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Books Read in 2014

  • Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (Second reading)

    Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars (Second reading)
    Some of King's best (and darkest) storytelling, this book contains four novellas, including BIG DRIVER, from which the new movie derives. There's also a story about a serial killer who closely resembles BDK (but this one is more about his wife than himself); one about the complete destruction of a depression-era farm family; and one about a very unconventional cancer cure. These stories aren't for anyone who has a weak stomach or constitution. I'm not exaggerating when I say they are not just merely dark but really quite sincerely dark. (****)

  • James Hilton: Random Harvest

    James Hilton: Random Harvest
    I really enjoyed reading this novel, published in 1941, by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, LOST HORIZONS. But I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled by what the ending means. Here's a description from Amazon: "The story is a romance, a mystery, a critque on England's class structure, and a parable. Hilton uses the lost years of Charles Rainier as a methaphor for the lost years of the 1920/1930's when England failed to prepare for the next war. Told in flashbacks and bookended by World War I and World War II, the resolution is only revealed in its final sentence that will shock you and change everything that you have just read & thought you understood. You will go back and re-read the book as your perception of all the characters are altered by the surprise ending." But the book is really better than that description implies. I think I will have to read it again. (****)

  • Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale (2nd reading)

    Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale (2nd reading)
    Everyone has that one memorable summer of youth, that time when childhood begins to take a back seat to long awaited adulthood. For 12-year-old Rusty Harry, it is the summer of 1960 in a small town in Montana where Rusty's dad tends bar and does the job of a single parent as best he can, which turns out to be pretty darn good. The bar, the town, and the people who make up Rusty's compact life are the players in this magical story that's right up there with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for being one of the best coming-of-age stories you'll ever read. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: The Elementals

    Michael McDowell: The Elementals
    Hill House, the Marsten house, Amityville, Hell House, the Overlook--now I can add Beldame to the scariest fictional haunted house books. Located on the Alabama Gulf Coast on a spit of land between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Beldame is a compound of three identical Victorian houses, used by the McCray and Savage families for decades as summer homes. Something horrible (and very sandy) lives in "the third house," which, due to the encroachment of a very large dune, has not been inhabited by mortals for as long as anyone can remember. Now these unexplainable horrors have become interested in taking over the other two houses, and those who dare to sleep there. Ooooooooooo. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater VI: Rain

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater VI: Rain
    The town of Perdido, Alabama comes full circle in this final, and shortest, book of Michael McDowell's Blackwater series. The books of the Caskey saga are some of the best I've ever read. Taken together, they are a classic, I believe, of American literature. The marriage of southern gothic and horror makes for some great storytelling. I am so very glad that I discovered this author and will be seeking out other works by him, in limited supply since he died in 1999. The Blackwater books are out of print. I found them on Kindle, and my sister has been able to borrow them from the library. In my opinion, it's high time for a reprint. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater V: The Fortune

    Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater V: The Fortune
    As if the lumber mill and other enterprises had not made the Caskeys enough money, they now find oil under their land. Money flows in more swiftly than the red waters of the Perdido flow into "the junction." Elinor's youngest daughter Frances discovers she's pregnant and gives birth to twin girls. The daughters must be separated at birth for reasons that will become clear. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater IV: The War

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater IV: The War
    War (WWII) intrudes on the lives of Perdido, Alabama in Book 4 of the Blackwater series, not with entirely negative consequences. Elinor's youngest daughter Frances shows that she is her mother's true daughter. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater III: The House

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater III: The House
    The Caskey Saga continues in Book 3, as new characters are introduced. Elinor has given birth to two daughters who are very different from each other. Elinor's big house, which her mother-in-law Mary-Love built for her and her husband and for which Elinor must pay a terrible price to be allowed to occupy, becomes a mystery itself. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater II: The Levee

    Michael McDowell: Michael McDowell's Blackwater II: The Levee
    In Book 2 of the Blackwater series,Elinor has become thoroughly integrated into the lives of the people of Perdido, and especially of the Caskey family. Townsfolk decide to build a levee around the waters of their twin rivers to avoid another devastating flood. Elinor does not approve. (****)

  • Michael McDowell: Blackwater I: The Flood

    Michael McDowell: Blackwater I: The Flood
    Fanny Flagg meets Stephen King: That's what comes to mind when I think of the writing style of this author, whom Stephen King himself has called “the finest writer of paperback originals in America.” Michael McDowell peoples this work with eccentric and colorful southern characters set among scenes of strangeness, spookiness, and violence. The mysterious saga of the Caskey family begins in this first of a series of six novels, set in Perdido in South Alabama during the early 20th century. A devastating flood brings a strange and beautiful visitor to the small, sleepy lumber town. Elinor Dammert's arrival will forever change the town and the wealthy and powerful Caskey family. I'm hooked. I have now moved on to Book 2, THE LEVEE. (****)

  • Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings: A Novel

    Sue Monk Kidd: The Invention of Wings: A Novel
    In the early 1830s, Sarah Grimké and her younger sister, Angelina, were the most infamous women in America. They had rebelled so vocally against their family, society, and their religion that they were reviled, pursued, and exiled from their home city of Charleston, South Carolina, under threat of death. Their crime was speaking out in favor of liberty and equality and for African American slaves and women, arguments too radically humanist even for the abolitionists of their time. Sue Monk Kidd has turned the lives of these two freedom pioneers into a most enjoyable and inspiring novel. I recommend it highly. (****)

  • Diana Gabaldon: Outlander

    Diana Gabaldon: Outlander
    In 1945, Claire Randall and her husband are just back from their service in WWII. Having been apart for five years, they are spending their second honeymoon in Scotland, getting reacquainted. At a visit to an ancient stone monument where she has gone to pick wildflowers, Claire is suddenly hurled back in time to the 18th century Scottish highlands. She is captured by warriors the McKenzie clan, who believe her to be an English spy. Eventually she is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. Their relationship soon becomes passionate, and Claire's heart is torn between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. WARNING: Numerous scenes of explicit sex. (***)

  • Paul Boone: Blackbeard: To Live by the Drink, To Die by the Sword

    Paul Boone: Blackbeard: To Live by the Drink, To Die by the Sword
    Having enjoyed the recent tv series, "Blackbeard," I wanted to know more about the famous pirate, so I went searching for a book. I finally settled on this one. It's a fast read and sticks far more closely to what is known of the facts of the life and death of Edward Teach (Blackbeard) than did the tv series. I had some problems with the author's somewhat amateurish writing style, and a good copy editor would have helped, but as a source of a quick look at the reign of one of our most famous and feared pirates, it suffices. Language and violence, however, make it unsuitable for children. (**)

  • Dan Brown: Deception Point

    Dan Brown: Deception Point
    Very fast paced and exciting read. When NASA scientists discover a 300-year-old meteor buried in ice in the Arctic, it seems that not only the flagging space agency will get a new breath of life but also the presidency of the current administration, which has been a strong NASA supporter. Imbedded in the meteor are the fossilized remains of a giant insect. NASA has discovered extraterrestrial life. But of course things aren't always what they seem, or are they? This book will keep you guessing right into the final pages. (***)

  • Shelley Stewart: The Road South: A Memoir

    Shelley Stewart: The Road South: A Memoir
    Growing up near Birmingham, Alabama in the early 60s, I knew Shelley "the Playboy" Stewart as a rocking cool DJ who spun platters on local WENN. Most of us white kids had to sneak off to our rooms or to the family car to listen to this African American radio personality, it being mid-century Alabama. Little did we know of the horrors Shelley had experienced during his childhood. As a small child, Shelley and his family suffered a violent, abusive, alcoholic father who killed his mother then forced Shelley and his brothers to live on the back porch, sleep on a filthy mattress and eat fried rats. An aunt with whom he lived for a time beat and sexually abused him. By age six, he had run away and was on his on. Shelley survived the horrors of his childhood and the injustices and cruelty of racial bigotry to become a well known, well respected, and successful business man. But his quest for family love and closeness has alluded him, causing his lifelong battle with depression. (***)

  • Andy Weir: The Martian: A Novel

    Andy Weir: The Martian: A Novel
    This is the most exciting book I've read in a long time, if ever. Mark Watney, part of a manned mission to Mars, is left for dead on the hostile environment of the Red Planet by the rest of the crew after a monster sandstorm threatens the lives of all. They abandon the mission and settle in for their two-year flight back to Earth, never suspecting that they have also abandoned their friend and fellow astronaut, who is very much alive. Thus begins Watney's year-and-a-half-long struggle to survive until rescue comes. His steady nerves, genius problem-solving, and witty outlook endears the reader to Watney keeps you cheering him on. It's an impossible spot he finds himself in, and logic says there's no way out; but the reader keeps hoping against hope, even when more things go wrong than right. I was unable to put the book down for the last half. There's a lot of technical stuff, but strangely, it does not slow the story. In fact, Watney's descriptions of the working of various parts of the equipment, vehicles, and habitant that he uses to prolong his life on Mars serve to move the story along, build tension, and add dimension to this book's main character. (****)

  • Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel

    Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel
    This beautifully written story takes place in occupied France during World War II. The main characters are a young blind Paris girl, Marie-Laure, and an orphaned German boy, Werner. Just as the war leaves Much of Europe in tatters, so it does with the lives of these young people and their families. But for one brief moment, the war brings Marie-Laure and Werner together and leaves them both with a memory that will last throughout their lives. This is one of the best books I've read in years. (****)

  • Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes: A Novel

    Stephen King: Mr. Mercedes: A Novel
    No ghosts, no vampires, no supernatural stuff at all. Just plenty of Stephen King gore and excitement. This is the story of a would-be mass serial killer whose first massacre occurs when he plows a stolen Mercedes into a group of unemployed people waiting to get into a job fair. A retired cop, a teenage boy, and a woman with flaws of her own team up to try and stop this killer before he can perpetrate an even more horrific slaughter. A good read, but not particularly memorable. (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel

    Larry McMurtry: The Last Kind Words Saloon: A Novel
    This was a good book--as far as it went. It just didn't go far enough. 167 pages are just not enough for multiple character development (if I weren't already familiar with most of these characters, they'd be blank slates) and plot development (what plot?). Granted, the dialog was the usual McMurtry masterpiece, but that's the best I can say for this little book. I was excited to know that this author, one of my favorites, had written a novel about some of my favorite old west character (Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Charlie Goodnight, etc.). When I saw the page count, I was skeptical; when I read the last sentence, I was disappointed. (**)

  • Nicholas Pileggi: Wiseguy

    Nicholas Pileggi: Wiseguy
    If you've seen "Goodfellas," (and I have, about a hundred time), then there's no need to read this book strictly for information. I have rarely seen a movie that sticks so closely to the book from which it was made. The great dialog in "Goodfellas" was, for the most part, taken straight from the mouths of the real-life characters it depicts. As with the movie, WISEGUY begins in 1955 when Henry Hill becomes, at 11 years old, connected with the Mob. It ends, as does the movie also, when Henry and Karen are forced to cooperate with the FBI, join the witness protection program, and help the government take down a bunch of Henry's coworkers--after which, as Henry said, he got to live the rest of his life as as shnook. (***)

  • Karen Novak: Five Mile House: A Novel

    Karen Novak: Five Mile House: A Novel
    Legend has it that in 1889, Eleanor Bly flung herself from the tower of Five Mile House after murdering her seven children. More than a hundred years later, her ghost reaches out to Leslie Stone, a New York cop who has killed a child murderer and is haunted by her actions. New to the town of Wellington-famous for its coven of witches-Leslie becomes obsessed with Eleanor's story, suspecting that the truth may be quite different from local legend. As she digs deeper, uncovering dangerous town secrets, her life and the lives of her children are put into peril. I love stories in which a haunted house serves as the main character: e.g., The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunted, Hell House, etc. This haunted house story contains ghosts, witches, ancient secrets, and a fascinating premise based on the supposedly infinite number pi and what will happen if its end could ever be reached. A good book for sure--but not quite on a par with The Haunting of Hill House. But then, what is? (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: Crazy Horse: A Life

    Larry McMurtry: Crazy Horse: A Life
    Not much is known about this famous Sioux warrior, therefore McMurtry's book is brief and to the point. Even so, the reader gets a pretty clear picture of the man's bravery, integrity, and generosity. As with many of our native people, he died much too young. (***)

  • Louis Bayard: Roosevelt's Beast: A Novel

    Louis Bayard: Roosevelt's Beast: A Novel
    In 1914, Teddy Roosevelt and his son, Kermit, set off to map Brazil’s Rio da Duvida (River of Doubt). What was supposed to be a lark for the “Colonel” and his son ended up almost killing both of them. Indeed, the former president never completely recovered. Bayard has taken three days out of this time period to write a fictional thriller that kept me turning pages. The Colonel (Teddy) and Kermit kidnapped are by the Cinta Larga natives The tribe is being ravaged by a “beast” that kills its prey, guts it, drinks its blood, and then leaves nothing but a husk. The beast leaves no footprints, and no one has actually seen it. The chief will release Kermit and his father if they kill the beast. The Colonel sees it as just another hunting expedition, but Kermit (the Roosevelt in the title) sees it as something much more, something that will haunt him the rest of his life. I enjoyed this book very much. (***)

  • Ransom Riggs: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)

    Ransom Riggs: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
    So Miss Peregrine is stuck in bird form, all the loops have been corrupted by murderous wights and hollowgasts, and Miss P. and her peculiar children must go on a long and dangerous trek to find an intact ymbryne to help put things to right. A whole new set of peculiar vintage photos helps the author spin his latest tale of mystery, suspense, and fantasy. Unfortunately, I think I had had enough of these characters with the first book. This one didn't hold my attention nearly as well. But there's another one coming. So if you are an avid fan, you won't have to wait long for the story to continue. (***)

  • Ron Rash: Serena: A Novel

    Ron Rash: Serena: A Novel
    George and Serena Pemberton are young, ambitious members of the timbers baron class, busy stripping the ancient timberlands of Western North Carolina for profit during the Depression--at the same time that the Department of the Interior is trying to protect the area by turning it into a national park. Pemberton is ruthless enough in his own right, but Serena earns her place among the worst female fictional villains of all time. Apparently devoid of conscience or compassion, when someone gets in the way of what she wants, she has them killed as easily as swatting a bothersome insect. The one thing that she wants that she can't have is a child. Her one pregnancy results in a stillbirth and leaves Serena unable to carry another. Pemberton, however, has fathered a child by a local girl before he marries Serena, and this fact does not sit well with the barren baroness. She sets out to destroy both the child and his mother. The excessive descriptive passages in the book do nothing to further the action, but the interspersed scenes of action and interplay among characters is enough to keep one reading to the end--an end that I didn't quite see coming. In fact, I went back and retread the last two sections just to make sure I had understood. (***)

  • Jason Mott: The Returned

    Jason Mott: The Returned
    The book on which the new tv series "Resurrection" is based. Harold and Lucille Hargraves lost their only child, 8-year-old Jacob, in a drowning accident in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds healed through time…. Until one day Jacob appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargraves find themselves at the center of a community on the brink of collapse. Although I enjoyed this book, I feel the tv show is better. For me, the book lacked the edge-of-seat suspense that's present in the series. But both the series and the book share one problem: the age of Jacob's parents. The dates of the then and now in each just never seemed to jibe with an "elderly" couple to me--not to mention how great Frances Fisher looks in the series as the mom. (***)

  • Jennifer McMahon: The Winter People: A Novel

    Jennifer McMahon: The Winter People: A Novel
    After a night of partying, 19-year-old Ruthie awakens to find her mother, an off-the-grid hippie who rarely leaves their Vermont farm, is missing, and Ruthie is left to care for her young sister. Ruthie desperately searches their old farmhouse for clues and uncovers a hidden compartment in her mother’s room filled with frightening artifacts: a pair of strangers’ wallets, a loaded gun, and an old diary that reveals a 100-year-old mystery lending credence to the campfire tales about their farm, the nearby Devils’ Hand rock formation, locals who have gone missing, and her mother’s warnings that bad things happen in their woods. Ruthie begins tracking her mother with the information in the wallets and soon finds links between the diary’s horrors and her mother’s disappearance. This mystery-horror crossover is haunting, evocative, and horrifically beautiful. (***)

  • M.L. Stedman: The Light Between Oceans: A Novel

    M.L. Stedman: The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
    After four years at war, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. Beautifully written and heartbreaking. I found it hard to put this book down. (****)

