Monday, September 29, 2008

Mystery Sequel Round-Up

Dead and Berried by Karen MacInerney: I liked the first in this series, Murder on the Rocks, though there were a couple of annoyances, mostly related to Natalie's brain falling out her head on occasion. Natalie continues to suffer from this malady in the second entry, but I still liked her. Natalie's ex-fiance is visiting from Texas to woo her back to Texas and a life with him. Candy is visiting the Gray Whale Inn to gather tips for opening her own B&B. A possible subdivision has Cranberry Island's preservationists up in arms. And Natalie's best friend is acting distant ever since she started dating the new priest and shunning Natalie's brownies for her diet. Natalie tells us right away that the ex-fiance is an ex for a reason, actually a few reasons, all of them curvy and attractive. So it's hard for me to understand why she doesn't just kick his butt out (he'd made his reservation under a fake name), especially when he and Candy are flirting outrageously in front of Natalie and Natalie's island sort-of-boyfriend, John, is understandably upset about the ex's presence. A whiff of his cologne is apparently enough to make her forget what a cheating jerk he was. Anyway, this drove me up the wall. Natalie also charges off to check things out AGAIN and gets bonked on the head a few times. Does this woman not get that she needs to let someone know where she's going at all times? The mystery was pretty good, not predictable, and I enjoyed the visit to Cranberry Island and its varied inhabitants. And if I didn't like Natalie, I wouldn't be so annoyed that she's being an idiot about her ex. And the Peach Sunrise Bread sounds absolutely amazing--I can't wait to try the recipe. So, all in all, a decent second entry, and I'll give #3 (Murder Most Maine) a try when it comes out in a month or two.

My review of Murder on the Rocks

Charmed to Death by Shirley Damsgaard: I really liked the first entry in this series, Witch Way to Murder, which surprised me--I'm not usually a fan of paranormal mysteries, as the paranormal is either cheesy and annoying or interferes with the mystery. Damsgaard absolutely nails the balance in her series about Ophelia and her grandmother, Abby, both psychic and with their own special powers. In the second entry, Ophelia must face her past, the horrible death of her best friend five years earlier, to prevent more murders. In the first book, Ophelia had rejected her gifts, and by the end, she's accepted them and decided to develop them with her grandmother's help. So in book 1, Ophelia is rather abrasive and not overly likable. I was a bit concerned that we would see some backsliding in book 2, but I was very pleased that the character development was consistent. The suspense in this one was fantastic. I did guess the killer, but I don't think it was horribly telegraphed. Ophelia's continuing relationship with Darci was fun to see, and other returning characters behaved in a consistent, yet interesting, manner. I really like this series, and I'll be picking up the next one soon.

My review of Witch Way to Murder

Busy Bodies by Joan Hess: I love the Joan Hess books starring bookstore owner and busybody Claire Malloy. The first is Strangled Prose. In this entry, Miss Parchester asks for Claire's help--she has a conceptual artist living on her street, blocking traffic and causing protestors to assemble outside his house over his provocative yard displays. Hess quickly explains that the police won't stop him (in a way I didn't really buy, but that's fine--she at least addressed the concern). and Claire sticks her erudite nose into the situation, becoming involved with the mysterious writer, angry neighbor, the born-again protestors, and the artist himself (along with his hangers-on). Claire was extra nosy in this one, but that's fine. Caron and Inez getting picked up by Animal Control while wearing gorilla suits was hilarious. I always enjoy a visit to Farberville and Claire's antics, and I thought this, the 10th entry (I think) was quite funny and well-plotted.

Closely Akin to Murder by Joan Hess: This one was a little different. Claire gets a phone call from her cousin Ronnie, asking for Claire's help. The weird part? Ronnie died a couple of decades ago. Claire learns that Ronnie spent several years in a Mexican jail for killing famous movie producer Oliver Pickett in self-defense. Once she got out, she changed her name and began a new, very successful life. Except someone is blackmailing her now. Claire takes Caron to Acapulco, where she encounters several people involved in the events of 20+ years before. Her search leads her to Arizona (with a hilarious scene in a convent) and Illinois, before she finds the truth. Lies upon lies make her investigation a challenge, but it's Claire, so she gets there in the end. Masterfully plotted with the more disturbing elements (Caron kidnapped, Claire facing a Mexican jail) lightened by Claire's trademark humor, this is an outstanding entry in a delightful series.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The 39 Clues: Maze of Bones

Holly's review here.

The first entry in this much-hyped multimedia series was written by Rick Riordan, but fans of the Percy Jackson series may not recognize it. This isn't Riordan's fault: he has a lot to accomplish in this book and not many pages (220) in which to do it, so little things like character development sort of fall by the wayside in favor of a DaVinci Code-like frenzied plotting along with some necessary backstory. All this might sound like I have a negative review, but I really kind of liked it, and I'm regretting that I didn't pick up a few of those trading card packs :)

Amy and Dan's grandmother, Grace, has died and assembled her heirs (an eyebrow-raising group of hundreds, from Korean to Russian to an American reality TV star) to offer them a choice: one million dollars or a single clue. The clue will lead them to other clues, which will lead them to the source of the family's power (most notable historical figures are Cahills, whether or not they know it). Several groups accept this challenge, including Amy and Dan, who convince their babysitter (their parents are dead, of course) to accompany them on their globe-trotting adventure. They are at a disadvantage as the poor Cahills: the Holts are athletic; Irina, an ex-KGB agent, has poison injectors hidden by long fingernails; the Kabras are worldly; Jonah is loved by millions who watch his show; Uncle Alistair is wily; the Starlings, I think. There are a lot of secondary characters and they never get beyond a single dimension. Amy and Dan were Grace's favorites, so the other teams think Grace must have given them inside information, so they're in danger almost from the beginning. They figure out the clue and head out to find more while avoiding the other relatives. There's a lot of information about Benjamin Franklin, which was interesting and fun. There were some puzzles (look for the page number one!) that were entertaining. It reminded me distantly of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, which i loved as a kid. This is much slicker and shinier (and not on a slow, monochrome computer screen), but the same spirit of adventure and clue-assembling pervades the book/website.

