Showing posts from May, 2010

Half in Love: Stories by Maile Meloy

Half in Love: Stories by Maile Meloy (2003) is a collection of short stories with a common theme--people living lives of quiet desperation. The term depressing doesn't begin to cover the thoughts and feelings evoked in this reader by every single one of the fourteen stories in the collection.

Most of the stories are set in rural Montana, including my favorite, Ranch Girl, filled with a character experiencing the kind of self-sabotage I know all about from first-hand experience. You think she wants to escape her life as the ranch foreman's daughter, yet she does everything possible to keep herself from leaving her past.

The writing is decent enough to convey the points of the stories, though there aren't any great surprises in any of the stories. An overall sense of dread and doom permeates everything, leaving me unable to recommend the collection to most readers.

My overall personal rating of Half in Love: Stories is a C.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (2010) is an honest, heart-wrenching look at what happens when a family living a relatively nice, regular life is destroyed by an act of horrific violence.

Quindlen does an excellent job of creating the pre-violent act family through the eyes of Mary Beth Latham, mother to three teenagers, wife to an ophthamologist, and head of a thriving landscaping business. We see husband Glen (successful, caring, almost boring), daughter Ruby (senior, poet, going through the beginnings of withdrawing from her family and exerting her independence), and twin sons Alex (the star athlete and outgoing) and Max (talented in a less public way, dealing with depression issues, and not quite sure of his place in the world or his own family). They're experiencing all of the normal angst of family life intertwined with the usual day-to-day living and normal joys.

Yes, you as the reader see the tragedy coming, and you wonder at the way in which most of the characters don'…

This and That

Anywhere special you'd like to be this week? I'd love to be at BookExpo America (BEA), where today is the last of the three-day annual event. I'll get there one of these years, but, for now, I'm enjoying reading blogs like Book Journey, with coverage of her experience at BEA. (Her overall blog is fantastic, so give her a look.)

I had a friend ask my opinion about purchasing some sort of dedicated e-reader since she knows I've had my Kindle for a while. I have to say that I use my Kindle app on my iPhone way more for reading than my Kindle at this point. Kind of an expensive toy to sit virtually idle, but there's the reality of my experience.

If you have an e-reader, what's your experience? What would you have told my friend?

The Darkest Passion by Gena Showalter

Excuse my bleary-eyed blog posting because I was up way, way too late last night reading the just-released The Darkest Passion by Gena Showalter (2010), number eight in the Lords of the Underworld series. [Insert my usual gushing about the series.]

The synopsis for this book:

For weeks, the immortal warrior Aeron has sensed an invisible female presence. An angel—demon-assassin—has been sent to kill him. Or has she? Olivia claims she fell from the heavens, giving up immortality because she couldn't bear to harm him. But trusting—and falling for—Olivia will endanger them all. So how has this "mortal" with the huge blue eyes already unleashed Aeron's darkest passion?

Now, with an enemy hot on his trail and his faithful demon companion determined to remove Olivia from his life, Aeron is trapped between duty and consuming desire. Worse still, a new executioner has been sent to do the job Olivia wouldn't. . . .

Going in to reading the book, I wasn't quite sure about h…

This and That

Here's a photo of my niece, Amanda, new high school graduate, and my daughter, Maya, right after the graduation ceremony. A graduation ceremony with 754 students takes a little time to get through, and Maya did fantastic.

Our trip to New Mexico already seems like a long time ago! Guess I'm ready for another vacation.

Instead, we're getting ready to host my sister-in-law from Philadelphia and brother-in-law from Missouri next week. Fun, fun! I *hate* housework.

Did you see the news about George Washington's overdue book? Mount Vernon Presents George Washington's Overdue Book to the New York Society Library 221 Years Later has the full scoop. I read elsewhere the fine would have topped $300,000, but the NYSL accepted another book as a donation in place of requesting money from the estate.

Any "Losties" out there? I'm not a fan of the t.v. series, but my husband is. He was really, really disappointed in the touchy-feely series finale. I still think …

The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter

I just finished re-reading The Darkest Night (2008), the first book in Gena Showalter's fantastic Lords of the Underworld series. For someone who generally doesn't appreciate series books at all--too much commitment, too much impatience with waiting for the next installment, often takes too long to make any progress with the overall plot--I'm a huge fan of Lords of the Underworld. I rarely re-read books, and most of the books from this series are on my permanent rotation list.

Ashlyn Darrow has an ability she can't control; while in a specific location, she can hear every conversation that has ever occurred in that place. Imagine trying to exist on a day-to-day basis while being inundated with unwanted voices.

