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Valhalla Rising by Clive Cussler

>> Thursday, September 28, 2006

I needed a brain vacation after reading (and wanting to continue to savor) One Foot in Eden, so I picked this one off the shelf. I enjoy Cussler’s books for pure escapism adventure. His heroes are a combination of Indiana Jones, James Bond, with a little bit of Aquaman tossed in. This one is the typical storyline. Ancient treasure is lost, evil megalomaniac or coalition is trying to take over the world and our brave heroes beat all odds to save the day, the world, humanity as we know it and get the beautiful girl, too. Who cares if it’s trite? It’s fun.

OK, I confess, I wrote that plot summary before I even read the book, but now that I’ve finished the book I’m not surprised at all that I don’t have to change it. All in all, a fun read for folks who like this kind of stuff. If you don’t like the genre, this book isn’t going to make you change your mind.


One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash

>> Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This book begins with the disappearance of a local troublemaker in 1950’s backwoods South Carolina. The Sheriff believes that he’s been murdered, but without a body or other evidence, he can only speculate as to what actually happened. As the sheriff tells his story, we learn that he has his own demons and disappointments in his past. 5 different narrators tell the story; each telling their part of the tale in turn. The narration from different sources overlaps to give an ever-widening perspective on events. The multiple perspectives not only round out the story, but move it along in time too. It almost reads like overlapping short stories, but they are intertwined into one haunting and beautifully written tale.

Many thanks go out to my friend for recommending this one. It’s going to stick with me for a while, so I intend to follow it up with a mindless adventure that will be a bit of a brain vacation and not interfere with my ability to relish the beauty of the language in Rash’s book.


Audiobook - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

>> Tuesday, September 19, 2006

After a messy divorce, depression and further heartbreak, Gilbert takes a year to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of “everything” and this book is a thoroughly enjoyable memoir of that year. In Italy she indulges her senses, primarily in food. In India she feeds her spiritual side at her guru’s ashram, and in Indonesia she seeks a balance between devotion and pleasure. I loved this book. The people she meets along the way are fascinating and charming. Some of her comments really spoke to me. Although I listened to this book (extremely well read by the author, by the way), I do plan on buying a 3-D copy to read again.


The Innocent by Harlan Coben

>> Monday, September 18, 2006

I’d skipped this one when Promise Me came out. I was so anxious to read the new one in the Myron Bolitar series that I delayed reading this stand-alone from Coben. As is normal for his books, this one had me hooked right away. There are several storylines that you know will connect. The pathway to that connection is a page-turner that kept me guessing. This one was very good! Now I’m stuck waiting again for him to write another book.


A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka

>> Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I picked up this book in The Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. It’s one of those wonderful overly crowded independent bookstores where books are not just shelved vertically, but also displayed on tables in interesting groupings. The title of this one in the midst of a table of fiction caught my eye. The quote on the front cover
“Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukranian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade . . .”
made me read the comments on the inside and back cover. A couple of hours later I went back to the bookshop and bought it.

It’s not really about tractors, but within the novel are the excerpts from the book Pappa is writing about tractors. The story is mostly about Nadezhda and her estranged sister Vera and their efforts to get rid of this bleached blonde bombshell that has invaded their lives in search of a life in England. The battle of wits is at times hilarious and at times heart wrenching as Valentina’s treatment of Pappa becomes downright cruel.
This book seems to be undecided whether it wants to be a comedy or a tragedy. Even the narrator Nadezhda says at about the halfway point "I had thought this story was going to be a knockabout farce, but now I see it is developing into a knockabout tragedy." The excerpts from Pappa’s book on tractors seem to interrupt the pace. What is more fascinating is the differing interpretations the sisters’ have of their family history both in the Ukraine and in England after World War II. The older sister Vera has her own memories of the family’s wartime experiences, but Nadezhda, who is 10 years younger, only knows that part of the family history through the stories told by her parents. Reconciling this history and the family is the true story of this book. In the end, although I can’t give it a hearty recommendation, it was quite an interesting read.


A to Z times Two

>> Sunday, September 10, 2006

Well – I’ve reached the end (again). My goal for 2006 was to read my way through 2 lists of 26 books. The first would be A-Z by Title, and the second would be A-Z by Author. It’s taken 8 ½ months, but I made it. It’s been an interesting reading experience. There were many times that I was tempted to ditch the plan and grab a really interesting sounding book that someone had mentioned. I stuck with it, though, and had a great time. Of course I now have a long “List of books to read after I’m done with the A to Z lists”, so I really haven’t shortened my To Be Read list in the slightest, but I really didn’t expect that to happen, anyway.

It’s been fun to stick with reading the books in alphabetical order. It made me plan my reading more than I ever have before, but I kept my options open and sometimes didn’t decide which of several possibilities to read till the last minute. I’ve tried many new authors and although there have been some that have been disappointing I’ve had far more that were not. I have a few new series to read and several new authors to add to my favorites list.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed this self-imposed structure to my reading. I’m happy to be back to my normal randomness, but it’s been fun. Is it something I might do again someday? Maybe.

Here are the lists in the order that I read them. Books with a * are those that I'd highly recommend (many of the others are good, but these are my favorites).

