Books Read in 2012

I started volunteering in a book store one day a week this year and decided
to read a book from the shelves every time I'm there--picking short books
that I can usually finish within the 4 hours I'm working.
This gives me the chance to read some oddball books, and this collection
should show that.  I'm marking the book store books with "LOGOS" so I can tell
which is which.

new.jpg (1359 bytes)The Forgotten by David Baldacci
Baldacci's new hero, John Puller (first appearance in "Zero Hour") is commissioned by his father, suffering from dementia in a VA hospital, to check on his aunt, who has sent a cryptic message about strange things happening in her little town of Paradise, Florida. But when Puller arrives in Paradise, he discovers his aunt is dead.   The police have ruled it accidental death (she was found drowned in her back yard fountain), but Puller has his suspicions, especially when two friends of hers also turn up dead, as does her next door neighbor.

At the same time in a parallel story, a giant of a man,  known as "the man" for half of the book, escapes from an oil rig in the Gulf of Florida, where he and others have been held captive after being captured and brought to the United states to be sold into slavery or prostitution.  After his escape and 20 mile swim to shore, he sets out on a plan to free the would-be slaves and bring the slavers to justice.

As Puller works the mystery of his aunt's death and the man begins his planned fight for justice for "the forgotten" their stories intertwine and the book begins on a thrill ride catapulting the reader to its final conclusion.  One of Baldacci's best.

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
This book will take you back to the iconic movie, A Christmas Story.  This lightweight read follows (almost) a year in the life of fifth grader Felix Funicello (whose claim to fame is that he is cousin to Mouseketeer Annette).  Felix attends parochial school and I think I knew all of his teachers during my years of parochial school.  The story starts with Felix sending his nun-teacher over the edge of a nervous breakdown, and the interesting situations which arise when "Madame" (a French Canadian lay teacher) comes in as a substitute.  It's great escapist fun, though not so much a "story" as a series of episodes that culminates with the big Christmas program, which is oh so painfully reminiscent of my grammar school years!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens    [LOGOS]
Yes, I really read "A Christmas Carol" at work today.  Just because I hadn't seen the show in...oh...days.  There is a big difference between seeing a stage show or a movie and reading the original in the words of the author.  All the famiiar elements are there, but Dickens' words add just that extra layer that made this book special to begin with.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle   [LOGOS]
What a fun book.  Mayle and his wife bought a 200 year old farmhouse and moved to Luberon, in the Provence area and begin to set up housekeeping, learning the language, learning the customs and the habits of the population (the casual attitude toward home repair, for example).  He takes us on a tour through the restaurants, proprietors bakeries, and wines of the area.  Each chapter is a new month, with new things to see and do (like goat races), new problems to confront.  A delightful, easy read.

The Black Box by Michael Connelly
What a thrill ride.  This was Connelly's 25th book in his 22nd year of publishing and yet Harry Bosch is as fresh now as he ever was.  He's not young any more and, in fact, is kinda retired, but working on a five year extension deal and assigned to the Open Unsolved unit.  He is investigating the murder of a young woman during the Watts riots of 1992 that has been haunting him all these years.  She was a Danish journalist who was found murdered in an alley during one of the craziest nights of violence.  As Bosch begins to go through the investigation that was done in that time one little thing leads to another and before you know it the case has taken on HUGE implications and taken him places he never dreamed it would.

Of course, to complicate things the new chief of the unit is after him and has reported him to higher ups, for what he views is a minor infraction, hoping to get him suspended (so time is of the essence for Harry to solve this crime).

I love the way Connelly crafts these books.   You get a real feel for the step by step process that goes into solving a crime, yet it never becomes dry and is always exciting.   I don't know how accurate it is, but it certainly reads accurate!

Life of Pi by Yan Martel
This book is really written in two quite different parts.  The early part of the book tells the upbringing of young Piscine Patel a now 14 year old boy growing up in Pondicherry, India. Pi's father owns a zoo and Pi and his brother were raised with all of the animals.  In the first part, Pi is going through a search for God, trying various religions and a lot of attention is given to the precepts of each and what attracts Pi to them.  Ultimatey he becomes Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim, even though nobody can understand how he reconciles the differences in the religions.  But he is very spiritual and has a deep love of God, which sustains him on his "adventure."

During economic and political hard times. Pi's father decides he must sell the zoo and move his famly to Canada.  Many of the animals will go with them and they set out on a freighter, which ultimately sinks.   Pi is the only survivor and finds himself on a 26 foot long lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a 450 lb Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  As Pi finds ways to avoid the animals, the hyena kills the zebra and the leopard and is ultimately killed by the tiger and it is just Pi and the tiger for the next 227 days adrift in the Pacific ocean.  Pi's ingenuity and his experience with animal behavior keep him alive as he endures incredible hardships and manages t find enough food and water to sustain both of them.  It's a great adventure tale, which could be so much more maudlin, but in the end is actually believable.

The Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen
Well, this was such a page turner that rather than prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, I sat in a chair and did not get up until I finished (fortunately, I still had a day left to prepare).  This is the latest in the Rizzoli-Isles series.  I prefer the books to the TV series because the books meet my mental image of the characters far more than the actresses on the screen do.  Also, Maura Isles is not the annoying pedant that she is on television.

This story involves three families who are massacred, each leaving one child living.  The child is placed in foster care and each foster family is also massacred, again leaving the child untouched.  As the massacres occur in vastly different parts of the world, nobody suspects a serial killer at large, but Rizzoli begins to see patterns, after she begins her investigation following the murder of the foster family of young Teddy Clock.

The children are put in a very secure school in Maine, with high tech electronic security, hundreds of acres of forest, and seemingly impenetrable fortress, until suddenly it doesn't seem like it is.  Strange things are happening.  A teacher commits suicide.  Scary signs appear in the woods.   And at the same time, Rizzoli is beginning to uncover the thing that connected all three of the murdered families.

The last quarter of the book will be impossible to put down, and the ending was a surprise I certainly didn't see coming.

Dreams of Joy: A Novel by Lisa See
This book is the sequel to See's earlier "Shanghai Girls. "  At the conclusion of that book, the idealistic young college student Joy had just discovered the secret of her parentage, her birth, and her real father.  Angry with both her Mother and her Auntie May, Joy flees to China, where she plans to find her real father and become part of Mao's "Great Leap Forward."  In this book, mother Pearl follows Joy to China, determined to find her daughter and convince her to return to America.   Both women get caught up in the changes in China, Pearl in Shanghai, and Joy in a commune in the country, where conditions are, first, idyllic for her, and then begin to disintegrate terribly.  It takes three years before Pearl is able to rescue her daughter from the commune and their harrowing journey out of China kept me glued to my seat for several hours.

Hell's Corner by David Baldacci
Oliver Stone (aka John Carter) and the Camel Club are back in this fast-paced Book 5 of the popular series.  Stone is tasked by the president with investigating Russian drug cartels, but that job quickly goes by the wayside when a bomb explodes in Lafayette Park. It is presumed that the intended target was the British prime minister, staying at nearby Blair House.  As Stone begins to investigate, however, that idea goes quickly by the wayside.  Stone partners with an M16 agent and the Camel Club becomes involved as well.  There is intrigue, action, and as many twists and turns as Lombard Street in San Francisco.  Just when you think you have it all figured out, you don't.  And members of the Camel Club are dropping like flies.  This is a page turner from start to finish.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
I needed to make a charge at the book store the other day, to see if I had corrected a problem with the charge machine, and so chose this book and bought it.  I had read two of Lisa See's books before and figured that I would enjoy this one.  My assumption was correct.

Pearl and her sister May are "beautiful girls" in Shanghai.  In their early 20s, they are models, living the good life.  They look down on those who are not of their financial status and they dream of marrying for love, not an arranged marriage, as their mother had.  But tragedy befalls the family.  The father gambles away all of their money and runs up huge gambling debts and is forced to sell his daughters to a rich man in America, who wants them as brides for his two sons.  Though Pearl is determined to find a way out for them, things go continually from bad to worse and as the Japanese invade China, they are forced to flee to Hong Kong and then to America, to their detested husbands.

This story starts in 1937 and ends in 1957 (with a sequel now having been written).  It beautifully weaves together history, contrasting cultural groups, and an intense personal story.  It shows the strength in the bonds of families, the hatred Chinese have faced in this country, and the extent to which people will go when they are desperate.

Lisa See says this book is the one which is perhaps the closest to her heart, as she has set it in an area where she grew up, and knew intimately.  My bet is that when you finish this book, you will do what I did--immediately find its sequel "Dreams of Joy."

