Sunday, May 23, 2010

This once favorite series has lost it's southern charm

Dead In The Family (Southern Vampire Mysteries #10)
Charlaine Harris

Sookie is once again embroiled in Supe politics, but I still don't really understand what's going on. Now that the Weres have gone public, the government wants them to register (racial profiling, anyone?!) but they are resisting. Eric's maker is in Shreveport after being separated for over 100 years and he has brought an interesting vampire with him. There are several faeries who are hanging around Sookie's place but she can't figure out who they are or why they are there.

I realize this is a series and I have read every book so I should be fully aware of the back-details. But, let's be realistic, it's been several months since I read the 9th book and some of the details were a little fuzzy and I would have benefited from some subtle reminders - subtle reminders that Harris absolutely did NOT include; therefore, I spent over half of the book confused and trying to figure out what it was that I couldn't remember. I found Sookie to be completely whiny and petty in this book and she seriously annoyed me. When did she lose that naive charm and become manipulative (not to mention she really upped the cursing!). Eric lacked the smug confidence that I love about him and he was totally not sexy. The plot was slow moving and then suddenly everything was explained in the final 20 pages. Jason also did a complete 180 and was suddenly an understanding, supporting, and loving brother.

Overall, this book seemed completely disconnected from the earlier books and the plots are getting weaker. Eh. I'll probably give the next one a try for nostalgia sake but I am on the verge of writing these off!

Gothic reincarnation of endless love and timeless devotion

The Gargoyle
Andrew Davidson

A sweeping gothic romance that spans 400 years, multiple reincarnations, and cultures from around the world. A story of one mans trials and triumphs to overcome severe physical injury and endure his personal hell in order to find peace with himself. An unbelievably touching depiction of true love and self sacrifice.

The unnamed narrator of The Gargoyle is a porn star and producer who places all of his self-worth in his looks and sexual skills. He is involved in a horrendous car accident that leaves his body severely burned beyond recognition and his chance at living is close to zero. Physically, he manages to survive but his mental health is far from healed; he no longer has the will to live and is a less-than willing patient. Then, Marianne Engel enters his life - a possibly mentally disturbed woman who carves gargoyles for a living and feels everything to the extreme, whether it be life or despair. Marianne continuously claims that she has loved him since the 1300's and tells him the story of their love. From Japan to Iceland to Italy to Germany, Marianne weaves stories of star-crossed lovers, enduring love, and destiny; with strong reflections of Dante's Inferno and the idea that each man's hell is unique and personal.

This book was an amazing surprise - I have heard about it for years and read numerous glowing reviews but never fully understood what the book was about. I was feeling a little bored with the typical romance plot and wanted a change; something more complex, perhaps not happily ever after, and realistic challenges that love faces - I couldn't have asked for more! This book was incredibly moving, often-times disturbing, and ultimately hopeful in an unlikely way.

What made me hold back the final star was that I have never read Dante's Inferno. I know the general gist of the nine circles of hell but I have a sneaking suspicion that the narrator's journey was more of a modern re-telling than I realize and the true genius of this novel went over my head. Even despite this lack on my part as a reader, the story was still enthralling...and has made me want to pick up Dante!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Move over Dan Brown - Boyd Morrison has debuted!

The Ark
Boyd Morrison

Take home message: The best thriller I have read in years! Slightly nerdy, wicked handsome, ex-military engineer hero; kick-ass PhD archaeologist heroine; an alternate view of the Biblical Noah's Ark; and a bio-warfare agent that will leave you terrified.

Dilaria Kenner is an biological archaeologist who comes by it naturally, her father dedicated his life to discovering Noah's Ark and unraveling the mystery of the Biblical flood but disappeared under suspicious circumstances three years ago. Now, she is being summoned from South America back home by an old family friend and psuedo-uncle, Sam Watson. Sam insists on meeting her at the airport and is acting uncharacteristically paranoid, all for good reason: with his dying breath he tells her that her father found the Ark before he died and whispers a series of words: Genesis. Dawn. Oasis. and finally Tyler Locke. She is curious about what is going on but does not doubt Sam when she almost dies twice in 12 hours - what is so important that someone wants her dead? The key seems to be Locke.

Dilaria and Tyler, along with wildly lovable Grant Westerfield, embark on a mission that unearths a fanatic religious society that believes the only way to save human civilization is to start again, a series of cryptic clues left to Dilaria from her father that encourage her to continue his search for Noah's Ark, and a premonition that these two unlikely scenarios are related through the threat of a biological disease that is unstoppable.

