Wednesday, June 30, 2010

For Your Listening Pain, I Mean, Pleasure

So, I survived my radio experience, although I was really, really nervous about it. I hate hearing the sound of my recorded voice, so I haven't even listened to it. I'm afraid to hear my dorky little giggle and all the ums I know are on there. If you're interested in hearing it, though, you can. For your listening pleasure (?), I offer you the following:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bloggin' 'bout Books - on the Radio?

I've seen a lot of references to Blog Talk Radio, but it's not something I've ever actually tuned
into before. I don't even listen to the "real" radio much. Still, I have a bit of an issue with saying, "no." As in, I can't. So, when poet Rachel Berry asked if she could interview me "on air," I agreed. She asked me a few months ago, and I was kinda hoping she would forget about it, but no such luck. I'm going to be on the Internet radio tonight. The show is called "Heart & Soul" and it goes from 7:00 - 7:55 p.m. EST. You can call in and ask questions - you just have to register at the website about 15 minutes before the show. We'll be talking about books. What else? Feel free to join us. It will show you why I avoid vlogs and the like at all costs - I always sound like such a dork!

I actually have been interviewed on air before. Surprised? It's true. When I was 15-16, I spent a year as a Rotex (an exchange student sponsored by Rotary International) in The Philippines. When I came home, the host of a local radio show interviewed me about my experience. All I remember about it was saying, "um" quite a bit.

Then, there was the time I called in to request a song on a radio station that played only very, very soft music. Like piano and other instrumental versions of popular songs. I was probably 14 or so at the time - apparently the DJ wasn't used to "young callers" phoning in requests, so he kept talking to me even though I was dying to end the conversation. I mean, what if one of my friends heard me and knew I listened to such a geeky station? *Shudders* Why was a 14-year-old on that kind of station in the first place? Well, it was a Sunday, and my parents believed strongly that the Sabbath was a day to turn off the tv, eschew our Discmen (remember those?), and engage in more spiritual pursuits. Thus, the corny station. What song was I requesting? The theme song from Terms of Endearment. One I still love, incidentally.

Anyway, if you're interested in hearing what I have to say, or if you just want to laugh at my extreme nerdiness, feel free to join me and Lady Serenity tonight on Blog Talk Radio.

(Image of Lady Serenity from her website)

The Burning Wire Sizzles More Than Fizzles

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Burning Wire, it may inadvertently ruin plot surprises from earlier books. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

If the name Lincoln Rhyme doesn't ring any bells, it's about time you got acquainted with the star of Jeffery Deaver's most popular series. Rhyme's newest adventure, The Burning Wire, may not be the best place to start, but you definitely should get to know this guy. One of the most unique characters I've ever encountered, our hero is a brilliant scientist, formerly head of NYPD's forensics division. When a crime scene accident leaves him a quadripeligic, unable to move anything but his head and one finger, an embittered Rhyme believes he can no longer contribute to society. Until a puzzling case attracts his attention. With the help of his ever-patient assistant, Thom; beautiful CSI, Amelia Sachs; and an assortment of law enforcement personnel, Rhyme proves - time and again - that mental acuity has nothing to do with physical ability.

In The Burning Wire, Deaver's 9th Lincoln Rhyme book, the scientist is up against a wily killer wielding a strange weapon - electricity. One sizzling corpse is enough to shake even the seasoned Sachs; threats of more carnage has everyone on edge. Rhyme's already got one case on his mind (The Watchmaker's been spotted in Mexico), but he knows if anyone can track down this new killer, he can. Even if his CSIs are bringing in evidence that's decidedly less than helpful. The UNSUB (unknown subject) is clearly smart - all Rhyme's team needs is one mistake, just one, to catch him. When Sachs begins investigating a local power giant, it becomes apparent that the company's hiding at least some of the answers. Racing against the clock, Rhyme, Sachs and the rest of the team scramble to catch the killer before he uses the most ordinary of items to create a crime scene of extraordinary proportions.

Meanwhile, Rhyme's got to contend with The Watchmaker (who's still managing to elude Mexican authorities), killer headaches that could signal an alarming change in his condition (not that he would ever admit to feeling poorly), a disturbing conversation with an assisted suicide advocate (which brings back some not-so-easily-dismissable ideas), and Sachs, the gorgeous risktaker, who is surely missing out on important life opportunities because of her loyalty to him. It would be easier for her - wouldn't it - if he were out of the picture?

There are two things I love about Deaver books: the characters and the science (a subject I usually avoid like the plague, incidentally). Because of Rhyme's disability, he's completely sympathetic - a good thing, since heartwarming doesn't exactly play a part in his sarcastic, curmudgeonly personality. Still, there's something about the cantankerous Rhyme you just can't help but like. Sachs, on the other hand, is easily understood and admired. The rest of the team are individuals, unique despite their more minor roles. Science-wise, Deaver keeps us in the loop, making the shop talk clear for those of us who are CSI fans, but not actual CSIs. He lost me a few times when explaining the ins and outs of electricity in this book - when it comes to forensics, though, I'm all ears (eyes?). Deaver makes the science both interesting and exciting (I know some high school teachers and college profs who could use a lesson or two ...).

His ability to combine these two elements with humor, a fast-paced plot, and enough twists and turns to keep me constantly guessing makes Jeffery Deaver one of my favorite thriller writers. That being said, The Burning Wire let me down a tad. The science of electricity doesn't exactly thrill me, so all the explanation about arcs, AC/DC, amps, an the like got a little tedious for me. I also wanted a little more in the Rhyme/Sachs department. Last I heard, they were trying to have a baby ... I know, I know, I'm such a girl, but I kept waiting for a little more romance to come along. Still, this remains one of my favorite series. If Rhyme can fight off his inner demons, he'll be back on the scene in 2012. I, for one, can't wait to see the old grouch again.

(Readalikes: previous books in the Lincoln Rhyme series; the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Compound: It's Not the End of the World. Or Is It?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Seattle billionaire Rex Yanakakis has enough money to buy anything he wants - fast cars, designer clothes, his own island, even the safety of his family. He spent years overseeing the construction of a massive underground compound, the perfect place to shield himself, his wife, and his children from the nuclear attack he knew was coming. If anyone had gotten wind of the secret project, they might have called his stockpiling obsessive, paranoid, but Rex made sure he would have enough supplies on hand to survive for 15 years. And that's exactly what the Yanakakis' are doing - surviving in the hideaway.

