Friday, July 27, 2012

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

As much as I wanted to read this book, I was a little sad as it is the last of my stash of Sandra Dallas books.  I have now read them all. (Boo hoo!) This was a great one!

Set in the late 1800’s in New Mexico and Colorado, it is a true “Wild West” story done Sandra Dallas style. The plot has more twists and turns than a labyrinth. The whopper at the end had me so stunned it took halfway through the chapter before I figured out what was going on and had to go back and start the chapter over.

The story begins with Addie French, the ‘proprietor’ of a ‘hookhouse’ meeting Emma Roby, prudish spinster. They meet on the train going to Nalgitas, New Mexico where Addie is from and where Emma is to meet her husband-to-be.  Emma thinks Addie runs a boardinghouse and when her husband-to-be doesn’t show up she goes to Addie’s for a room. 

Emma tells Addie that her brother has cheated her out of her inheritance and together with Addie’s housekeeper Welcome and her boyfriend, Ned, they come up with a “investment” plan to get Emma’s money from her brother.  This is where the plan begins…

Dallas keeps the story moving forward and the reader doesn’t know who to trust.

4 stars (Rated PG-13 – There are a couple gruesome ‘Wild West’ scenes.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

In the waning days of World War II, a small group of people start out for the journey of a lifetime.  They start out walking from Eastern Germany/Poland and plan to keep walking until they meet the American/British Troops.  The group contains eighteen year-old Anna, a daughter of Prussian aristocrats, her mother and younger brother. Also in the group is a tall, handsome Scottish POW and Manfred, a German Jew who jumped from a train on its way to a ‘camp’ and had been pretending to be an SS member to survive.

As any story of World War II and the holocaust it contains the normal pathos, but also included is the viewpoint of a ‘good German’ coming to grips with what their beloved country has done.  All the characters are well-developed and you feel their concern and anguish with them.  Once again Chris Bohjalian has written a masterpiece.  I am amazed at the varied subjects of his novels.

4 stars (Rated R – for war violence and one short, explicit sex scene)

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

This book is a derivative of “Jane Eyre”, and Ms. Livesey does a marvelous job, however, I think anyone would enjoy the book whether or not they had read “Jane Eyre.”

Gemma Hardy was born in Iceland, which she left at age six to live with her Uncle in Scotland, after the death of both parents.  By the age 10, her beloved Uncle has also passed away and she if left in the guardianship of her Aunt, who vehemently dislikes Gemma.  Gemma is blessed (?) with an honest tongue and lets her Aunt know how she feels.  Gemma is sent to a boarding school as a scullery maid/student. Her years there are full of too much drudgery, not enough learning and too little friendship, yet her bright spirit gets her through it all. 

At age 17, the school is closing and she is found a position as an au pair for an eight-year old in the north of Scotland on the Orkney Island.  Life at Blackbird Hall was a relief after the school.  She had her own room, was in charge of little Nell and was intrigued by the mysterious Mr. Sinclair….

I can’t tell you anymore, it will ruin the story.  But let me say this.  The first half of the book follows the story of “Jane Eyre” quite closely.  The second half changes a bit.  I didn’t quite like the changes, I thought it made the story a little weaker; however, if I am not comparing it to “Jane Eyre” I love the story.

4 stars (Rated PG – nothing too objectional)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

Birdie Cousins is busy working through the details of her daughter Chess’s wedding.  Her biggest problem seems to be getting her ex-husband to pay for the floating-island dance floor for the reception when Chess calls to tell her the wedding is off.  Birdie decides to take Chess, her other daughter Tate and Birdie’s sister India to their family vacation home on Tuckernuck Island for the month on July. 

The island is cut off from the world with no electricity and the only interaction is with the caretaker that comes twice a day to deliver ice, groceries and take away trash and laundry.  The caretaker is the handsome Barrett Lee who both Tate and Chess had a crush on in their teen-age years.

As the month of July goes on, Chess comes to grips with the loss of her fiancĂ© and the other women grapple with their problems.  What will happen when the month is over?

I enjoyed this book, it was a great “beach read”.  Nothing too deep, including the characters, but pleasurable none-the-less.

3 stars (Rated PG-13 – brief language and sex talk)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Last Van Gogh by Alyson Richman

Last month, when I read Alyson Richman’s “The Lost Wife,” and I saw she had written a book entitled “The Last Van Gogh” I knew I would have to read it.  I have always had a fascination with the artist and a great love for his art. 

The book covers the last seventy days of Van Gogh’s life that he spent in Auvers-sur-Oise, being treated by Dr. Gachet. During his seventy days there he completed seventy painting.  The Gachet household welcomed him in and the doctor’s daughter, Marguerite was a favorite object of the artist’s eye.  Marguerite, tired of living in a repressive household, believe Vincent’s arrival signals a change in her destiny. How will their relationship be accepted by Marguerite’s father and how will it affect Vincent’s artwork?

The book is a wonderful combination of facts and conjecture.  Loved it.  Ms. Richman pulled me in once again and I did not want to leave.

4 stars (Rated PG13 – very mild, infrequent sex talk)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Say When by Elizabeth Berg

When is a marriage worth saving and when is it best to let go? When do half-truths turn into full-blown lies? When does betrayal end and passion begin?

Say When is a compelling novel that takes readers into the heart of a modern marriage where companionship and intimacy, and denial and pain, so often collide. "Of course he knew she was seeing someone," begins the story of Frank Griffin, a man who's willing to overlook his wife's infidelity -- he would let her have this, this thrilling little romance -- for the sake of keeping his family intact. But when the forty-year-old Ellen requests a divorce on the basis that she has finally found true, romantic love, Griffin must decide whether to fight or flee...or search elsewhere for the kind of life he always dreamed of.

Once I started this book and realized that it was a story of a divorce I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to read it, but once again Elizabeth Berg sucked me in with her easy prose and comfortable story.  In the end I’m glad I finished it.  It was an interesting view into a marriage…what is important and what is not.  Also the introspection of the main characters was instructive and inspirational.

4 Stars (Rated PG-13, a few F-bombs and adult situations.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was a 31 year-old black woman with five children.  She went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to be treated for “a knot in her womb”.  While being treated for cervical cancer (which treatment sounds almost barbaric to my 21st century sensitivities) her doctor took samples of her cancer cells and gave them to the laboratory, which was common practice for the time. Whether anyone actually asked permission no one is sure.  By the time Henrietta passed away her cells were on their way to immortality.  The cancer cells grew at an alarming rate and the scientists at Johns Hopkins were able to easily keep the “HeLa” cells alive, which up to that time scientists had not been successful in keeping a cell strain going. 

Soon Johns Hopkins were sending samples of HeLa cells to anyone who asked for them and they became the basis for most of the medical research world-wide for quite some time.  There are still HeLa cells being used today.

Henrietta’s family was not aware of their loved one’s legacy to the medical field until in the 1970’s when they heard of it by chance.  Being mostly undereducated, it was difficult for them to understand the role their mother/wife played in medical research.  What they did understand was that some part of her lived on. When the researchers came asking for blood samples from her children, they complied thinking they were being tested for the same cancer from which their mother died. What they were really doing was trying to map Henrietta’s DNA, so they could use the cells for further studies.

Rebecca Skloot first heard of Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells in a biology class when she was sixteen.  She became obsessed with this woman. She spent over ten years studying the medical journals and interviewing Henrietta’s family and medical professionals.  She writes at the beginning of the book, “This is a work of nonfiction. No names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated.”  So when there is a conversation in the book, it is from the over 1,000 hours of interviews she conducted. And conversations are recorded in the dialect of the person speaking. 

The amazing thing about Ms. Skloot is that she makes this all so utterly fascinating. I could not put the book down.

5 stars (Rated PG – some graphic details)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Juliet in August by Dianne Warren

I received this book as an Advanced Reading Copy from  It is an interesting peak into the lives of people living in Juliet, Saskatchewan.  The cast of characters includes: a young man left to farm by himself after the death of his adoptive parents; the bank manager whose wife is nagging him about his pregnant teenage daughter’s wedding to the town ne’er-do-well; a family with several children struggling to make ends meet; and a man left living with his brother’s widow and the drive-in theater they run together.

We are entertained with wonderful details of these people’s lives. I really enjoyed the book; however I am only giving three stars because the beginning was very hard to follow as it skips stories too fast.  By the middle of the book, once you are well acquainted with the characters, it becomes much more interesting.

3 (3.5 stars) Rated PG