Books Read in 2015

Books marked "LOGOS" are books I read in the
book store on the day I work

Carol or The Price of Salt by Patricia Hightower
I decided to read this book because I kept getting pop up ads for it and a new movie has been making some buzz, but I had some problems with it because the plot seemed so improbable, the characters unbelievable, and at one point I had to check to see if it was really adult fiction or whether it was written for young adults.  That's when I discovered it was actually published in 1952, and is actually considered a landmark in Lesbian romance books, "fully realized characters who defy stereotypes about homosexuality marks a departure from previous lesbian pulp fiction."  That explained a lot. 

Therese is 19, living on her own in New York and working Christmas in a department store while trying to get a job as a set designer for a Broadway (or off-Broadway) show.  She sees Carol off in the distance and becomes instantly obsessed with her, to the point where even before they have their first conversation, she is in love with her.  What follows very quickly over the next several months is a relationship which changes both of them forever.  The overriding thing about this book, though, is realizing how far we have come since the 1950s, when the relationship between two people of the same gender, should it become known, could ruin their lives forever.

There is also a lot more smoking and drinking hard liquor than I suspect you would see in a book today, especially considering that the heroine is only 19.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
One of the New York Times best books of the year, winner of the Book Critics Circle for fiction, an NPR "Great Reads" book and lots more accolades for this book, which tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze, born in Nigeria and school sweethearts.  Their lives take a different turn when Ifemelu goes to New York and discovers "race" for the first time.  A terrible encounter makes her embarrassed to continue contact with Obinze and it is 15 years before they meet again in Nigeria, where Obinze is now married and the father of a little girl.  This book is often an eye-opener to a white person, learning about an African's view of race in this country.  I also learned more about African hair than I ever knew before.

A Dignfied Life by Virginia Bell, MSW & David Troxel, MPH
This book is subtitled "The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer's Care, a Gide for Family Caregivers" and takes a different approach to caring for loved ones with Alzheimers and Dementia, with many suggestions for how to let go of the role of spouse or child or instead just act as if you were best friends, finding ways to engage your loved one in life.  Sadly, my mother has become so reclusive that I doubt most of the suggestions would work with her.

Shake Hands Forever by Ruth Rendell  [Logos]
Chronologically, this comes about midway through the Inspector Wexford series.  The crime this time is the murder of Angela Hathall, who was found by her mother-in-law, lying on her (Angela's) bed, strangled.  There are almost no clues, the place was been wiped clean. there is no murder weapon and the husband has an iron-clad alibi.  As the investigation progresses (or doesn't),  leads grow cold.  Wexford is convinced that the husband and some other person conspired to kill her, but that doesn't match what his boss thinks and Wexford has been ordered to leave Hathall alone.  The dogged detective manages to continue the investigation long after everyone has relegated it to the cold case file, and the ultimate solution is one that nobody would ever have guessed.  But it does keep the pages turning crisply until the murder is solved!

Promise Me by Harlan Coben
There are six years between Coben's last Myron Bolitar book and this one and I think he was a little rough on what made those books so good.  Sadly, I "read" this one as I have done all of his other books, as an audio book and Coben decided to read it himself.  I learned awhile ago that an author should never read his own work.  He's a terrible narrator!  Not only that, but the story is overly long, though ultimately gripping.  Myron makes a young daughter of a friend of his promise that she will call him if she's ever in trouble and he will come, no matter when or where.  When she holds him to that promise in the middle of the night it sparks an adventure that lasts far too long.  The most unbelievable part of this is the hatred the police hold for Myron and how, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are convinced he has killed the girl.  How he ends up working with them and they ignoring all of their mistreatment of him is still a mystery, unaddressed by Coben in his book.  I give most of the Bolitar books 5 stars, this one gets barely 3.  And I miss the voice of Win Lockwood.  Coben does a TERRIBLE Win.

Santa Paws by Nicholas Edwards [Logos]
This was a young people's book (ages 9-12) that I picked up to see if it might be good for Brianna, who is starting to read chapter boosk, and decided it was a little too old for her, but I ended up reading all of the story of a young puppy on his own, looking for a home, and along the way saving all sorts of people.  Kind of a "Lassie Come Home" sort of story.  Lesson learned: don't ever read a tear jerker while working in the book store!  Very embarrassing!

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben
I started reading this book and it sounded kind of familiar, but lots of it I swear I'd never heard before.  Then I found out I had read it earlier this year (review below) and Walt tells me that he had heard it too and that I slept through a lot of it, so that's why I didn't remember lots of it.  But now I've read the whole thing.

Not my Father's Son by Alan Cumming
I can't think of a biography I have ever read that has moved me to this extent.  I'm not necessarily a fan of Alan Cumming, though I think he is a fine actor, but I heard his book was good--and I do love a good book.  My word.  Probably better as an audio book, as I listened to it.  The extent of physical and mental abuse he and his brother endured at the hands of his father was unfathomable.  My childhood can't even begin to compare with Cumming's, but the emotional scars from my own father are still there and I found I was brought to tears by many things in this book that probably nobody else would even think about.

The book centers on Cumming's search for information about his maternal grandfather, Tommy Darling, through the program "Who Do You Think You Are?" and so the various segments take the reader into the past and then into the present and back again as his childhood memories enter into his search for Darling.  It is not a read for the faint of heart, but so riveting, I finished the last 3 hours sitting in my house with earphones on, since I couldn't wait for a 3 hour automobile ride to hear how it all ended.

(A bonus was an inside look at how "Who Do You Think You Are" is actually filmed)

MEMORABLE QUOTE:  "Memory is so subjective. We all remember in a visceral, emotional way, and so even if we agree on the facts — what was said, what happened where and when — what we take away and store from a moment, what we feel about it, can vary radically."