  • Leif Enger: Peace Like a River

    Leif Enger: Peace Like a River
    Dead for 10 minutes before his father orders him to breathe in the name of the living God, Reuben Land is living proof that the world is full of miracles. But it's the impassioned honesty of his quiet, measured narrative voice that gives weight and truth to the fantastic elements of this engrossing tale. From the vantage point of adulthood, Reuben tells how his father rescued his brother Davy's girlfriend from two attackers, how that led to Davy being jailed for murder and how, once Davy escapes and heads south for the Badlands of North Dakota, 12-year-old Reuben, his younger sister Swede and their janitor father light out after him. But the FBI is following Davy as well, and Reuben has a part to play in the finale of that chase, just as he had a part to play in his brother's trial. It's the kind of story that used to be material for ballads, and Enger twines in numerous references to the Old West, chiefly through the rhymed poetry Swede writes about a hero called Sunny Sundown. That the story is set in the early '60s in Minnesota gives it an archetypal feel, evoking a time when the possibility of getting lost in the country still existed. Enger has created a world of signs, where dead crows fall in a snowstorm and vagrants lie curled up in fields, in which everything is significant, everything has weight and comprehension is always fleeting. This is a stunning debut novel, one that sneaks up on you like a whisper and warms you like a quilt in a Minnesota winter. --Publisher's Weekly review READ THIS BOOK. You'll be grateful you did. (****)

  • Jordan Bollinger: Sisterly Love: The Saga of Lizzie and Emma Borden

    Jordan Bollinger: Sisterly Love: The Saga of Lizzie and Emma Borden
    A fictional version of the famous "Lizzy Borden" murders, this book takes for granted that Lizzy was indeed not guilty of killing her parents, just as the jury's verdict indicated. I was not surprised by this author's choice of murderers. I have suspected the same. I enjoyed the book, except for the preponderance of grammatical errors and typos. Apparently Bollinger did not enjoy the services of a copy editor. (***)

Books Read in 2013

  • Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October

    Roger Zelazny: A Night in the Lonesome October
    This delightful story follows 31 days in the lives of watchdog Snuff, the narrator, and his master Jack, as they prepare for a Halloween ritual. Some players want to bring Lovecraft's ancient gods of chaos back to earth; some want to banish them, at least until the next ritual. Discovering who is who and what is where are vital tasks. Zelazny freely borrows from Stoker, Shelly, Conan Doyle, and Lovecraft, screen adaptations of the same, and other popular horror sources for this fun fantasy read. (***)

  • Ronald Malfi: Floating Staircase

    Ronald Malfi: Floating Staircase
    Novelist Travis Glasgow and his wife Jodie buy their first house the western Maryland town of Westlake. At first, everything is picture perfect—from the beautiful lake behind the house to the rebirth of the friendship between Travis and his brother, Adam, who lives nearby. Travis also begins to overcome the darkness of his childhood and the guilt he’s harbored since his younger brother’s death—a tragic drowning veiled in mystery that has plagued Travis since he was 13. Soon, though, the new house begins to lose its allure. Strange noises wake Travis at night, and his dreams are plagued by ghosts. Barely glimpsed shapes flit through the darkened hallways, but strangest of all is the bizarre set of wooden stairs that rises cryptically out of the lake behind the house. Travis becomes drawn to the structure, but the more he investigates, the more he uncovers the house’s violent and tragic past, and the more he learns that some secrets cannot be buried forever. (***)

  • Pat Conroy: The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

    Pat Conroy: The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son
    If you're a fan of Pat Conroy's work, you've already met Santini, aka Pat's father, Don Conroy, in Conroy's fiction. The author's latest work is a nonfiction retelling of the tragedy that is the Conroy family. An abusive father and a mother trapped in a fantasyland of her own invention formed a union that produced seven truly messed-up offspring. In this book, the surviving Conroy children lay their father, but not their demons, to rest. (***)

  • Ronald Malfi: The Mourning House

    Ronald Malfi: The Mourning House
    Devastated by family tragedy, Dr. Sam Hatch is a shadow of his former self. He travels the byroads of America, running away from a past he cannot escape. There is no salvation for him. And then he sees the house. Like a siren, it calls to him. Yet the house is not what it appears to be. Is it a blessing, a gift...or a curse? Very scary haunted house novella. (***)

  • Christopher Rice: The Heavens Rise

    Christopher Rice: The Heavens Rise
    Creepy, chilling, and almost impossible to put down all describe the new novel by Christopher Rice, son of horror novelist Anne Rice. In the swampy areas of New Orleans, Niquette Delongpre’s family discovers an old well on their property, whose contents have dark supernatural properties. During a clandestine meeting, Niquette and her high-school classmate, Marshall Ferriot, are immersed in the well water; within days, Niquette and her entire family are presumed dead and Marshall is in a vegetative state after throwing himself out a window in front of a hundred onlookers during a black-tie fundraising event. Years later, as Marshall sits in a coma in the hospital, things begin to die around him. Nurses first notice the dead birds and squirrels lined up outside his room; then a nurse, alone in his room, silently fillets herself with a surgical blade. This is only the start of what Marshall has planned. This is a horror novel, but in the telling of this page-turner, Rice also manages to deftly address issues of race and class in the Big Easy. (Review from Amazon.com) (***)

  • S. C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

    S. C. Gwynne: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
    This book tells of the rise and fall of the Comanche, a fierce, powerful, and proud American Plains tribe. It begins in 1836 with the kidnapping of a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower blue eyes named Cynthia Ann Parker. She grew to love her captors and eventually became famous as the "White Squaw." She married a powerful Comanche chief, and their son, Quanah, became a warrior who was never defeated and whose bravery and military brilliance made him a legend as one of the greatest of the Plains Indian chiefs. The author describes in brutal detail the savagery of both whites and Comanches. The book is full of historical characters and historical and geographical details. I was left wanting more about the sad and tragic figure of Cynthia Ann Parker and less about our violent and murderous male ancestors, both white and red. (And somewhere along the line, I guess I missed the explanation of the title. I don't know to what Empire of the Summer Moon refers.) (***)

  • Karen Kondazian: The Whip

    Karen Kondazian: The Whip
    The Whip is inspired by the true story of a woman, Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879) who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man in the old west. As a young woman in Rhode Island, she fell in love with a black man and had his child. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the killer. Charley became a renowned stagecoach driver for Wells Fargo. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first known woman to vote in America in 1868 (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California. (***)

  • Stephen King: Doctor Sleep: A Novel

    Stephen King: Doctor Sleep: A Novel
    Danny "Doc" Torrance is all grown up now, battling alcoholism as well as the demons of his past, demons he first met at the haunted Overlook Hotel one snowbound Colorado winter. Dan and his newfound 12-year-old "niece," who, like Dan, possesses the ability known as the shining, team up to battle a tribe of murderous paranormals who travel the country in a caravan of RVs, kidnapping children who shine, killing them, and feeding on their essence, their steam. In addition to Dan, the reader meets other familiar characters, first encountered in King's THE SHINING, some 35 years ago. One very special character joins Danny late in the book for a scene that will tug at your heart. This is classic King, every bit as good as his best. Nobody can write a monster quite like he can. (****)

  • Olive Ann Burns: Cold Sassy Tree

    Olive Ann Burns: Cold Sassy Tree
    On July 5, 1906, scandal breaks in the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, when the proprietor of the general store, E. Rucker Blakeslee, elopes with Miss Love Simpson. He is barely three weeks a widower, and she is only half his age and a Yankee to boot. As their marriage inspires a whirlwind of local gossip, Blakeslee's grandson, fourteen-year-old Will Tweedy, suddenly finds himself eyewitness to a family scandal, and that’s where his adventures begin. The anomaly of Cold Sassy, in my opinion, is that it's a town full of people you don't like (with the exception of Will Tweedy. Loomis, Miss Love, and to a lesser degree Grandpa Blakeslee). You will never meet a bigger group of mean spirited and judgmental folks. But it's a good story. I liked it. (***)

  • Elmore Leonard: The Moonshine War: A Novel

    Elmore Leonard: The Moonshine War: A Novel
    The recent death of Elmore Leonard made me sad and also got me to looking into some of his work that I had not read. There's a lot of it. I chose this book, one of his earlier works. It is set during Prohibition and concerns a small eastern Kentucky community whose main industry is moonshining. Son Martin, the novel's hero, is your typical Leonard tough-guy--reminded me a lot of Raylan Givens of Leonard's tv series "Justified"--quiet, operating on the edge of things, something of an outlaw himself. The bad guys are what you would expect--vicious, erratic, and often kind of stupid. There's a treasure that everyone, bad guys and good, would like to get their hands on. Son's deceased dad has left a hoard of first-rate, eight-year-old moonshine, and nobody but Son and his farm hand know where it is hidden. It's worth boo-coodles of money on the illegal bootleg market of the times, and Dr. Taulbee, the baddest of the bad guys, wants it. Son is determined he won't get it. Who wins? Read the book. (***)

