Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trains and Lovers

Trains and Lovers is a story of four strangers on a train who share their tales of love, and it is brilliant. Of course it could not be anything less than brilliant, as it was written by Alexander McCall Smith.

The train is traveling from Edinburgh to London. American Andrew has been to a conference and will return to his family in New York the next day. Australian Kay has been visiting Scotland, the birthplace of her father many years before. Sottish Andrew is moving to London for a job, and English Hugh is traveling home from a business trip. It is an average day on a train, but the stories they share with one another are extraordinary.

So simple, yet so powerful. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Buddha in the Attic

I have just read a book that affected me deeply, because I knew people who experienced this story. I knew people, and yet I never really understood what they went through. Until now.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is about the Japanese in California from about 1920 to the beginning of WWII. She tells the collective story of a group of "picture brides", who are hoping for a better life in the United States with husbands they only know through photos and letters. Upon arrival in San Francisco, they are mostly disappointed by the much older and poorer husbands than the ones they were expecting, but return to Japan is not an option. They speak no English and don't understand American customs, clinging to their own. They are forced to labor on the fringes of society picking our crops, cleaning our houses and doing our laundry, surrounded by suspicion and mistrust. They labor in childbirth, over and over, and continue to work in the fields. They don't give up, and expect their children to work just as hard. Through sheer determination they come to own their farms and businesses, and their children attend Stanford and Cal. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and these American Citizens lose everything.

The Buddha in the Attic is exquisitely written and powerfully told. It is bittersweet, poignant and heartbreaking. It is also the story of most of us who live in America, because most of us were immigrants at one time or another. It makes you think. As the saying goes: Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.


The Mysterious Benedict Society

I have a high opinion of children's/young adult literature. Of course I haven't read everything that's out there, and I know some of it is rubbish, but mostly it is terrific and sometimes brilliant. In fact, I think the children's book section should be re-titled as "Books for Interesting and Imaginative People of All Ages". So, if you're an interesting and imaginative person, I've got a great series for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy by Trenton Lee Stewart has very mysterious beginnings. A strange ad appears in the Stonetown paper seeking "gifted children looking for special opportunities". Dozens of children arrive at the specified time and place to take a test, but only Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance pass. Each have very different gifts, but they are the qualities that the great and good Mr. Benedict believes can save the world from the evil Ledroptha Curtain. (Don't you just love that name?!) The children embark on a dangerous and frightening adventure to Nomansan Island, and only if they work as a team can they succeed. (You might be detecting a theme by now.) Yes, as in most of life, teamwork is the key.

The adventure continues in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and concludes with The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. (I love it when all loose ends are tied up.) I also adored the charming illustrations by Carson Ellis, who I think imagined the quirky characters perfectly. I hope you agree!


Monday, March 24, 2014

March Madness

Yes, it's that time of year. A time when New Year's resolutions, despite everyone's best intentions, begin their inevitable march into madness. (i.e.: my intention to NOT fall behind on my blog posts.) So, in honor of my very own March Madness, here's a different kind of bracket for you...

The Two Mrs. Abbotts vs. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton

D. E. Stevenson is one of my favorite authors, and she doesn't disappoint with The Two Mrs. Abbotts. The third in the charming Miss Buncle trilogy, Barbara Buncle Abbott is now the mother of two young children, and she is finding it hard to concentrate on much else. Luckily, her niece Jerry, (the other Mrs. Abbott), is the perfect partner-in-crime, and between the two of them romance is nurtured and thwarted, families are reunited and German spies are flushed out. It is a perfect time capsule of WWII in a quaint English village.

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller cannot be called charming, but it is definitely riveting. This is the author's second "Laurence Bartram Mystery", again set in post WWI England. While researching the unique architecture of the manor and church of Easton Deadall, Laurence finds himself drawn into the mysterious 1911 disappearance of five-year-old Kitty Easton. One night she simply vanished from her bed, no body was ever found, and this limbo of unanswered questions has haunted the Easton family ever since. Everyone has a theory, but will Laurence be able to "dig up" the solution? You'll have to read to find out!

RESULT: I can't pick a winner between these two. It's a tie.

The Baker Street Translation vs. Moriarty Returns a Letter

I am a fan of anything Sherlockian, so this is going to be a hard one.  Both of these books are by Michael Robertson, who started this clever series with The Brothers of Baker Street, followed by The Baker Street Letters. Here is the premise:  When brothers Reggie and Nigel Heath move their law offices to 221-B Baker Street in London, they don't realize the implications of a small provision of the lease. Namely, that they are obligated to answer any and all letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Yes, people all over the world seem to believe that he is real and still alive. Reggie finds the letters an absolute nuisance, but Nigel finds them fascinating and takes it upon himself to delve deeper into certain mysteries, inevitably involving his brother in all sorts of trouble. What else is a brother for?! In The Baker Street Translation, Reggie reluctantly finds himself tracking down a terrorist in the London sewers, rescuing his rival for the affection of the beautiful Laura Rankin in the process. In Moriarty Returns a Letter, Reggie and Laura are supposed to be on a leisurely drive to her aunt's country manor, but nefarious villains are found around every twisty turn in the country road. Oh, and Moriarty really does make an appearance. Sort of.

