Friday, October 16, 2015

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

First sentence:

Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up.

Description:

"Ambitious, but never seeming so, Kent Haruf reveals a whole community as he interweaves the stories of a pregnant high school girl, a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, and a couple of crusty bachelor farmers. From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace--a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in a choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport, and lift the reader off the ground." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

A quiet and beautiful book! Haruf's description of place and characters drew me in to discover a family of friends.

Date read: 10/16/2015

Series: Plainsong, #1
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0375705856
ISBN-13: 9780375705854
Publisher: Vintage
Year: 1999
# of pages: 301
Binding: Paperback
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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books I read in September 2015: Dust: Thin Air; Girl in the Dark

20. Dust by Elizabeth Bear

My thoughts:

This is an interesting book of characters on an aging space ship. At times, I would forget that the world of "angels" and gardens were in outer space and the characters of Rien and Perceval kept my interest as they make their way through the ship. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Chill.

Date read: 9/10/2015
Series: Jacob's Ladder, #1
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: SF
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21. Thin Air by Rachel Caine

My thoughts:

I liked this book featuring Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin who faces the daunting task of saving the world while putting together her memories.

Date read: 9/18/2015
Series: Weather Warden, #6
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Urban Fantasy
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22. Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

My thoughts:

This is a fascinating book about a woman coping with a mysterious ailment leaving her in the dark for most of the day. I liked how she described her condition, her relationships, and how she sometimes was able to tolerate very low levels of light.

Date read: 9/30/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August 2015 - Part 2: I was Amelia Earhart; Mermaid; Firestorm

20. I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

My thoughts:

This was an interesting book of the possible life of Amelia Earhart after she disappeared flying over the Pacific Ocean.

Date read: 8/21/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction
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21. Mermaid by Eileen Cronin

My thoughts:

I liked this book about growing up strong despite having missing limbs due to thalidomide. Cronin doesn't let anything get in her way and her determination to live her life fully is an inspiration.

Date read:
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir
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22. Firestorm by Rachel Caine

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this entry in the Weather Warden series. I liked how Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin worked to alert her colleagues of the dangerous collapse in the Warden-Djinn relations. I look forward to reading the next book, Thin Air.

Date read: 8/25/2015
Series: Weather Warden, #5
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Urban Fantasy
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August 2015 - Part 1: The Memory Book; The Care and Management of Lies; Tell; Windfall

16. Memory Book by Harold Engel

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this mystery featuring Benny Cooperman. I picked this book to read after Engel's memoir, The Man Who Forgot How to Read, as the main character also developed the same condition, albeit under different circumstances (head injury (Cooperman) vs stroke (Engel)).  I liked how Engel had Cooperman not just struggle with reading and memory but also try to figure out why he was attacked and who did it. I look forward to reading other books in this series.


Date read: 8/5/2015
Series: Benny Cooperman, #11
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Mystery
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17. The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

My thoughts:

This was a good book about World War I, describing conditions both on the battlefield and at home.

Date read: 8/11/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Historical Fiction
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18. Tell by Frances Itani

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this sequel to Itani's book Deafening. Taking place after World War 1, the book brings to front the struggles of families dealing with men home from Europe with wounds, physical and mental.

Date read: 8/14/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction
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19. Windfall by Rachel Caine

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this book featuring Weather Warden Joanne Baldwin as she negotiates her work and life among the Wardens and the Djinn. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Firestorm.

Date read: 8/17/2015
Series: Weather Warden, #4
Genre: Urban Fantasy
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Friday, July 24, 2015

July 2015: Ghost Train to New Orleans; Deafening

13. Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this sequel to The Shambling Guide to New York City. I especially liked the Ghost Train with the ghost train robbers on horses galloping along beside it!

Date read: 7/1/2015
Series: Shambling Guides, #2
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Urban Fantasy
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14. Deafening by Frances Itani

My thoughts:

This is a very moving and thought-provoking book about deafness and the importance of listening in many different ways during the years up to and including the first World War. I know I really like a book when I wish I could meet the characters in real life, and I would love to meet Grania and Lloyd.

Date read: 7/15/2015
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Fiction
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The Man Who Forgot How to Read by Howard Engel

First sentence:

"My name is Howard Engel."

Description:

"One hot midsummer morning, novelist Howard Engel picked up his newspaper from his front step and discovered he could make no sense of it. The letters had mysteriously jumbled themselves into something that looked like Cyrillic one moment and Korean the next. While he slept, Engel ahd experienced a stroke and now suffered from a rare condition called alexia sine agraphia, meaning that while he could still write, he could no longer read.