  • Larry McMurtry: Rhino Ranch: A Novel

    Larry McMurtry: Rhino Ranch: A Novel
    McMurtry ends the north Texas saga of Duane Moore, begun in 1966 with The Last Picture Show, with a blend of wit and insight, sharply defined characters, and to-the-point prose. Duane, now in his late 60s, is a prosperous and retired widower, lonely in his hometown of Thalia, Tex. Then billionaire heiress K.K. Slater moves in and opens the Rhino Ranch, a sanctuary intended to rescue the nearly extinct African black rhinoceros. Duane's two best buddies, Boyd Cotton and Bobby Lee Baxter, both work for Slater, and the three friends schmooze with the rich, talk about geezer sex, rat out local meth heads and try to keep track of a herd of rhinos. Mixed in with the humor and snappy dialogue are tender and poignant scenes as the women in Duane's life die or drift away, and Duane befriends a rhino and realizes that his life has lost its purpose. Nobody depicts the complexities of smalltown Texas life and the frailties of human relationships better than McMurtry. (***)

  • Joe Hill: NOS4A2: A Novel

    Joe Hill: NOS4A2: A Novel
    Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country. Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 (pronounced Nosferatu) vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.” Shades of Joe Hill's dad''s, Stephen King's, work shows up in this exciting read. I caught a glimpse of Trashcan Man from THE STAND in the character of Gasmask Man; Joe is certainly following in his dad's footsteps when it comes to excellent plotting and storytelling; and there were times in this book when I felt the young author had actually surpassed SK when it came to gore and horror. So if you're a bit squeamish, you better pass on this one. Me, I thoroughly enjoyed it, although there were a few scenes when I had to put a hand over my eyes and read through parted fingers, metophorically speaking. And had I been Joe, I would have thought a while longer before writing in that romantic union in the ending. Something about that just didn't ring true. But, all in all, a good book. (***)

  • Susan Crandall: Whistling Past the Graveyard

    Susan Crandall: Whistling Past the Graveyard
    When 9-year-old Starla's strict and insensitive grandmother puts Starla on restrictions and causes her to miss her town's 4th of July celebration, Starla has had enough. She runs away, hoping to make it to Nashville to reunite with her mother whom she hasn't seen since Starla was three. Very soon, she is picked up by a black woman named Eula, who has with her a white baby named James. Thus begins an odyssey fraught with adventure, enlightenment, and danger, as Starla learns the cruelties and racIal injustices of the segregated south of 1963. Both Starla and Eula, in their own ways, are trying to create the family they have longed for to make up for hurt and loss in their past lives. In the end, they each learn that not all families are cut from the same cloth. A wonderful coming-of-age story in the tradition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (I saw bits and pieces of Scout Finch in Starla Claudelle), this book is one you'll be glad you read. It's one of the best books I've read this year. (****)

  • C. Dennis Moore: The Third Floor

    C. Dennis Moore: The Third Floor
    Pretty scary, especially near the end. My main problem with this book is that the house and it's configuration plays a very important part in the plot. But I could never get a good picture of it my my mind. I never got a good feel for how the floors and rooms were laid out. As for the plot, nothing new. Husband, wife, and 6-year-old son move into haunted house and the haunting begins. The spooks are a father and his four children, all of whom were killed six years hence by the father who hanged himself in the house after he killed the children. Sorry I couldn't give this book more stars. It just wasn't original enough to deserve more. The climax at the end of the book was the best part, and also the scariest. (**)

  • Stephen King: Joyland (Hard Case Crime)

    Stephen King: Joyland (Hard Case Crime)
    Stephen King at his worst. I had a hard time finishing this book, even though it's very short. It's about a serial killer and an amusement park and a young college student who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. All these elements come together, but not for a very interesting story. There's a ghost and there's a mystery, but who cares? The only suspense comes in the last few pages and doesn't last very long. Don't bother reading this one unless you need a sleep aid. (*)

  • Rhonda Riley: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope: A Novel

    Rhonda Riley: The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope: A Novel
    During WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man…and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well One of the best books I've read this year. (****)

  • Gillian Flynn: Dark Places: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Dark Places: A Novel
    Dark indeed! This is the third and last of Gillian Flynn's books that I have read. (Actually it's the second in publication.) I have to admit that I like dark fiction, especially a good murder mystery, and Ms. Flynn is one of the best when it comes to creating dark fiction. But this one almost got a little too dark for me. There is a scene that involves animal torture and death that was more than I could read. I had to skip most of that part. Also, I don't feel this book was nearly as well plotted and fleshed out as her other two. But still, it's a thriller for sure. Keeps you turning those pages. Here's the gist: Libby Day was, as a seven-year-old, the only survivor of her family’s brutal murder by her older brother. Twenty-five years later, she has become a hardened, selfish young woman with no friends or family. Since the tragedy, her life has been paid for by donations of well-wishers, but, with that fund now empty, Libby must find a way to make money. Her search leads her to The Kill Club, a secret society of people obsessed with the details of notorious murders. As Libby tries to gather artifacts to sell to The Kill Club (whose members, it turns out, doubt the guilt of her brother), she is forced to reëxamine the events of the night of the murder. The story deals with the fallibility of memory and the lies a child tells herself to get through a trauma. (**)

  • Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl: A Novel
    On a summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. There's a twist around just about every page turn of this book. Never a dull moment. Although the near-end was not really a surprise to me, the very end left me a little disgruntled--until I thought about it and decided that it was quite a perfect ending for this strange marriage. As much as I like Flynn's book, SHARP OBJECTS, this one is even better. This lady is an excellent mystery writer. (***)

  • Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects: A Novel

    Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects: A Novel
    The beginning of this book reads like just another crime novel, starring a hard-drinking girl reporter, Camilla Preaker, with troubles of her own. However, the author takes her reader gradually into the unfolding mysteries not only of two murders but also of the world of Camilla's chillingly dysfunctional family. For much of the rest of the book, the lives this broken family seem to take over the story, the murders being almost a back story or merely a setting for the real horrors that reside with the Preaker family. But ultimately, the author brings it all together in an ending that might take you by surprise, as it did me. This is one of the best first novels I've ever read--so good in fact that I immediately started reading Flynn's GONE GIRL. I'll tell you about it when I'm finished. (***)

  • Ransom Riggs: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

    Ransom Riggs: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
    To me, the key to a really, really good book is story. And this author's first novel has an enchanting story to tell. A mysterious island, an abandoned orphanage, a strange collection vintage photographs, and a cast of most peculiar characters combine to create a story you won't want to end. A technique that Ransom Riggs used to create this story, or to enhance it, should intrigue all. He used a collection of actual vintage photos (themselves very peculiar) to illustrate his narrative. This reader found herself staring at the photos much longer than she would have illustrations in other books. Can't wait for this author's next creations. (****)

  • Stephen Dobyns: The Burn Palace

    Stephen Dobyns: The Burn Palace
    Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even supernatural—has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts confounds Detective Woody Potter and the local police—and inspires terror in the hearts and minds of the locals. If you like mystery and suspense, this should be an enjoyable read for you. But you will have to overlook a couple of drawbacks. The book has so many characters that, at times, it's hard to know who's who. And there are too many of what I call in fiction "unflushed toilets." That is, things are left unresolved or fully explained. To avoid spoilers I won't give examples, but if you read the book, you'll no doubt find them. (**)

  • Bentley Little: The Haunted

    Bentley Little: The Haunted
    WARNING: This book is only for readers who love scary books. Not an original concept (mom, dad, two kids move into haunted house), but Little does some original things with it. It's fast paced and a real edge-of-your-seat read. And at the end, you know the story's not over yet. (***)

  • Joyce Carol Oates: Daddy Love

    Joyce Carol Oates: Daddy Love
    I definitely cannot recommend this book to anyone. It's too dark and the subject matter too heart rending. You should read the descriptions at Amazon and/or the reviews online to see if this subject matter is for you. The story begins when five-year-old Robbie Whitcomb is abducted from a mall parking lot, right under his mother's nose. The next six years tells of Robbie's life of abuse, molestation, and terror at the hands of his captor, the man he knows only as Daddy Love. I won't go any farther and give away the ending. I, personally, could not stop reading once I started this book. Ms. Oates has a way of grabbing one's attention with her writing, and I just had to find out how everything turned out. (***)

  • John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany

    John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany
    "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany." And so begins this wonderful book, one of the best I've ever read. In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary. As much as I loved this book, I will add that a good editor could have improved it by cutting the length by a least 100 pages, I believe. Irving often gets bogged down in descriptions of term papers and teaching methods that, in my opinion, add nothing to the story. But that's no reason not to read this book. Don't just read it, relish it. It's a treasure. (****)

  • Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale

    Ivan Doig: The Bartender's Tale
    Everyone has that one memorable summer of youth, that time when childhood begins to take a back seat to long awaited adulthood. For 12-year-old Rusty Harry, it is the summer of 1960 in a small town in Montana where Rusty's dad tends bar and does the job of a single parent as best he can, which turns out to be pretty darn good. The bar, the town, and the people who make up Rusty's compact life are the players in this magical story that's right up there with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for being one of the best coming-of-age stories you'll ever read. (****)

  • Sharyn McCrumb: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O

    Sharyn McCrumb: If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O
    The crew at the Hamlin sheriff's office is preparing for the reunion of their 1966 high school class. Well actually Martha is preparing; the guys are trying to figure ways to get out of going. Adding more excitement, a semi-famous folk singer has moved into town, and she is receiving threatening postcards. When a local teenage girl is reported missing and subsequently turns up dead in the French Broad River up in Knoxville, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his staff spring into action and solve another of McCrumb's "ballad mysteries." Good read. (***)

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Books Read in 2012

  • Sharyn McCrumb: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter

    Sharyn McCrumb: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
    Nora Bonesteel, the wise woman of the Tennessee mountains is what her Celtic forebears would recognize as an "edge witch", one who patrols the boundaries between life and death, good and evil, the supernatural and the mundane. In this novel, sorrow comes to the mountain community in the guise of a murder/suicide on a remote farm and via a polluted river that brings death into the valley. Nora Bonesteel, with her graveyard quilt and her herbal remedies, does what she can do to protect the ordinary folk from tragedy. This is a wonderful novel to trace the continuance of Celtic heritage and folkways into America's Eastern mountains. (***)

  • Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

    Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
    In 1779, Katie Wyler, 18, was captured by the Shawnee in North Carolina. The story of her escape and arduous journey home through hundreds of miles of Appalachian wilderness is the topic of ethno-historian Jeremy Cobb's thesis-and the thread that runs through the third of McCrumb's ballad novels (after The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter). As Cobb begins to retrace Katie's return journey, 63-year-old convicted murderer Hiram (Harm) Sorley escapes from a nearby prison. Suffering from Korsakoff's syndrome, he has no recent memory: old Harm is permanently stuck in the past. Hamelin, Tenn., police dispatcher Martha Ayers uses the opportunity to convince the sheriff to assign her as a deputy. One of her first duties is to calm a young mother who, angry at her inattentive husband, is threatening her baby with a butcher knife. Ayers and the sheriff must also warn Harm's ex-wife Rita that he has escaped. Acting as a kind of narrative conscience is a local deejay, a "carpetbagger from Connecticut," who sees Harm as a folk hero from another era. Deftly building suspense, McCrumb weaves these colorful elements into her satisfying conclusion as she continues to reward her readers' high expectations. (***)

  • Yann Martel: Life of Pi

    Yann Martel: Life of Pi
    Pi, his family, and their zoo set off on a move from India to Canada. All goes well until they are ship wrecked in the middle of the Pacific. Pi and three of the zoo animals manage to board a lifeboat and are saved from the sinking of their ship. The narrative of Pi's seven months as a castaway is sometimes brutal, sometimes sad, but all the time a page turner. This is a wonderful book. Perfect writing, strong characters, intriguing plotting. I recommend highly. (****)

  • Jodi Picoult: Second Glance: A Novel

    Jodi Picoult: Second Glance: A Novel
    Do we love across time? Or in spite of it? A developer has slated an ancient Abenaki Indian burial ground for a strip mall, and now strange happenings have tiny Comtosook, Vermont, talking of supernatural forces at work. Ross Wakeman is a ghost hunter who's never seen a ghost-all he's searching for is something to end the pain of losing his fiance Aimee in a car accident. He tried suicide-any number of times. Now Ross lives only for a way to connect with Aimee from beyond. Searching the site for signs of the paranormal, Ross meets the mysterious Lia, who sparks him to life for the first time in years. But the discoveries that await Ross are beyond anything he could dream of in this world-or the next. Picoult expertly weaves in the factual Vermont eugenics program of the 1930s, from which it has been said that Hitler got his ethnic cleansing idea. I truly enjoyed this book. (***)

  • Wanda E. Brunstetter: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club

    Wanda E. Brunstetter: The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club
    The unlikely group that signs up for Emma Yoder's beginner's quilting class proves the adage that quilting is good therapy. The group includes a preacher's wife, a troubled married couple, a biker working through a dui probation requirement, a young woman from a troubled home, and a young widower with a baby. Every member of the group, including the teacher, is battling his/her own problems. As the six-week course progresses, our quilters come to know each other and themselves better and work through the problems that are threatening to upend their lives. The narrative is a little stilted, in my opinion, but it's an easy, feel-good read. I understand this book has been made into a play. I'd like to see a performance. (***)

  • Stephen King: In the Tall Grass

    Stephen King: In the Tall Grass
    A long short story or a short novella by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. Good and scary, well plotted, a spine-tingling joy to read. But I do believe the fellows had enough here to go ahead and make into a full-length novel. The plot centers around a field of tall grass across the highway from a rest station. There's something in that tall grass, something horrible. And once you're in, you're in for good. (***)

  • Steven Sidor: Pitch Dark

    Steven Sidor: Pitch Dark
    It’s Christmas Eve, and Vera Coffey is on the run. She doesn't know the men who are after her. She has never seen them before, but she has seen the horrors they visit on people who don’t give them what they want. Vera has something they want badly. She’d give it up if it weren’t the only thing keeping her alive. The Larkins have known the toll violence takes on a family ever since they were trapped in a madman’s shooting rampage. They've been coping with the trauma for nearly twenty years. Now, on a cold and lonely winter morning, Vera collapses at their roadside motel. And she’s brought something with her. Together they'll have to make one last stand against an evil that has followed them further than anyone could've imagined. If you don't like fast-paced thrillers, don't open this book. (***)

  • Graham Joyce: The Tooth Fairy (Kindle)
    That childhood sprite, the Tooth Fairy assumes a sinister incarnation in this exceptional supernatural novel about a troublesome but endearing trio of boys coming of age in the English Midlands in the 1960s. Seven-year-old Sam first lays eyes on the Tooth Fairy, oddly dressed and smelling of horse's sweat and chamomile, in the middle of the night after he has stashed a tooth under his pillow. Over the years, the fairy becomes a fixture in his life. No one else can see or hear this odd creature, who is sometimes male, sometimes female and alternately coy, cruel and cuddly.Sam's chums are Clive, a "gifted child" who wins a NASA science contest at age six but longs to be normal; Terry, an affable lad whose life is plagued by catastrophe; and Alice, the fetching, knowing girl who drives the boys wild with lust. Joyce describes the boys' childhood experiences, sampling drugs, toying with explosives, worrying over acne, and carefully portrays their childlike stoicism in the face of several horrifying tragedies. Sam worries that the Tooth Fairy, who grows menacing and sexually demanding, is responsible for those calamities. The novel's appeal lies primarily in the three boys, who are charmingly mischievous, naive and hormone-driven, portrayed by Joyce with a gentle wit. No less compelling, though, is the fairy, a fleur de mal from childhood's secret garden whose perfume seduces Sam and the reader alike into a fertile, startling nightmare. FYI: The Tooth Fairy has won the 1997 British Fantasy Award for best novel. (This review from Amazon.com.) (****)
  • Smoky Trudeau: The Cabin

    Smoky Trudeau: The Cabin
    James-Cyrus Hoffmann has just inherited his grandfather's farm, and with it a mysterious cabin deep in the woods on Hoffmann mountain; a cabin he has dreamed about since childhood. When James-Cyrus enters the cabin, he is vaulted back through time to the Civil War era, where he meets Elizabeth, the brave young woman who lives in the cabin, and Malachi, a runaway slave. James-Cyrus realizes his dreams of the cabin were visions of the past, and that Elizabeth is his great-great aunt—a woman who vanished without a trace from the family tree. (***)

  • Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child: A Novel (Kindle)

    Eowyn Ivey: The Snow Child: A Novel (Kindle)
    Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of farmwork; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them. A very good story. (****)

  • Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Drowning Girl

    Caitlin R. Kiernan: The Drowning Girl
    India Morgan Phelps-Imp to her friends-is schizophrenic. Struggling with her perceptions of reality, Imp must uncover the truth about her encounters with creatures out of myth-or from something far, far stranger. Some would say this is Kiernan's best work. I give that position to The Red Tree. Still, this is an excellent book, extremely well crafted and quite a reading experience. I recommend it highly. Of course, I could be a little prejudiced. Caitlin is my daughter, after all. Be that as it may, however, it's a damn good book. (****)

  • Elmore Leonard: Raylan: A Novel

    Elmore Leonard: Raylan: A Novel
    A crime novel based on the tv show "Justified." US marshal Raylan Givens chases bad guys and girls who have committed everything from bank robbery to kidney pilfering. Good book if you like crime fiction with a touch of dark humor. Which I do. (***)

  • Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games

    Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games
    I was pleasantly surprised to find how good this book actually is. Very readable with lots of action that keeps the story moving. Like STEPFORD WIVES of long ago, I found the concept to be very disturbing but also very believable. That a reality show could reach this extreme does not seem nearly as impossible to me as it would have seemed several years ago. And that the rich could one day control the country--well, I'm afraid we're well on our way. (***)

  • Todd Burpo: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Kindle)

    Todd Burpo: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Kindle)
    I don't buy it. Not to be disrespectful to this little boy or his family, but I think somebody is reading much too much (and maybe adding a bit) to this child's stories. There's too much here that just doesn't ring true; a blue-eyed Jesus; a 4-year-old boy that says things like, "God is three persons," (blessed Trinity!); people with wings. I'm not saying it's a hoax. I just think maybe Colton's parents got a little too excited and made something of their son's experience that it wasn't. Let me be clear: I do believe there are authentic near-death experiences; I just don't believe this is one of them--at least not as depicted in this book.

  • William Landay: Defending Jacob: A Novel

    William Landay: Defending Jacob: A Novel
    Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student. Your heart will break as you watch the crumbling of this happy family. (***)

  • Glenn Kleier: The Knowledge of Good & Evil

    Glenn Kleier: The Knowledge of Good & Evil
    A thriller that's a mixture of DaVinci Code, Flatliners, Paradise Lost, and the author's own imaginings of the afterlife. This thriller has, as I expected it would have, a surprise (sort of) ending. I have only one serious criticism and that would be that there's too much description. But there's lots of action and suspense to make up for it. (***)

  • Gregg Braden: The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief

    Gregg Braden: The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief
    Between 1993 and 2000, a series of groundbreaking experiments revealed dramatic evidence of a web of energy that connects everything in our lives and our world—the Divine Matrix. From the healing of our bodies, to the success of our careers, relationships, and the peace between nations, this new evidence demonstrates that we each hold the power to speak directly to the force that links all of creation. I wish the author had told us more about how to use this power in our lives. (***)

Books Read in 2011

  • Gregg Olsen: Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest

    Gregg Olsen: Starvation Heights: A True Story of Murder and Malice in the Woods of the Pacific Northwest
    The setting is a forested wilderness in the Northwest, circa 1911. The villain is a tall, egotistical woman doctor with an imposing jawline and a fierce will to dominate others. The victims are two wealthy English sisters, gullible health faddists after the fashion of those who flocked to Dr. Kellogg's sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. But unlike Dr. Kellogg's comparatively gentle method of diet plus enemas, Dr. Hazzard's method was to literally starve her patients to death--and then defraud them of their valuables. An intriguing story but not very well written. (**)

  • Charles Frazier: Nightwoods: A Novel

    Charles Frazier: Nightwoods: A Novel
    A woman living in an abandoned rural lodge is suddenly forced to raise her dead sister's two wild young children. Neither of them has spoken a word since witnessing their mother's brutal murder, and they've developed a fondness for breaking things and starting fires. When their ne'er-do-well father is released from jail, the action in this lush and lively novel flares. Not as good as Cold Mountain but better than 13 Moons. I liked this book a lot. (***)

  • Stephen King: 11/22/63: A Novel

    Stephen King: 11/22/63: A Novel
    Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time. A tribute to a simpler era and a devastating exercise in escalating suspense, 11/22/63 is Stephen King at his epic best. (****)

  • Emma Donoghue: Room: A Novel

    Emma Donoghue: Room: A Novel
    To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child. (****)

  • Dean Koontz: What the Night Knows: A Novel

    Dean Koontz: What the Night Knows: A Novel
    Here is ghost story like no other you have read. In the Calvinos, Dean Koontz brings to life a family that might be your own, in a war for their survival against an adversary more malevolent than any he has yet created, with their own home the battleground. Of all his acclaimed novels, none exceeds What the Night Knows in power, in chilling suspense, and in sheer mesmerizing storytelling. --Amazon.com (***)

  • Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone: A Novel (Kindle)

    Daniel Woodrell: Winter's Bone: A Novel (Kindle)
    Intriguing story and writing that is both lyrical and earthy. I loved this book. Bone chilling. The movie, which I saw before I read this book, sticks very very closely to the book's plot. (****)

  • Stephen King: Mile 81 (Kindle Single)

    Stephen King: Mile 81 (Kindle Single)
    A right scary novella with somewhat the same theme (but not exactly) of CHRISTINE and FROM A BUICK 8. (***)

  • Robert McCammon: The Five

    Robert McCammon: The Five
    The only complaint I have about this book is that there's a little too much rock and music terminology that I don't understand. Otherwise it's an excellent thriller with a supernatural touch. You won't see the ending coming, an ending that proves you never know what effect your actions might have on someone else. (***)

  • Peter Straub: A Dark Matter

    Peter Straub: A Dark Matter
    Four high school friends in 1966 Madison, Wis., fall under the spell of charismatic wandering guru. During an occult ceremony in which said guru attempts to break through to a higher reality, something goes horribly awry leaving one participant dead. Decades later, one of the four's writer husband interviews the quartet to find out what happened. And so we get to hear the entire story not once, but four times, as told by each of the four. I have to say, Peter, I could have done with the one telling, the last one, the one that I almost didn't make it to. (**)

  • Jack Kilborn: Endurance: A Novel of Terror (Kindle)

    Jack Kilborn: Endurance: A Novel of Terror (Kindle)
    The Rushmore Inn in rural West Virginia is much like the Eagles' Hotel California: Folks check in but they can never leave. Run by a crazy woman and her brood of inbred mutants, this inn doesn't appear in vacation pamphlets or Chamber of Commerce websites. It's the area's dirty little secret that even the sheriff is in on. Being a fan of scary books, I enjoyed this one. It's scary--very. But there was one thing that kept distracting and irritating me. I have lived in the south all my life, and I have never heard anyone use y'all for a plural pronoun. When you call someone "y'all," you better be speaking to more than one person. Apparently the vocabulary rules are different in West Virginia, or this author is in over his head when he writes in southern dialect. (***)

  • Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle)

    Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Kindle)
    One reviewer said of this book: "If what we call 'horror' can be seen as including any literature that has dark, horrific subject matter, then Blood Meridian is...the best horror novel ever written. It's a perverse, picaresque Western about bounty hunters for Indian scalps near the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s--a ragged caravan of indiscriminate killers led by an unforgettable human monster called 'The Judge.' " While I didn't conclude it to be the very best horror novel ever, I do agree that it's quite horrible (and very well written). A list of creatures murdered in horrible ways in this book would include not only men, women, children, and babies but also horses, mules, cows, dogs, cats, at least one bear, buffalo, and I probably forgot a few species. The reader loses count of the murders after a while but never quite becomes sensitized to the horrific violence of this book. I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't read it again. (***)

  • Michael Marshall: Straw Men (Kindle)

    Michael Marshall: Straw Men (Kindle)
    This is a very good book. Exciting thriller. Page turner. But it's a complicated (and intriguing) plot, so you have to pay attention. A couple of ex-CIA operatives work with a couple of FBI agents to bring together and solve the disparate components of a batch of serial killings with a spate of mass murders. (***)

  • Mario Puzo: The Family (Kindle)

    Mario Puzo: The Family (Kindle)
    Take the Carleone family (The Godfather) and make them all popes, cardinals, and priests, and you have this book that centers on the lives of the Borgia family in 15th century Italy. There's plenty of murder, sex, and corruption, but this book isn't nearly as good as The Godfather. It was finished and published after Puzo died. (**)

  • Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (Kindle)

    Markus Zusak: The Book Thief (Kindle)
    Sort of a combination of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank. Very good storyt of a young girl in Nazi Germany, living with German foster parents who are harboring a Jewish man in their basement. This is a very good book and has good lessons and important warnings for any culture at anytime. (****)

  • Steven Meloan: The Shroud (Kindle)

    Steven Meloan: The Shroud (Kindle)
    Think Dan Brown meets The Shroud of Turin. A fast-paced thriller about of team of genetic scientists who have been commissioned by the Vatican to test the DNA in the ancient dried blood of the Shroud. I won't tell you what they found; that would spoil much of the excitement of this book. You find yourself wishing this could and would actually happen--until another scientist with ulterior motives decides that cloning is the next "logical" step. There's danger, intrigue, and just a smidgen of sex. Occasional passages explaining the mysteries of genetic science enhance the story but sometimes go on a bit too long, making the reader feel like she's reading a text book. My only other complaint is the ending. I expected a not-quite-so-clean ending and I didn't get it. But all-in-all, a good read. (***)

