This Blog is Dedicated to our dear friend Karen.
When she left this life she left a hole in our hearts as well as several to be read books.
We, her friends, will read these books for her.
This blog will be a sort of book club for us to post our thoughts and feelings about the stories and feelings we have of Karen while we read.

Monday, September 28, 2015

#255 The Very Worst Thing by Torey L. Hayden


I think I like Torey Hayden better as a writer of fiction. I don't get mad at her philosophy of psychology (or lack thereof), since that doesn't come up in this book.

David is a boy of 12, who has lived most of his life with his older sister, Lily, in various foster homes. Now Lily has been sent to live in a "home" (read "facility for juvenile delinquents"), and David is living in a new foster home on his own for the first time. He has learning disabilities and a stutter, so he's picked on at school, and he keeps a list of "The Very Worst Things" - the worst things he can think of to happen to a person. At the very top of the list is having no one - no family, no friends, not belonging anywhere. Then he meets Mab, another social outcast, and they develop a friendship as they work to hatch an owl's egg.

I really liked the character development in this story. Hayden obviously knows what it feels like for a foster child like David, for a girl like Mab, who's stuck in a class with kids older than her. Even some of the secondary characters like Granny and the caseworker, Mrs. Mellor, are well-written, interesting people. Some of the other characters, like the bully, Rodney, are less developed, and that's really the only major thing I didn't enjoy about the book; it felt like the story would have been even more enjoyable if Hayden had taken the time to develop these other characters more, drawing out the story a bit more. But overall, a good book for teaching younger students about friendship, and forgiveness, and dealing with disappointment and loss.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

#190 Don't Blink by James Patterson


Having read Patterson's Kill Me If You Can, I thought at first that this book was going to be more of the same. The first few chapters are filled with the sort of ham-fisted dialog that makes English teachers cringe and Hollywood producers drool. The entire section of the book where Nick Daniels is in Africa are full of guns and action and car chases (well, jeep chases)... and such literary gems as "We're being attacked. I'm serious, man." "Faster, Alan! We've got to go faster! You can go faster, can't you?" Somebody alert the Nobel and Pulitzer people, we have a contender!

But as soon as Daniels returns to New York, and the main story arc begins, the quality of the dialog (and the writing in general) improves. It's clear-cut and obvious when one of the co-writers passes the story on to the other. (Do we have Patterson to blame for the Africa story? His co-author Howard Roughan? Perhaps we'll never know...) I'm not saying that Patterson shouldn't write with co-authors; it's obviously worked well for him, and I've been happy with the team efforts on the Women's Murder Club mysteries. But when one part of a book is really pretty good, and another part is so terribly bad, it says one of two things: either Patterson is writing the crummy stuff, and his lesser-known co-author is the one that should be making the big bucks; or Patterson is writing the good stuff, and he (and his agent) needs to do a better job of choosing co-authors. And, maybe, do a little bit of clean-up editing?

Overall, I did enjoy this story. It's not a mystery; I mean, there are some whodunit aspects to the story, some questions that need to be answered. But the book is more about the action and suspense, with mobsters and hired killers and little girls with bombs tied to their chests, for crying out loud! That brings up another point that needs to be made: this book has some pretty gruesome moments in it. When the prologue of the book has a mob lawyer getting his eyeballs cut out at a New York steakhouse, you kinda get a feel for the gore factor. Suffice to say that some people are killed (some in really grotesque ways - I'll never stick my head out of a limousine's sun roof); some mobsters' plans are foiled, the little girl is saved from blowing up, and Nick gets the lady in the end.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

#260 Murphy's Boy by Torey Hayden


Say you were a mental health professional, well-respected, a leader in your field. Well-liked by your peers, your opinion is sought on their cases, and they often ask for your assistance with their trickier clients. Now, say your boss calls you into his office and tells you that you're fired. Not because you can't do your job, not because you're difficult to work with, but because it's 1980s Florida, and Dade County has just passed sweeping anti-gay legislation, and it's been discovered that you and your roommate, Hans, are more than just roommates, and the board of directors at your clinic has decided they don't want a homosexual working for them.

