Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Blind Submission," by Debra Ginsberg

Angel Robinson, in need of a job after the bookstore she works at closes, is pushed into applying at a literary agency by her (unpublished) boyfriend, Malcolm. She lands the job and dives right into a hellish workplace with a demanding boss, snoopy co-workers, and a never-ending pile of work. She quickly proves herself to be quite invaluable, working with authors to better their manuscripts. Then an anonymous author begins submitting pages of a story that sounds incredibly like Angel's own life. The story soon takes a scary turn when intimate details of Angel's life are revealed.

I have to say that I really liked this book. While I would love to work on authors' manuscripts, the manic pace of the agency and the high demands of the boss genuinely made me nervous. I think Angel was a pretty well developed character, as well as most of the other characters. It would have been nice if she's been a little stronger, but I guess that was rectified in the end.

4 stars

"Rise and Shine," by Anna Quindlen

Bridget is a social worker in New York who has always felt in the shadow of her older sister, Meghan, a morning talk show host. Then Meghan swears at a guest on her show when she thinks her microphone is off, and suddenly her world is falling apart. The FCC launches an investigation, tabloids disregard all of her charity work and focus on the mistake, and Meghan is forced to take a suspended "vacation" from work. And her husband leaves her. She flits away to Jamaica to regain sense of her self, or some crap like that.
Okay, now let me scrape away all the "prose" that critics are harping about and lay it all out the way it really is.
Bridget: I'm a social worker, and I help women who've been abused and mistreated find help and stand up for themselves. I help families in crises. But poor me, my big sister is so popular and beautiful, I can't stand up for myself when she treats me like crap. I'm also dating an old man.
Meghan: Oh, no one understands the pressure I'm under! I'm expected to be beautiful and elegant all the time. My husband doesn't realize that everything I've done has been for him and our son. My mistake is so tragic! I must run away and ignore my son, the one sane person in this crazy world.
Yuck. The only, and I do mean only, sympathetic character in this book is Meghan's son Leo. He's bright, caring, kind, and unselfish. And because the plot is lame, and all the other characters are lousy, what does the author decide to do? Yup. Let's allow Leo to get shot by an inner city thug and become a paraplegic. Even then, the drama is all about the two sisters. It's crap. Also, for every line of dialogue, there are five paragraphs of back story or flashbacks that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot. Where the hell was this woman's editor???
2 stars, and that's only because of Leo. Poor, crippled Leo.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Grave Surprise," by Charlaine Harris

Yes, I read the sequel. It did get better, though the sexual current between Harper and Tolliver continues to flow.

In this book, Harper is hired by an anthropology professor to demonstrate her dead body-finding abilities to his class. Confident that he'll prove her to be a phony, the prof is amazed to find Harper can identify every body in an old graveyard. With one shocking discovery. One grave contains an extra body, that of a young missing girl whom Harper had tried to find two years previously. You guessed it, Harper and Tolliver are forced to stick around to be hassled by police and locals until the whodunnit case is solved.

It's an entertaining read. Kind of on the dark side, which is how I like 'em.

4.5 stars

"The Thirteenth Tale," by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale is the story of Margaret Lea, a young biographer hired to tell the true life story of Vida Winter, England's most famous writer. Up until this point, Vida had made up nineteen different versions of her past. Margaret is less than enthusiastic and demands the facts.

Frankly, I don't care to tell you anymore about the plot. It bored me to tears. I don't understand all the hype about this book. It was excruciatingly slow, and then finally, finally, when I thought I'd reached the end, there were two more chapters. I turn the page, and it's the final details wrapped up. I think I'm done. I turn the page, and it's like, "Oh, I know how when I finish reading a book, I wonder what happens to the characters afterwards. So I'm going to tell you what happens next." Seriously.

You know, maybe if this book had kept a better pace, and the main character wasn't so annoying, it would really be decent. There are some good elements to the story. The background and secrets that are revealed are sound. So I guess it's the writing that's to blame for this miss.

3 stars

By a Spider's Thread, by Laura Lippman

Apparently this is Lippman's eighth installment of a crime series. Had no idea before I started the book, but it makes no difference, really. I didn't feel left out. Anything that referred to the past was explained in short detail.

I really liked the first line of the book, which is why I decided to read it. "They were in one of the 'I' states when Zeke told Isaac he had to ride in the trunk for a little while." Sounds interesting, right?


Tess Monaghan is a P.I. hired to help an Orthodox Jewish furrier, Mark Ruben, find his wife, who has just disappeared with their three children. It's all, "Oh, I'm super Jewish." "Oh, yeah? Well, I'm Jewish, but I don't care about religion...until someone puts Jews down, then I'm super pissed off and hypocritical." Blah, blah, blah.

