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


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.


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


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


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:


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.