Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Virgin River series by Robyn Carr

January 18, 2010

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading this new series that I’m really enjoying. I finished Books 1-7 in this series and am on hold at the library for Book 8 which was released at the end of December. Book 9 is due this month and Book 10 shortly thereafter. This is hard for me. These aren’t books I necessarily want to own but I can’t stand the waiting, either.

Virgin River by Robyn Carr - Book 1 in series

Virgin River is a made up small town of about 600 people in the mountains of Northern California (near Eureka). It’s a place most people go to to fish or hunt or camp. Carr’s community of characters are mostly former military men and the women who cross their paths. I decided to give the books a try because it’s too long between Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter books. Carr’s books do not have nearly the same level of suspense that Brockmann’s do but she does weave several plotlines together within and between each book, which I like. Carr has a main couple to focus on in each book, but lives are so intertwined in Virgin River we get to see how others who’ve come before are doing (mostly they are wildly in love and having babies and keeping the town moving forward but that’s ok). Plus Carr has explored/included at least two teen and one “mature” couple’s relationships in the books, which rounds things out and gives her/us readers the opportunity to look at relationships between men and women from different perspectives.

I did not read the books in order . . . they didn’t come from the library that way . . . so this may have colored my reactions to the books e.g. Book 1 (Virgin River) wasn’t quite as interesting as I would have hoped but maybe it was just anti-climatic to read about how the two main characters in the series met after hearing about how they met in the 3 or 4 books in the series I read before I got to Book 1.  My favorites in the series so far are books 3 (Whispering Rock) and 7 (Paradise Valley). You can find the whole series in order at


Kindred in Death (Robb) and Grave Secret (Harris)

January 6, 2010

Here are two of my favorite series/authors. Funny, but I don’t like Nora Roberts’ books but I love J.D. Robb’s “in death” series. That isn’t the only combo like that either. Love J.R. Ward but Jessica Bird is only ok. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books are a hoot but her romances are pretty awful. . . .

At this point, with book 30, and this time of year (the holidays) Robb’s in death series reminds of an annual holiday letter . . . great way to catch up with an old friend. It’s been more than a year since I’ve read one – and it is clear I missed at least one from references to one character’s situation in this latest book – and it was nice to catch up.

Re: Charlaine Harris. I just love her writing. I haven’t read any of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries (there’s just too much else on my plate and cozy mysteries haven’t rung my bell yet) but I love the rest of Harris’ series (Sookie Stackhouse, Shadespeare and “Grave” with Harper Connelly and Tolliver). Although I had really weird dreams last night after finishing Grave Secret. . . .

Next up: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.

Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

December 22, 2009

I love Chabon’s writing and this collection of essays is very good. . . put a copy on your nightstand and occasionally dip in.

Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs

December 15, 2009

Winnie and Bernie are both “outsiders” who meet and become best friends in the 8th grade. All through high school the two misfits are thick as thieves and plan their futures assuming they will always be together. But when plans to attend college together go awry (Bernie isn’t able to go), both Winnie and Bernie learn what it means to stand on their own two feet. Hobbs also explores what it means to be special, ordinary, and grownup.  The bulk of the plot takes place over Winnie’s (and what should have been Bernie’s) freshman year of college. Narrated from alternating points of view. Highly recommended for Hobbs’ very realistic and contemporary portrayal of 1) the college experience – or at least freshman year, 2) the process of figuring out who we really are (and whether or not that is who we want to be), and 3) will Winnie and Bernie get back together? Should they get back together?  For high school and up.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

December 15, 2009

It is Dade Hamilton’s last summer at home. He’s ready to leave everything behind: the small town where he grew up, his parent’s disintegrating marriage, and everyone who reminds him of same, including the boyfriend who can’t be gay but can’t leave Dade alone either. Wouldn’t you know that this is the moment Dade makes some of his first real friends ever, including falling in love?

Burd has written a very readable, realistic coming of age story that anyone who has ever agonized over what to do about a relationship (that one both wants to keep but needs to leave) can relate to. His characters may be recognizable but they are well-developed and readers will enjoy getting to know them (Dade, Lucy, Alex) while aching for others.

Others have commented on the sub-plot with the missing girl. Either I don’t get what Burd was hoping to accomplish with her or he doesn’t succeed with it; but it is a small enough part of the book that it didn’t interfere with my overall enjoyment of the book. I particularly like that the sexual orientation of some of the characters is not the point of the book – it just so happens that some of the characters are not hetero. This book is for high school and up.

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style by Basher and Adrian Dingle

December 10, 2009

Probably the most fun anyone is ever going to have studying the periodic table. Basher/Dingle have created first- and third-person narration to explain each element, as well as logical groupings of elements. Basher’s illustrations (he describes himself as a “graphic surrealist”) captures the character of each element with a Pokemon/Anime aesthetic. Copper’s entry begins, “I am an age-old metal that gave birth to whole chunks of history and launched civilizations . . .” Other titles in the series – written with Dan Green – include Physics: Why Matter Matters, Biology: Life As We Know It, Rocks and Gems: A Gem of A Read, Astronomy: Out of This World, and Planet Earth: What Planet Are You On?

I love these little paperback books (although I wish they had spiral bindings on them). They make great gifts for almost any age (they’re less than $10 each) and they are perfect for stashing in the car for kids to thumb through in odd moments.

I don’t remember where I read that childrearing tip but I pass it along frequently: keep 2-3 non-fiction books and/or magazines in the backseat of your car (I use a basket stuck between the bucket seats). Even the most reluctant readers *will* pick them up to thumb through at odd moments. Rotate titles every so often to keep readers interest . . .

Rant . . . Publishers only printing half a book!

December 5, 2009

Just finished Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo In the Bone and it ends in the middle of the story! Leaving aside the discussion that this series eventually has to end, my huge takeaway is:   I’m so tired of reading books that end on major cliff-hangers!!!

I love series books. I like revisiting characters to find out what they are up to next. Harry Potter was a great example of how to do this well. Each book had its own story arc that resolved itself within each book. We knew more interesting stuff and character development was forthcoming but we knew each book’/school year’s major conflict would be resolved.

But this trend of publishing only a portion of a single story arc is really irritating. Suzanne Collins truly excellent The Hunger Games (plus its sequel) and Kelly Armstrong’s new YA novel The Awakening (and its sequel) do the same thing. Gabaldon’s latest actually ends in the middle of a conversation between two of the characters (Jamie and Lord John)!!!

I compare this to The Lord of the Rings. All three books were already published by the time I first read the series. I suppose I’d be just as ticked about LOTR if I were reading those as they were published. But I don’t think it was standard publishing practice back then to do this to readers. It’s become a publishing habit these days . . . especially in the YA/children’s market.

I keep threatening to write to the publishers and with this one I may just do it. It’s like 5 years between Gabaldon books these days. This is not fair to readers, especially for a really well-established series like Gabaldon’s. Why should anyone buy a book when it is first released? Just wait for all the books to be released before starting a new series. . . . and get them at your public library so you aren’t being soaked for the price of 2 or 3 or more books just to get a single story!

Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

December 4, 2009

I listened to the audio book version of this (read by the author who did a very good job) and couldn’t stop talking about it to . . . well, anyone who would listen. The book is about what makes some people really stand out . . . and some of our misconceptions about what it takes to be successful.

Perhaps the most interesting issue Gladwell raised is the one about professional hockey players: professional hockey players in Canada are almost all born in the first 3 months of a calendar year because Dec. 31 is the cutoff date each year for kids hockey. That means at age 5, a kid born in January is significantly “older” and has more physical dexterity than a kid born in Dec. The “older” kids tend to outperform the younger kids at very young ages. So guess which kids on any given team get more playing time? more of a coach’s attention? get chosen for all-star teams or special league mentoring/play? By the time a January-born hockey player reaches high school, the cumulative effect of the extra attention and coaching is that most professional hockey players in Canada are born in the first 3 months of the year. Since this represents only about 25% of Canada’s population, how much athletic potential is not being developed because a December-born 5-year-old doesn’t have what it takes to compete with a January-born 5-year-old?

According to Gladwell this happens all over the world, in many areas of life. And the ramifications reach far beyond professional sports . . . one of Gladwell’s points is that we tend to do the same thing in education. We begin “tracking” kids at very young ages. What percentage of any country’s given population is not getting the time or attention it needs to be successful academically? What if we created pre-school/kindergarten and primary grade classrooms based on partial years e.g. Jan-Apr kids in one class, May-Aug kids not only in another class but starting school at a different time e.g. when they are actually 5 rather than 5 by Dec. 31? At least until “age” becomes less of a factor in a student’s likely ability to “compete” or keep pace with his or her peers (which begins to happen at about 9 or 10 years of age)?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

November 17, 2009

Finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett this weekend. Can see why its on so many book group discussion lists . . . I see it becoming required reading in schools down the road. Here’s the question I’d add to the discussion: Note how ingrained it was for some people in the South to refuse to discuss/inform themselves about race (and many other “genteel” topics). Many refused to read or would change the channel if news stories were about race-related issues . . . which explains perhaps how/why attitudes/shameful behavior went on (continue to go on?) for such a long time e.g. if a national news story (e.g. Medgar Evers assination/Birmingham church bombings/etc.) was deliberately ignored, it’s no wonder so many people grew up with no idea or totally innaccurate ideas about what was really happening. People didn’t want to know. Likely true of Germans in Nazi Germany as well. Is this a normal human reaction to change? If so, what are we ignoring today to our peril or shame?