Monday, December 31, 2012

December 2012 Bookshelf

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

As I continue to read my way through classics that never were "forced" upon me in my education years I decide to start off December with what else?  A Christmas Carol.  Seems appropriate.
Of course I know the story.  You'd have to be living under a rock to not know it.  So many movie variations have been made of this classic that every year around Christmas we get bombarded with every version possible.  (I still hold a fondness for the Disney version with Mickey.)  But do all the movie versions portray the actual book by Dickens accurately?  I was about to finally find out.
Indeed they do a very decent job of transferring Dickens tale of Scrooge to the big screen.  I'm impressed that mostly every movie I have seen of this tale is pretty much what I read, this of course isn't always the case with books that become movies.  But why would you ever mess with a story as good as this?
I really loved reading this tale.  Dickens is a descriptive and imaginative author and he brings to life his stories.  I'm not going to rehash the story as most every one knows it but if by chance you don't then read it.  It's worth the time.  And it is a rather short little novel so it won't take you much time at all.
I found myself wondering about Dickens personally as I read this story of Scrooge.  What did Dickens himself believe of the afterlife?  Of life while living?  Of faith?  I did a quick "Wiki" on him but that didn't tell me anything about his personal opinions and beliefs of any sort of "higher power".  Regardless he weaves a good story but weaves good principles to live by as well.  I loved starting off the month of December with this book!




"A" is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

Grafton's first Kinsey Millhone Mystery was published when I was in 2nd grade.  She started with "A" and is working her way through the alphabet.  While I have heard that you can pick up any letter and read it as a stand alone if I have the choice to start at the beginning I do.  So I started with "A".  I love mysteries and have been looking for more authors to fill this love.  Many people suggested Grafton for her alphabet series.
Grafton's Kinsey is a brash, crass, if not likable private eye.  Grafton develops her well enough, giving us the right balance of personal life and work life.  And since this is the first book of 27 you can bet that we'll get more of Kinsey is coming books.  What I don't like about Kinsey is the stereotype she falls into.  It feels like Grafton tries too hard to make her this rough and touch P.I. For 1982, though, Grafton takes some risks with language, etc that apparently paid off as she's up to the late letters of the alphabet.  The mystery is good enough, I didn't quite figure it out - I did just about the same time Kinsey did.
Grafton's writing style is as refined in this first book as I'm wondering if it will get later on as she writes more.  It's pretty simple and straightforward.  She uses descriptives well but there lacks a depth.  I can't quite put my finger on what yet so when I finished "A" I started right in on "B", it's like I have my own mystery to solve.




"B" is for Burglar by Sue Grafton

In my continuing quest to read Sue Grafton's ABC/Kinsey Millhone series I finish off "B".  My personal jury is still out on if I like Grafton and if I like Kinsey Millhone.
In "B" Kinsey is coming off her brush with death in "A" and trying to ignore the fact that she killed another human.  She takes on a missing person case that quickly gets tangled and become a murder investigation.  She goes to and fro from California to Florida and finally whittles all the evidence down to "who done it".  In her brisk, no nonsense style she solves the crime and her life is spared, although barely, once again.
What I have decided for sure is that Grafton tries too hard to make Kinsey sound legit.  The problem is she employs all the cliches that TV has fed us over the years about P.I.'s but no real P.I. says or does.  This makes Kinsey a slightly annoying and unbelievable character.
I'll probably continue to read the series until Kinsey annoys me so much I just don't care anymore.  My guess is that will come sooner rather than later.  I'm still on the hunt for a author of this genre that I enjoy as much as Mary Higgins Clark.




The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon

I'm not much for comic books, or in this case graphic novels.  That being said, the illustrations are beautiful.  But as many other fans of the Outlander series have probably said, "That's not what Jamie looks like!"  *grin* Hoang Nguyen does beautiful work bringing to life the beloved Claire and Jamie but I still would rather just go with what is in my imagination.
Diana Gabaldon struck gold when her Outlander series did so well.  But I feel like she's pretty much rode the train until it has died.  Not much more can be done with the series.  Not much more should be done with the series.  All good things must come to an end.  I'm not sure I would even be a fan of a movie at this point.  That is partially why this graphic novel was a nice read but kind of dull in my opinion.  Gabaldon claims that this graphic novel is Jamie's side of the story but...eh.  It fell flat for me.  I feel like Outlander gives his side of the story quite nicely.
The only thing this graphic novel did for me was make me want to re-read the whole series all over again. I do love me some Jamie and Claire!




