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.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Still Life by Louise Penny

A retired school teacher is found dead in the woods. The cause is not natural, but it's difficult to tell if she was felled by foul play or a hunting accident. The school teacher is Miss Jane Neal, who lived in a small Québécois village just north of the US border. She seems to be without enemies and her life seems void of motives for murder. The only details that are out of ordinary for the town "spinster" is that she's never let any of here friends into her house beyond the kitchen and one of her paintings was just recently accepted for an art show.

The first of series. Whose excited?

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his team, all from the Sûreté du Québec (the provincial police force of Québec) are responsible for finding the truth, and, of course, they do. This is a murder mystery as a work of fiction, after all, and not as a true crime tale. The Chief Inspector is man I quite like. He's capable and thoughtful, and he takes responsibity for mentoring his team. He is also a man of principles. I look forward to reading more of his cases.

What I like a bit less is the opaque mystery writer convention where the text tells you that something happened but doesn't tell you WHAT happened. This is meant to keep the mystery mysterious and makes it more difficult for the reader to solve the crime or second-guess the detective's next steps. I usually find it smug and pompous. For example, the Chief Inspector spends some time in a bookstore lost in heavy thought and deep conservation about the very meaning of life and loss. When he goes up to purchase a book, this is what the author shares with us:

"Ten minutes later Armand Gamache was sitting at the table by the Bistro window looking out on to Three Pines. He'd bought just one book from Myrna, and it wasn't Being or Loss. She'd seemed slightly surprised when put the book next to her till."

It's many paragraphs later that you discover what book the Chief Inpsector choose and why. Perhaps I'm too literal minded, but I find writing like that unnecessarily coy. (Being and Loss were the books Gamache had been discussing in detail.) There's another instance toward the end of the story where potential evidence is discovered in a hiding place and the author refuses to reveal what it actually is. I've never appreciated being allowed to tag along with the main characters except for key moments where they use slight of hand to disguise their actions. This always manages to take me out of the moment and my own imagination to remind me I'm reading a book. I can't imagine that's what the author wants.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this book. It's a sumptuous feast of words, thoughtful and capable like Gamache. It opens with the following passage:

"Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal's was not a natural death, unless you're of the belief everything happens as it's supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines."

Doesn't that just make you sigh with satisfaction? I could read that thirty times and not get tired of it.

The text later brings us this quotation:

Basilica di San Francesco

"It always struck Gamache as paradoxical that churches were gloomy. Coming in from the sunshine it took a minute or so to adjust. And even then, to Gamache, it never came close to feeling like home. Churches were either great cavernous tributes not so much to God as the wealth and privilege of the community, or they were austere, cold tributes to the ecstasy of refusal."

Those words really made me think about the church as a people versus the buildings where people worship. As I'm traveling around Italy, I'm frequently stepping into churches. Some resonate and feel like holy places. Others feel like a tribute to hubris or a great need for control. Some fit my definition of beauty and then seem a fitting tribute to God's earth (i.e., the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi). Other's violate my sense of order (i.e., Cattedrale di Santo Rufino also in Assisi).

All in all, I'm thrilled that my roommate in Italy suggested Louise Penny's works to me. Still Life is the first of a series, and the ninth book will be released later this year. I've already purchased the second, A Fatal Grace, and can't wait to start it.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Looking for Alaska by John Green

True confession:  I ruin things.  Usually nothing that important (though if you had queried my son the other day after I made him put a coat on before playing outside, you would have received a different point of view), but more like I am my own worst spoiler kind of ruin things.  I blurted out the twist in The Sixth Sense when I figured it out.  I watch cop shows and know who did it before we start a line-up.  I have a tendency to know how a book will turn out before I'm halfway through.  I try not to do this, because what's the fun in knowing it before it happens?  But I seem to have no control over it.  Please don't misunderstand.  I'm not saying I'm awesome or that I'm really smart or anything.  What I'm saying is: I ruin things.  That being said, I would like to make a disclaimer about this book.  So here goes.

Disclaimer:  I liked the book.  Really.  But I ruin things.

