27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Horror, Literary Fiction, Teen Books

Darkwater by Catherine Fisher, read by Courtney, on 02/18/2013

Here we have a story where two parts become one. In the first half of the book, we meet Sarah Trevelyan, descendent of the once-proud and wealthy Trevelyans. She has been reduced to assisting in a local school house to make ends meet for her and her ailing father. All the while, the spectre of her family’s former glory, Darkwater Hall, looms over her. Sarah would give just about anything to get her family’s honor back. One day, she meets the new lord of Darkwater Hall, Lord Azrael, who offers her a job assisting him with his alchemy. She eventually strikes a bargain with him that will restore her estate to her family, but only with the caveat that Azrael will return for her soul in a hundred years.
In the second half of the book, we meet a teenager named Tom. Tom lives in our time, but in the same location as Sarah. Darkwater Hall has become a prestigious school that Tom would love to go to, if he only had the intelligence and talent. Tom’s self-esteem gets bolstered when he meets Darkwater’s newest professor, Dr. Azrael, who just happens to want Tom as his assistant. It’s only a matter of time before Tom is faced with a bargain of his own.
I love stories that intertwine like this and Catherine Fisher is a great writer. There are certainly echoes of her other work here. Her characters are great as well. Sarah is believable, if not always likeable. Tom is hard on himself and unnecessarily so, just as many other teens are. I love that these two characters actually meet and relate to one another in spite of their vastly different origins. The Faustus-like theme is obvious, but it’s a delightful take on it.

Crossovers-1 cover

The two volumes of this book are a fascinating and highly enjoyable read for anyone interested in the interactions between various pulp, mystery, adventure, and science fiction characters with real people throughout history.  The premise of this book is inspired by SF writer Philip José Farmer’s “Wold Newton” concept which he developed in the 1970s:  a “radioactive” meteorite crashed near Wold Newton, England in 1795 and affected several carriages full of people who were passing by.  Their descendants became highly intelligent and powerful heroes (or villains) such as Sherlock Holmes, Professor Moriarty, Dr. Fu Manchu, Doc Savage, Lord Greystoke (aka Tarzan), and many more.  Farmer wrote popular and detailed biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he detailed the family trees of many “Wold Newton Family” characters.  Over time, the concept has been expanded and continued by others into the Crossover Universe.  Win Scott Eckert has done a fantastic job of compiling references to literary heroes who have met each other (or “crossed over”) and had adventures together, and thus co-exist in the same fictional universe.  Volume 1 covers the dawn of time up through 1939, and Volume 2 covers 1940 into the far future.  Reading these two books is a fun and highly addictive experience!

 

30. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Literary Fiction, Short Stories

We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., read by Courtney, on 01/14/2013

This slim volume covers two previously unpublished Vonnegut works. The first, “Basic Training”, is a very early novella, written a few years before “Player Piano”. “Basic Training” follows young Haley to his relative’s farm after the death of his parents. The head of the family is known as The General and runs the family in military fashion. The second half of the book is a unfinished novel entitled “If God Were Alive Today”. It is classic late Vonnegut, bitter, ironic and unabashedly honest. The protagonist, Gil Berman, is a self-proclaimed stand-up comedian who tackles everything from politics to morals to social mores and just about everything in between. Both works are semi-autobiographical, which should come as no surprise to any Vonnegut fan.
Both stories are interesting from a contextual point of view. I’ve read just about every Vonnegut book I’ve been able to get my hands on. It’s fascinating to see the development between the early and late Vonnegut writings, even if they can’t really hold a candle to the extant works. I do wish, however, that he had had a chance to finish “If God Were Alive Today”. Great potential there. Many classic Vonnegut-isms.  Not, however, for the Vonnegut initiate.

 

 

31. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg, read by Tracy, on 12/31/2012

It’s 1946 and World War II has ended. The residents of Elmwood Springs Missouri are living the simple life just like most small towns. At 9:30 AM there is a half hour radio show hosted by Neighbor Dorothy that is broadcasted all over Missouri.  This radio show is full of music, local news, letters from fans with recipes and an occasional guest author.  Dorothy is a wife, mother and the best cake baker in town. The people of the town are the subject of this book and you can’t help but feel like you know them or someone like them even if you don’t live in a small town. People pass through the town and some have a big effect on the townspeople. A gospel singing family and a tractor salesman with dreams of making life better for Missourians. This book is hard to put down and when it ends in the year 2000 you wish there was more. Fannie Flagg is an amazing author.

04. December 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham, read by Tracy, on 12/04/2012

Luther and Nora Krank decide to not do all the traditional, expensive, stressful things they normally do at Christmas. When their daughter goes to South America for a year they book a cruise and tell all their friends and neighbors they are skipping Christmas this year. I thought this was a great idea but things don’t turn out the way I expected. The neighbors complain when they don’t decorate their home and they lose the yearly street competition. All their friends are upset because they aren’t having their party.  How selfish can they be going on a cruise instead of buying fruitcake no one eats and a Christmas tree from the boy scouts. Even though Luther offers to contribute money for the spring camp out. So when the daughter decides to come home for Christmas at the last minute they scramble to decorate and buy food for a dinner party that no one can attend. I was really disappointed that they wouldn’t tell their daughter the truth and go on the cruise.  It wasn’t as hilarious as the review said it would be.

30. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani, read by Tracy, on 11/30/2012

Ave Maria Mulligan is considered a “furriner” in the town of Big Stone Gap Virginia. She was born there but her mother was from Italy. In a small town there is a lot of gossip. So when Ave learns her father wasn’t her biological father she feels even more a foreigner. The author grew up in Big Stone Gap so she knows all about life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ave is a self proclaimed spinster at 35 and runs the towns pharmacist. She keeps busy with the local theatre group and her friend Iva Lou Wade the bookmobile driver. Big Stone Gap is a nice place to live but Ave wants to find her real father some day. I enjoyed this book and want to go to The Carter Fold and see what it’s all about with the music and atmosphere.

11. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read by Tracy, on 11/11/2012

This is the third book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. I read the first, The Shadow of the Wind, and was instantly hooked. The second book, The Angels Game, didn’t keep my interest and I didn’t finish it.  I did finish this one and really enjoyed it. Daniel Sempere works at the book store his father owns in Barcelona in 1957. He is married and has a son. One day a man visits the shop and buys an expensive book. He asks Daniel to deliver it personally. It’s for a  friend and co worker Fermin. Fermin is getting married soon but he has a story to tell Daniel about his years in prison.   Some of it involves Daniel’s mother who died when he was young. A lot of men were imprisoned wrongly after the war. This isn’t the end of the story so I have another book to look forward to.

10. November 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Food, Literary Fiction, Tracy

Bordeaux by Paul Torday, read by Tracy, on 11/09/2012

This is a very sad story. Wilberforce has worked years developing his own software business. His finance manager Andy tells him he needs to find some friends and have some fun. Life isn’t all about work. While driving home one day he passes a wine merchant’s store and since he knows nothing about wine decides to stop in. He meets Francis Black and his friends and is encouraged to do some tasting. From that moment on his life changes, first for the better, but later for the worse. Francis has thousands of bottles of wine and no heirs to leave them to. He asks Wilberforce to take on this responsibility.  Wilberforce agrees but then becomes an alcoholic, although he says he just enjoys drinking wine.  I think Wilberforce was lonely and really needed friends but he didn’t realize he would become obsessed with wine. Sad story.

26. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Road to Grace by Richard Paul Evans, read by Tracy, on 10/24/2012

This is the third book in The Walk series. Alan Christoffersen has lost everything important in his life. His wife dies and when his business goes under he loses all his possessions. In the first book he decides to walk from Seattle to Key West Florida. I enjoyed most of the first two books because of the places he walks through and the people he meets along the way. In this book he makes it to St. Louis. Unfortunately Alan is starting to experience physical problems. He suffers from dizziness and passes out several times by the side of the road. The first time a driver stops and gives him a ride to the hospital. They run tests and the man offers to let him recover at his home. When he feels better he continues and stops in Hannibal Missouri to do some touring. I enjoyed this part since it’s a place I want to see someday. When he gets dizzy again he wakes up in another hospital with some bad news. The books are well written and fun at times but I don’t think I will continue since the ending to this one is sad.

16. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, read by Tracy, on 10/16/2012

It’s a little early for a Christmas story but this book is also a train story. Tom Langdon decided to take the slow unstressful train trip across country to spend Christmas with his girlfriend. He is also a writer and is writing an article on trains and the people you meet along the way. Things don’t turn out as stress free as he hoped but he does meet some interesting people on board. David Baldacci did his research on the Amtrak train system and history so you learn a lot about it. I love trains so I’m ready to take a trip anywhere. It’s a fun read with a few surprises.

02. October 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Unlikely Pilgrmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, read by Tracy, on 10/02/2012

Harold Fry has retired from working at a brewery and lives in the same house with his wife for 45 years. One day he gets a letter from a former co-worker Queenie. She has terminal cancer and is saying goodbye. Harold decides to write a letter to Queenie but on the way to the postbox he makes a decision that shocks his wife and himself. He decides to deliver the letter himself and walk all the way to her hospice. With no supplies or cell phone he starts walking from southern England to Berwick on the border of Scotland and England. Over 500 miles alone. Fortunately he does have his credit card and it is springtime. This story is very sad at times because Harold has a lot of time to think about all the things he regrets in his life. His one hope is to get to Queenie before she dies and sends her cards along the way. His wife Maureen is confused, angry but eventually she respects his pilgrimage. It’s a life changing pilgrimage for both of them.

16. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Classics, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Poetry, Tammy · Tags:

The Death of King Arthur: A New Verse Translation by Simon Armitage, read by Tammy, on 09/15/2012

A new translation of the alliterative poem written in Middle English around 1400 AD originally known as The Alliterative Morte Arthure. Simon Armitage who recently received acclaim for his translation of the classic alliterative poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight turns his talent to this classic. He follows King Arthur’s bloody conquests across Europe until his bloody fall, with many of his loyal knights, through a poignantly described burial scene. The language is still lyrical and moving in spite of being a translation.

14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read by Courtney, on 09/14/2012

I loved “Shadow of the Wind” and I liked “The Angel’s Game”, so I was pretty excited to find a new book set in the same world. Unfortunately, “Prisoner of Heaven” falls flat in comparison to its predecessors.
Daniel is now grown up and has a child. Sempere & Sons Bookstore is gearing up for the holiday season and Fermin is fixing to get married. A man from Fermin’s past appears prompting him to finally share his secrets with Daniel. The narrative then shifts to the worst days of the Spanish Civil War. Fermin is in prison with a writer named David Martin who is teetering on the brink of madness. He is kept alive by a malevolent guard named Maurico Valls who aims to be the country’s preeminent writer and intellectual. He forces Martin to “rework” his material to make it palatable to the masses. Martin, in his madness and misery, tells Fermin of his true love, Isabella, Daniel’s mother. Fermin manages to escape from prison in the hopes of fulfilling Martin’s request of making sure Isabella and her family are taken care of.
All of the characters are interconnected, but the story lacks the punch of Zafon’s previous work. This slim volume lacks the vivid detail of the first two books in the series and, as a result, feels rushed and unfocused. Oddly enough, it moves fairly slow too. It’s not a bad book, it just doesn’t compare to the books it follows and as such is a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately, the series is written in such a way as to allow the reader to read the book in any order they choose. Perhaps if this book didn’t have to live under the shadow of the first two, it would seem much more accomplished.

06. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy, Travel

Miles To Go by Richard Paul Evans, read by Tracy, on 07/05/2012

This second book in The Walk series wasn’t as good as the first. The first part of the book the main character Alan is in Spokane Washington staying with a friend after he had an accident on his journey to Key West Florida. It’s winter time so traveling by foot would be a problem. During his recovery he meets more people and his father visits. When he does start again he makes it to South Dakota. I realize these books are meant to be inspirational but I really like the way the author describes his travels and he also gives us some history of the towns he travels through. I don’t know when the next book will be published but I probably will read it.

29. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy, Travel

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans, read by Tracy, on 06/28/2012

When you see someone walking along the road with a backpack do you ever wonder where they came from and where they are going. Alan Christoffersen could be that man who just left everything behind and started walking. At first he had everything you could want. A successful career and a happy marriage. But somethings can be too good to be true. This is the first book in a series where Alan sets out from Seattle to Key West Florida with only a backpack full of camping gear and a credit card. He helps people along the way and they in return help him cope with his losses.

30. May 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella, read by Tracy, on 05/30/2012

This book is about love, love of coffee. In the year 1896 Mr. Pinker knew that the time was right to expand his coffee business in Victorian London. When he overhears Robert Wallis in a local cafe complain about that “the coffee tastes rusty” he offers him a job developing a guide that would describe various coffees that he blends and sells. Robert is an unemployed poet who doesn’t know anything about money but knows how to describe the taste and smell of coffee. As the story develops we learn a lot about where coffee is grown and how the market works. Robert is very self centered but over time he grows up and falls in love with Emily the bosses daughter. He is sent to Africa to learn how to grow coffee. You can’t help but like him even though he only has two things on his mind. Women and coffee.

20. May 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, read by Tracy, on 05/20/2012

“at some time between 1945 and 1980, Joe’s grandfather and grandmother built a bee-machine which is either a rocket ship, a mobile sculpture or a brain-melting lie detector”. Unfortunately Joe made the mistake of activating the device setting lose thousands of mechanical bees. Joe Spork, the main character, repairs antique clocks so when the device was brought to him he had no idea it was so powerful. He does have a lot of friends who help him, most were friends of his gangster father “Tommy Gun” Spork. This book has a lot of Charles Dickenish characters with names like Mr. Titwhistle, Mr. Cummerbund and Billy Friend. It has an evil mass murder The Opium Khan. There are several female geniuses, one is a scientist who builds robots and  another an undercover secret agent.  This book goes back and forth in time a lot and I had a hard time putting it down.

30. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Literary Fiction, Teen Books

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff, read by Courtney, on 04/29/2012

OK folks. There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is: God exists. The bad news? God is an arrogant, insolent, lustful, forgetful teenaged boy named Bob. Bob’s mother won our corner of the universe in a poker game and pawned it off on her underage son. Bob had some fun creating our world, but grew bored rather quickly and let things get tremendously out of control. The only thing really holding it all together is Bob’s personal assistant, Mr. B. Mr. B is sick of dealing with Bob and has already requested a transfer, though he has yet to tell Bob. The only thing Bob cares about at present anyway is a young zoologist assistant named Lucy. And Mr. B expects that to pass in the typical melodramatic disaster that tends to create dramatic weather patterns around the globe, usually leading to widespread suffering and destruction. No one is happy when Bob falls in love. Not even Bob.
This book made me laugh and think, which is my favorite combination of reactions to a book. The tone and universe remind me a bit of some of my other favorite comedically-inclined authors (Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore…). If you’ve ever wondered why your prayers seem to fall on deaf ears, well, here’s a possible answer. But never fear, there’s a silver lining…

24. April 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Fiction, Tracy

Heft by Liz Moore, read by Tracy, on 04/24/2012

It’s hard to be totally honest with your children because you always want to protect them. If only Charlene had been honest with her son Kel about her illness she might have had a better life. Her former college professor and friend Arthur also had no idea she was so ill. Arthur wasn’t honest with her about his weight problem either. When Charlene tries to get together with Arthur after two decades they both hesitate and it turns out to be too late. Her son Kel is confused but in the end he does the right thing.

 

20. April 2012 · 1 comment · Categories: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Tracy

The Cat Nappers by P. G. Wodehouse, read by Tracy, on 04/20/2012

Bertie Wooster would probably be better off if he just stayed home at his apartment with his valet Jeeves. Every time he goes out he either meets a lady he proposed to or a friend he owes money to. In this book Bertie finds spots on his chest so he goes to a doctor who recommends he spends some time in the country away from the unwholesome life of London.  One of his many aunt’s finds him a cottage by the sea to spend the weekend. A quiet weekend is not  in store for Bertie.