Fifteen-year-old Eli, who's lived in the compound since the world exploded six years ago, is grateful for his father's foresight. He's happy to be alive when so many others - including his grandmother and twin brother Eddy - didn't make it. Still, being cooped up under the earth with only his family is getting a little tiresome. Not to mention frightening. Despite Rex's careful calculations, the family's food supply is running low. The billionaire's got a plan, of course, but it's one so desperate it makes Eli physically ill to even consider putting it into action.

Angry and suspicious, Eli begins to question his father's actions, motivations, even his sanity. Rex is keeping secrets - Eli's sure of it. When he accidentally stumbles on a clue one day, Eli's shocked to his core. Could there really be other survivors up top? Should he risk exposing himself to massive radiation to go check it out? It's a moot point, anyway: The compound is sealed tight, locked with a code only Rex knows. And he's not about to give it up, even if it means saving the lives he's so carefully preserved inside his airtight compound. With all their lives on the line, it's up to Eli to find a way to escape. Time, meanwhile, is quickly ticking away ...

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen is another of those books that looks promising, but just doesn't quite deliver. The premise definitely begs for attention. However, I couldn't stand most of the characters, Eli's voice never rang true to me, and so much of the plot relies on contrived situations that the story becomes both far-fetched and predictable. Most irritating for me is Bodine's matter-of-fact, lay-all-your-cards-on-the-table, tell-not-show storytelling. More complex, nuanced prose could have made this book into the kind of deliciously disturbing, subtly sinister thriller that's impossible to put down. As is, the book's a quick read, with enough going on to keep a reader turning pages. It just lacks the oomph it takes to be truly memorable. All that wasted potential gets me down, but it's not the end of the world. Or is it?

(Readalikes: Reminded me a lot of The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau and a little of The Last Survivors series by Susan Beth Pfeffer)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and tense scenes

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Civil War Coming-of-Age Novel Proves That Beauty Abounds Even in the Ugliest of Circumstances

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At some point in my schooling, I wrote a report on the Civil War. I don't remember the exact subject I researched, but I do recall coming upon a very grisly detail related by a Union soldier who had been held at Andersonville prison. Nothing else in that report stuck in my mind. This did. Even now, I remember it clearly: The former POW said that while incarcerated, he became so starved that when he saw an ill prisoner vomit, he scurried over to the puddle to pick out the undigested pieces of corn that lay in the other man's puke. Then, he ate them. Gratefully. That revolting vignette told me everything I needed to know about Andersonville.

Disgust kept me from reading another word about the prison - until Scholastic sent me a copy of Ann Rinaldi's 2001 middle grade novel, Numbering All the Bones. The story takes place in 1864 on a plantation just outside of Andersonville, Georgia. Our heroine, 13-year-old Eulinda, has lived at Pond Bluff all her life. Although she's a house servant, her "high yellow" skin proves that her father wasn't just another field hand. It's not like Mr. Hampton Kellogg - the man she calls "Master" - would ever admit that he's her father, but the lightness of her complexion is enough to gain her elevated status among the plantation's slaves. Unlike them, Eulinda can read, write, and speak like a lady. Her presence is tolerated both inside the house and in the slave quarters, although her "namby-pamby" self can't decide exactly where she fits. A slave friend urges Eulinda to "make yourself come true" (46), but Eulinda can't bring herself to leave the comfort of the house for the squalor of a life in the quarters.

When Eulinda happens upon a shocking scene - there's a prison camp practically in her backyard! - she knows it's time to prove herself. Just the possibility of her older brother, Neddy, having to endure such a place spurs her to action. Little does she know just how caught up she will become with events at the prison. Especially when the famous Clara Barton comes to town. Eulinda will have to dig into the deepest recesses of her soul to find the strength to face the horrors of Andersonville, the courage to bury the bones of her past, and the temerity to forge her own future.

Although I've read countless stories about places like Auschwitz and Dachau, I've never encountered one about the place Rinaldi insists "was, in reality, a death camp - maybe the only real one to exist on American soil" (165). The author's descriptions of the suffering at Andersonville are as moving as they are horrifying. Eulinda's shame over the situation and her subsequent attempts to make things right, prove how heroic ordinary people like Clara Barton were in their simple exhibitions of humanity. While there is much heroism in this story, it is, at its heart, really the tale of a girl struggling to find her place. It's about facing truth, accepting the past, and moving on. Really, it's about one thing - growing up.

Eulinda is a completely sympathetic character with a voice that's strong and clear. She won my heart over and over and over again. I still find Andersonville a disturbing subject, but this book (like many Holocaust novels) shows that beauty can be found even in the ugliest of circumstances. A touching, memorable novel, Numbering All the Bones is not to be missed.

(Readalikes: Reminds me of many Holocaust novels, including The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and a little of Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for scenes of war-related violence and suffering

To the FTC, with love: I received this book from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Stepping into Virgin River Feels Like Coming Home; You'll Want to Visit Again and Again and Again ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(While this review will not contain spoilers for Moonlight Road, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books in the series. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Although Aidan Riordan looks like a mountain man with his scruffy red beard and sweat-stained hiking clothes, he's not the vagrant he appears to be. He is, in fact, a respected OB/GYN, fresh out of the navy. Not quite sure of his next move, Aidan's summering in quiet Virgin River - the ideal spot for hiking, biking, and doing some deep thinking about his future. Living in one of his brother's riverside cabins also means the doctor will be close at hand, just in case his very pregnant sister-in-law has any complications with the birth of her first child.

Aidan's been so burned by past romances that the last thing he's looking for is a woman. Especially not a snooty, citified, lawyerly type. But that's exactly what he finds when he's out exploring the landscape. His sudden appearance frightens Erin Foley - a hardworking tax attorney who's trying hard to enjoy the only vacation she's ever taken - so much that she ends up in the hospital. It's only fair that Aidan pay her back with a little yardwork, a little handyman help, a little adventure. She's not exactly his type and he's only showing up at her cabin (daily) to apologize for the concussion he gave her. At least that's what he's telling himself. The fact that she's beautiful, sexy, and passionate has nothing to do with it. Nothing at all.

Except that maybe it does. The more time Aidan spends with Erin, the more he craves her presence. It's not just her body that attracts him, but her compassion, her surprising vulnerability, and her fierce devotion to her family. Winning her love won't be easy, especially when Aidan's whack job of an ex-wife shows up in town. Can he convince the cautious lawyer to take a chance on him? Or will she march back to the city and bury herself in the one thing she knows will always be there for her - her work. In a place where even the most unlikely romances blossom daily, can this mismatched pair find their way to happily ever after?

