18 January 2013

Friday: The Week in Review

How did your reading week go? Mine has been up and down. I am currently in the middle of reading two or three books that I am really enjoying. Unfortunately, I have spent most of the week at my parents' house. The bathroom floor in their guest bathroom needed work since the toilet was falling through the floor. At any rate, being away from home has seriously cut into my reading time.
So that is the down. The up is the books that I am currently working on. I have three books going currently and I am really enjoying them all. So much so that I am having a hard time deciding which book to read when I do get a chance to read. The main book that I am reading is Stephen King's 11/22/63. I am a King newbie, but I am really enjoying this book. I read The Stand a couple of years ago and I am finding this one is just as good as it was. The next book I am working on is a mystery. It is the second in a series of mysteries in which the main protagonist is a PI who grew up in a Bhuddist monastery in India. It is called The Second Rule of Ten, and it is one of those books that is just a pleasure to read. The last book that I am working on is a suspense/thriller called Cover of Snow. It is the debut effort from author Jenny Milchman. Too many books, too little time.
Other than that, I have been trying to keep up with my Goodreads groups, modding duties, reviews, and challenges. Hope your reading week has gone great and that you have a wonderful weekend. Not sure what Saturday holds for me, but I plan to spend most of Sunday watching the football playoffs. See you on Monday. :)

17 January 2013

Thursday's Review: Memoir of a Good Death by Anne Sorbie

If you decide to read Anne Sorbie 's Memoir of a Good Deathand it starts a bit slow for you, don't give up and don't despair. That is exactly what happened to me with this book. It is the story of Rheegan, a women in her thirties who, along with her mother, Sarah, is trying to deal with the death of her father. 

In the beginning, I had a hard time identifying with the main characters, especially that of Rheegan. My first impression of her was that she was going to be another one of those run-of-the mill self absorbed characters that you sometimes find in books on family dynamics. As the story progressed, though, and I got into the rhythm of the book, I became enthralled by the behaviors of both Rheegan, and Sarah. Soon I was greedily turning pages, wondering where the story was going to go, what strange behaviors the characters were going to exhibit next, and how those behaviors were going to impact both them and the people around them. By the middle of the book, I was wondering exactly how Rheegan was going to die (no spoiler, she tells us she is going to die in the first paragraph of the book). And then I got to the end, which smacked me right in the face. By the time I finished this book, I realized that this is no run-of-the-mill story of family dynamics and mother-daughter relationships. Rather it is a story of two women dealing with the aftermath of death, while trying desperately to reconcile their very different ways of handling the situation. 

Rheegan and Sarah are not the only interesting characters in this book. The author has filled the book with people who are anything but ordinary. In some cases we get to spend quite a bit of time with them, in other cases, we are only afforded brief glimpses. Even these brief glimpses, though, are fascinating. There were quite a few of them that were important, but not integral to the story, but I wished I could get to know a bit more about them. 

The plot of the book flowed well. One of the things I particularly liked was that it was not exactly straightforward, but tended to meander around a bit, like the river that both Rheegan and Sarah lived next to. The author's use of foreshadowing was good and her hooks certainly got me thinking and trying to guess at the end result. You see, even though we know up front that Rheegan will die, it is the uncertainty of the circumstances and timing of that death that kept me turning the pages. 

If there was one thing, though, that kept me from giving this book 5 stars, it was the fact that the author made some plot hints that never panned out. This can be a good thing as in the use of a "red herring" in a mystery story, but in this case, there were some definite comments made that seemed at first to be important in some way, but that ended up going nowhere. One, in particular, was mentioned several times, but the dots were never connected. I found this just a bit confusing, and at the same time disappointing. I kept waiting for the big revelation as to the significance of the statement, only to have it never explained. At least not to my satisfaction. 

All in all, though, I would class this book as a "hidden gem" as I don't think many people have found it yet. I am giving it 4 starts and would suggest it to those who like books on family dynamics by authors like Sue MillerAnita Shreve, or Jodi Picoult

16 January 2013

It's Wednesday: Anything Goes

I just joined a new book group that focuses solely on "Classic Historical Fiction". Some of my favorite time is when a book group is starting out. Everyone is getting to know each other and figuring out just how much they have in common. I love discussing books with the members, and having those, "Oh, you too!" minutes when you connect. This particular group started with some spirited and interesting discussions of how you determine what is a "classic" and what the exact definition of the genre Historical Fiction is.

Let's start with a definition of Historical Fiction. Most places I have looked have defined it as any fiction book where the story is set at least 50 years in the past. Books like C. W. Gortner's The Confessions of Catherine de Medici or Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth are naturals. But what about a book that is written in the late 60s or early 70s about WWII. Would that not seem like Historical Fiction to you? The time difference between the writing and the events is only 25 or 30 years. But it certainly seems like history to me, and therefore Historical Fiction. On the flip side, some people consider the work of Charles Dickens as historical fiction because the subjects that he wrote about are so far in the past, even though they were contemporary when he wrote them. How about you? Where do you fall in this continuum?

Then there is the issue of what is a "classic". I think the most common thing that comes to people's mind when you say the word classic is something that has endured the test of time. Books that were written many years ago, and are still being read and loved by readers today. Others say it is works that, by their subject matter or the manner in which they were written, define the era in which they were written. At best the definition is a nebulous one. I think for the group we decided that anything written before the beginning of the 1980s was going to be determined to fit the definition for our purposes. In the end, though, I believe that we decided to change the word from classic, to classical, in order to allow books that did not have a large following, but that we felt should have.

