Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: Heart and Soul (Maeve Binchy)

(image from Goodreads)

Title: Heart and Soul
Author: Maeve Binchy
Publisher: Anchor, 2010
Notes: I received this book for free from a Fodor's Travel Twitter giveaway.

A brief summary: With the insight, humor, and compassion we have come to expect from her, Maeve Binchy tells a story of family, friends, patients, and staff who are part of a heart clinic in a community caught between the old and the new Ireland. (from Goodreads)

My thoughts: For some reason, I've been wanting to write my reviews in relation to other popular media. If you liked Love Actually and enjoy watching the American TV show Private Practice, you'll undoubtedly like this book. However, if you don't like either, don't let that be a deterrent.

This book is written from different characters' perspectives, though I would say that Dr. Clara Casey is the primary character. She's the string that ties all the characters together, weaving their complicated lives into something of a community. I think you'll find the changing points-of-view interesting, though sometimes frustrating too. There were times when I wanted the book to continue from one character's perspective!

That being said, I think that the story is showed more than told. I feel a bit torn on how to approach this book; while I, at base, liked the plot and the characters, I felt at times that they lacked emotion or realistic responses; some, with the exception of Clara and Declan, felt a bit flat. This book started strong but seemed to wane a bit as it progressed.

Rating: 3 stars

Monday, July 26, 2010

Musing Mondays: July 26

MizB at Should Be Reading asks,
Do you review books? If so, for who?

As many of you know, I do review books! I'm a huge fan of the Goodreads First Reads opportunities. I've won a handful of books from that, and I review each one. I've also been lucky enough to review ARCs and recently published books thanks to publishers and contacts within the publishing industry.

My reviews are never biased in favor of the books I get for free versus the books I seek out at the library or the bookstore.

What about you? Do you review books?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: A Wretched Man (RW Holmen)

Image found at Goodreads

Title: A Wretched Man
Author: RW Holmen
Publisher: Bascom Hill, 2010
Notes: I received this book from the publisher to review. Despite this, my review is not biased in favor of the book. Any opinion offered here is completely my own.

A brief summary: "Jesus authored no writings. Nor did any of those who followed him in the Galilee or during his fateful pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It fell to an outside to become the movement's reporter, memorialist, essayist, interpreter, and promoter—despite the opposition of James, the brother of Jesus. Paul the apostle. Paul the one untimely born. This is the story of Paul, a wretched man." (back cover blurb)

My thoughts: I approach books like these very carefully. I did a bit of background about Holmen before I started reading the book, and began in earnest after I satisfied my curiosity.

This book is a number of things. It is well-researched; Holmen clearly has a solid background in early Christianity and religious history. It is also well-written. When reading about Paul—or Paulos, as he is referred to in the novel—I felt that I had a more personalized understanding of who Paul was. Often accused as being anti-Semitic or a problematic Jewish Christian, Holmen addresses these issues. But more importantly, he presents Paul as
human. Paul is as subject to human desires, human complexities, and human experiences as the rest of us. The best kind of book, in my opinion, is one that prompts you to think more, to pursue more knowledge. This book definitely incited that curiosity in me.

Some readers may worry that this book revolves around Paul's purported conflicted sexual orientation, but even devoutly religious individuals will find Holmen's handling of the matter to be deft. Some may even find Paul's reluctance to engage in supposedly unclean acts to be a testament to his faith. I would say that if this matter is the issue holding you back from reading this book, it shouldn't be. You may be pleasantly surprised.

While it might help to have some understanding of this time period or the religious and political issues at hand during and immediately after Jesus' death, it's not necessary. I found this book to actually be quite a good accompaniment to my studies of Jesus as a social revolutionary, upsetting the status quo. I felt like I gleaned a new understanding of the early Judeo-Christian world, which is pretty astounding after having taken four years of academic religion classes.

Moreover, I'm curious to speak to the author. What's next after this? How did his background inform his writing of
A Wretched Man? I'd be curious to see how Holmen would approach Saint Augustine, but alas, I doubt he is that interested in Augustine, as Holmen is Lutheran.

Rating: 5 stars

Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: Crashers (Dana Haynes)

Image found at Goodreads

Title: Crashers
Author: Dana Haynes
Publisher: Minotaur, 2010
Notes: I received this book as an ARC from the Goodreads First Reads program.

A brief summary: "Whenever a plane goes down in the U.S., a 'Go Team' made up of experts is assembled by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate. Those people—each of them a leading expert in a specific area—are known informally as 'Crashers.' When a passenger plane, a Vermeer One Eleven, slams into the ground outside Portland, Oregon, 'The Crashers' quickly assemble to investigate the cause." (from Goodreads)

My thoughts: If you like TV shows like NCIS:LA or fast-paced action movies, you'll be hard-pressed not to like this book. The plot is interesting—what happens during a major plane crash, and how does the NTSB investigate the cause of a crash?—and the shifting perspectives between the bad guys, the good guys, and the questionable guys keeps the book moving forward. Add in the layer of a possible second attack, and you have a great plot.

My one critique about this book actually causes me to give it 3.5 stars is the characterization. Haynes tries to deliver a cast of characters who are diverse and capable, while also providing suitable background. However, when it's actually written out, I felt as though the characters were overdone and the writing clunky. Had the characters been better established by focusing on one, primary character—sticking to writing the 'good guys' section just from Tommy's perspective, perhaps—the writing would have been tighter. Instead, the narration is somewhat omnipresent and omniscient, but poorly done. Like I said, if you like NCIS:LA, you'll probably like this book, because some of the characters are similar. (NB: I like NCIS:LA, but didn't love this book.)

All of that being said, I think the plot is worth reading, and it sounds like Haynes did a healthy amount of background research while writing this book. Just try not to get as distracted by the characters as I did!

Rating: 3.5 stars

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: July 22

Book Blogger Hop

Hey everyone! I took a much needed mini-hiatus, but I'm back now!

Time for the Book Blogger Hop! The prompt that Jen at Crazy-for-Books has presented is, "Tell us about the book you're currently reading."

I just started reading Maeve Binchy's Heart and Soul. I'm enjoying it so far!

What are you reading? Anything good?

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender)

Image found at Goodreads

Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Doubleday, 2010
Notes: I won this book from a fellow book blogger's giveaway, and received the book directly from the publisher.

A brief summary: "On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose." (from Goodreads)

My thoughts: I had high expectations for this book, because the premise sounded unusual and fascinating. I was pretty disappointed with the book overall, though, for several reasons.

First, I have some difficulty with non-standard punctuation and prose, and Bender's lack of quotation marks in dialogue made this book frustrating to read at times. I'm not a big fan of stylistic creativity in that way, though I can see that it lent a certain disconnectedness to this book.

Second, I felt as though many of the plot lines were left uninvestigated. Rose's father remains a mystery for the majority of the novel, though that is somewhat resolved by the end. The circumstances of Rose's brother Joseph remain alarming, unfinished, and unusually vague. Bender's world is magical reality; things are both like we know them and not, but there's not much clarification as to why or how.

This book was not charming or humorous, as some reviewers have said. I found a surprising lack of humanness in this book, which is also contrary to what many have said. Instead, I found it largely underdeveloped and flat.

Rating: 1 star

Want to see another opinion? Check out Lynne's review! She gave The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake 4 stars!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend!

I'm currently reading Ellis Peters' A Morbid Taste of Bones. I just finished Dana Haynes' Crashers for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, and that review—along with some other great ones!—will be up this coming week.

What are you reading this weekend? Send me the links of some of your favorite reviews!