Tuesday, January 31, 2012

(13)Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob

Publication Date: January 31, 2012

Pages: 432

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber has seen a lot in his twenty plus years in a Massachusetts courtroom.  It is a typical Spring morning when he is called to the scene of a homicide.  But this time it is a young boy who was found stabbed to death in the park.  He does not realize it at the time, but the young boy is a classmate of his fourteen year old son, Jacob.

It is not long before Andy is pulled off of the case and his son, Jacob, becomes the prime suspect.  Even though his marriage starts to unravel and his career is halted, Andy is adamant that there is no way his fourteen year old son is a cold blooded killer, and he will stop at nothing to clear his son's name and get their life back.

Okay with that synopsis you would expect Defending Jacob to be your typical procedural courtroom drama kind of book.  And it is.  Until it becomes more.  I honestly had to talk myself out of giving up on this book.  It was a bit dry in a lot of the areas and I found myself disliking Jacob, in that way that I dislike a lot of teen boys, (LOL) as the story went on.  But I knew that critics such as Kirkus and Publishers Weekly were giving it such great reviews that I wanted to stick with it to find out what was so great.  And I am soooooooo glad that I did.  The twist at the end left me speechless.  Think about the twist in There's Something About Kevin and magnify it exponentially and you have the shock I felt at the end of Defending Jacob.

The author has written characters as real as you will find in a novel such as this one.  Jacob appears to be your typical teenager caught up in things such as Facebook and his iPod, oblivious to the world around him and the consequences his actions may have. Andy is your typical suburban Father who goes to work, comes home, and spends very little quality time with his son, but still believes that he could do no wrong.  Laurie is almost your typical suburban Mom, but the difference between her and her husband is that she has spent time with Jacob, and she has the nagging fear in the back of her heart that it is possible he is guilty of what he is accused.  They dysfunctional family dynamic is not new to the Barber family, but this generation of  Barbers,  takes dysfunction to a whole new level.

Bottom line - this is a must read for anyone who loves a good legal thriller.  Or anyone who loves a book with a shocking ending.  I know you will probably want to put it in the "Did Not Finish" pile about the halfway point in the book, but really, you must stick with this one.  The reward is great and you will thank me for it later.

Monday, January 30, 2012

(12)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Publication Date: January 28, 1987
Pages: 309

If my title of "Last person on the planet to read The Help" is questionable, I most certainly can claim the title as "The Last Person on the Planet to Read Harry Potter."  My Step-Daughter asked us to get the movies to watch and since I was looking for something new to watch on the treadmill, I decided to it was high time to read/watch Harry Potter.

Since I only spend an hour at a time on the treadmill, it took me longer to watch the movie than it did to read the book.  If you don't know, Harry Potter, is the story of a young boy who discovers on his eleventh birthday that he is a Wizard who goes off to school to study witchcraft and wizardry.

I think I was more impressed with the cinematic beauty of the movie than I was with the actual book.  I do think that, at least with the first book, that the movie stuck pretty close to the story-line of the book.  J.K Rowling's words truly come to life in the movie.  It was quite impressive.  Do I think the book is the "greatest story ever told" - not yet.  But it is only book one.  Ask me again when I finish the series.

Have you read the Harry Potter series?  What was your favorite book in the series and do you think the movies stay true to the books?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

(11) Point, Click, Love by Molly Shapiro

Point, Click, Love

Publication Date: December 20, 2011
Pages: 272 

I love it when an Author sets their novel in an area I am familiar with - like Kansas City.  With several friends and family still living there, I consider it to be "home".

I did not know much about Point, Click, Love before I started reading.  It is about four women living in the Kansas City suburbs, Johnson County to be exact, who finds the Internet playing a part in how they define love and happiness. Maxine, Claudia, Katie, and Annie are four friends who are at different places in their lives romantically.  They all have the Internet to thank for their current state in life.  Annie is desperate to have a child and takes to the internet to find a sperm donor. Katie is recently divorced and finds herself taking to dating websites in hopes of finding a worthy mate.  Maxine finds herself getting lost in the gossip websites in hopes of forgetting that her marriage is than perfect.  And Claudia. Claudia finds herself blaming her husband's addiction to Facebook for her own affair with a coworker. As these four friends navigate the Internet in search of happiness they start to learn some hard truths about themselves and how they define happiness.