So - What are your favorite Classical Historical Fiction books and/or authors. Do you find certain time periods, places, or historical figures that you like to read about more than others? I have thought a lot about this question myself. My favorite Historical Fiction books are easy, Hawaii by James Michener, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (actually just about anything by her), Memoirs of a Geisha (forgot the author, lol), and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. There are many more, but they are the top.

15 January 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

The Last Victim by Karen Robards is the first book in her new Dr. Charlotte Stone series. Although Robards is an established author in the romantic suspense genre, this is the first book of hers that I have read. As such, I am not sure that it was the best book for me to start with. For one, I like romantic suspense that is a bit more geared to the suspense than the romance. In the end, there were things about this book that I really liked, and some that bothered me.

Dr. Charlotte Stone is a survivor. In fact, 15 years ago she was the lone survivor of a terrible serial killer. Unfortunately, she was the only living person who could identify him. This fact has haunted her for years and helped her to decide to become a psychologist who specializes in studying serial killers. As an expert, she is asked to consult with the FBI as a consultant on the case of a serial killer who seems eerily similar to the one that she survived all those years ago.

This premise of this book was intriguing. I think the psychologist as a profiler is a tried and true device in a number of thrillers, and it always seems to work for me. I like the way it gives the author a way to look inside the mind and motives of the killer, and actually spell out what the killer is thinking without sounding like they are lecturing the reader. In this respect, Dr. Stone is a perfect example. Another device that works well is the romantic feelings and the tension that it causes between Dr. Stone and Bartoli, the head of the FBI team that she is working with. The plot line of the story was another part of this book that I enjoyed. Unfortunately, I sometimes felt that the thriller plot line was playing second fiddle to the romantic plot lines. Yes, I said lines. There were two of them.

This brings me to the parts of the book that I was not that fond of. The biggest thing here, which I mentioned above, is that I felt that the main romance story line overshadowed the thriller storyline at times. I'm sure this is fine with many readers, but I am not a huge romance reader. I do think romance has a place in many story lines, and I am not averse to it altoghether, but I try to avoid books that may be considered "bodice rippers" (not my phrase, that is what some of my friends who read them call them). I would have preferred it if the thriller story line was a bit more front and center. The biggest thing that bothered me, though was the fact that the main character, who has had an emotionally scarring encounter with a serial killer in her teens, and is supposed to be a clinical psychologist on top of it, falls in love with the ghost of a serial killer. Although I liked the character of the ghost, and liked the way that he participated in the solving of the crime, the fact that he was the major love interest was not at all believable to me. Additionally, the fact that the author seemed to want to make him into a sympathetic character I found just plain disturbing. In all, this aspect of the story did not work for me.

For a long time, I deliberated how many stars to give this book, but in the end, the things that I liked won out over the things that I didn't. That and the fact that I feel that I liked it enough to try the next one in the series.

14 January 2013

Monday's a Challenge: the Challenge Challenged Club, Are You A Member?

If you are anything like me, you love book challenges.  I tell everyone, though, that I am "challenge challenged."  Just like buying books (I'm sure I own more than I will ever read) I cannot seem to pass up a book challenge.  It doesn't help that I am in a couple of reading groups run by two of the best reading challenge designers in the known universe, either.  They are two of the most clever, and at the same time diabolical  women I have ever met when it comes to thinking up new and creative ways to challenge yourself with your reading.  The end result, as you have probably guessed, is that I join every challenge that they, and others, come up with.  Once I have joined, I get all excited about picking which books I am going to read, or which books I am already reading that will fit into the challenges.  I make my plans, post my lists, and then sit back with a sigh and get ready to read.  Here is where the problems start.  When I join all of these challenges, I am convinced that reading all of the books is doable.  Then life hits me in the face.  Before you know it, I am behind and wondering how I got that way.  It doesn't help that I am also somewhat of a mood reader and a social reader.  Show me a buddy read, and I am on it.

So, for 2013 I have decided that I am going to pick just a few challenges (Ya, right) and then stick with those.  I AM going to stay focused. (Challenge wise).  As I said before, I know two of the best challenge designers around, so I am going to have to pick and choose.

The first set of challenges that I am doing for 2013 all have something to do with clearing books from your To Read lists.  Luckily, all of my major book clubs are doing some form of this challenge this year, so by doing this, I can hit several "birds" with one books, so to speak.  In addition, I am doing a couple of "genre" or "shelf" challenges, which entail reading from different stated genres (sometimes called shelves, like the Young Adult shelf in a library).   These are actually my favorite type of challenge as I am a pretty eclectic reader and this allows me to hit all the high spots.  Then there are a few "task based" challenges that I am participating in.  One is to read a short story a week for the entire year.  Another entails reading books by debut or "new to me" authors, and yet another is to read books from my favorite authors.  The last type of challenge that I am doing is based on books in a series.  Whether it is reading an entire series, reading the first book of 5 different series, or completing a series that I started in a prior year, these can be fun challenges. Oh, and I almost forgot, I am also doing the basic challenge - read a certain number of books or pages during the year.

How about you?  Are you like me and love book challenges?  What is your favorite type?  Are you doing any this year?  Which part of a challenge do you like best, the planning or the reading?

As the year goes on, I will talk a bit more in detail about the challenges that I am doing, who designed them, what the goal is,  and how they are progressing.  Feel free to share your challenges with me.  What are the best challenges you have ever come across?