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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Blood Challenge by Eileen Wilks

It occurs to me that, with the exception of the China-related books, I'm mostly recommending a book series (or six) under the guise of reviewing individual books. I give you a bit of information about a specific book, sure, but I always reference the entire series. In most cases, I'm actually recommending an entire body of work. Apologies to any of you that would prefer more details on the individual books, but I love, love, love a good series. I love the consistent delivery of characters and creatures I already know. One of my greatest reading joys is to discover a published book series that I can jump right into, reading four or five books in a row without waiting for a new release. The thought just makes me giddy.

In regards to series, the new year was good to me. There were tidings of good cheer, sure, but there were also new releases by some of my favorite fantasy authors. There was Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh which was good. But then there was Blood Challenge by Eileen Wilks which was great. If the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs are at the tippy-top of my favorite list then the World of the Lupi books by Eileen Wilks are close behind.

The World of the Lupi books have magic and werewolves and sorcerers and dragons and whole other realms of reality. Blood Challenge is the seventh in the series. Lily Yu, our protagonist with magic all of her own, is an FBI agent in a paranormal unit, and at this time she's engaged to Rule Turner, a super sexy lupi. In this reality, the lupi are "out", and a political group called Humans First is unamused. The founder of Humans First is willing to go to suspicious extremes to push his agenda. The actions of Humans First tie into the mystery at the core of this book. Lily Yu was a police detective before she became an FBI agent, and investigative work is usually at the heart of these stories.

I loved this book, and I love this series. Lily is a strong, capable character with a complicated family and a simple desire to do her job well. Eileen Wilks has created an interesting fantasy world with multi-dimensional characters who live and love and solve crime. That's pretty much my literary trifecta--fantasy, romance and mystery! Pin It

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prudhomme

I may not have mentioned that I keep a book journal.  It was something I saw while perusing Barnes and Noble one day, and I thought it was a great idea.  I had been having a conversation with my neighbor (a former English teacher) about all the books we had read and subsequently forgotten so much of them.  For many books, all that remained in our memories were general feelings about the book as a whole.  We were both saddened by our faulty memories, and so I started writing down a summary reaction for every book I read.  Well not the books on autism or related to autism - that would require more digital storage space than is available to me presently - but the books I read for fun.  Then when Amy, Carrie and I started this awesome blog, I started from the beginning of my book journal.  I'm telling you all this, because I'm guessing some people are wondering why I keep reading old books as opposed to more recent releases.  I do read them.  But I have to get through the backlog first.  Which brings me to Julia.

This is Julia's autobiography and it came out before the whole Julie and Julia phenomenon.  There is probably nothing in this book that would shock you, but Mrs. Child does talk about some intimate issues that I didn't think she'd share with the masses.  For anyone who missed the basics of Julia Child's rise to cooking icon, here's a brief summary.  Her husband, Paul, was stationed in post-WW II Paris as part of the efforts to rebuild and transition a very war-weary Europe.  She recalls many things in great detail, partially due to a diaries and letters and partially due to a detail-oriented personality.  Her descriptions of where she and her husband lived and travel are clear and precise and pale only to her descriptions of what they ate.  Julia starts as a rudimentary cook but as a means to pass time and foster a passion for food and the sensory experiences it provoked for her, she begins to study the art of French cooking in earnest. 

I was surprised by how scientific and mechanically she went about conquering la cuisine.  Her battle with mayonnaise seemed epic for example, and in her first draft of her classic cookbook she was forced to edit down her four page description of the science of said dressing.  She also discloses personal details like the investigation of her husband under an increasingly scrutinizing American government as McCarthyism swept through the States.  He was interviewed at length, having to answer questions from his feelings about democracy as well as his sexual orientation.  Her husband was allowed to keep his job, but many of their friends were not as they were found (unfairly for the most part) to harbor "unAmerican" sentiment.  Eventually the Childs move back to the United States and Julia discusses her adventures cooking on television. 

