Friday, October 30, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Travers

"A riveting courtroom drama of rape and premeditated murder. Pits a humble small-town lawyer against a hard-headed big-city prosecutor. Emotions flare as a jealous army lieutenant pleads innocent to murdering the rapist of his seductive, beautiful wife. Packed with drama, passion and intrigue." Sounds like something John Grisham wrote, doesn't it? But this bestseller was from 1958 and was penned by Robert Travers, which is actually the pseudonym for Michigan attorney, prosecutor and judge John D. Voelker. The story is based on an actual murder case in which Voelker served as the defense attorney. We read this book together to fulfill Dave's "Random Author" selection in the Take-a-Chance Challenge. For the most part, we agreed with the description above. The contrast between the small-town lawyer and the big-city prosecutor constantly reminded us of "A Time to Kill", right down to the older, hard-drinking, retired lawyer co-conspirator. Unfortunately, Mr. Travers could take a lesson from Grisham in brevity and pacing. This story tended to get bogged down in legalese and unnecessary detail, the "red herrings" tended to be more pointless distractions than intriguing false leads, and there were a couple of points that were never clearly explained. Surprisingly the story is still timely for today, including the conflict between the military and civilian factions of the town. We had fun with the outdated idioms and the changes in moral standards - the army officer's wife was accused of being promiscuous because she took off her shoes in public. We also were fascinated with the discussion of psychiatry as a new and, perhaps, unreliable branch of medicine. There was an unexpected amount of humor in the story which kept us from skimming over the wordy, rambling sections for fear of missing a great one-liner. The ending had enough surprise to make it satisfying and an over-all enjoyable read. We would give it 3 stars - point off for endless blabbering and point off for predictability. This evening's plan is to watch the movie version starring Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott and Lee Remick. We'll let you know how the two compare.
Update: Once again, the book is better than the movie - and it honestly surprised us this time. Since we weren't overwhelmed with the book, and the movie featured an all-star lineup, we really thought there was a chance for the movie to outdo the book. We also hoped it might even clarify a couple of points we didn't follow in the book, but those points must have confused the script writers too, because they either left them out or changed the story. The story was mostly in tact, but it lacked the complexity and detail of the book. Had we watched the movie first we probably would have enjoyed it more but, as usually happens, once you've read the book the movie just doesn't measure up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber

If you happened to read my review of The Christmas Secret, I know you're wondering "Why is she doing this again? I tell you, it's an addiction. Put a book with a pretty Christmas picture in front of me and I'm powerless to resist. I listened to this one on audio, mostly in 3 minute increments during my 4 block commute or trips to the grocery store. And it's probably a good thing or I would have gone into diabetic shock from the sweetness. A woman pays out $30,000 to a matchmaker to find her "perfect husband" so she can have the perfect wedding, perfect children, perfect life and, most important, the perfect Christmas. We all know where this is heading, so for those of you battling your own addiction, I won't ruin the end. Well, maybe I will - just a little. This one doesn't have any surprise twists or comedy of errors to save it. It's just dripping in sugary, syrupy, gooey sweetness. But at least the only time you'll cry is when she writes out that ridiculous check. So have I finally learned my lesson? Will I avoid the rest of the beautiful holiday covers and sentimental claptrap? Of course not!

The Christmas Secret by Donna VanLiere

I'm such a sucker for anything related to Christmas - music, decorations, movies and, of course, books! The covers are so pretty, the titles entice me, and after a 10-month drought of holiday paraphanalia, I just can't resist. You would think I would learn that the majority turn out to be three-tissue-box, heart-string-tugging cryfests. And since I don't normally care for that type of story, a reasonable person would also think that I would stop reading them. But I don't. So I began the read-a-thon with this gorgeous little book. Also happens that my random word for the Take-a-Chance challenge is "secret" so this book had a double attraction. (see By the end of chapter one I was having vague, wisps of memory about why I shouldn't read these books. Our heroine is a single mom, struggling with the bills, about to be evicted, dead-beat dad threatening the custody of the children, boss threatening to fire her from her dead-end job and, worst of all, babysitter issues. Joy to the world! But, since this was a challenge book, I plugged along. Wasn't this the point of the challenge? To read something outside my usual box? Besides, this is a Christmas book. It has to have a happy ending. Poor Christina just continued to sink lower and lower till I knew the only thing that would save her was the obligatory Christmas miracle. But I got more than I expected. Ms. VanLiere managed to throw a couple of curveballs into the tired mix. Now don't be dismayed, naturally everything worked out. The bills get paid, the mean landlord comes to his senses, dead-beat dad beats it out of town, dead-end job turns into a promising business venture and, best of all, she finds a couple of wonderful babysitters. The almost slap-stick near-miss encounters between the characters kept the story from becoming totally depressing, but what really kept this from being just another Christmas tear-jerker are the twists, and I never saw them coming. So, alls well that ends well - even when you knew it would. And look at all the other pretty Christmas books on the shelf!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Read-a-Thon Wrap-up

