"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, March 19, 2013

Review #20: Wicked Pleasure, by Lora Leigh

So it turns out that when the back cover of the book says that the lead character is fearful of "facing the world knowing she's a lover to both men," that translates to "at the same time". Which if that's your thing, then hey, good for you, but I don't think it's necessarily for me. Especially when it's twin brothers. That borders a little too close to, you know, incest.

Jaci Wright is an architect (I think? it's never really truly defined), who has been hired by her friend's new husband to redesign the interior of some sort of club that, as it happens, is some sort of sex club. Its members are high ranking men who like to share their wives with other men, but it's not "like that". It's so that they could have another man look after their wives should the need arise. Because this is 17th century Europe and they might need a second in a duel? The heads of security for this club are Chase and Cam Falladay, who are super hot and like to have sex with women together. Cam's in love with Jaci, but he can only express that when his brother is with him.

I don't know. I admit I skimmed this book because, well, it's a book you definitely skim, but there were whole chunks that came out of nowhere. (Like the sex club. And the whole sharing thing. And, bizzarrely, a psuedo-scandal involving a senator. And the climax. Especially the climax.) The sex was good, but the rest of the book didn't make up for it.

Review #19: Empire Falls, by Richard Russo

I picked up Empire Falls at the library bookshop, drawn in by the cover and the gold seal declaring that it was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I felt like I needed to read a real book after, you know, this one.

Empire Falls follows the story of Miles Roby, a small-town, blue collar man who feels stuck in his life. He's been running the grill downtown for twenty years under the oppressive thumb of the town matriarch, his divorce proceedings are progressing at a teeth-gnashingly slow rate, something that is not helped by his estranged wife's fiance hanging out at the lunch counter every day, challenging him to arm wrestling contests, and his daughter is a teenager, a statement that needs no further explanation.

I read a review of this novel that compared Russo's writing to a slow boil, and that's exactly what it is. I put this book down several times - it lags in places, and I grew a little bored waiting for something to happen, but after a few days, I'd pick it up again, and literally devour another seventy-five or a hundred pages. It pulls in hundreds of threads, and weaves them together in a way you don't always see coming. The characters are flawed, exquisite, sad, conflicted, ugly, but always, they are very, very human.

In other words, Russo's book is very much like real life.

Review #18: The Villa, by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is one of those authors that doesn't make me feel bad about reading "trashy romance novels". She writes fairly well and her lead characters aren't named Sharlot or Rafe. I'm not embarassed to be seen reading one of her books in public (lookin' at you, sweetcheeks). She's... servicable.

The Villa is a big fat beach read, starring Sophia Giambelli, a beautiful twenty-something heiress to one of the country's biggest wine companies, and Tyler MacMillian, the gruff, rough-around-the-edges grandson of Sophia's grandmother's husband, who also happens to own one of the country's other biggest wine companies. La Signora and Eli want to merge the companies and step down, but not without some soap-opera worthy games first: Sohpia and Tyler must learn each other's jobs, and at the end, they'll each wind up with an equal share of the wineries.

It turns out this pisses off more than a few people, including various cousins, her father's fiancee, and some other wine company executives. Love, sex, murder, mayhem, and general shenanigans follow, but Roberts ties it up with a fun bow. It's predictable, but that's what you need when you're laying on your couch, dreaming of warmer weather. Save it for the beach this summer or a rainy weekend with a big bottle of wine.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review #17: Indiscretion, by Charles Dubow

Indiscretion is a brillian debut from Charles Dubow. Set in New York, the Hamptons, and Rome, it chronicles the story of Harry, a National Book Award-winning novelist, his beautiful, lovely, sweet wife Maddy, and their young son, Johnny. Theirs is an idyllic life, full of dinner parties and cocktails, and one summer, a young woman named Claire wanders in to their circle. Maddy, entranced by Claire, takes her under her wing; Claire winds up falling in love with Harry. Harry holds her off, at least for a while. But Harry weakens - he's faced with a sophomore novel that isn't taking shape and a general sort of malaise, about what it's unclear - and when he runs in to Claire during a trip to New York, he falls in to bed with her. They begin a love affair that sends Maddy to her knees, and tears his marriage apart.

Dubow makes the very interesting choice to have Maddy's childhood friend Walter narrate the story. Reminiscent of Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway, Walter is in love with Maddy, and it shows. Giving Walter the voice of the novel allows a unique perspective, one that enriches the story, and it was a daring move that paid off.

There is a stunning line in the book, maybe two-thirds of the way through, that so perfectly sums up the events of the story: "We make so many right decisions in life, but it is the wrong ones that can never be forgiven." It is the harbinger of things to come, things I knew were going to happen, things about which I screamed, "No, no, no!" in my head. Things I was so worried about, I even committed the cardinal sin of readers and skipped ahead, so that I could get the trauma over with.

