Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: Revised Edition (Paula Spencer and Harvey Karp)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
More reassuring than educational, this is an easy-to-read, humorous collection of parenting advice dealing with how to manage your pesky toddler from their first step through the terrible twos and beyond.  Drawing a lot of parallels between the developmental patterns of cavemen, chimps, and toddlers, Harvey argues that if we can communicate on the toddler’s level (or the caveman level), we can soothe, reassure, and diffuse tantrums quickly.  Though it is entertaining, it is long on analogies and anecdotes, and short on delivering what it really promises – a too-good-to-be-true, one-style-fits-all solution.  Consider it reassurance that others have also struggled, and take the solutions with a grain of salt.
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Posted in Nonfiction

The Lemon Table (Julian Barnes, Short Stories)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A dense and beautifully written collection of stories whose only common thread is that all of its main characters are growing old, and either contemplating death, or the life they’ve lived: the mistakes, the regrets, the small joys of everyday life and love.  Probably my favorite work by Julian Barnes, its characters vary between being poignant and polished, or vulgar and offensive — sometimes all of the above all at once.  It is an enthralling, emotional read that deserves to be not only read, but repeated.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

Heartless (Kat Martin)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A slight twist on the Faustian bargain, Heartless is a rather serious, borderline melancholy romance about a fourteen-year-old tenant’s daughter who agrees to become a lecherous earl’s mistress in exchange for a lady’s upbringing/education.  The earl dies in the first couple chapters, leaving Ariel to fulfill the pact with his bastard son. They’re both, in some ways, social outsiders trying to carve out a place for themselves within a more rigid British hierarchy – but unfortunately, this particular aspect remains a little underdeveloped.  Nonetheless, there are interesting villains and murderous side plots to go along with the more expected lovers’ misunderstandings.  Martin’s a talented writer, and you’ll care for both characters by the end… it’s just a little darker and perhaps thus a little less repeatable than other offerings.

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Posted in Romance

Devil in Winter (Lisa Kleypas, Wallflowers #3)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As usual, Kleypas is great at giving us multi-layered characters with an entertaining supporting cast.  Unlike the previous books in this series, the side characters here feel more secondary, meaning the weight of the story really falls on the two protagonists.  St. Vincent, the nearly irredeemable rake who needs to marry an heiress, is believably complex and interesting, while his muse Evie feels a little too blank-slate, and we’re never quite certain what it is about her that St. Vincent eventually becomes obsessed with. Still, this is a great example of the genre, Evie has lots of plucky moments (like the opening sequence where she proposes to St. Vincent), and it’s well worth the read, though it’s neither the strongest example of Kleypas or the Wallflower series.

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Posted in Romance

Not Quite a Husband (Sherry Thomas)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book and I have a love/hate relationship.  On the one hand, it’s very well researched (including medical details ranging from dissection to infiltration anesthesia and background information on Indian geography, coolies, and fakirs).  On the other hand, the characters (and author) seem so eager to impress us with their genius (he’s a mathematical prodigy, she’s a distinguished 18th century surgeon), vocabulary, and range of knowledge (discussing the “insufficiencies of Euclidean geometry,” intermingled with descriptions like “an intrepid deodar” or “pellucid mountain clarity”) that they’re almost unbearably pretentious.  It’s creative in terms of its setting, characters, and story arc – they’ve annulled their marriage by the end of the prologue, and so we watch them three years later, getting to know one another and flashing back to their prior relationship. Ultimately, though, the novel vacillated between completely engrossing and downright annoying (with sometimes creepy sex scenes, see spoilers below).  I’m intrigued enough to read her other works, but it isn’t a book I’ll be repeating, and I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it.

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Posted in Romance

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued (Ann Crittenden)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though well-written and thought provoking, The Price of Motherhood is going to be a divisive book for many people – in it, Crittenden effectively argues that the “mother” (defined as the primary nurturer/caregiver within the household) is often asked, consciously and unconsciously,  to give up a large portion of her professional identity, her future income, and even her sense of self-respect.  The book is a well-organized mixture of surveys, journalistic-style reporting and interviews, as well as an analysis of how other countries have handled the issues of parenting,  including paid time off, etc.  Though there wasn’t much that I hadn’t heard of tangentially, it’s presented here with a blend of anecdotes and data that is engrossing and articulate and addresses an issue that should be generating more conversation and debate.

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Posted in Nonfiction

Dreaming of You (Lisa Kleypas, Gamblers #2)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is an earlier Kleypas work and though it is still fairly well written, it ultimately feels like an earlier work of a talented, but still developing, writer.  The plot centers around an acclaimed author who saves the life of a notorious gambling club owner… and it meanders quite a bit, the dialog lacks the sparkle of her later works, and the characters are more one-dimensional than usual (she’s naive and innocent, he’s hardened and weary).  Also, there are some real moral gray areas that you don’t often encounter in a regency romance (spoilers below), which, though different and arguably intriguing, also make the novel considerably less escapist than I like.  I don’t regret reading it, but there were parts that were… surprisingly difficult to get through, and the most noticeable feeling I felt upon completion was relief.  It’s not something I’d recommend, even to a Kleypas fan.

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Posted in Romance

Then Came You (Lisa Kleypas, Gamblers #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The characters are vivid, intense, and flawed – sometimes they’re almost annoyingly temperamental and illogical.  Lily, our main protagonist, despite the fact that she’s had a broken engagement, an unsuccessful one night stand, and a young daughter of her own, has moments where she acts more like a petulant teenager than a grown woman.  Our hero at least becomes more even-keeled as the novel progresses, though sometimes Alex feels more like a foil to Lily’s wildness than a sane man (just because he’s almost unbearably tolerant and patient with Lily at times). Despite this, the story is engaging and involving, the characters are strong yet vulnerable; their deepening love for one another is ultimately very believable. There are some pacing issues that you don’t see in Kleypas’s later works, but despite its flaws Then Came You is a worthwhile read.
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Posted in Romance

It Happened One Autumn (Lisa Kleypas, Wallflowers #2)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A great example of the genre, with characters that are extremely well-developed: powerful, attractive, and intelligent, but still flawed enough to feel layered and relatable.  Though Kleypas is adept at writing character-driven historical romances, she hits just the right amount of sensuality in this novel: it’s a well-paced, amusing opposites-attract story between a brash American heiress and a traditional, straight-laced earl.  It’s a wonderful mixture of wit and sex that also serves as a nice introduction for characters who will be developed in later novels… and it’s a great example of strong characters, who struggle falling in love because neither wants to give up the independence that comes with being in a relationship nor are they willing to surrender to the vulnerability that comes with falling in love. A wonderful read that is completely repeatable and memorable.

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Posted in Romance

The Pirate and the Pagan (Virginia Henley)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Henley is all about plot and sex, and this book has plenty of both. The main characters are so beautiful, sensuous, and powerfully arrogant, that they seem not just larger than life but a bit one-dimensional.  There is plenty happening both in and out of the bedroom – besides the almost gratuitous amounts of sex, there is political intrigue, pirates, highway robbery, secret identities, and even a small war. You’ll never be bored, but it’s hard to really engage or relate with these characters. Our protagonists careen from one tumultuous sex scene to another, and the plot rushes forward at almost breakneck speeds towards its predictable conclusion.  Still, Henley is a witty, articulate writer and there are enough interesting sequences to make this at least a somewhat enjoyable read.
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Posted in Romance