I've reviewed another book by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, which I also liked.  But I ruined it for myself on a couple of different levels.  First and foremost, John Green's target audience is teen to young adult.  I am not a teen and sadly no longer a young adult. But as I read the book (in this case, both books) I could not put myself in the teen/young adult mind space.  If I had, I think I'd probably be writing John Green a fan letter right now rather than writing this review.  So that's my own issue, not Mr. Green's.  On another level.....I ruin things.  Both books were too easy to figure out.  Again, had I been a teen/young adult I would probably feel differently.  But I am old, so therefore I ruin.

In Looking for Alaska, we follow our narrator Miles to boarding school.  Miles asked his parents to be
Not the Alaska we're looking for.
sent to his father's old stomping grounds as part of his search for a connection to something  that he wasn't finding at his public school.  Miles goes seeking Rabelais' "Great Perhaps" and does indeed find friendship, challenges, and an irritating number of pranks (sorry, as a teacher I can not condone half of the behavior in the book though that's not really my issue).  Miles becomes friends with his roommate Chip in short order as Chip introduces Miles to life at Culver Creek.  It seems there is a division between the boarders and the commuters, with the implication being that the boarders are of the "have not" variety while the commuters are the obnoxious and entitled "haves."  Nothing new there.  Through Chip, or the Colonel, Miles, or Pudge (also an annoying number of nicknames), becomes friends with Alaska.  Alaska is not a nickname.  And she immediately becomes the desire of young Pudge.  Nothing new here either.

I feel like this book and this movie
are second cousins.
Other things happen:  classes are attended, pranks are planned and pulled, alcohol and cigarettes get a lot of play.  However we all know the story really revolves around Pudge and Alaska; after all, he's the narrator and she's the title of the book.  Alaska has a boyfriend.  Pudge tries to date another girl.  Alaska is not exactly mentally stable.  Alaska, the Colonel, and Pudge must play the ultimate prank on the commuters AND the Eagle (the resident teacher/dorm monitor).  And so on and so forth.  I won't tell you the rest because I don't like to ruin things for other people, but I'm guessing you can probably take it from there.  I will say it's not the happy ending that "The Breakfast Club" is, but I bet you can navigate the issues that do come up.  

So to sum up:  I liked the book.  I thought it was too easy to figure out.  That might be because I'm old and have a preternatural way of ruining all things.  I also want to say to all teenagers everywhere that though you feel your pranks are epic and will never be outdone......they already have been.  So knock it off.  Anyway, it's a good book for the right person.  I am not that person. Pin It

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What I've Been Reading & Loving

Don't be jealous. This much mess is hard work.

I'm officially in the weeds.  I'm behind in my grading, I need to fire off three letters of recommendations, this post is a day late, and the dean just handed me a new project.

Now only is my desk a mess (and by extension the rest of my office), but so is my house and my HEAD.  I don't even know where to start to get myself organized.  Not even a clue.

I mention all this not to tell you that I haven't been reading, but as an explanation as to why I've only been reading comforting "sure things". I've been reading new books in existing series; all of which I've already reviewed.

So instead of sharing something totally new today, I'm going to remind you of what's been released lately in series in that I adore.

From possibly my favorite on-going series (maybe--I REALLY like the Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews), Frost Burned is the next installation of the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs.  I reviewed the series here, and Frost Burned is, like all the rest, and amazing urban fantasy with a kick-a$$ heroine who has a hot & capable mate and really, really good (if unusual) friends.

If you like werewolves and fae and vampires, this series is a must-read. (There are actually two on-going and related series by Briggs, the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series.  I highly recommend them both.  Start at the beginning if you can.)

Another excellent werewolf, fae and magic-filled series is the Lupi World series by Eileen Wilks.  The Mortal Ties, came out in October, so I'm actually a little late getting to this one.  Lily is, as always, capable and strong and so much in love with her crazy-hot fiance.  I reviewed the Lupi world books first here.  Mortal Ties is every bit as good as the rest of the series.  Read them.  I insist.

More recently, Nalini Singh released a collection of novellas, two previously unreleased in her psy-changeling series.  (She has another series involving vampires and angels, but this one is (kinda) shifter/cyborg/human based.  Both are excellent. I reviewed the Guild Hunter series here.)  The collection is entitled Wild Invitation, and it made me very, very happy.  The awesome part of novellas is how easy they are to start and finish whether you're diving in for the first time or re-reading them.  No major time commitment for the perennially late.

