June 30, 2007

Up Island

Up Island by Anne Rivers Siddons
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 6/26/07
Rating: 3/5
TBR Challenge #5
Southern Reading Challenge #2

It's been almost six years since I discovered Anne Rivers Siddons and her remarkable saga, Colony. I loved that book and felt as though I'd found another Rosamunde Pilcher in Siddons. I went on to read Islands and Sweetwater Creek, but neither impressed me nearly as much as Colony (Islands earned a 3/5 rating; Sweetwater a 2/5). The House Next Door was quite good, but more of a horror story than Siddons' typical works.

And now I've read Up Island. It wasn't a bad read, but it certainly wasn't another Colony. I enjoyed it for the most part (although toward the end, I found myself getting impatient, wanting to be finished and on to something else). Siddons is quite a descriptive writer, but I wouldn't go so far to say she's a lyrical author (Pat Conroy and Rosamunde Pilcher are two who do excel at painting a vivid picture in my mind's eye).

Only one favorite passage to share (and only because it speaks to the reader in me):

After that I went over to the Black Dog and bought bread and sweet rolls and had a bowl of Quahog chowder for lunch, then treated myself to a couple of sturdy Black Dog sweatshirts. The air, even at noon, had a pinch to it. They would feel good on chilly mornings. Walking back to the Ford I passed the Bunch of Grapes bookstore and, on impulse went in. I had planned to find a library for my reading material; books were one expense I thought I could forego. But I came out laden with both paperbacks and hardbacks, thinking with delight of the moment when I slipped between my silky old sheets and turned on my new reading lamp and opened a new novel. Home: leisurely reading in bed would always be, for me, one of its cornerstones.

I still have several other books by Siddons to read, but this one is off to the used bookstore. If I'm going to re-read any of hers, Colony is at the top of the list.

June 24, 2007

Spare Change

Spare Change by Robert Parker
Finished 6/13/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

From Publishers Weekly:
At the start of Parker's engaging sixth Sunny Randall novel (after Blue Screen), the cop-turned-PI helps her father track down a Boston serial killer whose depredations begin again after a 20-year hiatus. The "spare change" killer executes victims with a single shot to the head, leaving three coins near the body. Sunny's dad, Phil, headed the old task force formed to catch the killer, who wrote Phil taunting letters as the killings piled up. A new killing and a fresh letter to Phil have him and Sunny serving as consultant and assistant respectively to a new task force. Gutsy Sunny takes the lead in identifying the most likely suspect, and then in playing him dangerously to get hard evidence. Parker's signature bantering byplay and some borrowings of characters from other series (notably Susan Silverman from the Spenser novels) will delight fans. The outcome is never in doubt, but Parker hits most of the right notes, and there's still ingenuity to his cat-and-mouse.

When do these mystery writers sleep?! Robert Parker continues to crank out more books to add to his long list (over 50 published titles) for his three series. So far I've only managed to keep up with Sunny Randall's adventures, but as soon as I get caught up on the Lucas Davenport series (by another prolific author, John Sandford), I'll get started on the Spenser books. That should keep me busy for a few years, as there are at least 34!

Spare Change is the sixth in the Sunny Randall series and while these are usually fun reads, this particular title is very light on mystery. Generally speaking, I don't read any of these books for the mysteries; I'm really more interested in the relationships between returning characters. Spare Change is a very quick read; lots of white space with telegraphic, clipped dialogue and large type face on thick paper stock. The page count could easily be reduced by half if a normal font and margin width were used, but who would pay $24.95 for a hardcover with only 150 pages?

The ending was a bit disappointing (I honestly looked three times to see if any pages were stuck together, concealing the real final chapter), but I don't have any plans to give up on this entertaining series. So the ending was a little weak. Big deal. I consider these books "low-cal brain candy" = fun beach/plane read and not great literature. Keep 'em coming, Mr. Parker!

Kayak Essentials

Kayaking Essentials by Bob Beazley
Finished 6/3/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

You've thought about learning to kayak, but you don't want to spin and zigzag wildly down the river. Or you have a boat, but were so mortified by the number of swims you took the first time out, you swore you'd never paddle again. Well, grab Bob Beazley's Kayaking Essentials and learn about the skills needed for this exciting and rewarding sport.

Like any sport, it is important to acquire the correct skills as you go. With this book, you will learn about proper strokes, catching eddies, peeling out, river safety, necessary gear and more. Kayaking Essentials describes what you need to know to begin paddling like an expert.

This Nuts 'N' Bolts Guide is a fairly basic (and simplistic) handbook about kayaking. I gleaned a few new tips about the fundamentals of the five basic strokes, but the main focus is on river kayaking with techniques such as "Ferrying" and "Catching Eddies," as well as information on "Holes and Hydraulics" and "Momentum Conversion." I'm fairly certain I won't need to know much about any of this material out on a calm lake. However, I'll hang on to the book in case I ever get the courage to hit the white water. Yes, Mom and Rod, I promise to take lessons first! :)

June 21, 2007

Hot Fun In the Summertime!

Hurray! Today is the first day of summer. In honor of my favorite season, I thought I'd post some pics (old and new) that remind of my the good ol' summertime. Enjoy.

"Summer afternoon -
Summer afternoon...

the two most beautiful words in the English language."
-- Henry James

"People take pictures of the Summer,
just in case someone thought they had missed it,
and to prove that it really existed."

-- Ray Davies

"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining,
the breeze is blowing,
the birds are singing,
and the lawn mower is broken."

