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review: Rosemary Remembered by Susan Wittig Albert

Written By: Word Nerd - Apr• 09•13

Rosemary Remembered (A China Bayles Mystery)

Susan Wittig Albert

Berkley Prime Crime/mystery, fiction

Release Date:  November 1995

China discovers that business can be murder when her accountant, Rosemary Robbins, is killed. With an abusive ex-husband and plenty of former clients in the picture, there’s no shortage of supspects.  And China must trace a crooked trail of passion and greed to discover who would profit most from murder…

This is the fourth book in Susan Wittig Albert’s popular China Bayles Mysteries, featuring an ex-lawyer turned herb shop owner who always seems to be in the middle of a mystery.  The books are very much in the same vein as Goldy Culinary Mysteries, Tea Shop Mysteries and Cupcake Bakery Mysteries; the stories are sprinkled with folklore and tips for growing and using herbs.

I have found this to be a very enjoyable series, partially because of the setting in the Texas Hill Country.  Albert’s descriptions of central Texas are spot on- right down to businesses closing when the air conditioning is broken and hippies roaming unfettered. (That last comment is firmly tongue in cheek- I adore central Texas and pledge to Keep Austin Weird.)

This particular book is probably my least favorite of the series.  China spends a lot of time consulting the spirit world and being a simpering hand wringer. I prefer the “Forgiveness is easier to ask for than Permission” China.  She could have solved the mystery much more quickly if she had not spent so much time whining about her boyfriend and his young son.

My verdict:  Read it.  Even though this is one of the weaker books in the series, it is still a treat for fans of the genre.  Make sure to enjoy at least a portion of the book in an Herbal Bath.

review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Written By: Word Nerd - Apr• 04•13

What I SawWhat I Saw and How I Lied

Judy Blundell

Scholastic/YA, Mystery, Historical

Release Date: January 1, 2010

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

Yes, I’m on a bit of a YA kick right now. To be honest, it doesn’t look like it is going to end soon, so buckle down and enjoy it. I sure am!

This book has a very soft start. Characters are being introduced, the stage is set, but it doesn’t really set itself apart from the pack. It is not bad, just not extraordinary.

But, then…BAM! The book picks up speed and takes off like an out of control jalopy shooting down a rain slicked mountainside. Even when it seems to be slowing down, you can feel the tension building just off the page…you can see things are about to happen and you are powerless to stop them.  You reach the bottom of our metaphorical mountain and you think you know what is going to happen…oh, I have to stop before I spoil it for you!

In addition to a great story, it deals with some serious issues that faced our nation in the heady days following WWII.

My verdict: Read it! This was a quick read with a distinct film noir vibe.

review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Written By: Word Nerd - Apr• 02•13

Why We Broke UpWhy We Broke Up

Daniel Handler (novelist) / Maira Kalman (artist)

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/YA

Release Date: December 27, 2011

I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.
The first thing you will notice about this book is that it is heavy.  No, I don’t mean, “Oh, that’s intense, dude, really heavy.”  I mean the book weighs about 5 pounds.  Once you open the cover, you see that the weight comes from the glossy paper used to showcase Maira Kalman’s delightful art that peppers the novel.  It is part picture book, part novel and totally engaging.
Once I got over the feel of the slick and substantial pages (okay, I’m not really over it yet), I dove into the story and did not come out until I was finished.  Okay, that isn’t completely true, I did have to drive Teen Nerd home from ballet, but I talked the whole time about the book. That has to count for something.
Handler’s portrayal of Min is so spot-on, I wonder if he was once a teenage girl. (I don’t think he was, but I’m totally okay with it if true.)  She has found true love (until it is not) with someone who will be with her forever (or less) and she wants to bring all their friends together (unless they should stay apart).  Notice anything missing? Her family? They are there, but always in the way and nosing in to Min’s private business. (Sound familiar? Good, that means you were a teenager and lived to tell the tale. Or, you are still a teenager- it will get better.) 
Bonus- discussion of all kinds of lovely food and drink that will surely find their way into future installments of Monday Munchies.
My verdict: Read it! Oh, my gosh, I can’t say it enough– READ THIS BOOK!  It was recommended when I was searching for a John Green-esque book and it far exceeded my expectations. (You may better know Daniel Handler as the Lemony Snicket.  I am one of maybe five people in the world who did not care for The Series of Unfortunate Events.)  My one caveat with this book is do NOT download it to your e-reader, do NOT pick up a paperback copy, but get the luscious hardcover and enjoy this book the way it was intended.

