Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

>> Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Published: 1996
Genre: Fiction, Humor
Pages: 440

This one was purposely chosen because I was needing a light break from the many mysteries and non-fiction books I’ve been reading lately (and will continue to read for ongoing challenges). This was the second book by Marian Keyes that I’ve read and I have to say that I did not enjoy it as much as I did Watermelon. It served its purpose as a brain break.

Lucy Sullivan lives in London and her friends and roommates are part of the cast of characters. Lucy and 3 of her co-workers visit a fortune teller who tells Lucy that she’ll be married within a year and a half. Within a few days the other 3 friends have their predictions from the fortune-teller come true. Suddenly everyone is sure that Lucy will really be married within 18 months (including Lucy). Within a few short chapters I had narrowed down Lucy’s possible future husband down to one of two options among the characters introduced. Yes it was predictable and an offbeat combination of humor and drama. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an entirely successful venture into that style of book.

Lucy was just not likeable. I spent most of the book hoping she’d grow up and get a clue. It wasn’t enough to keep me from reading more of Marian Keyes’ books, but it’s not one I can recommend.

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

>> Thursday, July 26, 2007

Published: 2005
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 258

Often, when there is a lot of hype and buzz about a book I’ll wait to read it until it doesn’t seem like every other person I see or blog I read mentions it. This was the case with this one. I’ve had it on my shelf for a while but wanted to wait to read it until I hadn’t heard it mentioned in a while.

Set in 19th century China, the cultural side of the book is fascinating in much the same way that Memoirs of a Geisha was to me. The traditions from a time and place that fascinate me and make me cringe (the footbinding process) all at the same time were totally intriguing to me. I love a book that makes me head to the encyclopedia and internet to do research cultures and events about which I know very little.

As for the story, Lily and her ‘old same’ Snow Flower’ were matched by the same matchmaker who arranged their marriages and through what seems to be much the same process. This match, however, is expected to be on some levels deeper and more meaningful to these two girls throughout their lives. This is a society where the role of women is to obey and bear sons and their value is based on the smallness of their feet and their ability to bear sons. These two girls matched as ‘old sames’ at age seven, live their lives together and separately in this novel. As women they are limited in what they can do and experience, but they have the secret written language of women that they use to communicate with each other. I’m not going to spend space on the plot since nearly everyone I know has read it already.

I had some mixed feelings about this book. I think the background of the cultural and societal stuff was actually more interesting to me than the actual relationship and story of Lily and Snow Flower. It was good and interesting, but not overwhelmingly good.

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Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt

>> Monday, July 23, 2007

Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt
Publication Date: 2004
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 284

This is the third book in the Andy Carpenter series by Rosenfelt and I enjoyed it just as much as the first two.

In this one, a serial killer is at work in Andy’s hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. The killer is using a newspaper reporter to communicate with the public and the police. Andy gets involved when his friend who owns the newspaper asks him to act as legal counsel for the reporter. Andy reluctantly agrees, just before things get really complicated and the reporter is accused of the murders.

The usual cast of Andy’s friends and colleagues is here. Andy pulls his usual courtroom theatrics (not always with good results). The combination of an interesting mystery, fun humor, and a cast of characters that I’ve grown to enjoy makes this such a fun series.

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Audiobook – Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M. C. Beaton

>> Saturday, July 21, 2007

Published: 1996
Genre: Mystery
Book on Tape Read by Donada Peters

This continues to be an enjoyable series for driving around town listening. They are short, with a bit of humor along with the light mysteries. Agatha continues to be a mixture of endearing and brash. In this installment, she’s about to get married to James Lacey, but the wedding is interrupted by the appearance of Agatha’s first husband, Jimmy Raisin. If that isn’t enough to throw a wrench in Agatha’s plans, Jimmy is soon found dead in a ditch and Agatha seems to be the main suspect.

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The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr

>> Thursday, July 19, 2007

Published: 2005
Genre:Pages: 262
Challenge: Non-Fiction Five Alternate #3

When I heard about this book it sounded really interesting to me. I’d seen several paintings by Caravaggio when I was in Europe back in my college days. They were bold, dramatic and I really liked them.

This book is the story of how a research project into a different Caravaggio work led to newly discovered clues to the history of a painting titled “The Taking of Christ” which had long been presumed lost. Through the efforts of a young Italian art history student, a distinguished English Art Historian and Caravaggio scholar, and an Italian art restorer working in Dublin the original is discovered and identified.

This book reads like a better mystery than several of the so-called mysteries I’ve read in the past few weeks.

One improvement I’d suggest for this book would be to include pictures pf Caravaggio's works. The back cover has a small picture of The Taking of Christ, and I was constantly referring to it and other paintings mentioned online. This is a good side: Web Gallery of Art's Caravaggio page.

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Final Diagnosis by Gary Birken

>> Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Published: 2001
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 376
Challenges: Medical Mystery Challenge #2, Summer Mystery Reading Challenge #4

This one wasn’t great, but it wasn’t totally awful either. It could have used a better editor to catch a couple of word usage errors in the first couple of chapters, but luckily that trend didn’t continue. Unfortunately the poor editing did, there was still plenty of excess filler that didn’t add anything to the story or work as valid red herrings.

This one was about a fetal surgery center in Florida. Erin is a reporter for the AMA news, when her friend is admitted to the specialty surgery center, Erin apparently has unlimited time and funds to go hang out and be with her friend for weeks while supposedly writing a story. She gets suspicious about several things at this research hospital, but the only reason the reader is also suspicious is because the reader also knows what the bad guys are doing. Erin’s suspicions appear to be psychic, because the conclusions she leaps to are pretty big leaps based on her level of information. I quickly abandoned believability and just read this as a brain vacation kind of book. The main reason I finished it was to find out who exactly the bad guys were. As the reader, I knew what they were doing, but their identities were mostly hidden until the end. It was a good try at a medical thriller, but I hope the author improved with his later books.

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Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural by Ronald C. White, Jr.

>> Friday, July 13, 2007

Published: 2002
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 210
Challenge: Non-Fiction Five #3

Who knew a book about a speech could be so interesting? Yes, it was 210 pages about a speech that was only 703 words long. That speech is engraved in its entirety on the north wall of the Lincoln Memorial. I remember standing there and reading it the last time we were in Washington, DC.


Was it Lincoln’s greatest speech? I’m not qualified to judge, but the book is really interesting.

From the Publisher:
After four years of unspeakable horror and sacrifice on both sides, the Civil War was about to end. On March 4, 1865, at his Second Inaugural, President Lincoln did not offer the North the victory speech it yearned for, nor did he blame the South solely for the sin of slavery. Calling the whole nation to account, Lincoln offered a moral framework for peace and reconciliation. The speech was greeted with indifference, misunderstanding, and hostility by many in the Union. But it was a great work, the victorious culmination of Lincoln's own lifelong struggle with the issue of slavery, and he well understood it to be his most profound speech. Eventually this "with malice toward none" address would be accepted and revered as one of the greatest in the nation's history. In 703 words, delivered slowly, Lincoln transformed the meaning of the suffering brought about by the Civil War. He offered reunification, not revenge. Among those present were black soldiers and confederate deserters, ordinary citizens from all over, the black leader Frederick Douglass, the Cabinet, and other notables. John Wilkes Booth is visible in the crowd behind the president as he addresses posterity. Ronald C. White's compelling description of Lincoln's articulation of the nation's struggle and of the suffering of all -- North, South, soldier, slave -- offers new insight into Lincoln's own hard-won victory over doubt, and his promise of redemption and hope. White demonstrates with authority and passion how these words, delivered only weeks before his assassination, were the culmination of Lincoln's moral and rhetorical genius.

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SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully by Melinda Rainey Thompson

>> Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Humor
Pages: 309
Challenge: Southern Reading Challenge #2

This is actually a collection of essays originally started as a monthly newsletter. It reads like a series of newspaper columns. Primarily it’s about being a 40-something woman in the South. It is part thoughtful wisdom, part gentle humor and fun, part touching moments, and part laugh out loud funny.

Some of my favorites . . .

The one about her grandmother’s and mother’s hands was wonderful:

If you look carefully, the whole measure of a woman can be taken by a showing of her hands. I’m comfortable seeing my mother’s hands on myself now, and I know there was no more comforting feel than the clasp of my grandmother’s strong fingers on mine.
The section about ‘Sleeping With a Snoring Man’ was read out loud in it’s entirety to The Hubster.

I laughed myself silly over the cemetery stuff:
I have personally witnessed an otherwise sane and rational Southern woman take her car across three lanes of traffic without a signal because she spotted an overturned urn of flowers on her mama’s grave. Everyone knows that children who allow dead flowers to lay around on their mothers’ graves – or pots of dried up poinsettias to sit around until March – just broadcast to the world what ungrateful children those women gave birth to.
For most Southern women plastic flowers are the ultimate faux pas. If you really want to scare up a ghost, put some plastic daisies on a Southern woman’s grave in December. I can almost guarantee you a haunting. I swear I wouldn’t ride home in the same car with you. I don’t make a living Southern woman mad if I can help it; irritating a dead one is beyond my imagination.
And ‘Women Who Sew and Women Who Do Not’ is ME (in the “do not” role, of course):
I knew within the first thirty seconds of my lesson that it was not going to work. I watched as my friend threaded her needle and knotted it with one hand. I can tell you right now that this small test will separate those who sew from those who do not sew, will not sew, cannot sew, and those who might as well go home.
This book isn’t all humor, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable quick and fun read.

Although I was not raised in the South, my mother’s family has deep southern roots that I can still feel in my bones. I was merely geographically challenged at birth, now pass that fried okra!

