Tuesday, May 29, 2007

#42 - The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan

I love ghost stories, so I decided that this would be a good book to read. I'd heard the story before from melodramatic television documentaries, and I saw the movie a few months ago when it first came out on DVD.

The story goes something like this......wealthy landowner hacks off weird witch woman. Weird witch woman curses wealthy landowner. Ghost comes to haunt landowner's family. Landowner's family and the haunting become a spectacle. Landowner dies. Ghost leaves after having the last word.

Obviously, Monahan took the Bell Witch ghost tale and added more umph to the story -- the spirit talks, interacts with many people, and basically causes all sorts of problems -- to make this a good novel. And then he adds the surprise ending to explain the haunting.

I'll give the book the same comment I gave the movie. "It's ok.'' I felt the ending of the story smacked lightly of Scooby Doo -- it's not a ghost....it's a person. I can't elaborate as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the movie adaptation. And, to me, Monahan added a bit too much to the story. The Witch doesn't talk just a little bit.....she talks a lot. She nearly does a tap dance and magic act to draw attention to herself.

The original Bell Witch tale is just a story about the Bell family members being attacked by an unknown force and ends with John Bell finally becoming deathly ill and dying because of the curse. The original tale without all the embellishment to me is more scary than this dressed up version. An unseen force that you can't reason with is much more frightening than a spirit that talks, sings, recites Scripture, interacts with the family, shows kindness, etc.

Too much story......not enough scary. In fact, Monahan's version really isn't scary at all.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 22/50

#41 - The Last Great Dance on Earth by Sandra Gulland

This is the 3rd, and final, book in Sandra Gulland's trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte. This book outlines Josephine's life from 1799 to her death at 50 in 1814.
This was by far the most emotional of the 3 books in the series. Josephine has been unable to have a child. Napoleon has been named ruler of France for life and must have an heir. As we all know from history, Napoleon divorced Josephine for that reason and married an austrian aristocrat. Josephine was only Empress of France for 5 years, before she lost her crown, her husband, and her social standing when Napoleon divorced her.
In 1812, Napoleon visits Josephine to tell her that he is once again going into battle. They say goodbye. Josephine never saw Napoleon again during her life. She died of a throat infection and respitory problems in 1814, soon after Napoleon's exile to Elba.
Before I read this series, I knew the story of Napoleon and Josephine from studying history, but I never looked at events from her perspective. It must have been heart wrenching for her to give up the husband that she loved so that he could have an heir. Josephine was even involved in the process of choosing who he would marry.
She was definitely a strong woman. While reading about her months in prison during the French Revolution, the horrible fertility treatments she endured, and the constant stress of Napoleon's affairs and the Bonaparte family's plotting against her....I definitely realized that the problems I face in life are quite trivial compared to what Josephine endured during her lifetime. I hope that I face my challenges half so well as she did.
This is a great series of books. I highly recommend them. I enjoyed this series so much I read all 3 books in just 4 days. It was hard to put them down!
50 Book Challenge 2007: 21/50

#40 - Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe by Sandra Gulland

This is the second book in the Josephine Trilogy by Sandra Gulland. "Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe'' depicts the first four years of the marriage of Josephine and Napoleon Bonaparte (1795-1799).
It is an emotional story partly because of Napoleon's military and political aspirations, but also because of problems within their marriage. Napoleon wants children, and Josephine is afraid she is too old to have more children. The Bonaparte family openly dislikes Josephine. And even though the French Revolution is over, the tension between revolutionists and royalists still exists.
This second book really makes you feel sympathy and also pity for Josephine. She is unsure if she made a good choice in her marriage, and she is constantly worried about producing an heir for Napoleon. His family begins to try to break up their marriage, telling Napoleon that she is unfaithful and too old to have a baby. Not to mention the fact that Napoleon has multiple affairs. Josephine is constantly being told that to be a good wife, a woman has to be blind to her husband's infidelities.
This book is like the first in the series, written like a diary from Josephine's perspective. Gulland obviously did copious research into not only Josephine's life, but the lives of her children, family members and everyone involved with the Bonapartes.
For those who enjoy historical fiction, this series is a great read!
50 Book Challenge 2007: 20/50

