Thursday, June 25, 2015

Undead and Unwary

Book 19 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from March 6 - 10

Undead and Unwary by MaryJanice Davidson
Book 13 of the Undead series

Summary (via the book jacket)
First: kill Satan. Second: reorganize Hell. Sounded simple enough back then, but for Betsy Taylor, managing "down below" isn't as easy as she'd hoped - even if she is doing it with her sister, Laura, a bona-fide Antichrist. So yes, Betsy has been shirking her hellish responsibilities, but she's been just so darn busy these days. And she's not just yanking Laura's chain. There's a brand-new baby drama involving a pair of uncanny (okay, terrifying) toddler twins, an upcoming birthday party that has to be planned, and, are you ready for it? Betsy's dad - once so very dead - has been spotted in downtown St. Paul.
It's enough to send Betsy fleeing to Hell, if only for some quiet time with Laura. But while there, in addition to meeting old acquaintances, Betsy discovers that death can be just as complicated as life.
Now, despite all the chaos, Betsy's friends rally around, helping her to handle all this fire and brimstone jazz. As for Betsy's sister and dad - they have their own surprises in store for the vampire queen. And jolt by jolt, Betsy will discover that there's nothing as heartwarming as family. Yeah, like Hell.

My Opinion
What's up with this series????  I actually checked to make sure I hadn't missed a book because this was so foreign to me.  It's like it was rushed and trying too hard.  Not only has the series gone completely off-course but there were some silly editing mistakes too; at least 3 times something was talked about and then repeated as if brand new information a few pages later.

I've been very disappointed in the last few books of the series.  I hope she gets back to the fun of the beginning very soon.  Please don't make this a "Stephanie Plum, dragging it on and on until nobody likes it any more" kind of thing! 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"So my husband could be scampering in the snow almost anywhere...which meant that I was on my own when it came to solving the mystery of Jessica's weirdness. Well, on my own besides the cop, the zombie, and the other vampire I lived with."

"I think in a lot of ways that's the worst thing about being a vampire: I am doing things I know are disgusting and/or wrong and can't stop. Or won't stop."

"She was right. It wasn't fair. I was old enough to know that fair wasn't a guarantee, and young enough to want to keep trying anyway."

"That's how you know that people who love you, I think. When they know helping you is a terrible idea, and they want to do it anyway."

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Book 18 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from March 3 - 6

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Summary (via Goodreads)
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town's most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept "separate but equal."
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

My Opinion
Five star read.  It obviously affected me because I woke up sweaty and screaming from a dream I had about this book.

This is definitely on the higher side of YA because of the language and the themes.  When I first started reading I worried about the ambition of the author to tackle 2 taboo subjects but it was compelling and interesting.  It was intense and I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach the entire time I was reading, just waiting for the outcome.

Little details, like how each chapter title was a lie, added to the experience.  I also liked how the shifts in perspective were handled; it was nice not to have a 'back and forth' format.  And there wasn't a 'good' side and a 'bad' side, there were no caricatures.  Everyone has a little good and bad in them, and both sides have lies they tell themselves.  

The positive little moments and stands the characters take are believable, there's no huge 'kumbaya' moment.  The negative little moments are believable too, where one sentence can change so much.  

Interestingly for me, I felt worse watching the racism through Linda's eyes than I did living it through Sarah's.  

A word of advice: take a break before part 4 because once you start, you won't move again until the book is done.

A Few Quotes from the Book
" "Remember what to do when it gets hard," she says. "Take your worries to the Lord. Have faith. He's watching over all of you."
   I nod. Mama's right, or course.
   But I can't help wondering why the Lord has to watch over us from so far away."

"Someone has to show Sarah she's wrong.
  I may not be important enough to fix integration, but I can fix her."

" "People have always cared about [skin color]," Sarah says. "They've just cared in different ways. Sometimes it means the history books get written differently. Sometimes it means a war gets fought. Sometimes it means people wind up slaves. That's why I like History so much. It makes you think about those things." "

"I can't give up. That wouldn't be the honorable thing to do. Her path ahead couldn't be clearer. All I have to do is show her the way.
 Except that I'm starting to feel a little lost myself."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saving Grace

Book 17 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from March 2 - 3

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Summary (via Goodreads)
Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.  To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

My Opinion
The pages turned easily but I only thought the book was okay, not great. 

