Sunday, January 31, 2010

Notes in the Margin

I'm still here! I don't know why but last week felt interminably long.  Luckily, I have a four day weekend right around the corner.  Just gotta get there!  In the meantime, I am trying to finish the following books:

SOLAR by Ian McEwan
CLEAVING by Julie Powell
ANGEL AND APOSTLE by Deborah Noyes

These books landed on my doorstep last week:

DESERT LOST by Betty Webb (purchase)
HOUSE OF TOMORROW by Peter Bognanni (ARC)
KEEPING THE FEAST by Paula Butturini (ARC)
MAKING TOAST by Roger Rosenblatt (ARC)

A few of them sound a little sad and I'm not sure if I am ready to read again with a box of tissues at my side. But they all sound really good so I probably will. I better go buy stock in Kleenex!!!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hallmark Recordable Storybooks

Noodlebug and I love to read together.  It is definitely a special time of the day that I cherish with my child.  Sometimes, I sit at work wishing I were home at that very moment reading GOOD NIGHT, WASHINGTON DC for the 20th time.  (his current favorite from his Auntie Vieve)  So, when I heard about Hallmark's new recordable line of storybooks I got excited. I could record my voice reading the book and then Noodlebug could have me "read" him a book even when I was at work. Well, I waited too long for the NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS version and it sold out. I had the chance to get it for $19.99 with a coupon. Now, they are going for $100 on eBay. Bummer.  Then, I heard that Hallmark is releasing two new titles for Spring:  ALL THE WAYS I LOVE YOU and BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL.  I just snapped up the titles at my local Hallmark store where they are already flying off the shelves. (maybe I should have bought more?)  Anyway, they are a bit pricey but it's worth it to me to have that connection with my little one.  Now I know what Noodlebug is getting for Valentine's Day!

(I have not received any compensation or other benefits from Hallmark for this post nor do I have any connection with Hallmark)

Monday, January 25, 2010


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

THE GIRL WHO FELL FROM THE SKY tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and black G.I. who is the sole survivor of a family tragedy that results in the death of her little brother and sister and her mother.  Rachel moves in with her strict African-American grandmother and must learn to navigate her way through the new complexities of 1980s racial identity and puberty while dealing with her own grief.

This is a powerful book that was very difficult to put down. Durrow is slow to unfold Rachel's story and the reader never really discovers the truth of the family tragedy until the end of the book.  The story is told from several points of view: Rachel, a boy named Brick who witnessed part of the tragedy, Rachel's father Roger, Rachel's mother Nella and Nella's boss Varonne.  Each one offers a different perspective on events. While Rachel's struggle to make sense of what happened to her family is central to the story, it is also a story of identity and race and the pain and struggle to find where one belongs in the world. It is both painful and moving to read.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. The story is so moving and so sad.  Each individual's part of the story is compelling and heart-breaking.  You'll be thinking about this one long after you put it down.

FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA by Jeffrey Stepakoff

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

FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA opens with an elderly woman named Lily recognizing an artifact from her past in a local museum. It is a "recipe" for a very special firework named after her.  The discovery brings back many memories and Lily tells her story to her granddaugther and the museum director.  At the end of WWII, small town royalty Lily Davis Woodward awaits the return of her husband who she hasn't seen in three years when he left for the war two weeks after their marriage.  Lily worries what his return will be like as she has changed a lot from the 17-year-old bride she once was.  The town throws itself in preparations for the return of all of their soldiers which will culminate in a special fireworks display.  Unexpectedly, Lily falls for the fireworks man, Jake Russo, and begins a passionate affair with him. Lily finds herself at a crossroads and must decide what life she will ultimately choose.

I wanted to like this book. It has a great premise and a good deal of romantic potential. However, this is the type of story that would make a better movie than a book.  There isn't enough depth to make it truly successful and it is too short to believably develop the characters and their relationships. I found much of it maudlin and silly. The characters are interesting and had potential but it just didn't carry through.

BOTTOM LINE:  While I did not like this book, I think certain readers would find it appealing. I will recommend this one for fans of BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.  There are a number of similarities. As for me, I'll be waiting for the movie version of this book.

