Thursday, August 31, 2006

August TBR

Title: The Year Of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Year Published: 2005


From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.”

Why did you get this book? Its review in The New York Times Book Review appealed to me. In it, the reviewer included the same quote appearing at the end of the blurb.

It was “the shallowness of sanity” part of that quote that tripped me. It reminded me of a difficult time in my own past where I decided that it was a relatively short walk to the edge (as in edge of a cliff). From that point on in my life, I’ve been careful. Mentally. I pretty much just wanted to hear what Didion had to say about sanity. This snippet of her quote suggested it would be something similar to how I felt about it.

Do you like the cover? Plain and suitable to the story.

Did you enjoy the book? I’m glad I read it and will look at it again I’m sure.

Didion explains what she means by “magical thinking” early on. It is heart breaking. It is very simply the idea that, after his sudden death, her husband would somehow come back to her. The entire year following his death is spent in this current. And despite her analytical approach to everything—even the “waves” of grief she describes—Didion continues to hold onto the idea that he will come back. Somehow, she can undo what has happened.

Her telling of this year was not what I expected. Didion researched grief and she imparts her findings by filling pages and pages with references from medical and psychiatric journals, Freud, assorted studies, etc. She even includes snippets from Emily Post (Etiquette, 1922). Didion appreciates the practical nature of Post’s funeral etiquette and the reader appreciates the comfort Didion takes in it. Even though both Didion and the reader (she makes sure) see the appeal of such benign advice. It allowed Didion to continue in her “magical” thinking.

I also did not expect that the better part of this book would center on Didion’s time at her daughter’s hospital bedside—dealing with her illness. As her daughter spent months hospitalized in the year following her father’s death, it made sense upon reading it. I also hadn’t realized (from the reviews) that her daughter’s illness was unexpected—it started as the flu. While this shouldn’t make Didion’s experience any more difficult (she herself tells readers that death feels unexpected regardless of whether it is “sudden” or “after a long illness”), it still feels like an unfathomable injustice. It adds to the “walking around in shock” feeling Didion conveys in the book.

Having read the reviews…I knew ahead of time that Didion lost her daughter in the next year. Knowing this, it was heart wrenching to read the words Didion uses to describe her daily actions and thoughts throughout these months. It was heart wrenching to watch Didion realize, slowly, that she cannot actually be sure of her words to her daughter. “You’re safe. I’m here.” It is the first of the cracks in her magical thinking; the first inkling that she cannot prevent Quintana’s death and could not have prevented John’s death.

Throughout, Didion describes the loss of cognitive abilities experienced in grief. This is the shallowness of sanity. It is a very matter of fact view Didion takes when tracking her thoughts during this time. She shares them in the same convoluted way they occur to her. She also depicts how remote these thoughts can be; remote even to herself. This was the point or observation that touched me most. It is brutally honest and I recognized it.

Another point…Didion does not share her thoughts as a “journey”. There is no end to this experience for her and she doesn’t pretend to “get somewhere” in her recovery from John’s death. There is no recovery. She just goes on. When the book ends, she has passed the anniversary of his death by one day. She is now entering the time wherein she can no longer think…”this time last year, John and I were….”.

She has also received the autopsy report indicating that her husband was dead the instant he fell from away from the dinner table. It is when she begins to accept that she could not have prevented his death. It is another crack in her magical thinking.

Was the author new to you? No. I had read Didion’s freelance pieces before. I have not read any of her husband’s novels however. I think I will.

Are you keeping it or passing it on? Keeping it.

Anything else? No.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Into The Storm by Suzanne Brockmann

Flat out loved it.

In a remote, frozen corner of New Hampshire, a Navy SEAL team and the elite security experts of Troubleshooters, Incorporated are going head-to-head as fierce but friendly rivals in a raid-and-rescue training exercise. Despite the frigid winter temperatures, tension smolders between veteran SEAL Petty Officer Mark “Jenk” Jenkins and former cop turned Troubleshooter Lindsey Fontaine after an impulsive night goes awry. And then, suddenly, Tracy Shapiro, the Troubleshooters’ new receptionist, vanishes while playing the role of hostage during a mock rescue operation.

