Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Summary:I stuck my finger under the edge of the paper and jerked it under the tape. 'Shoot,' I muttered when the paper sliced my finger. A single drop of blood oozed from the tiny cut. It all happened very quickly then. 'No!' Edward roared ...Dazed and disorientated, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm - and into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires. For Bella Swan, there is one thing more important than life itself: Edward Cullen. But being in love with a vampire is more dangerous than Bella ever could have imagined. Edward has already rescued Bella from the clutches of an evil vampire but now, as their daring relationship threatens all that is near and dear to them, they realise their troubles may just be beginning ...

My Review: The story of Bella and Edward takes a drastic turn. All in all I a thought that this book was written well and had more "bang" than the first one. However, I was sorely upset with where she took the story line. Now having read the others I understand the need for it, but at the time I was very miffed at Miss Meyer.
This book it heavier on the action, lighter on the romance then Twilight. I found that it dragged a bit in the center, but made up for all its shortcomings with a spectacular finale. You will find yourself wondering how it qualifies for "young adult" reading.
If I would have felt more compassion towards Jacob, perhaps this would have been my favorite, but I am a cold hearted reader, and my loyalties were elsewhere....I am definitely on Edwards Team:)

My Rating: 4 stars.........but I am a tough critic.

If I could sum up this book in one phrase: It made my heart hurt, and then it made it thump clean out of my chest.

Outtakes from a Marriage by Ann Leary

(Previously reviewed by Heather)

Summary: (Good Heavens this is the longest summary EVER!) Julia and Joe Ferraro are living the good life in Manhattan now that Joe’s finally made it; he’s the star of a hit TV show and has just been nominated for a Golden Globe award. After many lean years, they’ve got a grand Upper West Side apartment and an Amagansett beach house, and their two kids go to elite private schools. Even better, Julia and Joe are still madly in love.Or so Julia thinks until the fateful evening when she accidentally hears a voice mail on Joe’s phone— a message left by a sultry-sounding woman who clearly isn’t just a friend. Suddenly Julia is in a tailspin, compulsively checking Joe’s messages, stalking him in cyberspace, and showing up unannounced on his sets, wondering all along if she should confront him. Julia’s search forces her to consider the possibility that in the long process of helping Joe become something, she has become a bit of a “nothing,” as her daughter once described her to her class on career day. A big husband-stalking nothing.When Julia and Joe first met, she was an edgy East Village girl who wrote music reviews for the Village Voice and threw famed parties in a gritty downtown loft with her friends. Joe was a shy, awkward drama student who followed her around like a lovesick spaniel. After he won her heart, Julia helped Joe evolve into a roguishly handsome charmer who became increasingly obsessed with his looks and his career. Julia, meanwhile, settled into doting motherhood and a new life of comfy clothes and parenting associations.Now, faced with the looming awards show and the possibility of a destroyed marriage, Julia embarks on an accelerated self-improvement routine of Botox, hair extensions, and erotically charged shrink sessions while dodging the sancti-mommies who lie in wait for her at her son’s preschool each day.A unique take on the perennially popular issue of women trying not to lose themselves in matrimony and motherhood, Outtakes from a Marriage is expertly and humorously set against the Manhattan preschool mafia, the Hollywood machine, and the ticking clock of a waiting red carpet.

My Review: This book was our MOMS Club book pick for the month of February and, as such, I was hoping that it would provide some valuable insight into the modern marriage or at the very least a tidy story about the idiosyncrasies of married life (that ended happily so as to not send me on an emotional bender). Alas, it seems it was not to be. While I enjoyed the basic plotline about a middle-age woman who thinks her movie-star husband is cheating and zooms wildly into a world full of paranoia and cellular stalking, the writing was only "ehhh." If that makes any sense. The story was, however, a fairly accurate description of how women (and I'm speaking generally here) tend to analyze and over analyze every living thing that our partner does, says, wears, breathes, and eats in a neurotic attempt to detect any hidden meaning. And if they could be cheating??!!?? Well, then it just gets ridiculous. So, for its' commentary on women and trust issues, I found Outtakes to be an enjoyable and semi-engaging read. It's fatal flaw however, was the non-committal ending. You know, the one where it ends in such a way that is so vague that the reader can allow their mind to finish the story in whatever way will make them happy. It felt like a cop out. I figure if I'm going to read a 260 page book it dang well better have an ending.