This isn't a particularly fast read, but it's interesting and well-written.  It did spark my interest in owning her cookbooks as well.  If you have any interest in the science of food or the mastery of French cooking, put this book on your list.  I have a feeling she would have gotten along well with my grandmother.  Though Julia seems to lack the warmth my grandmother had, but that could be a product of not actually knowing Mrs. Child or from just really loving my grandmother.  :)  I have a new perspective on Julia; a determined woman with a heart of pure foie gras.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With Julia Child's death in 2004 at age 91, her grandnephew Prud'homme (The Cell Game) completed this playful memoir of the famous chef's first, formative sojourn in France with her new husband, Paul Child, in 1949. The couple met during WWII in Ceylon, working for the OSS, and soon after moved to Paris, where Paul worked for the U.S. Information Service. Child describes herself as a "rather loud and unserious Californian," 36, six-foot-two and without a word of French, while Paul was 10 years older, an urbane, well-traveled Bostonian. Startled to find the French amenable and the food delicious, Child enrolled at the Cordon Bleu and toiled with increasing zeal under the rigorous tutelage of √©minence grise Chef Bugnard. "Jackdaw Julie," as Paul called her, collected every manner of culinary tool and perfected the recipes in her little kitchen on rue de l'Universit√© ("Roo de Loo"). She went on to start an informal school with sister gourmandes Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were already at work on a French cookbook for American readers, although it took Child's know-how to transform the tome—after nine years, many title changes and three publishers—into the bestselling Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). This is a valuable record of gorgeous meals in bygone Parisian restaurants, and the secret arts of a culinary genius.
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Don't be jealous, but in addition to keeping up with this blog and my other blog,  I'm also in a book club.  This is not just any ol' book club, mind you.  This is an online, Facebook book club with people from my high school.  That's right, the Mundelein High School Class of 1992 is so cool we have an online book club.  I repeat: Don't be jealous.

Our first selection was Life of Pi by Yann Martel which worked out great for me. I had never read it AND I needed a book to review for this blog.  We have since moved on to The Hobbit, and there are rumors we might read 1984 next, so I'll keep you posted.  Actually, if we read 1984, I'm taking a pass.  I'd hate to scratch my eyes out twice in this lifetime as a result of reading that book.

As for my review of Life of Pi, here goes:  I liked it.  A lot.  I didn't think I would based on the synopsis, but I did.  The book is divided into three parts which served me well.  I like a story that follows a neat little chronological time line.  I am already distracted enough by children and a husband needing my attention while I am trying to read, I certainly don't need the story to jump around from the past to the present and so forth.  The first part introduces you to the main character, Pi as well as to his life in India up to age 14.  The son of a zoo owner in Pondicherry and a devout Hindu, Pi enjoys a relatively rich lifestyle.  He also adopts Christianity and Islam and tries to seek a balance between all three religions. The second part deals with his family's move to Canada from India.  The boat carrying his family and their zoo animals capsizes and everyone except Pi and a few animals drown.  What follows is the story of his grueling 227 days at sea.  The third part is the retelling of his story to the Japanese maritime department as they try to ascertain why the ship sank. Sounds bizarre, and a bit disjointed, but it it works.

So what did I like about it?  For one, the author showcases the relationship between man and beast so well, it gives you whole new perspective on a simple trip to the zoo.  I have never enjoyed the zoo.  Quite simply, I pity the animals in their cages. As the son of a zoo owner, Pi sees them in a whole different light. It is this perspective and his experiences as a child growing up in a zoo that he calls on during his ordeal at sea.

Second, was the story of survival.  I marveled at the mental, emotional and physical toughness displayed by Pi. While he didn't call on any of this three chosen religions near as much as I thought he would, he showed some major fortitude to make it through.  Impressive, even for a fictional character.

Not knowing anything about the book, let alone the ending, kept me reading.  Some of my fellow book club members claimed they could put it down for days at a time and almost forget about it. Not so for me.  I found myself quickly yet cautiously approaching the end so I could digest the outcome, whatever that may be.  Oh, and the rich symbolism throughout the book makes it excellent material for a book club.  If you're lucky enough to be in one as cool as mine, that is.

Here is what Publisher's Weekly says:
A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement "a story that will make you believe in God," as one character says. The peripatetic Pi (ne the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. The scenes flow together effortlessly, and the sharp observations of the young narrator keep the tale brisk and engaging. Martel's potentially unbelievable plot line soon demolishes the reader's defenses, cleverly set up by events of young Pi's life that almost naturally lead to his biggest ordeal. This richly patterned work, Martel's second novel, won Canada's 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. In it, Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

The God of the Hive (or an excuse to talk about any entire series) by Laurie R. King

Thanks to Netflix, I had a huge helping of Sherlock Holmes this weekend. I had read about a Masterpiece Mystery! remake of Holmes, but I missed the episodes on TV and online when they were free at Happily, the first "season" (only three episodes, but each runs 90 minutes) is now available for streaming on Netflix. They are a lovely, contemporary take on a classic.

