Saturday, January 31, 2015

Love by the Book by Melissa Pimentel

I'm the midst of my last full semester of grad school, and while I fully embrace the knowledge that I will be stressed out, tired, and trying to finish all my assignments on time, I still have to accommodate my reading addiction.  

All of you out there who share my inability to get through a day without reading for at least an hour understand the absolute necessity of this! Luckily, I was asked to read and review a kicky book that will either make you never want to date again, or conduct your own experiment into the mysteries of dating and finding the love of your life.  

Love by the Book is a novel by Melissa Pimentel based on something she did while living in London in 2009:  buying dating how-to books and using their methods to actually meet and date men.  And that's just what Lauren Cunningham does, with a definite mixed result.  Lauren moves to London after a messy break-up (which you find out more about towards the end of the novel).  She finds a great roommate and a job at a museum.  She's just offered her stay-over sex dude Adrian some eggs for breakfast.  Because, as we all know, it's a nice thing to do and eggs are just eggs.  But Adrian freaks out, thinks she's asking for a commitment, and doesn't let the door hit him in the tushy on his way out.  

Lauren decides to read a dating guide each month for a year, and follow the rules in an attempt to discover A) just what works with men, and B) have lots of sex.  Lauren's escapades are sometimes partially successful, but most often leave her scratching her head and thinking twice about her "study".  And meanwhile, there's the  guy who runs the bookstore...who thinks she's an idiot for buying those books, and with whom she has great conversations about literature and life.  Could he be the one she's looking for?

Lauren is certainly a character, as well as her flatmate Lucy.  I will say this novel is Bridget Jones tossed in with Sex and the City.  There's plenty of booze, sexual encounters, and cigarettes.  It is a fun romp and an enjoyable read.  And what happens at the end of Lauren's journey?  Does she figure it out, or does she give up?  And what has she left behind at home?  

I will say the one thing that puzzled me about the book was her past relationship with Dylan.  It got a bit lost and I never really understood what exactly this relationship was until I was almost done with the novel.  It really could have been left out or explained pretty directly right up front.  I didn't think it had much to do with the novel as a whole but just provided a plot device for Lauren to move to London.   

Valentine's day is coming up!  For all those single ladies out there, spend February 14th pampering yourself, eating something good, and reading this book.  It's a fun look at love and dating in 2015.  

Rating:  7/10 for a clever use of dating "how-to" books put into practice.  Lauren's dating experiences go from so-so to disasters to not-so-bad, but all are fun to read about! 

Thanks to Penguin for a review copy!  

Available in paperback and ebook.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This is the hot hot hot book of the new year!  It's a Barnes and Noble Discover title, and it's in every major magazine.  So without further ado, I'll tell you about it.

Rachel is an alcoholic.  She rides the train in London every morning and late afternoon, usually drinking cans of gin and tonic.  She lives in a bedroom she rents from a friend.  She's in her early 30's, divorced, and fired from her job months ago for being drunk and insulting a client.  Her friend doesn't know she's unemployed because Rachel always leaves the house every day to take the train.  

Rachel takes the train past her previous life--the one where she was married and living in a home with a garden that runs up to the tracks.  She passes her home every day, noticing her ex-husband's new wife and baby.  She also notices the house a few doors down, and the man and woman who live there--Jason and Jess, as she calls them.  Gee, they seem to have a perfect life. 

Rachel is a mess.  She has blackouts and can't remember anything that happened.  The drinking ended her marriage, and she can't get past the fact that her husband Tom had an affair and finally divorced her because of her drinking.  She just wants her old life back.

But then she sees something one day while on the train that changes her perception of Jason and Jess and their perfect life.  And she wakes up one morning with dirt on her hands, bruises on her arms, and a bloody wound on her head.  What happened the night before?  The last thing she remembers is getting on the train to go to Witney to talk to her ex-husband.  What happened afterwards?  How did she get home?  Just how drunk was she?

This is a roller coaster of a novel.  Do you trust such an unreliable narrator?  Is she really being honest with herself, and you?  Oh, it gets good, and it gets crazy.  All I will say is that you need to read it all in one sitting, if you can.  It's hard to put down, because Rachel is (pardon the expression) such a train wreck.  But you can't help it--you stick with her.  As well you should.  

