A. Reader

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Painted Kiss: A Novel, by Elizabeth Hickey, 2005

Readers who enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring and Strapless will appreciate this elegant speculation about the decades-long relationship between Viennese painter Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, owner of an exclusive fashion house. Vienna, in its lush pre-war eminence, figures almost as a character or co-conspirator in the affair. Though the book is named for Klimt's most popularly celebrated canvas--The Kiss--the book doesn't devote nearly as much text to the painting itself as the other titles do. Instead, the author invites the reader to muse, as first-person narrator Emilie does, on whether his artistic choices in that portrayal symbolize the entire history of the relationship. The author's calm, understated style conveys the power of the couple's attraction beautifully and creates a vividly atmospheric read.

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler (2004)

Arthur Bryant (NOT of Kansas City) is a geriatric detective who, with his equally aged partner John May, headed the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. Bryant and May and their crew use a wide variety of unlikely knowledge (much like librarians) to solve crime such as the current one--a little old lady sitting dead and dry in her chair, but with a throat full of river water. Not to give away too much of the story, there are some great scenes of the Victorian sewage system still exiting in London today. This is the second book that Bryant & May figure in; I hope it is not the last.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman (1996)

Eleanor of Aquitaine is guarding England's throne for her missing son Richard Lionheart, while her youngest son John plots. Justin de Quincy meets her when he is given a message carried by a dying man. She convinces him to aid her in ferreting out the traitors surrounding the throne. A very readable historical mystery, without the "aha, here is THE historical fact for this chapter" factor.

The Fig Eater by Jody shields (2000)

A girl is found murdered in the Volksgarten in 1910 Vienna. While the Inspector applies the newest scientific techniques to solving it (fingerprinting, photography, autopsy), his wife Erszebet uses the knowledge and superstition of Hungarian gypsy background to delve into the riddles that the case presents. This is a very dark, brooding novel where the atmosphere is as much a character as any of the people.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. YA fiction

In 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has a love of words and language and longs to go to college. After the death of her mother, however, she takes on the responsibility of caring for her three younger sisters and father on a farm in the Adirondack Mountains. To earn extra money for the family, she works at a nearby hotel where a mysterious drowning (which is historical) leads to a life-changing decision. This is a terrific coming-of-age story. I recommend it. kg

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

This is a more serious book as Lord Voldemort's influence grows at Hogwart's and in the Muggle world. There are several loose-ends which Rowling to resolve in the next and final book. kg

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Breakdown Lane, by Jacquelin Mitchard

The perfect (almost) American family suffers when father Leo decides to take an early retirement from lawyering and move to a commune without telling anyone. Mom Julianne hold the family together as best she can even after she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After one too many crises teenagers Gabe and Caroline take off on their own to find their dad so he can resume his place at the head of the family. There is a lot going on in this book--Gabe has a mild learning disability, Julianne's "Agony Aunt" newspaper columns, Leo's elderly parents--all told by either Julieanne or Gabe. While I enjoyed it, I kept looking at the back cover thinking I would see a picture of Danielle Steel. I found the last chapter of tidying up very annoying.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Letters from Cleo and Tyrone by L. Browne (2000)

Subtitled A Feline Perspective on Love, Life, and Litter, this book is a series of emails written by two cats whose mistresses are friends. The emails are a personal record of the ego cats have. Actually, the Cleo letters sound more as if they come from Miss Piggy. But if you want something like and fluffy about life from a cat's point of view, this is your dish. Personally, most cats I've known wouldn't take the time to write such silly emails, but then, these are exceptional cats.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull (2001)

This is Urban Fantasy where rock and roll mix it up with Faerie in Minneapolis. Eddi sings in a band that breaks up when her boyfriend dumps her. She thinks life can't get worse when she is conscripted by a phouka into the coming battles between the Seelie and Unseelie forces. Of course, music is involved so she starts a new band with some interesting members. By turns slight gritty, a little funny, a smidge romatic, tautly suspenseful, War for the Oaks grips your imagination. If you like rock and roll and always wanted to be in a band, you might like Eddi's story. If you like goth it might attract you. If you like a good fantasy, this one is for you

Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America.

In order to save her family's home, Helga Estby went against her Norwegian-American heritage and stepped outside the comforts of home-bound womanhood. She and her daughter Clara accepted the challenge from a mysterious Eastern benefactor to walk from the West coast (Spokane) to the East coast, earning their way, collecting signatures from prominent political figures along the way, and wearing the scandalously short "bicycle skirts" in order to win $10,000. After many adventures they finally did what was deemed impossible and reached New York City, only to find the benefactor reneged, not only not giving them the money, but also not giving them the means to get back home.
In the meantime, her children remaining at home contracted diphtheria and two of them died. Helga's walk almost broke her family and none of them ever mentioned it again, burning her memoirs at her death. Linda Lawrence Hunt has done a fine job recreating what is known about Helga and her all but forgotten walk.

