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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Apologize.......and, I'm Down by Mishna Wolff

I'm a day late.  I apologize for that.  We got back from a very lovely vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina yesterday afternoon, and though I had been reminding myself all day that it was, indeed, Monday, my brain was too slow to realize that Monday meant book blog post day.  Sometimes my brain is slow (and I will immediately delete any comments to that effect from my brother, so don't even think about it Joshua).  Regardless, because it was vacation and my husband did all the driving I finished two books and half of another.  Here's the review for the most light-hearted of the three:

If you've ever wondered what it's like to grow up poor in Seattle, this book can give you a pretty good idea.  If you've ever wondered what it's like to grow up poor and white in Seattle with a father who sees himself as black (despite a lack of skin pigmentation), this book can give you a pretty good idea.  Mishna and her sister were born to hippy parents in New England, but were raised by their father in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of his youth.  Upon moving back to Seattle, their father re-adapted to his surroundings and became the soul brother he was growing up.  When Mishna's parents divorce, it's decided that the girls will stay with their father while their mother continues to work long hours. 

The book chronicles Mishna's struggles to fit in around her neighborhood and her struggles to fit in with her privileged classmates at the private school she attends.  Too white for her neighborhood and too poor for her school, her childhood is made all the more difficult by her constant attempts to prove herself to her father.  She tries to be "down" to make him proud, tries to be more middle-class to fit in with her classmates, and tries to be more ethnic to fit in with the kids in her neighborhood; ultimately never completely succeeding at any of her attempts.  But she doesn't fail completely either.

There are some very funny moments of track practices, being the smallest and whitest girl on her basketball, figuring out how to establish herself in summer "camp."  She is very quick to point out that these are the facts as she saw them growing up, that time and perspective may have told her a different story but these are the memories she has from her youth.  There is also quite a bit of family drama.  Eventually Mishna ends up living with her mother while her sister remains with their father.  It was easy to see that these decisions about family, money, lifestyles, and personal growth weren't easy for anyone involved.  It was often touching to read about the this family in a tough situation still loving one another as best as they could.

I found the ending a little abrupt and almost anti-climatic, but this is a problem I have with many chronological memoirs.  I understand I can't blame the author for not embellishing or nicely tieing things up (as life doesn't always work that way) but I always want something different from the end it seems.  This reminds me of a review of the movie "Ray" my friend *Jay gave.  He said he liked the movie but didn't like the way it ended.  Being obnoxious and having not yet seen the movie I said, "Well, I don't think he can help it that he died."  I thought it was funny.  Jay gave me the stink eye.  And now I know what Jay meant. 

I recommend you pick up I'm Down the next time you're in the bookstore - if for nothing else, for the cover art.  And don't blame me if you don't like the way it ends.  Don't blame Mishna or Ray Charles either. 

*Jay is an excellent friend and a superb movie critic.  However, based upon the company he keeps, it's clear he has issues. Pin It

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell

Meh.  Not a good way to start a book review but unfortunately, that is the only word that comes to mind as I sit to write this review.  Well, that's not completely true.  The word gin, the word tonic and the word vacation also come to mind, but those have nothing to do with this book. Maybe if I would have read this book while drinking a gin and tonic on vacation I would have liked it better.  Maybe.

I really thought I was going to like Millie's Fling.  First of all, it was free.  ALWAYS a plus.  Second, it was billed by Barnes and Noble as a fun, romantic tale.  Sounds good.  Google Books said it "proves the road to matchmaking hilarity is paved with good intentions."  Not bad.  Fourth, did I mention it was free?

