Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Unnatural Selections: A Far Side Collection" by Gary Larson

My last book of 2011 is another compilation of "Far Side" cartoons.  Some classics, some not so funny, some very dated - they were considered cutting edge at the time.   This one features several color panels of "The Evolution of Life on Earth" in the center of the book.  According to the author, "The Age of Reptiles" is considered the best age!  107 pages.

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

I had had this book on reserve for quite a while - in fact I had almost forgotten about it - so it was a pleasant surprise when it showed up as available on Christmas Eve day. This book introduces us to a cast of characters living at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh and the people they interact with on a daily basis. All of the characters have their own foibles, some intriguing, some charming and some obnoxious. I found myself quickly drawn into the various relationships and can't help but wonder what the sequels will bring. Originally published as a serial in The Scotsman newspaper, the chapters are short, humorous, full of insight and frequently leave you wanting more. 352 pages.

The Night Before Christmas and Other Popular Stories for Children

This book, compiled in 1903, was filled with Christmas stories that were new to me. I especially liked "The Night After Christmas" when a visit from a doctor becomes necessary because the children ate too much Christmas candy! 21 pages.

Foreign body / Robin Cook

This book reminded me why I gave up on Robin Cook years ago. I guess I like my mysteries to have some semblance of realism and character development. Oh well, note to self. 436 p.

The Silent Girl / Tess Gerritsen

Gripping mystery, with enough plot turns to keep readers engaged and yet feeling like they are at times one step ahead of Detective Rizzoli. They're not! Well written, appropriately paced, satisfying ending. I recommend it (and Gerritsen)! 318 p.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

(Posted for Ann Roberts)
I reluctantly enjoyed this book, as I found it to be probably more suitable for young adults, and it is evident that I am an incredibly mature woman of a certain age. (Ha!) I was intrigued by the story line when I read a review, and the book does live up to its atmospherically mysterious claim to fame, but I still think it should have a “YA” designation.  The story is a mixture of Harry Potter and Water for Elephants, filled with real magicians parading as simple “illusionists” in the Cirque des RĂªves, or circus of dreams, which appears and disappears in locations around Europe in the 19th century, and is only open at night.   The story revolves around two magicians apprentices, trained from childhood and locked into a battle that neither of them understand, and completely against their will, for they are falling in love with each other.  Filled with an array of interesting characters, intricate detail of the magic involved in the operation of the circus, the exhibits to be found there, and not one, but two love stories, this book would appeal to the inner teenage girl in all of us.
387 pages

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen

(Posted for Ann Roberts)
This book is what we like to call page turner.  It begins with the pathetic scene of a group of teenage Russian girls, brought to American under the pretense of finding good jobs, and learning to their horror the real reason for their being here. The story turns next to a beautiful, young Jane Doe lying in the Boston morgue coming back to life and goes from there, intertwining the two stories into one big action packed thriller. Maura Isles, the tough Boston medical examiner who discovers the living “corpse”, and her friend and colleague, pregnant Boston cop, Jane Rizzoli, are drawn into a seedy underworld of sex slavery and high powered government officials, as they attempt to solve a mystery filled with twists and turns. You’ll read it in a couple of days, maximum!
Paperback, 401 pages

Hell’s Kitchen Homicide by Charles Kipps

(Posted for Ann Roberts)
Charles Kipps is a television writer and producer for crime drama including Law and Order and Columbo, who began his career as a journalist. In Hell’s Kitchen Homicide he draws upon his cop drama skills to produce a lovable cop character, Conor Bard, who finds himself falling for a charming Albanian woman while being pursued by the widow of the homicide victim in question. Although I didn’t find this book particularly compelling, there is a genuine surprise ending, (for me anyway) which is always nice.
Paperback, 307 pages

The King's Speech

By: Mark Logue and Peter Conradi

If you watched the 2010 Academy Award Winner for Best Picture of the year The King's Speech and liked it you should read this book, it's 100 times better with 100 times more information.

It's a story of a royal and a commoner.  A patient and his speech therapist.  But, most important an odd couple of friends.

Lionel Louge was an Australian born man with a knack for speaking in public.  When he was in his teens he was already cast in plays and giving speeches much to the delight of the Aussie crowds.  When it came time for him to decide what he wanted to do with his life he decided that he wanted to help people speak  who had problems speaking.  He was very good at his job.   He and his wife moved to London so he could expand his business in England.