review: Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 28•13

Everybody Sees AntsEverybody Sees the Ants

A.S. King

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/YA

Release Date: October 3, 2011

Lucky Linderman didn’t ask for his life. He didn’t ask for his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn’t ask for a father who never got over it. He didn’t ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn’t ask to be the target of Nader McMillan’s relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.  But Lucky has a secret– one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war ridden jungles of Laos– the prison his grandfather couldn’t escape– where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It’s dangerous and wild, and it’s a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

This book was picked up in my search to find a book comparable to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.  (More about that later…)

This book is odd.  Lucky is an unreliable narrator and it takes some time to sort his fantasy from reality.  That said, Lucky is a real, living, breathing character that jumps off the page.  From the very first page, you can see him and you can feel the emotional ache that comes along with a life as a bullied and misunderstood teen.

Lucky isn’t the only fantastically written character in the book- King does an excellent job of giving us deep, well-rounded characters– even the tertiary characters make an impact.

I love how the story of the MIA/POW movement and the Vietnam draft lottery are woven into Lucky’s life.  If you were to poll 18-year old males in the U.S., there is a good chance that most would not know of (or fully understand) the draft lottery.  However, poll their grandfathers and they will rattle off “their number” as second nature.  That number determined, to a large extent, who died, who got to live and who actually got to have a life.

My verdict:  Read it!  I said this book is odd, but in this case, it works.  Once I got the feel for Lucky’s protective fantasies, I really started to enjoy the story.  I often wonder what happens to characters after the story is finished.  In this case, I did not; King wrapped it up so well, you can see Lucky’s future as clearly as if it were written on the page.  A great read.

Don’t know about the draft lottery? Read about it here and discover what your number would have been.  If you were a male born 1944-1950, would you have been drafted?  I would. (#101)

 

 

review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Written By: Word Nerd - Mar• 26•13

WintergirlsWintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson

Penguin/YA

Release Date: March 19, 2009

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss-her life-and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and racked with guilt for not being able to help save her. In her most powerfully moving novel since Speak, award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s struggle, her painful path to recovery, and her desperate attempts to hold on to the most important thing of all: hope.

 

SPOILER WARNING!! THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS–I CAN’T HELP IT!

Did you read the previous sentence? Do you understand that this review will contain spoilers? SPOILERS AHEAD!

I picked up this book on the recommendation of a friend during my search to find titles with the same emotional pull as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. (Someday I will review it, or Teen Nerd will review it, once we can discuss it without bursting into tears.)  Normally I would not read a book about eating disorders because they just make me mad.  It is such a complicated disease – there are mental components and physical components, you can have one or both, you can be morbidly obese and anorexic, you can eat 5000 calories a day and still be, technically speaking, anorexic.  Throw in bulimia, orthorexia and all the other mutations…how can you treat it accurately in 80,000 words?

I feel like this book veers dangerously close to being a “how to” manual for eating disorders.  Yes, we see horrible consequences from Cassie’s bulimia/alcohol abuse and Lia’s anorexia.  Cassie’s painful and lonely death is heartwrenching.  But, it isn’t enough to compensate for the tricks of the trade that are discussed.  Tricks, I will add, that would never work for someone who has been to inpatient care twice, but would prove useful to someone just starting down that dangerous path. The truth is, Lia likely would not have made it out of her car wreck without fractures caused by the de-mineralization in her bones.  Her hair would be dull and falling out, she would be in near constant pain from pushing her body beyond the fuel she was providing.  And the plotting, the schemes?  Clear thought is one of the first things to go in dehydration and starvation.

The best thing I can say about this book is that (YES, ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT!) in the end, Lia seems to come around and realize that she is slowly killing herself.  She will enter inpatient treatment for a third time– this time, with a changed attitude.

My verdict:  Skip it.  Perhaps others see this book as a cautionary tale; I see it as a training manual.

If you, or someone you love, is dealing with body issues and/or eating disorders, please visit here to find help.