Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Keepsake

I was very proud of myself for pulling my nose out of my books to spend some good quality time over Thanksgiving with my family! I did end up finishing one book, but only read a night before I went to sleep, so it took a little longer than it normally does. Tess Gerritsen is one of my "go to" authors when I want a good mystery. Her stories are always very captivating and her topic are very attention grabbing.

Here is a clip from the first chapter:

"My daughter, Nefertari, is the one and only treasure that I brought back with me from Egypt. And I am terrified of losing her. Tari is so much like me. It's as if I am watching myself sleeping. When she was ten years old, she could already read hieroglyphs. At twelve, she could recite all the dynasties down to the Ptolemys. She spends her weekend haunting the Museum of Man. She is a clone of me in every way, and as the years pass there is no obvious trace of her father in her face or her voice or, most important of all, her soul. She is my daughter, mine alone, untainted by the evil that fathered her" (p.7)

This book has all the great characters that I have come to love from Tess Gerritsen, Maura Isles the Medical Examiner, Detective Jane Rizzoli and her partner Detective Barry Frost. Jane, just back from having a little baby girl is quick to jump in and trust her instincts. I really like the way that Gerritsen has developed her character and allowed her to not only be a kick butt detective, but also a loving mom and friend as well.

An Egyptian mummified body is found in the basement of Boston's Crispin Museum during an inventory project. Dr. Isles is called in to observe the CT scan to determine how old the mummy, named Madam X by those in the museum, actually is. While the cloth used to preserve the mummy is authentic and very old, the body preserved inside is not. The cloth tells a story of it's own and has the word "Medea" connected with it. This causes one of the characters in the book, Josephine, some obvious discomfort and obviously has some significance to her. As the story unfolds, two other bodies are found and although they are not mummified like Madam X, their bodies have also been preserved in various ways.

As leads are tracked down and connections made, it becomes apparent that one of the museum's own is very deeply intertwined with this investigation. Dr. Josephine Pulcillo, who has not been with the museum for very long, is closely watched by Jane as she discovers that pieces of her past do not seem to fit together as perfectly as they appear. When she receives a cryptic message with geographical coordinates, she takes off on her own and discovers her missing keys hanging on a tree limb. Using her keys, she opens the trunk to her car and finds the second body has been stored there.

Another lead takes the detectives to Texas to speak with a very wealthy man whose son is considered a prime suspect, but no one seems to know where he is. His mother is deathy ill, and as more evidence comes to light, the family is quick to surround themselves with a team of lawyers.

Archeology has always been something I find interesting. It is amazing to me what is buried underneath us. How societies have been preserved and are there to tell us their story. The descriptions of the excavation sites in Egypt are great and really make me want to hope a plane to Egypt.

The plot thickens when Josephine herself disappears at the hands of the killer, and it is up to Jane and Dr. Isles to find her before it is too late. Will she be the next victim to be preserved??

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves a good mystery. It is not easily figured out and Tess Gerritsen provides twists and turns up until the very end, keeping you on your toes!!

Title: The Keepsake
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Date Finished: November 28, 2008
Pages: 368

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

Title: The Secret Life of Bees
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Date Finished: November 24, 2008
Pags: 336

I know that this book was recently made into a movie, but I have this thing about trying not to see movies until I have read the book. This has kept me from seeing some movies that I really want to see, but I have just found over time that I enjoy the book more if I allow my mind to create the characters, instead of seeing whomever was cast in that particular role. Since I am trying to cut down my book buying, I borrowed this book from a friend and could not put it down.

The story of Lily is a very powerful one. Granted she's only fourteen, and how much can a fourteen year old really know about life... but her courage and determination is so powerful and motivating, and you just want to wrap her up in a hug and tell her that everything will be okay. The images she has of her mothers last day on earth, just break my heart. No really understanding what happened, but knowing there is a chance she was the one holding the gun eats at her as she gets older. She refers to her father as T. Ray instead of "Dad, Daddy, or Father," and this holds a great deal of significance. She does not see him as a father figure, just someone who is there, that punishes her and is always yelling at her.

Her friendship and love for Rosaleen allows her the courage to do crazy things, like break Rosaleen out of jail to keep her from being killed by the white man whose shoes she spit on. Sue Monk Kidd does a wonderful job of showing how segregated the whites and blacks were during this time period. Even though blacks were given the right to vote, it did not stop whites from protesting and doing anything in their power to keep them from registering. What really pushed Lily over the edge was her father telling her that her mother never really loved her, and that she was running away from her, which causes Lily to run away from him. On her way out of town she heists Rosaleen from the jail and they set off to Tiburon, South Carolina. What significance this town holds is yet to be known, but Lily found it on the back of a picture of a Black Madonna with her mother's items she keeps hidden in the pasture.

Upon arrival in Tiburon, Lily enters a store to buy some food and sees that very same Black Madonna on a bottle of honey. After inquiring about it from the store owner, Lily and Rosaleen head off towards the pink house in town that is the residence of May, June and August Boatwright. The "calendar sisters" take Lily and Roasleen in with very few questions and the story begins to unfold. You get the impression that August knows Lily is lying to her about having no family and heading to Virginia to stay with an aunt, but she lets her open up in her own time.

Lily becomes friends with Zach, who helps August with the bees. They struggle with their feelings for each other and the feelings that soceity says they shouldn't have. Him being a black man and her being a white woman is frowned upon. Both of them realize this and have several talks about it, but Zach wants to be a lawyer when he grows up and he promises Lily that when he's made a palce for himself and they have worked through this color issue, they will be together. Watching their relationship blossom makes for a beautiful love story. Being there for each other as their story unfolds is a true testament to friendship outside of skin pigment.

I loved this book and feel like it really had a big impact on me as I was reading it. I felt for the characters and the tragedies they experienced along the way. I'm not sure how much people remember from their younger days, and how unanswered questions can haunt someone as they get older. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a story about friendship, compassion, and the path to finding the truth.

I cannot wait to see the movie and have heard some really great things about it. Like most books that become movies, I'm sure there will be things that are left out, but I know this story will stay with me for a while. It has also made me a little more interested in bees.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Author: Garth Stein
Date Finished: November 8, 2008
Pages: 321

This book was the November pick for my IRL book club. I can honestly say that if this book was not picked for me, it would have probably taken me a while to pick it up on my own. Don't get my wrong, I would have eventually picked it up, but not so quickly. I tend to shy away from books that are about animals. They often a)make me sad; b)make me want another animal; and c)turn me into a blubbering mess complete with the red nose and tissues strewn all about.

This book was no exception, there were tears in the first chapter, which prompted me to call up my friend that picked this book and ask her if I was going to be able to read this at the office on my lunch break, or if this was something I should just read in the privacy of my own home! She assured me that I would be okay until the last chapter or so, and that I should really try to save that for home. So, I kept reading.

Garth Stein does a great job of making this book unique. The point of view in this book is that of the dog, Enzo. (Side note: I'm really liking books lately where the point of view is that of an unobvious character... like The Book Thief.) Enzo is a lab, who believes that some terrier is mixed into him, that was picked up as a puppy and adopted by Denny Swift. Denny is a race car driver trying to make a place for himself in the racing world.

"Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals, Denny always says, and you don't want to break them. That's how you drive in the rain." (p.13).

From the very beginning Denny talks about racing with Enzo and explains all the life lessons that he has learned from the track. He even leaves the t.v. on for Enzo while he is at work, but only if he will not just lay in front of the t.v. all day, but be responsible and only watch for a while. Enzo's world changes a little with the addition of Eve and then later on Zoe. Enzo immediately feels protective of Zoe and would do anything for her.

"Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally step over the line and into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively" (p.1).

Enzo, after watching so much t.v. realizes that he is a unique dog, who is ready to leave his dog shell and come back as a human. He wants so badly to communicate, especially as Denny's world falls in around him. He wants to be able to tell Zoe that something is wrong with her, but cannot. He understands how important it is to have thumbs.

Through Denny's hard times, Enzo is always there by his side, listening to what he says. He points out that as humans, we often do not listen to each other, but are always interrupting to tell our own versions of stories. We never stop and really listen to each other. Being a dog, Enzo is always listening and even though he cannot answer out loud, he does the best he can with gestures.

The hard times that Denny falls on started to become a little overwhelming for me, it seemed like the poor guy was never going to catch a break. I know that people fall on hard times, but it was one thing after another. Luckily during all of his trials and tribulations, he had Enzo by his side. Although I am not a big racing fan, I really appreciated all of the racing/real life analogies.

