Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

excellent book...may be my 2016 choice for my bookclub. Here's the promised review:

This is a real page turner, one of those compelling books that keeps you up late into the night because you just can't put it down. The structure is so clever and the pacing is perfect with just enough intensity and suspense to keep you reading.

Liane Moriarty is truly a brilliant writer. She has a knack for creating characters who are so believable they could easily be someone you know. She isn't afraid to strip them bare - even when she shows us their flaws. While reading this book I could really believe and visualize this actually happening in any place at any time.

This is the story of three women. I was fascinated to follow their development and relationships with each other. It feels like such a light and funny read, but it deals with some serious subjects with which these women struggle. Some of the struggles are shared with each other and others are kept locked away. What happens when people start assuming, rumors start circulating, and estrogen runs amok? Big Little Lies ensue.

The storyline is suspenseful and made me think. The pivotal event doesn't occur until near the end of the book. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out what is going to happen, but I was kept guessing. The ending is fantastic - completely unexpected, and a gratifying, believable resolve.

4.5 stars: Unfortunately there are F words and some other bad language. I’m a bit of a prude and usually dock a book 1 whole star level on my ratings. I don't give a book 5 stars easily but this book really deserved it.
No gratuitous sex scenes.
I listened to the audio version of this book and the narrator is excellent, but I recommend it in any form.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars
My first zombie apocalypse themed book and likely my last. I read it because of the great reviews but was disappointed by the revolting blood, gore and plethora of "F" words. I gave it 3 instead of 2 stars because despite my prudish tastes I found it very well written with believable characters, a few of whom I actually cared about, and it was overall an entertaining read with a bleakly hopeful ending.

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Brother Sam Is DeadMy Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1.5 stars
Why you should not read this book:
1. Depiction of American patriots as immature and uninformed
2. Underlying innuendos of American Revolution being a pointless war
3. Colorless characters. As one reviewer said,“They were not loved and lost to me, just there and lost, or not…”
4. Unrealistic dialogue
5. Use of language and cursing inappropriate to time period (and inappropriate read for/to middle school and younger age kids.)
6. Story is just a series of disjointed events with no emotion
7. The ending is abrupt and poorly done. it left a feeling of, “and that’s it?”
8. It is a short book that dragged.
9. Poor writing
10. Audio version is just awful . . . narrator has unpleasant voice and speaks slooowly with looong pauses between events.

Not totally a lame book as it does give some important insights regarding the resulting devastations that war brings to communities and families. However an implication easily drawn from the story is that the American Revolution was a sad and unnecessary event. Seriously. Near the end of the book the family doesn't really care who wins . . . they just want the war to be over. It really bothers me this is on many 4th-9th grade required/recommended reading lists, not only because of the points listed above but because there are better books on the subject for children and young adults.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Later the Same Day Later the Same Day by Grace Paley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a small book of poignant short stories populated with independent strong women and their relationships. Her writing style is precise. She uses few words in a clever and effective way. She does not use conventional punctuation, which drove me crazy at first, but once I caught on to her style I found it fitting. Her characters are uniquely believable, the dialogues wonderful, and the subjects addressed important.
She is disdainfully humorous and there are some great one liners.

Here is a quote from GR reader Sarah Hilary that nicely sums up my feelings about Grace Paley (her complete review found here http://www.theshortreview.com/reviews/GracePaleyTheCollectedStories.htm):

"Skim-read Paley’s stories and you may end up trying to convince yourself she’s at fault for being too political, or for giving us only glimpses of her characters, or for flaunting the rules of story-telling. But if you’re prepared to meet the author midway, to revel in her mischievous sense of purpose, to take a dive face-first into real lives that may not be explained or described in any traditional manner – grab this collection. Chances are your brain will thank you for the spring-clean."

Grace Paley (1922-2007), a postmodernist writer, taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

I actually liked her writing so much I purchased the posthumous 1994 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction, The Collected Stories.
Highly recommend.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Book Of Mormon: Another Testament Of Jesus Christ (Official Edition)The Book Of Mormon: Another Testament Of Jesus Christ by Joseph Smith Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read this book cover to cover 4 times, and keep rereading and pondering it. The Old Testament and New Testament of the Holy Bible tesify of the divinity and earthly mission of Jesus Christ. This is another testament of Jesus Christ which tells of his visit to the peoples on the American Continent following his Crucifixion and Resurrection.

“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” -Joseph Smith

Isaiah described it, a “marvelous work and a wonder.” (Isa. 29:13–14.)