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
It is 1922 and in an older house outside of London, the widow Mrs. Wray and her daughter Frances try to keep things together, keep the house up, and continue to pay the bills left by the late Mr. Wray on his death. They no longer have servants, but Frances does all the work around the house, still they are falling further and further behind.

To bring in a little money, they decide to take in paying lodgers. Enter the Barbers, Leonard and his wife Lillian. They turn the Wray house upside down, first just by just the chaos of their being there and then, as the story progresses (Waters writes a great narrative), the story goes from a period drama to love story, to crime drama that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to get to the end. It's the sort of book where you wish you could re-visit the characters 6 months after the story ends.

The Escape by David Baldacci
In Book 3 of the John Puller series, Puller's brother, Robert, is in the most secure maximum security prison in the United States, convicted of treason and national security crimes.  From this "impossible to escape" prison, Robert manages to escape, leaving behind a dead man in his prison cell. His brother is tasked with the job of finding him and bringing him back to prison.

However, in the world of David Baldacci, things are seldom what they seem and it turns out that there are others who want Robert dead and as he looks into the circumstances of his brother's incarceration, Puller begins to realize that he was framed and that the guilty people are trying to kill him to prevent the truth from getting out.

With all the twists and turns that one expects from Baldacci, this is a thrill ride from start to finish.

Angry Optimist by Lisa Rogak
Subtitled, "The Life and Times of Jon Stewart," this book is just that -- Stewart's story from his New Jersey childhood through his years trying to hone his craft as a stand up comedian, to his short-lived and unimpressive movie career,  to the phenomenal success of The Daily Show, updated to 2014 and his announcement to leave the show and naming of the new host of the show.  Gives a great in depth look at how The Daily Show is put together, and a perhaps not surprising look at the off-stage Stewart, who is not as affable as his on-screen persona, yet who could blame him? The kind of fame he has achieved has got to be a heavy mantle to wear 24/7.  I chose to read this because I was still in "grief mode" following his final Daily Show appearance!

Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey by Emma Rowley  [Logos]
Not exactly a "must read" but a "should read" for anybody who is a fan of the TV show.  Liberally laced with gorgeous color photos, this book gives the lowdown on how the show was conceived, the writing process, and lots of backstage looks at how it is shot, both at Highclere Castle and at Ealing Studios in London.  Lots of tidbits about the actors and their characters and the plot lines.  Just a delight from start to finish.

A Good Year by Peter Mayle  [Logos]
I have become a fan of Peter Mayle's stories of the wines, the people and the food of Province, whether based on his own experiences or, like this one, a work of fiction. Max Skinner, thinks he's got it made at a financial office in London, but unexpectedly loses his job and finds himself out of work, out of a car, out of money and out of hope. In the nick of time comes a letter from the attorney handling his uncle's estate that he has inherited a vineyard in the south of France, and the house that is attached. His friend loans him the money to travel to Provence to check things out.

This was a delightful voyage of discovery peppered with unforgettable characters, some nefarious, some not. It gives a good picture of the life in a small French town, and takes the reader into the world of French wines. A review I read said "It is a light, funny and charming novel to be read between two heavy, serious and demanding books," which is precisely what I was looking for--and it filled the bill nicely.  A quick read, but lots of fun...and makes me want to fly to Province and have a meal...any meal...anywhere.

Good Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton  [Logos]
I chose this 1934 classic to read at the book store today.  A sweet, gentle story about a schoolmaster who spent his whole career at a good, but not top boys' school.  He never won prizes or acclaim. All he did was shape the lives of generations of boys and become a beloved school institution.  A quiet, gentle read, but excellent.

11/22/63 by Stephen King
I thought I knew three things about this book before I started it:  (1) somebody time travels back to 1963 to attempt to kill Lee Harvey Oswald and change the course of history, (2) obviously he doesn't succeed (since we are still in post-Kennedy assassination time), and (3) he makes it back to the present day because he was able to write a book about his experiences.  I am not a Stephen King fan, but had heard good things about this 866 page book, which some feel is his greatest work. It definitely has none of the creepy supernatural stuff for which King is most noted.  I ordered the audio book and it has been sitting on my iPod for about 2 years now.  I finally decided to read it.

Oh. my. word.  What a wonderful book.  Jake Epping, a high school teacher in Maine, is introduced to a "rabbit hole" by his friend Al, who had stumbled on it accidentally.  It leads back to 1958 and Al has been using it for years to buy prime beef at 1958 prices for his 2012 burger joint.  But he got the idea that he could use the time travel to save Kennedy, but he is dying and he knows he won't be able to do it himself, so he gives the task to Jake.  The little catch with being able to travel back to 1958 is that if you change anything and then return to 2012, if you go back again, it's like a reset.  Anything you changed on a previous visit will be as it was before you changed it.

With that in mind and during three trips to the past, Jake (in his alias as George Amberson) changes some bad things that happened in the past for people he knows in the present, but he ultimately has to live in the past for several years, until 1963, before he can be certain that killing Oswald is the right thing to do (because he became convinced that Oswald was the lone gunman).

His experiences in the past, the resistance by the past to change, and many harrowing heart-thumping experiences make this a gripping story with an ending I never saw coming.  Highly recommended.

When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold   [Logos]
Ever since I started working at the book store, I check the shelves each week to see if there are any donated David Gerrold books.  I have all of his books, but I'm always curious to see if any show up on the shelves.  Last week HARLIE showed up.  I hadn't read it in many years, so I made that my book to read while working.   It was when the psychiatrist David Auberson started explaining this new concept of "computer VIRUS" to his co-worker that I checked to see when it was published:  1972, two years before Bill Gates founded Microsoft, when Walt was learning FORTRAN and I was convinced I would never be able to learn to use a computer.  So much of this book needs to be viewed from an historical viewpoint. 

