Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Three to Get Deadly

Three to Get Deadly, by Janet Evanovich
Format: hardback
5 stars

After reading two books and listening to another, as well as seeing the movie version of One For the Money, it is official. I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. It is a series that is clever, exciting, and extremely funny. And Three to Get Deadly is the best so far, which is why I rushed to the library the day after I finished it to pick up the next book in the series.

In this book, obviously the third in the series (I love that I don't have to consult a list to figure out which book comes next!), Stephanie is sent out to find another fta, or Failure to Appear in bond-recovery agent speak. This time, she is going after one of the most beloved members of the burg, a candy store owner affectionately known as Uncle Mo. Since he is so well known and loved, as soon as the news hits the grapevine, Stephanie finds herself being scolded and even cursed by everyone from former teachers to her own mother. As she searches for Uncle Mo, she discovers that this supposed saint actually has a darker side and a few masked supporters who are determined to frighten Stephanie off the case. While investigating Uncle Mo Stephanie also gets a secondary, "easy" pickup to work on which leads to the mall and a chicken restaurant. I was almost rolling on the floor with laughter when I read her encounter with the chicken character. I won't say anything more about that, but it did lead to plenty of jokes from her friends.

I think the magic of this series comes not just from Evanovich's sense of humor, but also from her ability to create intensely likeable characters. There is Stephanie, of course, but the secondary characters add even more flavor. We get to see a little of Stephanie's nagging mother and a few glimpses of Grandma Mazur (this caused some of my only disappointment with the novel - I loved her character in Two for the Dough). Of course, there is more of Ranger and Joe Morelli to sigh over. And while Grandma Mazur was sort of a scene stealing side-kick in the last book, in this one we have Lula, the ex-hooker who now works in Vinnie's office as a file clerk. I do have to admit, however, that the bad guys in this book weren't as well written as the ones in the previous novels, but I still think that this one is my favorite so far.

I think my love of this series comes from the fact that it is just so satisfyingly readable. You're not going to get non-stop, heart -racing action, terrifying psychos, or a lot of technological and scientific forensic mumbo-jumbo. Don't get me wrong, I do like those elements sometimes, but they're not necessary for a book to be good. And while this series is sexy, it is more of a real-world, humorous sort of sexiness. I guess it goes back to the series being more character driven than scene or action driven. You also probably won't get any really intense emotions from these books like sadness and fear. Yes, some scenes are a little scary, but it is always tempered with humor. These books just have an appealing way of making you feel good that continues to earn them high ratings with me.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Review: Curse of the Spellmans

Curse of the Spellmans, by Lisa Lutz
Format: Hardback
4 Stars

Curse of the Spellmans is the second book in Lisa Lutz's Spellman series. This series follows the misadventures of Izzy Spellman, an overly suspicious private investigator with a dysfunctional family (most of whom are employed by the family's p.i. firm and love to spy on one another) and a long list of ex-boyfriends. In this installment of the series, Izzy notices that all the members of her family are behaving suspiciously so she begins to keep "Suspicious Behavior Reports" on them as well as her new next door neighbor and potential ex-boyfriend. Izzy practically wears herself out trying to spy on all these different people, and leaves little time and energy for the case that she is actually being paid to investigate - the vandalism of a widow's holiday yard displays which are exact replicas of the vandalisms that occurred when Izzy was a teenager and which she insists that she knows nothing about. Through the course of trying to solve all these mysteries, she gets arrested 2 times (or 4 times, but Izzy doesn't think arrests 2 and 3 should count), loses her rent-controlled apartment, and feels inadequate for never having been in the Olympics.

The book remains consistent with the writing style that Lutz developed in The Spellman Files, the first book in the series. It is fun and quirky, with plenty of footnotes and even an appendix containing several lists including a list of ex-boyfriends. I still found the footnotes to be a little distracting and annoying, but they did break things up a bit and added some additional interest. And I still love Izzy. She consistently makes bad choices, but they are so funny! I should add, however, that this book continues to see her grow and mature, a process that she began in the first book. I am also very excited about the development of Henry Stone's character. I can't wait to see if he and Izzy ever have a romantic relationship! The book ended with something of a shocker concerning Izzy's status with in the family business - I won't divulge it here, but I have to admit that it has me intrigued enough that I already checked the next book out from the library and plan to start it soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review - The Spellman Files

I am starting to get a little behind on my reviews. I have 3 that I need to get done, but I have been spending most of my free time searching for a job, playing Words With Friends with my husband (I usually win!), and reading. Last night I finally finished reading The Curse of the Spellmans. I started it back in January, but when we moved I had to return it to the library before I could finish it. Luckily, the library here had it also so I checked it out and finished. But before I post my review of it, I wanted to post my review of The Spellman Files, which is the first book in Lisa Lutz's Spellman series. Part of this review was originally posted on Goodreads back in December, but I tweaked it and added a few additional thoughts.