Garth Stein did a wonderful job with this book, and I would recommend it to others. You do not have to be an animal lover or racing fan to enjoy this book. I think the heart of this story is very captivating and will really make you wonder if you do have pets, what it is that they really understand or are thinking.

I myself have a cat, and often times find myself talking to him like he's a person. When I have a bad day, or just want to chat, he's always there to listen and even though he can't speak back, it's nice to know he's there. Does this make me crazy? Maybe! But I'm okay with that. I've noticed that when I'm sick or sad, he's always by my side and very cuddly, which says to me that on some level they understand, whether by actions or tone of voice what we are feeling. I will leave you with these words from Enzo...

"I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance. It is about anticipation and patience. I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain. But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one's own body. About believing that one's car is merely an extension of one's body. About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you" (p. 314).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book of the Dead & A Venfeful Longing

Title: Book of the Dead
Author: Patrica Cornwell
Date Finished: November 5, 2008
Pages: 528

Kay Scarpetta is one of my favorite fictional characters, and she "won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American author" (from the back flap). I have read several of Patricia Cornwell's books and have really enjoyed watching the characters in her Kay Scarpetta novels experience so much in the realm of emotions and experiences. All main characters will go through trials and tribulations, but this book really changes my perception of one of her main characters and I'm not sure I like that.

The book opens with a scene in Rome where a young girl is being tortured in a bathtub of cold water. Her captor is asking questions and having her drink from a tumbler filled with vodka. Once her body is discovered, Kay and Benton are called to Rome to help solve the case, since the victim is sixteen year old American tennis star, Drew Martin. Several questions come up at this point, such as, why was a sixteen year old in Rome unchaperoned, why did she leave the states when she should have been preparing for her next tennis match, and was she an intentional target or just an unfortunate soul?

As the story unfolds, there are several other deaths, and Kay beings to wonder if they are all connected. Granted they do not all happen in Rome, but the circumstances behind them cause them to intertwine. This is the first book of hers that seemed to really jump all over the place. She has three locations where deaths happen and at times, it was hard to keep the different inspectors from those locations correct. Cornwell still provides a very entertaining murder mystery to solve, but something was missing.

The ending was left as a cliff-hanger, which does make me want to read the next one, just to figure out the unanswered questions.

Title: A Vengeful Longing
Author: R.N. Morris
Date Finished: November 12, 2008
Pages: 316

I found this new author in my typical way of roaming through the library and seeing what titles caught my attention. I had big expectations of this book after reading the short synopsis on the front flap.

"In the middle of a hot, dusty St. Petersburg summer in the late 1860s. A doctor brings home a fancy box of chocolates for his wife and son - a strange gift on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Within an hour, both mother and child die an excruciating death, and the doctor is immediately arrested, suspected of poisoning. As investigator Profiry Petrovich concedes, in such cases the obvious solution often turns out to be the correct solution. And in the city's sweltering, oppressive atmosphere, even he lacks the energy to delve any deeper.

But when further, apparently unconnected, murders occur on the other side of town, a subtle and surprising pattern starts to emerge. Porfiry is forced to reassess his assumptions and follow a tenuous, uncertain trail that takes him into the hidden, squalid heart of the city and brings him face-to-face with incomprehensible horror and cruelty." (front flap)

After reading that, I was hooked. However, I was kind of disappointed in the actual unfolding of the story line. As always, I enjoyed trying to figure out the answer before it was actually presented, but it was not a book I loved. There were parts of it that were very capturing and others where I just wanted to skip ahead. I don't know if it's a combination of being busy at work and trying to prepare for the upcoming holidays or if this really is an author I will not enjoy. I may try to read something else by him, but it will probably be quite a while.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Stone Cold

Title: Stone Cold
Author: David Baldacci
Date Finished: October 26, 2008
Pages: 544

David Baldacci is one of those authors that I have been meaning to pick up for quite a while, but always seem to end up reading something else. I was looking through our work library the other day and happened upon one of his books. So, I quickly picked it up and carried it to my desk. I usually try to find the first book that an author has written so that I don't miss any character development, but this time, I just decided to jump in wherever the book took me. Although this book does pick up in the middle of a series, I did not feel like I was missing any pertinent information that would hinder me from understanding what was going on. David Baldacci does a great job of character development and keeping the reader informed.

This book involves the elusive Camel Club members who are headed up by none other than Oliver Stone. This however, like several characters in this book, is not his real name. So many secrets are kept in this book, not only between friends, but between families as well. If government secrets, assassins, and mystery solving are of interest to you, I would highly recommend picking up this book.

Let me take a step back. The Camel Club consists of Oliver Stone, Milton Farb, Reuben Rhodes and Caleb Shaw. Each of these individuals plays an important role in the Club and are a unique piece of the puzzle. Some other star characters are Alex Ford (a Secret Service Agent), Annabelle Conroy, her father Paddy (who are both con artists), Carter Gray, Roger Simpson (both political figures), Ray Solomon (deceased), Harry Finn (complex individual living a double life), and a casino owner named Jerry Bagger.

Caleb works at a rare book store and gets a visit from Jerry Bagger while he is trying to find Annabelle. Caleb recognizes Jerry, but does his best to keep his cool and appear aloof. Meanwhile, Milton and Reuben are sent to Atlantic City to sniff out Bagger, not knowing he is in Washington D.C., on his own mission. Milton and Reuben, although trying to stay inconspicuous, end up drawing quite a bit of attention to themselves, and barely escape Atlantic City alive.

The Triple Sixes were a group of US Assassins, who in terms of public knowledge do not really exist. Some of their key members were Ray Solomon and Oliver Stone. The other members of this elite killing squad are being individually picked off and killed. What is the reasoning behind them being killed and why is the last thing they see a picture of them as a whole group? Carter Gray's house is blow-up a few hours after Oliver left. It is widely known that they are not on friendly terms, but did Oliver have something to do with the devastation? Did Carter really parish in the fire? A grave is dug up in Arlington's Memorial Cemetery and the name on the headstone is John Carr. Why is this significant to the Triple Sixes and what does this mean for Oliver?

While the Camel Club is trying to solve this mystery, they are also being used on another front to help Susan (whose real name is Annabelle) hid from the casino boss, Jerry Bagger that she just stole 4 millions dollars from. What past event drives Annabelle to put together such a detailed scheme again Jerry Bagger? Is there something in their past that links the two people together? Enter Paddy Conroy, Annabelle's father, who also conned Jerry Bagger in his past. Why does Annabelle hate her father and will they be able to make amends before one of them is taken away?

Although Oliver is the one who asked Annabelle to stay and fight back, he ends up having to abandon her when his own issues appear. Feeling bad about not being able to keep his word, Oliver calls his trusty friend and Secret Service Agent Alex Ford to come in and help her. There are not many people who know the true story behind Oliver Stone, but Alex does. They have worked together before and would trust their lives in the hands of each other, which in their world is a huge leap of faith. A Secret Service agent and a Con artist. You know that has to create a little bit of drama!

Harry Finn (also not his real name) has been brought up hearing bits and pieces about his fathers death. His mother, a Soviet spy, is hiding out in a nursing home, speaking incoherently when other are around, but speaks perfect Russian to her son. What caused her to go into hiding and what secrets does she know and has she told any of them to her one and only child? When a Soviet spy and an American spy get married, and you toss love into the mix of training, loyalty and honor, who converts to the other side and becomes a double agent? Could this have been the cause of his death? Treason is punishable by death in most places, back during this time.

Dirty politicians taking matters into their own hands. Nothing like that would ever happen, right? Ha! Both Carter Gray and Roger Simpson were involved in the spearheading of the Triple Sixes during and after the Vietnam war. Who used their political power to accomplish their own personal goals? Were the higher ups aware of what was playing out under their noses? Although this book poses lots of questions, each one of them is answered in due time. The drama that unfolds will leave you turning pages as fast as you can to find out what will happen next.

I will definitely pick up another one of David Baldacci's books, but I'll try to get them in order next time!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nothing Lasts Forever

Title: Nothing Lasts Forever
Author: Sidney Sheldon
Date Finished: October 22, 2008
Pages: 400

This was my first book by Sidney Sheldon and I have since added a few more of his books to my TBR pile! This author was recommended to me by my Dad, who has very similar taste in literature as I do. I have had this book sitting on my shelf for a while, like several others, and I finally took the time to pick it up and open it and boy am very glad I did. Mr. Sheldon's writing style is very easy to read and flows like silk. He gives great picturesque descriptions of his characters and keeps the pace up so you do not lose interest in the story unfolding before you.

