BFTA Review: Jennifer Crusie – Crazy For You

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Title: Crazy for You
Author: Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin’s paperbacks
Rating: 5/5
Read for: 2011 Chick-Lit Challenge

On Wednesday, Quinn McKenzie changes her life. On Thursday, she tries to get somebody to notice. On Thursday night, somebody does.

Quinn McKenzie has always lived what she calls a “beige” life. She’s dating the world’s nicest guy, she has a good job as a high school art teacher, she’s surrounded by family and friends who rely on her, and she’s bored to the point of insanity.
But when Quinn decides to change her life by adopting a stray dog over everyone’s objections, everything begins to spiral out of control. Now she’s coping with dog-napping, breaking and entering, seduction, sabotage, stalking, more secrets than she really wants to know, and two men who are suddenly crazy… for her. (goodreads.com)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I went into it expecting a light, fluffy read of a woman caught between two men, but what I got was a little darker than the other Crusie books I’ve read so far.
From the start, I didn’t like Bill. Especially when he keeps thinking about how he just slowly moved his things into Quinn’s place, and how he talked her into getting an apartment together. Not to mention the animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is one of the only things that I have a hard time with in books, and yet, I still enjoyed the novel enough to stay up way past my bedtime, reading.

Every now and then, I thought of Quinn as a push-over. She goes along with a lot of things just to keep from fighting about it, and I sometimes wondered just what it is that Quinn might think is worth fighting over. In comes Nick, the former brother-in-law who’s had the hots for her since she was a teenager. Quinn apparently likes him enough to repeatedly try to seduce him, and I was glad to see Quinn wasn’t such a push-over after all.

Add to that a crazy boss who is more concerned with the team winning regionals and then the championship (to solidify his position as school principal) than the drama unfolding between Quinn and Bill, The Coach. He even goes so far as to threaten Quinn’s teaching career with statutory rape, and ignores her safety in favor of trying to make Bill see reason and keep him focused on the team.

Of course, as with all Crusie books, things are set right at the end, and it’s happily-ever-after for everyone (or maybe not, but at least for Quinn and Nick it is). This was a quick, fluffy read that I really enjoyed.

Originally posted 25 January 2011.

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Review: Emily Murdoch – If You Find Me

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Title: If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
St. Martin’s Griffin
Rating: 5 / 5

There are some things you can’t leave behind…
A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.(goodreads.com)

This book is utterly heartbreaking. And honest. And uplifting.

I cannot say enough about how much I loved this book. I really, really can’t. There aren’t enough words in any language ever to fully encompass how much I not only enjoyed this book, but how much I was touched by it. It is an amazing journey of one girl learning to find herself. Carey must learn to give up the ghost, so to speak, on some things, and learn how to trust people.

Emily Murdoch’s writing is beautiful. The book starts a little slow, and if you’re not used to the somewhat odd way of back-woods, southern speak, it can be a little awkward. But push through that for a few pages, and you get beautifully written prose that sometimes slips into that back-woods way of speaking, but it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the story–instead, it enhances it. There’s something that’s a little heartbreaking about Carey reverting back to the life she knew in the camper, mostly because that life was just plain not good, but also because Carey is constantly trying to protect her younger sibling, Nessa, from the outside world.

The characters themselves really come to life, too. Carey is believable as a young teen who has spent 10 years of her life in the deep woods of Tennessee, and it’s so sad to see her struggling with things that we take advantage of, such as technology. It’s also really sad each time Carey describes food. Murdoch really brings out the longing of someone who hasn’t eaten a cheeseburger in a very long time.

Delaney is also a character I want to talk about, because her story is also a little sad. She’s been pretty much ignored most of her life because Carey’s dad and her (Delaney) mom are so preoccupied with finding Carey. She feels overshadowed, and it unfortunately comes out in several attacks on Carey, although Delaney seems to have enough sympathy for Nessa that she doesn’t say many cruel things about her, and when she does she seems regret it.

It’s a heartbreaking ordeal, what Carey and Nessa went through, and it’s also heartbreaking to watch them come into society and have to learn a lot of new things, including how to deal with society. It was a nice touch to have Melissa, Carey’s step-mom and Delaney’s mom, in such a mothering role–quite the opposite of Carey and Nessa’s mother, who first kidnapped Carey then abandoned them both in the woods years later.

