Sunday, June 30, 2013

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson

With extraordinary emotional power, Linda Olsson's stunningly well-crafted debut novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two women. Veronika, a young writer, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who slowly becomes a presence in Veronika's life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Set against a haunting Swedish landscape, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters' secrets are revealed.

My take: 4 looks

This was a beautifully written book. Full of description, character development and emotion, it depended solely on the movement of the characters and environment rather than action.

Two women from very different backgrounds, generations, experiences and lifestyles come together one season and forever change one another's lives.

Astrid is poignant, funny, witty, and completely endearing. The story tells of her childhood, relationships with her parents, marriage and solitary later life. Veronika is a world-traveler with close ties to her father and a lifetime ahead of her. Events bringing these two women together are completely random, yet very serendipitous.

So beautiful, and highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Beach House by James Patterson

Jack Mullen is in law school in New York City when the shocking news comes that his brother Peter has drowned in the ocean off East Hampton. Jack knows his brother and knows this couldn't be an accident. Someone must have wanted his brother dead. But the powers that be say otherwise. As Jack tries to uncover details of his brothers last night, he confronts a barricade of lawyers, police, and paid protectors who separate the multi-billionaire summer residents from local workers like Peter. And he learns that his brother wasn't just parking cars at the summer parties of the rich. He was making serious money satisfying the sexual needs of the richest women and men in town. THE BEACH HOUSE reveals the secret lives of celebrities in a breathtaking drama of revenge with a finale so shocking it could only have come from the mind of James Patterson.

My take: 3 looks
How does Patterson do it? How does he never let me down?

I needed to read a book set on a beach for my summer reading challenge, and I happened to have this one on the shelf. I started it in the morning and didn't put it down until I had read the last word at almost midnight. I did very little the rest of the day. I even shooed my husband away when he came to sit next to me on the sofa.

The tale of rich vs working-class hits right on the nose, with feelings of the hit TV series "Revenge" throughout. You can see the smug, self-satisfied looks on the rich faces as they know their sins will not catch up with them; you can feel the defeat and frustration of the blue-collar population who realize the law is NOT on their side.

And when justice finally DOES prevail, it is sweet, indeed. This is a page-turner, very fast-paced and intriguing. Recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted by Elizabeth Berg

Exhilarating short stories of women breaking free from convention Every now and then, right in the middle of an ordinary day, a woman rebels, kicks up her heels, and commits a small act of liberation. What would you do, if you were going to break out and away? Go AWOL from Weight Watchers and spend an entire day eating every single thing you want–and then some? Start a dating service for people over fifty to reclaim the razzle-dazzle in your life–or your marriage? Seek comfort in the face of aging, look for love in the midst of loss, find friendship in the most surprising of places? Imagine that the people in these wonderful stories–who do all of these things and more–are asking you: What would you do, if nobody was looking?

My take: 4 looks
What a delightful book of TRUTH! This middle-aged, female reader laughed out loud more than once and nodded in agreement too many times to count.

Which story did I love the most? Goodness! I loved the title story, and the sad truth that it is, indeed, not as fulfilling as you think or hope it will be when you throw caution to the wind and eat it all.

I loved the story of the 50 year friendship between two ladies who were still so playful with one another that they had a very difficult conversation using a Ken and Barbie doll.

I loved the closure the woman received when the very man who walked into her dating service turned out to be a long, lost love with no memory of her. The closure...and the new beginning with her own husband.

Every story was a good one, a true one, and I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

14 by Peter Clines

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches. There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment. Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

 At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends. Or the end of everything...

My take: 3 looks

What a fun read! In the style of "LOST", indeed! You really don't know whom to trust in this one. You suspect everyone, and yet you like every one of the characters so much that you want them all to be heroes.

The characters are extremely stereotypical: Nate is an everyman, Xela the rebellious artist, Veek the computer geek, Andrew the religious zealot, Clive and Debbie the perfect couple, Tim the mysterious older man. The others are written well, but a bit superfluous as far as the action goes. You can point to any of these and relate to them.

