Thursday, August 21, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Libraries

Here's today's BTT question:

Whether you usually read off of your own book pile or from the library shelves NOW, chances are you started off with trips to the library. (There’s no way my parents could otherwise have kept up with my book habit when I was 10.) So … What is your earliest memory of a library? Who took you? Do you have you any funny/odd memories of the library?

I think I've written about my childhood library experiences before. My parents took me when I was in elementary school to the main library, but my fondest memory is of the Bookmobile that stopped at our school playground in the summer. I could go by myself and get a whole bagful of books. That was the best day of the week in the summer.

When I was a little older, I rode my bike to the library with friends. We'd load up our backpacks with books and stop at Thrifty's (a local drugstore) for 25 cent ice cream cones. The children's librarian knew all our names and saved books she thought we'd like.

Currently, my own daughter went to library story times from the time she was a toddler and the children's librarian knows her name as well. I've rediscovered the library with her and she participated in the library's summer reading program for the last three years.

What about you?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Olympics

Here's today's BTT question:

You, um, may have noticed that the Olympics are going on right now, so that’s the genesis of this week’s question, in two parts:


  • Do you or have you ever read books about the Olympics? About sports in general?
  • Fictional ones? Or non-fiction? Or both?

And, Second:

  • Do you consider yourself a sports fan?
  • Because, of course, if you’re a rabid fan and read about sports constantly, there’s a logic there; if you hate sports and never read anything sports-related, that, too … but you don’t have to love sports to enjoy a good sports story.
  • (Or a good sports movie, for that matter. Feel free to expand this into a discussion about “Friday Night Lights” or “The Natural” or whatever…)
I honestly can't remember any book I've read specifically about the Olympics. However, I have read a few sports related books - mostly ice skating with SurferGirl or hockey. One I'd highly recommend is by a former hockey player, now minor league hockey coach called So Your Son Wants to be in the NHL. It was a memoir of Bylsma's early years in hockey including times when he lived with coaches or teams away from his family. It is a very cautionary tale about the need for balance in a kid's life. I have recommended it to sports-crazed parents a number of times.

I've also read a number of books by Ken Dryden, a former goaltender for the Montreal Canadians. One of the best is The Game which is probably the best book about hockey ever written. Dryden is well-written and intelligent and highlights hockey in its golden age.

I'm sure there have been fictional books with sports-related themes but nothing comes to me as being a "sports" book or a great read.

As you can tell, I am a hockey fan. Probably not rabid but I do enjoy watching games, have been to a few NHL games, and had season tickets for a number of years to minor league hockey (like AAA baseball) before the team disbanded.

Good sports movie? Ask SurferGirl and she'd say "Ice Princess" from Disney. I think one of my favorite sports movies was Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner.

So now I'm curious ... what sports are you into?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

I picked up this one while I was on vacation and had finished Damage Control. I told myself I was taking a break from Picoult but the subject of this one intrigued me. I'm using it for the A to Z Challenge and the In the Pub Challenge.

This is the story of Shay Bourne who has been convicted of the murder of June Nealon's daughter and cop husband. Shay was given the death penalty by a juror which included the man, Father Michael, who is now Shay's spiritual advisor. The ACLU, and lawyer Maggie Bloom, becomes involved in the case when Shay announces that he wants to donate his heart to June Nealon's surviving daughter who is in need of a heart transplant. The story is further complicated by Father Michael's crisis of faith as he begins to believe that Shay is capable of performing miracles.

STRENGTHS OF CHANGE OF HEART: Father Michael is an interesting and complex character. As a college student, he was on the jury that sentenced Shay to death. He doesn't reveal this to Shay or Maggie until much later in the story. As Michael interacts more with Shay, he comes to doubt parts of his faith and searches for answers from outside the Catholic Church. This was the most interesting part of the story for me because Picoult created some fascinating questions about religion and how it has been organized to fit the needs of society.

Shay was also a complex character and, to Picoult's credit, she was able to make her readers like him. This was important because the reader needed to care whether Shay lived or died to fuel the death penalty debate that was the other focus of the book.

WEAKNESSES OF CHANGE OF HEART: I found the whole death penalty debate to be more academic than emotionally compelling. I found it hard to believe that Shay's heart was a perfect match for June's daughter and that any prison or judge in America would allow someone to die by hanging. I had some trouble with the mythology of miracles she created around this event. I also disliked the ending because it made me doubt everything I'd believed about Shay which made me feel cheated. It also made Father Michael's doubt seem to not matter.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 1/2 stars. It was thought provoking but had some structural flaws that I found it hard to overlook. What did you think?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Damage Control by J.A. Jance

This is the newest Joanna Brady mystery by J.A. Jance. I'm using it for the A to Z Challenge and the In the Pub Challenge. In this book, Joanna is a new mom recently married to Butch and still the Sheriff of Cochise County. Joanna's department is mired in three separate suspicious deaths which she juggles with her home and family commitments. Butch has written his first novel and is finishing his second.

STRENGTHS OF DAMAGE CONTROL: As part of a series, it is a comfortable read. The characters have not changed much in this story and act in predictable, familiar ways. The multiple plot lines are interesting. The daughters of the elderly couple who drove off a cliff are entertaining, and Jance creates a plausible murder mystery out of the deaths. I also liked that one of Joanna's detectives, Jaime, got to be more involved in this story. Butch continues to be an interesting character, though he was underused in this one.

WEAKNESSES OF DAMAGE CONTROL: One of its strengths is also a weakness. The series is to the point where something needs to change to stir up the characters. I like the fact that Jance previewed some upcoming changes in Joanna's department and home life which might add some tension to the next book. I also felt like Jance introduced a side plot where Joanna and Butch were being investigated for wrongdoing but never went anywhere with it. That might have given Butch more to do in the story.

Overall, I'd still give it four stars because it was a fun summer read. Let me know what you thought of it.

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

This is the newest book by my favorite author, Isabel Allende. I'm also counting this one for the In The Pub challenge. You can probably already tell that I am going to love this one, and, though I don't want to give my review away, you're probably right. This book is a non-fiction memoir that is a follow-up to Paula. which is one of my all time favorite books. In this one, Allende updates her dead daughter, Paula, on the events in her family since her death. Allende's family is a clan that consists of her children, their families, her husband's children, their families, friends, and an assortment of people that they have "picked up" along the way. Allende's definition of family, or clan, reminds me of a hanging in my own home which reads that "Friends are the family one finds along the way."

STRENGTHS OF THE SUM OF OUR DAYS: There are many! I love the way Allende describes her family and friends. She creates very vivid word pictures which is amazing because she writes in Spanish and is translated into English. I also loved hearing the stories behind a number of her novels, including her novel on Zorro and my second favorite, The Infinite Plan. In this book, Allende's memories take on the strength of a well-written novel with the way she is able to turn events into stories and plots. It was quite touching to read her reflections on her grandchildren, and her unabashed love and protection of them. That is why a health crisis for her granddaughter is so wrenching in the book, especially with its allusions to Paula's fate. Luckily, all is well in this book.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Allende and her second husband, Willie, because she portrays it in a realistic light. There are times when they disagree and fight which makes it feel like Allende is being emotionally honest with her readers. That's probably the chief strength of this book - Allende's unflinching ability to be honest about her life and the emotional components of it.

