Summer Reading, part two

Summer Reading, part two
by Connie Barrington

I spent my summer enjoying some of the typical beach books, from mysteries to adventure stories and romances. Suzanne Brockmann brings back old favorites from her Troubleshooters series in Hot Pursuit, while still providing the requisite new romance and action. J.A. Jance also sticks with favorites, intertwining a story involving Seattle’s Beaumont with Arizona Sheriff Brady. For Valleyites the discussion of dunes and buggies in the story will remind you a bit of home.

My reading included the latest Evanovich. Finger-Licking Fifteen is smoking fun as our heroine, Stephanie Plum, becomes embroiled in a barbeque-related homicide. The usual gang is present in the “Burg”, as are the usual laughs. If the title implies fast food, the analogy carries over to how I felt about the book, delicious and easily downed, if not awfully sustaining.

I did find a book that will stick with me long after it gets cooler here in the Valley. Simply Alice spoke to me. It is the story, from her perspective, of a Harvard professor in her early 50s who gets early onset Alzheimer’s. While fiction, I learned quite a bit about the disease. I felt for the main character in her struggle to maintain some portion of herself in her memory. This is one worth reading, even if you do not know someone who is afflicted.

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Published in: on September 1, 2009 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Author: Mary Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

A feel good book about World War II, the bombings in London, the occupation of Guernsey (where the heck is Guernsey, anyway?) and even prisoners of war? Not likely, I would have said. But that is before I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

This novel, epistolary* (in good part) details writer Juliet Ashton’s post-World War II search for a new book topic. It takes her from bombed out post-War London to the Isle of Guernsey, which is a British dependency, actually sitting to the west of Normandy, France, a part of the “Channel” islands. I had to look it up to place it. *Speaking of looking up, “epistolary” means “carried on by” or “consisting of letters” according to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Wikipedia indicates that Guernsey was indeed occupied by the Germans, with some residents being taken over to German camps during the occupation. Ms. Ashton learns about the human side of this as she corresponds with Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey resident. She also learns of the group that became known as the “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” from him and others in letters. Finally she feels compelled to meet the various letter writers and goes to visit Guernsey.

I highly recommend this historical novel with the gentle heart. I will leave it to you to read it and learn for yourself just what a Potato Peel Pie actually is.

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 2:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: Cross Country

Title: Cross Country (audio version)

Author: James Patterson

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

I have read, or listened to, the works of James Patterson for many years.  I was one of the early readers of the Women’s Murder Club books and have followed Alex Cross from the get go, within the Washington D.C. police force, with the FBI and back to DC as a consultant.  I think “Kiss the Girls” is one of the ultimate audio books and have recommended it to many people.  So I was geared up to listen to the newest work, Cross Country.

 I finished it, but grudgingly.  While readers Peter J. Fernandez and Dion Graham do a fine job, the plot is just too much, even for someone willing to suspend their disbelief.  Just how often can Alex Cross outwit death?  Have his family escape harm?  Do truly stupid things and act as though the character does not realize the impact they could have on his family?  This story explores all of those questions when Cross decides to follow a murder case to Africa. 

Apparently the character is not aware that his authority will not protect him in deepest, darkest Africa.  It is surprising that any American, much less one supposedly as knowledgeable as Dr. Cross, would not be aware of the limitations of American protection and the dangers of travel abroad in troubled areas.  Author James Patterson is clearly upset by the plight of many Africans as they face despotic governments, turmoil, civil wars, genocide and many other ills.  He proceeds, however, to beat us over the head in an attempt to educate us, which does not make for the thrilling work he clearly was aiming at offering.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: Burn Out

Title: Burn Out

Author: Marcia Muller

Reviewer: Connie Barrington

If you are at all into Sue Grafton or other authors with female detectives, you may have come across Marcia Muller.   Muller is often called the “mother” of the female detective story, as we now know it, because her character, Sharon McCone, was one of the earliest (1977) in the genre.   Muller herself is one of the three authors featured in the original “Women of Mystery”, a program about women in mystery novels put together by the California Center for the Book and available on a video from this library.