Agatha Christie: A Biography by Janet Morgan

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.  I'm so disappointed.  The only authorized biography of Agatha Christie is a snoozer. So dull and so disappointing. I adore Agatha Christie and was excited to finally read her biography, my excitement was dulled almost immediately.
Janet Morgan was given full access to Christie's notes, diaries, pictures, etc.  And from those, and interviews with people who knew her, she composed a very dull accounting of Christie's life.  There was entirely too much detail about unnecessary things and it overshadowed the parts of Christie's life that was interesting.
Christie kind of fell into writing, starting out first writing sonnets and poetry.  It wasn't until she was about 20 that she began writing stories.  There was never an explanation, perhaps Christie herself didn't know, where her ideas for murder came from.  She did study pharmacy extensively so her knowledge of poisons and such certainly contributed to her murders.  The interesting part of Christie's life as an author was that while she enjoyed researching and developing story lines she thought the actual process of writing was all tedious and quite a chore.  She also was not well educated in grammar and spelling and it seems a lot of editing had to happen in those two areas before the book could go to print.  As she grew older it seems that maybe she began to enjoy the actual writing as well.  She constantly was tinkering around with plots and characters and kept notebooks and scratch pads full of notes to jog her memory.  Some of her characters created she didn't actually use until years after she thought of them.  One thing, there were actually several, that annoyed Christie was the revelation that she was also the very popular author, Mary Westmacott.  She wanted it to remain a secret pen name in which nobody ever knew it was also the very popular suspense author, Agatha Christie.  But alas, she was "outed" rather early on in Westmacott's career and it bugged her until the day she died.
It's so unfortunate that Morgan's biography of Agatha Christie is so boring, so dull.  I literally fell asleep several times while reading it.  Christie's life wasn't that dull but Morgan certainly made it seem so.



Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova has found her niche in the fiction market and in a brilliant way. A neuroscientist in real life she takes her knowledge of the brain and translates it into fiction for us lay folk.  I love it. Her first two books, Still Alice and Left Neglected, I devoured so I had pretty high hopes for this one.  I was not disappointed.  And yes, I devoured it.
Two women's stories collide on the island of Nantucket.  Genova tackles autism in her book about healing from loss.  I love what she brought to the table concerning this somewhat mysterious disease.  And as a neuroscientist the reader can trust the information she shares.  Olivia finds herself holed up in her cottage on Nantucket about a year after the loss of her son, Anthony.  Reeling from the pain of his life and losing him and with the continual question of "Why?" she is trying to come to grips with his life, her role in it, and with God.  Down the road, literally as it turns out, is Beth.  Beth has been informed that her husband of 14 years is cheating on her and she is trying to forge a path back to herself.  In the midst of her self-discovery she rekindles her creative writing and begins to write a book from the voice of an autistic boy named Anthony.  Except she and Olivia have never met and when they finally do Beth doesn't learn anything of Olivia's story.  Through Beth's writing we finally hear Anthony and in the end so does Olivia.  Along the way Genova gives the reader a broader knowledge of autism and what is possibly going on in the minds of those who have it.
Lisa Genova has quickly become one of my favorite authors.  For all her brilliance she is able to write for the reader in a way that what she is saying and sharing makes sense.  I love a good fiction book in which I also legitimately learn something as well.  I already can't wait for her next one and this one just released!




Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Huh. So I think I completely misunderstood what this book was about.  I went into it thinking it was about something very different than it was. This book wasn't bad...but it wasn't good either.  Thsi is how I felt about it, "Eh."  I endured it and was glad to be done with it when I finished the last chapter. 
There was not a whole lot of compelling essays in this book.  And I'm still kind of scratching my head over the title.  What does it have to do with the contents of the book?  Anywho.  Sedaris is a popular author and so I'm sure my 2 stars are going to rub his fans the wrong way but I just don't get what the big deal is about this book.  It wasn't memorable in any way for me.



The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I am addicted to Sarah Addison Allen and her novels.  I adore her books, I devour them, I cannot get enough of them.
The Peach Keeper is her newest, published in 2011, but I'm just getting to it.  I love her twists and turns, her fantasy inclusions into reality.  I just adore her.
I also love how she cameos past book characters.  So a brief appearance of characters from Garden Spells showed up in this novel.  Makes me want to go re-read ALL of her books!
In The Peach Keepers Willa and Paxton, after circling around each other for years, are brought together to solve a mystery of sorts involving their grandmothers.  As Allen so magically does a whiff of the magical surrounds their lives and acts as a guide of sorts toward truth - about themselves, their grandmothers, and the story.  I read it in one morning.  Willa and Paxton's characters drew me in and I had to finish out their stories! Allen has a way about her writing that is so engaging and compelling that it makes me want to move to these towns she has created and live among these people she has created. I think the draw is she has found a way to tap into the readers desire to find answers.  We all have questions that don't seem to have answers but her magic always leads her characters to find answers, solutions, and resolution.  She does it again in her latest book.
Can't wait for the next one!




With New Eyes: Fresh Vision for the Soul by Margaret Becker

Not many books can earn 5 stars.  What makes this book a 5 star for me is the insight which Becker shares with the reader.  And *this* reader certainly is drawn to and relates to what Becker has to say.
Written as a result of her time spent on a beach and chronicled in Coming Up for Air: Simple Acts to Redefine Your Life, Becker continues to explore life and faith and how they intertwine.  She actually published this book before Coming Up for Air but refers to her time at the beach a lot.  If you have read Coming Up for Air you will recognize the journey.  I'm actually quite glad I read that one first and this one after - it helped me with context.
I think I am drawn to Becker's journey because it seems to reflect my own.  Brennan Manning claims that believers have a time in their life where they experience a "second call" and it is in that time that believers explore what they believe and why, that they understand a little bit better what mercy and grace and love are and behave like, etc.  I think that this "second call" would be a very appropriate way to look at Becker's journey and certainly my own.
I loved this short book that shared snippets of soul vision.  It won't be the last time I read it.  Like Coming Up for Air, which I have read three times, I will be reading this one again as well.




