Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This was less of a "savor" and more of a "devour" read!

Savor the Moment (Bride Quartet #3)
Nora Roberts

One romance novel, a bottle of wine, and a half-bar of spicy dark chocolate has reinforced how much I love Nora Roberts as an author! It was fantastic to read this book (in less than 5 hours I might add - I absolutely devoured it!) on the heels of so many young adult books. NR might be a little MadLib-ish at times but the woman can write a book that completely pulls you in to the story and the characters without making it feel like it was formed from a cookie-cutter plot. I love the subtleties of the characters and how, even though I know what is coming in the end (could they really not end up together?!) I appreciate the normalcy of the relationship that the characters go through - the doubts, stupid fights, bonding with girls over man-bashing, panicking when you realize you're in love. And, what I think Nora Roberts does better than the rest, is the development of the friendship, the relationships outside of the primary guy/girl dating - the friends in this Quartet makes me appreciate my girls...and wish we were talented enough to start a wedding business together! lol

The third installment of the Bride Quartet follows the Laurel, the bakery chef at Vows - an all-inclusive wedding planning service ran by four best friends. Laurel comes from a less-than fortunate family in the upper-class area of Greenwich, CT, who has always been in love with her best friend's older brother. When the sexual tension between Laurel and Del hits a boiling point they both have to face feelings they have been burying for decades.

I loved reading this novel cover-to-cover but now I am, once again, out of new Nora Roberts and have to wait another couple months for her next new release!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Young adult girls are starting to annoy me

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception
Maggie Stiefvater

Okay, I admit it, I think I'm getting old.
1) Why are fictional YA female characters so stupid?! I don't care how much you are awed by a hot body and perfect blond hair (I'm not too old to appreciate that, though I prefer brown hair) you should not be following around a mysterious guy who openly admits he is dangerous and you think might be trying to kill you! Seriously?! Mysterious is one thing, maybe he's just brooding or misunderstood. Potential first-degree murder - especially your own - is completely unacceptable.
2) Did the male population suddenly massively outnumber the female population? ALL of these girls have two guys fighting over them?! Completely unrealistic.
3) And where do these parents come from? Based on the parental units I have read about in YA lately you would think that all parents are emotionally abusive, neglectful, and flat-out uninterested in their children's lives.
4) And who builds these houses that the families live in? Why can these parents, in their bedroom across the hall from their children, not hear teenage boys sneaking in and out at all hours of the night?! I thought about sneaking a guy into my parents house once and my dad told me to just try it, he had freshly cleaned his shot-gun...and I was 26 YEARS OLD!

Maybe I'm being unfair. In the defense of YA, I have read two books by Stiefvater back-to-back and both of them angered me so perhaps it's just this author I don't care for and am being jaded by the freshness of the reading. The only thing that earned this star-crossed lovers tween drama 2 stars is that I liked the concept of the fey, other than that, the summary of this book would read like a MadLibs:

Socially inept teenage girl (insert original, two syllable name here) is struggling though high school; only her exceptional gift at (insert a music, art, or writing skill here) and her male best friend (insert average, one syllable name here) who is (insert any word that is a synonym for "beautiful"). The best male friend is of course popular, gorgeous, charming, and completely in love with lead-female even though she is (insert one of the following: oblivious, scared, stupid) to this. Then, a new bad-boy (insert a male name that is either foreign or old-school) comes to town who happens to be (insert any mythical character here). Lead-female and mythical bad-boy fall (inset overly-sappy adjective) in love, which sets up a love triangle between lead-girl, male-bf (who, by the way, is perfect for her), and mythical bad-boy. The story progresses as (insert mythical character's people) try to kill the lead-girl - all the while lead-girl and mythical bad-boy kiss (insert adverb here) while always finding the non-existent tween will-power to not go farther - ending in a mini-battle that is as anti-climatic as the love story and lead-girl ends up with mythical bad-boy but always in his world and on his terms.

I need a break from YA and am picking up the 1,500 page autobiography of Harry Truman next. It may bore me to tears but at least it will be based on semi-realistic assumptions

Not quite Heaven

Pigs in Heaven
Barbara Kingsolver

I just couldn't get into this continuation of Taylor and Turtle's story despite how much I loved meeting them in The Bean Trees. Pigs in Heaven catches up with the ladies three years after the close of the last book. They are happy and living in Tuscon but when they take a trip to Hoover Dam their lives change. The Cherokee Nation learns of Taylor's not-quite-legal adoption of Turtle and cites the Indian Child Welfare Act to request her be returned to the tribe, sending Taylor into a panic. Taylor must choose between giving up the daughter she loves and knowing that she can't provide Turtle with the culture she is entitled to.

