Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review -- Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

My enjoyment rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Source:  Personal AUTOGRAPHED copy -- makes it even more disappointing

Sensitive reader:  Vulgar language

Larry Ott is his own version of Boo Radley – loner, taunted by neighborhood kids as “Crazy Larry”, misunderstood by his late parents. He only has one friend – Silas “32”Jones — and their shared history includes the mystery of a missing high school girlfriend and the mystery of their true relationship.

I was so disappointed in this book – no mystery, no suspense, only one suspect, no multiple layers to keep you guessing, a few manipulative toys to make you think there was intrigue, when in fact, the author was just blowing smoke.

This was a week of wasted reading. So I'm not going to waste anymore time on a review.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 19, 2011

August Book Group & Book Review -- Summer of My German Soldier

My enjoyment rating: 2.5 out  of 5 stars.

Source:  Library Copy.

Book Group Choice for August.

Genre:  Juvenile Fiction

Patty Bergen has a secret – a big one!

But her secret could put her life and future in danger, but she is willing to take the risk.

When a group of German POWs are detained at a prison camp in NE Arkansas (based on true historical events), Patty is intrigued by the excitement it has created within her community. But when a few of them are brought to her father’s store to buy hats to protect them from the intense Arkansas sun, Patty learns that they are not the mean “monsters” they are portrayed to be. When she befriends Anton, one of the POWs, she finds a kindred spirit, and someone who truly cares for her, when no one else in her family seems to acknowledge her existence.

For a twelve year old girl, Patty’s life should be carefree and fun; but she lives in a physically and mentally abusive family – so when Anton escapes the prison camp, and Patty provides him refuge, she is putting her life and future in peril.

Written in 1973, Bette Greene’s novel, Summer of My German Soldier, has become a staple of juvenile fiction reading lists. It’s a story of defiance, brutality, and a search for love and acceptance.

This was our book club choice for August. Truth is – it was a depressing read!

The pain and abuse Patty’s father inflicts on her is graphic and violent. For a middle grade novel, I was surprised at the nature at which Patty’s father beats her – especially, in the presence of others, and no one comes to her aide.

The relationship between Anton and Patty was compassionate, but also unrealistic based on their ages – he 22, she 12. I guess the author was trying to show how desperate Patty was in seeking someone who genuinely “liked” her. But it was awkward, and never felt “real” to me.

The most redemptive part of the book was Patty’s relationship with her “help” Ruth. It was a tender and maternal bond that was particularly poignant at the end of the story.

This was not overly liked by our members – and not at all what I expected – quite a downer.

Our next book choice is: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian

Skeletons at the Feast

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review -- The Three Weissmanns of Westport

The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel
The Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel by Cathleen Schine

My enjoyment rating: 2 of 5 stars (maybe 1.5)

Book Source:  Unfortunately, it was a personal copy

Challenge:  It does however fulfill a challenge requirement -- book with a NUMBER in the title.

You should never pay attention to a blurb that reads, "...homage to Jane Austen." It will invariably set you up for a big letdown. Because the truth is, nothing is as good as Jane Austen.

In short: Modern day Upper West Side AARP husband, dumps dutiful wife for younger, VP from his company. Dumped wife moves with two aging daughters to a cottage in Connecticut while divorce is finalized. Wife, daughters meet a hodgepodge of characters; advanced aged daughters constantly whine about the state of their professional and personal lives; and it all unravels at the end into a random, confusing, weird mess.

The only reason I gave this two stars was the first 40-50 pages were quite witty – to the point I actually guffawed out loud a few times. But the farther I read, the more I was reminded on living on Long Island – which happened to be the WORST two years of my life (except for the WORST two years I spent in Provo). It was a collection of a bunch of whiny New York elitists who have nothing better to do, while the author was trying to make it resemble a modern, East Coast version of Sense and Sensibility.

This book was rated as a New York Times Notable Book – notably unpleasant maybe.

Probably not the worst book I’ve ever read, but do yourself a favor – watch Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet instead.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Mother Daughter Book Group version 5th grade!

We go back to school on Monday (where on earth did the summer go?), but more importantly, we are starting our 3rd year of Mother Daughter Book Group!

I emailed our collective pairs and got confirmations from all but two. 


Our first discussion will be in September and our selection is:

The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere Series #1) by Jacqueline West: Book Cover

The Shadows (Books of Elsewhere Series #1) by Jacqueline West , Poly Bernatene (Illustrator)
Summary from B&N:
Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there's something odd about the place - not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that's strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets - and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper.

As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It's up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

I can't wait to get started!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review -- South to Alaska

South to Alaska: A True Story of Courage and Survival from the Heartland of America to the Heart of a Dream
South to Alaska: A True Story of Courage and Survival from the Heartland of America to the Heart of a Dream by Nancy Owens Barnes

My enjoyment rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Copy received from the author -- my thoughts on this book are my own; I was not compensated in anyway for my review.

