Friday, June 27, 2008
Book No: 50
Title: The Queen of the Big Time
Author: Adriana Trigiani
No. of Pages: N/A
Adriani Trigiani revisits the theme of Italian immigrants in her story of Nella Castelluca and her family. Roseta is a small Italian community in Pennsylvania where Nella lives on the farm with her parents and four sisters. It is the early 1920’s and 15 year old Nella longs to go to school in town, and hopes to one day live there. When an accident forces Nella to give up her dreams of an education she goes to work in the local factory, where she meets two men who will become the loves of her life.
While I enjoyed much of this book I found the writing often very simplistic and there seemed to be huge gaps in the storyline. Certain characters are very well developed at first and then seem to fade away. Also toward the end the book seems to fly through the years. However the story of Nella and her determination was often enjoyable, and brought a tear to my eye more than once. I loved her Big Stone Gap books more, and this one wasn’t quite as good, but it wasn’t a bad read either.
Book No: 49
Title: Bitter is the New Black
Author: Jen Lancaster
No. of Pages: 415
Jen Lancaster’s memoir is funny, very, very funny. It may not be for everyone, but I laughed ‘til I cried while reading her story.
During the go, go dot.com craze at the turn of the millennia Jen Lancaster is living high off the hog. She makes a ridiculous amount of money, as does her live-in boyfriend Fletch. They have a spectacular apartment in the hippest part of Chicago and they spend money like crazy. Then comes the dot.com crash and before you know it Jen is out of a job and soon after so is Fletch. In the next two years, until re-employment comes her way, Jen mines her major lifestyle changes for some deliciously brutal comedy writing.
Jen doesn’t censor her thoughts and everything she thinks just comes out. Nobody escapes her wicked and wry commentary, not even herself. As she figures out how to go from the high life to please don’t turn my electricity off, she examines her irresponsible life-style and has an epiphany but it hasn’t changed her sardonic outlook one bit, she’s as caustic as before but now she is a bit more understanding of some of the plight of average wage earners. A bit!
I enjoyed this book so much I immediately got Bright Lights; Big Ass and will be back with that review fairly soon.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Book No: 48
Author: Jennifer Lauck
No. of Pages:406
Blackbird is the story of Jennifer Lauck’s childhood, which is reflected in the sub-title- A Childhood Lost and Found. Told through the perspective of the child that she was, Jennifer tells of the harrowing six years of her life, from the ages of 5 to 11. Five year old Jennifer is living with her parents and older brother Bryan. It is obvious that Janet, Jennifer’s mother is in the end stages of a long illness, and Jennifer takes care of her mom as best she can at her young age. In the course of time Janet Lauck passes away, and the children are left with their father, a kind but overwhelmed man; he quickly remarries a woman with children of her own, who obviously does not care for Jennifer or Bryan at all. When another tragedy befalls the Lauck family, things go from bad to worse. Although there is some abuse in the book, it is far more psychological than physical and quite disturbing. The indomitable spirit of Jennifer to keep on going, despite it all, is what lifts this book from maudlin to inspiring. The child’s eye view of the adult world is heartbreaking at times, but you will care about this little girl and root for her right until the end, hoping someone or something good comes her way.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Book No: 47
Title: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Author: Maggie O’ Farrell
No. of Pages: 245
I really enjoyed this book, a gothic tinged mystery.
Iris Lockhart is living out her life in Scotland, running her vintage clothing store, having an affair with a married man, and just living a fairly normal life. One day Iris receives a stunning phone call, regarding her Aunt Esme, a woman she never knew existed. It seems that Esme is being released from a local mental institution where she has been incarcerated for 60 years, and Iris is named as the person to receive notification. When Iris calls her mother she is assured there is a mistake, but Iris cannot ask her grandmother Kitty about Esme, because Kitty is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. So Iris brings her supposed aunt home, and tries to unravel the mystery of her incarceration.
Through Esme’s memories and Kitty’s ramblings we slowly piece together the tragic and haunting story of Esme, which leads to a final and stunning act.
