Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke


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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Rip-Roaring Girl Adventure!

Bloody Jack:  Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L.A. Meyer

Teen Adventure/Historical Fiction

Jack's life is hard--like Oliver Twist hard, except without the happy ending.  It's a day-to-day existence stealing food, or scamming for food, and serving under the protection of a harsh, but loving, master.  And, Jacky, is a girl which is the worst thing to be in this time period, England in the 1800's.

When Jacky's leader is killed, she finally sees her opportunity.  She cuts her hair, puts on his clothes and decides to become a ship's boy.  Her fist priority is fitting in with the boys.  She tapes her breasts flat, figures out how to urinate standing up and alone, and makes herself a sock penis, called by the euphemism, 'codpiece'.  Then, of course, she falls in love with a sailor, acts wildly inappropriate with him and makes him question his own sanity and manhood when he responds to this ship's "boy". 

This is a great book for budding teenage feminists and a great history lesson to show how girls/women were viewed in Victorian times.  It's definitely a PG13+ book with lots of sexual issues, homosexual overtones, and a near rape.  But, I really liked it.  I really liked the parts where Jacky had to deal with her own maturing body growing and changing.  I think a lot of teen girls will relate to these quite normal aches and pains of adolescence and then they will be horrified seeing how much worse times were for girls back then. 

This is only the first in the series and it doesn't have a satisfactory ending, so naturally I'll have to keep going.  But, that's okay because I really want to--I can't wait to see what misadventure she gets into next!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mostly Sizzle, A Little Fizzle

The Past Came Hunting by Donnell Ann Bell

Romantic Thriller

I didn't expect much from this book.  I think because I had purchased it so cheaply on Amazon.  In the past, that has usually meant a book of low quality.  And, I didn't like the cover so much (I know that makes me a shallow book-chooser, but there you have it).

I was so pleasantly surprised by this read.  The action and characters caught me right away and didn't really let go until the last page.  The plot line was unique and interesting, realistic but adventurous enough to keep it from too commonplace.  The characters, all of them, were finely developed and the dialogue was at times funny, sad, hopeful...everything dialogue should be.

The story is about a young woman named Mel who made a terrible mistake at a young age.  This mistake caused her to go to jail for a crime she didn't commit.  Mel learned quickly from her mistakes and dedicated herself to becoming a better person.  Years later, she finds herself living beside the very man who arrested her all those years ago and he seems determined to focus on the old Mel, not the new one.  That's a bit hard for him, though, because he's really attracted to the new Mel.  Naturally, the two fall in love but are hampered in their destiny of a happy ending by a criminal whom Mel helped convict.  He's out of prison and set on revenge, hoping to take Mel's new life away from her.

I really liked the book, but could probably only recommend it for female readers.  It's got just enough romance in it that most males wouldn't like.  More romance than thriller.  This is also the one part of the book I'm going to have to complain about, which I hate to do because it will, perhaps,s make me sound like a perv.  Regardless...most of the romantic scenes in the book were really hot and exciting.  The sexual tension was leading up to a very satisfying conclusion.  On the day of "the big event", however, I was terribly disappointed.  Literally, after all that kissing and sexual innuendo, the author just wrote something along the lines of..."the next morning".  What a complete letdown!  If you're going to write that much sex into the dialogue leading up to the event, follow it through.  It felt like the author was writing just fine when suddenly her mom walked in and caught her and she had to clean it up real fast.  It was over so quick, I honestly thought I had skipped a few pages.  That's why I feel like a perv--I wasn't reading the book for the quick sexual encounters, but leaning in so far and then backtracking just felt like really poor writing.  It was hard to finish the rest of the book because the characters just felt a bit off after that, clearly just characters and not the real people I had been imagining them to be.  It went straight from sizzle to fizzle for me. Still, considering the work overall, I stick by the higher rating.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Good For Art Lovers, But That's About It

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin

Adult Fiction

Trying to pick a genre for this book in order to put it on my virtual "bookshelf" was a real stumper.  I have no idea where it would go, other than fiction.

That's a pretty good review for the book, too.  I don't know what I expected from Steve Martin--a bit of humor, perhaps?  There isn't a shred of that in the book.  There isn't humor or any other emotion--care, concern, anger, sadness.  This literally reads in this way:  first this happened, then that happened, then another thing happened, then the book was over.  There was no discernible plot and I had no idea, starting from the first page, what I was reading to find out.  Usually (always!), there is some type of problem or dilemma the main character has and the reader is along to see how that unravels.  I'd be hard pressed to even decide which of the two main characters were a main character.  I never did figure out what their issue was, a theft maybe?  It's just a stumper as to why I cared about these two people who cared about not much.

