Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Notes in the Margin

Hello fellow bibliophiles!

I am so grateful for my local library and the stack of galleys on my bedside table since I don't have a book budget right now.  And what is a life without books?

I just finished THE WRITING CIRCLE by Corinne Demas and SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman. I am currently working on APE HOUSE by Sara Gruen and THE LOVERS by Vendela Vida.  I think I am just about caught up on reviews and I apologize for the delay on some of them. The upheaval at home has really thrown me for a loop.

Two books arrived on my doorstep last week:

ROOM by Emma Donoghue
RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman

I'm especially excited about the Waldman book.  ROOM looks really interesting but I am little worried it might upset me. Still, I have heard good buzz about it.  I was so excited to hear that Fannie Flagg will be coming out with a new book this Fall. I am a total sucker for Southern lit and Flagg is always a good cozy read for me. I hope you are all enjoying your summer and spending lots of time reading!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vote for Noodlebug!

*UPDATE*--Our photo is currently #273 out of thousands!!! Keep voting!
We might actually have a shot at this!

Noodlebug is a finalist this week in the PARENTS magazine cover model contest!!

Please go and vote for him! 

Go HERE to vote.

If the above link doesn't work, here is an alternative one.

THE OWL KEEPER by Christine Brodien-Jones

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

 I am always on the lookout for good children's books and I am pretty picky when selecting one.   I was intrigued by Brodien-Jones' new book, THE OWL KEEPER, because I happen to think owls are just about one of the most wonderful creatures you can find on this planet.  Maxwell Unger, the hero of the book, is also a fan of owls. Because of a rare condition, Max is unable to go outside during the day .  He often manages to slip out at night in order to explore and during one of his midnight forays he encounters a silver owl. Silver owls are thought to be extinct. Max appoints himself the protector of this rare owl. 

Max and the rest of the world live under the control of the High Echelon.  The High Echelon appears to be a corporate entity that took over when the world started falling apart due to pollution and other calamities. The High Echelon controls everything including the flow of information. When visiting his owl one night, Max discovers a young girl named Rose. Rose and her father appear to be on the run from the High Echelon and she reveals truths about that sinister entity that make Max begin to question everything he knows. Max's late grandmother used to tell him tales about the time before the High Echelon when the silver owls and sages were united against the powers of the dark. As truths come to light, Max and Rose must make an incredible journey to discover if the old tales about the Owl Keeper and the silver owls were really true. These tales may hold the key to a new future.

This book combines elements of a postapocalyptic world with a world of magic.  There are sinister people who may not be what they seem, fantastical creatures, dark experiments and children with untapped potential. It is a coming-of-age tale but also a quest story.  I really liked the fact that Brodien-Jones gives us two strong positive characters in the form of Max and Rose that can appeal to both boys and girls.Their quest isn't possible without the talents of BOTH children.  It is a story of finding hidden truths about oneself and fulfilling one's destiny.  There is plenty of action to go along with the mysteries and prophecies to make this a very entertaining read.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: The villians are quite sinister and may be a little frightening for younger readers.  (think Roald Dahl and the later Harry Potter books)  Also, there is a creature called a Skraek that sounds really scary.  The children are often physically threatened and one is even experimented upon. However, I don't think most children over 12 will have much of a problem with the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. Brodien-Jones will be coming out with a sequel to this book and I'm really looking forward to it. I believe the series has a lot to offer. I appreciate the fact that although the books is open-ended enough to leave room for the sequel, it can still stand alone.

Monday, June 21, 2010


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

There seems to have been a fascination with circuses and sideshows in recent years with such books as GEEK LOVE and WATER FOR ELEPHANTS.  THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO provides a new addition to this genre.  The book follows the life of human curiosity Bartholomew Fortuno who is billed as the world's thinnest man. Fortuno has made a life for himself as an exhibit in PT Barnum's museum.  Fortuno and his fellow curiosities seem happy and content with their home and profession. Their world is thrown into chaos when a new human oddity arrives. Bearded lady Iell Adams seems to hold many secrets and Fortuno becomes enthralled with her. He risks everything to get closer to her and becomes caught in a power struggle between Barnum and his wife. Will Fortuno risk everything for love?