Pigs in Heaven lacked the charm and heart that The Bean Trees had; I understand that Taylor didn't want to lose Turtle but her actions just didn't jibe with the headstrong and independent personality that was developed in the first book, her actions definitely weren't in the best interest for Turtle, and it was a bit melodramatic for me. I wasn't really a fan of Jax or Annawake either, I just couldn't relate to them very much; Jax was borderline weird and I'm totally not into the emotional, insecure, musician types and Annawake viewed things as black or white but she got better as the story went on. The best characters were definitely Cash and Alice, two older people who had lived through their share of heartaches and we're even aware their lives were missing something.

Overall, if you really like The Bean Trees it might just be best to stop when you're ahead.

A beautiful, colorful depiction of the live of a geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden

Bust out the party hats - exactly one year after starting this audio book, I have finally completed it!! As many of you know, I am not a huge fan of audio books for myself; I think mainly because I can read a book in about a third of the time as someone on a tape and I am not good at listening while doing anything besides driving...and I don't drive a lot. But, the extremely long reading time was not a reflection of this beautiful story. Warning: I will be butchering the spelling of all of these lovely Japanese names because I have never seen them in print!

Sayuri is removed from her poor fishing village when she is 9 years old and moves to the geisha district of Gion in Kyoto. She is taken into a okiya and assists Hatsumama, the okiya's extremely popular and successful geisha but Hatsumama is very cruel and the Mother and Auntie who run the okiya always support Hatsumama in order to keep her happy and making money. Eventually, Sayuri is noticed by another very successful geisha, Mameha, because of her unusual grey-blue eyes and Mameha agrees to be Sayuri's Older Sister and train her to be a geisha. The story follows Sayuri's life from 9 until about 30; from her arrival in Gion, through her becoming a geisha, through WWII, and ending with the moment she feels her life began.

Golden vividly described life for a geisha in the early 1900's. I was mesmerized by the description of the geisha clothing, manners, and scheming as well as the business side of the geisha life. I liked the audiobook because all of the names were properly pronounced, which is something that is hard for me and I generally end up skimming over names. However, the narrator of the audiobook was less than enthralling even though her voice did match the proper and conserved tone of Sayuri's character. I highly recommend this book but suggest you definitely pick it up in print!


I am completely unsure of how I feel about the ending of this book! I love that Sayuri never gave up hope and held on to her dreams but I don't like how what she did to get them in the end and felt it was very out of character for her. Also, the "happily ever after" ending didn't really mesh with the rest of the book. Don't get me wrong, I am a sucker for a good love story, but this ending seemed to come a little out of nowhere and was a little too much of a Pretty Woman ending for this particular book. And, let's be honest, I felt SO bad for Nobu!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Regardless of what happens, life goes on


Alan Brennert

It has been a long time since I had to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to finish a book, but I was so captivated with the characters and story ofMoloka'i that I shamefully did nothing yesterday afternoon after work except read this book cover-to-cover...even forgoing sleep. Easily one of the best books I have ever read!

Rachel is a five-year old girl living in Waikiki in 1891; she is the youngest of four siblings and her father's unspoken favorite. Her dad is gone for 8-10 months at a time, working on cargo ships that travel the world, and Rachel dreams of traveling to far-away places as well. When Rachel is seven, her life takes a drastic turn - she is diagnosed with leprosy (later to become known as Hansen's disease) and is separated from her family and sent to the remote island of Moloka'i to live in quarantine because of the disease's rampant spread in the islands and the Hawai'i government fear. Rachel is terrified - of leaving her family, of being sick, and of the people in the Moloka'i colony who live their life disfigured by this painful disease. However, life goes on as Rachel adapts to her new life while never losing her desire to return to Oahu and her family.

I was absolutely captivated by this phenomenal story - Rachel was a strong, courageous character who lived through more than any one person should but still managed to be relatively happy and normal; the non-fiction aspects of this historical fiction novel has me shocked at what these people were forced to go through, I had no idea that leper colonies occurred less than 100 years ago (and still occur in several countries around the world); and I was enfolded in the story by Brennerts beautiful writing that flowed seamlessly among personal and national events, seventy years, and the many unfortunate deaths that littered Rachel's life on and off Moloka'i. But, above all else, I was in love with the relationships: friends, family, mentors, spouses - the 'ohana - that showed that these people were not lepers first and foremost, but were normal people living and experiencing like while unfortunately also battling leprosy.

