Thursday, May 31, 2012

Insurgent (Book Two of Divergent), by Veronica Roth

Book Two of Divergent
Written by Veronica Roth

“Insurgent, he says. Noun. A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent.” -- Insurgent (Book Two of Divergent), by Veronica Roth

First of all, if you haven't read Divergent, the first book in this series, go read it, and then come back here. If you read this review before you read Divergent, you'll be disappointed because this review does contain spoilers from the first book.

We begin Insurgent with a "barely holding it together" Tris after the unexpected death of so many of her people. Both her parents sacrificed themselves to save her. Thousands of Abnegations died at the hands of those Dauntless who were being controlled by the Erudite. She was almost killed, and was forced to shoot one of her best friends to save herself and stop the simulation.

Insurgent is fraught with misunderstandings and betrayals that keep the plot moving at a much more rapid pace than you saw in Divergent. There is a lot going on, but it was still easy to follow. Tris is forced to make decisions in Insurgent that are even more difficult than killing Will was. Throughout the course of the book her relationship with Tobias (also known as Four) is tested as they tackle situation after situation that plague their society after the simulation. Both Tobias and Tris must reach a new understanding of one another if they want their relationship to survive. Tris must learn to trust her instincts and her very unique brain in order to figure out who is trustworthy and to find out what the truth behind the simulations really was.

I loved this second book of the Divergent series. The first book was good, but it was in Insurgent that things really started to get interesting. And the ending left me wishing I had held off on reading Insurgent until closer to the publication of the next book, which hasn't been named yet. Roth is a talented writer and her dystopian society is intriguing. I am anxiously awaiting the next book, which I have heard won't be out until sometimes in 2013. I am keeping my fingers crossed that she finishes it sooner rather than later.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

City of Glass (Book Three of Mortal Instruments), by Cassandra Clare

City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, #3)
City of Glass
Book Three of Mortal Instruments
Written By Cassandra Clare

“And now I’m looking at you,” he said, “and you’re asking me if I still want you, as if I could stop loving you. As if I would want to give up the thing that makes me stronger than anything else ever has. I never dared give much of myself to anyone before – bits of myself to the Lightwoods, to Isabelle and Alec, but it took years to do it – but, Clary, since the first time I saw you, I have belonged to you completely. I still do. If you want me.” -- Jace, City of Glass (Book Three of Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare

This is the third book of the Mortal Instruments. If you haven't read the first two you should probably stop right now, because this review will inevitably spoil the earlier books for you if you haven't read them. I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire series thus far, and I definitively recommend it. (Click here for the review of book one)

Clare has done it again. She kept me at the edge of my seat throughout the latest saga of The Mortal Instruments. We began pretty much, right where the other book left off, with Clary desperate to get the cure for her mother, and Clary and Jace seemingly destined to disagree on whether or not they should ignore their feelings for one another. Can I just say that I have been tortured with them throughout the series thus far, as they battle between their feelings and what they feel is acceptable? I just ache for them when I see how heart wrenching their determination to behave like they are just siblings because they believe they are doing what is right. I have come close to tears over and over again as I read about their struggle. To have finally felt real love just to have it jerked away. And even though you know their love is "wrong", you just somehow want it to be different.

In City of Glass, Clare once again reveals more unexpected plot twists that leave you amazed and shocked. New characters are introduced alongside the regulars that we've gotten to know in previous books. Clare continues to dive more deeply into the past of the Clave and the main characters personal histories. We also continue to see the growth of Jace, Clary, Isabelle, Alec, and Simon as they navigate the normal teenage problems as well as those that are specifically tailored to their, shall we say, unique characteristics.

I cannot recommend this book and this series enough. It's an awesome read, cover to cover, just like the first two were. I'm anxiously awaiting getting my hands on the 4th book.

Rebecca's Promise (Book One of Adam's County), by Jerry S. Eicher

Rebecca's Promise
Book One of Adam's Country
Written by Jerry S. Eicher
I have loved Amish fiction for awhile, and at one point I was told that Eicher was a good writer of Amish Fiction. I wasn't disappointed. 

