by velocibadgergirl

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Take Your Shirt Off and Cry by Nancy Balbirer -- Review & Giveaway!

In Take Your Shirt Off and Cry:  a Memoir of Near-Fame Experiences, Nancy Balbirer chronicles her years-long struggle to find fame, fortune, or just a living wage in the killing fields of LA. After receiving praise and encouragement throughout her tenure in acting school, a bright future in the industry seemed assured, but Nancy find that LA is, too often, the place where dreams go to wither under the strain of reality.

Nancy's tale isn't all doom and gloom, however, and she writes with a refreshing blend of humor and honesty. Vignettes about her acting school experiences, dysfunctional boyfriends, fellow actors, and rare glimpse of success blend together to create an interesting memoir. I was left with the impression that Nancy would be a great person to sit next to at a dinner party. And best of all, even though Nancy never lands the fame and fortune she went to LA to find, the story has a happy ending.

If you would like to win my copy of Take Your Shirt Off and Cry, leave a comment on this post and tell me what you always thought you'd be when you grew up and if you followed that path or not. The contest will close at midnight on Wednesday, August 5th, and is open to anyone in the US.

As for me, I always thought I'd be a paleontologist when I grew up. I never got there, but I did get my geology degree in college and I do work in a science field today.

Winner! Congrats to basscomm! It seems that wants you to have this book!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Séance by John Harwood

I was hoping to do a very thorough review of this one, but I've run through the maximum number of renewals allowed, and it's due back at the library tomorrow. The Séance was recommended to me by a coworker who had recently read The Thirteenth Tale on my recommendation and loved it.

The Séance is similar in tone to The Thirteenth Tale and shares a sad family mystery at its heart. The Séance is very Victorian, and though I usually don't enjoy the time period too much, I was able to look past the few obviously Victorian elements (woman meets man and decides within the space of an afternoon that they are meant to be, they get engaged days later; woman is overcome by fear / stress / shock and swoons). The heroine of the story is Constance Langton, raised in a sad, quiet life by a father so distracted by his work that he might as well be completely absent and a mother so blinded by grief for Constance's sister who died at age two that she might as well be alone in all the world. Constance drifts through life, mostly ignored, until developing a curiosity about séances and spiritualism in her late teens.

It begins as an attempt to coax her mother out of mourning for the dead child, Alma, but all of Constance's good intentions go tragically awry. I won't spoil it, but basically the next few years' events set up what will become the main thrust of the story. One day, while living with her uncle and still lacking purpose, Constance is informed that a distant relative she's never heard of has left her a crumbling mansion, Wraxford Hall. The lawyer who delivers the bequest tells her that she may do with the property as she wishes, but he begs her to never live there, and encourages her to sell it sight unseen. Instead, Constance becomes intrigued and begins to investigate the history of the house.

Constance begins to uncover the bizarre events that supposedly took place at Wraxford Hall many years ago, and as she immerses herself in the mystery, the story really takes off. I won't summarize it, but I will say that it is dark and interesting and at times a bit strange. There's a twist ending that I didn't see coming, too, which is always a nice surprise. If you've read and enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, give The Séance a try. If you haven't read The Thirteenth Tale, read both!


Monday, July 13, 2009

I wish I knew how to quit you

(cross-posted from my regular blog)

I have been a fan of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series for years and years. The books can be sexy, entertaining, scary, and sidesplittingly funny when Evanovich is on, and for many years she produced hit after hit with a rare miss or two that I can recall. But lately, things just haven't been working for me. I do mostly enjoy the "between-the-numbers" books, even though on its face the premise of superhero-like Unmentionables is a little silly. In fact, it may be that silliness that keeps the holiday-themed books fun. In the early days of the Plum books, they were fun because you never knew what to expect. Now, as I told my friend the bibliophile one day when we were talking about the Plum books, I feel like Evanovich is almost trapped by her fan base. She can't play around with the characters as freely as she once did, because so many people are SO invested in them. She can still play around with the holiday books, because by definition she is outside the strict boundaries of the normal Plum universe.

I said in an email to the bibliophile, I also see a problem in that the numbered books always follow the same formula -- a bad guy or main case is introduced, Stephanie decides to track down fugitive, has some slapstick moments, has sex with someone, and then eventually catches the fugitive. There's only so many ways you can tell that story before it starts to get old. After I read Fearless Fourteen, I found myself thinking about giving up on the series. I honestly can't even remember why I was so disappointed, that's how bland it was. But then the new book, Finger Lickin' Fifteen, appeared on my library hold list, and I told myself I might as well give the series one more try. Happily, FL15 was much more enjoyable than its immediate predecessor, enough so that when the inevitable #16 comes out, I'll probably read it, too. Reading it also helped me refine my difficulty, I suppose, as it brought into focus the things about the series that just don't work for me. There are really only two big issues.

First, there's the apparent fact that in all her prior fourteen (or eighteen) books of bounty hunting, Stephanie has really not learned very much. I'm okay with her not carrying a gun, and I could buy it if she had a quirk where she constantly forgot her taser. Or, I could deal with that stuff if that were the only things that hadn't changed since the early books. But she still handcuffs people and then has to watch them run off. She still lets cornered bounties go to the bathroom before running them down to the police station, only to have them slip out the window and escape (that happens twice in book 15). She still takes Lula with her on jobs, and Lula still freaks out and knocks Stephanie down in a spazzy moment, allowing the target to escape. Now, I realize that Evanovich has chosen to follow a very loose progression of time, and I've heard that's she's stated on record that she's not going to move ahead years in time. I'm okay with that, especially since it means we probably won't have to suffer through the age-related death of Grandma Mazur (or Rex the hamster), or Morelli's retirement. But really, even if the span from the beginning of one book to the next was only a month (unlikely), that would mean she's been a bounty hunter for 15 months. And she's still letting people escape out bathroom windows while she stands around waiting for them to come back?

Secondly, I feel like character development has pretty much stalled out. Most of the minor recurring characters have been dropped entirely (Valerie the sister, Moon Man the stoner and occasional bounty, Sally Sweet the drag queen). The main characters really haven't changed much in several books, and Morelli barely made an appearance in book 14. Again, I have to wonder if the huge fan base and associated expectations are trapping Evanovich. It would be great to see Morelli and Ranger and especially Stephanie continue to change and evolve, but how would fans react if their old favorites suddenly developed along new storylines? I gotta say, I doubt I'm the only fan who would be happy to see some new direction.

How about you guys? Any Stephanie Plum fans out there? How do you feel about the books lately?