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March 26, 2006

Tortuga











Tortuga by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Fiction
Quit on 3/23/06
Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish)

It’s been almost 10 years since I took a Great Plains Literature class at UNL where I was introduced to the lyrical writing of authors such as
Teresa Jordan, Willa Cather, and Rudolfo Anaya. I was intrigued by the mystical realism I encountered in Anaya’s first novel, Bless Me, Ultima and as a result, searched for more of his works to read at a later date. Didn’t think it would take me quite so long to pick one up, though! Unfortunately, Tortuga failed to capture my interest and I gave up after only 20 pages. Nothing about it appealed to me and I kept finding my attention wandering.

An Ocean Apart











An Ocean Apart by Robin Pilcher
Contemporary Fiction

Finished on 3/22/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)


Sometimes I’m utterly amazed by the sheer number of new books released every year. As I gaze about our house and see all the books I’ve acquired over the past 10 years and have yet to read, I feel a sense of panic. Will I live long enough to read all that I want to read?

I’ve had an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Robin Pilcher’s An Ocean Apart in my stacks for over six years. I don’t know what possessed me to finally pull it from the shelf, adding it to the stack next to my bedside, but I did and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. But only because I didn’t really expect anything extraordinary. Yes, he’s Rosamunde Pilcher’s son, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s as talented as his mother. His writing is very nice, but it lacks the lyricism that Rosamunde evokes in The Shell Seekers, Winter Solstice and September.

This is a story of love -- love between family and friends, not simply a romantic love story. The setting was pleasantly drawn, but left me hungry for richer details like those of his mother’s.

While I enjoyed the book, I do have a couple of minor stylistic quibbles with Pilcher’s writing. The first has to do with the excessive use of the word “reckon,” which simply didn’t ring true in the dialogue. It struck me as a word you’d hear from a cowboy in one of Larry McMurtry's or Cormac McCarthy’s novels, rather than from a part-owner of a large distillery business in Scotland. But maybe I’m wrong -- perhaps it’s perfectly common in British slang. Even so, reading it several times on a single page was disruptive to the narrative flow.

My second complaint pertains to the use of a supporting character who is introduced in the opening chapter. I got the general impression that this person was a close friend of the family, and would become an integral part of the storyline. However, after basically using her to provide a means to explain the back story, Pilcher subsequently dropped her from any further appearances, leaving me to wonder where exactly she fit in the scheme of things. In a character-driven narrative such as this, a loose end like this feels weak and unnecessary.

All in all, it was an entertaining read with very likeable characters. At times it seemed a bit predictable, but that suited me just fine. Sometimes it’s nice to know that in the end, everything works out for the best. It’s comforting to know that, in books at least, things can work out, the good guy wins, love saves the day, and terrible wrongs can be righted.

While it’s not a book I loved and I doubt I’ll ever read it again, I couldn’t bear to add it to my stack to take to our local used bookstore for resale. It’s one I’d recommend and be happy to loan out, and I look forward to reading more by Mr. Pilcher in the future. But first to tackle the books I already have!


March 19, 2006

The Tea House on Mulberry Street










The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens
Contemporary Fiction
Quit on 3/17/06
Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish)


In spite of the cheerful cover, I did not care for this book one bit, and put it aside after 80 pages. I kept getting the impression that Owens was trying to emulate of style not of her own and in the process produced a dull, flat narrative with a sad cast of characters, most of whom were either in loveless marriages or full of unpleasant traits. Life is too short…

Melancholy Baby










Melancholy Baby by Robert Parker
Mystery
Finished on 3/16/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific!)


Once again, Robert Parker delivers a fun-filled read, but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price in order to get my Sunny Randall fix (thank goodness for libraries!). I thought the book was a bit too short (lots of white space on the page – wide margins; larger-than-usual font; chapters beginning low on the page), and I zipped through it in just a few quick hours. Nonetheless, it was just as enjoyable as the previous three in this series. Sunny is hired by a college student who wishes to find her biological parents, much to the annoyance of the couple who claim to be Sarah Markham’s real parents. Sunny’s personal life continues to wreak havoc on her emotional well-being, particularly in the wake of her ex-husband’s remarriage; and with the help of psychiatrist Susan Silverman (in a type of literary "cameo appearance," since Silverman is a regular character in Parker's Spencer series), she begins to uncover the source of her unhappiness and inability to commit to a relationship, even with the one she truly loves.

Melancholy Baby lacks suspense and the mystery is all too easy to figure out, but I still enjoyed the snappy dialogue and continuation of Sunny’s search for happiness. I’m anxious for the release of Blue Screen, due out on June 6th. Hmmm, I wonder if it’s too soon to put my name on the reserve list for this one at my library.

Last Call










Last Call by Laura Pedersen
Contemporary Fiction
Quit on 3/15/06
Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish)

In spite of several glowing reviews, I decided to give up on this book after reading almost 200 (about 2/3 of the book!) pages. Neither the characters or the plot could keep my interest and I found it all just a bit too predictable and sentimental.

Silent Prey










Silent Prey by John Sandford
Mystery
Finished on 3/13/06
Rating: A- (8/10 Very good)

Lucas Davenport’s past returns to haunt him, drawing him to New York City to assist in the investigation of a series murders. I enjoyed this fourth book in Sandford’s “Prey” series much more than the previous, Eyes of Prey. I don’t think it was nearly as gruesome or overdone, and the dual plot-lines kept my interest (read: confusion!) as I tried to keep up with Davenport and the intricacies of the unfolding mystery. In addition to the familiar supporting cast, Lucas is once again torn between his past and present, as he becomes involved in the case and once again, another love-interest. Not surprisingly, Sandford delivers a clever twist in the closing chapters, forcing me to flip back through the pages, unsuccessfully searching for clues I might have missed. While most of these mysteries are easily forgotten in a day or two, the details of this particular book have stayed with me a bit longer. I’m anxious to move on to Winter Prey, which seems apropos on this final day of winter.

