Thursday, July 31, 2014

Middle Sister's July Books

July was the month of re-releases, and one oldie but goodie.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome This was a re-read for me, for my nineteenth century novels reading group. I still find some of the passages quite funny, and for most of it, you can forget you're reading a book that was published in 1889, because the difficulty of raising a tent is still the same, or cooking in camp, today as it was then. It's a quick read and an interesting glimpse into the late nineteenth century. (ebook)

Adam and Evil by Gillian Roberts Re-release of an older Amanda Pepper mystery. Ms. Roberts has written a new introduction and mentions the differences in technology between this book, published in 1999, and today. But really, the tech differences are very slight, and Ms. Roberts books are so well written, and Amanda such a sympathetic main character, that the reader is swept up with the mystery and doesn't even notice the lack of cell phones or Facebook references. The series ended in 2007, and I realized how much I miss Amanda Pepper.  (ebook)

Food, Genes, and Culture by Gary Nabhan I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Nabhan this spring, and have seen him lecture. He's one of those authors that can take a topic that sounds like it might be full of dry data (nutrition) and write about it in an entertaining and relevant style. A great read for anyone interested in the intersection of nutrition, culture, health, and diet. (NetGalley)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Big Sister's June 2014 Reads

It must be summer!  And I must be riding the train and hanging out on the dock on weekends because look at all the books I read this month!  TEN of them!  To say nothing of the various magazines I picked up in between as well...

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green (Kindle) - I caved.  This has been getting so much hype that I just had to read it... And it's very similar to First Love, by James Patterson and Emily Raymond, which I reviewed in March 2014.  Here's that synopsis:  "I'm always surprised I like his non-mystery, almost romance titles...  I cried like a baby at the end of this one.  Axi Moore is a good girl.  Until she asks Robinson to run away with her.  They both went through chemo as young kids and have been besties ever since.  They run away to experience life, but they get more than they bargained for, and so did I.  Never expected this ending at all." In Green's version, our heroine is terminal and attending support group meetings, under protest.  Cancer Kid Support Group has never been a good time, but then Augustus comes in with his friend, and Hazel's life changes.  There's laughs.  There's tears.  And while the stories were different, they reminded me of each other...

Accidental Cowgirl, Maggie McGinnis (NetGalley, Kindle) - Kyla's heart is broken but her besties know that a spa vacation will be just the thing to make her feel better.  But spa services are hard to come by on the dude ranch they go to, but handsome cowboys?  They're there!

Naked Sushi, Jina Bacaar (NetGalley, Kindle) - This one was a waste.  I admit, I skimmed through this one, reading every other page, a paragraph here, a paragraph there.  Glad I didn't pay for this one!

The Cost of Pleasure and Sexotherapy, Alexia Saint-Ange (NetGalley, Kindle) - I didn't know what to expect (Fifty Shades of Gray, anyone?) but by the time I read through to the end of this short story, I was disappointed it wasn't a full-length book.  Yea, it was graphic, but I liked her writing style and I sort of got intrigued by the two short stories:  an employer/employee relationship, and spa services that don't appear on the menu.  Not recommended for people who didn't like 50 Shades of Gray...

I Watch You, Irene Cao (NetGalley, Kindle) - Not one of my favorites either - Elena is working as an art restorer in Italy.  She has a best friend there, actually, a couple of them.  But her friends are forgotten when she meets the new tenant in the building she's restoring, and she becomes obsessed with him, and with sex with him, to the tune of forgetting her friends.  Until the inevitable happens and he dumps her.  I didn't think it was written very well; I never really got to caring about the characters...  Again, glad it was from NetGalley and I didn't shell out any dollars for it...

The Skin Collector, Jeffry Deaver (Kindle) - I paid for this one and as usual, I was NOT disappointed!  I love Deaver's books, especially the Lincoln Rhyme titles, and this one was as gripping and suspenseful as usual.  I almost wish I hadn't read it and saved it for my vacation...  Was it a copycat murder, or is there a different reason that these women are being killed, one after another?