This scenario actually happened to the author's colleague. They were working together to help a teenage boy work through some of the horrible, awful things done to him by his own stepfather, with his own mother's consent, and they were making real progress. But suddenly, one of his two lifelines to normalcy is no longer around. He feels abandoned, feels like it's his fault because he's worthless, because who would want to have anything to do with a worthless boy like him? And six months of real progress is down the drain, to say nothing of all the psychiatrist's other patients, abandoned by the one person they can trust, all because some board of directors feels icky about someone's sexuality. Sometimes the world just makes me sick, you know?

Believe it or not, a lot of other stuff happens in this book, some of it good, a lot of it bad. Kevin, the "Murphy's Boy" of the title, makes headway and loses ground and gradually comes to terms with the terrible things done to him in his past. And by the end of the book, he's able to live in a group home, go to school, get a job, and have a normal life.

I really liked this book. I marked it as 5 stars, but I would probably rate it at 4.5 or 4.75, and only for one thing: for all that Hayden is a licensed psychologist, with years of experience working with children, she can seem a bit naive or oblivious when it comes to dealing with a teenaged boy. Also, Hayden takes pride in the fact that she doesn't subscribe to a specific school of psychological thought, but just kinda goes with the flow, trying things out until something works. The problem with this is that, as she herself says, sometimes progress is made and she doesn't know why. It's like if you were cooking with someone and you let them just throw whatever into the pot, and you don't know what the end result will be; if it turns out great, you have no idea how to duplicate the recipe for next time, and if it goes poorly, you just shrug your shoulders, throw it out and start all over. But these are children's minds and lives she's working with here; there's no room for screwing up, shrugging one's shoulders and starting over.

I have no doubt Karen would have loved this book; she would have balked at some of the scarier moments, like when Kevin is describing some of the abuse he and his siblings endured, but she would have cried like me when the big moments of progress happened.


Friday, September 18, 2015

#300 4th of July by James Patterson


Another pretty good entry in the Women's Murder Club series. Lindsay Boxer is put on administrative leave while she's being sued for killing someone in the line of duty. She decides to take some time off at her sister's house outside of the city... and gets involved in a murder investigation. Just can't let go and relax, can you, Boxer?

The mystery in this book was really well-done. I had my suspicion about who the murderers were, and I was dead wrong (well, mostly). The motives for the murders were a grisly, sad subject; that doesn't excuse murder, obviously, but I could definitely understand the killers' hate.
One last note - Lieutenant Lindsay Boxer needs a minder or some re-training or something; I can't count the number of times in these four books that she's forgotten her phone, or her weapon, or she forgot to put gas in her car, or charge her cell phone.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

#301 3rd Degree by James Patterson


Pro Tip: If you in any way value your life, do not become friends with Lt. Lindsay Boxer. I'm only three books into this series, and already multiple friends, coworkers and lovers have been attacked, shot at or killed, not to mention the harassing emails. (In fact, I'm only 40 pages into the 4th book, and another Lindsay - connected person is shot - two, if you count Lindsay herself. )

In this 3rd volume in the Women's Murder Club series, someone is killing people (ostensibly ) to make a political statement. The victims all have connections to businesses or organizations that are taking advantage of the poor or otherwise disenfranchised. Statements are left with each victim, signed "August Spies", detailing the victim's crimes against the disenfranchised. Who or what is August Spies? Is this the work of a terrorist group, or is that just a smoke screen to cover up the murderers' true motives?

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't like it as much as the previous volume. Lindsay Boxer has a new boyfriend, and you know, being a woman and all, she can't focus on her work, because c'mon, boys! I also didn't care for Patterson's seeming portrayal of all social activists as dirty hippies, ne'er-do-wells and opportunists. Believe it or not, there are some good people out there, fighting to expose criminal acts by governments and corporations without resorting to murder and bombing.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#390 The Reader by Bernhard Schlink


I thought I had read this one in the past, but I guess not.  It's a very short read about a young boy that has an affair with an older woman and how it affects his life.  This book received rave reviews, was a successful movie with A-list actors and loved by many.  I guess I just don't fall into that category.  I felt the story was disturbing. The boy is my son's age and the woman is my age.  The affair the two had together disgust me and just so inappropriate. 

