Friday, April 25, 2008

The Sugar Queen

Josey Cirrini is twenty seven years old and she has spent most of her life trying to make up for the bad behavior of her childhood. Even though she was a rude, mean-spirited little girl, she has grown up to be her elderly, disapproving mother's constant companion and given up all hope for a life of her own. She tries to be content with her situation, waiting eagerly for the mail to be delivered each day and dreaming secretly of traveling the world. In the small ski resort community of Bald Slope, North Carolina, her father was the hero who brought skiing and the winter tourists to the struggling town. Since his death though, the Cirrini women are just wealthy eccentrics hiding away in the garish house they inherited.

Everything changes when Josey discovers that a local waitress, Della Lee Baker, has broken into her bedroom and is holed up in her large walk-in closet. The bossy and sassy woman refuses to leave, and she's holding Josey's stash of sugary junk food hostage in exchange for her protection from an abusive boyfriend. Suddenly emboldened by Della Lee's advice and instructions, Josey finds herself sneaking out of the house at night after her mother takes her sleeping pill. She seeks out friendship with another young woman in town, Chloe Finley, and gets the courage to talk to her longtime crush, her mail carrier. Adam is hiding out in Bald Slope, but Josey sees that he has a secret and she doesn't push him to reveal it. Chloe Finley just broke up with her boyfriend Jake, but she has something bigger to hide - books seem to appear in her life whenever she needs them - and she's not sure she can keep hiding the stacks of books, or ignoring their messages. Della Lee shows no signs of leaving the bedroom closet, Josey's mother is as demanding as ever, and Josey is about to discover secrets about her family that will change her life forever.

Author Sarah Addison Allen invokes the magical elements of other sugary stories like Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, but with Moonpies and Bit-O-Honey and boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes. Her struggling Southern belle, Josey, will capture the heart of anyone who has ever regretted that they are remembered for their childhood misbehavior or who is trapped in repaying an impossibly large debt of gratitude. Della Lee and Chloe are certainly the most magical characters, acting as fairy godmother and friend to Josey as she emerges from her sheltered life. Josey's romance with Adam is developed slowly, but surely, amid the drama and conflict of a handful of other Bald Slope characters. For pleasure reading or a light book discussion, The Sugar Queen can open your heart to the possibility of family, friendship, and love where you least expect it.

I read an ARC from PLA. 276 pages.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Vacation reading

Late at night on vacation in Albequerque last weekend I read and read and read!

I swiped Nick and Norah's Ultimate Playlist from the spouse's reading pile after he fell asleep and read the whole book straight through. Just as good as the last time, only this time I read it while imagining how badly they are going to f-up the movie version that they are supposedly making. My guess is they will remove almost every queer reference and make the kids all the wrong ages and make the wrong characters the creepy ones. But of course I hope I'm wrong.
183 pages.

Women on the edge of a nervous breakthrough by Isabel Sharpe
The citizens of Kettle, Wisconsin are very proud that their town doesn't have any crime, so when a recently acquitted murderess moves in, everyone is gossiping about it. After her wealthy husband's suspicious heart attack in the bathtub, and her subsequent murder trial with national media coverage, Lorelei Taylor is hiding from the press. She's so overwhelmed by her own problems that she doesn't expect to befriend anyone else in town.Sarah Gilchrist has always done whatever was necessary to maintain her perfect home, garden, and family. Lorelei quickly sees through her facade and makes it impossible for Sarah to continue to ignore her own unhappiness. Erin Hall has kept her husband's abusive behavior a secret for more than a decade, and no one in this small town, including her mother-in-law, expects her to do any differently. When Erin discovers that she and Lorelei have similar and terrible relationship histories, Erin finds inspiration for surviving her own marriage. Lorelei can't resist meddling with the local affairs, although she is constantly surprised by the secrets of this small town. To add to her frustrations, the sexy widower next door refuses to be seduced by her shocking big-city attitude. Lorelei is not the only woman who is pushed past her limit - but are these women on the verge of a breakdown, or something better?The small town characters are given some depth by including very brief chapter openers that are taken from the ephemera (letters, diaries, notes, school essays) of their lives. This light read is focused on the friendships and relationships of the women. While this is definitely a Desperate Housewives readalike, it should appeal to most women's fiction readers.
I read a copy that I picked up at PLA. 375 pages.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Birthday roundup

By my probably-not-entirely-accurate count, I think I read or listened to about 117 different books in the last year, for a total of 24514 pages of reading and 205 hours of listening.

Everyone says that I'll have much less time for reading once the baby comes, and frankly, I believe them. So, I guess I'm just glad I got to enjoy so many excellent stories this year!

