31 May 2009

Me and My Books

I was tagged by Smash from Great Books Fresh Coffee for this book meme. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I liked writing it.

  • 1. What author do you own the most books by?

I'm going to guess Jane Austen, but it might be Bernard Cornwell.

  • 2. What book do you own the most copies of?

Merriam-Webster dictionaries: I have lots of editions and in several rooms in the house.

  • 3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?


  • 4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

Dustfinger as he is in Inkspell.

  • 5. What book have you read the most times in your life?

Either Lord of the Rings, Jane Eyre, or Pride and Prejudice. Not sure.

  • 6. Favorite book as a ten year old?

Maybe The Hobbit. I really can't remember back that far.

  • 7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

Don't want to say. But I'll mention one of the worst books I ever read: The Bridges of Madison County.

  • 8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

Right now, I'm thinking The Killing Tree, Wicked Lovely, or Wintergirls. (Can you say eclectic?)

  • 9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?

I used to push Islandia on people. But maybe I'd say Emerson's essays. All foodies should read M. F. K. Fisher. The problem is that I don't think there really is one book that would appeal to everyone.

  • 10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

I blogged about this before: I'm going with A Sudden Country.

  • 11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Not sure what you mean by difficult. Do you mean hard to understand or hard to get through? English Patient was really hard to get through.

  • 12. What is your favorite book?

The book I'm loving at the moment.

  • 13. Play?

Gosh, I don't really know that either. I'll cop out with Shakespeare.

  • 14. Poem?

Again, I hate narrowing it down, but I've been a Blake fan since childhood.

  • 15. Essay?

Something by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  • 16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

Hummm, I'm drawing a blank. Sorry.

  • 17. What is your desert island book?

The absolutely complete Shakespeare.

  • 18. And . . . what are you reading right now?
The Big House (print) and Fire Study (audio)

Thanks, Smash! If anyone wants to snag these questions, I'd love to read your answers.

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30 May 2009

Review: Rumors by Anna Godbersen

Rumors is the second in Godbersen's Luxe series. There is no way to review this book without spoilers from the first book (but there are no spoilers for Rumors). If you haven't read the first book, start with my review of The Luxe and then skip the first two paragraphs here.

Two months after Elizabeth Holland's funeral, the New York social scene starts to pick up again as the century draws to a close. Mrs. Holland has now pinned all her financial hopes on her remaining daughter, Diana. Meanwhile, two members of Elizabeth's inner circle have been busy remaking themselves in her image. Penelope Hayes, with the help of the current Mrs. Schoonmaker, is shedding her old persona so she can be ready the moment Henry comes out of mourning for his fiancée. Carolina Broud, the ex-personal maid, is working equally hard to become the lady she thinks Will Keller desires.

Tales of Elizabeth's kidnapping and reports of her being sighted are the fodder of high-society gossipmongers, but only Diana and Penelope know the truth. As the Hollands' fortune continues to dwindle, Diana begins to panic, and she sends a telegram that will have widespread repercussions.

Rumors contains several well-paced, interconnecting, and converging story lines, and Penelope Hayes is at the center of most of them. Carolina's story is particularly interesting, and it's not clear if she truly understands what she's doing and whom to trust. The plot is complex and keeps you riveted clear to the end.

The cast of characters—from the sleazy Lord & Taylor clerk to the mysterious Mr. Snowden—are three-dimensional and hold true to their personalities. You want to strangle some and offer much-needed guidance to others.

There are fewer historical details in Rumors than there were in The Luxe. But we were so well introduced to 1899 New York City in the first book that further elaboration wasn't really necessary or missed.

At the end the novel, I was definitely left wanting to know more about these families. Fortunately, Envy has already been published and Splendor is in the works.

I listened to this book via digital download from my library. It was read by Nina Siemaszko, who also narrated The Luxe. Siemaszko makes this an engaging listen.

Anna Godbersen has a website with news, a blog, downloads, and more.

Print published by HarperCollins, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780061345715
Audio publisher Harper Audio, 2008
Challenges: Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, 100+
YTD: 41
Rating: A-

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29 May 2009

Unfinished and Giveaway: Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

Summary: Holly Frick was once an A-list Hollywood writer. After her divorce, she moved to New York to write a novel. Her friends' lives seem to be in turmoil with broken relationships, love affairs, and trouble at work. Holly, however, is finding that life is good. She has started a relationship with a single younger man and has also freed a sick dog from the animal shelter.

Why I Abandoned the Book: I think the problem for me was that there were no characters that reminded me of myself or my friends. Furthermore, I didn't really connect with any of their situations. If I can't relate to or empathize with any of the characters, I have a hard time enjoying or finishing a book.

A Quick Look at Reviews: I checked several commercial book sites and discovered that Secrets to Happiness averages a 4-star rating. On the book cataloging sites, the novel is rated just under 3.5 stars.

For full and positive reviews of Secrets to Happiness, see S. Krishna's Books ("If you are a fan of chick lit, you should definitely pick this one up! I certainly enjoyed it and I think you will too.") and Bookish Mom Reviews ("As a whole, despite the many characters and story facets, Secrets to Happiness had a seamless flow and kept a great pace through to very the last page.").

Published by Little, Brown, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780316013581


I have two hardback copies of Secrets to Happiness to give away. This contest is open to everyone around the world.