Our first attempt at Dewey's Read-a-thon was a success - at least we think so. We made it through most of the 24 hours - with breaks for a couple naps and the KSU football game. We read some good books, learned a few things and, best of all, did it together! Here are some random lessons learned from read-a-thon and ideas for next time:
1. We are too old to pull all-nighters! Our plan for next time is to pick a 12-18 hour span and allow ourselves a full night's sleep.
2. Blogging and participating in challenges can easily consume all your reading time. Next time around we will limit our challenges to those we can do in just a couple minutes.
3. Speaking of challenges, we are brainstorming a "read together" mini challenge for April. So start now to convince your significant other to join you.
4. We didn't get nearly as much reading done as we had imagined. Between distractions (children, people at the door, phone, food...) and time spent on challenges and blogs, we frequently lost focus on the books. Our goal for April is to actually read for 50 minutes of each hour - with 10 minute limit for challenges, snacks and potty breaks.
5. I noticed lots of participants making advance food plans in the days leading up to the read-a-thon, but didn't really pay attention. Now I understand the advance prep. Cooking and/or prowling the pantry looking for munchies consumes a lot of time. (At least it did for me. Dave's snack needs are much simpler - see Eat to Read challenge for details.)
6. I will limit myself to short books/novellas or at least easy reading - trying to absorb anything deep became impossible after the first few hours.
7. Cheerleaders are wonderful people!
8. The biggest lesson learned: The joy of Dewey's Read-a-Thon is not in the number of pages read or winning prizes, but in the people met and the shared love of reading. Our blog is only a month old and this was a great way for us to break into the book blogging universe. It will take me quite awhile, even once my brain returns to full function, but I intend to visit the blogs of every participant and send thank-you messages to those who commented on ours. Welcome new friends and fellow bloggers - it's great to meet you.

Read-a-Thon: The Wee Hours

It's 3:25 a.m. We may have dozed there for a minute (or 3 hours?) but we're awake now - mostly. The read-a-thon is in it's last few hours and we've had lots of fun with the challenges. Perhaps we haven't gotten as many books read as we had imagined, but who's counting. Now, back to the books.
4:32 a.m.- Another hour of joint reading on our courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Murder". We're down to the last few chapters, but pretty complicated stuff to digest at this hour.
5:23 a.m. - Only 35 minutes to go. We made it through one more chapter of our joint read and spent a little time cleaning up the kitchen from our snacking - just to get up and keep the blood flowing. We will fill the last few minutes with our individual books and call it a successful read-a-thon. Dave finished "Blood Covenant" and is beginning "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" by Jeff Lindsay.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Give Me Five Challenge - Read-a-thon

The Challenge: post a list of your five favorite children's books. That's an easy one!
1. Green Eggs and Ham
2. Blitz, Story of a Horse (Dave's fav)
3. Harriet, the Spy (Tami's fav)
4. Where the Sidewalk Ends - favorite of our daughter
5. Junie B. Jones series - favorite to read aloud
Sponsored by

Wisdom of the Ages Challenge - Read-a-thon

The challenge is to think of books featuring "older" protagonists or authors.
My all-time favorite reads are “The Cat Who…” series, written by Lilian Jackson Braun. I have read and re-read them many times. Ms. Braun is now well into her 90’s and, unfortunately, her age has shown in the last couple installments, and apparently the series has come to an end. Great loss for cozy mystery fans.
Sponsored by

Make Something Challenge - Read-a-thon

The challenge here is to find something that the characters in the books we are reading "made" - whether literally or figuratively.

