Cynthia M. (iritnus) - Reviews

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Al Capone Does My Shirts (Al Capone at Alcatraz, Bk 1)
Al Capone Does My Shirts (Al Capone at Alcatraz, Bk 1)
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 43
Review Date: 6/25/2012


I usually don't read Young Adult or children's literature but I was wowed by this historical fiction book. It draws from accounts of people who lived on Alcatraz because they or family members were guards and other workers at the famous prison. The author's imagination takes off from there. It's also a look at a family who has a daughter with autism long before that was officially diagnosed/labeled. It's an interesting story well-told. I can't wait to have my daughter read it.


Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Al Capone Shines My Shoes
Author: Gennifer Choldenko
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 6/25/2012


This is the sequel to "Al Capone Does My Shirts" and I don't like it as much as I like the first book. It explores more of coming-of-age issues (first kisses, etc.) than the first book did. This one has more action and perilous moments but I didn't feel drawn into it. I feel like I want more closure or finality to the story -- I want them to grow up and leave Alcatraz, but there isn't a third book.


Carrot Cake Murder (Hannah Swensen, Bk 10)
Carrot Cake Murder (Hannah Swensen, Bk 10)
Author: Joanne Fluke
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 81
Review Date: 9/5/2011


A piece of cake to read. Har har har. I've read almost every book in this series. The plots are formulaic but it's good when you don't have to think and in my jobs I read for work, not pleasure, too much of the time. I read culinary mysteries for the recipes. I get just as tired of goody-goody Hannah trying to choose between two boyfriends in this one -- oh grow up -- as I weary of Goldy in Diane Mott Davidson's series reminding everyone what a horrible abusive ex-husband she has -- you have a better one now, let it go already and teach me how to cook something. Hannah's character at least talks and behaves like someone her age -- I always think Goldy is way older than she is and her character is supposed to be about my age.


Claws and Effect (Mrs Murphy, Bk 9)
Claws and Effect (Mrs Murphy, Bk 9)
Author: Rita Mae Brown, Sneaky Pie Brown
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 103
Review Date: 9/5/2011


I didn't like this one as well as the other Mrs. Murphy title I've read. Perhaps the more she writes, the better she gets at crafting story.


Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table
Author: Ruth Reichl
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 131
Review Date: 5/18/2008
Helpful Score: 2


I read this book, fittingly, on my first trip to LA. That's where Reichl became a critic when the city was just becoming known as a restaurant town. When she showed up at fancy restaurants in thrift-store clothing and a Volvo that started with a screwdriver instead of a key, I felt reassured that great things can come from humble beginnings.


Cropped to Death (Faith Hunter, Bk 1)
Cropped to Death (Faith Hunter, Bk 1)
Author: Christina Freeburn
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 11/21/2012
Helpful Score: 2


Cropped To Death is a cozy mystery that exceeds expectations. The author, Christina Freeburn, writes what she knows: scrapbooking and small-town West Virginia life. As a West Virginian who scrapbooks and runs a scrapbooking retreat for women, I was excited to get my hands on an Advance Reader Copy. The 290-page book, published by Henery Press, will be on sale Nov. 20, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Not only does the heroine, Faith Hunter, work in a scrapbook store, the clue to the murderers identity and motive is found hidden in a scrapbook layout. Faiths coworker is accused of cropping her cheating husband out of the picture permanently. The evidence is damning and no other suspects are considered. However, Faith feels compelled to prove her friends innocence because of what happened to her in the past, when she was a U.S. Army JAG Specialist. Scrapbookers will recognize the hobbyist terms but even nonscrapbookers will be able to tell from the context what Faith is talking about when shes teaching a scrapbooking class or helping customers.

