Tuesday, January 31, 2006

January Book Report

Disclaimer: I read a lot of "stuff" besides books. I read verses and chapters in the Bible, daily devotional books, and numerous magazines, including Readers Digest, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, The Upper Room and Think Spanish. I read newspapers and blogs; this month I have been been doing a lot of reading on the internet and otherwise about the destinations for our upcoming trip to Greece, Italy, and the Mediterranean. I have also read several books that don't quite rate being classified as "books", such as Late night with David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists and Simple Spanish Crossword Puzzles. However, this report is just on the books that I have read during the month of January.

The Survivor's Club by Lisa Gardner - This is one of the most suspenseful mysteries I have read in a long time. Three rape victims are suspected of murder when their alleged rapist is shot and killed on the courthouse steps just before the trial. The characters are fully developed and engaging. The plot is complex and intriguing. This author makes the reader care what happens to these rape victims, to the investigating detective, and even to the alleged rapist's family. The twists involving DNA-evidence are thought-provoking and not just a little scary.

Kill and Tell by Linda Howard - - This is a good suspense novel/love story -- typical of Linda Howard's novels. A young woman becomes involved in national intrigue after her father (whom she has never known) sends a package to her mother just before he dies. Karen packs the package away unopened with her mother's other effects when her mother dies. The notebook in the unopened package contains sensitive documents being desperately sought for by both the "good guys" and the "bad guys". Karen also becomes involved with the police investigator who is trying to find the links between her father's death and the attempts on Karen's life. The well-drawn characters, the twisting plot, and the interwoven love story keep the reader involved throughout the novel.

Creative Brooding by Robert Raines -- This devotional book was originally published in 1966, although this edition was from the 10th printing in 1972. This is one of the books I bought at the Friends of the Library sale (see my post about the sale). This one is hard to characterize: It is not exactly a devotional book. It is more of a book of readings, scriptures, and questions. The readings are by such people as James Baldwin, Moss Hart, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gay Telese. The author of the book is a United Methodist Minister. Some sample titles of meditations: I have accepted duplicity. Reading your own obituary. The singers of life. OK I'm Scared. I hold the bandages and ointments ready. Laughter and listmakers. One memorable quote: "It is better to offend God than to ignore Him." Generally speaking, this book was less than inspirational, less than encouraging, and very loosely put together.

In This Mountain by Jan Karon - This book was a NY Times bestseller in 2002. It is part of the Mitford Series. In this book, Father Tim has just retired and doesn't quite know what do to with himself. The book has great character development, as usual. It is a slow-paced walk down memory lane as far as culture and lifestyle are concerned. The slow pace of these books makes for interesting and relaxing reading. The appeal of Jan Karon's books, I believe, is the value they assign to the beauty and meaning of ordinary lives.

Disappearing Acts by Terry McMillan – This book was also a bestseller - listed as a love story. The characters were very rough – their coarse language and vulgar lifestyle was distracting to me. Surprisingly I found myself caring enough about the characters to want to find out how it ended; but I kept just skimming through the chapters looking for the plot-line, which was minimally-developed and often well-hidden in bits and pieces among the descriptions and dialogue.

Hard Truth by Mariah Stewart - This author wrote the Dead series: Dead Wrong, Dead Certain, Dead Even, and Dead End. This is part of her Truth series along with Cold Truth and Dark Truth. In this book, her main character, Lorna Temple, goes back to her hometown after her mother's death to settle business affairs. Once there she becomes involved again in the mystery surrounding the long-ago disappearance of her childhood friend. When several bodies are unearthed on property that had once belonged to her family, Lorna hires a private investigator to find some answers. Predictably, she becomes romantically involved with the detective, helps solve the murders, and in the process uncovers the explanation for the disappearance of her friend so many years before. I always enjoy reading these light mysteries by Mariah Stewart. They are entertaining and involving and usually contain some unexpected twists.

Full House by Janet Evanovitch - This is first of a planned series of romance novels (as opposed to her suspense/mystery genre) Evanovitch co-wrote with Charlotte Hughes. The main character in the novel is loveable in many of the same ways as Stephanie Plum, the protagonist in Evanovitch's mystery series. Billie Pearce is a divorced mother of two and a 6th grade teacher. She is conventional in many ways but also has a daring streak. In this novel she falls in love with her wealthy, unconventional polo instructor. The strength of this book is the fullness of the characters. They are fully developed so that the reader cares what happens to them. The ending is somewhat predictable, but there are many unexpected routes taken to the inevitable conclusion of the "boy gets girl" plot.

Blackwater Sound by James W. Hall -- This is a 5-Star mystery/suspense story (my rating). Its strengths include well-drawn characters, vivid Florida setting, many-faceted mystery, and the high-tech element to the mystery. James W. Hall has become one of my favorite authors although I just discovered him a couple of years ago.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton - I just finished this long novel last night. Its almost 700 pages are very detailed, as Crichton's works usually are. It is a mystery with elements of high-tech, elements of politics, elements of psychology, and of course a very low-key romance element. This book is well-researched and is filled with footnotes and graphs, and it contains a long bibliography at the end. The theory of the book is basically that our society is controlled by a political-legal-media complex that is dedicated to promoting fear in the population. Under the guise of providing safety and protection for the citizens, this complex exerts social control. One character in the book explains:

The PLM (political-legal-media complex) is powerful and stable because it unites
so many institutions of society. Politicians need fears to control the population. Lawyers need dangers to litigate, and make money. The media need scare stories to capture an audience. Together these three estates are so compelling that they can go about their business even if the scare is totally groundless. If it has no basis in fact at all... I'm telling you, this is the way modern society works -- by the constant creation of fear... We live in a State of Fear.

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