Monday, December 29, 2008

A Dog Named Christmas [Kincaid]

Book: A Dog Named Christmas
Author: Greg Kincaid
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Fiction
Summary: When Todd McCray, a developmentally challenged young man still living on his parents’ Kansas farm, hears that a local animal shelter is seeking temporary homes for its dogs during the days leading to Christmas, he knows exactly what he wants for the holidays. His father objects, but Todd’s persistence quickly wins out. Soon, the McCrays are the short-term foster family for a lovable pooch the young man names Christmas. But what about all the other dogs who will be forced to spend the Yuletide season in cages? In the days that follow, Todd uses his special gifts of persuasion to encourage his hometown to participate in the “Adopt a Dog for Christmas Program.”

Christine's Review: I received this book for Christmas and was excited. As you know, I am a huge dog lover and the picture on the front looked like my canine baby, Amelia Peabody. So, I dived into the book and enjoyed every page. 'A Dog Named Christmas' is a charming tale of kindness and its affect on others. It is a positive, uplifting story that is perfect for the holidays. Less than 200 pages, it is a quick read that is sure to warm your heart.

Told from the perspective of Todd's father, we learn that he doesn't want a dog because of past traumatic experiences (his first dog died waiting for him while he was away at the Vietnam war and his second dog, acquired in Vietnam, saved his life when he stepped on a land mine). He agrees to foster a dog over the holidays but wants Todd to stand by their deal that the dog has to go back to the shelter after Christmas. He finds himself opening up his heart to the dog, but wavers between keeping him (Christmas) or giving the dog back, so his son understands the importance of keeping ones word.

Luckily, this book has a happy ending for the McCrays, Christmas and many of the other dogs. Todd and his father become dedicated to finding the dogs homes over the holidays and many of these homes become permanent.

Overall, this book has a great message for the holidays.

Recommend? YES [for animal lovers of all ages and children]

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Wedding in December [Shreve]

Book: A Wedding in December
Author: Anita Shreve

Genre: Fiction
Reason for Reading: for fun
Summary: A few months post 9/11, seven former high school classmates reunite to celebrate a wedding at a bed and breakfast in the Berkshire Mountains. Bill and Bridget, the honored couple, were high school sweethearts who eventually married other people. Now, almost thirty years later, they hope for a second shot at happiness and want to share this special time with those who knew them back in the day. Inseperable in high school, most of the friends have not seen each other since graduation. There is unfinished business to be raked-up, including sharp memories of a foreseen tragedy and the guilt shared by all.

Christine's Review: Although well written, this book was a huge disappointment. We viewed the weekend from three different perspectives: Bridget (the bride), who is suffering from advanced breast cancer; Agnes, an unmarried, childless teacher who is employed at the private school they all went to; and Harrison, seemingly the most 'normal' as he is married, has 2 kids and a good job. The other characters include Nora (who owns the B&B), Rob (a famous painist who is now gay), Bill (Bridget's new husband) and Jerry (the obnoxious, most successful of the bunch). While not physically present, Stephen (Harrison's roommate and Nora's boyfriend who died right before graduation), is also a character in this story.

The premise of this book was decent but where it failed was the execution. By only telling the perspective of 3 people, we never really got to know the other characters. And what we did know/find out, was depressing: infidelity, unhappy marriages, unrealized love, disease. These people didn't have enough positive attributes for me to care what happened to them. The climax (when we find out what really happened to Stephen), was too little too late. I wasn't invested enough in the story to care at that point.

Finally-dispersed through the book was a fictional story Agnes was writing about the Halifax disaster. Although interesting, these sections were long and did not add to the story. They seemed to be included to increase the length of the book, it was very odd.

Overall, this book was boring and trite.

Book Junkie's Grade: C

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Host [Meyer]

Book: The Host
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantsasy
Summary: Parasitic aliens who call themselves 'souls' have invaded Earth and taken over most of the human race. Once a 'soul' is placed in a human host, the alien takes over and suppresses the human's mind. When Wanderer awakes in her new body, she finds that her human host isn't so easily overcome.

Melanie Stryder is a feisty young woman who refuses to leave behind her loved ones (who are in hiding). She will do anything to get them back, but must rely on Wanderer to help her.

Christine's Review: This is Meyer's first adult book and I had high expectations. After reading her addictive young adult Twilight series (over 2k pages in just a few days) I knew she had the capability of writing a compelling story. I was not disappointed. This book starts off slow but after 100 pages or so I was completely engrossed in the story. Although the book has a sci-fi element, the underlying themes are friendship, sacrifice and love. The characters are well developed, multi-faceted and interesting.

There are three main parts to this book. In the first part, Wanda (as she is eventually called) is implanted into Melanie's body. Although she has lived for thousands of years and on many different planets, this is her first time on Earth. She has acccess to her host's (Melanie) memories, and experiences human emotions (hunger, pain, love, etc) and she is overwhelmed. She is also overwhelmed by Melanie, who refuses to disappear. Wanda is working with her Seeker (soul who tries to track humans, think of them like police) and lets her know about Melanie's younger brother and lover. This is the slowest part of the book.

In the second part of the book, Wanda agrees to work with Melanie to find Mel's younger brother (Jamie) and lover (Jared) when she realizes she too loves them and wants them to be safe (even though she has never met them, she experiences Melanie's feelings toward them). After locating them (along with Mel's Uncle Jeb and a small colony of human survivors) Wanda faces a tough road of discrimination and hatred when the humans believe she is trying to lead the Seekers to their hiding place. Wanda is eventually accepted by most of the humans and finds herself in a love quadrangle between Melanie, Jared, Ian (a man in the camp) and herself. This was my favorite section of the book. There were elements of adventure, suspense and heartbreaking scenes filled with raw emotion. (yes, I teared up a few parts!)

In the last part of 'The Host' Wanda must decide whether to reveal her biggest secret to the humans, and decide how much she is willing to help humans in their plight to take back earth. As any of you who have read the Twilight series know, Meyer loves a happy ending and this book was no exception. It wrapped up a little to 'tidy' for my taste but she did leave a door open to a sequel (I'm not sure if she has one in the works yet).

Overall, this was an interesting, heart warming book that will make you think twice about humanity.

Book Junkie's Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dragonfly In Amber [Gabaldon]

Book: Dragonfly in Amber
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Reason for Reading: for fun
Genre: Romance - Historical
Summary: This is the second book in the popular Outlander series. The book starts with Claire traveling to Scotland with her twenty year old daughter Briana (1968). Claire plans to tell Briana about her true paternity with the help of Roger Wakefield, a local professor and historian.

The book then flashes back in time (1744) to where the first book in the series (Outlander) ended: Paris. The book follows Jamie and Claire as they attempt to stop the Jacobite Rising. Unsuccessful, they eventually travel back to Scotland were Jamie is forced to fight for the Stuart's after his name is forged on a letter to Charles Stuart pledging his allegiance. Although initially successful in battle, Jamie and his men (from his town) know the tide is turning against them (the Jacobites). With Claire's historical knowledge, she and Jamie are aware that the battle of Culloden will occur and the Scots will not win. Knowing this, Jamie takes Claire back to Craig na Dun (to the time portal) so she can survive the battle and the aftermath. Prior to time traveling, Claire tells Jamie she is pregnant. Claire travels forward in time while Jamie stays in Scotland, prepared to fight and die.

The book then returns to 1968 where Claire reveals that Brianna was the child she was carrying when she time traveled and Jamie was the father. Roger informs Claire that Jamie did not die during the battle.

Christine's Review: This is the second book in the popular Outlander series, which combines romance, historical fiction and science fiction. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment, I cannot say the same for this book. I am not someone who shies away from long reads (each book in the series is just under 1000 pages) but I had a difficult time finishing this. I was stuck in the mid-600's for a few months.

Certain parts of the story were quite interesting: the return of Jack Randall (a sadistic character from the first book who was presumed dead), Claire's interaction with the King of France and Jamie's spying activities. Other parts were sad: Claire's miscarriage, rape, child abuse and Jamie's incarceration. Of course, I also enjoy the romance aspect of the book: Jamie and Claire have an intense, powerful love and Jamie always puts Claire's needs above anything else. Unfortunately, these positives sections aren't enough to save the book. Once Jamie and Claire move to Scotland, the book stalls. The historical context should inspire an invigorating read, but instead inspires sleep.

Overall, this book is long and boring. If you read Outlander and intend to follow the series, I recommend reading a detailed summary online and skipping to the third book.

Book Junkie's Grade: C-

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards [Jackson]

Book: The Cat Who Could Read Backwards
Author: Lilian Braun Jackson
Reason for Reading: book club
Genre: Fiction
Summary: Jim Qwilleran is a seaonsoned reporter who accepts a job as feature writer for the Daily Fluxion, a local paper for an unnamed midwestern city. Quill is assigned to write features on the local art scene. He meets George Bonifield Mountclemens, the paper's recluse art critic, who writes mostly scathing reviews of local shows and has enemies all over town. Mountclemens lives with his all-knowing cat Koko in a lushly furnished house and offers Qwill a tiny apartment in his building at a nominal rent. Two murders occur and Qwill finds himself in the thick of the investigation with Koko the cat by his side.

Christine's Review: This is the first book in the popular 'The Cat Who..' series which has over 19 books to date. Braun has created a title character (Qwill) who is entertaining, witty and fun to follow. Although the first murder occurs approximately 100 pages into the book, Braun introduces many flamboyant characters that keep the story flowing. I have no experience in the art scene but from what I hear, her depictions of artists (quirky, narcissistic, jealous) is right on target. Written in 1966, Qwill investigates both murders the good old fashioned interviewing people. This is a nice departure to more modern books that focus on forensics. By the end of the book, Qwill solves both mysteries and acquires a trusty companion, Koko the cat.

Overall, this book is a quick, fun read. It would be perfect for a flight or car trip.

Book Junkie's Grade: B