I love a great mystery and the storyline was very intriguing. I loved the way he made the majority of the story a flashback. Like with movies I watch, I always try to figure out who did it before the answers are revealed. The story opens in present day in a courtroom, with Dr. Paige Taylor standing trial for the death of a patient. The catch is that when her patient died, he left her a very large sum of money, and cut his wife out of the will. She claims it was a mercy kill and that her patient begged her to help him end his life, but did she help him reach the other side out of compassion or greed? The question on everyones mind is, did she kill the guy for his money? It is said around the hospital that this patient greatly disliked Dr. Taylor and was often very critical of her skills. Was she taking out her revenge on a unruly patient, or helping a man find peace and comfort?

From there, the story flashes back five years, to when Dr. Paige Taylor and two other women, Honey Taft and Kat Hunter, are the only three females in a group of new residents. The girls quickly form a bond and their lives are dramatically changed. They are constantly harassed by the male doctors, who are always hitting on them, and criticizing their skills, making it known that they think a woman's place is not in the OR with the men but at home cooking and cleaning.

Kate "Kat" Hunter faces her own set of issues being that she's a black doctor trying to pave a way for herself while always taking care of her delinquent bother. Being traumatized (molested) as a child by her step-father, Kat eventually ran away from home and moved in with a relative. Having left her brother in that environment she felt it was her job to care for him in any way she can. Kat is always sending large amounts of money to bail her brother out of whatever new situation he has gotten himself into. This becomes a huge issue as the story unfolds.

Betty Lou "Honey" Taft came out of medical school with incredibly high scores and has great letters of recommendation in her file, so why is it that she's always messing up with diagnoses and recommendations during rounds? These errors only seem to occur during the morning rounds, so what is she doing differently during the day to improve?? There is a hint of a scandal in her past that you are given sneak peeks of throughout but what could a nice person like Honey have done to be run out of her prior town? Honey comes from a career driven family that includes several other doctors. While in school, Honey mentioned to her father that she would like to be a nurse, since she has such a caring and giving nature, but this infuriated her father and he basically told her that Taft's were not nurses, they were doctors. Does her family have something to do with the situation she is currently in??

Dr. Paige Taylor spent her childhood growing up in Third World Countries while her father was a doctor with WHO (World Health Organization) along with another family. She grows up with Alfred Turner who promises her that they will be together some day when they grow-up and he finishes his work in Africa. As Paige anxiously awaits his return so they can get married, she ends up quite surprised when she opens her front door. Has he come back to claim his childhood love??

If you are interested in a murder drama with a mixture of romance and suspense I would recommend putting this book on your list! The characters are very likable and provide the right amount of drama to keep you turning those pages.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Giveaway Alert!

Giveaway alert!!!

Trish is giving away a copy of Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies. Click (here) to be entered. You can be entered up to three time by following the instructions on her page. The drawing will be held on Thursday, October 30th at 6:30 a.m. (Central Time).
If you have not read the Diary of Anne Frank, I would very much recommend it. It is a heartbreaking book written by a young girl as she is experiencing life as a Jew in Germany during World War II. The different between this book and others that have been written is often times, the other books are written after the war is over and take on a more reflective tone, where as this was writting while it was happening in the diary of a young woman. Her family goes into hiding and are there are eight people sharing a very small space for quite some time. Always having to keep quite and not being able to play outside with other children would be a very hard thing for someone young to endure.
Good Luck to you all!!!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison

Title: The Hot House Life Inside Leavenworth Prison
Author: Pete Earley
Date Finished: October 19, 2008
Pages: 441

I have really been on a non-fiction kick lately, in hopes of expanding my reading base. It has always been so much easier for me to pick up a fiction book and get lost in whatever world the story puts me in. For non-fiction I have this horrible idea that it's going to be a harder read and I won't enjoy it as much, which is completely FALSE!!! At my office, you get a sense of what genre's people like by what you see them reading in the lunch room. About a year ago, I noticed that one of the girls always has non-fiction books based on prisons, true crime, and maybe even a few biographies. I have always been intrigued by these topics, but wasn't really sure where to even being to find a good/interesting book. So, the other day, I just asked her if she had a favorite book, or how she went about choosing the ones she reads. She happened to have one of her favorites sitting on her desk and let me borrow it!

I did not want to put this book down. It was so interesting, and I just got caught up in their world, or at least as close as my mind would allow. Obviously this is something that you would have to have experienced before to really understand, and I can thankfully say that I have never, nor ever plan to be part of the prison crowd. Let me just say that Pete Earley is a very brave man. He spent two years, 1987-1989, going into Leavenworth Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas without protection, to get the "true stories" that he shares. Some history that I was able to pick up on Leavenworth, it was built to resemble the Capitol in Washington D.C., and has a dome and all, obviously it is not made out of the same material. This was the first federal prison built, and is a level 5, Maximum security prison. The inmates are all males, and the majority of the prison staff are male as well. Those females that do venture to work there, are often times kept in assistant/secretary/school teacher type roles, and not guards.

Pete Earley not only interviews the inmates, but the guards as well. Some of them tell about their crimes and their lives inside the prison, others talk about their families and their lives before prison. One of the big controversies that first happens in this book is that the newly appointed warden is a black man. This upsets not only the AB (Aryan Brotherhood) inmates, but also those guards who are resistant to be taking orders from a black man. Some of the inmates that Earley talks to are: Carl Bowles, Thomas Little, Thomas Silverstein, Dallas Scott and Norman Bucklew (whose name was changed to protect him). The guards and other prison workers were: Warden Matthews, Eddie Geouge, Bill Slack, and Elke Shoats.

Thomas Silverstein was one of the most talked about prisoners during this two year period. He was kept in an isolated cell, with no human contact (solitary confinement) and the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. The only human interaction would be with the two guards that are posted outside his cell, but because he killed a guard, they will not speak to him. Although a very creative artist, he is denied drawing materials for quite some time as a reminder of who is in charge. There is a picture of one of this sketches in the book, and I was incredibly impressed with his artistic ability.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking what life would be like to be a guard at a prison. From the accounts that are shared with Pete Earley, it sounds like there is a fine-line between home and work life, that is quite often blurred. One account, the guy ends up being shot, with a shotgun, by his own children. As the story unfolds it turns out that he was very abusive at home, and the kids finally got sick of it and took matters into their own hands. When you are constantly trying to prove your authority and keep others in check, it would be hard to turn that off when you weren't on the clock. It would be hard to leave this kind of work "at the office" at the end of the day. You would almost be inhumane if you were able to do that on a daily basis and not let the work effect you.

Carl Bowles, one of the inmates, has been in prison for the majority of his life, and is very respected/feared within Leavenworth. He likes to pick new inmates and take them under his wing. The guards and other inmates will often snicker that Carl is only picking the new meat so that they can be his "wife" on the inside. Carl talked to Thomas Little when he arrives and makes it clear that if you don't want anyone to mess with you there are three things you can do. You can team up with someone for protection, let them mess with you, or kill them. Thomas decides to take Carl up on his offer and they form quite a friendship. Carl explains to Thomas, after he hears other inmates calling him Carl's "wife" that after spending so much of his life in prison, he is just looking for someone that he can form a tight bond with. Of course he has sexual desires, but those can be taken care of. It is much harder to connect with someone on a more intimate basis while in prison. Someone you can talk to, and share things with, someone who really understands what you go through on a daily basis, and he found this companion in Thomas Little. Carl also goes out of his way to help have Thomas transferred to a lower level prison. Thomas is a first time offender and his crime was a bank robbery. Carl, after coaching Thomas what to ask, finds out that Thomas has been listed as an escape risk and that is why he was sent to Leavenworth. Apparently at the jail Thomas was being held in, the guard allegedly found Thomas' cell bars had been sawed through, and instead of proving that Thomas was the one that did it, they just made a note in his file and off to Leavenworth he went.

