Friday, December 31, 2010

ANATOMY OF GHOSTS by Andrew Taylor


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I like a good period mystery. Especially if there are ghosts involved.  ANATOMY OF GHOSTS seemed to offer the perfect vehicle to entice my interest. Set in Cambridge in 1786, the story follows John Holdsworth, a down-on-his-luck bookseller who recently suffered the losses of both his wife and young son.  His anger at the charlatans who prey on the grieving leads Holdsworth to publish a pamphlet called THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS which claims that ghosts do not exist. The pamphlet comes to the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw whose son, a fellow at Jersusalem College, has been driven mad as he claims to have seen a ghost. Lady Anne sends Holdsworth to Cambridge to investigate and see if he can find the truth while restoring her son's reason.

The book was a little slow to get started. I had a hard time getting engaged with the story. However, the mystery ended up working well for me.  The book is filled with details about period college life, secret societies and blackmail. I enjoyed the mystery part of the book but the rest was a little slow. I did like the fact that I didn't figure out the mystery right away but the book was missing something for me.  I can't quite put my finger on it, though.  It's a short book but I find it hard to get through.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended only if you are a fan of period mysteries.  This one can be a little slow but the mystery itself is ultimately rewarding.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction. I sometimes find it difficult to get lost in a nonfiction book the way that I do with a fiction book. In the case of Laura Hillenbrand's latest book, UNBROKEN, this wasn't a problem.  UNBROKEN follows the story of Olympian and WWII Pacific POW Louie Zamperini.  Really, this book could be broken into four distinct stories and each one would be compelling by itself. 

**POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT**

The book begins with Louie's life as a troubled difficult youth who found purpose in running. This newfound purpose brought him all the way to the Olympics.  Story #2 would follow Louie's entry into the military, the challenges facing him and the rest of our airmen during WWII and the subsequent plane crash that left him and fellow crewmates adrift in the Pacific for weeks.  Story #3 would be Louie's "rescue" from the ocean and his horrific days as a Japanese POW.  Story #4 follows Louie's life upon returning from the war as he struggled with his demons including alcoholism before finding renewed purpose in the work of Billy Graham.

**END OF POSSIBLE SPOILERS**

Even though this book is a bit of a chunkster, I couldn't put it down. I had to know what would happen next.  It is a truly unbelievable story and opened my eyes to so many things about WWII and the fight in the Pacific arena that I never realized before. Hillenbrand has a real gift in identifying key individuals to interview who stories help to develop a well-rounded picture of events.  It's a  really wonderful and compelling work.

BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY recommended. One of my favorites this year.  Great for history buffs but also for people who love a good human story about the triumph of the human spirit and the importance of maintaining one's dignity and humanity.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


THE RED GARDEN follows the lives of the inhabitants of Blackwell, Massachusetts, from its founding in 1750 to the present. The reader is swept up in three hundred years of stories from this small town.  Some of the stories are driven by fate and some of the individuals make their own destiny. There is even a little magical realism woven into the tales.  The book begins with the founders of the town who came by wagon train to the far side of Hightop Mountain and struggled to survive.  Were it not for young Hallie Brady, they wouldn't have made it.  Hallie faces her own series of tragedies and the garden she builds behind her home is a testament to those losses.  Everything planted in the garden turns red. The garden makes an appearance in most if not all of the tales in the book.

I admit that I got swept up in these stories.  It is a truly wonderful to peek into the lives of the inhabitants of this town over so many years. Each chapter offers a brief tale in a specific moment in time and then moves forward.  After encountering an individual in one story, you may later find the child or grandchild or great-grandchild of that individual in another story. Everyone is interconnected and affected by Blackwell. My one complaint is that just when I found myself caught up in a tale, it would end.  You do not get to find out what happens to each individual.  You only get a brief moment in time.  I wish Hoffman had offered these stories in an 800-page book like Santmyers' "...AND LADIES OF THE CLUB" so that we could follow each thread to its end. One of the most fascinating mysteries in the book is never resolved!!!  Each story offers a tantalizing peek into the lives of these people but nothing more.  Hoffman does capture these linked and interwoven lives skillfully, however.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  Hoffman is a great storyteller.  I found myself frustrated, however, from wanting more.  It seemed as if there was so much more to tell.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Auster's latest book follows the lives of a number of eccentric characters linked together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the economic collapse of 2008.  Miles works as a trash-out worker in southern California where he sifts through the detritus of evicted families.  His saving grace is his teenaged girlfriend Pilar.  When Pilar's sister threatens to expose their illegal love affair, Miles must escape to Sunset Park in Brooklyn where he joins a group of unusual squatters in an abandoned house.  The squatters are a motley crew including an emotionally damaged real estate agent, a woman working on her PhD and an eccentric man who specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world. Each of these individuals must come to terms with their past in order to create any kind of a future.

Auster is very gifted writer and comes up with truly imaginative characters and situations.  I love how he managed to bring together these different people into one cohesive story. Each individual is damaged in his/her own way and they are all using their time as squatters to regroup and figure out what directions their lives will take. The abandoned house becomes a kind of waiting room for the next chapter in their lives.  Miles is an especially poignant character and probably the most interesting of all of them. He has been running from his past for years and must now confront it.

Although I enjoyed this book, it felt too short. I wanted more.  I felt as if I was just getting into the characters when the book ended. Each individual only gets a short amount of focus in the story with the exception of Miles and possibly his father. I think Auster manages to capture the strangeness of 2008 and the effects of the economic downturn on individuals very well. I sometimes found myself puzzled by the inclusion of some of their characters and questioned their importance in the storyline.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a well-written book with excellent characters. However, I'm not sure that it is a book that will stay with you for a long time.  It is more of a book that captures a moment in time and how it affected a particular group of people.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Silence

I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas. New Year's is right around the corner!!! I am looking forward to saying goodbye to 2010.


My friend and former pastor always sends lovely Christmas cards and the sentiment he included with this year's card really moved me. I would like to share his words with you:

"Please let us use this occasion to put in a good word for silence--an appropriate word to hear again at Christmas. We have felt this year that our society has been noisier, with, we think, shameless incivility on both sides of the aisle, with growing evidence of explosive anger and increasing decibels of loudness. Isn't this then the perfect time to remember "Let all mortal flesh keep silence?" Shouldn't we softly sing "Silent Night, Holy Night" and "...how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!"? Can't we all find at least a few moments to "be still, and know that God is God"? Can't we find times in the next days for calmness, serenity, silence, remembering the challenge of the Prophet Isaiah, "...in quietness and in trust shall be your strength"? We're working on these questions, and we hope that you will join us, too.


In addition to "Silent Night " -- we're singing "Joy to the World"! May the gifts of silence and joy be yours now and in the coming year."



I want to take this moment to wish all of you a very Happy New Year!!! I'm working on my review for SUNSET PARK and UNBROKEN and I will also have a review for THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman.  I'll be back to blogging next Monday!