My small West Virginia town is not as quaint as Eden, W.Va., and has fewer tattletales (if not gossips) but Freeburns dialogue rings true. This is the way West Virginians talk. The author doesnt embellish by creating affected dialect. I am pleased that this book gives a positive representation of life in an Appalachian community. There are recognizable, familiar details in the setting with nothing objectionable. In fact, Eden could be any of several communities facing the dilemma of whether to evolve into a bustling metropolis or stay true to its farming roots. As Freeburn writes, The loss of landscape, faster pace of life and rise in crime caused distrust to bloom . Farmers blamed the artists who wanted more tourists visiting, and the artists blamed it on the tech people who wanted to enter into the new century.

There is nothing I dont like about the authors writing style. Its clear and easy to follow with strong verbs, specific description and real-life dialogue. As a journalist, I took note of the authors use of short sentences breaking up long sections. It varied the storys pacing. I dont know the author well but I can just tell it's her sense of humor that shows up in the book, helping the story flow, making the character real and keeping the reader interested.

Freeburn has crafted a mystery that does not feel clichéd or cookie-cutter. I read a lot of culinary mysteries, another subgenre of cozy mysteries, and its refreshing that the amateur sleuth in Cropped to Death did not find the body. The main character, Faith, is tangentially involved with the case and doesnt know, but can only discover, what the murder weapon is. The plot is realistic there is no providential in with the police or prosecutor. Even though one of the assistant prosecutors is a friend, Faith doesnt and cant take advantage of that information to help her solve the murder. The author doesnt make it easy for the heroine.

Also refreshing is the fact that the amateur can be bumbling she really messes things up in her investigation. She frequently realizes after the fact how she couldve carried out an idea without a blunder. It makes the character seem real.

A plot point is the scandal that caused Faith to leave the military. Fortunately we find out the details of that in the first book of the series; the author doesnt keep us hanging on for several books in the series, as often happens in other cozies where you have to keep reading successive books to find out the big secret.

And the author promises more Faith Hunter books I hope she writes fast!


The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries (P.S.)
Review Date: 9/14/2011


Only a geek would read this -- or maybe a journalism student as assigned reading for a class. However, this isn't the only (and I hope not the definitive) book on obit writing so surely instructors would choose a better text.

There are some gems and you really have to stick with the book to find them. Then, like their subjects, they are too soon passed. The snippets of real obits are interesting for their style of writing or for the historical info you learn. But my favorite part, because I'm a journalist, was learning about the obit writers and how they report their stories.

I said partway through this book that it was making me want to write obits. It did. I would like to write about a regular person's life (no celebrities necessarily) and weave in historical details for context. One source says "obits are not about death, they are occasioned by death." Another said it's about helping families capture memories of their departed relatives. To show others that this person mattered. I think I'm a compassionate person and writing obits would keep my life centered on compassion, like what was said of another writer.

Besides the snippets of instruction, the other valuable part of the book is the appendix, where you'll find links to obit sources (newspapers, etc.) all over the world. I'm not one to go looking for obits just to read them. I waste enough time puttering online as it is. I might go looking someday and it's nice to know where to look. But I wouldn't fit in with the subculture of people who live to read about who died.

The way the book is put together is disjointed. And the author included some material that I think is unnecessary and somehow inappropriate. In her discussion of a listserv where poeple post and discuss obits, she goes on for more than a page about flameouts. It doesn't serve as a warning to people who might go there. It doesn't seem like commentary on the issue such as "This is real life in the face of death." I think she just needs a good editor to make her murder her darlings.

If you don't appreciate newspaper reporting, you won't like this book very much.


Dear Mr. Right (Silhouette Yours Truly, No 28)
Dear Mr. Right (Silhouette Yours Truly, No 28)
Author: Jennifer Drew
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/5/2011


My friend Pam Hanson wrote this under a pseudonym. She also writes Christian romance with her mother. They are amazing and prolific writers. I am so happy to have made her acquaintance when I was in college and she autographed this book for me. I know this all tells you nothing about why you should read the book except Pam is my friend and I said so. :) Seriously, it's a light little romance about newspaper columnists. It's not cheesy.


Deep Dish
Deep Dish
Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 125
Review Date: 4/17/2008
Helpful Score: 3


âEvery girl needs a little chick-lit brain candy once in a while,â my friend Erin wrote, passing to me her advance copy of âDeep Dish,â which came out Feb. 26. âAnd since it's all about cooking, I thought of you.â
I'm glad she did â" as I'm not the book snob my pal had me pegged for, I dove in and found that author Mary Kay Andrews has the recipe for another best seller in âDeep Dish.â Her last book, âHissy Fit,â spent some time on the New York Times Best Seller List.
âDeep Dishâ ($24.95, HarperCollins) tells the story of Gina, a shadow-swearing, pork-rind sneaking, somewhat-naïve host of a public television cooking show. She's a young up-and-comer in the food world, having edited a major newspaper's food section before moving to TV. But when her producer-boyfriend gets her show canned she faces losing her career, her lovelife and worse, her freedom, if she has to sell her condo and move home with Mama and Daddy and her hard-partying sister Lisa.
When Gina gets an audition for a spot on the national cooking network, the potholders come off. But in the midst of a fight for her professional life, Gina's looks take a hit thanks to her usually skillful esthetician D'John, pronounced, I assume, like the mustard. Will she wind up with the hot job and the hotter man, her competition: a tasty outdoorsman named Tate?
âDeep Dishâ isn't a cookie-cutter romance novel, nor is it over-processed. It's as real as the cream in the gravy.
Andrews took pains to make it so. She visited Paula Deen's set to see firsthand how a cooking show is made.
She is also well-schooled in human behavior and that comes through in her vivid descriptions: Her characters don't simply answer their cell phones, they roll onto one hip and fish the phones from their pockets before flipping them open. They don't merely sweat when they're nervous; perspiration beads in the small of their backs. Peppering the dialogue is a little âlanguageâ that Southern belles would scold but the text isn't overly salty.
Andrews knows cooking â" what's more she knows from sharing kitchen space with her husband how sparks can fly when two hard-headed cooks get in each other's way. âDeep Dishâ isn't the first time she has drawn a plot from personal experience. Nor is it the first time food has played a role her novels.
In âDeep Dishâ, food is in the spotlight.
And that's where Andrews is a tease. She whetted my appetite for more than the three recipes included at the back of the book. Her descriptions of shrimp remoulade, Granny Smith apple and mint slaw and lemon pound cake had hungrily flipping to the back of the book to find them not there. Instead Andrews serves up grilled peaches and Brunswick stew, barely mentioned in the story, and a chocolate tomato soup cake.
Nonetheless, âDeep Dishâ is a delicious diversion. But if you can't stomach the thought of people finding out about your indulgence, just tell them you only read it for the recipes.


A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me
A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me
Author: Jon Katz
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 13
Review Date: 9/5/2011


I liked this one better than "A Good Dog" and I read it first. I cried so hard when the Labs were put to sleep, remembering my beloved cocker Lacey. A good book for dog lovers, especially ones who've owned many.


Fadeaway Girl (Emma Graham, Bk 4)
Fadeaway Girl (Emma Graham, Bk 4)
Author: Martha Grimes
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 10
Review Date: 9/5/2011
Helpful Score: 2


I like the heroine, Emma Graham, because I identify with her in many ways, procrastination in writing chief among them. This was a difficult book to read without having read "Belle Ruin," which precedes it. I didn't know this book was a follow-up when I checked it out of the library or I probably would've tried to read the other one first. I kept wishing this one would stand on its own more.


The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters
Review Date: 4/9/2008


âThe Faithâ is God-breathed. I started reading it at about the same time as my pastor started a similar series of sermons and Bible studies. This is what God wants His people to know and do right now.
There is affirmation, reassurance and awakening in these pages.
If Charles Colson accomplishes only two things it is to say: Stand up for what you believe in, and by the way, here's a reminder and greater understanding of what that is, or is supposed to be.
Colson and co-author Harold Fickett put all in one place answers to many of the questions asked by spiritually seeking nonbelievers and trap-laying disbelievers: What if someone dies never hearing the Good News? Why is there suffering? How does capital punishment fit within the Christian view that human life is sacred?
It is well researched. The examples point out the modern detractors that try to distract or dissuade people from the faith and give ammunition for countering them. It's cautionary and it's empowering. âThe Faithâ says it is more than OK, it is imperative, to be intolerant, by the definition the world has rewritten for that label.
But the book does more than just arm Christians to defend their beliefs, it equips them to evangelize by explaining the harvest field â" who we'll meet on the mission field and how their beliefs were formed by postmodernism.
âThe Faithâ doesn't blame secularization just on indulgent, excessive America. It gives a worldview of Christianity. And just as importantly, that view extends not just around the globe today but back over centuries to help Christians realize and claim their place in the tapestry of believers who are moving God's plan for redemption toward its ultimate conclusion.
The content is compelling and relevant and the narrative style helps get the message across. There is some beautiful writing such as when an Amish schoolhouse is described as âplain as notebook paper.â Colson and Fickett reach believers on their level and are not condescending or preachy. Their text is backed by tons of footnotes and modern-day examples. Readers probably will reread it to shore up their belief and understanding of that belief. And every time they read it, new realizations and applications will likely come to mind â" much like studying Scripture.


Fast Tracks and Fairy Tales
Fast Tracks and Fairy Tales
Author: Cheryl K Stemple
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/3/2007
Helpful Score: 1


Published by a vanity press. Not cleanly edited. But NASCAR fans with children will be able to overlook those shortcomings and enjoy the stories.


A Fine Balance
A Fine Balance
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 325
Review Date: 2/20/2007
Helpful Score: 3


Difficult and disturbing -- vivid scenes that have stuck with me for a long time.


Full Bone Moon
Full Bone Moon
Author: C. Cameron Fuller
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 1/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 6/25/2012


I am like my friend Lynda in that I read a lot and I like mysteries. Unlike Lynda, I have to finish a book once I start it. I am committed, no matter how poorly it is written or how tedious it is to complete ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius") that I just have to get to the last page. Lynda read some of this book, decided she didn't like it and returned it to the library unfinished. I don't know what she found objectionable. That is her review to write; this is mine. I read the whole book.

When I first heard about "Full Bone Moon" I was excited because I thought it was a true-crime exploration of West Virginia University's Co-ed Murders from the '70s. When I learned that it was fiction and merely jumped off from that historical event, I decided not to spend my money on it. When I saw it in my local library last week, I satisfied my curiosity.

I wish the afterword had been a foreword. I knew it wasn't a true account and that the author changed the names of the original co-eds and the man who confessed to their murder for this work of fiction. However, I kept thinking about the real girls' families and what they might think of this man's treatment of their daughters' tragic memory. How must they feel when WVU is in the national news? Their grief must be fresh every time. It helped me a little to read at the end that the author wants readers to remember that it is fiction and the real horror of headless bodies is far more important than a story told for entertainment.

Note: This is paragraph was added when I edited my review. I was led to believe by the afterword that he changed the names of the coeds and the man convicted of their murder. Actually he used the coeds' real names and changed the murderer's from Schanning to Clawson. Why protect a confessed murderer and not the victims/their families? When I learned that he used their actual names, though he says in the afterword that he means no disrespect by it, I was angry enough to take away a star from my review. I think it is disrespectful -- I see it as using their names to get search engine hits for the book whenever someone searches about their deaths. I am a writer and I don't capitalize on the dead. I am very careful how I treat the memories of victims.

I have read books set in my state before and the details included rang true. This is the first time I would think of accusing the author of having no imagination. His strength must be in plotting and moving the story forward because his weakness is description.

It was well-plotted but overly familiar. He ripped off the settings of Morgantown. I have studied in Wise Library, I have crossed Grumbein Island in front of the "student union" called The Mountainlair. I've driven through Sunnyside. I've walked down High Street and stopped in Slight Indulgence. While I could picture these places as they are today I kept looking for description. Without a frame of reference, if you've never been there, what are you imagining these places look like? I couldn't say.

