Thursday, November 22, 2012

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

I'm not sure what originally attracted me to this book.  It could be that I wanted to read a Pulitzer Prize winning book.  I'm not sure I've ever read one before.  But the synopsis on the back was interesting and so I added it to my collection of unread books waiting to be read and, as usual, promptly forgot about it for a while.

I pulled it out while trying to slog my way through a book that I ended up not finishing.  I needed something to keep me going and this was handy.  In the end, I'm glad I stumbled back across it as I enjoyed it very much.

Olive Kitteridge, of the title, is occasionally the center of the book, but the book is not just about her story or any others.  Instead, Olive Kitteridge is a book of barely connected short stories.  The connection is the town where the people all live, Crosby, Maine.  Some of the stories involve Olive or her immediate family but many of them she has simply a walk-on role with no lines.  For example, she may simply be another customer in the restaurant where the story is taking place that chapter.

Each chapter introduces new characters. Like an onion, Ms. Strout begins to peel away the outer layers to reveal the raw flesh beneath.  In a just a few pages we learn secrets, insecurities, dreams or fears of our new friends and quickly begin to care about them whether with compassion or disdain.  By the end of each chapter I felt I might know what the future held, but usually had to complete the picture myself.  Isn't this like the real world?  Each meeting with a friend ends with a parting and uncertainty of what may come next.  Although each chapter may have left me with a question, like the rise of a voice at the end of the sentence, I didn't feel dissatisfied with the story.

Olive, her husband, Henry, and her son, Christopher are the only characters to reappear in more than one story.  We get unique perspectives from each of them of their family dynamic and how it unfolds over the years.  Olive Kitteridge herself was not outwardly a very sympathetic character, and yet I came to be quite fond of her.

I give Olive Kitteridge 4 shots of 5. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Love Anthony

Love Anthony
by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova is a fiction writer who has the educational background to write about the subjects she chooses. And of course she researches her topics extensively, too.  Her first book about Alzheimer's and her second book about brain injury both related closely and personally to my life and helped me feel more compassion and understanding.  Love Anthony is about autism and I don't have any experiences relating to it, but I trusted this author to pull me into a story involving autism and finish once again with more compassion and understanding.  She didn't disappoint.

In this case, the story was less about the condition and more about the effect of it on the world outside it, parents, family, friends and strangers.

The story starts without revealing a whole lot about autism.  In fact I wondered as I turned page after page if it was really going to invest much in the subject at all.  I was following the lives of two different women wondering where the story was going to interconnect.  Ms. Genova is a good story teller and I was involved in the book, so please don't think I was disappointed.  Eventually, one of the women starts to write a story from the perspective of a young boy with autism.  It was fascinating as she described his life from his view.  He was indeed a happy child who, in his own way, was much more involved in the world around him than it appears from the outside.

There is so much more to this book than I am going to even touch on.  Not just the effect of autism on a family but other stories of relationships and struggles, boiled down to the four most important things, to feel wanted, loved, safe and secure (I think that was the last thing..?) I really appreciate Ms. Genova's attempt to bring understanding for what it is like in Anthony's world.  And lest you think she assumes she got it perfect for all children with autism, I will paraphrase a quote from the book:

Once you've met a child with autism, you've met just one child with autism.

The spectrum of this condition is long and varies greatly from person to person. 

Five shots of five for one of my favorite authors.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

I've forgotten more of the story than I remember but with the help of other people's reviews can put some of it together.  A young woman is bequeathed a cottage by her grandmother that she never knew existed.  She goes off to England, curious about the cottage, and what she can learn about her grandmother's ownership of it. 

The story unfolds told by women of three generations, eventually solving the mystery of the cottage and the ancestory of the women.

Okay, I realize this review is pretty lame, but I enjoyed the book.  Four of five shots. 

What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty

Alice fell off her bike during a spinning class and lost 10 years of her life.  Her memory of the last ten years, that is.  Suddenly she was not only ten years older, she didn't recognize her children, her husband didn't live with her any longer and everything had changed.  She tries to get by without letting on that she doesn't recognize her own life much less the people around her.. 

