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5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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Canadian Book Challenge: 2019-2020



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A Wedding in DecemberA Wedding in December: 07/31/07

I'm glad I read Barometer Rising by Hugh Maclennan before I read A Wedding in December because the comparison between the Halifax explosion and the destruction of the World Trade Center was a central theme of the book. Like Barometer Rising, Shreve divides her chapters by the days of the week. As her book takes place over the course of a weekend, she only has three main sections: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to Maclennan's seven days.

It is through Agnes's writing though that the main connections are drawn. Agnes spends her free time before the wedding of Bridget and Bill writing her own fictional account of the Halifax explosion told from the point of view of a woman named Innes who is as strong and capable as Maclennan's protagonist.

Were it not for the interesting comparison between two real life tragedies, I would have been bored and frustrated by the book. All of these baby boomer characters are selfish and self-absorbed, thinking only of their own well-being and not about how their actions affect their loved ones. They are having affairs or otherwise cheating on loved ones not present at the wedding. Bridget, the bride, is "the other woman", Bill having left his wife to marry her. The fact that she has cancer is somehow supposed to make this marriage acceptable but it didn't for me.

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Mr. MeeblesMr. Meebles: 07/31/07

Whenever I go to a BookCrossing meeting in Dublin I have to stop by the library discard shelf to see if there are any good children's books. At July's meeting I found a bunch of books from the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Meebles was one of those books. I picked it up because the cover art reminded me of the artwork from my childhood that I had enjoyed. I thought the two books might have been by the same author or illustrator but that's not the case.

Nonetheless, Mr. Meebles is a delightful book about the importance of balancing imagination with real life responsibilities. Mr. Meebles is the creation of a little boy whose imagination is strong enough to bring him to life but only when he's being actively thought about. Disturbed by the boy's ever growing responsibilities especially in the form of homework and chores, Mr. Meebles asks for his freedom. He wants to be able to exist without relying on the boy's imagination.

The boy's reaction to Mr. Meebles's request and Meebles's fate are the crux of the book. I liked how things are resolved but I don't want to spoil the ending!

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The Day of the JackalThe Day of the Jackal: 07/29/07

Sometimes when I'm reading a book I feel as if a black hole is sitting just out of view sucking up the words and plot that should be going into my mind. No matter how slowly or attentively I read these books, nothing seems to stick beyond the first couple of pages. The Day of Jackal is the most recent book I've "read" to do this to me. This phenomenon isn't something I can pin down to a certain genre, author or time period nor have I found any way of counter acting the problem no matter how much I want to enjoy the book.

The Day of the Jackal should have been an enjoyable read to me. It is a political thriller and a "what-if" book like Roth's The Plot Against America. Somehow though the pacing of the book made it feel more like a very dry book report and I just couldn't focus enough on the book to care if the Jackal succeeded or not. I know this book is a well respected book but it frankly didn't do much for me.

    Other books that have repeated fallen into the black hole (even if I have enjoyed other works by the same author) include:
  • The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad ("read" 3 times)
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain ("read" 2 times)
  • The recently "read" Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
  • Harry Potter the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

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From Head to ToeFrom Head to Toe: 07/29/07

Sean is a huge fan of Eric Carle's book and has probably read more of them at school than we have together at home. When I saw a copy of From Head to Toe at the library discard shelf, I had to snatch it up for his collection.

The book asks children to move with the animals in the book. Each page shows first an animal doing a motion and then an illustrated child doing the same thing. For example: "I am a penguin and I can turn my head. Can you do it?" The child replies, "I can do it!" This book is most fun when moving along with the children in the book. Sean has great fun demonstration the different positions and I think he's had lots of practice with a school copy.

Sean's favorite page is the donkey because it kicks and he practices "donkey kicks" in his weekly gymnastics class. I have to be sure to allow him plenty of room to kick when we get to this page!

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Sky CameronSkye Cameron: 07/27/07

I read Skye Cameron as a bonus volume for the Southern Reading Challenge. Since it takes place in New Orleans in the post-Civil War reconstruction era, the book certainly qualifies for the challenge. It and Wish You Were Here are tied for two of my least favorite reads for the challenge.

