"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The End, For Now...

 
Eighty-five books reviewed.
More read and not reviewed. I'd like to say that's because
they weren't any good, but it's also because I was lazy.
 
On to 2014!

Review #85: Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

I don't know what I can say about this book that hasn't been said in a million ways all over Cannonball. My first Rowell book was Fangirl, found quite by accident, and while I loved it, what solidified my love for Rowell was Eleanor & Park.

Rowell knows what it's like to be a teenager, how it feels to feel different, like nobody else in the world gets you. She knows - and can express perfectly - how it feels to fall in love at that age, to know that it won't last, but to hope that you might be the one couple that makes it.

Amazing, awesome, and of all the authors I learned about this year from Cannonball, I'm so, so glad that I found Rainbow Rowell. (She's also a hoot on Twitter!)

Review #84: Alison's Automotive Repair Manual, by Brad Barkley

Alison, a widow in her thirties, is stuck. She's mourning her husband, stuck in a fog, living with her sister Sarah and brother in law Bill, and can't move forward. Her sister finally holds an intervention, telling Alison's that she's got to get it together and being to move on with her life. Finally, she promises she will, just as soon as she restores the vintage Corvette that's rusting in Bill's garage.

The problem is, Alison doesn't know a socket wrench from a screwdriver, and as anyone who has ever been involved with car repair knows that it's not a cheap undertaking. With the entire town watching and judging - including Sarah's nutty group of elderly dancers and the town's demolition man - Alison picks up her grease rag and gets to work.

What I thought was going to be a humdrum book turned out to be a pretty compelling novel about love, loss, grief, moving on, and fitting in. (And I don't want to spoil the ending, but I thought the last few scenes were exactly perfect.)

Review #83: The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han

Belly spends her summers at Cousins Beach with her mom, her mom's best friend, and her two sons Jeremiah and Conrad. The boys have been Belly's constants, her first friends, her brothers, her confidants, and, in Conrad's case, her first crush. But the summer Belly turns fifteen, everything changes. Suddenly, the boys are looking at her differently, and she can't understand why.

The book was okay, nothing fantastic, but then again, I'm not the target audience, and I read this with the more cynical eye of an adult who has already dealt with the boy/girl thing. (Although, do you ever really stop dealing with the boy/girl thing?) It was a quick read, definitely a "beach read", with some heavy emotional issues thrown in. It was nice to see a YA book that didn't involve vampires or other worlds, but just boys and girls and how life goes on, despite the fact that sometimes it feels like it never will.

Review #82: Dollface, by Renee Rosen

Vera Abramowitz is a young girl living in Chicago in the middle of the roaring 20s, determined to have a better, more glamorous life than the one her mother has lived as the head of Abramowitz Meats. Chicago in the 20s means speakeasies and prohibition, Al Capone and the Charleston, North Side versus South Side, and the St. Valentine's Day massacre.

Vera falls in love and gets married to a North Side gangster, but she's still inexplicably, and dangerously, drawn to a South Sider, and in between shopping and lunching and dancing, she finds herself sneaking into hotel rooms and running booze while her husband is locked up. She brings the reader in to her world of gin and dancing and mob molls, and seems to live almost a double life as the mother of a young baby, as a member of the Jewish Ladies Club, as arm candy for her husband.

The entire time I read this book, I felt like Vera was hurtling herself towards disaster. She knew it, I knew it, and we were both powerless to stop it. This was an interesting read, and I'm curious to see what Rosen does next.

Review #81: The Summer I Found You, by Jolene Perry

This is a pretty formulaic boy-meets-girl YA romance, but with a couple of wrenches thrown in the mix. Kate is a high school senior, and she's just broken up with her boyfriend. She's also dealing with having been recently diagnosed with Type I diabetes, and, while I admittedly don't know a thing about that, even I could tell Kate wasn't on board with her treatment and/or watching her blood sugar. Aiden is Kate's friend's cousin, recently home from Afghanistan after losing his arm, and living at Kate's friend's house until he can figure out what to do with his life.

Of course, Kate and Aiden fall in love in the way that only two teenagers can. They both manage to screw it up, but they eventually manage to get it together. I found myself drawn more to Aiden than Kate, though, and felt like Kate wasn't quite worth the trouble. She was pretty immature, especially concerning her illness. The diabetes diagnoses was pretty serious - Kate passed out a couple of times and managed to get herself in to a diabetic coma at one point - and up until the very end, she chose to completely ignore the situation.

I think this is one of those angsty-teen romances that kind of got mushed in with that genre I'm really not liking known as New Adult. At least this male lead doesn't seem so smelly. But he's still painted as a pretty broken kid, and it makes me nervous that we're teaching young girls that broken boys can be "fixed" if only they love them enough. Aiden was a good person at heart, but his war injuries - both internal and external - are more than a seventeen-year-old girl can fix, no matter how much she loves him.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review #80: Crazy Thing Called Love, by Molly O'Keefe

I think this may have a been a Free Friday download. It was okay; your typical Harlequin romance. It passed the time for a couple of hours, when I needed something light and airy and that didn't make me think too much. The chaos of Christmas has descended, and there's no way I'd be able to read anything stronger than this right now.

Madelyn, a news anchor on the local morning show, is a perfectly coifed, poised reporter, until her ex-husband, hockey player Billy, shows up to do a makeover series. Billy's in need of a life makeover - his career is in the toilet, his coach is furious with him, and his public image makes him the least favorite player on the team. Nobody knows that Madelyn and Billy were married years ago, and she wants to keep it that way - and she wants to keep Billy out of her life. He hurt her once, and she doesn't want to risk her heart again.

But Billy's persistent, and he still loves Madelyn, which is why he signed up to do the makeover in the first place. They come together and fall apart a few times, and the arrival of Billy's niece and nephew just about does everyone in, but in the end, they wind up happy ever after, because that's exactly how books like this should end.

Review #79: The Other Side of Midnight, by Sidney Sheldon

Sidney Sheldon's been around forever, but I never got around to reading him. I think when my mom went through her Sidney Sheldon phase, I was too young to be interested, and then later, I just wasn't interested. But Boss insisted that I would love him, and when he ordered a copy of The Other Side of Midnight for me, I couldn't very well not read it.

Boss was (and this kills me, I'll have you know) right. It was just the right delicious mix of murder, mayhem, sex, romance, and back stabbing. The characters are well drawn, and Sheldon brings them in with a thousand interconnected threads. There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and one or two surprises that I never saw coming.

Set in the years before and after World War II, Midnight tells the story of two women - sweet, innocent Catherine and tough, beautiful, badass Noelle. The two are connected through several men, including the unscrupulous but devastatingly handsome Larry Douglas, Washington power player Bill Fraser, and the complicated billionaire Constantin Demiris.

Some of the book seemed dated, in a way that I think an older Danielle Steele novel would seem dated if I went back and read it now. But that doesn't mean it's not still a good story, and Boss was right: it's not great literature, but it was a great read.

Review #78: Sweet, by Erin McCarthy

Sigh. I know better. I don't know why I insist on reading these books.

Jessica is trying to break free from her parents' ultra conservative lifestyle, so she stays at school for the summer, landing in her roommate's boyfriend's house. The boyfriend has a brother - bad boy Riley - who's dealing with raising his two younger brothers after the drug overdose death of his mom. Jessica and Riley have never gotten along, and being thrown together in the house for the summer doesn't help.

Until, of course, they fall in love. And it's true love, because they're 19 and 23, and that always works out. And they have bonus point because he's from the wrong side of the tracks, and has tattoos and smokes and drinks, and she's a good Christian preacher's daughter who repaints the kitchen while Riley's at work. Jessica's parents disown her once they realize who she's dating, and Riley's dealing with keeping custody of his brothers (one of whom has Down's syndrome) while hiding the fact that he might have to go to jail for awhile. So OF COURSE it's going to work out and end happily ever after.