The Spellman Files, by Lisa Lutz
Format: print
4 star

This was a great book - a fast, fun read with a loveably imperfect anti-heroine. I read it during the holidays when both my time and attention were constantly being interrupted, and had no trouble following the action. And while I do like to read books that make me think, there is also something to be said for books like this one that you read for sheer pleasure.

Izzy Spellman is a 28-year-old private detective who works for, and still lives with, her parents. Over the years, she has developed a very suspicious nature. So suspicious, in fact, that the slightest discrepancies in a person's behavior compel her to investigate that person, and it doesn't matter if it is strangers, friends, or even family members. She always asks potential ex-boyfriends a million extremely personal questions just prior to running a background check on them - a habit that has aided in more than one of her break-ups. She is also a life-long troublemaker who at times seems to have the rationale and decision making skills of teenager. But even so, she is still quick-witted and street smart.

Some people compare Izzy to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. I guess if I stretch your imagination a little then I can see it. Both get caught up in trying to solve mysteries that should probably be left to the police. Both are "creative" with their investigative techniques, and do eventually solve the mysteries. Both are smart and funny, have trouble with men and their crazy families, and both manage to get into plenty of trouble. But that is about as far as it goes. Izzy is rather obsessive and short-sighted, while Stephanie has the ability to see the bigger picture. Stephanie also seems to have a maturity and innate luckiness that Izzy lacks. That doesn't mean that the Spellman series is not as good as the Plum series, it just means that they are unique enough to set them apart and keep them interesting.

One of the other things that sets this book apart is Lisa Lutz's writing style. She has a way of bouncing around between plot lines that could almost be confusing, but ends up holding your interest. The focus of the novel doesn't center on Izzy's attempt to solve her primary investigation, but is actually more concerned with her personal relationships. Lutz also employs several uncommon techniques to add interest to the novel including lists and footnotes (I found the footnotes a little off-putting and distracting, but lots of readers like them.) I give this book a 4 because while it was better than average, it wasn't so good that I had trouble putting it down.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reviews - Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas

The second week of 13 weeks of Sookie is over, and while I am on schedule with my reading, I still haven't posted a review of the first book, Dead Until Dark. Shame on me. Although, in my defense, I don't have a whole lot to add since this first book so completely embodies everything I said about the series in general in my previous post. But I will give a few thoughts and also go ahead and review book 2, Living Dead in Dallas.

Dead Until Dark
Format: epub ebook
5 stars
In Dead Until Dark, we are introduced to crazy Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, who has what she considers to be an unusual disability. She also longs to meet a vampire, a real possibility since they "came out of the coffin" after the invention of synthetic blood. So she is surprised and pleased when one shows up sitting in her section of Merlotte's, the local Bon Temps bar where she works. Shortly thereafter she saves him, then he saves her, and the love affair begins. Throw in the mysterious murders that Sookie's brother Jason is accused of committing and Sookie's use of her "disability" to discover the truth and what ensues is pure, hair-raising reading fun. And fun it definitely is - at times a little scary (but not gory or scary enough to qualify as horror), at times sensuous, and at times just plain laugh-out-loud funny.

I love Sookie as a heroine. She is the perfect balance of pretty and smart, but at the same time is rather sheltered and naive. And she is not unrealistically beautiful and rich. In fact, as a barmaid, she is actually on the lower end of the income scale and is living with her grandmother in their old family home. Her grandmother is a true Southern woman, and does her best to bring Sookie up to be one as well. To people living in other parts of the country, the book may seem a little exaggerated, but trust me, this is how small town life in the South really is. Even the Descendants of the Glorious Dead club that Adele is a member of reminds me of The Daughters of the Confederacy which my own mother and grandmother were members of. That's another thing I like about this book - Harris has a way of being true to the South while at the same time presenting it in a humorous way. And I think I mentioned before that I also enjoy Harris's treatment of vampires. She keeps some of the traditional ideas about vampirism and mixes them with some new ideas, one of my favorite being that the vampires are trying to "mainstream."

