Category Archives: library

It’s a mystery! edition 2

2011, my fellow readers and bloggers, has sucked. Yes, I realize it’s only Day 19, but from Day 1, spent at the ER with my Dad, it has sucked. Then there was Week 1 with Dad in the hospital, and work literally being the most insane. Ugh. Not to say there haven’t been a few good moments. I’m grateful I am employed. I am grateful my Dad is *mostly* ok and on a regimen to strengthen his heart for surgery. All in all, my daily mantra has become “Get glad in the same pants you got mad in” because it can always be worse, and I know it.

How does this relate to mysteries? Mysteries are, to me, like therapy. I hibernate with mysteries. There is some healing property in them, as you may be able to discern looking at the sidebar. Yep, every read in 2011 has been a mystery. So how were they? Let me tell you:

Dead Politician’s Society by Spano*

Funny, quirky, a little bit naughty and not a lot nice. This debut is about a young-ish policewoman, Clare, who is eager to prove herself as an undercover cop. She bristles around her handler and isn’t the most perceptive cop, so she gets in trouble. A lot. Like, murders happen with her in the same room. However, she isn’t grating. Here’s the deal: a politician gets killed, and an organization, The Society for Political Utopia, not only takes responsibility but also writes the local newspaper an obituary, explaining why. As the murders continue, everyone is a suspect, local university students who follow cult-like after their leader; the professor himself, who thinks he’s a maverick but who is, in reality, a stereotype, sleeping with his students; the mayor’s wife who has lived, as a lesbian, separately from him for years. All the while, the killer messages Annabel, a reporter for the local paper who wants to stay close to the story, but the story may come just a little too close. There were a few moments where I had to really suspend my disbelief, but all in all, this was a fun read.

*Read on my mom’s Kindle when Coffee and a Book Chick advertised Robin Spano was offering her ebook for a limited time at $1.99.

Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Love from Hell by M.C. Beaton


The Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton


I read this trio quickly and enjoyed every minute. Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged former publicist-turned-detective who is quite a bit vain and helplessly dependent on the idea of love, specifically when it comes to James Lacey, a man who, in all appearances, seems to want nothing to do with her. In The Terrible Tourist, Agatha chases after James to Cyprus, where all sorts of hijinks occur. Agatha meets an odd group of tourists while on a boating trip. She is alone, and there are two other trios, each a married couple and an older gentlemen. One group appears to be old money, while the other is a bit crass. The nouveau riche woman is murdered, and Agatha is in constant danger of being murdered. She is also in danger of leaving Cyprus broken hearted. In Love from Hell, Agatha and James are married, cannot abide one another, and argue constantly. That is, until James disappears, and a woman (with whom he has been sleeping) is found murdered. Agatha must, with the help of her friends, clear James’s name and determine whether or not she has any love left for her husband.

The Deadly Dance is the first novel where Agatha sets up her agency. The local constabulary isn’t happy with her amateurish investigations, but she quickly proves herself with the help of her ever-growing staff. The agency gets its first big “case” and what initially appears to be a horrible mistake, turns into a case bigger than Agatha bargained for. With the help of her friend/lover Charles, she must track down a fiendish, cold-blooded killer.

Death of a Village by M.C. Beaton

If I had to choose, I would most likely pick Hamish Macbeth over Agatha Raisin. The novels still have quite a bit of charm, but the stories don’t jump around like the Agatha Raisin series. In this episode, Hamish Macbeth decides to take a trip to ease his discontent. He drives to the hamlet of Stoyre, but the small village does not restore Macbeth the way he would wish. Instead, he finds a village somewhat different than what he remembers. The villagers are not welcoming; in fact, a fire destroys the home of the only outsider in Stoyre. Macbeth tries to investigate but is stopped at every turn by closemouthed, fearful villagers. Macbeth must make a chink in the village’s armor and figure out what the crime is with the help of reporter Elspeth and an elderly couple – Mrs. Docherty and Mr. Jefferson.