WEAKNESSES OF THE SUM OF OUR DAYS: I really want to say nothing - that it is a perfect book just as it is. However, I would have liked to know more about her husband, Willie. He seems to have an interesting viewpoint that wasn't always explored in the book because it was, obviously, told from her point of view.

Overall, I'd give this one five stars. It is probably one of my favorites of the year so far. It also came at a really good time for me because Allende talked about her reaction to Paula's death and the need to move beyond the pain which was a message I needed to hear. If you've read it, I'd love to know what you thought. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and add it to your TBR pile.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Literacy and Longing in L.A. by Jennifer Kaufman and Karen Mack

My husband found this one for me at our local independent book store. I actually read it quite awhile back, but haven't gotten around to reviewing it. It is the story of Dora, an out of work journalist in Los Angeles who is recently divorced from a wealthy Hollywood producer. Dora is also a reader, which is why my husband recommended the book to me.

STRENGTHS OF LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A.: Dora is a wonderfully funny character with a great cast of supporting characters. Dora does have some weird quirks like retreating to her bathtub with a pile of books for a few days when things get hard to handle or her inability to drive on the LA freeways. Both quirks lead to humorous events where Dora is faced with her new lover during her bath or having to drive the freeways to complete a story that might get her a job at the local newspaper. In both cases, Dora is rescued by her best friend, a female non-reading teamster. Dora frequents a local bookstore where she meets her new lover who is a bookseller and would-be playwright. Dora's conversations with him become somewhat stereotypical of snobbish literary discussions, however, the authors are able to turn this on its head with Dora's wry observations as she observes her own behavior. That's part of the fun of the story.

WEAKNESSES OF LITERACY AND LONGING IN L.A.: I didn't really like some of the strange plot twists. Dora's ex-husband reappears to help her in the story, and it doesn't really make sense with her character that she falls all over him. I also didn't really like the subplot with the dead sister of the new lover and Dora's involvement with his mother and niece. I understood that the authors were trying to bring Dora out of herself and into the real world, away from her world of books. I thought she lost some of her wry, observer's edge at this point in the story.

Overall, I'd give this one three stars. Dora is a great character and I enjoyed all the literary references throughout the story. It does have two authors and felt, at times, like it was written by committee. If you've read this one, I'd love to know about it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Memorial for Mom

Thank you for all of the kind thoughts sent my way in the last week. My mother suffered a massive stroke, spent a week in ICO, a week in hospice, and, ultimately, made her final transition on July 7th.

Preparing for her memorial service was quite difficult, but I took comfort in a New Testament quote where Jesus talks about preparing mansions for us. It lead me to reflect on the mansions of my mother's life, and I'd like to share those with you.

My mother was a child of the Depression, raised with two sisters by an aunt and uncle, after the death of her parents. Her next mansion was being a young woman in the turbulent Word War II 1940s. My mother was a working woman of the 1950s and met my father through her work. They were married in 1958 and celebrated fifty years together.

My mother's mansions moved to motherhood and more work in the 1960s and 1970s. She retired in the 1990s to a wonderful retirement community in Arizona where she was active in her church and had many friends and interests. At the turn of the century, her mansions expanded with the birth of my daughter, SurferGirl, who was a beloved only grandchild.

As I spoke about my mom at the service, I came to a realization. She is not lost because to be lost means we cannot find her. I do know where to find her and that is in my heart, mind, and memory.

We ended the service with a prayer for my mom. So here's to my mom and Godspeed on this next journey of life:

The light of God surrounds you,
The love of God enfolds you,
The power of God protects you,
And the presence of God watches over you;
Wherever you are, God is. And all is well.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - HolidayI

Here's today's BTT question:

It’s a holiday weekend here in the U.S., so let’s keep today’s question simple–What are you reading? Anything special? Any particularly juicy summer reading?

It's been a pretty tough week here. My mom is still at hospice. It's a matter of hours or days right now. With that in mind, I have been reading because it keeps my mind occupied, but I don't have a lot of focus so it's lightweight stuff for me right now. I just finished Fearless Fourteen which is a fun summer read.

I actually sorted through my TBR pile yesterday and put a bunch of books on BookMooch because it was so overwhelming. I'm working on a new romantic/inspirational novel set in Amish country. It's not very taxing so perfect for me right now.

I'd love suggestions for quick reads, lots of humor, and not very grim or gory.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich

This is the latest Stephanie Plum novel. However, I can't really review it like my normal reviews. The book is filled with the normal Plum characters and humor.

I don't know if I like this one or not, but I truly appreciate it. I bought it during a run to Target from my mother's hospital room. She has had a massive stroke and was in ICU for a number of days before being transferred to hospice. She is still in hospice care as she makes her final transition. This book was my companion in the last few days because it helped me pass the time with a few laughs when it has been hard to laugh.

Thank you to Grandma Mazur, Stephanie, and Lulu for keeping me company and easing my mind just a little.

Please send prayers my mother's way for her peaceful transition, and to my father for his resilience as he loses his mate of 50 years.

Mercy by Jodi Picoult

This is yet another book by Jodi Picoult. I have also read My Sister's Keeper, Salem Falls, and Plain Truth. I actually think I'm going to take a break from Picoult for awhile because her books are becoming repetitious, in some way.

This one is the story of Cameron McDonald, who is the Chief of Police in a small town, and married to Allie, the town's florist. Cameron has to arrest his cousin, Jamie, for the mercy killing of his wife, Maggie. This arrest leads to a trial where Picoult is able to pontificate on the nature of life and death and what it means to show mercy. In a subplot, Cameron starts an affair with Mia, Allie's new assistant in the florist shop.

STRENGTHS OF MERCY: It is a well-written book. The plots do hold a reader's attention. I did end up quite liking the character of Jamie, because I though the author did a good job with his emotional conflict over what he had done. Of course, we only saw his wife through his eyes so it made his story even more interesting.

WEAKNESSES OF MERCY: I really ended up disliking Cameron and Allie. I wanted to slap him throughout the book and tell him to grow up, talk to his wife, and be a man about his concerns in his marriage. I, actually, felt the same way about Allie. She was much more likable, and she was great with Jamie, but she ended up as a weaker character by the end of the story. I also started to feel, in this book, that Picoult was wrapping the characters around the issue and letting the issue of mercy killing drive her writing, rather than letting her characters drive the story. I may have been much more interested in a story that showed us the contradictions between Jamie and Maggie's marriage and Cam and Allie's. That is part of the story, and was more interesting to me than Jamie's trial.

I intensely disliked the ending where Allie stayed with Cameron. I wondered if she shouldn't have been with Jamie at the end, leaving Cameron alone and not Jamie. END OF SPOILER.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 1/2 stars. I still think My Sister's Keeper was my favorite Picoult novel. What do you think? Let me know.

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

This is the latest release by Harlan Coben. It is part of the In The Pub Challenge since it was published this year.

This is the story of Mike Baye, a doctor who is holding a patient's family secret, as well as a father who is losing his own teenage son. In the course of the story, Mike and his wife, Tia, decide to spy on their son through a number of high tech computer devices. Their son, Adam, is grieving the suicide of a close friend, but there is much more wrong than he has revealed to his parents. Mike starts to get more and more wrapped up in his son's world, through the spying, and finds out what is really going on with his son.

In the Author's Note for the book, Coben explains that the technology used in the book is actually available, though produce names have been changed. This both shocked and educated me because I'm aware of all the issues surrounding Facebook, MySpace, and Instant Messenging. I also truly believe that people can get into trouble with the anonymity of these things. However, I was surprised at the sophistication of the monitoring potentials and worry about their effects on our society.

