Friday, June 28, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

I borrowed the hardback from my local public library.

My review:

Fifteen-year-old Theadora is humiliated, outraged, and angry when her family packs her off to a girls' camp/school in North Carolina in the summer of 1930. After a sheltered life in rural Florida, Thea is plunged into culture shock when she must live in a cabin and take all of her classes, riding lessons, and meals with other privileged girls.

While Thea is 15/16 in the book, Yonahlossee is not a young-adult book. It falls into the category somewhat pretentiously known as "coming-of-age novels," but it captures the transition from childhood to the world of adulthood much more succinctly and compellingly than many works that are thus described.

The writing is excellent, the setting drawn in gorgeous detail, and the narrative device of flipping back and forth in time before and after "the incident" builds the tension perfectly. While the Act that got Thea sent away from home will not take much deducing, it is clear that there is more to the story. The need to know the whole truth intensifies as the book progresses. The progressive revelations about the past are neatly paired with developments in Thea's present at camp, illuminating her reasons for acting as she did in each situation and highlighting her development into a woman.

Recommended for adult female readers looking for a little depth along with the scandal in their summer reading. 

Stars: 5

It was easy for me to relate to Thea; I, too, grew up in a very isolated home and spent no meaningful time with boys outside my family. I spent hours and hours at the barn and on horseback when I was a young teen. I also went to Girl Scout camp faithfully (often horse camp) and worked at one for an entire summer. The transition to communal living and learning with other students was a shock when I went to college. So the external circumstances were ones that I understood better than the average reader may.

While Thea's drives will garner a lot of head nods from women remembering their own teen years, the way she handles them will raise a lot of eyebrows. Her choices are often scandalous, but what I found most unsettling was how she ultimately makes peace with the consequences. It's a book that doesn't quite let you go when you put it down.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

My review:

MacKayla Lane is 22, pretty, and planning on spending most of her summer poolside in her small-town Georgia home. She likes nail polish, happy pop music, and Coronas on the beach while scoping out the guys. Then her sister is horrifically murdered while studying abroad in Dublin and Mac gets sucked into a dark supernatural world that she had no idea existed.

Darkfever is positively brilliant. Dark and light, control and chaos, play off of each other as Mac digs deeper into the confusion and secrets around her. The fantasy world is devilishly complex and so are most of the characters. But the true delight of Darkfever is Mac herself. By turns sweet and sunny or dark and determined, she narrates her story with pitch-perfect wordplay and piercing gallows humor.

Joyce Bean captures MacKayla's voice perfectly. She does an admirable job with the variety of supporting characters, many of whom have challenging accents. Bean's portrayal of Mac's sweet southern narration drips with wit and determination and makes this audio production a treat for listeners.

Stars: 5

Runability: 5

Darkfever was actually a re-listen for me. I found it a couple of years ago and fell head over heels for it and the rest of KMM's Fever series. Darkfever begins in early July, and the first time I listened to it was also in summer, so something about this time of year and my mood made it impossible not to revisit one of my favorites.

I've placed a hold on the CD version of the next in the series, and I think I may work my way back through all of the Fever books on audio over the next few months. Mac's world is so detailed and she learns so much about it throughout the course of her story that I know it will reward another "reading."

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I was given a used paperback copy by a coworker.

My review:

An "epic novel of the Great Depression," The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family and the thousands of families like them. After losing their Oklahoma farm in the Dust Bowl, the Joads strike out West, following the promise of work harvesting in the lush fields and orchards of California.

Steinbeck's writing is brilliant-- absolutely brilliant. His command of language is amazing and his descriptions will put the reader in the truck, in the dusty field, in the leaky tent, like almost no other author's work can manage to do. The characters are believable and lifelike, and his understanding of human psychology and how families live and work together is deep.

Steinbeck's message is clear: Capitalism has failed these thousands of hard-working, honest people, and the "reds" who are brutalized by the police are clearly his heroes.