Teaming up with the FBI to launch a manhunt in the treacherous wilderness, Jenk and Lindsey must put aside their feelings as a record snowstorm approaches, dramatically reducing any hope of finding Tracy alive. The trail is colder than the biting New England climate until a lucky break leads to a horrifying discovery—a brutally murdered young woman wearing the jacket Tracy wore when she disappeared. Suddenly there is a chilling certainty that Tracy has fallen prey to a serial killer—one who knows the backwoods terrain and who doesn’t play by the rules of engagement.

In a race against time, a raging blizzard, and a cunning opponent, Jenk and Lindsey are put to the ultimate test. Risking everything, they must finally come together in a desperate attempt to save Tracy—and each other.

Just days before the release of Into The Storm, I read Harvard’s Education, one of Brockmann’s earlier titles. Last May, I finally got around to reading Over The Edge. In both instances, I was reminded that Brockmann reigns in this “category.” In recent months I have read (and enjoyed) Gennita Low’s backlist as well as titles from Amy J. Fetzer and Cindy Gerard. Not exact comparisons, but close enough on the romantic suspense meter. And they were all very, very good. Brockmann however, delivers more.

Into The Storm features the same flawless characterization, wit and suspense found in this series’ previous installments. Per Brockmann’s guide to her TroubleShooters series, there are two relationships building throughout ITS. In the primary relationship, the hero, Jenk, and heroine, Lindsey, meet, fall for each other and build to an HEA. In the secondary relationship, Jenk and Izzy, his SEAL teammate, enjoy a sometimes serious, more often adolescent rapport—deepening their friendship with the kind of male bonding Brockmann captures so well.

I enjoyed both equally. In both relationships, her characters display a quick wit that is simultaneously intelligent and juvenile. It was reminiscent of my days with a dot com—populated by jean and tee shirt-clad brainiacs with a pension for all things Trekkie. For me, despite my er…advanced years, it is the kind of humor that evokes hard belly laughs and tears in your eyes. Brockmann’s delivery is perfection. She so easily engages the reader, soliciting genuine affection (and tolerance) for her characters.

There is only a cursory bit of real life action in this one. The rest is comprised of two training ops between the SEAL team and the TroubleShooters staff. Both ops can be described as more humorous than intense. There is a lot of emotional bumbling around, for just about every character. There is ample time to grow relationships and friendships here. Without constant life and death tension, Brockmann gives readers a book that can be enjoyed slowly. Rosario said something similar about Angels Fall from Nora Roberts this summer. The same applies to ITS.

The romance—between Jenk and Lindsey—is well done. These characters are so well suited. And the bump in the road—expected—is portrayed without belaboring the emotional issues. They are there, yes. They are deep-rooted but not all that well founded, yes. And Jenk and Lindsey talk them to death on a couple of occasions. Yes. But Brockmann does not anchor either character down with the baggage. Both are smart enough to overcome it and the reader knows it. Although there for a minute, I really thought their sexy start had come to an abrupt stop. And with Brockmann’s tendency to draw relationships out over several books, I had a moment of doubt.

Izzy, ITS’ ‘other’ hero, provides much of the book’s laughs. Again, intelligent and juvenile. His view of nearly everything reveals his keen perception. His reaction to most reveals his adolescent humor. When I finished ITS, I didn’t want to immediately let go of the amusement. So I re-read a passage here and there. And found that Izzy was the one who brought a smile to my face over and over again. Without detracting from Jenk and Lindsey. Without jumping up and down in front of the camera screaming for his own story. For ITS, Izzy compliments Jenk as well as Lindsey does. That is his purpose and the reader loves him for it. Do I want to see Izzy’s story from Brockmann? Yes. But I’m not looking at a calendar. If he finds his way to starring in the HEA in the next few years, I’ll be content.

