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!!!


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


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


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 (

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.