Monday, October 31, 2011

In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks

An engrossing tale of the Highlands of S cotland in the days of Lairds and Ladies with a sexy, romantic love story. This first of three tales of the McCabe brothers gives us warriors fighting evil, battles for posession of land, revenge and first love's effect on men hardened by all these.

The story makes you hungry for more of the same. I loved it!!

Mary E

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Consider Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed to be the anti-Twilight. Like Bella’s Edward, Nora’s Bram is undead. Unlike the sparkly Edward Cullen, however, Abraham Griswold is a rotting corpse infected with the Laz – a disease that reanimates a dead body and turns the person into a zombie. And, unlike Bella Swan, Nora Dearly has spunk and a mind of her own.

Dearly, Departed is set in 2195. Disasters have reduced the Earth’s population to various settlements in Central and South America. One settlement, a wealthy one, has chosen the Victorian era as the perfect time period in the past, and the inhabitants follow Victorian protocols. The Victorians are in a running war with a poorer group of people called Punks. Into this mix comes the Laz, and undead Punks and Victorians who have managed to keep their minds unite to battle it out with the mindless undead.

Beauty Nora Dearly’s father was an important Victorian researcher trying to find a vaccine for the Laz. Handsome Abraham Griswold was a Punk soldier before he died and got the Laz. Cue the star-crossed teen-aged lovers!

At one point, one of the zombies is reading some books from the past. In what is clearly a poke at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, he says, “In all of these books the girls are throwing themselves at the romantic heroes – romantic heroes who are dead, who drink human blood.…Vampires are just zombies with good PR! That could be us in a few years!”

Dearly, Departed (the first book in a trilogy) is almost 500 pages long. I would have enjoyed it more if it was 100 pages shorter. It definitely dragged for me toward the end, once the novelty of the situations had worn off. Also, I did have a little trouble getting over the ick factor of making out with a zombie. Still, Dearly, Departed is a light amusing read. If you like paranormal romance with a touch of steampunk and lolita, I recommend it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson

The narrative of The Lantern is told by two alternating voices, Eve and Bénédicte. Both stories take place at Les Genévriers (The Junipers), a decaying farmhouse in France.

American Eve and her English boyfriend Dominic met on the shores of Lake Geneva, quickly fell in love, and moved to the moldering but romantic Les Genévriers. Dom has made a fortune through a computer company that he sold just before the economic downturn. Eve is a writer trying to make a living as a translator. Once they move in together, their old lives – families, friends, jobs, countries – recede into the past and they are completely absorbed in each other.

Elderly Bénédicte is the last member of the family that owned and farmed Les Genévriers for generations. Her tale is set decades in the past, as she recounts her childhood, her troubled relationship with her brother, the remarkable life of her blind sister, and her time spent working in the lavender fields during the war.

At first, the lives of the two women don’t seem to have much in common, aside from living at Les Genévriers. However, as the book goes on, connections start to be made. Eve hears noises that cannot be explained. She encounters strong scents that seem to have no source. She sees shadowy figures and strange lights. Meanwhile, in the past, Bénédicte is visited by ghosts – her brother, her sister, and the spirits of strangers she does not recognize.

Hanging over Eve’s life is the shadow of her boyfriend’s ex-wife Rachel, whom Dom refuses to discuss. An acquaintance hints that Dom is not what he appears, and wonders where Rachel is. Eve begins to question her “perfect” relationship with Dom. It took a few chapters for the book to draw me in, but once it did I had a hard time putting it down. The characters were not especially memorable, but the language was lovely and the plot had enough original elements to keep me interested. I foresaw some of the twists at the end, but others surprised me.

The Lantern is spooky with a sinister undertone. There is some implied violence and one scene of animal abuse. Overall, however, it is a romance in the tradition of gothic fiction. The Lantern owes much to the classic novels Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but it also reminded me of The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. If you like a romantic mystery, check out The Lantern.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big fan of chick-lit. More power to the ladies (and gentlemen) out there who laughed along with Something Borrowed or shed a tear over Eat, Pray, Love. I went there, I tried it, but in the end I just couldn’t hang. I’m a chick, and I hate chick-lit. So needless to say, I was very surprised by myself when I read a review of Girls in White Dresses and wanted to read it. I attribute my motivation to pick up Girls to the fact that Close seemed to have pegged the clichéd versions of me and my two best friends: the nerdy one, the crazy one with a heart of gold, and the funny girl. I gave the book a try, and I was pleasantly surprised when I could hardly put it down. Girls in White Dresses is what I always dreamed chick-lit could be-- fluffy and trivial, while still maintaining a refreshing honesty. Chapters alternate between various female characters who are all centrally connected to the book’s three main protagonists: Mary, Lauren, and Isabelle. I would highly recommend this book to all chick-lit lovers, and maybe a few haters too.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Frontier Magic series by Patricia C. Wrede

Patricia C. Wrede's Frontier Magic series is set in the past in a sort of alternate United States with magic. The first book in the series is Thirteenth Child. The main character is a twin. Her brother is the seventh son of a seventh son and therefore expected to be an incredibly powerful magician. Although Eff is the seventh daughter of a seventh son, all anyone can focus on with her is that she is a thirteenth child and therefore terrible bad luck. One relative even thinks she should be disposed of, and many feel she should be kept away from her twin brother. Thirteenth Child has a strong female character confronted by people who don't want her to succeed. She and her journey towards adulthood are compelling, and the steampunky alternate world has some original characteristics. I did not find Thirteenth Child just another magical coming of age story.

