Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A "Sweetheart" She Ain't!

Since the end is near for 2008, I thought I would post at least one more review before the ball drops! I actually ended up reading a few more books than I did last year which is totally amazing since I'm working twice as much!! But the last review of the year is Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain (336 pgs., St. Martin's Minotaur, 2008), the follow-up to HeartSick.

Forest Park was pretty in the summer. Portland's ash sky was barely visible behind a canopy of aspens, hemlock, cedars, and maples that filtered the light to a shimmering pale green. A light breeze tickled the leaves. Morning glories and ivy crept up the mossy tree trunks and strangled the blackberry bushes and ferns, a mass of crawling vines that piled up waist-high on either side of the packed dirt path. The creek hummed and churned, birds chirped. It was all very lovely, very Walden, except for the corpse.

(There may be a few spoilers for HeartSick in this review)
Once the After-School killer had been revealed....and Gretchen Lowell's part in it, Archie Sheridan promised himself he was done. Done with Gretchen. Done with his visits to the prison to see her. She had controlled every aspect of his life for so many years, he couldn't even count. Now, he wanted it all to be over. Archie had moved back in with his (ex-) wife and kids. He was back on the force working cases. And he was in therapy.

Susan Ward had also moved on since the After-School killer. She moved back in with her mom! She decided that after a brush with a killer and death, a little growing up may be in order. No longer does she have pink hair because apparently turquoise is more professional. And she is serious about her investigation into Senator Castle's life. She knows the man was bad news, and now she has sworn testimony from Molly Palmer, the girl that had the "relationship" with the Senator when she was 14 years old. That is, until the Senator AND Susan's mentor end up dead, when the car they were in crashed over the Freemont Bridge.

All the players are back in this follow-up to HeartSick. And while I was hardly able to put this book down, I didn't like it nearly as well as I did the first. The things that made HeartSick so good was the fact that is was unique. Gretchen Lowell, the female serial killer...and the way she was still in Archie Sheridan's life. THESE were some of the reasons I really liked HeartSick. In Book 2, these reasons aren't unique anymore. In fact, they were a little redundant.

The relationship between Archie and Gretchen is also a big part of this book. Truth be told, it really made me uncomfortable. I find it hard to believe that any person that had been through what Archie went through, could still have feelings for his captor. Was he in love with her? In a really twisted way, he was. And it just made me want to shake him. He does a lot of things that no sane person would do. And if you can actually get over the fact that the woman fed you drain cleaner and tortured you for 10 days, then more power to you. But when said woman threatens your family...and your small kids, then maybe it's time to say enough is enough.

I actually liked Susan a lot more in this book. She was trying to balance her need to be a journalist and get "the story" and the fact that a lot of journalism feeds off the pain of others. She showed a lot of sass and determination in this book, and I think she might have been my favorite character.

I'm not saying it's a bad book because it's not. Chelsea Cain has created some really memorable characters and she certainly knows how to write some thrilling sequences. Personally, I don't understand Archie. He's a broken man, yes. I know. But one with a family that has looked past a lot of stuff to let him in again. And he is ready to pack it all in for a homicidal psychopath. Makes me think his sanity should be a little more in question!

If you've read HeartSick, you will probably want to read Sweetheart, just to know what happens. Who knows, maybe you'll love it more than I did!! 3.5/5

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book 2 in the Twilight Series......

Well....I can't stop reading the series now, can I? Not a series that has my son begging for more books?? I went out and bought New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (608 pgs, Little, Brown Young Readers, 2006) as soon as Chad was disappointed he was on a waiting list at school to get the book. I figured it was an investment in his education!! Again, I can see the appeal this series has for the younger set.

I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the callous crowd, but the hands on the clock tower didn't slow. With relentless, uncaring force, they turned inexorably toward the end -- the end of everything.

Things for Bella seem to be going smoothly. She and Edward are a couple. No one knows the Cullens' secret about being vampires. Life is good. There is still one tiny problem -- she wants Edward to turn her so they can spend eternity together, and he wants nothing to do with it. But dating a vampire has a few drawbacks!

Then the Cullens throw a surprise party for Bella's birthday, and in typical Bella clumsy fashion, she gets hurt. The realization that she IS human and they are not seeps in. The Cullens leave town, and Edward breaks up with Bella. In harsh fashion, he tells her that he just can't take their relationship. He doesn't love her enough to do it.

Bella goes into a tailspin of depression. So bad that her friends no longer want to be around her. Charlie is ready to have her committed. She is sleep walking through life. Until she finds if she is in trouble, she can "hear" Edward's voice inside her head. So Bella starts do really reckless things just to feel closer to him. She evens buys 2 motorcycles, although they need a lot of work. And who does she get to help her with it, but her old friend Jacob Black.