I do love me some Sherlock Holmes. I enjoyed most (if not all) of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. I like "House". I thought the Robert Downey Jr. remake was much better than friends had led me to believe. But, mostly, Laurie R. King has provided the most enjoyable interpretation of Sherlock Holmes that I know, so streaming the also enjoyable Masterpiece Mystery! episodes reminded me of how much I treasure Ms. King's work. I thought I'd share that with you here.

Ms. King has re-invented Holmes a bit--made him more humane, took some liberties with Conan Doyle's timeline, and gave Sherlock a sidekick so awesome that she, the sidekick, is the protagonists of Ms. King's tales. The sidekick is Mary Russell, a displaced and orphaned Jewish-American, a country neighbor to Holmes. Mary is every bit as capable as Holmes and because of a less-than-ideal home situation, she spends countless hours learning from and training with Holmes. This makes her more Holmes' equal than Dr. Watson ever was, and because, in part, she's basically a protege, Holmes begins to trust her and involve her in solving his puzzles. Over the ten Mary Russell books, the characters have grown up and grown together.

The God of the Hive involves great powers of observation and deduction, hidden bolt holes, clever disguises, a murderous cult, international intrigue, a Green Man (of the forest, not extraterrestrial), unexpected family, and Holmes' Irregulars. It also involves a fairly satisfactory ending to a puzzle so complicated it took two books to unravel. Satisfactory enough that I forgave Ms. King for leaving me hanging in the first place at the end of The Language of Bees.

Here's the link to the Amazon page describing The God of the Hive.

Sidenote: The most recent book, The God of the Hive, was released in April 2010, so I'm not exactly reviewing a new release here. However, if you love mysteries and ever enjoyed the mental prowess of Sherlock Holmes, I highly recommend these books. Don't start with The God of the Hive, because while it's a perfectly good representation of the series, it's the resolution of the cliffhanger started in The Language of Bees. I recommend starting at the beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice so that you'll get a full explanation of how Holmes has been re-interpreted, and so that you'll get a full understanding of how Russell and Holmes have grown together throughout the series. This will also give you time to catch up with the series before the newest one, Pirate King, comes out in September.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Twisted Ladder by Rhodi Hawk

Sarah says:  This book was purchased in a moment of desperation for something to read.  Road trips do that to a person.  It did hold my attention though, all 544 pages, even if it was to critique the author's decisions regarding plot twists.

Jumping back and forth between late 1800s Louisiana bayou/New Orleans and present-day New Orleans, this book certainly give the reader a lot to think about.  As a matter of fact, probably too much to think about.  We learn of a family's struggles with mental illness and its effects on different generations.  And later we find out that it maybe more supernatural ability rather than mental disability.  Sticking with that theme from one time period to another would have been enough to fill this book, but there's much more to consider.  There's an illegitimate baby far away from home, a villain who turns out to be a half-brother (with not-so-brotherly intentions - Oedipus poke your eyes out), something called "brambles", and invisible guides for these brambles, a boyfriend for the heroine (female hero, not the drug though the drug does show up cause there clearly wasn't already enough going on) who has academic interest and training of the ESP variety, and political scandals!  And bears! Oh my!  Ok, not so much with the bears but this book could have used a judicious editor and the author could have used a contract for a series rather than cramming all The Days of Our Lives into one episode so to speak.

As you can tell, I think the original story line didn't need that much embellishment.  The author left the ending open enough for more novels and adventures with these characters.  And that would be just fine if she keeps it simple, or finds a different editor.  I'd give another one of her books a chance if I ever take another road trip and don't have something to read.

