Thursday, January 31, 2013

Middle Sister's January 2013 Books

Well, it's been a slow month for three reasons--one sick dog, one new puppy, one attempt to read Les Miserables (oh, the peer pressure of the book group!). Sick dog is getting better, puppy is slowly getting better, and I may finish Les Mis this decade. But what I did finish this month:

Make Believe by Ed Ifkovic I enjoy Edna Ferber's books and the movies made from them, so I couldn't resist reading this galley. A witty, acerbic woman of a certain age--that's an amateur detective I can enjoy. This is the third in the series, I believe, and I liked it enough that I'll seek out the first two. In this entry, Edna rushes to Hollywood on the eve of the premiere of the latest version of her Show Boat not to attend that event, but because an old friend of hers has been blackballed by the fallout from the House Un-American Affairs Committee. Shades of today (If you disagree with us, you're unpatriotic! If you disagree with us, you're stupid. It's a little dispiriting we haven't gotten over that kind of behavior yet.). There are real Hollywood people as characters (Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra are important supporting characters, and I must say, Frank does not come off well), and real movies and shows (The Goldbergs), fairly skillfully woven in with fictional characters (Ethan and Tony/Tiny probably resemble a lot of low-life hangers-on of that era). Honestly, Edna was the only character I liked. But I liked her, and some of the bon mots that come out of her fictional mouth read like things the real Edna might have said. (NetGalley, read on my Kindle)

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal An Englishwoman raised in America returns to England to sell her grandmother's house, only to get swept up in the turmoil of WWII and the British effort. Maggie becomes a secretary in the Home Office, and soon finds herself taking dictation from Winston Churchill himself and being privy to more than she expected. Meanwhile, the facts of her life that she always believed to be true are turned upside down, Maggie discovers that not everyone is who they say they are, and amidst bombs and air raids, Maggie races against time to save a London landmark from the IRA. I liked the characters and the setting very much, although at times the book read like a movie script, and the coincidences piled atop each other got a little much. The next book in the series is out, and I will follow Maggie's wartime adventures. (Kindle edition)

Spellbinding by Maya Gold This YA novel (aimed at 12-year-olds) tries to capitalize on the current pop culture obsession with witches, zombies, vampires, and other other-worldly creatures, but tries to do so incorporating some real American history. Abigail discovers, in her sixteenth year, that she is descended from a witch executed during the Salem witch trials, and that she has inherited the witch's powers. Not much character development, and that which does occur is pretty standard: Abby decides to use her new-found powers to make her childhood crush fall in love with her; Abby's reactions to her widower father's new romance are very immature, but then Abby is, in many ways, herself immature. But the underlying use of her powers to become the bully that she used to be the victim of is a good moral lesson that would probably be lost on the average 12-year-old reader, who'd be swooning over Rem's chiseled bare chest and startling eyes (yes, even YA novels have young men's bare chests described to make young bosoms heave). This is the second descended-from-a-Salem-witch book I've read in the past year (the other was an adult novel), and I'm disappointed again how the reality of the political and economic and social underpinnings of the witch hunt are swept aside as the 'powers' of the accused witches are assumed to be true. Ah well, I have to remind myself it's fiction. (NetGalley, read on my Kindle)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Big Sis' December 2012 Reads

It was a busy month, but I got in some good reading...

Extraction, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Kindle single) - All I have to say is, this is the story of the Tooth Fairy as he lived and breathed and killed in New Orleans.  And yes, it's a n Aloysius and Diogenes Pendergast short story...

Cross Roads, by Wm. Paul Young (Kindle edition) - This is a new book by the author of The Shack, one of my all-time favorite books of all time.  Although Papa appears in this book, too, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, this one took a bit longer for me to get into; I didn't fall headlong into the story as I did with The Shack.  Once I finished the story, though, that was a lot less disturbing to me.  The main character, Tony, is not a very likable fellow at the start, so although it took me a while to figure it out, it makes sense that the book was less gripping than the first.  If you don't like the main character it stands to reason the book won't be a favorite.  BUT, once Tony starts to grow, the story does, too, and by the end, I was loving it!

