Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Wicked Intentions" by Elizabeth Hoyt

I've enjoyed Hoyt's Princes series and her Legend of the Four Soldiers series (although I still haven't read the final one), so I figured that I would like the first book in her new Maiden Lane series.  Once again, Hoyt creates two well-developed main characters who strike a bargain to help each other in the poverty-stricken St. Giles area of London.  Lord Caire is searching for the killer of his mistress, and Temperance Dews is trying to find a benefactor for the orphanage run by her and her brother.  Although labeled a historical romance, I would also call it a mystery and a good one, too.  Hoyt delivers another emotionally satisfying story while introducing characters and background for the next book in the series, "Notorious Pleasures."  392 pages.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

I decided to read this book first, because it was available on Project Gutenberg and I wanted to try downloading a book from there; and second because someone recommended I give Hercule Poirot another chance. (I had last read a book involving Poirot about 20 years ago and found the character tiring.) The Mysterious Affair at Styles featuring Poirot and Arthur Hastings had some false leads with plenty of suspects, but in the long run I didn't really care who killed Emily Inglethorp. I won't go so far as to agree with Agatha Christie's assessment of Poirot as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep", but he also won't make my "Top Ten List of Favorite Fictional Detectives--Professional or Amateur". From the Christie realm, I will stick with Miss Marple. 212 p.

The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

This remarkable book, subtitled: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases is hard to describe.

It’s non-fiction written by a journalist. Maybe the forward summarizes this book best. The author, Michael Capuzzo, quotes both E.O. Wilson’s Voice of the Species and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table:

In the beginning when all is lost, mankind needs the right three men...the chieftain, the warrior, and the shaman...the king, the knight, and the wizard.

The reader gets to know three men, virtues and vices, the retired FBI agent, Bill Fleisher, the forensics artist, Frank Bender, and the criminal profiler, Richard Walter. The crime solvers are members of the real-life Vidocq Society, partners in solving often brutal murders, and their exploits read like crime fiction.

The author is the story-teller here and his prose is sometimes lyrical and sometimes practical. I actually stopped often while reading to reflect that the stories told were actual crimes these men solved. If the style was strictly practical I don’t think I could have finished reading the brutal facts of the crimes and the terrifying analyses of serial killers. Definitely not reading for the faint of heart; remember it is non-fiction. I thought it was a fascinating story. 448 pages.

Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich and The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

I doubled-up again this month with two books by one author, Louise Erdrich. I found Plague of Doves (2008, 313 p.) on a B&N discount table. After finishing it, I reread The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003, 389 p.), a novel I fell in love with on a plane trip several years ago.

Louise Erdrich’s books are narrated by amazing characters that mirror her ancestry, German and French/Ojibwa, and small town North Dakota near tribal reservations where she grew up.

In Erdrich’s books, the narrative chapters move back-and-forth between the present day and the past, fiction and legend, lyrically weaving the interconnection of the multiple narratives. As one character says: It’s all blood here.

In Plague of Doves, Evalina (and the reader) comes lately to the revelation that her beloved Mooshum’s (Grandfather) tales are really the sad oral history of miscommunication between Native Americans and immigrant settlers of the upper Midwest.

The Master Butchers Singing Club contains the most vivid description of caring for a dying person that I have ever read. A second reading did not diminish the power of the description of Delphine and Eva’s nonverbal bond.

Port Mortuary, by Patricia Cornwell

The author prefaces this Kay Scarpetta mystery by stating that although the story is a work of fiction, all the technologies and government agencies mentioned therein currently exist. That statement didn't worry me until the destruction caused by these new technologies was described. Destruction, but on a very small scale - Scarpetta is up against nanobots and the unscrupulous people who wield them. Scarpetta has been on assignment away from the new forensics lab she helped to create for far too long, and is out of touch with how the lab has been run and the damage her deputy has done to the lab and its reputation. Haunted by past deeds she is not proud of, she suffers self-doubt as she tries to repair the damage and deal with a contentious new case. Her situation grows increasing problematic, as it turns out that several recent cases all link back to the very deputy who compromised the lab and her standing. But not to worry, though there was an attempt on Scarpetta's life, the book ends with Scarpetta planning a large pasta lunch, and a rescued greyhound snuggled beside her.
audio: 12.5 hours
print: 512 pages

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

An entertaining 329 page memoir of one of our nation's Pulitzer Prize winning journalists. In this book Bragg tries to cover his life with a "no-hold's barred" attitude from birth to the mid-1990s. He looks back at the good, the bad and the ugly of living hard and hard living in the poor white South and abroad-with the "poor white Southerner" chip on his shoulder.

