Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE OBITUARY WRITER by Ann Hood


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

THE OBITUARY WRITER weaves back and forth between the lives of two women--one a housewife in a loveless marriage in the 1960's and one an obituary writer who lost her lover in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  Both women struggle to find themselves and figure out their places in the world.  Claire, who seeks to emulate Jackie O, has always considered herself a model wife and mother. Increasingly however, she is finding that her life is no fulfilling and that she isn't sure if she loves her husband.  Claire's life is contrasted with that of Vivien. Vivien is an independent women in the early 1900's who is in love with an older married man.  When he disappears during the earthquake of 1906, she must re-evaluate her life. Almost by chance, she falls into the job of obituary writer as she channels her grief into writing moving tributes of other people's lost loved ones.  Hood moves back and forth between the two women and their difficult choices using a nice compare/contrast device.  The stories eventually run together towards the end of the book in a way that is meant to be surprising but really isn't. 

I thought Hood did a really great job with both characters.  I thought Vivien was so interesting in that she wasn't your typical woman of the early 1900's. And Claire is a perfect example of the dissatisfaction that many housewives of her time felt.  The contrast between the two women was really interesting. Vivien is such an independent spirit who refuses to compromise and Claire is such a lost soul.  I enjoyed seeing how the two women dealt with the various challenges in their lives.

This book often reminded me of Cunningham's THE HOURS.  But it was missing something for me.  Maybe I just needed a little bit more. The end of the book where the two stories came together felt a bit contrived to me.  The connection was so obvious as to be intrusive as I waited to see just how Hood would bring the stories together.  Still, I think many all-female book clubs might find much to enjoy and discuss with this title.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations.  I expected a whole lot more from this book but it was a pleasant read with some really nice characters.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

FINDING CAMLANN by Sean Pidgeon

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

When I heard that this book was drawing comparisons to novels by AS Byatt, I knew I had to read it.  When I was younger, I was completely enthralled by the world of King Arthur.  I started with Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON and moved on from there.  In college, I even took a course on Arthurian legends.  FINDING CAMLANN follows the attempts of several academics in their quest to track down the historical Arthur.  Archaeologist Donald Gladstone is trying to write a book that separates the mythical Arthur from the historical Arthur but struggles because of the lack of physical evidence about the latter. The emergence of a startling archaeological find at Stonehenge along with a long-forgotten poem buried within the Bodleian Library could provide the evidence he has been missing.  Julia Llewellyn is a long-lost college acquaintance of Donald's who currently works for the OED as a linguist.  Julia's marriage is suffering and she is desperately trying to sort out her feelings about her husband when she unexpectedly bumps into Donald. The two of them become involved in tracking down evidence about the historical Arthur while rekindling long-buried feelings.

This book should have been one of my favorites this year. It has all the elements I love: Arthurian legend, archaeological discoveries, long-buried secrets, and quests that involve protracted searches in archives and libraries.  But it fell flat.  I can't put my finger on what is wrong with the book.  The characters are interesting and I love the setting. I have never had much interest in Wales before but this book really got me interested in that area of Britain. I think it lacks magic.  Pidgeon needed to go into greater depths with is characters and their searches.  This is one of the things that Byatt does so well. She takes her time with the story and builds it slowly so that readers feel they are truly on a quest with the characters.  (such as in POSSESSION which is the most similar to FINDING CAMLANN)  Byatt's books feel very academic whereas this book really didn't.  Pidgeon's book needed to be longer and with a touch more whimsy.  This is ARTHUR we are talking about!!!  It felt rushed in the way that Dan Brown novels feel rushed, compromising good writing in the name of a fast-paced story.  (although Pidgeon is a much better writer than Brown)  This could have been a great book if the author had developed the story and characters a bit more.  The ending felt rushed and flat.  I was really disappointed.

BOTTOM LINE:  Not recommended.  Not a terrible book.....just disappointing.  With subject matter like this, it should have been a truly fun read.  Still, I look forward to seeing Pidgeon's next effort.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A THOUSAND PARDONS by Jonathan Dee

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

When Ben Armstead's midlife crisis leads to a lawsuit and his family falls apart, each member must learn to reinvent themselves and figure out to forgive and move on.  Helen Armstead moves from being a housewife to being a successful PR consultant. Her daughter, Sara, begins to assert her independence and establish her own identity outside of her family.  Ben must come to terms with his poor judgement and decisions and figure out how to move forward.  Filled with themes of forgiveness and redemption, this story follows a family in the midst of a crisis and their ultimate recovery from it.

This short little book is hard to describe successfully.  The characters were interesting and I loved Dee's themes of forgiveness and redemption but the whole book felt too undeveloped to be truly successful.  If Dee had given the story 400 pages rather than 200 in which to develop, I think it would have worked better. As it is, it felt a little superficial.  Just scratching the surface of the what these characters are capable of and what they are going through. The end of the book felt especially rushed and seemed to end very abruptly.  I understand what Dee was attempting to do but it didn't quite get there.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. A great effort that just missed the mark. I look forward, though, to seeing future books by Dee.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich


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


I am late to the party with this book as Erdrich already won the National Book Award for it.  Well-deserved.  This is a really great book in the tradition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  In the Spring of 1988, Geraldine Coutts is brutally attacked in the sacred Round House but manages to escape. Complete traumatized and unwilling to discuss the details of what happened to her, Geraldine begins to waste away shut up in her bedroom.  Her husband, a tribal judge, and her son, 13-year-old Joe, are left to pick up the pieces.  Joe becomes increasingly frustrated with official investigation and decides to find his mother's attacker himself with the help of his friends. He believes that avenging his mother may be the only thing that will bring her back.

I kept thinking about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as I read this story. Not because they are especially similar but because they deal with similar things.  This is a coming-of-age story where the protagonist must grow up way too soon because of exposure to a brutal crime.  Although there is a bit of mystery to the book, the real beauty lies in Joe's struggle to understand what happened to his mother and how to avenge her. It is heartbreaking to read about his reaction as his mother retreats further and further into herself and Joe and his father feel helpless to make her better. This is a really lovely story and I especially love the fact that it is set on a reservation where the tangled web of tribal law versus federal law makes the situation that much worse.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.  This beautiful coming-of-age tale within a crime story is incredibly moving and also reveals the unique frustrations and difficulties presented by reservation crime.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CASUAL VACANCY by JK Rowling


I am late to the party with this review but I had to wait a long time to check out a copy of this book from my local library. Like so many, I am a huge fan of Rowling's HARRY POTTER series.  She is a gifted storyteller whose special talent lay in the wonderful and whimsical details that she added to make Potter's world come alive.  I wasn't sure what to expect from her first adult novel and it is truly a departure from everything that came before.

The story begins with the death of town councilman Barry Fairbrother from an aneurysm.  His sudden death leaves an empty spot on the town council or "a casual vacancy."  The small town of Pagford quickly moves from shock and grief over Fairbrother's death to scheming and speculating about filling his council vacancy.  Fairbrother's death brings out the worst in everyone.  The town has long been mired over a dispute over an adjoining community that is poverty-stricken and crime-ridden. Fairbrother's death leaves his enemies a chance to finally achieve their political goal of getting rid of the blight on their idyllic town.  A full-out political war breaks out in the small town as dirty secrets are revealed and everyone's worst side comes out.