The moral of this book seems to be "trust your gut".  There were plenty of red flags with the assistant (and stupid Ted for getting caught up in it) that were overlooked.  

I know the frustration of having a partner who is lovely and wonderful in public and the complete opposite in private, making it virtually impossible to have anyone understand why you would leave (although not to the extent that Grace does, thankfully).  The unpredictability is very stressful and I had a lot of empathy for her, although I was very angry with her when she was blaming herself.

There were some small editing issues.  One was referring to their 'children' when they only have one - maybe there had been multiple children in an earlier draft.  Also, Grace was described as having her "hair scraped under an old hat" and then her "hair scraped back in a bun" a few pages later; not a huge deal but the phrase was strange enough that I noticed when it was repeated again so quickly.

I skipped the recipes, as I always do (just a personal preference), and I also skimmed the part where she went on a soapbox regarding medications for psych disorders.

A Quote from the Book
"The more perfect the illusion, the more her secrets will recede. Or so she thinks.
  If she just keeps running and running, keeps being the perfect wife, mother, cook, the past will surely disappear."

At the Water's Edge

Book 16 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Feb. 9 - March 2

I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and would like to thank the author and/or the publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it.

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

Summary (via Goodreads)
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

My Opinion
It started strongly, there was a little part in the middle where I felt it was time to get on with something, and the ending was crazy but I kept thinking about it; the book didn't feel over to me.

There was lots of flipping between dates but it really captured the feeling of the times.  Maddie frustrated me a little because I had figured something out about another character pretty early on and was waiting for her to catch up but overall, the characters were very compelling and there were plenty of surprises to keep the pages turning.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"And so, because of my husband's war with his father and their insane obsession with a mythical monster, we'd crossed the Atlantic at the very same time a real madman, a real monster, was attempting to take over the world for his own reasons of ego and pride.
  I would have given anything to go back two weeks, to the beginning of the New Year's party, and script the whole thing differently."

"Mass killings were described right next to information about laxatives [in the newspaper]. Cities were bombed, men slaughtered each other in knee-deep mud, civilians were blown to pieces from stepping on mines, but horses still spooked, people still went to the cinema, and women still worried about their schoolgirl complexions. I couldn't decide if this made me understand the world better or meant I'd never fathom it at all."

Monday, June 15, 2015

This Book is Overdue!

Book 15 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Feb. 3 - 25

This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All 
by Marilyn Johnson

Summary (via Goodreads)
Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of papers and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians! They want to help. They're not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession. 
This Book is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the cliches and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children's librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protesters; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.
Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us - neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled - can get along without human help. And not just any help - we need librarians, who won't charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?

My Opinion 
The author did a lot of research and I was interested while reading but this definitely skewed more 'non-fiction that reads like a textbook' than 'non-fiction that reads like a story but happens to be true' for me.  If you have a large interest in library work (not just libraries), you'll find the book informative.  If you don't, this isn't a book to casually pick up.

To fit with the hodgepodge style and myriad of topics covered, here are some of my hodgepodge reactions...

I loved the random little libraries and archives, like the American Kennel Club Library.  I wish there had been more stories like those.

As part of her research she read librarian blogs.  The posts about poop - every librarian has a poop story! - and "signs we never thought we'd need to make" (Iguanas are not allowed in the building) had me nodding.  I wish there had been more stories like those.  I have some stories from my time in the stacks...based on what I had hoped this book would be, I might be better off just checking out the blogs she referenced.

I'm a research gal at heart and the tidbit on how the OCLC was named was a 'fun fact' I filed away. I would also like to visit the Internet Archive and the September 11th Digital Archive; I hadn't heard of either of these resources before.  

The difference in libraries and how they embrace technology was interesting.  I had no idea there was a whole world on Second Life for librarians to gather.  And that the librarians like to virtually party at TX950, named for the Library of Congress call number for clubs and bars?  Haha, classic.

A Few Quotes from the Book

"A library is a place to go for a reality check, a bracing dose of literature, or a "true reflection of our history," whether it's a brick-and-mortar building constructed a century ago or a fanciful arrangement of computer codes. The librarian is the organizer, the animating spirit behind it, and the navigator. Her job is to create order out of the confusion of the past, even as she enables us to blast into the future."

"Librarians are essential players in the information revolution because they level that field. They enable those without money or education to read and learn the same thing as the billionaire and the Ph.D."

"In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste."

"We'll always need a place for the originals of the Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence (handwritten by Jefferson), and the yizkor memorial books, all that's left of various Jewish communities erased over the years, from the First Crusade in the thirteenth century to the Holocaust. We'll always need printed books that don't mutate the way digital books do; we'll always need places to display books, auditoriums for book talks, circles for story time; we'll always need brick-and-mortar libraries."

"[Librarians] would be whatever they needed to be that day: information professionals, teachers, police, community organizers, computer technicians, historians, confidantes, clerks, social workers, storytellers, or, in this case, guardians of my peace."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Top Secret Twenty-One

Book 14 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Feb. 8 - 9

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich
book 21 of the Stephanie Plum series

Summary (via Goodreads)
Trenton, New Jersey’s favorite used-car dealer, Jimmy Poletti, was caught selling a lot more than used cars out of his dealerships. Now he’s out on bail and has missed his date in court, and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is looking to bring him in. Leads are quickly turning into dead ends, and all too frequently into dead bodies. Even Joe Morelli, the city’s hottest cop, is struggling to find a clue to the suspected killer’s whereabouts. These are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures. So Stephanie is going to have to do something she really doesn’t want to do: protect former hospital security guard and general pain in her behind Randy Briggs. Briggs was picking up quick cash as Poletti’s bookkeeper and knows all his boss’s dirty secrets. Now Briggs is next on Poletti’s list of people to put six feet under.
To top things off, Ranger—resident security expert and Stephanie’s greatest temptation—has been the target of an assassination plot. He’s dodged the bullet this time, but if Ranger wants to survive the next attempt on his life, he’ll have to enlist Stephanie’s help and reveal a bit more of his mysterious past.
Death threats, highly trained assassins, highly untrained assassins, and Stark Street being overrun by a pack of feral Chihuahuas are all in a day’s work for Stephanie Plum. The real challenge is dealing with her Grandma Mazur’s wild bucket list. A boob job and getting revenge on Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella can barely hold a candle to what’s number one on the list—but that’s top secret.

My Opinion
I keep reading because I'm incapable of giving up but at least it was a quick read.  

My general unhappiness with the series remains.  I'm tired of coincidences, the guy literally ran into her and she didn't get him, and there's a standard formula anyone who's read more than 3 of the books will be able to predict (the crazy animal sidebar in this story is a group of demon Chihuahuas).  On top of that, I didn't like the central mystery in this case.

I gave it two stars because even though I didn't like it, it didn't make me angry like my (rare) one-starred books do.  I'll continue to read the series, checked out from the library so I don't have to pay, but I hope the series wraps up soon.  With a choice of men already!

Quote from the Book
"I stepped inside, took Morelli's gun out of my messenger bag, and crept up the stairs, feeling like an idiot. I had eight Chihuahuas and a gun in my hand. Could it get any more ridiculous?"

I Shall Be Near To You

Book 13 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Feb. 6 - 8

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

Summary (via Goodreads)
Rosetta doesn't want her new husband Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father's side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.
With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta's strong will clashes with Jeremiah's while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future, and for their lives.
Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near to You is the intimate story, in Rosetta's powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman's amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life's challenges side by side.

My Opinion
As the summary states, this book was inspired by truth and it's a fascinating concept.  I kept hearing the song from "Mulan" as I read, haha.  

The book isn't deep but it's intriguing and the pages pass quickly.  However, there were some plot holes and ridiculous choices that took away some of the enjoyment for me, and I found the ending to be very abrupt.

Iffy execution of an excellent topic led me to rate this squarely in the middle. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"I am a different kind of woman now, a wife who knows what war really is."

"Our dream is still shining off there in the distance, and that is enough of a star to pull me through this black night, as long as I don't count the cost of it."