Burn Out is the newest McCone story.   Sharon’s traveled a distance from her early days as a private investigator (in Edwin of the Iron Shoes), but Muller keeps a great surrounding cast of ongoing characters throughout her evolution.  This book finds Sharon at a turning point, burned out, feeling like she has lost her enjoyment of her work as a result of her recent cases (The Ever-Running Man, 2007).   She has retreated to her country sanctuary, where she is wallowing in doing nothing much.

Fate does not leave her alone, however, as her friend and ranch manager asks her help and she is pulled into a case involving two states and a years’ old rape cover-up.   Without meaning to McCone is pulled into investigating and manages to unravel the case with some assistance from her Native American pipeline.   Fans of the series will want to see where Sharon is headed and folks who enjoy a mystery can just pick it up and follow along.

Check out the other titles by Marcia Muller in the catalog.  They include most of the Sharon McCone titles, another series involving art and ones with a policewoman set in northern California.

If you like female private eyes, and have not sampled Sara Paretsky, you might also enjoy her work with V.I. (Vic) Warshawski.   Together with Grafton and Muller, Paretsky is one of the “Women of Mystery” who helped reshape the mystery novel.

Published in: on November 5, 2008 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Teen Read Week Book Reviews – Books with “Bite”

Vampire Kisses series by Ellen Schreiber.  Young fans do not have to miss out on the vampire craze.  Schreiber writes a clean, junior-high acceptable, series with a Goth heroine who falls for the new guy at school, only to learn he lives a creepy mansion.

A high school boy is at the center of a demon’s attempt to take a vacation from Hell in Repossessed.  Award-winning young adult author A.M. Jenkins takes a thoughtful look at what it means to be human and shows there is hope for us all in this humorous take on the subject.

For the older high school student Vampire Diaries by L.A. Banks has become a classic.  The two-volume, four book set, deals with high school-age twins getting caught up in something they do not fully comprehend.    A.M. Jenkins provides a sensual ghost story, Beating Heart, in a format that combines narrative and poetry.  It is a truly haunting story.

Reviewed by: Connie Barrington

Published in: on October 20, 2008 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mini Reviews

The ICFL offers some pleasant listening….

Playing for Pizza is a catchy title, especially with someone like me, a pizzaholic.  I just finished listening to John Grisham’s book and thoroughly enjoyed it.  For anyone who wants a pleasant story, combined with loving descriptions of Italian food and various fabulous locales, this is it.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for my waistline) there were no pizza recipes, but check out this story of a down on his luck former NFL player and the Italian team he quarterbacks.

And some food for thought, such as John Zogby’s The Way We’ll Be. From his introduction of “the first globals” tag for our eighteen to twenty-nine year olds, Zogby is looking at nothing less than what he calls a “transformation” of the American Dream. He discusses the four “meta-movements” that he sees in his polling; from recognizing limits and being inner directed to demanding authenticity and being open to diversity, things are changing.

Reviewed by: Connie Barrington

Published in: on September 8, 2008 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: People of the Book

Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Reviewed by: Connie Barrington

No, no, the book is not about librarians or publishers, or at least not directly. The “people of the book” in the title are those who are connected to the book itself, the writer, illustrator, and owners, according to Dr. Hannah Heath, the book conservator, narrator and protagonist of this engrossing piece of fiction based on a true story.

Hannah is called to Sarajevo in 1996 from her home in Australia in 1996 to consult on a rare book, the “Sarajevo Haggadah”. This haggadah is a book of Jewish stories from the 1500s, which has survived through many harrowing times, in part due to the heroism of those entrusted with the book.

Coming in just as the Bosnian war has wound up, Hannah is uncomfortable and thrilled with the project, both at the same time. Her work in conservation, combined with a true curiosity about those who have held the book over time, leads her to explore the “clues” she finds in the book and her contemporary story is interwoven with the story of the book’s travels.

This is a fascinating story and a compelling read. It combines mystery and history, with many thought-provoking considerations. The book is available in print and on audio, which has a great reader who provides appropriate accents for the myriad characters.

Published in: on April 30, 2008 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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