Sunday, May 27, 2007

#39 - The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland

This is the first book in a trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte. Sandra Gulland wrote the series after decades of research into Josephine's life.
The first book follows Josephine's life from her childhood in Martinique to the age of 32, when she marries Napoleon in France. The book is written in diary form, and has occasional footnotes about history or background.
I very much enjoyed this book. I couldn't put it down and read it in one day. Gulland allows her readers to imagine what it was like for Josephine to have to leave Martinique because of slave revolts, the dangers of living in France during the Revolution, and the hardships she survived during the economic problems in France following the revolution.
There are many books that outline the rise and fall of Napoleon and his marriage to Josephine, but I had never looked into the history from Josephine's point of view. And I didn't know much about her background before she married Napoleon.
If you are interested in the history of Napoleon and Josephine, or of Revolutionary France, then this trilogy is definitely a must-read. Gulland is a skilled writer, and definitely did a lot of research before writing this trilogy.
50 Book Challenge 2007: 19/50

#38 - Emily's Secret by Jill Jones

I didn't realize this book was a romance novel when I purchased it. The synoposis on the back of the book talked about a researcher discovering new information about the life and death of Emily Bronte.

But soon after starting to read the book, I discovered it was more of a romance novel than a "real'' book. I was really disappointed.

The story line is ok....I can't say much without spoiling the plot for anyone interested in reading it. Let's just say the story line is more about researcher meets female painter who is mysteriously painting haunting pictures linked to Emily Bronte. And add in a pinch more gothic-ness ---- old gypsy curses, the ghost of Emily Bronte and her dog --- and you have a very melodramatic romance novel with a touch of history to it.

And the ending was the most melodramatic bit of all. I can't tell you what is discovered about Bronte's death, but it was definitely a wooden plot twist of romance novel proportions. (note slight sarcasm...lol) It was like reading a soap opera.

I can say that Jones' writing skills are good. The book is well-written. I just don't care for the romance novel genre. And if you strip away the snippets of history about the Bronte sisters, this book is basically a formula romance novel.

I do have to give Jones kudos for writing a bit more "high-brow'' romance novel. But, I won't be reading any more of her books....but only because I really don't care at all for romance novels.

If you enjoy the historical romance genre, give her books a try.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 18/50

Monday, May 21, 2007

#37 - Wicked by Gregory Macguire

I really really wanted to enjoy this book. I loved the Oz books as a child, and I've seen the movie more times than I can count. And the idea of a book telling a more modern version of the story from the perspective of the witch was intriguing for me.

But for me, it was a let down.

I've read review after review touting the boldness and great storyline of this book....and surely they don't make musicals out of bad books. But, for me, this book was hard to read. I tried several times to get into the book, and ended up putting it aside to read something else. Wicked sat on my shelf for more than 6 months, and I just couldn't make myself finish it. Finally, I picked it up and gave it one last chance.....and I did finish it this time.

I don't see where all the hype comes from, to be honest. I didn't find the political undertones of Oz interesting at all. There were some funny moments, and some of the plot was interesting. But the sex in the book just was a bit too much. I mean....who really wants to know that the witch had an affair with the king of the winkies? That has an Ew factor of about 12. And, the plot plodded along so slowly that after about 100 pages I just didn't care anymore.

What could have been a delightful book was just a badly developed political satire. There were good moments.....but the bad moments and the boredom outnumbered the good. And I'm really sorry to have to say that.....this is one book I really wanted to enjoy. And, I did try to like it. But I can't lie and say that I thought it was great.

I really don't see what all the hype was about. I'm disappointed.

