Saturday, August 31, 2013

Alice's Review: Shoe Addicts Anonymous

Summary: Four different women. One common shoe size. And a shared lust for fabulous footwear.  Helene Zahariss politician husband keeps her on a tight leash and cancels her credit cards as a way of controlling her. Lorna Rafferty is up to her eyeballs in debt and cant stop her addiction to eBay. Sandra Vanderslice, battling agoraphobia, pays her shoe bills by working as a phone-sex operator. And Jocelyn Bowen is a nanny for the family from hell (who barely knows a sole from a heel but who will do anything to get out of the house.)  On Tuesday nights, these women meet to trade shoes and, in the process, form friendships that will help them each triumph over their problems---from secret pasts to blackmail, bankruptcy, and dating. Funny, emotional, and powerful, Shoe Addicts Anonymous is a perfect read for any woman who has ever struggled to find the perfect fit.

Review:  Bonding among women is very easy to do, especially when the common denominator is shoes.  Shoe Addicts Anonymous shows us that four very different women can change each other’s lives one pair of shoes at a time.

There was something about the novel I really enjoyed.  The kinship between the women was familiar and natural.  Although they were so different, they fit together well.  Much like in real life, each woman had a burden she was struggling with.  Something she carried that was affecting her in ways only the friendship of other women can alleviate.  In some odd way, this novel made me happy to be a woman and happy for the friends I have.  I know that sounds corny, but it was the truth.

Shoe Addicts Anonymous was a perfect little escape for me too.  I read this novel rather quickly.  It was very easy to get wrapped up in 70 pages or so at a sitting.  Each woman had a quality that I related to:  In Helene, it was a desire to never return to her past.  In Jocelyn, it was a hope for the future.  In Sandra, it was her shyness and fear.  Of the four, the one I related to the most was Lorna.  With our parchment for shopping and disregard for budgeting, she could have easily been me.  I learned the most from her and her ability to change. 

Beth Haribson has a lot to offer her reader.  With wit and humor, her stories are effortless.  My curiously was definitely peaked and I am looking forward to reading Secrets of a Shoe Addict and Chose theWrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger.  

Final Take:  3/5

Friday, August 30, 2013

Author Interview: JoJo Moyes

 photo 57118f75-d756-4cb3-98c7-c75e7c82ba1b_zps26efbd6c.jpg
We are delighted to have bestselling author, JoJoy Moyes on the blog today where she answers some questions. Her newest book, The Girl You Left Behind is out now!

Q: THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND, though a love story, features strong female relationships as well. What made you want to write about the connections that can form between women? If Liv and Sophie had lived in the same time, do you think they would have been friends?

JJM:  My female friendships are so important to me; I honestly don’t know how women survive without them. I get very bored of reading manufactured narratives that pit women against women; the working mums vs. stay at homes, old vs. young, the ‘evil’ woman boss who is trying to keep younger women down—I don’t recognise these images—most women I know are actually pretty supportive of each other. So I liked having relationships in this book where women are supportive of each other, even if their relationships are often complex and changing. To me that reflects real life. And yes, I think that Sophie and Liv might have been friends—I think through her sister’s grief, Sophie might have understood Liv’s own. And both knew what it was like to utterly adore your husband.

Q: The reclamation of art taken during wartime is central to the plot. How did you first encounter this topic and what kind of research did you do to learn more about it?

JJM: I was briefly the arts correspondent for The Independent newspaper in London, so I knew a bit about the legal issues. But I read an amazing news story about a young woman reporter who had been asked to mind a huge collection of stolen Nazi artwork, and was given a very valuable stolen Cranach as a ‘thank you.’ Many decades later when it came up for auction it was recognised and became the subject of a claim.

Q: It would seem the issue of returning stolen art is clear-cut, but Liv finds herself trying to keep a painting that may have been ill-gotten. Is there room for sympathy on both sides?

JJM: Without wanting to diminish in any way the suffering of those who lost their precious belongings, I think there is. The more time that goes by, the more complicated the issue becomes, as people buy and sell in good faith, not knowing the painting’s tainted past. These things are also complicated when great legal industries spring up around them, as seems to have happened in the case of stolen artwork.