Don't bother.

2 stars

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Severance: Stories," by Robert Olen Butler

The human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for 1.5 minutes after decapitation. In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. So Butler took this information and created stories narrated by the beheaded. Narrators include historical figures, such as John the Baptist, and the imagined, like a dragon beheaded by a knight. My favorite story was that of Nicole Brown Simpson.

I read it in under 2 hours. Definitely worth it.

4.5 stars

"Grave Sight," by Charlaine Harris

Apparently Harris has written many novels, and I've just never heard of them. Anyway, Grave Sight is the first novel in Harris' new series. It features Harper Connelly, who is a lightning-strike survivor. A gift (or curse?) left from the bolt is that she can now sense the dead. In other words, she can find dead bodies, know how they died, and actually see their last moments. She uses this skill as her only source of income, getting paid to travel the country with her step-brother Tolliver.

It was an okay book. Nothing spectacular. But what weirded me out was all this sexual tension between Harper and Tolliver. I wondered if I was crazy. But no, Amazon's review mentions it, too. There were a couple readers who reviewed the book also and claimed that there wasn't any sexual tension. But then, I can't expect everyone who reads to fully comprehend nuances. There'd be fewer people to make fun of.

Oh, and here's a quick quote from Publisher's Weekly. "A nifty puzzle toward the end will challenge the most jaded mystery buffs." Challenge? Dude, I solved it in a minute.

By the way, even though this wasn't the greatest book, I picked up the sequel already. Maybe it's the kind of story that gets better the longer it goes on. Or maybe I'll be wasting my time.

3 stars

"The Shadow Catchers," by Thomas Lakeman

This is a debut novel by Lakeman, and I couldn't put it down. I really have to be in the mood to read thrillers or mysteries, and this one gripped me from the opening pages to the very last paragraph.

FBI Agent Michael Yeager is on suspension after a child kidnapping case goes very, very wrong. He winds up in the Nevada desert (was that redundant?) brawling with a man who attempts to shove a handicapped kid in his truck. When that same man is later found murdered, and his daughter missing, Yeager is the prime suspect. The local sheriff clears him and asks him to unofficially assist in the missing girl's case. So begins a wild ride filled with psychological trauma, buried town secrets, and gore...lots and lots of gore. It was fantastic.

4.5 stars
The Guy Not Taken, by Jennifer Weiner

I liked all of JW's previous work, so it was a no-brainer to try this one out. Plus, I'm a huge fan of short stories. Unfortunately, this read like Intro to Creative Writing. Pretty much every lead character is damaged goods because of her father leaving when she was young. Wah. Oh, and most of them featured swimming in one form another. I know that we're taught, "Write what you know," but don't beat it to death. Not every bad thing in life can be traced back to your father being a bastard. It's time to grow up.

1.5 stars, and I'm being generous.
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

This is one of those cases where I saw someone else at the library getting this book, and I thought, "Hmm...maybe I should get it, too." So glad I did.

Okay, so it's young adult. And about vampires. Think less of me if you will, but I totally loved this book. Bella Swan goes to live with her dad, the police chief, in a tiny town called Forks in Washington. She can't understand why one boy, Edward, seems to hate her so much, even though he doesn't know her. Yet he keeps managing to save her life. Bella finally figures out his secret (shocker, he's the vampire), but she also falls in love with him. I'm not doing the story justice. Why don't you just do us all a favor, and read the freaking book, okay? Excellent writing, interesting characters, villainous villains, and an ending that was pleasing...and led to a sequel. Which brings me to...

New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer

Yes, the second book was good, too. Personally, I found the first book to be better written, but this one was also enjoyable. The complex love between Bella and Edward is shattered, with distraught Bella left to make sense of her life. But, oh, the twists and turns that may bring us back to Edward. Sexy, vampiric Edward. Er...anyway. Worth the read, especially since it will eventually bring us Eclipse, due out in the fall of 2007.

Twilight, 5 stars
New Moon, 4 stars

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Calling Out," by Rae Meadows

Moved by depression over a failed relationship and unsatisfactory job, Jane drives away from NYC and lands in Salt Lake City, Utah. There she is hired to answer phones at a Mormon-approved escort service. Working as Roxanne, she tends to mother and worry over the girls who go on "dates" with the clients, always hoping the girls will quit to go on to school or better jobs. But the longer Roxanne works there, the more inevitable it becomes before she, too, decides to be an escort.