I'm kind of tired of these New Adult books. And I feel like all the lead male characters probably smell pretty bad.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Review #77: Addicted to You, by Krista & Becca Ritchie

This is one of those books that I either downloaded for free, or got from Netgalley. I can't really remember. It follows the story of Lily and Loren, two very close friends who are keeping each other's secrets. Lily is a closet sex addict, and Loren is an alcoholic. For years they've lived together, pretending to be together, under the guise of friendship and love, but what they're really doing is enabling the daylights out of each other. Never have I seen two more co-dependant characters.

Of course things come to a head, and they realize that they're really, truly, actually in love with each other. Loren gives up drinking, or at least tries, but Lily can't give up sex, because sexless relationships generally don't work. Off to rehab they go, amid promises to wait for each other.

This could have been an interesting look at addiction and the ways we harm people while we think we're helping them, but it just kind of fell flat for me. The writing style was average, but the characters were pretty one-note. Had they been more nuanced, I could have felt some sympathy for them, and it would have given the novel more depth. As it was, this was just another New Adult romance that I forgot nearly as quickly as I finished it.

Review #76: Parlor Games, by Maryka Biaggio

Parlor Games is a historical novel based on a turn of the century con artist named May Dugas, who was once named the world's most dangerous woman. Told from May's point of view, the novel opens with May being sued by a Frank Shaver, a woman who was once considered her best friend, for a hundred thousand dollars.

Alternating between the present day of the trial and the events that have led up to it, May slowly seduces the reader. It wasn't until about halfway through the book that I realized just how manipulative May really was, and when I did figure it out, I was mad at myself for falling for her story. She's a compelling character, and it's hard not to like her, even once you realize that she's not who she claims to be.

The book moves from the suburbs of Chicago to the city itself, and then goes international, to Shanghai and London, and all the while, Reed Doherty, a Pinkerton agent who has made it his life's work to catch May, is hot on her heels, sometimes even a step or two ahead. May is the epitome of a woman who survives by her wits alone, and I was left wondering whether some of the tales were written a little taller than they actually were. Exaggeration or not, though, the story was a compelling one, and a very interesting peek in to the life of a woman who was definitely ahead of her time.

Review #75: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey, by Wendy Wax

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is one of those books that you don't realize how much you like it until you're halfway through. Actually, what I think I enjoyed most about this book were the characters. They stayed with me well after I was finished reading their stories, and now that I've finally getting around to writing my review, I find myself wondering about them like old acquaintances.

The novel follows three very different women and the concierge of a hoity toity Atlanta highrise. I'm so small-town that I didn't know that high end apartment buildings had concierges, so I learned something there. (Also? Concierge is a weird word to type. It just looks weird.) Anyway, Edward (the concierge) organizes a Sunday night viewing party for Downton Abbey, and in doing so, manages to form a strong friendship bond between three very different women: Samantha, a well-to-do but lonely high society wife, empty-nester Claire, who is struggling with her daughter being off at college and determined to write a book, and Brooke, who's a suddenly single mom with two young daughters, and a soon to be ex husband who just happens to live in the same building with his new girlfriend.

Between the viewing parties and Edward's machinations, these three very different women forge an incredibly strong bond. And if they discover themselves, find love, and/or make a certain ex husband's life a little more difficult along the way, well, then that's just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review #74: Autumn Lover, by Elizabeth Lowell

I'm pretty sure I've read this book before. I got about 200 pages in, thinking that it seemed familiar, and then I read the scene where the bad guys pour salt in the garden, and I know I've read that scene before. But I'll be damned if I could remember anything else about the book, so either I read it a really long time ago, or salt in the garden is a thing used in more than one book.

In any event, I picked this up at a used bookstore in the $2 romance section, and for $2, I was happy. It's a light, fluffy, dog-eared paperback, full of strong women and brooding men, misunderstandings, horses, bad guys, an Indian, and a couple of grumpy cowboys. I have to take points away for the use of the word "maidenhead" in the sex scene, but bonus points for the fact that the sex itself was pretty good.

Set in the Ruby Mountains after the Civil War, Elyssa returns to her family's ranch to find it under threat from the Culpepper Gang. Hunter arrives, avenges his family's death at the Culpepper's hands, helps save the ranch (although Elyssa is a pretty strong woman and does quite a bit on her own), and he and Elyssa live happily ever after.

I also have to give bonus points to Lowell for making Elyssa such a strong woman while avoiding the usual romance novel tropes of reading and having red hair. When Elyssa makes her riding habit in to pants, it's done only because she needs the freedom of movement, and it doesn't cause a scandal. Elyssa loves her family's home, and she loves and wants Hunter, but I never felt like she needed him in order to save herself, and that was a welcome change.

Review #73: Thankless in Death, by J.D. Robb

J.D. Robb is one of those authors that I will always pick up. Some books are better than others, but I love visiting the world of Eve Dallas, and her husband Roarke is in my top five fictional men of all time. (For the record, Atticus Finch, Ranger, Rhett Butler, and Jamie Fraser are also on the list.)

This installment, the 38th, opens just before Thanksgiving 2060, and Robb delves more in to the bad guy's point of view than she usually does, opening the story with Jerry Reinhold killing his parents in a very violent and cold-blooded manner. Dallas is outfoxed a little in this story, which is a change, although I'm not sure how I feel about it. While all this is going on, the Dallas/Roarke household is preparing for the entire family to arrive from Ireland to celebrate Thanksgiving, and we all know how Dallas feels about all those people around her.

All my favorite supporting characters are here - Dr. Mira, Baxter, Trueheart, Peabody and McNabb, and my favorite, Roarke's majordomo Sommerset. There are even some characters from former books that return, and Robb's way of weaving this odd little family together never fails to make me cry a little. (Of course, I cry at grocery store commercials, so take that with a grain of salt.)

Robb is comforting and consistent, and that's why I love reading her. And pretending Roarke is my husband doesn't hurt, either.

Review #72: Selling Scarlett, by Ella James

Elizabeth ("Scarlett") is a young woman in desperate need of money (although I'm not really sure why - something with her mom being in the nuthouse and her dad being a jerk), and through a series of events, she decides to auction her virginity at a local brothel. The brothel, named Love, Inc. (seriously)  is run by someone who is sort of in Elizabeth's social circle, so she feels comfortable and "safe" with her decision.

Our story needs a love interest, though, so enter Hunter (of course), who is the best friend of the owner of the brothel. Hunter is a professional poker player, a jabillionaire, and sleeps with several of the girls. He's also got his sights set on Elizabeth, and he doesn't want anyone else to buy her.

Throw in a nice little murder mystery with a weird dominatrix celebrity, and you've got a story.

I don't know. Do people really sleep with prostitutes? Are there really brothels where you can just sign up to sell their virginity? Is virginity really that much of a commodity?  I just couldn't get behind this story.

Review #71: Crashing Into You, by B.D. Rowe

I pulled this off Netgalley, because I have no shame.

The book opens with Sydney and her high school boyfriend involved in a fatal car accident. The boyfriend had been drinking, and he was killed, along with people in the other car - a mom and her eight-year-old son. Sydney survives, but not without a few hidden scars, and when she goes off to college and is faced with the usual party atmopshere, she struggles with how to fit in.

A lot happens in this book: the first car accident, Sydney's crush on her roommate's boyfriend, her roommate's death from alcohol poisoning, her subsequent guilt-ridden relationship with the roommate's boyfriend, her dead roommate's bat-shit crazy sister, her best friend who reluctantly comes out of the closet and finds love, and a second shocking car accident.

And it's all those things that killed this book for me. One of those things would have been enough, and I could have dealt with two, but seven? It was too much. I lost interest because the story became too unbelievable. I felt like Rowe was trying to make a point with the alcohol storyline, but it just got lost in amongst all the other weirdness.

Review #70: Beyond Eden, by Kele Moon

Disclosure: this review is going to be kind of a cheat. I downloaded this off of Netgalley, added it to my list of books to review, and promptly forgot about it. I went to Amazon to refresh my memory, and that didn't help much.

I do remember that it involved a girl and two of her male friends. One of them loves her, she loves the other one, the other one's kind of a jerk. I'm pretty sure that at some point, they all wind up sleeping with each other in various combinations. I'm even more sure that the girl realizes she's loved the wrong guy and winds up with the right guy. Other than that, I can't tell you a single thing about it, including whether the sex was any good, so that should tell you something.

Review #69: Family Pictures, by Jane Green

I feel like I've read Jane Green before, but I just looked at the list of her books, and none of the covers seem familiar. Maybe it's because I feel like she's a little bit like Elin Hildebrand, with covers that make you think you're picking up chick lit, but what's inside is a bit more hefty.

Family Pictures tells the story of two women living on opposite ends of the country - California and New York - and their children. Sylvie is left to raise her daughter Eve on her own after her husband dies, until she meets and falls in love with Mark, who becomes a father figure for Eve. Mark travels a lot for work, and so Sylvie is a sort of hybrid single parent. Maggie, living in New York, is an uptight, unhappy socialite with three children, and her husband also travels a lot for work. Worlds collide when Eve and Maggie's daughter meet through mutual friends and secrets are revealed.

While I did see the big reveal coming, I wasn't any less shocked by it. And it would have been easy for Green to focus on the drama of the betrayal, but instead, she focused on Sylvie and Maggie and told their stories in what I felt was a pretty realistic way. The gut-wrenching sense of betrayal is bad enough, but both Sylvie and Maggie have bigger things to deal with - their children, Eve's health, the fact that Mark absconded with literally all the money - and Green tells the tale of their survival in the face of all that quite well.

Green is probably considered a beach read, but I felt it was a little heavy for that moniker. Maybe a winter read, when it's cold and rainy outside.

Review #68: We All Sleep in the Same Room, by Paul Rome

We All Sleep in the Same Room is the debut novel from Paul Rome, who appears to be a quiet and unassuming coffee shop manager from New York. And you know what they say...it's always the quiet ones.

This is one of those books that you read and you think "eh, it was okay," and then a few days later, you go back and want to read more of it, only you've already finished it, and then you're sad, because you don't know what's happening to the characters. (Surely I'm not the only one who thinks about book characters like they're real people, right? Right?)

Rome's debut follows an earnest young attorney from Brooklyn, his wife, and their son. On the surface, Tom seems to have it together. He's an attorney, but the earnest type, a labor lawyer. He loves his wife and loves his son, but somewhere along the line, his life begins to unravel. I'm not even really sure how it happens, but suddenly, Tom's cheating on his wife and passing out in alleyways.

There's no happy ending here, but then again, there's no real ending at all. Rome just sort of drops the reader in to Tom's life for a while and then pulls them back out again. It's not my favorite style of writing, but even now, months after I've finished the book (I'm very behind on reviews), I still think about Tom and his family, and that's the mark of a good writer.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review #67: A Hundred Summers, by Beatriz Williams

A Hundred Summers opens in 1938, when we meet Lily Dane, a young woman living with her mother and her much younger sister Kiki on a tiny island off the coast of Rhode Island. Lily discovers that her old friend Budgie Byrne is coming out for the summer, and Budgie isn't coming alone - she's bringing her husband Nick Greenwald. Suddenly we're spun backwards to the fall of 1931, to a football game where Budgie introduces Lily to Nick, and we realize that Nick and Lily are about to fall in love.

From there the chapters alternate, and Williams slowly draws the reader in. There are twists and turns in this story that truly kept me guessing until the end, and even then, she still managed to shock me. Her characters are well developed, and her imagery captures the 1930s perfectly.

Fans of Elin Hildebrand will love A Hundred Summers. I must note, though, that there's some pretty intense anti-Semitism in the book. It's keeping with the time period and never feels extraneous, but in our (hopefully) more enlightened world, it's a bit jarring. Still, though, this is a smart, sharply written novel, and definitely worth a read.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Review #66: Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, by John Berendt

I first read Midnight about ten years ago, maybe more, but two recent trips to Savannah prompted a re-read. We're all familiar (either through the book or Clint Eastwood's film) of the story of Jim Williams, Danny Hansford, and the incomparable Lady Chablis, but with each reading (and each visit), I fall in love with this odd little city a bit more.

For the uninitiated, Berendt's tale begins with him meeting Jim Williams, an antique dealer, to interview him for a piece in a magazine. While in Savannah, Berendt becomes intrigued with the city, falling in love with it, and eventually renting a small apartment in the historic district. He meets several of the city's movers and shakers, and quite a few of its less prominent citizens. Fast forward a few years, and Danny Handford is dead, Jim Williams is on trial, and the entire town is abuzz.

Savannah is a strange, beautiful, wonderful place. It's ancient by American standards, settled in 1733, and at times it gives the air that it hasn't changed much. Berendt captures the magic of the city, painting not just each character with perfect, vivid strokes, but painting the town as well.

Lady Astor is rumored to have remarked about Savannah that the city is "like a beautiful woman with a dirty face". I've always thought a little dirt kept things interesting. Berendt captures Savannah, her beauty, and her flaws with simple, lyrical perfection.

(And for those wondering, Lady Chablis is still performing once a month, and she is every bit as fierce and fabulous as she was in the film.)

Review #65: Savannah Breeze, by Mary Kay Andrews

Savannah Breeze is Mary Kay Andrews' follow up to Savannah Blues, and while Blues followed the adventures of Weezie, Breeze is her best friend BeBe Loudermilk's story.

BeBe meets a handsome man at the Telfair Museum gala, and before you know it, she's fallen in lust with him, and he's run away with all her money. She's forced out of her home (he sells it), she loses her business (she has no money), and she is left with nothing but a run down motel out on Tybee Island. The motel comes without furniture or roofs, at least in most rooms, but it also comes with gruffly handsome and mysterious Harry Sorrentino, the manager of sorts.

Harry's not too thrilled with BeBe, BeBe can't stand Harry, and she really can't stand the Breeze Inn. But with no money and no prospects, she has no other choice but to max out her credit cards, fix the place up, and hope for the best. When the handsome cad who stole her money is spotted in Florida, BeBe decides to go after him.

All the old characters from Blues show up here - Weezie, Weezie's bourbon-loving mom, Uncle James - but the man who steals the show is Grandpa Loudermilk. (In fact, if Grandma Loudermilk wasn't still around, I'd suggest a Grandpa Loudermilk and Grandma Mazur spin off.) Grandpa tears himself away from the Weather Channel and his bowls of Cap'n Crunch long enough to join BeBe, Harry, and Weezie on their grand adventure to Fort Lauderdale, and the fearsome foursome devise a plan to get BeBe's money back.

With a nice nod to Travis McGee, Andrews takes the reader on a fun ride. The only things missing were Lula and Grandma.

Review # 64: Dangerous Refuge, by Elizabeth Lowell

Elizabeth Lowell is one of those authors I can rely on. She gives me a pretty good story, a little sex, some romance, and a fairly strong female lead. I hate romance novels with simpering stupid girls.

In Dangerous Refuge, we meet Shaye Townsend, a woman who has moved to the wilds of Nevada to escape her socialite family. Shaye works for a local conservancy, and is the perfect liason between her glittery, fund-raising boss and the crusty old ranchers they're trying to help.

The story opens with Shaye finding one of the ranchers dead. Lorne Davis was in his 80s, and so his death wasn't really a surprise, but something doesn't seem right to Shaye. Something isn't sitting well with Lorne's only nephew, Tanner, either. Tanner's a Los Angeles homicide detective, and he turns up in Nevada to invesigate the death.

Throw in some nefarious dealings within the converancy, some small town government corruption, and some smoldering moments between Shaye and Tanner, and you've got yourself a nice little Saturday afternoon romance. Lowell may be formulaic at times, but she always delivers.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review #63: Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless

In this heartbreakingly funny memoir, Wendy Lawless details her childhood with her mother, a woman whose picture belongs in the dictionary next to the word narcissist. And the word addict. And substance abuser. And, quite possibly, the word horrible.

Lawless' mother personifies self-indulgence. She whisks Wendy and her sister from trailer parks to New York City to London and back again, cutting their father out of their lives, and wreaking havoc on two very impressionable teenage girls. Swanning about in her blue pegnoir set (and I could just picture the marabou mules that I'm sure went with it), stinking of cigarettes and too much perfume, her mother tells the girls that if they weren't pretty, she would have left them years ago. Two stories in particular stood out to me. In one, Lawless tells her mother that she has a crush on their lawn boy, and the next day, watches as she dons a halter top and short shorts and seduces the lawn boy in a tent in the back yard. The lawn boy is never heard from again. In another, it is her younger sister's high school graduation day. Lawless receives a phone call from the school principal, asking her to "get down to the school right now". When she arrives, her mother has driven her car across the lawn, up to the stage on the football field, and, dressed in her pale blue nightie, she is stumbling about the school grounds. When Lawless arrives, her mother hops in her car, drives off, and isn't heard from for several days, when she arrives back home as though nothing has happened.

Lawless is a smart, funny writer with a wickedly sharp wit. There's the old adage about how you can either laugh or cry, and she's chosen to laugh, and to make us laugh as well. This memoir is horrifyingly sad, but Lawless never allows you to feel sorry for her. She is a survivor, and she has not only survived, but she has thrived.

Review #62: By Design, by Jayne Denker

Emmie is an interior designer, stuck in a dead end job as the assistant to the town's interior designer, and he keeps Emmie around to pour the coffee and answer the phones. Emmie is frustrated with her life, and on a whim, looks up old classmates on line. Which, of course, leads to some awkward reunions, but along the way, she winds up meeting The Man of Her Dreams, Graham Cooper, a widowed father and local contractor.

The only problem is Graham is otherwise engaged, and it turns out that he's involved with a former classmate of Emmie's named Juliet. Juliet, however, needs to keep her relationship with Graham under wraps because she's not quite divorced, and her husband thinks they're working on things. So Graham and Emmie begin a relationship, only they keep theirs quiet, too, because Juliet is "too unstable" for Graham to break things off with her. Add to that the fact that Graham drops everything and runs every time Juliet calls, and I was ready to throw the book across the room.

Of course there's a happily ever after ending, complete with Juliet reconciling with her husband, and Graham and his motherless child falling in love with Emmie, and Emmie striking out on her own business-wise, but I couldn't help wondering when Graham's head was going to be turned by the next Juliet to come down the road.

Full disclosure that I read this book while my kid was getting her tonsils out, so I was sitting in a hospital waiting room (and those consultation rooms aren't exactly big) with my former husband, a man who shares more than one trait with Juilet and Graham. Probably not my wisest choice, and I'm sure that's coloring my review, but for a "romantic comedy" or "chick lit" book, all I could think was that Graham was a big fat jerk and Juliet was not a friend I'd want to have.

Review #61: Big Girl Panties, by Stephanie Evanovich

Holly, a young widower, meets Logan, a too-good-to-be-real trainer to the sports stars, on a flight back from some sort of business relating to her late husband's estate. Holly is overweight, having turned to food to dull the loneliness of widowhood. She makes a self-deprecating remark about squashing Logan, and before you know it, Logan is offering his trainer services to Holly.

To Holly's surprise - and Logan's - she shows up. And she continues to show up and do the work, and the weight starts to come off. Along the way, Holly and Logan form a pretty tight friendship, and they both begin to fall for the other. Holly is all too aware that she's not Logan's usual type, and Logan, who runs in the circle of the Beautiful People, is all too aware that Holly isn't beautiful enough.

There's also a weird B story that felt like Evanovich was trying to cash in on the 50 Shades hoopla. Logan's best friend Chase, a star baseball player, and his wife Amanda befriend Holly, and through the course of the story, we discover that when Amanda "acts out", Chase spanks her. It turns out that this was captured on surveillance video early in the relationship, which was then made public, which of course embarassed the daylights out of Amanda. Amanda uses this story to make Holly feel better about the possibility that she may be embarrased in the tabloids because of her weight.

And that's where I started to get really angry. Evanovich describes Holly, but never describes her in a way that makes me think she's morbidly obese. Holly seems a little chubby to me, but nothing that could be considered freakishly large. And yes, good for Holly for wanting to lose weight, for wanting to be healthy, but Holly seemed even more miserable after the weight loss than before. But the final blow for me came when Logan came to the realization that even though Holly was never going to be a size two, skinny little blonde supermodel, he supposed that she was good enough for him.

Quite frankly, Holly, you're too good for a jackass like Logan.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review #60: Last Night at Chateau Marmont, by Lauren Weisberger

From the author of The Devil Wears Prada comes the story of Brooke and Julian Alter. Brooke is a nutrionist working two jobs to support Julian, a better-than-average musician who is hoping to make it big. When Julian is discovered, he rockets to fame, and Brooke feels as though she's left in the dust.

Brooke struggles with being supportive of Julian while she continues to maintain her career. She is enchanted with the sudden glamour of her husband's new life, but feels completely out of place among the glitterati. Things become tense when Julian begins appearing in the tabloids, and even more tense when Brooke is seemingly left behind to clean up the messes Julian is leaving.

The story wasn't horrible, and Weisberger did a nice job of commenting on how quickly we elevate our celebrities to hero status, and how quickly we help them fall. But I disliked every character. I found Brooke whiny and irritating and Julian was an overgrown boy in a man's body. And I didn't think it was possible for characters in a book to not have any chemistry, but these two had less than zero.

Unfortunately, Chateau Marmont was no Devil.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review #59: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

Read this book. Stop what you're doing, right now, and go to the library/bookstore/Amazon/interwebs and get your hands on this. Stop reading whatever you're reading right now, and go read this.

I read Fangirl quite by accident, stumbling across it on Netgalley, and I picked up Attachments at the library on Saturday. I started it a Sunday afternoon. I finished it Monday night. The only reason I didn't finish is Sunday night is because I'm a mom and first-day-of-school, last minute sewing had to take precedence.

Attachments is Rowell's first novel, and it's unlike anything I've ever read. Half the book is nothing but emails between Beth, a movie reviewer at the local paper, and her friend Jennifer, one of the newspaper's copy editors. The other half is the story of Lincoln, the night IT guy, hired mainly to help the paper limp through Y2K. As we all know, Y2K turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, and Lincoln finds himself reading Beth and Jennifer's emails. He becomes, well, attached to Beth, to her stories and her life, and finds himself falling in love with her sight unseen.