Skye Cameron is a yank, and specifically a New Englander of a liberal father and an ex-southern belle who has somehow found happiness in a life style completely different than what she was used to. Skye takes after her father in her liberal ideas and her red hair. She is a disappointment to her mother and the apple of her father's eye.

Unfortunately for Skye (and for the reader) the book takes a disappointing turn when the father falls and breaks his back, ending up paralyzed and unable to care for the family. For a character set up as loving her home state and being self sufficient, Skye does the unthinkable and suggests to her family that they move back to New Orleans to live with her mother's family.

Thus begins nearly two hundred pages of Skye's struggle against the patriarchy of southern gentile society. Although she supposedly rebels throughout the book she is merely choosing one male master for another and slowly but surely coming to accept this horrible way of life as both normal and preferable to her life in New England.

All I have to say to the premise and to Skye's "growth" from a girl to a woman is: bletch!

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Basket CaseBasket Case: 07/26/07

Years of writing obituaries has made Jack Tagger obsessed with death. Give him an age and he'll tell you who died. He's also a music fan and a frustrated old-school journalist. So when he sees that James Stomarti, lead singer of the Slut Puppies, has died he has to pursue the story.

Basket Case has the humor and wit of Hoot but is written for an adult audience (for themes of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll though without being very explicit). I think teens will still enjoy Basket Case (I certainly would have!) and anyone who enjoys Jimmy Buffett's books will find a similar style of writing (and setting) in Basket Case.

Although the basic mystery of what happened to Jimmy Stoma is pretty straight forward, there are still enough twists and surprises to make for a rewarding page turner. My favorite character in book besides Jack Tagger who was a little morbid for me at times was Janet, Jimmy's sister. She's gum chewing, web-cam entrepreneur who is smarter and more sentimental than she lets on.

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The EgyptologistThe Egyptologist: 07/25/07

Imagine coming across a mound of papers scattered across a desk or perhaps dumped in a box. Imagine that these papers span decades and are letters, interviews, journals and other correspondence. Now imagine that the only way to make any sense of them is to pick up and read each and every page. Now you know what it's like to read The Egyptologist.

It's by no means an easy book to read. There are 416 pages of in a tiny typeface with no chapter breaks and no rhyme or reason to how the information is presented save for a slight thematic progression. At the heart of the book is the mystery of what happened to the Egyptologist, Ralph Trilipush, and did he find the Atum-hadu's tomb?

I have to admit struggling with this book. I'm normally a fast reader but I could only handle about ten or so pages at a time before I had to stop and think about what I'd just read. The ending which some reviewers on Amazon have said was obvious to them half way through, took me by complete surprise and was very satisfying for all the work I put into reading the book.

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Never Nosh a Matzo BallNever Nosh a Matzo Ball: 07/24/07

Never Nosh a Matzo Ball is another of those early BookCrossing books that I've had sitting on my shelf for far too long. I finally decided it was time to read it and I'm glad that I did.

Kevin, the replacement rabbi for the temple in Eternal Texas is getting married. Meanwhile, his temple is hosting an interfaith seder featuring diet matzo balls but something isn't kosher at the fat farm in charge of making the matzo balls. Can the former rabbi's widow sort things out and survive wedding of the new rabbi?

The odd mixture of Austin and Jewish cultures made for a humorous cast of characters. Were it not for the odd assortment of characters, Never Nosh a Matzo Ball would be a fairly routine cozy mystery. My favorite character is the wedding coordinator, Ardis, because my grandmother was a wedding coordinator and had to work with other coordinators brought along by various wedding parties. Ardis's meddling in things really made me laugh.

Sean says Never Nosh a Matzo Ball is a yucky book because it has a man with a giant matzo ball on his shirt (follow the link to Amazon to see the full cover). The man on the cover is Coach Boagie and how his death relates to matzo balls is the keystone of the mystery.

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Sixteen Short NovelsMy Mortal Enemy: 07/23/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. I'm ahead of schedule for my September deadline. I might get the book finished in time for the August meeting which is on the fourteenth.