I can't seem to find a review of the psy-changeling series (which surprises me), but I think I mentioned them in the Guild Hunter review.  Even without a long explanation from me, this book is a good introduction to the series.

Also, in February, J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) released the umpteenth, but still awesome books in the Eve Dallas series, Calculated in Death.  As always a good mystery and great continual character
development can be found in the pages of the books in this series. (I'm happy to report that the writers of Castle took my advice about long term relationships being the heart of a story after I first reviewed the Eve Dallas series.  If only this weren't a blog you could see my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. :D)

Last June, I told you that the only thing wrong with Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire was tragic waiting period for the second book in the series.  Huzzah! Midnight Blue-Light Special is out and is, perhaps, more awesome than its prequel.  The characters are developing, and I continue to love them.  Also, I'm pretty sure the
author is highly entertained by passages like the one where she talks about gorgon hygiene. (It's gross, but hilarious.)

Finally, Ilona Andrews has been generously posting a new serial online.  It's entitled Clean Sweep and it's part of a new Innkeeper Chronicles series.  You can read the posts here.  I'm totally addicted, and my only complaint is that the posts don't come fast enough or often enough.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

He's not exactly the he-man type

For my first post on The Family Addiction, I'm going out of my "norm" and doing a non-fiction book. Normally I'm all about mysteries, but A.J. Jacobs was brought to my attention through my Vine reviewer status, and I've enjoyed all of his books, including this latest offering.

A.J. Jacobs is an editor-at-large for Esquire and writes for it frequently. He is also the best-selling author of three other books in the same genre. A.J. doesn't exactly just research and write. He makes himself over, usually over the course of a year or so, on some (hare-brained?) scheme and writes about those experiences with humor and humility. I highly recommend his Know-It-All, where he attempts to read the Encylopaedia Brittanica from cover to cover, and his The Year of Living Biblically, where he tries to follow all the rules in the Bible and the Torah over the course of a year. However, we're talking about Drop Dead Healthy today, in which he takes two years total to try to become "the healthiest man alive."

Mr. Jacobs first begins his quest feeling like a bit of a slug, "mushy" and out of shape. He knows he needs to improve his nutrition, but what else? He gathers a team of doctors to help advise him on how to become the healthiest man alive - or, at least, the healthiest man he can be, and that includes thoughts on skull safety, podiatry, hearing loss, weight loss and exercise, heart and lung health, etc.

He understands that it's hard to tackle everything at once, so what we get is about a chapter per month on different aspects of health and trying different theories and methods to attain it. For example, when he decides to tackle the immune system aspect, he does talk to two different doctors - one who advocates lots of hand-washing and sanitizer, and one who is of the school of thought that we are hurting our natural immunity by creating super-germs.

What this means is that he does really impressive research for each and every aspect of the book, but it reads like humor, and he's never totally dismissive even of the most "out there" ideas he finds. He does make fun of himself from time to time, and maybe of some quirks of the practitioners of the various methods, but he never dismisses their ideas as "crazy" and I think that shows respect and heart.

However, since this is humor, he does often visit the extreme ends of any given area. He visits a trainer who does Caveman workouts in Central Park, and he visits a trainer who believes that you get just as much benefit from 20 minutes a week of exhausting your muscles with heavy weights as you do with hours of cardio. He tries several different methods to stop snoring, some of them just from infomercials. He practices Finger Fitness and wears a Pedestrian Helmet everywhere for a month. But, with everything, he does quote extensive studies and has pretty impressive facts, and you realize again how much work he put into this book.

Each chapter ends with a monthly checkup - including his weight, but also other silly-yet-relevant facts like (for Month 24):
Weight -159
Dogs Petted - 12
Minutes singing per day (possible stress reliever) - 10
Days practiced didgeridoo - 2
Frog calls memorized to keep brain sharp - 9

As an underlying plot, during his two years of health quests, he continually visits his obviously adored grandfather, whose health is steadily declining. It offers an interesting juxtaposition - while A.J. is trying to get healthy, his grandfather is facing the inevitable end for all of us, even those who are as healthy as possible.