In this particular story, Millie just happens to run into a famous novelist about to commit suicide by jumping off a mountain.  It turns out Millie was at the same mountain dumping her boyfriend.  Millie and Orla (the suicidal author) become quick friends (after she talks her off the edge, that is) and Millie finds herself the subject of Orla's next book.  Millie's roommate Hester is also central to the book as is Hester's boyfriend Nate, her on-again-off-again-crush Lucas (who also turns out to be Millie's new boss after she quits her job), Millie's mom, Orla's gardener, Orla's husband, Orla's husband's mistress, Millie's old boss (who ends up dating her mom) and Hugh, Millie's widower admirer.  Really, a story revolving around  Millie and Hugh themselves would have been plenty.  Those two characters were developed, had chemistry and were extremely likeable.   Why the author chose to muddy the waters with so many other half-developed characters is beyond me.  It made the book too busy, which made me annoyed.

To be fair, it wasn't a bad book.  But for me it was just so-so.  While the author laid out a vast array of characters there were JUST.TOO.MANY.    I found myself having to flip back to remember who certain people were and how they related to Millie.   It wasn't like I read this over a long period of time, either.  I finished it in under a week, and ended up being happy with the ending. 

I just found out the author, Jill Mansell, released a new book last month called To the Moon and Back.  I'm willing to give it a try.  This time I will cross my fingers for less, more-likeable characters.   If that doesn't work I'm willing to break out a gin and tonic and take a vacation.  Isn't that nice of me?

Here is what Barnes and Noble says. Pin It

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hexed by Ilona Andrews, Yasmine Galenorn, Allyson James, Jeanne C. Stein

Curses! Foiled again!

Except that this book is more like "Curses! But then safe again."

Hexed is an anthology of four short stories about curses (well, hexes, really) foisted onto characters from existing series by the four authors. I knew of two of the series when I noticed this book, and I bought it solely for the Ilona Andrews contribution. I was not disappointed. Magic Dreams focuses on two characters previously introduced in the the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. This series is urban fantasy with a touch of romance set in a world where magic and technology no longer co-exist. When magic is "up" technology stops working; conversely, when magic is "down" technology works as it should. In addition to an interesting take on vampires and weres, this series incorporates magical legends from cultures that aren't always represented in today's urban fantasy books. I really love the series, and it was great to get a closer look of the two re-occurring characters, Jim and Dali. The plot was an excellent stand alone story where Dali must save Jim from a Japanese whore-spider curse. (Yes, you read that correctly.) If you haven't read any of the Kate Daniels' books, this is an intriguing peak into her world.

The second series familiar to me was created by Yasmine Galenorn. Ice Shards was a decent short story about a house sprite trying to discover the truth from her past and lift a curse that's preventing her from having children. There's just something about this series that doesn't speak to me. I've started two of the full stories and have never finished them. I think it's just a matter of personal preference.

Of the two that were new to me, the Allyson James story, Double Hexed, really intrigued me. In Double Hexed, someone has worked a double hex (one that doubles in strength when someone unsuccessfully tries to remove it) into the wards on a hotel. The characters in this story are featured into Allyson James' Stormwalker series. I'm going to look into those books because I liked her main character and a few of supporting characters. Double Hexed is considered 2.5 of a 4 book, to date, series.

Blood Debt by Jeanne C. Stein was the weakest of the four stories, in my opinion. Here, a relatively new vampire is called to task for past actions and needs to save herself and a friend's brother. Short stories always make it hard to tell, in my opinion, but I found the romance part of Blood Debt to be a little too sudden and a little too pat. I was ready for the story to end, and that's never something that happens when I'm reading the Ilona Andrews' books.

One of the reasons I buy anthologies is for the opportunity to discover new series on the cheap. I would have considered this book worth the price even if I had only liked Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews. However, the Yasmine Galenorn story was decent enough filling and finding the Stormwalker series was an added bonus and treat!