Stars: 2

Objective stars: 4.5

My low rating is because I really didn't enjoy reading Grapes very much, due to the depressing nature of the story. I deliberately waited to read this novel until the middle of summer, when the long days, hot weather, and more relaxed schedule make me resilient to discouragement. It is not a book I could have endured in February.

Of course, many of these events actually happened. People did starve to death. Children were malnourished. Families lost the land that they had cultivated for generations. Ignoring these facts of history is not the answer... But it doesn't make for "enjoyable" reading for me, either.

Also, while Steinbeck makes a case for his position, he fails to acknowledge that these thousands of honest, hard-working, self-policing people were they way they were because they had been raised in environments where hard work would be rewarded and laziness would not. The world of this book is a sickening breakdown of that system, but his salt-of-the-earth people had always had a strong incentive to work and they carried that attitude into their current circumstances. His communist utopia would only be possible if it were peopled by citizens who had been raised outside of it.

I recommend also reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged as a counterbalance.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Highlander's Touch

The Highlander's Touch (Highlander Saga #3) by Karen Marie Moning

My review:

I have little to say that I didn't say in Wednesday's post. This is the third book in the series, and it is definitely my favorite thus far. Most readers feel that this series improves as it goes, and you can definitely tell that KMM was developing as an author as she wrote these books.

In this book, Moning returns to the idea of a modern woman being transported to middle-ages Scotland. Until the last couple of chapters, I felt that the concepts of the time and culture clashes were addressed very well. The ending wasn't what I expected but was satisfying in its own way.

Stars: 4

Runability: 5

This one was great to run to! The first two books in the series were fine, but this one was really good. While it is a "series," you could definitely jump right in with Touch instead of reading/listening to the first two without missing anything important.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Running update

I finally have something to talk about when it comes to running!

Next Friday I will be doing a 5-mile evening race in the neighboring town. I've been training for it using the 10k training program from, which is kicking my butt, as usual. The good part is that after the tempo and intervals runs every week, a steady run seems like hardly any effort at all, so I know that I'll be prepared to run a strong race.

In more exciting news, I've also registered for the Cleveland half-marathon next May! An internet friend of mine has become a runner over the last couple of years and I've loved following her progress. She's ready to tackle her first half and I offered to do it with her.

Though I won't begin actually training until February, I'm already very excited to have another half in my sights. I'm also glad that it's nearly a year away so I have the summer and fall to focus on life and work responsibilities.

I have a feeling that I'll be working my way through a LOT of audiobooks next spring!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Audiobook Week: Friday

Today's prompt:

"Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us! We’d particularly love to know what narrators or publishers are active in social media or do a great job communicating with listeners."

I wish I had a good answer, at least to the first question. I've learned about many good ones through my online book discussion message board; it used to be at and then many of us migrated away to a site on ProBoards. That's where I learned about Nora Roberts' Bridal Quartet, Karen Moning's Fever series, and a few more. I started picking up on patterns and a few production companies and narrators I liked, and I would search for more works by them.

As to where I buy my audiobooks, I try not to. They are expensive. I used to download almost all of my audiobooks through OverDrive from either my local library system or the Free Library of Philadelphia (as a PA resident whose local library is in the PA Access program, I can get a free card to any other participating public library in the state). Sadly, now that Brilliance Audio has pulled its titles, I will probably have to find an alternative way to get my fix.

I'll still borrow what I can through OverDrive, check my local library for titles they may have on CD, and hit up LibriVox for free recordings of classics. I purchase some titles used on CD from Better World Books. I'm considering a couple of CD rental services (Simply Audiobooks and Audiotogo, similar to the Netflix disc program, for the near future.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Scent of Rain

The Scent of Rain by Kristin Billerbeck

I bought the ebook when it was discounted through Barnes & Noble.

