Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy

Can I Get an Amen? is a book that you shouldn’t judge by its cover or title. I’ll admit the cover makes me sing “plastic Jesus” to myself whenever I see it. The title made me a bit wary, but the description pulled me in. I’m glad it did as I really enjoyed this novel and found it to be a great family drama.

Ellen Carlisle grew up in a born again Christian family, but as an adult she threw off her Christianity. Her mother, a pastor’s daughter, believes very strongly in her faith. She is troubled that none of her three children embrace her faith and this causes many conflicts in their relationships.

The novel starts when Ellen’s husband, Gary, comes home one day and tells Ellen he wants a divorce. He “loves” Ellen, but as she is having problems getting pregnant and he wants children, he has decided it is time to move on. Ellen is understandably devastated and moves back home to New Jersey to live with her parents while trying to sort out her life. Once home, Ellen discovers that her parents have their own set of problems to deal with and that going to church is mandatory. She deals with life by bar hoping and meeting random guys. She also is thrown together with a nemesis from the past and meets a wonderful new guy. When Mark won’t let their relationship develop into something more, Ellen discovers that Mark has secrets of his own.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. I thought the characters were all very well written and relatable. The novel is not trying to force Christianity on anyone, but it talks about people who view Christianity as a major part of their live and the conflict it can cause when other people in their family do not view it in the same way. The novel was funny, touching, and kept me interested until the end. I guessed the major plot twist, but I still wanted to see how Ellen would deal with it.

One comment I liked was during an argument between Ellen’s sister Kat and their mother. Kat says, “All you care about is what people think. It’s all you’ve ever cared about.” I’ve used this expression during an argument in my past and it was very relevant to me.

Overall, Can I Get an Amen? Is a funny, relatable, and touching family dramedy that will keep you riveted until the end. If you would like a chance to read this novel, clink on this link and leave a comment on a great guest blog by Sarah Healy for a chance to win the novel.

Book Source: Review Copy from Penguin Books. Thank-you!

D.C. Dead by Stuart Woods

Title: D.C. Dead

Author: Stuart Woods
Read by: Tony Roberts
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 7.5 hours (6 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

D.C. Dead is number twenty-two of the Stone Barrington mysteries by Stuart Woods, and the first of these mysteries that I have read. Lawyer Stone Barrington and NYPD Detective Dino Bacchetti have been told that President Will Lee needs their “investigative talents – and legendary discretion” for a sensitive case, a murder in the White House. The two travel to D.C., meet up with the President, and proceed to bungle their way through the case. Now that Stone and Dino are in town, more ladies end up dying, and both men seemed mostly concerned with chasing the ladies.

CIA Agent Holly Barker and FBI Agent Shelley Bach help out on the case in and out of the bedroom with Stone and Dino respectively. I had a hard time with this book. I enjoyed listening to it, but it was mostly because I couldn’t help laughing at the cheesiness of it all. Whenever Stone showed up to interview a lady, she usually ended up naked and they ended up in bed. I could tell this was a novel written by a man . . . it was the perfect man story full of ladies who like sex, hate commitment, and are ready to jump into bed with whomever they find attractive. Not that I’m trying to generalize here!

The actual mystery itself was chock full of holes. It seemed like once Stone and Dino got tired of the mystery and were ready to head back to New York; they just started to throw together theories to be finished with it. Their last theory had one of the victims as the killer . . . but she was dead before the last victim and couldn’t be the killer!! It didn’t make any sense. This alone made me wonder about their “investigative talents” and the fact that they told everything to their lovers also made me wonder about their “legendary discretion.” I wondered about the entire premise, why would the President want their help at all?

I actually enjoyed the separate secondary story in this book much more than the main story. Teddy Faye is a rogue CIA agent that is being tracked by Holly Barker’s agent, Todd. Teddy Faye leads Todd on a merry chase across the country and remains mysterious and cool throughout the book. I want to find out what happens to him – it was an intriguing story!

The narrator Tony Roberts did a great job. I especially liked his gravelly voice for Dino and smooth voice for Stone. He made the novel a joy to listen to.

Would you like to listen to a Stuart Woods novel for yourself? I am giving away the audiobook of Unnatural Acts by Stuart Wood courtesy of Penguin Audio. Leave a comment at this link by Friday July 6th for a chance to win.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June Audiobook GIVEAWAY Blowout!

Penguin Books has graciously offered a giveaway of each of the following audiobooks . . . . descriptions are from Penguin’s website.  I have a few reviews to post, but will be gone for a long weekend for my sister’s bridal shower in Michigan.  I will have a lot to post next week!

The Devil’s Elixir by Raymond Khoury
Unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hours
Read by Richard Ferrone

FBI agent Sean Reilly and his girlfriend, archaeologist Tess Chaykin, heroes of Raymond Khoury's bestselling Templar novels, return in another edge-of-your-seat thriller that reaches from present day back to 1700s Mexico-and possibly beyond.

What if there was a drug, previously lost to history in the jungles of Central America, capable of inducing an experience so momentous-and so unsettling-that it might shake the very foundations of Western civilization?

What if powerful forces on both sides of the law got wind of that drug and launched a vicious, uncompromising pursuit to possess it?
 In Raymond Khoury's million-copy-selling Templar novels, Reilly and Tess traveled the globe to unravel ancient mysteries with present-day ramifications. In The Devil's Elixir, they find themselves dragged into a race-against the clock, against a brutal drug kingpin known as "El Brujo"-the sorcerer-and even against government authorities-to merge two divergent trails, one several hundred years old, the other as current as a heartbeat, that could drag humanity to the brink of self- destruction.
Packed with the nonstop suspense and unexpected twists Raymond Khoury fans delight in, The Devil's Elixir is destined for bestseller lists everywhere.

Unnatural Acts Reviews for Unnatural Acts by Stuart WoodsAn Excerpt from Unnatural Acts

Stuart Woods is in top form…and so is his perennially popular hero, Stone Barrington!
When a hedge fund billionaire hires Stone Barrington to talk some sense into his wayward son, it seems like an easy enough job; no one knows the hidden sins and temptations of the ultra-wealthy better than Stone. But as Stone and his erstwhile protégé, Herbie Fisher, probe deeper into the case—and an old one comes back to haunt him---he realizes that even he may have underestimated just how far some people will go to cover up their crimes…and plan new ones.

From Manhattan’s mahogany-paneled law offices to its modern penthouse lofts and dimly lit nightclubs, the trail of entrapment and murder leads to a shocking act that no one could ever have anticipated.
Read by Tony Roberts, approximately 8 hours playing time.
Shades of Hope by Tennie McCarty
One of the foremost experts on eating addiction, Tennie McCarty uses her own inspiring story, as well as the treatment from her famous retreat center, Shades of Hope, to help readers break the endless cycle of diets.

This is not a guide to losing weight. There are millions of people who bounce from one diet to another without understanding why because they never look beyond their plates. McCarty believes that food addiction is a physical and mental problem with a spiritual solution. An interactive book that asks readers to be a part of their healing, Shades of Hope shares the teachings, therapies, exercises, and mind-set that McCarty has used and developed throughout her career in treating addiction. Drawing from her own personal story, as well as those of her patients, McCarty shows readers how they can create new relationships—with food, their loved ones, and themselves.
Read by C.J. Critt, foreword read by Ashley Judd.  Approximately 11 hours of playing time.

Core of Conviction by Michele Bachmann and Susan Ericksen

Michele Bachmann is one of the most compelling leaders in America. But despite all the magazine covers and cable television stories, most people don't know who she really is, where she comes from, or what she believes. So she decided to tell her own story and let the reader decide.

As you'll learn in this fascinating memoir, Bachmann wasn't the type of kid who started dreaming about the White House in elementary school. She grew up in Iowa and Minnesota as a typical midwestern girl, grounded by her family and her faith. She was raised to believe in the American dream: that anyone could succeed if they worked hard and took advantage of this country's boundless opportunities.
 She followed her dreams to college and law school, pursued a career as a federal tax attorney, started a successful business with her loving husband, raised five great kids and (over time) twenty-three foster children. By her early forties she was very happy as a full-time mom and homemaker and was a leading education reform advocate in Minnesota.
 Then she became what she calls "an accidental politician."
 The political insiders who ran Minnesota held a one-party line-Al Franken-style liberalism. Bachmann became especially concerned about a state-mandated education curriculum that stressed political correctness over academic excellence. She started making calls, writing letters, and recruiting others to act. When her state senator (an entrenched insider) refused to listen, someone had to challenge him for his seat. No one else volunteered, so Bachmann jumped in-and won.
 That was the start of an amazing journey from obscurity to the state senate, to the U.S. Congress, to an underdog campaign for president. Along the way her style has been consistent. She says what she means and she does it. She is the rare political figure who fights for her beliefs. She speaks from the heart, with common sense about limited government, the sanctity of life and marriage, the power of free enterprise, and the need to confront America's enemies. She also talks about putting principles above partisanship, even if that means ruffling the feathers of the Republican elite.
 As Bachmann puts it, the Republican coalition is traditionally a "three-legged stool"-economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives. Like Ronald Reagan, she represents all three groups. And in addition, as the founder of the Tea Party caucus in Congress, Bachmann considers the Tea Party the dynamic fourth leg of the coalition, in support of a return to constitutional conservatism.
 This book will show you why Michele Bachmann believes ordinary people can take on the establishment and win. "Armed with values and faith, supported by family and fellow citizens, together we can do much. We can secure what people are yearning for-the chance to take our country back. Just watch."
 Read by Michele Bachmann.  Approximately 9 ½ hours of playing time.
Giveaway Details
If you would like to win a copy of any of these audiobooks please leave a comment about which audiobook you would prefer and why.  If you prefer more than one, order them from favorite to least favorite.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday July 6, 2012.

Please make sure to check the second week of July to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Friday, June 15, 2012

On Chick Lit By Sarah Healy (Guestblog and GIVEAWAY!)

The first time I heard my book described as chick lit, I was mildly horrified. It was my debut, my baby. I couldn’t have it sent out into the big, wide world with a label as diminishing and limiting as “chick lit.” I immediately called my sister. “My book isn’t chick lit, is it?” I asked, desperate for her to tell me that the notion was ridiculous. Of course not. That’s what she was supposed to say.

Instead she was silent for a moment. “Well, it will appeal to women and it’s about relationships and it’s written in the first person, so yeah, it’s chick lit.”

I honestly had no idea it was that simple.

But my book was deeper than that! It dealt with love and family. It tackled religion and homosexuality and abortion. It was funny and irreverent and honest, and written without any knowledge of the “rules” in publishing, without cognizance of just how much everyone—from editors to reviewers—wanted to put things into predefined categories.

Since that conversation, I have become more aware of the larger debate of which the label “chick lit” is only a part. It involves coverage of books written by women versus those written by men, and the general attitude towards the women’s fiction genre. I’ve had lots of quiet moments to think about what it meant for me as a writer to publish the sorts of books that tended to carry a stigma; to formulate an appropriate answer to the question, “So what do you write?”

Here’s what I’ve decided I’m going to say:

I write books for women like me: women who drink whiskey and like clean sheets. I write for women who read to their kids before bed; for women who shave their legs and who laugh at dirty jokes and love their crazy mothers. I write for women who read Vogue and McSweeney’s, People and the New York Times. I write for women who want to show you just how smart they are; who have opinions and don’t ask for their dressing on the side and are less cynical than they want you to know.

I am going to say that I write chick lit. Great, surprising chick lit.

Thank-you for such a wonderful and insightful guest blog Sarah Healy.  As a reader and lover of "chick lit" myself, I can tell you that you have written a fabulous book that I'm sure readers of this blog will enjoy. - Laura

For more about Sarah Healy check out these links:!/SarahEHealy

Summary of Can I Get An Amen from the Publisher (Penguin Books):

When the last thing you want is the one thing you need, you've got to have a little faith....

Growing up, Ellen Carlisle was a Christian: She went to Jesus camp, downed stale Nilla Wafers at Sunday school, and never, ever played with Ouija boards. Now, years later, when infertility prevents her from giving her ambitious attorney husband a family, she finds herself on the brink of divorce, unemployed, and living with her right-wing, born-again Christian parents in her suburban New Jersey hometown. There the schools are private, the past is public, and blessings come in lump sums.

Then Ellen meets a man to whom she believes she can open her heart, and she begins to think that maybe it’s true that everything happens for a reason—until all that was going well starts going very badly and Ellen is finally forced to dig deep to find her own brand of faith.

I was first intrigued by this novel when I was sent this great video about Sarah Healy and Can I Get an Amen: 

Giveaway Details
Penguin Books has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Can I Get an Amen by Sarah Healy.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday June 29, 2012.

Please make sure to check the first week of July to see if you are a winner.  I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sea Change by Karen White (Review and GIVEAWAY!)

I have found a new favorite author – Karen White. Sea Change is a suspense novel that reminds me of works of some of my favorite authors including Daphne Du Maurier and Mary Stewart.

The novel starts with Ava Whalen, a mid-wife. In her mid-thirties and the youngest child and only girl, Ava has lived most of her life sheltered in her small town. She unexpectedly elopes with a child psychologist, Matthew Frazier, and moves with him to his ancestral home on St. Simons Island (off the coast of Georgia). Ava neglects to tell Matthew she is deathly afraid of water, and Matthew forgets to tell Ava that he was married once before and his wife had a tragic death. Ava finds herself in a new mysterious home, with a man that is full of mysteries. Did Matthew kill his first wife, Adrienne? What secrets of her own childhood did her own family neglect to share with Ava?

Sea Change also has a parallel historical fiction story. Geoffrey and Pamela Frazier live in the Frazier ancestral home back when it was new in the very early 1800’s. Pamela is a mid-wife and has a great and abiding love with Geoffrey. Together they have one beloved son, Robbie, but Pamela also has a jealous and spiteful sister, Georgina. When the British occupy the island during the war of 1812, fate will wreak havoc on the lives of them all and make them into legends. Ava becomes obsessed with their story in the future.

I loved Sea Change. The novel had so many elements that I love in a good book (and that remind me of the gothic tales of Du Maurier and Stewart) including a husband with a mysterious first wife, an old ancestral home with secrets, and a historical secondary story. There isn’t time travel in this book, but Ava harbors memories from the past that hint of reincarnation. I really enjoyed the characters, and the mysteries kept me riveted. I didn’t know what exactly was going to happen until the very end. I highly recommend this novel.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Penguin Books

Giveaway Details

Penguin Books has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Sea Change by Karen White.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday June 29, 2012.

Good luck!

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

Title: Gilt

Author: Katherine Longshore
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 8 hours and 46 min
Source: Penguin Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!

I am obsessed with Henry VIII and have been since watching him in my childhood for the first time on Bewitched. I remember thinking, who is that fat man and why is he chasing Samantha? As I grew older, I grew more intrigued with the history of how Henry came to the throne, his obsession with having a male heir, his six wives, his breaking with the church. I love to read non-fiction, historical fiction, and watch endless movies, TV shows, etc. about the Tudors and Henry VIII in particular. The endless interpretations fascinate me.

Gilt is a young adult historical fiction novel about Henry’s ill-fated fifth wife, Catherine Howard as narrated by her best friend, Katherine "Kitty" Tylney. Catherine or “Cat” and Kitty grow up in Chesworth House, presided over by the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Both of their families entrusted them to the Dowager Duchess when they were little girls, but their trust was misplaced. Not knowing their birth families, and with a very lax caretaker in the Dowager Duchess, the two girls only have each other and the group of girls they are cloistered with. They spend their days as typical teenage girls, thinking about fine clothes and boys. Without parental figures, Cat’s excesses are allowed to shine, which mostly includes her doing inappropriate things with the young men of the household. Kitty is “Cat’s shadow” and spends her time enabling her friend against her better judgment.

As a member of the Howard family, Cat is chosen as a lady in waiting for Henry VIII’s fourth queen, Anne of Cleves. She soon catches the King’s eye and in short order becomes his fifth queen when Anne of Cleves was cast aside. She brought her friends from the Dowager Duchess’ household to court with her to be her ladies in waiting, including her best friend Kitty. Kitty finds herself caught between two men and living a life that is not the honorable life she would have wanted for herself. Cat builds herself a house of cards, professing love for the King, but also feeling entitled to a young and handsome lover in the King’s household, Thomas Culpeper. When it all comes tumbling down, Cat and Kitty finds themselves in a very precarious situation.

I enjoyed this audiobook. While sometimes the modern slang in a historical novel was jarring, overall, I thought it was a very relatable young adult novel. Cat is a sympathetic mean girl that coerces her friends to do things they don’t want to do in order to get what she wants. Knowing her upbringing though, makes one realize that she never had the role model or parenting that she needed. Being pretty and a Howard, she was allowed to do as she pleased without realizing any consequences until it was too late. I liked how Kitty was a constant and true friend, although I did really want her to toss Cat aside and go off with her true love. I’m ready for another book to find out if she got her happy ending.

I also thought the novel had an interesting take on Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Jane’s testimony of incest between her husband George and his sister, Anne Boleyn, helped to put them both on the chopping block. When she aides and abets Cat in her affair with Culpeper, she finally has gone too far. I loved the nuances, like when Kitty discovers Jane carries Anne Boleyn’s necklace with her and fingers it when she feels nervous or scared. Jane thought she had figured out how to survive at court, but did it make it a life worth living?

I also liked how Cat gets angry at how Henry VIII takes a new married lover while she is in jail. It was a very hypocritical world where the King was allowed lovers and wives galore, but his wives were not allowed the same freedom or to have ever known a man before they were married to him. Marrying a 15 or so year old girl to a fat, sickly, 50 year old man just sounds like a recipe for trouble.

I enjoyed Jennifer Ikeda as the narrator and I also really loved the period music at the beginning, end, and at chapter breaks of the audiobook. It was a great audio enhancement.

Overall, I really enjoyed Gilt. If you are looking for a fun, young adult look at Catherine Howard and the scandals at court, look no farther. Poor Catherine would have still be reading young adult novels when her life ended. This book kept me riveted even though I knew how it would end.

The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton

Title: The Art of Intelligence Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service

Author: by Henry A. Crumpton
Read by: David Colacci
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 13 hours (11 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

When I received The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to find out about the secret missions of a CIA agent. Unfortunately, this audiobook fell flat for me and I did not finish it. I almost fell asleep before half of the first CD was over, and totally gave up 1.5 CDs into the book. I like non-fiction, but I found this book to be incredibly dry. The narrator, David Colacci, did not help. I thought the reading was rather tedious without much inflection. It was hard for me to pay attention and remain interested while I was driving.

There was also not much action in the parts I listened too. Crumpton gave a brief history of the CIA particularly in the age of 9/11 to present. I thought this part was interesting as it gave a rundown of basically how it is hard to work with different political parties and do what is best for the country. And it was parties, not just one or the other. Crumpton also discussed becoming an ambassador and how he first started out working for the CIA. Missing was any action to keep me interested. I think this book would have worked before for me as a regular book to read and not an audiobook. For an audiobook, I need a good plot to keep me interested on my way to and from work.

Monday, June 11, 2012

June Victorian Challenge Posts – George Eliot and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I apologize for being so behind at getting the posts up for the Victorian Challenge. With starting my new job, I’ve gotten very behind at writing my reviews and have also lost the amount of time I used to have to write them. I am getting caught up so hopefully I will be more on top of getting these up and posted.

As I didn’t get May posted, we are going to celebrate both George Eliot and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle this month.

George Eliot is the pen name for Mary Ann Evans. She was one of the leading writers in the Victorian era, writing such seminal works as Middlemarch, Silas Marner, Daniel Deronda, The Mill on the Floss, and Adam Bede. All of her novels are set in provincial England. She was born in 1819 to Robert and Christiana Evans. Robert was a manager at Arbury Hall Estate. Robert and Christiana decided that young Mary Ann was not good looking enough to make her way in the world through marriage, so they invested in her education. Later in life, she used this education and moved to London. She became an assistant editor of The Westminster Review in 1851, which was highly unusual for a woman of her time.

Also in 1851, she met George Henry Lewes, a married man. He left his wife and moved in with Evans in 1854. They lived together until his death in 1878. This was very scandalous for the times. For this reason, and to be taken more seriously, Evans used a male pen name and started to work on her novels. They were well received and very popular, even with her shocking private life with Lewes. She published seven novels in her life time; with her last novel being Daniel Deronda. After Lewes’s death, she married John Cross, a man twenty years her junior. She died about seven months later at the end of 1880 at the age of 61.

For the Victorian Challenge, I listened to and loved Silas Marner earlier this year. Previously I had read one Eliot novel, Adam Bede. I have a new copy of Middlemarch sitting on the top of my pile that I REALLY want to read this month. Unfortunately, I am overbooked for the month, so I may not get to it until later this year. I will read an essay, poem, or something Eliot for sure though. What Eliot novels, essays, novellas, and poems have you read (or watched)? What is your favorite?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific Scottish writer, most famous for his creation of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is an iconic figure and the stories about him are considered a milestone in crime fiction. Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh Scotland. Doyle’s father was an alcoholic and his family lived in squalid tenement flats. Luckily, he was supported by wealthy uncles and sent to a variety of good schools. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and become a doctor in 1881. It was while he was studying to become a doctor, that Doyle first started writing short stories.

Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his works, but Ward Lock & Co published his first significant work, A Study in Scarlet, in 1886. This story was the first to feature Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The Holmes stories were wildly successful. In total there were four novels, and 56 short stories by Doyle featuring Holmes. He “killed” Holmes off in 1893 to focus on his “more serious” historical works, only to revive Holmes again in 1901 after vast public outcry.

Holmes married Louisa Hawkins, the sister of one of his patients in 1885. Together they had two children. She had tuberculosis and died in 1906. He married Jean Elizabeth Leckie the next year and had three more children. Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930 at the age of 71.

I have read the complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and loved it. For the Victorian Challenge, I listened to The Sherlock Holmes Theatre earlier this year. I’m going to reread a story this month as part of the challenge. I am also watching the Sherlock series on Masterpiece Mystery and hope to have my review on that as well. What works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are you planning to review?

I look forward to reading your reviews this month!

Please post the name of your blog followed by the item you reviewed. For example, Laura’s Reviews (Middlemarch).


Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson

I bought a small collection of the Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson from a book order when I was in high school. During April, I reread this collection to celebrate Emily Dickinson month in the Victorian Challenge. I enjoyed the preface, which gave a brief account of Dickinson, her life, and what is known of her writing the poems.

I loved reading the poems themselves. They are short poems, but yet Dickinson captured the essence of wonder about death, love, and life. I don’t know best how to describe my love for the poems, but I think the poems talk for themselves. A few of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems are below with my brief thoughts.

I think I feel like this every day . . .

I felt a clearing in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence raveled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.

I think this was my favorite poem as a teenager. I think everyone knows what it is like to be a nobody.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell you name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I have loved this poem since I was a teenager as well. The last two lines are so well known now. I think it can mean many things to different people. Parting from a romantic love, especially when you are the one left behind. But it can also signify to me at least, losing someone you love through death.

My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson also wrote a lot of nature poems. I like dandelions and the following poem struck a chord with me.

The Dandelion’s pallid tube
Astonishes the Grass,
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas –
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower, -
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o’er.

As a fan of the written word, I loved this poem about the power of a word.

There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man.
It hurls its barbed syllables, -
At once is mute again.
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted brother
Gave his breath away.

Wherever runs the breathless sun,
Wherever roams the day,
There is its noiseless onset,
There is its victory!

Behold the keenest marksman!
The most accomplished shot!
Time’s sublimest target
Is a soul ‘forgot’!

I LOVE the following poem and I think that it describes Emily Dickinson and the power she still has on us. She may have lived a reclusive life and never tried to be in the light of fame, but you can not put her fire out.

You cannot put a fire out;
A thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a fan
Upon the slowest night.

You cannot fold a flood
And put it in a drawer, -
Because the winds would find it out,
And tell you cedar floor.

What are you favorite Dickinson poems?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

My friend Derek recommended Battle Royale to me and we typically like the same type of dystopian/sci-fi/apocalyptic fiction so I knew I should check this book out. Also I kept seeing Battle Royale mentioned on different message boards about Hunger Games, usually with the tag of “Hunger Games is just a rip off of Battle Royale.” Was it? I wanted to find out for myself. . .

Battle Royale is set in “present day” Japan (it was written in the late 1990’s). I would call it an alternate universe Japan, in which a fascist government rules Asia as if Japan had won WWII, but did not conquer America (it is not said how the government came into power). Every year, in each region, a class is chosen to have a fight to the death with only one survivor. The stats and winner of the game are televised, but the entire event is not. This book focuses on the Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School class that consists of 21 females and 21 males.

The class believes they are on a school trip until a gas is released into the bus, knocking them out. They awake in a classroom with collars on their necks and a sadistic man, Sakamochi, in charge. He lays out the rules for the game, that there can only be one winner, that certain zones will be forbidden at different times (if you are in the forbidden zone the collar will kill you), and that if there is too long a period between killings, they will all be killed. Each student is released one at a time and has to take a bag of survival gear from the top of the pile. Each student gets a different weapon from a machine gun to a knife. The story explores the game and each member of the class has their own story.

Shuya Nanahara is a member of the class, a popular musician and athlete that is an orphan. His best friend Yoshitoki Kuninobu was killed in the first moments of the game for trying to defend the honor of the woman who raised both Shuya and Yoshitoki at an orphanage. Shuya teams with the girl Yoshitoki loved, Noriko Nakagawa. Shuya and Noriko run into and then team with the mysterious “brute” named Shogo Kawada, who turns out to be so much more than they knew. Shuya is the main character of the novel. He starts with the thought that no one in his class would reduce themselves to violence, but soon learns this is not the case.

Shinji Mimura, is an athletically gifted smart guy who learned computer hacker skills from his uncle. Although student cell phones are non-functional, Shinji worked his way around it and created a sophisticated plan to bring down the game. When he runs into and saves his friend Yutaka Seto, his plan starts to unravel.

An action novel wouldn’t be one without a good villain. There are two in Battle Royale. Kazuo Kiriyama is an evil guy who was born without emotion. He excels at everything, and that soon becomes an expert at killing people to survive. Mitsuko Souma is a morally corrupt girl who also excels at killing. Her hard youth made her the person she is, but she will use any advantage to take someone out. The appearance of either of these villains in the novel scared the heck out of me.

I loved this book. I literally couldn’t put it down last month while I was reading it. I enjoyed it so much; I was daunted by the thought of creating a review for it. Would I give it justice? How do I begin to review a book where so much is going on?

First of all, Battle Royale is a book with non-stop action. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. Although the book was very violent, the deaths were not gratuitous. There was a back story given for all of the characters, some more in depth than others. Each one of their deaths meant something to the reader, and really made one realize how morally corrupt their government was for putting them in such a situation. Speaking of which, I kept wondering, what is the point of this program. I thought this quote did a great job of summing it up.

Sakamochi said, “I’ll tell you now, this country needs the Program. . . In other words, everyone ends up concluding you can’t trust anyone, right? Which would extinguish any hope of uniting and forming a coup d’état against the government, hum? And so the Republic of Greater East Asia and its ideals will live on for eternity.”

Battle Royale is also a book about acceptance and for not judging people by their outward appearances.

Shinji says to Yutaka when Yutaka wonders why Shinji is friends with him, “I am who I am. And you’re you are. Even if I’m pretty good at basketball or computers, or popular with girls, that doesn’t make me a better person. You can make people laugh and you’re kind. When you’re serious, you’re a lot more sincere than I am. Like with girls. I’m not resorting to that cheap cliché about everyone having something to offer, but I am saying there are a lot of things I admire about you. I like you. We’ve always been buddies. You’re an important friend. My best friend.”

The friendships were wonderful in this book, which made it all the more terrible when friends were killed.

How did this book compare to The Hunger Games? I liked them both, but for different reasons. Do I think Suzanne Collins blatantly ripped off Koushun Takami as message boards suggest? No. The stories are similar, but also very different. The overall themes are as old as the Roman gladiators and public punishment (beheadings, drawn and quartering, etc. were all ways for monarchs to control their society). Other authors have explored many of these themes in works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 1984 by George Orwell, etc. The Hunger Games focuses on one main competition a year with two teenage representatives from 12 districts. These games are televised and there can be only one winner. There is one main character, Katniss Everdeen. The government uses the games to keep the Districts under control. In Battle Royale, there is a main character, but all of the games participants are given a story and their deaths are more meaningful. There are many games (one in each district) per year and while the results are televised, the games themselves are not. There is only one winner and the government uses it to control the society.

I think the evil government of The Hunger Games works better, especially more into the series. The purpose of the games seemed much clearer in The Hunger Games. In Battle Royale, having so many different games going on at one time, made the deaths seem not as meaningful for keeping the country under control. In Battle Royale, they talked about not having enough kids and I thought, well, when you kill off a few thousand every year, it will make a difference in your population dynamics.

I liked Katniss Everdeen as the tough heroine that does what she can to survive, yet keeps her humanity. Telling the story from her perspective really makes one want to cheer for her and gives it a unique take for the viewer. On the other hand, I liked how Battle Royale made each character important and each death meaningful by telling the stories of all of the participants. The actual day-to-day stories of both books are very different from each other.

Overall, I loved Battle Royale. It was a great action dystopian novel that also had some wonderful themes to think about. Do I think that The Hunger Games or Battle Royale are the same book? No. They are both unique and worth a read.

Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Nadia Knows Best by Jill Mansell

I love Jill Mansell’s novels. She does a wonderful job of bringing together a great cast of unique characters and making them work together in a well-blended story.

In Nadia Knows Best, Nadia Kinsella is having a hard time. Stranded on a snowy road, she meets Jay Tiernan, a handsome stranger. They both make their way to a small village and stay overnight in a small and shabby inn. While Nadia feels attracted to Jay, she has a wonderful childhood sweetheart turned model boyfriend, Laurie. When life throws Nadia some lemons, she suddenly finds herself in a love triangle.

