Thursday, April 30, 2009

THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

My book club chose THE GLASS CASTLE for our May selection. When I picked up this memoir by Jeannette Walls, I was a little worried. It seemed like it would be almost unbearably bleak. And, in some ways, it was.

Walls tells the story of her unconventional childhood where her family lived in poverty moving from one place to the next and never putting down any roots. The state of neglect that Walls and her siblings lived in is shocking and they faced various types of abuse at the hands of adults around them. The most surprising thing about the book, however, is Walls' undying affection for her parents. Their eccentricities and neglect of their children are told matter-of-factly without Walls falling into a "victim" mentality. Walls often makes her childhood seem more like an adventure that made her stronger rather than something to be overcome or ashamed of. She does not sugarcoat her parents' self-absorption or their near-criminal lack of care for their children. However, she managed to imbue them with a dose of humanity as well.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. The story is a quick read that is hard to put down. Walls demonstrates that our feelings for our family are not always black and white. I was greatly disturbed by the things that happened to these children and often frustrated at Walls' diplomatic depiction of her parents. However, the book is a very interesting look into the lives of an eccentric pair of people who chose to live their lives in very unconventional ways even at the expense of their children.

New First Look

I know I owe you a book review (or two!) but I wanted to let you know that the Barnes and Noble First Look program opened up registration today for the next First Look book. This selection will be OF BEES AND MIST by Erick Setiawan. If you sign up today, you'll probably get in! The First Look for this book will take place in June and the book will be published in August.

Here is the blurb from Barnes and Noble:
"Of Bees and Mist is the tale of Meridia-raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, she spends her childhood feeling neglected and invisible. Every evening her father vanishes inside a blue mist without so much as an explanation, and her mother spends her days venomously beheading cauliflowers in the kitchen. At sixteen, desperate to escape, Meridia marries a tenderhearted young man and moves into his seemingly warm and charming family home. Little does she suspect that his parents are harboring secrets of their own. There is a grave hidden in the garden. There are two sisters groomed from birth to despise each other. And there is Eva, the formidable matriarch whose grievances swarm the air like an army of bees. In this haunting story, Setiawan takes Meridia on a tumultuous ride of hope and heartbreak as she struggles to keep her young family together and discovers long-kept secrets about her own past as well as the shocking truths about her husband's family.

Readers of magical-realist fiction will instantly be captivated by this richly evocative fairy tale. Of Bees and Mist takes place in a nameless town during a timeless era, where spirits and spells, witchcraft and demons, ghosts and clairvoyance-both real and imagined-are an everyday reality. Setiawan skillfully blends the real and the fantastical as he follows our heroine over a thirty year time span in which her love, courage, and sanity is tested to the limits."

Sound good, huh?

Monday, April 27, 2009


Not too long ago, I read Nancy Horan's book LOVING FRANK which focused on Frank Lloyd Wright's relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. I had known very little about Frank Lloyd Wright's personal life before reading that book and was surprised to find out about all the drama and scandal in his life. TC Boyle revisits Wright's personal life in his new book, THE WOMEN. Boyle tells the story of Wright and the women in his life beginning with his last wife, Olgivanna and moving backwards in time to his first wife Kitty. After Olgivanna, we meet Miriam, then the ill-fated Mamah and, finally, Kitty. Each woman gets her own section. Boyle is a very gifted writer. I always savor his use of words. However, he used the very odd device of having the book narrated (and, ostensibly, written by) one of Wright's apprentices, Tadashi Sato. I found this device to be very clunky and obstrusive. While the experiences of the apprentice give us an objective point of a view and a glimpse into the private life of Wright, they bring the story to an abrupt halt every time Sato makes an appearance. However, the book is fascinating overall. It fleshes out what Horan began in her book. Wright is definitely not a sympathetic character. While he is presented as the genius that he was, he is also demonstrated to be a selfish, self-absorbed egomaniac who has to have a woman in his life at all times in order to function.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I started to skip the parts where Sato came into the story and enjoyed the book much more. You may have the same difficulties that I did with the narration but, overall, the book gives a fascinating look into the lives of the women that affected Wright.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Weighty Issues

It's finally time to lose the baby weight. And it isn't going so well. I have noticed that there are no photos of me with the Baby. I think it has been a subconscious thing on my part. I can't stand to see myself in photos. I started Weight Watchers at work and have lost five pounds which is just a drop in the bucket considering I have 35 pounds to go. I have had success with Weight Watchers before but this time it seems almost impossibly hard. Between caring for my family, working full-time and serving on the Board of a non-profit, keeping track of food points is just one more thing to do.

