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Sunday, May 29, 2011

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris~ ★★★★★

Author: David Sedaris
Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Release Date: June 3rd, 2008
Publisher: Hachette Audio, unabridged; read by David Sedaris
Genre: Non-Fiction (with fiction)

Audio Book Cover: "David Sedaris's remarkable ability to uncover the hilarious absurdity teeming just below the surface of everyday life is elevated to wilder and more entertaining heights than ever in this new book of essays.
Sedaris proceeds from the bizarre conundrums of daily life---the etiquette of having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger or how to soundproof your windows against neurotic songbirds with LP covers---to the most deeply resonant human truths. Taking in the parasitic worm that once lived in his mother-in-law's leg, an encounter with a dingo, and the purchase of a human skeleton, and culminating in a brilliant account of his attempt to quit smoking---in Tokyo---David Sedaris's sixth collection is a fresh masterpiece of comic writing."

Taryn's Review: In 2008 I listened to Sedaris's book Me Talk Pretty One Day on my daily commute to work. I loved his writing style, but what made the book even better was listening to Sedaris's voice inflections and his perfection at storytelling. I needed a laugh and this book caught my eye. Perfect.

Sedaris didn't disappoint. Hearing him read the words only added to the hilarity. Often I found myself laughing down the highway and looking forward to car trips so I could listen to more essays by Sedaris. Two of my favorites were about the sitter Ms. Peacock and the driver in NY that had some peculiar advice for Sedaris. Sedaris told great stories and so many of them not only grab your attention, but keep you hooked throughout the end of the book. Sedaris really has a gift for acknowledging the little ironies in life, as well as pointing out the hilarity that we miss in our day-to-day lives.

Sedaris's humor will not be liked by everyone. He was blunt and honest, used curse words from time-to-time, and can get pretty graphic. However, I quite enjoyed his perspective and for me, the addition of having it read by Sedaris enriched the entertainment value. He's a funny guy and I always look forward to his work.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Summer We Read Gatsby by Danielle Ganek~★★

Author: Danielle Ganek
Title: The Summer We Read Gatsby
Release Date: May 27th, 2010
Publisher: Viking Adult
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Cassie is a serious journalist with her feet firmly planted on the ground; Peck is a vintage-obsessed actress with her head in the clouds. In fact, the only thing the Moriarty sisters seem to have in common is their inheritance of Fool's House, a ramshackle cottage left to them by their beloved Aunt Lydia.
Equipped with only a flimsy will, the advice of a few neighbors, and Aunt Lydia's instruction that they 'seek a thing of utmost value' within the cottage, the girls must resolve not only what to do with Fool's House but also their disparate notions of what makes a family and how to respect their sisterly differences. 
Set in the end-of-an-era summer of 2009, The Summer We Read Gatsby is filled with fabulous parties, romantic entanglement, and a cast of eccentric characters. As she did in Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, Ganek, with her pitch-perfect sense of style and wit, indulges our secret desire to peek into a rarefied world in this lively and mischievous romp through one of Long Island's most famous neighborhoods."

Taryn's Review: Again, I was intoxicated the by summery title and picture on this book cover. It seduced me and before I knew it, the book was in the bag. Unfortunately, my selection of summer books keeps letting me down thus far.

When I began this book, I was confused as to where exactly this book took place. As someone who has never lived in New York and knows very little about New York/Hamptons, I was lost and Ganek didn't make it clear regarding the area she was talking about. With Cassie being called a foreigner in the beginning of the book and then all the talk of Southampton and such, I wasn't sure if the book's plot was taking place in England and Peck was referring to America and NYC because she loved them, or if the book was taking place in the U.S. and the Hamptons was short for very British sounding town names (again, let me stress I am super naive when it comes to anything East Coast related). I felt like Ganek made the assumption I should know this, which I didn't, and I know a lot of people who also would have no clue.

The book was slow and had a very thinly veiled plot. I think if you're an avid reader, you will immediately suspect the person behind the "mystery" that occurred. Also, the idea of the aunt wanting strained sisters to find something of the "utmost value" in her house while requiring them to live there for a month? Who really believes this referred to an object?

Cassie was a very dull protagonist. Peck may have been dramatic and flamboyant, but at least she captured my attention. Love was also a oddity in this book. Cassie apparently had an admirer for years who swooned from a quiet distance and then proclaimed his love after one awful date and one good date. Peck mythologized her romantic relationship with a man, but seemed to have the desire to rekindle the flame once she realized how much money he had, despite his lies to her.