The Stupidest Angel:  A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
Well, I hate to say it, but if I were to rename this book it would have been "The Stupidest Book"  This was a book club selection, so  I stuck with it through the most amazing dumb "plot" (of sorts).  Or maybe I just need a humor transplant.  If you want quirky characters, Pine Cove, California is the place to go.  Everything from the police officer who grows pot to buy an ancient Japanese sword for his girlfriend, the ex-adventure/porn star with mental problems who thinks she's still an avenger when off her meds to a pilot with a talking sun-glasses wearing fruit bat named Roberto to the bar owner who laces her Christmas fruitcake with Xanax and XTC, through the entire town and down to the dim-witted angel sent to earth to grant a child's wish and in the process turns an entire cemetery into an attacking hoard of zombies.   I loved Moore's earlier "Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff Christ's Childhood Pal," but this one just didn't do it for me!

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion   [LOGOS]
Joan Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma (she would die soon after this book was published). This book is a memoir of Dunne's death, Quintana's illness, and Didion's efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense.

Anyone who has lost a special someone, especially if the loss is sudden, will identify with this book.  As I read her journal through grief and the long mourning period, she was echoing everything I had felt for the first time when my friend Gilbert died in 1986.  When she talks about grief coming in waves, I nodded in agreement.  She didn't use the terms I used, but experienced the same thing.  I called it "little deaths," where at some point I would be buried in memories of a certain moment or event.  It would crush me.   I could almost feel myself back in the moment.  And then the need to exprience it was over, and I had buried that little piece of our time together.  When I stopped having "little deaths," I knew I had survived the mourning period and was ready to get on with my life.  It was the roadmap that helped get me through the deaths of our sons, David and Paul, that helped me know I would survive, no matter how bad it was.

I remember so strongly my need to know EXACTLY how and why he died, feeling that if the doctors would admit they had screwed up, somehow it would bring him back.

I still have his furniture and other things here, though he has been dead nearly 30 years. I know he's not coming back, but somehow I feel I'm holding on to them for him.

Yes, I walked the steps with Didion and understood everything she said and experienced.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff  [LOGOS]
What a deightful find this was at the book store today!  Helene Hanff is better known for her wildly popular "84 Charring Cross Rd.," which details the 20 year correspondence she had with the proprietor of a London book store.  It had long been her dream to visit London, but she never got there while the store was still in business.  However, she did finally travel to London in 1971 and this is the journal of that trip.  Her delight is palpable as I read through the short book and since she was visiting a lot of my favorite spots in that wonderful city, I could picture where she was most of the time.  The trip changes her in many ways and the book introduces the reader to a host of new friends she met on her trip, from the family of the late proprietor to actress Joyce Grenville.   I loved every page in this book!

Zoo by James Patterson
This book is so bad I don't want to write a short review here, but you can find a full long review on Good Reads (including a complete synopsis, to save any person tempted to read the book from wasting their time.)

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote   [LOGOS]
This is Capote's first novel, written in 1948.  Copying the Amazon description of the book, "Truman Capote’s first novel is a story of almost supernatural intensity and inventiveness, an audacious foray into the mind of a sensitive boy as he seeks out the grown-up enigmas of love and death in the ghostly landscape of the deep South.
At the age of twelve, Joel Knox is summoned to meet the father who abandoned him at birth. But when Joel arrives at the decaying mansion in Skully’s Landing, his father is nowhere in sight. What he finds instead is a sullen stepmother who delights in killing birds; an uncle with the face—and heart—of a debauched child; and a fearsome little girl named Idabel who may offer him the closest thing he has ever known to love."

I read the book and have to admit that I could hardly follow it.  I read it through to the end, hoping to figure it out, but I was still hopelessly lost! It gets top ratings on Good Reads, but maybe I wasn't intelligent enough to see the value of it.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
This is one of the funniest books I ever read.  To say Jenny Lawson had an unusual upbringing would be a gross understatement.  She emerged into adulthood full of angst and fears and phobias.  Her book is kind of a stream of consciousness combined with conversations with her husband and...well, you just have to read it, but some of the chapter titles are "Thanks for the Zombies, Jesus," "And then I got Stabbed in the Face by a Serial Killer," "Stabbed by a Chicken," "Hairless Rats: Free to kids only," "And then I snuck a dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane."  and 'It wasn't even my crack."  There is a lot of talk about the "zombie apocalypse."  This book is laugh out loud funny and I read huge chunks of it aloud to Walt.

The Sleeping Doll by Jeffrey Deaver
Deaver is a new to me author and if this book is an example of his work, I will be reading more.  Detective Katherine Dance is a kinesics expert so an awful lot of the book deals with how to read body language, but it was fascinating.  When evidence turns up that implicates Charles Manson wannabe Daniel Pell, who is already serving a life sentence for the murder of a family in Carmel, California, in another murder, Dance has him brought in for questioning.  Turns out this was planned by Pell, who finds it easier to escape from the questioning facility than the prison in which he has been living.   Pell goes on a killing spree and the chase is on.  There are twists and turns all along the way in this book, people who aren't what they appear to be, and a finale that seems to go on forEVer, but interest never lags.  Highly recommended.

Lucy by Laurence Gonzales   [LOGOS]
I saw this on Amazon and thought it sounded interesting, but didn't want to pay $12 to get it.  So I was pleased when I saw it on the Logos book shelves and was able to read it on my work day.  Primatologist Jenny Lowe has been working in Congo studying bonobo chimpanzees for years, but the civil war in that country puts her life in danger.  With soldiers approaching, she escapes and makes her way to the encampment of a fellow scientist (with whom she has no real social connection).  She finds that the soldiers have beaten her to it and the scientist is dead.  In a back room she finds a young girl cuddled next to a female bonobo, who has also been killed.  Jenny rescues the girl, whose name is Lucy, and using her connections is able to flee Congo and bring the girl to the United States (using a forged passport),  It  is her plan to find the girl's mother in England and turn her over to her family.

Lucy begins to adjust to life in civilization and starts high school, but there is something "different" about the girl.   One night, in reading through Lucy's father's jurnals, Jenny discovers the truth about the girl--her father is the scientist, her mother is a bonobo.

The story for the first half was quite good, Lucy's adjustment, her making a good friend, her schooling, etc.  But then she gets deathly ill and things change because in analyzing her blood test, the doctors discover her secret.  From there on it is overkill with unfeeling government officials, religious zealots who yell "abomination" and clamor for Lucy's death, etc.   It just went too far, though the concept was intriguing.

How to Live with a Neurotic Dog by Stephen Baker  [LOGOS]
Funny part cartoon, part text book which gives no clue as to how to live with three neurotic dogs!  The book was published in 1971 and is definitely dated in its look at men, women, and family life.  However, he's right on with the chapters on dog sleep and feeding dogs.  However, I did wonder if I was being made fun of as a fat lady stereotype...

Neurotic.jpg (32470 bytes)

California's Golden Age by William Woollett   [LOGOS]
This is a little book (191 pages) of etchings by the author, who decided to record a lot of the classic old buildings in Los Angeles and San Diego, plus the California Missions and the building of San Francisco's bridges.  Though the publication date is 1983, the pictures are from the 1930s, before the bridges were completed.  It was mostly unsatisfying, since the etchings were too light to see well, though I was fascinated to see the pictures (and read the descriptions) of the building of Hoover Dam, and of the Pilgrimage Play Theater in Los Angeles, which held 900 spectators and was used only once a year to perform "The Pilgrimage Play: the Life of Jesus."  The theater lasted only 7 years.  The book is a disappointment in that only 3 of the 21  Missions are recorded and the book itself seems to be self-published since there are uncaught misspellings, such as the word "pilgrimage" which is in a title and is misspelled "pilgrimaige."

Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich   [LOGOS]
This is my first meeting this this author and with her heroine, Stephanie Plum.  A short book I took from the shelves at the book store.  The story starts 5 days before Christmas and Stephanie does not have the Christmas spirit.  She has no tree, has purchased no gifts, has visited no malls, and would like to ignore  the holiday altogether.  There appears in her living room a man, who seems  to have popped in out of nowhere.  He says he's there to help her find the Christmas spirit, but on the way they search for a little toy maker named Sandy Claws, and a bunch of vicious elves trapped in a toy factory.  It's a very strange book, but it made me want to read more about Plum.

