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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

>> Thursday, February 28, 2008

Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Publication Date: 1967
Pages: 162
Heart of a Child Challenge #1

I remember reading this book several times when I was a kid. Several of my fellow bloggers have read it over the past couple of years and every one of their posts made me want to pick it up again. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it as much as an adult as I did as a kid, but decided to give it a re-read.

Claudia is a Connecticut 12 year old who decides to run away temporarily so that her family will have the chance to learn some “Claudia appreciation”. Oh could I ever relate to that as a kid. Anyway, rather than simply run away from home, Claudia plans to run away TO somewhere. That somewhere has to be beautiful and indoors, so she chooses The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Claudia also takes her younger brother Jamie along with her (partly for company and partly for his money).

This book is still an enjoyable read. I could relate to both Claudia and Jamie at different times. Yes, the runaway and hide in the museum storyline is even more unrealistic than it was in 1967, but it’s still a fun adventure to think and read about. I really think that the mystery of the Angel statue in this book may have been the beginnings of my lifelong love of mystery stories.


Amnesia by G.H. Ephron

>> Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Series: # 1 in the Peter Zak Series
Genre: Mystery
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 293
Themed Reading Challenge #2, A-Z Reading #12 (E Author)

This one went on my TBR list when
Framed & Booked posted about it last summer. G. H. Ephron is actually two people. Hallie Ephron is a journalist and Dr. A.A. Greeley is a forensic neuropsychologist who write together as G.H Ephron (although Hallie Ephron’s website identifies her co-author of this series as Dr. Donald Davidoff, so I suspect the first one was listed under a possible double pseudonym). The real identities of the authors aside, I enjoyed this book and plan to read more of this series.

Dr. Peter Zak is a psychologist who is asked to evaluate a woman who survived a brutal attack that left her boyfriend dead and her in a coma for six weeks. Her subsequent amnesia about the attack is to be expected. Her later recollection and accusation of her ex-husband as the killer is the reason Peter is asked to evaluate her. Are these recovered memories valid?

Peter is dealing with his own demons. This case is the first consultation he’s done for the Boston Public Defender’s office since his own wife was brutally murdered in their own home.

The mystery was well done and the medical information was interesting without being overly detailed and jargon filled. I liked Peter and his colleagues as well as his mother. There are a four more books in this series and I’m putting them all on my TBR list.


Audiobook – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

>> Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 1813
Read by: Kate Reading

I first tried to read this about four years ago and ended up putting it aside because I just couldn’t make myself care about the characters. I kept thinking that I must have missed something because I know so many people who just adore Jane Austen’s books. I decided to try listening to it instead. I did finish it and I loved listening to Kate Reading’s voice and the way she read the book.

I must just not have the “Jane Austen Loving” gene, though. I don’t have a shopping gene either, so maybe they’re near each other on the DNA map. It’s not that I have anything against classics in general, because I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed several in the past few years. I didn’t dislike the book, but I really just didn’t care that much. It wasn’t anything against Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. They were fine, if not a little bland. It was nothing like the intense dislike I felt for both Heathcliff and Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Mostly what I felt about this one was apathy. Maybe I’m too old and cynical to get caught up in it. I probably should have read it when I was in my teens or twenties. Then again, it might just be that genetic flaw thing.


Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie

>> Monday, February 25, 2008

Genre: Biography
Publication Date: 1980
Pages: 855
Russian Reading #3, Decades 08 #3 (1980’s), TBR 2008 #3, What’s in a Name Challenge #3 (First Name), A-Z Reading #11 (P title), Chunkster Challenge 2008 #3, Royalty Rules #2

Well – I’d been in Russia for the last several books, so I just decided to stay there while I was in the habit of pronouncing the names to myself. This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, but the sheer size of it has kept it there. My copy is a hardcover and with notes, index, etc. It’s a hefty one at 3.2 lbs and 909 pages. I was determined to read it and this year the Russian Reading challenge gave me a reason to do so. Then, once it was on the list I started adding it to other challenge lists it applied to and ended up with my current record of 7 challenges with one book. I’m such a dork, but I’m pretty impressed with that kind of challenge planning.

It wasn’t a fast read, but it was truly fascinating to me. Peter the Great was a giant of a man (6 feet, 7 inches tall) who ruled a huge country at a time of tremendous change, not only for the country, but for the entire world. This book had to be big to really tell his story. The early part, about his childhood in Old Muscovy is interesting and gives a good background of how behind the rest of Europe the country was. When Peter heads out on his “Great Embassy” to visit the rest of Europe (except for France!), the author gives a brief background on Peter’s contemporary heads of state. This helps place Peter’s actions in the context of what may be more familiar European history to readers.

The middle parts are very heavy on the military history of the long extended war between Russia and Sweden. Parts of this were a bit skim-worthy, but I didn’t because once again, I was reading about a part of European history for the first time. I didn’t know anything about Charles XII of Sweden and his long-running war with Peter.

This book was quite interesting, but I went into it already interested in the topic and the period of history. I’m sure that without that pre-requisite, someone else might find it monumentally dull. The title is quite appropriate because this book is really only partly about Peter the Great. It includes some information about most of the other European rulers at the time of his reign.


The Eponymous Challenge

>> Saturday, February 16, 2008

Once again, I happened upon a new challenge I can join without adding any more books to my reading list. I’ve already got 3 books planned for for other challenges that qualify for this one along with a 4th that’s been on my read soon list for a while. I love it when that happens.

Coversgirl is hosting The Eponymous Challenge

Here’s how it works:

The challenge will run from 1 March to 31 May, 2008.

During that time your mission should you choose to accept it is to read 4 books whose titles are the name of one or more of the characters (e.g. Evelina, Oscar and Lucinda); or a description of one or more of the characters (e.g. The Merchant of Venice, Sylvia’s Lovers).

Non-fiction books and overlaps with other challenges are welcome, as are books named after four-legged characters.

These are the books I’ve got planned already that qualify for this challenge:

Thanks Coversgirl – thanks for making this an easy one for me to add to my current challenges.

Reading update: I'm nearing the halfway point in Peter the Great - His Life and World. It's a fascinating book: part biography of Peter, part overview of Europe and it's leaders in the late 17th early 18th century. It's not a quick read, but I'm loving it.


The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

>> Thursday, February 7, 2008

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 229
TBR 2008 #2, Royalty Rules #1, A-Z Reading #10 (K title)

Ever since I read Robert K Massie’s
Nicholas and Alexandra for the first time when I was in high school, I’ve had a fascination with the Romanov Dynasty. I’ve read a variety of books and watched many Discovery channel and History channel shows. When I first read Heather’s review of this book, it went right onto my TBR list. It took a while, but I finally got around to reading it.

This is a fictional account of the last days of the Czar Nicholas II and his family told from the perspective of a young kitchen boy who traveled with the family to their final imprisonment in Siberia. In the book, young Leonka is now an elderly man recording his story that he has kept secret for many years. He wants to pass along his recollections to his granddaughter before he dies. Inspired by truth, this is nevertheless a fictional account of the family in the final weeks of their lives. The narrator clearly admired the former ruler and his wife, but at the same time is blunt about their downfall being brought on by their own actions and faults. Despite their flaws as rulers, the devotion that Nicholas and Alexandra had for each other and their family is well known and well portrayed in this book.

This one is a quick read that I enjoyed. Although the fate of the family is expected, the author throws in enough detail and twists to the story to keep it interesting historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more of Alexander’s books.


The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

>> Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Series: # 1 in the Erast Fandorin Series
Genre: Mystery
Publication Date: 1998 (Original), 2003 (English Translation)
Pages: 242
Russian Reading #2, A-Z Reading #9 (W title)

I found this author when I was searching other book lists of participants in the Russian Reading Challenge. I didn’t want to read just classics and Non-Fiction for that challenge. I wanted to find a contemporary Russian Author. This one filled the need, but kept the classic/ historical theme in a way too.

This book almost has multiple personalities. It’s a contemporary author, but the setting is in 1876 Russia. It’s written in the style I associate with classic Russian literature – wordy, flowery language and a slow measured pace, but at the same time the plot is more like a contemporary mystery novel. It’s really hard to describe the book and therefore it’s also really hard to determine my overall feelings about it.

From the inside cover:

Moscow, May 1876: What would cause a talented young student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public in the Alexander Gardens? Decadence and boredom, most likely, is what the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Police thinks, but still he finds it curious enough to send the newest member of the division, Erast Fandorin, a young man of irresistible charm, to the Alexander Gardens precinct for more information.

Fandorin is not satisfied with the conclusion that this is an open-and-shut case, nor with the preliminary detective work the precinct has done -- and for good reason: The bizarre and tragic suicide is soon connected to a clear case of murder, witnessed firsthand by Fandorin. There are many unresolved questions. Why, for instance, have both victims left their fortunes to an orphanage run by the English Lady Astair? And who is the beautiful "A.B.," whose signed photograph is found in the apparent suicide's apartment? Relying on his keen intuition, the eager sleuth plunges into an investigation that leads him across Europe, landing him at the deadly center of a terrorist conspiracy of worldwide proportions.

Fandorin was a likeable enough hero. He’s young (only 20) and incredibly naïve about not only life, but also detective work. The story was complex and filled with unlikely coincidences. I liked it well enough because it was different than what I normally read, but I’m not sure I liked it well enough to recommend it. Interesting and mostly because it’s different is probably the most accurate description how I felt about this one. I didn’t dislike it and may eventually give another book in this series a try.


The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

>> Friday, February 1, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2008 (U.S. publication date)
Pages: 468
A-Z Reading #8 (H Title)

From the back cover:

Grace Bradley went to work at Riverton House as a servant when she was just a girl, before the First World War. For years her life was inextricably tied up with the Hartford family, most particularly the two daughters, Hannah and Emmeline.

In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the house, a young poet shot himself. The only witnesses were Hannah and Emmeline and only they -- and Grace -- know the truth.

In 1999, when Grace is ninety-eight years old and living out her last days in a nursing home, she is visited by a young director who is making a film about the events of that summer. She takes Grace back to Riverton House and reawakens her memories. Told in flashback, this is the story of Grace's youth during the last days of Edwardian aristocratic privilege shattered by war, of the vibrant twenties and the changes she witnessed as an entire way of life vanished forever.

The novel is full of secrets -- some revealed, others hidden forever, reminiscent of the romantic suspense of Daphne du Maurier. It is also a meditation on memory, the devastation of war and a beautifully rendered window into a fascinating time in history.

I hadn’t planned on reading this book so soon, but I was selected to read and review it for Bookbrowse, so when they sent me the ARC, it went to next on the list.

This book is reminiscent of The Thirteenth Tale in some ways. It’s told in flashback by an elderly woman, sisters (one named Emmeline) are part of the story, the setting is in an old family house, and many secrets are gradually revealed. That said, it’s also very different from The Thirteenth Tale. Yes, it’s a story about a family and their servants, but it’s so much more. It’s a story of the time. England during and after World War I was a country and society in the midst of change. The concept of “Duty” is a theme throughout the book – The household staff and their duty to the family they work for, the duty to family and country that crossed all class levels. The impact of the war on the families who lost sons and fathers as well as the survivors who came home forever altered by their wartime experiences is as much a part of this book as the primary story.

Because it’s told in flashback, the reader knows some of what happened right away, but how and why is doled out in pieces as Grace (the former housemaid and lady’s maid) tells her story and that of the occupants of The House at Riverton. Some of the mysteries are easy to figure out and no surprise when revealed, other parts are revealed throughout the books with a few unexpected twists and turns.

It took me a while to really get into this one – probably more due to timing than anything in the book itself. All in all I really enjoyed this book and will be looking for more from this author in the future.


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