RESULT: Postponed due to indecision on blogger's part.  Blogger is a wimp.

Takedown Twenty vs. A Secret Gift

Janet Evanovich never fails to delight, and she has done it again with Takedown Twenty. Stephanie Plum is in big trouble. Her boss is demanding that she bring in local mobster "Uncle Sunny" Sunucchi, or the bail bonds office will lose a passel of dough. The problem is that almost everyone in Trenton, NJ loves Uncle Sunny, and they're more than willing to hide him from the law. This includes Stephanie's almost-fiance Joe Morelli's scary grandmother Bella, who is just waiting for an excuse to throw a curse Stephanie's way. Meanwhile, little old ladies are turning up dead in dumpsters, a giraffe is on the loose in the neighborhood, and Grandma Mazur has a new beau. What else can go wrong? Plenty, and it's a ton of fun as always!

A Secret Gift by Ted Gup is as different from Takedown Twenty as you can get. It's a true story about the author's grandfather, a story he did not uncover until 28 years after his grandfather's death. It was Christmas of 1933 in Canton, Ohio. The depression hit Canton hard, and by 1933 people were desperate. A small ad in the local paper offered an anonymous gift of $10 to seventy-five distressed families. All they needed to do was write an account of their circumstances to Mr. B. Virdot, who promised complete anonymity on both sides. This secret benefactor received so many replies, that he decided to give $5 to 150 families. This was still a generous amount of money for 1933. No one ever knew who B. Virdot was, and his gift was forgotten until Ted Gup's mother gave him an old suitcase. It contained the letters from the 150 families, and many thank you notes for the $5 checks. Yes, B. Virdot was Ted Gup's grandfather. Ted just happens to be an investigative journalist, so he set out to investigate this amazing gift of his grandfather's, and in doing so discovered his own family's long lost secrets.  

RESULT: Although I loved A Secret Gift, I have to give this one to Takedown Twenty.  No matter how you spin it, the Depression is depressing. This was probably an unfair matchup, but that's the way March Madness goes! (Go Arizona!!) TBC

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Chase

After reading Gone Girl and feeling so MAD, it was a pleasure to finish The Chase with such a satisfying sense of justice and closure. Even better, The Chase is just plain FUN!

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg have collaborated once again to bring Los Angeles FBI agent Kate O'Hare and master-thief extraordinaire Nick Fox back for another adrenaline-filled adventure. (Get it?! The fox and the hare.) A cache of priceless stolen art sends them on a desperate chase to Florida, Shanghai, Scotland, New York and Montreal, with time for an In-N-Out burger between flights. (Anyone who can correctly reference an item from In-N-Out's secret menu is O.K. by me.) Which brings me to another reason I love Evanovich and Goldberg's partnership: they get the details right. I know I've mentioned this before, but they say you should write about what you know, and they obviously know Southern California.

Read The Chase. It's a light-hearted roller coaster ride, and I loved it!


Monday, March 10, 2014

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

Fourteen reasons to read The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith, the 14th book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series:

1. It is the newest installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

2. It is written by the brilliant Alexander McCall Smith.

3. You will wish that Precious Ramotswe is a real person so you can be her best friend.

4. For that you would have to move to Botswana, but that's ok because the author so obviously loves Botswana and Africa, making the reader love it also.

5. Grace Makutsi is the perfect counterpart to Precious.

6. Grace is very obviously pregnant, but she doesn't want to jinx it by telling anyone.

7. Grace's nasty auntie-in-law is back.  She's as nasty as ever, but gets what's coming to her.

8. There are snakes involved, but they also get what's coming to them.

9. Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni is the BEST HUSBAND EVER.

10. Mr. J. L. B.'s perpetual apprentice mechanic, Charlie, has redeeming qualities after all.

11. The bad guy/girl in this story doesn't seem to have many redeeming qualities. I think she needs a minor adjustment. (See what I did there?)

12. Also, sometimes the right thing to do requires stretching the truth.

13. Again, it is by Alexander McCall Smith. Duh.

14. This quote about children: "We wanted to protect them, she thought, of course we did, but we knew that we could not and they would have to deal with the disappointments and shocks of life as best they could. All we could do was to give them that one thing that they could use to protect themselves from all that. At least we could do that. That thing was love, of course."


Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is an excellent book.  It has superb writing, exquisitely detailed characters and a well thought-out plot.  So why have I been sitting here trying to decide if I should write about it? BECAUSE, this blog is supposed to be about the books I love, and this book made me SO MAD!!!!!!

Another problem with reviewing Gone Girl is the risk of giving away important plot lines. If I did that it would ruin it for you. But, I CAN say that it is a cautionary tale about marriage, and unresolved mommy/daddy issues, and beware-of-what-you-wish-for-crazy-psycho-people.

So, if you like books that keep you up at night because you can't stop thinking about them for love or money, read Gone Girl. Just don't say I didn't warn you.