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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Taking Notes

Notes on The Vigorous Mind:
  • "What is it about growing up that tamps down and displaces curiosity with boredom, disinterest,and indifference?  Some people might place the blame for its loss on our system of schooling, which tends to reward the right answers more than the right questions, so that teachers feel under pressure to "teach to the test.'" (p. 89)  (oh, yes, this is the bane of our current system and often kills the creative and curious spirit in both teachers and students)
  • "Penicillin was born out of mold.  Chemotherapy drugs were derived from mustard gas used as chemical warfare in World War I....Antidepressants were developed during research on antituberculosis agents.  Viagra was initially studied for use in high blood pressure and chest pain...." (93) (all of the above and several others mentioned were found in the search for something else)
  • "Every thought we have is an event that exists physically in the neurological pathways of our brain.  The more often we repeat a certain thought, the more robust the particular pathway needed for that thought becomes.  And interestingly, the more we repeat a certain thought pattern, the more readily that neural pathway fires in the future.  Neuroscientists call this increase of ease in neural firing kindling, and we can leverage this physiological mechanism to increase our individual curiosity." (97)

Cummings also advises stepping out of the box and becoming curious about things you are not normally interested in.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoeb by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoeb is Mitchell's latest offering-- a historical novel set in Japan.  The novel opens in 1699, a time when Japan was isolated from the West with the exception of a small Dutch trading outpost.

The first scene describes a difficult birth attended by Orito Aibagawa, a young Japanese midwife.  The endangered mother is the favorite concubine of the Japanese magistrate, and the outcome of this birth will influence the shape of events to come.

The story then abandons this scene, and the next chapter introduces Jacob, a young clerk who hopes to earn enough money during his assignment to marry the young woman he left behind.  Jacob is to examine the outpost's books and determine all who are responsible for the corruption that has drastically reduced the profits of the Dutch East India Company.  As the culture of corruption is widespread, Jacob knows he is not going to be a popular figure.

Aside from fictional narrative, the novel gives an interesting look at two societies that differ drastically--the power struggles, the social and diplomatic differences, the necessity of translators, the contrast between the feudal society in Japan and the Dutch contingent, deviousness and deceit.

Rich in detail, the novel nevertheless takes a while to pick up momentum.  There is a threat of malevolence that occurs early in the book, and the first portion had me worrying about Jacob, then comes a burst of several intertwined circumstances and events begin moving at a faster pace. 

While I found one subplot a little over the top, the writing kept me involved enough to put my doubts aside.  There are a lot of characters, but I didn't have much difficulty absorbing them even with the Japanese names.  I simply sank into the novel and enjoyed the experience.

Maybe a 4/5.

Fiction.  Historical fiction.  2010.  479 pages.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A little update

 on yesterday's review of Except the Queen---

Katherine Langrish at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles mentioned in her comment that she has a guest post featuring Jane Yolen.  You might want to visit!

Katherine's blog is one of my favorites because of her fairy tale and fantasy reflections.  Her blog is as good or better than some of the books I've read about fairy tales, fantasy, and folk tales.  She ponders recurring themes, characters, plots, examines types of witches, discusses children's fantasy, considers other worlds, and interviews some of the best authors in the business.

Katherine is herself an author of YA fantasy, and I've enjoyed two of her books: Troll Fell and Troll Blood.  I read them last year for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.  Kirkus has selected her The Shadow Hunt as one of the 2010 Best Books for Children and ALA has nominated it for Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011 list.

If you are thinking about participating in Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge this year, I recommend you visit Katherine's blog to discover some good titles.  I'm planning on reading The Shadow Hunt by Langrish and need to begin gathering other titles. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder

Except the Queen  was a pleasure.  After my initial doubts in the first short chapters, I settled in for a beguiling story.   In the beginning...

Serana and Medeora are beautiful Fae sisters who have all of the Fae tendencies for mischief.  One day the two sisters learn a secret about the Fairy Queen and realize their own danger.  Although they intend to keep the secret (and their own safety), the secret slips out, and the Queen banishes them instantly.

Serana and Medeora are exiled into our world, but what comes as an even greater shock:  they are no longer young and beautiful.  In the human world, the sisters are old and fat, and they have lost their magic and each other.  Not only did the Queen banish them, but she separated them as well. They try to figure out the human world which mystifies them in so many ways; they mourn the loss of the Greenwood; and most of all, each sister longs for the companionship of the other.

Being dispossessed of youth, beauty, companionship, magic, and familiar surroundings creates an interesting premise, but things get even better as Medeora and Serana discover a secret threat to both this world and the world of Fairy.  Perhaps the banishment has put them in the right place at the right time.

The narrative moves from one sister to the other (and I found Medeora's sections the most involving).  Each sister forms attachments and finds kindness in unexpected places.  Some of the  curious characters include Baba Yaga, a small tribe of Changelings,  a young girl troubled by nightmares (and a tattoo with sinister power), a young man who wants to escape the powers of evil that have haunted his life, a kind grocer, a helpful Jack.

Two rather selfish and arrogant Fae sisters discover within themselves compassion and concern for others as they learn to deal with life without their youthful beauty and magic.  Finding strength and the courage of conviction, Medeora and Serana become totally engaging characters who band with others to defeat the evil that threatens two worlds.