The book comes with six of the collector's cards, and you can buy more. The cards have a code on them so you can create an account and enter them into the web game. Kids ages 6-14 are eligible to win prizes. The website assures parents that there is no communication between players, so it's a safe internet zone for children. While a forum to build teams and share information would be in the spirit of the book (several teams form brief coalitions against their enemies), it's best that they didn't structure it this way. I didn't spend much time on the website, but it seems like a lot of fun. All your cards are displayed, and some have puzzles you can solve for further clues. I would have really gotten into this as a child, and it could be a great spur for reluctant readers to crack open a book. I'll definitely read the second book, which comes out in December.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Staggerford by Jon Hassler

A simple synopsis of this book sounds very boring, but a longer synopsis is tough to flesh out. It's a week or so in the life of Miles, a high school English teacher in Staggerford, MN. Hassler uses selective repetition as part of his humor (example: Coach tells the same story about his wrestling lineup a few times--he seems incapable of thinking about anything else, and his obsession becomes funny through repetition). Miles has been teaching for twelve years, and it's starting to feel a bit on the futile side. He rents a room from the delightful Miss McGee, a spinster who teaches at the Catholic school and laments Miles's loss of faith. Beverly, a student from the wrong side of the tracks, is fixated on Miles, who is attempting to take his sort-of relationship with Imogene Kite to some other level. Call it a portrait of small-town life with a startling plot twist. I wasn't sure the ending, which is quite abrupt, was fair to the reader, but after some reflection, I think it's symbolic of small town life. There are several books in the Staggerford series, and I'm interested in returning to see what happens with the characters.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Fire by Katherine Neville

My review of The Eight here.

Twenty years after first publishing her bestselling novel The Eight, Katherine Neville has written its sequel, The Fire. In reading the sequel, we enter the Game again, and meet up with several characters from the first adventure.

We pick up the story 20 years after Catherine (Cat) and Solarin believe they have put a stop to the Game. We find they now have a 12-year old daughter, Alexandra who is a chess-playing prodigy. Unfortunately, at the tournament that could make Alexandra the youngest chess grandmaster ever, Solarin is killed. Alexandra never plays chess again and Cat squirrels her away to a retreat in Colorado. We fast-forward ten years to find that Alexandra is now working as a sous-chef in a Basque restaurant in Washington, D.C. and has not seen her mother in five years. She then receives an unusual invitation to her mother’s birthday party in Colorado. This is unusual because Cat never celebrates her birthday and when Alexandra arrives, her mother is nowhere to be found. Then, Alexandra learns her mother has assembled an interesting crew of people (some characters from The Eight, others new to the Game), which sets the Game in motion again and Alexandra on a cross-country escapade to find her mother and more.
The present day story is again interwoven with a storyline nearly 200 years before. This time we meet a young girl named Haidee who finds herself part of the Game, which also involves Lord Byron as well as others from the previous book.

Having just finished The Eight two weeks ago, I was a little nervous to start The Fire. The Eight took me a month to get through and was so complex and dense, I was worried this would be more of the same. I was pleasantly surprised with The Fire. I delved into it and was excited to see where everyone was 20 years later. I was interested to learn what Cat and Solarin’s daughter was like and I was curious where Neville could be taking the story. It seems Neville has learned a few things as an author in the last 20 years. She learned to edit a bit. There was less of the story in the past than in the first book. There were a few less characters to keep track of and a good part of Alexandra’s journey took place just in the United States. I was quite intrigued by the puzzles and story through two-thirds of the book. From the beginning, Alexandra doesn’t know who she can trust, even people close to her. She has no idea where her mother’s clues are taking her or what is involved. We learn as she learns. My only complaint is the last third of the book seems to fizzle compared to the first two-thirds. I started losing interest and felt bogged down in random facts. I also don’t think Alexandra is quite as strong as Catherine was in the first book. But I think that just reflects generational differences somewhat. Whereas The Eight was incredibly complex and intriguing, I found The Fire to just be interesting. There were sections I was incredibly engrossed in, such as the description of the philosophy behind the city plan of Washington, D.C. There was information on Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. I found this whole section fascinating. I also really liked her explanation of balance where heaven and earth meet, ying-yang, the marriage of the black team and the white team in the Game. But Neville failed to grasp my attention throughout the entire book and I found myself speeding through to get to the end. I think I give this 3.75/5 stars.

This book has a bit of everything, mystery, suspense, action, historical fiction, and even a touch of romance. Neville also does a nice job of explaining some of what happened in the first book. I believe you could read The Fire as a stand-alone book and be satisfied.

Another review here at The Book Nest.
You can get a copy of The Fire on October 14th when it hits the shelves of your nearest bookstore.

If you need some laughs with your mystery...

Brigadoom! by Susan Goodwill: This book was hilarious, and a good mystery to boot. Just ignore the Evanovich echoes. (I just had to look up that phrase, "to boot," which seems to make no sense. I found: "This term has nothing to do with footwear. The 'boot' is thought to be a derivative of the earlier 'bat' meaning 'good or useful'. This is also the root of the word 'better'." on this highly useful site (if you're a big English nerd). Moving on...

Kate London is sent to anger management class after hitting her cheating fiance, Mayor Ronnie Balfours, (in a port-a-john) with a golf cart. Meanwhile, she has a month to get the family legacy, a crumbling Egyptian theater (newly condemned by an angry mayor), in shape for a production of Brigadoon her crazy Aunt Kitty is putting on. When Mayor Ronnie turns up dead in Kate's car, she's dragged into a mystery involving vandalism of the Egyptian, dumpster diving, real estate intrigue, and a fellow anger management student. Susan Goodwill is really funny, the writing is snappy, and the mystery well-plotted. If Aunt Kitty and her friend Velma remind you a bit of Grandma Mazur and Edna, well, that's okay. There are echoes of Plum, to be sure, but the story is original, and the characters well-developed. (Dr. Al the pissed-off anger management teacher is a gem!) I had fun reading this, and I recommend it to anyone fond of a humor/mystery combo.

Back to the usual

It's time to get caught up on reviews! I'll start with the juvenile puzzle mystery type books. This is the companion post to this post right here., in which I reviewed The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. I set out to read several juvenile novels in a similar vein, but the third was mis-printed, thus missing many pages, so I had to wait for the replacement. It sort of derailed my whole plan, but I've finished Chasing Vermeer, Shakespeare's Secret, and The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World. The interesting thing to me about reading all five in a short-ish period of time is that I had lumped them all into one category, but they're really quite distinct from each other.

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett: I've read that this is like DaVinci Code for children, but it's far better written, and there are elements of Magnolia as well. It takes place at University of Chicago Laboratory School, which was a lot of fun for me because I lived near there for three years, and Matt, who lived there as a child, actually went to Lab School. Petra and Calder, two U School students, are brought together by an eccentric elderly woman, mysterious letters, a troubled teacher, and the theft of a Vermeer painting by a thief who ostensibly has ideals. The crime has baffled the FBI--can two precocious children solve it using puzzles and coincidences? I enjoyed the highly improbable mystery and the unfolding coincidences. It takes a while for everything to come together, but Petra and Calder's budding friendship gives the reader something interesting while we wait. I would have loved this book as a child, with all the puzzles to figure out and a very complicated plot that doesn't underestimate its readers. The added element of learning art history is fantastic--like the world seized by interest in Vermeer in the book, children reading this will be sucked right into learning about Vermeer, and it could spark an interest in other mysterious artists.

