Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hades by Alexandra Adornetto GIVEAWAY

Bethany and Xavier are even closer since battling Jake Thorn and his evil influence (in Halo) and Beth and her angel siblings must still protect Venus Cove from the Dark Forces.

When a party game – a séance – inadvertently releases Jake from the Underworld, he disguises himself and tricks Beth into taking a ride on his motorcycle. When the highway opens up and swallows them, Beth learns too late that she’s now a prisoner in hell. What happens to angels there? As her archangel brother, Gabriel, her sister Ivy, Xavier, and her best friend, Molly search for her, Beth must weigh Jake’s bargaining for her freedom: one night with him, and she will be released back to Earth.
Can Jake be trusted in this wager? And is he also using Beth to engineer the fall of the archangel Gabriel? Xavier has already lost one love – when Jake tricks him into thinking that Bethany is dead, his grief and anger result in a betrayal that will leave Bethany – and readers – wondering if he is so good after all.

It will be up to Beth to use everything she’s learned about her powers as an angel – and about love – to free herself and those she loves from the clutches of Hades.

Alexandra's facebook page.
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The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss GIVEAWAY

About The Twelfth Enchantment

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 9, 2011)
Lucy Derrick is a young woman of good breeding and poor finances. After the death of her beloved father, she is forced to maintain a shabby dignity as the unwanted boarder of her tyrannical uncle, fending off marriage to a local mill owner. But just as she is on the cusp of accepting a life of misery, events take a stunning turn when a handsome stranger—the poet and notorious rake Lord Byron—arrives at her house, stricken by what seems to be a curse, and with a cryptic message for Lucy. Suddenly her unfortunate circumstances are transformed in ways at once astonishing and seemingly impossible.
With the world undergoing an industrial transformation, and with England on the cusp of revolution, Lucy is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in which her life, and her country’s future, are in the balance. Inexplicably finding herself at the center of cataclysmic events, Lucy is awakened to a world once unknown to her: where magic and mortals collide, and the forces of ancient nature and modern progress are at war for the soul of England . . . and the world. The key to victory may be connected to a cryptic volume whose powers of enchantment are unbounded. Now, challenged by ruthless enemies with ancient powers at their command, Lucy must harness newfound mystical skills to prevent catastrophe and preserve humanity’s future. And enthralled by two exceptional men with designs on her heart, she must master her own desires to claim the destiny she deserves.

The Twelfth Enchantment
is the most captivating work to date of a master literary conjurer.

My take: This is a cross between any Jane Austen book and The Iron Daughter along with something else altogether. I really had no idea what to expect with this book but I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I kept having to check to make sure the author was a man. He wrote remarkably well from the point of view of a woman trying to obey the laws of propriety while on a quest to discover her true nature. 

Also historical fiction in nature, the story introduces us to the rascally and rakish Lord Byron who, according to many fiction books, tended to be one of the most unique historical characters to come out of England along with King Henry VIII. Actually, Lord Byron surpasses Henry's intrigue. Also intriguing is the way the author threaded the story with different forms of magic and redefining creatures that are not, by any means, playful folk that frolic in the woods.

Like Jane Eyre and novels by Jane Austen, Lucy, the protagonist, is a rather tragic figure destined to a marriage of convenience rather than love as she is without means but also without a stellar reputation and carrying baggage. Living with a distant uncle, Lucy is at the mercy of his whims as well as his woman servant who is quite detestable. Lord Byron enters the picture and the intrigue begins.

Character development is slow but steady. Lucy is the average downtrodden English maiden possessing attractive features but nothing extraordinary. Her transformation of confidence is believable as she discovers more about herself and what she can do. Mary is a very interesting character and Mr. Morrison becomes endearing. Mrs. Quince and Harriette are always detestable as are Buckles and Olsen. Byron is everything you would expect from a self-centered Lord in the nineteenth century. He just loves himself.

The story is original and unexpected. It has some historical value, has fantasy, love interest and Chick Lit. If I try to explain it, I might ruin the effect. But I really liked it.

Clean read. Except for the innuendo of Lord Byron's character. 

About David Liss:
David Liss is the author of The Whiskey Rebels, The Ethical Assassin, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper.  He is also the recipient of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.  He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children.
Visit David at his website, davidliss.comFacebook, and Twitter.
For your very own copy, feel free to complete the form below.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce Review

Sweetly (Fairytale Retellings, #2)Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: SWEETLY is a modernization of Hansel and Gretel and a companion book to SISTERS RED. 

Twelve years ago, Gretchen, her twin sister, and her brother went looking for a witch in the forest. They found something. Maybe it was a witch, maybe a monster, they aren’t sure—they were running too fast to tell. Either way, Gretchen’s twin sister was never seen again.

