Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert

I used this graphic novel by Marc-Antoine Mathieu as a quick entry for the Art History Reading Challenge. Yes, I do plan to actually read an adult fiction or nonfiction book for this challenge. But just haven't gotten there yet. :-)

I enjoyed the three other graphic novels I've read in the last year so I thought this would be a fun addition to my reading for this challenge. The basic storyline follows Monsieur Volumer, an expert in his field of indexing, cataloging, and evaluating museum collections as he travels through the Museum. He enters the Museum and begins to go through its holdings, making his way through each and every storage area, traveling deeper and deeper into the depths of the museum. This very short book (at 60 pages) is full of fun and sarcastic humor with regard to museums and the art world. For example, the first few pages discuss how the lower levels of a museum all look the same and you can get lost in the similar hallways, but that you eventually "end up getting used to it all." (page 8). Anyone who has ever worked in the basement of a standard museum will chuckle at this as yes, most museums have limestone, solid foundations, built to withstand all. And most are all painted exactly the same and seem to be a maze of hallways with access doors. Later in the book, fun is poked at "the archives service" or the mountains and mountains of paperwork found in a museum. And so it goes on from there.

The philosophy of art is also discussed throughout the book with regard to paintings and what truly is art. Are reproductions of art art within themselves? or just the original masterpiece? There is one section where a gentlemen is obviously referencing the Mona Lisa without really saying it. He discusses how the invention of the camera obscura really changed the way art was viewed. He said there were many copies of different paintings and the staff would change them out. He used the example of one painting of a woman in which they had many copies each with a different facial expression. He would change them out in the gallery periodically and people would be curious about her change of expression, never knowing that the painting had actually been changed. But someone took a photo of the painting where she is smiling slightly, and it ended up in an art book. He's had to leave that one up ever since. He claims it's a shame that no one will ever see the other paintings again. Obviously this has never happened, and its meant to be funny. I really got a kick out of how creative Mathieu was in getting his points across about the irony of art and the museum world.

Now, all that being said, the book was a bit jumpy, moving quickly from topic to topic, never expanding long on anything. And I'm not sure someone without a museum or art background would really enjoy this book at all. I give it four stars because I loved how accurate he was with his museum references, but I think this would be a 2.5 or a 3 out of five stars for someone without this kind of background. But then again, I'm not sure why someone would be drawn to a book like this if they weren't interested in art and museums. So that shouldn't really be a problem. :-)

Three Books, Three Winners!

Fantastic Book Review is offering three books to three winners. Comment there with your choice from among The Hunger Games, Graceling, and Deadly Little Secrets.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More on Gilda Joyce

Allison reviewed the first Gilda Joyce awhile back and I picked up the second book in the series "Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake" at the library last month. Even though I started with this one instead of the first in the series, I really didn't feel like I was missing much. It worked fine as a stand-alone book.

Gilda decides to take advantage of an opportunity to attend an all-girls private school thanks to a recommendation from her mother's boyfriend. He had an 'in' with the school's headmistress as her car salesman. After hemming and hawing, Gilda decides to attend when she discovers an interesting ghost story at the school. A few years before, a freshman drowned in the lake by the school. There is a rumor that her ghost is now haunting the school. Instead of taking her studies seriously, Gilda takes on the case and starts snooping around. She diligently records all of her observations and findings in letters to her father typed on an old typewriter. He passed away and she writes to him as a way to still feel connected to him.

I enjoyed Gilda quite a bit. And thought the mystery was quite fun. I felt it was a bit long for what it was and perhaps some of Gilda's journaling could have been edited down. I will read the others in the series at some point, though, I'm not jumping to get to them as fast as I can. Small random side note for you: Although, I like the cover of the book in and of itself, the image of Gilda kind of bugs me. She appears so elfish looking on the cover. And that is just not how I pictured her in the book. In discussing this annoyance with Allison, she pointed out that this elfish/waifish look seems to be a trend in middle-grade fiction lately. Please reference the covers of Theodosia, Joy of Spooking, and Suddenly Supernatural as further proof. Hmm...wonder why this is? Do elfish-looking female characters sell more books?

Susan at Bloggin' 'bout Books also wrote an extensive review recently of the entire Gilda series.


Allison's notes:

I can't believe I forgot to review Ladies of the Lake and The Ghost Sonata! I'll just add a bit here.

Ladies of the Lake: I liked this entry in Gilda's adventures quite a bit. It's a good standalone, but it also develops Gilda a but further. The typewriter connection to her dad is very sweet. The first book had more of a Harriet the Spy feel--Gilda has outrageous costumes and spies on the neighbors--that this one was missing, because Gilda is already undercover in her school uniform.