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach: This was similar to Chasing Vermeer, but the focus here is on never-popular, unassuming Hero Netherfield, named after the Much Ado About Nothing character by her Shakespeare scholar father, and her developing confidence as she grows into her name and begins to make friends. The plot is much more simple, even stripped-down compared to Vermeer, more a crossword puzzle than a Dan Brown potboiler. Hero's new house, she learns from her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Roth, has a mystery: a diamond that was supposedly stolen may still be hidden there. As her friendship with Mrs. Roth grows and she is drawn into the mystery, Hero begins to learn about Shakespeare and the mystery surrounding his identity (along with some history of the time period), while making friends with the popular Danny Cordova. The story is more plausible and understated the the slick-by-comparison Chasing Vermeer, and the characters are more developed, leading to a surprisingly touching conclusion. Like the art history in Chasing Vermeer, the literary history in Shakespeare's Secret is sure to lead at least some readers into further research.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsberg: I loved E. L. Konigsberg as a child. I checked all her books out of the library, and read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a dozen times, not to mention Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (Konigsberg does not shy away from the long titles), and more recently, I had loved The View From Saturday, so I was the most excited about this book, but it was the one in the group of five that I liked the least. Amedeo wants to distinguish himself by discovering something, anything, of significance. He ends up helping a classmate, William Wilcox (who HAS actually discovered something important), prepare eccentric neighbor Mrs. Zender's house for an estate sale. He finds a sketch signed by Modigliani, who was reviled in Nazi Germany. Coincidentally, his godfather is working on a Degenerate Art exhibit at his museum. It takes forever for everything to come together, and the writing seemed odd to me. Very stilted dialogue, almost stylized and theatrical, with odd repetitions. I didn't really sympathize with Amedeo and William the way I did in the other four juvenile mysteries I read because they didn't feel real and fleshed out. The sections from Peter's (the godfather) point-of-view seemed out of place in a children's book. Mrs. Zender was more pathetic than anything, and a most unsympathetic character. The history lessons with Nazi treatment of art were interesting, however. Maybe I just missed the point on this one.

You're all winners!

Actually, that's not true in the sense of winning the remaining BBAW giveaways, though I'm sure you all have your good qualities. I had a lot of fun with BBAW, and I appreciate everyone who came by to visit. Thank you for entering!

The winner of the Chelsea Cain giveaway is Wendy!

Only three of you bothered to do the treasure hunt, which was sort of disappointing, since I thought it was kind of fun. The winner of the treasure hunt is Lauren, who will soon receive a box of goodies, plus America America. I decided to name the other two entrants runners-up since they did all the work, too. Gwendolyn will receive the mystery books and Carol will receive Lookin' Back, Texas.

The guess-how-many-books-in-my-piles was disturbing, as it made me actually do a count. I lost count a couple of times, and thought I was done prematurely, when I would suddenly remember that small pile in, say, the guest room closet. Anyway, the number is 96. I know! Isn't that ridiculous? A chunk of that is made up of mysteries; for example, I have all 18 or whatever Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries and haven't read them yet. Not sure if that makes the pile number seem better or not. Darby, who guessed 94, is the winner and will receive Wife in the North.

Thank you to everyone for entering! My postage budget for the month is pretty shot, but I think you can count on future giveaways here. We had a lot of fun doing this.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And now, for a winner!

I just realized the Sundays at Tiffany's contest is over! I'm off to pick a winner......

Okay, I'm back...and the winner is BECCA!! Congratulations!

Just as an FYI:
It was close between Friday and Saturday for most favorite day of the week. Friday won out though. Sunday and Tuesday came next, then Monday, and last with one vote each, Wednesday and Thursday. :-)

Thank you to everyone who participated! Hope you all have a good week!! And please visit us again. We'll be hosting more giveaways in the future! And I believe Allison still has one or two contests open here!

Friday, September 19, 2008

BBAW wrap-up!

Today is the last day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! We will, however, continue to appreciate you after today, so do come back to see what we're up to.

I had decided that yesterday's post would be the last giveaway of the week (unless Holly thought of something) but instead, I'm going to do one more, just for fun. The winner will get the book(s) not claimed by the Treasure Hunt prize winner.

One question: How many books do I have in my TBR piles? (Yes, that's "piles"--plural.) The person to get closest to the real number wins! Post your comment with your guess no later than Monday, September 22 at 11:59 p.m., EDT.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

And some more appreciation!

Today's theme for Book Blogger's Appreciation Week is Brag on Yourself. We're supposed to pick favorite past posts and link to them. Then you go back through our archives and get to know us a little better. I thought of something a teensy bit different that still gets to the same end result. (Holly, are you up for linking to your favorite reviews later today?) I'm going to send you on a little treasure hunt through the archives. I've decided to let you choose your favorite book: an ARE of America, America by Ethan Canin, Lookin' Back, Texas by Leanna Ellis, Wife in the North by Judith O'Reilly, or a Mystery Combo: May Day by Jess Lourey AND Cooking Up Murder by Miranda Bliss. And since I'm making you do so much work to enter, I'll throw in a few goodies: homemade jam, scones, and tea to enjoy with your new read (note: poor wording aside, the tea will NOT be homemade). Use the tags or my LibraryThing link to help you out.

If that's too involved for you, don't forget our Chelsea Cain contest (ending tomorrow night) and our Sundays at Tiffanys contest.

1. Which blog-based memoir did I prefer, Queen of the Road or Wife in the North?
2. True or false: I am a Jane Austen addict.
3. Which of these is NOT one of my favorite mystery authors
a. Joan Hess
b. Joanne Fluke
c. Kate Kingsbury
d. Donna Andrews
e. I'm a mystery junkie and I love them all
4. Find one book I said I couldn't finish reading.
5. Find a juvenile fantasy series I've reviewed and name one thing I like about it.

E-mail your answers to hollybooknotes AT gmail DOT com (we don't want anyone cheating off your answers, now, do we?) no later than Monday, September 22 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Include your first and second choices for prizes (if there's room in the flat rate box, I'll chuck in your second choice, too). All entries with five correct answers will go into a random drawing with five entries (one per answer). For an extra THREE entries, blog about this contest and tell me that you did. I'm going to open this one up to anyone, anywhere, but if someone without a US mailing address wins, I'll split the prize--the international winner gets their first choice of book, and I'll choose a second winner to receive their choice of the remaining two books, plus the goodies. Have fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another Contest!

Since it's Wednesday, I thought I would tell you all we are having another giveaway, just to lighten your spirits for hump day and help you get through the rest of the week!

We are giving away a hardcover copy of Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson! A quick read about a girl and her imaginary friend meeting again once she's grown up.

And here's what you can do to win:

1) Leave a comment here saying you would like to be entered and answer one of the two following questions: A) What's your favorite day of the week and why? or B) Did you have an imaginary friend growing up? Tell us about him/her. :-) If you answer BOTH questions you will get TWO entries.

2)Receive THREE extra entries if you blog about this contest and send me the link.

