Sunday, May 31, 2009

Over My Dead Body by Michele Bardsley

Welcome back to Broken Heart, Oklahoma. Home of vampires, werewolves, dragons and other paranormal beings. Simone Sweet is a vampire. She is one of the eleven single parents turned. Now the little town of Broken Heart has become a safe haven for the paranormal. Or it will be once the security fence is up and running. Being the town mechanic, Simone is helping construct the high tech fence. Helping her out is Braddock Hayes. Braddock is human but that doesn't stop Simone from lusting after him. But nothing can happen because once they mate they are together forever!

Another threat has come to Broken Heart and this time Simone is the target. She is being framed for murders and then her daughter, Glory, is kidnapped. Is it rival vampires? Or is it someone from her past-someone she thought was dead? And is Braddock really who he says he is?

I always look forward to the Broken Heart series by Michele Bardsley. And Over My Dead Body was worth the wait!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

This book, and its sequel, Pigs in Heaven, are far and away my favorite Barbara Kingsolver books. They tell the story of Taylor Greer, a simple and straightforward young lady from Kentucky who strikes out on her own with an old junky car and what little money she has to find her way in the world. Heading west across the U.S., she winds up encountering a little more adventure than she bargained for.

On her way through Oklahoma, Taylor is basically handed a little girl - she is of Cherokee descent, pretty much catatonic, and the woman who gives her to Taylor insinuates that she will be far better of away from there. Taylor calls her "Turtle" due to the strong, clinging grip the girl has. As they make their way further west, it is evident that Turtle has not had an easy life, but Taylor provides her with the first stability she's known in quite some time. They make it as far as Tucson, where her car finally gives up. Luckily, one of the first people she meets is Mattie, the proprietor of the tire shop where she takes her car.

Mattie is a nurturing, yet tough woman who takes Taylor and Turtle under her wing, eventually giving Taylor a job at the shop. Taylor moves in with another single mother, Lou Ann, and together they forge a unique family unit, taking each day as it comes. Through Mattie, who seems to have lots of different people staying with her at various times, Taylor meets Estevan and Esperanza, a married couple on the run from Guatemala, to whom she grows quite close.

Following a close call with Turtle, a social worker becomes involved with Taylor and Turtle, discovering that Taylor has no legal rights to Turtle. She points Taylor in the right direction to have this amended, and Taylor and Turtle set off for Oklahoma, bringing Estevan and Esperanza, who are headed for a safe house in the same area. Will they make it safely? Will Turtle be returned to her biological family? You'll have to read it to find out....

This is a heartwarming, if implausible, story of fighting against the odds, love and friendship. Published in 1988, a new paperback edition has just been released for those of us who may have missed this one the first time around. Interestingly, immigration is one of the subjects tackled by Kingsolver in this book, something that is as timely today as it was in the 80's. Taylor will have you cheering, for her strength, her vulnerability, and her ability to love. This is a wonderful story of underdogs and their fight for life, and I also heartily recommend the sequel, Pigs in Heaven for those who would like to continue Taylor and Turtle's story.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci

This is a witty and clever memoir of romance in the Big Apple intertwined with delicious recipes.

Guilia Melucci is no Carrie Bradshaw (a la Sex in the City) but her writing is very frank and honest as well as hilarious. Her tone is conversational and REAL; any woman who has experienced failed relationships can relate and identify with her and her struggles.

My only regret is that the book ended too soon! I look forward to more stories as well as recipes inspired by love.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Shadows Still Remain by Peter De Jonge

I was so pumped to learn that another Patterson co-author broke out on his own. As a result, I think my expectations were a bit too high going into this book, so please don't take my review too seriously!

NYPD cop Darlene O'Hara is working the 7th precinct the night a young kid reports his ex-girlfriend missing. Not more than a week later, the body of that young girl, Francesca Pena, is discovered in a park. The body, wrapped in plastic and is extremely mutilated to the point where a tattoo was removed from her back, provides evidence that Pena was raped and tortured.

Pena, a student at NYU, had turned her life around after her mother removed the family from the Chicago barrio to the suburbs of Massachusetts. At NYU, Pena became both a star athelete and a model student. As a result, the NYU community, her friends and family are disturbed that this could hapen to one of their own.

The further Pena delves into the case, the more she uncovers about Pena and her "supposed" former life, but nothing about this girl seems to ring true. Some risky decisions get O'Hara thrown off the case, but she is in too far to turn back now. Will O'Hara risk it all to track down the truth?