The sub, sub story of Decker and Sophia—and now Dave—is there too. When I read my first Brockmann title, the number of characters and storylines layered into each book was confusing. Annoying even. But by the time I had finished that book, I had the rhythm down and a newfound appreciation for such long-term character development. In ITS, it is Decker and Sophia’s turn to be tortured well in advance of their own HEA. While we don’t get much more insight into Decker, we do get to know Sophia better. We also get to know Dave, now the third wheel to this storyline—a third wheel that will potentially divide fans of the series. Dave is likeable enough to garner his own following. It will be interesting to see where Brockmann takes this. Particularly given her parting shot for these three. I won’t ruin it, but Sophia’s last action in the book is the ultimate “Ha!”.

The suspense comes in the form of a serial killer, whereabouts unknown. Brockmann deftly introduces his evil early on and leaves the reader worried for the book’s heroine throughout. This element of suspense parallels the nature of the training ops beautifully.

Like I said, I flat out loved it. The ‘didn’t want it to end’ kind of love. For me, Brockmann’s SEALs and TroubleShooters are as well loved as Robb’s cast of In Death characters. I will never tire of them. I will never outgrow them. And I will always want to know what happens to them.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rounding Up This Summer's New Releases

Despite an overall reading slump (just plain reading fewer books each month) I managed to read most of the major new releases (on my watch list) this summer.

The Wrong Hostage from Elizabeth Lowell:

Orphaned at thirteen, Grace Silva clawed her way out of poverty and violence to become one of the most respected judges on the federal bench. Grace believes in the rule of law, lives it, breathes it. She has always been buttoned up and buttoned down.
Except once.

Joe Faroe has learned that laws are made by politicians and politicians are all too human. He believes in the innocents, the ones getting ground up by governments that are too polarized or too corrupt to protect their own citizens. He's been through the political meat grinder himself. It cost him his career, his freedom, and a woman who still haunts him. Since then, Faroe has worked outside the rules and politics of government. He is a kidnap specialist for St. Kilda Consulting, a Manhattan-based, global business that concentrates on the shadow world where governments can't go. He is good at his work, intelligent, confident, ruthless.

Until a friend dies trying to kill him.

Now Faroe is out of the business. Retired. He's through trying to save a world that doesn't want to be saved.

Then Grace comes to him, past and present collide, and Faroe finds himself sucked back into the shadows, tracking a violent killer who holds the life of Grace's son in his bloody hands.

Lowell was the first to remind me how nice it is to pick up a new title from an author you know and find that it exceeds your expectations. In The Wrong Hostage, Lowell gives us a hero and heroine with history and an attraction that remains as intense today as it was when they first knew one another. Neither character is completely likable, each suffering bad choices that continue to haunt. I remember this dark characterization from Lowell’s earlier work. I was drawn to it then and like it very much in TWH. It lends certain grittiness to the emotional and physical exchanges between these two and really, really heightens the tension between them.

I also recall, and continue to appreciate, Lowell’s education of the reader. In TWH, Lowell gives us a window to smuggling operations and money laundering between the US and Mexico. Lowell provides a highly detailed, thoroughly researched view of this world without burdening the reader. In fact, she uses the insight, the history to deepen characterization of her hero. Very nicely done. Excellent read.

Shiver from Lisa Jackson:

In each of her gripping bestsellers, Lisa Jackson has brought readers to the edge of their seats and proven herself a master of romantic suspense. Now the New York Times bestselling author of HOT BLOODED and COLD BLOODED delivers her most powerful novel yet, bringing back New Orleans detective Reuben Montoya as he matches wits with a twisted psychopath whose very presence makes his victims SHIVER...

Abby Chastain, is the beautiful and haunted daughter of Faith Chastain. Faith spent most of her adult life in Our Lady Of Virtues mental hospital and now, twenty years later, the daughter who looks so much like her, has her own demons to deal with. Some of those demons are connected directly to Our Lady Of Virtues and a darkly dangerous killer who has reappeared, ready to wreak his own special and deadly vengeance on Abby and those she loves. Abby already fears she may have inherited her mother's penchant for tragedy and though she begins to fall for Montoya, she knows that a cop is someone she needs to avoid. But fate and the killer have other plans . . . .