If you like fairy tales or fantasy, I highly recommend this little novel that becomes more and more engrossing as the plot thickens and twists.

Fiction.  Fairy Tale/Fantasy.  2010.  371 pages.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strong Justice by Jon Land

Strong Justice features fifth-generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong.  Caitlin is investigating the murders of young Mexican women, victims of a zealot by the name of Macerio.  When the son of her boyfriend is arrested after rescuing a kidnapped victim, Caitlin finds the case becoming dangerously personal.  There are several subplots that have interconnections.

The Texas Rangers are part of Texas fact and legend.  Originally, Stephen F. Austin employed 10 men in 1823 to "range" over a huge area and protect  new settlers to Texas.  In 1835, the Rangers were formally constituted and have earned both a reputation and a mythology for their ability to deal with Indians, bandits, smugglers, and assorted bad guys, and to restore law and order in frontier towns.

I've always had a certain fascination with the the Texas Rangers; there is definitely an aura of independence and courage in their exploits, even if their actions in earlier times often omitted standard legal procedures.  Today, the Rangers are part of the Texas Department of Public Safety and work with local sheriffs and police departments as well as the FBI and other U.S. and International crime fighting agencies.

This book, however, is more like the pulp fiction that helped build the Rangers' reputation in the 1800's than a realistic look at modern day Rangers-- which is a shame because the problems discussed are real.  Young Mexican women are sold into prostitution (AP article on the topic), corruption, drugs, and murder  have made areas along the border extremely dangerous.

Caitlin Strong is depicted as almost invincible, a kind of Wonder Woman.  There is no doubt that the author admires the Texas Rangers,  but I would have preferred a more realistic account of the very human Rangers who deal with some of the above problems.  The Mayan connection just seemed a bit silly, and Macerio's "blood border" was a too much.  Inspired, no doubt, by the real murders of women in Ciudad Jurarez since the 1990's, it bothered me that in the novel, the murderer had such an "elevated" agenda. 

It is kind of funny that I adore Lee Childs' Jack Reacher, who is no more realistic than Caitlin, but still wasn't drawn to the characters in this novel.

Fiction.  Crime.  2010. 349 pages.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Parties and Wish Lists

I've discovered a new book blog that takes an original approach to book blogging.  ButteryBooks combines cooking and book reviews and gives party planning tips based on the books the book club reads.  Take a look at the suggestions for a Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.  Decorations, music, menu, wine choices, discussion questions, and other resources.

Wouldn't it be a fun way to have a book club discussion?  Check out their post on Cowboys Never Cry and the Western themed party.  Or any of these!

I've plenty on my plate (or in the stacks) right now, but I've been adding to my TBR list with delighted abandon:

The Rescue Artist by Edward Dolnick (via Jenny'sBooks) -- NF-- an account of the theft and recovery of Edvard Munch's The Scream   and the efforts of Charley Hill of the Scotland Yard Art Squad.

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal ( via Dorothy W.) -- described as a fable, it is about a man whose job as a waste paper compactor leads him to rescue books.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (???) - I love Shakespeare and this novel featuring the three sisters Bianca, Cordelia, and Rosalind captures my interest from just the title, which conjures up images of Macbeth's encounter on the heath.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pondering the State of Stacks

I've got several books in progress at the moment, but some of them are the kind you can pick up, read a little, and return to them later.  I've mentioned them before and all are rereads-- Kaminoff's Yoga Anatomy, Gary Kraftsow's Yoga for Wellness, and Sharon Lovejoy's Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell needs more continuity because it is fiction and therefore, a continuing narrative that compels me to return to it for longer periods.

Mitchell's Black Swan Green was one of my favorite books in 2006, and I'm enjoying this one very much.  I haven't read The Cloud Atlas, but tried and abandoned  Ghostwritten.

I just finished Except the Queen by Midori Snyder and Jane Yolen and very much enjoyed it; I'll be reviewing that one soon. 

Books in the Mail:

My copy of The Vigorous Mind arrived on Saturday, and I'm going to be slowly rereading this one and taking note of authors and books that I want to pursue. 

The Film Club:  A Memoir -David Gilmour (rec. by Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat)-  Canadian film critic and tv host, David Gilmour allows his 15-year-old son to drop out of school if he will watch 3 movies a week with his father.  From Publishers Weekly:  "... a unique blend of film history and personal memoir."

A Time to Keep Silence - Patrick Lee Fermor (can't remember where I saw this reviewed), but it sounded good, and when perusing my Amazon Wish List, I saw it and ordered it. From the product review: More than a history or travel journal, however, this beautiful short book is a meditation on the meaning of silence and solitude for modern life.   

All That's True - Jackie Lee Miles.  A recent ARC.  A coming-of-age story.

State of Mind - Sven Michael Davison.  Another recent ARC.  Science Fiction--your thoughts are not your own.

Added to the above are my recent library acquisitions, of which Except the Queen and The Thousand Autumns are two.

Have you read any of these? 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Moonlight Mile by Dennis LeHane

  I won Moonlight Mile over at Les's Book Nook.  Thanks again, Les!