Years later, after being thrown out of their house, Gretchen and Ansel find themselves in Live Oak, South Carolina, a place on the verge of becoming a ghost town. They move in with Sophia Kelly, a young and beautiful chocolatier owner who opens not only her home, but her heart to Gretchen and Ansel.

Yet the witch isn’t gone—it’s here, lurking in the forests of Live Oak, preying on Live Oak girls every year after Sophia Kelly’s infamous chocolate festival. But Gretchen is determined to stop running from witches in the forest, and start fighting back. Alongside Samuel Reynolds, a boy as quick with a gun as he is a sarcastic remark, Gretchen digs deeper into the mystery of not only what the witch is, but how it chooses its victims. Yet the further she investigates, the more she finds herself wondering who the real monster is, and if love can be as deadly as it is beautiful.

My take: There is a witch but the witch is not like the one in Monty Python. She will not turn you into a newt and you will not get better. It is much more horrible than that. The witch took one of the siblings 12 years ago, Gretchen's identical twin. Since then, Gretchen and Ansel have watched the woods and not spoken of the incident. Both of their parents have since died and the evil stepmother tired of the stepchildren and told them to move along. That's when they break down in a very small and secluded town where the only place for them to earn their keep is a candy maker's cottage. By the way, the candy maker is an enchantingly beautiful young woman with eyes for Ansel and suddenly Gretchen's BFF.

That's pretty much the end of the similarities between the retelling of Hansel and Gretel except for an occasional reference. It is best to read this book as an original story so as not to be disappointed when the witch is revealed. Although Ansel does fatten up a bit and the enchantress, well, I can't tell you any more about her.

Be forewarned that this book is pretty gory at some points. The fight scenes are well choreographed and the death scenes are much like the Brothers Grimm might have written them way back in the Days of Yore (real time period, people). Do not read this book to your wee ones as a bedtime story. Bad dreams will abound.

Still. I liked it a lot.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Q: A Novel by Evan Mandery Review

Q: A NovelQ: A Novel by Evan Mandery

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: “Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, is the love of my life.”

Shortly before his wedding, the unnamed hero of this uncommon romance is visited by a man who claims to be his future self and ominously admonishes him that he must not marry the love of his life, Q. At first the protagonist doubts this stranger, but in time he becomes convinced of the authenticity of the warning and leaves his fiancée. The resulting void in his life is impossible to fill. One after the other, future selves arrive urging him to marry someone else, divorce, attend law school, leave law school, travel, join a running club, stop running, study the guitar, the cello, Proust, Buddhism, and opera, and eliminate gluten from his diet. The only constants in this madcap quest for personal improvement are his love for his New York City home and for the irresistible Q.

A unique literary talent, Evan Mandery turns the classic story of transcendent love on its head, with an ending that will melt even the darkest heart.

My take: This is nearly a 4 star book. I found the writing to be clever and the dialogue to be particularly fun. The author is very well read and provides intriguing ideas for the reader to mull over regarding the roads less traveled. At times, I found the writer's work to be absolutely profound but not in the prominent ideas. It was more in the periphery thought process of the protagonist where the juiciest material occurred. I loved the way he summarizes the workings of the bully and how the bully forces the world around him to conform to his reality but is much more articulate than I was just now.

The premise of the story is that the unnamed protagonist that, for the sake of simplicity, I am going to name Evan (after the author) meets a marvelous young woman and they hit it off immediately. There is humor, depth, and a sweet romance that seems destined to play out for the rest of their lives until "Evan" shows up as an older version to warn him what will happen if he marries Q.

At the same time, Evan is up for tenure. He needs to publish an original work. Working from the same premise as his real self, he chooses to pursue a book about Freud and what if he had followed a different path that he seemed destined to continue but didn't. Would Freud have still gone into psychoanalysis? His original novel was also built on hypotheticals and what-would-have-happened-ifs. Clever at first, I lost interest quickly as the books are recapped.

Back to "Evan's" life, his future self continues to pop up to tell him how the future will unfold if he doesn't do something different. Then, the future self tells him what to do differently, costing him a great deal of money and time. In essence, the author is exploring String Theory only in a much easier context. Not that I can explain String Theory or Einstein's Theory of Relativity but the author also uses examples from the Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Good call.

So the question remains - does what we do really change the end result? Is there an end result or is it just random anyway? Could we do things better or is it simply different. I really did enjoy the lively discussion at the Thanksgiving Dinner and, in particular, the thoughts on the senile professor.

