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, August 29, 2011

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

You know, I make fun of my daughter for things like this.  She won't read the 7th and final Harry Potter because she doesn't want it to be over.  I kid her about it daily.  Don't tell her, but I've been putting off writing and posting the review of this book because like the final Harry Potter, this means the end.  Mockingjay is the third in the Hunger Games series and I've already reviewed the first two.  Remember how much I loved The Hunger Games?  And even better, Catching Fire?  Once this review is posted, it's like the series will vanish.  No one will remember them or worse yet, want to talk to me about them.  The only comfort I have is that I didn't enjoy Mockingjay  near as much as the first two, so writing this review may not sting quite as much.

In this installment, Katniss is back having survived a record two Hunger Games.  And just as you would guess, the Capitol is angry.  They've been made to look the fool yet again and now they want revenge.  President Snow is full of rage and vows to take it out not only on Katniss, but on her family, friends and her entire home district, District 12.  

Doesn't that sound like it would be exciting, thrilling and suspenseful?  It was.  It was all of those things, just on a very different level.  Katniss had endured two whole novels full of excitement, thrills and suspense.  She'd given us page after page of defeating the enemy.  We were her biggest fans.  We couldn't wait to see her stick it to President Snow and the Capitol and live happily ever after.  But as we all know, that's not what happens in war.  I guess I just didn't think Collins would let it end the way she did.  It was emotionally draining for me to read parts of this book.  And when I finished the book I was mad at Collins for not leaving us a whole and perfect Katiniss in the end.  And then I remembered that Katniss was at war.  In fact, her entire country was at war.   No wonder Collins didn't wrap it up nice and neat with a bow on top.  When is war (fictional or not) ever wrapped up pretty with a bow on it?

When did the light bulb go off?  About 2 days later.  One of my Army wife friends told me she didn't like Mockingjay because it hit too close to home.  She said Katniss reminded her of a modern-day soldier, haggard and tired from his last deployment.   Yep.  That was it.   She DID remind me of a soldier.  Dedicated.  Loyal.  Well-trained.  Intense.  Katniss shares many of the same qualities I see in my husband and other soldiers in my life.  And to see someone like that go through so much and not experience a happy ending...well, that just wasn't okay with me.  I think it's safe to say if I ever was to become a published author, all of my books would have happy endings.  Boring?  Yes.   Fine by me?  Yes.

I may not have liked Mockingjay as much as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but I did like it.   I certainly liked it enough to review it here, even risking an "I told you so," from my daughter. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take Five: Four Favorite Essays Plus One Never-Been-Seen Essay by Augusten Burroughs

I was bamboozled into reading my first Augusten Burroughs book.

His writing had been compared to David Sedaris'. I was intrigued. When I read Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day, I laughed until I cried. My favorite part is when a group of non-native French speakers are trying to explain, in French, the basic concepts of Easter to a Moroccan Muslim. There's just something HI-larious about people with extremely limited vocabularies trying to define the complex concepts of faith. Honestly, I had to stop reading it because I was laughing and crying so hard.

So, great! Burroughs is like Sedaris, and Sedaris doesn't write fast enough to satisfy me (but, really, who does?), so I'll buy Running with Scissors and enjoy some similar observational humor. But Running with Scissors was like Me Talk Pretty One Day the way the Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is like a Cadbury egg commercial.

While they're not totally unrelated, one is significantly more startling than the other.

How anyone read about Burroughs as a neglected and abused child in Running With Scissors and labeled it "observational humor" OR thought that those episodes would make a funny movie is beyond me.

It's safe to say that the book did not meet my expectations. It did, however, introduce me to Burroughs' writing and make me like him for his own merits. Since that time I've read everything he's published, and since that time, he's occasionally written about easier topics than his own childhood. In those instances, it's apparent why he would be compared to Sedaris. When given the right topics, those are two very funny guys. In fact, the essays in Take Five are some that could handily be compared to Me Talk Pretty One Day.

The opening essay, "Mint Threshold," is an insightful and humorous episode of Burroughs' life in the advertising industry. "Debbie's Requirements" is a laugh-out-loud take on hiring a cleaning lady. (Let's just say the characters from The Help would not be threatened by Debbie's work ethic.) The other three essays are in a similar vein. All in all, Take Five is a fast, fun read that I would recommend to anyone who hasn't already consumed Magical Thinking or Possible Side Effects. (If you have read these, the new essay isn't long enough to justify buying the four reprints unless you just REALLY want to.)

(And, for the love of Cadbury eggs, do not pick up one of his serious books--Dry, Running with Scissors, A Wolf at the Table--expecting to laugh until you cry. They're all great books, but they'll just make you cry.)