  • Graham Joyce: The Silent Land (Kindle)

    Graham Joyce: The Silent Land (Kindle)
    Zoe and Jake are on holiday at a ski resort in the Pyrenees when the get caught in an avalanche. The rest of the story is cold, mysterious, suspenseful, and more than a little scary. But this isn't just a suspense novel. It's also a love story that proves love absolutely can conquer all--at least for a while. I recommend this book to anyone who loves suspense, mystery, and strangeness. (****)

  • Mary McGarry Morris: A Dangerous Woman

    Mary McGarry Morris: A Dangerous Woman
    Odd, peculiar, obsessed, haunting and haunted--all these words describe this book's main character, Martha Horgan. Martha suffered gang rape as a teenager, and now wants nothing more than to be loved, appreciated, normal. Throughout the book, while tension builds for Martha, it also builds for the reader. Even while rooting for Martha as her life becomes more and more unraveled, the reader feels that something awful is coming. And it does. (***)

  • Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Kindle)

    Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Kindle)
    In her witty and wise debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an English widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy. (Amazon review) (****)

  • Oliver Pötzsch: The Hangman's Daughter (Kindle)

    Oliver Pötzsch: The Hangman's Daughter (Kindle)
    Set in the mid-1600s in the Bavarian town of Schongau, this novel features a hangman, Jakob Kuisl, who is asked to find out whether an ominous tattoo found on a dying boy means that witchcraft has come to town. Stories of witch hunts, whether literal or figurative, always make me angry, and this one was no exception. But it was worth the feelings of righteous anger to read this well written story. (***)

  • Scott Nicholson: The Red Church (Kindle)

    Scott Nicholson: The Red Church (Kindle)
    The Days, the Littlefields, and the McFalls are descendants of the original families that settled the rural Appalachian community. Those old families share a secret of betrayal and guilt, and McFall wants his congregation to prove its faith. Because he believes he is the Second Son of God, and that the cleansing of sin must be done in blood. Well written and very scary. (***)

  • Bill Douglas: 2012 The Awakening (Kindle)

    Bill Douglas: 2012 The Awakening (Kindle)
    A young woman finds herself at the epicenter of a global awakening that is shaking the foundations of humanity. As she is about to give the most auspicious speech of her life at the Oxford Debate Club in the UK, following on the heels of her Nobel Prize in Economics, she is rattled by a "vibration." It drives her from giving her prepared economics speech, to speak from the heart - issuing a plea for humanity to redefine itself in order to navigate the troubled waters of our future - using compassion as the compass that guides us. A very interesting, compelling, and thought provoking novel. (***)

  • Mark Childress: Georgia Bottoms: A Novel (Kindle)

    Mark Childress: Georgia Bottoms: A Novel (Kindle)
    A delightful novel about a good old girl who knows how to work through her problems. Georgia is a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara who is able to juggle half a dozen gentlemen callers, a mother with "a tenuous hold on reality," a n'ere-do-well brother, and a business selling quilts that she buys from a group of ladies (who sound a lot like the Gees Bend quilters) and then markets as her own. You'll fall in love with this "fallen woman," and cheer for her to the very end. (***)

  • Eleanor Brown: The Weird Sisters (Kindle)

    Eleanor Brown: The Weird Sisters (Kindle)
    As one of three sisters from an upbringing where reading was encouraged, I expected to like this book more than I did. I can't pinpoint just what I found wrong with it. It was very well written and there were parts that were intriguing. But, all in all, I think there was just not enough story for me. (***)

  • J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye

    J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
    I guess I can understand why this novel has become so important a part of American lit. It is, the best our group could determine, the first novel in which a teenager's feelings are displayed so realistically, at least during modern times. (I know Romeo and Juliet were teenagers too.) But I have to admit that I tired of old Holden's incessant complaining, negativity, and cynicism. I'm glad I read it though. I always felt I had missed something by never having read Catcher in my youth. Now that's done. (***)

  • Keith Donohue: Angels of Destruction: A Novel

    Keith Donohue: Angels of Destruction: A Novel
    A decade before, Margaret's daughter Erica has run away with her boyfriend. Later Margaret's husband has died. Margaret is all alone when, half frozen, nine-year-old Norah shows up at Margaret's door one cold winter night. The two concoct a story that Norah is actually Margaret's long-lost granddaughter whom she has never met, and Norah settles in to live with Margaret. But is Norah actually the strange little girl that Erica and her boyfriend live with for a while? Or is she an angel come to protect and comfort Margaret? And who is the strange man who keeps appearing in Margaret's life? Another angel? Lots of mystery and magic in this book. I loved it. (****)

Books Read in 2010

  • Stephen King: THE COLORADO KID (Kindle)
    The most boring Stephen King story I've ever read, and one of the most boring stories ever. A couple of old newspaper reporters tell a young female newspaper reporter the story of one of the mysteries of Moose Look Island. It goes on and on and on till you don't even care how the mystery is solved. Good thing too. Because it isn't. (**)
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Kindle)

    Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Kindle)
    Excellent storytelling. The narrator is a 15-year-old autistic boy who sets out to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor's dog. The journey is engrossing; You'll find this one hard to put down. And, with Christopher's fast-paced way of telling his story, often opting for tangents, you'll find yourself breathless and a bit tired at the end. Like you've made the journey with him. And you'll fall in love with this kid along the way. (****)

  • Charles Portis: True Grit

    Charles Portis: True Grit
    Somehow I missed ever having read this western classic, which was published in the 60s. I loved it. Portis is a very good storyteller. You'll fall in love with Rooster and Mattie. Now I'm ready for the new movie starring the amazing Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. (Remember the old movie with John Wayne as Rooster?) (****)

  • Elissa Elliott: Eve: A Novel of the First Woman

    Elissa Elliott: Eve: A Novel of the First Woman
    A fictional account of the lives of Adam, Eve, and their children, with appearance by Elohim, Lucifer, and a bunch of other folks that we never knew were there. Good story. (***)

  • Ray Bradbury: The Fog Horn (Kindle)
    A 1951 short story by this master of science fiction and horror. A humongous beast has slept miles under the sea for millions of years until he hears a voice like his calling to him. The monster returns year after year to visit this one of his kind until his new companion's voice is silenced. (****)
  • Ransom Stephens: The God Patent (Kindle)

    Ransom Stephens: The God Patent (Kindle)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. It's a well told story with an intriguing conclusion. But I felt the characters were a bit flat. I think they could have been fleshed out more. (***)

  • Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars

    Stephen King: Full Dark, No Stars
    Four long stories by the King of Horror. No vampires or werewolves though. The monsters in these stories are all too human. They're some of King's darkest stories, however. Sometimes they're hard to read. But the writing is some of his best. (****)

  • Barack Obama: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

    Barack Obama: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
    The author created OF THEE I SING for his daughters Sasha and Malia back in 2004. It's a tribute to some honored Americans of all races. It's a great little read and would make a wonderful gift for some beloved child in your life. I'm giving one to my grand nephew (5 y.o.) for Christmas. I also got one for me. (****)

  • Tiffany Baker: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

    Tiffany Baker: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
    What it means to be different and the importance of acceptance run throughout this yankee gothic story. Aberdeen County, N.Y., in all its quirkiness, serves as a microcosm for the larger world and reminds us that we are all different and that things—and people—are not always what they seem.While I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good read, it is not without problems. The main character, a girl named Truly who cannot stop growing, serves as the story's narrator. But the story loses some of its believability as Truly describes scenes, conversations, and thoughts involving other characters that she could not possibly know about. And some situations, such as the burial of Amelia's father, the lack of any kind of investigation when Truly's sister disappears, etal, interrupt one's suspension of disbelief. It's a testament of the author's otherwise superb story-telling ability that I was able to overlook this drawbacks enough to enjoy this book. I would have given it four stars if not for these problems. (***)

  • Charlaine Harris: Grave Sight (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 1)

    Charlaine Harris: Grave Sight (Harper Connelly Mysteries, Book 1)
    Harper Connelly's talent is that she can find dead people. She finds a bunch of them in Sarne, Ark. Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver solve a trio of murders in this small town, then hightail it to safer ground. Fun read. (***)

  • Stephen M. Irwin: The Dead Path (Kindle)

    Stephen M. Irwin: The Dead Path (Kindle)
    This is onen of the best scary books I've ever read. An adult fairy tale of sorts, don't even open it unless you're a scary story fan--'cause it's plenty scarey. Warning: It has spiders--lots and lots of spiders. (****)

