recovered full use of his body and many activities became impossible for him. I grew weary of these laments for several reasons. One is that many young boys never have those experiences with their fathers. Was he really lamenting about his sons or himself? He was a pastor, and as such, I think he could have called on many fathers in the congregation to step up for him and offer those experiences to his sons. Who wouldn't happily taken them camping or fishing? He could have never recovered from the accident and not been there for them at all, in any form. What he was able to give his sons was a loving father who was there to cheer them on through all their activities whether he was able to participate or not. This whining was really annoying to me. Especially since one of his stories in the book was about a man blinded in an accident who was encouraged to focus on what he could still do, and not what he had lost.

Many near death experiences I have read about recently leave the survivor with extreme peace and calm. I realize that Mr. Piper had incredible pain to endure and lives in constant pain to this day and that could be a factor, but I didn't get his sense of peace and calm from knowing heaven.

As with "Heaven is for Real" I don't doubt any of his story and I do feel that Mr. Piper has been fulfilling his mission on earth through his experience and witnessing. Unfortunately, I am just not as impressed with his book as I thought I would be.

I give it three shots of four.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real
by Todd Burpo

This is a very quick read telling the story of an (almost) four year old boy's journey to Heaven and what he experienced there. It's told through his father's eyes as the details of his experience are revealed bit by bit in a childlike way. Of course it's a childlike way, it's the experience of a child.

To me the story was at once hopeful, exciting and disturbing. While I ask myself, how can I doubt the experience of one so young and innocent, and to know that Heaven does exist, it also causes me to question my own beliefs of the afterlife and what I should expect when the time comes.

If you have an interest in this type of story, I urge you to read this book. It only takes a day or two and you can decide for yourself what is real.

I give this book three of five shots. It's not a bad read, but in some odd way I was expecting something a little more earth shattering. I'd love to hear what others have thought.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Same Kind of Different as Me

Same Kind of Different as Me
By Ron Hall and Denver Moore

*This is my previous review from Visual Bookshelf

This book is wonderful. I picked it up shortly after it was published when I was working at B&N. I noticed it in the biography section and was drawn to it from the first time I saw it. Interestingly, when I finished the book this evening I noticed the back cover listed the genre as religion/spirituality, not the "simple" biography I expected to read.

The authors of the book are two men from very different American cultures. They tell the stories of their lives, chapter by chapter in their own voices, and how their relationship came to be, including Ron Hall's wife's major role in the tale. Indeed the story revolves around her faith, not only in God, but in people no matter who they are or where they come from. The story is full of Christian faith, yet is not preachy. It's presented simply as part of who these people are.

I would recommend this book to everyone whether you have God in your life or not, whether you are Christian or of another faith. The story is incredibly powerful and shares a message for all people whether they share the authors' perspective of God or not. Prepare to be amazed at what you can find when you ignore the obvious and look to the being within.

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger

*This is my review posted previously on Visual Bookshelf

This book was totally an enjoyable read for me. I owned it for a long time before I actually got around to reading it and now I wonder why I waited so long. It might be because I had a preconceived idea of what a "time traveler" would be.

Henry isn't a futuristic alien type being journeying from future to present to past to save lives and change history, but simply a very average person who unavoidably vanishes out of his present into the past or future, usually of his own life. His appearance in unknown places at unknown times is very inconvenient and dangerous for him, as only his body makes the journey, not his clothes. Finding himself unexpectedly naked in the past or future requires him to become a thief of clothing, develop the ability to break into (or out of) any home or location he may land.

The story is told in Henry's voice and the voice of his wife, Clare. It's a story about their meeting and their love for each other in the past, present & future. Both characters have experiences in his/her life that the other has not lived yet. It's a very intriguing story, well told and compelling.

Addendum: If you have seen the movie and not read the book, I urge you to read the book which fills in so much information and detail. It answers so many questions that were not answered in the movie. Once again, the book is so much better!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

*Note: I read this book quite some time ago and reviewed it on a book site. This is my review from that time. I wanted to add it to this blog since this is where I do all my book reviews now.