As always, I've managed to turn one book review into about seven. Here are the links to all the books I've referenced in this review. Me Talk Pretty One Day, Running With Scissors, Dry, Magical Thinking, Possible Side Effects, A Wolf at the Table.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow

There are some books that are hard for me to read because of the subject matter.  I've been reading What is the What for a little over a year now because it's about genocide and civil war in Sudan.  It is horrific and brutal because it's true (well it's a work of fiction but based on the actual events), and the fact that people lived and died in this manner breaks my heart.  There are some books that are hard for me to read because of the writing, whether it's too staid (think Tess of the D'Urbervilles) or too self-important (sorry, World, that's Catcher in the Rye), or the language is just too lovely it hurts a little to read it (Little Bee comes to mind).  This book has both tough subject matter and lovely language, yet I missed sleep to read it in its entirety.  That's pretty high praise considering the fact that my son was still waking up once or twice a night when I read this and I do NOT like to miss sleep.  I believe the author won a fairly prestigious award for this book, and in my opinion she deserves it.

The hardest kind of love to survive is the love that is too much.  The main character's mother loved her too much.  She loved all her kids too much.  Not in the bitter "you ruined me for anything else" kind of way, but rather in the "you are too good for this broken world and I can not do anything about that" kind of way.  I don't think you have to be a mother to feel and know this kind of love.  It can make a rational person manic in the best of circumstances.  Rachel Morse's mom is not working with even moderately good circumstances, and her breaking point is a tough one to swallow.

Rachel's mother is a Danish immigrant to Chicago in the early 80s.  She was met and married Rachel's African-American father when he was a GI stationed in Europe.  Their relationship is not strong enough to weather alcohol and loss, so Rachel's mother is looking for a fresh start in Chicago.  Unfortunately, she is not prepared for the differences in culture particularly regarding her children.  Brown-skinned and blue-eyed they do not fit in easily on either side of a racial divide.  It becomes overwhelming and tragic.

Though her mother has survived a broken kind of love she ultimately ends up putting too much love on her kids.  The whole family falls from the sky, but Rachel is the only the survivor.  Her whole world tumbled over the side of a building, and she survived though a part of her died as well (how could it not?).  Rachel is then sent to Oregon to live with her father's mother.  She has to relearn to live and grow again in an adopted country, in a new place, and with a grandmother whose own love is conditional.  We see Rachel grow and mature which is not an easy process.  Life is not easy for the grandmother or for Rachel, and life's unfolding doesn't make it easier on either of them.  Rachel gets reconnected to her past when the only person who saw her fall comes back into her life. 

The language is lovely.  The subject matter is difficult.  The author holds very little back (Rachel has the same heritage she does), but it's a good book.  It's truly heart-breaking but ultimately hopeful and that's hard to pull off without being trite.  I highly recommend The Girl Who Fell from the Sky if you want another lesson in the terrible power of love. Pin It

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone

I really need to BUY a book and read it for once.  "The Four Corners of the Sky" was yet another free Friday selection from Barnes and Noble on my nook.  I just can't say no to a free book. (I mean really, who can?).  And when they turn out to be as good as this one, it just makes it that much more tempting to download the next one.  Now that I think about it, all of this e-book stuff is going to seriously hurt my income at the next garage sale, but I guess I won't worry about that now.

I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out the novel told the story of Lt. Annie Peregrine, Navy pilot.  I always like to be able to relate to something about the main character and even though I am not a pilot, I AM quite familiar with the military.  I'm more of an Army girl, but at least I could hang with most of the terminology.  Couple that with the fact that it is set in parts of North Carolina (where I used to live) and Maryland (where I currently live) and this shapes up to be even more of a winner. 

As a pilot married to another pilot, Annie finds her marriage on the rocks.  Unfortuantely, she hasn't had the best childhood and her relationship with her father is also on the rocks.  Never fear!  Her aunt and uncle (they aren't married, but are just friends that live's confusing but it works) have served as her parents since the age of 7.  Her father, a known hustler, thief, and all-around mischief maker floats in and out of her life and always seems to step back in at just the wrong moment.  The book takes Annie from the brink of divorce to achieveing never-dreamed-of- before career aspirations to honoring the last wishes of her dying father, and secretly hoping that he will finally reveal who her real mother is.  She is a faithful daughter, niece, wife, friend and pilot.  I want to be like her when I grow up.

