"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, June 28, 2010

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: A teen accident victim in a coma must decide if she stays and lives, or dies and is free. 

This book was heavily featured on Goodreads.com, and it was a good book, just not a great one.

Teenage cellist Mia is the only survivor of a car accident that has killed her parents and injured her younger brother Teddy. As Mia observes from above, her remaining family and friends hold Mia's hands and talk to her, trying to get her to stay.
"I stand over the bleeping tubed lifeless form that is me. My skin is gray. My eyes are taped shut. I wish someone would take the tape off."
Mia narrates the entire book. Sometimes Mia doesn't sound like a seventeen-year-old teen, even if she does have hipster parents and lives near Portland, Ore. When she's teased, she refers to it as "taking the piss out," older British slang.

When she and her boyfriend Adam become intimate, he invites her to play him like a cello, which is Mia's instrument. It's a pretty racy scene even if there is no actual intercourse, but very evocative and tender as well.
"Adam lay perfectly still, little groans escaping from his lips. I looked at the bow, looked at my hands, looked at Adam's face, and felt this surge of love, lust, and an unfamiliar feeling of power. I had never known that I could make someone feel this way."
The scene where Mia's grandfather gives her permission to go, to leave this life and be with her parents is heartbreaking and wonderful. Kleeenx should be included in this book.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There Goes the Bride by M.C. Beaton

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Summary: Elderly detective investigates the murder of her ex-husband’s fiancĂ©.

Private detective Agatha Raisin is a woman of certain age and struggling with it. She’s divorced but is feeling especially vulnerable when she’s invited to her ex-husband’s wedding. After grumblimg most of the time, and playing a prank on the wedding party, she is then under suspicion when the bride is found murdered.

But I couldn’t get why. There’s some Chinese people smuggling, failed romance, a plot to kill Agatha, but really why? A mystery about whose child the bride really is – just a messy plot with nowhere to go and I didn’t care.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Blonde Samurai by Jina Bacarr

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: Lady Katie Carlton leaves her abusive husband and finds sensuality and love in the arms of a samurai.

Written as if it were a Victorian tell-all (lots of Dear Reader, etc), The Blonde Samurai is an attempt to bring honor to infidelity. On her wedding night, Katie finds her husband involved in a wicked bout of sadomasochistic sex with two prostitutes off the street. She compromises and says she will stay married to her husband, but will never consummate the marriage.

From the first chapter, it was implausible. Not that I’ve been to many weddings in Victorian England (as I am quite a bit younger, Dear Reader) but her husband leaves her and her guests the night of the wedding (how exactly?) for an S&M romp with two maids and nobody notices? Hmmm.

So she remains celibately married and idly interested in her husband’s large collection of sex toys, until her husband abuses her one night and she runs off to be with a married samurai, Shintaro.

Shintaro's wife Nami can’t have children, so Shintaro has been bedding Akira, another man. So Katie must come to terms with her own infidelity, Shintaro’s infidelity, and his bisexuality. Once she gets those sticky moral dilemma figured out, they have another problem, a decision of hers leads to a battle where Shintaro’s lover is killed. Shintaro lost the battle and intends to commit seppuku, ritual suicide, because his honor is at stake. Then Katie intercedes with the Empress on Shintaro’s behalf, begging the Empress not to accept Shintaro’s offer of ritual suicide. Look, his honor is at stake and he’s married to someone else, why the hell would you so demean him as to challenge what his honor demanded? How shameful. The book talked all about honor and then she is crying and weeping as he’s about to commit seppuku.

Totally ridiculous!

The writing is just terrible. Florid and long-winded. If you want character-driven erotica, try Megan Hart’s Order of Solace book No Greater Pleasure. If you want pure sex, try something else, but leave this one alone.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Blonde Geisha by Jina Bacarr

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Summary: A blonde Englishwoman is left in a tea house and trained to become a geisha until her father can rescue her. 

I’m sure my husband would like it if I referred to his penis as “honorable penis” but it’s not much of an erotic novel if I keep giggling thru it, is it?

Not only is the writing ridiculous, but the plot was even worse. When Kathlene's father is threatened by a Japanese prince, her father stashes her in the tea house owned by his mistress who is herself a geisha. 

Kathlene resists her geisha training, but enjoys titillating men, without realizing that as a geisha, she might have to have intercourse with someone she's not automatically attracted to. Lots of touching and playing with the gardener boy, but no actual penetration. 