Over the next several weeks in hospital and in rehabilitation, Engel discovered that much more was affected than his ability to read. His memory failed him, and even the names of old friends escaped his tongue. At first geography eluded him: he would know that two streets met somewhere in the city, but he couldn't imagine where. Apples and grapefruit now looked the same. When he returned home, he ahd trouble remembering where things went and would routinely find cans of tuna in the dishwasher and jars of pencils in the freezer.

Despite his disabilities, Engel prepared to face his dilemma. He contacted renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks for advice and visited him in New York City, forging a lasting friendship. He bravely learned to read again. And in the face of tremendous obstacles, he triumphed in writing a new novel.

An absorbing and uplifting story, filled with sly wit and candid insights, The Man Who Forgot How to Read will appeal to anyone fascinated by the mysteries of the mind, on and off the page." -- from the inside flap


My thoughts:

A few years ago, I saw a cartoon from WNYC's Radiolab about Harold Engel, a Canadian mystery novelist, who had a stroke and developed the rare condition alexia sine agraphia. He became unable to read, though he could still write. This was a fascinating book about the Engel's ability to adapt and to find new ways to read.

Date read: 7/23/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir

ISBN-10: 031238209X
ISBN-13: 9780312382094
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Year: 2007
# of pages: 147
Binding: Hardcover
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

First sentence:

"The bookstore was sandwiched between a dry cleaner's and a shifty-looking accounting office."

Description:

"Because of the disaster that was her last job, Zoe is searching for a fresh start as a travel book editor in the tourist-centric New York City. After stumbling across a seemingly perfect position though, Zoe is blocked at every turn because of the one thing she can't take off her resume --- human.

Not to be put off by anything -- especially not her blood drinking boss or death goddess coworker -- Zoe delves deep into the monster world. But her job turns deadly when the careful balance between human and monsters starts to crumble -- with Zoe right in the middle." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this travel guide to the hidden areas of New York City that monsters need to know about. After reading it, I don't think about places like the Statue of Liberty or the subway quite the same way!. I look forward to reading the next book, Ghost Train to New Orleans.

Date read: 6/24/2015
Book #: 13
Series: Shambling Guides, #1
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Urban Fantasy

ISBN-10: 0316221171
ISBN-13: 9780316221177
Publisher: Orbit
Year: 2013
# of pages: 339
Binding: Trade Papeback
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

First sentence:

"He awoke, opened his eyes."

Description:

The Sheltering Sky is a trade mark of twentieth century literature. In this intensely fascinating story, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans' incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of these cultures.

A story about three Americans travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky explores the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

I found this a compelling book about relationships in a harsh environment. I liked the characters' interaction with each other and the world they're in.

Date read:  6/23/2015
Book #: 12
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 006083482X
ISBN-13: 9780060834821
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 1949 (original); 2000 (this edition)
# of pages: 313
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

First sentence:

"The village headman, a man about fifty.."

Description:

"In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for reeducation during China's infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined." -- from the back cover

My thoughts:

I liked this book about young Chinese men who learn about life and love during China's Cultural Revolution.

Date read: 6/10/2015
Book #: 11
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3*/5 = good

ISBN-10: 0385722206
ISBN-13: 9780385722209
Publisher: Anchor
Year: 2002
# of pages: 184
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 2015: Sea of Glory; The Last Hot Time; Gray Mountain

8. Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick

My thoughts:

I liked this book about the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Philbrick's prose nicely details both the discoveries and the people involved.

Date read: 5/15/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: History
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9.  The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford

My thoughts:

I liked this fantasy of a man who crosses worlds to become a doctor for otherworldly characters.

Date read:  5/21/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fantasy
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10. Gray Mountain by John Grisham

My thoughts:

I liked this book about a lawyer who enters a new world and discovers she can make a difference in people's lives.

Date read: 5/27/2016
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fiction
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 2015: Call the Midwife; Shadows of the Workhouse; Murder at the National Gallery of Art

6. Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth

My thoughts: 

I liked the second book in the Midwife Trilogy series. I especially liked how Jennifer learned to look past the conditions to engage with the people directly. I'm looking forward to reading the third book, Farewell to the East End.

Date read: 4/3/2015
Series: Midwife #2
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir/History
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7. Murder at the National Gallery by Margaret Truman

My thoughts:

I like this mystery set in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and in Italy.  There were a lot of twists that kept me guessing throughout the book.

Date read: 4/11/2015
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Mystery
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Friday, March 27, 2015

Mr. Darwin's Shooter by Roger McDonald

First sentence:

"The day was hot and dusty with scattered leaves of poplars lining a towpath."

