Thursday, July 31, 2008

Book Buzz

  • Dig out your prom dresses, ladies. Borders and Barnes & Noble (as well as every other bookstore in the land) are hosting release parties for Breaking Dawn tomorrow night. Those of us that weren’t asked to prom (I’m still in therapy over it) are out of luck.

  • If you can’t wait until Saturday midnight for your Stephenie Meyer fix, USA Today has an interview with her today. For those who finish Breaking Dawn in one day, YALSA recommends “read-alikes.” Borders suggests Meyer fans try L. J. Smith’s Night World and P.C. and Kristin Cast’s Marked.
  • I recently learned that publishers actually post trailers for books on YouTube. This article doesn’t think it’s such a great idea. As for me, I’ll likely end up wasting hours playing on the site trying to find other trailers. Another marketing trick? Putting "chick flick" covers on all books by female authors. The Guardian is not happy about the trend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I’ve been reading excessive amounts of brain candy lately, but I have an excuse: I’ve been attempting (though not-exactly successfully) to use my brain for other endeavors. I am now committed to deeper reading, so this is officially my last brain-candy entry (for the time being).

Catherine Coulter’s TailSpin brings back Special Agents Savich and Sherlock, regulars in Coutler’s FBI Thriller series. This time, they are investigating two crimes. Dr. MacLean is a well-known psychiatrist; Rachael Abbott is a former senator’s lovechild. Both are being targeted by assassins, though apparently not the same ones.

I’ve enjoyed Coulter’s series in the past, and I love an occasional brainless read. This time, though, I was not wrapped up in the story. Instead, I was constantly irritated by little details. For example, the book takes place in the D.C. area, yet the characters constantly eat Mexican food. Has Coulter, who lives in California, ever eaten Mexican food on the East Coast?

More importantly, I was turned off by the main characters’ apparent lack of humanity. When the senator discovers Rachael is his lovechild, he is thrilled, calls her the “daughter of his heart.” Yet, he has two other daughters he raised. No one questions his instant adoration for Rachael or wonders how his other children might feel.

Similarly, the senator has a dark secret, a crime he committed. All the characters want the secret to remain, well, a secret. They don’t want to tarnish the senator’s reputation. But no one ever thinks about the people he harmed. Wouldn’t they want the closure of knowing who committed the crime?

Okay, enough complaining. The real problem with this thriller is that it is less than thrilling. Coulter misses out on opportunities to create fear and tension. I never really believed anyone is in danger, and I wouldn’t really mind if they were.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Fifteen-year-old Sandpiper Hollow Ragsdale was named after the place her parents first met and fell in love. Unfortunately, her parents are now divorced and her mother is engaged to another man.

Ellen Wittlinger’s Sandpiper starts a few weeks before the wedding, weeks full of turmoil for Sandpiper. First, her soon-to-be stepsister comes for the wedding, and she appears to be practically perfect. Second, Sandpiper’s bad reputation starts to haunt her. Her “ex,” Derek, becomes obsessed with enacting revenge on Sandpiper and her family. Third, Sandpiper meets “Walker,” an anonymous young man who spends his days wandering the streets.

The book is frank about Sandpiper’s sexuality. Although technically a virgin, she is known for “putting out” for multiple boys. However, it is also clear that Sandpiper’s sexual acts are far from liberating and are, instead, motivated by self-esteem issues. She enjoys the power she holds over males but instantly regrets her involvement with them.

Sandpiper is a certainly not a light teen read. Instead, Wittlinger shows that life is complicated for everyone: Walker has a secret that constantly torments him, the step-sister has father issues, and even the wedding’s maid-of-honor can’t handle her weight problems.

This book is not exactly an enjoyable or upbeat read, but Wittlinger boldly tackles topics relevant to many teens and even adults, and I give her credit for that.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Guest Blog--Two Christmas Mysteries

Although it is July, I picked up two short novels from Anne Perry’s Christmas collection. I was looking for something short and easy to read after reading several books that were close to 400 pages long. Although both books are murder mysteries, they turned out to be delightful surprises and a pleasure to read.

I first started reading Anne Perry shortly after she began writing the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mysteries. In fact, I think the first novel I read was The Cater Street Hangman in which the characters are introduced. If I remember correctly, in this first book Charlotte is a little bit in love with her brother-in-law Dominic Corde. His wife (and Charlotte’s sister) becomes one of the hangman's victims.