STRENGTHS OF HOLD TIGHT: As normal, Coben creates characters that you really care about. Mike is a dad who just wants to help his son. Tia is a mom in the same boat. The plot has some interesting twists and turns which did keep me interested.

WEAKNESSES OF HOLD TIGHT: I can't quite put my finger on it, but this wasn't one of my favorite of his books. The plot seemed to move too slowly and, while interesting, the computer stuff didn't make for very exciting reading. I also thought the subplot about the neighbor's family was a bit contrived and overly dramatic.

Overall, I'd have to give this one 3 stars. I think I was expecting more from Coben. This book just didn't hold my attention the way his others have. Let me know what you thought of this one if you've read it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz

This is the latest book in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. I found an interesting article by Koontz about writing this series of books. In this short passage, he describes how the Odd Thomas character just came to him and his plans for a six or seven book series.

Odd Thomas is back. This book takes place after he leaves behind the monastery of the last book and helps Elvis find his ultimate peace. This story, set in a California beach town, occurs in a very short amount of time. Basically, Odd saves the world from a terrorist, nuclear threat, with the help of some new friends, including a return appearance by Frank Sinatra.

STRENGTHS OF ODD HOURS: I continue to like the character of Odd Thomas. His humanity and humor help make him likable. I also enjoyed his interactions with both the living, including an aging movie actor, and the non-living, Mr. Sinatra who is pivotal to the plot. The book is a quick read and Koontz keeps the action moving.

WEAKNESSES OF ODD HOURS: The entire action of the plot occurs in a very brief amount of real time which does not allow Koontz much time to further develop Odd's character or define his relationships with the people around him. I like the character enough that I wanted to see him grow and that was not possible in this story.

Overall, I'd give this one four stars. It was a very fun read. My review is somewhat brief because I don't want to give away too much of the twisty, turny plot. However, I wouldn't recommend that someone start the series with this novel. It might be confusing if you don't already know about Odd. I'd love to know what anyone else thought. If you've reviewed it, leave me a link and I'll add it to my review.

Here's a link to CJ's review. She gives some great quotes and details so check her out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Clubbing

School's out so now I can rejoin the blogging world. What better way than Booking Through Thursday. So here's today's BTT question:

Have you ever been a member of a book club? How did your group choose (ot, if you haven’t been, what do you think is the best way to choose) the next book and who would lead discussion?

Do you feel more or less likely to appreciate books if you are obliged to read them for book groups rather than choosing them of your own free will? Does knowing they are going to be read as part of a group affect the reading experience?

This one is bringing back some really bad memories. Yes, both my husband and I were part of a book club for a while. It was not a great experience.

The first book the club selected was The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. It was selected by the self-appointed leader of the group. Now, to be fair, the group was his idea. Unfortunately, this is not a very good book, but the leader spent the whole first meeting going into excruciating detail on Dante's Inferno because he thought it was essential to understanding the book. It may also have been that he had taught a course on Dante as well.

It took the group three meetings over four months to finish the book. I hated the book so much that I tried listening to it in the car just to finish it so I wouldn't be left out.

The same person selected the next book which was short stories by Flannery O'Connor. I've read a lot of her stuff since I took a Southern Literature course in college. Unfortunately, this book club meeting felt like a bad college course where the professor is always right. This particular meeting ended in an argument between two very strong willed people who had very different opinions about a story. Neither of them could be wrong so it got very uncomfortable.

Needless to say, this book club failed quite quickly. It also soured me on the idea of book clubs. I like to read what I want to read and don't always want to finish a book I don't like. This particular group felt too "college-y" to be fun.

A group of teacher where I work may start a book club next school year. I'm hopeful that will be a better experience because we are not leaving book selection to one person but the school librarian is going to give everyone input. We'll see how that goes.

So do you have a book club horror story to share?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Reading Fundamentals

Here's today's BTT question:

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

I think my answer is going to be short and sweet on this one because I think all of these are reading. I also think reading aloud is reading, as is reading the newspaper, cereal boxes, blogs, and websites.

It's all reading to me because each of these things provides information in some format whether it be visual or auditory. I can't include TV or movies in this because they don't activate the mind and imagination in the way that an audiobook or a comic does.

I also think we do kids a disservice in today's education but not training them to read all forms of media, including comics, manga, and audiobooks. Each of these genres require specific reading skills. We need to equip our young people to handle all of the reading demands that will be placed on them in the future. That;s probably the driving force for my definition of reading. I believe we need to educate kids for the reading they will face in the future.

Do I prefer to hold a printed, traditional novel with chapters and very few pictures. Yes, but that's probably because that's the way I was taught to read. Do I find reading blogs and websites more difficult? Again, yes, because I haven't had as much education in how to read these forms of media.

Do I think one form is better or really reading over another? No. I have my preferences, but I can also see the allure to all of the above.

What do you think?

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Story of a Seagull and the Cat Who Taught Her to Fly by Luis Sepulveda

I'll be doing some brief posts throughout the summer of books I'm reading to prepare for a move to second grade next year. I'm very excited to be switching grade levels, and I can't wait to share new stories with my students.

This one was highly recommended by my local children's bookstore. It is the story of a cat who raises a seagull chick after witnessing the chick's mother's death.

I liked the plot. However, it is translated from the original Spanish, and I found the sentence structure and word choices to be a bit forced. I think I may read it to my students, but I don't think I'd recommend that they read it on their own.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

This is another one I read for the A to Z Challenge. I read about it in a number of blogs and it has been on my TBR pile for awhile. It doesn't qualify for the In The Pub challenge because, even though it is a recently published book, it is classified as a young adult novel.

The books follows Holling Hoodhood through his seventh grade school year in 1967. Holling lives in a small town where everyone is either Catholic or Jewish. Being a Presbyterian, Holling is not dismissed from school early each Wednesday, much to the dismay of his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Through the Wednesday afternoons of the school year, Holling learns to read Shakespeare, wrangles missing rats, and learns to run for the school's track team. He also learns about himself, his family, and his own humanity in the process.

STRENGTHS OF THE WEDNESDAY WARS: Schmidt created a school, and set of characters, that beg for teachers to read them to their upper elementary school classes. There are parts of the story that are laugh out loud funny, like when the class rats escape and how they are finally found. Schmidt also does a good job of capturing the era with the conflict between Holling's father and sister as well as the military deployment of Mrs. Baker's husband. By making the main character a boy, this is a book that both boys and girls can relate to. I also liked the ending of the book where Holling was, finally, able to stand up for himself and what he wanted. I think that's a great lesson for young people. The last page of the story really highlights Holling's growth and his humanity without being too sentimental. Schmidt did an excellent job of creating a character that young people will enjoy.

WEAKNESSES OF THE WEDNESDAY WARS: I really enjoyed this one so it's hard for me to find any problems with it. The only thing I can say is that it assumes some knowledge of the political events of the era which, unfortunately, may be lacking in the book's target audience. As adults, we assume they know about Vietnam, but they may have never gotten that far in their history classes.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this one. In fact, I'm giving it 5 stars (only the third book I've given all five stars to this year!) It is a funny yet poignant look at the problems of growing up. This would be a great gift to the young person in your life. I would use it to open up a discussion of following your own path and what that really means. If you've read it, I'd love to know what you thought.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New Meme

I was tagged for this one by Presbyterian Gal.