It is a treasure in my life.

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The Shoemaker's WifeThe Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read 5 of Trigiani's other books and enjoyed them immensely...was a bit disappointed wit this. Largely biographical (her family), this was too drawn out and would have benefited by a ruthless editing of a more objective person. There were ideas, and characters, and actions that did not move the story forward or enrich the act of reading in any way. Too many wasted words (470 pages) making the plot line seem secondary to the telling, i.e. too much telling and not enough showing. At least 150 pages too long. It was sweet and sad and somewhat predictable and I missed the humor found in her other books.
I listened to audio version and felt her choice, halfway into the novel, to divide the audio narration between Sciorra and herself was a mistake. Sciorra was a much better audio narrator. One of the problems was the difference in pronunciation of the same names, places & events between the 2 of them. It was confusing to an audio reader that may not have been a problem with the print version. Clean GP read.

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And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well crafted and convincing characters with believable dialogue. Kept me guessing to the end and then pondering the moral dilemma after completion. This is Agatha Christie's best-selling murder mystery novel and I can understand why.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1.5 stars
too, too much…
too slow getting into story…200 pages of back story--waay too slow
too many characters
too many characters who were tossed aside
too many dark, disturbing scenes
too many grotesque, revolting, sadistic sex crimes
too many didactic political ramblings
too many lame red herrings
too many mundane details
too many useless, boring scenes
too much violence
too much porn
too explicit
too many email passages/conversations
too many references to American pop culture
too many coffee stops
too many butt plugs
too many useless, meaningless, boring scenes
too much foul language
too much flat cliche-ridden prose
too, too many words
The author’s original title (in Sweden) was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. I'm not kidding, that was the title. Would you have read it with that title? I wouldn't have, no matter the popular ratings...
I originally gave this 2 stars, but changed rating because there is

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Leaving TimeLeaving Time by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars
Jodi Picoult is a sure bet for a good read and this did not disappoint. I have continued to think about this book long after completing it, months ago. There are two heart wrenching story lines, both intricately connected, with finely balanced humor, science, and mystery that will definitely keep you turning pages until the twist ending that I didn't see coming. Although there is an explanation in the book about what "Leaving Time" means, when you get to the end, it takes on a whole new meaning. Her characters are wonderful and lovable and she skillfully handles first person voice for each of them. Her research on elephants is thorough and I learned much.
I want this to be a movie!!! Do yourself a favor & also listen to the audio version - SO beautiful!
For a very good complete review see https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

One star?? My goodreads friend, Elisa, commented on my rating, writing: "That bad? I tried a few times but could not get through the first few pages.... Maybe it's time to quit!" My response to her query follows:
For me, yes. I, too, struggled with it from the start but hung in there because several friends gave it 4-5 star ratings and it had been nominated for several awards, & even won a few. The "Ground Hog Day" multi-life premise was good, and often the prose was excellent but the multiple repetitious lives were tedious & boring. The main character never learns anything...her lives vary between better or worse, not based on insight acquired from her previous lives nor upon her conscious choices, but based primarily upon coincidences. I would put the 572 page book down and later have to force myself to pick it up again, hoping to find what all the critics' hype was about. I read this several months ago but was so tired of the thing & resentful of my time wasted that I just gave it 1 star at the time because I couldn't make myself waste another moment writing a review. Thanks Elisa, for your comment. Now I am posting my response as my review.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a sequel to Code Name Verity, one of my favorite books last year, but you don't have to read the first book in order to understand this one. The character development is incredible, and realistic. Elizabeth Wein is a capable, skilled wordsmith and author.

Rose Justice, a naive young woman who as a girl learned flying at the knee of her father, is an eager American pilot. She is the owner of a flight school in Pennsylvania and leaves to go to England in order to join the Air Transport Auxiliary and assist the Allied cause. On return to England from a flying assignment to France she disappears. She has been captured and taken to Germany and ends up in Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp, with women prisoners from France, Poland, and Germany. This is the prison camp where Corrie Ten Boom was sent, and the experiences of the women there were so horrible and beyond imagination, it's no wonder that people at the time didn't believe the stories coming out of Europe. You want so desperately to believe it's all made up and stuff like this never happened. But it did. For that reason I think Rose Under Fire is important. We owe it to those people to never forget. "Tell the world." That's what the characters cry, over and over. "Tell the world." And I thought about that, over and over, throughout the whole book.

