Thursday, January 23, 2014

Runner will leave your doldrums in the dust

RunnerRunner by Patrick  Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Runner sets the pace, takes you to your maximum heart rate, and leaves you wanting more.

Here's how it starts: "Sam Dryden, retired special forces, lives a quiet life in a small town on the coast of Southern California. While out on a run in the middle of the night, a young girl runs into him on the seaside boardwalk. Barefoot and terrified, she’s running from a group of heavily armed men with one clear goal—to kill the fleeing child. After Dryden helps her evade her pursuers, he learns that the eleven year old, for as long as she can remember, has been kept in a secret prison by forces within the government."  (Flap copy.)

One of my favorite reads lately. Talk about escape! Great thriller plot. Hero dude, yay! Child in danger, yay! Super-secret semi-science-fictional conspiracy, yay! Sometimes you just want a shoot 'em up, and though in some universe you might think it's easy to write one, it's really not. The writing has to be good, but unobtrusive, the language always serving the story. Since the details are always speculative and sometimes don't hold up, the readers must be so involved and engaged with the characters that they don't notice or don't care about any little glitches, just as in cinema. And Patrick Lee does the job quite well. Sam is a great character and series lead, and the little girl--you have to read the book!

You know by now Miss Em hates regurgitated plots masquerading as reviews, so I will simply close with--it was great. Readers, buy it. Publishers, publish more. Patrick Lee, write some more. I'm going to find his first three books now.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Stars in Their Eyes for Starry Skies

Under the Wide and Starry SkyUnder the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Nancy Horan’s new novel based upon the lives of Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson, is epic in scope.  I have to give her four stars just for the attempt!

The book starts out in the late 1800s, with Fanny going to Europe with her 3 children to study art, after she’s reached her limit with her philandering husband. She’s ten years older than Louis Stevenson, but he falls for her hard and fast. R. L. follows her back to the U.S. By 1880, after a separation and brink-of-death illnesses for both of them, they are married. Then come 14 years of creativity, ill health, and much displacement for both of them, until they end up in Samoa, where R.L. eventually dies of a stroke.
There is so much wonderful material for discussion here that this will be a great book club book, despite its flaws. Fanny has her own yearnings and talent for the creative life—is it the times or her own lack that prevents her from fully realizing her dreams? Does creative genius always grind up romantic partnership in its own gears?
Though based upon extensive research (notes not seen), Fanny and R.L. never seem to really come to life, and the book remains a story about them rather than bringing the reader in.  The descriptions of Europe at the time are very good, and those of the dirt, terror, excitement, and ignorance of the times are really impacting. It makes one long for a book about Fanny herself, because once R.L. enters the story, it all seems to revolve around him—and one wonders why. R. L. deserves his own novel, as well.  It would be fascinating to see them through each other’s eyes.

Recommended for book clubs, libraries, and fans of historical fiction.
Note: Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley, I received an e-galley of the book to review.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Wish I could have read this book years ago!

People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing ProsperityPeople Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity by Alan C. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine that you have a happy, rich uncle who is kind enough to share with you his secrets of success. (Wouldn’t we all like that!) Meet Alan C. Fox, author of People Tools: 54 strategies for building relationships, creating joy, and embracing prosperity and your new favorite uncle.

So much of a successful life, no matter how you define success, has to do with people skills—hence the book’s title. Uncle Alan has thoughtfully crafted a creative mash-up of Emotional Intelligence, The One-Minute Manager , and The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment, with illustrative anecdotes from his own life. He focuses the people tools both inward and outward, giving a balanced perspective.  Though you may recognize some of the strategies (Make Lemonade, Smiley Face, Dangle a Carrot), a different perspective can be interesting, and who can resist finding out how to Have a Nonversation? Then there is Fall Backward into the Hands of Fate, which I thought was going to equate to my own Jumping Off the Cliff, but it doesn’t.

Alan Fox has thoughtfully made it easy for you to know if he will make a good guide for you. Here’s his first paragraph in the Introduction:

"When we experience joy in our lives, what else do we really need? This is the most important sentence in my book, and the reason I put it first. If you are like my mother you have already skipped to the last page to find out where we will end up. I will tell you now. The last sentence in my book is the same as the first."

Miss Em highly recommends People Tools.
(I received a review copy from the publisher.)

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Defy (Defy, #1)Defy by Sara B. Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We women often love those stories where a girl passes for a guy. In this case, when Alexa's parent's are killed by a black sorcerer, she poses as her brother's brother and they join the king's army, rising to the Prince's Guards. As Alexa grows older, she hates the king's policies more and more, but there's nothing she can do--or is there? Confronted with the possibility of change and freedom, what will Alex choose? And which of the young men who love her does she love back? Strong female lead! Empowerment! Guys who are good to women! Magic! And lots of romantic tension. Even though there are a few flaws (too many themes, lack of depth and detail in places), a solid first effort. Though a 3 for me, I think it's a 4 for its intended audience and look forward to the sequels.

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