Wit's End

Wit's End by Karen Joy Fowler
Although the tagline on the front of the book says "What happens when your readers steal your characters?" which led me to imagine so much more than this book delivered, the writing was still delightful. I can't say something cheesy like "this book does for mystery series writers what Fowler's last book did for Jane Austen" because it simply isn't true, but she definitely explores some of the interesting issues in that chasm between what the author puts down on the page and what the reader decides to make of it all. Reading is intensely personal, and I think the think that I like best about Fowler's novels is that she gets that, both in the themes and plots of her books, and also as the author.
In a shocking display of impatience, I paid full price for it the week it came out. 322 pages.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

How to Knit a Wild Bikini

HOW TO KNIT A WILD BIKINI – Christie Ridgeway
Nikki Carmichael is an amazing restaurant chef, but an old knee injury is forcing her to work as a private chef instead. Although Jay Buchanan just needed a cook for the next month, Nikki was surprised to find that the job also required that she pretend to be his girlfriend and keep an eye on his teenage houseguest. With the rising popularity of yarn and knitting, Christie Ridgway could have just referenced the craft, but instead the yarn store and its owner become an integral part of the story and the main characters’ lives.
I read and reviewed it for 304 pages.

These Boots Were Made for Strutting

Three romance authors team up to offer a trio of light and sexy paranormal shoe stories that sure to please! In “A Rose by Any Other Name” by Lisa Cach, Kelsey is the socially awkward landscaper hired to transform handsome marketing executive Jack’s overgrown backyard into a tranquil paradise. Kelsey gets setup on a blind date, so she tries online shopping to find something to wear. After an online encounter with Shoestra, the Goddess of Shoes at, Kelsey receives a package that contains pale green leather high heels covered in red silk roses. When Kelsey puts on the shoes though, it’s like she becomes a different person, pull of confidence, grace and definite sex appeal. And when her client, Jack, tries to pick her up in the restaurant because doesn’t recognize her transformed self, she boldly gives him a fake name and flirts right back with him. Kelsey’s shoes are either a recipe for disaster, for love, or quite possibly for both!
“So I Dated an Axe Murderer” by Gemma Halliday introduces Kya, a web designer who lusts after the male model on the shoe store website. The impulse purchase red patent leather shoes she bought must be a mistake, although when she wears them to a club with her coworkers, she is offered a modeling job on the spot and soon finds herself posing with Blake, the same male model of her dreams. Unfortunately, just as things heat up between Kya and Blake, she gets suspicious of what happened to his last girlfriend and why no one will talk about the details of her accidental death.
Melanie Jackson’s “And They Danced” is a sweet story about geeky girl who generally avoids the social spotlight, until a pair of new shoes convinces her to expand her horizons. She agrees to enter a charity dance contest with a friend after his partner skips town, and she soon finds that if she is wearing the mysterious shoes that arrived from, she can do no wrong on the dance floor. Her good luck charm shoes are only good for three uses however, so she must use them carefully!
All three of these fun stories revolve around the online shoe store – a real website that sells both footwear and books. I checked it out (did you even know they made shoes with 8 inch heels?), but I wasn’t visited by Shoestra, Goddess of Shoes – maybe you will have more luck?
I read an ARC from PLA of These Boots Were Made for Strutting by Lisa Cach, Gemma Halliday and Melanie Jackson. 310 pages.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
The new BBC/PBS movie this winter brainwashed me before I picked up this book for book group. In the film, a specific scene with Mary and Henry Crawford scheming together as they walk toward the Bertram's home in Mansfield Park made it impossible for me to read their characters any other way in the novel, even though there should be some room for interpretation.
Unlike the last few Austens we have read together, this book felt different, possibly because the writer took a decade-long break from writing before pursuing this story, or possibly because of the absense of sisters that had started to seem so familiar in P&P and S&S. Although Northanger Abbey is also a place-name book-title, the Abbey feels like so much more of a character in the story than does Mansfield Park. Fanny Price stands her ground throughout the novel while the world and everyone in it changes around her. When someone in book group wondered if she had backbone, I shared the idea that in a modern world "backbone" may mean fighting back, but in Fanny's world, her backbone (moral strength of character) simply prevented her from being knocked over by the many opinions and influences to which she is subjected.
I read the 1979 paperback I had read in highschool and was surprised to find a truly bizarre photo stuck inside that I must have been using as a bookmark at the time. Plus I read it WAY too quickly for comfort. tsk tsk. Must learn to plan ahead. 370 pages.