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Each of these is a great read, and I could certainly recommend them for light reading. What about you? Any mysteries lately? What have you been reading?

happy reading – jenn aka picky girl

P.S. If you want to know about the two Winspear’s I read, stay tuned. I plan to write full reviews of each because they were fantastic!


The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Judge a book by its cover? Moi? You must be mistaken. I mean, why would I ever look at the cover art and determine a book’s worth… ok, I can’t keep it up. Will you please look at this cover? Is it not just perfection? When I first saw it, I thought: “Genius.” Then I got my hands on a copy at my local library (have I mentioned how much I love my local library?) and thought it all the more. What you can’t see in the photo is that the blood spatter is actually a cut out and that the red paper beyond it is a shiny scarlet red. It’s absolutely brilliant.

But enough of my gushing over the cover. Sadly, this literary thriller just didn’t quite live up to its cover; thus, the old adage.

In The Sherlockian, the book opens with Conan Doyle vowing to kill off Sherlock Holmes. It’s actually quite funny. Doyle is jealous of Holmes’s fame and intends to be done with him, remarking “If I don’t, …he’ll make a death of me.” His friends argue as to what will be the death of Holmes, and Doyle seriously considers how his own life has been intertwined with that of Holmes. This is what Moore has done well. He has made flesh of a man many only see as the man behind Holmes. He injects regret and joy, sorrow and guilt into this writer and his friend, Bram Stoker as they embark on a prideful journey to prove Doyle, the creator, is just as good, if not better, than his creation. I found the scenes with the pair conversing to be the most engaging aspects of the novel.

Abruptly, however, the action switches to present day and a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Holmes devotees. Harold, its newest and youngest member, has been inducted after some preeminent research into Holmes. The meeting takes a sobering turn when a member, Alex Cale, comes into the hotel looking disheveled and claiming he is being followed. Alex supposedly has in his possession the missing diary of Conan Doyle. The next morning, Cale is found dead; the diary is missing, and Harold takes it upon himself to, along with Sarah, a reporter, in true Holmesian fashion, deduce the killer and the whereabouts of the diary.

Unfortunately, though I loved the Doyle/Stoker friendship and the mystery Doyle seeks to solve, Harold was just so incredibly blah. His character was not only uninteresting, but having built him up as an academic and researcher, Moore has simply written a boring, pathetic character. His naivete and clumsiness are not endearing, and at several points, I was irritated with him and Moore’s much-too-blatant hints and winks at the reader. Sarah, a “reporter” whose motives are obviously less than altruistic, pushes her way into the action, and both her relationship with Harold and her identity are simply ridiculous.There is no chemistry between the two, yet the reader is expected to believe Harold is willing to toss away his career for this woman.

I hate to be harsh, but I expected much, much more from this novel. And, to be fair, had Moore stuck with Doyle and Stoker, I would possibly be telling a much different tale. Unfortunately, he didn’t, and my powers of observation tell me this one won’t likely go down in the annals of Sherlockian history. However, I do hope for bigger and better tales from Moore after this somewhat disappointing debut.


Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.


A home for my books.

I must have been a very good (albeit, picky) girl this year because I got Lowe’s gift cards. Hm, you might be thinking. What on earth will she do with that? Why, buy lumber for bookshelves, of course! My previous home had built-in bookshelves and though they were stacked three deep, they were perfect. How many bookshelves does my current home have? Three measly ones in my office to hold school books for reference. The rest of my books are shoved into cabinets and closets but are mainly under the bed in the front room. You read that right. While this has made for a major purging of books I wasn’t in love with, it makes it very difficult to lend books or find books for quick reference. It also makes it difficult to figure out what I have read and what I haven’t. So the goal is to turn a wall in my spacious dining room into built-in bookshelves. I am taking the opportunity to do it up right. New paint colors and everything. The problem, as it stands is that I love the color of my walls, but I really don’t love the white trim with the color for a library/dining room.