What makes The Ark so much better than every other thriller book in recent memory? The action-packed storyline that has you madly flipping pages and sitting on the edge of your seat as Morrison weaves together a terrifying current threat, a Biblical mystery that has thwarted scholars for 6,000 years, and characters that are not only likable but also realistically flawed. The ex-military background of Tyler and Grant give the story another extra touch of relevance and their engineering know-how throws in enough science talk to have this girl smitten.

Move over Dan Brown, Boyd Morrison is now at the top of my thriller must-read list!

Fairy tales where the strong women save the Prince are best!

Snow White and Rose Red
Patricia C. Wrede

There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, one of which bore white and the other red roses....

Rosamund and Blanche are the daughters of a poor widow in a small town in Elizabethan England; the three of them gather herbs from the woods to make remedies for the citizens of Mortlak. They are extremely careful when in the woods, for it contains the ever shifting border of faerie, a border they are wary of but cross over occasionally while protected with herbs and small charms. The Queen of faerie has two half-mortal sons, one who resides mainly in faerie (Hugh) and the other who wanders freely the land of mortals (John). When the favored son of the Queen, Hugh, has his faerie-essence stolen and is exiled from his home, John goes against his mothers wishes and follows his brother to save him. Soon, he comes across the Widow and her daughters and together they risk their lives to right the wrongs that have been done.

This retelling of a classic German fairy tale weaves together fantasy, mystery, danger, and romance into a story that not only entertains but has a happily-ever-after ending. I really enjoyed the Wrede took liberties with the story, transforming the classic characters and introducing a few new one of her own while sticking to the main plot of the original tale - and to show you the parallels, she includes snip-its of the German version at the beginning of each chapter. The dialogue was also written in Elizabethan English which I have mixed feelings about: it added to the authentic feel of the story but the non-dialogue was written in modern day English and switching back and forth between the two was not always a smooth transition for the reader.

Overall, a wonderful story that proves that sometime the Disney version of fairy tales aren't always the best; I for one would take an overprotective and loving mother with two headstrong teenage girls who sweep in and save the Prince any day over the docile female characters of the 1950's Disney who wait to be rescued - take charge ladies....and teach a moral at the same time :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A scientific parody of myself

Fluke: Or I Know Why The Winged Whale Sings
Christopher Moore

Nate Quinn is a humpback whale researcher. He lives on Oahu and heads a team that is trying to translate the male songs, songs they only sing when in the clear breeding grounds of Hawaii and no one knows WHY. Nate is happy in his academic world as an "action nerd", checking out his hot female research assistant, but when he sees "Bite Me" written on a fluke and keeps getting a message that he should take a hot pastrami sandwich to the large male singer, Nate starts to question his sanity. Little does he know that he may not actually want to know why the winged whale sings!

I can see why this may not be everyone's favorite Moore book but, as a fellow "action nerd" I absolutely LOVED it! I was enchanted from the first few pages when the following is revealed about scientists:
1. I should have gotten a real job
2. I should do work where I can actually make money
3. Too bad my work won't make a difference
4. Field work is boring
5. No one understands that I always work weekend
6. You can spot other "action nerds" by their raccoon sunglass tan!
7. Scientists drink
I was seriously laughing out loud because all of these things are so true! There were so many aspects of the first half of this book that honestly reflected the life of a field scientist - it's not glamorous, you don't make a lot of money, you're always dirty, but you do what you do because you genuinely love every second of it...even the boring seconds.

The second half of the book seemed to take a complete 180 from the first part and we jumped into the world of the illogical - a big jump for a logical scientist like myself who was enjoying the parody of myself :) We suddenly were set adrift in the crazy world of Moore's imagination; I liked the second half less but liked some of the nature v. nurture topics that were underlying the story. I also thought it was amusing because so many times my friends and I get pissed off that research isn't going the way we want it to and think that all of our research might be based on total bullsh*t and the reason things are the way they are is because of robots on mars are just screwing with us!

I loved this book but don't know that someone more distant from science would pick up on the subtle nuances that made Fluke completely brilliant....however, I think you would still enjoy it. And make sure you read the final pages that discuss what aspects of the book were based on actual facts.

The publisher should apologize for leading people to believe this book is funny

Apologize, Apologize!
Elizabeth Kelly

Before I launch into my review, I would like to reiterate that I did like this book, quite a bit actually - and yet I am still going to have a mini-rant.