"My Mortal Enemy" by Willa Cather is the next in the book and the first piece by Cather I've ever read. In about 20,000 words it chronicles the rise and fall of the marriage of Myra Driscoll and Oswald Henshawe from the point of view of young Nelly Birdseye who must balance the stories she heard of Myra with the truth she is painfully confronted with.

While Nelly is the narrator, Myra is the protagonist. She is introduced as an irresponsible and spoiled woman but her happy marriage ends in poverty and pain, hinging on her Catholic faith. What the novel doesn't tell us is how the marriage turned sour. We are left to guess from the few glimpses we've seen of Myra through Nelly's eyes.

For another take on "My Mortal Enemy", I highly recommend the review posted at The Occasional Review.

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Guards! Guards!: 07/22/07

Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! is the first of my finished books for the Beach Blanket Bonanza. It was a refreshing read (although not quite the escapism I was hoping for) after a spate of less than thrilling books (make that god-awful).

Guards! Guards! is the 8th Discworld series and the first in the City-Watch set. It introduces Vimes, Carrot, et al as recurring characters. In fact, all of the Discworld novels I've selected for this challenge are from the City-Watch set.

Carrot has endeared himself to me, putting himself on my short list of favorite Discworld characters (others include Rincewind, Death and Ook). Carrot is the antidote to the Garions of the fantasy genre. Carrot may start off naive and may be pushed towards his destiny but he manages to make his own life, something most characters in his position never manage (or even attempt).

The book didn't earn a perfect rating from because it suffers from many of things that annoy me about the Discworld books: lack of chapters, plot suffering for the sake of pun building, and lack of segues.

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Fondling Your MuseFondling Your Muse: 07/21/07

Happily I can report that Fondling Your Muse was the last of my recent run of unenjoyable reads. This slim tome disguised as an exercise book for aspiring writers is actually a poor attempt at a parody of one of those how-to write books.

Apparently all one needs to do to write a parody is spend 6 years drunk in college while getting a BA and MFA . Then you too can tell really stupid jokes and get them published in a beautifully bound but otherwise pointless book. Whoopee!

Tomorrow I promise to write a real review. It will be on Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett which I'm sure most of you read ages ago.

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AbductionAbduction: 07/20/07

Alas, my run of bad books continues. Unlike The Woman in White, I did manage to finish Abduction but mostly from a morbid curiosity to see just how bad the book could get. I read this book as part of the Medical Mystery Madness challenge but the book only just barely qualifies.

Abduction suffers from some Cook's typical weak one-note characterizations. In this case, it's the two rampant homophobes, the beautiful lady scientist, the nebishy entrepreneur and the nobel chauffer (excuse me, submarine pilot). Then there are the oh-so-perfect ever-so-advanced aliens beneath the surface who live for ever and have evloved beyond the need for sex, work or violence. Oh yeah, and they have space and time travel but have chosen to stay living in the Mohorovicic zone.

Coupled with the cardboard characterization is a nonsensical plot cribbed from a laundry list of much better speculative fiction.The bulk of the book is one long tour of a city in Interterra puncuated with bland attempts at homo-errotic sex scenes. Rather than suffering through Abduction, read these books (and one film) that should have been included in a bibliography:

  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (1895)
  • Voyage to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
  • The Land that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1918)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  • Demolition Man, the 1993 film.

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The Woman in WhiteThe Woman in White: 07/19/07

I've not had a very successful run of book reading recently. I suppose after having so many page turners in a row, I was bound to hit some books that didn't entertain me or engage me. The Woman in White, a novel beloved my many, didn't do much for me. In fact, it earns its placement in a very short list of novels I haven't been inspired to finish reading.

The Woman in White with its epistolary narrative is reminiscent of Bleak House (1852) and shares many of the same flaws. Both are too long, have too many conflicting view points and too many inconsistencies to the plot. These similarities make sense given Collins friendship with Dickens and the fact that the book was originally serialized in Dickens's All Year Round magazine.

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Wish You Were HereWish You Were Here: 07/18/07

Wish You Were Here has been sitting on my to be read shelf since 2003. I got it originally for a cat themed book box that was making the rounds in BookCrossing but that box never made it to me. So I read Wish You Were Here for the Southern Reading Challenge that is going on right now.

If I didn't know anything about Rita Mae Brown, I'd just toss this book aside as an overly-cute talking dog and cat mystery solving duo. It's an abysmal book full of cliches, wooden dialogue and the two most annoying talking animals to grace the pages of a book I've read in a long time. I'm surprised the book went on to spawn a long lived series of mysteries because I would certainly not want to revisit any of the characters in Wish You Were Here!

Then there's Brown, the author. She's a long time activist for a whole bunch of causes near and dear to my heart. Harry and the rest of the characters in this book are so boring and bland that I have a mental disconnect seeing them coming from her pen (or word processor, or whatnot).

Oh well, the book is now read (and it was torture!) and can now be released via BookCrossing.

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CondominiumCondominium: 07/17/07

I can remember the opening shot of Barbara Eden (playing Barbara Messenger) floating in the middle of the vast ocean (in a row boat?) of the made for TV movie Condominium (1980). So when I saw a copy of John D. MacDonald's novel of the same name, I had to read it.

Condominium was a departure for MacDonald, who is best known for his Travis McGee series. The book opens with a dedication:

"This book is dedicated to these people who were part of the good years in Sarasota and were washed away:"

and continues on with a long list of names. From the timeline of the book, I'm guessing these people were victims of hurricane Donna (1960).

Condominium is not a novelization of actual events. It does however paint a realistic enough picture of the sorts of things that can go wrong to contribute to as massive a disaster as described in the final pages of this novel. MacDonald doesn't point the finger at just one person making mistakes or cutting corners as the cause. Instead he builds suspense on the knowledge that little mistakes and efforts to cut corners in the interest of saving money add up.

In the middle of all of this are the families, mostly retirees on fixed incomes, who have maxed out their budgets to buy a retire home. With Ian on the board of our local HOA, I sympathized with the HOAs in this novel who struggled to undo the mess the developers left them with on their limited budgets.

Condominium the novel predates the TV movie by three years and is as exciting to read as the film was to watch. I ended up staying up an hour and a half beyond my normal bedtime to finish it. Then I was afraid I'd have nightmares!

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Forbidden FreedomForbidden Freedom: 07/17/07

Forbidden Freedom, a slim volume of 90 pages (newer editions have 150 pages but I read a first edition), that provides a quick glance at a volitile time in Guyana's history. The author, Cheddi Jagan, at the time he wrote this book was the leader of the newly founded People's Progressive Party of then British Guiana; he later went on to be president of Guyana 1992-1997.

Forbidden Freedom covers the events just before and just after the PPP won elections and came to power. Pressured by the United States, the British government suspended the constitution of British Guiana citing threats from communisit interests.

Forbidden Freedom doesn't provide enough information to draw objective conclusions about the events and the parties involved. As an account of the events, it is a chilling read.

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Mantra and the Modern ManMantra and the Modern Man: 07/16/07

I am conflicted on how best to write my review of Mantra and the Modern Man. The author of the book is local and former teacher of a friend of mine. My friend gave me the book and obviously adores both the book and the woman who wrote it. Were I not so personally involved with the book even in such a third-party way, I'd just pan the book and move on.

Let me be frank, I don't like organized religion. It's not my cup of tea. I have, however, found some benefit in meditation. I have listened to mantras before while meditation, though not ever said one myself. Having this book come so highly recommended to me and having enjoyed similar books in the past, I decided to give Mantra and the Modern Man a try.

I seriously wanted to throw this book across the room a few times while reading it. I didn't actually throw it, but I wanted to. The font is ugly and hard to read. The chapters lack organization. The numerous quotes lack footnotes or annotations. The author's thoughts jump from place to place and language to language without the aid of a segue. Reading it was anything but restful and left me with a headache.

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The Chatham School AffairThe Chatham School Affair: 07/16/07

Henry Griswald narrates the events that make up The Chatham School Affair, beginning with the arrival of Miss Elizabeth Channing, hired as a favor to a family friend to be the new art teacher at the all boys' school. The way Henry's tale unfolds reminds me of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca or perhaps My Cousin Rachel.

