Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Italian Summer: Golf, Food and Family at Lake Como by Roland Merullo

I love every type of travel essay that is out there, particularly ones that take place in western Europe. When I saw the title of this book, I thought to myself that I had never read a book about golf before but if it takes place in Italy, I'm game.

Roland Merullo is one lucky guy--he gets to spend his summer golfing at premier golf resorts, dining alfresco at marvelous restaurants tucked deep into the mountains and spend time with his wife and young daughters. As a late in life golf enthusiastic who turned his passion into a writing career, he brings wit and humor to not just his golfing adventures but to those with his family and new friends.

Admittedly, I know nothing about golfing so I thought I would skip those chapters but I found myself reading and enjoying them anyway.

If you're looking for a different twist on the American living in Italy story, give this one a shot.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Death's Door by Meryl Sawyer

Madison Connelly just wants her cell phone. She leaves work, an online trivia site that she created with her ex-husband, and heads to her best friend Erin's house. She gets there and lets herself in with the spare key. Once inside, Madison notices a peculiar smell. As she looks for her cell phone, Madison finds something else. Erin's body. Madison screams and is grabbed from behind. She struggles thinking it is the killer. It is Paul Tanner, a homicide detective who is on leave from a gun shot wound.

The last thing Paul excepted to find on his errand was a dead body. All he was doing was helping out his old man, owner of Tanner Security, track down Madison Connelly and let her know her real dad is philanthropist Wyatt Holbrook. After the cops have been called and Madison is free to go, Paul tells her the news. Madison is adamant that it is all a mistake. She knows who her father is and it isn't Wyatt. Thinking that is the end of it, Madison goes about trying to convince the cops she isn't a suspect and planning her best friend's funeral.

Paul won't let it go. He has files that show Madison's mom used the fertility clinic Wyatt had donated sperm to. He also won't let it go because Wyatt is dying and needs a liver transplant. He has hired Tanner security to find all his children. Madison agrees to take the DNA test. While waiting for results someone tries to kill her. Paul becomes her bodyguard and starts becoming suspicion of some Wyatt children's "accidental" deaths. As he investigates, Paul realizes someone is killing Wyatt's children. Now he must find the killer before Madison becomes the next victim.

Another suspenseful and exciting book by Meryl Sawyer. I'm a big fan of her books and always look forward to her next one!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Relentless by Dean Koontz

Author Cubby Greenwich's latest novel was just torn to shreds by illustrious book critic Shearman Waxx. Despite the unfavorable review, his agent sees it as an important stepping stone in his career. Although his wife Penny tells him to let it go, Cubby can't help but be curious about the known recluse who has such power over the literary world. Just who is this Waxx to give him such a horrid review?

After receiving a tip from an acquaintance, Cubby plans a lunch outing with his prodigy son Milo at the very same restaurant where Waxx is expected to dine. When Cubby meets Waxx face-to-face, the reviewer only whispers "doom" and walks away.

The next thing Cubby knows, Waxx is wandering through his house but Cubby can't seem to catch him in time and soon after discovers a photo of his family exploding in his oven. After being repeatedly zapped in the middle of the night by a taser, Cubby wonders when this torture will end. A phone call from former author John Clitherow, who went into hiding after the murder of his family, informs him that the reviewer's tormenting is just starting.

Cubby, with Penny, Milo, and dog Lassie in tow, escape just seconds before their house blows up, but wherever they go, Waxx seems to find them. Running out of places to hide, Cubby and Penny decide that they must face Waxx to end the charades before Waxx kills them all.

I will say that some of the details of the plot are a bit far-fetched, but readers will enjoy this entertaining ride nonetheless. In typical Koontz style, the suspense starts early on and doesn't stop until the very end. Also enjoyable are a few elements of the supernatural and Koontz's keen sense of humor.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Exes and Ohs by Beth Kendrick

I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed in this early offering from chick lit author Beth Kendrick.