A to Z by Title

Abduction by Robin Cook
Beach House by James Patterson
The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
Die Trying by Lee Child *
Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray
Four Blind Mice by James Patterson
A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber
The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley *
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer Fleming *
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Kisscut by Karin Slaughter *
Leaving Ireland by Ann Moore
Mary, Queen of Scotland by Margaret George
Night Fall by Nelson DeMille
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult
The Quilters Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini
Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
Still Waters by Tami Hoag *
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee *
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon *
The Virgin’s Lover by Phillipa Gregory
Whiteout by Ken Follett
The X President by Philip Baruth
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Zorro by Isabel Allende

A to Z by Author

Albom, Mitch – Tuesdays With Morrie *
Baldacci, David – Absolute Power
Coben, Harlan – Promise Me *
Dean, Debra – The Madonnas of Leningrad
Evanovich, Janet – Eleven on Top
Frank, Dorothea Benton – Plantation
Gilstrap, John – Scott Free *
Hayder, Mo – Birdman
Iles, Greg – Spandau Phoenix
Jackson, Joshilyn – Between, Georgia *
Kerley, Jack – The Death Collectors *
Larson, Erik – The Devil in White City
Macomber, Debbie – 50 Harbor Street
Naslund, Sena Jeter – Ahab’s Wife
Owens, Sharon – The Tea House on Mulberry Street
Picoult, Jodi – Second Glance
Quindlen, Anna – How Reading Changed My Life *
Ray, Jeanne – Julie and Romeo Get Lucky
Schwarz, Christina – All is Vanity
Turner, Nancy – Sarah’s Quilt
Unger, Lisa – Beautiful Lies
Vreeland, Susan – The Passion of Artemisia *
White, Kate – If Looks Could Kill
Xinran – Sky Burial *
Yager, Fred and Jan – Untimely Death
Zadoorian, Michael – Second Hand *


Z – Second Hand by Michael Zadoorian

Although many would consider thirty-something Richard an underachiever, he is perfectly content with his life of estate sales and running his ‘junk store’. He tells this story in short quick scenes with odd titles. The writing style sometimes seems a bit jumpy, but allows his quirky and humorous observations to be highlighted.

Crackpot Theory #1: The Junk Principle
Have you noticed that the older someone gets, the bigger his car gets? It’s like number of years on earth is directly proportional to square footage of sheet metal. This is related to a theory of mine. The older you get, the more stuff you own. Why? Because stuff protects you. It acts as ballast, a sort of passive restraint system to mortality.
When Richard’s mother dies, he and his sister (who is “as conventional as the day is long”) have to empty our their parents' home. In sorting through their possessions, Richard discovers things he never knew about his father. At the same time, Richard is falling in love with Theresa – a fellow junk lover. She has her own set of issues (more like the full subscription, actually).

Later on, as Richard faces his parents' stuff he is told something that I can certainly empathize with (given the boxes of my parents’ stuff in my attic):

At first, everything is sacred, nothing can be given away or sold, much less thrown away. The winnowing process may begin only once a person sheds himself of the emotional weight of objects. To arrive at this takes time, the amount of which varies according to the personal sensibilities of the individual and the respective square footage of available storage space.
Fair warning – Theresa’s job is euthanizing animals at a shelter and that part of the book is difficult to read.

This book is funny, sad, quirky, charming, poignant, odd and unique.

And with this book I've finished my A to Z by author list. I'll be back later today with a post summarizing this reading adventure.


Y – Untimely Death by Fred and Jan Yager

>> Thursday, September 7, 2006

This one started out pretty good, but failed to live up to the promise and reviews. A criminology professor’s friend is brutally killed by a person the victim knows and we don’t. The book did keep me guessing about the killer’s identity, and finding out who really did it is what drove me to finish it. However, it’s just not one that I can recommend. The subplots were more like semi attached asides than true red herrings. It seemed clear that the screenwriter / authors were tossing in enough graphic sex violence and possible romantic tension to hope to sell this as a movie. Unfortunately it would have been a bad R rated mystery movie.


X – Sky Burial by Xinran

>> Monday, September 4, 2006

This is a fascinating little book. The author is a Chinese journalist now living in London. The story is about a young Chinese woman who in late 1950’s Communist China meets and marries her lifelong love, a fellow doctor. After only a few months of marriage he is sent to Tibet with the army and disappears. She is told he is dead, but no further details. She arranges for the army to send her to Tibet to find out what really happened to her husband. She becomes separated from her unit and spends the next 30 years living and searching in Tibet for the truth about her husband. Along the way she learns about Tibetan culture firsthand and never loses her need to find out what happened to the man she describes as “my beloved. My sun and my moon.”


Road Trip Audiobook

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue by Lilian Jackson Braun. My husband and I listened to this one this weekend while on the road to Ashland to see another play at the Shakespeare Festival.

This series will never be mistaken for great writing, but for cat lovers, there are many moments that will make you say "Oh that is SO my cat". They do make enjoyable road trip books.

One thing we've noticed about this series and particularly in the last couple of books is that there seems to be an inordinate number of deaths in this town. Talking to Jim Qwilleran seems to be nearly as life threatening as helping Jack Bauer.


W – If Looks Could Kill by Kate White

>> Friday, September 1, 2006

This is a new author for me. I’ve heard some good buzz about her books, so this was a good opportunity to give her first one a try. Bailey Weggins is a freelance journalist who writes crime and human interest stories for a New York Womans magazine. When she finds her boss’s nanny dead, things just start to get interesting. Bailey is a little bit of Kinsey Millhone, a smidge of Stephanie Plum and still her own character. Kate White is the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and so the tales of the magazine and the staff have some authenticity with a dose of exaggeration and caricature thrown in. Despite a minor quibble with the wrap up at the end, it was a fun light mystery and I’ll likely read more of Kate White’s series.


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