Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Waiting for 'Eclipse'

ISBN: 0316160202
Format: Hardcover, 640pp
Publisher: Little, Brown Children's Books
Price: $18.99

We still have a few days before Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer hits bookstore shelves August 7, 2007. But have you checked out Barnes and Noble lately? When I checked in April there were 592 'reviews' posted already and today there are 938.

I use the term reviews loosely because for the most part they are just teenage gushing over how wonderful Stephenie Meyer's books are. Okay... and how wonderful Edward, or for a handful Jacob, is. For the most part it is the girls who are doing the gushing but I have noticed a few guys as well, not to mention the select adults.

Not that there is anything wrong with the gushing. Once I read Eclipse there will be a fair share here. Count yourself warned. Because yes, I am in love with Edward Cullen too!

When the first book, Twilight, came out you didn't hear a lot about it at first, but it quickly developed a following and it just snowballed from there. The fan base is huge. Do a search right now and you will find hundreds of sites dedicated to Bella and her vampire love, Edward Cullen. Over time and with the release of the second novel in this young adult vampire series New Moon the fan base has done nothing but grow.

I've heard few, if any, bad things about these novels. When asked why I liked such an angst filled fluff of a book I could only squeal like the 15-year old girl I am inside 'But I love it!'

So what is it about Stephenie Meyer's novels that make them stand out from the rest of the vampire paranormal? They are simply but well written. The dialogue is natural and while some authors struggle to capture that young adult feel Meyer nails Bella and her classmates perfectly.

And all that teenage angst? It is appealing because we have all been there, or will be there or even at this very moment are there. I can relate because the first love, the one that just happened to rip my heart out and leave me standing in the woods bleeding to death, is the one I wish could have ended differently. When Edward comes back to Bella in New Moon it is like a second chance at your own memories. When you are young and dreaming of love for the first time this is the relationship that you fantasized about; slightly dangerous, completely romantic, maybe even forbidden.

There is also the very real possibility that Twilight will be made into a movie soon. Deals are being discussed and options being bought right at this very moment. Whether or not a movie actually makes it to the big screen is another thing. But I for one would stand in line to see it opening night.

Not to mention Edward Cullen is the most gorgeous vampire in paranormal fiction that any one's imagination has been able to come up with in awhile. Will you be reading Eclipse? I can already tell you this is one novel people will be talking about.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

'Why I'm Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out on Love, Loss, Sex, and Who Does the Dishes' Edited by Karen Propp and Jean Trounstine

ISBN: 0452288215
Format: Paperback, 304pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Price: $14.00

Having been married a little over two years myself I was especially interested in reading Why I’m Still Married. Sometimes we struggle; finding the balance and the middle ground can be hard at times. Whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, or who forgot to send the bills off, and it’s a constant battle about who is supposed to feed the cats. But getting to wake up next to my best friend and lover is always a wonderful thing and in the end the good times outweigh the bad.

Why I’m Still Married is divided into years of marriage and the corresponding anniversary gifts. From Silver to Gold features Anne Bernays, Marge Piercy, Susan Dworkin, Aimee Liu, Kathleen Aguero, and Bharati Mukherjee. From Silver to China has Erica Jong, Julia Alvarez, Jean Trounstine, Susan Cheever, Maria Hinojosa, Eve LaPlante, and Jennifer Heath. From Sugar to Tin features Elizabeth Graver, Helen Fremont, Liza Wieland, Audrey Schulman, Hannah Pine, and Karen Propp. The final section From Paper to Wood includes ZZ Packer, Kamy Wicoff, Meredith Maran, Diana Abu-Jaber, and Nell Casey.

What I found most interesting about this collection was how honest and open each author was. We are treated to an inside view of each marriage, the flaws are bared, and mistakes admitted openly. It also features essays from marriages that are unconventional.

In First Person Plural by Helen Fremont we are treated to an inside view of her marriage with her female partner. It was a comfort to read that same sex relationships suffer from the same thing opposite sex relationships do. In her ‘Commitment’ section of her essay she states ‘our marriage is based on a fundamental, irrefutable fact: neither of us can bear the trauma of dating… We are bound to each other because neither of us has the courage to start over again.’ While it struck me as slightly sad the honesty in this statement was very powerful.

Then we have My Husband, His Girlfriend, Her Husband, My Lover, and Others by Hannah Pine in which she shares her experiences with her open marriage. ‘The assumption is that my marriage is full of danger, full of threat, that it survives against all odds.’ But she proves that this arrangement works for her and her husband. While it might not work for everyone, indeed it might not work for most people, she has found a relationship that is strong and loving.

These are not essays about keeping marriages together. In many cases the author is working on their second or third time around but it’s about the faith we have in the state of being married. That despite our disappointments we believe that there could be a happily ever after waiting for us and are not afraid to take a chance finding it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

'Ishmael's Wrath' by Steven Shane Pate II

ISBN-10: 0805989757
Publisher: RoseDog Books
Paperback: $18.00

Ishmael’s Wrath is an action-packed debut from native Oklahoma author Steven Shane Pate II. You are kept on the edge of your seat as terrorists, secret societies, and Navy Seals battle for control of a weapon that could change the course of history.

Randy Madduck is a United States Navy Seal fallen on emotional hard times. When we are first introduced to the character he is blocking a painful past with alcohol and a desk job. Angry with himself, he seems to lack direction until he receives a phone call from a mysterious man in the middle of the night.

Randy is informed that the recent suicide of a high-profile senator was not suicide but an act of terrorist Abd al-Raham. When Hermes Sinclair, the senator’s son and Randy’s friend, disappears Randy worries that there might be a connection. Armed with this information and a warning of impending disaster Randy contacts an old military friend at the Pentagon. But when the line goes dead in the middle of Randy’s warning he realizes that things have taken a turn for the worst.

From there the story just explodes off the page as Randy must fight to stop Abd al-Raham from changing not only the world but history, too. With a team of seven battle-hardened Seals Randy travels to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where al-Raham is hiding the weapon. Along the way Randy must come to terms with his life up to this point and what it will be like after, and if, he is successful in this life or death mission.

Part political thriller, part inner quest, and just a plain good time, Ishmael’s Wrath is peopled with very real characters. Randy Madduck is practically jumping off the page; as each chapter unfolds and layers of his personality are reveled you can’t help but like the slightly damaged but ultimately good guy that he is. While the terrorist Abd al-Raham’s devotion to jihad is chilling he is also a character that you come to understand if not necessarily like.

There are a few flaws in the editing, but not in the writing, and those few mistakes are easily overlooked. The story flows quickly and naturally. Available from Rosedog Books, Ishmael’s Wrath is a must for any action fan who enjoys something a little more thoughtful. Long after you have turned the final page, this is a story that sticks with you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' by J.K. Rowling

ISBN: 0545010225
Format: Hardcover, 759pp
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.

Having just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I am to a certain extent at a loss for words. Relief flooded me when I turned the last page and the future of some of my favorite characters had been decided.

I can sum up this book in one word and that word is: WOW.

I had not expected the high body count, when in all reality I should have. Thinking only of J.K. Rowling’s warning that two of her main characters would die I gave no thought to the supporting characters that I had come to love or loathe as well. Looking back now I realize how foolish that was. But when all is said and done I love the book still and the Harry Potter series will be one I read time and again.

With this final chapter I believe that J.K. Rowling has cemented her books as modern classics. These books will sit on shelves for years to come and be recommended by people the world over. I can imagine future generations asking each other ‘Have you read Harry Potter? You haven’t? But you HAVE to!’ Just as I have asked my friends if they had read the Oz series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings.

Within the first few chapters you are hit, and hit hard, by the almost constant action. Harry is finally leaving the Dursley’s home for the last time; with his seventeenth birthday looming the protection given to an underage wizard is about to be broken. Voldemort is ready in the wings to take advantage of this fact along with his bloodthirsty Death Eaters whose ranks have swollen.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the majority of the book together and secluded from their friends and family. The skills that they had sharpened in the previous six books come into play as each character is forced to use their strengths to keep the weaknesses of the others from destroying them.

With many twists along the way these three search desperately for the horcruxes that will be Voldemort’s downfall. Along the way they learn about the Deathly Hallows, mysterious objects that soon Harry is obsessed with. Stopped or hindered at almost every turn the three survive grievous blows as loyalties are decided.

There are cameo appearances that surprised and delighted me. Lee Jordan, for example, pops up as an underground radio host and I could not help but smile as I remembered the Qudditch games that seemed so dire at the time but looking back seem so lighthearted. And who could forget Professor Umbridge? Well, she gets hers and I don’t think I have ever been so pleased.

In these final pages there is great happiness and great sorrow. Emotions run high as you turn pages and travel from the Ministry of Magic to Gringotts and finally to Hogwarts. It is fitting that it would end where it all started so many years before with the orphan Tom Riddle. Along the way, I can promise, you will need tissue.

For those of you still wondering - yes, there is closure here. Most of the characters' futures were defined or hinted at. But there are a handful that get left to your imagination. While they survived the book I still find myself wondering what happened to them after the final battle. But maybe it is better this way. Maybe this gives us the opportunity as fans to sit together in the future discussing the finer details just as we have discussed who would live and who would die. I’m looking forward to those discussions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

'Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him' by Danielle Ganek

ISBN: 0670038660
Format: Hardcover, 288pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him is the story of a painting and the people who come into contact with it — the gallery receptionist Mia, the owner of the gallery Simon, the crazy artist Dane, the muse Lulu, the dead artist Finelli, the art specialist Zach, and the myriad of collectors. From the first glimpse of the masterpiece to the auction where it sells for millions, the story is captivating.

Mia is working as a receptionist in a second-rate gallery while nurturing the desire to be a painter. But what she thought would be an ‘in’ to the art world turns into five years of never admitting her artistic desire to anyone. That is when the painting shows up to change everything.

As each character comes into contact with the painting and Mia, her life changes. After the violent death of Finelli, the artist, the price skyrockets on the painting. In step several characters appear, claiming that they had a hold on it or that it was a gift to them. With the collectors after it and Lulu the muse in the picture, the tension builds as they all try to outsmart each other.

Mia and Lulu become friends. We watch their friendship grow out of a painting and a violent death and it makes complete sense. Mia also forms an attachment to Zach, the super hunky art specialist, but he might not be as free as he seems.

A big part of what drives the book forward are the wonderful characters. Obviously Danielle Ganek knows who she is writing about; these characters are practically jumping off the page. Not only does she know her subject, but she can also reach in and pull the laughter from it. Humor as well as heartache fill the pages of this wonderful first novel.

Like a painting, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him will speak to some part of you. The desire to be something more, to realize your dream — those are things that each of us can relate to. This might not be classic literature but it is a really good time.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

'Nefertiti: Queen of Egypt, Daughter of Eternity' by Michelle Moran

ISBN: 0307381463
Format: Hardcover, 480pp
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Price: $24.95

Nefertiti tells the story of a powerful woman's rise and fall in Ancient Egypt. Through the eyes of her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, we are introduced to a young Nefertiti, destined to one day become a powerful ruler. Beautiful beyond compare and power-hungry, Nefertiti is a fascinating character. As the pages turn her actions become more outrageous and you begin to realize that power is everything and whoever controls the throne has the power.

Nefertiti marries Prince Akhenaten, who has come into line for the throne with the suspicious death of his older brother. Akhenaten is a reckless unstable young man and Nefertiti is chosen by his mother to sway Akhenaten away from some of his more disastrous views. He believes that there should only be one god in Egypt and that the Pharaoh should be his only voice, not some priests in a temple. Suspicious of everyone, including his parents, Akhenaten is determined to alter Egypt’s destiny.

But while both his parents are still alive he does not have complete control of Egypt, even though he is crowed Pharaoh. His father is referred to as the Elder and only once he has passed away does Akhenaten come fully into power. Bitter with life and paranoid beyond reason, Akhenaten moves his court into the middle of the desert to build a new capital and a new city in the glory of his one god Aten.

Nefertiti is meant to be a balancing influence for Akhenaten while being susceptible to the voices of her vizier father and the Queen. But determined to have her name known for all eternity, Nefertiti is soon blind to the folly that her husband presents as she struggles to gain as much control as she can over the thrones of Egypt.

Mutnodjmet meanwhile is trapped in the role of being the sister of Nefertiti. All her life her family has done everything and anything to please Nefertiti because she is the link to their own immortality. But as Nefertiti becomes blind in her arrogance to the problems that are slowly building with the Egyptian people, Mutnodjmet is able to make a break for freedom.

Full of palace intrigues, court banter, and struggles for power, Nefertiti really comes alive on the page. The characters are well rounded, three dimensional beings and you are pulled into their lives from the first sentence on. With each new turn in the story your heart will rise and fall with Mutnodjmet as she tries to be a voice of reason for her sister while still living a life of her own.

Nefertiti is a powerful first novel from Michelle Moran. Well written and rich with details it is hard to put down once you start reading. I can only hope that her next book will be about Ancient Egypt as well; it is a place I long to go back to.

Monday, July 2, 2007

'Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter' by Shoko Tendo

ISBN: 4770030428
Format: Hardcover, 192pp
Publisher: Kodansha International

Yakuza Moon is brutal, honest, and scary. Shoko Tendo takes you through her turbulent childhood and the life built around her yakuza father. She recounts the many times he came home drunk in the middle of the night and tore the house apart and later beat Shoko. Soon she has fallen in with a tough crowd and has become a yanki, what basically amounts to a juvenile delinquent.

When she gets older she moves on from sniffing paint thinner and ditching school to shooting up and dating married men. She quickly becomes a kept woman who is shuffled about, never really being her own person, and all of this before she is even 23 years old.

Yakuza Moon is hard to read at times. The almost constant abuse that Shoko went through is heartbreaking and painful to read about. It is written in such a direct manner. The hard core drug use, the different boyfriends beating her, attempted suicide, and rape is presented to the reader as simple fact, with a sort of detachment through which you can only feel horror or pity for this young woman.

A lot of things happen off stage, as it were, and you are only treated to the highlights of a very painful past. There are incidents mentioned in passing that are never fully explained. But for the most part it does not distract from the flow of the story. The overall impression is of a young woman who went through hell but came out the other side a stronger person. This is a woman who has earned respect finally, and is not afraid to demand it.

After everything she is strong. The world is full of people struggling to survive and overcome - striving to be the person that they always dreamed that they could be, that they hoped deep down was still inside and had not been killed off by their mistakes. Sometimes the hardest thing to overcome is yourself, the person in the mirror can be your own worst enemy and learning to put the past behind you the hardest lesson to learn in life. Yakuza Moon is a triumph simply because Shoko Tendo overcame the atrocity that her life had become.

“I think a lot about the moon," she says. "How it constantly waxes and wanes, just like my life with its highs and lows. I like to think of myself as having been born under a new moon. Then, in those uncertain days when I was searching for love, I guess the moon would have become a crescent. It was probably about a half-moon when I got married."

But, as the author goes one, "Now that I’m alone, do I warrant a full moon? Have I finally overcome my weaknesses and grown up? I’m heading along a new path in life, but if it turns out to be a dead end, I guess I can start over with the next full moon.”