Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Notes From Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

When sixteen-year-old artist Olivia Tithe is visited by the ghost of her first love, Lucas Stern, it's only through scattered images and notes left behind that she can unravel the mystery of his death. But there's a catch: Olivia has gone color-blind, and there's a good chance she's losing her mind completely - just like her mother did. How else to explain seeing (and falling in love all over again with) someone who isn't really there? With the murder trail looming just nine days away, Olivia must follow her heart to the truth, no matter how painful. It's the only way she can save herself.

 As much as I loved The Butterfly Clues, I can't say the same for this second novel from Kate Ellison. Olivia isn't nearly as strong a character as Lo, and the romance here wasn't "sweet" to me like a lot of other reviewers on Amazon. Part of the problem, too, is that Lucas is dead when the story starts, so we don't really get to know him as Olivia does - we just know him as the ghost that she knows.

Also disappointing was that I had the mystery figured out quickly, the whodunit part, anyway. The why of it all wasn't entirely satisfactory, either - felt like a very stereotypical sort of why, but with no real clues about it beforehand.

Overall, the only relationship I enjoyed in this book was the one between Olivia and her soon-to-be stepsister, Wynn. That felt very real and also very sweet, and I would have liked to have seen more of that on the page. Very sad that this sophomore offering from Ellison is just sort of there, very predictable, and not really what I think of as a good book.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard

Jonathan Howard’s sly humor, cunning intelligence, and wacky sense of the absurd are on display in this riotously clever tale of murder and international intrigue. In [the first book of the series],  Cabal beat the Devil at his own game and was reunited with his long-lost soul. This new madcap adventure tale catches up with the indefatigable sociopath and necromancer in a remote corner of the world and on the run from the local government.
               The fact that he stole a precious and mysterious book that had been under lock and key iin a university library has not endeared him to the militaristic aristocrats who run the backward country he finds himself in. “Borrowing” (ahem) the identity of a minor bureaucrat, Cabal flees on the Princess Hortense, a passenger aeroship that is leaving the country. The deception seems perfect, and Cabal looks forward to a quiet trip and a clean escape. He is to be disappointed.
               On the first night in the air, a fellow passenger throws himself to his death, or at least that is how it appears. To Cabal’s pathologically tidy mind, however, there are a few bothersome inconsistencies, and he begins to investigate out of curiosity. His minor efforts at detective work result in a vicious attempt on his own life—and then the gloves come off.
               Cabal and a fellow passenger—the feisty and beautiful (not to mention equally determined) Leonie Barrow—reluctantly team up to discover the murderer. Before they are done, there will be more deaths. There will be narrow escapes involving sword fighting and newfangled flying machines. There will be massive destruction. There will be hilarity, not to mention resurrected dead…
A pretty decent entry in the series. It's been quite a while since I read the original (Johannes Cabal the Necromancer), so it was nice that the author reminded me of a few things from that work. I had completely forgotten who Leonie was (she was in the first book), and even with the backstory provided again, it didn't occur to me very often that it would be ironic for these two to team up.
I don't really know why the word "hilarity" is used in the book blurb, though. Some of the story is mildly humorous, but I don't really remember laughing much. Hm. Guess humor, like a lot of things, is in the mind of the beholder. Also, this is considered to be in the steampunk genre, which seems sort of odd to me. Then again, I haven't read a lot of steampunk, so maybe I'm not really schooled on what that classification is.
Overall, not too bad. Took a while to get through it, but not for lack of wanting to read. Just been busy and haven't had a lot of time to read.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Love Him or Leave Him, But Don't Get Stuck with the Tab by Loni Love


That's the message of this fresh and funny relationship book by beloved actress-comedian Loni Love. Full of down-to-earth advice on love, sex, and dating, Loni delivers answers to women's most pressing relationship questions along with plenty of hilarious been-there-done-that tales - from hooking up to breaking up to everything in between.

As Loni says, "You can love him or you can leave him, but the day a man starts taking advantage of you is when you need to remember that putting yourself first is the most important step in finding love. That's the foundation for all the advice I give, because it's a message so many women need to hear, over and over, like multiple orgasms." Sure you can act like a lady and think like a man, or admit that he's just not that into you, but the path to lasting love is looking out for number one and treating yourself like the great catch you are.

If you're in a great relationship, Loni gives tips on keeping it strong. (Love him.) If you're having problems that seem insurmountable, she tells you how to extricate yourself from difficult situations. (Leave him.) But no matter what, don't let yourself get bullied, cheated on, or taken advantage of (aka Stuck with the Tab). Every woman deserves a healthy, satisfying, exciting love life, so what are you waiting for? Loni Love has all the answers.

This was a First Reads win from Goodreads, one of the handful I've won (think I'm up to five titles now over, um, maybe as many years?) I'm a bit behind on getting in my review of it, but I figure, better late than never.

I love Loni Love. I've seen her on several of the I Love the 80s/90s/00s shows on VH1, plus I think I've caught her on a few other shows of that ilk. Of course, you never get all of her on those shows, as she's not allowed to swear. Her book? It's her rules, so the potty mouth comes out. But it's all good, as it's spot-on advice told it a no-nonsense way. It's like having your best girlfriend over to set you straight, the one who will always tell you if your outfit makes you look fat - that sort of friend.

I really did like this book. I'm not sure how many library patrons I could recommend it to, due to the language. I mean, it's not that raunchy, but still...blue enough that I know quite a few people who would look at me a lot differently when they brought it back. I still say it's funny, and honestly, it's very good advice. Simple, really - put yourself first. Don't let a man - any man - treat you like dirt. Don't let him cheat on you, don't let him put you down, don't let him bully you, and don't you dare let him hit you. Who can't get behind that sort of advice? Have respect for yourself, and make sure the men in your life, romantic or otherwise, do too.

This is her first book, and I hope it's not her last. I'll be looking for another one from her - soon, I hope!

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

Penelope "Lo" Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. But in the year since her brother's death, Lo's hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous, obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as Sapphire, Lo becomes fixated. As she attempts to piece together the mysterious "butterfly clues", with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld - a world much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Kate Ellison's debut novel is a tour de force thriller about a girl whose obsessive-compulsive collecting leads her down a dangerous path of secrets, mystery, and murder - where every clue she uncovers could be her last.

I first saw this title about a year ago during a webinar. I'd sort of forgotten about the book until I was weeding our Young Adult section in the library. I picked it up, read the description, and decided this would be my next read for our teen book club. I worried that I had yet again picked a dud as far as my teens were concerned, as they've explained that they don't like "realistic" fiction - to them, it's boring.

I don't know if any of them will ever pick this book up, but I highly recommended it to them, as it is anything but boring. OK, actually, my co-worker had to read my review, as I was on vacation during our last meeting. But still...I really like this! I thought the author did a wonderful job giving the reader a full picture of what Lo's daily life was like. I was really fascinated by her rituals - all the numbers, the tap tap tap, banana she MUST perform before she does certain things, etc. I think the best way it's described in the book was that doing these things made Lo "safe" - at least, in her mind. We as the reader know they don't really do anything, and at times, we can tell that Lo knows they don't either...but she can't seem to convince her brain of that.

Lo's parents, in my humble opinion, weren't very well fleshed out. We know her dad works a lot, and that her mom is still grieving the death of Oren, Lo's brother. Even though the book was told from Lo's point of view, I still think the author could have given us a bit better understanding of the parents. Also, at times I found it hard to believe that they wouldn't realize Lo had skipped out to do her sleuthing. But since they were rather preoccupied with their own dramas, maybe it's not all that crazy that they didn't notice her absence.

I found Flynt to be a very interesting character indeed, and I really liked him. I thought it was interesting that he seemed to be the only character that picked up on Lo's OCD behaviors and didn't judge her for them. In fact, he seemed to try to help her feel safer by recognizing that she needed things in threes (a "good" number). I wondered if the author was trying to say that it takes one non-traditional person to make another non-traditional person feel OK.

The mystery was decent, although I had pretty much figured out the whodunit early on. It was still exciting to watch Lo get closer and closer to figuring it out. The author, Kate Ellison, has a new book out titled Notes from Ghost Town, and yes, there's a copy in our library system. And yes, I think I'll be checking that one out, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.