It was interesting to see what the different guards and inmates chose to talk to Pete about. Even though some of these guys are very dangerous people and have committed heinous crimes, they were very open and honest with Pete in regards to a variety of topics. Some wanted to talk about their families, or how they were better suited in prison than the outside world. Inside, they knew the rules and how to handle themselves, but if you open the gates, it becomes a whole new ballgame. Most of the inmates that were released ended up back inside within a year or two. Sometimes when you've lived one way of life for so long, it's hard to reprogram yourself and adjust to being a part of society again. There were even a few guys who preferred being behind bars than out on the streets.

This book was very much outside of my usual realm, but it was very mind-opening and I know it will stay with me for quite some time. I would really like to read something else along these same lines, and if you have any suggestions, they would be much appreciated. If any of this interests you, I would really recommend picking up this book. It is an eye-opening experience and a great read!

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Date Finished: Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Pages: 576

I was told about this book from a friend of mine, Trish, (here) a couple of months ago and after hearing about it decided that it would be a great book to add to my list for the Bang Bang Challenge (which is my first challenge ever!). I have to admit that it took me a couple of chapters to really get into the book. The more I read the more I enjoyed the unique writing style of Markus Zusak. For those of you who are not familiar with this book, I would most definitely recommend it if you are interested in the World War II era, or if you are intrigued by the idea that the narrator of this book is Death!

Death first encounters the book thief when she is 9 years old, when he comes to take her brother on a dreary train platform. The children were being escorted by their mother to a small town in Germany where they would be passed over to Foster parents. Even though he is not there to take her, Death becomes fascinated by the book thief and is there to witness her commit her first act thievery when she picks up a book that fell from the pocket of one of the gravediggers from the cemetary where her brother has just been laid to rest. At this point in her life, Liesel Meminger, cannot yet read the book she has picked up, but wants desperately to know how. This book holds a special place in her heart, because it reminds her of her brother.

Liesel forms a strong bond with her foster dad, who plays the accordian and teachs her to read. There is quite a story behind her dad playing the accordian and it eventually causes some difficulties for her family in the future. Being persued by Rudy, her neighbor, Liesel is always turning down his requests for a kiss when he does something to help her. She grows to be very fond of Rudy, but will he ever get that much anitcipated kiss from his love?? While helping to deliever and pick up laundy for her mother from the townspeople, Liesel develops an interesting relationship with the Mayor's wife. She allows Liesel to eventually come into her home and the first place she takes her is into the library. Liesel automatically assumes that the books are the Mayor's, to which she is later proven wrong.

After yelling at the Mayor's wife after her mother's services are no longer needed, Liesel with the help of Rudy, decide to go back to the Mayor's house and steal a book. The book thief appears several times, but only takes one book at a time. One day, when they ride up, they notice that there is a book propped against the window where they enter, and it happens to be a dictionary. Another time, there is a plate of cookies that has been left in the library, and Liesel suddenly realizes that the Mayor's wife knows she has been entering the library and has left these items for her on purpose. Will she eventually approach the Mayor's wife and thank her, or will she continue to sneak in and out of the window with her newly chosen book?

As the book begins to come to an end, Death gives you some information ahead of time, in his mind to help soften the blow of the information. He is at times very compassionate, espeically when the air raides are happening and he is having to gather several children in his hands. This time period was a very busy time for death and he was often working days on end without a break.

I found Death to be quite commical at times, and really enjoyed hearing his point of view. I love the importance that is placed on words during this book. Especially in a time when words could really impact those around you. As the story progresses, Liesel continues to hear the word "Communist," but every time she asks someone what that means, she get a run-around answer. As she continues to piece together a definition, she realizes that her own mother was one, and asks her foster father if this is the reason she was seperated from her mother. Not wanting to ever lie to her, he shakes his head yes, and another mystery is solved.

I will not give away any spoliers, but I did want to share one of my favorite parts of this book with you. I love the way that the book ends. It is a short sentence by Death that pretty much sums up everything. "I am haunted by humans." (p.550) This sentence continues to give me chills, but I feel that it is a very powerful sentence. I fell in love with the characters in this book and was continuously surprised by Death's reactions and point of view throughout the story. When I first learned that the narrator was going to be Death, I expected a very dreary and heartbreaking book, but I was very happily surprised when I learned that was not going to be the case. If you get a chance to read this book, I would definitely recommend it!

This book was also reviewed by:
Laura, Trish, (if you have one, please let me know!)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ride the Wind

Title: Ride the Wind
Author: Lucia St. Clair Robson
Date Finished: October 4, 2008
Pages: 562

When I found out that this was the next book my IRL book club was going to be reading, I was needless to say, less than thrilled. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I read a book that dealt with American Indians or even that time period. I learned about Quanah Parker while I was in school, but never really knew anything about his family. So, I sucked it up, opened the book and started reading. The first part of the book, had me furious and almost in tears. Lucia St. Clair Robson starts the book off with a raid on the Parker family stead and is quite graphic. I remember making a comment the next morning about how awful the Indians were to the whites and how I just did not understand their savage like qualities. But, I kept reading.

It took me a day or two to really stop and think, reorient my brain to how things were back then, to really understand and sympathize with the Indians. Before white man came over, they were free to roam the plains, feed their families, and live life as all those before them had. When the white man came over, with them came diseases, new weapons, and a whole new way of life. The Indians respected Mother Earth and were always careful to not destroy her, where as when the whites came over, they were harvesting and building houses and towns on top of what used to be acres up acres of rolling plains.

Lucia St. Clair Robson is a beautiful writer. Her descriptions are picturesque and so detail oriented that I felt like I could close my eyes and be standing there right beside them seeing the same things they were seeing. Her words were hypnotic and once I really got into the storyline, I could not put the book down. You really get to know the main characters and I found myself cheering them on, and worrying for their safety while they were on raids, or hunting for food in the winter for their families.

The prologue ends with "Not much happened in 1836," but for the Parker family, this was where their story really began. Cynthia Ann Parker was nine years old when she was taken from her white family by a young Comanche Warrior named Nocona "Wanderer." She was taken to replace the child that Sunrise and Takes Down the Lodge had lost, and they loved her like she was their own. Upon her arrival into their camp, she became immediate friends with Star Name, another girl fairly close to her age. Star Name was very patient and would pronounce every item she touched for Cynthia to repeat and answered all the questions she could. Cynthia's brother John was also taken captive and ended up living with another band, under Old Owl, whom her family wintered with.

Wanderer, true to his name, came and went from Cynthia's band, often rejoining his father, Iron Shirt's band. Cynthia who was named, Naduah "Keeps Warm With Us" was taught the importance of names from her Grandmother, Medicine Woman. Each of the warriors were named as a child, and then after they had their vision, they were given a new name in regards to their medicine, or spirit. As she grew up Naduah grew to love Wanderer and was always happier when he returned. She had a special way with his horse and he knew that she was something special. After getting a horse of her own, she learned how to communicate with her horse without vocal commands. The Indians were great riders and Wanderer, being the best, taught her how to teach her horse to give her signs, and to react to commands she gave with her legs to keep her hands free to protect herself. Learning how to mount a horse from different angles gave them more flexibility when engaging in raids, or when being attacked.

Eventually, when she is old enough, Wanderer comes to buy his bride with 100 horses. This was a huge statement of his love for her, since the people of his father's time had purchased their brides with two horses and some blankets. The majority of the War Chiefs had several wives to help with all the chores and also to allow some of them to join their man on raids. Wanderer, however, only wanted Naduah. Some of the other women gave her a hard time and told her that he didn't love her enough if he wasn't willing to marry others to help her with the chores. Naduah and Wanderer never saw it that way, and were quite happy with the way things were. After having Quanah, it was five years before they had another child. After giving him a second son, Pecan, she would have one more child, a daughter nicknamed Flower.

As families died off from cholera or small pox, those left behind were taken in by the remaining ones. Not only were a large percentage of their People dying from diseases they had never seen before, but as more people migrated to Texas and then on to California, the white men were killing off the buffalo's with their new gun and after skinning them, leaving them to rot in the fields. The "People" were very resourceful with the buffalo and every part was of significance to them. It became impossible for them to provide food for their families, because the guns were scaring off the remaining buffalo and those that were killed were wasted rotting in the elements.