In my first book today, "The Christmas Secret" by Donna VanLier, Christine's mother and children made Christmas cookies and candy.

In my second pick, "A Cadger's Curse", the heroine just made unlawful entry into the home of the man she is investigating.

Michael Franzese, the author of "Blood Covenant", Dave's current read was a "made man" in the Mob.

Sponsored by

Read-a-Thon: Part 2

Starting the second book calls for starting a new post. I'm trying to keep my selections to short books so I feel that I'm making more progress. Selecting #2 was a difficult decision, but I have settled on "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". This has been in my TBR stack for quite some time and I'm excited to finally get to it.
When Dave wakes up from his post-football nap, we will also continue reading "The Anatomy of a Murder".
8:13 p.m.: Spent the last couple hours on our joint book - taking turns reading aloud. Nearing the end of this one (about 70 pages left). I have problems with Restless Leg Syndrome and they are beginning to become a hazard to sitting and reading. If anyone else out there shares this problem, you'll surely be able to picture me reading while pacing :)
9:03 p.m.: Had to put the Guernsey ladies aside for awhile. Lots of fellow read-a-thoners recommended it, but it seemed to require more concentration than I have right now. So I have moved on to "A Cadger's Curse" by Diane Gilbert Madsen. We've already got a dead body on page 22, so it's off to a good start.
10:14 p.m.: A Cadeger's Curse is progressing nicely - an easy and fun read. Dave is nearing the end of "Blood Covenant" and we're headed into another session of joint reading. But first - it's getting late and I'm getting restless so I'm breaking out the big guns: Mountain Dew and Hot Wings! Happy reading!
11:16 p.m.: If you ever decide to read "Anatomy of a Murder" be aware that chapter 23 is incredibly long-winded and boring. :) Mr. Travers could take a few lessons from John Grisham in the writing of court-room drama, but we are so near the end that the occasional bad chapter will not daunt us in our assigned task. The restless legs are going to force me to read from the bed for a little bit - and this may lead in inadvertant napping, I'm afraid. I will do my best to return in an hour.

Re-Reading the Classics Challenge - Read-a-thon

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is my favorite classic. It began in my childhood when my parents bought a record album (anyone else remember those?) of a dramatization of the book. I would lay in front of the great big family stereo (In a cabinet about 5′ long and 3′ high – similar to the console televisions of that day) and listen to it over and over.

I have already listened to one audio version of it this year and have selected it for our joint read as part of the November Novella challenge.

Eat to Read Challenge - Read-a-thon

Hubby and I have very different ideas of the perfect food for reading. We'll just let you guess which is which.

Who Keeps You Company Challenge - Read-a-Thon

My husband, Dave, keeps me company while I read - but I think at the moment his eyes are really on the KSU/CU football game. :)

Read-a-thon mini challenge: Book Title Sentence

This is our creation for the Read-a-thon mini challenge to make a sentence using the titles of books.
"Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, kidnapped the invisible man, alive and screaming."
Thanks for hosting.


We're off and running on Dewey's Read-a-Thon. We'll be checking in here about once an hour to update what we're reading and our progress.
Post 1: Started the morning with coffee and "The Christmas Secret" by Donna VanLiere. This book is part of the Take-A-Chance Challenge we're doing at the library where I work. ( Teenage daughter and her friend chatted to me so much that I didn't actually get much read this past hour - but lots of giggles. :)
Dave is reading "Blood Covenant" by Michael Franzese.
Post 2: Another hour gone and not much progress I'm afraid. Fortunately teenage daughter will be out of the house for the weekend shortly (Going to visit her brother at college - I may spend more time worrying than reading :) . Thanks for all of the "Reader of the Hour" love. Enjoyed all the encouragement.
Post 3: We spent the last hour-and-a-half reading our "joint" book - "Anatomy of a Murder" by Robert Travers. This is one of Dave's picks for the Take-A-Chance Challenge at our local library. A courtroom drama from 1958, it's full of interesting detail and we have a good time trying to predict where the case is headed. We'll be reviewing it here when we finish.
The K-State/Colorado game starts in 5 minutes, so Dave will be taking a short (3 hour??) reading break while he cheers for the Cats. I'll be supporting them from the couch with my books.
Post 4: Another hour gone and I'm not making much progress on my Christmas book. Too much time answering the phone, entering challenges and finding snacks??? Back to the book!
Post 5: Nearing the end of my first book. Having fun with the newest challenges. May have to break for some lunch - and maybe shower and get dressed at some point?
Post 6: (3:10 p.m.) Under 20 pages to go on "The Christmas Secret". Can't decide what to start next. Bacon cheeseburger refueled me, so back to the pages.
Post 7: (4:35 p.m.) Uh-oh. Took a little snooze there. Finished read the Christmas Secret and just couldn't hold me eyes open any longer. Time to hit the shower to refresh and pick out book #2.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hothouse Orchid, by Stuart Woods