Meanwhile, Luke Riordan's got some 'splainin' to do to Art, a young man with Down's Syndrome who's convinced he's found his bride. And Mel's got a secret goal that's going to bring a little turbulence into the Sheridan's rock solid marriage. Of course, we can't forget Maureen Riordan, a sainted mother who's living in sin in a fancy RV and making no apologies about it. For a tiny town in the boondocks, there's an awful lot going down in Virgin River.

Moonlight Road, the latest installment in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series, follows the same path to romance that has been carved out in earlier books. Still, Aidan's a fresh character, who's charming despite some stalkerish tendencies. Erin didn't have nearly the backbone I wanted her to have (c'mon, she could have held out a little bit longer), but she was definitely a sympathetic character who deserved good things to happen to her. Mel's problem gave the novel a lot of depth - I don't want to spoil it, so I'm just going to say that her plight touched me on a very personal level.

Like I always say, there's never really a question about how a Virgin River novel is going to end. The fun is in what happens along the way. And when it comes to a couple like Aidan Riordan and Erin Foley, well, there's never going to be a dull moment. Stepping into Virgin River always feels like coming home - with stories like these, I promise you'll be visiting again and again and again.

(Readalikes: previous titles in the Virgin River series and the Grace Valley series by Robyn Carr)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of Moonlight Road from the always generous Robyn Carr. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Good Things I Wish You Brings Back Memories - and Not In A Good Way

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Does the sight of a piano on the cover of a book make anyone else shudder? One glance pulls me back to childhood lessons, endless hours of practice, and the eternal agony of trying to coax my fingers into cooperating long enough to plunk out a recognizable tune. Even now, so many piano-free years later, I look at the instrument with a certain amount of loathing. And don't even talk to me about musical theory, technique or history. Nothing in this world - except maybe geology - could be quite as dull as that. So, you may be asking, why did I even bother with A. Manette Ansay's Good Things I Wish You? In a word: people. I'm constantly fascinated by human beings. Even if they do live, eat and breathe solely to commune with that most diabolical instrument of torture - the piano.

The book concerns 42-year-old Jeanette Hochmann, a college professor whose recent divorce has thrown her life into a confusing tailspin. Once she was passionate about so many things; now the whole world seems to have faded to beige. Even her latest project - a book about the decades-long relationship between German pianist Clara Schumann and her husband's baby-faced protégé, Johannes Brahms - fails to excite her the way it once did.

When a blind date throws her into the arms of an intriguing German man, Jeanette feels her spirits lift. A little. Despite Hart's enthusiastic offer to help with her project, she can't help feeling that he's holding back a little, especially when it comes to their romantic relationship. She's almost positive that he's hiding something. Still, Jeanette can feel herself relaxing, feeling more free than she has in years. Her creativity seems to be flowing again, her book project finally picking up some momentum.

Between her study of Clara Schumann and the time she spends with Hart, Jeanette finally begins to mend the shattered pieces of her life back together. Both experiences help her answer the age old question: Can men and women ever be just friends?

As much as I liked the idea behind Good Things I Wish You, I found the book to be quite disappointing. Not because of the writing, which is lush and lyrical, but because of the clumsy transitions between past and present. I felt as if I was constantly switching between a novel and a textbook. Ironically, I found the latter much more interesting. While I couldn't have cared less if Jeanette lived or died, I found Clara completely fascinating. A book solely about her - her thoughts, her feelings, her struggles - would have been so much more interesting to me. As is, Good Things I Wish For You is not unappealing, it just doesn't work well enough for me. I finished the novel in a matter of hours, but it was mostly because I wanted to get it behind me. Not unlike my long-ago piano lessons.

(Readalikes: I can't really think of any. Can you?)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Good Things I Wish You from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you! This review was written for A. Manette Ansay's book tour hosted by TLC Book Tours.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stolen Captures Me and Refuses to Let Go

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

You can hardly open a YA book these days without encountering some kind of monster. You've got your blood-sucking vampires, your slavering werewolves, your flesh-eating zombies, your mindless, murderous demons - even Tinkerbell's kin have been depicted as evil, child-stealing ogres. Still, no matter how nasty these fantastical beasts may be, they can never compare to monsters of the real, live, human variety. The kind we meet every day. The kind who are so open, honest and trustworthy that we don't notice the flash of their "fangs" until it's much, much too late.

In Stolen, a stunning debut from newcomer Lucy Christopher, 16-year-old Gemma Toombs meets this exact kind of devil in the Bangkok airport. The man seems so familiar that she allows him to prepare her a coffee - which he promptly drugs. When she finally wakes up, Gemma's a long way from Bangkok. A long way from anything, in fact. Isolated on a compound somewhere in the Australian Outback, Gemma's surrounded by nothing but desert. Her captor, the disturbingly gentle Ty, doesn't even bother tying her up. He knows she can't escape. There's nothing around for miles and miles, nowhere at all for Gemma to go.

As the weeks stretch on, Gemma comes to understand the wilderness and her sole companion in ways she never thought possible. Still, there's so much she doesn't know: Why has Ty chosen her, of all people, to kidnap? What does he really want from her? How does he know her family's secrets, the truths Gemma can't even admit to herself? And why is she suddenly feeling so much empathy for the man who has stolen her away from everything she knows? Can she escape? Does she even want to?

Written in the form of a letter from Gemma to Ty, Stolen grabs the reader right off the bat and just doesn't let go. It's not the frenzied, action-packed, race-against-time story I thought it would be, but more of a quietly sinister psychological thriller. The unique setting only adds to the tension, its terrible beauty coming alive in Christopher's skilled hands (the author was born in Wales, but raised in Australia). Not every detail of the plot rang true for me, but all in all, the story held me captive. I tore through it in one day, hardly daring to breathe until I knew exactly what happened to Gemma and Ty. Even then, Stolen wouldn't quite let me go - I'm still turning it all over in my head. I know one thing for sure, though: I want to read more Lucy Christopher. And soon.

(Readalikes: I can't think of any. Can you?)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and tense, mature situations

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Stolen from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Unique Blend of Bitter and Sweet Makes For Another "Charming" Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

People on Vliet Street never lock their doors. Until the summer of 1959, that is, when the body of little Sarah Heinemann is discovered near the red rowboats on the lagoon. The scene is all too familiar for residents of the close-knit Milwaukee community. Just last summer, they buried Junie Piaskowski, another young victim of what is starting to look like a cold-blooded serial killer. The question on everyone's mind is: who's next? Ten-year-old Sally O'Malley knows the answer to that one, just like she knows the identity of the murderer. If only someone would listen to her without rolling their eyes over her famously overactive imagination.