Deception by Jonathan Kellerman [LOGOS]
A new penpal I heard from this week mentioned that she loved books by Jonathan Kellerman, so when I went to the book store I found one and read it.  Kellerman has written a lot of books, so I may have found a new author, but I'll have to go way back to start at the beginning, since this book is #25 in the series.  Kellerman's hero is LAPD detective Milo Sturgis (who is gay), and his crime-investigating sidekick is Alex Delaware, a forensic psychologist.  In "Deception" a teacher in a very elite public school is found murdered, after making a videotape accusing three other teachers in the school of sexual harassment.  Investigating the murder and trying to save the reputation of the school because it could affect the chances of the graduates getting into good ivy league schools is very tricky, but eventually Alex and Miles solve the crime, of course. Good page turner.

The Elephant's Secret Sense by Caitlin O'Connell
Another fascinating book about Elephants.  O'Connell spent 14 years studying Namibian elephants and their methods of communication.  She became fascinated when observing a group of elephants, noticing that the matriarch would raise her foot and check the surrounding area, and all the others in the group would do the same thing.  This led to experiments which showed how elephants use their feet to pick up vibrations in the ground (seismic communication), standing on their toes when stressed, increasing the strength of the signal they are receiving.  This book is a combination of easy to understand scientific facts, compelling emotional stories, and the politics involved in the constant battle between the elephants and the farmers, whose crops are routinely raided.

Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell
Many people have given this book a very bad review on  I disagree.   While I wouldn't give it five stars, I might give it 3-1/2.  It was a relief to see the return to somewhat normal relationships and personalities of the characters we have come to know over the years (and not as how they have changed as a result of the horrible things Cornwell has done to them in previous books). Kay's insecurities & the food are back, but Kay is not overly neurotic. Benton has a bit more meaty role in the story this time. Marino is back to being a friend, rough & grouchy, but protective & part of the family. I am especially pleased to note that Lucy is way less weird than she has been in previousbooks and is back to being the computer wiz that first drew me to her.

The story opens with Kay arriving in Savannah on her way to the Georgia Prison for Women. She has been summoned by one of the prisoners, Kate Lawler, who wants to talk to her about the murder of her assistant, Jack Fielding.   It turns out that Lawler had not requested the visit after all, but things were being manipulated by attorney (and Lucy's former lover) Jaime Berger.  Before the book ends, there have been three mysterious murders, two of which seem impossible that they could be murders (inside prisons, a far distance apart).  All seem somehow connected to a mass murder of a family many years before. 

Unlike some of Cornwell's more disappointing novels, this has its share of suspense and tension and in the end, I was feeing better about Cornwell again.

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
At last I have finished Book 5 of Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander" series.  It was about a 50-60 hour audio book, which takes a long time when you only listen to it when you're alone in the car!  Claire and Jamie are now in America with their daughter Brianna, her husband Roger, and their son Jemmy.  In a 1400+ page book, you are going to have slow parts.  I could have done with the shortening of several parts of this book, but in the end I didn't care because I just love immersing myself in the story of the time-traveling Claire and her 18th century lover.  This is set in the pre-Revolutionary colonies and the build up to the actions of 1776.  There's enough intrigue, history, sensuality, and medicine to go around.  Amazing things happen which will change the Fraser family forever, and there is the return of characters we haven't seen in awhile.  The best review I can give this book is that as soon as I finished it, I immediately downloaded the sequel and can hardly wait to get into another 50 hour adventure with the Frasers.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
This is a strange book.  It is the true story of an airplane carrying sight-seeing military personnel from New Guinea, which crashes in the dense forrest of that country. Twenty-one people died in the crash.  There were only 3 survivors.  Using diaries, newspaper clippings, interviews, and military records, Zuckoff pieces together their survival story, dealing with the dense forest, severe burn injuries which were becoming gangrenous, no food or water, finally finding a clearing where they encounter native people, reportedly cannibals, who had never seen a white person before. It explains how they survivied while waiting for rescue and the amazing rescue itself.  But it's strange because it meanders.  Before the plane ever leaves the ground, you have the back story of everyone on the plane, everyone who ever touched the plane, some of their families.  Before rescue attempts are made, there are more biographies and more technical background.  You learn how they survived with the natives and even made friends of some of them.  When the time comes for the actual rescue it takes about 2 pages of the book and then it's over. 

There is a chapter on follow up on all involved in the incident, including how the interaction with modern society changed, and some would say, ruined the native settlements. 

A huge chunk of the book is dedicated to research methods, more bios of everyone who has already been described in detail (but nw in alphabetical order), and an index.  ( skipped that part of the book)

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell
This is the book which comes right before "Scarpetta," which I read last year and absolutely hated. I realized that so much is alluded to from this book that I probably missed a lot of nuance in "Scarpetta." I then realized that there were two books in the series before "Scarpetta" which I had not read. "Predator" was the first one and I was disappointed in it. There was a hint of the old Cornwell in it, but I hated a lot of the book. When I posted my review on Good Reads, someone said that this one, "Book of the Dead" was just as bad, so I decided not to bother. Cornwell, like James Patterson, had lost her magic and I was sad to see that go.

But then it gnawed on me that I should really read this book, and am I glad I did. It was a hint of the old Cornwell, and so much of what I hated about "Scarpetta" is explained in "Book of the Dead." It filled so many gaps in the continuing story of Kay, Benton, Lucy and Marino that I'm now all jazzed to read the next in the series (and must go back and re-read the start of "Scarpetta" again to refresh my memory of how the story continues. I understand what has happened to Marino (even though I don't like it). Heck, I even like Lucy again in this book!

I don't like a lot of the conversations where the people involved are talking past each other...Lucy is discussing what happened between Kay and Marino and Kay is talking about something completely different because she doesn't want to acknowledge the encounter with Marino.  This happens more than once and is annoying because I don't know anybody who would have a conversation like that, so it does not read true.

As for the actual story, a 16 year old tennis star is found nude and mutilated in Rome. A young boy's body is found in a marsh in Charleston (where Scarpetta has now re-located) and there is a hint that the two deaths are related and that somehow a exploitative talk show host may be involved. The story has enough twists and turns and tension for the most dedicated Cornwell fan and in the end, I'm so very glad that I read it after all!

The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
I joined a book club which meets in a few days and saw they were going to discuss this book, so I ordered it for my Kindle and managed to get it read in 3 days.  Very good read.

Professor David Zimmer's life is destroyed when his wife and two young sons are killed in a plane crash. He goes on a destructive binge of drinking and taking pills until he happens to see a documentary in which he is drawn to silent film comedian Hector Mann, who vanished around 1929 after a brief but promising film career. Zimmer begins to investigate the work of Hector Mann, an interest which becomes an obsession which takes him on a quest to see the 12 films which were mailed, anonymously, to 2 museums around the world. He ends up writing a book about Mann and some time later receives a letter from a woman claiming to be Mann's wife, saying that Mann is very much alive, but ill, and would like to meet with him. This sets off a series of events no one could anticipate.

Auster writes with such convincing detail that the first part of his book reads almost like a documentary, so much so that I wanted to google Hector Mann and find out what Wikipedia had to say about him. (I actually found there is an entry, about a band that created an album based on Auster's book, and several entries by people who seem to think Mann was a real actor.) Auster's description of Mann's films is so detailed it makes it difficult to believe they don't actually exist. If Auster wanted to make those films, he already has a ready-made screenplay within his own book.

This is a great read and highly recommended.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This is the story of two life-long friends, both women aviators, working for  the British military during World War II, when it was nearly unheard of for women to fly planes.  The two crash in Nazi occupied France.  One is taken prisoner and one has a chance for survival, if she can get back to England.  The captured woman becomes a virtual Scheherazade, writing her "confession" and weaving into it such a story that her interrogators keep her alive for another day...a week.  Within her confession, and her revelations of war secrets is her history with her friend Maddie.   This is an amazing book that gives such an incredible glimpse of what life was like for the French Resistance and the people who risked their lives every day doing impossible missions.

Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson
This is another disappointing Cross book.  Cross ends up involved in two of the biggest cases in the country simultaneously (the kidnapping of the president's children and the potential for the worst terrorist attack in the country's history.   This stretches credibility beyond all bounds--is Cross the only SuperCop in the country?  But even if we buy that only Alex can work these cases--and do them simultaneously--the plots just fizzle out, without little tension.  Find a house?   Kids inside? Yep...OK.  Move along.  Foil the terrorist plot?   Everybody dies or disappears, ho-hum.  I don't know why I keep reading Patterson when he so consistently disappoints these days!

Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
I haven't read enough Dean Koontz to know whether I like him or not.  I've read some I loved and some I hated.  I picked this book up because after reading his quasi autobiography (A Big Little Life) about his golden retriever, he commented that this book was one that was inspired by his love for his dog and for golden retrievers. This starts off with the story of Amy Redwing, who runs a rescue organization for golden retrievers.  When she rescues Nikie from an abusive situation, she realizes that this is more than just an ordinary dog.  Nickie begins to have a profound effect on Amy and on her friend, widower Brian McCarthy.  That's when it turns from a normal novel to some sort of supernatural book and it lost credibility, though I have to admit that the story he built really appealed to me!