My rating: 3 stars. At to me that means that it was fun and okay but a one time read at most. And for the love of Pete TELL ME HOW IT ENDS. Plenty of swearing -fyi.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: Wow, minus the wedding ring its my freshman year of college. How fun to get to relive that all over again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

See Kim's reviews of New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.

Summary:When seventeen year-old Bella Swan leaves sunny Arizona to live with her father in the small and gloomy Pacific North-West town of Forks she doesn’t expect to like it. After all she has made excuses not to go there enough times over the past few years. If living in Forks, with its constant mist and rain, wasn’t bad enough she will have to make a whole new set of friends and settle into a new school.

Bella soon makes some new friends at school but when she sees a boy called Edward Cullen sitting with his brothers and sisters in the cafeteria she is instantly intrigued. Edward is stunningly attractive, almost inhumanly beautiful, and yet he is an outsider too. Although Edward and his family have lived in Forks for two years they have never really been accepted by the townsfolk.

At first Edward is aloof, sometimes it almost seems like he can’t stand to be in the same room as her, but eventually they strike up an unlikely friendship. Even as Bella falls hopelessly and irrevocably in love with Edward, she still can’t work out exactly what makes him so different to everyone else.

On a trip to the beach, Bella is told of the local legend about the “cold ones”, a group of blood drinkers who have sworn off hunting humans but are still not welcome on Indian land because vampires are not to be trusted. Realising Edward is vampire changes nothing for Bella, she knows that she still loves him even if he’s not human.

Edward and his whole family are vampires. Edward himself was made a vampire when he was seventeen years-old, although that was at the end of World War I. For Edward his love for Bella is both a delight and a torment. A delight because she is the first person he has loved since he was made a vampire. A torment because although he has sworn off human blood and only hunts animals the craving for human blood never truly leaves him and the very scent of her also stirs his hunger for blood….

My Review: Ok, let me just start off by saying I am not 15 years old. When I first heard about this series I laughed at reading a "young adult" series. I am not young and very much not an adult,:) so these didn't hold a lot of interest for me. After all the craze started....and then died down. I decided that I could give them a try. After all 20 million people can't all be wrong, right?

This books style is playful and unencumbered. The loves story flames hot all the way through, and although there is NO SEX the steam radiates out of the book with the fierceness of a rumbling kettle. The main character is likable and we all relate to her on some level. She seems to think the way we all did in high school, and yet Mrs. Meyer captures you in a off beat, slightly kooky story line, with scenes and characters you won't soon forget (and this is my FIRST review, of the first book).

On the flip side. Ok, so in case you haven't heard this book is about vampires. High school vampires at that. So..... if you can't turn yourself over to the fantasy, don't dive in, you would be disappointed.

Overall I think the writing was good, if very simple. The author was creative and engaging, and seems to really take pride in her ability to suck you in to the lust and rampaging hormones without ever stepping over that "Juvenile Fiction" line of trust. I liked the second half a bit better, the love plus the action was a great way to lead in to the next book.

If I could sum up this book in one phrase: Did I just read a book about teen aged vampires and LOVE it? Yes, I did, even if I am a little ashamed to say so.

My Rating: Is a 4.8 legal?? I loved it, but I wanted a little more from the writing.

I will be reviewing the others in the series in the next couple of days.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Flood Tide by Clive Cussler

Unknown waters, 1948. The Princess Dou Wan, a sea-weary cruise ship seized by Chiang Kai-Shek, slams into a devastating storm that tears the hull apart and sends it and a mysterious cargo down into the depths, lost to all searchers for more than fifty years.