Rowling is definitely a very good writer.  Her characters are all well-written and have great depth.  It is amazing that she was able to keep up with so many different characters.  That being said, this wasn't a particularly enjoyable book to read.  I didn't like a single one of the characters.  They were all a bunch of grasping, self-serving egomaniacs.  The whole book depressed me. But perhaps that was the point. It may be that Rowling just wanted us to recognize how certain things can bring out the worst in people and how we  are all guilty of terrible behavior at times.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended for certain readers. If you are coming to this book expecting a whimsical follow-up to HARRY POTTER, you will be disappointed. This is a very dark book filled with language and harsh situations that show the very worst in people.  It is well-written and interesting but not particularly enjoyable to read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ABOVE ALL THINGS by Tanis Rideout


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

I really love it when books can so capture your imagination that they make you want to head out to your local library to learn more. This is one of those books. I used to work at a natural history museum and, for a time, there was a big focus on Everest. This was when the Everest IMAX movie came out in conjunction with Krakauer's INTO THIN AIR.  Everest has become a symbol of hubris.  The fact that no climber can go up Everest without passing a trail of bodies is testament to this fact. One of the first men who caught the Everest bug was George Mallory.  In this book, Rideout imagines Mallory's last Everest bid and its effect on him, his fellow climbers and his family.  She alternates between Mallory's experiences on the mountain and those of his wife Ruth.  We so often focus on the adventures of these men that we seldom think about the effects that their actions have on their families.  Rideout does a wonderful job of capturing Ruth's reaction to Mallory's obsession with Everest.  While the ending of the story is already known, I think Rideout does an excellent job in how she interprets Mallory's last moments and Ruth's reaction to his death.  It is a wonderful story of a great love and a great obsession.

As soon as I finished this book, I immediately got busy trying to learn more about Mallory and his climbing partner "Sandy" Irvine. I wanted to learn more about that last fatal bid for the top as well as what happened to Ruth after Mallory's death.  One of the hardest parts of this story is that we will never really know what happened in Mallory's last moments. Did he make it to the top? Was it worth it? We may never know.  After reading this book, however, I am both glad my husband isn't a climber and more certain than ever that I have no desire to visit Everest.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. A wonderful tragic tale of hubris and love.  This book will make you want to learn more about Everest and the many tragic secrets that it holds.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Falling Behind

As I try and grapple with my feelings over the tragedy in Newtown, I hope to get caught up on reviews this week.

I owe you reviews for:

ABOVE ALL THINGS by Tanis Rideout
CASUAL VACANCY by JK Rowling
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich
A THOUSAND PARDONS by  Jonathan Dee
FINDING CAMLANN by Sean Pidgeon
THE OBITUARY WRITER by Ann Hood

Hopefully, I'll get them all done before the new year so that I will be on time with my BEST OF 2012 list. Hope you are all well....

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

LBC 2013 Parenting Book Challenge







I wish I had a trumpet sound effect to use right now.

I have decided to try something new for 2013.  I am going to read (and review) at least one parenting/education book each month in 2013.  This will be a slight departure for me as I do non-fiction only sparingly and then only the most current books.  I want to find the very best inspiration out there to improve my parenting skills.  I hope you will join me.  Feel free to grab the graphic above.  I am still working out the details of the challenge.  I'm thinking I'll post the latest title at the beginning of each month and then wrap up at the end of the month with a review and/or discussion.

JANUARY:
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL by Madeline Leving

FEBRUARY:
HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED by Paul Tough

MARCH:
BRINGING UP BEBE by Pamela Druckerman

APRIL:
LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS by Richard Louv

MAY: 
SIMPLICITY PARENTING by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross

JUNE:
No selection

JULY: 
FREE TO LEARN by Peter Gray

AUGUST:
THE BIG DISCONNECT by Catherine Steiner-Adair and Teresa H. Barker

SEPTEMBER
HOW TO TALK SO YOUR KIDS WILL LISTEN & LISTEN SO KIDS WILL TALK
by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

OCTOBER
PLAYFUL LEARNING by Mariah Bruehl

NOVEMBER
RAISING SELF-RELIANT CHILDREN IN A SELF-INDULGENT WORLD by H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelson

DECEMBER
IT'S OK NOT TO SHARE by Heather Shumaker

Other potential titles:

POSITIVE DISCIPLINE by Jane Nelson
FREE RANGE KIDS by Lenore Skenazy
WRITE START by Jennifer Hallissy
RHYTHM OF FAMILY by Amanda Blake Soule
IMAGINE CHILDHOOD by Sarah Olmsted
NURTURESHOCK by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
A CHILD'S WORK by Vivian Gussin Paley
MIND IN THE MAKING by Ellen Galinksy

A little something about my parenting style.  I am the mother of a 4.5 yr old boy. We approach parenting with a hybrid style of both "crunchy" and conventional.  My son has attended Montessori preschools since he was 2 and we value a "whole child" approach to learning. I place a lot of emphasis on creativity, imagination and exploration at home.  We do not allow our son to use a computer/smartphone/tablet and we limit television to a maximum of 30 minutes per day. We eat mostly organic as a family and try very hard to focus on handmade and natural toys (and toys that don't require batteries).  We also practice positive discipline in our home. That being said, my son does have some conventional toys and he will be attending a traditional elementary school in the Fall.   I don't believe in standardized testing and will be watching my son's school experience closely to see how it goes.  I try to read a lot and gather as much information as I can and then take the best of what I find.

Find more of the reading challenge posts by clicking on the "parenting book challenge 2013" label under this post.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

A FLOWER IN THE SNOW Blog Tour and Giveaway!!!!




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

I am so thrilled to be a part of a blog tour for this lovely picture book!

In Tracey Corderoy's and Sophie Allsopp's sweet and whimsical story, Luna and her polar bear friend, Bear, discover a beautiful yellow flower growing out of the snow. Luna quickly dubs the flower her "sunshine flower" and vows to keep in forever. When the flower fades, Luna becomes depressed and Bear vows to find her another flower.  With Bear gone on his quest, Luna realizes what really matters to her.  And it isn't a flower.

The illustrations are just beautiful:





This one was Noodlebug's favorite:



This is such a beautiful book and I thought the story was so sweet. I loved the emphasis on the importance of friendship and relationships over material things.  As someone with an anthropology background, I also loved the fact that the human character wasn't your standard Anglo child.  It was such a great setting to have the story take place in a snowy, northern spot with an Inuit-like child.  It added a special dimension to the book.  While this isn't a holiday book, it would be a perfect winter read for any family. And it emphasizes important values that we can all appreciate.

I am giving away a copy of this lovely picture book.  It will make a perfect gift for some lucky child. This giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada.  

Leave a comment on why you'd like to win this book along with your contact information.