I’m thinking something a little lighter than the paint on this wall from the blog Isabella and Max:

Here is the space as it is, along with my inspiration photo:

So should I go with color on the walls with white trim and bookshelves? Or cream or white on the walls with black or gray on the trim/bookshelves? These are my dilemmas. But wait! I also need help with the details. I have several favorites, though the picture above is certainly the most classic. What do you like/love about these options? Which do you hate? Which one is only eh, okay? I want the DL, blogging buddies. I know design may not be your passion, but along with readings, it’s a big passion of mine, so help a gal out:


It’s a mystery!

Actually, it’s three mysteries. I did quite a bit of reading last weekend, and I decided to do three short reviews as opposed to individual ones. In fact, I may bring this back regularly since I tend to read them often. If you’ve read any good mysteries lately and want to link up, leave your link in comments, and I’ll include it here.

Every now and again I just get on a kick where all I want to read are mysteries, so bear with me. It usually happens toward the end of a semester when my brain feels fried from grading essay after essay. So, in no particular order, here’s the low down:

Death of a Poison Pen by M.C. Beaton – a Hamish Macbeth mystery

I’ve heard quite a bit about M.C. Beaton, both from bloggers and from my mom, who loves Agatha Raisin. Even though cozy mysteries aren’t usually what I like, I thought it might be a nice switch. What a pleasant surprise, then, to find quite a nice combination of hardened detective and charming Lochdubh in this book. This isn’t the first book in the series, but I definitely didn’t feel as though I was left out in any way. Hamish Macbeth is the underdog. His superiors don’t really like his methods, but his methods seem to solve a lot of cases. In this book, Macbeth is seeking out a writer of petty but poisonous letters. Everyone seems to have gotten one, and Macbeth is afraid pretty soon someone will take matters into her own hands. Of course, he’s right, and pretty soon there are swinging corpses showing up and startling the otherwise quiet village. Throw in an outsider looking for an adventure and following Macbeth in an effort to make her friend (and Macbeth’s former girlfriend) jealous, a nosy reporter, and a vindictive headmistress of a local school, and the writing is on the wall: Murder most foul, as Miss Marple would say (not to totally mix my cozy mysteries).

Mr. Dixon Disappears by Ian Sansom – A Mobile Library Mystery

Ah, I had such high hopes for this book. A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat? A mobile librarian who is a bit of a deadbeat who also runs into crime? Sign me up. Israel Armstrong is that librarian, and the story opens with him setting up a mobile exhibit about a local legend – Dixon and Pickering’s, a department store. As he is setting up, though, the store is robbed, and the owner, Mr. Dixon, disappears (see! that’s where the title come from). The local police don’t trust Armstrong, who is an outsider in this Irish village and has a very funny name for an Englishman. He is arrested, and mayhem ensues. The setup is all very nice, and the humor is great. My biggest problem with this mystery? It couldn’t decide whether or not it was cozy or hardboiled. One instant, Israel is dressing in disguise and trying to decipher the local dialect, the next, he is dropping the C word (very bad) and pissing me off. Eh. I may try another, and I certainly don’t hope to dissuade you. It just didn’t make me an instant fan.

Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate by M.C. Beaton

Don’t be fooled. Beaton may be the same author of this series and the Hamish Macbeth series, but they are definitely distinct series. I enjoyed them both, even though the cozy mystery is not usually my cup of tea. Agatha’s husband has left her for the monastery – except he never makes it to the monastery. Her pride is just a bit hurt until the new curate, a devilishly handsome younger man, asks her to dinner. However, shortly after their dinner (and a goodnight kiss), Tristan the curate, is found murdered. Agatha and her handsome mystery writer friend take on the investigation themselves, traveling to and from London with several near misses, red herrings, all while a cold-blooded murderer is on the loose. The murders are actually quite vicious, which I didn’t expect for a cozy mystery, and the ending was satisfying. What more can you ask for?

I do hope you’ve enjoyed these short reviews. As I mentioned before, if you’ve reviewed any of these or possibly other mysteries, let’s link up! Anyone else feel like winter is perfect cozy mystery weather? If so, what’s on your list?


A festival of books? It’s a festivus for the rest of us!

