Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: The Beach House

The Beach House by Jane Green
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed all of Green's books; Building title for the What's in a Name? Challenge

Summary: "Nan Powell is a free-spirited, sixty-five-year-old widow who's not above skinny-dipping in her neighbors' pools when they're away and who dearly loves her Nantucket home. But when she discovers that the money she thought would last forever is dwindling, she realizes she must make drastic changes to save her beloved house. So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly people start moving in to the house, filling it with noise, laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family and friends expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside down. "

First line: "The bike crunches along the gravel path, weaving around the potholes that could present danger to someone who didn't know the road like the back of their hand."

My thoughts: This was a fairly average chick lit read - enjoyable but fairly predictable. I enjoyed the Nantucket setting, I'm always intrigued by those New England vacation islands. It starts out describing all of the trials and tribulations of all of the people who will eventually move to Nan's house (but you don't know it yet), which isn't my favourite device - I do like it when a bunch of people come together, but I tend to find the descriptions of them beforehand a bit confusing and boring because I don't know the context.

My favourite part was when Nan got the better of the sleazy developer (you knew she would) and Nan is a good character - she seems to alternate a bit oddly between naive and very wise, but she's a loving, eccentric old bird who really wants the best for everyone.

The surprise visitor at the end was mostly a surprise - I half-suspected it and people better at predicting than I am probably would have long before I did, but it still made for a not-bad twist. There are lots of misunderstandings but you know that they'll all work out in the end.

The verdict: Not a bad summer read, but not dazzling.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Zombie Queen of Newbury High

Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
4 stars

Reasons for reading: sounded fun, zombies are all the rage with the kids these days; Young Adult Challenge

Synopsis: "Quiet, unpopular, non-cheerleading Mia is blissfully happy. She is dating super hot football god Rob, and he actually likes her and asked her to prom! Enter Samantha—cheerleading goddess and miss popularity— who starts making a move for Rob. With prom in a few days, Mia needs to act fast. So she turns to her best friend, Candice, and decides to do a love spell on Rob. Unfortunately, she ends up inflicting a zombie virus onto her whole class, making herself their leader! At first she is flattered that everyone is treating her like a queen. But then zombie hunter hottie Chase explains they are actually fattening her up, because in a few days, Mia will be the first course in their new diet. She's sure she and Chase can figure something out, but she suggests that no one wear white to prom, because things could get very messy."

First line: "Mia Everett was doomed."

Great line: "You know, I'm sick of living in the real world. I think I'm going to stick with television from now on. It's a lot less draining."

My thoughts: This was a fun book. I loved that Mia was so into Buffy and Angel and kept expecting things to work out the way they do on TV. For example, she was very disappointed that her school didn't have a basement "the size of a mall" to hide out in like they had on Buffy. And I was in a particularly Buffy mood when I read it, so that was a bonus.

Chase the zombie hunter was a clever hottie - the best kind - and his earnest explanation of how zombies are real, while scoffing at the prospect of vampires and werewolves, was a hoot. Candice the hypochrondriac was a riot, but also surprisingly helpful. The zombie lore was great, particularly when all of the proto-zombies started giving Mia snack foods, not because they liked her, but because they wanted to fatten her up.

A thoroughly enjoyable, lighthearted addition to current the zombies-are-cooler-than-vampires trend.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty

Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gerhman
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: have been meaning to since it came out, looked fun; Young Adult Challenge book

Synopsis: Geena can't wait to spend summer vacation at the Triple Shot Betty coffee shop with her best friend, Amber, and her cousin, Hero. But Amber and Hero hate each other on sight, and Geena's dreams of a girl-bonding summer fly out the window—then vanish entirely when a few cute (okay, drop-dead gorgeous) guys enter the picture. All is not what it seems, though, and in a story of mistaken identities, summer high jinks, and just enough romance, Geena and her friends learn that when Bettys unite, they can take on the most powerful force in their world: a hot guy.

First lines: "Great. So much for my summer. I should have known."

My thoughts: At first I was confused by the Much Ado About Nothing angle - some of the names/characters matched, but some seemed not to and that irked me. But all it takes is patience - eventually all of the similarities are revealed and it's pretty cool. It helped that Much Ado is one of my favourite plays! I thought that she modernized it very well. I also liked the added angle of super-bad, sweet, sweet revenge against the Prince John character.
Ben Battaglia is a dreamy, literary crushworthy guy in the Benedick role and I liked prickly, supersmart skater girl Geena, whose first name is actually Beatrice. White trashy tough girl Amber gets a lot more attention than the original Margaret character, which added to the story. And pink-sparkly princess Hero turned out to have more gumption than met the eye at first.

