Thursday, May 24, 2007

Book Review: Baghdad Burning

Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq by Riverbend

Whenever my friend Delia recommends books I always jump to read them. She always suggests great books. However this one was different. I kept putting this book off, it sat waiting to be read for at least six months, with the only reasoning I can offer is that it is a blog book.

Its true. Someone took Riverbend's blog "Baghdad Burning" and published the first year of her posts. Every so often she would provide her readers with political commentary and the daily occurrences of her life during the war without an end in Iraq. Her posts have helped me clear away some of the confusion surrounding the post-war Iraqi governing council and helped shine light on the fact that most Americans' believe the Iraqi people to be dumb sheepherders stuck three centuries back. She has humanized this war for me, if that makes sense.

She has also stopped posting for the time being. I won't state why but as the link is above you can find out yourself. I wish I had her writing talent. This is well worthy of reading.

Kim's Grade: A A slow, but good read.

For those of you who don't know, I don't choose what books to read anymore. I have left that up to Temporary who chooses them randomly from the shelf. So again I will be reading Middle East subject material. I'm not necessarily on a Middle Eastern kick.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Book Reviews: Stephanie Laurens

I'm not particularly a fan of Stephanie Laurens's books. Before this summer I had only read two of her books and neither one of them appealed to me. But Shannon must like something about her because she gave me three Laurens books recently:

The Truth About Love was just way too slow-paced for me. Everything moved at a snail's pace—the romance, the mystery, the day-to-day activities of the characters. I was bored to tears—because of that and because Jacqueline, the heroine, was so dull! I understand the reason Laurens characterized her the way she did, and it made sense, but it did not make for an entertaining read. Lindsey's Grade: C

What Price Love was an improvement over The Truth About Love in the sense that I was able to stay interested in the romance portion of the book. But the mystery was completely uninteresting to me and so I skipped over all of that. But again I was frustrated with the heroine because she constantly thrwarted the hero's attempts to make mention of marriage, even though they were well suited in all respects. I'm sooo tired of the cliched "I won't accept your proposal because I think you're doing it about of duty, not love" plot in romance novels. IT IS OVERDONE AND COMPLETELY UNORIGINAL! Lindsey's Grade: C+

To Distraction was such a relief after the previous two books! Finally I understood why Laurens is a bestselling author! I cared about the characters, cared about the mystery, and completely bought the way the book unfolded. And I was DELIGHTED to see that she didn't go for the cliched ending here. The heroine did exactly what I thought she should do at every point in the book, something that is very rare. And I particularly liked the way that the hero's true character was revealed to the reader. I felt like we learned about Deverell (the hero) the way Pheobe (the heroine) learned about him. At first he appeared selfish and arrogant, but as we got to know him more he turned into the perfect romantic hero. Such a treat. Also, there was one line that the hero thought that actually made me say "Aww" to myself. I liked that. Lindsey's Grade: A-

Book Review: Body Surfing

Shannon read this book and really liked it, but after I finished it this afternoon I was left feeling kind of depressed. It was, in a way, an emotionally draining story. Shreve's books are always that way, which makes me wonder what kind of person Shreve is (sad all the time?). I did like the way the story was set up, though. It was extremely well done, with unexpected "twists" that were heartwrenching.

Lindsey's Grade: A-

P.S. Shreve is still one of my all-time favorite authors. She is, in my opinion, one of the most gifted novelists around. She's also the queen of minimalization—she gets the point (beautifully) across without saying much.

To be the Poet

To Be The Poet by Maxine Hong Kingston

This short, simple memoir-of-sorts is refreshing to read. Kingston is best known as a writer, not a poet and her she attempts poetry. The two of us had a conversation about her book about three years ago when I was having difficulties writing, (I still am). Her advice was to just write, if even a couple of sentences or one word over and over, eventually everything will come into place.

Her poetry and writing have a nice smooth calming effect and left me wanting more.

Kim's Grade: B+

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Beach Road

Books with a good mystery in the story line are some of my favorites. I especially love twists at the end. Unfortunately I am uncannily skilled at anticipating the twist and only the most skilled and creative of authors can fool me. However, I was completely fooled by James Patterson in Beach Road. I am a big fan of all his books with central character Alex Cross; Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider, etc; but some of his very best work is when he branches out a bit and introduces new faces; Beach Road, Beach House, Jester and Honeymoon were all excellent

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Promise Not To Tell

This book was somewhat of a disappointment. I had pretty much figured out the mystery by the middle of the book, but had to read another hundred or so pages to find out for sure. It was definately worth reading, in fact I took it to work with me and read it between seeing patients, but it wasn't the thriller I had anticipated.

The story revolves around two murders, separated in time by 30 years. The central character, Katy, has come home to take care of her mother, who has Alzheimer's dementia. When Katy was 10 years old, her friend Del was killed and the murder was never solved. Now another young girl is killed in a hauntingly similar manner, causing the police to question Katy, the only obvious link between the two girls. The text goes back and forth between Katy's experiences in both the past and present. She finds herself questioning the mental stability of her closest friends and family, as well as herself. I found that the unique past/present style in this book really worked. Although it was predictable, the timeline in which the key pieces to the mystery are revealed keeps you interested.

Shannon's Grade: B

Monday, May 14, 2007

Book Review: Three Little Secrets

I so wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it sooooo much. And for about half of it I did like it. As I mentioned, I'm a total sucker for long-lost love storylines. In this book the hero and heroine, Merrick and Madeline, eloped when she was only seventeen. But on the wedding night at Gretna Greene in Scotland her powerful aristocrat father catches up to them. Merrick is beaten half to death and Madeline is told that Merrick only married her to gain access to her dowry. HUGE misunderstanding. Madeline thinks that Merrick has abandoned her and so she agrees to marry an old scholar to save her reputation.

Thirteen years pass by and the two of them meet again, and of course they both hate each other because they both have the wrong idea of what really happened and have grown bitter as the years have gone by. Merrick was the perfect tormented hero, because he was completely, totally in love with Madeline all those years ago. I wanted nothing more than for him to have his wounded heart healed by Madeline, but I never felt like she did it. She was kind of a bitch even after it became clear that her father orchastrated the entire separation. She continued to treat Merrick rather nastily and even at the end I still didn't feel that she at all deserved to be with him. She'd pretty much destroyed him I never really felt like she came close to making amends. I wanted a huge sappy scene where she cried and apologized and professed her love... I never got it. :(

Lindsey's Grade: B

Book Review: Not Quite a Lady

I liked this book. I did. I liked the heroine and her internal struggles seemed totally believable and sympathetic. I also liked the hero, but I did have one problem.

He was supposed to be a complete rake, someone who woos and beds women then walks away. In fact, he doesn't even like women very much because he is a scientist who believes in reason above anything else (especially love) and women are incapable of logical thinking. But for some reason Charlotte, the heroine, completely changes his lifelong beliefs. He does a complete one-eighty. I guess I could believe all of that, but only if all the women the hero has ever encountered in his life up to that point were beyond stupid, because Charlotte was a normal woman from my point of view. Why am I surprised, though? It's not very often that a romance novel has believable conflict resolution.

Lindsey's Grade: B

Book Review: An Invitation to Sin

I wasn't crazy about this book, either. The plot is beyond simplistic. The hero, Zachary Griffin, is the youngest son in a wealthy, powerful aristocratic family and he suffers from the cliche' of all youngest brother—what does he do with his life? He thinks he wants to join the Army, but his brother the duke disagrees and sends him to Bath with their aunt as a companion. But before they get to Bath the aunt wants to stop by and visit a friend of hers from finishing school, who just so happens to have seven unmarried daughters. And all but two of them throw themselves shamelessly at him.

The oldest daughter, however, is unconcerned with matrimony. She's an artist who's greatest dream is to be accepted into an apprenticeship. Unfortunately for her she's a female and no one wants to take on a female painter (it's the early 1800's). But one school does respond to her application. The only problem is that she must paint a portrait of an aristrocrat and get his/her seal of approval for the application process. So when Zachary comes along she thinks her prayers have been answered. And of course with all the time they spend together, romance blooms.

Or does it? I certainly didn't feel like it did. Caroline was kind of annoying and rude, in my opinion, acting like it was Zachary's duty to help her instead of something he was doing out of the goodness of his heart. But apparently they were supposed to be attracted to each other because they eventually start sleeping together, and again, nothing changes in the story. It felt like the sex scenes served no purpose and I didn't like it. Also, the majority of this book took place at Caroline's family home with her incredibly annoying sisters and mothers falling all over Zachary. It moved at a snails pace and the end didn't really make things any better. The conflict just magically went away! Lame.

Lindsey's Grade: C+

Book Review: If You Desire

I'm kind of bummed about this book because I feel like it had a lot of potential that for some reason, it just didn't live up to. This is the second book in the series that included If You Dare, which I loved. And, I'm a total, total sucker for romance novels that feature long-lost/long-denied loves, so I thought that would be great.

One of the premises in the series is that the three brothers it's based on have been cursed for centuries, or rather, their generation has. They have a book in their family that says that they shall "walk in death or walk alone," blah blah blah. Basically the old book says that their father will have three sons who will never know love and never have children and when the sons read the book the father will meet an early death and stuff like that. There's a bloodstain covering up the last two sentences of the curse that made it unreadable. Turns out that the morning after the boys read the verse their healthy father died in his sleep, and the night before the oldest brother was supposed to get married, his finacee died mysteriously. And, apparently the oldest brother is somewhat of a horny bastard, but so far he's never impregnated a woman. So needless to say they all believe the curse.

And poor Hugh, the middle brother. He's been in love with Jane, his employer's daughter, since he was in his early twenties, but he's always thought that he can't have her because he doesn't want to hurt her and he thinks the curse will lead to her death. And this guy is in love. He's tormented by it. It's kinda sad that he's lived alone for ten years denying himself, because Jane was crazy about him, too.

But what brings them back together is a threat to Jane's life. Hugh's employer (Jane's father) wants Hugh to protect her and he thinks that marrying her is the only way he can do it. So now Hugh is tormented even more because he's married to the woman he's always wanted.

Despite this, the chemisty between Hugh and Jane was not all that it could have been. I thought they kept their secrets from each other way too long and then once they were revealed, nothing really changed. But here's my biggest beef—the sex scenes were pointless. Maybe it's becoming a fine art for romance writers to write sex scenes that actually further the story and aren't just there, because more and more often I'm seeing sex scenes that don't appear to serve any purpose.

Lindsey's Grade: B-

Friday, May 11, 2007

19 Minutes

I stayed up late last night to finish "Nineteen Minutes". I had conflicting feelings about this book - it didn't have the "blow-your-mind" twist at the end like my all time favorite, "My Sisters Keeper", but it was still a great book. The story revolves around Peter, 17, a nice sensitive boy from a great family who wakes up one day, takes 4 guns to school and shoots dozens of his classmates, killing ten. His justification for the massacre is clear to him; self-defense, "they started it" he claims. In this book, Picoult delves into the often talked about but seldom understood subject of bullying. While it seems like a trite and weak defense to adults, even those that were unpopular when they were younger, to a teen constant bullying can be the focus of their world. At first I was very skeptical about this, thinking that nothing justifies wiping out 10 lives and forever damaging countless others. While this is undoubtedly true, I can remembered what it was like to be a teen that just didn't quite fit in. In high school I was just outside the edges of true popularity, which is sometimes far worse than being a complete reject because you torture yourself over every single action and interaction with your peers. You can be accepted into "the group" one day and then completely left out the next. The bullying comes in as a way to bind yourself to the group by picking on those that aren't in your circle and could never hope to be. Even the "most popular" kids feel forced to maintain their status by isolating themselves from the "losers". It turns into a vicious circle where everyone is a victim. Thankfully I was saved from that spiral by a close group of friends and my athletic and academic focus. In 19 minutes, Peter endures torture from his peers every day of his live for over 10 years until he meets criteria for PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder), slips into a dissociative state after a humiliating incident and goes on a shooting rampage. You may have thought that PTSD is just for victims of war or rape, but research has shown that a single episode of being bullied can be more damaging to an adolescent than sexual abuse. In a society where beauty, talent and "fitting in" is valued above all else, our youth are developing more and more insecurities that lead to mental illnesses and violent incidents. Unless we find a way to change society, our youth will continue to lose the battle against themselves.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Body Surfing

Complex and engrossing, "Body Surfing" dissects relationships down to their most basic elements. It's starts with Sydney, a likable 29 yo that has recently lost her young physician husband to a brain aneurysm. She takes a summer job preparing the 17 yo daughter of a wealthy family for the SATs at their beach house. While there, she meets their two older sons, Ben and Jeff, who both pursue her, although one is almost engaged. Against her will, Sydney is drawn to one and repulsed by the other, but is it for the right reasons? The complexity of this story stems from the relationships between the family members; father-daugher, mother-sons, brother to sister, and brother to brother...

I loved the characters in this story - Anita Shreve is genius. I read this book in less than a day! This is her best book ever.

Shannon's Grade: A

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Book Review: If You Dare

I don't know what it is about finals that makes me want to read a bunch of romance novels instead of studying, but it happens at the end of every semester. I always find myself heading to the bookstore and stocking up.

Good thing I did because I really liked this book! It takes place in the mid-nineteenth century, and much of the plot revolves around the tiny country of Andorra in the moutains between Spain and France (I'm not going to try to spell Pyrenees (okay, so I did try)). The hero is actually a Scottish Highlander who is in Andorra was a mercentary, a soldier-for-hire. He fights for the evil General Pascal who is trying to take over the country. Pascal's plan is to eventually take over the Spanish throne by marrying Lady Annalia, the daughter of an Andorran aristocrat and the last of the female Castillian royal line through her mother. Courtland McCarrick, the hero, decides to stop fighting for the evil Pascal, but Pascal refuses to pay him and has him beaten to a bloody pulp and orders his death. But before he can be executed Court escapes his captors by plunging over a bridge into a river and over a waterfall.

Annalia finds him on the riverbank and nurses him back to heath, even though she despises him because he worked for Pascal. And since this is a romance novel, they're physically attracted to each other, but Court is kind of a jerk at first. Pascal has kidnapped Annalia's brother and says he will kill him unless Anna marries him. When Anna asks Court for help, he asks for her body as payment and she's so infuriated that she turns herself into Pascal, sacrificing herself. Court's not too happy about that, so he kidnaps Anna away from Pascal, sparking the rage of the evil general.

The rest of the book involves Court and Anna moving north to escape Pascal's fury and get to safety, and along the way Anna starts to see the Court might actually be a pretty good guy, and Court sees that she's pretty amazing and brave, etc. I thought that the way they warmed to each other was genuine and believable, probably because it was halfway through the book before it happened, so it didn't feel rushed.

There are other elements in the book that made conflict between the two of them, but Cole thankfully didn't push it beyond the realm of believability (even though there was a curse involved and that's kind of silly in itself). The romance was pretty steamy, and Anna was the perfect romance heroine: not annoying, not stupid, not naive, not overly stubborn. This is the first in a trilogy about the Court and his brothers, and the second book in the serious If You Desire looks pretty good, too.

Lindsey's Grade: A

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Review: The Wrong Hostage

I have no complaints about The Wrong Hostage specifically. Elizabeth Lowell is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors and she's really good at crafting a phrase (okay, I'm trying to say that I like her writing style). But I do have a beef with a general theme that showed up in this book that often shows up in other and it just makes me so frustrated I'm going to rant about it.

I am so freakin' sick of heroines that are supposed to be smart, confident, strong women who marry complete losers! Unfailingly we're supposed to feel sorry for them or at least think that they're completely in the right. But most of the time I just end up wondering why they were dumb enough to hook up with such a total and complete slimeball to begin with. Sure, I know people do stupid things in the name of love, but romance authors always write about these ex-husbands like they have no redeeming qualities at all, and they've always been that way. It's so frustrating for me to admire a woman that would be so stupid as to (A) marry a guy like that, and (B) stay with him.

In The Wrong Hostage for example, the heroine is a federal district court judge that is so amazing and wonderful that she passed the bar at the age twenty-one. Please. Don't even get me started on that shit in romance novels. If you want to make you almost-forty year old heroine be a hotshot defense attorney when she had her kid sixteen years before, then turn her into a forty-something year old, okay? Don't bend the rules of logic. I'm supposed to believe that she went through college and law school by the age of twenty-one? Not gonna happen. There are not a plethora of Doogie Howsers in the world, yet they all seem to end up in romance novels. ANYWAY, back to the point. Grace, the heroine, was dating her future husband when she had a torrid weekend affair with the hero in the book. They parted ways soon afterwards, and she married her boyfriend and never told him that she wasn't sure that he was the father of the child she carried (don't worry, this is revealed very early on in the book). Turns out he wasn't, and needless to say, he was a little pissed. But she stayed married to him despite his MANY, MANY affairs for years afterwards. Oh, and he was always a shitty father to her son. WHY DIDN'T SHE JUST DIVORCE HIM? Instead she never tells her son the truth and her ex does some terrible things. I'm reading this thinking, She's an idiot. And, she has no right to be full of righteous indignation. What she did was pretty terrible and dishonest herself. The son's biological father, WHOM SHE NEVER TOLD, EITHER, accused her of using him for a stud then marrying a billionaire to be the kid's father. He was spot on! She was a loser! I like flawed heroines, but not immoral, dishonest ones! And I totally didn't feel sorry for her that she married a man she never loved because that was her own dumb choice. Am I too judgmental? Maybe, people do make mistakes, but I don't read romance novels to hear about those kinds of stupid-ass mistakes.

So please, romance writers, if you're going to put an ex-husband in the story, don't completely villianize him. It makes the heroine seem retarded for falling for such a loser in the first place. Linda Howard managed to have a perfectly nice and normal ex-husband for her heroine in Cry No More, so it can be done.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Running with Scissors

This book was very graphic and disturbing, but for some reason I couldn't put it down. It was very entertaining, but not a book that you feel good about reading when you're done. I thought it needed more closure.

Shannon's Grade: B-