I could not put this book down, I had to find out Esme’s story, and I had to read the ending twice to make sure I understood what happened. Very compelling read.
Book No: 46
Title: Sliver of Truth
Author: Lisa Unger
No. of Pages: 305
Sliver of Truth is the sequel to Beautiful Lies, a book I read and enjoyed several months ago. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of Beautiful Lies, and here Unger tries to answer them, with some heart-pounding suspense, twists turns and all out action. It’s hard to review a sequel without ruining the first book for those who haven’t read it, but I’ll give it a go.
Ridley Pearson’s Uncle Max died a few years ago and Ridley has recently found out some life altering news about Max and his life. But if Max is dead then why is the FBI following Ridley and asking her questions about him? Why does Ridley’s friend Jake believe Max is alive? And why does everyone Ridley contacts while investigating Max’s death end up dead? Unger produces a very dark and intricately plotted story that delves more deeply into Ridley’s character as well as those people who are a part of her life. You care for Ridley and walk with her every step of the way, hoping she will find the answers she so desperately seeks. Good sequel and I am definitely going to read Black Out, Unger’s newest book.
Book No: 45
Title: Stealing Athena
Author: Karen Essex
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages: 452
Stealing Athena tells the story of two women, Aspasia, courtesan to Pericles, the famous politician who spent his lifetime seeing that beautiful monuments to the Gods were built in Greece; and Mary Elgin whose husband Robert Elgin would spend many years of his life trying to bring all of Greece’s art to England. Through these women’s eyes we learn of all that went into building the Parthenon, a temple to Athena and all that went into the deconstruction of the Parthenon 2000 years later, when Lord Elgin removed many of the marble friezes and had them sent to England, where they are today, known as The Elgin Marbles.
I should have loved this book, as I am a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly those focusing on ancient Rome and Greece, and those set in Victorian England. I was however disappointed in this book. The two stories did not seem to mesh well together and none of the characters came alive for me. The writing was often so descriptive the story would lose momentum. I never really cared for anyone in the book and struggled to finish reading it. At over 450 pages, what this book needed was a good editor to tighten up the story. Not a bad book, but not a very good one either.
Book No: 44
Title: The Quickie
Author: James Patterson
No. of Pages: 352
Why, oh why is James Patterson a bestselling author? I seriously don’t get it. I stopped reading his books several years ago because I found that they just seemed to be getting worse and worse. Then last summer my mom-in-law gave me this book as a gift. It languished on my shelf until now and frankly I wasn’t missing anything. The plot, so to speak, involves Lauren Stillwell, a police officer who finds out her husband is cheating on her. So instead of confronting him she decides to have a ‘quickie’ with a co-worker. While looking out the window of the room where she has her assignation Lauren sees something so shocking her life is turned upside down, and she can’t tell anyone, because that would reveal her affair. The plot was dumb, the characters cardboard cut-outs that I cared not one whit for, the dialogue trite, when not laughable, the writing pedestrian and the ending ridiculous. Awful is too nice a word to use when describing this book.
Book No: 43
Title: Ice Trap
Author: Kitty Sewell
No. of Pages: 340
Dr. Dafydd Woodruff’s marriage is falling apart. The inability to have children has both David and his wife Isabel struggling to maintain the relationship though Isabel is bitterly disappointed in this failure. Things only take a turn from the worse when Dafydd receives a letter from a young girl maintaining that she and her twin brother are his children from a relationship 15 years earlier. Insisting that this is impossible, Dafydd is stunned when the DNA tests he demanded prove he is the father. Deciding that in order to prove his innocence Dafydd leaves Isabel and travels back to Moose Creek, in the Canadian Northwest Territories. It was here Dafydd came 15 years earlier, trying to forget the medical error he made and hoping to rebuild his confidence. Taking an interim position he has a difficult relationship with the caustic head nurse Sheila, who is now claiming he is the father of her children.
