Saturday, November 27, 2010

Third read for an eschewer of re-reads

I'm pretty sure this book does not need any synopsis; by this point it is probably one of the most recognized books in the world! I am an eschewer of re-reads, there are just too many books out there to spend time reading the same one again; however, there is something about the Harry Potter series that I just can't resist - this is my THIRD time reading them!

Each time I pick them up, I am transported back to Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione to battle evil and safe the wizarding world. I LOVE these books....

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Year 1)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Year 2)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Year 3)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Year 4)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Year 5)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Year 6)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Year 7)

Selfish altruism makes for a horrible second book

Beautiful Darkness (Caster Chronicles #2)
Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

What is it about the second installment of YA paranormal romance books that just irritates the crap out of me? Oh yeah, the completely selfish altruism* that stems from an immature lack of communication.

Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate survived Lena's sixteen birthday - the day where she must decide if she will be a Light Caster or a Dark Caster, and suffer the consequences of either decision. But, Lena has never been normal and a twist of fate/repeat of the past leaves the Order of Things in the balance. While Lena struggles to come to terms with her decisions and fights to decide who she really is, Ethan becomes more entrenched in the Caster World and learns that life is never what it seems and those you love never really leave.

I love the premise of this series - Light v. Dark, Caster v. Mortal, Love v. Loss. I think the authors do a fabulous job of weaving together the two concurrent worlds with characters that you can't help but love (or hate). Yeah, there are parts of the story that tend to be a little too coincidental but I've come to expect a bit of that with YA books and I have come to tolerate a low level amazing coincidences.

What I have not come to tolerate is this sudden theme of Book 2 in YA series of one half of the couple completely abandoning the other because they believe they are protecting their boy/girlfriend. When has leaving without an explanation and cutting someone completely out of your life ever been the correct way to solve a problem or extract yourself from a difficult situation?! And, in addition, why does the abandonee always fall into a state of serious depression that consumes their life?!

The "I can't live without you" theme probably wasn't as bad as I am making it out to be but the negative associations with the same, gender-reversed theme in New Moon of the Twilight Saga had me taking deep breaths to calm myself down and taking notes to prevent my future daughter/son from thinking this way. (Seriously, amazing parallels between Ethan and Bella - SO leaves to protect them, friend/potential new SO is there to console, heartbroken Ethan/Bella braves all to save the life of the one who abandoned them, forgiveness given without any discussion about it).

Overall, a solid and entertaining addition to the Caster Chronicles but I am glad to be through this book and have full faith that the third installment will be much better and less teen-angst-y

*Yes, I realize that "selfish altruism" is conflicting...did it on purpose.

Formulaic but it works for Morton!

The Distant Hours
Kate Morton

Morton's books have a definite plot structure - family secrets that are slowly unveiled through interwoven stories from multiple points of view of the past and present - but it works for her!

Edie Burchill is an only child; she loves her parents but isn't particularly close to them even though she longs to know more about them as individuals. When her mother receives a letter that was caught up in the postal service for fifty years, Edie gets a glimpse of a side of her mother that she has never seen before and is eager to learn more.

The letter, combined with some serendipitous events, leads Edie on a path to discover the events during World War II that caused her mother to be evacuated to a country estate under the care of the eccentric Blythe sisters, the true story behind the classic children's novel The Mud Man, and the dark secrets that they Blythe family continues to hide a half century and more after their occurrence.

Morton has a wonderful way with words, she paints such a vivid picture of the characters and surroundings that I am instantly transported into her world. She is descriptive without be clinical or flowery - and I think that is a hard balance to strike. However, her plots are wonderfully circuitous but fairly easy to figure out; I read for the journey of getting to the end and not for the surprise revelation that is waiting. Even so, there are some minor twists and turns that add to the enjoyment of reading even if they don't spur you on to the next.

If you are a fan of Morton - as I am - then this book will not be a let down! If you are new to Morton, any of her books are a wonderful introduction to her body of work that is small as of yet but highly enjoyable....just don't read them all back-to-back!

Death would have been an excellent vacation compared to reading this detestable book

Death's Excellent Vacation
Edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

Horrible. Mindless. Drivel. I really only picked this book up for the Harris and MacAlister short stories but thought the others would be fun, short, paranormal stories that would maybe introduce me to a new author. Not. I know who's books I would never freaking touch with a ten foot pole. I may actually never go into the paranormal section again for fear of traumatic flashbacks.

