Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Snow Bride by Debbie Macomber

Jenna Campbell is bored with her life. She is a 31 year old secretary in California with no personal life. Of course it doesn't help that she has been in love with her boss for the last six years. For the past four months she has been emailing a man she met in a poetry chat room. He asks her to come to Alaska to visit and maybe eventually get married. Jenna decides to go for. Her boss will never notice her and she wants some adventure.

On the plane to Alaska, Jenna is seated next to a very rude man. Not at all how she wants to start her adventure. Once she lands in Fairbanks, Alaska, Dalton, her emailing man, is nowhere to be found. She decides to find a plane that will take her to the little town where Dalton lives. Of course her pilot turns out to be the rude man from the plane, Reid Jamison.

Reid just wants to get home to Snowbound, Alaska. He doesn't mind giving Jenna a lift. That is until he finds out who she is meeting. Reid's sister Lucy had been duped and heartbroken by Dalton. Instead of taking Jenna to Dalton, he kidnaps her and takes her to Snowbound!

Jenna is furious. What turns out to be a couple of hours spent in Snowbound, so she can meet Lucy and hear firsthand how despicable Dalton is, Jenna is stuck for three days due to a blizzard. And Lucy isn't even there!

With colorful characters,an unexpected romance,and a couple of marriage proposals, The Snow Bride is one delightful and quick read.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Four Novels of the 1960s by Philip K. Dick

When Philip K. Dick (1928-82) wrote these four novels The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik in the 1960s, he was far from the acclaimed writer he is considered today. His selection as the first science fiction writer to be enshrined into the prestigious Library of America series, is proof of his startling posthumous climb into the exalted heights of the American literary canon. This handsome and well-researched omnibus edition, edited by Jonathan Lethem, features four of Dick's greatest novels, along with commentary and a chronology of Dick’s tormented life.

Dick, who toiled most of his life in poverty, his works relegated to pulp and then cult status, would be pleased with this honor. He had a troubled childhood, beginning with the death at one month of his twin, Jane. There was parental fighting, divorce and frequent moves. He spent most of his formative years and adult life in California, which is the setting for many of his books. He was interested in writing and science fiction from the age of 12 and began to be published in the mid-fifties in the pulp SF magazines of the day.

Beginning in seventh grade, Dick suffered from bouts of vertigo, which became especially intense as an undergraduate. In his late teens, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia - a label that terrified him. Throughout his life, he succumbed to periods of psychological anguish that he termed “nervous breakdowns.” Over the years, therapists and psychiatrists would offer a variety of diagnoses, including the one that Dick was quite sane. Dick died in 1982 at 53, after a series of strokes. His ashes were buried with his twin.

Despite these hardships, or perhaps because of them, Dick produced some of the most brilliant and fascinating works of science fiction ever written. His writing focused on the nature of reality and our perception of that reality. He had a deep interest in philosophy and metaphysics. Themes included paranoia, time travel, alternate history, madness, and drug use. His work has influenced an entire generation of writers and filmmakers.

His most acclaimed novels were those produced in the 1960s, and four of the best ones are featured in the Library of America edition:

The Man in the High Castle (1962), which won the Hugo Award, is set in an alternate world of 1962 were Japan and Germany have won World War II, America is divided into separate occupation zones, slavery is legal, and the oracle that is the I Ching is continually consulted for everything by everyone (sans Nazis).

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) takes place in the 21st c., where the UN has authorized the colonization of the solar system. Colonists, whose lives are dull and physically taxing, entertain themselves using “Perky Pat” (“Barbie”-like) dolls, layouts and accessories manufactured by an Earth-based company – which also illegally manufactures the drug Can-D, allowing participants to escape into a virtual Earth life.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles and features an android-chasing bounty hunter named Rick Deckard. It was the basis for the movie Blade Runner.

Ubik (1969) offers readers a future where the dead communicate with the living, telepaths work as corporate spies, reality is not static, time is deteriorating, and salvation is available in a spray can.

