Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman

Gordon “Go-Go” Halloran finds himself drunk after two years of sobriety and proceeds to drive himself into a concrete wall. After his death, his group of friends that played together as kids, as well as their parents, reevaluate their youth and the secrets that could have caused Go-Go’s demise. The Most Dangerous Thing takes place in the late 1970’s as well as present day. In the 1970’s, the group of friends included the three Halloran boys, Tim, Sean, and Go-Go and two neighbor girls, Gwen and Mickey. After an accident, Sean and Gwen start a teenage romance, which has devastating effects on their group. The group also meets a mysterious man that lives in the woods, and their lives will never been the same. In the present day, the survivors try to piece together what exactly took place when they were children that may have haunted Go-Go.

Two of my favorite books of 2011 were by Laura Lippman, The Girl in the Green Raincoat and I’d Know you Anywhere. Unfortunately, The Most Dangerous Thing fell flat for me. The book was okay, but not excellent like the previous two novels. I think the flaw was that there were too many characters with the children and adults given their own sections and not enough detail to make me truly care about anyone. A lot of the storyline was never resolved. I also really disliked the narration in the 1970’s section about the kids. It seemed to be narrated first person by one of them, but they were also all referred to in the third person. It drove me crazy. The book moved really slow for me, but did pick up steam by the end . . . only to really annoy me.


Was anyone else that read the book also annoyed by the end? Poor nine year old Go-Go was molested, but once everyone found out it was “only” 14-year old (at the time) Mickey and the two high school boys she brought along, it was okay. I’m pretty sure it was not okay. It was a giant let down that they all seemed to be okay with this and just move on. The fact that Mickey not only molested (and brought along molesters) poor Go-Go at the time, but also harassed him in adulthood and probably drove him to his death at least deserved a verbal dress-down from Go-Go’s brothers. I mean Mickey actually went so far as to go to Go-Go’s AA meetings so he wouldn’t talk about his abuse as a child. Nice.


Overall, the book did pick up by the end and did get a passionate response from me, but I didn’t really enjoy this book. I didn’t like or feel a connection with any of the characters. The one section I did enjoy was a brief appearance of Tess Monaghan (from A Girl in the Green Raincoat). It was nice to see she was back to work with little Scout in tow. That one section had a spark that was missing from the rest of the book. I am interested to see what others thought of this book.

I read The Most Dangerous Thing as part of the TLC Book Tour.

Book Source: Review copy from William Morrow Publishers. Thank-you!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

Title: Believing the Lie

Author: Elizabeth George
Read by: Davina Porter
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 23 hours (20 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

Believing the Lie was an audiobook that I never wanted to end. Elizabeth George created a masterful world full of characters that I cared about and wanted to learn more about. Lucky for me, Believing the Lie, is an Inspector Lynley mystery and I will be able to go back and listen to previous audiobooks to learn more about at least some of the characters.

I had heard of Inspector Lynley as I know there was a series on Masterpiece Mystery about Inspector Lynley, but I have yet to watch it. I was intrigued to finally listen to an Inspector Linley mystery and find out what all of the fuss was about.

Wealthy toilet magnate Bernard Fairclough asks Scotland Yard for help investigating the death of his nephew Ian Cresswell. Inspector Thomas Lynley is assigned to the case. Lynley’s friends Simon and Deborah St. James travel north with him to help with the investigation. Back in London, Inspector Lynley’s partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, helps Lynley with the investigation while trying to stay out of their boss (and Lynley’s lover) Isabelle’s path.

As the investigation starts, it is soon discovered that the Fairclough family is not what they seem, and just about everyone has a motive for poor Ian’s death. Was Ian’s death an accidental drowning, or were one of the clan responsible?

Believing the Lie reminded me of a modern day Victorian novel as it was a wonderful vast book full of great well-drawn characters. I cared about all of the story arcs, which is hard to do when you have so many characters and plots. There was a lot going on, and I’m not going to delve into each plot for the sake of time (I am behind on my reviews after all!). I will just say that Believing the Lie is easily one of my favorite books this year. I loved the mystery, and the wonderful characters. Now that I have discovered Elizabeth George, I need to read more of her novels.

The audiobook was great and gave me something to look forward to as I listened to it on the way to work. Davina Porter was a wonderful narrator and a joy to listen to. I have heard that her readings of the unabridged version of Diana Gabaldon’s novels are not to be missed. I really need to listen to her version of some of my favorite books!

I was dismayed when Believing the Lie ended although it had a satisfactory ending, I really wanted to continue the journey with the characters. Luckily George set the novel up to move nicely into the next. I greatly look forward to what comes next!

