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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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chic Lit to the Extreme

The Literary Ladies:  Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas
(Adult Inspirational/Literary)
It's hard today to be a 'writer' and the label 'author' can only be ascribed to those lucky few who can make a living at it.  Ah, the good old days when it was easy to get published.  Not so fast!  This book showcases the hard work and determination of a set of women who had very little luck but lots of pluck.

The book follows the writing lives of twelve famous female authors:  Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeleine L'Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Anais Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stow, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf.  Really, these women more deserve the title of writer because this book shows the absolute rock-hard determination of each to get their ideas, thoughts, and books out into the public hand.

The book focuses not on the lives of these women but on their musings of their writing life:  the failures, disappointments and rare joy.  It allows us to look at women we think of today as great success and peel back the veneer of writing and see the ugliness of making a living.  The little doubting seed inside us all lived inside them too. 

That is what I found perhaps the most inspirational.  At the very least, it motivated me once more to pick up my own writing, dust it off and try again.  And if I don't succeed at first?  Well, then, I will be in very good company.  A great read for the struggling female writer!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
(Teen Paranormal Romance)

Lush, hot magic.  Swamp voodoo. Doomed love. Ethereal and menacing ghosts. The civil war.  Vampires, werewolves and beasties.  What's not to love about this book?

Ethan Wate has lived in the same small South Carolina town his whole life and thinks nothing exciting will ever happen.  That is, until Lena DuChannes comes to town.  When Ethan meets her, he realizes she's the girl that's been haunting his dream.  Now, he just has to figure out why the two of them have such a connection, one that seems to transcend even time.  He'll also have to confront ghosts, vampires, haunted mansions and the mystery of his mother's death.  Don't feel sorry for him, though.  Lena has it a little bit tougher.  She'll have to decide, on her sweet 16, if she wants to destroy the human race or not.  With just a few weeks in between, these two star-crossed lovers will take the reader for quite a thrill ride.

It is always such a delight to stumble across a book like this--one that hits all those little details that make it almost magical to read.   As an author myself, I absolutely marvel when I read a book that is obviously so carefully planned out.  From the very first page until the very last, the master plan unfolds like seeing the architectural underpinnings of a majestic cathedral.  I love it when that happens!  It's the kind of book you want to read again and again, because you know you've missed a nuance along the way.  To say nothing of the fact that it's a series....I love that too because it's also a story that you just don't want to end on the last page.

While teenage fans will absolutely devour this book, it also holds a draw for those of us who just love an old-fashioned, ghost/love story.  It's a book that has it all--all the bells and whistles for those of us who anxiously await the next great paranormal romance tale.  Look no farther-this is it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Covers are Too Far Apart

The Third by Abel Keough
(Adult Apocalyptic Fiction)
"The covers of this book are too far apart."--Ambrose Bierce
Thus begins my review of a book that took too much and gave too little.

The Third takes place in the year 2065, a futuristic apocalyptic world where citizens are only allowed 2 children.  The concept is so overdone already--for a great book on the same plot, try Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  In this version, Ransome Lawe has just found out his wife has become pregnant with their third child, a move he is not happy about.  However, being the great husband that he is, he swallows his feelings of frustration and blame (barely) and tries to find some way to legally keep the child.  When this fails, there is no other way but to escape to a utopian land called 'Minnesota'. 

It isn't only the plot that makes this story a drudgery to read.  There were so many capitalization errors that is was frustrating and distracting to work all the way through. That's a minor problem.  The bigger problems are with details.  As a reader, I was brought forcefully out of the story and had to keep stepping back from the book and asking questions to an author I wish I had an email address for. 

For example,
1.  In this future world where resources are terribly scarce, why do people still use pencils, papers and clipboards?  My doctor's office doesn't even use this stuff now.  Everything is on a laptop and there are computers in the book.
2.  Why does EVERY woman have to come to the clinic for a monthly blood test to check for pregnancy?  Seriously, we can just pee in a cup today.  In 50 years, there still won't be a better test?
3.  Why are these people still using birth control?  TODAY there are better methods than the pill and the author doesn't even try using other reproductive or counter-reproductive technologies.
4.  The main character complains about paying $2 for a Coke to show how outrageous prices are.  Um, there is a machine at Universal Studios in Orlando that charges $3.50.