Friday afternoon, I ditched the office, the pup, and Beaumont, Texas to go with my parents to the Texas Book Festival in Austin, Texas. We went last year and had such a great time, we decided it had to be an annual event.

I had plans, people, big plans: I had my panels mapped out. I booked a hotel close to the site with breakfast included so we wouldn’t have to run around hunting for a Starbucks. My dad, on the other hand, had no clue. Yet somehow he made it to seven panels, while I only made it to four. Ah, beginner’s luck.

The four panels I did make it to? Incredible. Plus, I got to meet up with some other Texas book bloggers and end the moratorium on book buying. Throw in a little honky-tonkin, and you’re looking at one exhausted, but pleased picky girl.

Saturday:

Julia Glass

Luckily, I was close to finishing her newest book The Widower’s Tale. In fact, I brought my library book into the Capitol with me to read before the panel started. (Review coming later this week.) Ms. Glass was not all that inventive a speaker, and I was a bit disappointed. The moderator was excellent, though, and asked a couple questions I certainly had about the book. For example, the novel is told from the perspective of four men. Was that a conscious decision, and was it difficult to write from the male perspective? Ms. Glass answered it was most certainly intentional; she apparently feels very comfortable writing in the male voice, though she did admit the 20-year-old perspective was difficult to write (a complaint I had about the dialogue in the book). Here’s the panel and a pic of my mom and I before it got started:

Scott Westerfeld

Fantastic. Funny. Charming. Scott Westerfeld rocked – plain and simple. He really gave the sort of lecture I strive to give to my students – informative, humorous, practical, and interesting. He talked a bit about his series Uglies, but as I cannot speak to those books, I’ll focus on what I was there for – Leviathan and Behemoth. Westerfeld spoke about where the idea for the books came from. He has a blog, and his fans post art inspired by his books. When he found the Japanese version of his first series had drawings, he was a bit taken aback; his fans were jealous. As he said (and I paraphrase), there’s nothing like an oppressed teenager….

Westerfeld pondered why we, as Americans, avoid illustrations in adult books. Why do we reserve illustrations for the young and then take them away at a certain point? Why do we assume illustrations narrow the imagination instead of expanding it? So with Leviathan, he found illustrator Keith Thompson, and they collaborated quite nicely. He says the illustrations “allow for alternate story lines” and that if you look closely, the illustrator works these in carefully. The challenge, though, is making the story active enough – “with illustrations, characters have to move around, so the drawings can change.” Otherwise, the scenes become repetitive. He also had to think differently in terms of setting the stage. Keith would send him sketches, lacking a couple characters Westerfeld had in the scene. When asked about this decision, Keith would tell him it looked too crowded. So Westerfeld revised.

Westerfeld ended the talk with questions, and my personal favorite was when he was asked if he would venture into graphic novels. The answer? An enticing ‘yes.’

In between Saturday’s panels, I met up with some great Texas book bloggers, including Iliana at bookgirl’s nightstand who encouraged me to get into book blogging. It was really great to put faces to the names although since I only knew what Amanda looked like, I was a bit nervous. Thankfully, I spotted the group pretty quickly, and I had a great time chatting with Iliana, Carin, Karen, Trish, Debbie, and Amanda. Jason, Amanda’s husband, was gracious enough to take our photos (please notice how antisocial we are; we are standing like a foot away from each other). 😉 All in all, it was great to meet everyone, and I can’t wait for next year to do it again.

From left to right: Carin, me, Trish, Amanda, Debbie

 

From top left to bottom right: Iliana, Karen, Carin, and Amanda

Of course, I couldn’t wait to get to the tents to buy my copy of Behemoth, and I also picked up these little gems from one of my favorite artists (don’t worry – I’ve got a whole post lined up to give you a peek at the inside):

 

Stay tuned for a wrap-up of Sunday’s awesome panels!!!

