Friday, December 30, 2011

SISTERS by Nancy Jensen


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

I heard so much great buzz about Nancy Jensen's THE SISTERS that I was really excited to read it!  Bertie and Mabel Fischer are as close as two sisters can be.  In 1920s Kentucky, they cling to one another as they struggle without their mother who passed away and left them with a difficult and menacing stepfather.  Bertie is excited about graduating from 8th grade in front of the people she loves the best---her sister and her sweetheart.  When neither one shows up for her graduation, Bertie fears the worst.  Good intentions turn bad and a series of misunderstandings have catastrophic consequences that will affect generations to come. The story follows the paths of the two sisters and their offspring and what happens to each of them.

I love the idea of this book. It is wonderful to see a story that follows a family through several generations of women. It is heartbreaking to see how seemingly small decisions and misunderstandings can have such far-reaching effects.   Although I think Jensen is a very creative storyteller, the book fell flat to me.  I almost wish it had been a bit longer with greater attention and detail paid to each character.  It felt as if there should have been more to the story.

BOTTOM LINE:  A very good tale of love, loss, and family that doesn't quite hit the mark.  It just didn't pack the emotional wallop that I thought it would.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Have Riches in the Form of Books

I was recently looking at a new title in our library called UNPACKING MY LIBRARY: WRITERS AND THEIR BOOKS. It was so fun to page through the photographs of various authors and their home libraries.  It made me think of how much I love my own home library.

I'm not sure how many books I have.  A little over 1000 I think. Hardcover titles. Many of them signed first editions.  My 3-yr-old son has over 100 books in his collection.  It's a start.

I recently moved to a new house and haven't unpacked my books yet. I have all the necessities unpacked but, without my books, it doesn't feel like home. I love unpacking and organizing my books. I smile as I pull them out of boxes and marvel at the different covers.  I love the variety of their sizes and shapes and the feel of the paper. I like seeing them all lined up by subject. (and alphabetized by author within subject, of course!)  Once they are in place, I often find myself wandering into the study just to run my fingers over the spines of the books. I love the smell of old crumbly paper. I  love finding the notes of previous owners of the books inside of them. Books are a multi-sensory experience for me.

I don't get any of this from an ebook.  I do see the value of ebooks and I will probably have an e-readers someday for travel.  But I find ebooks to be cold and lifeless.  I can't take notes in them in my own handwriting.  I can't pass them down to future generations. They have no smell or real tactile sensation.  They are dead things that are only "alive" as long as the reader is turned on.  Or as long as the batteries don't run out!

Many of you know that I am a fan of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.  What would happen to us if the lights went out?  If we no longer had electricity? At least we could still read our paper books. The written chronicles of our lives and our history.  Pretty amazing, don't you think?

As long as I have my books, I will be rich indeed.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman


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

THE DOVEKEEPERS follows the lives of several women living in the last Zealot stronghold in the Judean desert in 70 C.E.    In the history written by Josephus, two women and five children survived the fall of this stronghold.  Hoffman relates her version of why these individuals survived in THE DOVEKEEPERS.   The story begins with Yael whose mother died in childbirth and whose father and brother are both assassins for the Zealots.  When they must escape into the desert, Yael's life truly begins.  When they reach the Zealot desert stronghold, Yael meets a wonderful assortment of women each of whom have a profound story to relate.

I don't want give away too much by revealing each woman's story.  I won't even share a little bit because part of the beauty of this book is how each woman's tale unfolds.  The characters are so well- drawn and interesting.  These women find unique sources of power and ingenuity not only in the midst of a siege but also within a deeply patriarchal society. Their strength and sisterhood are very powerful.

I loved this book. I thought the story was fascinating and imaginative and I love that Hoffman based it on true historical accounts.  It is a sad book but an incredibly moving one as well.  I think it would make a terrific book club read.

BOTTOM LINE:  A wonderful woman-centered historical tale about an historical event that is not often spoken about.  One of my favorites this year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY by Margot Livesey



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

One of my favorite novels of all time is JANE EYRE.  This is just something about it.  Maybe it is the fact that it is a hard-luck tale of one intrepid little girl. Maybe it's the unlikely love story. Maybe it's the gothic style element of horror.  It's a wonderful book.  In THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY, Margot Livesey reenvisions the classic tale in a more contemporary setting.

Set in 1950s-60s Scotland, THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY follows young Gemma as she is taken from her native Iceland to Scotland by her uncle after the death of her widower father.  All is well until the death of her beloved uncle when Gemma suddently find herself persona non grata in her aunt's home.  Desperate to escape, Gemma agrees to become a scholarship student at a boarding school.  Hardly more than an unpaid servant, Gemma works hard until the day the school goes bankrupt and she is forced to look for employment.  She takes a job as an au pair in the Orkney Islands where she meets the enigmatic Mr. Sinclair.  Their unlikely attraction sets loose a chain of events that will change Gemma's life forever.

Sound familiar?

This book really is almost scene for scene a retelling of JANE EYRE until the end.  I really enjoyed the twist of Gemma's search for her past and her time in Iceland at the end of the book. I think it really added somethign to the story. However, I was disappointed that one of the major plot points in JANE EYRE was left out of this version. That definitely surprised me. 

This book is incredibly readable and very entertaining although I'm not sure if I loved it for itself or because it reminded me so much of JANE EYRE.  Sometimes, I think books of this kind work best when they simply nod to their predecessors rather than stick so closely to the original. Still, fans of the original will find much to like here.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A little TOO close to the original for my taste but entertaining nonetheless.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NYPD Targets Occupy Wall Street Library--Again

Link to article:

NYPD Targets Occupy Wall Street Library--Again

I urge you to follow the above link and read the accompanying article. The police really aren't doing themselves any favors by targeting libraries. Everyone knows you should never piss off a librarian!!! When I read this article, I was reminded of a quotation from one of my favorite movies, THE FISHER KING:

"It's social anarchy when people start pissing on bookstores!"

What kind of message does it send when we have police officers pitching books into a dumpster?

I love the part about the attendees of the National Book Awards bringing books to the Occupy site. Whether or not you support the Occupy movement, I think we can all agree that libraries and books should be protected---wherever they are located.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

THE DEMI-MONDE: WINTER by Rod Rees


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

It's all about steampunk these days. Well...steampunk and vampires.  In this novel, the U.S. military has developed a very realistic virtual reality simulation to help soldiers become familiar with non-traditional battlegrounds and styles such as that in Afghanistan. The Demi-Monde was programmed to be an extremely realistic world filled with the economic, geographical and religious stressors common in today's battle arenas.  To add a little something extra, the programmers added some of the world's most dangerous psychopaths such as Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich, Stalin, Torquemada and others.  These individuals share control of the Demi-Monde. Instead of scarcity of water, oil or other resources, the programmers added in a need for blood.  Now, these aren't vampires in the traditional sense of the word.  Citizens of the Demi-Monde simply require a certain quota of blood in order to survive.  They get these quotas at designated blood banks but only enough to survive. Not enough to quench their thirst for it. When the Demi-Mondians realized that the soldiers sent into their world could bleed (Demi-Mondians don't have blood), they began kidnapping them and holding them hostage in order to drain them.  That was bad enough. And then the President's daughter was kidnapped and taken into the Demi-Monde. Now, young Ella has been recruited from our world due to her resemblance to Dup (all residents of the Demi-Monde are duplicated of real people) and sent into the Demi-Monde on a rescue mission to save the President's daughter. This isn't just any simulation. It's a matter of life or death.