This was my first Lisa Jackson book. It was well written, relatively fast paced, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. More to its credit however, was the characterization. I cared less about figuring out the serial killer’s identity, and more about how each character was going to overcome past and present losses and threats.

The romance was equally engaging despite its rigid adherence to romantic suspense formula—female victim and male detective instantly attracted to one another despite lurking dangers; she battles / balances her need for him as well as her independence; he seeks to clear and protect her and so on. The one thing Jackson does is to cleverly link hero and heroine, for unexpected reasons, in the killer’s crosshairs. A page-turner and another I’d call an excellent read.

Cover Of Night from Linda Howard:

In the charming rural town of Trail Stop, Idaho, accessible to the outside world by only a single road, young widow Cate Nightingale lives peacefully with her four-year-old twin boys, running a bed-and-breakfast. Though the overnight guests are few and far between–occasional hunters and lake fishermen–Cate always manages to make ends meet with the help of the local jack-of-all-trades, Calvin Harris, who can handle everything from carpentry to plumbing. But Calvin is not what he seems, and Cate’s luck is about to run out.

One morning, the B&B’s only guest inexplicably vanishes, leaving behind his personal effects. A few days later Cate is shocked when armed men storm the house, demanding the mystery man’s belongings. Fearing for her children’s lives, Cate agrees to cooperate–until Calvin saves the day, forcing the intruders to scatter into the surrounding woods. The nightmare, however, is just beginning. Cate, Calvin, and their entire community find themselves cut off and alone with no means to call for help as the threat gathers intensity and first blood is drawn.

With their fellow residents trapped and the entire town held hostage, Cate and Calvin have no choice but to take the fight to their enemies under the cover of night. While reticent Cal becomes a fearless protector, Cate makes the most daring move of her life . . . into the very heart of danger.

Howard confounds me every time out. Three years ago, I devoured nearly every contemporary she had written. I particularly loved the operative / mission stories. I’ve been looking for more of the same hard-edged stuff from her since. Instead, she gave us To Die For, a slapstick romance in a first person narrative. Which I loved. Then Killing Time, a modern day mystery with time travel thrown in. I enjoyed that one as well, although not as much as TDF. This year, she isolates characters and readers in rugged Pacific Northwest terrain, under siege and in the dark—literally and figuratively. It was like a really smartly written episode of Northern Exposure without all the quirkiness or the moose.

Because Howard writes so well, I was expertly drawn in. And held there until the last page. I’ve heard from a few people on this one and all agree. It is a page-turner. You can’t put it down. Characterization is also strong, expected from Howard. I particularly liked her heroine, a widowed mother to 4-year old twin boys. Howard paints a very realistic picture here. A woman who has suffered great loss, but still rejoices in every one of those parent / toddler moments. It is how one power can overshadow—or overcome another. The hero to this woman is interesting. Howard unveils him to the heroine and readers simultaneously—with spark and humor.

So not dark and edgy, but enjoyable. Anyone have any links to good info on Howard? And what she is working on presently? I saw another title due to be released in November. I’m unable to determine whether it is a new title or release of an older title.

Angels Fall from Nora Roberts:
Excellent. Already blogged this one up.

Reece Gilmore has come a long way to see the stunning view below her. As the sole survivor of a brutal crime back East, she has been on the run, desperately fighting the nightmares and panic attacks that haunt her. Reece settles in Angel's Fist, Wyoming-temporarily, at least-and takes a job at a local diner. And now she's hiked this mountain all by herself.

It was glorious, she thought, as she peered through her binoculars at the Snake River churning below. Then Reece saw the man and woman on the opposite bank. Arguing. Fighting. And suddenly, the man was on top of the woman, his hands around her throat . . . Enjoying a moment of solitude a bit farther down the trail is a gruff loner named Brody.

But by the time Reece reaches him and brings him to the scene, the pair has vanished. When authorities comb the area where she saw the attack, they find nothing. No signs of struggle. No freshly turned earth. Not even a tire track. And no one in Angel's Fist seems to believe her. After all, she's a newcomer in town, with a reputation for being jumpy and jittery-maybe even a little fragile.

Maybe it's time to run again, to move on . . .

Reece Gilmore knows there's a killer in Angel's Fist, even if Brody, despite his seeming impatience and desire to keep her at arm's length, is the only one willing to believe her. When a series of menacing events makes it clear that someone wants her out of the way, Reece must put her trust in Brody-and herself-to find out if there is a killer in Angel's Fist before it's too late.

Vanished from Karen Robards:

Ten years ago, Sarah Mason's six-year-old daughter vanished during an outing at a local park in Beaufort, South Carolina. Despite a furious search, little Lexie was never found, and Sarah was left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and go on as best she could.

Then, on one hot July night, she returns home from work to hear the phone ringing. When she picks it up, a child's terrified voice whispers, "Mommy, help, come and get me . . ." The call is cut off, but not before Sarah's heart goes into overdrive: the voice belongs to Lexie. Six-year-old Lexie. Though ten years have passed, she sounds exactly the same.

Frantic, Sarah turns to the police, the FBI, family, and friends, none of whom can help. Out of desperation, she approaches Jake Hogan, once a detective assigned to Lexie's case. Jake is now a P.I., and though he is skeptical, the attraction he feels for Sarah pushes him to help her. Ben is convinced someone is deliberately tormenting the grief-stricken mother, and the continued tension of sketchy and unpredictable clues forces them to rely only on each other. Together they're caught in a nightmare search for Lexie, who might just still be alive-if only Jake and Sarah can hang on.

Bleh. This one had promise, but ended so flat I had to struggle to remember whether I liked anything about it. It started with gripping suspense. The first two or three chapters hooked me completely. But from there, it felt like poorly written episodic television. A story I’ve read before. Same cast of characters. Same emotional issues. Same attempt at humorous sidebars. Cookie-cutter villains and an outcome I’ve read in the headlines. An outcome that was dispensed with in a handful of pages—giving the book an abrupt, not-to-believable ending. Nothing original here.

I also finished Into The Storm by Suzanne Brockmann (will warrant its own gushing post) and just started Evanovich’s Twelve Sharp. Sandra Brown’s Ricochet is on hold for me at the library as well. I think these are the last of the “big name” reads until fall.

Of course there are a host of other authors (e.g. Marjorie M. Liu, Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn, etc.) with new releases this summer. I’m still getting to those.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The marketer in me cannot pass this by...

I am participating in a blogging experiment hosted at To enter the contest, put up this blurb, image, and trackback and you are entered to win the following prize package.

$200 Amazon gift certificate
Signed copy of Slave to Sensation
New Zealand goodies chosen by Singh
ARC of Christine Feehan's October 31 release: Conspiracy Game

You can read about the experiment here and you can download the code that you need to participate here.

Nalini Singh Berkley / September 2006

Welcome to a future where emotion is a crime and powers of the mind clash brutally against those of the heart.

Sascha Duncan is one of the Psy, a psychic race that has cut off its emotions in an effort to prevent murderous insanity. Those who feel are punished by having their brains wiped clean, their personalities and memories destroyed.

Lucas Hunter is a Changeling, a shapeshifter who craves sensation, lives for touch. When their separate worlds collide in the serial murders of Changeling women, Lucas and Sascha must remain bound to their identities…or sacrifice everything for a taste of darkest temptation.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lord of Scoundrels

I loved this book. Thank you to everyone who recommended it to me. What a wounded soul Dain is. I love how Jessica healed him. It was just amazing to read a book from the man's point of view. To read all about his insecurities, not from her perspective, but from his. And he has a boatload. I think to continue with the quotes is the way to go, since they say it all...
Dain kept his gaze on his plate and concentrated on swallowing the morsel he'd just very nearly choled on. She was possessive... about him.

