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.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#228 Private by James Patterson

Private (Private, #1)
A strong 4.5, rounded up to 5. Really a top-notch effort by Patterson and his co-author Maxine Paetro. (She also co-wrote many of the Women's Murder Club books, which I also really enjoyed.) I really have a hard time coming up with anything negative to say; the writing is strong, especially the dialog; the characters are solid and complex; the whodunits and why-dun-its are well thought out and well-hidden - that is to say, I didn't have this one figured out well before the story was over.

I like the concept of an ensemble cast; even though Jack Morgan is the head of the agency, and the main character (and the only one with first-person dialog), the other members of his staff are well-rounded, realistic characters. I can see any one of them being the central character in future books in the series.

There have been other of Patterson's series where, after reading the first book, I've vowed not to read any more; this book actually has me looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

(Read as part of our "Reading with Karen" project. I can't say whether she would have liked this one, but it would have been interesting to talk to her about it

Thursday, May 26, 2016

#48 Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves


I picked this one up from library because I didn't have to reserve it.  It was sitting right on the shelf which is unusual as far as finding Karen's books at my library.  I had no idea what the book was about and for some reason thought it was going to be a Christian/fiction type book.  It was not.

The main character and her husband are college sweethearts.  She has type one diabetes and wears a pump to help maintain the disease.  This does play a role in the book.  She lives in surburia, right outside of Kansas City, on the Kansas side (this did intrigue me because I am very familiar with that area) in a middle to upper middle-class neighborhood.  The other characters felt cliché to me as far as surburban housewives go.  We have the alcoholic mom with the cheating husband, the compulsive gambler with the clueless wife, the nearly perfect couple that is dealing with infertility and then the main character and her hard, over-worked husband that is not in tune with his wives needs.  The book dives into how Claire, the main character, truly loves her husband but is so lonely so seeks refuge with a "gorgeous cop" that just happened to pull her over.  The two have an emotional affair together and it is justified through the book. 

Honestly, I didn't get the point of the book.  I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing did.  That's the entire story. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#259 Just Another Kid by Torey L. Hayden

Just Another Kid

In each of Hayden's books (or at least the ones that take place in a classroom), you're introduced to the kids, and all of them have their specific issues; throughout the book, Hayden talks about helping each one of them improve (as much as they can). But there's always one kid that the crux of the story focuses on, and so I started this book trying to identify which kid is the "just another kid" of the title. We're introduced to Leslie, a barely functioning, possibly autistic little girl, along with her parents, but Leslie's not "the kid". We're introduced to Mariana, a precocious, overly sexualized girl, and Dirkie, an autistic boy, but neither of them is "the kid"; later on, we add Geraldine and Shemona, two sisters, and their cousin, Shamie, all of whom are refugees of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, but none of which is "the kid". Eventually, Leslie's mother begins helping Hayden in the classroom as an aide, and we learn that she is the kid - she and Hayden begin developing... if not a friendship, then at least a work-based camaraderie and she begins revealing to Hayden some of the serious emotional issues she (and her husband and Leslie) are working through.

This is another one of the better books written by Hayden; I seem to enjoy her books that are based in classrooms better, because (in part) they don't rely so much on her hit-or-miss method of child psychology. There's a structure to a classroom that precludes just sitting around waiting for something to happen, which sometimes appears to be Hayden's style of therapy. It's also fun and interesting to see how these kids, all at different levels of maturity and development and intellect, interact with each other. I'm surprised, again, by how physical Hayden and the other adults are with the kids, picking them up by their collars or (essentially) tossing them into the "timeout" chair. These are actions a present-day teacher would probably get sued over, but then, these books are set in the 1970s and 80s.

The ending is bittersweet, with an end-of-school-year picnic and an epilogue that gives a little information about what happened to (most of) the kids. I think my sister would have really liked this one, more than most of the other Hayden books, partly because of the interaction between Hayden and Ladbrooke (Leslie's mother).


#102 The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

The Best of Me

I like to have an audio book always available for those times I am stuck waiting on someone, driving or walking and it seems like all of Nicholas Sparks books are always available.  This doesn't surprise me.  So, that explains why I continue to read these books, or listen to them.  Because they are always available.  I have many on hold and I am looking forward to listening to them as I don't think I can handle another Sparks book.

Sigh....I really dislike these books.  They are so awful.  So predictable.  Tear-jerkers, however, not really as you know it's going to happen so you sigh and roll your eyes and endure it. 