It just seems as if the author were writing from 50 years ago.  None of the main plot supports even begins to suggest why this should be a realistic or believable story. When a reader delves into futuristic fiction, it should be cutting-edge looking beyond what we have today and imagining for the reader how our future technologies will morph into something either for good or ill.  This book just doesn't do that.  If you are into Dystopian fiction, I have plenty of other suggestions that will blow your mind....Hunger Games, Among the Hidden series, Uglies,......I can go on and on and you should too.

Go on to another book, that is.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Women's Murder Mystery Club

Triple Threat Series:  Heart of Ice by Lisa Wiehl
I have read several other reviews of this book and most of them compare this series to James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series.  That's a mistake....because this series is so much better!

This book (2nd in the series; the first was Hand of Fate)  involves three best friends:  (1) Allison, a prosecuting attorney who is happily married but suffering from a recent miscarriage; (2) Nicole, an FBI agent single mother who just found out she has breast cancer; and (3) Cassidy, a crime reporter.  These three women serve as a kind of every woman--in each of them there is a little bit of every woman I know:  women who struggle with the balancing act of career and love and friendship and health and responsibility.  I can see a little bit of myself in each of these women and seeing their struggles with their own personal devils makes me feel a little bit better, a little bit less lonely.  This book is first about the relationships and then the plot seems to grow from that--just like a book should!  In these times, that almost seems like a lost craft.  Too many books are heavy on plot, special 'effects' and glamour, but light on the part that matters-connecting the reader to the people we are reading about.  There was never any doubt these women were real people and it was easy to lose myself in the story.

On top of everything else (just like real life!), there is also a serial killer in their midst.  Elizabeth is a coldly calculating femme fatale who is able to manipulate everyone around her.  The part of the story told from Elizabeth's point of view is chilling.  To see how she thinks and looks at life is like looking at a dangerous panther through a thin pain of cracked glass.  Sexy, but deadly.  When she stumbles into the midst of the best friends, her days are numbered and unraveling the mystery is pure fun.

In essence, the strength of the story lies in these 3 women who try to overcome their demons, physical and emotional, with their faith while unraveling a murder mystery at the same time. It is so unique-the only book like it that I've ever read. Which just makes me that much more eager to go back for more!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold

The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

This short novel was so interesting to me because it was orginally a play written by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens and was performed all over England, even in front of Queen Victoria.  Apparently it was performed to rave reviews and even caused tears in the auience.  It was based on stories of Arctic expeditions which was so popular at the time.

Okay, I didn't cry but it was quite a captivating story of Victorian England. The plot involves a lover's triangle.  Clara has someone become the love interest of a rather intense sailor named Richard.  He assumes they are to be married and leaves on a long trip.  Clara has never promised herself to Richard and during his absence falls in love with Frank.  When Richard returns and finds his love betrothed to another, he becomes rather crazy and vows revenge on Frank.

As fate would have (or a good plot twist), Richard and Frank are paired up on a sailing expedition to the Arctic.  In what has to be the epitome of a Victorian romance, the fate of Frank hangs in the balance as he is stranded on the ice with only Richard to save him.

Again, if you love Victorian English literature, this is truly a delight.  Plus, the free Kindle price makes it really hard to pass up.  While I was not moved to tears, I did enjoy it

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Book for Hurricane Season

The Cypress House by Michael Koryta
(Adult Paranormal Thriller)

This book had all the ingredients for one of my favorite types:  one heaping helping of thrilling; a big dose of history and a pinch of paranormal.  Really, with such ingredients, it’s hard not to win. 
There are many things I loved about the book-the historical backdrop of the Key West/Islamorada Hurricane was fascinating!  I haven’t read anything about it before and it had me racing to the computer to do some background research.  I loved the setting.  The South is always one of my favorite locales-the characters are usually a bit crazy and the heavy humidity just oozes out of the page through dialect and description.