There really is no way to review this book without giving away some plot lines - at least I couldn't come up with a way - so be aware. (Spoiler Alert) Familiar characters, good plot, fast-paced action.... The sixth installment of the Holly Barker series is off to a good start. But then it just fizzles. The crime is apparently solved with nearly 100 pages to go...or is it? Surely Woods wouldn't reveal the solution this early, so I kept waiting for the big twist at the end. But it never came! Sure enough, the supposed killer turns out to be the actual killer. But wait, we still have the evil villain from previous novels lurking in the background. Surely he will provide the surprise element. The last time he and Holly met, shots were fired - the CIA is after this man! But he, too, turns out rather lukewarm, as does Holly's attitude toward him. If I had stars to give, this would still probably receive 4, with a one point deduction for the lack of an ending.

Monday, October 19, 2009

November Novella Selections

We have pinned down three of the four novellas we plan to read for the November Novella Challenge. Dave selected "Animal Farm" by George Orwell and "Mist" by Stephen King. I was originally considering a couple of the new holiday books just in at the library, but since this is a joint effort, decided to spare Dave the holiday sap. My first choice is Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" - one of my favs that I've read many times - and.....something else. I'm having a little difficulty with that final decision. Many of Agatha Christies stories fit into the novella category, so they made the short list, but I also have a couple "interactive" mysteries sitting on the shelf that I've never gotten around to reading and they would be great fun to do together. You know the type - whenever the detective discovers a clue it is contained in the book - an actual letter, newspaper clipping, stamp, etc. Fortunately I still have two weeks left to make the final list. If you haven't signed up for the novella challenge, hop over to and get the details. Then find someone you love and share your love of reading.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Challenge

We are joining the November Novella Challenge sponsored by We have chosen to participate at Level II (4 novellas). Novellas are an overlooked reading option, so selecting the four we want to read is a challenge in itself. Our plan is to each pick two and then read them together. Dave is leaning towards "Animal Farm" by George Orwell and something written by Arthur Conan Doyle. I am eyeing some newer Christmas themed books. We'll put up the final list as soon as we make a decision - or four decisions, as the case may be.
This is a great place to start reading as a couple. You only need to commit to reading one novella to join the challenge - there are prizes! - and meet your goal in one evening. Good date night activity idea.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who Killed the Robins Family?

Eight chapters + eight family members + eight murders + zero solutions = great fun! Throw in a few references to classic mystery stories and you've got a hit. This book was my (Tami's) selection for the Random Bestseller portion of the Take-a-Chance Challenge. A bestseller in 1983 - this book was originally published without a solution and a $10,000 prize was offered for the reader who submitted the most nearly correct response to who, what, when, where, why and how for each of the 8 murders. The paperback version, published in 1984, contained the answers. Dave and I read this together and had some great discussions trying to decipher the who-dun-its. M*A*S*H fans who remember "The Rooster Crowed at Midnight" will have a comical, but accurate, vision of our analysis - "It couldn't have been the butler. At the time of the murder he was locked in the closet with Mrs. White." I can't say we would have won the $10,000, but we were surprisingly close on a lot of the details. An entertaining read for fans of Agatha Christie (like Tami) or conspiracy theories (like Dave). This book may be the basis for a future contest/reading program at the library - stay tuned.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Professional by Robert B. Parker