Here are the rules:
Leave a comment with your e-mail address: 1 chance
If you follow me or are a present subscriber: 5 chances
Become a new follower or subscriber: 3 chances
Tweet this giveaway, come back, and leave the URL: 1 chance
Blog about the giveaway or post a link, come back, and leave the URL: 1 chance

This giveaway is open until midnight on June 8. If you do not leave an e-mail address, I cannot include you in the drawing. I'll use a random number generator to determine the two winners and two runners-up and will make an announcement on June 9 or 10.

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28 May 2009

Thursday Tea (May 28): Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Tea

This week I'm drinking Adagio's decaf spice tea. It is described as being: "a medley of spices: cinnamon, cardamon, and ginger." Decaf was a good choice because I definitely did not need to feel more hyped this week as I got ready for BEA. I've been drinking this black and strong.

The Book

I'm listening to Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder, which is the third in the Study series about Yelena and her discovery of herself, her family, and her magical powers. Yelena was kidnapped when she was little girl and brought to the capital city. Through a series of events, her magical talents were discovered only after she reached the old age of twenty. She is now learning how to harness and use her power, something that others learn when they reach puberty. (See my review of the second book, Magic Study.)

The Assessment

The books take place in a vaguely Far Eastern setting. The names of the people and places make me think of China or Mongolia or Tibet. Although spice tea may have been a better match for Indonesia, it's a great tea to sip while listening to a story that takes place in a non-Western local. The warmth of the spices goes well with Yelena's current studies of how to make and control fire.

What are you reading and has it made you reach for anything in particular to drink? Tea, coffee, wine, whiskey?

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27 May 2009

Wordless Wednesday (May 27)

Dame's Rocket

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

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26 May 2009

Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesday (May 26)

I'm in Cape Cod. I've been here for about century, and I've seen it all. I love the busy summers when the family races out my doors and comes back in dusting me with sand. The winters can be lonely because I'm usually shut down tight, providing shelter to the mice. I'm worried because the fourth generation may decide to let me go. I've barely gotten to know the babies.

For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading.

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

For hours, we saw the grown-ups only in passing: my parents and aunts en route to a tennis match; Grandma tending her foxgloves; Grandpa trudging from the woods to the lower hall closet for a set of loppers, a Rorschach blot of sweat expanding from the collar of his khaki work shirt. (p. 36)

—Both from The Big House by George Howe Colt

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25 May 2009

Review: No Angel by Penny Vincenzi

No Angel is the first in the Spoils of Time series.

Lady Celia Beckenham may have been born into titles and money, but she fell in love with middle-class Oliver Lytton, whose father worked his way up from bookbinder to publisher. Celia, a headstrong and manipulative young lady, eventually got her parents' blessing to marry outside her social class. And thus the fates of the Lyttons and the Bechenhams were joined for the duration.

This family saga takes us from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of the Roaring Twenties and from England to the United States and the battlefields of the Great War. No Angel has everything you want a family saga to have, including great characters and lots of drama. The Beckenhams and Lyttons are realistically portrayed, each with his or her own personality and unique set of talents and flaws. Over the years, family members support each other, quarrel, misunderstand, betray, love, forgive, and hold grudges.

No Angel is also fascinating as a historical novel, detailing much of the rapid changes of a hundred years ago: We learn about women's suffrage, labor unions, social reform, business, medicine, and warfare. And through it all stands the family-owned publishing firm Lyttons. As a book lover and book professional, I was especially interested in the details of the changing publishing world: the set up of the offices, the interaction of the publishers with their authors and editors, the role of women, and the way the war affected the entire industry.

The story line moves at an appropriately varied pace. The comfortable days of a young marriage are offset by later household upheaval and the uncertainties of war. Vincenzi has created a very believable world. Although this is the first volume in a trilogy, the novel stands up well by itself. There are no cliff hangers, but not all of the plot lines have come to a conclusion. I will be looking for the other books in the series: Something Dangerous and Into Temptation.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Carrington MacDuffie. The audio production was well done, and MacDuffie easily transitioned among the various accents. The pacing was comfortable and kept the listener progressing smoothly through the novel.

Penny Vincenzi has a website.

Print published by Overlook Press, 2004
ISBN-13: 9781585676071
Audio published by Phoenix Books, 2007
Challenges: A-Z Author, New Author, Support Your Library, 999, 100+
YTD: 40
Rating: B+

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24 May 2009

Weekly Link Round-Up (May 24)

Here's what I read this week.


Jen at Devourer of Books reviewed Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Although novel takes place "in cosmopolitan Shanghai, as well as Los Angeles, in the first half of the 20th century," instead of a more traditional setting, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Shelly at Write for a Reader reviewed The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. It's about a teen who "gets chosen to star on the Laguna Beach-style reality show filmed at her school." Sounds like another good one from the authors of the Nanny Diaries. And Shelly is also hosting a giveaway of a signed copy of the book.

Carrie at Books and Movies adds to my wish list every time she writes a best-of post. This week it's Favorite Memoirs, Part One. There are some new-to-me books on this list, and I'll be looking for them at the library.

Nicole from Linus's Blanket reviewed the thriller Fault Line by Barry Eisler. Here's what she had to say: "The writing was crisp, flowed smoothly and was engaging and accessible even as it explored darker family themes, war and violence." I don't usually read thrillers, but this one is now on my list.

Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea reviewed The Visibles by Sarah Shepard. It's a coming-of-age story, and "[t]he theme of family, loss, and how family background and situations affects each of us deeply is prevalent throughout this story."

Meghan from Medieval Bookworm reviewed The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez. If this quote from Meghan's review doesn't get you, then nothing will: "This is a lovely, lovely book. It’s carefully written in measured, beautiful prose, allowing the impact of the emotions that the characters are feeling to sweep the reader away more than telling us that it should. The setting is gorgeous. I could feel the warm breeze in Panama and the chill in Chicago’s winter. I could see the Panama Canal for myself for the first time."


Lisa from Books on the Brain wants to know if you are a skimmer or a reader when it comes to getting through through blog list every day. See what everyone else said and then leave your own comment.

Have you read any of the Stephenie Plum books? If so, Carrie from Books and Movies want to know: Ranger or Morelli? Come on, tell us who you would pick.

Do you Tweet? Natalie from Book, Line and Sinker wants to know the pros and cons of being on Twitter.


Swapna at S. Krishna's Books has started a new series on book-trading sites on the Internet. Her first post is an overview of book trading and her second post focuses on Paperback Swap. If you're new to trading (like I am), this series is something to bookmark.

Keira at Love Romance Passion gives you sixteen tips for reading more books. Check them out.

For those wanting to know how to add tabs to a Blogger blog I stared with Blogger Buster and played around from there. If your template currently doesn't allow you to add gadgets above or below your header you need to change the "showaddelement" lines from no to yes. There are two of these in the header section of your template.

More Bookish Links

Do you participate in the Book Review Carnival? The next two editions are currently taking submissions: paranormal fiction and local (to you) authors. If neither of these categories suit you, please visit the site and click on Upcoming Editions and find the perfect carnival for your reading tastes. If you don't find it then volunteer to host a carnival for your favorite genre.

Indiebound has summer reading suggestions for kids and adults.

Steph from Reviewer X is giving away all the Elizabeth Scott books. I don't even want to tell you about it because I want to win. Anyway, head on over to Steph's blog and read all about it. And while you are there read Pub Story and Favorite Kind of Romance. Heck, just read Steph's blog.

Molly from My Cozy Book Nook had a great Q&A post about why we blog.

If you haven't read the Enola Holmes mystery series, here's your chance to get started. Ruth from Bookish Ruth is giving away the first three books in the series.

Some of these links are part of a link-sharing group.

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23 May 2009

Award and Changes

Thank you so much, Molly, for passing along this award. This cute panda "acknowledges those who frequently comment on the others' blogs." It's nice to get awarded for being a motor mouth (continuous commenter?) for a change! If you haven't been to My Cozy Book Nook, I urge you to click through and check out Molly's great blog.


I finally got my tabs up and running. I've taken the slideshow of my awards off the footer. I think it might have caused my blog to load a bit slowly. All my awards are now on their own page, which can be found by clicking the tab.

I've organized all my reviews by author, title, and genre. Alphabetical lists with links to the reviews can be found by clicking on the tabs. Although I've done only two interviews so far, they too are listed on their own page and are given a tab.

Over the weekend I hope to finish the final edits on my review policy and get that linked up to its tab.

The other task I hope to complete this weekend is cleaning up my labels. Jackie at Farm Lane Books was asking for ideas of how to use tags and categories in Wordpresss. I commented there that I thought I had a good system for my labels (Blogger). Ha!! I spoke too soon, and now I'm a bit embarrassed. When I really looked at my labels, I saw that there were typos and duplicates and that some labels were fairly useless. So Jackie is my inspiration for this big job.

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22 May 2009

Review: Great Dream of Heaven by Sam Shepard

Some of you may be wondering if the author of Great Dream of Heaven is the same Sam Shepard you know from the movies. If so, then you probably don't know that Shepard is also a Pulitzer Prize winner or that this collection of eighteen stories was a finalist for the W. H. Smith Literary Award.

Shepard's sparse, spare style lets us into select moments of the lives of ordinary people, from fathers and sons, to daughters and mothers, passing strangers, and friends. Each story is almost like a scene out of a play, self-contained but well-oriented in the larger world.

The opening story, "The Remedy Man," begins:

E.V. made no bones about it; he was not a horse whisperer by any stretch. He was a remedy man. He could fix bad horses, and when he fixed them they stayed fixed. That's all he laid claim to. (p. 3)

In a single afternoon, a young boy overcomes his childish fears, starts to see his father from another perspective, and catches hold of possibilities.

Despite the obvious love and mutual caretaking between grandfather and grandson, the superficiality of communication and typical reticence of an adolescent boy is beautifully captured in "The Door to Women." In the one long paragraph that makes up "Foreigners" we learn the ups and downs of owning a small café and the happiness of a marriage.

In the poignant title story, Dean and Sherman, old men whose families have grown up and moved on, share their daily rituals in a small bungalow on the dusty plains of South Dakota. Part of their routine is to put on their best clothes, including matching bolas and Stetsons, and walk down to the Denny's to watch Faye wait on tables.