Pacific Northwest, 2000. Dirk Pitt (TM) rescues a beautiful undercover immigrant agent from Qin Shang, an insationably greedy smuggler whose vast fortune is made selling Chinese immigranst into slavery around the globe. Shang's campaign contributions have bought him a collection of powerful U.S. politicians, but Pitt finds the secret behind Shang's vast and mystifying seaport in the Louisianna bayou to be shockingly sinister. From an adrenaline-pumped race against time and tide up the Mississippi River to a desperate dash to recover Chinese treasures, Dirk Pitt faces one of his most formidable foes - a madman bent on killing hundres of thousands of innocent men, women, and children with a catastrophic surge of mass destruction. Excerpts from book cover.

My Review:
Backstory - I asked DH to bring me a book to read when I was in the hospital a few weekends ago and got this. He loves these books and wanted to know what I thought. I was a good sport and read it - these are (most) of my thoughts.

I'll skip straight to the "if I could sum up in one sentence" portion: This would make a good movie. Its a typical action adventure, with the daring, dashing hero, the beautiful heroine, the chummy sidekick, the evil villan and his plot to take over the world. It would have qualified as a "fun read" if it hadn't been so long. If it were a movie it would have involved two hours of my life as opposed to nearly a week.

Of course, the audience is men which is why my hubby likes it and why I rolled my eyes at things like the studliness of the hero (of course, picturing Matthew McConaughey delivering the lines was fun) and the endless descriptions of cars, boats, and helicopters. I also found some issue with what I consider racism. Things that smacked of "all Chinese look alike"-ism and the concept that immigration in itself will lead to the death of the nation.

But - if this were made into a movie all that stuff would be edited out, if not for idealism, at least for time's sake.

I was going to consider this book my single Clive Cussler read to satisfy my husbands desire to share with me one of his "likes," but in preparing this review I read on Amazon that this is a good "beginner" Dirk Pitt novel and there are others that are better. And since I liked the movie Sahara (oh, how I drool over the speed yacht they blow up) maybe, just maybe I'll read another.

My rating: 3 stars.

To sum up in one sentance: Would make a good movie.

Emily's Favorite Books

Top 6 Fiction (in order of preference) -
Blindness - by Jose Saramago
(highly thought-provoking,
not a light read and the movie is rated-R for a reason)

Life of Pi - by Yann Martel (RFS Review)
The Fountainhead - by Ayn Rand
(also not a light read and maybe I only love it because it is about architecture)

Wicked - by Gregory Maguire
(book and broadway show differ quite a bit with the book being sort of a downer - beware weird puppet sex scene...)
The Poisonwood Bible - by Barbara Kingsolver
Ahab's Wife - by Sena Jeter Naslund (RFS Review)

John Adams - by David McCullough (audio book highly recommended)
Eat, Pray, Love - by Elizabeth Gilbert
Moving Violations - by John Hockenberry
Nickel and Dimed - by Barbara Ehrenriech
Go Forward with Faith: Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley - by Sheri Dew

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Midnight Champagne by A. Manette Ansay

Summary: April Liesgang and Caleb Shannon have known each other for just three short months, so their Valentine's Day wedding at a chapel near the shores of Lake Michigan has both families in an uproar. As the festivities unfold (and the cash bar opens), everyone has an opinion and a lively prediction about April and Caleb's union, each the reflection of a different marital experience.

Meanwhile, at the nearby Hideaway Lodge, a domestic quarrel ends in tragedy. As April and Caleb's life together begins, death parts another man and woman in angry violence-and as the two stories gradually intersect, their juxtaposition explores the tangles roots of vulnerability and desire.

By the time the last polka has been danced and the bouquet tossed, Midnight Champagne has cast an extraordinary spell. From the novel's opening epigraph from Chekhov-"If you fear loneliness, then marriage is not for you"-to its final moments in the honeymoon suite, A. Manette Ansay weaves tenderness and fury, passion and wonder into a startling tapestry of love in all its paradox and power.

