Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Couple of Non-Reviews and (Yet Another) Challenge

I have a long-standing policy of reviewing everything I read, so it feels kind of wrong not to write about the two books I just finished. Don't worry, I'm not breaking policy, I'm just not going to review these two right now. I read Lisa Daily's Fifteen Minutes of Shame, a chick lit novel that actually had some substance. If you want a sneak peek at this fun book, check out Lisa's official website. If you want my take on it, come back on April 2, when BBB hosts Lisa on her virtual book tour. The other book I finished is The Hostile Hospital by Lemony Snicket. I've been reading his A Series of Unfortunate Events books. When I've finished them, I'll review the series as a whole.

The other thing I want to mention is a fun new reading challenge called Soup's On. You can get all the details here. Basically, you have to "read" (not every word, just enough so you have an idea what it's about) 6 cookbooks and make 1 recipe from each between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009. Sounds fun, doesn't it? My reading list will be on my challenge blog in the next couple of days.

Right now, I'm trying to decide what to read next. I've got a pile of review books, a TBR mountain chain, plus I just ordered a bunch of books using MyPoints rewards (have you heard of MyPoints? If not, check it out. I've been doing it for years, and I love the program. If you sign up, would you mind putting my name in as the one who referred you? You will probably have to use my email address susanrjensen[AT]yahoo[DOT]com. Thanks.), and I've got a bag full of books from the library. Hmmm ... choices, choices.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Just Call Me Simon Cowell

It's come to my attention that I am earning a reputation as the Simon Cowell of book reviewers. First, I got an email from an author telling me how much she enjoyed my "very honest and candid" reviews. This, she wrote is "something I appreciate very much as a reader but which terrified me a little as an author who is very aware of my own limitations." I laughed at the thought of little ole me being that intimidating. Then, last night, I got an email from a friend who has been telling me about an author she really enjoys. I've "met" this author via email, although I haven't gotten to her books yet (I promise I will, R). Anyway, my friend wrote, "I'm nervous about your review of R's books and I didn't even write them!" Between these two conversations as well as other comments I've received, I've realized that I'm starting to resemble Mr. Cowell (although I don't wear undershirts in public). I really am a very nice person. Seriously. In real life, I'm much more like Paul Abdul (without the hit records). I would be more likely to gush, "It wasn't your best performance, but you look gorgeous" than "It was horrendous. Absolute rubbish."

The funny thing is, I am the least opinionated person you'll ever meet. If my husband asks where I want to eat, I usually say, "Oh, Olive Garden. Or Applebees. Or Outback. Whatever. I don't care." But, when it comes to books, I know what I like and what I don't. Amazingly, I form very strong opinions about the things I read. So, if I slam a book you've written and/or loved, I just want to quote my favorite American Idol judge: "Saw-ree, it's just my opinyon."

(Image from www.starblogs.net)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

So Much for the Big Surprise ...

(Image from Harper Collins)

Ever since the Harry Potter books were published, a whole crop of new wizards and heroes have magically appeared in Young Adult literature. These new stars have much in common - they are young, often orphans, and unaware of their powers. Through a series of circumstances (always dramatic, and usually involving running for their lives), they come to realize they are wizards/Half-Gods/other powerful magical/mythological beings. The children then undergo various forms of training, learning enough to face vile enemies in fierce battles of good v. evil. I'm trying to decide if this trend is classic (a la The Sword and the Stone) or just cliche. Not that I'm tired of reading about ordinary kids turned extraordinary, it's just that plots which are essentially the same as all the other plots in the genre tend to become a bit predictable. To stand out in a genre filled to the brim with wizards, sorcerers, princesses, and magicians, you have to find something original to say. Too often, post-HP authors are merely copying the work of the incomparable J.K. Rowling.

Okay, I know you think I am just ranting (and I sort of am), but these thoughts really do have something to do with the book I'm reviewing, Magyk by Angie Sage. Of course, explaining how my rant relates will lead to a spoiler (kind of), so I'll leave it 'til the end of the review. Don't worry - I'll warn you with bold type and lots of exclamation points so you won't inadvertently read something that will ruin the story for you.

Magyk tells the story of the Heaps, a family of 8 who live in The Ramblings, a kind of apartment complex for commoners. Although humble, the Heaps possess bright green eyes - telltale signs of a wizarding family. When the story opens, Sarah Heap has given birth to yet another boy. Baby Septimus is the seventh son of a seventh son, a position which destines him to become a powerful wizard. With the infant safely delivered, his father, Silas, treks into the forest to collect herbs for the baby. As he hustles home in the growing darkness, Silas hears something whimpering in the bushes. When he bends down, he's startled to find a baby laying on the cold, snowy ground. Kind-hearted Silas scoops up the infant and heads toward home. Before he can make it to his front door, a tall figure in purple warns him, "Tell no one you found her. She was born to you. Understand?" (5) A confused Silas rushes on, only to be met at his own door by the midwife, who is running out with Septimus' still form. "Dead!" she cries (6).

