Monday, April 30, 2012

The Home for Broken Hearts by Rowan Coleman

THE DOOR IS OPEN . . . For young widow Ellen Wood, her Victorian home is a refuge—a place to feel safe with her eleven-year-old son, Charlie. But when money grows so tight that Ellen could lose the house, her sister, Hannah, makes a radical suggestion . . . rent out some of the rooms. Soon Ellen has three lodgers: Sabine, a German coworker of Hannah’s, recently separated from her husband; Allegra, an eccentric but wise novelist; and Matt, an up-and-coming young journalist in search of his voice, who has just landed a plum job in London.

Ellen thinks three strangers are the last complication she needs, but they make her realize just how isolated she has become. Their presence exposes a secret she’s been keeping hidden, as well as a conflict with her sister that is both shocking and revealing. And while a love affair with a younger man seems like a fantasy powered by her imagination, Ellen can’t deny her deep connection to Matt, or the changes he inspires in her and her relationship with Charlie.

Outside her home’s sheltering walls lies a world of opportunity as well as danger. Now that she’s had the courage to open the door, does Ellen dare step through?

My take: 3 looks
This book reads a bit like a first novel. However, it is not Coleman's first. The fact that it was a fast read and fairly entertaining gives this one just a notch above 2 looks, and I round up (I would probably actually give this one 2.5, but I think 1/2 looks are cheating at bit, although I have been known to do it).

It was extremely predictable, especially (spoiler alert) with what I suspect was supposed to be a huge revelatory twist at the end in Hannah's affair with Nick. It consistently stuck with the novel-formula of older rude woman hard on the outside and sweet as a marshmallow on the inside; good-looking, single man who becomes the love-interest; tweenage kid struggling with growing up in the shadow of losing his father, yet still coming of age nicely in the end; female protagonist, in this case the sister, who is just irritating enough to want to slap but just pathetic enough to keep you from it. Sabine is the only character who defied the mix, and she was a bit of a milquetoast in that she was strong and weak at the same time. Hey, maybe that DOES fit the formulaic scenario.

While this was a fast read, I can't recommend it and probably won't read more by Coleman unless it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie

Take one food writer named Cranky Agnes, add a hitman named Shane, mix them together with a Southern mob wedding, a missing necklace, two annoyed flamingos, and a dog named Rhett and you’ve got a recipe for a sexy, hilarious novel about the disastrous side of true love… Agnes Crandall’s life goes awry when a dognapper invades her kitchen one night, seriously hampering her attempts to put on a wedding that she’s staked her entire net worth on.  Then a hero climbs through her bedroom window.  His name is Shane, no last name, just Shane, and he has his own problems:  he’s got a big hit scheduled, a rival trying to take him out, and an ex-mobster uncle asking him to protect some little kid named Agnes.  When he finds out that Agnes isn’t so little, his uncle has forgotten to mention a missing five million bucks he might have lost in Agnes’s house, and his last hit was a miss, Shane’s life isn’t looking so good, either.  Then a bunch of lowlifes come looking for the money, a string of hit men show up for Agnes, and some wedding guests gather with intent to throw more than rice.  Agnes and Shane have their hands full with greed, florists, treachery, flamingos, mayhem, mothers of the bride, and—most dangerous of all—each other.   Agnes and the Hitman  is the perfect combination of sugar and spice, sweet and salty—a novel of delicious proportions.

My take: 5 looks
I am throwing caution to the wind and giving this jewel FIVE LOOKS! I loved, loved, loved this one. It is not going to save the world, change my philosophical views or feed any starving Ethiopian children. However, it made me totally forget the world for the few hours that it took me to utterly devour it.

Agnes is a treat! She is feisty, funny, fearless and I wish I could sit and have a bourbon with her. Lisa Livia is the perfect best friend and Brenda is the perfect foe. On the male side, Joey, Shane, Carpenter and Garth round out a perfect family of fun.

I adored everything about this book. The story is mob-related, so you can expect a fairly free use of the f-bomb among all of the characters, a fair amount of justified violence, and sex decribed just to the breaking point. It was fun from beginning to end and makes me want to add every book ever written by this duo to my TBR!

Highly recommended!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton’s beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family. For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967.

These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature–Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens–and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year. As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books.

Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success. Humorous and moving, The Wednesday Sisters is a literary feast for book lovers that earns a place among those popular works that honor the joyful, mysterious, unbreakable bonds between friends.

My take: 4 stars
I liked this one very much! It was a little slow for me to get into, but I think that's because I could not spend any quality time with it at the outset. However, once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. I feel as if I am a part of this group, and care about the characters very much.