That is all I will say.  Read it.  

Rating:  8/10 for an effectively messed up narrator, a chilling look at suburbia, and a twisty ending.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes has been popular in England for years, and we are finally getting to see her previous novels here in the United States.  The Ship of Brides was first published in England in 2005, but the story is still fresh in 2015.  Jojo's inspiration for this novel was her grandmother, who was a war bride that traveled to England to meet her soldier husband after World War 2.  

This novel has a cast of characters:  Margaret, a young woman leaving her father and brothers on their ranch in Australia; Jean, the youngest bride--a little too eager to party and a bit immature; Frances, a nurse who worked in the Pacific during the war, and Avice, the well-to-do young woman who imagines a picture perfect life in England.  All of these women have one thing in common:  they have married British soliders who were stationed in Australia, and they're finally traveling to England to meet their husbands.  They're on no ordinary cruise ship--they are traveling on the British aircraft carrier HMS Victoria, which has a full compliment of crew making their way home at war's end.  It has all the makings of a potential disaster.  How can anyone think all those men and all those brides will behave for six weeks at sea?

I did enjoy this book, but I felt it dragged on a bit.  There were times I felt like I was on a six week trip.  I did come to enjoy the women very much and felt for them when not-so-great stuff happened. The slow addition of the male characters (who have their own stories to tell) rounded out a picture of people returning home changed by war, and not quite sure what to do or what to expect once they return to civilian life.  

Can you imagine sailing into the unknown, hoping when you got to the other side your husband was waiting with open arms?  What if you got a "do not come" letter halfway into your journey?  The homesickness must have been unbearable.  What brave women.  

Fans of Jojo Moyes will read this, and don't think that I didn't enjoy it, because I did, and I was sad to say goodbye to the women.  I just felt some parts were a bit slow, and it could have been shortened up a bit.  And the mystery of Frances was very slow in being revealed.  This is historical fiction that will probably peak your interest in war brides.  It is a subject worth exploring.

Rating:  6/10 for a story that has a large cast of characters, but dragged a bit in places.  An interesting look at war brides.  

Available in paperback and e-book.
Thank you to Penguin for a review copy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir

I wish my brain was a big as Andy Weir's brain.  This man is brilliant.  How do you get non-science people to read a book about science?  Make it fiction, stick an astronaut on Mars, and then leave him there.  By himself.  With no communication and very little food.  

The Martian is a thrill ride from beginning to end, and even though I will freely admit to not knowing much about engineering, chemistry, and space, I couldn't put this down.  What makes it even more fun is that you really could see this happening.  Here's the premise:  Mark Watney is part of a team of astronauts who have landed on Mars to conduct an expedition.  They've got supplies, a place to live, and all the tools they need to get things done before they get into their MAV and blast off the surface of Mars and back into space and their spaceship, which is in orbit.  Then it's back to Earth.  Everything was working just fine, until a big storm hits Mars, and the mission is cut short.  They have to leave Mars now!  And while they're making their way towards their escape, Mark is hit by something, knocked out, and blown away.  All readings from his suit indicate he has no oxygen and is dead.  With time dwindling away, Commander Lewis has no choice but to leave him and keep the other astronauts alive by getting back to their spaceship.  Racked with guilt, they are all haunted by the knowledge that Mark Watney is dead on the surface of Mars.

Except Mark's not dead.  Miracles do happen, and his space suit is still functioning.  He wakes up, realizes he's alive, and soon also realizes he's going to be dead quickly if he doesn't fix his suit and get to safety.  

This begins Mark's quest to stay alive long enough to make it to the next Mars mission--IN FOUR YEARS.  He's a botanist, so he makes a plan to grow potatoes.  He's incredibly smart and MacGyver-like and has a wicked sense of humor.  Keeping a log of his time on Mars, he works day and night to stay alive, make plans for rescue, and is fully cognizant that he may not make it off Mars alive.  

