Friday, July 31, 2015

The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

genre: romance/chick lit

Magalie Chaudron is rather content with her life.  She has her own little Parisian apartment above the chocolate shop where she works with her aunts. La Maison des Sorcieres serves baked delicacies as well as a cup of hot chocolate that can be life changing, depending on how Magalie chooses to make it for you.  Magalie has convinced herself that it's enough for her, the shop and its' chocolate. So when the shop is threatened by the opening of a brand new patisserie by the celebrated pastry chef Phillipe Lyonais, Magalie is ready to defend her territory with whatever weapons she can think of.

You can guess how it ends, because this book is definitely a romance novel (yes, there are very racey scenes to skip over if it's not your thing).  Romance novels typically bore me within the first two chapters but this one is just cute. I have a soft spot for romantic stories that involve food and baking, especially chocolate (why is that?) so I was probably more patient with the steaminess than I would ordinarily be.  Magalie has an interesting backstory and I felt like even though she drove me crazy with the "yes no yes no" of most romantic heroines, she did have some legitimate issues to get over and that kept me interested. Phillipe is, of course, a dreamboat in all the ways and who doesn't fall in love with the guy that can make you amazing desserts?  Seriously?  Even though the writing felt a little hackneyed sometimes, this was a fast and fluffy read that did have me googling macaron recipes and longing to see Paris by the end.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Classic Starts: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

genre: children's mystery

A few weeks ago my 10 year old son asked me to read him a Classic Starts book we had around the house called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - a chapter book of stories told for younger children. Each chapter is its own mystery.  There is murder in them, although not graphic, and some of the stories are a little complicated.  However, my son loved it and always begged for more.  You do get some sense of Sherlock's personality and they are told from Watson's point of view, as in the original.  They picked mostly interesting ones - involving lots of animals and jewels and hidden tunnels.  The final story ended in a way that made no sense to me or my older son (age 12), who has already read the book and liked it but was confused about the resolution to the mystery. At any rate, it's a good introduction and I think it's done well enough that if I found something else similar about Sherlock, my son would want more.  He'd give it 4 stars, I'd probably give it 2.5 or 3 so we'll just round to a 3 :)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

genre: mystery

When Dr. John Watson goes to meet a prospective new roommate, he has no idea that the quirky man he meets in a hospital lab will change his life.  But that's because he doesn't know Sherlock Holmes yet.  Sherlock who is brilliant and crazy observant, capable and Oh So Sure of Himself.   Sherlock who can make a string of deductions that would make your head swim.  It isn't long that the new inhabitants of 221B Baker Street are thick in a case involving a murdered man with no wounds, a wedding ring, and some letters written on a wall in blood.  As Dr. Watson watches Sherlock use his mad skills, he comes to realize he has become the companion of London's Finest Detective.

Since I have already watched all three seasons of the BBC series Sherlock, I had a vague sense of the mystery and its resolution, so I didn't really read this book for the PLOT, necessarily.  I read it more to have a sense of the canon and to get to know Sherlock Holmes as he was actually envisioned by Conan Doyle.  Truth: I like Benedict Cumberbatch better ;)  However, I can absolutely see why people who love mysteries are drawn to him - it's a fascinating bent on the genre, the idea of someone using minute details to form grander hypotheses instead of just using clues.   I did NOT like the giant backstory in the middle all about how newly settled Mormons were kidnapping people and holding them hostage in Salt Lake City and murdering non-believers, etc.    If it hadn't been about my own ancestors, I wouldn't appreciated the way it fleshed out the motives of the killer, instead it just annoyed me.  The writing itself is just good.  I had to find a pen to underline the dialogue and thoughts that stood out to me - thoughts both intellectually interesting as well as the the little snippets that teach us about Sherlock as a person.

I am glad I've got one Sherlock Holmes under my belt.  I don't usually go for murder mystery stories (unless they have Benedict Cumberbatch in them) but I feel like I'm in the mood, I'd go for another :)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

genre: ya historical fiction

New York City, 1899.  The world of the Astors and gowns by Worth.  The world of lavish parties and family connections, old wealth and new money.  The sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland have grown up in this glittering world that of course, has its dark underbelly of gossip, backstabbing and fortunes lost (but don't tell anyone!).  While Elizabeth looks the part of the perfect society girl, her heart has been captured by someone less than desirable.  Diana, outspoken and impatient, just wants something to HAPPEN, she's so bored with the manners and nuances of her life.  So when marriage proposals are rumored and servant girls get nosy and star-crossed lovers have secret trysts, life suddenly gets more exciting than Diana had ever bargained for - and Elizabeth's choices will determine everything.

