August 17th, 2011

did you know you could fly?

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Book #56 -- Will Shetterly, Elsewhere, 248 pages.

More of the Bordertown re-read. Gods I love this series.

Book #57 -- Jill Wolfson, Cold Hands, Warm Heart, 256 pages.

This story interweaves two lives - 15-year-old Dani who receives a desperately-needed heart transplant, and 14-year-old Amanda, whose sudden death gives Dani a chance at life.

Book #58 -- Pamela Ehrenberg, Tillmon County Fire, 175 pages.

The teens surrounding a mysterious arson in a small Appalachian town each tell their stories - a religious zealot, the new kid who happens to be gay, the pregnant girl who works at the hardware store, and a pair of identical twins - only one of whom has diminished mental capacity. It actually works quite well.

Book #59 -- K. L. Going, The Garden of Eve, 240 pages.

Forced to move halfway across the country after the death of her mother, Evie doesn't understand her father's obsession with the dead apple orchard they now own. The people in the nearby town claim that it's a curse that stops the trees from producing - a curse connected to the mysterious disappearance 40 years earlier of a young girl - also called Eve. Evie doesn't know what to think, especially after she meets Alex - a strange boy who seems to live in the local graveyard.

Book #60 -- Jennifer Bryant, Kaleidoscope Eyes, 272 pages.

When Lyza's grandfather - a cartographer - dies, he leaves Lyza a key and a map: clues to the famous lost treasure of Captain Kidd said to be buried in the area. Lyza and her friends immediately hatch a plan to find the treasure. But treasure isn't the only thing Lyza has to worry about this summer. Her friend Malcolm's older brother has been drafted into Vietnam and Lyza's older sister is turning into a hippie before her eyes.

Progress toward goals: 228/365 = 62.5%

Books: 60/100 = 60.0%

Pages: 18845/30000 = 62.8%

2011 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven

# 29 Four Sprits: A Novel

Four Spirits: A Novel

Sena Jeter Naslund

This is a novel of The Civil Rights Movement. In particular, it deals with the bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four little girls, and the effect this had on many people, especially the main character, Stella Silver. Stella Silver is a young, white college student for whom the bombing created a conflict between the compulsion to act on her conscience and concern for her personal safety and the safety of her friends.

The stories of so many others tie in as well. Naslund does an outstanding job of fully embodying each character, so that no character seems just a one-dimensional sillhouette, trivial, or unimportant to the whole of the story.

I wouldn't list this book among my favorites, but I am glad I read it.


# 30 Passenger to Teheran

Passenger to Teheran

Vita Sackville West

I read this a few months ago, so, it's hard to write about it now. I do remember that I loved it. Not only is it one of my favorite genres, vintage travel, but it impressed me as one of the most beautifully written travelogues I've read.

It really made me want to read more of Vita Sackville-West's work. I haven't done so yet, but her work is definitely on my radar.


# 31 Poor Miss Finch

Poor Miss Finch

Wilkie Collins

Lucilla Finch is a young woman who has been blind since the age of one. The complications that ensue when her sight is restored combine with the complicatons that arise from the feelings that identical twin brothers have for her.

I was immediately grabbed by the Dickensian humor I found in the first part of the book, and which appeared from time to time throughout. the book.

At other times the story became more gothic in nature, which was more in line with what I've come to expect from Collins. It never quite became truly gothic, though. I would venture to call it gothic light.

Loving Dickens and his particular brand of humor, (and pathos), as I do, and loving gothic novels as I also do, I thoroughly enjoyed Poor Miss Finch.


# 32 The Ape Who Guards the Balance

The Ape Who Guards the Balance

Elizabeth Peters

This is part of the wonderful Amelia Peabody series. There are approximately 19 books in the series. Last summer, which I christened "The Summer of Amelia Peabody", I read through the first nine. It was such fun that I decided to read the remaining books in the series during this, my "Second Summer of Amelia Peabody".

As I resumed the series, I was not disappointed. It is now "the season" of 1907. Independently-minded Amelia and her equally unorthodox family are off once again to Egypt. Amelia and her husband Emerson are disappointed that they've only been given permission to dig a minor tomb in The Valley of the Kings.

Of course, being the Emersons, it isn't long before they are distracted from their boredom by criminals, nefarious plots, and danger.

The Second Summer of Amelia Peabody was off and running with a terrific start!


Books 32-34

32. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

I’m late to the game on this one, a chick-lit historical-ish novel that details the lives of black maids in 60's Mississippi and the white women they work for. A friend recently gave me the book, worried I was missing out on the pop culture of it all and wanting my take.

On the upside: there are some strong female characters, some actual history and a nice pace to the 600-page tome.

On the downside: Stockett is a white woman who loves to write in black voice with a heavy dialect, but never manages the same for her white characters. For a black character, “law” is substituted for “lord.” But the white characters never so much as split an infinitive.

