Welcome to the MOSL Book Challenge

Monday, April 30, 2012

Going Bovine

By Libba Bray
496 pages
Holy cow!  (I know, I know, lame…just had to do it).  What an odd experience reading this book has been.  It’s hard to summarize the plot with just a few lines, but here goes:  A sixteen-year-old who contracts mad cow disease goes on a (perhaps delusional?) quest with a dwarf and a yard gnome (who is in fact the Norse god Balder) to save the universe and find a cure to his disease.  Oh, and there’s a punk rock messenger angel in there too.  And a magic trumpet owned by a possibly dead jazz legend.  And fire monsters and a Wizard of Reckoning.  And a trip to Disney World. 
Bray cleverly borrows the fundamentals of the plotline from Don Quixote (complete with a Chevy Rocinante playing the part of his faithful steed), but even with the fascinating plot twists, it took me about 200 pages to really get invested in the story.  I’m up for Norse gods posing as yard gnomes and quests to save the universe with pit-stops made at spring break party houses.  But I was waiting to care about the characters, which took a while for me.  It wasn’t until Balder arrived that I really started to enjoy the ride.  And enjoy I did after that, as the adventure twisted into a journey of self-discovery, realization, and wonder.  

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
290 pages
I honestly didn’t even read a plot description for this book before checking it out.  I saw that it was one of the few ebooks from MRRL that was immediately available, and decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.
Set in England directly after World War II, the book centers on a London-based writer, Juliet, looking for a subject for her latest book.  An unexpected correspondence begins between her and a few citizens on the island of Guernsey.  The Guernsey natives are neighbors, and Juliet learns that a literary society sprung up amongst them during the war.  As she learns more about the Nazi occupation of the island, she decides to visit Guernsey to research the group for her book, and, somewhat predictably, finds more there than she expected.
The author of this book passed away shortly before completing her story – her niece took over after. More than anything, I think this was the author’s love letter to books, and to the power of the written word to heal and connect people during times of hardship. 
Overall, this novel is interesting from a historical perspective without being textbook-y, and sweet and romantic without being sappy or too sentimental.   Just a lovely read.


By Suzanne Collins
400 pages
Just what I remembered.  Sad, dark, and satisfying. 

Catching Fire

By Suzanne Collins
391 pages
Just as good the second time around as well.  I think this one might be my favorite of the trilogy – the characters become a bit more rounded, there are some interesting new characters introduced,  and the story line is excellently paced and enthralling.

The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins
384 pages
Many of you know that I read the series for the first time last year.  I decided to re-read the first book before watching the movie, and ended up reading all three again!  The story just sucks you in, even the second time around.

"Charming Grace" by Deborah Smith

Deborah Smith is the author of one of my favorite books - "A Place to Call Home."  I have several of her other books and have enjoyed those, too.  This one follows the same formula as most of her other novels that I've read.  They usually take place in a small town in the northern Georgia mountains and are full of eccentric southern characters.  The heroine is a strong, beautiful, and vulnerable steel magnolia who's been that way since childhood.  The man she loves is usually the silent type with some kind of massive childhood trauma.  Their stories and subsequent travails on the way to happily ever after are the bulk of the narrative.  I know I just made her novels sound very formulaic, but they do seem to follow the same recipe.

Grace Bagshaw Vance has spent the last two years mourning her husband, who became a national hero on live TV when he killed a serial bomber before dying of gunshot wounds in the line of duty.  Now a Hollywood movie star, Stone Senterra, is intent on making his directorial and screenwriting debut with Harper Vance's story.  Unfortunately, he's a thickheaded action star, not a great writer or director.  Grace does everything she can to sabotage the movie when cast and crew arrive in her small hometown.  However, she's surprised to find herself attracted to Stone's bodyguard, Boone Noleene, a serious man with a painful past and a questionable future who understands why she won't cooperate on the film.

I liked this book but not nearly as much as the others that I've read by Smith.  Some of the literary tropes she used got on my nerves, but the book had plenty of humor and interesting characters to make up for them.  Unfortunately, there was an incident with the heroine near the end of the book that I found disgusting and in bad taste and seemed completely out of character for this author.  446 pages.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani      475 pages

This intricately woven tapestry of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny follows star-crossed lovers Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who, after their first meeting in the Italian Alps at the beginning of the 20th century, find their destinies inexplicably entwined as they build their lives in America. The saga richly exemplifies the immigrant experience in America.

