Friday, November 26, 2010

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Having been a military wife myself, I am blown away by well the author has captured military life on paper.  I shouldn't be surprised, really, as the author is the wife of an Army Major and lived on Fort Hood herself, but I'm impressed by her writing style as well as her ability to turn the everyday worries of both soldiers and spouses into entertaining and thought evoking short stories.

There's a story about a woman who escapes loneliness in Russia just to face loneliness on an Army base while her soldier husband is gone for a year.  Can she handle it?  There's a solider in Iraq debating whether or not Army life is for him who has trouble adjusting outside of Iraq and his responsibilities.  There's a woman left at home who deals with the growing fear her husband may be having an affair.  Does getting shot at everyday justify his possible relapse into the arms of another woman?  There are the women who cannot handle a year of separation.  Some ask for divorces and some have affairs.  The soldiers come home to the repercussions, leaving one war for another, more personal war. 

And of course, there is loss and grief.  Some of the stories are related or refer to people mentioned in previous stories.  It's a short read, not necessarily due to short length, but to the fact that it's hard to put down.  I read it in one evening.  I enjoyed it immensely.  5 stars. 

I obtained an ARC of this thru Shelf Awareness. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Daughter of Xanadu (Daughter of Xanadu, #1)This is a pretty good read.  It's a fictional tale about a romance in the Mongol Empire between the young Marco Polo and a grandaughter of the Great Khan Khubilai.  Marco Polo is visiting Khan's Empire in hopes of winning the Emperor's favor and returning home and wonderful loot to trade.  Emmajin is a princess who wants to serve in the army and experience battle.  The Great Khan gives her an assignment:  Get close to Marco Polo and find out as much about his home country, Italy, as she can.  The Khan hopes to invade Christendom one day.

Emmajin takes her job very seriously but alas, spending a lot of time with Marco Polo leads to feelings that just may be love.  BUT what does she desire more, a position in the Khan's army or a forbidden, impossible love with a foreigner?  Choices, choices.  "What an impossible situation!  I had always been loyal to my Khan and my people, but now that loyalty required me to make an enemy of a man who was gradually becoming my friend."

Some very interesting bits of facts and history are incooperated.  I was intrigued by the catching of "dragons" for their gallbladders for medicinal purposes, the use of "rat fire," and the army's cutting off of enemies' ears for souveniers.  There's also a shocking story about cats on fire.  (No, I don't advocate animal cruelty, but really, this was a smart battle strategy.)

Life in the army is not all Emmajin expected though and soon her desire to experience warfare becomes a desire to experience peace.  How will her Marco Polo play into this? 

Thus, it's a tale about a girl finding herself, experiencing forbidden love, breaking male/female barriers, and experiencing loss.  I really didn't feel the "romance" between her and Marco, however.  Something was missing there.  I enjoyed the story, the conflicts, the battles, but the ending. . . it didn't fit.  I am hesitant to reveal too much information, but I will say I was left scratching my head.  I don't really see the Great Khan letting his maiden granddaughter just go on this "mission" far away with foreign men.  Also, I was left hanging on just how this "romance" was going to play out.  

Something of interest:  Throughout the novel and towards the end especially, Emmajin draws guidance from a Buddha goddess.  This goddess is sometimes portrayed as having a third eye and even eyes on her feet.  She is Tara the Protectress.  Tara.  A goddess.  Naturally, I love that. :) 

I received an ARC of this book for review purposes thanks to Good Golly Miss Holly blog tour.  Any quotes may be changed before publication.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Gender Wars by Thomas C. Stone

The Gender Wars

What an interesting book and I applaud the author for such an original idea.  One hundred years in the future, women rule the United States.  I've been warning my husband about this for years, but he laughs at me.  (evil laugh)  Anyway, women and high taxes have caused all the men to head for the hills.  And the men in this book.. my gawd, they act like barbarian, evil versions of Larry the Cable Guy.  All they think about is food (of which they have none), sex (they want to rape a woman everytime they capture one), and war.  It's no wonder we take the country away from them and send them to the mountains and prove unwilling to negotiate with them . .

The men grated on my nerves, except for Crawford of course..  and I will get to that in a minute.  First, let's finish the plot:  Women and their clone like pets, called synthoids, have formed an army of women and they kill or capture the men.  There's open warfare, even chemical warfare as the women spray the renegade men with some kind of HIV virus.  Pretty dirty stuff.  But I liked about this book was there was none of this crap:

 The women in this book are all tough and they lay down the law.

Enter Crawford, a man with the Free Man's Army.  He is captured and thrown into prison and then a breeding clinic and then into a male whorehouse.  (Yep, how would you fellas like the tables turned?? Very cool!) Rave is a woman high up in the women's army.  She pays for a night with Crawford and love blooms.  Another point for the author here... this time the dude is the virgin!!