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson

Title: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
Author: Jenny Lawson
Read by: Jenny Lawson
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 8 ½ hours (7 CDs)
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

I’ll admit that I have never read Jenny Lawson’s blog, but after listening to her laugh out loud memoir, I definitely need to check it out. This audiobook was really fun to listen to, especially as the author herself really made it a great experience. She had fun music and sound effects at the beginning of each chapter, which included her singing the titles. She also addressed the audience and the fact that it was an audiobook several times, which I enjoyed.

Jenny Lawson’s memoir includes her rural upbringing in Texas by her taxidermist father. His ideas of great “surprises” for his two daughters left something to be desired. I laughed out loud when his granddaughter eventually brought the joke back around to Grandpa. Lawson’s memoir is hilarious because she just tells everything the way she sees it, including her inability to tell appropriate stories at parties and her love for taxidermied animals in strange costumes. It was weird and very, very funny.

Overall, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was a fantastically hilarious audiobook, and I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Garden Intrigue (Pink Carnation Book 9) by Lauren Willig

Title: The Garden Intrigue

Author: Lauren Willig
Read by: Kate Reading
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 14 hours and 33 minutes
Source: Penguin Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

Back when I still lived in Milwaukee and there was still a Borders book store downtown, I often used to pick up The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and look at it. It was the type of book that was just up my alley, but I didn’t have enough money at the time to buy it. My friend Barb has also enthusiastically endorsed this series and has told me to read it. Why have I not, especially with the Kewaunee Public Library only two short blocks from my home? I know all fellow book lovers understand that there are too many books and not enough time. I was more than a little happy to be asked if I would like to review The Garden Intrigue. Although it is the ninth book in The Pink Carnation series, I wanted to find out what all of the fuss was about. After having listened to The Garden Intrigue, I realize that I do need to read/listen to all of the previous Pink Carnation books. The Garden Intrigue was excellent.

The Garden Intrigue has dual narratives, one in Napoleonic France and the other in modern day (2004) England. In the past, Augustus Whittlesby is a British spy in the Napoleonic Court that poses as a terrible poet with a longing love for Jane Wooliston, the pink carnation. Jane’s friend, Emma Delagardie, a widowed young American socialite, finds Augustus to be quite aggravating with his prose, but also quite attractive. Emma and Jane were school friends of Napoleon’s stepdaughter and Augustus uses this connection to be invited to a party at Malmaison, Napoleon’s country home with Josephine. Augustus works quite closely with Emma writing a masque for the party, while he also looks for secret plans by Robert Fulton that Napoleon may be using to plan an invasion of England. Will Emma and Augustus find love and will Napoleon’s plans be thwarted?

Eloise is a modern day graduate student studying the Pink Carnation. She lives with her boyfriend Colin residing at his ancestral home Selwick Hall. Unfortunately tangled family relationships have resulted in a movie being filmed at Selwick Hall, much to Colin’s dismay. Eloise’s research is also being trifled with in the search for the Pink Carnation’s reputed treasure.

I LOVED this book and I definitely need to read the rest of the series. The characters were charming and unique and I found myself both interested in the past and present story lines. I love the Napoleonic (regency) era and was intrigued with the story line set in Napoleon and Josephine’s court. I especially loved the side story of Robert Fulton and his inventions. American youth are taught how he invented the first steam ship, but this is the first book I’ve ever read that truly brought him and his inventions alive. I was intrigued. I also loved the romance of the novel, Augustus and Emma played off each other brilliantly with a hate them/love them vibe. I loved how they got to know each other and could see beyond the façade that others saw. I also really enjoyed the intrigue. With so many spies at court, it’s a wonder that Napoleon was able to get anything done!

I listened to a digital audio version of this book and I thought that Kate Reading did a fantastic job of narrating the story. She had great voices for all of the characters. It had a great plot that kept me listening during my long drives to and from work . . . and doing the laundry at home. I definitely want to listen to the rest of the series if I can find them all!

Overall, The Garden Intrigue was a unique historical fiction novel with intrigue and romance. It makes for a great listening experience.

Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Title: Smokin’ Seventeen

Author: Janet Evanovich
Read by: Lorelei King
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 6 ½ Hours, 5 CDs
Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Lorelei King is the master narrator of audiobooks. I’ll admit that I check out Janet Evanovich’s books now solely to hear King’s masterful narration. She is the best narrator of audiobooks that I have ever listened to; I need to find out what other audiobooks that she has done. She doesn’t just read the books; she becomes the characters in the novel giving them each their own unique voice and personalities. I love to listen to her.