In A Christmas Secret, Dominic Corde reappears as the protagonist. Following the death of his upper class wife, he decides to change his life dramatically and he studies for the ministry of the Church of England. With his new wife Clarice, Corde has come to take over the services of the church in a small country village while the regular vicar is on vacation. It doesn’t take too long for the couple to discover, though, that the Reverend Wynter never left home.

In the second novel, A Christmas Beginning, the main character is Superintendent Runcorn from Scotland Yard. He was the superintendent with whom Monk had conflict. Monk is the featured detective in another of Perry’s series of mysteries. He eventually left Scotland Yard partly because of the problems with his superior officer Runcorn.

It is a more introspective Runcorn that we encounter in A Christmas Beginning. He is on vacation in Wales when the sister of the local vicar is found murdered in the churchyard. Melisande Ewart and her brother John Barclay, from another story, are staying in the district. Because of the tender feelings that Runcorn has for Melisande, he agrees to become involved in searching for the killer.

If you are looking for a gift this year for an Anne Perry fan, I recommend giving one of her five Christmas novels. I assume that the other three she has so far published are as easy to read as these two.

I haven’t read any Anne Perry novels lately, and I suspect it was because I began to find her books a little too didactic. The stories plodded a bit, and the moral judgments became too heavy for me. However, these short novels don’t have time to get bogged down and are a pleasurable read for a gloomy afternoon or one at the beach. Christmas snow always seems so delightful when you are sitting on a sand chair by the ocean.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Book Buzz

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vacation Day

Book Rater is enjoying a local holiday and will return tomorrow with this week's Book Buzz.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kitty Kitty

Crime-solving Jasmine Callihan is back in Michele Jaffe’s Kitty Kitty, sequel to last year’s young adult novel Bad Kitty. This time, though, Jas is sleuthing in Venice, Italy where her father, a “genius,” is researching the history of soap.

Jas meets a quirky young woman, Arabella, in Italian class. When disaster strikes Arabella, Jas disagrees with the official investigation (and I can’t blame her for distrusting the Italian police force after reading The Monster of Florence). Instead, she decides to solve Arabella’s mystery on her own.

Naturally, Jas’s search leads her into multiple sticky situations, helps her meet several interesting young males, and causes her friends (who obviously have a different income than I did as a teen or do as an adult) to travel halfway around the world to come to her aid.

Of course, despite mishaps and mayhem, Jas is a top-notch heroine. She is smart, funny, and humble—plus she has a dreamboat boyfriend. Though lacking somewhat in substance, this series is harmless fun.

Jaffe’s writing is often witty—although it reminds me too much of a self-conscious, less-clever, wannabe version of the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson. Jaffe also walks a fine line between hip and horribly out-of-date. Hip: her use of footnotes to represent instant messages. Out-of-date: references to VH1’s Behind the Music and M*A*S*H. Does she think teenagers have the same interests as the middle-aged?

Jaffe does redeem herself, though, with multiple references to the Austrian television show Kommissar Rex, one of my favorite programs I watched in Paris (except Jas’s Italian version is called Il Commissario Rex, the French version is Rex, chien flic, and in English it's Inspector Rex). Anyone who enjoys a crime-fighting dog can’t be bad.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fire in the Blood

I never did finish Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise but have felt it is my duty as a reader to actually complete a book by this recently-popularized and -acclaimed author. As such, I tackled something a little smaller: Fire in the Blood.

Fire in the Blood is a short novel that takes place in provincial France, among farmers and millers. The narrator is Silvio, an older man who finds himself involved in the scandalous love affairs of several neighbors in his community, including his relatives. As the story develops, Silvio discovers that he, himself, is involved in the scandal because of decisions he made twenty years earlier.

In many ways, the tone, setting, and even plot reminds me of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Both books take place in farming communities; both books have young characters dissatisfied with their marriages; in both books, affairs lead to tragedy. And in each book, I felt little remorse from the characters over their basically disastrous decisions.

