Thursday, August 31, 2006
Summary of August's Adventures
I think next I'll travel to Minnesota and visit my old friends, the Monkeewrench gang and their friends in the Minneapolis Police Department.
Review of Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: Blood leaves no stain on a Warden’s grey cloak.
Reason for Reading: I wanted to visit with my old friend, Harry Dresden. This is by far one of my favorite series to read.
Comments: I know a handful of fellow booklovers who do not like reading book series for one reason or another. Most say that they do not enjoy having a story drawn out over many books, lose interest in the characters, and one or two have gone so far as to suggest that reading series books is a waste of time with so many different authors out there whose books they would like to try. I think they have commitment issues, myself. Seriously though, I like revisiting familiar characters—it’s almost like visiting an old friend. Most of the series books I read can stand alone if the reader is only interested in the main story line. There are usually personal or side story lines that thread throughout the books in a series. I have found, however, that I prefer to read a series in order simply for the opportunity to see the characters grow and progress through their lives. Not to mention it’s an opportunity to see an author grow as well.
With every book of the Dresden Files series I have read, I am amazed at the talent Jim Butcher has for sucking a reader in right from the start and not letting go until the very last page. His previous books have often been nonstop action and suspense. Although this latest novel is chalk full of suspense and life threatening, it also offers a moment here and there for the heart rate to stabilize before the next heart racing moment begins. This provides for the opportunity to get to know some of the regular characters a little better, delving into their relationships with Harry, including gaining insight into Charity’s obvious dislike for Harry.
Chicago’s modern day wizard, Harry Dresden, is now a Warden of the White Council, a position he never thought he would find himself in. As a warden, it is one of his jobs to enforce the Laws of Magic, laws that were designed to protect people from the misuse and abuse of magic. Often times the punishment for breaking one of the laws is death.
With the war between the Red Court vampires and the White Council raging around the world, Harry is given the secret task of trying to find out why the faeries have not joined in the fight as expected. He doesn’t relish having to interact with the Sidhe again, however, he is the only one who might be able to get to the bottom of the matter. As is typical in Harry’s world, nothing is ever simple. To complicate matters, Harry finds out that black magic is afoot in his city, and he must find and stop it before too much damage can be done. It seems that the evildoers from horror movies are coming to life, attacking and murdering people at a convention for horror movie fans. It becomes even more personal for him when the life of the daughter of his good friend Michael is threatened. Once again, Harry finds himself racing against time to come out ahead—and almost all the odds are against him.
Author Jim Butcher has delivered another great urban fantasy that had me racing through the pages to find out would happen next. I look forward to the next book in the series to see where Mr. Butcher will take me next. I just wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book!
Favorite Part: I adore Mouse. He’s such a great character and who wouldn’t want him on his or her side in a pinch?
Miscellaneous: When I hit the half way mark in this particular book, a hint of sadness touched my thoughts. With this book, I am all caught up in the series and will now have to wait for any new books to come out. I am eagerly awaiting the TV series that is being made based on the Dresden Files—I hope it is even half as good as the books.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Review of The Strength of the Sun by Catherine Chidgey
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: One Sunday morning in 1988, a bite was taken from the sun.
Reason for Reading: When going through the list of possible books to review for Curledup.com, I came upon this title. It seemed different than the other books I was considering reviewing and sounded interesting. I decided to give it a try.
Comments: In The Strength of the Sun, the character Patrick Mercer stated, “‘My point is: a book can provide a link to other lives, a window to another time. It can illuminate the past.’” And in the case of Catherine Chidgey’s novel, this book has done just that.
Patrick Mercer, a curator at a university museum in England, left his wife in 1988, the day after the solar eclipse. Through Patrick’s love and knowledge of the history of manuscripts and the occasional myth, Chidgey was able to incorporate interesting tidbits about those topics throughout the novel. After driving his car off a bridge and into the river, Patrick suddenly finds himself in a hospital. Patrick drifts in and out of consciousness. Snatches of childhood memories fill his dreams as friends read to him from his bedside.