One thing I absolutely loved was that Eicher was not afraid to assign some really controversial points of view to his Amish characters.  Usually in Amish fiction the most "out of line" a character gets is perhaps listening to music or dating a Mennonite.  There were several characters in Rebecca's Promise that really broke the mold of Amish stereotype and I absolutely loved it.  I loved how much more human Eicher's characters were because of it.  I also loved that these weren't shunned amish, or amish teens on their Rumspringa.  These were full fledged baptized members of the Amish community who were behaving in these highly questionable ways.  It was really cool to see an Amish book take that kind of twist.

I was slightly disappointed by a few plot twists, but I enjoyed how he left it open for the next book in the series.  His unique characters are enough to bring me back for more.  I will be reading the next book in the series soon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), by Jenny Lawson

Let's Pretend This Never Happened
(A MostlyTrue Memoir)
Written by Jenny Lawson

“I am the Wizard of Oz of housewives (in that I am both "Great and Terrible" and because I sometimes hide behind the curtains.)"--Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), By Jenny Lawson

Warning, if you do not have a great sense of humor, and are one of those very respectable types, this is not your book. You will be offended and will not understand the humor. If you're more like me, and you enjoy the occasional journey into a wild and wacky irreverent memoir, then this is the memoir for you. I'm dying to hear what others think. I loved it from the first page, all the way to the last. I look forward to her next book.

I first learned about Jenny Lawson, when a friend turned me on to her totally unrighteous, totally hysterical, totally amazing blog, The Bloggess. Jenny is phenomenal. I have loved her blog since day one.

She is just this totally unique, charismatic, nutty character that you can't help but loving. Her humor astounds me. The things she comes up with just literally make me laugh out loud. In fact, I raised quite a few eyebrows at the gym Friday when I was attempting to ride the stationary bike and not fall off while attempting to hold in my giggles. Her blog is always funny, and the book is even funnier, which I would not have thought possible.

In the book Jenny tells you her crazy story of growing up with her quirky family and their ridiculous hijinks that have shaped who she is. You get to hear all about Victor, her husband, who is just this regular everyday guy who happened to fall in love with Jenny. Even her years of teenage angst have their moment in this memoir. What I loved most about this memoir is how through the humor I felt like I really connected to Jenny. I felt like she and I had more in common than I knew. Each of us has a little of Jenny Lawson in us.

That's what she said!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Silence (Book One of The Queen of the Dead), by Michelle Sagara

Book One of The Queen of the Dead
Written by Michelle Sagara

"She wanted to scream at her father, and screaming at her father was something she'd done, in one way or another, since she was the age of the baby in Allison's arms. But it wouldn't help anything, and it wouldn't change anything." Emma, Silence, Book One of The Queen of the Dead, by Michelle Sagara

I was so excited when found out I'd won an uncorrected proof of this new book for free as a Goodreads First Read Giveaway. I am always excited to try out new authors and read new books.

This was only the second time I've encountered a series dealing with necromancy, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the less gothic morbid take that Sagara took on the subject in comparison with the other series I had read (Darkest Powers Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong). It wasn't that I didn't enjoy the scarier version I'd previously been exposed to, but I always get excited when an author takes the road less travelled.

The hodge podge cast of characters in Silence also reminded me a lot of the group of teens portrayed in the House of Night series by P.C. Cast and Kristen Cast. I have not been able to tear myself away from the House of Night novels, even when a few of the books had less exciting or less believable plots, because I had to know what happened to the close knit group of friends next. I love how each of the characters has several unique traits that lend the group something special and allow them to accomplish the unimaginable together. At the core of this friendship is a loyalty that allows them to get through just about any obstacle and come out on the other end, still friends. I look forward to seeing the unique characters Sagara introduced in Silence, in the future Queen of the Dead books, and seeing that side plot of their friendship as it grows and changes throughout the series.

The title of the next book in this series has yet to be released, to the best of my knowledge. I will be keeping my eyes peeled though, because now that I've met this group, I can't wait to find out what happens next. Sagara made sure to leave you with the slightest tidbit at the end of Silence to leave me in anxious anticipation.