The giveaway ends on Friday, December 20 at 4:00pm PST.

Friday, December 07, 2012

BEING SANTA CLAUS by Sal Lizard





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

If your holiday spirit isn't up to par this year, I suggest you go pick up this book.  I was a little skeptical about this book at first.  I worried this it might be a little too gimmicky.  After reading the first chapter, however, I was completely charmed.

This sweet memoir tells the story of professional Santa Claus Sal Lizard.  Lizard recounts how he first got into the Santa Claus business and then tells many stories from his career about how he was able to change the lives of others and how they in turn changed his life.  The book is completely heart-warming.  I teared up several times reading some of Lizard's experiences.  I also appreciated how he seems to have come up with some really great answers to some of those tough questions kids ask about Santa Claus.  I'm going to use some them on my own child.

It's a short book and I don't want to give too much away.  The book can easily be read in one sitting. Especially by the fire with a cup of cocoa. This is a man who truly embodies the Spirit of Christmas and has one of the best jobs in the world.

BOTTOM  LINE:  Recommended. If you are looking for some reading to get you in the holiday spirit, this is your book. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CITY OF DARK MAGIC by Magnus Flyte



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


I have always loved to travel but I have never really had any interest in visiting Prague until I read this book. Music student Sarah Weston gets a job opportunity at a castle in Prague cataloging some Beethoven manuscripts. It seems like a dream job except for the fact that she was chosen after her mentor died in the same position.  Sarah takes off to Prague and becomes embroiled in the many secrets concealed by the Castle and the people who inhabit it. Sarah becomes suspicious about the circumstances arounde her mentor's apparent suicide and begins to investigate.  She discovers a time-warping drug that will change how she views not only her beloved Beethoven but also the history of the world around her. And she finds a little romance along with her adventure.

This was a really fun novel. It had some similarities to Harkness' DISCOVERY OF WITCHES in that there is a strong female scholar who becomes involved in extraordinary events. While the romance and sex scenes could sometimes be a bit far-fetched and over the top, the mystery and the time-warping drug were really great.  Prague itself becomes a character in the novel with all of its history and mystical properties.  I loved how the novel moved back and forth through time thanks to the mysterious drug.  The reader is able to see all the drama that unfolded within the walls of the Castle and Prague itself. While the writing can be a little messy and the story could have been developed a bit more, it was still a really entertaining book. It even left room for a sequel which I would definitely welcome.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A fun vacation read with action, mystery and a little romance.  Fans of Harkness and Gabaldon will enjoy this one.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Reading with Kids

Noodlebug and I have been going through our favorite Thanksgiving picture books to prepare for the big day. We thought we would share a few of our favorites with you.

1. BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY by Melissa Sweet


I absolutely love the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The only reason I ever shop at Macy's is because I want to support the store that gives me such happiness every year.  This little picture book celebrates the man behind the wonderful balloons in the parade.  It is a little wordier than most picture books but my 4-yr-old loves the pictures.  The illustrations are sweet and very detailed and there are wonderful photos of actual documents and newspaper articles from the 1920's and 1930's.  This makes a charming read each year as we prepare for our parade viewing.

2. BEAR SAYS THANKS by Karma Wilson


We love all of Karma Wilson's "Bear" books and this one is really sweet and charming.  Bear's friends start showing up to share a feast and each one brings something special. But Bear doesn't have anything to offer.  As Bear struggles with feelings of inadequacy (wink), his friends let him know just how much he really IS contributing to the fun. Really sweet.

3. BERENSTAIN BEARS GIVE THANKS by Jan and Mike Berenstain


As a parent, I have been rediscovering the Berenstain Bears and I just love them. All of the stories are sweet and wholesome and have a wonderful message that I think we can all get behind. 

4. THE NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING by Natasha Wing

This one is just for fun. It's a Thanksgiving version of the "Night Before Christmas" that focuses on some of the more traditional aspects of American Thanksgiving such as the food, the games and other family activites.  At least there is no Black Friday in there!!!


I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends. I'll be counting my blessings!!!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton


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

I dearly love Kate Morton and she just keeps getting better and better.  She is a master of the "family secret" genre. (one of my favorites!)  Morton returns to this familiar territory with THE SECRET KEEPER.

16-yr-old Laurel Nicolson is hiding in her childhood treehouse when she witnesses her mother involved in a shocking crime. When Laurel returns home years later to see her mother, Dorothy, on her deathbed, she decides that the time has finally come to solve this family mystery.  We follow Dorothy's story from WWII to the present.  We meet Dorothy's fiance' Jimmy and her best friend Vivien and learn how the three of them met.  As their paths cross in wartorn London, a series of events will be set into motion that will change their lives forever.

I think one of the things that makes this story so effective is the setting in 1940's London.  WWII is the perfect backdrop for the intersection of the lives of Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy.  All of the characters are interesting and compelling and the reader is driven to find out the truth behind their relationships and the secret that Dorothy has been hiding for over fifty years.  Although the secret became clear to me fairly early on, I still didn't know HOW the events came to be.  Morton kept me guessing until the end.  I was completely engrossed by this story and couldn't put it down.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended. Another winner from Morton. Save this one for a vacation because you won't want to put it down until the secret is revealed.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

MR.PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan


I had high hopes for this one.  So much so that I purchased a copy as soon as I heard it was coming out.  It seemed to have all the ingredients that I look for in a book.  Characters who love books and mysteries, an odd bookstore that may or may not hide a secret, eccentric characters....the list goes on.

After young Clay Jannon loses his job in the midst of the Recession, he takes a position in a very odd 24-hour bookstore.  Clay works the night shift and figures that his job will be pretty quiet with the exception of the goings-on at the strip club next door.  Clay quickly realizes, however, that there is more to Mr. Penumbra's bookstore than meets the eye.  A group of eccentric customers appear on a regular basis requesting books from the book of the store that Clay refers to as the "backlist."  When Clay finally brings himself to look at one of these books, he sees that they are written in some kind of code.  Why are these books here?  And, more importantly, what are the mysterious customers doing with them? As the days go by, Clay becomes more curious about the mystery and employs his girlfriend at Google as well as other technologically-inclined friends to help him break the code.  All of these individuals meet at the intersection of technology and books in order to solve a centuries-old mystery.

While the idea of this book is charming and interesting, it fell flat for me.  With the exception of Mr. Penumbra himself, I didn't find any of the characters particularly engaging.  I loved the fact that Sloan mixed up Luddites and technology buffs and created a mystery that could only be solved using both kinds of people. The mystery itself with its secret brotherhood and emphasis on books was quite charming.  I think, though, that the book was just too short.  If Sloan had fleshed out the story and characters a bit more, say 500-600 pages instead of 300, we could have had a really great story.  As it was, the whole thing felt rushed and the ending tidied everything up a little too much. Print-book readers definitely win with this one in that it has an absolutely charming cover.  It made me happy each evening to turn out the light and watch the cover glowing in the dark on my bedside table!

