Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure

“Your name: Elizabeth Bennet. Your mission: to marry both prudently and for love, avoiding family scandal. Equipped with only your sharp wit, natural good sense, and tolerable beauty, you must navigate your way through a variety of decisions that will determine your own romantic (and financial) fate. Ever wonder what would happen if Elizabeth accepted Mr. Darcy’s proposal the first time around? Or ran from his arms into those of Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth? Now is your chance to find out.”

How could I possibly resist this blurb on the back of Emma Campbell Webster’s novel Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure? As a child, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series (and still lament its demise) and eagerly jumped into this grown-up, literary version.

Although the book is essentially a retelling of all Austen’s novels, Campbell Webster adds clever commentary and re-imagines what would have happened if Elizabeth Bennet had married Willoughby or Mr. Knightley rather than Mr. Darcy. Her portrait of other Austen heroines isn’t always flattering, and Elizabeth’s fate often ends in marital failure (or worse), but the novel is meant to be all in good fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Blog - 61 Hours

I have had so so feelings about some of Lee Child's Reacher novels. 61 Hours in not one of them. Decidedly one of Child's better books. I cannot top the NY Times review of the book. It was very enthusiastic and points out that this mystery ends with a cliffhanger. The new book, Worth Dying For, which picks up where this one leaves off is already out. But you know me. It is so hard for me to part with the price of a hardback novel even from Amazon. Especially if it is one I am not likely to read a second time. Reacher is good the first time around but I am not sure Child's books are the read over and over again variety.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I’m a year (or two) behind the times—but, hey, I’ve been living in Turkey—and finally read Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce resides in an English country manor with her widowed father and two older sisters. Despite the seemingly-idyllic location, Flavia lives in a post-WWII society and family that struggles with the effects of war and the loss of its mother. She also happens across a dead body outside her bedroom window.

Flavia is a precocious crime solver who meddles in the police investigation and isn’t afraid to go anywhere or talk to anyone in her pursuit of answers. This cozy mystery is as charming and inoffensive as a murder mystery can be, and I can understand why it’s a bestseller.

Flavia, however, has some nastiness to her that I found rather off-putting. She deliberately destroys her dead mother’s pearls and sets out to poison one of her older sisters. I don’t expect—or want—a perfect lead character, but I prefer flaws that I can relate to rather than sociopathic tendencies.

Overall, the novel is enjoyable and held my interest. Yet, despite Sweetness’s popularity, I’ve noticed the sequel, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, doesn’t seem nearly as in demand, which might really reflect readers’ feelings about the series.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best Birth

The title of this book, The Best Birth: Your Guide to the Safest, Healthiest, Most Satisfying Labor and Delivery, caught my attention since most expectant mothers, like me, must decide whether or not to have a “natural” childbirth or one using “medical pain-management options.” However, the introduction to the book might scare off many readers as it promotes the “McMoyler Method, the childbirth method for the twenty-first century.” Who is McMoyler of the McMoyler Method? Sarah McMoyler, the author and a labor and delivery nurse.

Ultimately, the book is less about promoting a certain method and more about providing a good discussion of what to expect during a natural, medicated, or cesarean childbirth. The author also includes helpful tips for what to bring to the hospital, how the husband or partner can be more involved in childbirth, the role of each member on the hospital staff, and even some of the nitty-gritty details women may not know about the birthing and recovery process.

This book is a manageable length, about 250 pages, and can be a helpful resource for any woman expecting a baby and looking for more information on the process.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guest Blog - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I just finished Stieg Larsson's last book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Once again his book was extremely difficult to put down to pay attention to real life. Definitely his best book. It is a loss to readers that he wrote only three books before his death.

Spoiler Alert: At least this book has a feeling of resolution and does not have a cliffhanger ending.

Thank you Larsson for hours of "sitting on the edge of my seat" worried about what is going to happen next.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Guest Blog - Double Play by Robert B Parker

Several years ago I heard a program on NPR which talked about Hank Aaron. Aaron was the man who broke Babe Ruth's home run record. The program recalled the many threats that Aaron received. Some of them were from fans of Ruth who did not want to see his record broken. Most of them were race related.

Double Play (2004) is about another courageous man who broke "the color" barrier in major league baseball; Jackie Robinson. In 1947 Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. The novel is a piece of historical fiction. It follows the path of Joseph Burke, a returning WW II veteran, who eventually ends up being Robinson's body guard.