I loved The Great Gatsby. I don't find this book did The Great Gatsby much justice as far as homages go. I don't even want to attempt to draw parallels because I think that would be insulting to Fitzgerald. Find yourself a better summer read, as there are many out there. I don't think I would read another Ganek book; her writing wasn't that strong nor did her story sweep me into the dreamy book world we all desire when we start reading a new book. I hate to be harsh, but I was really disappointed in this one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stranded in Paradise by Lori Copeland~★★1/2

Author: Lori Copeland
Title: Stranded in Paradise
Release Date: September 16th, 2002
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Fiction

Book Cover: "Tess Nelson is poised to take a well-deserved step up the corporate ladder when it's yanked out from under her With no job and nothing to fill her days---just a nonrefundable ticket for a trip to Hawaii---Tess decides a tropical vacation is just what she needs. But Tess's journey to paradise is a disaster from the beginning. First she sprains her ankle at the airport. Then there's the lost contact lens and the lost luggage, the lightning storm at a luau, and the hotel fire. Not to mention the approaching hurricane. And the attractive, annoying young man who keeps crossing her path---and really shaking her up. All Tess wants to do is get her life back under control. But God, it seems, has something else in mind---like opening her heart to everything her life could be."

Taryn's Review: I picked up this book on a beautiful warm day that gave hints of the glorious summer to come. Technically I'm on summer vacation from school, but work is the focal point of my summer. A little tropical escape via a book seemed like a good idea since sitting in an office is my only plan for the summer!

When I checked out this book, I had no idea that it was a Christian book. This in itself did not deter me. What did turn me off was the simplicity of the book. It was written in a very basic manner. For me, it really lacked the complexity that a strong writer can bring to such a book. Also, Copeland had the book moving at super speed levels with no character development. She tried to tie in bigger themes, but it just didn't work. The book also had one character slip up when she said her house was built by her late husband, but later she said her mother left them the house.

The way that Copeland had the Christian characters bringing God to the main character was so stereotypical of what people believe Christian books are and why they choose not to pick them up. I'm not saying that it wasn't good that the characters open up their beliefs to Tess. In real life, however, someone who was adamantly against God and God's teaching probably would have shut down when some old woman started saying in it was "meant to be" that they all met. Was the point that Tess was ready to open her heart to God and they were just the mechanism God used? I didn't feel like Tess really had to be convinced of anything and the supporting characters simply threw around their beliefs a few times and voila! Tess changed! I only stress this because the author wanted us to believe that Tess had a horrible childhood with a verbally abusive mother and a drunk for a father and Copeland played up Tess's unwillingness to trust. Yet Tess easily forgave her mother after years of pain and hurt when her mother performed a simple nice gesture, but Tess chose to not forgive her employer after he realized he made the wrong choice and apologized profusely. That doesn't make sense to me. And let me not get started on how Carter and Tess apparently fell in love throughout this "ordeal." It seemed really forced and not natural, but that could be Copeland's flaw since character development was weak.

This was a hard book for me to review because I felt badly for not liking a Christian novel, but I also wanted to be fair and critique all books in the same way. I admired the goal here and I appreciated that Copeland wanted to write a light-hearted Christian narrative. But ultimately, the book was very underwhelming. I would not pick up a novel by Copeland again. I'll give Christian literature a try in the future sometime, but I wouldn't recommend this one to read, Christian or not.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares~★★★★★

Title: My Name Is Memory
Author: Ann Brashares
Release Date: June 1st, 2010
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks, unabridged; read by Kathe Mazur and Lincoln Hoppe
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Lucy Broward is an ordinary girl growing up in the Virginia suburbs, soon to head off to college. As she prepares for her last high school dance, she allows herself to hope that this might be the night her elusive crush, Daniel Grey, finally notices her. As the events of the night unfold, though, Lucy discovers that Daniel is much more complicated than she imagined, and perceives that there's something going on here that she really doesn't understand. Why does he call her Sophia? And why does it make her feel so strange?
Daniel Grey is no ordinary young man. Daniel has 'the memory,' the ability to recall past lives and recognize the souls of those he's previously known. And he has spend centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Lucy (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together---and he remembers it all. It is both a gift and a curse. For all the many times they have come together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short.
As we watch Daniel and Lucy's relationship unfold during the present day, interwoven are glimpses of their history together. From sixth century Asia Minor to 1918 England to 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes tortuous path of seeking each other time and again. But just when Lucy begins to awaken to the secret of her past, to understand her relationship to Sophia, and to understand the true reason for the strength of her attraction to Daniel, the mysterious force that has torn them apart in the past reappears. Ultimately, they must confront not just their complicated history, but a persisent adversary as well, if they are ever to spend a lifetime together.
Written with the imaginative, emotionally resonant storytelling that has become Ann Brashares's trademark, and with a profound understanding of what it feels like to fall in love and grieve for it, My Name Is Memory is a deeply romantic and transporting novel---the story of a love that lasts more than a lifetime."