I enjoyed the book and the thoughts presented. I struggled with some of the points of reference as my experiences do not reflect the author's. There were a lot of Jewish inside jokes I didn't understand. I also thought the book was about 50 pages too long. There were stretches were I was bored and others where I was riveted.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle Review

The Beginning of AfterThe Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Laurel's world changes instantly when her parents and brother are killed in a terrible car accident. Behind the wheel is the father of her bad-boy neighbor, David Kaufman, whose mother is also killed. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laurel navigates a new reality in which she and her best friend grow apart, boys may or may not be approaching her out of pity, overpowering memories lurk everywhere, and Mr. Kaufman is comatose but still very much alive. Through it all, there is David, who swoops in and out of Laurel's life and to whom she finds herself attracted against her better judgment. She will forever be connected to him by their mutual loss, a connection that will change them both in unexpected ways. 

Fans of emotionally true and heartfelt stories, such as Sarah Dessen's THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER and IF I STAY by Gayle Forman, will fall in love with Jennifer Castle’s incandescent debut novel...a heart wrenching, surprisingly witty testament to how drastically life can change in the span of a single moment.

My take: I was hesitant to read this book because I am one of the very few people who absolutely hated If I Stay. I hated the story, not the writing. Yet I loved Where She Went which led me to wonder how I would react to this book. Would it feel contrived or would it offer something of substance which is what I thought the first book lacked? I found this story to be substantial and well worth the read.

The protagonist is 16 year old Laurel who bowed out of celebrating Seder dessert. Ever the good girl, she wanted to brush up on her SAT studies. Her antithesis is David who is also a high school student, a former friend turned rebel without a cause. He bowed out to tick his parents off. So Laurel's and David's parents along with Laurel's 13 year old brother drive off for ice cream, leaving their teens home to greet the police officer who comes to their doors to inform them of the horrible accident. Laurel's family is wiped out. David's mother died while David's father, the driver, is comatose.

The story details the brutal process of figuring out what comes next. Laurel's grandmother relocates to raise Laurel. Laurel slugs along through her grieving process, tries to return to school but breaks down. She struggles to stay on track while balancing her grieving, her anger, and her own development and dealing with the pity of others. Meanwhile, David's father is placed in long term care and David chooses to disappear. David shows up every so often and he and Laurel forge a relationship that bothered me because it wasn't textbook or storybook. It was real. There is guilt, pain, a shared childhood, rage, love, and a myriad of emotions and then David would disappear again.

Laurel's character is so well developed, as is her grandmother's and her grandmother's grief which is nearly forgotten by Laurel. They deal with the memories, the objects that need to be cleaned out, the clothes, Laurel's senior year, the looks of pity, the relationships formed of pity, the healing and the conclusion.

What I liked best about the book is that it is not neat and pretty. The loss is still a loss. Time is marked by "Before" and "After" but the year following is a different passage of time. It's not quite "after" but the time where the survivors piece together what is left and make as much sense of their life as they can. Laurel slugs through while David runs away. Eventually both characters find equilibrium for themselves in different ways.

Language: mild
Sex: lightly implied but some petting
Dialogue: mild

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson Review

The Family FangThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Where do I even begin with this? The book is bizarre, the premise is disturbing, the humor is off-kilter and dark, the morals are completely missing. Paragraph structure is chaotic and confusing with multiple characters quotes in the same paragraph. Language is offensive, dialogue is weird, family dynamics is disturbing, sexual envelope is pushed and yet...

With all the criticisms I might have, I really did enjoy the weirdness of it. I was a little disappointed with the anti-climactic ending but, besides that and the above paragraph, I liked it. I decided it was the character development of the Fangs. The chapters are written to leapfrog between years ago (not in order, just to establish character) and until recently (which is order). Recently, Buster had an unfortunate accident which was hilarious and bizarre. He is out of money, down on his luck and has no life. He goes home.

Also recently, Annie, now a B list actress, has made a couple of mildly poor decisions that prove to be catastrophic in light of paparazzi spin and finds her opportunities limited. Again, the development of her current state is hilarious, inappropriate, and the reader is sympathetic. She goes home.

Caleb and Camille, the parents, welcome both adult children home then mysteriously disappear.

The background is that Caleb and Camille are artists. Not visual artists or even performing artists as one defines it. They create chaos and document it. They use a number of different props, their best props being Child A (Annie) and Child B (Buster). They are completely and utterly bizarre. Annie and Buster grow up and want out. Are they really prepared to be adults in the normal world after having a childhood where they are used in the name of art? Are they prepared to embark on a journey to find their missing parents alive or dead or should they just leave them alone and have a life?

Although I haven't done them justice, Caleb and Camille has wonderful character development as well. Not as well as Annie and Buster but the four Fangs, especially Annie and Buster really do grow on the reader.

It's a mixed review. I will share it with certain friends but with a caveat that the content, language, and concept is disturbing...yet entertaining.

