Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

(I really should have known more about this guy.)

need to be quick about this because I stepped out of a Super Secret Spy meeting to blog.  I shouldn't even be telling you because, duh, it's super secret.  But . . . we're all friends here, so I think I can mention my clandestine life* in passing. I can't give you much detail, because, again, duh, then I'd hafta kill you.

*I'm a Super Aunt, see, and that sometimes involved spending time fighting the "bad guys" with your nieces and nephews.

The main subjects of Destiny of the Republic also have their clandestine elements.  There is the unseen bacteria that ultimately killed a President, there are the behind-the-doors machinations of a political party, there are the internal delusions of a mad man, and there is mostly forgotten life of the 20th President of the United States.

I can honestly say that what I knew about President Garfield before I read this book wasn't enough to drown in.  I had a vague recollection that he was shot because his assassin wanted a job.  In my foggy and vague memories, the gun shot killed Garfield and the assassin was a supporter of Vice President Chester Arthur.  It was true that the man who shot President Garfield, Charles Guiteau, wanted an appointment, but it was truly his own madness that led him to believe that God wanted Garfield removed from office. Guiteau believed that President Garfield was a threat to the Republic and to the Republican Party.  And while Garfield died from complications from his wounds, it was truly preventable and curable infection that killed him instead of the initial injury.

So I was nominally right, but mostly I was really, really wrong.

Destiny of the Republic is mostly outside my reading sweet spot.  There are no vampires, there's not much romance, and, for goodness sake, it's non-fiction.  However, it was really, really interesting.

I learned a lot.  I was mesmerized by the politics of the day; they weren't that different from those of today but much of the obnoxious behavior was in-party fighting instead between party.  The current state of the medical field was horrifying and gripping.  The drive of Alexander Graham Bell to invent a machine that would help locate the bullet still lodged in the President's body was riveting.  The audacity and insanity of Charles Guiteau was astounding.

All in all, I highly recommend Destiny of the Republic.  It's tone and delivery reminded me of Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (another non-fiction book I highly recommend).

In summary, you should read this book, and I should get back to my meeting.  The world is depending on me, or, at least, a niece and a nephew. Pin It

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Listen by Rene Gutteridge

I almost forgot about this book.  Not the most endearing start to a review, I know.  I forgot about it not because I didn't like it, but because it messed me up in the head a little.  It messed me up in a good way though, and I think it is safe to say that I have now properly processed the book and am ready to give my two cents. Or maybe even three.

The storyline is relatively simple. Residents in the small town of Marlo take pride in the fact that their town lacks notoriety.  Suddenly, change comes in the form of a website that publishes everyone's private conversations.  Seemingly harmless at first, the website is brushed off as an innocent prank.  Days later the website is still up and running and so are the tempers of Marlo residents.  What was once innocent has now turned dangerous.

I'm confident that if this really happened to me, it would not make for anything interesting to write about.  I mean, unless you were interested in gluten-free cooking, Crossfit, or listening to a fourth-grader try to tell you how to make a diorama of an arctic tundra, not many national secrets are being exposed here.  But what this book so accurately portrays is that it's not the national secrets that do the most damage (I'm speaking loosely here.  Please don't think I don't take national security issues seriously.  I take Uncle Sam and my husband's security clearance VERY seriously).  But in our personal lives, it's really our relationships that make us who we are.  What if every single word we spoke in private was suddenly made public?  What kind of damage would that do?  In most cases our relationships would probably suffer.  What would that mean for us as a person or for us as a society?

I hope I am not making this book sound "preachy" because it wasn't at all.  It did, however, give me a nice, big, fat reality check.  Am I treating others the way I would like to be treated?  More importantly, how do I use my words?  I am reminded constantly that my two children listen to every word I say (scary stuff, people), but what about my neighbor?  What about the extended members of my family?  Heck, what about the other moms at the bus stop?  Words are powerful and should be used carefully.  I need to remember that.

Gutteridge also went a step further in Listen and used more than one point of view.  We hear from a policeman, a teenager, a reporter and a mom, all impacted in different ways by the website.  These different perspectives give even more validity to the power of words. Just because someone is in a certain line of work or is a certain age, doesn't mean words mean any less to them.  I need to remember that too.

I read this book almost a year ago.  And a year later, I can still summon the emotions I had when I first read it. Hurt. Paranoia. Sadness.  All things that resulted from people's words.  All things we ALL need to remember.

Pin It

Friday, December 23, 2011

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I originally planned to review the third and final installment of Mr. Larsson's Girl series, but I'm not quite finished (the holidays are getting the in the way of my reading) and this is the book that's been read the most here at our house.  So I thought I'd tell you all the reasons I love this book (and the old-school cartoon that is still occasionally on TV around this time of year).  It comes highly recommended by all members of this family, except Oreo for reasons to be discussed.

1.  You can't stop Christmas from coming.
If you don't know me or follow my personal blog then you might not know I have two really awesome kids.  My daughter is four and a half, an exceptional singer, crazy smart, outrageously courageous, and was diagnosed with autism before she was two years of age.  One of her greatest challenges is communicating.  When faced with communication issues, a family must decide on what the heart of most matters is and focus on that.  For example, there's Christmas.  A lot of stuff comes along with Christmas as a holiday, but what's really the heart of the matter; what do I want my daughter to really understand?  I want her to understand that Christmas is about perfect love.  For those with a christian faith, the perfect love comes in the form of a baby.  It comes in other forms for other faiths, and for those who do not believe in a particular religion or faith this time of year has the potential to be (possibly really annoying) full of community and family spirit.  That's what I want her to understand.  Christmas, for us the birth of a baby that would try to teach us to love one another, comes whether there are presents under the tree, stockings, or rare Who roast-beast.  So the Grinch can do his worst, but Christmas will still come.  Don't worry.  She's getting presents.  But at least we're working on not focusing on them as the sole purpose of the holiday.

The Grinch and I have something in common.  We both hate the noise of all the toys and merriment.  That is not to say I hate to hear children having a good time, it's just that my kids are LOUD.  But the Grinch reminds me that I shouldn't be a party-pooper and let the kids (and any loud adults in the area, hhmmm...who could that be?) have their fun.  I can buy ear plugs and not ruin everyone's joy.

3.  Giggles or Oreo's Lament
The first time we read this book both of my kids immediately giggled at the sight of Max, the Grinch's dog for the uninitiated, with a horn tied on his head with red thread.  Oreo immediately gave me stink eye for putting ideas in my son's head.  They giggled as tiny Max pulled the over-sized sleigh up to the top of Mt. Crumpit. Oreo continued to give me stink eye.  Then they watched the cartoon version, in which Max has a larger role.  My son fell over (granted he's not quite two so take that for what it's worth) he laughed so hard as Max attempted to catch bags of stolen presents, trimmings, and trappings being shoved up the chimbleys. That's the kind of noise I can handle.  Even if Oreo's stink eye continues to this day.  He needs the exercise it takes to run away from Grinch imitators.

4.  Welcome Christmas
This is really just a reprise of #1.  This is book if fun to read.  The pictures are magically Seussical.  But the message is what I really like.  We didn't read this book last year, but I wish we did.  We were missing my husband while he was in Afghanistan and we could have used the reminder that Christmas is about love - whether its near or far.  When I hear my daughter sing herself to sleep at night with the song from the cartoon, my heart grows three sizes.  We don't need  all the presents, food, and decorations.  They're all really, really nice, but not essential for Christmas to come.

Welcome Christmas
While we stand
Heart to heart
And hand in hand
Christmas Day
Will always be
Just as long
As we have we

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, A Very Merry Day to you all! Pin It

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell

Personally, I'm a fan of Malcolm Gladwell's.  I love The Tipping Point so much that I make my Consumer Behavior students read it.  I thought Outliers was an amazing, and Blink is interesting (if frustrating because I don't think he ever answers his own core question.)  Not everyone agrees with me. Every once in a while I'll hear colleagues scoff at the mention of Gladwell's name; they'll claim that others write on similar topics with more depth.  Every once in a while I'll see acquaintances roll their eyes when I mention something from The Tipping Point; they tell me that Gladwell only writes about the obvious.

Here's what I have to say about that:
     a) every one of us is entitled to our own opinions, and
     b) really? You call that a critique?

(Err, so maybe I need to work on my application of the "live and let live" philosophy.  Peace.  Goodwill to men and all that.)

Gladwell writes, really well, for a non-academic audience.  His writing is as in-depth as is appropriate for his readers.  Also, OF COURSE it all seems obvious after you've read his work.  That means he's done an amazing job finding and retelling stories that support a general premise.  Perhaps he's writing about things you've already thought about, but he's taken those questions we all have and done something with them.  He's researched and retold the answers to questions that resonate with so many of us.  Gladwell writes about the things that make us go "Hmm."

I think for the everyday reader and the typical undergraduate student (two mutually exclusive categories, those) Gladwell makes for an excellent read.  It's with that opinion that I recommend What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures.  This book is a collection of magazine articles Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker.  For a consumer behavior junkie like me, this book simply rocks.  Even if you've never been fixated on brands and logos and service recovery, this is a a good read*.  There's a crazily interesting article about ketchup. (No joke.)  Have you ever considered that there are yellow mustards, brown mustards, spicy mustards, and plain mustards, but, for most of America, there's really just Heinz ketchup?  There's a great piece about Ron Popeil and the history of Billy Mays-like salesmanship.  How many items have you purchased based on the power of a demonstration?  There's also a really cool article about Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer.  What does the dog see, after all?

I'm also specifically recommending it for holiday reading because a collection of magazine articles has definitive stops and starts.  For those of you still shopping, wrapping, shipping, cleaning, cooking, and decorating for the December holidays, this book is nice to have right now because you can pick it up and put it down.  You can use it as a short break between tasks without worrying about getting sucked in to a 300-page plot that you just can't seem to ignore.  After 20 pages about ketchup, you can put the book down and process what you've read as you go back to your cookie dough.

*I liked this book enough that I'm willing to recommend it EVEN THOUGH the articles on behavioral profiling have pretty much ruined Criminal Minds for me.

Pin It

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fate by Amanda Hocking

Amanda Hocking is quickly becoming my "go-to gal."  She is like my favorite boots on a cold day.  She is like a Diet Pepsi when I have a headache.  She is to me what cheese pizza is to my son.  There is not really any pizza he doesn't like.  Pizza is pizza.  There is really not any Amanda Hocking book I don't like.  Her writing is her writing and it makes me happy.

In case you are new to our blog, I'll refer you to my one other review of an Amanda Hocking book, My Blood Approves.  This was the first in this series and you can read all about it here.  Today's review is on the second in the series, Fate.  And I am happy to report, the second one is even better than the first.

Fate picks up where My Blood Approves left off.  Alice is just weeks away from starting her senior year in high school.  She has enjoyed her summer of lounging around the vampire family's house ('cause that's normal) and is biding her time until she can tell her brother that she wants to become a vampire.  Since her dad is gone and she has no real relationship with her mother, Alice feels the need to make sure her younger brother, Milo, is completely independent before she leaves him and "turns."

In an effort to make him feel more comfortable with her new vampire family, Alice introduces Milo to them and things are going quite swimmingly.  That is, until Milo and Jack (Alice's vampire boyfriend) are goofing around in the lake and Milo breaks his neck.  In order to save his life, Jack makes a quick decision and bites him.  (Apparently vampire saliva heals all...who knew?).

So, that now makes everyone in the the world that she cares about a vampire while she is still a dull, boring human.  To make matters worse, Milo is a young vampire and needs lots of attention to make sure he matures in the safest manner possible.  The bottom line?  He can't be around his sister (she smells too good and is thus, tempting) so Alice must return to her real life and try to ignore the fact that her brother is getting to do everything she has dreamed of doing for over a year. 

The same qualities I liked about My Blood Approves apply here.  No cheesy stuff.  No long drawn-out drama.  It is a very quick read, too.  All good qualities, in my opinion.    A little more mystery is introduced too, which is a plus.  For example, Jack's brother Peter is now gone but Alice finds a book he wrote about vampires which generates some suspicion.  All of this, plus a cliffhanger of an ending that had me immediately scrambling to buy the next installment for my nook.

Try it out and let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from another Amanda Hocking fan if we have any out there.  And while you're at it, I'll take any pizza recommendations, also.   Do we have any pizza fans?

Read what other people think about Fate, here

Pin It

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steigg Larsson

This is the second book in the series, and I liked it quite a bit.  Maybe not as much as I enjoyed the first, but I would still recommend it.  What I missed in the second installment, was the interaction between Blomkvist and Salander; she's out of the country at the beginning of the book and then ends up in hiding for a great duration.  But the mysteries are still engaging and there's plenty of intrigue, so a worth while read in my opinion.

In The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth is in the midst of an aimless trek around the world as the story opens.  She leaves Sweden heartbroken and goes traveling to give herself some physical and emotional distance from her problems.  However, she ends up in the middle of a domestic abuse situation and the reader gets a little more insight into her moral code as she "deals" with it.  Meanwhile, Blomkvist and his colleagues at Millennium are approached by a freelancer who has been researching sex trafficking in Sweden.  His fiancee has also been researching the subject as part of her thesis, and together they've uncovered quite a few prominent figures who have been on the wrong side of Sweden's no tolerance policy in regards to sex trafficking.  As the reporter keeps digging, he continually uncovers a mysterious figure Zala.  Right before the publication of the article and not long after the reporter makes inquiries about Zala, he and his fiancee are murdered in their apartment.  Lisbeth's state-appointed guardian is also murdered the same night and with the same weapon.  Unfortunately for Lisbeth, her fingerprints are on the murder weapon.

From here the police launch a muddled investigation, which we read about in great detail.  Blomkvist tries to continue the work of the slain reporter AND launch an investigation to assert Lisbeth's innocence.  We find out a great deal about Lisbeth, her childhood, her adolescence, and how she came to be the enigma of a woman she is during this investigation.  Lisbeth goes into hiding and then comes out of hiding to put matters to rest in her own style.  There are more twists and turns, dead ends, dead beat cops, and criminal underworld elements than I can count, but it will definitely keep you interested.  And that's all I'm going to say, because it would be cheating to say more.  Read it for yourself.  And don't forget your sandwich.

PS  There is no movie preview for this book, so here's a picture of Daniel Craig just because.  I looked for one of him eating a sandwich but couldn't find any.

Pin It

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Next Always by Nora Roberts

One of the joys of reading, for me, is the discovery of new authors. This joy, though, is risky.  For every new author who's brought me delight at least three have felt like a waste of my time and money.  So one of the other great joys of reading is turning to a tried and true author whose stories I can slip into like a pair of fleece pajama pants or sink my teeth into like a toasty grilled cheese sandwich.  Warm, comfortable, easy.  A sure thing.  

(Okay.  Anyone else totally distracted by the thought of comfy pajama pants and good grilled cheese?  Yeah, me, too. Mmmm. Grilled cheese.  Ahhh.  Pajama pants.  I made this awesome taco soup last night and ate it while wearing flannel pajama pants.  That's not quite the same level of fleece-comfyness, and the soup would have totally been improved with a half a grilled cheese sandwich.  Obviously, I won't make THOSE mistakes again. Uhh, this isn't a food blog.  How did I get onto this topic?  Right.  I digress.)

Nora Roberts has written over 100 novels.  I'm pretty sure I've read 80% of them.  Any I've missed would have been the early releases written under the Silhouette label.  She first started publishing in the early '80s, and I'm pretty sure I started reading her work in the late '80s.  As writer and reader, we've been together for a long, long time. We're good together, me and Ms. Roberts, if a bit predictable.  That means that Ms. Roberts rarely writes anything that surprises me*.  Happily, I find her as consistent as she is prolific; she rarely writes anything that disappoints me.

*Ms. Roberts has three basic book types.  She has her completely fantastic, long-running Eve Dallas series written under the J.D. Robb pseudonym.  (Any author or TV writer who wants to know how to sustain a long-term, successful romance between two main characters should read this series.)  She has her "big books" that stand alone as a (usually) suspenseful romance where one of the main characters has a job or hobby that the reader learns about in great detail.  Then she has her trilogies. Families feature big in Ms. Roberts' books, so the trilogies often include a set of siblings or three friends who might as well be family (or, conveniently, both).  The trilogy characters are fairly routine after all this time.

The Next Always is the first of a trilogy, the Inn Boonsboro trilogy.  (This one will feature brothers AND three women who are close enough friends to consider themselves sisters.  Plot-wise = convenient.  Reader-wise = predictable.)  For me, at this point, the question at the beginning of each new trilogy is to see if the reiteration of the characters is engaging enough for me to read a story that, for most plot purposes, I've read before.  Is the dialogue fresh?  Are the characters believable?  Do they have interesting jobs?  Do I believe in the spark or connection between the love interests?  That's the difference between sitting down in front of a television rerun and saying "oh, look, I love this one. Don't change the channel" instead of "oh, boo, I've seen this one before." 

Not all of the trilogies hit that mark, but I'm happy to report that I really liked The Next Always.  The three brothers and their mother are renovating an old inn. That part of the story will continue through all three books.  The main characters in the first one are the architect/carpenter brother and the bookstore owner he had a huge crush on in high school.  She's now a war widow with three kids and a stalker.  The inn under renovation has a ghost.  The story of the renovation is obviously something close to Ms. Roberts' heart because that's what really drew me in.  I liked the characters, but it was their compelling purpose with the inn that made me think "oh, look, I love this one."  I finished reading it wanting to root again for my old friends**, the stock trilogy characters.

It's a romance novel, so you all know how it ends, but I think it's safe to say that you'll want to keep reading to see for yourself.  There's an inn to complete and a ghost to figure out, so I suspect you'll be back for the next two, as well--preferably cozied up in a pair of fleece pajama pants.

Pin It

Friday, December 2, 2011

There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

Have I mentioned that I love it when people recommend books for me to read?  My neighbor loaned me this one claiming it was one of her "go to" books.  She keeps it solely for the purpose of loaning it out to friends, meaning it has probably moved at least five times thanks to the Army.  If it's good enough to withstand a PCS (permanent change of station) purge (something we military spouses do regularly before we move), I had to give it a try.  I'm glad I did. 

Set in Chicago and centered around the lives of two brothers in the late 1980's/early 1990's,  "There are No Children Here" is a non-fiction piece (Don't act so shocked.  I read non-fiction...sometimes), and reports on the happenings in their lives for approximately two years.   That's it.  That's all it is.  But it is so much more.   

The brothers, Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers, live in the Henry Horner homes.   Erected in the 1950's by the Chicago Housing Authority, the Henry Horner homes brought hope and encouragement to thousands of lower income families on Chicago's south side.  By the time we meet the boys in 1985 however, hope and encouragement have turned to poverty and despair.  Unemployment is rampant among the occupants and so are drug use and gang violence.  The boys' mother, LaJoe, told the author, "There are no children here.  They've seen too much to be children."

The story isn't pretty.  The conditions in their two- bedroom apartment on the first floor of a 14-story high rise are despicable.   The plumbing doesn't work.  The heating and air-conditioning are unreliable.  Garbage overflows into the hallways.  The children spend hours on the floor in the kitchen to avoid the intermittent gunfire that takes place outside their living room window.  Oftentimes, their apartment is overflowing with relatives that need food or a place to sleep.  The boys' father regularly passes out drunk on the couch. 

It may sound odd that I found an instant connection to this book.   Theirs is a story of survival.  In the mid 1980's I was the same age as Lafayette and the only thing I had survived was a 24-hour road trip from Oklahoma to Montana in the back of a Chevy Celebrity.  (That trip was made all the more bearable thanks to my yellow Sony Walkman and Ghostbusters soundrack).  I certainly never had to worry about gunfire outside my house.  We had plumbing that worked and the trash was picked up every Monday.  But I know that I saw these boys.   I saw them every time my dad took me to a Chicago Bulls or White Sox game.  I saw them offering to "watch" cars while we went inside to the game, hoping to make a few bucks.  I saw them goofing around with their friends on the sidewalk.  I saw them then and used to say to myself, "I can't imagine living here."   

 By spending the better part of two years with the boys and their family, the author exposes us to the disturbing reality that is growing up on Chicago's west side.  I was amazed at how open the family was and  how every day was just "business as usual."  The boys may have attended a funeral of a classmate one day and then participated in a spelling bee the next.  Violence, drugs, gangs, school, work, hunger, exhaustion and love surrounded them, just not all at the same time.  I marveled at their resiliency.  The ending is neither tragic or shocking.  Actually, it's not even really an ending.  Their lives go on (I know because I googled them, hoping they hadn't succumbed to gangs or drugs).  Thanks to the generosity of the author and some other special people, they both went to college and as far as I can find, still live in Chicago.  That's it.  That's all there is for now.  But for them, it's so much more.

Pin It

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I know I'm late to the party on this series.  For those of you who haven't actually read the three books Mr. Larsen wrote before his untimely death, I recommend them.  For those of you who have read the three books Mr. Larsen wrote before his untimely death; what's up with all the sandwich references?  I have now, in a little over a week, finished the first two books in this three book series.  And that speaks well for them, because they're not short-over 1200 pages together-and they're not short on detail.  I had originally purchased The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple of years ago but due to life getting in the way I never read it.  When Sean and I went to see the movie Moneyball (Which is excellent even though I'm not a fan of the Oakland A's. I'd probably still like the movie even if it didn't have Brad Pitt in it.....but it does, so that's definitely in its favor.), one of the previews was for the movie adaptation of this book (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, not Moneyball which was also a book, but why have a preview for the movie you're about to see? That would just be weird.), and I was intrigued.  Normally I get annoyed when Hollywood infringes upon my imagination by adapting a book.  Usually the movies aren't as good as what I picture in my head, but Daniel Craig happens to be the male lead and the not-so-hard-on-the-eyes guy who played the Croatian doctor on ER is also in the movie.  (Yes, I thoroughly researched this review.  Ok.  Maybe not, but I've been busy reading!)  I can deal with having them in my head.

The books are set in Sweden, Mr. Larsen's homeland, and begin with a fairly well-known journalist being convicted of libel and in a professional pinch.  At this point in time he is offered an unusual and profitable job  by an aging head of a dwindling Swedish business empire.  Henrik Vanger would like Mikael Blomkvist to write his biography, but more to the point to find who killed his niece in the 60s.  It is an unusual offer and is surrounded by unusual circumstances, but as it is Mikael needs time to regroup before going back to work at the magazine he helped establish.  There is a lot of material to go through for the biography and the assumed murder (a body was never found) and as he is doing the research, Mikael comes to realize that the Vanger family has many and diverse personalities; few of which mesh well. 

As he gets closer to unlocking clues about Harriet Vanger's death, he comes to realize that he needs more help and that there are plenty of Vangers around who do not want him to keep looking.  Mikael gets help from Lisbeth Salander.  She happens to be the woman who did the (unknown) background check on him for Henrik Vanger.  She is whip smart, introverted to the point anti-social, and commands a computer like it's an extension of her body. She also has a mean set of survival skills and a few problems of her own.  She's not big on friendship but she and Mikael work well together.  They know they're getting closer to the truth as more and more unpleasantness occurs around and to them.

I'm going to leave the plot points at that because it's a mystery, and me telling you what happens is like skipping to the end of the book. And that's against the rules.  I will say that there are a lot of Swedish references which are foreign (duh) to those of us from the States.  For the most part I pretended as if my pronunciations were correct and I made a few assumptions about life in Sweden, mostly this; judging from the number of times they're mentioned I gleaned that sandwiches are the Swedish national bird and sex crimes are the national currency.  Those assumptions have also not been researched because they don't involve Brad Pitt or Daniel Craig.  There are several parts of the book that are uncomfortable; I'm not kidding when I say that sex crimes are a very prevalent theme and there are plenty of male characters in the book with hateful views on women.  But there are a couple of good mysteries and more than a couple interesting characters in the book as well.  I liked it.  I actually liked it a lot.

And now that I've finished my review I'm going to get the third book and make myself a sandwich.  Who's with me?!

Look!  A movie trailer!  Sure, Amy and Carrie do other fancy things, but I'm giving you Daniel Craig.  You're welcome. Pin It

Monday, November 21, 2011

Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

If you're a real nerd, there's something so infinitely romantic and appealing about steampunk.

Yeah.  I'm a real nerd.

Happily, I'm not the only one who likes steampunk.  Steampunk has made its way out of science fiction novels and wormed its way into pop culture.  It's been featured on television series like NCIS and Castle, and it's made its way into other genre of books like the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger that I've previously reviewed and the new, romance novel Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook.

Steampunk, for the uninitiated, started as a sub-genre of science fiction novels, and it's a little like an analog, mechanical alternate version of the world.  This alternate version centers around the Victorian era and develops as if inventors and scientists had worked toward creating all the cool technology of today built solely with metal and gears and without ever having plastics or sleek circuitry. (Check out this awesome picture of a steampunk interpretation of the proton packs from Ghostbusters.)  It's an interesting intersection of hard, practical science and the sweet hope of endless possibilities.

Meljean Brook has a standing series of romances that features angels and demons and vampires (and I could have sworn I reviewed one of those books, but I couldn't find it in the blog history.  Huh.)  The Iron Seas series sets aside the supernatural for the invention and science of steampunk.  The background story is fairly complicated with a Mongol Horde invasion, nanoagent infections and zombies.  The author has thoughtfully provided a basic guide to the world of the Iron Seas. She first introduced this world in a novella in the anthology Burning Up.  (The main characters of Heart of Steel made appearances in the previous installations of the Iron Seas series. I'm pretty sure you can jump into Heart of Steel without any dire consequences, but it might be easier to get into the story if you've read The Iron Duke.)

Yasmeen is the captain of the airship, Lady Corsair, and Archimedes Fox is an adventurer and treasure-hunter.  Their paths have crossed before, but this time they need to combine their wits instead of matching them while they try to uncover enough lost treasure to fund their ultimate goals--repayment of an old debt of Archimedes' and retribution for Yasmeen's lost crew and airship.  This story has enough assassins, mercenaries, rebels, zombies, gliders, airships, and war machines to make for a full adventure and fast-moving plot.  Even if Yasmeen and Archimedes were only friends this story would still be a worthwhile read, but there's more to this story as Yasmeen and Archimedes fall for each other in an infinitely appealing and romantic way that matches the steampunk genre.  It's the hope of endless possibilities that allows for a tough mercenary airship captain to fall for a man after so many have betrayed her.  It's the nerdy obsession of a adventurer and travel hunter that leads to his love for his unconventional lady.

Heart of Steel  is an escapist romp for your inner nerd and closet romantic. 
Pin It

Friday, November 18, 2011

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

As the official Debbie Downer of TFA, I feel I need to defend my reading choices.  It's true I gravitate toward books with heavier subjects.  Often, they are about things I will never experience or witness in my lifetime.  I have little in common with sixteenth or seventeenth century slaves.  I have never had to witness a family member do something unspeakably illegal or immoral.  I have not been abducted and forced to live in seclusion for years.  My childhood was happy, surrounded by family members who are unique, quirky, often obnoxious, but still part of a loving family.  I have lost loved ones but for the most part to the everyday causes of age and illness.  In sum, I do not read the books I read because I'm seeking a kindred spirit or character in a similar situation.  I read the books I read because they are not part of my familiar.  By reading books like Little Bee, I get to hear voices of others that I would most likely never hear otherwise.  I can't do anything about the institution of slavery. I can personally affect little change to human rights issues in Africa.  I can not undo the pain and emotional toll that broken people have on others.  But I can show that I care by listening to their voices.  I read the books I read because these voices have important stories and the worst thing I could do (in my opinion and I'm only speaking for me here) is not listen.  

Little Bee is an important voice.  It is both beautiful and difficult to read.  The pain, in parts, is palpable.  The brokenness of the situation is too large to ever be fully corrected.  The characters are not always easy to love, or even like.  But you should read it.  You should read it if for nothing else as a reminder of what you have that can not be taken from you.  You should also read it because the language is beautiful.  Sometimes I had to stop reading and just sit and think about the words I had read....not necessarily the story, but the words. {Side note:  Am I alone in this?  Does anyone else ever get caught up in how the author was able to string together commonplace words and end up making extraordinary thoughts?  I'm just WAY jealous of the people who can do that.  Perhaps using "dude" less in conversation will increase my chances of making something beautiful.  Whatever, dude.}  For example,  Little Bee says (on page nine in the event you want to look it up) "I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar makers want us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived."  Those are all ordinary words but they come to mean something a lot more the way Mr. Cleave put them together.  And that's not the only thing well-written throughout the story.

The plot itself is fairly complicated, as life tends to be.  Little Bee in an immigrant to England from Nigeria. When we meet her, she is in a detention center for immigrants awaiting proper documentation or judgment.  The women in the center are in limbo.  When Little Bee is released she sets off for the one contact she has in England; a couple she met on a beach in Nigeria under horrible circumstances.  The story then becomes how she and the wife begin to navigate new lives.  The wife must learn what life is without her husband and as a single mother, while Little Bee must learn to live in a new place with her old memories.  There are a lot of other secrets to come out and the back of the book asks me not to tell you what happens, and I won't because you should really read it for yourself.  It may be sad, but as Little Bee says, "Sad words are just another beauty." (Also on page nine!  Dude!)  So read it.  Be thankful for what you have.  Find beauty in your scars.
Pin It

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

My streak continues.  Which streak, you ask?  The one where I forget to post on time?  Yes.  They one where I review another book that could be construed as depressing?  Again, yes.  What can I say?  At least I am consistent.

Jodi Picoult is one of my very favorite authors.  I feel funny saying that though, because I have only read two of her books.  The first one I read was The Pact .  I don't have much patience for teen angst/immature romance (think Twilight), but those themes did not bother me at all in that book.  I think the fact that the author writes in such a matter-of-fact way is the key for me.  The downside to her matter-of-fact style of writing is that I have to take LONG breaks in between her books.  They wear me out.  I am emotionally invested from page one and I can't get let go until the very last page.  After I read one of her books, I need to read at least four or five books from different authors before I can read another one. 

I read Nineteen Minutes about a year ago.  Does that tell you anything?  I still think about it.  Now that my children are getting older and I hear stories of questionable behavior in their schools, I think about this book even more.  I decided to review it after I saw a story on the news last night about a child from my own neighborhood that is being bullied at school.  It reminded me of this book and triggered a lot of the same emotions I had while reading it.

The synopsis from the book website says:  In Sterling, New Hampshire, 17-year-old high school student Peter Houghton has endured years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of classmates. His best friend, Josie Cormier, succumbed to peer pressure and now hangs out with the popular crowd that often instigates the harassment. One final incident of bullying sends Peter over the edge and leads him to commit an act of violence that forever changes the lives of Sterling’s residents.  

So what did I think?  I think Jodi Picoult can make every situtaion feel like it is happening to you.  In those nineteen minutes, I was the kid being bullied, angry and embarrassed from being teased over and over again.  I was one of the victims, scared and huddled in the corner of the gym.  I was the mom/judge presiding over the ensuing case, trying to be fair, yet torn that the fate of a young teen was in my hands.  I could put myself into each of these situations so easily because of the direct way it was written.  I love that in a book.

Second, the book was nonstop "go."  I would finish a chapter and literally take a deep breath before I started the next one. I couldn't wait to start the next chapter, but I needed a breather to get up the gumption to do so.  The book was full of real-life action, real-life emotions and real-life drama.  There was never a dull chapter or character that I felt I wanted to rush through to get to the next one.  I love that in a book, too.

I powered through this book in two days. And I'm pretty sure I neglected all of my mom duties while doing so.  That being said, I think it's time for another Jodi Picoult novel.  Do we have any  Jodi Picoult fans out there?  What are some of the emotions you experience from reading her books?  Let us know what you think.

Pin It

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Prey by Linda Howard

For my day job (because, you know, this blogging thing isn't QUITE full-time for me yet), we throw around a concept called "the wheel of retailing" and make blanket assertions about how ALL retailers are subject to the wheel*.   It seems unlikely that all retailers follow the same pattern, but enough, noticeable, national retailers have followed these steps that we feel comfortable making sweeping claims about ALL retailers. 

*Retailers often start as discount-price retailers in order to make a name for themselves, but as they expand in product selection and geographic presence, they become full-price retailers.  This leaves an opening for new retailers to break into the market with discount prices.

In my spare time (because, you know, I haven't found a way to get paid for my reading yet), I've noticed a disconcerting concept that I'll call "the wheel of romance".  I'm not going to make a blanket assertion about ALL romance authors being subject to the wheel**.  I know that all romance authors don't follow the same pattern, but enough, noticeable, New York Times bestsellers (e.g. Iris Johansen, Catherine Coulter, Elizabeth Lowell) have followed these steps that I feel comfortable raising the point.

**Romance authors often start out (well, duh) writing romance to make a name for themselves, but as their sales expand in volume and geographic presence, the writing becomes less about two characters getting together and more merely telling a tale.  This leaves an opening in my library as I get annoyed with romance writers failing to write romance.  (Oddly, at this point, the prices of these authors' books have traveled a wheel of retailing pattern, too.)

I raise this point not merely to make a tenuous connection between my day job and this blog, but because I've found another author, Linda Howard, who seems subject to the wheel of romance.  Linda Howard has written some seriously hot and seriously engaging books that I really, really liked (e.g. After the Night, Dream  Man, Mackenzie's Mountain).  Prey did not earn the engaging and hot label.  I actually skimmed ahead quite a bit; most times I consider skimming an unpardonable sin.  However, when your readers expect a romance, it is poor form to force them through 200 pages of a 300+ page book to find the second scene where the two main characters interact.  How am I supposed to root for them to get together if they're never together? Seriously poor form.  Skimming was then allowed.

Also, if you've made your name in the romance genre, the ending is presumed.  There will be a happily-ever-after, so it's hard to build up to a suspenseful ending if your readers are thinking "hurry up resolve the whole man-eating black bear and murderous embezzling money launderer subplots so we can get to the GOOD stuff".  That's right.  There's a murderous embezzling money launderer AND a man-eating black bear in this book, and I wanted them both to go away.  In reality, Howard's book have been trending this way for several years, but most of them still managed to be interesting and compelling.  In particular, Up Close and Dangerous was much more a survival novel than a romance, but at least the two main character where stuck in the survival situation together.  In Prey, the survival pieces are fairly solitary.  And solitary is not a good word for a romance novelist.

As a matter of fact, this may be the solitary Linda Howard book on my Nook for the near future.  I'll probably take a pass on her next book and look for someone to fill the hole in my library--someone who is at the early stages of the wheel of romance.

Where do you like your books to be on the wheel of romance?  Heavy on the suspense or just hot and heavy?  Is this not your "wheel" at all?
Pin It

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Short and sweet because we have fun things happening here today.

I read this when Sean was deployed right after we got married.  I picked it up because it was on a "Buy 2 Get 1" table in Barnes and Noble.  It piqued my interest with its mix of fiction and nonfiction.  And I had already picked out two other books, so why not get this one for free?

This is a book of short stories that center around the men in O'Brien's platoon during the Vietnam War.  He himself grappled with the war's objective and seriously considered a life in Canada ultimately to end up serving and surviving in less than ideal circumstances.  These stories are nonfiction as they are based on actual people and actual events.  They are fiction because some people have been made into a singular character rather than the actual multiple people they were.  Some events are based on O'Brien's beliefs of what actually took place.  It is an odd but easy mix.

The stories are both matter-of-fact and heartfelt.  "The Things They Carried" goes through what one would find in the rucksacks of the men in this platoon: radios, ammunition, weapons, food, water  and their respective weights.   O'Brien also discusses the intangibles they carried:  hopes, fears, responsibility, dreams, cowardice, bravery and their immeasurable weights.  The distance the first lieutenant feels between himself and his love interest at home is characterized as unimpeachable because they "belong to different worlds," and though I've never been a soldier in a war I felt every word that O'Brien wrote about that subject.

Not every story focuses on time of war but also looks at how the soldiers dealt with returning home and how they dealt with not bringing everyone back with them.  It is an easy, enlightening, heartbreaking read.  I would even be willing to pay full price for it.  Now that's a recommendation. Pin It

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Veterans Day Giveaway

Do you know a military family who wants a free romance novel? Here's a giveaway for soldiers, veterans and military spouses!

Julia Quinn writes historical romances, and they are not "Civil War" romances.

Feel free to pass this along and spread the joy! Pin It

Monday, October 31, 2011

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

First, let me give props where they are due.  Thank you to my friend Lora for recommending this book.  We at The Family Addiction (TFA, as we call ourselves) LOVE when our followers recommend books for us to read.  We especially love when our followers recommend a really good book like this one.  Reading and reviewing a book is far more fun if we know you are waiting to hear what we thought about it.  Um, and it also keeps us accountable and helps us post on time.  These are good things.

Billed for readers grade 7 and up, Unwind is set in the future. The second civil war, which broke out over abortion, has just ended thanks to a treaty called "The Bill of Life."  To satisfy both the pro-life an pro-choice camps, the Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched until the age of 13.  However, between the ages of 13 to 18 a parent may choose to retroactively abort their child. The process of retroactively aborting a child is called "unwinding." Connor, Risa and Lev, the three "unwinds" that have escaped their unwinding, are the main focus of the novel and are our tour guides through their quest to stay alive.  If they can reach the age of 18 without being caught, they are free to live a normal live and will not be unwound.  If caught, they will be unwound and their organs and limbs will be harvested and used for transplants. 

You need to read this book.  No matter what your beliefs, your views and opinions on life and our species will be challenged.  I won't sugar coat it.  It made me uncomfortable.   It was impossible to be engaged with these kids as they faced the end of their lives and not compare it to my life.  Would this have been an option for me if my life had turned out differently?  What if we really did have a second world war?  What if retroactive abortion was available in our society today?   What would our world look like?

One of the reasons I was so involved was that the author made these teens and their stories so personal.  Not only do I know kids like these, I used to BE a kid like this.  The only difference  is that at one time or another, their parents decided they didn't want them anymore and signed an order to have them unwound.  Let's face more incident like the one the summer I turned 17 and I'm pretty sure my mom would have signed that order.

The beauty of this book is that the author doesn't take one side or the other.  There are pros (diseased children can get a perfect transplant from an unwind) and cons of the process.  There was no preaching, no hidden agenda.  I swear, the internal dialogue this book promoted was scary.  I finished the book over a week ago and still think about it on daily basis.  So how did it end?  The end was the end.  Except for me the end was the beginning and the beginning is a whole new way of looking at life. 

Pin It

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heat Rises by Richard Castle

There's something odd about reading a book "written" by a television character.  Of course, when I use the phrase "television character", I don't mean someone who's quite the character on television like Craig Ferguson (although, he is quite fun and he did write two books). No, no. I mean an actual fictional character on television.

(Uh, can you have an actual fictional anything?  This post was NOT supposed to be a philosophy test.)

Heat Rises  is the third book attributed to Richard Castle, the eponymous main character of the television crime show, "Castle", on ABC.  Richard Castle is portrayed, with great humor and charm, by Nathan Fillion.  The  person who ghost writes the books for Richard Castle is unknown.

Let me first say that I love "Castle".  It's fun and silly and witty all while solving a crime.  Oh, and did I mention Nathan Fillion?  (Yum.) That means there are many, many lovely things about the television show.  If you're not watching it, and you like mysteries or cop shows, you should be watching it.  If you're not watching it, but you enjoyed Nathan Fillion in "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog" or "Firefly", you should be watching it.

(I would like to take this moment to thank my sister for introducing me to "Castle."

Thanks, Sarah!  You were totally right.)

Now, let's get back to this thing where there are three books purported to be written by a fictional television character.  I really can't think of another instance of this happening other than the series of murder mysteries written by Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury's character on "Murder, She Wrote."  I think we can just agree it's odd and then move on.  (Which is ironic because I've taken six paragraphs to get past my first point. Can we all also agree to do as I say and not as I do for the duration of this post?  Thanks.)

I want to move on because I think the books are worth reading even if you don't watch "Castle."  It's not a requirement. I do think, however, that "Castle" fans will like the Richard Castle books better because of their familiarity with the characters.  In the books, Nikki Heat (the fictionalized book version of fiction television character Kate Beckett) gets stuck with Jameson Rook (Rook, Castle, Rook, Castle.  Get it?), an investigative journalist, for a series of ride-alongs.  The ride alongs only take place in the first book.  After that, it's Rook's and Heat's personal relationship that keeps them solving crimes together.

Heat Rises, like the other two Richard Castle books, are fun, easy reads.  I would call them beach reads.  They're light on the crime scene science and heavier on basic cop work and personal relationships.  "Castle" fans will find some corollaries between the last season of the show and this book.  Although, they are not one in the same.  The books are not mere re-hashing of episodes of "Castle". There are hints of corruption, unseen influence and connections between crimes past and crimes present.  In Heat Rises, Nikki Heat tries to solve the murder of a priest found in domination and submission dungeon.  The stakes are high as Heat is up for promotion and a target for those who don't want internal corruption exposed.  She puts her life and her career on the line.  The crime is solved, but not without great cost to those who love Nikki Heat.

Heat Rises ends with a bit of cliff-hanger, so I won't post anything about the final pages.  I will end by saying that this book is a great way to spend time enjoying characters I normally only see on Monday nights on ABC.

Other books by Richard Castle include Heat Wave and Naked Heat. Pin It

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

So last night I labored over the world's best book review.  It was tough, I was working from my iPad while I was trying to ignore the Cardinals beating themselves up.  I'm not fast or accurate on the touch pad keyboard, so it was slow going.  However my desktop was "updating" for like seven days and only now is available to me because I gave it the stink eye and told it to quit futzing and update already.  The review was sooooo well written.  I laughed, I cried, I never dangled a single participle or broke up the grammar world's "it" couple; the infinitive.  Then I went to link the book title to Amazon, cause I don't know if you've noticed but we're all polite and make it easy for you to share our book habits, and Blogger ate my review.  I was mad.  I still am.  And now you have to suffer because I'm not capable of writing TWO amazing reviews in two nights.  You would have loved the other review.  Trust me.

I'm still reviewing the same book, but probably more abruptly.  Not because the book doesn't deserve praise, but because I'm not giving Blogger another chance to make like an amateur magician damn it.  Carrie gave me this book to read several months ago.  And I should have read it when she gave it to me because every time she hands me a book and says "I really think you'll like this.", she's usually right.  This is especially true when it comes to romances because I don't naturally gravitate them on my own; me being the Debbie Downer of this book blog and all.  Carrie has recommended other Jennifer Crusie books to me and I liked all the ones I have read.  Carrie can correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure she's read all of them.  I might too when I'm in the mood for something fun and fast.

What I like about Ms. Crusie as an author is that she seems to truly understand that ordinary people don't have to be boring.  Her characters can have personalities without having to have supernatural gifts or love affairs with people who have supernatural gifts.  There are, of course, extraordinary circumstances in most of her books but that's more for providing plot points rather than providing a situation in which to create substance.  The substance is in her characters and it's fun to read about how her characters navigate through the ordinary and extraordinary.  That makes total sense in my head.  It is my sincere hope it also makes sense in words.  Mr. Mayer is an author who also happens to be former Special Forces.  Clearly I don't know much about him other than he and Ms. Crusie make a lovely writing team.

Agnes is in the middle of planning her god daughter's wedding while trying to renovate her newly purchased, secluded mansion, and still write her food column before her deadline.  Things aren't going swimmingly and that's before the not-so-professional attempts on her life occur.  Fortunately Agnes can wield a frying pan like none other, and help is nearby.  The help part is essential as the hitmen become more and more professional and the mansion and the wedding are really more than one person should have to deal with in a week as it is.  As an added bonus, help happens to be pretty hot.  Turns out South Carolina is a hotbed of a mob retirement community and just about everyone involved - even remotely - in the wedding has a secret.  Never fear...our hero hitman has it covered.

The characters are fun, the action is fast, and the ending is happy.  What more could you ask for?  Ms. Crusie and Mr. Mayer have written two other books as a writing team; Wild Ride and Don't Look Down.  I read those after I finished Agnes.  I liked them both, particularly Wild Ride, but I liked Agnes the best.  OK, I'm hitting "Publish" now.  Fingers crossed!  If this doesn't work I'm going to need a hitman myself. Pin It

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Hunt by Jan Neuharth

Look at that!  I taught myself how to insert a picture of the book cover!  Fancy, huh?  Sadly, this may be the most exciting part of this review. 

The Hunt is set in Virginia, just outside of DC, and tells the story of a wealthy lawyer and horseman named Doug Cummings.  Poor Doug becomes the victim of a scheme to frame him for murder when his lover and horse groom are killed.  (I didn't know what a horse groom was either, don't feel bad).  The local sheriff's deputy has it in for him and it appears the media does too.  Doug must take matters into his own hands in order to prove his innocence because even his own attorney thinks he is guilty.

Sound kind of lame?  It was.  I found that it started slow and never really picked up speed.  If it is a good mystery, I'm usually hooked by at least Chapter 3.  By Chapter 3 of The Hunt I was already planning my next read. The biggest issue stems from the fact that I never felt connected to Doug.  The author depicted him as a single, distinguished lawyer who kept to himself and whose favorite pastime was hanging out in the barn with his horses.  As a result, he came across as aloof and uncommitted.  The deputy sheriff in the novel was a modern-day Barney Fife with an anger management problem, if you can wrap your mind around that.  Honestly, the only character in the book that struck a chord with me was the housekeeper.  Her commitment and loyalty to Doug throughout the story was the lone highlight, in my opinion.

The extremely predictable ending lends itself to a sequel, or worse yet, a series. Figures. I finally read the first in a series and it turns out to be a dud. I think I'll go back to reading a series out of order.  I have better luck that way.

Pin It

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Moon Dance by J.R. Rain

If you're a Kindle person, act now.  Follow this link and Moon Dance is free right now.  At that price, it's totally worth it.

Oops.  That was a little meaner than it should have been.  Moon Dance is worth at least the 99 cents I paid for it at Barnes & Noble.

Moon Dance is a paranormal-mystery-romance with characters that I either didn't like or wouldn't as well developed as I would like.

Samantha Moon is the main character, and she's a former federal agent who has become a private investigator.  Her job change followed an even bigger change from typical suburban mom with kids and carpools to atypical suburban mom with vampirism she's trying to disguise as an intense allergy to the sun.

Samantha gets hired to find out who shot a famous defense attorney.  She struggles to find the culprit just as she struggles with her new condition.  Her marriage is in upheaval, she's falling for her client, she's got a quasi-friendship, quasi-romance going with someone online, and her client has a major secret.  To top it all off, she allows her husband to blackmail into giving up the kids in their upcoming divorce based on some of seriously flimsy logic.  He claims that no judge will allow her access to her kids if he shows video evidence of her vampirism, but this book's "world" doesn't acknowledge vampires and werewolves and such.  So how in the world can a father file a "my ex is vampire and a danger to our kids" motion?  He'd be laughed out of court.

Samantha didn't elicit a lot of sympathy from me.  Her client wasn't a well-developed character, and the most interesting person in the story is one we never meet--the online pal.

Samantha does solve the mystery in the end, and she works on accepting her vampiric state.  This is  the first book of a four-book series, but I don't plan to stick around to see how much progress she makes. Pin It

Monday, October 10, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

In honor of Columbus Day, I'm reviewing a book about finding a whole other world.  It's just that the whole other world in Room happens to be everything outside of the 11 ft by 11 ft room where the narrator, Jack, and his mother are being held.  And just to clear this up:  No, I don't think Columbus "discovered" America first. No, I don't think he was probably an amazing altruistic explorer just really digging some new scenery.  But also, no, I don't think he knew that he was about to wipe out a significant portion of an indigenous population with venereal disease.  Weapons probably, but I don't think we can honestly paint him as a mastermind in biological warfare.  You know, seeing as how germ theory and comprehension of the immune system amounted to "What theory?" and "Beg pardon?" during Columbus's time.  Not to mention that personal hygiene was pretty much watching where you stepped around livestock and that was about it.

Anyway, back to the book.  Jack narrates the story of how he and his mother live in and escape from Room, as well as how they adapt to Outside.  Ma (five-year-old Jack's mother conveniently) was abducted when she was 19.  She's been living in Room for the past seven years of her life.  Room is well concealed, soundproof, and where she is beginning to think she will raise her son and then die.  If you're doing the math, then you realize that Jack is born in Room.  He knows nothing of the outside world with the exception of what he sees on their television.  And Ma tells him that none of it is real; it's all stories made up from different planets.  Room is truly the only thing in Jack's world.  Ma does her best to give him "normal" under the circumstances.  She does some amazing things with what little they are given by their captor.

Ma figures out a plan to escape which involves pretending Jack is dead.  That part was hard to read, as I kept thinking that she was asking WAY too much of the boy.  That even if they managed to fool "Old Nick" (their captor) then Jack would be so confused by the outside world that everything would fall apart and end badly for everyone involved.  Fortunately, the escape is rocky but successful.  What follows next is Jack's account of living in the outside world.  There are many, many things that are foreign to him - for example, he's never seen of had to climb up/down stairs before - and many of them are unpleasant to a little boy who has only known physical and emotional closeness to his mother.  Everyday noises seem sudden and too loud to him.  Shoes hurt his feet.  The sun is too bright (there was a small soundproof skylight in Room but that was it for natural light) and the air is too breezy.  During this part of the book, I couldn't help but think they should seek out some autism parents as most of us can now identify potential stimuli hazards from a mile away.

The book also touches on the difficult transition for Ma, though it's from Jack's perspective so we don't get all the details.  Her family, after searching and searching for her, held a funeral for her.  Now she's back with a five-year-old son.  Her parents have divorced, her brother has his own family, and she's not sure how she's supposed to fit in.  They're different and she's different.  In the end, nothing is perfect but there is hope that it will get better as time passes.  I have to say that I enjoyed this book after I was initially a wee bit annoyed by the narration (Jack capitalizes a lot, but then I realized that was actually what he should do.  When you think that the light shining on the table is the only one in existence, you should call it Lamp.).  Once I got into the feel of it though, it was a pretty fast read.  For those worried about child abuse issues, Jack and "Old Nick" rarely have any interaction.  "Old Nick" never abuses (in any way) Jack.  Obviously holding him captive is an issue, but Ma is really the one meant to be in Room.  A very interesting book and, in my opinion, worth the time to read. Pin It

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance

Thank you, Barnes and Noble, for yet another cheap/free book.  This one was by far my favorite "ebook for cheap" and deservedly so.  It had all the elements of a winner for me.  Crime drama?  Check.  In depth police investigation?  Check.  Ruggedly handsome, almost middle-aged, sensitive detective?  Check.  I must admit,  I swooned while reading this book.  It didn't hurt that it was a fast page-turner as well.  I read it in a weekend.