I love this story.  Imagine being transported ten years into the future and trying to understand why your once perfect life was no longer the fairy tale you've been living.  No explanation seems plausible, do you try to 'fix' it or just go with it?  You still feel passionately about a man who treats you as cool as a stranger and it's incomprehensible that these grown children could possibly belong to you.

It's one of those books that causes me to think about my own life and ask those "what ifs."  I give What Alice Forgot five of five shots. 


The Snow Child

The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey

This is the story of a lonely older couple who "adopt" a feral child. But is the child real or imaginary? Even as the reader, one isn't sure of the existence of the snow child. She exists where a normal man would have frozen or starved to death.  She disappears when the snow does and returns each fall with the first flakes.  But whether she is real or imaginary, she brings joy and pleasure to the lonely couple who rekindle their own relationship as a result of their new family dynamic.

A simple yet complex story, very different from most I've read. Four of five shots.  

Married in Seattle

Married in Seattle
by Debbie Macomber

This book was two novellas in one book. Generally I enjoy Ms. Macomber's stories, which I why I picked this book up.  I was in Seattle for a family emergency and really wanted something light and fluffy to read, but this book ended up annoying me more than entertaining and distracting me. 

To be fair, I should say the first story in the book as I didn't even attempt to read the second story.  I found the story just a little too "Harlequin Romance."  The lead female character was overly sensitive to every comment or action by the lead male character. It wasn't long before I was screaming at her inside my head to open her eyes and see what was obvious.

I hope the reason the story was so shallow is because it was written to be a quick read in a book of novellas, and doesn't reflect on Ms. Macomber's future works.  This was simply far too contrived.

Then Came You

Then Came You
by Jennifer Weiner

One of the reasons I write a book blog is because I have a very bad memory.  God's honest truth.  I am one of those people who could probably read the same book over and over again and still be surprised by the ending... same with movies.  Sadly, this comes back to haunt me when I fall so far behind in my blogging and can't really remember a book well enough to review it.  Insert heavy sigh here. 

Jennifer Weiner is an author that I really enjoy.  I can't recall much detail of this story, even after revisiting the synopsis at the Barnes & Noble website.  I won't try to bluff my way through a review.  I think the next few posts will simply be me trying to update my record of the books I've read without much commentary. 

But I'll save you searching for the synopsis.  From Barnes & Noble:

Jules Strauss is a Princeton senior on a full scholarship who plans on selling her “pedigree” eggs to help save her father from addiction.
Annie Barrow, a struggling Pennsylvania housewife, thinks that carrying another woman’s child will help her recover a sense of purpose and will bring in some much-needed cash.
India Bishop, thirty-eight (really, forty-three) and recently married to the wealthy Marcus Croft, yearns for a baby for reasons that have more to do with money than with love. When her attempts at pregnancy fail, she turns to Jules and Annie to make her dreams come true.
But each of their plans is thrown into disarray when Bettina, Marcus’s privileged daughter, becomes suspicious that her new stepmother is not what she seems . . .
Told with Jennifer Weiner’s trademark wit and sharp observations, Then Came You is a hilarious, tender, and timely tale that explores themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and charity, the rights of a parent and the measure of a mother.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Expected One

The Expected One
Kathleen McGowan

The Expected One is a story of mysticism, secrecy and altered history surrounding the woman Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Christ.   I was expecting a book similar to The Davinci Code and in some ways it was.

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what to write, how to review this book.  So instead of trying to summarize it and talk about the writing, I'm just going to write the words I keep saying in my head.

I didn't hate this book.  But I didn't love it, either.  Some parts of it kept me entertained and called me back for more, and other parts I could have put it down and never picked it up again.

I like the theory behind this story and actually support it myself, that Mary Magdalene was in truth the wife of Jesus and the mother of his children.  Mysticism uncovers the hidden gospels written by Mary as only "The Expected One" will have the location of the gospels revealed to her.  The Expected One will be a descendant of Mary Magdalene.

This story fizzled at the end when the found gospels are stolen away to Rome and all the characters involved more or less just shrug it off.  I found that disappointing.  There are 2 more books in this trilogy but I doubt I will get to them.

Three shots of five.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Place to Lay My Head

A Place to Lay My Head
by Joe Moreland

Writing this review has a challenging new twist to it compared to any other review I've ever written.  That is the fact that it will most likely be read by the author of the book.  Yikes!  Never had that happen to me before!

A Place to Lay my Head is Joe's memoir of life in rural Oregon in a very poor family.  He's just a few years older than me and his story brought back the days when our best "toys" were our imaginations and our playgrounds were simply undeveloped outdoor landscape.  Computer games and fancy playground equipment didn't exist and consequently we explored and used our imaginations and created worlds so much larger than reality.  We also took a lot more risks and no one got sued by our parents if we were dumb.

But I digress.  This is Joe's story.

The story revolves around the "homes" and jobs his family found.  Their longest residence described in the book was at the dump.  They started with a broken down school bus and developed it into a maze of rooms consisting of structures built from items salvaged from the dump.  Crude and elementary even by the standards of that time, it was fascinating to read how this family thrived in conditions that are unimaginable to me.

The story spans from Joe's earliest memories to his latter years in high school and the family grows from five to seven. This family was poor but in no way lazy or dumb. The book is filled with stories of Joe's father designing, building and/or fixing things to use in their home or on their "farm."  He was rarely without a paying job as well.  I suspect their financial situation was more due to the way these parents viewed the world than anything else. 

Although their home was at the dump, they were also on the edge of Forest Service land. The family worked hard discreetly scraping a little farm out of that land and raised chickens, cows, and vegetables at one time or another. Their playground was a swimming hole and an entire forest.

The children were also hard workers.  They were expected to go to school as well as come home to chores. In the summer they cut, hauled & piled wood for the coming winter and found an assortment of jobs to earn cash.  I suspect their mother was a victim of some severe post partum depression and this family of boys also hand washed much of their clothing and cooked many of the meals.  Indeed, living their life was much harder than most of their contemporaries.

I was struck by some of the seeming lack of respect by the parents.  I don't like my choice of words in this case... maybe lack of concern?  The incident I am thinking of involves a time they were living in one of the nicest homes they'd had.  Yet Mom was unconcerned when her young boys chose the walls as a canvas for their art work. In fact she may have even encouraged them to use the cowboy wallpaper for such.  And when Dad brings an entire engine into the house so he can avoid the rain while he works on it, the oil spilling from it causes no reaction.  None of this is malicious, it just doesn't seem to concern or bother them.

While I found the story very interesting and such a contrast to my own childhood, I also felt the book was in need of some serious editing.  Along with a very nice narrative and occasional photos of the family, there was dialog tossed into the mix. I felt the dialog was unnecessary and dumbed down the text by being too contrived.  The story could have been told equally as well without it.  I'm not sure if the dialog actually got better as I went along or if I just got used to it, but it wasn't as detracting by the end of the book as at the beginning.

My other complaint was that the book seemed to just stop.  The family eventually builds a real home (although the county deemed it not fit to live in) and at that point the story ends.


We are told that the house was home to several families over the years and remains standing to this day, but what about the family?  I became vested in the lives of these five children and their parents and suddenly they were just gone, with a little hint that the parents and youngest child eventually moved to Washington.

This book needs an epilogue.  I  know that Joe went on to college, obviously winning a scholarship, but I have no idea about his siblings.  Did Ed find his career in fishing?  What about the younger children?  Why did Mom & Dad leave Oregon?

I need a tidy little bow to wrap up the story.  I give this book three of five shots.  It's an easy read and quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey
by Gwen Cooper

Homer was a kitten, found only a few weeks old, with eyes so infected they had to be removed to save his life.  Of course an eyeless kitten is hard to find a home for so he was in danger of being euthanized.  Gwen Cooper rescues him and adopts him into her family which consists of herself and her two feline fur children adopted previously.

I adore this story of Homer's life.  He is truly an amazing cat.  His story ranges from out loud funny to tear streaked face to pure amazement.  And his Mom's telling of the story is perfect. Like everyone (almost) who meets Homer, I fell in love with him, too, and also wanted to be "Homer's buddy."

Okay, to be honest, I didn't want to just be his buddy, I wanted to be his new mommy and take him for myself.

 The things an eyeless cat, at least this eyeless cat, can do are amazing.  Like blind people who use echolocation to navigate their world, Homer has super sharp hearing and sense of smell to offset his "disability."  Indeed, "disability" can almost hardly be used in describing Homer. He is fearless and determined to make the world his own on his terms.

Homer enters Gwen's life when she has newly broken up with a live-in boyfriend.  As Homer's story unfolds, so does Gwen's, although hers is definitely the background story.  The most poignant part of the story was the telling of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center from the author's perspective as the resident of an apartment only a few blocks from ground zero.  Forced out of the area with no notice, the despair of not being able to get back to her apartment or her cats was unbearable. I witnessed 9/11 only through news coverage and was enthralled with this personal account.

I am a cat lover and related to this book in many ways with tales and memories of my own roaming through my mind as I read.  I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever been owned and loved by a pet.  And just one little *SPOILER ALERT* that you probably won't mind...  no cats die in this book, of old age or any other cause.  I think that would have made it unbearable!

Five shots of five from me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I Am Nujood

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Nujood is a Yemeni girl, probably around 10 years old.  She is born in a very small village in the countryside where no records are kept of births. In a large family with illiterate parents no one is entirely sure of her age, but probably between eight and ten years.

As a young girl with older siblings there are many things happening around her that she doesn't understand.  She is interested in things children are.  Adult concerns are beyond her interests and understanding.

Nujood's family is cast out of their small village and go to Sana'a, the capitol of Yemen.  They arrive as a poor family.  Her father loses interest in supporting his family and spends his time chewing khat with his friends as his family loses their home and begin begging on the streets.  Eventually he agrees to marry Nujood off to a man three times her age in exchange for a dowry of about $750 (US value).

Understandably, Nujood is very upset by these circumstances and even more so as she learns what marriage means to a woman. Her husband forces himself on her night after night and beats her when she fights his advances. Her days are spent in dread of the coming night and the nightmares that follow. Somehow she finds the strength to go to the courts and ask for a divorce.  In her naive mind she believes it will be that easy.

Nujood was fortunate in connecting with judges and a strong female lawyer, Shada Nasser, who were outraged by her circumstances and fought for her divorce.  Although she was far below their legal age of marriage, her lack of birth records and the popular practice of marrying girls off this young was not in her favor of being granted a divorce. 

This book is Nujood's story and is told as simply as she tells it from the perspective of a child.  Her life and struggles are detailed but in its simplicity it failed to elicit the emotional response I expected of myself.  I am outraged that her story is one of many and that young girls are simply family possession in too many instances, but I felt detached from the story. For instance, Nujood was told by everyone in the legal system, her attorney and the judges, that her divorce would be very hard to get and she would likely fail.  However, it seemed to be granted very easily. Few details of the legal battle are shared.

I do feel it's a good "jumping off" point to learn more. I googled Nujood and Shada trying to find updates on either of them.  Nujood is doing well, the royalties from her book helping her family and her education.  Shada continues to help young girls in similar circumstances and lobbies for the legal age of marriage in Yemen to be raised.  There are more heartbreaking stories that parallel this one, indeed even in Nujood's own family.

I give the book three of five shots.  It's a story that needs to be told, but I would have liked more depth.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ranson Riggs

Here I present another selection from the young adult or children's section of the book store or library.  There are some fun stories to be found there!

Within the pages of this story you will find many vintage photographs, such as the one on the cover of the book.  I couldn't help but think as I read the story that the author must have come across this collection of photos and decided to create a story around them. At the end of the book there is a small blurb along with the photo credits and I do believe the story was indeed conceived while pondering the "photographic evidence."

Jacob is a young child taken with his grandfather's tales of his life in an idyllic, happy home for children where he was sent after his family perished in the war.  The children were all "peculiar," each having some strange ability or characteristic. His grandfather shares strange photos of the odd children as he tells his stories. 

As Jacob grows older he comes to realize his grandfather had been making up stories to entertain him as a child and he easily sees through the gimmicky photography.  The days of boyhood fantasy are now behind him and he helplessly watches as his grandfather slowly loses his hold on reality. 

When Jacob's grandfather dies a violent death, Jacob begins to feel his own grasp on reality is slipping.  That is until he discovers all of his grandfather's stories are actually true and that he himself is an important ingredient in a story that continues on. 