I have not read any of the earlier books in this series that features Angie Genaro and Patrick Kenzie, and a long gap exists from this latest installment and the last one (Prayers for Rain) which was published in 1999.  The book, however, is a continuation of Gone, Baby Gone, published in 1998.

In Gone, Baby Gone, Genaro and Kenzie had worked on a kidnapping case of a four-year-old Amanda McCready.  They do find the child, but the problem is that the child's mother, a neglectful caregiver involved with a series of men and with connections to the underworld, should never have had the care of a child in the first place.  When Genaro and Kenzie find the child with a loving family, the resulting moral and legal implications of returning Amanda to an unfit mother cause a strain between Angie and Patrick.

Twelve years later, in Moonlight Mile, Amanda has once again disappeared.  The conflicts between Angie and Patrick resurface over Patrick's decision to return Amanda to her mother. 

Patrick and Angie feel different pressures when asked to find the sixteen-year-old Amanda.  Patrick wants to resist, but can't quite help himself, and eventually finds himself involved.

The book was interesting and suspenseful, but I found believing in Amanda's character difficult.  Those who have followed the series will be delighted to see the return of Angie and Patrick after this long hiatus.

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2010.  324 pages.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Year Possibilities

What I'm reading right now:

I'm rereading Kaminoff's Yoga Anatomy (but then, I'm almost always rereading my yoga books) and rereading Sharon Lovejoy's Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars (a wonderful book for parents and grandparents--so many great ideas).  These are both nonfiction and are good for rereading in short periods of time then coming back to later.

Also reading Except for the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder.  When I started it yesterday, I wasn't thrilled with the beginning and almost put it aside, but I'm so glad I didn't because when it got good, it got really good!

I've not been reading as much in the first couple of weeks of this new year because I've been so busy with other things.  You know, those new year things that seem to take precedence with the advent of a new, organizing, catching up with reviews, emptying book shelves and closets and drawers and purging the clutter.  It feels good to have a fresh start and a clean slate even when one knows it won't last long.

I do have a couple of books to review that I'll be getting around to soon.

This past year is not a reading year that I was particularly proud of as most of it was escape fiction; although there were some excellent books, most were not especially memorable.

I'm going to be making an effort to have a better, more varied mix of books in 2011.  I've ordered another copy of The Vigorous Mind  because I loaned my copy to someone who asked about it, and although I emphasized that I did want it back because I was using it as a reference, I've realized it isn't going to be returned.  I'm a little disappointed because I'd highlighted so many things in it including book titles and authors, but highlighting can be done again.

Some of my posts about The Vigorous Mind can be found here, here, and here.  It was a book that truly had an impact on my life and on my reading; I'm looking forward to reading this one again.  I was proud of my 2009 reading year, not so much in 2010.

Two books that I'm looking forward to reading:

Damage by John Lescroart - I love Lescroart's series and his characters.
Three Seconds by Roslund & Hellstrom, a series that I read about first in the paper and then saw that Nicole (Linus's Blanket) has it in her stacks.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blood in the Water by Gillian Galbraith

Blood in the Water , finally, the last of the December books!  I read Danielle's review (actually, it was her second review of  this series that caught my interest) a while back and checked with the library, but they didn't have any of Galbraith's books.  So I ordered a copy.

I liked Alice Rice and, since Edinburgh is my favorite city, the book has two-fold appeal.   Blood in the Water is the first in the series, introducing Alice and her superiors, co-workers, and partner.  I would expect all of the characters will be fleshed out further as the series proceeds.

Although I found myself questioning a few details, I liked the novel; I especially like that I began with the first one and have three more in the series to read.  This give me the opportunity to watch the way Galbraith develops the series, the characters, and her technique without having to wait a long time for the next book to be published!

Fiction.  Crime/Police Procedural.  2007.  194 pages.

Books Read and Reviewed in 2010

 Lots of mysteries in last year's list.  I've spent so much time catching up on reviews that the idea of separating them into categories doesn't work for me this year.  I kept this list without any additional information I've included in the past and won't be going over it to separate into male/female, fiction/nonfiction, etc. 

I found some new authors that I enjoyed, followed authors I've liked in the past, taken recommendations from many of my fellow book bloggers, didn't include all the books I've read with Bryce Eleanor (and reread, and reread, and reread). 

Some books were really good, most were pretty average, and a few that were pretty bad.

