July 18, 2011

An Incomplete Revenge

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
2008 Macmillan Audio, Unabridged edition
Reader: Orlagh Cassidy
Finished 6/23/11
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Product Description

With the country in the grip of economic malaise, and worried about her business, Maisie Dobbs is relieved to accept an apparently straightforward assignment from an old friend to investigate certain matters concerning a potential land purchase. Her inquiries take her to a picturesque village in Kent during the hop-picking season, but beneath its pastoral surface she finds evidence that something is amiss. Mysterious fires erupt in the village with alarming regularity, and a series of petty crimes suggests a darker criminal element at work. As Maisie discovers, the villagers are bitterly prejudiced against outsiders who flock to Kent at harvest-time—even more troubling, they seem possessed by the legacy of a war-time Zeppelin raid. Maisie grows increasingly suspicious of a peculiar secrecy that shrouds the village, and ultimately she must draw on all her finely honed skills of detection to solve one of her most intriguing cases.

Rich with Jacqueline Winspear’s trademark period detail, this latest installment of the bestselling series is gripping, atmospheric, and utterly enthralling.

I’ve read and enjoyed the first three novels in the Maisie Dobbs' series, but this is the second installment that has fallen flat for me. I never felt engaged in the mystery and there were very few new revelations about Maisie (or Billy Beale) that might have piqued my curiosity or added any suspense to the narrative. Unlike Winspear’s earlier books, this one lacks tension and emotion, missing its mark and making this reader wonder if it’s worth continuing with the next three books in the series.

July 13, 2011

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
2005 W. W. Norton and Company
Quit on 6/14/11
Rating: DNF

Publisher’s Blurb:

Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing that she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man named Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives….

I’ve had this book on my shelf for several years and decided to give it a read when it was shortlisted for the 2011 One Book, One Lincoln. After more than a hundred pages, I decided it was time to call it quits.

Marvelous? (San Francisco Chronicle) Astonishing? (Washington Post) Ingenious? (New York Times). I beg to differ. I had a hard time following the flow of the narrative, which jumped from one topic to another, and I didn't care at all for any of the characters.

Final thoughts: Dull. Convoluted. Obscure.

July 11, 2011

Cutting For Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
2009 Vintage Books
2009 Random House Audio; Unabridged edition
Reader: Sunil Malhotra
Finished 6/7/11
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

I started off reading the printed version of this novel, but switched to audio after a few chapters. It took me a little over 50 pages to get hooked, but from there on, I was completely engrossed. At over 658 pages, this is quite a chunkster and it took me almost 2 months to listen to. But I fell in love with the reader’s voice and didn’t mind the length of the story one bit. From AudioFile:

Dr. Marion Stone, the Ethiopian-born, half-Indian protagonist and narrator of CUTTING FOR STONE, at one point refers to his adopted mother's voice as both lilting and singsong. The same can be said of Sunil Malhotra's expert reading of this audiobook, a moving story about twin brothers born of an Indian Catholic nun and an expatriate English doctor. Malhotra slips into the skin of Marion, a moody, bookish boy and later a talented surgeon, who, against a background of African poverty, war, and medical breakthroughs, is oddly detached but always compassionate. Malhotra's ease with the sometimes-complex medical terminology and the broad cast of Indian, African, English, and even some Bronx-accented characters makes for a fascinating listening experience.

On Ethiopia:

My greatest consolation, Ghosh thought, for only the hundredth time since his arrival in Ethiopia, has been the women of this land. The country had completely surprised him. Despite pictures he’d seen in National Geographic, he’d been unprepared for this mountain empire shrouded in mist. The cold, the altitude, the wild roses, the towering trees, reminded him of Coonoor, a hill station in India he’d visited as a boy. His Imperial Majesty, Emperor of Ethiopia, may have been exceptional in his bearing and dignity, but Ghosh discovered that His Majesty’s people shared his physical features. Their sharp, sculpted noses and soulful eyes set them between Persians and Africans, with the kinky hair of the latter, and the lighter skin of the former. Reserved, excessively formal, and often morose, they were quick to anger, quick to imagine insults to their pride. As for theories of conspiracy and the most terrible pessimism, surely they’d corned the world market on those. But get past all those superficial attributes, and you found people who were supremely intelligent, loving, hospitable, and generous.

The Dallas Morning News says, Grand enough for the movies and I’d have to agree. What a marvelous film this richly textured saga would make! Cutting for Stone is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The characters, both major and minor, are so well-drawn and unique, they’ll remain with me for years to come.

Caribousmom says, Cutting for Stone is one of those books which is impossible to put down. Here is a lush, emotional, intelligent and compelling novel written by an accomplished story teller. I loved that Verghese, a physician himself, wrote a novel about two generations of doctors and was able to capture the passion of medicine. By placing the story mostly in a small African village, Verghese is able to show that the physician’s greatest gift is not found in technology, but in his or her ability to provide comfort.