Living Dead in Dallas
Format: epub ebook
5 stars
Living Dead in Dallas is the second book in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series. In this book, we still have Sookie as the main character and narrator, but we begin to learn more about some of the other characters as well, especially Sookie's vampire boyfriend, Bill. We also get to see more of Eric Northman, who is one of my favorite characters in the series, and we see some of the other "supes" in Sookie's expanding world. Like the first book, there is a mysterious murder that Sookie tries to solve by using her disability (but that Bill says is a gift). She also travels to the big city to help the Dallas vampires find a missing nest-mate. While there, she encounters religious fanatics of the worst kind. In the books, these people will stop at nothing to rid the world of vampires, but like a lot of other things in Harris's books they have parallels in the real world. I am sure that there really are people in our society who are willing to go to such extreme lengths for their beliefs. Throughout the series, Harris requires us to contemplate who the real monsters are - supes or humans - and these fanatics seem to be just as bad as the vampires they despise.

Sookie's character continues to evolve in this novel. In the beginning, she is only slightly less naive than she was in the first book. But as this story progresses, she is forced to accept increasingly harder truths about the world and the beings inhabiting it, especially the vampires. She realizes more and more that her relationship with Bill may not be as wonderful as it once seemed, and that life among vampires is a precarious one that should not be taken for granted. She deals with all the challenges as they come, not always with style, but certainly with a sense of humor and love of life. And she is always sure to save plenty of these lessons (and the questions that they bred) to mull over on less eventful days.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Capturing the South, Why some books stay with us, and 13 Weeks of Sookie

May 7 of this year marks an exciting, but bittersweet day on my calendar. It is the day that Charlaine Harris's 13th and final Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Series book will be released. The title of the book is Dead Ever After, a title that leads to much speculation regarding how Sookie's fate will play out. The beautiful cover, once again done by artist Lisa Desimini, also leads to much speculation, and I can't wait to read the book and find out what happens. Let me just point out here that when I finally have the space and the cash to actually purchase copies of all the books, I plan to get copies with the original cover art, not the editions with the tacky True Blood tie-in covers. Let me also point out that while I enjoyed the first two or three seasons of True Blood, the series has now drifted so far away from the book series that it has become unrecognizable. And not for the better. The last season in particular was extremely disappointing, and I may not even bother watching when the new season starts. But enough on that - this blog is about my love of the books.

I can't say what it is that I love so much about these books. For one thing, they are set in the Deep South and Harris's Mississippi upbringing allows her to remain true to this area of the country - both the good elements and the bad. Having lived in this part of the country all my life myself (even spending a few years in Louisiana), I can appreciate the unique blend of old and new, backwardness and progressiveness that Harris manages to capture in these novels. Because the South is, among many other things, a section of the country that is on a precipice - many of us are clinging tightly to our old ways of life and thinking while at the same time trying to catch up to the rest country in terms of modern thinking and living. I think Sookie captures this juxtaposition perfectly. Her struggles, of course, are of a supernatural variety that those of us in the "real world" will never face, but they still reveal a lot about how the Southern mind works. I find myself nodding my head and laughing out loud at some of the phrases and actions that Harris includes because they are so perfectly Southern, if slightly exaggerated at times.

I also love that these books are populated with unique, interesting characters. You may ask how I can call them unique when there is such a plethora of the  supernatural writing that has become wildly popular in recent years, but it seems to me that most of that started when Twilight came out in 2005 and started a huge trend primarily in young adult fiction. A lot of these books, and the characters in them, seem so similar to one another that it is almost like they are written from a pre-designed formula. Just change some names and a few minor details and voila! a new book is ready to be published. Sookie appeared in 2001, and these books have a more mature feel than a lot of the more recent series. She is technically still a young adult, but she didn't come from a life of privilege and has to work hard for a living. And she works as a waitress in a small town, redneck bar rather than having a glamorous job in the big city. I also like that Harris keeps some of the more traditional beliefs about vampires (they can't be out in the day and can't tolerate silver) while also introducing new ideas (the invention of synthetic blood that allows them to go mainstream). And even though the first book focuses mostly on vampires, later Sookie books include a variety of other supernatural characters as well.