Bella starts spending a lot of time with Jacob. He comes her best friend, and the person she relies on the most since Edward left. It's pretty obvious that Jacob's feelings are a lot stronger than Bella's. But she really does care for him. But Jacob has secrets of his own, and now Victoria is back....and pissed off. She is trying to exact her revenge by killing Bella. Since Edward killed James, she is planning to kill Edward's mate. Mate for Mate. And Bella is scared.

Really, I do see how this series became so popular. Meyer's writing is smooth and certainly addictive. Once you start, you can't put it down. But I don't think I liked this one as much as I did Twilight. Edward and family took a backseat to the new monsters in town, and frankly, I am rather partial to vampires!!

Again, Bella stilled annoyed me WAY too much. I get that she's a teenager. Losing your love is traumatic at any age. But we've all been through it. She fell into such a depression, feeling so sorry for herself, that it made me want to scream!! Her recklessness was really starting to bother me too. Personally, I didn't blame her for turning to Jacob. I've read a lot of reviews that said she was being really fickle...but I just didn't see it that way. I think she valued Jacob as a friend. She was very honest with him that she didn't feel the same way about him...and he accepted that. But she did come to love who he was....and if that was gone, she was going to be sad.

And Edward....oh let's get started on him. If he can't have Bella, he's just going to kill himself?? Please. Give me a break. You'd think that a 100-year-old vampire would be smart enough to get over a whiny little thing like Bella. Maybe I'm being jaded by dismissing the whole "Soul Mate" idea. I get the concept....but I just have a hard time buying into it. And marketing books to teens that promote this kind of worshipful love seems kind of dangerous to me. Sheesh. Maybe I AM too old to be reading this series!!

Anyway, I enjoyed the book. Not as much as Twilight. But since I bought Chad both Eclipse and Breaking Dawn for Christmas, I'll definitely be finishing out the series!! 3.75/5

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity. From last minute Christmas shopping to the wrapping of tons of presents. But all worked out well....other than the fact that I did not get one book for Christmas!! You know, I'm not hard to buy for. But coming from a family of non-readers, I guess they just don't think!! Oh well....bygones!!

I hope you all had a great holiday....and I'll be back with a review or two tomorrow!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Utterly Chilling.....

A few months back, I joined the Amazon Vine program. They send me books (for FREE) and all they want out of me is a review. Pretty easy, right? One of the books I requested was Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain. It was Book 2 in a series. As you all know, I completely anal about reading books in series order, and I never would have requested it, but Amazon sent me a copy of Cain's 1st book, HeartSick (352 pgs, St. Martin's Press, 2007) as well. And I am so thankful they did! I would have hated to miss out on this series!!

Archie doesn't know for sure it's her until that moment. There is a dull bloom of warmth in his spine, his vision blurs, and he knows that Gretchen Lowell is the killer. He realizes that he has been drugged, but it's too late. He fumbles for his gun, but he is ham-fisted and can only lift it awkwardly from his belt clip and hold it out as if it were a gift for her. She takes it and smiles, kissing him gently on the forehead.

2 years ago, Archie Sheridan spent 10 days being tortured by Gretchen Lowell. For 10 years, Archie was on the task force that was investigating the serial killer, dubbed the "Beauty Queen Killer". Then Gretchen Lowell walked into his office and offered her services as a consulting psychiatrist. Not only was she off-the-charts intelligent, but she was also extremely beautiful. Little did anyone expect she was actually the killer. Very few serial killers were woman. Especially one this brutal. Besides, who would have thought the killer would be so arrogant as to insert themselves into the investigation?? But Gretchen did, and she came for Archie.

But in a weird twist, after 10 days of torturing Archie to the brink of death, Gretchen actually saved his life. In fact, she called 9-1-1 for medical assistance and sealed her fate. She was caught, but through plea bargaining, she avoided the death penalty. Part of her agreement was that she would tell the police where to find the bodies of the 200 + victims she had tortured and killed. But there was a condition to this agreement. Gretchen would only speak to one person -- Archie.

Now, 2 years later, another serial killer has surfaced. Nicknamed the "After School Killer", he is abducting high school girls on their way home at night. Archie has been asked to come out of retirement and head the new task force. But Archie is a broken man. Not only has he not worked since the incident, but he takes enough Vicoden on a daily basis to sedate a small elephant. He has a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions from anti-depressants to Xanax to sleeping pills. His wife divorced him. And every Sunday Archie drives to the prison to speak to Gretchen Lowell. He's obsessed with her, and not in a healthy way.

