Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wildthorn, by Jane Eagland

WildthornLousia is not your typical girl.  She does not conform to the standards of women of her time, aspiring to be a doctor instead of a wife and a mother.  And then there is the issue of her love life.  While Louisa's father supported her dreams, upon his passing, no one else would hear of it.  So when Louisa finds herself locked in an insane asylum, with the administrators insisting she is someone named Lucy Childs, she is not sure if it is a case of mistaken identity, or something far more nefarious.

This book does a respectable job of being a modern gothic novel.  While it is no Jane Eyre, it certainly does have gothic appeal, and could very easily attract new, young readers to classic gothic literature.  I greatly enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel, reading about mental health approaches of the past.  It reminded me a but of the movie The Snake Pit.  Not a topic often written about in young adult literature, the plot was definitely unique and left you wondering what was reality and what was insanity.

I greatly enjoyed Louisa's character, and while her sexuality is never explicitly addressed, it is hinted that she is a lesbian, something I found at once intriguing and disappointing.  I am intrigued at this choice, for it must have been quite accurate that many women who did not fit the conventional standards may have been bisexual or lesbian, but I am also disappointed in that the conclusion is drawn that only a lesbian would be so unconventional, or such an unconventional woman, wanting to be a doctor, would have to be a woman not sexually attracted to men.  In fact, the hidden theme seemed to be that Louisa wanted to be a man, though this is never really explored in depth.  Why could she not just be an assertive woman.  And why could a married woman, with children, not be a lesbian?  Just something to ponder.

While I did greatly enjoy this book, I felt it a bit mature for the intended audience of grades 9-12.  I think it would be more appropriate for readers at the older end of that spectrum.  It is certainly dark, with fairly mature themes.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Damage, by Josephine Hart

DamageHe would have been better off dead.  It would be better that he died, than the reality of what he did.  How could he do this to his wife, to his son?  What was it about Anna that was so appealing, intoxicating, that made him throw away his carefully planned, successful life, so late in the game, for a woman so wild, so dangerous, and so obviously damaged?  See the impact of infidelity on one man's life.

I honestly had no idea, until after I read this, that this book was so successful, it was made into a movie.  I felt like I did not get invited to the party.  I was obviously missing something. The book was not a bad book, just for me, it felt false somehow.

The story is written in first person narrative, from the perspective of the adulterous man, whose name we do not learn.  Yet, throughout the book, I am painfully aware of his character being written by a woman, because he sounds and acts like a woman, while Anna, his love interest, sounds and acts like a man.  There seemed to be a real disconnect there.  Now, to be fair, the story was set in England, so perhaps this is a more European feel that I, as an American reader, can not relate to, but to me, it just seemed like what a female writer thought a man should sound and act like.  In reality, it was more feminine.

Anna's back story also had a disconnect for me, with the character we now saw before us.  Her back story was one quite believable of a woman, but her present character, while intended to seem like a damaged woman, instead just seemed like a lothario.

That being said, I think the story had real potential.  I liken the male character to Humbert Humbert in Lolita, a man drawn to pathetic behavior to chase the fancy of a ridiculous love affair that will never materialize.  Humbert too is a non-masculine character, so perhaps the books work much in the same way.  But I always found Humbert somewhat pitiable, forgivable.  I have no forgiveness for the male in this book.  Yet I am glad to have read his story.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of NetGalley.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Doctor and the Diva, by Adrienne McDonnell

The Doctor and the Diva: A NovelErika von Kessler is an up and coming singer on the Boston Opera scene in the early 1900s.  She longs to move to Italy, to launch an international career; her husband, however, longs to start a family.  After several years without pregnancy, they begin to see specialists, until they are referred to the beloved Dr. Ravell, notorious for success among couples struggling to conceive.  When Ravell secretly discovers the husbands sterility, he takes drastic measures to insure the couple conceives, only to see the baby be stillborn.  Following this tragedy, scandal chases him from Boston, and the couple later follow him to Trinidad to have him once again help them conceive.  The results of that trip will forever alter the lives of so many people, including several innocent children.

What a lush, gorgeous novel this was.  A read can tell when a book is written out of love and passion, as this one so obviously was.  The jacket notes indicate that aspects of the story were based on some family letters and history, and I think McDonnell truly made the story come alive.  While the book was quite long, spanning several years and various locations, each time and place setting was described in perfect detail, so that it truly came alive in my mind.

I loved the characters of Erika and Ravell, and seeing how this situation impacted their lives, each without the others knowledge.  It was interesting to see how infertility was handled in this time period, and to know that some doctors were truly using cutting edge technology, even then.  I found the topics quite interesting and unusual.

The language is rich and decadent at times, but I loved every minute of it.  For once, I found myself really trying to draw a book out, because I knew when it was over, I would feel a sense of loss.  I savored each tiny morsel of the text, and allowed my heart to break a little at the conclusion of each successive part.  A wonderful historical drama, with a nice romantic substory.

A touring review copy of this book was made available by Crazy Book Tours.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides), by Matthew Inman

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides)Ever need to learn the different types of handshakes or hugs?  Need to know the warning signs of a loved one planning to eat you?  Want to know how beer is made?  Then this is the book for you!  Matthew Inman, the mind behind The Oatmeal, had written a book with lots of standard favorites from The Oatmeal website, as well as some all new material, which has been compiled in this useful and attractive guide.  Also doubles as a drink coaster.

I am a big fan of ridiculous humor websites, and an even bigger fan of the masterminds behind the websites producing books.  So it comes as no surprise that this book literally rocked my socks off.  Seriously.  Socks....on the floor....and not my feet.  I started reading this book late one night, while sitting in bed.  Big mistake.  I was nearly choking from swallowing my laughter so as to not wake my sleeping husband.  Not that he would have minded, he is also a big fan of The Oatmeal.  I mean, who would not be.

Granted, some of the humor is maybe a little off color, a little warped, and a little obscure, but that is what makes it so darn brilliant.  It is unique and I absolutely love Inman's drawings.  That is half the fun, looking at the hysterical pictures.  This is a nice short read, I was done in a little over an hour, but a book I would gladly read again, whenever I was having a bad day, because it definitely made me laugh.  Also, it taught me the right way to spell definitely.  You will have to read it to know what that means.

A review copy of this book was made available through NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beauty and the Beast:, by Arnold Arluke and Robert Bogdon

Beauty and the Beast: Human-Animal Relations as Revealed inPost card photography was a very popular hobby and art form at one time.  While many different types of images were captured, one of the most common things revealed in these types of photos was the complex variety of relationships between humans and animals.  Whether these animals were pets, sources of food and nutrition, forms of transportation or labor, all interacted with humans in some way, and these interactions were documented through a plethora of post card photographs.  This book looks at the different natures of the relationships we held with animals in the early part of the 20th century.

This book was quite different from anything I had ever read, and a great departure from the types of books I typically review.  I can easily see this book being used as a text book, though I am not sure what type of class would be structured around such a topic.  I had never really thought of all the different roles animals and people played in each others lives, particularly in the past, until I read this book, and the accompanying photographs were simply stunning.  This was a time that was crucial to the way animals and animal treatment was perceived, and a lot of what happened in the early 1900s was a precursor to the groups we see today, like PETA, ASPCA, and Humane Societies.  It was fascinating to read about this, and see the history come alive on the page.

I am really glad I stepped out of my comfort zone with this book, but I will warn readers, this is not a light or short read.  It took me some time to get through the book because it is quite scholarly, and having been out of school for some time, my scholarly reading muscles were a little weak (from too many novels perhaps).  But just like a couch potato can get back in shape, so can a scholarly mind, and this is a great book to help anyone with an interest in history and/or animals or photography expand their knowledge base in a highly organized, soundly researched way.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of NetGalley.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lancelot's Lady, by Cherish D'Angelo

Lancelot's LadyRhianna is a nurse for a millionaire named JT.  When he offers to send her away on a Bahamian vacation, she feels very lucky.  However, when she arrives at the supposed resort, she finds a mistake has been made, and she is marooned on a private island, at the home of a man named Jonathon.  Rhianna meets Jonathon's daughter Misty, who is deaf, and begins to teach both father and daughter to use sign language.  Eventually, she finds herself falling for this mystery man, and wondering how she came to be on this island.

I have to admit, romance novels, they are usually not my thing.  Typically I find them hard to stick with.  That is so not the case with Lancelot's Lady.  This book is not a drippy, vapid, Harleqin style romance, nor does it use ridiculous words like "love rod".  This book has substance, a real honest to goodness story.  And while sexuality is most definitely portrayed in the book, it is done so with taste and class.

The characters are really well developed, with depth and good back stories.  The plot has a lot of interesting twists and turns.  Because I do not read many romance novels, I had no idea where this was going, though maybe more seasoned romance readers will be more savvy.  In fact, at one point, I was concerned about what the real nature of the relationship was between JT, Rhianna, and Jonathon, fearing Rhianna and Jonathon may be sharing more than just some passionate kisses.  Despite what V.C. Andrews fans would have you believe, incest is not all that fun to read about.  But luckily, Ms. D'Angelo was much more imaginative than that, and kept me guessing right up to the end.

I have to say, if more romance novels were structured like this, as more novel and less soft core literary porn, I might be more of a romance reader.  As it is, I am very anxious to see what else Cherish D'Angelo has to offer, because so far, I am pretty impressed.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the author.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bespelling Jane Austen, by Mary Blogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, and Janey Mullany

Bespelling Jane Austen: Almost Persuaded\Northanger Castle\Blood and Prejudice\Little to Hex HerWhat would happen if your favorite Jane Austen stories were mixed up with paranormal elements?  That is exactly what this collection does.  In Almost Persuaded, Mary Blogh takes the tale of Persuasion and spins it with reincarnation and eternal love throughout multiple lifetimes.  In Northanger Castle, Colleen Gleason takes Caroline from Northanger Abbey and makes her obsessed with Gothic novels and vampire hunters.  Susan Krinard also puts a vampiric spin on Pride and Prejudice in Blood and Prejudice.  Rounding out the book is Little to Hex her, which is Janey Mullany's modern day take on Emma, if all the people involved also had paranormal powers.

This book took two of my favorite things, Austen and the paranormal, and attempted to mix them together in a way that was fresh, exciting, and bewitching, if I may use that pun.  I would say, for the most part, the book was spot on.  I personally loved the first three stories, which seemed to stay more to the original Austen stories, and sprinkle in paranormal elements.  Ever a fan of Miss Bennett and Mr. Darcy, Blood and Prejudice was my favorite of the three, but Almost Persuaded was so beautiful as well, that it ran a close second.

My least favorite of the four stories was Little to Hex Her, a modern take on Emma.  I did not like it for a variety of reasons.  First off, it takes a lot for a modernization of a classic tale to work, and for me, this just did not have it.  Having Emma run a dating agency in Washington D.C was not all that original I thought, and to make it paranormal, the dating agency was only for witches, vamps, elves, etc. Again, I found it kind of weak.  I also hated, yes, I used the word hated, the fact that the story was so smutty, with profanity and pretty randy sex scenes.  I do not think Jane would have approved, personally.  It also just did not seem to fit the tone of the book.  The other stories has sexual and romantic elements, but done more in classical Austen style, this was just kind of in your face, and I did not care for it.

The only other thing I can say negative about the book was I wish they had adapted all 6 Austen stories, but perhaps there was not a feasible way to do so.  Otherwise, a wonderful book, which I highly recommend to Austen and other classical literature fans, as well as fans of gothic or horror literature.  It was a nice read for October, great for a book club especially!

A review copy of this book was made available courtesy of NetGalley.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter: Volume VIII The Blood Witch, by Guido Henkel

The Blood Witch (Jason Dark - Ghost Hunter)Jason Dark and Siu Lin are back for another blood curdling installment of the Jason Dark series.  In this installment, up and coming actress Fiona Cowie seeks help from Dark, feeling as though she is being stalked about the city, all the while, mysterious deaths are being attributed to some wild animal.  Too late, Dark determines the two events are linked, and the source of the turmoil is the Blood Witch.  But who is this Blood Witch, what does she want with Fiona, and will Jason Dark and Siu Lin be able to stop her?

Yet another feel for Henkel, as this installment relies much more heavily on actual history.  The tale he spins has real historical foundations, with a good dose of gothic imagination folded in.  I was, as always, completely entranced with the tale, and was unable to tear myself away until I read it in its entirety.  This is the perfect book for the Halloween season, with plenty of thrills and chills.

As always, we are permitted to see a bit more into Dark and Siu Lin's characters and relationship, watching it unfold in a very natural way.  I loved hearing a bit more about Jason's family's past, and would love to see a prequel that really covers the Dark Family story in depth.  I also loved that this story was based somewhat on historical fact, and it had me wishing that Dark would perhaps someday chase Jack the Ripper.

I love the fact that none of these stories is too much like the others, each drawing on different sources of inspiration, but all keeping within the same themes and tone so as to remain consistent, but fresh.  And the fact that there are these hidden nuggets of awesome literary homage (hello Bram Stoker) is also a nice touch.  I only wish I were more well read so as to catch them all, as I am sure I have missed quite a few.

As always, Henkel leaves me wanting more, and a self professed Jason Dark fan for life.  There is no reason you should not have read one of these stories by now.

A review copy of this book was provided courtesy of the author.

Strangers at the Feast, by Jennifer Vanderbes

Strangers at the Feast: A NovelHolidays can be a nightmare, especially when your family consists of a father who is a Vietnam vet, a mother who lives like a doormat, a brother about to suffer financial ruin (and his wife who is in deep denial), and your newly adopted mute Indian daughter.  Nothing says fun like dysfunction, as Ginny soon learns.  She attempts to have her family to her new home for dinner, but the plans go awry.  They move dinner to her brother's house, and that is when it really hits the fan.  The moral of this tale is, everything has consequences.  Just ask Kijo and Spider.

What a rich and complex tale Vanderbes has told in her sophomore work.  One would expect the author to be quite seasoned, given the sophistication of the writing in this novel.  I absolutely loved the way each character's story unfolded, and how as the plot wore one, these stories intertwined.  I felt as if Venderbes had left me literary bread crumbs, allowing me to find my way back to bits of the story that would make more sense later.  It was simply brilliant.

I am a sucker for a dark. sardonic tale now and then, and I loved seeing those aspects at work in the book.  There is a fair amount of satire and political commentary between the lines, as well as a stark picture of what many realities many families have faced in the 21st century, across different countries and socio economic groups.

All in all, probably not the kind of book you would want to give mom for Christmas, but an excellent read, one I think young twenty and thirty something readers will devour, and in which they will see many people they recognize, perhaps even themselves.

A touring review copy of this book was made available courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Phantom Diaries, by Kaitlin Gow

The Phantom DiariesAnnette Binoche came to New York City to work as a seamstress for the New York Opera, but thanks to the Phantom of The Opera, and her mysterious friend Erik, she is now the Opera's newest star.  The fame changes Annette's life, and suddenly she is amid society, and trying to balance her professional and personal lives.  Along her journey, Annette meets several men, including Erik, who factor in to her fate.  She also learns some family history, and realizes her connection to the Opera, and to Erik, is more powerful than she could ever have imagined.

I really enjoyed the young adult re-imagining of the classic Phantom story.  I thought that the character of Annette was pretty relatable to young readers, and the heavy romantic, love triangle aspect are similar to the themes found in Twilight.  In fact, this is a Twilight like adaptation of the Phantom tale.  For that reason, the same audience will most likely enjoy this young adult romance.  Personally, I found some of Annette's boycrazy antics a bit tiring, but I do understand the appeal to the intended audience.

I liked the fact that this was not simply a re-telling of the Phantom's tale, but more of a continuation of his tale beyond the Paris Opera House.  This takes more creativity, in my opinion, than just putting a new spin on an old story.  The storyline is well done, with some intriguing twists on who the "bad guy" really is.  This is the first of a series, and I am looking forward to seeing where the series goes.