He is significantly healthier by the end of the book, and there are several appendices of tips for both "normal" and "obsessed" people to take away from his research. He doesn't come to any one big conclusion, but there is real knowledge to be gained here, and many, many laughs to be had along the way.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Forgotten Lyrics: A Watersong Story by Amanda Hocking

What's better than a free book?  Not much, in my opinion.  But when you WIN a contest on an author's Facebook page and she gifts you the ebook of your choice....that's pretty cool.  That's how I came to read this book, in fact.  Side note/piece of free advice: if you aren't actively following your favorite author/authors on Facebook, I encourage you to do so.  Not only will you connect with other readers and gain some insight into your favorite author, you may also win something! 

Our loyal blog followers (Hi Mom!) will remember that I am an Amanda Hocking fan.  I've done other reviews of her books here and here.  In short, I like her work so I was not surprised that I liked this one too.  The difference between this one and the other Hocking books I have read is that is a novella.  Translation:  quick, easy read to make me feel better about having a stack of 8-10 books next to my bed in my "To Be Read" pile.  Need to feel accomplished?  Read a novella.

In this version, Daniel and John, two brothers are the unfortunate victims of a boating accident.  It's a bad one, too.  Enter Aggie, a siren with magical powers who breaks all sorts of siren rules (there are lots of those in their species, apparently) trying to save Daniel.  She risks being seen and brings a near-death Daniel to Delia, a secret a healer with special powers.  It is there that Daniel begins to heal and then continues his journey with Lydia, Delia's granddaughter.  Lydia is convinced she is the wrong person for the job, but does it anyway.  Besides, her grandmother said so, right?  Throughout the healing process, Daniel struggles with the details surrounding the accident and rescue.  Lydia and Daniel navigate the ordeal together and form what is a touching and possibly long-lasting relationship. And oh, I forgot to mention that this is part of the whole Watersong series by Hocking that is wildly popular.

Like I said, I am an Amanda Hocking fan.  I like her stuff, so I read it.  You know what else? I also have realistic expectations.   But there is a whole faction of her fans that is upset with this novella and have crucified her for even putting it out.  They complained it was too short (it's a novella, people!).  They complained that the boat accident scene was too long.  They wanted more character development.  And last but not least, they wanted more of the story to focus on Aggie.  Attention unrealistic readers: This isn't going to win the Pulitzer Prize.  It currently costs $1.99 on Kindle and nook.  And it's only 60 pages, for pete's sake!  Take it for what it is and get on with your life.

For me, it was entertaining and a nice (short) break from some of the heavier reads I have been trying to get through. You can definitely read it as a stand-alone or in conjunction with the entire series.  Either way, I recommend it.  And please, go easy on your favorite author.  Pin It

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One Con Glory by Sarah Kuhn

Ahh, February in the Midwest.
So much fun, so much romance . . . or not.

I actually find February, despite it's brevity and it's major peppy holiday, fairly depressing here in Illinois.  More often than not the skies are grey.  The windy is biting, and the temperatures are hostile.  February is a reminder that winter is still here and kicking around.
Yadier Molina understands
the excitement of spring training

February has two bright spots.
First, pitchers and catchers report to spring training .
Second, February is followed by March which contains Spring Break.
(All educators hail Spring Break.)

So February's main appeal is its harbingers of greater, warmer, more entertaining things.  And that, the appreciation of imminent, warmer, more entertaining things is the main motivation most of us have for reading romance novels.  The first 80% of the book is February and the last 20% is Spring Break or baseball season or, less figuratively, happily ever after.

So in the spirit of February bringing you a better future, I bring you a fun, snarky nerdy romance called One Con Glory by Sarah Kuhn.

One Con Glory is the story of Julie, a journalist who writes about comic conventions and other science fiction, nerd-type conventions, and her quest for a lost action figure.  In the process, she begrudgingly interviews the star of the remake of her favorite, short-lived sci-fi show. (Her missing action figure comes from the original version of that show.) He's a pretty boy who claims to be a nerd--just like his fans. Julie assumes that claim is nothing more than a publicity ploy meant to endear him to the show's fans, but when she meets him there's just something about him.  He has opinions that aren't boilerplate PR sound bites, and they're surprisingly similar to Julie's.