The lack of description extends to characters. I'm not sure he told me what Michael Chase or Carol Braxton looks like (does she have red hair?) I made their countenances up in my own head and I really couldn't describe it for you ... pieces are missing. But maybe I didn't pay close enough attention and I am guilty of the same crime as the folks who read "The Hunger Games", passed over the description of a character as black, then watched the movie, and discovered her ethnicity.

I was about to award points to the author for sending me to the dictionary. But when I got there I couldn't find the word. I think it's "collinsitive" or "collinsative." I took from the context that the word means cooperative or forthcoming with information. When I went back through the text of the book to find it and check the way I was spelling it, though it appears several times, I couldn't lay eyes on it again. I gave up looking because I already have wasted enough time on this book. Anyway, it was a $5 word.

Starting each section with a date and time that the action is taking place is distracting. I hate it. Eventually I ignored it. I think I can figure out when the action is taking place. And if I can't, shame on the author for not writing that in. I have seen this style before in the methamphetamine novel "Breckenridge County" by Andrew McNeill. I don't like it. I think it is lazy or weaselly.

There are so many misspellings, typos and poor word choices scattered throughout the text of "Full Bone Moon" it kept tripping up this editor. He wrote alter when he meant altar and curly-cues instead of curlicues and numerous others. Did no one proofread this book before it went to press? These are glaring errors, not subtle ones.

Despite not being able to fully picture the hero, Michael Chase, in my mind, I identified with him. Least of which, I, too, quit the Morgantown newspaper, where I had been mistreated, to follow my dream of freelancing. Moreso, I work like he does -- I procrastinate but when I do get a story sorted out in my head, it flows quickly.

I have to give the author props for his plotting though. I was disappointed with the first section because I felt like the author was showing/telling us too much about the villain. I felt like we were smart enough to figure it out on our own ... let the story unfold ... but I fell for the author's deception. At the risk of spoiling it, I won't go on.

I would not say this is a book I couldn't put down. I wouldn't put it down. Because that's how I am. Are you like me or like my friend Lynda? Either way, this is worth checking out of the library for the plot alone ... don't spend money on it ... and know you'll have to excuse or overlook some things.


The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship
The Girls from Ames: A Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship
Author: Jeffrey Zaslow
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 80
Review Date: 6/25/2012


This is an interesting study of women and friendships. It hit close to home because I do not have many close women friends. I've never easily made friends with women. Thinking about it, my mom and her sisters do not have women friends. I read this at the time that the author was killed in a car accident so that was on my mind a lot. As a writer of creative nonfiction, I got as much instruction on craft from this book as I did information.


A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life
A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life
Author: Jon Katz
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 38
Review Date: 9/5/2011
Helpful Score: 2


If you've read one of Katz's dog books, you've read them all. I've read two and that's more than enough. Get "A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me" if you're getting a Katz book.


The Help
The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.5/5 Stars.
 2451
Review Date: 6/25/2012


The best part is the section at the end where the author talks about how she was raised by a black maid. You see a lot of her real-life experience in the fictional story. Good stuff.


Hiss of Death (Mrs Murphy, Bk 19)
Hiss of Death (Mrs Murphy, Bk 19)
Author: Rita Mae Brown, Sneaky Pie Brown
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 23
Review Date: 9/5/2011


A book co-written by a cat ... what's not to like? Quick read and a little fun when for when you don't want to think. In fact, I figured out the killer, motive, etc., early on. The real entertainment is in the animal characters' dialog.


Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure
Holy Cow : An Indian Adventure
Author: Sarah Macdonald
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 109
Review Date: 9/5/2011
Helpful Score: 1


I loved this first-hand account of the writer living in India. I didn't want the story to end -- it left me wanting to know more and to go there (even though India simultaneously attracts and repels me.)


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