This book was very hard to put down. The characters were interesting and entertaining and I was drawn along by the mysteries surrounding Iell.  Bryson manages to present these characters as average people with their own desires and problems who happen to have unique qualities that set them apart. The lives of these individuals as she presents it seem to be quite good. I liked the complications that Iell causes by her arrival although the extreme reactions of the different characters to her arrival seemed a bit hard to believe. By the end of the novel, it is somewhat obvious what the big twist will be but I still thought it was well done.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Bryson gives us a peek into this world of human oddities while maintaining their humanity. She makes an interesting case about the difference between being able to choose one's path and having it thrust upon you. A very interesting read.

An Al Franken Story

Once upon a time, I had a crush on Dennis Miller.  He was so snarky and intelligent. Until he took a bizarre and random turn into the world of radical conservatism.  I then transferred my allegiance to Al Franken. Goofy cute with real political savvy.  When Franken's second book came out and he was on his book tour, I found out he was going to be a the Tattered Cover in Denver and I managed to score some tickets to his booksigning.  I took my friend Greg with me. The bookstore only allowed one book signed per ticket. Greg didn't care about getting a book signed so I had him get one signed for my mother. The process was to write the name for the inscription on a Post-It and place it on the title page of the book.  Greg and I were the very last people in line.  I stepped up to Mr. Franken and he graced me with a charming smile and greeting as he signed my book. I then stepped aside to let Greg get his book signed for my mom.

My mother has an unusual name. My grandfather's name was Eugene and my grandparents wanted to name my mother after him but thought Eugenia was a little old-fashioned. So, they dropped the "Eu--" and changed the spelling of Genia to make "Jeania."  At the time of the book-signing, I neglected to tell Greg how to pronounce my mother's name. It never occured to me that I would need to. Mr. Franken asked Greg of the book was for him. Greg said yes.  He said the name was unusual.  Greg improvised and said it was Lithuanian.  (?!!!!)  Al Franken asked him to pronounce it.  Greg looked panicked for a moment and then said, "ZHHHEEEEN-YA!" very very loudly and proceeded to spit on Al Franken as he said it.  Everyone froze in shocked silence. Greg had just inadvertantly spit on Al Franken while acting like a loon. I didn't know whether to be worried that the cops were coming or to laugh so hard I would pee my pants.  Franken looked very surprised but composed himself and thanked us for coming. Greg and I ran out the door and as far I know, Franken has never returned to Denver for a booksigning.

My friend Greg is currently shopping his novel and had a chance to share this story with his Master's advisor, Lauren Groff. Maybe it will make it into one of Greg's books someday.

The Streamer Frock Grosgrain Giveaway

The Streamer Frock Grosgrain Giveaway

I love love love this dress! Aren't the colors great? I keep meaning to join in on one of Grosgrain's Frocks by Friday but I have to finish my current projects first. Follow the link above to win this masterpiece!!!!

(photo borrowed from and owned by GROSGRAIN)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CLAUDE AND CAMILLE by Stephanie Cowell

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

I love a good piece of historical fiction and I found that in CLAUDE AND CAMILLE.  This book follows the tumultuous marriage of Claude Monet and his first wife Camille. It also gives the reader a glimpse into the origins of the Impressionist movement. The book begins with Claude as a young man who spends his days drawing caricatures. He is inspired by an older painter to try his hand at oil painting "en plein air" and it changes his life forever. Claude struggles along with his fellow artists to make a living and have their work recognized. As he seeks to find an outlet for his work, he falls in love with his muse, Camille. The two of them struggle through financial hardships and Camille's mental illness to try and make a life for themselves. It is a tale that is both heartwrenching and moving.

I minored in Art History in college and this book made the work of the early Impressionists come alive for me. I loved how Cowell referenced specific works by the artists and included a list of those works at the end of the novel so the reader could seek them out. The story is so sad and made me think about how we often take for granted the sacrifices that many artists make for their art. It was a very compelling and moving tale.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  Fans of historical fiction and art will find much to like here.  Once Claude moves to Paris, I was really drawn into the tale and had a hard time putting it down. Very well done.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Notes in the Margin

I am still dealing with last week's shock and it is hard to get back to "business as usual."  Still, I am making an effort to read. After all, most of my books don't cost me anything so that definitely fits into the new budget!!!

I'll be posting reviews on MAP OF TRUE PLACES and A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD soon. Liked the former very much. The latter....very hit and miss for me.