This story was not a feel-good book; it was a roller-coaster of emotions (many tears for me!) that included many highs and lows but ultimately just depicted life. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Don't be like me and let it sit on your shelf for over a year before you finally pick it up!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's hot then it's cold

Maggie Stiefvater

Why are werewolves SO much hotter than vampires? If I were forced to choose between these two supernatural beings, werewolves would win. Hands down. Every time. Shiver is an interesting twist on the traditional myth of werewolves set to the same old (well-loved) tune of teenage star-crossed lovers.

When Grace was 11 years old, she was attacked by wolves that live in the woods outside of her Minnesota town of Mercy Falls. She survived the attack and while most people would have developed a healthy fear of these canines, she develops an obsession with a wolf with yellow eyes that always is hanging around. She finally realizes that the wolf morphs into a man, Sam, when the temperature is warm and, as winter approaches, they both struggle to keep him human as long as possible.

I really liked the story of the werewolves and thought the the temperature-induced shifting was an interesting concept. The story was also alternately told from Grace and Sam's perspectives and it provided a more well-rounded story being able to get into both of these characters heads - it cut down on the contrived dialogue that would have been needed to fill the narrator in if it was only told from one POV. The story was tween-cheesy-overly-dramatic-the-world-will-end-if-we-can't-be-together....and I wouldn't have my tween romances any other way! There were some really interesting relationships between characters aside from Grace and Sam; unfortunately, the peripheral story lines were not developed nearly to their full potential but I give the author credit for at least trying.

I didn't like that some parts of the story were so unrealistic - I mean parts OTHER than the shape-shifting werewolves who fall in love with local girls. Grace's parents were borderline neglectful, which resulted in me being angry at them any time they were mentioned. I know that absentee parenting is the hot new trend in teen dramas - perhaps it's because teens who read the books view themselves as independent and not needing invasive parents who do things like make sure they aren't falling in love with non-humans - but parents that don't qualify for a call to social services would be a real breath of fresh air.

The big points deduction for me came from the bazillion unanswered questions I had at the end! Let's see if I can speak in code to those of you who have read this: 1) Ummm, what happened to the newbies that showed up at the end? It was like they were vaporized right out of the story! 2) How in the world does a 17 year old girl have working knowledge of drawing blood? And how did she do it with NO ONE noticing. Oh wait, adults are oblivious. 3) What is up with the white princess that spontaneously shows up and disappears without any explanation what-so-ever? 4) The ending!!! OMG, I want to know who? what? when? where? why? and how? 5) What are the walls of Grace's bedroom made from - fully sound-proof material and a magical spell that causes anyone approaching to be confused and walk away? I am 27 years old and I want my walls to be made of that.

Overall, once I just decided to let go of some of the dangling questions that will never be answered, I really enjoyed this book! It still didn't compare to another popular tween novel that I will not name (it rhymes with "highlight") but this definitely piqued my interested and the second installment (Linger, which comes out late June) deserves a read.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lacking the sweetness of the first book

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce Mystery #2)
Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is back in the second murder mystery to strike her idyllic English town. The resurfacing of circumstances of the mysterious death of a small boy and the sudden appearance of a famous puppeteer for the BBC seem to be inexplicably intertwined.

I found Bradley's sophomore cozy mystery to be much less charming that his first. The actual murder mystery aspects were not revealed until about halfway through the book (and not even surprisingly, as the death of Rupert Porson is stated on the dust-jacket summary); Flavia's investigation is very much separate from the Inspectors, which removed the aspect of her remaining one ingenious step ahead of the official investigation; and the solving of the mystery seemed to come a little out of no-where and lacked the intrigue and danger of the first book. I am starting to be less sympathetic and more appalled by the home life of Flavia - her sisters are allowed to torment her endlessly and her father seems completely unconcerned with where she disappears to for endless amounts of time.

What saved this book from a lower rating is that Flavia is a lovable character who is witty and precocious without being too rebellious, though her blatant love for chemistry was reduced to my dismay; the story did have some very surprising twists and turns as the lives and relationships of the townsfolk were revealed; and Dodger is perhaps the most unlikely of insightful, father-like characters in contemporary fiction, and I can't help but absolutely adore his and Flavia's friendship. I enjoy the role that small-town gossip plays in the story - being from a small town I so I am completely amused by how realistic the "secret" information is passed along at the speed of light! lol

While I generally am not a huge fan of cozy mysteries (I am morbidly fascinated by gory details of the murders and investigations) but I will most likely indulge in the third Flavia de Luce that Bradley is currently writing - The Red Herring Without Mustard - in hopes that it will be more similar to The Sweetness than The Weed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The greatest gift to give

The Giver
Lois Lowry

Jonas is an almost 12-year-old in a dystopian society where everything is extremely ordered and perfect - families consist of two parents with one boy and one girl, no one gets sick, there is perpetual peace, everyone is polite and well-mannered, and when death does come it is almost always at an old age and ushered with a celebration. At the age of twelve each child in the community learns what their life assignment will be, a career that is assigned by the Elders, and they dedicate their lives to following the rules that govern that assignment. Jonas receives a special assignment - to work with The Giver - and quickly learns that his perfect world comes at a price that he could not have even imagined.

