Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid

Book Info:
Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Length: 16 hrs and 29 mins
Narrated by Vari Sylvester
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 3.5/5

A killer is on the loose, blurring the line between fact and fiction. His prey - the writers of crime novels who have turned psychological profilers into the heroes of the nineties. But this killer is like no other. His bloodlust shatters all the conventional wisdom surrounding the motives and mechanics of how serial killers operate. And for one woman, the desperate hunt to uncover his identity becomes a matter of life and death.

Professor Fiona Cameron is an academic psychologist who uses computer technology to help police forces track serial offenders. She used to help the Met, but vowed never to work for them again when they went against her advice and badly screwed up an investigation as a consequence. Still smarting from the experience, she's working a case in Toledo when her lover, thriller writer Kit Martin, tells her a fellow crime novelist has been murdered. It's not her case, but Fiona can't help taking an interest.

Which is just as well, because before too long the killer strikes again. And again. And Fiona is caught up in a race against time, not only to save a life, but to bring herself redemption, both personal and professional.

The plot in this book was wonderful. There were 3 intertwining story lines but they were all so well done that I didn't have any problem keeping them all straight. The characters were very well developed and likeable. The ending was also great. It was a surprise, but nothing too far fetched either.

The narrator did a fabulous job. The slight Scottish accent was great and it could even make the F word sound charming. The Scots was a little broader for some of the characters, but nothing that I ever had a hard time understanding. The only time the narration fell a little short for me was when she was trying for a Spanish accent. The mix of Scottish and Spanish didn't really work, but it wasn't awful either.

For me, 16 hours of audiobook is a lot. Yes, I've listened to Outlander, which is much longer, but Outlander is a story I already know. It took me almost 2 months to finish the audio of Killing the Shadows as I don't usually have much time to listen. I will read another Val McDermid book but won't do another audio unless I know I'll have time to finish it quicker. The lower rating is more my fault than the book's fault...after 2 months I was just ready for it to be over. However, if you enjoy a good mystery and have time for a longer audio, give this one a try. 3.5 stars

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...Unread

In the perfect follow-up to last week’s question, as suggested by C in DC:

Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?

Last week's question was really hard for me, and I couldn't come up with more than a one sentence answer, so I skipped it.

This question is much easier. If I dislike a book that much, I simply quit reading it. There are some books I've read that didn't do much for me, but I didn't despise them. Some that come to mind are Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (review), Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward (review) and A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher.

What books do you wish you could unread?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Book Info:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 2, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-0060838720
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.75/5

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage.

But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

If you read my Tuesday Teaser post from a while back, you already know that I struggled a bit with this book. I did end up finishing it, and I'm glad that I did, but it won't be one that I will be recommending too often.

Bel Canto is not an action packed book. I wasn't expecting constant action like in a mystery, but I thought there would be more action than there was. If you are looking for action, this is not the book for you. The main focus of this book seems to be Patchett's writing, more than the plot or the character development. I think Patchett writes beautifully, but her prose alone wasn't enough to hold my interest over 350 pages.

The interaction between the hostages and the terrorists was interesting, but I wished there was more of it. I didn't feel that I got to know any of the characters very well, and I think more interaction between the two groups would have helped this. If someone asked me to describe that characters, I would be able to give much detail beyond the most superficial information.

Even with all the pieces that didn't work for me, I'm still glad I finished it. The story was interesting, I just wish it had been about 100 pages shorter. This will not be the last Ann Patchett book I read. I think she writes beautifully, and I really enjoyed her other books I've read. 2.75 stars

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: Precious by Sandra Novack

Book Info:
Precious by Sandra Novack
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Random House (February 17, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9781400066803
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

The summer of 1978, ten-year-old Vicki Anderson rides her bike to the local park and goes missing. Her tight-knit blue-collar Pennsylvania neighborhood, where children roam the streets at night playing lightning tag, above ground pools sparkle in backyards, and flowers scent the air, will never be the same.

Down the street from Vicki’s house, another family is in crisis. Troubled by her past, headstrong Natalia Kisch has abandoned her husband and two daughters for another man. Frank Kisch, grappling with his anger, is left to raise their girls alone, oblivious to his daughters’ struggles with both disappearances: Eva, seventeen, plunges into an affair with her married high school teacher, and nine-year-old Sissy escapes to a world of imagination and storytelling that becomes so magical it pierces the reality of the everyday.

When Natalia unexpectedly returns, the struggles and tensions that have built over the summer erupt into a series of events that change the Kisches irrevocably—forcing them to piece together their complicated pasts and commitments to each other.

Precious is a complex story of a family in turmoil. They are going through a very rough period and the story is not a light one. There are some light moments, but the sadness and uncertainty of what will happen to the family is primary. Sissy, the younger daughter, offers some lighter moments, but even these seem to be shadowed by her family's drama.

Usually when I read a book I have a pretty good idea if I like a characters before I get too far into the story. With Precious my feelings toward the characters kept changing. The voice of the story didn't change, but at different times seemed to focus on what each character was going through at the moment. For example, Frank, the father, originally came across as very distant and uninvolved with the crisis in his family. Once I got to know him a little better I could tell he was just trying to keep his family going as best he could. The focus on the different characters was a very effective way of showing all sides of the story.

I loved the ending of Precious. As I was getting close to the end of the story I was afraid that the ending would tie up the story a little too neatly. I am happy to say this didn't happen. The ending provided some closure but still left a lot of things open to speculation. I love an ending that give you something to think about after the story is over. 3.5 stars

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Sandra Novack for this review copy.

Other Tour Stops:
Monday, May 4th: Fizzy Thoughts
Wednesday, May 6th: Book, Line, and Sinker
Thursday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, May 11th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Wednesday, May 13th: Bookworm with a View
Thursday, May 14th: Pop Culture Junkie
Monday, May 18th: Literate Housewife
Friday, May 22nd: Booking Mama
Tuesday, May 26th: Book Addiction
Friday, May 29th: Diary of an Eccentric

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Week in Books...

This week brought me fewer books, and that's ok with me!

Today my youngest brother is graduating from high school. We'll all hang out and BBQ. I think Mom is happy to have all of us (almost) on our own.

--If I Stay by Gayle Forman from Paperback Swap
--Loitering with Intent by Stuart Woods from Bookmooch

--Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin from Goodreads

This week I am sooooo excited for If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Even since Lenore mentioned it, I knew I had to read it!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Review: Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (April 21, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780385522038
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 4/5

Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones. Suddenly its streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors—children of war and displacement—playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to the charismatic Luma Mufleh, an American-educated woman from Jordan, who founded a youth soccer team made up of Clarkston’s refugee children. They named themselves the Fugees.

Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their coach, against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment. Warren St. John documents the lives of this wildly diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also painting a fascinating picture of a fading American town struggling to make a haven for its new arrivals—and a community of refugees who, in the face of daunting challenges, transform the town.

Before reading Outcast United I never knew a town like Clarkston, Georgia existed. Of course I knew of refugees being relocated to the US, but I never imagined a small southern town being a destination for refugees from all over the world.

Outcasts United is a wonderful story of friendship and hard work centered around a group of refugee children and their soccer teams. Even if you don't have much knowledge of soccer I think most people would find this story interesting and uplifting. Luma, the Fugees coach, gives an amazing amount of time and love to these kids in an effort to make them responsible young men. She comes across as a little harsh sometimes, but surprisingly, never as unlikeable.

Interspersed between the stories of the kid's soccer games are the histories of some of the refugee families. While the stories, nationalities and circumstances are all different, there is the common theme of losing your entire life as you know it, and having to start over in a completely foreign place. Many of the families knew little or no English and most had few marketable job skills. Even with all these challenges, the families profiled are hardworking and are trying to make the best of their new situation.

My one complaint about the book is that the ending is a bit abrupt. I think this is because of the ongoing nature of the story, but if left me wanting more information, which could be a good thing too...

I really enjoyed this touching story and would highly recommend this one to soccer fans, memoir lovers and those interested in refugee stories. 4 stars

Other Reviews:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Waiting On Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I finished Bloom by Elizabeth Scott a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I've also heard great things about Living Dead Girl and this one looks really good too.

Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott

On Sale: 5/26/2009
Teen Fiction
ISBN 9780061122835
288 pages

What if you thought you killed your best friend? With sarcastic humor, cutting insight, and beautiful prose, Elizabeth Scott delivers a searing story of a teenage girl struggling to put the pieces of her life back together.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: Invisible Prey by John Sandford

Book Info:
Invisible Prey by John Sandford
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Berkley (April 29, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0425221156
Genre: Mystery
Rating 4/5

In the richest neighbourhood of Minneapolis, two elderly women lie murdered in their home, killed with a pipe, the rooms ransacked, only small items stolen. It's clearly a random break-in by someone looking for money to buy drugs. But as he looks more closely, Davenport begins to wonder if the items are actually so small or the victims so random, if there might not be some invisible agenda at work here. Gradually, a pattern begins to emerge – and it will lead Davenport to somewhere he never expected. Which is too bad, because the killers – and yes, there is more than one of them – the killers are expecting him.

This is one of my favorite series, and one I am sad to be behind on. I enjoyed the book, but I didn't think Davenport came across quite as likeable as he usually does. He police work and logic were entertaining as always, but there didn't seem to be as much personal information in this book as there usually is. Letty, Weather and his son, whose name escapes me, only made the briefest of appearances. This worked fine for me as I am hooked on the series, but I don't know that this book would be the best one for someone new to the series to start on. But, then again, I'm a stickler for reading things in order anyways.

Antiques of all kinds made an appearance in the book, and as I don't know much about them, it was interesting to get a small introduction into the world of collecting. I also found the villains in the book to be quite entertaining. 4 stars

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This Week in Books...

Let me apologize in advance for the really long list of books this time around. We were working cattle last weekend and I didn't have a chance to get this post up before we left for the in-laws...but, I got some really great ones I wanted to mention. So, the books I received for the last two weeks...

--The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham, contest win from Savvy Verse & Wit
--Angel's Advocate by Mary Stanton for a blog tour

--Multiple Blessings: Surviving to Thriving with Twins and Sextuplets by Beth Carson & Kate Gosselin from Paperback Swap
--Just Take My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark from Paperback Swap

--Dragon House by John Shors for review from the author

--Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz for review

--Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult from Paperback Swap
--Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke from Paperback Swap
--Casting Spells & Just Desserts by Barbara Bretton from the author for a contest win

--Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler for review
--Defending Angels by Mary Stanton from Amazon
--The 8th Confession by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro from Paperback Swap

This week I was very excited to receive Dragon House by John Shors. I've heard great things about Beneath a Marble Sky and after Trish's review of Beside a Burning Sea I can hardly wait. Sorry, I couldn't find cover art for this one yet.

I also couldn't resist posting the cover for Perfection because I think it is stunning.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Book Info:
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Picador (April 1, 2004)
ISBN-13: 9780312423797
Genre: Non-fiction/Memoir
Rating: 4.5/5

From the bestselling author of Running with Scissors comes Dry—the hilarious, moving, and no less bizarre account of what happened next.

You may not know it, but you've met Augusten Burroughs. You've seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twenty-something guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls, and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn't really a request) of his employers, Augusten landed in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey, Jr., are immediately dashed by the grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click, and that's when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life—and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that's as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is real. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a higher power.

I've read all of Augusten Burroughs books, except for his newest A Wolf at the Table, and while I enjoyed them all, I think Dry is my favorite. Dry is also quite a bit different than his other books, especially Running With Scissors.

I know some people found Running with Scissors to be out there, with too much craziness to possibly be true. I took Running with Scissors with a grain of salt and enjoyed it, but I did think things may have been exaggerated to help play up the shock value. That isn't the case at all with Dry.

I found Dry to be much more introspective and very honest. While Burroughs humor and crazy personality still came through the story, it wasn't as jaw dropping as Running with Scissors. Burroughs talked about his drinking honestly, why he did it, why he couldn't stop and all of the emotional issues that go along with alcoholism. If you've ever been close to someone with a substance abuse problem, Dry gives some insight into an addict's thought process. It's a sad story, but Burroughs did have me laughing too. 4.5 stars

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Booking Through Thursday...Gluttony

Mariel suggested this week’s question
Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

I am hoarder of unread books! I probably have enough books in my house to last me about 8 years if I didn't acquire anymore in the meantime, which would never happen. Right now my TBR tag on LT has 686 books in it, but that doesn't include most of the books I've received from Paperback Swap or for review. I have 3 bookshelves full of unread books. Once I've read a book I usually give it away, but I have a hard time parting with books that I haven't read yet.

Paperback Swap and Bookmooch have greatly increased my book habit in the 3 years I've been members of those sites. They both make it so easy for new books to show up at my door that I just can't resist. Another contributor to my huge pile of unread books are FOL sales. I can't love cheap books!

Is your TBR pile out of control?

Mistress of the Sun winner

The winner of Mistress of the Sun is....Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania!

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway and check back soon for another one.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward

Book Info:
Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 29, 2008)
ISBN-13: 9780345494474
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 2.5

Nadine Morgan travels the world as a journalist, covering important events, following dangerous leads, and running from anything that might tie her down. Since an assignment in Cape Town ended in tragedy and regret, Nadine has not returned to South Africa, or opened her heart–until she hears the story of Jason Irving.

Jason, an American student, was beaten to death by angry local youths at the height of the apartheid era. Years later, his mother is told that Jason’s killers have applied for amnesty. Jason’s parents pack their bags and fly from Nantucket to Cape Town. Filled with rage, Jason’s mother resolves to fight the murderers’ pleas for forgiveness.

I'd heard good things about Ward's book Sleep Toward Heaven, so I was expecting good things from Forgive Me too. I thought the premise of the book was good, but the execution fell flat for me.

The first part of the book was fascinating. I love to travel and love books set in foreign countries. I thought the descriptions of Cape Town and the unrest were very interesting. The story line also flashes back to the past, to the last time Nadine was in Cape Town, and why she never returned. This part of the story worked well for me.

Somewhere in the middle of the book I started to lose interest. There was a plot in the book (which I won't give away) that didn't work for me at all. When the book was over I was left confused and disappointed. It felt like Ward was trying to hard to make a point. From reading some other reviews, there seems to be "clues" in the reading guide (which I didn't read), that may add some insight, but I don't want to have to re-read a book just to get the author's point.

The best word to sum up this book is disappointing. There were enough things in the book that I liked that I will still read Sleep Toward Heaven, but Forgive Me is not one I would recommend. 2.5 stars

Order Forgive Me

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My first unfinished book of the year...

I've read a lot of great books so far this year, but I finally found one that wasn't holding my attention. Since I received the book for review, I did want to mention it and link to other reviews.

The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone

On her seventh birthday, Annie's con artist father left her behind at his boyhood home, then he raced out of her life. Years later, Annie, now a top Navy jet pilot, returns home on her 26 birthday. But everything changes when Jack calls to say he is dying, and needs her to fly to St. Louis to bring him the airplane he gave her the day he left. And if she does, he will give her the one thing she always wanted, that he always lied to her about the name of her mother.

The Four Corners of the Sky is a novel of love, sacrifice, and the inexplicable bonds that hold families together. Michael Malone brings these rich characters to life as only he can, evoking the unspoken motivations that drive people to define who they are and break out of those bonds when the call of love comes.