Team of Rivals

By Doris Kerns Goodwin

Imagine, it's late 1860/early 1861 and Abraham Lincoln has to pick a cabinet to help him run the crumbling union. Who does he pick? Friends and allies who might further fracture an already weak union? Or does he pick rivals who might not have the same political sensibilities and the President Elect but still want to see the union thrive?

Lincoln picks the latter much to the chagrin of political allies. The book Team of Rivals walks the reader thru Lincoln's decisions and shows how this team helped piece back together the union.

For anyone who's interested in Lincoln the man this book is a must read it delves deep into what made him tick.

944 Pages

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Daring the Moon" by Sherrill Quinn

Taite Gibson is being stalked by both a human and a werewolf.  She and her close friend Declan O'Connell travel to England to find his buddy from university, an expert on werewolves, to ask for advice.  But Ryder Merrick doesn't want to meet with them, let alone give them advice, for his own mysterious reasons.  What could have been an intriguing story is bogged down by tepid writing, poor pacing, and uneven character development.  This was a disappointing read.  245 pages.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg

Using his self-deprecating humor and excellent storytelling abilities, John Ortberg reminds us that it isn't the "stuff" we gather that matters, it is what we do with our lives that counts. I especially appreciated his chapter on contentment called "More Will Never Be Enough." In it he tells the story of a spiritual seeker who interrupted his busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. "I hope your stay is a blessed one," said the monk who showed the man to his simple cell. "If you need anything, let us know, and we'll teach you how to live without it."

Personally, I prefer Ortberg's books God Is Closer Than You Think and If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. But When the Game Is Over It All Goes Back in the Box has a good message, too, and is well worth to reading. 256 p.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spider Bones / Kathy Reichs

Reichs' background and experience are evident in this new installment of her forsensic mystery series about protagonist Temperance Brennan. The mystery is intricate, yet the resolution is plausible, and only once or twice does the narrative bog down in expository prose (I skimmed those parts!). The setting is mostly Hawaii, which was refreshing to read about this time of year. Having been there, I enjoyed being able to picture the setting. Nicely paced, with decent character development, better than the TV show now based on this series. 302. p.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Johnny One-Eye, by Jerome Charyn

A quite unusual tale of the American Revolution, as told by Johnny One-eye, bastard son of a famous New York City Madame and possibly Gen. Washington himself. At times comic, at times romantic, Johnny serves as inept double agent and observer of the British occupation of Manhattan during the war. The historical detail is quite colorful, as are the larger than life characters of this story. 475 p.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Wicked All Day" by Liz Carlyle

Robin and his distant cousin Zoe have been best friends since childhood, but when they are caught in an unusual but compromising position they must become betrothed to save her reputation.  However, Robin's older brother Stuart never realized his feelings for Zoe until the engagement, and Robin is in love with someone else.  This is the third book that I've read by this author and my least favorite.  The pacing was quite slow and didn't really pick up until the final 100 pages or so.  It could have been about 50 pages shorter with tighter editing, but what do I know?  It's a typical historical romance with few surprises.  And I really hated the title since it had absolutely nothing to do with the story.  421 pages.

Star Wars: Force Unleashed II, by Sean Williams

In Force Unleashed II, an apprentice of Darth Vader (Starkiller), struggles with his identity (is he a clone, or the real Starkiller?) and his allegiance to both Vader and the Dark Side as he completes his training and sets out do destroy. Juno still has feelings for Starkiller, and is surprised to see him walk back into her life after witnessing what she believed to be his demise.
Many sci-fi books are adding a dash of romance, the author of this book did it with more finesse than Star Wars: ... Vortex.
audio: 10.5 hours
print: 336 pages

You better not cry, by Augusten Burroughs

Curious cover, great things said about the author. I wanted to like this. I tried, but mostly failed. What am I missing, folks?
The author narrates in the audiobook, which was part of the problem. His delivery got on my nerves in the first 5 minutes. Augusten's pacing and emphasis just don't get along with me. The remainder of the book went by painfully - so much so, that i cheated and listened to it at 1.5x speed. I guess this is part of his series of memoirs, where he recounts some scary, some humorous, and some rather serious tales about alcoholism and going sober, promiscuity and comfortable married life, loving and letting go. The stories presented here revolve around the common theme of Christmas.
audio: 6 hrs
print: 224 pages

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Red Blues: Voices from the Last Wave of Russian Immigrants

The authors of this book, Dennis Shasha and Marina Shron, set out to chronicle the personal struggles of Russian Immigrants who came to the U.S. from the late 1970's to the present.  They chose Russians from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and from many different walks of life.  These stories are first person accounts of life in Russia, what it was like to live under a totalitarian regime and what sort of changes came to their everyday lives under the policy changes of perestroika.

Most of these people were (and frequently still are) professionals in some field.  Doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, and artists all share their struggles to first leave Russia and then to survive in a new country, the country long considered that of the enemy.

All of these immigrants ultimately have very different impressions of their adopted country.  Some long for the companionship they feel they can only find among other Russians.  Some feel a great sense of security and stability when compared to the relative lawlessness of post Cold War Russia.  Still others find the intense work ethic and materialism of Americans distasteful and long for what they considered simpler times in the Soviet Union.  Many were allowed to emigrate because they were Jews, facing tremendous anti-Semitism at home in Russia.  Finally, one would have to say that all of these people are survivors.  They left their homeland under difficult circumstances and have carved out a living for themselves in an unfamiliar world.
258 p.

Kalaupapa and the Legacy of Father Damien

While in Honolulu for a conference, Scott and I decided to take a little extra time and see some of the sights.One of the most interesting and breathtaking was our stop at Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka'i. Here we learned a little bit about the history of leprosy in Hawaii. Leprosy, along with epidemics including smallpox, cholera, influenza and whooping cough, brought a population change in Hawaii from about 300,000 in 1778 to only 31,000 in 1896. People with leprosy were taken from their homes to Moloka'i in hopes that the spread of the disease could be contained. This book, written by Anwei V. Skinsnes and Richard A. Wisniewski, provides a short history of the disease, its effect on the people, and the hope brought to the Kalaupapa and Kalawao settlements by Father Damien, Mother Marianne Cope, the Sisters of St. Francis, and Brother Joseph Dutton. 72 p.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Smart Women Don't Retire - They Break Free, by Gail Rentsch

The Transition Network (TTN) is a national community of women over 50, which provides a forum for exploring what's next in women's lives. This book is a synopsis of what has emerged from this community, which began in 2000 in New York. TTN now has active groups in several major metro areas, and an online community. Each chapter explores a different aspect of post-career life, but definitely focuses on women who are transitioning from full time, good paying jobs to retirement. Each chapter is a mixture of anecdotes showing various paths taken by individuals, and checklists to help you with your own thinking. Some of the anecdotes are a bit tedious, but most are short and serve as good illustrations of people searching out and finding satisfying post-career lives. My spouse has retired from state employment, but does part-time work; so we've been talking about future plans. I picked this up because of its focus on the social and lifestyle aspects, rather than just the financial considerations of retirement. I think it covers a good range of the issues, and provides generally helpful, if not terribly detailed, advice. 240 p.

In the Mayor's Parlour by J.S. Fletcher

As I have long enjoyed the British mystery genre, I find my Kindle a marvelous tool for freely procuring many books from the Golden Age of detective fiction through sources like Project Gutenberg.  In the Mayor's Parlour by J.S. Fletcher was published prior to 1923 and is thus solidly in the public domain.  Set in the imaginary ancient English village of Hathelsborough, I found it a delightful and easy read.  The main character, known only to us as 'Mr. Brent' comes to the village to meet his uncle only to find that he has just been murdered in his office.  Brent sets to trying to find his uncle's killer and ends up buying a home in the village, falling in love with the niece of the shadowy and powerful Simon Crood, and running for town council.  The plot twists and turns were many, but also quite well thought out.  The two main points of complaint were the not entirely clear motives of the person who was ultimately revealed to be the murderer and that much of the investigative action happened outside of the purview of our main character.  We instead, gain second hand knowledge of the police superintendent's long and thorough investigations during several inquests and conversations with Mr. Brent.  All in all, a satisfying read, perhaps because I loved the setting so much.
291 p.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Guy Not Taken - Stories: Jennifer Weiner

I listened to this audio book during my commute, and it was a fun, slightly fluffy collection. I didn't love that there were sometimes different narrators for different stories, since I really loved the woman's voice who read the first couple (she sounded like Ellen Degeneres, who I adore).