The day of the eclipse turned out to be a life-changing one for the Pearse family, when 15-year-old Laura goes missing in New Zealand. She had set out to watch the eclipse from the wind turbine and was never to be seen again. Six years after her disappearance, her parents, Ruth and Malcolm, give birth to a son, Daniel, who appears to have special needs. Ruth and Malcolm go through the motions of living, each in their own way, the grief and loss of their daughter never completely leaving them. Author Catherine Chidgey’s most powerful portion of the novel came through in the story of the Pearse family and their loss. It was a story that pierced the heart.
And then there is Colette, a young twenty-one year old who wants nothing more than to be out on her own, far away from her mother. She yearns to shed the clutter of the past and spread her own wings. Her mother, on the other hand, wants only to hold on tightly to everything possible, surrounding herself with memories and objects.
The book opens with a letter Colette receives from the friends of Patrick Mercer, a form letter describing his health, promising future updates, and encouraging correspondence to Patrick whether by tape or letter so that he can hear from those out there who care about him. Colette has not a clue who Patrick is, searching her memories, imagining he might be someone she met on a trip overseas.
It is from there that the seemingly unrelated pieces of a puzzle begin to fit together to form a complete portrait. Chidgey successfully integrates the past with the present. The narrative flowed back and forth in time, the lives of the various characters at first appearing to be separate, however coming together in unexpected ways. This was similar on a more personal level as well; the characters themselves seemed to gravitate toward being alone, being separate, only to be drawn together, and feel the need to connect with others as the novel progressed.
The author’s descriptive style flowed smoothly for the most part, with only a slow moment here and there. The Strength of the Sun is a novel about love and loss as well as the connectedness and distance between people. It is well worth taking the time to read. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2006
Favorite Part: The story of Ruth and Malcolm, Daniel and their memories of Laura.
Least Favorite Part: I wasn’t too fond of Colette as a character. I found her to be a rather dry.
Miscellaneous: My move to the day shift may be delayed. I hope management decides to tell me one way or the other before the day I was told I would be starting my new schedule. I don't mind continuing on my current shift for awhile longer. I just don't like the limbo. Why is it that these kinds of decisions are put off until the very last minute?
Sunday, August 27, 2006
First DNF of the Year
Harper Perennial, 2002
DNF (Did Not Finish)
First Sentence: The sound of water slipping through the wooden spokes of the cartwheels was like a slow, soft-washing hum.
Reaon For Reading: I was selected by the publishing company, Harper Collins to preview the novel for their First Look Program.
From Publishers Weekly: Mardale, the remote British hamlet where Hall's remarkable debut novel is set, is a close-knit community of tenant farmers "where grand events and theatrical schemes rarely take place." So when a handsome stranger arrives in 1936, suspicions run high among the hardworking villagers. Jack Liggett is up-front about his plans for Mardale: he has come to inform the villagers that their homes would soon be at the bottom of a massive reservoir. According to Liggett, the dam associated with the project will be a "wonderful piece of architecture and engineering." But the villagers, who view the project as "so strange and vast that at first it was not taken seriously," resist, setting off a losing struggle between the insular community and the modern world. Caught in the middle is Janet Lightburn, the daughter of a local farmer, who begins a tempestuous and tragic romance with Jack. A Booker Prize finalist for her second novel, The Electric Michelangelo, (published in the U.S. in 2005), Hall is a talented writer, and though U.S. readers may have trouble with the phonetically rendered dialogue ("Twa Pund. Eh? Yan more ootstanding' "), the story, with its undertones of loss and grief, tugs at the heart. (Oct.)
Comments: After three unsuccessful tries, I finally made the decision to set aside Sarah Hall's Haweswater. I was selected to preview the novel for Harper Collins First Look Program (although I honestly cannot remember putting my name in for this one), and so feel a slight sense of guilt that I wasn't even able to reach page 47 before calling it quits.