Read this book to see how the line between Roxanne and Jane slowly fades, how escorting and sex become the same, and how Jane's past collides with the present.

This book isn't some sleazy foray into adult fantasies or erotica. It isn't Mormon versus non-Mormon, though there is quite a bit of the history and religion. Calling Out is a very moving account of one woman's depression and quest to find something better for herself. It's about making mistakes and moving on.

4.5 stars

"The Slow Moon," by Elizabeth Cox

In a small town in Tennessee, teenage couple Crow and Sophie decide to have sex for the first time on the night of huge party. They sneak off into the woods alone, and halfway into their experience, they realize they don't have a condom. Crow runs just in his underwear back to his car and is waylaid for about 20 minutes while he hides in embarrassment so a group of girls doesn't see him. When he finally makes his way back to Sophie, he sees her beaten and bloody on the ground. At the sound of police on their way, Crow makes the decision to run. A decision that haunts him from then on.

What happened in the 20 minutes he was gone? Why won't Sophie tell the police what she knows? Cox slowly examines all those who surround Sophie, carefully peeling away layers of deception. While Sophie's psychological trauma may be a bit smoothed over, The Slow Moon still remains a relevant novel that reflects todays troubled youths.

4.5 stars

"The Cinderella Pact," by Sarah Strohmeyer

Nola Devlin works at a fashion magazine as an editor, and as all lead female characters are wont to do in chick lit, she wants to be a writer. But since she is overweight and slightly less than fabulous, she is discriminated against. To prove a point, apparently just to herself, she alters a photo of herself from her thinner days, and creates a new persona, Belinda Apple, who is beautiful and British...and instantly hired.

Nola writes advice columns as Belinda Apple, and even her best friends don't know her little secret. In fact, her friends decide to use Belinda's weight loss plan (something purely invented by Nola) as the basis for their own weight loss goals. And, of course, they rope Nola into shedding some pouds, also.

You see where this is going, right? The weight loss. The secrets. And, you guessed it, a handsome mystery man.

Okay, so it's a little predictable. But it was written pretty well, made me laugh several times, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Give it a shot.

4 stars

"The Sixteen Pleasures," by Robert Hellenga

This book was a donation to the library where I work, and the description intrigued me. The story is set in 1966, where Margot Harrington joins hundreds of other volunteers in Florence to save the city's precious books and works of art from massive flood damage. During Margot's stay in a convent, salvaging and rebinding books, a nun discovers a shocking work of pornography. The back-cover synopsis concludes that Margot is then drawn to explore and experience all of the sixteen pleasures with a forbidden lover.

A bit dramatic. The found book turns out to be 17th century (I think) lost erotic poems by Aretino, along with anatomical engravings, that the pope had ordered destroyed. How this one copy survived remains a mystery, though it had escaped notice before because it was bound together inside a hymnal. Sale of this book could bring a great amount of money to the sisters of the convent and their library.

The history and culture of Florence is beautifully detailed, though the character of Margot is a tad dry for my taste. And her "forbidden lover" is simply an older man who has been separated from his wife for many years. The only thing forbidden is a divorce. And though Margot has taken it upon herself to restore the erotic volume with the prayer book, there is no focus or need to experience all of the sixteen pleasures...which, by the way, weren't really explained.

So the book details art, history, food, the minutia of book binding. Blah, blah, blah. It was okay. I forced myself to finish reading.

3 stars

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"The Dogs of Babel" by Carolyn Parkhurst

I am absolutely smitten with this book. Honestly, the best book I've read in a very long time.

The story is deeply moving. Paul's wife Lexy has fallen from a tree to her death, and the only witness is their dog, Lorelei. Paul is consumed with grief and confusion. Did Lexy commit suicide, or was her death an accident? Why was she in the tree? There seem to be clues everywhere, with no way of adding them up. So Paul, a linguistics professor, decides to try to teach Lorelei to speak in order to share the answers he desperately seeks.

Obviously, you'll have to suspend your disbelief, but I promise, it won't be a huge stretch. Yes, there are a couple of odd twists, including a telephone psychic. However, the richness of the story, the poetry of the tale, will hold you fast to the end. This book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelves.

5 stars

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My boss highly encouraged me to read this book, so I gave it the old college try.

Cinematherapy lists and categorizes movies according to women's moods. For example, if your mother has done something to once again annoy you, you consult Chapter 4's "I Know She's My Mom, But She's Driving Me Nuts: Mother-Issue Movies." From there you'll know to check out the video store for such titles as The Glass Menagerie, Mommie Dearest, and that old classic Drop Dead Fred.