This is the first in a planned series of four.  It reminded me of THE MATRIX in many ways.  I thought it was incredibly creative and I loved the introduction of the various historical figures and what happened when they were thrown together in a simulated environment.  I can absolutely visualize this as a movie or television series.  That being said, I don't think it as particularly well-written.  I would recommend it more as a Young Adult level novel. It was interesting and entertaining but I wasn't drawn in enough to want to read any more of the series.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  This is much more a Young Adult title although there is a great deal of violence and sensuality.  Great for fans of both steampunk and the vampire genres. It was an entertaining read but my interest stalled out towards the end.  I won't be reading the rest of the series.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mission Accomplished!

Each year I set myself the same reading goal---to read 52 books during the year.  An average of one book per week.  Well, I hit my goal in October!  I am currently at 55 books completed for 2011. Not bad.  If I can find the missing galleys I was in the middle of, I will be on track to have quite a few more finished before the end of the year.

I love using Goodreads to track my reading.  I tried using LibraryThing but I think it is much clunkier.  Goodreads is great for posting review, tracking your books, storing titles for future reading and networking with other readers.  Plus, I often can't resist taking a few of their reader quizzes.

I'm currently blazing through THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY which is a modern retelling of JANE EYRE. I have also finally gotten around to reading FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen and I'm about a quarter of the way through that one. Hopefully, I'll get some good reading done this weekend.

If you are looking for something good to read this Veterans' Day weekend, why not try MATTERHORN? I'm not one for war books but I could not get this one out of my mind.  One of the best of 2010.

Happy reading!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman


I was so intrigued when I heard the subject matter of this book.  At first glance, it looks like one of those books that delves into the dystopian nature of affluent society. On some levels, it is.  However, Schulman adds an interesting twist. 

The Bergamots are a fairly grounded, liberal-minded family whose lives are changed when they move from a comfortable upstate college town to New York City for Richard Bergamot's new job at a large university. Their lives are thrown into disarray be their entry into a new level of elite society.  Liz Bergamot gives up her academic career completely to care for her children in their new life.  Young Coco seems to adjust well but 15-year-old Jake has trouble fitting in at his new elite private school.  Everything seems to fall apart when Jake opens an e-mail the morning following an unchaperoned party to find a sexually-explicit video from an 8th-grade admirer.  Having a hard time dealing with the complex array of feeling that the video elicits, Jake sends it to a friend who then forwards it on.  The video goes viral and the fall-out for the Bergamots and the other individuals involved are profound.

I think this novel is particularly timely as it deals with the issues stemming from social media and the internet.  It is so hard for young people to grasp the fact that anything they do on the internet can get out to a wider audience or possibly affect them forever. They don't always understand the far-reaching consequences of their actions. While it is interesting to see how the various teens deal with what happens, I also appreciate Schulman's view of how the adults act in this crisis. No one comes out unscathed and no one seems to act within an appropriate ethical realm. 

While this book brings up really interesting truths about social media and society today, I was a little disappointed.  Schulman had great ideas and great characters but the book felt a little too short.  It seems like there was so much more to say and she just didn't go deep enough. The book really left me wanting more.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. Great ideas and interesting characters but a little too short and undeveloped. I wish she had taken it farther.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD by Rebecca Coleman



I heard so many interesting things about this book (and wasn't able to find it in any local library) that I ended up purchasing it.  The book reminded me a great deal of Zoe Heller's WHAT WAS SHE THINKING which was made into a movie called NOTES ON A SCANDAL with Judi Dench.

THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD focuses on two individuals at a Waldorf school, one a sixteen-year-old student named Zach Patterson and one a kindergarten teacher named Judy McFarland.  Judy's marriage has been falling apart from sometime and her job is in trouble as the school struggles to remain financially solvent.  Still, she remains committed to the ideals of a Waldorf education where childhood is sacred.  Zach is a transfer student who was uprooted because of his mother's affair.  When the two are thrown together while working on a school fundraiser, their loneliness leads them into a dangerous affair.  As the affair progresses, the two can't seem to extricate themselves from it and the secrets of Judy's past are slowly revealed.

While this book wasn't nearly as effective as Heller's, I found it interesting that Coleman framed the story within a Waldorf school. It made for a great juxtaposition.  Judy is also a fairly sinister character and I liked how Coleman hinted at dark secrets within her past.  Ultimately, though the book and its ending were unsatisfying. I felt that Coleman could have done more. 

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations. Coleman puts an interesting spin on this subject matter.  While the twists and turns are intriguing, the book ultimately falls a little flat.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

FORGOTTEN WALTZ by Anne Enright

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

Every so often, a book comes along that garners a great deal of critical and popular praise that simply falls flat for me. It happened last year with A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. I found that book entirely too gimmicky but I was definitely in the minority.  This year, it appears that THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ will be the book that I must disagree with popular sentiment about.

In a small suburb of Dublin, Gina Moynihan recalls how her affair with the love of her life, Sean Vallely began.  She recalls when she first met Sean and how their affair began and the various entanglements and issues that arose as a result of that affair.  Namely, the effect it had on Sean's daughter Evie.

While the book offers an interesting account of how affairs begin and the effect that can have on the people around them, I found the book to be incredibly slow and boring.  At 263 pages, it isn't even very long but it took me months to read because I just couldn't engage with it.  The characters are not only unsympathetic but also uninteresting. The story jumps around in time in a very confusing way and made it difficult to follow the narrator's line of thought.  The book also ends fairly abruptly.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended.  I think Enright has interesting things to say about love and adultery but the book is too meandering and quiet for my taste.  I found the whole thing to be quite slow and boring.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pardon the Mess...We're Moving

Most of the boxes are packed and we are moving this weekend. I seem to keep finding books that still haven't been packed. Could it be I have too many books?  (Absolutely not.)

Find the latest update here.

Once I get moved, I'm going to start on Julia Cameron's PROSPEROUS HEART. Just got a galley for it and it looks perfect for where I am in my life right now. 

I'm also working on Russell Banks' LOST MEMORY OF SKIN.

Reviews will resume soon!!!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Picture Book Pause--M.O.M. by Doreen Cronin

We're going to take a break from our regularly scheduled contemporary adult literature book reviews to stop and ponder a new picture book.  Today's book is M.O.M.* (Mom Operating Manual) by Doreen Cronin. I have really enjoyed Cronin's previous books such as CLICK, CLACK, MOO and DUCK FOR PRESIDENT.  And astute readers will recognize the work of illustrator Laura Cornell who has worked on such books as Jamie Lee Curtis' TODAY I FEEL SILLY & OTHER MOODS THAT MAKE MY DAY.


This clever book is essentially an owner's manual for children. The book takes the reader through the evolution and history of moms including the different types and how to care for them.  The brief chapters include A Brief Historical Overview, Daily Care and Maintenance, Grooming, Outdoor Use and Troubleshooting. The book is fairly long for a picture book at 54 pages and much of the humor will go over the heads of children.  It is definitely a book for older readers of elementary school age and higher. However, adults will probably get the most enjoyment from the book. I see it as a wonderful gift for a new mom, a frazzled mom who needs a humorous reminder of why we do what we do or as a Mother's Day gift.

