August 30, 2008

The Darker Side

The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen
2008 Bantam
368 pages
Finished on 8/28/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Cody McFadyen has shocked even the most jaded suspense fans with Shadow Man and The Face of Death. Now comes a thriller that outdoes them all, featuring a psychopath on a perverse crusade of murder. And the one woman who can stop him may have to cross the line to do it.

A lie, a long-ago affair, a dark desire—what secret was a very private young woman keeping that led to her very public murder? That's the question FBI special agent Smoky Barrett and her handpicked team of experienced manhunters are summoned to answer by order of the FBI director himself. Brilliant, merciless, righteous, the killer Smoky is hunting is on his own personal mission. For in his eyes no one is innocent. Soon Smokey will have to confront a flawless killer who knows her flaws with murderous intimacy.

McFadyen has done it again. He's written a gritty, disturbing thriller that kept me wondering what kind of person writes about such horrific killings, and perhaps more importantly, what kind of person reads them?! The Darker Side reads a bit like true crime (although my experience with that genre is limited to Helter Skelter), full of tension and edginess that invades my thoughts and dreams. As with all my favorite series, it's the characters that keep me coming back. Smoky's an intriguing heroine and I enjoyed learning more about her and her co-workers, curious to learn more about the life of an FBI agent.

On murder...

The murdered move me. Good or bad, they had hopes and dreams and loves. They once lived, like all of us, in a world where the deck is stacked against living. Between cancer or crashes on the freeway or dropping dead of a heart attack with a glass of wine in your hand and a strangled smile on your face, the world gives us plenty of chances to die. Murderers cheat the system, helping things along, rob the victims of something it's already a fight to keep. This offends me. I hated it the first time I saw it and I hate it even more now.

One of my frustrations with series of this genre is the need to outline the back-story of previous books. Often I'll find myself a bit annoyed and bored when an author spends too much time reminding the reader of significant events from an earlier work. This was not the case with The Darker Side. McFadyen writes like a veteran, deftly laying out all the necessary details without falling into the trap of overstating the obvious or padding the story with unnecessary commentary. I was immediately drawn into the narrative; the pacing is consistent and riveting, and the situations and dialogue completely believable. And, yes, in spite of the nature of these thrillers, I'll be one of the first in line to buy Cody's next book.

And now for a couple of give-aways! I have a brand new mass market copy of The Face of Death (Cody's second book in this series), as well as an ARC of The Darker Side. Leave me a comment with the title of the book you're interested in and I'll pick the winners in one week.

If you're like me and curious as to how Cody can create such evil villains (and how this affects him), check out his guest appearance here and here.

Better yet, Cody now has a blog! You can find it (and pictures of his dogs, aka "The Black Forces of Destruction") on his website.

Note to Cody: I like this title much better than Secret Sins!

August 29, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week (September 15-19)

Have you all seen what MyFriendAmy is up to? Here are the details from her blog:

Book Bloggers: You work hard. You read books, you write reviews, you maintain relationships with your readers, publicists, and authors. You are constantly running to the post office to mail your giveaways and participating in carnivals to help boost traffic. You sometimes want to faint when you see the size of your TBR pile, but faithfully you read. And you do it because you love it. Book blogging is for most a hobby. But it's a hobby that takes a lot of work and time. It's a labor of love.

I've been blogging for three years but only really got into book blogging in the last year. I have found, without a doubt, that book bloggers are the kindest, most open minded, and supportive group of bloggers on the internet. With book blogging, it's about community and a love for the written word.

The Readers: We love you! You don't have a blog, but you read our reviews and share your thoughts with us. You enter our giveaways and click on our Amazon associates link. We do this for you and appreciate your readership. We hope you'll join in the fun and festivities of BBAW! (we'll have a special contest just for you!)

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Acknowledging the hard work of book bloggers and their growing impact on book marketing and their essential contribution to book buzz in general, I am excited to announce the first Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together. And of course, shower each other with love and appreciation.

Register: In order to experience the maximum impact of the week, I invite you to register your participation (just like a retreat)!