J.P. Beaumont (the detective I swooned over) is investigating the murder of a 5-year-old girl who seems to have been an innocent victim of a fanatical cult.  Detective Beaumont must make heads or tails of this investigation in fast order and it won't be easy.  Her mother is being closely guarded by cult members, the head of the cult is a highly suspicious character and the girl's biological father is a recently ousted cult member.  Struggling to find answers, J.P. runs in to a beautiful, intriguing woman at the victim's funeral.  She captivates J.P. from the first moment he sees her and she offers to lend a hand with the investigation.  A self-proclaimed victim's advocate, Anne Corley helps J.P. with many aspects of his case and they eventually find themselves in a relationship.  Unfortunately, a tragic accident in the last 5 pages of the book leaves J.P. back where he started.  And this time, we just aren't sure if he will find the answers.  We have to read the next book, Injustice for All to find out.

For me, this book had the right balance of crime/mystery/romance.  Well, not so much romance...more like what I call "a helping of romance on the side."  If I wanted to read romance, I would read romance.  Duh.  But straight-up crime novels would get boring after a while, so I like my books with a helping of romance.  On the side.  No mustard.  Also, I was afraid I wouldn't get through the book when I found out it was about a murdered five-year-old girl.  I try to steer clear of anything to do with violence against children (I can't even watch most episodes of Law & Order SVU) because it makes me too emotional.  This book didn't go into too much detail surrounding the actual murder, so I was okay with it. 

Hands down, my favorite part of the book was J.P.  (And no, it's not because that was what my husband used to go know, before he insisted that people call him Joshua).  He is everything a good male detective should be.  Driven, considerate, empathetic, and downright cool.   He is a good partner.  He's been unlucky in love, but it doesn't consume him. The author spent a lot of time on J.P. and it worked.  All other detectives will now be compared to him.  I can't wait to read more.
Finally, let me apologize for recommending yet another book in a series.  Really though, it seems like all books these days are one in a series, so I can't be blamed.  Plus, think of it as my gift to you.  You can now spend more time reading and less time working, doing laundry, or any of the other important tasks you should be doing instead of reading a book that Amy Trimble thinks you should read.  You're welcome.

Pin It

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone by W. H. Auden

Some of my favorite people are grieving right now or are remembering their initial grief as they acknowledge the anniversary of a loss. My heart and prayers go out to them all.

What strikes me at these times is that the world is such a rude place.  While you hurt that deep ache of loss, while the pain makes you curl up into a ball, the world keeps on turning.  The sun rises, clocks tick, grass grows, and time goes on.  And still you grieve.  More than likely you have good friends and family who know of your pain, but there's never any acknowledgment by the Universe (and, yes, I meant for that to be capitalized).  How can that be?  Surely your grief can blot out the sun. The Universe should be obligated to acknowledge THAT.

I'm not doing a very good job of describing this, but I'm not sure anyone could articulate it better than W.H. Auden did in his poem "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone".

I first heard this read as part of the script of the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral".  I thought the movie was uneven, but that the poem was pitch perfect.  In those words--that I've included in this post--Auden highlighted the hugeness of grief, how it seems, surely, that the world is changed by our hurt.  The words are meant for the grief of your beloved, but I think most of the sentiment is shared whenever  you lose someone close.

"Stop all the clocks" ends on a harshly pessimistic note, but I think that's fair.  I think that's despair, and I pray that all your despair be temporary.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone by W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good. Pin It

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My advice is to read this before they make it a movie.  Because I'd bet a substantial number of dollars that it will be made into one in the near future.  Also, I will be going to see that movie.  Unless of course they cast Leo DiCaprio as the lead, and then they're going to need to give away free popcorn to convince me to buy a ticket. Well, actually that may not be true.  That's how much I liked this story.  I liked this story enough to watch the King of the World! over-emote all over it.

There's magic (like, for real magic), intrigue, a circus (obviously), romance, and a lot of characters in this book. Not to mention a substantial number of pages- 501 by my iPad's count- but worth every page.  I downloaded the book on Thursday evening, did my best to ignore my children even while they weren't feeling well, and finished the book on Wednesday.  So 500 pages in 6 days as a geographically single mother of two small children; another glowing endorsement.

The story centers around Marco and Celia, strangers who have been pitted against one another in a magician's duel of sorts.  Except here the magic is real and it's disguised as illusion.  Marco and Celia know they're in a competition but they don't know any other rules, or even who their competition may be, for a long time.  The orchestrators of the competition are two powerful magicians with different philosophies on instruction, one just happens to be Celia's father.  What Marco and Celia don't realize is that the winner of the competition is the one that actually endures the competition:  the one alive at the end is the victor.  That is not to say that one of the competitors has to kill the other, just that one has to be strong enough to outlast the other.  It's an odd competition, but I liked it anyway.

The scene of the competition is Le Cirque de Reves.  The circus of all circuses, it's done entirely in black, white and silver.  It shows up overnight without advanced warning, operates from sundown to sunrise, and has a magic all of its own.  As Marco and Celia (both attached to the circus in different ways: he is the assistant of the circus proprietor and she is the circus illusionist) realize the competition is to be played out there, they both realize and acknowledge one another as an opponent.  What follows is the addition of amazing elements to the circus.  He creates an ice garden as a "move" in the competition, to which she replies with a charmed carousel. They both must create and maintain these magical places within the circus, while at the same time never truly revealing that is in fact magic powering these spectacles.  During the competition they fall for one another.

There are many other story lines and the book jumps from place to place/period to period with descriptions of the elements of the circus interspersed between.  It could be tedious and overwhelming, but the magic of this book is that it's not tedious and overwhelming.  I wanted to go to this circus (and I'm not all that big on circuses).  I wanted to know about the other characters (and there are quite a few).  I wanted there to be a happy ending for everyone involved (and if you read this blog, you know most of the books I read are not considered uplifting).  And most importantly for a lover of books and stories, I didn't want this book to end.  Now I'm kind of stuck in a book hangover - after that last book it's hard to find one that I think will compare.  If I had a hard copy of the book, I'd be passing it around for others to read.  Sharing books is about as magical as I get.  So go check it out.  Then let me know if you'd be a reveur too. Pin It

Monday, September 26, 2011

Marked by Elisabeth Naughton


That sums up my reaction to Marked by Elisabeth Naughton.  I bought it because it was described as a steamy paranormal romance, but it hit two of those categories (paranormal romance) better than the other (steamy).  And those two hits? They left me underwhelmed.  This isn't a bad book, but I won't go back for more.  That disappoints me because I love to discover new authors. 

The paranormal premise is twist on classic Greek mythology where a parallel land, Argolea, is protected by a group of guardians descended from Achilles, Heracles, Jason, Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus, and Bellerophon.  The hero is one of those guardians, and he comes to our world on a mission to save his betrothed.  Alas, he falls for our heroine (his betrothed's half-sister) who he thinks will die if he completes his mission.


The paranormal is underwhelming because it takes a well-known mythology and just, well, messes with it. None of the other world characters are endearing.   So, yes, underwhelming.

The romance is underwhelming because it's what I call a"Civil War" romances.  You know? The kind where the Southern belle falls for a Yankee officer, and politics, and war, and family allegiance keep the two lovers apart.  These romances are full of angst.  I am not, by nature, an angst-y girl, so I find "Civil War" romances annoying.  A hero who falls for someone he's committed to kill or defeat or humiliate is a lousy set-up for happily ever after in my book.  So, yes, underwhelming.

And the steam?  It mostly wishful.  After all, when the Civil War keeps lovers apart, they can only dream about making steam.

But if you like the turmoil of "Civil War" romances, feel free to check it out.  The reviews are nicer than mine.

Pin It

Friday, September 23, 2011

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

So I'm typing this with a toddler on my lap.  He's cute and he's got some crazy hair, but he's not so hot at dictation.  I'm currently ready The Night Circus and am digging it quite a bit.  It has a nice mix of eccentricity and intrigue.  However, my reading keeps getting interrupted by my children.  They're so rude.  It's not like they can't take care of themselves; they are, after all, 4 and 1.5 years old.  They should be able to cook their own meals and entertain themselves.  As it is, they make me do that stuff for them and that's why I'm reviewing a children's book today.......well, really a children's author.

