Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lost in Time

Lost in Time, by Melissa de la Cruz.

Oliver took a series of naps, but since time was no longer a factor, it was difficult to tell how he was supposed to feel. Was he hungry? He'd had an enormous breakfast, but the transition from the glom had taken a lot out of him. Did they serve lunch in Hell? Should he have packed a snack? Why was he suddenly thinking about food? He felt tired and mixed up; it felt a little like jet lag, which he was still fighting. He hoped Mimi knew where she was going.

Lost in Time is the sixth novel in the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, with the seventh and final book being released in January 2013. I have been a fan of de la Cruz's books for some time, including her Au Pairs series, and I really enjoy these. They are about vampires, but these aren't your typical Twilighters: they have covens, the "glom" (kind of like the spirit world), and, in this book, they must travel into Hell to retrieve one of their own, a former Silver Blood (evil) vampire named Kingsley with whom Mimi Force has a connection. Mimi brings her human Conduit, Oliver Hazard-Perry, but does not tell him that she is going to leave him there in exchange for Kingsley. At the same time, Mimi's "twin brother" Jack Force is in Egypt with his new "wife" Schuyler, hoping for some answers, and they eventually do run into Mimi and Oliver.

I liked this novel a lot, and the cover is gorgeous as well. I'm a little sad that the next book won't be released until January 2013, but in mid-2012, a spinoff novel called Wolf Pack and also the next Witches of East End book, another series by de la Crus, will be in bookstores. Mimi reminds me a bit of Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl, in that she is fierce, determined, and always gets what she wants, but she's angry at Jack for skipping out on being bonded to her (kind of like being married, but they have been bonded throughout the centuries, in all of their past lives). She wants to hunt him down so they can have a "blood trial," or a fight of sorts.

This novel also finally gave us the backstory of Allegra Van Alen, Schuyler's mother who also chose to break her bond and marry a human (Schuyler is half vampire and half human). I'm hoping the next novel sheds more light on her character as well.

4 stars out of 5.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mother Daughter Show

The Mother Daughter Show, by Natalie Wexler.

Besides, the show was for Grace, a gift for her, a gesture of love. Because she really did love Grace, she positively ached with love for her, and lately - the last several years, really - it had been hard to figure out how to show it. Barb had been so consumed with trying to get Grace to do what she wanted her to do - or at least, not to do things that were self-destructive - that there was no room left for a simple hug, a murmured "I love you." Things were at the point where Grace would only be suspicious of such gestures, wondering what new parenting technique her mother was trying out now. But the show - the show would have no strings attached, no hidden agenda. Maybe it could even put their relationship on a whole different footing before Grace left home. Before it was too late. It was a long shot, but you never knew. Of course, it could only happen if they actually manage to get a show together.

This story is told from the points of view of three moms: Barb, Amanda, and Susan. Their daughters are all seniors at the Barton Friends School in D.C., loosely based on the real life Sidwell Friends School, and the tradition each year is to do a "mother daughter show" where the mothers perform skits and songs for the daughters. Each of the aforementioned mothers are having trouble relating and/or communicating with their daughters, and they figure that the show will be a way to show them how much they care about them.

However, each of the moms have different ideas for the show, and when you combine those with the fifty-four other senior moms, there is definitely a difference of opinion. Amanda has been the perfect "stay at home" mom, but due to money problems she is considering going back to work. Her daughter, Kate, is more interested than her iPod and her friends than talking to her mom, and Amanda wants to find a way to remedy that. On the other hand, Susan, one of Amanda's best friends, is super close with her daughter, Allie, but she has a feeling that there's something big that Allie has been keeping from her. Barb's daughter Grace has fallen in love with a 27-year-old Australian man, and she wants to move to Australia with him instead of going to college. All three of the mothers must put together a great show, and hopefully patch things up with their daughters as well.

The book was entertaining, and I would somewhat classify it as "chick lit." Perhaps this is the Grammar Nazi in me, but I think the title should have been hyphenated (The Mother-Daughter Show); I could be wrong on this, though. There were a lot of things in the novel that I liked and some things that I did not. First: the characters are all developed nicely. We can see why these mothers are having trouble with their daughters, and it's not really either side's fault - it's a combination of both. Susan has a corporate job and Amanda wants to get back into the workforce, and this is explored as well. Barb has way too many things on her plate, but is trying to do right by everyone, and it doesn't always work out.

The author's daughter is a graduate of the Sidwell Friends School in D.C., where the Obama children currently attend. In the novel, President MIYAMA'S daughter MARINA attends Barton Friends School, and he is the first Asian-American that has been elected to office. Marina is a minor character but parts of the book focus on how most school events are sold out, since people hope to catch a glimpse of the president or first lady. I feel like Wexler could have been a little more original with this - President Miyama (Obama), the first Asian-American (African-American) president, with a daughter named Marina (Malia)? The names, at least, could have been more original.