One of part of me just enjoyed this for the soap-opera of it all, for the time period (which I'm already a fan of) and for the drama.  The other part of me knew almost the entire plot after the first chapter, and that was frustrating to me.  WHY the foreshadowing?  WHY?  It made me mad at our dear author because it wasn't necessary.  The writing was fine and while nearly every character is a complete caricature, I'll still say that I liked reading it.  Because sometimes, you need some fluffy, glittery, soap-opera in your life, right?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Making Faces by Amy Harmon

genre: young adult realistic fiction

Fern is just...Fern.  In her own eyes, she's homely and unlovable, but dedicated to her cousins Bailey who is confined to a wheelchair.  She is also head over heels in love with Ambrose. Ambrose who is as beautiful as a god and as good a wrestler as their little Pennsylvania town has ever seen.  The chances of Fern ever being anything to Ambrose are slim to begin with, but then September 11th happens.  And the world changes.  And Ambrose makes a choice that will affect not only himself, but everyone he loves in that little Pennsylvania town.

Let the record show that I have not read a book this un-put-down-able in a very long time.  I do love a Beauty and the Beast type story, but I also loved how solidly this one was grounded in a harsh and painful reality.  Ambrose's pain is SO REAL.  I hurt for him, so much.  And Bailey is such a wonderful character - part comic relief, part voice of reason.  Even though I don't care much about wrestling, that thread of the story was very powerful - especially the contrast between Ambrose and Bailey, their abilities and their desires.  Fern is almost too perfect for life but I did definitely GET her.  I love stories (like North of Beautiful, for example) that tackle the topic of our physical appearance and the strength it takes to let that NOT be the part of us that matters the most.  There is a LOT of heart in this story. I wept.  I wept on multiple occasions, like the tears dripping down my face kind of weeping.  I didn't expect that.  There is depth and soul-searching that felt raw without being preachy.    I appreciated that all of this was wrapped up in a plot that moved right along (with a lot of short flashbacks).  There were a few little plot holes that seemed strange to me but honestly, I was so caught up in the story that I just let it go.  Amazing.

content: there is some language and heavy make out times/talking about sex

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sarum: The Novel of England by Edward Rutherfurd

genre: historical fiction

I'm not actually sure how one reviews such a book as Sarum.  The first thing that you must know is that it is 912 pages. That's 912 pages all written about a core group of families that live in a small river valley in the south of England.  This is the England of Stonehenge and the Avon river, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral.  Our story begins in prehistoric times as ancient peoples made their way from the north to the warmer south.  As the centuries go by, the groups of people intertwine - they leave and return, they have specific characteristics that we as readers know have been handed down and which helps to differentiate the various ancestral lines.  

Sarum: the Novel is really two different things. It is a giant group of short stories that give you a wonderful taste of what life might have been like, what pleasures there might have been and what struggles people may have been faced with during many different of seasons of British history.

This book is also a crash course in British military, political, and social history.  As the characters work through their own lives, we learn all about the kings and the economics and the rise and fall of different groups of people - Saxons, Romans and the Normans.  We get a solid education in cathedral building and for the rest of the book the cathedral in Salisbury is a constant feature in the lives of the townspeople.  We see how fortunes were made and lost, how wars divided families, how industries grew and thrived and disappeared.

While the writing wasn't astonishing or particularly lyrical, it moved right along and did a wonderful job of making each time feel distinct and real.  The author took time to make sure the background was laid out in a way the flowed well with the story and didn't feel like a time out from the narrative the way it could have.  I feel so connected to this area now - I have such a better sense of how deep and rich a history lies between the five rivers.  Sometimes the "family characteristics"  piece felt a bit too obvious, bordering on cheesy, but I mostly appreciated it.  I had to refer to the family trees at the front all the time because I liked keeping the families straight in my head.  I think one of the things that really contributed to the two months it took me to read it is the fact that we don't have one set of characters to carry us through the narrative.  By its very nature, this books is filled with dozens, maybe hundreds of characters and so the plot itself isn't ever really riveting - I had to keep reading for the book's sake instead of from a desire to know what happens, if that makes sense.

Yep, it's long.  I thought Vanity Fair was long and this was 200 pages longer.  Even Anna Karenina is shorter!  It took me a REALLY long time to read it, but I chose it and stuck with it because my beloved sister has moved to this part of the world and as she has told me about the places she is visiting and learning about, I realized how ignorant I was about much of British history.  The Roman part was particularly informative and interesting as well as the creation of Stonehenge.   Yes, I could've just read a history book - but this was definitely more fun.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (audiobook)

genre: historical fantasy

The Golem is new.  New as in, she was just molded out of clay into the obedient servant she is, subject to her husband, her master. While Jewish tales of the Golem have been told for centuries, this golem is a real woman living in New York City at a time when immigrants from everywhere are flocking to those golden shores. She is naive and untethered in a world full of new experiences.

Another recent arrival in New York City: the Jinni.  The Jinni is NOT new. He has lived for ages and has just been released from an old copper flask into a new land and a new time.  With considerable skills and very little patience, the Jinni would like nothing more than break the band that ties him to an unknown master.

How these two find each other, and how their stories intertwine, is at the heart of this well-researched historical novel.  Their contrasting personalities, their ethnic identities and the way they interact with the human world around them all paint a vivid picture of not only a vibrant city in a time long gone but also two cultures with distinct folklore that somehow seamlessly forges together into one unique and thoughtful story.  The evil tide that these two creatures are fighting against is ancient and powerful - making the power of choice and free will the most beautiful gift one can have.

By the end, I really liked it.  I knew that if the author could tie all her ends together in an intriguing way, that I would be satisfied, and I really was.  The climax was very well done and I love a story with so many different characters and storylines that end up meshing well.  However, truth be told, it was slow going for me.  Granted, it is a NINETEEN HOUR audio book but it took me three and half months, which is a record.   I felt like it was just a slow moving story, which was fine, it just meant I wasn't always dying to pick it up.  All those different threads took a long time to build up and it took time to get invested in the characters.  The writing is strong and lyrical.  The sense of place is powerful.  I loved the Jewish mysticism piece of it as well as the connections to the desert and Arabic traditions.  I never wanted to give up on it - and I'm glad I didn't.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge

genre: adult graphic novel biography

Margaret Sanger.  I'd never heard this name, but at the library, the cover caught my attention.  What I know about her now: that she was a pioneer in the birth control movement, an advocate for the poor and an outspoken champion of women's rights.  I forget, sometimes, that birth control is a very (historically speaking) recent advancement.  I forgot what a miracle it is that we can have a say in when we become parents - that is so huge.  Life-changingly huge.  Margaret wasn't a saint, the book makes that very clear, but you do get the sense that she gave up a "normal" life in order to help women all over the world have choices.  The illustrations themselves are very...rubbery.  Floppy. The style is very old-school newspaper-type comic and I mostly liked that (note: it's NOT for kids, Margaret was actually a proponent of free-love and so there are a couple sensitive scenes). Sometimes it felt a little too - raw, maybe?  Ugly?  Maybe it's just caricature at it's finest, but I didn't always love the look.  It's hard to read about how women were devalued, how their opinions and causes were so much harder to get support for than anything a man would propose.   One heck of a life is within these pages.   I need to give three cheers to Margaret and others like her for paving the way for us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vision in Silver (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop

genre: paranormal fiction

This book is third in a series, Written in Red and A Murder of Crows should be read first :)

For blood-prophet Meg, the Courtyard at Lakeside is a safe space to learn and grow, to expand her mind after the rigid convinces of the Compound where she was housed all her life.   For the other blood-prophets that have been rescued, the world outside the Compound is just all Too Much - they aren't thriving.  At all.  While Meg tries to help solve this problem, Simon is working on his own issues - the growing threat of an anti-terra indigene group and the safety of those he feels responsible for, both Other and human.  When the fall-out from a power play on the East Coast hits the Lakeside Compound, it will be time for everyone to choose sides, and the resulting fight is going to have massive consequences for humans all over the planet.

I kind of can't believe I am still engaged in this story.  It's so unlike what I usually read, but I can't lie, I AM still engaged in it.  The world building is just too awesome, and that makes up for the sometimes super-cheesy dialogue and cliched scenes.  I don't feel like a whole lot happened in this book except we do meet a few new characters and there is a sense that something big is coming.  The relationship between Meg and Simon is SO slow moving, but it's okay.  I am still wrapping my brain around shape-shifting in general, but I like it.  The plot moves along fast enough that I am always eager to pick it up and that's something.  The whole idea of humans being the lesser species, needing to prove themselves, is an intriguing one.  I don't need her to tell me, AGAIN, that humans are just meat.  I get that.  When she SHOWS me that humans are expendable, that interests me more, but despite the little things that annoy me, I'm pretty sure I'm in for the long haul, because I do think this is an interesting place to spend my time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan

genre: historical fiction

As a place of learning, Harvard stands out like shining star.  During the dark days of The Great War, however, as a place of tolerance for Germans, it fails miserably.  And Wils Brandl should know. Desiring nothing more in life than to write poetry and be left in peace, War has brought hatred and violence to the German Wils' door.  And then in walks Helen, the passionate and blue-blooded American, who sees in Wils so much more than a nationality.  As Helen navigates her first university experience, her mother's unfortunate choices and a country on the brink of entering the war, she knows that it will only be time until War touches her own life in a way that will change her forever.

As I read back through my summary in the previous paragraph, it sort of makes this sound like a romance novel, but let me assure you that it's not.  There is romance in it (which I liked) but it really is a story of war and friendship, and especially of how those left behind handle a loss of such a magnitude in a world where nothing is as black and white as we'd like it to be.   Bad people fight on the "good" side of a war and good people fight on the side of the oppressors.  Winners, rather than losers, are the ones that write history and that prejudice colors everything.

I liked Helen's spunk.  I liked her loyalty.  I liked Wils and his quiet strength and willingness to do his duty. War is horrible. I don't really like reading about War, in general, but I thought that the big chunk of the book that takes place during the war was pretty well done, a few scenes stood out as very touching.  One big glaring part bothered me a lot, I felt like I was thrown off a cliff, as it were, and until the last page was waiting for a different kind of resolution - this is what prompts me to give the book three stars instead of the four I feel like it probably deserves.  I really felt like this one particular, unmistakable, part was dropped into my lap without the same kind of care or detail that the entire rest of the novel exemplified.

I appreciated the divided loyalties, the dense sense of time and place of the novel.  I like the authors notes at the end helping me understand what was fact and what was fiction.  This was a good read.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...