Until then, happy reading,

jenn

aka picky girl


Review: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas

*Trigger warning: this post contains a story line which deals with domestic and sexual abuse.*


On the tail end of yesterday’s post, I had to write this morning about Blue-Eyed Devil. As promised, I went to the library last night and on my friend Sommer’s suggestion picked up the two sequels to Sugar Daddy, a book she passed on to me several years ago. Now, let me just say – my intentions last night were to eat dinner in my pjs, crawl into bed, and sleep blissfully until morning. Lisa Kleypas had other plans, and no, I’m not being dirty.

I stayed up until almost 3 a.m. reading this book. A romance novel? Sure, I guess. But it wasn’t just a romance novel: I CRIED.

There, I said it. The last book that made me well up was The Book Thief, ok. I’m a quality crier. No sappy ending brings tears to my eyes. In fact, sometimes I laugh at that sort of thing, but lying in bed, reading Blue-Eyed Devil, I couldn’t control my tears.

Haven Travis (I know, such a soap opera name) comes from Texas oil money and is from ritzy River Oaks Houston. She comes from a pretty strict background, although her best friend Todd, the son of two artists, is extremely liberal. He’s Buddhist and explains to Haven that Buddhists “spend a lot of time contemplating the nature of reality.” As a child when she asks to attend a Buddhist temple with Todd, her mother tells her she is a Baptist, and “Baptists didn’t spend their time thinking about reality.”

As an adult, though, Haven has got a conscious, which sometimes blinds her to people’s true natures. She is constantly trying to make up for having quite a lot of what most people have so little. The book opens at her brother’s wedding (culmination of Sugar Daddy), her boyfriend Nick by her side. But Daddy Travis, Haven’s impossible-to-impress father can’t stand Nick. In fact, no one seems impressed with him. However, Haven knows Nick came from nothing and loves his character and liberal nature. During the wedding, Haven sees who she thinks is Nick slip into the wine cellar and follows him in. Only it’s not Nick; it’s Hardy Cates, a business competitor of the Travis family. Cates, ahem, weakens Haven’s knees, but she leaves in search of Nick, who has spoken with her father, asking for Haven’s hand in marriage.

After she marries Nick and is cut off from Daddy’s money, she realizes Nick harbors great resentment toward her background. He blames Haven for her family’s money, even though it’s not something Haven thinks about. He wants to have children to manipulate money from Daddy Travis. The marriage becomes increasingly unstable as Nick’s personality deteriorates before Haven’s eyes. Haven must iron his shirts – just so – or she’s a bad wife. If she doesn’t have dinner made when they both get off work, she’s a bad wife. You see where this is going, and it’s not a comfortable place.

Nick becomes progressively more dangerous, and I think my tears started here, in the midst of the first slap:

Screaming. I’d never had someone scream into my face like that before, certainly not a man, and it was a kind of death.

Growing up, I remember my dad as a fairly laidback dad. He worked a lot as a grocery store manager, but it’s not his absences I remember. What has always, always stuck with me are the times when we would be watching television or a movie when my dad would abruptly get up and change the channel or turn the television off. I didn’t understand what was going on, having not even noticed what had happened on screen – a man hitting a woman, and I’m not sure if he ever explained; it may have been my mom who told me, “Your dad doesn’t ever want you or your sister to think that sort of violence is ok.”

Small – but it left an indelible impression on me. I won’t quote the violent scenes or the incident that pushes Haven to leave, but she does leave – after Nick throws her, bodily, onto the front stoop. Her older brother Gage sends someone to collect her in Dallas, and after a trip to the Medical Center, begins to heal. She’s skittish and sad, but slowly the old Haven comes around, except in social situations. One night after having drinks with her brother at a downtown bar, an incoming crowd shoves her, terrifying her with the body contact, into who else but the blue-eyed devil Hardy Cates, and Haven must come to terms with what has happened to her and learn to trust again.

It sounds so cliche, but honestly, if you could see my bleary eyes and mussed hair, having slept in until 9:20 a.m. (so so late for me), you would understand. It’s much less a romance novel than a story of hurt and healing. The only aspect of this novel that bothered me (other than the obvious) was the thought that most domestic violence victims don’t have a family with access to private jets and loads of money and influence to keep an abusive partner away. Of course, it’s fiction, but the book made it seem as though leaving the abuser is simple, when in actuality it’s not. I will say there are moments in the book that subtly address that, but it was just an observation.