The second book in the series is Across the Great Barrier. Although I enjoyed it, it was a letdown after Thirteenth Child. It did not feel as original and the tension around Eff being a bad luck "thirteenth" was pretty much gone. (This is similar to how I felt with Wrede's Enchanted Forest series - I loved Dealing with Dragons but felt more let down by each subsequent book.) However, Across the Great Barrier kept me interested and I had no trouble finishing it. I definitely recommend the series if you enjoy magical alternate worlds, strong female heroines, and coming-of-age stories.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Moneyball by Michael Lewis is a baseball book. It's filled with baseball stats and insights into them, and it is populated with baseball personalities. Reading the book made me want to run out to a baseball game but alas it's a little late in the season for that.

My movie club was going to see the movie so I read the book. I didn't have time to finish the book before the movie, so I finished it after. If you aren't a baseball fan, I can strongly recommend the movie anyway. Although it's a baseball movie, the focus is on the people, not the baseball, and Brad Pitt and the others in the movie are excellent. There is no sex or violence and almost no swearing. I went with a group that included two nonbaseball fans and they both loved it.

On the other hand, if you aren't a baseball fan, I can't recommend the book. I am a baseball fan and I loved the book. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of baseball. Michael Lewis is an entertaining writer who can turn a great phrase. Referring to Billy Beane's inability to watch his team play, he says, "He was like some tragic figure in Greek mythology whose offenses against the gods had caused them to design for him this exquisite torture: you must desperately need to see what you cannot bear to see." Describing infield coach Ron Washington's despair at the terrible fielders Beane put on the field, he notes, "There were times that Wash thought the players Billy sent him shouldn't even bother to bring their gloves; they should just take their bats with them into the field, and hit the ball back to the pitcher." About Jamie Moyer's pitching style, he says, "I've seen less arc on ceremonial first pitches."

I was thoroughly entertained and educated by Moneyball. If you are a baseball fan, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso

Tiger, Tiger is a deeply disturbing and frank memoir about a young woman’s relationship with a pedophile from the age of seven to the age of twenty-two (when he committed suicide at the age of sixty-six).

Once I began Tiger, Tiger, part of me wanted to stop reading it and part of me couldn’t put it down. The author’s story at the beginning is not entirely believable, because she includes conversations that she could not possibly remember word for word. However, the further I got into the book the more real her feelings came across; even if the dialog could not be completely accurate, the sense of what she was trying to convey rang true.

The author is clearly very conflicted. She had a troubled home life and turned toward her molester for affection and attention. Although now, as an adult, she acknowledges that he was a pedophile, she still loves him and remembers his love for her. She recognizes that he needed help and should have been stopped (she was not the only child he molested), but she can’t deny how important he was to her. She writes, “spending time with a pedophile can be like a drug high” and “I was Peter’s religion.”

Tiger, Tiger provides insight into a relationship most of us can’t (and would not want to) imagine. If the psychology of the complicated relationship between an abuser and his long-time victim interests you, you may find it a compelling read.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

me,you by erri de luca

A finely descriptive look at a corner of life in Italy in the years after World War II seen through the eyes of an Italian boy and the insight he gets through the memories of a Yugoslav Jewish girl. The fishing locale story interweaves with the losses of the girl and an intriguing connection between the boy and the girl's deceased father.

The story is one which keeps your attention and keeps you reading.

Mary E

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas is the first book in what is presumably going to be a fantasy trilogy. It's not particularly original - three orphans who fulfill an ancient prophecy team up with a wizard, dwarves, and others to battle an evil sorceress working for an even more evil master - but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I will definitely read the next book in the series, whenever it comes out.

I listened to the audiobook read by Jim Dale, which didn't help the book when it came to me judging its originality. The book ended up reminding me quite a bit of Harry Potter since I kept thinking, as new characters spoke, "that's Hermione's voice! that's Ginny's voice! that's Peeves's voice!" The comparison would probably not have been quite as strong if I'd been reading the book instead of listening to Jim Dale read it.

However, if you like Harry Potter and other fantasy novels about children growing up while battling magical evil, I recommend The Emerald Atlas.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer S. Holland is subtitled "47 remarkable stories from the Animal Kingdom." The cover shows a white dove being hugged by a tiny monkey. This is definitely a book you can judge by its cover. The most relevant word in this review is going to be "awww."

The book contains cute and touching stories about odd relationships between animals like an iguana and a house cat, a lioness and an oryx, and a tortoise and a hippo. The stories are accompanied by photos that will make you say "awww." Some of the relationships are not much more than a single encounter; others last the lifetime of one of the animals. The author does not present the stories as episodes out of real-life Disneyland, but acknowledges in many cases the reasons that might have prompted the animal pairs and the benefits each animal gained. However, she also points out that we underestimate animals, their intelligence, and their emotions, and I agree with that. This book is a quick and uplifting read (although there are sad aspects to some of the stories). If you like to view cute animal photos and stories on the internet, you will enjoy Unlikely Friendships.

(Unlikely Friendships can be found at the Galesburg Public Library in the New nonfiction area at 591.56/HOL.)

Travels with My Chicken by Martin Gurdon

Martin Gurdon wrote a book called Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance, which I have not read. To publicize that book, he travelled about with one of his chickens (not always the same chicken), and he wrote Travels with My Chicken about those travels. This book won't change your life, but it's quirky and amusing. If you like travel, England, travel in England, and chickens, you'll enjoy Travels with My Chicken.

(Travels with My Chicken can be found at the Galesburg Public Library at 914.1048 GUR in the nonfiction section.)