The Ghost Sonata is the third in the series, and it's the creepiest. Gilda's best friend, Wendy Choy, is invited to participate in an international piano competition, and Gilda manages to join the group as Wendy's page-turner. Once in Oxford, Wendy is haunted by a strange melody, mysterious tarot cards, and nightmares about a ghostly boy. The girls discover that a previous participant in the program died years ago; could he be haunting Wendy through music? Backstabbing competitors and a grueling practice schedule complicate matters, but rest assured that Gilda will get to the truth while spouting outdated British slang in hilarious fashion and maybe even flirting with a British boy.

The Red Blazer Girls by Michael D. Beil

I came across this delightful book at Ms. Yingling Reads. After reading her review, I quickly added it to my wishlist and then in a book-buying splurge, I purchased a copy! And I'm really glad I did for many reasons. One: it appears The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour is going to be a first in a series (yay!); two: the story involves some museum/art info which I always like; and three: it also includes many references to literature and pop culture (Monty Python!).

The story starts off with Sophie St. Pierre seeing the face of an old woman in a church window across from the classroom she is sitting in. She and her two BFFs, Margaret and Rebecca decide to investigate and end up discovering an elderly lady that lives next door to their Catholic school. The old lady, Ms. Harriman enjoys the girls' company and enlists their help in locating a birthday present her father hid for Ms. Harriman's daughter 20 years earlier. The girls begin a treasure hunt full of fun (but relatively easy) puzzles and they are not even sure the clues or the "treasure" will still be located where Mr. Harriman hid it all those years ago. The girls embark on an adventure where they encounter clues not just in literature, but art, math, architecture, classics, and more!

I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Margaret is the brainiac, Rebecca is the artist, and Sophie is a math whiz. They each seem to have their special talents. The girls are 12 years old and act like pretty typical middle school kids. Each of the characters in the book have their own family dynamic going on and I felt like we got to know them pretty well. None of the characters seemed flat. Some of the explanation for the answers to the clues got a little wordy...especially the math explanation. I'm not sure children reading this book would be thrilled to be reading an explanation of an alegbra equation or graphing algebra answers (UGH!). But please don't let that deter you from this fun middle-grade mystery. I liked the wide range of topics covered and feel like there is something for everyone in this book. This will be sure to please fans of Nancy Drew! And I'm excited to hear there will be more in this series in the future!

Another giveaway!

Enter to win Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer here at Ultimate Book Hound!

Win Testimony by Anita Shreve

Enter at Enter at Enroute to Life!

Also enter here at A Circle of Books!

Fun Fantasy Series

The Secret of Grim Hill by Linda DeMeulemeester: This is the first book in the series, and it introduces Cat Peters, who has just moved with her mother and little sister Sookie to Grim Hill, where she is utterly miserable at Darkmont High. Cat longs to attend expensive Grimoire, where her mother works, but money is too tight. Cat comes across a flier for a soccer game that will result in the awarding of a scholarship to Grimoire, and she focuses all her energy on making the team, then on winning the game. Oddly, her previously harsh teachers ignore her failure to hand in homework, instead cheering her on. Her usually responsible mother splurges on new soccer cleats for Cat and seems obsessed with Cat's winning the game. Cat drags Sookie to her practices, and on the sidelines, Sookie meets a strange Goth girl, Cindy, who warns her that the game is not all it seems. Cat knows that something is a little off, but she so desperately wants the Grimoire scholarship that she tries to ignore her misgivings. She and her friend (sort of) Jasper research the past soccer game mentioned by Cindy and discover that many of the participants went missing. I liked Cat and the supporting characters, and the Celtic mythology was really well-incorporated. The book is a bit on the short side, so the other girls on the team weren't developed as well as I would have liked, but it was a quick, enjoyable read.

In Cat's second adventure, Grim Hill: The Secret Deepens unseasonable cold takes hold of Grim Hill as Sookie becomes obsessed with magic tricks. Cat is embroiled in a gender war with the boys, who claim that boys are inherently better at soccer. With Sookie's magician's assistants all suffering from an odd flu, Cat and Jasper try to find a connection to the fairies (they thought) were locked up tight in Grim Hill. I like that Cat is an excellent soccer player--I'm trying to think of another tween series (at least fantasy) with a girl who is good at sports, and I'm coming up empty. I liked her fevered defense of the girls' athleticism, too. She's a strong, spirited heroine who might make a good addition to a Harry Potter-reading girls' library. She's a good leader, but she works well with Jasper and other characters.

In Grim Hill: The Forgotten Secret, Valentine's Day is coming, and Cat ends up planning a dance. She finds decorations at school from the dance 70 years before, of which memories (and newspaper accounts) are fuzzy. What happened at that dance? And can it have anything to do with Cat's new friend, Lea, and her gardening aunt? Sookie befriends Lea's aunt and starts a garden of her own, even juicing up the "love charms" Cat makes for her boy-crazy friends, causing the charmed boys to act like zombies. Cat and Jasper research Celtic myths once again to find out what's going on in town and how to stop it. The cooperation with their elderly neighbors (who know more than the average Grim Hill adult about the odd fairy happenings) is especially touching in this installment.