My Review: Knowing that I had a couple of hectic, over-scheduled weeks ahead of me, I searched my bookshelf for a novel that was short and wouldn't quite have that pull which makes me neglect all but the absolute necessary in order to continue reading. Seeing that it is February and that this is a story of a Valentine's wedding, "Midnight Champagne" seemed the logical choice. I believed that this would be a light love story with a touch of mystery. I got what I asked for...almost.

"Midnight Champagne" definitely didn't pull me in. Though the descriptions of the setting were quite vivid, the characters were very much one-dimensional, making them impossible to connect with. And I really wanted to connect with some of them, especially the quirky grandmother who has found a penny everyday since her husband's death except on the days when another death of someone she knows had occurred. She sounds interesting, but once her original introduction was finished, she was only included in small doses throughout the book. The author did this with so many of the characters that the end result was disjointed.

And if it's a love story you are looking for, skip this one. It was hard for me to even believe that the two main characters, Caleb and April, were even in love. Although we got a fairly good look into their pasts, the author just skimmed over the few months they have spent together assuming that the reader would know that they must be in love since, afterall, it was their wedding day. It didn't work. To add to this loveless wedding, all of the guest no longer believe in love either (which I found to be rather unbelievable). They are consumed in thoughts of their own failed marriages due to infidelity, lack of intimacy, or spousal abuse. This all leads to a pretty depressing tale.

As for the touch of mystery the book promised, where was that? Sure some guy in the adjoining hotel killed his wife during an argument and then crashes the wedding without drawing attention from the suests. But I certainly wouldn't call this a mystery. It did, however, somewhat liven up the story for a few moments but wasn't meshed in well with the rest of the story.

Overall, I would say that "Midnight Champagne" served it's purpose for me, giving me some entertainment at a time I could not afford to entirely devote myself to a really good read. And thankfully it was a short read. Although I can't help thinking how much better this novel could have been if the author would have dropped a few of the characters and used another 100 pages to further develop the story.

My Rating: 2 Stars, I won't be recommending this book but it wasn't exactly horrible

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence it would be: A reflection of marriage on a windy day in a shallow cesspool.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman

Summary: Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence. At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world. In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in a Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos Islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces. She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world. Rita's example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults.
My review: Reading Tales of a Female Nomad was simply fascinating. Through Rita, I was introduced to so many new countries, people, and cultures that my head fairly spun with envy. I spent some time living in and traveling through Ecuador and parts of Bolivia when I was 20 years old. It was spectacular and I was enchanted by a nation, climate, and culture so very different from my own. Having that taste, it is easy to see how Rita fell in love with nomadic life. I've always wanted to travel more extensively, but instead chose the more traditional road of college, husband, and children and have never looked back...much. I do occasionally manage to find books like this one (and it's bite-size version Eat, Pray, Love) and when I do, I savor them--reveling in all the newness, adventure, and vicarious thrills.

Rita is an amazing writer. I read The Biggest Sandwich Ever to my kids all the time. In Tales she manages to give you a fairly in depth and chronological story of her nomadic life without becoming dry or repetitive. She writes in the present tense (as if she didn't really know what was going to happen) even though the actual book was written after her travels. This successfully creates the illusion that you are with her on her trek, experiencing things together.

In the book, Rita travels through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Israel, Bali, Indonesia, Canada, the U.S., Thailand and New Zealand. She doesn't stay in five-star hotels either, but travels from place to place, sometimes not speaking the language, and most of the time not knowing or having barely a clue about what she was going to do outside of the airport. Rita took a great deal of interest in indigenous cultures, and preferred to spend her time hiking to remote regions to find and live with people who hadn't been "missionized." I really connected with her time in Central America and in the Galapagos. My major in college was Latin American studies and it was fascinating to rediscover these countries again through her eyes which is probably why it was one of my favorite parts of the book. I also enjoyed Rita's descriptions of Thai cooking and food. Since Thailand was one of the few places she went specifically for the cuisine, she described each noodle in exquisite and yummy detail.