I recommend this book for fans of urban fantasy, but don't take my word for it. Check out the reviews on Pin It

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I'm going out of order with my review, and I'm kind of usurping a review Carrie could be doing.  Ooh! Scandal!  But I'm pretty sure she won't be too mad because she does love this author and I have her to thank for introducing me to Sarah Addison Allen.  If you take a quick peek at the right sidebar you'll see that one of Ms. Allen's books made Carrie's top five list.  That's quite an honor considering the sheer number of books Carrie has consumed in her lifetime; being in her top five is like being in the top 0.000000000000005 percent!  And because it's summer and Sean's home on R&R and I'm enjoying not being the only parent around here, I decided to review The Peach Keeper instead of the ultra-depressing book that was next in my book journal (Push by Saphire aka the movie Precious which I will review but didn't feel like crying this morning so I'm going out of order).

The Peach Keeper is a good summer read.  It has elements of romance, whimsy, and a bit of a mystery, but I wouldn't call it a romance novel, a magic story, or a whodunit.  So how's that for a non-classification?  All of Ms. Allen's books have some sort of mystical quality - not outright magic but more of a deeper superstition or legend.  In this particular book, we have a restless spirit, a peach tree that bears no fruit, and all sorts of superstitions running around. 

It's set in the hills of North Carolina (like all of her books) and also tells of growing up, becoming who you want to be despite rocky beginnings, and how true friendships will last beyond time and social classes.  The characters are all slightly nutty and they live in a small town with a long history, which always makes for some good stories. The ending is happy and the getting there is fun. 

This is actually my second or third favorite of Ms. Allen's works and I read this book in one sitting which, as a sleep-coveting, geographically single, never-in-one-place-very-long-as-a-matter-of-necessity, mother to two small children, speaks volumes.  As a matter of fact it has taken my 50 minutes to write two paragraphs thanks to my collective sixty pounds of kinetic distraction, so if I can make the time to read this all at once you know it's good enough for a summer read at the least.  But really, I'd read her books any time; especially if someone would come watch my kids.

All of Sarah Addison Allen on Amazon

Product Description

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Chased the Moon welcomes you to her newest locale: Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town’s famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be.

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water’s heyday, and once the town’s grandest home—has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal. And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow. No easy task in a town shaped by years of tradition and the well-marked boundaries of the haves and have-nots.

But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood—of the very prominent Osgood family, has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn. Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes. But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.

Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

I know....I can't believe I read this book either!  It's not at all something I normally go for.  It's not even fiction, for crying out loud!  I picked it up on the fly at Barnes and Noble one day when I was there with both kids, a latte in one hand and a little boy dragging me back to the train table in the other hand.  He won (he's a freakishly strong kid) and thankfully, so did I.  The book was good.

Into Thin Air is the story of the May 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest that killed eight climbers. The author, Jon Krakauer, was hired to climb to base camp of Mt. Everest and report back to his magazine, Outside.  His story was to simply cover the commercialization of Everest, Nepal and the surrounding Sherpa community. Instead, Krakauer actually made it all the way to the summit and then was engulfed in the deadly storm that killed his guide and three others during their decent.

The first thing that struck me about this book is how many people commented on it when I was out in public.  I was stopped in the lobby of the doctor's office, while I was getting my hair colored (Surprise! I'm not a natural blonde) and even at my son's tae kwon do lesson.  People wanted to talk about this book!  They wanted to tell me about their recent climb or how they sympathized with the sherpa community in Nepal.  I expect comments when I am reading a new release or maybe something about a polarizing political figure, but I wasn't expecting full on conversations about this book.  Something about this book makes people feel a connection to the adventure and ultimately, the mountain.

I don't read non-fiction that often (okay, never) so maybe I am just naive, but the amount of detail and chronological fact in this book astounded me.  Yes, the author was being paid to write about his experience, and yes, this had been a childhood dream, but holy smokes!  When you couple that with the fact that most of this was experienced at lower-than-normal oxygen levels, you really get an appreciation for all of the detail in this book.  The story is told well, follows a nice time line (which if you will remember from previous reviews, I am a big fan of) and provides not only factual but cultural insight.  The only thing that would have made it better was if the storm hadn't come and wiped out half of the climbing team.  That part was a huge bummer.