Rowell is a clever, smart writer. Her prose is simple but beautiful and her story is perfect. I'm a little mad at myself that I didn't listen to all the Cannonballers who were gushing over her, and that I waited as long as I did to read her work. And I'm a little more mad that I've already blown through all three of her novels and I have to wait like everyone else to see what she's going to write next.

Review #58: Keep No Secrets, by Julie Compton

The mark of a good sequel is that it can be read on its own, and Keep No Secrets is a good sequel. I didn't know that the first book - Tell No Lies - existed until I hopped on Amazon, and now I wish I had read that first.

Secrets picks up four years after Lies ended, with District Attorney Jack Hilliard continuing to repair his professional and personal life after the discovery of a brief extra-marital affair nearly derailed his career and marriage. In the opening pages, the other woman - Jenny Dodson - reappears, and his eldest son's girlfriend Celeste accuses him of sexual assault. With his reputation already damaged by the affair with Jenny, he knows that his claims of innocence aren't believable, but he has no choice but to let the legal system work itself out.

The did he or didn't he storyline involving Celeste is interesting, and the effect it has on his relationship with his son - who hasn't broken up with Celeste but who doesn't exactly believe her either - is heartbreaking. But what really got to me was watching Jack's relationship with his wife disintegrate.

I've read a lot of books where the collapse of a marriage is a central theme, but rarely have I come across an author who can so clearly articulate what it feels like to have your marriage fall apart. Compton competently captures the feeling of hopelessness, of slowly realizing you're married to a stranger, of still wanting comfort from the very person who is huting you most. And she understands, in a way that few people do, that the affair is not the end of the marriage. It's a symptom, definitely, but it's not the disease.

Keep No Secrets was not an easy read. It was uncomfortable, and at times it was unbearably sad, but it kept me guessing until the end. Highly recommended.

Review #57: Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham

Someday, Someday, Maybe has been reviewed quite a bit on Cannonball, and that's the reason I picked it up. I never got in to Gilmore Girls, and only barely knew who Lauren Graham was, other than I think she looks fun whenever I see commercials for Gilmore Girls on Soapnet. Based on the other reviews I read, I wasn't surprised I liked Someday, Someday, Maybe, but I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The brief summary is that Franny has six months left to go on her self-imposed deadline of three years to make it in New York. She's got a fantastic best friend, a slightly weird roommate, a jackass-y boyfriend (and we've all dated that guy, the one that we know is a jackass, but we can't admit that we didn't see it before we started dating him), and a wonderfully funny father. Franny jumps from crappy waitressing job to crappier waitressing job, all while auditioning for anything she can get her hands on and taking as many acting classes as she can.

While I liked the story, and Graham's writing style was excellent, what I loved most about this novel were the characters. Franny was delightfully neurotic and insecure, and instead of being frustrated at her feelings of inadequecy, I complely understood where she was coming from.

Graham has a BA in English Lit from Barnard and it shows. I hope she continues to write, because she has an excellent voice.

(Oh, and Lauren? I really, really loved the ending!)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review #56: Tampa, by Alissa Nutting

I've sat on this review for a couple of weeks, hoping that I would know how I felt about this book after stewing about it for awhile. I'm still not sure. I don't know if Alissa Nutting is a fantastic writer, or if she's a total sociopath. Either way, I honestly don't know if I can recommend Tampa.

Told in first person, which only makes the whole thing a little crazier, Tampa tells the story of Celeste Price, an eighth grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. Her police officer husband is depicted as a buffoon, and as long as Celeste wears tight yoga pants and bends over once in a while to show him her ass, he leaves her alone, and she's free to secretly pursue thirteen year old boys.

And yes, you read that correctly.

Celeste is a pedophile. She's not a young math teacher in her early twenties, just out of college, falling in love with the high school senior who is days away from 18. She's a creepy, oversexed predator who deliberately chose middle school so she could be closer to young teenage boys. She seduces them deliberately, destroys their lives, and walks away without so much as a second glance. She's "too pretty" to go to jail, you see (Debra LaFave, anyone?), and who cares if what's she's doing is illegal; this is what she wants, and she's going after it.

Celeste is a horrible person. I like a good bad guy, but she takes the cake. She has no redeeming qualities. If this were a movie, they'd have to show Celeste playing with puppies to make her seem human. But Nutting does none of that. She portrays Celeste as a completely one-note character, with a singular desire to seek out young boys and seduce them. There is nothing about Celeste to like, and I tried really hard to find something good. She's not even misunderstood; she's just plain awful. Nutting could have made her slightly human, and I think it would have given the character some depth, and perhaps even transformed the book.

But my big beef with Nutting is that she named this book Tampa. Alissa, if you're going to name a book about a city, that city should be, you know, a character in the book. It doesn't need to be a big character, but it needs to have a presence. It would have taken three or four throwaway sentences to set this book properly in Florida, but the closest she came was a brief reference to mangroves. Just a mention of the drive in, or the beach, or any of the millions of bridges we have... that would have made me happy. As written, Tampa could have just as easily been set in Des Moines. I'm sure teachers have sex with students there, too. (Also? Not to pick nits, but Corvettes don't have backseats. No matter how limber your nutter butter main character is, she can't get it on in the backseat of a two seater car, let alone kneel in this imaginary backseat.)

I'll give this one three stars, I suppose. Nutting's writing is decent, but I think I just couldn't handle the storyline.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review #55: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

We come in to On Chesil Beach during Florence and Edward's honeymoon dinner. It is the first time they are truly alone together, dining in a hotel room, with the bed looming large in the other room. They're both virgins, and while Edward is eagerly anticipating consummating the marriage, Florence is more reluctant. In fact, Florence is horrified by what is expected of her, and although she wants to fulfill what she considers her marital duties - and in fact there are even moments when the reader thinks Florence may be feeling the beginning stirrings of desire - she doesn't think she can. Things come to a head in one pivotal, brutally uncomfortable scene. Florence flees to the beach, Edward follows her, and they fall into the age-old trap of lashing out to protect themselves.

I have to admit that this was not an easy read. It was short, and spare, but it was difficult to get through. I felt like a voyeur, like I was suddenly privy to some very private, very intimate situation. I don't know as I've ever felt as uncomfortable reading a book as I did when I was reading this. Florence's apprehension was palpable. I dreaded what lay ahead for her. And I felt equally bad for Edward. His excitement and nervousness rang very true, and I knew that things were going to end disastrously, but I couldn't look away.

In the end, On Chesil Beach is about more than two inexperienced virgins on their wedding night. It's about communication, about missed moments, about fear, about pride, about love, about heartache and heartbreak, and about how we have to listen, really listen to people, and take a chance, or else we may miss the very thing we need most in life.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review #54: The Spare Wife, by Alex Witchel

Ponce Morris is known in her New York socialite circle as the "spare wife". Loved by all, she can plan a luncheon with her girlfriends, and then sit courtside at the Knicks with the husbands, and nobody's jealous. Babette Steele, a social-climbing hungry journalist, spies Ponce kissing a very married man, and sets out to destroy her.

That's pretty much the novel. There are other subplots - the married man's wife is a paragon of virtue, Ponce's best friend's husband is having an affair with none other than Babette, someone else is falling apart in the wake of his wife's death - but all that really happens is people run around having lunch, having sex, and lying to each other. I didn't find a single character to like.

The story had potentail, but it fell flat. I couldn't get past Babette's name, or Ponce's for that matter. And I struggled with believing that Ponce's friendships with the husbands never cause any ripples among any of the them. The male characters were especially one-dimensional; they were portrayed as over-sexed, over-moneyed, over-Viagra'd weaklings. I wondered at how they possibly made their fortunes if they were this dumb at life.