The series is well-written, the Celtic fairy lore well-researched and well-incorporated, and Cat is an excellent heroine. My only complaint is that I wish the books were longer, which is a good sign! DeMeulemeester has created a fascinating world populated with believable characters and a strong dose of fantasy. What fun!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Annie's Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg

Annie's Ghosts is an ambitious part memoir, part investigative journalism effort by veteran reporter Steve Luxenberg, who discovers a family secret he can't leave alone. Unlike the usual tell-all, emotionally driven memoirs on the market, Luxenberg's background makes this an impeccably researched, thoroughly engaging account based in facts. Brief passages summarizing relevant personal memories give the story a personal feel that isn't found in the average history book, but the focus of the book is on the untangling of lies from a factual perspective. Luxenberg decides to tell the extraordinary story with the timeline of his own research and revelations rather than attempting to fictionalize past events, and this gives his story immense credibility.

When Luxenberg's mother is ill, he hears a hint of her deepest secret: a woman who drives her to doctor's appointments calls to ask if his mother had had a sister--she mentioned something about a sister who had been institutionalized as a small child. Luxenberg responds that his mother has always talked about her life as an only child, and more or less forgets the exchange until evidence surfaces after his mother's death that there was, in fact, a sister named Annie. Luxenberg's investigative reporting instincts kick in, and with his siblings' blessings, he digs around a bit, to find that Annie not only existed, she wasn't institutionalized until his mother was in her twenties. How can this be possible, with his mother's frequent discussions of being an only child? He looks for photos, anything at all about Annie from his mother's childhood, and comes up empty. He begins to widen his search, interviewing relatives and securing medical records (no easy task in this patient-protective society), to discover the heartbreaking fate of Annie and to look for evidence that would explain why his mother had kept this secret. His investigation dips into the Holocaust, the treatment of mental health and disabilities throughout the 20th century, and the American immigrant experience in an utterly fascinating narrative.

I don't normally read nonfiction: I usually find it either too dry or too fictionalized, but in Annie's Ghosts, Luxenberg has created a tale perfectly balanced between the personal and factual. The story is riveting, and told with such sensitivity and scrupulous reporting that I highly recommend it, even to those who usually avoid nonfiction.

Available in hardcover May 5. Pre-order it here!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sworn to Silence Winner

Thank you for all the great comments on the Sworn to Silence contest! There's a ton of mystery/detective books out there and it was fun to hear everyone's favorites.

And now, without further ado...drumroll please....the winner is: Lesley!

She left the following comment, "I don't know if it counts as a detective series but I sure do enjoy Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series. It's got mystery, intrigue and vampire / werewolf politics! What more can a gal ask for?" Sure sounds fun to me!! :-)

Congrats Lesley! And be sure to send us an email to claim your book!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Picture Book Thursday

We're featuring books about cats today! My girls, especially my five year old, are very into kitties right now. Oh, does she want a real kitty. She even told me she was saving her money up to buy a cat of her own and that she was going to take care of it, feed it, clean the cat box, AND vacuum. Um, sure she will. But it's pretty cute nonetheless.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel is a very cute book about a kitty who is mad at his owners for running out of food for him. He goes through the house wreaking havoc, but not just any havoc, alphabetical havoc. Bruel cleverly creates several alphabetical lists to go with this story to help reinforce learning letters. At least four repetitions of different lists throughout the book. The kitty's mother comes home from the store and lists all the yummy treats she's purchased for kitty. And after seeing his owner buy him yummy food, the kitty sets out to be a good kitty and reverse much of his naughtiness from earlier in the day. This is a really cute book and I highly recommend it. Bruel also has a sequel called Poor Puppy which also incorporates numbers along with the alphabet. And if you have a slightly older child who loved Bad Kitty, there is a very short novel with TONS of illustrations (probably more illustrations than words) called Bad Kitty Gets a Bath. And look at the fun stuffed version of bad kitty you can get from Barnes and Noble!

Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton features an adorable cat named Splat who is nervous about going to school. But once he's there he learns all sorts of new things including maybe cats aren't supposed to be best friends with a mouse (like he is). Splat brought his mouse friend to school and the mouse ends up getting chased by all the cats. But in the end, when the snack cupboard lock is jammed, the mouse saves the day by unlocking it. The cats learn that maybe mice aren't too bad after all and Splat learns he likes school and is excited to go the next day. Scotton has a second entry in the series called Love, Splat about a valentine Splat wants to give a girl at school. While the text is cute, the illustrations really make these books! Love them!

We got this book from the library. I'm not sure where I heard about it (I'm pretty sure it was one of the awesome book blogs out there that I read). Each page of this book has a different type of cat on it with some information about that type. But the best thing about this book is the illustrations! Each picture of a kitty is made out of other objects or materials in the form of a collage. For example, one cat is made out of circuit board parts, a computer mouse, and office supplies. Very creative! And fun for the kids to look for objects that they are familiar with.

