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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley

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's recounting of life and food allergies.

Initial thoughts after reading this book: I'm so glad we're not Catholic. Also, could my prenatal vitamins have caused my daughter's wheat allergy?

Sandra Beasley is lucky to be alive. Given the types of food she's allergic to (egg, beef, shrimp, milk (even goat's milk), soy, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish and mustard) she takes many risks with her diet and constantly recounts her allergic attacks in this book. She doesn't ask what's in drinks, preferring instead to be a good sport, then vomits and spends the night huddled on the couch in a Benadryl-induced haze. Her reluctance to manage her significant food allergies annoyed me, as if she kept trying to prove how normal she was and how she's suffers, just by bravely going along.

But Beasley, along with many people with food allergies, doesn't use her epi-pen, because she doesn't want to be a freak. She also doesn't want to automatically go to the E.R. It also made me wonder if perhaps Beasley's symptoms are psychosomatic, that she enjoys drawing attention from whomever is the star of the day - a new bride, an engaged friend, a birthday girl. It's so unsympathetic, I know, but her reactions, combined with her food allergies and her reluctance to use effective medicine, makes me suspicious.

As Dr. Phil would ask, "How's that working for ya?" It works quite well, because Beasley simply does NOT take care of herself, instead preferring the coddling and special attention she gets.  My daughter does have allergies, and we are VERY careful to avoid exposure, bringing instead special cupcakes to birthday parties and always providing safe, fun snacks. But Beasley will take "one bite" pretending that she's being polite, but then undergoing a reaction.

I thought the book lacked structure, hopping from subject and time period, with little cohesiveness. We are introduced to her childhood allergies, then college, years, then her current boyfriend, then a previous boyfriend, with an unclear narrative direction. It surprised me to find out that Beasley was actually a writer, since this book was not an easy read. Perhaps her food reviews (yes, we all appreciate the irony of an allergic food writer) require only a few words, and not the smooth transitions required in a book.

I did like the part on wheat allergies and the Catholic Church's stand on the gluten in the communion wafer the best. Apparently, the body of Christ can only be found in wheat wafers, and the Catholic church suggests taking only part of the wafer as gluten-free wafer, are not acceptable according to the Catholic Church. This was the part that made me glad we're not Catholic.

The other fascinating part of the book, for me, focused on Beasley's visit to a food allergy conference. She encounters charts displays, diagrams and giveaways. I wanted more discussion about the link between the increase of prenatal folic acid and allergies, or the Hygiene Hypothesis or other suggested causes of food allergies. Case studies of adult she knows, and how they manage their  own food allergies with their children in the house did redeem the book slightly, but seemed thrown in at the end. I wish I could recommend this book, but the poor writing and the author's self-abuse by eating allergenic foods bothered me too much.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pride and Prescience by Carrie Bebris

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: Just after their marriage, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy solve a mystery. 

You know by now how much I adore Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And I'm constantly reading books inspired by or involving the characters. This book, which takes place just after Darcy and Elizabeth get married, is really closest in tone (style, syntax) to P&P.

While there is quite a bit more informality between Darcy and Elizabeth, it gave me a small thrill to see them happily married. Soon after their marriage, Miss Caroline Bingley - yes, the same Caroline Bingley who practically destroyed Jane's chance at happiness in P&P - marries an American. That night, she is seen wandering the street, about to be attacked by footpads. Darcy rescues her, and Elizabbeth and Darcy take the new Mrs. Parrish home. After an incident during riding and a botched suicide attempt, Bingley and Jane and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst (Charles and Caroline's married sister) decide to host Mr. and Mrs. Parrish and a Professor of Religious Artifacts and Mr. Parrish's friend at Netherfield, in an attempt to heal Caroline. Darcy and Elizabeth are loyal, so they accompany everyone to Netherfield and stay with them. The book dragged in the middle, but jumps right into the problems.

Bingley and Caroline are involved in a potentially fatal carriage accident, there's a damaging housefire at Netherfield and a stabbing. Who is the intended victim here? Is it Bingley and his fortune? Caroline Parrish? Darcy? Together, and separately, Elizabeth and Darcy solve the mystery and save the day.

While the writing was not as good as Austen's, I look forward to many more novels featuring Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts

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: Montana firefighters find romance during the fire season.

Nora Roberts must be having a mid-life crisis or lots of senior sex. (She's 61.) In this book, the heroine's father finds romance as well, and even though I know that older people do have sex, the sex scenes seemed more intense than usual.
The king became a stallion, rearing over his mate.
When she cried out, fisting around him in climax, his blood beat in triumph. And letting himself go, he rode that triumph over the edge.

The romance of Rowan's father and a middle-aged divorced principal took on greater weight in the story, likely because Roberts herself is on her recent second marriage and won't have to worry about birth control any more. Nah! But she does have adult kids, who likely are struggling with her new romance, the Rowan struggled with her father's.

Lately, with the exception of the Bride quartet, her main female characters are adrenaline junkies, with men who are protective, yet like tough broads. In this one, Rowan Tripp is a "salsa-eating, tequila-downing, smoke-jumping stunner with brains and a wicked uppercut."

I figured out the villain pretty early on in the book, and kept wondering why such a smart woman was so stupid! But it also may be that I totally know Roberts' work and can guess the villains, too. The romance didn't have that many obstacles, and that was really nice. If you're a Nora Roberts fan, this review won't sway you either way. But if you're new to her (what, do you live under a rock?), this would not be the one I would recommend. That would be Angels Fall, which was also made into a Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time by Laurie David & Kirstin Uhrenholdt

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: Advice and suggestions from celebrities, nutritionists, chefs and parents about how to connect with your children during the dinner hour. 

This book was like the September Issue of Vogue magazine, but for dinner. It's not quite a cohesive book, but a series of short articles, recipes, ideas and games to make eating dinner as a family a goal.

However, it's inspiring and thought-provoking. I loved it. Laurie David, wife of Larry David (Seinfeld co-creator) and environmentalist, hired a chef to cook for her when her work got too involved for her to cook for her kids and still eat together. Their cook Kirstin Uhrenholdt provides many of the recipes but celebrity chefs from Cat Cora to Mark Bittman (currently my new foodie crush) share recipes. Hiring a personal chef is ridiculous to me, but keep in mind they live in Hollywood, where there's often more money than sense. However, if I could afford a personal chef, I would in a heartbeat.

The book talks about meatless Mondays, alternative protein sources and ways to eat better without hurting the earth. There are also game a discussion ideas (my kids eagerly played long), gardening advice, storage advice - really, a little bit of everything; just like a magazine.

What I really wanted, and partially got, were guidelines for how we should act as a family together. Laurie's 10 steps are what I wanted even if Step Five: Everyone Tries Everything led to table pounding, slammed plates and one child in tears.There's also advice from Ellyn Sattler, one of the food experts and someone with whose philosophy I struggle.

I so want my husband to read this book, but he's too busy. (Yes, I do appreciate the irony.) But this advice only reinforces the ways I can practice my beliefs about good citizenship, parenting, and nutrition. My only disappointment was that there was only a casual mention of food allergies and sensitivities, but planning meals when two children have different food issues is difficult even for a nutritionist, and not just a busy mom who loves to read.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Spy in the House (The Agency 1) by Y.S. Lee

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 clandestine women's detective agency operates in Victorian London.

Mary Quinn is saved from the gallows at age twelve and is reared in a girls finishing school. When she grows bored with her safe life, she is invited by the headmistress there to train and becomes a spy for The Agency. Dun dun dun. What I hoped for would be details of the training, and quirky teachers, but instead her training was glossed over and we jump to Mary's first job.

She is expected to find details about English cargo ships that have been sunk, and whether or not the owner, Mr. Therold is committing fraud. There's also a main agent who's working on this case, but Mary serves in the Therold house as companion to Mr. Therold's spoiled heiress daughter Angelica. The case didn't seem that urgent or important and I also couldn't figure out what the urgency was, although Mary is under a two week time limit.

Despite a few plot holes and red herrings (I NEVER suspected the true villain), I enjoyed this story. It is chick lit? Hardly. Historical fiction? Yes, a bit. A romance? Barely. Although as a mystery, it felt very reminiscent of its time. Have you read any of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries? They are quite good and this book seemed to be similar in pacing and tone.

I am eager to discover who else works in The Agency. Having women who work in Victorian households in that sort of in-between status (governesses, companions, etc) and are also secret spies has been done before, multiple times in romance novels, but having an Agency place them? Well, that's a delightful twist. I wanted more of the Agency. Who founded it? Why? What's that story? How could other women in the agency identify each other? Is there anybody inside the royal household? I will be reading more of this series, but won't feel a need to rush through them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting by Joshua Gans

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 blog expanded into book form by an Australian economist professor, who tries to explain economic principles through parenting examples. 

This is an odd parenting memoir. It's not quite an economics books, but more or a parenting memoir. Joshua Gans refers to his children as Child No. 1, Child No. 2 and Child No. 3. I can't tell if his "children's mother" is his current wife, an ex-wife, an unmarried domestic partner or if this is some social experiment or Australian cultural norm. Names, even pseudonyms, would have humanized this book a little more. I was especially turned off when Gans explores the incentives to parents of letting a child "cry it out" and the economic principles that child is exploring by night waking.

Gans touches on toilet training, labor and delivery, breast-feeding, kids birthday parties, car seats and safety, and punishment. His unique take on each of the situations is sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing (Is it cultural or a different style of parenting? - I don't know) but always thought-provoking. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Would I read more by him? Doubtful. As a writer, his style may be better suited to his blog, as I found it a hard book to get through.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Heist Society 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: To save her father, teenage Kat must steal five priceless paintings back from the most secure and guarded museum, with the help of her teenage crew.

I was so disappointed in this book. The premise is cute. Kat is born into a family of con artists and thieves. But they steal and lie it more for the challenge of pulling it off. Sixteen year old Kat eventually tires of a life on the run and pulls one last great caper, conning her way into the exclusive Colgan school in order to live a normal teenage girl life.

She is framed for a prank and expelled from school, leaving her lost and floundering. Her best friend, the ultra-rich Hale, convinces her to pull off one last heist - stealing back a collection of priceless underground paintings that were stolen from the sinister Arturo Taccone. Kat's only reason for doing this is because Taccone believes only a thief of her father's skill could carry off and plans to torture and possibly kill her father unless the paintings are returned in two weeks.

Kat assembles her motley crew of teen helpers and somehow figures out that the paintings are hidden underneath other paintings in the Henley museum. So they have to break into the world's most secure museum and steal back the paintings.

As a caper book, it was not terribly original and having main characters bee teenagers seemed an afterthought. Kat is constantly flying back and forth from the U.S. and Paris, living in Hale's house but having no supervising adult,  has a strange relationship with her almost neglectful father and then when she tries to dress sexily, the male members of her crew are dumbstruck to discover that she has boobs. I expected better from the author of the Gallagher Girls Spy School series. That had humor and wit.  This was like Ocean's 12 only not as funny.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Feed by Mira Grant

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: In a future under constant threat from zombies, a blogger journalist and her brother follow a presidential candidate.

I read MT Anderson's Feed instead when I skimmed over my online book's club selection. Oops! When I realized my mistake, I checked the information again. Is this a zombie book? Yes, it is a zombie book, but it's also so much more.

Set in the future (2039), this is ultimately a book about journalism, but with zombies. Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun are the lead bloggers of their site. Shaun is an Irwin, obviously named after Steve Irwin, who died on camera during an adventure. Shaun is reckless, charming and absolutely good at his job. Georgia is a Newsie, one who insists on the truth no matter how much it hurts. I know I'm a blogger myself (you're reading this, right?) but in light of the furor over the news that Aveda will no longer pay bloggers for reviews, I'm naturally skeptical of the journalistic integrity of bloggers. Georgia's fierceness about always telling the truth seems a way to redeem the current blogging environment, which is rife with rumors. Georgia's defensiveness is justified, given the blogosphere in 2011.

But in 2014, a cure for the common cold, when it meets the cure for cancer, turns people into zombies who feed on living flesh.
"No one gets cancer or colds anymore. The only issue is the walking dead."
The United States government has ceded control of Alaska to the walking dead and the book opens with Georgia and Shaun zombie hunting in Santa Cruz, California. The sly humor kept me reading, even though I'm not a horror fan.

Georgia, Shaun, and their partner Buffy are the only bloggers chosen to be part of the presidential press corps following Senator Ryman. He gives them almost complete access and their blog site is gaining popularity. Ratings soar when Georgia and Shaun fight off a zombie attack at one of the Seantor's campaign rallies. Buffy, their technical expert, actually uncovers information that suggests the zombie attack was actually an assassination attempt.

The conspiracy runs deeper and deeper, with tragedy striking in surprising ways. I was racing to finish this, wondering exactly who was behind it all. The book dragged in the middle and there were a few plots holes. But on the whole, I loved this book, despite the zombie theme. I almost wish I was more of a a zombie movie fan, because I'm sure there are references I missed. I'm definitely reading the next book in the series.