Something horrible happened that intimately involved young Henry, Miss Channing and lead to her death and the closure of the school. Over the course of the book through flashbacks, court transcripts and conversations with townsfolk who remember the events but wish they didn't, Cook builds a suspenseful story in a wonderfully gothic setting.

The first couple chapters are so densely packed with important information that I had to reread them a couple of times before I felt comfortable moving on to the rest of the novel. Starting with chapter three, the novel picks up pace and I found myself making time to read the book to finish it as quickly as I could.

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Sixteen Short NovelsThe Lesson of the Master: 07/12/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

Paul Overt as the name implies, wears his emotions on his sleeves. He's and arrogant writer with an insatiable literary crush on the "celebrated novelist" Henry St George (a stand in for the author, Henry James?). In his desire to know and be known by St George, Overt meets and schmoozes with St George's oh so modern and liberal wife, the kindly General Fancourt, Fancourt's literary minded daughter Miriam and finally the master himself, Henry St George. With all of these encounters, Overt is shocked at how different all of these people are from how he imagines them to be. It's the classic struggle of reality versus reputation.

So what is the lesson from the master? St George says that to be a superb writer, one must live life to the fullest and not be constrained by family commitments. Overt, having fallen in love with Miriam, leaves her to pursue his writing career. Did he make the right decision or did St George tell one more lie to his biggest fan? Read the novella to find out!

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Once Upon a TownOnce Upon a Town: 07/11/07

Once Upon a Town is another gem of a book I got through BookCrossing. It is a the result of Bob Greene's travels to North Platte, Nebraska to interview residents about the Canteen that ran from December 25, 1941 until April 1, 1946 and provided meals for more than six million service men. It isn't just a memoir of a the town's hey day, but an account of the town's withering since the last passenger train arrived in 1971.

Although the site of the Canteen (the Union Pacific station) was torn down in 1973 when Union Pacific turned the train yard into the largest transfer station for freight traffic, Greene was able to find enough people to tell the Canteen's story in an interesting and heartfelt way.

The book was published in 2002 and ends a bit on a down note, predicting the death of North Platte. Perhaps his book and his story on NPR helped turned things around, but a quick Google search shows a vibrant online presence and a huge number of hotels and local events.

Some sites of interest:

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Magic of EncouragementThe Magic of Encouragement: 07/10/07

The Magic of Encouragement is another of those books I got through BookCrossing when Sean was just an infant and I wasn't sure of myself as a parent. Of course real life commitments and the chaos of losing a job and then moving across the bay lead to me shelving the book. Now that we have Harriet and that I'm trying to track my books and declutter my shelves I decided it was finally time to read and release this book.

The book looks at some of the worst case scenarios and offers suggestions on how to undo the damage or to prevent it from happening. As is typical of this genre of book, the bulk of the book is a collection of case studies followed up with some pithy pep-talks on what the lesson of the cast study is.

The book also assumes that the parents who have these troubled children had crappy childhoods too and are therefore needing encouragement in their parenting skills. The idea behind this approach is to teach empathy to parents. Having empathy and a good memory of what it was like to be a child certainly helps but these little paragraphs felt forced to me.

My overall reaction to the book is luke warm. It's certainly not the worst book I've read but it wasn't the best either.

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Marmalade Yellow LeafMarmalade's Yellow Leaf: 07/09/07

Marmalade's Yellow Leaf is one of two books featuring Marmalade the cat that I bought when Sean was Harriet's age. My parents have a cat named Marmalade and I just had to have these two books. Sean's not very into cats so we didn't read it much together. Harriet, however, adores cats and this book, so it's now back in the bedtime story book pile.

The story takes place on a windy afternoon while Marmalade's owners outside raking the yard of fallen leaves on an autumn day. Marmalade, in true cat fashion, is captivated by a single yellow leaf. Nothing can take her mind off the leaf, not even a woolly caterpillar!

The book is short (good for a bedtime story) with delightful illustrations that capture perfectly a cat a play. Unfortunately the book is no longer in print but used copies are available online.