***mild spoilers - nothing too big***

This book was extremely powerful and truly makes you think about the world we live in - yes, there is a lot of pain and suffering but would we banish these evils from our world if it meant also giving up joy and love? This is one of the most beautifully written young adult books I have ever read; Lowry's genius storytelling is so provocative because you learn about Jonas' world as he learns about it, therefore you share the shock, wonder, and eventual outrage that he feels in the book.

***actual spoilers***

Toward the end of the book, when The Giver and Jonas are planning for Jonas to go away I was a little shocked that The Giver was pushing for Jonas to leave while he would be the one to stay behind. I initially thought it was very selfish of The Giver to make Jonas leave everything he has ever known and go to what I thought was certain-death regardless of how limiting life in the community was. However, at the end of the book I realized that The Giver gave Jonas the gift of actual life, possibly the best gift anyone could receive.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kingsolver delivers....again

The Bean Trees
Barbara Kingsolver

I started The Bean Trees this afternoon and literally could not put it down! This is only the third fictional book I have read by Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bibleand Prodigal Summer being the other two) and all of them have earned 5 stars and a heart from me! Kingsolver has a wonderful way of writing real-life characters - people who are just living their life as best they can and handling the situations that are thrown at them on a day-to-day basis. The Bean Treesdidn't have an elegant storyline like Prodigal Summer but the characters were just so darn likeable.

Taylor (a.k.a. Missy) escapes small town Kentucky life with a high school education, job experience, and (against all odds) no children conceived in high school like many of the other girls in her town. She packs up her broken down VW and vows to drive until it breaks down. She has a minor issue in the Cherokee Reservation of Oklahoma and she leaves with a fixed car and a small girl, Turtle, in tow. Her car finally bites the big one right outside Jesus Is Lord Used Tires in Tuscon and decides that this is the end of the line for her. She and her new "daughter" meet and befriend a cast of characters who worm their way into your heart with their stories.

I will definitely get to Pigs in Heaven at some point to read the continuation of Taylor and Turtle's story. I have also hesitated to pick up Kingsolver's latest novel,The Lacuna, (mainly because it has a yellow cover and the color yellow is an abrasive color to me!) but I think I am going to finally dive in!

Who is really domesticating whom?

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

I read this book when it was first released during my freshman year of college. I had never heard of Michael Pollan and I was a closet scientist who still had aspirations of actually making money at a future career and was therefore an accounting major. I loved this book then - at least I remember loving it but I can't exactly remember why. Perhaps because I devoured anything science related to feed my secret lust, a lust which evolved into love and resulted in me leaving the business-suit world of accounting for the awe-inspiring world of science. However, my scientific knowledge was limited at the time of my first reading and many of the ethical issues we face today were not even on my radar. It was definitely interesting to re-read this book many years later, with a perspective fine-tuned from experience and education....

The catch line in the book synopsis asks the question of humans and plants, "who is really domesticating whom?" Pollan tackles this probing question by diving into the history of four important domesticated plants: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. He follows each plant from their first discovery by humans as a desirable plant to the realization that the plant is highly conducive to hybridization, cross-breeding, and cultivation to the status of each plant in today's society. To some, Pollan's descriptions may seem to wander down unexplained paths only to eventually loop back to the main topic but I find his Dionysian explorations to not only be interesting, but to fit with with the overall theme of the book that nature is hard to tame.

The apples and tulip sections are interesting but I find the last two chapters to be un-put-down-able. The chapter on marijuana branches into the regulations by the government that actually caused a growing boom in the US which has lead to it being one of the largest cash crops in the country. I personally don't partake of marijuana (mainly because, at 27, my father still instills the fear of god in me when it comes to getting high) but I have often wondered why this drug has illicited the wrath of the DEA. The chapter on potatoes touches on GMO's, specifically Monsanto's products and patents, which, at the time of the writing of this book, was extremely cutting-edge but still has many ethical and biological debates raging between big farming business, organic farmers, and environmentalist. Did you know that GMO's with herbivore-resistance spliced into their genomes are not even regulated by the FDA because they are not considered food? They are regulated by the EPA as a pesticides....mind blowing.

I couldn't resist picking this up again...and am glad that I reread it. I can now recommend it for substantiated reasons!