Rules: The rules of the game get posted at the beginning. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Ten years ago:

1998. I was pregnant with SurferGirl and teaching fourth grade where I still teach. I had also just moved into my current house and was knee-deep in painting and gardening.

Five things on today's "to do" list:

I guess this is the what did I get done and what moved to tomorrow's list:

picked up the house
saw Prince Caspian (which I recommend)
played Nintendo with SurferGirl
talked to my parents
getting old clothes to Salvation Army
caught up on my blog book reviews

Moved to tomorrow's list:

shopping trip to Target
planning the next Girl Scout meeting

Things I'd do if I was a billionaire:

provide an endowment fund for my church
fund a Service Learning program at my husband's college - young people need to learn how to give back before it's too late!
create a scholarship fund to help students in my area obtain a private education
buy hybrid vehicles
build a "green" house and provide funding for "green" houses and school buildings
fund early literacy programs for people living in public housing
take care of my friends and family

Five places I've lived:
These are all in the Los Angeles area:
Simi Valley, Northridge, Canoga Park, West Hollywood, Sierra Madre

Five jobs I've had:
Receptionist for SuperCuts
Peon worker at fast food restaurant
Headhunter at two different secretarial placement agencies
Executive assistant to magazine editor and owner of a mail order video company (not those kinds ... historical and aeronautical documentaries)
Teacher - everything from kindergarten music to high school SAT prep

Who do I tag?

anyone who'd like to play along as long as they let me know they've played!

A Certain Justice by P.D. James

This is one I read for the A to Z Challenge. It was given to me by a friend who is a mystery writer. It is the second Adam Dalgliesh book I' ve read. I read The Lighthouse last summer. The review on that one is here.

This book revolves around the murder of Venetia Aldridge, a criminal defense attorney, who is in line to become the head of chambers, which is an honor in the British legal system. Venetia has a rebellious daughter, Octavia, who announces her intent to marry the man her mother recently successfully defended in the murder of his aunt. Dalgliesh and his team are called in to solve the murder and get wrapped up in Octavia's story as well as her mother's family history. This history includes a suicide at the boy's school run by Venetia's father and charges of an improper relationship between a student and teacher.

STRENGTHS OF A CERTAIN JUSTICE: I enjoy the Dalgliesh character. He is witty without being over the top. Once the plot of this one got going, it was a very enjoyable ride. I liked how the author kept a number of suspects viable until the very end of the story. I also liked how James was able to veer off into the secondary story surrounding Octavia and create a whole new set of problems and tensions. In some books, the secondary plot moving to the forefront near the end of the book would have been frustrating. In this one, James built the tension and suspense so well that I really wanted to know how it was all going to end. This is one where I was kept guessing until the very end. I really didn't figure the whole thing out until it was presented to me. James did an excellent job holding the layers of the murder together in a responsible way.

WEAKNESSES OF A CERTAIN JUSTICE: James spent the first 100 pages of the book setting up all the main characters and suspects before the murder even happened. It took longer than that for Dalgliesh to appear. I almost stopped reading at page 50 because there was just so much detail and very little plot development going on. All of this information ended up being relevant to the final plot, but it took too long to get there for my taste.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 stars. If you enjoy British mysteries, then go ahead and take a dip into this one. I'd love to know what anyone else thought of this one, or if anyone has read another James book they would recommend.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Friday Fill In

1. There is absolutely NO way you can get me to go on a tall or loopy roller coaster!
2. Riding in a school bus without air conditioning and windows that don't open reminds me that summer is almost here!
3. I cannot live without my Starbucks!
4. Going to Australia and Europe are two things I'd like to try.
5. When life hands you lemons have a spiked lemonade.
6.Reading Nancy Drew books all summer and riding my bike to the library to get more are my favorite childhood memory.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to driving in traffic with three Girl Scouts for a camping trip, tomorrow my plans include camping with over 1000 girls in over 100 degree heat and Sunday, I want to do anything that doesn't involve Scouts and heat!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Forests Of Silence by Emily Rodda

This is not a full review, but I wanted to take a moment and rave about a new, to me, series of children's books I just found. I had the great fortune to attend a teacher workshop given by Jim Trelease who is the guru of reading aloud to kids. I was doubly fortunate because Jim is retiring, and I got to see his last professional southern California workshop. Quite cool.

Anyway, he highly recommended the Deltora Quest series so I had to read the first one. If you have someone who loves fantasy and adventure, but is not quite ready for Harry Potter, give this one a try.

I really loved it and wanted to get the word out on this one. There are seven books in the series which I can see a kid devouring and wanting more!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

This is one I read for the A to Z Challenge and, I think, was one of the books I got after the Read-a-thon last Spring. It took me a while to get to it on my growing TBR pile.

It's the story of Arlene Fleet who has left Alabama for Chicago and a new life after a number of traumatic high school events including the death of her father, the insanity of her mother, sexual promiscuity, teen date rape, and a murder. The story goes back and forth between Arlene's current journey back to Alabama and her past, which is filled with secrets and intrigue. This is definitely a novel rooted in the south like Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen which I've already blogged about.

STRENGTHS OF GODS IN ALABAMA: This book has one of the best opening lines I've ever read. Arlene's list of the gods in Alabama include: "high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus." That line alone made me want to read more. I liked Arlene for her self-deprecating humor and honest portrayal of her life and its quirks. I enjoyed Arlene's aunt also. Jackson gave that character some depth and clarity of thought which I found refreshing.

I also liked the back and forth chapters between the past and the present. It kept me interested in both parts of the story. I think if it had been told in a more linear fashion, then I would have lost interest fairly quickly. I did not anticipate the ending and was quite surprised by the ultimate resolution of the murder.

WEAKNESSES OF GODS IN ALABAMA: I don't tend to be drawn to Southern fiction, which is a very legitimate genre in literature. Many of the characters start to feel too similar and stereotyped. I felt that way about Arlene's cousin, uncle, and other family members. They didn't have enough depth to be very interesting. I find this to be a problem for me in many books in this genre. Maybe it is my southern California bias - I can't always relate to these characters.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 1/2 stars. I kept comparing it to Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen which I enjoyed much more. I'd be curious to know what you thought of this one, and if anyone has a recommendation on another of Jackson's books.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Manual Labor

Here's today's BTT question:

Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?

I have read many in my time but I do not look at them now. It feels too much like work since I have to teach these skills every day. The only exception is a dictionary. I do use one every once in a while. I keep one behind my desk at work, and we have a very good two volume one at home.

In all honesty, I rely on spell check to fix my grammar and punctuation. I also tend to throw in commas quite liberally because I can never quite remember, or care, where they really go. I also use the Internet to check words etc.

It's a short and sweet answer - basically, I have very few in my library and rely more on the Internet.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Spring

Here's today's BTT question:

Do your reading habits change in the Spring? Do you read gardening books? Even if you don’t have a garden? More light fiction than during the Winter? Less? Travel books? Light paperbacks you can stick in a knapsack?

Or do you pretty much read the same kinds of things in the Spring as you do the rest of the year?

My reading habits tend to change more in the summer than in Spring. I'm not into gardening books so that's never an issue. Since I live in California and have SurferGirl for a daughter, I tend to spend a lot of time in the summer on the beach. I tend to read paperback books on the beach because they are easier to carry and I don't care if they get sand in them. We also tend to do most of our traveling during the summer so, again, paperbacks are the way for me because I can get more books in my luggage. I also leave completed paperbacks behind in hotel rooms and rented condos for other people to find.