I also hope you will not not pick up this book because of the abuse although I would certainly understand. I really enjoyed it and was interested in the narcissistic-personality disorder the book discusses.

And, as to my bout of crying, let’s just not mention that. Has a book ever caught you off guard like that? Especially a book you never thought would have that sort of effect on you? Please say yes.


You were right about romance novels; I was wrong (sort of)

Dear Sommer, bestest friend in the www (whole wide world):

I know I can be a joykill. When you talk about your new issue of Romance Digest (is that the title?) and all the new romance novels coming out, I know you can practically hear the gagging in my mind as I envision old-school romance bodice-rippers and lovely euphemisms like “sheathe his sword.” Oh yeah, I went there. You know the ones I mean:

Now I don’t plan on picking up any titles like this any time soon. Can you imagine?! I read all over the place. Would men walk up and, thinking I’m game, rip my low-cut corset that barely covers my breasts off me? Can’t take that chance.

However, I know not ALL romance novels are like this – and hell, every once in a while? Why not? This particular cover made me think of a Friends episode where Joey finds a copy of such a book under Rachel’s pillow and follows her around asking to warm coffee up on her red-hot loins.

A couple weekends ago, I read/listened to three romance novels: Something Blue by Emily Giffin, Vision in White and Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts. And whaddyaknow? I loved them. In fact, I won’t tell you how in between my Vicodin-induced nap because of my poor hurt shoulder, I read like a maniac. Or that I took one of them to a football game, only to get laughed at by the security guard when he checked my bag.

I also won’t tell you how reading these books has spawned a desire to read more of these books in the future. Because that would be like sort of admitting I was wrong, and I wasn’t wrong. They were fun to read. They were engaging. Might have even made me wish I owned a diamond. Just a little one. And maybe a Prada bag. I may have even dreamed in Tiffany blue…

But. (Of course there has to be a ‘but’ – we’re best friends. You should know me well enough by now). As addictive as these books were, there were parts of each that drove me insane.

Darcy Rhone in Something Blue made me want to slap a baby (no, not your baby. I love that sweet baby girl). Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t say it made me want to slap a baby. That’s rude. And violent. Darcy, though, was rude. Maybe not violent but certainly rude. Chick sleeps with her fiance’s best friend, gets pregnant, and is then furious when she discovers her best friend and fiance have been bumping uglies. (I swear I’ve heard that somewhere… probably in a book). Plus, she lies to everyone about the circumstances of her breakup and leaves everyone behind to mooch off her writer friend in London (all while shopping daily and not paying a dime of rent). Even though she has some sort of near-religious conversion; well, not at all religious, her friend straight up tells her she’s rude and self absorbed… even then, I couldn’t get past disliking her strongly.

Nora Roberts, at least, handles her characters a bit better. They are likable. You feel as though you know them. She also writes a lot of series, and I like series. The books can be a bit hard to believe (four friends grow up, each perfect for one-fourth of a wedding-planning business: a photographer, pastry chef, florist, and bossy bitch-I mean-planner. Really?) But I liked them. In fact, they brought me back to my college days when I read Nora Roberts after my mom would pass them on to me. No wonder I was obsessed with Martha Stewart Weddings and kept a scrapbook of nice wedding invitations, floral arrangements, and magazine rip-outs of dresses. I was the target audience for Nora. She was brainwashing me, and I was all in, veil, strappy satin off-white shoes, and all.

The biggest problems I found with Ms. Nora Roberts’ books were the tie-ins. The florist is a true romantic, with a wonderful family, parents celebrating an anniversary. She falls in love with Jack, a commitment-phobe, and when he walks into a room, her smile “blooms.” Subtle hint, there, right? Blooms – like a flower – like a florist – like EMMA, our main character. That got old fast.