Friday, January 22, 2010

ETERNAL ON THE WATER by Joseph Monninger

I received an advance copy of this book through the Barnes and Noble FIRST LOOK program.

ETERNAL ON THE WATER opens with a body being found on the river.  Jonathan Cobb witnesses his wife's body being pulled from the river, a victim of an apparant kayaking accident.  Cobb is joined by a sympathetic ranger as he keeps vigil over his wife's body.  During this one night, Cobb relates to the ranger, his love story from the moment he met his wife, Mary, until the moment of her death.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot because how it unfolds is the key to the success of this story. The reader knows how the story will end but the journey to that point is so compelling and moving. As Cobb tells his story, we journey back to the point where he and Mary meet on the Allagash river. Cobb is retracing Thoreau's journey down the same river and Mary is lecturing to a group of girls called the Chungamunga girls who are on a river experience trip. The two are instantly attracted to each other in a "love at first sight" scenario.  The rest of the book follows their lives together over the next eight years until Mary's death.

This one is a tearjerker. I have to admit it got to me at the end.  Even knowing what was going to happen. When I first received this book, I didn't think I would enjoy it.  I wasn't sure I would be able to connect with the characters.  But I assure you that after reading this book you will want to: a)go camping/kayaking b)learn more about crows c) go watch "All That Heaven Allows" and d) sleep outdoors.  The story is slow to unfold and some readers may get a little bit antsy and it requires a little willing suspension of disbelief to believe the "love at first sight" love story but I assure you that the end is worth it.

This book will be released in a trade format in mid-February 2010.

BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful tragic love story that manages to avoid being maudlin.  This book may just make even the most cynical reader believe in love at first sight.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Notes in the Margin

Those of you who are regular readers know that I can be a little....neurotic.  Or "tightly wound" as they so delicately put it in the movie "Lone Star."  In fact, when I took my first knitting class, I had the problem of knitting too tightly. My teacher looked at me and said, "You seem to be...uh...really intense."

I have been struggling with irrational fears lately.  I'm doing better. I'm trying to work on my faith life and "hand it over" to God a lot more. I'm not always successful at this. I've been having some difficulties with headaches and abdominal pain so, of course, my mind automatically races to "aneurysm" and "cancer."  I have been to the doctor far so good. I'm sure I'm fine. Probably just stress and dehydration.  I think, however, that it is really time to get serious about exercise and better stress outlets.  I used to take yoga and really enjoyed it.  And I probably need more reading time.  That always fixes things, doesn't it?

These books arrived on my doorstep this past week:


THE RED DOOR by Charles Todd

And....drum roll please.....

SOLAR by Ian McEwan

So excited to get that one!  I am currently finishing up ETERNAL ON THE WATER and FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA so I promise to add new reviews soon.  Both are love stories so the timing is perfect considering the holiday right around the corner.  I always try to get my ARCs done before the publication date so a few keep getting pushed down the pile. Namely....THE PASSAGE which I am dying to start!  We are being inundated with rain right now and I would love to just sit at home in front of the fire reading. If only work didn't get in the way!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lost Books from the Early 20th Century

I recently clicked on a link in an issue of Shelf Awareness and found out about this program from Bloomsbury Publishing. They have started publishing a series of "lost" novels from the early twentieth century based on recommendations from people like literary bloggers, authors, librarians and other bookish people. I think it sounds like a great way to revive treasures that have fallen out of print. Every single one sounds intriguing and I have added them to my "must buy" list.  After all, how you can resist a book entitled "THE BRONTES WENT TO WOOLWORTHS?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

DUG DOWN DEEP by Joshua Harris

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

I was so excited to have the opportunity to read and review Joshua Harris' book DUG DOWN DEEP: UNEARTHING WHAT I BELIEVE AND WHY IT MATTERS because it sounded like a book I really need to read right now. I believe one of the problems with Christianity today is that many Christians simply go through the motions without really thinking about why they are Christians.  It is so easy for those of us who were raised in the church to simply "go along" with Christianity because that is our personal tradition.  In order to truly grow as Christians, we need to really dig down to the bedrock of our faith and ask the tough questions about why we believe what we believe. This is the problem that Harris addresses in his book.