Friday, December 24, 2010

THE FAT MAN: A TALE OF NORTH POLE NOIR by Ken Harmon






THE FAT MAN is a spoof of traditional Christmas stories and songs along with a dash of noir featuring one of Santa's elves, Gumdrop Coal.  Gumdrop Coal, head of the infamous Coal patrol, gets canned right before Christmas.  Rumor has it that he not only took his job too far but that he was also physically threatening naughty children and their parents. As Gumdrop seeks to clear his name, he uncovers a plot to get rid of Santa Claus that may extend all the way to the Misfit Mafia on the Island of Misfit Toys. Will Gumdrop find the perpetrators before Santa gets it?

Fans of classic holiday tales will find much to enjoy in this book.  Harmon spares no one from Rudolph to George Bailey to the characters from A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  While the noir-nods can be a bit heavy-handed at times, I still liked the tone of the book. There really wasn't much to the story but that wasn't really the point. I enjoyed seeing how Harmon wove together all the different Christmas stories and songs. There were even some excellent references to the Christ child and the true meaning of Christmas. And I can tell you I will never hear the 12 Days of Christmas the same way.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended for fans of the Christmas genre.  Others might find the book a little irritating. Lots of funny lines and references here, though.  Good for a holiday laugh!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Update

Reviews coming soon:

SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster
THE FAT MAN: A TALE OF NORTH POLE NOIR by Ken Harmon

Currently reading:

I STILL DREAM ABOUT YOU by Fannie Flagg
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand

I have so many galleys to tell you about!  I'm glad my bedside table is full again. Right now, I am thinking about what books will make my Best of 2010 list.  So many good ones this year. What is on your list?

Friday, December 03, 2010

AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have been a fan of Steve Martin for a long time. He is truly a Renaissance man with his successful forays in acting, music and writing.  I really enjoyed SHOPGIRL and I was intrigued to hear about his latest literary offering.  Especially since it deals with the art world and I minored in art history in college.

AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY is told from the point of view of young art journalist Daniel Franks who feels compelled to write and unburden himself about his charismatic friend Lacey Yeager. The story is really Lacey's and the narrator doesn't appear very often in the story. Lacey is the quintessential New York Girl. The story begins in the late 1990's when Lacey is 28 and working in the bowels of Sotheby's. She soaks up as much knowledge about art as she can while angling to get ahead.  Her ambition drives her to use any means at her disposal to achieve her goals.  She climbs her way to the top through sheer talent and manipulation and manages to become an art dealer in her own right.  However, she does so in very turbulent times for the New York art world that include 9/11 and the financial loan crisis.

I really enjoyed this book because I love art and art history and I find the New York art world fascinating. If you have little to no interest on this subject, you may find the plot a little boring and hard to understand. Although my review copy did not have many pictures, it appears the final copy will include reproductions of many of the works mentioned in the story. This is a nice touch and helps the reader to better understand why the art affects the characters.  Although Lacey's tactics are often questionable, she somehow finds a way to be likeable.  I think this is one of the points the narrator tries to make. In spite of Lacey's shortcomings, she has a charisma and charm that keep the people in her life coming back for more.

My one complaint with the book would be that the ending seemed rushed and abrupt.  Everything wrapped up too quickly and I felt that the story was left hanging a bit. I did, however, think that the book gave an excellent snapshot of a specific place and time in the closed off rarified art world of New York City.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Lovers of art and art history will find much to like here.  Martin delves into the ugly side of art collecting while recognizing why art is so compelling and drives so many to extremes. Lacey is a fascinating character who both repels and charms and I only wish we could have had a little more to the story so we aren't left hanging.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Please Stand By...

Piles of galleys have been arriving on my doorstep and I am woefully behind in my reading.  I am currently finishing up SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster and AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin. I hope to have new reviews for you in a few days.

I have no real excuse except for this

I'm thinking I may need to set all my galleys aside and do some classic holiday reading instead.
Sorry for the delay!!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Galley Roundup

The rain is pouring down outside and I am looking at the latest pile of galleys that have arrived on my doorstep and dreaming of the upcoming Thanksgiving break....

THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS by Andrew Taylor
THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown
INVENTING GEORGE WASHINGTON by Edward Lengel
THE BOOK OF TOMORROW by Cecelia Ahern
CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER by Peggy Orenstein

Wonder how many books I can read over the holidays....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

VIXEN (The Flappers Series) by Jillian Larkin


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I am very picky about my young adult fiction. I'm always looking for books in this genre that are original and don't speak down to their readers. I was intrigued by this new Flapper series because I loved the idea of looking at the lives of young adults in the 1920's.  It is such a fascinating era of change and liberation, especially for women. 

In the first book of the series, VIXEN, we are introduced to several young flapper wannabes.  Gloria Carmody is a coddled 17-yr-old socialite who is engaged to be married to prominent young bachelor Sebastian Grey.  Gloria is unsure about her life and marriage and starts dabbling in the world of speakeasies.  Her friend, Lorraine Dyer, is envious of Gloria and always seeking to get attention and climb out of Gloria's shadow.  Gloria's cousin, Clara Knowles, arrives to help keep Gloria in check and make sure she marries Sebastian but Gloria has a secret wild flapper past of her own.  These three women get caught up in Chicago's underground world of speakeasies and flappers with mixed results.

I love the use of 1920's slang and detail in the book. Larkin is very good at setting the tone.  She reveals how even 80 years ago, young adults were dealing with the same sorts of issues that we struggle with today.  These women wrestle with sex, alcohol and rock 'n' roll. (only in the form of jazz at this time)  One of my problems with the novel, however, is that the only likeable character is Clara.  Clara is seeking to overcome her past and start over.  She is flawed but genuine. Gloria is just annoying and thoughtless.  Lorraine is a rotten friend and her constant need for attention is tiresome. The men in the book don't fare any better. Sebastian is a jerk.  Gloria's friend Marcus is a spoiled brat. Even Gloria's secret lover comes off as too cliched. The book felt very much to me like a teenaged version of DANGEROUS LIAISONS set in the Roaring 20's.  But it fails to reach any real depth.

*PARENTAL ADVISORY*--The young people in the book are in their late teens and early twenties. They drink heavily, they are disrepectful to their parents, they have illicit sex and smoke like chimneys.  It is naive to think that young people don't struggle with these issues today and I don't think a book should be written off because they depict these things. However, none of the characters seem to really learn anything except for Clara. They just continue on with their irresponsible behaviors.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  I think this series is original but the whole thing fell flat for me.  The characters are wooden and boring and not likeable. However, I would be interested in reading more and seeing how the series develops.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Galley Round-up

The nightstand is filling up again and it is going to be hard to decide what to read next.  Here are some of my November-February galleys:

MUST YOU GO? by Antonia Fraser
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand
AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin
SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster
THE RADLEYS by Matt Haig
THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman
THE FATES WILL FIND THEIR WAY by Hannah Pittard
HOW THE GOVERNMENT GOT IN YOUR BACKYARD by Jeff Gilman and Eric Heberlig
THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL by Michael David Lukas

So, which one of the first four should I read next?

DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I loved Kate Morton's book THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN so I was very excited when I got a galley of her newest book, THE DISTANT HOURS.  When a letter from 1941 finally arrives at its destination fifty years later, it has powerful repercussions for Edie Burchill, a young publisher in London.  Edie's mother opens the much-belated letter and is powerfully affected by it. She reveals to Edie that she had been evacuated to a castle called Milderhurst in the countryside during the war. Edie is very surprised to learn of this previously hidden episode in her mother's life.  She is even more surprised to learn that Milderhurst was the residence of the author of Raymond Blythe, the author of one her favorite books, THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE MUD MAN.  This book is a national treasure and no one has ever cracked the mystery of the true inspiration behind the story. When Edie is brought to Milderhurst by chance, she can't resist learning more about the place her mother had been exiled to and, in so doing, becomes drawn into the lives of the three elderly Blythe sisters that reside there still and the mysteries surrounding them.

This is a very difficult book to describe. There is so much going on!  It is a bit of a chunkster at 670 pages but the story flew by as I could not put it down. The story moves back and forth between the present of 1992 to the war years. We see the events unfolding through multiple perspectives as we try to learn the truth about the hidden secrets of the Blythe sisters and the origins of the famous MUD MAN story. There is also the side story of Edie trying to understand her mother, Meredith, by delving into her past.  The book reveals a great deal about the often complicated relationships between parents and children and also between siblings. The book offers a literary mystery and reminded me a great deal of AS Byatt's POSSESSION and Diane Setterfield's THE THIRTEENTH TALE. All of the characters are interesting and the secrets and mysteries keep you guessing until the end.

I could not put this book down.  I loved it even more than THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN.  It has many of the elements of my favorite books--mystery, books, family drama and secrets, madness, passion, castles, romance and even some wartime drama.  Although I think the ending was successful, it felt a little abrupt to me.  I wish Morton hadn't hurried things up so much. However, it was a thoroughly entertaining read overall.

BOTTOM LINE:  HIGHLY recommended.  One of my favorites this year.  Fans of AS Byatt and Diane Setterfield and even Charlotte Bronte will find much to enjoy here. This makes a great winter read.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Notes in the Margin

Winter ARCs are starting to pour in and I'm getting really excited!  I will post a list here of my latest acquisitions later.

Right now, I am 3/4 of the way through THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton and I am LOVING it!  I am also working on DEWEY'S NINE LIVES and a young adult title called VIXEN by Jillian Larkin. So, I should have new reviews soon.

Tonight, I am heading to a special event featuring Alice Walker. So excited to see her in person!  Maybe I can get her to sign my copy of THE COLOR PURPLE. Fingers crossed!!!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hard Times

2010 has been a difficult year for so many people. 

Personally, my family has been struggling financially as my husband has been out of work for five months now.  We have been limping along but our rent will go up by about $300 this December. So, we may be looking at giving up our beloved rental home of four years and seriously downgrading.  But I am grateful for the roof over our heads, the food on our table, the clothes on our backs, our health and each other.

Yesterday, a dear friend contacted me about the dissolution of his marriage. It absolutely broke my heart. This the FIFTH close friend that has gone through this in 2010.  Three of those individuals were my bridal attendents.  One of the failed marriages is of the godparents of my child. 

It is a good reminder for me to make sure I let my husband know how much I love and appreciate him.  In the hard times, it is easy to let stress, exhaustion, frustration and resentment take over.  In the good times, we can get so busy that we neglect each other and take each other for granted.  We need to remember to tell the people in our lives how important they are to us and how much we love and appreciate them. This may not solve all the problems in all of our relationships but it IS important.

The holidays are right around the corner.  I'm going to make an extra special effort to focus on the things I am thankful for this November. In December, I'm going to remember the greatest gifts in my life.  The ones that don't cost money or come in brightly wrapped packages. 

And on December 31, I'm going to hope for a Happy New Year in 2011 that will bring better things for the people I care about. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
 
There are so many wonderful new series out for young readers right now and this one has a lot of potential.  In the city of Jewel, the citizens prize the safety of their children above anything else.  All children must wear guard-chains from birth until their age of separation as teenagers.  These chains connect children to adults at all times in order to keep them safe. When the children are not in the care of their parents, they are connected to one of the city's Blessed Guardians. Goldie cannot wait to be free of her guard chain but, on her day of Separation, tragedy strikes and the Separation is cancelled. Goldie manages to run away and find refuge in the mysterious Museum of Thieves.  The Museum holds not only the history of the city but also helps to maintain a delicate balance in the state of the world. When an evil plot threatens that delicate balance, Goldie must join with the keepers of the museum in order to protect everyone she loves.
 
I loved the idea of the guard chains as a metaphor for how young children often feel. As a society, we are becoming more and more protective of our children.  The days of children roaming around their neighorhoods until dinner are over.  There is too much fear about what has happened.  Tanner hints at this change in society through her depiction of Jewel.  The guard chains are a tangible reminder of the adult fear that can constrict and limit children.  When Goldie confronts a life-threatening situation within the Museum, she simply stands still and waits for someone to rescue her.  As a result of a lifetime of being over-protected, she has not developed any self-preservation skills. As she spends more time at the museum, she slowly develops those skills. I love how this book empowers children and has a strong female protagonist.  My one problem with it was that the bad guys seemed to obvious and stereotypical.  The Museum itself is fascinating and original and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.
 
PARENTAL ADVISORY:  While there are some scary parts in this book, there is nothing beyond what one would find in a Harry Potter novel. The bad guys are really rotten and there are physical threats to both adults and children. Some younger children may also be disturbed by the fact that the government can throw one's parents into a deep, dark dungeon if they don't comply.  Everyone makes it through the book more and less unharmed, however.
 
BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  While some of the book was a little predictable, the museum itself is fascinating and I enjoyed the variety of characters.  There are lots of original ideas here and I look forward to seeing how they are developed throughout the series.

Friday, October 08, 2010

ADAM AND EVE by Sena Jeter Naslund


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

In 2017, Lucy Bergmann's astrophysicist husband is murdered just before delivering some ground-breaking work on the existence of extraterrestrial life.  Lucy carries the flash drive holding his research around her neck, reluctant to share it with anyone.

Several years later, Lucy is being stalked by members of a fundamentalist sect called Perpetuity.  The members of this sect come from a variety of belief backgrounds united in the desire to maintain their fundmentalist perspective and to stop anything that would threaten it.  Lucy becomes involved with Pierre Saad, an anthropologist who may have found another set of scrolls that could redefine the Genesis story. Lucy attempts a daring escape with the scrolls out of Egypt only to crash in an Eden-like oasis.  Here, she meets Adam, a damaged American vet who helps to nurse her back to health in their own Garden of Eden.

What a mess!!! This book is all over the place.  At first, I had hoped it would be something akin to Sagan's CONTACT. It wasn't.  The author cannot decide what she wants the book to be.  First, we are looking at science and the possible presence of extraterrestrial life. Then, we skip to the discovery of ancient scrolls that could change the creation story of several religions. Then, we have the sinister bad guys in the form of Perpetuity. Oh, and a love story between Adam and "Eve" in their modern garden of Eden.  But then there are new characters introduced and new relationships in the form of Pierre Saad and his daughter and a journey into a cave with ancient art.  Too much!!!  The characters are weak and confusing and I couldn't understand what the point was. The ending was just bizarre. It made no sense whatsoever.