For anyone who has small children or knows someone who has small children or knows someone who will be buying for small children (Lord, how many small children are there?), I recommend pretty much anything Sandra Boynton has written.  Our current favorite is Moo, Baa, La La La!  It's our favorite mostly because it allows us to make fools of ourselves when imitating animal sounds.  It also allows my 1.5 year old to shake his teacher finger and say "No, no!" which is very exciting when you're one and half.  This particular story is actually more of a list of animals and the noises they make rather than an actual story but seeing as the target audience is little humans, I think that's just fine.  All of Ms. Boynton's books have an easy flow of words; almost always rhyming but not in an obnoxious fashion.  The books are not long, so that's a good start for littles with attention issues.  I can get my two to sit for an entire round of Pajama Time!, no problem.  These books are cute and fun.

One of the things I like about Ms. Boynton's books are her illustrations.  Ranging from barnyard animals to monsters who steal and then fix your birthday fun, they all have cute somewhat whimsical drawings.  Even more exciting than that is the frequency of silly songs in the books.  Snuggle Puppy and The Belly Button Book have my favorite songs, and as my daughter grows older she has yet to abandon the songs from these stories.  Possibly more exciting than that is that Ms. Boynton's board books (Which are an invention from heaven when dealing with little humans; our books have taken a swim, been run over, been attacked by Oreo, been the rope substitute in an unfortunate tug-of-war circumstance, and although they don't look new, they can still be read and loved.  And I have no idea why Oreo went all DEATH TO BOOKS! that day.  He has since come to an accord with all literature in our house.  It is a golden age of peace.) are now part of a larger franchise.  I have the Moo, Baa, La La La! app on my iPod Touch.  There are song books and recordings of the songs as sung by various celebrities.  There are family planners and calendars featuring Boynton illustrations.  She's everywhere and I can't say as I don't think she doesn't deserve the success.  After all, her books made me want to type a review with a toddler on my lap.  Even while he shakes his teacher finger at me and says "No, no!"

Check out the awesome at her official web page!

Pin It

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Want to judge romance?

Do you like romance novels?
Do you like free books? (I can't believe I asked that.)
Are you opinionated?  (That's probably why we're friends.)

Here's a link to the National Readers Choice Awards sponsored by the Oklahoma Romance Writers of America.  They're looking for judges.

I signed up!  Let me know if you did, too! Pin It

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Oh boy.  Where do I start?  I set out to read A Reliable Wife because I saw at least five people reading it on my flights to and from Illinois this summer.  Couple that with the fact that my kids would have some new and exciting entertainment for a few weeks (aka grandparents), I decided to give it a try.  I then forgot about it and it got buried in my e library not to be heard from in months.  Foreshadowing, anyone?  Those of you who regularly read this blog (we LOVE you, by the way and are planning some contests in the near future) know that it's Sarah that usually reads the depressing, sad books.  She would LOVE this book.  Here's why:

The book is set in rural Wisconsin (yay, Midwest!) in the early 1900's.  A man, Ralph Truitt, places a want ad in a Chicago newspaper looking for "a reliable wife."  Ralph has had the most unfortunate of lives, including an abusive childhood, tumultuous marriage, and the subsequent death of his first wife and daughter.  Plus, his only living relative, his stepson, refuses to have any contact with him.  Just about the only thing he has going for him is that he is extremely wealthy and can afford to place an ad in a paper looking for a reliable wife.

A seemingly simple, reliable woman answers his ad and arrives by train to her new life in Wisconsin.  Ralph showers Catherine with material wealth, trying to find peace and yearning to live out his remaining years being loved by a woman.   As the tale unfolds, we learn that Catherine has had a most depressing life of her own and comes from the streets of Chicago where she eked out a living as a "companion" for men.  The two make an interesting pair but their relationship turns tragic when Ralph becomes sick.  There are so many disgusting moral plot twists in this book, you should read it for yourself if you are interested.  I don't want to give too much away, but I literally read the last 75 pages with my mouth open.  How can one man to be so unlucky?  How can so many people in one family be so dysfunctional?  Where do they all find such copious amounts of forgiveness?  How can Sarah read so many books with such sad, heartbreaking undertones? 

I will say that it was nice to take a break from my normal genre and read something that evoked such different emotions.  My mystery/tough chick/crime spree dramas and my young adult fantasies don't usually make me shake my head in wonder.  Nor do they make me say a little prayer of thanksgiving that my life turned out the way it did.  Geesh.  But, my normal genres DO usually make me want to read more. Quite often I  find myself wanting more.  More books.  More mystery.  More fantasy.  Not so with this book.  No more Ralph and Catherine and their miserable lives.  Please.  It's JUST.TOO.SAD.

I also understand that this type of literature has a place.  It is no less of a work of art than any other novel.  Not everything needs to be a crime drama or full of vampires and wizards.  But the next time I am on plane, I'll be the one with my head down engrossed in my mystery about vampire crimes against wizards (Hey...that might actually make a good book!).  I'm boring that way.

Pin It

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Dear Kathy Reichs,

We need to talk.

First, I'd like to tell you that I love your Temperance Brennan series.  I read a lot of murder mysteries, especially in the sub-category of police procedurals, and you write a mean one.  Flash and Bones is no exception.  In fact, much about the plot and character interactions make it one of your betters ones.  Because Tempe is a forensic pathologist, her experience and wisdom can be used in ways that seem pretty dry to me.  Flash and Bones with its missing persons case elements involves a lot more outside-the-lab investigating; it's hard to lecture on skeletal forensics when one set of remains is confiscated by the FBI and two sets of remains are discovered late in the tale.  That keeps the more pedantic elements of some of Tempe's adventures absent from in this one.

I'm giving a thumbs up to this book despite its NASCAR elements.  I'm not a race girl.  But who can resist a mystery that starts out with a body encased in asphalt in a metal drum and found at a landfill?  And, really, who can resist a cryptic tale of confiscated remains, two missing persons, poisons, a possible federal conspiracy AND white supremacists?   It's a really good book because it doesn't even seem like too much to consider for one story while you're reading it.

Like I said, I'm a fan.

But that brings me to my second point.  As a fan who's read all the books in the series and also faithfully watches Bones* on Fox, I feel like I've got a vested interest in how the series continues to develop.  So for the sake of plausibility and continuity, stop messing around with Pete and Charlie and NASCAR security guys; get Tempe and Ryan back together**.


I was wildly unamused when Tempe implied that Ryan was a philanderer.  She's MARRIED in what must be the longest, dumbest, most drown-out divorce in the history of the written word. Ryan offered her a commitment.  She refused.  Therefore, she gets to pass no judgments (especially inaccurate ones) on Ryan.

This is not a romantic tangent of mine. This is a comment on the procedure of presenting police procedurals.  Pete is annoying and adds no value to the stories.  Charlie is a flat, poorly-developed character introduced in my least favorite Tempe book of all times***.  The NASCAR guy was a one book character. (I hope).  Ryan, however, is a cop.  More importantly, he's a cop who likes Tempe and appreciates her input in police matters.  Ryan provides Tempe plausible involvement with police investigations, gets her outside of her lab and away from the pedantry.

And, of course, he's hot.  But that's a side issue.

In every police procedural on TV that is not based on a character created by Kathy Reichs, the medical examiners get, at best, two scenes per episode--once at the scene of the crime, once in the morgue. That would make for a limited set-up for a crime solving medical examiner, but in order to expand Tempe's scope there needs to be a reason a cop lets her tag along. A good reason.  (These stories are too good for sloppy logic.)   Love works for me.  It should work for you, too, but if it doesn't consider the shared history and hours that Tempe and Ryan have logged.  You know they work well together.  Let them continue to do so.

I know this is a matter of opinion, but, as I said, I'm a fan


*Bones is based on the Temperance Brennan character from the books.  Beyond sharing a name, profession, and good storytelling, there is little resemblance between TV Tempe and book Tempe.

**From the beginning of the series, Tempe has been separated from her husband, Pete.  I try to pretend that he doesn't exist.  Charlie is an old-flame who has tried to rekindle youthful interests.  I try to pretend he doesn't exist.  The NASCAR security guy is a pivotal character in Flash and Bones.  He's new, and from here on out, I'll pretend like he doesn't exist.  Ryan is a cop in Quebec.  He's pretty.  He speaks French.  He loves a strong, smart woman.  I try to pretend I'll meet him someday.

*** I will not name this book because, in my mind, it doesn't exist.

Pin It