I think, however, that what has really made this series stick with me is the time period in which I began reading them. Like certain songs that stand out in your memory because of what was happening when you heard them, these books have stayed with me because they saw me through a very difficult time in my life. I didn't start reading them until 2008, so I had plenty to catch up on and keep my mind occupied. I had just come home from the hospital after having surgery to correct a problem that had caused me to have a miscarriage earlier in the year. A very brilliant friend of mine, who just so happens to be one of the most interesting people on earth (just check out her blog, The Cattywampus Chronicle and I think you will agree), came by to see me and brought a bag of books for me to read since I wouldn't be able to go to the bookstore or library for a few weeks. Included in this bag were the first 3 or 4 books in the series ( I can't remember exactly how many). At first, I was a little hesitant to read them. I was afraid that they would be too silly. But eventually my curiosity won out and I began reading Dead Until Dark. That was all it took - I was addicted, and every time I started to feel bored or sad, I immersed myself in Sookie's world and always felt better when I came out. Of course, I also had a hard time getting back to reality and suffered withdrawals when I wasn't able to read them that surely would have rivaled any drug addict's. And ever since then, I have done my best to keep up with the series and read the new books as soon after publication as possible. A couple of times, I have reread the series from the beginning to prepare for the new book's release, and that is where this year's 13 weeks of Sookie comes in. I don't usually do reading challenges, because I never know what I will be in the mood to read, or have time to read from day to day, but in honor of the last book I am challenging myself to read one a week until I have finished the last one. Once again, I find myself at a difficult time in my life, and it is fitting that my old friend Sookie is here to pick me up and help me through it. As crazy as it sounds, I think I may even cry when I finish the last book. I could almost cry now just thinking about it.

Is it time for Charlaine Harris to end the series? As much as I hate to admit it, yes, I think it is. The past few books have felt a little rushed, and not as well developed. Maybe Harris was being pushed by her publishers to get them out before they were completely ready. Maybe she is getting a little burned and out and is ready to focus on some other projects (I also enjoy her Harper Connolly series.) Maybe she is so disgusted by the direction the TV series has taken that she can't bear to write any more books for them to completely ignore. I don't know why she has chosen to end the series now, but I am glad that she is ending it before it becomes ridiculous and cliched. I only ask that the final book remain true to the 12 books that came before it, that it tie up all the loose ends so the series has truly ended, and that it give Sookie the happy ending that she deserves.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review - The Art Forger

The Art Forger, by Barbara Shapiro
Format: epub e-book
3 Stars

From Goodreads:
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art today worth over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Making a living reproducing famous artworks for a popular online retailer and desperate to improve her situation, Claire is lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—a Degas masterpiece stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when that very same long-missing Degas painting is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Her desperate search for the truth leads Claire into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life.

I was very excited when I was finally able to check this book out through my local library's e-book service. It had been sitting on my to-be-read list for a while because I didn't want to buy it and the library didn't have a print version. So when I got a tablet for Christmas and discovered that e-books were not as awful as I imagined them to be, I got on the waiting list for The Art Forger (yes, even e-books have waiting lists and a 2 week check-out time limit). Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, the book did not live up to my expectations. It was good enough for me to finish it, but not good enough for me to rush through it. And it has taken me a week to get around to writing out my thoughts.

The premise was interesting enough, but the story just kind of drug along. I never got really excited about the plot or the characters. The life of a starving artist just isn't that engaging, and I found the characters annoying and underdeveloped. But the book did have a few redeeming qualities. The secondary characters added a little bit of depth and interest that Claire and Aiden were lacking, and I loved the historical letters written by Isabella Gardner to her niece. The other thing I liked about the book was that it got me more interested in art in general, and Degas in particular. But in contrast to Isabella Gardner, I prefer his later, more Impressionistic work.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review - The Summer We Read Gatsby

The Summer We Read Gatsby, by Danielle Ganek and read by Justine Eyre
Format: audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars
The Summer We Read Gatsby is a delightful novel about two half-sisters who have inherited an aging house in the Hamptons. Cassie, also known as Stella, and her sister Peck decide to spend one last summer in the house before selling it. Over the course of the summer, which reminds them of the summer 7 years before when they really did read The Great Gatsby, they search for love, a missing painting, a ghost, a way to afford to keep the house, and the "thing of utmost value" that their aunt mentioned in her will.

In spite of a few negative reviews, I liked this book. It wasn't a book that brought on any great emotions, but it was a pleasant read filled with humor and a sense of wistfulness. One or two of the reviews that I read mentioned that it would be a good beach read (especially since it was set in the summer), but I ended up listening to it in the winter which was nice as it brought with it the feeling of warm, lazy summer vacations and eased some of the dreariness of January. It also put me in the mood to reread Gatsby myself, which I have not done since high school. Novels that make you want to reread classics or learn more about a particular topic or historical period always get extra points in my book. The characters were intelligent and interesting. They were also pretty, and moderately succesful, which is another plus in my mind - it irks me when characters are too perfect.