The days of the "gentleman" were long dead but they made their appearance at Denny's each day at noon to remind Faye that her sort of beauty was a great blessing in the midst of all this sad madness. She appreciated it too. Her face always brightened a notch or two when she'd see them waiting by the cashier. (p. 131)

Of course, they never talk about Faye, each imagining he is alone in his thoughts. But what if one of them were to visit Faye without the other?

Although I have never been drawn to short stories, I am a huge Sam Shepard fan. He provides us with just enough of the right moments of his characters' lives to leave us wondering but never unsatisfied.

Sam Shepard has a website where you can learn more about his books, films, and plays.

Great Dream of Heaven at an Indie

Published by Knopf, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780375704529
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 39
Rating: A

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21 May 2009

Thursday Tea . . . Not (May 21): No Angel by Penny Vincenzi

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Coffee

This week I'm not drinking tea at all. I treated myself to a pound of Peet's Italian Roast coffee: "Intense; blended from the fullest-bodied, most flavorful coffees from the Pacific and Latin America." I love Peet's coffee, but it's a mail-order item for me. I've been indulging in a double shot of espresso in the afternoons. I like my coffee strong with no milk or sugar, and espresso is my favorite.

The Book

I'm still listening to No Angel by Penny Vencenzi, and I'm still loving it. Especially interesting over the last week was reading about how the Lytton's publishing company coped during World War I. With the men gone, the women were forced to make changes to deal with the shortages in materials and a weak economy. When the war ends, the men aren't necessarily pleased with the new policies. There is lots of good action too: love affairs, sibling rivalries, business competition, jealousy, and the early women's movement. And one branch of the family is now living in New York.

The Assessment

It's after the war and the economy is on the rise. The men are beginning to find their way back into their lives after returning from the battlefield. There seems to be a lot of champagne and the restocking of wine cellars. I really don't think anyone would be drinking double shots of espresso. So I'd say I failed to match book and drink this time.

Have you discovered anything interesting to drink lately? What have you been reading or listening to?

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20 May 2009

Wordless Wednesday (May 20)

Peony Bud

For more Wordless Wednesday images, click here.

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19 May 2009

Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesday (May 19)

I'm Holly. I'm currently living in New York City writing for a tween show that airs on Nickelodeon. I used to be a Hollywood hot-shot, I used to be married, and I even wrote a novel. My life seems to be on an upswing, because I've just added two new men to my life: Chester, a dog who as a brain tumor, and Lucas, a friend's brother who is twelve years younger than I am.

For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading.

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

The dog that caught Holly's eye at the shelter was not particularly cute, at least not conventionally so, which is why, Holly figured, he was still there, lingering on death row while the puppies and the pugs and the Irish setters and the Labradoodles managed to find new homes. But there was something comical about his eyebrows, which were big and black and tufty, and the way he cocked his head to one side, like he was listening intently to a soft voice in the next room or just about to tell a joke. (p. 53)

—Both from Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

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18 May 2009

Review: Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn

Here's a new feature at Beth Fish Reads. In the years before I started blogging, I kept notes about the books I read. Every once in a while I will post mini reviews of books I read in my pre-blogging days. Enjoy.

Across Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, and Brilliance of the Moon were the original books in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. I discovered these novels on audio but they would be wonderful in print as well.

Takeo is a young boy who was raised by his single mother in principles of a forbidden nonviolent religious sect in feudal Japan known as the Hidden. When his village is ransacked, he manages to escape and is saved by Lord Otori Shigeru, who eventually adopts him. Lord Shigeru tells Takeo who his father was and then teaches the boy the ways of the Tribe, a people who are known to possess mysterious skills. The boy is called on to use his skills to help his adoptive father, even though he must break from the teachings of the Hidden.

Meanwhile, Shirakawa Kaede's father is looking for a husband for her. Naturally, he is concerned only with bettering himself, and Kaede has no say in the matter. As she is struggling to find a way to have some control over her own life, she and Takeo meet. They seem destined to be together, but fate separates them as they each must fight for what is theirs.

This series is a great find for fans of the myth as described by Joseph Campbell. Although the broader plot line follows the familiar path of reluctant lowly hero who finally accepts his destiny, this book brings new interest to the genre. The descriptions of the countryside and peoples are vivid without being wordy—somewhat like a Japanese watercolor. The complexities of the relations among the social classes, clans, and religious sects are revealed slowly, so we discover important information along with Takeo, the boy whose story we follow. Takeo's narrative is interwoven with the story of Kaede, a young woman who is used by her father for political gain.

Of the three books , the first was the most well written and most interesting. Grass for His Pillow contained some surprises, but Brilliance of the Moon was somewhat predictable. All in all, though, I can recommend the series as an admirable addition to the myth literature. The books would appeal to fantasy fans and to fans of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

All three books are narrated by Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone. Gray is an expressive reader. Nakasone's delivery is a bit monotone, but stick with her; I soon got used to her voice and it no longer bothered me.

Published by Penguin Group (USA)
Across the Nightingale Floor: 2003 (ISBN-13: 9781573223324)
Grass for His Pillow: 2004 (ISBN-13: 9781594480034)
Brilliance of the Moon: 2006 (ISBN-13: 9780641930959)

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the epilogue and Heaven's Net Is Wide is the prequel.

The Harsh Cry of the Heron brings a satisfying end to the story of Takeo and Kaede. However, we are introduced to new people whose lives and adventures could draw us back into medieval Japan, if the author wanted to continue the series. The action and characters were complex and believable; it was almost impossible to stop listening.