In The Small (EXCELLENT new graphic novel)

In The Small

In The Small written and illustrated by Michael Hague
A young man – Mouse – sees a prophetic vision in a flash of blue light that changes the world. An hour later, every human on earth has been shrunk to one-twelfth of their former size. Besides the obvious problems of planes and cars crashing causing destruction, everyone who survives “the fall” is naked, and each city block is now like a miles to the new tiny inhabitants. Those who will survive quickly learn that they must work together. While Mouse leads an army of office workers on a journey to escape Manhattan Island, his mother, sister and grandfather transform their suburban home, complete with greenhouse, into a sustainable paradise. But when you are less than six inches tall, your enemies include insects and rats and cats. The world is a treacherous place. Not everyone bands together for the common good in a crisis, and even if Mouse and his army reach the paradise of home and family, other forces may threaten their survival.
To get a feel for the themes of this story, just cross the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with the apocalypse. Both serious and compelling, the story forces the reader to re-examine all that we take for granted in human life and societal survival. Michael Hague’s colorful illustrations give life to his dark and intriguing concept. While the supernatural element of the blue flash is never explained, the consequences of “the fall” are explored in cinematic detail, with many months passing in the characters’ journey. I highly recommend this debut graphic novel for teen and adult readers, particularly those who like science fiction, fantasy and horror themes.Read more about the author here and read a great interview from Michael Hague about this book here.

I read a b&w ARC from PLA, but can't wait to see the full color version when it is published in May! 124 pages.

How to Build a House

This summer, Harper is running away from home. She’s running away from Gabriel, her former best friend. She’s running away from Tess, her former sister. She’s running away from Los Angeles, her former life. Her recently divorced dad is even paying for the trip. Harper arrives for twelve weeks of volunteer work in rural Tennessee to help a family rebuild their home after a tornado destroyed it. Harper doesn’t know what to expect from the experience, but she hopes to spend the summer alone, recovering from the relationships she has lost. Instead, she finds herself with a roommate, drawn into the group of teenage volunteers, learning to use power tools. Although they don’t know anything about construction, the group will learn how to build a house, led by a man named Linus who bears a striking resemblance to a lumberjack. Harper often works alongside Teddy, the oldest son in the family whose house was destroyed. While the other teenagers around her are looking for a summer romance before returning home, Harper is struggling to understand what she left behind. Even if Harper can learn how to build a house, can she learn to love and trust again?

From the first page of this book, I was drawn in by Harper’s original and captivating voice. Her story unfolds in alternating vignettes labeled HERE and HOME that bring together the events of her present and her past. I laughed and I cried, but mostly I wished I could keep reading this story and enjoying Harper’s unique perspective long after the book had ended.

Check out How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt.
I read an ARC from PLA. 227 pages.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

Have I mentioned lately that Lauren Willig is awesome? This book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, is the fourth in her series that began with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. The ever-so-slowly developing romance between modern-day-historian-and-grad-student Eloise and gorgeous-keeper-of-the-family-papers Colin Selwick moves to an unprecendent level of passion commonly referred to as the "first date." And in the historical plot, two characters from previous books in the series - Lord Vaughn from The Masque of the Black Tulip and Mary Alsworthy from The Deception of the Emerald Ring are thrown together in a plot to capture the Black Tulip at last.
I listened to it, as read by Kate Reading. 14 hours.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Paperbacks from PLA

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
Historical romance from around 1900, a woman is given the chance to work as the secretary to a newspaper publisher, but what she really wants to do is be a writer of ettiquite books. When her boss won't give her a chance, she goes to work for the competition. But when her former boss buys the competitor's newspaper, Emma is suddenly forced back in proximity with the one man she most wanted to avoid.
I read a copy from the Romance Preconference at PLA. 375 pages.

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Lord and Lady Tremaine lived apart for 10 years on seperate continents. But now that Lady Tremaine is asking for a divorce so that she can marry another man, her husband has returned to England and he is not willing to grant his wife her freedom without a few demands in return.
Can these two find love the second time around?
I read an advanced reading copy from PLA. 351 pages.

The Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols
Lori can't wait for summer because it means she can spend all of her time out on the lake at her neighbor's dock. Working outside with the boats, the gas, the waterskis and the sun is fun, but the best part is the boys who live next door. Lori has had a crush on older brother Sean for years, although she usually hangs around younger brother Adam. This summer, everything is up in the air because Lori is ready to take on The Boys Next Door.
I read a free copy from a booth at PLA. 317 pages.

Armageddon in Retrospect

If the words “never before published writings by Kurt Vonnegut” make your heart flutter with excitement, then I have some good news for you. A new collection of 12 short pieces was released this month. Taken as a whole, the book examines issues of war and peace. Individually, the writings include a letter Kurt sent home to his family in Indiana after he was liberated from a POW camp, a recounting of the fire bombing of Dresden, which he survived, and the text of the last speech he wrote, which Mark Vonnegut delivered two weeks after his father’s death. The stories feature a variety of soldiers, occupying armies, and collaborationists, plus a medieval squire and three hungry POWs who talk incessantly of food and recipes.
Mark Vonnegut contributed a masterful introduction to the collection that captures his father’s style and celebrates his unique contributions to our world. Reflecting on Kurt Vonnegut as a writer, his son wrote “Kurt was and is a like a gateway drug or a shoehorn. Once the reader is over the threshold, other writers become accessible.” This is a fitting tribute for a writer who served his community well.
I bought it in the airport - 232 pages.