Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

I didn't always read only Nora Roberts...but it sure seems like it now.  Ever since my son was born last August, I've been drawn to books that are quick reads, are easy to pick up and put down (repeatedly) and have happy endings.  So Ms. Roberts is a natural choice.  I'm sure the variety of books I read will pick up some day, when I spend less time changing diapers and more time on myself.
Image via Barnes & Noble

Summary:  Stella is a single mother of two active and adorable boys.  After the tragic and unexpected death of her husband, she finds herself at a loss and looking for a fresh start.  She decides to move back home to Tennessee and sets up an interview to manage a local garden center, In the Garden.  The interview with the owner, the formidable Rosalind Harper, goes well and soon Stella finds herself and her two boys moving into Rosalind's estate, Harper House.  Stella jumps head first into her job and soon finds herself pitted against In the Garden's hunky and grumpy landscape designer.  Soon Stella finds herself not only learning a new job in a new city, but working on a decades old murder mystery and falling in love.

My Thoughts:  I would like this book for the throwback 2004 references alone, but there's more to like about this book than Britney references and early 2000s slang.  (Although they are glorious.)

What I liked most about this story, and what I feel is a running theme throughout Robert's work, is the the sense of contentedness about the characters.  The main characters like their jobs, love their families and are just overall happy with life.

Of course, they never start out that way.  Blue Dahlia in particular starts out with an average woman (finally!) just trying to keep it together after a horrible tragedy.  She has bills and kids and struggles a bit trying to figure out the best and right thing to do for her family.  I can relate to that, and think many other people can as well.  The reader roots for Stella, so when the hunky and grumpy Logan peaks Stella's romantic interest, you root for her.  And you know Stella can handle Logan, because hello, she can handle her job and her kids and still have time to take her dog Parker out on a walk.

Of course, then Stella finds her dream job to which she is passionate and well suited, with an awesome and understanding  boss, gets to live in an (albeit haunted) awesomely historical and grand house with a great commute, reliable child care and someone to cook all her meals, all the while falling desperately in love with a big ole' hunk of man with a steady paycheck and his own place.  And if you're like me, you feel a tiny bit irritated that Stella has great skin, a collection of designer shoes and doesn't have to sit in rush hour.

But maybe that's just me.

Rating:  This was a good book, and a perfect read for spring time.  It got me excited about yard work for a good hour, until I realized how much I dislike bugs and dirt.

Also Read By:  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  |  The Collector  |  Blood Magick

Reviewed By:  Tami

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane" by Neil Gaiman

Well, when I saw this audio book at the library I had forgotten that Tami had already written a review, but this book is new to me, and so I wanted to write my own review.  Ah, well. Neil Gaiman has a very good reputation among certain reading circles that I know. He is guaranteed to provide quality writing and creative storytelling. 

Summary: This book is presented as a man trying to recount his childhood on a rural road with some interesting neighbors, the Hempstocks. The tale starts with the family renting out a room and one of the tenants dying. This leads to a series of supernatural events that involve a spirit that goes around giving people what they want with disastrous results.

Much of the story has the next tenant, Ursula Munkton, as something of a villain. She seduces the boy's father and controls their lives. Much of the boy's problems come directly from Ursula.

Lettie Hempstock is a young girl living with her mother and grandmother. The three of them know more about the universe than they let on, with only hints sprinkled about the story. Lettie helps the boy with his problems and that forms the bulk of the book.  

What I Liked: This story is written almost in the style of magical realism where the world is presented as normal, but normal has a broader definition in the book than for we in the real world. This is partly because the main character is a child who is still getting oriented in the universe and asks questions more out of curiosity than disbelief.

What I Didn't Like: This is a forgettable story, for the most part. I couldn't write this review without reading a synopsis first, which I find surprising.

Rating: Entertaining.

Also Read by this Author: The Graveyard Book.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Factory Girls" by Leslie Chang

I heard this book mentioned in a discussion about the modern economy and then saw it on the library shelves.

Summary: Leslie Chang is an American journalist who spent several years conducting interviews in China. The main focus of this book is on the rise of factories and the migrant workers who fill them. She interviews several workers and a few of them maintain contact over the years even as they change cities and industries. Chang goes into detail regarding their working conditions and their social lives. She tours the various places of their lives, including taking a trip back to the farm from which one of the migrants was born. She highlights the ups and downs, including how most migrants seem to see factory work as an opportunity to rise economically. They are constantly improving skills and jumping from job to job, hoping to make it big. Chang also talks about the control that the factories have over workers, including deciding where they sleep, how many hours they work and even if they are allowed to collect their last paycheck.

Chang also takes the time to explore her own past and contrast it with the workers. Chang's great-grandfather was regionally powerful before the communist revolution. He was a government official and lived in a large compound, and controlling a large amount of land. Her grandfather was an important mining engineer during the Japanese invasion and eventually assassinated during the cultural revolution. Her family moved to the United States and Chang sees similarities in her personal migrant story and the girls who work the factories.

What I Liked: This is a good long perspective on the changes in China without feeling like a defense of any particular argument. She reports what she finds and lets the reader draw their own conclusions. This is the most comprehensive book I have read on China and I found it enlightening.

What I Didn't Like: Even though she compares the two themes of the factories and her family, it still felt like maybe they should have been two different books.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

I've had "The Rosie Project" on my to-read list since it came out.  I came across it on a new release newsletter published by my local library and thought it sounded good, so I put in a request.  When my turn eventually came, I wasn't able to get to it before it was due and returned it unopened.  Repeat five or six times and eventually I got tired of the process and just read it.  I'm so glad I did!

Summary:  Don Tillman is a genius in everything except social skills.  So when he gets it in his head that it's time to get married, he goes about the process as any genius would: he creates a 16 page questionnaire to filter out the smokers, the drinkers and the perpetually late.  Don's survey, dubbed "The Wife Project," is intended to help him find his perfect match without wasting a bunch of time.

When his first candidate appears at his office door, Don is flabbergasted by what he finds.  Rosie couldn't have possibly completed the questionnaire in a compatible manner and is completely unsuitable.  But after spending time with her, Don finds an excuse to see her again.  And against all logic, see her again.  Soon Don is finding excuses to see Rosie every chance he can get until "The Rosie Project" begins and Don's life changes forever.

My Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book for a lot of reasons.  The characters are all interesting and charismatic.  Don drove me absolutely nuts in an endearing, charming, immensely likable way.  Rosie was as real as it gets and stayed true throughout the book.  Gene was over-the-top, a little sad, but loyal to his friend.  The interactions between Don and Gene and Don and Rosie felt genuine and natural in a way that was totally believable.

The plot of the book was complex, fascinating and had me on my the edge of my seat with questions as the story progressed:  Who is Rosie's real dad?  Will Done realize that Rosie's a great catch?  Will Rosie realize that Don's not so bad?  Did Gene have a thing with Rosie? What is Gene going to do next?  I particularly enjoyed reading about Don's fascinating life.  As someone (a little) obsessed with charts, timelines and spreadsheets, I found Don's minute by minute schedules completely fascinating and weird and glorious.  I loved watching Don adapt to change and grow throughout the book as he came to realize that not everything can be planned ahead.

And the best part.....the ending.  But you'll have to read the book to see why.

Rating:  I'll read this again, and I just requested the sequel from the library.

Also Read By:  Nothing.,...yet!

Reviewed By:  Tami