Michael Malone served up some really beautiful relationships in this book.  Annie and her friend Georgette are how every girl and her BFF should be.  Annie's Aunt Sam relishes her role as a sort of surrogate mother and her Uncle Clark is undoubtedly her biggest fan.  In return, her love for them is so real it is heartbreaking.  The most special relationship though, is that of Annie and her father.  He loves her more than I think he knows, which scares him and saddens her.  When she finally finds and meets her birth mother, their relationship is pretty special too. 

I recommend this book for many reasons.  It may sound conflicted and busy, but it all comes together in a nice little package by the end.  I promise.  The author does a fantastic job at taking the time to let the characters develop, but not in a way that gets tiresome.  I have been known to get a bit antsy waiting for the author to "get to it," but not with this book.  (I think I deserve a cyber pat on the back for that, by the way).  And if you like aviation, this will suit you too.  Annie and her dad, Jack,  share a love of flying which becomes central to the book and their relationship as well.

Like I said, I liked it.  You can decide for yourself,  here . While you are doing that, I will be reading the next free offering on my nook.  Or sorting things for the next garage sale.  Try not to be jealous.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Luring A Lady by Nora Roberts

I don't know how your summer has been, but I seem to have misplaced mine. I had two leisurely weeks--one in North Carolina and one in Florida--and eleventy-seven stressful weeks. In those stressful weeks, I did manage to stage a house, pack up a household, purchase a new house, and master the art of freezer paper stencils. I did not, however, keep up on my habit of stalking the Amazon new releases list.

I usually know, week by week, when my favorite authors' books will be released. This summer, I've been clueless. It actually makes me queasy to consider the books that might have been released when I was looking.

What? It's a freely-admitted addiction.

So what's a girl to do when she's jonesing for books for eleventy-seven uninformed weeks? She re-reads one of her favorite, sigh-inducing Nora Roberts' romance from long, long ago.

I went old school with Sydney Hayward and Mikhail Stanislaski, the main characters from a time when Nora Roberts was still writing for Silhouette--those little skinny romances they used to sell in grocery stores. (Wait. Maybe they still do. I just remember the revolving rack in the Newman Grabbit. The Grabbit is no more, but perhaps the line of books is still around.) claims Luring a Lady was first released in 1991, but I think it's older than that. There's not much mention of computers in Luring a Lady (or any of the subsequent Stanislaski books), and the early '90s were pretty computer-intensive times. Therefore, there may be parts of this book that are a little dated, but I still slid into it like a comfortable pair of shoes.

Sydney and Mikhail have nothing in common. Honestly, Sydney and I have nothing in common. Owning two houses is not the equivalent of running a real estate empire in Manhattan. However, Sydney has a fragility and a goodness about her that makes me root for her every time. Mikhail, on the other hand, may have ruined me for all other fictional men. If I didn't like Sydney so much, I'd be fictionally jealous. Mikhail is a laborer and an artist, an immigrant living in Soho, so he's geographically and economically separated from Sydney. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that despite the differences, true love wins out in the end.

Luring a Lady has all the components of a standard romance. You won't find any surprises or twists. I recommend it based on the strength of the characters and my own nostalgia. I've read so many Nora Roberts' books at this point, I sometimes feels like I can predict the plot lines. When I first read Luring a Lady all the stories seemed fresh and new.

Oh, and Mikhail is hot. If you don't agree, perhaps you'll prefer his brother, Alex, or his brother-in-law, Zach. (The Stanislaskis are a tight family featured in six Nora Roberts' books.) So if you're in the mood for some old school, sigh-inducing romance, I recommend Luring a Lady.
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman

Amy mentioned that the three of us (Amy, Carrie, Sarah in case you were confused) were at some point vacationing together this summer.  We were in the Outer Banks for a family gathering, and we had this brilliant idea that we'd all read the same book - related to OBX in some way - and do our posts about the same book; kind of a "here's our summer beach read book" type of thing.  Genius!  It would tie into our vacation and give you three different perspectives on the same book.  Unfortunately, Carrie was the only one who completed the book.  Amy's never showed up in the mail and mine showed up but I just couldn't make myself read it past the prologue.  Not a good sign.  Turns out the book wasn't exactly what we thought it would be and instead we all, happily, read different books during that vacation. This book happens to be what I read then.