First of all, shame on you Harris. I truly despise it when authors write something simply because they think it will add to a movie or TV show (yeah, I'm talking to you too Stephenie Meyer about The Second Short Life of Bree Tanner) and that is exactly what Harris's story, Two Blondes was - a stupid, out of character story that provided some girl-on-girl action that Alan Ball is going to get his hand on and sensationalize on TrueBlood. For J.C. sake, Harris dedicated the book to him!

And MacAlister, you chose to write your short story about Jim?! I mean, I think he is a witty, and funny supporting character, but who really wants to go home and learn more about him - didn't we learn our lesson about this from the spin-off Joey?!

Why the half star you ask? Well, I was pleasantly entertained by One for the Money by Jeaniene Frost (despite her poor title choice. Seriously, don't copy the first book title of a wildly successful chick lit series), and while this compliment is something like saying you are tallest person in a room full of midgets, it did give me the false hope that there were other tolerable stories in this book. There weren't.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My guilty pleasure tradition

Happy Ever After (Bride Quartet #4)
Nora Roberts

I have a tradition, a completely girly and irrational tradition that I love and hope to continue for many years. On the day that a new Nora Roberts book comes out, I purchase it at my local bookstore, crack open a bottle of red wine, and read it cover-to-cover. I give myself permission to drink the WHOLE bottle of wine, cry freely at the over-the-top romantic parts, and disregard any work/social functions to stay up to the wee hours to make sure that the leading man and woman end up Happy Ever After!

Happy Ever After is the final member of the Bride Quartet: Parker Brown. Parker created Vows – a premier wedding business in the ultra-rich Greenwich – for her and her three best friends and continued to make their dream a reality by being the glue that held everything together. Efficient, supreme multi-tasker, level-headed, and organized beyond belief, Parker never saw herself falling for her mechanic, Mal Kavanaugh. But, as Mal proves to be much more than he appears on the surface, Parker finds that he may just be everything she has ever wanted but never planned for.

I am capable of understanding books with complex themes and subtexts and then dissect and discuss them on an intellectual level…I even enjoy books such as that on a fairly regular basis. However, my favorite genre of all time is contemporary romance (heavy on the contemporary, medium on the romance) and Nora Roberts is a goddess in my world. I realize NR novels are unrealistic, contrived, and fit a cookie-cutter mold….and I could care less. They are my guilty pleasure and I love every single word on every single page! :)

Let the countdown begin to July 7, 2011, when the next Nora Roberts novel (Chasing Fire) is released!

I wanted more...

Black Sun
Graham Brown

More Mayans, more details, and definitely more sharks!

***Extremely Minor Spoilers***

Black Sun starts a few years after Black Rain ended: it is nearing December 21, 2012, the world is obsessed with the end of the Mayan calendar, and McCarter and Danielle can't stop thinking about the stone they found deep in the jungle that has mysterious properties. McCarter is convinced that there are three other stones just like the first, all hidden by the Mayans, and together they will either protect the world from the end of the Mayan calendar.....or be the cause. Together, he and Danielle - along with Hawker as a tag-along - once again head into the history of the Mayans and the future of civilization to save the world!

I really enjoyed Black Sun: I am not wild about the end of the Mayan calendar theories but I do find them interesting and introduces an excuse to talk about the Mayans; I love how the author ties together ancient Mayan history in the form of their calendar and creation myths with futuristic societies and advanced scientific theory, seriously fantastic; and any book that mentions the ampullae of Lorenzini is a sure-fire win!

However, many of the aspects I overlooked in his debut novel I feel should have been improved upon in his sophomore publication:

The characters lack depth - we know a little bit about their past from the first book but I really wanted to see them confront their pasts and grow in this book. They didn't. I like the action-packed nature of this book but action from characters I can not connect with is monotonous.

Details are sparse and, therefore, the story doesn't fully come to life - there is so much information in this novel but the details aren't there to make the story pop. Yeah, we learn about some Mayan stuff and some science stuff but I wanted more details. The way it is written, it is hard to get too excited about some of the aspects.

The coincidences got a little out of control - when you magically crash land in the exactlocation you have been desperately searching for and there is a man there who has all of the answers to your questions (and all of this happens in the span of about 10 pages), it is a bit too coincidental for me. The author works so hard to build suspense and a sense of urgency and then it's like he didn't have a good idea on how to make it all come together so he throws it into a convenient, yet improbable, action.

Overall, a fast-paced and entertaining read. I will definitely be picking up Mr. Brown's next book but hope that he improves on some aspects while retaining the awesome intersection of anthropological history and scientific future!