A touring review copy of this book was provided courtesy of Traveling ARC Tours.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler

Confessions of a Jane Austen AddictCourtney Stone is addicted to the writing of Jane Austen.  So, when her engagement is broken, she nurses herself with high doses of vodka and Austen.  Then, one day, Courtney wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, a 19th century woman living in Regency England.  Knowing that no one will believe the truth, Courtney opts to try to impersonate Jane for the time being, while she figures some things out.  Things like how did she get here, and how will she get back?

While I would not label myself an Austen addict, I am quite a fan, so this book really appealed to me.  It did not disappoint.  This is like Jane Austen meets VH1 Behind the Music.  You get the read story of what life was like for a Regency woman.  I absolutely loved this concept, and thought it was really clever.  Sometimes, concepts like this do not translate well to paper, but Laurie Viera Rigler did an excellent job.  That being said, I think a movie adaptation would be brilliant.

I loved the character of Courtney in Jane's body.  It was like there were 3 characters, Courtney, Jane, and Courtney-Jane.  I really enjoyed watching her journey of discovery, learning not only about the reality of Regency, but having epiphanies about her modern life as well.

All in all, this was a great read, the perfect mix of chick lit styling and classic literature references.  I am anxiously awaiting the sequel.

A touring review copy of this book was made available by Crazy Book Tours.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A War of Her Own, by Sylvia Dickey Smith

A War of Her Own - A World War II NovelBea is a typical wife in 1940's America.  When her husband announces he is leaving her and their son to take up with his mistress from the shipyard, Bea feels as if her world will crumble.  She decides to get a job at the shipyard herself, and begins living as an independent woman, all the while trying to figure out exactly who she is.

Let me start by saying this certainly is not the worst book I ever read.  But being set during World War II, I went into this novel with high hopes, perhaps unreasonably high, and the book just was not able to deliver what I had anticipated.  It seemed as though this book was a Lifetime movie version of the war, and what it meant to be a woman during wartime.  The characters were really one dimensional, and I had a very hard time feeling at all connected or invested in any single person in the book.

The storyline was not a bad storyline, but again, it seemed to present a somewhat sanitized view of wartime, and womanhood.  Even though some of the things mentioned included abortion, incest, and suicide, the book felt positively antiseptic.  Topics like that should elicit feeling, and sadly, this book and all its topics produced no emotion for me.  It was merely a story, on paper, and did not come to life for me at all.  I think this would have worked better as a longer book, or perhaps a series, taking more time to better develop the characters, and bring them to life.

A touring review copy of this book made available courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather, by Alexandra Potter

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather: A NovelWhat would you say to your 21 year old self if given the chance to meet her?  Charlotte is given just such a chance.  At the cusp of turning 32, Charlotte has the picture perfect life.  Running her own PR firm, living a posh lifestyle, and maintaining the perfect relationship, what more could an independent girl ask for?  But how much better it could be if only she could get a mulligan on a few mistakes of her youth.  So, when she runs into her 21 year old self, she is determined that she will right these wrongs, and make adult self a better person by correcting her young self.  But what if her young self is the one who got it right?

I totally fell in love with this book.  But it was not love at first sight, oh no.  This book had to take me out for dinner and drinks, entice me with some good conversation, and promise me devoted fidelity, but then, well, then, I was completely besotted.  I love love love the juxtaposition of the two parts of Charlotte (past and present) and the idea of them interacting in real life.  I thought her character was very deep, and well developed.  She had real meat, and her back story really blossomed throughout the book.  The beginning was a tad bit slow; since you know from the cover the concept of the book, you want to get right to the good parts.  Therefore, spending time with present Charlotte in the beginning is a bit tedious, but trust me, it pays off in the end.

I thought the concept of the book was really clever.  Some cynical readers might call some plot points a bit predictable, as if that automatically makes them trite.  To that I say, a cake mix is predictable too; you add the same things to it every time, you get the same result every time, and every time it is delicious.  Predictability is not always a bad thing, it can be like a fabulous piece of chocolate cake, when used as skillfully as this author does.

This book is clearly aimed toward the female demographic, and probably most powerfully hits home among readers aged 25 and older, as we have more of an idea of what both Charlottes, past and present, have been through.  If you are a fan of Bridget Jones- type women or stories, you will love this book.

A touring review copy of this book was made available courtesy of Crazy Book Tours.