  1.   The Typist - Michael Knight
  2.  Zero Day - Mark Russinovich
  3. Blood in the Water - Gillian Galbraith
  4.  The Other Side of Dawn - John Marsden
  5.  The Night Is for Hunting - John Marsden
  6.  Burning for Revenge - John Marsden
  7. Darkness Be My Friend - John Marsden
  8.  A Killing Frost - John Marsden
  9.  The Dead of Night - John Marsden
  10.  Faithful Place - Tana French
  11.  I'd Know You Anywhere - Lara Lippman
  12. Damaged - Alex Kava
  13. The Passage - Justin Cronin
  14. Bitter in the Mouth - Monique Truong
  15.  Predator's Gold -Philip Reeve
  16.  Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve
  17.  Fever Crumb - Philip Reeve
  18. Senseless- Mary Burton
  19.  Merciless- Mary Burton
  20. Death Echo - Elizabeth Lowell
  21. Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny
  22.  The Hunchback Assignments - Arthur Slade
  23.  Tomorrow When the War Began - John Marsden
  24.  A Conspiracy of Kings - Megan Whalen Turner
  25. An Impartial Witness- Charles Todd
  26. The Tourist - Olen Steinhaur
  27.  Class Collision
  28.  The Mapping of Love and Death - Jacqueline Winspear
  29. Operation Mincemeat-
  30.  Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
  31.  Burn - Nevada Barr
  32.  Ghosts in Trouble - Carolyn Heart
  33.  Blameless - Gail Carriger
  34. Changeless - Gail Carriger
  35.  The Affinity Bridge - George Mann
  36. The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu - Sax Rohmer
  37.  Kidnapped - Jan Burke
  38.  The Waters Rising - Sherri Tepper
  39.  Soulless - Gail Carriger
  40.  The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu - Sax Rohmer
  41.  Maids of Misfortune - M. Louisa Locke
  42.  A Stranger in the Family - Robert Barnard
  43.  The Ring of Death - Sally Spencer
  44.  A Small Death in the Great Glen -by A.D. Scott
  45.  Four and Twenty Blackbirds - Cherie Priest
  46.  Crimson Rooms - Katharine McMahon
  47.  The Haunted Abbot - Peter Tremayne
  48. The Sting of Death - Rebecca Tope
  49.  Shakespeare Undead - Lori Handeland
  50.  A Murderous Procession - Arianna Franklin
  51.  The Throne of Jade - Naomi Novik
  52.  Reader & Raelynx - Sharon Shinn
  53. The Whisper - Carla Neggars
  54. Bellfield Hall - Anna Dean
  55.  Teaching Yoga - Mark Stephens
  56. The Price of Revenge - Dennis Vaughn
  57. The Burning Wire -Jeffery Deaver
  58.  The Man from Beijing - Henning Mankell
  59.  The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton
  60.  206 Bones - Kathy Reichs
  61.  Stress Fracture - D.P. Lyle
  62. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson
  63.  The Traffickers - W.E.B Griffin
  64.  This Body of Death - Elizabeth George
  65. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -Stieg Larsson
  66. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley
  67.  The Dark Vineyard -Martin Walker
  68. 61 Hours - Lee Child
  69.  Krishnamacharya:  His Life and Teachings - A. G. Mohan
  70.  His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik
  71.  Blood Harvest - S.J. Bolton
  72. Witch Week - Diana Wynne Jones
  73.  The Magicians of Caprona - Diana Wynne Jones
  74.  What Alice Knew - Paula Marantz Cohen
  75. Heresy - S.J. Parris
  76.  Hush - Karen White
  77. The God of the Hive - Laurie R. King
  78.  The Nobodies Album - Carolyn Parkhust
  79.  The Village of the Ghost Bears -Stan J. Jones
  80.  Citizens of London- Lynne Olson
  81. The Black Cat - Martha Grimes
  82.  Snow Angels - James Thompson
  83.  Burning Lamp - Amanda Quick
  84.  The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge - Patricia Duncker
  85.  Sacrifice - S.J. Bolton
  86.  How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk - Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
  87.  Land of Ghosts _E.V. Seymour
  88. The Price of Revenge - Dennis Vaughn
  89.  Fever Dreams - Preston & Child
  90.  The False Mermaid - Erin Hart
  91. The Cold Dish - Craig Johnson
  92. The Hypnotist - M. J. Rose
  93. The Bradbury Report - Steven Polansky
  94. A Bad Day for Pretty - Sophie Littlefield
  95. The Bone Thief - Jefferson Bass
  96. The Owl Killers - Karen Maitland
  97. Whiter than Snow - Sandra Dallas
  98. The Magicians - Lev Grossman
  99. The Last Illusion - Rhy Bowen
  100. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe
  101. The Ice Princess - Camilla Lackberg
  102. Saving Max - Antoinette Van Heugten
  103. Season of Water and Ice - Donald Lystra
  104. Perfect Reader - Maggie Pouncey
  105. Blindman's Bluff - Faye Kellerman
  106. The Persuader - Lee Child
  107. Jericho's Fall - Stephen Carter
  108. The Red Door - Charles Todd
  109. Nothing to Lose - Lee Child
  110. Catalyst - Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
  111. A Plague of Secrets - John Lescroart
  112. Hounding the Moon - P.R. Frost
  113. Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenneggar
  114. Spellwright - Blake Charlton
  115. Troll Blood - Katherine Langrish
  116. The Healing Path of Yoga - Nischala Joy Devi
  117. Warrior - Erin Hunter
  118. Troll Fell - Katherine Langrish
  119. Tears of Pearl - Tasha Alexander
  120. Until Its Over - Nicci French
  121. The Coldest Blood - Jim Kelly
  122. Balancing Acts -  Zoe Fishman
  123. Torch of Freedom - David Weber & Eric Flint
  124. One Shot - Lee Child
  125. Roadside Crosses - Jeffrey Deaver
  126. The Hard Way - Lee Child
  127. When Gods Die - C.S. Harris
  128. A Duty to the Dead - Charles Todd
  129. A Season of Second Chances - Diane Meier
  130. Grave Surprise - Charlaine Harris
  131. Satchel:  The Live and Times of an American Legend - Larry Tye
  132. Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier
  133. The Body Has a Mind of Its Own - Sandra & Matthew Blakeslee
  134. The Visibles - Sara Shepherd
  135. Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars - Sharon Lovejoy
  136. American Rust - Philipp Meyer
  137. The Wisdom Paradox - Elkhonnan Goldberg
  138. The Siege - Stephen White
  139. Bad Luck and Trouble - Lee Child
  140. Scare the Light Away - Vicki Delany
  141. The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova
  142. Without Fail - Lee Child
  143. Sun Storm - Asa Larsson
  144. The Armada Boy - Kate Ellis
  145. The Innocent Spy - Laura Wilson
  146. A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick
  147. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie -  Alan Bradley
  148. I Can See You - Karen Rose
  149. That Old Cape Magic - Richard Russo
  150. The Brutal Telling - Louise Penny
  151. Gone Tomorrow - Lee Child
  152. Borderline - Nevada Barr
  153. A Proper Education for Girls - Elaine de Rollo