This book lent itself well to the audiobook format. It was straightforward and easy to follow which is important if you are like me and listen in short bursts rather than long sittings. And I cannot say enough good things about Justine Eyre. I first discovered her when I listened to Margaret George's novel Helen of Troy. Ms. Eyre's voice was wonderfully suited for that book, and I liked her treatment of this book almost as well. Some reviewers found her accents off-putting, but I thought they were very well-done, especially her interpretation of Cassie, who grew up in Europe rather than America.

Moving day, books as a refuge, and libraries that hold a grudge

This post should have been posted over a week ago, but I just discovered it in my drafts. Just more proof that technology does not like me.

I can't believe I have not blogged in almost two weeks. I can't believe I haven't finished a book this week. The truth is, I've barely even had time to read or write. Which is strange - normally, books are my refuge, so I make time to read. No, I don't think that my problems will go away while I have my head stuck in a book. But taking time out to read does help me to relax and clear my head. Problems don't seem so overwhelming when you allow yourself to step back from them for a bit.
Last week was one of the most difficult weeks that I have experienced in many years. We had just moved back to the Mobile area 6 months ago, and we loved it. I loved our house, our son loved his school, and things finally seemed to be looking up for us. I had not been able to find a job, so it was still hard, but we were doing fairly well anyway. But last week my husband lost his job. With very little savings and few options, we are at a loss s to what we should do. We both began making calls and exploring our options, and I took time out to lose myself in my reading. I finished Two for the Dough and The Dressmaker, and started The Summer We Read Gatsby audio and The Curse of the Spellmans print book. Then my mother-in-law called and said we should put our things in storage and move in with her until we could get back on our feet. After much thought, we decided to go ahead and do it. So we rented the truck, packed the boxes (including enough book boxes to make me wish I liked ebooks more than I actually do), and drove the 200 miles to Dothan. There have been many times in the past few years when we said that we would like to move back "home," but it just never seemed like a feasible option. At any rate, the decision, hard work, and more crowded atmosphere haven't been very conducive to reading. I have been feeling a wide range of emotions - happiness, sadness, anxiety... But I have been feeling increasingly down so it is time to get back to reading. I had to return The Curse of the Spellmans to the library without finishing it. Most of my books are in storage. But I did keep out The Sepulchre by Kate Moss. I received it as a Secret Santa gift this past Christmas and decided it would be the perfect time to read it. And I'm glad I did since the library here does no,t seem to have purchased any new books in the 10 years that we have been gone. Which brings me to my next topic -
Libraries hold grudges. It does not matter if you moved away 1 year, 3 years, or 10 years ago, they will still make you pay any late fees that you might have had and a $5 replacement fee for your library card. And it is not just this library. It seems to be an unspoken library rule. I should know - I have had the experience with more than one library. In think the lesson has finally sunk in - I'm much better now about either renewing my books or returning them on time, and I have vowed to never throw away another library card just in case I one day move back to that town and need it again. And while it may seem old-fashioned, I love libraries. I never feel like I am truly a citizen of a particular place until I have gotten my library card. It is even more important than updating my driver's license. There is just something about wandering aimlessly up and down the rows of shelves that is oddly relaxing and exciting at the same time. Breathing in the lovely, comforting smells of old and new books, running my fingers along the spines feeling the different textures. Foraging for that unexpected treasure.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review - The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, by Kate Alcott
Library e-book
2 Stars

Description courtesy of Goodreads:
Just in time for the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic comes a vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young woman who survives the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy.

Tess, an aspiring seamstress, thinks she's had an incredibly lucky break when she is hired by famous designer Lady Lucile Duff Gordon to be a personal maid on the Titanic's doomed voyage. Once on board, Tess catches the eye of two men, one a roughly-hewn but kind sailor and the other an enigmatic Chicago millionaire. But on the fourth night, disaster strikes

Amidst the chaos and desperate urging of two very different suitors, Tess is one of the last people allowed on a lifeboat. Tess’s sailor also manages to survive unharmed, witness to Lady Duff Gordon’s questionable actions during the tragedy. Others—including the gallant Midwestern tycoon—are not so lucky.