Overall, this book is a great read. If you’re looking for a tear-jerker, or a touching story, pick this one up. Keep tissue nearby.

Review: Susan Ee – Angelfall

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Title: Angelfall
Author: Susan Ee
Series: Penryn and the End of Days #1
Amazon Children’s Publishing
Rating: 5 / 5

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.
Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.
Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.
Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again. (goodreads.com)

Practically everyone I follow or am friends with that’s read this book loved it (4 or 5 stars). As you can imagine, I went into this with very high expectations. Very, very high. Of course, I’ve noticed that with angel lore, it’s been hit or miss for me, especially in the YA category.

So I was thrilled when this book delivered. Susan Ee’s writing is smooth and flowing, easing from one scene to another, regardless of how much time has passed, as well as discussing the past. I hardly noticed that the book is in present tense, which is sometimes awkward at best, and horribly written at worst. Fortunately, neither of these is the case with Angelfall.

Not only is Ee talented in writing, she is talented in storytelling. Angelfall begins two months after an apocalyptic destruction of the world by angels. Society has gone to hell, and Ee wastes no time in jumping right in, and she doesn’t hold back. Some scenes are a little brutal and not for the sensitive stomach, but she also doesn’t dwell, moving past and shoving the storyline forward. You would think this would make the story seem forced, but it doesn’t. Because of the characters, their reactions (or lack-there-of), it seems to fit well and doesn’t detract from the reading at all.

There is a bit of suspension of disbelief, since society seems to have fallen very quickly in two months post-apocalypse. However, considering the wasteland that is the world, the depravity of some people in general, and considering the angels probably lay waste to half the world’s population, the world is also believable.

And, considering they’re angels, I was somewhat expecting some religious talk. Ee handles this well, managing to touch on the topic of angels and their roles in religion without turning the book into something preachy.

If I were any other kind of reviewer, I’d gush over this using gifs and other fun things, but truthfully I’m just not that kind of reviewer (it’s just plain not my style, although there are some damn amusing reviews of some books out there using nothing but gifs), but since I’m not, I’ll just say that I really, really loved this book and am very much looking forward to book two.

BFTA Review: Dianne Sylvan – Queen of Shadows

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Title: Queen of Shadows
Series: The Shadow World #1
Author: Dianne Sylvan
Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin)//Ace Books
Rating: 5/5

Shortly after she picked up a guitar, Miranda Grey conquered the Austin music scene with a newfound ability to psychically manipulate her audience’s emotions. But as her powers outgrow her control, her mind is increasingly invaded by haunting secrets and overwhelming sadness. Unable to look anyone in the eye, Miranda is fast approaching the edge of insanity – with no one to catch her fall…

When he outlawed killing humans, David Solomon ignited a civil war among Austin’s vampires. As Prime of the South, his sympathy for mortals angered the old guard who refuse to control their violent urges. David has his hands full with the growing insurgency, but he takes in a broken-down woman, a musician in need of supernatural guidance. Little does he know that Miranda Grey has the power to change his world as well. (goodreads.com)

I rushed out and bought this book as soon as I saw the blurb for the back. No, seriously. I called a book store while I was still at work and rushed out that night to buy it. I’m so glad I did.
Miranda Grey is a powerful character. I don’t mean that she is perfect in every way, or capable of throwing cars with her bare hands, or anything silly like that. She’s a strong character; she copes as best she can with what she has, trying to keep herself as sane as she can by avoiding eye contact with anyone.
David Solomon is another character that I grew to like. He’s a bit of an ass at times, but overall he’s a pretty good guy, for a vampire who runs the southern United States. Everything he does has purpose; from the no-kill laws, to sending Miranda away once she’s learned to defend herself. He protects the people, whether they be vampires or humans, at the expense of himself.
David and Miranda really make this book what it is, but let’s not forget the secondary characters. Faith, Devon, and Jonathan, along with a host of guards and friends really help to keep the novel going. Faith has a camaraderie with David that is hard not to laugh at; Devon, the Prime located in California, and his Consort Jonathan, are two characters I want to know more about, given their relationship with David.
Kat and Drew, Miranda’s friends, I had a harder time with. Maybe because, after reading about Faith, and Devon, and Jonathan, nevermind David, Kat and Drew just seemed to be absurd because they’re normal.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. So much so, that as soon as the next one comes out, I’m going to grab it off the shelf.
(Also, were there a few references to the movie Serenity, or was that just me? Faith thinks, “You can’t stop the signal,” on page 93, and then of course there’s Miranda’s name. It could just all be a coincidence.)