I particularly enjoyed the safety alert notes sprinkled throughout the book. My favorite?  In the section for "Outdoor Use, "  there is a safety alert that reads "Your mother may warm up during periods of extreme use. Under heavy loads with extended carry times, your mother may be warm to the touch. This is normal."  And under the troubleshooting section, the book recommends doing a little Cranky Pants dance to override any Mom malfuctions but it cautions that fathers may perform the Cranky Pants dance only at considerable risk.

The book may be too far above the heads of most children but I think it would probably be a pretty entertaining book for adults and children to read together. And Moms everywhere will definitely get a bunch of laughs out of it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

LBC on Hiatus

Hello fellow Bibliophiles!

You may have been following my life drama over on my creative blog.  To summarize:

1. Husband out of work for over a year now
2. Received a "Notice to Vacate" at the beginning of September

So, we are scrambling to find a new home before the end of October.  Life continues to get complicated and it's a challenge sometimes to keep that Stiff Upper Lip.  My reading has dropped off a bit and I have hesitated requesting new ARCs because I'm not sure where to have them mailed. I am currently finishing up a few books and will post reviews for them but it may take a few weeks to get settled and start receiving new ARCs again.  I hope to be back at full speed by the beginning of November.

So, please bear with me during these turbulent times!  I'm not going anywhere. Posting will just be more sporadic than usual.

Thanks!!!

-A

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

And the winner of the Tom Perrotta Audiobook giveaway is......



MELISSA

of



Melissa--E-mail me your mailing address and I'll send it to you right away. Hope you like it. It's one of my favorites this year!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

NIGHT STRANGERS by Christopher Bohjalian


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

I have long had a love/hate relationship with Chris Bohjalian.  On the one hand, he is a gifted writer and storyteller. On the other, I often want to throw the books across the room once I have finished them. I found THE DOUBLE BIND particularly disturbing and troublesome.  So, it was with great trepidation that I picked up his latest book, THE NIGHT STRANGERS.

Chip Linton is a seasoned airline pilot with a perfect flying record, the perfect wife and the perfect twin girls. When the plane he is piloting crash lands in Lake Champlain due to a mid-air collision with birds, his life is changed forever. As one of the few survivors of the plane, Chip must deal with his survivor's guilt. In an effort to rebuild his life and family, the Lintons buy a large Victorian home in a small White Mountain town.  The house seems like a dream come true except for the creepy basement with the door that is bolted closed with 39 bolts.  Chip becomes obsessed with the door and what may lie behind it.  As Chip struggles with his demons, his wife and daughters are befriended by the local eccentrics, a group of herbalists all named for various herbs and plants.  Emily Linton finds herself drawn in by this group even as they show an almost unnatural interest in her twin daughters, Hallie and Garnet.  Does something sinister lie within the house itself?  Or within the cultlike group of plant enthusiasts?

This book is incredibly creepy without being explicit.  For me, it had the feel of ROSEMARY'S BABY or THE WICKER MAN.  The story was thoroughly engrossing and I loved how the storyline and its outcome wasn't completely obvious.  I am anxiously awaiting others to read the book so we can discuss the ending.  This was a great read for fall and a very effective suspense novel for those who don't care for gore but like to be spooked!

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  A terrific read with just the right amount of creepiness. Bohjalian really won me over with this one.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan

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

I love my dystopian cautionary tales and this one fits right into that genre.  I would describe this book when doing reader advisory as THE SCARLET LETTER meets THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Hannah Payne (a not-so-subtle play on Hester Prynne)  awakens to find herself red.  Fire engine red from head to toe. Hannah has done the unthinkable.  She aborted her baby.  Now society demands that she pay by having her skin color genetically altered so that everyone will know her shame. In this society of the not-so-distant future, non-violent criminals have their skin color genetically altered for a predetermined length of time and are released back into society after an initial 30 day incarceration where their every move is recorded and televised so the whole world can see how they are dealing with their new lives. These "Chromes" carry a visible statement of their crime wherever they go and have become a new ghettoized class of people.   Because Hannah chose not to reveal the father of her child (a famous pastor of a mega-church), her sentence will last for fifteen years. 

Hilary Jordan has come up with a truly original take on crime and punishment. In some ways, the idea of publicly shaming people this way instead of incarcerating them seems attractive.  However, Jordan brings to light a variety of problems with this approach as Hannah attempts to reintegrate into society as a Chrome.  Her relationship with her conservative Christian family and her lover is complex and layered.  I found Hannah's struggles interesting and poignant.  The only real problem I had with this book was Jordan's inclusion of a more action-packed twist towards the end of the book. Hannah's struggles as a Chrome and the effect it has on her relationships are the most interesting part.  The rest is just filler.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. I think this would make a great book club pick. It is a quick interesting read that can generate a lot of discussion about crime and punishment.  I just wish Jordan had skipped the unnecessary plot additions toward the end of the book.

Monday, September 05, 2011

ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach


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

At first glance, ART OF FIELDING looks like your standard baseball novel. Since I am not a huge fan of baseball, I was a little cautious about approaching this book. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised.


Baseball provides the framework of a story about five people at a small Eastern college. Henry Skrimshander has made a religion out of being a flawless shortstop. His ambition ends there until he is discovered by college player Mike Schwartz. Schwartz convinces Henry to dream bigger and encourages him to come and play at Westish College. This fateful meeting sets loose a chain of events that will affect a number of people including Henry's gay college roommate Owen, the President of the University, Guert Affenlight and Affenlight's directionless daughter Pella. When Henry makes a fateful error during a Westish game, their lives are all changed forever.

What makes this story successful are how authentic and real the characters are. They are flawed, complex human beings and Harbach takes the time to really flesh out the characters. Each one is likeable in his/her own way and yet each of them struggles to overcome his/her near tragic flaws. I couldn't help but get caught up in their stories. Harbach does some referencing of MOBY DICK in this story and baseball becomes the white whale of several of the characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. While some of the prose comes off as a bit silly, this is an excellent freshman effort. I really enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing what Harbach offers next.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

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

I am a fan of magical realism and whimsy.  I'll take it in any form I can find it.  When I started hearing the buzz about Erin Morgenstern's NIGHT CIRCUS, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.  While the book may not fall directly into the magical realist category, it IS filled with lots of magic and beauty.

A mystery circus rolls into town that is only open at night.  Everything about the circus from its costumes to its tents are black and white.  Instead of entering one large tent and viewing a standard three-ring show, visitors are encouraged to wander through many small tents in order to explore the many wonders the circus has to offer. The visitors, however, are not aware of the true purpose of this wonderful attraction.  The circus is actually a traveling venue for a magical competition between two powerful magicians who were designated opponents when they were children.  Celia is the daughter of a well-known magician and Marco is an orphan taken in by a mysterious man in grey.  Both children have been trained since childhood for the express purpose of engaging in this mysterious and fierce competition.  As the game continues over the years, Celia and Marco fall in love and their forbidden relationship has dangerous consequences both for themselves and the Circus.