I have Macguire's "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister'' on my shelf waiting to be read. I hope that I like that book better. If it's another let down like this one, I'm not going to force myself to finish it.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 17/50

Thursday, May 17, 2007

#36 - You Slay Me by Katie MacAlister

This book was wacky, strange, horrific, funny,unbelievable.....and a delight to read.
In a nutshell, the story line goes something like this....Aisling Grey goes to work for her father's courier company. Her first job is to deliver a priceless dragon statue to Paris. Things go horribly awry.....and she finds out she is actually a Guardian responsible for protecting a portal to hell, calls up a demon named Jim, and bumps into a rather sexy dragon.
MacAlister's sense of humor and writing style make this strange story come to life....it's a fun romp and definitely something different!
I really enjoyed this book! There are 2 more books in the series so far: Fire Me Up and Light My Fire. A 3rd book, Holy Smokes, will be published this November.
She's also written other books including A Girl's Guide to Vampires, The Corset Diaries, and men in Kilts. She writes Young Adult books under the name Katie Maxwell.
I will definitely be reading the other books in this series! And.....a plug for used books....I wasn't familiar with this author until I took a trip to the thriftstore this week. I bought the book for a quarter......in brand new condition....read it, loved it, posted it on PBS (paperbackswap) yesterday, and today I'm sending it out for a book credit. On PBS, everytime you send a book to another member you get a credit good for another book from the site. I just love trading books there! If you're interested in learning more about the site, here's the URL: www.paperbackswap.com
And, if you're interested in learning more about Katie MacAlister/Katie Maxwell, her webpage is located here: http://www.katiemacalister.com/index
50 Book Challenge 2007: 16/50

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

#35 - Dark Lover: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood by JR Ward

This definitely is not a book for younger readers, or those who are easily offended by sex, violence, and dark horror.
The Black Dagger Brotherhood series is about Vampires and their battle against the Lessers....or basically, Vampire Hunters. Throw in some steamy sex, some fangy violence, and a lot of cursing.....and you have a pretty good Vampire tale. It's not especially well written.....and verges on being a sex book with vampires thrown in here and there for ambience, but it's interesting enough to warrant being read.
For those who like Vampire stories, it's an interesting read. Ward puts a different twist on the old blood-sucker theme, so it's not the same old "I vant to suck your blood'' type story.
The sex scenes are graphic, but not completely over the top. Readers who are at all offended by graphic sex scenes probably would not like this book series.
The book isn't without some cheese. The vampires in the Brotherhood all have really fake sounding vampire names like Rhage, Wrath, Zsadist, etc. I can see why she chose to do that....but it verges on almost being funny. At least it seemed awfully cheesy to me anyway.
Looking past the cheese, and the weird steamy vampire sex scenes, the book was worth an afternoon's read.
The book was OK.....I do have the 2nd book in the series and I'll read it. But, if the series doesn't get a bit more complex and less focused on the vampires nether regions, I'll pass on the rest of the series. I wanted to read a horror series, not a romance novel.
Vampire romance novels......who woulda thunk it??
50 Book Challenge 2007: 15/50

Sunday, May 13, 2007

#34 - Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

I enjoy historical fiction, but I was a bit leery of reading this book simply because of the subject matter. The book is about the Plague and its affects on a village in 1665. As a mother of a young child, I have a really hard time reading books that involve the deaths of children. And I knew that this story would include a lot of illness and death.
Brooks' writing caught me by surprise. The book doesn't have a somber, fearful tone at all. The book was serious because of its subject matter, but not overly depressing, morbid or melodramatic.
"Year of Wonders'' is told from the perspective of Anna Frith, a widow who lives through the quarantine of the village and the deaths of many people that she knows and loves, including her two children. The story is very thought provoking and gives a glimpse into the world that was affected by the Plague. So many people died because the people had no clue that fleas from infested rodents caused the plague, and there were no antibiotics to treat the disease. One by one villagers fell ill and died, seemingly at random. Some villagers reacted with violence, paranoia and total despair. Anna immersed herself in the care of others, and managed to survive the plague.
The end of the book seemed a bit contrived and ridiculous to me. I won't go into details as I don't want to spoil the end for anyone. But, all in all, I really enjoyed this book. I must have.....I read it in one day!
For those interested in historical fiction, this is definitely a good read. :)
50 Book Challenge 2007: 14/50

#33 - Deadly Yarn by Maggie Sefton

After reading the first two books in this series, I just had to read the third! The main character is still Kelly Flynn, and the plot encompasses her friends at the local yarn shop: House of Lambspun.

