Monday, April 29, 2013

To Tame a Highland Warrior

To Tame a Highland Warrior by Karen Marie Moning

I downloaded the audiobook from the public library's OverDrive service.

My review:

The second in KMM's Highlander series, To Tame a Highland Warrior is exactly what it says on the tin-- a bodice-busting romance set in 1500's Scotland with an impossibly hunky kilted lead. Do not look for historical accuracy here, and do not even expect a great deal of internal integrity. There are no egregious contradictions, but it just does not bear a whole lot of scrutiny. Be prepared to suspend a lot of disbelief and enjoy it for what it is: a hot and heavy romantic fantasy.

The plot line is basically The Bachelorette set in a Scottish castle. Beautiful maiden refuses to wed, Da thinks it's time and sets her up with three guys. He tells her to pick one by the time he gets back from a trip.

Enjoy it for what it is-- sugary, sexy brain-candy. Karen Marie Moning was clearly still developing her voice as an author in the early stages of this series, and I anticipate that the later installments will start showing more of the dark brilliance that characterizes her Fever books.

Stars: 3

Runability: 4

Phil Gigante reads the male parts for most of the audio editions of Moning's work, and he is very talented. His falsettos are a little grating, but his male characters' voices are spot-on. There was enough lighthearted action to keep this one (and me) moving along during a run.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster

I downloaded a free ebook copy from Project Gutenberg.

My review:

This is E.M. Forster's first novel, though he is better known for A Room With a View. I only remember that novel vaguely, having experienced it during a whirlwind semester of literature classes when I was reading well upwards of a hundred pages of classics a day. Since that book had made little impression on me, I wasn't sure what to expect from Angels. The description made it sound frothy and quick, however, which suited my mood perfectly.

I don't normally care for books where each character is vaguely ridiculous and annoying, but I did like this one very much. I rolled my eyes at each and every person, and I was able to sit back in my smug superiority and watch the comedy of errors and manners unfold. Forster creates realistic and flawed people, and then he has events unfold precisely as you would expect them to in real life-- not resolved beautifully and not an utter disaster, but somewhere in between. Cultures clash, heads butt, and I had an enjoyable read.

Stars: 4

I may go back and re-read A Room With a View this summer, and I will certainly make a point of reading some of Forster's other works in the future.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First, There is a River

First, There is a River by Kathy Steffen

I got a free ebook copy a couple of years ago as a Barnes & Noble Free Fridays promotion.

My review:

The story could have been intriguing but the writing was mediocre and the characterization was flat. Most of the characters and the relationships between them seemed to be pulled straight from psychology and social work textbooks. There were also just too many "issues" incorporated into such a brief novel: PTSD, domestic abuse, serial killing, alcoholism, child abuse, religious fanaticism, racism, and the importance of education.

The action did pick up toward the end of the book, but not enough to redeem the work. If I were you, I wouldn't waste my time.

Stars: 1.5

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

I downloaded the audiobook from LibriVox.

My review:

The Scarlet Pimpernel is such an odd title that I never had a great desire to read it. A girl who lived across the hall from me in college once told me that it was really good, though, and she didn't strike me as a big reader, so I concluded that it must be an engaging story. I was right.

I did tire of the word "inane," but other than that, I have no complaints about the book at all. The story is quick and the action is exciting; the heroine has her faults but is also brave and doesn't sit around to be rescued. She goes off to do the rescuing! And, of course, everyone is rich and gorgeous, which never hurts.

The nationalism and racism are characteristic of the time and place, and some of the characters do actually end up paying for their snobbery.

Rating: 5 stars

Runability: 4 stars

LibriVox is a wonderful source for free audiobooks of classics that are in the public domain (typically, this means works that were published prior to 1923). The reading and recording quality can be a mixed bag, and I find it disconcerting to have a different person read each chapter. Some works, however, have been read entirely by one reader, and I look for those. I was VERY impressed by Karen Savage's reading, to which I linked above. I just found out that, in addition to volunteering her talents for LibriVox, she also records audiobooks professionally. I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity to get a free copy of a great book narrated by a talented reader.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I borrowed a hardback copy from the public library.