I love this book! I wasn't so sure I would like it and only picked it up because a cross country friend said she was reading it and said I should too. It's written letter style as correspondences between characters. That is the part I thought I might find tedious, but did not. My only criticism would be that although the personalities of the characters was established nicely through the letters, their voices were not. All the letters were too well written, not as variable as each character's individual voice would be.

The era is 1946 post WWII. The story revolves around an author looking for a book to write. By chance a man on Guernsey Island off Great Britain contacts her by finding her name inscribed in a book she no longer owns. She begins corresponding with him and the members of his book club and eventually moves to the island to research the story she wants to write.

There is no huge plot cliffhanger but rather a tender story of how WWII touched the lives of the inhabitants of the island and how they survived it. I found it hard to put down. Recommend!!

Addendum. This was Mary Ann Shaffer's first novel and sadly she died in 2008 just before it's publication. I would so have loved to read what other stories she had inside.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper
by Sarah Addison Allen

I believe this is the 4th book by author Sarah Addison Allen. She is one of my favorite "fluff" writers. Her books are are fun and easy to read "feel good" novels. I always enjoy the characters she creates and their lives in North Carolina. There is always someone or something in the story that is enchanted or has some sort of small magical powers, which is why I look forward to her books so much. In this story the magic is more a part of the past and alluded to instead of being a bigger part of the story. I did enjoy that she brought a character from her first book into the story in a small role. Of course it makes me want to go back and re-read her first novel. Since they are very quick reads, I may just do that.

Ms. Allen definitely has a formula she follows, but her reinvention of the story each time keeps me coming back for more.

Willa was raised in a small town and always felt less than equal to her classmates. Her family was one of the founding families of the town as lumber barons of the time. But when the forest was designated a national forest and logging was banned, her family lost their fortune. Although her grandmother was just a teen when this happened, Willa felt that her family was looked upon with pity or disdain. After leaving for college and then returning, she finds her own place in the town and settles down to a quiet life that she believes she was meant to live, keeping pretty much to herself.

The opposite end of the social spectrum is Paxton who has always been one of the rich and popular girls, who's family also went back several generations. She is president of the Ladies Society which her grandmother and Willa's grandmother founded in their late teens with four other local girls. Currently, Paxton is planning a 75th Anniversary Gala for the club to be held in the "Madam" the mansion originally owned and then abandoned for taxes due by Willa's family. Paxton's family has restored the mansion as a hotel/restaurant.

Along with Paxton and Willa, the story includes Paxton's twin brother Colin, who prefers to return to the town only on very short trips and Sebastian, another past classmate who recently returned to the town to replace the dentist who had retired.

Through the events of the story, the re-opening of the Madam, the planning of the gala, a mysterious skull being dug up and more, these characters examine who they were and who they thought they were in high school and who they have become since. The plot is totally predictable, but the story is fun and emotionally satisfying.

Five shots of five, but only if you are not looking for a story of great substance and import. This is for fun and fantasy only!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

by Diana Gabaldon

Like Oh-So-Many books this is one I have had in my possession for a couple of years and just recently brought out to read, encouraged by many friends who are big fans of this series. Working at Barnes & Noble I had shelved this and the others in the series often and took customers to the shelf where they waited for adoption often. Based on the amount of traffic to that particular spot, I finally decided it was a series I needed to give a try. So I bought book one and promptly put it away.

If you've ever seen these books you would understand how daunting they appear. 600+ pages of one story takes a bit of contemplation before tackling. I had contemplated long enough.

This story starts just after WWII in Scotland with Claire and her husband, Frank. They are an English couple that have been separated during the war and are now on a second honeymoon in Scotland. One day, while exploring a stone henge type monument on her own, Claire steps through time back to 1743 Scotland and immediately finds herself in dangerous times among people who distrust her, not knowing where she came from or why she is there. She finally comes to realize that she is no longer in 1945, but 200 years in the past.