Because I don't want to issue a spoiler alert I'll leave the synopsis of the story at that. Ranson Riggs spins a tale where past and present come together and Jacob has to make the decision of his lifetime.  And through it all we meet a cast of quirky characters that I found quite charming, and really not so odd.  There will surely be a sequel to this book.  I don't think the story can be left where it ended.  I only hope we have more peculiar photos to go along with it.

I give this novel four shots of five. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer

This is a story of Oskar, a young boy trying to make sense of his father's death two years after 9/11.  He finds a key in his father's things and decides if he can find what the key opens it will bring him closer to his father in some way.

As he searches for the mysterious lock that the key must fit we learn some about his ancestors and his past.  His grandmother lives alone in the apartment building across the street from him.  We learn about the grandfather he never met and the war and bombings his grandparents survived in Europe years earlier.  We meet the elderly man who lives in the apartment above Oskar but never leaves his apartment.  We meet people all around the city named "Black" as Oskar believes that name is a clue to finding the lock the key fits.

While looking for the key the stories are intertwined and the horrors of 9/11 are presented side by side with the horrors of World War II, the senselessness and human suffering.

I found parts of this book absolutely wonderful and captivating in detail, description and story telling.  However, I found even more of the book tedious to read due to the way it was written.  The author writes much of the story from Oskar's perspective, that of a ten year old boy who has suffered through a terrible tragedy, has secrets that are tearing him up and can't stop imagining the horrible scenarios his father may have died in. Some of the book is written as letters to people who will never read them, and other parts as conversation between a mute and a speaking person.  None of the conversation in the book is written in correct grammatical form, but in long paragraphs with only quotation marks separating one speaker from another.

I can appreciate what the author was doing in making his style actually a part of the story telling, but I found it difficult and distracting to read.  Part of my rating system for books is questioning myself as to whether I would read the same book again.  This book almost begs to be read a second time, but I honestly don't think I could.  How do I rate a book like that?

I'm going to give it two shots of five.  I think this is one of those books you will either love or hate and I feel less inclined to love it.

As a side note, this author also wrote "Everything is Illuminated."  I didn't read that book but saw the movie based on it and thought it was quite odd, too.  I suspect I just don't 'get' this author.     

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Firefly Dance

The Firefly Dance
Various Authors

I picked this one up specifically for the Sarah Addison Allen story since I was needing a "Sarah fix."  But like most compilations I was a bit disappointed.  I don't know if it's that the stories are too short to get into or just not entertaining enough... or perhaps I was rushing through them trying to get to Sarah's selection.  Yes, I think that's more probable now that I think about it.

Each story is about childhood and the sometimes painful path leading out of it into adulthood.  

Sarah's work was several little vignettes that followed a family through 3 or 4 phases of their lives.  Each could stand alone and together were interesting but almost like reading a diary of someone's "every day life."  I missed her usual touch of magic.

My favorite was the selection by Phyllis Schieber that was a portion of her novel, The Manicurist.  I found myself ready to read more after the three chapters included in this book and I am sure I'll do so eventually.  The author grabbed me with the exchange between a manicurist and her odd customer, followed by her husband's aversion to her intuition. There is so much more I want to know about the story.

Don't you hate it when authors end one book with the "free peek" at their next?  In the form of the first couple of chapters?  Um, yeah, that's what happened here.

I'm giving this three and a half shots of five.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Firefly Lane

Firefly Lane
Kristin Hannah

I read this book some time ago and recently found that I had shared my review on a friend's Facebook page.  My original review was on Visual Bookshelf which was an app that no longer exists.  I'm taking advantage of finding this copy to add it to my book blog where all my reviews are written now days.  Please read on:

(Date of original review unknown)
I immediately had a connection with this book. It starts in the 70's in Washington State with the two main characters just a few years younger than I was at that same time. Their girlhood experiences were similar to mine, in practically the same setting, and in this book we grew up together into the present day.

The story began to pull away from my interest in the adult years. I had problems finding Tully to be a completely believeable character and wanted to slap Kate for her lack of spine. Eventually I did get pulled back into the story as their lives continued to mature.

Despite Tully's ambition and singlemindedness I did find her involvement in Kate's family to be honest and well written. Again, Kate's lack of spine annoyed me in that she never drew a clear line between her daughter and her friend, nor did Tully ever try to understand Kate, but fed into Kate's daughter's teen angst and nourished it.