If the facts don't get to you, the characters will. While the characters are fictional, real women went through the events described. They are wonderful, strong and fierce and they look out for each other no matter the cost. They are believable, and I will not forget them, so desperate to live or at least to get their story out.

The author, Elizabeth Wein, is a poet and she skillfully uses that vehicle to record Rose's experiences and thoughts. Poetry is an escape and balm for Rose throughout the book. In prison she is changed into a ghost of her younger self. Yet the reader sees, through the lyrical, soaring words in the dozens of short lovely poems she writes and shares with her fellow inmates in the dark, that the young optimistic Rose is still there and that she will eventually heal. Those poems--their brightness of hope, their warmth, their clarity--are heartrendingly beautiful.

This is a story about real events. It is not a quick nor an easy read. It is a story about hope, when it's not the thing with feathers. “Hope is the most treacherous thing in the world. It lifts you and lets you plummet. But as long as you're being lifted you don't worry about plummeting. . . Hope is treacherous, but how can you live without it?” It is a story of friendship, and the camaraderie of women of all nationalities and walks of life, a story about the strength of humanity even as their humanity was stripped from them. It is brutally honest, but it has a perfect, powerful ending with closure and a bit of happiness.

The events and setting of this historical novel are incredibly well researched and are eloquently presented in a thought provoking way. To quote another reviewer, she "nicely gives you a little bit of a history lesson and you learn things without even realizing this. . . this is a true gift - education all wrapped up in a compelling story." From Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity both, I learned a great deal of history, and gained a deeper awareness and appreciation of the largely unrecognized amazing women pilots of WWII and the incredible women prisoners of that war. Code Name Verity is my favorite of the 2 books, but I highly recommend both.

I really appreciate the factual information which follows the story.
Audio version, excellent.

“Hope has no feathers
Hope takes flight
tethered with twine
like a tattered kite,
slave to the wind's
capricious drift
eager to soar
but needing lift

Hope waits stubbornly
watching the sky
for turmoil, feeding on
things that fly:
crows, ashes, newspapers,
dry leaves in flight
all suggest wind
that could lift a kite

Hope sails and plunges
firmly caught
at the end of her string -
fallen slack, pulling taught,
ragged and featherless.
Hope never flies
but doggedly watches
for windy skies.”
― Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Double DutchDouble Dutch by Sharon M. Draper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wholesome book that is probably a 5 star book for girls age 11-15, 3 stars for H.S. girls, and likely a 2 star book for boys. It's a clever little story about 8th graders, each of whom has an important secret he/she keeps to himself/herself out of fear of embarrassment and not fitting in with the theme of don't judge someone unless you really know them.

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Dead End in NorveltDead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very good 3.5 stars which I boosted to 4 rather than reduced to 3 stars because it is very funny, very clean, and very wholesome, a combination becoming increasingly difficult to find in YA literature. It has entirely quirky yet believable characters. This is a great book for preteen to adult readers. The audio is narrated by the author, and is a combination of fact & fiction from his own childhood. I giggled and laughed throughout.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sycamore Row (Jake Brigance, #2)Sycamore Row by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Typical Grisham courtroom drama, but with no suspense at all to see who will get the money. . . said best by Patrice Hoffman, another goodreads reviewer: "I stuck around all 400+ pages to see who would win the verdict. I suffered through repetition, boredom, and no suspense at all to see who would get the money. Would it be the crappy offspring or the maid? This is what makes Grisham novels addictive. He paints the courtroom portrait like none other. In the midst of a boring novel he plops down a scene in the courtroom that pulls me in once more."
Grisham can do better. This novel seemed cranked out rehash that is two hundred pages too long, with characters that are very forgettable.I wanted to know the ending but didn't always enjoy the journey.
I don't have even a single favorite quote from this book.

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The Tutor's DaughterThe Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this beautifully written Regency era romance/mystery novel. Reminiscent of Jane Eyre, there appears to be a mysterious stranger (a mad woman in the attic?) who is prone to wandering around late at night. That mystery is solved about halfway through the book but there are many more sinister goings-on which kept me anxiously turning the pages. The character development is excellent--believable and consistent. The various plot threads, with plenty of unexpected twists, are skilfully woven together and the romance is charmingly done. Klassen is known as a "Christian author" who tastefully weaves her message into her fiction without beating you over the head with it. Here is an example:

“Do you not pray, Miss Smallwood?'
She avoided his gaze. 'No.'
'God is speaking to you every day,' he said softly. 'You might return the favor.'
She raised her chin. 'I don't hear Him.'
'Do you listen?'
She looked at him, clearly offended, then turned away again. 'I used to pray, until I found God was not listening, at least not to my prayers.'
...[He] heard the inner voice of caution but barreled ahead. 'He was listening. But He doesn't always answer the way we would like Him to.”

