Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: Walking on Broken Glass

Author: Christa Allan
Title: Walking on Broken Glass
Description: Leah deals with her dysfunctional marriage and the loss of her baby by drinking. At the opening of this novel, she decides that she can’t spend the rest of her life drunk, and she makes the decision to check herself into a rehab center. This book centers on Leah’s rehab program and what happens when she returns home.
Review source: Free on kindle
Plot: Nothing is contrived or easy here. Leah’s relationship with her husband is teetering on the brink of divorce. Her rehabilitation isn’t pretty or effortless. This is a Christian novel in that Leah takes finding her higher power seriously, although the author doesn’t make Leah’s embrace of Christianity easy either.
Characters: Leah, her husband, and her best friend are the main characters, and they and the supporting characters are all real people with good and bad qualities who do good things and who also turn around and fail once in a while.
Writing style: Told in brutally honest first person.
Audience: Certainly anyone who is struggling with substance abuse—or with the death of a child or another tragedy—would empathize with Leah. Chick lit readers in general would probably enjoy this well-written book, if they didn’t mind the spiritual content.
Wrap-up: This isn’t the type of book I normally read, but I was engaged from the outset with Leah’s struggle to turn her life around. 3.5/5*

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Follow up: Book Meme

1. Best book of 2012?  Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I am always put off by the titles of his books. Another one is Too Late the Phalarope. What the…?

2. Worst book of 2012?  Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Married by Heather McElhatton. It was a Library Thing Early Reviewers book that I didn’t even review here, lest someone accidentally pick it up.   

3. Most Disappointing Book of 2012?   The Art of Racing in the Rain. It was pretty well received by the critics, but I was surprised at how much I hated it.

4. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?   Wife 22. Loved it, loved it!

5. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?   Probably Quiet by Susan Cain. I recommended it to all my introvert friends, and also to extroverts to get some insights into understanding us introverts.

6. Best series you discovered in 2012?   If Timothy L. O’Brien writes any more detective novels featuring Temple McFadden, they will definitely be on my reading list!

7. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?   Laurie Frankel, Joshilyn Jackson, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Melanie Gideon, Timothy L. O’Brien.

8. Most hilarious read of 2012?   I don’t usually read books that I call “hilarious,” but there are some honorable mentions here. I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, which is alternately funny, bewildering, crude, and outdated. Also, Eloisa James’ Paris in Love was funny in a gentle way.

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?   There were several this year that I devoured as fast as I could, but I’ll give the edge to A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson.

10. Book you most anticipated in 2012?   Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I anticipated it so much that it almost couldn’t avoid disappointing me once I finally read it, though I did enjoy it. (Review coming soon).

11. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012? Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark. And just for the record, I’m  sick of the “head missing” type of book cover shot. Let’s move on, people, there’s nothing to see here.

12. Most memorable character in 2012? Dr. Annick Swenson from State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

13. Most beautifully written book in 2012?  Cry, the Beloved Country.

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012: Probably Quiet. It helped me to embrace my introversion.

15. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?   Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.


Other book highlights
I wrote a dissertation. That’s almost a book J
I still love Library Thing and Paperback Swap. Goodreads not so much. I wasn’t impressed with the kerfuffle they had this year and how it was handled. I’ve stopped posting reviews on Amazon, though.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Here Today, Gone to Maui

Author: Carol Snow
Title: Here Today, Gone to Maui
Description: Jane is excited to get to accompany her boyfriend Jimmy on a business trip to Maui, but he behaves oddly when they arrive and before long, he disappears altogether. In the midst of her grief, the police have to investigate the disappearance, and another woman shows up claiming that her boyfriend Jimmy has also disappeared. Hijinx ensue.
Review source: This was a book club book.
Plot: It didn’t ring true to me. Jane is responsible and obsessive about planning, but her boyfriend is commitment-phobic and sort of a loser (though he owns his own business).
Characters: The main character was believable except for her desire to be with this loser. The other girlfriend suits him much better, meaning that she is totally annoying.
Writing style: Breezy chick lit.
Audience: Folks who would like mystery-tinged chick lit.
Wrap-up: Book club prompts me to read many books I wouldn’t normally read. Some are winners, and some are losers. This one was somewhere in the middle. It was a quick read that didn’t leave much of an impression. 3/5*