What were your dreams growing up?

To be a fireman? Policeman? Princess?

Those are common responses if you were to query a grade school aged child.

I wanted to be a football coach. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

When Melvin Owens spotted a picture of an Alaskan cabin in a 4th grade text book, he knew from that day on, his dream was to live there. After a 50 year journey, his dreams came true.

Nancy Owens Barnes has created a masterfully blended account of her father’s childhood in Oklahoma, her parents’ marriage, her own upbringing, and ultimately his quest to build a boat in land-locked Arkansas, which would take him to his beloved destination.

It took three years of laboring in his “spare time” for Melvin to build the Red Dog in his Arkansas back yard. According to the author,

“The Red Dog surprised many who drove over the rise of the hill by our house to find a large ocean-going vessel sitting high and dry…they couldn’t see that the Red Dog would be my father’s song, and the final unfolding of a dream that had slumbered against his thoughts for many years.”

From that point on, it would take another two years to navigate (primarily alone) the Red Dog thru con-artists, waterways, canals, Gulfs, foreign ports, customs, and finally to its destination – Ketchikan, Alaska.

South to Alaska is part Thor Heyerdahl, Bill Bryson, and Sebastian Junger (and even the prophet Noah!) in scope. With narrative that is equally entertaining as you read Melvin’s folksy mannerisms; agonizing as you experience the many treacherous storms; and educational as you immerse yourself in the geography and botany of the lush Latin American region – it is rewarding on multiple levels.

In the end, I fell in love with Nancy’s parents – people I seemed to recognize immediately from my own background. Two great people, working incredibly hard, and living their lives to the fullest.

I don’t think Melvin ever saw an angel, but South to Alaska is ultimately about a man who was inspired to fulfill a God-given calling and dream.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review -- The Diary of Mattie Spenser

The Diary of Mattie Spenser

My enjoyment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Source:  Personal copy, library copy and Ebook!

Lost in a trunk in her granddaughter’s attic, Mattie Spenser’s diary is a pearl waiting to be discovered. Once the cover is opened, a remarkable story unfolds of homesteading, survival, hardship and tragedy.

Sandra Dallas has created a Wild West tale around the fictional diary of Mattie Spenser. Wed in Iowa, she and her husband Luke embark on an arduous trek to Colorado to become farmers. As one would imagine, life is tough. Weather, shelter, Indians, and illness are all obstacles that must be endured and overcome, whether you liked it or not. Mattie suffers loneliness on many levels: neighbors are scattered far and wide; her husband travels extensively and is emotionally distant (something Mattie will have to deal with eventually); and the solitude of her “soddie” is nearly overwhelming.

I appreciated the history the author brought to this novel – the diary had a very “authentic” feel to it – as if Mattie was a long lost ancestor. But some of the scenarios that Mattie faced didn’t seem to fit the time period. Mattie develops a friendship with another male homesteader, and in once sentence it was improper for her to be alone with him. At the next moment, he is delivering her baby.

Also, the relationship between Luke and Mattie is tested by a third party. Obviously, infidelity it biblical in time, but I thought it was awkward to think that Luke could be unfaithful when the third party was 1800 miles away – by HORSE!

Ultimately, and this isn’t the fault of the author or the book – but I kept comparing this novel to These Is My Words by Nancy Turner – a book I ADORED! And this didn’t come close to meeting the magic created by Sarah Prine and Captain Jack Elliott!

This was the second novel I’ve read by Sandra Dallas – and so far I have been underwhelmed by her offerings.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Book Review Guest Post -- The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely Polygamist
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Guest Post by Daisy Dad

Daisy Dad's Enjoyment Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Sensitive reader:  language, sexual innuendo, infidelity

I am going to let the cat out of the bag.  We are Mormon.  Not your standard run of the mill Utah Mormons, but those rare, often misunderstood LIBERAL Mormons.  (You thought I was going to say Polygamists didn’t you?)  Liberal Mormons are a somewhat rare breed in the Church – many would say oxymoronic - and to find two that are actually married to one another is even rarer.  But we are, and are proud of it.  So when I read a review in Entertainment Weekly about a year ago on Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, I immediately wanted to read it (Yes – I do not move through my reading list as quickly as Daisy Mom).  Other less liberal Mormons would avoid such a book, based on the ever vigilant pursuit of LDS members to remove the stigma of Polygamy – something the mainstream LDS church hasn’t practiced in over a Century.  I, on the other hand, love entertainment that most mainstream Mormons would shun – I loved HBO’s Big Love and can’t wait to see Book of Mormon, The Musical on my next visit to NYC.  Call me what you want – things like these shows, books and TV do not bother me – in fact probably just the opposite – they reconfirm to me the Truth as I see it and feel it in my choice of Religious faith.  So does Brady Udall make me want run out and find me a few more wives, have a bunch more kids and live The Principle?  Well…