Downtown Abbey fans along with readers who love Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier, will enjoy this entertaining book.

More favorite quotes:
“We all of us die, Miss Smallwood,' he interrupted. 'But we don't all of us make our lives count for something. How much better to die saving another soul than to stand safe on shore and do nothing while others perish?”
"Thunder and turf!"
“Make your life count, Henry David Weston. For when you reach the end of your days, you will not look back and wish you'd garnered more money, or power, or fame. You will look back and wish that you had been a better parent, spouse, friend, and Christian. And you will wish for just a little more time with those you love.”

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Sarah (Women of Genesis (Forge))Sarah (Women of Genesis by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because this is the story of one of my favorite heroines I feel like I should give this a better rating, but a 3 star "liked it" is the best I can do. It is well researched and interesting, but not entertaining. I didn't love the writing, in part because the dialog is, well...lacking, as is the one-dimensional character development. Somehow these wonderful characters were not "fleshed out." I feel he did a better job with Rebekah. I very much enjoyed reading his "afterword."
Favorite quotes:
“Faith doesn't mean you never doubt. It only means you never act upon your doubts.”
“Sometimes happiness consists of finding the right balance of misery.”

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Dad Is FatDad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very funny book by a great stand up comedian. Parents of young children will especially enjoy it.

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A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed her earlier books far more than this. The characters are well drawn and believable. The descriptions are excellent. But the story is not tight, with an ending that seems unfinished.

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Mr. Churchill's Secretary: A NovelMr. Churchill's Secretary: A Novel by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun read: The plot moves along quickly and is engaging. This is obviously the introduction for a series of war time thrillers with Maggie as the girl who saves England with her intelligence and pluck. I also read #2 in the series but it was mot as good.

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The Truth According to UsThe Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful book about small town life and hidden stories waiting to be uncovered. The quirky characters, the 1938 Great Depression setting West Virginia, and the intertwined stories made this a difficult book to put down. Good insights regarding the "truths/lies" of both written and oral history and the importance of loyalty and forgiveness. Anne Barrows is the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which I also loved. I listened to the full-cast audio version which is very well done.

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The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a moving memoir of Leon Leyson about his 5 years, from age 12 to age 17, in Poland, and Germany, during the Holocaust. With thanks to Oskar Schindler he survived the horrors that killed six million Jews. He did not share his experiences until the movie, “Schindler’s List,” was released in the mid 1990’s. His narration of events is straightforward without the gruesome details of other Holocaust stories. From the publisher: “It is the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s list child. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.” I highly recommend this short narrative as an appropriate YA read for ages 12 - adult. The audio version is excellent.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Shipping NewsThe Shipping News by Annie Proulx
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is no wonder this won a Pulitzer Prize as this is a great novel with a unique, and beautiful prose style, using language I loved. That style was perfectly matched to the whole setting, like it was too cold to get out a long sentence or even communicate clearly. I felt the cold, felt the bite and the loneliness, and the way that self-reliance is required and how community can be a vital part of that life at the same time. A lot of big ideas in those little sentences, those strange interactions. It felt ragged and rugged, and constructed without being artificial.

Each of the characters were 3D real and subtly endearing. They felt genuine to the place and time, and while they are not the typical character we encounter in mainstream suburbia, they are familiar enough to echo those living close to the land and sea.
The main character grew and changed from the inside out, learning to leave behind the wreckage and make something beautiful. I enjoyed the character relationships a lot, and I loved what the book revealed about the Newfoundland culture.

The book has great drama, a good deal of humor. . . dark humor at times, but humor nonetheless. Mystery, too. The reader is allowed to unravel these mysteries, one by one. And of course there is romance. The book is a gem which I highly recommend.

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The Summer I Turned Pretty (Summer, #1)The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tedious teen love triangle. Unlikeable main character. Simple writing. Random conclusion. Blah....