The Broken, Shelley Coriell (NetGalley, Kindle) - This is Amazon's summary:  "He took her life, but left her alive.  Three years ago, reporter Kate Johnson was the first victim-and only survivor-of the Broadcast Butcher. Scarred both physically and psychologically by the brutal serial killer, Kate lives life on the run, knowing that one day, he will find her and finish what he started.  In the pursuit of justice, you sometimes have to step outside the law.  Agent Hayden Reed spends his life chasing monsters. The only way to stay sane is to detach, but the second the Broadcast Butcher case crosses his desk, Hayden knows this is the case that might just cost him his soul. To catch this vicious murderer before he strikes again, Hayden must find Kate and earn her trust. For it's her darkest secrets that hold the key to stopping this madman once and for all . . ." I read it, but strangely enough I couldn't remember much about it...  I had to look up the description online, then I re-downloaded the book.  THAT'S when I remembered reading it, AND liking it!  There were quite a few characters I liked in this book, including Smokie Joe.  I'll most likely read it again, now that I feel bad for having forgotten it!

Switched, Cassie Mae (NetGalley, Kindle) - I liked this one.  Kayla is friends with Reagan.  Kayla has a crush on Talon.  Regan and Talon begin dating.  Now in college, Kayla and Wesley (who just happens to have a crush on Regan) team up to split the hot couple apart and get together with their crushes.  You do know it's not going to work out that way, right?!?  And I never saw the twist coming!

Everything to Lose, Andrew Gross (Kindle) - This was interesting.  If you were divorced, caring for a handicapped child, and your ex has conveniently stopped sending child care, alimony, paying for your son's very expensive school, wouldn't you be tempted to take a bag full of cash you found at the seen of an accident if the driver was killed and there was no one around to see you take it?  You wouldn't?  Well, Hilary was, and Hilary did, and her life spirals out of control.  There were some plot twists in here I didn't expect, and it wasn't the traditional happy ending.  I liked it!

Sycamore Row, John Grisham (Kindle) - I liked it all the way through to the end.  It seemed to wrap up a little too neatly for me.  In fact, I wasn't sure, a few days after I finished the book, if I'd actually finished the book, so I read the ending again, and again, eh.  Not the best ending Grisham has ever written.  But his characters are spot on, and his knowledge of the law and lawyers is fantastic.  I liked the twist that part of the story was told in flashbacks, but I just wish it wasn't quite as tied up with a bow.  I'd rather a messier ending.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Middle Sister's June Reads

Well, I may have had a slow May, but I read a lot during June. An interesting mix of mystery, non-fiction, and craft books.

Scones and Bones by Laura Childs I'd fallen way behind in this series, and decided to celebrate early June, the best time of year to sit on the patio in early mornings and drink tea, by catching up (which I did, although I still have the current hardcover to read). I used to enjoy the series, and this, and the subsequent titles, seemed completely wrong to me. Theodosia, who was always a little bit old-fashioned with her etiquette and manner of speech, is now all about exclamation points! And phrases, not complete sentences! Very informal! I am quite able to suspend belief to enjoy a good cosy murder mystery, but Theodosia had just bought herself a new little house at the end of the previous book, and here, she goes to her new neighbor's house, knocks, and when no one answers, just goes in. Who does that?There were also some incidents that really stretched my willingness to believe (e.g., how do we know that the murderer dropped the orange members pass and not just one of the hundreds of other guests at the event?). The character Drayton, who was most definitely an old-fashioned, somewhat fussy man (I always picture the actor Clifton Webb in my head when I read a passage with him) has also mutated into a completely different person. Here, he's obsessed with Hayley's romantic life, when previously I cannot even remember them discussing anything personal with each other. I kept a lot of other notes, but I think I'll end here, and resume reviewing the series with...

Agony of the Leaves by Laura Childs I give Ms. Childs props for starting off the book with a murder most authors would be afraid to have happen--she killed off the nice ex-boyfriend. Gutsy move. And she made Theodosia feel guilty about having dumped Parker at the end of the previous book to go out with Max, her new love interest. Again, I'm finding inconsistencies and bad editing. For example, on page 200, well after the bee incident which Theo immediately recognized as deliberate, she starts wondering again why the bees attacked Aunt Libby. She knows why, she just realized that a few pages ago. This whole passage makes Theo look very stupid rather than building suspense, and makes me realize the series needs a new or better editor. Which cemented in my mind my conclusion...

Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs ... that Laura Childs is having difficulty keeping her characters straight between her three active series. I found this one quite amusing because everyone, except Max, just accepts the reality show television producers' assertions that ghosts are real, that ghost hunting is real science, and even calls their investigation of paranormal activity "legitimate." I may like Max after all. But I have to let Miss Childs know that the Theodosia of the first half of the series did not "skip into the kitchen" or anywhere else (p. 79). She's a Southern lady; she doesn't skip like a schoolgirl. We've gone from no man flirting with Theo to every man instantly falling for her. I can assure Ms. Childs that any ATF agent who told a person of interest he was interrogating that she is "an attractive woman" would face disciplinary measures for unprofessional behavior. And how can Burt Tidwell be wearing an "oversized too tight suit" (p. 119). It's either too big or too small, it can't be both. Editor, please! The Clue of the Thread (see me channel Nancy Drew) has to be one of the lamest clues I've ever read. We are repeatedly hit over the head with how shabby the inn is, how poorly it was maintained, and a thread found in an out-of-the-way window, which could have been there for years, must, of course, have come from the suit of the murderer? Miss Childs, slow down; you're trying to pump out too many books, and you're getting characters confused, and sacrificing a well-crafted story to just get a book on the shelves. I was discussing this series with another reader who also mentioned her book group used to read these, but got so disgusted, they've stopped, so the dedicated fans who will read every entry in the series are being lost by the slipshod nature of the writing and the editing.

Death Comes Silently by Carolyn Hart Recent entry in the Death on Demand series. I'm getting a little tired of the Frank Hardy-esque Max, his life of leisure, and that stupid Maserati. Everyone else in the series has developed a little over the years, but even after his close call of a few books ago, he remains the same. And Laurel, who usually doesn't irritate me, did so very much despite not ever appearing in it, just leaving her sun flowers and their little sayings everywhere. Thank goodness for Henny, who has character, a backbone, and isn't afraid of life. I hope to age a lot like Henny. Annie has become a little stale and goody-goody, but since I love the references to the different mystery books that pepper the books and turn me on to new authors, I'll keep plodding through even the less-than-stellar entries, like this one.

Otherhood by Melanie Notkin Being a single, childless woman of a certain age, I was interested to read a book that said it would help re-define the place of this population in today's world. The author spent over 200 pages complaining, almost non-stop, that she never got married, never had a baby, where is her soul mate, how can she live with unfulfilled expectations, people have no idea of the pain of 'circumstantially infertile," and such unrelenting self pity that I would have thrown the book away (luckily, it was a library book, so I didn't waste good money on this). Yup, I expected to get married and have kids, and nope, it didn't happen, so I've made my own life. Regrets can take over your life and make you very miserable, and Ms. Notkin still seems to wallow in misery despite a successful career and glamorous NYC life. It was only on p. 228 that finally, finally, one of her friends points out that having a wonderful life is possible no matter what has or hasn't happened to you. Although I guess I'm one of the ones she'd accuse of having given up, but cynical me says if she can't find a nice guy in NYC, with her constant dating and going out to chic bars and restaurants, what chance have I got in a small city in the middle of nowhere? The name-dropping (of reality tv people and others I've never heard of; how culturally backward am I?) became really annoying after a while, but then I thought, well, if these are the people you're hanging out with, no wonder you're not finding your Mr. Right. Instead of buying this book, single women, buy yourself a new outfit, a massage, or a really good meal, and toast your own happiness that you have made for yourself. Relying on happiness to come from someone else, as Ms. Notkin has spent her life waiting for, hoping for, and expecting, never works. The cautionary tale Ms. Notkin thinks she wrote about is not the message this reader got.

Vintage Designs by Kim Hargreaves Cute vintage knit sweater patterns, but some are better suited to wispy, skinny models than curvy women. But Ms. hargreaves makes anyone think they can knit a fabulous sweater, never fear, and the the sweaters are gorgeous to look at.

Literary Knits by Nikol Lohr Range of patterns named after literary characters that inspired the designs. Even when Ms. Lohr admits she recollected the book or the character wrong, it's a delightful collection for the knitter who loves old and modern classics. And it inspired me to start a Meme stole, inspired by the Gabriel Garcia Marquez character in One Hundred Years of Solitude.