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    The Typist by Michael Knight

    The Typist is a small novel, a quiet novel in which things are consistently underplayed.  Francis Van Cleeve (Van) is a Southern boy whose typing skills get him attached to General MacArthur's headquarters in post-war Tokyo.

    From the beginning, Van emerges as an isolated young man, neither lonely, nor unfriendly, but somehow removed from much of what goes on.  He likes the  routine provided by the army, but seems to resist being drawn into relationships.

    His roommate is Clifford Price, part of General MacArthur's Honor Guard.  Clifford, a decorated combat veteran, is in many ways the opposite of Van.  Van is an observer;  Clifford is gregarious, a participator, much more action oriented.  Van rarely writes his own wife (whom he married after a brief acquaintance before shipping out).  Clifford writes his mother regularly; Van types the letters for him.

    Without the action of an active war, Clifford still seeks excitement, visiting the pan-pan girls and establishing a little black market trade.  When he falls in love with a native Japanese woman, he also begins his serious fall from grace as he needs money for a place for the two of them to be together.

    Van, the observer, receives an invitation to the Army-Navy game at MacArthur's home, engineered by Clifford.  While he is there, Van develops an interest in the General's young son and later buys him an inexpensive, but thoughtful birthday gift.  As a result, Van is more or less roped into a baby-sitting gig that at first embarrasses him, but that eventually helps him develop a genuine sense of empathy.

    Before his friendship with a lonely eight-year-old boy, Van has managed to hold himself removed from his life.  In a way, his friendship with the lonely child is what begins to pull Van away from being a passive observer and forces him to face some complicated situations.

    When events occur that disrupt his peaceful existence, Van begins a journey to becoming fully human--not just decent in a learned manner, but willing to look a little deeper, to use his heart as well as his head. 

    I liked this short novel that has little overt action, but that examines several relationships in a distant but honest manner as Van recounts his story.  Individuals and situations evolve in a slow and rather deliberate way in this reminiscence of events that changed the life of Francis Van Cleeve.

    (another Dec. read)

    Fiction.  Literary fiction/ historical fiction.  2010.  208 pages.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Faithful Place by Tana French

    (Another December read)
    • I'm a fan of Tana French's first two novels and was eager to read her latest, Faithful Place.  Like the two previous novels, this one has a definite dark edge, but if the edge in the previous novels was a knife blade, the edge in this one is more like an ax.
    As a teenager, Francis Mackey (Frank Mackey from The Likeness by French) planned to leave Faithful Place, a depressed neighborhood in Dublin, with his girlfriend Rosie Dailey and travel from Dublin to London, escaping their bleak, oppressive neighborhood, their dysfunctional families, and the general hopelessness of the times and the area.  Rosie, however, didn't show up for the meeting.

    Francis was crushed on discovering a note that indicates Rosie went to London without him. Nevertheless, he made his own escape, if not from Dublin, at least from his family and his past.  He cut all ties with his alcoholic and abusive father, his unpleasant, weird mother, and his siblings until eventually he and his youngest sister develop a friendship

    It is his sister Jackie who calls him one night twenty-two years later to tell him that a suitcase belonging to Rosie was found stuffed in the fireplace opening of a derelict house scheduled to be torn down.

    Like it or not, Francis must return and try to untangle old relationships and discover what happened to Rosie.

    Dysfunctional is an overused term that can mean so many different things.  The Mackey's qualify at the worst end of dysfunctional.  Given the extent of craziness in the household, it is almost a miracle that any of the children managed normal  lives.  Each of the children bear scars and suffer damage, but some more so than others.

    I didn't like Faithful Place as much as the previous two novels.  It was much more brutal.  Not the description of the crime, but the family relationships, which were so twisted, so mired in anger and bitterness.

    Despite the fact that this in not my favorite of French's 3 novels, French does a masterful job of communicating the warped family relationships, the sense of poverty, the substance abuse, the violence both verbal and physical, and the frustrations and sense of hopelessness of the Mackey family and many of  their neighbors.

    Fiction. Mystery/ Crime. 2010.  400 pages.

      I'd Know You Anywhere by Lara Lippman

      I'd Know You Anywhere is not what I expected I read a review of this one, a very positive review, somewhere a while back and on seeing it on the new book shelf at the library, I decided to try it.  Couldn't rmember the review, but assumed it was a standard kind of mystery.  It turned out to be much more than that.

