Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. 245 pages.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for almost ten years, and picked it up a couple of weeks ago thinking I hadn’t even attempted reading it – being a bit intimidated by it – and discovered my own scrawled notes in the margins! I think I read portions of it for a class in college, but I’m sure I never read it all the way through.

Stevens, the protagonist, is the head butler of a wealthy and influential lord’s household in the years directly following World War I through post- World War II. He unrelentingly strives to keep in line with what he considers “the dignity in keeping with his position” – so much so that he loses opportunities to discover a sense of self or a personal sense of dignity separate from his position. Ishiguro is a maestro of capturing the heart of what you might call stereotypical British restraint, but frames it through his protagonist’s first person accounts in such a way that both the placid surface and the heart-breaking underbelly are equaling compelling. Stevens’ restraint is painful, his self-denial both pitiful and heroic.

I’ve never watched the movie, but I have a feeling that with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson as the leads that I’ll not be disappointed in the tone of the movie being vastly different, or missing some of the subtle grace of each of the characters. Overall – a lonely, lovely book.

One Day by David Nicholls. 448 pages.

I recommend this read – but fair warning, there is a shocking and saddening twist in the final chapters. However, the author skillfully allows readers to end on a bittersweet – mostly sweet – note so that you remember all the other events in the main character’s progression toward the final years covered rather than their eventual resolution.

I loved the concept of the book, which the follows the relationship of Emma and Dexter – Em and Dex – from the first year of their meeting on a specific day in July – their college graduation day. This July day is revisited throughout the years, and whether together or apart, in contact or out-of-touch, we see how the characters' lives intertwine.

I have to say, though, that it did take me a while to warm up to the main characters, and though at times I was riveted, other times I didn’t care quite as much about Em and Dex’s fate as I would have hoped. I wouldn’t say I loved the book overall, but I liked it quite a bit, and hope that the upcoming movie adaptation captures the couple of moments I found the most poignant in an authentic way.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. 288 pages.

Heavy stuff. It took a lot of effort to finish this book. Some passages were so bleak, the tone so dark, relief from the weight of the book through the inclusion of even a slightly lighter episode so nonexistent, that I often had to set it aside after only reading a few pages. A true depiction of the main character and her situation almost demands this set-up, though – this is, after all, a first person narrative of a twice-institutionalized teenage anorexic who is dealing with a fractured home life and horrific death of a bulimic former best friend.

I ended up feeling proud of myself for sticking by the main character, Lia, through her explanation of the various messes of her life, such as the haunting after-life interactions with her dead friend, her guilt for not answering her friend’s phone calls on the night of her death, and her anxiety about her family finding out she still isn’t eating the amounts required after her last hospital stay. The writing is vivid and compelling in its way – Lia’s descriptions of food was sickly interesting because always, always, food was depicted as a relentless and cruel enemy. I was struck by one description in the first chapter, in which Lia, while putting a plate in the dishwasher she said that she wished she could fold herself into the dishwater, tuck herself between the plate and the utensils. I appreciated what Anderson was alluding to – Lia wanting to be even thinner, of course, but it being secondary to being “clean”, wiped free of her life and its disastrous arch toward more darkness and mess.

I guess, that after all was said and done, even after the rays of hope at the end of the story, I appreciated the book more than I liked it. I enjoyed Speak, another Laurie Halse Anderson book, more…though, like Wintergirls, I don’t know that “enjoyed” is quite the right word either!

"Sinful in Satin" by Madeline Hunter

When I checked out this historical romance, I did not realize that it was the third in a series.  That did not keep me from enjoying the exquisite writing, which was a step up from most of the others that I've read in this genre.  Celia Pennifold is the daughter of a famed London courtesan who does not want to follow in her mother's footsteps.  Jonathan Albrighton lives in the attic of the modest house left to Celia when her mother dies.  He is a former spy for England and the illegitimate son of an earl . . . or is he?  The author has a real talent for description and plot that made this a pleasure to read.  I'm looking forward to the next in the series.  An interesting side note about the author is that she has a Ph.D. in art history and teaches at the university level.  357 pages.

Night: Elie Wiesel

I'm a little numb after finishing this.

I always knew I should read it, but I tend not to choose books that are even a little maudlin.

And, in the first half, I didn't think the story was too terrifying. I knew what was coming, of course, and it seemed that Eliezer was treated a bit more humanely than some of the other Jews. I was worried I'd become somehow desensitized to the subject matter.

But that last half will stick with me forever.