Random comment: Why do all the kids books about cats feature black and white kitties? There's If You Give a Cat a Cupcake too. Did someone do market research and somehow discover that children like books with black and white cats best? I know for babies and toddlers black and white are more eye-catching and stimulating....anyhoo, just randomness running through my head this morning.


For some of our Picture Book Thursday posts, I have to think hard to come up with 2-4 books on the topic. Not so with cats! We have two cats, and Lilah adores them. She also adores books about cats. So narrowing it down was the problem this week!

CAT by Matthew Van Fleet
The definitive "cat" book, CAT by Matthew Van Fleet employs adorable photos with interactive pull-tabs, textured inserts, and flaps along with clever, simple rhymes to introduce children to a range of cats with different characteristics. Lilah loves pushing the tab to make the grey kitty dip his paw into the goldfish bowl. The flaps and pull-tabs are at the cutting edge of sturdiness (and as a parent of a toddler who has stayed up late to superglue ripped-off tabs, I consider myself an expert), guaranteeing hours and hours of fun. Lilah loves the photographs of different cats, and the rhymes are fun to read aloud. The very last spread includes the name and breed of all the "stars" of the book, plus a surprise final flap to finish the rhyme scheme. We love Van Fleet's supremely art-directed books, which include the amazing Alphabet, Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, Monday the Bullfrog, and DOG (which we don't have yet).

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner We were introduced to Skippyjon Jones, an imaginative Siamese kitty boy with a penchant for trouble and a flair for Spanish, in the simple board books about colors, shapes, and counting, and Lilah loves him. So when we saw a jumbo hardback at Barnes and Noble in the bargain book section, we grabbed it. This book is bigger than Lilah! She thinks its size is lots of fun, and she sits through the whole, involved, tongue-twisting story. I have to admit to some conflicted feelings about Skippyjon's stories. He pretends to be a Chihuahua and goes on adventures. In Skippyjon Jones, the first book, he heads to Old Mexico and uses a sort of Spanglish to help out the bean-eating dogs who need help from El Bumblebeeto, a giant bumblebee who steals their beans. I have to be honest that if Schachner's last name were Rodriguez, I would just think the story is funny and encourages imagination and an awareness of Spanish (there are some contextual "lessons" in Spanish), so I think I'm just being overly PC. When I don't obsess over the PC-ness of the storyline, it's great fun to read, and Lilah loves it.

Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle This is a simple early reader. Lilah already "reads" it to herself and her stuffed animals, because most of the book is: "Have you seen my cat?" and "That is not my cat!" as a child searches for his pet. He is directed by people of various cultures to cats who turn out to be pumas, jaguars, tigers, etc. until he finds his cat. Matt hates reading this one because it's the same words over and over, but Lilah loves it, and her reaction when she yells "No! That's a cheetah!" is too cute. Carle's trademark modern-art illustrations are colorful and arresting, and the simple words are great for a child learning to read.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mystery Monday: Sequels Edition

Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz: I liked The Spellman Files, and liked the sequel, Curse of the Spellmans, even more. But the third entry, Revenge of the Spellmans, is the absolute best yet. Izzy Spellman has left her job in the family P.I. business in favor of a bartending gig. She's in court-ordered therapy after that "misunderstanding" that led to her violation of a restraining order (she has trouble letting go before an investigation is complete). She swears her car is always in a different place than she parked it. And she's squatting in her brother's basement. So she's not in the best place. She takes on a single case, a husband who wants to set his mind at ease about his wife's fidelity. It all seems routine: Linda, Ernie's wife, just meets with a friend, as she had told Ernie. But something seems off, and it's not long before Izzy has uncovered some very strange information about Linda. While I knew that learning to let go and stop obsessing over the case was probably best for Izzy, I really, really wanted her to keep obsessing because I wanted to know what the deal was with Linda and her friend Sharon. What's great about this entry is that Izzy has to grow up. She doesn't have to lose all her quirks or become less funny, but between the therapy, the threats by her parents to sell off the PI business, the imminent out-of-state move by her attorney/good friend, and her lack of a real home, something's got to give. Izzy grows a lot as a person, but she's no less entertaining. Rae, Izzy's teenaged sister, also has some growing to do, as she's embroiled in a PSAT cheating scandal and interfering (somewhat feloniously) in Henry Stone's current relationship. All the threads come together in an absolutely hilarious way that only Lutz can pull off. I highly recommend this series and I'm looking forward to the next one.

Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidson: I've been reading Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Bear mysteries for years. I think they were my first cozy mysteries. Fatally Flaky is #15, and I had fun reading it, but the series is starting to lose some steam. We had murder-by-car-accident again (I think that was back in #2). Teenaged son Arch was barely there. Now he's annoying, but still, it was bizarre that he was MIA for almost the whole book. And Davidson gave Goldy a beloved godfather...who has never been mentioned once in the fourteen previous books, despite his huge influence on her life. That last one bugged me the most. The convoluted plots don't actually bother me--they're fun and campy, but I like internal consistency. That said, the recipes were great, the interaction with Boyd was hilarious, it was fun to see Julian so capable, and Tom was less constantly nagging about his wife's interference in investigations (perhaps he's given up). So it was fun, but not the best in the series, and I wonder how much longer Davidson can keep the series going.