But it could always be worse...

More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he'd never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he's learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he's done, police unearth two more bodies on his property - neither of which is the one Jason buried.

Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime, and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colorful cast of strangers. A jilted woman searches for her lost fiancé, a fringe dweller runs from a past that's quickly gaining on him, and a couple of earnest local detectives piece clues together with the help of a volunteer police dog - all in the shadow of a dead man who had it coming. As the action unfolds, each character discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn't necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.

Jamie Mason's irrepressible debut is a macabre, darkly humorous tale with the thoughtful beauty of a literary novel, the tense pacing of a thriller, and a clever twist of suspense.

I had flagged this as something my husband might like to read. I keep a running list for him, since he reads so quickly - seems like he's always running out of books, and authors to boot. This wasn't blurbed by any of his usual writers, but it sure sounded good. And it was a debut, which meant I wouldn't have to hunt around for the first few books in a series.

Long story short, he was very impressed. Enough so that I decided to pick this up, too. Wow. There's really not much I can say except that this is a page-turner! I loved the way the author was able to weave what seemed like three or four very disparate story lines into one big, tangled, incestuous ball of yarn. I was caught off guard more than once by a twist, something that I love to see happen.

I can't say much more, as I don't want to give anything away. What did surprise me is that I ended up liking Jason; he's not really what I think of as a "great" character in the beginning of this book. In fact, I was sort of thinking that maybe he deserved everything it looked like he was going to get. Leave it to Mason to have me rooting for him by the last few pages - that's the mark of a truly good author.

And as this is a debut, I'm hoping there will be many more works by Ms. Mason in the coming years. I know I'll be keeping an eye out for her name, and you should too. Definitely going to recommend this to fans of mystery, suspense, and even Gothic horror.

Simon's Cat in Kitten Chaos


OK, I'm a huge fan of Simon's Cat, the uber-cute strip drawn by Simon Tofield. It's a cute comic no matter what; it's priceless if you're slave to one of the feline persuasion.

Simon's cat is like any other cat, believe the world revolves around him. His every need should come first. Imagine his utter shock and horror when his slave (a cartoon version of the real Simon) brings home a box that someone left out in the rain, a box that has something in it - A KITTEN.

You know what this means, don't you? Yep, Simon's cat is no longer #1 in the household. He's been upstaged by a cute little kitten, one who acts much like Simon's cat. Hmm...

It's another winner by Tofield. I didn't think the cartoon could possibly get any better, and yet, he proves me wrong. It won't take you long to fall in love with the kitten, and watching Simon's cat deal with this young whippersnapper is precious.

Highly recommend this one!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Is Not the Story You Think It Is... A season of unlikely happiness by Laura Munson

"I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did."
His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, "I don't buy it." Because I didn't He drew back in surprise. Apparently he'd expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind...I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn't. Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and repeated those words:
"I don't buy it."
You see, I'd recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I'd committed to "The End of Suffering." I'd...decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

When Laura Munson's essay appeared in the "Modern Love" column of The New York Times, it created a firestorm. Readers sent it to their friends, therapists gave it to their patients, pastors read it to their congregations. People everywhere were struck by Munson's wisdom. But how was she able to implement this strategy? How was she able to commit herself to an "End of Suffering" at such a critical time?

At forty years old, certain parts of Munson's life were going exactly as planned - she had two wonderful children, a husband she adored, a cherished home. Yet she and her husband, the once golden couple, weren't looking so golden anymore. While she had come to peace with her life, her husband had not.

Poignant, wise, and often exceedingly funny, [this book] recounts Munson's journey. Shaken to her core after the death of her beloved father, and having sought guidance and solace in stacks of books and hours of therapy, she finally realized that she had to stop basing her happiness on things outside her control. And once she had this key piece of wisdom, she realized she could withstand almost anything.

Well, like they say, don't just a book by it's cover. Or, in this case, it's blurb. I've had this sucker on a to-be-read list since we picked it up for our library system over two years ago, and I was finally at a point to pick it up, give it a shot.

I made it to page 104 and quit.

I'd read Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin, and this book sounded like it might be in the same vein. I really liked the whole "you are responsible for your happiness and no one else" attitude that was covered in the blurb. But once I got started, I realized this really wasn't the story I thought it was. And neither was the author this "wise" person that the blurb made her out to be.

She says in the very beginning to flip to the back and check out the list of her books that she's reading/refers to in her happiness/finding herself endeavor. There's something like 36 titles! I mean, I'm a bibliophile, don't get me wrong - but I usually have a max of four books at my bedside. And often those are what I think of as "fun" titles, in that I'm reading for my entertainment - not for enlightenment.

The husband's revelation comes pretty quickly, followed by chapter after chapter of her waiting for him to contact her after he leaves their marital home. She talks about their childhoods, how they met, how lucky they have been to have good, stable, middle-income families, how they went the bohemian route somewhat once they got to college, how they finally decided to make it legal, blah blah blah. There's a whole chapter about her father, and while I am completely sympathetic to her desire to please her father, being a bit of a daddy's girl myself, a whole chapter of paternal love was a bit much.

Then there's her incessant droning on about how she could have taken a job at some point after they started having kids and such, but she's an author and she needed her time to write. Never mind that she'd never been published. Never mind that she has many, many "good" rejection letters, the kind that tell her how wonderful her work is but it's "just not right" for that publisher, etc. I mean, I get wanting to do what you love, but when the big economic crash hit us all - when you're own economic crash hits - you've got to look at reality. Rejection letters don't pay bills and won't buy groceries.

The last chapter I managed to slog through was entitled "The Italy Cure". Evidently, Munson had done an academic year abroad, in Italy of course, while in college. And according to her, it was the best year of her life; the food, the culture, the love of the family that hosted her, etc. Well, not too long before her husband tells her he doesn't love her anymore, she listens to a therapist who tells her that instead of whining about how going to Italy would make her feel better, she should just GO. And she does just that, originally offering it up as a family vacation. Hubby declines, and the son isn't keen on the idea, so it becomes a mother-daughter trip. I could live with that, even though I'm still thinking to myself that it isn't a good idea, given that their finances aren't good at that moment. But when she talks about taking this trip so she can "recontact her soul" - I was done.

I don't know if the author and her husband make it or not. At this point, I don't care. What I had hoped would be an interesting look at marriage, and the idea of happiness and such, turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of pretentious twaddle. Maybe that's due to my upbringing, what I bring to the book. I don't know. But I do know that I'm firmly in the one-star or less camp that I've found on some review sites. And that I'm not inclined to look for any more works by Ms. Munson.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Monsters of West Virginia: Mysterious creatures in the mountain state by Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Not much of a review on this one - I skimmed a lot. I picked it up for the husband, as he's all about finding Bigfoot, UFOs, USOs (unidentified submerged objects), the chupacabra, etc. He read this book in about an hour or so, nothing to it for him. I struggled with it myself, mostly because I couldn't stop laughing (and coughing, as I was reading this in bed and I've had a really nasty cold lately).

I'm like Mulder from the XFiles. I want to believe. I really, really do. I want to think there are ghosts and other creatures that can't be explained by science. But the things described within the pages of this work are just...silly. There are the usual suspects, such as the Mothman. But The Yayho? And just a little fyi, that's pronounced "yay-hoo" to those of us that don't live in the area. And there's the Snallygaster, a weird reptile-like thing that evidently struck from the skies, attacking people, drinking their blood, and stealing children. It was huge, and scaly, and oddly enough, a cyclops to boot. Oh, and it was completely made up, a hoax whipped up by journalists George C. Rhoderick and Ralph S. Wolf, to boost sales, maybe even save, the Middletown Valley Register. But even though it was exposed in the early 1900s, there are still reports of the Snallygaster. Go figure.

Perhaps the most snort-inducing entry was the one regarding the Sheepsquatch, which falls into a special sub-category of creatures called White Things. Wow! Really stretching for a scary name there, weren't we? Anyway, said Sheepsquatch is "about the size of a bear, with woolly white hair, and its front paws are more like hands, similar to those of a raccoon but much bigger. The tail is long and without hair. The head features a doglike snout and single-point horns like those of a young goat. It carries a pungent sulfur smell." And it's rarely seen, something I do not find surprising. Thing sounds like its having a major identity crisis. And I'm thinking it might take more than one alcoholic drink to catch a sighting of this thing, if you know what I mean.