Then Kathlene's first client is a brutish general (of that same evil prince who threatened her father). She and her best friend concoct an elaborate plot where Kathlene's friend, who was flunking out of geisha school anyway, takes Kathlene's place. Then they will race and take Kathlene to the English embassy in order to keep her safe.  Wait! You mean the embassy was an option all along? She didn't really have to live in the tea house all this time?  Puh-leeze. I quit reading before I found out if Kathlene's father was alive after all. 

This book gets prominent pacing on Barnes & Noble's shelves, but doesn't deserve it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling

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Summary: Lisa Ling recounts her struggle to bring home her sister Laura Ling from North Korea while Laura narrates her time under North Korean jailers.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher. 

North Koreans guards dragged these two injured frightened women back across a frozen river onto North Korean soil. Laura and Euna tried to grab bushes, rocks, ice anything to keep them on Chinese soil. Finally, all they could hold onto was each other, but they were soon forced apart.

I called my sister tonight just to confirm that she would do everything she could to bring me home if I'm ever in a North Korean jail.

The love between these two sisters is amazing. Lisa Ling's powerful love for her sister is expressed through everything Lisa did to bring her sister Laura home, navigating the tricky world of American politics as well. When a homeless man calls out to Lisa, "I'm praying for your sister!" I teared up.

I avidly followed the story of two journalists -Laura Ling and Euna Lee- working for Al Gore's network Current and cried when they made it home safe and alive. I'm always a little suspicious when Americans are captured on foreign soil and then claim they didn't know the boundaries. (The hikers currently imprisoned in Iran are from Minnesota). But that's more because I'm a conspiracy theorist and believe that the CIA and NSA are smart and tricky. Plus journalists tend to have free access and are nosier, so who better to be a spy than a journalist? It sickens me a little to think that I have the same train of thought as a North Korean interrogator.

Laura will narrate her version of one event and then Lisa will narrate the same event from her perspective. In addition to have each sister's voice be a different font, this style lets them tell a complicated story with ease. It didn't annoy me the way it did others; it helped me.

Carefully spoken messages and scanned letters simply don't tell Laura's friends and family what is happening. Laura's health issues prevent her from being sent to the hard labor camps, but she's suffering from such ill health, they can't send her. Laura's retelling of her un-anesthetized endoscopy made me wince. Plus Laura has to try to give the North Koreans a public apology by some established American and make that American publicly apologize. Meanwhile Lisa is juggling the offices of John Kerry, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton (who made the first public apology and then was mocked and insulted by the North Korean government), Al Gore, Bill Clinton and the White House.

I'm so grateful that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. I also plan to read The World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea by Euna Lee and Lisa Dickey. Euna was separated from her husband and young daughter and kept in a separate area from Laura Ling.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Set-Apart Femininity: God's Sacred Intent for Every Young Woman by Leslie Ludy

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Summary: To truly be a Christian means accepting God's will and plan for your life, including your sexuality. 

Single? Christian? Don't fear. God has a plan for you. Dress stylishly, but not like a slut. Get out and meet people, but as a way to spread God's Word and Love. Pray for an hour each day.

I've distilled the advice for you and can make it into a pamphlet if you want. Certainly, it doesn't have to be this long.  This book is supposed to provide comfort to college-aged women who are looking for marriage and a life partner.  Drawing on Bible verses and historical accounts of women called to serve Christ, readers are meant to acknowledge that God has a plan for each of us. Pray hard enough, devote your life to serving Christ, and love and marriage will follow if God has decided you should find love and marriage.

While I do have a Jesuit education, having the New Testament dictate my relationship with my husband feels false.  The author makes a big point of changing her name to her husband's after their marriage but doesn't even consider that her husband might also want to make a symbolic gesture showing his commitment.
"Bearing Eric's name meant building my life around my new name."
I think you can love God and be a feminist, but this book doesn't agree.  What do you think?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Girls of Summer by Barbara Bretton

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Summary: Dr. Ellen Markowitz has a steamy one-night stand with her co-worker. Her life is further disrupted by the appearance of her wild half-sister.

OB-GYN Ellen Markowitz has a steamy one-night stand with her co-worker, Dr. Hall Talbot. Their small Maine town is further shocked by the appearance of Ellen’s wild half-sister, Dierdre.

Terrible book. A 35-year-old OB-GYN should not get pregnant from an unprotected one night stand with a fellow OB-GYN. But what upsets Dr. Ellen O’Brien Markowitz is not that she slept with her boss, but that he called out another woman’s name at, uh, his moment of release. So most of the book is Hall Talbot, a thrice-divorced doctor with four kids, realizing that he really doesn’t love married Annie after all, even though he’s fantasized about her for 10 years (marrying and having children with other women throughout his unrequited crush). Then he has to convince Ellen, who he really now adores, that his slip of the tongue was not a Freudian slip, but something else.

