Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

Cover imageHmmm...hard to know where to begin. The obvious would be: the late Michael Crichton; excellent author. Richard Preston: great author. But Crichton + Preston = not excellent or great. I was very disappointed with this novel.  The story starts off well enough: Nanigen MicroTechnology is working on mini robots (better known as "bots") that will be able to go into the jungle and pick up biological materials from plants and insects for medicinal purposes. Seven students from Cambridge are lured there for possible positions, but then find themselves shrunk down to the size of a fingernail and dumped into the wild. They have to fend off bugs and other dire conditions. In my opinion, an adult version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids without the humor.

Try reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston or any other Michael Crichton novel. A much better use of your time.


It Was Love When by Robert K. Elder

"Eventually, I couldn't deny it." When do you know you're in love? It's not always "at first sight." As Rob Elder illustrates, sometimes it takes a while. This collection of stories tell when people knew they were in love with their partner. It includes some strange, some surprising, and some sweet stories.

If you're looking for a heartwarming read, try It Was Love When by Robert K. Elder.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Dr. Jennifer White is a renowned orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand surgery. She has recently retired after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. She is a widow who lives with a full-time caretaker. Her daughter is a professor at University of Chicago, and her son is a lawyer with a serious substance abuse problem. Jennifer's best friend, Amanda, is murdered, and Jennifer is the prime suspect. The problem is, though, that she can't remember if she committed the crime or not.

When I first started reading Turn of Mind, I was thrown off by the lack of quotation marks in the dialogue. I quickly became engrossed in the story and didn't even notice the lack of quotes. Jennifer's disease causes her to have lucid moments and moments when she has no idea of what's going on around her. At times, the book is heartbreaking to read, because you know that her family isn't being honest with her and that they're taking advantage of her. Throughout the book, you get glimpses into Jennifer and Amanda's friendship, and you wonder why they're friends at all. They certainly have an unusual relationship, and you can almost see why Jennifer killed Amanda. If in fact, she did kill her.

Alice LaPlante does an excellent job of building suspense and keeps readers guessing. I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Cover imageAmerican Heiress is the story of Cora Cash, a beautiful, smart, and spunky rich New Yorker. Cora is bored and really wants to get out from under her overbearing mother's clutches. Mrs. Cash, however, only wants one thing for her daughter. The one thing that money cannot buy - a title. Cora will have none of it though. But life has a way of sneaking up on you... On a trip to Europe, Cora is injured while on a fox hunt, and just happens to be rescued by a handsome duke. And now Mrs. Cash may be getting exactly what she has always dreamed of. But what about Cora? If you like novels about aristocrats and proper British ways, well lah-de-dah!!! This has it all!


Friday, December 16, 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Cover imageMajor Ernest Pettigrew (retired) is a widower living quietly in his home village of St. Mary, England when his life suddenly becomes complicated. Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a widow with a shop in the village, happens by shortly after the major learns of his brother’s sudden death. Her kind offer to drive him to his sister-in-law’s house leads them both down paths neither ever imagined. Budding attractions – physical, emotional, and intellectual, surface, as do cultural differences and insecurities. The culture of the English village and the Pakistani family structure collide fiercely as these two lonely, vulnerable, and caring people try to find their way through a growing friendship and mutual affection.

There are multiple layers to the story, but they are clearly written and the various personalities are well defined. These people seem very real. Simonson paints it all with a brush liberally dipped in that dry British humor that so many of us love. The planning and execution of the annual golf club’s ball is exquisite in its depiction of the ridiculous in the power struggles and pettiness inherent in village life. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a story with serious underpinnings told with humor and believability. I laughed, cried, and cheered my way through it.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff

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History, mystery, intrigue, and romance – what else could one want? Jenoff’s novel begins in modern day Philadelphia and Poland; it moves to early 20th century Bavaria, and then to WWII Eastern Europe. There are two love triangles 70 years apart and a beautiful, hand-crafted clock that ties everything together. It is a story of betrayal, true and false, and guilt, real and imagined.

Both adult and young adult readers may enjoy the mystery of the clock's evidence as a defense against the horrible crime of betraying a brother and innocent children to the Nazis. The love stories convey elation, uncertainty, longing, and denial. The narrative moves easily between time periods and story lines – no small feat. The characters overall are real and sympathetic, although Charlotte could be a bit irritating. The plot is horrifying yet interesting and well worth following to the end.