H.A.R.L.I.E. (Human Analog Replication Life Input Equivalent) is an early form of artificial intelligence.  HARLIE is a human brain, the most intelligent in the world with the power to design a G.O.D. machine, which will pretty much take over the world, but benevolently.  Only for good.  It will solve all of the world's problems.  There's a lot of tech in here, but it's more than strictly a lesson in technology.  HARLIE is perhaps his creator's (Auberson) best friend.  They have very long philosophical discussions about things like the meaning of life and how you know you're in love, a sensation HARLIE can't experience because he has no sense of touch or feeling.

The plot concerns the owners of the company which owns HARLIE who feel he is a drain on resources and want to shut him down.  Can Auberson and HARLIE prove that the computer can have financial worth before they pull the plug.  And is HARLIE capable of deception if necessary to save his life?

What I love about all of David's books his his eloquent language and his ridiculous jokes and puns.  Everything he writes has a bit of tongue in cheek about it.  This book was updated in 1988 to "Release 2.0" but I have not read that one.

A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle   [Logos]
This is the book Marley could have written if he were as educated as "Boy." Boy (Mayle's real life dog) tells it all from his abusive puppyhood to his rescue by "madame," his adapting to the house, learning the rules, and his observations on those weird humans.  (The chapters on "The Joy of Balls" and "By Their Smell Shall You Know Them" are particularly funny.) With illustrations by Edward Koren, this book is just delightful, as is the final sentence:  "To err is human, to forgive canine."

My Roller Coaster Ride with Sallie: An Alzheimers Story by Judy J. Harritan
Someone recommended this 37 page book to me saying she thought it might help.  It is the author's journey through her mother's last years with Alzheimers/Dementia. It is not a particularly well written book, but definitely from the heart and to exorcize demons.  I identified with just about everything she wrote (except the end, of course, since we are not there yet!) and it is always comforting to read that others are walking the same path, having the same frustrations, and feeling the same conflicted emotions.

Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly
The hero of this book is Henry Pierce, a scientist whose company is about to patent an invention that is going to change the world. But the new phone number he got when he moved to his new apartment turns out to have belonged, formerly, to a female "escort" who seems to have disappeared under suspicious circumstances. (It was near the end of this book when I realized that all Pierce's troubles could have been avoided if he'd just made an outgoing message on his new telephone in Chapter 1.)

Like the Cary Grant character in North by Northwest, Pierce is an innocent man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything he does seems to implicate him in the murder of this call girl. There's a lot of science and technical stuff but the unraveling mystery of what happened to Lilly Quinlan and why people seem to be setting him up kept me reading all afternoon until I finished it!

It wasn't until I went to add this to my Good Reads list of books that I realized I read this in 2011.  I don't remember a THING about reading it then!  At no point in the book did I think "gee...this sounds familiar..."

The Martian by Andy Weir
I might not have finished this book were it not a choice for our book club.  It is so incredibly technical and I probably could not follow 80% of it, but Weir is such a compelling writer, who nicely balances the technical with the personal that it made me keep going. 

Mark Watney was a member of the first manned voyage to Mars, but while the crew is on the surface of the planet, a terrible storm comes up and they have to leave NOW or they will never get off.  Five of the crew see Mark lying face down on the ground after being struck in the head and assume he is dead.  The commander tries to go back for him, but it is imperative they leave immediately, so they leave his body behind.

But he isn't dead.  The book describes his year and a half on Mars, how NASA comes to realize that he is alive, and the attempt to rescue him, no little thing since it takes 3 years to get there and he will be out of food long before they can come for him.  His ingenuity in making water and growing potatoes (the only two processes that I could really understand) was incredible.  All I can say is that Weir must have spent a very long time researching his subject in order to write so believably about it.

I'm glad I stuck with it and during the final quarter of the book, all I could think of is that someone is going to make a movie out of this (then found out that someone has and it opens soon)

Of All the Gin Joints by Mark Bailey
This is a perfect bathroom book!  Each "chapter" is 1-2 pages long and it chronicles the drinking history and debauchery of I swear everyone in Hollywood in the entire history of the movie industry. Reading this it is amazing to me that so many wonderful movies got made, given how drunk or drugged the stars or directors were during the shooting! They actually scheduled drug runs for Dennis Hopper on one of his movies, knowing that he would be drugged, so scheduled time for it.  Ironically, the star who seems to come across as the most sober in this book is the famously inebriated Dean Martin. This book starts with Fatty Arbuckle in the silent era and ends with Natalie Wood. 

In addition to all those fun scandals, there are also recipes for their favorite way to get blotto and the history of the watering holes where they got them (most of them long since closed, but it lets you know which ones are still running).

It's taken me about a year to get through this book, one chapter per trip to the bathroom.  I'm sorry I finished it.  What am I going to read in the bathroom now?

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
This is the sequel to "The Rosie Project," which I read earlier for book club.  We all enjoyed that book so much we wanted to read the sequel but I fear that reading it this soon after the first book was too much.  Don Tillman, the professor with Asperger's Syndrome, has now married Rosie and the two are living in an apartment in New York while she works on her PhD and getting into medical school and Don continues to teach.  Then Rosie becomes pregnant and everything changes.  Don researches and tries to make this the perfect pregnancy and it just got to be .. too much.  While he does not have the inflated ego of Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory) he is annoying on almost every page, until about the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the book when I started to enjoy it.  Can pregnancy withstand Don's management, and will Rosie ever see him as father material, or should she just go home to Australia and raise the child on her own?

Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle [Logos]
This guy must be a great salesman.  He got his publisher to finance an exploration of the world's most expensive London tailored suits, Havana cigars, hand made shoes and hats, the best hotels and restaurants, expensive wines, champagnes and other liquors.  Then he wrote about them.  A chance for the rest of us to find out how the other half lives, things 99.9% of us will never experience.  But fun to live vicariously!  My favorite chapter, though, was the only about the experience of being a writer.  I identified!

Room by Emma Donoghue
If I had not read this as an audio book, I'm not sure I would have finished it, but voice of Michal Friedman (who, sadly, died in 2011 during a cesarean to deliver her twins) was so perfect as 5 year old Jack that I had to stick with it to see how it turns out.

This is the story of Jack and his Ma. It begins on Jack's 5th birthday and we learn that the two are locked in an 11' x 11' room and are being held prisoner by "Old Nick." We later learn that Nick kidnapped "Ma" at age 19 and she has been held ever since. Jack, being only 5, has never known anything but 'Room' and has no concept of "outside" Ma keeps life as normal for him as she can. They read the 5 books Nick has let him have, he gets to watch TV but believes that everything that happens on TV is pretend because he has never seen any grass or trees or other people. He's a happy child and Ma shields him from Old Nick by making him sleep in a wardrobe so he is out of sight when Old Nick comes in to rape her at night. There is a sweetness in the terror of this picture because we see it all through Jack's eyes, and to Jack everything is normal and this is how life is supposed to be.

Eventually Ma concocts a plot to escape, which will involve Jack being very brave. He is, and the plan is successful and sets things up for the second part of the book--how Ma re-integrates back into the society she left seven years before and tries to put her ordeal behind her, and how Jack learns about real life "outside" and begins to adapt to it. He knows nothing of the real world. He has never talked to or touched anyone other than Ma. He has never met other children and doesn't have a clue how to make friends. He has never seen steps before so doesn't know how to walk up or down them, etc.

While his voyage of discovery is interesting, it is in the second part of the book that Donoghue's writing falters. While the ending was perfect, in between there were so many things that tested our suspension of disbelief. Jack is a precocious child, but his command of complicated language is unbelievable, his grandmother's reaction to him is totally unbelievable, as is that of his uncle's wife, who expects Jack to behave as any normal child when confronting a mall for the first time.

Had I read this as a real book, I think I might have given up because Jack's childish method of speaking might grow tiresome, but thanks to narrator Friedman, I'm glad I stuck with it to the end.

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben
Myron learns that the 13 year old son of his former girlfriend is going to die without a bone marrow transplant.  He also learns that he is the boy's father, a child conceived the night before her wedding to his former basketball rival, Greg Downing.  Myron is not a match, but he reluctantly agrees to find the man who is.  What he finds leads him to a powerful family determined to keep an old secret, a disgraced reporter who may have plagiarized a novel to create a serial killer, a very interested FBI agent, and a missing child.

Last Man Standing by David Baldacci
I thought we would never finish this audio book.  We only listen to it on long-ish trips and as it is three files long, it seems as if we have been working on it for months, which we have!

Web London, the top sniper in the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT...which bothers me every time because in medical terms, this means "hormone replacement therapy!), seems to freeze momentarily when his team is ambushed and all are killed, except London.  Also a young boy he saves in the ambush disappears.  Evil forces are determined to finish the job, killing London, and he is determined to find out who is behind the murders of his team and of all the people involved in a school shooting years before...and find the missing boy in the process.  As I said, a long book, but worth it!

The Wicked Stepmother by Tochi Maduba Ejiofor
This is a 69 page young adult book which I read because I had a letter from one of my Compassion girls in Ghana that she was reading it and "learning a lot from it."  I discovered it on Amazon, so downloaded it.  It's the tale of two wives of a man, the one very jealous of the other.  The "nice" wife dies, leaving a young son to whom the "bad" wife becomes stepmother and, in true Stepmother fashion, mistreats him terribly.  Her son, however, is very nice and the two boys are good friends.  When the stepmother becomes afraid that when her husband dies he will leave everything to the motherless son, she decides to kill him and poisons his lunch.  But, since she always gives her own son the good food and that son feels bad about the treatment of his friend, he trades lunches with him and is killed himself (his mother is driven out of the village and eventually goes insane).

The book comes with discussion questions after each of the three chapters and I can see that they would spark some interesting discussion.

The Final Detail by Harlan Coben
After Myron Bolitar's last case got the woman he loved killed, he agreed to make his associate and good friend Esperanza Diaz partner in MB Sports Reps and took off for a deserted island with a woman he just met.  He was there for 3 weeks when best friend, the fabulously wealthy Win Lockwood, showed up to let him know that one of his best clients had been murdered and that Esperanza was being held for his murder. He returns and discovers that the police have an apparently air tight case against Esperanza and that she, her attorney (Hester Crimstein, pronounced Crime-Stine by the audio book reader--one of my favorite character names), the victim's wife, and everyone else want him to stay out of the case.  But that has never stopped Myron before, nor have being beaten and nearly killed.  Esperanza is his friend and confidante and he is determined to find out the real killer.  On the way many surprising things happen, including the discovery that if Esperanza didn't kill him, the only other person who could possibly have done it was Myron himself.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I had a love-hate relationship with this book.  It took me awhile to get into it.  I felt the beginning section dragged on and on following 13 year old Theo on his long walk home from the Metropolitan museum where an explosion had killed his mother.  For reasons he can't explain, when escaping the burning building, he took with him a priceless 17th century Dutch Masterpiece, The Goldfinch, which will feature prominently in the rest of his life.

