Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another shining example

Here's my (one of many, haha) issue: I like Christian fiction but I have trouble finding books that are actually 1) well-written, 2) not sappy/ridiculous and 3) actually deal with faith in a deeper way. Jamie Carie, your Wind Dancer is a shining example of how Christian fiction should be.

I love the cover, too. The woman is fierce, beautiful and exactly how I picture the main character, Isabelle Renoir.

The story is set in the 1700s, during the time that America was struggling to break free of England's chains, particularly the war to gain the wild frontier. American scout Samuel Holt, while on a mission, meets up with Isabelle Renoir, her brother and their Indian guide. They end up traveling together and get mixed up in the fight for American independence--and their own freedom.

Isabelle is wild--she dances for God, wears the color red and basically just marches to her own beat. However, she knows that Samuel Holt is her destiny within seconds of meeting him. A few issues hold up their happiness--like being captured by Indians--but both characters firmly believe that God will bring them through.

I loved how real and deep their faith was--there was no pettiness or simple messages in this book. It was true, life-sustaining faith. It was real and vibrant and inspiring--yet never preachy. The story itself is action-packed. I started reading it before going to bed...and had to force myself to stop so I'd get enough sleep.

I definitely recommend this book. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it and I've already added Carie's other novels to my TBR list.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sweetly realistic

It's not a secret that I'm a huge Lauren Willig fan. A new book of hers comes out, I buy it--in hardcover. Her newest book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, has been eagerly anticipated by me for, oh, about a year now.

I don't want to do a full-out review on this book because I devoured it...which means I read it so quickly (because I was! so! excited!) that I didn't have time to fully savor it.

Anyway, here's an abbreviated summary of the book, courtesty of Willig's site:

"After 12 years in India, Robert, Duke of Dovedale, returns to his estates in England with a mission in mind-- to infiltrate the infamous Hellfire club to unmask the man who murdered his mentor at the Battle of Assaye. Intent on revenge, Robert never anticipates that an even more difficult challenge awaits him, in the person of one Lady Charlotte Lansdowne. Throughout her secluded youth, Robert was Lady Charlotte’s favorite knight in shining armor, the focus of all her adolescent daydreams. The intervening years have only served to render him more dashing. But, unbeknownst to Charlotte, Robert has an ulterior motive of his own for returning to England, a motive that has nothing to do with taking up the ducal mantle. As Charlotte returns to London to take up her post as Maid of Honor to Queen Charlotte, echoes from Robert’s past endanger not only their relationship but the very throne itself."

In some ways, I think this is Willig's most well-written book. She's definitely grown as a writer and has shifted into more of a historical writer--which I like. The sensuality in her books has decreased as well; in this one, the couple share just a few kisses. However, that suits her characters--Charlotte is certainly no Amy or Henrietta; she's a dreamer and much more reserved. Her actions suit her character.

A major theme underlying the novel was the reworking of the hero and heroine's perceptions of each other. They had to cast away their romantic ideals and see each without their own perceptions clouding their view of the other person. According to my mother, this is something I need to do...bleh.

There wasn't much (ok, any) action from the Pink Carnation but from interviews I've read with Willing, this book's plot helps set up future plots that do involve the Pink Carnation. Yay for spies.

On a last note, I really liked the French spy. I'm not sure who he is but I hope he'll show up later on! His interactions with Charlotte and Henrietta were hilarious and delightful. In my mind, he's a good mate for Jane...there's only the little issue of him serving France and her England...

Rating: 8.5/10

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Labyrinth of the mind

Kristen Heitzmann does an excellent job of writing creepy, suspenseful novels. I've liked everything I've read by her and The Edge of Recall was no exception.

Tessa is a landscape architect, specializing in labyrinths. When she receives a phone call from an old friend/love requesting she join him on a special task, she reluctantly agrees to at least check out his offer. The project ends up being a unique labyrinth that she can't resist. So, she and the friend, Smith, end up working together...and possibly end up as more.

There's also a huge psychological aspect to the story. Tessa is haunted by nightmares of monsters and labyrinths. In a way, I was reminded of Susan Howatch's work (which is a compliment). There were deep-seated issues that she had to address and conquer in order to be a whole person again. Sometimes I did think she was a little crazy but it all works out in the end.

The story tied together nicely and yeah, creeped me out at parts. While this is labeled as Christian fiction, that shouldn't scare anyone away. It was part of the story and part of Tessa's healing, but there definitely was no preaching. And the labyrinth part was actually very interesting, too. I like learning about new topics and now I know a little bit more about mazes vs. labyrinths.

Rating: 8.5/10

Saturday, January 24, 2009

No sympathy

You know how there's certain books you just think you should read? Well, after watching The Talented Mr. Ripley, with my boy Matt Damon in it, I told myself that I should read the book. After all, generally the book is much better than the movie and since I had liked the movie, I'd like the book, too. Yeah, not so much.

Patricia Highsmith wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley and numerous sequels. According to the book's description, Tom Ripley is a sociopath. After looking up the description of a sociopath, yeah, he is one. Manipulative, parasitic, a liar...again, I just didn't like him.

***Spoilers ahead****
The movie actually is pretty true to the plot, but if anything, the movie is better. It's more suspenseful, believeable and convincing. You kind of like/empathize with Tom Ripley of the movie--in the book, Tom isn't as likeable. He's never fully understood.

Most of the book I can believe; Tom is a murderer and gets away with two murders, including his friend Dickie Greenleaf. What I couldn't swallow was the ending--he fakes a will, leaving EVERYTHING of Dickie's to himself, and presents it to Dickie's father, WHO BELIEVES IT. For me, that will just screamed "I murdered Dickie for his money. I'M GUILTY." I wanted him to get nailed for the murder, too, but no luck.

I didn't really like the book at all and struggled to finish it. Honestly, the movie was richer and more interesting. This is the very rare occasion where I say see the movie and skip the book.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope springs eternal

Veronica Mars may still end up being a movie...If this ends up being true, I am such a happy girl.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I have a fascination with Russia. It's somewhere I'd never want to live--I'd be miserably cold 90% of the time, I imagine--and yet, the people and culture intrigue me. That could be one reason why I loved David Benioff's City of Thieves but really, it's probably just because it's a good book.

So when I went to the library the other day, I had three books in mind that I wanted to check out. And of course, all three were already checked out. In my desperate search for enough books to tide me over to my next visit, I stumbled across City of Thieves and vaguely remembered hearing excellent reviews about it. I love, love, love the cover, so I was sold. (Seriously, I could see it as a poster. I'd buy it.)

Here's the basic plot: It's WWII. Lev is a 17-year-old Russian who has been jailed as a looter after stealing a flask off a dead German paratrooper. He think he's going to die but the colonel in charge gives him and another prisoner (a deserter), Kolya, a task to accomplish in exchange for their lives: find a dozen eggs. Oh, and by the way, this is during the siege of Leningrad, which is so bad that some people are turning into cannibals. The story follows their journey to find a dozen eggs.

Benioff's writing is funny, engaging, bittersweet and captures the spirit of Russia during that era. I loved the way the book was framed, which made the ending perfect. It's a short read and totally captivated me. I'm happy I read this book.

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, January 19, 2009

One of my favorite book covers ever

About two or three years ago, I read Aurelie Sheehan's The Anxiety of Everyday Objects, which some critics hailed as the Great American Secretary Novel. (The story was about a woman who had an M.A. and wanted to be a writer but ended up as a secretary because, hey, it's tough to survive as a writer.)

Back in July 2007, I added Sheehan's second novel, History Lessons for Girls, to my Amazon TBR list. Only a year and a half or so later, I finally got around to reading it. (I've been trying to clear out my list; I only have 30 books on the list and at least five are soon-to-be-released. Do I just like having a list? Or is it I think I should read these books but secretly don't want to/can't remember why I added them? Hmmm.)

You know, now that I think about it, one reason I wanted to read the book is the cover. It is gorgeous--ethereal and simple and perfect for the book. I love the way the horse's hair is floating. The yellow used also reminds me of the 1970s, which is when this novel occurs.

Simply, the book is about the friendship of Alison Glass and Kate Hamilton. Alison has scoliosis and must wear a back brace. Alison moves to a new school and is made fun of--but Kate sticks up for her and their friendship is born. Both girls appear to have good homes but soon it's clear that neither do.

The story is also about what happens when their parents meet and mingle. I didn't actually like any of the parents, besides Alison's dad. Kate's father is a scam artist--he calls himself "Tut" and is an "Egpytian shaman." Both of the girls' mothers are weak and pulled in by Tut's charisma and claim that the love of acquiring possessions is actually healthy and good. Sheehan definitely satirizes the '70s obsession with New Age and self-love and that whole mindset--Tut, as a symbol of that theme, is eminently despicable.

I didn't love the book but it's well-written and has an excellent theme. I didn't love the book because of the ending, although really, it's clear why it happened. The book lacked hope that the characters could find spiritual healing and fulfillment. I can see why this book won't ever be popular but it's still quality literature.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Almost in time

Back in December, I was looking for Christmas-y books. A few weeks after Christmas, I've found another one to add to my list: Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle.

In Maureen Johnson's own words, here's the plot: "About a year ago, John Green, Lauren Myracle and I thought it would be a very good idea to work together on a three-author book—three separate stories that took place in the same town during the same storm, over Christmas. So we did."

Some of the same characters populate all three stories, intermingling nicely, yet each story is distinctive. Basically, there's a huge snow storm that strands a train bound full of people (including a car full of cheer-lead-ers!!!) in a little town. The stories are all romances that are precipitated by the storm.
I liked Maureen Johnson's story the best, probably because I like her writing so much. However, I foolishly thought that the stories went in order of the cover, so naturally John Green's story was first. While I was reading it, I kept on thinking, "wow, I don't remember John Green being this humorous. It reminds me of Maureen Johnson, actually." Yeaaaaah, that's because it WAS Maureen Johnson, author of one of the funniest blogs ever.

Anyway, each novella is fun and Christmas-y and yet not overwhelmingly so. I just wish I could've read it in December.

Rating: 8/10 (9/10 for Maureen's story!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Reading a messy book is an interesting sensation. You know it's a complete mess, with aimless chapters and repeated phrases/emotions/statements. You want it to get better, especially if it's in a series you've enjoyed, but wishing does not make reality happen, so you force yourself to read each page until, suddenly at the end of the book, whole new twists are thrown in and you know you're going to read the next book and you're not happy about it. Welcome to Melissa de la Cruz's Revelations.

Pretty cover, yes? It's so much better than the scary second one. I liked the first two books in the Blue Bloods series. Although to be fair, they were the sort of books I read and then immediately forget. It was bad when I started reading Revelations. I couldn't remember anything about the plot other than the character's relationships.

Here's my first complaint: the book opens up with a "here's what happened in the last few months" which included the main character, Schuyler, hooking up with a certain someone, losing her emancipated status, being forced to go live with another family instead of her grandfather, becoming best friends with another girl and a few other things that I can't remember. A lot happened in those few months...which maybe explains why nothing happens in the first three quarters of the book.

The book just didn't seem to have a plot. I really felt like it meandered all over and never really settled on anything. Schuyler was much more annoying in this book, too. And, for some reason, the pop culture references in this book really got me. (Quick rant: Authors, using tons of pop culture references dates your books. Seriously. Do you really think people are going to remember The Hills and random top 40 hits you reference? The classics survive because they don't; they keep most modern references out--just look at modern classics like The Painted Veil or Mary Stewart. Stephenie Meyer discusses this in one of her interviews; she didn't name the band Bella and Edward were supposed to go see in Twilight because she didn't want to date the book. Yet another reason why I admire her...) Anyway, I didn't remember those references being in the earlier books.

Of course, although I suffered through the book, the ending had so many twists and so much action that I will read the next one. ARGHHH.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, January 12, 2009

Confession: I rather liked it

Back in June, I read Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl. Whether it was the traveling I did that weekend or my attitude or the expectations that I brought to the book, I just didn't like it. However, so many of my favorite book bloggers really seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to give the rest of the series another shot. I'm glad I did.

Yes, I did enjoy book two, Under the Rose and there's one character in particular that I just really, really like: Poe. We actually learn his full name in this book and Amy has more interaction with him. (Confession: Before I decided to continue with the series, I peeked ahead to book three just to make sure Poe was in it. And I liked what I read in book three that concerned Poe, hence my reading book two...) If you're in the mood for Ivy League secret society intrigue, give these books a shot.

On a side note, while prowling around Peterfreund's site, I ran across a new book of hers titled Rampant. After reading the description on her site, I immediately emailed my brother and we agreed that Rampant sounds freakin' awesome, hilarious and astounding. Here's the description:

Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns… The sparkly, innocent creatures of lore are a myth. Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. And they can only be killed by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great. Fortunately, unicorns have been extinct for a hundred and fifty years. Or not.

You better believe I'm going to read this book.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

From serious to fabulous

I've heard of Carol Goodman before, namely her The Lake of Dead Languages. However, I've picked up The Night Villa, also by Goodman, at my library several times before deciding to just go ahead and read it already.

Lovely cover, yes? It suits the mood of the book perfectly--Italy, the sea, history, beauty.
Here's a brief plot summary, mostly courtesy of Amazon: University of Texas classics professor Sophie Chase, after barely surviving a gunman with ties to a sinister cult, joins an expedition to Capri. A donor has funded both the exact reconstruction of a Roman villa destroyed when Mount Vesuvius buried nearby Herculaneum in A.D. 79, and a computer system that can decipher the charred scrolls being excavated from the villa's ruins. Her trip takes a different spiral when she starts seeing ghosts of her ex-boyfriend--one who fell prey to that same cult...
I was actually surprised by how much I really, really like this book. Goodman is a literary writer; her prose is gorgeous. Her settings were vivid and I often felt like I was reading a Mary Stewart novel. (It was so bizarre; the authors' styles are so different, but I kept on thinking "this book is Mary Stewart-esque; wait, no it's not, why am I thinking this?") I was worried it was going to be a super serious, "I AM A LITERARY WORK" sort of book but it's not--it's a perfect example of what a quality modern novel can be.
The different threads of the story pulled together beautifully and although I'm not a huge fan of dual story/timelines, even in small doses, it worked for this story. I found myself actually interested in and wanting to know more about the characters from 79 A.D.
Basically, Carol Goodman has a new fan and I want to read more of her work. The Chicago Tribune quote on the cover sums her style up: "light enough for a weekend on the beach but literary enough for a weekend in the Hamptons."
Rating: 9.5/10

From existential to serious

After reading The Moviegoer, I couldn't just switch to a light, happy novel. My follow-up read was The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham.

