Monday, May 26, 2014

Next Always by Nora Roberts (2011)

This is the first of the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy. I liked hearing the details of renovating an old inn, which Beckett is doing with his brothers and mother. The audio version was narrated by a man, so the story is told more from Beckett's point of view than Claire's, though we get her side too. Roberts seems to be capable of doing this, though this guy seemed to be too good to be true, as also happens with Roberts.

I always like the different professions Roberts chooses for her characters and I always feel like I learn something about the profession, though I am never sure how right she gets it. Well, this time I can critique Claire's profession - bookstore owner in a small town. I, of course, love books and bookstores, and am glad the author chose this setting and profession, but since I had a bookstore in a town of 7000, I know the reality of it. Books have a very low mark-up, so you have to sell a lot of them, like Barnes & Noble, to make any money. Small towns usually have a handful of avid readers, and it sounded like Boonsboro, MD was a small town. (I just looked it up - 2010 population 3336 - definitely not big enough to support a bookstore.) And I had my bookstore before Amazon and the big chain bookstores took over. All the independent bookstores in my area of 250,000 have folded except those dealing in used books. You can possibly make it, if you get a deal with the local school system or college to provide them with books, but from customers in town, and even tourists, it is hard. I related to Claire's joy the moment when a customer that usually buys books walks in. She had reading hours, author readings and also sold coffee - but again, you have to sell a lot of coffee to make a solid income. So I did not see how Claire could not only maintain a family of three boys, but also have two other employees. The story still worked, I just had this little quibble.

I liked that Claire already had three boys - always a game changer in romantic relationships, as the woman comes as a team with the kids. Beckett had grown up with two brothers, so he really got the three boys and knew how to play with them, how to talk to them. Roberts even gave us the personalities of the boys - as each child is different. Claire's husband had died in Iraq - good current reference. Most of us in America forget we are in a war, but for some families it is always on their minds. I am glad this was brought out. and is relevant as I write this on Memorial Day.

This was also a romance where there was a rich set of characters - the townspeople, old college friends, parents and grandparents. And the creepy Sam. Sometimes romances seem to be set in a vacuum, but this definitely was not. Of course it is obvious that the two brothers and Claire's girlfriends will get matched up in future books, but I like these trilogies.

Then there is the inn itself. I like the idea that they named each room for a historic couple. I used to fantasize about decorating rooms by themes, or I would drive by a broken down old house and think it would be fun to restore it - loved This Old House, but in reality, I can barely maintain my 60 year old house and I do not do decorating. But it was fun to read about it. I loved that the mother was responsible for ordering all the furniture, and that brother Owen was the organized one that kept everyone on track.

I don't care for the books where the story centers around some magical, mystical theme, but I like it when Roberts throws in just a bit of other worldly. So the inn has a ghost. They have named her Liz, but we don't know much about her yet, except she smells like honeysuckle when she is happy about something the live humans are doing.

Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin (1977)

Anaïs Nin and her book Delta of Venus was know to me as a classic book of erotica, which turns out was written in the 1940's, but first published in 1977. Years ago I had ordered it through Books on Tape, when you had to send away for them and they came on numerous cassette tapes. I quickly found that this is not what I want to be listening to in the car, which is where I listen to books. Then a few years ago, as I was given some boxes of books to get rid of from an artist friend who had passed away, I found a yellowed copy of this, so I kept it. Again, I found it was not something I wanted to read cover to cover in one sitting, but just sample a bit now and then. So I finally finished reading it.

I guess what intrigued me the most was the back story that these were stories written by Nin in the 1940's for a commission for a private collector, who commissioned other well know authors of the time. These were meant just for his private consumption and were not to be full of poetry and philosophy or romance, but just about the acts themselves. Nin and her friends would sit around discussing possible situations and environments, which she then put to paper. It was partly a joke and her characters caricatures, but she found language for the sensual and gave it a feminine perspective, in what was before then just a male domain. I have read about Americans in Paris, and she was part of that exciting time. It looks like I will have to look into some of the other things she wrote, maybe read some of her journals. Interesting woman.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Happy Birthday by Danielle Steel (2011)

When I briefly owned a small town bookstore, I read a book or two by Dannielle Steel, so I would understand what type of romance writer she was. You don't want to recommend an edgy book to a customer who likes the type of romances that end with the first kiss. I seem to remember Steel being edgy outside my comfort zone. I just grabbed this off the reminder table, though I found I had read one of her books back in 2006 that I disliked. Ah well, this one spoke to me.