The beautiful, mad creature - or blind and deaf creature, or whatever she was - coolly announced it as one might say, "Pass the salt cellar," without the smallest awareness that the earth had just tilted on its axis.
And this one... they are speaking about a wrestling match they are going to go to, and Jessica wants to keep all the other women away from Dain...

"You are well aware of your effect on women, and I'm sure it gratifies you no end to watch them sigh and salivate over your magnificent physique. I do not wish to spoil your fun, Dain, but I do ask you to consider my pride and refrain from embarrassing me in public."

Women...sighing and salivating...over his magnificent physique. Maybe the brutal bedding had destroyed a part of her brain.
And Chase's trademark banter...
"Jessica, you are a pain in the arse, do you know that? If I were not so immensely fond of you, I should throw you out the window."

She wrapped her arms about his waist and laid her head against his chest. "Not merely 'fond,' but 'immensely fond.' Oh Dain, I do believe I shall swoon."

"Not now," he said crossly. "I haven't time to pick you up."
"We've been wed more than a month. Since it appears you mean to stay, I might as well give you leave to call me by my christian name. It is preferable, at any rate, to 'clodpole.'"
The true break for Dain comes when Jessica accepts without reservation, his illegitimate son. She shows him through her love for his child, the love that he wanted from his own mother. Shows him, in fact, that maybe his mother left him behind, not because she didn't love him, but because she thought it was the best thing for him. This breaks open his heart and allows him to love his son and Jessica both without reservation.

I don't know if it's because the book is a totally different perspective on poor self-image, or because we get from the beginning why Dain has his poor self-image, but I found myself much more forgiving of Dain's insecurities about himself than I would be if he were the heroine suffering the same. Our poor men - we just want to cuddle them and fix them.

Sigh. Fantastic book. Not much else to say, except if you haven't read it (and I think I was one of the very few), go read it now.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Lord of Scoundrels, the first post

I am only 64 pages in. I feel compelled to post and say thank you to the few people who told me to make this my second Loretta Chase book. I can already tell - this is the story of the hero, not the heroine. The book starts off telling how Sebastian Ballister, Lord Dain, came into this world, how he grew up, and of his parents. Sad stuff. But necessary to the reflective way that the rest of the book is structured.

I feel compelled to share some of the prrime examples that have sucked me in just in the first few interactions between Dain and Jessica Trent, our heroine.

On thinking of their first meeting...
He was used to towering over women - over most everybody - and he had learned to feel comfortable in his oversize body. Sports - boxing and fencing, especially - had taught him to be light on his feet. Next to her he had felt like a great lummox. A great, ugly, stupid lummox.
On a challenge Jessica had just put forth...
What he felt was the old monster howling within. He couldn't name the feelings any better than he could when he'd been eight years old. He'd never bothered to name them, simply shoved and beaten them out of his way, repeatedly, until, like his schoolmates of long ago,they stopped tormenting him.

Having never been allowed to mature, those feelings remained at the primitive, childlike level. Now, caught unexpectedly in their grip, Lord Dain could not reason as an adult would. He could not tell himself that Bertie Trent was an infernal nuisance whom Dain should have sent packing ages ago...

...All Dain could see was an exceedingly pretty girl teasing him with a toy he wanted very badly. He had offered his biggest and very best toy in trade. And she had laughed and threatened to throw her toy into a privy, just to make him beg.

Much later, Lord Dain would undertand that this - or something equally idiotic - had been raging through his brain. But that would be much later, when it was far too late.
And I'm just getting to the good part. This is what made me finally stop to post...
He had relieved whores beyond counting of frocks, stays, chemises, garters, and stockings. He had never before in his life unbuttonened a gently bred maiden's glove. He'd committed salacious acts beyond number. He'd never before felt so depraved as he did now, as the last pearl came free and he drew the soft kid down, baring her wrist, and his dark fingers grazed the delicate skin he'd exposed.
Wow. I just want to cradle the poor little boy he was, and I'm already in love with the scoundrel of a man he is. And I'm only on page 64. More to come...
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