Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Forgotten Books From Childhood

I have been spending a lot of time on book search websites lately, the ones where people post the vague, half remembered pieces of stories and others try to ID them so that we can all reclaim our childhoods. It's similar, but more often the opposite, of what I always enjoyed on The Onion's Ask the AV Club, which was mostly people asking for brief fragments of nightmares so that they could rewatch the movie/reread the book and make the horror go away by realizing how silly it is now. In both cases, the answer is Ray Bradbury or William Sleator 90% of the time. I read Sleator's House of Stairs almost purely because of this.

On the side of regaining childhood memories, I have very few of these. So many people post multiple messages on the book finding boards, trying to recreate whole libraries, I am pretty sure that I'm not in this situation because I 1)have a pretty good memory 2)am a rereader, so that memory is more likely to be firm and clear 3)I hung onto most of my books BECAUSE I am a rereader. Even now, if I had to pay money, even fifty cents, for every single book I read, I would go broke. I would need another hobby. I get books from the library, from netgalley, free online from Project Gutenberg or publisher/author deals. Galleys from work or conferences, cheap books from used book stores, free for me books from used bookstores when I go out with my Dad and he insists on paying. As a child, I couldn't get every book I wanted, or enough to fill my need to read (and I was a notoriously irresponsible library user at a very small library. My brother and I both read through everything in that branch, and this is back in the dark ages of the 90s, before requesting from other branches was as easy as it is now). So, when I was tired of my books and/or my Mom made me clear out some of my room's clutter, I would pack up the books and they would go in the basement, waiting for the day several months later when I would open the bag or box and see a stack of books that were almost as good as being completely new. It was brilliant.

I still have a bookshelf full of books in my room in my Dad's house, and likely boxes of books throughout the house. I haven't had a chance to forget them because they are still there. My Redwall collection, my Tanith Lee, The Giver, Number the Stars, the Phantom Tollbooth, everything I have reread over and over again. For me to forget a book or only have wisps of the memory, it would have to be pretty inconsequential in my life.

Then I thought of one I wanted to remember. It was a painful book, one I didn't want to reread because I hated it. Perhaps the first book I read where the bad thing HAD to happen, it was the point and the character had to learn to live with it as well as the reader. Perhaps other children have a similar reaction when Beth dies in Little Women. All that I could remember was that the book was about two sisters, very Beezus and Ramona -like in personalities. The part that I could remember strongly was something that I wasn't sure was the focus of the book, but that the young girl had a stuffed elephant that was her beloved comfort animal, and she gave him away to charity by mistake, but her mom sat with her and helped her come to peace with giving the elephant away, rather than the ending, I-as-a-child wanted, which was to say that it was too big of a sacrifice and to give something else.

This devastated me as a child. I clung to my Danny bear, the best bear in the world, and railed against a world that would tear apart a girl and her stuffed elephant. I remember discussing the book and the ending with my Mom, sitting on my bed and just talking about a book. The kind of insignificant nonsense that only means anything once you have lost that person and you are desperate to cling to every piece of her and every single tiny memory you can grab. I don't want to reread this book, I just wanted to know what it was, what author hit me so hard that I, at 25, spent an hour or two googling "stuffed elephant". I finally hit on using Google Book search, and it was too easy from there. I only needed that phrase, because the elephants name was Stuffed Elephant. The book was Oh, Honestly Angela! and it doesn't appear to be any great work of literature.

The second one was a fragment of memory from when I was young and obsessed with wanting a cat, but my Dad hated cats. This book was tailor made for me, about a little girl who wanted a cat but her mom was allergic. As I thought, memories came back that I didn't know I had. She found a cat, yes, but I knew for sure that it was a Siamese, possibly even a blue point siamese. I remembered her taking the cat and hiding, then I remembered that she hid in this sort of room under the porch in her house, she could hear all of the comings and goings of the search team, her mom crying, and her mom sneezing from the cat. I don't remember the ending. I did a google books search and found only an excerpt from Library Journal or similar with a review, gave the date as 1971 and the girl's name as Millicent, but no author or book title due to what google books lets you read. So I went to WorldCat, set the date, language, and juvenile, used cat as a keyword, and slogged through 400 results until I saw "The Easter Cat" and thought...that could be it...I didn't remember Easter at all. Amazon gave me the cover and a description and yes. This is my book. This one, I am pretty excited to find, and I have it on order from the library right now.

