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.

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.

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!

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

Thursday, July 08, 2010

RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman

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

I thought LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS was a wonderful book so I was so excited to get my hand on a copy of RED HOOK ROAD. The book opens with two families gathering for the Maine summer wedding of John and Becca.  The families couldn't be more different with Tom's family being a working-class Maine family and Becca's family being a privileged New York family that summers in Maine. The two are brought together through a tragic event that has far-reaching consequences. The story follows the two families through the four summers following the tragedy.

This is not just a story about grief although that is a major part of it. It is also a story of relationships and the little threads that bind us to other people.  It reflects on how events both small and large can bind us to others forever or rip us apart. I don't want to go too far into the plot for fear of giving something away.  The characters are all beautifully done and the prose is wonderful. I was completely swept up in the story and greatly moved by it.   The story could easily verge into melodrama but Waldman manages to steer clear of it.  Several of the characters have strong ties to music and the structure of the novel alludes to the significance of music within the book.

BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY recommended. A very beautiful and moving book with complex characters and emotions. This one will stay with you long after you put it down. This may be one of my favorites this year!!!

THE LOVERS by Vendela Vida

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

In the aftermath of her husband's death, grieving widow Yvonne travels to Turkey where she and her husband had honeymooned 28 years before.  Her plan is to spend some time alone reflecting on her marriage and the loss of her husband and then meeting up with her adult twins for a cruise. Her plans become complicated when she quickly becomes entangled in the lives of several people.  She uncovers secrets about the man she is renting a house from. She becomes friends with the man's wife and forms an unlikely bond with her. She befriends an elderly woman who runs a yacht service with her husband. And, most poignantly, she befriends a young boy named Ahmet who sells shells at the local beach.  Through these interactions, Yvonne gains new insight into herself and the lives of her children until a tragic accident throws everything into chaos.

This is a short but affecting book not only about how we move through grief but also about how we define ourselves through relationships. As much as Yvonne longs to be alone with her memories and her thoughts, she cannot stop herself from connecting with other people and being affected by them. These strangers change the way she thinks about herself and her life in ways that she never imagined.  While the accident will not come as a surprise, it is still very moving.  Vida While some of the relationships in the book felt a little forced, the friendship between Yvonne and Ahmet was wonderful and the exploration of Yvonne's complex and difficult relationships with her addict daughter was also very well done.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book will not appeal to everyone. It is very introspective and quiet with little action or major entanglements. Still, it manages to be affecting and provides a very interesting character in Yvonne.