From Publishers Weekly

Hawk's promising debut, a Southern gothic thriller, introduces Dr. Madeleine LeBlanc, a staff psychologist at New Orleans's Tulane University with a special interest in cognitive schizophrenia. Maddy's father, Daddy Blank, suffers from the disease, as does her brother, Marc, whose suicide leads Maddy, who fears she may also be schizophrenic after psychic visits from a devil-child, to probe her family's past. Tulane neurologist Ethan Manderleigh provides support as terrible secrets surface about the family sugarcane plantation. Maddy's discovery that a creepy childhood friend is a murderer complicates her quest. Flashbacks to Prohibition-era New Orleans chart the early life of Maddy's clairvoyant, mean-spirited 114-year-old great-grandmother, Chloe, who's rather too spry for her age, despite her magical gifts. Voodoo and scientific research into neuroplasticity make an intriguing, if not always easy, mix. (Sept.)
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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking

Amy says:

A few things you should know before you read this review:  I don't believe in vampires (or werewolves, for that matter).  I have no desire to relive the awkwardness of my teenage years.  Girls that fall for two guys at once and can't decide which one they want annoy me.  All of those things aside, I really liked this book.

My Blood Approves is the classic vampire tale (and by "classic" I mean I've read the Twilight series and am comparing it to them).  Girl meets cute guy.  Cute guy is a vampire.  Cute guy has an even cuter vampire brother.  Girl likes him too.  Girl has a crappy home life, moves in with vampire family, and then spends entire book trying to balance the two.  It's not a book I would ever have pictured myself liking.  So why did I?

I think the most enjoyable aspect of this book for me was that the author kept it simple, and for that I thank her.  Nothing fancy, nothing cheesy. She gets in, tells the story and gets out.  If only every paranormal book could be like this one!  It is a fast read and anything I can pick up and finish in under a week is a plus in my book.  I find that the older I get, the less patience I have for books that require too much of my time (sounds a bit snooty, I know).  I should note that upon further investigation, I found out the author is from the Midwest, about my age and has a strong affinity for the Muppet's, so maybe that is why I liked it so much.  Either way, it's a good book and the second installment in the series, Fate, is even better.   

From the GoodReads website:
Teenager Alice Bonham's life feels crazy after she meets Jack. With his fondness for pink Chuck Taylors and New Wave, he's unlike anyone she knows. Then she meets his brother, Peter. Even though he can't stand the sight of her, she's drawn to him. Falling for two guys isn't even the worst of her problems. Jack and Peter are vampires, and Alice finds herself caught between love and her own blood. Pin It

Monday, May 9, 2011

Archangel's Consort by Nalini Singh

I always thought it would be cool to have wings until I realized that wings would mess with my bra straps. I have enough problems keeping the straps in place and correctly adjusted without adding extra appendages. Ironic, isn't it, that my ongoing struggle to defy gravity through lingerie is my first reason for giving up my daydream about self-propelled gravity-defying flight?

(Oh. Damn. I just typed that out loud. Right. Don't mind me. Nothing to see here but us harmless hyper-imaginative super dorks. Really. Move along. I'll get past my embarrassing confession and get on with the review. Seriously. Move along.)

Nalini Singh's Archangel's Consort gives me a few more reasons to avoid my winged daydreams. First, wings big enough to propel a human aren't just big; they're huge. It's true. Think of all the art you've seen of archangels and seraphs and cherubs. The wings are proportional to the rest of the body which basically means you got one-third to one-half of your body mass to carry behind you. Elevators and other enclosed spaces are not options. You just wouldn't fit.

And while having wings would mean you could just walk off the side of a perfectly good building instead of taking an elevator down, the physics of taking off from a dead start mean only the strongest wings can take you from the ground to the top. There it goes--a perfectly lovely daydream done in by genetics and physics. I hate it when science gets in the way of my fantasies.

The author, though, doesn't allow anything to get in the way of sharing a really compelling story. Archangel's Consort is the third novel of the Guild Hunter series (that also includes two novellas). Elena Deveraux is a born vampire hunter, and she trained with the Guild to learn to track and return vampires who have broken their contracts to their angel masters. She is the best at what she does, and her success brought her to the attention of Raphael, the Archangel of New York, in the first of the series, Angel's Blood. Elena and Raphael have been together ever since, trying to keep peace and order in a world run by angels who create vampires from select humans in their domains.

Archangel's Consort contains more of what made me first love the series--sneaky political intrigue, a well-crafted mythology, bad guys that get caught, and good old-fashioned love. I highly recommend the Guild Hunter series and Singh's other series, eight Psy/Changeling books and three novellas.