The story is riveting in the way all locked doors are: you can't wait to see why it's locked and what it hides. However, the opening of #14 and the quick aftermath was a bit too far-fetched for me. I loved the references to history and historical figures, but the blending of the supernatural was too forced and too unbelievable to the storyline. I thought the characters were perfectly set up, and the story sucked me in like a black hole, but the climax and finale were too over-the-top to be fluid to the rest of the story.

With that said, it was a fun book to read and I will definitely read more by this author. I have already downloaded his "Ex-Heroes" and "Ex-Patriots" book series.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The story opens with the immortal words 'I was lying dead in the churchyard' (spoken, astonishingly, by Flavia herself) and ends with a funeral watched by the De Luce family on a newly-installed television set. In between, Alan Bradley weaves a hauntingly nightmarish tale that involves Punch & Judy - and in particular Mr Punch's nemesis, the hangman, Jack Ketch - a frighteningly realistic puppet show, and a hitherto unexplored corner of Bishop's Lacey known as Gibbet's Wood.

The plot, beginning with the arrival in Bishop's Lacey of a travelling puppet show, features a grisly murder during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in the village hall and reaches back to an earlier, even nastier crime centring on an ancient, rotting gibbet that has lain like a shadow over the village for years.

 For Flavia, undoing the complex knot that ties these strands together will test her precocious powers of deduction to the limit - and provide a shocking insight into some of the darker corners of the adult world.

My take: 4 looks

Once again, Flavia de Luce proves to be one of my favorite characters. She is so tenacious, bold and witty that you can't help but love her (and despise her sisters just as much!). Here she is on the case again, always at the right place at the right time, and with the right resources.

The mystery and family dynamics blend well in this, the second of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series. I adore the sisterly spats between the three girls, with Flavia's love of chemistry (and especially poisons) taking it to a hilarious level. Her sisters know where to push her buttons, and she knows the chemical configurations to make them pay for it. Like the first book, this one contains a small thread of revenge that plays out throughout the book. A bit of a mystery-within-a-mystery.

We meet several more characters of Bishop's Lacey, and another member of the de Luce family. We also learn more about deceased mother, Harriett. The stories are perfectly standalone while building on the former. Just perfectly done, in my opinion.

Like any mystery, the book is character-heavy, but Bradley is such a great storyteller that the reader is familiar with each and the flow of the mystery is wonderfully fluid. The use of red herrings is pure perfection and slight twists and turns are very satisfying.

This entire series is highly recommended.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lyrical Poetry set to Music

As I have made no secret, I am not a big fan of poetry. I love Haiku in all it's forms, but I find strict-double-down-nitty-gritty poetry to be unctious (don't you LOVE that word?!). Those modern-day beatniks who spout their ideals with a backdrop of music just make me want to laugh while puking. If you want a good example, go here: Levi the Poet's "Resentment".

See what I mean? Wow. I must say though, my 18 year old son, Strat, LOVES him. Ugh.

But this is my point: some song lyrics are pure poetry, and I love them. Here are two snippets from Jack Johnson's "Taylor":

They say Taylor was a good girl
never one to be late
complain express ideas in her brain
Working on the night shift
passin out the tickets
you're gonna have to pay her
if you want to park here.
Well mommy's little dancer's
quite a little secret
working on the streets now
never gonna keep it.
It's quite an imposition
And now she's only wishin'
That she would have listened
To the words they said.
Poor Taylor.
See? That is a story in itself, and only the first stanza of the song. Poor Taylor, indeed. Her future was so bright and now she's only wishin' that she would have listened. Haven't we all experienced that hindsight?
The second stanza is even better:
Peter Patrick pitter patters on the window
And Sunny Silhouette won't let him in
and poor old Pete's got nothin 'cause he's been fallin'
but somehow Sunny knows just where he's been
He thinks that singin' on a Sunday's gonna save his soul
but now that Saturday's gone
Well sometimes he thinks that he's on his way
but I can see, that his break lights are on
There is nothing better to describe some phases of life than to say, "sometimes he thinks that he's on his way but I can see that his break lights are on." Indeed.
Other stories and poetry in songs from my day belong to Paul Simon and Don Henley. I still love "Last Worthless Evening" from the latter. I waited all my life for a man to tell me that this was the last worthless evening I'd ever spend. Matchbox 20's lyric from "If You're Gone" is still the most romantic phrase in music: "There's a little bit of something me in everything in you."
This is the true poetry set to music. Not some rambling, stacatto, angst-ridden, self-mutilating, self-righteous young adult who doesn't appreciate the liberty he has to post his unctious videos. and I say again: Ugh.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain by Kirsten Menger-Anderson