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 in Reviews: My best reads of the year

I read 138 books this year (and wrote a dissertation). Here are the standouts:
Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Smashed by Koren Zailckas
Still by Lauren Winner
Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark
Some assembly required by Anne Lamott
In the heart of the sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone
Autobiography of Mrs.Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield  
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
City of falling angels by John Berendt
Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
Tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

And the standouts of the standouts, my top ten reads for the year, in no particular order:
A Grown up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson. This is one of those family secrets/chick lit novels, but incredibly well-plotted and well-written.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. My list this year is split between literary heavy-hitters like Patchett, and unknowns (at least to me) like Jackson, Gideon, and Frankel.  I feel sort of lame falling back on the bestsellers, but I guess that they are bestsellers because people like them. I didn’t love this book quite as much as Bel Canto, but it still amazed and enraptured me. Another literary big shot is Marilynne Robinson, whose Home also makes this list. I didn’t like Gilead, but Home struck much closer to home (ouch) for me, with its story of family estrangement in a small-town preacher’s family.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is the ultimate bestseller fallback, but it had me in tears.
My reading life by Pat Conroy is the only non-fiction book to make the list this year, though there are several in the honorable mentions. I can’t resist Conroy’s voice, especially when he writes about himself.
Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel also had me in tears. A terrific novel about love, loss, and networked culture. Another author new to me is Vanessa Diffenbaugh, whose novel The Language of Flowers portrays two damaged people who are drawn together by their love of flowers and their knowledge of their meaning.
Lincoln conspiracy by Timothy L. O’Brien is the only mystery to make this year’s list. It’s here by virtue of the historical detail and the fascinating cast of characters, though the ending was a little weak.
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton is a classic I picked up thanks to my book group. Profoundly moving and memorable for life.
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon was probably the most enjoyable book I read this year. A discontented wife decides to take a closer look at her marriage by participating in a marriage study—thereby becoming “wife 22”—but finds herself drawing closer to her email correspondent who is conducting the study.

Book Review: Blood Men

Author: Paul Cleave
Title: Blood Men
Description: The main thing you need to know about Edward Hunter is that his father is in jail for murdering prostitutes—lots of them. Edward has tried to move on from his father’s arrest and the subsequent destruction of his family, and has created a nice, normal life with a wife who he loves and a little girl. Then he and his wife accidentally end up in the middle of a bank robbery, and his wife becomes an innocent victim. Frustrated by the seeming indifference of the police, Edward initiates contact with his father to see what other options might be open to him as the son of a serial killer. From there, things just get wilder.
Plot: Unique and gripping. Even though he is driven by the quest for vengeance and he (and the reader) have no idea how much violence he is capable of, Edward is a sympathetic main character. A couple of twists at the end left me reeling.
Characters: The main characters are Edward, his father, and the detective who is assigned to the case.  Lots of nasty bad-guy types as fodder.
Writing style: It’s a thriller and fits the genre well—one of those books that actually affects you physically, so that you’re gripping the book a little harder and breathing a little more quickly as you read.
Audience: Probably should stick with the thriller crowd. There was some pretty graphic violence and overall, the book was really dark. Not my usual type of read, but worthwhile.
Wrap-up: Don’t pick it up unless you can handle some shocks to your system. 4/5*

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Acqua Alta

Author: Donna Leon
Title: Acqua Alta
Description: Set in Venice, this is a police procedural mystery featuring an art historian who is beat up by thugs while her lesbian lover is in the other room. Within days, a museum director is dead, and Commissario Brunetti realizes the two incidents are connected.
Review source: the Penguin cornucopia
Plot: This was one of those books that I’d probably not pick up on my own. Things it had that I didn’t like:
1) police procedural—If I have to read about how someone does his job, let it be a librarian
2) series—if I don’t already read it, I probably don’t want to start
3) modern day mystery—probably because I don’t especially like guns (note: there aren’t many guns in this book)
4) art—if there’s crime, at least let it be a crime of passion. 
4a) Chinese vases-- the most boring possible type of art.
5) mafia connections—in Italy, who else is there to be the bad guy?
Characters: There was a lot of shock over the idea of a lesbian couple. Other than that, none of the characters made a very strong impression on me.
Writing style: Straightforward. It was a pretty short book.
Audience: people who read this series
Acqua alta (
Wrap-up: It was a happy circumstance that I picked up this book at the same time I was reading City of Falling Angels. I really enjoyed reading fiction and non-fiction about Venice side by side. It sounds like a truly awful place, unless you like walking everywhere in boots that, no matter how high they are, are too short to keep the water from pouring in. Yuck! 2.5/5*

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: Postcards from Cedar Key

Author: Terri DuLong
Title: Postcards from Cedar Key
Description: Berkley, a fortysomething chocolatier, relocates to Cedar Key to find out why her mother had deserted her for a summer when Berkley was five. As she begins to build her life on the island, she makes friends, falls in love, and learns more about what her mother dealt with forty years ago.
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: The main plot is this question of Berkley’s mother. Fairly early on, Berkley meets a person who could sit her down and tell her the story. Does this happen? Noooooo, we have to wait and wait and wait, and even endure a snowstorm enforced delay, just so the book could be the requisite 300 pages instead of about 10.
Characters: This book is one of a series, and the characters from the other books all crowd their way in here. Even by the end of the book I couldn’t place most of the names because these characters were useless in this book. Berkley was pretty annoying, especially in the early going. Her boyfriend was too good to be true. (no flaws, of course. Well, there was one flaw, but you could tell it was because the author thought to herself, “I need to give him a flaw.”)
Writing style:  Pretty annoying. For one thing, she can’t stop talking about Angell & Phelps chocolate in Daytona. I get it. You like their chocolate. Or did A&P pay for each mention? Also, I didn’t get much of a sense of the place of Cedar Key. I’ve been there, and it is beautiful. This author is way more into the people of Cedar Key, who I don’t know, and who I imagine are like people everywhere else.
Audience:  Middle-aged women who want a cute middle aged Englishman to fall in love with them on an island.
Wrap-up: Meh. 2/5*

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: Charlotte Street

Author: Danny Wallace
Title: Charlotte Street
Description: Jason Priestly (not that Jason Priestly) has quit his teaching job and gone through a bad breakup with his girlfriend when he spots The Girl on Charlotte Street. As he helps her with her packages, he is left with her disposable camera when she departs in a taxi. Spurred on by his friend Dev, Jason develops the photos in order to find clues to The Girl’s identity.
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: It’s sort of cute the way Jason gets clues to the locations of the various photos from friends and acquaintances. One recognizes a restaurant, another spots a distinctive watch on someone’s arm, and so on. Jason even runs a newspaper contest to identify a tricky spot. Jason’s relationships (with Dev, his ex, his new friend Abbey, his old friend Zoe, and former student Matt) are also important to the plot.
Characters: At heart, the book is about a directionless thirty-something bachelor finding some direction. Jason is a likeable enough fellow, although he does pull some dastardly moves over the course of the story.
Writing style: For the most part, I like Wallace’s writing style (I also read and reviewed his non-fiction Join me earlier). He does tend to get hooked on a cutesy line and totally overkill it. For example, the fact that Jason’s flat is next to a building that people think is a brothel but isn’t is mentioned literally every time the flat is mentioned, and it’s not funny the first time. Same thing for Jason’s name. It’s not important that he shares his name with a TV star, so why is it mentioned so often? Why not just give him his own name?
Audience: This is sort of a toughie. I think chick lit readers would like it, although it’s by a guy and about a guy. Sort of literary fiction, I guess.
Wrap-up: Maybe I’m coming across a bit critical here, but I really did like the book, especially the last 20% or so. 4/5*