Overall, though, The Mother Daughter Show is a fun book, and if you like chick lit you will probably enjoy it. The novel will be in bookstores on December 1, 2011.

*Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Litigators

The Litigators, by John Grisham.

The law firm of Finley & Figg referred to itself as a "boutique firm." This misnomer was inserted as often as possible into routine conversations, and it even appeared in print in some of the various schemes hatched by the partners to solicit business. When used properly, it implied that Finley & Figg was something above your average two-bit operation. Boutique, as in pretty cool and chic, right down to the Frenchness of the word itself. Boutique, as in throroughly happy to be small, selective, and prosperous.

Except for its size, it was none of these things.

The Litigators is the newest novel by John Grisham, one of my favorite legal authors, and of course I had to read it. I was lucky enough to win a copy of it from his Facebook page, but since I perpetually have a large stack of books sitting on my desk, I am just now getting to read it.

David Zinc is a well-paid, overworked associate at the large Chicago firm of Rogan Rothberg. One day, he has a mini-breakdown and decides that he has had it with the firm, and drinks himself into a stupor. He somehow ends up on Finley & Figg's front porch, and they take him in for the day. He bargains with them to let him work there, and they give him a small room (attic, really) upstairs. When Finley & Figg weasel themselves into a lawsuit about Krayoxx, a drug that is supposed to control cholesterol but that some people think is causing deaths instead, David is third string on the case; due to various factors, however, he ends up sitting first chair, and even though he has no trial experience, he must somehow find a way to persevere.

The book was great, as are all of Grisham's, although the ending was a little different than some of his others. I believe I read once that Grisham himself used to be a lawyer, which is probably why is books are so accurate and detailed. If you are a fan of Grisham's or you like law/legal books in general, this is a fantastic choice, and I look forward to his next novel.

4 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Leftovers

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta.

They hunkered down for a couple of weeks, just the four of them, watching DVDs and playing board games, anything to distract themselves from the hysterical monotony of the TV news - the obsessive repetition of the same few basic facts, the ever-rising tally of the missing, interview upon interview with traumatized eyewitnesses, who said things like He was standing right next to me ... , or I just turned around for a second ..., before their voices trailed off into embarrassed little chuckles. The coverage felt different from that of September 11th, when the networks had shown the burning towers over and over. October 14th was more amorphous, harder to pin down: There were massive highway pileups, some train wrecks, numerous small-plane and helicopter crashes - luckily, no big passenger jets went down in the United States, although several had to be landed by terrified co-pilots, and one by a flight attendant who'd become a folk hero for a little while, one bright spot in a sea of darkness - but the media was never able to settle upon a single visual image to evoke the catastrophe. There also weren't any bad guys to hate, which made everything that much harder to get into focus.

This book definitely brought up some interesting ideas. On October 14th, in what some are calling "The Rapture," people's friends and families just vanished. One minute they were there; the next, they were not. Devout Christians were angry that they were not among the Chosen, and others are baffled as to the reasons why some were chosen. Most people lost 1 family member, or maybe 1 friend; Nora Durst, however, lost her whole family, her two kids and husband. Kevin Garvey, Maplewood's mayor, lost his wife, but in a different way: she goes to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult-like group who wears all white, takes a vow of silence, and makes their presence around Maplewood known. His son, Tom, goes back to college, but soon drops out and falls in with a "prophet" of sort, Holy Wayne. His daughter, Jill, has slipping grades and frequently skips her high school classes. Nothing is the same as it was before, and people want an explanation for the events of October 14th; unfortunately, there is no concrete answer to give.

Tom Perrotta has written numerous other novels, including Little Children, which was a great book that got turned into a film, and I like his writing a lot. The focus of the book is more on the people "left behind," and how October 14th affected them, rather than the events itself, and it is here in which the prose excels. The concept was interesting as well - how would you feel if some of the population just randomly disappeared? - and juxtaposes that against the setting of what used to be a normal, small-town community.

3.5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it's not open for business. Not just yet.

I read a review of The Night Circus in People magazine and was intrigued by it, so I put myself on the waitlist at my local library for it and just now have received it. It is Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, and as another reviewer online said: "The hype is justified." Imagine Water for Elephants but fifty times better, with more mystery and intrigue surrounding its characters.

Celia and Marco have been each others' opponents since they were very little, but neither of them knew that they were opponents; they only realize it after they finally do meet, and fall in love. The circus is the venue for this challenge, and whomever loses the challenge will die. It is a challenge that Celia's father and Marco's teacher of sorts bound them to when they were very little, neither of them really knowing what it meant at the time, and this sort of challenge has been done before. But for others, such as Bailey, Le Cirque due Reves is a magical apparition, opening only at night, and they wait for it patiently to come back to their home towns as it travels the world and back again.