Review #53: Strange Bedpersons, by Jennifer Crusie

I love Jennifer Crusie, but this is not one of her better works. Clocking in at just about 200 pages, it's a quick read (I read it in fits and starts while waiting for various children to ride roller coasters in 92 degree heat), and finished it that night in about 45 minutes.

Tess is a liberal teacher who shops at thrift stores and Nick is a staid, boring, Republican lawyer. They couldn't be more different, but Nick needs a pretend fiancee in order to make partner in his firm, and Tess is the only girl he knows smart enough to pass muster. She agrees, and shenanigans ensue. There are a couple of subplots - her dancer friend falls for Nick's friend, someone from Tess' past resurfaces - but Nick's interactions with his secretary are what makes the book hysterical.

Crusie is great at dialogue, and she doesn't disappoint, but this was definitely not my favorite. Save it for the 99 cent bin at Goodwill, and leave it behind when you leave the beach.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review #52: Fringe Florida, by Lynn Waddell

Confession: I was born and raised in the weirdest county in the weirdest state in the country. I still live here. That's right - my claim to fame is that I live in the nudist capital of America. (I, however, am not a nudist. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

As a kid, I never thought my state was weird. Even now, as an adult, I'm not entirely sure everyone else is right. I mean, sure, I suppose we have some crazy stuff: Fantasy Fest, Fetishcon, The Holy Land Experience, Disney World, hanging chads, pirates, sideshow freaks, a month-long pirate invasion, cowboys, acres of oranges, festivals honoring corn, strawberries, pirates, rattlesnakes, and kumquats, the most famous strip club in the world, circus perfomers, six-toed cats, a two week festival honoring an Indian invasion, aliens, sharks, nudists, naturalists, hurricanes, tornadoes, water spouts, sinkholes that swallow homes and people, over-sexed teachers, over-sexed cops, over-sexed retirees (for a time, one of the most popular retirement communities in the state was considered the place where one was most likely to catch an STD), and alligator-eating pythons. We're also home to Travis McGee, Archy McNally, Serge Storms, and Carl Haissen's menagerie of characters. Huh. Okay, well, maybe we are a little different. Must be all the heat and humidity down here.

Fringe Florida takes a tiny bite out of our weirdness. In ten chapters, Lynn Waddell, a former writer for the now-defunct Weekly Planet (the Planet is now Creative Loafing) details just a touch of the fringe of Florida, some of the things that make us who we are down here. She starts off gently, telling us about a big cat rescue in the Tampa Bay area and an exotic animal amnesty program, and then moving just a few miles further in to Tampa to introduce us to Joe Redner, a staple of Tampa Bay history, and the Mons Venus, the strip club that is quite literally the most famous in the world. We drive out to Daytona to meet motorcycle mamas, and here's where I learned that there are actually motorcycle gangs, true bad guys like from the movies. She introduces us to circus performers (Ringling still winters down here), to mud boggers (North Florida is often referred to as the Redneck Riviera), and to aliens (Pensacola used to be a hot bed of sightings). She unironically points out that the Holy Land Experience, where one can see Jesus singing as he is crucified, is located just an hour away from Cassadega, a community of healers and spiritualists. And then she circles back to my stomping grounds, the nudity capital, where the communities range from swinger clubs that hold coleslaw wrestling to country-club like places where they run 5Ks in the nude.

Waddell jumps in to her assignments with gusto. The same cannot always be said of her husband James who accompanies her on a few of her research trips, particularly the ones that involve sex and other potentially sketchy scenarios. But James is a supportive research assistant, even if he clearly finds the whole experience beyond weird. In his defense, I'm not sure there are many husbands who would leap without hesitation when their wives propose a trip to see naked old guys sing karaoke.

Fringe Florida is simultaneously gruesome and fascinating. The small town girl in me loved when I recognized places and yes, even characters. I've seen Peter Pan, and although I've seen photos of The Senator (a man who wanders Ybor City in little more than a thong), I haven't yet had the pleasure of sharing a cocktail with him. The Florida girl in me wanted to stand up and defend my home state, but then I realized that Waddell wasn't making fun of our wackiness, she was celebrating it.

*Note: I read Fringe Florida as an uncorrected proof from NetGalley. For some reason, the file was a little wonky and the pages with the photos wouldn't load, which was disappointing, because I'm sure they were fantastic. The book is due out in September. You'd better believe I'm picking up a copy.

Review #51: Go Ask Alice, Anonymous

Somehow I made it through my teenage years and young adulthood without ever having read Go Ask Alice. I had heard of it, of course, but it never interested me. So when I came across it in a used bookstore, I figured it was worth the fifty cents.

The story goes that Go Ask Alice is a collection of diary entries from a fifteen year old girl who stumbles down the rabbit hole of drug use. No mention is ever made of a year, although from the description of clothes and "Establishment", one could assume the mid to late sixties. She's never named.

She is portrayed as a good girl and the beginning part of her diary talks about the usual teenage things: clothes, boys, how annoying her parents are, and what it must be like to kiss someone. And then, about fifty pages in, things take a turn. She is given LSD in her Coca Cola at a party, and has a fantastic trip. Instead of being turned off, she wants more, and soon she is dealing. Her efforts to come clean fail, and she eventually runs away.

A couple of stints in rehab, a few tumbles off the wagon, another lost six months, and the girl winds up back home, determined to stay clean, but her old buddies can't leave her alone. She wakes up in what appears to be an asylum. It's never really explained, but the reader is lead to believe that she was intentionally drugged. Shortly after she leaves rehab, she writes that she's leaving her diary behind. A postscript to the book notes that the author of the diary was found dead. It's not known whether it was an accidental or intentional overdose, but then, as the postscript says, it doesn't really matter, because she's still dead.

Go Ask Alice is chilling, without a doubt, but I can't help but wonder (and here's where I'm showing my age), if the kids these days would see it the same way I did.

Review #50: The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay

I've been reading more YA literature lately, and I've bemoaned the future of it more than once, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across The Sea of Tranquility. Actually, I was thrilled. Not only is the story well done, but the writing is simply exquisite.

The story is told in two different voices - always a risk in my opinion - and moves between Josh Bennett, a young high school senior, and Nastya Kashnikov, the new girl in school who doesn't speak. She's not shy, she literally doesn't speak. Somehow, Josh and Nastya form a strange sort of friendship. She inserts herself in to his world, having Sunday dinners with his best friend and his family and spending long quiet evenings in his woodshop.

There are no vampires in this book. There are no werewolves. There's no insta-love. The male lead isn't a jackass and the female lead isn't a simpering weakling. They are both strong and weak, both perfect and flawed. They are true.

I've struggled with writing this review because I'm terrified of spoiling the story. But I will say this: this book needs to be made in to a movie, but it never can be, because it needs to be directed by John Hughes, and star Lloyd Dobbler and anything less than that will be a travesty.

This is Millay's first novel, and I hope with all my heart that it isn't her last. This book is perfection.



Review #49: Rainshadow Road, by Lisa Kleypas

When Lucy, a glass artist, is dumped by her boyfriend Kevin in favor of her younger sister Alice, she winds up meeting Sam, the local vineyard farmer. Sam's everything Kevin isn't: mainly not a jackass. At least, not for a while. Sam's commitment-phobic, of course, but this doesn't appear to bother Lucy, and they form a tenuous friendship. But then Lucy is struck by a car and left with a broken leg, and no choice but to recuperate temporarily in Sam's home. Sam is reluctant but, ever the good guy, he takes her in. Of course, they tumble in to bed, and begin a sex without strings relationship.

Over time, though, they both start to fall for one another, until Lucy realizes that she has to leave him. Other complications arise: Kevin (the former boyfriend) appears to Lucy and declares his love for her on the eve of his wedding to her sister Alice, Lucy is offered an artist-in-residence year in New York, and Sam winds up falling asleep in Lucy's bed, a crisis which appears to be as big as the whole Kevin-doesn't-love-Alice thing.

Add in to all of this the fact that Lucy evidently can turn glass in to fireflies and Sam can apparently make plants perk up with a wave of his hand, and you've got a normal little romance novel.

Honestly, Kleypas is a little bit like Nora Roberts when she's in her semi-magical trilogy mode. In fact, I think that this book may have actually been the start of a series, or at the very least, a trilogy. It's serviceable, and if another one of her books pops up for 99 cents, I'd probably download it. It's fluff, but it's not terrible fluff.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review #48: A Will & A Way, by Nora Roberts

Along with Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts is one of my go-to authors when I want something light and fluffy. She's got four types of books: J.D. Robb, trilogies/series, fat beach reads, and quick romance novels. A Will & A Way is the latter, but it works for a good summer book.

Pandora's favorite uncle, a slightly nutty recluse, dies, and names her and a distant relative Michael as the two major heirs to his estate, including his crazy home named Jolley's Folley. Michael isn't really related - he belongs to the family through an intimate family friend. Not surprisingly, Jolley's other relatives are a little miffed that weird cousin Pandora and interloper Michael get the bulk of the inheritance. Also not surprisingly, Jolley's will stipulates that Michael and Pandora have to live together at the estate for six months in order to inherit.

Michael and Pandora have never gotten along, but they're forced to spend time together in order to honor Jolley's last wishes. And when weird things begin to happen at the estate (remember those jealous relatives?), they're thrown together even more closely. Looks like good old Uncle Jolley was a bit of a matchmaker, too.

This is a pretty predictable novel, but it's a romance. It's going to have a formula, and it's going to have a happily-ever-after ending. Sometimes, you need a little escapism, and Nora's good at doing that for you.

Review #47: Love in a Nutshell, by Janet Evanovich & Dorien Kelly

My favorite thing about Janet Evanovich's books is how nutty the characters are. I'm a bit of a mess in real life, and I love that her characters are a bit of a mess, too.

After Kate Appleton divorces her philandering ex-husband, she moves back to her family's summer home, The Nutshell, to turn it in to a bed and breakfast. The only problem is that she's run out of money and The Nutshell has a zillion and one things wrong with it, so she needs a job. Matt Culhane, owner of the local craft brewery, thinks that someone is deliberately trying to sabotage him, so he hires Kate to spy.

Shenanigans and hilarity ensue, but there's a dark tone underneath it all: it quickly becomes clear that Kate, Matt, and Matt's brewery could be in real danger. And it turns out that Matt owns the mortgage to The Nutshell, something Kate doesn't discover until after she starts to fall for him.

Fans of Evanovich will like Kate's quirkiness and Matt's solid, good guy character. It's a total beach read: fluffy, light, and perfect for the summer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review #46: The Dominant, by Tara Sue Me

Once again, Fifty Shades has shone a light on the tons of BDSM fiction out there. And, like any kind of fiction, there's good writing and there's bad writing. The Dominant falls kind of on the bad side.

Nathaniel West is a dominant. He's well-known in "the lifestyle". Abigail King wants to be his submissive and applies for the job. Maybe I'm just a naive, small-town girl, but is this how it really works? There are rich - filthy rich, of course - guys who just spread the word to their friends that they want female submissives. And there are applications? Plus, Nathaniel's butler (? I don't know... bodyguard, maybe, or majordomo) is the one who passes on these applications. How does one list that in the job description?

I don't know as I even need to give a synopsis. I think we all know how this works. Abigail struggles with being a good sub. Nathaniel struggles with being a harsh enough dom. There's conflict. They have sex. There's more conflict. They're sort of in love. The end.

The sex is, sadly, pretty unsexy. Sometimes a girl wants a little trashy psuedo-porn, and this was definitely not it.

Review #45: Stalking Sapphire, by Mia Thompson

At first glance, Sapphire Dubois is like every other spoiled twenty-something living in Beverly Hills off of Daddy's money. But there's more to Sapphire than meets the eye. She hunts serial killers. And she's caught several. She stalks them, catches them, trusses them up, and leaves them like little presents for the police.

But when one of the bad guys turns the tables on Sapphire and starts stalking her - sending her body parts from a missing woman - Sapphire realizes that she may be in over her head. Add to the mix Detective Aston Ridder and Sapphire's in big trouble.

This was an interesting concept. Sapphire was tough without being over the top. Ridder was grizzled and jaded without being a total jackass. And if you can suspend belief long enough to forget that there probably aren't a ton of serial killers in Beverly Hills, then you've got a pretty decent story. I would have liked to see a little more humor and absurdness - a la Janet Evanovich - but I enjoyed it well enough.

Review #44: No Tan Lines, by Kate Angell

Shaye Cates is from the wrong side of the beach, at least in Trace Saunders' eye. Shaye and her family own and run Barefoot William Beach, and Trace and his family own the fancy-pants hotel on the other side of the sand. When Shaye's famous volleyball-player brother offers to headline a pro-am tournament, Shaye sees the economic boost the event could give her struggling little village. The only problem is she has to ask Trace to borrow a few hundred feet of his beach. And Trace isn't exactly willing to share.

Shaye talks him in to it, but Trace has his own caveats and sticks his nose in, convinced that Shaye's not going to be able to pull this off on her own. In a B story, Trace's former lover starts her own jewelry shop and falls in love with Shaye's brother. And in a C story, a random beach resident sort of falls in love with a volleyball player, but it's a story that just sort of gets forgotten. Honestly, I think I was more interested in the volleyball player than the other two stories.

Trace is kind of a jerk, and Shaye, for all her supposed toughness, lets him walk all over her. I never felt that their relationship was equal, and I never really cared whether it worked out for them. Angell would have been better off leaving the sub-plots out and concentrating more on developing Shaye and Trace in to more likeable characters.

Review #43: Rescue Me, by Rachel Gibson

I downloaded Rescue Me because it was highly recommended on the Nook list, and because the review said if you were a fan of Jennifer Crusie or Nora Roberts, you'd like Rachel Gibson. And I feel like I've read Gibson before, but I can't remember. Honestly, sometimes these kinds of books sort of blend together.

Rescue Me starts with Sadie Hollowell returning to Lovett, Texas, for her cousin Tally Lynn's wedding. Sadie hasn't been back in years, and the first person she runs in to is Vincent James, a super hot former Navy SEAL who is visiting his aunt Luraleen. Vince's truck has broken down and his cell phone is dead, so she gives him a lift in to town. When she asks him to return the favor and come as her date to the wedding, though, he turns her down, only to show up later at the reception, just in time to rescue her (get it) from her crazy old aunts. And then, he rescues her again minutes later in the bride's room, giving her an orgasm in the bride's room. Sadie freaks out and runs off, leaving Vince...ahem...high and dry.

Later, of course, Sadie and Vince run in to each other at the Founder's Day picnic and wind up going home together, and this time they both come away satisfied. They have a little friends-with-benefits thing going on, till Sadie's dad gets sick and Vince's PTSD sets in and they're both stubborn and stupid and won't admit that they love each other.

I'm not going to spoil the ending, but it's a romance novel, so duh, of course it's going to work out.

Rescue Me was okay. It's a romance novel. And maybe Gibson's other books are on par with Nora Roberts or Jennifer Crusie, but not this one.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review #42: Girls in Trucks, by Katie Crouch

I have rarely come across a novel that I enjoyed while strongly (very, very strongly) disliking the main character. In fact, I think that Girls in Trucks may be my first.

