Monday, April 29, 2013

Books, books, books...Vol. 2

So many books, so little time.  Here are some short reviews for a few of the books that I've recently read:
                                    Clean Break: A Novel by David Klein
Lured by the hope of a better life for herself and her son, Celeste Vanek must deal with the emotional and physical resistance of her compulsive-gambler husband when she asks for a divorce.  Though she hopes she is on the verge of making a clean break, her husband demands his family back, and things get violent.  Jake Atwood, who witnesses the shocking scene between Celeste and her husband, struggles with his own emotional and ethical issues while attempting to help Celeste escape her marriage.  At the same time, Jake is involved with Sara, a married and childless police detective who has a private agenda to pursue when a crime is committed that links all of those characters together and changes their lives forever.  With heart-pounding suspense and brilliant psychological insight, Clean Break will leave readers breathless.

My thoughts: A book about domestic violence, marriage, divorce, and starting over.  The writing is mediocre, mainly because the author gives too many unnecessary details and recaps all the events repeatedly.  Overall, a forgettable read.

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown.
Bestselling author Carolyn Brown makes her first foray into women's fiction with this poignant and hilarious novel about four friends in Cadillac, Texas—where the best jalapenos in the world are grown.

Everything is calm in Cadillac, Texas until Aunt Agnes declares war on Violet Prescott, the president of the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society, just in time for the annual jubilee. But after the festivities—and the hostilities—are over, it's four friends who are left standing, proving once again that friendship is forever.

My thoughts:   Quick, fun, and sassy read about friendship, family, and the annual jubilee.  The writing is engaging, the characters become your friends, and the story will have you laughing and crying the whole way through.  Definitely a great weekend read!

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Picture a late-May morning in 1918, a time when Montgomery wore her prettiest spring dress and finest floral perfume—same as I would wear that evening…
Thus begins the story of beautiful, reckless, seventeen-year-old Zelda Sayre on the day she meets Lieutenant Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald at a country club dance. Fitzgerald isn’t rich or settled; no one knows his people; and he wants, of all things, to be a writer in New York. No matter how wildly in love they may be, Zelda’s father firmly opposes the match. But when Scott finally sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, Zelda defies her parents to board a train to New York and marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Life is a sudden whirl of glamour and excitement: Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his beautiful, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, trades in her provincial finery for daring dresses, and plunges into the endless party that welcomes the darlings of the literary world to New York, then Paris and the French Riviera. It is the Jazz Age, when everything seems new and possible—except that dazzling success does not always last. Surrounded by a thrilling array of magnificent hosts and mercurial geniuses—including Sara and Gerald Murphy, Gertrude Stein, and the great and terrible Ernest Hemingway—Zelda and Scott find the future both grander and stranger than they could have ever imagined.

My thoughts:   Okay, so I must have read the wrong book, because what I just read in the above summary sounds pretty awesome.  And, well, what I read was far from awesome - it was tiring, dull, and rather uninspired.  I thought I would be reading an exciting book detailing the life of Zelda Fitzgerald and learning all about her tumultuous and infamous marriage, but alas that did not happen.  Then again, maybe it did, but I didn't read long enough to find out.  DNF!!  Yep, I did not finish this book.  I found myself getting utterly bored by the bratty young woman who loved playing mind games and whining about her privileged life.  Definitely not a book I would recommend!

Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures by Virginia Morell
Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving explanation into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.

Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve?  Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep?  That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?

Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants, elephants, and wolves to sharp-shooting archerfish and pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs.  With thirty years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a storyteller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to pioneering animal-cognition researchers and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects.  She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notion about why animals behave as they do.  She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even "lesser animals" have cognitive abilities such as memory, feelings, and self-awareness - traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.

By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.

My thoughts:  Fascinating book that all animal lovers will devour!  Filled with short and informative chapters, this book will confirm your notion that animals do indeed think.  They process pain, communicate with one another, and experience emotions - they are most definitely more complicated than some folk give them credit for.  Morell has written an interesting and very accessible book that will appeal to fans of non-fiction and books about animals.  I would definitely recommend this book!!

In Search of Lucy by Lia Fairchild
Lucy Lang's life is spiraling out of control.  For years she sacrificed her own needs to care for her half sister and alcoholic mother, only to be abandoned by both.  Now, at age 30, Lucy finds herself held back by memories and regret as she struggles to find her own purpose in life.  But when her sister needs a kidney transplant, Lucy is the only one who can save her life.

With the help of new friends and a man who won't give up on her, Lucy sets out on a journey to reunite with her sister and find the answers she so desperately needs.  Can she get past her emotions and have a chance at happiness?  With its colorful and endearing cast of characters, In Search of Lucy takes readers on a rollercoaster of emotions from sadness and heartache to happiness and hope.

My thoughts:  Emotional read that deals with familial baggage - the heavy kind.  Believable scenarios and characters will have you crying, laughing and rooting for Lucy.  The writing is engaging and the story is unputdownable!  You will love this book if you are a fan of women's fiction and books dealing with familial dramas.  I would definitely recommend it!

Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds by Jim Sterba
This may be hard to believe, but it is very likely that more live in closer proximity to wild animals, birds, and trees in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history.  For nature lovers, this should be wonderful news.  Unless, perhaps, you are one of more than four thousand drivers who will hit a deer today, or your child's soccer field is carpeted with goose droppings, or coyotes are killing your pets, or the neighbor's cat has turned your bird feeder into a fast-food outlet, or wild turkeys have eaten your newly planted seed corn, or beavers have flooded your driveway, or bears are looting your garbage cans.

For four hundred years, explorers, traders, and settlers plundered North American wildlife and forests in an escalating rampage that culminated in the late nineteenth century's "era of extermination."  By 1900, populations of many wild animals and birds had been reduced to isolated remnants or threatened with extinction, and worry mounted that we were running out of trees.  Then, in the twentieth century, an incredible turnaround took place.  Conservationists outlawed commercial hunting, created wildlife sanctuaries, transplanted isolated species to restored habitats, and imposed regulations on hunters and trappers.  Over decades, these efforts slowly nursed many wild populations back to health.

But after the Second World War, something happened that conservationists hadn't foreseen: sprawl.  People moved first in suburbs on urban edges, and then kept moving out across a landscape once occupied by family farms.  By 2000, a majority of Americans lived neither in city nor in country but in that vast in-between.  Much of sprawl has plenty of trees, and its human residents offer better amenities than many creatures can find in the wild: plenty of food, water, hiding places, and protection from predators with guns.  The result is a mix of people and wildlife that should be an animal lover's dream come true but often turns into a sprawl dweller's nightmare.

Nature Wars offers an eye-opening look at how Americans lost touch with the natural landscape, spending 90 percent of their time indoors, where nature arrives via television and films in which wild creatures often behave like people or cuddly pets.  Yet our well-meaning efforts to protect animals allowed wild populations to burgeon out of control, causing damage costing billions, degrading ecosystems, and touching off disputes that polarized communities, setting neighbor against neighbor.

Deeply researched, eloquently written, counter-intuitive, and often humorous, Nature Wars will be the definitive book on how we created this unintended mess.

My thoughts:   Meticulous!  This book is extremely well written and filled with loads of interesting facts about the history of the United States.  We find out so much about the trade and commerce industry and the ways in which we did not conserve land for the animals.  Sterber examines how wildlife is impacted by the growth of our country and the ways in which we choose to include nature in our grand plans.  We also get to read about the comebacks of some animals, which I found to be so fascinating.  This is definitely a book for all animal lovers and environmentalists - you will love it!!  I would happily recommend this book!!

The Great Northern Express: A Writer's Journey
by Howard Frank Mosher
Several months before novelist Howard Frank Mosher turned sixty-five, he learned that he had prostate cancer.  Following forty-six intensive radiation treatments, Mosher set out alone in his twenty-year-old Chevy Celebrity on a monumental road trip and book tour across twenty-first-century America.  From a chance meeting with an angry moose in northern New England to late-night walks on the wildest sides of America's largest cities, The Great Northern Express chronicles Mosher's escapades with an astonishing array of erudite bibliophiles, homeless hitchhikers, country crooners and strippers, and aspiring writers full of all circumstances.

Full of high and low comedy and rollicking adventures, this is part travel memoir, party autobiography, and pure, anarchic fun.  From coast to coast and border to border, this unforgettable adventure of a top-notch American writer demonstrates that, sometimes, in order to know who we truly are, we must turn the wheel toward home.

My thoughts:  What a great read!  Part travel memoir and part fiction, this book is filled with terrific stories from the author's past and his own imagination.  We have conversations with literary ghosts and a travel guide of small town America and its indie bookstores.  I found myself immersed in this book and unable to put it down.  Made me consider taking my own road trip cross country visiting literary hot spots - how fun does that sound?  Definitely a book for fans of memoirs, travel journals, and fiction! 

And, there you have it, a few reviews of some of the great and not-so great books that I've read lately.  Now, I'm off to start reading Sophie Kinsella's latest tome, Wedding Night!  Happy Reading!! 

Thank you to the publishers for providing me with copies of these books in exchange for an honest review!!


The Relentless Reader said...

I adore short reviews, so yay! Nature Wars sounds fascinating to me.

I've heard such mixed reviews of Z that I don't know what to do, lol.

Nadia said...

Jennifer, me too! I used to worry that my reviews weren't long enough and so that would make me take forever in writing and posting reviews. After visiting your site and some others, I realize that my reviews don't have to be novel-length as long as they reflect my effusiveness or disappointment clearly. So, now I'm doing short reviews for a batch of books at a time.

As far as Z goes, it was not what I had hoped. Oh well.

Ti said...

Wow! You have been a reading fool! So many books! I am such a slug with my reading these days.

Lisa said...

Wow - I'm so disappointed to hear about Z (although I must admit that I didn't care much for Fowler's last novel so I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised). Sounds like Zelda is exactly what I expected her to be - not a person I'd like, admire, or even care to read about. Thanks for your honesty.

techeditor said...

I read ANIMAL WISE. This is a book everyone should read. It deals with such an important subject, and too many of us are unaware of it. Probably, MOST of us are unaware of it.

Virginia Morell, author of ANIMAL WISE, says that animals have minds. They use their brains as we do, and, like us, they have personalities, moods, and emotions. They laugh and play. Some show grief and empathy.

It is true that most of us pet owners see intelligence and personality in our own animals. But this is more than a proclamation by someone who loves her pets.

Morell speaks scientific fact, first in a cover article in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, now expanded in ANIMAL WISE. She tells us how we know that domesticated and wild animals, such as chimpanzees, elephants, wolves, and even fish, live by more than instinct.

Morell knows and wants us all to know: animals have feelings, both psychological and physical. But most of us don't realize that because the scientific experiments and findings that prove this have happened mostly in relatively recent years, the 1990s. But, even then and now, other animal experts are telling us to beware of anthropomorphism, attributing human emotions to animals. They need to see the proof to believe it.

The ANIMAL WISE epilogue gives examples to show why we need to know that animals as well as humans have minds and emotions. Then how could we not take care of animals and know that to do otherwise is immoral?

So read ANIMAL WISE. Then you will notice that, more and more, this subject is discussed elsewhere, too. Places like PBS stations and the Discovery channel are getting the word out so that even nonreaders of scientific magazines will see the proof.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book said...

Good job with the short reviews! You can say a lot with few words! :)

Nadia said...

Ti, sometimes I just get my reading mojo going and I can't stop reading :)

Lisa, Z was the first Fowler book I read and I'm thinking its going to be my last. Oh well.

techeditor, okay.

Rebecca, thanks! I'm thinking short reviews are a good way to go when you have too many books to review :)

Athira said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee! I have seen it around and it sounds intriguing.

Vintage Reading said...

Interested in your thoughts on Z. I'm not that keen on fictional re-workings of the lives of famous literary figures. Think I'll avoid this and find out more about Zelda's life from a good biography.

Nadia said...

Aths, it was such a fun book - I think you'll enjoy it as well :)

Vintage Reading, that's precisely what I was thinking ;)