BOTTOM LINE:  Not recommended.  I think Sloan had some terrific ideas but the book just wasn't long or detailed enough to really have an impact.  I would have liked to know more about the story and characters instead of being rushed through it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Biblioholics Anonymous

I dearly love my book collection.  I haven't counted in awhile but I'm guessing I have somewhere in the region of 1000 hardcover books. The majority of them are signed first editions. We moved into a new rental home last year and did so pretty major downsizing.  I still have many of my books in boxes because I don't have enough room to put them on shelves. Because of that fact (and our ongoing financial troubles), I have decided to weed my collection.

(image source)


I'm going to start selling off the bulk of my books. I have 44 listed so far and I plan to list about ten a week. The holiday season is coming up!!! If you would like to own part of the Life by Candlelight collection, visit my Alibris storefront.  I sell under the name of "Biblioholics Anonymous."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Something Personal

See what is going on in my life over here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

DEARIE: THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF JULIA CHILD by Bob Spitz

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


I vaguely remember Julia Child's television program from my childhood. And I certainly remember Dan Akroyd's famous Saturday Night Live impersonation. But she didn't really register on my radar until Julie Powell's JULIE AND JULIA experiment came out along with the following movie.  Meryl Streep's interpretation of Julia Child seemed so charming and exuberant and I really wondered if the real Julia Child was even close to that.  Since this year marks what would have been Julia's 100th birthday, I thought it very appropriate to read Bob Spitz's new biography.

It took me awhile to get through this book.  Spitz is extremely thorough and filled the book with details about much more than Julia's life.  I learned about the early days of public television and the early years of Pasadena and its first families.  I learned about the ins and outs of the publishing business.  Even more than that, however, I learned a great deal about Julia Child that both surprised and charmed me.  I marveled at her liberal political leanings and her late marriage and late career start.  I also never knew how involved she was with Planned Parenthood and also in establishing American-based culinary schools. I gained a new appreciation for the work she put into her cookbooks and the level of testing and detail that went into them.  I loved the fact that Julia always remained true to herself and never stopped working. The way she built her empire was fascinating.  There is so much to admire about Julia Child and this biography inspired me to look for her cookbooks and try some of her recipes. 

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  While this biography is dense and slow-going, it is also fascinating and filled with interesting detail. Spitz crafted a book about much more than Julia Child. It is also the story of the American housewife and the changing attitudes towards food and homemaking along with the influence of television in the lives of Americans.  A fascinating look at a fascinating woman. This would make a great Christmas gift.

Friday, October 05, 2012

END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe

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


At first glance, this looks like a book about a young man watching his mother struggle through cancer and eventually succumb to it.  It will draw inevitable comparisons to books like TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE.  However, it is much much more than that. This isn't a sad, maudlin account of the end of someone's life.  It is the story of the connection forged between a man and his mother through their passionate love and books and how those books shaped and affected their lives. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever loved a book. Bibliophiles will recognize kindred spirits in Will Schwalbe and his mother.

When Will's mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he beings accompanying her to her treatments and they begin a "book club" to pass the time.  Both of them have always been passionate readers but books take on a new significance for them.  Each book that they read brings up questions about faith and courage and gratitude and what makes a life well lived.  It is through reading these books that Will and his mother are able to broach issues that may have been difficult for them to approach otherwise.  The books become a method of communication for mother and son.  The two of them learn a great deal about each other through their book club.

These are two people who understand the power of the written word. They understand how books can connect us and teach us and open our minds to new ideas. They see how books never stop allowing us to learn and grow---even at the end of our lives.  END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB is moving and funny and sad and heartwarming all at the same time.  I found myself underlining passages and making a list of books for myself based on what Will and his mother were reading. (There is a master list at the back of the book.)  This isn't just a story about dying or a story about a life well-lived. It is a story of the relationship of a mother and son and their love of books.  As CS Lewis said, "we read to know we are not alone."

BOTTOM LINE:  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. One of my favorite books this year.  If you consider yourself a bibliophile, this one must go on your reading list.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A WORKING THEORY OF LOVE by Scott Hutchins



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


After Neill Bassett's father committeed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals that are as detailed as they are banal.  There are no hidden revelations or secret thoughts in these journals. They are simply the day-to-day accounts of a country doctor.  However, these journals provide the perfect ingredients for an artificial intelligence project that Amiante Systems is working on.  As not only the owner of the journals but also as a reasonable interpreter of them, Neill manages to parlay his father's legacy into a job with Amiante. Outside of work, Neill struggles to navigate various relationships following his divorce soon after his honeymoon.  He can't seem to connect with anyone except for the artificial version of his father that Amiante is cranking out.  As "Dr. Bassett" becomes more complex, Neill begins to trick himself into thinking that he can find closure with his father through his interactions with the computer.  He just has to find the missing ingredient that will pull everything together.

I thought this book had a clever premise.  It felt very timely considering the fact that more and more of our relationships are carried out through electronic devices.  It becomes harder and harder to establish authenticity and real connection.  As Neill discovers, it can be easier to to engage with artificial intelligence than deal with the complexities of real people.  That being said, the book lacked genuine feeling for me.  I found it difficult to connect with the characters. (in much the same way that they have difficulty connecting with each other)  I think Hutchins had some really good ideas but the whole thing just didn't gel for me.  Something was missing and I can't quite put my finger on it.

BOTTOM LINE:  Not recommended. A great idea that didn't quite get there. I think most readers may have a hard time getting through the story although Hutchins does have a lot of clever and interesting ideas.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce

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

Although I am a fan of mysteries and books filled with action and suspense, I find that more and more I value quieter books that focus on unlikely heroes in unusual circumstances.  THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY is one of those books.  Retiree Harold Fry lives in a quiet life with his wife Maureen in a small English village.  With the exception of his wife's apparent growing irritation with him, Harold's days pass quietly with little change.  One day, Harold receives a letter from his old friend Queenie Hennessey. Harold hasn't seen Queenie for many years and now she is in hospice and writing to say goodbye. The letter stirs something in Harold.  He writes a response and heads to the post office but can't bring himself to post the letter. Instead, he starts walking.  He decides to walk the 600 miles from his home to the hospice where Queenie resides.  He becomes convinced that as long as he walks, Queenie will live.  Along the way, Harold meets a variety of interesting characters and learns a great deal about humanity and himself.  His pilgrimage begins to have far-reaching consequences both for Harold, his wife and the people who become a part of it.

This is a lovely story about a quiet man driven to do something extraordinary.  Harold's motivation doesn't really become clear until the end of the book but his story reveals something about how every person has a story.  It reminded me of the Plato quotation, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  We cannot know what stories of quiet desperation the people around us are concealing.  Sometimes, we have to slow down in order to connect with others. This is a beautiful and moving story and will probably end up being one of my favorites this year.