I have been finding myself drifting back in my memories lately, trying to recover something else that I can hunt down. Now that I have stalked my prey, I either want new, or I will have to settle for helping others find their own lost books.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book Review: Scandal of the Year

Scandal of the Year by Laura Lee Guhrke

There are very few romance authors who I will automatically read based just because they wrote it. There are plenty of names I recognize, plenty I know I have enjoyed in the past, but that will just get me to read the back, not through it in my pile of library books or even actually purchase it. Off the top of my head, I think Laura Lee Guhrke might be the only contemporary one. I will buy any Betty Neels that I don't already own (although that is difficult to do since I can't tell them apart), and any Georgette Heyer is worth having, but those are such special cases. With Ms. Guhrke, I know that the topic might not be my favorite, and the characters might not be the type I normally like, but the ride will be fun and it's always worth reading.

In "Wedding of the Season", the first book with these characters, you knew that Beatrix didn't belong with Aidan. He was clearly the "Baxter" of the situation, he was so straight laced and stuffed shirt-ed and everything. But you still liked him. He was sympathetic. So, while many romance heroes are just "the perfect guy and anyone would be lucky to be with him", this one definitely shows you why some people belong together. Aidan is paired with "wacky" Julia, and while I rather disliked her in Wedding of the Season, here she is rounded out so that the reader understands why she acts the way she does. Her scandalous behavior is not just her being ignorant of social mores, but neither is it a giant middle finger to society. It is protection.

The straight laced guy and manic pixie dream girl with secret pain combo has been done a million times, but this never once falls into those cliches. Julia doesn't bring Aidan out of his shell or anything, because he doesn't need it. Aidan doesn't provide Julia with stability and a calming influence because she doesn't need that. What they need is somebody that they can show their true selves to, and I was caught up in that like no other. My one complaint is that I wanted more time of them together happily at the end. Liking both of those characters made me want to see how they acted together and who they became when they had an every day life of happiness together and I felt a bit cheated at not sing that. If this series continues, I have hopes that Julia and Aidan will be side characters in other books and I can get some of their happy ending that way.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

Temple has made the best of her ragtag adolescence. Nomadic lifestyle, caring for Malcolm (her maybe-brother), and fighting the living dead.

I picked up this book because of the beautiful cover and the hauntingly cryptic title (It is a bible verse). I kept reading for the zombies and because of the quick and easy love the reader gets for Temple.

Bell uses beautiful, lyrical language to describe this torn up world full of danger, showing us why Temple thinks it is still so beautiful. Many apocalyptic horror books have characters discussing why or how this could have happened, and what it all means. Temple is more matter of fact, she shrugs her shoulders. After all, she was born ten years after it all changed. This isn't a broken world, this is just the world to her. And yeah, maybe there's a lot of bad, but she has sure seen some real good out there too.

In many ways, this novel reminded me of The Road, rather obviously for the apocalyptic road trip aspects, but also for the somewhat sparse writing. They both leave many things unanswered, but not unsatisfied, and they both show that one or two people's stories may not be all that important in the grand scheme of things. These two would be good read-alikes for a book club, especially as they are both short. I devoured this book in a weekend day, even though it is not at all my usual sort of book.

There is violence and gore, sex as well, but at no point did it feel exploitative or too much for me. There are plenty of moments of action and of tension, but they take a backseat to the character development and writing style; so much so that I feel strange characterizing it as horror, although I don't know what I would call it otherwise. There are some absolutely brilliant ideas that I (not being a big horror buff) hadn't been exposed to before, little things that seem natural like the creatures having regional nicknames. Temple calls them meatskins and slugs, another character flat out calls them zombies, and Temple is surprised to hear other characters have other names. The lack of infrastructure makes communication between humans difficult, but it is emphasized that there are a lot of humans in this world, a lot of food and resources left for anyone wily enough to get them. Ever since 28 days later, zombies in the media have gotten fast and smart and more terrifying, but these slow and stupid zombies work perfectly with showing how to someone like Temple, they are just a part of life that she wouldn't know how to live without.

