Sunday, June 29, 2008

Review: Love Walked In

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
5 stars

Reasons for reading: saw it in Shelf Awareness and then saw many great reviews; New To Me Author for the Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the cafĂ©, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life."

First line: "My life - my real life - started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and yes, I know how that sounds."

My thoughts: I loved this book! The story, the language, everything!

Cornelia's ideal man is Cary Grant (and really, who can blame her??) and when Martin, who bears a resemblance to that leading man and is the height of suaveness, walks in, Cornelia thinks she'll have her own Philadelphia Story-type ending. But alas, the zing just isn't there. But what Marin does have is Clare, his not-really-lost-but-not-really-in-his-life daughter, and there Cornelia finds a totally different, but just as fulfilling, love.

The author is apparently a poet and you can tell. One of my favourite phrases is "... I walked up the stairs to my apartment, carrying the moment carefully as though it were a glass globe full of butterflies." Isn't that a perfect way to describe the feelings after a perfect date?

Clare and Cornelia are great alternating characters. Perhaps Clare is a wee bit too precocious, but most of the time she does act and think like an 11 year-old, if a rather observant and wise one. And tiny but not elfin Cornelia is a treat, with her love of vintage everything - music, movies, clothes. Her fast, fierce love for Clare is a wonderful to behold.

Some reviews called the book contrived and that there are few surprises, but really, with such great language and characters, you don't mind. It held enough surprises for me and, like Cornelia's favourite old movies, I'll take romance and humour over cutting-edge and depressing any day.

Speaking of which, I enjoyed the Philadelphia Story references throughout, as it's one of my all-time favourite movies. I fully agree with Clare, who had this to say after seeing it: "That's how movies should always end. With all the good people getting what they want."

And that's basically the way Love Walked In ends, too.

Other reviews (leave a link if you've got one):

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Review: Nights of Rain and Stars

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: read my first Maeve Binchy last year and loved it; Weather title for What's in a Name? Challenge and Irish author for Orbis Terrarum

Book description: In a tiny Greek village, tourists enter a hilltop tavern, alone and in pairs, for a casual lunch. But a sudden tragedy in the harbor below causes these perfect strangers to become unlikely friends as their lives begin to entwine.

Fiona left her nursing career in Ireland to be with the man everyone thinks is wrong for her. Elsa fled Germany and her high-powered television job once she learned what the man she loved was hiding from her. Thomas mourns his failed marriage and misses his young son in California, while David yearns to reconcile with his family in England without having to go into the family business. With the help of Vonnie, a middle-aged Irishwoman who lives in the village and is now a near-native, they find solutions - though not necessarily the ones they anticipated...

First line: "Andreas thought he saw the fire down in the bay before anyone else did."

My thoughts: I didn't enjoy this one as my previous Binchy book, Evening Class. It was still enjoyable, but I found that the first one had a lot more charm, largely because of its Irish ex-pat the Signora - she was just lovely and someone anyone would be glad to know. While Vonnie does help the 4 foreigners and is, at heart, very kind, she's much too blunt and very unhappy herself, so a lot of the time she wasn't much fun to read about.

Also, while the Evening Class folks are brought together by a desire to travel to Italy, the foreigners in this book are brought together by a tragedy - witnessing a fire in the harbour that kills over 20 people, local and tourists. While their integration into town life because of it was interesting and well done, it was still very sad.

Fiona, the Irish nurse who leaves Dublin to be with abusive, drunk/drugged, general asshat Shane was so very much the typical "But I love him..." (even though he's just beaten me up) drip that she was quite annoying. And he was so very awful it was really unpleasant to read his bits (as was the point, I'm sure). But Fiona's eventual realization of his asshattedness (that you knew was coming) was still a high point in the book.

The main theme was the importance of home and family and having to leave both to appreciate them. I found the story started to get more interesting when the focus shifted to what the families of the quartet were thinking back home (they had called home from Andreas' taverna to let everyone know they hadn't been on the boat). The travellers were all loved by the people at home, but no-one could manage to tell each other that due to misunderstandings or, in some cases, legitimate problems on both sides.