Mystery Monday

I have been enjoying the Ophelia and Abby series by Shirley Damsgaard immensely. I'm so glad I borrowed it from Allison. My thoughts on the first two books can be found here.

Book #3: The Trouble with Witches
In this one, Ophelia and Abby (and later on Darcy) travel to rural Minnesota to investigate the disappearance of a young girl close to Rick's family. Damsgaard brought back good looking Rick from Book 1 for this installment. As Ophelia looks into the disappearance weird activity takes place. She blacks out, it seems there are ghost lights across the lake from their cabin. Abby figures out that Ophelia has been hexed. They meet an odd Native American shaman and are not sure if he is on the side of good or dark magick. Out of all of this, Ophelia gets to know a young girl Tink who appears to be a medium. Her guardians are not treating her properly and in the end Ophelia decides it might be best if she becomes Tink's foster mother.

Book #4: Witch Hunt
In Book 4, Ophelia struggles with her newfound motherhood, especially when the child is already 13 years old and dealing with all the intricacies of the junior high social scene. It also seems that bikers have invaded their quiet little Iowa town. When Darcy's cousin is accused of killing one of the motorcycle gang, Ophelia can't help but get involved.

I think I liked Books 3 and 4 better than the first two. I really enjoy the established characters. I think it was very creative for Damsgaard to find a new location for Book 3 to liven things up a bit. And then she introduced the character of Tink to bring more life into Book 4. It seems she's very aware that a book series can get stale or formulaic and she's doing a great job of keeping on top of that issue.

It's funny because I like the series so much, I jumped right into book 5. But then I realized, I needed to take a little break. I get annoyed when reading series of books too close together because I don't like some of the repetition that you find (even if its very minimal). I like to give a series a little breathing room so when I visit it again, I'm excited to see what the characters are up to. I also find I need to do this with formulaic authors such as Jodi Picoult. That's why I can only read one or two of an author's books a year. I have to spread things out. Otherwise, I get bored with the author's writing style.

Allison's reviews of books 3-5 can be found here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

39 Clues: The Sword Thief (Book 3)

I just wanted to throw my two cents out there on this one. I won't do a full synopsis because Allison already reviewed it here, and I don't want to give away any of the plot points.

I actually liked this chapter of the story quite a bit. I felt like it slowed down just a bit, and wasn't so full of fast-paced adventure. It had a little more back story which I enjoyed. And there were hardly any of the characters I find annoying (mainly the Holt family and the female spy her name Irina? See I can't even remember her name). I really enjoyed the play between Uncle Oh and Dan and Amy. And I liked them teaming up with the Kabra siblings, though I won't get into too much of what happened with them. I don't want to give anything away.

Have I said this before? I think I have. This series is a kid-sized version of Katherine Neville's The Eight and The Fire. :-) A quest to learn the secret of Alchemy.

It appears Book 4 comes out June 2, Book 5 in August and Book 6 in November. They really are moving along in the series and keep kids interested by having the books come out so soon after each other.


(edited to add: Note To Self: It's way more fun and faster to just photograph book covers myself). ;-)

I've gotten a little behind on everything in my life lately. Mostly because I had to stop everything and deal with our home finance stuff (yeah, love taxes.) and I've had a few photo shoots lately that are taking up spare time to edit. I've gotten to photograph some really cute little kiddos though! Fun! So unfortunately, my reading average went way down for the month of April so far. And I'm also really REALLY behind in my book reviews. I think I have about 6-7 books I need to get written up.

But the books keep coming in! Which excites me, because that means I have lots of choices to pick from when I do have time to read. Maybe too many choices! Wait, you can never have too many books, right? ;-)

Here's what came in the past week or so:
From Penguin Young Readers:

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love Lauren Tarshis (An ARC)
Camp Confidential:Books 1-4 by Melissa Morgan
Camp Confidential: Reunion by Melissa Morgan (An ARC)
The Summer Confidenital Series: Books 1-3 by Melissa Morgan
I'm most excited about Emma Jean Lazarus and have already requested the first one Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree from the library. The Melissa Morgan books were just sent to our blog for review. They look like the might be fun summer reads. :-)

I've been using my Bookmooch points to create a library for my girls for when they get older. I really want to have a bookshelf they can go to and just browse and pick out something to read. Which is why you'll see a lot of middle grade and YA books coming to me from there. And some like Spud are just for me because I think they sound like fun.
From Bookmooch:

Whispering to Witches by Anna Dale
Spud by John van de Ruit

In a fun box sent from Allison, along with some of her yummy homemade sauces (Thanks Allison!):

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron (An ARC)
Darling Jim by Christian Moark (An ARC)
The Sam Aquillo series by Chris Knopf (3 ARCs, one published)

My TBR pile has grown exponentially in the last month or so. I have no idea how I'll get everything read. But it sure is fun to look at my bookshelf and nightstand and pick out the next thing to read!

Mailbox Monday is a weekly feature hosted by Marcia from The Printed Page. Head over there to see what other people received last week!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

When I saw the tagline for this book I made sure to request it from Ballantine Books! It said: For fans of Jodi Picoult and Sue Miller, a dark, edgy, page-turning debut about the lengths one woman will travel to escape her past

Doesn't that just suck you in?! I was very excited to read this one. And it was definitely a page-turner. I read half the book on a car trip and was so riveted I didn't even realize it when we were almost to our destination! I had to keep reading to find out what happened to the characters.

Alex, also known as Cat by her friends and family, has been away from home for over 10 years. Her mother's suicide brings her begrudgingly back to the place she escaped long ago. Although she has three children, Cat's mother addresses her suicide note to her, "Cat, He isn't who you think he is. Mom xxxooo" Although, Cat wants to get out of town as fast as possible after her mother's death, she is drawn to the note and trying to figure out what her mother meant. Her mother also claimed that Cat would know where to find the key to the safety deposit box holding the deed to the family farm. These factors and keep Cat in town where she must face the demons from her past.

This book is definitely dark, edgy and a page-turner as the tagline suggests, but I can't say I enjoyed the book. It's subject matter of family abuse, and the psychological torment of Cat's mind make this a very serious book. The subject matter is disturbing and it is very difficult to read about Cat's teenage years. You feel sorry for her and wish one of the characters in the book would just step up, realize what's going on, and help her. I hated what happened to her. But I will say, after making it through the darkness of the book, the end is very redeeming and ends in a better place (maybe that's saying too much or giving too much away, hope I didn't ruin it for anyone).

The book flip-flops between present day and the past fairly easily with a pattern every other chapter. Toward the end it gets a little jumbled up but it was still pretty easy to follow. This is a book to read curled up in a comfy chair at home with a blanket and a warm drink in hand. Not sure I'd recommend it for a vacation/beach read. But it's definitely well-written and sheds light on domestic abuse. Teri Coyne talked to many women survivors in writing the book. I look forward to other books by Coyne, this was a very good freshman effort. According to the author info, Coyne performed stand-up comedy, maybe her next book will have a little lighter subject matter. :-)

The book should be available in bookstores July 28, 2009.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sworn to Silence Giveaway!!

I somehow ended up with a second copy of Sworn to Silence in my mailbox. So, I'm GIVING IT AWAY!

Click here to check out my review of the book and then come back and leave us a comment to enter!

1. One entry for your comment (please include email address)
2. One entry for telling me your favorite detective/police novels.
3. Two entries for becoming a follower or subscribing to us in Google Reader
OR Three entries if you are ALREADY a follower/subscriber (be sure to let me know in your comment).
4. One additional entry for blogging about this giveaway and letting me know.

You only have to leave me one comment with all that information, multiple comments are not necessary. :-)

Contest open until April 21st 11:59pm Central Time. I'll announce the winner on April 22nd!

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow

I received an ARC of The Late, Lamented Molly Marx from Katie at Ballantine Books (Thanks Katie!). I thought it sounded like a light enjoyable read. That it was!

The book opens with Molly's funeral. She is a 35-year-old wife and mother who is unexpectedly killed while out riding her bike one afternoon. Molly's story is told mostly from her point of view as a spirit in the Duration. The Afterlife is never referred to as Heaven or anything else other than the Duration. And Molly has Bob as a spiritual guide in the Afterlife. There are a few rules...she can only listen to one person's thoughts at a time and she can flit about seamlessly through time and location.

There are two things going on in this book. First, Molly does not remember what happened to her so she tries to solve the "mystery" of her death. Some people think fowl play was involved, others wonder if she committed suicide. Molly's past is the second storyline of the book. We move back and forth through time through Molly's memories juxtaposed by what's happening in the present. The book is well-written in that the story is seamless and you are never confused about what time you are in or what is happening.

Koslow's use of Molly's "ghost" is a clever way for the reader to see what all the characters are up to and flit in and out of their lives as they move on from Molly's death. The book is well-written in that the story is seamless and you are never confused about what time you are in or what is happening. Koslow throws in a few humorous quotes as well. In one toward the beginning, Molly is talking about the "gated community" her husband chose to bury her in and its location 6 blocks from IKEA. She says, "A shame I don't need any furniture because I have plenty of time to decipher the directions." (pg. 15**). (chuckle, chuckle)

I enjoyed the lightness of this book, it was easy to read. There were a few things that bothered me. The state of Molly's marriage is a large chunk of the book and it bothers me how she entered into her marriage with out really considering what she was doing and what a jerk her husband was. It bothered me that Molly chose to stay in her marriage to begin with (catching the groom getting it on with someone else DURING his wedding reception should have been her first clue). I guess I just would have liked Molly to be a bit stronger female character. But it all works for the book. I saw Bob as sort of a superfluous character. I guess he provided someone for Molly to actually talk to in the Duration, but he wasn't in the book enough to really make the character worthwhile. I did like the way it ended and even though it was tied with a neat little bow, it's exactly how I would have liked it to end. If you're looking for some lighter reading for vacation or the beach this might do the trick!