To me, the love story and competition were the least interesting parts of the book.  I was most intrigued by the marvelous details about the Circus itself.  It seemed like such a wonderful place and, as each tent is revealed, I became more and more drawn into its magic.  Morgenstern is marvelously creative in crafting this circus and its many wonders.  It is filled with such beauty and wonder and the people in and around it are as intriguing as its offerings.  When the story returned to Celia and Marco, I often became bored and impatient.  While their story is important in terms of moving the action along, I was far more interested in the day-to-day operations of the Circus.  I was excited to see what new wonders each chapter would reveal. 

I didn't really believe in Marco and Celia's love and I found the competition a bit confusing.  I wish Morgenstern had gone into greater detail about the reasons behind the competition and the mysterious men behind it.  However, the details about the circus redeemed the whole story for me.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  A wonderful and whimsical tale about magic and love that is most satisfying in its little details. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Picture Book Pause---THE MAN IN THE MOON by William Joyce

We're going to take a break from our regularly scheduled contemporary adult literature book reviews to stop and ponder a new picture book.  Today's book is the first picture book in William Joyce's new GUARDIANS OF CHILDHOOD series--THE MAN IN THE MOON.


This gorgeously illustrated book tells the origin story of the Man in the Moon or MiM.  We learn how MiM used to sail the night sky with his parents in ship called the Moon Clipper as he was watched over by his friend and protector Nightlight.  When the evil King of Nightmares, Pitch, attempts to kidnap MiM, his life and the lives of the children on Earth are changed forever.

Joyce cleverly weaves in other origin tales in this short story including how the Earth got its moon, why the moon glows, where lost balloons end up and how the Guardians of Childhood came to be.  The whole tale is wonderfully whimsical and there is plenty for adults to enjoy and appreciate in the book as well as children.



Although this is picture book, it is long and fairly complex.  It will probably work best for children 5 and up.  The King of Nightmares is a bit frightening and there is a scary battles scene but it isn't TOO scary.  Much of the outcome of the battle is suggested rather than explicitly spelled out so adults have the opportunity to explain more to the child if necessary.

I absolutely loved this book!  It hits all the right notes and sets up the series perfectly.  I cannot wait for the next picture book and will also be looking for the Young Reader editions of the books in the series.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

LEFTOVERS Audio Giveaway!!!


I have been given the opportunity to give away a book on CD version of Tom Perrotta's new book THE LEFTOVERS.  Read my review here.   This is one of my favorite books this year and I was VERY tempted to keep the audio version for myself but.....after some soul searching....I decided I just had to share the wealth.

I am offering you several chances to win.  Leave a separate comment for each method of entryI will validate each entry.

1. Leave a comment telling me your favorite book that you have read this year.

2. Follow this blog and leave me a comment telling me you did.

3. "Like" this page on Facebook and leave me a comment telling me you did.

4.  Follow me on Twitter (@bibanon1) and leave me a comment telling me you did.

The contest will be open until Monday, September 12.  Please make sure you have left me a way of contacting you in your entries.

Friday, August 12, 2011

LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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

Victoria Jones is a damaged young woman emancipating out of the foster care system after years of being shuttled from one foster home to another and ending her childhood days in a group home.  Having difficulty with connecting with other people, Victoria chooses to express herself through flowers.  Her tremendous love of flowers and the Victorian language of flowers was cultivated through her time with a woman who came close to becoming Victoria's adoptive mother.  However, something terrible happened that forced young Victoria from this woman's house and closed the door on her finding a permanent home.  Now, as an adult, Victoria must learn how to care for herself.  A local florist sees Victoria's talent with flowers and gives her a job.  In this job, Victoria discovers that she has the power to help others through her communication through flowers.  When she runs into a mysterious man at the flower market, Victoria must begin to confront her past in order to get a second chance at a happy ending.

While much of this book will remind readers of LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE due to its magical realist take on flowers, Diffenbaugh has a unique perspective all her own.  As a foster mother, Diffenbaugh really understands the complexity of feelings within foster children and foster parents.  Victoria seems such an unlikeable person from the outside but Diffenbaugh skillfully reveals the inner turmoil that leads to her difficulties in connecting with others.  After all the adversity that Victoria faces, one can only hope that she gets a happy ending.  While the trauma in Victoria's past is a little anti-climactic when it appears and the love story a little forced, I really loved how Diffenbaugh chose to wrap up the book. The reader gets an ending as complex and varied as its heroine.

This is one of those books that gets you excited about learning something new.  I was so intrigued by the Victorian language of flowers sprinkled throughout the book that I had to head to my local library to find out more.  It is such a wonderful and creative construct to build a story around.  It adds a sense of romance and wonder to a tale that might otherwise be bleak.   After reading this book, I may have to change my favorite flower from yellow roses to something else.  I'll be consulting the flower dictionary at the back of the book for guidance.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  I think Diffenbaugh has wonderful things to say about foster children within a greater tale of love, redemption and magical realism with flowers.  A really great read.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta


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

Tom Perrotta is fast becoming the master of the suburban dystopia genre. I thought his novel LITTLE CHILDREN was wonderfully complex and ELECTION was a wonderful portrayal of high school set against the backdrop of student council election.  Now, Perrotta revisits familiar territory with a new spin.  In THE LEFTOVERS, Perrotta explores what might happen to the people left behind if the Rapture actually did occur.  Part of the genius in this construct lies in the fact that it isn't clear if the mass disappearance of people all the over the world really WAS the Rapture.  People of all ages, creeds and backgrounds disappear on this fateful day. The novel opens one year after the Departure. Those left behind are trying to move on with their lives and trying to find meaning in what happened. Some people join cult-like groups in response to the event.  These groups take on names such as the Guilty Remnant and the Barefoot People.  Others look for answers in religious leaders such as those who follow self-styled prophet Holy Wayne.  Others just try to get on with their lives and find some sense of normalcy.  The genius in this book lies not in the Rapture-event itself. Perrotta doesn't spend much time dissecting what happened to the missing people or whether or not it really WAS the Rapture.  He is more concerned with the fallout of the event and what happens to those who are left behind. The Departure is simply the impetus for everything that follows.  Much of the discontent, confusion and feeling of displacement and loss could describe the state of the world as it is right now.  These are people trying to make sense of the world around them in a wide variety of ways and some are more successful than others. 

I really loved this book.  I thought all the characters were so interesting and well-drawn.  I spent a lot of time thinking how I would choose to live my life if I were one of the Leftovers.  I was particularly drawn to the story of Nora Durst--a woman who lost her husband and two young children in the Departure.  What make this event so particularly devastating is that it doesn't have the finality of death. No one really knows what happened to the missing people and if they will ever return. There can be no real closure or answers for anyone.  The book is moving and sad and very thought-provoking. 

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  I feel certain this will be on my Top 10 of 2011 list in January. Well written and thought-provoking, this book is a very clever take on modern suburban malaise. I was sad when it ended because I felt there was so much more to say.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Come Visit Me on Facebook


I've decided to try something new and I have created a page for this blog on Facebook.  I will post the links to new reviews here so if you "like" this page on Facebook, the new reviews will pop up in your feed.