Although Sarah and Silas grieve for Septimus, they soon settle into life with their 6 boys and baby daughter. They tell no one about finding the infant in the snow. Six months later, Sarah receives troubling news from the castle - the Queen, who has not been seen publicly since her baby was born, has been shot by an assassin. Rumor has it that the infant princess was spirited away before the killer could get to her. Sarah realizes instantly what has happened. Her 6-month-old daughter is, in fact, the princess.

Ten years later, a friendly ghost warns the Heaps that trouble is on the horizon - the castle's new ruler has commanded an assassin to eliminate the princess. The Heaps flee to their Aunt Zelda's cottage on the isolated marshes, dragging an ExtraOrdinary Wizard, a slobbering wolfhound and a terrified boy soldier with them. As the group bands together, they discover a great many things, all of which will help them take on the evil Necromancer determined to finish off the princess for good.

Although it was predictable, the book kept me turning pages. I would have liked more character development, but basically the cast was sympathetic. Several of the characters - Marcia Overstrand, Aunt Zelda and Boy 412, for instance - were more interesting than others. The characters I most enjoyed were magical beings, like Princess Jenna's pet rock, Zelda's helpful Boggart, and the put-upon messenger rat. The magykal world, with its charms, spells and various enchantments, intrigued me. Probably my favorite passages in the book are those in which Marcia terrorizes doors, appliances and mirrors, all of which have feelings about their punishment. Another thing I enjoyed about this book is the Extras at the end. You can get a taste of these delights at Angie Sage's fun website.

Okay, onto the not-so-good stuff. Occasionally, Sage's writing drove me crazy. She shifted viewpoints at random, sometimes in the middle of paragraphs. It wasn't so much confusing as just plain annoying. She also relied heavily on adverbs, another thing which drives me nuts. I counted 8 on one page, and they're small pages. The writing was also very choppy in places. This is small potatoes, however, and I could have lived with it if it wasn't for this ...

WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD (although they're so obvious, I don't know if I'd really call them spoilers; nonetheless, you've been warned) !!! My biggest beef with this book is Angie Sage's assumption that her readers are not all that smart. I was irritated by sentences like these, which seemed to imply that readers need to have things spelled out to them:

"Then he screamed again, this time in pain. He had broken his fifth metacarpal. His little finger" (133). I don't know about you, but I understood that his fifth metacarpal was his little finger.

"There was an unhappy silence. No one liked what Alther had said" (439). Duh. That's why the silence is unhappy.

Am I being nitpicky? Probably, but I hate it when the author insults my intelligence. As if these examples weren't enough, Angie Sage saves her big reveal for the end. Boy 412 is Septimus Heap. What, you say? Septimus didn't die? No, he didn't, but we know that from the moment we glance at Magyk's cover, which proudly proclaims it to be Septimus Heap, Book One. So, when a 10-year-old boy of unknown origin appears in the story, it's pretty obvious who he is. But, the author waits until the very ending of the book to make the big reveal. To me, that was obnoxious, since I had known his true identity from the beginning. This one thing killed the book for me. Angie Sage made her surprise ending so obvious that it wasn't a surprise at all.

SPOILER OVER!!!!

So, if it hadn't been for that one thing, I really would have enjoyed reading Magyk. Since the big revelation is out of the way, I'm hoping the next volumes in this series continue the exciting story of the Heap Family, without lazing around with surprise endings that aren't surprises at all.
Grade: C

On Tour Today: Christopher Hoare

Welcome, Christopher Hoare! Christopher is currently on a virtual book tour with Pump Up
Your Book Promotion, talking about his new book, The Wildcat's Victory. This is the second in his Iskander series (Deadly Enterprise is first). The story focuses on Gisel Matah, a brave woman who works covertly to bring down the oppresive government which rules her land on an Alternate Earth. Keeping her "fledgling Radical movement" alive requires her to lie to friends as well as her lover, Yohan. Of course, Yohan has his own covert activities to keep secret.

When Gisel's old lover, General Lord Ricart, offers her command of a cavalry, she goes to war. She knows that "the fate of many nations hinges on her tactical and negotiating skills" (back cover). Gisel will confront "new friends, allies, and enemies as well as all the old ones" (back cover) as she fights valiantly for "The Wildcat's Victory."

Christopher Hoare is a retired surveyor who lives in Alberta, Canada with his wife of 37 years and Humane Society shelter dogs.

Hoare's novels can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers.


(Note: Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I plan to start with the first book in this series and move on to The Wildcat's Victory - look for a review soon.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

With A Little Polish, The Sister Can Shine in A Dark, Victorian Kind of Way

If you do not have a female sibling, you might wonder why authors and filmmakers are so

fascinated by the sister thing. If you do have a sister (or two or three or four) you don't have to wonder. You know. Especially if you are a woman. The bonds forged between sisters can be just as dramatic, just as passionate as any romantic affair; a sister "break up" can be even more devastating than a divorce. It's just this kind of strong, fiery relationship that sits at the heart of Poppy Adams' debut novel, The Sister.