      When Eliza was 15, she was kidnapped and held hostage for six weeks.  Nearly 15 years later, an adult in a happy marriage and with children of her own, she receives a letter from someone on her kidnapper's behalf.  He wants to get in touch with her.

      Eliza is forced out of her comfortable life and must face up  to the events of that summer, which she has done her best to forget.  Initially, it seems that Walter Bowman wants forgiveness, but he continues to press for further communication and his manipulative abilities have been refined by his years on death row.

      Eliza has always wondered why he let her live, and although he was convicted of the murder of only one young girl, he appears to offering information about others murders of which he was suspected.

      The novel is one of psychological manipulation, and Eliza must confront past events, clarify them in her own mind, and make decisions.

      Lippman's narrative moves back and forth from present to past skillfully.  An engrossing novel.

      (Another December read )

      other reviews:  Kay's Random Acts of Reading.

      Fiction.  Psychological Suspense.  2010.  370 pages.

      Monday, January 10, 2011

      Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

      Zero Day  will be released March 11th.  An ARC  dealing with cyber-terrorism, the novel has a forward by Howard A. Schmidt, White House Cyber Security Coordinator and a blurb by Bill Gates.  The author is a Technical Fellow in the Windows division of Microsoft.

      The novel is more plot than characters, but it is a very frightening, fast moving narrative that reveals how interconnected we all are through the internet.  National security, banking, nuclear power plants, ships, trains, planes, government sector and private sector, from the least to the greatest....

      The novel is a glimpse into some truly scary possibilities.  I found myself fascinated by some of the scenarios and terrified as well.  I remember reading a novel 10-15 years ago, long before computers were as widespread as they are today, about cyber attack on Wall Street.  I've never forgotten how vulnerable our financial system seemed at the time.

        Zero Day would almost be a better read, if it could be dismissed as fantasy.  Russinovich, however, knows what he's talking about; he certainly has the background to speak with authority.  We can only hope that the threats of cyber-terrorism can be countered.  The implication is that we are all too confident about our safety on the internet.  It is easier to understand with private individuals when the threat of identity theft and hacking seem like they happen to someone else, but more difficult to understand when the stakes involve such things as air travel and nuclear power plants.

      I've received several ARCs lately that I just can't review because, frankly, I can't even finish them.  This novel is exciting, suspenseful, and scary!

      Fiction.  Thriller/Techno-thriller.  2011.  328 pages.

      Sunday, January 09, 2011

      Damaged by Alex Kava

      Damaged  is the first Maggie O'Dell novel I've read, but there are 8 previous novels in this crime/mystery series.  O'Dell is a criminal profiler for the FBI and is sent to investigate a fish cooler found floating off shore near Pensacola Beach.  The cooler contains body parts.

      To add to the tension, a category 5 hurricane is approaching the coast.   Maggie's friend Col. Benjamin Platt is also in Pensacola Beach trying to determine what is killing recent military amputees.  Are the two events related?

      Interestingly enough, the minor character of Liz Bailey, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer has more going for her than the protagonist.  The details involving what is entailed in her job as a rescue swimmer are the best part of the book.  She has more personality than the heroine.

      The plot, the bad guy, and the mystery of the body parts are easy to predict.  Not bad, but certainly not great. 

      Fiction.  Mystery/crime.  2010.  255 pages.

      The Passage by Justin Cronin

      The Passage is a dystopian novel that begins with a horrific military experiment that, bad as it is to begin with, ends up essentially destroying the known world.  It has lots of flaws and is exceptionally long, but I was engrossed from beginning to end.

      The experiment gone awry produces almost invincible vampires, but not the beautiful, sexy vampires in most of today's fiction.  These deadly creatures are hideously ugly and insatiable, destroying or converting their victims into their own image.

      Civilization is reduced to chaos and survivors have to begin again in the most primitive manner as attempts to destroy the "virals" have led to warfare that has destroyed the infrastructure that modern man takes for granted.  

      The novel begins in a world in the not too distant future, but then resumes nearly one hundred years later.  A few colonies of survivors exist, but in situations mostly pre-technology, and while the colony the novel focuses on does try to find others, they have been unsuccessful.  Roads have been destroyed or left to the vagaries and ravages of nature, cities mostly destroyed, virals roaming beyond the barricades... a pretty much pioneer society.

      Into this failing society, comes a strange girl.  One of the original (unwilling) participants in the experiment.  Amy, "The Girl from Nowhere--the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only..." and decisions must be made.

      Although quite long and full of characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, the characters, and the action.  There is a sense of conclusion, but there will be another book that I will be sure to read.

      Fiction.  Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic.  2010.  766 pages.

      Saturday, January 08, 2011

      Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong

      I loved Bitter in the Mouth.  Linda Hammerick grows up in Boiling Springs, NC, but she is an alien.  There is always something different about her, and she never quite fits in.

      For one thing, Linda is a synesthete; she tastes words.  "My first memory was a taste.  For most of my life I have carried this fact with me not as a mystery, which it still is, but as a secret....There was something bitter in the mouth, and there was the word that triggered it"(15).

      Here is an example of Linda's hearing/taste condition: 

      "When my teacher asked, 'Linda where did the English first settle in North Carolina?' the question would come to me as "Lindamint, where did the Englishmarachinocherry firstPepto-Bismol settlemustard in Northcheddarcheese Carolinacanned peas?" (21).

      Synesthesia is not, however, Linda's only difference, and there are mysteries that she doesn't understand about her relationships with her family and the community. 

      My favorite character is Linda's Great-Uncle Harper, a retired librarian and one of her two best friends.  Her other best friend is Kelly, with whom she exchanges almost daily letters even at seven years old. 

      I love the way Uncle Harper classified his own books:

      "His books were shelved in alphabetical order but not by titles.  A for "Acerbic," B for "Buy Another Copy as Gift," C for "Cow Dung, as in This Stinks," D for devastating," E for "Explore Further, F for "Foreign" (foreign meant that my great-uncle couldn't relate to the characters in the book, not that the author was from another country), and so on."  He had, according to Linda, 26 categories!

      A beautifully written book with lots of little mysteries about herself and her family that Linda only discovers fully as an adult.  I was surprised the book was only 282 pages, I felt it was so much more!  In the best possible way!

      Highly recommended.

      Fiction.  Southern Fiction/Coming of Age/ Family Relationships.  2010. 282 pages.

      6 by John Marsden (Tomorrow When the War Began series)

      A while back, I reviewed Tomorrow When the War Began, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Over the last month or so, I've read the entire series.  I enjoyed them all; Australian author John Marsden's series is thoroughly entertaining.  Even though it was time for the series to end, reading the last one made me sad that I wouldn't be able to continue the adventures of Ellie and her friends.

      And yet...there are The Ellie Chronicles yet waiting for me, and that makes me happy.

      Yes, I'm still working on reviewing 2010 books, so I'm grouping all 6 in one post.

      OK, so here are the rest of the books in the series:

      The Dead of Night - book 2 -  Begins with brief overview of the invasion and how the teenagers on a camping trip escaped capture.  Corrie and Kevin are no longer with the group; Kevin has taken Corrie to the hospital after she was wounded, and then finds himself imprisoned.  Ellie continues writing about their experiences, their guerrilla warfare, and her own personal thoughts about the war, her own role, and those of her friends.  Through Ellie's eyes, we see the courage and the consequences of the groups actions.  Once again, terrific, fully realized characters, lots of action, lots of suspense, and the coming of age of young people thrust suddenly into a world completely different from anything they have previously known or even considered.

      A Killing Frost - The group's acts of sabotage continue, but surviving becomes more difficult.  Characters continue to evolve.  Homer and Ellie continue to be the dominant leaders, but Lee, a talented musician and a more reserved character, grows in his capacity as courageous loner.  The original group shrinks once again--a loss that was harder to deal with than the previous ones.

      Darkness Be My Friend - The group's resourcefulness continues, but the events continue to take their toll on their individual psyches.  More suspense, more action, more soul-searching.

      Burning for Revenge - Because of their flaws and failures, as much as for their courage and their successes, the group of friends continue to keep a grip on this reader.  Marsden does such a great job with the character development, the imagery, and with the action.  I especially love sequences in which Ellie's previously mundane life on a sheep and cattle farm (mundane to her) help keep images of what WAS normal in mind as well as provide some of the means of the group's survival.

      The Night Is for Hunting - In addition to attempting to evade capture and find food, this books introduces them to "the ferals," young children who have somehow escaped capture and have a tendency toward violence, having had to survive on their own for nearly a year.

      The Other Side of Dawn - Ahh, the conclusion.  It was time, but I still wasn't ready.

      This is an excellent series!   Highly recommended.

      Fiction.  YA/ Adventure.

      Friday, January 07, 2011

      Three by Philip Reeve: Fever Crumb, Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold

      (3 more December reads)
      Fever Crumb is the prequel to  Mortal Engines (The Hungry City Chronicles) by Philip Reeve.  The series is a YA Steampunk series. 

      From Booklist: 
      Set some centuries before the Hungry City Chronicles, yet still well into the future, this prequel series opener stars young Fever Crumb, reared by the Order of Engineers in the massive head of an unfinished statue, to operate with a slavish devotion to logic. (In one delightful scene, a group of engineers pours out of the head’s nostril door “like a highly educated sneeze”). Uncertain of her heritage, as well as the source of the memories invading her mind, Fever embarks on a rather typical quest of discovery with anything-but-typical trimmings. London is a nearly medieval backwater, where relics of ancient technology hint at a time thousands of years ago when people still understood how to make circuit boards and microchips. Reeve’s captivating flights of imagination play as vital a role in the story as his endearing heroine, his worthy villains, and nifty array of supporting characters. Although there’s all manner of foundation work to gratify readers familiar with the world introduced in 2003’s Mortal Engines (including the genesis of Municipal Darwinism and the origins of a very familiar figure), Reeve has crafted a swiftly paced story worthy of standing alone, both in terms of where Fever’s adventure may lead her next as well as the connections to the Hungry City Chronicles. It may not be possible for Reeve to ever fully explore this world, but that shouldn’t keep him from trying, hopefully in many books to come. Grades 6-9. --Ian Chipman 

      This one didn't work too well for me.  It evidently works very well for the intended age group, but I didn't find it all that appealing.  The conclusion left a possibility open for another prequel before Mortal Engines.

      Fiction.  Steampunk/YA.  2010.  336 pages.

      Mortal Engines - I did like this one better, perhaps because I liked the characters better, but I still found the moving city concept a bit difficult to wrap my head around.  I especially liked Katherine and Hester Shaw, but I liked Tom, as well.

      From Booklist

      Gr. 7-10. As the story opens, the great Traction City of London is chasing a small town. When one city takes over another, it processes all reusable materials to create power to run the motorized wheels that enable the city to travel over the land. London's mayor has bigger plans than the domination of a small town, plans involving the use of the weapon that laid waste to Earth millennia earlier. Several young people endeavor to stop the carnage--among them, Tom, an apprentice at the London Museum; a young woman who tries to kill the museum's head historian; the historian's daughter, Katherine; and an apprentice in the Guild of Engineers. The pace of the violence-filled story is frenetic, the sense of helplessness is palpable, and not all the young people survive. A page-turner, this adventure in a city-eat-city world will have readers eagerly suspending disbelief to follow the twists and turns of the imaginative plot. Sally Estes
      Copyright © American Library Association. 

      Fiction.  Steampunk/YA.  2003.   373 pages.

      Predator's Gold - Of the three, this one is my favorite.  More character development here, as Hester and Tom continue on their adventures.  Have to admit, however, that I won't be checking the library for the rest of the series.

      Fiction.  Steampunk/YA.  2004.  336 pages.

      Merciless by Mary Burton

      Merciless is Burton's second novel dealing with the characters in Senseless (reviewed below).  Senseless featured Eva Rayburn and Detective Deacon Garrison; Merciless features Eva's sister Angie and Garrison's partner Malcolm Kier.

      Other characters from the previous novel also appear,  and some of the tentacles from the previous novel are examined.  Again, some gruesome aspects, but a fast read as we watch the developing relationship between Angie and Malcolm.  Angie faces some facts about herself, and Malcolm struggles to protect her from the danger he believes is directed toward her.

      I'm sure Burton intends to continue with these characters and develop the series; at least, the book indicates that we are not finished with Eva, Deacon, Angie, and Malcolm...or the evil Cross family. 

      In my review of Senseless, I noted some similarities with the style of Preston & Childs, but if you like James Patterson, you may see similarities to Kiss the Girls.

      This was an Uncorrected Proof from Joan Schulhafer and will be released in February.   Thanks, Joan!

      Fiction.  Crime/Mystery.  2011.  410 pages.

      Senseless by Mary Burton

      ( Dec. 11, 2010--when I started to review it) Senseless has more Preston & Childs than Steig Larsson in my opinion, but here is the Publishers Weekly review:

      From Publishers Weekly

      Stieg Larsson fans will find a lot to like in Burton's taut, well-paced novel of romantic suspense. Eva Rayburn returns home to Alexandria, Va., after serving 10 years in prison for a crime she's not sure she committed--the murder of Josiah Cross--after the terrible night when Josiah, the ex-boyfriend of one of Eva's college sorority sisters, terrorized Eva and the other residents of their sorority house, branding each with a four-pointed star. Now, the women who survived are starting to die at the hands of a serial killer, who first brands each victim with a four-pointed star. Eva joins forces with Deacon Garrison, an Alexandria city homicide detective, to find the revenge killer. Despite their initial distrust, Deacon and Eva end up unable to fight the spark between them. Burton (Dead Ringer) surrounds her appealing protagonist with a strong supporting cast, including a largehearted bar owner, a ruthless crime reporter, and a self-preserving socialite. 

      I don't usually borrow reviews, but I'm so far behind that it will have to do.   I enjoyed the novel, but the emphasis is really more on the storyline than on character development.  There is enough character development for the reader to like the characters, however, and I did.  What I didn't care for (and this is such a frequent complaint of mine) is the tendency to sensational the crimes themselves, especially crimes of violence against women.  So many authors try to out-do themselves on gruesome crimes.

      That is my main complaint with this and Burton's subsequent novel  (and many other crime/mystery novels), but I never found myself bored, and I like the characters.  It did remind me of Preston & Childs novels, highly entertaining, more fantasy than reality, evil characters, and pure escapism.

      This was an ARC from Joan Schulhafer.  Thanks, Joan, I enjoyed this one!  

      Fiction.  Crime/Mystery.  2011.  426 pages.

      A New Year, and Already Playing Catch-Up

      I have been AWOL for such a long time!  Nearly a month!  Many reasons, but now I'm so far behind on reviewing and commenting.  I had already begun reviews, but never finished them, so I'm going to leave some of them with their previous dates because they were all before January.

      Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a great New Year.  I've made no Resolutions, but I've certainly thought about things that I'd like to do during this coming year.  Of course, the first thing is to catch up with reviews, but I also want to go back to reading more nonfiction.  In 2009, I followed through with that, but this past year has seen mostly escape fiction pass through my hands.  Lots of mysteries, fantasy, science fiction...tremendous loves on my part.

      However, it is once again time to expand my horizons.  How about you?  What reading goals have you contemplated for 2011?