Jennifer Weiner caught my attention when I read Good in Bed. I was so crazy about that book that I was sure her other works would be fantastic, but this is the fourth one I've tried and I'm beginning to think she only has one good book in her. Even a short story here, written from the perspective of the heroine's boyfriend from Good in Bed, was disappointing. This may be my last Jennifer Weiner book.

Print version: 304 pages.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

While I have read all the books featuring Miss Marple and a few of the books with Hercule Poirot, I had never read any of the Tuppence and Tommy series by Agatha Christie.So, I decided to try one out. The Secret Adversary, book 1 of the series, is filled with twists and turns and quite a bit of humor as we are led on a merry romp to figure out who the mysterious Mr. Brown is and recover a government document that in the wrong hands could bring war instead of peace. It even had a little bit of romance in it, just in time for Valentine's Day. 208 p.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dust / Martha Grimes

The cast of characters in Martha Grimes "pub" mysteries are like old friends by now. Dust balances the humor and history of past entries in this loosely connected series with a good murder mystery, although the outcome was slightly less than plausible. It's as if Grimes has freed herself from the intricacies of her character developments to focus on the detective work. She's always been good (at least I think so) but this is a better than average effort. 342 p.

Chasing the Night / Iris Johansen

Picked this up for a quick read and because I recognized the author as one I've read before. Failed to recognize that she's one I don't particularly like until I was too far in to put down! This is a fast-paced thriller with a fairly predicatable outcome and little to no character development. Must.Remember.Next.Time. 362 p.

"Never Romance a Rake" by Liz Carlyle

This is the follow-up to "Never Deceive a Duke" (my previous post).  The story revolves around two emotionally tormented people who survived terrible childhoods.  Baron Rothewell "wins" Mademoiselle Marchand in a card game.  Her emotional distance and his self-destruction make it difficult for them to get along, but his serious health scare helps them to see how lucky they are to have each other.  A surprise discovery near the end marks another well-written historical romance by Carlyle.  436 pages.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom was asked by his rabbi, Albert "Reb" Lewis, to give his eulogy. Mitch agreed, but in order to do him justice, decided to meet with Reb on a regular basis to learn more about his life on a more personal level. Their discussions lead Mitch along a faith journey that also is impacted by another clergyman, Henry Covington, a reformed drug dealer struggling to keep his church in Detroit afloat . Have a Little Faith quickly draws you into the lives of all three men and offers many insightful comments about what it means to live a life of faith. 272 p.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help tells the story of three women living in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s. Ms. Skeeter is a young woman trying to find her place in the world. She is a struggling author who decides to write about the plight of the African-American domestic help living in her community. Through her we are introduced to Aibileen, a gentle woman whose patient and caring nature often brings the voice of reason into situations and Minny, a spunky woman who has trouble holding her tongue and as a result, her job as well. This book came highly recommended by a friend and does not disappoint. This is Kathryn Stockett's first book and she did a fine job. 544 p.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Never Deceive a Duke" by Liz Carlyle

This is not a typical historical romance.  Elements of post-traumatic stress, child abuse, and anti-Semitism all interweave through exceptional writing to create an intriguing love story and murder mystery.  A working class hero and a twice-widowed heroine are brought together by the death of her husband, the Duke of Warneham.  The local doctor says that his death was due to an overdose of medication, but was it an accident or murder?  This book was difficult to put down; I read it in two days.  Now I'm anxious for the follow-up, "Never Romance a Rake."  397 pages.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: F. Scott Fitzgerald

I signed up for DailyLit a few years ago, but couldn't get used to the format (you're emailed a short section of each book however often you indicate--in my case, it's daily). I'm trying it again now, but with shorter selections...attention deficit makes it hard for me to read just one page a day of a 300-page novel!