In Exes and Oh's, psychology graduate student Gwen Traynor has just run into her ex-finance, who left her on the night before their wedding for his ex-girlfriend. In the midst of a mental breakdown, Gwen is saved by a charming trustee from the children's board, Alex Coughlin. What starts as a casual day date turns into a strong connection, as both have a passion for Northern Exposure reruns in addition to each other. Gwen discovers that Alex, like herself, has drama with his ex-fiance, Harmony.

Meanwhile, back at work, Gwen has taken on a new client, five-year-old Leo who is put into counseling by his mother, soap opera actress Harmony St. James. Yes, the same Harmony that is her current boyfriend's ex, and to top it off, Alex is Leo's father, but Harmony hasn't told him yet. An obvious conflict of interest, Gwen isn't sure what to do and what this will mean for her relationship with Alex.

When Alex learns that he is Leo's father, he feels compelled to do right by his child by working it out with Harmony. This leaves Gwen with her heart broken again thanks to a pesky ex. Added to the mix is Gwen's roommate, Cesca, who is going through her own emotional turmoil with her boyfriend. Will ex's continue to ruin Gwen's chances at love?

I have enjoyed Kendrick's more recent novels (Fashionably Late and The Pre-Nup), so I was surprised at my dissatisfaction with Exes and Ohs. The characters were exaggerated and the plot unbelievable (there were just too many coincidences to be plausible). However, I do realize that sometimes it takes a few books for an author to really come into her own, and I know that Kendrick does stand out in the crowd. Instead of reading any more of her earlier works, I guess I will have to just have to wait for Kendrick's next book.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

Helen Fitzwilliam is running away. Running away from her disappointing life as mistress to the Duke of Lister. And with her are her two children, Abigail and Jamie. They have left London and are now in Scotland. With the help of her friend Lady Vale(To Seduce a Sinner), Helen will become housekeeper to Sir Alistair Munroe. She will present herself as a widow and hope that the Duke never finds her.

Sir Alistair Munroe was wounded terribly at the massacre at Spinner's Falls. He lost a couple of fingers, his face is scarred and he lost one eye. He doesn't like to go out in public because little children scream when they see him and young ladies faint at the sight of him. So he stays in his castle and shuts everyone out. Imagine his surprise when late one night a beautiful woman and two small children showed up at his doorstep claiming to be his new housekeeper. A housekeeper he didn't recall hiring or even looking for. But he agrees to keep her on for a week and then go from there.

Everything is working out and Alistair and Helen find that they are attracted to each other. But before anyone can have a happy ending, Helen's past will come back to haunt them. Abigail and Jamie are kidnapped and Alistair finds out about Helen's past as a mistress. Can they overcome all the obstacles to get their happy ending?

To Beguile a Beast is the third book in The Legend of the Four Soldiers series. In all of the books, the main mystery is trying to find the traitor of the Spinner's Falls massacre. The next book in the series is To Desire a Devil and is available in October 2009. And if you love Elizabeth's books as much as I do, you'll be glad to hear she also writes under the name Julia Harper.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

He's Just Not That Into You is my new bible! This book just makes so much sense. Will I take this into heart the next time I am in a questionable relationship-related situation? Probably not, but it is satisfying for the time being.

Comprised of series of letters in which women present different excuses as to why the men they love aren't calling them, having sex with them, asking them out, marrying them, etc., HJNTIY is an answer book for every possible scenario. All our questions boil down to one answer: he's just not that into you.

According to Behrendt, a guy who is into you will never be too busy, scared of relationships, bad at intimacy, or whatever to be with you. Behrendt's style is definitely not sugar-coated, which is what is needed sometimes to get it through our thick skulls. Tuccillo, on the other hand, lays down the same law but gives it to us from a women's perspective, which is a bit softer...but either way, the answer remains the same.