BOTTOM LINE:  NOT recommended. This may be the worst book I have read this year. Possibly because I expected so much more. Naslund has good ideas but the book is a mess.  She can't decide what she wants it to be and ends up just frustrating the reader.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

Notes in the Margin

New galleys are slowly starting to trickle in. 

I received a new children's title called MUSEUM OF THIEVES by Lian Tanner and a beautiful-looking galley called THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL by Michael David Lukas and MUST YOU GO? : MY LIFE WITH HAROLD PINTER by Antonia Fraser.

A few that should be arriving soon:

THE DISTANT HOURS by Kate Morton (Love her previous book THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN)

and

THE RED GARDEN by Alice Hoffman

I should be done with ADAM AND EVE by Naslund soon so be watching for a review. I was really excited to see that ROOM by Donoghue is doing so well.  It may very well be my favorite book this year. I have been fighting a cold for two weeks and my little one is also sick so my reading has slowed a bit.  But Fall is finally here and, as it is my favorite season, it always invigorates me. 

I have to find some time to sew Noodlebug's Halloween costume. He is going as the Cat in the Hat and his father and I are going as Thing 1 and Thing 2.  Hopefully....

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

FictFact

I follow several mystery series but it can sometimes be hard to keep track of when new books in the series are coming out. Do you have that problem too?

I just heard about this new site you can subscribe to that will help you track your favorite series. It's called FictFact and it's free! I can look up with Agatha Raisin series by MC Beaton and sign up to follow this series. I will then be alerted when new titles become available. Genius!!!
I'm going to go look up all my favorite series right now!!!

Friday, October 01, 2010

THE TOWER, THE ZOO AND THE TORTOISE by Julia Stuart


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Beefeater Balthazar, his family and their 180-year-old tortoise live in the Tower of London.  Balthazar and his wife are still reeling from the loss of their young son three years ago.  As they struggle to maintain their lives and marriage, they are surrounded by a lively and amusing cast of characters.  When Balthazar is given the responsibility of maintaining the Tower's new menagerie of animals, his life will never be the same. 

Full of interesting trivia about the Tower and its history, this is an utterly charming story about the inhabitants of the Tower and the challenges of their daily lives. Everyone seems to have a secret.  I found myself laughing out loud many times while also tearing up at some of the more endearing and heartwrending parts.  The bizarre cast of characters doesn't stop at the animals and the ancient tortoise. There is a lovesick vicar who writes erotic fiction, a philandering Ravenmaster, a Head Yeoman plagued by ghosts and many others.  I didn't want it to end.  I can definitely envision this as a film. Or, better yet, a BBC show.  All of the characters are interesting and speak to our own desires and secrets.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Absolutely charming.  Fans of the GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY will like this one.  A perfect blend of history and touching fiction.


Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Calling Out Frank A Pezzanie

I have a bone to pick with Frank A. Pezzanie, CEO of Library Systems and Services (LSS).  The Shelf Awareness edition from Monday, September 27 talked about how LSS, a private company, is preparing to take over the Santa Clara public library system. This means that the public library system would now be run by a private entity. Although I feel a little trepidation about running a public library as a profitable business, I am not prepared to weigh in on the consequences of such a move at this time. We'll have to wait and see how it pans out.

HOWEVER...

I have worked in public and private libraries for ten years. I am especially passionate about public libraries.  In many ways, these institutions are our nation's agoras.  Everyone is welcome and the materials are free for everyone.  They are truly equal-opportunity institutions with something for everyone from children's programming to ESL education. 

Here is Frank A Pezzanie's take on people who work in public libraries:

Pezzanie told [the New York Times]: "A lot of libraries are atrocious. Their policies are all about job security. That's why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We're not running our company that way. You come to us, you're going to have to work."

This is both ridiculous and offensive.  No one is banking a lot of money as a library worker (except maybe the library director).  And we work HARD!  As more and more budget cuts hit public libraries, library workers are faced to take on many more roles at the same pay. When I was still at the public library, I worked circulation, ran children's programming, did shifts at the Reference desk, processed magazines, covered all the displays, handled security issues and provided general back-up.  I do not hold a MLS and I never received any raise in pay for any additional duties I took on as a result of budget cuts. I worked non-stop every day, sometimes past closing, to the job done and to do it well.  I didn't simply sit on my bum at the circ desk reading a book all day. And I never felt any sense of job security as I watched jobs disappearing left and right.

Pezzanie comes off as both arrogant and uninformed. 

Working at a public library can often be like working at the DMV. I loved getting to know my patrons, doing storytimes, providing reader advisory....but I was also beaten down by a lot of abuse from patrons, arguments about fines and the destruction of library property, handling inappropriate behavior and security risks....this was hardly "never having to do anything."

Next time you go to your local library, give your librarian or circulation clerk a smile and a "thank you." You may be the only one to do that the entire day and they will appreciate it. 

And as for Pezzanie.....we'll see how much HE has to work.

Notes in the Margin

Friends-
I am behind on reviews and just about everything else. I am sick and dragging around. I apologize for the lack of posting.  I am currently working on THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE by Julia Stuart (a real charmer so far) and ADAM AND EVE by Naslund.  I gave up on KRAKEN. It just wasn't happening for me. I promise to get caught up on reviews soon!!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends


I was feeling low yesterday. We found out our landlord is raising our rent.  With my husband still out of work, we have been just managing to cover our bills. Trying to come up with another $300 a month is going to be very difficult.  I was trying to put this out of my mind for a little while and focus on my child when a knock came at the front door.

I have a dear friend who is a publicist for a local publishing company. She is helping to publicize Alice Walker's new book of poetry and had gotten one signed for me. She wanted to drop it off.  It was just the boost I needed. Did you notice the title of the book?

Somehow God knew I needed that knock on the front door.  And with friends like these, I know I will get by.

(By the way, the poems are great!  I read a few last night and look forward to reading a few more today.  Sometimes, you just need a poem to give you a boost!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas



This book has received a lot of great buzz and it sounded to me like another read that I enjoyed, LITTLE CHILDREN by Tom Perrotta.  It definitely has the feel of LITTLE CHILDREN but it takes suburban dysfunction in a new direction.

A typical suburban barbecue in Melbourne takes an unexpected turn when an adult decides to disclipline a five-year-old child (not his own) by slapping him. The people at the party become divided in how they react to this act and everyone's lives are changed forever. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective as the individual's grapple with their feelings about the slap and the repercussions that it has had among through social group.

One of the interesting things I found about this book is that I didn't find a single character likeable from the 5-yr-old to the elderly father of the host of the party. Everyone is flawed and hides secrets.  It is interesting to see the aftereffects of the slap but the book is much more about the individuals in this community and how they are interconnected.  It is an interesting book but I would caution readers who are sensitive to profanity and explicit sex.  The book is filled with expletives and racial slurs and fairly graphic sex scenes.  While this is appropriate to the characters, it may be off-putting to some readers.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  While I think this book has interesting things to say about society and suburbia, I was put off by how much I disliked all of the characters. None of them seemed to have enough redeeming features to salvage them as people. It was also sometimes frustrating that you only got a glimpse into each character through their one chapter. Just when you were getting involved with a certain thread, the chapter ended and the author doesn't return to the interior life of that character again. Still, an interesting read.

Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:




 




Friday, September 17, 2010

WAKE OF FORGIVENESS by Bruce Machart


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Spanning the years from 1895 to 1924 in rural Texas, WAKE OF FORGIVENESS follows the life of Karel Skala from his birth that resulted in the untimely death of his mother to his own experience with fatherhood.  Left in the care of a brutal father and three older brothers, Karel never learns the feeling of feminine affection or care.  When an opportunity arises for 13-yr-old Karel's brothers to escape their harsh family life by winning beautiful Mexican wives and land through a wager, Karel is forced to ride in a race that will change everything.  The consequences of this race and Karel's difficult childhood affect him as an adult and husband and father. 

While this book will remind many of Cormac McCarthy in terms of style and content, it is really a story of how a single event can change everything and how formative relationships can shape who we are but not who we can become.  Fans of stories about the complexities of father/son relationships will enjoy this one.  It is sad and bleak but also beautiful in what it reveals about the nature of the human soul.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This may be a bit bleak and dark for some but those who appreciate a good father/son conflict in a western setting will enjoy this one.


Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Another First

Well, it was an eventful weekend. I took Noodlebug to his Spanish class that we attend together every Saturday morning. He was having one of those mornings where he was a little ambivalent about participating. One of the final activities of the day was to hold hands and make a human "choo-choo" train. In the middle of the song, Noodle decided he didn't want to participate anymore and threw himself on the floor while I was still holding his hand. I didn't want to drop him on his hand so I was slow to let go and his dead weight twisted a little bit. He started crying and said his arm hurt. He sat in my lap whimpering and I waited to see if it would pass but it didn't. He cried every time I touched his arm and couldn't lift it. I packed him into the car and headed to the emergency room down the street.


I had visions of a broken arm and people looking at me askance wondering what kind of mother would allow her child to get hurt like that. I felt responsible for the whole thing. My husband met me at the hospital and tried to gingerly remove Noodle from the carseat while I checked us in. I was almost crying too hard for the intake lady to understand me but she was very patient. The nurses and staff couldn't have been nicer. They reassured me that I did nothing wrong and that he would be okay. The doctor decided it was "nursemaid's elbow" which is pretty common. He basically dislocated his elbow. The doctor popped it into place and gave him some Motrin. Soon after that, he was chipper again although I felt as if I had been put through the wringer. They x-rayed him just in case but everything was fine. We were in and out of the emergency room in less than two hours. We went home and Noodle and I both crashed for two hours.


I think I cried more than he did during the whole ordeal.

He is fine. None the worse for wear. But I felt like the worst mother in the world. I finally get to spend some quality time with my child and I dislocate his elbow! But I am glad that this was his first experience with a hospital. When my husband asked him if his arm felt better, Noodle said, "The doctor fixed it." Everyone was kind and gentle with him and he got to see that these doctors and nurses were working to make him feel better. It was a good experience.


I was distracted all weekend and only tried to finish my Anda dress and succeeded in butchering the hem. Why can't I do a hem? What is my problem?

I did teach my first Sunday school class and it went pretty well.


Today I start Jenny Doh's Crafting Your Best Life class so I have that to look forward to. But I am mostly looking forward to going home and hugging Noodlebug.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

ONE DAY by David Nicholls


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

This story takes place during a single day each year for two decades. It follows the lives of Emma and Dexter.  The story begins when Emma and Dexter have a brief hook-up immediately following their graduation from college. These star-crossed lovers don't become an official couple but instead embark upon a decades-long friendship.  Dexter is a "Ryan Seacrest"-type--a privileged golden boy who falls into the profession of a television presenter.  Emma, secretly in love with Dexter but settling for friendship, is a bookish sort who bounces from profession to profession before ending up a writer.  The book follows the evolution of their friendships over two decades checking in on them on the exact same date each year.

At first, I found the construction of the plot a little distracting. Jumping into the lives of Dexter and Emma on one day each year could be a little jarring. It took a moment to get your bearings as a reader. Still, this technique allows the reader to view how the individuals grow and change and how a person's life can change a great deal in the space of a few months.

I didn't find either Dexter nor Emma particuarly likeable but I found their story compelling.Once I got to used how the plot was unfolding, I got caught up in the story. I thought it unfolded well.  My one complaint was that the ending went on too long. It felt as if the story had already come to a close but there were thirty more pages to read. Overall, the book was a very decent read.

This book is currently being made into a film with Anne Hathaway as Emma.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  If you can get past the sometimes jarring nature of the plot device, you will find an interesting story about the evolution of the relationship of two people over two decades.  It provides some insight into how small events can have great impact on a life and how much people's lives can change in the space of a few months.

Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:

Friday, September 03, 2010

Notes in the Margin

I am behind on reviews again but I hope to get caught up this weekend. I just finished ONE DAY and I'm working on KRAKEN and THE WAKE OF FORGIVENESS although I am on the verge of throwing in the towel on KRAKEN. Has anyone else read it yet? Should I stick with it?

Hope you all have a wonderful long weekend!!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Consider the Lilies

WARNING:  *some religious blather ahead*

We are more than halfway through 2010.  It has been a really good year for books (ROOM, MATTERHORN, NOBODIES ALBUM, RED HOOK ROAD, MARROWBONE MARBLE COMPANY, LONELY POLYGAMIST. ETERNAL ON THE WATER).  However, it has been a really bad year in other departments.

As many of you know, my husband lost his job in early June and we lost about 60% of our income. Maybe more.  Of course, there are also all the emotional ramifications of something like this. So far, we are hanging on to our rental house but it feels very tenuous.  One of my close friends has been out of work for 18 months and another is about to lose his job.  One of my dear blogging friends is also struggling with unemployment fallout. Four of my close friends will be divorcing this year. One of my dear friends is experiencing a great deal of pain surrounding an adoption that has been very difficult.

The good news is that everyone is healthy. And that is truly good news indeed.

2010 has been a rough year for many people. I toss and turn at night worrying about my situation and that of the people that I love and care about. Surely there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was reminded of a Bible verse that I had to learn in Sunday school from the book of Matthew:

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?



28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
 
It is a hard and difficult thing to "hand it over" and let go of worry. I am a very blessed person and yet I fixate on the negative things.  So my husband has lost his job. So we may have to move. So we are struggling to make ends meet. SO WHAT?!
 
I have a family when many are alone. I have my health (and my family has good health) when many are sick and wasting away.  I have some income when many have none.  We have health insurance when many must decide between medical care and putting food on the table.
 
Blessings abound.
 
And 2010 is almost over.  I'm sure 2011 is going to be a banner year!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weekend Update

Whew!

I do manage to pack a lot into two days!

Noodlebug and I started the day at his weekly Spanish class.  Then, we took him to the California Academy of Science on Saturday for CAT IN THE HAT day. The local PBS station was promoting the new "CAT IN THE HAT Knows a Lot About That' show with a variety of activities and an appearance by the Cat in the Hat himself.  We completed a scavenger hunt and won Noodlebug a Cat in the Hat hat.  He looked adorable in it, of course.