The plot:  Lacey and the narrator dude (who probably has a name but I've already forgotten it after one day), like art.  Lacey becomes a gallery owner; dude becomes an art writer.  They do art type things; perpetrate a fraud, kind of; and, go to a lot of parties and events.

For all that wasn't happening in the book, it wasn't awful.  I don't know why I kept on reading, but I did.  The writing was engaging enough, like a rocking chair that goes on its own--no work required so why not keep reading?  I will say this for Steve Martin, he knows how to spell and knows a lot of words.  That's pretty ambivalent, but so is the book.

I can think of only type of reader who might like it--an art nut.  If you love anything at all to do with fine art, painting and that scene, you might like this.  And, maybe Steve Martin's mother.  She'd probably like it, too.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Made My Brain Hurt

Old Loves Die Hard:  Mac Faraday Mysteries #2 by Lauren Carr

Mystery

I read the first installment in this mystery series several years ago and didn't remember much of the backstory.  Luckily, that didn't seem necessary.  I'm not sure why I had this on my TBR pile, but it didn't live up to any expectations that I'd placed on it.

Mac Faraday is a retired cop, recently wealthy, and trying to enjoy his new life with a new love.  His old life comes tearing back when his ex-wife reappears wanting to reconnect.  When Mac turns her down, she takes out her vengeance on an old lover and murders him, then someone has an accident herself.  Or, does she?  Once Mac starts on the case, anything about the murders are ordinary and it takes all his skill to figure out what happened.

Overall, this wasn't a bad book and it wasn't a bad mystery.  My major problem with it is that is was so convoluted.  There were so many characters and minor characters and plot twists and subplots, I literally had to start writing things down so I could even figure out who was talking in the story!  While I don't mind a bit of brain work with my mysteries, this one just gave me a headache.  By the end, I didn't really even care who did it or why, I just wanted it to be over.  I won't be adding Mac Faraday #3 to my TBR list, so we'll part ways here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hilarious Look at English Life

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Nonfiction/Travel

I picked this up because I am working on my own travel writing and was anxious to see how other authors did it.  I'm always looking for good travel reads, books about unique places and experiences and how others choose to write about them.  I also was quite intrigued by the topic:  England.  After having taken my first trip across the pond last spring, I was really anxious to return there, if only to live vicariously through Bryson's words.  I also really liked that he was an American writing about the experience and wanted to see if any of his experiences were similar to mine.

I think to really appreciate the book, a reader should have gone to England.  I felt that many of his references and stories would have gone completely over my head before going there.  It's not a book to read if you want to travel to England, certainly.  Bryson's descriptions of the people, the weather, the tourist attractions come from a writer who loves his country regardless of, and sometimes in spite of, its eccentricities and quirks.  Had I never been, I might have run screaming to another vacation spot.  According to Bryson, the only things there are rain, pubs, and roundabouts.  After having been there, I can now say the rain is not so much a weather feature as a permanent mood, the pubs are oases of warmth and conviviality, and the roundabouts border between screeching hilarity an screaming frustration.

Overall, Bryson was a terribly funny writer.  It's not really a book to sit down and inhale, more a book to munch on slowly, like a box of chocolates.  A piece a day brought it all back and allowed me to relive my own experiences.  Bryson is droll, dark, and a bit of a curmudgeon.  He's probably not to everyone's taste, but I love that kind of humor.  I liked the book enough that his other books are now on my "to-read" list.  I can't wait to see what he does with Appalachia!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Inconsistent and Unbelievable Characters

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Realistic Teen Fiction

I always feel bad, or a bit guilty, when I rate a book low if the book is on an important topic.  And, this book has a really important topic--suicide.  I'm a voluminous reader of young adult fiction and can say I've never read a book that tackled the subject of suicide so openly, so candidly, and with such compassion for the characters.  I feel the topic is so important for young people and the book would resonate with high schoolers so well.  Really, it should probably be required for every high school classroom and counselors office, if only so that teens know they aren't alone with their feelings.

There are a couple of reasons I didn't rate the book higher.  #1--I feel that, since this is over such an important topic, there should be more in the book that's available to young people having similar feelings.  There were a short couple of pages in the back, but nothing that would really provide any kind of guidance if a teen were feeling like they might want to kill themselves.  I feel this is a huge oversight on the part of the publishers or editors, and perhaps this is corrected in other versions.  But, if you're going to market and target the book for young people with angst, then follow through with that and give them valuable information.  Don't just sell the book.

Secondly, and this is where my guilt comes in, I really didn't like any of the characters in the book.  Hannah, the main character/narrator, is such a hypocrite.  She rants about other people gossiping and treating her unfairly (and then blames them for her suicide) and then does the exact same thing!  She also has absolutely no sense of responsibility in her part in all this, but lays the blame on other people for things that are, in the larger scheme of things, not that big a deal.  So irritating, but perhaps that's the adult in me.  Clay, the second narrator isn't much better.  He walks around the whole book, mooning because he kissed a girl, but didn't save her.  The survivor's guilt isn't dealt with very adequately--it's just kind of dumped on this poor kid who barely even really knew Hannah, but somehow feels responsible for her. 

I suppose, in the end, it was the characterization that rang false to me.  I never really got past the inconsistencies and they never became more than black and white names on a page.  It was just an average read for me.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Not As Great As I Wanted or Expected

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Fiction/Historical Fiction

This is one of my books that I was supposed to love.  It's a National Book Award winner and a Pulitzer Prize winner and practically everyone I know loved it and practically everyone who read it gave it 5 stars?  I just thought it was an okay read.  Is there something wrong with me?

I understand why it is an important read.  I understand that it gives voice to a population who had no voice for generations. I truly understand that Alice Walker is brilliant and walks on ethereal lyrics.  But, I just couldn't get into the book.  I've never seen the movie and don't plan to--I don't even understand how it could be a movie without a triple R rating.  I think part of my problem might be that I read "Push" by Sapphire first.  I felt that book was so much better for many of the same reasons that people liked this one.  I felt that "Push" more exemplifies the heartache and heartbreak of minority women in poverty.  "Push" absolutely broke my heart and gave me nightmares.  Not this book, though.

While there was certainly nothing wrong with the plot, I tend to dislike books that have tidy endings.  This book ending felt too tidy, too happy, to neatly wrapped up to properly respect the struggles of the characters.  Overall, it was a book that never let forget it was a book.  I never got the sense of forgetting myself and falling into the lives of the characters.  And, while this would never be the kind of book that someone could "enjoy" because it isn't a fun read, it never rose above just an average read for me
.
There might be something off with my book meter lately. Perhaps I've read too many amazing books in a row and this one just didn't stack up.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dislikabe Characters, Likable Book

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Adult Fiction

This was a strange read for me--meaning it wasn't like anything I've read before.  Usually, I stick pretty close to the genres I love like mystery, paranormal, history, etc.  But, when a friend recommended I check out Donna Tartt, I decided to start with this book.  While she doesn't write a huge amount of books, the books she writes are voluminous.  This one was almost 600 pages and it's one of those books where you don't look and see how much you have left.

The book focuses on two murders and six thrown-together friends at a wanna-be Ivy League college in Vermont.  The main character, Richard, has just joined a group majoring in Greek classics.  The group is bizarre by any standards and even Richard can't seem to quite figure out why he is mixed in with this lot.  What follows is a tale of college shenanigans, alcohol abuse, and finally two murders.  The murders are never a mystery, nor is this really a who-dun-it.  Rather, it's a what-are-we-gonna-do-now-we-dun-it? 

I would give this book a higher star based on the sheer masterful writing, but I so disliked some of the characters I just can't give it a 5-star rating.  The narrator, Richard, seemed to be confused by everything that happened to him and was willing to bob along aimlessly.  The other characters are train wrecks of abuse and privilege and I wasn't really sorry to see them get the justice they brought on themselves.  I totally just didn't get the whole classical Greek thing--and I'm an English major and lover of languages.  It all just seemed a bit arrogant and pretentious.   It was, though, a great introduction to Tartt and I can't wait to read another book by this American "Dickensian".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Not the Biblical or Mythological Thriller I Wanted It To Be: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Angelology #1: Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Fantasy/Alternate History

When I first heard about this book, I was hooked.  Stories of the paranormal have always fascinated me and I gravitate towards any books that hint at Biblical history and/or mystery.  When that subject is combined with the paranormal, in this case angels, I'm hooked.

In the book, Evangeline is a young nun who discovers her convent is hiding a dangerous and mind-shattering secret about a sect of angels who not only live on Earth, but control most of its riches.  Her mother and grandmother also figure in the story and the book turns out to be an inter-generational read, skipping along bloodlines while a team of angelologists, angel investigators, rush to find a hidden talisman that has the power to destroy or save mankind and angelkind.

Unfortunately, my fantasy of a great book didn't live up to the reality of my read.  First, I have to say that the writing in the book is masterful.  Trussoni can indeed weave a spell with words and I found myself reading pages and pages of lush, beautiful descriptions of faraway places and dusty historical lore.  What was missing, though, was emotion.  I found the narrators in the book, there are at least two as well as a variety of people who give their points of view, to be extremely unemotional about all of the miraculous events.  When common, ordinary people experienced the unreality of an angel revealing himself, they merely shrugged and kept on going with the conversation.  Seriously, not even an exclamation point?  I found this to be extremely off-putting and it made it impossible to connect with anyone from the story.  What should have been a story of love and lust and fire and brimstone and redemption left me rather cold.  Trussoni's style is so masterful, though, that I did rather enjoy most of the read.  I'm interested to see how the story might end...there is a sequel.  Overall, unless you're just really into voluminous tomes on angels, you might be better

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sadly, the Movie Was Better: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Barsoom #1:  A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Classic Adventure

I really wanted to like this book.  After all, I loved the "Tarzan" series by Burroughs and was hopeful this would live up to that reputation.  Instead, I have to say that the movie, called "John Carter" for some reason, was much better than the book.

The story revolves around John and the tale he gives a family member of his travels to the distant planet of Mars.  It's a bit strange how John gets to Mars but apparently there exists a portal in the desert of the west where one can make the trip.  When John arrives on Mars, he lands smack in the middle of a war and has to use his new superhuman powers and considerable male macho-ness to bring peace.  Along the way he acquires a pet and get the princess of Mars to fall in love with him.

The whole story was just rather silly.  There was never any of the adventure and thrill that exists in the Tarzan tale.  I was hopeful John might be killed early on and perhaps a more exciting character would take up the tale, but, alas, John plodded on dully until the last page.  The ending is (supposedly) a characteristically Burroughs cliff-hanger, but I have no intention of reading Barsoom #2.  I'll just stick with my jungle man, who has more to offer in the way of thrills and chills

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My First Lehane, But Not My Last: A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro #1:  A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

Mystery/Crime Thriller

This was my first Dennis Lehane novel, but it certainly won't be my last.

It's one of my very favorite kinds of mysteries with a smart aleck detective with disarming charm who alternately woos and infuriates the romantic interest.  While I do love those lighter-hearted capers, this one has a bit more meat, a bit more heat, and a bit more gravity.

Patrick and Angie run a detective firm in Boston.  They are in love with one another, but too stubborn to admit it.  Plus, there's the annoying fact of Angie's jealous and abusive husband.  The two are hired by a politician, eager to claim some paperwork that was stolen by a maid.  As the two delve deeper into the case, they soon discover a crime that infects the whole city in a horrible race war.  It's tragic to see how long ago this book was written and to see how it absolutely still mirrors the problems society has with this issue today.

This is a crime novel that will stand out from the rest because of the seriousness of the topic, but one that will capture you with its sweet charm and hope for a better future.  I've already bought the next one in the series and can't wait to read it.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Painful, But Beautiful: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Young Adult Romance/Realistic Fiction

It's been awhile since I've loved a book this much, but this is definitely the best book I've read this year.  I didn't expect to love it quite as much as I did, but it's one of those books I carried around with me, stealing moments until I could finish the whole thing, literally reading in line at the grocery store and at red lights.  (Yes, I might be that person you have to honk at because I didn't notice the light turning green.)

The story is told alternately from the viewpoints of Eleanor...and Park.  Eleanor and Park have nothing is common.  Eleanor is a new student, having just recently been reunited with her dysfunctional, neglectful, and abusive family.  Park is a long-time resident, solid in his social standing at school.  He has no plans to talk with Eleanor or get to know her, until the day his kindness causes him to rudely offer her half of his bus seat.  What develops is a romance that is painful and beautiful and watching it unfold is like watching a tender rose bloom.  Park and Eleanor are two broken people who find something beautiful in each other and themselves.