I’ll admit that I loved the Stephanie Plum novels, but I have begun to despair of the series. Stephanie Plum has made no forward growth in her life. At this point, I would really love her to pick either Ranger or Morelli, get married, and move on with life. It would be comedy gold in its own right. Especially if she ended up with a Stephanie junior. Truthfully if I didn’t love to listen to Lorelei King and her interpretation so much, I would have given up on the series a few books ago.

In Smokin’ Seventeen, dead bodies keep showing up at the construction site of the new Plum Bail Bonds office. Even more disturbing is that some have the sign “For Stephanie” on them. Stephanie is working on finding out the killer’s identity, but is waylaid when her mother becomes bent on fixing her up with a former high school football star, Dave. Dave is a great cook, but lacks the sex appeal of either Morelli or Ranger. Speaking of Morelli and Ranger, Morelli’s crazy grandmother puts a curse on Stephanie to drive her apart from Morelli. The curse increases her libido and finds her with both men on consecutive nights.

The mystery was good in this book, but the slutty Stephanie drove me insane. Sleeping with Morelli and Ranger on consecutive nights seemed very trashy to me and made me think, why are these guys even sticking with you, just pick one already!! As I said before, the narration by Lorelei King and the great characters keep me listening, but I hope that Evanovich starts to give Stephanie some growth or it may be time for me to move on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

Title: The Girl in the Green Raincoat

Author: Laura Lippman
Read by: Linda Emond
Publisher: AudioGO Sound Library
Length: 4 hours and 26 minutes (4 CDs)
Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman was one of my favorite books that I read in 2011. I picked it for my book club pick for the month of May as I thought the other mothers in our group would enjoy it as well. The heroine, Tess Monaghan, is a private detective on bed rest for the last few months of her pregnancy. A girl in a green rain coat walks her dog each day in a park outside of Tess’s window. The girl intrigues Tess a la Rear Window, even more so when the girl goes missing and her dog is found abandoned. For a complete review of this novel, please click on this link. I’m going to focus this review on the audiobook.

The Girl in the Green Raincoat is the perfect audiobook experience. Linda Edmond does a good job narrating the book, but what really shines in the riveting plot. It really keeps the listener engaged on a long drive and it is so short that it does not leave the listener hanging for too long on plot points. The ending is great and was the one thing that most of the book club commented on as it caught them off guard.

I highly recommend this novel both in book and audio form for those who have not read it yet. It is a great mystery with interesting characters. I would love to read more about Tess Monaghan (this is the only Tess Monaghan novel I’ve read) and with my new long drive to and from work each day, perhaps I’ll have to hunt for audiobook versions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886): A Brief Biography by Cynthia Dickinson, The Emily Dickinson Museum

I am honored to have Cynthia Dickinson as a guest blogger today to give a brief biography of Emily Dickinson.  Cynthia (no relation to Emily) works at The Emily Dickinson Museum.  I love what she has to say about the Museum and her pictures - it looks like another place I need to add on to my places to visit in the future list!  Thank-you Cynthia for the great post!

 Emily Dickinson is considered one of the greatest poets of all time, yet in her own lifetime her work—virtually all unpublished--was known only to a small circle of family and friends.   Dickinson is famous now as a recluse, yet her lively childhood and youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and important encounters with poetry.

The Emily Dickinson Museum is dedicated to helping visitors fully understand Emily Dickinson’s remarkable story and to untangle some of the myths that surround her and her work.  Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Museum consists of Dickinson’s family home, the Homestead, and the home next door of her brother Austin. 

On this day of her death, here is a short introduction to the life and work of one of America’s creative geniuses.

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830, in the family Homestead on Main Street in Amherst, Massachusetts.  When Emily was 9, she and her family (which also included older brother Austin and younger sister Lavinia) moved to a house on what is now North Pleasant Street in Amherst.  The family returned to the Homestead in 1855.  Emily, who, like Lavinia, never married, lived at the Homestead until her death on May 15, 1886.

The poet’s formal schooling was exceptional for girls in the early nineteenth century, though not unusual for girls in Amherst.  She attended the co-educational Amherst Academy for about seven years before entering Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1847.  She attended the Seminary for one year, the longest time she spent away from home. 

In Dickinson's early twenties, writing became increasingly important to her.  In a letter to Austin that took him to task for writing poetry, she reveals something more significant about herself:   "I’ve been in the habit myself of writing some few things, and it rather appears to me that you’re getting away my patent, so you’d better be somewhat careful, or I’ll call the police!”  (L110)  

Dickinson's letters to her brother also reveal a growing sense of "difference" between herself and others:  “What makes a few of us so different from others?  It’s a question I often ask myself” (L 118).  This sense of distinction became more pronounced as she grew older and as her poetic sensibilities matured.