Oprah finally got it right

Jonathan Franzen

Freedom had a lot of things working against it before I picked it up: it got rave critical reviews (pretentious middle-aged men and I typically don't have similar reading tastes), mixed popular reviews (mixed reviews can actually be a plus because then you at least know people are being honest), and then Oprah picked it as her newest book club pick (I love Oprah but, let's be honest, she doesn't have great taste in book selections). However, I was still intrigued and decided to give this one a try....and am glad I did.

Patty and Walter Berglund are a happily married couple living in the suburbs of Minnesota. Walter is a nature-lover who always thought he would do activist work, but gladly works at a corporate job so that Patty can stay home with their kids, Jessica and Joey. As the kids get older and Patty and Walter begin to grow apart, their life stories are told through a combination of flashbacks and current stories, with different parts of the story being told from different parts of view. The theme running through the book is the idea of freedom: what each persons idea of freedom is and what happens when they actual gain the freedom they always thought they wanted.

I think Freedom is best described by what it is not; this book is not:
· a plot driven novel - it is very character driven and while there is a storyline, the common thread is just the life of a family and the peripheral events that shape their lives together.
· a feel-good story - it definitely leans more toward a realistic view of a slightly dysfunctional family...the family isn't horribly dysfunctional, just the parents gradually grow apart, the son becomes rebellious, and the daughter feels like she has to be perfect.
· full of lovable characters - in fact, most of the characters were not likable at all. They were selfish, mentally unstable, and made unforgivable mistakes; but instead of making me hate the book, the characters kept pulling me back in to see what would happen next and if the family would make it through the next challenge.
· Freedom also had subtle social, environmental, and political commentaries (sometimes not so subtle) that I thought added greatly to the overall story by bringing a bit of the outside world into what otherwise would have been an isolated family story.

While I greatly enjoyed Freedom and had trouble putting it down, many people will probably read this review and be even more convinced to stay away from this book! But, sometimes the best and most influential books end up being the most polarizing...and I ended up on the positive side.

Many funny stories don't equal a particularly funny book

The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club
Laurie Notaro

This is a collection of newspaper columns that Laurie wrote as the humor columnist for Arizona Republic. Each 3-5 page story in itself was pretty entertaining in a whiskey tango kinda way - lots of chain smoking, excessive drinking, and lack of personal hygiene but with a humorous spin. However, the collection of all of the stories in one place, back-to-back, with not even a loose storyline to hold them together ended up being a redundant and quickly lost it's luster. I would have enjoyed them much more reading them in their original, once-a-week format.

This was the first book Notaro wrote, I know that she has written many others, and I'm not above giving something else by her a whirl. In the short term though, I will most likely stick to Jen Lancaster and Chelsea Handler. I do have to give these conservative and slightly prudish women some credit though, they tell hysterical stories about trips to the gynecologist!

Sandra Brown is moving back to the 1990's

Tough Customer
Sandra Brown

Ah, there is the Sandra Brown I know and love! After a love-hate relationship with some of Brown's more recent romantic suspense (love that Brown was the author but hate the crap she was writing), I feel like she has returned to her former glory with Tough Customer.

Dodge Hanley is a private investigator in Georgia; he lives alone, has no close friends, toes the line of the law to get his job done, and smoke constantly. But his isolated world is penetrated when he gets a call from Caroline King with a desperate plea for him to come to Texas to help their daughter, who finds herself the object of a stalkers unwanted attention, and the stalker has begun a sequence of escalating criminal events. Dodge hasn't seen or spoken to Caroline and Berry for 30 years, since the day Berry was born and he walked out of their lives, but he finds himself unable to say no. Dodge heads to Texas and works with the local Deputy, Ski Nyland, to find the stalker and keep Berry safe....but emotions that had been long buried begin to rise to the surface.

Tough Customer tells two alternating stories: the present story of Berry and her stalker, and the 30 year old story of how Caroline and Dodge found and subsequently lost each other. Brown did a great job of weaving the two stories together; they each had intrigue and emotion that left you anxious to get to the next part to see what happens. The present story was the more prominent one and it was full of twists and turns and something off about the stalker's actions that you just couldn't put your finger on - it was great! Throw in the additional personal development of the characters and a little smoldering attraction, and Brown re-found the recipe for a romantic suspense novel that I can't put down.

Miss the Sandra Brown of the 1990's? Pick up Tough Customer, throw on your hyper color t-shirt, put on some Spice Girls background music and relive some of the higher (?) points of the 90's.