I will admit that my tastes get very lightweight and fluffy during the summer. I will admit that People magazine ends up in my beach bag a whole lot. For novels, I tend to stick to fiction that moves quickly. The Janet Evanovich books are a favorite beach read for me. I don't tend to read as much non-fiction. I can't explain it, but it doesn't appeal to me in the summer. My husband always says I don't have any taste in the summer and will read, or watch, just about anything.

I do tend to read some travel books and magazines in the spring, but they are always targeted to planning our summer vacation. This year it's the National Parks of southern Utah. Last year is was Maui and the Grand Canyon.

I'm always interested in summer beach read suggestions so bring them on!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Play Dead by David Rosenfelt

I read this one for the A to Z Challenge. It is the third book I've read in the Andy Carpenter series. For those of you who don't know, this is a series of books about millionaire lawyer Andy Carpenter and his beloved golden retriever Tara.

In this one, Andy uses the court system to save the life of a rescued golden retriever who turns out to be the dog of a man convicted of murdering his fiancee. The fact that the dog is alive causes Andy to fight to reopen the case. He wins a new trial and starts to investigate the fiancee's death with the help of the normal crew. The plot twists around mob and federal witness protection issues before it is over.

Strengths of Play Dead: I continue to love Andy Carpenter for his dry humor. I find myself laughing at many things that he says and does. I also like his dog, who wouldn't, and appreciate his love of dogs. Rosenfelt's writing is witty and breezy. The book is a very fun read.

Weaknesses of Play Dead: I could see the plot twists coming a mile away. The ending was fairly obvious.

Overall, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars. I really enjoy these books. They are a fun, easy read with characters I enjoy spending time with. I'm hoping to read more in the series during my upcoming summer days at the beach.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No One Heard Her Scream by Jordan Dane

This is a book I received as an Advanced Reading Copy from the HarperCollins First Look program which is exciting because it's the first time I've gotten an ARC! It is a combination suspense and romance story. The book says it is an April 2008 release so it should be available now.

It's a very complicated story involving Rebecca Montgomery, a detective with the San Antonio police department, whose sister, Danielle, was kidnapped and murdered before the start of the story. Rebecca is forced out of the investigation of her sister's death and given an arson/murder case where a body was discovered. This body leads Rebecca to Hunter Cavanaugh, a nasty crime boss kind of guy, and one of his cohorts, Diego Calvin. Diego and Rebecca are instantly attracted to each other. The story of the arson/murder gets tied into the story of Danielle's kidnapping as we learn about Diego's true ties to Cavanaugh and the FBI.

Strengths of No One Heard Her Scream: The book is over 300 pages but didn't feel that long. Dane keeps the plot and action moving along. I really liked how all the separate plot lines tied together by the end of the story. Everything in the book happened for a reason, and I didn't feel like twists came at me out of midair. Rebecca is a good, strong character, though flawed and a bit blinded by her personal tragedy. That actually lead me to like her more since she was not a "super cop," but a more human figure. I really appreciated the fact that she wanted to bring closure to another family, even though hers didn't have that same chance. Cavanaugh and his henchman, Brogan, were great villains, quite slimy and capable of anything.

Weaknesses of No One Heard Her Scream: I had some trouble buying the immediate attraction between Diego and Rebecca. I don't tend to like romance novels and this felt a bit like that to me. There was also some sexual brutality in the book, which, while essential to the plot, was something I could have lived without. I'm not sure I needed the details, and probably could have drawn my own picture. While I liked the ending, it was a bit contrived to be "happily ever after." I did see the major twist coming about halfway through the story.

Overall, I'd give this 3 stars. It's very readable, and I think someone who enjoys romance novels might like it a bit more than I did.

Read what Literary Feline had to say about this one here!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Step on a Crack by James Patterson

I read this for the A to Z Challenge. I have read other books by Patterson, from the Alex Cross series, which I quite enjoyed. This one was reviewed on a few blogs so I thought I'd give it a try.

The main character is Michael Bennett a NYPD detective who, in a major subplot, has 10 adopted children and a wife dying of cancer. The main story revolves around the hostage-taking of a group of wealthy celebrities during the state funeral for a former first lady. Bennett is called in as a hostage negotiator. The story unfolds during the week before and during Christmas while Bennett's wife is in the last stages of cancer.

Strengths of Step on a Crack: I loved Bennett's character and especially enjoyed his interactions with his dying wife. Patterson was able to make me truly believe the love between these two people, even though this was a subplot to the story and wasn't given as much time in the story as the hostage drama. I also liked the tension created between Bennett and the main hostage taker "Jack." Jack was just crazy enough, in a cunning way, to pull the whole thing off so it left the reader really wondering what would happen. The celebrities, while obvious rip-offs of current celebrities, were amusing. I found myself thinking about how Oprah or Lindsey Lohan would have handled the hostage situation.

Weaknesses of Step on a Crack: I wanted more time with Bennett's kids and his wife. It took a great leap of faith to accept that Bennett would work this hostage crisis during Christmas and be away from his wife and kids. An au pair shows up in the story at just the right time to care for the kids. While Patterson does explain it, it, again, requires a leap of faith from the reader. There is a twist at the end of the hostage story when Bennett realizes that Jack had inside help and information. I thought this came out of the blue and that Patterson didn't set this up very well. The reader knew there was outside help, but it shouldn't have taken a former hostage to clue Bennett in. I found the whole ending to be rather weak.

Overall, I'd give this one 3 stars. It was fun and enjoyable, as long as you are willing to overlook some plot flaws. I would want to read another Bennett story because I enjoyed his family and want to learn more about them. If you've read this one, I'd love to know how you felt about the ending.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Fill In

1. The last time I lost my temper I had to take a step back and realize that girls tend to be really loud when they are in a group and to keep my temper in check, even though it was really tough!

2. Taxes is what I'm fed up with!

3. The next book I'd like to read is any of the ones on the huge pile beside my bed. I never can decide in advance what to read. It depends on my mood.

4. Summer vacation is what I'm looking forward to.

5. If you can't get rid of the skeleton[s] in your closet, dress them really well!

6. The best thing I got in the mail recently was an invitation to a 100th birthday party from two friends who are each turning 50.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to movie night with the family, tomorrow my plans include a very busy day including a memorial service for my great-uncle and a parent social at the school where I work and Sunday, I want to watch my church's youth group at an ice skating lesson!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Vocabulary

It's been awhile since I posted. I've been camping for two of the last three weekends and, on the other weekend, hosted by daughter's sleepover birthday party for 9 girls. I think I'm still catching up on my sleep, emails, and blogs.

Good thing this week's BTT is short and sweet:

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?

That's actually an easy one for me. If not knowing the meaning of the word or phrase affects my comprehension, then I'll either stop to look it up, or, more likely, yell out to my husband and hope he knows what it means:)

I can't remember a time, other than in college, when I'd write a word down to look up later. If I don't need to know the word to understand what is going on, I move on and hope I have the gist of the word through its context.

What about you?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Literature

Today's BTT question is a good one. It's one I've had to think about before answering.