This one is about a teenage couple, "true love", that went different paths but found themselves together 20 years later.  They have an affair and it's justified because they are each other's true love.  smh.  I love when people justify infidelities.  << sarcasm. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

#120 The City of Ember by Jeanne DePrau


Such a fun little read. A bit Hunger Games style without the violence! A good read for the kiddos.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#351 The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs


I had a hard time finishing this one.  It felt so similar to so many other books I've read, nothing original, so I was bored with it and felt it was filled with cliché's.  It's about a group of women who become friends over knitting. The main character owns a knitting shop in Manhattan, funded by a wealthy Manhattanite who becomes her surrogate mother and works for her.  The shop has several regulars and they eventually form a Friday Night Knitting Club.  The book shares a bit about each character and their back story, but so little.  It felt like a movie version of the book, just enough to know who's who, but no depth.  The ending is a tear jerker but not shocking.  I was happy to finally finish this one. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

#97 Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson


Surprisingly, this was not that bad. Not over-the-top hilarious, as some of the juvenile readers at my library have said, but not cringingly (is that a word?) bad like those of Patterson's other books for a younger audience that I have read. (I would read more of this series; I have absolutely zero interest in reading more of the "Witch and Wizard" or "Maximum Ride" series.) Patterson does have a tendency to rely a little too heavily on stereotypes - the "dragon-lady" teacher, the good-for-nothing stepdad, the bratty kid sister, the no-neck bully - but he threw in a few good curveballs as well. (The truth about Leo's identity - did not see that coming!)

Rafe is a brand-new 6th grader, and he's decided (with Leo's help) that he's going to break every rule in his middle school's rule book by the end of the school year. Not because he's a "bad kid"; just because school is boring, and things are bad at home. Scattered throughout the book are illustrations, cartoons really, seemingly drawn by Rafe's best friend, Leo. The cartoons, while not integral to the story, make it more enjoyable and, since they resemble the kind of artwork a lot of us drew in class ourselves, add a sense of middle-school authenticity to the story.
If - like in a lot of other books of this sort - the mission was to teach kids that it's good to be good, and that truancy never pays, I think Patterson fell short. While Rafe does suffer some consequences for his actions, in the end his situation is vastly improved. All in all, this was an enjoyable book, but nothing earth-shatteringly great.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

#258 Ghost Girl by Torey Hayden


Definitely the most readable of Hayden's books that I've read. Which is not to say that the subject matter was pleasant - far from it. But the narrative flowed a lot more smoothly, and I didn't find myself as frustrated with the author as I have in her past books.

The book was written in the 1980s (first published in 1991), and there are some things she was able to get away with then that would definitely not fly in a public school today - picking an unruly boy up by his belt and shirt collar, lifting a six-year-old girl's shirt up (in the classroom) to check for signs of scoliosis, locking yourself and that girl in the cloakroom because that's the only place the girl feels safe enough to tell about the abuse she's been subjected to. There's a scene where Hayden and the girl are locked in the cloakroom, and the girl (who hasn't spoken at school in ages) suddenly starts yelling at the top of her lungs (because she can, because she's safe). A teacher in the next room comes running, tries the door and finds it locked; Hayden tells her everything is ok, and that's good enough for the other teacher. (This after Hayden had only been at the school lest than a semester.) If that happened in today's schools, the principal would be knocking the door down to be sure the teacher wasn't abusing the child herself.

I was disappointed that the book didn't have a solid resolution of Jadie's (the girl's) situation. Hayden finally gets her to tell the authorities about the abuse, and her story is checked out, but no definitive evidence is found. The book isn't really about having that resolution; it's more about Jadie working through her emotional and mental issues to get to the point she can talk and participate in life. But it would have been nice to know what, exactly, actually did happen. Hayden kept in contact with Jadie and her sister, so she was able to let the reader know that Jadie went on to graduate from college and do well in life, but we never do find out if the abuse and everything that went with it were real, or if they were products of Jadie's mind, created to deal with all the bad things that were happening to her.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

#126 The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh


I never thought this would be as good as it was, but I was completely captivated from start to finish. It's not fast paced, but the story spoke to me in a way I never thought it could.


#179 The Magicians by Lev Grossman


This book was on my sister's to-read list, and I think I know why. Karen absolutely loved the Harry Potter books, having read them to my nephew as he was growing up. At first glance, The Magicians has a similar premise - boy discovers a whole new world of magic, and is invited to attend a school for magicians. But whereas the Harry Potter books were about a sweet, young British boy attending a nice British school for young kids, this book is about Quentin, a horny, mopey, angst-y American teenager from Brooklyn attending a college-level school in upstate New York. There's a lot of college-level antics in this book - drinking, cussing, sexing - that you wouldn't have found anywhere remotely near Hogwarts.

While Rowling's descriptions of performing magic were full of the romantic aspects - waving wands and saying pretty words, Grossman focuses more on the journeyman type aspects of magic; if the teachers at Hogwarts look at magic as painting or sculpting, the faculty of Brakebills consider it more along the lines of baking or carpentry.

But Quentin's education at Brakebills is only the beginning quarter of the book. As a child (and. let's face it, as a teenager) Quentin read over and over a Narnia-esque series of children's novels depicting a land called Fillory. After graduating from Brakebills, Quentin and friends discover that Fillory actually exists, and they set off on a Magical Quest to find it. The remainder of the book relates that quest, and what happens with the friends when they discover that Fillory-of-fiction and Fillory-in-real-life are not necessarily the same thing.

I think Karen would have enjoyed this book, once she got past the disappointment of it not being (at all) like the Harry Potter series. There are some definite "adult situations", and Grossman makes it clear pretty early that these are not cute little kids in a cute little magic school. There are deaths, and hook-ups, and imbibing of various drugs and alcoholic beverages. But it's an exciting, well-developed story complete with Important Messages that make us Think about Life.