Description:

"In this richly detailed novel based on the life of Syms Covington, Charles Darwin's hard-working shipboard assistant and later his house-servant, Roger McDonald shines a light on a man forgotten by history, capturing the breathtaking excitement of the historic voyage of the Beagle and brilliantly illuminating the scientific, religious, and social controversies that exploded around Darwin's watershed theories.

As "Darwin's shooter," Covington collected and preserved invaluable specimens; as the scientist's clerk in London, was he the first man to grasp the full import of their research--the seeds of Darwin's theory of natural selection? Twenty years later, Covington awaits his copy of The Origin of Species with mixed emotions. Embittered by Darwin's failure to acknowledge him, he is also profoundly troubled by his own role in the discoveries that subverted sacred doctrines and shook the Victorian worldview to its very foundation." -- Amazon.com
 
My thoughts:

I liked this account of Syms Covington, an English sailor, who became Darwin's assistant during the voyage of the Beagle. Through his writing, McDonald illustrates well the times and beliefs of mid-18th century England and Australia.

Date read: 3/26/2015
Book #: 5
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN-10: 0802143563
ISBN-13: 9780802143563
Publisher: Grove Press
Year: 2008
# of pages: 364
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Monday, March 16, 2015

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

First sentence:

"Nonnatus House was situated in the heart of the London Docklands."

Description:

"At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in postwar London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies...from the plucky warmhearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children, to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side...illuminate a fascinating time in history." -- LibraryThing.com member description

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this memoir about working as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s. Worth's description of the people she met and worked with brought the period to life. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse.

Date read: 3/15/2015
Book # 4
Series: Midwife Trilogy, #1
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir/History

ISBN-10: 0143123254
ISBN-13: 9780143123255
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2012
# of pages: 352
Binding: Trade Paperback
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson


First sentence:

"On a warm spring evening just before Easter 1927, people who lived in tall buildings in New York were given pause when the wooden scaffolding around the tower of the brand new Sherry-Netherland Apartment Hotel caught fire and it became evident that the city's firemen lacked any means to get water to such a height."


Description:

"In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.

The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
    
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order." -- Amazon.com
 

My thoughts:

This is a very good book focusing on one summer in American history. I liked learning about Lindbergh's transatlantic trip to France and other pilots in this era, Babe Ruth and his setting a new home run record, and other events and people of the time.

Date read: 2/23/2015
Book #: 3
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: History

ISBN-10: 0767919408
ISBN-13: 9780767919401
Publisher: Doubleday
Year: 2013
# of pages: 509
Binding: Hardcover
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

First sentence:

"So the talk of random brutality wasn't just talk."

Description:

"Ten years after the publication of Wicked, beloved novelist Gregory Maguire returns at last to the land of Oz. There he introduces us to Liir, an adolescent boy last seen hiding in the shadows of the castle after Dorothy did in the Witch. Bruised, comatose, and left for dead in a gully, Liir is shattered in spirit as well as in form. But he is tended at the Cloister of Saint Glinda by the silent novice called Candle, who wills him back to life with her musical gifts.

What dark force left Liir in this condition? Is he really Elphaba's son? He has her broom and her cape -- but what of her powers? Can he find his supposed half-sister, Nor, last seen in the forbidding prison, Southstairs? Can he fulfill the last wishes of a dying princess? In an Oz that, since the Wizard's departure, is under new and dangerous management, can Liir keep his head down long enough to grow up?

For the countless fans who have been dazzled and entranced by Maguire's Oz, Son of a Witch is the rich reward they have awaited so long." - Amazon.com

My thoughts:

I liked this second book in The Wicked Years series. Liir is an interesting character and I liked his interactions with Candle and Glinda as he learns about who he is.  I look forward to reading the next book in the series, A Lion Among Men.

Date read: 2/16/2015
Book #: 2
Series: The Wicked Years, #2
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fantasy

ISBN-10: 0060747226
ISBN-13:  9780060747220
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 2006
# of pages: 352
Binding: Trade Paperback
LibraryThing page

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller

First sentence:

"I remember the day I was born."

Description:

"Accomplished journalist Sam Weller met the Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never–before–published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell the story of this literary genius and his remarkable creative journey. The result is a richly textured, detailed biography that illuminates the origins and accomplishments of Bradbury's fascinating mind." -- Amazon.com

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this extensive biography of Ray Bradbury as I not only learned about his life, I also learned how his short stories and books were born.

Date read: 2/14/2015
Book #: 1
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Biography

ISBN-10: 0060545844
ISBN-13: 9780060545840
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Year: 2006 (Reprint)
# of pages: 432
Binding: Trade Paperback
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