The Hidden Family by Charles Stross (2005)

Book two of the Merchant Princes continues the story of Miriam, the tech journalist from Boston, who discovers she is heiress Helge Thorold-Hjorth in an alternate world based on late medieval times--with automatic weapons (see The Family Trade), where her relatives who can walk between the worlds smuggle goods back and forth. In her efforts to avoid being murdered she discovers yet a third world, caught up in an Eighteenth Century where the English royal family now live in New Boston.
This is sort of The Godfather in a time-warp, and I'm guessing there will be at least one more book. There are some paradoxes if you are inclined to nit-pick, but I found the books to be good reads.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn

This is the story of fourteen-year-old Minnesota teen Justin Cobb. Cured of his habitual thumbsucking through hypnosis courtesy of his dentist, Justin tries to fill the ensuing emptiness with various other things, including decongestants, Ritalin, cigarettes, fly-fishing, high school speech contests, Mormonism, and more. Throw in a dysfunctional family and you've got a funny but troubled coming of age story.
A movie of this novel (featuring Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, among others) is scheduled for release in September. Original soundtrack by the Polyphonic Spree.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Company Car

C.J. Hribal's (2005) novel brings to mind to Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections in that it reads much more like a memoir than fiction. It, too, suggests the possibility that members of the Greatest Generation did not win that designation on the merit of their parenting skills. Having loaded up the wife and children for the trip to his parents' 50th anniversary celebration, Emil Czabek has leisure to recall his parents' own journey, beginning as postwar newlyweds through all the changes they and their large brood and their evolving country endured (with wildly varying rates of success) during the last half of the 20th century. Because the emotional range of these experiences perfectly mirrors the reality for most of us--from laugh-out-loud comedy to lingering sadness--this earns the label of Not An Easy Book To Read. Pick it up when you're in the mood for writing that is provocative and heartfelt, and arrange to have someone else around to read the funny passages to.

The Ballroom on Magnolia Street

This 2004 title by Sharon Owens is the author's second novel (after The Tea House on Mulberry Street), and Owens is already being touted as the next Maeve Binchy. Obvious similarities are Irish domestic settings; quirky family antagonists; the transformative power of love; and the question of whether traditional morality was really all that moral. Owens also employs much visual detail in describing venues and characters, thus promoting that sense that one is constantly being viewed and judged. The device of the local ballroom conveniently showcases the lives of several locals, particularly the thoughtful Shirley and her worldly older sister Kate. Both live at home in Belfast, work for the same dreary government agency, and aspire to matrimony. The contrast between Shirley's starry-eyed view of The One True Love and Kate's calculating search for the most advantageous catch is the centerpiece, while the other characters lend a sort of My Big Fat Greek Wedding color to the proceedings. The narration is a bit uneven, and the tone ranges from slapstick to melodrama to introspection and back again, but this one is definitely worth recommending to anyone who enjoys you-know-who. I plan to look up Tea House myself.


Stel Pavlou's (2001) "international bestseller" was this month's title for my book discussion group. This fact, and only this obligation, explains why I finished it. Imagine Da Vinci Code meets Chariots of the Gods and Ghostbusters, and consider, too, that the author is an experienced screenwriter. In his first outing as a novelist, Pavlou has yet to move beyond dialogue that would be right at home in a super-action thriller--or comic book, perhaps. I honestly stopped reading three different times just to examine the book jacket for the disclaimer "parody". For those willing to look beyond the unintentional humor of the writing style, Decipher has much to offer in the way of Atlantis theory, ancient myths and prophecies, cliff-hanging adventure, and some really cool ice ghosts.

Pen Pals

Oliva Goldsmith, who wrote First Wives Club, takes the "hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn" up a notch. When Jennifer Spencer agrees to take the heat for her boss's inside trading, she is told that she will be going to a "camp cupcake" style prison. After arriving at the no-frills prison, being ignored by her Trumplike boss and dumped by her lawyer/fiance, Jennifer starts to bond with the women who are in her "crew". Women who have all been incarcerated for one reason or another because of the men in their lives. Privatized prisons and certain living conditions are explored in this beach read. Goldsmith did some great research about women's prisons and while the women are a bit stereotyped, she does handle them with some care. Her comments at the end of the book are quite interesting as well. Good summer read with some thought provocation as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer

Stephanie Cohen & Nancy J. Ondra offer a lot of practical advice on how to plan your perennial garden to allow for maximum enjoyment. I wonder if I sit out by my weedy plot and read it aloud if anything good will happen. There are lots of pretty pictures here, but parts of the book are laid out a little oddly. 635.932

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Conversations with a Prince: A Year of Riding at East Hill Farm

what fun! just wanted to try this thing out. And also note, for those interested, "Conversations with a Prince: A year of Riding at East Hill Farm" is a terrific new horse book.

Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland.

Eleanor Rigby, both the book and the title character, are, like their namesake Beattles song, the loneliest people. The author Douglas Coupland has created a fairly self-absorbed, off-beat heroine who looks back over her life and family in a new way after she reconnects with the twenty year old son she had given up for adoption at birth. This book may take you places in the dark part of your soul that you never intended to go, but it is worth it. Thanks, Linda, for suggesting it for Third Thursday book discussion. Fiction

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

No Matter What

Debi Gliori wrote this book which is featured in the Kansas Reads to Preschoolers -- One State, One Book project for 2005! We read this for the Rotarians will read it in the schools. Check out a copy at your favorite library.

The Aviator

Great movie. Leondardo DiCapprio is fabulous. He's got being obsessive-compulsive down. Actually all the actors and actresses in the movie were great. Engrossing account of the private life of Howard Hughes and the business and afflictions that tormented him.


Welcome to the new format of A. Reader, a list of short reviews by staff and friends of Olathe Public Library.

We share information about the books we've read or listened to, movies in either VHS or DVD format, and even some of the music we've checked out from the library. Now, instead of having your comments filtered through me on a biweekly basis, you can just add your own list of books as you read them.

We'd like you to start with the Title of the article in the Title box. In the body of the post, please include the author, if there is one, and a copyright date. Feel free to add more information if you wish--the narrator for tapes, etc. You need only add a sentence or two about the plot and why you liked it, and it's done.

Thanks, and I'm glad you're sharing with us.