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Doc: A Novel

Doc - Mary Doria Russell What a wonderful book! This is the story of John Henry “Doc” Holliday. The “characters” made famous by the Gunfight at the OK Corral had always been rather one-dimensional to me, however Doria Russell’s writing has brought them to life. This story is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. It’s so touching to see Doc’s love of life, friendships and caring attitude coupled with his wit and southern charm. Doria Russell’s characters are all well developed and her beautiful style of writing and language had me laughing at times and crying at others. I’m left bereft—and thrilled to learn she’s working on follow up book which features the Earps—due out in 2015.

The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time, Book 12)

The Gathering Storm - Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson I started the Wheel of Time series nearly 20 years ago, enjoyed most books until about book 7 or 8—when the already slow moving series seemed to slow to a snail’s pace. I stopped reading after book 10. Now that the series is complete, I decided to give it another go. I started at the beginning and have been reading the series all the way through via audiobooks, with Michael Kramer and Kate Reading narrating. The two of them are great, and they’ve managed to hold my interest in the series for many months.

The Gathering Storm, is the first book of the series written by Brandon Sanderson—based on extensive notes left by Robert Jordan. Sanderson holds true to the characters and storyline of the prior books but breathes new life into them. Rand, Matt, Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve are growing up and starting to appear capable of fulfilling the roles the pattern has set for them. The Dragon Reborn, Rand al’Thor, has moved from the carefree youth to a darker and harder individual, willing to risk everything to fulfill his destiny. Egwene al’Vere is now a mature woman and clearly demonstrates her ability a strong leader. As the final battle nears, the action is finally picking up….I can’t wait to see what else the pattern has in store for them and to see how it all ends!

Death of a Gossip (Hamish Macbeth Mysteries, No. 1)

Death of a Gossip - M.C. Beaton First of the Hamish Macbeth series. John and Heather Cartwright run a fishing school for trout and salmon in the Scottish highlands where angler wanna be’s come for week long sessions. On this particular week, 8 students meet up—including 2 Americans, a 12 year old boy from Manchester, a lovelorn 19 year old girl, a widow of a Labour peer, and an army Major. When one of the guests is murdered, all are suspect and “big city” detectives are brought in solve the crime. Bumbling and seemingly hapless (quirky) Macbeth, the local constable, is brushed to the sidelines; yet he’s the one who ends up solving the crime.

I wasn’t too keen on the angling storyline and found the murder mystery to be rather standard fare—however, I love the rumpled, mooching detective and his friend Priscilla. I’ve heard future books in the series are superior in storyline and character development, but I wanted to start at the beginning. I found this a quick read with a good introduction to what promises to be a fun cozy mystery series with a loveable Constable.

The Goldfinch: A Novel

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt Big, massive book. Loads of long descriptive prose. A host of wonderfully developed characters. I loved this book and would have given 5 stars except that a few parts of the book dragged for me and I was a bit let down by the ending where Theo, the main character, got a bit preachy.

I listened to this on audio and think the narrator, David Pittu, did a brilliant job. The tone and style of his narration had me entranced—and taking the long route home to be able to listen a bit longer. Additionally, the wonderful narration led me to really care about the characters—even when they were acting rather despicably. I sometimes loved them, sometimes hated them—but always rooted for them to succeed. I doubt I would have enjoyed this book nearly as much had I read it rather than listened to it.

All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, Book 1)

All the Pretty Horses - Cormac McCarthy Set in 1949-1950, this work opens with the death of 16-year-old John Grady Cole’s grandfather and the news that the family ranch will be sold. John Grady Cole was raised on the ranch and has virtually no relationship with either his mother or his father. When he learns he cannot save the family ranch he and his friend Lacey Rawlins head out to Mexico to find work as cowboys.

I found McCarthy’s sparse style of writing a bit off-putting at the outset, but I soon learned to love the language and syntax and found it very fitting for this coming of age tale. Additionally, the use of the Spanish language throughout lent an air of authenticity and greatly enhanced my appreciation. However, I imagine those without a rudimentary understanding of the language may find it frustrating and a barrier to their enjoyment.

This was much darker and more violent than I thought it would be, but necessary to the story. There is such a cinematic quality to McCarthy’s writing style and his beautiful descriptions that I’m not surprised this was made into a film, however I can’t imagine the film could do justice to the written word. This is the first book I’ve read by the author—but certainly won’t be my last.

The Lost Ark

The Lost Ark - J.R. Rain Sam Ward is an ex-photojournalist for National Geographic turned guide on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey after the death of his fiancé. When Faye Roberts asks his help to find her father, a biblical studies professor who went missing while searching for Noah’s Ark on the mountain.

Disappointed in this one. I got the impression that this was written as a script for a television show or movie. Sam is sarcastic, and spews off a number of “one-liners”. I might not have minded this, however nearly all the other characters also made “zingers” —even at inappropriate times and when it did not fit within their character. Additionally, the storyline is unbelievable. Not much redeeming about this one.

The Sari Shop Widow

The Sari Shop Widow - Shobhan Bantwal Anjali Kapadia is a 37 year old widow who dreams of owning her own chain of upscale Indian boutiques. She sink all her savings into upgrading her parent’s Sari shop in New Jersey’s Little India, turning it into the boutique: Sari’s and Sapphires. She happily designs and sells her beautiful contemporary Indian designs until one day her father announces that their business is failing and that he has called upon his tough, overbearing older brother to help them out. Anjali fears the worst—that her uncle will force them to sell or he’ll decide to take over her business. And when her uncle arrives from India with a business partner, a handsome 42-year-old Indo-Brit, her fears seem to be coming true...

What ensues is a rather predictable romance, but with an ethnic flavor. Nothing spectacular, but good for a cozy afternoon or a beach read.

The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy)

The Next Always - MacLeod Andrews, Nora Roberts I’m not much of a contemporary romance reader, but once in awhile I get in the mood. I’d read the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts a few years ago, so thought I’d given this one a try when the audible version was offered for free. MacLeod Andrews is the narrator. It started out good. The three Montgomery brothers work with their mother to restore an historic inn in small town Boonsboro. The relationships between the brothers, their mother and the local residents is charming. I get invested in the story…..but then the children arrive on scene. Don’t get me wrong. I love kids. Unfortunately, the narrator’s rendition of children is so gratingly whiny that it made me cringe and eventually stop listening.

However, the premise of the book stuck with me and after a few months I decided to finish it via ebook. I’m glad I gave it another try. I enjoyed seeing the Inn take shape--each room is named for and designed around a literary couple: Darcy and Elizabeth, Jane and Rochester, Eve and Roarke, etc. The romance of the youngest brother Becket, and local bookstore owner Clare, mother of 3 young boys, is delightful. And, the building relationship between Becket and the boys is engaging and sometimes laugh out loud funny. This is a warm family romance, the first book of the Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy. I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters and am off to check out the second book.

The Sandcastle Girls: A Novel

The Sandcastle Girls - Chris Bohjalian Bohjalian created a powerful narrative that highlights the horror and heartache of the Armenian genocide of 1915 while showing the spirit and strength of the survivors. Although violent and graphic at times, it felt necessary to the story and did not feel at all gratuitous. Bohjalian prevents the reader from becoming maudlin by interspersing a contemporary storyline about the grand-daughter’s interest in her grandparents past. I read this via audio and loved the idea of two separate narrators—one for each storyline. I thought Cassandra Campbell set the perfect tone for the historical narrative. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the contemporary storyline. I’m not sure if it was due to the story itself or because I disliked Alison’s Frasers portrayal of the adult grand-daughter. Either way, this part of the book was far less compelling and just didn’t work for me.

The Light in the Ruins

The Light in the Ruins - Chris Bohjalian The novel opens with the grisly murder of Francesca, the daughter-in-law of Marchese Rosati, in 1955. The murderer tells us he is targeting the entire Rosati family. The question is: Why? While the detectives work to solve the crime and protect the other family members, the author slowly reveals events at Villa Chimera, the Rosati estate, during 1943-44. The lead detective on the case is Sarafina, the only female on the murder squad and a former Partisan fighter in World War II who was badly burned during the Allied invasion of Italy.

I thought I’d like this more than I did. It had all the right elements to hold my interest. Two of my favorite genres: historical fiction and mystery; a time period of great interest to me: World War II; and a great setting: the Italian countryside and Florence. Unfortunately, I never connected with most of the characters and subsequently found I didn’t care all that much about what happened to them. The only one I really cared about was the detective, Sarafina. Fortunately, enough of the plot and mystery surrounded her, so there was enough to hold my interest and keep me reading.

The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker 4 ½ stars

One made of clay, the other of fire; legends out of mythology. Both awaken in the turn of the 20th century and end up living just neighborhoods apart in New York City. The Golem Chava amongst the Jewish community, The Jinni Ahmad in Little Syria. Each is found by a guardian who helps them to assimilate into this new world.
Both struggle to understand human nature and learn to assimilate into this new world. A wonderful, magical tale. A bit too longwinded at times, but otherwise an excellent novel from a new author.

Death of Riley (Molly Murphy Series #2)

Death of Riley - Rhys Bowen 3½ stars
This is another fun installment in the Molly Murphy mysteries. Molly is a spunky young Irish woman who emigrates from Ireland after killing a landowner. Newly arrived to New York City, she’s still looking for a job, but she wants to become a private investigator—not an appropriate occupation for a young woman in the early 1900’s. When she finally convinces a private investigator to take her on as his assistant, he is unceremoniously murdered--leaving her to fumble her way through investigating his death. Along the way she hooks up with a bohemian group in Greenwich Village and finds her own life in danger. I enjoyed reading this book, but was disappointed that Captain Daniel Sullivan is not as active a participant in this book as he was in the first one. I love the interplay between he and Molly and wish he played a larger role. I hope he’s around more in the next Molly Murphy mystery.

The Transfer: A Divergent Story

Four: The Transfer: A Divergent Story - Veronica Roth I love this short story! It gives us a bit of Four’s history and depicts how he joined Dauntless. This is just enough to whet my appetite and remind my why I’m looking forward to reading book three of the Divergent series.

The Stolen Crown: The Secret Marriage that Forever Changed the Fate of England

The Stolen Crown: The Secret Marriage that Forever Changed the Fate of England - Susan Higginbotham In choosing to write from the alternating perspectives of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, Kate Woodville and Harry Stafford, Higginbotham is able to bring a “personal” view to historical events during the reigns of Edward IV through Richard III. Additionally, seeing through Kate’s eyes gives a more humanizing look at the Woodville family than any book of the period I’d previously read. Although a work of fiction, Higginbotham brings an interesting interpretation to the motivations of the major players during this tumultuous time. I appreciated her note at the end of the book detailing what was based on historical evidence versus what were elaboration/fabrication, as well as an explanation of how she came up with her portrayal of the various players. This is the first book I’ve read by the author. I’ll certainly be reading others.

The Moonstone

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins, Frederick R. Karl The Moonstone Diamond, originally stolen from the forehead of the Hindu moon god in India, goes missing in Yorkshire England in 1848--the night it is inherited by the thief's next of kin. Credited as the first modern English detective fiction novel, The Moonstone has many of the elements we’re now familiar with, including the bumbling local police, the eccentric yet skilled detective, and the amateur sleuth.

Written in the epistolary style, the loss and subsequent investigation of the Moonstone Diamond is revealed via journals and letters of multiple narrators. This gives a first hand account of events with no crucial information “hidden” from the reader. Each narrator brings his/her own unique perspective, which enhances the story immeasurably. The most memorable narrators to me are the house steward and the cousin. The house steward Gabriel Betteredge is a stuffy man whose bible is the novel Robinson Crusoe, and all events of importance in his life are portended in his readings of that book. It’s great fun to read his accounting, however my favorite narrator is cousin Drusilla Clack--I couldn’t stop chuckling while reading her section. She’s a hypocritical, preachy evangelical Christian who believes she can provide solace and salvation to her misguided relatives if only they would read the pamphlets and tracts she leaves strewn about the house—such as “Satan under the Tea Table”, “Satan in the Hair Brush”, and my personal favorite--one she gives for swearing--“Hush, For Heaven’s Sake!".

I really enjoyed this great work of detective fiction infused with both humor and social commentary. I can’t believe I’d never read this one, and I’m looking forward to reading The Woman in White.

The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel

The Painter From Shanghai - Jennifer Cody Epstein This is a fictionalized account of the life Pan Yuliang, a post-impressionist Chinese painter who was quite controversial in her time—as a woman artist and painter of nudes, including nude self-portraits. Born at the end of the 19th century, she grew up in a time where women were culturally oppressed and when the entire country was undergoing a period of political upheaval. I thought Epstein did a beautiful job of conveying the cultural challenges Yuliang faced and overcame, eventually resulting in her move to France in 1937 in order to continue her painting.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book. There was a richness and depth in the telling of her early years--from orphan to prostitute to concubine. I became vested in her story as I saw her growing from a shy, downtrodden girl to becoming more self-possessed. However the second half fell a bit flat for me with the discussions of art and politics coming off as more an historical lesson rather than blending into the story of Yuliang’s development as an artist. I found myself skimming over those sections. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this novel and have since viewed her artwork on the Internet.