Prince Albert, Duke of York was the second child of  George V, King of the United Kingdom, British Dominions, and Emperor of India.  The second child of a king can live a life of relative obscurity, while they are in fact usually second in the line of succession the limelight is not thrust upon them as it is with the heir to the throne.  Prince Albert grew up not knowing his parents very well and in the care of an abusive nanny.  He and siblings were the subject of spankings for no reason from the nanny.  Once he was about eight it became clear that something was wrong with his voice, he would stutter or stammer especially when he got nervous.  His father became King in 1910 with the death of Albert's grandfather King Edward VII.  From then on his life changed he was expected to do more than just simply be the second son of the heir to the throne.  He and his older brother Edward both enlisted in the Royal Navy as we expected they do.  Both hated their time and were often the butt of jokes because of who their father was.

After the military Albert married Elizabeth Boyls-Lyon and the were created by the King the Duke and Duchess of York.  Since the Duke  was now second in line to throne he was expected to carry on more duties of a royal.  That would be fine for someone who didn't have  a problem speaking, but his stammer it made talking in public a painful experience. 

In the 1920's the Duke heard (it's not clear from whom) about Lougue and his speech therapy.   The Duke had tried most of the hokum of the time and none of it worked.  He thought Lougue's  training would be much of the same.  He went to the appointment and started almost instantly seeing results.  He became more confident in his speaking and started to actually enjoy his royal duties more.

In 1936 George V died, which was hastened by his Doctors by overdosing him on pain medicine in order to allow the news to be broken in the early morning instead of in the evening papers.  His son, Edward VIII became king.  Edward VIII did not enjoy his royal duties nearly as much as his younger brother.  He felt bothered by them. 

Edward VIII was in love with an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson who was married at the time of Edward's Accession, but in the process of getting a second divorce.  This relationship was looked down upon because of the King's role as head of the Church of England and their ban on marrying more than once.  The government told the King that if he married her they would resign and a constitutional crisis would ensue.  To avoid that Edward VIII abdicated not even a year after he ascended.  His brother, Albert, Duke of York became king under the name George VI in order to honor his father .

His coronation date was set to be the same date as his brothers was to be.  Which meant there wasn't as much time to prepare.  A coronation has a very strict procedure for how it is to happen and the King's responses must be exacting.  George VI enlisted the help of his friend Lougue to help with the coronation.  For his help before and after his accession the king made Lougue a member of the Victorian Order which is the only order in the empire that is for personal service to the King.  The coronation, as well as the speech afterwards went off without a hitch.

The cloud of World War II was starting to come upon Europe and the King had to give  speeches  to the empire a lot.  Most of the time Lougue would be summoned to whatever palace the king was to speak at and walk thru the speech with him as well as make edits to the speech to avoid words the king might stumble upon.  The wartime speeches proved as a great morale boost for the entire Allied war effort. 

After the war the King and Lougue kept in contact thru letters.  When the King had to attend the state opening of Parliament he would enlist the help of Lougue .  George VI died in 1952, before his time I would say.  He smoked heavily and the stress of the war was too much for his body.  Lougue died in 1953 at age 73.

The friendship these two men had was the biggest thing I took from the book.  The letters quoted between them showed a real friendship.  Lougue of course treated the king with the upmost respect but they were friends.  One of the stories of a radio broadcast that struck me as after the speech was done Lougue went out of his way to pat the King on the back. That is something you don't do. You don't touch the king  but both men were so close it didn’t seem to matter.

This book was great I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested at all in British history.

256 Pages

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother" by Janny Scott

Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro will forever be known as the mother of the first African-American president of the United States.  She died young, just short of her 53rd birthday, and did not see this historic event.  However, she was a strong, independent woman who instilled a love of other cultures, community, and education in her children.

Like all of us, she was a person full of contradictions.  Her father did not provide a stable childhood for her due to his unwillingness or inability to stay long at one job.  Yet she seemed to inherit his wanderlust, spending large chunks of her life working in and researching Asian countries, particularly Indonesia, away from her own son.  She and her mother were frequently at odds, yet she entrusted her parents to raise her pre-teen son in Hawaii while she stayed in Indonesia with her daughter.  (Her mother had an impressive banking career and provided financial stability to the Dunham family.)  She was a meticulous researcher, turning in a dissertation for her PhD of over 1,000 pages, yet she was disorganized and even uninterested in other important areas of her life.

Ann made bad choices in the men she married.  Her first husband was already married with two children when they became involved but did not bother to tell Ann.  Only much later, after he had abandoned her and their son, did she discover the truth.  Her second husband eventually cheated on her and fell out of their daughter's life at the insistence of his second wife.  The book indicates that she was in love with both of them but seemed to know when to cut her losses when the marriages fell apart.

