Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Next Always" by Nora Roberts

"The Next Always" is the first installment of Nora Robert's Inn Boonsboro series.  The three book tale takes place in the charming town square of Boonsboro, Maryland.  What really appeals to me about this series is that Inn Boonsboro actually exists in real life as it does in the book series...in fact it is now on my bucket list of things to do before I'm confined to a rascal.

Summary:  Beckett Montgomery and his brothers are working on a building rehab that hits close to home.  In fact they're renovating the Inn on the local town square that captured their mother's heart.  While Beckett's specialty is architecture, he's not afraid to lose his suit and get his (big manly) hands dirty on the job.  Beckett gets satisfaction from bringing new life to the building, working with his brothers, and from the occasional run ins with single mom and town bookseller Clare Brewster...the same Clare he's been pining for since high school.

"The Next Always" introduces readers to the sassy and sexy Montgomery brothers, to sweet and strong Clare and her determined and lovely closest friends and to the showpiece of Boonsboro - the Inn on the Square.  Beckett and Clare connect and spark romance amid the hope of renovation, the mystery of a local ghost and the love and chaos only a close family can truly bring.

What I Liked: 

  • I enjoyed the characters in "The Next Always".  I felt like the great Ms. Roberts spent a good amount of time fleshing out the characters and giving them solid background stories that made their reactions in the book believable.
  • Both Beckett and Clare are solid and likable in way that makes the reader root for them.
  • I'm a sucker for all things HGTV so the story's strong focus on the renovation of the building really appealed to me.  I find renovations absolutely fascinating and enjoyed reading about finishes and punch out lists.
  • I also liked reading about Clare's bookstore.  I would love to work in that bookstore.
  • The unfolding of the love story between Beckett and Clare was sweet.  While it followed the traditional romance pattern (man meets woman, they fall in lust, they secretly love, they fight, breakup, reconcile, happy every after) the story its self was interesting enough that it felt genuine and plausible.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • I'm so over ghosts in romance stories.  This aspect of the story line was totally unnecessary.  (Of course, if you like ghosts, this might be for you!)
  • The stalker.  Oh the stalker.
What Might Drive You Nuts:  I read some online reviews, and think some of them bring up some good points.  These things didn't bother me, but may bother you...
  • Inn Boonsboro, Vesta Pizzaria and the town bookstore exist, and they are owned by Nora Roberts.  This book and the rest of the series could be construed as a giant advertisement for her establishments.
  • Several reviews mentioned that this book is a rehash of the MacKade brothers series.  I haven't read that series (but totally will now), but since the MacKade stories were published mid-90s I feel like there might be enough differences to make it worth your while.
  • The characters and story line follows the same pattern that all Nora Roberts series follow.  If you're looking for something fresh and new....well....
Rating:  I really enjoyed it!  Even though the characters and plots of all Nora's books follow similar patterns, her setting descriptions keep me coming back for more.

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of them, and a full book list can be found on Nora Robert's website.  I've reviewed:  The Collector, Shadow Spell, Dark Witch, Thankless in Death, Concealed in Death

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"American Chronicles World War I" by National Public Radio

I selected this audiobook because I am a regular listener of NPR and generally curious about World War I (partly because of watching Downton Abbey and partly because of an amazing history teacher in high school who made the class play a complicated homemade game which demonstrated quite effectively how the Great War began. 

Summary: This is an audio collection put together by the NPR staff. As far as I can tell, this is only available as an audiobook, which kind of makes me feel like it's not a "real" book, but whatever.

This collection is made up of a series of interviews with journalists, historians, authors and WWI veterans, each talking about some aspect of the war, or its legacy. They cover a wide range of topics including the Battle of the Somme, outbreaks of peace, airplanes, the sinking of the Lusitania and the Bonus Army in Washington, DC. The interviewers are all regular journalists or hosts found on NPR shows, which made me sometimes forget if I was listening to the radio or a CD.

WWI is such a strange war because it is a clash of the old and the new. The soldiers seem to be from an older age, but their weapons are entirely modern. When I think about it, I imagine Civil War soldiers with machine guns and 1400 pound artillery shells. Whole cities were wiped off the map and tens of thousands killed in astonishingly short battles. And this mass combat has left its mark on the world today.

