Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Life In France - Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

If you know anything at all about Julia Child, you know she has a distinctive and awesome voice.  In this book, her voice is so clear you can actually hear it when you read - or at least, I can.  As the title indicates, the story is about her life in France, which is where she learned to cook and helped to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 & 2.  I love this book, because her voice is so clear and because it's full of the details I love - where they lived, what they ate, who they spent time with, etc.  This book makes me want to live in France - especially France of the 50's.  Julia has a great sense of humor and adventure, and both come through loud and clear.  I actually read this book for the first time after reading Julie & Julia, and I love them both.  The movie is also great - I love Meryl Streep and think her Julia was dead on. 

The Probable Future - Alice Hoffman

The Probable Future tells the story of the Sparrow women - a family of women who all receive a "gift" on their 13th birthday.  The first Sparrow woman, Rebecca, no longer feels pain.  Some women can tell when someone is lying, some can run faster than a deer, some can walk through fire or stay under water for 20 minutes.  The youngest Sparrow, Stella, can see death - she can look at most people, and tell how and when they will die. 
I like Alice Hoffman because all of her books have an element of magic and an element of romance - it's not cheesy, in-your-face romance, it's subtle.  She also wrote Practical Magic, which is an excellent book and a good movie (although the book is better, as is usually the case). 

This book doesn't contain have much language or any sexual content, although most of her books do have some of one or the other, or both. 

BossyPants - Tina Fey

**A note before we begin - if you are uncomfortable with laughing so hard that you snort, cry, shoot liquids out your nose, fall on the floor or potentially wet yourself, this is not the book for you.**

I'll just go ahead and say it - Tina Fey is freaking hilarious.  I finished this book in the course of one evening - not unheard of for me, but not exactly common either.  I laughed so hard that I think I may have actually bruised internal organs.  If you love to laugh so hard it hurts, you must read this book.  There are some cuss words, and some pseudo-sexual content (she doesn't describe specific acts or anything like that, but she does make some sexual references). 
The book talks about her life, her family, her work on SNL, impersonating Sarah Palin, her work on 30 Rock and her "beauty tips and secrets".  All in all, a fab read - although the cover freaked me out a little.  I mean, why the giant man arms looking like they belong to you, Tina?  WHY? 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning is the latest in the Sookie Stackhouse/TrueBlood series.  I love this series, and I LOVE the show on HBO.  I mean, talk about hotness. 
That being said, Reckoning was not my favorite in the series.  It felt like one of those in-between books for me - the kind that asks a lot of questions, and resolves one or two but leaves you wondering what the cuss is going on by the end of the book...and then you have to wait another year for the next book.  In my opinion, this is different than a cliff hanger - a cliff hanger is one big moment at the end of the book that leave you going "What the cuss just happened?!?"  This kind of book just leaves you feeling frustrated because you have this list of questions, and only one or two questions from the last book got answered in this one. 
Also, this book made me wish more than ever that Sookie would get back together with Bill - and I realize this makes no sense to those of you who haven't read the series, but this is the 10th book people. I can't summarize quickly.  For those of you that have read it, I want Sookie to go back with Bill.  Yes, I know he messed up, but he truly loves Sookie and is devoted to her.  Eric has too, too much going on - you find out in this book that he has even more going on then we knew about. 
If you haven't read any of the TB series before, the books have some graphic violence (vampires, people!) and some graphic sexual content (again, vampires!). 

Room - Emma Donoghue

Let me start of by saying this straight out - this book freaked me the freak out.  It's not exactly a "scary" book, but it's very intense and emotional.  Room tells the story of Jack and Ma.  You quickly figure out that Jack is a 5 year old boy, who lives in a single room with his mother.  Why is this?  Because his mother was kidnapped when she was 19 years old, kept in a modified shed, and impregnated by her captor, a man they refer to as "Old Nick".  Jack has never been outside, and doesn't understand outside exists.  He has a TV, but believes the things on it - airplanes, stores, even other people - only exist inside the TV. 
Ma decides it's time for them to make a break for it, and the plan involves convincing Old Nick that Jack is very sick, and then telling him later that Jack died.  Ma wraps his body in the rug from Room, and tells Jack that when Old Nick takes the rug away to dispose of the body that Jack must escape, find help, and bring the help back for her.  Heavy, right?
In the interest of not spoiling things, I'll stop there. 
I think this book freaked me out simply because this could and HAS happened.  I mean, when I read The Passage it freaked me out, but I didn't actually believe that zombie/vampires would someday take over and force the remaining humans to live in compounds.  When I read What the Night Knows, I was freaked out, but didn't really believe the spirit of a psycho killer would come back to finish his work.  THIS ACTUALLY COULD HAPPEN. 
I also be honest and say that the idea of living 24/7 in an 11x11 room with a 5-year-old freaked me out.  I mean, Mama needs her quiet time. 
I would say, if you're a woman, or a Mom, this book is not an awesome idea.  It was moving and touching at times, but for me, the freak-out factor was too high for the moving/touching to compensate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fly Away Home - Jennifer Weiner