Go here to "like" me!!!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson


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

When I heard FAMILY FANG being compared to THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, I knew I had to read it.  I love quirky books. Especially when they deal with quirky families. Performance artists Camille and Caleb Fang have sacrificed their family at the altar of Art.  Having been told by their mentor that children destroy art, Camille and Caleb are determined to find a way to have both.  They start incorporating their children into their performace art stunts as babies and the family quickly becomes known throughout the art world for their daring and provocative performances.  Annie and Buster Fang (more commonly known as Child A and Child B) receive all of the fall-out from these experiments. They spend their childhood as often unwilling participants in their parents' "art" and constantly live in a state of expectation as they never know exactly what their parents are planning and how they will be involved. As adults, the dysfunction of their family continues to affect both Annie and Buster.  Annie becomes an actress who can't seem to find her authentic self and seems unable to stop herself from doing in appropriate things.  Buster is a one-hit wonder author who is drifting aimlessly as a freelance journalist trying to figure out what he is going to do with his life.  When Annie and Buster's parents disappear, the children come together to discover the truth about their parents and make choices about how they will live ultimately live their lives.

This is a truly quirky book and I love the descriptions of the Fangs' performance art pieces. Camille and Caleb are such interesting people.  Annie and Buster are slightly less so.  They have been damaged by the chaos that their parents constantly drew them into.  While many readers found this book hilarious, I have to disagree. I found it sad.  Caleb and Camille have chosen Art about everything else...including their family.  They have placed their children in dangerous situations and taken advantage of their vulnerability in countless ways in the name of Art.  Annie and Buster's struggles as adults make it clear exactly how their eccentric upbringing affected them.  They drift about trying to disentangle their identities from that of their parents.  My reaction upon finishing the book was one of sadness for these lost children.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. This is an unusual story with clever characters but it is not the comic novel I thought it would be.  It is a very well-rendered view of a severely dysfunctional family.  But not like any dysfunctional family you have ever seen before.

Monday, August 08, 2011

AMONG THE WONDERFUL by Stacy Carlson

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

The theme of the moment seems to be the circus life.  Not long ago, we had THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO.  Recently, there has been THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB and the upcoming NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern.  Stacy Carlson's brings us inside the walls of P.T. Barnum's museum with AMONG THE WONDERFUL.

AMONG THE WONDERFUL follows the lives of two of Barnum's employees, a taxidermist named Emile Guillaudeu left over from the Scudder museum who is having difficulty adapting to his new life under Barnum and a professional giantess named Ana Swift.  Guillaudeu was proud of his role as taxidermist inside of the venerable Scudder Museum of Natural History. When Scudder sells the museum to Barnum and Barnum begins to displace science in the name of entertainment, Emile begins to question his role within the museum.  One of the entertainers is Ana.  Ana is a professional giantess who claims to be the only giantess in the world.  She is plagued by chronic pain and has become jaded and lonely after a life on the road.  Both Emile and Ana are seeking something more.  The two of them struggle separately to figure out how their lives are going to evolve against the backdrop of Barnum's unusual museum.

I think Carlson came up with a wonderful character in Ana Swift.  She is sad and complex and frustrating.  One moment the reader feels sympathy for her and the next the reader wants to shake her in her misanthropy.  I think her story is the most compelling.  Emile provides an interesting contrast as he is the victim of the paradigm shift between a museum of knowledge and preservation and one of entertainment.  While Emile's struggles are interesting, his story is not nearly as compelling as Ana's and the story seems to drag every time he shows up. I think Carlson succeeded in creating a multi-layered story where Bryson's BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO failed.  Bryson's book focused more on the sensational while Carlson makes a real attempt at getting inside the characters' heads and showing the dystopia within Barnum's walls.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  An interesting look inside the flawed world of Barnum's museum.  The story is very very slow in the chapters focusing on Emile's story but his story is necessary to provide a contrast to Ana's.  If you can get past the "stop and start" quality of the book, you will find some interesting perspective on the evolution of two people within a very unusual context.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Picture Book Pause--DREAM AWAY by Julia Durango & Katie Belle Trupiano

We're going to take a break from our regularly scheduled contemporary adult literature book reviews to stop and ponder a new picture book.  Today's book is DREAM AWAY by Julia Durango and Katie Belle Trupiano with wonderful illustrations by Robert Goldstrom.



This lovely bedtime story is told by a father to his son.  They imagine floating off to the sky in a paper boat where they encounter such wonders as a winged horse and a wandering knight and they envision the moon as a big yellow balloon.  The illustrations are lovely and the sentiment is very sweet.  It isn't often that you find a bedtime story especially for fathers to read to their children.

My only complaint is that some of the words are too advanced for the target audience.  Most children will not recognize the words "cur" or "hare" or understand some of the sailing terminology. Still, this is a very minor thing and it is always nice to expand a child's vocabulary.

A sweet story with wonderful dreamy illustrations of the night sky.  I loved the image of the moon as a balloon.  A wonderful addition to anyone's collection of bedtime stories.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IRON HOUSE by John Hart


At first glance, IRON HOUSE looked like the type of run-of-the-mill thriller that I tend to stay away from.  I expected it to be filled with a lot of action and very little else. I was pleasantly surprised.

Michael has been a member of an organized crime group since he was a teenager and he is ready to get out.  He has finally found some peace with a woman named Elena who is carrying his child and he wants to shield them both from the world he is a part of.  Quitting the mob life is easier said than done and it doesn't appear that his former co-workers will let him go without a fight.  When Michael and Elena are forced to flee, they head to the place Michael was born.  The place where he was separated from his brother many years ago. As family secrets are dredged up and the mobsters are closing in, Michael must face truths what really happened at the Iron Mountain Home for Boys and the reality of how he and his brother ended up there.

At first glance, this book appears to be an organized crime suspense novel. It definitely has plenty of action and violence. However, the heart of the novel lies in the relationships within the story.  There is a great deal of familial conflict and drama that prove to be the most interesting parts of the book. I was happy to see Hart develop the "family secrets" side of the story.  Long-time readers know that hidden family secrets are always a favorite of mine. The story is complex and interesting and deal with many different themes such as mother/son relationships, sibling relationships, the reinvention of self and the burden of hidden truth. All the elements work together really well to make a story that has something for almost everyone.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended. A real surprise for me.  I enjoyed this book a great deal.  I thought the story was interesting and complex and different from your average thriller.  A good vacation read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

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

Another contender in the "next Stieg Larsson" contest, THE HYPNOTIST begins with the murder of three members of a family.  Only one teenaged boy and his missing elder sister survived.  Dr. Erik Maria Bark is called in to hypnotize the the boy in an attempt to gain information about the murder and, perhaps, prevent the missing sister from being murdered as well.  When Bark practiced hypnotism many years ago on victimes of extreme psychological and physical trauma, something went terribly wrong and his career almost ended permanently.  At the time, he vowed never to practice hypnotism again. Inspector Joona Linna convinces Bark that it is a matter of life and death. When Bark finally hypnotized the boy, it sets off an unexpected and possibly lethal chain of events.