My review:

Daphne is left at the altar on her wedding day and has to figure out where to go from there. Her new job as the "nose," or professional scent expert, for a cleaning products company gets exponentially more difficult when her sense of smell vanishes in her emotional turmoil.

Kristin Billerbeck writes Christian chick-lit deftly. Daphne and the supporting characters are realistic people in relate-able situations. The Christians in Billerbeck's books are real Christians; they struggle and doubt and make mistakes and say things they shouldn't and receive encouragement from others. They try to hold to principles but thankfully don't veer into being rigid or obnoxious.

Scent of Rain is less "chick-lit-y" than the other Billerbeck novels I've read, and by that I mean that there is less focus on clothes and other "frivolous" lifestyle details. There is a love story, but the focus is on a young woman learning more about herself, which I believe is actually the best characteristic of good chick-lit.

The ending was compressed a little, in a manner reminiscent of Billerbeck's She's Out of Control, but the novel is still satisfyingly substantial and should be enjoyable for fans of the genre.

Stars: 4

Audiobook Week: Thursday

So, you know, what the heck, I'll just jump on in halfway through the week. Why not?

Today's question:

"What do you do while you listen? Any particular tasks or games that you find amazing for audio time?"

Well, obviously, I run while I listen to audiobooks! I also listen on my commute; I drive just over half an hour each way to work. Those are the two main activities that I combine with my listening.

I also listen to audiobooks while cleaning the house, working in the yard, and folding laundry. This summer I am also able to listen sometimes at work; we are doing collection maintenance that requires a lot of mindless physical tasks.

Occasionally I will listen while I knit. 

I have never tried playing games and probably won't. Audiobooks are how I sweeten tasks that need to get done. If I have leisure time, I'll be using it to actually read.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Audiobook Week Mid-Week Meme

I saw this floating around the blogosphere and decided to pretend to be a real blog and participate. :)


Current/most recent audiobook:

The Highlander's Touch by Karen Marie Moning, narrated by Phil Gigante


As I work my way into this series (Touch is #3 in the Highlander Saga), I agree with the general consensus that they get better. You can really sense KMM developing her voice and confidence as a writer. Phil Gigante is a really great narrator for her books, though his Scottish accent isn't quite perfect and I will forever prefer him as Barrons.

Current/most recent favorite audiobook:

My favorite recent audiobook is Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) and read by Susan Ericksen.

I also really, really loved Karen Savage's reading of The Scarlet Pimpernel for LibriVox. And it's freely available for the downloading!

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently:

I really enjoyed David Stuart's readings of Sea Swept and Rising Tides. Unfortunately it doesn't look like he is a very prolific audiobook narrator. These aren't recent discoveries, but I do love Scott Brick and Edward Hermann as readers.

One title from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist:

I should be beginning The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson shortly. He's always a hoot.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Amazon and audiobooks

I'm not sure where I was in January when OverDrive announced that Brilliance Audio was going to "suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors." I didn't notice anything until I returned from my vacation and sat down to place a hold on the next books in a couple of series that I enjoy as audio downloads.

All of the audio versions of books in several of my favorite series (the Fever and Highlander series by Karen Marie Moning, the In Death books by J.D. Robb, ANYTHING by Nora Roberts) had completely disappeared from the OverDrive systems of both my local public library and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Why did this happen? As the article I link to above explains, Amazon owns Brilliance Audio (I did not know this). Amazon also owns Audible (I did know that).

Quite simply, Amazon doesn't want you to be able to download its content from the library because they want you to PAY to download it from them. It makes good business sense for Amazon, but it hurts the reader/listener and it hurts libraries.

This is another example of just why I dislike Amazon so much. Yes, things are better for the consumer, the indie author, etc. in the short term if they buy into Amazon's format ecosystems. But Amazon is constructing its deals in such a way that you can go through them OR you can go through everyone else, but you can't do both. What happens when they have managed to squash the competition?

What happens if our only avenue to acquire books is through Amazon?

