Monthly Archives: March 2013

When Strangers Marry (Lisa Kleypas)

0 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is my least favorite Lisa Kleypas book (one of her first as a romance author and I think her first with Avon). You’ve got a hero and heroine who marry early and are attracted to one another, but also a lot of things that are just overly dramatic (for the sake of being dramatic). There’s the suspicion that our hero murdered his first wife (of course not), the horrible stepfather who’s trying to force our heroine into a marriage, and rebellious teenaged sons the hero is trying to raise… there are just too many balls to juggle, all of them a little overdone, so that the romance gets lost.

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Posted in Romance

You Are Not a Stranger Here (Adam Haslett)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a beautifully written collection of short stories that explore mental illness, death, depression, homosexuality, and how we experience our own pain, as well as the pain of others. The descriptions are sparse yet powerfully compelling, and the stories that work will stay with you, pulling you in and forcing you to feel the turmoil the characters are experiencing. Though there are some weak stories here and there, the powerful stories are more than worth the purchase price of the collection as a whole. One of my favorites… though it is a bit of an exercise in misery, with all of the stories being tragic, tragic, tragic..

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Posted in Literary Fiction

The Baby Names Almanac 2013 (Emily Larson)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though it’s a fairly detailed list of names and brief descriptions of their meanings, there isn’t really much else this book offers (though then again, it’s called a baby names almanac, so it really, what I was I expecting?) It’s not a complete list (though again, that would be hard), and can be a good starting point for parents trying to pick a name, but in many ways, I think internet lists or even census lists will be just as informative…

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Posted in Nonfiction

A Suitable Match (Betty Neels)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Though I’m normally a fan of almost everything by Betty Neels, this one just didn’t really jive with me. You’ve got a man who’s marrying to secure a nice guardian/mother figure for his brother’s orphaned children, and a demure (almost passive) heroine who’s secretly in love with him. With Betty Neels books, you know that the love is always in the background and set to a very slow boil, but this one just kept getting overwhelmed with side details and characters until you don’t really remember that it’s a romance at all.

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Posted in Romance

Goblin Quest (Jim C Hines, Jig the Goblin #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Goblin Quest is a fairly ingenious take on the traditional swords-and-sorcery style dungeon exploring quest.  The protagonist isn’t one of the swarthy adventurers exploring the dungeon, but instead, a puny hapless goblin who is captured along the way and forced to help the adventurers seek their fame and treasure.  This is the first in a series, and I will be interested to see how the author is able to continue his clever premise.  The writing is quite impressive; the author is able to write an entire book in the tight confines of a dungeon and yet it still feels quite unforced.  The characters are multifaceted and interesting.  This is actually one of the best examples of the concept of the “hero’s journey” realized in print that I have seen.  I would definitely recommend Goblin Quest to any fan of fantasy.
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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

What Does Bunny See? A Book of Colors (Linda Sue Park)

Not Recommended, Not Repeatable

The illustrations (by Maggie Smith) are fabulous — vivid, bright and very engaging. But… it’s hard for me to pinpoint what age group the story is really appropriate for. The writing alternates between simple lines of “What does bunny see?” (very appropriate for a toddler) to far more complicated prose like “blushing scarlet poppies” and “past the pussy willow”. If you’re looking for a story that your toddler can start to pick up vocabulary with… this is just a little too back and forth in terms of simple and complex prose. It’s a shame, because the pictures really are colorful and very engaging.

Posted in Children's/Young Adult

Jam (Yahtzee Croshaw): A Joint Review

CleverHandle’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Penguinhegemony’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
P: I found Jam to be a unique take on the standard apocalypse genre thriller. The setup is unique and playful and deserves praise for its creativity and execution. The character aspect suffered a little with a protagonist that could have been more intriguing and the supporting cast seemed a bit stilted, but overall this weakness didn’t detract much from the overall quality of the book. I would definitely recommend Jam to fans of the genre looking for a bit of fun, or strawberries, to go along with their apocalypse.

CH: I’ve said before that I’m no fan of zombies; here, we have the standard zombie-apocalypse setup sans undead; instead, man-eating strawberry jam quite suddenly takes over Australia. Like most of my favorite apocalypse stories, the tone is humorous, but Croshaw doesn’t use that as an excuse to shy away from exploring humanity at its worst. I agree with Penguinhegemony that the characters were rather weak, but I found this to be a bigger flaw than he did. I also found the plot to be a bit weak or forced in places, sometimes in an attempt to fit in humor. Overall, though, this was an enjoyable book, and it’s made me want to check out Croshaw’s first work, Mogworld.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Ten Things I Love About You (Julia Quinn, Bevelstoke #3)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The story starts off strong. Quinn’s a very talented writer, and we start with a believably tormented insomniac of a hero, Sebastian, as well as a genuinely likable heroine who feels like it may be her responsibility to provide for her recently semi-destitute family. But… I’m not sure that I ever really got into this story. The characters are likeable, but there’s a cutesiness that is overdone, and you’re never really sure why these particular character like and eventually love each other… which is a rather key element in any romance.

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Posted in Romance

The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

The Yellow Birds is the debut novel of Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq War with an MFA in Poetry. The book enjoyed billing this past season as the first great literary fiction to emerge from this war, but it seems many reviewers graded it on a curve (presumably) because of its subject matter and source. Politics aside, The Yellow Birds is not this generation’s war classic. It is, however, a new author’s formidable display of talent and potential – a tight, lyrical first chapter followed by a fractured narrative of 10 more chapters, much of it beautifully written, some of it problematic. Powers proves his enviable ear for language, and applies it well in many places, but overall the work lacks cohesion, and the lovely lyricism can be overwrought, especially when it stands in place of clear plot points and authentic characterization.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America (Tanner Colby)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Generally well written and interesting, this book is half-history, half-narrative: it starts really with the idea of how busing came about, takes us through White Flight, and quickly brings us to modern day, where we are more equal… but still not truly integrated. While the subject matter is interesting and Colby’s writing is clear, the book sometimes meanders into interviews and narratives in a way that makes you lose forward momentum. Despite being very interested in the topic and the book in general, I put it down several times, and found myself skimming near the end…

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Posted in Nonfiction