There is a great amount of character development throughout the book that made it very enjoyable. I am very glad that I read this book and would recommend it to everyone. Even though it was not my usual cup of tea, it was very enjoyable and somewhat educational. I enjoyed Lucia St. Clair Robson's style and plan to pick up another book by her in the future.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Change of Heart

Title: Change of Heart
Author: Jodi Picoult
Date Finished: September 24, 2008
Pages: 464

This was my first Jodi Picoult book, after hearing such raves from my friends about her writing. I have to admit, I was very impressed. I was skimming through the new books at the library and happened upon it, so I figured it was a good place to start. This book deals with religion, death row, protection and the grey area between the lines in life. Jodi Picoult does a great job dealing with such a controversial issue, religion, and does not press or support one religion over another. I found myself doing quite a bit of life reflection after reading this book, and enjoyed thinking through some of the issues she presented.

The book opens with one of the main characters, June, tragically losing her husband. She is left behind with a daughter to raise, Elizabeth, and actually ends up falling in love with the police officer who was at the scene of her husbands death. They in turn get married, and while she is pregnant, she comes home to find that the carpenter she hired to finish adding a room on for the nursery, Shay Bourne, has killed both her second husband and her daughter. To make matters worse, her daughters underwear was found in the Shay's pocket. At the trial he is sentenced to death by lethal injection, which is the first case in quite some time in this town.

To complicate matters even more, Clair, June's second daughter, is in dire need of a heart transplant. Shay who exhibits Messiah like qualities wants to donate his heart, but only if it will go to Clair. June is furious when she hears this and will not allow that man's heart to be placed into her only surviving child. Enter two other main characters, Father Michael, who becomes Shay's spiritual advisor, and Maggie Bloom, who is a lawyer for ACLU and is trying to change Shay's method of death to be hanging instead of lethal injection so that his heart can be donated. Father Michael has a secret that he is too scared to share with Shay and Maggie for fear that it could drastically effect his credibility with the court.

Upon entering I-tier, the only place to keep a death row inmate, Shay exhibits Messiah like qualities by turning the water into wine, healing a pet bird of one of the inmates, distributing gum to each of the other I-tier occupants while only having one piece, apparently curing his cell neighbor of AIDS, and quoting scripture from a Gnostic book the Gospel of Thomas. As news travels of the supposed miracles of I-tier, people travel from all over with their sick, dying, blind, etc... loved ones and line up outside the prison in hopes of having them healed by Shay. This creates quite a ruckus, and those who are opposed line up with signs and protests as well.

June is faced with the ultimate decision. Does she lose her only surviving child by rejecting the heart of the man who took her family from her, or does she take the heart and save her child? As the story unfolds, you get caught up in the drama and action in each of the characters lives and find yourself holding your breath in anticipation of what will happen next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be sure to pick up another Jodi Picoult book in the future. There were many plot turns in this book that kept you on your toes anticipating which direction the story would take. There were some things that I figured may happen, but for the most part, I was happily surprised by the outcomes. I would highly recommend this book if you have not yet had the chance to read it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

Title: Eat, Pray, Love
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Date Finished: September 9, 2008
Pages: 331

This work of non-fiction by Elizabeth Gilbert was the third book for my IRL book club. I was a little advantageous before starting this book because of the varying opinions I had heard from others. There are some people that really love this book and others who do not. After finishing the book, I feel like I would fall in the category of "liked" more than "disliked." There were several things that I could really connect to, and others that I felt were out of my league, but on a whole I really enjoyed the story of her journey for love, balance and enlightenment.

After ending up on her bathroom floor in tears night after night, Elizabeth Gilbert finally reaches her breaking point and calls out to God for some help. She has been married for 10 years, is approaching the age of 30, and realizes that she does not want children, or to be married to this man any longer. Eat, Pray, Love is about her year long journey across Italy, India and Indonesia in search of good food, love, and the pursuit of balance in her life. While going through her divorce, she throws herself into an on-again, off-again affair with a man named David. With the advance that she gets on a book deal, she decides to travel and in each of the three "I's" she is determined to get something from them. Her plan is to spend four months in each location, in Italy she will learn to speak Italian and eat wonderful food; in India she will stay at an Ashram where she will learn to meditate and get in touch with herself; in Indonesia she plans to seek out the "medicine man" she met there two years ago who then predicted her return to Indonesia and learn to ultimate balance in life.

I loved how she broke down the book. There are three sections to represent the three locations she will be staying in. But further than that, each section is broken down into thirty-six (36) chapters who relates to not only to her age, but is representative of the traditional beads that are worn in India that have 108 beads.
"Amid he more esoteric circles of Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be the most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes." (p.1)

I would have to say that my favorite section was Italy, but I really enjoyed the others are well. I have always wanted to go to Italy and her descriptions throughout the book are wonderful. Upon arriving in Italy, she connects with a set of twins who would like to learn English in exchange for teaching Italian, which is exactly what Elizabeth is looking for. She fantasises about falling in love, or in bed with Giovanni, one of the twins, but has promised herself that she will remain celibate throughout this year of searching for enlightenment. While she is in Italy, you learn the story of her divorce, and her relationship with David. I love how she is able to make friends no matter where she goes. She does not do much sight-seeing while in Italy, but when she does travel around she always asks for the best place to eat when she gets there and goes straight there and asks for their best dish. I love how adventurous she is with food. There are so many times when people travel to another place, but do not want to actually experience it because they are afraid, or picky, or it just looks weird.

The journey to India was interesting in that her goal there is to go to the Ashram and dive into meditation in the pursuit of devotion. I have never been one for deep meditation, especially with how hard it is to quiet the brain just to sleep. While Elizabeth is in India she meets Richard, from Texas. He is probably one of my favorite characters in the book. While they are at the Ashram, it is a place of quite, soul searching, meditation and there he is cracking jokes with her, calling her "Groceries" and making fun of her reactions when she is not able to meditate properly. He is great comic relief for a very intense section of the book. Although it takes her a while to finally be able to meditate and know that there will always be thoughts running through your head, you just have to ignore them. Before Richard left to go back home he had something to share with her "And, Groceries? Do me a favor? Move ahead with your life, will ya?" "I am." "What I mean is - find somebody new to love someday. Take the time you need to heal, but don't forget to eventually share your heart with someone. Don't make your life a monument to David or to your ex-husband." (p.188-189).

The part of this section that really touched me the most was Richard's description of the word soul-mate. "Your problem is you don't understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it." (p.149).

Her last leg of the trip was to Indonesia. Right before she left India, Elizabeth realized that she had no idea how to find this "medicine man" of hers, or even if he would remember her. Upon arrival, she is informed that she is only allowed to stay for one month, which totally disrupts her plan, since she was intending to stay for four months. But, not letting this discourage her, she finds a hotel to stay in, and eventually finds her "medicine man." Much to her disappointment, he does not remember her at first, and even when he does, he does not remember offering her a place to stay. She forms a bond with him, and he considers her a true friend. Even though she does not end up teaching him English, like originally discussed, she learns a great deal from him. Not only about what he does as a "medicine man," but also about those who come to see him.

While in Indonesia, Elizabeth does eventually fall for a man named Felipe. Having a hard time letting go of her promise to stay celibate for the entire year, she eventually opens up her heart and lets Felipe in. Although I was happy for her finding someone to love, I could not help but wonder what her trip would have been like had she ended it completely on her own. She made some good friends while she was in Indonesia, and even had help from her friends in the stats to get one of them enough money to buy a home for her and her children.

I really did enjoy Elizabeth's journey and hope that she was able to continue her meditation and enjoyment of life once she was immersed back into her daily life in New York. It is often much easier to focus on something if that is all you do all day. In a different environment where you do not have the same distractions or commitments you do back in your own reality. I have heard that some consider her selfish for taking the time away to write this book. I would have to disagree. I think we all need to take the time to focus on ourselves once in a while, and to do that, yes, you do have to be a little selfish, but in our society, I think it is much needed. We are always willing to help other people, and often times we forget to help ourselves. It is hard to admit when we are depressed and need help, but it is something that lots of people go through, and there is nothing to be ashamed about. We need to be able to pick ourselves up, and get the help that we need. If that makes us selfish, then so be it!

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Enemy's Cradle

Title: My Enemy's Cradle
Author: Sara Young
Date Finished: September 5, 2008
Pages: 384

I have been wanting to read this book for a couple of months now, and had actually considered it for my selection in my IRL Book Club. However, when a friend told me about the Bang Bang Challenge, I decided to hold off a little bit and use this as one of my five choices. I have always been a fan of War book and movies, which being a girl will often get me strange looks, but I am particularly interested in World War II and anything that has to do with the Holocaust. In school, this was one of the most interesting topics for research and discussion for me and continues to make me wonder how things like this were allowed to happen.