Good for a few laughs, in my humble opinion. Unless you really like this sort of thing. In which case, pack your bag and head into the hills of West Virginia - maybe you'll get lucky.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Long Day at the End of the World by Brent Hendricks

In February 2002, hundreds of decayed, abandoned bodies were discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in rural Georgia. It was the largest mass desecration in modern American history. The perpetrator - a well-respected family man and former hometown football star - had managed to conceal the horror for five years.

Among the bodies was that of Brent Hendricks's father. To address the psychic turmoil caused by this discovery, Hendricks embarks on a pilgrimage across the disturbed landscape of the Deep South to the crematory site. In [this book], he reveals the gruesome and bizarre details of the desecration and confronts his fraught relationship with his father - wrestling with the grief surrounding his death as well as the uncanniness of his startling resurrection.

This is one of those little finds across the library desk. A patron returned the book and of course wanted to tell me about it. I thought it sounded like the sort of thing my husband would be interested in (he reads mysteries, true-crime, forensic stuff), so I checked it out and took it home. He read it in no time flat (maybe 48 hours?) and kept telling me about little things here and there. Since it's such a small book, I decided to pick it up myself.

It's interesting, I'll give him (and my patron) that. My biggest problem was that I wanted to know a lot more about Brent Marsh, the man responsible for the 339 bodies that were found on the crematory grounds, left in all sorts of disarray and states of decay. But since Hendricks wrote the book about his journey to see his father's last "resting" place, the story of Marsh is doled out rather sparingly. Granted, Hendricks makes it clear that there's not a lot to know about Marsh; he never gave a reason for his failure to perform his duties. He didn't do it to make money, as the savings per body was rather paltry. Theories run the gamut from laziness to a sort of overworked-snowball-type thing, where he got behind on his crematory duties and started to dump a body here, a body there, perhaps planning to catch up later, but of course, never able to get the upper hand on the situation. And much like an office worker who gets behind on paperwork, then starts hiding it to hide the fact that he/she is behind, the theory goes that Marsh dumped more and more bodies.

I'd be very interested in reading more about one theory Hendricks talks about, that of hoarding. One psychologist proposed that Marsh was, in essence, exhibiting hoarding tendencies with his acres of bodies. And while it sounds plausible, one has to wonder why he would only hoard a portion of the bodies he received for cremation; he still performed over 600 some cremations during the 5 years or so that this was going on. Why keep some but not others? And if one is hoarding bodies, why? The only people I've ever read about keeping bodies as such have all been serial murderers. These people were already dead when Marsh received them.

Perhaps the best theory is that Brent Marsh had to go into the family business, but it was about the last thing he wanted to do. He simply did not want the job. And maybe that's why he did what he did - he just hated his job. We'll never know, and the reader definitely doesn't learn much more from this book. Hendricks talks mostly about his journey across the South, about his childhood, about the reason his father came to "rest" at Tri-State, and how biblical it all is to him, the son. His father was displaced from his original home by a flood (one to create a lake and dam), and after he died, he was buried in the ground. Hendricks's mother, however, had a growing phobia regarding burial, and after some years, had her husband exhumed so that she could have him cremated. I know - how ironic that he should end up at Tri-State, suffering a fate, one would imagine, much worse than mere burial.

As I said, it's an interesting subject. And while I would recommend the book merely for that reason, be prepared - the author gets extremely philosophical, and tends to repeat himself. It does make me wonder if anyone wrote anything on just the Tri-State Crematory desecration itself. Time to do some digging, if you'll pardon the pun!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Potty Mouth at the Table by Laurie Notaro

Pinterest. Foodies. Anne Frank's underwear. New York Times bestselling author Laurie Notaro - rightfully hailed as "the funniest writer in the solar system" (The Miami Herald) - spares nothing and no one, least of all herself, in this uproarious new collection of essays on rudeness. With the sardonic, self-deprecating wit that makes us all feel a little better about ourselves for identifying with her, Laurie explores her recent misadventures and explains why it's not her who is nuts, it's them (and okay, sometimes it's her too).

Whether confessing that her obsession with buying fabric has reached junior hoarder status or mistaking a friend's heinous tattoo as temporary, Laurie puts her unique spin - sometimes bizarre, always entertaining - on the many perils of modern living in a mannerless society. From shuddering at the graphic Harry Potter erotica conjured up as a writer's group to lamenting the sudden ubiquity of quinoa ("It looks like larvae no matter how you cook it"), [this book] is whip-smart, unpredictable, and hilarious. In other words, irresistibly Laurie.

I've been a fan of Notaro's for some time now, so when I noticed that our library system had picked up her latest work, I rejoiced. Then I got it home, and really rejoiced - this book is funny. I usually relate to most of what she's saying, but this one had me laughing out loud, a very good thing.

From getting dissed by the Antiques Roadshow people to her horrific encounter with the world's worst-smelling cab, this book is just awesome.Her piece on why she hates the yoga people had me practically in tears (how many dead bodies can one author find?), as well as why she's over foodies, the things she's sick-to-death-of on Pinterest, and the six things she never wants to hear in the pharmacy line again (I'm very much with her on those). I really enjoyed her chapter "Fabric Obsession"; I don't have one that causes me to buy any, but I can't walk into a fabric store and not touch just about everything that's displayed. Especially if it has some sort of texture to it. It's weird, I know. And sadly, not always limited to fabric stores.

The book really does run the gamut from the hysterical to the touching. The titular chapter is a witty piece about her literary duel with a "serious" author, as well as trying to stomach sessions such as those devoted to erotic fan fiction. (totally with her on this one - I do NOT want to read about any of my fave fictional characters doing the nasty - not unless those scenes are written by the author him/herself. Eww...) The final chapter, "Rewinding", takes a serious turn as Laurie and her circle confront one of life's hardest lessons - the potentially fatal illness of a friend. It's a very moving look at how this wise-cracking writer helps a friend who is diagnosed with a brain tumor, how she copes with her fears while being strong for her friend. And how life changes, but not always in a bad way. I was very surprised to see this chapter, but I think it also shows her growth as an author.

Highly recommended.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)

This is one of the titles that was selected for the local middle school system's Battle of the Books. I've wanted to pick it up for a while, as the cover is very intriguing, and it says something about being a horror novel. That surprised me, as I usually think of the list of books as being serious writing; horror doesn't strike me as being the sort of genre that would be chosen.

After reading the book, I see how wrong I was. It's a powerful book, disguised as a young boy being haunted/terrorized by a mythical creature. Conor O'Malley has nightmares, horrible nightmares. When a monster shows up one night at seven minutes past midnight, Conor isn't surprised. He's also not scared; he explains to the monster (a sort of enormous evil tree-man) that he's seen worse. And he has...

Conor's mom has cancer. She's undergoing treatment yet again, as the previous rounds of chemo don't seem to have worked. His maternal grandmother is a cold fish, someone who doesn't understand the young boy and doesn't seem to want to. His father lives in America with his new family (I'm doing this a couple months after I read the book, so bear with me - I think Conor lives in the U.K.) He really doesn't have any friends at school, so there's no one for him to turn to, no one to talk with, about his mom's illness. No one except the monster who shows up just after midnight.

It is mature subject matter, which has some questioning if kids/teens should read it. Having lost my own mother recently to cancer, I think if the reader has gone through the same thing, then yes, they should read it. It's powerful, this idea of what is true and what is not, that things are not always as they appear to be, and that the best lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.

And I would recommend having a box of tissues handy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Deceased by Tom Piccirilli

Something is calling Jacob Maelstrom back to the isolated home of his childhood - to the scene of a living nightmare that almost cost him his life. Ten years ago his sister slaughtered their brother and parents, locked Jacob in a closet...then committed a hideous suicide. Now, as the anniversary of that dark night approaches, Jacob is drawn back to a house where the line between the living and the dead is constantly shifting.

But there's more than awful memories waiting for Jacob at the Maelstrom mansion. There are depraved secrets, evil legacies, and family ghosts that are all too real. There's the long-dead writer, whose mad fantasies continue to shape reality. And in the woods there are nameless creatures who patiently await the return of their creator.

