Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

And on to A Murderous Procession  by Ariana Franklin, the final book of the Mistress of the Art of Death series.  Except that it isn't.  Or shouldn't be.  Or wasn't supposed to be.  And I really don't want it to be.  Perhaps I should explain.  Ariana is the pen name for Diana Norman, a British author and journalist.  After the above book was published and before another installment in the series could begin, Ms. Norman passed away.  While of course this is a sad fact for Ms. Norman's family and friends, her devoted readers are also grieved that such a wonderful talent has been taken from us.  I have loved reading these books and I looked forward to discovering what would happen to the characters next.  Adelia has learned so much and grown to love so many.  And the people Adelia loves, the reader loves.  These personalities are funny and smart and charming and I'm not yet ready to let them go. 
When Adelia is angry with the man with whom she is in love: 
He says, "'Not forgiven me yet, then?''
'You will.  I'm too charming to withstand for long.'  He winked at her and walked off to talk to Lord Ivo.
The trouble is you are, Adelia thought."
He has charmed Adelia and the reader as well. 
Later when the time comes for Adelia to move from one place to another, she is sorry to have to say farewell to a new, but close friend.
"Dear God, but she would miss Fabrisse, who had become her twin.  When it was time for the two of them to say good-bye, they clung to each other, rendered almost inarticulate by a parting that would inevitably be permanent."
Perhaps that was a bit of foreshadowing because I am so sorry to say good-bye to these books.  And can I tell you the most frustrating thing about this novel?  It ends in a cliffhanger. 
Normally, I'm not a big fan of cliffhangers anyway because I rarely need such a push to continue a series, but I'm really not a fan in this case. There will be no more series.  There will be no final conclusion, no resolution to the story.  I suppose the benefit in that is that I can finish the series in my head just the way I prefer.  I've done it before when book doesn't conclude like I think it should. 
I do have a very dear friend who contacted the publisher to extend her condolences upon learning of Ms. Norman's passing and they were able to tell her a little about what they believed the author intended for the series.  If you read all the books, I will pass that little tidbit of information on to you.  I have truly enjoyed these books and I will still recommend them to anyone who likes a good juicy mystery.  They get me every time- I never know "who did it" even when I'm really trying to figure it out.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Okay, so it took me about a week to read Divergent by Veronica Roth.  As soon as I was finished, I started Insurgent , the second book in the Divergent  series.  Yeah, book two took me two and a half days.  It looks like my slow reading trend has come to an end.  I will admit that when I started Divergent that I felt it was a little weak at the beginning.  As the story progressed, it picked up speed and my interest increased.  With Insurgent , the story was more like a train speeding down a track.  I was racing along to see what would happen next.  I had a few late nights, but I just couldn't put down this book.  Even when I did put it down, it followed me into my dreams.  It is that kind of book.
In Insurgent , a war has begun and Beatrice, Tris, must decide on which side she stands.  As someone tells her, "Insurgent.  Noun.  A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as belligerent."  But who is the established authority?  Whom does she oppose? As the cover states, "One choice can destroy you."
I really wish I could tell you more, but that would just be wrong of me.  Just yesterday, I bought the first book in this series for a friend.  I hope she likes it.  The worst part for me is waiting for the third book to be released sometime this fall.  It is still in the drafting phase and doesn't yet have a name, though the author has jokingly called it "Detergent."  Actually the author seems pretty great.  Check out her blog here.  She seems funny and gives interesting writing advice for aspiring authors. 
I guess I had better distract myself with some other reading in the mean time. 
Only nine or ten months to wait...

Divergent by Veronica Roth

When we were packing for out trip to visit family over Christmas vacation, I had three books and my Kindle in a stack to take with us.  I haven't been reading as much as I'd like lately because I've been so busy, but I was hoping I would find a little down time while the children played with their cousins.  Then I started to look at all I was packing and decided my book stack was a little too tall.  I took one novel that I hadn't started yet and hoped that I would unwrap a few more once we got to our destination.  It was a good bet and it payed off well.  My sister who is a YA devotee, gave me Divergent by Veronica Roth.  She said to me that she liked it even better than The Hunger Games so I was willing to read it.  It isn't that I don't like young adult fiction, it is just that I have such a difficult time finding enough of it that I like very well.  Some of it is fantastic, but some of it is all fluff and very little substance.  Divergent , while a little fluffy, was still worth my time. 
A dystopian novel, Divergent  centers on Beatrice, a sixteen-year-old girl who is of the age of choosing her faction- where she will live, what she will do, what she will believe.  Should she choose the faction in which she grew up and where she can stay with her family or should she choose something different? 
There are five factions:
Amity- values peace, getting along, achieving happiness; believe aggression and hostility are responsible for the world's problems
Abnegation- values service and selflessness; believe selfishness is the root of all evil
Candor- values truth and honesty no matter the cost; believe the world would be a better place if everyone were honest and forthright
Dauntless- values bravery and doing what is right no matter how difficult; believe cowarice is responsible for the problems of the world
Erudite- value learning and knowledge above all; blame ignorance for the world's disarray
The edition of the book that my sister gave me had, along with lots of fun extras, a little quiz at the end to help the reader pick his or her faction.  Interestingly I scored equally in Candor and Erudite, but I wasn't surprised by that at all.  I have always said that I believe that education is the answer to all the world's problems.  Erradicate ignorance and there is no more poverty, no more racism, no more war.  However it is a bit disheartening when I remember that Beatrice did not have fond things to say about these two factions, so maybe I should be worried.
Two quotes that I particularly enjoyed:
"I stare at him for a second.  I can't help it.  To me there's a difference between not being afraid and acting in spite of fear, as he does."
"Becoming fearless isn't the point.  That's impossible.  It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that's the point."
I really did like this book.  It reminded me a bit of Uglies  by Scott Westerfeld which I also really enjoyed.  I have already downloaded book two, Insurgent , to my Kindle and I will be starting it tonight.  Now hopefully my sister will read a few of the books I've recommended for her.  Ah, so many books, so little time.

Monday, January 7, 2013

2012 Wrap Up

What a year, what a year! 
I feel like I read a lot at the beginning of the year and then not so much near the end.  The last few months of 2012 were pretty busy which is ironic because when faced with the prospect of having both children in school full time, I was worried I wouldn't have enough to do.  It's funny how that works, isn't it?  Here is the annual wrap up of all I read this past year.
  1. The Twilight Saga; The Official Illustrated Guide (hey- don't judge)
  2. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
  3. Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  5. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
  6. Ceasar's Way by Cesar Millan
  7. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
  8. Austenland by Shannon Hale
  9. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
  10. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  11. Beyond the Sling by Mayim Bialik
  12. Entwined by Heather Dixon
  13. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
  14. The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
  15. The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (so good I read it twice!)
  17. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  18. Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
  19. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  20. Holes by Louis Sachar
  21. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
  22. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  23. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  24. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols
  25. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
  26. Drift by Rachel Maddow
  27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  28. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
  29. The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
  30. Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford
  31. The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
  32. Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Still, I feel like that is a pretty good list.  I had forgotten about some of these.  I have said it before, but I'll say it again:  this blog is mostly for me to keep up with what I've read and to make it easier to recommend books to others.  It has also been really fun for me to write these reviews.  I pay more attention while I read, marking the spots I want to mention on the blog and I love talking about a good book.  If you are a regular reader, I hope you are enjoying reading my ramblings about these books.  I hope it has even been a place for you to find something new to read. 
So many of these books were absolutely wonderful and normally it would be difficult to pick a favorite, but this year one does actually stick out to me.  If you haven't read it yet, I cannot recommend Shadow of the Wind  strongly enough.  There would probably be twenty ties for second place, but that one definitely wins the gold medal. 
So what about you?  What was your favorite book of 2012?  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin

The Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin has recently become my new favorite series to recommend to other readers.  During our Christmas vacation, I read the third book in the series, Grave Goods.  Oh, these books are impossible to put down.  Unfortunately for you, dear Smart Girl, these books are mysteries and I would never risk giving anything away.  I will tell you that in this instalment, Adelia is sent to discover if a set of bones belong to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.  Of course these things never go smoothly for Adelia.  Someone doesn't want her to know whose bones they are and they are willing to do anything to stop her.

These books are exciting and fun and I always get swept up in them.  The fourth book is waiting for me to pick it up tomorrow from the library and I can't wait! 

Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford

I have hiked the Grand Canyon twice, a fact of which I am proud because it was hard.  My husband and I have friends who hike it at least twice a year, often more.  They are a bit obsessed with it, but who can blame them.  It is an awe inspiring place.  I live in Arizona and we are lucky to live so close to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  And yet, even some of the people who have lived here their whole lives have never even looked over the rim of this great national treasure. 
On a recent visit to the Canyon, we noticed on the gift shop book shelves this book:  Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford.  I was intrigued by the prospect of reading about the life of a park ranger and I'll admit that intrigue was elevated by the fact that the author was a woman.  Now that I have read the book, I am embarrassed to admit that I previously thought that a park ranger was a caretaker of the park.  I knew they carried guns, but that still didn't tip me off.  A park ranger is not a litter picker or a trail clearer or a tour guide.  A park ranger is a law enforcement officer and a life saver and a protector of our National Parks and the people who visit them.  The park ranger credo:  "Protect the park from the people, the people from the park, and the people from themselves." 
As the introduction says. "Even paradise has it's problems.  Criminals go on vacation, too.  In the US, a park ranger is more likely to be assaulted in the line of duty than is any other federal officer including Firearms (ATF); the Secret Service; and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  A park ranger is twelve times more likely to die on the job than is a special agent for the FBI." 
This book was full of interesting stories from Lankford's experiences and from those of the friends she made during her twelve year ranger career.  In one story she tells about her friend Mary Litell, a park visitor had asked Mary the type of squirrel he had just seen.  Mary didn't know, but Lankford defends her by saying, "...rangers would have more time for studying the natural history of Yosemite squirrels if people would just stop falling off cliffs.  But people will continue to fall off cliffs as long as leaves continue to fall off trees."  One of the most dramatic falls that Mary encounters later in the book involves a base jumper protesting the prohibition against base jumping off of El Capitan, the granite monolith in Yosemite that stands 3,000 feet tall.  This protester knew that she would be arrested once she reached the ground and her equipment seized.  She did not want to relinquish her best equipment so she borrowed a chute from a friend.  When jumping off a 3,000 foot cliff, it is advisable to use the best equipment available and with which you are familiar.  The book describes Mary watching and counting the many long seconds as this jumper can't deploy her chute and plummets to her death.  I'll spare you the details, but I will admit that I couldn't look away.
Lankford describes an incident where humans and bears cross paths.  A large mama bear in Yosemite had discovered that not all hikers and campers were properly using the bear lockers for their food.  One such hiker sleeping with food in his tent is rewarded with a bear paw slashing through his neck.  He narrowly survived after forty stitches, but it meant that the bear would have to be euthanized.  "In the memo authorizing the bear's euthanasia, the park superintendent signed this statement: 'There will always be conflicts that arise with four million visitors and approximately 400 to 500 bears in Yosemite.  The sad fact is that the bears often end up paying the price with their lives.'"  I have always found that frustrating.  The people can't remember that they are in the bear's territory and so now the bear must die.  This bear had three cubs who watched from a tree limb as two wildlife biologists buried their mother.  A difficult decision then faced the biologists:  do they do the humane thing and kill the three cubs right away knowing that the cubs will likely freeze to death or starve without their mother's guidance or do they allow the cubs to live and hope they make it?  These were scientists who had dedicated their lives and careers to protecting the bears of Yosemite.  A difficult decision, but the cubs were allowed to live and surprisingly survived the winter.  In a newspaper article, one of the biologists told a reporter, "It's standard procedure when we euthanize a bear that we don't talk to one another for the rest of the day.  We go home early and get drunk instead."
The descriptions of the Grand Canyon hikers that just aren't tough enough were rather amusing.  Many people believe that if they attempt to hike the Canyon and can't make it, they will just take a helicopter out.  Lankford lists all the ways people freak out when they realize it's so much harder than they expected.  Some beg for a helicopter ride to the top, others attempt to bribe the ranger and others threaten.  Some even try to blame the rangers: "You should have gates up to keep people like us from coming down here!"  These kind of hikers are assigned the title Code W as in Wimp.  "The park ranger secretly loathes the Code W.  The ranger has seen eighty-year-olds, cancer survivors, and one-legged women hike out of the canyon without so much as a whimper." 
At the beginning of the hiking trail are signs that are illustrated with a skull and crossbones that make it very clear that hiking the Grand Canyon is dangerous and can lead to injury or even death.  "Every year, hundreds of people start their hikes by having their pictures taken with these signs.  Watching a hiker do this...the ranger winces every time.  Mocking that sign is a fool's amusement.  Park rangers find portraits of hikers grinning in front of it when they develop rolls of film removed from the bodies of people who died on the trail."  I must admit that I have taken that picture. 
The many tales of rescues within the pages of Ranger Confidential are breathtaking.  People get themselves into serious trouble in the wild and they are lucky that these rangers are out there to help them.  In 1996, Grand Canyon Rangers responded to 482 rescue missions.  That summer is on record as the deadliest hiking season in the park's history.
I was spellbound by the stories I read in this book.  Having seen the walls of the Grand Canyon looming over me, I was easily able to imagine the landscape and the setting of the work these rangers do.  I will see them in a whole different light the next time I visit a National Park.  And I will be certain not to ask where is the best place to view the sunset.  They have much more important things to do.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The book club selection for December/January is The Shoemaker's Wife  by Adriana Trigiani.  Once again, from the very first sentence, I knew I was going to love the writing in this book.  "The scalloped hem of Caterina Lazzari's blue velvet coat grazed the fresh-fallen snow, leaving a pale pink path on the bricks as she walked across the empty piazza."  How beautiful is that imagery?!
Beginning in 1904 in Northern Italy, The Shoemaker's Wife  follows the life of Ciro Lazzari from the time he is ten years old.  His father has recently died and his mother can no longer care for him and his brother and so the boys are left in the care of the nuns at a convent in the Italian Alps.  Time passes and the boys grow into young men.  The brothers embark on separate paths, Ciro's leading him to America, his brother Eduardo's to the priesthood.  The story also follows Enza, a young girl that Ciro meets while still living in the convent.  Enza is the oldest of six children and feels a great responsibility to help care for her family.  A seamstress, Enza also immigrates to America with her father where Enza and Ciro weave in and out of each other's lives.

This is a beautifully written book that explores the difficult realities of the life of an immigrant in the early 20th century.  I was fascinated with the descriptions of struggle and the different classes within the immigrant community.  "We all come here thinking that we'll go home.  And then, this becomes home."  There is so much love within these pages:  A boy's love for his mother, a young man's love for his brother, a girl's love and sacrifice for her family, a father's love for his daughter, the love of good friends helping one another through life and the enduring love of a husband and wife.  "If you truly love someone, when he is cut, you bleed."  I loved this book.  I recommend it.  I will gift it.  I hope you'll read it and then let me know what you thought.  Oh, and may I recommend a box of tissues?