Although at the heart a good mystery, Shadows Still Remain is a far cry from the works of Patterson. Still, de Jonge shows promise, and I look forward to more from this author.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín has been shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize, and his latest novel Brooklyn is enjoyable. The story is about Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who leaves her small town for America in the 1950's. In Brooklyn, she builds a life for herself with a job in a department store and takes evening classes to become a bookkeeper. She lives in a boarding house with other young Irish women and dates an Italian boy named Tony. Tragedy strikes and Eilis returns home to Ireland. While there, she needs to make decisions about her future.

This book is well written though slow paced. The author writes about Eilis's thoughts and feelings in great detail, and as I read the book, I thought this was a typical and predictable coming-of-age story. The pace picks up in the last part of the book and the ending was different than I expected. The last paragraph has so much meaning!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lavender Morning by Jude Deveraux

Jocelyn Minton feels betrayed. The woman she grew up with, Miss Edilean, had a whole other life that Joce knew nothing about. All Joce really know was that Miss Edi lost the great love of her life, David, in the war. When Miss Edilean dies, she leaves her family house to Joce in a town named Edilean. It turns out Miss Edilean's family were the founders of the town in Virgina. When Joce arrives at her new home, she is asked out by Ramsey, the lawyer. According to Miss Edi, Ramsey is the man Joce is supposed to be with. But Joce starts to have feelings for another fellow, Luke, the gardener and Ramsey's cousin.

Joce finds out that there is no money and only the house. To make sure nothing happens to the house, Joce starts a cupcake business with her tenant Tess and Luke's dad. And in her free time she is writing a history of Miss Edilean's fascinating life. And while juggling all of this, Joce is falling in love.

Lavender Morning was a terrific first book in a new series by Jude Deveraux. The book is told in present day but when telling about Miss Edilean's life it flashes back to the 1940s. The second book in the series, Days of Gold, will be released in December 2009.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eye of Vengeance by Jonathon King

Florida's Daily News crime reporter Nick Mullens is at the scene when a prisoner is taken out in a single shot from what detectives soon discover to be a rooftop sniper. The prisoner was doing time for the rape and murder of two young children. This particular killing brings back haunting memories for Nick, who lost his wife and one of his two daughters in a fatal car crash caused by a drunk driver.

Soon after the first shooting another victim, who also happens to be a former prisoner, is taken down outside his parole office. With the help of the paper's research assistant, Nick learns that two other former convicted killers have been taken down by snipers. All the victims were features of articles written by Nick. Is this sniper acting as a public vigilante who thinks this is the right way to bring about justice?

Detective Hargarve blows off Nick's theory as an ego-trip. But now it is a race between time for Nick to track down the killer before someone else is killed.

Telling the story from the reporter's point of view, as opposed to a witness or detective, is a different take on what could have been a very typical thriller. King's books are not very long and are good for readers who enjoy the quick, intense pacing of James Patterson's novels.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

Undress me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman is a travel memoir. After graduating from college, the author and her friend decide to spend a year backpacking around the world starting in mainland China. It was 1986…communist China had only been open to Westerners a short time and this was two years before the events at Tiananmen Square captured the world’s attention.

This memoir is open and honest about the joys, hardships, and connections that are experienced when traveling in a country that is so different than your own. Gilman is quite forward about the unusual foods, primitive facilities, and the interesting people. Both women also battled serious illnesses which just added to the adventure. However, the author’s friend began to act strangely. Thinking it was culture shock, fatigue and poor food, the problem was overlooked until she had a breakdown in a small village and needed to get home immediately.

This book was wonderful! I spent four months in China as an exchange student in 1991 so I visited many of the same places and experienced the same culture shock. I also had a sick friend who needed medical attention…not easy when you don’t speak the language well! China has changed so much in a short time. Reading Gilman’s stories brought back a lot of good (and not so good) memories for me. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel memoirs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

There is the excitement of exhilarating action. Denny Swift is a race car driver. It is a family story: Eve and daughter Zoe help to make Denny’s life whole and happy. But it is Enzo, a Labrador-terrier mix who through thick and thin remains steadfastly at Denny’s side and is Denny’s support and cheerleader.

Enzo’s perspective drives this story of how to go about this thing called life. Enzo loves everything he is able to experience, learning about racing, life and what it means to be – well, human. His main regret is that he does not have opposable thumbs; and he can’t wait to become a human in his next life, which he surely believes he will become. He tells us of his bursts of insight; he tells us about his tiny gleaned truths.

Though this story is somewhat over the top, still it is a joyous exclamation mark about what it means to be compassionate, loving and able to succeed even in the face of wrenching, heartbreaking loss. It touches on themes of loyalty, faithfulness, hope, and life at its most incongruous. Racing is a metaphor for life and its challenges, turns and jolts and remembering to appreciate the present. All from the perspective of a dog’s eyes.