Echo Burning by Lee Child
Look.  We get it.  It's Texas.  It's desolate. It's hot.  And Reacher doesn't say much.  This is a gripping story, but oh do those now famous descriptive passages of Child's draw this out for-EV-er!  And if you took out the sentence "Reacher said nothing" you could shorten it by at least a chapter.

That said, I enjoyed this book.  Reacher runs afoul of a local police officer and needs to get outta town quick and while hitchhiking is picked up by Carmen Greer, who has more than doing a good turn for a guy in mind--she wants Reacher to kill her abusive husband, because she can't do it herself.  Well, of course it turns out to be much more complicated than that, but it's Jack Reacher to the rescue all the way.  With Tom Cruise now being chosen as the movie Reacher, I think that this is one they'd better not try to bring to the screen...Cruise's short stature would definitely not work for this plot!

I will add that this was an audio book, read by Dick Hill, whom I usually like, but his tone of voice for attorney Alice (whose last name I forget) made her sound like such a whining wimp that I suspect it would have been quite a different story if I had actually READ the book instead of listened to it.

Zero Day by David Baldacci
John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division. His father was an Army fighting legend, now, sadly, no longer in his right mind, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison.

Puller is sent to investigate an "unusual" murder -- a whole family slaughtered -- in a small W. Virginia, coal town.  As bodies pile up, Puller begins to realize that the story behind the murders stretches way beyond the confines of this small town and may spell a catastrophe for the whole country.  The federal government is intensely interested, but unwilling to commit any other personnel to help in the investigation and it is up to John to save the country.

This is a page turner.  I was up until 2 a.m. finishing it.

L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton  [LOGOS]
I have not been a great fan of Grafton.  I'd started her alphabet series many years ago and read a few books, but wasn't passionate enough about them to continue.  The reason I read this one was because I had to wait at a bus station after work at the book store and had forgotten to bring my Kindle, so I picked this out of the $1 Bargain Box bins outside the store.  It was OK.  Nothing to make me want to go back to where I stopped and pick up reading the series again.  Detective Kinsey Millhone is asked to do a favor for a neighbor, which was to involve helping a guy look through his father's papers for proof of his military service.  To go into too much depth might ruin it for potential readers, but suffice to say this little favor ends up sending Kinsey all across the country, nearly getting arrested, caught in a fire, nearly shot, and ultimately ending up in the hospital with a concussion before she manages to get home again (in time to be a bridesmaid, I might add).  It kept my interest, but I'm beginning to think that I've just read too many mysteries and should find another genre.  I always seem to end up rolling my eyes at some point in most of the books I've read this year, this book no exception.

The Pretty Women of Paris by Robin de Beaumont  [LOGOS]
Not being in the market for information about prostitutes I have no idea if guides like this still exist in the 21st century, but I have a mental image of some tattered street newspaper being hawked near downtown hotels in San Francisco.   This is the translation of a book written in the mid 1800s and sold to, presumably, wealthy men looking for female...uh...diversion  Companionship, shall we say.   It's kind of the Montgomery-Ward catalog of upscale prostitutes.  It also includes a listing of many of the houses of ill repute in Paris.

I really hadn't intended to read it, but I found it absolutely fascinating.  Each entry always includes a physical description of the woman.

But the descriptions are sometimes absolutely poetic.

...her backside is remarkable for size and shape and we may declare without hesitation that she possesses one of the handsomest bums in Paris.

...she is thin as a hurdle, with rough skin and insignificant countenance. She is pale, with light hair and blue eyes. Looks well when dressed as a man but undressed is like a wooden doll -- very long, very hard, with a bust like a plank and an arse like a rabbit.

In addition to the comments regarding the women, I also increased my vocabulary. "Pelf" is a term for ill-gotten riches. And I learned the Banting System was developed in 1863 by W. Banting as a diet for reducing superfluous fat...and it sounds VERY MUCH like the Atkins diet. The dietary recommended was the use of butcher-meat principally, and abstinence from beer, farinaceous food, and vegetables.

And while you may have thought the Indians cornered the market on sexual pleasure with the Kama Sutra, you may not have heard of Aretino's Postures, which is Italy's own version, I Modi or The Sixteen Pleasures. These were engravings and--surprise, surprise--were destroyed the Catholic church.


Predator by Patricia Cornwell
I've been a Cornwell fan since I read her first book.   I've had some complaints about her recent books ("Blow Fly" was probably the worst).  This is getting back to her roots, but still the magic of her earlier books isn't there.  I hate what she has done with the character of Marino.   In earlier works, I kind of pictured Marino as an Ed Asner type, but now he's buff and bald and riding motorcycles and I've lost my picture of him.  I also loved the working relationship they had, and now it seems non-existent.  I also don't like the way she has taken her niece Lucy.  The thing I've enjoyed in previous Cornwell books was the weay that these three and Scarpetta's male friend,  Benton Wesley worked together to solve crimes.  Now...I don't know.  The story was so convoluted and there was such a dark undertone to everything.  Lucy hates herself, Kay isn't speaking to Benton because he kept Lucy's confidence about a health problem, Marino is whoring after anything with tits and have a love-hate relationship with both Kay and Lucy.   The story held my interest, but it just wasn't her best.  Also the evil Basil Jenrette, on whom the story appears to hang, has an almost non-existent role that fizzles out in the end.  He can't even try to kill Kay and make it gripping.  For Cornwell fans, this is a good read.  If it's your first Cornwell book, go back and start at the beginning, when they seem to have had more substance.

Orphan Train Rider, One Boy's True Story by Andrea Warren
I picked this book up at the Sacramento Train Museum store because it was a report on a piece of American about which I knew nothing.  Between 1854 and 1930, more than 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were sent west on "orphan trains" to find new homes.   In exchange for "good homes," the children, many of whom had been living on the streets and eating from garbage cans, were offered to farmers, housewives and businessmen as indentured workers.  Some were adopted by loving families, otherswere not as fortunate. The hero of this story was one of six children whose father gave them away when their mother died.  Lee and his brother Leo ended up in an orphange, their younger brothers (a toddler and an infant) were given to friends, the older son and daughter were sent out into the world to find their own way.  Lee and Leo ended up being put on an orphan train, with 50 or more other children. 

The train made stops in midwest towns and the children were put on display for prosective adoptive parents to view (it reminds me of the scene of a slave auction).  It's a fascinating story and, as I said, a part of American history about which I had no knowledge whatsoever.  The practice ended in 1930 because of new laws and new organizations designed to help children and immigrants.   More stories of orphan train riders can be found here.

The Sixth Target by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
I have, up until now, enjoyed Patterson's Women's Murder Club series.  This was one huge exception.  There was no suspense, no action, no nothing.  There are three parallel plots, which don't intersect (the old Patterson would have worked to weave them all together in several of those twists and turns that he is so famous for). There was no satisfaction  in how any of them resolved...or didn't.  This book was a disappointment from start to finish.

The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy by Robert Leleux  [LOGOS]
When I picked this up at Logos today, I was thinking of David Sheff's "Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction."  I didn't remember the title or the author, but I just remembered that it had the words "beautiful boy" in it.  And I remember thinking that maybe I might want to read it.  So when I sat down and started to read, imagine my surprise to discover that this was a memoir of a young gay boy and his rather odd family, especially his flamboyant mother.  This reads like David Sidaris on tranquilizers...not quite as riotous, but equally interesting.

The book starts the day Robert and his mother come home from their weekly trip for hair and nail treatments at Neiman Marcus, to discover a note left by the father saying he was leaving them penniless.  Adjustment to their situation, selling off all the fancy clothes and jewelry, the search for a new (old, rich) husband, and Robert's coming of age as a gay man (he had no idea he was until he met the man who would become his husband) is a delightful story, with unforgettable scenes (like Mother's having her head shaved and a wig superglued to her scalp, or the terrifying trip to the "emergency room," where, unbeknownst to Robert, his mother has an appointment for plastic surgery.  A nice surprise and not at all as depressing as the story of a father dealing with his son's addiction!

The Death of Manolete by Barnaby Conrad
I decided to read this book because Pat Conroy raved about it so much in his "My Reading Life."  I suspect this would have been better read as a real book rather than a kindle book because there are so many photos in it, and the regular Kindle doesn't do photos all that well.  But the story is fascinating.  I knew nothing about bull fighting (and have no desire to see one) but I learned a lot about bull fights and the world around bull fighting. I liked that the reader gets an opportunity to know not only the background of Manolete, but also of Isolo, the bull that killed him.