I enjoyed this book mostly because of the Kansas City references.  Although the author pretty much stuck to the Plaza area and JOCO,(When I lived on the Missouri side suburbs & in the Northland) there were still a lot of references that made me long for my home.  The stately homes in the Brookside area and Boulevard Wheat (good luck finding it on tap in Utah) to name just a couple. Plus the fact that I spent I spent my dating years in Kansas City (and OH BOY can I relate to poor Katie) really made this book a relate-able one for me.  I will be honest that I found it hard to like some of the characters all of the time.  Their choices and actions were a bit distasteful, but unfortunately not all that uncommon.

Overall, Point, Click, Love is a good Chick Lit book.  Obviously I loved it because of it's setting, but it is also one of those books where the author does a good job of presenting several different several different ways ones life (and love) could be impacted by the Internet.  But the bottom line is,as these four ladies find out, finding love and happiness is just not as easy as pointing and clicking.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

(10)Half-Assed by Jennette Fulda


Publication Date: April 29, 2008
Pages: 300

After reading Kate Rockland's, 150 Pounds, I got to thinking about Weight Loss bloggers and the inspiration and motivation they provide for people like me who are struggling to lose the weight.  I started poking around Google (thank God for Google) and found several success stories.

Jennette Fulda's journey has been, I don't want to say completed (this type of journey is NEVER really completed), but I will say successful for several years  now.  She shared her story with the world in 2008 in the form of her book, Half-Assed.

Jennette was just in her early twenties when she reached her boiling point.  The point where she was done being fat and was ready to be skinny.  Even though she thought about Weight Loss Surgery, she did it the old fashioned way. Diet and Exercise.  And in two years she lost close to 200 pounds.  Think about that for a minute.   TWO HUNDRED POUNDS.  Some of us (not me, but I wish) are 200 pounds and Jennette lost an ENTIRE you!!  Just by changing her diet and starting to exercise.  If that is not inspiring I have no idea what inspiring looks like.

Jennette takes us through her childhood and we get to see what her world looked like when she started putting on the weight.  She shares some of those embarrassing moments that overweight people have in common.  And she shares with us those moments when she decided to JUST DO IT, all the while keeping her sense of humor and desire to succeed.  As I struggle with my New Years Resolution I need stories like Jennette's to keep me motivated. I have thought about starting a weight loss blog myself, but I am just not ready to put it all out there.  Yet.   But you will be the first to know when (if) it happens.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

(9)The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

The Way We Fall

Publication Date: January 24, 2012
Pages: 320

I don't know why I have been so fascinated by the "end of the world" type novels, but for some reason they strike a chord with me.   Next up is The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe.

Sixteen year old Kaelyn lives with her family on an island that just used to be their vacation home.  Then her biologist father discovered that her brother, Drew, is gay.  He moved them out of the city and back to the island so fast their heads were spinning.  Life is going okay when people on the island start getting sick. It starts as a tickle in the throat, but soon people are dying from this disease that is spreading fast and has no cure.  It isn't long before the Government has quarantined the island and cut them off from the outside world.  Kaelyn is desparate to keep her family safe.  But soon her mother becomes a victim of the deadly disease and then Kaelyn feels the dreaded itch...

The Way We Fall is a Young Adult novel about a family, an island, cut off from the world.  With her Dad busy trying to find a cure and then her mom getting sick, Kaelyn is left to her own devices.  The Way We Fall is a fast read full of "What if's..."   I enjoyed seeing what Kaelyn did to help her father find a cure. The Way We Fall is pretty tame as far as Dystopian novels go, but it was still enjoyable if you like that type of novel.

Monday, January 23, 2012

(8)Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours

Publication Date: January 24, 2012
Pages: 384

Man, sometimes there is nothing better than some literary brain candy. Nothing strenuous, no high drama, just fluff. Nothing fits that bill better than a Romance novel!

Beth Hansen is a wanderer.  She never sticks around for very long in any one city.  Roaming form city to city, not really in search of anything, yet not really running from anything.  Putting down roots has always terrified her for some reason and so she sticks to her wandering ways.  She picks up whatever jobs she can find and right now she is working for somewhat of a douche. (Pardon my language.) Derek is a skeevy kind of guy who makes up excuses to get Beth to the local sports bar in hopes of taking advantage of her.  It has become a bit of a pattern where he gets drunk and makes inappropriate advances and the next day they pretend it never happened.  Until the night that bar owner Kevin Kowalski steps in and gets her fired.  That incident sets off a chain of events that will force Beth to reconsider her wandering ways.  Will the Kowalski clan show her that roots can be a good thing?  Or will they permanently scare her off, ruining the best thing that has ever happened to Kevin?

