Second Nature, by Alice Hoffman

Cover ImageFinished 1-23-09, 2/5, fiction, pub. 1994

There was the faint possibility that Roy was right, that she’d become so intent on having things her way she’d stopped thinking altogether, driven by something as untrustworthy as pure emotion.  She now had, after all, a man in her kitchen who could easily murder her and sneak out the back door without leaving any footprints behind.

Chapter 2

Robin is an almost divorced mother of a teen son.  The Wolf Man had been living with the wolves in northern Michigan since he was three and was found later, as an adult, wounded by two hunters.  The Wolf Man, eventually known as Stephen, refuses to talk to the medical doctors and he is locked up in mental hospitals until Robin comes along and rescues him.  She whisks him away to her home in suburbia and plans to teach Stephen what he needs to know to blend into society and someday make his way back to Michigan.

I could not get past the ridiculous premise to completely enjoy the characters in the story.  A wolf/man who has lived with a wolf pack from the age of 3 1/2 with no human interaction, can read, write, hold conversations with strangers, and begin an affair all within the span of a few months?  There were many other storylines—Robin’s divorce, Connor’s first love, an aging parent’s declining health, and a brother’s nervous breakdown–that were all interesting and engaging, yet the wolf man was always there to remind me how outrageous it all was.  His character kept pulling me out of the story.  That being said, I did like other characters and the true emotions of love, loyalty, and betrayal.

I’ve read other Alice Hoffman titles I liked, but this was a complete miss for me.

The Angel, by Carla Neggers

Cover ImageFinished 1-18-09, rating 4/5, romantic suspense, pub. 2008

This is not a sequel, but it is book 2 of the Boston PD-FBI series.

She joined him at the table, her cheeks flushed as she buttered a small piece of bread.  “Once upon a time,” she said, laying on her Irish accent, “there were three brothers who lived on the southwest coast of Ireland–a farmer, a hermit monk and a ne’er-do-well, who was, of course, everybody’s favorite…


 And so begins the magical tale of the three brothers and the Stone Angel.  This Irish legend is the basis of Keira’s impending six-week trip to Ireland.  She is a successful folklorist and illustrator who is researching Irish stories for an upcoming conference and the trip to Ireland is both professional and personal.  Her mother, now a religious recluse, had gone to Ireland in her youth and returned home pregnant with Keira.

Keira’s uncle, Boston homicide detective Bob O’Reilly, was concerned about her, even more so when she discovers a man dead the night before she leaves.  When he doesn’t hear from her in Ireland he calls a search-and-rescue expert to find her.  When Simon finds her the sparks fly and Simon stays by her side as they head back to Boston.  Once back in Boston a wide range of characters and mishaps prove that the legend may have some truth and every one who knows about it is at risk.

This book really does have a magical feel to it.  There are angels, fairies, Satan, and evil, all fighting an ageless battle.  I’ve never really been interested in fairy tales or folktales, but I must admit there is something very romantic and mystical about them that I’ve never really appreciated.  Also, I fell in love with Ireland even though most of the action was in Boston.  The mystery and rugged beauty appealed to me and now I might have to put Ireland on my list of hopeful vacation destinations!

This is not a sequel, but I think you will not fully appreciate this story without reading the first, The Widow.  My review is here.  Abigail, Owen, and Abigail’s father all play significant roles and I appreciate that she incorporated them into the story instead of them being relegated to a mere mention here and there. 

Book 3, The Mist, will be released this summer.  I am looking forward to it 🙂

Naked Came the Manatee, Carl Hiaasen editor

Cover ImageFinished 1-17-09, rating 2.5/5, fiction, pub. 1996

This novel is a serial collaborataion of 13 of South Florida’s best writers and was originally written for The Miami Herald’s Tropic magazine.  David Barry writes the first chapter, passes it off to Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Edna Buchanan, James W. Hall, Carolina Hospital, Evelyn Mayerson, Tananarive Due, Brian Antoni, Vicki Hendricks, John Dufresne, Elmore Leonard, and Carl Hiaasen plays clean up in the last chapter.  A few of the authors’ serial characters show up- Buchanan’s Britt Montero, Standiford’s John Deal, and Levine’s Jake Lassiter.

A 102 year old woman rescues a man from the bay and he is in possession of a canister with shocking contents.  The canister is one of a pair, both containing the head of Fidel Castro.  There are chases, murders, confusion, and a multitude of characters, including Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro.  And there is a very introspective manatee in the bay named Booger, who thinks of the 102 year old grandmother as his ‘ma’. 

This is an interesting experiment, but it is a hot mess of a novel.  There are characters that move in and out of the story with little or no explanation, each author wanting to add something new instead of trying to build on what’s there.  The last chapter where Carl Hiaasen tries to explain everything is pretty funny considering what he had to work with.  It was wacky in a good way, but it was probably best suited to it’s original form, as a weekly magazine installment.

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

TwilightFinished 1-10-09, rating 3.5/5, YA fiction, pub. 2005

Bella is a normal teenager with divorced parents and low self-esteem.  She moves up to Washington state to live with her father and becomes very popular with the boys of the small town.  One boy in particular, Edward, makes her heart jump and the two begin a relationship.  Of course, she does find out that he is a vampire, but that is of no real concern, they are young and in love.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I placed my name on the waiting list at the library and finally it was my turn!   It is a nice story about young love and vampires, but nothing more and nothing less.  I used to devour teen romances back in my own teen years and this feels the same.  It is fluffy, shallow, and not really challenging in any way.  The fact that Bella is your average girl and suddenly every boy around her seems lost in love, including a vampire who has not fallen in love in his 100+ years, seems like overkill.

On the positive side it was interesting and about halfway through the pace picked up and became more of a page turner.  The first half may have been a little slow, but once the vampires began fighting each other it gained some momentum.  The game of baseball the vampire clan, the Cullens, played in the woods during thunderstorms was original and fun.

I was expecting something great from all of the hype surrounding the book and the movie and I was a little disappointed.  I can see why teen girls love it but, I am probably not going to finish the series.  There are just too many really good books out there!

More reviews-

Heather @ Book Addiction

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

Cover ImageFinished 1-3-09, rating 4/5, fiction, pub. 1898

” I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been.  It had committed suicide.  It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it has attained its hopes-to come to this at last…There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change.  Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.”   Chapter 10

The Time Traveller built a time machine that can travel back to the past or race to the future, much to the skepticism of his friends.  They did not believe him even after one night he came home, disheveled and heartbroken, and told them mankind’s fate 800.000 years in the future.

The Time Traveller had met and been accepted by the carefree and loving Eloi, who spent their days dancing and laughing.  He rescued one from drowning, Weena, and they became companions.  He discovered his machine was moved and in his searching found another people, the Morlocks, who lived under ground and were as dark as the Eloi were light.

The Time Traveller was there eight days and his views changed daily, allowing Wells to expound on his own world view and the state of the human condition.  The story, while being interesting, also had real depth. 

I am surprised at how well this novel has aged.  This is the original time travel book and the sheer imagination and possibilities are impressive.  It is a short classic, well worth the time and suitable for all ages, although the vocabulary could be challenging for younger readers.

Queen Vernita’s Visitors by Dawn Menge, an Aunt Betty review

Queen Vernita's VisitorsAuthor, Dawn Menge – Illustrator Bobbi Switzer

Reviewed by Aunt Betty

It was a fun read for me.  I would like to have been one of Queen Vernita’s visitors!  The story is such a great learning tool especially for Kindergarten – 2nd grade.  A child could pick up a lot of spin off ideas furthering their knowledge of the seasons, days and months.

Queen Vernita related a lot of cool everyday fun ideas for young children.  Being a ‘queen” I was impressed with the fun activities that included things she could do with her friends inside the walls of the castle, out on the grounds, or in the village.

The illustrator gave great insight with the drawings as to the characters personalities and the world around the oceaneer.  I was only disappointed there were no roses around the castle as was mentioned in the story, although the ivy was shown.

I was pleased to know Queen Vernita and her friend, Debbie, read books together.  It warms a librarians heart.

The counting of days in each month, I liked.  It encourages the child to learn them for his/her own self.  A teacher, librarian or parent could follow up on some of what was brought out in this fine story.

I liked the ending when each of her friends let Queen Vernita know how anxious they were to come for another visit when their month came around again.  The sparks of friendship glowed in this story.

My Aunt Betty has been an elementary school librarian for 24 years.  This is not surprising because she loves kids and kids appreciate her enthusiasm.  It is because of her that I enjoy a close relationship with my 7 cousins (later, 9).  She always had all of us over for sleepovers and other outings.  All 9 of us would cram into her Rabbit for trips around town.  You never see that anymore

I asked around for words to describe Aunt Betty and these are the words that came back the most…Happy, Caring, and Thoughtful.  As for me, my top three choices are Fun, Kind, and Full of Life.

Finding Neverland, 2004 movie

Finding Neverland****

Finding Neverland is the charming story of James Barrie, author of Peter Pan, and his inspirational, yet odd relationship with the Davies family.  Barrie is a married man whose last play has just bombed on stage.  He meets the widower Sylvia and her four young sons and becomes fixture in their lives while becoming a ghost to his wife.  The boys, including the troubled Peter, provide the perfect muse for his next play, Peter Pan.

I love watching Johnny Depp on screen and the beautiful Kate Winslet was as wonderful as ever.  From the previews I was expecting a lighthearted, fun tale, not the earnest, heartfelt movie that it turned out to be.  I was very much moved by it.

It was nominated for 7 Oscars and won one for Best Original Score.

I have read that the movie is not exactly accurate in its details, but for me that did not take away from my enjoyment of the film.  If you know the true story of Barrie and the Davies family it might make you feel differently.

A Patchwork Planet, by Anne Tyler

Cover ImageFinished 2-19-08, rating 4.5/5, fiction, pub. 1998

“Oh, what makes some people more virtuous than others?  Is it something they know from birth?  Don’t they ever feel that zingy, thrilling urge to smash the world to bits?”      Chapter 1

Who knew that one day I’d have a crush on a man named Barnaby?  Barnaby is the black sheep of a well-to-do family and his mother never lets him forget it.  His family has the charming belief that for generations each member has been contacted by a personal angel.  This angel is to help them find their way in the world.  Barnaby is a 30 year old divorced father and he is still waiting for his angel.

Barnaby has a dead end, but fulfilling job at Rent-A-Back where he spends most of his days doing the bidding of senior citizens who in turn love him and drive him crazy.  He is renting the basement of a house and his car is always in the shop.  One Saturday morning when the car was in said shop, he hops on the train from Baltimore to Philadelphia for his monthly visit with his daughter.  He becomes intrigued by an exchange he witnesses and convinces himself that he has found his angel.

Barnaby is a complicated man who doesn’t fully realize his own worth.  That is the powerful and moving journey of this book.  I loved it.