Susan Ward is a features writer for the local Portland newspaper. She'd love to be serious reporter, but so far, she hasn't been given the chance. Spunky and independent,with bright pink hair, Susan has been tapped to do a story on Archie and the task force. She doesn't know why she was requested for this assignment, but she isn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Following Archie around is definitely the biggest thing that has ever happened in her career.

Because Gretchen is in prison for most of this book, there are the obvious comparisons to another literary killer -- Hannibal Lecter. But in my opinion, Gretchen Lowell makes Hannibal Lecter look like a Sunday School Teacher. Through a few small chapters that flash back to the ten days Archie was captured, we get a small glance at how incredibly brutal this woman really is. The kinds of torture she put her victims through are so twised, I had trouble reading about them.. And not only was she brutal in her kills, but she is equally so with Archie. She is a master manipulator. She "killed" most of him during those 10 days. But now she is keeping him in a prison of her own making. He can't seem to let go of her. It's almost like a weird form of Stockholm Syndrome.

The Susan storyline was a little weak in comparison to the Gretchen storyline. You just didn't get as much of a chance to get to know her as well. But her character is likable. She is tough, although not as tough as she thinks she is.

But Archie is such a wonderful character. He is flawed almost to the point of destruction. Chelsea Cain has created a man so human, there are some chapters it's almost painful to read. You just want to yell at him, then hug him the next minute.

On top of the great characters is a really fast-paced, riveting story. One that will keep you turning page after page, just dying to know what's going to happen next. An extremely enjoyable thriller, HeartSick will keep you on your toes. And just praying you never see Gretchen Lowell on a street corner in your neighborhood!! I was so impressed with this book, that I immediately started Book #2 - SweetHeart. If you are a fan of the thriller/serial killer genre, this is a definite must-read for you. Even if you aren't a big fan, this is a very enjoyable book! 4.5/5

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winner of the Matrimony Giveaway

Drumroll please........

Linda from Maine!!
Thanks so much to all of you for participating. I wish I had a book for everyone! But stop back again after the first of the year. I have a few ARC's that I'm going to be giving away too!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Quiet Little Novel About Life......

T'is the season to be busy!! So busy, that I am about 4 reviews behind, and that never happens to me! But since I'm hosting a Giveaway for Matrimony by Joshua Henkin (291 pgs, 2007), I thought it would be prudent to let you all know what I thought about the book!!

"Out! Out! Out! The first words Julian Wainwright ever spoke, according to his father, Richard Wainwright III, graduate of Yale and grand lubricator of the economic machinery, and Constance Wainwright, Wellesley graduate and descendant of a long family of Pennsylvania Republicans. Julian, the first Wainwright in four generations to be given his own Christian name. Julian's father would have liked another Richard, but Julian's mother was a persistent woman and she believed a child of hers was entitled to his own identity and therefore his own name.

In 1986, seventeen-year-old Julian Wainwright leaves New York City to go to college. Early on, Julian knew he would never follow in his father's footsteps and become an investment banker. It wasn't in his heart. And he certainly didn't want to go to Yale. Instead Julian enrolled at Graymont, a small liberal arts college in Northington, Massachusettes, and set his sights on becoming a writer. He had come to Graymont to study fiction writing under Professor Chesterfield, a man who had written one novel. His novel had been sold to Hollywood. Plagued by troubles from the start, the movie was never made...and it started Chesterfield on a road to a 20-year Writer's block.

It was in Chesterfield's Fiction Workshop, where Julian met Carter Heinz....the only other promising writer in the bunch. The two became best friends, and spent most of their time together....mostly out of convenience. Carter was a scholarship kid from California, and it was hard for Julian to really understand him. Julian's parents were rich, and he never had to worry about money. Carter always felt like he was on the outside because he didn't have money. Nevertheless, the two remained friends.

It was also during Freshman year that Julian met Mia Mendelsohn. He had picked her picture out of the freshman facebook, and dubbed her "Mia from Montreal". He had decided she was the one for him. And when he actually meets her, the two started dating, and by Senior year, they are living together.

But Senior year is a year for change and when Mia's mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, things really change. Mia and Julian got married right after graduation. It wasn't a romantic thing to do....Mia wanted her mother there to see it. Did they love each other? Sure, but they really did rush marriage.

Through college, grad school and years of writer's block, Matrimony takes you through the lives and times of Julian and Mia. This book isn't chocked full of explosions or cliff-hangers. What Matrimony is full of is a lot of intense character study. It's a slow, quiet little novel. And that's not a bad thing. Josh Henkin lets us peek into the lives of Julian and Mia at certain moments in time. The characters are so-well developed, that even though there isn't always a lot of action, you really care what happens to these people. This is real life.