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EnvyMortal Fear: 07/08/07

Even after reading a half dozen books by Robin Cook, I'm still not sure how I feel about him as an author. Some of his books I adore (Sphinx, for instance) and some of them I want to throw across the room (Chromosome 6). Mortal Fear was one of those enjoyable Cook thrillers that where the characters were more or less competent and believable and the mystery plausible enough to be interesting and entertaining.

Mortal Fear's mystery unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Coma (without the overt sexism, thankfully). The story follows the first couple of victims as the routine becomes the bizarre and then the deadly. From their deaths we meet the hero of the story, Dr. Jason Howard who finds himself in the middle of a puzzling rise in deaths at his practice. Why are people who are coming in for routine physicals dropping dead only weeks later?

As with Chromosome 6 the secret lies within genetic engineering but the methods employed are more grounded in reality and less reliant on old school science fiction. Even though I figured out the basics of the plot before Dr. Howard, I still enjoyed following along as he tried to figure things out. My only complaint is that Howard didn't have much of the usual chutzpah of the typical thriller hero; when people tell him no, he stops!

I'm currently finishing up Abduction which is unfortunately somewhere between Chromosome 6 and Mortal Fear. I'm still not sure how I'm going to review it. Stay tuned.

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EnvyEnvy: 07/07/07

Envy is the third novel by Sandra Brown I've read and she's rapidly earning her way onto my list of "go-to" authors. Her novels always manage to surprise once or twice and certainly entertain from cover to cover.

Envy is the title of the book within the book and it's the lure that brings Maris Matherly-Reed to a remote Georgian island to purchase the rights to a novel. What she doesn't realize is that she's been lured into an elaborate scheme of revenge long buried in the past.

There are excerpts of the fictional Envy included as interludes between some of the more emotionally charged chapters. They are there both as background information and as a character building device to better understand Parker, the author Maris has gone to see. Frankly, these chapters aren't necessary and serve as a distraction to the meat of the book. I suggest saving them until the end to read as bonus material.

Envy has three major story lines: Parker's past, the romance between Parker and Maris, and Noah's machinations to sell Maris's publishing company out from under her. Noah Reed, Maris's husband and her relationship to him is the glue that holds Envy together.

What I liked best about the novel was Parker. He's wheelchair bound but by no means "handicapped" nor is he seeking sympathy or special treatment. He's rough, crude and fowl mouthed and tempered and yet he's a very believable and oddly likeable character. It's clear that the wheelchair isn't the cause of his "bad" traits; it's just another part of who he is. It was refreshing to meet characters like Parker who weren't obviously built up from a series of checked boxes on a character sheet.

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In Cold BloodIn Cold Blood: 07/06/07

I saw the 1967 Richard Brooks film in a violence in film class at UCLA. In Cold Blood and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are the only two films that have stuck with me for these ten years. So when I was given a copy of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote through BookCrossing, I felt compelled to read it for two reasons: I've enjoyed other books by Capote and I still remember the film. Were it not for those two reasons, I would have skipped the book as I'm not normally a fan of the true-crime genre.

The violent murders of Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and their two youngest children: Nancy and Kenyon in 1959 became a media sensation as these violent crimes are wont to do. Inspired by a 300 word summary of the crime in the New York Times, Capote and long time friend Harper Lee headed west to interview everyone associated with the crime. The result of six year's work was In Cold Blood.

Reading the book clarified in my mind just how well I still remember the film and confirmed that I still am not a fan of true-crime (or the nonfiction novel as Capote called his book). The work is well researched and well written but it wasn't a page-turner for me.

The book suffers from an information overload and a lack of organization. Capote seems lost under all these witness testimonies, not sure what to keep, what to cut and where to put things. Things stumble along in a more or less chronological order but without the benefit of logical segues between interviews.

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The Best First Book Ever!The Best First Book Ever: 07/06/07

Ian and I grew up on books by Richard Scarry and Doctor Seuss. While I remember reading The Best First Book Ever! I don't know if it was a library book or perhaps my brother's book. Since neither of us had a copy, we recently got a copy for Harriet and Sean to share.

While there are some oddities in the book (like the parents sleeping in separate beds and Mommy Cat always wearing a dress), it's still a good and solid introduction for vocabulary building. Every page has every item labeled in a variety of situations and places: home, the kitchen, the living room, the laundry room, school, the grocery store, an ice cream parlor, and so forth. It also introduces the basic parts of the body, color theory and counting.