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi Review

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental IllnessA First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My take: Who writes history? Those who control the media and the winners of any conflict. This is a summary of some of history's greatest and worst leaders. It reads much like a dissertation only without statistical data to support the hypothesis but plenty of anecdotal which is soft data. The author asserts that the best leaders in war and other stress, were on the bipolar spectrum. The worst leaders under stress were mentally stable.

Many of the examples used are self-proclaimed sufferers of depression or other mood disorder. Others suffered from a physical malady which, when treated medically, led to an unstable mood. Or a sexually transmitted disease which produced an atypical mood. At any rate, the author suggests that a depressed person is more likely to exhibit realism, a manic person has enhanced creativity and a depressed person feels more empathy. I agree to some degree that this is true, only I wouldn't put these people directly on the mental illness scale. An awake person expresses greater creativity while a depressed poet produces depressing poetry which is not in a manic stage. A person who has experienced life, not necessarily depression, might already know they don't control the world but how they react to circumstances.

A few months ago I read "The Psychopath Test" which empowered those trained in this checklist to diagnose a psychopath. In short order, the checklist qualified most of the population as exhibiting psychopathic personalities. As a graduate student in psychology, I read my new DSM III-R and diagnosed myself with no less than 58 psychological disorders. Once informed of the uses of the DSM and realizing it is only the extremes that interfere with regular interactions and work, my list dropped to only two. One when I wasn't PMS-ing.

It is much easier to find episodic personality traits and pigeon-hole a historical leader into a mental illness, especially if that person is dead and unable to refute the diagnosis. It is also known that psychiatry and psychology is a soft science. Not that I don't respect the field because I do. On the other hand, the new "in" diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder or the Autism Spectrum. Now all the quirky kids who have a less than ideal awareness of social appropriate behavior can be shoved onto this broad spectrum and receive a 504 plan excusing angry outbursts at school rather than accepting consequences for acting out and hurting other children. Ten years ago, these same children were being diagnosed with anxiety and depression and treatment reflected that diagnosis.

The author's hypothesis is an interesting one but left me feeling like the hypothesis was not settled. My belief is that mood disorders or mental instability is not a good predictor of leadership skills. I didn't see the connection as the author presented the information. I wanted to be convinced with hard evidence but instead, I was underwhelmed.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep Review

Touch of Frost (Mythos Academy, #1)Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: My name is Gwen Frost, and I go to Mythos Academy — a school of myths, magic and warrior whiz kids, where even the lowliest geek knows how to chop off somebody's head with a sword and Logan Quinn, the hottest Spartan guy in school, also happens to be the deadliest.

But lately, things have been weird, even for Mythos. First, mean girl Jasmine Ashton was murdered in the Library of Antiquities. Then, someone stole the Bowl of Tears, a magical artifact that can be used to bring about the second Chaos War. You know, death, destruction and lots of other bad, bad things. Freaky stuff like this goes on all the time at Mythos, but I'm determined to find out who killed Jasmine and why—especially since I should have been the one who died. . .

My take: Jennifer Estep has been writing Urban Fantasy for awhile. She's a popular voice and writes strong female characters that are often a chip off the old Xena block. I was always much more partial to Hercules but I see the strong Xena warrior lure.

Gwen is a likeable protagonist with unfocused powers. She touches something and feels, sees and senses all emotion attached to the object or person. They call her "Gypsy Girl" at the Mythos Academy. Mostly I thought this was a good introduction to the main characters and future conflict which will probably be between Loki or Chaos and Nike (Victory) using Gwen as Nike's Champion. My guess is that Loki's Champion will soon be identified and it will be someone Gwen loves very much. Pretty much hoping it's not Logan Quinn.

Speaking of Logan Quinn - hot bad boy and chemistry between him and Gwen is interesting but it just fizzled out. Nothing happened. In the meantime, periphery teenage sex and drinking is flagrantly woven into the story. Just didn't see the point of having Gwen witness Morgan doing what she did to one of the boys in the story. It was gross. Meanwhile, Logan Quinn is a man-whore who signs the mattresses of all the girls he sleeps with and Gwen likes him because he's hot. Okay, so he saves her bacon, too but is this the kind of boy we want our protagonist to hand over her V card to? Not that she did, because, like I said, the chemistry between them came to a screeching halt.

It wasn't a bad book and I feel guilty writing only the bad about it because the story was kind of fun, albeit morbid. No complaints about writing style. Estep is established and writes well. On that same vein, it's her book, her characters, and Gwen's story. It will be interesting to see where it leads.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda GIVEAWAY!