Although Emily Dickinson's calling as a poet began in her teen years, she came into her own as an artist during a short but intense period of creativity that resulted in her composing, revising, and saving hundreds of poems.  That period, which scholars identify as 1858-1865, overlaps with the most significant event of American nineteenth-century history, the Civil War. 

During this time, Dickinson's personal life also underwent tremendous change. In the  mid-1850s, Emily Dickinson had moved with her family back to the Homestead, and her brother Austin had married and moved with his wife Susan (a dear friend of Emily’s) into a new house next door.  The couple named their house “The Evergreens.”  It quickly became a center for social and intellectual gatherings in Amherst. 

 Back at the Homestead, Emily Dickinson began to devote more time to her writing.  She did much of this work in her bedroom, the southwest corner room on the second floor.  By the time Dickinson turned 35, she had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art.  She once defined poetry this way:  “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry.  If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.  These are the only way I know it.  Is there any other way?” (L342a)

Dickinson shared a portion of her poems with family and selected friends whose literary taste she admired, and a few of her poems were published in newspapers, though anonymously and apparently without her prior consent.  But the vast majority of her work remained known only to its author.  Many of these are recorded in small handmade booklets (now called “fascicles”), very private “publications” that she shared with no one. 

Dickinson's later life was marked by illness and death, including her father's, her mother’s, and her young nephew Gib’s.  The poet herself became ill shortly after Gib died:  "The Crisis of the sorrow of so many years is all that tires me" (L873).  She remained in poor health until she died at age 55 on May 15, 1886.  She was buried four days later in the town cemetery, now known as West Cemetery.

Each year the Emily Dickinson marks the anniversary of Dickinson’s death on the Saturday closest to that date with a Poetry Walk.  This year’s walk was an especially creative celebration of the “aliveness” of her verse. The walk marked the opening of a new exhibit on the Museum grounds:  “The Little White House Project.”

The Emily Dickinson Museum is open to the public from March through December each year and offers well-regarded guided tours of the Homestead and The Evergreens as well as a variety of public programs  We hope you’ll explore our website and make your own pilgrimage to Amherst to discover more about one of the world’s greatest poets.

Winner of Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly

I'm trying to catch up on things so I'm finally posting the grand prize winner of the wonderful novel, Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly.  And without further ado, the winner is Faith Hope and Cherrytea.  She was chosen using and has been notified via email.  If I don't hear anything from her within a week, a new winner will be drawn.

Thank-you to all who entered the giveaway, to Victoria Connelly for the great interview, and to Sourcebooks for letting me host this giveaway.

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

I love to read novels about the Romanovs, but unfortunately The Last Romanov fell flat for me. I don’t like to stop reading books, but I gave The Last Romanov one-hundred pages to capture my attention and it failed.  The novel was very jumpy with almost fragments of story.  It made it hard to pay attention to the plot.  Darya is a distant relative of the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II and his family.  She has a romantic childhood marred by tragedy and becomes a nanny to the Tsarevich, Alexei.  The story flashes forward to the future where a 104 year old Darya is obsessed with finding Alexei and restoring the Romanov dynasty.

I usually like magic in books, but this one was too mystical and strange for me.  I know Darya possessed mystical powers, but I had a hard time believing that a 104 Darya would be so sharp and spry.  I was also bothered by the historical inaccuracies.  In particular, the hunting of “aurochs” plays a key role more than once in the plot.  The only problem is that the species was extent hundreds of years before this book takes place.

Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks.


You may have noticed my absence from writing reviews these past couple of weeks. I have a new job! I’m pursuing my dream of becoming a college instructor and have been hired by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay to start the new Environmental Engineering Technology program. I love Environmental Engineering even more than I love Jane Austen, so I am very excited about this opportunity. I have been teaching a class as an adjunct instructor this semester and have really enjoyed it. I’ll be spending the summer developing curriculum and will start teaching the environmental program this fall. This past month has been particularly hectic trying to finish up work for my past job, start my new job full time, and also finish up teaching my class (on a separate contract). Things will get slightly better after this week when my class is finished and I just have one full time job. Well, technically I am still employed by my previous employer on a part-time as needed basis, but I will have zero hours for now.

What does this mean for Laura’s Reviews? Going from part time to full time with three kids will leave me with less time for writing reviews. I will hopefully still be able to write over the weekend and post at that time or during the week. I now have a 50 minute drive to work and a 50 minute drive home from work each day. . . which means more audiobooks!! I’ve got a few already on back log that I need to post reviews.