In spite of all of the activity, Noodlebug declined to take a nap. I fear our days of napping are over.  Still, he was his happy active self until bedtime.  I checked in on him before I went to bed and he was sleeping peacefully. My husband (who was still awake) woke me at 11:45pm to tell me that Noodle had just thrown up.  My poor baby was wracked with fever and his little teeth were chattering. He finally stopped throwing up around 2am and asked to be put in his crib with a sippy cup of water.  I made a pallet next to his bed and lay there listening to him and checking on him all night. 

The whole family dragged out of bed around 9:45am the next morning. Hubby and I were convinced we would be taking Noodle to the doctor or the emergency room. Instead, he was bouncing about the house in much better shape than either of us were.  The recuperative powers of children are amazing.  I can't say the same for myself. The lack of sleep and the mass of worry brought on a migraine. Still, I managed to bundle up the family and make it to my League's Bocce Ball Fundraiser.  Noodle and I relaxed courtside while Daddy played.  It was a beautiful day even if I wasn't fully engaged.

Caught a snippet of the Emmys last night before I passed out. (Hooray MODERN FAMILY and MAD MEN!)

I was thinking about a recent post by Crystal about her own kids being sick.  It is a horrible horrible thing to see your little one sick and suffering.  But this stomach bug came and went.  There are so many parents out there with children who have major illnesses that their children may not recover from.  I was definitely counting my blessings that I have such a healthy child.  If this is the worst we get, then we are very blessed indeed.


But...


Is it really Monday already?   I think I missed a day somewhere.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

THE ONE THAT I WANT by Allison Winn Scotch


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

High school guidance counselor Tilly Farmer seems to have it all. She is married to her high school sweetheart, lives in her beloved hometown and is working on adding a baby to her seemingly perfect life. An unexpected encounter with a former friend who is now a psychic leaves Tilly with the "gift of clarity." Tilly must confront the truth about her life and the lives of the people around her and, in so doing, realize that she may not have the perfect life after all.

I liked the premise of this book.  So many of us have the ability to delude ourselves about how happy we really are.  A gift of clarity could be invaluable for all of us.  Tilly's comes in the form of a sneak peek into the future. She catches glimpses of what will happen right around the corner and this causes her to look more carefully at what is currently going on around her. While I like the honesty of the story, it fell flat for me.  I didn't find Tilly particularly likeable and the plot was a little too predictable.  Tilly's visions do offer her insight but calling this the "gift of clarity" seems a little contrived. The set-up of Tilly receiving this gift from a psychic friend at a carnival set the story up to have a bit of magic or whimsy but this promise never followed through. The whole thing just felt flat.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. The idea of the book is good but the execution is poor. The reader can figure out what is going to happen fairly easily while the characters themselves aren't particularly interesting.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

PROUST'S OVERCOAT by Lorenza Foschini


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

This slim little book tells the story of Jacques Guerin, a prominent profumier and collector of rare books.  Guerin's greatest passion was all things Proust. He scoured the bookshops of France looking for lost and forgotten books and manuscripts as well as ephemera from Proust's life. When Proust's brother dies and Guerin learns that the family is disposing of all of Marcel's wordly goods, he goes on a quest to gather as much of the pieces of the writer's life as he can.  The greatest prize--Proust's overcoat.

This is an odd little book. At first, it was difficult to know where it was going as it jumps right into the story.  I think it speaks to people who are passionate collectors. I was watching the movie GHOST WORLD the other night and was reminded of this book. In the movie, Seymour collects a variety of vintage records and posters and claims that it is a substitute for real human interaction.  One must wonder what drove Guerin to become such a passionate collector of Proust. What drives any of us to collect?

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. The book is short and very quick read. It is often amusing and gives the reader a little insight into the world of a crazed collector. In the end, it didn't offer much, however. If felt ultimately forgettable.


Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.

I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:

Proust's Overcoat

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Frugal Blogger and Recession Strategies

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, these are tough times for almost everyone.  My husband is out of work. One good friend has been jobless for 18 months in spite of his best efforts and a Master's degree.  Another friend works full-time but is having trouble meeting her basic needs. These hard hard times indeed.

With the loss of 60% of income, I have been working hard to find ways to save and even create some new revenue streams.  Here are some of my favorite money-saving strategies:

1. Set up a junk e-mail account.
Many coupons and deals are only available online now and they always require you to sign up.  I have one e-mail account I use just for online shopping and coupons.  This keeps most of the spam in one place.

2. Get a Facebook and Twitter account.
Many special deals and coupons are only made available to followers on Facebook and Twitter.  Also, many contests require that you enter on Facebook or tweet on Twitter.  These are also good places to look for company freebies. 

3. Utilize deal-saving blogs.
There are some wonderful blogs out there that serve as a clearinghouse for the best coupons and deals and freebies.  Two of my favorites are Deal Seeking Mom and STL Mommy.  I also find excellent freebies on SlickDeals.  These blogs and forums are updated frequently so check back often.

4. Join free saver clubs.
I know it is annoying to carry around saver cards for grocery and other stores but the savings can add up. Plus, you can be eligible for special coupons and promotions.

5. Ebates is the Online Shopper's Best Friend
I love Ebates!!!  As a full-time working mom, I don't get to go shopping very often so I do most of my shopping online.  I always go to Ebates first to see if the store I want to shop is eligible for rebates.  They almost always are.  Generally, these stores will give you 4% or more back if you shop them through Ebates. Ebates tracks your purchases and periodically sends you a check. It's so easy!!! Since I joined last year, I have saved $182.49 by using Ebates.  Because I usually stack Ebates with coupon codes (see below) the savings are probably even bigger.

6. Always look online for coupon codes
When shopping online, do a search for coupon codes for that store before completing your purchase. I can't tell you how much money I have saved doing this.  You can search the store's name and "coupon code" in Google or go to places like Retail Me Not.  By combing this strategy with Ebates, I have saved a lot of money!!!  The most easy coupon codes to find are for free shipping and that can save upwards of $7.

7. Try entering instant win contests.
SlickDeals is also a good source for this. I always thought no one won this stuff but I have actually gotten a couple of freebies this way.  Sometimes you can even win excellent coupons. I recently won a coupon in a Schick instant win game that gave me $4 off.

8. Search for coupons online.
There are some great coupons sites out there like Coupons.com  and PG E-Saver.  Before you go to the grocery store, check these sites. Also, I have found that googling the name of my product along with "coupon 2010" can often find me coupons as well.

9. Sell Sell Sell
I have created some new income streams for my family by selling things. I have sold a lot through Craigslist which is great because no one takes a cut. I am also selling off my collection of signed first edition books on Alibris and have made some decent money off of that.  Don't forget about consignment!!!  I sold a bunch of baby gear at a children's consignment sale event this past Spring and made about $350. Normally, consignment shops will give you 40-50% of the purchase price.  At special event sales like Just Between Friends, you can get 60-65% of the purchase price.


All of this can be a lot of work but can really save you money. I will try to add more as I think of them.  Good luck everyone!!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book to Movie: EAT PRAY LOVE

When EAT PRAY LOVE came out quite a few years back, the cover intrigued me and I decided to give it a shot. Something about this book really struck a chord with many women.  Now, it is a book club staple. I have not yet read Gilbert's follow-up, COMMITTED, but I enjoy her first memoir. There is a vicarious pleasure in reading about a woman who was completely unencumbered and able to take a year of her life off to travel and work on herself.

I was a little disappointed to hear that Julia Roberts had been cast in the movie version of this book. I had envisioned someone more like Diane Lane. Indeed, after seeing the movie, the tone and style was very reminiscent of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN.  I did enjoy the movie. I thought it was a very competent adaptation of the book. My fellow movie-goers thought the film was a little long. None of them had read the book. Because I knew what was coming, I didn't feel that the plot was slow in unraveling. So, if you enjoyed the book, you will probably enjoy the movie.

Another recent adaptation that I was impressed with? The Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. That book offers many challenges in terms of adapting it for film but I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job.

Look for more "Book to Movie" posts in the future!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Notes in the Margin

I know I owe you some reviews and I promise they are coming!!!
Thanks to all of my new followers who stopped by last week!  And thank you for your sweet comments on "This is Not a Book Review."  It is so true that all of us tend to put impossible demands on ourselves trying to live up to some fictional or fabricated ideal.  I guess all we can do is our best.

I was definitely not at my best this weekend. I have been under a lot of stress and I have not dealt with it very gracefully. One of my favorite blogs posted part of 1 Corinthians today:

"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.



Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right."
 
I was not a practitioner of love this weekend. I felt cornered and lost my temper and said things I shouldn't have to someone that I love.  As I try to juggle the different aspects of my life and find balance, I am not always successful and I makes some pretty big mistakes. But today is Monday. The first day of a new week. And all I can do is to try and do better.  And read more books.
 
The new Paul Auster book, SUNSET PARK, landed on my doorstep this weekend.  So many books, so little time!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

ROOM by Emma Donoghue


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

*UPDATE* As of 9/13/10, this book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Recently, the world was shocked to hear of the horrifying story of Austrian man Josef Fritzl who held his daughter imprisoned in an underground chamber for 24 years and fathered several children by her. When Elisabeth Fritzl managed to finally escape from this hell, the real work began for her and her children.  ROOM was inspired by those events.

This is not an easy book to read. 

ROOM is narrated by 5-year-old Jack. Jack's mother has been imprisoned in a garden shed for seven years and gave birth to Jack during her captivity. For Jack, Room is his whole world and he has never known a different one. His mother, Ma,  has managed to create a life for him through the sheer force of her love and her will.  They spend their days reading and playing games and at night, Ma shuts him into the wardrobe to keep him safe while "Old Nick" visits.  After Jack's birthday, Ma realizes that something is going to have to change and devises a daring plan to try and escape.

This is a powerful and wonderful book about how resilient humans are and how strong the bond between a parent and child can be.  By allowing Jack to narrate, the reader is able to see Room through more innocent eyes because of the world that Ma has created.  Jack doesn't see his situation as horrific and frightening. It is the only home he has known and he is happy and content to share it with Ma. While the novel could have become prurient, it manages to rise above and reach something incredibly moving.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. This is definitely in my Top Ten of 2010.  As beautiful as it is painful and shocking. It is hard to review without giving too much away. Don't let the subject matter put you off.  This is definitey a story about the fierce love between a parent and child.

Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:




APE HOUSE by Sara Gruen


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.


I really wanted to like Gruen's third release, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. The setting was wonderful and I especially loved how Gruen framed the novel with the main character in a nursing home.  However, I could not get past the fact that the main characters and their love triangle seemed to be lifted from Styron's SOPHIE'S CHOICE. The similarities were too overwhelming for me and it ruined the book for me.  I know I'm in the minority on that one.

I did look forward to reading Gruen's latest offering, however.  I appreciate Gruen's support of and affinity for animals and animal rights.  APE HOUSE introduces scientist Isabel Duncan who works with bonobos in teaching them sign language. Isabel is very close with these primates and considers them families. When the Great Ape Language Lab is bombed and Isabel is injured, the apes are removed and sold to a reality show producer. The producer creates a new form of show called  "Ape House" where the primates are televised 24 hours a day for entertainment purposes.  Isabel works with reporter John Thigpen and various animal rights activists in order to free the bonobos and bring them to safety.

I appreciated the emphasis on the connection between people and animals and the added angle of reality television at the expense of the bonobos. However, I feel that the novel didn't go far enough. The human characters were fairly lackluster and the big twist wasn't that much of a twist.  It felt as if there should have been MORE impact. Nothing was particularly surprising or relevatory. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  Fans of Gruen will be happy with her latest offering but it is somewhat disappointing that she didn't go further with the story. The whole thing felt a little lackluster.

Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:





Wednesday, August 11, 2010

This is Not a Book Review


TO HELL WITH ALL THAT


A semi-controversial book came out back in 2006 called TO HELL WITH ALL THAT.  Flanagan caught a lot of flack by talking about how conflicted modern mothers feel and how many of us may just want to be a housewife deep down. Whether or not this is true, much of the book resonated with me. I was just about to get married at the time I read this book. It isn't a great book and many complained about how Flanagan was often self-contradictory. But I think she also revealed how difficult it can be for many women to play so many different roles.

I am a wife and mother but I also work full-time outside the home and help to care for my mother. Until recently, I served on at least one non-profit board at any given time. I spend any spare time with either books or crafting supplies. It can be very hard to keep all the balls in the air and the one that usually falls is housekeeping. After being gone all day long, do I want to spend time with my family or do I want to spend time cleaning the bathroom? The same applies on weekends. So, I have piles of clothes sitting next to my closet and spots of toothpaste in my sink.

This state of affairs has brought Flanagan's book to mind recently. I don't necessarily agree with everyone she says but part of me sometimes thinks it would be nice to be a stay-at-home mom and housewife. I have fallen pray to the dream of the sit-com housewife who keeps a clean home, has fresh-baked cookies for the kids when they come home from school, has a martini ready for the husband when he walks in the door and manages to have her makeup and hair perfect in her New Look dress with the cute half-apron.  I would like to be the kind of women who does homemade everything while maintaining a spotless home and a size 6 figure. I would like to throw dinner parties and backyard barbecues while serving on the PTA. Maybe I will someday.  But right now, I would be happy if I could just clean the toilet bowl.

(The above book link will take you to IndieBound. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

THE OUTER BANKS HOUSE by Diann Ducharme


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I was intrigued by the subject matter of THE OUTER BANKS HOUSE.  I haven't found many books that focus on the Reconstruction era immediately following the Civil War.  In this book, 17-year-old Abigail Sinclair, the daughter of a (former) slave-owning plantation owner, joins her family at the Outer Banks for a summer vacation at their new beach house.  Reeling from the loss of her beloved uncle during the war and waiting on an imminent proposal from well-to-do doctor's son Hector Newman, Abigail looks at her summer as the chance to escape and explore.  After her father forces her to tutor local guide Benjamin Whimble, Abigail finds herself falling for him as she begins to re-examine all the truths about slavery, the South and her family that she has previously held.

On the one hand, I really appreciate the setting and the time period that Ducharme present in the book. The story provided an interesting look into how former slave-owning families dealt with the changes that occurred after the Civil War. Ducharme does a very good job capturing the effects of the chances on a variety of individuals. However, the book utimately didn't work for me because the story was cliched and boring.  There were no real surprised here and the characters were fairly one-dimensional with the exception of Abby.  I found the sex scenes especially silly and somewhat unbelievable. Ducharme has come up with a good character in the form of Abby but she isn't enough to carry the book on her own.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  In spite of the excellent setting and a good story idea, the book just didn't work. It felt hackneyed and I was disappointed with its lack of depth.


Should you wish to purchase this title, this book link will take you to IndieBound.
I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on any sales:

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Galley Roundup

These new ARCs arrived on my doorstep over the past two weeks:

1. THE TOWER, THE ZOO, AND THE TORTOISE  by Julia Stuart

2.ONE DAY by David Nicholls

3.THE ONE THAT I WANT by Allison Winn Scotch

4. AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin

I am especially excited about #1 and #4.  So many good books coming out this Fall.  I can hardly wait!!!

Friday, August 06, 2010

In Progress...

I am almost done with all my library books and I will be moving back to my stack of galleys. Quite a few landed on my doorstep over the last week and I will list them here later today.  I am almost done reading Goodman's COOKBOOK COLLECTOR which has been a little underwhelming.  I am also reading a galley of THE OUTER BANKS HOUSE by Diann Ducharme. 

It has been a very cool summer here in Northern California which is a mixed blessing. I am a very heat intolerant person. (perhaps from 22 years of growing up in Texas)  So, I don't miss the extreme heat. However, Summer should be a warm time of playing outdoors and going swimming and it has actually been too cool for many activities.  Not to mention the fact that the okra and tomatoes in our garden are screaming for warmth.  We have one month of summer left so the weather better cooperate!!!

I hope you are all having a great summer wherever you are. Check back here later for a list of new galleys.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

There are always so many books to read and I don't always get to them in a timely manner.  I have taken a brief break from my galleys to catch up on books that I missed for one reason or another. I'll give these books a mini-review.

1. CUTTING FOR STONE by Abraham Verghese
Very well done.  Reminded me a bit of THE KITE RUNNER in terms of style.  Recommended.

2. PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender
A disappointment. I was expecting this book to be like GARDEN SPELLS but instead it was more like THE SOLITUDE OF PRIME NUMBERS. Perhaps my preconceived notions about this book prejudiced me but I can't recommend this one. An interesting idea but it left me cold.

3. LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave
Really wonderful! I can't believe I didn't read it sooner.  I cried and cried at the end. An incredibly moving tale of two strong women and the one shared moment that changed their lives forever. HIGHLY recommended.

4. VENETIA KELLY'S TRAVELING SHOW by Frank Delaney
Overall, I would say this book was just okay. I loved the time period and the Irish setting but the story seemed far-fetched and strange. I didn't buy the fact that all these men were in thrall to this woman.

5. COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman
This book felt like a variation on a theme for Goodman. The whole question of business ethics felt like a re-run of ground she had covered with INTUITION.  The characters weren't particularly interesting and the whole thing felt pretty dry.
Check back here for the micro-reviews of these books. I'll get back to work on the galleys soon!!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Never Say Never



I swore I would never try to monetize my blogs in any way but with the recent changes in my circumstances, I thought I would try out a few new tactics.  I have joined IndieBound as an affiliate. I am a big believer in independent bookstores so I feel good about this association.

What this means for my readers....

In every book review, I will include a link in case you would like to purchase the book being reviewed.  The link will take you to IndieBound.  If you buy the book, I will receive a small referral fee.

I don't expect to generate much income through this but every little bit helps right now. Plus, it could help fund my book habit!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Something Personal

I'm 35 and I feel really old today.  My poor diet and lack of exercise is really taking its toll. I have made a conscious decision not to exercise because I don't want to take away from the limited time I have with my family. Since I am currently working 10-hour days, by the time I get home it is usually time to start dinner. So, not much time to sneak in exercise by doing something active with my family.  The diet problems are two-fold. First of all, I am an emotional eater.  Second of all, I sit at my desk all day and snack. I have been wondering what it would take to finally get me to make some changes. I want to be healthy and look good for my husband but I also want to set a good example for my child. Right now, he doesn't care if I'm fat overweight but one day it could be a source of embarrassment for him.

My friend Kim has been helping me by both providing a good example for me to follow and by offering me tools and ideas that have helped her.  While I will never be an Ironman triathlete like she is, she is a great role model for me.  Kim sent me this book for my birthday:


I'm working on it right now and I'm hoping to get some positive inspiration from it.

I am also interested in reading this one:



It sounds like it has some good ideas albeit ones that are wrapped in a trendy diet package. 

I am also going to try and make some lifestyle changes. Once my hours change back to an eight-hour day, I am going to change my work schedule so that I have time to go to the gym before work. This will mean even less time in the evening with my family but I have to do it.  I am also working on stocking up on healthy snacks for my desk area so I don't end up going to the candy jar at my co-worker's desk.  I'll let you know how it goes. My goal is to get down to a size 8/10.  I was really happy and comfortable at that size. Smaller would be fine but I think 8/10 is a reasonable goal for now.  I'll let you know how it goes. The new schedule starts on August 2.  In the meantime, let me know tricks that have worked for you and books you have found helpful.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NOBODIES ALBUM by Carolyn Parkhurst


I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

Carolyn Parkhurst always manages to come up with truly creative and original ideas for her novels. Best known for her book DOGS OF BABEL, Parkhurst returns with the NOBODIES ALBUM.  Many will view this book as a mystery but it is not. It is a story of relationships, specifically those between mothers and sons.  Successful novelist Octavia Frost is on her way to her publisher to drop off her latest novel when she hears the news that her estranged rock star son, Milo, has been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. Octavia's husband and young daughter both died when Milo was 9.  This tragic event altered the course of their relationship and in his mid-twenties, Milo refuses to have any more contact with his mother. Octavia heads to California to be by her son's side while not knowing whether he will even speak to her. Octavia tries to figure out what really happened between her son and his girlfriend while attempting some sort of reconciliation. Her great attempt at getting her son back lies in her latest novel called THE NOBODIES ALBUM which is really a collection of rewritten endings for all of her previous books. The original and rewritten endings are interspersed throughout the book. The complexity of the relationship of mother and son and the effects of tragedy and grief on individuals form the center of the story.

Other reviewers have mentioned two main flaws in this book: it isn't a very good mystery and the inclusion of the rewritten endings from THE NOBODIES ALBUMS which many readers find distracting and pointless. I don't agree with either criticism. This isn't a mystery book so it wasn't important to me how effective the "mystery" was.  I think the inclusion of the rewritten endings was KEY to the story. I think many of us would love the opportunity to rewrite portions of our lives and the impulse must be doubly enticing for a writer. The rewritten chapters reveal a great deal about Octavia and how she dealt with her grief after the death of her husband and daughter. The rewrites reveal her attempt at changing history and healing her troubled relationship with her son. To me, they added a great deal to the story. Especially when you think about how much of themselves authors put into their work.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. An intriguing and moving story about the troubled relationships we sometimes have with those who are close to us and the profound effects that grief and loss can have on people. One of my favorites this year!


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