The verdict: Took me a bit of time to warm up to it, but it was worth getting to know the Bettys and I look forward to their next adventure. A great summer read.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Review: Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs

Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs by Dave Barry

4 stars

Reasons for reading: For keeping me laughing since I was a kid, I'm celebrating Dave's July 3, 1947 birthday this month for Celebrate the Author

From the publisher: "When funny man Dave Barry asked readers about their least favorite tunes, he though he was penning just another installment of his weekly syndicated humor column. But the witty writer was flabbergasted by the response. "I have never written a column that got a bigger response than the one announcing the Bad song survey," Barry wrote. "More than ten thousand readers voted, and the cards are still coming in."

Based on the results from Dave Barry's monumental reader survey, Dave Barry's book of bad Songs is a compilation of some of the worst songs ever written, including such special categories as Teen Death songs, songs That People Always Get Wrong, songs women Hate, and, of course, Weenie Music."

Warning at the beginning of the book: "Do not read this book. It will put bad songs into your brain."

My thoughts: It's classic Dave Barry - hilarious, snarky, and written in his odd signature style. It only gets 4 stars simply because it was so short! The synopsis covers the basics - after a discussion of the bad song survey (including the scary rabidness of Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow fans), it's broken up into the different "genres." I'm glad I haven't heard most of the "Songs Women Really Hate" - I probably would have smashed the stereo!

It's kind of funny, some of the songs I wouldn't really have classified as bad, until I saw the lyrics written down. I then realized just how bad a song can be. I'd also never realized how many songs rely almost solely on the use of "na" and "wo" to flesh them out.

The worst song honour was hotly contested, but it went to MacArthur Park. People are confused by and don't care about that cake left out in the rain. There's also a lot of discussion of A Horse With No Name, and I agree with the book (and, from a quick Google, some stand-up comedians) - name the damn horse, you're in the desert with nothing to do!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: The Chili Queen

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Sounded good and won the Spur Award; Western for the Genre Challenge and Profession title for the What's in a Name? Challenge

Description: "Life may have been hard on Addie French, but when she meets friendless Emma Roby on a train, all her protective instincts emerge. Emma's brother is seeing her off to Nalgitas to marry a man she has never met. And Emma seems like a lost soul to Addie-someone who needs Addie's savvy and wary eye. It isn't often that Addie is drawn to anyone as a friend, but Emma seems different somehow. When Emma's prospective fails to show up at the train depot, Addie breaks all her principles to shelter the girl at her brothel, The Chili Queen. But once Emma enters Addie's life, the secrets that unfold and schemes that are hatched cause both women to question everything they thought they knew."

First line: "As the train pulled into the shabby station at Palestine, Kansas, the pinch-faced farmers and their wives in their rusty black-wool best lined up along the tracks like the teeth of a rake."

My thoughts: I don't think I'd ever read a Western before, so this was a new experience. I thought it was really cool to read a Western written by a woman - I always associate them with old guys like Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey.

The book is told in four parts, one for each main character - Addie French, madam of The Chili Queen; Ned Partner, bank robber; Emma Roby, a mail-order bride; and Welcome, a former slave turned cook at the whorehouse. It's the 1880's and most of the action takes place in New Mexico. I liked this device - it was an interesting way to reveal more information about the characters and what had really happened. Because things aren't always as they seem in this story, which makes for a few twists.

The tone of the story is a bit confusing - it's mostly quite light ("zesty" as one reviewer described it) but it also contains one of the most horrible descriptions of rape and murder I've ever read, as well as a few other grisly scenes. While they helped to shed light on the characters' past lives, it was a bit jarring to come upon these terrible things in what seemed like it was going to be rather a bank-robbing romp.

The verdict: Despite the tone issue, I think I'd read another book by Sandra Dallas (isn't that the perfect Western-author name?). Yee-haw!

Review: Secret Keepers

Secret Keepers by Mindy Friddle

3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved Friddle's first book, The Garden Angel; this is my second book for the Southern Challenge, y'all!

Summary: "At age seventy-two, Emma Hanley plans to escape small-town Palmetto, South Carolina, and travel the globe. But when her fickle husband dies in undignified circumstances, Emma finds herself juggling the needs of her adult children. Her once free-spirited daughter Dora turns to compulsive shopping and a controlling husband to forget her wayward past. Her son Bobby still lives with her, afflicted with an illness that robbed him of his childhood promise. When Dora’s old flame Jake Cary returns to Palmetto with a broken heart and a gift for gardening, the town becomes filled with mysterious, potent botanicals and memories long forgotten. Soon enough, Jake and his ragtag group of helpers begin to unearth the secrets that have divided the Hanleys for decades."

First line: "The town had moved the Confederate Monument from the square to the gates of Springforth Cemetery some twenty years after the War of Northern Aggression, and General Robert E. Lee - who stood atop the mossy marble with a scowl - had never quite recovered."

My thoughts: Both The Garden Angel and this book deal with mental illness (agorophobia and schizophrenia), magical inanimate objects (a house and flowers), and a death bringing on family problems and reconciliations (sometimes). I preferred the enchanted house to the enchanted flowers, but I do like the idea of the "secret keeper" flowers that smell like your absolute favourite scent in the world - it revealed a lot about the characters. I can't think what I would encounter in one of them!

I seem to be reading quite a few books set in the 80's this year - it seems a bit of a trend in "historical fiction." I am old, my childhood has become historical fiction! This is the second one in which the Vietnam War played a large role, which surprises me. I hadn't really realized it was still affecting people's lives well into the 80's, although of course it makes sense. Being Canadian, I guess it was just never a factor in the life of anyone I knew.

I think those references and the rather annoyingly cryptic pronouncements of schizophrenic Bobby made me like this book a bit less than The Garden Angel. But it's still an enjoyable book. Apart from the Vietnam stuff, I did like Jake and his ragtag band of gardeners, the Blooming Idiots. Dora's ultra-religious husband (who makes the family attend a church set up in what was once a mall) was awful and I liked her teenage son's efforts to escape his rigid control by - how rebellious - visiting his grandmother!

This book is set in my beloved South Carolina and the Southern-ness comes through well, especially in the hot weather and lush vegetation, as well as Emma Hanley coming from a fallen aristocratic family whose ancestral home is now inhabited by bums.

Things are wrapped up nicely at the end, with happy endings (and beginnings) for everyone who deserves them.

Themed Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Finished, hooray! My theme was books about sisters. I have to say, not as interesting as my theme last year, which was vampires. I just didn't seem to have enough books with a cool theme in my to-read list this time. Still, thanks to Wendy for hosting it again, it's a great idea - I just need to pick a better theme next year!

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
2. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
3. Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Given that I have no siblings, I was probably missing a big chunk of what you need to appreciate books about sisters! But it was still interesting to read about their relationships - some made me wish I had a sister, some made me glad I don't!

The House at Riverton was my favourite, followed by The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Sundays at Tiffany's

Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

2 stars

Reasons for reading: Turned out the book I'd taken on a trip was one I'd already read (darn British titles being changed in North America!), so I picked this up at the drugstore based on my Holly Golightly-like love for Tiffany's; it ended up accidentally being my 2nd James Patterson book so is now on my Seconds Challenge list

Barnes & Noble Summary: "Jane grew up very rich and very lonely. Her mother was much too busy with her Broadway theater company to be close to her nervous, introspective daughter. In fact, Jane had only one true friend, and he was imaginary. For years, "Michael" nurtured her in her solitude, amusing and comforting her with jokes and camaraderie. Decades later, Jane is still lonely and, though she is a successful playwright, still chained to her mother. Then one day, as if magically, Michael reappears. And this time he's real… "

My thoughts: This was an little odd book. Mr. Thriller Patterson teaming up with a children's author? Strange. I was intrigued by the premise, it's a cute idea - an imaginary friend coming back into one's life as an adult. But it's never really explained why Michael comes back, why Jane remembered him when all other kids forget, what exactly he is and why he's suddenly human... I guess the answer is supposed to be that they're soul-mates and it's all about the power of love, which is a theme I'm in favour of, but the whole thing was just a bit too lightweight for me.

The verdict: Romance and soul-mates, yay! New York theatre people, yay! Afternoons spent at Tiffany's and then hot fudge sundaes at a swanky hotel, yay! But overall...meh.