Speaking of classics.... The majority of the movies listed are from the '30s thru the '50s. Personally, not really interested in tons of movies from back then. But perhaps you are.

Also includes Ten Top Bodice-Ripping Lines, Stupid Guy Quotes, and a Handy Hunk Chart. Funny, though it all seems a little out of date at this point. Perhaps I should try their 2004 book, Cinematherapy for Lovers: The Girl's Guide to Finding True Love One Movie at a Time.

I have only two major gripes about this book:
1) Bridget Jones's Diary isn't mentioned even once. Of course, I then realized that the book came out before the movie, so maybe there's hope that it'll show up in one of their later books.
2) In a section called "Prepubescent Power Pics: Getting in Touch with Your Inner Grrrrl," the writers, describing Anne of Green Gables, say that orphaned Anne is taken in by "Marilla Cuthbert and her husband," meaning dear, sweet Matthew. What the? Everyone who has ever read the book or seen the movie knows that Marilla and Matthew are brother and sister! Appalling! Hmph. Makes me wonder what else these self-proclaimed film fanatics got wrong.

3.75 stars

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A young adult novel based on the Marvel Comics character Spider-Man and his first love, Mary Jane Watson. Except this book is written from Mary Jane's point of view.

Okay, so Mary Jane suffers from Anorexia and is in those "Nobody understands me!" years. It's still a good story. Girl befriends class nerd. Class nerd (Peter Parker) loves girl. Class nerd gets bitten by chemically altered spider, becomes buff, and moonlights as a superhero. Girl can't make up her mind whether she should date popular hottie or friendly nerd.

What's great is that MJ has depth finally. We understand more about who she is and where she comes from. Sure, Peter Parker's story is more unique, but enough about him! At last, MJ has a moment to shine in her own novel.

Disappointments: Peter Parker's sudden buffness in high school makes him popular, and cheerleaders dote on him. Also, Harry Osbourne is just the drippiest rich guy ever. Thank goodness the movie version of Harry isn't such a dweeb. Thank you, James Franco.

Loves: Pencil drawings at the beginning of chapters add definite interest. Reads like a novel, not a comic book.

4.5 stars

Whiny. Predictable. Boring.

'Nuff said.

1.5 stars.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"All Loves Excelling" by Josiah Bunting III

A few months ago I came across this book while our library was in the midst of rebarcoding everthing to get ready for a system change. I loved the title and front cover. It sounded exactly like something I'd want to read, a lovely little story about a girl attending a prestigious boarding school in the hopes of bettering her grades and SAT scores to get into an Ivy League college.

Plus, the quote on the front said "Should stand on the same shelf [as] A Separate Peace...and The Catcher in the Rye."

So finally, I had a chance to read the book. The entire first half of the book is filled with nothing. I mean, nothing happens. It's mostly about the main character, Amanda, studying nonstop, being pressured by her overbearing mother to be the best, and a very strict exercise schedule. She makes only two friends, but they are so rarely part of the story that it's a wonder they were created at all.

The second half starts to make up for the slow beginning. The prose is beautiful throughout, slowly taking Amanda from earnest and dedicated to an addiction to drugs and an eating disorder. The stiff but well-meaning story seeks to warn parents about the pressures put upon their children. My problem with it is the lack of warmth. At the end of the book, I should feel more than a slight disappointment for poor Amanda. It's a shame because I could tell the story meant a lot to the writer. I just wish it meant more to me.

One plus, for me, was the many references to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whom I also studied in college. But given the weightiness of the material and lovely prose, despite its stiffness and lack of fully realized characters, I give this book 3.5 stars.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I have read two of Gregory Maguire’s other books, Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Both were great stories that had vibrant characters and rich detail. I imagined nothing less of Lost.

The book opens with the lead character, Winnie Rudge, witnessing a car accident. It’s compelling and interesting…and has nothing to do with anything else that happens in the book. Winnie then travels to London to work on a book she’s writing, intending to stay with her cousin, John. Upon arrival, it appears as though her cousin has disappeared. None of his neighbors or co-workers is willing to talk to Winnie, either. Strewn throughout the novels are random nursery rhymes and references to Peter Pan, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Jack the Ripper. It takes a pretty long time before the reader begins to understand what lies beneath the quotes and references.

The title could be used to describe the reader after finishing this book. I felt lost. I thought, “What was the point of this book?” The main character was obviously a candidate for therapy. She continues to spiral into depression and obsession. Oh, and she gets possessed by the spirit of a 12th century French woman who was burned to death.

I wondered if I was too harsh on the book, so I checked to see what reviewers on Amazon gave it. I felt pretty justified when I saw the average review was 2.5 stars. But because I like Maguire’s other books, and there were some great lines in Lost, my final judgment is for 3 stars.

Friday, August 04, 2006

One of the advantages of working in a library is seeing books of all shapes and sizes come in and out for interlibrary loan. Chick Living was one such book that came in for a girl, and I quickly put my name on a hold list for it.

Not only does Melcher ease her readers through first apartment searches, budgeting, and entertaining, she does it with style. What a fun little book! It's colorful, easy to read, and extremely helpful.

Melcher includes pages to help readers get started on their own budgets, evaluate wants vs. needs, and checklists for inspecting apartments.

I can't think of a single chapter I didn't like. Whether you're looking for fashion tips, furnishing and decorating, or planning a party, this book has it all. You learn a lot without feeling like you're being forced to learn. There's even a recipe for homemade lip gloss! Who wouldn't like that?

This money-conscious guide to living frugally and funky will satisfy any fab chick. Loved it! I definitely give it 5 stars.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I picked up this book simply because I liked the cover. Then when I read the inside flap, I thought, "Hey, this sounds like the plot of Just Like Heaven." Der.

I gotta say, this is one of the very few times that I have ever liked a movie better than the book on which it is based. What a disappointment. The writing is too sweet, too moralizing. It reminds me of, dare I say it? Nicholas Sparks. *shudder*

If you don't already know, the story is about Lauren, a medical intern who is in a car accident and is left in a coma. Several months later, architect Arthur moves into Lauren's apartment only to find he's not alone. Lauren's spirit or "ghost" is visible only to Arthur, and the two try to find a way to help Lauren's body and mind wake before her mother decides to pull her from life support. Unlike the movie, the novel's subplot shows Arthur finally dealing with his mother's death when he was about 12. Of course, this all happens at the end of the book, and by this time, I couldn't care less.

I really wanted to like this book, but forced dialogue, flat characters, and too-familiar lines kept me cringing. For instance, the once boyfriend of Arthur's mother says to Arthur, "Do you want to know the real reason your mom left without saying goodbye? She was a great lady, and all great ladies know how to leave in dignity..." Sound familiar? It should, if you're any kind of chick flick fan. Sipsey, in Fried Green Tomatoes, tells Idgy, "It's all right, honey. Let her go. You know, Miss Ruth was a lady. And a lady always knows when to leave."

If Only It Were True was Marc Levy's first novel, originally written in French. Wikipedia assures me that the translation is clumsy and, if read in its correct form, the book flows a lot better. Well, I'm not reading the French version. Mainly because I don't speak French.

I give this book 2.5 stars, and only that much because it led to a pretty good movie where I get to see Mark Ruffalo wearing only a towel.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Here it is, my first review. Aren't you all excited?

I chose Come Closer, by Sara Gran, as my first review because it was my most recent read. Actually, I read it in about 2 hours last night. The book came highly recommended by two brilliant book bloggers. So, naturally, I was excited to start this book.

I was pulled in immediately by Gran's forthright, almost clipped language. There was nothing unneccessary in the story. No subplots. No pretty prose. It went from Point A to Point B in a scant 192 pages. I found it refreshing.

The story itself was suspenseful, psychological. Was the main character, Amanda, losing her mind? Or was she, in fact, slowly being possessed by a demon? What is that tapping she hears? Why is she losing hours out of the day?

Amanda's story was sad and deeply horrifying. I found myself fearing for her, hoping for a happy ending. Don't read this book if you're looking for a happy ending. Read it if you want to be creeped out, and if you don't mind saying your prayers before bed.

I felt only a mild let-down when I finished the book. It's been years since I've been truly scared after reading a book (Gerald's Game, for instance. *shudders*), and based on the others' reviews, I had expected to be genuinely freaked out after reading it. I wasn't. It wasn't until later on in bed, when all the lights were out and the tapping started, that I truly became terrified. That's when the story's horror began to sink in. Lucky for me, I realized it was just my new box fan that was causing my bulletin board to tap against the door.

Whether you believe in demons and evil or not, Come Closer entertains. You'll only regret reading it after the lights go out. I give this stripped-down, bare bones horror story 4 stars.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Welcome to the New Dork Times

You may ask why I'm bothering to start another blog. Well, that was rather rude of you to ask, but I'll answer anyway.

Everyone else has a book blog, and I felt like a loser for not having my own. But I thought instead of reviewing books only, I'd also weigh in on movies, TV shows, music, and whatever the hell else catches my fancy.

So enjoy if you can, or bugger off. Whichever you like.