A parallel story runs through the book. It is the story of Bobby Parker who was 9 when the United States entered the war. He was 15 when Robinson became a major league ball player. As most American boys of that era he was an avid baseball fan. He followed the statistics in the paper and listened to games on the radio.

The story is interesting, but examining the racial tension of that era is more intriguing. Both the white and the black fans and players felt threatened by this change. Robinson was in a position where no matter how angry he might feel about some of the abuse he received, he had to remain calm and ignore it. He had to be the perfect gentleman so that this experiment in crossing racial borders had a chance to make it.

Reading the book was a good reminder that we have come along way since 1947 in how Blacks are treated in the US. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we accept all minorities as fellow citizens.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guest Blog - Bury Your Dead

Bury Your Dead is without doubt Louise Penny's best book yet. The story and emotions are complex. In fact there are three different story lines in this novel. Both Chief Inspector Gamache and Inspector Beauvoir are dealing with the wounds and scars left from an ambush only two months earlier. Both of them are on leave still recovering from the physical damage they incurred in the shoot out. Gamache is visiting his old friend and mentor in Quebec City in February, the month of the annual winter carnival. Beauvoir is back in Three Pines. He is supposed to be relaxing but is actually there at Gamache's request to look at the murder of a hermit. In Penny's previous novel, The Brutal Telling, the team investigated the murder of a recluse who lived in the woods outside the town.

I am not sure if you need to have read any of the previous books in order to enjoy this one. It is hard for me to be objective since I have read and liked all of Penny's mysteries. Although I think some type of acquaintance with her characters probably would help with understanding this novel, I don't want to discourage anyone from opening it up to read. The issues of dealing with change, tragedy and a need to belong are ones that all readers will identify with. How do you move on after loss or tragedy? Where do you fit in society at large or within a small circle?

This tale is not only thought provoking, it is an edge of the seat thriller as well. What really happened when one of their own was kidnapped? Is Olivier who is in prison a killer or not?

Probably adding to my enjoyment of the book, I have been to Quebec City in the winter although not for Carnival and there were so many sites that I recognized as Penny talked about them. I much prefer Quebec in the spring or fall. I found myself very interested in the history. I had no idea that although Samuel de Champlain died in Quebec that no one has any idea where he is buried. Other historic figures she talks about are genuine as well.

I have found that the books I enjoy most are often the ones that cause me to look up information online or lead me to read another book. This book certainly falls in that category. If you are only looking for a good mystery be sure to try Louise Penny. She has only a few books, but is well worth looking for. Fortunately Penny's novels are available in the US as well as Canada.

If you click on Louise Penny above, you will be connected with her personal page which includes some great pictures of Quebec City.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Heist Society

As a fan of Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, I eagerly read Heist Society. If possible, I actually enjoyed this book more than the series.

Katarina “Kat” Bishop tries to escape the “family business” and experience a normal adolescence by entering a prestigious boarding school. She lasts only a few months before being wrangled back into the fold, this time to save her father who has been accused of stealing five paintings from an unsavory collector.

In order to help her father, Kat gathers together a group of teens with special, if not necessarily legal, skills in order to pull off an impossible heist. Rather than let their age and experience handicap them, the characters use their teen status to their advantage.

Overall, Heist Society is a fun and fast read. Underlying the clever mayhem, though, is a surprisingly serious storyline about stolen artwork and restitution, as well as a hint of pedophilia. I was a bit disappointed that Carter doesn’t dwell more on these truly somber aspects and instead focuses on the fun. And this book is definitely good fun.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fly on the Wall

Gretchen Yee, in E. Lockhart’s young adult novel Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything, is a sophomore at the Manhattan School for Art and Music. When she wishes she were a fly on the wall of the boys' locker room, she never expects her wish will come true in such a dramatic way.

Gretchen isn’t exactly an average teenage girl, so some readers might have difficultly relating to her. She attends a special high school for artistic students in New York City and spends her time reading and illustrating comic books. Ultimately, though, she deals with family problems, boy troubles, and friend issues, like any other teen.

Since Gretchen spends much of the book hanging around a high school boys’ locker room, some readers might also find her experiences uncomfortable or offensive as she frankly describes both what she sees and hears.

Lockwood’s novel has a unique premise, although the execution leaves something to be desired. The ultimate message, though, is a good one: high school boys aren’t that different from high school girls. They also struggle with body image, identity, and relationships.