Just when Sally and her younger sister, Troo, need protection the most, they've been abandoned by those who should be most concerned about them. Their mother's in the hospital for an extended stay, their stepfather spends his time getting sloshed to the gills, and the girls' older sister is too busy entertaining her boyfriend to care what kind of trouble the younger girls are finding for themselves. Left to their own devices, Sally and Troo spend the hot, sticky weeks playing Red Light, Green Light in the streets; visiting their favorite monkey at the zoo; shoplifting from Fitzpatrick's Drugstore; and showing up at their neighbors' houses just in time for dinner. Amidst their more innocent pursuits, the girls are intent on catching the murderer. Before he nabs one of them.

When the killer tries to grab Sally during a round of hide-and-seek, she knows the danger is not just in her mind. If only she can convince someone - anyone - to believe her. But no one does. She's the only one that understands: Unless she can catch the killer in time, it will be her body lying next to the red rowboats. Or her sister's. And she's not about to let that happen.

Similar to Tomorrow River in both tone and storyline, Whistling in the Dark, Lesley Kagen's first novel, also examines the moment when youthful innocence evaporates as irrevocably as the last day of summer vacation. Although it's not nearly as nuanced as Kagen's newest book, her debut moves along swiftly, capturing the reader with the warmth of its characters, the twists of its plot, and that particular kind of terror that can only come from watching a cold, calculating predator stalk something as defenseless as a child. It sounds wrong to describe a story like this as "charming." Yet it is, in a way. Like Tomorrow River, Whistling in the Dark has a kind of bitter sweetness to it that makes the story as triumphant as it is terrifying. While I prefer the richer, subtler Tomorrow River to this one, I still recommend Kagen's first novel to anyone yearning for a brisk, compelling read. It's not an easy story to read - in fact, it almost had me whistling in the dark - but once you get going, you won't be able to stop yourself. Trust me on this one.

(Readalikes: Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, some sexual content, and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

So, I should be writing a review of Whistling in the Dark, but I've got so many other things swirling around in my head that I had to get them out. Here goes:

- Like you, I've been seeing tons of posts about CSN Stores. The company, which sells a huge variety of products - lighting, bookshelves, home decor, furniture, etc. has been tremendously generous to bloggers. I was slightly bummed that I hadn't been contacted by them ... and then, voila! I got an email offering me the chance to review one of their products. How ecstatic am I? Very ecstatic! CSN has such a variety - how am I ever going to choose a product? When I do, you'll be the first ones to know. Stay tuned for my review. In the meantime, click on over and check out all the goodies at CSN.

- Do you read O magazine? Even though I haven't watched her show in years, I still love me some Oprah. I don't take her book recommendations any more seriously than I do anyone else's, but I love the fact that she not only reads, but also works diligently to promote books. In the July 2010 issue of O, you'll find "Our Biggest, Best Summer Reading List Ever" (also available online by clicking here). Fun, no? It highlights titles I've seen all over the book blogosphere (The Passage by Justin Cronin, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira, etc.) as well as some I hadn't heard of (Elizabeth Street by Laura Fabiano, The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse, What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman, etc.). I also loved "O's Declaration of Reader Independence." Hilarious.


- I finished a reading challenge! I know, right? It's about time. Carl is a wonderful challenge host, and I enjoyed participating in Once Upon A Time this year. I did cheat a teensy bit by changing one of the books I was planning to read - I swapped As You Wish by Jackson Pearce for Wish by Alexandra Bullen. Still, I finished a challenge. Yay!

- About bloggy awards ... I know people are getting fed up with them. My friend asked me if they were the new version of chain letters. Ha ha. I think they're a little more sincere than that! I have seen a couple of bloggers declaring their blogs "Award-Free Zones." I wouldn't ever do that, but I do reserve the right to pass awards on only when I have the time and energy. That being said, I really do appreciate your attention and kind words. It means a lot to me that you all enjoy your time here at BBB.

Kika, Laura and Alison all gave me The Versatile Blogger award. I've just recently discovered their wonderful blogs via The Book Blogger Hop. Getting to know new bloggers is always fun. Since I just recently passed this one on, I'm not going to do it again, but I will tell you 7 Things About Me:

1. I've never broken a bone. This is probably because I'm the biggest wuss on the planet.

2. Although I have been bungee jumping, thank you very much. My older brother owned a bungee jumping company when I was in high school, so my younger brother and I both jumped out of his hot air balloon. It was a rush.

3. I'm not very daring in the food department either, although a year spent in The Philippines as an exchange student did broaden my culinary horizons quite considerably. I've eaten delicacies like dog, pig's brain, monkey, goat and nimbalut (you don't want to know, trust me). Okay, the curious can read all about it here. It should be noted that these dishes are not eaten often by the average Filipino. They were prepared for me because I am a gullible American.

4. I cannot sneak up on people. I have weak ankles that pop constantly. This put me at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with three brothers.

5. The same brother who convinced me to jump out of a hot air balloon used to roll me up in blankets, cinch a belt around my waist and tickle my toes 'til I cried. I'm still traumatized.

6. Back to food - my husband thinks I'm weird because I like soft ice cream. Not machine-soft ice cream, but hard ice cream softened. I've been known to pop a carton in the microwave if it's too hard.

7. Phew! That was hard. I think I am officially the most boring person in the blogosphere!

- Hm, was that it? I swear there was something else I was going to tell you. Oh well. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tomorrow River: You Can Try to Put It Down, But You Won't Be Able to. I Guarantee It.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
"The first and best place to start looking for answers, as always, begins and ends with my family" (199).

Nothing tickles my literary fancy quite like a good, old-fashioned family secrets novel. Especially one set in the South. Everything just seems more sinister when hidden behind soft drawls, magnolia-scented breezes and Tara-esque plantations, you know? I mean, you expect malevolence from broody northern climes and everyone knows how lawless things are out here in the west, but in the land of blushing belles and Southern gentleman - well, the appearance of evil is always surprising. Add in a spunky kid narrator, some quirky sidekicks and a nice, curvy plot, and voila! You've just created my absolute favorite kind of book. It's really no surprise, then, that I fell so hard for Lesley Kagen's spellbinding new novel, Tomorrow River.

