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


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.)