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The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Historical fiction, this is a well-researched story based on the actual lives of two sisters during WWII in Nazi occupied France. One sister, a gutsy and determined extrovert, is deeply involved with the underground resistance movement, first as a courier delivering secret tracts, messages and documents, then as a guide helping downed pilots and injured soldiers escape from Belgium, through France over the rugged Pyrenees Mountains to safety in Spain. The other sister, a timid and fearful introvert, is struggling with the moral ambiguities of doing what is necessary for herself and her child to survive the horrors of war vs. doing what is right.
The first sister, Isabelle (in real life, Andrée de Jongh), made more than 30 double crossings, on foot, escorting 116 evaders, including more than 80 aircrew,until she was captured and sent to Mauthausen and Ravensbruck concentration camps where she spent two years before the end of the war.

Her sister, established a secret refuge for Jewish children who would otherwise, if found, have been sent to concentration camps. It is also about the strained relationship between these two sisters and their father. Both women were heroes in my estimation. Isabelle's character is based on the late Andrée de Jongh (1916-2007), an amazing woman who repeatedly risked her life helping British and American servicemen escape on foot from Nazi-occupied Belgium and France. To read more about the woman herself go here:

Favorite quotes:
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.

“I found myself consumed with a single, overwhelming question, as relevant today as it was seventy years ago: When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life — and more important, my child's life — to save a stranger? . . . which is worse: The fear of the risk, or the fear of letting children grow up in a world where good people do nothing to stop evil?"

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

When Crickets CryWhen Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful book with engaging, believable characters. It's a story of redemption, hope, love, forgiveness, and dedication. A bit predictable but a compelling read nonetheless. It earns kudos for its wholesomeness. Audio book.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Shotgun LovesongsShotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just great storytelling-----about a group of high school friends and the changes in their relationships as they get older. It is a sentimental and poignant story about ordinary people in ordinary lives made extraordinary in the telling.

Told in interesting first-person narratives of each major character addressing the reader as “you” which lends itself to an intimate, confessional relationship between character and reader. These characters are multidimensional and every detail, the time, location and events of the story are finely wrought and realized.

In the end, Butler manages to say important things about growing up and what that means and maybe about America itself.

Audio Version is great - performance of the readers is just very enjoyable.

Favorite quote:
" I tell my children when you are caught in a lie, or when you do something wrong, just STOP. Don't make excuses. Don't keep talking. Don't try to explain yourself. Just own up to what you've done wrong. when you do that, things inevitably work out better. You LOOK and FEEL better. More likely than not, you also catch the other person off guard."

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The Winslow BoyThe Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This excellent stage play is based on an actual incident in the Edwardian era, which took place at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, England. Before he took the case, the barrister who was to represent him subjected the boy to questioning to test his story, only accepting once he had satisfied himself of the boy's innocence.

The theme of the lawsuit was "Let Right be Done" which recognizes the operative principle that what is legal does not mean it is right.
If Sir Robert Morton were to appear in the courts today I wonder if his ringing cry for right would move the hardened hearts of the justice

Favorite quote(s):
Sir Robert Morton
“I have a point of order, Mr. Speaker. . . I will not yield. . .You shall not side with the great against the powerless. . . Have you heard those words, gentlemen? Do you recognize their source? From that same source I add this injunction. It is this: what you do to the least of them you do to me.”

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a solid thriller that kept me guessing and reading until its surprise ending. The story is told by three very unlikeable women muddling their way through miserable lives all based on egos, lies and alcoholism. They are characters that would be hard for anyone to care about, but they are expertly developed and their individual twisted points of view combined with the bizarre murder makes the story a compelling, suspenseful read. It loses a star for unnecessary bad language, but the audio version is so well done it gained that star back. The voices for Megan and Rachel were awesome. I loved their accents and I think they did a phenomenal job. Anna's voice, however, was annoying.

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Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

dysyopian novels. . . meh. I never quite got into this and wanted it to end sooner than it did. There are many finely crafted characters, a scattered band of survivors, but many of them just disappear from the main storyline. The relationships between those who survive are neatly but not too tidily woven together.

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If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)If I Stay by Gayle Forman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is emotional YA fiction that deals with some serious issues, but Gayle Forman is able to write about it effortlessly. The characters are well developed and their individual stories really make them seem real. I breezed through it wondering what would happen. I liked it and will read the sequel.

quotes from book:
“Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you.”
"I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard."
“I'm not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I'm not sure that I want to wake up.”
“Don't be scared...Women can handle the worst kind of pain. You'll find out one day.”
“People believe what they want to believe.”

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Night to RememberA Night to Remember by Walter Lord
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A factual account of the Titanic. A journalist's detailed reporting of what happened according to the survivors. Very thorough. Not my cup of tea, but I am glad I read it. History and nonfiction lovers will give this 5 stars.

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The Land of Mango SunsetsThe Land of Mango Sunsets by Dorothea Benton Frank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick, light, humorous and predictable romantic fluff about midlife crisis, strengthening family relationships, importance of forgiveness, and reinventing oneself after divorce, life threatening illness, sexual abuse, death &/or other life crises, all of which occur in this very short novel. Unfortunately it tends to give a stamp of approval to casual & unprotected extra marital sex and would hardly inspire any reader to strengthen or renew any spiritual or religious affiliation. Dorothea Benton Frank is a gifted writer, I've read & enjoyed several of her low-country tales and am disappointed she does not use her talents to uplift and strengthen the moral fiber of society. The overall message of the book is: everything happens for a reason, y'all. Absolutely.

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All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this deeply moving and enthralling tale of hope, determination and survival. It is the story of two adolescents growing up during WWII: one a young boy, Werner, who is living in Germany during the rise of German fascism, and the other, Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father in France during the birth of the French Resistance. Werner is driven by a deep love of science while Marie-Laure is inhabited by the power of books. The story is skillfully crafted as it jumps between perspectives of the two different paths their lives take until their stories and destinies converge.

A philosophical coming-of-age fable, it is a novel that constantly oscillates between the moral uncertainties of life and the chiseled precision of the natural world surrounding both its characters, and its readers. The language is so fantastically precise, and lyrical that the visual images it arouses are astounding. Anthony Doerr does things with verbs that make entire paragraphs sing. It is one of very few novels I've ever read that touches on the horror of war for BOTH sides. It shows what can happen when good people encounter evil, which in itself could have been a depressing, tragic and bleak story under less deft hands, but Doerr guides the narrative into a raw and honest yet uplifting tale of hope, survival and life. I "read" the audio version....excellent.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nowhere But HomeNowhere But Home by Liza Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fun, easy, light read, not great literature but what I call a guilty pleasure read.

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David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of this tells you exactly what it is about-- what happens when ordinary people face giants. Whether a Malcolm Gladwell fan or not, this book will not disappoint.

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The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Awesome book with a haunting, believable storyline and credible characters! Well done audio version.

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The Pale KingThe Pale King by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A book about boredom, in which the author discovers, and shares with the reader, the secret to surviving and succeeding within a bureaucracy. There are some very funny parts, but primarily there is a plethora of tedious chapters about the IRS, all of which I skimmed. In fact I skimmed most of the book.

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A House in the SkyA House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a deeply personal and unforgettable memoir of a fiercely strong woman who overcame unimaginable adversity. I read this over one year ago yet her story continues to amaze and inspire me. Do yourself a favor and read this harrowing, yet beautifully told story.

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Lost LakeLost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sarah Addison Allen is a skilled narrator. I've read 4 of her novels, all what I'd term great beach reads, with lovable characters and captivating storylines. This story is a bit predictable, and not as good as Garden Spells,, or The Girl Who Chased the Moon, both which I enjoyed enough to read again, but as always her settings, characters, and narrative style are such that I couldn't put it down.

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Kafka on the ShoreKafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A brilliant, complicated, skillfully written novel with which I had a love-hate relationship. I could hardly stop listening to the excellent audio version, wondering how it would all be resolved, which it was, but I could also hardly wait for it to be over.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

The People of Sparks (Book of Ember, #2)The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sequel to New York Times bestselling dystopian The City of Ember. The first book, Ember, was a story of setting and plot, while Sparks is a story of characters and relationships. The author has done good job of capturing the tensions involved in a refugee situation, especially one where there aren't enough resources to go around--a better job, I think, than most adult books on the topic.

As a Middle school or Young Adult read it opens the door to a good discussion of the difficulties and rewards of politics, and there are some good life lessons, not the least being the idea that the only way to stop bad events from escalating, is to return good for bad and convince your opponent to stop the cycle of retaliation:

“Can't it be stopped?" said Lina. . .
"Maybe it can be stopped at the beginning," Maddy said. "If someone sees what's happening and is brave enough to reverse the direction."
"Reverse the direction?"...
"Yes, turn it around."
"How would you do that?"...
"You'd do something good," said Maddy. "Or at least you'd keep yourself from doing something bad."
"But how could you?" said Lina. "When people have been mean to you, why would you want to be good to them?"
"You wouldn't want to," said Maddy. "That's what makes it hard. you do it anyway. Being good is hard. Much harder than being bad.”