One thing that I both admired and was irritated by, was Rita's determination to live with the people. To her, that meant, being completely immersed in the culture. Allowing them their cultural beliefs and customs without passing judgement or attempting to change or modernize them. This is all well and good until you stay silent while someone is beating their wife. I think there is a line between being immersed and being an accessory. I also wondered at how she could be so accepting of some people and yet so unaccepting of a culture much closer to her--our own. While giving other people the benefit of the doubt, I found she had far less patience for Americans both at home and abroad. It was minor but irksome.

When we get older, sometimes our dreams get shoved aside as we learn to make room in our lives for those around us. As our families grow they become the center of our world but sometimes those aspirations still linger in the backs of our minds waiting for their turn. This book made me think about my own goals in life. It is still, I think, a dream of mine to travel all over the world and photograph and explore different cultures. I'm not sure whether that dream will ever be fully realized, but this book helped me renew some of the promises I have made to myself.

I also wonder about Rita, who has friends all over the world, people that she truly cares about and loves. But at what cost? What did she give up, to gain this adventurous life, and do the blessings outweigh the consequences? I can't answer that. Perhaps travel is what it took to shake up her life, but I don't know if it was entirely necessary. I think that we can find the tools to enhance our lives a little closer to home and family.

Not far into the book Rita made a statement that struck me. She was looking to "uncover the person inside [her] skin." I really think is what this book boils down to--a woman's journey to discover her real identity and become comfortable with it. I can't imagine the bravery and sheer determination it took for Rita to not only embark upon this adventure--but to stay on it--and she still is. You can find out what Rita is up to at http://www.ritagoldengelman.com/ .

Currently, she is in Spain.

My rating: 4.5 stars - I have it if you want to borrow it.

Sum it up:  (to be said in the voice of the Mastercard Guy) Hiking boots for a trek in Indonesia? $250.  Old Blue Mazda to putter around New Zealand? $500.  Magnificent trip around the world?  Priceless (but really, it's $14.00 at your local bookstore)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Water Song (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Suzanne Weyn

Summary: Young, beautiful, and wealthy, Emma Pennington is accustomed to a very comfortable life. Although war rages abroad, she hardly feels its effect. She and her mother travel from their home in Britain to the family estate in Belgium, never imagining that the war could reach them there. But it does. Soon Emma finds herself stranded in a war-torn country, utterly alone. Enemy troops fight to take over her estate, leaving her with no way to reach her family and no way out.
With all of her attention focused on survival and escape, Emma hardly expects to find love. But the war will teach her that life is unpredictable, people aren't always what they seem, and magic is lurking everywhere.

My review: I think it's a pretty bad sign if you don't actually start to like the main character of a book until it is about4/5ths of the way finished. Right? I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about this book. It had a few interesting moments, but on the whole, I thought it was a waste of time.

The author's attempts to tie this war-time story to the fairytale of "The Frog Prince" were laughable and haphazard at best. I got a little bit sick of the "Jack swims like a frog" routine. I get it, I get it, he's supposed to be the frog prince. Thank you for spelling it out for me...repeatedly. And let's not forget, he was a "prince among men" --says his MOTHER.

Irritating repetitions aside, ultimately, there was very little chemistry between the two main characters. When they fought, there was no underlying romantic tension, they were just bickering back and forth. Jack seemed like a mildly likeable character but Emma was a self-centered brat pretty much through the entire story. She even abandons an injured Jack to fend for himself in a house full of hostile Germans on multiple occasions--though she eventually turns back because of outside circumstances. But somehow I'm supposed to believe that she's madly in love with him?! Sorry. Nope. I don't buy it. I won't buy it. And neither should you.

So basically, if you couldn't already tell--I didn't like it. At. All.

My rating: 1 star.