The Racketeer, by John Grisham - I got lost in the story, and not in a good way.  It started off well, I was able to follow the story, but somewhere between the middle and the end, I got lost.  Malcolm Bannister is in jail, found guilty of a crime he didn't commit.  While he was in there, a judge was murdered, and since Malcolm claims to know "whodunnit," he negotiates his own release, witness protection, and a settlement to make it easier to disapper.  But then, it turns out the guy who did it didn't do it, and all of a sudden there's a relationship that's deeper than I could understand it could be, and Malcolm is on the run, trying to stay alive and free.  And then he's put into the position of getting the wrong guy out of jail, the right guy in jail, and...  yea, I got lost.  But it was a good story.  I probably need to read it again, just so I can get it.

Shiver, by Karen Robards (Kindle edition) - Sam is a single mom and a tow truck driver who's studying to be an EMT so she can provide a better life for 4-year old Tyler.  When she goes out to pick up a BMW, she never expects to find a handcuffed and beaten man in the trunk, and she certainly never expects to be kidnapped herself and tossed in the truck...  And you'd think that that would be an awesome premise for a story, but not ONLY does all that happen, she escapes and goes into protective custody with said beaten guy who (we think) happens to be a bad guy.  Of course they find true love together, he's not really a bad buy (not a spoiler, we know from the start but Sam doesn't!), and they solve a crime and live happily ever after.  I love Ms. Robards' books.

The Bridge, by Karen Kingsbury (Kindle edition of a netgalley.com ARC) - This book reminded me in a way of my relationship with my BF from college.  We met and everyone thought we'd get together as a couple, but with 1500 miles between us, that would have been difficult.  (Besides, then he wouldn't have D and I wouldn't have J and no one would be as happy as the four of us are!!!)  But in the book, the author had a knack of writing how we felt, the instantaneous connection, the forever friendship, the way we didn't have to talk but could never not be talking...  The difference is it's a love story so Molly and Ryan get together years later, as they should have years before...  But I loved reading it; it's far from the best book ever written, but it was fun sort of reliving my friendship with C...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Middle Sister's December Books

Happy new year, happy readers!  December was not bad, as far as books go. A smorgasbord of different genres, all interesting.

The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner Want to live to be 100? This book, written for the general public, distills some recent research into centenarians and what strategies they share in common despite living in  different places around the globe. Okinawa, Sardinia, the Nicoya peninsula, and Loma Linda, CA, populations were investigated. Results: physical work/exercise, lots of fruits and vegetables, remaining an active part of your community, and maintaining a sense of spirituality all contribute by alleviating stress, providing a sense of purpose, and maintaining health and fitness. An easy prescription, but one that is perhaps not so easy to incorporate in our 21st century lives.

The Hoarder in You by Robin Zasio Nope, not a hoarder here, but I heard the author interviewed on the radio and she was talking about clutter, and clutter I got. So I read the book to see if there were any tips that would help me get this house in order and keep it so this new year. I was a bit ashamed to find that I fall partly into three of her categories: Clean and Clear, Neat but Dynamic, and Controlled Chaos. Yikes, better throw some stuff out right quick!

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe by Robert Goldsborough The latest in the continuing saga of Nero Wolfe, written with permission from Rex Stout's estate. Ever wondered how the wise-cracking Archie Goodwin met the beer-swilling, orchid-loving, gourmand Nero Wolfe? Using clues from the various Stout novels, Goldsborough has concocted a reasonable mystery that introduces the pair to each other, and a beautiful friendship began. Read this from NetGalley, and enjoyed it. I really should read all the original Nero Wolfes in order.

The Agency 3: The Traitor in the Tower by Y.S. Lee Although categorized a YA novel, my library had this e-book listed in adult mystery. And I must say, today's YA readers are not the YA reader I was. Sure, I read Battle for Dunkirk and the Red Badge of Courage at the age this is aimed at, but I would never have wanted to read about "undisguised hunger" and other quite adult themes. I guess I am stuck in some non-existent, rose-colored fairy land where 10-year-olds have no idea what kind of hunger the main character was experiencing. Anyway, overall, a fun, quick read, with a fairly engaging main character, who is really a 21st-century girl in a Victorian dress stage play. That's my real gripe. The character doesn't act like a 19th century girl, but a 21st century girl. And while I was soundly rebuffed online when discussing this book with the rejoinder that "modern girls wouldn't be interested in an accurate portrayal of Victorian girlhood," I disagree. I would have, at 12. And there are other YA series that do a better job of having the character be just modern enough to pique the reader's sympathy without completely misrepresenting the past. Heck, market it as a steampunk, or alternative history, or fantasy, but don't sell it as a solid historical unless it's accurate. Might make a 12-year-old reader really glad she's alive in 2013 and not 1880.