Though it is not as plot driven as Ember, I found this a thought-provoking read about the future, the past, the nature of conflict, and the road to peace.

Audiobook version (fantastic production with this.)

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Rhett Butlers PeopleRhett Butlers People by Donald McCaig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Rhett Butler's People so much that I was disappointed when it ended. The author was commissioned by the estate of Margaret Mitchell to write this "parallel sequel" to Gone With The Wind, and he has kept faithful to her style and to the story and details of Mitchell's original classic. This gives an account of Rhett's life prior to meeting Scarlett and describes the lives of his friends and family. In doing so, it gives a well-researched look into life in Charleston Atlanta just prior to and during the civil war.

Certainly, there are a million possibilities for his story, but I enjoyed this take. I really enjoyed Gone With the Wind, but Rhett was my favorite character and there were so many unanswered questions about him. They are answered in this fleshed out sequel/addition, which helps the reader to understand and appreciate his character all the more.

I think the author did a wonderful job of tying the stories together and maintaining the characters and setting. He had to satisfy two audiences - Margaret Mitchell fans and Civil War buffs. That he was able to offer such a satisfying read, while tying in small tidbits from the original story (e.g. how Scarlett came to be in possession of the yellow scarf she gave to Ashley is particularly clever), is impressive indeed.

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Till We Have FacesTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally called Bareface, a title that Lewis still stubbornly uses in his afterword, Till We Have Faces is his recasting of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Rather than focusing on the beautiful heroine of the myth, the main character is Psyche’s older sister, Orual, a strong woman cursed with a hideous face. Considered wicked in the original myth, this tale is told from Orual's perspective. It puts forth the reason why she did what she did (a wicked action from the virtue of love). Orual's journey towards reconciliation with the divine represents some of the most common and relateable journeys through life. It is a masterpiece of imagination, scholarly knowledge, plot and great insight into the human character. It is he last book C.S. Lewis published before his death

If you are a fan of myths, I would suggest this. If you are a fan of Lewis’ genius, this is a must.
for the thoughtful reader, but its multiple layers of meaning can withstand a light read as well for your entertainment.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster BoyLizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved everything about this book and have added Gary D. Smith to my favorite authors list. This is coming-of-age historical fiction at is best, with gorgeous lyrical writing and heart-wrenching emotional reactions. The various themes and conflicts are delicately and deftly presented and handled. Schmidt not only has a remarkable way with words, but his characters almost seem to leap from his book because they are so real. A compelling and powerful read, it will stay with me long after I closed the cover. This book is beautiful, and just when I thought I had it completely figured out, it surprised me.

Based on a real place and real people. The author just gave a name to some of the people and created a character based on vague details of a person. Newberry Honor Award. There are Biblical references and allegories throughout that make this book a good one to discuss.
Young-adult, historical-fiction. If I were an elementary teacher I would read it to my class.

favorite quote:
“Books can ignite fires in your mind, because they carry ideas for kindling, and art for matches.”

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Friday, March 20, 2015

The City of Ember (Book of Ember, #1)The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Creative premise: an underground city, two children determined to save that city, and a journey of no return. I liked it better than The Giver. I liked it enough that I will read the sequel.
Intriguing, fast paced, action packed. It's the rare novel that will engage children while maintaining its literary integrity and imparting something worthwhile. The City of Ember is a great introduction to a darker genre than many children will have read by 4th Grade, but not so frightening that it would discourage them from exploring more well-developed dystopian novels as they get older. In terms of books that get kids interested in reading without rotting their brains, I'd give this one a big thumbs up.

“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. Anger is. And when anger is the boss, you get unintended consequences.”

“People find a way through just about anything.”

“The main thing to do is pay attention. Pay close attention to everything, notice what no one else notices. Then you'll know what no one else knows, and that's always useful.”

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My Losing Season: A MemoirMy Losing Season: A Memoir by Pat Conroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you *love* basketball you will love this recounting of Conroy's senior season as a member of the Citadel basketball team. A touching meditation on loss and pain, Conroy's diction in this work is masterful; If, as I, you are merely a Conroy fan, you will enjoy learning more of who and what shaped this writer. In writing about basketball, Conroy finds a vessel to chew, interpret, and shape so much of his past, and out of it life's meaning.

“There is no teacher more discriminating or transforming than loss.”