My biggest complaint about Apologize, Apologize! has nothing to do with the author or the writing - it has everything to do with the publisher. The cover of this has several quotes (5 to be exact) that use words like "lovable", "hilarious", "deliciously witty", "funny", and "hilarious" (again). These quotes plus the blurb on the back (revealed in retrospect to be misleading and vague) led me to believe I would be reading about an outrageous Irish-Catholic family on Martha's Vineyard, those family members that are crazy and embarrassing but you love them all the same. Wrong.

This book was not funny, not hilarious, and while there was witty prose and occasional amusing comments, it was often used to cut down other members of the family! Classifying this book as humor is like saying Jenn Lancaster writes about economics. This book was about a crazy Irish-Catholic family on the Vineyard, but not crazy good; they were crazy in a bad way - emotionally abusive, occasionally physically abusive, manic depressive, alcoholic, suicidal. Seriously, not funny.

The story is told from the point of view of Collie (named for the dog breed) Flanagan as he tells about growing up with his father, an alcoholic Irishman; Uncle Tom, his father's brother who is a kind of mock nanny for the kids even though he is also an alcoholic; his mother, a rich woman who likens herself to a prominent activist and is the mother of all drama queens; Falcon, his rich maternal grandfather who despises everyone in the family yet always seems to want to help Collie; and Bingo, Collie's brother who is his antithesis and hands-down family favorite. Collie tells of his life from a young boy, through the trials of his adolescence, and into adulthood as he tries to overcome everything he's experienced.

Okay, now with all of the lies and misconceptions out of the way, I have to admit I liked the book a lot. Collie's struggles are disheartening and I wish I could have called child protective services for him but his transition from boy to teenager to man were well-written, interesting, and realistically reflective of how someone would actually respond to the situations he was in. I think the author went a little over-board with some of the characters, instilling such a deep sense of loathing in them that their plight failed to illicit any type of response in the reader other than indifference. By the end of the book, you felt like there was hope and questioned whether the situation of Collie's life had changed or whether it was simply a change within Collie that made the situation seem different.

Overall, I recommend this debut novel from Ms. Kelly, but please go in knowing that it is not a humorous book.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The MacGregor's are my new favorite family

Rebellion (The MacGregors)
Nora Roberts

Darn you all for encouraging me to dig a little deeper for some of NR's Harlequin romance novels!!! Now I am going to be addicted to this short series...I hope I can get them all from the library.

The MacGregor's are a royal Scottish clan in the mid-1700's who are extremely close, generous, and have had their brush with the English Army. Coll, the oldest of the children, is returning to his family home of Glennroe after being gone for a year and is bringing with him his closest from from his travels, Brigham Langston - an English Lord with Scottish family ties. While the MacGregor's are thrilled to have Coll back at home, fiery- tempered Serena is appalled to have an Englishman in her home and staying with her family. However, there is something about him that she can't resist and she is unlike any woman he has ever met....

I am loving this month of romance! I admit that I probably should squeeze in something that is a little more substantial, one cannot live on dessert alone, but I can never resist the lure of a good Scottish/Irish historical romance :) I was pleasantly surprised that even writing under Harlequin - notorious for fairly wimpy storylines - NR managed to create lovable characters and a plot that centered on more than just the main characters and their burning passion for each other, two aspects that I appreciate in her newer work as well!

Off to reserve the next installment of the MacGregor saga!

What....a hilarious collection of stories

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
Chelsea Handler

Chelsea Handler, where have you been all my life?! In reality, we could never be friends because we both like to be the center of attention too much but I enjoy reading your books and knowing that I am not the only one who tells innocent lies to my friends to see if they will believe me, gets myself into amazingly embarrassing situations, and always embellishes an outrageous story just a little to make it more fun to tell.

While Ms. Handler's first books focused on one night stands and excessive drinking, two activities that always make the best stories, this book has less of a theme and is more just a collection of the completely outrageous situations she gets her and her friends into. But, she does not lose the excessive cussing, brutal honesty, or the constant drink in hand as she airs her dirty laundry....and everyone else's!

Perhaps not quite as good as her first two books but still a highly entertaining and quick read that will definitely have me picking up a fourth book when/if it's released :)

Who wants to be Ugly?