After reading Into Thin Air, I want to try another non-fiction piece.  As a matter of fact, I would love some suggestions from our readers.  The next time I am being whisked through Barnes and Noble with my latte and my freakishly strong boy, I may not get as lucky. says:  Into Thin Air is a riveting first-hand account of a catastrophic expedition up Mount Everest. In March 1996, Outside magazine sent veteran journalist and seasoned climber Jon Krakauer on an expedition led by celebrated Everest guide Rob Hall. Despite the expertise of Hall and the other leaders, by the end of summit day eight people were dead. Krakauer's book is at once the story of the ill-fated adventure and an analysis of the factors leading up to its tragic end. Written within months of the events it chronicles, Into Thin Air clearly evokes the majestic Everest landscape. As the journey up the mountain progresses, Krakauer puts it in context by recalling the triumphs and perils of other Everest trips throughout history. The author's own anguish over what happened on the mountain is palpable as he leads readers to ponder timeless questions.
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Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Instead of offering you an entire series, I thought I'd offer you a multimedia experience--a book released in 2009 and the movie based on the book which will be released on August 12. The Help is a story that is in no way about me, but is, in many ways, about all of us.

The Help is a story of social graces, social inequality, and social atrocities in the 1960s. It is a story of Skeeter, one young, white, well-to-do woman in Jackson, Mississippi, who wants her own job, her own love, her own life and begins to find those things while writing a book. It is a story about the women in Skeeter's book who have been working for as long as they can remember; it is a story of black women who ARE the help. These women cook and clean for, wait on, and, in many instances, raise the children of middle class and wealthy white women. They work for less than minimum wage, and none of them "get the Social Security" or, equally as important, job security.

As I said, so much of this book is in no way about me. When I re-read that last paragraph, I see one connection to one character; I'm white. I've never hired help or been hired help. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks were people in my history books, not contemporaries. I hate SEC football. My father has never owned a plantation, but I've also never known poverty. Yet even without any obvious connection to any of the characters, this book really spoke to me, because the struggles it outlines are not limited to one place, one time or one people.

This is a story about the way we are when we think no one (or no one of consequence) is looking. This is a story about the way we are with people we don't understand and don't know. This is the story about the way we are with children; with our friends; with privilege; with adversity. I hope you read it. I hope it speaks to you, too, because it is, simply, a story about the way we are. Pin It

Monday, June 6, 2011

And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer

To carry on the trend of writing a review while actually recommending a series, I present to you And Another Thing.  If you haven't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its accompanying works (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, The Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish, and Mostly Harmless), I highly recommend you do.  For one thing, you'll learn just how truly valuable a towel can be in times of crisis and they're quite funny.  Douglas Adams wrote the trilogy (which later turned into five books and when asked about the incorrect number of books for a trilogy he replied it was due to a miscommunication with his publisher and his shoddy grasp of arithmetic) that mostly takes place in outer space and other worlds, based on the series he wrote for BBC Radio.  They are not new, as a matter of fact the first book is almost as old as I am, but to me they are timeless.  So start with them if you haven't already.

Once you're done with those, read And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer.  Wait! That's a different author, you say?  Well sadly, Mr. Adams passed away unexpectedly (heart attack at the age of 49) and left notes for another H2G2 novel on his computer.  I'm not entirely clear on how they picked Eoin Colfer to put those notes and his own spin on things to make And Another Thing, but I'm happy they did.  Eoin Colfer writes the Artemis Fowl series (which is probably considered a children's book rather than young adult, but I'm murky on that area of classification) and both Carrie and I rather like that series as well.  *So really I'm recommending two series with one review which I'm sure is a record and probably why it's taking me forever to actually talk about the book I'm supposed to be reviewing.  But you should really read them even if you don't like science fiction or magic books because they are smart and funny and well-written and made me wish they wouldn't end and they're both even funnier if you imagine that John Cleese is the narrator because everything is funnier when John Cleese says it.  And, breathe.*  While Mr. Colfer is not the original creator of cast of characters in this book, I felt like he understood them well enough to carry it off.