Needless to say, with men and women killing each other everyday, Rave and Crawford got some inner issues to deal with.  Just how much are they willing to trust each other?  With Crawford always being a prisoner on the run or a guerilla fighter and Rave being an officer in the NAW (National Army of Women), inner conflicts are unavoidable.  After all the "peace negotiations," bar fights, and angry bosses berating them, they are both going to have to make a decision and it's gonna revolve around some nuclear bombs. 

Very action packed and as I never read sci fi, the fact that I'm giving this a four is a compliment.  I had two quibbles preventing it from becoming a five.  1.  The men consantly wanting to rape every woman in their path.  2.  Lack of descriptive details.  I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the synthoids looked like until about halfway into the novel and even then, it was rather vague.  Descriptions about the main players were lacking as well.  The term "butch" just tells me that some chick probably has short hair and muscular build and that just sounds so stereotyped.  Err.. what color of hair should I be visualizing?  What are they wearing?  I don't need paragraphs, but a little more than "butch."

Still, a decent read and the ending somewhat left room for a sequel.   

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bad to the Bone: Memoir of a Rebel Doggie Blogger by Boe Hoefinger

I'm declaring this the funniest book of 2010. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard while reading a book. It's the memoir of a dog. His name is Bo and he's a golden retriever/chow chow mix. These are his memoirs from puppyhood in a shelter in New York to adulthood with a loving family consisting of a mom, dad, another dog and a cat with constant constipation in Atlanta Georgia. The first thing I want to share is the inscription inside. I bought this book thru the author's website and Bo was kind enough to leave me a witty comment as well as his pawtograph. Thus, I was chuckling from the get go..

It says, "Some days you're the dog, some days your're the hydrant. I hope you have a dry day!" LMAO! I couldn't have said it better. Truly, those are words of wisdom. I smile everytime I open the book.

Now, back to the book. It has moments are pure laughter. I laughed when Bo thought about questions he would like to ask his vet. 1. Where are my balls? 2. Can I have them back? I laughed when he got a maxi pad wrapped around his bleeding paw. I fell off my chair howling when Bo's dad had to give the cat an enema. There are also some sad bits. There's lots of dead wildlife (Bad Bo!) and there's a story about his mom battling cancer and his confusion over the situation. There's also moments I went EEWWW, namely when Bo eats cat poop. EEEWWW. Full of vitamins or not, that's just gross. LOL

But I just loved it. It's a book I plan on keeping and re reading over and over, especially when I need a laugh or need to boost the joy in my life. 

 Here's a picture of Bo:

You can check out his ongoing blog:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately

This is a very well-written and entertaining contemporary tale about a Boston ER nurse, Elsa.  Elsa had a hard knock life and as a result, wants to help others in dire situations.  She joins an aid organization and travels to Bamiyan, Afghanistan, home of the famous Buddha statues to work in a clinic.  She has no electricity and no running water, but she is determined to spend one year there.  She learns that running water and electricity do not a happy environment make.  Instead, she discovers love with an American solider, friendships with Afghani women, and learns how hope and determination of a people can raise a country from the ashes of war. 

A Bamiyan Budda before the Taliban
It's  not a vacation, however,  Elsa faces many nursing challenges, challenges not to her skills and abilities, but to her emotions.  A drastic bus bombing leads to her meeting Parween.  Parween has had a few hard knocks herself and a quarter of the novel visits Parween and her life up till meeting Elsa, her childhood, her friends, how the Taliban changed everything, and the loss of her husband.  Through Parween, readers can see what Afghanistan is like for Afghan women. 

The Bamiyan Buddhas being destoyed by Taliban.

The book goes back and forth, following both Elsa and Parween.  Both women help others from women with extra digits to beaten little girls and risk their own lives to do so.  One day they may go too far.  The ending is not a happy one, not completely anyway. 

I was very entertained and I appreciate how the author portrayed American soldiers in a kind light.  I was bothered by two things, however, enough to give the book a four star instead of five star rating.  First, both Elsa and Parween are just too good and kind to be true (until the end when they are a bit stupid.  I was screaming at them, No No No!)  Second, the love at first sight thing with Elsa and Mike... I get it's a war zone, but come on, one day?? 

Good debut though.  I bought this on Amazon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan

This is a biography type thing of Marilyn Monroe told from the viewpoint of a dog, a very pompous maltese that somehow manages to identify Renoir paintings and Louis XV chairs at a mere few months of age.  Now, I was expecting something more along the lines of Spencer Quinn's "Dog On It," a funny book from the viewpoint of a dog that is very "dog like."  I was expecting humor.  Instead I get a narrative using words I don't know, much less expect my dogs to know.  It was not very dog like at all.  Come on, seriously, dogs sniff their butts, chase after dropped potatoe chips, catch the scent of b*tches in the wind.  They do not sit around spouting poetry, using words like paucity and supercilious, and I seriously doubt they have strong feelings about the civil rights movement or Kennedy.