The following books landed on my doorstep this week:

1. THE LOVERS by Vendela Vida
2. THE WRITING CIRCLE by Corinne Demas
3. APE HOUSE by Sara Gruen
4. PROUST'S OVERCOAT by Lorenza Foschini
5. DEWEY'S NINE LIVES by Vicki Myron

I need some new arrivals since I am almost caught up!  Hope you are all finding some good books for Summer!


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

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD follows the lives of several people connected by their association with record executive Bennie Salazar. The book is structured like a record with an A and B side.  Each part of the story is its own "song" that follows one of the characters.  The story begins with Sasha, Bennie's assistant, who struggles with kleptomania as she attempts to sort out her life. Sasha's story provides the lead-in to Bennie's introduction. After Bennie's intro, we are taken back in time to where Bennie got his start as a teenager and the story is told through the point of view of one of his friends.  The story meanders back and forth through time with each chapter focusing on another interconnected character. The story ranges from the 1970s through the present following the lives of these people are they attempt to deal with the effects of the ultimate goon----time.  It reveals how our destinies can be shaped by our interactions with others and how the most insignificant events can have profound effects on our lives.

While this book is clever and ambitious in its set-up, I'm not sure it worked for me. I liked the idea of the interconnectedness of all of the characters but moving back and forth among the characters AND moving bakc and forth through time was sometimes jarring. I spent the first few pages of every chapter just trying to get my bearings. The book moves so quickly it is difficult to become emotionally invested in any of the characters. I did really enjoy the final section. Egan shows us the not-too-distant future where our reliance on technology and social media has made it difficult for us to connect in any real or personal way. To me, this was the most compelling part of the book.

BOTTOM LINE:  Not recommended.  This book was just missing something for me. The characters are interesting and the set-up is clever but the structure was too jarring for me and I was never really able to get into the story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Putting on My Big Girl Panties

Deep breath.

After listening to this about 100 times yesterday:

I am pulling myself together and making plans for the future. I'm still scared to death but I can't just sit around moping and worrying.   I am a "doer." I think that's one of the reasons I joined Junior League.  I will help my husband find a new job and even take on an extra part-time job if I have to. I will keep an ear to the ground about another rental house *just in case*.  We WILL get through this. With God's help and the support of good friends like you!

(photo borrowed from and owned by Mary Phillips Designs....they have the CUTEST stuff!)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hard Times

See this photo? This is part of our backyard. My husband does a beautiful job. We have many raised beds that we have filled with vegetables. The roses are special Fourth of July roses that we bought when we got married four years ago. The incessant rain this year has been very difficult because I have been longing to spend the summer outside in our backyard. We got Noodlebug a sandbox and some other outdoor toys. We bought a dining set so we can eat outside. We dream of all the vegetables we will harvest this summer and fall.

All of that may be over. My husband lost his job yesterday. We rent our house from his [former] boss and I don't know if he is going to kick us out. It is hard enough to worry about losing a job. We were just making ends meet and I honestly don't know how we are going to pay our bills. What is so much worse is the prospect of losing our home. We moved into this house when we came home from our honeymoon. I brought Noodlebug to this house from the hospital. I always thought when we left this place it would be to move into a house of our own. Now, I don't know what will happen to us. The idea of losing our home and never getting to harvest all the vegetables that my husband so lovingly planted. The thought of leaving Noodlebug's room that my husband painted a month before the baby was born. The thought of saying goodbye to our neighbors and the trees that we love to watch as we sit in the backyard.

I can't bear it.

I know I need to "hand it over" to God. I know I need to have faith that we are going to be okay. We still have my job even though we lost 60% of our income yesterday. We are all on my health insurance so we still have that. But to be without our home is unbearable. It's just too much. I'm scared and I'm heartbroken.

Please send prayer and good thoughts.

Monday, June 07, 2010

MAP OF TRUE PLACES by Brunonia Barry

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

Zee is working as a psychotherapist when one of her patients commits suicide.  The tragedy brings up all kinds of issues for Zee and forces her to confront her past. In the middle of trying to work through the tragedy, Zee must return home to Salem to care for her father who is suffering from late stage Parkinson's.  During her time in Salem, Zee tries to come to terms with the past and the suicide of her own mother when she was a young girl. As family secrets come to light and Zee learns to open her heart, another tragedy may be just around the corner.

