Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Plum Lucky

This is the latest book Janet Evanovich has written about her heroine Stephanie Plum. No one *hearts* Stephanie Plum more than I do, but this was a "Between-the-Numbers" Plum book, which means it was short, sweet, and didn't have much about my favorite characters (aka Morelli and Ranger).

See, the first Plum book is called One for the Money. Then there's Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, and so on. It's a great series. They're all about Ms. Plum, who stumbles into a career as a bounty hunter in Jersey. She goes through a series of spectacular events in each book, generally including several missed attempts at collecting her FTAs (Failure to Appear--people who don't show up for their court dates), her car getting destroyed, and some sort of love-life brouhaha. Her crazy Grandma Mazur probably pulls a stunt or two, and she always has dinner (with dessert!) at her parents' house in the Burg.

It's good stuff. But this one, like I said, doesn't have as much of the good meaty content that I love. It's just fluff. It's classic Evanovich, with old people in Atlantic City on St. Patrick's Day, a geezer who thinks he's a leprechaun, a bag of money that gets stolen or misplaced too many times to count, and a horse that comes to live in Stephanie's apartment. And it only took me about an hour to read. But it's just not as good as the "regular" Plums. Which is why I can't wait for Book #14!

Keep on keepin' on, Janet Evanovich. I love your work.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Big Dog and Little Dog Making a Mistake

How to write your first kids' book review:

Go to the library. Find this book. See the cover, with the title's first part in big letters across the top, and the second part slightly smaller underneath that.

Also picture two dogs, one big and one little, running along on a grassy field, following a tail that is black with a distinct white stripe running down the back.

Laugh out loud in the library, then check out the book so you can take it home and show your husband. Laugh at it together at home.

Remember that Dav Pilkey, the author of this book, writes a series of books about a hero named Captain Underpants. Google "Dav Pilkey" and figure out that "Big Dog and Little Dog" is also a series. Think about how it's dumb to spell your nickname that way if your name is David. Wish that he would spell it "Dave" like a normal person, so you can stop calling him "Dav-with-a-short-a" in your head. (You know, like the words have and calve?)

Read the book. Realize that the text isn't necessarily a revelation in good writing. Realize that that's okay because the pictures make up for it. Vote yes to Big Dog and Little Dog and their funny mistake.

Lather, rinse, repeat for more fun kids' books in the future! =)

Lady Be Good

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of my favorite romance authors. This is mainly because of my appreciation of her grasp of the English language...but she has other good points as well. I especially like that there are often nursing mothers and attachment parents in her stories, and sometimes they even go to La Leche League. She has mentioned the Sooners before, and several of her stories take place in Texas. And I just have fun reading her books.

They are a little cheesy at times, but that's to be expected. It is, after all, classic romance.

So this one I just finished reading, Lady Be Good, is typical Phillips fare, but it's also not necessarily my favorite. This is a stand-alone novel, but I have to say, I really enjoyed the series of books she wrote about football players on the fictional Chicago Stars team...which is weird, since we all know how enthralling I think football is. But a lot of her non-football team books, like this one, are just less fun.

Don't get me wrong. This one was somewhat fun. But it was about a proper British lady and a lazy Texan golfer. I don't know. Just a bit boring. I mean, football is bad enough, but golf?

Plus, she brought back two characters from another of her books that wasn't my favorite (Fancy Pants). I just didn't like that one because there was too much unnecessary sadness, and I didn't like this one because it didn't seem quite real enough.

Now there I go saying I didn't like it. That's not really true. It's just not as good as it could have been...not as good as Natural Born Charmer, for instance.

So, for the curious, here is my list of "good" Phillips books, which just happens to match the list of "Chicago Stars" Phillips books:

It Had to Be You
Heaven, Texas
Nobody's Baby But Mine
Dream a Little Dream
This Heart of Mine
Match Me if You Can
Natural Born Charmer

and the non-Stars books that I've read include:

Breathing Room
Ain't She Sweet
Fancy Pants
Lady Be Good
Honey Moon

So the first list has three-dimensional characters, interesting plots, happy endings, and general reader satisfaction. The second list, to me, are okay, but lackluster.

