Yearly Archives: 2012

Mistress (Amanda Quick)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Quick and entertaining dialogue as well as plentiful character development and interaction still can’t save this book from many of its shortcomings: a mystery/blackmail side plot that is far too predictable and characters who are too larger-than-life to feel believable or allow for empathy.  The premise is interesting — you have a quiet country miss who is purposefully masquerading as a widow and paramour of an infamous earl in order to investigate and root out a blackmailer threatening her aunt’s happiness. She’s an intelligent antiquities specialist, and he’s usually devoted to his more scientific pursuits (fashioning a hydraulic pen, astronomy), but it’s one of those novels where they’re intelligent except when interacting with one another.  They make assumptions, have misunderstandings, et cetera. It’s a very quick and light read, and made for a pleasant few hours, but it’s hard for this to be more than a barely recommend considering the amount of good, solid historical romance out there, some of it by Quick!
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Posted in Romance

Wonders of the Invisible World (David Gates)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Gates creates a hosts of characters who are ordinary, extraordinary, tragic, and believable: they are steeped in both cynicism and hope, they both loathe and love the environments around them, they talk to themselves, saying, “enough with the similes and sentimentalities!” yet often taking us there anyway.  They’re meta — really meta — at times, always self-deprecating, make a host of mistakes and justifications (adultery, drugs, escape from the city to suburbia), and find small relief in their daily routines. The dialogue is quick, sparse, and effective, and the struggles are familiar and easy to empathize with… overall, this is one of the strongest short story collections I’ve read.
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Posted in Literary Fiction

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself (David McRaney)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is probably fine for readers who have very little background in human psychology, but if you’ve ever read anything else on the topic, it’s likely to be repeated here.  The chapters, though numerous, are extremely short and give a very superficial treatment to common cognitive errors and logical fallacies.  If this is your first encounter with the subject material, you will likely find this to be an entertaining and interesting overview.  If, on the other hand, you already know anything at all about these topics, you will find this book to be a frustrating repetition of snippets you have seen or heard elsewhere.  There’s nothing new here, but McRaney has an engaging style and a great knack for humor, so this has the potential to be a great read for the right audience… that just wasn’t me.
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Posted in Nonfiction

Secrets of the Heart (Patti Shenberger)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The book starts with arguably its most controversial plot line — I don’t want to give it away for everyone (spoilers below), but let’s just say it’s a breakup that’s quite dramatic and also a bit heartbreaking.  Despite that (I’m not usually a fan of my escapist fiction starting with such heady drama), it was a thoroughly interesting and engrossing read.  Ten years pass between the initial breakup and the current action, and it’s quite obvious that old memories and emotions flavor everything that happens between our main characters.  Further, there are additional complications in that he’s a prince (yes, really) and she’s a cardiac surgeon used to having her own way.  Though I think there were some missed opportunities (in that this really should probably have been a slightly longer novel so that there was time to address everything brought up) and the dialogue is sometimes a little stilted (more on this below), overall, it was a very well done novel that kept me interested and invested in both of the main characters and their journey towards one another.
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Posted in Romance

Zoo City (Lauren Beukes)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In Zoo City, people’s crimes are given corporeal forms as magic power-granting animal companions that the criminal must carry around with them.  The protagonist is one such individual who must solve a mystery with the help of her sloth animal companion that grants her the power to find lost things.  Zoo City placed me in the odd position of really trying to like a book even though I found it somewhat of a chore to get through from start to finish.  The setting is imaginative and the author does a good job providing atmosphere, but I can’t recommend the book based on the fact that the setting and the story don’t really hold together or have much substance.
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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Mail Harry to the Moon (Robie H. Harris)

Not Recommended, Not Repeatable

An older sibling tries to adjust to having a newborn in the house.  He has several suggestions for what to do about the pesky infant, for example, that he should be flushed down the toilet, thrown in the trash, and as the title suggests, mailed to the moon.  There are many books about how to help older children adjust to a new addition to the family, and though this one is humorous and has cute illustrations, that’s ultimately all it is — which is a missed opportunity, really.  The book could easily have come up with a reason or resolution for the older sibling’s angst.  Instead, he wakes up one day, worries that his brother really was mailed to the moon, and observes that baby Harry is too little to take care of himself, and should be brought back.  Again, while this isn’t terrible, it also isn’t recommendable, mostly because the subject matter makes it a wasted opportunity.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

The Little Fir Tree (Margaret Wise Brown): A Special Christmas Review

Recommended, Repeatable

I have to admit some bias here: I love this book. My father read it to my sister and me every Christmas Eve when we were little, and that tradition continues to this day. He reads to us from an old version which his mother gave to him when he was young; the new version has condensed the story into fewer pages, has updated illustrations by Jim Lamarche, and has cut out the sheet music and a few of the songs, but the story remains the same, right down to the old-school capitalizations of words like “Spring” and “Winter” and the little boy having a “lame” leg. This is no Goodnight Moon; the story is more complicated and not rhyming, more suitable for kids 3 and up. The author does a great job of making you feel empathy for the main character, which is fairly impressive considering that the main character is a tree. Though it is a Christmas book, there are no religious themes. It’s an uplifting holiday story about the hope, love, and joy of Christmas, and it’s very, very repeatable.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

Scandal’s Bride (Stephanie Laurens, Cynsters #3)

5 out of 5

Cut to the Chase:
This is my second favorite Laurens novel, and a bit of a guilty pleasure — I know she’s playing on stereotypes and glossing over details, but somehow I just don’t care. With our heroine Catriona, who is a healer and witch, there is an aspect of magic and fantasy that Laurens rarely explores and in Richard, the bastard son of a Duke, we have a noble hero who is nonetheless a bit of an outsider looking in. They are both people whose family situations have been defined for them; watching them discover each other and form a family is enormously engaging and enjoyable.
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Posted in Romance

White Apples and the Taste of Stone (Donald Hall)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I don’t like poetry. I try to avoid reading poems because usually, I have the same reaction reading poems as I do when staring at abstract art: huh?  But this is a selection of poems from 60 years of writings.  They are intensely emotional, sparsely written, beautiful poems from the former poet laureate, and well worth the read.
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Posted in Literary Fiction

Great by Choice (Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is an interesting look into some companies that have thrived throughout the sometimes chaotic economic ups and downs of recent years. Similar to what he has done in his past works, Collins (working with Hansen here) researched a variety of companies and then chose the ones that significantly outperformed their peers despite similar circumstances and starting points. The book focuses on the set of companies that succeeded despite uncertain environmental influences and conditions.  If you’ve read other works by Collins, it has a similar feel and ring — with a lot of well told/interesting anecdotes followed by seemingly boiled down, bare bones advice and to-dos. It’s an interesting read, though a little repetitive compared to Collins’s past works.
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Posted in Nonfiction