The other issue is Roberts really works to write independent female characters who are only really independent when faced with a man ordering them around. Then – Miss Independent, Miss Self Sufficient – the character battles with her lover, telling him in no uncertain terms, she won’t be ordered around. Almost every main character was like that. I just finished listening to the audiobook of Red Lily, another of her novels. Same thing. It’s not that I think these types of women don’t exist; I just wish romance novelists would include different types of women.

Ah well.

In the long run, I’m pleased I picked up so many romance novels this month. Of course, that may have been why I consumed more chocolate this month than in the last 6 combined. Let’s not even talk about how many Oreos have been eaten in this house.

And I guess that’s the best part of romance novels; they are pure girlish fun. Candlelight dinners. Suites at the Waldorf Astoria. Champagne. Chocolate. More champagne. Kisses that make your knees weak. I can handle that. In fact, I may pick up a few more at the library tomorrow evening. I blame you – 100%.

Now, when are we going to go catch the newest chick flick? I’m waiting. You get a babysitter – I’ll stuff the Junior Mints in my bag.

jenn

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Any other romance readers out there? Any must-have titles? Why do you like romance novels? Or why do you hate them?


Review: Stitches by David Small

Sometimes the medium of a story is so much more important than how that story is told: Stitches, illustrator David Small’s memoir, is one such story.

Set in a mostly-wordless black-and-white format, Stitches is about the author’s childhood, one in which speech is the last form of communication the family utilizes.

Instead, Mom slams cabinets and weeps quietly behind closed doors. Dad batters a punching bag, and Ted, the brother, plays the drums. What does David do? He, too, is voiceless, and only warrants attention through his many childhood illnesses. Dad, the doctor, puts his young son through all sorts of experimental treatments – shots, enemas, neck cracking, and multiple x-rays, hoping to help his sinus problems.

David’s only escape from his passive-aggressive mother and radiology-happy father is coloring and drawing. His figures become friends, a way to escape. However, David’s escape is simply another form of silence, separating himself further from his family.

As a young man, a family friend notices a growth on David’s neck and advises his mother it be checked out. What follows is probably the absolute worst part of this graphic novel. His parents wait three-and-a-half years before doing anything about it. David is told he has a cyst; a simple operation will remove it. Two surgeries later, David is left with an incredibly-long scar down the left side of his neck and one vocal cord, rendering him silent, although, as he says, it is “no longer a matter of choice.” He learns to cope but tunnels deeper into his self because “when you have no voice, you don’t exist.” For ten years, he can speak in nothing above a whisper.

The novel is heartbreaking, and it angered me to see the willful neglect on behalf of David’s parents – no matter how troubled they were. How he manages to survive and thrive is a testament to the human spirit. This is one of many graphic novels  I have read in the last few years, none of them happy. I’m not sure if the medium makes it easier to depict the anger, grief, frustration, and shame or if it is simply a means to an end. Regardless, Stitches is raw but effective, specifically in that there really aren’t many words, reinforcing the impotence David feels first, as a child and second, as a teen who cannot speak. Drawn frame-by-frame with an obvious nod to cinematography, the quiet isn’t pleasant but menacing, and the illustrations are incredibly successful in their execution. I recommend this book to those with an interest in graphic novels or a special interest in memoirs – just make sure you have something cheerful lines up right after it.

Other reviews:

S. Krishna’s Books


Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

A few weeks ago, at the library, I saw a really interesting book cover: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I didn’t pick it up as I have been insanely busy, and my book bag was already overflowing. However, when I saw the Texas Book Festival site and got so excited about the author list, I knew I had to go back and pick up Leviathan as Scott Westerfeld will be in Austin in October! There are also other bloggers whose opinions I respect (like Amanda at The Zen Leaf) who rave about Westerfeld’s series, The Uglies.

