Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

Reviewed by Kristin

The library displays are bursting with beach books this month.  Fitting right in with that theme is All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue.  Three childhood friends, Kate, Vanessa and Dani, are reunited as each of them is going through changes in their adult lives.  At Dani’s father’s house at Avalon beach, the women discover new things about themselves and the past difficult times they faced together.

Kate is living in Philadelphia and has just found out she is pregnant at almost the exact same instant that her fiancĂ© breaks up with her.  Bad timing?  ClichĂ©d chick lit?  Maybe both, but Kate has many more layers to be explored in the rest of the story.

Vanessa is a full time married mother in New York City, loving being with two-year-old Lucy, but starting to miss her career more than she thinks she should.  Feeling strains in her marriage and chatting with an old boyfriend, Vanessa is also questioning her status quo.

Dani is the wild child, working in a bookstore in San Francisco while trying to write the novel that has been in progress for several years.  After being fired from twelve jobs in seven years (the last one on her birthday), Dani is at the end of her rope and is afraid that her only option is to go home to live with her father.

The missing character in this story is Colin, Kate’s twin brother who died eight years before while they were all at Avalon beach.  Dani and Vanessa also had strong connections to Colin.  These bonds are revealed as the story unfolds and secrets come to light.  As the three friends discover truths about the night Colin died, their friendship is almost torn apart.

This is a great book for vacation reading.  Even though I prefer mysteries, I enjoyed this light read.  Somewhat predictable, the author still throws in a few twists to keep things interesting.  There are several other peripheral characters: friends, family and acquaintances; but the real story revolves around Dani, Kate, Vanessa, and Colin.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Read 'Em Before You See 'Em: Books into Movies


          Liam Neeson is becoming the go-to guy for thoughtful action heroes.  On September 19, he’ll be starring  in “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” playing Matthew Scudder, Lawrence Block’s recovering alcoholic PI.  In this case, Scudder is hired to find out who kidnapped and murdered the wife of a drug kingpin.

·         Patricia Highsmith is probably best known for her novel  The Talented Mr. Ripley which was made into the movie with Matt Damon.  Another of her novels is coming to the screen in “The Two Faces of January,” starring Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen, about a con man. It opens August 28.

·         A highly anticipated movie is “Gone Girl,” from the recent best-seller by Gillian Flynn.  The book caused much discussion in our Nevermore Book Club! Love it or hate it, it did have people talking. Ben Affleck stars in this film about a man whose wife disappears, and who may know more than he’s telling the police. The movie opens October 3.

·         Nicholas Sparks continues his string of books into movies with “The Best of Me.” Two high school sweethearts reunite after many years apart.  This is a Sparks book, so take lots of tissues to the October 17th opening.

·         Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” became a book club favorite and now it’s a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.  After a number of problems including a divorce, Strayed decided to try and rediscover herself with an impulsive thousand mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie is scheduled for December 5.

·         Fans have been waiting a year for the final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies.  On December 17 the wait will be over at last.  Probably enough said about that, because if you don’t know the book or movies by now, this is probably just not your genre!
Having some big films open on Christmas Day seems to be something of a new tradition.  This year one such anticipated film is “Unbroken,” which tells the true story of a young man who became an Olympic runner and a Japanese POW.  Louis Zamperini’s story is an inspirational story of the human spirit.  The book Unbroken was written by Laura Hillenbrand who also wrote Seabiscuit. Angelina Jolie directed the movie.

      The film version of  Joe Hill's creepy novel  Horns has Daniel Radcliffe in the role of Ig Perrish, a young man who awakens after a wild night to find that he has grown horns. People also seem compelled to tell him dark secrets. The movie is slated to appear in theaters on the appropriate day of October 31. (Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, by the way.)

Finally, for those of us who don’t make it out to the theaters much, there’s some exciting TV news.  Hallmark Channel is rebranding itself as Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and as part of that move they are filming Charlaine Harris’ Aurora Teagarden books.  “Roe” is a librarian with a taste for mysteries who becomes involved with crimes.   The books are:
1. Real Murders
2. A Bone to Pick
3. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse
4. The Julius House
5. Dead Over Heels
6. A Fool and His Honey
7. Last Scene Alive
8. Poppy Done to Death  

Harris is best known for Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampires/True Blood books, but there’s not a shapeshifter in sight in these mystery novels. 

  Also, this August will see the premiere of the  TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series will do on Starz network.  Gabaldon's fantasy about Claire, a modern woman who finds herself back in eighteenth century Scotland and who falls in love with Highlander Jamie, has a very strong fan base. The books are:
1. Outlander
2. Dragonfly in Amber
3. Voyager
4. Drums of Autumn 
5. The Fiery Cross
6. A Breath of Snow and Ashes

 7. An Echo in the Bone
8.Written in My Own Heart's Blood 

If the series doesn't satisfy, at least there's the new installment in the saga, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.  This is a series best read in order. 

For information about the TV series, click here. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Read 'Em Before You See 'Em: Young Adult Books

The rush to turn Young Adult books into movies has not abated! Many adults are discovering that YA books can definitely be worth reading:  a good book is a good book. Here are some upcoming movies based on YA books coming to a theater near you:

·         “If I Stay” is the story of a young woman who is in a coma after an accident. She sees her life as it was, where she is now, and must make a choice: to face a very different life or to go to the light. The book (and its sequel, Where She Went) is by Gayle Forman and is a teen favorite.  The movie opens August 22.

·          “The Maze Runner” is based on the YA series by James Dasher.  Thomas awakens in a glade inside a maze, but has no memory of anything before.  He’s one of a group of boys struggling to survive and to find a way out in this futuristic movie due in theatres this September.  It joins the very popular “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series as a big budget movie with strong teen following. It’s coming to theaters September 19.