It's there, just past those skipped-ahead pages, that Dubow takes a turn, and then another and another and another, turns I saw coming, turns I thought I saw coming, turns I never saw coming. This is an exquisite, beautifully written novel, and I hope that we see more of Dubow in the years to come.

Review #16: Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt is a funny, poignant, delightful debut from Beth Hoffman.

Cee Cee is twelve when she is sent to live with her great aunt Tallulah (Tootie) Caldwell. Her mother is mercifully killed by an ice-cream truck after fighting years of mental illness, and her father drifts in and out of life, and is unable to care for Cee Cee. In swoops Aunt Tootie to save the day and whisk her down to Savannah.

With the help of Oletta, Tootie's housekeeper, Thelma Rae, the wacky, slightly Miss Havisham-meets-Marilyn Monroe-ish next door neighbor, and a whole cast of typical Southern characters, Tootie helps Cee Cee come out of her shell and adapt to life in a Southern small town. The book is set in the early 1960s, and Hoffman touches on the rampant racism, describing it through a child's confused eyes. There is one scene in particular that stands out, where Cee Cee talks Oletta and her sister in to taking her to the beach. There, they are confronted and attacked by a white man, and Oletta and her sister fight back, something that was not done in the 1960s South. Cee Cee understands that she has to keep what happened absolutely secret - even from Aunt Tootie - although she doesn't quite understand why.

I read a handful of reviews on this book, and several of them remarked that Hoffman didn't delve deeply enough into the race issue or Cee Cee's fears of inheriting her mother's mental illness. And it's true - Hoffman could have gone darker with this story. But the book is told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old, and I feel like she hit the exact right notes. It felt like a twelve-year-old - albeit one with an excellent vocabulary - was telling me her story, and I wanted to gather Cee Cee up, hug the sadness and fear right out of her, and love her.

Review #15: Forever Black, by Sandi Lynn

One of the side effects of 50 Shades of Grey being published is that every third middle aged woman who once wrote sappy poetry when she was thirteen now thinks that she, too, can become a published author. And she can, if she goes the self-published route, which seems like it's maybe not so hard, at least based on what I just read.

I've read a lot of crappy books in my life. I have no shame (after all, I read Beautiful Bastard - and admitted it), and I generally finish even the crappiest of books. But I wanted to quit this book about eight hundred times (probably after the sentence that began with "30". Not "Thirty", mind you, or even "thirty" (which I could have forgiven), but "30". Twice in the same page.) But I soldiered on so I can report back to the Cannonballers.

Fair warning: I'm going to spoil the ending of this book. Nobody is going to read it. And if they do, it's not like I'm giving away state secrets.

Ellery Lane meets Connor Black (get it? Black? Grey?) in a bar as he's being tossed out because he's too drunk. Ellery, in a fit of total stupidity rides home in the cab with this complete stranger and brings him in to his house, cleans him up, and spends the night to make sure he doesn't choke on his own vomit. (There's a good story to tell your grandkids.) Connor, naturally, only has one night stands, so he's pissed to find Ellery in the kitchen the next morning, and so she leaves, but he's intrigued by her. So of course, he stalks her and they fall in love. But Connor's broken - some former girlfriend committed suicide after they broke up - and he struggles with the relationship. But there's a twist here! Turns out that Ellery is broken, too. She's got cancer and she's refusing treatments and is just waiting around to die.

This book is so horribly written that at times I couldn't understand what was going on. I had to read the dialogue aloud so that I could make heads or tails of it. Never mind that the story reads like a Nicholas Sparks novel on crack - I could almost get past that part - but the grammar issues made my head hurt. I'm surprised Bill Shakespeare hasn't risen from his grave and smashed this "author's" computer.

Sandi Lynn is working on her second novel. I know some third-graders who need to practice their editing skills. Maybe I should hook them up.

Review #14: Lady Gone Bad, by Sabine Starr

Full disclosure: I read this book because it was free. And when I read the book description in my Free Book Friday email - "But when Lady tangles with a sexy U.S. Marshall, she's tempted to stick around long enough to watch him lay down the law--in her bed." - I knew I had to read it. Well, first I collapsed in a fit of laughter, and then I realized I had to read it.

Lady Gone Bad is about a saloon singer, Sharlot (really?), who can charm cowboys with her singing the way a snake charmer can charm a snake, and Rafe (again: really?), a U.S. Marshall who, for some unclear reason, is after Lady. Turns out that Lady is looking for her parents' murderers, and the outlaws and the Indians of the Old West are her ticket to finding out what really happened. She and Rafe wind up running from a rogue U.S. Marshall, and of course, they fall in love. There are obstacles along the way - his missing sister, a bunch of bad guys, and some horse thieves - but there are also lots of helping hands in the form of an old Indian man and two cowboys who are clearly there to provide comic relief.

Lady Gone Bad isn't a terrible book. It's a pretty typical Harlequin-style romance. I'd have been mad if I paid $1.99 for it, but since it was free, I'm not going to complain.