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
From Goodreads: One night before putting him to bed, Enaiatollah's mother tells him three things: don't use drugs, don't use weapons, and don't steal. The next day he wakes up to find she isn't there. Ten-year-old Enaiatollah is left alone in Pakistan to fend for himself. In a book that takes a true story and shapes it into a beautiful piece of fiction, Italian novelist Fabio Geda describes Enaiatollah's remarkable five-year journey from Afghanistan to Italy where he finally managed to claim political asylum aged fifteen. His ordeal took him through Iran, Turkey and Greece, working on building sites in order to pay people-traffickers, and enduring the physical misery of dangerous border crossings squeezed into the false bottoms of lorries or trekking across inhospitable mountains. A series of almost implausible strokes of fortune enabled him to get to Turin, find help from an Italian family and meet Fabio Geda, with whom he became friends. The result of their friendship is this unique book in which Enaiatollah's engaging, moving voice is brilliantly captured by Geda's subtly simple storytelling. In Geda's hands, Enaiatollah's journey becomes a universal story of stoicism in the face of fear, and the search for a place where life is liveable.

Random House: When ten-year-old Enaiatollah Akbari’s small village in Afghanistan falls prey to Taliban rule in early 2000, his mother shepherds the boy across the border into Pakistan but has to leave him there all alone to fend for himself. Thus begins Enaiat’s remarkable and often punish­ing five-year ordeal, which takes him through Iran, Turkey, and Greece before he seeks political asylum in Italy at the age of fifteen. 

Along the way, Enaiat endures the crippling physical and emotional agony of dangerous border crossings, trekking across bitterly cold mountain pathways for days on end or being stuffed into the false bottom of a truck. But not every­one is as resourceful, resilient, or lucky as Enaiat, and there are many heart-wrenching casualties along the way. 

Based on Enaiat’s close collaboration with Italian novelist Fabio Geda and expertly rendered in English by an award- winning translator, this novel reconstructs the young boy’s memories, perfectly preserving the childlike perspective and rhythms of an intimate oral history. 
Told with humor and humanity, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles brilliantly captures Enaiat’s moving and engaging voice and lends urgency to an epic story of hope and survival.

Thanks to my awesome friends at Doubleday, I have 2 copies available for giveaway. All you have to do is fill out form below. Good karma follows those of you who add a comment that you love me more than Lionel Ritchie. If you are feeling really good, even more than Justin Beiber but let's not get crazy.

The Gap Year by Sarah Bird Review

The Gap YearThe Gap Year by Sarah Bird

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Gap Year was an interesting read and addressed some of the obstacles an empty nester, in particular, a single mother sending her one and only daughter off into the wide world of college. The book is written in alternating POV between mother and daughter. Not only is the writing style and attitude different, but so is the font which is wonderful for the visual reader.

The book addresses a common practice of taking a year off of school before starting college which I had two problems with: a) that's not really what it is about but that is the way Cam, the mother, chooses to frame it and b) the school counselor in me knows the statistics of students who take a year off before starting college. 80% do not start college after that one year. Obviously, I don't advocate a gap year for any student unless there are special circumstances like service for a church or organization which seems to clash directly with Cam's viewpoint and opinion.

Although Cam is not opposed to a gap year and even imagines Aubrey serving in a third world country, her point of view is often tainted towards "the establishment" of any kind, including organized religion. It starts out small with tiny jabs at certain churches then expands to a thinly veiled description of Christian Science. 16 years ago Cam's husband, Martin, sold his soul to join a cult called Next. He chose the church over his family and didn't look back. Until he reaches out to get to know Aubrey but he can not reveal this connection to this Next church or bad things will happen to a trust account.

Admittedly, I know very little about Christian Science and what I do know I disagree with on many levels. I won't get into the issues of doctrinal discussion or cult-like indoctrination because I don't know the whole picture. Therefore, I am unqualified to defend or attack the church/cult or whatever it may be. I realize it is an integral part of the story as the indoctrination of Martin is the catalyst for him to leave what matters most to pursue truth and enlightenment. It seemed that the attitude for organized religion and, in particular, smaller religions were referred to in a derisive manner. I understand the concept of life crapping all over you and feeling angry at the God I had been taught to love and questioning the tenets of the church I had grown up in. On the other hand, I also have a deep respect for any religion or otherwise organization that provides understanding to a person and puts pieces of their lives into a more manageable and understandable form. Tom Cruise and his public attack on Brooke Shields choice to take medication for her postpartum depression? In my mind, he's a complete idiot who could use some empathy training. That does not negate the good others have found in the same organization.

I know. Big diatribe but it bothered me enough to include it in my review.