·         Speaking of “Hunger Games,” the final book has been split into two movies.  “Mockingjay, Part I” is scheduled for release on Nov. 21.

·         The Giver” stars Jeff Bridges in an adaptation of the award-winning book by Lois Lowry.  Jonas lives in a seeming idyllic community where everyone gets along and there is no war or suffering. Then he is singled out to be given the memories and secrets of his world from an old man known as The Giver.  The book came out in 1993 and became an instant classic. Let’s hope the movie does it justice! We’ll find out starting August 15.

·         “White Bird in a Blizzard” is based on the novel by Laura Kasischke. Sixteen year old Evie is trying to move into adulthood, struggling to escape the tightly proscribed world her parents have created.  Then her mother disappears. Shailene Woodley and Christopher Meloni star, and the opening is scheduled for September 25.

        While YA books seem to be the most prized for movies, children’s books have made their own impression.  Recent titles turned into film have included “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” and William Joyce’s "Epic" which was based on his book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.   Next up will be “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” based on the book by poet Judith Viorst. Viorst wrote the book after noticing that  her youngest son, Alexander, was prone to having "bad days."  The book became a musical play, and now it's going to be a movie.   Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner star in the family comedy which opens October 10.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blackberry Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Reviewed by Kristin

Joanne Fluke is back with yet another cozy cooking mystery: Blackberry Pie Murder.  Hannah Swensen is baking cookies, planning her mother’s wedding to Doc, and trying her best not to find any more dead bodies.  Cookies—check.  Wedding planning—well, this is her mother we are talking about.  No more dead bodies—oops.  Famous last words.

After an article in the Lake Eden Journal snarkily points out that it has been over four months since any member of the Swensen family has found a dead body, Hannah picks up her friend and Cookie Jar employee, Lisa, and takes her to the auto mechanic during a thunderstorm.  Going down a winding country road, Hannah and Lisa suddenly feel a thump.  That four month body-free spell?  It’s over.  Not only is there another dead body, but Hannah is arrested for vehicular homicide.

As the proprietor of The Cookie Jar, Hannah sounds as if she must be an amazing cook.  Every time a new type of cookie is mentioned, the recipe is at the end of the chapter: cook’s notes, variations and all.  All the recipes sound delicious, although I must admit that I skip over them.  Hannah and company bake at least three or four times a day, between cookies to sell at The Cookie Jar, desert for an impromptu meal, or just any time someone needs to be perked up with chocolate.  Maybe we should be shelving these in the 641.5 section.

While I found the beginning of this series to be cute and enjoyable, it has become somewhat repetitive with seventeen titles featuring Hannah, her family and her two beaus:  Mike and Norman.  Since the very first book (Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder), Hannah has been going back and forth between the handsome and exciting cop Mike, and the steady, dependable dentist Norman.  The love triangle has gone on long enough.  Hannah’s mother is getting married; it’s time for Hannah to move forward and take one of the men up on his proposal and cut the other one loose, or just cut both of them loose and move on as an independent woman.

I don’t know if I was just not in the mood for a cozy cooking mystery, but this book fell flatter than, well, a fallen cake.  Fluke is always telling us things that don’t seem to be important.  Why do we need to know that in order to install a fancy toilet in a condo, you must get the homeowners association’s permission?  Is this relevant to the mystery?  Did I miss something?  The ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger.  Perhaps Fluke is trying to keep people hooked and looking forward to the next book in the series.  I hate to “break-up” with an author, but I think it may be time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill

Reviewed by Jeanne

A young man in a Gentlemen’s Club in England makes the acquaintance of Sir James Monmouth, an older member who asks that he read a manuscript about certain events in Sir James’ life.  This request comes about after a discussion among some of the younger members regarding ghosts. Most of the rest of the book is the manuscript, a first person narrative by Sir James about an experience in his youth.   As the story begins, Monmouth is newly arrived in England after being reared abroad by a guardian.  He’s traveled in many exotic lands, but the death of his guardian has left him in want of direction.  Accordingly, he has come to London in search of material on the mysterious Conrad Vane, a travel writer whose adventures excited young Monmouth’s imagination.  He has been able to find very little in the way of autobiographical information on Vane, so he hopes to find enough to write an article or perhaps a book on the man.

 His inquiries about Vane seem to draw uneasy responses from those who knew of him, but the fascination remains strong and he sets off for a school Vane attended.  He is cordially received but instead of answers he seems to find more questions. Vane seems as elusive as ever. Then he begins to experience a series of somewhat unsettling events. . . glimpses of a pale young boy, sounds of sobbing from an unknown source, and strange dreams—or are they dreams?

Hill wrote the (to my mind!) classic Woman in Black, and this book reminds me very strongly of that title, as it uses a similar framing sequence for the main story and is written as if it were a Victorian memoir. Also like that title, the book doesn’t wrap things up in a neat little package at the end.  There’s a lot to ponder and things alluded to but no cut and dried resolution.  This is not a complaint.  I rather prefer it to easy answers, especially given the subject matter.  After all, the supernatural is all about mysteries and questions, not certainties. Her characters are memorable, even those playing small roles, and the settings are extremely vivid.

If you’re not in the mood for long, descriptive sentences or if you’re hankering for action, this isn’t the book for you.  On the other hand, if you like lots of atmosphere, dank halls and meager fires, strange weeping in the night and fevered dreams, mahogany tables and baize doors, then this might just be your cup of Earl Grey.  I must say it cooled down my perception of a humid July day quite nicely, what with the snow and cold winds beating against windows. I almost got out a quilt.

(Yes, I had to look up to see what a “baize door” was.  Apparently at one point doors were covered with cloth to help soundproof them; green baize is often used on gaming tables, such as those for blackjack or billiards.)