The Lonely Polygamist is an aptly named book about Golden Richards, his four wives, and his pursuit of religious perfection, economic stability, familiar peace and personal sanity all within the realm of today’s imperfect, unstable and chaotic world while adding the backdrop of a western wasteland savaged by mid-twentieth century nuclear testing.  Sounds complicated.  Well for poor Golden, who finds himself in a religious sect that his Father stumbled into after abandoning Golden and his mother on his own pursuit of all those same things,  is debilitated by insecurities, hang-ups, and morals, both self created and Church created that seem to get the best of him.  Udall tells an interesting tale of Golden and his family, both past and present – that allows the reader to form their own opinion about his family’s beliefs.  The book is fairly non-judgmental of this always misunderstood religious belief, and does his best not to bash this (misguided - my opinion-) religious Principle, or the root of it being The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Though the story is centered on Golden, I was drawn into some of the other characters that Udall created, specifically The Wives.  Though I wish there was a bit more on a couple of them (Nola and Rose-of-Sharon), Beverly, Golden’s first Wife and Trish, Golden’s fourth wife, are my favorites.  Each in her own way is The Lonely Polygamist, even more so than Golden.  Beverly – wanting to cleave to The Principle with a zealot’s devotion in order to save her soul and to drag the other souls in her family kicking and screaming into the eternities with her and Trish – wanting to be a part of a family that could offer her the bonds and love that she so desired, but actually unable to find in the Richards clan.  But the story of one of the “plyg” kids was my favorite.  Poor misunderstood Rusty.  A boy too identifiable even in a “normal’ family that even with a father, four mothers and dozens of siblings still ends up on the outside looking in.  Though I would have liked to have even just a few more pages of other family members or more flushed out information on the other wives, I felt the loneliness in each of these characters – not only Golden.

I applaud Mr. Udall for weaving the tale of The Lonely Polygamist that even this “mainstream”, “liberal” Mormon with only one wife thoroughly enjoyed.

(Daisy Mom would like to add:  even though I haven't read this book, I'm still wondering WHY Mr. Udall would name his main character after a 1970's BYU and Dallas Cowboys football player?)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Winner! Summer Giveaway Hop

Due to some splendid luck, I was able to select TWO winners -- each to receive a new copy of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand!

The are:

Lisa of Lisa's World of Books
(Random.org # 2 and #14)

Thanks for participating!
Hope you enjoy the books!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review -- Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania

My enjoyment rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Source:  Library copy

Sensitive reader:  Language, including the F bomb.

Oklahoma was ranked #1 in the preseason USA Today/Coaches Poll, today.

Why does that matter?

Well, when you are a football fanatic, you wait 9 months for this date, and anticipate the 12 autumn weekends that comprise the college football season – and with some luck – week nights in January to watch them in BCS bowls.

I, like Warren St. John, the author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, spend too many countless hours watching football on any given Saturday from September thru December. He for his beloved Crimson Tide of Alabama, I for my alma mater, The Oklahoma Sooners. We weep tears of joy and pain over wins and losses. We both, surprisingly, bleed Crimson. His famed coach wore a hounds tooth patterned fedora, my famed coach (Barry Switzer) was ousted in ’88 when three team members were arrested on weapons charges and rape.

Fortunately, I was able to prepare myself for the impending magic of football season by reading his chronicle of following the Tide in his RV “The Hawg” during the 1999 SEC Championship football season: he meets fans, interviews radio announcers, lunches with boosters, visits the famed Bear Bryant Museum – all in his quest to understand our collective rolls as FANS. His narrative is electrifying when describing the utter ecstasy one feels with a win and the despondency one feels with a loss. You can smell the stale beer in the stands, and feel the heat from the late afternoon stadium sun. You can even hear the band playing the fight song.

The only detraction was that it was dated. Alabama has ridden the roller coaster of football success in recent years, but with the crowning (because in football, that’s what it amounts too) of Nick Saban, they won the BCS National Championship a year ago – it would have been a much more exhilarating to read about that season, than long forgotten season of Mike Dubose (who?) of 12 years ago.

Regardless, it was a great read in anticipation of kickoff in 4 weeks!

Boomer Sooners!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer Giveaway Hop!

The summer is slowly "hopping" to a close...what better way to wrap summer reading than with a book giveaway!

Thanks to I am a Reader not a Writer and Book Hounds for sponsoring this giveaway!

I am offering one (1) new copy of the highly popular, New York Times bestseller:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

We read this for book club last month, and although it wasn't my favorite, it was liked by the members of my book club.

Rules are easy:
Leave one comment and become a follower and you are entered to win.
One chance for everyone!
Contest ends on 8.7.11 Winner will be chosen by Random.org on 8.8.11
Please leave an email in your comment!
Winner will have 48 hours to respond to email or a new winner will be chosen.
Also, please checkout all the other awesome blogs who are offering giveaways: