Friday, March 31, 2006

Family Trust

Author: Amanda Brown
Published: April 27, 2004 (Plume)
Category: General Fiction
Quote of Choice: She could count higher than twenty, though, as a result of living at the penthouse level, she was under the impression that the number twenty-one was followed by the "number" P.

When I read the back cover of this book, I couldn't help but think of that episode of Friends where Christina Applegate plays Rachel's sister. The topic of who would be guardian to Emma, Ross and Rachel's daughter, comes up. Rachel's sister says something like, "Wouldn't it be great if you guys died? I could be Emma's guardian and then learn some life lesson, get a makeover, and meet the man of my dreams!"

Well, in Family Trust, Becca Reinhart and Edward Kirkland find themselves designated co-guardians to an adorable little girl named Emily. Becca is the stereotypical "successful power woman-who's too busy being successful to havea life outside of work." Edward is an impossible combination of being a wealthy playboy who is genuinely nice and strangely good at being a father figure.

I was a little disappointed with Family Trust, since Amanda Brown also wrote Legally Blonde. Becca and Edward are so busy being good parents in their own right that they don't really work together. Each of them is amused once in a while over the other's behavior, but they're not together enough to have a good chemistry between them. I might be wrong, since I skipped most of the last quarter of the book after Edward and Becca's only kiss. If the book was lukewarm when the two of them were in the same city, it wasn't going to improve when they were in different countries.

In the end, it would've been more interesting to see how Becca, Edward, and Emily fared as a family in an epilogue. Becca and Edward's lifestyles were so different that it would've been funny to see Becca at all these snooty Hamptons events and charity dinners. I find it hard to believe that Edward would give them all up being that he's the head of a philanthropic organization.

Eh, I think this book could've been better.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jemima J

Author: Jane Green
Published: June 2001 (Broadway)
Category: General Fiction
Quote of Choice: "I'd say from the neck up we look like two Californian babes, but from the neck down, tarted up like this, we're as English as tea and scones, which can only be a good thing."

Jemima J is a modern day Cinderella story, telling the story of Jemima Jones, an overweight girl who constantly dreams of being thin and gorgeous. She's in love with her very good looking coworker, but feels that he's unattainable because of how she looks. Thanks to the magic of the internet, Jemima meets a nice guy in a chat room and describes herself as a slim, beautiful TV reporter. The book is a little dated though because Jemima has a dial-up connection and it took her almost a minute to connect.

While most people might think that this is a fluffy book and is all feminine giggles over Jemima's makeover, it's surprisingly unfluffy. There's nothing worse than realizing your fantasy has become a nightmare, and Jemima worked really hard to make her dream a reality, losing almost a hundred pounds.

Thankfully, there's a happy ending after all the drama. There was very little romance in the story, since Jemima doesn't wind up with her man until the last few pages of the book. I hate it when that happens, but hey, this wasn't a romance novel!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Garlic and Sapphires

Author: Ruth Reichl
Published: March 28, 2006 (Penguin)
Category: Memoir/Food
Quote of Choice: "The King of Spain is waiting in the bar, but your table is ready."

First off, I think this book is meant to be savored as many of the delicious meals Reichl describes deserved to be savored. Her writing is so lovely and perfect for everything that I could almost taste the food she was criticizing.

I found myself sucked into the book with the first page, and that happens very rarely with me. And even rarer, when that happens, I can't put the book down, no matter how late it is and how early I have to wake up the next morning - but that didn't happen with Garlic and Sapphires. I wanted to read it slower and really comprehend the lush descriptions of those lovely dishes.

I always thought that being a restaurant critic would be a really easy job, but after reading this book, I've changed my mind. Reichl visited restaurants no fewer than three times before passing judgment. Yes, that sounds really cool to be eating out at these fancy restaurants on your company's dime, but doing it all the time, having to pay attention and remember that the chef used a hint of pineapple juice in the soup - seems quite exhausting. And what if the restaurant was that bad?

To keep things fair, Reichl disguised herself to prevent any special treatment as the New York Times food critic. Once, she went to a restaurant "as herself" and was seated before the King of Spain. In her disguises, Reichl found that there were other parts to her personality that she kept stifled and sometimes, these facets weren't something to be proud of. Because of this, Garlic and Sapphires becomes more than a book about food at fancy restaurants I can't afford, but someone's journey to find a place for herself even when a lot of people envy her current occupation. This connects strongly to me because of my whole "I quit law school even though people think becoming a lawyer is the best choice for a good career" thing.

Four stars.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Last Templar

Author: Raymond Khoury
Published: January 19, 2006 (Dutton)
Category: General Fiction
Quote of Choice: "A sure sign of a lunatic is that sooner or later, he brings up the Templars."

This is the first book in my serious turn in reading. By serious, I mean that I'm not reading chick lit or regency romance. The story was quite riveting, flipping back and forth from modern day New York to 700 years in the past, with the last Templar knights. It begins with a group of 4 men dressed as Templar knights charging into an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, killing visitors, and grabbing various pieces. One of these pieces holds the key to discovering the long lost secret of the Templars.

The Templars were a mysterious organization and most people think that their secret was the Holy Grail. In The Last Templar, the big secret isn't the Grail, but something that could change the world, mainly, it's the writings of Jesus. Tess Chaykin, an archaeologist known solely for being the daughter of a famous archaeologist, wants to make this huge discovery and make a name for herself. She and the FBI agent Sean Reilly are pulled into this struggle between modern day sensibilities and the old world sensibilities of the Vatican in her quest for the writings. I had hints of Indiana Jones while I was reading.

I'm thinking that if I were religious, I wouldn't like this book, but it brought up some pretty good points about the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions. There's so little we know about that time and I always did wonder who wrote the Bible. The ideas in the book have as much chance of being true as everything in the Bible.

Overall, it was a pretty good story, but I don't think I'd keep it on my bookshelf to read again.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Nonesuch

Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1963 (Dutton)
Category: Romance
Quote of Choice: "Why, she's got no more notion of propriety than the kitchen cat!"

After reading many regency romances, I find that having a chaperone/governess/companion is pointless because young women will put themselves in compromising situations no matter what. Our heroine is Miss Ancilla Trent, governess/companion to the accredited beauty, Tiffany Wield. To put it in the most polite of terms: Tiffany is high-spirited. Because Tiffany has been spoiled and told how beautiful she is for as long as she can remember, she thinks she can get away with anything, flouting all rules of propriety. She throws tantrums and wants everyone to bow to her wishes. Poor Miss Trent was hired to keep her in line because she's the only person Tiffany has ever listened to, however little that may be.

Enter the Nonesuch (defined as "a person or thing without equal"), Sir Waldo Hawkridge. He's the perfect man, greatly skilled in sports and driving. Besides being rich, he's also a philanthropist, spending half of his fortune funding various orphanages. Oh my, a paragon amongst toadstools. However, Heyer described him as being perfect and left it at that, making Waldo a little too perfect. I mean, the guy must do something bad; he is a man, after all. I'm sure he has some flaw, like picking his nose in church.

I wish the book had more of the relationship between Miss Trent and Waldo, but too much of the story focused on Tiffany, her horrible personality beneath her beauty, and the measures taken to keep her from disgracing herself and her relatives. I also think I'm getting a little tired of the regency romance device of "woman loves man, but won't admit to it because she's afraid of what others think." I was also saddened when the book ended abruptly, of course, with Tiffany at the center of attention. Most of the time, I wished that they'd just let Tiffany ruin herself, but everyone was too honorable.

They do say that Heyer was the creator of the regency romance genre, and other writers have worked from her example. She does have an Austen-esque flair, what with the misunderstanding-of-the-man's-character device (Miss Trent thought Waldo had a lot of bastard children and wanted her to take care of them by marrying him). The Nonesuch was a good book for making fun of the ridiculousness of society, but could've had a bit more romance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle (Movie)

Released: March 7, 2006 (DVD)
Category: Anime/Magic

I watched Howl's Moving Castle with the Japanese audio and subtitles (not to be confused with captions). As with Spirited Away, Disney had a star studded cast for the American dubbed edition. I can't review Howl based on the dubbed version because I hate dubbed versions. They translate the dialogue differently than the subtitles. I'm sure the American dialogue isn't awful, but I'm used to watching Japanese anime. Call me a purist.

The main character is Sophie, a young woman working in a hat shop. A quiet girl, she has a boring life and has no great expectations. One day, she meets the wizard, Howl, and he's kind and charming to her. Almost as quickly as they meet, he leaves so she won't be in danger from his enemies. Unfortunately, the damage is done and the Witch of the Waste follows Sophie home, casting a spell on her, leaving Sophie an elderly woman.

Strangely, Sophie accepts her situation and embarks on a great adventure, one that she wouldn't have dreamed of before she met Howl. She jumps on board Howl's moving castle, a huge, ungainly structure perched on four bird-like legs that lumbers about the country, and enters a magical world much like Alice's tumble down the rabbit hole.

Howl, despite looking like a confident, polished wizard, is experiencing some kind of inner struggle due to a pact he made with a demon. He takes risks and is cocky at times, and has no real purpose while the country is at war. He could help, but he doesn't feel like it, and he's also a bit afraid of the king's witch. However, when Sophie moves in, he realizes who is behind the mask of the old-lady spell and becomes protective of her, and they fall in love. Sophie's spell is broken, and Howl is released from his demon pact.

I love Miyazaki's work; he did My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away (an Academy award winner), and Kiki's Delivery Service, to name a few. His movies have so much detail, whimsical touches (i.e. a magical scarecrow named Turnip), and funny, loveable characters that it's hard not to enjoy them.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Blow Me Down

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: November 1, 2005 (Signet)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Quote of Choice: "The word you are looking for, dear lady, is appreciate. I appreciate, not ogle! My wife has specifically forbidden me from ogling." ~ Holder

Ah, yet another satisfying brain bonbon from Katie MacAlister! I think this one comes in just behind Corset Diaries as my favorite stand-alone MacAlister novels.

If you read this book, you will have to suspend a lot of disbelief, because it involves a virtual reality pirate game. Amy Stewart, our leading lady, is playing the beta version of this VR game at the request of her daughter. Once she's plunked into the game, she tries to use her financial analyst skills in a pirate period town (i.e. trying to implement 401(k) plans in a brothel).

The man-of-the-novel is Corbin (a.k.a. Black Corbin in the game), a manly pirate captain, who's actually the creator of the game. I'm sure that the resemblance of the pirate on the book cover to Johnny Depp's character, Jack Sparrow, is not entirely coincidental, but Corbin thankfully doesn't have long hair. He does have grey eyes though, which MacAlister seems to favor in her romantic heroes. Corbin was extremely likeable because he realized Amy was the one when she defeated him in a swordfight at their first meeting. He declared his love for her first and spent a lot of energy convincing Amy she could love him too. He's wonderfully romantic, but has that take-charge attitude when danger comes onto the scene.

The story is made all the more entertaining by the intrigue: Paul, Corbin's ex-business partner has hacked his way into the game and has trapped the human players inside. Since it's in beta, there are only three players (Amy, Corbin, and Holder, Corbin's best friend and art director), and they've got to figure out which computer character Paul has taken over to affect the events of the game. Holder provides comic relief and some moral support to Amy because he believes Corbin and Amy are meant for each other.

You can get an idea of how funny and whimsical Corbin actually is by his ships' names. How about the Samurai Squirrel, Bumblebee Tuna (the ship is painted black and yellow), Saucy Wench (the ship he gives to Amy), and Java Guru. He also signed a note to Amy with "Much love and many smutty thoughts." Too cute. Of course Amy would fall for him (and I would too).

There's a lot of humorous banter in this book and I loved it. I can't wait for the next Katie MacAlister!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Other Woman

Author: Jane Green
Published: March 8, 2005 (Viking)
Category: General Fiction
Quote of choice: "He farts in bed." "Silent and violent?" I offered. "Not even. Loud and revolting. I swear to God, my husband's bottom is the deadliest weapon this country possesses."

This is my first Jane Green book, and wow, I was really impressed. Since I started working at a major publishing house, I've had access to a lot of free books. Since I don't pay for many books anymore, I feel as though I can be more picky since I'm not trying to get my money's worth. The Other Woman was very well done and I couldn't put it down (except for those pesky things such as work and sleep).

I think the story of Ellie, our main character, would be received better by those in a situation similar to hers. Those who don't understand the way Ellie feels would find her to be selfish and ungrateful to Linda, her mother-in-law, who smothers Ellie and her husband, Dan, with constant attention and manipulation. I know that I have felt smothered by my boyfriend's mother and resentful of many things she has said/done, interpreting those actions as controlling. Really, if my boyfriend's mom started calling me three times a day and coming over uninvited if I didn't answer those three calls, I'd wind up like Ellie too. I looked on Amazon to see some reader reviews, but there were a lot of people complaining that Ellie was a horrible person. I liked Ellie from start to finish and was on her side, especially during the aftermath of "the accident."

Unfortunately, Ellie doesn't stand up for herself and tries to have Dan defend her instead to his mother. Dan won't do this, refusing to get in the middle of his wife and his mother because he's a mama's boy. This issue becomes the breaking point of Ellie and Dan's marriage, causing them to separate. Don't worry, the book has a happy ending!

The true root of Ellie's problems is her disastrous childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic mother who died while Ellie was still very young. Since she lacked a mother, Ellie dreamed of marrying into a perfect family, where she'd find everything she was missing while she was growing up. Ellie learned that yes, you marry into a family, but there are differences between your mother and your mother-in-law. The two figures are't necessarily interchangeable.

I will definitely read Jane Green in the future!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bubbles Ablaze

Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Published: June 2003 (Dutton)
Category: Mystery
Quote of choice: "The brighter the lipstick, the darker the deed."

This is the third book in Sarah Strohmeyer's Bubbles series. Yes, our heroine's name is ridiculous, but strangely appropriate with her blonde hair, high heels, and proclivity for spandex outfits. Although having a main character named Bubbles would make you think the book will be dumb and fluffy, it's surprisingly layered (ha ha, a hair term - Bubbles is a hair stylist).

Besides hair dressing, Bubbles works part-time for her local paper in Lehigh, PA. She's not the most traditional of reporters, since she doesn't have very good technique, like not having any sources or evidence. Her love interest is a Mel Gibson lookalike named Steve Stiletto, a reporter for the Associated Press. Steve is a wild man, unable to stay in one place for very long, which doesn't bode well for a steady romance. In fact, in three books, Bubbles and Steve haven't gotten past second base (if that far).

In this installment, Bubbles and Steve are lured to a coal mining site for a press conference, where they are trapped in a cave-in after an explosion. Somebody's out to kill both of them, but who could it be? Learning the answer to this question takes almost the entire book, and it turns out to be a surprisingly complex story. This isn't one of those point A to point B mysteries!

Bubbles' mom, Lulu, and her mom's militant best friend, Genevieve, return in this book as well. This time, Genevieve is armed with her usual musket, but has new weapons, which include mashed potatoes, and a pea shooter loaded with homemade tranquilizer darts.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Ivy Chronicles

Author: Karen Quinn
Published: January 31, 2006 (Plume)
Category: General fiction
Quote of choice: "Did you know that every Jewish prayer starts out 'I broke my toe in Illinois'?" "I think you mean Barukh atah Adonai," Mr. Taymore said.

Thanks to my proofreading class, I was able to plow through this book in just one night (but I did stay up two hours later than my bedtime). I was very impressed by this book. Usually, the "woman has great life that is snatched from her, tries to solve her problems, comes upon temporary relief, has it come crashing down on her ears again, and then learns from her failure (because apparently, losing her great life didn't teach her a lesson)" genre tires me. The problem is best exemplified in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, of which I've sadly read the first three books.

Problem: The Shopaholic never learned her lesson because she'd screw up in every book in the same way, as though she was too stupid to learn from her previous mistakes. Now, I understand the dramatic need for these problems to happen, but at the expense of encouraging the "stupid girl can't take care of herself" stereotype? It gets boring after the second book.

Quinn, on the other hand, creates Ivy Ames, a mother of two, and sole breadwinner of her family. On the same day she loses her high-paying job, her marriage falls apart and she moves from a gorgeous Park Avenue apartment to the Lower East Side. Ivy becomes a kindergarten application adviser to several wealthy families, charging 10 to 20 thousand per case (but she does one pro bono for a mother who really deserves the help). It turns out that applying to private schools is a horrible experience, even for the wealthy, and they actually pay people to help them!

Of course, with wealthy clients come the inevitable assholes who think they deserve everything just because they're rich. Don't worry, the biggest asshole gets his comeuppance. I'm a sucker for poetic justice, and its presence in Ivy Chronicles is partially why I loved the book. While a lot of the book sounds fantastical (i.e. Ivy's best friend Faith, married to a billionaire, is a generous non-bitch - rare, indeed - even rarer, her husband is a decent guy too), Quinn makes Ivy more realistic than a lot of characters I've read about. Near the end of the novel, Ivy comes into a sum of money, given to her as a bribe by a grandfather wanting to influence his grandson's private school selection. If a person without any sense of reality were writing Ivy Chronicles, Ivy probably would've given all the money away to charity because its "the right thing to do." However, since Quinn is not a moron, Ivy gives about half to charity and saves the rest for her family so they won't starve while she figures out a better career for herself.

I think Ivy Chronicles is a great book, an entertaining read about a woman having to start her life all over again, and discovering that even at 39 years-old, you can still have some growing up to do.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Hard Day's Knight

Author: Katie MacAlister
Published: January 4, 2005 (Signet)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Quote of choice: "God's teeth, the Wenches have plentiful breasticles!"

I love Katie MacAlister's books. I've read her Aisling Grey paranormal romance series (only two books so far), and they are my favorites of all her books. Of her stand-alone novels, I've read Men in Kilts and The Corset Diaries. If I had to rank how much I liked her books, I think Hard Day's Knight would come in last.

Knight is about Pepper (yes, a sadly ridiculous name), an out-of-work software programmer looking for love outside the programmer-geek pool. She accompanies her cousin, CJ, to the biggest renaissance fair in the world. CJ insists that she can find Pepper's "knight in shining armor" amongst the participants at the fair, but CJ turned out to be kind of selfish and bitchy, disagreeing with Pepper's choice of knight-in-shining-armor. To disagree with CJ, I found Walker to be a perfectly acceptable, dishy knight (he's got an English accent to boot!).

MacAlister's books have the common theme of super-sexy alpha male meets confident, argumentative woman with less-than-perfect body. I mean, in Corset Diaries, the heroine was a size 12, and in Knight, Pepper was described as "sturdy." This male-female dynamic produces lots of great, witty reparté and that was far from lacking in Knight.

Really, there were only a couple problems in Knight. First, the writing/storyline wasn't as smooth as MacAlister's other books. It's not awful, but I guess my expectations were rather high. Second, CJ was awful! She sided with her boyfriend and turned on her cousin right away and that bugged me. Obviously, she cared more about her knight more and had less loyalty than she ought to towards her cousin. Well ha! Pepper winds up with Walker in the end anyways!

Awesome parts of this book: real life knights in shining armor, a humongous cat named Behemoth (Moth for short), and an official Wench organization!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pride and Prejudice (Movie)

Released: November 11, 2005
Quote of choice: "Indeed, most invigorating."

I was afraid that my expectations for Pride and Prejudice would be too high. I don't think I'm one of those Jane Austen purists. Yes, I was upset when they used Howie Day's song, "Collide," in the commercials, but then again, I haven't read Pride and Prejudice since my sophomore year of high school (and it was for an assignment), and I can say that Sense and Sensibility is my favorite movie, but far from my favorite book.

It was hard to keep myself from comparing the movie to the six hour A&E version, but I couldn't help it. I have to say that Rosamund Pike made a better Jane for the movie because the Jane in the miniseries was not good looking at all, making Lizzie so much prettier in comparison (Jane is supposed to be the beauty of the family). Keira Knightly definitely holds her own as Lizzie.

I liked the Bennett family much more in the movie than the miniseries. Yes, Mrs. Bennett is supposed to be annoying, but in the miniseries, she was so grating on my nerves and to deal with six hours of her was too much. The movie's Mrs. Bennett was toned down, but still conveyed that whole "I have 5 daughters to marry off and it consumes my every moment" thing. The younger Bennett sisters are also much less annoying in the movie.

Oh my, what a moment: Mr. Darcy helps Lizzie into the carriage and you see the way it affects both of them since it's the first time they've touched. Excellent movie-making.

Now the most important comparison: Matthew MacFadyen v. Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I actually can't tell which one is better. They delivered Mr. Darcy's lines differently. It seemed as though Colin Firth spoke a bit more forcefully, while MacFadyen delivered his lines with a more quiet strength (not that he was shy or wussy about it). We all know about the famous fountain scene in the A&E version, where Colin Firth/Mr. Darcy dives into the lake at Pemberley. Sadly, there was no diving in the movie. Don't worry, MacFadyen gets his steaming-sexy moment, when he strides out of the mist at dawn to Lizzie. Colin Firth gets his wet shirt, and MacFadyen gets his open shirt.

The score is lush and sweeping, matching the scenery so well. I know what I'll be listening to on my iPod ad nauseum for the next week. This was a great movie for me to drift away for two hours while in a Dayquil-induced haze. My glowing reception of the movie is also because of the last two books I've read. As I said to Annette, I've spent too much time reading about times when men wore cravats.