Monday, December 31, 2007

The Best of 2007: Lisa's Picks

2007 was not the best reading year for me, however, there were a few stand-outs. I won't rank these because personally they are all at the top of the heap - well worth your time.
  • Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, – J.K. Rowling capped her already wonderful series with its finest outing. I look forward to reading these again and again and again.

  • All But My Life, Gerda Weissman Klein – I normally don’t read autobiographies, but this book club pick had me running to Wikipedia. Well written and heart-wrenching, this book makes me believe in hope.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini – Read it. ‘Nuff said. See our review here.

  • Behind Those Eyes, T.P. Carter – Do you believe in soul-mates? This debut novel from African American author, T.P. Carter (another impulse purchase), took a story of love and makes you wonder if it is worth the consequences, even if you can love and be loved just for a short time.

  • Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult – Jodi Picoult does it again and somehow with unbelievable timing. Nobody does moral dilemmas better, except maybe…

  • The Double Bind, Chris Bohjalian – Recommended by Barnes & Noble, I bought this on a whim. This book represents everything I believe a book should be. Bohjalian took a classic “The Great Gatsby”, wrapped it in a delightful narrative and a surprising twist that for days after had me questioning everything I’d read.

  • Midwives, Chris Bohjalian, - I picked this up after reading The Double Bind, and I honestly don’t know how I’d missed this author for so long. I got so caught up in the story, that I was sad when the end came. Not to mention, that twist. So subtle, so unexpected, so good.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Julie's Review: The Second Wives Club

Summary: The Second Wives Club is made up of four women--Fiona, Alison, Julia and Susan--who are grappling with the specters of their predecessors. Fiona has to contend with a surly stepson whose mother is trying to turn him against her. Sofia, the ex-wife of Alison's new husband, Luca, is using their two children as weapons in order to manipulate Luca. Beautiful Julia is floored by her husband's insistence on maintaining a friendship with his first wife. Though not married to Nick, Susan lives with him and is raising his daughter, living in the shadow of her predecessor, the perfect Caitlin, who died tragically young. The women come together to support each other and help each other through their problems. Together they come up with ways to tackle their problems: Alison and Julia decide to confront the first wives, Fiona tries to befriend her stepson, and Susan makes a move to get Nick to appreciate her. Readers will eat up this fun, frothy novel to learn how the wives fare in their attempts.

Review: I was looking for an easy, breezy book to read in a day or so and I found it in The Second Wives Club: A Novel I've read her 3 previous books: The Ex Files: A Novel, Fourplay: A Novel, and enjoyed them so I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. I also knew that at least one of the characters would be a stereotype and I wasn't disappointed. What I found best about the book was the friendship the 4 women created by essentially having one thing in common...being 2nd wives. Each of the women had a different cross to bear whether it be step-children, ex-wives that won't let go or living up to a dead woman's memory.

I enjoy books where the characters evolve and for the most part the women did, except for one and it wasn't that much of a surprise. There wasn't one of the characters I identifed with but I pretty much could feel for each of their situations and each was vastly different. I felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and still had some lingering questions but overall it was a satisfying read. This is what I would consider your "traditional or typical" chick-lit fare, it didn't really deal with any huge social, political or economical issues.

Final Take: 3/5

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Julie's Review: The Monsters of Templeton

Summary: "The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, thefifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass." So beginsThe Monsters of Templeton, a novel spanning two centuries: part acontemporary story of a girl's search for her father, part historical novel, andpart ghost story, this spellbinding novel is at its core a tale of how one townholds the secrets of a family. In the wake of a wildly disastrousaffair with her married archaeology professor, Willie Upton arrives on thedoorstep of her ancestral home in Templeton, New York, where herhippie-turned-born-again-Baptist mom, Vi, still lives. Willie expects to be ableto hide in the place that has been home to her family for generations, but themonster's death changes the fabric of the quiet, picture-perfect town herancestors founded. Even further, Willie learns that the story her mother hadalways told her about her father has all been a lie: he wasn't the random manfrom a free-love commune that Vi had led her to imagine, but someone elseentirely. Someone from this very town. As Willie puts her archaeological skills to work digging forthe truth about her lineage, she discovers that the secrets of her family rundeep. Through letters, editorials, and journal entries, the dead rise up to telltheir sides of the story as dark mysteries come to light, past and present blur,old stories are finally put to rest, and the shocking truth about more than onemonster is revealed.

Review: It took me a while to get through this book and while much of it had to do with the busy Holiday season, I think some it also had to do with the fact that I didn't fall in love with or identify with any of the characters. The main character, Willie was flawed but seemed 2 dimensional to me. I never really felt any depth coming from her. Her mother Vi was trying to change her life by finding religion and all that Willie could do was mock her. While I do realize it went against everything Vi had ever done in her past, it was nice to see that someone could evolve into a different person and find a place where they felt they belong and I don't think it was right for Willie to judge her mother, especially since Willie wasn't exactly in a righteous place herself.
The real essence of the story to me is about finding out who you are through your family history. While I found most of this interesting, I also found parts of it confusing as she searches for her father and how he might be a part of the same blood line. Now as twisted as that sounds, Ms. Groff does wrap it up in such a way that it's not as twisted as it seemed at first.
The lake monster, Glimmey, I think is representative of what Willie is feeling when she gets there and when she leaves. I am curious to know what Ms. Groff based the monster on, was it Loch Ness or some other "known" beast? I have no doubt that she did her homework on this part of the novel. In fact, I think a tremendous amount of research went into novel as a whole. Any time you are exploring family history, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, you have to keep your facts straight and she did an excellent job of that.
I did figure out one of the twists in the book but the other one took me completely off guard and was just as surprised as one of the characters in the book when the revelation came.
For a first book, I have to say Ms. Groff weaves a very good story, even if at parts it was slow and dragged a bit. The best part for me was the last 1/4 of the book when the story started to come together. I don't know if it's a book I would have picked up off the shelf to read myself, but I'm glad to get the opportunity to read an up and coming author. And now that I've read her, I will keep my eye out for her other novels and I wish her success.
Final Take: 3.75/5

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bottom 10 Books of 2007; Julie's List

As a pairing to my Top 10 Books of 2007, I thought I would list my least favorite books of 2007. For some it doesn't mean I didn't like them, it just means I expected more out of them either based on the summary or because of the author.

Reservation Road - Jonathan Schwartz
Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
Plum Lovin' - Janet Evanovich
Sweet Liar - Jude Deveraux
The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
Cross - James Patterson
Blue Screen - Robert Parker
Wildfire - Nelson DeMille
Good Grief - Lolly Winston
New York Dead - Stuart Woods

Monday, December 17, 2007

Top 10 Books of 2007: Julie's List

I can't believe we are nearing the end of another year. And that means for me I'm 6 weeks away from baby #2!! WOW!! As I type, I'm reading my 47th book of 2007, with the hopes of finishing it before the holidays so I can cruise through another while off of work. Well without further ado, here is my Top 10 List of 2007:

Harry Potter and The Dealthy Hallows - J.K. Rowling; I don't know if there's much to say about this book other than it was a fantastic end to a fantastic series. I cried, I laughed and I utterly loved it. It's probably the best book of 2007 if not the last few years for me. I thank both Jenn and Lisa for getting me to read this.

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseni; As a huge fan of The Kite Runner, I couldn't wait for his second book to come out and I was not disappointed. I was amazed at how a male writer could write a female's point of view so well and eloquently. I also loved learning about a part of th world that I don't know a lot about.

All But My Life - Gerda Klein Weissmann; Jenn recommended this non-fiction book about one survivor's story through the Holocost. I haven't read many books about this subject other than The Diary of Anne Frank so it was a great book for more exposure on this horrendeous part of history. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn.

My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult; What a powerful book about sisterly love and obligation. This is probably one of my favorite Jodi Picoult books. I've always admired the way she takes a social topic and creates real and warm and sometimes hated characters in a story.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards; I picked this book up on a whim at Target and I'm glad I did. What a powerful story about love and decisions that change our lives forever, good or bad. I enjoyed the way the author told the story from a few different points of view.

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen; What a tremendous debut novel about 2 sisters and family history. I loved the mystery and magic that surrounded the characters and the story. Ultimately it's about opening yourself up and letting go.

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger; Lisa recommended this book and I'm glad I decided to take her advice (although when haven't I about books). I read it while on vacation and promptly left it with my dad to read. While I did find it hard to follow at times, I found the love story to be timeless and everlasting and beautifully written. Plus it's set in Chicago and you can't go wrong there.

19 Minutes - Jodi Picoult; I'll say it again, this woman is a master at taking a social issue and writing a story around that makes you think twice about what you think you would do or know about a subject. The fact that this was out so close to the Virginia Tech shootings makes it even more timely of a subject matter.