I've always had a different interpretation as to what a "beach read" type of book is.  This may or may not have something to do with the fact that I'm a scaredy-pants with an attraction to scary things.  For example, I like scary movies (not horror movies those are just beyond me) of the supernatural or psychological variety.  But I haven't been to see a movie like that since Blair Witch Project because I'm not tough enough to go by myself.  I loved the TV series "Paranormal State" but Sean wouldn't watch it, so I would've had to watch it by myself......which I wasn't brave enough to do.  (I downloaded it on iTunes and then watched the episodes at the gym.  You know, where there are tons of people and very bright lights.  And what ghost/spirit would hang out in a fitness center waiting for the right person to come along and haunt?  And if there was such a ghost/spirit, I'm pretty sure my unattractive workout wardrobe and sweat would've turned them off from following my home anyway.  If A&E had continued this series I'd be in much better shape.)  So I have a tendency to read books that I think might make their way into my dreams in public, brightly lit locations such as the beach.  I read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in St. Thomas where the bartender kept bringing me drinks and my only worry was saving my fruit from the large iguanas slinking around.  I read Devil in the White City on our honeymoon in Maui where the laid back atmosphere didn't allow for any more distress than mild malaise.  I read Stephen King's latest collection of short stories in Orlando where there couldn't BE any more people and light.  That's how I roll.

So Much Pretty was a good beach read in my estimation.  There's the mystery of a missing girl and plenty of understated fright.  It's set in a small town in New York, where everyone knows everyone else.  It centers around the journalist who is new to town, a brilliant girl with an unconventional upbringing, the girl's parents, the local sheriff, and a girl with long ties to the community who goes missing - switching narrators so the story plays out with different points of view.  I'm not going to say much more about the plot than that (so as not to spoil anything for anyone who may pick this up to read), but it's a slow build to the climax and takes on a lot of territory with an unflattering look at mega-farms and the inherent sexism in some communities.  There were several things about the book that I could easily identify from my own experiences in a small town, but there were also a couple of things that the author and I disagree about on a basic level.  The fright comes not from supernatural or other-worldly occurrences, but is more basic and realistic (and therefore way more frightening) in the idea that one can become, in an instant, an object to be hunted and used rather than a person.  The fear in this thought is more visceral than others.

Cara Hoffman is a journalist and that is evident in her writing style.  The woman running the newspaper is probably the most substantial, for one thing.  Mostly though, it's evident because you'll  learn something from reading the book (whether you want to or not).  There are facts thrown in about crime, crime against women in particular, and environmental conditions of a region I know little about. Diary farmers be prepared to defend yourselves and feminists be prepared to hold a rally.  But the facts are woven into the story.  They are there to move the plot along, not to give someone a soap box (though I'd happily give this woman a milk crate to stand on so she can tell me more about what she learned covering the environmental and physical effects of the Rust Belt's slow demise).  This book doesn't read like an essay or op-ed piece but rather a well-researched piece of fiction.  I recommend it.  Whether you read it on the beach or not is up to you. Pin It

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pandora's Daughter by Iris Johansen

Please pardon the break in our normally scheduled postings.  Rest assured that while the three of us have been thoroughly enjoying our summer vacation, we have managed to squeeze in time to keep up with our habit.  We may be busy buying houses, selling houses and vacationing together in beach houses but we have been reading.  I promise.  (We just haven't been writing).   We'll try to be better about that. 

This time I found my book at my mom's house.  Growing up, there was always a bookshelf at the top of the stairs. I would occasionally go there to find something different to read.  I knew I could always count on a new Robert Ludlum book my dad had just finished, an Andrew Greeley mystery my mom had just read or my personal favorite, a worn out copy of "5 Minute Mysteries" by Michael Avallone.  That bookshelf would never disappoint.

So when I was home this summer with nothing to read, I called upon the old girl again.  The same copies of Robert Ludlum and Andrew Greeley's works are still there (and thankfully, so is "5 Minute Mysteries), but I also found "Pandora's Daughter".  I had never read an Iris Johansen book before and this was as good a time as any.

The story revolves around Megan, a young doctor that did not have the best childhood.  Her mother was killed when she was young, leaving her to be raised by her guardian/uncle Phillip.  Normally, I don't like books about women with traumatic upbringings (I have reality TV for that), but this one had a twist which kept me interested.  It turns out Megan has psychic powers just like her mom and the same people that killed her mother are out to get her.  Throw in a slightly hunky but sensitive family friend and you have the makings of a great read. 

I'm a little disappointed I have never read one of Johansen's books before.  I was missing out on some fast-paced reading and some unsuspected plot twists.  This one especially kept me hooked with the element of the supernatural.  Normally I am not a fan of anything outside of my comfortable little murder mystery genre, but "Pandora's Daughter" did the trick.  And happily, it wasn't SO supernatural that it became unbelievable, either.  The book stayed just on the brink of life here without going over the edge into an unrealistic abyss.

I am excited to see what the bookshelf has in store for me the next time I am home. In the meantime, I'll definitely be looking in to another Iris Johansen pick.  Suggestions anyone?

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