The idea, telling the story of two black housekeepers and a young white idealist more enthralled with a career than a marriage, I think is to give us an on-the-ground look at a historically important time. There is something to be said for seeing the behind-the-scenes reactions from white and black characters – based on those in Stockett’s life growing up in Mississippi – when, say, Medger Evers is killed.

But the dialect is distracting to the point of caricature. Worse, the white woman meant to be a villain is so crudely drawn, you don’t really get a sense of *why* she has such a narrow view. Her pronouncements sound more like an aged segregationist, not a woman who grew up in the same world and time as our idealist. But there is no dimension to her beliefs. She exists as a straw man, to set up and knock down in our superiority.

So, in the end, it’s a fast and sometimes even fun read. But there is enough to distract from what, in better hands, could have been a better story.

33. The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie – Alan Bradley


Flavia de Luce is a precocious and pretentious 11-year-old girl growing up as the youngest daughter of a stiff-upper-lip widower in post-War England.

Flavia is a lonely girl who finds comfort in science and a chemistry lab in her family’s crumbling manse that is straight out of the Addams Family.

When a stranger turns up dead behind the home, her yearning for adventure and understanding of chemistry turn her into a young sleuth. She works to piece every clue and fact together to solve the murder.

If it all sounds a bit too precious, it is. Characters like Flavia exist only in books and movies. In real life, they would surely be throttled and dismissed, not embraced, for their supposed charms.

Still, a unique plot – who knew stamp collecting, magic shows and British boarding schools could be so twisty? – and careful attention to detail make for a strong mystery. Flavia is wise beyond her years but still manages to be enough of a foolish girl to keep us on our toes.


34. Devil Bones – Kathy Reichs


Two seemingly unconnected murders in Charlotte, North Carolina appear to involve Santeria, voodoo, Wicca or some other supposedly dark religion.

Thank goodness Dr. Temperence Brennan – her name alone inspires restraint – is on the case. Rather than leap to conclusions like the local politico who plays fear monger, Brennan tries to unravel how the two deaths might be connected, or not.

Along they way, we get our usual dose of upper-level forensic anthropology, a bit of gallows humor and explainers on everything from the naming of Charlotte (after a 17-year-old German royal) to male prostitution.

The mystery this time is tricky, at least given where I thought it was going, it didn’t, quite. But more than that, this is Reichs’ chance to show why people fear what they don’t know, and how that lack of understanding can create any number of bigger problems.





Book 87: Undead and Undermined by Maryjanice Davidson

Book 87: Undead and Undetermined (Queen Betsy 10) .
Author: Maryjanice Davidson, 2011.
Genre: Paranormal Romance. Vampires. Chick-lit
Other Details: Unabridged Audio, Length: 6 hours, 28 mins Read by Nancy Wu.

In her Epigraph Davidson introduced me to a new phrase: retroactive continuity (retcon) and quoted its Wiki entry: "Refers to the deliberate alteration of previously established facts in a work of serial fiction." My immediate thought was that this didn't bode well.

Basically in Undead and Unfinished, which Davidson had said was the start of a new three-book story arc, Betsy and half-sister Laura had undertaken a romp through time with the result that they came home to an altered reality. This tenth book is for the most part taken up with Betsy reacting to these timey-whimy shenanigans with a lot of back story exposition and an attendant paper-thin plot. I had already been disappointed in the direction the new arc was heading and this second book was worse, even if slightly redeemed by its final pages and an expected event.

Aside from what felt like 6+ hours of pointless faffing about, Betsy as a character exhibits a ridiculous immaturity in which she seriously values her shoes over friends. Such antics were mildly funny the first few times; like an extreme version of Sex and the City . Yet there friendship was always more important than the latest Christian Louboutin. Here Betsy seems to be regressing rather than maturing as a character including having a childish outburst of temper after discovering her divorced Mum has a boyfriend.

Pretty much all the reviews I have read reflected this disappointment over the decline in what had been a charming series. I find myself in agreement with one reviewer who suggested that if MJD had wanted to write a darker slice of urban fantasy/paranormal romance she would have been better served by retiring Betsy and coming up with a new set of characters rather than taking the series in this new direction. I did pay a visit to MJD's blog where she was extremely defensive over the 1 & 2-star reviews she'd received for Book 9 and whipping up her fans against such horrid people. Seriously? I almost imagine her sticking out her lower lip and pouting when she reads what folk are saying about this one.

Anyway, I am happy to stand by my reviews and in my opinion what has been a fun and fluffy series of vampire chick-lit has 'jumped the shark'.

However, one thing that did come out of this was for me to forgive L.J. Smith for shifting her Vampire Diaries setting from the early 1990s to the current day as it seemed a rather minor retcon in contrast to this mess.
HP Kels sunset

Books 46-50: Laurie Notaro, Harry Potter, Bill Bryson, Ironside

46. It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy by Laurie Notaro (218 pages
You wait weeks and weeks for Notaro's new book to be released and to arrive, and then you devour it in three days. Yeah. Notaro, the undisputed Queen of Brilliant Hyperbole, describes her attempts to "be normal" with genius hilarity, including holiday parties, dog translators, misadventures as a tourist, losing her iphone, buy a stove on ebay, and dealing with her mother's email forwards. Funniest, most identifiable-with writer ever. Grade: A+ 

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
47. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (251 pages)

Ninth time rereading.

I'll just say this again: still the best fantasy series ever written. I still love it, and true love never dies.

That said, the best part of this book is the fact that I get to read Prisoner of Azkaban upon finishing it.

Nah. The best part is JKR's exciting mystery, the profound beauty of her complex characters set in a intricate, humorous, yet dark, and deeply flawed world, all of which she weaves with absolute magic.



48. The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (200 pages) When Isabelle is sent to Versailles to make a delivery of lace, the Queen Marie Antoinette makes her the companion and friend to the Princess Therese. Although Isabelle enjoys her new friendship and the stunning extravagance of palace life, she is all too aware that Revolution is brewing. Isabelle, as a bourgeois that depends upon the royals for money, but also aware of the starvation and poverty of her countrymen, is the perfect voice for a historical young adult novel. The setting is fascinating. Unfortunately, like most young adult historical novels, it's really just an information dump. The characters never become anything more than figures, the plot/drama nothing more than historical connect the dots. Interesting, but literature it is not. Grade: B


"Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot…the world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret…Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning."

49. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (276 pages) Bryson chronicles his trek along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with his characteristic combination of engaging historical, naturalistic, and cultural poignancy and his hilarious anecdotes. Bryson perfectly captures the beauty and power of nature, and humanity's confused, affectionate, yet destructive love affair with it. He also perfectly captures the triumphs, pains, and indescribable need of hiking. Brilliant book, though Bryson does tend to contradict himself (scolding the AT for being too much protected wilderness and also being not enough). Addicting, brilliant read. Grade: A


 "Even the streets stank of iron. Beams of it propped up every building. Iron formed the skeletons of the cars that congested the roads, clogging them like slow-moving blood through the arteries of a heart. Gusts of iron seared her lungs."

"Like ballads or songs or epic poems where people do all the wrong things for the right reasons."
50. Ironside by Holly Black (323 pages) (This book, I realized too late is a sequel to a book I hadn't read. Opps.) Kaye, a changeling pixie raised "Ironside" (in the human world), declares her love for the new King of the Night faerie court. Trying to protect her, he gives her an impossible task: find a faerie who cannot lie. Kaye and her best friend Corny, who is cursed so that everything he touches withers away, try to unravel the evil plans of the Queen of the Day faerie court. Though not particularly well-written, Black's characters are passionate and charming, fierce and multi-dimensional, her story exciting and dramatically woven. Drawing on the rich literary tradition of faeire, Black weaves a magical, modern faerie tale that is one part Francesca Lia Block (but better) and one part Neil Gaiman (but not as good), rich with details and imagination. Grade: A-

2011 Page Total: 13175

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Book 44 for 2011

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. 457 pages

This is one of those books which I liked quite a lot, but I'm struggling to express why. I also suspect there's a lot of philosophical subtext going on that flew straight over my head. I was a bit put off by the introduction where the author cites her use of characters from James Fenimore Cooper, as I've never read anything by him, but it didn't seem to matter too much.

The basic plot involves Wilhelmina Upton, a Stanford paleantology student, who returns to her home town of Templeton, pregnant and unhappy after an affair with a married man, on the same day that the corpse of a huge, unknown beast is found floating in the town's lake. Then she learns that the story her mother has always told her about her father is a lie and that he is really someone she knows in the town.

Willie turns her research skills on to the mystery of her parentage and in the process unearths a great many secrets about the history of the town.

I think one of the things I like about the book is the atmosphere and the feeling of history that Groff brings to her fictional town. It has a pleasing air of authenticity spiced with elements of the supernatural. Willie is not the sort of character I'd normally like very much - adultery generally loses a character my sympathy in short order unless there are clearly extenuating circumstances - but somehow I was drawn into her point of view anyway.

I shall definitely look for more books by this author.


The city government is in cahoots with gangbangers who are in cahoots with rogue scientists who are in cahoots with real estate developers who are in cahoots with the Mob who is in cahoots with the police.  But since Michael Harvey's We All Fall Down is a mystery, Book Review No. 26 will leave it to readers to determine whether an urban renewal project or corruption or something more sinister is afoot.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)