A lot of fuss has been made over Nemirovsky and the two books she wrote before the Nazi invasion of France. Nemirovsky was later killed in Auschwitz. I feel a bit like a heretic saying this, but I think much of the fascination with Nemirovsky is due to her interesting personal history and not an amazing writing ability. Fire is interesting and well written, but it is nothing spectacular (though the translator could be somewhat at fault for this). I no longer feel guilty for not finishing Suite Francaise.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Guest Blog--Shadows & Lies

While browsing through the new books collection, I came across Shadows & Lies by Marjorie Eccles. I read the inside flap of the cover and decided to give it a try. The name Marjorie Eccles did not sound at all familiar to me. It was only later when I looked her up on the Internet that I discovered that she is the author of a series of books featuring detective Gil Mayo. BBC produced a television series based on Eccles’ books about Mayo, and I have actually seen a couple of the shows. He and his team are a bit quirky but have a certain charm. And they are set in Britain today.

Shadows & Lies is set in England and South Africa/Rhodesia at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel follows two different story lines. One is about the aristocratic family, the Chetwynds. On a stormy afternoon, Sebastian, the reluctant heir to the title and estate, sees a shadowy figure on the drive leading to the family mansion. The next day, the body of an unknown woman is found in a stream on the estate.

The other story is about Hannah who has been involved in an accident and has lost the memory of her recent life. She can remember her childhood and the years of her young adulthood but cannot remember anything from the more recent years. She begins to write down her memories of childhood in England and her life in Africa in an effort to recall who she is in the present.

The backdrop for much of the African story is the Boer War, while the story set in 1909 features the struggles of the suffragists. The Boer War is not one of history’s events with which I am familiar. This particular story focuses on the siege of Mafeking which is apparently the one well-known event that all British citizens were aware of at the time.

When Eccles talks about the struggles of the suffragists, she tries to give a picture of all sides of the issue. Most of the women involved in the fight to win the vote for women were upper class, privileged women with the time and means to devote to a cause. Many of them deliberately broke laws to ensure they were arrested and brought into the public eye.

A few, while in prison, refused to eat and were force-fed. I found it interesting that several times Eccles’ characters are appalled at the idea that the women would be force-fed; however, she never tells her reader what that entails. Yet, she doesn’t hesitate to talk about body parts spread across the ground and left in trees and on roofs in Africa.

At first I found it difficult to get into the story. It felt as if it moved too slowly and spent far too much time setting the backdrop. When I read a few novels by Jacqueline Winspear earlier this year, I had the feeling that a lot of the detail was included to impress me, the reader, with all of the historical research she had done on the era. The same thought crossed my mind as I read Shadows & Lies.

A person writing in 1909 would have assumed that we knew how the women were dressed and where their hems fell so would have spared us a lot of the detail. Perhaps the intricate descriptions of background and clothing appeal to some readers, but I have a tendency to want to get on with the story.

This story evolves into a very satisfying one. The characters are likeable and interesting. The people are three dimensional with strengths and flaws. The mystery’s conclusion held a little twist and was gratifying. However, in the end I was not really sure that women’s suffrage or the Boer War really had anything to do with the mystery. Rather, they were just interesting settings for the tale.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Several months ago, I heard Gail Carson Levine read a chapter from her new book Ever. Naturally, I had to read the book for myself.

Ever takes place in a fantasy land that has the feel of an ancient Middle Eastern country. The book’s heroine is Kezi, a teenager who lives with her parents and is excited to start her new life as she approaches marriageable age.

Meanwhile, Olus, the god of winds, is bored with his life among the gods. He leaves home to experience life as a human and becomes a shepherd for Kezi’s father. From a distance, he grows to care for the girl.

Their lives are thrown into confusion when Kezi is unexpectedly condemned to death. She only has a month to live, and Olus cannot resist coming to her rescue. The two join forces and run away together in an attempt to overcome the death sentence.

Like all Gail Carson Levine books, Ever is sweet and completely inoffensive. Kezi and Olus are appealing characters, and I wanted nothing more than for the two to fall in love—even though they are only teenagers.

I was turned off by Kezi’s treatment of a family she supposedly loves so much. She only has a few weeks to live, and instead of spending that time with her beloved parents, she runs off with Olus. The lack of concern she shows for her family at this moment, and several others, makes me almost dislike the character.