(109 pages)

The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory

by David Plouffe
I'm a big fan of "inside baseball" type books. Books that take you inside of something you wouldn't normally have access to in your normal day to day CNN-watching life.
David Plouffe and David Axelrod ran a political consulting firm in Chicago when they approached the then Senator Barack Obama and asked him if he would be interested in seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2008 Presidential election.
The team started with a few paid employees running from state to state with the Senator who was then running against half his democratic colleagues in the Senate and a few other notable democrats.
Plouffe takes a no holds bared approach to this book. He doesn't mind telling the reader when he was wrong or he made a mistake. He also doesn't mind telling the reader when someone else did. It was very refreshing to read a non-fiction book about politics that wasn't sanitized all the way.
The book covers the primaries and the general election. It is a fascinating journey from a plucky upstart campaign to a powerhouse well funded campaign at the end.
I don’t think it's a spoiler to tell everyone that they won : )
400 Pages

"Tunnel Vision" and "Hard Time" by Sara Paretsky

Looking for relaxation from current events and other heavy reading, I picked-up (from my local public library) and quickly read two Sara Paretsky detective novels, my first-time reading this author. I’ve always liked the mystery genre but had stopped reading them because they also feed into my habit of rushing through novels because I want to see what happens next. Ms. Paretsky’s main character is private detective, V.I. Warshawki (known to her friends as Vic); the locale of the novels is Chicago and environs where I lived and worked (in another life). I enjoy the character, Vic, because she is self-reflective about her singular life choices and the actions she takes (sometimes reckless?) when pursuing the answers of the case before her. The books were also fun for me because the author uses some real street names and cloaks other places with pseudonyms. In TUNNEL VISION (432 p.)I met Vic’s cast of supporting characters especially her neighbor, a Korean War veteran, who shares care of Vic’s two dogs as well as her adventures as a private detective. The dialog between Vic and her friends/acquaintances is often witty, humorous, and unexpectedly affectionate. The end of TUNNEL VISION was a little too “neat” to satisfy me but I immediately began HARD TIME (385 p.). I have to say it was disappointingly similar to the first novel; I guess I’d say the author has a “formula” for how to set-up and resolve a plot for her very engaging main character, Vic. The best part of HARD TIME was the harrowing section about conditions in a women’s prison. Don't know if I will read other V.I. adventures; there are lots more if I decide I want to visit w/her again.

Jack Reacher Series

I've realized that I have time for reading, but not for blogging about it. For example, two weeks ago on a Saturday night, I finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a beautiful, compelling, touching story-To Kill a Mockingbird set in Nazi Germany. I shuddered, smiled, and wiped away a couple of tears at the end, closed the book, and thought about the story and the similarities to TKM for a few minutes, yet a half-hour later I had picked up a Jack Reacher novel and was half-way through it before I fell asleep. What does that say about me? I think I really need to find a hobby or maybe spend more time cleaning my house.

Jack Reacher. What can I say about him? He is the brain-child of author Lee Child, but who cares about that? It's Reacher that interests me. He's 6'5" inches, 240 lbs. of solid muscle, ladies. After serving as military police in the United States army for thirteen years, Reacher travels the US with just the clothes on his back, a few dollars to his name, and all of the sense of honor and killing skills that the US military could afford him. There are 14 (going on 15, I think) books in the series and well, I hate to say it, but I've read most.

In Die Trying, the second in the series that I've just read (I don't read series in order-another tragic flaw) Reacher is kidnapped by accident, along with an attractive female FBI agent out of Chicago (how convenient), the daughter of a general, and the god-daughter of the US president.
Holly, the agent, and Reacher are taken to a paramilitary compound in rural Montana where lots of people die, and Jack Reacher gets to show off his shooting skills. Unbelievable what this man can do with a rifle, and the shooting bit is an interesting departure from his usual methods of killing with his bare hands.

Lee Child's books are all page turners and this one did not disappoint. I won't give away any more of the plot, but will say that if you like thrillers, particularly thrillers featuring tall, blonde ex-US Army MP's, then the Jack Reacher series is for you. Highly recommend. 374 pp.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Moving Is Murder by Sara Rosett

"The library will be closing in 30 minutes. Please make your final selections now." Ack! No leisurely time to look at books and make a careful selection. I race to see if any of my favorite authors are on the shelf. Alas, they are not! So, I quickly look for a paperback in the mystery section and come up with Moving Is Murder by Sara Rosett. Having moved a lot as a child, I was drawn to the title. When I read the back cover and discovered that the heroine is known for her organizational skills, I couldn't resist. In this cozy mystery, Ellie, Mitch and their newborn daughter, Livvy, are settling into a new community. Unfortunately, the neighborhood in which they have chosen to live turns out to be anything but safe, as a murderer is on the loose and appears to be targeting Ellie. Mom Zone Mystery, Book 1. 352 p.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman: Elizabeth Buchanan

I've had this book for a long time, but can't remember where I got it or why. The back cover matter is sort of intriguing, but not enough for me to have bought it, I don't think...I'm generally not a fan of "girl-power" type stories. I have it up for "swapping" at my favorite bookswap site, and decided to read it before someone wanted it--since, for some reason, I also have the follow-up on audiobook. (And if anyone reading this would like my copy, do let me know!)

I'm usually in the middle of at least two books--one audio, one print--and reading this, and listening to "Fairest", was a sublime experience. I liked this book so much! I haven't been in much of a book-reading mood this month, but over the past three days I finished the last 2/3 of this one quickly. It's not action-packed or even too scandalous (especially given the plot--husband breaks up a 25-year marriage to run off with his wife's much younger assistant, who then steals the wife's job), it's just...pleasantly meandering, and nice, and I absolutely fell in love with the narrator, Rose.

I also found that the book had been filmed for TV in 2004, starring Christine Lahti, who I would love to see play this role.  368 pages.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Death Before Wicket, by Kerry Greenwood

In this installment, Phryne is off to Sydney for a holiday, but soon is swept up in another intrigue. In the beginning, it looks like simple theft and a bit of academic dishonesty, but matters soon become serious, as kidnapping and murder are attempted. Phryne, as always, rises above all these challenges with style and grace (and an attractive new lover). Set in early 20th century Australia, the series is an interesting take on the genre.
8 hours; 232 pages.

Red Land, Black Land, by Barbara Mertz

Red Land, Black Land is a set of tales that illustrates the daily life of many different types of ancient Egyptians. The Pharaohs and the nobility are mentioned, but she also describes what life was like for average and poor Egyptians from the beginnings of the first dynasties to the end of the later kingdoms. Part of what is refreshing about this work, is that Mertz is frank about what we know about ancient Egyptians (relatively little), and what we conjecture about ancient Egyptians (a whole lot more). Too many popular programs seem to state theory as fact.
15 hours; 432 pages.

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

I hadn't seen the movie, so I figured I'd at least try the book. The book follows the protagonist as he meets Tyler, sets up a secret fight club (and then several) with him, establishes a specialty soap business with him, then eventually confronts him. (If that is the right word for it - I don't want to spoil anything.) Interesting, but I admit my interest was flagging about 3/4 of the way through it.
5 hours; 224 pages.

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

Wow. If you were ever curious as to the little details affecting humans living in space, this is the book for you. Never mind the usual questions as to how to use the toilet! This book discusses space toilets and the science that ensures that you don't have to use the toilet much in the first place (apparently it's unpleasant for all involved). From the dangers of crumbs to sex in space (and why it is not advised), this book goes into some amazing (and sometimes disturbing) detail. I was fascinated, but this may not be for the squeamish.
10.5 hours; 336 pages.

Wishful Drinking

Between the title, the martini glass and the crazy Princess Leia hair, I couldn't pass up this audiobook. Carrie Fisher (who played Leia in the Star Wars trilogy) reads this work that covers some of the darker days in her life. She tells of her addictions and attempts to sober up. I don't usually go for biography, but I did like hearing this work in her own voice.
approx. 3 hours; 176 pages.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This is the first book I read on my new Kindle, and I'm glad I chose this one. The novel's pacing and intrigue helped me "bond" with my Kindle! It's a gripping mystery novel, and while I did partially guess the mystery, there was a twist I didn't anticipate. I loved the setting and the Swedish cultural references and am looking forward to reading the next entry in the trilogy.
600 pp.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fairest: Gail Carson Levine (genevieve)

I listened to this unabridged version on audio, and what an unexpected treat it was!

I picked this up at MRRL, whose limited audio book selection forces me to expand my boundaries a bit--I never would have chosen it otherwise. (It was labeled "Sci-Fi" - though "Fantasy" would have been more apt.) The audio details made me groan a little, too..."Full Cast Audio; read and sung by Sarah Naughton and the Full Cast family." Ugh! I've tried it before (most awfully, with Lord of the Rings) and have *never* been impressed. So, I approached this book with much trepidation.

However, I knew within the first few tracks that I'd love it. One of the keys to a good audio book is the narration; can you stand to listen to this person's voice for eight hours or so? Sarah Naughton's voice was extremely pleasant, with just enough naivete and enthusiasm to remind me of Anne of Green Gables (my favorite!)

What I slowly realized as the fairy tale went on was that this was a reimagining of Snow White--a detail the back cover material didn't allude to, but every other review I found online did. I *adore* fairy tales, and get a kick out of the more recent 'fractured' versions. It was so neat how the author worked in these little subtle details here and there that made me think "Oh! That's *totally* Snow White!"

This audio book enthralled me until the end. It was the perfect length for me (8 CDs, so about two weeks of commuting), and it transported me into this Ayorthian world so thoroughly that my trips back and forth to Jeff City flew by.

Hardcover version is 336 pages.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"To Tempt a Saint" by Kate Moore

The first in a Regency trilogy about illegitimate brothers, this book's main characters are the eldest, Sir Alexander Jones, and Cleo Spencer, who's been living in poverty on a farm since her father's death.  Their hasty marriage as virtual strangers gives them access to her inheritence, or so they think.  Each has their own reasons to need her money, but her evil uncle tries to thwart their plans.  This was a quick and pleasant read with an appealing hero, courageous heroine, and interesting secondary characters.  I'm looking forward to the next in the series about the middle brother.  283 pages.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Christmas in Cedar Cove

Guess the snowfall and cold temperatures still have me in a Christmas mood! In Christmas in Cedar Cove by Debbie Macomber we are presented with two Cedar Cove love stories to enjoy. The first, 5-B Poppy Lane, tells the story of Helen Shelton and her adventurous life during the Second World War where she met her first and second husbands. In A Cedar Cove Christmas, we hear how Mack and Mary Jo met one Christmas Eve in a story that has several allusions to the original Christmas story, the birth of Jesus. (304 p.)

I think the most interesting tidbit is about the author: Debbie Macomber has dyslexia and didn't learn to read until 5th grade--and now she is a bestselling author of heartwarming stories involving family life, friendships and small towns.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Talking to Girls About Duran Duran" by Rob Sheffield

I read this book for one reason - because Duran Duran has been my favorite band since 1983.  I'd first heard of this book when it was featured in Barnes & Noble's book blog last year.  The title alone had me asking for it for Christmas, and, surprisingly, I received it from my sister.  I guess I shouldn't be too shocked, though, since she saw Duran Duran in concert along with me twice in the 1980s.

The entire book is not about DD but the author's love of 1980s music and how it has played such an important part in his life.  He's three years older than I so I'd heard of most of the music that he mentions.  My entire teen years were spent in the '80s, and it was fun to remember forgotten bands, videos, and song lyrics that Sheffield mentions throughout the book.

To me, the best parts are the introduction and the final chapter because they are both all about DD.  Sheffield considers himself a true fan and marvels that DD is still producing music when most of their contemporaries bit the dust long ago.  (In fact, their latest album was just released last month.)  In the final chapter he writes, "Duran Duran are a girls' band who have stayed famous by being true to their girls."  As one of their girls, I agree!  269 pages.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

Marge recommended this Neil Gaiman title, at this fall's workshop on reading materials especially for boys. It's a quite quirky coming of age/fantasy story, in that the main character, (a boy of course) is raised by some friendly ghosts in the town graveyard after his family is murdered. Gaiman is a talented writer, and the text is enhanced throughout with black and white drawings. Plenty of ghouls and goblins to enliven the usual lessons of growing up; of course the family's murderer is thwarted in the end. 307 pages.

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

They have made this book into a movie so I thought I would read the book before I saw the movie. The book is about an Indian man who goes on a game show and wins the biggest pot they have ever given away. But he is arrested because they believe he cheated. In the book he goes through each question and explains how he knew the answer. It was a very good book and the ending is awesome! Now I can't wait to see the movie. 336 pgs.

Everywhere Babies

Landon loves this book and we!

It is about babies and the things they do.

32 pages

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I, Alex Cross

Alex Cross is celebrating his birthday with close friends and family when he gets a shocking phone call. The remains of his niece have been found in the trunk of a car. The party comes to a crashing halt as Cross drops everything to investigate. The clues lead to a gruesome serial killer, and the inner circle of Washington, D.C. This is the 16th book in the Alex Cross series by James Patterson. 360 pages.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black Hills by Nora Roberts

This is another amazing book by Nora Roberts. I personally love her books. This one is about Lil and Cooper childhood sweethearts reunited after about 20 years. A lot of stange things begin to happen on Lil's wildlife refuge. Cooper who is an ex-NYC cop comes to protect Lil. This book has a lot of amazing twists and turns. And it is just excellent. 472 pgs.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Dinner to Die For by Claudia Bishop