As a side note, I want to say this book inspired me to watch the 1916 propaganda film The Battle Of The Somme which includes over an hour of genuine footage from the battle, mostly from the artillery units. I gave me a haunting feeling to stare into the faces of young men who lived (and many died) nearly 100 years ago. 

What I Liked: I learned a lot from this audiobook and felt that the interview method was a very effective way to present this information.

What I Didn't Like: They did not make much of an effort give a comprehensive timeline or overview of the war. They highlighted interesting parts of it, but assumed the listener would be able to look up whatever additional information they wanted.

Rating: This is a perfect example of why I love NPR. I am going to check out their other American Chronicles collections.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell

We picked this audiobook based on the fact that I like authors who contribute to public radio programs and Tami has a copy of this book in softcover, but has not gotten around to reading it.  

Summary: This book is a non-fiction account of the colonies in and around the land that became Massachusetts. Sarah Vowell spent years reading primary sources from the era and visiting sites important to the history. The source she explicitly refers to the most is the personal diary of John Winthrop, who played a central role in the founding and managing of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Vowell discusses the lives of the colonists before they ever left England, and what it was like to sail across the Atlantic. She quotes often from the men and women, directly from their written words. She discusses the early years of the colony, including the life of the Charter, the religious disagreements and the banishments doled out for those who were deemed a danger to the colony. The native Americans also play a big role in this book, for their continuous relations with the Europeans. At times they were allies and at times they were at war. Vowell explores the reasons for both, with a personal interest since she can trace her descendants to both sides of the ocean, pre-Columbus.

What I Liked: Vowell let a lot of the historical figures speak in their own words a lot, using a lot of direct quotes from letters, diaries and texts written at the time. I learned a lot about the colony, as I never really studied this particular group in school and felt no compulsion to investigate before this book.

What I Didn't Like: This audiobook has multiple voice actors, including Vowell herself. Each character has a unique actor for when they are quoted. It was fine when they recited a paragraph or more, but Vowell often would quote a single word of phrase and it was really disorienting to hear two voices interrupt each other while working to finish a sentence. I wish that they had handled it differently. Of course, you wont notice that if read the book.

I also found the material was presented in a form that reminded me of a history lecture. Tami did not finish the book, and I doubt I would have been able to finish without the audiobook setting the pace for me.

Rating: Skip it, unless you are a fan of Sarah Vowell.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Cauldron of Ghosts" by David Weber and Eric Flint

We I have been reading the Honor Harrington series for years now, always anticipating the next book. I have already reviewed one book and gave a summary of the series then.  

Summary: This book is part of the Honorverse, but does not follow Honor Harrington herself. Instead, it follows Victor Cachat (of the star nation of Haven) and Anton Zilwicki (of the star empire of Manticore) as they carry out a huge mission against the Mesan Alignment. In this spin-off Honorverse series, Victor and Anton have been working together professionally for many years, despite being from different nations. They are united in the common cause of ending genetic slavery, a crime committed most extensively by the corporate rulers of the planet Mesa. In previous books, these special agents uncovered a centuries-old plot being carried out by a secret organization called the Alignment. Deciding that time was critical, Victor and Anton pull together an elite team of agents to bring to the planet Mesa and gather more intelligence regarding the Alignment's future plans. To carry out their mission, Victor uses the criminal networks that arose out of the seccy population, a class of disenfranchised descendants of freed slaves. Things move quickly as everyone tries to get ahead of everyone else.

What I Liked: This is classic Honorverse material. Everything is high stakes, intergalactic combat. I love the Victor/Anton story arch because it is heavy on spy games and politics. They are a pair of master spies, always at the top of their game and it is fun to see that in action.

What I Didn't Like: So, there are two things to keep in mind regarding this book and a few others in the series.

Firstly, there are multiple authors. Weber is the primary author and plays a hand in all the stories. He gets credit on all the books and it is his brain-child. Flint is the secondary author and is the custodian of Victor Cachat. Flint clearly writes a lot of the book when Victor is involved and Weber takes a backseat. I love Weber's writing style, but I am not as big a fan of Flint. He loves to hurry things along, while Weber is content to let the plot unfold gracefully. In this book, a lot happens and it happens very quickly. I let it slide because I love the series, but it makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

Secondly, I am the kind of reader who goes slow and sees each word. I know, I should learn to speed-read or something, but I like the way I read and I notice things most people miss. Having said this, I have noticed that early Honorverse books had few typos. The publishers clearly spent the time proofreading the books before printing and cleared up the mistakes. At some point, I suspect they stopped proofing. The typos increased in frequency and impact. For example, this book has a scene repeat, and the two versions cannot be reconciled on multiple points. It suggests no one proofed the final draft and that bothers me.

Rating: This is not the best book in the series, but I highly recommend the whole series, including this volume.

Also Read by this Author: 
Main Honor Harrington series: On Basilisk Station, The Honor of the Queen, The Short Victorious War, Field of Dishonor, Flag in Exile, Honor Among Enemies, In Enemy Hands, Echoes of Honor, Ashes of Victory, War of Honor, At All Costs, Mission of Honor, A Rising Thunder, Shadow of Freedom
Crown of Slaves series: Crown of Slaves, Torch of Freedom
Saganami Island series: The Shadow of Saganami, Storm from the Shadows
Star Kingdom series: A Beautiful Friendship
Anthologies: More Than Honor, Worlds of Honor, Changer of Worlds, The Service of the Sword, In Fire Forged, Beginnings

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"The Collector" by Nora Roberts

Did you know that I'm a sucker for a good romance novel?  It's true, they've been my [not so] guilty pleasure since middle school.  Whenever I want something that isn't too deep and will be sure to have a happy ending, I check out the latest in the romance section at my local library.  And while my tastes have changed from medieval bodice rippers to more contemporary fiction, I'll always have a soft spot for a good old love story.

Summary:  Lila Emerson has a fascinating life.  By day Lila supports herself via house sitting for the ultra rich and writing supernatural teen fiction.  By night she pulls out her binoculars and takes a peek or two into the fascinating world of New York's elite apartment buildings.  She isn't spying, so much as letting her imagination run a little wild as she makes up stories about each apartment's occupants.  One night as Lila is peeping from window to window she see's a passionate fight in one of her regular windows that soon turns deadly.  In shock, Lila calls the police to report what she saw.  The next day she meets the handsome, rich, overbearing Ashton Archer and finds herself sucked into the mysterious world of high art, love and murder.

What I Liked:

  • One of the things I find that Nora Roberts does so well is to make the world in which her characters live believable and sympathetic.  "The Collector" is about very rich people doing very bad things with a little love and who-done-it thrown in the mix.  Normally I would roll my eyes after the first few chapters, but the characters ended up so likable that I kept with the story even though I personally have a hard time relating (or aspiring) to the filthy rich.
  • "The Collector" felt like a hybrid between Robert's "In Death" series and her usual stand alone romances.  The plot held gruesome murder in which no one was safe, truly evil bad guys and an interesting mystery.  It also stuck to Robert's usual formula for romance:  woman meets man, instant attraction, beginning of a new relationship, big fight, dramatic scene, happy ever after.  It's that last bit I like the best.  There's enough sad in the world that sometimes you just want happy at the end.
What Drove Me Nuts:
  • It took me a lot longer to get into this book than it does a usual Roberts romance.  I had a hard time relating to the characters (super rich and sexy with ultra unique jobs) and didn't feel like Roberts gave them quiet enough depth to be totally believable.  I'm not sure if this is because my life has changed so much in the last year or so that I no longer relate to the single and looking or if I'm just falling out of another romance phase.
  • Parent issues.  We all have them, but it seems like one out of every three of Robert's heroines has parent issues.  I'm ready for someone well adjusted and normal.  Thanks in advance. ;-)
  • I recently finished Robert's "The Art of Deception", one of her first forays into writing and found the heroes a little too similar.
Rating:  I hate to say it, but skip this one.  Robert's has written much more engaging stand alone romances, and if you're looking for one, I suggest you try Whiskey Beach.  You'll get murder and art, but also much more engaging characters.

Also Read By This Author:  I've read almost all of Robert's catalog, which you can find at her website.  You can check my other reviews on Robert's books by searching for Nora Roberts in the quick search on the right hand side of the page, or by clicking individual links here:  Shadow Spell   |   Dark Witch   |   Thankless in Death   |   Concealed in Death

Reviewed By:  Tami