Heaven's Net Is Wide was the last book to be written and is first chronologically. It takes place before Across the Nightingale Floor and tells the story of Lord Otori Shigeru. In it, we learn much more about the feudal kingdoms and important background to Takeo's story. It was bewitching, and the second I turned the MP3 player off I wanted to restart the entire series. I haven't reread the books yet, but will definitely do so at some point.

The narrators for the last two books were Julia Fletcher, Henri Lubatti (Heron), and J. Paul Boehmer (Heaven). I don't remember being disturbed or thrown by the change in readers.

Published by Penguin Group (USA)
Harsh Cry of the Heron: 2007 (ISBN-13: 9781594482571)
Heaven's Net Is Wide: 2007 (ISBN-13: 9781594489532)

Lian Hearn has a website with further information about the books, the writing process, and links.

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17 May 2009

Weekly Link Round-Up (May 17)

Here's what I read last week.

Being Social

Meryl's Notes Blog has some tips on how to join a conversation on Twitter.

Amy (My Friend Amy), Meghan (Medieval Bookworm), and Michele (Reader's Respite) have started the Book Blog Social Club. It's a place available for everyone to use to host online social events.

Summer Fun

Amy wants to know what you'd like to watch on DVD this summer. She's hoping to organize a discussion.

Lisa from Books on the Brain is helping to put together a summer book club. Check it out and think about joining in.

Robin from Around the Island is hosting Summer Stock Sunday. It's a chance to share photographs of "your barbecues, your beaches, your cannonballing kids, that island sunset, an old pair of flip flops, anything that says summer to you." Sounds like fun.


Nicole from Linus's Blanket reviewed Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum. It's a very personal look into how the hurricanes have affected the city. Nicole says: "If you love reading about different communities and enjoy getting a glimpse into people’s lives then you will truly enjoy this book."

Carrie from Books and Movies reviewed The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine. This is on my TBR and so I was interested in what Carrie thought: "Levine has crafted a heartbreakingly realistic book full of the worst that humanity is capable of inflicting on one of its own."

Shelly from Write for a Reader did a fabulous job promoting Children's Book Week. Please take the time to check her celebration. You'll find reviews, interviews, giveaways, and more.

Jen from Devourer of Books reviewed Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy. I have this book in my TBR and will be reading it for my book club in July. This sounds like a super book and great club choice: "as ridiculous as it may sound, the book was a like a cozy old sweater. " Isn't that a great way to describe a book?

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16 May 2009

A Look at Mount TBR

We all have ever-growing stacks of books in our houses. I thought I'd share just some of the books I'm looking forward to reading. This list contains review copies, ARCs, my own books, and library books.

Foodie Books

The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen
Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen
An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage


Life's That Way by Jim Beaver
Home Game by Michael Lewis (look for review around Father's Day)

Fiction and Nonfiction

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Crossed Wires by Rosy Thornton
The Big House by George Howe Colt

Have you read any of these?
Which of these should I get to quickly?
What books in your TBR pile are you looking forward to reading?

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15 May 2009

Review: This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

Neither Violet Parry nor her husband, David, grew up with money or comfort. Neither could have imagined that they'd be living in luxury in Hollywood Hills with a gardener, pool boy, and nanny. Sally Parry, David's sister, has always felt like an outsider and has always wanted to be rich and loved.

Sally and Violet seem to be on inversely related paths. The richer and happier Violet is, the more in debt and more alone Sally becomes. Then one day their fates seem to reverse. Sally meets Jeremy, an up-and-coming sports commentator, and Violet meets Teddy, an ex-junkie, down-and-out bass player.

Both women seem to be out of control on their crazy pursuit of what they are sure will make them happy. Just when Sally knows she has everything she has ever dreamed of, all their lives begin to change forever, but not according to plan.

The convergence of Hollywood's rich and famous, hot new properties, wannabes, and never-will-bes is at the heart of Semple's debut novel. This is not just another book about a rich woman feeling unfulfilled or a gold-digger thinking she's finally found the bank. Violet and Sally make choices that most of us would question, but it's where those choices take them that drives the story.

Through humor and a unabashed take on LA life, Semple explores how even the clueless can reach the place where they want what they have, keep what they love, and accept who they are. Throughout the book, we are treated to a fabulous cast of characters, who seem to rise just enough above stereotype to be believable but close enough to the line to let us laugh along with them.

The double-sided look into the interactions among the characters, whether within the same economic class or between classes, was a treat. Few people see themselves as others do, and in the often-shallow relationships of the Hollywood crowd, the discrepancy can be amusing.

This One Is Mine was a bit of slow start for me because I was sure I knew where Violet and Sally were headed. But the women's stories and those of the people who surround them are more complex than expected. The characters were motivated by deeper issues than simple instant gratification, and their growth and self-realizations led to a satisfying end.

Maria Semple has a website, where you can learn more about the book and the author. I especially like the photos and other graphics found there.

Published by Little, Brown, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780316031165
Challenges: New Author, 999, 100+
YTD: 38
Rating: B

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451 Fridays: What Book Will I Become?