  • When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
I think when I was younger, I would have responded with Shakespeare or Dante because that's what the professors in my college courses tended to assign as literature. To some extent, being an English Lit major was detrimental to my reading because it led to a "snobbish" view of more current books. Luckily, I took a Women's Literature class which expanded my view of literature to Virginia Woolf and a variety of really good women poets. The thing I've noticed is that the books that are deemed "literature" in college courses seem to have universal themes and are not always recently published. That may well be a disservice to new books because literature studies have to continue to evolve.

Now, I read a variety of things but don't really think about if they are literature or not. For example, I love many of the novels of Margaret Atwood and Isabel Allende. I would consider them literature because they are extremely well-written and deal with universal themes through amazing character and plot development. I also enjoy books by Janet Evanovich and Marcia Muller. Would I classify those as literature? I'm really not sure. For me, literature is so well-written that it helps to define something about the human condition. I really believe many of our current authors, including Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood, will continued to be called literature in 100 years.

I've read my share of "literature" during college. I would be surprised if anyone read The Inferno or Moby Dick for pleasure. I don't pick books because they are, or aren't, literary. I read books that entertain me. Sometimes I tend to read more serious, well-written stories, and other times I select more light-hearted fare. There are many works of literature that are among my favorite books, including To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath. I think The Book Thief can easily join that list for its quality and humanity.

I'm very interested in what other people are saying about this one. Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

North of Montana by April Smith

I read this one for the A to Z Challenge. It seems to be the first in a newer series by a female writer about the FBI. I read about the latest one and decided to start from the beginning.

It is the story of Ana Grey, an FBI agent who reminds me a bit of Kinsey Milhone. She's an up and coming, young agent who makes a spectacular arrest during a bank robbery at the start of the book. Afterwards, she is given a high profile case concerning allegations that a renowned doctor supplied drugs for an aging Hollywood star, causing her addiction and subsequent treatment at the Betty Ford Center. Ana's personal life is also explored in her relationship with her Grandfather and the discovery of a long lost cousin, who has been murdered, and her two young children.

STRENGTHS OF NORTH OF MONTANA: I really enjoyed the main character. She is strong yet flawed and not too goody-goody which makes her interesting. Smith gave the character a rich, tragic yet still unresolved back story which added to the book for me. I found it to be an easy read, and I got really hooked on the plot. Smith was also very good at weaving the various plot lines together so that things in Ana's back story did contribute to the main story. Smith's portrayal of the aging star was quite amusing. Maybe it's living in California, but you tend to see people who really do fit the stereotypes that Smith used in the story. I also liked the fact that Smith did resolve the plot but left enough going on in Ana's life that she would be interesting to read about in another novel.

WEAKNESSES OF NORTH OF MONTANA: I found Ana to be a bit too "loose" for my taste. The way she feel into bed with coworkers bothered me and took away from the strength of the character. That's part of the reason that I have a mixed reaction to the ending. I truly liked the symbolism and spirituality that Smith used in the last chapter, but I didn't appreciate that Ana needed a man there to make it all better. If you've read the book, you probably know what I'm talking about. I really don't want to give it away because it is a major plot point.

Overall, I'd give the book 4 stars. It was a fun read, and I do plan on picking up other books in the series. My rating may be a bit high because I have a weakness for these types of books - female characters and authors in law enforcement type work. This book did remind me a bit of the early Jan Burke novels. If you've read this one, or another in the series, I'd love to hear your opinion.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I wanted to take a moment to remember our very special dog, Abby. It may seem funny, but she was a member of our family for the last ten years. Unfortunately, she died last night, and our house is very sad.

Abby was found wandering the streets by our former neighbor who took her in. Abby (for Abandoned) was abused by a former owner. She couldn't stand to be around poles or brooms. She loved our pool man because he treated her with compassion, and gave her dog treats! Our neighbor cared for her for two years until his untimely heart attack. Abby came to us and has been part of our family ever since.

Abby was a Scottish Terrier with a heart of gold. She loved to ride in the car and danced for her dinner every night. Our neighbors always knew she was getting fed by her lusty barks, and they would say to each other that it was Abby's dinner time.

We will miss her, but I wanted to take a chance to let other people know how important she was to us. Can she be replaced? Never. Will we get another dog? In a while, when another dog steals our hearts.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March Bookworms Carnival

The March carnival is up! The theme is women in literature, and it's a great one.

Check out all the submissions and mine, too. I'm off to add books to my TBR list.

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult

This is my third Picoult book and I read it for the A to Z Challenge. It is a long one at just over 500 pages. I picked it up because the concept of Picoult mixed with Amish culture was appealing. I also really liked My Sister's Keeper and Salem Falls.

This is the story of two women. Ellie is a high powered defense attorney who is having a life and career crisis at the start of the book. She is also having a "biological clock ticking" crisis as well. Katie is an 18 year old unmarried Amish girl who lives and works on her family's dairy farm. Ellie and Katie share an aunt and, when Katie is accused of murdering her newborn infant boy, Ellie is recruited as her defense attorney. To further complicate the plot, Ellie is forced to live, and work, on Katie's family farm as a term of Katie's bail agreement. Thus, Ellie, and the reader, are immersed in Amish life and culture throughout the story. Also, in the story Katie has an Amish boyfriend who is not the baby's father, and Ellie rekindles a romance with an old flame who she calls in to assess Katie's mental competence.

Strengths of Plain Truth: As usual, Picoult is a great story teller with interesting twists and turns to the plot. Katie does not remember the events of the boy's birth so Picoult is able to bring out a variety of facts throughout the story to engage the reader's interest. It appears that she did some extensive research on the Amish because this book really made their culture and beliefs come alive for me. Also, Ellie and Katie are both strong characters in their own ways. Katie has a quiet strength which Ellie learns to appreciate, and Ellie has a worldliness that Katie appreciates as well.

Weaknesses of Plain Truth: I honesty did not like this one as much as the other two books I've read by her. I intensely disliked the ending. If you've read the book, I'd be curious about your reaction. It seemed too easy and too much of a cop out after the trial was over. I also saw the final twist coming about halfway through the book, and I don't like twists that are so obvious. While I did like the details about Amish culture, I thought the book could have been more carefully edited and didn't need to be quite so long. I also got a bit fed up with Ellie's romantic side plot and all of the emphasis on the shunned brother's character. I actually started to skim about 3/4 of the way because I was getting fed up with the characters and drawn out plot.

Overall, this one was not one of her best. I'd have to give it 3 stars. I'd still recommend My Sister's Keeper over this one.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Fill In

1.Spring Break is so exciting!
2. Strawberry fields forever (who can resist a Beatles reference).
3. Breakfast out on a Friday morning sounds like it would taste delicious!
4. Why does sleep and reading make me feel so good?!
5. Washington D.C. in Spring is something I've always wanted to see.
6. It's sad when a good book ends.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Disneyland with friends, tomorrow my plans include running sound for a wedding and Sunday, I want to enjoy Easter with my family and get ready to leave for Las Vegas and Death Valley!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - The End

Here's this week's BTT question:

You’ve just reached the end of a book . . . what do you do now? Savor and muse over the book? Dive right into the next one? Go take the dog for a walk, the kids to the park, before even thinking about the next book you’re going to read? What?

(Obviously, there can be more than one answer, here–a book with a cliff-hanger is going to engender different reactions than a serene, stand-alone, but you get the idea!)

There are many different answers to this one. It really depends on the book. There are some books that I need to talk about, or write about, as soon as I'm done. For those, I either get a blog review going or talk to a book loving friend.