Marilyn and Mafia Honey:

Mafia also goes on and on about details and background info about characters that only grace the book for a few pages.  I did enjoy the intimate look at Marilyn behind the scenes, how she laid Mafia on a fur coat her ex husband had given her, how she had abandonment issues regarding her father, and how she felt guilty that she had recieved so much help from men in her career.  My enjoyment pretty much ended there though.

News: This book is being made into a movie and I think it will make a much better movie than book.  It is supposed to star Angelina Jolie as Marilyn and George Clooney as Frank Sinatra.  I'm looking forward to it.

I recieved this from the publisher via Shelf Awareness.

Heartbroke Bay by Lynn D'urso

This is an amazing tale about Alaska's goldrush days.  The novel takes place in 1898.  Hannah, a once well to do but now down on her luck lady's maid from England, is aboard a train where she meets the handsome, daring, American Hans.  She marries him to get out of a rather sticky situation.  He has ideas of grandeur, however, and after partnering up with three other men, Hans whisks his bride from Skagway to Lituya Bay, Alaska to dig for gold. Lituya Bay was not known for being friendly to sailors. . or settlers.

It's a cast of characters obviously meant for disaster.  Hannah barely knows her new husband and is not sure she trusts him.  He does prove rather idiotic with their finances.  Hans pays little attention to his wife.  His thoughts are all on gold.  Dutch is a liar and a storyteller.  Harky is struggling with his Civil War past.  Michael desires Hannah. 

In Lituya Bay, they must either band together or fall apart.  When they finally start finding gold, nature suddenly turns on them.  There's rain, golden bears, glaciers, ice, and they can either get out before winter or they can stay and dig up more gold and hope they get out before it is too late because once winter comes.. hey, this is Alaska we are talking about here.

Will they make the right decision?  What will happen if they don't?  As with every goldrush novel, this novel shows how greed can render people senseless and how the lust for gold can have everlasting consequences.  The Tinglit Indians have some interesting parts in this as well.  One man in particular, Negook, imparts some rather wise words to the greedy gold diggers.  Negook also injects some humor into the story with his musings about the crazy white men and their bicycles and his joy in the white man's word, "horses**t."  I thought it was a good touch.

Nevertheless, Lituya Bay becomes Heartbroke Bay... somehow.  I'm not telling.  The ending was very surprising.  I did find it dragged a bit in some places, namely on the boat when they went from Skagway to Lituya.  Also, at times, a bit too much descriptive detail.  However, I really felt as though I was in Alaska and could actually imagine the scent of the seals.  

I bought this book on Amazon.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Contagion by Joanne Dahme

I love reading about strong heroines, real or imaginary so when I read this "Rose must discover who is trying to kill her, while keeping the people of Philadelphia safe from the contagion poisoning the city's water system" I thought, "ooh, tough chick!"  NOT!

First, I must say, the history of the Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia is interesting, though it does get bogged down when it gets into turbines and the specifics.  The author certainly knows what she is talking about.  I found my myself fascinated enough that I came online and googled for pictures.

Found this on
Really intersting article with pictures about the historic
Water Works and the changes that have been made.  This
is the Water Works in 1820.
Sadly, this is the same location that the heroine, Rose, watches her best friend be murdered.  Rose suspects her friend's murder was a mistake and that she was supposed to die instead.  Her and her incredibly annoying pompous husband have been getting threatening letters.  Her husband wants to destroy the Water Works and put up water filtration plants.  Just how far is he willing to go to get his way?  Meanwhile, Rose and a manager of the Water Works try to figure out what is going on, why the water is contaminated all of a sudden with thypoid (Gasp! What a coicidence!) and who killed her best friend. 

It was obvious to me from page ten whodunit or I should say who was behind it, but I was interested enough to keep chugging along, but the further I got, the more digusted I became with Rose.  She finds a gift to another woman in her husband's study, smells perfume on his drunken self when he comes home at four in the morning, notices he acts his "post lovemaking" self, but allows him to manhandle her and patronize her and does whatever he asks and actually trusts this guy???  Hello?  Even in 1895 I think it woulda been quite obvious what's going on.  Instead, this simpering ninny hands over the evidence to him and when a detective asks her if her husband could be stepping out, she responds, "Why would you ask me that, Detective?"  She cries and trembles.  "My husband-loves me.  He would never..."