Sarah Walters is a reluctant member of Charleston society, forced to dance at Cotillion and encouraged to date the right boys. Sarah's a bit of a rebel, though, and doesn't want to grow up like her mama and the other Camelias, marrying the high school football star and popping out a few kids. So she sets her sights on college and New York, dates the wrong guys, and begins to lose her way.

And that's when the book lost me. Crouch's writing is excellent, and the story is well-done, but I began to dislike Sarah - really, really hate her, actually - and try as I might, I couldn't muster up any sympathy for her. (And I even felt a little sympathy for Daisy Buchanan.) Sarah seemed selfish and self-absorbed, and I found myself grateful that she wasn't one of my friends.

But on the flip side, I'm not sure this novel would have been anywhere near the same story had Sarah touched me in any way. I think Crouch intentionally made Sarah unlikable. which is an unusual choice for a main character, and one that makes this book stand out.

I'm interested to see what Crouch does next.

Review #41: The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary and Sewing Circle, by Lois Battle

Told over the course of one year, The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary and Sewing Circle details the lives of the displaced women of the now-shuttered Cherished Lady mill and how they intersect with the story of Bonnie Duke Cullman, a former deb turned Atlanta society wife whose husband has bankrupted them right out of their marriage. Bonnie finds a job heading up the "Displaced Homemakers Program" at the community college in Florabama, and is charged with helping the former mill workers start over.

Bonnie, lost, overwhelmed, and woefully underqualified, isn't sure she can handle her new position, both in her professional and personal life. Her daughter is appearing to side with her ex-husband, her son is dating a vegetarian and wants to work at a garlic farm, her father is aging rapidly, and her sex life is non-existent.

The ladies of the mill aren't sure they can handle their new positions, either. They're suddenly out of work, out of money, and out of options. But together, Bonnie and the women learn that change isn't always a bad thing, and that we are far stronger and far smarter than we think.

Battle's writing wandered a bit, kind of like a stroll down a garden path, but after having sat on the review for a couple of weeks, I've come to see that this quiet little story has spoken to me more than I originally realized.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review #40: The Heist, by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

Confession: I love Stephanie Plum. Actually, I love Ranger. I love Grandma Mazur, too, but it's a different feeling than the feeling I have for Ranger. I want him to break in to my house, call me babe, and leave behind his Bulgari shower gel. I just want to go for cocktails and shenanigans with Grandma. My feelings for Janet Evanovich's new character, con artist Nick Fox, lie somewhere in between Ranger and Grandma.

Kate O'Hare is a former Navy SEAL turned FBI agent (and yes, Evanovich addresses the fact that there are no female SEALs in real life) whose career has been largely about trying to capture the elusive and very handsome Nicholas Fox, a master con man. Kate gets her man, only to have him escape, and then discovers that he's actually working for the FBI, and she's been chosen as his wingman. Together, they're tasked with bringing down one of the world's largest swindlers, a bad guy who pulled off a Bernie Madoff-style and ran off with a half billion dollars of other people's money.

To pull of the con, Nick gathers a new crew together, and Kate enlists her dad as a back up. Together they travel to Indonesia to recover the stolen half billion dollars, dodging pirates and other bad guys.

Evanovich is always a fun read, in large part because of her characters. Kate is a bit of a stick in the mud, and I hope that we get another installment of Nick getting under her skin.

Review #39: A Summer Affair, by Elin Hilderbrand

A Summer Affair is the story of Claire Crispin, a wife and mother of four, who embarks on a year-long affair with Lock Dixon, the millionaire head of the local children's charity. Claire is vaguely acquainted with Lock - she was friendly with his wife Daphne before a devastating car accident changed Daphne's personality - when he asks her to not only co-chair the Nantucket Children's Summer Gala, but to provide the auction item, a blown glass chandelier. Claire hasn't been in her glass studio in over year, since a fall caused her to go in to premature labor with her youngest son, and she surprises everyone, including herself, by agreeing.

To plan the gala, Claire begins spending evenings with Lock, and it isn't long before they begin an affair. As their relationship becomes more serious, Claire pulls away from her husband, her family, her friends. She struggles with guilt and jealously, and goes so far as to accuse her husband of having an affair. Eventually, things come to a head at the gala, and Claire realizes she must end the game of limbo and make a decision.

This novel left me feeling a little flat. I never really sympathized with any of the characters, and struggled to find redeeming qualities in any of them. I wanted to either root for Claire and Lock to beat the odds and find a way to be together, or be angry at them for breaking their marriage vows, but I honestly couldn't care enough about them to feel one way or the other.

I've read other books from Hilderbrand, and this was definitely not my favorite.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review #38: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

It's no secret that Rainbow Rowell is one of the darlings of the Cannonballer Read crew, and now I understand why. I haven't gotten around to reading Eleanor & Park or Attachments, but after reading Fangirl, which I stumbled across quite accidentally on NetGalley, I've bumped them up to the top of my Goodreads list.

Cath and Wren are twins, off to their first year of college. For Wren, it's an exciting time, a time to reinvent herself, find herself, experiment with freedom, be independent. For Cath, it's a struggle. Wren doesn't want to be joined at the hip any more, and Cath isn't sure what to do without her. She throws herself in to the only thing she knows she can do - writing fan fiction. As it turns out, Cath and Wren are the anonymous authors of a very successful fanfic series starring Simon Snow, who, from the snippets Rowell gives us, appears to be a Harry Potter-esque character with a little bit of vampire love thrown in for good measure. Wren has abandoned Simon, but Cath can't leave him, not until she finishes writing his story.

I felt a strange sort of kinship with Cath. She is a reader, to the point of distraction. To the point of tuning everything else out. To the point of not seeing anything in front of her but her books and her characters. Who among us hasn't said they would just read one more chapter, only to realize it's three in the morning, the dishes are undone, the laundry is piling up, and you're sobbing over the end of a novel? Only someone who truly loves to read can write a character like Cath, and I think that's what made me fall in love with Rowell a little bit, that realization that she loves to read just as much as I do.

The secondary characters in the novel are superb as well. I want to detail them all, but I don't want to give anything away. Just know that everyone should have friends like Reagan and every girl should have a Levi at least once in her life. And every reader should have Rainbow Rowell in their library.

Review #37: True, by Erin McCarthy

I wanted to like this book. I really did, but I just couldn't. Maybe it's the genre - evidently there's a new category called "New Adult" - meaning things you should read as you leave your teens and enter your twenties. If this is what we're handing these "new adults", then... no. Just no.

The story is simple. Rory is a quiet college sophomore, reserved and shy. Her two roommates are definite party girls, and through a series of events, Rory meets Tyler, a tattooed older student who is in the EMT program. Rory's roommates discover that she's a virgin, and they pay Tyler to take her virginity. Tyler, of course, falls for Rory along the way. There are obstacles - Tyler's mom is a drug addict, Rory's father is not happy about the match, and there are a few breakups - but they chug along towards a predictably happy-ever-after ending.

Rory was a fairly unlikable character. There was nothing particularly wrong with her - other than her inexplicable sullen attitude - but I just couldn't like her. Her roommates were bubbleheads, sweet but cluelessly selfish, and not the kind of girls one wants in a crisis. Tyler was supposed to be the bad boy with a heart of gold, but I found him annoying and stubborn and I just kept thinking that he probably smelled bad. The characters were fairly one-note, and I wanted more depth, and without that, the story suffered.

Good news, though. There's a sequel, starring Tyler's brother and one of Rory's roommates,. And since Rory has two roommates, I'm guessing we're going to have a trilogy. I think I'll pass.