Uglies
Scott Westerfeld

In future societies, people have discovered a way to end war, violence, jealousy, and hate: make everyone pretty. When people are young, they are allowed to grow up fairly naturally, but society continuously reinforced that they are ugly - left to natural selection and genetics, everyone has numerous things wrong with their looks and they should be ashamed of that. Not to worry, when you turn 16 they give you extensive surgery that makes you pretty, according to a group of doctors who have studied what the human body responds to in others as being pleasing to see or beneficial for a future mate. All Tally has ever wanted was to be Pretty and to move to New Pretty Town where all the other teenagers live and play, wasting their time before they are Middle Pretty and get assigned a career. But when Tally meets Shay in Uglyville the summer before they turn 16, she realizes that not everyone wants to be Pretty and there may be a whole other world out there that she has never known about. But why would the Pretties keep everyone else a secret?

I absolutely loved the premise of this book! Every teenager can relate to feeling like an Ugly - my eyes are too squinty, I am too chubby, my nose is too big. And I would place a bet that 99% of female (and probably male!) teenagers have thought at least one that they wished they were better looking, that being prettier would make their lives so much easier. But, by altering your physical appearance too much, are you giving up part of who you are? What makes you unique? Is there a possibility that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder? That physical beauty is only skin deep?

Aside from the "moral of the story", the story was interesting and more complex that I was expecting, many of the characters were well-developed and interesting, but when the action of the story finally arrived, I thought it fell a little flat. The Big Scene at the culmination of the major plot didn't make me feel like I was with the characters, risking my life as well. And, there were many parts of the story were the coincidences that were needed to make the story move forward were just a little too much for me.

Overall, this was a great book though that was full of moral and social undertones while not being heavy on strict philosophy or sociology. There were also a couple of plot twists that were surprising and kept me reading. I will definitely be reserving Pretties from the library.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I want a Knight In Shining Armor!

A Knight in Shining Armor
Jude Deveraux

How could I not take the romance recommendation from this months tag selector, doughgirl?! I am always looking for a good romance novel and this one was definitely one of the better ones I have read!

Dougless is excited to be taking a month-long romantic vacation to England with her boyfriend, Robert; she is sure he is going to pop the question! However, things do not go quite according to plan and she ends up alone in a small town outside a church that was dedicated to Earl Nicholas Stanford, a nobelman who was beheaded for treason in 1564. As Dougless is in the church, lamenting her misfortune, Nicholas suddenly arrives in the church - pre-beheading - from 400 years previous! With lots of doubt and misgivings, Dougless and Nicholas set off to prove his innocence, prevent his beheading, and possibly fall in love along the way ;)

Before I launch into the spoilers I will say, for those of you who might be debating this book, the characters both had flaws but ones that ended up being outweighed by the good in the end. The time-traveling aspect was not necessarily original but I will say there was an interesting twist on getting back to your proper time period! lol. The ending was totally happily-ever-after without being cliche and maybe not exactly what you were expecting. Oh, and this one did not skimp on the juicy details! :) Highly recommended.

***SPOILERS BELOW***

This was a really great book! I liked the time-traveling aspects and I love historical romance novels - this was the best of both worlds. Nicholas was definitely drool-worthy; he had some character flaws but ended up coming around in the end. At the beginning of the story, I really wanted to give Dougless a swift kick in the butt for the things she was putting up with from Robert and how she thought that she was so in love with him when he had zero respect for her! She definitely improved and I'm glad she finally got the chance to stand up for herself.

I also really liked how the same character personalities were reborn in the present day that existed in the same families in the 16th century - it provided a interesting parallels and showed how your actions can alter relationships for years to come. The one aspect I found a little irritating was that it was kind of the same story told twice: first, we had Nicholas in the present day, getting used to modern conveniences, and convincing Dougless of who he was and then we had Dougless in the 16th century, getting used to primitive conveniences, and convincing Nicholas of who she was. This made moving into the second half of the story a little slow. However, the ending MORE than made up for it! I liked that it wasn't a clich├ęd ending where one of them had to give up their life and remain in an uncomfortable time yet it was totally satisfying and even brought a little tear to my eye :)

An awkward friendship but it doesn't spoil the story

Talk Before Sleep
Elizabeth Berg

Whew! This short book was packed with emotional ups and downs that left me in tears by the end! Talk Before Sleep is told from the perspective of Ann, previously a nurse before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom. Ann's best friend, Ruth, is in the final weeks of her life, dying from a number of cancers that metastasized from her breast, and Ruth is taking care of her to make sure she is as comfortable as possible. These unlikely best friends are joined by L.D., Helen, and Sarah - women who are extremely close to Ruth and Ann gets to know better and better. Talk Before Sleep focuses on issues Ruth faces as she prepares to die and flashbacks to events in Ruth and Ann's friendship that had a profound effect on Ann.