In the spirit of BBAW and our blog readers world-wide, I will open this contest to both US and international folks! Happy Wednesday! The contest will close at 11:59pm on Sunday, September 21st. Even though BBAW ends on Friday, I think we need to leave this one open until Sunday because its just so fitting with the book title. :-)

If this particular title doesn't interest you, check back tomorrow because I think we'll be hosting one more contest before the end of the week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mystery and Attempted Mystery

I love cozy mysteries, and I'm always on the lookout for a new favorite series. I really enjoy watching a character develop in the course of a series, revisiting favorite places, and reading a good mystery. This post is about four different first novels in mystery series, three delightful and one...meh.

Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet: This is the first St. Just mystery, written in classic drawing-room mystery style, with contemporary sensibilities. Malliet's prodigious wit is used to great effect in this novel, and she's a fantastic writer. I laughed out loud several times (at least twice with a very uncouth snort). The children of mystery writer Sir Adrian are dragged back home to witness his marriage to (they assume) one of his bimbos. Even Ruthven, widely known as the favorite, has little love for his father. When Ruthven is found dead, DCI St. Just and Sgt. Fear try to untangle the web of family secrets and lies before another murder is committed. The mystery was complex and satisfying, with several unpredictable twists, and St. Just and Fear are likeable but funny investigators. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and I'm looking forward to the next installment, Death and the Lit Chick.

Murder on the Rocks by Karen MacInerney: This was a promising debut mystery, not a slam-dunk like Death of a Cozy Writer, but a lot of fun and interesting enough that I'll pick up #2, Dead and Berried. Natalie has put all her life savings into the Gray Whale Inn, located on remote Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine. I have always wanted to go to Maine, although my only exposure to Maine is through Stephen King novels and Murder She Wrote reruns. Bernard Katz, a developer with plans to put a resort on Cranberry Island, is staying at the inn. The scenes with Katz remind me of why I shouldn't own a B&B...customers, ick. Katz's son and daughter-in-law live on the island, but they've had a falling-out; hence, Katz's booking with Natalie. When Natalie finds Katz's body, the local law enforcement, her friend John, knows she had nothing to do with it, but he doesn't have any real power in the investigation--and the sheriff is convinced of her guilt. Natalie decides to investigate in between batches of cranberry scones and blueberry coffee cake. I really enjoyed Cranberry Island and its inhabitants, and for the most part, I liked Natalie. I had a couple of quibbles with this mystery--I'm not a fan of the amateur-sleuth-withholds-evidence-from-authorities device. Even with the sheriff suspecting her, there was no good reason not to tell John everything she knew. The other is that she stumbles into a dangerous situation out of pure stupidity. It's like her brain fell out of her head for half a chapter. But I liked this well enough to seek out the second in the series.

Witch Way to Murder by Shirley Damsgaard: This one was a real surprise for me. I've tried paranormal mysteries before (Madelyn Alt) and didn't like them, but this was a well-written, complex mystery with well-developed characters. The paranormal elements complemented the mystery well. Ophelia is a small-town librarian, having left the big city after her best friend's murder, and returning to be near her grandmother, Abby, an Appalachian wise woman. Ophelia herself has "the sight" but she's turned her back on her gift, unlike her grandmother, who is a healer and herbalist. A mysterious stranger comes to town asking questions in the wake of drug-related thefts plaguing the town. Abby senses a greater evil at work and warns Ophelia that she's at the center. I adored Abby and Darci (who turns the ditzy blonde stereotype on its head), even if Ophelia was a bit hard to like at times. She really grew on me by the end, though, and it's clear she'll be more likable in future books. The mystery was decent, if a little pedestrian despite the paranormal elements. I'll be picking up #2, Charmed to Death. There are currently five of these out, yay!

Cooking Up Murder by Miranda Bliss: This one just didn't do it for me. I trudged through 100 pages before tossing it aside. I didn't even bother to flip to the end to see what ended up happening. Mysteries are supposed to be fun and entertaining for me, not feel like work. Annie's best friend, Eve, signs the two up for cooking lessons as a way of cheering up Annie, who still hasn't bounced back from her divorce. Eve is a flirtatious dimwit who takes credit for everything Annie does, and dates half the town. Annie expresses contempt for Eve, supposedly her best friend. They overhear Beyla, a fellow student, arguing with the leather-clad Drago. They also witness an altercation between Drago and the owner of the store hosting the cooking classes. Annie hears Drago's last words, and Eve leaves out important information when talking to the cops because the cop is her ex-fiance's new woman. Annie, who is apparently a total doormat, goes along with this felonious obstruction of justice, so the women feel compelled to investigate. I could see where the plot was going, and I just didn't care. I didn't like Annie or Eve, and the mystery felt like it was going to be ridiculous and contrived. That's it for me on this one!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Another Winner!

Anna, of Diary of an Eccentric, has won Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict! I hope you enjoy the book.

Thank you to all who entered!


It's finally here! Book Blogger Appreciation Week hosted by fellow blogger My Friend Amy! If you participate this week, you could win one of these great prizes or books!

Daily Raffles:
Monday–Books and Chocolate sponsored by My Friend Amy and Hey Lady! Whatcha’ Readin?
Tuesday–Books and Going Green sponsored by My Friend Amy
Wednesday–Books and Coffee sponsored by My Friend Amy
Thursday–Books and Charity sponsored by My Friend Amy and Fashionista Piranha
Friday–Books and Movies sponsored by My Friend Amy

Win a Book Club Girl Hostess Survival Kit!
Do you find it’s your turn to host book club and not only do you not know what to serve but you don’t know what books to offer up for the next month’s selection?! Let Book Club Girl come to your rescue with the Book Club Girl Hostess Survival Kit.

One lucky winner of the kit will receive:

* A basket of cheese, crackers, cookies and wine for up to 12 people
* 5 great book group books to vote on for your group’s next pick. And Book Club Girl will then donate 12 copies whichever book is chosen for your entire group to read.
* 12 Book Club Girl mousepads to give out as party favors that night
* 12 Book Club Girl bookmarks to mark everyone’s favorite passages
* 12 Book Club Girl coasters to protect your coffee table from all those wine glasses!

TWO SORMAG Goody Bags containing books and more!

A Special Pamper Me Basket from Cafe of Dreams!
From Avon Foot Works
~ Inflatable watermelon shaped foot tub
~ 3.4 FL oz Watermelon Cooling Foot Lotion
~ 3.4 FL oz Watermelon Exfoliating Foot Scrub
~ 12 count Watermelon Effervescent Foot Tablets
~ An ARC of So Long At The Fair by Christina Schwarz
~ A variety of Hot Chocolate and Tea mixes

A pre-made blog template from SNSDesign!

A Subscription to Poetry Magazine from Savvy Verse and Wit!