Leviathan is set during World War I, and much of it is historically accurate. Westerfeld’s genius, though, is in changing how these events take place, and I was fascinated pretty much from page one. I’ve learned since reading this, the technique is called ‘steampunk.’* The major dividing line between the two sides is not simply political. Instead, the Germans, Austrians, and Russians are Clankers – they create and depend on huge metal, industrial machines to defend themselves. Alek, the son of the assassinated archduke, is thrust from a cush life with simple defense training in a mechanical Stormwalker into defending himself and several servants bound to protect him. Alek’s questionable lineage makes him a threat to the forces wanting to take the place of the archduke. Running from his own people, Alek is forced to look at life in a much different way, made unbelievably clear to him when he comes into contact with the outside world.

The British, not yet in the fight, believe themselves to be more enlightened. Termed the Darwinists, the British rely on new crossbred animals to defend themselves. Scientists look to animals to find strengths and abilities and then use these  to create super animals, such as the leviathan (have I mentioned my love affair with this word? I love it). Filled with hydrogen by other smaller working animals, the leviathan is an air ship, similar to a blimp. Deryn Sharp, a young woman whose father was obsessed with flight, is determined to be in the British Air Service. Young women are not allowed, however, and Deryn must disguise herself and prove she is capable enough to man the ship. When Leviathan comes under attack and crashes in Switzerland near Alek’s secret hiding place, both Alek and Deryn come face to face and forge an unlikely alliance, as the two sides with distinct ideologies (Clankers and Darwinists) are distrustful and skeptical of one another.

This story was fascinating to me: the Darwinist animals and their purposes were interesting (although the implications were somewhat troubling), but the descriptions of them were beautiful as well. The book is illustrated with beautiful work by Keith Thompson and though I loved the illustrations, Westerfeld’s words truly built these creatures in my mind. The mindset of the two sides was evident and understandable – the Darwinists are seen as intervening where they should not be, creating “beasties” for the sole purpose of exploitation. The Clankers are seen as wasteful and unimaginative. Both sides have excellent points, which I think will further be explored in the sequel.

Which brings me to: THE SEQUEL!! I didn’t know anything about this book when I picked it up and certainly didn’t realize there was a sequel, scheduled to appear in October, until I got to the end – a total cliffhanger. When I went in search of the sequel, I realized it wasn’t out yet and was more than a little miffed that Westerfeld would leave me in such a bind. In other words, I LOVED this book. It is an excellent, fun read, and I would recommend it to adults and children alike.

Last and not least, I loved the female roles in this book. Deryn is a feisty, spunky character with great dialogue and an inner drive that is admirable. Plus, she likes science. In fact, she gets totally wrapped up in it:

How old Darwin figured out how to weave new species from old, pulling out the tiny threads of life and tangling together under a microscope. How evolution had squeezed a copy of Deryn’s own life chain into every cell of her body. How umpteen different beasties made up the Leviathan – from microscopic hydrogen-farting bacteria in its belly to the great harnessed whale. How the airships creatures, like the rest of Nature, were always struggling amongst themselves in messy, snarling equilibrium.

Deryn makes no apologies for her preferences and passions, but she certainly gets a kick out of one of Leviathan’s passengers. Dr. Barlow, a female relative of Darwin, makes a surprise appearance on the airship, shocking Deryn, who thus far has only seen that a woman must hide her true identity to do what she loves. Dr. Barlow is stubborn and intelligent and a leader in her field. It was exciting to see such strong female characters, even if one is in disguise. I trust Westerfeld will address this further as the series moves along. Leviathan is an action novel, fun for all ages; pick it up, and watch for my review of Behemoth, the next book of the series.

*Steampunk is really quite fascinating, with origins in many familiar classics authors. I once wrote an essay on the marriage of science and fiction in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The beginnings of the idea are there. Alternate history is really what it’s all about, but it’s also about the scientific discoveries during the late 19th century and early 20th century, which allowed writers, inventors, and artists to open their imaginations to a world previously unknown to them. Another aside: I heard on NPR this morning that Charles Babbage actually invented the first computer in the mid 1800s. Who knew? (If you did and think I’m really lame, please don’t tell me in comments. Thanks.) 🙂

Other reviews:

The Book Smugglers

The Zen Leaf