The woman leaves the boy one day without a word and he blames himself for years for her disappearance.  He feels he must have done something wrong for her to leave without saying a word.  He later finds out why she felt she needed to leave, but not soon enough to have ruined his life.  He was never able to have a normal relationship after she left and distanced himself from everyone. 

The book was well written.  I did enjoy that part, but the story....just depressing. 

#152 Knufflebunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion


I'm not crying; you're the one that's crying. This is just... allergies.
Such a sweet, touching end (?) to the Knuffle Bunny series. Trixie goes on a trip overseas to visit her grandparents, and accidentally leaves Knuffle Bunny on the plane! But she's a big girl now, and she dreams about all the adventures Knuffle Bunny is having, and all the other kids he's meeting, and she feels better. On the trip home, Trixie finds him again, and makes a Very Grown Up Decision that makes everyone happy (but a little bit sad too).

Like I've commented before, I really like Willems' artwork in these books; the combination of his drawings and the photographic backgrounds (especially on the plane and in Holland) are really cool. I also like how, when Trixie is reading, she's reading an Elephant and Piggy book, and one of the other toys in her bedroom is a stuffed Leonardo. I like when authors put little self-references like that in their books.

The story is a little longer in this book than in the other volumes, but that shouldn't prevent a child from staying engaged. The excitement of travel and the lost bunny will keep them entertained, and the lesson about saying goodbye to childhood friends is well-written.


#159 Knufflebunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity


Trixie is so excited to take her one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny to show all her friends at school. But when she gets there, she discovers that another girl has a Knuffle Bunny too! This leads to bad feelings, arguments over whether the "K" is silent, and finally, a teacher - instituted bunny timeout. After the girls get their bunnies back and go home, after they are (not so) sound asleep, they realize that they both have the wrong bunny! This leads to 2 am phone calls and a bunny transfer worthy of any spy novel.

I like the art in these books, with a mixture of drawings and photographs of what I assume is New York. And, as always, Willems can show so much range of emotion in such simply drawn figures. I'm not as big a fan of these as I am of the Elephant and Piggy books and the Pigeon books, because the humor is different, but this was still a cute, fun book to read.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

#302 2nd Change by James Patterson


It's weird, the first Patterson book I read was Kill Me if You Can, and I really didn't like it. The dialog was stiff, the action was formulaic, and the "surprises" weren't very surprising. I was sure I wasn't going to like any of his other work. But since I'm reading these for our project where we're working through my sister's to-read list, I soldiered on. And I'm glad I did, because I'm really enjoying the Women's Murder Club series so far. The characters are interesting, the dialog is authentic (and fun!) and the plot twists at the end really do catch me by surprise.
I note that, as he often does, Patterson has cowritten this book with someone else; in fact, it looks like all the rest of the Women's Murder Club series so far have been cowritten with other authors. I assume that Patterson writes the skeleton of the story, and lets his cowriter flesh it out. If they continue to be as entertaining as this one, I have absolutely no problem with that.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

#11 My Name is Resolute by Nancy E. Turner


This was Karen's last book she added before passing away.  I had added it to my own list awhile back (as I am a fan of Nancy E. Turner) and was excited to read her latest novel.  When I saw it was Karen's last entry I wanted to read it even more.

First, what a book.  So rich with history and the way Turner develops these characters one can't help but feel close to them.  She brings them alive like no other author I have ever read. 

The book is long.  Nearly 600 pages and it's not a quick read.  It's not meant to be, but one to be read slowly so the reader can digest it all and think about each character and the happenings of the specific era.  There's so much going on from the early 1700's to the late 1700's.  There are pirates, kidnappings, slavery (buying and selling), Indians, war upon war and name-dropping such as John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington (to name just a few) and as you read about all of these things you develop a fondness for Resolute and her large family. 

As I read this book I found myself totally sucked into history and wishing I had learned so many of the trades the women knew and I also wanted to bake more!  Ha!  I don't even enjoy baking.  I just love how they took care of their own, but saying that, I'm so thankful to be born in the present time.  The things the people of the 18th century had to deal with and all of the early deaths due to lack of antibiotics and sad. 

It was interesting learning what the women did at the time of the Revolutionary War and how they contributed to it, too. 

Nancy E. Turner is truly a gifted story-teller.