Originally posted 20 December 2010.

BFTA Review: Jennifer Weiner – Good In Bed

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Title: Good In Bed
Author: Jennifer Weiner
Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster)
Rating: 5/5

For twenty-eight years, things have been tripping along nicely for Cannie Shapiro. Sure, her mother has come charging out of the closet, and her father has long since dropped out of her world. But she loves her friends, her rat terrier, Nifkin, and her job as pop culture reporter for The Philadelphia Examiner. She’s even made a tenuous peace with her plus-size body.
But the day she opens up a national women’s magazine and sees the words “Loving a Larger Woman” above her ex-boyfriend’s byline, Cannie is plunged into misery…and the most amazing year of her life. From Philadelphia to Hollywood and back home again, she charts a new course for herself: mourning her losses, facing her past, and figuring out who she is and who she can become. (goodreads.com)

Chick-lit books are so distinguishable. I don’t know what it is about the genre, but the covers are usually brightly-colored, sometimes there’s someone naked (or half-naked) on them. Thankfully, this is one of those times where the nudity is, at least, tactful, and goes well with the title, tastefully tacked across the shins of the woman lying on a bed, and even with a piece of what looks to be strawberry cheesecake (yum!). Who can resist that (the cheesecake, I mean. Not the title banner)? The colors promise an uplifting book, and that’s enough for me to pick the book up off a shelf.

Okay, so it wasn’t the cover that made me pick the book up; it was the title itself. Of course, I couldn’t exactly leave the book lying out, face up, while at work (I book-marked my page and turned it cover-side-down), but the title grabbed me, and held me, none-the-less. I took a quick glance at the back cover, enough at least to determine that it was chick-lit, and it wasn’t going to be some cheesy one where the two main characters play tug-of-war before finally falling into each other’s arms like bad television.

I was terribly pleased when I finally finished reading this book. I loved it. I laughed (out loud, at times, and I’m glad I was home alone for those moments), I cried (though I tried not to), and I generally had a good time going on this journey with Cannie. I loved that her life wasn’t perfect; I love how she pined after Bruce, tried to get him to talk to her even though he made it quite obvious he didn’t want to, and in general wanted to just be her friend. I loved her reaction to things; how, despite all of Bruce’s rejections, she just didn’t know how to be angry with him, because she still loved him. I loved her reaction to her mother’s well-meaning advice.

In between the little lulls in her life, Cannie tells us about her history with her mother, and with her father. She tells what it was like having her father walk out on the family, not once, but twice, and about her mother’s at-first hidden romance with her swim coach. I found myself becoming more and more sympathetic towards Cannie, especially in the “dad” column.

Jennifer Weiner paints such a colorful picture: a woman, at first scorned by her ex’s publication in a women’s magazine, who then learns to deal with her pain. Sometimes she deals pretty well, sometimes not. That’s life. Cannie isn’t perfect, and I probably wouldn’t like her so much if she was.

I really did enjoy this book. I devoured it in one day. I could hardly put it down long enough to eat, or deal with things I needed to deal with at work. I was captivated by Cannie, and by Dr. K, and even her dog, Nifkin. If you’re planning on reading this, keep tissues nearby. You’ll need them for the tears.

Originally posted on 18 December 2010.

Review: Scott Westerfeld – Peeps

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Title: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Series: Peeps #1
Razorbill (Penguin)
Rating: 5 / 5

Last year as college freshman, narrator Cal was infected by exotic goth Morgan with a parasite that caused following girlfriends to become vampire-like ghouls he calls parasite-positives “Peeps”. A carrier without symptoms, he hunts his progeny for the centuries old bureaucratic Night Watch. But victims are showing more sanity, pretty human Lacey is pushing his buttons, and her apartment building basement houses fierce hordes of ravening rats, red-eyed cats, and monstrous worms that threaten all. Morgan has the secret to a centuries-old conspiracy and upcoming battle to save the human race. (goodreads.com)

SUCH a great book. I really love Westerfeld’s writing, and this is such an interesting take on the vampire myth. Also, every other chapter is devoted to telling the reader about different parasites, not only some that affect humans, but also cows, ants, and a bunch of other unsuspecting creatures.