I thought this book had a clever premise.  I liked the idea of throwing hypnosis into a thriller as a method of detection in crime cases and it was interesting to see what hidden "truths" that hypnosis could bring up in the different characters. However,  the book itself was structured in a bizarre way. The book begins with one story that is really exciting and intriguing but then this storyline gets derailed about 1/3 of the way through the book. The last 2/3 of the book are a completely different story.  There are lots of good ideas in the book but they never seem to go anywhere.  Just when I started to get interested in a storyline, the authors switched to something else.  It just didn't work.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. While there are some good ideas here, the book isn't well executed. I felt as if it tried to go in too many different directions.  There are too many good thrillers out right now to justify spending time on this one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson

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

THE LANTERN was one of my most highly anticipated books this year.  When I heard Lawrenson being compared to Kate Morton and Diane Setterfield, I couldn't wait to get my hands on her book.  I should have remembered all those books I have read recently that claim to be "the next Stieg Larsson." 

THE LANTERN claims to be a modern gothic tale set in Provence.  Eve falls in love with Dom when she meets him by chance touring a garden in Switzerland. After a whirlwind romance, the two relocate to an abandoned house called  Les Genevriers in the South of France. They set about restoring their new home in a manner reminiscent of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN as they enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies and hidden chambers. Their new home is rich with history.  As their enchanted Summer draws to a close and Fall sets in, Eve notices a change in Dom. He becomes more withdrawn and secretive and she begins to have doubts about him.  She knows he has a painful failed marriage in his past but he will not talk about it.  His refusal to reveal any information about his ex-wife Rachel makes Eve obsessed to find out more. She starts investigating his past and becomes more and more concerned with what she finds.  When a mysterious lantern starts showing up on the property, Eve begins to think the house is haunted.

The other half of the novel is the story of Benedicte Lincel who grew up in Les Genevriers and believed the house to be haunted by her family.  Benedicte is plagued by difficult memories and family secrets.  Her brother was a brutal and cruel person. Her blind sister, Marthe, became a famous perfume-maker but inexplicably broke off contact with Benedicte in her late forties.  Benedicte is left alone in her decrepit childhood home with her ghosts and her memories.

Lawrenson moves back and forth between the two stories slowly revealing hidden truths and secrets.  As Eve slowly uncovers clues about Dom's past, the two storylines begin to intertwine.  Long-held secrets of the past could provide clues to the truth about the present.

I have to admit I was really disappointed with this book.  I think Lawrenson does a superb job with setting.  This book made me want to run off to Provence.  Her description of Les Genevriers was wonderful.  However, the story felt forced.  It was a little too heavy-handed.  I wish she had chosen to concentrate solely on the story of Benedicte and left out the Eve storyline altogether.  Having two storylines was an attempt to create drama and intrigue and it didn't work.  I think the secrets that Lawrenson reveals are clever but they do nothing to move the modern-day plot forward.  The significance of the lantern even got lost in the shuffle and it's the title of the book! 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations. In spite of its flaws, the book is still a pretty good read.  It was just something of a disappointment. There is so much unfulfilled potential here!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles


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

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. It's true. However, the cover is what immediately drew me in when I got this book.  Set in New York City circa 1938, RULES OF CIVILITY follows the lives of three friends--Katey, Eve and Tinker.  When the three meet by chance on New Year's Eve, a chain of events is set into motion that will change all of their lives.  The story follows the three friends throughout the year of 1938. Tinker lives within the world of the wealthy while Katey and Eve are two career girls trying to scrape by in the Big City.  As Katey and Eve are drawn into Tinker's world, they must confront truths about themselves and what they believe.  Katey is the narrator of the story and she is a truly interesting and compelling character.  She gets all the snappy dialogue and is the one character who always seems to be true to herself.  The novel's title comes from a work by a teenaged George Washington who attempted to set out a list of rules for navigating for polite society.  Each character in the book attempts to define his/her own rules and figure out exactly who they want to be in this rarefied NYC world.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded a great deal of THE GREAT GATSBY.  I think similar issues are at play and Katey acts as a sort of Nick Carraway character although she is more engaged and affected by the action.  Towles' doesn't fall into the trap of making strict black and white moral judgements about the different characters.  There are both good and bad, moral and immoral characters in all stratas of New York society. The characters are all extremely well-drawn and interesting and Towles' keeps you guessing about their motivations and their choices.  Ultimately, this is not just a social commentary about society in a certain place and time. It is also a look at how spontaneous choices can affect and change our lives forever.  This book is a wonderfully well-written freshman effort by Towles and definitely left me wanting more.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  Well-written and compelling.  Interesting characters and an intriguing look into New York society during the late 1930's.  One of the best books I have read this year.

Monday, July 18, 2011

5 a Day Book Challenge

Want to see what I'm reading with my toddler this week?

Go here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

THE LAST WEREWOLF by Glen Duncan



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

There is a lot of hype surrounding this book. Many people are claiming that THE LAST WEREWOLF will do for werewolves with the TWILIGHT series did for vampires. Maybe.

At the beginning of the book, 200-year-old werewolf Jake receives a phone call from his closest human friend.  Another werewolf has been killed by a secret society whose mission is to wipe out all werewolves.  now, Jake is the last one.  He now knows he only has until the next full moon before the society comes for him.  And it doesn't bother him.  Jakes is suffering from profound depression and ennui.  He is ready to die.   His deep loneliness has taken its toll and he cannot find solace anywhere.  Jake begins to prepare for the end by getting his affairs in order and makes peace with what is going to happen. Until an unexpected event takes place that will change everything.

The werewolves in this book are not pretty. They don't turn into sleek lovely wolves.  They turn into ugly 9 ft hybrids whose only desire is to kill and eat humans. In this state, they feel no remorse or conscience of any kind. Their sole purpose is sex and killing. Werewolves can only procreate by biting a human.  If the human survives the attack, he or she becomes a werewolf. No new werewolves have been made in 100 years, however.  There seems to be some sort of virus preventing the transformation so that now Jake is the very last one.  The werewolf hunters are about to put themselves out of business.

What surprised me about this book was how well written it is.  Duncan is an excellent writer.  This may be the first really literary werewolf novel.  However, the book is also extremely explicit in sex, violence and language. This may be off-putting for some readers. It is somewhat amusing at first to read about a werewolf having an existential crisis but I thought it was a clever take on this genre and made the book more interesting.  The twist that comes halfway through the book was also clever although not quite as successful. The book became a little bit silly and the ending was very predictable.  Still, for fans of the horror genre, there is much to like here. Duncan's take on werewolves is definitely original.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  I really appreciated Duncan's writing style. Very well written. He lost me sometimes with the explicit nature of the story and some of his plot choices.  I was really disappointed with the ending. Still, this book could revive the whole werewolf genre.  Not for the faint of heart!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

LBC Summer Escapist Reading 2011

I am adding a new annual feature called SUMMER ESCAPIST READING.  These are recent titles that I feel would make excellent Summer vacation/beach reading.  To get onto my  list, the books have plots that aren't overly complex or depressing and that move at a quick pace.  You can pick up and put down these books at a moment's notice and you won't have to work too hard to pick up where you left off. Plus, they are deliciously fun reads.  All of these titles were published in 2011 and I plan to add more to this list before Summer is over because there are a few titles on the nightstand that I feel confident would be perfect additions.