The story concerns 70-year-old Virginia "Ginny" Stone, a retired lepidopterist (a person who studies moths and butterflies), who is living out her life in her family's crumbling mansion. It's a solitary life Ginny leads, one that is based on routine and strict adherence to the clock. She wears two wristwatches just so she always knows the exact time. Her careful routines are about to be disrupted, she knows, so she watches her driveway with apprehension. Soon, her sister Vivien will arrive. Vivi. The sister she hasn't seen for 50 years.

Vibrant Vivi sweeps into the lonely old house like the proverbial breath of fresh air. But Ginny isn't wild about fresh air. She prefers the safety of her childhood home, where everything is quiet and predictable. Inside that monument to the past she can remember her life, her family the way she wants. Vivien's presence is an intrusion, a harsh reminder that the Stone Family kept its deep, dark secrets just like everyone else.

With Vivien in the house again, Ginny is jolted into the past. Her memories roam back to her childhood, years she spent happily ensconced in the laboratory with her father. Shy and withdrawn, Ginny preferred the cloistered life, where she could focus solely on her specimens. Vivien, on the other hand, resembled their mother Maud, who loved the excitement of society. While Ginny and her father toiled their lives away, happy in their seclusion, Vivi and Maud slowly deteriorated. By the time Ginny emerged from the lab, she found her life inexplicably altered - her mother had become a violent drunk and her cherished sister escaped to the city. Without Vivi to brighten their lives, The Stones followed their obsessive paths until tragedy left Ginny alone in the enormous family home. She retreated further into herself, until Vivi waltzed in a century later to open old wounds.

Despite Vivi's abandonment and further insults over the years, Ginny loves her sister. The bond between them is, in fact, the only bright spot in Ginny's life. As the sisters face the reality of their past, Ginny realizes a great many truths about her parents, about her sister, and about herself. Will the truth be too much for her fragile psyche? Will Vivi cave when Ginny brings her secrets to light? Will the link between the sisters survive? Or will the past crush everything they hold dear, even the strongest of sisterly bonds?

As you can tell from the plot summary, The Sister is not a light read. It's a complex psychological thriller, but not of the "can't put it down" variety. Instead, it builds slowly, chillingly, until it reaches its shocking conclusion. It's only after you've turned the last page that you realize you've been holding your breath.

I know a lot of reviewers didn't like the book's ending, but I thought it made perfect sense (at least in a Ginny Stone kind of way). In fact, it was such a logical conclusion that I really wasn't that startled by it. My beefs with the book lay more in the fact that it was so dense, especially with references to lepidopterology, that I often wanted to close it. I also felt that the author left too many loose ends - I still don't quite understand why Vivi chose to come back after 50 years or what certain minor characters (like Dr. Moyse) had to do with the whole thing. Many of Adams' subplots hung in midair, never connecting to the main plot and never resolving themselves. So, while I felt that the story's ending was right (although I can't say I liked it), I didn't feel satisfied. There were just too many dots left unconnected.

All that said, I ended up liking the book a lot more than I thought I would. It's an interesting read that delves into some fascinating issues. With a little polish (and a different cover - sheesh, how boring can you get?), I think this one could really shine - at least in a dark, brooding, Victorian kind of way.

Grade: B-

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Resistance is Futile...

... so says Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings (the phrase is eerily familiar - I think he may have stolen it from someone ... ). He's referring to the new challenge he is hosting, Once Upon A Time II. As you all know, I am seriously challenge addicted. I already have a 3-page list of books I've committed to reading; I have been trying so hard not to join any more challenges. There have been so many fun ones announced, and I really wanted to join, but I didn't. Until now. As Carl says, "Resistance is futile." So, with (happy) resignation, I'll tell you about my two new ones:





Hosted by Carl, this one involves reading books that fit into the theme (i.e. fantasy, mythology, fairy tales, etc.). For more details, click here. My list will be up sometime today on my challenge blog.

The next challenge is an ode to Spring (have I mentioned that it's supposed to be in the mid-80's today? Sounds more like summer than Spring.) from Katrina at Callapidder Days. It involves reading as many or as few books as you want. You can get all the details here. I will post my list on my challenge blog.





Okay, now I really have to get reading. Happy Spring, everyone!

Luck o' the Irish

I was chuckling the other day while reading a post written by Chris over at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. He says he's stopped buying books because he's getting so many for free. "I'm like a book magnet," he enthused. I feel his "pain." I've been receiving lots of review books lately - I've got a dozen on my shelf, with at least that many more on the way. It's crazy, but a really fun kind of crazy. Also, even though I didn't wear green on St. Patrick's Day (my family is more Scottish than Irish; my mom says we should wear orange on March 17), the leprechauns seem to have forgiven me and sent me some luck anyway: I just won Year of Fog by Michelle Richmonds from Katrina over at Stone Soup.

I was really excited to get a copy of The Sister by Poppy Adams from the Barnes & Noble's First Look Club. My goal was to read it slowly so that I could keep up with the chat over at B&N, but I'm woefully behind. I've finally reached the middle, and I'm enjoying it. Although I try not to read reviews about books I'm reading so that they won't influence my own opinion, I get the feeling that reactions to this book have not been all that positive. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the vibe I'm sensing. At any rate, I should finish it within the next day or so. After that, I would love to hear everyone else's opinions. Don't tell me anything yet, though!