This book was so tragically honest.  It brought back to me those awkwardfully painful high school days, the rush and crush of a first love, and the heartache of a broken family.  I can't recommend this book enough.  Even though it has young adult narrators, it's a story that any age would find connections with.  I'm so delighted to find a new author and I plan on buying and reading every one of her books.  If any of them are even half as good, it will be an amazing read.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Never Better Than Barely Okay: Elvis and the Grateful Dead by Peggy Webb

The Southern Cousins Mysteries #2:  Elvis and the Grateful Dead by Peggy Webb

Cozy Mystery

This is not my usual type of book so I feel my review might be skewed.  Usually, I like mysteries that a bit more hard-hitting, ones that focus on actual crimes solved by detectives or police.  I also very much dislike books that try too hard to be "southern".  For those reasons, I am scoring this book pretty low.

Callie is a hairdresser living in Tupelo, Mississippi, during an Elvis festival.  As part of that festival, she is the hairdresser for the impersonators.  Her sidekick is a basset-hound named Elvis who has his own chapters where he explains he is actually the reincarnated "King".  During the festival, someone is killing off the impersonators and Callie takes it upon herself to solve the crime along with her "hot under the sequined collar" cousin.  Mixed in is a very mixed-up relationship with her ex-husband who is apparently some sort of mobster.  And, then there's her mother, the town kook.

There's a lot going on in this book, a bit too much for everything to get neatly solved by the end.  Everyone is such a unique character that everyone comes off as a bit fake.  There's never a sense this is more than a silly fiction story.  Really, though, I was lost when the dog started talking.  That's never a good thing.  Never.  And, don't even get me started with the fakey southern charm.  It's just okay and a series I most certainly won't be reading more of.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Best One Yet: From Potter's Field by Patricia Cornwell

Scarpetta #6:  From Potter's Field by Patricia Cornwell

Mystery/Thriller

Cornwell has to be my favorite writer and Scarpetta my favorite mystery series.  I can always count on these books to give me the chills with thrills, boggle my brain with a mystery, and touch a tender spot in my heart for all the characters that are too well-written to be fiction.

In this installment, Scarpetta and her less-than-merry sidekick Marino narrowly escape death on a Christmas charity drive before they're called in to solve the murder that happens right in front of their eyes.  All is not apparent as first and soon the duo, along with Wesley the lover and Lucy the niece, are hot on the trail of a serial killer that has eluded them for a few books.

This one is the best yet in the series and I have to resist the urge to gobble them all up.  These are mysteries I have to pace out, like a fine wine, so I can enjoy them slowly and, hopefully, never run out of!  Never fear, I have them all waiting in a stack to read.  An incredible read from an amazing writer.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bio-Horror: The Calm Before the Swarm by Michael McBride

The Calm Before the Swarm by Michael McBride

Sci-Fi/Thriller

This is my very favorite type of book--weird, sci-fi...the kind where an evil scientist has run amok and is set to destroy the world.  Evil scientists still make the best kinds of villains!

In this short novella, an investigator for the CDC has been called in to determine why an entire audience at a local circus has dropped dead.  She finds a dropped video recorder that shows her a biological horror she doesn't know how to stop.  She works quickly to stop the impending disaster but realizes she's always one step behind the evil mastermind who has orchestrated the end of the world.

I loved this book!  This is Michael McBride at his absolute best.  Even though it's a short, fast read, there's plenty of punch, enough to keep you turning pages until the get to the spine-chilling end.  It's a short novella at the end of Coyote by Michael McBride, but it's worth buying that book just to get to this one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Not Like Other McBrides: The Coyote by Michael McBride

The Coyote by Michael McBride

Psychological Thriller/Mystery

This psychological thriller wasn't what I expected.  I've read other books by this author and was counting on a paranormal/sci-fi type of read.  Those are my favorite kind of reads, so I was a bit disappointed this wasn't in that genre.

However, for all that, it was still a pretty good read.  In it, FBI agent Lukas Walker has been sent to his ancestral Native American reservation to investigate what may be a serial killer.  The more he investigates, the closer he gets to the killer...and the skeletons in his own family closet.  The plot is a good one and will keep readers skipping right along.  It is a bit bloody, but I've never read anything about a serial killer that wasn't.  I did like the character of Lukas and I thought the family dynamics at play were really fascinating.

All in all, a solid read from a writer who can't be pigeon-holed.  A huge bonus for me:  there was a novella in the back, free, by the same author that I absolutely loved!  That story, The Calm Before the Swarm, is more indicative of the kind of writing I had expected.  McBride remains an author I'll pick and read and know I'm getting a good story from.