Our heroine is Shenandoah "Shenny" Carmody, one of the the 11-year-old daughters of the most prominent man in town. Her family might as well be royalty in Rockbridge County, Virginia, for all their wealth and power. At least that's how things look from the outside. On closer inspection, one might notice what Shenny does - things are not exactly what they seem. The family's rambling mansion is looking decidedly grubby, the lady of the house is nowhere to be seen, His Honor's reeling in a manner unbefitting a man of his station, and his twins, well, something about the one is just a little off. An even closer look - assuming, of course, that prying eyes could get actually get anywhere near the property - would reveal that whatever is wrong over to the Carmody place is no small thing.

Ever since the disappearance of her mother, Shenny's been noticing things, things she'd never considered before. Things about her family. Troubling things. All she wants is for everything to go back to normal, the way it was when she spent her afternoons giggling with her sister in the treehouse, listening to her mother sing in the kitchen, and waiting breathlessly for nightfall, prime stargazing time for her and her daddy. But those carefree days are gone, vanished as surely as Evie Carmody. Shenny's twin, Woody, no longer giggles - she doesn't talk anymore, either. And His Honor? Well, when he's drunk (and when isn't he, these days?), he's disorderly. In the calmest, most terrifying way possible. The only way for Shenny to remedy the situation is to figure out what happened to her mother. Her own memories of that fateful night are sketchy, but someone has to know something. As she makes the rounds through her mother's motley collection of friends, Shenny comes to realize that the person most likely to know the truth is also the one least likely to say anything at all - her mute twin.

As desperate as Shenny is to find her mother, others are just as happy to shove the unpleasantness behind them. Evie Carmody was a Northerner, after all, a foreigner who didn't even know enough to stay away from "the help." Whatever happened to her - well, maybe it was for the best. There's the Carmody image to think of, after all. There's just one niggling question, the thing that bugs Shenny most of all, especially considering what she now knows about the Carmody clan: If her mother was going to leave, why oh why, did she leave her beloved girls behind?

I don't know about Kagen's other novels (although you better believe I'll be getting my hands on both Whistling in the Dark and Land of a Hundred Wonders just as soon as I'm able), but her latest blends all my favorite elements into one taut, riveting thriller. Intensity isn't all the book has going for it, though. Woven through all the mystery is a coming-of-age story that's both funny and surprisingly tender. Pitting the innocence of youth against an aged evil works to near perfection here, creating the kind of book that you will simply not be able to put down. You can try, but in the end, you'll cave and devour it in one sitting. I guarantee it.

(Readalikes: Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen; Karen White's books, The Lost Hours and The Memory of Water come to mind.)

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for violence, mature themes and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received Tomorrow River from the generous folks at Dutton. Thank you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bloggiesta: Limping to the Finish Line

Well, my first Bloggiesta didn't turn out quite the way I planned. It fell on a weekend that turned out to be more demanding than I thought it would be (the fact that I had to prepare and teach a Sunday School lesson [the Ten Commandments, Jeopardy-style] to a dozen rambunctious 9-year-olds; finish up an LDSFSA newsletter that was due about two months ago; rally the troops to help clean my very messy 5,000 square foot house; and run errands that I'd been avoiding since my van decided to be finicky about how many times a week it actually starts; should probably have been a clue), leaving me feeling so fatigued that I fell asleep around 7:30 last night. So, yeah, I didn't quite accomplish the goals that I set in response to the mini-challenge hosted by Kim and Jackie at the Blog Improvement Project blog . Here's what I tried to do:

- Update blog roll - This is the main thing I wanted to accomplish and ... I did it. Woot! It took me a good 2 hours to delete dead links, add new ones from my Google feeder, change URLs, etc. I also realized that I'll never be completely done with this project, as I'm always finding new book blogs to add to my list. If I missed your link, and you want your blog on my list (and who wouldn't?), please let me know!

- Link up reviews for "Baby Steps Authors," "LDS Authors," "Arizona Authors," and "Back to School Authors" - Another thing I've been meaning to do for quite some time. It was a bit tedious, but I got this done, too. It took me around 40 minutes.

- Update review schedule - This would have taken me all of 30 seconds, but I still haven't done it. Yo soy un(a?) slacker.

- Create BBB Facebook page and add link - I actually made a page weeks ago, it's just blank. I'll finish this one another day.

- Add new review books to Google spreadsheet - My spreadsheet was actually pretty up-to-date, so doing this only took me about 5 minutes.

- Update "My Kids Recommend" section - I had planned to add pictures of each kid, along with their favorite books. It didn't happen. Another time.

- Create a BBAW post with links to best posts - I'm still stewing over which posts are my best. I also feel extremely awkward about "nominating" myself for an award. I'll get around to it one of these days.

I also did the review policy mini-challenge and wrote a review that will go up tomorrow.

Total time spent on Bloggiesta: a piddly 5 hours

All in all, I feel like I accomplished something, even though I didn't do everything I planned. Really thinking about my blog also made me realize that I'm pretty happy with it. Obviously, there's always room for improvement, but I'm proud of what I've created here at BBB. What changes would you suggest? What would you like to see more/less of?

Thanks to Natasha over at Maw Books for hosting Bloggiesta 2010. 'Til next time - adios!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

My Exciting Summer (Online, Anyway)

So, according to my 11-year-old son (who has done nothing but eat, read, swim, watch t.v. and play video games), this is "the most boring summer ever." My 8-year-old is going to Boredom Busters, a great day camp at a nearby school, but my 5-year-old wasn't old enough to attend and my aforementioned 11-year-old declared, "Do NOT sign me up for that." The two oldest will be attending a neighborhood nature camp in a couple of weeks. Other than that, we got nothing. The most exciting thing that's happened so far is the nasty flu bug that seems to have taken up residence in our house. Throw up galore. Thrilling, I tell you.

Personally, I think excitement is overrated. I'm all about boring - as my kids will readily attest. I prefer to lay around, relax, read, swim and forget about any and all responsibility. Except for the vomit cleaning (a responsibility which always seems to fall in my lap - sometimes literally), I've been pretty successful.

Even though things have been a bit dull around my house, lots of fun stuff is going on in the blogging world. Three things that I'm pretty stoked about are:


The Book Blogger Hop


This weekly event is just so much fun. I love finding new book blogs. New ones are being created every day, and I don't want to miss out. Click on over to Crazy For Books to join in the fun.