Oh geez.  It was at this point (page 173) I began to skim.  I'm afraid I didn't encounter any surprises or shocking revelations, really.  I actually purchased this book brand spanking new though and I am entitled to my opinion. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Unsaid by Neil Abramson

Wow.  This is one of those books that has left me reeling.  I'm going to use the word beautiful here too.  There is both ugliness and beauty in this book, sadness and joy.  It contains a slowly revealing plot so I need to be careful not to reveal too much here. The fact that Helena has recently died of cancer is ugly and sad, but the fact that she is still there in spirit, still watching her husband, her pig, her dogs, her cats, her horses, her friends and co workers, watching them deal with their loss of her and reach out and bond with each other as a result, is beautiful.  Unfortunately for Helena, she can see, but she cannot touch.  She can hear, but cannot answer back.  

The two chimpanzees that are in lab captivity, one in the past, one in the present and the ensuing court case that follows is an ugly thing, but the emotional bonding between the chimpanzees' and their caregivers, the love that one can develop for an animal and the fight for that animal's life: beautiful.

The fact that a dog is dying on an operator table is heartbreaking and ugly, but the young boy with Asperger's who walks in and "feels" and vocalizes the dog's thoughts is so beautiful I struggled not to burst into tears.  The boy, Clifford, senses the dying dog's joy at seeing his beloved and formerly passed away human companion.  For me, this was the most moving moment in the entire novel. 

There's a man dealing with the loss of his wife, a single mother trying to provide her son with the best life possible despite his Asperger's, a woman fighting for the rights of a chimpanzee, and numerous animals dealing with grief in their own way.  And not to mention an amazing and thought evoking court trial involving the rights of animals. 

A wonderful scene takes place in le Cimetiere des Chiens, the land of dogs in Paris, France.  Apparently, Paris has a cemetery devoted to passed away pets.  It sounds wonderful.  It's going on my "places to visit before I die" list. 

A quote from Sir Walter Scott is mentioned in this part of the book.  "I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives, and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?"

Favorite quote:  "My husband once told me that animals were put on this earth to help redeem us.  That must be hard work, but they n ever give up on us.  It would make sense to me that, when it's all over, they finally get to just enjoy the fruits of their labor."

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has loved a pet or felt strongly about animal rights.  Fans of John Grisham and legal thrillers will also enjoy it.  This book is scheduled for official release in August of next year.  I obtained an egalley thru netgalley, thus any of the above quotes may be different in the actual publication.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Countdown: Italy

Time for this month's Countdown!  What is Countdown?  It's a feature I have started in which I pick a topic, genre, country, or subject and list five books that I have read related to that topic or subject.  There is a 5 star read (loved it!), a four star read (liked it), a three star read (it was okay but had some issues and I'm not recommending it to 5000 people), a two star read (had a LOT of issues, I struggled with it), and the dreaded one star read (I hated it). 

This month is a country.  Five books in which the story takes place in Italy.

Five star read:          
The Barefoot Girl: A Novel of St. Margaret, Patroness of the AbusedThe Barefoot Girl: A Novel of St. Margaret, Patroness of the Abused by Catherine Monroe.  First published in 2006.  It takes place in 1340 Italy.  It's about a young girl from a poor home who is married to a myserious wealthy man who abuses her.  She makes most of her situation and helps the poor.  I loved the way this book "gets to the point" and never got bogged down with irrelevant details and descriptions.

Four star read:
The Blind Contessa's New MachineThe Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace.  First published in 2010.  It's a historical novel about a young woman going blind and the man madly in love with her who creates the typewriter for her.  The story was "told" rather than "shown" and that prevented it from being a 5 star read, but it was interesting.

Three star read:
A Golden WebA Golden Web by Barbara Quick.  Published in 2010.  A young adult historical novel about a young girl who wants to attend college so badly, she runs away from home and dresses as a boy to do so.  Based on the real life Alessandra Giliani, the first female anatomist.  A decent read, but the action started too late in the story and some of the characters were very annoying.

Two star read:
JulietJuliet by Anne Fortier.  Published in 2010.  Overhyped.  A woman obtains a strange inheritance from her aunt and goes on a treasure hunt in Italy and discovers she is related to Shakespeare's Juliet.  Goes back and forth from Romeo and Juliet times to modern times in which the heroine is constantly being chased by shady characters and running away.  Couldn't stand the weak modern day heroine or the constant confessions of love between Romeo and Juliet.

One star read:
The Secret of the GlassThe Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin.  Published in 2010.  Court intrigue, women searching for husbands, Italian aristocracy, and glass making.  Loved the glass making, hated the overuse of adjectives and abundance of descriptive details.  Also got sick of all the "mama's" and the "papa's." All the women sounded like little girls.  Gorgeous cover though.