This is one of those stories, where you are almost positive that the main character is being expertly played, and you enjoy watching the cat and mouse game between Daffyd and Sheila as the psychological tension ratchets up. The barren town of Moose Creek is a perfect setting for this mystery, with its cast of eccentric characters and the bitter weather as a chilling background. Although some of the resolutions seem a little implausible, overall I enjoyed this suspense tale very much.
Book No: 42
Title: The Meaning of Night
Author: Michael Cox
No. of Pages: N/A
This Victorian mystery opens with Edward Glyver’s confession of a murder he committed. He has killed a stranger, an innocent man, as a practice run for his planned murder of his enemy. Who this enemy is and why Edward wishes to kill him is the basis for this book, the purported confession of all the events in Glyver’s life that have pushed him to this point.
Very Dickens like in tone this story is an examination of obsession and how it can overtake a life, to ruinous results for all. Our protagonist Glyver is a man that, although you can understand some of his anguish, isn’t all together likeable. When Glyver is told to trust no one, it is apparent that everyone in this tale is not what he or she seems. Filled with long buried secrets, lies, betrayals, revenge, love, houses of ill-repute, and opium dens one can almost hear evil laughter in the background. Though a long book, it moves fairly fast as we are caught up in the web of lies and sinister doings. A first rate tale.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Book No: 41
Title: All Hallows Evil
Author: Valerie Wolzien
Genre: Cozy Mystery
No. of Pages: 247
Another entry in the Susan Henshaw cozy mystery series. Soccer mom Susan Henshaw finds a body in the library of her local library. Naturally she solves the crime before the ‘real’ detectives. Nothing very special here, an average cozy without much heart.
Book No: 40
Title: The River Wife
Author: Jonis Agee
No. of Pages: 396
It is 1930; seventeen years old, and pregnant, Hedie Rails has just married Clement Ducharme and has moved into his family estate, a remote home in rural Missouri. Hedie’s new husband seems to be involved in some shady business, going out at all hours of the night, sometimes coming up bloodied and hung over. While roaming the house at night Hedie finds the journals of Annie Lark, the first wife of Jacques Ducharme, the larger than life ancestor of Clement and the man who built the estate. Through Hedie’s reading we learn how Annie was rescued by Jacques during the New Madrid earthquake. With Annie’s’ story anchoring the early life of this saga, and Hedie’s the latter part, we also learn the stories of the other women and their children in Jacques Ducharme’s life, and how each of them struggled to find their place in a man’s world and how Jacques ruled them all with an iron fist. Throughout the book it is the spirit of Annie that inhabits everyone’s memories and her ghost that inhabits the Ducharme estate.
I was quite entranced with this book, in particular Annie’s story, but all of the ‘river wives’ had fascinating stories, except perhaps Hedie, whose story was the most uninvolving of them all. All in all I think this was a very worthwhile read and believe there is a lot here for book clubs, it’s a wonder to me this book isn’t more popular with discussion groups.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Book No: 39
Title: Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea
Author: Chelsea Handler
No. of Pages:
I laughed a lot while reading this book. Chelsea Handler’s series of essays is laugh out loud funny even if everything she does is so not right. She is completely not PC and is constantly getting herself into trouble, mostly because she lies a lot and drinks way too much. The book starts with Chelsea convincing everyone in her third grade class that she is going to have the role of Goldie Hawn’s daughter in the sequel to Private Benjamin, a movie that doesn’t even exist and ends with Chelsea pretending to be her dad’s trophy wife on their honeymoon to get an upgrade to first class. Along the way there is regifting, relationships with very young men, and Chelsea’s strange obsession with a midget who looks just like her. If you take offense easily this book is not for you, but if outrageous humor is your idea of fun then read this book.
Book No: 38
Title: Wife Goes On
Author: Lesley Lehr
Genre: Chick Lit
No. of Pages: 307
Four women from varying walks of life are going through, contemplating or recovering from divorce. Through a series of coincidences they end up being friends and each other’s support group as they begin to make new lives for themselves.
