Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jenn's Review: Plum Spooky

Summary: Turn on all the lights and check under your bed. Things are about to get spooky in Trenton, New Jersey. According to legend, the Jersey Devil prowls the Pine Barrens and soars above the treetops in the dark of night. As eerie as this might seem, there are things in the Barrens that are even more frightening and dangerous. And there are monkeys. Lots of monkeys. Wulf Grimoire is a world wanderer and an opportunist who can kill without remorse and disappear like smoke. He’s chosen Martin Munch, boy genius, as his new business partner, and he’s chosen the Barrens as his new playground. Munch received his doctorate degree in quantum physics when he was twenty-two. He’s now twenty-four, and while his brain is large, his body hasn’t made it out of the boys’ department at Macy’s. Anyone who says good things come in small packages hasn’t met Munch. Wulf Grimoire is looking for world domination. Martin Munch would be happy if he could just get a woman naked and tied to a tree. Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has Munch on her most-wanted list for failure to appear in court. Plum is the all-American girl stuck in an uncomfortable job, succeeding on luck and tenacity. Usually she gets her man. This time she gets a monkey. She also gets a big guy named Diesel. Diesel pops in and out of Plum’s life like birthday cake – delicious to look at and taste, not especially healthy as a steady diet, gone by the end of the week if not sooner. He’s an über bounty hunter with special skills when it comes to tracking men and pleasing women. He’s after Grimoire, and now he’s also after Munch. And if truth were told, he wouldn’t mind setting Stephanie Plum in his crosshairs. Diesel and Plum hunt down Munch and Grimoire, following them into the Barrens, surviving cranberry bogs, the Jersey Devil, a hair-raising experience, sand in their underwear, and, of course . . . monkeys.

Review: I don't generally review the "Between-the-Numbers" adventures of Stephanie Plum for our site, because, well, they tend to be a whole lot of fluff. However I make mention of this one because this is the first full length Janet Evanovich Between-the-Numbers (BTN) Novel, so it would seem to command more attention. If you dislike the BTN books, this is really more of the same, just longer. If you need a Plum fix while waiting for Finger Lickin' Fifteen to be released on Jun 23 ('09), this is a good dose of Stephanie.

If you've never read the Stephanie Plum series, all three of us highly recommend it; start at the beginning. We just think you can skip the BTN books. This one was definitely NOT a must read, but a good summer beach book.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Julie's Review: Handle With Care

Summary: Perennial bestseller Picoult (Change of Heart) delivers another engrossing family drama, spiced with her trademark blend of medicine, law and love. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, was born with brittle bone disease, a condition that requires Charlotte to act as full-time caregiver and has strained their emotional and financial limits. Willow's teenaged half-sister, Amelia, suffers as well, overshadowed by Willow's needs and lost in her own adolescent turmoil. When Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful birth in order to obtain a settlement to ensure Willow's future, the already strained family begins to implode. Not only is the defendant Charlotte's longtime friend, but the case requires Charlotte and Sean to claim that had they known of Willow's condition, they would have terminated the pregnancy, a statement that strikes at the core of their faith and family. Picoult individualizes the alternating voices of the narrators more believably than she has previously, and weaves in subplots to underscore the themes of hope, regret, identity and family, leading up to her signature closing twists.

Review: Last year I had heard Jodi Picoult speak on her new release for 2008's Change of Heart and she mentioned what her newest book was about and it sounded intriguing. Handle with Care doesn't disappoint. Parrallels have been drawn between this book and My Sister's Keeper. While there are similarities the books are very different. That being said Handle with Care is pretty close to being up there with My Sister's Keeper.
One thing I like about Ms. Picoult's writing is that she's consistent. Meaning you know how the story is going to be told and that it'll end up in a courtroom. If she changed that formula, I'd wonder who she had assigned to write her books. I know some people think this is getting old but I like it. As with most of her books I've read she doesn't disappoint. We are introduced to the O'Keefe family: Sean, Charlotte, Amelia and Willow. We see the story through their eyes which allows the reader to get the full story instead of one side. We also see the story through Marin and Piper's eyes. Marin is the attorney set to sue Charlotte's best friend, Piper for wrongful birth. Unlike My Sister's Keeper where I couldn't STAND the mom, I really felt for Charlotte. She loved Willow and couldn't imagine her life without her but at the same time she put her life on hold forever to care for this little girl.

My favorite character was Amelia. My heart definitely went out to her through the course of this novel. She was the forgotten kid. Sean and Charlotte were so focused on Willow that Amelia would be left to fend for herself. Amelia began to feel like since she wasn't physcially disabled that she didn't belong; so she begins to hurt herself. One thing Jodi always does well is bringing one main issue to light but then there's always subsequent issues that are highlighted in the book as well. This one is no different. All that Amelia wants is to be noticed and out of her sister's shadow.

I can't give too much away but there are a couple good twists right at the end. While this book didn't make me cry like many of her's do. I felt that the ending was fitting. It's tragic but not in the same way that My Sister's Keeper was tragic.

I can't say how I would handle having a special needs child but I'd like to think that I would rise to the occasion. What would you do if you knew at 17 weeks that you were going to have a disable child? Would you want someone to at least offer you the option of terminating? That's really what this novel comes down to, not if she loves her daughter or not. As with all Jodi's book, she makes you think out of your comfort level and for that I thank her.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Interview: Jamie Ford

I'm so excited that Jamie Ford was able to answer some questions regarding Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for me. The book was truly remarkable and I look forward to his next book!! BEWARE: Possibly contains spoilers

GJR: I always hear that you should "write what you know" when you are doing your first novel, given that statement what part of the story is yours? Was it born out of historical research or family history?

Jamie Ford: Hmmm…I prefer to turn that maxim around and say, “Know what you write.” So there was a ton of historical research, which I love, but––confession time––there is also a lot of my own familial turmoil in the book. Not in an autobiographical way, per se, but more as it relates to the emotional content. There’s a little bit of my own story in there, as well as my father’s and my grandfather’s. They say that writers need to prick their fingers and bleed on the page––if that’s true then this story is more of a heart transplant.

GJR: What made you decide to write the chapters in the present, 1986 and the past, mid 1940s? Did you feel that it would perpetuate the story better if we read it from Henry's point of view? I wonder how different the story would be from Keiko's point of view. Was that considered?

JF: Well, I really wanted to give the story a redemptive ending, which is a literary way of saying, “And they lived happily ever after.” But I just couldn’t find that ending in the 40s. Because when Japanese families returned from internment, it wasn’t a happy ending, it was more like quiet relief. Jumping to the 80s allowed for the dust to settle, for families to rebuild lives, and for old wounds to heal a bit.

As far as Keiko’s point of view, I did consider that, but since I’m half Chinese, I felt more comfortable telling the story through that lens.

GJR: I loved the ending. In fact, I was at lunch reading it and crying. Why did you decide to give the readers the ending we were looking for? Was it also the ending you felt Henry and Keiko deserved?

JF: When I write, I feel like I’m either banking of spending emotional currency––I’m either tormenting my characters, or giving them relief, even joy. By that point in the story, I’d built up a lot of angst and it was time for an emotional payoff, so to speak.

Plus, as a reader, I’m not a fan of ambiguous, metaphorical endings. I always feel cheated. I loved No Country of Old Men, but the ending, not so much.

GJR: It's been many years since I've studied WW II and I'm almost positive the camps for the Japanese American's was not touched or barely touched in class. Why did you decide to center your book on this point of American history?

JF: My father wore one of the “I Am Chinese,” buttons mentioned in the book. That was really the genesis of the story––the tension between Chinese and Japanese communities that’s relatively unknown to Caucasian audiences. I knew I wanted to craft a bit of a noble romantic tragedy and those two communities became my Capulets and Montagues, but with fewer codpieces and rapiers.

GJR: Besides Keiko and Henry, my favorite relationship in the book was between Henry and his father. Do you think that Henry turned into his father in some ways with his own son Marty? Even though Henry and his father were both Chinese, I feel that their differences could be any ethnicity where the immigrant family wants their American born child (ren) to be American but yet respect the culture of the parents. Did you intentionally write Henry's father as a Chinese Nationalist or did that come about when fleshing out the story?

JF: This is one of those areas where the history of Seattle’s Chinatown really infected some of the characters–-like Henry’s father, who Henry ends up mirroring in some ways.

When I was doing my research and found a mention of Dr. Sun Yat-sen coming to Seattle to raise money for the war back in China, I immediately envisioned Henry’s father as the type of loyalist that would be behind that movement––that kind of nationalist fervor. It created a rich, and historically accurate mindset to contrast Henry’s modern, American ways.

GJR: Is Sheldon based on a real person who played with Oscar Holden or a portrait of different people you met during your research? I loved how you weaved Jazz into the story; it was such an important musical movement during that period of time. Did you feel that it key to Henry and Keiko's story?

JF: When I was rendering Henry and Keiko’s world it felt false to not include the jazz clubs and great characters like Oscar Holden, who was a real person. Sheldon though, is more of an amalgam of musicians that were working in the clubs of South Jackson at the time. Those clubs were such a part of the tapestry of the neighborhood––they needed to be included. Plus, it’s always good to remind people that there’s more to Seattle jazz than Kenny G.

GJR: You left me wanting more, is there any chance we'll meet Henry and Keiko again?

JF: I’m not sure, honestly. I still plan to write the story of Henry’s four years in China, so you might see him again, but I never planned for Keiko to be a part of that.

I’ve had so many emails asking for a sequel. I’d never revisit their story for financial reasons, but if there’s a natural extension––a story that’s dying to be told, I might consider it.

GJR: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is your first novel but you've written countless short stories. Are there any plans for publishing those? Would any of them be the great start of a novel?

I think the best short stories are ones with novel-length potential, so who knows? I am working on a special collection of short stories featuring the “other” characters in Hotel––Sheldon, Mrs. Beatty, Mr. Okabe, Henry’s parents, etc. All set in the same time period. If there’s interest, maybe it’ll see the light of day. If not, maybe it’ll just appear on my website.

GJR: Are you working on your 2nd novel? If so, what is the premise?

JF: The new book is about a failed kamikaze pilot, now in his 70s, who is still searching for a noble death, one that will allow his spirit to be reunited with that of his late wife. It’s another historical love story.

GJR: What has been most interesting aspect of having your book published and on the best seller list?

JF: Well, aside from the bodyguards, the limousines, and the private jet, it’s pretty much same ‘ol same ol’. Oh, and Paris Hilton, if you’re reading this, I’m just not that into you.

I want say a huge Thank You to Jamie Ford for taking the time to answer my questions!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Julie's Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Summary: In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago. Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.
Review: I love stories that cross generations and time periods, so it really should come as no surprise that I adored Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel. This beautifully written story is about love, family, growing up and finding what you've missed the most in life. I had been eyeing this book from Amazon and all over the blogosphere so when Tracee from Pump Up Your Book Promotion contacted me about doing a review and author Q&A, I was thrilled!!! Let's just say that all the hype around this book is well deserved. I loved the point of view the story was told from, Henry's and I thoroughly enjoyed how it went back and forth between the 1940s and the 1980s. I like how we get to know Henry when he's older and reflecting on his life. This very much reminded me of how Water for Elephants: A Novel and The House at Riverton: A Novel were told. I think in telling a story from this perspective it lends itself to being introspective as well as retrospective.

Henry from the get go is a very likable character. You immediately feel for him even if you've never had the same experiences as him. All of us at one point in our lives has felt like an outsider. Really, that's what Henry is, both at school and at home. Then he meets Keiko, a young Japanese American and almost immediately feels at home with her. They begin a very strong and lasting friendship. I was also taken in very quickly by Keiko. Their friendship is cemented the night they decide to go to the Black Elks Club to listen to Jazz music. Their experience there defines them for the rest of their lives.

In a part of American history that is not written about or discussed that often, the Japanese families are rounded up and taken to interment camps. This is under the guise of their own safety but I'm sure the US government had other agendas in mind. Of course Keiko and her family are taken to Camp Harmony and his destroys Henry. He can't think of anything else and ends up damaging his relationship with his parents. I believe this is the pivotal point in the story; this is where Henry becomes a man.

I can't really say too much more about the story without giving it away but I will say that not only are the main characters likable but almost all of the supporting characters give a great deal to the story. One of my favorite dynamics is between Henry and his father. What a struggle to be caught between two worlds! Henry's father wants him to be American but yet wants him to be Chinese. While I can't personally relate to this, I can imagine that it was this way for a lot of immigrant families who's children were the first generation to be born in America.

While there isn't a single scene that stands out, besides perhaps the ending to me, its how the story flows and unfolds that kept me entranced. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in a part of American history that isn't talked about. It's also a beautiful love story.

Final Take: 5/5

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jenn's Review: The Gnostic Mystery

Summary: An ancient mystery in todays Middle East... Jack Staunton, an American businessman, makes a pilgrimage to war-torn Israel in hopes of rekindling his Christian faith. While traveling with his friend Punjeeh, an ER doctor from Jerusalem, Jack acquires an ancient scroll written by the Gnostics, a mystical group of early Christians, and his spiritual quest takes an unexpected turn. The scroll makes the startling claims that the Gnostics were the original followers of Jesus, and that they retained secret knowledge of Jesus that was not included in the Bible. With the help of the ingenious Chloe Eisenberg, a professor of Philosophy and Religion, Jack and Punjeeh navigate the dangerous terrain of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in an attempt to decipher the puzzle of the scroll and bring the Gnostics revelations about Jesus to light. Threaded with the searing realities of today's Middle East, The Gnostic Mystery is packed with historical facts about the Christian religion. The thrilling mystery makes a compelling case that the origins of Christianity are far different than we believed... until now.

Review: I had a hard time deciding what to label this book, as there really isn't a lot of mystery. This book is a history lesson thinly dressed with a story. If you have never delved into the history of Christianity, this book is for you. This is a quick read of a very condensed history and it's incredibly interesting. If, you are well versed in the origins of the religion, I must tell you there is nothing new here. I do appreciate his views on conflict(s) caused by religion; here he makes several valid points, reminding me of one of my favorite quotes:
"At least two-thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity: idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political ideas."~ Aldous Huxley

However, while I appreciate Mr. Davila's attempt to convey the information in a highly accessible manner, I was disappointed that he couldn't bring more excitement and mystery to the fictional story that surrounds it. Perhaps he didn't want to detract from the history lesson, in which case, maybe he should stick to non-fiction.

Final Take 3.0/5

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Books, Books, More Books ...& a Contest UPDATE

A couple months ago I took a picture of my TBR pile and counted 17 books!! So then I challenged you readers to post when you'd think I'd finish 17 books. Well I'm not done yet but I am halfway through the pile! YAY!!! Below is what I've finished:

1) The Tea Rose
2) Sing Them Home
3) Skylight Confessions
4) Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
5) Faith and Honor
6) Darling Jim
7) Knit Two
8) Meeting Mr. Wrong
9) Triple Cross

That's a lot of books read and reviewed since March. Hopefully I can chug along here in May and announce a winner soon!!

Jenn's Review: Deadly Charm

Summary: Deadly Charm is the third romance/mystery novel in the Amanda Bell Brown series. Favorite characters are back in this zany follow-up to Death, Deceit & Some Smooth Jazz and Murder, Mayhem & a Fine Man.

Amanda Bell Brown is a woman with many losses and gains: she's gained twelve pounds on her hips and lost her husband and best friend. Hope is on the horizon when her BFF Rocky returns with an offer she can't refuse: go with him to a revival meeting featuring former televangelist Ezekiel Thunder. Bell goes with Rocky, simply to help mend their friendship, and she finds herself surprised by love-baby love! Little Exeziel -Zeekie- Thunder steals her heart, even though Bell suspects his parents are fleecing the faithful.

When the seductively beautiful Mrs. Thunder makes a play for Amanda's man, Amanda is less than charmed. And when Baby Zeekie is found dead from an accidental drowning, Bell is sickened at the thought of someone murdering an innocent child - or that morning sickness that's plaguing her? Between babies and bodies, things are getting hectic for the forensic psychologist, as she pushes past the limits to discover the deadly truth.

Review: I intensely dislike starting in the middle of a series –especially when the author doesn't plant a lot of plot exposition to help out the new reader– but such is the case with this Library Thing Early Review book. Perhaps because of this, I had a hard time getting into this book, particularly the characters.

I didn't really like any of the characters in the beginning, and by the end, I'd at least warmed up to Bell. It's mentioned several times that this character is supposed to be a forensic psychologist, but she doesn't seem to work, ever. Her husband is a drunk and can't seem to respect the fact that she's her own person. Bell's antics are far from 'doing a little sleuthing' – she actually taunts sociopaths. All of this is against her doctors wishes, and I can't imagine any woman who has tried so hard to be pregnant recklessly jeopardizing her unborn children. It's actually a little mortifying. (I'd base my rating on that alone!)

There also isn't a lot of mystery to the plot. It's pretty cut and dried. Although I will say this for the book, having not so long ago finished a book that crammed religion down my throat, I really didn't mind that Bell was exceptionally religious. The opinions were hers and I could appreciate them for what they were, and they weren't used as a crutch at any time.

Perhaps it was just this book in the series, but I wasn't all that impressed. I'd try Claudia Mair Burney again, if it were a rainy day and I was pretty much through my TBR pile.

Final take 3.0/5

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And Then Winners Are....

Congratulations to Llehn and Ann Diana Dinh for each winning a copy of Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos!!

Thank you all for participating in our giveaway! Surely there'll be more books to giveaway, so please keep your eyes peeled to this blog.

Please email me (Julie) your mailing address so I can forward it to the publisher.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book to Movie: Twilight

Okay, it took way too long for me to get around to seeing this movie. I really wanted to see it on the big screen, but it just didn't happen. Luckily, I received the DVD as part of my Mother's Day gift!

I think this is one of the few instances where the movie really sticks close to the book. That's not to say that things aren't left out; obviously it needs to be trimmed down to make the big screen. Unfortunately a lot of what has gotten cut are all the enchanting, lovely scenes between Bella and Edward that help build their relationship. As a result Bella comes off as a love crazed teenager and Edward a slightly scary stalker. I know that's how critics of the Twilight series see them anyway, but truly, that's not how Ms. Meyer wrote them.

As far as casting is concerned, Cedric, I mean Robert Pattinson, is the perfect Edward. He's dark, handsome, and mysterious. On the other hand, Kristen Stewart is just not how I envision Bella; I thought that when the trailers first started to circulate, and I still think that after seeing the movie. It's not that her acting is bad... I don't know, maybe it's just the way the screen play was written, she's just a little off to me. Charlie isn't quite what I imagined either, but there really isn't enough of the other characters in the movie to really put forth much of an opinion. I kind of missed the stories that belong with the supporting characters, but I understand why they were cut in the grand scheme of things. Really, scenes of Edward and Bella getting to know each other were the far more valuable loss, with perhaps the exception being that of Rosalie's back story. Rosalie comes off rather incomprehensible without a little plot exposition.

That brings me to the story itself. As I mentioned, I think this is a fairly accurate translation from book, but I find it a dark, brooding interpretation of Meyer's story. This is helped along by cinematography that makes the entire movie seem gloomy. I know that Fork's is supposed to be a gray, rainy, dreary place, but the pervasive blue lighting was overkill in my opinion. Even my husband, who knew nothing of the story and only caught a few minutes here and there of the movie, mentioned it. I realize it was done for effect, but it was too much.

All in all, I am glad I own the movie; I'll certainly watch it again. It's an important part of the Twilight saga. I look forward to the next movie but I hope they do a little re-tooling of their approach (the next leg of the story is difficult enough). Do I recommend you see it before you read it? No, you might find it off-putting. If you haven't read it but saw it and liked it, by all means go back and read it; it's far more fascinating on the page.


What did you think???

My Review of the novel: Twilight

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jenn's Review: Rain Fall

Summary: John Rain, a Japanese American konketsu, or half-breed, learned his lethal trade as a member of the U.S. Special Forces. Although tortured by memories of atrocities he committed in Vietnam, he has become a paid assassin, a solitary man who lives in the shadows and trusts no one, even those who pay extraordinary sums for his ability to make murder look like natural death. But the aftermath of an otherwise routine hit on a government bureaucrat brings Rain to the attention of two men he knows from the old days in Vietnam: a friend who's now a Tokyo cop and an enemy who betrayed Rain long ago and is now the CIA's station chief in Japan. Like the gangster who hired Rain to kill Yasuhiro Kawamura, they want something the dead man had--a computer disk containing proof of high-level corruption, information that could destroy Japan's ruling political coalition. The search for the disk leads them to a woman Rain has come to love, a talented young jazz musician who also happens to be Kawamura's daughter.

Review: I'm huge spy/assassin story fan so I have been looking forward to picking this up off my TBR pile. This is Eisler's first novel (from '02) and having read his most recent, Fault Line, I must say it's wonderful to see how far he's come as a writer. Not that Rain Fall is a poor first novel, far from it. I found this first book of the Rain series to be a solid, entertaining read.

Although the character's aren't overly developed (I would like to know a little more about Kawamura's daughter, Midori), Rain is a likable sum of his experiences. Eisler does a nice job of infusing back story throughout the novel, keeping the reader's interest by weaving a little more plot exposition with each back flash. I did find the plot a little far fetched at times (for an assassin, Rain has an astonishing ignorance of the workings of the intelligence communities ~ and what paranoid assassin hands over valuable intel to a soft target civilian???) and at times a little repetitious (his recon around several blocks every time he goes to a meet or a stake out), but at least Rain is consistent. It was almost written like a movie script, so it was no surprise to find out it had been turned into a film (Gary Oldman!); unfortunately, it seems to only have been released in Japan, Rein fôru: Ame no kiba.

Personally, I wasn't crazy about the ending, but not from a writing standpoint. I was routing for Rain on a personal level, but the ending that Eisler wrote is far more realistic. I look forward to reading the rest of the series ...and just maybe I'll try and rent the Japanese movie when it comes out on DVD (praying for English subtitles).

Final Take 3.8/5

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Julie's Review: Triple Cross

Summary: The Jefferson Club is a remote, private resort for the super-rich – the buildings, the amenities, and the security are state of the art and beyond compare. Many of the world’s wealthiest people – business leaders, entrepreneurs, politicians, celebrities – gather for the most exclusive New Year’s Eve party in the world. As expensive champagne flows and multibillion dollar deals are arranged, the unimaginable happens – a highly trained, heavily armed paramilitary force calling itself the Third Position Army breaches the world’s best security system and takes everybody hostage.
“Mickey” Hennessey, former U.S. Special Agent, is the head of security for the Jefferson Club. A divorced father of three teenagers, he’s spending the holiday with his kids. When the club is attacked, his entire team is wiped out and only he makes it out of the club alive. Now he’s outside while his kids are trapped inside, hostages of the Third Position Army who are putting seven of the ten richest men on “trial” for their crimes against humanity, live on the internet for the world to see. While a top FBI rescue team works feverishly to rescue all the hostages, Hennessey is determined to do all he can, to overcome every obstacle, to ensure his children’s safety – or die trying. ~St. Martin's

Review: I was lucky enough to get Triple Cross from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers club in February but given my huge pile, I was just now able to get to it. Triple Cross is an exciting adventure/action/thriller book. I was definitely not disappointed by this book. The book starts off with a bang and never lets up. I really enjoyed the main characters even if you pretty much knew off the bat that Mickey and Cheyenne were going to hook up. Now I don't mind a romantic hook up in a book, but in this situation I really don't think it was completely necessary. That being said, I LOVED the triplets. I thought they had a lot of heart, moxy and guts for being 14 years old. I don't know if I could have done what they did when I was 14. I don't know if I was that brave. I didn't have a hard time picturing the Jefferson Club in my mind. I just pictured the most decadent hotel/spa I could imagine tucked away in the mountains of Montana.

I've stated before that I don't like politics shoved down my throat from either side of the views, but this book didn't do that even though it did have a political slant to it. Now I didn't agree with the way the Third Position Army went about making their point, but wouldn't it be interesting and scary to know what companies and politician were truly made of? That's what this book does. It exposes corporate greed and political corruption, or does it? There is quite an interesting twist at the end of the book about the true motive behind the mastermind of the takeover.

There really isn't a boring page in the book, even if I kind of figured out early on that one of the main characters was involved. Although I don't think the author really meant to keep it a secret either.

If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller with well developed characters, check out Triple Cross. It's an interesting look at today's society and capitalism.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Giveaway: Sing Them Home

We have 2 copies of Sing Them Home to giveaway!! Please leave a comment here by midnight EST time May 12th, 2009 to be entered. See our review of it here.

The winner will be announced on May 13th, 2009.

Good Luck!

Special Thanks to Martin at Grove Atlantic for providing us with the 2 copies!

Author Interview: Stephanie Kallos

A few weeks ago we posted our group review of Stephanie Kallos' Sing Them Home. We all had differing opinions (as usual) but are excited to have Stephanie answer a few questions for us.

GJR: What was your inspiration for the novel?
SK: SING THEM HOME was the novel I believed would be my first. It arose from a single image. (And I should note that this was very different from the inspiration for BROKEN, which arose from several converging ideas/obsessions.)

The story of three siblings and their vanished mother has been swirling around in my head ever since I saw a 1974 National Geographic photograph of a ruined baby grand piano in the middle of a milo field; it was the only thing to come down in any kind of recognizable form after a tornado descended upon – and completely destroyed - the 19th century farmhouse of some dear family friends who farmed just outside of Wymore, Nebraska, which is where I lived until I was five.

My mother used to say, "How can a deep chest freezer just disappear? How can things like bathtubs and washers and dryers vanish? Where does it all go?"

I'd always envisioned SING as a book about unresolved grief; however, it became a very different, much more personal book after losing both of my parents during the writing process -and possibly a better book for having been deferred, and for the uncanny way that my own grief connected me to my characters.

GJR: What made you decide to have the characters be from a Welsh community?
SK: Southeastern Nebraska was settled in part by Welsh folk – and I came to understand why someone from Wales might feel at home there after I visited Northern Wales with my family in the summer of 2006: few trees; vast, rolling hills; a landscape that’s all about the sky. I wanted to give my fictional small town a cultural/historical identity that would be a source of pride. I have no previous connection to Wales or being Welsh, so it was a great deal of fun researching this part of the story.

By the way, the Welsh funeral customs practiced by the people in Emlyn Springs are completely fictional, a kind of conflation of sitting shiva and the traditions of an Irish wake. Funnily enough, I’ve had more than one reader tell me how much trouble they’ve had finding out more about the Gymanfa and the Triadau traditions on the web. That’s because they’re made up!

GJR: We’ve read you bio on your website and thoroughly enjoyed your approach? What made you write about yourself that way instead of a “typical” biography?
SK: I find traditional bios boring and/or self-serving, and I really don’t like listing things like honors and awards. The style of “Directions to Where I Live” was inspired by Lorrie Moore and a book of short fiction she published several years ago called SELF-HELP. I’m sure there’s a name for this type of writing, i.e. when everything is stated as an imperative, but (and here’s where I admit to not having an English degree) I don’t know what that name is. I do find it a very freeing way of writing, one that really gets the juices flowing.

GJR: In Sing Them Home, Bonnie finds pieces of her mom’s diary embedded into the ground, did research show that this is possible after 25 years? Have there been stories about people finding artifacts?
SK: In the land of tornadoes, nothing is too outrageous. And of course there are many anecdotes involving tornados and recovered/discovered objects in the most unlikely places. But no, Bonnie’s findings aren’t backed up by any specific research – although I do remember reading an article about a study on tornado debris which talked about the item which held the record for being the farthest-traveling piece of tornado debris. It was a receipt of some kind and was discovered well over a hundred miles away from its point of origin.

GJR: Which character was the easiest to write? Which character was the hardest?
SK: There were aspects of all their lives that were easy to write; likewise there were aspects that were challenging. The important thing for me with all my characters is that I find a way initially to establish common ground. As an example, I relegated to each of the siblings one of my neuroses – Larken got my body image problems and my past unhealthy history with food; Gaelan got my fear that someday everyone will realize that I’m not terribly smart and am completely undeserving of luck or success; Bonnie got my sometimes obsessive preoccupation with the little picture and my belief in omens and signs.

My background in the theatre has taught me how crucial it is – especially in the beginning – to connect personally with all characters, to find the common ground; that way the author can’t stand outside the character and judge them.

Once that work is done, then of course the author must embroider and fabricate and lift up and away from that initial connection, and eventually create all the elements of the characters that aren’t the author; if this second, equally crucial step doesn’t occur, if you fail to ask “what if?” then you’ll end up writing characters that are all barely-disguised versions of yourself.

GJR: Is there any specific character that you identified with more or less?
SK: Nope. I love them all. I identify with them all. That’s what I mean by the necessity of finding the common ground, of really, truly forcing yourself to stand in the character’s shoes in a way that doesn’t allow you to judge them or play favorites. To say I have a favorite character or one I identified with above the others would be like saying I prefer one of my children over the other.

GJR: Why did you choose a tornado as the natural disaster to this story instead of a hurricane, tsunami, etc? Was it because you wanted the story to take place in the Midwest? Why the Midwest vs. another part of the US?
SK: When people started talking about my first novel (BROKEN FOR YOU) as containing elements of magical realism, I didn’t really know what that meant – I’m not a well-read author and wasn’t familiar with the work of writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So I did some exploring on the web and located an online magazine that published the work of self-described magical realists. The stories were great, but the best thing about the site was the fact that all the authors had been asked in their bios to write their definition of magical realism. My favorite definition was also the shortest: “Magical realism? Sofas that fly.” This explained a lot about my proclivities as a writer: sofas are flying all the time in Nebraska! It’s hard for people who haven’t grown up in “tornado alley” to understand how deeply one is affected by the remarkable and indeed magic-seeming things that happen there.

GJR: This is your second novel, what are your plans for your third?
I’ll be revisiting ideas and historical characters I became fascinated with twelve years ago, specifically three sisters – Katie, Maggie, and Leah Fox – who are credited with launching the Spiritualist movement in America. Early on in the process, I gave a good deal of thought to how I wanted to tell this story and whether it should be a historical novel; I’ve decided instead to re-imagine these women in a contemporary setting. I’m very excited about the way the novel is taking shape; its working title is KATIE AND MAGS. And of course, because of the subject matter, there will be more opportunities for me to continue exploring the relationship between the dead and the living - obviously a pet obsession.

GJR: Do you have a specific writing process that you try to follow?
SK: It depends on where I am in the work: in the early stages I do a lot of what I’ve come to call “wool-gathering.” (And our trip to Wales really helped clarify that metaphor; we stayed on an organic sheep farm and I spent a lot of time wandering the fields picking up stray tufts of fleece.) During this phase, it’s important to keep the mind loose and curious. Anne Tyler says she spends the first year after a novel is done “puttering.” This quality of time is important, and there isn’t much to be done at the desk. I use this primarily time to read books related to research and/or the kind of novel I’m thinking of writing.

The second phase, which I’ve come to call “playing in the sandbox,” begins when the possibilities for the book are becoming clearer, the landscape of the story is starting to close in – although not too much. During this phase I write notes, sketch out possible scenes, journal about characters, etc.

Finally comes the time to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and start writing what Anne Lamott calls “the shitty first draft.” My writing schedule at that point revolves around my kids’ schedule: from the time they get on the bus at 8:30 until early afternoon. The process changes again once my editor comes on board, and the most intense and time-consuming work by far occurs during this phase; I’m often at my desk from 9 until 4 and then again after my children are in bed.

GJR: What inspires you to write?
SK: I love the actual physical comfort involved in writing – both in longhand and at the computer. It’s a very centering, meditative task for me. So in that way, no inspiration is needed for me to want to approach a blank piece of paper or empty computer screen. I also love being alone.

As for inspiring ideas, I take my advice from writing teacher and editor Gordon Lish who enjoins all writers to be constantly “open for business.” This means moving through the world with turned-on senses, with both the sensory and story-making awareness of a writer, who notices everything, remembers as much as possible, and always has as notepad and pen on hand.

We'd like to thank Stephanie for taking the time to answer our questions. As always it's a pleasure to learn about authors and their inspirations.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Julie's Review: Meeting Mr. Wrong

Summary: 'Don't email me if you want a supermodel. I'm twenty-two, divorced, and I have twins. I'm also overweight, unattractive, and have no education to speak of. I'm pretty much not going to bring anything to the table except the fact that I'm pretty nice and won't ask you to pay my bills. Here's my email address. Don't email if you're full of it.'

With this ad, Stephanie Snowe relaunches herself into the world of dating. In this real-life account, she discovers that the search for Mr. Right can include a lot of wrong turns. With light-hearted sass, Stephanie introduces us to each Tom, Dick, and Denny, and their neuroses, pets, mullets, lies, and puking.

A girl can get discouraged having to deal with dive-bombing birds, first-date proposals, and eavesdropping mothers. Is there a knight in shining armor out there with a higher IQ than his horse? Stephanie hopes so.

Review: All I have to say is "Thank GOD I'm not single." I'm 35 and can't imagine it and Stephanie did it when she was 22 and had newborn twins!! Meeting Mr. Wrong: The Romantic Misadventures of a Southern Belleis a humorous retelling of her trials of finding love and acceptance by the opposite sex via online dating. Stephanie, and I feel I can call her this because of her willingness to share with us, has moxy. Frankly I don't know if I could have done what she did with 2 young kids at home. I loved the honesty of her online ad and how it just proves that men really don't read or at least read and comprehend.

Stephanie meets some freaks and I mean FREAKS while trying online dating. She finds humor in every situation even when it's bleak. I wonder if she found humor in them when they were happening or if it was upon reflection? Either way it made for good reading.

My favorite story was about the guy at the grocery store who hit on her until he figured out he she had kids. The kicker of it was that she was asking him where the baby formula was in the store! LOL Men really are clueless.

It does end happily for Stephanie. She found her frog among the toads. To keep up with Stephanie on a regular basis you can follow her blog Here

I'd love for Stephanie to write about her trials as a single mom. I'm sure she could bring humor to a very stressful subject. I'd also like to read about her and Jason's courtship. So there you go Stephanie, 2 more books for you to write!

I want to thank Stephanie for sending me this book. It was a fun book to read and the perfect stress reliever.

Final Take: 3.75/5

And The Winners Are...

Congratulations to Koolaidmom, Jennifer, Laura K Curtis, Busy Bee and Belinda for winning a copy of Darling Jim!!

Thank you all for participating in our giveaway! Surely there'll be more books to giveaway, so please keep your eyes peeled to this blog.

Please email me (Julie) your mailing address so I can forward it to the publisher.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Julie's Review: Knit Two

Summary: Continuing the warm-and-fuzzy saga begun in her popular The Friday Night Knitting Club, Jacobs stitches together another winning tale of the New York City knitting circle, more a sisterhood than a hobby group (the irascible Darwin Chiu can't even really knit). In this installment-and it does feel like an installment-readers catch up five years after the unexpected, book-capping death of club leader (and knitting shop owner Georgia Walker. Georgia's 18-year-old Dakota is at NYU, discovering her first love, while her father James and Georgia's best friend Catherine are still coming to terms. The rest of the cast runs a wide gamut of ages and experience, but is easier to follow this time around, as Jacobs is more comfortable giving them more space and backstory. Pregnant, whip-smart professor Darwin and her husband, Dan, are welcoming twins; video director and single mom Lucie is coping with a hyperactive 5-year-old and a failing parent; Georgia's old mentor, the wise Anita, begins questioning her own motives; and everyone's stories cross paths in satisfying, organic ways. A trip to Italy provides some forward motion, and pays off in a charming denouement that nevertheless pushes a familiar it's-the-journey-not-the-destination message; still, this sequel is as comforting, enveloping and warm as a well-crafted afghan.

Review: Knit Two is better than The Friday Night Knitting Club. We jump 5 years ahead and we are quickly brought up to speed pretty quickly on all of the characters we are introduced to in the first one. What I want out of a sequel is to see some growth in the main characters and we definitely get that. The one that grows the most though is Catherine and that was very refreshing to see since it would have been easy to write her as a stereotype. I also love the change that comes about in Darwin after she becomes a mom. It's almost like she "gets" it now. The one I relate the most to is Lucie. Now I'm not a single mom but anyone who has a strong-willed child will see where she's coming from.

There are some twists and turns in the book which is refreshing and invigorating. We learn more about Anita and actually meet her son Nathan when he shows up to keep Anita from making a huge mistake.

Dakota is refreshing as an 18 year old who is stuck in between trying to find out who she is and trying to live up to the Club and her dad's expectation of her. She and James are trying to still get to know each other and he's trying to fill the gap of having lost her mom. What James needs to figure out is that it's ok to grieve and it's ok to not try to be everything. He's also trying to make up for the 12 years that he was not in Dakota and Georgia's life.

The climax of the book is satisfying and yet I did see one twist coming in about the middle of the book. I actually wouldn't mind if Ms. Jacobs decides to revist this group of fantastic women in the future.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Friday Night Knitting Club Review

Friday, May 1, 2009

Jenn's Review: Misery Loves Cabernet

Summary: Charlize “Charlie” Edwards finally has it all: a house in Silverlake, L.A.’s hippest neighborhood, two fabulous best friends who always have her back, and a great (though hectic) job as the personal assistant to Hollywood’s hottest movie star, Drew Stanton. But best of all, Charlie has a newly feathered love nest with Jordan, the sexy photographer she recently started dating. Maybe Charlie’s journal of smart-alecky life advice—which she’s always been better at writing than following—has finally helped put her on the right track.

Unfortunately for Charlie, Drew is causing complete havoc on his new movie set, her eccentric family is descending upon L.A. for the upcoming holiday season, and her love life may be back to square one. Jordan has left L.A. to work on a film shooting in Paris, where the women are gorgeous, sophisticated, and possibly after her man. And Drew’s handsome new producer, Liam, is an old crush who has reappeared to tug at Charlie’s heartstrings. Charlie’s torn between the misery of waiting for Jordan and the tingly feelings she has for Liam. But there’s nothing misery—or seduction—loves better than a great glass of cabernet.

Review: This is not your typical chick-lit ~I thought it was wonderful. This is Kim Gruenenfelder's second novel and I love her quirky humor and her quick wit. I was laughing out loud several times. Charlie's thoughts in reference to Olive Garden:

"...You know the restaurant that advertises when you're here, you're family? I wonder who on earth ever thought that was a selling point? Do you think people want to walk in to have the maitre d' tell them they never lived up to their potential? Then be seated to have the waiter ask them why they're not married yet, then remind them that their biological clock is ticking?"
I especially liked the list of advice Charlie has started for her future great-granddaughter, some very true, some just amusing:

"If you are going to show up at someone's house unannounced, call at least five minutes in advance. This gives your hostess four minutes to race around the house collecting dirty dishes to throw in the sink and another minute to plan your death."

I was really impressed that Gruenenfelder didn't lapse into typical chick-lit formula. All her characters were lively and three dimensional —and there was real growth for almost all of the characters in the story too, not just for Charlie. The ending is refreshing and realistic, with a great twist. (You go, Charlie!)

It was a light read and very amusing. I'm looking forward to going back and reading A Total Waste of Makeup, Gruenenfelder's first novel.

Final take: 4.5/5