The Tears I Couldn't Cry: Behind the Convent Doors by Patricia Grueninger Beasley
I can't decide if I loved this book or hated it.  I bought it because I could see from the cover photo that it was about the Daughters of Charity, who taught me in high school and whose order I decided to join when I graduated (ultimately I did not, because the sisters suggested I wait 6 extra months to think about it--and in that time I decided I didn't really want to join).  The story is about Ms. Beasley's 22 years as a Daughter of Charity and her decision to leave.  Stephen King has nothing on her in the horror story realm.  My one thought throughout this book is that I dodged a huge bullet in my decision not to join.

She entered the convent in the late 50s (about 3 years before I would have joined).  From day one she was hit with all sorts of rules and regulations that she had never expected.  She was expected to lose all emotional ties to her family, she was never permitted to touch another person.  An accomplished artist and pianist, she was not permitted to do any art or touch a piano.  She was not permitted to mix her foods on the plate because that would indicate she was actually enjoying the food, and that was not permitted.  She could not raise her eyes to enjoy a sunset or listen to a bird singing.  She could not attend her sister's wedding or her grandmother's funeral, though they were only a few miles from her convent. The rules went on and on and on.  She had to learn how to pee on schedule (if you had to go when it wasn't your turn, too bad.  Hold it and offer it up). Sickness was a weakness.   She suffered from motion sickness many times and felt like vomiting, but was told she had to hold it in and offer it up.  She suffered from migraine headaches and was refused medication and told to pray instead.  She was forced to teach with an abscessed tooth because there was no one to cover for her.  When she had terrible diarrhea while visiting the town of Assisi she was told to have a glass of beer (permitted because they were not supposed to drink the water in Italy). She had wanted to be a social worker and hated teaching, but she was told she was going to be a teacher.  When she left, after 22 years, having taught for most of that time, she was given $1,000 and the door shut behind her.  No half-way house to reorient her back into the world, no Social Security had been paid for her time working, no nothing.

The book was written after she had worked outside, met a man and married and perhaps some of the negative tone of this book came out of the therapeutic act of writing it all down.  I'm sure there must have been some pleasurable experiences, but the total picture is of a naive 18 year old girl, still in love with a man, who was pretty much railroaded by one of her teachers into agreeing to join the convent, who never should have been there in the first place.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy     [LOGOS]
I read a quote somewhere that says "Reading Pat  Conroy is like watching Michaelangelo paint."  A very good description.  It was Conroy's facility with words which made me choose to read "Prince of Tides" when we were driving around Honolulu, rather than look at the scenery.  I couldn't put the book down.   When I saw this book on the shelves of Logos, I knew I couldn't possibly read >300 pages in 4 hours, but I also knew that this was a book I had to read, so I read it during my shift and then brought it home to finish.

I'm hard pressed to know how I feel about this book.  It is rich with the language that so attracted me to "Prince of Tides," and you learn about his lifelong passion for reading, fostered by his mother, self taught through her unquenchable thirst for books.  If there are any doubts as to the roots of "The Great Santini," they are dispelled in Conroy's comments about his abusive father.  He reveres all of the men and women in his life who brought out his creativity and inspired him to be a better writer.  He is unapologetic in his love of and passion for books...books...books -- his reading of them, his collecting of them, his writing of them.  Anyone who has not read, and intends to read, books like "Look Homeward, Angel" and "War and Peace" would do well to skip those chapters, since he covers the plots so thoroughly in his dissection of why they are such special books to him. I was moved to put down Conroy's book and go to to order Barnaby Conrad's "The Death of Manolete" after reading his comments about that work.  But he indulges in purple prose when he gets to why he writes and I found myself rolling my eyes in exasperation during that chapter.  I also think this chapter would go far to discourage anyone who has aspirations of becoming a great writer.

Anyone who is a Conroy fan will enjoy this book, but sometimes you have to overlook the self-aggrandizement.

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence
This book is subtitled "My Life with the Herd in the African Wild."   Anthony, a South African conservationist who owns a reserve called Thula Thula received a call that someone needed to get rid of a herd of rogue elephants--they would either give them to him or, if he could not take them, they would be destroyed.   Against his better judgement, he accepted the elephants and thus began the adventure of settling them into their new surroundings, winning their trust,  and learning the lessons the elephants had to teach him.  This was a book I could not put down.  I have such great admiration for and fascination with elephant society and this is an intimate look at what humans can know about these magnificent beasts.   Anthony's intention was that the elephants, and all the animals on his reserve, remain wild and have no interaction with human beings, other than himself.  In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.  Along the way there are stories of other animals--rhinos, crocodiles, poodles--as well as African politics, Zulu society, poachers, and French women.  Unforgettable book.

San Francisco Confidential by Ray Mungo    [LOGOS]
What a fun book!  I was going to read Henry V, which I am reviewing this week, but that plan didn't last long and soon I was up and looking through the shelves again.  This was one of the display books and I picked it up and within seconds had returned Henry V to the shelves.  Published in 1996, this is quite dated but it covers the scandalous activities in San Francisco from the time of the Gold Rush to the date of writing.  Not all of the scandals, of course, but some of the more notorious and most of them things that I remember.  It's not only scandals, but also things like the birth of the Beat era and the Hippie era (I'm amazed at how many things I lived through were "firsts" in the country).  There is the re-telling of the story of the murder of Mayor Mosconi and Supervisor Harvey Milk (the first gay supervisor).  I was quite familiar with that story, of course, but I don't think I ever heard that homophobic assassin Dan White was actually gay and having an affair with a San Francisco Fireman.  The books covers suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, Patty Hearst, and lots and lots of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (now deceased).  I was so tickled by the book that, of course, I bought it.   Cheap at only $5!

Divine Justice by David Baldacci
This book starts the same day that "Stone Cold" ends and continues the adventures of The Camel Club, now one member short, in its search for truth.  It also provides a complete history of Oliver Stone (aka John Carr).  By the time you finish this book, you will be ashamed to be an American, if only part of it is anywhere near the truth. As the book starts, Oliver has just assassinated two of the most powerful men in the country, who were responsible for the murder of Oliver's wife, and has decided to get outta town. He's going to go to New Orleans, where he can blend in where questions aren't asked, and work to rebuild houses after Katrina.  However, things go wrong on the train and he stands up for a kid who is getting beaten up and ends up being ejected from the train, along with the kids and the guys with whom he has fought.  With no other options, he goes home with the kid, Danny, to his tiny mining town where more things go wrong than you could imagine.  Just when it appears that Oliver can't possibly get out of his current situation, the Camel Club, like the cavalry, rides into town and takes things in hand. 

The Camel Club series is one of Baldacci's best and this is no exception.  There is one more book in the series, but it apparently has no connection to this particular book, so I'm taking a Camel Club vacation before starting it.

Stone Cold by David Baldacci
I started reading "Divine Justice" at Logos and realized it was a continuation of "Stone Cold," so stopped and read this book first.  This is another in Baldacci's Camel Club series, and ranks with one of his best.  In this book there are three plot lines which intersect -- former CIA assassin John Carr (aka Oliver Stone)'s vigilance at the White House; Anabelle Conroy's $40 million con of Atlantic City casino mogul Jerry Bagger, the man who killed her mother; and a new character, Harry Finn, a member of the Department of Homeland Security, who is secretly killing off the people who murdered his father.  All of these stories gradually merge in an ugly picture of what really goes on behind the doors of government.  This one is a gripper and thank goodness I already have "Divine Justice," the action for which begins minutes after "Stone Cold" ends, because I could start reading it immediately.

A Pygmy Perspective by Mitchell Agruss
Unfortunately for you, the reader, this is a book you can't read because it has never been publicly published.  It was written by my friend Mitchell Agrus (whom people my children's age, who grew up in the Sacramento area in the 1970s-80s may remember as TV "Capt'n Mitch.")  It is subtitled, "20 years of personal experiences with prominent figures of the American theatrical, film and television scene from 1941-61 (an exercise in truthful name-dropping)."  It is all that it is described as being, but more -- "more" being a delight to read.  I love listening to actors talking with one another and this is Mitch reminiscing about the likes of Katharine Hepburn, John Houseman, Thornton Wilder, Harpo Marx, Jack Klugman, Moss Hart, Mel Brooks, Carol Channing, Carl Reiner, Bert Lahr and scores of others.  The books includes photos of himself in performance with many of these luminaries.  I read the whole thing in one sitting and devoured every word.

I want to grow hair, I want to grow up, I want to go to Boise by Erma Bombeck    [LOGOS]
The title refers to what a child, suffering from cancer, said were his/her three wishes.   Bombeck was approached to write an upbeat book about children with cancer.   She wasn't sure she could do it until she visited a camp for children with cancer and got to know them.  What she has written reminds me of the book "When Someone You Love Has Cancer," by DanaRae Pomeroy.  You get to "know" kids with cancer, you get to know their parents, you get a sense of the joy and the tragedy, and you get a feel for how someone who cares can help -- what to do and what not to do.  Not Bombeck's usual belly laughs, but a wonderfully thought out and written  book (I would have expected nothing less of my hero).

Total Control by David Baldacci
After the disappointing "True Blue," it was nice to read another Baldacci thriller that fills the bill again.  Sidney and Jeffrey Archer are your typical upwardly mobile couple, raising their little daughter Amy.  Jeffrey works for a technology company, Sidney (yes, she's a girl) is a corporate attorney.  Jeffrey has been doing some mysterous stuff after hours but the plane in which he is flying to LA mysterously crashes, killing nearly 200 people.  On the day of Jeffrey's memorial service, Sydney receives a phone call...from Jeffrey which sets off a non-stop thriller in motion that ultimately goes off in so many directions it's sometimes hard to keep up.  There is corporate greed, a sex scandal, double identies, sociopaths, chases, gun battles, people sneaking around in dark office buildings.  It's a thriller you can't put down.

Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
Someone recommended this book to me.  It's very short, only 58 pages.  The novel is written in the form of correspondence between two business partners, a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco and his partner, who had returned to Germany in 1932.   According to the notes, the book is credited with exposing, early on, the dangers of Nazism to the American public.

While it has the feel of letters written by a woman, rather than two men, it still tells, very effectively the affection for the two families, the betrayal, and vengeance.  Even this many years later, it is a chilling story.

War Horse by Michael Morpugo
Morpugo is apparently Britain's best-loved children's book writers, so it's not surprising that this book, which I bought because of the hoopla about the Broadway production and the movie, seemed pretty simplistic.  It's the story of Joey, a horse born in England who gets sold to the Army during WWI and his boy's (Albert) attempts to find him.  It is told from the perspective of the horse and traces his adventures from Germany to France to how he finally reunited with Albert and the shock that threatens to remove him from Albert forever.  Really a good story, and children will enjoy it too!

True Blue by David Baldacci
Baldacci usually writes excellent books, but this is not one of his best.  However, at some point mid-way through I had the vision of this making a great "caper" movie, with whoever is the latter day equivalent of Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin.   Too many bodies discovered in too many weird places, and weird inter-weaving of plots, characters.  Is it corporate espionage? terrorism activity?  And the situation of the Chief of Police of Washington, DC being the older sister of the disgraced (framed) beat cop just made of lots of unbelievable situations.  Still, it held my interest, but I rolled my eyes a lot.

Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti    [LOGOS]
This may be one of the strangest books I have read (except for the one about Australian hats) since beginning work at Logos.  This is a true story of "a trip across America with Einstein's brain."  Albert Einstein's brain floats in a Tupperware bowl in a gray duffel bag in the trunk of a Buick Skylark barreling across America. Driving the car is journalist Michael Paterniti. Sitting next to him is an eccentric eighty-four-year-old pathologist named Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955 -- then simply removed the brain and took it home. And kept it for over forty years.

On a cold February day, the two men and the brain leave New Jersey and light out on I-70 for sunny California, where Einstein's perplexed granddaughter, Evelyn, awaits. And riding along as the imaginary fourth passenger is Einstein himself.  This book is part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part biography, and part meditation, It is definitely unlike any other travel/adventure book you'll ever read and yet quite compelling.  It is Paterniti's skill as a writer which keep this story so fascinating.

Then Again by Diane Keaton
This is not your usual Hollywood memoir.  It is as much (if not more) a tribute to Diane's mother, Dorothy Hall, who loomed very large in her life, as it is the story about how shy, insecure Diane Hall became a celebrated movie star, lover to Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino, and triumphed over her persistent insecurities and went on to give us memorable performances in movies such as the Godfather series, Annie Hall (which Woody Allen based on Diane's own family), First Wives Club and many others.  Dorothy Hall was a writer who kept delightfully complete journals of the ups and downs her own life, and her daughter's life and career.  Keaton quotes liberally from her mother's diaries and often compares her life to her own life.  As her mother receives the diagnosis of Alzheimers and slowly sinks into that abyss from which there is only one escape, Diane is brutally honest about what is happening and in the end, we all weep with her at her mother's death.  This really is a beautiful and beautifully written book.  Get the "real" book--I read it on my Kindle, which does not do justice to the photos.

The Journey by James Michener   [LOGOS]
Whoda thunk that a Michener book could be my choice for what to read during my day at the book store?  But this is actually only 240 pages and a bit slower going than the books I've been reading, I didn't quite finish it at the store, but did finish it here at home.  This is a story of an unlikely crew of four English gentlemen and one Irish tenant who take off for the Gold Rush.  After reading a report of a ship loaded with "gold bars" heading out of the Yukon Territory, Lord Evelyn Luton decides he wants a piece of the action and assembles a crew of four, plus someone to be their servant and he heads for Canada.  The problem is that he refuses to set foot on American soil because he wants to support the British holdings in Canada.  This decision, which makes the journey much more difficult than it should have been, proves disastrous, but the story of the travel across Canada from Quebec to Dawson City is fascinating and difficult to put down.

Travels with Alice by Calvin Trillin   [LOGOS]
Now this was more like it.  Delightful travel book by this staff writer for the New York Times is essentially a food tour through So. France, Italy, New York, Barbados and parts between.  I loved this book on so many levels, not the least of which was that most of the places he describes (in scrumptuous detail) are places where I have been.  I love reading what might have been had we not been on a tour.  Specifically, you must learn about taureaux piscine, which combines bullfighting and swimming.  Seriously.  Watch the video and read the description.  This is the kind of touring I'd like to do if (a) we were rich and (b) Walt enjoyed eating as much as I do.  (Alice, by the way, is Trillin's wife, often referred to as la principessa.)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Written by award winning physician-author Verghese, this is a book for history buffs and medicine buffs and anybody who likes a good story.  Beginning in India in 1947, the story follows the path of Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a young nun from India who ends up at a hospital in Addis Ababa, where she becomes an excellent surgical nurse, assisting the brilliant surgeon Thomas Stone.  When she goes into labor (having hid her pregnancy for 9 months from everyone including the father, Stone) things go terribly wrong.   The nun dies, Stone flees in horror and the identical twin babies boys, Marion and Shiva, rescued from almost certain death, are raised by an Indian obstetrician, Hema and her fellow doctor, Ghosh, whom she marries and who raises the boys as his own sons.

The first half of the novel concerns the boys growing up the hospital, displaying brilliant abilities to learn medicine as they are coming to maturity during the days of Emperor Haile Selasse.  The books offers an in-depth look at the practice of medicine and the revolutions taking place in Ethiopia.   A pivotal moment occurs midway through the book which causes a rift between the two brothers and ultimately ends up with Marion fleeing the country in fear of his life, his immigration to the United States, and finding his place in a poor hospital in New York.   By this point, I was so hooked, I had to take the day off to read until I'd finished the book. 

The book is alive with the sights, sounds, and smells of Ethiopia, of family, of love and betrayal, of life and death and eventual redemption under tragic circumstances.  Along the way I got a full education on the condition of women in Africa who suffer from fistula, and the relationship between high class modern hospitals and their poor counterparts in this country.  The characters are all well drawn and we know them well, even the least of them.  The writing was a delight to read.  I highly recommend this book.

Girl Cook by Hannah McCouch   [LOGOS]
I'm almost embarrassed to write a review of this book, which may have been the most lightweight of all the books I've read at Logos, but I just kind of grabbed the first right-sized book that looked llike I could finish it.  The Amazon synopsis tells it all:

Layla Mitchner is a twenty-eight-year-old Cordon Bleu graduate trying to carve out a space for herself in the fast-paced, high-pressure world of Manhattan’s top restaurant kitchens. She knows she’s got the talent to be a great chef, but there she is slaving for a misogynistic boss who’d sooner promote the dishwasher than give a woman the chance to prove her sous-chef mettle. And while Layla knows that the dwindling balance in her bank account won’t begin to cover what she owes her roommate, she’s desperate not to seek help from her self-absorbed, serially divorced, soap-opera-actress mother.

Her romantic prospects seem no brighter. She gets set up with a nice enough guy, but his tassel loafers and corporate demeanor reek of the WASP aristocracy she’s determined to leave behind. After continuously striking out, she meets a musician who appears to be the bohemian Mr. Right of her dreams, only to find he may be more deadbeat than heartthrob. But Layla refuses to settle for anything short of true love and success, and she ultimately finds both where she least expects them.

It wasn't unpleasant, it wasn't challenging.   I finished it with an hour and a half to spare.  Next time I'll choose something meatier.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion    [LOGOS]
There are two primary topics in this book--grief at the loss of her daughter (and to some extent her husband, though she covered that in her book "A Year of Magical Thinking") and as a 75 year old, awareness of her own aging/fragility and how to cope.

Midway through the book I had a mental picture of the inspiration for the writing.  I envisioned her sitting there with all of her memories of her daughter, the good, the bad, her insecurities about parenting, her daughter's long dying process, pictures of her as a child, etc. all being poured in snippets over her head in very slow motion and out of that waterfall came this book.   It is almost painfully personal and anyone who has lost a child will instantly identify.

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
This is a departure from Baldacci's usual spy/suspense fare, though there are a few elements of suspense in it.   Tom Langdon, a former war correspondent who has tired of the danger and travel and has been spending his time writing fluff pieces for magazines like House and Garden and Ladies Home Companion.  After an altercation at an airport security line, he has been banned on all domestic flights for a year and so if he wants to see his bicoastal girlfriend in Los Angeles, he will have to take the train from DC.  In truth, he's not sure how he feels about Leila, but his distant relative Mark Twain was always going to write about his experiences riding the rails across the country and Tom long ago made a promise to his now dead father that he would do what Twain never did.

The train is peopled by unforgettable characters, starting with the big time Hollywood movie director and his entourage (which just happens to include the love of Tom's life, Eleanor Carter, whose loss he has mourned lo these many years).  There is the elderly priest, the couple running away from disapproving families to get married, the lonely woman who rides the rails all the time, especially at Christmas, because she is estranged from her daughter, the attorney who is out to sue anybody who makes him angry, and a train crew so delightful you just hope they are on your next train.

Christmas and a threatening storm are approaching, someone is pilfering things from people's compartments, and sparks fly whenever Tom and Eleanore have to be together. 

There is also a surprise ending which I did not see coming.

Dear Professor Einstein by Alice Calaprice    [LOGOS]
Fun, short read which included two brief biography of Einstein, by different authors, with different emphasis, but repeating the same information. Who knew that he had problems with math and had to ask famous mathematicians to help create the formulas for his relativity theory, or that E=mc2 was originally L=mc2 (though that is never explained). The fun part, though, is the letters to and from children, for whom the scientist obviously had a particular fondness.  Again, in the comments on the letters, Calaprice repeats, again, information.  There seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the letters chosen and it was frustrating because some children's letters have responses from Einstein, others do not and there is no explanation of why or why not.  One child's letter, for example, thanks him for his previous letter, but that letter is not included.  I think a more interesting book would have been a book of replies from Einstein, and the letters that sparked them.

This book could have used an editor, but for what it was, I enjoyed it.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
This book is in the running for worst book I've read all year--and it's only March.  Heroine Anastasia Steele has the dubious honor of being the most annoying heroine since Bella Swan.  I read this because an interview with the author made me curious about the controversy.  In truth it started out all right--for the kind of book that it is.  But it became boring, repetitive, juvenile (in a warped sort of way), whiny and completely uninteresting.  I completed it because I was wondering how it was going to end, but the longer it went on the worse it got.  I understand there is a much-needed sequel.  I shall not read it.

Simple Genius by David Baldacci
This is the third or fourth in the adventures of Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, ex Secret Service Agents, now working together in their own detective agency.  I made the mistake of starting this before I had read the previous book, "Hour Game," and I didn't have a clue why Michell has a mini psychotic break at the start of the book.  I finally stopped reading it and went and read "Hour Game."   It's not that you can't understand this book without reading "Hour Game," but I kept asking myself "what the hell happened to her in that book?"   By the second of third chapter, it's not really important, but I was glad to have read "Hour Game" before I went back to "Simple Genius."

Michelle commits herself to a psychiatric facility after her break and the cost of her medicial expenses empties their bank account, so Sean accepts a job from former girlfriend, that of investigating the death of the brilliant mathematician Monk Turing, on the staff of a high-tech think tank.  Turing's body is discovered inside the fence of Camp Peary, the secret CIA facility.  Authorities rule Turin's death suicide, but others aren't so sure.  As things progress, and  the bodies pile up, it's pretty clear that Turing was also murdered.  His brillliant, but strange 11 year old daughter Viggie (who may have Aspergers) seems to hold the key to solving the mystery, but she isn't talking.

All in all, another page turner from David Baldacci.

Yosemite: The first 100 Years by Shirley Sergant   [LOGOS]
This is the kind of book that I would be likely to pick up for the pictures but never read the content.  But I did read the content (since I still had 3 hours to kill and what a fascinating book it was, from the early Indian inhabitants to the deplorable destruction of the Indian culture and the park itself by the first white inhabitants, to its years under the supervision of the Army.  Turns out Abraham Lincoln was the first to envision saving places like Yosemite by signing a bill that made this come under the supervision of the state of California (paving the way for Teddy Roosevelt to make Yellowstone the first national park).  There is a history of the Bracebridge dinners that so many of my friends have been involved with, the story of Camp Curry, where we have stayed so many times.  Just a wealth of fascinating information.   I'm gladI read it.

Griffin and Sabine (a trilogy) by Nick Bantock  [LOGOS]
I'd seen "Griffin and Sabine" forever but had never read it, nor did I know it was actually a trilogy.  Griffin is an artist living in England who receives a mysterious postcard from Sabine, who lives on the other side of the world.  Through postcards and letters (nice touch having the letters be in envelopes that the reader removes, unfolds, and reads), a friendship and then a love relationship develops and deepens.  Over this and the following two books, we watch the two attempt to meet and follow the relationship to its conclusion.  A very unusual set of books, but for anybody who is a letter writer, simply deilghtful

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Yes, everybody reads this book in high school...unless you went to a Catholic girls' high school.  I can't imagine any of my teachers discussing this story of Holden Caulfield in class.  At one point I decided that if Ferris Bueller had been suffering from depression, this is the kind of week off he might have had (Ferris only had a day, Holden had a week).  Themes of teen age angst, alienation, isolation, confusion, depression.  I haven't read any of the cliff notes or voluminous discussions about this book, but what was very clear to me was that Holden, the privileged of wealthy yet uninvolved parents never resolved his grief following his beloved brother's death.   It's no wonder he has abandonment issues.  We watch his continuing downhill slide, involving flunking out of school, being on his own in his hometown (New York), drinking in bars that will serve underage drinkers, hiring a prostitute, alienating most of the people he comes in contact with...and ending up in the mental hospital where he is dictating his story.

I'm glad I read it.  It was totally not like anything that I had thought it would be.  I'm not sure this is a book you "enjoy," but it definitely makes an impact

Bizarre World by Bill Bryson    [LOGOS]
This was the first real "comedy" book I'd seen by Bryson.  A very short collection of articles that would work well in News of the Weird.  A couple of examples:  "In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a sixteen year old youth was charged with beating up his fifteen year old wife after the latter hid the caps to his toy pistol." and "A man who shovelled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned to his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space.   Understandably, he shot her."  Many incidents are longer, but the whole thing was just a fun, quick read.

A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters  [LOGOS}
Here are 3 stories about the 12-century Benedictine monk, Brother Cadfael.  I loved the TV series with Derek Jacobi as Cadfael. The first story is more of a back-story, telling how Cadfael came to be living in the monestary at Shrewsbury.  The second story concerns the theft of ornate silver candlesticks and the violent aftermath of rent collection.  In all Cadfael is wise and good and gentle and always finds solutions to the thorniest problems!

Love, Loss and What I Wore by Ilene Beckerman   [LOGOS]
I had a bit of time left over after the Berg book, so I read through this book that has been around for awhile.  This is a book I cannot relate to AT ALL.  Author Beckerman sketches and describes all the significant dresses she wore at various points in her life, from Brownie uniforms to wedding dresses, to things she bought after her divorce.  Along with the outfits, we get a good, if sketchy, view of what life was a like for a girl who lost her mother too early, whose father left her upbringing to her grandparents, who married badly (twice), who buried a child, and eventually became her own woman.  Interesting vehicle for a life story.

If I had to put together a book like this there is no way I could have remembered this many outfits if I tried.  I'm lucky to remember my wedding dress.

Until the Real Thing Comes Along by Elizabeth Berg  [LOGOS]
What if you got everything you thought you wanted?  Real estate agent Patty Murphy's biological clock is ticking loudly.  She's in her mid-30s, unmarried, desperately wants a baby and can't find "Mr. Right" because she's still in love with her lifelong friend, Ethan, who just happens to be gay.  After some disasterous blind dates, leaving her depressed and frustrated, she finally convinces Ethan to impregnate her and they are off on her dreamed-of scenario.  Ethan becomes so involved with the pregnancy that he decides they should relocate and he will try being straight.   Needless to say all sorts of things don't work out and in the meantime, Patty's father has bad news about her mother.

I read this book at the book store on Valentine's Day.  I had hoped to find a Harlquin Romance because I've never read one and I figured a good bodice-ripper would be just the thing for Valentine's Day, but the book store probably has better taste.   This was a compromise...and filled the bill.  I also discovered Berg has written a whole bunch of books.  I might try some others sometime, because I enjoyed this little light-weight story.

Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford
I saw a brief news report from Scarborough Country about this book today.   This is not a program I regularly watch, so I don't know who the woman is on it, but while Joe Scarborough and Chris Matthews talked about the book, this woman looked like she had just swallowed something disgusting and kept making dismissive gestures as if the whole topic was so distasteful she didn't want to be involved with it.

Well...I ordered Alford's book about her youthful affair with JFK and I understand why she wrote the book.  You have to imagine the time in which she came to the White House as an intern, and what her upbringing had been.  Then imagine her affair with the most powerful man in the world, who essentially raped her (though she says it was consensual), but for whom, over their 18 month affair, she had very fond feelings.

Her confession to her fiance, on the eve of Kennedy's assassination, of the affair set the tone for their marriage which, inevitably ended in divorce.  She might have kept her secret forever had not she read some comments about her (not mentioned by name) in a book about JFK and then discovered the tabloids digging for more information about her, and printing erroneous things.  I see that she wrote this  book to set the record straight and to cleanse herself of the effects of her affair.

This is not a salacious book.  Things are handled in a very dignified, tasteful manner.  The interesting part (a backstage glance at life in the White House during the Kennedy administration) peters out after the assassination, though it is painful to see how this 18 month period in the life of a 19 year old girl took so many years to come to terms with.  I hope that the woman on Scarborough Country actually reads the book, preferably with an open mind.  I think she would be surprised.

Hour Game by David Baldacci
Lemme tell you...this book has more characters and more murders than you can shake a stick at.  Let's just say, it is not a good thing to be a member of the Bobby Battle family or to live in Wrightsburg, VA!  A serial killer begins copying famous other serial killers, and leaving clues at each of his kills, each of which represents the signature of the likes of John Wayne Gacy and the Zodiac killer.  Former Secret Servant agents, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell (introduced in "Split Second"), who now are partners in a detective agency, are hot on the trail of the murderer...or murderers.  This is an action-packed story which does not let up until the end.   Another Baldacci winner.

The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett     [LOGOS}
This is actually two short-ish stories, the second one being "The Lady in the Van."  The first is fiction, the second is true.  Both were written by British playwright Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George) and both examine the subject of "possessions" and their importance in our lives.  The first story tells of the Ransomes, who return home from a night out to discover that their apartment has been burgled.  Not only has it been burgled, the thieves stripped it of everything, down to the toilet paper and lightbulbs.  The story makes you think about what would happen if you lost literally EVERYTHING and had to start from scratch.

The second (true) story concerns an eccentric woman who, for reasons that are never explained) parked her van, in which she lived, in the author's  driveway for more than fifteen years.  The van is stuffed with the possessions of a lifetime and over time became a health hazard, as it had no bathroom and Miss Shepherd's ways of dealing with that were not always the most sanitary, especially as she got older.   Some have called this one of the funniest stories ever written, but I didn't find much humor in it; rather I found it an interesting, if rather odd, look at a very strange woman and her relationship with the world around her.

Nowhere Man by David Gerrold
In inviting people on Facebook to read this young people's story, David wrote, "If you want to see how I took "revenge" on a junior high school bully, go over to Amazon and download "Nowhere Man." Part of it is based on real events. Sometimes it takes half a century to figure out how to get even...."

While he admits that it is a young people's book, I think it belongs on the shelves of a young people's Mensa library.  It is riddled with so much techno talk that I was unable to follow that part of it, though I did enjoy the story and how young "Squish," a teen age misfit, finds a way to get even with his nemesis.  It's kind of "The Man Who Folded Himself" updated...sort of. 

There is a section where Squish describes the outdated computer programs that were cleaned out of a room at his cousin's house...I pictured David sitting in his own office and just reading off the programs piled up on his shelves.  TapCIS?  Who remembers TapCIS, for heavens sake!  And if you want to know what you can do to make the best use of a brick, this is the book for you!

Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss     [LOGOS]
Lynn Truss is the author of the wildly popular "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," that book about punctuation and grammar.  "Talk to the Hand" takes on the subject of civility and how we have lost it and become a rude society in general.   Given her previous book, then, I found it odd that she writes (twice) the phrase "....bigger than me" in one of the chapters.  Shouldn't that be "...bigger than I" ?

The subtitle for this book is "The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door." Her purpose is not to become the new manners maven, but to point out how we have lost civility through things like social medial, cell phones, voice mail hell, off shore telephone operators, etc.   It is amusing, but also kind of depressing because I remember when people still said "thank you" and "please" and where nobody went around with a T-shirt that says "eff-off" (she uses "eff" a lot in this book!)

Akubra is Austrian for Hat by Grenville Turner     [LOGOS]
I suppose it's kind of cheating to say I "read" this book.  It's mostly a photo book of various styles of Australian hats and the men (and few women) who wear them.   While it covers the history of the Akubra, and how the scourge of the rabbits brought in by Europeans is responsible for the making of the first akubra, it is mostly very nice photos of the people who wear them -- station hands, property owners, roustabouts, trappers, shooters, and soldiers, to mention a few.  Each photo is identified by the name of the wearer and what he has to say about his akubra.  This is a book I "read" while working at the book store--and never would have picked up, if I hadn't been working in a book store...but it was, in all honesty, fascinating!

The Making of the African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Houston and almost Lost My Mind by Katharine Hepburn     [LOGOS]
This book is like sitting down and having tea with Hepburn and listening to her stories.   Lots of photos, Hepburn's unique style of speaking clearly comes through in this candid memoir of a movie she made 30 years before the publication of this book.  Give a good glimpse of the personalities behind the Bogarts, John Houston and a little bit of Robert Morley, an historical look at Africa in the 1950s (and who remembers that there were once sleeping berths on airplanes?).  Just a fun, short read.

Murder Takes the Cake by Gayle Trent
Oh my...what a lightweight!  This is the first of the "Daphne Reynolds Cake Mysteries" and was more a lesson in cake decorating than a murdery mystery.   Daphne has returned home to a small town where it seems that everybody knows everything about everybody and they are all eager to share it with a total stranger.   Delivery of a cake to Yodel Watson's house (doesn't then name scream "Mayberry"?) she finds the customer dead.  Investigation shows that she was murdered and everybody thinks it was by Daphne's cake, though she was dead when the cake was delivered.  In comes a love interest, intrigue, investigation and all sorts of totally unbelievable situations that I couldn't wait to get to the end of this book, just because I don't like not finishing books.  I won't be following the further adventures of Daphne in future books.  Oh yeah--and the back part of the book is filled with recipes, just in case you haven't learned how to decorate a cake by reading the exhaustive descriptions throughout the story (and I'm a cake decorator!)

Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen
This is Gerritsen in her pre-Rizzoli and Isles days.  It is Gerritsen not quite sure if she wants to be a romance writer or a writer of medical thrillers (fortunately for us, she went in the thriller direction!).  Interestingly, I "read" this book as an audio book and there is an attached interview with Gerritsen at the end.   Throughout this book, I kept comparing it to Nancy Drew mysteries -- it's rather lightweight, but still gripping.  The interviewer asks her if she had been influenced by Nancy Drew as a girl and she acknowledges that she was very influenced by the young teenage detective.

This book, which is a republished, re-named early novel called "Peggy Sue Got Murdered," follows medical examiner Kat Novak, trying to track down the cause of some mysterious deaths, which she gradually comes to believe are caused by some bad drugs leaked from a local drug lab.  Along the way there is a romantic entanglement with the guy who runs the lab, his hunt for his lost daughter, a few more murders, and a solution which involves someone much too close to Kat.

She describes this as her "crossover novel," which takes her out of the realm of romance and into the realm of mystery...and aren't we all so glad for it!

Books read in 2011
Books read in 2010
Books read in 2009
Books read in 2008
Books read in 2007
Books read in 2006