So please bear with me during these changes. I will hopefully have the winner for Mr. Darcy Forever posted soon and also the link for the May reviews for the Victorian Challenge. Until then, just post your reviews on the April link. Thank-you for your patience.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley

I keep reading rapt reviews of Kearsley’s novels that compare her to some of my favorite novelists including Diana Gabaldon, Daphne Du Maurier, and Mary Stewart.  I read and enjoyed Kearsley’s novel The Rose Garden.  Yet, I didn’t feel that it warranted comparison with Gabaldon, Du Maurier, and Stewart.  After reading Mariana, I can finally see where the praise is coming from; it was an excellent novel with a spectacular ending.

Julia Beckett sees a grey house as a child and instantly falls in love with it.  Years later, she passes by the same house that is now for sale.  Believing in destiny, Julia purchases the home.  Moving from London to the countryside takes some getting used to, but Julia is close to her vicar brother, Tom, and also meets some great new friends.  She also encounters a handsome neighbor or two.
Disturbingly, Julia also time slips into the past and experiences the life of Mariana Farr.   Mariana lived during the seventeenth century in the same home that Julia has just purchased.  She escaped from London during the plague after her mother’s death to live with her Uncle.  Life is trying for Mariana, but after meeting her handsome neighbor, Richard de Mornay, Mariana begins to experience love.

Will Mariana find true love?  Will Julia be able to live her life separate from Mariana and find what is truly meant for her?
I LOVED this book.  It was excellent and I couldn’t put it down.  The ending is superb.  I don’t want to ruin it for anyone so that is all I am going to say on that subject.  I also thought it did the best job of a “time slip” novel that I have read.  It had a great description and also an explanation that Julia is the reincarnated Mariana remembering her own past life.  One of my favorite quotes explaining the time slip is as follows:

“It is difficult to describe the sensation of sliding backwards in time, of exchanging one reality for another that is just as real, just as tangible, just as familiar.    I should not, perhaps, refer to it as ‘sliding,’ since in actual fact I was thrust – abruptly and without warning – from one time to the next, as though I had walked through some shifting, invisible portal dividing the present from the past.”
Overall, Mariana is an excellent time slip novel with great romance, present day action, and also a wonderful historical fiction past portion.  It has a great ending that you must experience for yourself!

Book Source:  Review copy from Sourcebooks.  Thank-you!!

Death Benefit by Robin Cook (audiobook)

Title: Death Benefit
Author: Robin Cook
Read by: George Guidall
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 11 hours (10 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Books.  Thank-you!
Death Benefit is a disturbing look into a medical mystery that demonstrates that sometimes profits come before medical miracles.

Pia Grazdani and her friend George Wilson are both in their final years at Columbia Medical School.  Popular George loves his friend, the rather aloof Pia, but he can’t seem to break her barrier to become more than friends with benefits.  Pia is a very smart and unique woman, who has troubles relating to people.  She grew up in the foster care system after the murder of her mother and abandonment by her father.  She was abused by her Uncle and by others in the system.  Now as a beautiful young woman, she grows close to no one until she starts working with Dr. Tobias Rothman, a brilliant scientist who has discovered how to regrow organs specific for each individual.  Dr. Rothman is working on perfecting his system and is notoriously hard to work with.  He also had a hard youth in the foster care system and develops a bond with Pia.
In a parallel story Edmund Mathews and Russell Levevre are two financiers that became rich after the crash of 2008 by dubious methods that helped bring down the economy.  They have found a new get rich quick scheme with a new target:  the elderly.  They decide to buy health insurance policies from older Americans that have health problems such as diabetes.  They will buy them for cheap allowing the older folks to get some money that is much needed in this economy and will make money off of it in their death.  The only thing that can foil their plan is if Americans suddenly stop dying . . . when they discover Dr. Rothman’s research just might create this situation where they will lose all of their money, they take a route to the dark side and create a cascade of events of that will has lasting consequences.
Pia is the only one that suspects the truth and together with George they are determined to solve the mystery.  What results is a heart pounding mystery that I really enjoyed.  My only complaint was that it ended rather too soon for me.  I would have liked more detail at the end as I came to care for all of the characters. A lot of the secondary characters story lines were not tied up.
George Guidall did a fine job narrating the novel.  He has one of those voices that is always interesting to listen too, even when narrating though a female character’s point of view.  Death Benefit was a great audiobook to listen to in the car; I really couldn’t wait to see how the story would end.  Pia is a great conflicted heroine that is a little tough to love.  She reminded me a lot of Lisbeth from The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo.  Both women were tough, brilliant heroines with trouble relating to people.  I also really liked the science in the book.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we really did have such a medical miracle?
Death Benefit was my first book that I’ve read (or listened to!) by Robin Cook, and it definitely will not be my last.