In 1664 Dr. Olaf van Schuler flees the Old World and arrives in New Amsterdam with his lunatic mother, two bags of medical implements, and a carefully guarded book of his own medicines. He is the first in what will become a long line of peculiar physicians. Plagued by madness and guided by an intense desire to cure human affliction, each generation of this unusual family is driven by the science of its day: spontaneous combustion, phrenology, animal magnetism, electrical shock treatment, psychosurgery, genetic research. As they make their way in the world, New York City, too, evolves—from the dark and rough days of the seventeenth century to the towering, frenetic metropolis of today. Like Patrick Süskind's classic novel Perfume , Kirsten Menger-Anderson's debut is a literary cabinet of curiosities—fascinating and unsettling, rich and utterly singular.

My take: 3 looks
What an interesting book!

The premise is smartly done: A doctor in the 1600s, just after the middle ages, starts the book with his story, then progresses very nicely through the generations of his family tree ... doctor after doctor after doctor. The chapters read as short stories, and indeed, some were published separately in various publications apart from appearing in this book.

Not all of the stories center around the doctor. Some center around how the doctor is treating the main character. There is talk of bleeding someone as a cure, drinking a tincture to become pregnant, shock therapy, a very early lobotomy, and the move away from silicone breast implants. The stories follow the latest in medical procedure and technology, ending in the year 2006. And not all treat physical ailments. The science of phrenology is examined, as is "hysteria" and retardation.

Very compelling, very clever, nice writing and extremely fluid, giving the single thread that weaves through the book. Highly recommended for a different sort of reading experience!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher


Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Or Other Entertainment

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever.

There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get...interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

My take: 3 looks
A fast and easy read. Very entertaining first book in a series of what the author states will be 20 installments in The Dresden Files. In this introduction, we meet the wizard, Harry Dresden, a lovably sarcastic and cynical man with one foot in this world and one foot in the "nevernever". Murphy is the police captain who is a bit grating, but I am sure she will flesh out as the books continue. Susan is just plain irritating, but (again), I expect her to grow on me. I liked Bill quite a bit, and the idea that he is very, very old and experienced, plus lives in an old skull, is very intriguing.

The mystery was a good one. Not too complicated, with a wide variety of villains (I hope to see more of the Marcone character), demons and monster-sized arachnida. The ending was satisfying and loose ends were tied. Excellent beach read for the summer.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

2013 Bibliophile Summer Reading Challenge!

Time for the newest reading challenge from my Shelfari reading group, Bibliophile! That means, as the picture suggests, there will be an "all stop" on unnecessary activities until said challenge is over. ha!

Here it is:

Bibliophile's Summer Reading Challenge 2013!!!!

This summer, we are going to the beach! So grab your reads and join the fun!

Here are the rules:

BOTM to read in the sand- Read a June-August BOTM and participate in the group discussion.

Endless activities available to pass the time- Read a book with a verb in the title.

Amazing colors as the sun sets over the ocean- Read a book that has one of the sunset colors (blue, purple, red, orange, or yellow).

Careful not to overdue the fun- Read a book that’s 400+ pages.

Hot dogs, chips, or seafood at our reach- Read a book that has food on the cover.

This makes a total of 5 books to read for the summer, which earns you ONE entry in the raffle.

Bonus: Read 3 BOTMs from June-August and earn an extra raffle entry.

Challenge runs from June 1st to August 31st

Here's what you can win:
Prize 1: $25 Amazon gift card from Mimi
Prize 2: Swag from Los Angeles Times' Festival of Books from Vonnie
Prize 3: Handmade bookmarks from Wonderbunny

I won the prize for last year's summer reading challenge, so I will recuse myself from any prizes, but I love to participate and see how far I can get.