THE MAP OF TRUE PLACES is filled with references to celestial navigation and it is a very effective device. Coupling that with the setting in Salem, Massachusetts was particularly good.  Zee is a deeply flawed person trying to make sense of her tragic past and how it shaped her present. This struggle against the backdrop of her caring for her ailing father is very moving. Barry does an excellent job revealing the flaws of all the characters while keeping them human and relatable. The celestial navigation methapor works so well as Zee tries to find her way back to herself.  I found myself wanting to run out and learn about celestial navigation after reading this book.

I really enjoyed MAP OF TRUE PLACES. I thought the characters were interesting and I loved Zee's story and the focus on how our past affects who we are and the choices that we make. The setting in Salem was perfect and very effective.  The book has everything from buried family secrets to witches to Nathanial Hawthorne to pirates to the threat of violence. It covers a lot of ground. I have already decided to go back and read Barry's LACE READER since I enjoyed this one so much.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A great story of family secrets and letting go of the past with a terrific setting.  You will want to go out sailing and navigate by the stars after reading this.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


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

Young orphan Loyal Ledford leaves his job at a glass factory to join the Marines after Pearl Harbor. His experiences in Guadalcanal change him forever and he returns home a broken alcoholic plagued by recurring nightmares.  Loyal manages to marry the sweetheart he left behind and decides to start a new life on some land owned by distant relatives. A dream tells him to build a marble factory and Loyal uses the opportunity to create a utopian community of blacks and whites working towards to a better life and civil rights.  As the fledging community works to create a better world, their ideals of passive resistance and peaceful civil disobedience are challenged in ways they never expected.

I have been putting off reviewing this book because I don't really know how to describe it.  To me, it is a male version of Stockett's THE HELP.  While it wasn't the most pleasurable read, I find myself bringing it up in conversation over and over again and I can't stop thinking about.....often the hallmarks of a great read for me.  While a good part of this book is about the civil rights struggles, I felt an important theme was the conflict between peaceful and violent resistance. The reader must decide along with Loyal whether or not there are times when violence is justified. The bok is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. This may be the best book I've read this year.  Excellent character development and filled with challenging and interesting ideas. A great conversation starter that will stay with you for a long time.


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

When 48-year-old Columbia English professor Joy Harkness receives the offer of a lifetime to teach at Amherst College, she jumps at the chance to escape her unsatisfying New York life and start over.  Emotionally shut-down and socially awkward, Joy begins a journey of self-discovery in the most unlikely of places.  Her journey begins with an ill-advised purchase of a crumbling Victorian home in need of a great deal of repair and renovation. Joy hires 35-year-old Teddy Hennessy to help her bring the Victorian back to life.  Teddy helps Joy connect to the house and hidden parts of herself through the renovation process. Her new job also forces her to connect with other people in a way she never has before. As Joy builds a life for herself in Amherst, she finds that she can't disconnect from others the way she used to and must learn about romance and friendship while discovering herself. 

While this book is fairly predictable in terms of its plot, I found it utterly engrossing and entertaining. Sex and the City was groundbreaking in that it revealed the full social and romantic lives of women after 30.  It is nice to see a new trend in books that show life after 40.  Joy is proof that you are never too old to change and grow. While on the surface, Joy seems completely unlikeable and unpleasant, you can't help but root for her to succeed. I also found myself longing to own my own crumbling Victorian as you read about the wonderful transformation that it goes through.  I also enjoyed how the book demonstrated nontraditional ideas about community and family. Sometimes, family constitutes those individuals that you choose rather than those you are born with.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I really enjoyed this book. It was a light but entertaining read.  I appreciated following Joy's evolution. While not everyone in the book gets a happy ending, it is still a "feel-good" read.

Notes in the Margin

The long weekend was very conducive to reading!  I finished THE SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES by Diane Meier and I am almost finished with THE MARROWBONE MARBLE COMPANY by M. Glenn Taylor.  Next, I'll be reading THE MAP OF TRUE PLACES by Brunonia Barry and A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan. There are also books waiting for me at the public library if I can just find time to go pick them up.

The weather is finally starting to turn and I am ready to head outdoors.  I am hoping for lots of time with my family, lots of good reading and a few good movies.

Are there any books you are looking forward to reading this summer?