After hearing about the Lords, she goes to see if they can help her learn to control her ability. While trying to reach them, she's found by Maddox, the Lord inhabited by the demon Violence and cursed with having to die every night at midnight. Ashlyn'…

New in Town

We're home safely from our visit to New Mexico. Our only complaint about the trip? We didn't get to stay long enough!!

While visiting my sister and her family, we had the chance to watch a DVD of New in Town (Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick, Jr.), which I hadn't seen before--mainly because I expected the movie to be another insult fest against rural people. While the show definitely over-emphasizes some of the stereotypes to get a laugh, the overall effect of the story is more positive than condescending.

Zellweger comes to small town Minnesota at the beginning of winter, leaving behind city life in Florida for her job. She comes to appreciate the charms of her new friends and being part of a community, and not just because Connick is so good-looking and gallant. Her priorities change, and so does her life.

New in Town was much better than the average romantic comedy, though not to the level of being a classic, IMO.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Heading on Vacation

Heading off for a short vacation. We're heading to New Mexico for my niece's high school graduation.

I'll return to posting next Thursday, May 20th.

Fragile Beasts: A Novel by Tawni O'Dell

Fragile Beasts: A Novel by Tawni O'Dell (2010) pushed all the right buttons for this reader.

Told in segments written in different characters' points of view, the book begins with a bullfight in 1959 Spain. Then we jump to the present, when Candace Jack, the seventy-six-year-old woman who loved the bullfighter, is living as a wealthy recluse, surrounded by reminders of Spain and her lost love.

Throw in local high school boys Kyle and Klint Hayes, who just lost their father to a drunk-driving accident after being abandoned by their mother a few years earlier, and you have a lot of room for creating a lot of emotional drama.

I think Kyle's voice, that of the artistic loner who struggles to be more like the other kids and always feels lost in the shadow of baseball star Klint, is my absolute favorite from the book.

O'Dell's writing style is so engaging that I actually found myself wanting to attend a bullfight. Seriously?? Never thought I'd feel that way about bu…

The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper

Yes, I decided to read The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper (2008) because I'm so looking forward to seeing the movie Letters to Juliet. Completely different plots, though, and I'm hoping the movie's story is as fun and light as the one in this book.

After just being dumped by her boyfriend back at home, teenager Kate has sworn off love. Perfect time to then head to romantic Italy, right?

The synopsis:

Italy . . . Shakespeare . . . but no romance?

Kate Sanderson inherited her good sense from her mother, a disciplined law professor, and her admiration for the Bard from her father, a passionate Shakespeare scholar. When she gets dumped, out of the blue, for the Practically Perfect Ashley Lawson, she vows never to fall in love again. From now on she will control her own destiny, and every decision she makes will be highly reasoned and rational. She thinks Shakespeare would have approved.

So when she is accepted to a summer Shakespeare symposium in Verona, Italy, Kate sees it as …

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (2009) came to me highly recommended.

Narrator Tassie Keltjin, farm girl (although I've never personally heard anyone remotely connected with farming refer to a cow's udders as breasts before. . . .) off to university in the "Big City" of Troy, Michigan, lands a job in Fall 2001 as a nanny for a couple preparing to adopt.

Really a coming-of-age story, including a grand romantic relationship for Tassie (yes, that's sarcasm), where she finally learns about Real Life and the Real World in all its nastiness, I just didn't care enough about Tassie to appreciate her slice-of-life experience.

Although I definitely didn't like or appreciate the book, only feeling engaged by my mental image of the child Tassie babysits, I kept reading until the bitter end because I wanted to learn what was "up" with Tassie's employers, who just seemed completely off. Sure enough, the truth about their past is bad, and Tassie is le…

Say Anything

Quotes from 1989's Say Anything (John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler, Ione Skye as Diane Court), one of my all-time favorite movies.

(Dobler chatting with two of his close girl friends)
D.C.: "Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?"
Lloyd: "Cause I'm a guy. I have pride."
Corey: "You're not a guy."
Lloyd: "I am."
Corey: "No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don't be a guy."

Lloyd: "You probably got it all figured out, Corey. If you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise.'

Lloyd: Why can't you be in a good mood? How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in a while?"
Constance (Lloyd's older sister/single mom): "Gee, it's easy."

(on choosing a ca…

Indigo Bridge Books & Cafe

Maya, my five-year-old daughter, and I had a great time visiting Indigo Bridge Books & Cafe, Lincoln's last remaining independent bookstore (unless you count used bookstores), on May 5th. The bookstore is small, cute, and located in the historic Haymarket section of the city. (You can look at their online presence here.)

Maya enjoying her stash of new items while waiting for hot chocolate at Cafe Indigo.

Maya playing with the train in the children's section of the bookstore.

Notice the (pretend, of course) bat hanging in the tree that marks the children's area of Indigo Bridge.

Two Books by Lisa Hendrix

Lisa Hendrix provides a nice addition to the historical paranormal romance with her Immortal Brotherhood series.

Cursed by the sorceress Cwen after killing her son, the knights must live for the rest of eternity, spending half of their time as beasts, half as men. Some of the men are beasts during the day, some during the night.

In Immortal Warrior (2008), Ivo (an eagle by day) receives land, title, and a bride as a reward for services to the English king in 1095. He seeks the assistance of Brand (a bear by day and the leader of the knights) and Ari (a raven by night) as he claims his reward.

Alaida of Alnwick is a strong, interesting woman who weds Ivo in an attempt to do the best for her people--and because the decree of her king leaves no other choice.

I'll admit the story dragged a bit as I waited for Alaida to learn the truth about Ivo. I think a tightening of that large middle section would enhance the story, even if leading to a shorter book.

By the end of this first story …

This and That

Nancy Drew turns 80 this week. Big confession? I've never read a Nancy Drew book. Am I the only woman out there who didn't grow up addicted to the series??

I did watch The Hardy Boys on t.v., but that had way more to do with Shawn Cassidy than the mysteries being solved.

Check out one of my favorite blogs (and not just because her dog Jack sounds so much like my dog Rufus), Kwana Writes, for a summary of a talk given by Suzanne Brockman on Saturday at an RWA chapter meeting. Best tip? Respect yourself as a writer whether you're published or not.

Then another one of my very favorite blogs (and not just because I helped lure her into the world of reading romance novels), Misfit Salon, has this great interview with Laura Lee Guhrke.

And here's a great post from Query Tracker called Handling Critiques Without Getting Defensive. My personal favorite? Remember that a critique of your work is not a critique of you. That can be really difficult to remember, at least for me…

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith, (published 2007, written 1940ish) has a history beyond the actual story. Nemirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942, and two pages of this manuscript survived in a suitcase carried by her daughters as they escaped from the Nazis. The rest of the manuscript was discovered in her editor's possession sixty years later, fortunately for readers.

Nemirovsky creates a slice in the life of the Burgundy paysans (sort of farmers, sort of peasants--uniquely French) by telling interlocking stories of love and betrayal, the kind only found in obsessive, illicit affairs, as seen through the first-person eyes of an aging Silvio. The impact of the past reverberates in the present.

Although I found myself wondering a few times why we were being given so much detail about something that seemed insignificant, everything falls perfectly into place in the hands of the extremely talented, gone much too soon Nemirovsky.

My overall personal rat…

Never After

Never After (2009) contains four short stories from the authors Laurel K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, and Sharon Shinn that turn the traditional fairy-tale romance on its head. No weak princesses waiting to be rescued from an enchanted sleep or a life of servitude here. Nope, these princesses are taking chances and forging their own paths in this world.

Can He Bake a Cherry Pie? by Laurel K. Hamilton, where the princess goes off on a mission with the likely ending of death in order to save a prince who turns out to be less-than-wonderful, and The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu, where the princess faces the enchanted forest, were my favorites. With both princesses hoping to escape arranged marriages, there's a common theme in my favorites.

I'm not a reader of any of the authors in the collection, so I can't say how these short stories compare to their regular works. I definitely liked the alternative, female-centric take on the princess story, thoug…

How to Tame Your Dragon

Maya, my five-year-old daughter, and I went to see How to Tame Your Dragon while we had the day off yesterday. Since Arbor Day is from Nebraska, state employees and Lincoln kids in K through fifth grades had a holiday, and I just used PTO to have the day with Maya.

I can't suggest you see How to Tame Your Dragon strongly enough, especially if you have any young children in your life to take with you.

Nothing terribly surprising here--just a lovely story about a boy who doesn't fit in with any of the other people in his village (a scrawny kid in a village of Vikings) and how he forms a bond with a dragon. And how that relationship between the boy and the dragon leads to a much better future for everyone in the village, all of the dragons, and, especially, the boy.

Sweet, fun, family entertainment, combined with a reminder that being different is sometimes the best gift of all.