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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sushi for One? by Camy Tang

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 Chinese/Japanese American-born woman is pressured by her family to get married.

You can't pin me down; I admit it. I like many varied kinds of books - memoirs, historical romances, teen vampire fiction, Christian romance (but never Amish-themed books), fantasy fiction, self-help books. You can't classify me as one reader or another.

And that was my problem with this book - it didn't have a clear cut identity.  I started reading a Camy Tang book because most of her characters feature Asian women. My middle daughter is adopted from China and I'd like her to identify with the characters she sees on my books, as much as my biological son looks for dragons and my biological daughter thinks she's Rapunzel. I didn't finish the first Camy Tang book I picked up because I found it rather implausible.  I thought I'd give Tang's best-known series a try - maybe she writes Christian romance better than Christian suspense.

Lex Sakai is a Chinese/Japanese American-born woman pressured by her grandmother to find a husband. Of her group of cousins, Lex will be the Oldest Single Female Cousin, once their cousin gets married in a few months. The pressure is on for Lex to marry. Grandma even goes to far as to threaten to withdraw her funding of Lex's beloved youth volleyball team if Lex doesn't bring a boyfriend (and not just a date) to the upcoming wedding. I do enjoy this particular plot device - marry or you'll lose your fortune.

If that's not enough, Lex's father sells the house they've been sharing and Lex must find her own place. When conditions at work become intolerable, Lex quits and regrets only the loss of the paycheck. Also complicating the boyfriend hunt is that Lex is still traumatized, almost 10 years later, by an unreported rape. The rapist was Caucasian, as well, so Lex will only consider Asian men as part of her dating pool. I say Asian, because Lex Sakai is a Japanese name, but she's also Chinese, yet doesn't speak Japanese or Chinese. And she's not Buddhist. And in Lex's Bible study group, she complies a list of her ideal husband's features from Ephesians. Lex will only date Christians. Lex makes a point of mentioning that her family is Buddhist, but doesn't really explore her conversion to Christianity, something that did interest me as a reader because fighting her family for her faith must have been difficult, not just annoying, although Lex seems annoyed by most of her family.

Lex's love of sports actually does translate into a job perfectly suited to her, an alumni liaison for college sports teams. Suddenly, men are falling over Lex, hoping that by dating her, they can see their favorite college games. Lex resists, mostly because the men still give her the creeps, but she really is trying to find someone. Lex also tries to raise the money on her own, but her grandmother has warned the entire Asian community not to give her funding.

When Lex gets an invite to try out for a prestigious competitive volleyball league, she uses the money she would have spent on a house payment as the entrance fee, and trains vigorously. She gets in, and then in an instant, suffers an injury that almost certainly spells the end of her volleyball career. Her physical trainer, Aiden, fits none of the requirements on her list - he's white, he's skeptical of Christians and Christianity; he seems poor and Lex is NOT attracted to him. But Lex does feel comfortable with him, enjoying their banter, allowing him to touch her body as part of the therapy. Aiden knows just how much to push her, reading her competitive spirit quite well. But Aiden's not a Christian, and not Asian, so he has to be out.

When Lex is on a date with another prospective husband, he turns overly aggressive, and Lex freaks out, flashing back to the rape. While running away, she injures her knee again, and Aiden rescues her. She discovers that Aiden has been going to church and what she thought was friendship was the beginning of something special. Things end well, and I worried throughout the book if Lex's prickly nature would alienate everyone who loves her.

Sushi is barely mentioned in the book. It's a cute title, and makes you think Japanese, but given Lex's love of volleyball, perhaps a better title would have been "Serving Up Love" or "Game, Set & Matched," something like that. I came up with that in thirty seconds, so a marketing team could do an even better job with all their time and creativity. Just like the title didn't quite fit, and made me a little fidgety, a few other notes just seemed wrong, so I was disappointed. One of Lex's cousins was overweight and lost a ton of weight through a stomach virus. Wha??? That rarely happens. Having Lex be Japanese wasn't crucial to the plot at all (neither was the sushi title), and with many black or Hispanic main characters their specific ethnicity does flavor the book in measurable ways; not so with this one. Despite all that, I will be reading the next book in the Sushi Series, featuring another of Lex's cousin. Perhaps it's because I didn't quite warm to Lex's fierce outlook on life, or her stubborn refusal of any help of therapy for her obvious PTSD.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Mistress's Revenge by Tamar Cohen

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 chronicles her affair, post-break-up, in a journal. 