The author does a great job explaining Ann's Kansas background and what it was like being an only child whose father moved the family often.  Many of her aunts, uncles, and high school friends were interviewed to give the reader a better picture of the emerging woman she would become.  In the longest part of the book, the author describes in detail Ann's full and busy time in Indonesia, her work to help women improve their lives, and her research on metal crafts and its culture.  President Obama and his sister, Maya, were both interviewed for the book, and it's interesting to read their opinions of their mother and how she influenced them.  Like most mothers, she wanted the best for her kids even if it meant sending them away for a better education.  Maya eventually earned a PhD in education, and we all know what happened to Ann's son.  This was an interesting and well researched biography of a woman who accomplished much on her own terms and helped many women in third world countries attain better lives.  Highly recommended.  357 pages.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins

I probably annoyed my husband no end by constantly interrupting what he was doing with another fascinating tidbit I learned in this book about a favorite Christmas carol. From King Wenceslas being based on a real person who was killed by his brother to the Appalachian roots of I Wonder As I Wander to the many songs about Christmas peace that gained popularity during the Civil War, this book is filled with biographical information about the lyricist and composer of a song, as well as the conditions that led to why a carol was written. This was a good book to read at Christmas. 192 pages.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Cheapskate Next Door by Jeff Yeager

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

Humorous and serious advice on how to live on less than you earn.  

Audio book:  7 hrs. 33 min.
Print:  256 pages

American Idol: The Untold Story by Richard Rushfield

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and others tell ten years of drama on a show called American Idol.

Audio book:  12 hours 29 minutes
Print:  288 pages

"Bullet Bob" Comes to Louisville by Bob Morris

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

He tells a lot about his experience in the Kansas City minor leagues before promotion to the Royals major league team and being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.  196 pages.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Christmas Garden Affair by Ann Ripley

A White House invitation at Christmas results in a roomful of native plants and plant and garden experts. Sounds kind of bland, some might even say boring. Enter flashy and power-driven Bunny Bainfield and the room becomes charged with animosity. Bunny clutches her throat as she writhes in agony in front of the crowd. Clearly death will swiftly follow. Who could have hated Bunny enough to kill her? It was a better book than I expected. I might even check into another title in the series. 304 pages.

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Stories by Charles Dickens

While I see at least one version of A Christmas Carol movie every year, I probably last read the book in its entirety over 20 years ago. This is one of my Christmas favorites. I can still hear my dad reading us the story with his gravelly voice. (Until we were able to read it on our own!) It is a powerful social statement as well as a heartwarming holiday classic. Included in this edition are a brief biography on Charles Dickens as well as some of his lesser known Christmas stories. This read was well worth the return visit. 114 digital pages.

Monday, December 19, 2011

How We Decide by Johan Lehrer

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

A book on the mind, the way we think, and what helps in the decisions with lots of true life examples:  cash or credit, deal or no deal, some of life's questions. 259 pages.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sick of Shadows by Sharyn McCrumb

I had planned to have a month of Christmas reads, but then this book showed up as available on my digital request list. Sick of Shadows introduces us to the delightful character of Elizabeth MacPherson. Elizabeth is drafted into doing bridesmaids duty for her cousin - only to find the bride-to-be dead just days before the wedding! Was it a suicide or was she murdered? In either case, some family secrets will be revealed before the cause of death is determined. McCrumb has a witty way with words as she spins her tale. I enjoyed this first book in the series and plan to read the rest. 240 pages.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Titanic Thompson by Kevin Cook

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

He was a man who left home at age 16 with fifty cents in his pocket, bet and made and lost millions. He was a con man, who knew how to. 288 pages.

An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science, by Edward J. Larson

Kirkus reviews called this a "satisfying tale of adventure and exploration", and I don't think I can sum it up better. It offers a nice blend of science and adventure, providing great context by explaining the scientific theories of the time and the rationale for embarking on such risky ventures. The author includes descriptions of the scientific observations and methods for surviving the the harsh polar climate to make the plight of the explorers more vivid.
audio: 10.5 hours
print: 326 pages

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress" by Elizabeth Boyle

Captain Thomas Dashwell is an American privateer, and Lady Phillipa "Pippin" Knolles is an innocent British miss when they meet in Smuggler's Cove in 1810.  They are smitten with each other but don't meet again until 1814 when Dash is stranded in London during a severe winter and Pippin has come to town with her cousins to find a husband.  They are only together a few brief times and then are separated another 23 years.  This novel weaves back and forth between 1814 and 1837, when they are both in their 40s.  Pippen is now a widow with two grown children, and Dash is still captain of a ship but is a shell of the man he once was.  His son tracks down Pippen with the hope that she can save Dash from drinking himself to death.  But will she risk not only her reputation but her children's to help the man she once loved more than anything?

Criss-crossing between the past and present doesn't always work well in narratives, but the author does a fine job using it to tell Pippen and Dash's story.  In fact, it kept me so intrigued that I read this novel in two days!  The HEA is never really in question in historical romances, but getting the full story of a couple's past and how it affects them now that they are older and getting to know each other again is fascinating.  Highly recommended.  350 pages.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Snowy Night with a Stranger" by Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries, and Julia London

This anthology of short historical romances takes place at Christmas.  "A Holiday Gamble" by Jane Feather finds Ned Vasey, the new Viscount Allenton, stranded at a neighbor's estate after being caught in a blizzard on his way to his familial manor.  His host's ward and niece, Lady Georgiana Carey, beguiles him at once, but she is engaged to a large, insensitive brute who is really only interested in the land she's set to inherit.  She and Ned fall in love but can they escape her fiance and uncle and find happiness?  This story plodded along and was full of unnecessary details and not enough action.  I've read a book by this author and enjoyed it, so I was surprised to be unhappy with this one.

"When Sparks Fly" by Sabrina Jeffries was much more interesting and had faster pacing.  Ellie Bancroft, her aunt, niece, and nephews are stranded at the home of Martin Thorncliff after a carriage accident on an icy road.  Known as the Black Baron, Martin is tormented by the death of his older brother in an explosion, and society believes that he was responsible.  He does, too, and is now obsessed with developing a slow burning fuse for use in his coal mines.  Ellie and her relatives have intruded on his lonely life, but will that make him see what he's been missing since his brother's death?  I really enjoyed this story and its unusual characters.

"Snowy Night with a Highlander" by Julia London was also a well written and interesting story.  Duncan Buchanan, the Laird of Blackwood, was disfigured and disabled in a devastating fire three years ago.  Before that, he was a self-centered man who cared little for the feelings of others.  Lady Fiona Haines is journeying back to her homeland of Scotland in search of her rakehell brother.  She had a crush on Duncan eight years ago when she came out in society, but his insults to her at the time caused her to move to London with her brother.  Now she is back and needs help finding him, but she doesn't recognize Duncan as the scarred, stoic man helping her get to her family estate.  Duncan soon begins to fall for her, and she him, but can she forgive him for his past behavior once she realizes who he is?

Overall, I'd recommend this book for two of the three stories.  404 pages.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lionheart, by Sharon Kay Penman

A grand historical fiction about Richard the Lionheart's failed 3rd crusade to liberate Jerusalem in 1191. Penman excels at period detail, but she also provides fleshed out characters and plenty of action. There's lots of court intrigue, interspersed with battles, romance, banquets, and sex. The story follows multiple characters, including Richard, his sister, his new bride, and several of the major knights in his entourage. Richard was unique in that he approached the Saracens and their leaders with respect, and was willing to listen and learn from them. I learned quite a lot about the crusades and the political intrigue and jockeying for power that continued throughout the expeditions. Penman provides several pages of historical notes at the end, describing how she used chronicles from the period to provide authenticity to the work, also noting where she has embellished. The story ends with Richard's departure from the Holy Land. Penman is at work on the sequel, to cover the rest of his life's adventures. 589 pages.

Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans, by Brian Fagan

This book offered many interesting details not only of Cro-Magnons, but of Neanderthals as well. The differences in the mode of dress (Cro-Magnons wore what looks much more like clothes, whereas Neanderthals wore heaps of furs), artistic tradition (cave paintings in France), and technology (the invention of the needle really was incredibly important), all make for an interesting read. One drawback for me was that the author took some artistic license in describing some aspects of Cro-Magnon life that do not yet have a solid scientific base. But you do get to hear about the Cro-Magnon version of the Louvre and all about their diet: marrow, dried fat, and rendered fat to drink!
audio: 10 hours
print: 320 pages

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gifts of Love

This book actually contains two historical romances set at Christmastime. The first, Holiday Spirit by Kay Hooper, is a boy-gets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back scenario with three Christmas ghosts helping the cause. The second, Surrender by Lisa Kleypas, involves an arranged marriage that gets off to a bad start. Can the Irish businessman win the love of his aristocrat-born wife? Only time will tell! These were quick, light reads. 326 pages.