Cold Hearted

Book Jacket  3W, 3H – Audio

Barton, Beverly, (c. 2008). Cold Hearted.  Read by Lisa York.  Phoenix Audio. 10 discs (11 hrs, 30 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-5977-7212-9

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Everyone loves Jordan Price.  Including Rick, the investigator hired to find her husband’s killer.  But while he’s protecting Jordan, could he be her next victim?

Summary:  

When Rick is hired to investigate the State Senator’s death, he is drawn to his widow, Jordan Price, who does not seem as affected by the death as he would have thought.  As a matter of fact, upon further investigation, several men in her life have unexpectedly met their end by accident or suicide.  A coincidence?  Rick isn’t willing to bet on it.  But as he gets to know Jordan better, it is harder to see her as a Black Widow, especially as he starts falling in love with her.  Is loving Jordan worth the risk?  Could Rick be the next victim?

Evaluation:

I listened to this selection and looked forward to every time I had to jump in my car.  I’m the reader that was guessing all the way to the end.  I realized I was gracefully led into every theory Barton laid out  only to be thwarted about the same time Rick figured it out.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves some romance with their mystery.  Lisa York, the reader, deftly handled both male and female characters using her southern accent aptly to distinguish between the players.  I could easily follow who was talking.  No fault of York’s and probably part of the appeal of the suspense tactic, it usually took me a few lines to figure out when the story switched to the viewpoint of the killer.  But I think that was intended since there were so many suspects.

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance/Suspense

Readalikes:

Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockman.

Deadline by Sandra Brown

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you like Jordan Price?  Has she created the world around her and if so, how?

2.  If this were made into a movie, who would you cast for the main characters?

3.  Of all Jordan’s family members, which one has the most redeeming qualities?

4.  When did you figure out who the killer is?  What gave them away?

Reasons for selection:

I used to read romance all the time and now I’m more into a mystery mode.  Romantic Suspense is the perfect combination for a fun read.  I had read Barton a few years back and remember the plot and characters being thoroughly entertaining.  This selection did not disappoint.  I look forward to listening to more from this author.

Star Island

Book Jacket  4W, 3H

Hiaasen, Carl, (c. 2010). Star Island.  Alfred A. Knopf. 337 pages , $26.95.

ISBN: This key is a recommended rating system for books read in LIB 220 with Dr. Bodart.  The titles were changed to follow the theme of this blog.

Reviews:

L.A. Times, NY Times

Annotation:

Cherry Pye, the lip-synching, drug-addicted pop star, has a body double whose been kidnapped by a crazed paparazzo.  Can Cherry’s entourage save the double before anyone find outs she exists?

Summary:  

In Star Island, the main character, Ann DeLusia, is a double for a very messed up pop star, Cherry Pye.  Ann stands in for the pop star whenever Cherry is too wasted to show up in public or has to be whisked away to yet another detox center.  Add to this scenario an obsessed paparazzo, a crazed ex-governor with a soft spot for the mangrove swamps, unscrupulous music producers, a weed-whacking body guard and you have a vintage Hiaasen novel.

Ann, mistaken for Cherry, is kidnapped by the infatuated paparazzo, Bang Abbott.   She contacts Skink, the ex-governor, for help knowing that her welfare is not at the top the list for anyone riding the Cherry Pye money train,  namely Cherry’s parents, publicists and producer.  Filled with hi-jinks, capers, plots and thieving land-developers, Hiaasen doles out the justice as the characters race towards the final scene.

Evaluation:

When you pick up a Hiaasen you know that you are in for a wacky and wonderful ride.  In Star Island, he brings back two popular characters, Skink, the ex-governor of Florida (he was in office for about 5 minutes) and Chemo, the eight foot tall one-armed man who lost his arm to a barracuda.   To these intrepid individuals, he adds a list of characters that will keep you laughing and cringing throughout the escapades.  And although a straight up humorous tale, there is, unfortunately, more truth than fiction is his depiction of Cherry Pye’s stardom and the lengths to which people will go to make it shine.  This is another winner.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Humorous

Awards:

  • Booklist Editors’ Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults: 2010

Readalikes:

The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Susan McBride.

Turnpike Flameout by Eric Dezenhall

Book Discussion Questions:

1. There are two recurring characters in this book, Skink and Chemo.  What do they represent to Hiaasen and what is their appeal?

2. Hiaasen’s characters dole out all kinds of punishment for various reasons.  Which character receives the worst of it and why did Hiaasen set it up this way?

3.  Is there anything likable about Cherry Pye?

4. Based on Anne’s choices in the epilogue, how do we know that she still has her head on straight?

Reasons for selection:

After reading a Hiaasen selection for another class, I was eager to pick one of his adult books for this class.  I was not disappointed.  I enjoy satirical, quirky, straightforward characters and Hiaasen’s take on pop-culture was wonderfully validating.  I would recommend a Carl Hiaasen, Christoper Moore and Elmore Leonard all in the same breath.

Snapper

  4W, 3H

Kimberling, Brian, (c. 2013). Snapper.  Pantheon Books. 210 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  978-0-307-90805-6

Reviews
NPR, The Boston Globe

Annotation:

Nathan stumbles in and out of his memories as he studies the songbirds of southern Indiana telling the tale of his journey from adolescence to adulthood.

Summary:  

Nathan Lochmuller discovers that he has a gift for tracking songbirds and spends his post-graduate years in southern Indiana as a research assistant doing just that.  The pay is poor but he loves the “office”.  Told in a series of short stories, Nathan exposes his unrequited love for the evasive, yet alluring Lola and shares experiences from his youth that have helped to shape him into the man he is learning to become.  A lyrical and absorbing tale, the past and present fit neatly together as Nathan introduces the characters that have become his world.

Evaluation:

This is the story of a young man’s coming of age, told from the perspective of an older man reminiscing about his days as a birdwatcher in the woods of southern Indiana.  The summary does not do justice to the pull of this novel that takes you from the misadventures of bored teenagers to the random letter writing at the truck stop outside the town of Santa Claus.  Kimberling’s debut novel is beautifully written with engaging characters.   This is one that definitely lingers after reading it knowing that it’s not about getting what you want but about wanting what you get.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Best Fiction Books-2013

Readalikes:

An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender.

Lightning by Jean Echenoz

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Animals play an important part in this story, especially birds.  How do you think the animals help define the different characters and situations?  How does Kimberling use them to make the characters more three dimensional?

2.  “I got my job by accident” is the opening line for the novel.  How does this set the tone for the entire book and help initially define the main character, Nathan?

3.  Nathan’s relationships come and go over time.  How would you characterize them?  How do his relationships evolve as the story unfolds?

4.  Would you consider Snapper a series of short stories or a novel?  How do you define a story?  Can you write , as Ernest Hemingway did, a story in just six words?

5.  Why did he call the novel, “Snapper”?

Reasons for selection:

This book is part of Nancy Pearl’s 2013 “Books that make great gifts” list.  Admittedly I was far more intrigued by the cover than I was by the summary and picked it up from the shelf because I had recognized it.  Like many on this list, I’m glad I did.  I enjoyed Kimberling’s take on life in Indiana and his lyrical writing depicting the beauty of the country.

Amy Falls Down

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Willett, Jincy, (c. 2013).  Amy Falls Down. Thomas Dunne Books. 324 pages , $24.99.

ISBN:  9781250028273

Reviews:

The NY Times, Publisher’s Weekly

Annotation:

Amy Gallup is satisfied with her life far away from the best-seller list.  But after a hitting her head on a birdbath, she’s got a lot to say.

Summary:  

Amy Gallup has not written anything in 30 years.  She teaches online writing workshops to make ends meet and keeps company with her basset hound, Alphonse.  She scorns the publishing industry and what it has turned into but does so quietly since she enjoys being a bit of a recluse.  After all, things are easier that way.

But then she trips and bangs her head on the side of the birdbath and seems to forget exactly how it happened.  No problem.  She’s up and everything is fine; until she forgets to cancel the interview that afternoon with a reporter from the San Diego Tribune.  But she’s feeling good and quite confident until she forgets why the reporter is even coming and only realizes that she’s waving goodbye to the reporter without any recollection of what transpired between them.  As the interview goes viral with reviewers calling her a “genius”, Amy’s career is taking off again and she reluctantly tries to keep up with it.   Full of satire and wit, Amy learns to deal with her own demons.  But that becomes more difficult as the numbness wears off and she is confronted with the fact that she has become a celebrity.

Evaluation:

I was looking forward to a light read and figured that this was going to be a funny book about an aging writer.  I was happily surprised to find that it had much more depth than I originally anticipated.  Amy Gallup is a character that has all the sarcasm needed to keep most people at bay while still drawing them in with her insights and doggedness.  I immediately took to the character because she is not only self-aware but simultaneously suspicious and intrigued by her increasing celebrity status.

Willett has developed a just-short of cynical character (is it a depiction of herself) who is fed up with the publishing industry while wanting to be a part of it again.  The bump on the head and subsequent interview are just the type of strange occurrence that can propel any career in this strange connected world.

Excerpt from the author’s webpage (I’m not sure that website would be the appropriate term):

“Jincy Willett

…has a life, as, I’m sure, do you. And yet here you are.”

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Humorous

Readalikes:

The Last Original Wife  by Dorothea Benton Frank.

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

Book Discussion Questions:

1. In a radio interview, Amy Gallup comments that, “There may still be more readers than writers, but surely we’re approaching some kind of catastrophic tipping point.”  How does this exemplify Amy’s feeling about the world of publishing today compared to the past?

2. What seems to be stopping Amy from moving on with her life?

3. After reading this conversation with Jincy and  editor Thomas Dunne, how could this story be seen as autobiographical?

4. How does the role of “accident” play in all of our lives?

Reasons for selection:

This is another selection from Nancy Pearl’s “Books That Make Great Gifts” list presented in December 2013.  I liked that I could read it without having to read the prequel published in 2008 and I was drawn to the unique layout of the book cover.  I can’t help it; I do judge a book by it’s cover…initially.  In my quest to try new authors, Willett seemed to be a great fit.  She successfully combines writing, sarcasm and Southern California.  I was not disappointed.  And after viewing her webpage, I am an immediate fan!

Emma

4W, 1H – Audio

Austin, Jane, (c. 2007). Emma.  Read by Anghard Rees and a full cast.  BBC Radio. 5 discs (5 hrs, 15 mins) , $35.95.

ISBN:  978-1-6028-3281-7

Reviews

Publisher’s Weekly, The Book Bag

Annotation:

Bright, young and with no intention of marrying, Emma Watson happily inserts herself in other people’s lives, believing her skills as a matchmaker are needed.

Summary:  

Beautiful, clever, rich and single, Emma Watson has no interested in love or marriage but she delights in playing matchmaker whenever possible.  Her sights are set on her new companion, Harriet Smith who Emma views as the perfect match for the vicar, Mr.Elton.  Unfortunately, Mr. Elton has his eye on Emma and could not bring himself to fall for someone as lowly as Ms. Smith.  The only person who seems to understand Emma even better than she understands herself is their family friend Mr. Knightly who continuously warns Emma to mind her own affairs.

With the appearance of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill who are secretly engaged, the whirlwind of matchmaking blunders continues until even Emma seems satisfied with the outcome.

Evaluation:

Warning – if at all possible, pick another audio book version of Emma.  I am only taking the time to write this up so as to deter those from thinking it might be a good choice.  I listen to many books on CD and yes, the reader matters.  It was suggested to me that I experience an audio book with a full cast, not a single reader in order to compare the performances.  Well, that exercise is complete and I will forever listen to the single narrator audio book.

Having several voices at once without the visual help of a play, is confusing and at times annoying.  This selection includes music and background noise.  For example, as Emma and Harriet are walking from one place to another, there are birds chirping in the background and the constant sound of grass swooshing either from a breeze of from their walking through the fields.  I was so baffled by the additional sounds that I lost some of the dialogue, or could not hear it.  In addition, the producer decided that it would be a great idea to lower the volume at the end of every scene or chapter ultimately eliminating the last few sentences of the dialogue.

I know that Emma is a widely popular story so this is not to discourage anyone from reading or listening to it, just don’t listen to this version.

Genre/Subgenre:

Classic/Romance

Readalikes:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Surrender by Amanda Quick

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe the friendship between Emma and Harriet.  Would you say that Emma is a good friend?  Are her intentions altruistic or more selfish?

2. Mr. Knightly and Emma are described as intimate friends at the beginning of the story.  How does their relationship change as the story progresses?  What causes them to change?

3. Matchmaking is an important element in the story with some successes and some definitely not.  Which couples are good matches, which are bad and why do you think they either will or won’t last?

4. Is Emma a sympathetic character?  Does she have good intentions or is she ultimately thoughtless and unconcerned with the effects she has on people’s lives?

Reasons for selection:

I admit that I have never been a Jane Austin fan.  I don’t say that lightly because I am surrounded by fans and I try to keep that under wraps.  But I wanted to give the stories another whirl instead of just dismissing them as “classic” and “boring”.  (Yes, I am slightly uncultured that way, despite my parents best efforts.)  I picked up this Audio Book with the best of intentions, eager to hear the wonderful sounds of a British accent caught up in the ever-so-uninteresting lives of the 19th century England.  As you can see from my evaluation, my experience was less than pleasing.  However, knowing that the version was at fault, not the story, I plan on finding a better audio book and will joyously listen to that and hopefully appreciate Ms. Austin’s widely acclaimed talents.

Lamb

https://i1.wp.com/contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafe/jacket.aspx 4W, 4H

Moore, Christopher (c. 2002).  Lamb.  William Morrow. 417 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780380978403

Reviews
Examiner.com,  Christianity Today – an interview

Annotation:

How did Jesus become the Messiah?  Biff, Jesus’ childhood pal, has been resurrected to retell the story of the Messiah’s teenage years, farts and all.

Summary:  

There is no history of Jesus’s life outside of his much celebrated birth and the years leading up to his much celebrated death (and re-birth).  Thankfully, satirist Christopher Moore decided to pen his version for the history books.  Biff, Jesus’ (Joshua’s) childhood friend is resurrected to come back and write the story in order to clear up any confusion.  He tells the story of young Joshua’s journey, much like any Jewish boy during the first century, who struggles to find his way in the world, learn his trade and figure out the opposite sex.  But as a burgeoning Messiah, Joshua has a few things working against him; namely that in a world of sin and lies, he is vulnerable in his honesty and generosity.  That’s where Biff comes in.  Biff is not susceptible to such personality traits and helps Joshua navigate his way through the mores of the culture.  However, when the beautiful Mary the Magdalene (Maggie) marries Jaken the jerk, Joshua and Biff leave on a journey to find the three magi present at Joshua’s birth.

Evaluation:

Moore’s blend of wit and historical content make this the over-the-top read that will thrill those that question the legitimacy of the Bible stories as well as those that live by the New Testament.   Taking such a revered subject as Jesus Christ and creating a life story for him is nothing short of crazy.  Even Moore states that he was ready to move in with Solomon Rushdie when the book hit the stands.  But the opposite happened and Moore was instead asked to speak on the topic at various seminary schools.  Biff is the perfect id to Josh’s ego with Maggie playing the unwitting role of the femme-fatale.  And if you don’t laugh at Josh’s attempt at honing his trade as the Messiah, then you may not be prepared to enjoy the rest of the book.

Genre/Subgenre:

Sattire

Awards:

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults – 2003

Readalikes:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Unholy Night  by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Did you learn something from this book that surprised you?

2. Would Joshua have made it to maturity without Biff?  Do you think Jesus had any human – not divine – help in becoming who he was?

3.  As an “equal opportunity offender” what do you think Moore’s purpose was in writing this book?  Were you offended?

4. Biff asks, “Are all women better and stronger than me?” to which Joshua answers “Yes”.  Do you think Moore believes this? Do you think Christianity teaches this?  How are women viewed in various world religions?

Reasons for selection:

A friend of mine, with similar tastes, suggested this book to me.  I do enjoy satire and found Moore’s interpretations laugh-out-loud funny.  I thought that this might be offensive to the truly religious but in further research, it seems that many seminary schools use this book in their classrooms.  I mean, why not?  No one else has documented the history of Jesus’ teenage years so why not leave it someone who is known for holding nothing sacred :).

The Art of Racing in the Rain

4W, 4H

Stein, Garth, (c. 2008). The Art of Racing in the Rain.  Harper Audio. 6 CD’s (7 hours) , $34.95.  Read by Christopher Evan Welch.

ISBN:  978-0-06-156540-3

Reviews
Powell’s Books, Book Reporter

Annotation:

Narrated by the family dog, Enzo looks back on his life with Denny, the aspiring race car driver and the lengths to which Enzo goes to protect their family.

Summary:  

Enzo has the soul of a human but is stuck with the paws of a dog.  He would much rather have the ever-so-useful opposable thumbs so that he could be more helpful to his family.  On the eve of his death, Enzo reflects back on the life that he has led with Denny; from the day Denny chose him from the large litter and brought him back to the apartment in Seattle to the the past few days leading up to this moment.  It has been an exciting life with Denny’s race car driving career, his beautiful wife and their wonderful child.  But when tragedy hits, Enzo knows that it is up to him to keep the family together and ultimately protect Denny from those that want to do him wrong.

Evaluation:

Stein skillfully brings to life each character with insights that only a dog could have.  It is a beautifully written story about family, devotion and the willpower needed to do the right thing.  And although the subject can be difficult and frustrating, Welch’s voice is perfect for personifying Enzo who is restricted by doing more because of his inability to speak and grab things.  Humorous, insightful, tragic and restorative, this book is a wonderful read/listen showing  the magical relationship between a man and his dog while life races along as ever-increasing speeds.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction

Awards:

Booklist Editor’s Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults – 2008

Readalikes:

 Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Book Discussion Questions:

What is “the art of racing in the rain”?

Using a dog as the narrator puts a unique spin on the story?  What would have been some of the major changes if the narrator had been a human?  And which human would have had the most unique perspective?

“No race has ever been won on the first corner; many races have been lost there.”  How does this observation carry through the story?

Did you learn more about race car driving from this book?  Do you agree with the parallels set forth between racing and living?

Do you look at your dog (or other dogs) differently after reading the book?

What exactly does the Zebra represent?

Reasons for selection:

At Sacramento Public Library, most librarians have “What I’m reading now” as part of their email signature.  This book came up on a message from one of the Branch Supervisors and as a dog lover, I was immediately intrigued.  She explained that they had just read it for their monthly Book Club and all members unanimously loved it.  With that, I picked it up.