Robert Parker's books are my kind of stories - fast plot, mostly dialog and minimalist descriptions. Maybe it's because Spenser and his crew are such familiar characters that I no longer need all the extras. Whatever the reason, it works and I never feel cheated by not knowing the details of someone's outfit, apartment or view. The plot is also minimalist. Rather than elaborate crimes with clues to be discovered, the story is more a day-in-the-life (or in this case, nearly-a-year-in-the life) of Spenser. It's a visit with old friends - Susan, Hawk, Pearl - and sort of a "catching up" on their lives. The main characters are all sure of themselves and content with who they are, which makes them fun to visit. No angst or drama, just the interaction of good friends. The story line was intriguing - enough mystery to keep me turning pages, minimal gore and/or violance (a big hang-up of mine, you may have noticed), and a satisfying conclusion. Parker's books are fun, familiar and diverting. - Tami

Friday, October 2, 2009


We have signed up for the Oct. 2009 Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon. Check it out and join us as we try to catch up on our reading, win prizes (hopefully), meet other readers/bloggers and fight to not nod off.

Library Challenge

The library where I work is sponsoring the Take-A-Chance Challenge. Six challenges to be completed in six months. You can find all the details at but basically the categories are: 1. Random library location 2. Random word (must be in title of book) 3. Random author 4. Random year - read a bestseller 5. Judge a book by it's cover 6. Read a non-fiction book We will be posting our choices in the challenge and our thoughts and opinions as we read. Jennifer ( and was the creator of the first Take-A-Chance Challenge, so visit Jenn to see the orignal or for permission to host your own challenge.

The Spire by Richard North Patterson

Richard North Patterson excells at writing thrillers. However, he stinks at writing romance. The suspense portions of this book were great, if occasionally long-winded, but the relationship between Mark and Taylor just never gelled. This was supposed to be a relationship that progressed from a young girl's infatuation to a mature couple sharing comfort after loss with possibilities of long term love. However, Patterson spent so much time explaining to me why this relationship existed and why I should care that, in the end, I didn't. While the romance angle could have added more depth to the story, their relationship as it is added nothing except convenient access to information/locations to help solve the crime. They could have remained platonic and accomplished the same thing without near the frustration level for the reader who likes a well-written romance. So let's focus on the mystery/suspense portions of the story. The first word that comes to mind is "original". I've read lots of thrillers and the plot lines tend to be a variation on a theme, but Patterson introduced some new ideas. The racial issues were dealt with in a sensitive and realistic manner. Acknowledging that they still exist and giving a true picture of small town divisions and prejudices. One of my greatest objections to many thriller/suspense books is the level of totally unnecessary, graphic depictions of violance and/or perversion. This story could easily have gone way over that line. Kudos to Patterson for keeping the scenes scaled back and allowing me to use my imagination to go as far (or not) down that path as I chose. My final criticism would be that the plot may have been a little predictable - we solved a large part of it early on. However, it still made for a good story and satisfying read. Can you ask for more?

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

This was our first read together - mainly because we were on a trip, the CD player wouldn't work and I had one pre-release copy of the book and two readers vying for dibs. I read and loved the DaVinci Code so had high expectations for this book. I wasn't disappointed. The story may have been slightly less gripping for me because of the subject matter - having had family members involved in the Masonic Lodge for years, they just didn't stir my imagination as the dark, covert, keepers of apocolyptic secrets - but it was still the page-turner I expected from Dan Brown. There were times that the story got bogged down in the details and history, but never long enough to make me lose interest. Towards the end, I discovered one of the many benefits of "couples reading". When the story seemed to be progressing down gruesome and disturbing paths, I handed the book off to Dave and let him censure the details to only those absolutely necessary for the progression of the story. Fortunately, the passages he needed to edit for the sake of my ability to sleep were far fewer than I feared. (Aside to authors: I have an imagination. Please just give me the minimum trauma and horror and I guarantee I will fill in the rest.) Several of the plot twists at the end really weren't surprising. We had predicted them, sometimes several hundred pages earlier, and since I know we aren't especially adept as sleuths, perhaps there should have been less foreshadowing. My best advice is to take this book for what it is -a fiction thriller meant to entertain - and avoid getting caught up in the controversies and consiracy theories. Then it is a fun, fast-paced read well worth the time.