Saturday, July 31, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

The House at Riverton

1 book I read: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

2 words that describe the book: Family mystery

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Setting: Riverton House, England

Grace Bradley began her life in domestic service at Riverton House, the same place where her mother worked until becoming pregnant with Grace, when she was 14. At 98, Grace is visited by a film director making a movie about Riverton and who takes Grace back to the now-restored house, reawakening her memories of a terrible tragedy. Through memories, Grace relives the events leading up to and following the death of a bright young poet during a party in 1924.

Hannah Hartford is the oldest daughter of the family occupying Riverton House. She is a young woman who wants nothing to do with society -- She would prefer to run off to London to become a secretary than marry and spend her days running house and planning parties. Hannah finds a kindred spirit in Grace, but it isn't enough to save her from her eventual downfall.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked, as always, Morton's writing. It's evocative without being flowery, and it's easy-to-read without being simplistic.

I liked how this book gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a servant, a group that's often relegated to the background of a story.

I didn't like that not all the secrets were explicitly revealed. Yes, I know that's the whole point, that some secrets are taken to the grave, but I would have liked to know everything. I guess I'm nosy like that.

I liked the main setting of Riverton House. Even when the estate was in disrepair, I wanted to live there. Morton's descriptions of the beautiful, sprawling grounds and the stately home almost made the house a character in itself.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. I read this book nearly three years ago, before it was published in the United States, and I loved it then, too. This is a really rich book that has something for pretty much everyone.

The Whys and Wheres: I received my copy through the Barnes & Noble First Look program back in February 2008

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hush, HushTitle: Hush, hush

Author: Becca Fitzpatrick

Pages: 391

Source: Library

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "Chauncey was with a farmer's daughter on the grassy banks of the Loire River when the storm rolled in, and having let his gelding wander in the meadow, was left to his own two feet to carry him back to the chateau."

Summary (From book flap):

Romance was not part of Nora Grey's plan. She's never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how hard her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch comes along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Patch draws Nora to him against her better judgment.

But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora's not sure whom to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is and seems to know more about her than her closest friends. She can't decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.

For she is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those who have fallen -- and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost Nora her life.

My Two Cents:

Sometimes, I'm such a sucker for a paranormal teen romance. I just get drawn in by all the mystery and the tension and the hormones and, well, just everything. That happened to me with Hush, hush.

Oh, and I'm also a sucker for a gorgeous cover. Have you seen this thing? Go ahead, scroll back up and stare for a few moments. I'll wait.

Fitzpatrick has created a great story that unfolds slowly enough to not leave the reader feeling as if she's guessing everything well in advance but quickly enough that the story isn't plodding. Sure, there were things that I knew pretty much from the beginning (Like who the bad guys were in the story), but that didn't ruin my desire to find out what was going to happen and make me not want to finish the story. Her writing also helps propel the story along. It's easy enough to read that you don't have to go back and ponder too much, though it's not so simple that it bores you.

Nora's one of the better characters in the teen paranormal romance genre. She's got some strength and sass to her, so she's not boring like Bella (Ick. I'm not going to go on another Twilight rant again), but she's still naive enough that her wrong choices make sense.

Much has been made in some reviews about Patch and how he's "mean." I can say I'm not of that camp. I really, really liked him from the beginning. Maybe it was a subconscious thing because I knew that he was the hero of the story from the get-go, but I thought he was a great pairing for Nora. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's supposed to be smoking hot, too. Here I go, again, developing a lit-crush on a supernatural being whose age would get me arrested in real life.

There were a couple of things that bothered me about this book. One of them is particular to Hush, hush alone, and the other is sort of a trend.

First, I could not stand Vee. Every time she walked into a scene, I wanted to claw her annoying eyes out. She's so flighty and stupid, getting into all sorts of ridiculous situations and making lots of excuses (Like how Elliot showing up at Nora's door drunk and getting violent could have been him "blowing off some steam") for stupid behavior. She was the girl in high school whose neck you wanted to ring; the loud one that tried to be funny and sassy in class but just made people roll their eyes. Did. Not. Like.

I'm also not a big fan of this good-girl-good-student-gets-involved-with-supernatural-creature trend in teen paranormal romances. The main characters all seem to be (In the books I've read, which are of fairly limited scope) good students, quiet, uninterested in boys until that mysterious someone comes along, etc. Sure, there probably are a whole lot more of those types of girls out there reading these books, so it's a way to appeal to the audience, but why do all the heroines have to fall into the same mold? Can't some heroine, for once, be the bad girl?