Today I have a guest post over at As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves. Every Friday, Elizabeth hosts 451 Fridays, an event that was inspired by the Ray Bradbury book. Elizabeth invites a different blogger each week to first list five books that she feels passionate about and then pick which one she would "become" so that the book will never be forgotten.

Today it's my turn, and I hope you'll go over and read my post and tell Elizabeth what you think.

The feature is open to everyone. If you want to participate, let Elizabeth know. She puts an open invitation at the end of each 451 post. Don't be shy.

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14 May 2009

Thursday Tea (May 14): No Angel by Penny Vincenzi

Thursday Tea is hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. Here's how it works: Tell us what tea you are drinking (and if you like it). And then tell us what book are you reading (and if you like it). Finally, tell us if they go together.

The Tea

This week I'm drinking Ceylon tea from Adagio Teas. They describe it this way: "bright and lively, with a wonderfully delicate flavor. . . . The perfect afternoon tea." As always, I drink it black and unsweetened. It's a nice basic tea.

The Book

I'm currently listening to a recommendation from my local library: No Angel by Penny Vencenzi. It is the first in the Lytton Family Trilogy and begins in 1904 with the marriage of the fabulously wealthy Lady Celia Beckenham to Oliver Lytton, whose father owns a publishing house in London. Naturally, Celia's family is not happy that she married beneath her. So far, I like the despcriptions of the publishing business at the turn of the century and seeing how Celia manages to find a place in that business, despite her husband's initial objections.

The Assessment

Celia grew up expecting the best of the best. But when she married for love, she had to make adjustments. Nevertheless, I'm sure her afternoon tea would not have been a common blend. Thus I think Ceylon might have been a good compromise for her.

What have you been reading or listening to this week? And what would we find in your glass or mug?

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13 May 2009

Wordless Wednesday (May 13)

Cut Wood

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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12 May 2009

Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesday (May 12)

I'm still Violet and I'm still in the Los Angeles area. I've met a raggedy ex-junkie bass player who has added some sparkle back to my life. I even invited him over for lunch. I don't think I want the relationship to go further because I realize that I really do love my husband. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, Sally, is chasing a soon-to-be famous sports writer. She's trying not to scare him off by being too needy.

For more Where Are You? answers, visit Raidergirl3 at An Adventure in Reading.

MizB at Should Be Reading hosts Teaser Tuesdays. Here's how it works: Grab your current read; let the book fall open to a random page; and share 2 “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. For more teasers, click on through to MizB's blog.

"What do you want, Jeremy?" Sally felt herself entering that zone that scared off all the other boyfriends, the one that gave her the reputation for being "crazy." (p. 91)

—Both from This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

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11 May 2009

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Lia's life is ruled by numbers: number of bites, number of calories, number of pounds. If she doesn't stay on top of her food intake every second of every day, she will succumb to her weaknesses, and she will prove to herself and the world just how stupid, ugly, and fat she really is. Sometimes Lia is sure that all she needs to do is open up the shell of her body so all the bad will just flow out. Or maybe she needs to use the razor so that she can feel something—anything.

Lia has been in the clinic twice already. She's living with her father and stepmother pretending to be normal when she learns that her childhood friend, Cassie, has died alone at eighteen in a dingy motel room. Her esophagus has ruptured from vomiting too much and too violently. She called Lia thirty-three times the weekend that she died. And thirty-three times, Lia didn't answer her phone.

But Cassie won't stay in her coffin and won't stay buried. She haunts Lia's nights and shows up in unexpected places. She misses Lia and wants her friend to cross the line and join her where it's possible to sleep and eat and not feel pain.

Lia's goal is eighty-five pounds, but maybe eighty or seventy-five or seventy might not be bad. If only she can stay strong (stupid fat lazy as she is), she will make it. If only she can convince her parents not to place her in a psychiatric ward or back in the clinic. If only she didn't hurt so much. If only she could raise her arms or walk across the room. If only she could get warm.

It is impossible to convey the emotional strength of Wintergirls. The language is beautiful, even as it describes horrific scenes:

The box opens and the razors slide out, whisper sweet.

Used to be that my whole body was my canvas—hot cuts licking my ribs, ladder rungs climbing my arms, thick milkweed stalks shooting up my thighs. . . .

I inscribe three lines, hush, hush, hush, into my skin. Ghosts trickle out. (p. 61)

Anderson holds nothing back: the self-hating mantras, the cutting, the vomiting, the pain, the hallucinations, the wish to die. All is laid out in Lia's words. It is a difficult book to read, yet it's impossible to turn away from it. The look into the mind and life a girl who is essentially starving herself to death is riveting. It's creepy. You wonder at your own fascination.

Most modern women face body image issues. Pretty much everyone wishes she could lose just five, ten, twenty, fifty pounds. Everyone looks in the mirror and sees fat thighs, fat arms, big nose, frizzy hair, bad skin. But Lia has lost the ability to see:

The girl reflected back from the window . . . [has] the shape of a breakfast-link sausage standing on broomstick legs, her arms made from twigs, her face blurred with an eraser. I know that it is me, but it's not me, not really. I don't know what I look like. I can't remember how to look. (pp. 83–84)

They yell at me because I can't see what they see. Nobody can explain to me why my eyes work different than theirs. Nobody can make it stop. (p. 197)

Wintergirls exposes much of the secret behavior practiced by those suffering from eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation are probably more common than many of us realize. I hope that by creating Lia and Cassie and telling us their stories, Anderson is able to break the cycle of self-hate in at least some of her readers. And I hope that the peek into Lia's thoughts will bring some understanding to those who are trying to reach out and save a loved one from a horrible death.