I just re-read this one and reminded myself how much I love it.  To be fair, I pretty well love all of JW's books, but still.
Fly Away Home tells a story that has become all too familiar in recent years - Sylvie, the wife of a powerful NY Senator, who runs her husband's life (keeps track of his schedule, helps him write speeches, waits for his eggs at a buffet) - is completely shattered when it comes out that her husband had an affair with an aide, and then helped said aide get a job afterwards.  The book jumps between chapters told in Sylvie's POV - what does she do now, should she leave her husband, hire a paid assassin? - to chapters told in the POV of one of their two daughters.  Diana is a seemingly perfect woman - ER doctor, avid runner, married with a child - but she's having an affair with her medical intern, because she's desperately lonely and her husband is...well...oblivious.  Lizzie is fresh out of rehab and trying to prove to her family and herself that she can be helpful, responsible, and learn how to live a life free of recreational substances. 
Fly Away Home is touching, hilarious, and all-around amazing.  I don't know a married woman out there who hasn't seen one of those "Senator/Representative/Governor So-and-So has confessed..." stories without trying to put herself in the place of his wife.  This story is fantastic because it tells the other side of the story, the one we never hear. 
This book contains sexual content, swears and some "crude" humor. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

Let me start out by saying, and I cannot overstate this, that The Help is the best book ever.  I love, love, love this book - so much that I've recommended it to pretty well everyone, and given it as a gift to several people. 
The Help is set in Mississippi during the civil rights movement - just prior to the march on Washington DC by Martin Luther King Jr.  Our first main character is Skeeter - she should be a debutante, content to play bridge, attend club meetings and get married.  She chose instead to go to Ole Miss - and not just to meet a man.  Now she's back home, living on the plantation, with a mother determined to see her married before she dies and an urge to do something...different.  Our next main character is Aibileen, a black maid raising her 17th white child, while still grieving for the loss of her son.  She is devoted to the girl she looks after, even though she knows the child will most likely grow up to be a bigot, just like her parents, neighbors and friends.  Our last main character is Minny, also a black maid, but much different than Aibileen.  Where Aibileen is soft-spoken and mild, Minny is all fire and sass - and she's been fired more than once for talking back. 
Skeeter is driven to the end of her rope by her friend Hilly's "home health sanitation initiative" - a drive to convince every white family who has black "help" to have a separate bathroom for them to use.  Skeeter wants to be a journalist, but most of all, she wants to write a book.  She decides she wants to write a book about "the help" - the black women who come into their homes, cook their meals, do their wash, raise their children.  She is driven in part by the deep love she has for her own maid, Constantine, who disappeared without a trace while Skeeter was in school.  The best and most dangerous part about this book is - she's going to tell the stories of these women by hearing it from their own mouths - the good, the bad, the horrible, the loving.  If any of them are discovered, it could mean death. 
The Help is touching, funny, horrifying, intense...all at once.  There is some mild language (especially racial slurs) and a very small amount of graphic imagery, but in my opinion, this is a book that everyone needs to read.  Go to your local bookstore, Kindle, Amazon, library, whatevs - but get it now and read it.  Go forth!

Smash Cut/Tough Customer - Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown writes a couple of kinds of books - "suspense with sex" and straight-ahead romance.  I don't really care for the romance, but she writes on mean thriller.  I like Sandra's books because you usually know who the bad guy is from the get-go, but there's still a high level of suspense and there's always an epic twist that you never saw coming. 
I'm reviewing these books together because they do contain some of the same characters, but Tough Customer isn't a traditional sequel, so you don't have to read these in any particular order.
Smash Cut is about a woman named Julie who runs an art gallery who has a relationship with a much older gentleman.  When Julie and her friend are leaving a hotel room in the middle of the day, a masked robber stops their elevator, robs everyone on board and then shoots the elderly man.  Julie immediately suspects Creighton, the gentleman's nephew and all-around seriously creepy movie buff.  Drama ensues when it becomes clear that Creighton is setting Julie up to take the fall for the crime.
In Tough Customer, a hard-nosed private eye named Dodge is contacted by the mother of his child - a child he hasn't seen since she was born - and told his daughter Berry is in serious trouble.  Berry has a stalker that is determined to kill her, and has already shot a friend of hers in his quest to get to Berry. 
Both books contain some cuss words and sexual scenes, and both will keep you on the edge of your seat (or bed, or wherever you do your reading).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner

This is not a new book for me, but an old favorite.  I'm going to review it now because the book's 10th anniversary is coming up, and it seems a good time to celebrate the awesomeness that is Jennifer Weiner and her books.
I actually picked up Good In Bed because I was intrigued by the cover - something that works out for me more often than not, actually - and I'm so glad I did.  Jennifer is hilarious.  I find myself laughing out loud at her books frequently, and Good In Bed was just our first encounter. 
This book tells the story of Cannie, a plus-size writer for a Philadelphia newspaper.  She has a quiet life - a rat terrier, her cozy apartment, her best friend, her Mom and her Mom's dread life partner, Tanya.  She's recently decided to "take a break" from her boyfriend, Bruce.  Then she discovers that Bruce has gotten a job writing for a Cosmo-esque magazine - and of all things, he's writing a sex advice column.  In which he talks about her.  A lot. 
Cannie's journey through this book is full of ups and downs - an encounter with a famous Hollywood star who quickly becomes a good friend, an unexpected pregnancy and the problems arising from it, and making it big.  The book is hilarious, touching and just all-around fantastic.  As you can probably guess, it does contain some sexual content and crude humor, but if you don't mind (or even enjoy!) that kind of thing, you will love, love, love this book.  Buy it now, as well as any other Jennifer Weiner titles on the shelf.  They're all fantastic. 
Oh, and P.S...The last name is pronounced "Why-ner" not "Wee-ner". And if you like this book, follow her on FaceBook.  Her posts make me laugh all the time, and she posts links to her blog, which is also hilarious

The Big Question - To Give Up or To Press On?

Every once in a great while, I run across a book that seems like it should be great and for some reason I just can't get into it.  This always raises the question - do I press on and force myself to finish in hopes that it will get better, or do I just give up? 
Right now I have one of these books going.  It's called The Raising, by Laura Kasischke.  The premise sounded great - a university mourning the loss of one of it's promising students, Nicole, who was killed in a car accident while with her boyfriend, who mysteriously escaped unharmed.  There is a rumor, however, that Nicole might be back.  Sounds good, right?  Creepy, mysterious...good things.  However, I am now 100 pages into this book and feel like it's going nowhere.  The story keeps jumping from person to person - not normally something that bothers me - and from time frame to time frame (present day, before the accident happened, right after the accident happened, etc.) - again, not something that normally bothers me.  However, these different threads do not yet seem to be weaving into the fabric of an actual story, and they're just not that engaging in and of themselves.  This is different from say,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  series, which had a lot of jumping around as well.  In that case though, the individual threads were very interesting, and you were anxious to see how they would all come together.
I think, with The Rising, I'll take a break and come back to it.  Sometimes a little distance lessens the irritation, as does a good topical ointment.  In this case, the ointment will be something I know I like to read, like a Jennifer Weiner novel. 

The Search, Nora Roberts

Let me first say, I used to view Nora Roberts as kind of a fluff author - you weren't going to get a lot of substance there.  However, I've changed my tune in recent years.  She writes a solid, fun book, with liberal helpings of sassy humor.  I would classify her books in two categories: romance and what I like to refer to as "mystery/suspense with sex".  If you don't like sexual content in your books, Nora is not for you.  That's not the whole focus of the books, but it's there. 
The Search is more the "suspense with sex" category.  Our main character, Fiona, survived being kidnapped by a man who had kidnapped and killed several young women.  She escaped with her life, and built a new life for herself, training rescue dogs.  She now lives on a small island in Washington State and runs dog training classes, as well as running rescue missions.  Now, even though her kidnapper is still in prison, someone is following in his footsteps, and it seems like they are determined to finish the job with Fiona. 
One of the things I like about Nora is that she does her research - the main character in this book trains dogs and does rescue missions, and this book uses technical terms in a way that makes it clear she does her prep work well.  This book is fun, engaging and sexy.  A solid win. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cleaning Out the Bookcases

I was cleaning out my bookcases today in preparation for a yard sale and I realized - I no longer have any respect for James Patterson.  If you aren't familiar with his work, he's the writer of Kiss The Girls, Along Came a Spider, The Beach House and many, many more.  I used to be quite a fan, as evidenced by the entire shelf I had dedicated to his books.  However, his books began to have a mass-produced, I'm-not-really-trying feel.  He also started releasing books that were almost all written with the contribution of another author.  I'm not against contributing writers on principle, but when you're coming out with a book every 1-2 months and all of them are with the help of other authors...well, maybe it's time to quit, or at least slow down.  I ended up keeping only 4 of his books, and those are the ones I like the most, and among some of the first of his that I bought.
If you're in for a seriously scary/creepy read, Kiss the Girls is a winner, but I don't recommend it if graphic imagery and sexual content bother you.  This book was also made into a movie, which was very good, starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.  Also worth a viewing, but not at night, and not while you're alone in your house.  And if you're a single woman who lives alone...best to just skip this one altogether. 

In another category altogether, I am tossing my copy of The Time Traveler's Wife.  Let me start out by saying I really, really wanted to like this book.  The premise - a man who travels through time spontaneously and without any control whatsoever - was intriguing, and I like a good romantic book now and again.  I was sadly disappointed.  While some parts of the book were good, when I got to the end I was left with a feeling of irritation, and a "What the heck was the point of that?" feeling.  Now, I know a lot of people, women specifically, liked this one, but I was not one of them.  My recommendation is to leave it.  Unless you are coming by my parents' yard sale this weekend, in which case, please feel free to buy it.   

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith

As you can probably guess from the title, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the story of Abraham Lincoln, but with a twist - that he's a vampire slayer, and that the Civil War was not just about slavery, but about vampires. 
I was pretty skeptical when I started this one, but I was intrigued by the idea and decided to sail in.  Let me say, I was very pleasantly surprised.  This book is told in an engaging voice, has just the right amount of scary, and by the end I was at least 80% convinced that Lincoln actually did kill vampires.  The twist at the end seemed somewhat unnecessary to me, but I at least got a laugh out of it. 
I believe this book is considered to be a "young adult" novel - but I beg of you, do not let the words "young adult" equal "not a good or engaging story" in your mind.  I know some adults cringe away from so-called "kid books", but you are missing out on a whole lot of good material if you limit yourself that way. 
There are some "ick" moments - head chopping and so forth - but if you can deal with a little gore, you're good to go. 

The Peach Keeper, Sarah Addison Allen

Like Sarah Addison Allen's other books, there is a strong whiff of magic happenings around the story told in The Peach Keeper.  The story revolves around a town, Walls of Water, and the families that have lived there since the town started - specifically, Willa, the last descendant of a family that was once hugely prosperous but lost it all, and Paxton, the descendant of a family that is the social elite of this small town.  The two women have to come together to solve a mystery that dates back to when their grandmothers - who used to be best friends - were young girls, and the traveling salesman who disappeared suddenly one summer.  These women have nothing in common, but if they can work together, they can not only solve the mystery, but possibly find love, happiness and friendship along the way. 
While not my favorite Sarah Addison Allen book, this one is definitely worth a read.  There is little to no potentially offensive content, so it's safe for one and all to enjoy. 

Something Borrowed/Something Blue, Emily Giffin

These are two separate novels - Something Borrowed comes first, and Something Blue is the sequel. 
I picked up Borrowed because I saw a preview for the movie that will be coming out soon and thought it looked funny and cute.  The book is much the same way - very funny, and cute.
The star of our book, Rachel is soon to be serving as Maid of Honor to her best friend, Darcy.  The problem is Dex - Darcy's fiance, and Rachel's secret crush.  After a drunken 30th birthday party, Rachel and Dex hook up, and Dex confesses he has feelings for Rachel too.  The question is - what are they going to do about it?  Normally it's difficult to feel bad for someone in Rachel's position, but we're helped along by the fact that Darcy is self-absorbed, obnoxious and a real "cuss" about 95% of the time, and that Rachel is a sweet, supportive, never-doing-anything-for-herself type of girl.  We really want Rachel to get some for herself for a change!
Blue is the sequel and told from Darcy's point of view - we get a summary of the ending of Borrowed, with her spin on things, and the story goes on from there.  In interest of not spoiling anything I won't go into too much detail, but I will say I hated Darcy for about the first half of the book, and then my opinion changed.
Both books are worth a read if you want something fun, funny and romantic-ish.  There is some sexual content, but nothing horribly overt, and some swearing, but again, not gratuitous. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

Now, I realize Jane Eyre is a classic and that a lot of you have probably already read it.  However, I read this book for the first time only a couple of months ago, and it quickly rose to the top of my "books I can read any day, any way" list. 
Jane Eyre is a romantic novel of the Jane Austin persuasion.  If you like Pride & Prejudice, you will like Jane Eyre.  That being said, while P&P is frothy and humorous at times, Jane Eyre has a darker thread of mystery running through it, as well as a higher level of drama.
We meet Jane when she is a young girl, living with her aunt, who is forced by a death-bed promise to her husband to care for Jane, even though she clearly hates the girl.  Jane is quickly shipped off to a mostly horrid religious boarding school and trained to become a teacher.  She then retains a position as governess to a young French girl, the ward of the mysterious, abrasive and somehow sexy Mr. Rochester.  A relationship quickly develops between the two, and during it all, there is a mystery in the house.  A fire starts in the dead of night, voices and frightening laughter are heard, and a visitor is attacked...
In interest of not spoiling the story for those who haven't had the pleasure yet, I won't say anything further just now.  I will say, however, that after you read the book I highly recommend you check out the BBC version of the film - it's 6 hours long, but oh, so worth it.  You may want to keep a paper sack near by - I caught myself sighing with such frequency at a couple of points that I felt in danger of passing out. 

What The Night Knows, Dean Koontz

If you haven't read Dean Koontz before, I'll give you a quick run down.  His books are sometimes scary, sometimes downright terrifying, sometimes just suspenseful...but always inspiring in some way.  This is why I love him.  His books might scare the beejesus out of you, but there is always some kind of inspiring message underneath it all. 
This one was very, very scary - it was what I refer to as a "daytime only" book, since I can't read it before bedtime, lest I have bad dreams. 
Our main character, John Calvino, killed the serial murderer who broke into his home and killed his parents and sisters when he was just a teenager.  Now, it seems, the murders are happening again, and perpetrated by the most unlikely characters.  John fears that the killer, Alton Turner Blackwood, is somehow back...and that John's own family might be next. 
I will be totally honest and say while this was not my favorite Koontz novel, I did thoroughly enjoy it - during daytime hours only, natch. 
This book deals with the supernatural, violent and sometimes graphic crimes, as well as some sexual content and innuendo.  It's not for the faint of heart, but if you like a good scare, give it a try.  During the day, preferably.

The City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments series)

If you haven't read Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, you are missing out big time.  I love this series.  It's a "Young Adult" series, but don't let that scare you away.  I would qualify this as a fantasy-ish series - there are werewolves, vampires, warlocks, fairies, and a race of men called Shadowhunters, that fight demons.  It's sexy without having outright sex, it's hilariously funny at times, suspenseful at times, and emotional at times.  In other words, it's a fantastic series.  I would recommend that you start at the beginning, with City of Bones.  The next two books in the series are City of Ashes and City of Glass, followed by the newest book, City of Fallen Angels.  Now, this is where it gets a wee bit tricksy - there is a new companion prequel series, and only the first book is out so far.  It's called Clockwork Angel, and I would recommend you read it after City of Glass but before City of Fallen Angels.  There are some characters introduced in Clockwork Angel that will be referenced in City of Fallen Angels.  It's not absolutely crucial that you read it in that order, but that's what I would recommend.  Incidentally, the two series are going to be staggered in their release dates - the next book, Clockwork Prince, will be coming out in September of this year, and then City of Lost Souls will be coming out in May 2012, and so on.  I don't want to give away too much about this one since there would be some major spoilers, but I will say I loved the book, which was no surprise.  I will also say that I am always frustrated when I finish one of these and realize I have to wait another six months for the next book. 
Also - once you get into the series, I highly recommend you visit http://www.cassandraclare.com/.  She has an excellent FAQ section, as well as release dates for the rest of the books.  Ch-ch-check it out. 

Let's Do This Thang

Recently, it was suggested by a friend of mine, the lovely Adriann, that I write a book review blog.  In case you don't know, I read a LOT.  My reading interests are pretty varied, and I read very quickly.  Because of that, I get asked for recommendations all the time.  All of this adds up to the realization that yes, it's probably not a bad idea for me to write a blog about my reading obsession. 
This might be somewhat slow going at first, but I'm going to attempt to do a top 10 list of my favorite books currently, which will likely change from time to time, and then also blog about each book as I read it.  I'm going to do a quick summary, my thoughts on the book, as well as give a rating on how much "potentially offensive" content there is, since I know that's important to some. 
If you have other ideas for info I should include, or a book suggestion for me, please email me at GingerSarahB@gmail.com