I don't want to live in that world.

Support your local bookstores. Support indie authors who choose to e-publish through non-Kindle platforms. Buy a Nook or a Kobo or a Sony Reader or an Acer tablet, for the love of all that is good, not a Kindle. The more we buy into Amazon for some short-term convenience, the more we surrender our long-term choices.

*     *     *     *

So, practically speaking... What am I going to do about this whole mess? 

I'm not completely sure yet. There are, of course, lots of non-Brilliance Audio audiobooks that are still available through OverDrive. I will also probably spend more time over at LibriVox, boning up on my classics. 

I don't think that I am quite prepared to give up some of the series that I am listening to and loving as audio productions. If my local library has a Brilliance Audio CD copy of a book I want, I will borrow that, though they aren't often available. I am considering subscribing to Simply Audiobooks or Audio To Go, both of which offer CD-renting services, much like the Netflix disc plan. These options would still send money to Amazon, of course, but far less than purchasing the download through Audible would. They would also keep the costs down to where I might be able to afford my audiobook habit, which without library loans could easily become an expensive one.

Rising Tides

Rising Tides by Nora Roberts

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

My review:

Rising Tides is the second installment of Nora Roberts' Quinn Brothers of Chesapeake Bay series (see my review of Sea Swept, the first book, here). This book focuses on Ethan, the waterman brother who never left home and who keeps his past and his feelings closely wrapped underneath an implacable surface.

Ethan was my favorite brother in Sea Swept and Rising Tides was more enjoyable for me because of that. The setting played an even larger role this time, and Grace was a more believable love interest than Anna. The story was also more realistic, since the characters had years of friendship to build upon and the reader isn't expected to buy an instant-forever-love connection.

Seth develops more throughout this book and is becoming a full character in his own right. Cam and Anna played good supporting roles (particularly Cam; Anna still bothers me). Philip hardly appeared at all, which I found odd since the next book will focus on him.

Stars: 4

Runability: 5

I got to listen to parts of this book while running along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach and smelling the ocean-- perfect! David Stuart has done a wonderful job with the narration of these two stories. Sadly, he does not do the reading for Inner Harbor and the previous edition of that is being superseded by one that is going to be released on July 2, 2013. I will be listening to the new reading of that one. I'm not sure why a different narrator was chosen in the first place, or why that reading is being replaced now, but I hope to have a good experience with Inner Harbor despite my extreme apathy to Philip.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Busting Vega$

Busting Vegas: The MIT Whiz Kid Who Brought the Casinos to Their Knees by Ben Mezrich

I bought the ebook when it was discounted at Barnes & Noble.

My review:

Card-counting MIT students hit the national radar when the movie 21 was released several years ago, and this story is something of a sequel to that one. While the math geniuses in Busting Vegas don't count cards, they have discovered a handful of techniques to manipulate when the blackjack dealer will "bust," or lose the hand and pay out to the players.

This story is an odd mash-up of math, relationships between the team members, and descriptions of the seedier sides of Vegas and the casinos in other cities around the world. There are multiple "story lines" going at once, none of which is particularly strong and all of which resurface and intertwine jerkily. The individual events are compelling, but the reader will probably feel detached from the action and the characters.

Good for a light read for those who have a passing interest in gambling or in the darker sides of power and wealth. 

Stars: 3

I found Semyon Dukach's afterword bizarre. He tries to persuade the readers that he and his team weren't so much in it for the money as they were striking a blow at evil, greedy casinos on behalf of the "little guys". He compares their actions to those of Robin Hood (as Mezrich also does at various points in the book itself). What he fails to acknowledge is that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor. The MIT team was not giving their gains away to anyone; they bought planes and bespoke suits and lived the lives of high-rollers. And to paint the casinos as thieves is, I think, putting it on pretty thick. While the casinos undoubtedly make a killing, every gambler walking in the door has heard that "the house always wins".