My review:

Apparently Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) has described this as "one of the big burst-of-oxygen books this year." I will give it this: It definitely has a fresh style and perspective. When eighth-grader Bee brings home a perfect report card from her private school in Seattle, her mom and dad agree to reward her with a family trip to Antarctica. Unfortunately, "Mom" is not fond of people or of confined spaces that aren't the family's rambling, falling-apart home. Bernadette vanishes into thin air and Bee pieces together what happened from emails, notes, and transcripts.

The cast of characters all get to tell their own version of the story through this narration device, which lends the book most of its novelty and charm. We get each person's read on the situation and, more importantly, their justification (and rationalization!) for their actions and responses. This is a tricky way to tell a cohesive story, but Semple pulls it off pretty well. The reader does have to suspend disbelief that all of these people are so very verbose in all of their private correspondence, and the writing styles of all of the characters are virtually identical. Still, each character's perspective is unique enough to mostly make up for those deficiencies.

The end was a little unsatisfying somehow, but not surprisingly so. The development of the characters throughout the story made it almost inevitable, but I still found the wrap-up a little disappointing. It is, however, a fitting end to a breezy, lighthearted contemporary mystery.

My stars: 3

Objective stars: 3.5

Most descriptions of this book claim that Bernadette has "severe agoraphobia." I am no psychologist, but I am an introvert, and I think that labeling Bernadette agoraphobic is painting it pretty thick. If I had enough money to hole up in an Airstream trailer in my huge backyard and not deal with annoying people most of the time, I might do it, too. Especially if I were trying to escape some unwelcome notoriety. I posit that Bernadette is simply a garden-variety misanthropist who has the luxury of indulging in her preferences.

I had a hard time with this book because I think I identified a little too much with Bernadette, actually. I disliked some characters more than I was probably intended to. The book was supposed to be humorous and I can't say that I laughed once. I've also just never cared for the "document library" style of narration. Therefore I am giving this one a slightly higher "true rating" than my own enjoyment merited.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fools Rush In

Fools Rush In by Janice Thompson

I got a free ebook copy through Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago.

My review, originally published... like... a year and a half ago?

I am no fan of romance books, [2013 note... at the time!] but this one struck me as exceptionally bad. There was hardly anything in the background or storyline that I found plausible (I mean, really, how hard can it possibly be to find a country-western deejay in Texas?). If the phrase "boot-scootin'" had been used one more time, I think I would have thrown my Nook across the room. I could hardly force myself through all of the forced, hokey references to the love interest's rural Texas background.

As a Christian, I felt like this book is more likely to turn non-believers against Christianity than it is to win anyone over. Why would any thinking person want to join a group of people who are apparently so dense that they (SPOILER ALERT!) believe that fainting means that you died and then were miraculously resurrected by prayer (Which happened twice. TWICE.). The unmarried female characters with the exception of Aunt Rosa are absolutely desperate to find men, and the two-week courtship is portrayed as a "God-thing." I guess the title should have given that part away.

Stars: 1.5, the 0.5 being for the lack of typographical and grammatical errors

I stumbled across this old review while organizing my LibraryThing books. I keep seeing this book on freebie and/or Christian reads sites and every time I look at the reviews for it I am baffled that so many people think it is good. I am re-posting my review here as a public service. Save yourself from this horrible book. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Front Porch Prophet

The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

I received a free ebook copy from Barnes & Noble several years ago as one of their Free Fridays selections.

My review:

From the summary, this book sounded bizarre-- perhaps a little too bizarre. After a few pages, however, the novel reveals itself for the set-down-and-stay-a-spell piece of southern literary fiction that it is. Atkins follows the piercing, scathing, touching tradition of southern writers such as Mark Twain and Michael Malone, a compliment that I do not give lightly.

Atkins takes tragedy and the absurdity of everyday life and reveals more about each through the foil of the other. A.J. and Eugene and their small town of family, friends, and foes struggle through every challenge that life can throw at them: job loss, adultery, addiction, death of family, and finally a terminal illness. Circumstances may be tragic and futile, but Atkins will not allow his characters or his readers to sink under them. There is always hope to be found. And, thanks to Atkin's brilliant prose and incorporation of the ridiculous, there is a lot to laugh at, too.

I never expected to laugh out loud through a novel about a man dying of cancer, but I did. The loosely-connected yarns are the contemporary descendent of Jim Blaine's story about his grandfather's ram. For everyone who has ever been a member of a slow-moving, deep-breathing, tight-knit community, and for everyone who wishes that they were, this book will be a delight.