The book is an enjoyable, light cozy mystery....just like the other 2 books in the series. But, in reality, wouldn't local law enforcement get a bit interested in the fact that people surrounding Flynn keep getting murdered? lol. After the 3rd murder, you would think the local police would be eyeing her sideways.... :)

I've enjoyed all 3 books in this series, but don't expect any fancy plot twists or anything spectacular. They are books for taking to the beach, or for relaxation reading. Don't expect anything too in-depth.

I'm a knitter, so I enjoy the little snippets about knitting that Sefton sprinkles into her writing. But....sometimes the knitting jargon and discussions about knitting in the round and different types of yarns, etc., really seem like they were pasted into the story without much thought. At times, the discussion about the sweater Kelly Flynn is knitting gets in the way of the real story line. And, I know if one of my best friends was murdered that I wouldn't be in a knitting shop worried about the stitch count for a novelty yarn scarf.

But....cozy mysteries aren't meant to be realistic. Just enjoy the book for what it is. :)

A fourth book, "A Killer Stitch'' is coming out in hardcover this month.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 13/50

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

#32 - Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton

For readers who enjoy "cozy'' mysteries and aren't looking for an in-depth plot, then Maggie Sefton's Knitting Mystery series is a perfect choice. They are great books for a relaxing evening read, or for taking to the beach. A little bit of murder, mixed with some knitting, along with humor and nice characters....it makes for a great cozy mystery!

"Needled to Death'' is the second book in the series, which all feature Kelly Flynn as the main character. The action of the books focuses around Flynn, and her knitting circle friends at the House of Lambspun.

The first book "Knit One, Kill Two'' brought Flynn to Colorado to help solve the murder of her Aunt Helen. In book two, one of Flynn's friends is killed and the knitting group helps authorities figure out "whodunit.''

The third book in the series is titled "A Deadly Yarn.'' A fourth Knitting Mystery book, "A Killer Stitch'' is coming out this year.

Sefton also writes a series of Real Estate agent mysteries.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 12/50

Monday, May 07, 2007

#31 - The Flu by Gina Kolata

The full title of this book is "The Flu: the Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It.''

The Flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 40 million people world-wide. It wasn't just the weak, old and very young who were dying. The strain was incredibly virulent, killing healthy adults in mere days. In some Alaskan villages, 90% of the population died from the flu in 1918.

Kolata outlines the history behind the flu outbreak, and the history of research to prevent another devastating flu pandemic. Several times scientists have gone in search of the 1918 virus. In 1952, victims of the 1918 outbreak were exhumed in Alaska. Permafrost had preserved the bodies so that lung tissue could be harvested in hopes of creating a vaccine to prevent any future outbreaks of that particular strain of flu, and also to research why it was so devastating. Those initial attempts to replicate the virus were unsuccessful. In more recent years, preserved tissue was tested again. With modern testing equipment, more was learned about the 1918 flu virus than ever before.

The book gives interesting facts about how viruses mutate, how diseases like the flu can be transmitted from humans to pigs and birds, and vice versa. It also delves into more recent history such as the 1976 Swine Flu scare and how the federal immunization program caused more problems than it solved. And Kolata gives information about the flu strain that's being called "bird flu'' and how it can be traced back to the same virus that caused the 1918 flu and Swine Flu.

I don't have a medical background, but this book was still very interesting to me. Kolata definitely did a lot of research for this book, and the information is presented in an easily readable interesting format. It definitely brings to light how much history can be used in combination with medical research and testing to help understand and prevent or contain possible devastating pandemics in the future. The more scientists come to understand the flu virus and how it mutates and resurfaces in different strains, the better chance we have to avoid another catastrophe on the scale of the 1918 flu.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 11/50

#30 - The March by E.L. Doctorow

The March is a novel about General William Tecumseh Sherman's Civil War march from Atlanta to the sea, and then back through the Carolinas. Northern troops burned and pillaged cities and towns, burned and looted plantations, and plundered military installations on the way.

Doctorow's book depicts the affects of this march on Union troops, southerners who watched their towns burn down around them, and thousands of slaves. More than 25,000 slaves followed the Union Army on the march. Their fate hung in the balance as Sherman's troops marched through the south burning and looting everything in sight, in an attempt to force the south to surrender.

I enjoyed this book. It shows the stress of the march on Sherman, his officers and the troops. And it also realistically depicts the dangers involved, not only to troops on both sides, but civilians and freed slaves caught in the middle.

Sherman is concerned about the large number of slaves following the army. His troops can't feed and protect a group that large, and their fate is still in the balance. Sherman also struggles to keep his troops in line, as Union regiments fall victim to Confederate ambushes and civilian retribution. He doesn't want the army to turn into a frenzied, uncontrolled murdering mob.

If you enjoy Civil War history, then you will enjoy this book!

Other books by E.L. Doctorow include: The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, and City of God.

50 Book Challenge 2007: 10/50

#29 - The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

This is the 2nd novel I have read by Philippa Gregory, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

"The Virgin's Lover'' is about Queen Elizabeth. She has attained the English Throne after the death of Queen Mary, and is facing dire problems....a depleted national treasury, treachery from Catholic Bishops who fear the return of Protestantism, and the threat of her cousin Mary who wants the throne.

Elizabeth finds there are only two people she can trust....her advisor William Cecil and a childhood friend, Robert Dudley. Dudley and Elizabeth become lovers, which angers the English Court, and Dudley's wife, Amy. The relationship is further complicated by gossip, political intrigue, and Court advisors who wish Elizabeth to marry foreign nobility to strengthen her hold on the throne.

The story line is enjoyable, and gives a peek into the life of the Virgin Queen. Gregory takes some historical license, but her assumptions are interesting. For example, she raises the interesting idea that perhaps the death of Amy Dudley was a murder meant to extricate Queen Elizabeth from promises made to Robert Dudley without any harm to her politically.

I enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more historical fiction by Gregory!

50 Book Challenge 2007: 9/50

#28 - The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Technically, "The Phantom Tollbooth'' is a children's book.....but since I never got the chance to read it as a kid, I figured now was the time! And I'm glad I did!

This was the most enjoyable, funny, quirky little book I've read in a long time!

The main character is a little boy who is frankly just bored with everything. Then one day a phantom tollbooth appears in his house, and he's off on all sorts of adventures.

The story line thinly veils great educational information on words and sounds, puns, alliteration, etc. Juster was a masterful writer, and the illustrations by Jules Feiffer add so much to the story.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I needed something light and enjoyable that could be read in an afternoon, and this book really fit the order. :)
50 Book Challenge 2007: 8/50

#27 - Dead Ball by Matt Forbeck

This is the 2nd book in Matt Forbeck's trilogy of Blood Bowl mayhem! :) (#21 on this blog is a review of the first book.)

Blood Bowl is a fantasy game based on football. You pick a team, buy metal miniatures, paint them in your team colors, and play against anyone who dares challenge you! Teams range from hard hitting Orcs to less brawny elves who run like the wind. I have a Norse team (the miniatures are Nuns....some with boxing gloves, one with a baseball bat, etc.....I was raised Catholic so the humor was too much for me to resist.)The game has interesting quirks......like fans who enjoy hurting players, cheating, bribing the refs, dead players, and sometimes even footballs with spikes.

The book series is a spin off of the game -- and I was surprised at how much I've enjoyed reading this series so far!

If you're a football fan, you would enjoy these books just because of the football references, jokes and puns. Some player names are puns on real ball players, announcers, etc. It's a fun read! And those who actually play miniature games, or even Warhammer 40K, would enjoy this series. :)

The next book is "Death Match'' -- I'm looking forward to reading it! And Matt Forbeck will be publishing a 4th Blood Bowl book set for publication in late December 2007. The title is "Rumble in the Jungle.''

50 Book Challenge 2007: 7/50