In other news, I'm sending off interview questions to Amanda Ford, author of Kiss Me, I'm Single: An Ode to the Single Life. I'm excited to hear what she has to say. A friend also connected me with romance writer Robyn Carr. It's been fun getting to know her a little. Look for an interview and more with her in the near future. I will also be getting to those review books I was talking about - I have some really fun ones in the wings. Now, if I'm going to get all this done, I'm going to have to stop typing and get back to reading ...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Diary One Novel That Earns Its Hype

I haven't read a lot of books about Native Americans, so I guess it's not surprising that I've
never come across a narrator quite like Arthur Spirit. "Junior" as he's known on the rez, has all the characteristics of a Class A loser - he stutters, lisps, wears thick glasses, sucks at basketball, and cries a little more than is safe for a 14-year-old boy. He gets beat up. A lot. Luckily for Junior, his best friend is the toughest kid around. Still, life on the rez isn't exactly easy for Junior or anyone else. Yeah, there's a casino nearby, but it's not making money for the common Indian (clarification: Alexie uses the term "Indian" constantly; he never uses "Native American," so I'm going to risk being politically incorrect and follow his lead) who still struggles against poverty, alcoholism, and an inability to get ahead.

So, Junior draws cartoons. He draws because "I feel like it might be my only real chance to escape the reservation. I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats" (5). As Junior explains the world to himself, he suddenly realizes that he can better himself. Just because he lives within five miles of where he, his parents, and his grandmother were born, doesn't mean he can't leave. Just because no one else in the tribe has ever done it, doesn't mean he can't. So, Junior begs his parents to let him go to Reardan, the high school in town where all the white farmers' kids - and no Indians - attend. The school is 22 miles away, meaning Junior has to walk when his parents don't have the money to pay for gas, but he's determined to get a good education. His decision brands Junior as an apple (red on the outside, white on the inside), a traitor to his tribe. In fact, it makes him feel like a traitor to himself:

"Traveling between Reardon and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being an Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn't pay well at all" (118).

Not surprisingly, Junior feels different and alone in the sea (or pond - Reardan's a small town) of white faces. He's surprised by the blatant racism of the town's adults, and the acceptance he eventually wins from their children. His year at Reardon is a time of discovery - he falls in love, proves himself on the basketball court, and discovers that friendship can endure despite great odds.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an original, honest and engaging story. When I say honest, I mean it - Arnold discusses everything from masturbation to his parents' alcoholism to the irony of Indians celebrating Thanksgiving. The frankness is both disturbing and enlightening. Conversely, the thing I found most interesting about this story is the subtlety of the author's language use. Each sentence seems to have at least five meanings. Take this passage, for instance, in which Junior describes his dad's Christmas "sacrifice":

"Drunk for a week, my father must have really wanted to spend those last five dollars. Shoot, you can buy a bottle of the worst whiskey for five dollars. He could have spent that five bucks and stayed drunk for another day or two. But he saved it for me.

It was a beautiful and ugly thing" (151).

The book is full of such passages, which makes the story so much more meaningful than it appears to be on the surface.

I found the discussion of racism against Indians fascinating. This book is set in Washington State, where I grew up (although I lived in the Western, not Eastern part of the state), and I don't remember this kind of prejudice against Native Americans. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, also set in Washington, brings up similar issues. I remember feeling miffed when my Indian buddy Leon got 2 weeks off school for fishing season, but that's the only time I ever had a negative feeling about him (until he grew up and became a small town gang banger, but that's another story ...) or other Indians at our school. I guess I was just shocked that the kind of racism Alexie describes actually happens.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one book that earns the hype it has generated. It's brilliant, from Junior's voice (authentic, honest) to the cartoons "taped" into his diary (witty), to its statements on Indian culture and prejudice (eye-opening) - it's simply unforgettable.

Grade: A

(Book Image from Sherman Alexie's official website. The book is semi-autobiographical. Check out the "Biography" section of Alexie's site to read more about him.)

Admitting Defeat



So, I'm admitting defeat on the Winter Reading Challenge. There's no way I'm going to finish it by March 19, especially since I've only read 1 of the books on my list. I do plan to read all the books, but who knows when I will complete them? Thanks, Karlene, for hosting. Sorry I'm bowing out!

Several other fun challenges have been announced lately, but I'm trying to resist ...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nothing Earth-Shattering, But Gifts Is A Good Read

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I'm not a big sci fi/fantasy reader. In fact, I had read little fantasy (except for a brief Piers Anthony binge, but that was mainly to impress a guy) before the first Harry Potter novel came out. I think HP turned my thinking about the genre around, and since then I have enjoyed a lot of sci fi/fantasy books. Although I've yet to venture out into "high fantasy," I think I've read enough in the genre to recognize some of its recurring themes. So, when I picked up Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin (my first by her), I thought, "Okay, it's been done before, but I'll give it a shot." I think my initial assessment was right on: Gifts is nothing Earth-shattering, but it's a good read.

Gifts concerns the Uplanders, a group of people who live high in the hills, ekeing out a living on their meager farms. It's a hardscrabble life they lead, farming the poor land and protecting their livestock from thieves in neighboring domains. Still, the Uplanders have one thing that makes them unique - their gifts. Some are able to communicate with animals, others have exacting skill with knives, still others have the power to twist a man's body into unnatural and excruciatingly painful shapes. While these "gifts" are generally considered to be blessings - they help feed, defend and protect their masters - not everyone is delighted to have them.

Orrec and his best friend Gry are teenagers burdened by their powers. Gentle Gry can beckon animals with her mind, a talent that is revered by the region's hunters. Because she "saw as the mice saw, as the cat saw, as my mother saw, all at once" (56) her world is "unfathomably complex" (56). She detests bringing animals out of the hills to be torn by hunters' bows. Orrec's abilities are even more frightening. Because his father has the gift of "unmaking," he stands to inherit the same skill. The ability (Orrec's father can turn any man, animal or structure into mush) makes its bearer a protector of the people, a position Orrec also stands to inherit. He's excited to receive his gift, but when he sees the kind of destruction he is capable of, he is repulsed and terrified. To protect those around him, he blindfolds his eyes, believing he cannot "unmake" that which he cannot see. Together, Orrec and Gry navigate their harsh world, where refusing to use their gifts is as despicable as not having them at all.

The characters in this book are especially well-drawn. Orrec and Gry are unique individuals, but the questions they grapple with are typical of teenagers (and adults) of any time or place. At one point, Orrec thinks, "I had my eyes back, but what was I to do with them? What good were they, what good was I? Who are we now? Gry had asked. If I was not my father's son, who was I?" (259) Who hasn't asked these questions? Because of their self-doubt and their fierce desire to do right, I found the friends to be sympathetic and compelling characters. I think they will resound with kids and adults alike.

Le Guin's haunting, lyrical words give this book a dark tone. It's not a happy story, but it is engrossing. I didn't love it like I did Harry Potter or LOTR, but I enjoyed reading the book. Gifts is actually the first in the Annals of the Western Shore series. I can't tell if the story of Orrec and Gry will be continued in subsequent books. Since I'm anxious to know where their journey takes them, you can bet I'll be reading the rest of the novels. Le Guin has certainly earned my respect as a writer, and although I enjoyed Gifts, it lacked the wow factor for me. Don't fret, though, I'll be searching for it in more books by this fantasy queen.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

If You Thought I Was Scatter-Brained Before...

...you're not going to believe the other things I forgot! Actually, it's just one thing, and I have a good excuse: There was a mixup on my insulin prescription, and I had to go without any insulin at all for almost 2 days while it got straightened out. Even after I got the liquid gold pulsing through my veins again, I was left with a ferocious headache and nausea. As a result, I spent most of the day laying on the couch while my 3-year-old trashed the house (I didn't think the mess could get any worse, but it did). At least I got a little reading done ... actually, a lot, as in a whole book. More on that in a minute ...

The thing I forgot to mention about Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner is the ad placement rampant in its pages. Sam Houston over at Book Chase mentioned this in a recent post and I've been thinking about the issue ever since. Maybe I would never have even noticed this if it wasn't for the recent chat about it on blogs, but Carpe Demon is chock-full of references to everything from Diet Coke to Clinique to Gap. Now, I know authors use pop culture to add realism to their books (because a book about a Demon-Hunting soccer mom is oh so believable), but I found the constant references distracting. Is Julie Kenner getting anything in return for these ads? Fifty percent off coupons at Gap, for instance?

I don't discuss "issues" very often, because I'm just not that much of a heavy thinker, but this issue intrigues me...
_________


Okay, I'm going to keep this review short, because it's probably not of a lot of interest to most of you. It is, however, of interest to me. Plus, I read it, so I have to review it. It's a weird compulsion.

My friend recommended some good adoption books to me, but I wasn't able to find any of the titles she suggested. Borders didn't have much in their Adoption section, but I did find The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Adoption by Elizabeth Swire Falker.

(Image from mybookshelf.com)

The "Insider" mentioned in the title is author Elizabeth Swire Falker, who is not only an adoptive mother, but also an adoption attorney. She walks prospective parents through the basics of both domestic and international adoption. The book is organized well, and very easy to read and understand. She apologizes more than once for the "dry" material, but really the book is very readable. Don't get me wrong - the writing is less than stellar, but it's not horrible either.
At this point, I don't know how relevant Falker's information is, but she seems well informed. The data in her book echoed what I have gleaned from websites, friends, and other adoption material. One third of the book is appendices of adoption agencies, lawyers, websites, etc. I haven't started checking them out yet, but I plan to. Anyway, I thought it was a good resource.
Does anyone have any other recommendations for adoption "how to" manuals or even fiction that talks about adoption? I'd love to hear about them.
Grade: B
_______
Okay, I feel like I have been rambling a lot in my recent posts. I'm going to quit while I'm ahead! For now, I'm going to be reading The Sister by Poppy Adams and Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin. I'm especially excited about the Le Guin book - it looks good, and this author is new to me. Look for a review soon!

Carpe Demon Is Light, Fluffy Fun

(Image from Julie Kenner's official website)

Kate Connor's got enough on her plate - she's a SAHM to 2 kids, wife to a lawyer with political ambitions, best friend to a woman who suspects her husband may be cheating, and a homemaker with piles of laundry to sort, dinner to make, and a house to clean. Her schedule is jam-packed; she really doesn't have time to resurrect her early career as a Demon Hunter. Resurrect it she must, however, because Demons have descended on her once safe hometown, and only she can stop them.

The problem with coming out of retirement is that her family doesn't know anything about her Demon-Hunting past. She prefers it to stay that way. Besides, this is a one-time gig - as soon as she rids her town of unwanted presences, she's going right back to being Kate Connor, plain old soccer mom. First, however, she's got a mystery to solve. She must determine why her old enemy - a nasty High Demon named Goramesh - is haunting San Diablo, California. The town boasts a large cathedral housing bones of saints and other relics - such powerful religious items should be keeping Demons far, far away. So, what has drawn Goramesh to sunny Cali? Kate begins a desperate dig through the Church's archives to find the answer. Not that anyone's going to let her focus on her task, however - her husband keeps throwing surprise dinner parties in her lap, Demons are lurking around every corner, her 2-year-old's throwing tantrums to get her attention, and her best friend is starting to get susicious. Kate must find the answer to her dilemma, rid the town of Demons, and get back to her normal life before it all disappears in a puff of smoke. A difficult task, yes, but this Demon-hunting soccer mom is up to the task. Or is she?

Okay, I know the plot of Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner sounds a little hokey. It is, but the book is a lot of fun. There was plenty in it to irritate me (how often does one person really say the word "schlep?" and what toddler can ask his mom, "Do you have holey sheets?"), but I actually enjoyed this one. It's the first urban-fantasy-with-a-domestic-bent that I've read. I know there are plenty of these kind of books out there, so I don't know whether Julie Kenner is an original or a copycat, but still ... this was a fun foray for me.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

See How Scatter-Brained I Am?

I forgot to mention this in my last post, but I was reading another blog (once again, I can't remember whose - I think that's a sign I read too many blogs) and the author was talking about blogrolls. She mentioned that she always looked on other people's blogs to see if they listed her blog on their blogrolls. Anyway, she said it much better than I did, but I'm in the same boat: I love all of your blogs, but I haven't updated my links in awhile, so don't freak out if your name isn't on there. It will be. As I've mentioned before, I read TONS of blogs (about 200 at last count), and I always forget to stick them on my blogroll. I'm working on it - I promise. If you don't see your blog listed, will you please let me know? I don't usually ask permission to list a blog, so yours may be on their already without your knowledge! Hee hee. Thanks, you guys. This book blogging community is fabulous.

My Big News & Other (Less Earth-Shattering) Stuff

My reading has been a little pokey lately, mostly because my head is swirling with the decision my husband and I just made: We are going to try to adopt a baby girl. We have been thinking about adoption ever since our youngest was born, and my doctor strongly encouraged us not to have any more children (all 3 of ours were preemies). Since then, the idea of adoption has been in the back of my mind. On our way to Disneyland (dh and I really should not go on long drives together - we tend to make life-changing decisions while in the car), we decided that we wanted to pursue adoption. Since then, I have debated, researched, prayed, meditated, and prayed some more to know if it was really the right thing for us. Well, let me tell you, I got a burning in my bosom such as I have never felt before - seriously, it was like really bad heartburn! I know this is right for our family.

Currently, I am filling out applications for various adoption agencies. We are going to certify through LDS Family Services, but we will be working with several different agencies as well as "advertising" on our own. I thought I should mention it here in case you or anyone you know is looking for a good home for your/their baby girl. Now, I know you're probably saying, "But you already have 3 kids," and that's true, but I know there are lots of kids out there in need of good, stable homes. I'm blessed to have one. Anyway, if you know of any situations, or if you have been through the adoption process and have advice/encouragement, I would love to hear from you. You can email me anytime at blogginboutbooks[AT]gmail[DOT]com. I'm working on a blog that birthparents can check out for all our information. It may take me awhile, but eventually all the info will be at: http://leadusguideus.blogspot.com/.

Anyway, enough about that ... let's get on to some more bookish topics:


**Chelsea over at The Page Flipper is giving away 6 books from Simon & Schuster. Check it out! You get an extra entry if you mention her giveaway on your blog.

**I mentioned the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest in one of my previous posts. Basically, writers submitted their manuscripts, Amazon customers reviewed excerpts of each one, and 10 manuscripts were chosen from those with the best ratings. The winner gets a publishing contract from Penguin Books. You can read excerpts of the Top 10 and vote for the winner. The one with the highest reviews wins. Now, I'm a little miffed because Amazon promised an award to the best reviewer, and never delivered (winners were supposed to be announced Feb. 29, but it didn't happen). Not that I expected to win, but I rushed to do reviews so that I could be among the contestants for the reviewer prize. ANYWAY, my point is, if you think this sounds fun, go check out the Top 10. There are some really good entries. Unfortunately, only 1 of my favorites (The Wet Nurse's Tale) made it into the Top 10 :( Oh well. Even if Amazon hasn't handled the contest well (which seems to be the general consensus among the writers and reviewers), it's a fun idea and I enjoyed reading a lot (not all) of the entries.