All in all, Temple is a wonderful character that the reader wants to cling to and defend. As another reviewer said, her treatment of "the dummy" is a little hard to read sometimes, but I felt that her affection quickly shone through and the harsh words just reinforced her desire to have no attachments in this world that takes everything from you, sooner or later. The style of writing is so unusual from my usual that I had to force myself to read slower and be engulfed in the language, but once I did so, it was beautiful. The kind of writing that has you speaking and writing slightly strangely after wards. I think that is a sign of great writing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker

This is a very bland three stars for me, maybe more of a two and a half. Keep in mind that I am not a huge fan of Christian romances, so take my review with a grain of salt. Not really liking the genre is a huge bias.I requested the galley because of the blurb that it was about a baker with diabetes who could never eat more than a bite of her creations. I thought this was very clever, and could work as a metaphor for forbidden love or love that is ultimately bad for you, or a million other typical romance scenarios. I was extremely disappointed that Emma Rae's diabetes have almost nothing to do with the story.

I had forgotten that this was billed as a Christian romance when I began reading this, at first the mentions of God and the redeeming power of prayer felt natural and I went with it, then they got more and more to the point where I skipped over those parts. When I read Christian romance it is mostly mail order bride and homesteader stuff because I like those plot points and I will read them however I get them, so it is clear that my taste is not in Christian contemporary. Had the religion been kept to the two main characters and a pastor character, then perhaps I would have accepted it, but as the book goes on, every single character, including the goth girl, is a devout Christian who prays constantly for their friend's welfare.

The cooking and business aspects of the book were fun and interesting, I loved watching this hotel be built from the ground up (not literally, the building is in place) and I liked that the hero and heroine were friendly and comfortable with eachother for the most part. They appreciated each others skills and hard work.

The lists and recipes and other filler material threw me out of the story, and I think the book would be much stronger without cliched lists of popular bridal favors. Blech.

(I received a free electronic galley from NetGalley. This has not biased my review in any way)


Monday, December 6, 2010

December Reviews!

Finally, I can post some December reviews!

Taken by Desire by Lavinia Kent (romance)

A regency of the wealthy independent woman who ends up marrying someone due to an indiscretion variety...

Romance novels are very personal, what appeals to one reader does nothing for another, so I am always unsure of myself when reviewing them. Taken by Desire didn't have any of the plot elements or character types that I normally gravitate to, so while I give it the 3/5 stars that indicate my "finished reading it, didn't hate it, wasn't too impressed either", it very much falls into "your mileage may vary". Ms. Kent is a talented writer, but this book didn't charm me or make me swoon. I was drawn in by the beginning which had a lot of promise and then the story went where I wasn't expecting and I wasn't as excited by.

At one point, the hero acts unreasonably and comes very close to the point where I decide "hero is a jerk, dont bother reading any more" but then the hero actually begins to LISTEN to the heroine so I did finish it.


Wicked Nights With a Lover by Sophie Jordan (romance)

When Marguerite is told that she will not survive to see the next year, she decides to throw caution to the wind and live the rest of her time to the fullest. Since I loved Montogmery's The Blue Castle, I thought that this would be a new interesting take on it, but it quickly went in a different direction.

I have enjoyed Sophie Jordan's work before, I am a great rereader but few romance novels make the cut. Ms. Jordan's "One Night With You" does, unfortunately this one does not. This is a clear case of "romance novels are very personal" since the writing is good and neither the hero nor the heroine acted insanely stupid or insanely arrogant and unreasonable. I'm not a big fan of the "kidnapper" plot device. If you are a fan, then you will likely enjoy this one.


The Year Money Grew on Trees (childrens, YA)

I honestly can't explain why I enjoyed this book so much other than the fact that it was engaging. Describing the book, it is a series of steps and numbers and seemingly boring repetition of tasks that are done to get the apple trees profitable. But in reality, the reader is drawn into the book and eager to see what happens next, eager to root for Jackson and his young family members. As a young reader, there's definitely something appealing in seeing children run a proper, profitable business. Looking back, I wouldn't be able to tell you what age Jackson is off of the top of my head, nor do I remember when it takes place (They listen to "Thriller" on the radio, but that was the only clue I can remember, whether of not an actual year was in the text), but I do remember enjoying this greatly.




His Christmas Pleasure by Cathy Maxwell (romance)

As much as Abigail loves her parents, she is not willing to marry the man they chose for her. Twice her age and thirteen children? No thank you. Luckily, she has a tidy little inheritance and has caught the eye of a man who truly needs it; Andres, the
BarĂ³n de Vasconia. Andres and Abigail elope, neither one pretending emotions are involved, but both promising to try to make this a real marriage.