“I had declared in public my desire to be a writer ... I wanted to develop a curiosity that was oceanic and insatiable as well as a desire to learn and use every word in the English language that didn't sound pretentious or ditzy.”

“Good coaching is good teaching and nothing else.”

“An author must gorge himself on ten thousand images to select the magical one that can define a piece of the world in a way one has never considered before.”

“The words “I love you” could contain all the bloodthirsty despair of the abattoir, all the hopelessness of the most isolated, frozen gulag, all the lurid sadness of death row.”

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Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a rich, emotional tale of a young thirteen year old boy and the tragedies that befell his family and his community in the summer of 1961. The story, in many ways, is not compelling nor is it particularly memorable. What is so striking is the way the story is told, with tight, well-edited prose, subtle imagery, and symbolism.

Krueger has done an amazing job of separating what are really two narrators: the boy, and the current older, presumably wiser adult. He tells the story with tight, well-edited prose, subtle imagery and symbolism.

It is a story about family. And it is a story about believing in God and the wonderful grace that comes from giving your heart to God.

“Fishing, Danny boy, is purely a state of mind. Some men, when they are fishing, are after fish. Me, I'm after things you could never set a barbed hook in.”

“The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”

“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”

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Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At its heart about climate change and giving flight to monarch butterflies, this book is a multifaceted metaphor, pulling focus to the delicate balance of 'life' on both a basic and philosophical scale. I will never forget the experience, as almost always with a Barbara Kingsolver novel, of the resplendent language and the need to stop mid-paragraph in awe and a certain degree of wonder. Her writing is lyrical with vivid imagery and humor rolling along with every paragraph, as evidenced by the following great quotes from Fight Behavior:

“Honk if you love Jesus, text while driving if you want to meet up.”

“Do you know what?” Dovey asked abruptly. “I’ve had it with Facebook. We should invent Buttbook. It’s more honest. You’d have Buttbook Enemies. You would Butt people to inform them you did not wish to be their friends.” “You could do worse,” Dellarobia proposed. “You could Poop them.

“Will you explain to me why people encourage delusional behaviour in children, and medicate it in adults?”

“Mistakes wreck your life. But they make what you have. It's kind of all one. … no good to complain about your flock, because it's the put-together of all your past choices.”

Ovid, the scientist, tells Dellarobia: "Science doesn't tell us what we should do. It only tells us what is."

Dellarobia thinks about her dog, Roy, "...as he hurried to put his small yellow tags on all of the yard's most notable points. The dog version of Post-its."

"Whoever was in charge of weather had put a recall on blue and nailed up this mess of dirty white sky like a lousy drywall job."

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The Museum of Extraordinary ThingsThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again with elegant prose Hoffman has created a magical, spell binding story. This mystery, set against the backdrop of New York in the early 1900’s and is rich with historical facts. It isa tale filled with hope, wonder, romance, a respect for those who are different, deep thoughts to ponder, and the beauty of humanity outshining and overcoming deep, disturbing darkness. A truly beautiful story.

Favorite quotes:
"If we had no hurt and no sin to speak of, we'd be angels, and angels can't love the way men and women do.”

“The truth frightens people because it isn’t stable. It shifts every day. If you’d prefer to remain in the dark, I would understand.”

“It's not finding what's lost, it's understanding what you've found.”“the past was what we carried with us, threaded to the future, and we decided whether to keep it close or let it go. Fate was both what we were given and what we made for ourselves.”

“... people can surprise you in so many ways, both with cruelty and with kindness.”“... we saw the edges of one another's souls.”

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was well researched and the time period was interesting, but the story itself fell flat for me. I never felt particularly invested in any of the three main shallow and superficial characters. In fact, I had a difficult time differentiating their voices.
Worst of all is the writing. . . no depth of emotion, no descriptions, just flat sentences. And many actions didn't make sense when considering the characters; many parts felt rushed and cobbled together in order to move the story forward, instead of being true to the characters' previous actions.
I enjoyed her other books but this one is a flop. I would not recommend this book to others.
The audio version is especially bad. . . an overdramatic narrator whose voice was irritating and who kept mixing up the different characters' verbal inflections and tones.

If you did/do read book be sure to go to her blog:
http://www.lisasee.com/insidechinadolls/ (sorry I can't get link to go to exact page, but url is correct...when you get to page click on the Quicklink in the black bottom, right side: "Step Inside the World of China Dolls")
She has posted several 1934-1946 ChopSuey Circuit photos,interviews & dance videos. IT is EXCELLENT.

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