The blunt honesty of many of Ruth's thoughts really resonated with me. I have never had cancer and, God willing, I will not have to face that challenge but her her reflections on life and leaving life were contemplations many people have had. I am also a sucker for a good group of women friends who have strength in the face of adversity and know when a hot fudge Sunday needs to be a 5-scooper!

I found Ann and Ruth's friendship to be a little weird; Ruth was definitely the domineering friend and Ann did pretty much anything she said, even in the pre-cancer days. I thought Ruth belittled Ann often and Ann just rolled over and let her do it again and again. I understand being nice to friends who are having a hard time (and dying of cancer definitely is categorized as "hard") but I don't think that gives someone the right to lash out at friends. For me, it added an uncomfortable layer to the book.

Overall though, a quick read about a tough subject and will have me reaching for Elizabeth Berg again in the future.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A little more action, please

Summer by the Sea
Susan Wiggs

Rosa Capoletti is an Italian American who runs a popular restaurant on Rhode Island's South Shore - she is a local in a land of Summer People. She met Alex, one of the Summer People, when they were 9 years old and when Rosa's life takes a drastic turn at the age of 18, she found she couldn't even count on the man she loved to be there for her. Now 30 and still stinging from Alex's rejection over a decade ago, she has steeled herself ever since against being hurt again. But, when he whirls into her restaurant he stirs something inside her that she thought was over.

There are certain aspects I don't expect from a good romance novel: I don't expect great character development (who wants a complex male lead?), a surprising twist in the plot (they better end up together), or believable romantic situations (female fantasties are usually unrealistic). I am okay with these things; if I want those aspects, I'll pick up something literary and not smutty. However, if I am forgoing all of those aspects, I darn well expect a couple of pages packed full of sizzling sex! There are times when "and he led her to the bedroom" is just not going to cut it.

Not only was Wiggs a little light on the smut (read: non-existent), she packed in an unbelievable number of coincidences...seriously, it was completely unbelievable. The characters seemed to spend 15/16ths of the book determined to piss each other off and then suddenly BOOM, they were back together. Come on now, a little literary foreplay is always good. Also, she alternated telling the story between the characters lives at 9, 18, and 30, which could have been okay but it was SO poorly executed. She spent so long building up to a big revelation and then would switch to another year for the next 75 pages....no one likes a tease. I did really like that this book was set EXACTLY where I live and they talked about places that actually exist (she mentions the restaurant Aunt Carries - Best. Pie. EVER.). There were also Italian recipes included, which could be fun but seemed out of place because there wasn't a whole lot of focus on the food.

All in all, I don't like cozy mysteries, I don't like cozy romances, and I will be skipping Ms. Wiggs in the future. Now I'm off to read Nora Roberts...she always delivers!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A very satisfying genealogical mystery

The Forgotten Garden
Kate Morton

Nell is found in an Australian port in 1913, she is alone and can't remember anything from before being on the ship. A dock worker considers it a sign and takes her home with him where he and his wife raise Nell as their own. Cassandra, Nell's granddaughter, was left in her grandmother's care in 1975 when her mother no longer wanted to be burdened with her. In 2005, Cassandra learns of her grandmother's past and searches for the answers Nell never found. In 1900, Eliza is a young girl who is trying to earn a living on the streets of London and avoid the bad men her late mother warned her of. Eventually, fate catches up to her and she is taken to a country manor to live. These three women's lives are intricately intertwined and Blackhurst Manor holds the key to the truth.

The Forgotten Garden was beautifully written as the author jumped among Nell, Cassandra, and Eliza's viewpoints - each woman telling her part of the family history. This was not a light-hearted story but was laced with deception, betrayal, illicit love, and jealousy. The secrets of the mystery were not particularly difficult to figure out but the details behind the revelations are what kept me reading late into the night. One of the highlights of the book was the three fairy tales that were included; they were more Grimm than Disney but reflected what was occurring in the story and gave clues as to what was happening in Eliza's life. At first, I found it a bit difficult to keep the different time periods straight but eventually it got easier; others may not find it as difficult as I did, names are hard for me to keep straight.

I highly recommend this book and know many of you mentioned that you were planning on reading it this month. Be aware though that I would not have labeled this as romance myself; in fact, I'm not sure which part of the story spurred the description of romance