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly   320 pages

Upbeat and engaging romance set in Keene's Harbor, Michigan with the storyline centered around a microbrewery and a would be saboteur.  Usual Envanovich romantic hijinks make this a quick and fun summertime read.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh   308 pages

Discovering the symbolic meanings of flowers while languishing in the foster-care system, 18-year-old Victoria is hired by a florist.Two narratives are woven together using the Victorian language of flowers that ultimately helps shape Victoria's future as she grapples with a painful decision from her past.

What I learned from this book:  yellow roses signify infidelity--probably not the best choice for my wedding bouquet, go figure.

The Coroner's Lunch / Colin Cotterill

Set in mid-1970s Laos, protagonist Dr. Siri Paiboun finds himself assigned to the position of coroner instead of retiring as he had hoped.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, the job proves to be more involved than performing routine autopsies, and he soon finds his own life in danger.  Witty, brisk and unconventional.  272 p.

Storm of swords, by GRR Martin

This third book in the Song of Fire and Ice series offers plenty of action, mystery, intrigue and political maneuvering to keep everyone on the hop. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but comely and cruel King Joffrey finally gets what he deserves. That in itself was worth 47 hours of listening. My favorite character, Tyrion, though accused of treason, is by some great fortune still alive. And The Others have come!
Though I never seem to do it justice in these posts, I really enjoy the series, and I can't wait to start the next book: A feast for crows.
audio: 47 hours
text: 1128 pages

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stages of Senior Care by Paul and Lori Hogan

No, I'm not THAT old; rather, trying to figure out how best to help my Dad, now 89, with finding some assistance following his stroke. For all of you with parents over 70, I would recommend taking a look at this title, or some similar ones. The authors review signs that indicate your parents may need some assistance, with everything from household tasks to managing their finances. They describe various adaptations that may help seniors to stay in their homes, and give a thorough description of the options available for help, from senior centers to assisted living and finally hospice care. I found their suggestions for how to start the conversation very helpful, as well as the checklists for evaluating the various services. They also include good resource lists for each area. 271 pages

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Dark Angel" and "Lord Carew's Bride" by Mary Balogh

I really enjoy Mary Balogh's writing.  It's gentle yet intriguing and feels like it was written during the times her historical romances take place.  So I was happy to find this reissue of two of her earlier books at the big MRRL book sale a few months ago, because I had not heard of either one.  They were both published in 1994 and contain many of the same characters, including the awful villain.

In "Dark Angel," cousins Jennifer and Samantha travel from their country home to London to make their debuts in society.  Jennifer is 20 and has been betrothed to Viscount Kersey, a man she hardly knows but deeply loves, for five years.  After having to put off her debut for several years in order to wait for him to be in London at the same time, she and Samantha, who is 18, finally arrive.  Unfortunately, Gabriel, the Earl of Thornhill, is out for revenge against Kersey, and has set his sights on winning Jennifer away from him to do it.  Scandal, heartbreak, hidden secrets, and redemption make this another winner from Balogh.

"Lord Carew's Bride" is Samantha's story and takes place six years after the end of "Dark Angel."  During a visit to her cousin, Jennifer, she meets Hartley Wade while trespassing on the Marquess of Carew's vast estate.  They become fast friends, but only friends, and meet several more times before she has to return to London.  Samantha has put herself "on the shelf" in order to avoid a repeat of the tremendous pain of heartbreak that she suffered years ago, but Hartley has other ideas about their future.  Like other Balogh stories, this one features a hero with physical handicaps and average looks.  How he deals with them and the villain are quite unusual.

I enjoyed both stories and could see how Balogh's writing has improved over the years to make her one of the best historical romance authors working today.  593 pages.

"Crave" by Cathy Yardley

In this retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, she is a famous princess who's been in hiding for 10 years from her evil stepmother after nearly being murdered and fleeing her tiny country.  Now known as Beth, she has been living in a religious sect in Pennsylvania that shuns all technology and does not allow men and women to mix.  She meets Stephen, an investigative reporter who has joined the sect in order to expose their abusive ways, and they become enamored of each other.  When three sect members are tortured and taken away in coffins for intermingling with the opposite sex, Beth and Stephen realize that they must escape.

Various elements of the traditional fairy tale were interwoven in this story, which was a quick and entertaining read.  259 pages.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

TreeGrowsInBrooklyn.jpg This novel, first published in 1943, is considered a classic. Even though it was written almost 70 years ago, it does not feel at all dated. It was based on the author's life, and is a vivid protrayal of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, as Francie Nolan was growing up there in the early 1900's. Her father is a singing waiter who works sporadically, and her mother is a janitress. They are very poor; the children scavenge for items to sell to the junk man, and they often go hungry. Yet there is joy and love and, yes, fun. In the end, there is triumph as they manage to lift themselves out of the grinding poverty that their families have known for generations. This book is a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. I highly recommend it.

443 pages

Ghost map, by Steven Johnson

This was an interesting and satisfying piece of nonfiction. The first part is caught up in the major cholera outbreaks in Britain and follows the actions of a few people who were curious enough about the workings of cholera to brave the infested areas of London to try to figure out how cholera worked. It outlines the contesting theories of contagion at the time, and how established ideas can be so detrimental to understanding a phenomenon.
The second part of the books goes into how an innovative way of mapping outbreaks was generated, so as to better visualize the spread of the contagion on a broader level.
The third part of this book brings us into the 21st century, where the basic principles of that early way of mapping are being applied today.
Very interesting, but the beginning sections are probably not for the squeamish.
audio: 8.5 hours
text: 240 pages

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hit or Missus by Gayle Carline

Peri Minneopa is a private eye who expects to have things go pretty routinely during an investigation. You look for a philandering spouse, document the evidence and collect your fee. But, what do you do when you collect the evidence, the spouse no longer wants it, and it looks like the documentation could cost you your life? Suddenly, the case turns personal! This is the second book in the series. 318 pages.

Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney

This cozy mystery series features innkeeper Natalie Barnes. At the opening of the story, Natalie  has left the stressful, big city life behind to operate a bed-and-breakfast on Cranberry Island in Maine. Unfortunately, things aren't as idyllic as she had hoped. Trouble abounds when she finds a dead body and winds up being the prime suspect for the murder. To make matters worse, it appears someone wants her out of the way as well. The plot doesn't always hold together, but the series does show promise. Gray Whale Inn Mystery, book 1. 282 pages.

London Under: The Secret History beneath the Streets, by Peter Ackroyd

London Under goes into what lies beneath the streets of London - everything from historical sites to infrastructure and how each affects the other. I don't know much about London, but this book is an interesting look at history, geography and politics, and how a society has bent its environment to suit its wants and needs.
text: 228 pages

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sex on six legs, by Marlene Zuk

A very interesting book with an unfortunately sensationalistic title. This book is about many aspects of insect life and behavior. There are many instances in this book that reinforce the notion that the truth is stranger than fiction. Marlene Zuk has a way of writing about her topic with authority, but in a way that is also accessible. I appreciate how she admonishes scientists (and us) to avoid applying our own preconceptions and motivations to the behavior of other organisms.
text: 262 pages

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones was my first Stephen King since I'd read the monumental The Stand when I was a teenager. I don't suppose it will be my last.  One of the first things I enjoyed about this novel was the protagonist's mention of a Thomas Hardy quote, comparing the dullest human on the face of the earth to the most brilliantly drawn fiction character, and ultimately stating that the fiction character is still nothing more than a "bag of bones" compared to a living person (however dull).  I think the quote conveys well how impossible the task of an author sometimes feels--as well as provide a phrase almost tailor-made for a Stephen King title.

The main character is Michael Noonan, an author perpetually on the latter end of the top 15 on the New York Times bestseller list.  He also refers to himself as "V.C. Andrews with a prick."  I guess if you are the sort of person who's always been curious about the inner life of an author or what it must be like to be an author with any measure of success, this book might satisfy some of that curiosity in a small fictionalized way.

I won't go too far into plot synopsis, but here are a few highlights...the protagonist's wife dies 4 years prior to the action of the story and he's been suffering from severe writer's block ever since--he has a horrific panic attack every time he starts up his word processing software on his computer.  He has been prolific enough in years past to set aside several complete manuscripts in a safe deposit box, which he carefully doles out to his publisher as the years tick by.  He then decides to face his fears and confront a recurring nightmare at a lake house he's never visited since his wife's death.  

After settling in, he notices some odd things like bells ringing of their own accord, sounds of a child crying, and refrigerator magnets spelling out messages to him.  He also meets the beautiful and poor Mattie Devore, who had the misfortune of marrying and having a child by the son of the wealthiest man in town.  The son is deceased (freak accident during a lightning storm).  The wealthy man, Max Devore, wants to raise the child himself and is fighting the young mother for custody.  When Michael Noonan falls in love with her (about two seconds after he accidentally brushes up against her perky breasts), he decides to help her.

