Sunday, July 25, 2010

From Dead to Worse (2008)

Another Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris. Sookie has returned home after the disastrous attempt on the life of the Queen of Louisiana by blowing up the vampire hotel in New Orleans. She would like to just return to her job at Merlotte's and just be normal but this is not to be. Having just survived a vampire power struggle, now the weres are infighting.

Her current beau, Quinn, has not contacted her, and she doesn't know where he is. Bill is around and so is Eric who has regained his memory. All of it. Sookie also meets here great-grandfather and learns more about who and what she is. There are battles galore in this episode.

One more book and I will be caught up. I still love this series. Sookie is a brave, and sassy young woman who is totally loyal to her friends and family (until Jason screws up one time too many). She is admittedly not very educated but she visits her library weekly. One has to love that!

My rating for this book: ++++

Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)

This book by David Sedaris is a bunch of very funny autobiographical chapters about different aspects of his life. Particularly funny are his chapters about working for a moving company, learning to speak French, and eating in an expensive French restaurant. Since he didn't own a jacket, the maitre d' loaned him one. These loaners are usually particularly hideous to dissuade people from stealing them.

"And this would be...what, exactly? Hugh asks.
"This," the waiter announces, "is our raw Atlantic swordfish served in a dark chocolate gravy and garnished with fresh mint."
"Not again," I say. "Can't you guys come up with something a little less conventional?"
"Love your jacket," the waiter whispers."

I would use a favorite descriptor of mine, and call his style snarky. In any case, hardly a page went by without a smile or snort in appreciation. I highly recommend this book.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Book of Lost Things (2006)

This is a delightfully different book by John Connolly which reintroduces us to many of our favorite fairy tales in a story about a Narnia-style link to another world.

David is twelve years old and lives in London during World War I. His mother succumbs to cancer even after all of the twelve-year old things he can do to keep her alive. In short order his father remarries and David finds himself with a baby brother. One night a German airplane crashes in their backyard and David finds a hole in the garden wall that leads to another world. He meets many new people, many familiar from our childhood fairy tales, in his quest to meet the king and find his way back to London, including a sinister character called the Crooked Man.

By bringing all these characters together, Connolly has given us a new fairy tale. It has all the requisite parts - the "abandoned" boy, the evil stepmother, helpers along the way, evil at every turn. David takes all of the events in stride and rises to the occasion at the end and lives happily ever after, sort of.

There is an additional 120 pages at the end of the story where Connolly gives us versions of the fairy tales he incorporates in the book and their backgrounds. I found this extra stuff very informative and fun, especially since I haven't read fairy tales in many, many years. Connolly says,

One of the themes of The Book of Lost Things is the way in which stories and books feed into one another, in much the same way that I, as a writer, have been influenced by the books that I have read. In that sense, The Book of Lost Things is a narrative constructed not only from the books David has encountered, but also from the books and stories that have influenced me.

I wonder what books have influenced me.

My rating for this book: ++++

Death at La Fenice (1992)

This book is part of a series of murder mysteries by Donna Leon featuring Guido Brunetti in the marvelous city of Venice. In this story, the artistic director of La Fenice opera house, is found dead, apparently of poison.

One of the things that sets this series apart is that the lead character has a happy marriage and good home life. What a change! He also employs a deadpan sarcasm with his superior that adds a touch of humor.

"So you've finally come," Patta said, suggesting that Brunetti was hours late rather than on time. " Thought I'd have to wait all morning for you," he added, which Brunetti though was overplaying the role. When Brunetti made no response to either remark, Patta demanded, "What have you got?"
Brunetti pulled that morning's Gazettino from his pocket and answered, "The paper, sir. It's right here on page one." Then, before Patta could stop him, he read out, "'Famous Maestro Found Dead. Murder Suspected.'" He offered the paper to his superior.
Patta kept his voice level but dismissed th paper with a wave. "I've already read that. I meant what have you found out?"

I look forward to reading more stories from this series.

My rating for this book: +++

Shakespeare's Counselor (2001)

This is another in the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris. I didn't enjoy it much but I have to admit that I may not have given it the best of circumstances. I read it on my plane ride home. I was jammed in the middle of two seats, annoyed by the flight attendant, disappointed that they were showing a Miley Cyrus movie, and I was achy and cranky, coming down with a little bug.

Lily finds a flyer inviting anyone to join a group of rape victims to try and live with the mental anguish of surviving an attack. She decides to give it a try and meets other women from the town of Shakespeare who are survivors and the counselor, herself a victim of a stalker.

When it becomes apparent that the stalker has followed the counselor, Lily helps discover who he is and why he is torturing her.

I love strong female roles and Lily is one of the strongest I've come across in a while. I may not be fair in my assessment of this book which failed to move me as much as it might have, but it may just have been my mood. I'll will try more of the other books in the series.

