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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad by Bob Morris

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 widowed father asks his adult gay son to set him up on dates with women his father might like.

A gay adult son – writer Bob Morris - is asked by his widowed father to set him up on dates with women his father might like. Hard to tell who’s pickier, the father or son. Bob feels burdened by his father's craziness yet offended if women he picks don’t like his father.

But it’s no wonder that Joe is having trouble finding a second wife to spend his golden years with – the son is as picky as the father and won't consider potential women who answer the phone in perky or silly ways.
“I just need someone with a good figure who doesn’t smoke. Preferably Jewish. Republican a plus. I’m going to hold you to your promise to make those calls for me.”
We said goodbye and I hand up the phone. What is going on here? Am I really going to be pimping for my father?
Along the way, we meet some of the women that Bob vets and go on a few of the dates Joe makes with these women. Bob is also struggling to find someone to spend the rest of his life with. Bob resents how much time he has to spend catering to the whims of his demanding father, and wondering how in the world his sainted mother stood living with his father for so long, when Bob finds almost every interaction - from childhood, adolescence and even adulthood - painful.

Bob never recognizes his own selfishness and personality quirks and spends most of the book complaining about his father and wondering why other hot gay men don't want a cuddly overweight graying writer who's perpetually grumpy. Gee, I wonder.

Still the book has a happy ending for both father and son in a rewarding scene that makes up for the whining of the book.
At the end of the book, father and son revisit their childhood home together.
“Why did I dislike it so much?" I ask. "Why was I so unhappy here?”
Dad doesn’t know. And I can’t say I’ll ever know either. I’ve always been insecure, and I’ve always liked to complain. And without anything important to complain about, I guess I needed something, anything, to pick on for all those years. But now I think I’m finally tired of my unhappiness. Maybe all it takes is an adjustment, a decision, like when you stop looking for perfection in a mate and finally fall in love."
I tend not to read blogs or books by or hang around people who complain, so this book required a big effor for me to finish. It was amusing, but not gut-achingly funny.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hidden Wives by Claire Avery

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: Two young sisters in a polygamous community are struggling with the husbands they're assigned by their compound's Prophet. 

Teenaged Rachel and her slightly younger sister Sara have been raised in a fundamental polygamous community in Utah. At 16 and 17, their short-tempered and perpetually angry father takes them to the Prophet to hear who has received “heavenly” testimonies to marry the girls.

Sara has been assigned to her father’s older brother, Sara’s own uncle. Rachel is shocked but believes that the testimony must be correct. Then Rachel is told 16 different men in the community request her hand in marriage. The Prophet must pray on Rachel’s best future husband. According to their father, Rachel is a seductress and a whore and requires the devil to be beat out of her. As Rachel is locked in her room, reflecting on her evil ways, Sara’s former best friend summons Sara to be with her as she gives birth.

Sheltered Sara is shocked by the birthing process and horrified when her friend’s baby is born severely deformed and left to die. The midwife mutters something about inbreeding and Sara, who has never been taught biology in the community’s school, wonders if there are any health risks when you have a child with a relative. What would happen to Sara’s babies if she married her uncle?

Adding to the inner turmoil is the attraction Rachel feels for the son of a wealthy new family who has joined the cult. Rachel and handsome and headstrong Luke feel drawn to each other, but Rachel knows it’s forbidden if Luke doesn’t receive a testimony from God. When Luke tells the Prophet of his testimony, Luke is banished from the compound, gone forever, like so many other boys on the verge of manhood. Only after oh-so-beautiful Rachel is raped by her own father (!) do the girls execute a tense and rapid escape out west.

Sara and Rachel slowly expand their lives, their minds and their choices, experiencing major culture shock and the aftermath of the trauma they survived.

The writing was solid, but the terror of the story would have been just as vivid without the Rachel’s rape by her father. That scene, and its aftermath, put the whole book over the top for me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

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: Summoned to be the king's fifth wife, Zoe Ardelay runs away to discover her role in the family she had always believed abandoned her, in this new fantasy novel.

Sharon Shinn is one of the most talented authors I read, since she can create entire new worlds that make sense in a believable way. In Troubled Waters, Shinn creates a new world that fascinated me, based loosely on feng shui principles or perhaps zodiac signs.