On dry land, rumors about the survivors begin to circulate, and Lady Duff Gordon quickly becomes the subject of media scorn and later, the hearings on the Titanic. Set against a historical tragedy but told from a completely fresh angle, The Dressmaker is an atmospheric delight filled with all the period's glitz and glamour, all the raw feelings of a national tragedy and all the contradictory emotions of young love

My review:
I discovered this book after reading Katherine Howe's excellent novel, The House of Velvet and Glass. It was listed as a suggestion for people who enjoyed Howe's novel. Like many in the past few years, I have become fascinated by the story of the Titanic, and also by the time period itself. The turn of the last century and the Age Of Progress, it was a time period filled with huge changes in both technology and society, and offers a wealth of topics for writers to explore. Thus my excitement about reading The Dressmaker which covers not only the disaster itself, but the aftermath and American congressional hearings as well.

Sadly, this book left me feeling rather flat and let down. The characters in themselves are interesting, but just were not developed enough to really make care about them. I wanted to fall in love with Tess, and, at times, I wanted to despise Lucile, but the tepid writing just left me feeling ambivalent about them. And worse - it made me feel ambivalent about one of the most horrific tragedies in history, a tragedy that has brought me to tears when treated properly.

That said, I did read this book all the way to the end. It was told from an angle that seemed fresh and different - Tess was not one of the rich, first class passengers, but she wasn't one of the poor souls confined to steerage in the bowels of the ship either. She was a character on a precipice between the two, weaving her way between them yet still managing to maintain her own place in society. Hers is the character in the novel that had the most potential, the potential to really be the embodiment of the time period, and as such was the character that became, for me, the most disappointing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review - Two For the Dough audiobook

Two for the Dough Unabridged Audiobook (The Stephanie Plum Series, Book 2)
By Janet Evanovich
Unabridged audio, narrated by C.J. Critt

Two for the Dough Description, from Goodreads:

Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is still learning the ropes at her cousin Vinnie's bail bond office, so when she sets out on the trail of Kenny Mancuso - a suspiciously wealthy, working class Trenton boy who has just shot his best friend - the stakes are higher than ever. That Mancuso is distantly related to vice cop Joe Morelli - who is trying to beat Stephanie to the punch - only makes the hunt more thrilling...

Taking pointers from her bounty hunter pal, Ranger, and using her pistol packing Grandma Mazur as a decoy, Stephanie is soon closing in on her mark. But Morelli and his libido are worthy foes. And a more sinister kind of enemy has made his first move... and his next move might be Stephanie's last. 

I discovered this series very recently. To be honest, I did not become interested in it until I saw the movie One for the Money. After seeing it, I rushed to the library to check out the book, and I loved it as well. The thought occurred to me that these books would probably translate well into audio versions, so when I got ready for Two for the Dough, I grabbed the cd's. I was not disappointed. C.J. Critt was an excellent story teller - I especially loved her Grandma Mazur voice. I'm not sure where she is from, and being from the South I don't have much experience with New Jersey accents, but Ms. Critt's seemed authentic and not overdone to me. As for the book itself, I was not disappointed. Stephanie was still the quirky, trouble attracting heroine that I came to love in the first book. And Joe Morelli. Well, what can I say. He is such a bad boy, but underneath his playboy exterior lurks a man who really seems to care about Stephanie. Of course it helps that I can picture the very attractive Jason O'Mara (the actor who played Morelli in the movie.) He alternated between helping Stephanie, trying to protect her, and double-crossing her by not sharing info on the case. Typical Morelli behavior. There are only two things that might have made the book better for me - one would have been the addition of a few more "easy" pick-ups for Stephanie. These are always humorous, and help her learn little tricks of the trade that she really needs. But the main thing that bothered me was the way the story got stretched out with Kenny's breaking and entering stunts. It got to be a little too much, and not all of them added to the progression of the plot. Even so, this was a fun listen, and I can't wait to pick up the next installment in the series - Three To Get Deadly.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday Forage

I decided that today would be a good day to go out foraging for a few books. So I hit a couple of my favorite places - The Daphne Public Library, and our local Goodwill. At the library, I picked up a couple of things from my TBR list and one audiobook that just looked interesting. I read a review recently for Hilary Mantel's new novel Bring Up the Bodies and thought it looked interesting, but since it is in a series, I decided to pick up the first book -Wolf Hall. I also needed a new audiobook to listen to when I am doing housework (audiobooks are the only thing that makes it bearable!) I found A Venetian Affair which has been on my list for a while, and I also picked up The Summer We Read Gatsby as I was browsing the shelves.