Then again, this is a young adult novel, and maybe I would have been equally as inconsiderate to my parents as a teen, especially if I’d met a hot young god.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Book Buzz

  • Book six in the Artemis Fowl series, The Time Paradox, came out Tuesday. I tried reading the first book, but I just couldn’t get into it. The blend of fantasy and mean characters was too much for me. I guess other people don’t have the same problem.
  • Breaking Dawn will be released in two weeks, and I keep stumbling over Stephenie Meyer. Entertainment Weekly featured The Twilight Saga on its cover. According to this article in the LA Times, though, fans weren’t so hot on it. The New York Times also carried an Op-Ed about the series. Gail Collins suggests the series is developing “a generation of women who expect their boyfriend to crawl through their bedroom window at night and just nuzzle gently until they fall asleep.”
  • For those still looking for a summer read, The Root features “Page Burners: Fourteen hot reads to go wherever summer takes you.” The list includes Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon. The Times recommends it as well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Unclaimed Experience

I read Cathy Caruth’s book Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History for a research project I’m working on. The author is well known for her work on trauma theory.

According to Caruth, “the term trauma is understood as a wound inflicted not upon the body but upon the mind” (3). “In its most general definition, trauma describes an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (11). Caruth applies trauma theory to works by Freud, Kant, and Lacan, among others.

The most interesting part of Unclaimed, though, is not found in the book itself. One chapter analyzes the French film Hiroshima mon amour in terms of trauma theory. Naturally, I immediately had to rent and watch the movie for myself.

Filmed in 1959, Hiroshima follows a French actress making a movie about “peace” in Hiroshima. She has a brief and intense sexual encounter with a Japanese man. The relationship releases the traumatic experiences both endure because of the war: the woman’s German lover is killed, and she is ostracized; the man’s family perishes in Hiroshima while he is away fighting in the war.

Perhaps the most moving element of the film, though, is the actual footage of bombing victims. I could only weep at the images of mangled, burned, and dying children.

For someone so obsessed with atrocities committed in Europe during WWII, I am ashamed for practically ignoring the carnage perpetrated by Americans. If only Caruth could tell me how to reconcile myself with this part of my own history, with the trauma inflicted by American hands.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Monster of Florence

Although Douglas Preston continually reminds the reader of The Monster of Florence that he is a bestselling mystery writer, Monster is my first Preston experience.

The author impulsively moved with his family to Florence where he met a journalist named Mario Spezi. The two collaborated on this non-fiction piece, which is an account of a serial killer that preys on young lovers in Tuscany. The killer approaches the couples as they make love in parked cars, shoots them, then mutilates the females’ bodies.

The book is divided into two sections. The first recounts the actual murders; the second describes the authors’ involvement in the case and the spectacularly bad police work performed by the Italian government.

I made the mistake of reading the first half on Sunday night. I don’t normally read mysteries—particularly mysteries based on true stories—and I was absolutely terrified. I can’t remember the last time I felt so scared reading a book. The writing is not sensational or gratuitous. Indeed, it is the matter-of-fact tone that makes the story so scary, not to mention that truth is always more frightening than fiction.

Either the second half is a letdown or I am simply more rational during the daytime, but once the story shifts gears to focus on Preston and Spezi, it loses steam.

According to the story, the Italians investigating and prosecuting the case are not only inept, but they thrive on conspiracies, lies, and outrageous theories. They ignore the evidence (or in some cases plant it) to accuse, and sometimes even convict, dozens of innocent people. They fabricate a sensational story about black magic and human sacrifice to explain the murders and even investigate Preston and Spezi because of their interest in the case.

If this book is to be believed, Italian law enforcement is downright terrifying. More upsetting, though, is that the case has never been resolved. Preston and Spezi suggest a suspect, but they never explain why the killings suddenly stop although the suspect continues to live in the area. I wanted a nice, wrapped-up ending, but unfortunately that isn’t what happens in real life.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Guest Blog--Blood Hunt by Ian Rankin

In the early 1990s when Ian Rankin was just beginning to find success with his series of novels about John Rebus, he wrote three other novels under the name of Jack Harvey. One of those novels was Blood Hunt (1995).

In March 2006, the book was released again under Rankin’s name. Last Christmas a friend added a postscript to the family greeting, telling me that his favorite mystery of 2007 was this book. Of course, I immediately checked for it and discovered that it was not even available at that time through It was released in the UK and Canada before it was in the United States.