Ellen is dealing with her own messy family problems. And they are messy. Her half-sister Deirdre shows up, planning to leave her oversized dog with Ellen while Deirdre takes a harping job. (Too complicated to explain). But Deirdre and Ellen share a father and Ellen’s step-father married Ellen’s mother and raised Ellen as his own. All that changed after Ellen’s mother’s died and Deirdre’s father decided he had to be in Ellen’s life. So Ellen finds out she has two sisters and the man who raised her as a father wasn’t really her father and never really loved her step-father because she was still pining for Billy, Ellen’s biological father. Messy, messy, messy.

And the writing was terrible. Let me quote a scene:
“The glass shattered in his hand in a spray of water and glittering shards.”
“The ragged edge of sorrow was blunted by something else, a tidal pull of longing that wrapped itself around her and wouldn’t let go.”
“Then, because there was nothing else they could do, no other way to postpone the inevitable, he swept her up into his arms an carried her into the bedroom where he gently stripped away her clothes and began to make love to her body and soul.”
This book was too full. There was just too much going on for the characters in the book. Deirdre and Ellens’ father is dying of cancer; Hall's best friend Susan decides that she wants him, even though she’s married with kids and sets out to seduce him; Deirdre has a fling with Scott the Mechanic, who is trying to fix her car; and Ellen just bought a house. Just too much. Look, I get that life is messy and things often happen simultaneously, but I felt like the author tried to cram three inadequate books into one and make it work.

Girls of Summer? Who calls 35-year old women “Girls?” Really? And an OB-Gyn who doesn’t use birth control and gets pregnant from that single time and then has a crisis pregnancy and then delivers a healthy baby girl? Puh-leeze. This book was just ridiculous.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

You're Teaching My Child What?: A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Can Harm Your Child by Miriam Grossman M.D.

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Summary: The emphasis on all sexual behavior being normal leads to high rates of STDs.

Say what you like about abstinence education (Bristol Palin would be the first to tell you it doesn't work), but when you bash Planned Parenthood on page 4, you've pretty much lost credibility with me.

I understand the author's point - that making any kind of sexual deviancy seem normal actually harms children and their sexuality.

Experimenting with multiple partners, S&M, same sex intimacy when a child is NOT gay, all of this behavior can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, the potential for infertility and emotionally unhealthy adult relationships.

I am not unsympathetic to the author's concerns over STDs, but the blind anger against Planned Parenthood and other sites about teen sexuality do not do much to solve the problem.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

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Summary: A history enthusiast revisits sites relating to presidential assassinations.

It saddens me when people make history boring. History is fascinating but, told in the wrong way, can totally turn people off. I enjoyed Take the Cannoli, but was terribly disappointed in this travel monologue.
"I embarked on the project of touring historical sites and monuments having to do with the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley right around the time my country iffily went to war, which is to say right around the time my resentment of the current president cranked up into contempt. Not that I want the current president killed. Like that director, I will, for the record (and for the FBI agent assigned to read this and make sure I mean no harm-hello there), clearly state that while I am obsessed with death, I am against it."
This is the funniest line of the book and you have to read carefully to get the rest of the humor in the book. It's the kind of humor that NPR is known for, and why Nascar fans rarely listen to NPR, as the author makes fun of southern cooking and themes with the hubris of an East Coast elite education.

What disturbs me most about this book is that if I hadn't gotten married, I likely would be Sarah Vowell. The over-eager aunt giving inappropriate presents to her nephew and dragging family members and friends to historical sites that bear only the slimmest connection to assassinated presidents.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

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Summary: A memoir of a childhood with non-structured, unemployed parents and how the author grew up.

The Glass Castle opens with the author, Jeannette, being burned by boiling water after she was cooking hot dogs on the stove at age three. Yes, 3! But she seemed so casual about what you and I would see as neglect that you don't panic yet. But the parental selfishness and idiocy just gets worse and worse. I kept reading because the writing is strong, descriptive and compelling.

Jeannette and her sisters and brother seem to have a wonderful bond, but it's also because their parents never acted like parents. Once, when the kids are starving, they catch their mother eating a chocolate bar, instead of spending money on food. When they confront her, she claims she has a chocolate addiction. It's funny if it wasn't so infuriating.  And the kids are starving more than once, but their mother refuses to work, instead camping out on the couch with a mountain of books (I'm not that bad) and working on her paintings, and their father is a flamboyant alcoholic with big dreams, excessive pride and no emotional strength.