Harris shares his own personal journey of faith with his readers while explaining his views on the importance of church doctrine.  I tend to be very strict about my books. I don't really believe in writing in books or dog-earing pages. However, with this book, I got my pencil out and started underlining because there were so many ideas and points I wanted to go back to.  Harris also talks about certain books that have been important in developing his faith that I will definitely want to add to my own reading list.  I especially liked Harris' chapter entitled "God with a Bellybutton" where he looks at the significance of Jesus who Jesus is and why that is important.  Harris challenges us all to really look at our faith and why we believe what we believe. We cannot simply operate from a basis of comfort. To grow as Christians, we have to understand why we believe and what that really means. Otherwise, it is just empty tradition with an impersonal God.

You may purchase a copy of this book here.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  This book really opened my eyes about how much work I need to do in my own faith life. I cannot just walk around saying that I'm a Christian like I would say I am a brunette or a Texan. It has to mean more than that and I have to know why.  Christian faith has to be an active and evolving thing and this book helps to pinpoint areas of study and contemplation.

Friday, January 15, 2010

NANNY RETURNS by Emma McLaughlin and Nikola Kraus

I remember when NANNY DIARIES was one of the hot books back in 2000.  It was marketed as a snarky darkly comic look into the hidden world of the New York City nanny.  And I hated it. It was so incredibly disturbing. The way the NYC mothers were portrayed made them look like something just short of child abusers.  And maybe that is how they should be portrayed. I do not doubt that NANNY DIARIES held more than a few grains of truth in it. I just didn't enjoy the ride.  So, it was with some trepidation and a good bit of curiousity that I picked up NANNY RETURNS at the library.

It is twelve years after the first book and Nan has married the "Harvard Hottie" and has returned to NYC with her husband to work on growing her consulting business and renovate a crumbling brownstone in Harlem. One night, Nan answers a knock on her door and finds a drunken confused 16-year-old Grayer who asks her why she left him when he was four.  Nan decides that fate has given her the chance to right some wrongs with Grayer and gets caught up in the lives of the Xes once again.

I liked NANNY RETURNS much more than the first book.  The first book felt like one big chance for a former nanny to get back at her former employers.  This book felt much more mature and thoughtful. Nan's consulting work involves her with a prestigious school that values appearances more than discipline and points to many problems with schools of the more privileged segments of society today.  They have become places where it is more important to bestow a sense of entitlement on kids rather than teach them to be responsible individuals within society.

Nan also struggles with whether or not to have children as a result of what she saw during her nannying days. Her attempts to help Grayer and his little brother become a kind of penance for how she handled the situation with the Xes.  The Xes are on their way to divorce and the book is filled with hints at how the affluent world of these privileged New Yorkers is crumbling due to the banking crisis and bad investments in mysterious pyramid schemes. Nan must work to keep Grayer and his brother from falling through the cracks as their parents become more and more self-absorbed and lost in their own concerns.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. This is a quick and entertaining read.  It doesn't feel as angry as the first book although there are plenty of cringe-worthy parenting scenes in the book.  You won't find a literary masterpiece here but you will find an entertaining vacation read.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Notes in the Margin

I have a nice stack of books on the bedside table right now.  Our poor library workers were furloughed over the holidays so there was a backlog of library books waiting for me on the hold shelf when the doors reopened.

I am currently reading:

DUG DOWN DEEP by Joshua Harris (advance copy from Waterbrook/Multnomah)

NANNY DIARIES by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (a guilty pleasure from the library)

ETERNAL ON THE WATER by Joseph Monninger (Barnes and Noble First Look program)

My sweet little Noodlebug is sick right now so my reading has slowed down considerably.  Is there a worse thing in the world than seeing your little one sick? Especially when you are a neurotic basketcase like I am. Luckily, he is a tough, healthy little guy and he is fighting it off. So, I'll be checking in to your blogs to see what YOU are reading while I am nursing my sweet boy back to health!

Friday, January 08, 2010

ONE AMAZING THING by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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

A group of strangers are thrown together when an earthquake traps them in the basement of an Indian consulate in an unnamed American city. (most likely San Francisco)  Inspired by her book of THE CANTERBURY TALES and in order to pass the time and prevent them from turning on one another, a young college student named Uma comes up the idea to share stories of "one amazing thing" from each of their lives.  As the individuals sit in the dark and struggle with their fear and injuries, they become captivated by the stories they hear and reminded of what is truly important and significant in each of their lives.

I really enjoyed this book. I only wish it had been longer. As you read the story, it is easy to imagine the frightening circumstances that these people are facing and the intimacy created by sharing their stories with one another. As each story is told, the people move from being strangers to being individuals and Divakaruni reveals how another person's story can connect each of us with a truth in our own lives.  For those of you who enjoy a tidy ending, you won't get that here. However, it is hard not to moved by this book.

This book will be released in February 2010.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  A short book but a very moving one. It left me wanting more. I was completely drawn in by the characters and their stories. I'll probably be nervous about earthquakes for awhile, however.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

KINGDOM OF OHIO by Matthew Flaming

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

This is a difficult book to describe.  Part time travel tale, part alternative reality science fiction, part historical novel and part romance.  A little bit of everything packed into a small book.  The book is narrated by an elderly antiques dealer. Upon finding an old photograph in a delivery of antique goods, the narrator is moved to tell the story of a young star-crossed couple in the year 1900.  Peter Force, a young engineer working on the new subway system in New York City, meets a mysterious woman named Cheri-Anne Toledo in a chance encounter who claims to have traveled through time.  She also claims to be the heir to the small kingdom of Ohio, a little known royal enclave in the middle of the United States.  Peter is drawn into Cheri-Anne's tale which throws them both in the path of such powerful individuals as Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla.  Is Cheri-Anne telling the truth?  And how is the narrator of the story connected to these events? What is so significant about the photograph that the narrator discovered? 

I loved the idea of this book. The historical references were intetesting and intriguing. And the slight science-fiction element added a fun twist to everything.  I believe the author attempted to do too much in such a short book. I didn't buy the whole romance angle.  It felt forced and a little rushed. If the author had fleshed out the story a bit more and had taken a little more time with it, it could have been truly great. The story returns to the narrator several times throughout the book and it often felt jarring.  One moment, the reader is carried away by the action and then the story abruptly returns to the narrator. The book is also littered with footnotes which really serve to slow the whole narrative more than they advance the story or offer more information.  I felt the ending was rushed as well.  It was a little confusing although I like how the story wrapped up.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  This could have been a truly great book. The ideas are fresh and original. However, the author tries to do too many things in too short a time.  If the book had been stretched out a bit, it would have been much more effective. It's a great premise though and worth looking into if you enjoy time travel and historical fiction.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


(photo borrowed from and owned by Ink + Iron)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

THE LACUNA by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver heads to Mexico in her latest work, THE LACUNA.  The story follows Harrison William Shepherd, the son of an American bureaucrat father and Mexican mother. When his parents divorce, Shepherd's mother takes him to Mexico where he spends the formative years of his life struggling to find his place in the world as a gay man and aspiring writer. Shepherd spends the 1930s as an assistant to such illustrious figures as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky.  The latter half of the book focuses on his return to America and life as a writer during the 1940s and 1950s when he comes under scrutiny as a possible Communist sympathizer.  The story is told through journals, letters and the occasional news clipping.

There is always something wonderfully about stories told through journals and letters. You feel as if you are doing something illicit such as riffling through a person's personal effects and papers.  It feels intimate.  Kingsolver employs this method effectively. The reader really gets to know and understand Shepherd and sees the events of this period of history from a very personal perspective.  For some reason, however, the earlier part of the novel set in Mexico fell flat for me. The historical figures overshadowed and distracted from Shepherd's story.  It wasn't until he moves to the United States and actually becomes a published writer that the story really took off for me. It became much more personal.  The character of his assitant, Violet Brown, was also a charming addition to the story.  This whole period of time when so many individuals were being accused of Communist ties really came alive for me.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Although the first part of the story felt flat and uninspired to me, the second half really made up for it. The reader is caught up in history in a very personal way. Kingsolver fans should be pleased with this one.