Some Assembly Required, by Anne Lamott & Sam Lamott

Some Assembly Required
Written by Anne Lamott
With Sam Lamott

“Everything was coming together by coming apart . . . It is the most difficult Zen practice to leave people to their destiny, even though it's painful - just loving them, and breathing with them, and distracting them in a sweet way, and laughing with them . . . if something was not my problem, I probably did not have the solution.” ― Anne Lamott, Some Assembly Required

Well I'll be honest, I picked up this book to read off the new release shelf because my best friend just had her first baby and I, understandably, had baby on the brain. The idea of reading the story of someone else's take on this time period sparked my interest. I'd never read any other books by Anne Lamott, although I have since learned that she is an established writer and actually wrote a book about her son's young life after he was born. So this book, Some Assembly Required, was almost like a sequel or Part 2 to her earlier work (Operating Instructions).

I found myself laughing and smiling at Anne's theatrics. She reminded me of myself in a lot of ways, aside from the fact that I'm a staunch atheist and she very obviously has a close relationship with God. But she was funny like me, crazy like me, and a little warped, like me. She had no trouble laughing at her own idiosyncrasies and no trouble admitting to herself when she was being irrational and unreasonable. Sometimes allowing herself to continue on that vein, and other times reining it with the help of those around her.

Something that makes Anne's character so real is her day to day struggles and desire to take the right path. She tries to be humble and kind and generous, but still succumbs occasionally to the selfishness that makes her human. She loves with her whole heart, but can still be petty sometimes. That is what made this such a fantastic story. I think anyone who has had a baby or become a grandparent for the first time can understand the frustration and humility that those roles entail. I may have to take a journey to the past and try out the first book, Operating Instructions, to see if I like it as much as I liked this.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer

The House of the Scorpion
Written by Nancy Farmer

“I always say the truth is best even when we find it unpleasant. Any rat in a sewer can lie. It's how rats are. It's what makes them rats. But a human doesn't run and hide in dark places, because he's something more. Lying is the most personal act of cowardice there is.” -- Matt, The House of The Scorpion, Written by Nancy Farmer

The House of the Scorpion is basically a philosophy book disguised as science fiction dystopia. It chronicles the story of Matt, a clone of a powerful Opium drug lord. It tackles many of the complicated questions that scientists and even layman are asking themselves, now that cloning is a definite probability. There was a time when these serious questions could be avoided, because the ability to create a clone seemed far into the future. This is no longer the case. Now, your own personal views on cloning aside, this book tells one version of what could happen, were scientist allowed to clone human beings. It gets you thinking, and asking all the right questions to come to a better understanding of what cloning could mean for science, for medicine, and for humanity.

I thought that Farmer did a good job with this controversial topic. She managed to create characters that you cared about, and I think it will open the eyes of many who may have had very linear ideas about cloning and other scientific advancements and allow them to see a bigger picture. I'm still not sure, after reading her book, how Farmer feels about these scientific discoveries. I think it's wonderful that she could keep her own viewpoint out of the way of the story and let the story speak for itself. That was my favorite part of the story.

I have to admit that, while entertaining and thought provoking, I was lured away for a few days in the middle of the book by something else that was a little more interesting and fast paced. But I wouldn't call the book boring, by any means. If anything, taking a break and then returning may have made me appreciate the story even more, after allowing my mind to stew over it a bit.

I was also impressed when I read that there will be a sequel and that the reason it's taking so long is because Farmer doesn't use any outlines or anything like that, because she allows the story to build itself, so to speak. I thought that was a fantastic idea and may incorporate it into my own future writing projects. I have never enjoyed writing once I figured out what was going to happen. It seemed like if I knew the rest of the story it was no fun to write. Perhaps if I start writing at the beginning and just see what happens, I could actually finish a book one of these days. So I leave The House of The Scorpion inspired to write my own book, and looking forward to the sequel.

Sugar Walls, by Naughtia Marcano

Sugar Walls
Written by Naughtia Marcano

Initial disclaimer! This book is highly provocative and definitely rated R. It contains some pretty racy stuff. Please don't read my review if you think you may be offended.

I have to admit that when I put my name in for this Goodreads First Reads Giveaway, I did not realize what a racy novel this was supposed to be. The cover showed a little cleavage, and the description mentioned sex, but I assumed it was more of a chic lit thing than a wild and kinky sex thing. That being said, I was excited to win the book and I looked forward to reading it, even after I realized it wasn't my usual cup of tea.

