Friday, May 27, 2011

Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz

Product Description: From New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz comes a moving and powerful novel, the first one inspired by life on his celebrated Bedlam Farm—and perceptively told from the point of view of Rose, a dedicated working dog.

Rose is determined and focused, keeping the sheep out of danger and protecting the other creatures on the farm she calls home. But of all those she’s looked after since coming to the farm as a puppy, it is Sam, the farmer, whom she watches most carefully.

Awoken one cold midwinter night during lambing season, Rose and Sam struggle into the snowy dark to do their work. The ever observant Rose has seen a change in her master of late, ever since Sam’s wife disappeared one day. She senses something else in the air as well: A storm is coming, but not like any of the ones she’s seen over the years. This storm feels different, bigger, more foreboding.
When an epic blizzard hits the region, it will take all of Rose’s resolve, resourcefulness, and courage to help Sam save the farm and the creatures who live there.

Jon Katz consulted with animal behavior scientists to create his unique and convincing vision of the world as seen through the eyes of a dog. Poignant, thrilling, and beautifully wrought, Rose in a Storm is a wonderfully original and powerful tale from a gifted storyteller.

First line: Inside the farmhouse Rose lifted her head and pricked up her ears

My Thoughts: As I have said before I am a sucker for animal stories, especially stories about dogs. I ended up loving Rose and worrying about the end, hoping it didn't end up too sad. The author did a great job on his descriptions, they are very vivid. I could almost feel the strength of the storm and the determination of Rose. I have always desired to know what goes on in a dogs mind so I enjoyed the author's vision concerning Rose's thoughts and was pleased that he did not try to put human thoughts into Rose's behaviors. I was surprised to find a few supernatural twists written in. Some may find that it reads more like nonfiction instead of fiction but I could not put it down. This is the first of Katz' books I've read and I think I'll read some more. If you like animal fiction, I think you will love this one. Don't miss it.

Rating: B+

Quote:She moved quickly through the living room to the back door of the farmhouse, where she looked down at Sam's feet, and saw that he was wearing his old boots. She whined a bit in excitement - those shoes meant they would soon be working together.

On the Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith

About the book: It might be 1893 and the modern world may in full-swing, but cowboy Gustav "Old Red" Amlingmeyer is an old-fashioned kind of guy: he prefers a long trail ride even when a train could get him where he’s going in one-tenth the time. His brother Otto (“Big Red”), on the other hand, wouldn't mind climbing down from his horse and onto a train once in a while if it'll give his saddle-sore rear end a rest. So when it's Old Red who insists they sign on to protect the luxurious Pacific Express, despite a generations-old Amlingmeyer family distrust of the farm-stealin', cattle-killin', money-grubbin' railroads, Big Red is flummoxed. But Old Red, tired of the cowpoke life, wants to take a stab at professional ‘detectifying’ just like his hero, Sherlock Holmes and guard jobs for the railroad are the only ones on offer.

So it is that Big Red and Old Red find themselves trapped on a thousand tons of steam-driven steel, summiting the Sierras en route to San Francisco with a crafty gang of outlaws somewhere around the next bend, a baggage car jam-packed with deadly secrets, and a vicious killer hidden somewhere amongst the colorful passengers.

On the Wrong Track, Old Red and Big Red’s much anticipated return, is filled with all of the wit, flavor, humor, and suspense that made Hockensmith’s debut, Holmes on the Range, so beloved by critics and fans alike.

My Thoughts: Loved it. This second book in the Holmes on the Range series not only had a smile on every page it gave me several laugh out loud moments as well as several *snorts*. As well as being a fun read I think Hockensmith has created a truly original mystery series. If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes you won't want to miss these, but if you have never read Sherlock Holmes it doesn't matter, the story works. The mysteries in this story kept me guessing, the humor kept me amused, and the the characters were wonderfully written. I suggest you read these in order to appreciate the growth of the main characters. I recommend this.

Rating: A

Quote: While sensible men set out to be bankers, lawyers, business tycoons, or president of the United States, my brother had what was, in his mind, a far loftier goal. He wanted to be a detective. More specifically, he wanted to be the detective: the late, great Sherlock Holmes. While no one was going to mistake a couple of dollar-a-day cowhands like ourselves for gentlemen deducifiers, through a combination of tenacity (mostly my brother's) and luck (mostly bad) we did manage to get ourselves hires as detectives ... of a sort.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

About the book: Two million children roam the streets in late twentieth-century Moscow. A four-year-old boy named Romochka, abandoned by his mother and uncle, is left to fend for himself. Curious, he follows a stray dog to its home in an abandoned church cellar on the city's outskirts. Romochka makes himself at home with Mamochka, the mother of the pack, and six other dogs as he slowly abandons his human attributes to survive two fiercely cold winters. Able to pass as either boy or dog, Romochka develops his own moral code. As the pack starts to prey on people for food with Romochka's help, he attracts the attention of local police and scientists. His future, and the pack's, will depend on his ability to remain free, but the outside world begins to close in on him as the novel reaches its gripping conclusion.

In this taut and emotionally convincing narrative, Eva Hornung explores universal themes of the human condition: the importance of home, what it means to belong to a family, the consequences of exclusion, and what our animal nature can teach us about survival.

First line: The first night was the worst.

My thoughts: I found this book to be emotionally brutal. It was fascinating and compelling but not what I would consider enjoyable. The whole thing, especially the ending will stay with me for a long time as I come away from it heartsick. Oh, my. The first part of the book where Ramochka learns to within the pack was quite interesting. The author's research into pack behavior had to have been extensive. When people start to interfere you start to see the contrast between what the pack does for survival and human behavior. Realistic and gritty, it is well written. Dog Boy won the Prime Ministers Award 2010 Fiction category in Australia.

Rating: A

Quote: The mean one snorted. 'Feral kids are worse than rabid dogs. Worse than adults too, and they reckon there's millions. Never solve anything unless we get rid of them. Put it down, I say.'
(The 'it' in the above quote is refering to the child, Romochka.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

Synopsis: 1893 is a tough year in Montana, and any job is a good job. When Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer sign on as ranch hands at the secretive Bar-VR cattle spread, they're not expecting much more than hard work, bad pay, and a comfortable campfire around which they can enjoy their favorite pastime: scouring Harper's Weekly for stories about the famous Sherlock Holmes. When another ranch hand turns up in an outhouse with a bullet in his brain, Old Red sees the perfect opportunity to put his Holmes-inspired detective talents to work and solve the case. Big Red, like it or not (and mostly he does not), is along for the wild ride in this clever, compelling, and completely one-of-a-kind mystery.

First line: You can follow a trail with even knowing you're on it.

My Thoughts: What a fun read! I ran across this book and it sounded good so I got it. I wasn't sorry. It contained a good, engaging mystery, a little gore and lots of fun for the reader. There was a smile on every page. I enjoyed getting to know the brothers Big Red and Old Red, they were well developed, likeable characters that are easy to care about. The story is told by Big Red and so is told entirely in cowboy jargon. This was a great break from some more serious, depressing reading I've been doing lately. I already have the second one ready to go!

Rating: B+

Quote: Some folks got religion. Gustav got Sherlock Holmes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

D-Day: The Battle for Normandy by Anthony Beevor

Synopsis: The Normandy Landings that took place on D-Day involved by far the largest invasion fleet ever known. The scale of the undertaking was simply awesome. What followed them was some of the most cunning and ferocious fighting of the war, at times as savage as anything seen on the Eastern Front. As casualties mounted, so too did the tensions between the principal commanders on both sides. Meanwhile, French civilians caught in the middle of these battlefields or under Allied bombing endured terrible suffering. Even the joys of Liberation had their darker side. The war in northern France marked not just a generation but the whole of the post-war world, profoundly influencing relations between America and Europe. Making use of overlooked and new material from over thirty archives in half a dozen countries, "D-Day" is the most vivid and well-researched account yet of the battle of Normandy. As with Stalingrad and Berlin, Antony Beevor's gripping narrative conveys the true experience of war.

First line: Southwick House is a large Regency building with a stucco facade and a colonnaded front.

My thoughts: D-Day has received the Prix Henry Malherbe in France and the Duke of Westminster Medal from the Royal United Services Institute. I am not much of a reader of war history and have not read any other books on this subject so I know next to nothing about D-Day. Which isn't something I am proud of. One thing that was driven home was the horror of war. The huge death tolls in the bloody battles including the loss of an unimaginable number of French civilians is inconceivable. This book was not just dry facts, there were many quotes from journals, diaries, scripts of meetings etc. incorporated into this retelling of this important event. The author tells, in detail, what happened from several perspectives, from the thinking of the leaders down to the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians. It was enlightening to hear of the many attempts on Hitler's life and of the feelings of some of the German regular army types compared to Hitler's SS. D-Day: the Battle for Normandy followed the fight from the June 6th landings throught the battles centered around Caen and through the hedgerows of Normandy and on to the liberation of Paris.

I listened to this book. What was good was that the narrator was wonderful. What wasn't so good: I didn't have access to the maps, pictures, illustrations and glossary.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about this time in history.

Rating: A

Countdown by Iris Johansen

About the book: At age twenty-two, Jane MacGuire has already packed more drama into her life than most people would ever dream of. Saved from a life on the streets by forensic sculptor Eve Duncan and her husband, Joe Quinn, she was almost snatched from her new loving family by a deranged serial killer. Now she's studying art and pursuing a fascination with archaeology, the first steps to what Eve knows will be a bright future--until one day Jane's childhood friend Mike is shot in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong, and suddenly the past and present collide in an explosion of violence that will thrust Jane into her worst imaginings.

First line: Find the key.

My thoughts: First off I'm a fan of this author's Eve Duncan books and I thought that this was another in that series. I quickly realized, once I started reading it, that it was centered on Jane, Eve & Joe's adopted daughter. I've liked reading about Jane in the past so this was ok. Although this isn't one of my favorites from this author, it kept me reading. I hate to say it, but Jane was one of those characters that annoys me. She knows it all, ignores advice, accepts no help, and runs blindly into danger. Even so, I enjoyed suspending belief as Jane and her friends chased bad guys and searched for an ancient treasure. There was a twist at the end and I'm interested to see where it will lead Jane.

Rating: B

Quote: He saved my life. He saved Joe. He saved you. It's hard to dislike a man who has stacked up that kind of credit. That doesn't mean I approve of him.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

3 Picture Boooks by Leo Lionni

It's Mine: This book is for PreSchool-Grade 1. In this story three frogs spend their days quarreling among themselves and claiming the earth, water and air as theirs. It's mine, each one claims. Then one day a toad comes to them.

"I live on the other side of the island," he said, "but I can hear you shouting 'It's mine! It's mine! It's mine! all day long. There is no peace because of your endless bickering."

When it rains so much the land disappears, they are saved by the toad. They have learned their lesson and get along. The story is cute and will remind you of some young ones you know. I love the way Lionni creates the simple pictures for his books. He used collages of marbled-textured paper, in vibrant colors against a bright white background.

Frederick: This is a cute story of a little mouse, Frederick, who dream and writes poetry while the other mice are laying in food for the winter. When asked what he is doing he replies:
"I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days."
"I gather colors, for winter is gray."
"Oh no, I am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we'll run out of things to say."

So when winter rolls around and all is gray and bleak, it is Frederick who feeds their souls with the supplies he gathered. This book is a Caldecott Honor Book; an ALA Notable Children's Book; and a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year. It is wonderful for teaching about the importance of creativity. The language is simple and engaging, the illustrations are simple and full of texture.

A Flea Story: This is a cute story about friendship, differences and adventure. The main characters are never seen, only speech bubbles with their words point to where they are. The two fleas have different personalities and different outlooks on life but are able to remain friends. You can see their differences on the front cover of the book:

"I want to go there!" "I want to stay here!"

Once again the illustrations are cut paper in wonderful colors and textures.

I have read several of Lionni's books over the years and have come back to some of them time after time. I decided for this post to read three of his books that I hadn't previously read. I wish I'd read these sooner they are all three charming.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Description: Introducing a major literary talent, The White Tiger offers a story of coruscating wit, blistering suspense, and questionable morality, told by the most volatile, captivating, and utterly inimitable narrator that this millennium has yet seen.

Balram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, by the scattered light of a preposterous chandelier, Balram tells us the terrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life -- having nothing but his own wits to help him along.

Born in the dark heart of India, Balram gets a break when he is hired as a driver for his village's wealthiest man, two house Pomeranians (Puddles and Cuddles), and the rich man's (very unlucky) son. From behind the wheel of their Honda City car, Balram's new world is a revelation. While his peers flip through the pages of Murder Weekly ("Love -- Rape -- Revenge!"), barter for girls, drink liquor (Thunderbolt), and perpetuate the Great Rooster Coop of Indian society, Balram watches his employers bribe foreign ministers for tax breaks, barter for girls, drink liquor (single-malt whiskey), and play their own role in the Rooster Coop. Balram learns how to siphon gas, deal with corrupt mechanics, and refill and resell Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles (all but one). He also finds a way out of the Coop that no one else inside it can perceive.

Balram's eyes penetrate India as few outsiders can: the cockroaches and the call centers; the prostitutes and the worshippers; the ancient and Internet cultures; the water buffalo and, trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is (almost) impossible, the white tiger. And with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create virtue, and money doesn't solve every problem -- but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

First line:

Mr. Premier,
Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.

My Thoughts: I found this book, the 2008 Man Booker Prize Winner, to be fascinating. It is one of those books that I will think about and remember. In this deep and multilayered book we follow Balram from his youth in "The Darkness" to his life as a successful entrepreneur. Along the way he tells us about India, it's politics, its citizens both poor and rich, and it's religions. I could not put it down.

Rating: A

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

DESCRIPTION: In the turbulent summer of 1974, Kate Mularkey has accepted her place at the bottom of the eighth-grade social food chain. Then, to her amazement, the "coolest girl in the world" moves in across the street and wants to be her friend. Tully Hart seems to have it all---beauty, brains, ambition. On the surface they are as opposite as two people can be: Kate, doomed to be forever uncool, with a loving family who mortifies her at every turn. Tully, steeped in glamour and mystery, but with a secret that is destroying her. They make a pact to be best friends forever; by summer’s end they’ve become TullyandKate. Inseparable.

From the beginning, Tully is desperate to prove her worth to the world. Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she longs to be loved unconditionally. In the glittering, big-hair era of the eighties, she looks to men to fill the void in her soul. But in the buttoned-down nineties, it is television news that captivates her. She will follow her own blind ambition to New York and around the globe, finding fame and success… and loneliness.

Kate knows early on that her life will be nothing special. Throughout college, she pretends to be driven by a need for success, but all she really wants is to fall in love and have children and live an ordinary life. In her own quiet way, Kate is as driven as Tully. What she doesn’t know is how being a wife and mother will change her . . . how she’ll lose sight of who she once was, and what she once wanted. And how much she’ll envy her famous best friend…

For thirty years, Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship---jealousy, anger, hurt, resentment. They think they’ve survived it all until a single act of betrayal tears them apart…and puts their courage and friendship to the ultimate test.

Firefly Lane is for anyone who ever drank Boone’s Farm apple wine while listening to Abba or Fleetwood Mac. More than a coming-of-age novel, it’s the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It’s about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you…and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you’ll never forget…one you’ll want to pass on to your best friend.

Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (February 5, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312364083

First line: They used to be called the Firefly Lane girls.

My thoughts: It was chick lit. It charmed me at the beginning, annoyed me in the middle and made me cry at the end. Bring tissues if you read it.

Rating: B-

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April Reading Wrap-Up

My April reading wrap-up can be found here. This was a great month with lots of great reading, for me anyway. Hope you had a great reading month!

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

About the Book: "I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger . . ." writes Wilfred Leland James in the early pages of the riveting confession that makes up "1922," the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerizing tales from Stephen King.

For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife, Arlette, proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness.

In "Big Driver," a cozy-mystery writer named Tess encounters the stranger along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face-to-face with another stranger: the one inside herself.

"Fair Extension," the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil not only saves Dave Streeter from a fatal cancer but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment.

When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It's a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends "A Good Marriage."

Like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, which generated such enduring films as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, Full Dark, No Stars proves Stephen King a master of the long story form.

First lines:
1922: My name is Wilfred Leland James, and this is my confession.
Big Driver: Tess accepted twelve compensated speaking engagements a year, if she could get them.
Fair Extension: Streeter only saw the sign because he had to pull over and puke.
A Good Marriage: The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage was this: How's your Marriage?

My Thoughts: The 4 stories in this collection had this Constant Reader up late two nights in a row. They aare dark tales. I found these to be especially creepy fare because they were, for the most part, about human nature rather than monsters and the supernatural. The main characters were, as is King's want (and as he stated in his afterward) ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances, they are easy to relate to. Who hasn't been afraid of getting a flat tire on a lonely road? How awful would it be to find your spouse was keeping a DARK secret?

My least favorite of the four was the story "Fair Extension." It was the only one that had any real amount of the supernatural, the man selling his soul to the devil. Well he didn't sell his soul, he paid money. When reflecting on this I decided it was my least favorite in part because there was no good guy to come out on top. The bad guy got it all. I didn't feel for the main character at all. he was filled with hatred and greed because he was jealous......of his "best" friend.

The most heart pounding one was "A Good Marriage" which King based on the BTK serial killer. The first part of it was rather bland, what a great set up for what came next.

The one that hit home the most was "Big Driver." In this one we find Tess, an author of cozy mysteries, stuck on a back road with a flat. Raped and left for dead, she seeks revenge. The ending was predicable and satisfying. One time I had a flat in the middle of the night on a stretch of road that was deserted and unpopulated in the early 80s, a time before everyone had a cell phone. While nothing bad happened to me it was really scary.

I'm going to rate this as an A for all you Constant Readers, suspense, and horror fans. If you read true crime 3 of the the 4 may appeal to you. I'll save this one and reread it sometime.

Rating: A