1. SANDALWOOD TREE by Elle Newmark

2. TURN OF MIND by Alice LaPlante

3. THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen

4. DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness

5. ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson

6. BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson

7. VIOLETS OF MARCH by Sarah Jio

Most of these books have been or will be reviewed on this blog.   You can find the reviews by clicking on the links. They may not make my list for the Best Books of 2011 but I did find them all enjoyable and I think you will too.  Check back over the Summer for more titles!!!

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by S.J. Watson

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

It seems like there are a lot of suspense book dealing with memory (or the lack of it) lately. For example, Alice Laplante's TURN OF MIND.  BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP offers a new spin on this theme with a 47-year-old woman named Christine who has no short-term memory. Each morning when she wakes up, she has lost a good portion of her memory. Sometimes, she believes she is still a young child.  Sometimes, she remembers the early days of her marriage. She never seems to remember anything after the age of 30.   It appears that Christine experienced a traumatic event in her thirties that caused her memory loss. Christine's husband has come up with a way to help her with her disability similar to the method employed in the film "50 FIRST DATES."  When she enters her bathroom each day, the mirror is covered in photographs that chronicle her life since her accident.  There is also a scrapbook filled with photos and mementos of the life she has forgotten. When Christine answers her cell phone one day after her husband leaves for work, she discovers yet another memory aid.  It seems she has been secretly seeing a specialist behind her husband's back who encourages her to keep a hidden journal.  This journal becomes her lifeline as she turns to it each day for answers to her many questions.  As Christine's memory begins to improve through her work with the specialist and as her journal becomes filled with more and more information, Christine begins to suspect that she isn't being told the truth.  As the book progresses, more and more secrets come to light as Christine fights to learn the truth of what really happened to her.

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is had to put down. Watson does an excellent job conveying how unmoored Christine feels with her lack of memory.  And how vulnerable she is. It is difficult to know whom to trust. The journal provides an interesting lifeline for Christine and helps to move the story along.  I couldn't wait to finish the book and find out the truth about Christine's accident.  The book is full of suspense.  However, I was little disappointed with the ending. It took an enormous suspension of disbelief.  The ending was too tidy after all the buildup. Still, it made for a great vacation read.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. If you can get beyond the partial silliness of the some of the ending, this is a great suspense read.  I can see it being made into a movie.  It is easy to get lost in the story and it is hard to put the bood down.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

THE KID by Sapphire

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

The author of PUSH (which was made into the critically-acclaimed movie "Precious") returns with a sequel following the life of Precious' son Abdul.  The book begins when Abdul is nine-year-old and is attending his mother's funeral.  Left alone by Precious' untimely death, Abdul is shuttled through the foster care system which fails him in unspeakable ways.  As Abdul faces horrible abuse and his own unspeakable reactions to that abuse, he fights to carve out an identity and place for himself in the world.  After overcoming terrible adversity and the truth of his family's past, Abdul ultimately finds some redemption in the most surprising of places.

One does not need to know Precious' story to appreciate Abdul's journey but it does help. Armed with the knowledge of what came before, the reader is able to know more than Abdul about his own family and past.  Abdul's story is more complicated, however. While one is able to cheer for Precious in her journey from victim to empowered mother, Abdul is a much more complex character. His abuse turns him into an abuser in an unflinching picture of how the cycle of abuse can be so damaging and self-perpetuating.  The reader must confront complex feelings about Abdul.  The stream-of-consciousness style of this novel can be difficult although it is effective in demonstrating the complexity of Abdul's state of mind. He is a lost soul who struggles to find footing in the midst of abuse and confusion about who he really is.

More than anything, I think this book reveals the insidiousness of abuse and also the failure of the foster care system. After getting a more accurate picture of Abdul's family history, one can only marvel that ANYONE in that family is able to survive. The book is difficult and powerful and often frustrating.  The narrative can be confusing at times and I was baffled by the ending of the book. However, there is no doubt that it is a powerful work that forces the reader to confront many difficult truths about the world that we live in and the failure of the system.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations. This book is a very difficult read.  Not only in its gritty content but also in terms of the stream-of-consciousness narrative style.  However, I believe it is worth the effort. In this book, the reader gets a much better picture of how the history of a family brought it to this point and hints at the redemptive power of the arts and how the force of being loved....even for a short period of time....can have far-reaching effects on a person.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Winner!

And the winner of the SISTER BROTHERS poster giveaway is....




MONIQUE!





She'll be the coolest cat around with this bold letterpress poster on her wall.

Congrats to Monique!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shelf Awareness for Readers

I have been subscribing to the professional version of the Shelf Awareness daily e-mail newsletter for some time now and I love it.  I was really excited to hear that they are now doing a version for readers! It's a free publication for people who love to read called Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers. It's an emailed newsletter that comes out twice a week with reviews on the 25 best books publishing that week, as chosen by book industry insiders. They'll also be featuring author interviews, excerpts from books, book giveaways, and all kinds of other good stuff. Visit here to sign up. (Did I mention that it's free?)

After you sign up, make sure to tell them that I sent you by entering in my email address (bibanon1@gmail.com).

Hope you like it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett

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

Dr. Marina Singh receives news that her colleague and friend, Anders Eckman, has died in the Amazon while checking on the work of a research field team lead by enigmatic researcher Anneck Swenson.  The aerogram leaves too many questions unanswered and Marina finds herself on her way to the Amazon to get answers for Anders' family as well as a report on the progress of the research team. The team is working on a fertility cure but progress seems to have stalled and Dr. Swenson refuses to cooperate with the powers that be.  When Marina arrives in the Amazon, she encounters cannibals, snakes, cultural barriers, heat, ethical dilemmas and, perhaps, a way to come to terms with the incident that forced her out of obstetrics and into pharmaceutical research so many years ago.

Ann Patchett is a truly gifted writer.  Once Marina arrives in Brazil, Patchett has a way of drawing you into her Amazonian adventures that make you feel as if you are right there beside Marina. The heat is palpable and the foreign nature of the entire situation is relayed in clever and effective ways. None of the main characters in the book are particularly likeable or sympathetic with the exception of a young boy named Easter adopted into the Lakashi tribe and, in some ways, by Dr. Swenson.  I appreciated the fact that the main characters of this book were women working in non-traditional roles. Their professional lives and the choices they have made bring to the forefront the significance of what the research team is searching for---a way to sustain fertility in women almost indefinitely. As the book progresses, readers are presented with a variety of ethical dilemmas relating to the work and situation that forces one to confront one's own thoughts and ideas on the subject.

As much as I appreciated the story and the quality of the writing, I found myself disconnected from the story.  I'm not sure if it was the fact that I found the characters unsympathetic and unlikeable or if I just had trouble with Patchett's narrative style. The subject matter and the questions that arise from it are excellent and thought-provoking so I have real mixed feelings about this book.  I feel this would be a good book club selection because it lends itself to lots of discussion. However, I didn't particuarly enjoy reading it.  I feel as conflicted as many of the characters in the story!!!

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended with reservations.  Beautifully written with an intriguing storyline but it fell flat for me.   Something was missing that I can't quite put my finger on. Still, there is much to like here and this is a book sure to generate discussion.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson

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

In the near future, humans have become ever more reliant on robots.  Helper androids are more prevalent than ever and one scientist is very close to developing a sentient robot.  Too close.  The scientist creates a robot that is truly conscious and chooses to take on the image of the scientist's young son. It calls itself Archos and now that it has been set free there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.  Archos takes over all the robots on Earth and begins decimating the human population through a variety of nefarious means.  As Archos studies human beings and nature, it begins to incorporate new designs into robots making them more effective killing machines.  A few of the human survivors band together to fight for humanity while each employing his/her special skills. In this battle of human vs. machine, only one can survive.

