Monday, December 26, 2011

Santa Saves Boswell by E. Anderson

The story contained within this little gem is heart-warming and begs the reader to ask for more.  I appreciate Mr. Anderson's use of a child's drawing on his cover, though I think Boswell is the true hero of the story.  This book is perfect for the child who still believes in magic.  It has wonderful and poetic language that moves the reader to the next page effortlessly.  This is definitely a Christmas tale, but the story within can be read year-round.

Looking forward to reading the Firepoint Fables!
(see author's website)

Highly recommend.  FIVE of five stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Secrets of an Old Typewriter: Stories from a Smart and Sassy Small Town…by Susie Duncan Sexton

Review based on ARC.

I'm feeling nostalgic these days and this book fit in with that mode.  While I could not relate to the time of this book, I did enjoy learning about it.  Sexton's style is easy and conversational, though not as polished as I have become accustomed to.  However, the style of the author - in its somewhat clumsy, completely accessible, old-lady-next-door way, was endearing and comforting.

Coming from a relatively "small town" (not this small) myself, and having been raised to appreciate Soda Jerks and Otis Redding, after spending over a decade out in the real world, this was a welcome saunter down simplicity.

I can understand why many were frustrated with the book.  The plot is less a plot and more a series of memories, the writing style is basic, and the references do not always involve the younger reader in its import.  However, I think if you take the book as a series of conversations with your grandma or neighbor, it becomes enjoyable and sweet.

I recommend.  It will more likely appeal to older readers who can relate to the period and the mentality -- and many younger, more impatient readers will have difficulty staying focused.  But if you're looking for that simple little break, pick it up and read a chapter or two...

(note: I was born in the late 70s)

THREE of five stars.

Meeting the Dog Girls by Gay Terry

Review based on ARC.

Absolutely worth your time.

The words and images on the cover of this little treasure do not do justice to what is within.  Terry's imagination and creativity are a welcome addition to my library.

Again, I find myself reading short stories -- a collection of things.  I used to think that I wasn't really into short stories, but really, I think it was just too many bad sets in a row.  Suddenly emerge writers who bring new light to the "genre."

Like Gaiman's Fragile Things, I found myself quickly turning pages of short little snippets that came to feel like personal friends.  I both did not want each story to end and could not wait to get to the next one to see what else Terry had in store for me.

Terry's gift is in presenting the crazy, the abnormal, the other-worldly with subtlety and elegance.

I highly recommend.
FIVE of five stars.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life by Douglas T. Kenrick

Subtitle: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity are Revolutionizing our View of Human Nature)

Review based on ARC

This was, for me, someone without much of a background in "evolutionary psychology," interesting and thought provoking. I appreciated that the author presented the theory without dumbing it down too much, while still making it accessible to someone who is interested in psychology but doesn't quite have the time to really focus on it.

The author expresses his theories on how our natural inclinations toward selfishness and pleasure have often given way to the some of society's greatest achievements. He uses anecdotes, including personal ones, to offer examples of his theories and, ultimately, makes the book intriguing and entertaining, without really losing sight of his "sciency" theories.

Whether, in the end, you agree with Mr. Kenrick and the other evolutionary psychologists or not, it is worth reading this fascinating exploration of our motivations and how they move society and individuals forward in a productive way (or, at least someone's theory of that ;)).

Definitely recommend for the curious reader.
FOUR of five stars.

Haazinu (Listen Up): A Book of Prophecy by Yerachmiel Ben-Yishye

Review based on ARC.

This is an intellectually stimulating novel exploring religious beliefs and personal philosophies. I have read that some readers have been offended or confused, but I found that if you take the novel as it is presented, and do not impose your own or society's expectations on it, it was an enjoyable read.

It explores several aspects of the jewish faith, of which I have limited exposure, purportedly through a group therapy session for the terminally ill. The interweaving relationships of the men in the therapy group, combined with the riddle they ultimately attempt to solve keeps the novel engaging and the reader thinking.

As usual, I do not wish to spoil any of what the reader will discover, but I recommend to someone who is open minded about religious and philosophical beliefs and who is looking for a "thinker."

THREE of five stars.

Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb by George Rabasa

Review based on ARC.

I really enjoyed this book. It has taken me altogether too long to get through it, but that has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with my crazy life. In fact, escaping my crazy life and entering Adam's was just the thing I needed.

The book starts off with a letter from the Director of Counseling Services at the institute. I thought this was a clever and well done intro to the novel. I was immediately intrigued and impressed with the author's presentation of this perspective.

The adolescent love story in this novel is compelling and entertaining, to say the least. Adam meets his love on the way back to the mental institution and from that point forward begins an unhealthy (not surprising) obsession. Of course it wouldn't be an adolescent love story if the feelings were mutual.

Without ruining any of the story, I will say that I was pleased with the author's take on obsession and very happy to have been graced with this book. It is dark and engaging. Just how I like things. ;)

Definitely recommend.
FOUR of five stars.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino.

Review based on ARC.

wow. I barely know where to begin. I can see why the book has won Japan's equivalent of the National Book Award and why it was made into a move (that I hope to see soon!!).

First. Get past the first 20 pages. Mystery readers who are used to the flash-intro may find this novel begins a bit slowly - starting with a "beginning" but not with some huge shock-and-awe scene. That, combined with the unfamiliar names, can make the book just a tad harder to access from the start. But, as I said, give it 20 pages. At page 18, I lost track of the page numbers and the previously unheard names (Ishigami was easy, but Yasuko versus Yukawa was a little trickier at first) were already familiar.

Second. I wouldn't actually call it a murder "mystery." Typically, that brings to mind a book in which the murderer and often the murder implement is unknown. In this book, you know from the beginning what has happened. Instead, I would categorize it as a cat-and-mouse intellectual thriller. Who will "win"? The brilliant guy on side A or the brilliant guy on side B?

On top of that, there aren't any "bad guys" to hate (aside from one, but he does not really bother us) ... and hardly a "good guy" to cheer. Instead, the characters are complex, realistic, vivid, and endearing.

I could not possibly divulge too much of a plot for fear of ruining what will be a thrilling ride for readers of this book. So instead, I say: read it. Give yourself enough time to get into the book; give yourself enough mental energy to wrap your head around the complexities of the narrative; give yourself a little space to process what happened once you are finished.

I would say the only "bad" thing about the novel is that there were just a couple little trips in the translation... but I was reading an advance readers' edition, so I imagine they are no longer present. In other words, absolutely excellent.

Highly recommend.

FIVE of five stars.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

Review based on ARC.

The past several months of my life were crazy, and I was looking to a book to allow me full "escape" privileges. Because this book did not quite allow that (I will explain), I was harder on it when first reading it than is fair. In the end, it completely redeemed itself, even to my judgmental eyes.

The book has been criticized as being unrelatable because the characters are "poor little rich girls" living lives that normal teens do not share. I actually do not agree (though I did at first). And I say this as someone who did not grow up around wealth.

The book is broken into 4 sections. One appears at the beginning and end, and is the essential narration establishing the reason behind the other three sections, which are confessions written by/from the perspective of the three eldest girls in a family of 6 children, all grandchildren to the Almighty Lou. Almighty has threatened to disinherit the family because a member of the family has deeply "offended her." The family (the 6 kids & their 2 parents) determine that the three eldest girls are the most likely culprits, and they set out to write their confessions.

The first confession is by Norrie, the eldest girl. This is the part that I can see most people criticizing as "poor little rich girl." This is the weakest part of the book, but a lot of necessary background information comes out in this section, setting up the rest of the book for the more interesting narrations. Norrie is the well-behaved daughter until she meets a boy in graduate school in an evening speed-reading class and falls for him, throwing all caution to the wind, including her family's reputation. This is the part of the book that, while I was going through my own difficulties in life, which were significantly more overwhelming than meeting some guy and not knowing what to do about it, made me annoyed and frustrated that I had to read a book with a vapid protagonist. However, the writing was good enough that the reading was quick and easy and I got through Norrie's tale in due time.

And Jane's story, the second eldest daughter, is much more interesting than Norrie's. If other readers are annoyed by Norrie's story, I recommend at least giving Jane a chance. This is where the story begins to have some interest. Not only is Jane more relatable, but she is interesting and is a dynamic character. Where Norrie's story had the tone of a defensive teenager who just wanted to convince her Almighty Grandmother that her path was the right path, Jane explains her reasoning, but the reader actually sees movement in her character and personality. Much more enjoyable. Even if Jane is not relatable, she is at least interesting!

The worst part of the remainder of the book is that, by the end of Jane's story, I already knew what Sassy's confession would be. So I assumed the remainder of the book would be completely predictable. However, while I was right about her essential confession, I was pleased with the story and the development of her character and others in the book. I was particularly impressed with Standiford's representation of Cassandra (Sassy's tuttee) & their relationship.

And the end, which encompassed the final few pages of Almighty receiving the confessions and her reaction to them, was satisfying and even moving.

My opinion of the book completely changed by the end. When I receive books directed at a high school audience through the early reviewer program, I read the book w/ an awareness of the intended audience. That being said, I would highly recommend the book to junior high & high school girls. I would also recommend the book to older women who are looking for a little escape and perhaps a little reminiscence of their own high school days.

FOUR of five stars.