But hey, at least she comes up with good titles. =)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My Year of Meats

A couple years back, I stumbled across a book called All Over Creation, by Ruth Ozeki. I really enjoyed it, so I looked up the author, and this was the only other book she'd written. So I went to my local library, but they didn't have it. I then promptly forgot all about it for about a year...and then the other day at the library, I randomly checked the shelf, and there it was!

I don't think My Year of Meats was quite as good as All Over Creation. Perhaps that's because MYOM was Ozeki's first novel? If so, I can't wait to read her next! She is a great writer and an excellent user of punctuation. (That's for you, Mom.) Her stories are gripping and her subject matter is timely.

Oh, you want to know what the book is about? Well. Hm. It's about a Japanese-American woman filmmaker and the year that she spends shooting a TV series aired in Japan. The series is paid for by a meat company called BEEF-EX, and the idea is to entice Japanese women into eating more meat by showing them all-American wives cooking their meaty delicious dinners in a wholesome atmosphere.

It's also about a Japanese wife who watches the show. It's about her abusive husband, her infertility, and her isolation. It's about her gradual discovery that she can choose something better, and about how hard that choice can be.

It's about a DES daughter and her struggle with infertility and her fear of the other side effects of misunderstood synthetic hormones, etc. It's about her gradual discovery of the unsavory practices at work in the American meat industry, and how these large-scale things can have an intimate effect on her life. It's also about her confusing personal relationship with a musician, and her feeling of never fully belonging in one place or another, of always being on the fringe.

What I love the most about Ozeki's books is how she takes these big political and sociological issues and makes them real and personal. She manages to feed you information about the issues in an interesting and varied way, so that you never feel like you're being preached to. And the book isn't ultimately about what conclusions YOU might come to about the issues, but is simply the story of some real people and how they dealt with them.

But. She does use some surprising profanity that distracts me from the story. And, in this particular story, there are several violent things that happen, including rape. So beware. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book to just anyone.

Still, it's a good read, and I wouldn't mind owning it. I look forward to her next novel!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Library list #2

Went to the library again today. Wanna know what I got?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Rosie by Anne Lamott
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

And for the boy...

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Hippos Go Berserk (and) Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton
Big Dog and Little Dog Making a Mistake by Dav Pilkey

Here we go again!

(Confession: that last book was not actually for James. I got it because I saw the cover and burst out laughing and thought Ben would appreciate it. More on that when I do the review!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys

This is another one of those parenting books that I wish I could distill and just put a few drops of it into everyone's bedtime glass of water.

It is thoughtful and thought-provoking. It says some things that need to be heard. But ultimately, I think a lot of people might either ignore it, forget it, or have trouble getting through it, because the authors had so much to say before they offered their advice.

Here are some of the things I think everyone should know about the book:

It discusses boys' life experiences in a way that is enlightening to women, and that may really help us understand more of what our boys have to face in our society today.

It discusses how American culture encourages boys' emotional isolation and anger responses, and even points out how we may be unknowingly contributing to this painful and harmful restriction of feeling.

It also shows how boys often miss out on lessons of empathy, and how they often don't even understand and can't give name to their own feelings. This can have drastic consequences, and the authors do a great job of explaining the implications for the average American boy.

It contains quite a few real-boy stories, which, in my opinion, often helps illustrate the points they are making. It's no secret that I'm a fan of real-life examples in this kind of book.

It gives guidelines about how to help your children grow into emotionally healthy men...but you have to wait until almost the end of the book to hear them. I think this is because it makes more sense after you've read the other important points the authors have made, but I also think this might make certain readers, especially males, lose interest. I hope not.

Overall, Raising Cain was a good read for me. There are so many things about males that I don't know or understand, and now that I'm raising one, I want to learn about how to protect my son, or help him protect himself, from some of the painful ways that our society treats and raises boys. This book really helped. I wish my husband would read it...but I doubt it would keep his interest. Maybe he'll just read the advice chapter. And that's probably enough. But this book does have a deeper meaning than just a few tips, and I'm sad that I feel like it might not keep your interest.

Luckily, there appears to be a PBS special for the TV-inclined.

The River Knows

Now this is the Amanda Quick I was expecting to find when I picked up Mystique earlier this week. The ingredients in the general AQ formula that I have come to know and love are all there:

Victorian Era? check.

Virginal "spinster" with a Slightly Shady and/or unusually liberal-thinking past masquerading as a widow to gain more freedom in society? check.

Dashing but slightly grumpy and mysterious hero with a title and hard-earned wealth? check.

Pair thrown together by some twist of fate, usually involving a murder or other scandal? check.

Shadowy evil character roaming the streets, pitting his wits against the new lovebirds, but ultimately no match for their combined forces? check.

Honorable motives and inevitable attraction leading to stolen kisses, melding of souls, and eventually a marriage of equal partners? check!

Perhaps most importantly, fun Victorian-Era characters' names and sketches of Victorian balls and clothing trends? check.

(For those who don't know her work, past heroines include: Venetia Milton, Prudence Merryweather, Concordia Glade, and my personal favorite, Lavinia Lake. Lavinia's love interest happens to be named Tobias March, which I love, but she should totally keep her maiden name.)

So, nothing terribly surprising here, but as usual, it was an enjoyable and very fast read.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Upon the Midnight Clear

The first few books I read by Sherrilyn Kenyon really impressed me, because they made me feel like I'd like to have the author as a personal friend. She had a sense of humor I appreciated, and I felt like she'd fit right in to my circle.

It also helped that she was writing funny romance novels about the Greek gods. I mean, it can't get much better than that, right? I just sort of feel like she's cranking 'em out too fast. It's been a long time since I've read a new Kenyon novel that I really enjoyed. I'm so bogged down in trying to remember everything that's happened before, and not getting all the answers to what's going on because apparently they're coming in future books, that I can't enjoy the characters. She just flies through the plot, and I never connect with the people, and I'm confused and distracted by all this other stuff that's going on.

I still do like her style...I just don't want to read more of this series right now. But, darn it! She sucked me in in the beginning and I want to know what happens! So even though I wouldn't recommend this book, I'll still read the next one that comes out, because it's supposed to be "Acheron's book," and he is a major character and a major mystery. So I hope I enjoy future books more than I did this one. It just felt like the middle movie of a trilogy. You know how that one is just almost never as good as the first and last? Yeah. It's like that.

Sorry, loyal fans. I still like her, I do, but I didn't like this book.

At least it only took me like an hour to read.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Quick and dirty review:

I liked it but I was surprised by it a little. Also, the ending seemed a bit rushed, and perhaps a bit too simplistic. Cheesy, as was expected, but fun, as was also expected. I'd recommend it if you like Lynn Kurland, but if you like Amanda Quick, be aware of the fact that this is NOT Victorian-era like most of her others.

The Long Version:

Mystique is the latest book I've read by Amanda Quick, aka Jayne Castle, aka Jayne Ann Krentz. So this is how this works: she writes under three different pen names, and this is supposed to help you figure out what the story will be about. Castle is her maiden name, and those books are like futuristic stuff, that I've never really read. Krentz is her "real" name, and those are contemporary-murder mystery-types. And Amanda Quick (I have no idea where she got that one) is her name for books that are generally Victorian-era romance-mysteries. But this one...wasn't. I requested it "blind" from the library website, and was equal parts confused and enticed when I got it and noticed that the main male character was named Hugh the Relentless. As soon as I started reading, I realized it was Middle Ages. Not what I was expecting, since I've read quite a few of her Victorian novels and enjoyed the pattern I'd come to expect from this author, but hey...I'm not about to complain when I find myself suddenly and unexpectedly plunked down in medieval times. As if! ;)