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: If I kissed it, it would still be a frog.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Golden (Once Upon a Time Series)

by Cameron Dokey

Summary: Before Rapunzel's birth, her mother made a dangerous deal with the sorceress Melisande: If she could not love newborn Rapunzel just as she appeared, she would surrender the child to Melisande. When Rapunzel was born completely bald and without hope of ever growing hair, her horrified mother sent her away with the sorceress to an uncertain future.
After sixteen years of raising Rapunzel as her own child, Melisande reveals that she has another daughter, Rue, who was cursed by a wizard years ago and needs Rapunzel's help. Rue and Rapunzel have precisely "two nights and the day that falls between" to break the enchantment. But bitterness and envy come between the girls, and if they fail to work together, Rue will remain cursed...forever.

My review: Think you've heard all the Rapunzel stories out there?!? I guarantee you've never heard this one before. Rapunzel has as much hair as a cue ball and is free to roam the countryside while the Sorceress Melisande's daughter Rue is locked away in a tower with her flowing golden locks. The two girls must work together to find a way out of the tower before time runs out.

Rapunzel was a wonderfully written character. I enjoyed the fact that she wasn't as demure and ladylike as a lot of fairytale heroines. She was a spitfire and didn't get pushed around. I'm always a fan of sassy and sarcastic women, mostly I think, because I would definitely want to be that way if I were a romantic heroine. No swooning for me, thank you very much.

I've always wondered about the mother in this story. What on earth could possibly induce a mother to give up her firstborn for a bunch of herbs? This author handles the explanation very well, but in general it's always kind of troubled me and I'm not alone.

SIDE NOTE: A friend of mine's husband blogged about his concern with all the absentee mothering and maniacal step-mothers that you see in most Disney movies and fairytales. Check it out here. It's pretty funny.

There was ONE character who had a secret that was so blindingly obvious I was going to mention it as a negative, but as I read I discovered that it was actually nice being in on the secret and getting to anticipate the "big reveal."

My one real criticism is that I wish there could have been a bit more about how exactly they got out of the tower. I wanted there to be a secret thing they had to do and when it all played out, I felt the explanation was a little weak.

Rapunzel's lack of hair was a refreshing twist and, while I held in my heart a secret desire to see some hair on that girl, I'll say that I was very happy with the state of her hair at the end of the story. In fact, I loved the ending! It was so close and yet so far from the traditional one that I couldn't help but be impressed and fall in love with her version of happily-ever-after.

My rating: 4 stars (I really enjoyed the uniqeness of the story).

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A fun, fairytale read that differs from the norm and empowers young girls to be their own hero.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman

Summary: In Sunderland, England, a city quarantined by the cholera epidemic of 1831, a defiant fifteen-year-old beauty in an elegant blue dress makes her way between shadow and lamplight. A potter's assistant by day and dress lodger by night, Gustine sells herself for necessity in a rented gown, scrimping to feed and protect her only love: her fragile baby boy. She holds a glimmer of hope after meeting Dr. Henry Chiver, a prisoner of his own dark past. But in a world where suspicion of medicine runs rampant like a fever, these two lost souls will become irrevocably linked, as each crosses lines between rich and destitute, decorum and abandon, damnation and salvation. By turns tender and horrifying, The Dress Lodger is a captivating historical thriller charged with a distinctly modern voice...

My review: The Dress Lodger revolves a great deal around cholera morbis and the ignorance that allowed its spread in 19th century England. At the time, there was not a great deal of medical knowledge or public understanding about communicable diseases and this need surfaces frequently throughout the book, and in fact, is one of it's plot-driving elements.

The medical community of the time was struggling to find cadavers to study. The lower-classes had little faith in "sawbones," as they call them, to the point that that no one would allow the bodies of their dead to be hacked to pieces on an autopsy table. Dr. Henry Chivers, tortured by his checkered past, is one such doctor who is struggling to further explore the human anatomy so that he might better understand cholera morbis. His temporary salvation comes in the form of a young girl, Gustine, with an agenda of her own.

Gustine is a potter's assistant turned prostitute in order to care for her infant son--born with an extremely rare heart condition. She rents a dress from her landlord in order to pass for a higher class prostitute as she plies her wares on the streets of Sunderland. Not surprisingly you are treated to quite a few graphic descriptions of Gustine's nightly activities. There is nothing sensual or steamy about these liaisons. They are starkly, brutally written, clearly portraying Gustine's disgust with those she is forced to keep company.

While I had my doubts, Gustine actually ends up to be a sympathetic, yet tragic, character. There were genuine moments of warmth and tenderness between Gustine and her infant son. Her love and concern for him is palpable and terrifyingly relatable--a truly bright spot in the middle of a thoroughly dark novel.

This book was full of moments that took your breath away, not for their beauty, but out of sheer terror and a sense of impending doom. The intensity of detail with which the author set about describing not only Gustine's professional activities, but the medical autopsies performed by Dr. Henry Chiver was astounding. As cholera spreads and bodies begin to appear with increasing rapidity, the pages are filled with some extremely detailed liaisons, dissections, and descriptions of choleric death that left me queasy within a matter of seconds. However, at the same time I almost admired the author's matter-of-factness in describing a situation that others might romanticize or gloss over. Almost.

Ultimately I feel The Dress Lodger was very deftly written and well researched. In spite of the, um, graphic descriptions, in this book I found myself really drawn into the story. The historical aspects of it were very interesting--specifically the varied attitudes and beliefs of the times. I felt it really added to the authenticity of the book and helped tie it into actual history. I don't know if I can say that I liked this book, so much as I can say that I appreciated it. I admired it's intensity and the way that characters lives and stories were woven so smoothly together. Would I read it again? No. Would I recommend that YOU read it? Not on a full stomach.

My rating: 3. Well-written but not for the picky, sensitive, or weak-stomached. DEFINITELY an adult novel. DEFINITE ICK FACTOR. Multiple situations of prostitution, graphic autopsy, and language.

If I could sum this book up in one phrase it would be: EW.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Summary: In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan country, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "old same", in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she has written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

My Review: This is a story rich in the history of Chinese culture, yet the facts don't weigh down the story line. Lisa See has a way of immersing the reader in the novel. I didn't feel as if I were only learning about Chinese heritage but rather living it. The ceremony of footbinding actually left my arches aching. The lack of worth beheld upon women in this culture left me furious. The characters' loses made tears well behind my eyes. The love Lilly has for Snow Flower left me with a sense of joy and love as well.

The theme of this novel is friendship. Though Lily and Snow Flower have an arranged friendship, it is one that develops into a deep sisterly love. For Lily this is the one true love she has felt during her life. Their friendship is the one true joy they have in life. The girls spend each night they are together in the same bed. They travel to the temple together each year. When they are apart they communicate to each other in the secret language of nu shu, which is carried in either the special fan they pass back and forth or embroidered in handkerchiefs.

One day there is a terrible misunderstanding between the girls. Lily was always trying to "fix" Snow Flowers problems by offering advice which many times came across as abrasive. What Snow Flower really longed for was a friend to just listen to her woes and provide a soft landing spot. Snow Flower attempts to explain this to Lily but Lily misunderstands what Snow Flower is trying to say and lets her hurt feelings destroy the friendship. Lily eventually realizes that what hurt so much then did not have such a large impact on the friendship overall. She spends the rest her her life righting her wrongs caused by the misunderstanding. And in the end shows that love conquers all.