Of course, almost all of the stories have the happy ending I expected, but that's okay, there was enough going on (such as English David trying to teach Greek widow Maria how to drive, which was quite a hoot) to make it a good story.

Since this is for Orbis Terrarum, I guess I should say something about the author and her Irishness. I thought it was interesting that the 2 Binchy books I've picked to read, one on a recommendation and one basically at random, both had Irish women living for decades in the Mediterranean. Apart from a bit of Fiona's family back in Dublin, there wasn't a lot of Ireland in this book - it was all about the tiny Greek island and Binchy painted a great portrait of it. A quick look at Maeve Binchy's web site reveals she did travel to "farflung places" when she was younger, so perhaps that part of the world is a favourite of hers. But now she lives a few hundred yards from the house she grew up in and ends her brief bio with, "Why leave a good place?" So, like Fiona, I guess she's a traveler who came back to Ireland, happy to have gone but happy to be back.

While this one didn't blow my socks off, I still think I'm on the way to turning into a big Binchy fan. I've heard good things about Quentins...

Other reviews: (leave a link in the comments if you have one, too)

Weekly Geeks #9

This is a work in progress post because I wanted to get it onto the WG Mr. Linky for the week.

Dewey is challenging us to
organize our reading challenges this week. I definitely have some work to do there, I've gotten a tad behind.

Here's what I need to do:

- review Nights of Rain and Stars (Orbis Terrarum and What's in a Name?) and Love Walked In (Triple 8)
- put a link with the icon of the Southern Challenge in the sidebar
- put my list for the Daring Books Challenge in the sidebar
- put my list for the Book Awards Challenge in the sidebar
- make sure my reviews are posted on their respective challenge blogs

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Review: Marked

Marked by PC Cast and Kristin Cast
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: popular with the teens at my library so wanted to see what the fuss was
about; Vampires list for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed. In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change. Not all of those who are chosen do. It's tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers.When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends.

First line: "Just when I thought my day couldn't get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker."

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book - I'm even excited to read the sequels, which doesn't seem to happen to me much any more, especially with YA books. The take on vampyrism being a genetic condition was really interesting. In fact, basically everyone who is talented and rich is a vamp. There's quite a funny bit when Zoey's country music-lovin' roommate points out that all the big country stars - Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, etc - are all vamps. "Heck, Garth Brooks grew up right here in Oklahoma and you know he's the biggest vamp of them all." The idea that humans still loathe vampyres while basically being surpassed by them in all aspects of life was quite the premise.

I liked Zoey. She endeared herself to me particular because she punctuates herself with "hee hee" - something that I say a lot! She was clever, brave, and powerful while at the same time really just a normal girl going through a very scary process. She just wants to fit in, but fate has marked her (literally) for a higher purpose and she embraces it because it's the right thing to do. I also thought it was interesting that she's part Cherokee - I thought the blending of Cherokee and vampyre spirituality worked well.

But...I both enjoyed and rolled my eyes a bit at the Goddess-worshipping stuff. I thought that had gone out a few years ago with the Circle of Three books and their Wiccan ilk. But the description of the Full Moon Ritual was actually quite powerful - it made me wish I could attend something so spiritual. And the Dark Daughters made me groan, thinking that it was going to be yet another book about a mean girls clique. But I guess when you have a matriarchal society at a school and you need a villain, a mean girl is the logical choice.

So, I'll be looking forward to the next crisis in the House of Night - from the blurb at the end, it sounds like a doozy!