  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition

    Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
    My fifth reading of this most excellent of books. My book club chose this as our October selection to honor the 50th anniversary of its publication. Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Boo, and Ms. Lee, thank you for this story. (*****)

  • Stephen King: Roadwork

    Stephen King: Roadwork
    One of King's "Richard Bachman" books. There really is a difference in Bachman and King. Bachman is harsher and not as sympathetic with his characters, I think. This is a pretty good story of a man fighting eminent domain to save his house and his sacred memories. In a way, he wins. (***)

  • Amy Greene: Bloodroot (Kindle)

    Amy Greene: Bloodroot (Kindle)
    Named for a flower whose blood-red sap possesses the power both to heal and poison, Bloodroot is a stunning fiction debut about the legacies of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss that haunt one family across the generations, from the Great Depression to today. (****)

  • Stephen King: UR (Kindle)

    Stephen King: UR (Kindle)
    This novella concerns a man who ordered a Kindle from Amazon and got a highly unusual pink one that let him read books and newspaper from alternate dimensions of our universe. Good read. (***)

  • Christian Moerk: Darling Jim: A Novel (Kindle)

    Christian Moerk: Darling Jim: A Novel (Kindle)
    A dad-gum good book. Modern Irish gothic tale of traveling bard Jim Quick and victims of his killing spree. This author combines fairy tales, Arthurian legend, horror, mystery, and a few other genres to create this entrancing tale of murder and revenge. (****)

  • Colm A. Kelleher: Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah (Kindle)

    Colm A. Kelleher: Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained at a Remote Ranch in Utah (Kindle)
    A compendium of every UFO and paranormal experience that most people have ever heard of. According to this book, which is presented as a true story, the owners of a Utah ranch were terrorized by everything from Big Foot to giant wolves over a period of several years, some of which appeared out of a portal to/from another dimension. NIDS (National Institute for Discovery Science) subsequently bought the ranch and started an investigation. Although the author reports that the investigators experienced many of the same phenomena that the Gormans did, they apparently didn't get a lot of evidence in the way of photos, videos, or recordings--as none appear in the book. Read at your own risk of becoming disenchanted. (**)

  • Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)

    Jeannette Walls: The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Kindle)
    This is the story of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, who might just be the worst parents in the history of the world. Victims of the Walls's laissez faire form of child rearing as well as their parents' complete lack of a sense of responsibility for their children, the four Walls kids suffer inhuman deprivation and indignity. The miracle is that they all got out and, at least in the case of this author, because productive adults. A good story. (***)

  • Stephen King: N (Kindle)
    Is it possible for a psychiatrist to "catch" his patient's illness, specifically OCD? A very severe case of OCD with some very serious side effects. Well, as we know, with the Master of the Macabre, anything is possible. The strange thing about this story is that it appeared on my Kindle, and I didn't order it. (***)
  • Dan Simmons: Black Hills

    Dan Simmons: Black Hills
    Paha Sapa (Black Hills) a young Lakota Sioux, counts coup on old Yellow Hair at the Battle of the Greasy Grass and acquires Custer's ghost as an unwelcome lifelong companion. Paha Sapa's adult life finds him working as s powder man with Gutzon Borglum on Mt.Rushmore, a white sculpture paid for by the white government and carved into The Six Grandfathers, a mountain sacred to the Sioux and other Plains Indians. But Paha Sapa has a plan to avenge this desecration. If you have any interest in the history of the Sioux or Mt. Rushmore, or if you just like a very good story, you should love this book. I did. (****)

  • Justin Cronin: The Passage (Kindle)

    Justin Cronin: The Passage (Kindle)
    I have mixed feelings about this book. In the end, it was a good story, well plotted. But Cronin included way too many characters, especially in the middle of the book. Hard to keep up with who was who. But I'd still recommend it for anyone who likes a good end-of-the-world thriller. (***)

  • Ramey Channell: Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge
    The story of how Lily Claire and her beloved cousin Willie T. solve a mystery that starts with a map on a baby boy's tongue. A good read for young people and adults. Filled with humor, adventure, and a touch of the supernatural. A fun read if there ever was one. (****)
  • Paul David Binkley: Thawing Eden (Kindle)

    Paul David Binkley: Thawing Eden (Kindle)
    This book did not measure up to my expectations. While the premise was intriguing (finding the ancient Garden of Eden under the Antarctic polar ice cap), the execution just didn't ring true for me. The last fourth of the book is the best. (**)

  • Richard Matheson: The Box: Uncanny Stories (Kindle)

    Richard Matheson: The Box: Uncanny Stories (Kindle)
    I love Richard Matheson's writing. My initial reason for reading this book was to get some more insight into the movie of the same title that left me wondering WT?. But I think the story was even more ambiguous than the movie. My favorite story in the book is the last one, "Tis the Season to be Jelly." (***)

  • Sandra Felton: Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home (Kindle)

    Sandra Felton: Living Organized: Proven Steps for a Clutter-Free and Beautiful Home (Kindle)
    This book gives advice on how Messies can become Cleanies. Tips on decluttering, organing, finding your style, and living beautifully. The main problem I had with this book is that the author seems to be speaking to an audience with plenty of money. (**)

  • Irene Latham: Leaving Gee's Bend

    Irene Latham: Leaving Gee's Bend
    In 1930s rural Gees Bend, Alabama, young Ludelphia Bennet goes on a journey to save her mother and ends up saving Gees Bend. (***)

  • Donald B. Kraybill: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kindle)

    Donald B. Kraybill: Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kindle)
    Not so much a story of the Amish school house shooting as a documentary on the history of Anabaptists and the Amish doctrine of forgiveness. But it's very interesting. It's also very inspiring to know that there are people who work this hard to follow Jesus and do the things he taught, especially the part about forgiveness and loving our enemies. (****)

  • Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box (Kindle)

    Joe Hill: Heart-Shaped Box (Kindle)
    As one has-been hard-rock star found out, be careful what you buy on Ebay (or a knock-off Ebay). You might get a little more than you paid for. This is a scary book. (***)

  • Robert Goolrick: A Reliable Wife

    Robert Goolrick: A Reliable Wife
    In the fall of 1907, Ralph Truitt puts an ad in a Chicago newspaper for "a reliable wife" to share his life in rural Wisconsin. Catherine Land answers his ad, claiming she is "a simple, honest woman." What she is, however, is a prostitute whose plan is to become Truitt's wealthy widow. The action, suspense, plot twists, and beautiful prose kept me turning pages until the very last one. (****)

  • Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island (Kindle)

    Dennis Lehane: Shutter Island (Kindle)
    Edge-of-your-seat page-turner with a lot of twists and an ending that I never saw coming. I had to read the last two chapters three times before I believed it. Can't wait to see the movie. (****)

  • John Connolly: The Gates: A Novel

    John Connolly: The Gates: A Novel
    Who knew quantum physics could be so much fun? This book is sort of a children's book for adults. When scientists at the CERN particle accelerator have a wee malfunction, the Gates of Hell are opened and Samuel Johnson, his doggie Boswell, and three of his friends find themselves on the front lines in a demonic war. Sounds scary, and it is a little. But mostly it's funny. (***)

  • Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (Kindle)

    Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time (Kindle)
    Greg Mortenson risks his life time and again to build schools in the hostile environs of the Islamic world. Mortenson is a living hero to rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials and tribal chiefs from his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls. Read this book and believe that peace can be won without violence. (****)

  • Dan Simmons: A Winter Haunting

    Dan Simmons: A Winter Haunting
    This is a very scary book. The ending took me totally by surprise. Didn't see it coming. Sequel to Children of the Night. Just as good, if not better, than Children. (****)

  • Louise Murphy: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel

    Louise Murphy: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
    Using a framework based on the "Hansel and Gretel" fairy tale, Murphy weaves a story of horror and heartbreak set in Poland during the latter days of the Holocaust. The moral of this story can be found in the very last chapter: When all is said and done, "when the bombs have stopped dropping...and we are done killing each other," love is what we're left with. Love is all that's eternal among the many human emotions. (****)

  • Clyde Bolton: Nancy Swimmer: A Story of the Cherokee Nation

    Clyde Bolton: Nancy Swimmer: A Story of the Cherokee Nation
    This novel takes place during the 19th century in North Georgia in the period before and during the removal of the eastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma. It's an interesting and well written account of the life of Nancy Swimmer, a Cherokee woman who lived during this time. It's heartbreaking as well and will not endear you to the government of Georgia of the time, nor to the old Chicken Snake himself, President Andy Jackson. (****)

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