So, it was pretty decent. As usual, I enjoyed the fact that the grammar was mostly correct and there were no insane spelling and punctuation errors. In my opinion, this should be standard for all books, but you know what? It's not. So when I find it, I appreciate it. It makes life so much easier when I don't have to stop and hit myself in the head while reading. And the plot, while not anything mind-blowing, was enjoyable enough. It was like reading Amanda Quick's characters' personalities and motivations in a Lynn Kurland setting...and since I like both of those, I enjoyed it well enough. Again, though, the "villain" was pretty unremarkable, and the ending seemed pretty rushed. But maybe that's because I was pretty rushed trying to get through the last 10 pages last night at 11:30 so I could go to bed!

I like Amanda Quick. Her books are fun. They are generally light, easy reading, so I can get through one in a pretty busy day, which is always a bonus for my life is these days. They're also sometimes a little scary to read when I'm alone late at night, and this one wasn't, so I also appreciated that. Now I'm off to start the other Quick book I checked out, after I finish writing my other reviews. Cheers!

Mothering the New Mother

I finished this one first this year. Unfortunately, with one thing and another, I haven't gotten around to the review until now, and I had to return the book almost a week ago. So here's what I remember, without reference to the book itself.

This book should be on the reading list for every new parent. I wish the state was required to send you a copy along with your first child's birth certificate, or something. No, that's not good enough, because it might get lost in the paperwork and you might miss it during those critical first days.

Anyway. Obviously, I highly recommend this book. It just contains so much vital information that I think many pregnant women can't really absorb, but that brand-new mothers really need to have available. For example, it talks about the vast range of normal feelings after birth, with the reassuring reminder that whatever you're feeling, others have felt it before. It has a guide to help you figure out how to get help and how to not feel bad about needing help. (And you will need help.) It has lists of great resources for new moms on all sorts of topics, and includes a great discussion of staying at home, staying at work, and all the choices in between. It also, vitally, reminds us that "the postpartum adjustment period" can last for much longer than we tend to think, and that however long it takes you, THAT'S OKAY.

The book's biggest strength, similar to The Breastfeeding Cafe or What Mothers Do, is that it contains many real-life stories of different women's struggles and triumphs in the postpartum period. These stories really make the issues come to life and ultimately help the reader connect to the facts that the author is trying to convey.

Again, a must-read for all new parents, but especially new mothers. Maybe, if you're visiting one in the near future, you can take it to them?

Someday, they'll thank you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hello again



But, Susan, don't you already have one blog about your family life and another about your diabetic life?

Well, yes. family and my diabetes are two very important parts of my life, and I realized there was a third part that was missing from my personal blog world.

Thus, a BOOK BLOG!

Herein, I will be letting you know what I'm reading and what I think about it. I hope to share a little something about every single book that I read during 2008...and then who knows what.

Oh, except I'm not going to bother to review every kid's book. Just some of the ones I really like. Don't worry, it'll be mostly grown-up stuff. And, just for the record, I would LOVE recommendations.

The first book I finished in 2008 is called Mothering the New Mother, by Sally Placksin...but I'm going to tell you what I think of that later. First I have to catch up on my blogging! Here is a random list of some other books I'm reading/I've recently checked out from the library:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver (wonderful Christmas gift from my book-loving cousin, Margaret)
Birth: the surprising history of how we are born, Tina Cassidy (so far, not very surprising)
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv
Mystique and The River Knows, Amanda Quick (my fascination with the cheesy deliciousness of AQ Victorian romance novels has survived through the New Year, apparently)
Upon the Midnight Clear, Sherrilyn Kenyon (no excuse for this one)
Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
Bear Snores On, Karma Wilson (for the kiddo and me)

Onward ho, book lovers!