From the very first, I knew that reading the book would require more of my attention because of the heavy descriptive writing style the author used. I actually enjoyed the prologue of the book, as a farmer comes to the conclusion that this will be his very last visit to the valley that once was his home but which is now flooded with water. There was a feeling of loss and sadness that came off the pages in that first section. I was hopeful then that I would be able to enjoy the novel, however, I quickly found myself bored, the story dragged down by the description, and my attention waned considerably.
I do not easily give up on books. I have found some real treasures among books that take a while to get off the ground so to speak. And yet, there comes a time when I realize that going on is not worth the effort. I read for pleasure, and if I force myself to read a book I am not enjoying, it takes the fun out of it. With the plethora of books available right at my finger tips, there is little point in wasting time on a book that doesn't catch my fancy after all.
I see promise in Haweswater, and I do hope to return to it in the future. So many factors play a part in making a good match between a reader and a book, including where a person is in his or her life at any given moment. There are some books I know from the very start that I probably won't like at any time in my life, but this is one that I may make a connection with at another time.
Miscellaneous: It's been a day and a half since I last cracked open a book to read after deciding to give up on Sarah Hall's novel. My husband and I have been watching the second season of Veronica Mars on DVD, which has kept me from making the final decision on what to read next: Jim Butcher or P.J. Tracy. Choices, choices . . .
Friday, August 25, 2006
Review of The Begotten by Lisa T. Bergren
First Sentence: “This way, Your Grace,” whispered a monk ahead of him, gesturing toward a room bathed in shadows.
Reason for Reading: I was asked to review this particular book for the Front Street Reviews website.
Comments: The Begotten is the first novel in a trilogy by author Lisa T. Bergren. It is the story of an ordinary group of people who discover that they have exceptional God-given gifts that are both miraculous and great in nature. The Gifted, as they are known, are called to come together for a divine purpose outlined in a centuries’ old letter from Paul, which has remained hidden and relatively unnoticed.
The book opens in eighth century Constantinople, as a priest, in his final act before being carried off to the pyre, asks his apprentice to take a letter from a holy manuscript and travel to Roma, where both will be safe. The Church’s hold on the people tightens, as the desire for power becomes more important than faith, and some in the Church seek to become more important than God.
The story picks up again six centuries later as Captain Gianni de Capezzana leads twenty-four knights of the Church into the catacombs in Roma where they discover just how powerful and diabolical their enemy can be. Gianni is determined to hunt down the evil Sorcerer wherever it may lead him. It is on that pursuit for the evildoer that his path crosses with a band of travelers on their way to Siena: the independent and strong-willed Lady Daria d’Angelo, who is gifted with the ability to heal; her faithful servant, the freed slave Hasani, who seems to have a talent for knowing what is to come; and a wise Dominican priest, Father Piero, who possesses a portion of the prophecy, believed to be written by Paul.
In the novel, which gets off to a slow start as the author builds the foundation for what will become a suspenseful, fast paced and intriguing story, the Gifted begin the difficult task of not only fortifying their stronghold, the home of noblewoman Lady Daria d’Angelo whose business and political clout are being threatened by outside forces, and finding worthy supporters to their cause. The chosen ones recognize immediately that their enemies will not only attack them physically, but also on a spiritual level. With the guidance of the priest Father Piero, the group find themselves questioning some of their long held beliefs and religious practices, as they reinforce their spiritual strength.
Furthermore, their enemies are vast. Not only does a confrontation with the evil Sorcerer seem imminent, but the Gifted know a threat lies with the Church as well, who will not easily tolerate a challenge to what they perceive as their religious power over the people.
Lisa T. Bergren has created the beginning of a tale that will resonant with many Christian readers, and perhaps some non-Christians as well. The author is well researched in her knowledge and interpretation of the scriptures. She has created characters who are easy to identify and empathize with, although many of the characters were two dimensional. There was very little gray area between good vs. evil. The Begotten is the promising start of what will be an entertaining trilogy.
Favorite Part: The scene in the piazza when Daria comes face to face with the Sorcerer.
Miscellaneous: Christian fiction is not really my cup of tea and so it was with some hesitation that I decided to give this particular book a try. I'm glad I decided to take a chance on it.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Review of The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: The crime scene was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as the Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C.
Reason for Reading: I've been wanting to read something by George Pelecanos for awhile now and so jumped at the opportunity to review his latest book for curledup.com.
Comments: Author George Pelecanos’ latest novel is attention-grabbing from the very beginning. His style of writing takes the reader directly into the lives of the characters, bringing them to life. Pelecanos lays bare the characters’ motives, feelings, thoughts and weaknesses, each intricate detail pulling the reader deeper into the novel. From the middle class neighborhoods to the seedy criminal underbelly of Washington D.C., The Night Gardener is an entertaining thriller as well as thought provoking character study.
The year is 1985, and Sergeant T.C. Cook, one of Washington D.C.’s best homicide detectives, is standing over the body of the Night Gardener’s third victim, a young black girl whose body is found in a community garden, a bullet to the brain. Like the two murders before, the body had been cleaned, dressed in clean clothes and moved to the garden where it was later discovered. The girl’s first name, like that of the other two victims, is a palindrome, spelled the same backward and forward.
Standing off in the sidelines, two young second year police officers, Dan Holiday and Gus Ramone, are at the site, keeping people away from the crime scene. The two officers could not be any more different. Ramone is strictly by the book and a realist while Holiday, the dreamer, does not see anything wrong with bending the rules if it means reaching the desired outcome.
The three murders committed by the Night Gardener go unsolved for the next twenty years as the book fast forwards to 2005, when suddenly a young black boy is shot to death, his body found lying in a garden. The similarities between the killings in 1985 and the most recent one are too much to be ignored.
Now a family man, Gus Ramone wants nothing more than to raise his children right in a society that is full of hypocrisy and prejudice, a theme Pelecanos smoothly interweaves throughout the novel. The murder of the boy cuts close to home for homicide detective Ramone. His own son had at one time been a good friend of the murder victim, a reality that shakes up their world. Although not assigned as primary of the case, Ramone is determined to uncover the identity of the killer who he believes may be linked to the murders two decades earlier.
Two others have made the connection between the recent murder and the ones in 1985. T.C. Cook, now retired and trying to make the best out of his life after suffering a terrible stroke, is haunted by the Palindrome Murders, the one big case he was not able to solve during his time on the force. Dan Holiday who is drinking his life away, having left the force under suspicious circumstances, cannot seem to shed his “police” skin completely. When he discovers the boy’s body in the park, he knows what must be done. The two men find companionship as they hope for one last shot at reliving their glory days and attempt to recapture their dreams. Pelecanos captures their desperation and determination in a gut wrenching way.
By way of balance, Pelecanos also takes the reader into the life and mind of an upcoming criminal whose sole desire is to make a name for himself. Romeo Brock is a cold and ruthless man. His cousin, a veteran criminal, Conrad Gaskins, only wants to turn his life around, however, a promise he made to his aunt to try and look after Brock, is leading him back into the life he would sooner forget. The contrast between the two characters offers a unique perspective as their story unfolds.
Throughout the novel, there are two distinct story lines running parallel that never quite gel. I came away from the novel still wondering what the connection was. Although a thriller in its own right, The Night Gardener is much more about the characters and the consequences of their actions and the choices they make. George Pelecanos puts the reader into the time and place of the novel, the writing style matching the way the characters think and talk, creating a realistic and intriguing story that is sure to entertain. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2006
Favorite Part: I loved the panoramic view of society George Pelecanos used to open and close the novel. It gave the novel an added sense of place and time. My favorite scene had to be—opps! Can’t say for fear of spoiling something. I’ll just point you in the direction (hardback edition): page 362, 1st paragraph, last three lines. Just perfect! Haha!
Miscellaneous: I got some great news this week at work! My request to move to a different shift has been granted. It won’t take effect until the end of the month though.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Review for The Shattered Blue Line by Patrick A. Davis
First Sentence: She awoke with a violent start, her sleep-dulled mind reacting with confusion.
Reason for Reading: I selected to review this particular book for Curledup.com. It sounded like something I might enjoy. I don’t generally read military novels, but this one caught my interest.
Comments: The commander of the local detachment of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Major Nathan Malone, is certain of the end of his career when he is arrested for driving while under the influence. To make matters worse, Major Malone is called before the superintendent of the Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Crenshaw, a sure sign of the severity of his mistake. Instead of losing his job, Malone soon discovers that he has been hand selected to lead the investigation into the murders of two female cadets.
The murders could not have come at a better time for Senator Smith who is determined to uncover a conspiracy of concealment at the Air Force Academy as part of an ongoing Congressional investigation into a possible sex scandal. It is sure to boost his chance of re-election. Threatening the Air Force Academy leadership with an investigation by independent counsel, a process that could take years, he is able to get one of his staff, attorney Kaitlin Barlow, assigned to the case. She is to have full access to any and all information she requires for the investigation much to the chagrin of the Air Force.
Assisted by Marva “Mother” Hubbard, a retired Colonel who is a civilian working for the OSI, Malone is determined to find the killer. He is unwilling to leave any stone unturned in his investigation, even if it might implicate someone of a higher rank or perhaps a friend. Kaitlin Barlow plans to stick close to Malone to ensure there is no attempt at a cover-up, despite Malone and Mother’s assurances that their only interest is to find the truth.
As the investigation into the murder gets under way, the ties to the past offer perspective into the characters on a deeper level. Kaitlin’s twin sister, Christina, was a friend of Malone’s once upon a time, both former cadets at the Air Force Academy. Christina was a victim of a vicious rape that was never solved. The incident haunts Kaitlin and Malone as well as Mother, who was the investigator assigned to Christina’s case.
The Shattered Blue Line takes readers into the heart of the Air Force Academy as the investigation unfolds. The author’s knowledge and experience as a graduate from the Academy and his life in the Air Force are put to good use. In addition, Patrick A. Davis captured the role politics can play in such a high profile investigation, where justice could easily be sacrificed for reputation and public opinion.
The theme of guilt and atonement run through the novel as the characters struggle with their own pasts. Everyone seems to have secrets they keep tucked away. It is impossible not to be drawn into the story and into the lives of the characters. As often can be found in suspense thriller novels, the main character is attractive and wealthy. Malone fits that profile well. He likes fast cars and women. He is charming and appears to have a strong sense of justice. The character of Mother was refreshing, a tough older woman with brains and sass. Kaitlin was beautiful and strong in her convictions, a definite challenge for both Malone and Mother. Each of the characters in Davis’ novel were well crafted and had hidden layers that were peeled away as the story unfolded, making for a more intriguing story.
Patrick A. Davis has adeptly woven the mystery together. The novel is full of twists and turns, some unexpected and some predictable. The Shattered Blue Line was an enjoyable reading experience. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2006
Favorite Part: The setting. I had the chance to visit the Air Force Academy in Colorado and fell in love with the area. The book brought back memories from my trip.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Review of The Finishing School by Michele Martinez
Rating: (Very Good)
First Sentence: Even the most dedicated prosecutor hates the sound of a pager shrieking at two o’clock in the morning.
Reason for Reading: It was time to jump back into my series reading and of all my series books, The Finishing School caught my interest this time around. I enjoyed the first book by this author, called Most Wanted, which was the introduction to federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas.
Comments: It was impossible not to be swept up in the story from the very beginning. Melanie Vargas is a soon-to-be divorced mother who is trying to balance a demanding career as a federal prosecutor and being a decent mother. I have to say, she sure is lucky to have a nanny, an ex-husband, her mother, and her sister at her beck in call when she needs a babysitter at the last minute!
Melanie’s latest case requires her to call on all her babysitters since she barely has time to go home at all. It begins when her pager goes off at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. She is called out to the penthouse of a politician who has friends in high places. His daughter, Whitney, and her friend, Brianna, appear to have overdosed on Heroin, while another girl that was believed to be with them that night is missing. The three girls are all students at an exclusive private school.