Let's start with the fact that I think affairs are tacky and lacking in integrity. Why should the mistress get revenge? Why not the wife?

Granted, Clive is a slick, manipulative bastard, but Sally is a mental case. After their break-up, Sally is so distraught, not eating, not sleeping, and totally neglecting her kids that she see a therapist who thinks that journaling her feelings will be the best way to get over Clive.

The entire book is written in journal form, but like books written as letters, they are inherently fake to me, as no letter and journals ever provide so much back information in real life.
"Do you remember, that was the very first thing you said to me? We'll laugh about it one day, of course, but still it took me aback. I hadn't even properly sat down, was still fishing around in my bag so I could go and buy a drink."
Clive will never read this, but even if he does, there is no need to ask if he remembers. Her journal is her letter to Clive since he has cut off all contact. No e-mails, no texts, no phone calls.

Stylistically, this book's format drove me crazy. And that's before we even get to the story.

We're never quite sure why exactly Clive has ended their five year affair. Sally is not married but is partnered with Daniel and they have two children together. Clive is married to Susan and they have two older children as well.

And Clive breaks off the affair. This devastates Sally and Sally cannot get over it. She sends e-mails to Clive, sends him texts, "Friends" both Susan and Clive's daughter on Facebook and often eats at the restaurant where Clive's son works as a waiter. Sally crashes a vow renewal party that Clive and Susan hold, and Clive and Sally meet to discuss issues, and end up having sex. Sally is convinced that they are back together. When she realizes that their make-up sex was actually break-up sex, Sally gets worse.

Meanwhile, Sally's kids are struggling in school and hating her. Someone has hacked in Sally's email accounts and is sending messages from her, which is losing her all her freelance writing work. The bills are piling up unopened and the house is a pit.  Sally is losing weight, freaking out in grocery stores and is convinced that someone is trying to kill her. But actually, Sally is right about that, as she is harassed constantly. Her kids are frightened but Sally is so focused on Clive that she can't think of anything else.

I won't give away the very strange ending but there is some closure in the book. However, many things bothered me:
  • What is it that makes Clive so appealing? Sally mentions his bad back and his weight problem and he seems just creepy to me. If yes, he is as creepy as I think he is, how (and why) did Sally fall for that?
  • How did Sally and Clive not get caught in their affair by now? 
  • What was Daniel, Sally's partner, doing all day every day? He only comes home to scold Sally, it seems.
  • How could people NOT see that Sally is a mess? The house is filthy, the kids don't have meals, she's losing weight, she looks sick. How could people NOT realize something is going on here?
  • Why does Susan stay with Clive? This was an odd relationship, but granted we only have Sally's perspective, or how she interprets both Clive and Susan's remarks.
  • Do we always feel bad for the dumpee, even when the relationship is wrong?
  • Why did Clive decide to break up with Sally? Was it an ultimatum from Susan?
I can't say I enjoyed this book, though I did feel sorry for Sally, her partner Daniel, and their kids. We'll be discussing this in my book club, and I'm sure I'll have other questions.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crazy Aunt Purl's Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair by Laurie Perry

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: One woman's memoir of her divorce and eventual recovery.

Just the title alone is fun (and accurate), but the book was a feel-good read, despite being about divorce. Laurie comes home from work, expecting to share a silly story about how her underwear broke at work, and her husband announced he was leaving. Laurie is devastated and is left with an expensive house and her husband's four cats.

Laurie, with the long-distance help of her supportive parents, moves into a smaller house right before Christmas. She spends most of her time drinking wine while the cats circle around her. She goes through many of the stages of grief, anger, bargaining, drinking, isolation, and even tries to give herself bangs, which her hairdresser sternly forbids.

Laurie's patient and supportive friends stick with her through her depression, perhaps longer than I would have. One of them encourages her to try knitting and when Laurie finally leaves the house and ventures into a knitting store, it changes her life. She knits crazy creations for her cats, scarves (in LA!) and lots of sassy knit wear while being nurtured by her local Stitch-n-Bitch group.

Laurie Perry writes with Southern wit, much like Celia Rivenbark, whom I adore. Laurie's sadness and misery is written with such honesty and humor that I was identifying with the author and laughing at the same time. It's not a complex book, you won't get veiled metaphors or run on sentences that go for a page, but you will laugh and you will feel hope.

Not only are the discussion questions at the back of the book helpful and thought provoking, but Laurie provides knitting patterns and pictures of her creations. I've tried knitting and I understand how intense and excited the knitting community gets, but knitting's not for me. I'm also not divorced, and will never have cats.  Despite what we don't have in common, this book was worth breaking my "no divorce memoirs!" vow.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sloane Sisters by Anna Carey

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: Cate and Andie Sloane's father is dating Stella and Lola Childs' model mother, Emma. New York Chic meets English reserve in a teen fashion novel.

The Brady Bunch meets the Clique series in this fun YA read. Still stunned from their parent's rapid divorce after their father cheated on their mother, Stella and Lola Childs should turn to each other to help navigate their new lives in New York. Their mum, Emma has become the new face of Ralph Lauren and so they have moved from London to New York City.

The girls are surprised when their mother tells them that instead of living in a hotel, they will be living with Emma's new boyfriend, Winston Sloane and his teen daughters Cate and Andie. In fact, their parents are engaged! Looks like they'll all be one big happy family, right?

Cate and Stella seem to get along well at first as they are both interested in fashion, style, trends, and share the same shoe size. But Stella chafes under Cate's bossiness and superiority and can't easily slip into the elite clique at their new school. Cate also won't let Stella into her clique without making Stella jump through extreme hoops and Stella feels lost and angry. She doesn't offer any help to her sister Lola, a band geek who has zero interest in fashion. But Andie desperately wants to be a model and uses her future step-mother's modeling connections as a way to get into the business, despite being very, very short. Lola doesn't realize she's being used until someone suggests that Lola would make a good model and Andie freaks out.

Tensions simmer in a house full of rich teens and pre-teens. Add name dropping,  sibling rivalry, divorce and high fashion and you have a fun YA read. The girl bullying and focus on fashion is reminiscent of the Clique series, but slightly less materialistic.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent

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 goes undercover disguised as a man and does her best to infiltrate male society.

Well, of course, if you're gonna live like a man for over a year, totally immersing yourself in male culture, acting, working and dating like a man, it helps if you're a lesbian.

I just thought the concept was cool, but didn't think too hard about the details until the author dedicated the book to her wife, Lisa. Gulp! Oh, yeah, that makes more sense. I'm pretty straight, and might be hesitant about intercourse with a woman while having her believe I was a man.

I'm not sure exactly what inspired writer Norah Vincent to decide to live as Ned for a year, except for the fact that she thought it would make a great book. And it is a good book, just not a great one.

Ned joins a bowling team and explores the tentative rules of male friendship. Her friendship with Jim and the encouragement of Ned to succeed at bowling so the men have the pleasure of beating a skilled players was wonderful. The chapter on strip clubs disturbed me in a sad way and makes me uncomfortable. The dating part got a little icky, but seemed to prove Vincent's point that women are really looking for more of an emotional connection than "what goes where" sex games. I forced myself to continue this book when Ned joins a monastery and worked for Red Bull selling entertainment books.

The freedom that Norah has to speak her mind as a woman is not available to Ned. Ned is instead trapped under the burden and weight of the expectations of him. The most tender part of the book is when Ned attends a men's retreat. The men there draw pictures of their heroes and it's painful to read about everything that's expected of men. In nearly every chapter in the book, Norah feels bad for Ned because Ned didn't grow up knowing all the unspoken male rules of behavior and the restrictive guidelines of behavior. I was disappointed because I felt there was nothing new added to the ongoing conversation about how men and women are different or how to bridge those gaps.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Death of a Witch (Hamish Macbeth Mysteries) by M. C. Beaton

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Summary: Highland constable Hamish Macbeth solves the murder of a new woman to town, suspected of being a witch and seductress.

I like reading romance novels. But when someone in one of my groups asked for "clean" books with no sex, author M.C. Beaton kept coming up. I had read an Agatha Raisin book, but far, far prefer Hamish Macbeth.

One of the complaints about James Patterson's Alex Cross series is that he has a new relationship nearly every book. Well, the same applies to Hamish Macbeth. Nearly every single woman he encounters seems to want to marry him, and somehow both Hamish and the women cross signals and blow hot and cold alternately.

When a new woman comes to town, Hamish is suspicious. Why would an attractive single woman move to Lochdubh? The women in the village call her a witch and the men are not talking, or talking even less than taciturn Scots already do. Hamish rightly suspects that she's up to something, but is determined to find out exactly what after she is murdered. As Hamish is standing outside waiting for the police squad, the cottage holding the dead body of the suspected witch bursts into flame! Arson? And murder?

When a local woman is later stabbed to death, Hamish is concerned. Who in his small town could be a murderer? And with talk of a roving Highland brothel? The mystery just continues, even as Hamish juggles Priscilla (his wealthy on-and-off again love),  dogged reporter Elsbeth and bright coroner Lesley, all who seem to both be after Hamish and another goodlooking reporter assigned to the story.

The stories, despite always involving a murder, are cozy and fun with quirky characters and whenever I need a quick read, this is where I'll go.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book of Shadows (Sweep, No. 1) by Cate Tiernan

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Summary: A teenage girl meets the new student in her high school and is drawn to him before she discovers he's a Wiccan. Her attraction to Cal grows, despite of, or perhaps because of witchcraft.

My book club was lucky enough to have Young Adult author Loretta Ellsworth come speak to our book club after we read her book In a Heartbeat. After we discussed her book, we talked about upcoming trends in YA fiction.

Loretta Ellsworth mentioned that vampires are a waning plot device, at least in the YA market. She mentioned that werewolves seem to be popular, and talked about Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, which I hated. But I'm here to tell you that I can't get enough of the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan.

Morgan describes herself as plain and boring. And she seems like it. She's responsible, she helps fellow students with math problems and seems a little self-conscious when her best friend Bree tries to include her in Bree's clique of popular friends. Morgan's much more comfortable hanging back.

But Morgan is assigned to show new transfer student Cal around their school and can hardly function because Cal is so cute. I totally identified with Morgan, as whenever I encountered a gorgeous male, I can't stop giggling, even today. Cal is very laid back and at ease with all the different groups of people, the popular kids, the brains, the athletes, the stoners, the artists. When he invites all of them to a campfire in the woods, everyone is excited to attend a cool party. But Cal suggests that they hold hands in a circle and thank Mother Nature. Cal "comes out" as a witch (male Wiccans are still witches, apparently). Morgan is intrigued by the ceremony but her best friend Bree is more intrigued by Cal.

Bree starts exploring witchcraft as a way to get closer to Cal, and shares her books and enthusiasm with Morgan. Morgan starts exploring witchcraft on her own, but she also finds herself strangely drawn to Cal as well, but of course doesn't say anything to anyone since Bree is actively pursuing Cal. 

Morgan's mother finds her books and bans all witchcraft books and forbids Morgan to be involved in any of the Wiccan holidays and ceremonies. Morgan is torn between her typical reaction to obey her parents and her curiosity about a gentle philosophy that really seems to speak to her. Morgan starts "practicing" on her own, and creates a potion that clears up her friend's horrible acne. Morgan is astonished that her potion worked but gets scolded by Cal for practicing magick without the recipient's consent. Bree also thinks that Morgan is practicing magick to get closer to Cal and makes Morgan choose between their friendship and magick.

Morgan chooses magick, but recognizes that her pull toward magick will eventually cause problems in her whole life - with her family, her church and even her friendships. I am so hooked on this series. It has humor, teen angst, a cute guy and lots of potential problems. Delicious!

Friday, July 1, 2011

June Rejects

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I try to give each book at least 50 pages, but with so many great books out there (and two book clubs a month), I want to spend my time reading books I actually enjoy. I'd rather not spend time writing full reviews on books I Did Not Finish. This list includes the books I picked up and rejected in June:

Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn, and How We Both Learned to Breathe by Alexa Stevenson
Summary: A woman shares her struggles with infertility, her subsequent pregnancy with boy-and-girl twins, the death of the boy fetus at 20 weeks and the induced labor of the remaining child Simone at 25 weeks.  
This is a sad, tragic memoir, with notes of irreverence, random memories of her childhood and vague Minneapolis references. The book however seems to be just a way for the author to get more blog readers, since she's already written her whole story on her blog. You can read more about it here. http://flotsamblog.com/2008/01/15/ames-and-simone/  While I did cry in parts, I did so without wanting to finish more of the book. I gave up when it came due at the library.