Taryn's Review: I loved this book. I don't say that very often, but this particular story enveloped me in a way that a book hadn't in a long time. I adored long drives in the car because it meant more time for me to listen to the book! The cover of the book caught my eye with its blue-green water sparkling in the sun, and I selected it based off the cover. I am so pleased that I did!

Brashares is a beautiful writer. Her word choices are so precise and perfect that it makes the novel flow with a wonderful smoothness. The story was compelling and very different from anything I've read. In some ways, it reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife, but in my opinion, better. Daniel's memory was fascinating and his ability to take us throughout the past, his lives, and his love of Sophia/Lucy was mesmerizing. I must commend the actors reading this book because they both did a fantastic job. Enchantment with the voices made me forget that actors were reading and I was able to feel like Daniel and Lucy were telling the story with their own voices.

I am not normally a fan of love stories or romance novels because they usually end up feeling so predictable. This was different. I was desperate for Daniel and Lucy/Sophia to meet again, for Lucy to realize how long Daniel had loved her, and how long she had loved him. The context combined with Brashares's writing style created a perfect story for me.

However, I was horrified that Brashares ended the book so loosely and in my mind, I demanded that there must be sequel in the works. Much to my pleasure, the book is the first in a trilogy! I cannot wait to read the next one and I highly suggest this book to anyone who loves a great story, especially a love story.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews~★★★

Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Title: Dish Deep
Release Date: February 24th, 2009
Publisher: HarperAudio; Abridged Edition, read by Isabel Keating
Genre: Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Chef extraordinaire Gina Foxton doesn't expect anything to be handed to her on a platter. After years of hard work, she's now the host of her own local Georgia public television show called Fresh Start, and she's dating  the show's producer.
But when her show gets canceled---and she hears about her boyfriend's being in flagrante delicto with the boss's wife---Gina realizes that she's meant for bigger and better things. The Cooking Channel is looking or its next big star, and Gina is certain that she fits the bill. Trouble is, the execs alos have their eyes on Tate Moody, the star of a hunting, fishing, and cooking show. Little does Gina know, though, that she and Tate are soon to embark on the cook-off of their lives, spiced up by a little ingredient called love."

Taryn's Review: I had fun listening to this book because as I've said before, I love cooking and eating, so the setting of the book really intrigued me. The story began in Atlanta, Georgia, and Gina was the main character. She was modeled as a younger version of Paula Deen but with "healthy" Southern recipes (lol, who wants healthy Southern cooking? Give me cream and butter!). I think, once again, had the book cover not given away that Gina's boyfriend had an affair, that would have helped me as a reader connect to Gina and her emotions of the break-up.

I liked Tate Moody's character and his cooking show, which surprised me in a good way. What I didn't like was how unclear it was to me that Tate and Gina had fallen in love with each other. When they started saying how they felt, I was shocked. When did that happen? I don't know if the author was going for a love-at-first sight angle, but if so, it flew over my head. When Gina threw herself at Tate looking for a good time, it hardly sounded like love to me, but apparently for them it was (so the book said!).

Listening to books makes it hard for me to go back and check things, but I'm fairly positive I caught a mistake. Gina originally ended up giving a ride to Iris, twin of Inez, and while taking her home, they converse and become acquaintances. Tate ended up borrowing items from Inez and talking with her. Later, Gina found out it was Inez who helped Tate out. I only remember this because when Iris was talking to Gina, she told Gina that Inez was older than her and in my mind, I told myself that Inez came before the name Iris alphabetically, so it was fitting that she was older and was given that name (I never said my mind worked normally, lol!). Anyway, later in the book when Tate and Gina are out together, they talked about how the twin sisters helped them, but it seemed to me the author mixed them up. Gina talked about how Inez helped her during the competition after Inez realized that Iris had helped Tate. In reality, Inez helped Tate and Iris helped Gina. If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me. Again, I don't have the book on hand and I don't have time to skip through the CDs right now.

Overall, this passed the time well. After the climax with the Cooking Channel, the book became terribly cheesy. I almost turned it off and I harshly rolled my eyes at the last line of the book due to the cheesiness of the cooking show name! I'm going to call this book a nice little beach read, but unfortunately for me, the way the book played out in the end really turned me off from the story. I think had the author ended the book sooner and not had Gina become obsessed over something so trivial when she supposedly had found the love of her life would have made the book end on a high note.