To start, this is a weird cover, isn't it? It's a potrait of some woman, and from her apparel, I would guess the 1920s, which is when The Painted Veil was written. It mesmorized me; those eyes, her haircut, that bird...I couldn't look away.

Yet I evidently broke the spell and actually opened the book and was surprised by how easy it was to read and that I actually enjoyed it.

Bred with one goal in mind, marriage, Kitty is a bit startled to realize that she's reached her mid-20s, is unmarried and her sister is about to marry a titled lord. She hurriedly chooses one of her suitors, Walter Fane, to marry because he adores her, will be going to the Orient for his job thus sparing her the pain of staying in England to watch her sister's grand wedding...and yeah, those are her reasons.

The marriage is a disaster and Kitty has an affair. Walter figures it out and forces her go with him to a cholera-infested area of China--in hopes that she'll die (or so Kitty believes). Kitty must reckon with herself and who she has become--and what she will do in the future.

This is not a romance, but rather a story of flawed people who make poor decisions--yet they struggle for redemption and hope. I wasn't sure if I would like the story but I did. It's deep without being painful (eg., The Moviegoer) and still manages to present an interesting story.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Goodbye, Cottage Living

I love, love, love Cottage Living magazine. I discovered it in college and have been a subscriber for years now. So imagine my heartbreak when I received a postcard in the mail, letting me know that Cottage Living has been cancelled.

I was offered a subscription to Southern Living instead, but please--I live in Northern Ohio. I am so not living the Southern lifestyle. So goodbye, dear Cottage Living; I will miss you.


Tuesday is my least favorite day of the week. My theory is that it goes back to my childhood when my mom worked Tuesday nights. My dad was home with us but I was (am) a mama's girl. Nowadays, I don't like Tuesday because it's still early in the workweek, Chuck isn't on and yeah...that's mainly why.

So that's why I was so happy to hear from Zeek at The Way I See It that I was one of her contest winners. So, thank you Zeek, for making my Tuesday a good day.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

In which I question myself

Walker Percy....I love your name but how you confuse me. I read your novel The Second Coming in college and actually enjoyed it. If I remember right, it's because it ended hopefully. Your first and most well-known novel, The Moviegoer, is just too existential for me. (Funny--I had to look up how to spell that word; that's how much I don't care for existentialism--I don't even know how to spell it.)

The main character, Jack "Binx" Bolling is the type of guy I just want to smack: meandering, undecisive, etc. He's searching for God--in his own way--and seems to be slightly crazy, in my opinion. But hey, that's okay, because he has his (step-)cousin Kate who understands him, because she's crazy as well.

Seriously though, the two of them wonder about the meaning of life and both fall into despair so easily. I'm not an existential sort of person at all--my faith in God is strong. Binx and I think so differently that I couldn't understand him.

On a side note, the book was published in the early 1960s, and other than Mary Stewart or Elizabeth Peters, I have hardly read anything from that era. I found myself being fascinated by silly little things--for example, Binx gets in a car wreck and the other driver, who caused it, just drives away. I started thinking about insurance and wondering if they had car insurance back then and how Binx didn't seem mad that it was a hit-and-run and how he'll have to pay for his little car to be fixed...and yeah, see how unexistential I am?

To be far, this is considered a great American novel but that doesn't mean I enjoyed reading it!

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First book of the new year

Since I had the day off of work on January 1, I simply had to read a book. The best way to start a new year, right? Susan Carroll's The Bride Finder was a lovely way to start.

The story is a mix of fantasy and romance. Anatole St. Leger is a St. Leger (obviously)--but that means he has inherited fantasical powers. As part of the family legend goes, he will only be happy in love if the Bride Finder chooses a mate for him. When Anatole finally admits he needs a wife, the Bride Finder's choice is the complete opposite of what he wants or thinks he needs. Of course, his bride, Madeline, proves to be exactly what he needs--but once he reveals his dark secrets, will she still stay with him?

While the story wasn't gothic, it certainly had some of that genre's elements. Yet Madeline brought a lighthearted feel to the story, which kept it from ever getting too dark. The love story was sweet and grew richer as they knew each other more. I really appreciated how Carroll showed their relationship develop and what the consequences of that were.

Carroll is a lush writer, with great description. I'll definitely be picking up her work again.

Rating: 8/10