Sunday, December 23, 2012


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


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


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


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
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

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.



BRINGING UP BEBE by Pamela Druckerman


SIMPLICITY PARENTING by Kim John Payne and Lisa Ross

No selection

FREE TO LEARN by Peter Gray

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

by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish



IT'S OK NOT TO SHARE by Heather Shumaker

Other potential titles:

FREE RANGE KIDS by Lenore Skenazy
WRITE START by Jennifer Hallissy
RHYTHM OF FAMILY by Amanda Blake Soule
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


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.