This is a large book (560 pages) and the amount of detail just overwhelmed me. I felt like the story just wasn't moving forward as it was bogged down in background info and details. I made it about 200 pages in before I set aside, and almost all 200 of these pages were about one afternoon. I think the story would have worked better for me if the book was about half the size.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: The Simplest of Acts by Melanie Haney

Paperback: 102 pages
Publisher: (January 10, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780557035908
Genre: Short Stories
Rating: 3.5/5

Melanie Haney's debut collection of short stories captures rare glimpses into the beauty and strangeness of ordinary life.

This collection includes her award winning stories, "The Simplest of Acts" and "Only in Bellington" among other carefully wrought tales of loss and love and the small - perhaps overlooked - moments of catharsis in our ordinary lives.

I've read a lot of short stories this year, and I've realized that it's a format I really enjoy. I have a lot of respect for authors that can make readers feel a connection with characters in such a short amount of pages.

Ms Haney's story collection is slim at 102 pages, but it packs an emotional punch in those pages. The stories range in length from about 2 pages to 18 pages. The 2 page story didn't really stick with me as it really wasn't enough time for the characters to make an impression, but my 2 favorite stories were 4 and 6 pages.

All of the stories deal with a loss of someone close to you. In some stories it's the loss of a parent, in others the loss of a child. The stories aren't depressing though. Instead they focus on the simple things that bring comfort in hard times.

A couple of my favorite stories were "An Ordinary Evening", "Sweltering" and "The Simplest of Acts". "An Ordinary Evening" is the story of a mother keeping vigil over her dying daughter in the hospital. "Sweltering" is the story of a cat who makes an appearance in a young couple's life and what he means to them. "The Simplest of Acts" is about losing your mother and the loss of all of the traditions that were uniquely hers. This collection of stories is an emotionally satisfying read, and some of the stories have really stuck with me. 3.5 stars
Other Reviews:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez

Book Info:
The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 2, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9781594488559
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5

Miraflores has never known her father, and until now, she's never thought that he wanted to know her. She's long been aware that her mother had an affair with him while she was stationed with her then husband in Panama, and she's always assumed that her pregnant mother came back to the United States alone with his consent. But when Miraflores returns to the Chicago suburb where she grew up, to care for her mother at a time of illness, she discovers that her mother and father had a greater love than she ever thought possible, and that her father had wanted her more than she could have ever imagined.

In secret, Miraflores plots a trip to Panama, in search of the man whose love she hopes can heal her mother and whose presence she believes can help her find the pieces of her own identity that she thought were irretrievably lost. What she finds is unexpected, exhilarating, and holds the power to change the course of her life completely. In gorgeous, shimmering prose, Cristina Henriquez delivers a triumphant and heartbreaking first novel: the story of a young woman reconciling an existence between two cultures and confronting a life of hardship with an endless capacity to learn, love, and forgive.

I was originally drawn to The World in Half by its cover. I love the simplicity of it and the vibrant colors. Inside, I found a treasure. When I first started reading, I had planned on just reading a chapter or two and then cleaning house. Before I knew it, I was 60 pages in and couldn't put it down. Instead of cleaning, I spent my entire day off on the couch devouring this book.

On the surface, this is a familiar story of a young woman searching for the father she never knew. This story is so much more, though. Miraflores is not only trying to find a missing part of her life, but of her mother's too. Her search leads her to experience a culture that is foreign to her, but also a part of who she is.

Henriquez's writing is beautiful, lyrical and flows wonderfully. Sometimes a book seems bogged down by flowery writing, and that is never the case in The World in Half. The descriptions are almost poetic and add so much to the story without ever overwhelming it. The characters are all wonderfully developed and feel like friends by the end of the book.

I was completely absorbed in this book right from the start and can't wait to read more from Cristina Henriquez. She has also written a short story collection, Come Together, Fall Apart, and this is now on my must read list. 4.5 stars
Other reviews: