Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quirky ... Booking Through Thursday, 1/31/08

This week’s question is suggested by (blogless) JMutford:
Sometimes I find eccentric characters quirky and fun, other times I find them too unbelievable and annoying. What are some of the more outrageous characters you’ve read, and how do you feel about them?

For the vast majority of my reading I wouldn't say there are any truly quirky or eccentric characters because I would find them just as annoying as I do in the world I inhabit every day. Though I have to admit that what initially came to mind, as I was reading the question, was the cast of characters that share Harry Potter's universe. I'm huge fan of the HP series. The characters, and there are many, as they are written are appropriate to the story lines and therefore not unbelievable and annoying. But for most part if such a character or characters existed in a book I was reading I most likely: 1) wouldn't finish the book; or 2) if I did finish not read anything by that particular author again, especially if those same characters were to make an appearance.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stone Cold by David Baldacci

Finn noted the two men next to Simpson. They had earpieces and were armed, maybe Secret Service. Simpson had no doubt taken extra precautions, particularly since the three former Triple Sixes and Carter Gray had died. Finn's plan did not involve a direct attack on Simpson. Simpson needed to know why his life was ending. Yet Finn would think of a way; he always did. ~ Stone Cold, page 108 ~

One by one, men from Stone's shadowy past are turning up dead. Behind this slaughter stands one man: Harry Finn. To almost all who know him, Finn is a doting father and loving husband who uses his skills behind the scenes to keep our nation safe. But the other face of Harry Finn is that of an unstoppable killer who inevitably sets his lethal bull's-eye on Oliver Stone. And with Finn, Stone may well have meet his match.

David Baldacci is one of my favorite authors and for me this book was exactly what I expected. There are likable characters, under-handed government big-wigs, intrigue and cover-ups that keep me guessing, and those little unexpected twists and turns. Yes there's suspense but there are moments of light-hearted fun. There's also a moment of great sadness if you've spent time with the members of the Camel Club in past books. While the book was a fast read and not taxing I enjoyed the ride and look forward meeting up with this group again in the future.

Mew is for Murder by Clea Simon

"I'm just going to put her in a traveling box," Eva explained and then turned to me. "We'd been planning on taking one of Lillian's cats, but I thought Luisa would rather have a kitten." She Shrugged. "This one will be easier to care for." She placed the pliable beast in the cardboard carrier the young vet tech had brought over. "It's the little one I feel sorry for." She motioned to Luisa's friend, Kristen, who stood quietly in front of a cage that held a large black cat. Without a word the girl pushed her fingers between the bars and the cat reached back. Claws sheathed, it gently batted a velvet paw at the small girl's hand. ~ Mew is for Murder, page 112 ~

One day, out for a stroll in her Cambridge neighborhood, Theda spies an adorable stray kitten. This charmer leads Theda to an old woman holed up in a decrepit house full of cats. Is this one of those "crazy cat ladies," a classic hoarder or is the old woman a neighborhood do-gooder? More important: is this the story to catapult Theda out of the dumps? But when she returns to interview Lillian Helmhold, Theda finds her fascinating subject dead of an apparent accident. The neighbors are celebrating, the police aren't interested, and the cats are removed to a shelter. End of story? Not for Theda - one or two things don't compute. So Theda marshals her investigative journalism skills to turn gumshoe.

I had really high hopes starting this book which soon took a down turn. This book was more about the main character, Theda Krakow, and her life as a freelance writer than about a murder mystery. The author spends a considerable amount of time having Theda track down stories to jump start her career and her evenings clubbing then she spends trying to solve the murder mystery. It almost felt as if the mystery of the murder was a side note to the rest of the story. And the clues to the whodunit were quite obvious and left little mystery. Also, none of the other characters such as Bill Sherman, Violet or Ralph were very appealing to me.

Being a cat lover and hoarder myself, we have nine rescues sharing our hearts and home, my heart went out to those fictional animals when they were mentioned in the story. I understand the plight of these wonderful creatures. That being said there wasn't enough to bring me back to this series again. This book was just so so for me. If I had nothing else to read then I might continue with the series.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

Jake let go of my hands and held my face in his palms. He stared at me and brushed his lips over mine, just as he had three years before at the drive-in, the kiss I had carried with me like a holy relic. I leaned against him, and he twisted his fingers into my hair, hurting me. He moved his tongue over my lips and into my mouth. I felt hungry. Something inside me was tearing apart, and at my core was something hot, hard and white. I wrapped my arms around Jake's neck, not knowing if I was doing this right, just understanding that if I did not have more, I would never forgive myself. ~ Harvesting the Heart, page 153 ~

Paige has only a few vivid memories of her mother, who abandoned her when she was five. Now, having left her father behind in Chicago, she dreams of art school, marries an ambitious doctor - and soon becomes a mother herself. Overwhelmed by the demands of having a family, Paige cannot forget her mother's absence and the shameful memories of her own past, which make her doubt both her ability to give and her sense of self-worth.