The whole point is to save yourself a lot of time and heartache trying to analyze why a guy hasn't done what you are wishing he would do. The authors contend that you are too fabulous to be wasting your time with someone who is not that into you and that you should be focusing on finding someone who is.

Any single woman, like myself, should find something useful here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Unsettled: The Problem of Loving Israel by Marc Aronson

This exciting, sleek volume is a must-read for anyone committed to world justice and peace. For those who aren't, I dare you to read it and say you still can't understand the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.

The goal of the book is to clearly present the debates about Israels past, present, and future that are occurring right now in Israel itself. Written for teens but eye-opening, as well, for adults, this very personal yet accurate investigation into Israels journey to nationhood is a shining addition to the jewels already in Aronson's crown of non-fiction writing.

Aronson effectively puts his Phd in American History to use with analogies between the USA and Israel - for example, both nations infatuation with the idea of being destined to inherit and rule certain land. As he wrestles with his own attachment to the State of Israel, he challenges readers to wrestle with complex whys and hows that, left unanswered, will bring Israel and the world continued anguish and moral demise.

On one hand, he writes, Israel is the answer to the tragedy of the Holocaust while on the other, what of conqueror Israel? Has a brutal side of Israel that was not visible in its early days now emerged full-blown? By repeatedly weighing the rights a nation gains by conquering versus the moral rights that belong to all people as human beings, Aronson leaves us thinking hard about the nature of democracy and evil on any home front and the requirements for achieving justice for all.

His bottom line for Israel is, The idea of Israel was never simply to have land with borders and an army. It was meant to be a place where people could live better lives. For the Israel of hope to exist . . . Jews need to learn how to live with fellow citizens who do not share their religion, history or culture. . .

I want to say to those Jewish high school students and those Arab Israelis: You can make your Israel, your nation, greater. The more each of you can see that Israel is both of you Jew and Arab the stronger Israel will become. This book would be an outstanding selection for sacred institutions youth and book groups.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

Not Quite a Husband is the newest book by up-and-coming Historical Romance star, Sherry Thomas. The majority of it takes place during an uprising in a remote part of Indian British empire, which is a setting I normally avoid. However, Thomas does an excellent job of recreating the time and place, and in this case the setting enhanced the story, instead of distracting from it.

Not Quite a Husband begins in the middle of the story. Bryony Asquith and Leo Marsden have known each other for most of their lives; they married several years ago, and obtained an annulment a year later. At the beginning of the book, Leo has tracked Bryony down to a remote part of India where she is working as a community doctor for missionaries. Bryony's father is ill, and Leo was sent by Bryony's sister to find her and escort her back to England before he dies. Reluctantly, Bryony agrees to the trip, even though she is still intensely attracted to Leo and not over the pain of her failed marriage. We quickly learn that the same holds true for Leo.

Thomas does a wonderful job of slowly revealing the reasons for Bryony and Leo's annulment, as well as portraying the deep love that they still have for each other. While extensive use of flashbacks can be detrimental to a story, in this case they help to move the action along, and provide emotional ballast to the increasingly dangerous political situation that Bryony and Leo find themselves in.

Additionally, Thomas has given us two well rounded, intelligent and unusual characters that we long to see move past their differences and misunderstandings. When they finally resolve and resume their relationship, the satisfaction is great, because we understand the difficulties that Bryony and Leo had to overcome. Overall, this was a moving love story, as well as an exciting historical adventure.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea? By Chelsea Handler.

I am not ashamed to admit that I just finished reading Are you There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea. Granted, I didn't sharpen any of my brain cells by picking up this book, but it was just too fun to ignore, and isn't that what reading should be all about anyway?

Many of you may know of comedian Chelsea Handler from her E! talk show, Chelsea Lately, but before that she starred on the hidden-camera show, Girls Behaving Badly as well as her own sketch comedy show, The Chelsea Handler Show.

In AYTVIMC, Handler covers little snippets of her life, like the time she got everyone in the fifth grade to like her by spreading a rumor that she was starting in a sequel to Private Benjamin with Goldie Hawn, but this time it takes place on the Galpagos Island and is more of a sea-faring adventure.

Handler also discusses the night she spent in a women's prison for a DUI and the vacation she took with her father to Costa Rica in which everyone thought they were a couple. In my favorite chapter, "Dim Sum and Then Some," Handler, in desperate need of a massage on a Saturday afternoon, walks in to a Japansese dive in which a misunderstanding about a "happy ending" ensues.

Handler is pretty graphic when it comes to her descriptions of her sexual escapades as well as when she talks about her own body. While I find this type of humor to be refreshingly honest, this book definitely isn't for everyone. Obviously Handler is a ham, and if you take anything she says seriously, then you are missing the point to this book.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pursuit by Karen Robards

Jessica Ford was at home when she got the fateful call from her boss. She was to go to a hotel bar and pick up their biggest and most famous client, the First Lady of the United States, Annette Cooper. Being a first year lawyer, Jessica couldn't refuse. But she wished she had. Because the night would end with the First Lady dead and Jessica in the hospital unable to remember what happened.

Mark Ryan is part of the Secret Service. His detail is the First Lady. It doesn't matter that he was off duty when she died, he is still responsible. He must get to the bottom of what happened and his first place to start is with Jessica Ford.

While Jessica is recovering in the hospital, someone tries to kill her. No one believes her except Mark. Now the two of them are trying to figure out a conspiracy that could go all the way to the top of the White House administration. Who would want Annette Cooper killed? Mark and Jessica are determined to figure it out before they end up the same way as the First Lady.

Karen Robards always writes exciting books. Pursuit just jumped to the top of my favorite books by Karen. It had me guessing until the end.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

enLIGHTended by Jessica Berger Gross

How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples and a Beagle-Pointer

Yoga can transform your life, as the author of this light read discovered. It didn't happen overnight--she would dabble in yoga classes at various times in her life but it wasn't until she'd hit one of her lowest points that the joy and benefits of yoga took hold of her.

Like many people, Jessica struggled with her weight and her inner demons--in her case, her anger at her parents and the abusive household she grew up in. It was through the philosophy of yoga more than just the physical practice that helped her learn to live more fully, eat smarter and even lose weight.

While Jessica goes fairly hard-core for my taste into the clean living lifestyle, many of the ideas and meals shared are reasonable for anyone who is looking to be enLIGHTENED as well. Although I am a yogini, I haven't learned how to incorporate many of the yogic philosophies into my life--this book made me see that it's possible for anyone to take the journey.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg

Recently widowed and Oak Park native Helen Ames needs to do something to get out of the house and fill her days. She contemplates working retail at a hip clothing store, much to her daughter Tessa's chagrin, but is not sure it will be a good fit. She has also turned down an opportunity to teach a local writing seminar, as she is not feeling particularly motivated to begin writing again herself, let alone teach writing to someone else.

Then, a phone call from her accountant has her changing her tune about what she should do. It turns out that her husband, Dan, had withdrawn a large portion of money from their retirement savings and now Helen will have to find other means of supporting herself. Hurt and scared, Helen wonders what he would have used the money for and possibly considers if it was gambling debts or another woman. As a result of this unexpected financial crisis, Helen accepts the teaching appointment.

Little does Helen know the rewards she will reap, and they are so much more than monetary, from teaching. Helen also learns that the money her husband withdrew was spent on a grand surprise for their retirement, which will involve her moving to California. Although Tessa encourages her mother to relocate, Helen wonders how can she can ever leave the house and life she and Dan have built together in Oak Park.

Women's fiction author Berg's works are subtle, yet fulfilling. She has natural ability to tap into the heart and minds of her characters, revealing people that are flawed and sympathetic, and Home Safe is no exception. Berg's fans will be rewarded.