I don't tend to muse too much about a book once I've read it. I'm normally eager to move on to the next book in my TBR mountain ... it's not even just a pile anymore:)

As part of my daughter's nightly homework, she's required to read for twenty to thirty minutes so we've instituted "Family Reading Time." Everyone sits quietly and reads books together to support her reading progress. That tends to force me to move to the next book so that I always have a book going for these nightly reading times.

Sometimes, if the book was made into a movie, I'll add it to my Netflix queue because I'm always curious, and sometimes disappointed, in the movie versions of books I've read.

I guess I've answered that I do just about everything once I finish a book. How about you?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Negativity Meme

I found this one floating around at a few blogs. Since I haven't posted in awhile, I thought I'd play along.

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?

Yes, I do. It's pretty rare but I have taken great dislike to a few books since I started my blog. It actually leads to some great discussions in my comments section.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?

I try to be balanced and give strengths and weaknesses for each book I review. I do realize that authors work very hard and are very proud of their work. There have been a few where this was not possible. I did slam at least one book that I can think of.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?

Sometimes I'll leave a comment pointing out something I liked from the book. However, each reader brings their own opinions and life experiences to a story so it's important to acknowledge that as well. Every one is entitled to their opinion. I welcome debate on my own blog and have had some great comment exchanges with people who disagree with me.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?

I think that's part of the last answer. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?

I love when that happens. It means that someone read what I wrote and really thought about it. I would never delete a comment like that. Sometimes, those type of comments will make me think and readjust my opinion. Other times, they make for some great debate. That's part of what I enjoy about book blogging.

6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy? What then?

I haven't had the chance to get any review copies yet. I have gotten some free books directly from authors. I haven't reviewed them yet but will note that I received the book from the author as a part of my review. I still intend to be honest because the authors deserve my honest opinion.

7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?

That hasn't happened recently. I tend to put a book aside and come back to it. If I truly don't finish it, I wouldn't review it. I would probably just write a short entry indicating that I gave up on the book. Hopefully, someone who liked the book might give me a good reason, or encouragement, to try and finish it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore

I saw this one at my local small town bookstore and just couldn't resist the title. Finding salvation at the Dairy Queen sounds quite appealing, and tasty! It is also Gilmore's first published novel. I read it for The Pub challenge since it's a 2008 release. It is also part of my A to Z Challenge. Just to make it more interesting, the author is speaking soon at the bookstore so I'm curious to go and see what she's like.

This is the story of Catherine Grace Cline who is the daughter of the preacher in the small town of Ringgold. Her father is a widower who is raising Catherine Grace (who is always referred to by both names) and her younger sister, Martha Ann. There are plenty of townspeople populating the story, including the five times divorced next door neighbor, Gloria Jean, and Miss Raines, the young Sunday school teacher who is smitten with Reverend Cline. Catherine Grace spends each Saturday at the local Dairy Queen making plans (and eating a Dilly bar!) to leave her small hometown as soon as she turns 18.

STRENGTHS OF LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN: Gilmore seems to understand the people and rhythms of a small southern town. These characters are human with their flaws and artifices. Catherine Grace is a likable character, even as she plots to leave everything, and everyone, she knows behind. Her father, the Reverend, is also a well-drawn character who is shown with his flaws, even if he doesn't recognize them himself. I loved Gloria Jean. She was larger than life and quite funny. I spent a great deal of time trying to picture who would play her in the movie because I'm sure this one will be a movie someday. There are too many good roles for women for this one to get away.

SPOILER ALERT: One of my favorite parts was the ending so skip this paragraph if you don't want to know. I loved how Catherine Grace found everything she was looking for right where she was. I also liked the fact that Gilmore gave her options at the end, and the strength to do the right thing for Miss Raines. It was refreshing that her salvation was not a heavy handed moment of spiritual awakening, but a quiet moment, at the Dairy Queen!, where she realized the power of the people and the town of Ringgold.

WEAKNESSES OF LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN: The author made a point of stressing that the story was set in the 1970s yet some of the plot twists made the story seem much older than that. When Catherine Grace leaves for Atlanta, her father and sister act like it's a world away. I realize that Gilmore was making a point about how different the two places were, but I really think everyone would have used the telephone, especially in an emergency.

Overall, this book is a quick read and thoroughly enjoyable. I'd give it four stars and highly recommend it. I'll do an updated post after I attend the author event. If you've read this one, I'd love to hear what you think. My bookstore friend thinks Gilmore writes like Fannie Flagg, who I've never read. If you have read her and have suggestions, let me know.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday Fill In

1. Ahhhh, it's so nice to be looking forward to spring break in two weeks. I'm looking for suggestions for a last minute trip. any ideas?
2. One of my favorite things on my desk or bureau is my symbolic (and quite hefty) railroad screw given to me by a friend who is now deceased.
3. Japanese Cherry Blossom is not something I think about or can even identify.
4. The beach is my favorite place to sit and read.
5.Chocolate and more chocolate is delicious!
6. I love to watch my daughter's face and hear her laughter in movies.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to dinner out with friends from work, tomorrow my plans include a kid's birthday party and planning my daughter's upcoming sleepover party and Sunday, I want to enjoy the tickets we have for a sold-out Master Chorale concert.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Heroes

Here's today's BTT question:

You should have seen this one coming … Who is your favorite Male lead character? And why?

I didn't get a chance to play last week when the question was easier for me. I tend to read a lot of novels with female leads. As a matter of fact, my first real connection to reading was Nancy Drew. I just wanted to be her growing up.

Anyway, a male lead character is harder because I don't tend to identify with the men in the stories as much as the women. There are a few characters that do come to mind:

  • Quoyle from The Shipping News - He's almost the anti-hero because he doesn't really fit the stereotype of a male hero. Maybe that's why I like him so much. He was human and showed real human emotions. I ended up admiring him for the choices he'd made in the story.
  • Henry from The Time Traveler's Wife - He is the same kind of sympathetic male character. I may be putting him on the list because I read the book so recently. I found him to be an intriguing and likable character. I was really drawn in to his emotional life in the story.
  • Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird - This was the first time where I realized that people can change things in our society. I read this one in junior high, and my strongest reading memory is thinking how brave Atticus was and how much I wanted to meet men like that in my life. It was almost like I wanted to find men who had that strength of their convictions. It really changed how I viewed people.
  • the father in The Wall by Eve Bunting - Today was "Thinking Thursday" at my school. We were talking to the kids about books that make us think. This is the book I always come back to. It's the book that I can't read to kids without crying. The father is unnamed but he's everyman. He's the man who takes his son to the Vietnam Wall to find his own father's name. Somehow, this man touches something essential in my soul and personifies the effects of war in a very human way.
I didn't go for some obvious choices like Hamlet and Macbeth. While I love Shakespeare, these are the male characters who changed something essential in me as I was reading about them. Who are your heroes? Any thoughts on mine?

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

As many of you have read, I just recently discovered Jodi Picoult and just had to read another of her books. Some of you recommended this one, and I can see why. I also read it for the A to Z Challenge.

This is the story of Anna and her sister, Kate. Anna is thirteen, and her sister is sixteen and dying of a rare form of leukemia. Anna was conceived, via assisted reproductive fertility, as a perfect genetic match for Kate. Over time, Anna had donated blood and bone marrow to her sister. At the point the story starts, Kate's kidneys are failing, and Anna has been told that she is to donate a kidney. Anna hires an attorney, Campbell Alexander, to sue for the right to make her own medical decisions.