Naughtia Marcano (perhaps the author's name should have been a clue, but sometimes these things are lost on me) is a new writer, and Sugar Walls (also a slang term I was unfamiliar with-I'll let you look that one up on your own if you are so inclined) was her first published book. While I thought the premise for the plot was a good one, if not totally original, in Sugar Walls it took a turn for the unrealistic and was very rushed. The characters just didn't seem believable to me because of the bizarre way they behaved and the nonsensical decisions they made. I can't give you an example without giving away the story, but I just found most of the storyline to be way over the top. I think if the book had been another 100 pages longer and/or taken place over a few months rather than a few weeks, it would have given me a chance to get to know the characters better and allowed me to see their stories progress at in a more reasonable and convincing way. Unfortunately, I did find the writing a bit amateurish. It wasn't bad by any means, but it wasn't as polished as it could have been.

All that being said, I enjoyed this book tremendously. There were a few unexpected plot twists and moments of wit that were quite entertaining. I think that Marcano definitely has the potential to be a great writer. In fact, her ability to write about sex in such a straightforward and unruffled way is amazing. Most people are afraid to approach sex scenes the way she does. She described these scenes with an honesty and fearlessness that usually takes writers a long time to accomplish.

The things that were less than ideal about her book are all things that can easily be remedied with time, more practice writing, and a great editor. But the thing she has, that can't be taught, is the ability to write a sex scene as steamy and unabashed as the ones she wrote for this book. I give her major props on that. I don't consider myself to be sexually repressed, but I don't know that I could write scenes like the ones she wrote for Sugar Walls.

If you aren't afraid of an honest and sometimes freaky sex scene, or ten, check out this book. I look forward to seeing Marcano progress as a writer. I truly think we will see more from her in the future and that she will continue to improve with each book she writes.

Delirium (Book One of Delirium series), by Lauren Oliver

Book One of Delirium Series
Written by Lauren Oliver

"It will kill me, it will kill me, it will kill me. And I don't care." -- Lena, Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

I was really excited when my husband came home on Mother's Day with two books that I'd wanted to read. Ever since I read the Hunger Games trilogy I've been devouring dystopia novels. They are my new favorite genre. I have always loved apocalyptic movies (ironic, as I'm a true atheist), so dystopia novels were the next step to further my addiction.

Unlike Hunger Games, Delirium is more psychological, in my opinion. The plague that "destroyed" society was love, rather than rebellion. Lauren Oliver tells the story of a girl whose mother was a sympathizer (reminding me of how whites who helped blacks before and during the civil rights movement) who had the audacity to fall in love with her husband. The story, as with most dystopias, has two clear sides: the cured (those who have had a surgery to erase any strong emotion and passion, including the ability to love), and their enemies, the Invalids (those who live outside the safety of the communities and have not had the surgery) aided by Sympathizers (those who had the surgery but are against it, or simply think it should be optional rather than mandatory).

This book stirs up all sorts of feelings and ideas as you wonder what it would be like to live in a world where love was a disease, not to mention illegal. How sick and twisted the world must be for someone to willingly give up their ability to love and long for the day when they can be cured and never have to worry about catching the awful disease? Love as a disease is such an interesting paradox to those of us living today. Anyone who has experienced love has also experienced the pain of losing it, but would any one of us give up the ability to love in order to escape the pain of it? I would not do so myself, but yet a tiny part of me can still see the attraction of it.

I especially liked the way Oliver portrayed her characters. She took the moment of the introduction of each character seriously. I felt as if I could picture each of them in my mind and I knew how they'd react to any given situation. I loved the last few chapters of the book, as the characters scrambled through the chaos with a mad urgency. I adored the fact that she surprised me at the end when I'd thought all along I knew what to expect and that I'd already figured it all out...I was wrong. I LOVE being wrong. Anytime I get a shock or surprise I am completely enamored of the author who managed it.