You can grab a copy for yourself when it is released May 19, 2009!

**I know I probably shouldn't quote an ARC copy, but I just had to share one of the humorous lines with you. :-)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mailbox Monday--Part Deux

We went away for a few days last week to visit my mom and I had the mail held. The mailman had to actually bring a box of mail to the front door there was so much! And look what was there! FOUR packages of books. (And this is not even what I was talking about in the previous Mailbox post about the REALLY exciting stuff I have coming in the mail.--Well, some of this is part of that. I still have a really cool shipment coming though.)From the Book Report:
Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult (SOOO excited about this one!)
While My Sister Sleeps by Barbara Delinsky
The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson
Those books were a Word of Mouth prize package for the beginning of March. I had Allison write in some reviews and also added a few from me so we would have more chances to win. And although, technically Allison won, she gave them my address to mail the books too! :-) Thanks for helping me win that one Allison!

From St. Martin's Press:
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
I'm a little puzzled by this one. I already received this as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer. So I'm not sure if there was a mix-up and they sent it again. I sent the publisher a link to my review, maybe they didn't read my email and thought I was asking for the book? Hmm....puzzling. But this is good news for all you blog readers out there! Because that means I'll be having a contest for this book in the near future! Stay tuned!

From Bethany House:
Words Unspoken by Elizabeth Musser
I received this as a March LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. I didn't know when I requested it that it is Christian Fiction. I do not usually read Christian Fiction, but I'm going to go into this one with an open mind. :-)

From Bookmooch:
Magyk by Angie Sage
Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers

And I finally caved and purchased New Moon last week because it was on sale at Target. My friend has #3 and #4 so I figured I can always mooch #2 when I'm finished with it. I'm not in a huge hurry to continue the Twilight Saga, but this friend has gone on about the series enough to make me want to maybe read the rest of the series.

Mystery Monday!

Today's Mystery Monday is all about the Sam Acquillo mysteries by Chris Knopf, set in the Hamptons. I reviewed the first in the series, The Last Refuge, right here, and had my fingers crossed that the subsequent books in the series would hold up to the promise of the first entry. I needn't have worried. In Knopf's hands, Sam shows satisfying character growth while remaining complex and interesting, and subsequent mysteries are filled with twists, turns, and excellent suspense.

#2: Two Time: Two Time starts off with a bang as Sam and Jackie are injured in when a car bomb outside the restaurant in which they'd met explodes. Cop Joe Sullivan (introduced in The Last Refuge) asks Sam to talk to the widow of the car bomb victim. Reluctantly spurred on by his guilt over Jackie's injuries, Sam becomes embroiled in the victim's shady dealings in his financial consulting business, a performance-artist brother, an odd widow, and angry clients. In The Last Refuge, Sam starts out as completely withdrawn from the world and gradually begins to make connections with people. I was pleased to see that there is no regressing in Two Time (a pet peeve with me in series fiction is inconsistent character development), but that Sam is still very much a work in progress. He uses his engineering background in a methodical yet insightful way, approaching the murder as a problem to solve. This makes for a fascinating mystery novel, and Sam is an irresistible protagonist. Knopf's caustic wit is a fine counterpoint to the hardboiled action.

#3: Head Wounds: The stakes are higher in Head Wounds. As a former boxer, Sam has had his share of knocks on the head. Actually, according to his doctor, he's had more than his share, and he'd better take it easy if he values his ability to string two words together. But when a local builder, Robbie Milhouser, is found murdered with one of Sam's construction tools after harassing Sam's girlfriend, Amanda, Sam is forced to poke around to defend himself against a murder charge, trying to avoid injury from Robbie's thug buddies. The tension in this entry is relentless: not only regarding Sam's possible incarceration, but his health and relationship with Amanda. The plot is as satisfying as ever, an engineer's dream in complexity, the Hamptons so real I can picture the setting every step of the way, and Sam's character development continues in a believable, endlessly interesting, fashion.

#4: Hard Stop (available May 1): Sam isn't thrilled when he surprises an armed man snooping in his cottage, and he's perplexed to trace him back to his old employers, Con Globe. Sam thought he'd burned all his Con Globe bridges when he slugged a member of the Board of Directors and left his job for good. But his old boss needs help finding his girlfriend, Iku Kinjo, and he has a proposition to secure Sam's assistance. A good engineering problem is irresistible to Sam, who is further drawn in when he stumbles across Iku's body. Sucked back into the world of corporate ambition and greed he thought he'd left behind, Sam can't leave Iku's murder unsolved even when his old boss asks him to back off. Sam's relationship with cop Joe Sullivan continues to develop, and I really enjoy its complexity. The peek into Sam's old life is fascinating, and as usual, the mystery is worthy of a protagonist accustomed to solving thorny engineering puzzles. A newcomer to Sam's world could certainly jump in here, but will miss some of the nuances of Sam's relationships and character development. Since Sam's growth from burned-out loner is one of my favorite parts of the series, I recommend reading all four books in order.