**I promised myself I would read a review book this week (The Sister - I'm woefully behind), but I got sidetracked by Julie Kenner's Carpe Demon. It's light and fluffy (sounds like a meringue), but lots of fun. I'll report on it soon.

**Thanks for reading this long, dense post. Happy reading!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop A Rich, Delicious Ode to A Love Affair With Books

(Image from Read This Now)

One of the book blogs I read (I peruse so many that I can't remember which one) recently asked if other bloggers create reviews in their heads while reading. I do this frequently. In fact, I mentally bookmark quotes I know I will want to use later. Unfortunately, my "bookmarks" don't work as well as the real thing - I've flipped back through whole books trying to find those magical passages. So, when I started reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, I grabbed some Post It notes and a pen. This book is so quotable that I used up half the pad marking passages I liked.

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is part memoir, part history, but mostly, it's an ode to Lewis Buzbee's lifelong love affair with books. Buzbee first fell in love with books when he received Weekly Reader book orders in elementary school. As a teen, he found Steinbeck, haunted bookstores, and read voraciously. Not surprisingly, adulthood found him working with books - selling them, promoting them, and loving them. Buzbee's passion shines as touches on all kinds of bookish subjects, including the history of bookmaking; the book business; censorship; his favorite bookshops worldwide; customer service; saving books from Nazis and other book-burning fanatics; etc. With so much to cover, it's not surprising that Buzbee rambles a bit, but he's so warm and engaging that it doesn't really matter. It's like chatting with a friend over a cup of cocoa - who cares where the conversation goes as long as you're enjoying each other's company.

Like I mentioned earlier, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is immensely quotable. Here are some of my favorite passages:

Books connect us with others, but that connection is created in solitude, one reader in one chair hearing one writer, what John Irving refers to as one genius speaking to another ... Ellis Canetti has described cafes as places we go to be "alone among others," and I've always felt this was true of the bookstore, too. It's a lovely combination, this solitude and gathering, almost as if the bookstore were the antidote for what it sold. (6)

...As a victim of book lust, I've gazed at millions of feet of shelf space, and I should be quite over the allure, the slight magic that's entranced me, but I'm not. (11)

Books ... give body to our ideas and imaginations, make them flesh in the world; a bookstore is the city where our fleshed-out inner selves reside. (19)

The books of our childhood offer a vivid door to our own pasts, and not necessarily for the stories we read there, but for the memories of where we were and who we were when we were reading them; to remember a book is to remember the child who read that book. (36-37)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. This is a warm, insightful volume that will resonate with anyone who loves books. It's small, a quick read, but trust me, you'll want to savor it; The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is just that rich, just that delicious.

Grade: A

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Y'All Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

Deborah Knott is back with more Southern wit and wisdom to dole out to the folks in fictional Colleton County, North Carolina. In Southern Discomfort, the second in
Margaret Maron's series about the 30-something-year-old, we find Deborah accepting a governor-appointed position vacated by the sudden death of Judge Perry Byrd. She is ecstatic about the assignment, even if it means dealing with the same ol' parade of Colleton County's finest delinquents. In fact, Deborah's life is sailing along just fine until she's cornered by Lu Bingham, who demands she pay up on a campaign promise to help WomenAid, a charity that builds homes for indigent women. It's a good cause and all, but it also requires hard, physical labor under the unyielding North Carolina sun. With the help of her handy niece, Annie Sue, it might not be all bad ...

When cocky building inspector Carver Bannerman saunters onto the site with his mirrored glasses and "a salacious leer" (89) uglying up his handsome face, he makes his way straight to Annie Sue and two of her teenaged friends. Although Deborah puts an end to his nonsense, it's not the last she'll hear of him. Not long after meeting Carver, she finds him dead in the WomenAid house. A few feet away lies Annie Sue, beaten, dazed and accusing the building inspector of attempted rape. Unable to contact her niece's parents, Deborah drives Annie Sue to the hospital, where she promptly runs into Nadine, her sister-in-law and Annie Sue's mother. Nadine quickly explains that Deborah's brother, Herman (also Annie Sue's father and Nadine's husband), has had a heart attack. When it is discovered that Herman's condition is a result of arsenic poisoning, it throws a throws a new light on the whole, ugly situation.

Carver's killer is soon found (you won't be surprised by his/her identity), but a bigger mystery is uncovered when it is discovered that the virile young man had arsenic in his system too. Who had reason to poison both Herman and Carver, especially when the two men barely knew each other. Is it the owners of The Coffee Pot, the only establishment at which both men ate? And where is the proprieters' no good son-in-law anyway? Or could it be Kimberly Norris, bitter because someone else got the WomenAid house, even though she was most deserving? As Deborah and her buddy Deputy Dwight Bryant investigate the poisonings, some ugly truths began to emerge, some of which just might concern Deborah's brother, Herman. When it all comes together, you'll be just as surprised as I was. (The revelation of the poisoner startled me, even though I had a pretty good idea who it was. Turns out, I was wrong - close, but wrong. I hate it when I guess the identity of the bad guy in a mystery, because that usually means it isn't very well written, seeing as how I never was a very good Nancy Drew.)