The book starts out with three people having birthdays. Martha Stewart type celebrity Valerie is turning 60, Former NFL/Superbowl football star, now sportscaster, Jack is turning 50 and Valerie's daughter and restaurant owner April turns 30. Since I will be having a 60th birthday next year, I think I too am feeling like this really makes me old and wonder what it will mean for me. I don't mind being my age, unlike Valerie, but still it makes me think. I can't say I relate to Jack, and don't think I know anyone like him, who keeps going out with much younger women to feel younger himself, but I do know of enough men that have left the wives that were their own age to go with younger ones. Luckily Jack makes friends with Valerie and finds that he actually likes hanging out with someone who is as successful as himself, and has a wide range of interests.

But the one that hit home the most was April. She works hard, is independent and ends up pregnant from a one night stand. She decides to tell the guy, but not ask him to be involved. He has never wanted children, so he freaks out and turns his back. I think Steel got the thinking pattern of April right, at least I remember those kinds of thoughts.

Doesn't mean I will pick up any more Steele, but this was OK.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaimon (2005)

I guess this is the second Neil Gaiman book for adults I have read - the first being Stardust. Gaiman continues to intrigue me.He has a wonderful way of combining the every day with the magical. Charlie Nancy is living a fairly boring life in London as an accountant with a fiance. When his crazy father dies at a karaoke bar in Florida, he returns to his childhood home for the funeral and discovers that he has a brother - Spider. Well, it turns out that his father was really the trickster god - Anansi, a figure I was familiar with from kid books I read my son, especially Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott, which I will have to re-read, but am including here to remind me.

Gaiman's story is full of wonderful characters, like Charlie's evil boss who is
robbing his clients, the ghost of one of the clients, the female detective who is sent to investigate the inconsistencies, the group of elderly women neighbors back in Florida that are really a coven of witches, the fiance's awful mother, etc. As this is a modern day fairy tale, the author can do fantastical things, as bring all of his main characters together on a Caribbean island for the grand finale. 

I have occasionally wondered about what happened to the ancient gods. By definition, they live forever, so wouldn't they be among us today? I really like that Gaiman brings back into today's world one of the more interesting gods from West Africa. The story is fun, brings in various animal gods and powers, especially when Charlie goes to the underworld. Plus there are lessons to be learned. I loved watching both Charlie and Spider evolve.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Thankless in Death by J.D. Robb (2013)

It has been a while since I have read a J.D. Robb book, so the lives of Lt. Eve Dallas and Roarke have moved forward. Apparently Roarke found a slew of relatives back in Ireland and they are visiting New York for Thanksgiving. It was fun to see Eve still getting used to the idea that she has a family that care for her, and how they made Roarke's mansion full of laughter and joy, whereas it was usually just Roarke, Eve and Summerset. This is one of the things I like about this series, that there is an evolution in the characters, the setting in which the murder mystery is set.

The murderer in this one is one of the creepiest characters I remember. Jerry believes the world owe's him everything, and when things don't quite go the way he wants, he is never to blame - it is always someone else, often someone who actually did love and care for him. He starts with his parents, and Dallas figures out who he is fairly early on, the trick is to find him and to get him before he kills others on his list of people at fault.

Monday, May 05, 2014

King and Maxwell by David Baldacci (2013)

Another fun suspense filled book from David Baldacci. I like King and Maxwell, though I didn't quite like the TV characters as much. I like the fact that they are trying to help out a teen Tyler Wingo, whose father has just been killed in Afghanistan (or has he?) It was interesting to see King's ex-wife make an appearance, and that they turn to a former client - Edgar Roy - for help. The villain I had a harder time accepting. There was a lot of convoluted planning for this revenge scheme and it didn't quite make sense to me, but it was still a good read that kept me up for a long drive East.

All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg (2013)

I almost gave up on this one and was really glad I didn't. The book was read by the author and the main character Sookie was such a cloying southern belle, that I thought I wasn't going to last through the book. But it was the historical side that totally fascinated me.

Sookie is a 59 year old mother of four grown children, has a loving husband, an impossibly demanding and controlling mother. She has patiently dealt with all; by the end of the book I considered her a saint.

Sookie finds out she was adopted and a whole new world opens up for her. Interspersed with her life in a small town Alabama we hear about her real mother's Polish family in Pulaski, WI. Four sisters and a brother grow up helping their father run a gas station. When the father becomes ill and the brother goes off to fight in WWII they end up running the only all-girl gas station. That in itself is interesting, but when they women go off to fly planes for the military domestically and become a part of the WASPs, I was totally fascinated.

Sookie learns about this history and grows, trying things she would have never have tried before, while still remaining the nicest and sweetest person. Though set in my ways to some extent, I don't think people around me would say I lack courage to try new things, but I do relate to questioning my life,since I am the same age as Sookie is in the beginning of the book.