Cute and often funny this was an easy read chick-lit book. Reminiscent in many ways of The First Wives Club it was breezy and sometimes witty but some of the situations seemed wildly improbable, and I find it hard to believe that these four women, from such different environments would cross paths in the first place, never mind become fast friends. A nice bit of fluff to start of the summer, a no brainer read.
Book No: 37
Title: People of the Book
Author: Geraldine Brooks
No. of Pages: 372
In 1996 a rare and beautifully illuminated Haggadah from 15th century Spain has been found and Hanna Heath, a rare book expert, has been called into examine it. During her inspection of the book Hanna finds an insect wing, a wine stain mixed with blood, salt crystals, probably from tears, and a white hair. Hanna collects these items in order to determine the books history; author Brooks uses them as a jumping off point to tell the story of the Haggadah and how it has survived for 600 years. Traveling back from the present to the creation of the book we meet those people who had a hand in the creation and often desecration of this book, we also meet heroes and villains from all walks of life who play a role in the books surviving. Inter-mixed with the past stories is a current day story involving Hanna and her mother, an unloving and self-absorbed surgeon with whom Hanna has a contentious relationship, and Hanna’s love affair with a tortured Muslim librarian, one of the latest saviors of the book.
I really loved Year of Wonders by Brooks, and was really looking forward to this book. Happily I was not disappointed as I love the way she wove all these disparate stories into a poignant story of love and hate throughout the centuries, right up to the present day. Excellent story, fabulous book.
Book No: 36
Title: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages: 464
Quite possibly one of the worst books I have ever read. I think the author may have been going for a satire of the Scarlet Pimpernel story, but this book is dreadful. Clichéd characters, people who speak and act like 21st century characters in a 19th century setting. Laughable dialogue, a contrived storyline, from start to finish there is nothing to recommend the book. I thought I was getting a good historical fiction, what I got was a bad romance book and most unbelievable of all to me is that this appears to be the first of a series. With all the wonderful writers out there, the fact that this book was even published is astounding.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Title: And Only to Deceive
Author: Tasha Alexander
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages:
Lady Emily Ashton is less than upset when her husband Viscount Philip Ashton dies on an African safari. Although he seemed a nice enough person, Emily did not love him, and the marriage was, for her, one of convenience, a way to have a home of her own away from her overbearing mother. So it is with much surprise that Emily finds herself falling in love with her husband through his journals, which she has begun to read. She also learns that in fact, her husband was very much in love with her. As she learns more about her husband the more she wishes to have known him better while he was alive. Soon however she begins to suspect Philip may have been involved in black market antiquities, and it’s possible he isn’t really dead.
A clever Victorian mystery, I enjoyed the character of Lady Ashton and the mystery of the antiquities. I enjoyed seeing her character grow and change through learning of her husband’s passions and had a good time reading the book as well.
Book No: 34
Title: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages:552
This is the second book in the Lady Julia Grey series.
Lady Julia Grey has been in Italy for several months, recovering from the events that occurred in the first book. When her father summons Julia and her brother’s home for Christmas, they return to the family estate; a former monastery for monks. Am0ng the invited house guests is Nicolas Brisbane, the private investigator who helped Julia with the inquiry following her husband’s death and with whom Julia has fallen in love. To her surprise Brisbane is accompanied by his fiancée, the lovely Charlotte King. When over the course of a few days a curate is found murdered in the sanctuary, Julia’s cousin Lucy is the main suspect and some very valuable pears belonging to Julia disappear, Brisbane and Julia decide to resume their investigative partnership to solve the mystery and robbery.
Once again Raybourn delivers a thoroughly delightful story with Brisbane and Julia thrown together once more and a houseful of eccentric characters to sort through on the way to solving the cleverly plotted mystery. A totally enjoyable romantic suspense book set in Victorian times, I am looking forward to book three.
Title: Song of Susannah
Author: Stephen King
No. of Pages: N/A
Song of Susannah is the sixth book in the Dark Tower series, which is to be concluded in the final chapter-Book Seven. Unfortunately I found this ‘chapter’ to be rather disappointing. In most of the other books the action takes place mostly in other worlds, this one takes place almost entirely in New York of 1999 and Maine of 1975 up to 1999. The plot is not moved forward any, we are mostly waiting for Susannah/Mia to have her baby, the one destined to grow up and kill Roland of Gilead, The Gunslinger. Also the inclusion of the author as a character in the story was a bit disorienting-although kind of fun. I also didn’t much care for the abrupt cliffhanger ending. Hopefully all will be resolved satisfactorily in the next book, I hope so I have a lot of time invested in the story and the characters, about 20 years time.
Book No: 32
Title: Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen
Author: Lesley Hazleton
No. of Pages: 272
Was Jezebel really evil? Or has she been misconstrued throughout the ages? In this retelling of the biblical woman’s life Lesley Hazleton takes the position that Jezebel was not a bad woman and that her life, like that of many women of the bible, has been changed to suit those who wrote the bible centuries after the actual events. Portraying Elijah not as the savior of the Jewish people, but as a fundamentalist religious fanatic, she turns the known story topsy-turvy. Although this is fiction she uses the device of historical imagination to determine the thoughts and emotions of the characters in reaction to the events surrounding them. I found that a little distracting, thinking it was more on the lines of fiction. Though I did learn a great deal about Elijah and Elisha, I didn’t really learn as much about Jezebel as I would have liked, it seemed whole decades of her life were skipped over until we got to the more tantalizing parts of her story-in particular her brutal death. While the reviews on Amazon have been raves, I found the book at times a bit boring and I think the historical imagination device led to a lot of leeway with the story.
Title: Names My Sisters Call Me
Author: Megan Crane
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
No. of Pages: 336
Nora, Raine and Courtney are three sisters who have been estranged for the past six years, when Raine ruined Nora’s wedding and then ran off with Matt, her best friend and Courtney’s secret lover. Now Courtney has gotten engaged and with boyfriend Lucas in tow is off to California to try and patch things up with Raine. Much to her surprise Matt and Raine are still living together and Courtney finds herself still harboring an attraction to him. Soon after Lucas and Courtney return home to start planning their wedding Raine and Matt show up, opening up a hornets’ nest of trouble. Secrets are revealed, old wounds are opened and scores are settled as the three sisters try to work out their feelings for one another.
Funny, sad and very real this book touched on a lot of the emotions and feelings that sisters and family have for one another, and how we all seem to always revert to our long established family roles when we are thrown together. Crisp writing, great characters and a realistic story line made this a really satisfying read.
Title: Lemon Meringue Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
No. of Pages: 352
Another cute entry in the Hannah Swensen series of cozy mysteries. Despite all her good intentions Hannah is once again involved in a mystery when her mother finds the body of Rhonda Scharf in the basement of Hannah’s boyfriend Norman’s new home.
Lots of cookie recipes and family gatherings where lots of talking goes on, taking up far more of the story than the actual mystery. Still if you like this kind of book it’s a nice break, although I find the two boyfriend sub-plot annoying.
Title: I am Madame X
Author: Gioia Diliberto
Genre: Historical Fiction
No. of Pages: 272
John Singer Sargent’ s most celebrated work is Portrait of Madame X, one of the most famous works of art of the 19th century. However the painting caused a scandal when it was revealed at the 1884 Salon in France. This book is a fictional account of the woman behind the portrait, Virginie Gautreau, an American expatriate. A well known beauty in French society, Madame Gautreau’s reputation (such as it was) was destroyed by the unveiling of this painting, as was Sargents, who chose to leave Paris for good. The author has depicted a very vivid and interesting early life for Virginie, however in the long run the subject comes across as shallow and self-serving. She actually seemed to me a Paris Hilton of her day, renowned for nothing more than attending parties and being what was termed a professional beauty. The writing captured the essence of the time, and I found parts of the story fascinating, but the main character often seemed so whiny that I really didn’t like her much. I did appreciate the authors notes at the end, where she clarifies some of the history of the story, indicating the fictional adaptations she made. An interesting if not particularly riveting read.