When after endless days of grieving alone in the apartment where he still somehow hopes his mother will reappear, he is taken in by parents of a friend and starts a temporary life with them, I started getting interested, despite his continuing to wallow in grief and turn to substance abuse to dull the pain of his loss.

When his heretofore absent alcoholic father, who deserted the family years before, shows up and whisks him off to Las Vegas to live with him and his glamour girlfriend, Xandra, it starts the part of the book I hated most, the Las Vegas years (or were they only months and just seemed like years?) spent in a drunken/drug-filled haze with a Ukranian friend, Boris.

His return to New York and the New York years I enjoyed despite the continuing drugs, which aren't so much the focus of the plot at this point until Boris reappears after Theo has established himself in the antique business.  Boris has something shocking to tell him which sets him off kilter and sets the stage for the final section, in Europe with more drinking, more drugs, the addition of a criminal element and a failed suicide attempt.  I guess I sort of liked how it all ended, though as it was already over 700 pages, I was just anxious to finally find out how it was all going to resolve itself, if ever.

There were parts of this book where the writing was so inspiring I wanted to toss it aside, go out and observe life and record it.  It had the same effect on me that John Steinbeck and Pat Conway have.  But it's long.  Very long.  Too long.

Eve's Diary by Mark Twain [Logos]
The diary starts at day #2 of creation and goes through the next 40 years (with big gaps in between....we don't learn about leaving Paradise, for example).  The book is only 109 pages and each page is accompanied by a drawing, all of which are charming (which makes the actual reading part only about 50 pages)

I'll tell ya, for someone only two days old, Eve had a pretty impressive vocabulary!  The book is actually kind of interesting, given that it was written by Mark Twain and must depict his view of women.  Eve is a flibbertigibbet and Adam is a strong, competent man of few words.  Eve sees color and beauty and makes friends with all of the animals (even the dinosaurs).  Adam is the strong silent type who wants to take care of things, build shelter, etc.  Reflects not only Twain's idea of paradise, but also obviously his view of the role of women and men, though the final page, with Adam at her gravesite is touching...the book was written shortly after Twain's wife's death.  He is shown weeping and saying  "Wherever she was, there was Eden."

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker [Logos]
A whole collection of Parker books were donated to the book store when I was working yesterday.  The donor recommended them highly, so I took the first two to read.  This is Book 1, written in about 1973 (before cell phones, iPads, computers...!)  Spenser is a Boston private detective hired by the local university to find a rare manuscript from the Middle Ages that was stolen and is being held for a ransom the university can't possibly pay.

In researching the theft, Spenser uncovers a murder and a young woman whose fingerprints are all over the murder weapon is being held, though she insists that there was a break-in, her boyfriend was murdered by two thugs, she was forced to take some sort of potent drug and that they held her hand on the gun for her to shoot two more bullets into the already dead body, in order to implicate her.

Spenser believes in her innocence and in proving it, he alienates everyone from the University president who first hired him and now bans him from the campus, most of the police force determined to close the case without fully investigating it, and the "mob" is also gunning for him.

  Spenser is described as a "wise-cracking, street-smart detective" and I had to admit that the thought occurred to me that he might have been the inspiration for Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar.

This was a fun first novel and good to find a "new" author to read.  I hear there are 27 Spenser novels, so I have my work cut out for me!

One False Move by Harlan Coben
Myron Bolitar's client this time is Brenda Slaughter, beautiful basketball phenom who doesn't want (or feel she needs) his services or his protection, but she's been getting threatening phone calls, her father is missing, and she wants to find the mother who deserted her when she was 5 years old.  As the two begin to work together things get very complicated, with a candidate for governor who has a squad of hit men in his entourage, a less than savory rival sports rep company with "muscle," a 20 year old death that may have been a murder, and Brenda's sweet little aunt who knows more than she cares to reveal after Brenda's father goes missing.  At the same time Myron's relationship with lover Jessica is hitting a rough patch and his best friend and co-worker Esperanza threatens to walk out if he doesn't make her a partner.  Bodies drop here and there, some with the assistance of Myron's friend, the vicious Win Lockwood, and the end wraps things up kind of neatly, if not entirely to anybody's satisfaction.

Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith  [Logos]
This is #4 in the Ladies #1 Detective Agency series and brings back everyone's favorites -- Precious Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi and Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni.  Mma Ramotswe's detective business is going well.  She has her own house, two adopted children, and a wonderful fiancée, but Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni has not yet set a wedding date, and associate Mma Makutsi is longing for a man and a business of her own.  Plus there is a rival detective agency which has just opened and is proudly boasting of experience and the work that can be best done by a MAN.  But Precious, working in her usual quiet way, manages to fix everything.

A friend told me she had started the first book and couldn't get into it.  I think it takes adapting to the cadence, and the culture of Botswana ("the most beautiful country in the world), put aside all the blood and gore of other crime novels and enjoy the relaxed tempo of this series.  It helps that I saw the first TV series (and wish there were another one in the works, but I guess there is not).

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant geneticist who probably suffers from Aspergers Syndrome.  He has decided it is time to get married and sets about finding a mate scientifically by creating a 16 page questionnaire designed to weed out any women who would not suit him.  He calls it The Wife Project.

Rosie Jarman is all the things he does not want in a wife prospect. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The thing about this book is that it could have been written by The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, so it was fun to picture him while reading it.  A light read, but enjoyable.