Hush, hush is definitely at the top of the teen paranormal romance ladder, in my opinion. I can't wait to read the sequel, Crescendo (It's sitting on my bookshelf, but I haven't gotten to it yet)! If you like this genre, check this book out.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

Discord's Apple

1 book I read: Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

2 words that describe the book: Mixed fantasy

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Setting: Hope's Fort, Colorado

Evie Walker is a comic book writer who returns to her hometown to take care of her dying father. Little does she know, she's coming back to take care of much more than just that: She's meant to keep safe all the magical treasures from legend and history.

Alex is a mysterious man who shows up at Evie's father's door one day, rescuing her from a woman demanding to be let inside. When he rescues her once again from a frightening situation, Alex becomes a part of Evie's quest to protect the magical treasures in the basement.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that this was a fantasy book more about legends and myths than about supernatural beings. Don't get me wrong, I love a good vampire/angel/werewolf/other creature story, too, but there are just so many of those books out there now that this was a refreshing subject for a fantasy novel.

I didn't like that Robin (Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream) was a really horrible character in this book. Not really a criticism of the author or anything, but I like to think of Puck as an innocent little scamp running around making lovers all confused or turning a man into an ass, not doing the things he did in this story.

I thought the concept for this book was really interesting. There's a storeroom in someone's basement for all the magical relics of the world, and one family is charged with keeping them safe until their owners come back for them. How cool would that be to have Cinderella's slippers next to Jason's golden fleece and Arthur's Excalibur (Yes, Arthur's in this book, too!)?? Way cool is the correct answer.

I liked that the world in which Evie lived was not our own; it had a very near-apocalyptic, 1984-esque feel to it. The one thing I didn't like, though (Yes, a criticism within a praise!), was that we never really got an explanation as to how or why the world was the way it was. We got hints, such as constant checkpoints and random terrorist attacks, but we never got an explanation.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 4 stars. This was a really quick, enjoyable read with a really intriguing concept. Anyone who's read his or her share of myth and legend is likely to recognize someone in this book.

The Whys and Wheres: I received a copy from the publisher for review

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Friday, July 23, 2010

Review and Giveaway: Ni'il, the Awakening by James Boyle

Ni'il, the AwakeningTitle: Ni'il, the Awakening

Author: James Boyle

Pages: 202

Source: Author

Rating: 6/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: The banks of a small creek in Oregon's Coast Range Mountains."

Summary (From back of book):

When several people are brutally killed in the town of Placerton, on the isolated Oregon coast, most locals think a rogue bear or cougar is roaming the forested hills near town. Police Chief Dan Connor is not so sure. He has witnessed some very strange things lately, such as disembodied voices, muttering a strange foreign language and an old Indian man who seems to be near every crime scene, but disappears before he can be questioned.

Dan's investigation takes him to the local Sihketunnai Indians and their legend of the Ni'il, magical shamans charged with maintaining the balance between humans and the natural world. According to the elders, one of the Ni'il is responsible for the murders and intends to kill everyone in the community. It is Dan's job to stop it.

It sounded unbelievable, but was the only explanation that fit the facts.

As a violent Pacific storm crashes ashore, cutting off power and washing out roads -- cutting the town off from the outside world -- Dan finds himself entering a strange world of myth and magic that was not covered in his police training. He must use all his wits and new-found powers to save himself and his community from the Ni'il.

My Two Cents:

This was a really easy read. I read it in two sittings, but it could've been finished in just one.

The story was intriguing. I didn't find myself sucked totally in, per se, but I did want to find out what would happen. I liked that there was enough mystery surrounding the murders that most people could attribute them to wild animals, at least at first, but that those who looked closely enough and who asked enough questions saw that there was something more going on. The main problem, though, is that the summary from the back of the book pretty much tells me a lot of what I find out later in the book. I wish people wouldn't do that!

The characters were likable enough, but I didn't really feel intensely connected to any of them. The main character, Dan, is pretty much your typical police chief -- He puts the good of his town and the people in it before his own well-being, often running around with a severely injured shoulder just to check on things. It was hard to tell how old Dan was supposed to be. Sometimes I got the impression that he was in his 30s, but other times he felt as if he was in his 40s. Not really a significant detail, but something I wondered about while reading the book.

Boyle's writing is easy-to-read and accessible. He does a good job with giving detail and painting a scene. Sometimes, in the case of describing crime scenes, a little too much detail for my taste. There were several places, though, that could have benefited from an editor. The tenses of verbs changed from time to time, and there were a lot of extra commas, which got a little distracting.

This book was an enjoyable, easy read. Boyle released the second book in this planned trilogy, Ni'il: The War Within, in late 2008. I'd be interested in reading it to see what happens because Boyle left us hanging at the end.


I've found myself with an extra copy of this book (I'm still not quite sure how that happened...), so I'm offering it to one of you, my dear readers.

Just leave a comment with your e-mail address by 8 p.m. CST Friday, August 6, and this book can be yours!

This contest is even open internationally, since I've got some lovely readers across the globe!

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Makes a "Favorite" Author?

We all have them. The authors to whom we return time and time again; whose work has the same effect on our souls as "comfort food."

They're our favorites.

We campaign for them, extolling their literary virtues at every given opportunity. We line our shelves with their collected works and wait anxiously for their latest release.

But how did we choose those authors as our favorites? What makes one person's writing appeal to someone more than another?

Personally, I've always had a difficult time when I'm asked, "Who's your favorite author?" Sure, I easily blurt out, "Shakespeare!" but as far as novelists go, I've always had a long list to choose from. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf. Salman Rushdie. Thomas Hardy. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien. Kate Morton. Haruki Murakami. James Joyce. And if you add poets into the mix, that increases the number to include the likes of John Keats, Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, etc., etc., etc. I can rattle off the list for ages, but I always feel, when I'm asked that question, as if I'm forgetting someone crucial. But, outside of Shakespeare, to pick a "favorite" is virtually impossible for me.

There are some things that all the authors on my list have in common. They're all fabulous storytellers with a gift for language. They all appeal to my mind and my heart in some way or another. But they're all so, so different. If you take a passage from Jane Austen, for example, and put it up next to one straight out of Salman Rushdie's latest work, you're not going to be able to draw a lot of specific parallels. In a lot of cases, fans of Austen and Rushdie probably don't overlap. But there's something essential to both authors' works that makes them enduring and appealing.

So, what is it that causes an author to make your "favorites" list? Is it the stories he or she tells? The way the author plays with language? Does this author tug at your heartstrings or appeal to your cerebellum? What is it that makes you want to devour everything ever written by an author?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A NovelTitle: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Author: David Mitchell

Pages: 469 (I have an ARC -- Page numbers may be different in the final copy)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "'Miss Kawasemi?' Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. 'Can you hear me?'"

Summary (From back of book):

In the summer of 1799 a devout young clerk, Jacob de Zoet, disembarks at Dejima in hopes of making his fortune and then winning his wealthy fiancee back in Holland. But after a chance encounter with Orito Aibagawa, midwife to the city's powerful magistrate, the borders between propriety, profit, and pleasure begin to blur, and Jacob finds himself embroiled in a fateful game of duplicity, abduction, and murder. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the foreigners on Dejima, the axis of global power is turning.

My Two Cents:

This was my first David Mitchell novel, so it took me a while to get used to his style. At first, I didn't think I was going to like this book because it just seemed to crawl; there were so many conversations about little things that took up so much time. But, once the ball got rolling, I really enjoyed this book.

Mitchell's writing is great, once you get used to it. He has a gift for moving from the description of a place or thing right into the random thoughts going through a character's mind. He also has the a way with voices; he can move from one character's mind to another and you almost think it's a different writer because the narrative shifts just enough.

Jacob is a solid main character. He's got his flaws, sure, but he's very honest and devout most of the time. He doesn't change a whole lot throughout the novel, at least not until we see some bigger changes at the end, but that setup actually works well for him. Reading Jacob's character wasn't so much a matter of empathizing with him, but it more was a matter of being able to tolerate reading from his point of view, and Mitchell did that.

The most empathetic character in the book, though, and my favorite character, was Orito Aibagawa. We first meet her as she is in training on Dejima to be a doctor, something completely unheard of for a woman in Japan at that time. But, she was given the opportunity because she saved the magistrate's son, and we are able to see what kind of doctor she could become. Her situation takes a major turn for the worse once her father dies, though, and the empathy with the place in which she finds herself trapped is major.

The only real criticism I have of the book is that I would have liked to see a richer portrayal of Japan during the time. Mitchell did give a lot of different portraits, from the ruling system to the religion, but because most of the novel is set on a small, isolated area of Japan, we don't get to see a lot of things that I thought would be really interesting.

If you like historical fiction, interesting narratives, and rich, complicated plots, this book is for you.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

SM5S: Riddle of Berlin by Cym Lowell

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

Riddle of Berlin

1 book I read: Riddle of Berlin by Cym Lowell

2 words that describe the book: International thriller (Conveniently listed in the subtitle!)

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Setting: Paris, France

John C. Jaegerman is a former military man spending his middle years as an investigator. He fought in Vietnam and was offered the Medal of Honor, but declined it because he felt he didn't deserve it. We first meet him as he jumps off a bridge while jogging in Paris, convinced his life is over. But Jaegerman's story certainly doesn't end there. He is given another chance to right all the wrongs others have ignored, and a chance to have one more heart-pounding, life-threatening adventure.

The Lion goes by many names and is not only a secret arms trader, but also a master of disguise. He has his hands in many, many pots, most of which have very dangerous consequences that reach all over the world.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that the main plot in the book reaches a whole bunch of seemingly (at first) unconnected people who are all drawn into the danger. I'm not usually one for thrillers, but I like when a mastermind seems to be able to see the big picture when everyone else can only see small things.

I liked how easy of a read this one was. When I first started the book, I wasn't really in the mode to read a thriller, so it was a little bit of a slow start, but once I hit about page 40, I really wanted to find out what happened!

I didn't like how Jaegerman was called "Del" in narration even after the reader knows who he really is. I get that he's Del to the people he interacts with throughout most of the book, but I didn't think that name needed to be carried into the narration (Ex: "Del said" "Del did this") once we knew he was really Jaegerman.

I liked that, even in a book about an international plot involving murder, theft, etc., there were far more characters that I liked than characters I didn't like. I don't know why this fact struck me, but it did. Maybe it's because I was almost expecting to dislike more people than I did.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 3 stars. It was a well-crafted plot that kept me going, especially since thrillers aren't really my thing, but I think the writing could have used just a little more proofing before the book went to print. There were a lot of glaring grammatical and spelling errors that took me right out of the narrative.

The Whys and Wheres: I won a signed hardcover copy from Cym's blog a few months back. Thanks, Cym!

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

Nineteen MinutesTitle: Nineteen Minutes

Author: Jodi Picoult

Pages: 455

Source: Library

Rating: 7/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Sentence: "In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game."

Summary (From book flap):

Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens -- until the day its complacency is shattered by a shocking act of violence. In the aftermath, the town's residents must not only seek justice in order to begin healing but also come to terms with the role they played in the tragedy. For them, the lines between truth and fiction, right and wrong, insider and outsider have been obscured forever. Josie Cormier, the teenage daughter of the judge sitting on the case, could be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened in front of her own eyes. And as the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show, destroying the closest of friendships and families.

My Two Cents:

I'm not at all a Jodi Picoult fan. I read another book of hers last year, The Pact, and found the ending predictable and the writing less than impressive. I was a little reluctant to pick this one up, but I chose it for the first book for a book club at my library because it's readily available. I have to admit I was (mostly) pleasantly surprised.

Picoult's writing obviously evolved quite a bit from the earlier work of hers that I'd read. I wouldn't say it was spectacular, but it was clear and easy-to-read. If I had been able to sit down and read this book all at once, I easily could have finished it in a few hours because her writing was uncomplicated and the plot did draw me in.

I wouldn't say there was a "favorite" character for me, except maybe (Gasp!) Peter, the school shooter. He was the most sympathetic character because I knew kids who were treated the way he was in school, and I even was subjected to some of the same ridicule. Sure, none of the kids I knew went so far as to get revenge by killing people, but I could see where that impulse came from, especially if Peter had the dissociative condition the defense tries to claim.

There was something about Josie and Alex that just ground on me from the first page. I'm not sure what it was, but I just really didn't feel too much toward either of them and got kind of annoyed when I read their sections of the book.

While I overall liked the book, there were a couple things that I wasn't too fond of.

One thing I didn't like was how Picoult made the situation in Sterling mirror that of Columbine a little too much. She had a mother commit suicide in a pawn shop after her daughter was killed in the shooting (Although with Columbine, the daughter was paralyzed). There was a lone teacher who was killed, and he bled out in his classroom with a Boy Scout student trying to help him. She had an outsider who placed remembrance crosses for the dead also place a controversial cross for the shooter. I just felt that she should not have parroted these details, especially since her characters refer to Columbine as a real event. It was a little unoriginal for me.

I also didn't like the ending. People comment to me all the time that they can't stand the way Picoult ends some of her books, and I can see where they're coming from. I thought that the "twist" at the end was a pretty unnecessary one; it could have been done a totally different way and actually made more sense with the rest of the story. This ending left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall, though, I thought this was a good book which looks at a fictionalized school shooting not only from the perspective of the survivors and the rest of town, but also from that of the shooter. I would recommend this book to others.
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