Cyrla, who is half-Jewish, half-Dutch, was sent to live with her late mother's relatives in Holland when things in Poland were threatened by the Germans during World War II. Having her mother's blond hair, Cyrla's father believes she would be safer living with her mother's Dutch family than remaining in Holland with him and her two brothers. She and her cousin, Anneke, become like sisters and are always sharing things with each other. Cyrla is somewhat jealous of Anneke and the way she commands attention when she enters a room, how she can get the attention of any may she desires and how much simpler her life seems since she is not Jewish. To Anneke, the fact that Cyrla is half-Jewish does not really register, because for her, it is a moot point. They are family and that is all that matters. Anneke's father on the other hand, is very quick to point out that Cyrla could bring them problems with the SS since she is staying in their house.

Anneke falls in love with a German soldier, Karl, who is not really a Nazi sympathizer. Anneke becomes pregnant with Karl's child and after telling her parents is forced to be tested by the doctors at a Lebensborn, which is a home for women who are pregnant with German children. If a father is named, he is given rights to the child. If he is married, then the child is taken into his home and raised by his wife, if he is not married and does not wish to keep the child, it is put up for adoption and placement in a German family. The mothers are not allowed to keep the child for fear that they will take the kid back to their hometown and raise it to be an enemy of Germany or eventually birth children who will be enemies of Germany.

After some heartbreaking pages, Anneke is found dead by Cyrla and her aunt. Anneke's death is blamed on her father for wanting to send her to a Lebensborn and he disappears into the night. Cyrla's aunt decides that it is no longer safe for her and so she is urged to use Anneke's name and go to the Lebensborn in her place. Cyrla and Anneke are so identical they could be twins, but Cyrla fears that she will not be able to fool the doctors, nurses and other expectant mothers. The most obvious reason being she is not pregnant. Upon coming to live with her relatives, Cyrla made friends with a young Jewish man named, Isaak. Cyrla has very strong feelings for him and so she approaches him with her problem and he is willing to help her.

Cyrla will not leave Isaak without making him promise that he will come get her before she delivers the baby (since it will not be German) and he eventually promises to do so. Upon her arrival at the Lebensborn, Cyrla realizes that she has been taken to another location, inside Germany. With no way to relay this to Isaak, she becomes desperate to keep her identity hidden from those around her. Cyrla makes friends with some of the girls in the house, and one of the nurses, who she realises is not like the others. Even though she must keep her identity a secret, she longs for companionship and compassion. Not being able to communicate with her family, or even knowing where they are weighs heavily on her and keeps her constantly on her toes.

Karl appears at the Lebensborn one day after being informed that he has a pregnant woman there with him listed as the father. Upon seeing Cyrla instead of Anneke, Karl does not blowing her cover, instead he waits until they can speak privately to find out where Anneke is and what is going on. After delaying as long as possible, Cyrla finally decides to tell Karl the truth. He did not know that Anneke was pregnant and told Cyrla the story of what really happened the last day he saw Anneke. Not knowing that she was coming to tell him her big news, he had his own big news to share. He was not in love with her, but was actually falling for her cousin, Cyrla.

* Spoilers ahead*

Having a hard time believing anyone who wears the German uniform, Cyrla tries to ignore the kindness that Karl is bestowing on her, and for quite some time, she lies to him and denies anything he offers her. Eventually, she realizes that he really does care about her, and not just because she is Anneke's cousin, but for who she is. They fall in love in a time of war and hardship and both suffer great losses before the war is over. Not only does Cyrla lose her cousin, she finds out Isaak was killed in a concentration camp, possibly along with the rest of her family. Karl suffers a great deal too, he lost a child he did not even know about and when he helped Cyrla flee the Lebensborn, he was sent to a concentration camp himself and they removed his hands, since his pleasure in life was making boats.

This story, like many others during this World War, break my heart. I am always amazed at the strength some of those people portrayed, and hope that if I were ever put in a similar situation, I would be able to bend and not break. Sara Young does a wonderful job with the characters in this book and you feel as if you are there with them, helping them fight their battles, and hoping that she is never discovered.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Conversations with the Fat Girl

Title: Conversations with the Fat Girl
Author: Liza Palmer
Date Finished: August 28, 2008
Pages: 328

Have you ever found a book that you related to on so many different levels that you just did not want to put it down? I will be honest, chick-lit is not one of my favorite genres, but when I read the synopsis of this book I felt an immediate connection to the main character and her trials and tribulations with her best friend. Having just gone through very similar experiences, I found myself anticipating the outcome and wondering if it would be similar to my own.

Maggie and Olivia have been best friends for years, having bonded in middle school because they were both overweight and outcasts. The girls fantasize all throughout high school about big events in their lives and how everyone will realize that these girls really are great and want to be a part of their lives. Years later at the age of 22, Olivia being the bigger of the two, decides to undergo gastric bypass surgery. After becoming a "skinny girl," Olivia falls in love and become engaged to Dr. Adam Farrell. Upon visiting them on the east coast, Maggie discovers that they sleep in their own double beds in the same room, Adam is obviously repulsed by overweight girls, and seems to be looking for a trophy wife to show off on his arm.

Maggie finds herself discontent working as a barista in a coffee house along with the one man she cannot stop thinking about, Domenic, the busboy and doll maker. Domenic (whose real name is Domenico) works in the family doll making factory, where he is in charge of making the small hands and feet for the dolls. Maggie finds herself always acting awkward around him and not confident enough to tell him how she really feels. The two dance around the topic of a relationship the entire book. The question of whether they would become a couple or not, started to get on my nerves, but I really appreciated that this book did not focus solely on her finding a boyfriend, but on finding her own self.

Maggie was chosen to be Olivia's Maid of Honor and bends over backwards throughout the whole book to do everything she can to make this event as special and meaningful as possible for her best friend. She also sees it as her own personal reward, because years ago, they were both just fat girls who no one liked, and here they are 15+ years later and one of them is marrying this handsome doctor. What Maggie seems oblivious to is the fact that her best friend really hasn't been a friend for several years. Ever since becoming skinny, Olivia has hidden the fact that she was ever fat from all of her new friends, and seems to have made up this really great past that Maggie knows is no where near the truth. Olivia is constantly disappointing Maggie, and cannot seem to find time in her busy schedule to actually call her back, but does have time to talk to her new friend Gwen, who is also quite rude to Maggie. Even though Maggie is the MOH, Gwen is determined to have a special spot in the festivities, and is always monopolizing Olivia's time, which seems to be of no concern for Olivia.

Things really start to come to a climax at the Bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Wanting to make this day as special as she can, Maggie has set up to have drinks with just Olivia before the festivities start. Hoping to rekindle the friendship that seems to be missing, Maggie wanted to spend some quality alone time with her best friend before her big day. After three unreturned phone calls to confirm, Maggie goes out with her sister Kate, whom she brought along for support on this trip, to wait at the restaurant where all the party goers are suppose to have high tea. When the other guests start to arrive it becomes very embarrassing for Maggie that the Bride and Gwen are the only ones not present. Thirty minutes later they do finally show up and Maggie finds out that they had flown in early and spent the whole day together shopping, getting pampered at the spa (which was Maggie's birthday gift to Olivia) and just hanging out. Feeling frustrated, Maggie chooses not to say anything and they move on to the next activity. Feeling more confident, since she has lost a size, Maggie grabs her new outfit and cowboy hat as they head to the bar. Gwen makes a nasty comment which riles up Kate who in her drunken haze, confronts her. When it becomes apparent that Olivia is not going to do anything to stand up to her friend, Maggie, on the verge of tears, pulls her sister out of the bar and heads back to the hotel. At three a.m. Maggie gets a call from a desperate Olivia who wants to meet. Maggie sneaks out of her room, where her sister is sleeping, and meets Olivia who is in tears and feeling bad about not defending her at the bar. She gives Maggie her birthday gift, which is a beautiful necklace with an M & O on it, and begs Maggie to promise she will still be a part of the wedding.

After telling herself that she just would not know what to do without her best friend, Maggie once again gives in to Olivia, and wants to still be a part of her big day. When she tells her family, Kate is obviously upset and feels betrayed that she stood up for her sister only to have her go running back to the person that was so openly mean to her in public. The worst for Maggie is when her mom tells her she will not accompany her to the wedding and that she wants her to realize that Olivia is not a real friend. Feeling like she is being let down, her mom explains to her that she loves her and is tired of watching her continuously hurt by the same person.