For more plot details, check out what Amazon says about Archangel's Consort. Pin It

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

Sarah says:
I bought this book because it was on a "Buy 2 get a 3rd Free" table while we were on vacation in South Carolina.  Hilton Head is beautiful, we were right on the beach, my daughter was loving the sand....but I was pregnant and constantly nauseous.  I also greatly dislike sand EVERYWHERE (in other words, the beach), so I spent some quality time with some books while Sean and Sweet Girl did their best impressions of beach bums.  Of the three books purchases - two were part of the Twilight series (that's a whole other post; I have issues with Twilight but I did read all four books) - this was my favorite.

The story is set in rural Iowa and centers around the two young girls and their families.  The two girls, best friends; one chooses not to talk and the other chooses to be her communicator, are missing in the woods surrounding their homes.  The abusive alcoholic father of the silent girl happens to be missing as well.  As parents and siblings search for the girls, the past become clearer as each person takes a turn narrating the story.  The reader gets to see the smaller everylife tragedies-married the wrong man, didn't stand up for her children, didn't ask the right questions, couldn't get past prejudices-that have led up to this larger tragic turn.

Though the suspense is lacking (in my opinion) due to an obvious assailant, I'm not sure the assault and the assailant were meant to be the most suspenseful storyline in the the book.  Rather, the outcome of the somewhat battered lives of those involved with the girls seems more important.  In the end, not everything is tied up with a pretty bow.  Much like real life, the ending is messier than that.  I enjoyed the book enough to pick up another book by the same author recently.  Which is saying something, because I'm not pregnant nor am I trying to pretend I'm not at the beach.

From Publishers Weekly

Gudenkauf's tightly plotted debut packs a lot of unsavory doings into a few unfortunate summer days in Willow Creek, Iowa. Seven-year-old Calli Clark hasn't spoken a word in the three years since a particularly nasty run-in with her violent, wife-beating father, Griff. During a bender, Griff suddenly decides to haul his mute daughter into the nearby forest, where they get lost. At the same time, Calli's best friend Petra goes missing, and a manhunt is launched, led by deputy sheriff Loras Louis, who still carries a torch for Calli's mother. Gudenkauf moves the story forward at a fast clip and is adept at building tension. There's a particular darkness to her heartland, rife as it is with predators and the walking wounded, and her unsentimental take on the milieu manages to find some hope without being maudlin. (Aug.)
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Monday, May 2, 2011

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman

Amy says:
Phew!  After I made the terrible mistake of reading my last selection, I was worried the other two authors of this blog (and all 12 of our loyal followers) would disown me.  Never fear!  I am happy to redeem myself with a book worthy of being put in to print.

I found Baltimore Blues by accident when I was looking for a gift for one of my son's teachers.  She was born and raised here in Maryland and is an avid reader (one of the many reasons I love her).  I was searching for a book to keep her mind off of her son's impending deployment to Afghanistan (she's an Army mom, yet another reason why I love her) and thought a light mystery would be the perfect fit.  The title just about jumped off the shelf at me.  Then I read the jacket and learned the main character is a spunky reporter/private investigator born and raised in Baltimore.  Perfect!

(Confession:  I thought about just reading the copy I bought before I gave it to her, but I didn't.  I bought my own copy and read it in about 3 days.)  It is a light read, but I really enjoyed it.  I think the best part for me were the references to Baltimore.  Maybe it's because I have been a nomad
Army wife for 13 years, or maybe it's just because I like to feel connected to something, but I love reading about places that are familiar to me.  I found myself saying outloud, "Hey!  I know where that is!"  Whether Tess, the main character, was talking about her favorite restaurant or her morning rowing sessions on the Patapsco River, the book kept me interested.  It's not going to win a Pulitzer, but was fun to read. 

Have a favorite book about someplace you have lived?  I'd love to hear about it!

From Publisher's Weekly:  Downsized ex-reporter Tess Monaghan spends her days working part-time at the bookstore owned by sexy Aunt Kitty and trying not to fall into the disgustingly polluted Patapsco from her city-owned boat. When rowing buddy Rocky pays her what looks like a fortune to follow his fiance, the trail leads to murder with Rocky the prime suspect. Pin It