Mistress of the Revolution by Catherine Delors
The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen
The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax
John’s Quest by Cecelia Dowdy
Confessions of a Contractor by Richard Murphy
Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris
The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
The Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer
Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
A Tale Out of Luck by Willie Nelson with Mike Blakely
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Exit Music by Ian Rankin
The Smart One and the Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik
Gunmetal Black by Daniel Serrano
Isolation by Travis Thrasher
The Miracle Girls by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
Every Freaking! Day With Rachell Ray by Elizabeth Hilts
Dewey by Vicki Myron
The Shiniest Jewel by Marian Henley
Keep the Faith by Faith Evans
The Book of Calamities by Peter Trachtenberg
A is for Atticus by Lorilee Craker
After the Fire by Robin Gaby Fisher
Mike’s Election Guide by Michael Moore
War as They Knew It by Michael Rosenberg
Fixing Hell By Col. (ret.) Larry C. James
Wild Boy: My Life with Duran Duran by Andy Taylor
The Last Under-Cover: The True Story of an FBI Agent’s Dangerous Dance with Evil By Bob Hamer
Border Lass by Amanda Scott
Insatiable Desire by Rita Heron
Hungry for More by Diana Holquist
Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
Trespassers Will Be Baptized by Elizabeth Emerson Hancock
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not by Trish Ryan
Never Surrender by General Jerry Boykin
Dream in Color by Congresswoman Linda Sánchez, Congresswoman Loretta Sánchez
Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton
Cobain Unseen by Charles R. Cross
Doing Business in 21st Century India by Gunjan Bagla
Branding Only Works on Cattle by Jonathan Salem Baskin
Launching a Leadership Revolution by Chris Brady, Orrin Woodward
How to Hear from God by Joyce Meyer
Knowing Right from Wrong by Thomas D. Williams
Pope John Paul II: An Intimate Life by Caroline Pigozzi
Pure by Rebecca St. James
He Loves Me! by Wayne Jacobson
So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore by Wayne Jacobson and Dave Coleman
Move On, Move Up by Paula White
The Rosary by Gary Jansen
Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts
The Choice by Nicholas Sparks
Right Livelihoods by Rick Moody
by George by Wesley Stace
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
Trunk Music by Michael Connelly
Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh
Dead Boys by Richard Lange
The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters by Lorraine Lopez
Sisterchicks Go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn
Beyond the Night by Marlo Schalesky
With Endless Sight by Allison Pittman
Harlequin Titles: To Be Announced

And today we've been asked to post about book blogs that we love to read but didn't make the list of nominations for awards. Here are a couple blogs I really enjoy:

The Optimistic Bookfool: I found this blog through LibraryThing. Its owner, Kelly and I had more than 70 books in our library that were similar so I figured her blog was worth a look! And glad I did!

And for YA and kid lit books, I really enjoy Abby the Librarian and BookMoot.
Otherwise, many of the blogs I read were nominated for awards.

And there are a ton of giveaways going on right now. Here is the list!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The 39 Clues

The 39 Clues by Rick Riordan (author of The Percy Jackson series) is the first of ten books in a series that is geared toward middle-grade readers. The goal seems to be to lure readers (most possibly reluctant readers) in with not only the books but combining the series with collector's cards, a website, and online game. Each book in the series will be written by a different author. The second book already comes out in December and 39 Clues just came out this past week.

Grace Cahill, grandmother to Amy and Dan Cahill, passes away. People from far and wide attend the service, and several receive invitations to the reading of her will. They soon find out they must choose between accepting one million dollars each or joining in a quest for the Cahill family treasure which will lead to becoming the most powerful person in the world. The quest consists of finding 39 clues to figuring out the secret of the Cahill family. Many generations have been searching for years to uncover clues and it seems many historical figures were part of the extended family.

As with many children in adventure books, Amy and Dan's parents died when they were younger. They spent weekends with Grace Cahill and the rest of their time in an apartment with au pair. Because they spent so many hours with Grace, many other members of the Cahill clan think the siblings know more than anyone else and the clues. They target them and try to knock them out of the race.

The first installment of the series covers Clues 1 and 2. Ben Franklin is a large part of the first clue and we learn many interesting facts about him as we follow Amy and Dan on their first adventure to Paris. They fight off other members of their family to discover Clue #2 and make their way toward Vienna by the end of the book.

The collector's cards that accompany the book lead to online clues. The Collector's Pack of 16 cards that you can also buy contains cards for Books 1-3. You can tell from them that Thomas Jefferson and the Titanic are also part of the journey.

I thought the book was fun, but a little lower reading level than I may have liked. I know their target audience is ages 6-14 (there are money prizes for participants who find clues first and uncover the Cahill family secret--you are only eligible for prizes if you are 6-14 years). I look forward to reading Book Two to see how the story progresses. I'm also curious if the tone of the books will change at all between the different authors' voices. I think its an interesting approach to marketing and bringing kids into reading by combining all the elements of the books, cards, and website. It also speaks about the future of children's books and producing blockbuster reading series. It was also smart to have Rick Riordan write the first one to lure his fans of the Percy Jackson books into this series and get them hooked.

Ironically, the premise of this series makes me think of it as a children's version of Katherine Neville's The Eight. A multi-generational world-wide quest for a secret to become the most powerful person in the world. Sounds familiar. And with that, I'm off to start Neville's sequel, The Fire!

Friday, September 12, 2008


Amanda over at A Patchwork of Books is hosting a giveaway of 5 signed copies of Masterpiece by Elise Broach. This sounds like a really good YA book. You can check out the giveaway here and Amanda's glowing review here.

Traci over at Traci's Book Bag is also hosting a YA giveaway of Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox AND a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble. You can win extra entries if you can guess the titles of the book cover snippets she's posted. What a fun idea!!! I knew three of them and felt I should know three more.

We will be hosting our own contests here next week! So be sure to check back in with us!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chelsea Cain BBAW Contest!

Don't forget that Book Blogger Appreciation Week begins this Monday, September 15! We're working on all sorts of fun things for next week, and here's the first.

One lucky winner will receive a hardcover copy of Heart Sick AND an Advance Reader Edition of Sweetheart!

Here's how to enter:

1. This step is not optional! This is for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week event, so entries must be received by the end of the event, September 19 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Comment on this post to enter. Leave an e-mail address so we know how to reach you. Answer the following question: What is your favorite series character and why? How does the character change as the series moves along? (For our purposes, "series character" means any character who appears in two or more books. Genre is unimportant.)

2. For an extra THREE entries, blog about this contest with a link to this post.

3. For even MORE entries, come back every day next week. Every meaningful comment you leave between September 15 and September 19 gives you one more entry. Comments saying "Nice post" or other insubstantial communications will be disregarded.

These are going to make for a bit of a heavy package, so I'm going to restrict this contest only to folks in the U.S. Sorry! We'll have more giveaways next week, though, so non-U.S. residents, please come back!

Well, I TRIED to be thematic...