Goodwill, and all thrift stores really, are great places to pick up books. They are all used, of course, and some have torn pages and covers (or no cover), but if you are diligent and patient you can find books in excellent condition. On today's visit, I found 3 books to add to my collection, and my 3-year-old daughter found 3 for her shelf as well. The ones I got were all books that I had read before, but really enjoyed them and was excited to find copies of them. They are: Water for Elephants, by Sara GruenThe Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris. Ava got Angelina's Silver Locket and two Dora the Explorer books. I also found an unopened copy of the 2013 Book Lover's Calendar by Books-A-Million.

Overall, it was a very satisfying forage.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Hobbit - Book and Movie

Last month, in preparation for the new movie, I decided to reread The Hobbit. The first time I read it I was in either junior high or high school (it was a REALLY long time ago, so I can't remember exactly when!) Even though I was a voracious reader back then, the fact that I was being forced to read it automatically made me dislike it. I actually ended up liking it better than most of the other books we had to read, but that's not saying much. So I reread it, and as is often the case, loved it this time around. The descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the action are absolutely breathtaking and original. There is also a depth of emotion to the book that I had not realized before. I was especially surprised to find myself laughing out loud at scenes that I had previously found boring, and also to find myself near tears at times. Tolkien has a way of connecting you to the characters and making you care for them in a way that many authors never achieve. When I was done, I rated it a 5, even though fantasy is not one of my favorite genres, and waited patiently to have the time and extra cash to go see the movie.

I must admit that I was thoroughly prepared to be outraged by the movie. It is common knowledge that a book is always better than the movie (even though The Lord of the Rings was beautifully done), and I knew that there had been scenes and characters added that were not in the book - most notably the return of Cate Blanchett as the elf Galadriel. How could they do such a thing? Well, to be fair, they are stretching a relatively short book out into three movies, so I guess some additions are to be expected. But guess what...When I saw the movie, I actually liked the added scenes. They helped explain a few things from the book and also helped to strengthen the ties between the movies. And it goes without saying that the filming and acting were absolutely brilliant. I loved Martin Freeman as Bilbo. His facial expressions and the tone of his voice made him perfect for the role. My only problem with it is that I now have to wait a whole year before the next movie comes out (oh, and by the way, I saw somewhere that Orlando Bloom is coming back for the last movie, and I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with that addition.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Photograph

The PhotographThe Photograph by Penelope Lively
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

She has become like some mythical figure, trawled up at will to fit other people's narratives. Everyone has their way with her, everyone decides what she was, how things were. It seems unjust that in the midst of this to-do she is denied a voice.

Oliver Watson's feelings regarding his deceased friend Kath sum up the theme of Penelope Lively's beautifully written novel, The Photograph. It is a novel about relationships - relationships between spouses, siblings, friends, and even acquaintances. It is also about the perceptions of each other that go along with those relationships. Do we ever see the complete picture of those we love, or do we only see them in snapshots, little snippets instead of the whole person?

The story opens when Glyn, a landscape historian, finds an envelope with a note in his dead wife's handwriting saying, "Do not open! Destroy." Of course, he opens it, and gets a shock that causes him to question his whole perception of Kath and their marriage. So he sets out to find out what really happened, and who she really was. But the story centers around Kath herself. We get vignettes of her from many different characters. The plot feels very small and contained, with just a handful of characters and their memories. And even though Kath is dead, you don't know what happened to her, which adds to a growing feeling that she is going to pop in at any minute (a habit of hers that everyone remembers) and explain everything. This feeling is strengthened by the memories of the living characters - instead of a simple flashback, they actually see her in their surroundings and hear her voice speaking to them, causing their memories to sort of merge with the present. It is as if she is actually there and is indeed trying to explain.

But as Glyn picks the brains of every person he can think of that Kath may have come into contact with, and as she herself inserts herself more and more into everyone's daily lives, the picture of Kath begins to expand. We start to get this sneaky suspicion that there was much more to her than those who were supposedly closest to her remember. And by the end, when most of the questions have finally been revealed, we realize along with the characters that it is the things we don't know about a person, the things that they, in retrospect, seemed to be trying to tell us, that make all the difference.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Set in Walls of Water, North Carolina,The Peach Keeper: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen is a lovely piece of Southern literature. The setting and character details are true to Southern life, and are not overwhelming. The story is mainly about Willa Jackson and Paxton Osgood, two life-long residents of the town. Even though they went to high school together, the women aren't exactly friends - Paxton is from a rich family and is consumed with the Women's Society Club. She lives in her parent's pool house, and is expected at dinner every night. Willa's family, on the other hand, lost their fortune in the 30's and she is currently a reformed prankster who owns her own business and lives in her deceased father's house.