Carried off to Castle Leoch of the clan McKenzie she is constantly alert for any opportunity to find her way back to the stones she believes will transport her back to 1945. All the while she is trying to fit in and be accepted by this clan and be as unobtrusive as possible. Her career as a combat nurse in WWII gives her skills and knowledge valuable to her present situation and aids in her acceptance by the clan.

Jamie Fraser is the young warrior and wanted fugitive that rescued Claire from the English when she first arrived in 1743 and carried her off to Castle Leoch. A mutual respect and attraction develops as Claire cares for his recently wounded shoulder and nurses him back to health. Eventually, Jamie & Claire must marry for "political" reasons and to ensure her safety from the English by showing her allegiance to the Scots.

Gabaldon creates a story of historical fiction taking the reader into the Scottish Highlands among the lairds who rule the land and the tenants on those lands. We are invited to live in a hard and often brutal world where Jamie is on guard against being recognized and captured by the English Watch and Claire is seeking a way back to her world in 1945. The twists and turns of the story kept me on my toes with surprises and often painful events. Jamie and Claire are well developed and very real. They fight, argue, make up and care for each other in an honest way and we get to know them intimately as they share their own experiences with each other.

Although time travel is important to the story, it's not hugely prevalent in the story beyond the initial travel to the past. Where it does resurface leaves me with questions and causes me to consider what time travel would mean or involve, as it's not well defined in nature within the parameters of this book. I had to question what affect Claire might have on her 1945 life as a result of her actions in 1743. Or does Claire's presence in 1743 have no real impact because maybe she had already impacted the future that she lives in by already having traveled back in time? So many questions. I look forward to the next book as perhaps it may have some answers.

I give this book 5 shots!

Rainwater, by Sandra Brown

by Sandra Brown

Ella is a young single mother with a ten year old autistic boy. She runs a boarding house in depression era Texas, the time of the dust bowl. Her boarders are two elderly sisters and a traveling salesman. She has one room recently vacated.

The town doctor brings by a relative, a man named David Rainwater in the hopes that Ella will rent him the vacant room. Rainwater is terminally ill and won't live long. Although hesitant, Ella is persuaded to allow the man to move in immediately the following day.

The times are hard and made even more difficult by a government program enforced by a *deputy* who is the town bully. When Rainwater moves in he comes to know the hardships of the local people and in his quiet way supports their struggles against their circumstances.

And thus the stage is set.

The story of Rainwater's presence in his landlady's house and the town is tender and hopeful. The events that take place are at once horrible and unexpected. The ending is sad as we know it must be from the start, but it's a good and satisfying ending, nevertheless. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it's characters which were easy to love or hate. I don't think this book is Sandra Brown's "normal" style of writing, but I will definitely seek out another of her books in the future.

You can see a short interview with the author here. (Scroll down the page to the "Barnes & Noble Studio")

My rating is 5 of 5 shots.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd

One Thousand White Women, the Journals of May Dodd
by Jim Fergus

This book is historical fiction about the life of Little Wolf, a famous chief of the Cheyenne tribe. Little Wolf traveled to Washington DC to be presented with a peace medal by Ulysses S Grant. In this tale, he suggested to the president that the United States Government give one thousand white women as brides to the Cheyenne people to help assimilate the Cheyennes into the white man's culture. The children of these unions would be raised by the Cheyennes and they believed those children would be accepted in both white & Indian worlds.

Of course the president was aghast and the tribe quickly escorted out of town. But as word of the Chief's suggestion spread, a certain faction of women made it known they were willing to become the wives of these "savage" Indians and thus an agreement was made. Women were "recruited" from insane asylums, prisons, ghettos, etc. The first 100 women were selected and set on a train to the west. Among these women was May Dodd, who's journals are the basis of the book.

I googled Chief Little Wolf to try to determine whether the proposition made to President Grant was factual. I was not able to confirm that part of the story as true, but much of the story built around him, with the exception of the white women that joined his tribe is factual. I applaud Mr. Fergus in his research and the tale he spun around it.

At the onset of the book the story is brought to us by a present day descendant of May Dodd. Very quickly into the story I lost track of what was real and what was fiction and had to revisit some of what I had already read to determine if the author was talking or if his characters were talking. I found his voice in the story to be very believable, his story well written.

Not to be nit-picky, but once the story became the writings from the journals of May Dodd, the writing was a little less believable. A journal, by necessity, has to be looking back on events that just happened and at times it seemed very unlikely that she could be writing about the events that had happened as she did. Aside from that, I found her journals to be a fascinating account of her life as she looked forward to her new freedom from the asylum she'd been locked away in, toward her new life among the savages. She was an intelligent woman and although the prospect of living with the Indians, marrying into the tribe, became more and more frightening the closer she came to that reality, her assimilation into the tribe was recounted with a great appreciation for the people she came to know intimately.

I completely enjoyed this story. The ending was sad in many ways, but in researching Chief Little Wolf, it's true to his story as chief of the Cheyenne, and the story of the American Indians. I understand more than ever the tragedy of what early Americans did to the native people of this country.

I give this book five of five shots.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


"Juliet" by Anne Fortier

I'm going to start with the end of this book first. No, you don't need a spoiler alert, because the end I am referring to is the Author's Note. While it was apparent throughout the book that it was well researched as far as location, I was even more fascinated to learn, after reading the book, which characters were also loosely based on real people, and how much of the novel also referred to historical events or families. The story itself is indeed fiction, but knowing that the fiction grew on roots of facts delights me. And as such, I wished I had known some of that prior to reading the story.

The book starts in the present day with the death of Julie's beloved Aunt, who raised her and her twin sister from the age of three. The details of her childhood prior to being adopted by her Aunt are very vague, except for the death of her parents in a car accident in Italy when she was an infant. When Aunt Rose's will is read the twins are amazed to discover the estate is left to the less favored Janice while Julie's inheritance is nothing more than a key to an Italian security lock box and the "promise" of finding some unknown ancient treasure left to her by her long deceased mother. Leaving her estranged sister behind in the US with her spoils, Julie sets off for Italy to discover her "inheritance."

Once in Italy Julie begins to unravel the mystery of her past through a small box of documents her mother left in a safe-deposit box. As she learns of her ancestry leading back to the couple that Shakespeare later based his Romeo & Juliet love story on she finds herself in a world unfamiliar to her and not certain of who to trust and who not. The author takes the reader back to 1340 Siena telling the tragic story of Julie's ancestor, Giulietta, and her true love, Romeo, alternating chapters with the present day Julie's attempts to find the treasure her mother sought, until the two stories explosively collide.

I thought I was figuring out the characters throughout the story, alternately deciding which ones wore black hats and which wore white hats. Of course the hats changed a few times as I re-evaluated a good guy into a bad guy and vice versa. But even up to the very end I wasn't quite sure who Julie should trust or not.

When I started this book I would put it down and not pick it up for a few days or even a week at a time. I strongly suggest not reading it this way. I enjoyed the author's style and the way the story was written, but the reader doesn't do the book justice by not reading consistently through the story.

This book has a little for most readers, mystery, crime, adventure & romance. I thought of several books or stories as I read... The Da Vinci Code, Indiana Jones, and of course, Romeo & Juliet. My personal rating is four of five shots.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Alice

Still Alice
by Lisa Genova

This is a fictional story is about a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. It's a topic that has interested me as the daughter and caregiver of a woman who likely had Alzheimer's. But lucky for my mother, she lived a long life and accomplished many things before she was disabled by the disease late in life.

The story is told through the eyes of Alice. She is just 50, a highly respected professor and scientist at Harvard. She begins to be aware of instances where she can't find the words she wants, misplaces things or becomes temporarily disoriented. At first she suspects menopause and makes an appointment with her doctor to confirm her suspicions. Her doctor thinks it is more than just menopause and sends her to a neurologist who suspects Alzheimer's. (The author admits that a quick diagnosis is not usual for early onset Alzheimer's disease. For the sake of the story she cut through the potential months and years of looking for the diagnosis.)

Alice's husband is a biologist and she is a psychologist with emphasis on linguistics. Through their Harvard connections they research treatments, medications and clinical trials. Unfortunately, there is not much hope for Alzheimer's victims. Alice develops routines and processes to help herself navigate her way through her days. She contemplates suicide and creates a plan to carry it out when the disease has stolen too much from her. Written in the first person, we feel not only her frustration as she stumbles through obstacles that never were before, but also horror as we realize how much more the disease has affected her than she does.

The story hit emotionally close to home for me. I have issues with my own memory, I have as far back as I can remember, so I don't know how concerned I really need be. But to know that I am not too young for Alzheimer's is a terrifying thought. Having cared for my mother as her life escaped her memory of it really allowed me to feel what Alice was experiencing as I read it. The story moved me to tears more than once. Alice eventually forgets that she was a world renown psychologist and very bright. Similarly, my mother forgot that she earned a veterinary degree in the days when most women who attended college became either teachers or home ec majors.

Alzheimer's not only steals your precious memories, but interferes with immediate memory, too. Listening to people speak is unbearably hard when you can't decipher the meanings of the words quickly enough to follow what is being said. Reading a book is impossible as well as watching TV or a movie. The Alzheimer's victim becomes a silent observer of people and things she feels no relation or connection to. Never mind that it's her own family.

Alice struggles with her relationship with her husband and although I felt he still loved her, he couldn't bear losing her while she was still there. Her children responded differently and although in different processes, all rallied around her, and at least one mother/daughter relationship was better than it had been prior to the onset of the disease. I found this very plausible having experienced a similar thing with my own mother.

I loved this book and felt it gave me a lot of insight to what my mother experienced the last few years of her life and also made me even happier that she came to live with us and I could be with her. I think Lisa Genova did a wonderful and sensitive job of bringing a face and personality to a disease that cripples so many elderly people and even more horrifically, many younger people as well. I wish I had read this book while my mother was still living.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gunn's Golden Rules

Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work
by Tim Gunn

Sadly, as much as I adore Tim Gunn, I am not finding this book very inspirational.

He writes like the editor never gave it back and said "let's re-work this part." It rambles in different directions shamelessly. And I really believe that although he's saying one thing in the book, the anecdotes he's sharing actually say something else. I still adore his TV personality but I am feeling like he is a person that was stabbed with hundreds of little pins & needles throughout his life and has yet to forgive or forget a single one of them. He's all about "taking the high road." To me that means really letting go and moving on. I'm just finding that disappointing.

I felt the writing did get better the further I read and either he seemed to stay on track a bit better or I grew accustomed to his style of writing and developed a sense of how to follow him.

The book is of course, by title, Tim Gunn's rules for life. I think it's important to keep that in perspective because his rules fit him. It's not a one size fits all book of rules to live by. That said, I think he imparts many good lessons in the value of manners and etiquette. Actually, upon reviewing the titles of all his chapters, I can't disagree with any of his rules. I suppose my disagreement comes in their interpretations. One anecdote that sticks clearly in my mind involves showing up at a party with an uninvited/unexpected guest in tow. Yes, this would absolutely be verboten, particularly for a sit down dinner party. But in Tim's anecdote he was a guest, not the host, and he chose to jump up and relinquish his place at the party and go home!!

This particular story really disturbed me. I thought about the host, how he/she must feel to have Tim insist on leaving as the result of another guest's poor decision. I think it would put a negative feeling on the entire evening that could have been avoided if handled differently. I also would have wondered why he even chose to accept the invitation if he were so willing to give it up. I know I am putting a lot of my own feelings into the anecdote, but I think the polite thing to do would have been to allow the host and the guest/non-guest involved to "make it work."

There were other examples where I felt Tim was saying one thing and writing about acting another way. Perhaps I just don't find a gossipy "tell-all" book the right venue for "Ms. Manners."

I am sure I will continue to love Tim on Project Runway and other venues he surfaces in, but I may have a tiny bit less respect for him. Or not. After all, as with all of us, he's only human.