Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Happiness is a Warm Book~~~~

The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it~~
James Bryce

Being a  Reader's Advisor, one of the questions I get asked quite a bit is: “What is the best book you’ve ever read?” That’s a tough question since there isn't just one best book. As you can guess, I do a lot of reading. Some folks like me to narrow it down to fiction or nonfiction, which means I have to remember which books were one or the other? With so many non-fiction books written to read as fiction, I have to check my notes. Giving this some thought, there are some of  the books that would be at the top of my “best books” list for now~~I'm sure with some of them I will repeat myself, so my apologies.

Favorite fiction books:
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada Written in 1947, discovered and published in 2009, it is one of the first novels to be anti-Nazi written after WW ll and shows that there were some Germans who did resist the Nazis. While this book is fiction, it is based on a real event. We share the heartbreak of a couple whose only son had been forced to fight for the Nazis and was killed. They attempt, in their own sad way, to show others the truth about Hitler and the Nazis. There is only one way this book will end, and even though you do, you hope you’re wrong. When I finished this book, I sat and thought about it for some time.

Alienist by Caleb Carr Teddy Roosevelt is the police commissioner of New York City in 1896, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is his “alienist,” and they are trying to solve some rather gruesome murders on the lower East Side. Told through the voice of New York Times crime reporter John Moore, who followed them as they investigated the murders, new procedures, fingerprinting and psychology, are just being used for the first time~~this is a page-turner that proved my point, you have to read the first 100 pages before you give up on the book. I had to convince several patrons to keep going and they would be happy they did. (Nice when they came back and agreed with me.)

Gunman’s Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker While Parker was known for his Spenser and mystery books, he was never afraid to step out of his genre. For me, this is one of the best westerns I have read about Wyatt Earp, maybe one of the best westerns I've read. Parker keeps his sparse dialog, but he also shows us a Wyatt Earp that fits 1879 Tombstone, AZ. The friendship between Earp and Doc Holiday, the bond between the Earp brothers, Earp’s relationship with Josie Marcus and what led to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral~~in this small, slim book, nobody has done it better.

Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman English historical fiction at it’s best. Was Richard III a monster or has he just been misjudged all these years? Did Shakespeare do him an injustice in his play? What really happened to the two little princes? I loved this kind of book, what’s not to love! Political intrigue, power struggles, complicated love relationships, mystery, death, backstabbing! This is one of the best historical novels I have read, more then once. If you enjoy this genre, here is one of the best.

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini I blogged about it a few years ago, we also had one of our best book discussions about it. This is a book that will haunt you, especially because of what’s going on in Afghanistan today. Here is the history of that country before the invasion by the Russians and explains how the Taliban took over, and gives us an idea of why we are where we are today. Sometimes, events that occur in the past can come back to haunt you.

Hello, Darkness by Sandra Brown I love when an author steps out of their comfort genre. Brown is known for her romance novels, but with this one she has one heck of a thriller. Paris Gibson is a late night radio host who gives advice about love. When she advises one caller to break up with her boyfriend, this doesn't’t set too well with the boyfriend and Paris starts getting threatening phone calls. This is a page turner that will keep you reading until the end. Let’s just say that if this book made the hairs on the back of Stephen King’s neck stand up~~~

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen I didn’t want this book to end, so this is one I have read again. I wanted to stay with Jacob Jankowski, the circus and his lovely Marlena. Gruen does a marvelous job of taking the reader back and forth in time; from the present day back to the beginning of the Great Depression. This book had it all, friendship, humor, violence, murder and a great love story. You’ll be glad you read it, but sorry when you get to the last page.

Best fiction I read this year was Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
While fiction. Marlantes writes what he lived in Vietnam. Some feel Vietnam should be kept in the past, Marlantes reminds us why it never will nor can be. More realtisic then most I've read, and still leaves you with the question of "why?"
Thanks to my friend, le0pard13, I am reading The 13st Valley by John M. Del Vecchio...another one than lingers long after you've put it down.

Favorite Non-Fiction

Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan
The lemon tree is in the back yard of the home of Dalia, a Jew. The tree had been planted by the father of Bashir, a Palestine, whose family had owned the house before they were forced to move when Israel was granted its independence. These two meet when Bashir comes back to his home, after the Six-Day War, curious to see what it looks like. The two share how their lives have been since 1948, and the comparison causes struggles within both of them. This book is fascinating in the history of Palestine and Israel; how the USA, England and Soviet Union decided the fate of other countries. There was so much I didn’t know, things I never realized and this book has made me rethink some of my feelings about the Middle East. This is #1 on my list of all the non-fiction books I have read.

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Me by Patti Boyd
Okay, I confess, the title grabbed me....and I wanted the "Me" to be me. When I heard Patti Boyd was coming out with her memoir, I early ordered it. This was the woman who had married my two favorite rockers and I wanted to know all about it. I simply loved it. Boyd had a fascinating life before she became Harrison's girlfriend and wife; but her life with both Harrison and Clapton was a roller coaster ride. Let's face it, two of the greatest love songs ever written, Something and Wonderful Tonight, were written about her. Don't expect to find any finger pointing or blame placing here, Boyd tells her story with wit, humor and love. While Boyd lived the life I dreamed of as a (very) young girl, I'm glad I didn't~~

Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story by Richard Preston This was a terrifying read. Not just because a lethal African virus, Ebola, made it into America via imported monkeys, but how far the government went to keep it secret from the American public. Preston tags along with a SWAT team as they enter the "hot zone" to try and contain this deadly virus before more people die. Mind you, the "hot zone" was right next to a pre-school and in order not to throw panic into people, life when on as normal for those that didn't know the Ebola  virus was right outside their window. Be warned, there are gruesome descriptions of the virus effect on people and the horror of how they die. This was a chilling page turner...I read it in one sitting. Coincidentally, around this time my kid asked me if we could get a pet monkey~~~
I had to keep reminding yourself that this really happened...and our government had knowledge of it and the role they played in the happenings.

Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton
Great account of a band of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan to fight the Taliban after 9/11. Stanton gives us a terrific insight into of how 350 American soldiers, 100 CIA officers and 15,000 Northern Alliance fighters took on 50,000 plus Taliban. Humorous and horrible at the same time, and will leave you with the question~~would things in Afghanistan been different if our government had paid more attention?

These three books make me smile when I remember reading them:

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
What happens when you move into a 200 year farmhouse in a foreign country~~of which you don’t speak the language? Spend a year with Brit Mayle, his wife, two dogs as they attempt to live a Provencal life, get to know their neighbors and learn to cook the French way. Witty, full of humor, recipes….this will make you wish you could do it.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
 Delightful tale of Steinbeck and his French poodle, Charley, as they travel from Maine to California. Steinbeck shares his insight with the people he meets, even some of the bumps along the way, and his joy of seeing America. This is another one that will make you laugh out loud. While written over forty years ago, and you will get great joy out of Steinbeck’s travels and wish you were along.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
This is still one of the funniest book I have ever read. I had tears rolling down my cheeks from laughing so hard. Bryson trek down the AP with his friend, Stephan Katz, is a wonderful reminder of how beautiful our country is. Bryson and Katz meet some amazing characters and have some hilarious adventures. A great book to read when you want a good laugh, I have read this several times when I need a boost.

The best non-fiction I read this year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

This is a list of some of my all time favorite books. Many I have read more then once, and I own all of these, when I see them on my book shelf, they make me smile and I look forward to reading them again.

****My list is always subject to change

Happy Reading!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Females ARE Deadlier than the Male~~~~

"Book lovers never go 
 to bed alone...."

Read one of these ladies and you might not want to go to bed at all. The reaction I get when I recommend a woman thriller writer is almost comical. I have had men look at me as if I've lost my mind when I suggest one, and women will even do a little hem and haw~~~mainly because they don't believe that a woman can write a tough, noir potboiler as well (in some cases better) than a man.....or that a female can be deadlier than the male. Not only did I pick women thriller authors, but I wanted the  main character to be  a woman too. Meet some women whose ruthless streak can surprise even themselves when it appears. Here are a few of my favorite ladies that I suggest to folks and I love when they come back, tell me how much they enjoyed her and grab another book by the same author.

Chelsea Cain~~Besides being one of  the top thriller writers of the genre, Cain introduces one of most brutal serial killers you'll meet, Gretchen Lowell. Set in Portland, Oregon, the weather~~rainy, grey and damp~~gives the series that grey, norish feeling. Great characters, besides Lowell. Portland detective, Archie Sheridan, and reporter, Susan Ward. The connection between Sheridan and Lowell will give you pause, especially when you realize what brings them together. The series will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Pick up the entire series so you can keep going:   
Evil at Heart
The Night Season ( her newest one)

Vicki Hendricks~~This is one author that grabs you by page one and you hold on until the last page. Hang on for a ride that will leave you breathless. Set in Florida, in Hendricks first book, Cruel Poetry, we first meet happy hooker Renata (Rennie) and her pet python....and some men who feel the need to save her. This is trailer-trash noir at it's best..the hot sun, beach, kooky characters, sex, humor and of course~murder. Even keeping the air conditioner on while reading you will still break out in a sweat. As Ken Bruen fittingly said "...(Hendricks) you write like a demented banshee!"  ***Warning~~Hendricks books can be considered on the, um,  risque side.

Zoe Sharp~~Sharp hit the big time in 2001 with Killer Instinct. You may have heard of her co-author, Lee Child?Meet Charlotte (Charlie) Fox, Sharpe's all action, macho, tough talking "heroine," who was in the Special Forces until they kicked her out. During the early books, Charlie Fox drifts through doing odd jobs, then everything kicks into gear when she meets up with her old military instructor, Sean Meyer~~who she holds a grudge against. Charlie finds out how much her military training comes in handy when she goes to work for Meyer as a bodyguard for hire. Fox is amazed at herself when she finds out how violent and  cold blooded she can be, but most frightening of all is how far she will go to do her job. I like Fox; she's strong, compassionate and adheres to her principles. Good series that opens up the characters with    each new book.
Charlie Fox series:
Killer Instinct
Riot Act
Hard  Knocks                                                    
First Drop
Road Kill
Second Shot
Third Strike
Fourth Day
Fifth Victim (her newest one)

Lisa Unger~~ If you scrape away the layers of a family, what do you find? While Unger has a recurring character in a few of her books, Ridley Jones, most of her books are stand alone.She does keep you turning the pages with the twists, turns and surprises that are uncovered. I love Unger's development of  her characters and that once the book takes off, it is fast paced action at it's best.
Ridley Jones books:
Beautiful Lies
Sliver of Truth
**I highly recommend Fragile~~loved it!

Christa Faust~Love pulp fiction? Here is one of the best. Faust gives us tough talking, a**kicking Angel Dare, who will "gobsmack" you as soon as look at you. Angel is a former porn star, who we first meet in Money Shot, where she takes on the sex slave trade and ends up in the Witness Protection Program...of course a lot goes on in between. Angel's next book is Choke Hold, coming out in October....and I can't wait! Faust is the first women author in the history of Hard Case Crime! That alone should make you run out and pick a copy of her books. Be careful not to pick up her other genres~~not that they aren't worth reading, but they aren't thrillers (**Remember my warning about Vicki Hendricks? She's mild compared to Faust. I doubt I could put her book covers up on this blog)

Lisa Gardner~~Gardner has two series with strong women as lead characters. FBI profiler Kimberly Quincy and Police Detective D.D. Warren. Both series are terrific...and disturbing, but I love them. 
The D.D. Warren series:
The Neighbor
Live to Tell
Love you More (her latest in the series)

FBI Profiler series with Kimberly Quincy:
Killing Hour
Say Goodbye

Look at those faces? Do they look like the face of someone who can write about grisly, bloody murders? A pedophile that loves spiders so much he has eight eyes tattooed all around his head? Entire families murdered on the anniversary of a family killing from years ago? Police detectives who forge a strange bond with a serial killer? Ah yes~~and when the past comes back to bite, is anything what it once seemed? Good stuff.

There you have it, a few of my favorite women thrillers writers with great women characters. You can't go wrong with any of them. When I get to the part of the book where our leading lady is about to go head to head with the bad guy, or woman, I get an earworm of Pat Benatar singing "Hit me with your best away!"  I just start to chuckle because they have no idea what they are up against.

I'd love to know what you think of my choice of ladies....and what yours are.

Happy Reading!