The vampire myth in this book is totally different from anything I’ve encountered before (at least for vampires–I’ve seen my fair share of zombies that are actually infected with parasites or viruses or what-have-you). How it gets transferred from host to host is also interesting, because it stretches beyond the human spectrum.

Cal’s mission is to go around collecting Peeps–capturing them and bringing them back to his company. Since he’s a carrier, he can’t be infected. At some point, I actually felt bad for Lace, because really, she had no choice.

The story eventually moves on to a “bigger than you and me” topic, where the Peeps are actually soldiers meant to SAVE the human race from something bigger. We never do actually get to the final battle part (I’m hoping it shows up in the sequel, which I haven’t read yet), but the build-up to it is really good and kept me hanging on the whole way.

BFTA Review: Haruki Murakami – After Dark

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Title: After Dark
Author: Haruki Murakami
Alfred A. Knopf (Random House)
Rating: 5/5
Read For: Japanese Lit Challenge 4

A short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

After Dark
moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency—the interplay between self-expression and empathy, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami’s trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery. (goodreads.com)

I cannot stress how much I loved this book. It took me maybe three hours to read, despite the writing style (which I will discuss later). Mari as a protagonist is so much more engaging than Maria in Goodbye Tsugumi. Mari is much more observant, going so far to notice when her at-first unnamed trombonist friend omits a word when she questions him about her sister. She even seems to have a little bit of spunk in her:

“I’m kind of a low-key guy. The spotlight doesn’t suit me. I’m more of a side dish–cole slaw or French fries or a Wham! backup singer.”
“Which is why you were paired with me.”
“But still, you were pretty damn cute.”
“Is there something about your personality that makes you prefer the past tense?” (page 13)

Mari is intelligent enough to be at least semi-fluent in another language (and has, in fact, been chosen to study abroad in said country, despite her status as a freshman in college). While Mari’s adventure with a prostitute, the “love ho” manager, and her trombonist friend are interesting, it is what happens to her sister that is more strange.
Eri, we discover through Mari, has been asleep for months. She wakes to eat, use the restroom, shower and change her pajamas, but she is otherwise in a deep sleep. In fact, she doesn’t even seem to move. Her television has been unplugged from the wall; and it is this fact that sends Eri’s part of the story spiraling towards “weird”.
Eri’s television comes to life, despite the lack of power. The screen is at first blurry and unfocused, but soon we see a man, referred to by the unnamed narrator as the Man with No Face. He watches Eri sleep; he seems to stare directly through the television set. Eri is soon transported through the television, and wakes up in a bed on the opposite side.
That Eri is transported through to the other side of the television is of no concern. It could simply have been a dream. It is the Man with No Face that makes the situation strange and bordering on the creepy. A strange man is watching Eri sleep, without her knowledge, and through an unplugged television set. What’s worse, we never really find out who this man is, though there are sneaking suspicions that he is tied to the Chinese prostitute that Mari runs into on her journey. This theory is never confirmed; he remains the Man with No Face through the book.
The book’s writing style distances us, as the reader, from the protagonists. It keeps us acting as silent observers; we are the point of view, the unnamed narrator continuously reminds us. It is through us, through our eyes, that the story is being told. We cannot possibly know what Mari is feeling; we only sometimes know her thoughts, and even these are usually cornered with qualifiers: seems is one used very often. We can, of course, guess what Mari is thinking by reading her facial expressions. Really, the story doesn’t concern itself much with feelings and thoughts. It is dialogue and action that drive the plot of this book; of a story told within one single night, within roughly six hours’ time. Still, the writing keeps us engaged:

“She reads with great concentration. Her eyes rarely move from the pages of her book–a thick hardback. A bookstore wrapper hides the title from us. Judging from her intent expression, the book might contain challenging subject matter. Far from skimming, she seems to be biting off and chewing it one line at a time.” (page 5)

This novel is hard to put down. I said I read it in hours, and I wasn’t kidding. I picked the book up around 12:30 in the afternoon and, with a couple short naps in between chapters, I finished it around 4:30. It is one that I would definitely recommend for a quick, enjoyable read.

Originally posted on October 04, 2010