Mailbox Monday

This is actually from two and a half weeks ago (I'm a wee bit behind on things). But I took the picture so I thought I should post it.

From Samantha at Penguin (THANKS!!!):
Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by David Soman (already reviewed here)
Peace, Love, & Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
Waiting for You by Susan Colasanti

From Bookmooch:
Monday Mourning, Break No Bones, and Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs. I decided to fill out the Temperance Brennan series on my bookshelf. Although, I still don't have the first couple because I borrowed them from the library. But really, I just wanted to have the others around to read when I get a chance. :-)
Also, The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn.

Although, not pictured, I also received The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe from the Barnes and Noble First Look Book Club. I'm really looking forward to reading that one.

AND, I should have some REALLY exciting Mailbox Mondays posts in the near future. I have had a dry spell with winning anything in blog contests for a bit, but I hit the jackpot this past week! I'll share more once I receive the books in the mail! I've also received several fun books from Bookmooch that I haven't blogged about yet. So maybe I'll get my act together and take a new photo today and get my Mailbox Monday posts relatively up to date. :-)

Hope you all had a fun week and received something exciting in your mailbox!
Mailbox Monday is a weekly feature hosted by Marcia from The Printed Page. :-)

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Giveaway - The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

Readaholic is giving away five copies of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, a mystery/ghost story that sounds really interesting. Click here to enter!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Picture Book Thursday--Easter Edition

With Easter coming up in a week and a half, we thought we would share some fun Easter books with you. My girls are both looking forward to Easter weekend because, well, they know the Easter Bunny will bring candy and we just finished up the last of the Valentine candy about 2 weeks ago. They can't wait to get their next fix. :-)

Around here we love all things Max and Ruby and since they are bunnies, it's only appropriate to include them in an Easter post. Although, this is not my absolute favorite Max and Ruby book. It is pretty cute. Ruby and Louise are coloring eggs and they give Max the job of carrying the finished eggs into the dining room where he creates an Easter parade with his toys and the eggs. Any fan of Max and Ruby will enjoy this book. Max's Chocolate Chicken and Max Counts His Chickens are also Easter related books. If you're looking for other Max and Ruby books, my girls' favorites are Bunny Mail (this one has lift flaps to make it extra fun!), Max Cleans Up, and Bunny Money.

Dora's Rainbow Egg hunt is a fun foil board book that would be great for any Dora fan who likes shiny and sparkly. You get to go on an egg hunt with Dora and Boots looking under flaps in the book for eggs. Kids can also work on their colors with this book. Perfect for younger toddlers.

While I'm not a huge fan of Spongebob, my kids sure are. And this picture book is a favorite of my five year old. Everyone in Bikini Bottom is working on a float for the Easter Parade while Patrick and Spongebob fiddle around throughout the day. Lucky for them, a float just happens to be sitting around waiting for them to claim it. When they win the float contest, Spongebob begins to feel guilty for taking credit for something he didn't make. He comes clean in the end and everyone else splits the award. I have to say at least there is a really good lesson/message in this Spongebob book. :-)

It seems no matter what characters/series of books your children are into, there is probably an Easter book. I found them for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Dora, Biscuit, Cordoroy, Maisy, Wubbzy, Strawberry Shortcake, Elmo, Berenstain Bears, Little Critter and MORE!


Lilah loves bunnies and baby animals, so Easter is a big hit for her. She still loves the lift-the-flap books, which are perfect for Easter (egg hunts galore!) and many of her favorite characters have Easter-themed books.

Happy Easter, Biscuit! by Alyssa Satin Capucilli: Lilah loves Biscuit, the sweet puppy, his little girl, and their friends. This Easter egg hunt is cute, with lots of sharing and friends having fun. The flaps are large and easy to lift, and the story is cute.

Berenstain Bears' Baby Easter Bunny The Berenstain Bears receive a special Easter gift, a baby bunny! The bunny leads them on a merry chase as he looks for more baby animals. Baby animals galore and flaps to lift make this one a hit with the younger set. There's another Berenstain Bears Easter book for older children, but those are really too long for Lilah, and this one is just about right.

The Bunny Hop Elmo is a perennial favorite, and this sturdy, pocket-sized board book is a cute one. The simple rhymes unfold a funny story: Big Bird has lost the bunnies for the Easter parade, and they're turning up in odd places all over Sesame Street!

Easter Surprises Lisa McCue, who illustrates the newer Corduroy books, among other things, draws the CUTEST furry animals you have ever seen. A clever Venetian-blind-style hidden picture method reveals fun surprises like a filled Easter basket. Adorable and fun.