The Things We Cherished is not a Holocaust novel – it is a story of real people who are flawed, passionate, and struggling to live and love in their own time.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

C by Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy’s novel C covers a large amount of ideas in its three hundred plus pages. At the start of the book, Serge Carrefax, the book’s main character, has a father who runs a school for the deaf and a sister who grows obsessed with cracking code (and soon after descends into madness). But this is only Sege’s first stop in the novel. Throughout the rest of the book he spends time at a strange German spa, miraculously survives World War I as a gunner in a fighter plane, develops a rather severe drug problem in London, and ends the book in post-independence Egypt where he seems to be involved in setting up a wireless radio system.
The author’s apparent preference for ideas over conventional character development doesn’t always make for easy reading. A fellow soldier’s long speech on the challenges of trying to capture World War I aerial combat in visual art drags on and would probably be of interest to only the most avid World War I buff. McCarthy also seems to enjoy creating great supporting characters such as Serge’s sister Sophie or a woman he starts seeing at the spa only to abruptly abandon them in order to jump to Serge’s next adventure. Serge isn’t the most dynamic of main characters. It’s obvious he is not supposed to be a hero in any kind of conventional sense, but he too often comes off more as an apparition wandering through the various scenes than a real person. Yet there are many entertaining scenes, such as Serge’s use of early radio technology to reveal that a psychic, himself using the same technology to trick his audience, is a fraud. In fact, every section of the book has plenty of great scenes, whether it’s strafing enemy barracks in World War I or simple slice-of-life scenes between Serge and various supporting characters.
Despite some of the complaints I’ve just listed, I would definitely at least start another book by McCarthy, but I would hope that his next novel might more closely resemble a conventional novel than the more experimental book that is C.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Every Day a Friday by Joel Osteen

I'm not one to listen to television preachers.  But since Osteen is a best-selling author (with a megawatt smile to boot) I picked this one up.  Osteen's premise is that most people are happiest on Friday, since they are looking forward to the weekend and the joy it brings.  He wants to expand that happiness to each day of the week and has divided the book into seven sections.  There's nothing new here, and there are plenty of platitudes, such as "Don't Give Away Your Power," "Travel Light" and "Laugh Often."  But, if you're looking for a little sunshine each day, Osteen delivers.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

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Claire Morrow has just had her first solo art show at the Musée in Montreal and she, her husband Peter, and a number of guests have returned to Three Pines to celebrate. But there is a ghost at the feast in the dead body of Lillian Dyson, a former close friend who betrayed her in art school and whom Claire swears she hasn’t seen in 20 years.  Supposedly Lillian had changed and become a different person – or is it a trick of the light? The theme of actions and relationships affected by differing aspects and viewers permeates the story in many subtle ways: betrayal and redemption, anger and forgiveness, jealousy and love.

“Hearts are broken,” Lillian Dyson carefully underlined in a book. “Sweet relationships are dead.”

A Trick of the Light is the 7th Chief Inspector Gamache/ Three Pines mystery and I’m still a happy fan. I have found most series authors have either gotten formulaic or lost the edge by about #5. Not so with Louise Penny. I still want to meet the residents of Three Pines and the Chief Inspector and his family and team from the Sûreté du Québec.  Although there are references to earlier events from the series, they are explained enough to not confuse the first-time reader. I’m sure even if you start with this one, you’ll want to read them all!


The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

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10-year old Pia narrates this contemporary gothic tale that blends middle school angst, childish gullibility, and real-life mystery in a totally believable way. Set in the German village of Bad Münstereifel, the story has a Brothers Grimm-like air that draws one in as Pia’s adventures unfold. Ostracized due to an incident regarding her grandmother, Pia’s only friend is another outsider referred to as Stink-Stefan. The two are bright but still young enough to be unsure about fact vs. fable in village lore. All they know for certain is that Katharina Linden vanished earlier after a village parade and now another girl has, too. As this Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy team uncovers more disappearances and learns village history (both truth and fable) from Herr Schiller, the tale becomes more threatening. Pia and Stefan’s youth and innocence make what is every parent’s nightmare of kidnapping and murder an intriguing mystery to be unraveled.

The characters are believable and even the village has personality. Though told by a child, this is not a story for children. It has mystery, off-screen violence, folklore, and one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time: “My life might have been so different, had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded.”


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen

Cover imageSpanning over five decades, The Sisters is the story of two sisters, Mabel and Bertie. Once very close, a series of unfortunate circumstances tears them apart, and the rest of the book follows their lives and how they handle being apart from each other. I thought this novel was done very well without becoming too melodramatic. Much of this novel is very dark, especially the beginning when the mother dies and the step-father becomes abusive, but other than that it just follows how two sisters overcome adversity and go on to have fulfilling lives. I highly recommend it to all readers who like thought-provoking stories.