Other reviews:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Review: The Marriage of True Minds

The Marriage of True Minds by Stephen Evans
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: caught my eye on Shelf Awareness; New-to-Me Authors list for Triple 8 Challenge

Summary: "Together as husband and wife, Nick Ward and Lena Grant ran a successful boutique law firm in Minneapolis, vanquishing all their legal foes side by side. When Nick's charming erratic behavior finally became too much for Lena, the marriage and the partnership ended. But-like C.K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Lord-Lena and Nick just can't quite separate. Lena works out fiercely, keeps her dates with the boring and conventional Preston Winter, and daily battles on against corporate greed. But Nick's not doing so well. Still brilliant and devilishly clever, he is now also almost crazy. He is prone to fantasy and the big gesture, and he engages frantically in guerrilla activism for the sake of animals wild and domestic. Nick doesn't make plans; he has visions. And eventually his antics put him back into Lena's hands. While she tries to navigate the legal waters into which he's thrown them, Nick veers out of her wake and into the midst of a strange set of companions, including Oscar, his psychiatric attendant and Action Comics collector; Ralph and Alice Wilson, the rebellious managers of the city animal shelter; and an aging Russian hound named Wolfram. "

First line: "MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE - June 11: Local barrister Nicholas Ward was arrested yesterday for releasing more than 100 live lobsters into the indoor pool at the mayor's mansion in Minneapolis."

My thoughts: This book presented me with two elements I couldn't resist - a Minneapolis setting and comparisons to Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant movies. And it delivered on both! I could totally see Hepburn and Grant as Lena and Nick and there was a ton of Minneapolis-ness for me to enjoy. In fact, this little book would make an excellent modern-day screwball romantic comedy. Evans is a playwright and it comes through - there's a lot of great dialogue and it would be greatly enhanced by being on stage or on film.

My favourite part was Sancho, the sheepdog puppet. Nick communicates through him a great deal and he's always popping up in strange places - holding Lena's alarm clock or dressed in a shower cap in her bedroom, for example. Lena and Nick both treat him as though he's real (Nick says Sancho prefers to be called an Unreal American rather than a puppet) and Lena remarks several times to Sancho, after his master has done yet another exasperating thing, "It's not you." My husband and I have a stuffed monkey that we communicate through a lot - so I could relate! :)

The secondary characters, including the live and Unreal dogs, are really great, too. Oscar the comic collecting psych hospital employee and the couple who run the animal shelter fall under Nick's spell and Sharon the former standup comedian-turned-secretary is a fierce protector of Lena. Only Preston, Lena's post-divorce boyfriend, hates Nick and is out to get him committed. But, like it or not, Lena and Nick have a marriage of true minds, whether they're married or not.

I have a feeling there was probably a deeper message about sanity, animal rights, and what constitutes love that I didn't quite get, but I think I got most of it. It's a charming little read with some really funny parts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Review: 21 Proms

21 Proms edited by Daniel Levithan and Daniel Ehrenhaft
3 stars

Reasons for reading: was interested to read stories by all of the authors; Numbers Challenge

Summary: 21 stories by today's top young adult authors about the joys, sorrows, and sometimes weirdness surrounding the prom.

My thoughts: I'm not really a short stories girl - I like to get really involved in a story and find that short ones don't give me enough meat, so to speak. But I'd been meaning to read this since I ordered it last year and it did seem like a good chance to be introduced to some YA authors I hadn't read yet. It's certainly a who's who of hot YA authors, which was cool.

I really enjoyed "Three Fates" by Aimee Friedman, about a girl who goes from having no date to having three and "Backup Date" by Leslie Margolis, about a girl who claims to only be going to prom because her senior boyfriend wants to and she's only pretending to be drunk... Jacqueline Woodson's Geechee Girls Dancin' was a bit to poetic for my taste but was interesting from my recent South Carolina travels. There were also good ones from the fab E. Lockhart and an apparently autobiographical one by Melissa de la Cruz.

I didn't enjoy Libba Bray's "Primate the Prom" because it was one big, hit-you-over-the-head metaphor for gay dating. Apes were inserted for same-sex partners but, in case you didn't get it, the ape-human partners were also same-sex. As there were already several stories about same-sex couples in the book, the whole story felt unneccessary and heavy-handed. We've already seen it decades ago in Cabaret with a gorilla-suited person standing in for a Jew in Nazi Germany.

But it's a great book, full of high-quality writing, to recommend to teens, especially at this time of year. For me, overall, the main thing it was make me think back to my grad night (that's what we called it here in Canada in my day, I think they still do) and maybe write a story of my own. It's a sad tale of unrequited love and puffed sleeves...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Review: Suite Scarlett

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

4 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed Maureen Johnson's other books; New York setting for the Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "Scarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family owns the Hopewell, a small hotel in the heart of New York City. Her nineteen-year-old brother, Spencer, is an out of work actor facing a family deadline to get his career in order. Eighteen-year-old Lola has the delicate looks of a model, the practical nature of a nurse, and a wealthy society boyfriend. Eleven-year-old Marlene is the family terror with a tragic past. When the Martins turn fifteen, they are each expected to take over the care of a suite in the once elegant, now shabby Art Deco hotel. For Scarlett’s fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite, and a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. Scarlett doesn’t quite know what to make of this C-list starlet, world traveler, and aspiring autobiographer who wants to take over her life. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn. With Mrs. Amberson calling the shots, Spencer’s career to save, Lola’s love life to navigate around, and Marlene’s prying eyes everywhere, things won’t be easy. Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery, Broadway glamour, romantic missteps, and theatrical deception."

First line: "The Hopewell has been a family-run institution on the Upper East Side for over seventy-five years."

My thoughts: This book was great fun, another winner from Maureen Johnson (I loved both her 13 Little Blue Envelopes and Devilish). In fact, her acknowledgements page alone is funnier than some books I've read! I have a feeling she'd be great fun to hang out with. :-)

I love hotels, I love Art Deco, I love New York, I love theatre, I love to laugh . . . this book has all those things! While I'd love to be like Eloise and live in a hotel, I don't think I'd like to be like the Martin family and have to work in the hotel you live in - much less glamorous. I loved the descriptions of the Hopewell's crumbling Art Deco glory - each suite has its own name and style of decor, with the crowning glory being the silvery twilight-themed Empire Suite (home of Mrs. Amberson).

My only quibble was with the apparently incompetent Martin parents. While the sad circumstances of Marlene led them to be in debt, I still found it hard to believe that they couldn't make at least a decent living running a historic hotel in the heart of Manhattan. After firing all of the staff (including the cook who is guidebook-famous for her breakfasts - neither of the senior Martins can cook even a frozen lasagna) they've have basically left the running of the hotel to their kids (the parents, whey they're there, seem to be either trying unsuccessfully to fix something in the hotel or burning something in the kitchen). I'm all for kids working, but surely you should have at least a few adult employees to run a hotel, especially when you expect the older kids to have outside jobs, too?

But that quibble aside, this is a great book. For all of the theatre and the over-the-topness of Mrs. A, there were very real elements, particularly the siblings' relationships - they basically formed into two teams of two years ago and that's how they've stayed. They care about each other but communicate best with just one person. Also, Scarlett discovering that first love can really hurt but also discovering that she's a lot more clever and resourceful than she'd realized.

So check out this suite read! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

(If you've reviewed this book, leave a link in the comments and I'll link to you.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Weekly Geeks #8

I've missed the last few WG's, but I'm back because Dewey's organized a blog scavenger hunt - what fun! Here's the general idea: "I’m going to list below several keywords for you to find in other weekly geeks’ blogs. Your challenge is to find as many of the keywords as possible, in as many Weekly Geeks’ blogs as possible. Fun times!" See the full post here.

1. The prize: a subscription to Bookmarks magazine
2. youtube
3. war [in the post "The Order of Genocide"]
4. Sunday Salon
5. Buy a Friend a Book
6. Booking Through Thursday (BTT)
7. omnibus
8. speculative fiction
9. short stories
10. Ani DiFranco (Ani)
11. Printz
12. Man Booker Prize (Booker)
13. Newbery
14. Mother Talk
15. interview
16. history
17. glbt (or any other arrangement of those letters, or with a q in there)
18. fantasy
19. film
20. giraffe
21. biography
22. Geraldine Brooks
23. graphic novels
24. classics
25. faerie
26. Amelie
27. doo doo doo
28. 24 Hour Read-a-thon
29. etsy
30. poetry
31. Bookmooch
33. R.E.M.
34. Bookworms Carnival
35. Library
36. Lost (TV show)
37. Six Feet Under
38. ReadingAnimals
39. hedgehog
40. pregnant
41. nosebleed (or nose bleed)
42. 42 (No, that’s not a mistake; number 42 is to find the digit 42.)
43. herding cats
44. Django Reinhardt
45. A.S. Byatt
46. Homer
(The next three are suggestions from my son.)
47. ROFL
48. cheezburger (must be spelled with Z!)
49. d20

And others from the comments:
50. Little Critter
51. translation or translated
52. dumpster(s)
53. Orson Scott Card
54. tite kubo
55. Pavement
56. magic realism
57. search
58. nerdfighter(s)
59. summer

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Daring Book Challenge

Yet another one! Callista is hosting A Daring Book Challenge based on booklists at the end of The Daring Book for Girls (which I still have to read!)

I'm choosing Track 1 - Read one book from each category from June 15/08 to February 15/09.

Here they are:

1. Girl Classics: Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery

2. Other Favorites: The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater

3. Sci Fi and Fantasy: The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain, book 1) by Lloyd Alexander

4. Girl and Her Horse: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

5. Fairy Tales: Beauty by Robin McKinley

6. Girl Detective: The Secret of the Mansion (Trixie Belden series) by Julie Campbell

Review: Persepolis

Persepolis: the story of a childhood by Marjane Satrapi
3 stars

Book description: Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's . . . memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

My thoughts: This was an interesting book. Graphic novels are not really my thing, but I found it an interesting way to combine history and autobiography into a story. Graphic novel memoirs are all the rage these days and I think this one led the charge.

It was a bit of a jolt for me to realize that Satrapi is only 5 years older than I am, but thinking about it, of course the Islamic Revolution happened when I was a little kid - it's not ancient history at all. And I actually wrote a research paper on the Islamic Revolution in high school, so I had a bit of interest in the subject and I learned more. For example, I wasn't familiar with the history of the Shah, how he was son of a soldier who wanted to overthrow the emperor and create a republic. I had thought he was a traditional king, "chosen by God" - as Marjane is taught in school.

I enjoyed the parts about her trying to be a "normal" teenager - wanting to wear jeans and listen to pop music. She seems to have been very fortunate that her parents were so progressive (my favourite part was them smuggling in Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden posters from Turkey for her) and that they were able to see far enough ahead to realize the best thing was to send her to Europe.

The stories that make up this book range from informative to funny to heartbreaking. Satrapi comes off as a very smart child who took to different doctrines - religious or political - with great zeal. Apart from the teenager-hood stuff, I found her rather hard to relate to.

While I don't necessarily agree with the uber-superlative reviews given to Persepolis by people like Philip Pullman and Gloria Steinem, I can see how this is an important book and I found it interesting, if not really my thing.

Other reviews:
Somer at SomeReads
Bethany at B&b Ex libris

(If you've reviewed this book, feel free to leave a comment and I'll add you to the list.)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Review: Mudbound

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
5 stars

Reasons for reading: Southern Challenge II; book club

First line: "Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep."

From the inside flap: "When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Laura does not share Henry's love of rural life, and she struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, all the while under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.

As the McAllans are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura's plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal—and dangerous—battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drive this powerful debut novel. Mudbound reveals how everyone becomes a player in a tragedy on the grandest scale, even as they strive for love and honor."

My thoughts: The word to describe this book is gripping! It kept me up past 1:30 in the morning. For some reason I was often reminded of East of Eden, probably because of the two brothers, the terrible father, and the farm.

This book made me feel things physically. The first descriptions of the way blacks were treated in the Jim Crow South made me feel hollow inside and when they got much, much worse, I actually felt sick. When the worse, worse thing happened, my hand flew to my mouth, which is exactly what happens to Laura when she hears about it. I felt heartbroken for Laura, first when she felt like a rejected spinster and then when she had to move to the horrible farm (Jordan really makes you see and feel and smell the oozing, everywhere mud) and then I felt anger at Henry that he made his wife and children live that way. I felt Laura's hatred of the racist, chauvinistic, just plain mean Pappy, too.

The story is told from many points of view (Henry, Laura, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents), which in the hand of a less talented author could be confusing and annoying, but every one of them has their own distinct personality and take on things. It also really lends itself to the theme of where a story begins and what could have been - the "ifs" of life. Laura points out early on that "Even if you start with "Chapter One: I Am Born," you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect." For example, the McCallans and the Jacksons probably never would have met if For example, the terrible events that happen at the end of the story can be traced all the way back to plain Laura still being single in 30's and marrying Henry, who was still a bachelor in his 40's and was desperate to own a farm.

Oh....I can't do it justice!! Read this excellent book and see for yourself!

(Or check out my pal Vidalia's much better review here.)

Review: Till the Cows Come Home

Till the Cows Come Home by Judy Clemens
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Holiday Challenge - June is Dairy Month; Mysteries list for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "Stella Crown works hard and loves her life. She runs her own dairy farm with the trusted help of longtime assistant Howie, rides her Harley on the weekends, and has enough friends to suit her just fine. But on her twenty-ninth birthday, things start to change. A neighborhood child dies from a strange and threatening illness, a string of mysterious disasters place Stella and her farm in peril, not to mention her friend Abe showing up with a new woman on his arm, creating confusing emotions all around. Electrical outages, flooded barns, and cows running loose in the countryside are bad enough, but when her livestock begins turning up dead, Stella knows someone, or something, is out to get her.Though doctors quickly announce the discovery of the neighbor child's cause of death, another child dies before they can declare victory over the illness, sending the community into a state of near panic. While trying to solve the mystery behind her own troubles, Stella begins to think she alone might hold the answers to the children's deaths. Striking out on her own, afraid to trust anyone -- friends, neighbors, or the gorgeous stranger she's fallen for -- Stella must find her enemy before anyone else, including herself, ends up dead."

My thoughts: This was a very intriguing mystery - the crimes ranged from fairly petty to heinous and just when it seemed like the culprit had been found, something else popped up. I can see why it was nominated for the Anthony and Agatha awards.

Stella Crown is a great heroine - dairy farmer, biker, fiercely loyal to her adopted family and her farm, but lonely and vulnerable under her tough exterior. I love her tattoos - a cow skull on her neck and To Thine Own Self Be True on her arm - the combination really sums Stella up.

Stella was orphaned as a teenager, but she's fortunate to have an extended family in the Grangers - a large clan of sons and their Ma who treat Stella as one of their own. And she has Howie, her farmhand who has been on the farm since she was born. Their relationship is a special one - beneath their gruff exteriors, they love each other, though they're not very good at showing it. The title is actually something he says often to Stella (or rather "Princess" - which seems to be only a partly sarcastic nickname) - that's how long he'll be with her to help run the farm.

Two of my favourite places to visit are big on dairy - Washington (WA's Dairy Women make the best state fair ice cream sandwiches ever) and Minnesota (where the dairy princess gets her likeness carved in butter), so I was interested in the dairy farm setting. I couldn't quite imagine what type of crime was going to take place there, it seems like it would be a pretty untroubled location. Little did I know!

There are some very welcome funny parts, too - most of them involve cow urine or excrement, unsurprisingly. I think my favourite scene is the one where Stella takes her biker friends, in full leather gear, to intimidate the person she thought was responsible for sabatoging her farm.

There are several sequels and I think I'll check them out - unlike the cozy mysteries I've been reading of late, everything isn't all tidy at the end. The mysteries are solved, but Stella's life is basically in the manure lagoon. I hope things turn around for her in both the farming and the romance departments.

Get to know Stella and her farm - you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Happy Blogiversary, Valentina!

Valentina's blog is one year old and to celebrate, she's offering us presents! How nice is that?? 3 lucky folks will receive a copy of a book she's reviewed during her bloggin' year. Head to her blog to see the details.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Review: Cease to Blush

Cease to Blush by Billie Livingston
4 stars

Reasons for reading: saw a good review for it somewhere; New-To-Me Authors list for Triple 8 Challenge

From the publisher: "Vivian is late to her own mother’s funeral. Wearing a skintight lipstick-red suit, Vivian stands out like a pornographer’s dream amongst the raven collection of West Coast intellectuals mourning the untimely death of the famous feminist Josie Callwood ... When she opens a trunk in her mother’s basement, Vivian discovers that Josie wasn’t who she seemed – and that she had a flaming sexual past more exotic than anything Vivian has been able to pull off. Chasing the lies her mother told her, Vivian sets off on a road trip in which memory, reality and imagination collide to recreate the kaleidoscope world of America in the sixties. In disbelief and dawning admiration, she follows her mother’s trail through the Vegas nexus where movie stars, pop singers, strippers, politicians and the mob mingled, where the Rat Pack ruled and girls were arm and eye candy. As she uncovers her mother’s true story, Vivian ends up confronting her own sexual lies and spiritual evasions. Billie Livingston’s fine novel leads us to consider the nature of our hidden desires – and to question whether the sky would really fall if we admitted our true needs and ceased to blush."

First line: "As we pulled up to the curb I could see them a little ways off, gathered around the grave like long black shadows."

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. Don't be put off by the ugly, typically Canadian cover (there's a nicer green one with showgirl's legs). I feel bad to admit it, but this high praise went through my mind at one point - "This is so interesting - it doesn't seem like a Canadian book!" I know, I'm a terrible Canadian, but I find most CanLit so dreary. In my book club it's gotten to be a cliche - pretty much every Canadian book we read either has at least one rape (if not several) or at least a dog getting killed. It's like it's not acceptable for Canadians to write a non-depressing book, one that isn't bleak or all about the vast, inhospitable landscape.

Cease to Blush wasn't shiny-happy, but it had a fascinating amount of detail about the Rat Pack, the Kennedys, and the 60's. I've always been intrigued by the 60's (and the Rat Pack) and this book made me want to learn much more. Vivian slowly uncovers the truth about her mother by finding people who knew her, in particular her former roommate, stripper Annie West, who has a bunch of letters that Josie (who went by Celia Dare) wrote her in the 60's. Vivian fills in the blanks in her imagination, writing out detailed versions of what she thinks happened. These revelations are interspersed with snippets of 60's history (sometimes just paragraphs of key words), which Vivian voraciously researches at the same time.

Vivian's life, which wasn't all that together while her mom was alive, goes completely off the rails with Josie's death (and with the help of Vivian's would-be Internet porn mogul boyfriend, Frank). Vivian has to learn the truth about her mother in order to come back to her true self. I actually found the title a bit ironic - to me it seems that Vivian comes back to herself once she does learn to blush a bit, or at least to accept that she doesn't have to be the ultimate f***able woman that her boyfriend and casting agents say she should be.

A very interesting and entertaining book.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Review: Princess Academy

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Have heard great things about Hale's YA books; Young Adult Challenge

Book description: "Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates."

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would at first. It's actually a great fairy tale. At first I thought it was going to get too fantasy-ish for me, when Miri was trying to learn the mysterious "quarry-speech" but it turned out to be just magical enough without going overboard. Miri is just the kind of girl you want in a story like this - spunky, clever and braver than she realizes. And it's not just a simple. Among other things, it explores family relationships, social class, secrets, the value of education and, in particular, the longing to belong.

The mountain setting, the goats, the feisty girl, and the boy named Peder (close enough!) reminded me of Heidi. It had that feel, of a story from another time. And it wasn't as "princessy" as I'd thought - I think even boys would like it (if they could get past the title and the girl on the cover) - with the quarrying, the bandits, and the rats, there's something for everyone!