books I've read

Anne Hawn's books

Who Moved My Cheese?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Scientific Secrets for Self-Control
Just One Damned Thing After Another
The Vanishing
Exercises in Knitting
The Good Dream
The Very Best of Edgar Allan Poe
The Chosen
BT-Kids' Knits
Talking God
The Professor
The Christmas Files
The Finisher
Home Decor for 18-Inch Dolls: Create 10 Room Settings with Furniture and 15 Outfits with Accessories
Dracula and Other Stories
A New Song
Christy
All Quiet on the Western Front
File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents


Anne Hawn Smith's favorite books »

I'm reading 30,000 pages.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Saturday, July 02, 2011

False Mermaid: A Novel (Nora Gavin, #3)

False Mermaid: A Novel (Nora Gavin, #3)False Mermaid: A Novel by Erin Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the series and we finally get the full story of Nora’s sister’s tragic death. Nora has long suspected her brother-in-law Peter Hallett as the vicious murderer, as has the lead detective, but Peter was too crafty to be caught. Now he intends to marry again and Nora is desperate to prevent any further tragedy both to his bride to be, and her young neice, Elizabeth. While Nora is certain that she loves Cormac McGuire, she cannot move further in that relationship until the murderer of her sister is brought to justice and her neice is safe.

Nora finds some clues her sister left hidden in a secret place they shared as children and she and the detective are convinced that the murder of her sister was not his first. Clues turn up in other places also and yet, they don’t lead all the way back to Peter Hallett, but Nora is sure he is the source of the evil.

In the meantime, Cormac McGuire has returned to an isolated village where his long-estranged father has been staying near Port na Rón. He meets Roz, a friend of his father’s and becomes interested in the mysterious disappearance of Mary Heaney who was reported to be a selkie who returned to the sea. While walking on the headlands, he finds the abandoned fishing hut where Mary was supposed to have lived and upon searching it, he finds a single shoe. Who runs away with only one shoe? Eventually, he and Nora are reunited and discover the truth of the old legend.

I really enjoyed this series and look forward to more books by this author.


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Lake of Sorrows (Nora Gavin, #2)

Lake of Sorrows (Nora Gavin, #2)Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. The setting of Irish bogs is different from so many mysteries and adds a bit of interest because of the discoveries surrounding the prehistoric bog bodies found there. Forensic pathologist, Nora Gavin, has been asked to help with the discovery of another bog body who seems to have been killed in a prehistoric ritual “triple death.” When a more recent body turns up with the same “triple death” characteristics, the mystery widens. Is the ritual still being practiced?

-Archaeologist, Cormac MacGuire, is on the scene again too and he has the cottage where his mentor has lived when working on the bogs. Nora was invited to stay there and the two continue their relationship, but not without trials. Cormac knows that he loves Nora, but Nora is being pulled back to her home in the United States by the tragic and brutal death of her sister. When the identity of the second body is discovered, a cast of local characters are introduced and the link to their ancient roots is probed. As always, the colorful world of Irish music and dancing also adds to the feeling of the book

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Chili Queen

The Chili QueenThe Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book! It was engaging all the way through with a real twist at the end.. This is Sandra Dallas at her best. The characters seem alive with all their quirks and inconsistencies. At the end it is just pure fun. I also resonated with the names. I have relatives who are from What Cheer, Iowa and an Aunt Addie who lived here...hmmm and she was born in Jasper County! I felt like Sandra Dallas had looked at my genealogy;>)I have always been fascinated with the name. No one is exactly sure how it came to be called that for sure, but the stories are interesting.

The story is about a Madam, Addie French, who meets a plain, spinster woman, Emma Roby, a mail order bride, on the train. When the husband to be doesn't like what he sees, Emma ends up going to the "boarding house" of the only woman she knows...Addie. The woman is pitifully naive, but ends up getting in on a scheme with the bank robber boyfriend of Addie and proves that she is not as helpless as she appears. Along with that there is a scheme to defraud Emma's greedy brother of the portion of their inheritance that is rightfully hers. Everything is in place when the bank is robbed, the brother arrives, the swindle is on its way to fruition and then the fun begins. The reader looks at the number of pages left in the book and can only wonder what is going to fill all those pages. This is where the book ceases to be ordinary and is Sandra Dallas at her best. I thoroughly enjoyed this twisting and turning plot.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mid Year Evaluation

It's a little early for the mid-year evaluation, but I have the time now and may not have it July 1. So far, I have read 91 books which is ahead of where I planned to be. I started with a list of 100 regular books (audio or print) and 25 classics that I wanted to read. Some were on the list because I have the books here at home and would like to read them and send them on their way to make room for more books. What has happened is that I keep reading books that are not on my list. At first, I kept expanding the list, but it is getting ridiculous. The list is found on Ravelry, a knitting group under the group 52 Books in 52 Weeks. The reason this is happening is that I am downloading audiobooks from my library and other free sites like LibriVox. If I a listening to a book then I can do many other things and thus get in reading time where no time existed. The problem is that a lot of books on my list aren't audiobooks.

I have finally started eliminating some of the books I planned to read in favor of books that I find through my audio sources. There are still some books that I won't take off my list, but others I can sacrifice like the whole Brother Cadfel series which, so far, I haven't found as audio books or on CD. It is almost time for me to leave for Virginia where I will have a whole new library system to hunt for books in and hopefully, many of these books will be found in audio format and I can save my book reading time for the books I want to read and find a new home for. I have really gotten addicted to doing something else while listening so that now it seems like wasting time if I am not doing two things at once...what a sorrowful statement! However, I have the cure! I am knitting while I am reading and can now feel virtuous again...not a sense is wasted. Arms are not danging useless at my sides, but are busy creating hats and baby blankets for charity and sweaters for my grandkids. I am on track again!

The next part of my resolution is also going well. I am writing a review of each book I read and transferring it to this blog. I did get a little behind in Goodreads, so I have a few books I have to go back a do a review for, but I am pretty near caught up. I see from my list of posts on this blog; however, that I have not transferred every review to this site. That is a pain in the neck because I have to go back and look through the list of book on Goodreads and see what I have missed. Right now I am trying to find a way to turn the Goodreads list into a spreadsheet so I can go over it quickly, but that may be just too much trouble. I'll see how much time I have this summer.

All in all, I am very pleased with my progress on the classics too. I have added a few to that list also, but I am on track and should make my goal. I wish I could say the same with my knitting and housework:>)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Haunted Ground: A Novel

Haunted Ground: A NovelHaunted Ground: A Novel by Erin Hart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was hard to get into at first, but I really enjoyed it. The reader is deposited right into the middle of the action and, while it gives a sense of immediacy, it is hard to figure out what it going on. The story is actually two mysteries in one...there is a red haired woman's head which is found deposited in the peat bog and a real woman and her child who have been missing for over two years. The plot is interwoven and switches between forensic and historical research on the bog body and dogged detective work in the contemporary case.

Once I got into the book, I could hardly put it down. In the investigation of the bog body, the archaeologist determine that the woman was beheaded and they find a probable date for the execution from an artifact. What is really intriguing is that they contact an elderly local historian for an understanding of what was going on in that locality at the time and then they turn to an elderly woman who has preserved hundreds of old ballads, many of which were composed about local historical events. When I read this I thought of how many of the old ballads I know of that talk about real events; ballads such as Tom Dooley, Geordie, the Long Black Rifle, The Ballad of Mary Hamilton, and Mattie Groves to name a few. In the book there is a pub where the detective, the archaeologist and others keep alive the old musical instruments and ballads which reminded me of the work of Francis James Child who collected 305 ballads and saved them for posterity.


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Friday, June 10, 2011

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #1)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #1)The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book! I think I have read it 3 times. Every time a new one comes out, I go back and read them all again. I think that's because these books are not about plot, they are about relationships. Precious Ramotswe is a wonderful character and I would truly love to meet her. The books are beautifully written and remind me of Alan Patton's, Cry the Beloved Country. Both have captured the timelessness of Africa.

Precious Ramotswe solves problems for her clients, but the work of the agency is more like a vehicle to express the daily life and philosophy of an extraordinary woman. Her kindness and simple wisdom are a refreshing change from the hard-driving, iconoclastic female detectives that are so popular. I absolutely fell in love with her...even more so when I found some of the bush tea that makes up such a big part of her day. (It is actually delicious and I have been haunting the Internet to find more.) Do yourself a favor and sit down with a cup of tea and meet a new friend.


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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie, #7)

The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie, #7)The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love any of Alexander McCall Smith's books and this was no exception. Isabel Dalhousie has been called upon to help find some information about three candidates for the job of headmaster of a local private school. It seems that the committee has received an anonymous letter stating that one of the candidates has a secret that might prove embarrassing to the school, but the person is not named. Isabel is to get background on the three men and determine if there is any truth to the letter.

At the same time, her relationship with Cat, always shaky, is finally on an even keel for a change. She has found a new man and, unbelievably, he is one of the candidates and is quite normal, which is saying something for Cat. I don't see that relationship continuing for that very reason.

Isabel and Jamie are working out their relationship and little insecurities come to the surface. I always hold my breath when they come up, but the two seem to weather each challenge. Along the way, Isabel deals with the questions of moral philosophy which make these books such a delight. As she investigates the three candidates for the headship, she covers ideas such as guilt, loyalty and sacrifice as well as some traits much darker.


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The Lost Art of Gratitude (Sunday Philosophy Club, #6)

The Lost Art of Gratitude (Sunday Philosophy Club, #6)The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith

This is my favorite book of all Alexander McCall Smith's and it is for one huge reason...the poem at the end. While the book is very entertaining and Isabel has numerous situations which cause her to work through various moral dilemmas; her insecurities about Jamie, what to do with the obnoxious Professor Dove, and especially the possibly amoral Minty Auchterlonie, the book is always more about then people than the plot. Minty approaches Isabel to help her resolve two connected issues and Isabel reluctantly agrees to help, but finds herself being used by Minty to further her own schemes. Somehow, she manages to work good in the lives of the victims instead of the evil left from Minty.

Her niece, Cat, has found a new boyfriend and this is possibly the worst of all. He is a tightrope walker and stuntman and Jamie and Isabel can only shake their heads and get ready to hold up Cat when the end comes, as they pray that it will. I am always inspired by the way Isabel finds to see beyond Cat's thorniness and love her. I can almost see Cat 20 years in the future finally realizing that it was her aunt's abiding love which remained constant through the angst of her struggle for maturity.

All of this leads to the end of the book where Jamie puts to music one of the most moving poems I have read in ages.

What we lose, we think we lose forever,
But we are wrong about this, think of love –
Love is lost, we think it gone,
But it returns, often when least expected,
Forgives us our lack of attention, our failure of
Our cold indifference; forgives us all of this, and more;
Returns and says, “I was always there.”
Love, at our shoulder, whispers: Merely remember me,
Don’t think I’ve gone away for ever:
I am still here. With you. My power undimmed.
See. I am here.”


I was listening to the audio book and I could just hear God at my shoulder saying those words and I found myself playing them over and over. I read that the handwritten poem was sold at a charity auction and felt that if I had a lot of money, I surely would have bid on it, even to the point of sacrifice.
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Monday, June 06, 2011

Hiss of Death (Mrs. Murphy, #19

Hiss of Death (Mrs. Murphy, #19)Hiss of Death by Rita Mae Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This was a little disappointing. There were so many medical warnings that I felt like I was being preached at through most of the book. It became very tiresome. I think it is fine to slip in that the main character is going for a yearly check up or that another has been told by his doctor to lead a healthier life style, but it was everywhere you turned in this book and got in the way of the story. The mystery also didn't take center place. I never felt as if it developed because there were so many side stories. I haven't read any of Rita Mae Brown's book for quite a while and this may be why.

There are two murders which take place in the book and they are only loosely connected. The reason for the murders has to be spelled out by the murderer who spills his/her guts in the last few pages telling every little detail without benefit of lawyer or common sense. Those reasons were not a serious enough threat, I thought, to motivate any but the most paranoid and the murderer was not portrayed as any kind of extremist throughout the book. Sorry, but this is just the way this book struck me. I know the author has written many other books which are a lot better than this one.


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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Duplicate Keys

Duplicate KeysDuplicate Keys by Jane Smiley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was a disappointment to me. I disliked all the characters and the naive, blissfully unaware, Alice was too stupid to be a librarian, much less a friend. Non of the characters were well developed and their lives were pitiful.

The plot was about some friends in their 30's who had come through the hippie commune era and were living in New York. The band had had a hit record, but had done nothing much since. They seemed on the border of going some place, but never quite made it. The story begins with Alice, the narrator, entering Susan and Dennis' apartment to find Dennis and his adopted brother, Craig, murdered. Apparently everyone and their brother had keys to this apartment. Because of the murder and the suspicion surrounding it, the group unravels and a lot of hidden things become apparent.

There is some suspense as the book draws to a close and I felt compelled to find out why the two men were murdered even though it is apparent who did it about midway. There were some good points made in the book and insight into people's lives, but at times I felt like I was reading an essay rather than reading a book with a plot. I like Jane Smiley's writing, but and I felt like she had something to say here, but the burden of it was too great to place on Alice's shoulders.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

New Mercies

New MerciesNew Mercies by Sandra Dallas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the whole, I liked it. There were good characters and an interesting plot. Nora Bondurant Tate is recovering from her divorce and finds that she has inherited a crumbling antebellum house from a aunt that she didn't know she had. Nora knew little about her father and had no idea that he was from an old Natches, MS family. Even more incredible was the fact that her aunt was murdered by an old lover who committed suicide after he shot her. Her aunt was known affectionately as "the goat lady" because of the goats she raised and the milk she sold. She lived with 2 family servants in the crumbling house, the apparent last remnant of a proud old family.

I love most of Sandra Dallas' work and I think she does a great job of creating believable characters, but these people seemed to be wooden much of the time. I have Mississippi roots and family that still live there and I found some of the sayings and customs wonderful reminders, but others just weren't right. People who held certain opinions did not do certain things. It's hard to put this and not spoil the plot, but I will try. First, the book takes place in the 30's but many of the attitudes towards blacks did not ring true at all. Many of her white characters hold attitudes that just were not prevalent during that time. I also found it hard to remember that it was the 30's the book was about because certain figures of speech from the present day intruded. I guess what I am saying is that Sandra Dallas knows the Colorado mining culture and writes beautifully about it. She also knows the Persian Pickle culture. I don't believe she knows the Southern culture and was writing out of her element, making her characters less alive than in her other books.