For animal lovers and race driving enthusiasts this is a warm and charming story. It is mostly about how a dog masterfully holds a family together in his unique style. A wonderful read. Plan to wistfully use your Kleenex.

Monday, May 11, 2009

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

I've been reading Mary Balogh for many years, because of her historical romances with well-rounded characters, and compelling love stories. Her new series follows the romantic fortunes of the orphaned Huxtables, an impoverished family who find out that the young brother, Stephen, is the new Earl of Merton. Consequently, the whole family moves to their new estate, and try to prepare for the new life in front of them.

Since the Huxtables have not been living in high society, they lack the experience and polish needed to make a successful entrance into society. Stephen's guardian Elliot Wallace, decides that marrying Margaret, the eldest sister, is the ideal way to guarantee a smooth transition into the ton. However, Margaret's younger sister, Vanessa, is determined to prevent this from happening. She knows that Margaret is in love with a British soldier away at war, but that Margaret will feel obligated to marry Elliot, in order to help her family. Vanessa is recently widowed, has experienced marriage and happiness, and is determined that Margaret should have that chance too. Vanessa proposes to Elliot, even though they have already quarrelled on several occasions, and neither of them particularly like the other. She promises to make him happy, and plans on making the best of a complicated situation.

Obviously, the more Vanessa and Elliot get to know one another, the more they are intrigued by the other. It doesn't hurt that there is a strong attraction between them, and slowly, they begins to uncover one another's layers, and see the person within. They come to love and support one another, as well as help each other heal from past wounds.

I enjoyed this story, because Vanessa is a likable character. It takes longer to warm up to Elliot, but I enjoyed him also. I also liked the Hustable family, and want to see the resolutions to their individual stories. Finally, there is an intriguing mystery regarding the Huxtable's cousin, Con, that I am anxious to find out the answers to. However, I didn't love this book. In many ways, it is a set up for the rest of the series, and the relationship between Vanessa and Elliot didn't have as much development as I wanted. Having said that, Balogh is still a gifted writer, and this is an enjoyable read.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Too Fat to Fish by Artie Lange

Fans of The Howard Stern Show will know Artie Lange as the loveable, but dysfunctional comic from that show. Artie (an alumnus of MADtv and feature films such as Dirty Work, The Bachelor and Elf) joined the team in 2001 and has quickly become one of the most popular members of the on-air crew. Although totally inappropriate in his behavior and politically incorrect in much of his commentary, Artie is truly one of the funniest guys in radio … or anywhere, for that matter.

This is really a book for the fans, but if you aren’t one and you read this book, you’ll gain insight into why Artie is so beloved by his fans, and might even become one yourself. This book is not for the weak, it is full of vulgar language and depraved behavior, but really nothing worse than you’d find in a book by Hunter S. Thompson and the like.

The primary reason you’ll want to read this book is for the stories. Artie is a fantastic storyteller. He is brutally and devastatingly honest and willing to share almost anything from his life… and what a life it is! The memoir begins with touching stories of Artie’s relationship with his father and progresses through a life filled with bouts of depression, alcoholism, rehab, jail time, heroin use and a suicide attempt. Much of this behavior seems to be tied in to Artie’s unresolved guilt and grief about his father’s accident, which left him a quadriplegic and led to his early death. A recurring theme throughout is loss, as Artie’s self-destructive behavior costs him many relationships both personal and professional along the way.

Doesn’t sound like much fun? I told you this book was not for the weak. The best comedians often find their comedy in the bleakest places. This could not be truer in Artie’s case. However, along with being poignant and sad, this book is sweet and funny. It leaves you rooting for Artie. Oh, and by the way, Howard Stern provides a humorous forward.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dewey by Vicki Myron

Dewey Readmore Books, a shivering, bedraggled tiny orange kitten, found out what good luck and wonderful, kind library staff and patrons were all about. From the first few words of the book, it is almost impossible not to be drawn into this true story of a kitten who fell upon great fortune - good people and a satisfying place to call home: a library - despite an inauspicious introduction to the library and his library friends.

Dewey is more than a story of hardship or of a kitten triumphantly rescued from death’s door on a frigid, icy Iowa morning. Rather this is a story of life, and lives, and how intertwined lives can become. This is a book that reminds us that animals can snuggle their way into our hearts and lives even if we didn’t intend it to happen; they can easily connect with us in ways we never expected.