The group is formed under very realisitc circumstances and I can imagine this happening in any park in any part of the world, with any group of women. The timeline was used in a fantastic way with bits of history thrown in to lend reference, appeal, move the story and invest the reader. The ladies grew and matured with the story, each one developing and unfolding as any real woman would. Every personality was represented here, making it even more lifelike and endearing. The tears didn't come for me until page 267, and I breathed a sigh of satisfaction at the last paragraph.

Wonderful, recommended book. Can't wait to read more by this author!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Alan Lazar

From Santa Claus to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from Uncle Sam to Uncle Tom, here is a compelling, eye-opening, and endlessly entertaining compendium of fictional trendsetters and world-shakers who have helped shape our culture and our lives. The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived offers fascinating histories of our most beloved, hated, feared, and revered invented icons and the indelible marks they made on civilization, including: # 28: Rosie the Riveter, the buff, blue-collar factory worker who helped jump-start the Women's Liberation movement # 7: Siegfried, the legendary warrior-hero of Teutonic nationalism responsible for propelling Germany into two world wars # 80: Icarus, the headstrong high-flyer who inspired the Wright brothers and humankind's dreams of defying gravity . . . while demonstrating the pressing need for flight insurance # 58: Saint Valentine, the hapless, de-canonized loser who lost his heart and head at about the same time # 43: Barbie, the bodacious plastic babe who became a role model for millions of little girls, setting an impossible standard for beauty and style.

My take: 1 look

I was very disappointed in this book. I loved the premise and the list itself, but found the description of each character to be more of a commentary on the author's opinion than less on the history of the character and almost none of how society has been shaped/impacted by the existence of the fictional person. I don't care that the myth of Cinderella should not be taught to our daughters and certainly find it horribly subjective to call Adam the "first male chauvinist pig."

There was much potential here, only to be squandered by a group of authors more interested in writing of an OpEd and less of an informative, non-emotional book.

Not recommended.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins

Torn from the front lines of medical debate and the author's own experience with Lyme Disease, Over the Edge is riveting fiction, full of twists and turns—and powerful truths about today's medical field.

Janessa McNeil’s husband, Dr. Brock McNeil, a researcher and professor at Stanford University's Department of Medicine, specializes in tick-borne diseases—especially Lyme. For years he has insisted that Chronic Lyme Disease doesn't exist. Even as patients across the country are getting sicker, the committee Brock chairs is about to announce its latest findings—which will further seal the door shut for Lyme treatment.  

One embittered man sets out to prove Dr. McNeil wrong by giving him a close-up view of the very disease he denies. The man infects Janessa with Lyme, then states his demand: convince her husband to publicly reverse his stand on Lyme—or their young daughter will be next. But Janessa's marriage is already rocky. She's so sick she can hardly move or think. And her husband denies she has Lyme at all.   

Welcome to the Lyme wars, Janessa.

My take: 4 looks
This was a very good book and very easy to read. It was gripping from the start, and gave much very good information about Lyme disease, a reference to the author's own battle with the illness.

The characters and story were nicely written and very real. Jannie's devotion to her husband and daughter were palatable, as were her increasing symptoms and the way she dealt with them. She was trusting but not naive, dependent but not weak. I liked her very much and probably would have handled her situation in much the same way.

The male characters in the book were likewise real. Brock was distant, arrogant and finally frustrated to the breaking point. The progression was a natural one, given the story line and it felt genuine. Jud and the perpetrator were as full as they needed to be to round out the story and provide a very interesting twist and satisfying ending to the book.

I do wonder, though, why does the person on the cover of the book have one light eye and one dark? :)


Friday, April 13, 2012

The Canning Season by Polly Horvath

One night out of the blue, Ratchet Clark’s ill-natured mother tells her that Ratchet will be leaving their Pensacola apartment momentarily to take the train up north. There she will spend the summer with her aged relatives Penpen and Tilly, inseparable twins who couldn’t look more different from each other. Staying at their secluded house, Ratchet is treated to a passel of strange family history and local lore, along with heaps of generosity and care that she has never experienced before. Also, Penpen has recently espoused a new philosophy – whatever shows up on your doorstep you have to let in.

Through thick wilderness, down forgotten, bear-ridden roads, come a variety of characters, drawn to Penpen and Tilly’s open door. It is with vast reservations that the cautious Tilly allows these unwelcome guests in. But it turns out that unwelcome guests may bring the greatest gifts. By turns dark and humorous, Polly Horvath offers adolescent readers enough quirky characters and outrageous situations to leave them reeling!

My take: 3 looks
What an odd little book! I say "little" because it's a whopping 196 pages. I should have been able to read it in a day, but found myself distracted and not altogether committed to Canning. That is the reason for 3 looks as opposed to more.

It was cleverly written, had a nice flow, diverse characters, and an interesting injection of oddities. However, it fell flat for me. I liked the older twins very much, but felt that they were a little one dimensional. Other than the gruesome death of their mother, there was really no other background info. They were home schooled, but by whom? One was married, but were there any other suitors? I would like to see a prequel on just PenPen and Tilly.

The girls dropped at their door were two sides of the spectrum. Ratchet was very introverted and Harper was very bold. Perhaps it was the intention of the author for these two to be a dichotomy, but that was not altogether clear to me. However, I did like them and felt their pain each time they were dropped on the wayside by their mothers (or mother-figure, in the case of Harper).

Maddy and Henriette were strange, completely self-centered characters. Maddy's treatment of Harper and Henriette's treatment of Ratchet paralleled one another. The tales of childhoods, families, bears and berries completed this fantastical tale. Written for young adults, this is an interesting book worth reading.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New books to my TBR

What is WRONG with me?! I should have been on my way home yesterday afternoon after running a few errands. But NO! I actually backtracked to see if the public library friends store was open. Alas! It was!

The Friends Store is a mess of books. It is literally a MESS of books. It is a building with 3 rooms (looks like a storage building on the outside) with book shelves on each wall and long tables in the middle of each room. The books are stacked 2 deep on the shelves with books on top of the rows and books stacked on the floor. Books on the tables are placed with the spine up (so you can read the title), but then books are stacked on top of these. There are also boxes of books under the tables.

But, if you like scrounging (and I LOVE it), this is the place to go. Books are anywhere from a quarter to $3 (for a really nice, hardcover, recently published book). There are religious, self-help, history, children, young adult, romance, mystery, travel and general fiction. They really do have it all.

I bought eleven books. ELEVEN more books! My total was a whopping $7.25. For eleven books. You can't beat that even at a yard sale.

But, I have just added ELEVEN more books to my self. Woe is me!

Monday, April 9, 2012

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. He’s also a washed-up child prodigy with ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a passion for anagrams, and an overweight, Judge Judy-obsessed best friend. Colin’s on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which will predict the future of all relationships, transform him from a fading prodigy into a true genius, and finally win him the girl. Letting expectations go and allowing love in are at the heart of Colin’s hilarious quest to find his missing piece and avenge dumpees everywhere.

My take: 3 looks
Interesting young adult book (although, the prolific use of expletives would trend toward the older young adults) about a road trip taken by two male unabashed brilliant geeks. The writing is clever and brought a smile to my face more than once. The idea that relationships can be charted, graphed and ultimate outcome predicted by a very complex mathematical formula is the basis of the book. Colin just lost his 19th girlfriend, all of whom have been named Katherine. It's a coming-of-age novel that would have made a great John Hughes movie.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory. HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle

As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming. With its taut, crafted writing, Sharp Objects is addictive, haunting, and unforgettable.

My take: 1.5 looks
I can't give this one one look because I didn't hate it, or even have trouble finishing it. At the same time, it doesn't quite deserve two looks. It was so over-the-top that it was completely unbelievable and even became somewhat amusing. The characters were completely overdrawn and lacked sympathy of any kind.

Camille was supposed to be an adult, but her childhood seemed to have stunted her so greatly that she never matured past about 13 years old. No, I don't believe that. She had trauma and a mother who was vacuous, yes, but nothing to cause the level of complete and idiotic behavior displayed in the story. The cutting, drinking, sexual promiscuity and drug use with her teenaged sister would have been plausible if taken alone, but the pervasive use of all was overblown, exaggerated and too much.

Amma was another badly drawn player in the story. A thirteen year old girl with the mean streak of an adult and a full blown psychotic nature with an unending supply of illegal drugs. I don't believe for a second that girls from normal families would follow her behavior or example, regardless of the small size of their town. Her cries for help seemed real, but the author used them instead to underline the psychosis instead of adding another layer and making Amma more complex.

Finally, Adora and Alan rounded out the ridiculous characters in this ill-fated novel. Each on both sides of the spectrum regarding personality, written to the hilt. Again, completely unbelievable, without depth and verging on being caricatures. The Munchausen by Proxy was obvious from the beginning, as was the identity of the killer. To have not figured this one out by page 50 would truly be an insult.

Away from the flawed characters, the writing was terrible. It read maddeningly in one-liners, like it was written by Sergeant Joe Friday of Dragnet fame. The start and stop of the lines caused readers' whiplash and ensured there was no flow whatsoever to the telling of the story. A reader could almost hyperventilate if reading this one aloud.

I was impressed by the comment from Stephen King on the back cover of the novel, extolling the smart writing and sharp insights of the book. I can only assume the publisher found a person somewhere who shares the famous name and was willing to give a quote.

Not recommended.