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Kiss Mommy Goodbye by Joy Fielding

>> Sunday, July 8, 2007

Published: 1982
Genre: Mystery? Thriller?
Pages: 316
Challenge: Summer Mystery Reading Challenge #3

There’s not much I have to say about this one. It’s Fielding’s first novel, but unfortunately it’s not the kind of first novel that makes me want to read any other books by this author.

This was a new to me author for the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge. It's been a while since I had a true dud, so I was probably due for one.

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Audiobook – To the Nines by Janet Evanovich

Published: 2003
Genre: Mystery
Book on CD Read by Lorelei King

This is such a fun series. I’ve read through #12 and am currently on the library waiting list for #13. My Husband and I have been listening to them (his first time through the series, my second) as road trip books. Most of them have been read by CJ Critt, but the last two have been read by Lorelei King. At first it was odd getting used to a different reader, because we both love CJ Critt, but after listening to this one, we agree that there are pros and cons to both reader’s interpretations of the voices.

This was a typical Stephanie Plum romp. Heavy on the funny and sexual tension between her and both Morelli and Ranger, light on the mystery, but just a fun series whether you’re reading or listening.

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Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

>> Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Published: 1999
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 272
Challenge: TBR Challenge #7

I did not know what to expect at all when I started this book. I only knew that a good friend had recommended it. I’m not a churchgoer, but I do consider myself to be a person of faith. The little I’d read about this book made me think I might like it. I like my reverence to be a bit irreverent.

Lamott is brutally honest about her unconventional upbringing and life. She describes her alcoholism, drug use, abortion, bad relationship choices and eating disorders with brutal honesty. She also shares the peace, love and joy she discovers in a small inner-city church.

My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. . . . Yet each step brought me closer to the ample verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.

This book is more about general faith and spirituality than any one religion. I like that because my own sense of faith has been built from a variety of traditions. Fortunately I haven’t had the tough life experiences that Lamott has lived.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, this is a book that is written with hefty doses of joy, wit and humor. I laughed, cried with both joy and sadness right along with her, and just plain enjoyed reading this book.

I think that this is a book that I could read again and again and find myself marking and noting different passages every time. This time, there were several parts that really spoke to me.

One of them was her discussions about grief. Although both my parents have been gone for years, I have several close friends who have lost their parents in the past year or so. Grief seems to be part of our lives at this age.

The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn't washed me away. After a while it was like and inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don't get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible. You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession. Martyrdom can't be beat. While too much exercise works for many people, it doesn't for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering. But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things; softness and illumination.
Other random thoughts I marked:

On family:
She holds out her hands for my brother and me to pull her to her feet. She is still wearing the horrible cardigan, and the day is even hotter now. But I understand all of a sudden that my family is like this old sweater – it keeps unraveling, but then someone figures out how to sew it up one more time; it has lumps and then unravels again, but you can still wear it; and it still keeps away the chill.
This is exactly why I need to go to the Oregon Coast on a regular basis:
The sound of the surf, the big washing machine of ocean, sometimes seems to rinse out my brain, or at any rate, it expands me and slows me down.
And finally . . .
Traveling mercies; love the journey, God is with you, come home safe and sound.

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Audiobook – The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

Published: 1985
Genre: Mystery
From the Publisher:

Radcliffe Emerson, the irascible husband of fellow archaeologist and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, has earned the nickname "Father of Curses" -- and at Mazghunah he demonstrates why. Denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor, he and Amelia are resigned to excavating mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing in this barren area worthy of their interest -- until an antiquities dealer is murdered in his own shop. A second sighting of a sinister stranger from the crime scene, a mysterious scrap of papyrus, and a missing mummy case have all whetted Amelia's curiosity. But when the Emersons start digging for answers in an ancient tomb, events take a darker and deadlier turn -- and there may be no surviving the very modern terrors their efforts reveal.

This was a typical fun to listen to Amelia Peabody book. Light mystery with the interesting setting of 1890’s Egypt. I’m glad to see that their son, while still an annoying character to me, is growing less irritating. I hope that trend continues.

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Indelible by Karin Slaughter

>> Monday, July 2, 2007

Published: 2004
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 372

This is the 4th book in Slaughter's Grant County series. I was pleased to discover that this one was considerably less gory and gruesome than the others. It was a good thriller without needing that element.

The usual characters from the series were all there. This one begins with a shootout and hostage taking in the Grant County Police station. Sara Linton is there at the time along with a group of school children on a field trip. Sara's ex-husband, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver is wounded. Sara needs to keep him alive while the remainder of the police department try to rescue the hostages without further bloodshed.

The story goes back and forth between the current tension filled scenario and incidents from Sara and Jeffrey's past that you know are connected, but only find out exactly how as the story progresses.

For those who like Karin Slaughter's previous books, this one is another good one with a nice change of pace.

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