Delirium is a great book, and I can't wait to read Pandemonium! I have a feeling that waiting for the third book, Requiem is going to severely test my patience.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pretties (Book Two of Uglies) by Scott Westerfeld

Book Two of Uglies
Written by Scott Westerfeld
“My name is Tally Youngblood and my mind is very ugly.”  -- Tally, Pretties, Written by Scott Westerfeld
If you haven't read the first book in this series, Uglies, I strongly suggest you wait to read this review, until after you've read Uglies.  It is almost impossible to write a good review of Pretties without giving away the ending of Uglies, because it begins right where Uglies left off.

Uglies ended with Tally making the decision to be the guinea pig for a new medicine. Maddy, David's mother and a doctor, believed that she had found a way to reverse the effects of these lesions on the Pretties, but she needed someone who was not only willing to take the medicine, but someone who she felt was capable of consenting. If something went wrong or they found the medicine caused unwanted side effects, Maddy would not be able to forgive herself for forcing it on someone who didn't understand the risks. Because Tally felt so extremely guilty for her perceived betrayal of the Smokies and David, she offered to turn herself in to the Specials, and get the surgery. After she was turned Pretty, the Smokies would rescue her and she'd take the cure.

This is one of those rare books that appears so simple on the surface but becomes more and more complex the more you think about it. As you go deeper and deeper into each layer of the story you begin to see just how phenomenal Westerfeld really is. In fact, it's so subtle that I almost missed it altogether in the Uglies. It wasn't until I was reflecting on the story and began writing my review that I finally realized exactly what he was doing. I was delighted when he continued to reveal new levels of depth in some of the characters, as they found their way to greater understanding, in the second book.

One last thing I feel I must mention, because it is usually something that drives me insane, is the use of a particular "lingo" amongst the Pretties. Usually when I'm reading a book and the author uses unfamiliar made-up words I get frustrated really quickly. It tends to make the book unnecessarily complicated and therefore not nearly as much fun to read. I hate feeling like I need a glossary for the made up language just so I can understand what's going on. Once again though, Westerfeld shows his incredible talent as a writer. The Pretties have a whole slew of slang words in their regular vocabulary, but his consistent use of these words, along with his well-constructed sentences make it incredibly easy to understand.

Pretties was every bit as good as Uglies. There were many twists and turns in the plot to keep it interesting. New characters were introduced, and new relationships formed. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next in, Specials.

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Calico Joe
Written by John Grisham

“What if a pitcher intentionally hit a batter, a young star? What if both careers were ruined? And what if they met years later to try to come to grips with what happened in a split second?” --Paul Tracey, Calico Joe, Written by John Grisham

Let me begin by saying I'm not a sports fan, and do not usually read "sports fiction". I occasionally will get swept away in the excitement of a fictional sports team in a movie, think Friday Night Lights or The Mighty Ducks, etc. But I've never really picked up a book whose premise revolved around a sports hero, real or fictionalized. I decided to give this one a shot though, because John Grisham wrote it, and I consider him a pretty superb writer. I figured that if anyone could wow me with baseball, he could.

I can't say I'm disappointed that I took the time to read it. I'll admit that about 95% of the sports terminology, player stats, and game commentary was completely lost on me. I know what a strike, a home run, and walking means in baseball, but that about sums up my knowledge base. So I pretty much zoned out on ALL of the technical stuff.

What did catch and hold my attention was the underlying story of Paul, his father, and Joe. I could tell, right from the beginning, that there was a good story buried behind all the sports mumbo jumbo that went over my head. Grisham has perfect timing as always. He finds a way to weave a story that is stunningly simple, but full of so much complex emotion that it can't help but have a strong impact on you.

I can't say that the book was so phenomenal that I've been convinced that sports fiction is my new favorite genre, but I can admit that I enjoyed the book more than I had anticipated. If you're a John Grisham fan, you ought to give this novel a try. And if you're a sports fan, I think you'd really enjoy it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

City of Ashes (Book Two of the Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes
Book Two of the Mortal Instruments
Written by Cassandra Clare
"It doesn't matter how many time you say it. It'll still be true." (Clary)
"And it doesn't matter what you won't let me say, that'll still be true too." (Jace)
-- City of Ashes, Book Two of The Mortal Instruments, by Cassandra Clare

I want to start out by saying that if you haven't read Book One of The Mortal Instruments, City of Bones, and stop right now, go read that review, and that book, and then come back. There is no way to properly review this book without mentioning things that are a given at the end of City of Bones, and if you haven't read it, this is going to ruin it for you.


