Monday, April 30, 2012

A Case of Curiosities by Allen Kurzweil

A Case of Curiosities by Allen Kurzweil
Historical Fiction

Claude Page as a young child in pre-Revolution France thinks the mole on his finger is pretty neat. His mother works with a defrocked abbe to find a surgeon to remove the mole but ends up removing his entire middle finger to add to his collection of oddities. Soon after, Claude apprentices with the abbe and learns enameling and watchmaking, the latter of which really interests Claude as his father used to be a watchmaker. Claude uses some of his own time to come up with new inventions. However when Claude sees the abbe do something horrible for which he can never be forgiven, Claude runs away to Paris to try and make a name for himself there.

This book started off a bit slow but eventually came to a good rhythm. Though it's a historical fiction, I found that the time period didn't play too big of a role in the book. It was more about the characters, how they related to each other, and their inventions. It would have been nicer to have a bit more detail on the watchmaking process and Claude's other inventions but this book was more about drama than technical aspects.

First Line: "The case of curiosities came into my possession at a Paris auction in the spring of 1983."


Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Mortal Glamour

A Mortal Glamour by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Historical Fiction
The convent La Tres Saunte Annunciacion in France is experiencing some tough times. It is the 14th century and the country has just gone through the devastation of the Black Plague which killed thousands. The Catholic Church has two popes; one is in Rome, while the other is in the French city of Avignon. They are both seeking power and are at odds with each other.

Seur Aungelique has been sent to the convent by her father for refusing to marry a groom of his choice. She is young and headstrong and escapes one night to go to the Comtesse Orienne who is very sexually accomplished and just interested in her own pleasures. Aungelique hopes to meet Pierre Fornault whom she loves.

She is brought back to the convent and under the new Mother Superior Leonie is given strict penances. Soon however moans of pleasure and pain can be heard from her cell every night. Degradation seems to slowly follow for the rest of the convent and the sisters and even the animals and crops fail.

This is a very slow moving story and the reader must have 'stick-to-it-ness' to keep at it. This is a basic story about good and evil. It was interesting on how the Church felt it should deal with this situation but this story was just too dark and slow for me

First Line: "In Saunt-Vitre-lo-Sur most of the houses were deserted; rye and oats stood unharvested in the frost-shriveled fields."

Sarah's Key

Sarah's key by Tatiana De Rosnay
Historical Fiction
In 1942 in Paris a ten year old girl, Sarah is rounded up with her parents by the French police and taken to Vel’ d’Hiv’. Before she leaves she locks her little brother in a cupboard thinking she will be back soon to release him.

In a parallel story Julia Jarmond is asked to write a story about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup for the 60th anniversary. She is determined to follow Sarah's footsteps.

Switching between the two stories the book tells us of Sarah's trials and ordeals and the horror of being a Jew in occupied France. Julia meanwhile, feels Sarah's anguish as she pursues her story and finds out how closely intertwined it is with her in-laws' story. Julia starts to question her own marriage and life. I did not really empathize with Julia and found while Zoe her daughter seemed to be so mature it was almost unreal.

I did not know about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup but I did know about how the French do not want to discuss any of their 'ugly' part in WWII. Interestingly, I recently picked up A Thread of Grace By Mary Doria Russell which is about Jews in occupied Italy and how they were hidden. Two authors, similiar subjects and completely different treatments. As much as the French were shown to be brutal the Italians are shown to have some sympathy.


I would never have continued living in an apartment where the body of a little boy had been found. I may not have had the courage to stand up to the brutality and even might have overlooked how I got the apartment but to continue to live there. UGH!!!
One never knows until one is in that situation how one will react. I could always hope I would stand up and be counted.

First Line: "The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door."

Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen
Charles "Chaz" Perrone is a biologist who doesn't know anything.  He is testing water samples in the Everglades where he is deathly afraid of the wildlife.  He is running a profitable pollution scam for Red Hammernut, a mogul in the agriculture business.  Chaz fears that his wife Joey may be onto his little scam and decides to do away with her by heaving her overboard on a cruise.

But Joey is a championship swimmer and manages to hang onto a bale of marijuana and then get rescued by loner and ex-cop  Mick Stranahan.  Instead of coming forward to the cops, Joey decides to pay Chaz back.  What follows is a crazy, funny blackmail campaign against the lazy Chaz.

Chaz gets to be babysat by Red Hammernut's muscle man, Tool.  As Chaz gest more and more frenzied Tool grows a conscience.

I loved this book and all the characters but especially Tool.  Hiaasen does a great job of a tongue-in-cheek mystery surrounded by environmental concerns in the Everglades.

First Line: "At the stroke of eleven on a cool April night, a woman named Joey Perrone went overboard from a luxury deck of the cruise liner M.V. Sun Duchess."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Dogs of Babel

The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
Paul Iverson comes home one day to find the police in his backyard. His wife is dead because of a fall from an apple tree. What happened? Did she fall accidentally or did she commit suicide?

As the days pass, Paul finds the books in their bookcases rearranged and other clues that just don't seem to add up. The only witness to the event was their dog, Lorelei. Paul, a linguist by profession, decides to try to teach his dog to talk in order to find out what did indeed happen.