"C" is for Corpse by Sue Grafton

Kinsey Millhone manages to get herself mixed up in death and drama again.  Surprise, surprise.  In this case she gets hired and four days later her client is dead. Of course she can't let it go, I'm not actually saying she should, and eventually solves the crime. This time she manages to solve two very different crimes.  Her landlord gets himself wrapped up with a suspicious character so Grafton includes another kind of crime as a side to the main.
I'm only on "C" of Grafton's alphabet and Kinsey Millhone series and already going from 3 stars to 2.  It's just not that impressive and already predictable.  I do give kudos to Grafton for managing to make the killer unsuspecting for the majority of the book.  Kinsey, the P.I. star of the series, is already wearing thin on my nerves.  But I'm a glutton for punishment apparently as I'm probably going to continue through the alphabet until I just can't stand it any longer - it's easy and mindless reading and a good way to break up the heavier, weightier books I read.



"D" is for Deadbeat by Sue Grafton

Well I liked this one better than "C" so it seems my ratings are going to hover between 2 and 3 stars.
In this book Kinsey is on the case for a guy who was a deadbeat and she doesn't realize it until he's dead and she's trying to figure out who did it.  The problem is there are so many people who wanted him dead that the list of suspects is lengthy.
Like I said in my review of "C" - Grafton's Kinsey Millhone's series is easy and mindless reading and sometimes you just need that.



"E" is for Evidence by Sue Grafton

Okay so here's my issue with books like these.  They are so unrealistic.  No way does stuff like this happen in real life.  Seriously!  But it provides entertainment I suppose.
In this installment of Kinsey Millhone, Kinsey ends up working for herself as she's been framed.  This time she has to clear her own name while trying to figure out the real culprit.  As with all books prior, Kinsey gets injured.  It's a wonder she ever has time to heal properly, she's always getting hurt and almost mortally wounded!  Again, there's no way stuff like this happens in real life.
These books are passing my time.  As I nurse a massive head cold they are perfect mindless reading.


"F" is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

Kinsey takes a trip out of Santa Teresa to solve "F" - a mystery that is 17 years old. Truthfully none of the "ABC/Kinsey Millhone" books inspire much out of me in the way of reviewing/writing. They are fairly predictable and if Kinsey has been able to obtain life insurance coverage her premiums must be through the roof.






"G" is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

It never was clear why G is for Gumshoe.  Maybe I have missed some sort of literary verbiage or crime speak?  I found this book to be rather annoying.  The story line was strange and Grafton tried to merge two rather large plots into one story.  I'm not sure if it worked or not.  With the success of her books overall people would say it worked but Grafton has a cult following of sorts, which is the mystery I'm still trying to figure out.



"H" is for Homicide by Sue Grafton

This one was better.  Perhaps because it took Kinsey so far out of her element that it was interesting to read.  However, Grafton took a lot of liberties with stereotypes in this one and whether they live up to reality or not I grew weary of it.






Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom by Nancy Leigh DeMoss


This important book on an extremely important topic only gets a 3 star from me because the first five chapters were pretty ho-hum for me.  Chapter 5 is where things picked up and got interesting.  Nancy Leigh DeMoss is a fantastic teacher and communicator of God's truths. She shares biblical truth that we would all do well to heed.  And in this book on forgiveness she shares some really really good truth but it is hard to take.
DeMoss begins at the beginning of forgiveness.  She walks the reader through the whys of forgiving and the reasons for forgiving.  Then in chapter 5 she begins to, as a good friend says, meddle.  She begins to point out that the one who needs to forgive may also need to be forgiven.  Meddling. She biblically addresses the "forgiving of self" and "forgiving God" that a lot of believers seem to think they need to do.  Meddling.  She points out that the way of Jesus is to bless the offender and so should we be blessing the one who has offended us.  Meddling.
This is too important of a principle to not seek understanding on. If the act and practice of forgiveness confuses you, frustrates you, rubs you the wrong way, etc then this book is a must read. DeMoss is able to communicate on the reader's level and lead the way to God's truth on forgiveness.



"I" is for Innocent by Sue Grafton

This is the first book in Grafton's Kinsey Millhone series that I found myself thinking about when I wasn't able to read it, wondering who done it, etc.
In "I" Kinsey is working on a case that is current but 6 years old.  And it seems everyone is innocent and  nobody is guilty except someone is. I felt like in this book Grafton took a break from Kinsey's personal life and character development and focused more on the case she was investigating.  Maybe that's why I liked it a little bit more! Not that I don't appreciate good and thorough character development but Kinsey was starting to wear on me.  As usual Kinsey solves the case and manages to sustain injury.  I'm telling you, this is so unrealistic in so many ways.


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