Southern Discomfort is an excellent read; in fact, I liked it better than Bootlegger's Daughter. It has all the enchantment of its predecessor - quaint Southern talk; a noisy, colorful cast; an intriguing mystery - and a much better plot. It's a worthy addition to the Deborah Knott series, and I can't wait to read more. I'll be coming back to this series again and again, y'all can be sure of that! I think my Southern talk may need a little work, though...

Grade: A

Pepto Bismal Cover Belies Wisdom Found in Kiss Me, I'm Single



When Dorothy with Pump Up Your Book Promotion first asked me to review Kiss Me, I'm Single: An Ode to the Single Life by Amanda Ford, I thought, "Well, okay, but I'm not really into chick lit." Then, I realized that despite the bubbly pink cover, it isn't actually chick lit; in fact, it isn't even fiction. When I discovered this, I examined the subtitle, An Ode to the Single Life. Hmmmm. How on Earth is this book going to be relevant, I wondered, to someone like me who got married when she was 21 and is still happily wed 10 1/2 years later? Then, I figured, the book was sure to be a feminist rant slamming marriage and upholding singlehood as the desired state of all modern, independent women. Just when I had turned myself completely off the book, I thought, Maybe I should stop postulating and just read the darn thing. So, I did. I was surprised. And impressed.

The format of Kiss Me, I'm Single (pink, bubbly cover; short, breezy chapters; humorous, engaging writing) belies the fact that it contains some real nuggets of wisdom. Contrary to my assumptions, it does not bash marriage. It simply delivers advice to women who seem perpetually single, from someone who has been there. Not that Amanda has come up with some new, magical formula to guarantee a direct hit from Cupid's arrow, but she has a lot of hints on how to stay sane in a world where being a single woman feels like "an emergency ... as urgent as Code Red" (13). Unlike many relationship books, this one is a quick read - it's 203 pages, but some of them only have 2-3 sentences. I literally read it while waiting for pictures to upload onto Blogger (over the course of a few days - my computer's not that slow!)

So, you're wondering, what is the wisdom Amanda Ford imparts? Here's a taste:

It feels like Code Red when I begin doing the math and figure that if I want to be pregnant by one particular age, and if I want to spend a few years traveling the world with my husband before we have children, and if I simply want to date him for a few years before we get engaged, then I should have met him fifteen months ago (emphasis hers).

Okay, maybe that's not the best example, but I thought it was funny. On to the wise stuff:

Falling in love is what happens when you are busy loving your own life. (11)

Do not be one of those foolish women who think that the the love they give themselves is less important and less fulfilling than the love they get from men ... Believe that the most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one that you have with yourself. Believe it down to your bones: The search for another person must never preclude the search for yourself. (19)

Love has nothing to do with another person, but is the condition of my own heart. (27)

It is a basic fact of life that in order to be truly happy and fulfilled with another person, you must be truly happy and fulfilled on your own first. A good relationship can enhance life for sure, but it cannot take what is only moderately satisfying and turn it into perfection. (33)

Contrary to myths and stories and popular belief, focusing on one person to fill your needs does not provide eternal protection against loneliness and isolation. In fact it's just the opposite. Relying on one person for everything decreases your chances at human connection and increases your odds of feeling lonely and isolated. (142)

So, you can see Amanda's basic principle: Single women should focus on creating fulfilling lives, not obsessing about how to get a man. I agree. In fact, I want to buy 100 copies of Kiss Me, I'm Single and fling them at all my single friends who whine about how their lives can't start until they get married. I think it's a given that falling in love happens when you least expect it, and when you stop thinking about it every minute of every day.

If you, like me, have already found your soul mate, don't dismiss this book. I think the last paragraph I quoted is especially significant for married women. Even in a marriage, we cannot lose sight of who we are and what brings us joy. We have to continue to get to know ourselves, continue to learn and grow. If we base our whole existence on our spouses and children, we will end up as strangers to ourselves.

As much as I liked the book, I have to say that I don't agree with everything Amanda says. Her experience does not seem to include observance of any strong marriages. She was reared by a single mother, went on to have a brief, unsatisfying marriage of her own, and has been single ever since. The marriages she does cite all seem to have blazing flaws - the wives are bored or suffocated by commitment. I just want to say that this is not always the case. Strong, happy marriages exist everywhere. Maybe they're not the norm, but they are out there.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed this read. I found Amanda to be a very personable, fun guide through the single life. Her book really is quick and easy to read, but also very profound. It can be purchased through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can also find out more about Amanda on her website, oholive.com. Be sure to check out her "Extraordinary Living Project" - it's inspiring.


P.S. When Amanda sent me her book, it was packaged in the cutest way. I just have to show you the photo I took:

Grade: B+






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