More mystery crops up in the realm of the lake house as he realizes slowly that there are perhaps a legion of ghosts haunting the area, including his own wife and a black woman who was at one time a well known blues singer.  Some things I could gladly have done without--such as the protagonist's tiresome and endless references to the "blue steel" of his erection that seemed to emerge from his jockey shorts at the slightest provocation.  The detail of the gang rape scene was more than I bargained for, but it was perhaps important to explain the anger of the ghosts and why the haunting had been going on for three generations now.  I also felt like the ending was overly dramatized to the point of nonsense.  King describes every move the protagonist makes during the last harrowing pages, and you're along for the ride with very little understanding of what's going on or why it's going on.  It honestly felt a little rushed and not entirely well thought out.

There were some thoroughly horrific moments that scared the heck out of me, very much what I had hoped for and expected.  King has always known how to create dread, draw it out, and then torturously linger over the fine details of whatever hellish scene he's created.  By the time he was through with me, I never wanted to look under a bed, swim in a lake, or walk down a gravel driveway at nightfall ever again.  But yeah, I might pick up a Stephen King book again, maybe.
529 pages

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse

A story of two men who began their studies in a monastery. One went off to experience life and become an artiste (employing a great deal of manipulation and deceit along the way). The other continued his studies and became an abbot. They compare their lives at the end of their respective journeys.
The best part: when it was all over. So much for my pretensions to culture.
audio: 10.5 hours
text: 315 pages

Monday, April 23, 2012

Seriously…I’m Kidding by Ellen Degeneres

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

Ellen says in this book you will find no stone unturned, no door unopened, no window unbroken, no rug unvacummed, no ivories untickled, but it’s really all about us as seen by this comedian. A pleasingly funny book. 

Audio:  3 hrs. 46 min.
Print:  256 pages.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

This was a hiliarious book with a good plot and a great story. It is about a girl named Stephanie Plum who really needs a job and ends up getting a job from her cousin as a bounty hunter. Her first assignment it is to catch a guy worth $10,000. The story is so funny. They also turned this into a movie with Katherine Heigl. Can't wait to see it. Please read if you need a laugh and it is also a series. The next one is called Two for the Dough.

Pgs: 304
Audio time: 7 hours 6 mins

Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

In her Alaskan village, Kate is attacked several times. She is just trying to find a sacred tribal/Russian religious icon. The trail goes down to Seattle where more unknown members of the family are discovered and, of course, more mysteries.

Audio:  14 hrs. 43 min.
Print:  496 pages.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

Multibillionaire dies, his massive multiplayer online game OASIS has a hidden feature - an Easter egg - the person who finds it first wins his fortune. It has intrigue, murder, and romance.  It'll remind you of the video games you played in your past.

Audio:  16 hrs. 46 min.
Print:  385 pages.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson

This biography of Steve Jobs was an interesting read.
As much as I've liked several of the products generated from the imagination and drive of Steve Jobs, I believe I should be grateful that I had never met him (or at least never come within the sphere of his single-minded intensity and manipulation). If this biography is an accurate portrayal of the man, Jobs' creativity and acumen came at the price of insensitivity to the people around him.
This biography also includes much of the history of Apple, as well as the computer and electronics industry at the time, which is worth the read in its own right.
Check out Andy's take on it in his post from last November.
audio: 26 hours
text: 656 pages

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Susanna and the Spy by Anna Elliott

Susanna and the Spy Cover Susanna Ward's profligate father dies and leaves her destitute. Supporting herself by becoming a governess, she heads to London to find a new post. Stopping at an inn close to her father’s ancestral home for the night, she is startled by a wounded man who bursts into her room, looking for a place to hide. He is quickly followed by an army regiment looking for a murderer. Although she isn’t sure why she trusts the mysterious stranger, she helps him escape. She has an encounter with a gardener she met as a child, who tells her her grandfather was murdered.  She ends up staying at the family estate as she continues to try to find out if he really was murdered, and by whom, as well as who the stranger really is, and what he is up to.

If you like historical fiction and cozy mysteries, you will find both successfully combined in this e-book. Susanna is an engaging protagonist, and the story is quite lively. The characters are well-developed, and the plot, while a little thin, is entertaining. The setting is England during the Napoleonic Wars. I recommend it as a fun, light, quick read on a rainy day.

729 KB, 260 pages.

London Calling by Anna Elliott

London Calling CoverIn this sequel to ‘Susanna and the Spy’, Susanna has been reconciled with her father’s estranged family, and is engaged to Lord James Ravenwood.  But Britian is still at war with Napoleon, and Susanna soon learns that Lord Ravenwood is acting as a spy for the British War Office. She follows him to London, where she gets caught up in a dangerous operation to uncover a ring of French spies and a traitor to the crown.

Although it is a bit unbelievable that a young woman in 1809 would be involved in hunting down spies and traitors, I enjoyed the book as much as I did the first in the series, if not more.

180 pages.

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

After finding a picture in Iraq where Logan Thibault was deployed a friend of his convinces him that the picture is lucky and if he makes it through the war he has to go find the girl in the picture. When he gets home to Colorado he decides that is what he is going to do. He sets out to find the girl in the photograph. They finally meet and fall in love...but Logan doesn't tell her why they met. This is a fantastic read and now they have the movie coming out this friday actually so I am super excited to see it too.


Audio time: 10 hrs 49 mins

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Little Boy Lost by Eric Hobbs

Wesley Bates and his classmates take a field trip to a special library. But, this is no ordinary place! Here stories come to life if you know where and how to look. There is also the opportunity to enter into a classic children's story - but the adventurers must be careful or the plot can take unexpected twists.

In book one of The Librarian series, Wesley and friends explore The Wizard of Oz where they learn some important life lessons along the way. The target audience is later elementary or middle school students, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, too. I can see lots of fodder for book discussion groups! Should appeal to boys, girls and the young at heart. 126 pages.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Destined for an Early Grave" by Jeaniene Frost

This is the fourth book in the Night Huntress series and finds Cat and her Master vampire husband, Bones, trying to take a holiday in Paris when she begins having disturbing dreams about another vampire who claims that he is actually her husband.  He's also trying to kidnap her through these dreams so that he can give her back the memories of their life together 10 years ago.  If this other vampire truly is her husband, then Bones could be condemned to death under vampire law.

Unlike the last book, "At Grave's End", this one focuses almost exclusively on the relationship between Cat and Bones.  They've been together two years now and seem to be devoted to each other, but her need for control and doubts about becoming a full-blooded vampire (she's only half-vampire now) threaten to sabotage all they have.  Will this other vampire be able to lure her away from Bones?  Lots of action and several surprises make for another exciting and quick read from Frost.  355 pages.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles

Violet Parker moves to Deadwood, South Dakota, to start over. She is a new realtor, but hasn't sold a house. She is seeing a couple of men, both personally and professionally, but things are not going as hoped. Add in the distraction that young girls are disappearing and she has a daughter who fits the kidnapper's profile and Violet is beginning to think maybe moving to Deadwood wasn't such a good idea after all. This book is a first place national winner of the Daphne du Maurier Excellence in Mystery/Suspense Award, so I had high hopes for it. However, the plot and characters didn't connect as well as I had hoped. Still I am willing to give book two in the Deadwood Mystery series a chance to see if the author can pull the chemistry together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - Book 3 (Hunger Games)

This book is way different than the other two. I did not enjoy it as much as the others. But the ending is very good. I am not going to write anything about this book because I think it would better to read it.


Audio: 9 hr. 54mins.

"At Grave's End" by Jeaniene Frost

Third in the Night Huntress series, this book finds Cat and Bones facing his grandsire's wife, who happens to be an extremely old and powerful vampire out for revenge against them.  Oh, and she's also the daughter of Cleopatra!  This story was more violent than the previous books and didn't focus much on the relationship between the half-vampire/half-human Cat and her Master vampire husband, Bones.  Still, it was a quick and interesting read with several appearances by Vlad, the original Dracula.  342 pages.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

(Posted for Paul Mathews)

A young Matt Scudder, out of control joins AA. Some of the people  get killed, Matt sets himself up not to get killed. In this book some people are under the righteous influence of a benevolent herb and never left the 1960’s.

Audio:  8 hours 15 min.
Print:  319 pages. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"American Vampire, Volume 3" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, & Sean Murphy

The first half of this book finds vampire Pearl Jones and her human husband, Henry Preston, in Hawaii during WWII.  Henry is too old to enlist but he's recruited to join a team out to kill a nest of evil vampires on the island of Taipan.  Pearl follows him there and ends up facing her maker and arch-enemy, Skinner Sweet.

The second half of the book focuses on Felicia Book and her quest to not only kill vampires but to find a cure for vampirism.  This takes her to a Romanian castle where the Nazis are keeping a botanist who may have developed that cure.  You see, she needs it because she is part vampire!

Exciting stories with great graphics equals a quick and fun adult read.  288 pages.

See my reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2.