Q: You create a vivid sense of French life under the German Occupation in WWI. Did you know much about this period prior to writing the novel?

JJM: No I didn’t, but the more research I did, the more fascinated I became by it. I knew about the terrible losses suffered in northern France during the first world war, but I knew little about life away from the Western Front, and the fact that in a great swathe of northern France Belgian and French people had their homes and belongings requisitioned in such a widespread and systematic way.

Q: Sophie and Liv exist a century apart, but their lives are strongly connected, making the past feel very much alive in your story. Do you feel a strong link to the past or a particular historic figure?

JJM: That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I do. I’m always amazed when people do past life regression and say they turned out to be Cleopatra or Florence Nightingale... I think I’d be the anonymous girl who ran the fruit stall near the river, or kept the accounts in the hat shop. But I do like to look at the lives of particularly brave women in history though, undercover women agents, in wartime or Amelia Earhart, say, and try to use their actions to make me braver in my everyday life, like standing up to a traffic warden....

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND?

JJM:  I hope they’ll be transported into a time and place they didn’t know about. And I hope that they will put themselves in the place of Sophie and Liv, and ask: what would I do in their shoes? I love writing strong, resourceful female characters, and Sophie was one of my favourites, so I hope some women might be a little bit inspired too. Mostly I simply hope that they will feel glad they picked up the book and took the journey with me.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Julie's Review: The Affairs of Others

Summary: Five years after her young husbands death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one anothers privacy. Celia believes in boundaries, solitude, that she has a right to her ghosts. She is determined to live a life at a remove from the chaos and competition of modern life. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husbands recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia's world are soon tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered;through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. Ultimately, Celia and her tenants are forced to abandon their separate spaces for a far more intimate one, leading to a surprising conclusion and the promise of genuine joy. Amy Grace Loyd investigates interior spaces, of the body and the New York warrens in which her characters live, offering a startling emotional honesty about the traffic between men and women. The Affairs of Others is a story about the irrepressibly of life and desire, no matter its sorrows or obstacles.  

Review:  So the buzz around this book, I don't get it. Maybe The Affairs of Others was over my head or maybe it just wasn't my kind of book. Most of the time I felt like I was watching an art house movie where nothing happened but I felt like there should have been something.

Celia is a young widow but I had a hard time remembering that throughout the book. She just acts like she's a 60 year old lady who's lived her life, when really she hasn't lived anything. What happened to her is tragic but not the end.

Celia is miserable in her life and wants to live a quiet anonymous life, except she inserts herself into new sublet occupant, Hope's life. Why now? Why Hope? Is it because Hope is having all the sex that Celia isn't? Why is Celia drawn to Hope?

Some of the plot lines didn't really seem to have any structure. Perhaps they are inserted into the novel to get you to feel compassion for Celia but really all I felt was apathy. Actually that was all I felt throughout the whole book. That and I just wanted to know what the awful thing that Celia did  was exactly. Meant to be the climax of the novel, it was a blip. I pretty much guess it earlier in the book and didn't think it was that big of a deal. It's not the first time it's been used in a novel or occurred in real life.

I'm sure there is an audience out there for this book but it wasn't me.

Final Take:  2/5

Thanks to Michelle from That's What She Read for my copy!


Monday, August 26, 2013

Jenn's Review: Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified

DON'T GET STUMPED. GET PSYCHED!You've seen him solve unsolvable crimes, stop unstoppable killers, and consume unconsumable breakfast cereals. Now Shawn Spencer, the mastermind from TV's hit show Psych, shows you how to become a fake psychic-and a real detective-using his patented methods of crime-fighting awesomeness. Along the way, he'll help you deal with whiny sidekicks (that means you, Gus), interfering police officers (including but not limited to Chief Vick, Lassiter, Henry, Buzz MacNab, and, ah, Juliet), and flashes of genius (like Evel Knievel's white leather jumpsuit). 

You'll discover:

How to set up a totally bitchin' office, where Wednesday = Ladies NightHow to convince your sidekick that he's really your partner, How to pick up women at a crime scene, Shawn's Stakeout Survival Guide, including sensible snacks, Gus's Scream-and-Run Method for confronting criminals,Unsolved mysteries like who stole Shawn's Sno-Caps in third grade,The ideal sleuth car: Magnum, P.I.'s Ferrari or Knight Rider's K.I.T.T.?  Who should play Shawn in the movie of his life: Christian Bale or Don Cheadle?  New names for detectives, such as Rico SolvĂ© and Sherlock Homeboy

. . . and way more cool stuff.

Packed with insane pop quizzes, unbelievable case studies, unflattering photos, and off-the-chart charts, this all-in-one guide will have you solving crimes and catching crooks like a pro-even if you don't have a clue.

Review:  Oh, how I love Psych!  Next to Castle, I'd have to say it's my favorite show on television right now.  When I saw Psych's Guide to Crime Fighting for the Totally Unqualified was available I knew I had to have it.

If you visit our blog with any regularity, you may have noticed this has been in my currently reading section for a while.  That's because, well, imagine Shawn's rants, some of his longer rants.  Now imagine reading that for 300 pages.  Granted it's broken up by foot notes from the gang and the occasional section written by a 'guest,' but that's a lot of Shawn.  For me, it was really more of a coffee table book to be read in stages.

Was it funny?  Riotously.  Laughing out loud in public places funny.  Would you appreciate it if you aren't a fan of the series?  Probably not, but if you enjoy Psych, I'd say it's a must read.  

Final Take:  4/5


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Children's Corner: The Dark

I adored reading Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, though I was supremely disappointed by the lack of ending, I came to love the writing for it's smart sense of humor.  When I saw The Dark, I knew it would be wonderful... and it is.

Laszlo is afraid of the dark, and he tries to conquer his fear by saying hello to the dark each day... and never going into the basement.  But one night, with his night light goes out, the dark in the basement calls out to Laszlo... and he bravely follows.  Not everything is what it seems... what the dark helps him find... is a light bulb.

I love the illustrations by Jon Klassen - his creative use of dark and light complete the story.  This is the perfect introduction to Lemony Snicket and I hope to be getting my daughter into some of his other works soon.  The Dark is a super cute story about facing your fears for kids and adults alike.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Alice's Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

 Summary: Connie Goodwin should be spending her summer doing research for her Ph.D. dissertation in American History. But when her mother asks her to handle the sale of Connie's grandmother's abandoned home near Salem, she's compelled to help. It's not long before the time she's set aside for research is instead spent sorting through her grandmother's ancient possessions, discovering a woman she barely knew. One day, while exploring the dusty bookshelves in the study, Connie discovers a key hidden within an old bible. And within the key is a brittle slip of paper with two words written on it: Deliverance Dane. Along with a handsome steeplejack named Sam, Connie begins to dig into the town's records, looking for references to Deliverance Dane. But even as the pieces begin to fall into place, Connie is haunted by visions of the witch trials so long ago, and she begins to fear that she is more tied to Salem's dark past than she could have ever imagined. Written by an author completing a Ph.D. in New England Studies, and whose ancestors were accused witches in Salem, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane travels seamlessly between the trials in the 1690s and a modern woman's story of mystery and discovery.

Review:  The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane centers around Connie, a Harvard graduate student.  After a timely request from her mother to close her grandmother’s house, Connie moves to a town outside Salem, MA.  The house is no prize, in fact it was downright scary:   no electricity, overgrown yard, located off the main road.  I wouldn’t walk onto the house in the daylight, let alone at night.  After finding a key with a name in it in a bible, Connie begins a quest to find who is Deliverance Dane.  I loved the journey to the past.  I found the foundation story of Deliverance and Mercy Dane wonderful.  I thought it was brilliant for Ms. Howe to pen it in old English.  It was challenging for me to read, but really enjoyable.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is beautifully written, but there wasn’t a connection there for me to the modern day story.  I guess it’s acceptable for witches to roam the 17th Century but they have no place in the 21st.  Small-minded, I know.  This comes mostly from the fear that witches do exist.  Then again, I’m not a fan of the occult in literature.  That is probably my biggest issue with this novel.  In spite of it, I found myself continuously drawn to the characters and events in the story.  I wanted to know what happened next.  My personal beliefs on the subject aside, I believe the novel is wonderful for someone interested in the Salem trials and a modern day girl’s connection to them.  Kudos to Ms. Howe for writing a twisted and interesting plot.  This novel was a page-turner. 

I feel as if I’m being unfair with this review.  It’s not that the novel is terrible, because it isn’t.  Ms. Howe is a gifted writer, a natural storyteller who captured her reader and doesn’t let them go until the very end.  It’s not that I didn’t like it because I did.  There was simply something missing for me.  It’s probably the subject matter and the disconnect I felt with the main character.  I understood why Connie was so structured and slightly pretentious, but that doesn’t mean I have to like her.  My favorite character in the novel was Grace, Connie’s earthy and holistic mom.  I just adore characters like that, mostly because I don’t take them seriously even though I know deep inside they seriously believe in the power of aura and crystals and all that other nonsense.  Grace provided me with some genuine laughter and this novel sorely needed it.

Had I know the story would involve modern day sorcery, I know I wouldn’t have read it. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t know because I enjoyed this novel and am thankful Julie included in our challenge. I still wish I had checked it out of the library instead of paying for it.
Final Take:  3/5

Julie's Review

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Julie's Review: Off the Menu

Summary: As the executive culinary assistant to celebrity Chicago chef Patrick Conlon, Alana Ostermann works behind the scenes—and that’s just the way she likes it. But with developing recipes for Patrick’s cookbooks, training his sous chefs, picking out the perfect birthday gifts for his ex-mother-in-law, and dealing with the fallout from his romantic escapades, she barely has a personal life, much less time to spend with her combo platter of a mutt, Dumpling. Then a fluke online connection brings her RJ, a transplant from Tennessee, who adds some Southern spice to her life. Suddenly Alana’s priorities shift, and Patrick—and Dumpling—find themselves facing a rival for her time and affection. With RJ in the mix, and some serious decisions to make about her personal and professional future, Alana must discover the perfect balance of work and play, money and meaning, to bring it all to the table—one delicious dish at a time…

Review:  Don't read this book when you are even the slightest bit hungry. Ok, even if you aren't hungry you will be while reading this novel. Seriously when I read food lit, it makes me salivate. Off the Menu is a cute book about being comfortable with yourself and where you are in your life, knowing that the rest will come when the time is right.

Alana Ostermann is a executive culinary assistant to one of the most popular restaurateurs and celebrity chefs around, Patrick Colon. It pretty much means she's at his beck and call, his "Girl Tuesday". She's made a comfortable life of her own and enjoys her job, her friends and her family. Of course when you aren't looking for it, you fall in love. This is what happens with Alana when she meets the sweet and charming, RJ.

What Ms. Ballis does wonderfully is that Alana doesn't change who she is. It's either take her or leave her. She's turning 40 and wants a partner that she can accept/love and who does the same of her. RJ full-fills this for her. One thing that I wanted a little more of was tension or an obstacle for them to overcome. Everything just went so smoothly for them. I'm not saying a plot device but relationships have bumps, so maybe a more realistic view. All RJ and Alana had was a brief hiccup. At times it was a bit too saccharine for my taste but I dealt with it.

I loved Alana's crazy big family, her friends and Patrick. I can only imagine how demanding it is to be an assistant to one of those tv chefs. Patrick for all of his faults, there are many, does have a heart of gold.

I have Good Enough to Eat on my shelves and I look forward to reading it since the character from that is in Off the Menu. For those who love food-lit, this one will make you want to become a die-hard foodie.

Final Take: 3.75/5


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Children's Corner: Some Dogs Do

Review: Some Dogs Do is a delightful story about a puppy, Sid, who discovers he can fly on his way to school. When he tells his friends what happened, they dismiss him and make him feel badly about himself. A quick read with a wonderful lesson in it, we love this story.

This is the second time we have checked it out of the library because my son enjoys it so much. It is an easy read for him and well it rhymes so we can't go wrong there. Jez Albrough is quickly becoming a go to author in this house.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Julie's Review: Lighthouse Bay

Summary:In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Lighthouse Bay in Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne—escaping her loveless marriage and the devastating loss of her son—who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. Suddenly, this gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family. One hundred years later, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay. Living in the cottage that was purchased by her recently passed lover, she hopes to heal her broken heart and reconcile with her sister, Juliet. Libby did something so unforgivable twenty years ago, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again. In this adventurous love story spanning centuries, both Isabella and Libby must learn that letting go of the past is the only way to move into the future.

Review:  I love my historical fiction when it has dual time periods. What I love even more is when the time is split evenly between the two. Unfortunately, this didn't happen with Lighthouse Bay. For most of the novel we are back in 1901 during the wreckage and aftermath of the Aurora. We meet Isabella Winterbourne who is stuck in a bad marriage and is in mourning for the last three years due to her son's death. Isabella for me was annoying. I wanted to smack her most of the time and tell her to deal with the pain and move on. She dwells in the past instead of living in the future.

She is emotionally scared and takes a job being a nanny to a 3 year old boy named Xavier. Is this probably the best move? No and she becomes a bit too attached to him as a result of her emotional state. She also begins to rely on Matthew Seward, the lighthouse's caretaker and eventually they fall in love. The biggest question is will she stay in Lighthouse Bay or begin her travels to America.

In 2011 we meet Libby Slater who is mending a broken heart after her lover dies suddenly. Instead of facing the pain, she moves from Paris back to Lighthouse Bay. Here she is confronted with the guilt over an accident that happened 20 years prior and is trying to mend things with her sister, Juliet. I wanted more of their story. I wanted more of their life instead of Isabella's.

The mystery just wasn't mysterious enough for me. I thought there would be more of a connection with the past and present but it was tenuous. I always need a strong connection between the stories and I didn't feel that I got it this time.

I still have Ms. Freeman's Wildflower Hill on my TBR list and hopefully will get to it soon. I'm interested to see if her storytelling is the same or changed.

Final Take:  3.75/5

Thanks to the Touchstone Books for my copy of the novel.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Julie's Review: More Like Her

Summary: What really goes on behind those perfect white picket fences? In Frances' mind, beautiful, successful, ecstatically married Emma Dunham is the height of female perfection. Frances, recently dumped with spectacular drama by her boyfriend, aspires to be just like Emma. So do her close friends and fellow teachers, Lisa and Jill. But Lisa's too career-focused to find time for a family. And Jill's recent unexpected pregnancy could have devastating consequences for her less-than-perfect marriage. Yet sometimes the golden dream you fervently wish for turns out to be not at all what it seems;like Emma's enviable suburban postcard life, which is about to be brutally cut short by a perfect husband turned killer. And in the shocking aftermath, three devastated friends are going to have to come to terms with their own secrets . . . and somehow learn to move forward after their dream is exposed as a lie.  

Review: What looks like a book about friendship turns out to be be much more in Liza Palmer's More Like Her. What it shows is that appearances are just that and sometimes we don't really know what goes on behind closed doors.

The book opens up with a 911 call about a shooting at a school. Immediately your preconceived notions are thrown out the window. We are then taken to the days leading up to that call and shooting. We meet Frannie, Jill, Lisa and Emma. Emma is the new headmistress of Markham School that services well to do families in the Pasadena area. Emma's husband is a Professor at nearby UCLA. The story is told from Frannie's point of view and because she doesn't like Jamie, as a reader you don't like him. While Emma might come off snooty, once you dig into her layers you realize there is much more to her.

While we get to know each of the girls through Frannie's eyes and then through some revelations, you realize that some people hold things close to their chest. They don't open up until something extreme happens. You realize that no one is perfect and everyone has their own demons to work through.

Ms. Palmer does a great job of moving the story along and making you wonder what's going to happen. I wish we actually did learn a little more about Emma and Jamie. What was the trigger? Was it her standing up for herself for the first time in her life? What it something else? All of the characters are well thought out and have a specific way of moving the story forward. I would be remiss if I didn't talk about how dreamy and delicious Sam was in the novel. Yet, no matter his heartthrob factor he has some serious issues to work through before he could offer Frannie what she needed as well.

Even though the ending was a little too neat, I was still happy with it. If you haven't read More Like Her, I definitely recommend it.

Final Take: 4.25/5

Alice's Review


Monday, August 12, 2013

Julie's Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree

Summary: A country divided by revolution — a people united by love...Neda is born in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where her mother is allowed to nurse her for a few months before the arms of a guard appear at the cell door one day and, simply, take her away. In another part of the city, three-year-old Omid witnesses the arrests of his political activist parents from his perch at their kitchen table, yogurt dripping from his fingertips. More than twenty years after the violent, bloody purge that took place inside Tehran’s prisons, Sheida learns that her father was one of those executed, that the silent void firmly planted between her and her mother all these years was not just the sad loss that comes with death, but the anguish and the horror of murder. These are the Children of the Jacaranda Tree. Set in post-revolutionary Iran from 1983 to 2011, this stunning debut novel follows a group of mothers, fathers, children, and lovers, some related by blood, others brought together by the tide of history that washes over their lives. Finally, years later, it is the next generation that is left with the burden of the past and their country’s tenuous future as a new wave of protest and political strife begins. Children of the Jacaranda Tree is an evocative portrait of three generations of men and women inspired by love and poetry, burning with idealism, chasing dreams of justice and freedom. Written in Sahar Delijani’s spellbinding prose, capturing the intimate side of revolution in a country where the weight of history is all around, it is a moving tribute to anyone who has ever answered its call.  

Review: Books about the Middle East are not something that I'm typically drawn to, besides Khaled Hosseini. Children of the Jacaranda Tree seemed interesting enough for me to dive right in. Plus the cover is stunning. Unfortunately for me the cover is where it stopped being stunning.  There wasn't one character that I got attached to during the novel. Yet all of the characters are intertwined and share similar experiences. I don't always need to get attached to enjoy the book but I do need to feel compelled to read about the characters.

There is no doubt that the Iranian people suffered at the hand of the Iran/Iraq war and then during the revolutionary years. The way in which the government treated their citizens makes me thankful for our rights here in America. It is a compelling look at a country that was ravaged by war.

There is no doubt that Ms. Delijani is a gifted with her writing technique but it was devoid of emotion. She was merely reciting a story instead of letting you feel the story. She tells her characters stories with detachment. I understand that this is somewhat autobiographical and perhaps that is why she writes with detachment because it brings back painful memories.

For me, Children of the Jacaranda Tree had a lot of potential but it fell flat.

Final Take:  3.5/5

Thanks to Diana Franco at Atria Books for my copy of the novel.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Children's Corner: The Day the Crayons Quit

 Walking into our local Indie children's book store, Monkey See, Monkey Do, I found this book prominently displayed in the front and picked it up.  Upon flipping through it, I found that I couldn't put it down.

Duncan just wants to color, but his crayons have decided it's time to have a word with him about the way he uses them.  Yellow and Orange are no longer speaking to each other because they are arguing over what the true color of the sun is.  Blue is overused and tired.  Pink never gets used at all, except by Duncan's sister, and Pink's quite put out about it.  And peach?  Well, peach is a little embarrassed...   In the end Duncan gets to color and finds a way to make all of his crayons happy.

It's my daughter's new favorite read and mine too.  This book touches on compromise, getting along, and using your imagination, but most of all it's a witty read that's fun for children and parent's alike.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Alice's Reviews: Million Dollar Baby:Stories From the Corner

Summary:  Originally published as Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner, this debut collection has been reissued to coincide with the Oscar-nominated film Million Dollar Baby, based on Toole's short story, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Eastwood, Hilary Swank, and Morgan Freeman. ~

Review: This is my first attempt at reading boxing-centric stories.  The main reason I requested this collection of short stories from NetGalley is because I am a fan of boxing and movies* about boxing.  I loved Million Dollar Baby and wanted to read the story because we all know the book is always better than the movie. I am glad I took a chance on something that was far from my usual reading material because Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner is one of the best short collections I have ever read.

Mr. Toole writes with so much heart.  As a boxer and trainer himself, he gives his readers his unique point of view for everyone involved in the sport.  From the Boxers themselves to the Trainers and Cutmen, I loved reading about the sport from this angle.  Each of the characters he introduced us too were so real, they came to life on the page.

What surprised me was that in all the stories I read, Million Dollar Baby was not my favorite.  I actually began listing all my favorite stories, but when I got to five I went back and edited this review.  Each story was better than the last.  Each character so simple yet complex, so brilliant and real.  It was true joy to spend time with them.  My only struggle was in reading the detailed description the author uses to describe boxing.  I’m not quite sure how to explain it to you other than to say the semantics of it was hard for me to understand.  What I got loud and clear was the people, the emotion in which each character felt.  It was beautiful.

Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner honors the human spirit.  And Mr. Toole honors those who fought before him and those who will continue to fight after him.  I believe if you are a fan of boxing, this is a must read. 

Final Take:  4/5

* One of the best boxing movies ever is Girlfight starring Michelle Rodriguez.  You must check it out.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Julie's Review: Catching Fire

Summary: Suzanne Collins continues the amazing story of Katniss Everdeen in the phenomenal Hunger Games trilogy. Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Review: When I read The Hunger Games earlier this year, I wasn't so impressed but I loved the movie. I wasn't sure what to expect with Catching Fire. Needless to say, I loved it. I loved the plot, the pacing and the character development.

Katniss seems more like a teenage girl in this novel. She's confused, weary and torn between being loyal and being a leader. She had no idea how pretending to be in love with Peeta and saving both of their lives would be seen as an act of rebellion by the Capitol. It also gave the Districts  the fire they need to form rebellions.

I loved how Cinna had a bigger role in this novel. How he centered Katniss. He was her rock in a lot of ways; her father figure.Katniss and Peeta's relationship gets even more complicated as they try to figure out how to survive the Quell. Katniss is unsure of her feelings for both Peeta and Gale. She obviously cares deeply for both but I'm not sure she's in love with either of them.

I thoroughly enjoyed how they teamed up with other victors during the Quell even if it doesn't quite end up like they expected. It was nice to see Katniss learn to work in a team instead of always relying on herself. I even grew to like Peeta more. He wasn't such a wimp in this book, in fact, I can see the shaping of a leader in him.

I know I'm late to the Hunger Games party but it's always good to be fashionable. I am definitely looking forward to the movie in the fall.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Alice's Review


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Julie's Review: The First Husband

Summary: Annie Adams is days away from her thirty-second birthday and thinks she has finally found some happiness. She visits the world's most interesting places for her syndicated travel column and she's happily cohabiting with her movie director boyfriend Nick in Los Angeles. But when Nick comes home from a meeting with his therapist (aka "futures counselor") and announces that he's taking a break from their relationship so he can pursue a woman from his past, the place Annie had come to call home is shattered. Reeling, Annie stumbles into her neighborhood bar and finds Griffin-a grounded, charming chef who seems to be everything Annie didn't know she was looking for. Within three months, Griffin is Annie's husband and Annie finds herself trying to restart her life in rural Massachusetts.A wry observer of modern love, Laura Dave "steers clear of easy answers to explore the romantic choices we make" (USA Today). Her third novel is packed with humor, empathy, and psychological insight about the power of love and

Review: The First Husband is the consummate summer read. I read it in less than 24 hours total. It is witty, sentimental and touching. Having said that, Annie is someone like I would have told very bluntly to get her shit together. She's always running from something: bad childhood, relationships, etc. When Nick ends their 5 year relationship, she happens to meet Griffin. Theirs is an easy courtship followed by a not so easy beginning to their marriage.

Annie deals with the problems like she always has, she runs. This time she runs to a "ready made life". Who wants a ready made life? Wouldn't you rather live your own? Annie discovers that somethings are worth running towards and not from them.

If you are looking for a vacation, pool or beach read, then pick up the The First Husband.

Final Take: 3.75/5



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Julie's Review: The Fever Tree

Review: In London she was caged by society. In South Africa, she is dangerously free. Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her fathers sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men—one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness. But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences. The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how—just when we need it most—fear can blind us to the truth.  

Review: The Fever Tree is a sweeping novel set during the 1880s starting in London and then moving to South Africa. It is a story of survival and of finding out what it is that you believe in. For Frances, she finds herself torn between two different kinds of lives and loves: one that would be more comfortable and one that will be lacking in material things but full of purpose.

Frances isn't always the easiest character to like but at times I understood where she was coming from. Her life in London was ripped from her and she's now in a completely different country with a complete stranger. She's naive and sheltered. She's easily convinced that she's in love with a man she just met, who doesn't have the best reputation.

I loved the setting of South Africa. It is rugged, harsh and unsettling. It is the polar opposite of London. It is waiting to be discovered. Of course, with discovery there is always going to be some politics involved and unfortunately for Frances she doesn't understand how it works.

While the change in Frances was sudden and a little too clean, I'm always for a character who grows and she did. She came to understand herself, her husband and her new country.

Final Take: 3.75/5


Friday, August 2, 2013

Jenn's Review: Code

 Blurb:  The Virals are put to the ultimate test when they find a geocache containing an ornate puzzle box. Shelton decodes the cipher inside, only to find more tantalizing clues left by "The Gamemaster." A second, greater geocache is within reach—if the Virals are up to the challenge.

But the hunt takes a dark turn when Tory locates the other box—a fake bomb, along with a sinister proposal from The Gamemaster. Now, the real game has begun: another bomb is out there—a real one—and the clock is ticking.

Review:  It's been a while since I visited with the Virals on Loggerhead Island. Code has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. Things were pretty neatly wrapped up at the end of Seizure, so it was interesting to see where things were headed.

Code was a return to everything I loved about the first book in the series, Virals.  I enjoyed Seizure, but I couldn't help feeling it was a little wild as plot lines go, even for a pack of genetically altered super hero kids. Code starts off on a whimsical jaunt and pulls you in to something dark and twisted so fast you aren't even sure how it happened.  Once into it, it was very hard to put down.

The mystery is killer and I must admit, I fell for the red herring in the book.  I love when I don't know the whodunnit of it all, and this one really threw me for a loop.  It was fast paced and thrilling.  I was shocked by the ending and a little disappointed in a few of the characters whom I've really grown to love over the series.  There were times when I wanted to shake them; I still feel like shaking some of them. (Tell tale sign that I love the book, when I'm talking about the characters like they're real.)

What I love about this series is that it's YA thrillers with some sci-fi on the side.  It's not too heavy, it's not gender specific, it's full of solid characters and fascinating mysteries.   I'd say Code is my favorite so far ~and there is an open ended little tag on the end of this book so I can't wait to see where the Virals are headed next.

Final Take:  4.75/5


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Julie's Review: The Perfume Collector

Summary:   remarkable novel about secrets, desire, memory, passion, and possibility. Newlywed Grace Monroe doesn't fit anyone's expectations of a successful 1950s London socialite, least of all her own. When she receives an unexpected inheritance from a complete stranger, Madame Eva d'Orsey, Grace is drawn to uncover the identity of her mysterious benefactor. Weaving through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, the story Grace uncovers is that of an extraordinary women who inspired one of Paris's greatest perfumers. Immortalized in three evocative perfumes, Eva d'Orsey's history will transform Grace's life forever, forcing her to choose between the woman she is expected to be and the person she really is. The Perfume Collector explores the complex and obsessive love between muse and artist, and the tremendous power of memory and scent.

Review: The Perfume Collector is a historical fiction novel that takes place in both the 1920s (Eva's story) and the 1950s (Grace's story) intersecting in a very obvious way. While any astute reader will figure it out quickly, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I enjoyed both characters immensely, but I will admit I wanted Grace to figure it out on her own rather than having it all laid out in front of her. I loved watching her spread her wings and find her true path in life.

This is the 2nd book I've read recently that has dealt with perfume making on some level. I have to say I am very much now intrigued about having a custom scent. I will say though that one perfume smells one way on someone and completely different on another because of body chemistry. I found it so interesting how a perfume should be subtle and bring out your natural scent, not cover it up.

Ms. Tessaro did a great job of evoking smells for me while reading this novel. There were times during the novel when you could smell the scents she was describing. It was a unique experience for me. The story of Eva isn't one that is unusual but it is one that I found myself wanting more of throughout the novel. She is a character that is intriguing. Grace is one that begins as a mousy young woman and then begins to find her legs as she blossoms.

For those who enjoy historical fiction, then this is one for you. For those of you who don't but enjoy a great story, then you should read it as well.

Final Take: 4.25/5

 Thanks to HarperCollins and the SheReads Book Club for my copy of the novel.