Nadia’s still lives at home with her unique family. Her mother, Leonie, was a free spirit that left her father, James, when she and her sister Claire were small. Leonie turned up years later with a new baby, Tilly, that she promptly left with James. James mother, Miriam, is a glamorous and sassy grandmother who does a great job of raising the three girls. Each of these characters has a wonderful story, but my favorite was the mystery surrounding Miriam. I really wanted to know who was sending her the mysterious letters and what they involved.

Overall, Nadia Knows Best is an enjoyable novel full of wonderful characters. I loved the story and was sad to see it end. Jill Mansell has a great way of making me care for all of the characters she creates.

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal by Grace Burrowes

I always find reading a good romance novel a great way to relax when life is stressful or when you are on a long car trip. I read Lady Maggie’s Secret on our journey to and from Minnesota this past weekend when I wasn’t writing exciting reports for work on my computer. My husband gets car sick if he doesn’t drive so I am more than content to let him be the driver and read or work instead. I think it may make him slightly ill just thinking about reading or working while the car is moving. Luckily I do not suffer from this.

Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal is my favorite romance novel by Grace Burrowes yet. Grace Burrowes also wrote The Heir and The Soldier about the Windham brothers and started to write about the Windham sisters with Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish, which I also enjoyed. I feel that with Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal, Burrowes is at the top of her game perfectly combining great romance with a good mystery. The ending was great and concise.

Lady Magdalene Windham is the eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland. Unfortunately she has a stain on her character as she is the natural illegitimate daughter of the Duke that was legitimized and adopted by the Duchess. Firmly on the shelf and near the age of thirty, Maggie has her own household, and a head for finances. But what she secretly longs for is a love and family of her own. Unfortunately her secret has not allowed her to be able to marry. After her bag with private items is stolen, Maggie hires Benjamin Hazlit to help her find her missing bag. Benjamin has a secret of his own and sparks fly between the two. Will Maggie’s secret come out and will she get her happy ending?

Overall, Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal was a very satisfying romance novel with great characters, hot romance, and an interesting mystery. The handbag itself is not too interesting of a mystery, but the trying to determine Lady Maggie’s secret was a great mystery that kept me interested until the very end.

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

Title: Explosive Eighteen

Author: Janet Evanovich
Read by: Lorelei King
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 6 Hours, 5 CDs
Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

I know, I know, I just ranted about Stephanie Plum’s inability to grow as a character last week, but what did I do, but listen to another Stephanie Plum novel this week. I’ll admit that the end of Smokin’ Seventeen snagged me. Stephanie had two plane tickets and was taking a tall, handsome man with her on a trip to Hawaii. I wanted to know who she took with and how it worked out.

Explosive Eighteen begins with Stephanie returning from a disastrous vacation in Hawaii. She has a tan line on her ring finger and isn’t telling her Grandma or Lula what went down. Stephanie soon finds out her trip has done more than ruined her love life, her seat mate never returned to the plane, and he left her with a mysterious photograph that everyone wants from the FBI down to a psychotic killer named Razzle Dazzle. Life at Plum Bail Bonds is also not going well, their new office is not complete, and the bus they have been using goes up in smoke. Stephanie ponders (finally!) taking a self-defense course, but also shows that she has fine fighting skills without one. She seems unable to pick up any of her skips and Lula is sure that whatever bad mojo that Stephanie picked up in Hawaii, has come back with her to the states. When Stephanie’s nemesis, Joyce Barnhart, moves in with her, she realizes she needs to get her act together and get the many mysteries solved.

I feel that Evanovich finally has turned it around in this book. I enjoyed how the story of Hawaii was included and it was different then the format of previous novels. It was interesting to get little teases and then finally the entire story of Hawaii. There was a lot of action in this book and I enjoyed it all. The humor was still there and the great characters, which are my favorite parts of any Evanovich novel. Did Stephanie finally end the triangle? Sadly no, but I felt like progress was made in that direction. This book did make me want to read number nineteen when it comes out and I have hope that Stephanie will finally make the choice and move on. Lula was even talking about wanting to settle down and have kids. That would be great if both Lula and Stephanie moved on with life into the next phase. There would be a lot of fresh comedy.

Lorelei King was one again a superlative narrator of this novel. There is not better narrator of audiobooks out there. I LOVE all of her unique voices for each characters. I checked out her web page and noted that she has read a version of Little Women. I need to track that down. I really enjoy listening to Evanovich novels on my drive to and from work.