It's true, Elizabeth Cook is right; sometimes it takes balls to be a woman. Wow, it was a totally brass move on Cassandra Clare's part to write the ending she wrote on the last book. I thought of this song immediately when I read the ending. I wanted to comment so badly on it in my review of City of Bones, but I refuse to write a spoiler review that can only be safely read after you have already read the book. It defeats the purpose of a review, in my opinion.

City of Ashes starts off, with everyone still pretty shaken up over the startling revelation that Jace and Clary are actually related, closely related, like brother and sister related. The tension between these two is insane throughout the entire book, as they struggle to come to terms with their shared parentage and what it means to their burgeoning relationship. I'm still not quite sure how Clare manages this, but your heart is in your throat and tears come to your eyes as you read, because no matter how "wrong" you think their love is, a part of you desperately wants it to work out for them. You were just as touched by their passionate and intense feelings as they were and, like Jace and Clary; you're not quite ready to let them go.

I liked the complexity of a few of the newly introduced characters like the Inquisitor, Max, and the Lightwoods. Clare reveals more of the intriguing back story on Valentine's Circle, so we're starting to understand him little better. Although there weren't as many surprises in City of Ashes, she did manage to sneak in a few curve balls when I wasn't looking, and still left enough in question ,as the book came to a close, that I'm dying to go grab the next installment. I think that I may have even enjoyed City of Ashes more than City of Bones, which I would not have thought was possible.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

God's Hotel, by Victoria Sweet

God's Hotel
Written by Victoria Sweet
"I marveled, and I was thankful. Laguna Honda was off the radar screen. Tucked away in that tiny office, over the hill and far away from HMOs and insurance companies, I was going to be able to practice medicine the way I'd been taught, the way I'd learned, and the way I wanted." God's Hotel, by Victoria Sweet 

I don't read nearly as many non-fiction books, as I do fiction. But occasionally I will come across a memoir or biography that peaks my interest. Even more rarely, a book about a certain philosophy or psychology will lure me in. When I read the description of God's Hotel, although it was non-fiction, it sounded intriguing. When I found out that I had won the book as a goodreads first read, I happily awaited the books arrival.

Since I work as a medical biller and a provider of medical supplies to patients in long term care nursing homes, I thought it might really help me gain some insight into the lives of the patients I provide for. I also hoped it would allow me to have a better understanding of what it's like for the physicians and all the other nursing home staff. With the seemingly constant changes going on in our industry, anything that can give me a greater clarity into what it's really like on the inside, could only serve to make me better at my job.

God's Hotel is an enlightened look at health care that kept me interested up until the final pages. Despite the fact that I know relatively little about the actual practice of medicine, I didn't find the book to be difficult to read or to understand. Sweet weaves the tale in such a way that even the most confusing medical procedures are simply explained.

I especially enjoyed her PhD research into Hildegard, a "health care practitioner" during the medieval medicine period. Her studies really revealed how modern medicine may have discounted too many of the old ways in favor of newer, but not always better, practices. Overall I felt like I really got a good sense of how medicine has changed since the Middle Ages, and what we can learn from the history of medicine.

The stories of her most unusual, most exciting, and most touching individual medical cases that she saw during her more than 20 years employment at Laguna Honda are fascinating. As a doctor in the admitting ward she saw it all: drug abuse, physical abuse, cancer, AIDS, even diseases so rare they are almost unheard of. Some patient's came there to rehabilitate, but for many, Laguna Honda was where they came to die.

Sweet describes many of the quirky characters she comes into contact with, staff and patient alike. She delves into the personalities of each of these characters with wit and candor. You find yourself actually picturing them, because they invariably remind you of someone you know. Each one has his/her own unique personality, and Sweet is a master of portraying them. You also get the opportunity to see how all the people who crossed her path have impacted her both as a person and as a doctor.

Another great aspect of God's Hotel is when Sweet details her time away from Laguna Honda. The year she took off to do more research into Hildegard’s life and work in Switzerland for her PhD and the time she spent making a three part holy pilgrimage across Europe were just as influential both personally and professionally as the patients and staff had been. It's very interesting to see the differences in her life while she was away and how these journeys change her in ways that help her to become a better doctor.

Victoria Sweet paints a picture of what it was like to work at one of the last almshouses, but more importantly, she paints a picture of what a doctor can do when allowed to practice medicine the way they wanted to.

Stay Close, by Harlan Coben

Stay Close
Written by Harlan Coben

"Maybe he thought...maybe it was time for all of them to move on."--Broome, Stay Close, by Harlan Coben

The first audio book I ever listened to was during a road trip with my best friend and her mother. There is something utterly delicious about riding along in the car, seeing the road pass you by, when you abruptly find yourself transported to a completely different world.

Suddenly the road ceases to exist as the largest part of your conscious becomes so deeply entrenched in the story you're listening to. To this day, I have to admit that thrillers are my favorite genre to experience in audio format. And the car is my favorite place to listen to them.

Before I go into what I enjoyed about this book, I have to take a moment to rave about the actor/writer whose amazing voice was chosen to tell this story, Scott Brick. He was fantastic. He just has that perfect resonance that was ideal for a thriller. Kudos to Scott Brick, the superb voice who made this audio book by Coben that much more intriguing.

This was also my very first experience with a Harlan Coben novel. I only found out about the book because it showed up on the monthly email I get from that details new releases. I read the little blurb and thought it sounded like it might be a fun read. When I saw my local library had it in audio format, I was sold. I requested the next available copy and anxiously awaited it's arrival.
I was not disappointed. Coben does an awesome job of describing his characters. Combining his descriptions with Brick's voice is an award winning combination. This is something that I always look for in a book, but especially when it's a thriller. It's those small hints of personality, those insights into the character's psyche that make them interesting and foreshadow what is to come. Also, it's what makes them seem real. It allows you to love each character for their own uniqueness, and also to question whether or not they could be responsible for some of the horrible acts you're reading about.
Sometimes I find that suspense writers, in an effort to keep the reader in the dark about who the villain is, will weave a story so complicated that it's hard to follow and no fun to read. I don't want to feel the need to buy the cliff notes just to keep track of all the plot points. I loved that this plot was simple to follow through each of the twists and turns, but still compelling enough to keep me interested. I was impressed with Coben's ability to lead me through the story with enough info to make me think I might have figured it out, but leaving enough to be revealed later to keep me just a little unsure. It wasn't until almost the very end, when a few of the final pieces of evidence came to light, that I realized who, if anyone was truly innocent.

I read some of the other reviews who weren't as impressed with Coben as I was. I saw over and over that his previous books were better. I enjoyed Stay Close, and I think I'll have to check out some of his other books as well now. If they are even better, in the opinion of these more harsh critics, they must be absolutely awe-inspiring.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All That Bleeds (Book One of Etherlin), by Kimberly Frost

All That Bleeds
Book One of Etherlin Series
Written by Kimberly Frost
"It's so evil , so wrong to use the gift to hurt someone."  -- Alissa, All That Bleeds, by Kimberly Frost

I was very excited when this Goodreads First Read free signed copy of All That Bleeds showed up at my house after I won the giveaway, especially since Kimberly Frost had even included a personal handwritten note to me.  It was one of those thoughtful touches that we don't normally see enough of, in my opinion.  So I will admit I sat down to read this book with quite a bit of hopeful expectation.

The first thing that got me really animated about this book, was when I realized what the basis of the story was.  I have read so many books, many many of them supernaturally themed, and never had I read a book with a main character who was a muse.  It was so delightfully different and amazing to see a new idea in this genre, something I hadn't seen before.  Anytime an author can give me something different I get really really excited.

Kimberly Frost didn't let me down as the story progressed, either. Not only had she come up with a great premise, but she was obviously a talented writer. Her characters were each unique and interesting. 

The heroine, Alissa, struggles with the themes of right and wrong throughout the story. She has to figure out who she can trust, and who she can't. She also had to determine what choices to make when there is no black or white, but only grey options.  For me, it read like a classic Romeo and Juliet love story, as the man and woman from opposites sides find an unlikely solace with one another despite the fact that the world won't approve or understand their connection.  Is there a path that leads to happiness for all involved, or will any decision she makes hurt someone she cares about? 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Uglies (Book One of Uglies), by Scott Westerfeld

Book One of Uglies
Written by Scott Westerfeld

"Perhaps the logical conclusion of everyone looking the same was everyone thinking the same." -- Tally, Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

I have to say that I was pretty intrigued by this tale. It had received so much praise I was actually pretty skeptical that it would live up to the hype. For the most part, I thought it was pretty wonderful.

In the end I fell head over heels in love with the story, Uglies, and I genuinely liked the characters. The problem I did have with the characters was that I felt that they were incredibly simple. There is something to be said for a character that is straightforward, and I'm not denying that. Sometimes the simplest character has the ability to impact the plot in a way that a more complex character never could, like Charlie for instance, in the beginning of the book Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (If you haven't read this one I definitely recommend it....fascinating book). In this case, I found the simplicity to be a bit of a detriment to the story.

Not one of the characters seemed to have any depth. They were easily swayed by whatever the popular opinion of those around them at the time was. They were, to me, poster children for "If in Rome, do as the Romans do." They were just too intelligible. I found it rather unrealistic. To have had maybe two characters, each of which was staunchly loyal to their own side of the issue, would have been reasonable to me. They would have been the extremist viewpoints by which all of the other characters are judged by. But that wasn't the case in Uglies, at least in my humble opinion.

Here, none of the main characters really came into their own. In fact, I felt this way throughout the story, until it suddenly clicked with me. I wasn't seeing the author's subtle foreshadowing until the very end. Well played, Scott Westerfeld, very well played.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beautiful Chaos (Book Three of Beautiful Creatures), by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Chaos
Book Three of Beautiful Creatures Series
Written by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
"Nobody else could get past the fierce hospitality of the ushers handing out programs.  And even if they did, the preacher would keep on preaching and the choir would keep on singing, because nothing short of the Apocalypse could keep the folks in Gatlin out of church or each other's business." -- Ethan, Beautiful Chaos, by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Chaos is the third book in the Beautiful Creatures Series, also known as the Castor Chronicles.  If you haven't read the books that precede this one, you should go read them before you go any further, because there is no way for me to ensure I don't give away anything from those books in this review.  I didn't review the previous books, but I did give them a 5/5 star rating, so you know they are worth your time. 
I'm not sure how Garcia and Stohl do it, but they manage to write the way I wish I could.  They have such a decisive and rich writing style that it's hard to believe that it comes from a collaboration of two authors.  I'm always hooked right away, from the first few lines, every single time.  I'm not sure how they manage to reel me in that way, but the writing is superb and the story riveting, Beautiful Chaos being no exception to the rule. 

Most books have dry spells that you just have to get through, those dull and boring sections that you have to read anyway, because they contain some really important back story or history that is necessary to the understanding of the big picture, but make you groan as you plod through.  I have never once felt that way when I read any of the Beautiful Creatures novels, over 1500 pages, never a dull moment.  That's something very few authors manage to do.

Alma's Bottle Tree would have looked similar to these Crepe Myrtle Bottle Trees (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Greg Grant)

Garcia and Stohl also weave old voodoo charms and curses with traditional southern superstition and ancient magic beliefs into an effortless story that transforms all three into something uniquely whole.  As members of the different sects come together once again to bring about balance to the Order of Things, there is no shortness of surprising discoveries.  Both the young and the old, the light and the dark, must find a balance before it's too late.  

With the Eighteenth Moon looming ahead of them, no one knows what to expect, least of all Ethan and Lena. One thing they do know is that they are truly living out the "End of Days".

While both sides search for John Breed, the mysterious cross-breed Incubus, things in Gatlin spin wildly out of control.  Beautiful Chaos begins just where Beautiful Darkness left off, with Ethan reminding us how Lena had "broken the world".  No one's magic seems to be unaffected by the strange changes Lena has wrought with her decision to claim herself, rather than choose between Light and Dark. 

I loved this book every bit as much as I loved the last two, and I'm now anxiously awaiting the 4th book, Beautiful Redemption.