Undeniably Yours was a fast read, even at 384 pages.  The author has a way of  making the story flow so fast that you just whip right through the pages.  Kevin & Beth are an unlikely couple, but when together their chemistry just radiates off the pages.  I also really enjoyed the subplots of Paulie and Sam and of course the Kowalski family.  When you put it all together you have a well written Romance novel. Shannon Stacey is a fairly new author on the Romance scene, but from what I can tell by Undeniably Yours, she will be around for quite some time to come.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

(7)150 Pounds by Kate Rockland

150 Pounds

Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Pages: 336

So, here we are 2012.  A New Year usually means "RESOLUTIONS" (I capped it to indicate how scary that word is to me).  I am no different than millions of other women who have deciding that losing weight is their New Years Resolution.  As a local television ad says, 2012 is the LAST year losing weight is going to be my New Years Resolution.  I have been working out daily and logging my food religiously.  (and have only lost four pounds on the 20th day of the month. *sigh*)

Anyway, when I read the synopsis for 150 Pounds, I knew that it was a must read for me.  150 Pounds is the story of two bloggers.  There is Shoshona, author of the Fat and Fabulous blog.  Weighing in at over 200 pounds, Shoshona's blog is meant to help women be comfortable in their skin at any size.  She firmly believes that dieting is evil and that women should eat what they want, in moderation.   Then there is Alexis, author of the Skinny Chick blog.  She weighs in at a slim 105 pounds.  She has maintains her weight with a strict regiment of diet and exercise, looking down on anyone who is the slightest bit overweight, especially her  counterpart, Shoshona.  They live in two separate worlds.  Shoshona is the life of the party surrounded by family and friends, while Alexis lives a fairly solitude kind of life where her only friends are her gay BFF, Billy and her personal trainer at the gym.

The two of them meet head to head at a filming of Oprah.  There is no other way to say it than Alexis is a bitch to Shoshona.  She deals verbal low-blows that would knock even the strongest of women to their knees.  But Shoshona hangs on.  They both go home and life happens.  Alexis gets pregnant and Shoshona inherits an Apple Orchard.  And soon their worlds are turned upside down as Alexis gains weight, as pregnant women will do,  and Shoshona loses weight with all of the hard-work required with an Apple Orchard.  Will the two of them finally gain an understanding of what it is like to walk in the other person's shoes and become friends or will their bitter feud continue?

150 Pounds is an absolute must read for any woman who has struggled with body image. The cover may  look fluffy and this book may be a Chick Lit novel, but the message is an important one that many of us tend to forget.  It may sound a bit cliche, but it is so very true, it doesn't matter how much weight you gain or lose, all that matters is who you are on the inside.

Friday, January 20, 2012

(6)The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

The Baker's Daughter

Publication Date: January 24, 2012
Pages: 304

It has been nearly seventy years since the end of World War II.  Many movies have been made and many books have been written about the atrocities that took place during the War, yet I still find myself horrified while reading novels such as The Baker's Daughter.

The Baker's Daughter takes place in two different eras in two different worlds.  Elsie Schmidt is a young and naive seventeen year old girl in 1945 Germany.  She has been invited to attend a Christmas celebration with an officer or Hitler's army, a young man who has been courting Elsie for some time. She thinks nothing of this gentleman, but is eager for her first taste of champagne.  Sheltered herself, from the atrocities of the war, Elsie gets her first real taste of what the war really means when she finds herself rescuing the young Jewish boy who sang at dinner from being forced to return to the Camps.  Her act of kindness that night changes the course of her life in ways that she never thought possible.

Flash forward sixty years to Texas and you will find Elsie and her daughter Jane running a bakery using the same recipes that Elsie's family used in their bakery all of those years ago.  A young reporter enters their bakery looking to interview Elsie for a piece she is doing on cultural Christmas traditions.  But as Elsie tells her story to Reba, Reba learns far more about love and loss than she ever thought possible.  Will Elsie's tale help Reba decide which way to go with her own relationship?

The Baker's Daughter has the potential of being one of  the most talked about book at book clubs all over the country.  But I will warn you that Reba's story line is not nearly as compelling as Elsie's.  There were even times where I wondered if the author was trying to make a comparison between Hitler's Gestapo and the present day Border Patrol, but I talked myself out of that theory.  It is just not a comparison that I am comfortable with, so I will say it was just me reading way too much into the story.  Bottom line, I think this is a  book that you must not miss out on reading.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

(5) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help

Publication Date: February 10, 2009
Pages: 544

I know, I know, I am the last person on the planet to read The Help.  I have been holding on to a copy of this book for more than three years, yet for some reason resisted actually reading the book.  I started watching the movie last week when I was on the treadmill and loved it so much that I pulled the book out of my library and read all 544 pages in two days.