I went to a working moms conference not long ago and the mom sitting next to me was about a size 2. She told me that I need to take care of myself in order to take better care of my child and that she makes time for the gym every day. Well, here's the thing. I feed the baby and dress him at about 6:30am each day. I leave the house at 7:15am to get to work. I usually get home at around 5pm. IF I don't have a volunteer commitment. If I have a meeting, I get home around 9pm. Between 5pm and Baby's bedtime at 8pm, I focus on feeding him and spending quality time with him. 8-10pm offers a few stolen moments with my husband and then I hit the sack at 10pm. Adding gym time means less sleep and getting up around 5am. Gym time in the evening means giving up precious time with my Baby or my husband. So, what do I do? Ideally, I would be working part-time but that just isn't an option for us financially or in terms of health insurance. So, I have to change my eating habits and steal a few moments of walking around outside during my workday.

I am comfortable at a size 10. (My ideal would be a size 8) I am currently a size 14 and I don't recognize myself. I have always liked having an hourglass figure and I have never wanted to be super-thin. I used to love to go shopping. Now, I dread it. Nothing fits. My boobs are too big (STILL!) and my hips and bum are ginormous. I just wish for clothes that fit. Is that too much to ask?

On a lighter note...

I have discovered pants that fit and it has given me a rosier outlook. Ann Taylor LOFT makes a fit of pant called JULIE that is perfect for curvy girls. They are fantastic! I bought JULIE pants in every style that they have. Now, I just have to cross my fingers that they don't discontinue the fit just when I have discovered it.

Anyone else having weight loss woes? Or tips to share?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

JULIE AND JULIA by Julie Powell

My book club is reading JULIE AND JULIA this month. There has been renewed buzz about this book as it will soon be made into a movie starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. It sounded like a lot of fun but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed.

JULIE AND JULIA follows the adventures of disgruntled government worker Julie Powell as she tries to find meaning in her life right after 9/11. Julie is about to turn 30and decides that she needs a project. She decides to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING over one year and blog about it. This memoir chronciles that project.

The subject matter of this memoir had such potential but it ended up plodding along from one recipe to the next. Powell occasionally spices up the book with tidbits from her personal life and those of her friends. However, the book came to feel as if it were a list of recipes with a few life vignettes in between. I found it to be really slow. Powell herself seems to be charming and the reader is left wanting to know more about her and her life. Overall, however, the book fell flat for me. Perhaps the movie will prove more entertaining.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. The idea is great but the execution is poor. Very slow read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ick

The Easter Bunny brought Baby and me the stomach flu.

Be back later...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I received an advanced copy of THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE through the Barnes and Noble First Look program. The story follows modern-day History PhD candidate Connie as she goes to clean out her grandmother's house in Marblehead, MASS and discovers the possible existance of a witch's shadow book. As Connie tracks down the shadow book and the history of it, the book makes several leaps back in time starting with 1690's to reveal the previous owners of the shadow book and how it affected their lives.

This book was a terrific read. Since Katherine Howe is an historian herself, the flashbacks are filled with rich historical detail. The reader feels as if they are actually there in 1690's Salem and beyond. Her characterizations are excellent as well where the women in the story are concerned. I loved the connection between the past and present throughout the book. My only complaints with the book were an unnecessary romantic storyline and a cliched villain. If the book had stuck to the stories of the women and Connie's quest for the past and her own self-actualization, the book would have been much more effective. To me, THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE was a PRACTICAL MAGIC meets PEOPLE OF THE BOOK story. This book will be released in June 2009.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. If you can get past the silliness of the romantic angle and villain, you will find a compelling story of the Salem witch trials and their effect on one group of women through time.

DREAM HOUSE by Valerie Laken

I originally picked up DREAM HOUSE because it was my understanding that it was ghost story. It isn't. At least, not it the traditional sense. DREAM HOUSE follows the effects of one house on several of its inhabitants.

Kate decides to buy a classic money-pit fixer-upper unaware that a murder was committed there twenty years before. As she begins her dream of fixing up the house, her marriage crumbles and the house draws two men from its past into Kate's life. The story is told from several different perspectives among the many people that have connections to the house. It is not so much a tale of the consequences of murder but a tale of the connections that people have to specific places.

The story spoke to me because having a home has always been important to me. I long to be homeowner again so I can put down roots. I believe many of the characters in the book feel the same way. A home becomes a living breathing thing to each of them. Because I was expecting something a bit more sinister, I was disappointed. The conclusion felt a bit unsatisfying. However, if you have every felt strong ties to a house, you will empathize with the characters in the story.

BOTTOM LINE: Marginally recommended. The story and characters are interesting but I expected a lot more.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I'm on Fire!!!

The title of this post refers both to my recent success at winning free books and also to our planet experiencing global warming. I just won a copy of YOU ARE HERE: EXPOSING THE VITAL LINK BETWEEN WHAT WE DO AND WHAT THAT DOES TO OUR PLANET. I'm looking forward to this freebie as I am always looking for more ways to help the environment and to understand what is happening to our planet.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Your Library in a Changing World

As someone who has worked in public and academic libraries for ten years, I found this article both fascinating and heartbreaking.


I have always thought of public libraries as modern-day agoras. Places were equal access to resources still means something. Because of this fact, it is one of the few places that people can still go when times get tough. A surprising side effect of this trend has been increased stress and violence. A disturbing sign of the times.