In addition to the four titles in this volume, he wrote dozens of novels, hundreds of stories and his works have been made into movies such as Total Recall , A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Screamers, Next, and have inspired many others.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Piece of Work by Laura Zigman

In her former life, thirty-something Julia Einstein (pronounced Einsteen) used to love being a publicist for a major PR firm, but now she is perfectly content as a stay-at-home mom, where she can dote on her son Leo all day. All that is about to change when her husband Peter comes home from work and announces that he has been laid off.

Although Leo and Julia relish all the time Peter can spend with them now, their bills are rapidly piling up. Because Peter has not been able to land a job, Julia decides that she will go back to work. She contacts her friend and former colleague Patricia, but there are no openings at her firm. Julia is then forced to take a position with the second-rate John Glom Agency that is known for handling has-been celebrities trying to make a comeback.

Enter Mary Ford, Julia's new celebrity client who is trying to get back into the lime light by launching a perfume line. Even though Mary is a real piece of work, the ultimate diva who is fussier than Julia's three-year-old son, Julia is determined to make Mary's comeback a success.

I made the mistake of reading the reviews for Piece of Work first, in which several reviewers commented on how humorous Zigman makes her story. I don't know if then my expectations were too high, but this really wasn't as funny as I was anticipating. Despite my disappointment about the humor, Piece of Work was still an enjoyable look at the celebrity PR world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sleepless at Midnight by Jacquie D'Alessandro

Miss Sarah Moorehouse is a spinster. She is fine with that. It gives her time to pursue her love of gardens and drawing. It also gives her the opportunity to form the Ladies Literary Society of London. Under the pretense of reading Shakespeare's works, the ladies actually are reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The ladies have their first meeting while at a house party at Matthew Devenport, Marquess Langston's house. When the meeting breaks up late at night, Sarah is restless and looks out her window. What she sees is the Marquess with a shovel out in the rain. Of course, Sarah's imagination runs wild.

Matthew Devenport inherited his title when his father was murdered last year. Along with the inheritance, came his father's enormous debts and two deathbed promises. One he would marry within a year and two he would look for buried money. Right before the Marquess was shot, he had won huge at gambling. So huge it would wipe out the debts. The only problem is the money is hidden and Matthew must figure out where with the cryptic clues his father left.

The purpose of the house party is for Matthew to find and marry a heiress because he is having no luck finding the money and time is running out. What he didn't count on was falling in love with plain Sarah Moorehouse.

With two unlikely people falling in love, buried money on the estate, sexy bathtub scenes and time running out, what more could you ask for in a book. If you love historical romances, this is an excellent read!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

Chock full of entertaining word play, obscure literary references, and bizarre subplots; Fforde’s latest installment in his Thursday Next series is sure to be a huge hit with his fans. However, for the uninitiated, the work will be daunting. To truly enjoy this novel, you’ll need to start at the very beginning with The Eyre Affair, where Thursday Next, the intrepid literary detective, SpecOps undercover investigator, and heroine of this campy series was first introduced. In the vein of Pratchett’s Discworld or Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books, Fforde has created a unique alternate world: where time is disjoint and monitored by the ChronoGuard, fictional characters are truly alive and policed by Jurisfiction, the Stupidity Surplus has reached dangerous levels, and the Cheese Enforcement Agency is after Thursday for smuggling. Part science fiction, part mystery, part literary satire – Fforde’s novels are always thoroughly fun.

The Husband by Dean Koontz

The day starts as usual for Mitch Rafferty, a Californian who owns his own landscaping business, as he is working on the yard of one of his clients. Unexpectedly, he receives a mysterious phone call on his cell. The strange voice on the phone says, "we have your wife. You can get her back for two million cash."

At first he assumes this must be some kind of a joke. How could a landscaper possibly come up with that kind of money? Yet, he heard Holly's scream in the background, and she would never be so cruel to play that kind of joke. To prove they are serious, the kidnappers gun down an innocent man walking across the street with a golden retriever. One the phone the kidnapper says, "Seriously Mitch, two million. You have 48 hours, and no cops."