-- James Dent

"To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie--
True Poems flee --
-- Emily Dickinson

"A life without love is like a year without summer."
-- Swedish Proverb

June 19, 2007

gods in Alabama

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 6/10/07
Rating: 3/5
Southern Reading Challenge #1

From the Publisher:

When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, never fornicate outside of marriage, and never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found. Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old schoolmate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene’s African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he’s gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption--and love.


When it became obvious I wasn't going to nap, Burr began a game of What Have I Got in My Pocketses that lasted us all the way to Nashville. This was a game we'd invented, and we played it in the car and sometimes on slow winter afternoons in front of the fireplace at his bachelor pad. We would each make up a long, complicated story. Burr usually finished his first. When he had the plot points down, he would tell me half the story and give me some background on the characters so I knew who was who. The catch was, the stories were always told backwards. So Burr would start at the end and trace events back through time until he got to the middle. Then he would stop telling it and say, "What have I got in my pocketses?"

I had to listen carefully, and he had to tell a story with an ending so inevitable that I would then be able to tell him the first half of his story. Not only able to -- forced to. The end had to come out of one possible beginning.

And this is exactly the manner in which Jackson tells her tale.

I fear I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but once again I feel this is a case of a book not living up to the hype generated by fellow readers. I enjoyed parts of the story, but my overall reaction was mild disappointment. The narrative was a bit uneven and it took a long time before I started to care about any of the characters. A few readers have indicated that Jackson's second novel, Between, Georgia, is better than this debut work and while I plan to give it a try, I won't rush out and buy a copy any time soon. Having said that, I have to say I did enjoy the handful of humorous comebacks by Arlene's boyfriend. Every time I started to think about quitting the book, I'd find myself laughing out loud at Burr's dry wit, plunging back into the narrative with hopes that it'd improve. What a shame the humor was inconsistent. Overall I give it a big meh.

For those interested, Lisa over at Bluestalking Reader has posted a lovely interview with Joshilyn here.

June 12, 2007

The Woods

The Woods by Harlan Coben
Finished on 6/3/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very good)

Publisher's Blurb:
Twenty years ago, four teenagers at summer camp walked into the woods at night. Two were found murdered, and the others were never seen again. Four families had their lives changed forever. Now, two decades later, they are about to change again.

For Paul Copeland, the county prosecutor of Essex, New Jersey, mourning the loss of his sister has only recently begun to subside. Cope, as he is known, is now dealing with raising his six- year-old daughter as a single father after his wife has died of cancer. Balancing family life and a rapidly ascending career as a prosecutor distracts him from his past traumas, but only for so long. When a homicide victim is found with evidence linking him to Cope, the well-buried secrets of the prosecutor’s family are threatened.
Is this homicide victim one of the campers who disappeared with his sister? Could his sister be alive? Cope has to confront so much he left behind that summer twenty years ago: his first love, Lucy; his mother, who abandoned the family; and the secrets that his Russian parents might have been hiding even from their own children. Cope must decide what is better left hidden in the dark and what truths can be brought to the light.

Good ol' reliable Coben! He has yet to disappoint me; his books are great entertainment. A bit predictable, but still great fun. I enjoyed the fast-paced story, staying up far too late several nights in a row. Paul Copeland is a bit reminiscent of Myron Bolitar (from Coben's earlier works)... perhaps this is the beginning of a new series? My only quibble is that the humor seemed a bit forced early on, but I stopped noticing after a few chapters so it really wasn't too much of a distraction. I also appreciated the absence of Coben's usual convoluted finale. I didn't have to backtrack and try to sort things out with this one!

June 6, 2007

A Month in Review - May

Wow. This has got to be my slowest month of reading EVER! I only finished 3 books. What can I say? Between work, the yard, my new kayak, and a sundry of other excuses, I wasn't able to get a lot of reading time in. It's definitely time to pick up a stack of mysteries! They never fail to pull me in, no matter how tired I am!

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Granny by Brendan O'Carroll

Favorite of the Month: A Three Dog Life
Books Read 3
Male Authors 0
Female Authors 3
New-To-Me Authors 2
Across the Borders 1
Fiction 2
Nonfiction 1
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Young Adult 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Mystery/Thriller 0
Series 0
Re-read 0
Challenge 1
Mine 2
Library 1
Gift 2
Keeper 1

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.

The Granny

The Granny by Brendan O'Carroll
Contemporary Fiction
Quit on 5/25/07
Rating: DNF

Publisher's Blurb:

Raising a brood of unruly, high-spirited kids on her own didn't slow her down. Twenty years of eking out a living from her produce stall on Moore Street hasn't turned her into a quitter. Not even a French lover who wants her to become a "sexual animal" can take the starch out of Agnes Browne. But now, outside the maternity ward of Dublin's Rotunda Hospital, she has just heard one word that stops her cold:


Who would have believed it? Only yesterday they were children themselves. Now they're having "chisellers" of their own, and for the first time in her life, Agnes Browne is feeling old. But with a daughter stuck in an unhappy marriage, a homesick son in London, another son headed for prison, and another grandchild on the way, it seems that the Browne clan needs their mammy more than ever. And Agnes is more than up for the challenge -- until she's faced with a crisis of her own. Which will prove once and for all that nothing brings a family together like trouble. And nothing heals a family like love.

Ah ha! I just discovered that this is Book III in the Agnes Browne Trilogy. I thought it was the second. Perhaps that's why I couldn't get interested after 35 pages. I thought the narrative was a bit jumpy and I felt lost and confused. Now it all makes sense why. Knowing this doesn't change my mind about continuing on, though. Not only did I find the constant use of the F-word tiresome, but the humor I so enjoyed in The Mammy was either lacking or I simply wasn't in the mood for Agnes Browne and her foul-mouthed brood.