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.

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. 
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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.
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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.

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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?
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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