While the team's actions may not have been illegal or even quite unethical, to say that they were noble or unselfish is a transparent and pathetic attempt at self-justification.

Being Kendra

Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails, & Getting My Sexy Back by Kendra Wilkinson

I purchased the ebook when it was discounted through Barnes & Noble.

My review:

You don't pick up a book by Kendra Wilkinson expecting anything great in the sense of quality content OR literary merit. But if you go in with expectations of nothing more than a trashy tell-all, you may be surprised to find that it's not as bad as you thought.

I grabbed a copy of her first memoir, Sliding Into Home, a couple of years ago when a copy was donated at my workplace for the book sale. I wouldn't have paid money for it, but I couldn't resist finding out just how bad it was. While it was bad, and horrifying in parts, I did get some chuckles and found myself oddly respecting Kendra for some of her choices (SOME!!!).

Jared Shapiro must know his business, because the book is readable but the tone is all busy young woman; it doesn't read as ghost-written. I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at the writing and filming of "reality" shows and what it's like to prep for and attend a red-carpet event in Hollywood.

She talks a lot about her legions of "fans" and never hesitates to give advice on parenting, marriage, finances, nutrition, exercise, cell phone usage, or anything else. I did roll my eyes a lot. But for an easy, trashy, guilty-pleasure beach read, it was fun enough and worth my two bucks.

Stars: 2

The Art Forger

The Art Forger by Barbara A. Shapiro

I downloaded the ebook from my local public library's 3M collection.

My review:

An artist who has been blacklisted in the Boston art scene makes a living creating reproductions of famous paintings and is approached by a gallery owner who has a tempting proposal. The problem is that what he is suggesting is not exactly on the up-and-up, but it does pay well and it's not illegal... exactly... Claire doesn't think.

While some of the art-talk verges on tedious for those not into the fine art scene, Shapiro manages to pull the novel back from the edge every time it ventures on boredom. The ethical dilemmas, Claire's love life, and the emerging mystery are enough to hold a reader's interest. The writing is also detailed and deft; the book almost crosses into literary fiction, though not quite.

Stars: 4

My book club previously read An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (yes, the actor) and I was worried that this was going to be a repeat of that: passages of long-winded discussions of art and forgery techniques that made my eyes glaze over just like a finished oil painting. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying this one very much and think others with only a passing knowledge of art will be able to enjoy it, too.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Secret Life of a Vampire

Secret Life of a Vampire by Kerrelyn Sparks (Love at Stake series #6)

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

My review:

I'm gradually working my way through this series. I got the first book (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire) as a Nook freebie several years ago and was hooked by the way these books totally OWN their cheesiness. They're romances featuring modern-day vampires (who are all impossibly gorgeous, of course). They're rich. They're kind. They're impossibly strong. They teleport. They're touchingly tortured with guilt. Most of them are sweetly awkward with women. Yes, some of them are Scottish warriors who wear kilts. I mean, let's just tackle all of the fantasies at once, shall we? These books are ridiculous, they know it, and they revel in it. And so do I.

This installment follows the literal son of Casanova as he meets a modern-day NYC cop who is hoping that she can get promoted to detective. It's formulaic if you've read the previous books in the series, but enjoyable, nonetheless. I just love how the author writes flirtation; the verbal sparring between the love interests is always the highlight of these books for me.

Stars: 2.5

I'll round up to 3. It was fun, but I didn't laugh out loud as many times as I have with the previous five books. I've heard that the series gets increasingly formulaic, but I'm going to give it another couple of tries before I can decide whether to abandon this guilty pleasure for good.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


We were on vacation last week. While this

was pretty good for my reading progress, it wasn't so great for my reviewing.

I'll be working my way through:

Secret Life of a Vampire
The Art Forger
Being Kendra
and hopefully soon Busting Vega$

as soon as I can. As you can see, I keep it classy and highbrow when I'm at the beach.

Stay tuned.