When Jeannette is molested at night by a vagrant who wandered in their open, unlocked house, Jeannette and her brother Brian go on a Pervert Hunt by themselves, but don't catch the man. It leaves their youngest sister Maureen with nightmares for years and when Jeannette suggests that they close the doors and windows, her parents won't consider it.
"It was essential that we refuse to surrender to fear.
Mom and Dad liked to make a big point about never surrendering to fear or to prejudice or to the narrow-minded conformist sticks-in-the-mud who tried to tell everyone else what was proper." 
This understatement in no way prepares you for the treatment these kids receive at the hands of their parents.  I don't want to turn you off of the book, because it's a fascinating if disturbing memoir, but you will be appalled by her parents.
"Once, when an extra-big royalty check came in, Mom bought us a whole canned ham. We ate off it for days, cutting thick slices for sandwiches. Since we had no refrigerator, we left the ham on a kitchen shelf. After it had been there for about a week, I went to saw myself a slab at dinnertime and found it crawling with little white worms.
Mom was sitting on the sofa bed, eating the piece she'd cut. "Mom, that ham's full of maggots," I said.
"Don't be so picky," she told me. "Just slice off the maggoty parts. The inside's fine."
When their father raids their piggy-bank and steals their college fund, Jeannette finally becomes disillusioned with her father. It's an essential part of growing up - realizing that your parents are fallible humans who make mistakes and do the best they can. It hurts no matter what age it hapens at, but in the Walls' siblings case, it's more painful and more raw because they idealize their parents so much, and the parents choose their reclusive, bare life on purpose.

This reminds me of a modern-day Angela's Ashes. A mother who loves her husband more than her kids, a drunken father who expects to be adored without caring for his family and close siblings who grow up much too fast.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fire by Kristin Cashore

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Summary: The last remaining human monster struggles with the moral dilemma about using her powers to save the kingdom.

Kristin Cashore creates worlds so distinct that you can't helped being sucked in. This book is a companion piece to Cashore's novel Graceling, which you have to read if you haven't already. The two can be read independently of one another, because they take place on opposite sides of the mountain that separates the two kingdoms.

Fire, the last remaining human monster, is summoned to the capitol city to use her mind-reading and mind-controlling powers to determine which people are aligned against the king or for the king. Having lived with the cruel capriciousness of her father, also a human monster and advisor to the king, Fire is scared of her own power as she realizes that there is a fine line between using her talents for the right cause and truly becoming a monster. 

The love story which develops with the king's brother, Brigan, who's the head of the king's army, is a tender, awkward, careful love. This is a young adult book, but as in many YA books, this one is for late teens, not tweens by any means. 

You'll be fascinated by this new world, and I'm sure, will also eagerly await the next book by Cashore. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Days of Gold: A Edilean Novel by Jude Deveraux

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Summary: Handsome Scotsman Angus McTern helps young heiress Edilean Talbot escape the clutches of her greedy uncle and unfaithful fiancé and they both settle in colonial America.

Days of Gold follows Angus McTern, the titular laird of Clan McTern. Unfortunately, his keep is owned by the greedy Neville Lawler, a sporadic visitor to Keep McTern. This time, Lawler has brought his niece, the lovely Edilean Talbot, to Scotland. At midnight, when Edilean turns 18, she will be forced to marry a man of Lawler’s choosing and her fortune will return to Lawler, while the groom will get Edilean.

Despite their instant antagonism, Angus’ fierce protective nature extends to beautiful Edilean, and he is determined to help her, even hatching a plot with a few of his clansmen to prevent the forced wedding. Jude Deveraux is at her best writing about feisty women and stubborn men. Angus is a Scot, so naturally he’s stubborn. But he also likes to tease Edilean and once she relaxes, she enjoys Angus’ humor as well. Above all, Angus cannot bear to be embarrassed, and his pride later becomes a crucial plot device.

While Angus is working on his own rescue of Edilean, Edilean has secretly written to the man she loves, James Harcourt, and Harcourt has come up with a plan to rescue Edilean and her gold, marry her, and then both will start a new happy married life in America.

Somehow, Angus ends up delivering the wagon featuring a drugged Edilean and four chests of gold to the harbor and into the custody of Harcourt. But something tells Angus to stick around and he catches Harcourt bragging that he married an ugly daughter of a duke, but stole the pretty one’s fortune. Edilean is NOT the daughter of a duke, so Angus knows something is up.

So Angus and Edilean drug James and instead masquerade as husband and wife on their journey to America. They are sleeping in the same cabin and everyone treats them as married. Isn’t a long journey by ship in close quarters another classic romance novel device? Great when it’s done well.

Edilean starts to teach Angus to read, and flirts with him along the way. An honorable man, Angus rejects Edilean’s touches for her protection and they maintain a strained silence until they arrive in America.