Pretty much everyone's back in this one:  Arthur, Zaphod, Random, Trillian, and Ford are the focus but we get cameos from other old friends as well.  The plot is entirely out-of-the-box, but the whole series pretty much embraces and embodies that way of thinking.  Space-time continuum issues, failing batteries, imminent destruction, holographic mistakes, ego-maniacal deities, and perfectly ordinary people screwing up perfectly good planets pack this book with content.  Perhaps maybe a little too much, but you'll probably be having too much fun hearing John Cleese in your head to notice.  And to put anyone who doesn't think they'd like a series set in space and its various quadrants at ease, I am not a huge fan of Star Trek or Star Wars.  I appreciate them but I have never felt the urge to don any kind of costume, do any kind of salute, or learn any kind of created language after seeing either of them.  This is different.  In Mr. Colfer's words: "Imagine if Messrs. Hawking and Fry were locked in a room with the entire cast of Monty Python and forced to write a book which would subsequently be edited by Pink Floyd, then the result would need a lot of work before it could be cut from Douglas Adams’ first draft."  I, for one, sincerely hope they ask Mr. Colfer to write another.  Whether they lock all those people in a room or not.

Douglas Adams
Eion Colfer
H2G2 books on Amazon
Artemis Fowl books on Amazon Pin It

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Just sitting down to write this review makes me want to read the book again.  If you missed my review of the first in this series, The Hunger Games, or just haven't gotten around to reading it yet (I'm talking to you, Sarah Gallagher) you can read it here.  I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire back to back because I simply couldn't get enough of the main characters, Katniss and Peeta.  I will go one step further and admit I got so wrapped up in them that I had dreams about being chosen for the Games myself.  To be fair, I've also had dreams that I was a Bluth on Arrested Development, had coffee with Chandler, Joey and Phoebe on Friends and fought crime with Lenny and Mike on Law & Order.  As you can see,  I take my books and my tv shows seriously.

Catching Fire starts right where The Hunger Games left off.  Just as Katniss and Peeta are set to make the rounds on their victory tour, Katniss gets a visit from President Snow.   It seems he's not too thrilled with Katniss and how the Games ended.  Now Katniss must figure out a way to convince everyone that she and Peeta are really in love or risk yet another unthinkable fate.   And that, my friends, is all of the plot I am going to reveal in this review.  This book and it's multiple thrilling plot twists is too good to spoil here.  You'll have to read it for yourself.

Instead, let me point out some reasons why I love this book (and well, the entire series).  As I already mentioned, I love my tv shows.  Reading this book makes me feel almost as if I am watching a tv reality show.  If you hate reality shows, don't let that stop you from reading this series.  (The characters are WAY more endearing than anything you'll see on Jerseylicious or Housewives).  What I liked most is that the characters didn't change from the first book.  Katniss is still Katniss.  Her sense of duty and responsibility is unwavering, her love for family was almost intensified.  Peeta was still Peeta, too.  He stayed consistent, kind and devoted, just like I hoped he would.  In other words, the author didn't feel the need to alter the characters from the first book which made me happy. 

I worried that the suspense element would suffer in this book too and I am happy to report that I was wrong.  Part of me wanted poor Katniss and Peeta to return from the games and kick back and enjoy themselves into old age.  But the other part of me (you know, the part that loves good books) wanted more gut-wrenching drama.  I wanted more plot twists, more of Katniss outsmarting the Capitol and quirte simply... more butt-kicking awesomeness.  The author delivered.

If you've read these books PLEASE back me up here!  Comment and tell me/us what you think.  If not, put it on your summer reading list.  Everyone needs some "butt-kicking awesomeness" in their summer, don't you think?

(You can read other reviews here). Pin It