With that being said, it is still an enjoyable book and holds together despite the above mentioned difficulties. I developed a real fondness for Nora's aunt and wished there had been more information on her. Nora is an engaging character and the only flaw I find in her is her lack of understanding of her husband and its consequenceses and the way it is handled in the book. There is too big a jump from his death and her actions in Natches. This is one time when I believe the character has more emotional baggage than the author allows her to show.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Spanish Dagger (China Bayles Mystery, Book 15)

Spanish Dagger (China Bayles Mystery, Book 15)Spanish Dagger by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When China finds a body while looking for some Yucca, or Spanish Dagger, she knows she has the unpleasant task of breaking the news to her good friend and business partner, Ruby. She is doubly reluctant because Ruby is dealing with her mother, who is difficult at best, and is now suffering from dementia and even more quarrelsome. There has always been a mystery about Colin and now China feels that he is not what he appeared to be and has been living a double life. When another body is found, the situation is even more complicated. People are not who they appear to be and seemingly nice people are involved in the most unexpected things.

This mystery was pretty fast paced and entertaining. There was plenty of suspense and the conclusion was neat and believable, however sad it was. As always, the author's comments about various herbs and recipes enhance the book.


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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Daniel

DanielDaniel by Henning Mankell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is extremely poignant and compelling as well as being unsettling. It is the story of a strange Swede, Hans Bengler, who goes to Africa to find an unknown species of insect to name after himself. He ends up finding an orphaned black boy about 8 years old whom he brings back to Sweden. He feels that he can give him a better life even though the trader where he found the boy tells him he will only destroy the boy.

Hans uses Daniel in part of a carnival type lecture series to get people to come in and listen to his lecture on insects. Non of the people involved consider Daniel or his needs. Daniel, on the other hand, longs for his home in the desert and sees, in his mind, his parents who were killed by white men. He meets with people who stare at him, pet him and sometimes regard his as the devil, but no one thinks of him as a real person. Daniel has been trained to say, "My name is Daniel. I believe in God" as a formula, but in his own mind, the voices of his parents are growing stronger and stronger. He hears of Jesus, who walked on water, and he is determined to learn to walk on water in order to go home.

The book calls into question the recent adoptions of young children whose culture is so different from the one they are adopted into, especially children older than 3-4. There are a lot of cultural implications that may not be being considered.
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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Lost World

The Lost WorldThe Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is as fresh as it was in the Victorian days in which it was written. A young journalist attends a lecture in which the claims of an naturalist and explorer to have discovered a land where prehistoric animals still exist is roundly scoffed at. A challenge is proposed by the bombastic professor and the scoffer can not refuse to test the claims by joining an expedition. The young journalist and an aristocratic adventurer also join and the four men with their bearers head for the remote area in Africa where the supposed sighting occurred. It does not take long for the party to realize that the professor was speaking the truth. Beyond them lies a huge plateau cut off from the world from which prehistoric birds fly. The men are able to get to the plateau, but when their exit is cut off, they find themselves learning much more about this strange land than they intended to.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. This is not the genre I prefer, but this was told so well and the suspense was so great, I found myself staying up late just to finish. There is little wonder while it is considered a classic today.


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The Lost World

The Lost WorldThe Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is as fresh as it was in the Victorian days in which it was written. A young journalist attends a lecture in which the claims of an naturalist and explorer to have discovered a land where prehistoric animals still exist is roundly scoffed at. A challenge is proposed by the bombastic professor and the scoffer can not refuse to test the claims by joining an expedition. The young journalist and an aristocratic adventurer also join and the four men with their bearers head for the remote area in Africa where the supposed sighting occurred. It does not take long for the party to realize that the professor was speaking the truth. Beyond them lies a huge plateau cut off from the world from which prehistoric birds fly. The men are able to get to the plateau, but when their exit is cut off, they find themselves learning much more about this strange land than they intended to.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. This is not the genre I prefer, but this was told so well and the suspense was so great, I found myself staying up late just to finish. There is little wonder while it is considered a classic today.


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Friday, May 27, 2011

Buster Midnight's Cafe

Buster Midnight's CafeBuster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this book. I have read three other books by Sandra Dallas and I really loved them, but this one seems a little contrived. The characters are more caricatures, and from the wrong part of the country. I could easily believe that May Anna, Effa Commander and Whippy Bird came from a small town in Texas rather than Montana. The names, grammar and some of the actions seem more like the deep South. On the other hand, the fact that May Anna's mother has "gentlemen callers" and May Anna quits high school to become a hooker, and this is accepted by the circle of friends is really bizarre. That could happen, but not in the way it is portrayed in this book. Parts of it just don't ring true. I found it hard to relate to the characters and their attitudes. The author actually seems to glamorize the "sex trade" in a way that is not realistic, and I can hardly see Hollywood accepting this background for a major star as a simple matter of choice.

Still, there is a lot about the story that is interesting. The characters do get better as the book goes on and the way their lives turn out is not completely predictable. I don't know...I just can't put my finger on what is wrong with this book, but it just didn't ring true to me and nothing in me resonated with it. Her other books are MUCH better.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Persian Pickle Club

The Persian Pickle ClubThe Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have become very fond of these books by Sandra Dallas. This was one of her best. It involves a quilting circle in a small Kansas town during the depression. As the women meet together to quilt and discuss the details of their lives, they become so bonded to one another that they are able to share intense secrets almost as one person.

Into this mix comes the son and brother of two of the members and his new wife, Rita. Tom has gone to college in Denver and he and his young wife intended to continue to live in the city until unemployment and the need of his family force him back to the farm. His wife has her heart set on becoming a reporter and life in the small Kansas town is difficult even though she is welcomed into the Persian Pickle Club by virtue of the membership of her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. When bones are dug up in a local field, she attacks the mystery as an investigative reporter, not understanding the ways of these rural people.

There is enough tension in the book to make it not just another sewing/knitting circle book. The characters are well drawn and compelling. There is also a great variety in the characters in the group which provides an interesting mix. I will be reading all of Sandra Dallas' books.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Man Who Knew Too MuchThe Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was harder to read than most of Chesterton's work. His sleuth, Horne Fisher, is not as compelling as Father Brown and most of the mysteries are very short and end without the lawbreakers being brought to justice formally, although in many cases, justice ends up being served anyway.

The other problem I had with the book was the amount of British politics in it. Since I don't recognize the titles for various political offices, it was often hard to get an understanding of the issues. That being said, the stories did make sense and the solutions of the mystery were amazingly clever, especially the one about Prince Michael and the tower.

As usual, Chesterton writes beautifully and has such a wonderful power of description that most of the characters became very real with the exception of Horne Fisher. For most of the stories, he is more of an observer, so the lack of personal details makes some sense, but I would have liked it more if he had been better drawn.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been years since I have read this. I was looking for a book to use for homeschool for my 9 year old granddaughter and I thought this might be what I was looking for. The interest level is right and it has the kind of challenging vocabulary and sentence length found in most classics. I knew that the book differed some from the movie, but I couldn't remember how much. While there are a number of story lines not developed in the movie, it does follow the book fairly well.