March 11, 2006

The Magician's Assistant










The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett
Contemporary Fiction

Finished 3/9/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

Ann Patchett has written four novels and a memoir and up until now, I’d only read Bel Canto (which, incidentally, made my Top Ten list for 2004). The Magician’s Assistant is one of those books I kept hearing good things about, but which remained on my shelf far too long –- until last month when I wandered around the house and picked out an armful of books that I’d always meant to get to -- sort of a “determination stack” for my March reading list. (So far, so good. The stack is actually getting smaller in spite of my frequent visits to the library.)

As I discovered with Bel Canto, this is not a book for everyone. It’s a quiet, character-driven read with very little action, although there is a foreboding sense of drama that is slowly revealed in the second half of the narrative. While it could have been a quick read, I chose to take my time (as I did with Bel Canto), savoring Patchett’s prose, lingering over the minute details of the story. I would have given the book a higher rating, but the abrupt ending was somewhat disappointing, although not entirely surprising.

The story takes place in both L.A. and Alliance, Nebraska, the latter of which is unfortunately depicted in somewhat of a negative manner (“In fact, the entire state of Nebraska defied imagination. Who actually lives there?”). Newly widowed Sabine learns the truth of her husband’s past and discovers love and friendship as she comes to terms with her own role in the unfolding drama and future in her newly acquired family. This is a story of truth and deception, all in the name of love and family. Smoke and mirrors. Trap doors and distraction. As with magic, not all is as it appears to be, and not everything that appears to be real truly is.

Shoot the Moon










Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts
Contemporary Fiction
Finished 3/3/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific!)


It’s been several years since I’ve read anything by Billie Letts. When Shoot the Moon was published in July 2004, I was quite anxious to read it. I loved her earlier books (Where the Heart Is and The Honk and Holler Opening Soon) and had a good feeling about this new release. I added the title to my Amazon wish list and planned to read it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading a few negative reviews about the book and decided to pass on it – at least for the time being. I actually checked it out from the library a couple of times, returning it unread, uninspired to even give it a try. Maybe things worked out for the best; waiting for the right moment and not having high expectations, as I have for other favorite authors’ works. Shoot the Moon is a fantastic book and I was pleasantly surprised. Billie Letts is a great storyteller.

On January 30, 1972, Gaylene Harjo is murdered and her ten-month-old son, Nicky Jack disappears, assumed to have been killed as well. Now, almost thirty years later, a stranger arrives in De Clare, Oklahoma seeking answers to the recent discovery of his adoption in late 1972. Letts doesn’t rely on flashbacks to move her story along, but the inclusion of Gaylene’s diary, interspersed between sections of the narrative, helps fill in gaps while creating suspense and intrigue. As the details of Mark Albright’s story unravel, this compelling mystery reaches a climatic finale, forcing this reader to stay up far too late in the night, anxious to see how it would all play out. Just when I started to think the plot was too predictable, Letts surprised me with a shocking twist.

I haven’t heard of any upcoming releases by Billie Letts, but you can be sure that when I do, I won’t let any negative reviews influence my decision this time. But until then, I may just have to give The Honk and Holler Opening Soon another read. It’s my favorite of the three and it’s been six years to the month since I first read it.

Eyes of Prey











Eyes of Prey by John Sandford
Mystery

Finished 3/1/06
Rating: B (6/10 So-so)

I rarely ever read a series out of order. It just goes against my nature. Yet my first encounter with Sandford’s “Prey” series was his most recent release in the series. Rod was in the middle of Broken Prey and told me about a specific plot line that piqued my interest. I hadn’t really planned to read the entire series, but once he finished and I was able to read the book, I was hooked and wanted more. Of course I went back and started from the beginning and now have just finished the third in the series. Thank goodness for anal retentiveness! Had Eyes of Prey been the first or second, I doubt I would’ve continued. I didn’t like the book nearly as much as its predecessors. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t anything that would make me rush out and look for more. I’m not really sure what was missing. Davenport wasn’t as interesting and the killer (Bekker) was just far too creepy – the epitome of a sicko. The latter’s drug episodes became a bit tedious, further tainting my opinion of the series.

Having said that, I have to admit that the ending was a jaw-dropper and I found myself thumbing back though the book, re-reading several passages, looking for clues I might have missed. It was definitely unexpected. Actually, there was more than one surprising twist, which helped to redeem Sandford’s ability in this reader’s eyes (no pun intended!) and today I picked up the fourth in the series. Drat! Bekker’s back, turning up just like a bad penny. Oh, well. I can’t stop now. Another fairly new character has returned as well and I’m curious to see where it will all lead. Guess that’s the point. Stay tuned.

March 10, 2006

Coming Attractions!













I own hundreds of books that I've yet to read, so why am I chomping at the bit for these upcoming releases?! Because I'm a book addict and I can't help myself. I plan to buy the Berg and Laskas books as soon as they hit the shelves (April 4th and 25th, respectively). As much as I love Coben's Myron Bolitar series, I think I can wait and get it from the library. It's also due out on April 25th.