Bloggiesta


I've never participated in Bloggiesta, but BBB could sure use some sprucing up. These are the tasks I plan to complete this weekend:

- Update blog roll - 90 minutes and counting
- Link up reviews for "Baby Steps Authors," "LDS Authors," "Arizona Authors," etc. - 40 mins.
- Update review schedule
- Create BBB Facebook page and add link
- Add new review books to Google spreadsheet - 5 mins.
- Update "My Kids Recommend" section
- Create a BBAW post with links to best posts

I think that's it for now. I've actually got a lot I need to accomplish this weekend, so I don't want to get too carried away.

If you're interested in joining the Bloggiesta, find all the info on Natasha's blog.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

You probably know all about BBAW, the weeklong celebration of book blogging. There are daily blogging topics, an interview swap, awards and lots, lots more. Last year, I was absolutely thrilled to have BBB nominated in the category of Best Written Blog. This year, the awards/voting component has changed. I'm not thrilled about the self-nominating thing, but I'm going to bite the bullet and do it anyway. A post will be forthcoming. Check out all the details about this fun annual event here.

Told ya there was lots going on. Sounds fun, huh? I think I'll get started on my blog improvement for Bloggiesta. Or maybe I'll go back to my siesta, since it is summer and all ...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Happens in Post 9/11 America to a "Coconut" Who Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Seventeen-year-old Samara "Sam" Ahluwahlia never gives much thought to her Indian heritage. Sure, she indulges in a little curry-flavored takeout now and then - who doesn't? - but, other than that, her ethnicity has nothing to do with her everyday life. She talks like everyone else, dresses like everyone else, and acts like everyone else. The assimilation her mother has always encouraged is so complete that Sam's shocked when she arrives home one day to find a turbaned man ringing her doorbell. It's September 15, 2001. Who is the dark-skinned stranger? A terrorist? A traveler in need of directions? A door-to-door salesman?

None of the above, as it turns out. The stranger is Sam's uncle, Sandeep. Although Sam's heard stories about her mother's ultra-strict, totally traditional family, this is the first time she's actually met one of the infamous Ahluwahlias. Gentle Sandeep hardly seems capable of the kind of narrow-minded chauvinism that pushed Sam's mother away from her family almost 20 years ago - in fact, he's patient, thoughtful and sensitive. Having him in her life makes Sam realize just how much she's missed having an extended family. Despite her mother's protests, Sam desperately wants more. The grandparents she's never met live a mere 90 minutes away - she won't let anyone keep her from meeting them.

When a classmate accuses Sam of being a "coconut" (brown on the outside, white on the inside), she realizes how little she really knows about her Indian roots. With the help of Sandeep, the Internet, and some of the Indian girls at school, Sam begins to explore Sikhism, bhangra music, and the online Indian community. Not everyone understands or supports Sam's quest to find herself. Digging into her past means alienating some of the people in her present. Is Sam willing to upset her nice, quiet, assimilated life in order to embrace the more unique aspects of herself? Can she find peace with the family and culture her mother spurned? Or will the paranoia of the post-9/11 world scare her away from the heritage she longs to explore?

Hundreds of stories have explored the tumultous clash between cultures that occurs whenever a person dares to step outside the bounds of traditional thought or behavior, but Shine, Coconut Moon is the first I've read that examines a teenager's self-searching in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Neesha Meminger brings the uncertainty of that time to vivid life through straightforward storytelling. While I would have preferred more nuanced prose, it's hard to dismiss the power of passages as direct as this one:

I suddenly feel like I've entered a bizarre parallel universe where everything is flipped around and makes no sense whatsoever - like all things American and all things Indian wee thrown up in the air and landed back in all the wrong places, just to confuse the hell out of me (89).

Sam's passion - which comes through in her spirited thoughts - makes her both sympathetic and admirable. Through her, we're able to sneak a peek at what it means to be different in a world that views any variance as dangerous. It's an interesting exploration, and one I, as a white American, don't think about enough.

I wanted more out of Shine, Coconut Moon (tighter writing, more developed characters, subtler preaching, etc.), but I enjoyed the book for what it did offer - a thought-provoking glimpse at the Indian-American experience, especially following the events of September 11.
Although it gets annoyingly heavy-handed, it's an important story, one that opened my eyes and helped me see the plight of others a little more clearly. And isn't that, after all, the purpose of all literature? Why, han, I believe it is.
(Readalikes: similar in theme to books like Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club; a little like The Sari Shop Window by Shobhan Bantwal)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, sexual innuendo and mature themes

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Wish asks, "If you could have anything, what would you wish for?"

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


If you could have anything, what would you wish for? Sixteen-year-old Olivia Larsen doesn't even have to think about it - the only thing she desires is to have her twin sister back. Without Violet in it, the world seems to have lost all its color. Even surrounded by the beauty of San Francisco, where the family has just moved to make a new start, Olivia can't figure out how to go on without her best and oldest friend. It doesn't help that her parents are either MIA or at each other's throats. Just when Olivia really needs someone to help her work through her grief, navigate her new high school, and figure out how to move on with her life - she has no one.

Until a mysterious dress arrives on her doorstep. The gown's beautiful, fitting Olivia as perfectly as if it had been made just for her. Weirder still, it seems to be magic: almost as soon as Olivia wishes it, Violet's by her side. Olivia's missed her sister's vivacious personality so much, she hardly cares that Violet's a ghost, visible to no one but herself. True, it's a tad annoying to have an apparition - especially a very talkative, very opinionated teenage girl one - constantly whispering instructions into her ear, but with Violet at the helm, Olivia finally has the courage to explore her new town, make friends, and let go of some of her sadness.


As if it isn't enough to have her sister back, Olivia finds out she's still got two dresses - and two wishes - left. Wealth, romance, popularity, even perfect grades are all within her grasp. Magic can solve all her problems. Or can it? Olivia soon discovers that sorcery has its limits and that there are some things she has to work out for herself. At least Violet will always be there to help her deal. Or will she? As Olivia learns to live again, she also has to figure out how to let go of the one person to whom she's always clung. Or does she? With two wishes left, anything can happen ...

Wish, Alexandra Bullen's debut novel, is a funny, yet surprisingly tender novel about grief, love, and the powerful bond that exists between girls who are not only sisters, but also twins. Olivia's a wholly sympathetic character, whose struggles will resound with anyone who's ever felt lonely, out-of-place or consumed by grief. The magic element, coupled with Violet's snarkiness, give the story a lightheartedness that keeps it from getting too dark or depressing. In the end, it's a hopeful tale about a girl who loses everything, only to find herself.