My rating for this book: ++ 1/2

My Summer Vacation (2010)

No, this is not a book cover and this is not a review.
Erin and I spent two weeks here in St. Thomas. It was a rough life, but I grew up here and we came down to visit my father. My family moved here in 1961.

Magen's Bay is 1 1/2 miles long, pure white sand. It is a public beach and is beautifully maintained.

This is the "view" from the front of Dad's house. The Royal Palms block the view of the harbor but they also block hurricane force winds. At his age, 79, the shelter is a little more important than being able to see which cruise ship is in. I'll have to give that to him. ;-)

This is me, in the beautiful, clear, warm water of Magen's Bay in St. Thomas. Aaaaaaaaaah!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Magicians (2009)

I think Lev Grossman wrote this book for the adults who have read Harry Potter, Narnia, and other classic fantasies. Magic in those worlds was taken for granted and the question about where it comes from is not considered. The young people who find themselves in the Brakebills School take the training in stride but when they graduate they question what they can use their skills for. One of their instructors named Fogg asks them this question.

"Sometimes I wonder if man was really meant to discover magic," Fogg said expansively. "It doesn't really make sense. It's a little too perfect, don't you think? If there's a single lesson that life teaches us, it's that wishing doesn't make it so. Words and thoughts don't change anything. Language and reality are kept strictly apart - reality is tough, unyielding stuff, and it doesn't care what you think or feel or say about it. Or it shouldn't. You deal with it, and you get on with your life."

The central character, a mathemathically brilliant young man named Quentin, has always been fascinated by a series of books called Fillory and Further about two brothers and their two sisters who discover a hidden world called Fillory (sound familiar?). Throughout his time in Brakebills he hopes to be able to access Fillory which, he is convinced, is real and where he feels he will find a home. After their graduation Quentin and his friends embark on a vacation to find adventure in Fillory.

The reader will enjoy nods to several fantasy classics. The venture of these young people is difficult and painful at times but the reader is carried on to see if they succeed in finding Fillory and their place in this or any other world.

Fun quote: The thick plottens.

My rating for this book: +++

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Ape Who Guards the Balance (1998)

This is the tenth book in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters about a family of archaeologists at the turn of the 20th century. Amelia is the matriarch, Professor Emerson is her husband, Ramses is her son, Nefret her niece, and David, an Egyptian who is as close to Ramses as any brother could be. As I read this book I thought that all of them were always aware of each others' location and occupation like our body is aware of the location and occupation of each of its parts. The point of view alternates between Amelia's and "Manuscript H" which lets us see what is going on with the family members when she is not there to observe.

There was no warning, not even a knock. The door flew open, and he forgot his present aches and pains in anticipation of what lay in store. The figure that stood in the door was not that of an enemy. It was worse. It was his mother.

They are all very proper and very British in their actions and interactions with others. The Professor is given permission to dig in a location that does not hold any promise and he must use all of his best control to not interfere with another archeologist's more exciting dig especially since he knows that the other dig will not be correctly recorded in the rush to unearth new riches. They are all on guard for a master criminal known as Sethos who, despite his six foot height, is also a master of disguise. There is another villain, Bertha, who takes advantage of Amelia's crusade to educate Egyptian girls to better their circumstances.

I really wanted to like this book. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I started with the beginning of this series. After all, it has an undeniably intriguing mix of mystery and Egyptology. I think I will try to find the earlier adventures to see if I like the series better.

My rating for this book: +++

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2007)

This book is the third of the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson and brings us to the close of one part of Lizbeth Salander's life. At the end of the last book, she had just extricated herself from a grave where her father had left her with a bullet wound in the shoulder, her hip, and her head. She returns to the house where he is in hiding and manages to land an axe in his face. We start this book with the two of them in the hospital, two rooms away from each other, with Lizbeth being accused of his assault and two other murders.

Mr. Larsson does not let us miss the main point of these books. He introduces many new characters, many of them women, and intercorollary chapters which told us about women warriors. We certainly get the message that men are pigs and that women are at their mercy. It is only when women join their talents and abilities together that they are able to get out from under mens' thumbs. And do they ever come out in force in this book!

This trilogy has been quite a ride. The "Girl" has been an amazing character to get to know. The consummate underdog, she used her unique talents and abilities when the moment arrived, to clear herself and set herself up for a new life. We can only hope that she is still able to find peace and some semblance of normalcy. Or at least, pick up the crusade and help other women trapped in testosterone hell like she was.

This whole series has extreme violence and sexual abuse but not gratuitously. The intrigue and computer hacking seems, at times, to be a little too convenient and easy. The individual books are very large (the paperback version of this book had 746 pages) but they read fast since they are mostly comprised of conversations and emails. I am glad to have met the character, Lizbeth.

My rating for this book: ++++