To register, just send an email to bookbloggerappreciationweekATgmailDOTcom with your blog url and what you consider your niche...i.e, general book blog, classics blog, personal blog with a healthy dose of books, YA books blog, etc. Then, add one of the two buttons at the bottom of this post to your sidebar. If you are a reader (no blog) just send an email announcing your plans to follow along.

Why bother? If you register, you will be added to a book blog directory which will exist long after this week is over. Additionally, you will receive one raffle entry into the daily giveaways during BBAW here at My Friend Amy.

Awards: Oh yes, there will be awards. The Oscars of Book Blogging. :) Nominations start next week.

Spread the Word: If you are excited about this idea like I am and the other book bloggers who are helping, please consider writing a post on your blog announcing this event and inviting other book bloggers and readers to join.

It's time to open nominations for Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008!

Listed below are the categories of awards. There are many. You may not have a nomination for each award. It doesn't matter. Nominate up to two blogs per category and send an email to BbawawardsATgmailDOTcom with your choices. You DO NOT have to have a blog to make nominations. Comments left on this post will NOT be accepted as nominations. Each category will be narrowed to the top five blogs by number of nominations received, so don't be shy!!! Support your favorite blogs and bloggers! Nominations will close on August 31st.

And the categories for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week Awards 2008 are:

Best General Book Blog
Best Kidlit Blog
Best Christian/Inspirational Fiction Blog
Best Literary Fiction Blog
Best Book Club Blog
Best Romance Blog
Best Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense Blog
Best Non-fiction Blog
Best Young Adult Lit Blog
Best Book/Publishing Industry Blog
Best Challenge Host
Best Community Builder
Best Cookbook Blog
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Best Design
Most Chatty
Most Concise
Most Eclectic Taste
Best Name for a Blog
Best Published Author Blog
Best Book published in 2008
Best Meme/Carnival/Event
Most Extravagant Giveaways
Best Book Community site

Write In--think we missed something? Write in your category and nomination and if there are enough other write-ins of the same category it will be added!

Sounds like fun to me! I'm off to place my nominations.

August 28, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - Summer Vacation

Buckroe Beach
Hampton, Virginia

Virginia Beach Aquarium

Williamsburg, Virginia

Shaylyn with her Grandpa

August 26, 2008

Carl's R.I.P. III Challenge

Yes, it's that time of year once again! And this time I'm ready with my list and have great hopes of completing this challenge. Here are all the particulars from Carl's website:

Dark Fantasy.

There is just something about this time of year, when the ghosts of past Autumns and the Autumn to come chase away the dog days of summer, that entices one to read books that fit into the above categories.

It was a desire share the love of eerie, creepy, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night literature that brought me into the online reading challenge game for the first time back in September of 2006. My goals today, in this its third iteration, are no different than the inaugural R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge:

1. Have fun reading.
2. Share that fun with others.

It is that simple. Read on.

1. R.I.P. III runs from September 1st through October 31st, 2008. But I’m no stickler, start reading now if you feel so inclined.

2. Choose one of more of the perils listed below:

Peril the First:

Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose.

Peril the Second:

Read Two books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose.

Peril the Third:

Read One book of any length from one of the subgenres listed above.

This peril is for those who want to participate but don’t want to get bogged down in a long list of books. It is also for those who feel this type of reading is not their proverbial cup of tea but are willing to challenge themselves by giving just one book a try.

3. Leave a comment here announcing your intention to join and a link to the post* on your site, if you have one and choose to post about R.I.P. III.

*One of the things I enjoy about hosting and joining challenges is seeing what everyone else might be reading. I also like posting my own list–yet I am the first to break said list as my whims take control. So this year I want to do something a little different. Rather than posting a list of books you feel locked in to, instead post a pool of potential reads. That way we can all gather ideas from other people’s pools and no one need suffer the hangover effects of feeling boxed in by a list. Sound good? Those of you who want to participate but do not have blogs are welcome to post your book pool in the comments section here and I will link to it in the body of the post.

4. Post links to your reviews on the Yarns Review Site. I am using last year’s review site and posting a new comment thread in which you can post this year’s reviews. That way you can also go back and check out last year’s reviews (you may have to hit the ‘click here’ link at the bottom of the post to get last year’s list to pop up).

5. The most important thing: Have Fun! R.I.P. III is more than just a reading challenge. There will be contests and giveaways and some of the subject matter of my regular posts, especially as we approach October, will be more in fitting with the R.I.P. III spirit. There are artists who have committed to interviews and sales and other tie-ins as well.

I'm going with Peril the First. Here's my list:

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

August 23, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
Contemporary Fiction
2008 Berkley
372 pages
Finished on 8/21/08
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher's Blurb:

Once a week, an eclectic group of women comes together at a New York City yarn shop to work on their latest projects—and share the stories of their lives...

At the center of Walker and Daughter is the shop's owner, Georgia, who is overwhelmed with juggling the store and single-handedly raising her teenage daughter. Happy to escape the demands of her life, she looks forward to her Friday Night Knitting Club, where she and her friends—Anita, Peri, Darwin, Lucie and K.C.—exchange knitting tips, jokes, and their deepest secrets. But when the man who once broke Georgia's heart suddenly shows up, demanding a role in their daughter's life, her world is shattered.

Luckily, Georgia's friends are there for encouragement, sharing their own tales of intimacy, heartbreak, and miracle making. And when the unthinkable happens, these women will discover that what they've created isn't just a knitting club: it's a sisterhood.

In anticipation of setting up a "Women's Friendship" endcap at work, I dug through my stacks, looking for a few titles to add to the list of potential recommendations. I'd heard good things about this debut novel and was excited when I discovered it in a stack of books my mom brought for me earlier this summer when she was out visiting from Oregon. Thanks, Mom!

I've always been drawn to female friendship-type books, in spite of the growing realization that they're all so similar. Is it that difficult to be original or have I just read my fair share of this genre? It's almost as if one could create such a book by following a recipe:


1 elderly widow/mentor (wise and motherly)
1 divorcee (bitter & confused)
1 single parent with teenager (typically a child wise beyond his years, yet still rebellious)
1 married woman with fidelity issues
1 woman, married or single, with fertility concerns

Add the obligatory men (the good, the bad and the ugly)

Mix until blended; fold in 1 cancer victim and toss with a generous helping of saccharine. Voila! You've got yourself an instant best-seller, albeit trite and clich├ęd.

I don't knit, but the book appealed to me nonetheless. The title, however, doesn't quite fit. The book may be about knitting, but it really isn't about a club or group of women bound by their weekly meetings. Unlike so many of the typical friendship novels, this narrative doesn't focus a whole lot on the actual club gatherings. Instead it deals more with the characters and their personal dilemmas, with only brief mentions of knitting projects and solutions. The knitting club was really just a minor backdrop to the storyline. And only a couple the characters came to life for me; the majority remained one-dimensional stereotypes typical of the genre.

In spite of a fairly slow start (typical of this sort of book, which involves the introduction of a lot of similar characters all at once), and a mildly disappointing finale, I have to say the book was fairly entertaining. I looked forward to my reading time, as a couple of the characters began to grow on me. My heartstrings were gently tugged, leaving me with a lump in my throat on more than one occasion. And, quite surprisingly, I even found myself toying with the idea of heading over to Hobby Lobby to buy a skein of yarn and set of knitting needles. I am not a crafty person by any stretch of the imagination, but Jacobs includes instructions for a simple scarf and I'm tempted to give it a whirl. There's also a recipe for muffins. Hmmm, maybe I better stick to what I know and go with the baking. I'm sure my husband would enjoy the food more than a goofy-looking scarf and the odds are probably more in favor of completing the muffins.

The Friday Night Knitting Club won't wind up on my keeper shelf, but I'm not sorry I read it. And yes, I still plan to include it on my endcap. It's got a definite appeal to women of all ages, and has been quite popular with book groups. And, now that the word is out that Julia Roberts is starring in the upcoming film, I have a feeling more copies will start to fly off the shelves.

What's your favorite "Women's Friendship" book?

August 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

(Click on photo to enlarge)
Hampton, Virginia

August 19, 2008

Summer Days

(Click on image to enlarge)

Is it really possible that schools are back in session this week? It seems like summer just began. It's been an odd summer as far as the weather goes. August is typically very hot in Nebraska, but near as I can tell, we've only had one day of triple digits the entire summer! It's been in the 80s for the past few days, which really seems odd. I was even a little chilly the other night when we were walking Annie-dog after dinner. Unbelievable!

I hope you all have had some great summer days of doing absolutely nothing! If not, there's still time. Only 33 more days 'til Autumn.

August 17, 2008

Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
Historical Fiction
336 Pages
2001 Penguin Books
Finished on 8/12/08
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins. Smells and sights and sounds that said this year it would be all right: there'd be food and warmth for the babies by the time the snows came. I used to love to walk in the apple orchard at this time of the year, to feel the soft give underfoot when I trod on a fallen fruit. Thick, sweet scents of rotting apple and wet wood. This year, the hay stooks are few and the woodpile scant, and neither matters much to me.

They brought the apples yesterday, a cartload for the rectory cellar. Later pickings, of course: I saw brown spots on more than a few. I had words with the carter over it, but he told me we were lucky to get as good as we got, and I suppose it's true enough. There are so few people to do the picking. So few people to do anything. And those of us who are left walk around as if we're half asleep. We are all so tired.

Publisher's Blurb:

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders."

Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. Written with stunning emotional intelligence and introducing "an inspiring heroine" (The Wall Street Journal), Brooks blends love and learning, loss and renewal into a spellbinding and unforgettable read.

I love historical fiction: novels with fully realized characters (particularly strong female characters), richly textured plots and historical details that educate as well as entertain. Brooks has created a strong and believable narrator, reminiscent of Donna Cross's Joan (Pope Joan), Mary Doria Russell's Agnes (Dreamers of the Day), and Alan Brennert's Rachel (Moloka'i). In this fascinating debut novel, the author quickly draws the reader into an engrossing, suspenseful and surprisingly unpredictable story. It's one of those rare works that has a remarkable sense of time and place, touching the reader with powerful emotions as if they themselves had experienced the crisis.

When I have a tallow stub, I read until it gutters. Mrs. Mompellion always allowed me to take the stubs from the rectory, and although there are very few nowadays, I do not know how I would manage without. For the hour in which I am able to lose myself in someone else's thoughts is the greatest relief I can find from the burden of my own memories.

Brooks is a consummate storyteller and as I read the final paragraphs, I found myself planning ahead, hoping to find more books to read about the plague (always a sign of a good historical novel). I found the ending quite satisfying and even thought it left room for the possibility of a sequel.

You can listen to an interview with Geraldine Brooks on NPR's All Things Considered here.

August 6, 2008

Bloggy Break

We're heading to the beach for a few days of fun in the sun with our daughter and granddaughter. Knowing me,
other than on the four flights, I won't get much reading accomplished. I have my current book (Year of Wonders) in my carry-on bag. It's quite good and I will probably be able to finish it before landing in Virginia. I'm also taking The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Same Sweet Girls. I've been meaning to read these two for quite some time now. I want to be able to add them to my "Women's Friendship" endcap at work later next month, but only if they're winners!

See you all later next week!

August 1, 2008

A Month In Review - July ('08)

Yet another light month! I probably would have gotten at least one more book read if I hadn't spent so much time on Three Cups of Tea! That book alone took two weeks to get through. Then, of course, there's all the outdoor activities (fishing, biking, kayaking, walking the dog, weeding, watering, etc.) that have kept me from my reading. But winter will be here before I know it and I'll have lots more time to curl up with a book!

Click on the titles to read my reviews.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz - DNF

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2.5/5)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (4.75/5)

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (2/5)

Favorite of the month (and quite possibly my #1 read of the year!): The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Books Read 3
Male Authors 1
Female Authors 2
New-To-Me Authors 3
Epistolary 1
Current Affairs 1
Japanese 1
Audio 0
Fiction 2
Nonfiction 1
Historical Fiction 0
Classic 0
Poetry 0
Teen 0
Children's 0
Sci-Fi 0
Fantasy 0
Horror 0
Romance 0
Humor 0
Travel 0
Memoir 0
Culinary 0
Mystery/Thriller 0
Series 0
Re-read 0
Challenge 0
Mine 3
Borrowed 0
Gift 2

Note: Only books completed are counted in the above totals with, of course, the exception of the DNF category.