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Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen Two estranged sisters forge a bond they never had as children in this new book of magical realism. Older sister Claire Waverly grew up living in her mother’s car, while Mom shoplifted a living and slept around. When her mother took her to the family home in North Carolina just before her younger sister’s birth, Claire vowed never to leave home. Sydney Waverly, however, followed in her mother’s footsteps, down to running back to Bascom with a young daughter in tow. The whole town knows that Claire has the Waverly touch – dishes cooked with the flowers from her garden will do strange things. But Sydney never thought she was a real Waverly. Claire learns to expand herself and Sydney finds her roots; they both find a little romance, as well, though that’s not the main point. I really enjoyed the relationships and the magic; the dialogue caught me the wrong way just a couple of times. The character names seemed like they were pulled right off our library storytelling roster, which was quite amusing. And for all these small flaws, this was one I ignored chores to read, a rare occurrence.
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No spoilers, I promise!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling I read it. I enjoyed it. I'm currently listening to the audio book. I'll be happy to discuss with anyone who's interested, but don't really feel like writing up a review. So there.

California Demon by Julie Kennon I must confess that I couldn't get through this second book about a Buffy-like demon hunter mom. It's just that it's a little too personal at this time. I can't really enjoy reading about a mother dealing with potty training and demons, when just potty training feels like too much just now. Maybe in 5 or 10 years I'll be able to joke about it. Meanwhile, if you're a Buffy fan and are not involved in toddler rearing, you might very well enjoy this.
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This is a pre-pub book, coming out in October, which one of my colleagues brought back from BEA.

Demon's KissDemon's Kiss by Eve Silver Clea Masters always thought her parents died in a car accident twenty years ago. She doesn’t know why she survived. Ciarran D’Arbois, a sorcerer sworn to protect the boundary between the human and demon worlds, remembers the dying eight-year-old who managed to draw on his power to heal herself very well. The crack in the boundary she opened up left him with a demon permanently struggling to escape its prison in his left hand. He just didn’t know she would be so irresistible 20 years later, and still able to siphon of his power without knowing it. But now, someone has betrayed the Compact of Sorcerers. Someone seems to think that Clea is the key destroying the boundary and letting demons have free reign on earth. Meanwhile, Clea and Ciarran can’t keep their hands off each other. Will this dangerous attraction prove to be their salvation or their downfall? OK, so there were some parts of this that made me snort – our sorcerer has an evil hand, for goodness’ sake, and it seems to draw a bit uncomfortably on Renaissance thinking about sex to have our heroine just leach power from our hero. However, the plot is fun, our heroine smart and capable, the sex steamy, and the author an anatomist who does not feel the need to use silly phrases like “woman cleft”. If you want some hot lovin’ with actual sparks, this is a good choice.
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book coverSoon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman Comic geeks, take note! This genuine no-pictures novel puts a fun and realistic spin on the world of superheroes and supervillains. Our antihero is Dr. Invincible, pondering on what separates villains from heroes, remembering key superheroes as they all attended the same high school for the gifted, and plotting again to take over the world. Our heroine is Fatale, a cyborg with only shadowy memories of her former, fully human life. She’s the newest member of veteran superhero team the Champions. As she never feels that she quite fits in, she watches the other team members closely, giving us as readers insight into them. The reflections fit in between showdowns in a book whose characters, setting, and plot are all compelling.
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book coverThe Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel by Jill Connor Browne with Karin Gillespie. Read by the author. I've been a fan of the Sweet Potato Queens for several years now, and heard really good things about the audio novel from a colleague. Well, I think it's a good first novel, and funny as novels go. It's just that novels are inherently less funny than a book of straight comedy. I remember my grandfather complaining about the Cosby Show for the same reason. The novel is a change from the books, aside from being fictional, in that the queens have different names instead of all being called Tammy. In the fictional world, Jill and friends Mary Bennet, Patsy, Gerald and Tammy form the Sweet Potato Queens in high school, to help Tammy get over being rejected by the Key Club. They have a highly successful debut in the homecoming parade, outshining the elected homecoming queen and president of the Key Club. The book proceeds to follow the Queens from high school in the 60's through to the 90's, with romances, career changes, and some painful misunderstandings between friends. It's all very southern, very soap-opera like, crude-mouthed and sparkly, like the Queens themselves, and very much for women.
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This book is probably of limited interest to my readership (assuming I know my readership.) But – just so you know what took so very much of my reading time the past several weeks, here you go:

Homeschooling: a Patchwork of Days by Nancy Lande This book contains essays from 30 different homeschooling families, detailing one day in their lives. Usually, it’s also accompanied by some of their homeschooling and education theories, and a follow-up a year later. Read more... )

While interesting, the homeschool book took a very long time to go through, and I felt in need of some extra light reading to follow. This one, passed on by a friend, has already been promised to two others wanting to read it. Maybe I should print out a Book Crossing tag for it.

The Very Virile Viking by Sandra Hill The year is 1000. Magnus Ericsson is a simple Viking man who likes plowing both fields and, um, women. He’s not ashamed of either of those, but with 11 living children, he’s become a laughingstock. He decides to take his nine youngest children and head for the New World, where his two older brothers had gotten lost years earlier. Going to a land without women and taking a vow of chastity should keep him from fathering any more children. But while sailing through a fog, he sees a vision of an old woman with prayer beads, and ends up in a very strange place called Holly Wood. The first woman he meets is, alas, beautiful and wearing clothing a lot skimpier than Vikings are used to. The last thing Angela needs in her life is another creep like her ex-husband, but Magnus might just have a good heart buried under all that macho bluster. And the Blue Dragon, her family’s struggling vineyard is certainly in need of help – in fact, her grandmother had been praying for a man for Angela and lots of children. There might be a bit too much praise for Wal-Mart and order-in pizza, but the romance is sizzling and the story highly amusing.
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Today, this book is #60 on Amazon’s bestseller list. This may or may not mean anything. In some sense, it is decidedly ironic that a book devoted to old-fashioned tastes in literature should be doing so well among today’s thrillers. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Thirteenth Taleby Diane Setterfield ”Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Lea?” Margaret Lea is a quiet and unfashionable woman. She works in her father’s antiquarian bookstore and lives in an apartment above it, living more in the pages of books by the likes of Bronte than in the modern day. Then she receives a letter from the most celebrated of modern authors, Vida Winter, requesting that she write her biography. The aged Miss Winter is accustomed to being a storyteller, not a fact teller, so it is up to Miss Lea to discover the truth behind the story that Miss Winter tells her. The tale is of wild girl twins whose mother and uncle, lost in their own dark secrets, abandoned them to the housekeeper and the gardener. Her quest leads her to a ruined Yorkshire manor, in search of a ghost and a missing governess, but finding instead a gentle giant. While searching, Margaret Lea must face her own ghost – the twin sister she never knew but cannot live without. The tale is unashamedly gothic, with an appreciation of language,well-developed characters, a darkly atmospheric setting, and a Plot Twist.
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The Birth House by Ami McKay World War I in tiny, remote Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. Dora Rare is the only girl in a large family of boys, the first girl in generations. At her mother’s urging, Dora becomes the apprentice to Miss Babineau, the local midwife and moves in with her, eventually taking over Miss B.’s practice and rivalry with the local “modern” doctor. The story is more about the characters and setting than the plot; an author’s note said that she wanted it to feel like treasures pulled out a pocket at the end of the day. Filled with short glimpses of daily life, letters, and newspaper articles, it is a beautiful testament to the courage of women. The book feels very similar to Jennifer Donnelly’s recent A Northern Light, while the rural Canadian setting reminded me of L.M. Montgomery, if she had written darker books for older readers.
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Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman In which our heroine Julie, a somewhat retiring high school student, shares her passion for Jane Austen with her best friend, Ashleigh, who does not do anything by halves. She sets them off on a quest to find Mr. Darcys, beginning by crashing the ball at the local prep school. Unfortunately, they both seem to fall for the same Mr. Darcy. The ending is a bit predictable – but the way there is both sweet and very funny. Although it’s geared towards teens, adult Austen fans would probably also enjoy it.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd Jessie Sullivan thought she was happy with her life and in love with her husband, Hugh. She also thought that she had left Egret Island, her childhood home off the coast of South Carolina. But when her mother unexpectedly chops off her finger, Jessie goes back to help. She finds herself falling in love with the island again. Most unexpectedly, she also finds herself falling in love with a Benedictine monk. Even though reading about adultery like this is terrifying for me, Kidd possesses the uncanny ability to take freakish plot elements and turn them into a beautiful and profound story.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan The dilemma is this: If you can eat anything, what should you eat? How do you pick? This is particularly relevant today, when there are more options and fewer rules (or many more systems of rules) than ever before. Journalist Pollan traces four meals (fast food, big organic, small farm, and foraged) back to their sources. What he finds is unexpected and fascinating. It’s no surprise that fast food isn’t great for people or the world, but Whole Foods organic doesn’t fare too well either. I was daunted by starting this rather thick book, but found it to be fascinating and fast to read. And it contains enough trivia to fill the needs of trivia buffs for a good long while: How many ingredients in a chicken nugget come from corn?
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Here are two books about women who don’t fit in with the way society tells them to be – one who rejoices to be different, and one who desperately wants to fit in.

Bitch Goddess by Robert Rodi This book chronicles the career of Hollywood B movie icon Viola Chute. She’s had a long and colorful career, involving not only some gloriously bad acting but numerous scandals. Now (1997) she’s decided that it’s time to write her memoirs. But when she fires her ghostwriter, he decides to probe deeper into her secrets to write an unauthorized tell-all biography. Intriguingly, this book is told only through interview transcripts, articles and emails – no two-sided conversations, no narrative text. It’s as enjoyable, and requires not quite so much suspension of disbelief, as one of those notorious B movies.

For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani Anju is dutiful Indian girl, on the Quest for the Perfect Indian Boy. She believes in arranged marriage, and that the boy intended for her has already been born – but how will she find him? Her search takes her from Bombay to New York and even Paris, as chick lit meets traditional Indian culture. One sad note: the best I can say about the audio version is that the narrator was really good at imitating a voice over the phone. Please, just read the book.

And one extra:
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell I talked about this book earlier on the board, and it’s even better now that I’ve finished it. More than just talking enthusiastically about books, “Madame Esme” gets down and dirty with hundreds of ways to have fun with kids, including the appropriate books. Yeah, they’ll probably gain some reading skills in the process – but the focus is on fun, and lots of it.
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This time, only books I enjoyed. Really. And they're all recent, though I couldn't get my hand on Jennifer Crusie's latest. Otherwise, these books don't have much in common.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men by R.A. Smith McCall. Here it is, the promised third mystery, this one the second book in its series. It’s another village, though now the village is in Botswana. The story moves along at a relaxing pace. Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, takes some cases and contemplates life. Her assistant, Mma Makutsi, opens a new business, the Kalahari Typing School for Men. The book is full of old-fashioned African wit and common sense, somewhat alien to modern sensibilities: When a rival detective agency opens, there is some discussion of whether male toughness or female attention to detail make for a better detective. There is no argument over the characteristics themselves. Still, I very much enjoyed this book, particularly on CD with the musical African accents brought to life.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy by The Fab Five. You love the show – now there’s the book, too. Each of the Fab Five presents a section on his particular area of expertise – food, grooming, interior design, fashion and culture. The advice is presented with their characteristic humor, plus lots of gorgeous full-page photographs featuring the subjects and the Fab Five. The advice is sound, and brief – perfect for short coverage on these important areas. Of course, highly slanted towards men – but isn’t it about time?

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie. To be honest, most of my friends would rather be caught dead than caught reading a romance novel. Here’s a book to tempt you. Jennifer Crusie writes hip modern romances that blur the boundary between traditional romance and chick lit, with heroines who have more than fluff in their brains and are not at all inclined to swooning. When Quinn’s long-term live-in boyfriend refuses to let her keep the dog she’s fallen in love with, she realizes that he has always tried to run her life, and she has had enough, both of him and of boring predictability. And why is she just now noticing how hot her best friend Nick is? This fast-paced story has suspense, Fleetwood Mac, and of course, lots of romance and good sex.
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Today, for your enjoyment – two new and highly rated books, and a trio of mysteries.

The New Books

I know, I said I was only going to review books I liked. Well, I can’t say that I loved these books, but they were interesting and got good reviews from other people, so I thought I’d let you know what I think.

Alva and Irva, the Twins Who Saved a City by Edward Carey. Library Journal listed this as one of the best science fiction novels of 2003. Alas, the setting, a fictional European city, is as close as it gets to science fiction. Alva and Irva are painfully socially awkward, unsure even how to relate to each other. To save their own relationship, they decide to make a plasticine model of the entire city, with Alva taking notes on the buildings and Irva making them. When the city is hit by a massive earthquake, this model is the only remaining record of how the city was. The twins are lauded as the saviors of the city. The writer is not French, but lives in Paris, which perhaps accounts for the odd feel of the book, written like an experimental film with odd lighting and film angles, giving ordinary things unusual prominence. Was it enjoyable? The jury is still out. But memorable and thought-provoking, definitely.

Bandbox by Thomas Mallon. This book was billed as a romp through the exciting publishing world of the 1920s. It is that, chronicling the battle between two men’s magazines. The biggest drawback to this otherwise fine book is that the perspective switches from section to section between any one of about 20 main characters. It took me most of the book to remember all of them. Write them down at the beginning, and you should be able to enjoy the book.

The Mysteries

These are all mysteries of the type called “cozy” by librarians – no graphic violence or sex (romance allowed), usually set in a small village, and generally feel-good-at-the-end books. If you liked Agatha Christy, you’re likely to like these.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton. This novel is about as comfort-read as it is possible to get, with nary a sharp edge. Down-and-out American Lori Shepherd finds she must spend a month in a cottage in England (all expenses paid), to fulfill the last wishes of Aunt Dimity, previously known to Lori only as a bedtime story. No, no murders or thefts, but this book does feature some friendly ghosts, plenty of romance, and a stuffed pink bunny. This is the first book in the series, which is still on-going, and seems to get only better as it goes on.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. A mystery classic – this is the first in a series that has been going on for nearly thirty years, and still has legions of fans. Our heroine, Amelia Peabody, is (at this point) a sharp-tongued Victorian spinster, who would rather have her mind than a man, thank you very much. She sets off on a journey to Egypt for some amateur archaeology, taking the waif-like Evelyn under her wing along the way. When somebody – with the audacity to try to look like a mummy – tries to kidnap Evelyn, Miss Peabody sets out to stop the miscreant. I really enjoyed this as a recorded book, where the snap of Miss Peabody’s character comes through especially vividly.

OK, I lied. It was supposed to be a trio of mysteries – I’m still reading the third. I’ll get back to that one.


Feb. 25th, 2004 07:59 pm
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It’s February here. I guess it’s February everywhere, but here, right now, this is meaning in-between temperatures. Warm enough to melt the snow that I love, leaving green mud and crusty black not-quite melted piles. Not warm enough for flowers or the shedding of winter clothing. Normally I love winter, but this year is just rough. It’s everyone I know depressed, overwhelmed, bones breaking and loved ones dying. Spring will make it better, right?

In the meantime, two books of the escapist variety:

Pirates! by Celia Rees who also wrote Witch Child, which I didn’t like but which was extremely popular. This one, however, is a great romp. Nancy Kington is the daughter of an 18th century Jamaican plantation owner, sent there for the first time after her father’s death. There she meets Minerva, first her slave, then her best friend. They run together from Nancy’s arranged marriage to an Evil Rich Man and Minerva’s Evil Overseer – straight to lives as female pirates! All the necessary elements are here – villains, true love, chases, duels and fabulous jewels. I know, it’s marketed for teens, but you’ll enjoy it too. Really.

Getting Mother’s Body by Suzan-Lori Parks. This is a road novel that starts in the mostly African-American community of Lincoln, Texas. Billy Beede is 15 and pregnant. When she learns that her mother’s grave, rumored to be filled with pearls and diamonds, is about to be paved over, she determines to make the trip to Arizona and dig them up. Her mother’s former lover is determined to stop her. Most of her relatives want a share in the loot. It’s told in first person, with each chapter being narrated by a different character. If you can, I recommend the book on tape – dead Willa Mae Beede’s chapters are nearly all blues songs, which the author sings beautifully in the recorded version.


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