The Inn at Hemlock Falls is getting ready for the long-awaited wedding of Meg and Andy, but things don't go according to plan when the bride gets cold feet. Couple the bride's jitters with turmoil in the Hemlock Falls business community and a death--or two--along the way, and you come up with the 13th installment of the Hemlock Falls Mysteries series by Claudia Bishop. If you haven't met the slightly off-beat inhabitants of Hemlock Falls, I recommend starting with book 1, A Taste for Murder. This cozy mystery series has a culinary bent to it and comes complete with a couple of recipes to try out. A Dinner to Die For is a light repast with only 226 pages.

"Moonlight Warrior" by Janet Chapman

This book is different from anything I'd read because it is full of time-traveling Highlanders.  It has some very funny dialog and appealing lead characters, but I didn't like it as much as most of the other paranormal romances that I've read.  I chose this book because its follow-up had a good review in "Library Journal."  355 pages.

Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

This is the 4th in the 'Saxon Tales' series, which follows the struggle of King Alfred to drive the Danes out of England and establish a unified kingdom, in the late 9th century. The story is told by Uhtred, a Danish warrior and lord, who nonetheless has sworn to serve Alfred. Lots of action and swordplay, but I find the cultural conflicts between the Saxon Christians and Danish pagans most interesting. Well researched; the author gives some explanation in the endnotes of where he has followed history, and where he's added embellishments.
311 pages

Friday, January 7, 2011


I bought this book by Jude Morgan at the Everything's a Dollar store. I was attracted to the title, obviously, and the book jacket offered a very artistic rendering of a nude that I thought I might have seen in a museum somewhere. Having paid only a dollar for it, I had some serious reservations about this book, just published in 2006 and having landed at such a lowly place in so short a period of time.

The book turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It is a fictionalized account of the lives of French composer Hector Berlioz and his wife and muse, a renowned Irish actress of his day, Harriet Smithson. Smithson was the daughter of an actress and a not-too-successful Dublin theatre manager, who made her own debut in Dublin at a very young age and performed in England to little acclaim. She became famous for her portrayals of Shakesperean roles in France, where Berlioz first saw her perform, and was more than a little smitten with La Belle Irlandaise, as Smithson was known in France . The two eventually married and like many artistic couples, were frequently at odds about their careers-even in the early 19th century. The union started off happily enough, especially for Berlioz, who had pursued Smithson for years before she consented to marry him, and the marriage produced one child. However, Berlioz's musical success and his frequent travels to conduct his music drove his wife to jealousy and drink and they ended up estranged from each other after only ten years. This is an interesting but sad story about the lives of two great talents whose union allowed one's gift to flourish, while the other withered away. 374 p. I have it in my cube if anyone wants to read it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood

I am generally more of a cozy mystery reader, but I got an e-reader for "birthmas" and couldn't resist checking out an e-book. Since e-readers were without a doubt one of the more popular Christmas gifts this year, I didn't have a lot of selections instantly available through MRRL's Overdrive service. So, I strayed from my favorite genre to sample an action adventure / espionage thriller.

Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood did not disappoint. I was left on the edge of my seat as Jack Ryan, Jr. and his colleagues at the Campus raced to track down the Emir, an international terrorist determined to bring America to its knees. Did Jack and his partners succeed? Who survives? Who doesn't? You will have to check the book out yourself to get answers to those questions! 848 p.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Flappers: Vixen

I'm guilty of picking a book by its cover on this one. It is part of a series by Jillian Larkin about 3 distinct "girls" in the roaring 20's. Full of twists and turns, love and the mob. 421 pages

The Second Assistant: A Tale from the Bottom of the Hollywood Ladder by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare

This is a wonderful book. It follows the life of a girl who went from politics in Washington D.C. to an assistant to a Hollywood Agent Agency. It was very good and I would encourage everyone else to read it. 336 pages.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Simply Irresistible" by Jill Shalvis

This is the first in the "Lucky Harbor" trilogy about three estranged and very different sisters who inherit their mother's ramshackle inn in the coastal town of Lucky Harbor, WA.  It is well-written with great dialog between the sisters as well as the locals who become important parts of their lives.  This contemporary romance focuses on Maddie, the middle sister, and Jax, the contractor they hire to renovate the inn.  He also happens to be the town's mayor and a former cut-throat lawyer with a big secret.  I chose this book after reading a good review of it in "Library Journal" and am looking forward to the next in the trilogy.  320 pages.