I listened to the unabridged recording of Wintergirls narrated by Jeannie Stith. The audio production was outstanding. Stith convincingly conveyed Lia's confusion, anguish, and pain. The end of the audio contained an author interview, including a reading of a poem Anderson wrote to commemorate the tenth anniversary of her novel Speak. The print version used a variety of design techniques to show blog posts, Lia's self-editing, and other types of text. The audio production successfully used some sound effects and Stith's voice to portray the same.

Laurie Halse Anderson has a website. There you will find a teacher guide, a list of resources, and other information for the interested reader.

Print published by Viking Juvenile, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780670011100
Unabridged audio by Brilliance, 2009
Challenges: A-Z Title, New Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 100+, 999
YTD: 37
Rating: A

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10 May 2009

Weekly Link Round-Up (May 10)

Here's what I read last week.

Blogging and Tweeting

If you are on Twitter, you'll be interested in Mashable's list of 100+ authors on Twitter. If you're not on Twitter, this may make you sign up!

Melissa at Melissa's Bookshelf has a great post on links to Blogger tips and tricks. This is a super resource.

Pro Blogger has a post on blogging applications that work with Windows. Some are familiar, but I bet you discover a new program or two.


Shelly at Write for a Reader reminds us that next week is Children's Book Week. Be sure to check out the ways in which she plans to celebrate; she has events planned for the whole week.

I know that you've barely recovered from Dewey's spring read-a-thon, but did you know there was also a 48-hour read-a-thon? This is the fourth year. For details, check out the information post by Mother Reader at Heart of a Reader.

BEA (May 28 to 31)

For those of you going to BEA, be sure to sign up to spend some time in booth 4077, generously hosted by Fran Toolan. He has a list of bloggers already signed up for the Blogger Signing. All bloggers attendingt BEA are encouraged to sign up. I mean it: This is for all of us.

Attendees should set aside 2 p.m. on Saturday to attend the Book Bloggers: Today's Buzz Builders panel in room 1E15. The panel is hosted by Jennifer Hart from HarperCollins and consists of Julie from Booking Mama, Amy from My Friend Amy, Natasha from Maw Books Blog, Dawn from She's Too Fond of Books, Stephenie from Stephenie's Written Word, and me.

If you cannot attend BEA, be sure to listen to the panel on Blog Talk Radio. We would love everyone to feel connected to the event. So tune at 2 p.m. on Saturday May 30.


Jen at Devourer of Books read The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks. The novel follows Edward through three decades of his life. Jen says: "Edward was just such a patently real, human character that I could not help but becoming involved and invested in his life."

Carrie at Books and Movies likes books about writitng and reading. And she put together a terrific post in which she talks about some of her favorite books in this genre. This is a post to bookmark.

Swapna over at S. Krishan's Books is one of many bloggers celebrating Asian Heritage Month. And what better way than to host a giveaway of books written by Asian authors. Here's your chance to exapand your reading horizons.

Melissa at Vintage Joy discovered a bookstore that not only has free to reasonable shipping rates but also contributes part of its profits to promoting world literacy. Be sure to read about this generous bookstore.
Some of these links were part of a link-sharing group.

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09 May 2009

Review: Not Becoming My Mother by Ruth Reichl

If you are a even a little bit of a foodie, then the name Ruth Reichl will be familiar. Perhaps you subscribe to Gourmet magazine or have read one of Reichl's wonderful memoirs. Not Becoming My Mother is a different kind of book, and it is difficult to review.

In 110 pages Reichl tells us not only the story of her mother but also the story of all women born between 1890 and 1930. Girls being raised under the weight of fairy tales and the lure of Prince Charming could not afford to waste energy on the idea of a life of independence.

Before the war, women who were lucky enough to get a college education were generally not expected to be any different from women who didn't finish high school. You were to marry, support your husband, raise your children, and keep your house clean and neat. Reichl's mother, Mim, who earned her Ph.D. in Paris at the age of 19, was no exception. Her only job was to return home, marry, and have babies. Once Mim gave birth to her first child, a boy, her father wrote: "Now you are a real woman!"

What about women who did not care about doing housework, who were not particularly maternal, or who did not find satisfaction in being a support system for their husband? Mim struggled with this her whole life. What happens to a person who tries to live up to the expectations of society and her parents when those goals are not her own? Mim would have probably made an excellent psychiatrist—she may have not coped very well herself but she knew how to break the cycle. By not pretending to be something she wasn't, she was able to give her daughter the gift of freedom and independence. Reichl grew up knowing that she did not what to become her mother.

As Reichl put it, "Instead of holding herself up as a model to be emulated, she led by negative example, repeating 'I am a failure' over and over, as if it were a mantra. 'I am ridiculous. Don't be like me.' " Only years later did Reichl understand what her mother gave up when she "deliberately sabotaged my respect and emphasized her failings." I can't imagine the frustration that would lead a mother to do this. Mim was strong woman.