The whole idea of the "challenge" was interesting, as was the circus, but the real story is that of the circus's players and the "magic" upon them. With the exception of the Murray Twins, no one has really aged in the 16 years or so that the book encompasses, and although this is disconcerting, the players tend not to think about it. What is also interesting is how Celia and Marco struggle with the challenge - not because they are not talented, but because they are against it, and wish to stop the game, but physically cannot, as they are magically bound to compete in it.

Ms. Morgenstern's age is not listed online, though she appears to be 21 or 22 (which makes the 24-year-old me super lazy for not writing a novel yet ...), and I hope to see more from this new talent.

4 stars out of 5.

-Edit: the author is actually 33! Wow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

She Can Run

She Can Run, by Melinda Leigh.

He'd known her casually for a long time. Why hadn't he noticed how pretty she was before? Not beuatiful, just wholesome and fresh-faced. He handed her a twenty. "You look nice this morning."

Dropping hear head shyly, she blushed and handed over his change. "You have a good day."

"I will. Thanks." He exited the diner with a new spring in his step.

Mary Ann was lovely.

He wondered how loudly she could scream.

This is another full-on "romance" book, but I enjoyed it more than In Her Sights, which I recently reviewed, as it focused more on the mystery/thriller story rather than the romance (though there was plenty of romance as well).

Elizabeth (Beth) Baker has run away from her crazy politician husband, Richard, and is on the run with her kids and a new identity. Her uncle sets up a job for her in a rural town, as a caretaker of an estate, but when she arrives two weeks later, the old man whom she was supposed to be employed by has died. His nephew, Jack O'Malley, agrees to hire her, since he still needs a caretaker, and soon finds himself attracted to her. He knows that something is wrong with her and her kids, though, and wants to find out what it is.

There were definitely some sexual scenes in this novel but I enjoyed the mystery and thriller part of it a lot, even though I figured out who the Riverside Killer was just based on process of elimination. The characters in the novel feel very real, and Melinda Leigh does a good job at creating believable situations and scenes.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book to review. It will be in stores on November 22, 2011.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Narrows Gate

Narrows Gate, by Jim Fusilli.

Still stunned and confused, Benno was struck by the weighty silence in the apartment. He could've used some noise to block his thoughts. Every week there were funerals at St. Francis. You heard the bells in the classroom, you could smell the incense, then here comes the casket. People died; old, young, sick, accidents, killed tripping and falling under trolley wheels. It happens. You shrug when you heard that the crew chained up a guy and threw him off a bridge, blew another guy's brains out the top of his head. After a while you thought it's nothing, somebody dying. But it ain't nothing.

Narrows Gate is a mob story that takes place during the time of World War II and beyond, and it reminded me a lot of The Godfather except with more characters with different personalities. There are so many characters, in fact, that the author makes a list of them at the beginning of the book, which is helpful in writing this review.

The main character is Bill "Bebe" Marsala, who grows up in Narrows Gate. His mother Hennie hears him singing one day, and realizes he has a gift. The Narrows Gate mob decides they are going to promote him, and he will sing in their joints. Soon, though, Bebe wants more exposure, and he ends up traveling all over the country to perform.

The other story going on at the same time is that of the mob itself and also of the friendship between Leo Bell and Sal Benno. Bell and Benno grow up together, but soon go their separate ways; Benno ends up working for the Narrows Gate mob as a driver and delivery boy, and Bell joins the FBI (or what it was called before it was the FBI), and soon they are investigating the mob. Bell says he will help them but tells them not to pull Benno in for questioning.

The story spans over a few years and we follow these boys from their youth in Narrows Gate until their 20s or 30s, I believe. Bebe marries Rosa, a girl he grew up with, but is fooling around with Eleanor Ree, a famous actress, on the side, and Bebe and Rosa eventually divorce, though they have a son (Bill Jr.) together. There are two distinct mob families that have a grudge against each other, and even though the list at the beginning helped, it was still a little confusing as to who belonged to which family.

The book would make a great movie a la The Godfather, in my opinion. The novel is published by Amazon Encore, which says "identifies exceptional yet overlooekd books and works with the authors to introduce or re-introduce their books to readers," which leads me to believe that Narrows Gate has been published before in the past. I liked the book overall, my chief complaint being its length (about 575 pages), but the story was definitely interesting. Jim Fusilli grew up in Hoboken, apparently, and "learned about the mob as a kid through hearing stories in the neighborhood, and later, from his work as a Teamster." He said:

"Hoboken was a rough town back then and I was a teamster when I was in college. The guys I worked with told stories of their childhood, which is the era in much of which the action of Narrows Gate takes place. They gave me a sense of what it was like."

I haven't read a ton of mob books, but out of the ones I have read, this ranks among the best, if you can get past the long page count.

Narrows Gate will be in bookstores on November 15th.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was given an Advance Readers Copy of this book to review. The opinions listed, however, are my own.

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