Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review -- The Murders of Richard III

The Murders of Richard III

My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars
Source:  Nook
Genre:  Mystery
Challenge:  Just for Fun Reading Challenge

American librarian, Jacqueline Kirby, has arrived at an English manor house for a weekend of research, debate, and all things surrounding the legend of Richard III of England. She has been invited to join a group of scholars to determine whether a letter, that purportedly vindicates Richard in the deaths of his two nephews, is authentic.

When accidents start occurring to the guests, in the order of Richard’s past victims, suspicion is heightened that they have a “comedian” in their midst. But determining who it is, and their motivation, is left to Jacqueline to solve.

This was a very entertaining “mystery.” As a closet Anglophile -- I LOVED all the “Ricardian” history. I had no idea that there were societies and conspiracy theorists who still met and discussed Richard’s evil deeds. I thought author, Elizabeth Peters, did a fantastic job with her research in bringing 600 year old history to life.

However, the overall story line was convoluted and confusing. Even as I read the last page, I still had NO idea who each of the characters represented and I didn’t even care. And the motive behind the accidents and ultimate attempted murder, made no sense.

But, even with all those failures, I thought Jacqueline was a spunky, witty, middle aged, sleuth and again, the Ricardian history made up for the lack of cohesive plot.

I’d be willing to give Elizabeth Peters another go around.

Monday, February 20, 2012

February Book Club -- The Pact

My enjoyment rating: 3 of 5 stars (5 stars for inspiration; 3 stars for mediocre writing)
Source:  Personal copy
February Book Club choice
Black History Month choice

Born in the projects of New Jersey, the future seems bleak for Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt. Their neighborhoods are saturated with drug dealers, crime, and hopelessness. But when they forge a friendship in junior high, these three young men make a “pact” that their lives will be different – that they will finish high school and graduate from college. It’s a tough road – so many influences trying to derail their dreams – but with the help of many mentors and their own determination – they succeed.

One of the blessings of being in a book club is the opportunity to read books you have either never heard of or would not normally pick up on your own. This is one of those. I’d never heard of “The Pact” and I’m so glad our discussion group leader made this our choice.

My life is so VASTLY different from these young men. I’ve never been arrested for the simple fact that my skin color is different. I’ve never been threatened with violence or drugs. I’ve been raised in a stable family with a mom and dad: So many things that can change the outcome of one’s life.

What they were able to accomplish with so little is truly amazing – when so many of their friends were succumbing to the pull of peer pressure, drugs, and street life.

The only negative to this book was the writing. For what was a truly inspirational story, the writing was uninspired – which really took the gloss off trying to read about their accomplishments.

It was an excellent book club choice – so much to discuss about race issues, the plight of inner city education – and education in general really – and giving back to one’s community: A Pandora’s box of social issues discussion. But also guiltily so as we were a group of very na├»ve white women.

For more on The Pact -- check out the related video:


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Book Review -- The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
My enjoyment rating: 5 of 5 stars
Source:  ARC provided by the author (I was not compensated in any way for my review; my thoughts are mine alone).
Genre:  Juvenile fiction

Ivan has a family – a nontraditional one, but a family nonetheless. It includes, Bob the dog, Stella the elephant and Not-tag a stuffed animal. Ivan’s place in the family – the one and only gorilla.

Ivan and Stella are in the unfortunate position of being the entertainment for Mack, who runs a “show” in the Big Top Mall and video arcade. Life within the confines of their “domain” – their cages – is miserable, and Mack is a neglectful keeper and trainer. They live with filthy hay, messy enclosures, and foul treatment.

Because sales and tourists are declining, an additional family member is added – Ruby, a juvenile elephant, who Mack hopes will boost visitors. But it is clear that it will take more than Ruby to save this faltering attraction. After Stella becomes ill, Ivan is determined to do everything in his ape power to make things better for his family. And with a little artistic ability – he succeeds.

Katherine Applegate has written a compassionate novel about the plight of Ivan and his friends. The reader is filled with anguish and sorrow as you follow their mistreatment at the hands of Mack: how is it that that one of the humans in this story is also the one that is the most inhumane? Fortunately, we are buoyed by the fact that George, the mall’s maintenance man, and his daughter, Julia, do show the animals the love and care they deserve.

Ivan, Stella, Ruby, and Bob all become friends that you are desperate to help. They are more thoughtful and caring than most individuals. Ms. Applegate has given us a glorious example that our animal friends might know more about endurance, hope, and faith than their caregivers do. And Ivan is the one and only one to help them all.

This was a joy to read.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review -- The Rose Garden

Rose Garden

My enjoyment rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Book Source:  Ebook (Nook)
Genre:  Historical Fiction (with a twist)

Eva Ward has returned to the coast of Cornwall to scatter the ashes of her sister. Cornwall was their childhood home and where they scampered through the beautiful Cornish gardens and along the coast. Eva felt it was the most suitable final resting place for Katrina.

While there, she reacquaints herself with Halletts -- long time family friends who inhabit an ancient estate, Trelowarth. While a guest, Eva experiences mysterious voices and visions that she can’t place nor does she understand. Unexpectedly, during a walk on the grounds of this grand estate, she is transported to a Trelowarth she no longer recognizes – one from a time and place long past. Thus begins Eva’s shadowy, parallel life between 21st century Cornwall and 18th Century Cornwall – a Cornwall brimmed with smugglers, rebellions, treachery, and one very handsome Daniel Butler.

I was so skeptical of this book – I am not a “time traveler” reader  – but – I really liked it!

Author Susanna Kearsley does a good job of balancing both present and past story lines. I loved her writing and dialogue. But it is Eva that really won me over, because she was skeptical just like me – and very funny. I caught myself chuckling at some of Eva’s reactions when she “time shifted” – it was like, “what the heck just happened? Where am I?” And the 18th century world in which she was thrust was equally unprepared to accept and understand her either. Obviously, if one is in Cornwall, one must fall in love with a handsome renegade – and Kearsley writes a very believable and G-rated relationship between Eva and Daniel. It was tender and loving.

My only criticism (as seems to be the case with me) was the ending. It was confusing – with the introduction of another time traveler (that I’d already figured out), where they came from, and who they were related to, both past and present. It required several readings to process (hence a 3.5 not a 4).

All in all though, a fun, enjoyable read. Enough so that I am eager to read Ms. Kearsley’s other novels.