After my Jane Austen spinoff post, I was very enthusiastic about trying another thematic post. Sadly, I reached page 162 of the third book in my proposed quartet, at a very exciting part (the hero trapped in the basement with no apparent way out) and realized that the printing had gone awry. Instead of finding out how the basement bit worked out, I got a repeat of a few dozen pages followed immediately by the last part of the book. Ugh! Fortunately, Amazon was very cooperative, and a new copy is on its way to me. I was going for a juvenile puzzle-related theme. I read The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. (The misprinted book was Chasing Vermeer, and my fourth was Shakespeare's Secret--I'll come back to these two.)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: What a fun book. Exactly the sort of book I would have loved as a kid. Reynie, an orphan, answers an ad calling on "gifted children looking for special opportunities" and undergoes an odd series of tests. He and three other children are asked to help save the world by Mr. Benedict. Reynie is a problem-solver, Sticky is a font of knowledge (and a sponge), Kate is resourceful in a McGyver kind of way, and little Constance, well, you'll just have to see. This first part is filled with puzzles and mystery. The second part of the book takes the children undercover at a mysterious school. This part, though different from the first, was really fun. It was like James Bond for children. The villain and his nefarious plot for world domination are straight out of a spy movie. The children must find clues and put them together to defeat the villain. Besides the rollicking plot, the book explores the meaning of family, the value of education, and working together (every member of the team is important). It was surprisingly sweet in addition to being an excellent adventure novel.

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin: Winston Breen sees puzzles everywhere he goes, and he loves solving them. When he gives his sister an ornate box for her birthday, she discovers a secret panel that hides three puzzle-like pieces of wood. Winston soon teams up with an unlikely group (two treasure hunters, the town librarian, and an ex-cop) to solve the puzzle, which sends them on a treasure hunt. Winston is likable, the puzzles are fun, and the treasure hunt is entertaining, with a few twists that keep it moving. If the premise is a little unlikely, the execution makes me tend to work a bit harder to suspend disbelief.

I assumed that these books would be similar (except that Mysterious Benedict Society is significantly longer), but they ended up going in very different directions. I'd recommend both to bright kids and to adults who loved puzzle-related books.

Killer Heels by Sheryl J. Anderson

It seems our book club has been on a bit of a chick lit kick lately (Killer Heels, Sundays at Tiffanys, Last Summer (of you and me), and Bitter is the New Black). While I like the occasional light chick-lit read, I am not one to read a lot in a row. I never did get into The Last Summer. But I have to say I enjoyed Killer Heels more than the others. And I'm looking forward to the very NON-chick-lit pick of The Shack by William P. Young for our October book.

I think I enjoyed Killer Heels more than the rest because its technically classified as a mystery. Molly Forrester is an advice columnist for Zeitgeist magazine in New York. She and her friend stumble across the dead body of her co-worker and Molly becomes determined to figure out who murdered him. Because who wouldn't do that for a colleague, right? It had nothing to do with the fact that it would be an amazing story to write and get her out of the advice doldrums. She and her two best friends work through the various witnesses and suspects and do indeed figure out the killer AND she gets her article published in a big time magazine!

This was a very light, fun read. Just what I needed after The Eight. I read this basically in a day versus the month it took me to get though that book! Whew! So nice to just whiz on through this book. There's not a lot of depth here. I liked the character of Molly and I enjoyed her friends. It did have a Sex in the City feel with Molly and her girlfriends and their banter. The mystery itself is not that mysterious. I suspected something was up with the character who was the killer, but I wasn't sure if she was having an affair with the deceased or if she killed him, or BOTH! :-D (And there are multiple mistresses in the book, so I didn't give anything away!)

A fun read, but not sure it will foster much deep discussion at book club.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Contest

If you're reading this, you're a Book Blog Reader! You might have noticed the Book Blogger Appreciation Week logo at the right. This is coming up next week, and it's intended to celebrate book bloggers AND their readers. Jennifer at Literate Housewife is getting a jump on BBAW by hosting a contest to honor you, the readers of book blogs. She has some fantastic prizes, so head on over to enter.

We'll have plenty going on next week at On My Bookshelf, so don't forget to stop by. All our elaborate plans are top-secret, it's not that we haven't even thought about it yet...

Monday, September 08, 2008

A winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered our first ever giveaway! The response was amazing! I wrote everyone's entries out on fortune cookie sized pieces of paper and drew one out of my favorite mixing bowl. The winner is...BunnyB, who will be receiving her copy of Anatomy of a Boyfriend as soon as I can get to the post office.

I was really interested in everyone's favorite books as a teen, and also in the embarrassing stories. They all had such similarity, most having to do with being clumsy. I thought that was funny. I can remember being mortified by tripping or spilling something as a teen, and those are things I just laugh off now. Being a teenager definitely falls into the "couldn't pay me enough to do that again" category.

Anyway, thank you for making our first giveaway such a success! Enjoy your book, BunnyB!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Questory of Root Karbunkus by Kamilla Reid

If you’re going to publish a juvenile fantasy book in this post-Harry Potter world, you invite comparisons. Particularly if your cover features a red and gold bird, three kids wearing cloaks, and a large castle (that we learn is under a powerful curse called...a Krux). Also if your heroine is an orphan raised by mean aunts. Especially if your heroine learns she belongs to another world and returns there along with other clueless kids who now know they have magical abilities. And if, in the dining hall, your heroine notices a shifty, greasy-haired adult who favors the bully in the group (and said bully, born and raised in the magical world, has only nasty things to say about the newcomers who weren’t raised with magic), have you gone too far?

Synopsis: Root Karbunkulus, an orphan from the world of DreAmm, was raised by two "aunts" who treat her as a slave. One day, she hears the ring of a phone no one else can hear. She finds out the truth of her origins and reports to DreAmm where she becomes part of a Quest, a competition to find six magical items. The first item is the Miist of Kalliope, and she is teamed up with Lian (whose father is powerful in DreAmm) and another orphan, Dwyn. Notable competitors include the bully, Kor, and the Pinks, a team led by an annoying girly-girl whose influential mother has always gotten her way. These aren't the only obstacles, of course, as the Quest is very dangerous, but the team is guided by the elderly and eccentric Jorab. Will Root and her team find the Miist so they can go on to star in five more books, each devoted to a different magical item?

This is a difficult book for me to rate. The Harry Potter similarities dominated the reading of first part of the book for me, and there are a couple of glaring flaws (not to mention inept comma usage and other editorial problems that drove me to distraction), but the bottom line is that I want to read Book 2, and not just because I'm a desperate soul in need of a Harry Potter fix. I was fortunate to win this copy from a giveaway at Mama Bear Reads, which is now The Library at the END of the Universe, and I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to read it. Kamilla Reid has a fine imagination and a way with storytelling, when she's not overly conscious of being clever or outdoing Harry Potter. The latter half of the novel was particularly engaging, and I finally forgot that I was reading a post-Potter fantasy. One of her characters, a wisteria vine, was really creative (in fact everything about the scenes with Bumplekins was spot-on), and I loved the Hovermutts with their sweet backstory. Root's meeting with the gentle Mordge was a lovely, touching scene. And the whole bit with the Simp is beyond cool--very inventive and well-executed.