Dewey shared his 18 years with so many in Spencer, IA. He taught many valuable lessons, such as be happy with what you have, and share your unique gifts of love. Dewey speaks to some of the mysteries of life, libraries, and a very special “someone.”

A wonderful, easy and pleasant read, of course, for animal lovers, and especially cat lovers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

On the eve of a turbulent storm, United States Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule have been sent to investigate a missing patient case on Shutter Island, the residence of the Ashecliffe mental institution.

Ashecliffe, however, is no ordinary mental facility, as it houses the country's most violent and criminally insane individuals, the ones that no other facility can manage. In fact, Rachel Solando, the woman the Marshals are supposed to find, has been sentenced to the hospital for drowning her three children and setting their composing bodies up at the kitchen table to have a meal.

Unbeknownst to Chuck, Teddy has an ulterior motive for being on the island: he believes that Andrew Laeddis, the man who set fire to the apartment building that killed his wife, is a patient there, and he is determined to settle the score. However, the warden and the doctor argue that the facility only has 66 patients, even though Teddy unlocks the codes left by the missing woman that suggest that there is a 67th patient who he is certain is Laeddis.

The deeper the Marshals delve into the case, the more horrors they unleash. What goes on at Ashecliffe is simply sinister. The doctors are performing lobotomies and cruel experimental surgeries in order to alter their patients mental states. As a U.S. Marshal, Teddy has the power to uncover the truth, but that is if he can ever make it off the island. Do you honestly think the warden and the doctor will let this happen?

Shutter Island is awesomely bizarre, and readers will relish every minute of it. Lehane, who delivers a final shocking twist, will have readers questing what really is reality for Teddy, and what is an elaborate scheme concocted by the Ashecliffe staff. Will we ever know for certain? Read the book and give me your opinion!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Secret by Beverly Lewis

Bestselling author Beverly Lewis is starting a new series set in Lancaster County called Seasons of Grace. Book one, The Secret, is about the Byler family, Amish farmers that live near Bird-in-Hand. Mrs. Lettie Byler has been distracted lately, ever since a stranger visited at a recent barn raising. She isn’t sleeping well and is often wandering around the house and farm in the middle of the night. Her daughter Grace is very concerned, but has been raised not to pry. Lettie tries to talk to her husband about her troubles, but his silent nature, keeps her quiet too.

Then Lettie leaves home in the middle of the night without an explanation, just a vague note to Grace. The Byler family is shocked and confused, and living in a small community makes them a hot topic of the rumor mills.

I enjoyed this book! The “secret” is not revealed until the end of the book, and there are many loose ends which left me anxious to read the next in the series (September 2009 according to her web site). There are several other characters and stories within the main story. Heather, a young woman (an Englischer) who is dealing with a serious illness and stays for an extended time as a boarder at a nearby farmhouse, Grace’s quiet fiancé Henry, and the lively Yonnie Bontrager who has an unconventional style of courting.

Beverly Lewis is wonderful at drawing the reader into the Amish way of life and successfully blends in the current modern world of iPhones, GPS, soldiers serving in the Middle East and rising gas prices. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

I am on quite the non-fiction kick these days - although overall I probably read more fiction than non, my only requirement is that a book hold my interest. I've read several non-fiction books that read more like fiction thanks to the talented authors that penned them. This is one of those books.

Percy Fawcett was a man's man and larger than life - from an aristocratic British family, he was a natural-born adventurer who quickly learned and adapted his survival skills in the wilderness. Well known for his vast explorations of South America's unmapped areas, he undertook his biggest challenge in 1925, when he and his party went in search of the fabled golden city of El Dorado, believed to be hidden in the jungles of Brazil. Accompanying him were his 21 year-old son, Jack, and Jack's best friend, Raleigh. Little did they know, this would be Fawcett's last adventure.

The mystery surrounding the fate of the unfortunate party sparked several others to enter into the jungle - to search for Fawcett, to rediscover the city of El Dorado, or to at least uncover what became of the expedition. Many of these men were never seen again - yet, the interest continued. Author David Grann, a self-described city fellow who liked, "newspapers, take-out food, sports highlights (recorded on TiVo) and the air conditioning on high," caught the bug himself, and embarked on his own adventure into the jungle, searching for the fate of Percy Fawcett and his party.

This book is an addictive read - I could not put it down! The story of Fawcett and the other explorers was a fascinating look at a history I previously knew nothing about. Grann's account of his own foray into the jungle was also interesting, both for noting the changes that had taken place in the 80 years since Fawcett's trip, and for the aspects that hadn't changed. This would be a great book for someone who would like to give non-fiction a try - it's suspenseful, adventurous and most of all, a great story.