Does he get rescued?  What the heck happens?!  I won't share anymore of the story, because you need the experience of living this adventure with Mark.  I will admit some of the science lingo had my brain shutting down, but keep moving through.  There's humor, poignancy, bravery, awe, and sheer moxy in this novel.  I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure stories, science, and anything to do with space.  This is not science fiction as you would imagine.  It's been optioned for a movie, and I hope it happens because it will make a heck of a movie.  Men and women and teens will all enjoy this story.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Rating:  8/10 for a thrilling adventure, a great main character full of humor and courage, and references to ABBA, Three's Company, and disco.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Harlequin Reader Service Blog Shout Out!

2014 was an amazing year for my blog--not only did I get to read a lot of amazing books, but I got to share them with a growing audience.  I am humbled by the growth of my blog, and all I can say is a big THANK YOU! to everyone who stops in, reads my reviews, and most especially comments.  I love to hear from everyone, so don't be shy.  

Carleigh from Harlequin featured my blog on the Harlequin Reader Service Blog today.  If you think Harlequin is just full of monthly romances, you are wrong!  They've branched out into mystery, science fiction, fiction, and even teen novels.  There's something for everyone.  Please check out their blog, and read about the other blogs Carleigh has featured.  The Reader Service Blog is a great place to find news about upcoming and featured titles, lifestyle posts, book giveaways, and author interviews.  You just may discover a new favorite author. 

Here's the link to the post featuring The Bookalicious Babe:


 Thank you  Harlequin for putting the spotlight on my little blog.  And as for upcoming reviews, watch for these in the coming few weeks:

The Martian

Girl on the Train

Ship of Brides

Dress Shop of Dreams

When Books Went to War

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!  I hope you spend some of it reading :)

Sue  aka the Bookalicious Babe 


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Family Pictures by Jane Green

I read Jemima J years and years ago, and loved it.  It made me a Jane Green fan.  I haven't read all of her books, but quite a few.  I can say I'm a bit disappointed in Family Pictures.  There.  I said it.  

Family Pictures is about two women:  Sylvie and Maggie.  Sylvie lives in California with her teen daughter Eve, her husband Mark, and a lovely home.  Married eleven years, Sylvie is getting restless, knowing her daughter will be leaving for college soon.  An artistic and creative woman, Sylvie starts making homemade candles to give to her mother, a very narcissistic, demanding woman living in a nursing home.  Her marriage to Mark is good:  he travels to New York every week, and days will go by without Sylvie hearing from him--because he is so darn busy. She has no reason to suspect him of anything, because he is such a good guy.

Maggie lives in Connecticut, has three gorgeous kids, lives in a big house, and has been married to her husband Mark for 25 years.  She's worked hard to put her poor and abusive childhood behind her, and works day and night organizing charity functions, shopping, and looking good.  Her husband travels a lot to California.  Sometimes she can't get a hold of him for days.  But that's ok.  He's a wonderful man.  She's so lucky.

Husband.  Travels. A lot.  Is out of touch frequently.  Duh!!

So it's no surprise to find out Mark is married to the two women.  It all comes tumbling down when Eve visits a Facebook friend in New York, meets Grace (Mark and Maggie's daughter), and gets invited to her house.  And there Eve finds the horrible truth.  Doom, doom doom.

Ok.  There's a lot of stuff going on in this story, but I had a hard time not snorting over the unbelieveable ignorance of both women, and the fantasy lives they both lived.  Seriously! Do people live like this? I'll keep my tiny house, books, and small circle of good friends, thank you very much.  Mark's character just falls out of sight.  Once he's used to move the plot to its pivot point, he's out of the picture.  

I'm not telling you everything about this novel, because there is much more to discover.  I read it in a day, and must admit I had a hard time putting it down because it is such a fantasy world.  Too pat.  So read it for pure escapism and unfortunately, little else.  I will continue to read Jane Green, and hope this is just a one time not so hot novel.  

Rating:  4/10 for an completely unrealistic plot and characters who were just too good to be true.  

Available in paperback and ebook.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

Provence is one of those places that I know is more beautiful than what I can possibly imagine.  And Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr confirmed not only the loveliness of this special part of France, but tossed in some of the most famous chefs and food writers at the time to create a snapshot of a crucial turning of the wheel in American food culture.  

Paul and Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Simone Beck, James Beard, and Richard Olney all were in Provence during December, 1970.  The Childs were settling into their home away from home, La Pitchoune.  Simone Beck and her husband were arriving shortly, and M.F.K. Fisher was revisiting her favorite places in France.  James Beard was at a nearby clinic trying to lose weight, and failing miserably. Richard Olney lived in Provence, in a small home perched on a hillside, growing vegetables and creating gorgeous dishes out of local foods.  Each person was a giant in food culture, and riding the wave of French food popularity in America.   

But none of them were really very happy.  America was experiencing growing pains:  Vietnam, the Civil-Rights movement, music, culture--you name it, America was shifting.  Each of these people felt it, and this moment in time:  Provence in December, 1970 was when they would all gather to eat, talk, and drink.  And in those moments of argument, laughter, dislike, creativity, and passionate debates, a movement away from the influence of French cooking began for America.  It was also a moment of realization for many of them on how they wanted to move onwards, bring new ideas to the world of food, and put to bed memories and ways of thinking that didn't serve a purpose in this new world.  

Don't get me wrong.  This book is chock-full of gorgeous food, drink, and views.  It is more than just a food book, and as you read it you'll realize this.  It is a book of contemplation, one that makes you look at the world around you and how we all got to 2015.  It makes you look at things you hold onto, and probably should let go.  It gives you a breath of fresh air, and lets ideas percolate in your mind.  And it is a love letter to a time and place that doesn't exist anymore.  

Luke Barr based this memoir on his Great Aunt M.F.K. Fisher's green notebooks, which she kept while in France in 1970.  He clearly admired his Aunt, and her ability to move forward into a new life in her 60's.  Paul and Julia Child are so alive in this memoir, it's hard to imagine them both gone.  Sadly, they're all gone.  So take some time, grab a bottle of wine, some bread and cheese, and read this lovely memoir.  Then make yourself a wonderful supper.  This memoir certainly had me thinking about food, how to prepare it, and the care we should all take in feeding not only our bodies but our souls.  

Rating:  8/10 for a memoir that  brings each memorable person fully alive, and incredible food descriptions that make your mouth water.  You will never look at food quite the same again.

Available in Hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Tale of Gardening Madness: Backyard by Norman Draper

I think this is the third day of below 0 temperatures in Cedar Rapids.  All I know is the wind is blowing, it's snowing again, and our current temperature is 9 degrees (with windchill -11)This immediately turns my head towards gardening, sunny skies, and lush landscapes.  

Backyard is a hilarious tale of a gardening competition that sets neighbor against neighbor in a bid to have the best garden in Livia.  The characters are all a hoot:  Dr. Phyllis Sproot, a self-proclaimed expert on gardening (who gets her PhD from a six-week mail-order course in horticulture), Marta Poppendauber, who has a garden that is a beautiful mess (and drives Dr. Sproot nuts), and George and Nan Fremont, who spend all of their time working in their glorious backyard garden, or sitting on their deck sipping gin and tonics and staring at their glorious backyard garden.  These characters are such fun in their dysfunction.  And we all know people like this, too. 

I was laughing out loud at the hijinks that happen in Livia as the day of judging draws near  and the competition escalates.  Dr. Sproot guilts Marta into spying on the Fremonts and engaging in secret forays to destroy their garden, little by little.  I'll leave you to discover just how comical Marta is--let's just say she's no Jane Bond.  And best of all, the Fremonts are completely oblivious to Dr. Sproot's machinations.  

So who wins the competition?  Is Dr. Sproot's sure-fire garden combination of yucca-coreopsis-salvia-hollyhock destined to be the winner?  Or will Marta's English countryside garden take the top spot?  Or do the Fremonts win the big pot?  

This really is a fun book to read.  Anyone who loves to garden will completely understand this book.  Anyone who wants a good laugh will enjoy this book.  And anyone stuck under a blanket of snow will certainly read this book and immediately start perusing the seed catalogs and planning their garden. It's a lighthearted look at people's obsessions and just how far we will go to be number one.  Sit back, enjoy and dream of summer.  

Rating:  7/10 for a very funny look at gardening and competition.  The characters are a stitch!  

Available in paperback and e-book.