I loved this book and its characters (who felt like living, breathing people to me). I loved the journey. Abraham Verghese has written a gorgeous novel which deserves to be savored. Readers who love hefty family sagas in the style of John Irving, and are drawn to literary fiction will enjoy this book.

Go here to read her entire review.

My good friend, Kay, also loved this novel. She says, this was a tremendous book with a wonderfully talented author. It was epic in scope and gave me so much to think about. It was a not a fast read for me. However, I wanted to be sure that I kept up with all the characters and events that packed the narrative.

You can read her complete review here.

Final thoughts: I loved this beautiful, provocative debut novel. Don’t be put off by its size; you won’t want it to end.

July 8, 2011

Family Reunion

We're heading out to one of my favorite locations for a mini-family reunion/belated 80th birthday celebration. See you in a week.

July 6, 2011

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels--A Love Story
by Ree Drummond

Nonfiction – Memoir
2011 HarperAudio, Unabridged
Read by Ree Drummond
Finished on 5/31/2011
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Product Description

"That's when I saw him—the cowboy—across the smoky room."

I'll never forget that night. It was like a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one. Out for a quick drink with friends, I wasn't looking to meet anyone, let alone a tall, rugged cowboy who lived on a cattle ranch miles away from my cultured, corporate hometown. But before I knew it, I'd been struck with a lightning bolt . . . and I was completely powerless to stop it.

Read along as I recount the rip-roaring details of my unlikely romance with a chaps-wearing cowboy, from the early days of our courtship (complete with cows, horses, prairie fire, and passion) all the way through the first year of our marriage, which would be filled with more challenge and strife—and manure—than I ever could have expected.

This isn't just my love story; it's a universal tale of passion, romance, and all-encompassing love that sweeps us off our feet.

It's the story of a cowboy.

And Wranglers.

And chaps.

And the girl who fell in love with them.

About the Author

Ree Drummond began blogging in 2006 and has built an award-winning website, where she shares recipes, showcases her photography, and documents her hilarious transition from city life to ranch wife. She is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Ree lives on a working cattle ranch near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, with her husband, Ladd; their four kids; their beloved basset hound; and lots of other animals.

I’d never heard of Ree Drummond, aka PW (The Pioneer Woman), until two years ago when her cookbook hit the shelves. We had a few copies on our holiday cookbook display and one day I overheard a woman telling her friend about Ree’s hilarious blog. My interest piqued, I came home from work and spent several hours reading some of PW’s archived posts. Drummond is not only a witty writer, but she has a great eye, capturing life on the ranch through the lens of her camera. The hilarious commentary makes for great reading. I was thoroughly entertained, laughing out loud as I read, calling my husband into my office to take a look at the wonderful photographs and listen to the comical anecdotes about Charlie, the family’s Basset hound (who now has his own memoir entitled, Charlie the Ranch Dog!).

The following day, I thumbed through The Pioneer Woman Cooks and knew it was a winner. I ordered in more copies and made it my #1 hand sell for the Christmas season. And, of course, I had to buy a copy for myself, but my husband didn’t mind one bit (in spite of the huge stack of recently purchased cookbooks already on my shelves). This cookbook rocks! I’ve tried many of the recipes and almost every single one is a winner. We especially love the Migas (scrambled egg dish with onions, tomatoes, peppers, cheese, cilantro and fried, chopped corn tortillas), Marlboro Man’s Favorite Sandwich (cube steak with onions and butter on a crusty roll), Onion Strings, and Penne Alla Betsy (shrimp in a tomato-cream pasta dish). Rod can’t wait for me to try the cinnamon rolls and fried chicken. Who am I kidding? I can’t wait, either!

But enough about food. Let’s talk about PW’s memoir, which quite honestly I was a little hesitant to read. It sounded sappy and I already knew the basic story of how she came to meet and marry her husband (aka Marlboro Man) since a large chunk of it is mentioned on her blog. But a couple of customers told me how much they enjoyed the book, so I decided to give the audio version a try. Let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised! I’m not sure why my expectations were set for something trivial and possibly poorly written, but I was very impressed and entertained. Read by the author, the story feels like a chatty conversation with a friend, tugging at my heartstrings and making me laugh out loud.

My only complaint was the overabundant usage of “Marlboro Man” (used in lieu of her husband’s actual name). I suppose if I were reading the book, as opposed to listening to the audio, I would have skimmed over those two words and not given it a second thought. However, hearing her say them over and over began to bother me ever so slightly. But in spite of this minor annoyance, I was sorry when I reached the final chapter of the book. I hope she’ll write more about her life on the ranch with her kiddos and critters, and of course, Marlboro Man. But, if there's no written sequel to this love story, there’s always her blog. It will take me years to read through all the archives!