Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

When Rakhee Singh is just ten years old, her world is shaken irrevocably when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her father and their Minnesota home to visit her ancestral estate in an Indian village untouched by the centuries.  It is there that Rakhee meets her enigmatic relatives for the first time, seeks adventure with her three cousins and learns the devastating truth about why her mother fled the childhood home she loved. During the course of the scorching summer, Rakhee will discover the mysterious jungle behind the house, a walled-up garden holding a terrifying secret.  It is a secret that will expose long-hidden family skeletons and forever influence her beliefs about fidelity and love.

I really enjoyed the story and the mystery behind the ‘girl in the garden’.  It kept me guessing until the end. Ms. Nair has a real talent for descriptive prose.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 for themes)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Modern Magi by Carol Lynn Pearson

Oh, I love Carol Lynn Pearson.  Her stories are almost as good as her poetry. 

This is a sweet short novella about fifty-seven year old Annabelle Perkins who lives alone in a small Midwestern town and works as a waitress.  She dreams of traveling to the Holy Land and giving a gift to Jesus at his birthplace, just as the Magi did two thousand years before.  After saving her money for months, her dream is about to come true.  Then something unexpected happens and forces Annabelle to make a series of difficult decisions.

Lovely story.

5 Stars (Rated G)

The Christmas Clock by Kat Martin

Ok, I'll admit it. I'm addicted to Christmas books.  This one was just a quick romantic book, but the story was sweet.  Mostly about a young boy who lives with his grandmother and his relations with the other adults in the town. His grandmother has Alzhiemer's and eventually can't care for him anymore.  The question about who he will live with is the major play of the book and the romance is between two of the adults that love him the most.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for one brief scene of unnecessary sex-talk)

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg is always entertaining.  This book is about a 40th high school reunion and it follows four main characters. We hear what they are anticipating, what happens leading up to the reunion and then the actual reunion itself.  It was interesting that it was a 40th reunion.  People are way past the anxities of high school (or should be).  There is a scene where they all sit down and actually discuss their real feelings from high school.  During this scene the following was said... 

"So many people go to reunions thinking they can change what happened to them.  That the person you've become might erase the person you were then. But of course that doesn't happen.  In some respects this reunion has shown me that it's not that you can't go home again; it's that you can never leave."

4 Stars (Rated R for brief sex talk and a sprinkling of f-bombs)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This delightful diversion was a lexicon lover’s treasure trove of wonderful words.  It was so much fun!  It is the story of 18 year-old Ella Minnow pea who lives on a fictional island called Nollop off the coast of South Carolina.  Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  Now the memorial to Nollop and his pangram (a sentence using all 26 letters of the alphabet) is starting to loose its letters.  As the letters drop from the monument they are outlawed by the island’s Council and people start to desert the island for the safety of the United States.  The book follows Ella and others as they try to save their beloved island from total desertion and loss of language. 

So much fun!

5 stars (Rated G)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

I almost didn't read this because...Wally Lamb...meh!  So glad I did.

It's 1964 and ten-year-old Felix is sure of a few things: the birds and the bees are puzzling, television is magical, and this is one Christmas he'll never forget.

LBJ and Lady Bird are in the White House, Meet the Beatles is on everyone's turntable, and Felix Funicello (distant cousin of the iconic Annette!) is doing his best to navigate fifth grade—easier said than done when scary movies still give you nightmares and you bear a striking resemblance to a certain adorable cartoon boy.

Great quick Christmas story!

4 stars (Rated PG-13 brief prepubescent-teen-boy talk)

Maynard and Jennica by Rudolph Delson

Maynard Gogarty is a defeated musician, who makes a hobby of surreptitiously filming the fashion faux pas of New York City commuters. On an uptown 6 train in the sweltering summer of 2000 he meets Jennica Green, a nostalgic Californian who calculates that she s been lonesome 68.53 percent of her adult life. Though their initial acquaintance is fleeting, when fate next brings them together, at a screening of Maynard s film, romance intrudes. And as with most things in life, everyone has an opinion.  

This is a very unusual novel.  If you like a multiple-voice novel, this is for you.  The story is told in no less than 35 voices…and done in such a way that the reader doesn’t get thoroughly confused. Mr. Delson’s characters are unforgettable and his imagery is often hilarious.  Take this excerpt as an example…
“…[it was] a wet furnace of a morning. My armpits were—have you ever used a droplet of water to test the heat of a wok?  While I was waiting on the platform for the train to City Hall, ay armpits were informing me that the wok was ready.”

3 stars (Rated R – some bad language and brief sex)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck

Rachel Price’s one happy memory from her childhood is of playing outside with her father, Mitch, on a cold and snowy day. In that moment he took her hands in his and called her his angel. She felt safe, loved, and protected. Rachel’s mother dies in a car crash a few years later—a sudden and unresolved ending to a complicated relationship. Mitch’s reaction to certain realities surrounding the death pushes Rachel away and confirms her fear that Mitch never truly loved her at all.

Years later, Rachel’s daughter, Lily, is the only light in her dark life. Rachel is consumed by an abusive marriage but too afraid to escape. On Christmas Eve, Rachel’s husband raises a hand to Lily in a moment of aggression that finally snaps Rachel out of her docile state. She realizes immediately that she must protect her daughter in ways her own parents didn’t protect her, and remove Lily from the situation. Through the help of an old and dear friend, Rachel has a safe place to go, but first, she must say goodbye to her father.

As the snow falls on this Christmas Eve, Rachel learns that it’s never too late to start over. The Snow Angel is a tale about family, forgiveness, and learning to treasure our memories while allowing ourselves to move forward.
Glenn Beck just gets better and better.  This is the best of his books yet...emotional, real, faith-filled and very moving, a perfect Christmas story.

4 stars (Rated PG for abusive situations)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Loose Diamonds by Amy Ephron

I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from .  I love getting free books!  Amy Ephron is a screenwriter and the sister of Nora Ephron of “Sleepless in Seattle” and many other wonderful chick flicks. This book is a selection of essays which one can imagine that Amy wrote throughout her life and finally had a chance to publish.  Some are more interesting than others.  Some funny…some sad…some downright creepy.

The ‘downright creepy’ one was “My Afternoon with Squeaky Fromme”, yes THAT Squeaky Fromme.  When Amy was nineteen and didn’t know enough to be too scared to do it, she went to the Ranch where the Manson Family lived and interviewed Squeaky Fromme.  This was right after the murders of the “Helter Skelter” fame and most of the ‘family’ was currently on trial.  Squeaky had nothing to do with it, so she wasn’t behind bars.  Amy speaks of the eerie feeling of the ranch and the oddness of the few people that were there.

Some of the pieces had to do with growing up in Hollywood and the odd circumstances there.  Her mother’s obsession with everything on the table had to be in a dish of it’s own, including mustard and ketchup. And then when she had her first child she was in the hospital next to Elizabeth Taylor daughter-in-law.  The entrance of the famous movie star with her small dog and assistant at her side caused quite a stir.

Several of her chapters discuss her marriages and children.  Her first husband and his girlfriend who rams Amy’s car with her Land Rover in the car pool lane at her children’s school.  She tells of trying to get all the family (first and second husband and all their children) together for a vacation.

Overall it was an interesting read.  I enjoyed reading of a life so completely different from mine.  I didn’t agree with all she had to say…but that’s ok.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for themes and brief language.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Prairie Christmas Collection by Tracie Peterson et al.

This was a book of 9 different Christmas stories.  They all take place in the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, etc. in the late 1800’s.  They are all Christian romances.  It was a nice gentle read.  Not great literature, but a fun read.

3 stars (Rated G)

So Big by Edna Ferber

This is another Pulitzer Pize winng book. The back of the book touts this as “A rollicking panorama of Chicago's high and low life, this stunning novel follows te travails of gambler's daughter Selina Peake DeJong as she struggles to maintain her dignity, her family, and her sanity in the face of monumental challenges."  I found this rather misleading as after the first 50 pages or so, Selina's father passes away and she leaves Chicago to live in the country as a school teacher.  Selina sees the beauty in everything she sees. Her observation on first seeing a field of cabbages, "Cabbages are beautiful" becomes a source of mocking from the country folk and is repeated throughout the novel as a means of separating Selina from the people with whom she lives among.

She quickly marries a ‘truck farmer’ and has a child…a son, Dirk or “So Big”.  Her husband dies after only a few years of marriage and then the story really begins. Selina is forced to work hard to give her son all the things she longed for and was never able to attain. 

I really enjoyed the first part about Selina, but when the story switches focus to Dirk, it falls kind of flat to me, but maybe that was intentional...hmmm.  I keep going back and forth about the ending.  I can’t decide if it was a ‘cop-out’ or a brilliant way to end the book.  I am looking forward to discussing it with the women of my book club to see if they felt the same way.  It definitely has a message to deliver and it does that well, whether you like the ending or not.

3 stars (Rated G – for young audiences as well)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese

I chose this book because I loved Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone (highly recommend it).  If I had read the summary more clearly, that it was not fiction, but a memoir, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read it.  I mean, tennis...really?  That said, I did enjoy parts of the book and it did read like a novel.

Verghese is a doctor working in a hospital in El Paso.  David is a intern from Australia.  David and Abraham strike up a friendship that originally revolves around tennis and then grows deeper.  David has a drug problem which is exacerbated by working in a hospital. 

I enjoyed reading about the cases in the hospital and the friendship and drug issues were quite fascinating.  Ironically, the parts that did not work for me were the excerpts about tennis.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 for drug-use and language)