Shortly after the shooting, Mitch is interviewed by detective Taggert, who feels Mitch is hiding something and considers him a prime suspect. Mitch finds out that the man who was shot down was someone from his past. The instructions from the kidnappers lead Mitch to his brother, Anson, where he discovers there is something more sinister at work that involves his family, and Holly's abduction is not just a random kidnapping.
In typical Dean Koontz's fashion, the suspense starts right away in the first few chapters and the protagonist manages to prevail above evil, but not without several twists and turns along the way. This wasn't a bad read, but I have to say it wasn't one of Koontz's best. In fact, I have several questions about the ending that I don't want to mention here, as I don't want to spoil it. Check out the comments section to see my questions. If you have read this book and can offer an any answers or opinions, I would love to chat with you. Anyone is welcome to post a comment.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Swapping Lives by Jane Green

Thirty-something Londoner Vicki Townsley is a journalist for the women's magazine Poise. She dates off and on and calls upon her trusted "shag" partner Daniel whenever she is feeling lonely. Although her recent fling with playboy television star Jamie Donnelly could have long-term potential, Vicki questions his true intentions. On the weekends she visits Andy and Kate, her brother and sister-in-law, who have the quintessential family life Vicki desires but can't seem to obtain.

Across the Atlantic, Amber Winslow is your typical stay-at-home mother who spends her time rushing off her kids to their various activities, from summer camp to ballet classes. Amber came from humble beginnings, growing up in a trailer with a housekeeper (gasp!) for a mother. She hit the jackpot when she married Richard Winslow, who came from "old money," and Richard has been able to give Amber everything she could want in the wealthy community of Highfield, Connecticut. Lately, however, Amber is feeling that being rich is not all that is cracked up to be. She is tired of the constant social competitiveness of her women's league, where charity galas are more about showing off your new designer clothes than the charity itself, and she yearns for a simpler life.

On a whim, Amber responds to an advertisement in Poise magazine that is looking for someone who would be willing to swap lives with one of their journalists for a month to see if the grass is really greener on the other side. Vicki decides Amber will be the the perfect candidate, as she seems to be an authentic "desperate housewife." From the swap, both Vicki and Amber end up learning a lot more about their lives and their priorities than they had originally bargained for.

The descriptions on the back of Jane Green's books never seem to do them justice. The premises seem so predictable and so much like the typical frothy chicklit with no substance, yet I have found Green's books to be engaging and heartfelt, and Swapping Lives is no exception.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier by Robert A. Emmons Ph.D.

The premise of this books is outstanding, if you are grateful for what you have you will be a happier person. To all of us, this might seem very obvious, but as Dr. Emmons explains, not all people can see the forest through the trees (for lack of a better cliche). He explains how common thought is that people have a set level of happiness no matter what happens in their lives. Dr. Emmons proves that is simply not true by offering up a series of exercises and studies proving that people can make themselves happier and gives us the tools to do so.

I enjoyed the book, but his constant need to back up each of his hypothesis with a study or survey bogs down the flow of the book. He says in 208 pages what can be said in 180 pages. While getting through the first chapter "Gratitude and the psyche" can be a chore, the rest of the book is rewarding. The most useful part of the book is the final chapter "Practicing gratitude." I strongly believe every person who lives on this planet should read this book, not only to learn to be grateful for how their lives are right now, but also to appreciate the lives of those different than us. Before your judge that person sitting on the park bench across from you, read this book!

A great follow-up title would be, Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar

Eventide by Kent Haruf

Following 1999's Plainsong, Haruf returns to Holt, a small high-plains town in the heart of the Colorado, where the lives of the characters intersect as only small town lives can.

Brothers Harold and Raymond McPheron run a small cattle farm and are feeling sorrow when the young mother who they had taken in, Victoria Roubideaux, has moved away to attend school. Just when they are getting back to business, tragedy strikes and Raymond is left to manage the farm on his own.

Across town, Betty and Luther Wallace receive the assistance of social services agent, Rose Tyler, who gives them their food stamps and helps them to understand their responsibilities as parents to their two children, Richie and Joy Rae. Betty struggles with the loss of her first daughter, Donna, who was taken into foster care by a court order.