I haven't read a lot of literary fiction lately. But Matrimony, which was a NY Times Notable Book for 2007 is certainly a winner. If you want to read a wonderful character study, this one is for you. Don't forget to sign up for my giveaway either. Go to this post!! 4.5/5

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - Generosity

Booking Through Thursday

Generosity December 18, 2008

Do you give books as gifts?
To everyone? Or only to select people?
How do you feel about receiving books as gifts?

I tend to give EVERYONE books as gifts!! Even my husband, the non-reader, gets books. The last one I bought for him was Nikki Sixx's biography, The Heroin Diaries. But see....that's the beauty of books. There is literally something for everyone!!

My son gets fantasy books. Bella gets anything with Faeries. And Ana is kind of like me. She'll read the back of a cereal box. Right now, she is interested in any of the Early Reader Books.

My brother is another person that will get books for Christmas. His taste is really weird....just like mine! I always buy him something *I* want to read, with the hopes that it will come back to me soon. do I feel about RECEIVING books? Are you kidding? Books are the best gift of all. Well.....a new Mustang Shelby would probably be the BEST ever, but books are right up there!!

Monday, December 15, 2008


OK.....did I get your attention??? A few months back, I won a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin from Naida at The Bookworm. Well...a few weeks ago, Joshua Henkin contacted me, and now I'm getting a chance to return the favor! Mr. Henkin is offering to send one lucky person an AUTOGRAPHED copy of his New York Times Notable Book, Matrimony. I just finished it last night, and it really is wonderful! I hope to have my review up tomorrow, so stay tuned!!

This giveaway is open to anyone, worldwide. All you have to do is leave me a comment, and I'll enter you in the contest. And if you post about it on your blog, I'll double your chance to win. Just send me a link!

If you would like to read Matrimony as a book club selection, Joshua has kindly offered to participate in the discussion!! This would make a great Christmas present for any book lover as well!!

Check out Joshua's website for to learn more about the author himself, download a reading group guide, and check out his other contests!!

The drawing for the book will take place on December 22nd. And all you have to do is leave me a comment!!

Blogger's Advent Calendar - The Toland's

Ever hear the old saying "A Day Late and a Dollar Short"...? Well, that seems to be a way of life for me. I was so sure I was scheduled for the 15th, that I didn't even bother to look until tonight at work.....only to see that I was really scheduled for the 14th!!

That seems to be a theme for me this year. The kids and I literally put our Christmas tree up last night. And with the crazy hours both Mike and I are working right now, it's been really hard to get into the Christmas spirit. But we are trying!!

This year, I took the girls to the Festival of Lights in East Peoria. It's really beautiful. They have all sorts of floats and light shows set up in a park and you drive through it to look at the lights. Then we went and visited Santa. The girls told him what they wanted for Christmas (so at least now I know what to get!!) Then the 3 of us went out for dinner. It was a great Girl's Night Out!

OK....traditions. In the Toland household, we actually kind of fly by the seat of our pants. There aren't a lot of "traditions" we really have. We go back and forth between families for dinner, but we always spend Christmas Eve with Mike's parents. It's nice because I usually spend the latter half of the evening doing the whole "Santa" routine with wrapping presents and putting them out under the tree for the kids. I'm really going to miss all that when the Santa experience is over. Right now, it is still least for the girls.

But Christmas Eve is nice. We always have dinner and cookies and warm hot chocolate with the in-laws. And the once-a-year viewing of Christmas Vacation. Sometimes, I think the Toland's and the Griswald's have a lot in common!! It's a quiet evening before the Big Day....and it's one that I will always treasure.

I'll leave you with a clip from Christmas Vacation!!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Still Alive.....

just haven't felt like posting. Not sure what the problem is either. I think it's partly due to all the hours I've been working. Trying to get things ready for Christmas.

And I think it's partly due to this blah I've been feeling. Is it the holiday blahs??? I don't know. I'm hoping it will pass soon. I'm seriously behind in reviews. I do hope to get that rectified soon.

More later.....

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Terrible Loss.....

I was stunned and incredibly saddened this morning to learn that one of the most energetic, sweetest, and original bloggers in the blog-o-sphere has passed away. I learned this morning that Dewey of The Hidden Side of a Leaf died Tuesday evening. She was such a creative person, hosting not only the 24 Hour Read-a-Thons, but also the Weekly Geeks. Dewey also had such a positive spin on things, a love for reading that held no bounds, and a such a friendly demeanor that everyone loved her. I can not imagine how the Book Blogging Community is going to recover from this loss.

I have no words to express myself…