It is wonderful to watch Maggie become more confident in herself as the book progresses, she finally does something with her degree that she loves, she starts taking better care of herself by going to a personal trainer, and she stops allowing herself to be used by others. Having that defining moment where you realize that you do have the power to make changes in your own life, and you actually take back control is a great thing.

The day before the rehearsal Maggie finds out she is no longer a part of the head table with Olivia and in fact has been banished to the furthest table from them, Table 9. Olivia's mother asks her to take the pictures Olivia has selected to a place that can put them together as a slide show. Instead, Maggie volunteers and says she will do it on her computer. The night of the rehearsal dinner, Maggie confidently walks to Table 9, where she is the only person, since everyone else who was suppose to sit there has grabbed a chair and moved closer. When it is time for the slide show, the guests finally get to see the real Olivia. Maggie has gone through and added in slides of the two of them when they were younger, and some of the fun things they did together. Olivia freaks out, and begins screaming at her mom for adding in pictures that she did not pick. Maggie walks over and tell her that she is the one who put the pictures in, because these were some of the best times these two girls had growing up. Realizing that Olivia has drastically changed and really is not a friend, Maggie walks out. On her way out, she runs into Gwen who makes some comment about seeing her the next day to which Maggie finally makes a comment she has been wanting to make to Gwen for a long time.

Maggie does not end up stand up next to Olivia as her Maid of Honor, but does learn some great things about herself. Through this trying time in her life, she has discovered who her real friends are, found confidence in herself and allowed herself to look past the body type and realize that she has the power to be the person she wants to be. In our society today, the majority of the population is overweight, and it is due to lack of activity, giving in to high calorie foods, the convenience of stopping for fast food instead of cooking a healthy meal, and portion size. I myself struggle with weight, but I know that all I have to do is take back control. I have the power to control what I put into my body, when I work out, what other activities I participate in, and how motivated I am. I really enjoyed this book and the journey that Maggie had to endure.

It is truly heartbreaking when a friendship dies, but friendship like so many other things work both ways. To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend and when one person is doing all the work, something is wrong. Sometimes we hold on because we are afraid of not having someone in the "best friend" role in our lives, but that is no reason to hang on to something that has been gone for a while. I know it was hard for Maggie to walk away from Olivia and her wedding, but she is a better person for it, and without Olivia there to hold her back she will continue to succeed, rebuild confidence in herself and really enjoy life. I loved this book and hope to see something else by Liza Palmer soon!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Title: Blacklist
Author: Sara Paretsky
Date Finished: August 23, 2008
Pages: 480

Lately, I have been trying to expand my reading boundaries and have been picking up several new authors to try. So far, I have yet to be disappointed. I tend to walk along the aisles of the local library until I find someone who has several books and then I pick one up to see if it interests me. This is how I found Sara Paretsky, who writes about a private investigator by the name of V.I. Warshawski (a.k.a. Vic or Victoria). I was not able to find the first book of the series, but the title of this one caught my eye and after reading a quick synopsis, I was hooked.

The story is about a 91 year old wealthy white woman, Geraldine Graham, who lives in a fancy retirement home with a room that overlooks her old mansion. Geraldine believes that she has been seeing a light on in the attic of her old home, but every time the police go out to inspect the premises, they turn up with nothing. The house was abandoned by the family that bought it from the Graham's and has been sitting vacant for a while. Geraldine's son believes his mother's sightings at night are actually a ploy for him to come over and spend more time with her, but to appease his mother, he hires a private investigator that he has on retainer to investigate, Ms. V.I. Warshawski.

Vic is anxious for work, or anything that will help her keep her mind off her lover, Morrell, who is on assignment in Afghanistan and possibly in quite a bit of danger in the post 9-11 war zone. As Vic searches the house one night, she encounters a young girl, who offers no explanation as to why she is there, but Vic ends up getting her hands on something as the girl dashes off into the darkness. Vic then stumbles upon more trouble as she trips on a stone in the path and falls into the pool, where she encounters another body, however, this one is dead. Marcus Whitby, a young African American journalist who Vic discovers in the pool was writing a book about a blacklisted African dancer and anthropologist who is intertwined with the families she encounters throughout her research. Using the article she was able to take from the young woman she met at the house, Vic finds the mysterious late night girl is none other than Catherine Bayard, whose grandfather owns a large publishing company and is Vic's hero and has been since she heard him speak to one of her classes in college.

A young Arab, who was washing dishes at Catherine's private school has since disappeared and is wanted by several branches of the government and National Security under suspicion of being a terrorist, after it was discovered that the mosque he attends is very politically active. Vic soon discovers that the person hiding in the old Graham house is none other than Benji, the Arab, and he is being looked after by Catherine, who is lying to her grandmother and sneaking out at night to take food and companionship to him. Catherine is able to enter the house and bypass the alarm because of a key that her grandfather has had for years, that no one else seems to remember him having.

Paretsky does a great job of explaining that during the McCarthy Era many people were labeled as "Communist" whether they actually were or not, just by the people they kept company with, their skin color, or the ideas they shared with those they felt they could trust, and in turn were blacklisted. Many authors, publishers, performers and so forth were unable to find work after being labeled as Communists. It was quite similar to the Salem witch hunts, where people were sought out and punished for what others believed them to be. I have always been fascinated with the McCarthy Era and felt this book did a good job of bringing some of the ideas of those days to light.

As the story continues, we learn about the death of another man, who was once a neighbor of the Graham's and Vic discoverers that this is the man that Marcus Whitby may have possibly seen before he was killed and put into the pool. Vic does not feel that the local police are putting in enough effort to find out why a young, black journalist was found dead in the pool of an abandoned mansion in a very wealthy, elitist white neighborhood, so she continues her own research and is determined to find out what happened to Marcus and any connection that the Bayard family may have to his murder.

The deeper she digs the more Vic learns about the families that used to live on this block and how her own client, Darraugh Graham, is involved and has been keeping things from her. His father is not the man that his mother was married to and he idolized all those years, in fact the dad he had was actually a homosexual and was having a relationship with another man in the neighborhood. Darraugh's birth father is none other than Calvin Bayard, the publisher whose own wife has taken over the company and lied and cheated her way to the top. Knowing that she butted her way into Calvin's life, Renee will do anything to protect her family and her husband's reputation. But would she be the mastermind behind all these deaths?? Guess you'll have to read it to find out who actually did the killings and why they were done.

I really enjoyed this book by Sara Partesky and have since learned that this is her 11th novel featuring the main character of V.I. Warshawski. As the story comes to an end, Sara does a great job of wrapping up all the lose ends she created, but leaves you wanting to know more about Vic and what will become of her and Morrell. Is he safe? Why hasn't she heard from him in so long? So many questions that I can't wait to discover the answers to.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Title: Fatal
Author: Michael Palmer
Date Finished: August 18, 2008
Pages: 544

Having really enjoyed the first Michael Palmer book I read, I was very anxious to try another one, just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Fatal was just as interesting as The First Patient, and actually dealt with some issues that I think are really important. I almost gave up on writing this review since I was having such a hard time committing myself to actually sitting down and writing it, but I felt very strongly about some of the issues that it dealt with and wanted to share those.

This book starts out with a doctor, Matt Ruttledge, being summoned in the middle of the night from a nurse at the hospital. Since he has such a hard time waking up, the nurses have been instructed to ask him a series of questions to make sure he is really awake and will not immediately go back to sleep after hanging up. Throughout the book, Matt ends up encountering several people who seem to have gone mentally crazy, and have large lumps similar to that of "Elephant Man."

Matt is on a crusade against the local mining company, Belinda Coal and Coke Company, for the loss of his father in a cave in, and for the death of his wife by a rare cancer that he feels is a direct correlation to the mines unsafe disposal of waste and toxic chemicals. Trying several venues of complaints, Matt has become a joke for the local police and a nuisance to the townspeople. With the mine being a big source of income for most of the residents, they are doing everything they can do shut him up.

Palmer does a great job of developing several story lines within this book by giving you enough details and background information that make them all easy to follow. Even though different chapters may take you to a different place or character, you never feel confused. As the story progresses and the different lines intersect, you see the pieces fit together to become a whole.