In case you are unaware of what The Help is about, it is about a young woman fresh out of college,  Eugenia.  Or Skeeter as she is known to her family and friends.  She has spent four years away at Ole Miss and it could be said that she has he head in the sand regarding the race relations in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi.  She starts to settle back into the social routine of Bridge Club and luncheons.  It is there that she starts thinking about the injustices that are forced upon The Help.  In this example, Skeeter's best friend, Miss Hilly, forces her maid to use a special restroom built specifically for her outside of the house.  This gets Skeeter thinking about the maid who practically raised her and she decides that she wants to write a book featuring The Help and what it is like for them to practically raise the children of white families only to have them become their employers.

It is with great trepidation that Skeeter enlists the help of Abileen and her friend Minny to help her write the book that they know will make an impact on the people of Jackson, regardless of their color.  Over the next year as tensions rise in the South, Skeeter hears story after unbelievable story from Abileen and her friends.  Will they be able to get their book published without being discovered?  And in the process Skeeter discovers great truths about herself and her family.

The Help is one of those game changing novels.  This is a novel that will likely be read by generation after generation.  It is told from the viewpoint of Skeeter, Minny, and Abileen.  So you don't just get Skeeter's naive view of things.  In fact getting all three viewpoints only highlights Skeeter's naivete.  The movie did stay very close to the book.  In fact I recognized several lines from the movie as I read the book.  The adaptation was nearly flawless.  There were *some* scenes that had been tweaked a bit from the book, but not anything that changed the core story.

My bottom line, if you have not read this book you must.  Then you must run out and rent the movie.  You will be thankful you did, I promise.

Monday, January 16, 2012

(4)Carrie Goes Off the Map by Phillipa Ashley

Carrie Goes Off The Map

Publication Date: December 1, 2011
Pages: 384

Carrie is just weeks away from her wedding to longtime beau, Huw.  She is excited to finally be starting their "official" life together when he breaks the news that he does not want to marry her.  Of course she is devastated.  She spends the next few months in that pit of despair that all women experience when they are dumped.  Her dear friend decides that enough is enough and takes her out for a night on the town, where Carrie mistakenly overhears two girls talking about a wedding they will be attending.  Huw's wedding.

Carrie does what any scorned woman would do in that situation and crashes the wedding. After making a spectacle of herself and trashing the flowers at the wedding, Carrie retreats once again into herself. Until once again her friend pulls her out with the promise of a roadtrip in an old VW van.  They will travel Europe and have a carefree summer to forget, until the plans change and Carrie's travel partner turns out to be a very handsome, very single Doctor.  Will her plans for a carefree summer get thrown out the window or will she find a new leading character for her love story?

Carrie Goes Off the Map was the first novel that I have read by Phillipa Ashley.  It is a Chick Lit novel set in the UK, which are usually my absolute most favorite.  Carrie Goes Off the Map while a bit long in parts, was a decent read.  I thought the British slang was fun to read, but might be a bit confusing to some readers.  Overall Carrie Goes Off the Map was a fun escape from my mundane life, worth the read if you are looking for a Chick Lit book to read.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

(3)The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson

The Underside of Joy

Publication Date: January 12, 2012
Pages: 320

Thanks to Walt Disney Step-Mom's have gotten a bad rap for decades.  The "Wicked Stepmother" character has played such an integral role in so many Disney Movies that even to this day people,women have to battle the Disney stereotype when they marry a man with children.

In The Underside of Joy, new author, Sere Prince Halverson tackles those stereotypes in a most magnificent way. Ella Beene meets Joe shortly after his wife has left him alone with two small children.  It is not long before  Ella loves Zach and Annie as much as she loves their father.  She has easily slipped into the role of  "Mommy" and could not possibly love the children any more if they were her own.   Their fairy tale is playing out nicely until one tragic day when Joe dies unexpectedly, leaving Ella, the children, and their large extended Italian family shell shocked.  It gets even worse when the kids "Mama" shows up and expects to regain custody of the children.  Who should have custody of these two lovely children, the "Mama" who left them or the "Mommy" who has been raising them as her own?

There are not enough words to describe how much I enjoyed this book.   I am a Stepmother, a fairly new Stepmother, but a Stepmother nonetheless.  I have a Stepmother and my own Mother is a Stepmother. I can not say how GREAT it was to read about a Stepmother in a positive situation with kids who adore her as much as she adores them.  Ella's scenario is not one I am ever likely to be in, but if I were, you bet your bottom dollar that I would fight to the death to make sure my  Stepkids are in the best possible situation for them.  I also really enjoyed the subplot of Ella's Italian in-laws, specifically her Husband's Grandfather and the time he spent in an internment camp.  There are so many pieces to this story and when put all together you have an amazing tale of family, love, sacrifice and commitment.