I'm dumbfounded. Truly. This is the same author that wrote Every Shallow Cut? Really? I'm pretty sure someone is pulling my leg. Can't be the same guy. This book is such a mish-mash of...well, I'm not really sure what it is. Except nothing I enjoyed, that's for sure.

Yes, I finished it. I have no earthly idea why I kept reading, unless I thought at some point that it would make sense. In a way, the book is very much like a nightmare: you're not entirely sure what's happening at any given moment, and even when it's over, you find yourself asking what the hell just happened. I suppose in that sense the book works. Still, very frustrating to read some 300 pages and have no more idea of the plot than when you started.

None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, either. Sorry, just couldn't root for anyone, the real ones or the imaginary characters (at least, I think they were imaginary - again, no real direction on that). If they had all died in the end, I might have actually jumped for joy.

Hopefully the next book of Piccirilli's I pick up will be better. I'd hate to think Every Shallow Cut was his only good one.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Shadow's Claim by Kresley Cole

Trehan Daciano, known as the Prince of Shadows, has spent his life serving his people - striking in the night, quietly executing any threat to their realm. The coldly disciplined swordsman has never desired anything for himself - until he beholds Bettina, the sheltered ward of two of the Lore's most fearsome villains.

Desperate to earn her guardians' approval after a life-shattering mistake, young Bettina has no choice but to marry whichever suitor prevails - even though she's lost her heart to another. Yet one lethal competitor, a mysterious cloaked swordsman, invades her dreams, tempting her with forbidden pleasure.

Even if Trehan can survive the punishing contests to claim her as his wife, the true battle for Bettina's heart is yet to come. And unleashing a millennium's worth of savage need will either frighten his Bride away - or stroke Bettina's own desires to a fever pitch...

I've been a fan of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series pretty much since it started. I figured picking up this title, the first in her Dacians series, would be a safe bet. While the plot itself is OK, I wasn't enjoying this nearly as much as I had expected, which leads me to question if 1) the writing wasn't up to par or 2) I've just grown tired of paranormal. Maybe it was a bit of both?

I read the reviews on Amazon, and most absolutely loved this book - specifically the "hot" sex scenes. I think it was probably my biggest problem with the book. Look, I get that sex sells, and I get that Cole writes hot scenes between Loreans, etc, but for the love of all that's holy, do we really have to have so many? About half to 2/3 of the way thru the book, I felt like I was reading about Bettina and Trehan and their sexual exploits every other chapter. I literally started skipping to the next scene where they were NOT having sex, just so I could get on with the storyline. Sorry, but I do believe you can overload on too many scenes of "throbbing" manhoods, plus I'm starting to loathe words like "hot", "moist", and "wet". Sigh.

The story itself really isn't much different than any other IAD book from Cole: Immortal meets fated Mate, they dance around the fact that they are fated mates, someone's life is thrown into jeopardy, sex, sex, and more sex, then we get a happy ending, sometimes both literally and figuratively. And this time, I really noticed how primitive some of the relationship is; there were scenes where Trehan is "roaring" about Bettina being his Bride, and I kept flashing to "Me Tarzan, you Jane". Good grief, do readers really like that sort of he-man stuff?

I found myself much more intrigued by Bettina's guardians, Raum and Morgana. There's obviously a backstory there, given the love-hate relationship the two seem to have (and no, they're not a couple, at least not in this book). I wanted to know a lot more about Salem, the disembodied sylph/phantom that watches over Bettina at Morgana's behest; he was fascinating, and much more interesting than our main characters.

Then there's the tournament itself. I had a very hard time with it, the very brutal set-up that all competitors fought matches to the death for Bettina's hand in marriage. Talk about barbaric! Yes, I get that this isn't the modern world, that we're talking about demons and such here, but still - very squirm-inducing, not to mention a huge throwback to the olden days of girls being chattel for their fathers. And not everyone in the tournament is a "bad" guy; there's one scene in particular that has a complete innocent dispatched, and I just about stopped reading right then. Personally, I found it very upsetting, and unnecessary to forward the plot.

Finally, there's Bettina herself. Sorry girl, you are annoying. Pining constantly over her childhood friend, Caspion, wanting him to notice her as a woman, blah blah blah. Being so terribly afraid after her attack, being afraid to go anywhere, do anything, stand up to anyone, etc. Look, I get that her attack was a traumatic event for her, and I do understand that sometimes people have a very difficult time getting past something like it. But she whined so much about everything - hard to get behind a heroine who you just want to slap.

Can't say I would personally recommend this, but if you like this sort of thing, feel free to check it out.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher

In [this book], wildlife filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher present an untold story as intriguing and unique as the animal it profiles, sharing a panorama of human attitudes about wolves, from myths of ancient times to misconceptions of today to the new understanding they advocate. With their extraordinary photography of the Sawtooth Pack, personal observations, and thoughtful analysis, they present an engaging story of their experiences living among wolves.

Detailing the emotional and social lives of the Sawtooth Pack, the Dutchers recount wolf behavior rarely documented: grief at the death of a pack mate; exuberant play and friendships; excitement over the birth of pups; and the shared role of raising young pack members, teaching them needed skills.

In the larger picture, they describe the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the cascade of positive results that followed. The return of wolves has helped revitalize the park's ecosystem, influencing elk, birds of prey, pronghorn, aspen trees, and even trout.

But the demonization of wolves continues as they struggle to reestablish their foothold in the American West. Ranchers, hunters, and biologists work to adapt to innovative solutions that encourage coexistence and reduce conflict. Providing vital information that can change misguided perceptions, The Hidden Life of Wolves opens a fascinating window into the unseen lives of wolves by two people who lived in their midst.

There's really nothing I can say about this book except FIND YOURSELF A COPY. Seriously. I've been recommending it to pretty much everyone I know. It's gorgeous, and full of very interesting/important information. The text isn't all "wolves are awesome!", which tells me the authors really did do as much research as they claim to have done. The facts are presented well, the good with the bad, the challenges, the disappointments. And if you already have a soft spot for wolves, then you'll want to not only find a copy to read, but most likely want to buy a copy to keep. I know I'm toying with that idea myself; if nothing else, I'm hoping to get a copy for my library branch (we only have one in our library system at this time).

There's a plethora of amazing pictures, and quotes from several different sources help illustrate the authors' point about the necessity of wolves to the environment. My favorite was this quote by Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac:

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean a hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

Highest regards for the authors, their book, and anyone who seeks it out.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff, and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

I can't tell you how many times I've looked at this little book and thought "I should read this". It's a novella, so it's a nice length when looking for something that won't take a month or more to slog through. I like the British, and I'm fond of the royal family, so that was another plus in it's favor. And what's not to like about someone discovering the love of reading? Sadly, this title has shown up more than one in my pile of "should I weed this book or not?" pile. I'm very thankful that I never pulled it from our inventory in my little branch, and now that I've read it, I'm going to be recommending it quite often to patrons.

It's an interesting idea, the Queen borrowing books from the public library, and a "mobile library" to boot (what we call a bookmobile here in the States). I love that it was someone from her own kitchens that really introduces her to some great authors, proving that books are a great equalizer. If you can read, the whole world is at your fingertips, and a public library means that money is no obstacle to that world.

What I thought was interesting, and even kind of sad, was that the Queen always refers to herself as "one" - as in "one must not have opinions about what one is reading" or "one must, one supposes, take out a book". What must it be to go through life not thinking of yourself as "I" or "me" or even "insert-your-given-name-here". But as the Queen reads, you see a bit of that attitude changing, which is very interesting.

Some of this is humorous, although I'm not sure I'd call it laugh-out-loud funny. The staff trying to hide her books was good for a chuckle, as was the Queen becoming quite irked at having to go out to some function or other when all she really wanted to do was stay in and read. I get that, and I'm sure all you bibliophiles do, too. Perhaps the most interesting comment was a thought the Queen has after meeting several authors at a party she's put together. Even though she has enjoyed their books, she becomes quite tongue-tied and finds she can't really think of anything to say to these people who have opened up her world. Of course, not every author is nice or what she expects them to be like, resulting in this thought: "Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and as much creatures of the reader's imagination as the characters in their books."