But Julie has focus and some serious defense mechanisms.  In order to get to her version of Spring Break or happily ever after, Julie has some soul-searching to do.  And, perhaps, a few public displays of emotion which are SO not Julie's thing.

Glory Gilmore,
said missing action figure
One Con Glory is, in a phrase, a nerdy beach read. I loved it, and if you're looking for something contemporary and sweet (but not cloying), I recommend One Con Glory.  As someone who loves Doctor Who and reads quite a bit of sci-fi and urban fantasy, it was great to see the story set in that world.  If you're not overly aware of the world of comic conventions, I'm pretty sure the details that go over your head won't detract from the story.  On the other hand, if you like your romances heavy on the feeling and light on the adult language and heavy on the "we don't do that before we're married", this might be a bit too casual, snarky and f-bomby for you.

The book is $2.99 on Kindle and nook right now.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Saying Good-bye to Stan Musial

(This post was originally run on February 9, 2012. In light of yesterday's public visitation and tomorrow's private funeral. We're running it again.)

Wanna hear something awesome?

Pitchers and catchers report on February 18.*

I know.  It makes you giggle, doesn't it?**  I don't care if that groundhog tangoed with his shadow, Spring Training is around the corner, and THAT means spring is on the way.***

*For the St. Louis Cardinals, that is.  Not every team starts on the same day.  Check out the schedules here.

**Actually, based on the number of you that commented on the last post that sports = guy stuff, you may not be giggling.  You may not even care. It's okay.  I still love you.  I may not understand you, but we can still be friends.

***Yes, yes, winter hasn't really been that bad.  I don't care.  I'm ready for spring and Spring Training.

My precious . . . I mean, the Commissioner's Trophy

Look at the shiny, pretty, precious trophy.  It's actually coming to a cell phone store near me!! For realz!!!  I, I, um. . . actually, maybe my exclamation points and I should have a moment to ourselves.

(deep breath)

Where was I?  Right. Spring Training is right around the corner, and while my baseball team won't look exactly like it did this time last year****, that's okay because a new season is a fresh start.   During Spring Training, the post-season is still every team's dream.  Every pitcher still has a chance for a shut-out; every catcher has a chance to throw out that sneaky baserunner. Every batter has a chance to hit like The Man, Stan Musial (career .331 batting average, 475 HR, 1951 RBI.)

****No. We're not going to talk about that here.  We're going to talk about the real Man.

Stan is known for his stance.

Stan Musial is arguably the best player to ever wear a Cardinal uniform.  He is arguably one of the best players to wear any baseball uniform, frequently spoken of as part of the Big Three (Musial, DiMaggio, and Williams).  In Stan Musial: An American LifeGeorge Vecsey argues those cases well. For Stan Musial, the usual Spring Training dreams of position players--hitting well, winning pennants, and being chosen as an All-Star--were a reality for most of 22 seasons.  In addition to being amazing on the diamond, Stan is generally referred to gentleman off the diamond and a savvy businessman.  Would that all professional athletes had his commitment to his wife, his soft touch with fans, and his foresight to earn money in non-athletic pursuits.  We'd have a lot more role models in professional sports if they did.

In fact, Stan Musial: An American Life almost seems too good to be true.  The stories told, though, are consistent with what was said about Stan when he was an active player and when he was an active businessman.  The only real complaints to be found about Stan seem to be that he wasn't omnipotent.  If his teammates were looking for a political leader who would use his weight to address the social inequalities of his time, they were looking in the wrong place.  Stan wasn't the kind of teammate to chase confrontation.  If his hometown was looking for someone to save a small town in the Rust Belt, they were looking in the wrong place.  Stan was known to be generous on an individual basis, but he never formed a foundation that makes major donations for hospital wings and children's libraries.

So it seems that Stan wasn't perfect, but as man he was very, very good, and as a player he was great.  I'll take that, and I'll take George Vecsey's collection of Stanley anecdotes to carry me over until the baseball season really begins.  I liked this glimpse into the history of baseball (Musial's career spanned racial integration and union formation) and the history Stan (his upbringing, his playing days, and his relationships).

For a St. Louis Cardinals fan, this is a must read.  For a true fan of baseball, this is a must read. For all of us, it's a great lesson of a life of meaning and value.

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