How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness by Toni Bernhard
I received an advance copy of this book, which will be published in October, to review.  Toni is the award-wining author of "How to Be Sick" and "How to Wake Up."  In 2001, on a long anticipated trip to Paris with husband Tony, Toni became sick.  She had contracted a virus which, ultimately, affected her immune system and she has been sick for the past 14 years.  Her first book was a very accessible account of how she used Buddhist principles (she had been studying Buddhism for several years at the time she became ill) to deal with her illness, and to give a picture for both the sick and their caregivers what it's like to live with a chronic illness.

The current book promises "Comfort, understanding, and advice for those who are suffering--and those who care for them" and it does exactly.  Toni is completely candid about her illness, her frustrations, her highs and lows, what irks her about what others say, what she would like people to say, and all the way down to confessions like...when she is home alone, she licks the plate after eating.  By the time a well person finishes this book you feel you know all that it's possible to know about chronic illness, without actually having one. 

For fellow chronic illness sufferers, she offers exercises in how to mitigate physical and emotional pain using "mindfulness" and learning how to be compassionate with yourself.  She gives concrete advice for negotiating the everyday hurdles of medical appointments, household chores and social obligations.  She deals with the strains that illness can place on relationships and she includes chapters directed toward family and friends of the chronically ill.

Bernhard is always very readable, tells her story with humor and honesty, and leaves the reader with tools to cope, whether you are sick yourself, or are dealing with a friend who is sick.  In the process, the tools for coping with stress, pain, isolation, disappointment, etc. work whether you are sick or not.

Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall
This is a compelling book, it's an ugly book, it's an informative book.  Elissa Wall was born and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).  The book details the tenets, its rules and regulations and especially its repression of women.  Elissa was married at age 14 to a 20 year old first cousin she hated.  She tried and tried to get her marriage postponed for two years so she could be a child, but Warren Jeffs, son of "Prophet" Rulan Jeffs insisted she must go through with the marriage.  In the FLDS, the word "sex" is not uttered and intimate topics are not discussed, so Elissa had no knowledge of what a man and a woman did together, had never touched (or been touched by) a man and had no clue how a baby was created.  She was thus raped by her husband over and over again, returned to the Jeffs to beg to be released from her marriage and was told she needed to "stay sweet" and submit to her husband.  She endured for many years and had several miscarriages and one stillbirth.  She began sleeping in her truck to avoid her husband and ultimately made friends with a male co-worker, also FLDS.  Over several years they fell in love and ultimately left the church and married

Later, it was Elissa's rape and Warren Jeffs' (now the 'Prophet," on the death of his father) complicity in the rape, which brought Jeffs to trial and resulted in his sentence of life in prison, after being declared one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted for attempting to hide from the law.

Wall's courage is commendable in her openness about her life and the FLDS community, where religion trumps all (she has not seen her mother in years because she was disowned for speaking out about Jeffs), but the book does go on a bit.  It's quite repetitive and the nearly 700 pages could have been edited significantly without losing the impact of the story.

There seems to be almost a cottage industry of books written by FLDS escapees and one wonders how this religion continues to thrive.

Twice Shy by Dick Francis  [Logos]
There was a time in my life when I was a huge Dick Francis fan and read every book he wrote.  He used to be jockey for Queen Elizabeth and all of his mysteries are concerned in some way with horses.  I don't know how I had missed this one.  Logos had a huge collection of Francis books on the bargain shelf and I had read them, until I came to this one and no, I had not read it.

This one is only kinda sorta about horses.  It's more about betting at the horse races and how a computer system has been created that pretty accurately predicts winners of upcoming races.  And actually, while it held my attention, it really was not up to Francis' usual standards.  The story is really two stories that are kind of connected.  The first one, with the bad guy getting caught and sent to jail for life while the hero and his wife live happy ever after ends midway through the book.  The last half is 20 years later the the "to jail for life" guy has somehow been released and is gunning for the guy he thought ruined his life, instead finding his younger brother and making his life miserable.

The things I found interesting about this book is that it was originally published in the early 1980s and the computer discussions read in 2015 are hilarious.  The program is written in Basic and it brought back memories.  The computer had a whopping memory of 16K.  Also there's that damn British reserve and politeness, where when the bad guy beats up the girl his boyfriend locks him in the basement rather than calling the police because he feels that nobody should have to serve 20 years in prison and that if he just finds the computer program and gives it to him, all will be all right.

But of course it isn't.  And Francis comes up with a unique...and politely British...way of neutralizing the bad guy so he is no longer a threat, without actually killing him.

I read this because it was an easy read and I like Dick Francis, but I would not give it high marks as one of his better stories

While I Still Can by Rick Phelps and Gary Joseph LeBlanc
Rich Phelps was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers in his mid 50s.  He decided he wanted to record and publish his deterioration in order to help others facing the same diagnosis, or caring for someone with Alzheimers or dementia.  Fortunately, he realized that he would eventually be unable to record his decline because his brain would forget to do it so he enlisted the help of author Gary Joseph LeBlanc, whose own father had died of Alzheimers.  What these men have produced is a remarkable record of how the brain operates, how an Azheimers patient feels in various situations and how caregivers can best care for their loved ones.  At some point during the narrative, the tale switches from Rick's decline to LeBlanc's last years with his own father, presumably because Rick had declined far enough that he was no longer able to offer helpful insight. 

Early in his disease, Phelps saw that there needed to be a support group and so he started "Memory People" on Facebook, which now has over 11,000 members sharig their stories with others.

I found this book remarkably helpful and immediately joined Memory People and expect to be active in the discussion there as well.