In Washington, D.C., Ellen is struggling with her decision of whether or not to pass the newest megavaccine, Omnivax. The group she is a part of consists of several doctors and scientists who have been meeting for three years to discuss the ramifications of the vaccine and why they should support it. The First Lady is heavily influential in promoting the vaccine and has her own reasons for wanting it passed. Ellen struggles with being the only member of the group who is hesitant, which stems from the fact that her granddaughter, who was perfectly healthy as a baby, now suffers from side effects of a childhood vaccine. The percentage of children that are effected by vaccines is astonishing. Some development disabilities such as diabetes, ADD, ADHD, where others can result in death. This knowledge drives Ellen to make right choice, not just for her granddaughter, but for all those who will be administered the megavaccine.

In Boston, Nikki Solari, who is a musician as well as a pathologist watches her friend and fellow musician succumb to delusions that she is being chased and they they are trying to stop her music. When she is finally found, she has passed on and is covered by those mysterious lumps that Matt has seen as well. Attending her friends funeral in Belinda, Nikki meets one of the head policemen who seems to fancy her and asks her several questions regarding her friends death and all the events leading up to her death.

Matt, Ellen and Nikki team up to uncover what is really going on in the mine as well as with the new megavaccine. Realizing that the vaccine was originally tested on residents on Belinda several years before, those who are invested in the drugs passing, will stop at nothing to eliminate those testers who are slowly dying off. All three end up with several others in what appears to be a mine cave-in that was actually set up as a trap to keep them from discovering the truth. After barely escaping Matt finds himself yet again in trouble. Being helped out by the family in town that everyone is afraid of, Matt finds true friendship, respect and most importantly the answers that he has been desperately searching for and allows himself to once again feel love.

This book really effected me in the sense of how many big companies do not follow safety procedures. There have been several cases of groundwater contamination, toxic fumes, etc.. that are released into the environment because big companies want to cut costs, so they cut corners. Often times when something like this happens, the people who work there are too afraid to say anything because of the repercussions. Especially in situations like this book, where the entire town profits off the mine and that is where the majority of them are employed. I realize this book is a work of fiction, but the topics that are discussed are very real.

Another issue in this book is the side-effects and possible long term disability or death from immunization shots you receive as a child. How many people really know what the shots are for, or if they have been tested by the CDC and FDA efficiently. Why don't we question doctors before submitting our children to shots? Humans tend to be quite inquisitive, but there are some things we don't question, that we might need to rethink. How much of a push are the doctors receiving from the drug companies on a specific medication? How do we really know that this one is better than another one? I know that the majority of vaccines are in place to help protect our children and hopefully keep them from experiencing some really bad diseases, but should we really stop asking questions??

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Celestial Bed

Title: The Celestial Bed
Author: Irving Wallace
Date Finished: August 13, 2008
Pages: 304

The story behind me picking up this book is actually quite funny. My Dad and I often recommend authors to one another and Irving Wallace came very highly recommended. So, last week I went to the library and there were two books there by Mr. Wallace, one was quite large and the other fairly short. I decided to pick the smaller one, just in case I was not a big fan, not really knowing what it was about. After getting about half way through, I called my Dad to see if he had actually ever read this particular book. When I informed him of what it was about, he seemed a little embarrassed and mentioned that this was not one he had read. Although it was quite different from anything I have read before, I did enjoy it.

The story is about a psychologist, Dr. Arnold Freeberg and his unique style of treatments. After realizing that for some people, talk-therapy was just not going to help cure his sexually dysfunctional patients, he modeled his clinic after another couple who had been quite successful with the use of sexual surrogates. After being run out of Arizona, Dr. Freeberg packed up and moved his family and practice to California, but only after being assured by his old college roommate and lawyer that this type of therapy was more openly accepted. The one and only sex surrogate that Dr. Freeberg had used in Arizona, Gayle, was just finishing up college and promised to join his new practice after graduation. While waiting for Gayle to join his team, Dr. Freeberg hired 4 other females and one male surrogate, who endured a vigorous 6 weeks of training and teaching before being allowed to interact with a patient.

The description in this book was often times quite graphic, and took me a little while to get used to. I found the story line quite suspenseful and was anxious up to the end to see how the characters would handle moral situations. The receptionist in the Freeberg clinic recommends her boyfriend, Chet, to seek the help of a surrogate from the clinic, not realizing that he is an aspiring newspaper writer who is looking for that big break into the newspaper business. After hearing what it is the surrogates do, Chet contacts a religious fanatic that he has done some research for in the past, and pitches the story to him. The religious fanatic has some ties in with the DA and after some encouragement, everyone is on board to make an example of Dr. Freeberg and his main surrogate by charging them with pandering and prostitution and sentencing them both to prison time.

As Chet's therapy progresses with Gayle, a behind the scenes romance beings between Gayle and Paul, the only male surrogate. This was one storyline I was not a fan of. After two casual meetings at a restaurant the characters are proclaiming their love for each other, and each time they meet to consummate their relationship one of them freaks out and feels like the techniques they use on their patients are being used on them and always end up storming out. To me it came across as a very badly played out soap opera.

It was interesting to watch the patients that sought out help from Dr. Freeberg and his surrogates progress and eventually overcome their troubles. Although this is not something I had heard of before, it was very educational. I would not consider this one of my favorite books, but I think I will read something else by Irving Wallace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The God of Small Things

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Date Finished: August 10, 2008
Pages: 321

I put off writing this review yesterday in hopes that my feelings and impression of the book would become more defined. I still have mixed emotions about this book, but our book club is meeting tonight, so I'm hoping that by writing this I can work a few things out.

I would say that the most important thing for a reader to have with this book is patience. It took me the first 85 pages (2 chaptes) before I really felt like I had a sense of what was going on. The writer, Arundhati Roy jumps back and forth from the 60's to the 90's quite frequently, and often without any warning. The story is is about a pair of fraternal twins, Rahel and Estha, their mother, Ammu, and other family members in Ayemenem, India. The resounding theme of this book is that anything can change in the course of a day.

I think the biggest disappointment for me was the conclusion to the much anticipated story of the death of Sophie Mol. (Mol is used for young girl, and Mon is used for young man throughout this book). Sophie is the twins half-white cousin from England who comes over to visit for Christmas with her mother after her step-father dies. Roy does a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of what exactly happened to poor young Sophie that took her life. You get the sense early on that her death has had a tremendous impact on the lives of the twins, but it is not until close to the end that you actually find out what happened. For as much build-up as Roy gives to the death of Sophie, I would have hoped that her explanation would be much more in-depth. It basically boils down to the fact that the three children were crossing the river in a boat in the dark of night, and when the boat tipped, Sophie was pulled by the current and unable to resurface along with the other children. With it being so dark out, the children are not able to search for her. All of this is explained in not much more than a page.

I do love the story line of Ammu and Velutha, her untouchable. The caste system is made up of "touchables" who are of a higher class and prestige and "untouchables" who are the lowest caste group and are treated like slaves. It breaks my heart when Velutha's father in a drunken stupor tells Ammu's mother of their unrequited love, and she in turn locks Ammu in her room and has Velutha banished. When the children ask their mother why she is locked up, she blames them for all of her problems. The children, feeling less loved by their mother decide to run away. During their escape is when they lose dear Sophie. Ammu's mother, after hearing of Sophie's death, runs to the police and accuses Velutha. In her mind, there is nothing worse than loving beneath you. She cannot accept the fact that her daughter has had an intimate relationship with an untouchable and will do anything to keep them apart,which in turn makes them star-crossed lovers.

After the accident the twins are separated, Estha is sent to another town via train to live with his father and new wife. Rahel stays with her mother, who has a hard time finding work after being shunned from the family, eventually dies and Rahel leaves for the US. While in the US Rahel marries, divorces and eventually returns to Ayemenem. Baby Kochamma, the grandmother, is scared for the twins to be together because she knows that eventually, they are going to figure out what she did, and her only hope of them not being able to put all the pieces together are to keep them separated. Baby Kochamma's resentment of others finding love stems from her own "unobtainable" love. Father Mulligan caught her eye at a young age, but was never available for Baby Kochamma like she wanted him to be, even in death.

The language that Roy uses is absolutely beautiful, and even though my frame of reference for India is embarrassingly minute, I felt like I could picture the scenes she laid before me and could feel like a part of the background. Even now, I still have mixed feelings about this particular book. It did win the Booker Prize in 1997 (a literary prize awarded each year for a full-length novel written in English). There seem to be quite a mixture of reviews out there, some love it, some hate it, some fall in between. Even though I would not consider this one of my favorite books, I am incredibly happy that I read it. Thank you Trish for recommending this book!