Cold Paradise - Stuart Woods; An earlier Stone Barrington novel this one was excellent and is what made me go back and start the Barrington novel's from the beginning. I probably wouldn't have read it if I knew that a character from an earlier book would appear but nothing I can do about it now. Stuart Woods is a master storyteller and to me the Stone Barrington books are his best.

Echo Park - Michael Connelly; My dad lent me this book and I'm glad he did. I throughly enjoyed my first Harry Bosch novel. I love crime/police/law books (and tv shows) and this one did not disappoint me at all. I love it when I discover a new author even if the author him or herself isn't "new". Harry is a likeable and real character which makes the book even more enjoyable.

My warmest holiday wishes to all of you who visit our little blog and hopefully I'll have another review, or 2, up before 2007 is just history.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Girls on Haitus!

Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but we've been taking a little break. We're just a little busy having babies, setting up offices and getting ready for the holidays!

We'll be back in a couple of weeks with our favorite books of 2006 and more reviews and articles!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Group Review: The Big Over Easy

Fforde's whimsical fifth novel, his first not to feature literary detective Thursday Next, is consistently witty, but its conceit—putting a criminal spin on nursery rhymes—wears a bit thin. Det. Jack Spratt, the dedicated but under appreciated investigator in the Reading, England, Nursery Crimes Division, is depressed because the court finds the three little pigs "not guilty of all charges relating to the first-degree murder of Mr. Wolff." Working with an ambitious young detective, Mary Mary ("Quite Contrary"), Spratt later takes on the case of "fall guy" Humpty Dumpty. Fforde crafts a police procedural out of this bizarre alternative universe that prizes, as The Eyre Affair does, literacy (detectives, for example, garner recognition less for solving crimes than by writing articles about cases for the likes of Amazing Crime Stories or Sleuth Illustrated). While it can be charming to encounter Mrs. Hubbard or Tom Thomm or to hear Spratt bemoan "illegal straw-into-gold dens" in this unusual context, the novel's broad satire overshadows elements like plot, conflict and characterization. The result is unusually clever but not compelling in the least. ~ Publisher's Weekly.

Jenn's Review:
This is an incredibly clever book, perhaps too clever for it's own good. It is not only a play on nursery rhymes but decades of detective stories. It's satirical writing at its most witty, which makes this book "not for everyone."

I found myself being torn away from the plot in an effort to catch all the references... and some of them I didn't catch until I was presented them a third or fourth time. The plot is delightfully twisty and, yes, far fetched, (but there's that satire again!) yet you can't help but be pulled into it. However I still found it all oddly distracting somehow...

If you are not in the mood for a lofty farce, this book is not for you. Someone who I think will enjoy it tremendously? My husband; it his style of humor... but for my final evaluation, would I read it again? Maybe not.

Final Take: 3.9/5

Julie's Review:
I liked this book, I didn't love it. I like the overall concept of the book. It's similar to what Gregory McGuire is doing with Wicked and Confessions of an Evil Stepsister. Jasper FForde is taking a topic we've all grown up with and making some insinuations regarding the classic nursery rhymes.

I liked the character of Jack Spratt. He's a solid character and of good morals. He's been ridiculed and stepped on but he still likes his job and feels that he's making a difference. Enter Mary, Mary a new detective with the Nursery Crimes Division and who frankly, doesn't want to be there. The case unravels and leads to a bunch of different characters who might have wanted Humpty Dumpty dead. The book is a bit slow and times and could have been wrapped up a bit sooner. I enjoyed the way Fforde incorporated the other nursery rhyme characters into the book and even chuckled when some of them were mentioned. Not only does he include nursery rhymes, but he even included a bit of Greek mythology in the book. I thought it was clever the way he wove that into the overall storyline. I did like that he didn't just add characters or subplots to incorporate nursery rhymes, everything had a purpose to the main plot. The crime itself lends a lot to discovering the real Humpty Dumpty and I felt sorry for him, even if he was not always on the up and up with his business ventures.

I would definitely read Jasper Fforde again, but I'm not rushing out to get his other books. I have enough on my bookshelf as it is right now.

Final Take: 3.5/5

Lisa's Review:
Humpty Dumpty - talk about an egg with a target on his back! Jasper Fforde crafted a clever, witty mystery using nursery rhymes. A very interesting premise with a few chukle-worthy moments. This was a slow read for me, witty as it was. I wasn't at any time fully engrossed in what I was reading. I did enjoy the twists and turns and the ultimate reason for Humpty's demise. Jack Spratt was by the best developed character and I enjoyed his simple everyman persona. I can't recommend this whole heartedly, but it's certainly good for chuckle if you need it.