Stars: 5

Friday, April 5, 2013


Divergent by Veronica Roth

I downloaded the audiobook from the public library's OverDrive service.

My review:

This dystopian young-adult novel is told by 16-year-old Beatrice as she learns a startling fact about herself-- that she is "divergent," or not well-aligned with any of the five "factions" that make up her society. This is a dangerous way to be, so Beatrice has some choices to make as she picks a faction and attempts to assimilate.

Divergent will appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, though there is more kissing and the direct cause of the action is much less grim. The narration is in first-person present-tense, which helps to convey a sense of urgency but may weary those who are not frequent YA readers.

While the world that Roth creates does not have much glaring inconsistency, it still requires the reader to suspend a lot of disbelief. The basic premise of the society is interesting but will not bear much scrutiny, and the crescendo of action in the latter portion of the book really breaks down. Major players are one-dimensional, the technology that makes the conflict possible is not very plausible, and the solutions are too quick and too pat.

Still, the book is entertaining and most readers will be able to forgive the rushed and less-than-believable ending for the sake of the parts that precede it if they are able to suspend their disbelief in this model for a dystopian society.

Stars: 3

Runability: 4

There is a lot of action in Divergent, and the world is not as bleak as the one Katniss has to face in The Hunger Games, to which it will inevitably be compared. The action made this a good running companion, and Emma Galvin does a great job with the reading. I liked that the romance arc was present but not overwhelming; most teenage relationships in YA make me want to gag, which is why I am hesitant to read most YA. I had this one loaded onto my Zune for ages and ages, however, and couldn't put it off any longer. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, perhaps because my expectations were set so low.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Amazon, Goodreads, and me

Goodreads was recently acquired by Amazon.

This has prompted me to rethink my (passionate) relationship with Goodreads. I am not a fan of Amazon. I was, years ago, but Amazon has gotten too big, is too proprietary with its digital content and hardware devices, has sketchy privacy and censorship practices, and is strong-arming libraries and publishers into deals they don't like.

When I linked to books and book summaries from this blog, I linked to the Goodreads page because I wanted to support reading, not any particular book vendor. I have my own favorite book businesses, but I wanted any potential readers to make their decisions starting from a vendor-neutral book profile. 

I will be a Barnes & Noble girl until the grim and bitter end, which at this point is probably inevitable. Not because B&N is necessarily so virtuous (though it has a better track record as a partner to readers, communities, and especially to libraries), but because as an avid reader who also works in a book-related industry, I refuse to help the Amazon monster win. I do not want to live in a world where I only have one source for purchasing my new books, and the trajectory Amazon is on will take us there before too long. I dread the day when Amazon truly gets to call all of the shots.

LibraryThing is partially owned by Amazon, as well, but it's a relatively small slice of the pie (at least according to its founder and majority stakeholder). Shelfari is another option, but it is owned by Amazon and I haven't heard good things about it, anyway.

Right now LibraryThing is offering one-year memberships for free to encourage Goodreads refugees to try them out. Even on a regular day, they let you choose the exact amount that you want to pay for a membership; the typical donation for a lifetime membership is $25, but you can choose to pay as little as $19. Right now I am trying LibraryThing out and am pleasantly surprised by how much it has improved over the last several years. If I continue to be favorably impressed, I will make the switch permanently and delete my Goodreads account. We'll see.

A Shot of Sultry

A Shot of Sultry by Macy Beckett (Sultry Springs #2)

I purchased the ebook from Barnes & Noble.

My review:

A desperate LA documentary filmmaker whose career is in tatters goes back to her childhood home in Texas to make a reality show called Sex in the Sticks. Things get delightfully complicated with her brother's best friend, who also just happens to be one of the two eligible bachelors she's following around with her camera crew. Trey has promised his buddy that he'll keep Bobbi out of trouble... and himself out of her shorts. Good luck with that, Trey.

I got some out-loud laughs out of this one, as well as a nice afternoon escape to a Texas summer. I loved the first Sultry Springs book and really enjoyed getting to know Trey and his backstory better. Macy Beckett writes a sweet and steamy romance but grounds it all in realistic characters with realistic issues. I love the supporting cast of Sultry Springs-- Judge Bea, Aunt Pru, Pastor McAdams (I think?)-- and will be looking forward to Surrender to Sultry, due to be released on August 1st.

Stars: 4