Book No: 28
Title: The Tunnels
Author: Michele Gagnon
No. of Pages: 304
I seem to be on a serial killer jag.
At a small Northeast college female students have been found murdered, in the old tunnel system underneath the schools grounds. Enter FBI special agent Kelly Jones and her partner Roger Morrow, assigned to try and find the killer before he strikes again.. In addition former FBI Agent Jake Riley is now a private investigator, hired by the father of one of the victims, and Jake isn’t bound by the same rules as the FBI team.
Nicely done, very good pacing, plausible suspects and good lead characters. The banter and respect between Kelly and her partner rings true, and although there is a hint of attraction between Kelly and Jake, it doesn’t overwhelm the mystery or the suspense. I plan on reading Boneyard the next Kelly Ryan book, due this July.
My goodness, I just didn't realize how far behind I was. I have almost 20 reviews to get up here. I am doing too many challenges, plus I took on co-administrating Play Book Tag at Shelfari. Plus everyday life is also busy, I just can't seem to catch up! LOL :) The good news is I haven't read this much in years, and almost all of the books I am reading came from my massive TBR pile. So now I am going to try and post two reviews per day until I am up to date. Hopefully I can manage this much.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Title: A Wicked Snow
Author: Gregg Olson
No. of Pages: 400
Hannah Griffin is a Crime Scene Investigator in a small town in California. She is also a wife and mother, but very few people know that she is the daughter of one of the most infamous murderers in Oregon, where Hannah lived as a child. Relocating and rebuilding her life, Hannah has tried to forget the horrors of her childhood, and has done a great job, until a mysterious package is sent to her and the past comes roaring back when it appears that Hannah’s mother, long thought dead, may still be alive.
I really enjoyed this book, very tautly written and well plotted, although I have to say that the ‘present day cop-survivor of a childhood tragedy’ device is getting a little cliché. In spite of that small complaint I liked the pacing and the characters in the book, even if Hannah could get tiresome, trying to look at things from her point of view she was lucky to survive and make an almost normal life.
I did not know that the author has written true crime books prior to this, but his background comes through with his attention to detail and understanding how wicked people can be. A first rate thriller and a new author for me. I’m looking forward to getting A Cold Dark Place, the ‘teaser’ chapter at the end of this book was really tantalizing.
Title: Earthly Pleasures
Author: Karen Neches
Genre: Chick Lit
No. of Pages:320
I wanted to like this book, really I did. But parts of it were downright silly, so I had a hard time with that. There is a clever idea in here, a modern view of heaven, and how it works like a business, with intakes, evaluations and adjustment sessions, with a CEO (read the Supreme Being) overlooking it all; but some of it was too cute-Wishberrys instead of Blackberrys, and TV where you could ‘watch’ earth. In this almost cloying sweetness there was the germ of a good mystery, and all the strands of story lines introduced earlier all came together in a neat conclusion, but too many characters from the earlier parts of the book just disappeared, and complete happily ever after never seems real to me. Not bad, good for a couple of days diversion, but in the long run just fluff.
Book No: 25
Title: Day of the False King
Author: Brad Geagley
No. of Pages: 254
Day of the False King is the second book to feature Semerket, Pharaoh Ramses IV’s Egyptian Clerk of Investigations and Secrets, a story of Murder set in Ancient Babylon.
Semerket is mourning the loss of his former wife Naia, after her banishment to Babylon, to become a slave, due to her current husbands involvement in a plot to kill the Pharaoh. When Ramses becomes ill, he sends Semerket to Babylon, to request that the idol of Bel-Marduk, believed to have healing powers, be allowed to come to Egypt to cure the pharaoh. He also gives Semerket papers to free his wife so that she may return to Egypt. At this time Babylon is in an uprising against the Elam, their current conquerors. Semerket gets involved in far more than finding his wife and bringing the idol back to Egypt, he finds himself in the middle of a mystery involving the disappearance of a Princess as well as the apparent murder of Naia.
A very entertaining book, the author places us in the middle of Ancient Babylon and creates a story with colorful characters, lots of history, and also a very good mystery.