BOTTOM LINE:  Highly recommended.  A very sweet and moving tale that reminds us of how everyone has a story and that one of the most profound things we can do is listen and connect. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin


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


Last year, Justin Cronin came out with his critically-acclaimed postapocalyptic novel THE PASSAGE which introduced us to a terrifying world of zombie-like creatures and the intrepid survivors struggling to fight them.  I had a mixed reaction to THE PASSAGE.  Cronin is a great writer and his story is compelling but I often felt that the book plodded along as Cronin struggled to set the stage for his sweeping tale.  With the second book in the trilogy, THE TWELVE, Cronin gets to continue his story in a much more effective and intriguing way.

THE TWELVE allows us to see several different parts of the story at once. In the present day, we see what happens in the days following the collapse of the government project that caused the nightmare.  We also move 100 years into the future where we catch up with Amy and her friends as they continue to fight for humankind's existence.  Cronin uses several clever plot devices to bring the reader up to speed including a far-into-the-future biblical-like account of the events.  I loved how he filled in many of the gaps left by the first book.  To me, learning about the days following the initial disaster were especially compelling.  Much more so than reading about the survivors living in the Colony in the first book.  I had a hard time connecting with the characters in the first book. I had no problem doing so in the second book.  With THE TWELVE, it seems Cronin has achieved the perfect blend of storytelling.  I had a very hard time putting this book down and hurried through it over the course of a few days.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  Fans of THE PASSAGE will love this second book in the trilogy.  Readers like me who were on the fence with the first book will be pleasantly surprised.  THE TWELVE is a wonderful read and succeeded in getting me excited for the final book in the trilogy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

HOW DOES SLEEP COME? Giveaway!!!!

HOW DOES SLEEP COME? by Jeanne C. Blackmore has such lovely, gentle illustrations.  I think my very favorite part of the book is when Blackmore says,  "Sleep comes softly. Like a cloud that drifts through a bright summer sky and sweeps a cool shadow across the land."

Doesn't that bring to mind a lovely summer day? 



I asked Noodlebug what his favorite part of the book was. He couldn't choose. He said he liked all of them.

I am especially partial to this illustration:



Read my extended review of this book here.

I am so happy that I get to share this lovely bedtime book with you by giving a copy away!!!  Leave a comment about how sleeps comes for YOUR family.  Make sure and include a way for me to contact you.  This giveaway is option to residents from the US and Canada and closes on Friday, September 28.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HOW DOES SLEEP COME? by Jeanne C. Blackmore


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


Many families love to read together right before bedtime. It is the perfect way to spend a little time snuggling and winding down. I am always on the lookout for new bedtime books to read so I was really excited to have to the opportunity to review Jeanne C. Blackmore's new bedtime story HOW DOES SLEEP COME?

When Jacob asks his Mama, "How does sleep come?," the two of them embark upon a wonderful bedtime journey.  Mama comes up with a variety of lovely similes to describe how sleep comes.  With each page, sleep reveals a new aspect of itself as the little boy is drawn further and further into sleep.  Noodlebug and I each had our favorite pages.  With its beautiful illustrations and lovely descriptive imagery, this makes a very sweet and peaceful bedtime read.

Jeanne C. Blackmore grew up in a family of storytellers and shares her inspiration for this book:

I am the youngest of four children, and grew up in the 1970's.  Thus, most of my recollections are viewed through the cultural lens of that time period.  As you might imagine, in every recalled scene, my siblings and I are wearing bellbottoms.  Mine feature red, white and blue vertical stripes.  My brothers all have long hair with windswept bangs, and my sister's long hair hangs down to her waist, pin straight. What I remember most about my childhood is words.  In my family, for every situation, we relish finding and using the best words.  The process of finding the words is as enjoyable as presenting them once they are found.  We cannot help ourselves.  Words are the currency in which we trade, the ocean in which we swim, the place we feel most at ease.  I recall my childhood dinner table conversations as a beehive of words buzzing back and forth across the table, each person trying to get their words in edgewise, to grab the stage and tell the funniest story or turn the cleverest phrase.  As the youngest, there was always the stress of trying to outdo my older siblings.  They were so much faster and smarter!  It was impossible to keep up.  On the flip side, they were so funny!  Most especially, my brother Marc could tell stories that would make me laugh so hard my sides would ache and leave me begging for more.  Just one more!  And, I guess, that sums up what it is like to grow up in a family of storytellers.....you always want one more story.  And it better be as good as the last one.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  This is a lovely book that appeals to both adults and children alike.  A perfect bedtime read.
 
Check back here on Tuesday, September 18 for a giveaway opportunity when Noodlebug and I share our favorite parts of this book!!!!
 

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where are the Reviews?

Hello fellow bibliophiles!

You know what makes it difficult to read? Vertigo.  I have been having a terrible problem with vertigo and dizziness for about two months now. I will finally get to see a specialist on Friday and I'm hoping to get some relief.

I owe you review on:

THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin
THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce
A WORKING THEORY OF LOVE by Scott Hutchins
DEARIE: THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF JULIA CHILD by Bob Spitz
THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB  by Will Schwalbe

I promise they are forthcoming. I'm just a little behind.  Tomorrow, I will have a special children's picture book review for you.

I hope you are all reading wonderful books right now.  Fall and Winter are my favorite reading months!!!

On another note, it escaped my attention that it is Book Blogger Appreciation Week!  I read very few book blogs and my favorites are in the sidebar.  I have read Bookfool for a long time and so appreciate the very sweet "shout out" she left me on her blog.  Go over and say hi!  You'll love her.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

MRS. QUEEN TAKES THE TRAIN by Willian Kuhn


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

I must admit that I have always been something of an Anglophile.  There is just something about that island and its people and rich history that fascinate me. I'm also a great admirer of the Queen. It amazes me to think of all that she has seen and done during her reign.  The English monarchy was forever changed by the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales and Diana's subsequent death. The classic "stiff upper lip" mentality didn't seem to suffice anymore.  Kuhn's book provides a sympathetic imaginary portrait of the Queen as she grapples with her own bout of depression.

After feeling low for quite some time, the Queen tries to figure out what would make her happy. She wanders down to feed the horses in the Mews and gets caught in inclement weather.  A stable girl lends the Queen her hoodie for protection from the weather which has the suprising and unexpected effect of also offering the Queen a bit of anonymity.  When the Queen finds herself outside the castle walls, she decides to make her way to one of her happy places in Scotland.  When it is discovered that the Queen is missing, some of her closest staff come together to try and find her before the press is alerted to her absence. What follows is an enlightening and introspective day out for the Queen and her staff that may very well change them all forever.

I thought this was a particulary charming book. It is a quick and easy read and I loved the parallels between the Queen's day out and Shakespeare's Henry V.  I thought Kuhn's portrayal of the Queen was both gentle and sympathetic.  I also enjoyed the characterizations of the staff and how Kuhn attempted to depict the everyday difficulties these individuals go through in the course of their service to the Crown.  While none of the characters are well fleshed out or of any particular depth, they are all quite likeable and entertaining. The Queen, however, takes center stage. As well she should.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A very sweet contemporary tale of the Queen in the tradition of Roman Holiday.  While this is not a particularly literary tale, it is charming and pleasant and would make a lovely vacation read. 