Especially striking was Mim's transition after her husband died. After an initial surrender to depression, she finally realized that she was on her own and was able to lead her own life—parentless, husbandless, and childless. She traveled, she took in college students, she cared for her friends, and she did just what she wanted. She blossomed.

Although Reichl is, almost to the day, only 7 years older than I am, it's the difference in our mother's ages that is significant. My mother is 81, but Reichl's mother would have been 101. Our mothers shared some experiences, however: Both grew up in Ohio and both wanted to be a doctor. In the late 1940s, my mother's college adviser talked her out of becoming a psychiatrist. My mother was already married, and my father was in optometric school. The adviser told my mother that her marriage would fall apart if she got her M.D. So my mom majored in child psychology and then taught kindergarten until she had children.

The 20-year age gap gave my mom the advantage over Mim. My mother was able to reinvent herself two times over. First, she organized and ran the library at our temple, all on her own, working every Saturday and Sunday morning for more than 20 years. Although she made only minimum wage and worked only 10 hours a week, that money was hers. She was pretty much the only mother in my 1950s-style neighborhood who didn't have to use her husband's money to buy herself a treat. In her 40s, my mother basically fell into a career as a journalist, becoming one of the first women to have a column on the sports page of our local newspaper. She retired only at the age of 79, a year or so after my dad retired (when he was 80).

Despite the differences in our mothers (and mine is a fabulous cook!), they both taught us the same lessons: the importance of having a meaningful career, that beauty comes from self-awareness and self-assurance, that women do not need a man to be complete (and my mom has had 60+ years of happy marriage), that being resourceful and independent were worthy goals, and that "in the end you are the only one who can make yourself happy."

Thank you, Ruth, for sharing Mim's story. I can't wait to share it with my own mother, who is one of my closest friends. And to those of you who are mothers yourselves, happy Mother's Day.

Ruth Reichl has a website.
Be sure to listen to Bethanne's interview with Reichl at The Book Studio.

Published by Penguin (USA), 2009
ISBN-13: 9781594202162
Challenges: A-Z title, What's in a Name, 999, 100+
YTD: 36
Rating: B+

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08 May 2009

Review: A Killing Frost by John Marsden

Minor spoilers ahead: Because this is the third in the Tomorrow series, minor spoilers for the first two books cannot be avoided. Skip to below the asterisks if you want just my opinion. I posted my review of The Dead of Night earlier this year. Note too that this book was released under two different titles: A Killing Frost and The Third Day, the Frost.

It's been six months since Australia was taken over by an unnamed enemy. A group of teenagers from the area around the small town of Wirrawee escaped capture because they were camping in the outback during the weekend of the initial invasion. The story is told through the eyes of Ellie, who keeps a journal of the group's activities.

By now the kids have become profoundly affected by the events of the war: They've seen death, they've caused death, and they been on their own without a trusted adult for too long. Ellie, however, still remembers every detail of her old life: the good and bad in her parents, schoolwork, farm chores, TV, and e-mail. It's been a couple of months since the gang pulled off their last attempt to thwart the enemy. Although they needed time to recover from the overwhelming consequences of their situation, the inactivity has left the teens with too much time for introspection.

Ellie writes:

These days, I don't know whether I am murderous, suicidal, addicted to panic, or addicted to boredom.

I wonder what happened to the people who were in the world wars, after the fighting was over? . . . Did they press their "Off" buttons on the day that peace was declared? Can anyone do that? I know that I can't do it. (p. 2)

In the dead of winter, they decide to leave their secluded camp to try to get some information about the state of the war and about two friends who were forced to turn themselves over to the enemy for medical care. When they emerge from the bush, they are shocked to see how many colonists have taken over the land and that Australian citizens are being used for slave labor.

After rescuing a friend from a work camp, Ellie and her friends seem to get a second wind, and they begin plotting their next attack on the invaders. This time, they have their eye on the supply ships in Cobbler's Bay. Before the end, Ellie learns the meaning of fear, the preciousness of her own life, and the extent to which people can be driven to save those whom they love.

* * * * *
As I mentioned in my earlier review, the teenagers are complex and believable characters. They each have a distinct personality with individual talents and weaknesses. The skills and knowledge they possess are those that most farm kids would have, such as being able to drive a variety of vehicles and knowing how to use firearms, poisons, and generators. Although the teens rebel against the enemy and engage in guerrilla warfare, they are scared, they cry, they get discouraged, they get wounded, and they make mistakes. There's a bit of good luck but not many miracles.

The transformation of the children from typical modern-day teens to battle-scarred veterans is gradual and convoluted. Except for Ellie, who is telling the story, we cannot even be sure of who will survive. We have no clear idea of what is ultimately going to happen, and the suspense and action hold your attention. Without giving away major plot lines, it is difficult to convey the depth and reality of Marsden's series. It is no wonder that he has sold almost 3 million books in Australia alone.

There are seven books in the Tomorrow series and three more in the Ellie Chronicles, which follow the first series. Thus, although the ending of A Killing Frost is not a cliff hanger, all is not yet resolved.

I listened to this audiobook via digital download from my library. I can't imagine that any other reader could capture Ellie better than Suzi Doughtery. She does an amazing job.

John Marsden has a website and blog.

Print published by Scholastic, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780439829120
Audio published by Bolinda, 2001
Challenges: Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, Spring Reading, 100+
YTD: 35
Rating: B+

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