That is what I loved about this book. There were no (real, important) lies, neither pretended it was a love match but neither doing that romance cliche of "I love him but we decided it was a marriage of convenience only so now what do I do, woe is me". At every point, they are considerate and caring of eachother, eager to back down unselfishly if the other needed it. It is almost surprising how little these things happen in romance novels, often the plot of the book hinges on the hero being hard headed or the heroine too shy to reveal her feelings. While the passion and tension between these two was sizzling, I was mostly enthralled by the amount that the couple acted like basically decent human beings who deserved love and worked for it.

It doesn't hurt that the whole thing was swoonworthy!


I received free electronic galleys of these books from NetGalley. This did not bias any of my reviews in any way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spooky Cookie time!

Why haven't I been posting in ages, you ask? WHY? Why, because all of the galleys I have been reading lately come out in December! So look for my reviews then, including one romance novel I am super excited by!

For Halloween, I baked cookies to bring to a party. First, I made the dough I wrote about before, adding dark chocolate wafers to 3/4 of the dough, and almonds and dried cranberries to the other 1/4, giving them a healthy sprinkling of fleur de sel before baking. Those are always a hit, but I also wanted to do something more in line with the holiday. I decided to do the "Finger Food" cookies found here at Nosh With Me.

They taste like a butter cookie, similar to ones I had at Christmas growing up. The dough is made of so few ingredients that these can be a last minute addition to your baking schedule. I rolled them with my hands, shaped the knuckles and scored them with a paring knife,

and took great pleasure in choosing only the most nail-like but slightly ragged almonds for the nails.

They began freaking me out almost immediately.

Although they are the same size as my finger in this picture, you should ideally make them a bit smaller, as the high butter content spreads the dough during baking.

At this point, they were making me extremely uncomfortable, and I was glad to shove them into the oven. They cook quickly, and I recommend not browning them too much, although browning some of the batches more is an easy way to make the fingers more multicultural without resorting to cocoa. After they cooled, I took a knife and some red icing and made them extra creepy.

I gave the stumps lots of icing, any fingers that had lost nails during baking got them re-glued on with icing, and splotches and blood splashes got added randomly. Channel your inner artist. Or inner serial killer.

My husband took them to his Halloween night shift in the ER, and everyone was pleased. The feedback I got back included "the nail is the best part, it looks infected with a fungus" so who knows if that counts as a compliment. At the Halloween party, several people mentioned that they looked almost too creepy to eat, so maybe this isn't the best for something like a kid's party, they are EXTREMELY realistic.

The fact that they aren't too sweet also made them great for soothing my stomach the next morning after a party where I was drinking, so, BONUS! I can also imagine that they would be great alongside coffee or hot chocolate for dipping. I may end up making these for Christmas with green blood as Elf Fingers. Or maybe I will take pity on my friends and make cookie shaped cookies.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Review: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

This is a very awkward book for me to review, because I have spent a long time trying to decide what I thought of it, and I still don't know.

Louisa wants to be a doctor and an independent woman, but Victorian England won't allow her to be anything other than a delicate wife and mother. When she follows her dreams just a little bit close, she is sent to a home for the insane, and told her name is Lucy Childs. Her attempts to clear up the "confusion" only make things worse for her, after all, it seems quite crazy to deny your own name...
The longer Louisa spends in Wildthorn, the more she suspects that it is not just he lack of "womanly pursuits" that got her sent there, it may have to do with one experience with her beautiful cousin Grace...

I like Grace and Eliza and Beatrice as characters, but I had such a hard time reading about Louisa. I love when characters in books/movies/tv shows are able to rebel against society by deftly playing the games and rules of the society. Louisa most emphatically does not. Her father gave her leeway growing up, and her mother was particularly strict. This leaves me confused as to how Louisa thinks it is alright to travel alone in a third class carriage, or to jump up at a dinner party and say that she thinks women should be doctors. She has to KNOW that it is not acceptable. Her heavy hand and naive outlook drove me crazy (no pun intended).

The romance was sweet, but light, and (at least on Louisa's side) rather sudden. This book definitely fills a niche in a YA collection, but I can't completely, whole-heartedly recommend it either.

(Note: this book was made available to me for free by the publishers through NetGalley. I have made every attempt to not allow this to bias my opinion in any way.)