Through the course of the novel, Willa and Paxton develop a friendship as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Blue Ridge Madam - the mansion that Willa's family once owned. They also discover the true purpose behind the club, true love, and inner truths that they had not been able to accept before.

The novel is well-written and engaging, but rather anti-climactic in the end. Even so, it was a nice read that can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys not only Southern literature, but stories of women's friendships as well.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Blog home - not book related

I have a serious problem with the internet. There are just too many choices for everything. Too many browsers, too many web hosts, too many search engines, too many results for your searches... For someone like me who feels an obsessive need to check out all of them in order to find the one they like best, it can be quite overwhelming. So when I decided to start this blog, I had to wade through the different blog hosts and try to settle on the one that I liked best. I signed up for two of the most popular - blogger and WordPress. Both are free and I have to say that both have good points and drawbacks. I was kind of leaning towards blogger because it seems easier to use and gives you more control over the appearance of your posts and such. The blogger app also works better on my new tablet than the wordpress one does. But in the end, WordPress made the final decision for me be deactivating my blog with them. Apparently, I violated their terms of use with my Amazon Affiliates links.

Here's how it works - if you sign up to be an Amazon Affiliate,  a little button appears at the top of the Amazon site that says "Link to this page." For instance, if I am blogging about a book that I am reading and want my readers to be able to easily access a description of it on Amazon, I click the link, type in the name of the book, and Amazon generates a link for me. All I have to do is copy and paste it into the HTML of my blog, and voila! I have an instant link embedded in my blog. An added bonus is that if a reader uses the link and ends up buying the book, I get a miniscule percentage of the sale. Now, I don't actually expect to make money this way (although it would be nice). I just like how it simplifies the whole linking process, which is important to a technophobe like me. But to make a long story slightly shorter, WordPress does not want you to use their free blog service to make money. I don't know how they feel about it in relation to their paid service,, but their free .com service does not allow it. I can appreciate that - their service is free so why should I be able to use it to make money? And I am not upset or angry about it either, after all, it was my own fault for not actually reading the terms of use. I could explain that I had simply made a mistake (I'm sure I am the only person who just started blogging without actually reading the terms) and ask them to reinstate my blog. Then I could take out the offensive links and go through the extra steps of creating my own links, but I just don't want to. Blogger (and their parent, Google) doesn't seem to give a hoot if I use my blog to make 10 cents. And so, here I am, on my only blog. What a relief to finally have made a decision, even if it was made for me.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Inaugural post

So this is the inaugural post of my new Book Forage blog. Yes, it is yet another blog about books. I will probably post other things from time to time, but it is primarily going to be about books. I am completely addicted to them. If I am not reading a book, then I am reading reviews or listening to audiobooks or just thinking about books. Occasionally I think about my next trip to the library, but that too is really about books. One of my favorite things about books is discovering new ones that look interesting. To me, the hunt for good books is almost as much fun as reading itself. Which is how this blog got its name - foraging about in a forest of books looking for the ones that catch your eye. The internet has made this hunt easier, but I still love browsing the shelves at the library, bookstore, or thrift store. I love the feel of a book in my hand - the weight, smell, and texture of the cover and pages. Thus my ever growing "Want to read" list. I plan on adding this list along with a books read list as separate blog pages, but that will be a work in process. I may try to add in my old reviews here and there in future posts, but I haven't decided yet. Even if I don't, I will at least provide links to them. I am currently "reading" 3 books. In print, I am reading The Photograph by Penelope Lively. It opens with a man finding a mysterious photograph of his dead wife.The photo causes him to question their whole relationship so he sets out to find out the truth, and as the book progresses we hear perceptions of his wife from many different characters. Then since I got a new tablet for Christmas, I am reading an e-book. I normally only try to read one book at a time, but one of my greatest pleasures in life is reading while in a warm bath and I am afraid of dropping my new tablet in the water and either being electrocuted (highly unlikely) or ruining the tablet (very likely, especially since I am quite clumsy) Anyway, the e-book that I am reading is The Peach Keeper: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen. It is a lovely piece of Southern literature set in North Carolina. So far it seems pretty true to Southern life and reminds me of the books of Joshilyn Jackson, whose writing I adore. Finally, when I am doing housework or riding in the car in I listen to audiobooks. The one I am currently listening to is Two for the Dough Unabridged Audiobook (The Stephanie Plum Series, Book 2), the second book in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. And that's that. The first post is now out of the way, and ideas for future posts are swirling through my head. Later on this evening, I think I will work on getting my lists entered, but first, Stephanie Plum is waiting for me in the kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes.