Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

I'm currently reading the novel Spring for Susannah by debut author Catherine Richmond. It is SO good--romantic, sweet and very moving (review coming soon.) Today's teaser comes from page 2000 of the Kindle version:

"Now she knew how a prize heifer felt at the county fair. Behind her in the store, Mrs. Rose plowed on at full volume."

What are you reading this week?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Juliet by Anne Fortier

When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a winding and perilous journey into the history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo rocked the foundations of medieval Siena. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems that the only one who can save Julie from her fate is Romeo—but where is he? (summary from cover).

I read a lot of favorable reviews of Juliet when it came out last year, but just got around to reading it. It was the perfect book for traveling--let's just say I didn't want the plane flight to end! I felt like I was on the hunt with Julie as she uncovered clues about her true identity and tried to unravel the tangled legacy of her family and their relationship to an ancient curse.

The format of alternating between the present day and the events of 1340 that led to Shakespeare's famous play kept my interest, and I loved that the characters were all three-dimensional and complex. Both the hero and heroine have things in their past they'd rather not share, and other characters blur the line between good and evil. The relationship between Julie and her twin sister Janice was especially well-written, as they move from being bitter childhood rivals to working together and finally understanding each other better.

Beautiful Siena
Fortier's writing evoked the lush countryside around Siena and made me want to hop on a plan to Italy immediately. The mix of superstition and family loyalty in the Sienese was really interesting, as was the importance of the Palio, a horse race that still takes place today. I wish the author had explained some of the Italian architectural terms she used (like loggia) as I sometimes had trouble visualizing where the scene was taking place, but that was a minor issue with an otherwise engaging book.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars. This is a wonderful book for these last remaining weeks of summer or any time you want to escape into a different place and time. If you love history, mystery or romance (or all three) I would recommend reading Juliet.

Details: 480 pages, published by Ballantine, July 2011
Source: personal copy

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

http://img2.imagesbn.com/images/97050000/97058357.JPGThis week I'm reading Juliet by Anne Fortier. The story is a great mix of history, mystery and romance and I'm anxious to leave work and get back to reading! From page 23:

"The memory of Aunt Rose sitting next to me and in her own sweet way telling me to get a life sent another pang through my heart. Staring glumly through the greasy little airplane window into the void outside, I found myself wondering if perhaps this whole trip was meant as some kind of punishment for how I had treated her."

What are you reading this week?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Faith and Fiction Roundtable: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion (summary from cover).

The Faith and Fiction Roundtable hosted by My Friend Amy recently read and discussed the YA novel Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker, which focused on perennial good girl Lacey's coming-of-age during her church's annual production of a Hell House. I had a hard time relating to Lacey as a character, and her voice never really rang true for me. I also found the characters a little flat and one-dimensional, especially the adults like Lacey's father, the church's children's pastor. However, I appreciated that Walker left Lacey's spiritual journey open-ended at the conclusion of the book. Faith is such a complicated and personal thing, and I think we'll never have all the answers or our doubts fully resolved this side of heaven. This questioning made Small Town Sinners seem much more authentic.

Faith and Fiction

I personally have never been to a Hell House, but I remember being absolutely terrified after hearing about one my friends went to when we were in middle school (one room involved a young girl screaming for her mother and being told she'd never see her again or something to that effect). I appreciated that this book brought up the subject, because I think hell is a topic that many people have differing opinions about and often find hard to comprehend, myself included. Rob Bell's recent book Love Wins caused a stir when it was released because of his interpretation that Hell is caused by bad choices and that God sentencing someone to Hell for rejecting Him goes against His loving nature. I've found a lot of comfort reading the writings of C.S. Lewis and Dr. Tim Keller on the subject, and of course the Bible. The idea of a Hell House being such a big part of a church's outreach and mission was definitely interesting to think about, whatever flaws I may have found with the writing and characters.

Check out some of the other Roundtable members' thoughts: Heather, Amy, Ronnica, Carrie K, WordLily,

Source: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays is a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. To participate, grab the book you're currently reading, open to a random page and share a few sentences (no spoilers!)

I'm in the middle of Surrender the Dawn, the final book in MaryLu Tyndall's Surrender to Destiny series set in Baltimore during the War of 1812. I was so excited to get this book through NetGalley and have been flying through it. From page 671 (of the Kindle version):

"Noah stood to greet him as the butler continued, 'And Mr. Luke Heaton.' Dressed in the same black breeches and leather boots he's been wearing earlier, Mr. Heaton strode into the parlor as if he were the owner of a fleet of ships instead of a lone crumbling heap of wood and tar."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Meghan Gurdon, I Agree With You!

I'm a little late joining in the fray relating to Meghan Cox Gurdon's June 4 article about the state of YA fiction, "Darkness Too Visible," but with the author releasing a follow-up article today, I felt like offering my take on it (for the record, I am not a parent or in the YA demographic, I'm just speaking from my own experience as someone who cares about what the kids in my life are reading.) The original article, where Gurdin argued that "teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is", caused an uproar and spawned the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter, where opponents have written things like "Thank you to my mother 4 respecting me enough as a kid to leave me alone w books & choose 4 myself" and "I find some YA books 2 dark&depressing 2 read myself.My 13-yr-old loves them.Parents don't always know what's good for their kids."

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable, loving family, where reading was encouraged and I didn't have to grow up too fast. I understand that for many teenagers, this is unfortunately not the case, and some may find solace in dark YA literature that mimics their problems. I'm certainly not advocating censoring books with darker themes, or making the generalization that all YA books dealing with tough topics like bullying or rape are bad. I just disagree with the tone that many of these books take, and I'm not sure that it really helps struggling teens to read books where the protagonists are going through cruel and unnatural experiences with sex, alcohol and drugs. As Gurdin says,

"For families, the calculus is less crude than some notion of fictional inputs determining factual outputs; of monkey read, monkey do. It has more to do with a child's happiness and tenderness of heart, with what furnishes the young mind. If there is no frigate like a book, as Emily Dickinson wrote, it's hardly surprising that parents might prefer their teenagers to sail somewhere other than to the lands of rape, substance abuse and mutilation."

The idea of protecting a child's "tenderness of heart" really struck me. When I think of the books that I read as a kid-- the Saddle Club series, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, The Yearling-- I think of learning about friendship, bravery, ingenuity and working to overcome obstacles. That doesn't mean that these books were filled with characters free of trouble or heartache. Harry Potter certainly endured a great deal of sadness and loss, and even the saccharine Nancy Drew lost her mother when she was a baby. But these stories are uplifting and provide the comforting sense that even when things seem darkest, good triumphs and all is right in the world.

The bottom line is that this doesn't seem to be a trend that is going away any time soon. I just glanced over Publisher's Weekly's reviews of upcoming children's novels, and they include books featuring teen pregnancy, a teenage drug addict with no parents, a foster child in a group home, "grisly murders" and a teen "scarred and silent years after a childhood disappearance." That means it is up to parents to take responsibility for what their children read, and determine whether something will enrich their child's understanding of life, with all its good and bad aspects, or whether it only subvert it.

What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. They stole a dozen masterpieces, including one Vermeer, three Rembrandts, and five Degas. But after thousands of leads—and a $5 million reward—none of the paintings have been recovered. 

After the death of famed art detective Harold Smith, reporter Ulrich Boser decided to take up the case. Exploring Smith's unfinished leads, Boser travels deep into the art underworld and comes across a remarkable cast of characters, including a brilliant rock 'n' roll thief, a gangster who professes his innocence in rhyming verse, and the enigmatic late Boston heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner herself (summary from Goodreads).

One of my reading resolutions for 2011 was to read more non-fiction, a genre I normally don't give as much attention to since I find a lot of the books very dry. However, I love a good mystery (especially one involving art theft- it must be due to my early watching of How to Steal A Million with Audrey Hepburn) and it's amazing that after 21 years this case is still unsolved. And with last week's capture of mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, who was suspected of being involved in the theft, this case has been back in the headlines recently. It's always cool when real life intersects with what you're reading at the moment!
The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt
The Gardner Heist introduces a wide range of potential suspects and investigators, from prolific thief Myles Conner and his lawyer Marty Leppo to the Cockney nicknamed "Turbo" who aids in the investigation. Though I occasionally lost track of who was who (especially the law enforcement officers) I enjoyed the way the book was organized, with chapters focusing on certain people and their role in the case and then tying them back into the bigger picture of the theft. It heightened the suspense and helped keep the story moving.

Boser occasionally adopts a grandiose tone with regards to the theft and the importance of the art, and his descriptions sometimes verge on the overly dramatic (one character eats ribs "gnawing each bone as clean as a sun-bleached skeleton"). However, I wasn't at all familiar with the case or the missing paintings before I read The Gardner Heist, but by the end I found myself feeling the loss of the artwork and wishing I could see The Storm on the Sea of Galilee or Vermeer's The Concert in person. 

Chez Tortoni, Manet
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. The Gardner Heist is a readable and interesting account of the theft and the following investigation that offer several compelling theories on who might have taken the priceless paintings. Boser still maintains a website where people can submit tips and find out more information about the case: http://theopencase.com/gardner.

Details: published by HarperCollins, 2009
Source: library copy