Richard Scarry's books often times contain a running gag of some sort. In Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, readers are asked to find Gold Bug on every page. In this book, readers can follow Mr. Fumble as he tries to catch his windblown hat.The question of where's Mr. Fumble's hat and the often times surreal things depicted and labeled are what make these books so much fun to read.

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One Duck StuckKingdom of Shadows: 07/04/07

Kingdom of Shadows is the second Alan Furst novel I've read. This one follows the opening days of the war with Hitler's rise to power but from the point of view of the owner of an advertising agency in Paris who is balancing his time between work, his mistress and some espionage for his Hungarian uncle.

Nicholas Morath and his small group of friends remind me of the idle and bored characters of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, with Tender is the Night coming specifically to mind. The only difference is that their parties are set against the backdrop of the early days of WWII. Family duty forces Morath to attempt heroic acts at a time when he (and most of the rest of Paris) is having trouble believing what is on the horizon.

As with Dark Voyage, the middle section of the book drags a bit as Hurst pauses to let the historical events play out. The characters step aside and the book becomes more of a book report than a novel. While it's good to get things in context, these interludes are best when skimmed.

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One Duck StuckOne Duck Stuck: 07/03/07

I picked up One Duck Stuck because it reminded me of Ducks in Muck but for more advanced readers. The two books use similar rhymes but One Duck Stuck is three times the length and the rhymes border on tongue twisters.

The basic plot centers around the stuck duck and her attempts to get out of the muck. She enlists the help of her swamp friends: fish, insects, some birds and a variety of animals. Separately the can't help the duck but what if they work together?

Both Sean and Harriet enjoy One Duck Stuck. Sean likes it for the counting and the rhymes. Harriet likes it for the creatures.

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The Princess Goes WestThe Princess Goes West: 07/02/07

I got The Princess Goes West from the defunct book relay site. The premise reminded me of Alias Jane Smith by Clarence Budington Kelland but the book fell far short of my expectations. The only really good thing about The Princess Goes West is it's length. It's thankfully short.

The book starts out as can be expected, introducing Princess Marlena (spoiled of course) and her kingdom of Hartz-Coburg (bankrupt of course). She must either remarry or travel to the United States (why here?) to solicit funds to save her country.

Meanwhile, there's a Texas Ranger in town who is a babe magnet and misogynist (every girl's dream) and he's been sent to bring in the notorious Queen of the Silver Dollar. She just happens to look exactly like Princess Marlena (down to the unexplained accent).

Cribbing now from Mark Twain (and many others), Ryan sets for a series of unexplained events that forces Marlena and Robbie to switch places. Of course, Marlena ends up in the Texas Ranger's custody! Hilarity and hot dusty cactusy sex ensues for every ten pages for the remainder of the book.

Since the dialogue is so full of cliches and the situation so preposterous I actually had more fun counting the pages between sex scenes than I did reading the book. It was a complete waste of about two hours of my life. I only kept reading it to see how bad it would get.

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Little Polar Bear, Take Me Home!Little Polar Bear, Take Me Home! 07/01/07

Little Polar Bear, Take Me Home is one of a series of children's books featuring the adventures of Lars the polar bear. Lars even has his own series of cartoons in Germany. I came across this 1996 printing at the Dublin library shelf in Starbuck's last month.

When I first saw the book I immediately (and mistakenly) thought Alaska for the setting and thought perhaps the tiger on the cover was escaped from a zoo or a circus. He's neither; he's a wild tiger from presumably India who has accidentally hitched a ride on a freight train to the arctic circle.

Lars, who is looking for a snack and a bit of adventure, finds the tiger at the end of the line and in the course of trying to help the tiger find his way home ends up on the return trip of the train. From there in typical children's book fashion, the two animals must enlist the aid of other animals as they travel through far and distant lands on their search for the tiger's home.

So far I've read it to Harriet but not Sean. She likes the pictures (ooh striped kitty!). I think Sean will like the story and will have lots of questions about their adventures.

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