A wonderful find, and one that is highly recommended by yours truly.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The power of information

I'm sitting here, doing my usual morning computer time (check email, book sites, Facebook) and listening to the news. "Good Morning America" is playing on the TV, and the newscasters are talking about the people that lost their lives in the latest round of storms/tornadoes in Oklahoma. Sadly, many people were killed in their cars trying to outrun the twisters. Why did they believe they could do such a thing? I have no idea. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I was always taught that you should never get in a car and try to drive away/run away from a tornado; they are too fast, and also, too unpredictable.

This destruction and loss of life has me thinking about how many lives could have been saved if they'd just had the right information. And where does one find such data? Many places, but of course I'm going to mention BOOKS. And I'm not even going to recommend a huge 400+ page tome on weather and weather phenomenon. Nope. I'm going to suggest heading into any children's section and pick up a basic book on weather, or tornadoes, or what have you. Should be in the 551s (plus you can find other cool stuff there like earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc).

Why would I suggest a "kid's" book? Because it's the best source for basic information. Children's non-fiction books are awesome for adults looking for the basics. You know it's not going to take more than an hour to read it cover-to-cover (maybe a bit longer, but you're usually not looking at weeks). They almost always have an index, so you find exactly what you need. And if it's a responsible publisher/bookstore/library, the information should be the newest and most relevant possible.

Knowledge is power. And where weather is concerned, especially severe weather, knowledge can literally mean the difference between life and death. My heart goes out to those families who lost love ones, and to those who will have to literally start all over again. My hope with this post is that, in the future, people know what to do in these sorts of storms, so that we're not watching another sad scene on the morning news.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'm a guest star!

As you may or may not know, I've been doing a small side job proofreading for an e-publisher for almost two years. I just finished up my third book by a wonderful author, Jeff Salter, and he was kind enough to ask me to guest star on his blog, Four Foxes One Hound. I was honored and said yes. Click on the link to see the result.


Happy Thursday!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Schooled by Gordon Korman

So imagine that you've lived your whole life on a commune called Garland Farms. It's just you and your grandmother, although there used to be other people there, too. Suddenly one day, your grandmother falls out of a tree while picking plums (don't ask). She breaks her hip, and after being released from the police for driving without a license (don't ask), you learn that not only will she have to have surgery, she'll need to go to rehab for at least six weeks. Which means you have to go live somewhere else. Because you're only a kid, too young to live alone.

Thus begins Schooled, the tale of Capricorn "Cap"Anderson. Lucky for Cap, the social worker assigned to his case is none other than Flora Donnelly, aka Floramundi - a former resident of Garland Farms herself. She knows exactly what Cap will be facing as a former hippie herself. The "outside" world will be a very harsh place for a peace-loving, vegetarian hippie such as Cap, who has been quite sheltered all his life.

Rather than place Cap with a foster family, Flora takes him home herself. Her daughter, Sophie, is horrified. As a high school student more worried about dating than grades, Sophie sees Cap as everything that's wrong with her mother - too much of a bleeding heart.

The kids at Claverage Middle School see him as a time-traveler, or possibly someone that has beamed in from outer space. No one wants to talk to him or be his friend, until a plan by uber-popular jock Zach backfires. Suddenly, everyone wants to help Cap, wants to be his friend, and wants nothing to do with Zach. It's a harsh lesson for the guy who was going to make eighth grade his year. When Zach finally teams up with the class loser that he'd originally intended to pick on, their plan has some disastrous results.

This was my second book from the middle school Battle of the Books list, and I would say I liked it better than Wonder. It's funny how many similarities there were though: both are about boys who are thrust into a mainstream school for the first time, both have been home-schooled up to that point, both have been protected by well-meaning yet short-sighted parents, and both have a distinctly different appearance from their fellow students.

I thought Schooled was a bit more realistic in some aspects, less so in others. But overall, I would definitely recommend this book to kids, maybe even some adults.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My battle with the Battle of the Books lists

I had my annual performance review the other week, and my boss has set some pretty high goals for me for the coming year. I, of course, set myself some, too, the most daring one being to tackle the reading lists for the Battle of the Books for both fifth grade and middle school students.

If you've never heard of BOB, think of the old Brain Game. It's a bit like that, but with literature as your only category. When I first started talking to one of my young patrons about BOB, I asked which book she was responsible for. She gave me an odd look, and I said something like, "That's how it works, right? You read one of the titles, and you're the go-to person for questions on that book?" The answer I got floored me. "Oh no!" this young brainiac replied. "You have to read and know ALL the books."



There are somewhere around 25-30 books on the current list.


That's a lot of books. And while I do read a lot myself, it might take me a couple of months at least to get through that many. And then have to answer questions on any/all of them?


Anyway, I've decided that I'm going to read each and every book on both lists. I've already got one under my belt, Wonder by A.J. Palacio. A great book about August "Auggie" Pullman, a little boy who's been through a lot, thanks to losing the genetic lottery. August has had surgeries to repair his cleft palate, which was probably the most minor of his problems. His eyes are too low, as well as his ears - which look more like little pieces of cauliflower than ordinary human ears. His hearing isn't great, and he'll probably need hearing aids. He's small for his age, and has been home schooled his whole life; his parents thought it wouldn't be fair to him to send him to "regular" school with all his hospitalizations. As August puts it, "I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."

Then August has a bombshell dropped on him: his parents have decided he's well enough to start attending Beecher Prep. He'll be a brand new fifth grader, just like all the other kids entering fifth grade. Except that August isn't like all the other kids, and not just in his looks.

There are some nice dynamics here, and I really like the anti-bullying message. It's done with a fairly light touch as well as some humor. I thought the relationships in August's family were well-done, showing that parents don't always agree with each other, that they're human beings with feelings too. Then there's his big sister, Olivia. I really thought Palacio did an awesome job writing from the perspective of a sibling who has always been willing to stand back in the shadows, knowing that her special-needs brother comes first. When Via (as the entire family calls her) enters high school, though, she sees her chance for a new start, one that puts her as most important. It's tough reading her conflict at times; it's clear she loves her baby brother, but it's just as clear that she's suffered because of him, too.

While I really did like the book, I will admit to finding myself a bit skeptical that kids would warm up to August as they did. Granted, it doesn't happen overnight, but still...would real kids in this sometimes very cruel real world do the things these characters did? I kinda doubt it. I want to hope that they would, though, and perhaps if those kids read this book, they will.

One down, many, many more titles to go.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naked City edited by Ellen Datlow

Finished! Finally...

Overall, not bad. A few stories were nice, a few were good enough that I will add those authors to my find-something-else-by-them list, and many were just "meh" - passable reading, but nothing to write home about.

I really enjoyed "Noble Rot" by Holly Black and "King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree" by Elizabeth Bear. I'd never read anything by these ladies before, and both had a wonderful way of telling her tale.

Only other honorable mention is "Underbridge" by Peter S. Beagle; he's got a character a character Cut'n-Shoot, who supposedly got the moniker from a Texas town. This is completely true, as I used to have to drive thru Cut and Shoot, TX to get to my parents' place when they lived just outside of Houston. It's a tiny town (Wikipedia says it's only 2.7 square miles, and that sounds about right), the sort that has one stoplight and one bar. And the parking lot of said bar is full of pretty much nothing but pickup trucks, and almost all of them have gun racks in the back window. Yes, there were always guns in the racks. While I'm sure the people of Cut and Shoot are nice enough folk, I tried to make sure that I drove through during the day, dusk at the latest.

As for the head-scratchers, there were a few of those, too. I liked "The Colliers' Venus (1893)" by Caitlin R. Kiernan well enough at first glance, but then it veered off into her usual "what's going on here?" territory. Le sigh. "The Skinny Girl" by Lucius Shepard was in the same vein: seemed pretty decent at first, but by the end, I wasn't really sure what happened.

Why do I pick up this sort of book, when it's obvious that I don't always like the stories? Well, because they are stories; it's a nice way to find a new author (I think it's really hard to write short stories, so if one comes off well, I know that writer's got some chops) and it's something that's easy to read at night - no getting so caught up in the story that I might end up sacrificing sleep to finish up.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Marginal" titles

I've been working my way through Naked City, a collection of urban fantasy short stories, and I came across this turn of phrase in "The Projected Girl" by Lavie Tidhar. Here's a bit more of the original paragraph, so you get the full gist of the thing:

"D'you know," he said, as if imparting a great truth to his young audience, "these are marginal titles. A boy like you - you should be reading Agnon, Grossman, Oz, Appelfeld. Serious literature, not this trash."