At first I was a little leery about reading the book because I have never read any of the Rebus mysteries and have not watched the TV show when it has been shown on BBC America. When I picked Blood Hunt up at the library, I was pleased to discover that this was a mystery that stood on its own with a character who does not appear in any of the other Rankin stories.

Rankin wrote Blood Hunt during a period when there was even more concern over BSE (mad cow disease) in the UK. Questions arose about the real cause of the disease and whether other diseases were related to chemicals used in the production of food.

Rankin took the real-life concern over the safety of our food and environment and created Jim Reeve, a journalist, who was determined to expose the conspiracy between governments and large chemical corporations. Reeve’s sudden death looks like a suicide, but when his brother flies to the San Diego to bring his body back to the UK for burial, something doesn’t feel right.

Gordon Reeve is a retired SAS soldier who fought during the British-Argentine conflict over the Falklands. Now he does weekend training for bodyguards or survivalist wannabes. As he begins to ask questions and looks into his brother’s latest research, Gordon discovers that someone has become very interested in him.

Part of the interest for me was related to the fact that I have a son who is a Marine currently serving in Iraq. Rankin describes some of the same types of training that our son has had in the Marine Corps. For example, Rankin talks about learning to lie hidden for hours without moving a muscle so that Reeve will not be discovered or running long distances carrying gear and a rifle. Reeve calls upon his military training and the physical discipline that he learned years ago as a Special Forces soldier in order to survive as his enemies attempt to eliminate him as they have his brother.

The story moves quickly, and I discovered when the book ended that I had become very attached to this ruthless warrior. I wasn’t quite ready to give him up to the closed pages of my novel. Maybe I am discovering a darker side of myself as I try reading some different writers. And maybe I’ll have to try reading some of Rankin’s Rebus novels.

Friday, July 11, 2008


On a recent trip to the dentist, my mother’s dental hygienist told her that I should read Jean P. Sasson’s memoir Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. And I did.

Sasson wrote Princess on behalf of a Saudi Arabian princess—called Sultana in the book—who culturally, and in fear for herself and her family, could not write the book herself. There are two sequels which I have not read.

Published in the 1990s, Princess is an exposé of Saudi Arabian society. Although the book is over a decade old, I understand that not a lot has changed during that time. Just yesterday, I heard a news report on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia—the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.

One of the unfortunate results of the “war on terror” has been a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States. I have heard several people blame Islam for the oppression of women in countries like Saudi Arabia. Reading Princess, though, I feel strongly that the problem rests not with the religion itself but with man’s interpretation of that religion.

The men in Sultana’s life use religion to serve their own needs. They pervert it to please themselves and only follow the precepts that suit them. Among the royal family, according to Sultana, alcohol consumption is rabid. Women are forced to veil themselves, and female circumcision is still common to ensure female “chastity.” On the other hand, men are free to indulge their sexual “needs” with prostitution, rape, and young sex slaves.

The portrait Sultana paints is shocking and disturbing to a Western audience. Female servants are routinely physically and sexually abused. Wives are considered little more than chattel, and daughters are married off for political and economic gain.

Yet, Sultana is not always a sympathetic or relatable character. She lives under a repressive regime, but that is not the only reason she is out of touch with the rest of the world. Sultana is a product of a royal family with too much money and often acts like a spoiled brat.

In one scene, she unflinchingly destroys an original Monet painting when she is angry with her husband. At another point, she takes her children and furtively travels all over the world in a private jet to force her husband to accept her will. She has reason to be angry with her husband, but most women do not have the means to take refuge in French chateaux.

In some ways, Sultana’s great wealth seems to buffer the effects of the misogyny surrounding her. This is not to say that women are not oppressed in Saudi Arabia or that Sultana’s tale isn’t interesting or enlightening. Overall, though, I would rather read about and sympathize with the sufferings of the average Saudi woman.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Book Buzz

  • What book landed on my “to read” list this week? David Benioff’s City of Thieves. The New York Times says the story of two Stalin-Era prisoners in search of eggs “reminds us what a beautifully ambiguous world we live in.”
  • Speaking of the Stalin Era, I’ve been religiously watching Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World series on PBS. Ferguson claims that WWII was not a war between evil and good, right and wrong, and I tend to agree. If you’d rather read than watch, he has a book by the same title.
  • Speaking of not-so-great-but-oh-so-popular authors, the latest Nora Roberts novel, Tribute, was released on Tuesday. I read one Nora Roberts series because the characters were supposedly Ukrainian, and it was one series too many.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Guest Blog--Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker

My husband is the one who got me started watching Jesse Stone mysteries on television. Tom Selleck is just a few years older than I am, so it is natural that I thought he was pretty cute when he did the Magnum, P.I. series years ago. He is older, just as I am, and he has put on weight, just as I have, but he still plays a very good, tough cop in the Jesse Stone movies.