This is simply a wonderful tale and every child should read it. It is not only a fun story, but there is a spirit of empowerment that runs all the way through. Whatever our intrepid four need to do, they "gird up their loins" and do it. Without being preachy, the book conveys the idea of meeting challenges step by step, loyalty, courage, integrity and friendship. Baum's imagination was so rich and creative that even adults will find this enjoyable.

I read, years ago, that the head librarian of the New York Public Library was totally against this book when it was first published and did everything she could to convey the idea that it was not literature and shouldn't be found in libraries. Fortunately, children and adults had more sense and the book has been popular ever since it was written.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cincinnati Red Stalkings

The Cincinnati Red StalkingsThe Cincinnati Red Stalkings by Troy Soos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Troy Soos writes a great story for baseball fans, of which I am one. I love the stories about the earlier days of baseball when the salaries weren't so high and players weren't so removed from the fans. This mystery takes place in 1921, the year that the Chicago "Black Socks" were supposed to have thrown the world series. I had always heard about it and felt that Shoeless Joe Jackson got a raw deal, but I never understood all the mysteries surrounding the scandal. While that isn't the the major theme in this book, a great deal of information is given, especially about the extreme actions of the Commissioner of Baseball and the feelings of the fans.

I also enjoyed the cameo appearances of Eppa Rixey who was from Rixeyville, just up the road from where I lived in Virginia. I had heard about him and saw a plaque dedicated to him, but never had any other information. Troy Soos fleshes out his character and gives some details about a few games he played in.

This book centers around the murder of a man who was gathering memorabilia from the earliest players and games. It is how the Baseball Hall of Fame must have started. Unfortunately, this young man was murdered and Mickey Rawlings is determined to find out how and why after his own house is broken into. Mickey was given some of the material that wasn't going to end up in the museum and he figures that the killer did not get the thing he sought when he broke into the museum.


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Death of the other self

Death of the other selfDeath of the other self by Peter Packer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this a long time ago and was fascinated with it. The story is about identical twins, Todd and Tim Nicholson, heirs to the Pullman fortune. The boys were brought up by two seemingly totally self centered parents and were left to raise themselves. They were so close that they seemed as one person. In fact, their mother gave up trying to tell them apart and called each one Tim/Todd. This is really sad because you could tell them apart fairly easily. Tim was left-handed and like many identical twins, his hair grew in the opposite direction from his brother's. I just looked through the photos in the book and got them correct each time. In some photos, both boys hair is combed the same way, but one of the twin's hair flops over the forehead because the part is on the wrong side from the way the hair grows naturally. It seemed like the ultimate neglect for the parents to not make an effort to call them by their right names when just a little attention would give them their individuality.

The boys were uncontrollable and even spent some time at a military school at a very early age because no one could make them behave or stop fighting. This competition and fighting kept up their whole lives, but they were also so close they could not stand to be separated. They were all each other had.

As time went on, this uncontrolled nature began to be serious, especially for Todd. According to the book, he went into incredible rages and often targeted anyone around, but especially, Tim. Ultimately it was in one of those rages that Todd was shot by his brother. The defense claimed that it was self-defense even though two shots were fired and I believe it happened the way Tim said it did. It doesn't actually matter if Tim seemed to have gotten off lightly; for someone who has had only one person in his life to love and count on, jail could not have been worse than living without his brother.

I felt like this was a story about what happens to children who are spoiled and yet neglected, undisciplined and left without responsible role models. These boys raised themselves and because they were not getting the attention they needed from either of their parents, they were in constant competition. The same brother who was the only one to love and be loved by was also the major competitor for the drips and dregs of his parents attention. This was a fascinating story.

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Death of the other self

Death of the other selfDeath of the other self by Peter Packer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this a long time ago and was fascinated with it. The story is about identical twins, Todd and Tim Nicholson, heirs to the Pullman fortune. The boys were brought up by two seemingly totally self centered parents and were left to raise themselves. They were so close that they seemed as one person. In fact, their mother gave up trying to tell them apart and called each one Tim/Todd. This is really sad because you could tell them apart fairly easily. Tim was left-handed and like many identical twins, his hair grew in the opposite direction from his brother's. I just looked through the photos in the book and got them correct each time. In some photos, both boys hair is combed the same way, but one of the twin's hair flops over the forehead because the part is on the wrong side from the way the hair grows naturally. It seemed like the ultimate neglect for the parents to not make an effort to call them by their right names when just a little attention would give them their individuality.

The boys were uncontrollable and even spent some time at a military school at a very early age because no one could make them behave or stop fighting. This competition and fighting kept up their whole lives, but they were also so close they could not stand to be separated. They were all each other had.

As time went on, this uncontrolled nature began to be serious, especially for Todd. According to the book, he went into incredible rages and often targeted anyone around, but especially, Tim. Ultimately it was in one of those rages that Todd was shot by his brother. The defense claimed that it was self-defense even though two shots were fired and I believe it happened the way Tim said it did. It doesn't actually matter if Tim seemed to have gotten off lightly; for someone who has had only one person in his life to love and count on, jail could not have been worse than living without his brother.

I felt like this was a story about what happens to children who are spoiled and yet neglected, undisciplined and left without responsible role models. These boys raised themselves and because they were not getting the attention they needed from either of their parents, they were in constant competition. The same brother who was the only one to love and be loved by was also the major competitor for the drips and dregs of his parents attention. This was a fascinating story.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Murder at a Vineyard Mansion (Martha's Vineyard Mystery #15)Murder at a Vineyard Mansion by Philip R. Craig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this book and it kept my attention, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The main character, JW Jackson, a former Boston detective, loves his family and life on Martha's Vineyard. When he is asked by the female version of and "old curmudgeon" to investigate a murder, JW finds himself investigating some of the old line aristocracy of the island whose lives are intertwined. At the same time, there is a different kind of criminal...kind of a high tech Robin Hood on the island. This Robin Hood robs from the loud and gives peace and quiet to the multitude. He has found a way to electronically silence the loud car speakers and stereo systems so that they can never break ear drums again. Do we really want to see this guy caught and stopped? He sounds like a public benefactor to me, but JW makes the point that he might decide that Mozart needed to go also and that wouldn't sit too well. This is a good easy read.
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Murder at a Vineyard Mansion (Martha's Vineyard Mystery #15)Murder at a Vineyard Mansion by Philip R. Craig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this book and it kept my attention, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. The main character, JW Jackson, a former Boston detective, loves his family and life on Martha's Vineyard. When he is asked by the female version of and "old curmudgeon" to investigate a murder, JW finds himself investigation some of the old line aristocracy of the island whose lives are intertwined. At the same time, there is a different kind of criminal...kind of a high tech Robin Hood on the island. This Robin Hood robs from the loud and gives peace and quiet to the multitude. He has found a way to electronically silence the loud car speakers and stereo systems electronically so that they can never break ear drums again. Do we really want to see this guy caught and stopped? He sounds like a public benefactor to me, but JW makes the point that he might decide that Mozart needed to go also and that wouldn't sit too well. This is a good easy read.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory

Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet BáthoryInfamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory by Kimberly L. Craft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was incredibly interesting. It took me a while to read it because of the subject, but I am glad that I read it. Countess Erzsebet Bathory was a wealthy woman from Hungary who murdered countless young woman brutally. Using her position, she brought in somewhere around 300 girls from about 10-14 and brutalized them until they died.

The book style is a little hard to get into because it is a compilation of actual records, testimonies, and documents. She was aided by 5 of her servants, four of whom were active participants and one who was ordered to torture the girls or be tortured herself. No one is exactly sure how many girls died, but even if the estimate is low, she is still one of the worst serial killers in history and the only woman to have killed so many.

I was interested in the book because it seems almost impossible for someone to have done this and I wanted some confirmation before I accepted it as true and this book has done that. Like The Nazi Doctors, this was hard to read, but important in understanding what makes people behave like this and what a human being is capable of.
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The Wise Woman

The Wise WomanThe Wise Woman by George MacDonald

George MacDonald is one of my favorite authors. I love his imagination and his ability to tell a story that feels like a folk tale which has come down through the ages.

This tale is about two little girls, one a spoiled princess, and one a vain and selfish shepherdess. The Wise Woman steals them from their homes and attempts to teach them what their neglectful parents have not. While some would call the tale moralizing, it is totally appropriate for today's parents and children. Just about every time I go to a store like WalMart, I see badly behaved children and I feel like it is just as much abuse to allow them to grow up to be obnoxious teens and adults as it is to beat them, and unfortunately, may be even worse.

The Wise Woman attempts to teach the girls by putting them in situations we would call behavior management or conditioning. She is really quite clever, but the reader is never certain if the girls can be changed. My favorite part of the book came at the end when she had a few things to say to the parents of these girls. She makes certain that they understand that they have neglected their responsibility as parents:>)


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Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Children's Blizzard

The Children's Blizzard The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is similar to The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea. It tells of a freak blizzard that hit the northern plains states in 1888. Scores of immigrants had sold everything and come to the rich lands of the American prairie only to find that the harsh climate could destroy those dreams in a day. The blizzard was called "the children's blizzard" because it struct about the time that children were going or returning from school. The weather bureau was in its infancy and the politics of the government agency and the conflicting claims of the railroad made it difficult to get what little warning there was out to the people. Actually, while there were problems with the weather bureau, this storm was so huge, so freakish and moving so rapidly that it was probably unpredictable with the weather instruments of the day and impossible to get word to the people on the prairie who had no phones or radios. This storm stands out like the 1935 hurricane in the Florida Keys and the Galveston hurricane of 1909 and the perfect storm of 1991...perfect, but sinister storms where every variable added more fuel to the raging tempests.

I remember a storm a little like this from my childhood in St. Louis. The weather of the morning of the storm was very mild and, like the children in the book, we went to school without boots, gloves or even hats. Out of nowhere came an incredible drop in temperature...in the case of the 1888 storm of even 30 degrees in less than half an hour. In our case, traffic came to a standstill and our buses couldn't run. We were kept at school for hours and hours watching the snow build and wondering if someone could come and get us. The nuns played games with us and allowed us to slide on the hall floors, something totally forbidden, in order to keep us from panicking, but the snow continued to rage. Finally a neighbor walked home from his work and then walked the 2 miles to the school bringing winter hats, boots and mittens for us and we set out for home. I will always be grateful for those wonderful nuns whose faith and good nature made our wait more of an adventure than anxiety. I remember standing at the window, realizing that it was possible than no one could get through and I remember one of the nuns calling us to slide on the perfectly waxed floors and making a game of who could slide the furthest. The incredible novelty of being encouraged to break such a hard fast rule made me leave my fears at the window and revel in such an unexpected pleasure.

The teachers and students of 1888 didn't have paved roads lined with houses to follow as we did. Teachers faced the decision to keep the children at school and hope their firewood held out or was enough to keep them freezing in temperatures of -30 degrees, or to lead them home as quickly as possible. In some cases, the decision didn't matter. They were doomed no matter what they chose. In other cases, some children miraculously were found alive where they seemingly had little chance of making it and others were found dead all huddled together on the bare prairie.

It wasn't just children. Farmers got lost going to the barn and froze to death just feet from their homes. Cattle froze standing up and toppled over when it began to thaw. Some communities lost dozens of members and some families lost almost all their children in just one day. Little decisions, easily made, spelled life or death.

I would recommend this book to everyone. It is a glimpse into the tremendous power of nature an a reminder that no matter how advanced we become, we can never control nature. It is also an excellent glimpse into the life of early immigrants and the prairie they lost so much to tame.
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Friday, May 06, 2011

The Art of Detection (Kate Martinelli, #5)

The Art of Detection (Kate Martinelli, #5)The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know how it happened, but I have read two books in a row in which the gay/lesbian secondary theme in the book has been heavy handed and off putting. I am getting very tired of it. The detective, Kate Martinelli has her perfect little lesbian family with her partner's all too perfect and wise 3 year old child. About half the book is devoted to these side issues and, predictably, all the gays are wonderful, misunderstood, and discriminated against and the rest of the characters are either wildly supportive of their lifestyle or complete jerks. There is preaching, dogmatism and intolerance on the alternative lifestyle proponents that is every bit as nauseating as the morality plays of the past. Kate has an attitude that is every bit as prejudiced, bigoted and sanctimonious as the people she demeans. Please, authors, give it a rest!! This has nothing to do with a fairly decent mystery so why include it?

The setting involves a group of people who are Sherlock Holmes aficionados and the murder of one of their members. When his body is found in a gun emplacement on the Marin headlands Kate and her partner, Al Hawkins, believe the murder has been committed elsewhere and the body has been staged. They trace the murder victim to his home which is awesome as well as eerie. On the bottom two floors, the house is a replica of a San Francisco home at the time of Sherlock Holmes even down to the gas lights and heat. On the third floor, where Philip Gilbert mainly lives, he has a computer, security system with a nanny camera and even an elevator, but the rest of the house allows him to immerse himself in the life and times of Sherlock Holmes.

The crux of the story involves a newly found manuscript supposedly written by Arthur Conan Doyle while he was visiting San Francisco and it involves a complicated murder which was similar to the staging of Philip Gilbert's murder. The detective work is quite good and the solution is interesting and plausible. The addition of all the Sherlock Holmes information makes the book work slogging through despite all the gay/lesbian posturing.
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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter (Dixie Hemingway Mystery #1)

Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter (Dixie Hemingway Mystery #1)Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wasn't as fond of this book as I thought I might be. The plot is simple and fits the cozy mystery genre, but I got tired of all of the posturing the author does throughout the book. Dixie was a Sarasota Sheriff's Deputy until her husband and daughter were killed and she became emotionally unstable. She gets embroiled in an investigation when one of the cats she cares for is found cowering in a corner and a man is found duck taped to the cat's water bowl. Dixie has an uneasy feeling about the whole set-up and she has a hard time explaining to Lieutenant Guidry what is going on.

The part I got very tired of was Dixie's gay brother, Michael and his partner. It is very heavy handed to make all the gay people incredibly handsome, mature and wise and the people who are uneasy about the relationship stupid, intolerant and homophobic. Enough, all ready! This is exactly like the old morality plays except the roles have been reversed and the PC proponents are just as prejudiced and sanctimonious as the people they vilify. Wouldn't it be better to just treat people, gay and straight, as simply people, sometimes bigoted and sometimes wonderful, sometimes handsome, sometimes plain etc.? Isn't that what being inclusive is all about. Just because you are gay doesn't make you handsome, wise and charming and everyone else jerks.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Tale of Hawthorn House (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #4)

The Tale of Hawthorn House (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #4)The Tale of Hawthorn House by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Fairies take center stage in this book also and we get to know them even better as they interact with the “big people.” During the village fete, a baby is deposited on Beatrix Potter’s doorstep with a sprig of hawthorn on it. Beatrix would love to care for it herself, but the care of her demanding parents and her work as an author seem to make it impossible. Still, she lives with regret, which is made even more poignant, by her work as a children’s author and her instinctive understanding of them and the magical world they inhabit.

Keeping the baby is no problem for her friend, Dimity though. All thoughts of having children seem to have gone from Dimity’s life with the marriage of the Boer War hero from the last book. Dimity has loved him all her life and she has never married, content to keep house for her brother and make herself respected and useful in the village.
But where did the baby come from? The only clue is the hawthorn sprig tucked in with the baby. It apparently has come from Hawthorn Manor, an unfortunate old mansion cursed by the spirits in the Hawthorn trees ruthlessly chopped down to improve the view of the lake. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the trees had been informed and treated with reverence. Part of the curse put on the house is that no babies will fill its walls. An old crone was seen running to Beatrix’s house with a bundle and many of the villagers think she was the spirit of the hawthorns or a fairy in disguise.

This book was especially good, I thought. There was a little more of a mystery in this one and it took some research and more active sleuthing on the part of Beatrix to solve. The development of the children is richer in this book also and they are becoming characters with a following as well as Beatrix and her friends.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #3)

The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #3)The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third book of the series, the local children are attempting to get the fairies to help them and they find a true believer in Beatrix Potter. Susan Wittig Albert writes about fairies with the same mix of awe, reverence and fear that Tolkien does. The quest for the fairies help and the plight of the children is by far, the most important thread in the book. We are led into a world where fairies do get involved with the life of the “big people,” but they can never be taken for granted or controlled. They come and go as they please and are only visible to the young at heart.

In contrast, the “big people” are embroiled in their own problems and most don’t see how fairies could possible be a part of them. The local Boer war hero, has returned dreadfully wounded, but with a new bride who sets the village’s teeth on edge. What in the world could he be thinking of? She is totally inappropriate for village life and she isn’t even nice. To add to it, there is something suspicious in her relationship to a new man who appears to be a relative of the vicar’s and has come to stay, and stay, and stay.

One of the things I like about this series is that it follows the life of Beatrix Potter and weaves known attitudes and events into a beautifully crafted historical and yet fanciful--- tale. It is a wonderful series to curl up with on a rainy day and enjoy to the fullest. There is just enough mystery to keep you engaged while you enjoy life in a kinder and gentler time.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Tale of Holly How (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #2)

The Tale of Holly How (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #2)The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this second tale of life in the village, Bearix Potter is beginning to fit in better because of her kind manner and quiet ways. The villagers don’t know what to make of her determination to run her farm by herself though, but they like the fact that she is attempting to build up a herd of local sheep which are in danger of dying out. When she goes to look over some sheep she has bought, she finds the body of the elderly shepherd and it appears that he has been murdered.

At the same time, she is struggling to build an addition to her farm so that she can keep on the family who have worked the farm for so long and yet give her the privacy of her own home. Working with the local builder is a daunting task, but Beatrix is proving to be tougher than she looks.

In the village a crisis has arisen when the job of head teacher is vacant and the hiring of a new head is suddenly called into question. Everyone favors the primary teacher, but the lady of the manor has suddenly brought in a new candidate with much better credentials. Something seems wrong about him though and it is not just his credentials. The Lady’s personal assistant seems to be wielding more and more power and things just smell funny to Beatrix.

This is a delightful book to just sit back and read or, even better, listen to as an audiobook. The people are engaging and the animals keep up enough chatter to push the plot ahead and sometimes get through to their owners.


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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #1

The Tale of Hill Top Farm (The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, #1)The Tale of Hill Top Farm by Susan Wittig Albert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a delightful tale based loosely on the life of Beatrix Potter while she was staying on a village farm in the lakes district which she bought with the proceeds of her books. It is a combination of the Miss Read tales with The First Ladies Detective Agency books. There is a mystery here, but it is secondary to the goings on of the village. This is especially charming because the village animals and Ms Potter's pets also talk to each other to move the plot along and provide commentary.

In her description of village life, I could hear the echoes of Miss Read as she describes the little puzzles of life in Thrush Green. Many of these seem like mysteries because the reader is unsure of how the problems can be resolved in a way that is good for all the people involved.

This is definitely a cozy mystery and a comfort book, wonderful to read when you are tired of the complexity of your life and the plights or our modern world. The book is a far cry from Osama bin Laden and the Japanese earthquake and will definitely recharge your batteries.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Folly

FollyFolly by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a very compelling look at madness and healing. I found it different from anything else I have read by Laurie R. King. The main character is a woman, Rae Newborn, in her 50's, who has been subject to severe depression and several suicide attempts, and who has come to a deserted island in the Juan de Fuga straits. She was attempting to reconstruct the house left by her mysterious Great Uncle Desmond. The house burned and Desmond disappeared many years before and for some reason, she has an odd connection to both the house and her Uncle Desmond. Rae had been a successful artist whose worked with wood brought her fame and wealth, but after the tragic death of her husband and small daughter, and the madness it drove her to, has turned to building as a form of healing and finding herself again.

The most interesting aspect of this book is the intersection between paranoid madness and the possibility of actual physical danger from a real person who is stalking and intent on killing her. Rae struggles to differentiate between the two and to heal herself by reacting appropriately to the very real danger she is in.

Laurie R. King's skill at creating characters is never stronger than in this novel. The complexities of Rae, her daughter Tamara, and their relationship is the best of all her books. In Rae, she has given a window into madness and the struggle to reach beyond the chaotic thoughts of the insane to sanity. I have a relative who is mentally ill and I found real insight into the self-destructive impulses that can not be controlled despite a true desire to be sane.


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Home to Holly SpringsHome to Holly Springs by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book while I was visiting in Mississippi about 60 miles from Holly Springs. I was there for a funeral and I experienced so many of the things mentioned in the book. Some have criticized it because of the number of questions that were answered in seemingly miraculous ways, but when you visit a place after a number of years, word gets around and people come to visit and talk and many of the mysteries of your childhood are explained or understood. We know that God does act in human events and just because the time in this book is telescoped, does not make the events outside possibility.

Father Tim began his journey because of a cryptic note that told him to "come home." Sensing that there is something important in the request, he takes his dog and heads South. He visits a hardware store and meets people there who catapult him into his boyhood. Word is spread that he is visiting and old friends and enemies contact him. Some of the information he receives is very difficult for him to hear, but he accepts what he hears as something that God wants him to know and act on.

This is a good story with enough mystery to keep the reader wondering, but it is also inspirational. As Father Tim learns things about his past, he has to change his view of many people he knew and to be both forgiving and forgiven. The courage that he exhibits is an inspiration and a reminder that we are not put on this earth for our own happiness, but to do the will of the One who sent us.

I was amazed to find that Jan Karon was not from Mississippi. She has managed to capture the language and customs of the Deep South with amazing accuracy. I was especially pleased when she added a little known custom of asking the person you are visiting to “come along with me.” To me that has always meant that you were having such a good time visiting that even though you had to go, you wanted the person to go with you and continue the visit.




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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mansfield Park

Mansfield ParkMansfield Park by Jane Austen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that this is my least favorite of Jane Austen's novels. Her character, Fanny Price, is just a little too humble and nice. I think everyone would like her better if she just got angry with the way she was treated from time to time. She was a niece of her mother's sister who was taken in by the family when she was about 11. Her own mother did not marry well and the poverty of her home and the large number of siblings prompt her Aunt Norris to suggest to her sister that Fanny come to live at Mansfield Park. Fanny begins her life with the four Bertram cousins, and while she is educated, she lives a life of a half-servant, waiting on her Aunt Bertram.

As the novel progresses, we see the superficiality of her cousins and their parents as well as the interfering hypocrisy of her Aunt Norris. Sir Thomas has made his wealth by dealing in slavery, his wife is so indolent and self-absorbed that she neglects her children and does not seem at all interested in developing their character, which leads to disastrous consequences as the book progresses. As with most of Jane Austen's books, the main focus of the book is marrying someone wealthy.

Fanny somehow has managed to have a deep moral sense and spirit of humility and stands in contrast to her cousins. The only one whom she has a relationship is her cousin, Edmond, the youngest son. His desire is to take Holy Orders and, unlike most wealthy young men of his class, does it from a true desire to minister to the people he is called to serve.

Into this mix come a brother and sister who are visiting the local Vicar. While they are superficially charming, they are extremely shallow and amoral. Edmond falls in love with Mary and while she tells him that she will never be a clergyman's wife as there is no prestige or income, she flirts with him outrageously and tries to change his position. Her brother is very attached to the two older sisters, but eventually decides to flirt with Fanny to amuse himself and ends up falling in love with her.

I have to admit that this is my least favorite of Jane Austen's novels. Her character, Fanny Price, is just a little too humble and nice. I think everyone would like her better if she just got angry with the way she was treated from time to time. She was a niece of her mother's sister who was taken in by the family when she was about 11. Her own mother did not marry well and the poverty of her home and the large number of siblings prompt her Aunt Norris to suggest to her sister that Fanny come to live at Mansfield Park. Fanny begins her life with the four Bertram cousins, and while she is educated, she lives a life of a half-servant, waiting on her Aunt Bertram.

As the novel progresses, we see the superficiality of her cousins and their parents as well as the interfering hypocrisy of her Aunt Norris. Sir Thomas has made his wealth by dealing in slavery, his wife is so indolent and self-absorbed that she neglects her children and does not seem at all interested in developing their character, which leads to disastrous consequences as the book progresses. As with most of Jane Austen's books, the main focus of the book is marrying someone wealthy.

My objections to the book are that it sags in the middle under the weight of too many examples of the superficial details of the main characters lives. Fanny is appalled at their behavior and that redeems her, not because she is a prig, but because she stands alone against overwhelming derision. Her own background in her parents home is chaotic at best and she could hardly have learned such virtues there or at Mansfield Park. I think it is this strength of character that keeps her from being a simple character in a morality play. While this is a harder book to read that any of Austen's other works, it is still filled with the kinds of things we expect from her works.


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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1

The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1)The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to this book in my GPS on the way home from Mississippi. This is a new experience, but it worked very well. The book was fairly well written although it dragged a bit in the middle. One thing I objected to was the language. When you are reading a book, you can skip over it, but in an audiobook, especially in the car, you are forced to just sit there and be assaulted.

The story begins with the murder of a boy who was the ring-leader of a group of 4 boys who raped and abused a Native American girl who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. They received very light sentences and two of the boys showed very little remorse. Someone has murdered the most obnoxious boy and there is a strong feeling that the murder has taken justice into his/her own hands. When another boy is killed, the sheriff is desperate to protect the two remaining boys.

The book is interesting, but there are some supernatural scenes which become tedious. The ending also could have been foreshadowed or at least some groundwork done to make it fit the book better.


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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Body Snatcher and Other Tales (Dover Thrift Editions)The Body Snatcher and Other Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of three very different short stories by Robert Lewis Stevenson. The first is a story about medical students and the grim work of the resurrectionists. It is set in the 1800's in Scotland and involves the action of young medical students and their secret work of digging up fresh graves to provide corpses for dissection. The very action of learning often compromises their own morality when the cause of death is suspiciously opportune and the identity of the corpse is known. It reminds me of Burk and Hare trials in 19th century and I think it has been the basis for several movies.

The second tale is completely different and reminds me of something out of Grims' Fairy Tales. It deals with the greed of an old woman and the results of her choices for her family. Like most old tales, there is a strong sense of morality and justice in it.

The last is also a folk story about a shaman/magician and the greed of his son-in-law. The old shaman needs his son-in-law's help and reveals the source of his wealth to be a magic island. The son-in-law returns to the island to steal the money and becomes ensnared in the magic of the island. Again, there is a strong sense of morality and revenge.

All of these tales are similar to those of Hawthorne and feel like they are based in true legends and morality tales. Each is complete and I could feel like I was sitting around a fire listening to an old sage reveal the legends of the ancestors.







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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been a while since I read this and we were talking about books most re-read and this was mentioned. This has always been one of my favorite books and every time I read it again, I see something new.

The story is set in the 19th century and centers on an extremely proud and wealthy young man, Mr. Darcy and a strong minded, intelligent young woman, Elizabeth Bennett, who forms a strong prejudice against Darcy because of his pride and hurtful manner.

Elizabeth's family is a complete disaster. Her mother flutters over her five daughters and thinks only of getting them married off to wealthy men. She is unbelievable silly and most of the time offensive. She allows her silly and fickle younger daughters to flirt with any prospective young man and when that leads to absolute disaster, she still doesn't see what she has done. Elizabeth's father, while intelligent and kind is no match for his frivolous wife and younger daughters, and rarely interferes, no matter how distastefully they behave. He is only attached to Elizabeth and the kind and lovely oldest daughter, Jane.

Mr. Darcy's friend, Mr. Bingley, has fallen in love with the beautiful Jane, but his snobbish sisters, and Darcy himself are determined that there should be no match which would end in any relationship with the horrible Bennett family no matter how respectable Elizabeth and Jane are. The middle of the book is a saga of offenses, cross purposes, and star-crossed love.

As with all of Jane Austen's books, the plot is not the most important aspect. It is her ability to draw carefully constructed characters who grow and change throughout the book which makes her works classics. Along with the dynamic main characters, there are a number of unforgettable minor characters who are memorable and drawn to perfection. These include, the impossible Mrs. Bennett; the silly and flirtatious sisters, Kitty and Lydia; the supercilious, but somehow redeemable, clergyman, Mr. Collins; the scoundrel Mr. Wickham; and the kind, intelligent, but flawed and lazy Mr. Bennett. Sometimes I think it is the minor characters that draw you in and keep you reading while the more dynamic characters wrestle with their flaws and eventually emerge wiser and more mature; and, since this is Jane Austen, in love with each other. These minor characters are so real, you find yourself trying to figure out who they are reminding you of. Of course, they are an exaggeration, but only in that they are an amalgam of more real traits than are usually found in one person. All their actions ring true and if Mr. Collins would walk into the room, you would know him in an instant.

I know there are many who don't like Jane Austen because there is too much description, too many words and "flowery language," and main characters too concerned with money and getting married, but this is the world she was writing in. Her writing is like a hidden camera on the 19th century. Unfortunately, many people miss learning about this world and human nature because they don't want to do the work necessary to unlock what Jane Austen has to say.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Emma

Emma (Coscom Blue Banner Classics)Emma by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read, probably for about the 5th time. It is always fresh no matter how many times I read it. There are so many things that I find that I have missed.

The story is set in England in the 19th century. While the village is only 17 miles from London, it is deep in the country. Emma, the bright, clever, pretty and beloved daughter of one of the first families in the district, has been spoiled dreadfully in her upbringing. She has no social equals and after the loss of her governess and friend, she sets to work to manipulate the lives of others in the village by attempting to make matches between the people she knows. The only person who has ever not spoiled Emma is the local, most eligible, bachelor, George Knightly. While he cares deeply for Emma and her father, he has always tried to bring some semblance of discipline into Emma's life by speaking the truth plainly to her.

As with almost every book by Jane Austen, there are plots and subplots, innuendo, misinformation, and wrong assumptions. Even though the elements of her stories are similar, the characters stand out almost as real people. In fact, next to Dickens, I believe Jane Austen created the most memorable characters in English Literature. Sometimes I think I re-read this book just to encounter the deliciously obnoxious Mrs. Elton.

Emma is a dynamic character and I found myself very irritated with her for the first half or more of the book. She meddles in people's lives and thinks she knows what is best for them. She has a deep seated snobbishness but a kind heart and, where she has found favor, a lack of class consciousness. In other words, she is a complex character who is basically kind and loving, but the petting and spoiling of her early life has led her to believe that everything she believes is right. She cheerfully meddles in people's lives and then is chagrined when the desired outcome does not work the way she intended.

There are some rough places in the book, especially when listening to an audiobook. The silly, boring and incredibally talkative Mrs. Bates, can be easily be skimmed over in a book, but she is hard to skip in an audiobook. She goes on and on and I am sure Jane Austen meant for her readers to experience just how boring she could be. There is also a lot of description which may irritate some readers, but to me evokes a time when lives moved at a slower pace and the concerns of the people were more mundane and closer to home. The endless discussions of what people should eat, or the superiority of the local doctor by Emma's father were similar to conversations I listened to in the 60's on the isolated Eastern Shore of Virginia. Where there is very little that changes, conversations center on the tiny details of daily life and family and this is what Jane Austen shows us. As with all of Jane Austen's book, in the end the threads are gathered together, all ends well, and dear Emma has come out a wiser and happier young woman.

This is classic #10 for the year. Fifteen more to go.
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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cure

CureCure by Robin Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not my favorite kind of book. I love the forensics and the medical mystery but I do not like anything to do with Mafia or other crime organizations, spies or anything of that sort. First, they are always callously "bumping people off", and second, they are all such unpleasant people who are usually only two dimensional.

Unfortunately, this not only has New York crime organizations, but two rival organizations from Japan. It seems as if the Mafia has turned over a new leaf, at least in New York. There is sort of a bargain with the police; if they quit murdering people right and left, the city will not look too closely at the drug operations. How cynical is that???

The action picked up in the second half of the book and, while there is still a lot Mafia operation, this part of the book was more about the medical and personal side. The conclusion is good and keeps you turning the pages.


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Friday, April 01, 2011

Cain His Brother (William Monk, #6)

Cain His Brother (William Monk, #6)Cain His Brother by Anne Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This was another good book in this series. William Monk has a case that involves twin brothers who are like Cain and Abel. When Angus, the proper family man, turns up missing, his wife knows that his evil twin, Caleb has murdered him. She engages Monk to find out for certain that Caleb has murdered him and turn up the body, or have him declared dead so that she can either get a new manager for his business or sell it while it is still profitable to provide for herself and her five children. When everything the woman says appears to be true, Monk looks in earnest for the murderer and Angus's body.

At the same time, typhoid fever has broken out in the slums and Hester, Lady Callandra, and the missing man's stepmother work ceaselessly in the same area Monk is searching for Angus and Caleb. As usual, the cases intersect and Hester becomes involved with Monk’s search for Caleb. To add to this mix, Monk has gotten involved with a person who is determined to extract revenge for something that he did early in his career and for which he has no memory.

At one point, the book seems to drag, but then another plot thread begins and the book is takes off again. As usual, Monk runs into his former callous self and has no memory of things he has done and people he has wronged. One of the interesting things about Monk and the way Perry has developed him is that he is still basically the same person he was before he lost his memory, but he has seen himself and wants to change. So, while he does not want to treat people in his old callous way, he finds himself being inconsiderate and thoughtless towards Hester, only now recognizing it and feeling guilty. This is the main reason I like the Monk books better than the Pitt series. I think that Monk is changing in the way a real person would, two steps forward, one step back.


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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Woman in White

The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this several times in my life and I am reading it again for a group I belong to. I had forgotten how good it was. It has all of the elements of a Gothic mystery. There is a spooky old mansion with a lovely and rich young girl, an earnest but poor young man who loves the girl but can't marry her, a capable older sister, a weird, reclusive old uncle/guardian, a mysterious suitor/husband, a creepy Count and the mysterious "woman in white" who appears and disappears throughout the story.

Of course, the beautiful young girl, Laura, marries the mysterious suitor, Sir Percival Glyde, who turns out to be a cruel monster, terribly influenced by the Count Fosco and his wife, who happens to be the sister of the reclusive uncle and is bitter about her lack of inheritance. Her sister, Marian Halcombe, comes to live with Laura and tries to protect her from her husband and Count Fosco. Her devotion to Laura knows no bounds and there is a wonderful scene where she proves her mettle by climbing on the roof of the mansion and listening to an important conversation between Sir Percival and Count Fosco in the pouring rain. The poor young lover, Walter, comes back into the picture after he returns from a long time in the jungle in Ecuador, where he attempted to recover from his devastation over the loss of Laura. Walter then attempts to solve the mystery of the Count and Sir Percival and their machinations.

The two best characters in the story are Marian and Walter, and that was one of the things that bothered me about the book. When Walter first meets Marian, he sees her at a distance and she appears to have an especially beautiful figure and presence, but when she turns around, he sees that she is ugly. When he meets Laura, he finds her beautiful and falls in love with her even though, Marian is, by far, stronger, more intelligent and interesting of the two. As the book proceeds, Marian becomes his friend, partner and confidant and yet all his love still goes to Laura. I am sure I am being unfair to Collins, as he was a product of his time, but to my way of thing Marian was a much better candidate for a life companion!


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