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
I struggled with this review.  For about the first half of the book, I would have given it four stars.  By the end, probably only 3.  Katie Davis is an amazing young woman.  At age 18, just out of high school, she decided not to go to college, but she felt strongly that God wanted her to go and work with orphans in Uganda.  Over the next several years, she adopted 14 little girls, founded a mission, fed and saw to the education of 400 children a day, worked with the poorest of the poor, tended to the sick and even attended a semester of college back in the States, a promise made to her father, before deciding college was not for her and returning to her home in Uganda.

I chose to read this book, knowing it was going to be heavy on religion, because of a sponsored child in Uganda and wanting to know more about the country.  But the book is so heavily religious that after a certain point it reads more like a very long sermon, with only glimpses of life in Uganda.  It seemed that the further she got into her story, the more religiously zealous she got and I found I would skip 3 or 4 pages of how God had called her, interfered in her life, helped her, led her to this or that activity and how much they loved each other in order to get one page about the actual work she was doing in the country.  I learned very little about Uganda.  I don't know if she lived in a village or in a house set apart.  I was surprised at one point to read she had shopped in the Ugandan version of a supermarket, as I had the impression of a place with no streets and just a few huts.  She was more descriptive in the beginning of the book, but by the end I had grown tired of hearing how wonderful God had been in her life and wanted to know more about the children, how her mission worked, how she raised funds to keep it going.  We get only glimpses of these bread-and-butter issues interspersed with how great God is and his plan for her life.

The book is at its best when recounting incidents such as the 65 year old blind woman she and her family befriended, or the 4 year old she nursed back to health and watching his transformation from an emaciated, dying child to a healthy child.

I have great admiration for the life she has chosen and the tremendous impact she has had on one of the poorest sections of Uganda, but it sure was tedious getting to the end of the book.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
Well, I certainly didn't see that coming!  I love books with plot twists in them and this may be the grandaddy of them all.  The story is told in four voices, the voice of Jenna, a 13 year old who lost her mother under suspicious circumstances when she was 3 years old.  She has never stopped looking for her mother and devours her mother's research journals in an attempt to learn who she really was.  Alice is Jenna's mother and much of her story is told in flashbacks, as part of her journals from Botswana, where she spent years studying elephants and became obsessed with documenting proof of emotion (particularly grief) in elephants.  Vince is the now retired detective who was the the night Alice disappeared following the brutal trampling of an elephant sanctuary worker.  He has been bothered by the whole event for 10 years and agreest o help Jenna search for her mom.  Finally there is Serenity, a psychic Jenna hires, thinking that if her mother is dead, she might be able to communicate with her daughter.  Serenity has her own problems which she may be able to work through as her affection for Jenna and her desire to help her grows.

The information about elephants (whom I love) is fascinating and I ate it up, but as Jenna, Serenity and Vince work to uncover the truth about Alice's disappearance I could not put the book down and I certainly could not have guessed what really happened that night!

Road Rage by Ruth Rendell [Logos]
This is another in the Inspector Wexford series, my favorite of Rendell's books, but this one took me a long time to get through and there were entirely too many important characters for me to keep track of who was who, who was a potential bad guy, who was probably a good guy. At the start of the book, dead body is found in the woods, which may or may not be related to the meat of the story, which concerns a highway project that is going to ruin a nature area in Wexford's town of Kingsmarkham.  Tree hugger types have come out in force to protest the highway project and are living in the trees and things escalate when hostages are taken, including Wexford's beloved wife.  This book had its gripping moments, but there were too many of them that just didn't grab me and it was a struggle to finish the book...but I did want to find out who the kidnepper(s) was/were.

Trousering Your Weasel by Murr Brewster
Murr Brewster is the funniest blogger since Marn stopped writing.  This retired postal carrier/writer, who lives in Portland with husband David and a stuffed dog named Pootie, has a bizarre take on life that is hilarious.  Did you know wombats have square poop?  (there is a lot of poop humor in this book, all...uh..."tastefully" discussed).  Have you ever wondered how the history of this country would be changed if Lewis and Clark had proper rain gear? And don't get me started on civet coffee.  This is a laugh out loud collection of some of her best blog entries that will keep you smiling for days.  In fact, given the scatalogical humor sprinkled throughout, it would make a great bathroom book, though I read it in an afternoon because I couldn't put it down.

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock [Logos]
This wasn't at all what I expected.  It's kind of like Julie/Julia, more about Noelle than about Eleanor.  Noelle became obsessed with Eleanor Roosevelt, and saw parallels between the two of them, Eleanor starting out as a very shy, afraid of many things woman who conquered her fears.  Her challenge "do something every day that scares you" became Hancock's mantra and she spent a year doing things that scared her, from the small things like public speaking to the big things like skydiving, swimming with sharks, and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was a fun read, and though inspiring, I don't think I'm ready to do any of the things she did!

Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion by Jon Katz
I have read several of Katz's books about the animals of his beloved Bedlam Farm and have enjoyed them.  I wanted to read this book, which was published shortly after the death of his donkey, Simon, a donkey rescued from near death, ignored by the farmer who was overwhelmed by other duties and left him to die.  (While I was fairly new to his story, people who had been reading Katz's blog for years took Simon to their hearts.)  The donkey nearly did die, but Katz and his wife Maria brought him back to life and he became a beloved member of their farm. I learned a lot about donkeys which I never knew before and the relationship between the author and Simon was a beautiful.  Katz has a non sympathetic approach to animals, loving but realistic. His friendship with Simon, and the other animals who accidentally became a part of Bedlam Farm started him on a road to "compassion."  The book, thus, becomes not only the story of a man and his donkey(s), but a story of the mental transformation that came about as the result of adopting a donkey and returning him to life and health.

Love Life by Rob Lowe
When I finished Lowe's first book, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends," I was ready to read his next one.  "Love Life," despite the name, is not a chronicle of the women in the actor's life, but more what he loves about his life -- his wife (to whome he has been married >22 years), his sons, his work, his friends. He has passed through the "bad boy" period of his life and is now a well-rounded, well-grounded man who views his work as something he does to allow himself to have the time to be a better husband and father.  As with the first book, this one was delightful.  The story of his son's going off to college was particularly poignant.

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by Ruth Rendell   [Logos]
As much as I have loved Ruth Rendell, and enjoyed this book too, this was not one of my favorites.  The plot seems too convoluted and it took way too long to get to the meat of the story.  Three women are each dealing with husband problems.  Minty is seeing her husband's ghost after he was killed in a train wreck at Paddington Station, Zillah's husband was killed in the same accident and she is about to remarry, and Fiona's fiancé went out for a walk and disappeared.  When various stabbings start happening, the three women's lives collide in unexplainable ways.  It was OK, but I definitely was longing for an end to the story long before it actually did end.

Elephant Girl by Jane Devin
This book is 486 pages long and before I was 3/4 of the way through it, I was seriously considering stopping.  If it had not been for reviews which promised an upbeat ending, I would not have continued.  But it's not until the last 10 pages or so, so that's a lot of pages to slog through.  My God is this the original hard luck kid.  There is NOTHING that goes right in her life, starting from a beaten, abused, molested child who escaped at age 16 and set off to make a better life for herself.  Her mother hates her and turns all of her teachers against her, she is fired from every job (and there are many, many, many--too many to count), every car breaks down, every friend betrays her, it only takes one act of intercourse for her to become pregnant (twice), the system doesn't work for her,  her son has Aspergers, she gets psoriasis, even her dog attacks her in the middle of the night.  You get to where you think this is totally preposterous and nobody could survive all of this...and then you find out that the book is based on Devin's real life experience and yes, though it is fictionalized, it is pretty much true.

As I said, in the last pages there is hope, and I think I'm glad I stuck with it, but boy, it sure was hard!

The other problem with this book is that she SERIOUSLY needed an editor.  Though she writes beautifully, she has a few consistent grammar mistakes that stand out like a sore thumb.  She does not know the difference between "lay" and "lie," for instance (she often says "I lied down") and does not know how to use objective tense ("they gave it to Joe and I").  They don't pop up often, but she is such an otherwise good writer that one wonders why editors didn't clean up the grammar.

ADDENDUM:  From reading reviews by other readers, I learned that she self-published this book, which explains a lot.

The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell  [Logos]
Another good book by Ruth Rendell, perhaps more fun than others of hers I have read.  Martin Urban has just come into rather a lot of money, betting on the football pool.  He decides he wants to use his winnings to help other people, and finds out that it's not as easy as it sounds.  Finn is an unscrupulous character whose path might never have crossed Martin's, were it not for their two mothers.  Into the mix comes Francesca, a clerk in a flower shop, for whom Martin falls head over heels in love.  How these three mix will take the reader through several unexpected twists and turns and proves that no good deed goes unpunished.

The Kill Room by Jeffrey Deaver
Once again, this book concerns paid government assassins and how things can run amok.  This book, which I bought in the Cedar Falls, Iowa airport when I found myself with a 4 hour plane delay, is the 10th in a series and was my first encounter with quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme and his assistant (also girlfriend) Amelia Sachs, whom I discovered later were the subjects of the movie "The Bone Collector." 

The story begins in the Bahamas, where a US citizen is assassinated and the local police seem reluctant to do anything to find the killer.  As Rhyme begins to investigate, the clues lead him back to New York where witnesses to the crime begin being eliminated by a ruthless killer who has a taste for extra sharp knives and gourmet food.

Though this did not have the excitement factor of David Baldacci, I am considering adding the previous 9 books in the series to my reading list.

Stories I only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
This was an audio book and while I suspect it would be just as delightful reading, it is outstanding as an audio book, read by Lowe himself.  He is open discussing the highs and lows of his life, his bad behavior, his recovery, his successes, his family.  It was riveting and made me want to immediately order his next book,

Go Into All the World by David Chalmers
Anyone who is a Compassion sponsor will love this book, which tells David's experiences traveling around the world to visit his many sponsored children.  This not a "this is the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me" book, but he deals with the negatives (children who don't relate to him and other disappointments) as well as the difficult traveling experiences, but overall, the chance to visit with many of his children and the centers where they participate was wonderful and made me want to drop everything and write letters to my sponsored children.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and whipped out my cell phone, logged into Amazon and bought it on the spot.  This is the story of the author's relationship with her aging parents, as they moved into their 70s, 80s, 90s, developed dementia, had to be placed first in Assisted Living, then in full care as they took the long, long trip toward death.  There were sections of the book which read like transcriptions of conversations with my mother.

This is not a "what to do" book, but an "I've been there and I know what you are going through" book. I found it amazingly comforting, from an author who is able, with time, to find humor in all she was going through.  I would highly recommend it for people who are in my position.  I would also recommend it to adult children who have parents who are beginning to enter their golden years.

The Target by David Baldacci
I love David Baldacci.  I love the way he crafts a story, I love the clutching in my stomach in tense periods, I love the wrap up when the "case" has finished, but in this book I think he went a bit far afield.  Too many diverse plot lines which, yes, connect at the end, but oh so confusing in the telling.  Will Robie and Jessica Reel are back at work again, this time together.  In these days where people are just now discovering that the United States sometimes orders the execution of bad people, this is a timely book which will open some people's eyes.  In the end, I enjoyed it very much, but oh how confused I was often.  It didn't help that I listened to this as an audio book, dozed off during the first chapter and when I woke up, the entire cast of characters and location had changed.

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