Overall, The Underside of Joy is a wonderful read.  The characters are three dimensional, the plot is compelling, and there is discussion to be had over it all.   A perfect selection for your  next book club read.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

(2)The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

The Innocent

Publication Date: December 27, 2011
Page: 352

There has never been a better time for Literary Heroines than now.  There have never been such bad-ass characters such as Elisbeth Salander and Vanessa "Michael" Munroe .  They are as smart as they come and have combat skills that us suburban housewives could only dream about.  The newest Vanessa "Michael" Munroe novel only proves that point.

The Innocent finds Michael living, no - make that existing, in Morocco with Noah, a name you will remember from The Informationist. Her old friend, Logan, (another name you should recognize) has come for a visit. But Munroe knows that he is there for more than catching up on old times. He wants a favor. A big favor.  A favor which involves her going to South America to retrieve a young girl from a cult.  Because it is Logan she agrees. After a stopover in New York City to pick up Miles Bradford and meet the other people in Logan's "family," Munroe, Bradford, Logan and his friends head to South America.  It is during surveillance that Munroe realizes that they are not just dealing with your average cult.  This one has ties to a South American mafia family and have sinister plans for the young women in the family.  Even without Logan's involvement Munroe has decided she will stop at nothing to free Hannah from the cult's clutches.  Will she succeed or will her own demons keep her from doing her best work.

I must say that I enjoyed The Innocent even more than the first book in the series. I will say that if you have not read The Informationist, you will want to read it before reading The Innocent.  The first book really gives you the necessary background information of Munroe and her friends.  The Innocent goes even further into Munroe's past, though, and you really get an understanding for why Munroe is the way she is today.  I will also say that there is a development in her relationship with Miles that changed the way I felt about both of them.  I won't say good or bad, but I will say that it DOES change things.

If you liked The Informationist, you will like The Innocent.  I really felt like we got to go further into the mind of Munroe, and while it may have been a bit frightening, it was totally fascinating.  And that is why I will eagerly await the next book in the series.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

(1)Journal of Best Practices by David Finch

The Journal of Best Practices

Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Pages: 240

I think that we can thank Dr. Sheldon Cooper for making Asperger Syndrome a much more accepted way of life.  We all watch the hit television show, The Big Bang Theory, (and if you don't you should) and laugh at Sheldon's rigid antics.  From his famous "Roommate Agreement" to having his spot on the couch Sheldon displays traits of the syndrome that is becoming more and more common among today's youngsters and even some adults.  But it is not always laughter and fun when you are living with someone with Aspergers.  Just ask Leonard.

David Finch was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult after his wife made him answer questions on a form she got off of the internet.  That questionnaire led to an actual diagnosis and the beginning of David's attempt to be a better husband and father.  He started keeping a Journal of Best Practices.  Observations of Kristen's reactions to his behavior and things she would get angry about, with the hopes of not repeating bad behaviors and helping strengthen their marriage.  There are many things that made his "Best Practice" list that would do well on any Husband's list whether they are on the spectrum or not. Like getting all of the laundry out of the dryer and not just picking your stuff out.  Or watching the children so your wife can take an uninterrupted shower.  Oh and comparing your working wife's motherly duties to the Stay At Home Mom next door neighbor is NEVER a good idea.  In the end the  diagnosis made life easier for both Kristen and David, they knew what they were up against and both made extra efforts to make their marriage work.  Quite admirable in any marriage, I think.

Please don't think I am making light of people with Asperger's, diagnosed or not, with my Big Bang Theory reference. I am not.  I know there are varying degrees of the syndrome, but I think there are more people out there with Asperger traits than we realize.  To the relief of many parents, what was once just "quirky" and "difficult" now has a name and various types of therapy.  Personally, I recognized a lot of my husband's "quirks" in David Finch's book, and found myself chuckling at the comparisons I made in my head.  One chapter is titled "Use Your Words" - and that is a phrase that gets used almost daily at my house.  But just like Kristen loves her David, quirks and all.  I love my David, quirks and all.

The Journal of Best Practices is a great look at the inside mind of an adult who has Aspergers Syndrome. But not just that, it is a great read for those who have a loved one with the diagnosis.  It *is* possible to  lead a happy, healthy, somewhat normal life.  That reassuring reason alone is justification for you to pick up this book.   Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

I am going to start this feature again - but this time I am going to use photographs that I have taken myself. By no stretch of the imagination am I a photographer, but,  I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, so I will let the scenery speak for itself.

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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