It surprised me how sad I felt reading this. I'd heard it was humorous, so I was expecting a far less melancholy story, but the description of Button's love for Hildegarde was heartbreaking, as well as his "growth" from an old man to a newborn.

11 DailyLit 'sections'; couldn't find exact page numbers anywhere online. Perhaps 25 or so?

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Vortex, by Troy Denning

Ok. First off - too many colons in the title. But now that I have that off my chest, I enjoyed this installment of the HUGE body of Star Wars books. It actually made me want to read the rest of this particular series (subseries? sub-subseries?). I'm not sure what to say about this, other than it is mostly an adventure story about a particular mission to save the Jedi, with a bit of intrigue and romance thrown in for variation. It is set in the time after the fall of the Empire - in the era of the Galactic Alliance - and Han and Leia Solo are grandparents. The Jedi have actually allied with the Sith to destroy a common enemy - Abeloth. It was quick and easy to absorb, not too challenging, and it did what I want basic sci-fi to do. It took me to a different time and place, far away from the cares and craziness of the present.
audio: 14.5 hours | print: 400 pages

Squirrel seeks chipmunk, by David Sedaris and others.

With Sedaris' name attached to this, I really wanted to like this set of short stories. And I did enjoy some of them a lot, but others... well, not so much. The stories recall various incidents in the lives of a bunch of anthropomorphized animals. We hear about a mouse with a pet snake, a cat with a monkey for a hair stylist/groomer, the marital problems of an Irish Setter, and the judgements of a holier-than-thou hen, among others. Some stories shock, others puzzle, the rest just fizzle. While not the antithesis of Disney stories, they were just off-beat enough to keep my interest.
audio: about 3 hours | print: 159 pages

Friday, February 4, 2011

Heart On My Sleeve: Ellen Wittlinger

Guilty Pleasure alert!

I adore YA Lit. I think it's come a very long way since even I was a kid (although it's been argued that Catcher in the Rye would have been a YA novel had it been released in the 21st century), but even if it hadn't come a long way, I'd still love it. *Especially* in epistolary form!

If a book is classified as epistolary fiction, I am far more likely to read it (if it isn't already within a genre I'm comfortable with). Something about feeling like I'm nosing into people's lives a little more (even though it's fiction!)...or that it feels like I'm reading a bunch of short chapters, which I always enjoy...

Although I love reading, I don't love reading books that are too difficult. Reading is an escape for me, and I don't feel like stopping to look up words or rereading paragraphs that I don't understand. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the English language, so this preference doesn't limit me too often (although you'll never see me reading Joyce). But in general, YA books are a bit more accessible than so-called 'adult fiction,' so I almost always like them, and will try unfamiliar genres in YA lit far before I'd try them otherwise.

This book was a mite fluffy, but ended up being a little deeper than I'd expected. I fully enjoyed reading it, and spent about three days catching pages here and there until I was finished.

219 pages.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Columbine" by Dave Cullen

The first thing you notice about this book is its cover.  One word in white floating in an overcast sky far above a lonely, modern-looking school.  There is no clue to give the viewer an idea of what happened inside that building nearly 12 years ago, except that one word . . . Columbine.

I remember when the massacre at Columbine High School happened back in 1999.  The mass media was all over the place; unfortunately, they got most of the story wrong.  Writer Dave Cullen was there from the beginning interviewing the survivors, their families, the school staff, the killers' friends, law enforcement, and even journalists covering the story.  All of the myths that grew out of the massacre really were just myths perpetuated by the mass media.  For example, the boys did not target jocks, they did not belong to the Trench Coat Mafia, and they did not ask one of the victims if she believed in God before they killed her.  Cullen tries hard to get the details right with a timeline before the massacre, a large notes section, and even a bibliography naming his sources.  He also has a web site with more information:  http://www.davecullen.com/columbine.htm.  In the end, two very different boys committed mass murder at their school for very different reasons. 

The book jumps back and forth between planning for the massacre, carrying it out, and the repercussions that followed.  The writing is straightforward but captivating.  It's hard to imagine the terror and sorrow that so many people experienced because of these two boys, but a few good things did come out of it.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the true story behind this tragedy.  358 pages.