Teamed up with DEA agents Ray-Ray and Bridget, and the ever sexy and irresistible FBI agent Dan O’Reilly, Melanie is determined to cover all the bases and leave no stone unturned. From the very beginning, something doesn’t sit right with Melanie. Her instincts tell her there is more to the death of the two teens and the disappearance of the third. And she couldn’t be more right.
Melanie is an extremely likeable character—she’s intelligent, gutsy, nurturing, and beautiful. Despite her bravery and risk taking behavior, at times she comes across as a damsel in distress, and so it’s a good thing she’s got Dan around to protect her. Just the same, Melanie always seems to be on the right trail and she’s not afraid to take chances to see that lives are saved and justice is served. In future books, I hope that Melanie is better able to balance being a mother with her career—that is probably my only issue with the character.
Author, Michele Martinez, has created another enjoyable and suspenseful novel that had me turning pages as fast as I could to find out what would happen next.
Favorite Part: I like that Michele Martinez adds something of Melanie’s culture and heritage to the novel. It adds something to Melanie’s character as well as the story. My favorite character is Dan O’Reilly. I think that the two main characters “misunderstandings” will get old and tired quickly if it keeps up, but for now it is still fresh and entertaining.
Miscellaneous: Three of the books I will be reviewing for Curledup.com came in the mail yesterday. Now to decide which of them to read next . . .
Friday, August 04, 2006
Review of Targets of Affection by RG Willems
Rating: (Good +)
First Sentence: The metal door clicked shut a moment before I realized that my keys were still in my purse, which was hanging on the hook inside the clinic.
Reason for Reading: I was selected to review this book for Front Street Reviews. When the book was offered to me, the description of the book attracted me instantly, being an animal lover and child welfare advocate.
Comments: Set in the growing Saskatoon suburb of Poplar Bluff, Targets of Affection, RG Willems’ debut novel and the first in a new mystery series, takes the reader into the heart of a local pet clinic, introducing Shelby James, a veterinary technician whose love for animals shines through on just about every page. I was instantly drawn to her character, finding her to be intelligent and caring. I suppose it helped that she and I share a couple of things in common besides our love for animals. We both do not like to cook and as a result our husband’s have become the chef; and we both live in fixer-up houses (although I don’t have a purple door), although we lack handyman skills to do much about it.
With an opening scene that makes one’s heart rate go up, the novel gets off to a good start. Miranda Walls and her young daughter, Jessie, bring in an injured dog that requires immediate medical attention. He was the victim of a hit and run accident. Despite the fact that he’s a stray, Miranda volunteers to pay for his treatment and care. Her generous nature and caring heart make it impossible for Shelby not to instantly take a liking to the woman and her child, Jessie. Shelby soon discovers that Miranda and Jessie recently fled from an abusive relationship with Jessie’s father, and it increases her protectiveness for the mother and daughter. She feels drawn to Jessie, a sickly child who Shelby finds she can identify with, having had a difficult childhood herself. In the wake of several near tragedies and learning more about Miranda and Jessie’s life, Shelby uncovers more than she bargained for.
Shelby’s husband Jake, a university professor, offers insight into the psychological aspects of the situation with Miranda and Jessie. Despite a subtle unrest in their marriage, Jake’s support and love for his wife is unwavering. Although of the non-human variety, Shelby also has the support of her dog, Spin, a loyal companion who often accompanies her to work. Shelby’s love for him runs deep.
The author delves into the tie between animal and child abuse like few other fiction writers. It isn’t uncommon for those who abuse and kill animals to eventually escalate to harming humans, especially children. Animals and children are two of the most vulnerable targets in our society. RG Willems takes on these disturbing topics with sensitivity but does not shy away from the harsh reality. Her knowledge and use of medical terminology and procedures without sounding too technical puts the reader directly into the book.
Although the mystery takes its time to reveal itself, the characters and anecdotes surrounding the main story are just as poignant and entertaining. RG Willems has created a cast of characters, both human and animal, that readers, especially animal lovers, will be drawn to. ~Originally published on Front Street Reviews at http://www.frontstreetreviews.com/.