Finally, this is the 2nd book within a month that dealt with the horror of breast cancer. A subject that is just a little too close to home for me, but in the end a very important part of this story.

I recommend this story. It's good chic-lit and should be ingested with a box of tissues handy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mocking Jay

Mocking Jay
by Suzanne Collins

Again, I am not going to give you much of a review of this book.  Being number three in the trilogy, I will refer you back to number one (The Hunger Games) to start there.  If you enjoy that one, and then Catching Fire you won't even need my review to know you must read Mocking Jay. 

Suzanne Collins keeps the action and tension going strong in book three.  The relationships of the main characters changes somewhat as their situations change, but we adapt to the changes just as they must.  More twists and turns and surprises await you. 

And of course the end of Mocking Jay also means the end of the trilogy.  I had my preferred outcome from the beginning of the first book and continued to hope I'd see it.  Although I must admit my preferences were pulled in opposite directions more than once.  As for the ending...  was it what I hoped for?  Yes and no.  It's one of those happy/sad endings that you know you can't avoid because it's right.  It's the way things had to end... or to continue on.

There was just a tad bit of feeling "I'm tired of writing, this story must end" near the last of the story.  Immediately after the climatic event the book leads up to, Katniss is confined to her "quarters" for a fair period of time, not knowing what is going on or what is real or not.  Eventually we find out in very simple terms what has happened and I felt it was more than a little implausible.  In order to make a believer of me, I really needed to know how the story played out to it's conclusion.

If I haven't mentioned it before, you may want to keep a box of tissues nearby when reading the Hunger Games trilogy.  Although an action packed adventure story, there are many times I found myself choking back tears.

Again, five of five shots for Ms. Collins and her Hunger Games trilogy.  Now, I must see the movie.  (I don't do movie reviews - sorry). 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Catching Fire

Catching Fire
 by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire is book two of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Every bit as good as book one, I don't know what more to say.  What comes to mind that I could write would give away parts of the book I am reluctant to give away. I will say that not long into the book, Katniss and Peeta find themselves fighting for their lives, once again. And this time the results are devastating. 

Guess you'll just have to read it yourself. 

Book two starts off immediately where book one ends and Katniss and Peeta are starting on their victory tour of the Districts.  I wondered how this is done because being a victor means you have killed off the teams from every district but your own.  So it doesn't seem to me that each district would be too excited about seeing the winners visit their district. 

However, I suggest you read book two after you've finished book one to find out how the victory tour goes and....


I'm not giving anything up.  But I do give this book five shots of five, just like book one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

I'm beginning to feel that the best books are being written for young adults.  Perhaps I just don't know where to look for the best books, but I seem to find very good ones in the Young Adult section. 

The Hunger Games falls into this category - one of the best books and written for Young Adults.

Far into the future our country is broken into 13 Districts and the Capitol which are all very distinct and separate from each other.  District 13 has been obliterated and only 12 remain.  Our heroine and hero are from District 12 which is the coal mining district and perhaps one of the poorest.  Katniss is a hunter/gatherer roaming illegally outside the confines of the district, risking her freedom daily to bring food to her family and to trade for other goods.  Peeta is the son of the baker.

The Hunger Game is an annual event created by the Capitol in which two children from each district, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, are all placed in an arena to fight to the death.  Katniss and Peeta are the selected from District 12.  The winner will be set for life with a new home and wealth when returned to his or her district.

We follow Katniss and Peeta from their selection through the pomp and circumstance of their preparation and presentation for the Games.  The story is well written and imaginative.  The "arena" is set around a lake, forested on one side with the terrain of the other side dropping out of view and is not described until much later in the story.  The Capitol is capable of recording the combatants in all areas and controlling the environment at will. If the Games are to become boring they can crank it up to keep it moving by changing the weather or creating hardship. 

The characters are well developed and we care about them, crying when we should, becoming anxious in tense situations and cheering when appropriate.  But we don't forget that this is an incredibly awful "game" and to win is only to survive, because in a game requiring the death of all opponents, how can one really "win?"

Definitely five of five shots!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter
by Kathleen Kent

Taking place in the late 1600's this is the story of a young girl's experience as her mother becomes a victim of the Salem witch hunts.  The author is a descendant of the Carrier family portrayed in the book, although I don't know what her resources are for the story she writes.