(Readalikes: Reminded me of My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison and a little of Princess for Hire by Lindsey Leavitt)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, sexual innuendo, and scenes of underrage drinking/smoking

To the FTC, with love: I received Wish from the generous folks at Scholastic. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Mormon Mentions: Michael Perry

Ahhh, polygamy ... if it wasn't for those crazy fundamentalists, we Mormons would never get mentioned in modern literature at all ... Here's another funny reference, this one taken from Michael Perry's memoir, Coop:

"I admit there are times while traveling in certain circles that I take some perverse joy in letting slip that I was raised in an 'obscure fundamentalist Christian sect' because for some disinclined folks the phrase conjures a wild-eyed tribe of charismatic Bible-wingers hoarding automatic weapons and diesel fuel within a walled compound. When I reveal that I am no longer a member, there is the underlying inference that I escaped under cover of darkness and must forevermore avoid Utah. Sadly for the sake of cocktail talk, ours was a pretty low-key operation. No speaking in tongues, no Holy Rolling, and grape juice for communion. We kids went to public schools, our parents worked regular jobs, and at first glance the only thing you might notice was that our mothers wore dresses and stacked all their hair up in a bun. Mom did wear high-top construction boots with her maxi skirts, so that was a little off beat" (78). [Quote taken from an uncorrected proof - it may have been altered in the final book.]

Just for the record, the group with which Perry worshipped was not made up of polygamists, disaffected Mormons, or anything of the sort. It consisted of hardworking Wisconsin farm families devoted to strict principles of living. What I love about Perry's depiction of his unconventional religion is his ability to snicker at its zaniness without dissing its precepts or mocking the believers. He insists that those faithful to "The Truth" were humble, God-fearing, Christian people dedicated to living lives of righteous simplicity.

It's a funny quote, nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No Matter What Your Poultry Ambitions, You'll Get A Kick (Cluck?) Out of Coop

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although The Pioneer Woman manages to make it look sexy, I've never in my life had any desire to live on a ranch, farm, or any other place that involves smelly animals and dusk-to-dawn chores. Michael Perry's 2009 memoir, Coop, did not change my feelings in any way, shape, or form. If anything, it convinced me that reading about someone else's clumsy attempts to do something new is a lot safer, not to mention more entertaining, than trying it myself. Besides, laughing myself silly over someone else's foibles makes me feel a whole lot better about my own.

Perry's adventure begins when he and his wife decide to move onto an overgrown Wisconsin farm. Driven by a "low-key doomsday mindset regarding the imminent future" (3)* coupled with a desire for self-sufficiency, a simplified lifestyle, and homegrown chickens, the couple takes on the project with gusto. They're not complete novices - both were raised on nearby farms - but a childhood spent baling hay, milking cows, and shearing sheep does not an expert make. As Michael soon finds out. His spread requires constant attention, from the rickety 100-year-old farmhouse to the rabbit-infested garden to his newly-acquired porkers. And then, there are the chickens. In order to make all his poultry dreams come true, Perry has to build a coop. For a wannabe handyman with a tendency to overdream and underbudget, this presents a slight problem. Especially when the homeless chickens arrive on his farm. For a man whose motto has become "Don't overreach, farmer boy" (67), Perry's done just that. Again.

To complicate matters, Perry's got a pregnant wife who insists on delivering the baby at home, a 6-year-old who's learning hard lessons about country life (pigs are food, not pets), and a writing career that leaves him with little time to fancy up the homestead. Suddenly, his simple lifestyle's getting mighty complicated.

As Perry grapples with his own problems, he mines his unorthodox childhood - the Wisconsin farm boy was raised by parents who worshipped with a fundamentalist Christian sect, raised dairy cows, and cared for dozens of foster children, including many with special needs - for tips on how to deal. Reminiscing about his early life and coping with all the mistakes and mishaps of his present one leads him to one conlusion: "While the life we are trying for here is a far cry from real farming, it does present opportunities for edification" (254). Even if those opportunities are occasionally overdone, farmer boy.

Whether your poultry ambitions include a backyard coop or just chomping nuggets at McDonald's, you'll get a kick out of Coop. It's that rare kind of memoir that had me laughing hysterically, sobbing uncontrollably and reading every other paragraph out loud to anyone who would listen. Althouh it makes getting back to nature look about as glamorous as wading through manure in high heels, the book offers a funny, tender reminder of the enduring nature of farming, family and, ahem, fowl. A real golden egg, this one is not to be missed.

(Readalikes: I don't read many farming memoirs, so I'm not sure on this one ...)

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Coop from the generous folks at Harper Collins. This review was written as part of Michael Perry's book tour with TLC Book Tours. To see the other stops, click here.

*All quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof. They may have been changed in the final book.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Thief Doesn't Quite Steal My Heart

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since the generous folks at Harper Collins sent me a copy of Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings to review, I've been dying to get my hands on the first three books in the series. It took some time, but my library finally complied, and voila! I now have all the novels sitting on my shelf. Naturally, I started with The Thief, it being the start of the story and all. Perhaps this was a case of setting my expectations a little too high, because I didn't love, love the book like I wanted to. I enjoyed it - especially the surprise ending, which I did not see coming - I just expected to be blown away and, well, I wasn't.

Our hero is Gen, a cocky young thief who's doing time in prison for stealing the king's seal and daring to brag about it in a crowded winehouse. Everyone in the land has heard him boast about his ability to steal anything from anyone. It should come as no surprise, then, when the king's magus comes seeking Gen's help. Although the magus refuses to let Gen in on the nature of the job, accepting the offer equals freedom. Gen's not about to ignore the "Get Out of Jail Free" card, even if it means riding into the wilderness with a passel of royal guards. He plans to filch whatever it is the king covets, then go on his merry way.

It's only when the thief discovers what it is he's supposed to steal that he experiences a hiccup of doubt. He's confident in his assertion - he really can steal anything - but only if the object actually exists. Hephestia's Gift is the stuff of stories, myths. Maybe the king and his magus believe it can be found, but Gen knows a fool's errand when he sees one. Still, it's not like he has a choice. His reputation is at stake. As is his life.

As Gen follows the magus into enemy territory, he realizes just how dangerous their crazy quest really is. Attempting to steal an ancient artifact from a neighboring kingdom isn't the best way to win friends and influence people. If Attolian soldiers catch him in the act, Gen will be executed swiftly and without mercy. Returning to his own land empty-handed will earn him a similar fate. Even still, it's not soldiers or kings or guards that Gen fears - it's the gods who've protected Hephestia's Gift since the beginning of time. Angering them could cost Gen everything.

I'm not sure exactly how to categorize The Thief. Its Medieval setting suggests historical fiction, except that Turner insists nothing about the book is historically accurate. Talk of gods and myth smack of fantasy, but it's really not that either. Whatever its genre, The Thief's a quick, entertaining adventure story that will keep you flipping pages just to see if Gen really can steal anything. The tale does drag in places, especially when dealing with the history and mythology of Gen's world. All in all, though, it's a swift, exciting book that should appeal to treasure seekers of all ages.

(Readalikes: The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Texas Thriller As Sluggish as a Houston Summer

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jay Porter's attempts to speak out against injustice land him in jail, he vows to let someone else save the world. All he wants to do is get out and get on with his life. A decade later, he has. He's not exactly living the American Dream, but he's got a wife, a law degree, and a baby on the way. So what if he runs his business out of a shabby strip mall? So what if his most promising client is a brainless hooker? So what if he can barely afford to pay rent, let alone bottles and diapers? He's free, ain't he?

The last thing Jay needs in his life is a complication, but that's exactly what he gets on the night he takes his wife for a birthday cruise through Buffalo Bayou. The muddy waterway winds through some of the worst neighborhoods in Houston - they're floating near Fifth Ward when they hear a scream followed by two gunshots and a splash. Jay has no desire to get involved in whatever's going on out in the darkness, but he jumps into the water anyway. The woman he fishes out of the sludge looks like she walked off Fifth Avenue not Fifth Ward. Clearly, something's not right here. Jay drops the lady off at the police station, desperate to forget the whole thing ever happened.

Only, he can't forget. The details of that night continue to haunt him. Before he's even made a conscious decision to investigate, Jay's asking questions. The more he probes, the less anything makes sense. Why is the incident being kept out of the papers? Who is the girl Jay pulled out of the bayou? What was she doing in one of the toughest parts of the city? Guilt wracks Jay's every waking moment - should he go to the police with the little he knows? He can't risk ending up in jail a second time. It's better to keep his mouth shut. Except that the more he learns, the more outrageous the story becomes. Jay learned long ago to let someone else take on all the injustice in the world, but apparently, he's the only one who can fight this battle. Can a struggling black lawyer take on the biggest names in Houston oil? Will he risk everything - once again - to make things right? Or will he go with his first instinct and leave the whole thing alone?

Attica Locke's debut novel, Black Water Rising, is a gritty thriller that examines inequality on every level. It looks at the Civil Rights movement; the disillusionment of freedom fighters who continued to battle racial inequality even into the '80s; the difficulty of rising above one's criminal record (no matter how undeserved); and the struggle of the average man against the supremacy oil money. It was Locke's scrutiny of these big issues, more than anything else, that kept me reading Black Water Rising. The book's characters really didn't speak to me, the plot moves as slowly as a dingy rowboat floating down Buffalo Bayou, and the overall tone is decidedly depressing. Locke's writing impresses, for sure, but I still had a hard time sticking with the story. The action eventually picks up, moving toward a powerful conclusion - it just takes a very patient reader to stay with it for that long. I did like the premise of the novel, it just needed a more exciting execution, a little speed to make it move. Locke's debut proves she has the talent - time will see what she does with it. Regardless, Attica Locke is definitely an author to watch.

(Readalikes: The back cover blurbs compare Locke to Dennis Lehane and Scott Turow.)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: This review is part of a virtual book tour coordinated by the folks over at TLC Book Tours. To see the rest of the tour stops, click here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Olive Street Ain't Got Nothin' On Virgin River

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When the world beats you up and you just need to breathe, where do you go? Do you make a mad dash for the beach? To a cabin in the woods? To the home where you grew up? When you need comfort, solace or just some space, to where do you flee? For four friends - Elly, Sable, Barbara Ann, and Beth - a refuge can always be found at Gabby's home on Olive Street. It's not the most luxurious house, or the most modern, or the most beautifully furnished, but it's the kind of place where one will always feel welcomed, comfortable and relaxed. Gabby's kind, gracious hospitality makes her home the perfect place for the women to gather, especially when life's throwing them curveball after curveball.

All the women are shocked when they arrive at the house on Olive Street one day to find Gabby dead. Although it was writing that brought them together in the first place, Gabby's always been the glue that kept the group close. Without her, what will become of them? How will they face all the pressures in their lives without the loving support of their friend? Her death couldn't have come at a worse time for the four women, each of whom is grappling with her own set of problems. Elly's a cranky old spinster who's too cynical to admit she needs anyone ... until an unassuming farmer makes his way into her life. Sable, a famous novelist, has it all - a sparkling mansion, a designer wardrobe, A-list acquaintances - everything but genuine relationships. She's spent so much energy trying to bury an unsavory past that she's pushed away everyone who has ever tried to get close to her. Now, when the press is hounding her with uncomfortable questions, she doesn't know who to trust. Barbara Ann's exhausted. Between churning out three novels a year and cleaning up after her slovenly husband and boys, she's feeling bitter and resentful. She loves her family, but can't take it anymore. Can she risk losing it all to save her own sanity? Shy Beth hides the darkest secret of all. Her pilot husband controls her every move, even while he flits around with any flight attendant in sight. If she dares to question his actions, he answers her with his fists. Will she ever gather enough strength to fight back?

One by one, the friends drift back to Olive Street, where they've always found refuge. As the four work together to organize Gabby's papers, they reminisce about the woman who meant so much in all of their lives. Slowly, they help each other find the healing, support and friendship they all need to go on.

Originally published in 1998, Robyn Carr's The House on Olive Street was recently reissued with beautifully-updated cover art. Although the novel has a little of the Grace Valley/Virgin River warmth that the author's so well-known for, it's an altogether different kind of book. More women's fiction than romance, the story deals with familiar Carr themes - friendship, family, grief, healing - just with a much more feminist bent. The plot's pretty skimpy, which made the read a bit laborious for me. Also, while all the characters are sympathetic, I didn't feel particulary drawn to any of them. All in all, the book was okay, but definitely not my favorite Carr novel. What I did find interesting was the insider's look at what it means to be a professional writer. Robyn Carr definitely knows her stuff, which makes all the details as convincing as they are fascinating. More than anything else, this sympathetic glimpse into the writing life is what kept me reading The House On Olive Street.

If you like this type of slower-paced women's novel, you'll definitely want to check this one out. For me, I'm going to stick with Jack and the gang over in Virgin River. Moonlight Road, here I come.

(Readalikes: Hmm ... I can't think of any. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, mature themes and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of this novel from the very generous Robyn Carr. Thanks!
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