You won't understand how funny this image is until you read this book but I have to admit this really gave me a chuckle:  LINK.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A New Kind of Book Club

I am in the middle of reading Will Schwalbe's END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB and I am really really enjoying it.  I was reading it over my lunch break and I got so lost in the story that I was shocked to look up from the book and see that I was sitting in a restaurant.

Favorite quotation so far:

"One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence.  Sure, sometimes they'll elude you by hiding in improbably places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt.  But at other times they'll confront you, and you'll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn't thought about in weeks or years.  I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me.  They may make me feel, but I can't feel them.  They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight.  They can get in your head but can't whack you upside it."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker




It is no secret that I love a good apocalyptic novel.  There seems to be a very large number of new books in this genre coming out in the Young Adult book world lately.  Although AGE OF MIRACLES is not technically a young adult title, I think it works most successfully at that level. At first glance, Walker's book appears to be a clever take on the Apocalyptic genre.  However, I would argue that this is much more a coming-of-age story that just happens to take place when the world is falling apart.

One morning, Julia awakens to discover that the rotation of the Earth has suddenly begun to slow. At first, everything stays relatively normal as people grapple with the implications of this change.  Slowly, however, as the days and nights begin to lengthen, the world must figure out how to adapt.  The 24-hour clock no longer applies and living things are beginning to be affected by the change.  The world splits into factions as people try to decide how to deal with the changes.  As the Earth's rotation continues to slow, normal life is suspended.  In the midst of all these changes, Julia deals with the everyday issues of a young teen's life--her parents' struggling marriage, bullying, first love.  It is in these moments that the book is most poignant. This period of time in a yong person's life is already fraught with change.  To juxtapose this period of growth with the slowing of the Earth's rotation makes for a wonderful story.  However, I was left wanting more.  I wish Walker had gone in a different direction with some of her storylines.  I did really like the idea of the slowing of the Earth's rotation.  It is frightening in that no one can escape this catastrophe and it affects everything. Very chilling and very moving.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A lovely coming-of-age tale that takes place in a period of great change and loss. I think this book works best as a young adult title but there is something to enjoy for everyone.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain

 
 
There haven't been very many novels written yet about the Iraq War.  Perhaps we are still to close to the events to have enough perspective for those type of books.  That makes it all the more interesting when one pops up.  BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK follows a day in the life of a young Iraq war hero.  Billy and his fellow Bravo Squad members are on a Victory Tour of the United States after surviving a firefight with Iraqi insurgents. During this brief but highly visible encounter, Bravo Squad became known as the "heroes of the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal."  For a government that needs some positive press surrounding an unpopular war, these young men are a goldmine.  The men have been sent around the country as war celebrities in an attempt to rally public sentiment.  They are even connected with a Hollywood producer who is trying to sell their story and make them rich.  The novel takes place on one of the final days of their tour before they are sent back to Iraq.  The young men are celebrity guests at the Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys game. 19-yr-old Billy Flynn is a Texas native and won a Silver Star as a result of his actions in the famous battle.  He is conflicted by his many feelings about both being back home and by his participation in all of these events as a reputed war hero.  As the day progresses, Billy must confront some truths about himself and what he really believes about the war.
 
I thought this novel was skillfully done.  It really brought home the effects of the war experience on many young men and how our nation struggled to understand the Iraq War.  The war was so tied up with our feelings about 9/11 that it was difficult to separate the two events.  Everyone felt compelled to support the war or risk being labeled as unpatriotic at best and traitors at worst. The young men who fought in the war dealt with even greater issues.  I think Fountain did a great job bringing out some that inner conflict in the character of Billy Lynn.  That being said, I was little disappointed with this book.  I expected so much more.  It felt really slow and I had a hard time engaging with the characters.  It wasn't a particularly enjoyable read and, for such a short book, I really struggled to finish it.
 
BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended with reservations.  While the book is well-written and the subject matter is interesting, the book probably has more appeal for individuals with first-hand experience of war.  I found the book really hard to get through and very slow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

CITY OF WOMEN by David R. Gillham



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

There are times when I feel as if there is nothing new to say about WWII and then I find myself surprised by another author's take on the subject.  Gillham takes us to 1940's Berlin where Sigrid Schröder plays the role of dutiful soldier's wife.  With her husband away at war, Sigrid goes to work each day and comes home each evening to care for her difficult mother-in-law.  Her life is like that of most German women except for her secret---she has a Jewish lover.  A few chance encounters with several tenants in her building pull Sigrid into the secrets of others and involve her in a dangerous world she never knew existed. Sigrid must choose sides and decide what she believes is right and wrong while Berlin is bombarded by bombs.

I thought this was a wonderful book!  It was so interesting to view this slice of history through the lens of a German woman living in Berlin during the height of the war.  Sigrid is such an interesting character as she is the perfect hausfrau on the outside but full of unexpected secrets and yearnings.  I think the best thing the story does is to remind the reader that not everything is black and white.  People are complicated and war can bring out the best and worst in all of us. Sometimes, the difficult choices we make can mean life and death for those around us.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  A very compelling read that is difficult to put down. Gillham offers us a look at WWII from a very different perspective and creates a wonderfully complex character in Sigrid Schröder.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Big Day



Today was a momentous day.  Something I have been waiting for for four years. 

My son brought home his first Scholastic book order sheet.




(image source)



When I was a little girl, I looked forward to Scholastic book order day like it was Christmas. I brought my order sheet home and my mom and I would carefully go over it together. We didn't have a lot of money growing up but my mom always made sure I had plenty of books.  When the orders were delivered, I always felt as if I had an embarrassment of riches. 

Books are highly valued in our house and, while I don't let my child have every toy or tchotchke that he wants, it is VERY hard for me to say no when he wants a book.

Noodle and I took his order sheet and sat in the backyard tonight going over it very carefully.  It was so much fun making our selections.  It will be so fun when the books get delivered and we can sit down and read them together.  I'm so glad that this is one childhood tradition that hasn't disappeared!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wisdom from Harold Fry

"He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too.  The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.  Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human."

-from THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce


Review coming soon....

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

LBC on Pinterest

I created a new board on Pinterest entitled "Highly Anticipated Books."  I will try to do a monthly roundup of upcoming books that are getting a lot of buzz.  The latest batch for Fall are now up.

Go here to see the current batch.

Monday, July 30, 2012

OVER THE MOON: THE BROADWAY LULLABY PROJECT

(image source)

I received a copy of this book and CD from the publisher for review.



If my life had turned out differently, I would have loved to pursue a career in musical theater.  Unfortunately, I discovered that need TALENT in order to succeed in that career. Still, I love musical theater in general and Broadway shows in particular.  Be careful when bringing up the name "Stephen Sondheim" or I will immediately launch into a number from "Into the Woods."  Add to all of this my love of children's book and children's book illustrators and you have a winning combination in OVER THE MOON.

OVER THE MOON: THE BROADWAY LULLABY PROJECT is a multimedia project that brings together a 2 CD music collection, a beautifully illustrated book, an e-book and a documentary film and web series.  Some of Broadway's greatest performers and composers come together in these lovely lullabies and the book offers gorgeous illustrations to accompany the songs. The illustrations are created by a wonderful group of theatrical designers and children's book illustrators.  All of these magic comes together for one very important purpose---to raise money for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Young Survival Coalition.

The 2 CD music album contains 26 songs that deliver wonderful lullabies in a variety of styles.  There really is something for everyone.  The book includes a CD with a selection of 17 songs from the album.  Noodlebug and I enjoyed looking through the book while we listened to the accompanying CD.  My personal favorite was Donna Murphy singing "Lucky" from Stephen Schwartz's opera  Séance on a Wet Afternoon. So beautiful!!!  Noodlebug liked Marva Hicks singing "Little Sleep Eyes" and a really fun song called "The Man Who Invented Ice Cream."

I loved the fact that these collections have so much variety.  Not every song is a classic lullaby.  Each singer and composer and illustrator brought something special to their piece.  Everyone will find something to like here. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended!  This would make a lovely gift for a new parent or any young child.  Especially when paired with the CD set.  Families can listen to the music together while knowing that this wonderful collection is helping with some important breast cancer charities.  Win win!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn


I received a copy of this book from the publisher.


I love a good mystery but I have found myself disappointed by this genre in recent years.  There doesn't seem to be anything new to say in the mystery world.  Everything felt like rehashing old material.  That is why I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got the opportunity to read GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick's wife Amy disappears.  It looks as if there has been a struggle in their house but there is no body.  Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect in the case. The book moves back and forth between telling the events from Nick's perspective and then relating details from Amy's diary.  Just when you think you have an idea about what is really going on, everything changes.   Where is Amy?  Did Nick do something to her? If not, what happened to her?  As details unfold, we learn that this seemingly perfect marriage is not so perfect behind closed doors.  Flynn slowly reveals details about the couple that keep changing the reader's mind about what really happened and who the bad guys are. 

I loved the fact that this story wasn't a cut and dry mystery with good guys and bad guys.  Some will find the ending bothersome but I liked the fact that things don't always end up the way we expect them to.  One of the characters in the book is truly chilling. When this book is made into a movie (the rights have already been bought), I predict this character will become a legendary scary movie villain.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. An unusual mystery that will keep you guessing. Perfect for a vacation read.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Temporarily Closed for Training

(image source)

Hello Friends!
I will be gone for the next few weeks.  My work has given me the opportunity to go through some intense Archives training.  I'm both excited and nervous about it.

I have a master's degree in Anthropology and started out working in museums.  I LOVED working in museums.  I could never manage to secure a permanent position, though. So....

I took my skills in collection development and maintenance and combined that with my passion for books and headed into the public library system. I have now worked in libraries for over ten years.

Archives training would give me the opportunity to bridge my museum skills with my library skills.  I'm taking advantage of this opportunity to improve my skills.

I have never been apart from Noodlebug for more than one night before. This is going to be tough!

I'll be checking in over the next few weeks but posts will be few and far between.

See you soon!!!

Monday, July 02, 2012

2012 Reading Goal Update

Each year, my goal is to read 52 books.  I figure that's a pretty good goal.  Right now, I have completed 33 books for 2012.   I'm seven books head of schedule!  Wahoo!!!
I'm currently working on CITY OF WOMEN by David Gillham and BILL LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain.  I'm hoping to pick up Karen Thompson Walker's AGE OF MIRACLES at the library today.

So many great books to read!!!!

I hope you are doing lots of Summer reading!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

WINNER!!!

The winner of the SHADOW OF NIGHT giveaway is lucky number 13!!!
BOOKFOOL


I hope you will all read the book.  It's a great Summer read!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple



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

I love eccentric people. It is always so refreshing to me to find individuals who march to the beat of their own drummer---regardless of what other people think.  Bernadette Fox is one of those people.  In Maria Semple's new novel, Bernadette Fox is a woman who has lost herself.  A former architecture student and MacArthur grant winner, Fox is now a near-recluse who spends her days in her decrepit Seattle home (a giant former girls school) while caring for her successful Microsoft-guru husband and bright 15-yr-old daughter Bee.  Bernadette definitely doesn't fit in with the other private school moms and has made more than a few enemies among them--most notably her next door neighbor, Audrey Griffin.  One day, Bee brings home yet another perfect report card and announces that she wants a Christmas trip to Antarctica as her reward.  Bernadette's agoraphobia and anxiety about the upcoming trip begin to wear on her and one day she disappears.  In order to find her mother, Bee puts together a paper trail of e-mails, notes, documents and secret correspondance. The reader plows through this evidence along with Bee as we try to determine what happened to Bernadette.

Bernadette is a really great character. Her reactions to things made me laugh out loud several times.  You understand that she is borderline crazy but she manages to remain charming in spite of her flaws. In fact, every single character in the book is complex and flawed.  Audrey Griffin started out as a fairly one-dimensional villain but Semple manages to flesh her our more towards the end. The book was a really fun read and I loved the relationship between mother and daughter. While the ending was a bit far-fetched, it did not dampen my overall enthusiasm for the story.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  A charming mother/daughter tale with a slight mystery to it. Especially recommended for those who love quirky characters. This would make a great vacation read.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE by William Joyce


I cried two times because of books last Sunday.  Both were picture books. The first one to make me cry was THE TEDDY BEAR by David McPhail. It gets me every time I read it and I have been reading it for seven years.  The second one is new--THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE by William Joyce.  I am already a fan of William Joyce's wonderfully whimsical works.  I adored his first picture book entry into his GUARDIANS OF CHILDHOOD series---THE MAN IN THE MOON.  I knew this newest Joyce offering was going to be great and I was not disappointed.

This picture book inspired Joyce's Academy award-winning animated short film of the same name.  The film is absolutely gorgeous.  Spend fifteen minutes watching it right now:

It is clear how Joyce was inspired by the destruction wrought in his Louisiana home by Hurricane Katrina.  Joyce wanted to convey the curative power of books in the face of such devastation.  In the story, Morris becomes a caretaker of books after a similar disaster.  He spend his days caring for the books and connecting them with people who need their inspiration.  It becomes his life's work. The images are absolutely gorgeous and anyone who has ever loved a book will get carried away by the story. I had Noodlebug watch the animated short first before we read the book.  The film adds a little bit to the story and rounds it out. 

I am already trying to figure out if I have the sewing skills to make a Halloween costume for myself based on this image:

If you are a fellow bibliophile (and I'm sure you are or you wouldn't be here), I am confident that you have experienced the sensation of being carried away by a book.

I recommend this wonderful picture book for adults and children alike. 

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. A gorgeous picture book with a wonderfully whimsical story that finds a way to put sad life events into a beautiful bigger picture.  For anyone who has ever loved a book...

Monday, June 25, 2012

PRISONER OF HEAVEN by Carlos Ruiz Zafón



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

It has been a long time since I read Zafón's wonderful SHADOW OF THE WIND.  Although I bought the second book in the "trilogy," THE ANGEL'S GAME, I somehow never got around to reading it. I did not let that deter me from moving forward with THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN. All of these books stand along but there are common threads and characters that unite them.

In Barcelona in 1957, Daniel Sempere helps his father with their struggling bookstore while looking foward to the wedding of their friend and employee, Fermín Romero de Torres.  When a mysterious stranger shows up at the shop who leaves a threatening message for Fermín, Daniel presses Fermín for his story and the meaning behind the stranger's visit.  Fermín recounts the tale of his imprisonment in the 1940s that brings to mind THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and shows how his life and Daniel's came to intersect.  Secrets are revealed as the two men must decide what course their lives will take after long-hidden truths come to light.

As a fan of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, I loved all the references and allusions to the famous work.  This story is driven partly by relationships and partly by action/adventure which makes it very satisfying. There aren't many surprises in the story. It is pretty clear early on what direction the tale will take. That doesn't keep it from being a very entertaining read, however. My main complaint was that I didn't feel as if it was long enough. 318 pages felt too light for me. I wish Zafón had developed the story a bit more.  It felt as if there were pieces missing. Still, I really enjoyed the story and hope that this isn't the end of the tale.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended.  Fans of Zafón's other works will find much to enjoy here. Plenty of intrigue and mystery with several sinister characters.  I only wish it hadn't been so short.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Do You Sparkle?



Read my review for Sparkle Stories on my creative blog.  It's our new favorite thing!!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Giveaways!!!!

I have two giveaways going on right now.

USA TODAY recently named THE ORPHAN MASTER the top Summer reading pick in the mystery/suspense category and I'm giving a copy away.  The giveaway ends today!!!

Go here to enter.

I'm also giving away a prize pack of goodies for Deborah Harkness' new novel SHADOW OF NIGHT.    This giveaway ends on June 28.

Go here to enter.

I thought SHADOW OF NIGHT was even better than the first book in the series---A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Monday, June 11, 2012

THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS by Chris Bohjalian



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

There are some authors whose books have predictable themes and structure.  You know exactly what you will get each time you pick up a new offering from the author.  And then there is Chris Bohjalian.  If I put all of his books on a table and asked you to guess who authored each one, I doubt most readers would group them under the same author.  There is such a wide variety of subject matter and this is one of the things that makes Bohjalian so interesting to read.  I absolutely loved his most recent work, THE NIGHT STRANGERS, which felt like a mashup of "Rosemary's Baby" and "Wicker Man."  I loved the suspense and downright scariness of the book.  His newest work, THE SANDCASTLE GIRLS, could not be more different.

 In SANDCASTLE GIRLS, Bohjalian explores his Armenian heritage.  Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Aleppo, Syria in 1915 along with her father and other American aid workers in an attempt to help the Armenian refugees streaming into the area.  Elizabeth sees firsthand the effects of the genocide of the Armenian people at the hands of the Turks.   While Elizabeth is in Aleppo, she befriends an Armenian engineer named Armen who has lost his wife and baby girl in the genocide.  When Armen leaves to join the British army in Egypt, Elizabeth stays in Aleppo and begins a correspondance with him that helps their friendship blossom into love.  Elizabeth and Armen's story is juxtaposed with that of their daughter, Laura Petrosian, in the present day.  When an old friend calls Laura claiming to have seen a photo of her grandmother at a Boston museum, Laura begins to dig into her family history and uncovers long-hidden secrets about her grandparents and her Armenian heritage.

SANDCASTLE GIRLS is a love story set against a backdrop of war and genocide. But it is more than that.  It is also the story of a family and their history and secrets.  It is a story about the effects of war and genocide and the horrible and far-reaching effects that both can have.  It is a story about a time and place that is barely recognized by the world at large.  I found the story incredibly moving.

I knew absolutely NOTHING about the Armenian genocide before reading this book.  Why do we choose to highlight the atrocities against one group over another.  Why are some genocides well-known and others hidden away?  The book definitely raised a lot of questions for me.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A beautiful story of war and love and family. Definitely a huge eye-opener about a little known genocide---one whose story needs to be told.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

***Giveaway*** SHADOW OF NIGHT



DISCOVERY OF WITCHES fans rejoice! The countdown for the sequel has begun! If you haven't had a chance to read my review yet, go here.

I have the wonderful opportunity to give away not only a finished copy of SHADOW OF NIGHT but also a few extra goodies!

In addition to a copy of the book, you will receive an exclusive Ashmole 782 temporary tattoo:



And an exclusive set of buttons:


To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below along with a way for me to contact you. For extra entries, follow this blog on Facebook.  Leave an additional comment for the Facebook entry.  Entries close on Thursday, June 28 at 8:00am PST.

For another exciting contest on Deborah Harkness' Facebook fan page, go here and enter to win a copy of the book and a sample size set of Diana's and Matthew's perfumes!  They will give away a set every Friday from June 1 through July 6.   (four winners total)

SHADOW OF NIGHT will be released on July 10.  If you haven't had a chance to read the first book, Amazon will be offering the e-book version of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES for just $2.99 as their "Deal of the Day" on June 10th only.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Put Your Library Card Up!!!

Summer is almost here!!! The best bargain in town is your public library. I know our library will be hosting its annual Summer Reading Program which will include lots of wonderful programs from musicians to puppet shows.  All free!!!

Libraries are the best!

Check out this amusing video by Melvil Dewey and put your library card up!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

WIFE 22 by Melanie Gideon



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

WIFE 22 picks up where BRIDGET JONES left off.  Alice Buckle is a 40-something mother, wife and part-time elementary school drama teacher.  Her life seems full but something just isn't right.  When Alice receives an e-mail from a research company looking for participants in a study on marriage, she jumps at the chance to participate.  At first, it seems that the financial compensation is her main incentive.  But as Alice answers the surveys that keep popping up in her inbox, she finds herself become addicted to this anonymous unburdening of her thoughts on her life and marriage.  For the purposes of the study, Alice is designated "Wife 22" and assigned to "Researcher 101."  Alice finds it far easier to reveal her innermost thoughts to this anonymous researcher and starts to get personal with him as she reveals things to him that she doesn't reveal to her husband, family and friends. The study begins to make Alice reevaluate everything in her life from her marriage to her job.

The story is interspersed with details from today's multimedia social networking culture such as Google searches and Facebook posts as well as Alice's answers to survey questions.  Part of the fun for me was trying to figure out what the questions may have been just by reading Alice's answers.  (the questions are listed at the back of the book but I recommend ignoring them until you have finished the book)  I think Alice's story will resonate with many women who are at a similar place in their lives.  Alice can be goofy and self-deprecating which makes her charming in her confusion and sometimes poor choices. I found myself laughing out loud several times in the story and empathized with a lot of Alice's confusion.

This would be a fantastic beach read or book club selection.  It is a very quick read and is often quite charming.  The ending was a little bit anticlimactic. For me, it felt very obvious what was going to happen.  Still, it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. A fun read about one woman's mid-life crisis as revealed through various forms of social media and modern forms of commuication. Perfect for fans of BRIDGET JONES looking for a new heroine.