Lest the above diatribe is distracting to you, let me assure you that the author is a brilliant writer. There were nuggets of true wisdom interspersed throughout the book that left me in a profound stupor and a highlighter in my hand. The Gap Year is much more about the generational gap and the gap in the roles of mothers and daughters. Mothers will contrive a reality to fit their dreams for their daughters. They might even try to live vicariously through their own children. there are extreme examples which were a little unbelievable like the boyfriend being a mega superstar football player who came out of a heinous childhood which he eventually reveals. The juxtaposition is a little too extreme. Hippie Mama who is forced to grow up but secretly wants to rock out to ABBA and Bruce Springsteen and probably even Leif Garrett and Danny Bonaducci. She creates a contrived future for her daughter and tries to live vicariously through her simple force of nature. I can relate to that. Not really living vicariously because I had a great few years at college but more involved in the choices my daughters are going to make. But ultimately, they will still do what they want to do.

So it's a mixed review. It is a well written book scattered with words of wisdom but also includes a story that seemed a little weak and characters I never really liked very much. It addresses issues that are important but I've read other books that I felt hit more on the mark. It's a good book but I didn't love it.

Just for fun, let's see who wants a FREE copy of this book! Raise your hand high! Okay, thanks for trying that but as we are not Skyping, that was an exercise in futility. Instead, fill out the handy dandy form below.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

IMM (8/21/11)

So my reading is slowing. I don't know if it's because I'm too distracted to read or if I'm losing interest too quickly or what. Maybe it's just that I am valuing sleep a little more.

Books for review:
All These Things I've Done (Birthright)The ShatteringVeiled Rose (Tales of Goldstone Wood)Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and HaitiThe Family Fang: A NovelWunderkind: A NovelWinter Town

What I read this week (and finished - I'm not going to include the books I didn't finish yet. Too proud):
Q: A NovelHamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital AgeTouch of Frost (Mythos Academy)The Family Fang: A NovelSixteenth SummerFlyaway

Mmmkay. Maybe I am still reading a lot. No wonder I'm tired.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dark Parties by Sara Grant WINNERS!

Dark Parties

Winners, selected by my handy dandy widget on the left are:

Angie H. and mamabunny!

Winners have been notified via email.

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

The Mostly True Story of JackReading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (August 2, 2011)
Language: English

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his crazy aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time. . . .

When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends-not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is a tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.

My take: Jack is a forgettable character. Even his family forgets about him. There is, however, an aunt and uncle who never forget about him. Although He feels like he's nothing special, he's actually an integral part of the community that he steps into. No one seems to want to discuss the secrets of the town or why he is so interesting but his Uncle Clive leaves clues around for him to find so he can start to remember.

The story is easy to read and age appropriate for a latency age boy. I will give this book to my son. Although I didn't love the story and found that many of the mysteries were left unanswered, Barnhill is a master at telling a story. Vocabulary is not too difficult but provides enough interest to keep the reader turning the pages. It is a well written fantasy book.

Tunnel Vision Susan Shaw

Tunnel Vision
Tunnel Vision by Susan Shaw
Simon and Schuster
Release date Aug. 16, 2011

Contrary to the poor star rating, I have a lot of good things to say about this book. The author is a solid writer. The story had a good start but seemed weak to me. There was some rambling that could have been taken out but it looked like the story was going someplace. The reader is introduced to characters that hold promise of either an interesting relationship or some twist of fate. Instead, it evaporates. Actually, my problem with the book was the weakness of believability. 

On the other hand, I'd gladly give this book to my 13 year old daughter to read. There is absolutely nothing so offensive I'd think twice. Except maybe the violence which isn't detailed and I might just be a product of a childhood based on Starsky and Hutch with some Columbo crossed with Fantasy Island and Love Boat. 

Clean read.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age Review

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
William Powers (Paperback - Aug 9, 2011)
Harper Collins

A crisp, passionately argued answer to the question that everyone who's grown dependent on digital devices is asking: "Where's the rest of my life?"

At a time when we're all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Part intellectual journey, part memoir, Hamlet's BlackBerry sets out to solve what William Powers calls the conundrum of connectedness. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

Hamlet's BlackBerry argues that we need a new way of thinking, an everyday philosophy for life with screens. To find it, Powers reaches into the past, uncovering a rich trove of ideas that have helped people manage and enjoy their connected lives for thousands of years. New technologies have always brought the mix of excitement and stress that we feel today. Drawing on some of history's most brilliant thinkers, from Plato to Shakespeare to Thoreau, he shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it's balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Using his own life as laboratory and object lesson, Powers demonstrates why this is the moment to revisit our relationship to screens and mobile technologies, and how profound the rewards of doing so can be. Lively, original, and entertaining, Hamlet's BlackBerry will challenge you to rethink your digital life.

My take: This is one of those sociological books that my cerebral self really enjoyed. First of all, Powers addresses a problems I struggle with every day. How much technology is too much? My answer has mostly been that too much is when it takes too long to figure it out. Like spending 45 minutes putting parental controls and taking off the app store of the ipod so my credit card will stop taking a hit. Like when we got a new DVR and I can't figure out how to cancel recordings so I simply gave up watching TV. 

Conversely, how much time have I invested into understanding html or ignored my children while I had a very important email to read or write or blog post to pound out (none of which I can remember, anymore)? More than I care to admit. In fact, Powers quotes a Google executive giving a commencement speech where he exhorts the new graduates to turn off the computer and play with a child.

What Powers contends is that we are missing "gaps" in our lives. The time between profound moments to process, make sense, and develop depth. We move from one activity to another, toggling as quickly as we can without taking the time to reflect and develop meaning from life. The author then uses experiences from his own life and provides philosophical examples from pivotal moments of information in the past like Plato telling a story about leaving the city behind to think or Guttenberg's moveable type machines and the way reading aloud to reading silently changed thinking processes, Shakespeare's Hamlet using a fourteenth century  ipad, etc.

I found each example to be incredibly intriguing and presented new information or information presented in a way I'd not considered. This is not a book to read while surrounded by technology or other people to distract the reader. Although not difficult to understand and easy language, the ideas require the reader to have "gaps" to absorb it.

Ultimately, I still struggle with the question of technology. On the other hand, my best example is that of my dad. No matter what he was listening to on the radio, watching on the television, reading in a book or newspaper, when I spoke he turned off the radio, television or closed the book until we were finished talking. Nothing on t.v. or the radio was more important than I was.

I wish William Powers had included Tony LaPray as one of the pivotal men in information history.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sixteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton Review

Sixteenth SummerSixteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Anna is dreading another tourist-filled summer on Dune Island that follows the same routine: beach, ice cream, friends, repeat. That is, until she locks eyes with Will, the gorgeous and sweet guy visiting from New York. Soon, her summer is filled with flirtatious fun as Anna falls head over heels in love.

But with every perfect afternoon, sweet kiss, and walk on the beach, Anna can’t ignore that the days are quickly growing shorter, and Will has to leave at the end of August. Anna’s never felt anything like this before, but when forever isn’t even a possibility, one summer doesn’t feel worth the promise of her heart breaking…

My take: I loved this story. It is probably the most genuine and true-to-life summer first love stories. It was simple and fun. Anna, the protagonist, is discovering her own beauty through her first relationship. Dialogue is hilarious and made me laugh out loud. On top of the romance aspect, Anna has a family and those dynamics along with her old friends, Caroline and Sam who are discovering romance themselves. The setting is unique - Georgia beach. The quandary is broached - what if it's only for the summer and not forever?

The story is much like my own story of summer love. There was no bodice ripping or sex or anything I'm embarrassed about years later. It was, like Sixteenth Summer, the summer someone I liked - really, really liked, liked me back. He told me I was beautiful. We had a lot of fun together. And the relationship changed me permanently and for the good. Like Anna and Will.

I loved the book because it reminded me of such a pivotal moment in my life. Like Anna and Will, I wondered what would happen after the summer. Would we still know each other? Would we keep in contact? Would we see each other again? Unlike Anna and Will, I found out the answers to these questions. Turns out, My Will (not his real name) became a good friend after proving to me that I was beautiful and interesting that summer. We were never close friends but I still love him for being where he was and who he was that summer.

We crossed paths every so often for the next 10 years. I went to his wedding reception. I'd run into his mother and keep up on the news. He went to Stanford and joined a prestigious law firm. He had three children then nearing his 40th birthday, had a fourth child at the same time as he was diagnosed with a rare cancer. I found his wife's blog and found her to be completely engaging and articulate. I stalked her blog whenever I could. I went to his funeral and grieved for myself and for his family.

I keep a copy of his obituary in my night stand and I still see what a gift he was to me - not only that one summer but years later when his widow became a very dear friend.

But before the grief and tragedy, there is the summer of sweet, innocent love. And that's what this book reminds me.

Loved it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Look to the East by Maureen Lang Review

Look to the East (The Great War)
Goodreads: At the dawn of the First World War, the French provincial village of Briecourt is isolated from the battles, but the century-old feud between the Toussaints and the de Colvilles still rages in the streets. When the German army sweeps in to occupy the town, families on both sides of the feud must work together to protect stragglers caught behind enemy lines. Julitte Toussaint may have been adopted from a faraway island, but she feels the scorn of the de Colvilles as much as anyone born a Toussaint. So when she falls in love with one of the stragglers—a wealthy and handsome Belgian entrepreneur—she knows she’s playing with fire. Charles Lassone hides in the cellar of the Briecourt church, safe from the Germans for the moment. But if he’s discovered, it will bring danger to the entire village and could cost Charles his life. First in a three-book series.

My take: My favorite genre is historical fiction with emphasis on WWII. One of the dangers of reading about war, of course, is being bombarded with soldier-talk which usually includes content I'd rather not use or hear, including a lot of "f" words. Lang uses her colorful language to articulate the story and dialogue without having to pepper the reader with other colorful language I would rather not read without changing the tone of the truth that war is ugly and people do not act the way they would during times of peace.

The feuding families was a small distraction to me. I much preferred to read about the occupation, hiding the soldiers and the treatment of soldiers and townspeople alike. I am always enlightened when I read about heroes in war who do the humane thing, risking life and limb for a stranger. In this  book, the Christlike deeds go both directions.

Interesting story. Well written.

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

The LanternThe Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads:  When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France. As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lover and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel. Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive. As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before. As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve. In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.

My take:  I found this book to be evocative and beautifully written. The author is telling two stories simultaneously but, if the reader is watching closely, the symbolism of the house and the happenings of the house is mirrored in the relationship of Dom and Eve. Dom and Eve begin a relationship seemingly on a whim. Dom buys an old homestead with hidden rooms, tunnels, and surprises that turn up here and there. Like their relationship, the couple take it all in stride and are delighted with the gifts of the house. On the other hand, there are still unexplored areas with walls blocking rooms. The home is also aging and plaster falls apart. There are stains that can't be removed and mysteries that can't be explained.

Meanwhile, Dom is secretive about his past and relationships with those he has been close to. There is the mystery of the former wife, Rachel. What happened to her? Where is Dom's family? Why don't the couple have close friends or, really, any friends? Any attempt "Eve" makes to ask about his past is met with Dom's completely shutting her out and retreating to his music or another hobby. And then there is the issue of the skeletal remains that show up on the property. Small detail.

Meanwhile, every other chapter is about a different character at a different time but at the same home. Benedicte is the youngest child of three, born in 1925. Her story unfolds which includes the rise and fall of farming, having tenants, her family's demise, and the appearance of ghosts. Although seemingly unrelated, both stories share many similarities as both protagonists struggle with trying to make sense of their worlds and attaching meaning to different experiences.

Ultimately, I found that I am prone to find meaning and make connections. The stories were about relationships and personal perceptions. What is real is whatever we attach meaning to. Trying to make connections where none exist is what drives conspiracy theories which is fine for some. For others, accepting experiences at face value is what they do. Although it is nice to think a person and a relationship (or a place) can be a brand new start, a clean slate with no history, each person and place is complex and have hidden rooms and surprises to be discovered which just keeps the relationship interesting.

And the ghostly apparitions? I'll let you decide.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

IMM (8/14/11)

Through begging, buying, and borrowing along with wonderful publicists, here are my new reads for this week:
Hades (Halo (Cloth - Feiwel & Friends))Other Words for LoveSweetlySwing Low: A LifePlaying Hurt: A Guy's Strategy for a Winning MarriageThe Stranger You Seek: A NovelThe Watery Part of the WorldSex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in HistoryThe Legacy: A NovelBlue Skies Tomorrow: A Novel (Wings of Glory)Q: A Novel

This week I read:

Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in HistoryClark Howard's Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save MoneyThe Lantern: A NovelIn Malice, Quite Close: A NovelThe Mostly True Story of Jack

I am in the middle of reading:

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital AgeSixteenth SummerQ: A Novel

I really hope I will finish at least, well, all of them this week.

Icing on the cake - I saw (from a distance) Richard Paul Evans at my Costco.

I know. It's kind of like when I got to go backstage for the REO Speedwagon concert and the drummer mussed my hair. And Kevin Cronin put his arm around me for a photo op in his hot leather pants and houndstooth shirt opened to his mid-chest. Kind of like that only without the swearing. Or drinking. Actually, more like the opening act of Colin Ray who blew his pipes on his signature song, If You Get There Before I Do and went straight to his trailer and had a temper tantrum and wouldn't see and greet his show's keyboardist's wife's best friend. He didn't even muss my hair.

Honestly, my brush with famous personalities is something much less than astounding. I should probably mention my REO Speedwagon concert occurred 4 years ago and not in the 1980's when they couldn't fight that feeling any longer.

I did, however, get a ride home from Ron Lafferty's house in his truck by the esteemed would-be cult-leader-turned ritualistic murderer mere weeks before his killing spree. How sad am I that is my claim to fame.

Thanks a lot, Richard Paul Evans.

Have a good one!