The two glaring flaws: First, Root shows a startling lack of interest in her origins. If you discovered that your aunts weren't your aunts at all, but had found you with a note telling them to take you to an orphanage, and you were returned to the magical land from which you came...wouldn't you be wondering, "Am I really an orphan? If not, where are my parents? If so, what happened to my parents? Why was I sent to live on earth? Why was I called back now?"

Second, they are barely in DreAmm (ugh, that overly clever name drives me nuts--it's pronounced Dray-am, not Dream), and many have not even found their magical abilities, when they are sent on this quest, and we have no idea what the purpose is. Is it a contrived contest, like in Goblet of Fire, or are the items needed for some greater purpose (to save DreAmm from the enemy we finally hear a bit about after page 140 or so)? If it's a contest, why not have training for the newcomers first? What’s the occasion? If it's for a greater purpose, why send children, especially the clueless, magically inept newcomers? I can understand wanting to save background for future books (even Rowling did that, with Dumbledore saying he'd tell Harry about things when he's older), but to not even acknowledge that the reader would have these questions is sloppy.

Overall (finally, I can hear you muttering), I would recommend that fans of Harry Potter and other juvenile fantasy novels give this one a try. I found a lot to like here, and I hope that the issues that were driving me bonkers will be addressed in future books, and that Reid will step out of the Harry Potter shadow and embrace her own ample creativity.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Eight by Katherine Neville

It took me forever to read this nearly 600-page book and I'm afraid it will be difficult for me to be concise in this review. There were so many things going on in this crazy web of a novel.

Two stories flip-flop back and forth throughout the course of the novel: one begins in an abbey in France in 1790 and the other begins at the end of 1972 in New York City. The 1790 storyline starts by telling the story of The Montglane Service. A storied chess set belonging to Charlemagne which supposedly holds the secret to infinite power. It was extremely dangerous if all the pieces of the Montglane Service were united. There were people searching for the pieces to gain this power and others who worked hard to make sure the pieces did not fall into the wrong hands. It fell to a young nun named Mireille to keep the pieces safe and we follow her journey to discover the secret contained in the chess set. According to the novel, many were after the Montglane Service including Catherine the Great, her son Paul I, and Napoleon. The novel really is a fictionalized account of European history.

Fast-forward to the 1970 storyline. We meet Catherine Velis, an incredibly smart woman on the rise in the computer industry. She is the only woman in the company she works for, and when she stands up for herself against her boss, he retaliates by sending her on assignment in Algiers. After Catherine witnesses two murders just before her trip to Algiers, and encounters a Fortune Teller who tells her not to go to Algiers, she is intrigued. She enlists the help of several friends: a physicist named Nim, a chess player named Lily Rad and her family, as well as Solarin, a Russian chess player with a mysterious side to him. She figures out that the Fortune Teller's message is in code, and through a series of events she becomes very involved in a worldwide hunt for the mysterious Montglane Service.

I spent the entire book trying to figure out how everything pieced together and while the book becomes extremely long in the middle, it finishes quite well. The two storylines eventually come together in a somewhat mystical way. Chess is the entire book, not just about the chess set, but we learn the characters in the book are playing a real life game of chess. The question is: Who will win The Game?

The blurb on the front of the book compares it to The Da Vinci Code. In my opinion, this book is far superior to that. It is much more well-written and not quite so sensational. I felt The Eight was an incredibly dense and academic book. I was treated to a history lesson of late 18th century France and the start of the French Revolution. In the more present day story, OPEC and the politics/social customs of Algiers take center stage. I don't think this book needed to be 600 pages. I think it would have done fine at 450 with a little less description. Mireille's journey gets to be a little bit tedious. I also think there were just too many characters. At the end of the book, I was still saying to myself, "Okay, now who was that character's brother again?" It was difficult for me to remember and keep all the relationships straight.

But I must say I thought it was a good book. And I find it amazing how intricately Neville weaves all the characters and stories together. She clearly did an incredible amount of research in order to create this novel. I can't say I enjoyed this read because it really did seem like work to get through the book. But I liked the story and liked where it ended up. If you are looking for a bit of a more dense read and like puzzles and working things out I really would recommend this book. I give this one 4 stars only because it is too long, otherwise it would have been 4.5 or 5 stars for me.

Look for a review of the sequel, The Fire coming in the next couple weeks. Just have to throw in a few light reads before I tackle that one. :-)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Jane Austen-o-rama

I'm an instant gratification book blogger. I read a book, put it down, and post a review. So it was REALLY hard for me to wait to post the review of the first book in this post, but I thought it'd be fun to do a themed post with several reviews. I really should have done that with Wife in the North and Queen of the Road, since they begged to be compared to each other. Anyway, if you're not a fan of Jane Austen books, movies, and derivative works (the endless spin-offs, alternate point-of-views, sequels, and mystery novels), you can skip this post. If you are an Austen junkie, please enjoy this review of the good, the bad, and the hilarious in Austen-lit, and don't miss the EXCITING GIVEAWAY at the end of the post!

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler: I won this book through Reading Group Choices, a neat site that offers great suggestions for book clubs. This book had a lot of potential, but it never lived up to it. After Courtney Stone nurses a broken heart (both her fiance and her best friend, Wes, have betrayed her) with vodka and Jane Austen novels, she wakes up in another body, in another time and place. Everyone calls her Jane Mansfield (ha!), and she struggles to assimilate into her new world (where it appears she's engaged, or close to it) while figuring out how she got there and how to get back. There are some really, really funny parts to this book (Jane's mother is a horrible woman who threatens to have Jane committed if she doesn't do as she's told by marrying well and Courtney's snide internal monologue and passive-aggressive dealings in letters and conversation are gems), but ultimately, it was disappointing. Courtney is plagued by memories from Jane's brain, leading her to wonder about her identity and the nature of self, and this novel suffers from a similar identity crisis. Is it a gentle satire of Jane Austen's works, sharing the "truths" that Austen leaves out (it's smelly, the air is polluted, bathing is rare, chamber pots are disgusting, tooth powder-ew, not to mention what happens in a Tampax-free world when a woman has her "monthly courses")? Is it a reflection on modern society and how it compares to "simpler" times? Is it a scifi/fantasy novel about a woman dropped into another place and time who must find her way back? Is it a romance between Courtney and Wes? Rigler can't seem to decide, so it ends up doing most of these things, but none of them terribly well. The main problem is the Courtney/Jane dichotomy. I had trouble even thinking of her as Courtney because her life in LA is barely part of the story. I didn't care if she got together with Wes because I never saw Wes except in a couple of flashbacks. It would have been better if she and Jane had shared a name. Courtney spends too much time overanalyzing the situation--if I'm going to have to suspend disbelief in such a major way (and I'm fine with that!), I'd rather get it over with and skip Courtney's wondering about whether she's dreaming for pages and pages when it's obvious she's not. The explanation for what happened isn't particularly satisfying, and it might have been better to have skipped an explanation entirely or made the explanation more central to the story. Instead, the storytelling is caught between "What happened?" and "How do I cope in this time/place?" and "Do I love Wes?" The last was the least interesting. It would have been more cohesive if either the story had started before Courtney wakes up as Jane so I could see her interaction with Wes and what's-his-name-the-fiance and what happens to send her to Regency England OR (my preference) if the novel focused on her assimilating into Regency England. There is a lot to like here--the parts with Courtney struggling to act like Jane are lots of fun, and she gets to go to London and Bath in addition to her country home. It's fun to see this life through the eyes of a modern woman. The novel as a whole just fails to hang together. Die-hard Austen fans will probably enjoy the description of real life in Regency England, though--I did.