Something I didn’t like?  The main character, Arlen.  He was just, well, not a very nice man.  Quite frankly, I wished at several times during the story he would die and someone else would step up to become the new main character.
Arlen has something he’d rather not, the sight, a ‘gift’ of seeing if someone is going to die.  Arlen doesn’t see it as a gift, but rather a curse.  He has spent most of his life trying to ignore it and where has it gotten him?  On a train full of men getting ready to die.  He doesn’t know how or when, but he knows the what.  Arlen talks his friend into stepping off the train and taking their chances.

Unfortunately, they step into a bigger mess than the one they left behind.  The small Florida town is right in the path of the Key West Hurricane of the 1930’s, a local love interest is being bullied by the local police goons and Arlen is stranded.
While the storyline was tight and interesting, I found myself wishing for a bit more paranormal and a bit less normal.  With such a gift as Arlen has, I just felt that the entire story would have been much stronger if this particular part of the book would have been more prevalent to the storyline. 

All in all, though, a good read.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Not a Research Book!

Melungeons by Bonnie Ball

A few years ago I watched a PBS special about a group of people referred to as the 'Melungeons'.  This group of people live in Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian Mountains.  They are atypical of the area, even today.  They are not white but aren't black or Native American, either.  So, what are they?  Who are they?  How did they get there?

That topic is fascinating to me and I was so eager to read this book to see if those questions could get answered.  And the author did provide some interesting ideas to consider:  Portugese sailers lost and moved inland; the Lost Colony of Roanoke; etc.

However, I found most of the book to be disturbing.  The tone was so overtly racist and demeaning that I spent most of the book cringing and wincing.  Being from that area, I am familair with that particular kind of racism, and I do understand that the era the author was born in an era where that type of thought was much different from today.  However, the obvious disdain the author had for the subject clouded the whole book.  Repeatedly, she calls this group of people lazy, shiftless, ignorant and amoral.

As it that weren't bad enough, there is very little research in the book.  Most is just conjecture and hearsay.  As a historical reader, I was mostly disgusted that such a book would find its way into print and its way into my hands.  I wanted to wash them when I finished.  Skip this book completely!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Werewolves, Vampires, and Zombies, Oh My!

The Abused Werewolf Support Group by Catherine Jinks
(Young Adult and Up)

I am always up for a new supernatural book adventure and just as frequently disappointed by the results.  Many of the newer ones seem just lazy attempts by authors and book publishers to plug into this hot-selling genre with no real attempt to make a meaningful experience for the reader.

Not so with this novel by Catherine Jinks!  From the very first chapter, the action and adventure started zipping right along, pulling me with it.  The main character Toby wakes one morning to find himself in a dingo pen at a local zoo.  Toby has no idea how he got there and is disturbed to discover he doesn’t really remember much from the night before.  He also can’t explain weird scratches and marks on his body.  His mother is frantic and starts taking him to doctors who eventually diagnose some type of epilepsy.  The local police aren’t buying it and are sure Toby was up to mischief and probably criminal proceedings.  As it that wasn’t enough to worry your average 13-year old, a priest shows up telling Toby he has a rare and dangerous disease.
Toby doesn’t know what to do but is intrigued enough to investigate further.  What he finds in an abused werewolf support group-werewolves, like himself, who just want to be treated equally and fairly, without the prejudice and abuse that has so haunted their kind.  And, oh yeah, there is the matter of the kidnapping and werewolf-fighting that Toby is being forced into!

What I absolutely loved about this book was how different it is from all the other paranormal books out there.  First, what an absolutely incredible concept!  To see werewolves as creatures needing understanding rather than how they are usually portrayed was a stroke of genius.  How refreshing to see a new idea.  And it was hilarious!  There was as much humor in the book as terror and adventure.  The authors first book was The Reformed Vampire Support Group and there were a few of these pathetic creatures mixed in.  Just enough to force me to go out and buy that one as well.
I admit it.  This one hooked me!  It has everything a paranormal junkie would love plus a good dose of originality and creativity.  I guarantee you won’t have read anything like this.  Wickedly funny, nail-biting adventure and a politically correct satire of paranormality.  What’s not to love?

My only complaint?  Now I have to wait for the next installment (which I’m just guessing might be about the perspective of zombies).