Each of us have blessings bestowed upon us at birth which remain with us, and our characteristics are also divided into five categories: hunti (wood/bone); sweela (fire/mind); coru (water/blood);  elay (air/soul); and torz (earth/flesh). At any time you can visit a temple to pick a random blessing to give you divine guidance about a current task, problem or event. It's interesting - do people adopt characteristics of their element and do people treat them like their element, so they become that way, or are people destined to act and behave as their elements?

Inside this new world of Shinn's, we have Zoe - the daughter of a fire (sweela) man and a water (coru) woman. Fire and water don't normally mix, but Zoe is the best and worst of her elements. Flexible and powerful, like water; hot-tempered yet warm and affectionate like fire, Zoe is content to let things happen to her, rather than actively forcing something. Her passivity annoys me, but the story develops around her and she seems strangely reluctant to become the head of her family - the coru prime.

After her father's death in exile,  Zoe is escorted to the capitol to become the king's fifth wife. During a traffic jam, Zoe "escapes" and lives a casual, almost vagrant, life alongside the river. On her way to work one morning, she is robbed and attacked by thugs.  For her safety, she leaps into the river and is carried away underneath the city, protected and nurtured by the water. Realizing that she has an extraordinary connection to water - the trait of her mother's family, Zoe leaves her life at the riverbank to take her place as the prime - the head of the family. Once she's connected with her mother's family, Zoe is summoned to court for her official duties as prime and is mired in court politics and a budding romance with a hunti nobleman.

In typical Sharon Shinn fashion, a restless woman discovers her own strengths in a fish-out-of water situation and romance is secondary to the heroine's growth and the exquisitely executed details of Shinn's fantasy worlds. Troubled Waters is no exception.

If you're not a fan of fantasy fiction, and you think feng shui is baloney, you won't like this book. But I consider it one of Sharon Shinn's best, also reminiscent of the Kristin Cashore novels, where political intrigue could topple a monacrchy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy

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: James Keeper is stunned to discover he and his ex-wife have fathered a child together and he is the legal guardian of their three-year-old son, after her sudden death. 

Most women have 9 months to adjust to the idea that they will become a parent; James Keeper has one week.

Keeper, as his friends call him, is summoned to the hospital by his ex-mother-in-law. His ex-wife Cynthia had a stroke and wants Keeper to take custody of their dog Arrow, whom Keeper lost in the divorce.

Leah, Keeper's current girlfriend, is reluctant to take on a dog and since they just moved in together, Keeper lets Leah choose all the paint colors in their house to make it up to her about the dog he's planning to go and pick up next week.

But when Keeper arrives to pick up Arrow, his ex-sister-in-law Gracie is sitting on the front steps in tears. Arrow ran away last week and can't be found. Keeper is stunned, angry and a little relieved, and pleased that Gracie is so upset about Arrow. But Gracie isn't crying over Arrow, she's crying because Cynthia is dead.  Dead?!

And then a young child with Cynthia's eyes and Keeper's chin wanders outside. In the span of 15 minutes, Keeper finds out that Cynthia has conceived his child, and kept the baby a secret all these years and made Keeper the guardian, in event of her death. Cynthia always was secretive, but to hide their child?! Keeper is overwhelmed, angry, grieving for Cynthia and mystified about how to care for his three-year-old son, Leo.

So Keeper takes Leo home, somehow forgetting to tell Leah that he's bringing his child home to live with them. When Leah comes back from her business trip, she finds Leo installed in her home office and Keeper distracted with the child of his dead ex-wife. Keepr had all this time to tell her, but never thought to call her about adding a child to their lives.

Dumped, Keeper falls into a strange post-partum depression and Leo struggles with a new home, potty-regression, the loss of his mother, and Keeper's well-intentioned neglect.
On the front steps he said: 
"You're really not taking very good care of me."
"I'm trying, " I said. "I get points for trying."
"What points?"
Slacking at work and losing money, moping over Leah, and constantly sleep-deprived, Keeper falls apart. His friends confront him, knowing how bad he is at asking for help. When he lets people help, life becomes much easier. He introduces Leo to his grandparents, a blessing for all involved, and his friends offer to babysit, help him find a day care and encourage him to move on.

But Keeper is still obsessed with Leah, and embarks on a mission to win her back.
"I can't do this alone, I thought." 
And there is Keeper's major mistake. He even has a one night stand with his ex-sister-in-law Gracie, when she visits to see Leo and help out. He seems to see any and every woman as an acceptable mother substitute so he doesn't have to do the hard work of parenting.

Keeper's love campaign to win Leah back fell on the stalking side of the secret admirer line for me, and I couldn't understand why Keeper refused to acknowledge that some women (and men) are not cut out for parenthood. Despite Leah's fervent declarations that she does not want kids, Keeper brushes that aside, because he so wants Leah back in her life. When someone breaks up with you, they don't want to be with you - and Leah was very clear that she never wanted kids.

While Keeper certainly has the sleep-deprivation, exasperation and pride that all parents do, his blindness to the fact that he can't go back to his old life, yet fully expects that if he works hard enough he can have it ALL just made me angry. Only a male author would think that you can suddenly get a kid (from your ex-wife, no less) and still win back a wife who's never wanted kids. A woman author would never have such an implausible ending. It was tender, but unrealistic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Perfect Blend by Sue Margolis

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: Single mom Amy finds love and career success while working at a coffee shop. 

Perfect Blend was like a mocha drink - sweet, satisfying, and richer than expected. After an off-putting opening chapter, I stuck with it and this book surprised me, continually. At first, I thought it was a bad-dating Brit-lit book, then a Mommy Wars book, then a dysfunctional family book. But it evolved from all of these things into a realistic romance with a small mystery thrown in.

Amy is a single mom who got pregnant on purpose, and seems to balance her life quite well. Her son Charlie is a normal six-year-old, Amy has great childcare options, and is slowly building a freelance journalism career. Amy's working as a barista at Mozart's Cafe for her friend Brian, a true coffee connoisseur. Sure, Amy's dates aren't really working out, and her sister is a know-it-all, but overall, her life is good.

Amy's both a working mom, since she works at a coffee shop and freelances, and is sometimes a stay-at-home mom. Both types of mothers come into Cafe Mozart and Amy has these styles of mothers pegged:
A stay-at-home mummy - role model: Angelina Jolie, motto: "The best academy, a mother's knee" - believed that by being permanently available, she was raising well adjusted children who would blossom into delightful, angst-free adolescents and emotionally stable adults. So she devoted her time to finger painting and making low-sugar wholemeal cupcakes with her brood. She fed them a careful balance of carbs, protein and vitamins. She was also a firm believer that small children shouldn't become overburdened by too many after-kindergarten activities. Her kids were encouraged to pursue destressing pastimes such as kiddie yoga, Kindermusik, and tending the plants at the Tots Herb Garden. 
An alpha mummy- role model- Cherie Blair (lawyer, author, mother of four), motto: "In it to win it" - believed that by combining motherhood with a high flying career, she was achieving the goals that her teachers and university tutors set down for her. Moreover, she was proving to the next generation that it was possible for women to have it all. "Discipline" and "determination" were her watchwords. The first things an alpha mummy did after giving birth was phone her CEO. 
And then there are "mothers superiors":
For them, motherhood was nothing less than rhapsodic. Mothers superior would never admit that being stuck at home on a wet afternoon building Lego towers with a toddler  who immediately demolished them and then demanded they be rebuilt was a chore. In their view, the mistake other mothers make was failing to see the experience as a truly meaningful step on junior's epic journey toward learning to play and interact with significant others. It was something to be celebrated, not endured.
I know mothers like these - all of these. And while I can roll my eyes at their extreme views, they do exist. And they exist in Amy's life too, as Amy's sister Victoria is a mother superior. So I thought this would be a "struggling mom" book, or a mom who learns how to be happy, single and alone.  Yet...

On an errand to pick up more milk, Amy encounters a handsome man, looking over Bean Machine papers in a new building. If chain coffee shop Bean Machine moves in, there's no way Brian can afford to employ Amy. Bean Machine will get the morning metro traffic, the business lunch crowd and the afternoon mom snacks. Amy has a great work situation and can't afford to find another job. Plus Brian's a good friend and sunk his whole savings into Cafe Mozart. Amy politely thanks the handsome - but obviously evil - Bean Machine man, and hurries back to share the bad news with the Cafe Mozart staff.

When the handsome man buys a cup of coffee a few days later, Amy blasts him - Bean Machine exploits workers and drives small business owners out,  yet he gives as good as he gets, just before he tells Amy that he was only the engineer of the building. Amy's remorseful about her rush to judgment, and when the man - Sam - arrives at Cafe Mozart again - and defuses a tense mommy wars situation - Amy has a chance to apologize. They have a great date, and go on to have a great romance.

And life happens and unfolds in funny, tense and tender ways - her sister Victoria splits from her husband and moves in with Amy and Charlie; Amy's researching a hot story in the coffee business; Amy's divorced parents are each having relationship issues; Brian's having some concerning health issues, and Bean Machine is opening soon.

This book delighted me by defying predictability. It was deeper than I expected, based on the title and opening chapter, and I plan to read more by author Sue Margolis.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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: Melinda has told no one about her rape, and can hardly bear to speak in high school. 

The summer before her freshman year starts, Melinda is raped by a popular athlete in high school. Melinda calls the cops, but can't actually say the words. The cops come anyway and break up the party.

Now that the school year has started, Melinda has no friends, and no parental support. Oblivious parents seem to be a common element in Anderson's books.

Melinda functions in high school, just barely saying the minimum, to the frustration of her parents and a bullying teacher. Melinda's only friend is a transfer student, who doesn't know about the party and another student who dislikes the teacher who picks on Melinda. Melinda's parents nag her and blame each other for Melinda's silence. To be fair to her terrible parents, Melinda never confides in any adult, and is unable to seek help.

My book club read Wintergirls and I hated it because I thought the writing was overblown and pretentious.  While I enjoyed Speak much more plot-wise, I still hated the writing.
The noise of four hundred mouths moving, consuming, pulls me away from her. The background pulsing of the dishwashers, the squeal of announcements that no one hears – it is a vespiary, the Hornet haven. I am a small ant crouched by the entrance, with the winter wind at my back. I smother my green beans with mashed potatoes.
Melinda thinks she has survived the rape, until she discovers that her former best friend is dating her rapist. I know it sounds like a Lifetime Movie Network plot, but you can feel Melinda's terror. And so Melinda turns stalker, in order to protect her former friend. Adam, the rapist, is manipulative and menacing - the perfect villain.
I am a deer frozen in the headlights of a tractor trailer. Is he going to hurt me again? He couldn’t, not in school. Could he? Why can’t I scream, say something, do anything?
A haunting story, the author refers to her own novel as "the most important book of the decade." Once again, excessive, although it was memorable.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Poppy Done to Death (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, Book 8) by Charlaine Harris

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: Part-time librarian Aurora Teagarden solves the murder of her step-father's daughter-in-law.

Aurora Teagarden is prim, reserved, judgmental, extremely wealthy and prissy - and is constantly stumbling into dead bodies. I can't get enough of her.

In one of my on-line book groups, someone mentioned author Charlaine Harris' other series, the Lily Bard mysteries, the Aurora Teagarden mysteries and the Harper Connelly series. You most likely know Charlaine Harris as the author of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire stories, which inspired the True Blood TV show.  I requested every single one from the library and of course read them out of sequence and randomly as each arrived.

Harper Connelly can sense the dead; Lily Bard is a housecleaner in a small town who solves mysteries; and Aurora Teagarden reminds me of Murder She Wrote's Jessica Fletcher, only about 30 years younger.

Aurora is a small-town librarian who has inherited a fortune from her friend. Aurora dates, tries to find a past-time, visits friends, maintains her boring little life and somehow solves murder mysteries. Just like the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine, you would be surprised at how many murders occur in small towns.

When her step-sister-in-law Poppy misses an important luncheon, Aurora "Roe" Teagarden drops by to check on her. Roe is dismayed to find Poppy lying dead right inside her kitchen. Since her husband was cheating on Poppy at the time of the murder, Aurora knew someone else not in her family had killed Poppy.
"Poppy had had at least two flings that I knew about, and I would not have been surprised to hear that there had been more. I had tried - real hard - not to judge Poppy, to enjoy the part of her I liked and ignore the part that made me queasy."
But Poppy's promiscuity shouldn't have killed her  so Roe and her other step-sister-in-law Melinda try to keep their family together - finding remnants of Poppy's troubled past and messy, complicated sex life, and trying to uncover who in this small town could have murdered Poppy.
"So, we had a mysterious gas station receipt, a murdered woman, a philandering lawyer, a philandering husband, a past lover or three, a searcher, and a detective who shouldn't be on the case at all."
This was my favorite of all the Teagarden stories, but there were a few continuity issues that only someone who had just read all the books in a short period of time, as I just did, would notice.