The young Carrier girl is the older daughter in a family of sons and one younger sister.  She finds her parents to be cold and distant and yearns for the gentleness and closeness she feels from her cousin's family or her grandmother.  She spends her days helping the family on their farm doing chores appropriate for her age and helping care for her younger sister.

Much of the story describes her life and hardships up to the time her mother is tried and incarcerated as a witch.  In the course of time she and her brothers are also sent to prison and required to testify against their mother.

I think the meat of this story is in the description of life at that time complicated by the church and clergy and the improbability of so many innocent people suddenly finding themselves accused of supernatural powers.  There are no big surprises nor unexpected twists or turns.  The telling of the trial and the hanging of Goodwife Carrier are all pretty much told from the perspective of a young child and not very in depth.

I found this book an enjoyable read and educational in its regard to American life in the 1600's, but somewhat disappointing.  Only three shots of five from me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
by Walter Isaacson

I am not sure exactly why I put "Steve Jobs" on my wish list of reading but I did.  When I received my Nook at Christmas it became the first book I bought. Not the first I downloaded but the first one that wasn't free.

Walter Isaacson wasn't particularly receptive to Steve's pitch to write his biography in the beginning.  He is well known for his biographies of Einstein, Kissinger, and Benjamin Franklin.  Was Steve Jobs looking to be accepted in that group of men by approaching Isaacson, or was he simply looking for a biographer that could do his story honestly and with integrity?  Isaacson gives Steve the final word ("and one more thing...") in the book which I think best answers the question.  Steve's biography is an authorized, no holds barred book, and is a legacy to who he was.  Isaacson agreed to write the biography and Steve's terms were that he was to interview everyone, friend or foe, and write the truth.  Steve would have no control over content and even suggested Isaacson interview people he knew would only have unkind things to say about him. His only control over the book became the cover photo.

I found the story very intriguing from Steve's young life through his young death at age 56. The book starts off with a list of characters, the key players in the story, that encompasses several pages.  I read through them not even considering committing them to memory.  In the course of the book, the ones that became more memorable to me than others were the people of his personal life.

My perception of Steve is someone very narcissistic.  He demanded complete control over everything and was not a man to use social niceties or even common courtesy to make his point.  In business that may be one thing, but I was so astounded how anyone can bring it to their entire world.  In deed many of his personal relationships were strained and/or estranged because of his manner.  I highly respect the people who could work within the scope of his personality and make it work.

Much of the story centers around the Apple company, of course, since it is Steve's legacy and what he is known for.  Like Steve, his company demands full control, which is why Apple products don't work with other products.  I'm still a bit mystified that we have iTunes available to PCs after reading the book.  In the end I am not sure whether to hate Apple or love Apple.  One integrated product controlled from source to end user seems to make sense and definitely has become a superior product.  But I am not sure how I feel about how some things came about.  Although the products are indisputably good, is it good that there seems to be little or no competition in areas such as the iTunes store?

Although Steve refers to any other products as "shitty" and "crap," there are other products that can compete with Apple, although they are continually losing market share to Apple as Apple integrates all it's products in seeming perfect synchronization.

I don't feel I can adequately comment on Steve's personal business style (if you can call it that).  But I am left to wonder, based on Apple's own history, if the company can continue to maintain such a complete control on product design and development.  Through all phases I felt Steve had to constantly demand things done his way to his standards. Although there are others at Apple who appreciate that, I am not sure it's a culture that can be maintained without him.  His way is great products before profit which is not the common way of thinking in our world.  Can his genius be carried on without him?

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner
by Lisa Wingate

As I was catching up on my reviews a few days ago I felt I had more to write about and sure enough, I found another book I had read without taking time to review it.  I think this may be the last of the missing reviews, but I could be wrong.

I've read Lisa Wingate before, Tending Roses, and was just so-so about the book.  But I was willing to give her another try when I saw this book at the Cincinnati Public Library book sale.  I'm glad I did.  It's a light read, chic lit to be sure, with a mystery to be solved.  I love this kind of story that requires little brain power on my part but keeps me entertained.

Lindsey Attwood is a paleontologist and a single mom. She accepts an assignment on a ranch to find out who has stolen some ancient artifacts.  She is soon involved with an outlaw humongous white dog, a horse that hates her and a very attractive rancher. Of course there is romance and misunderstandings to conquer. 

I will be more than happy to read another of Ms. Wingate's novels.  Of course my reading list in the meantime has continued growing and growing so it may be a while before I get to read her again.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Devil in Pew Number Seven

The Devil in Pew Number Seven
by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

My first "borrowed" Nook book!

I felt a little pressured to read this book in a hurry because my understanding of "borrowing" electronic books is that they disappear after a set amount of time.  Perhaps I needn't have worried as this one seems to still hanging out on my Nook, although it's number is "0."

Somehow this book wasn't quite what I expected it to be and yet I don't know why I expected anything different.  A pious young man and his wife and children are invited to evangelize in Sellerstown, NC where they are then encouraged to stay and share their ministry through a church in need of a new minster.  They become beloved to their new community by all but their nearest neighbor who begins a campaign of terror to try to drive them out. 

Tactics to scare the Nichols out of town include bombing and dynamiting very near their home and shooting at the house, into the children's bedrooms under the cover of darkness.  FBI and ATF people are called in but are unable to stop the attacks. The Nichols family stays on as Mr. Nichols is willing to give his life for Jesus and not be run out of a town that supports him.

Not surprisingly, disaster does come to the Nichols family, although not from the source I expected. But the effect of the event is magnified even more by the years of mental torture the family had been under, making it even harder to bear and recover.

More than anything the message of this story is forgiveness.  The unwavering theme throughout was the ability of this family to forgive the horrible actions against them, and continue to pray for the man who perpetrated them.  The final chapter of the book became "preachy" to some extent, but still was necessary to explain why the author, Nichols daughter Rebecca, forgives as she does and continues to believe in a loving God. 

I found it hard to keep reading of the terror this family with it's young children were going through when they were so unwilling to leave.  I kept thinking of the story of the man sitting on the roof of his house during  flood.  A man came by in a canoe to rescue him, another in a motorboat, and a third in a helicopter.  To each he said, "No thank you, God will save me!"  He eventually was swept away in the flood and drowned. When he got to heaven and asked God why he didn't save him, God answered, "I sent you a canoe, a motorboat and a helicopter.  What more did you want?"  Likewise, could this family not have devised a way to minister to this community and done something more to ensure their own safety?

A very sad story, to be sure.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pretty In Plaid

Pretty in Plaid
by Jen Lancaster

It's been a couple three or four months since I actually finished this memoir and I have to beg off doing a very detailed review. 

Growing up Jen always had a good idea of who she is and her importance in the world.  Whether she was the most popular kid in class or just thought she was, she always moved ahead with the self assurance that she was destined for greatness.  She writes about herself and her experiences candidly and humorously.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Woman in Red

Woman in Red
by Eileen Goudge

I'm a bit behind on blogging my reviews of books I've read and therefore I doubt I can do them justice, based on my short memory.

Note to self:  write review before starting next book!

Woman in Red tells the story of a woman released from prison and trying to resume her life in a small town on an island in Washington.  Nothing is the same when she returns to her home town.  She's now divorced, her son is reluctant to be with her and effort is being made by some citizens to force her to leave.  She becomes friends with a man who comes to the island to take over his grandfather's estate, the home of the artist of the mysterious painting of the woman in red.

The story is told in the past and the present.  The grandfather, and the woman's grandmother (who is the woman portrayed in the painting) resided on the island during the war.  Despite the remoteness of the island it did not remain untouched by the fears and hatred of the distant war.  Times were hard and for some, even harder when the war was over.

A story of unrequited love tenderly unfolds that lasts throughout the lifetimes unfulfilled.  As a reader I was anxious for the present day couple to discover it and in the end, wanted the story to go on just a bit longer to read of their reactions.

I lived for a short period of time in the islands that this story is placed in.  Most of the details were fictionalized as was the island and the town.  The start of the ferry route to the island was real, however as was a particular book store mentioned.  But the women's prison and it's location were fictionalized.  For some reason I found these things annoying.  I would have preferred all fictionalized locations or all real.  But that's just me.