STRENGTHS OF MY SISTER'S KEEPER: Picoult is an excellent story teller. This story is filled with complexity of plot and character. First, Anna is thirteen and allowed to have all the complexity and angst of a thirteen year old girl. Her mother, Sara, is the most compelling character in the book for me. I can absolutely understand all the actions she's taken to save Kate, and can see how it could become all consuming. Yet, I never doubted that she loved Anna, or her son. It was clear how Kate's illness had colored every family decision and, ultimately, impacted the parent's marriage and their relationships with their children. There were times that Sara made decisions I questioned and withheld information from Kate or Anna. I don't even want to think about being in that same position.

Kate was also a fascinating character because she wasn't a maudlin stereotype of a dying child. She had spunk, and I felt that she truly loved Anna. At one point in the story, Sara realizes that you don't "have" children, but you are given the opportunity to be a part of their lives and development. What a wonderful realization!

The parallel story of the lawyer was interesting, but not as compelling as the main plot. Campbell is probably the character who changes the most in the story. He is the one who was truly affected on a deeply, personal level by the moral questions in the story. He became our "everyman," the character I tended to look for to see how to feel and react since I couldn't always trust the reactions of the Fitzgerald family.

WEAKNESSES OF MY SISTER'S KEEPER: There was a subplot involving Julia, Campbell's college love and Anna's court-appointed guardian, and her sister. This felt a bit contrived, and I didn't think Picoult needed to push the sister comparison on the reader. Also, there was a separate subplot involving Jesse, the brother, and his firefighter father. Again, I understood that Jesse was damaged by his sister's illness, but, again, felt that Picoult didn't need to beat me over the head with it.

Overall, I'd give this one four and 1/2 stars. It lost 1/2 a star for the multiple subplots. The main story of Anna and Kate was compelling, thought-provoking, and emotionally shattering. I will tell you that I cried for the last twenty pages. I'd love to hear what other people thought of this one.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Still Life by Louise Penny

I read about this one on a number of blogs and since I like mysteries I decided to use it for the Canadian Reading Challenge . It was the winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.

The story is set in the small Quebec town of Three Pines where a woman has been murdered on Thanksgiving weekend. We meet a variety of suspects including a renowned but strange poet, a married couple who are struggling artists, and the gay couple who run the local B & B. Chief Inspector Gamache is sent to investigate the murder. The novel alternated between the investigation and interweaving back stories for the suspects and Gamache.

STRENGTHS OF STILL LIFE: Penny created a very likable and interesting world in Three Pines. The characters all had a sense of depth and it was clear that many of them had some sort of trauma in the background that led them to this small town. Penny created a group of people that had many different stories to tell. I also liked how she weaved the elements of art and mystery together. Jane, the victim, painted a piece that was the key to solving the mystery. I almost wish Penny had given us a version of the painting. I wonder if my imagination created the same work of art as hers. It was a good mystery with a number of twists. I really didn't know who the murderer was until it was revealed. Penny did a good job of leading me in another direction. I like stories that come together well, but that aren't so totally obvious.

WEAKNESSES OF STILL LIFE: There is a subplot where the inspector, Gamache, mentors a young police woman, somewhat unsuccessfully. At 400 pages, the book could have easily lost this subplot which didn't seem to advance the main story. For some people, the number of characters introduced might be a problem. Penny was trying to immediately populate her town, and it was a bit confusing at times.

Overall, I'd give this four stars. I'm definitely interested in reading the other books in this series. I'd be interested in hearing other people's opinions. Just a disclaimer, I have a tough time writing mystery reviews because I don't want to give anything away so I apologize if this one seemed too vague.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Top 50 Children's Books

I found this list at Lizzy's Literary Life and I was curious to see how many I'd read. So I've changed the text color to red if I've read it. I'm counting reading it as an adult or as a child. I'm curious to see how many I've read.

Top 50 Best Children's Books

1. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
3. Famous Five, Enid Blyton
4. Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
5. The BFG, Roald Dahl
6. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
7. The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
8. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
9. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
10. The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
11. The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
13. Matilda, Roald Dahl
14. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
15. The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
16. The Twits, Roald Dahl
17. Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves
18. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
19. The Malory Towers series, Enid Blyton
20. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
21. The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
22. Hans Christian Fairy Tales, H.C. Andersen
23, The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
24. The Witches, Roald Dahl
25. Stig of the Dump, Clive King
26. The Wishing Chair, Enid Blyton
27. Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
28. The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
29. Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jan Brett
30. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
31. A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
32. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
33. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
34. Aesop's Fables, Jerry Pinkney
35. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
36. Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
37. Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski
38. Mrs Pepperpot, Alf Proysen
39. We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
40. The Gruffalo's Child, Julia Donaldson
41. Room on a Broom, Julia Donaldson
42. The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy
43. Miffy, Dick Bruna
44. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
45. Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown
46. The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson
47. Ten Little Ladybirds, Melanie Gerth
48. Six Dinners Sid, Inga Moore
49. The St. Clare's series, Enid Blyton
50. Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey

I'm fairly surprised. I've only read 28 out of the 50 and I've never read anything by Enid Blyton. This list is from a British newspaper. I wonder if an American list would be significantly different. If anyone knows of such a list, let me know. Now I'm curious.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

I read this book as part of the Banned Book Challenge and the A to Z Challenge. I found it on a banned book list with no explanation about why it was banned or where the incident occurred. I tried researching it on the web and could only find the title on a number of lists. I suspect that it was challenged in either a public or school library by parents afraid of the sexuality in the book. This is a book marketed for teens and young adults.

It is the story of four life long friends: Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen. They are teenagers who are spending a summer apart. They find a pair of old jeans in a thrift store. Magically, the jeans fit each girl perfectly, even though they are very different body types. These become the Traveling Pants for their magical qualities. Throughout the summer, each girl wears the pants for two weeks and then sends them on to another girl. The novel goes back and forth among the four girls documenting their summer and their time with the pants. It is the first of a series that I have seen many teen girls reading. It was also made into a movie.

STRENGTHS OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS: It is a very positive story of friendship among these girls. They are supportive of each other and do not put each other down. Each girl has a crisis while wearing the pants, but the others are supportive. Tibby's crisis is especially heart-rending as she meets, and spends time with, a younger girl who is dying of leukemia. I think that the sexuality in Bridget's story is probably the reason for the banning of this book. However, I found it to be a strength of the book because it was not graphic, and the author dealt extremely well with Bridget's emotions and her feelings of loss and regret. I thought it would really open the door to an honest discussion with a teenage girl about sexuality. I also liked how the author moved between stories so you were kept in touch with all four girls over the summer.

WEAKNESSES OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS: I was not really fond of Lena's summer story. She spent the summer in Greece with her grandparents and feel in love with a local boy. Through a misunderstanding, her grandparents thought the boy had assaulted her. I felt this part was a bit contrived and didn't match with the strength these girls displayed throughout the book.

Overall, I'd give this book four stars. I would absolutely allow my daughter to read it when she's a teen. I think there's a lot of positive messages in this about the value of girls' friendships. It could also lead to some excellent discussions of values and choices. If anyone has more details on the banned issue, I'd love to know. I'd also be interested in knowing how teenagers have reacted to this one. So if you are, or have, a teenager, let me know.