Oh, how reading this brought back memories! Long ago, when I was still working in a used book store, I had a co-worker who was always on me about what I was reading. I was very much into horror at the time: vampires, werewolves, and lots of other scary stuff. I also picked up a lot of the paranormal romance authors, mostly because I didn't mind the spice and I could usually get my vamp/were fix easier with that genre. And I picked up other stuff that was fun, too, humor (this was the store where I discovered Jill Connor Browne and her Sweet Potato Queens), some philosophy (never did really get it), and once upon a time, an awesome book about female exploitation in slasher flicks (a book that spurred me to finally track down and watch I Spit on Your Grave...). In other words, I was reading for fun.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from aforementioned co-worker, who kept saying that he/she didn't understand why I read such "trash" (and yes, I'm trying to protect the identity of this person). Why, oh why, would I waste my time on such garbage? I was an English major, for crying out loud - where was the serious literature? Why wasn't I continuing my studies of the greats? Why wouldn't I, at the very least, pick up a modern literary title? In other words, why was a reading such "marginal" work?

I'll tell you why: I enjoyed it. Honestly, I had read a lot of great stuff while working on my bachelor's. But that time was over, and I just wanted to read...well, what I wanted to read. And what I chose was light, fluffy stuff. OK, maybe not that fluffy, considering some of it was pretty good horror, but I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. I didn't want to be reading anything terribly deep. I didn't want to have to parse a sentence. I didn't want to lay out the motives of the protagonist. I just did not want to be reading "serious literature" at that time. This is what I explained to the co-worker. He/she was aghast, and actually said something to the effect that he/she was worried for my "literary soul".

Um, seriously? Can we say "pretentious"?

It's been many years since this episode, and I've read many, many books since then. As I've gotten older, I have gone back and started reading some "serious literature" again. I've read a few authors that I somehow never read (despite being an English major), and I've been reading a lot more non-fiction, perhaps trying to keep my grey matter working at its peak. But this has been my choice.

And when I want, I read lots of those "marginal" titles. What can I say? I like to be entertained.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

Just finished up the fifth book in the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn, A Fistful of Collars. Still a cute series about The Little Detective Agency, so named for Bernie Little. Chet is his dog and partner. The mystery is done pretty well, the characters are engaging, and Chet is...well, Chet.

While I like the idea of the story being told from a first-person perspective - namely Chet's POV - I found myself a bit annoyed at times this go-round. Yes, the author totally nails what it must be like to be in a dog's head: lots of jumping around from subject to subject, confusion over what certain sayings mean, how smells are so good and what they're like, lots of naps.

But this time I really noticed that often these quick jumps in POV were done so that we, the readers, weren't privileged to information that was obviously being related/revealed to the human characters. And that sort of had me a bit peeved. IMHO, one should never notice a literary "trick", regardless of what that trick is. Here, it's obviously what amounts to a jump-cut in Chet's POV so that we're kept in the dark. I get that Chet doesn't always pay attention (and who would when there's bacon around?) but this time it was often glaringly obvious what was happening.

Didn't make the book any less enjoyable, I suppose, as I raced through it. I do hope that the author doesn't use the construction quite so much in the next book, though, or at the very least, hides it to some extent. And I really hope we get to learn more about the pup who has been seen around the neighborhood, the one who looks suspiciously like Chet...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New directions, new beginnings, new and improved?

As I'm sure you've noticed by now, I'm not doing so well at keeping up with the book reviews. In fact, at this point I'd be surprised if any of you have stuck with this blog, as I post so infrequently. I always say I'll do better, and it doesn't happen.

So I've decided to simply...

take it in a new direction.

You thought I was going to say I was giving it up, didn't you? Truth be told, I did consider it. But I like the idea of my thoughts/opinions being out here too much to just throw in the towel. However, that realization got me to thinking of what I might want to do with this thing. Obviously the review thing didn't really work out. And the "let me tell you about what's coming out this week/month" thing didn't work, either. (What? You don't remember that? Don't feel bad...it was a while back and it didn't last long).

What to do, what to do.

Why not do what I do best? Just talk about books in general, and what I'm reading, trends I see in the business, etc? Sort of like what I do at the library; now you can ALL be my patrons!

The plan now is this: I will try to blog at least 4 days/week, and it will be about books. The posts may not be long, but I will post often. I'd love to get some discussion going on the topics I muse about, so please, feel free to leave comments!

Keep your fingers crossed that this change is successful, and that it even brings in some new readers/followers. If not, then yeah, I'll probably have to give serious consideration to shutting this down...

The Diet Dropout's Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find your easiest path to naturally thin by Stan Spencer

No hype. No fluff. This slim book is packed with myth-busting facts and practical advice.

You will learn:

The truth about common weight loss myths
  • The secret to losing weight and keeping it off
  • Why "fat genes" can't keep you from being thin
  • How to naturally boost your metabolism
  • How to calm cravings and quit emotional eating
  • How to keep a "slip" from becoming a binge
  • How to eat less without going hungry
  • How to get more exercise and enjoy it

  • And much more

    With this book you will create your own weight loss plan—your easiest path to naturally thin. Take your first steps on the path today and leave dieting behind forever.
    OK, so this is one of those books that I tried to win from Goodreads - many, many times. I finally gave up on entering after I lost something like 5 or 6 times. Imagine my shock when I realized my library system had picked it up! I would get to read it/see it after all, and I didn't have to keep being a "loser".
    So this is definitely a different diet book - there's no "diet" here. The author provides the basic weight loss advice that we've been told for years, the one we really don't want to hear since we're looking for an easy fix: eat less overall, make healthier food choices, and get some exercise. Really, that's it! But it's laid out in a nice, easy-to-digest manner (no pun intended). Short chapters that explain why we are probably overweight now (changes to how food is prepared in conjunction with a much more sedentary lifestyle), how to handle cravings and stress, and how to start losing weight. There's a few basic recipes at the end of the book, and that's it.
    So why did I enjoy this? Well, because I think it's the sort of thing that would actually be worth the money to have at home. It's inexpensive at $11 for the physical book, even less for the e-book ($2.99 for the Kindle version). It's got a little bit of cheerleading for the reader, but not so much that it's a turn-off. There's great advice about going slowly, how to add a healthy choice to each meal, how to get just a bit more exercise, etc. And lots of comments about how you shouldn't just throw in the towel if you have an "off day" or even an "off" meal. The doctor wisely reminds the reader that this is a life-style change, that it should be looked at for the long haul, and so mistakes/slips are going to be part of the process. That's probably the downfall of a lot of dieters - giving up just because they eat a cookie (or 20) or skip exercise one day (or a week).
    I'm very glad to see this in our library, and I'll be recommending it to our patrons. And yes, I think I just might be buying a copy of this for myself.

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

    Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

    Well, I read almost 400 pages, that is. Then I finally threw in the towel and gave up. I don't understand the fascination with Gabaldon's Outlander series. I never felt any great romance between Claire and Frank (her hubby in the here-and-now). In fact, she seemed rather bored with him at the beginning of the book. And while I did like Jaime, again, I didn't feel like it was a great romance, more two characters brought together by circumstances who happen to have some chemistry.

    Bigger problems for me with the time-travel aspect. Why, oh why, doesn't Claire freak out more when she suddenly finds herself 200-300 years in the past? She's entirely too calm about the whole thing for my taste. I would alternate between "OMG, get me outta here!" and "Must be an acid flashback, a horrible fever, I'm dead" etc. Nope, she's just sort of "Hmm...OK, I'm in the same location but not the same century. Oh well!"

    Finally intruding on my suspension of disbelief is the language issue. She says more than once that she doesn't understand her new husband (or anyone else) when they speak Welsh. But she seems to understand everything else perfectly. Well, I don't know about Claire, but the Enlish we speak now is NOT the English that was spoken a few hundred years ago. Anyone else ever struggle with Shakespeare? Yeah, exactly. So for her to only have comprehension issues when Welsh is used, or to only have trouble with one or two phrases her new companions use just didn't ring true to me.

    To the friend that sent me the book, sorry. This is defiinitely a did-not-finish-nor-do-I-wish-to.

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Everyday Energy Boosters: 365 tips and tricks to help you feel like a million bucks by Susannah Seton & Sondra Kornblatt

    Since it's February, and since it's winter, I thought this would be the perfect time to peruse this little book. Who couldn't use more energy in the gloomy winter months, especially given that there's less light during the day and, depending on where you live, it's cold most of the time.

    This started off well. I liked the authors' style, and I agreed with most of the suggestions, things like learn how to say no, get more sleep (but not too much), get out in the sunlight (what little there may be in the winter), take short walks, sing, dance, etc. Little energy boosters that I'm sure most of us are familiar with.

    Then it got sort of strange. Suggestion 159 is "Get a Headset" - meaning get yourself something so that you can talk hands-free on your phone. This allows you walk around and multi-task, which should give you more energy, I guess because you are saving yourself time. But just a mere two pages later, we are told "Turn Off All Beepers, Pagers, and Cellphones" because often we are too connected. Um, what? And by suggestion 169, we are told to "Mono-Task". So, what would that headset be for again?

    There are an awful lot of suggestions for "natural" energy boosters, meaning dietary supplements. I'm all for being healthy, but this book seemed to be pushing a lot of alternative vitamins and minerals, which I can't agree with. I know people want smaller government, but there is no oversight in the supplement industry, and that worries me. Some companies are great, and their products are exactly what they say they are. Others are much shadier, and you can either get what is basically a placebo, or you can get something that has far more of a substance than it you think you're getting. It's just too risky, in my opinion.

    Finally, by the last third of the book, it sounded like the authors were getting desperate for ideas. In fact, I realized that one of the suggestions is listed TWICE; "Solve Your Problems While You Sleep" is suggestions 279 AND 312. I thought at first that they were perhaps wording it just a bit differently, but no - it's an exact duplicate. Sorry, but that's bad editing (or sheer laziness on the authors' part).

    Overall, disappointing. I skimmed through a lot of the latter half, and I was certainly out of energy by the time I closed it for good.

    Monday, February 11, 2013


    Yes, I'm still here. Yes, I'm still reading. No, I haven't given up on this blog.

    Unfortunately, I'm behind on my reading. Just ask my reading goals/challenges on the two websites I use to keep track of my books; both are currently mocking my snail-like pace. I was doing really well, actually ahead of the game, then BAM! It's like I ran into a brick wall.

    Actually, what I ran into was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. It comes highly recommended by more than one friend, and after receiving a copy from on of those friends, I finally decided to give it a try. It was slow going at first, which was when I was still getting other things read. But now, I've almost reach the half-way point, and it's gotten much better. But it's a looooooooooooooooong book. I've got the mass market paperback, which clocks in at 850 pages.

    And that's why I haven't managed to read anything else lately.

    Hope everyone's February is going well. Other than trying to make my way thru the Highlands via time travel, I've been super busy at work with meetings, plans for Summer Reading, and the typical nail-biting preparations for the County budget sessions. Here's hoping that I finish this book, get something accomplished at work, and still have a job after June 1st.

    See ya!

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

    Isabel is a single, twentysomething thrift-store shopper and collector of remnants, things cast off or left behind by others. [This book] follows Isabel through a day in her life in which work with damaged books in the basement of a library, unrequited love for the former soldier who fixes her computer, and dreams of the perfect vintage dress move over a backdrop of deteriorating urban architecture and the imminent loss of the glaciers she knew as a girl in Alaska.

    Alexis Smith's debut novel unfolds internally, the action shaped by Isabel's sense of history, memory, and place. For Isabel, the fleeting moments of one day can reveal an entire life. While she contemplates loss and the intricate fissures it creates in our lives, she accumulates the stories - the remnants - of those around her, and she begins to tell her own story.

    There's really not much I can say about the plot of this book, as it's pretty much exactly what the dust jacket states: a day in the life of Isabel. So I'll talk more about my overall impressions of this very slim work, if that's OK with you, dear reader.

    The author has a nice way with words. For example, when describing Isabel's parents' impending divorce, the author writes: "When her parents were together, they had little to say to each other. The fissures in their family grew until the most important parts broke free and began to float away." When Isabel ruminates about her childhood dream of becoming a writer, the author tells us that her grandmother talked her out of it, saying "there was no market for being in love with words." It comes as no coincidence that our main character ends up working in preservation at a library, as it gives her a chance to save those very words that others write.

    There are few characters here, and none of them are what I would call overly developed. There's Spoke, the war vet that Isabel crushes on at work (his real name is Thomas, and trust me when I tell you that even I had forgotten reading it the first and only time it appears - I had to skim back over the book to find it). His nickname does involve a bicycle, albeit in a round-about way, although it was a book that almost saved his life.

    Isabel's older sister, Agnes, is mentioned but only in the flashbacks. Agnes is, of course, pretty and popular. Isabel describes herself as overweight, bordering on fat, but as a reader, I never really got that impression of her. Of course, many women think of themselves as "fat" when they're really just at a healthy weight, so perhaps that's the case here. My biggest reason for doubting Isabel's adult plumpness is that she shops in vintage shops, and as someone who has tried to do the same, I can't imagine her being able to buy anything is she was really that heavy. I'm not grossly obese or anything, but I have never been able to find a dress to fit me as such a shop. I see her as possibly curvy, but not fat.

    This is a nice book with good writing, but ultimately it's not satisfying. Much like the postcard Isabel finds in first chapter of the book, the one of Amsterdam that has the message from M- to L- written on it, there's just enough to let the reader come up with some scenarios of his or her own. But not enough to know the whole story. Also, it's awfully short for a novel, especially as it's a smallish trade paperback with lots of white space on each page. If I had done a word count on it, I'm guessing it would come closer to being a novella. I will keep my eyes out for Smith's next work, though, as I think she shows real promise.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    John Dies at the End by David Wong

    You should not have touched this book with your bare hands.
    No, don't put it down. It's too late.
    They're watching you.

    My name is David Wong. My best friend is John. Those names are fake. You might want to change yours.

    You might not want to know about the things you'll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it's too late. You touched the book. You're in the game. You're under the eye.

    The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.

    • The drug is called soy sauce, and it gives users a window into another dimension.
    • John and I never had the chance to say no.
    • You still do.
    Unfortunately for us, if you make the right choice, we'll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity. I'm sorry to have involved you in this, I really am. But as you read about these terrible events and the very dark epoch the world is about to enter as a result, it is crucial you keep one thing in mind:


    Um, yeah. It really draws you in, doesn't it? The old "stop, wait, don't do it" - which just guarantees that you will, of course, open the book and read it to the end. Which I did. And now I'm trying to determine just how I feel about said book.

    The writing isn't bad, although at times this really does read a bit stream-of-consciousness-y. OK, let's be blunt: it rambles. There are also jumps forward in time that had me a bit confused, as well as wondering what really happened. There are a lot of characters on the canvas, and I had trouble keeping up with them.

    The biggest problem I had with this novel is that I'm still not sure what happened. Very disappointing when you finish a 466 some page book only to realize you're still not sure who the bad guys were and what really happened. Plus there's no real ending, per se. It just sort of stops.

    I read some reviews on Amazon, just to see if I was the only one who closed this sucker and went "Huh????" I'm not. In fact, it would appear that you either love this book or hate it with the passion of a thousand suns (or some such thing). I find myself sitting firmly on the fence. I really did like some of the characters, and as I said, I thought some of the writing itself was pretty good. Wong, or should I say, Jason Pargin (the author's real name), has a way with words. But I felt like there were way too many words for this story. Tighter editing might have kept the story line on track better, which might not have left me scratching my head as much.

    I guess the best way to give a rating/review of this book is to let you know there's a sequel out. But I'm not interested in checking it out. And that, in my humble opinion, speaks volumes.

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Worth It...Not Worth It? Simple & Profitable Answers to Life's Tough Financial Questions by Jack Otter

    Credit union or bank? Rent or buy a house? Buy or lease a car? Take or decline the rental car insurance? Renovate the kitchen or finish the basement? Buy stocks or a mutual fund? Every day we are forced to make financial decisions, but the right answers all seem to require complicated, mind-numbing research. And who has time for homework when you're paying for a bag of Fritos at 7-Eleven? Or filling out a benefits form on the first day of a new job? Thankfully, there's WORTH IT...NOT WORTH IT? [This book] demystifies complex, real-world dilemmas and breaks the answers down into simple, do this, not that solutions. Organized around six basic topics - Getting Started, Shelter, Automotive, Investing, Family Matters, and Retirement - this handy book is the Swiss Army knife  of personal finance.

    I love finding little books like this, something simple that will hopefully give me the sort of help/advice I'm looking for. Sadly, while it looks good on the surface, this book doesn't really fit the bill.

    Oh, there's good advice here, such as choosing the credit union over the bank, using your credit card over your debit card for things like gas (anyone who has ever been burned by the "hold" they place on your account has learned that lesson the painful way) and major purchases (fraud and damage protection), buy & hold over timing the market.

    But for much of the rest of the advice here, there's one thing you need first: money. Otter advises buying over renting, pretty much what every other financial advisor will tell you. And that's fine, but it's almost worthless advice if you don't have money in the first place. I dare you to tell someone that you know for a fact is living paycheck-to-paycheck that they're crazy for renting, that they should take advantage of the low, low rates and bargains on houses right now. And I find it funny that the author advises buying, then turns right around and also says you should go with the 30/20 rule, that is, a 30-yr fixed-rate mortgage with 20% as a down-payment. OK, if I had that sort of money in the first place, would I have picked up this kind of book? Yeah, probably not. And what Otter and every other financial advisor seem to forget is that it's not just the mortgage. Sure, I could probably swing paying a mortgage payment right now, especially if we were able to find a house/mortgage that would have us paying approximately the same amount we pay right now where we rent. But there's also the increased costs to think about, too: the insurance for the home, the utilities, the taxes, the incidentals you have to purchase to care for said home (like a lawn mower). Once you factor in those costs, it's a bit of a different picture, one that isn't often discussed.

    The section on investing has the basic advice I expected, but again, you have to have the money to invest in the first place. If I'm barely able to put food on the table, I have no business worrying about whether I should be stocks or get into a mutual fund. It's that sort of thing that a lot of advisers miss out on, the do you or do you not already have some money? I don't think one needs to be rich to start taking some of this advice, but yes, one does need to have some discretionary income at best. And let's face it, a lot of people these days are just not in that boat. Many are still licking their wounds from the Great Recession, still trying to keep their heads above water.

    Short and simple, which I'll admit is nice. But disappointing overall.

    Monday, January 7, 2013

    I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano

    No need to introduce this. It's exactly what it says it is: a book of poems "written" by cats. Divided into four simple chapters (Family, Work, Play, Existence), this adorable work also has gorgeous pictures of cats big and small throughout. Having officially been owned by a cat for just about a year now (and unofficially for a few more than that), I think this little book is just super-cute and captures the feline spirit of love and destruction quite well.

    My favorite poem is probably "Closed Door", which I'm going to share with you, my readers, since it's so very perfect in describing my own Surr Purr (who happens to be an indoor/outdoor kitty).

    Oh, uh, hello
    I did not expect an answer
    I did not expect an entrance
    I did not expect this room to be
      so unbelievably dull
    So, uh, goodbye

    The perfect gift book for the feline book lover!

    Sunday, January 6, 2013

    The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing by Mayra Calvani and Ann K. Edwards

    If you're an experienced reviewer, [this book] will serve as an excellent reference tool and amalgam of resources. If you're a beginner, this book will show you hot to write a well-written, honest, objective and professional book review. It will also teach you:
    • How to read critically
    • How to differentiate the various types of reviews
    • How to rate books
    • How to prevent amateurish mistakes
    • How to deal with the ethics and legalities of reviewing
    • How to start your own review site
    • How to publish your reviews on dozens of sites and even make money while you're at it, and much more.
    If you're an author, publisher, publicist, bookseller, librarian, or reader, this book will also bring to light the importance and influence of book reviews within a wider spectrum.

    I'm sure you're asking why I, The Bookbabe, would pick up a book about writing reviews. After all, if you're reading this blog, then you already know that I write reviews. And that this isn't my first review. So, am I looking for a way to "make money" doing this? Am I thinking of a career change? (And would it really be a change, or sort of an obvious evolution?)

    None of the above.

    I believe that no matter what you do for a living, or even for a hobby, you can always do it better. And that's why I picked up this book: I want to write better reviews. The good news is that I'm already doing a lot of things right, such as being objective and never attacking the author. The bad news is that I still have much room for improvement, at least, according to the rules the authors lay out.

    This book does have a lot of good advice about the basics of writing a review, although the majority of the advice is slanted toward the person wishing to do this professionally. They recommend focusing on things I usually try to do anyway: plot, pacing, character development, editing, etc. One of the things I very much appreciated was the advice to be honest yet tactful. Look, as should be obvious to pretty much anyone who reads, not all books are great. A lot of them aren't even good. But rather than post a review that simply says "This is the worst book I ever read! Don't waste your time!", you (the reviewer) need to be able to cite concrete examples of why the book isn't good. And keep in mind that "good" is a subjective term; what I love to read may not be your cup of tea and vice versa.

    The authors include advice on things like how to set yourself a schedule, how to respond to emails/phone calls regarding negative reviews, how to start your own review site, how to contact established review sites to submit freelance work, and much, much more. In fact, I was surprised at just how much information they were able to pack into this very slim work (it clocks in at just 190 pages, including the appendices and the index). I will admit I skimmed some of this information, as I'm not interested in doing this professionally, nor do I have any wish to set up my own review site (I'm very happy with my little blog, thank you very much). They even include advice on how to handle the situation of "overload" - what to do if you suddenly realize that your hobby has become a full-time job and is no longer enjoyable.

    There are a few problems, though. I was amazed at how often the authors contradict themselves. For example, they talk a lot about the major book review publications, such as Booklist, Library Journal, Publishers' Weekly, etc, and how those reviews are generally considered legitimate; they also talk about how most do not consider reader reviews on sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble to be on equal footing. And yet, they often talk about posting reviews on those same sites. So should or shouldn't you post reviews on such online sites? It's never very clear.

    What also surprised me is that the blurb on the back of the back mentions being able to "make money" by writing and submitting reviews. And yet, in the page/chapter titled "Is There Any Money In It?", the very first sentence seems to state the exact opposite: "The sad reality is that, unless you work as a permanent staff reviewer for a major newspaper or publication, there's little chance of making any money reviewing." The authors do point out that you can make a few bucks if you get the right sites to accept your work, but pretty much, you're going to be doing this out of your love for books and your desire to share that love. Sorry, but to me, this is bordering on false advertising. If the authors want me to be honest in my reviews, then I'm gonna call them out on this money thing.

    My biggest disappointment was a simple sentence in the chapter regarding the influence of reviews on readers. Obviously, most readers are going to be reading other readers' reviews, not professional publications. Or they're going to be going off what they've seen on TV (authors out promoting their works), what their friends are reading, etc. In speaking of how readers go about finding out what's out there and what's worth reading, the authors state: "In this age of computers when almost every person has a PC at home, it's easy for booklovers to access the Internet and read book reviews." WRONG. I work in a public library, as many of you know, and I can state that the authors are off base on this. "Almost every person" does not have a PC at home, and many who do often do not have that computer hooked up to the Internet. Granted, this book was written in 2008, and perhaps the authors were projecting forward, thinking that the economy would keep moving forward (although there were already signs that the crash was coming), but this is exactly the sort of thinking that has many libraries frustrated. There are hundreds of thousands of people, if not more,  who must rely on public access computers at libraries for Internet access. As such, they are not usually sitting around reading book reviews; they are trying to stay in contact with friends and family, applying for work, updating unemployment information, filing taxes, and the like. When people assume that everyone has Internet access, it really hurts those that don't - in the form of budget cuts, which results in the loss of public service hours, and often, library positions, finally resulting in complete closures. I would respectfully ask the authors to do a little more research next time (perhaps consulting a librarian).

    I do think this book has some good information and advice. I just wish the authors had been a little more clear on some issues and hadn't used commonly held beliefs for others.