While this story will draw inevitable comparisons to the TERMINATOR franchise, the way the story is told makes it different. The story of the war between humans and machines is told as oral history utilizing interviews, video surveillance footage, first and secondhand testimonies and other forms of media.   We catch small glimpses into how the war began and how things started to get out of control.  It is chilling to watch the story unfold and the narrative moves along at a fast pace. You know from the beginning what is going to happen but it doesn't deter from the story of the war.  The books isn't particularly meaty but it's a lot of fun. I couldn't put it down. And I will probably be afraid of elevators for a long time to come.  If Wilson had taken the time to develop the story and characters a bit more, this could have been a classic sci-fi cautionary tale.  As it is, it is a fun Summer read that will get you excited about Spielberg's upcoming film version.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  It's not a great work of literature but it's a fun read and will get you rethinking about all the machines and robots in YOUR life.  A great choice for a vacation read.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick Dewitt and a ***GIVEAWAY***

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

I was immediately drawn to this book by the graphic colors and clever imagery of the cover.  After reading the book, I was truck at how well the cover really does represent the story.  This quirky western with a twist features a pair of guns-for-hire brothers named Eli and Charlie Sisters.  The Sisters Brothers have been working as hit men for "the Commodore" for years but Eli is starting to experience some existential angst over his place in the world.  As the brother make their way to San Francisco on a job to kill inventor/prospector Herman Warm, they encounter a cast of eccentric characters and a number of adventures.  Eli narrates the book and questions what he really wants out of life and whether he can continue in this line of work. There are several funny moments throughout the story that reveal the complexity of Eli's character such as his fondness for tooth-brushing and his inexplicable fondness and loyalty to his nag of horse.  DeWitt does a great job taking the Sisters Brothers from generic Old West killers to complicated men who may have been forced into the lives they lead by a series of unfortunate events.  Money flows in and out of their hands so quickly that they never seem to be able to choose any other path. It remains to be seen whether the Warm job will be their last.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a great twist on the traditional Western and I really loved Eli's character.  He was so introspective while also being driven by dark violent impulses. The comic moments kept the story going and the reader can't help but enjoy being carried along on the journey as the brothers make their way to California.  I was truly interested to see how the job would turn out and what choices Eli would make in the end.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A clever quick read and a fun and interesting take on the traditional Western.
Want to win a beautiful limited edition letterpress poster of this book cover?
(I really should have put on makeup)


I was so excited when I was sent this lovely letterpress poster of the cover. Even if you don't care to read the book, I love the graphic design of the cover and the double image.  I think it will look great in my office. Plus, letterpress always makes everything look fantastic.  Each 12" x 18" poster is signed and numbered.  To win your own limited edition poster, leave a comment with your details. I'll draw a winner the evening of Sunday, June 26.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Lilian Jackson Braun Dies at 97

"Lilian Jackson Braun, who wrotes 29 “The Cat Who…” mysteries died on Saturday in South Carolina. She was 97. Her husband told the local newspaper that her one regret was that she was unable to finish her last novel, The Cat Who Smelled Smoke."   (Early Word)


(Image Source)



I have been reading Braun's CAT WHO...series since I was a teenager. I was attracted to the series because it combined my love of mysteries and cats.  The mysteries themselves weren't that great. They were cozy mysteries that were fairly obvious to figure out.  However, the characters Braun created were wonderful.  I dreamed of moving to a place like Moose County and befriending a man like James Qwilleran who lived in a fantastic barn with great acoustics and loved the finer things in life.

Braun published new books in this series at the beginning of each year like clockwork. When the most recent book, THE CAT WHO SMELLED SMOKE, failed to appear, I worried that we had reached the end.

Indeed we have.

Thank you to Lilian Jackson Braun...

the Author who....



Happy Trails.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

FAITH by Jennifer Haigh



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

In Sheila McGann's Irish-Catholic family, it is still an honor to have a priest in the family.  Her older half-brother, Art, is a popular priest in a large Boston parish.  It is 2002 and the wave of Catholic priest abuse cases has hit. It does not pass by the McGann family.  Sheila comes home to discover that Art has been accused of molesting a young boy.  As she rushes to her brother's defense, Sheila's mother is in denial, her brother Mike has already damned Arthur in his heart and her brother Art won't defend himself.  Sheila takes it upon herself to interview everyone related to the case in order to find out the truth and finds out many long-buried family secrets as she discovers that the truth can be the most complicated thing of all.

This is a powerful book that reminded me a great deal of Dennis Lehane's MYSTIC RIVER.  As readers, we are confronted again and again with our own assumptions about what really happened.  Haigh keeps you guessing until the end.  It is not so much a story about a priest and an accusation as it is a story about a family and that family's secrets.  It is also a story about our society and the consequences of what we as a people have become.  Haigh does an excellent job letting the reader see all sides to this story and how everyone is affected.  It is a thoughtful and moving work.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  An incredibly moving and thoughtful story that you will want to discuss with others.  This would be a great book club selection as it is sure to generate lots of talk!

Monday, May 30, 2011

WAITING FOR SPRING by R.J. Keller


I received a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program.

Tess Dyer impulsively moves to a small Maine town after her difficult divorce in order to attempt to escape the fallout from her marriage, her troubled past and her damaged and difficult relationship with her mother. The day Tess moves into her apartment, she feels a connection with her younger hunky neighbor named Brian. Tess immediately falls into a passionate affair with Brian and despite her best efforts to keep their relationship on a sexual level only, she falls in love with him. Although she is happy in her new life, Tess constantly battles the demons from her past that involve her own feelings (or lack thereof) of self-worth. She must come to terms with her past in order to have any kind of a future.

There is much to like in this book. Tess is a truly conflicted person with a painful and tortured past. The effects of that past have far-reaching consequences.  She values herself very little and the way she approaches relationships and other people make it difficult to like her at first.  Her problems are real, however, and I appreciate how Keller brings such a complex person into the novel.  No one in this book has it easy. Everyone is dealing with their own demons and everyone has a story to tell.  Keller is at her best and most poignant when she is presents the consuming drug problem of one of the characters. It is one of the most tragic cautionary tales about drug addiction that I can remember in recent years.  However...

While there are nuggets of really great stuff in this book, it fails as a novel. Most of the characters aren't likeable or relatable. Tess' relationships with Brian seems a bit far-fetched and over the top. The sex scenes were written in a way that made them feel completely embarrassing.  Keller could have edited those scenes out completely and the book would have been much more effective.  The story takes way too long to develop and I often found the narrative extremely tedious. I had to push my way through to finish.  I appreciate what Keller was trying to do but it just didn't work.

BOTTOM LINE: NOT recommended.  While there are some great ideas here, the story and pacing are a bit of a mess.  With some better editing, it is possible this book could be saved but with so many of the plot points ranging from far-fetched to downright unbelievable, I'm not sure it is salvageable.