Austenland by Shannon Hale: What a fun, fun book. This one knows EXACTLY what it is--fluffy chick lit with a Jane Austen bent, and it does it well. Jane Hayes has a bit of an addiction to Colin Firth's Pride and Prejudice (Hale adds a tongue-in-cheek dedication to Colin Firth), and it's ruined her for normal men. Her great-aunt finds this out and leaves her a trip to Austenland in her will. Austenland is the ultimate haven for Austenphiles, a realistic Regency resort where guests (all female) dress up in empire waist gowns and corsets and basically pay to have Regency gentlemen court them. Jane thinks Austenland might be the perfect way to rid herself of her Mr. Darcy obsession, and off she goes. The resort is hilarious, and Jane waffles between enjoying the experience and needing something more "real" in the form of an attractive, forbidden gardener. She's intrigued by the gentlemen, especially the infuriating Mr. Nobley, but she realizes they're paid to be intriguing. Meanwhile, Jane, a graphic designer, rediscovers her love of painting (it beats sitting around doing embroidery) and figures out what she actually wants from life and relationships. This isn't great literature, but it's cute and entertaining.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster: This is exactly what it sounds like, a choose-your-own-adventure with Austen's novels as the storylines. If that sounds stupid, don't buy it (though amazon had it for $3.99, which is why I picked it up), but I really enjoyed it for what it was. It's silly, yes, but I haven't done choose-your-own-adventure in decades. I always loved them, but I'd peek at the options I didn't choose :( I know, it's a character flaw, and I still do it. Anyway, I've had fun with this! There are optional scorekeeping categories, but I didn't bother with that. The scorekeeping notes and other commentary are hilarious. You start out in Pride and Prejudice and can veer into other novels. Make the wrong choice and end up ruining your family, having a tragic marriage, or even dying a horrible death. I would have liked to see more choices, as there are several long sections during which important decisions are made, and not by you. But it's a fun little game, and I enjoyed it.

Edmund Bertram's Diary by Amanda Grange: I really wonder how many more of these Amanda Grange will do. She's done Mr. Darcy's Diary, Mr. Knightley's Diary, and Captain Wentworth's Diary. And I see that she's done Colonel Brandon's Diary, but it doesn't seem to be available in the US. I wonder if she'll do Northanger Abbey next, or Edward Ferrars from S&S. At any rate, I enjoy these! They're like popcorn for Jane Austen addicts. Is it necessary to have the diaries of the heroes of Jane Austen's novels? No, the novels stand on their own just fine. But it's awfully fun. Grange does a good job of blending the familiar scenes with the addition of offstage occurrences, and Edmund's diary is no different. It actually made me remember why I think Edmund is a bit of a doof, but he's a lovable doof, so that's fine. It's a fun, extremely quick read.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! I happen to have a spare copy of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Among these four books, that was my least favorite, but I hope I made it clear that it has its enjoyable parts. There must be other Jane Austen fans who would enjoy a FREE hardcover copy. If you would like this one, here's how to enter:

1. Leave a comment with your e-mail address and your favorite Jane Austen hero (and why).
2. For an extra three entries, blog about this post and tell me you did.
3. Enter by Sunday, September 14 at 11:59 p.m. EDT.

Don't forget about our Anatomy of a Boyfriend giveaway! Enter by the very last moment of THIS SUNDAY for your chance to win.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More giveaways!

Hi! Yes, I'm still here. See, I was smart in roping Allison into co-blogging with me. She sure knows how to pick up the posting slack when I haven't been posting much lately (THANKS Allison!). I am currently reading The Eight by Katherine Neville with The Fire also on deck before the end of September. It's taken me awhile to get through The Eight. But I'm almost done so hopefully I'll be able to post a review in a couple days.

Anyhoo, the reason for this post! Abby the Librarian is hosting a giveaway where two lucky winners can pick from a list of her favorite books of 2008. You can check it out here!! And here is a list of the books you might win:
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
George Washington Carver by Tanya Bolden
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale
Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor
Nate the Great Collected Stories (audio!) by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, read by John Lavelle.
Good Enough by Paula Yoo

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion

(Shameless plug: Don't forget to enter our first-ever (but not last!) book giveaway by this Sunday, September 7!)

I picked up Queen of the Road at the same time as Wife in the North. Both were memoirs about women relocating in a dramatic way to accommodate their husbands' dreams, both grew from blogs (though I didn't know it when I ordered them), and both were LibraryThing Early Reviewer selections in the same month. The reading experiences could not have been more different. I won't go on and on about my disappointment that Wife in the North simply reprinted blog entries, as I've already written that review, but I will say that Queen of the Road was a blast. Refreshingly written in normal-book format, with chapters, and character development, and unity of purpose (not to mention hilarious, delectable martini recipes preceding each chapter), Queen of the Road chronicles the year Doreen spent with her husband in a converted bus (don't feel too sorry for her--it's a luxury home on wheels), seeing America and learning what's really important in life. At the very beginning, when Doreen announces she's a proud Long Island Princess with 200 shoes, I was bummed because I never understand women with that many shoes, and I'm not so much into fashion. Fortunately, Doreen proves to be much different from the shallow, materialistic woman I had expected. The best part of the book is watching her grow as a person (from a semi-hermit who works from home and spends as much time in pajamas as possible to a true Queen of the Road), closely followed by learning about different places in America along with her.

If you had asked me before I read this book, "Hey, would you ever spend a year in a converted bus?" I would have laughed and laughed, but Doreen's journey actually And liberating, eye-opening, and life-changing. Doreen is funny and instead of whining constantly about "the bus thing" her husband is so keen on, she embraces the experience. Her marriage with Tim is really inspiring, and "the bus thing" manages to bring them even closer together. There were a few points of self-reflection when I uncharitably thought she devolved into trite platitudes, but you know what? Reminders that "things" are not as important as people, or that people can change and grow, or that venturing out of your comfort zone can open your eyes--these are not unique, but that's because they are a part of the human experience, and the way Doreen finds her way (and herself) is refreshing. This book is highly readable, fun, and inspirational.