Robert B. Parker has been writing Spenser novels since 1971. Spenser: For Hire became a regular TV series during the 1980s. A series that I did not watch. I have never been attracted to the hard-boiled detective types. Quite frankly, I am very found of Hercule Poirot. But hard-drinking Jesse Stone played by Tom Selleck got my attention.

The first Jesse Stone novel was published in 1997 so it wasn’t too difficult for me to read and watch all of the books and DVDs available at our local library. I have been looking forward to the chance to read the latest novel, Stranger in Paradise.

It didn’t disappointment. Within a day I had started and finished the latest story about the chief of police in Paradise, Massachusetts. As I read, every word that Stone said came with a mental picture and the voice of Tom Selleck. But that was all right by me. I could clearly see some of the other characters too: Suitcase Simpson and Molly, two other officers on the small Paradise police force.

In Parker’s latest book, Wilson Cromartie (Crow) is a hired hit man from Jesse Stone’s past. He walks into Stone’s office and makes it clear that he is in town on business and that he hopes that Stone and he will not get in each other’s way. Crow has come to Paradise looking for a wife and teenage daughter who have fled from a powerful gangster in Miami, Florida. When he eventually finds them, Crow decides that he is not going to follow his employer’s instructions. His refusal to obey the man who has paid him well brings hardened criminals from Miami to quiet Paradise. Collaboration between the hit man and the chief of police is the only way to save the day.

There is a little too much use of some well-known four-letter words than I am comfortable with. Hopefully they’ll clean up the language when this one comes to TV. Other than that, I enjoy seeing how Jesse is progressing with his drinking problems and his ex-wife problems. He has always been a good policeman and a conscientious preserver of the peace. He seems to be beginning to see that he has other good qualities as well. I am a fan. However, I don’t think that I can tell whether it is a fan of Jesse Stone or of Tom Selleck. If you like either of them, I recommend this new novel.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stop in the Name of Pants!

Fortunately for my sanity, my sister bought a copy of Stop in the Name of Pants! and was kind enough to lend it to me this weekend. I couldn't wait a moment longer to reacquaint myself with Georgia Nicolson.

Stop is the ninth book in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series by Louise Rennison. The latest installment finds Georgia, a British teenager, once again full of "red bottomosity" and torn between the many boys in her life: Massimo the Lurve God, Dave the Laugh, and Robbie the Sex God.

Georgia's love life never really changes, progresses, or resolves. Yet I am absolutely entranced with her romances and have mini-crushes on all her boyfriends (although confessing that makes me a bit of a predator).

For a heroine, Georgia can be completely self absorbed, and she says and does the most outrageous things (including various Viking dances). But I adore her for her selfishness, which is consistently entertaining. Stop is as clever, amusing, and downright hilarious as the other books in the series.

Although Georgia and her personality sometimes feel stagnant (I mean, how much has really changed since book one?), Stop actually broadens Georgia's world a tidge. She must deal, albeit ungraciously, with her parents' marital problems. And I am embarrassed to admit that I was rather touched by a few scenes involving Georgia and her pet cat, Angus.

My only complaint is that Rennison ends Stop mid-scene. I turned the page, and suddenly the book was over. I find this tactic (also used in the last book) frustrating and disingenuous. I understand that it leaves the reader wanting more and dying to read the next book. But when that next book won't appear for a year, it is disrespectful to loyal fans to leave them completely hanging. I am tempted to write my own sequel (or ten-quel) to Stop just so I can feel some sort of comfort and closure.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Guest Blog--Remembering Childhood

A Girl Named Zippy is an entertaining, humorous, and at times touching tribute to childhood. Author Haven Kimmel grew up in tiny Mooreland, Indiana--perpetual population of three hundred. I could relate to Haven's stories of childhood, even though her life differed than mine in many aspects. Unlike me, Kimmel grew up in a very rural town, where everyone knew each other and the tiny drugstore was the major commercial center. One brilliantly-decorated house constituted the town holiday decor. And unlike the university town I grew up in, most people had very little book education. (Mooreland thought Kimmel's mother was a Communist because she read The Atlantic Monthly.)