This is where things go downhill. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity but it turns into a mish-mashed erratic plot.

They are met at the docks by Harriet, James Harcourt’s sister, who knew all along about James’ wicked plot to marry one woman and steal the other’s gold. She takes Edilean under her wing, serves as housekeeper to Edilean, and helps Edilean start a business.

When Angus leaves Edilean after one glorious night of love and sex, it really is for her own good. He is about to be arrested for kidnapping Edilean and couldn’t bear to see Edilean live with the misery of loving a convict. This is even though they don’t resolve the issue of Edilean’s contempt for uneducated men like Angus.

The first half of the book is good, and then we are rushed into a random climax of murder, ambush and coupling, tying up every single loose and/or unmarried character in the book. Not only are there silly and implausible scenes throughout the book (Edilean wakes up from a laudanum-induced sleep, talks and cries and then goes back to sleep; there’s a vicious girl-on-girl fight that leads to sex; and Angus is ambushed after a convoluted wild-goose chase and is rescued by his Scottish clan, who just show up in the middle of Frontier America), but worse, and more importantly, the characters changed personalities and don’t act like themselves. I wonder if this is two separate books combined to be one but not read for continuity.

This is the second book in the Edilean series. First was Lavender Morning. Then Days of Gold. Jude Deveraux was one of the first romance novelists I read so it may be that I just remember how much my thirteen-year-old self enjoyed her books when I pick them up. Whether she now has a young, fearful editor or she’s just getting lazy in her old age, this is her attempt to regain her legion of fans. I have a feeling this will be her best one of the three. Scarlet Nights will be published this fall.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: When her estranged son is accused of murder, author Octavia Frost searches for forgiveness and connection.

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.

How do I begin to describe a complicated, fascinating book that occasionally haunts me as a parent but also intrigues me as a book lover?

Let me attempt to explain:

Author Octavia Frost is doing a brave, bold thing. She has re-written the endings to all of her published novels. As readers, we get the jacket copy of her book, the original ending, and the revised ending. (Wow! What books would I wish the endings rewritten? That's a great question for my book club.) And Octavia, like author Carolyn Parkhurst, writes dark, intensely sad stories about human love and human cruelty. My favorite story of Octavia's was The Human Slice. I want to read this fictional book, so intrigued was I by the excerpt and both the original and revised endings. I knew I wouldn't read most of Octavia's stories but eagerly read through the main story: Octavia's son Milo is accused of murdering his girlfriend.

Octavia is a widow, having lost her husband and daughter in an accident years ago, leaving Octavia and teenaged Milo to stumble along with their solo grief. Octavia is eaten up by her guilt and contentious relationship with Milo.
"I did one of the following things, just one. Did I (A) Walk away, leaving him to destroy the book in private? (B) Stand in his doorway, with my face in my hands, wondering whether or not to let him see me cry? Or (C) sit next to him on the bed and say, "Let's get rid of this thing. What do you think about burning it?" 
Never mind which one is true. Tell me which one would have changed things. Tell me which one would have led us, inevitably to an ending other than this one."
As an adult, Milo is a popular, talented musician who seems to have reached happiness, until his pretty girlfriend Bettina is found murdered in their bed, with Milo as the only suspect. Milo and Octavia have been estranged for years, and Octavia is an expert on all things Milo after Milo shut Octavia out of his life.  What even more disturbing about this brutal murder is that Milo is convinced he has killed Bettina, even though he can't remember.

Feeling panicked with his upcoming trial, Milo allows Octavia back into his life, and Octavia carefully builds trust and love with Milo, without having resolved the original reason Milo cut off all contact four years ago. Octavia is dangerously curious about Milo's life without her, and yet, she still is not convinced of Milo's innocence.

Octavia revisits her parenting of Milo, recognizing only too late where she should have stepped in and where she should have backed off.  Octavia's attempt to rewrite her books despite everyone knowing the ending mirror her attempt to rewrite her own history and past with Milo, even though once said (or written or published) some things cannot be unsaid. This is a dramatic, challenging book, written with astute observations about human motive and hidden thoughts.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lover Avenged (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 7) by J.R. Ward

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Summary: Half-sympath/Half-vampire Rehvenge is caught in the middle of vampire politics while wooing Ehlena, a struggling vampire nurse.

Lover Avenged feels like a place holder book to me. The story moves the plot of the Black Dagger Brotherhood along, but the primary romance between Ehlena and Rehvenge does not have the seemingly insurmountable problems that the other Brothers did.  My favorite story is that of Zhadist and Bella, likely because it was the first book I read of the series, as I read them completely out of order.

Author J.R. Ward thoughtfully provides a glossary of terms in the beginning of each book, so the vampire world and the relevant rules of the world she's created are spelled out before you even meet the characters.

Without sharing too much of the current vampire world, let me sum up the plot: Rehvenge is summoned to carry out the assassination of Wrath, the vampire king, head of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Why in the world anyone with half a brain would think Rehvenge would kill the king, I don't know. On top of that, Rehvenge must seek monthly medical treatment for a chronic (sexual) poisoning he gets every month, but must keep secret from the world. The only nurse at the clinic who can handle Rehvenge's cold, calculating and leering gaze is Ehlena.

Ehlena has struggles of her own. Her father has schizophrenia (yes, apparently vampires can get schizophrenia) and she leaves her father to the care of a nurse while she serves the public. She tells herself that when she is seeing Rehvenge outside of the clinic, it's because she's doing her nursely duty, just like she'd like someone to take care of her father, but she soon realizes it's something more.

The love story developed quickly, because this book was more used to establish that: Lash, a former Vampire, is a successful son of the Omega; that John Matthew and Xhex have a connection that neither of them can admit without losing face; that Wrath is now officially blind and can serve his people best by administrative purposes instead of fighting lessers; that Tohrment has snapped out of his grief; and that the Black Dagger Brotherhood needs more fighters. There was only one mention of Marissa, and I wasn't even sure if she and Butch were still an item.

I'll be waiting for the next book, which I hope features Payne, and develops the story between John Matthew and Xhex.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Godmother by Carolyn Turgeon

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Summary: Cinderella’s Fairy godmother seeks a chance to redo a mistake she made 300 years ago.

That sweet old lady who smiles at you as you rush by is not someone’s doting grandmother, or an active senior, but a banished fairy, forced out of Fairyland because she did the unthinkable – she fell in love with a human.

To make matters worse, Lil fell in love with Cinderella’s prince instead. No, no, no, you can’t change the story, so of course Lil is exiled.

Fairy Godmother Lil was supposed to change Cinderella’s life forever when she transformed the abused maid into a vision of loveliness, but Lil had been dreaming of the prince too, and when Cinderella got cold feet (glass slippers, remember?), Lil went in her place. And Lil has been suffering alone ever since.

We meet Lil when she’s reached her lowest point, barely eating enough to stay alive and working in a used bookstore. Then Veronica walks in. Veronica is a flamboyant hair stylist (but not flamboyant in the the NYC way you're thinking) and Lil thinks she would be a perfect match for her boss George. Lil is supposed to help people find true love, and sets out to make a match between her George and Veronica. Maybe she can redeem herself that way.

This book dragged on in spots, constantly emphasizing Lil’s loneliness and exile. Every other chapter takes place in Lil’s modern life, while opposing chapters explore Lil’s early life in fairyland and how she came to fall in love with the prince. This book was about 20% too long.

Lil was so welcomed by humans that I just kept wanting to say, “Take some Prozac and move on.” That’s a dreadful thing to say to someone (even a fairy) with depression, but I kept reading in the hopes that Lil would finally make a perfect match and get to go home to her sister and fairy friends.

She sets them up, helps them pick out clothes, and the very last chapter of the book deals with the morning after the modern ball.

The surprise ending redeemed this book, although I did feel that this should have been more of a Young Adult novel, instead of adult fantasy fiction. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: Humorous look at how a book-smart but socially naive teen struggles to deal with his mother's powerful but illegal empire in Flint, Michigan.

It’s hard growing up in Flint, Michigan and even harder when your ambition is to be America’s most successful and wealthy philosopher. “Doing the right thing is like that, you get a strong feeling of relief, sort of like a giant rock has been lifted off your back. Or like the dump you take the day after you eat the ten-taco special from Los Aztecos.” Yet fourteen year-old-Luther T. Farrell has dreams and ambitions, and nothing, not even his mother, the Sarge, can stop him.

I kept laughing at Luther’s life:

“I’ve always thought of myself as being handsome but in an unusual sort of way. And if that Clearasil really works it won’t be too much longer before I’ll be handsome in a more normal sense of the word.” I mean, the honesty and the self-deception is so perfect, written in the voice of a black teenager in Flint. The humor kept me hooked, wondering just where the author would take Luther, and us.

“Holding your blindfolded best friend’s hand in a cage so he can get bit by a diseased rat isn’t as easy to do as it sounds.”

Luther also has a job as a housekeeper/driver/cook/health aide in one of his mother’s nursing homes, $92,000 in a savings account, a fake driver’s license and the Sarge as his mother.

The Sarge.

Whew! I have mother issues, but I’m glad I don’t have the Sarge.

The Sarge has a mandate against PDA, even with her son. With the Sarge, “Break a rule, lose your allowance; break a mandate, lose your life.” So no hugs for Luther, ever. Oh, Sarge is not a loan shark, Sarge distributes what she calls Friendly Neighborhood Loans. Sarge does not cheat the system, Sarge will milk the system. “If it’s got nipples, I’m going to milk it,” Sarge explains to Luther when Luther thinks about getting a different job. “The daily nine-to-five action is purely for the sucker.”

Perhaps because I lived near Detroit for three years, I felt right at home, reading descriptions of life in one of Sarge’s rental homes and the dialogue rings true, too.

Not a single character even blinks when attorney Dontay Orlando Gaddy (or D.O.G. to his clients) cries out, “Ask not for whom the Taco Bell tolls, it tolls for thee!”

And Luther’s philosophy cracks me up.

“Sometimes being stupid is like falling down a flight of stairs: once you trip on that first step, there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop from going down, down, down.”

This is a Young Adult novel. It’s not “Twilight,” and it’s not “The Giver.” If you’re looking for an uplifting story with a message, find something else. If you want to be deeply moved, ask a librarian for a recommendation, but if you want a light, funny, poignant sample of teen life, then pick this book. Once you fall into Luther’s life, there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop yourself from enjoying this book. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You by Ally Carter

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: A private all-girls school is an excellent cover for training the next generation of spies. Teen novel. 

Gallagher Academy is the school to which I’d like to send my daughters. Not only do they train young ladies in social graces, foreign languages and biology, but the students also learn Covert Ops, Data Encryption and Garbology.

Cammie, the daughter of the headmistress, and her friends Liz and Bex are asked to show a potential new student around the school. And why?:

“The juniors are beginning their semester with interrogation tactics, so they are all under the influence of sodium pentathol at the moment, and the seniors are being fitted with their night-vision contacts, and they won’t un-dilate for at last two hours.”

You’ll find yourself chuckling as not only do these girls deal with all the stresses that spies-in-training must pursue, but ordinary teen girl angst as well. They miss breakfast to primp for their hunky new Covert Operations teacher, and they pass notes in class written in disappearing ink.
“I can only imagine the misery of a girl going to a normal school, since she probably isn’t going to spend her Saturday nights helping her best friend crack the codes that protect U.S. spy satellites. (Liz even split the extra credit she earned from Mr. Mosckowitz with me - the cash prize offered by the NSA, she kept.)”

When a boy from town expresses interest in Cammie, the girls make it their mission to find out if he really likes her or not. Expected hijinks ensue. The casual way that Cammie’s high-tension life is treated makes the humor of this book come alive, even if the plot is typical teen fiction. 
“I think he was dazed – I know I definitely was. After all, it’s not every day you A) break up with your secret boyfriend, B) get kidnapped by (sort of) former government operatives, and C) have the aforementioned secret boyfriend attempt to rescue you by driving a forklift through a wall.” 

Enjoyable, light teen reading. I'm looking forward to future Cammie adventures with the Gallagher Girls.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Betsy's Return (Brides of Lehigh Canal, Book 2) by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: A woman returns to her hometown to care for her ailing minister father and falls in love with the pastor who replaced her father. 

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher.

As you can guess from the title, Betsy returns to the Lehigh Canal region in Pennsylvania to care for her ailing father, the former pastor of Walnutport. Soon after her arrival, she meets the replacement pastor, Reverend William Covington of Buffalo.  

This is William's first position as pastor and his wealthy family would prefer that he minister to a wealthier community as well as one closer to home. But having been jilted at the altar by his fiance, William needs to escape and heal from his hurt and humiliation. As William vows never to let his heart be vulnerable, we, as readers, know that he and Betsy will eventually find each other in their loneliness.  

Betsy was an interesting character. From lines in this book, I can tell that Betsy was pretty much a bitch in the first book in this trilogy. Her sharp comments, snobbery and ego seemed to have made her a lot of enemies in the first book. Betsy seems unsure of her reception in Walnutport, as she now recognizes all she had done to hurt people. I always like it when characters develop and grow during a book or series, and although I haven't read the first book, I can appreciate Betsy's new maturity, even though it interferes with her romance.
"She had noticed how handsome the pastor was, and if she were still the old flirtatious Betsy, she might be tempted to let her interest in the man be known. But she had changed and would not throw herself at any man, no matter how much he might interest her. If God ever decided that she should have a husband, then He would have to cause that man to make the first move."
Betsy is struggling with her obligations to her father, feeling displaced since she is no longer the pastor's daughter, and finds herself tentatively intrigued by the new minister. And when she advises the pastor on ways to better serve the community, they find themselves enjoying their time together. Who better to advise a novice pastor than the pastor's daughter, right? William's grouchy housekeeper Mrs. Bevens resents the entire Lehigh Canal community and does her best to distance William from his church community and especially Betsy. Of course, Mrs. Bevens becomes the biggest obstacle to the relationship between William and Betsy, although Betsy is seen kissing another man. Of course that man kissed Betsy first and she rejected his advances but Betsy's landlady Freda
"explained that she'd walked away after she'd seen them kissing, so she hadn't witnessed whatever had followed."
Puh-leeze. You mean to tell me that Freda wouldn't have stared at some big burly canal man kissing the former reverend's daughter? Not a credible scene. 

I was so astonished that a character talks about making a salad for supper that I immediately searched for when Americans started serving salad. I was convinced that 1896 was too early, but I was wrong. That makes me think that the author really did research about canal life at that time. 

This was a nice, sweet Christian romance. The plot moved along fairly quickly and the writing was easy and simplistic, with more than a few Scripture quotations thrown in. I do read Christian fiction, but this one seemed to have more than the usual amount of Bible quotes. Given that the hero was a minister and the heroine a minister's daughter, this did make sense.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

By the Time You Read This by Lola Jaye

Please note: Links pointing to Amazon contain my affiliate ID. Sales resulting from clicks on those links will earn me a percentage of the purchase price. So buy and read now!

Summary: After his death, a girl is given an advice manual written by her deceased father, with advice for her life from age 12 to age 30. 

Having just read Council of Dads, I feel slightly disappointed in this book. The concept is really touching. Knowing he has only a few months left to live, Kevin Bates writes The Manual, yearly advice for his daughter Lois, to be opened when she turns 12. 

Lois is very lonely and struggling with her mother's remarriage when she is given The Manual, but when Lois feels as if everyone has abandoned her, she knows that her dead father has not.

The book gives us a glimpse into Lois' life at each birthday and each chapter opens with a new letter from her father.  This is where the amateurish writing showed the most. 
"Miscellaneous: Your first real kiss
I couldn't figure out where to put this, so I stuck it in the miscellaneous section (if I had my own way it wouldn't even be a section, because I'm not sure I want some guy kissing you). But if my dreams of you having kids and growing old with your family around you are ever to materialize, then a kiss is probably likely.
Sooooo . . .
Here goes (deep breath, deep breath).
Your first kiss.
You've probably just had it or are about to. All I can say is, it will feel ... well, rather crap actually. The good (or bad) news is, it definitely gets better with practice."
Lois lives in south London and has what may or may not be a typical English teen upbringing. She goes to school dances, deals with first kisses, bullies, and decides to continue her education. Lois, at age 18, claims she has never known anyone to get a divorce before. She also spends three months in America, where she has sex for the first time. Lois gets a temp job, which leads her to get a degree in IT. She gets more and more financial success, but keeps her family at bay, still resenting her mother for remarrying and then having the nerve to have another child, whom Lois only identifies as the Sprog. We don't get an actual name for her sister until the sister is six. 

The concept was so good, but I felt like Lois was cold, reserved and rather uninteresting. (Is it just because she's British?) She dates men, and then gets annoyed with them (hey, join the club, sister, that's half the women in America!) and dumps them. She makes no real friends, really only staying close to her childhood friend Carla because her dead father advised her too. Once Lois continues on to school, she is only friends with Carla, despite their obvious lack of shared anything - values, lives, interests, jobs. Carla is, of course, her childhood next door neighbor and I was left feeling that Lois usually chose the path of least emotional resistance when it came to relationships or letting people in. 
"Luckily, traveling to different sites meant "friendships" could be kept brisk and light, just the way I preferred things."
My other quirk was the poor transcontinental idiom editing.  Her father Kevin played football, what we Americans call soccer, yet it's referred to as soccer in the book, instead of football the way a Brit would. And Lois gets paid in dollars, not pounds, even thought it's obvious from all the references that she is English and living in London. And when Brits get more money, it's called a "pay rise," not a "pay raise." And potato chips in a bag are called "crisps" overseas, not chips, as we do here in the U.S.

I'm gonna leave you with one last quote to show you what I mean about the writing:
"The only good thing about losing someone at five years old is the strange luxury of not recalling the actual moment it happened. The moment the first man I have ever loved was ripped away from me like an errant chin hair by a angry pair of tweezers."
I know I should be sympathetic, but that sentence just makes me want to make an appointment with my waxer. 

Consider instead Things I Want My Daughters to Know.