I didn't finish, reading only 153 of 453 pages. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors and I really tried to give this book an opportunity to grab my attention. My usual is 50 pages and done if I can't get into a book. I gave this book 3x that. The pace of the story was like watching a glacier melt. Others books such as My Sister's Keeper, Vanishing Acts and Tenth Circle got my attention right from the start. Also, this book was her second published novel and she may still have been trying to define her style which is why I'm being neutral. I recommend this author I just don't recommend this particular book.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Huh? ... Booking Through Thursday, 1/24/08

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

I don't have one of those. I guess that doesn't really amaze me only because my reading consists mainly top and mid levels authors in some of the most popular genres. Tons of popular fiction. I'd love to find one of those gems and hopefully one day I'll come across one. I'm usually the one going "Huh? Never heard of it?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pick Your Poison by Leann Sweeney

"Because I called you here to warn you. Not to arrest you for interfering in an official investigation, like I could have. Do me a favor and stick to computers. Something you know about." He removed two more sticks of gum, unwrapped them, and aimed the wadded-up papers at the neighboring trash can. He missed. ~ Pick Your Poison, page 113 ~

Out of school, out of work, and out of motivation, Abby Rose is contemplating her life and wondering what to do next. It's the kind of situation that would get some girls down, but luckily Abby's got a heart the size of Texas - and a bank account to match...

When Abby discovers her gardener, Ben, dead in the greenhouse one afternoon, the emptiness of her own life hits her like a glass of ice-cold Texas tea. Ever since her father died, she's been mooning around the pool, making herself as useful as a june bug on a daisy. When the sexy detective from the Houston P.D. tells her it was poison that killed Ben, Abby realizes what she needs to do with herself: solve a murder. Little does she suspect that the answers to her questions about Ben's death will unlock secrets about her own past - and might change her entire future...

I loved Abby. She's feisty, ballsy and fun. It was a rip roaring good read. This book grabbed me right from the start and didn't let go. I picked up a few of the clues but the ultimate baddie escaped my detecting until it was revealed in the story line. The author sets up future books which is fine by me because I'll be back to visit with Abby and friends.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pushing Up Daisies by Rosemary Harris

"Hey, the only things I want to keep up right now are my house, my business, and my sanity. The last thing I need is another complication. Ever since the baby..." I sputtered. "Finding that body has been like having a baby." I looked around surreptitiously. "Last night Felix suggested I was locked in the greenhouse intentionally. And I got a stupid crank e-mail from someone trying to scare me. That'll teach me to leave my business card just anywhere. Now I'll have to change my e-mail address and that'll be another pain in the ass." Even I knew I was escalating into hysteria. ~ Pushing Up Daisies, pages 95-96 ~ [ARC, uncorrrected proof]

Meet Paula Holliday, a thirty-something media exec who trades her stilettos for garden clogs when she moves from New York City to suburban Connecticut to start a landscaping business. Paula can handle deer, slugs, and the occasional human pests, but she's not prepared for the mummified body she finds poking through the wild grounds of a wealthy old dowager's estate. Casual snooping turns serious when someone is impaled on a garden tool and one of Paula's friends is arrested for the crime.

Aided by a wise-cracking former colleague, the still-hot aging rocker who owns the local greasy spoon, and a sexy Mexican laborer with a few secrets of his own, Paula combines reality television tactics with a gardener's need to dig, and unearths more deadly secrets the town has kept buried for years.

This is a fun, breezy read with an appealing cast of characters. No blood and guts here just a dead body or two and plenty of amateur sleuthing in between. Some clues I figured out and some I'm sure were right in front of my eyes, literally, and I still missed them. I enjoyed spending time with the gang from Springfield and would read the second in this new series when it comes out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Let's Review ... Booking Through Thursday 1/17/2008

This week’s question is suggested by Puss Reboots:

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

Do reviews sway me - depends.

If it's a genre I don't normally read and might be interested in I'll spend lots of time surfing different books within the genre and scanning reviews offered by other readers to see if it's something I really want to invest with my precious reading time. I spend a lot of time on Amazon starring at the "stars." The more stars a particular book or author gets the more likely I am to give it a try. If I find that a particular book by a given author gets high ratings I'll review other books by the same author to check for consistency. If they have several books out but stars and reviews are all over board I might be a bit more reluctant to invest my time.

If the review is about a book/author that I've built up a long term reading relationship with I'll read the book no matter what a review states and make my own decision. There are long term reading relationships I've terminated because newer books don't appeal to yet the reviews are good. There are long term reading relationships I continue even though the book has been trashed. To each their own.

All readers enjoy something different as do TV viewers and movie goers so bad reviews might not have an adverse effect on me. With new books that receive lots of publicity and praise I might wait 6 months to a year before reading so that readers have time to offer reviews. This way I get a well rounded overview of what readers really thought instead of jumping on the bandwagon.

I've offered my opinion on books that aren't favorable yet someone else may absolutely love the book. I read books last year that were the talk of book groups, Internet book sites and high on book lists yet for whatever reason I didn't finish these books and didn't understand all the praise. Three that come to mind are Water for Elephants, The Book Thief and The Stolen Child. These books were not for me but were, and continue to be, very popular.

I exercise my right to read what I want on a daily basis and I don't apologize for my choices.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy

No, I could not in my secret heart agree that Albert's father had been such a good man; but Albert seemed to have forgotten his sins now he was dead and so earnestly and so movingly did he talk of his father's virtues to me that I began to believe in them too. ~ Victoria Victorious, page 314 ~

At birth, Princess Victoria was fourth in line for the throne of England, the often-overlooked daughter of a prince who died shortly after her birth. She and her mother lived in genteel poverty for most of her childhood, exiled from court because of her mother's dislike for her uncles, George IV and William IV. A strong, willful child, Victoria was determined not to be stifled by her powerful uncles or her unpopular, controlling mother. Then one morning, at the age of eighteen, Princess Victoria awoke to the news of her uncle William's death. The almost-forgotten princess was now Queen of England. Even better, she was finally free of her mother's iron hand and her uncles' manipulations. Her first act as queen was to demand that she be given a room - and a bed - of her own.

Victoria's marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, was a blissful happy one that produced nine children. Albert was her constant companion and one of her most trusted advisers. Victoria's grief after Prince Albert's untimely death was so shattering that for the rest of her life - nearly forty years - she dressed only in black. She survived several assassination attempts, and during her reign England's empire expanded around the globe until it touched every continent in the world.

This was one of the most tedious books I've read in a very long time. It was a most unflattering portrayal of Queen Victoria. She came across as a spoiled, selfish individual who used her position as queen to get her way and didn't hesitate to remind others quite often, including her husband, that she was queen and it was her way or no way. I also didn't find much evidence of a loving marriage. It appears to have been quite stormy with a husband that treated his wife as more of child than an adult. This isn't on my recommended reading list.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Wallflower Series by Lisa Kleypas

Secrets of a Summer Night
She couldn't seem to finish the sentence, her voice dwindling into bewildered silence as awareness flooded her. Never in her life had she experienced this reaction to a man. Just what this immediate sense or urgency entailed, or how to satisfy it, was far beyond the scope of her limited knowledge. All she knew was that for that moment, she had desperately wanted to continue leaning on him, a body so spare and firm as to be wholly invulnerable, providing a safe harbor as the floor shifted beneath her feet. The scent of him; clean male skin, polished leather, and the hint of starched linen, aroused her senses with pleasurable expectation. He was completely unlike the cologned and pomaded aristocrats she had been trying to ensnare during the past two seasons. ~Secrets of a Summer Night, page 11 ~

It Happened One Autumn
Closing the door, Marcus stared at Lillian, the spark in his eyes burning brighter, a smile now lurking at the corners of his lips. He looked so handsome, with his austere features lit by the mingled glow of the lamp and the hearth, that sent a sweet shiver went through her. Rather than his usual tied-and-buttoned attire, he had gone without a coat, and his white shirt was open at the throat, revealing a glimpse of smooth brown skin. She has kissed that triangular hollow at the base of it... she had let her tongue play across it... ~ It Happened One Autumn, page 314 ~

Devil in Winter
She was amazed that she had managed to communicate so well with St. Vincent, who was more than a little intimidating, with his golden beauty and wintry ice-blue eyes, a mouth made for kisses and lies. He looked like a fallen angle, replete with all the dangerous male beauty that Lucifer could devise. He was also selfish and unscrupulous, which had been proved by his attempt to kidnap his best friend's fiancee. But it had occurred to Evie that such a man would a fitting adversary for the Maybricks. ~ Devil in Winter, page 14 ~

Scandal in Spring
He knew her name. Daisy regarded him with increasing confusion. She couldn't imagine how she could have forgotten a man this attractive. His features were strong and decisively formed, too masculine to be called beautiful, too striking to be ordinary. And his eyes were the rich sky-blue of morning glories, even more than intense against the sun-glazed color of his skin. There was something extraordinary about him, a kind of barely leashed vitality that nearly caused her to take a step backward, the force of it was so strong. ~ Scandal in Spring, page 22 ~

So I read these books as a personal challenge to myself as this isn't my usual choice of reading material. This author has gotten such glowing reviews that I thought I should be fair and give her try. Shake things up in my reading world. While they were predicable, in parts, I enjoyed them and would read more from her. They were fun and a nice change from my normal day-to- day reading selections. We all need some gulity pleasure reading in our lives.

Friday, January 11, 2008

May I Introduce ... Booking Through Thursday, 1/10/2008

How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?

Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?

I tend not to read books recommended by others or books that receive a lot of hype as they don't usually meet the expectations that have placed on them.

I spend a lot of time surfing book sites on the Internet, walking the stacks in bookstores and the library. Browsing the book selection at Costco. Ads in USAtoday's book section. Target's Bookmarked Breakout Books.

Cover art, and/or title, is a big draw for me when selecting books so, yes, it's usually love at first sight. If I'm reading an author for the first time and I don't like the particular book, usually due to writing style or plot line, I won't read anything else by them so there is no time for a love affair to develop.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

It was a city of ancient and seemingly irreconcilable contradictions: the wonder of the world, and a filthy, decaying backwash; a place of Christian pilgrimage, whose greatest art celebrated pagan gods; a center of books and learning, whose people wallowed in ignorance and superstition.

Despite these contradictions, perhaps because of them, Joan loved Rome. The seething tumults of its streets stirred her. In these teeming corridors the far corners of the world converged: Roman, Lombard, German, Byzantine, and Muslim jostling one another in an exciting mix of customs and tongues. Past and present, pagan and Christian were intertwined in a rich and diverting tapestry. The best and worst of all the world were gathered within these ancient walls. In Rome, Joan found the world of opportunity and adventure which she had sought all her life. ~ From Pope Joan, page 245 ~

For a thousand years men have denied her existence - Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as Brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.

I found this book both fascinating and intriguing. To think that a woman in the middle to late 800s could rise through the ranks of the Catholic church to become the leader of one the largest religious orders is mind boggling and at the same time believable. While the author readily admits that this is largely a fictional story based on fact there appears to be enough evidence to credit that Joan did in fact exist. This evidence exists in over 500 hundred writings of Church history. This book is very readable with an easy writing style. If you enjoy historical fiction this book should be on your reading list.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Anticipation ... Booking Through Thursday, 1/3/2008

What books are you looking forward to in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you're planning to read in 2008 that you're looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you're waiting to appear in paperback?

1. The Darkest Evening of the Year - Dean Koontz ('07)

2. The Appeal - John Grisham ('08)

3. Stranger in Death - J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts ('08)

4. Tribute - Nora Roberts ('08)

5. Stone Cold - David Baldacci ('07)

6. Seduction of the Crimson Rose - Lauren Willig ('08)

7. Firefly Lane by Kirsten Hannah

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex

Overview: Isabella d'Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, born into privilege and the political and artistic turbulence of Renaissance Italy, is a stunning black-eyed blonde and an art lover and collector. Worldly and ambitious, she has never envied her less attractive sister, the spirited but naive Beatrice, until, by a quirk of fate, Beatrice is betrothed to the future Duke of Milan. Although he is more than twice her age, openly lives with his mistress, and is reputedly trying to eliminate the current duke by nefarious means, Ludovico Sforza is Isabella's match in intellect and passion for all things of beauty. Only he would allow her to fulfill her destiny: to reign over one of the world's most powerful and enlightened realms and be immortalized in oil by the genius Leonardo da Vinci. Isabella vows that she will not rest until she wins her true fate, and the two sisters compete for supremacy in the illustrious courts of Europe.

My review: Scheming sisters, conniving spouses, mistresses, one temperamental artist, politics and war. What's not to like about the intrigue, adventure, and beauty of Renaissance Europe. At times it can be a bit confusing to keep all the players in order especially when they're changing alliances to suit themselves and the needs of their countries. The writing style was easy to read and flowed throughout the book. I was hooked early and had trouble putting it down to do things like go to work. It's helpful to be familiar with Leonardo da Vinci's art or have access to an art book or Wikipedia, an Internet encyclopedia, so that you can refer to these works as the author writes about them. She also includes snippets from Leonardo's written works throughout the book. This is a fiction book based on historical fact and personalities of the time.