Interspersed with the trials of trying to teach his dog to communicate is the Iversons' love story. Lexy, Paul's wife is one weird person. She is up and down in her moods and she makes death masks for grieving people. Paul wants desperately to find out what happened.

Paul eventually mistakenly and stupidly hooks up with a secret society that performs terrible operations on dogs in order to let them produce human sounds. This puts Lorelei in grave danger.

This book is about profound loss and the grief one goes through when a loved one dies. I enjoyed the story for the most part but found I didn't like or even empathize with Lexy and indeed did not even understand her feelings. I just plain didn't like her. But I did feel for Paul and the path he must tread.

First Line: "Here is what we know, those of us who can speak to tell a story: On the afternoon of October 24, my wife Lexy Ransome, climbed to the top of the apple tree in our backyard and fell to her death."


Blueberry Muffin Murder

Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke
Cozy Mystery
Lake Eden, Minn. is celebrating its first winter carnival. There are sports and activities for the children including hot chocolate and cookies from Hannah's shop, The Cookie Jar. Connie Mac the celebrity cook is coming also.

 The mayor charges Hannah to escort Connie Mac around town but Hannah sees a whole other side to the 'sweet on TV' star. She is condescending, conniving and downright nasty. And she is found dead right in Hannah's kitchen! Since she was abusive to almost all of her staff there are a lot of suspects.

 Hannah's mother seems to be kept busy in this book recreating an historic home instead of trying to marry Hannah off. Hannah gets to spend more time with her sister and the development of their relationship is wonderful.

Another cozy mystery which was a nice comfy read
First Line: "Hannah Swensen awoke to a curious sensation."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Analyst by John Katzenbach

The Analyst by John Katzenbach

Dr. Ricky Starks is a psychoanalyst. His life is very predictable, always taking the same patients, walks, vacations at the same time. His wife passed away from cancer a few years ago so it's just him. On his 53rd birthday he gets a note saying that unless he finds out who sent him that note, he needs to commit suicide in 15 days or his relatives will start to get picked off. There are a few rules to the game and a lady named Virgil is sent to help "guide him to the gates of Hell" but other than that he is completely on his own to figure this out.

The game moves fairly quickly, since Ricky has only 15 days, but it gets more and more cruel which leaves you wondering why anyone would go to such trouble to try and destroy one person. The question isn't just if Ricky can figure out who is doing this to him, but what he is going to do once he finds out.

This was a captivating thriller that got even more interesting half way through the book when the book gives a twist. I'm not sure what Dr. Starks would say about the fact that I enjoyed reading about revenge. By the end of the novel though, I still wasn't sure why what happened was enough to drive the "bad guy" to ruin a whole bunch of people's lives.

First Line: "In the year he fully expected to die, he spent the majority of his fifty-third birthday as he did most other days, listening to people complain about their mothers."


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith
Genre of book

This is another enjoyable comfort read from Alexander McCall Smith.

Mma Ramotswe finds herself trying to find the family for a woman who does not know anything about them. Mma Rakutsi and her fiance buy a heart shaped bed . Meanwhile Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni listens to a doctor who promises a miracle cure for his adopted daughter. Mma Ramotswe does not believe the doctor but lets her husband find his own way and deals with the outcomes.

Although I felt the mystery part of this book weaker then others in the series the stories were better. Mma Ramotswe is so compassionate and knows exactly how to deal with her family members. As for the heart-shaped bed, it provided some wonderful comic relief.

Love this series!!

First Line: "The correct address of precious Ramotswe, Botswana's foremost solver of problems - in the sense that this was where she could be found between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon, except when she was not there - was The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, c/o Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Gaborone, Botswana."


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Moon Tiger

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

A most interesting book about Claudia as she tells the world's history according to Claudia. Claudia is lying in a bed in a nursing home close to death. She starts with her childhood, proceeds to her war correspondence days in Egypt during WWII and finishes off at the present.

Claudia talks about her brother and worthy adversary, Gordon, her untrustworthy lover, Jasper, her staid and conventional daughter, Lisa and her great love, Tom. Claudia has little patience for people she deems unworthy.

This book is extremely well written and I found the passage about Egypt in WWII to be particularly interesting. Claudia reminds me of an old aunt who likes to keep everyone on their toes.

First Line: "_"


for one more day

for one more day by Mitch Albom

Chick Benetto has had a troubled life. His father, in his childhood, had told him to be either a father's or mother's boy and to chose. He chose his father only to have him leave when he was eleven. Chick's mother struggled to raise her son but Chick never really knew her and blamed her for his father's absence.

Charley (Chick) has hit the bottom of the barrel with a life of neglect and alcohol. The final straw is being left out of his daughter's wedding. He drives to his hometown to commit suicide but can't even do that right.

He goes back to the old house when he once lived to discover his mother who had died eight years ago doing her regular routine. This gives him one more day to right wrongs and understand himself.

This is a short story which I found okay. There is a small twist which I didn't suspect and raised the story from ho hum to okay.

First Line: "Let me guess."