My Rating: 5 Stars, I LOVED it and will be recommending it to all

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence it would be: A remarkable, passionate, unforgettable tale of friendship that should be read with a box of Kleenex.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

Reviewed by Melissa Paul

Summary: For Ashling Kennedy, the new job she lands at start-up Irish fashion magazine Colleen is a dream come true. For Lisa Edwards, a high-maintenance London editor expecting a promotion to New York, her appointment as editor-in-chief of Colleen is a slap in the face, the only consolation being her rumpled-but-handsome new boss, Jack Devine. Furious at being passed up for a job at Manhattan magazine, Lisa vows to make Colleen the envy of the fashion industry, even if it kills her. She drives her Dublin staff to exhaustion, and Colleen becomes a smashing success. But after a particularly lusty meeting with her much-maligned long-distance London boyfriend, she wonders if the move and the single-minded career obsession have been worth it. Meanwhile, Ashling is betrayed by her boyfriend and her best friend Clodagh, whose bourgeois domesticity she's long envied. Ashling realizes that she has to let go of her cheerful "Miss Fix-It" demeanor and go after what she wants. Lisa is chagrined and Ashling is shocked to learn that Jack may actually fancy Ashling, but one "sushi for beginners" dinner has her convinced. British bestseller Keyes's latest confection (after Watermelon) makes such a painfully brittle start the reader nearly despairs of the cardboard cutout characters, but slowly they begin to breathe and morph into charmers. Keyes's considerable following on these shores will declare this a delight.

My Review: “Sushi for Beginners” by Marian Keyes has absolutely nothing to do with sushi, except that one of the characters eats it. Once. Instead of sushi, what you get is typical chick-lit.

The quirky characters all have British accents (or worse- Irish) and speak with the vernacular that has apparently permeated the entire genre whereby everything is either “brilliant” or “pants”. Of course there is the dependable cast – the bitch work peeps at the usually glamorish job at the newspaper, magazine, television station, etc., the ex-boyfriend, the mostly always drunk friend who just loves to party and sleep with everyone, the more serious and generally best looking friend as well as a guy pal who is more often than not, homosexual. Add to that the disappointing parents, the “wrong” guy who our protagonist is usually involved with and then the “right” guy who is dependably successful, good looking and for some unfathomable reason, inexplicably drawn to our main character; generally a plain, slightly fat and extremely insecure young woman who can be counted on to say or do foolish things, like spill on herself and run her hose and her mouth at inopportune moments. She is usually oblivious to the “right” guy because she is so focused on the “wrong” guy until “Right” is able to rescue her at the end and they go off together to live happily ever after in his tidy uptown loft.

This “novel” didn’t vary much from the usual format, except that it was longer and less entertaining the “Shopaholic” or “Bridget Jones” variety. Certainly the expectations are low for substance and character development with chick lit., however my anticipation was that this would be a quick, mindless read filled with shenanigans of a quirky cast. Even this criterion was not met.

In the exhaustive 531 pages, the characters are only marginally developed, even to chick lit. standards. In fact, it takes the reader a while to figure out if the story is about Lisa or Ashling. Although ultimately it is clear that Ashling is our heroine and Lisa (one of the bitchy work peeps) should be pitied because the priorities in her life are so clearly out of whack. Luckily they both get to have their happily ever-afters in the end, when it (finally!) comes around. Most of the book is filled with going to pubs, going to work, what everyone is wearing (or rather who – as in which designer but not in any sort of, informed “Devil Wears Prada” way), and those annoying “he looked at her and she looked at him and they had a moment” moments. I wanted to scream at the characters to just get on with it already.

Finally Ashling gets some empowerment and ends up with “Right” in the end, even though Lisa had the hots for him in the beginning and lots of little moments with him where his pupils dilate. There was quite a lot of pupil dilation and personal grooming going on in this book, but not much else.

“Sushi for Beginners” sounds interesting enough for a title but other than a brainless beach read or a way to kill time while waiting for an airplane, there is little to be said in the way of any sort of redeeming quality. In fact, I actually feel dumber for having read it. Even as chick lit goes, this one falls flat.

My Rating: 1 Star

If I had to sum this book up in one sentence it would be: If books are like sushi, this one would be an avocado roll, hold the wasabi, soy and ginger - not much interesting or different going on here.


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