Fired from his last job, alcoholic Hoyt Raines, Betty's mean-hearted uncle, shows up at the Wallace's trailer, creating havoc and ruining the lives of the family forever.

Meanwhile, separated mother of two, Mary Wells, attempts to cope with her own heartache from the husband who walked out on her and their children, Dena and Emma. Mary befriends neighbor-boy D.J. Kephart, who has been left with the task of caring for his ailing grandfather after the death of his mother, and Dena and D.J. form a special bond.

Haruf's characters are real and sympathetic, and the reader will enjoy the journey to a small town as the lives of the characters unfold and intersect.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Life Room by Jill Bialosky

I have rarely read a novel more evocative of the array of emotions experienced in relationships. Bialosky’s writing rings true in every scene. The novel is a a self-reflective replaying of the Anna Karenina story. The main character, Eleanor Cahn, is a professor of literature doing a paper on Anna Karenina; married to a doctor, also mirroring Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; and bedevilled by her memories of three previous relationships that never quite made sense to her. Eleanor’s heart is a maelstrom of: longing for a better past, maintaining a stable present, and fear of a lonely future. I was gratified that no faintly painted cliches nor stentorious cultural revolutionary chants are given as a conclusion. Bialosky presents caring and truth as ultimate tools for life and well describes their feel and effect.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Meet 15-year-old Christopher Boone who knows it is going to be a super good day when he sees five red cars, who doesn't like yellow foods, and who can only show or receive affection by spreading out his fingers like a fan and touching finger tips. What sounds like Christopher acting like an eccentric teenager is actually his Asperger syndrome at work, which is a condition marked by impaired social interactions and limited repetitive patterns of behavior that is very similar to or may be the same as high functioning autism.

While in the yard, Christopher happens upon Wellington, the neighbor's poodle, stabbed to death with a pitchfork. Despite his father's wishes, he is determine to do some detecting in order to solve the murder of Wellington. Christopher uses his impeccable math abilities in his decision making process, and along the journey he discovers far more about himself and his life than he ever imagined.

Amusing and heartfelt, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the most unique pieces of literature that I have ever read. Full of mystery, intrigue, heart, humor, and mathematical equations, it can be read cover to cover in just a few brief hours. This story both entertains and educates, and no matter your reading interests, this is a book that will astound every reader.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I'm the Vampire, That's Why by Michele Bardsley

Jessica Matthews is a single mom. One night while taking the garbage out, she is attacked by a werewolf. When she comes to, she is sucking the thigh of a strange yet extremely hot man. It turns out he is a vampire and in order to save Jessica's life he has turned her into a vampire also. Jessica wasn't the only one attacked that night. Ten other single parents of the small town Broken Heart, Oklahoma were also attacked. They too were turned into vampires.

Now with a town full of vampires who can't take care of their children during the day, the town is going to get a makeover. Night will become day and day will become night. That's not all. It turns out Jessica is meant to be with Patrick O'Halloran, the vamp who turned her. And of course there are those pesky evil vamps who want to destroy the citizens of Broken Heart and Jessica most of all.

With lots of humor and sexy vampires, I'm the Vampire, That's Why, is an excellent read. And of course with Jessica quoting the movie, The Princess Bride, all the time, you'll want to check that out too!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Tangled Up In You by Rachel Gibson

Maddie Jones is a true crime writer. The next story she is going to write is very personal to her. It is the story of the murder of her mother. Maddie returns to Truly, Idaho intent on writing an unbiased account of the crime. What Maddie didn't count on was Mick Hennessy. Mick is the owner of the two bars in Truly and resident heartbreaker. He is also another victim of the murder. It was his mother who killed Maddie's mom, Mick's dad and then herself. When Mick first finds out what Maddie is doing in town, he is leery. But as time passes and the two get to know each other, they fall in love.
Can this love stand the test of a 30 year old scandal or the fact that Mick doesn't know who Maddie really is? Or will they get past the obstacles that haunt their past?

Rachel Gibson has written another great book. If you are in the mood for a fun and sexy book, give Rachel Gibson a try.