While I didn't spend my life barefoot or on a bike (I never even owned a bike), I could relate to Zippy's carefree attitude about life. I especially enjoyed remembering the warped thinking of a child, which is one of the most charming aspects of the book. I also appreciated the revelation that while Zippy's parents were dysfunctional and never knew where Zippy was, they loved her immensely--and that was the most important thing in her life.

Kimmel's eclectic reflections only get us to her fifth grade year, which leaves me wanting to know more. Did her parents stay together? How did an agnostic girl like Zippy end up attending seminary? (A fact I only know from the back cover.) And how did Kimmel end up leaving Mooreland? Although I want to know these answers, I also appreciate Kimmel's restraint in leaving such questions unanswered--and leaving her book unspoiled.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Buzz

  • Entertainment Weekly featured “The New Classics: Books: The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008.” I’ve read over 20 books on the list, and I’m rather appalled at what they consider the best: #9 Cold Mountain, #34 The Lovely Bones, #96 The Da Vinci Code. All three books make my overrated list. I figure either the quality of writing has been dismal in the last 25 years or, more likely, the writers at Entertainment Weekly simply listed the 100 books they’ve actually read during that time.
  • Sawtelle loving continues. I heard the author, David Wroblewski, interviewed on The Diane Rehm show last week, and USA Today featured an article on him this week. Wroblewski is a software designer and told Rehm he has no plans to quit his day job.
  • Another book getting a lot of buzz is Bob Morris’s memoir Assisted Loving. Morris helps his widowed father reenter the dating scene while he is navigating it himself. He appeared on Fresh Air, and USA Today gave the book a positive review.
  • I’ve been reentering the realm of genocide literature. For anyone who wants to follow my re-decent into sadness and despair, USA Today recommends Uwem Akpan’s short story collection about African tragedies called Say You’re One of Them.

Have an excellent holiday weekend.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guest Blog--Revisiting Children's Books

I just read The Four Gallant Sisters by Eric A. Kimmel to my three daughters. This book retells a traditional fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. However, Kimmel changes the tale of "The Four Artful Brothers" into a feminist fairy tale.

Four sisters lose their mother and decide to disguise themselves as men to learn trades. Each sister picks a unique trade and after seven years of apprenticeship receives magical tools. The sisters then use their talents and tools to gain employment with the king. Problems arise when the king's mother is certain the "men" are women and puts them to various tests. She tells the king the "men" will be courteous and tidy when tested, a proof they are really women.

This story of strong women, who end up performing harrowing deeds, is a unique and positive tale. While the story emphasizes the abilities of women, the book doesn't try to proclaim that men and women are exactly alike. It allows for the fact that women often display some virtues more than men do and praises them for it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


In case I was in any danger of becoming a book snob, or drowning in books like The House of Widows, I read Iris Johansen’s Quicksand this weekend. Johansen’s bestselling thrillers are the epitome of popular fiction. They have little substance or intrinsic value, but they sure are entertaining.

Quicksand focuses on Johansen’s favorite heroine, forensic sculptor Eve Duncan. Since the kidnapping and presumed murder of her young daughter years before, Eve has been obsessed with finding Bonnie’s body. In previous books, Eve and her boyfriend, Joe, have followed fruitless leads.

This time, though, it appears they may have found Bonnie’s killer. Kistle is a serial killer of children who seems equally obsessed with Bonnie. Eve tries to find Kistle so she can learn the whereabouts of her daughter’s body. Kistle tries to find Eve so he can kill her.

Sometimes, I question my own morals and sanity at finding enjoyment and entertainment in reading about serial killers, especially killers of children, but I guess that is part of the magic of books: we can experience heinous parts of life without actually experiencing them.

The book continually refers to the last two novels in the series. I confess that I have only a vague recollection of what happened in them—although I’ve read them both. Clearly, the books are so light that nothing remains with me after I finish them. And sometimes, something so easily digestible is exactly what I need.