Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Blogger Hop July 30-Aug 2

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme sponsored by Jen at Crazy-for-Books, in an attempt to get book bloggers to check out their comrades across the bloggersphere.

This week's blogger question is: Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year? Gosh, do I have to pick just one?? Can I cheat and name: Ayelet Waldman (Bad Mother), Joshilyn Jackson (Backseat Saints) and Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo) -- all three of these authors and their books have made me want to continue indulging in their writing talent.

Have fun this weekend hopping around, and I hope you enjoy your stop here and come back more often!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bedtime Stories

Two more manly bedtime stories tonight, since my boys picked them out -- but I highly recommend both of them!

Young Zeus by G. Brian Karas
Young Zeus
Summary from Goodreads:
This is the story of how young Zeus, with a little help from six monsters, five Greek gods, an enchanted she-goat, and his mother, became god of gods, master of lightning and thunder, and ruler over all. in doing so, he learned a lot about family. Who knew that having relatives could be so complicated, even for a god?

My boys LOVED this: fathers eating children, lightening bolts, the Cyclopes -- I expect a mythically-themed play time tomorrow afternoon.  I hope this author has more Greek Gods in the works for picture books!

Goal! by Mina Javaherbin, A.G. Ford (Illustrator)
Summary from Goodreads:
In a dusty township in South Africa, Ajani and his friends have earned a brand-new, federation-size soccer ball. They kick. They dribble. They run. They score. These clever boys are football champions! But when a crew of bullies tries to steal their ball, will Ajani and his friends be able to beat them at their own game?

On the heels of the recently completed World Cup, this was a perfect South African soccer tale.

Enjoy reading to your little darlings!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Book of Awesome

The Book of Awesome: Snow Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things

Count Neil Pasricha as another successful blogger crossover to published author. He has taken his blog to the Mecca of bloggerdom – a book deal.

This really isn’t a book review, because honestly, I didn’t read the WHOLE book, I just skimmed the title of each of the author’s “awesome” entries, and chuckled at the ones I liked, and moved on when they didn’t really apply.

I do recommend however, if you are skimming it like I did, reading the LAST entry entitled, "Remember how lucky we are to be here right now!" It's wonderful and will brighten your day!

But, I must say, it was a fun book to thumb through! There were so many awesome things he included: Freshly cut grass, scooping into a “virgin” jar of peanut butter, planning for your lottery winnings, even though you know you aren’t going to win – even literary entries like, not wanting to finish a really great book or smelling the pages of a book (I love the smell of really old books! Intoxicating!) 

His “awesome” entries got me wondering – what would your book of awesome include?

I thought of a few:

  • That change of season between summer and fall when neither the air conditioner nor furnace need to be on. When I can open every window and have that autumn breeze blow blissfully through my house. (I can’t do it in the spring, because my house would be covered in a haze of green sludge on every horizontal surface). 

  • When down to the last sliver of soap, being able to unwrap or unbox a brand new bar!

  • Going into my kids’ room and seeing that they have put their clothes away (that’s not just awesome, that is a MIRACLE!)

  • When shelving my books at the library, just when I think I’ve seen them all (hardly!), I come across one, pull it off the shelf, and start reading (or looking at pictures) and then realize I’ve been standing there for 10 minutes mesmerized. (That happened to me today – and the book was The Lost Lady of the Amazon, just in case you were wondering).
What would be on your AWESOME list?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. It's is a weekly event to celebrate what we are reading for the week as well as books completed the previous week.

I FINISHED 2 VERY good books last week:

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (5 out of 5 stars)

Please, read The Cellist -- it will take you one afternoon at the most -- I'm still reliving the story and characters. I just can't shake them.

Did Not Finish:
The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

From the Library (and currently reading):
A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman by Lisa Shannon
A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman

Summary (from Goodreads):
Lisa Shannon had a good life — a successful business, a fiancé, a home, and security. Then one day in 2005, an episode of Oprah changed her life. The show focused on women in Congo, a place known as the worse place on earth to be a woman. She was suddenly awakened to the atrocities there — millions dead, women being raped, children dying in shocking numbers. It was then that Lisa realized she had to do something — and she did. A Thousand Sisters is Lisa Shannon’s inspiring memoir. She shares her story of how she raised money to sponsor Congolese women beginning with one solo 30-mile run and then founded a national organization, Run for Congo Women. The book chronicles her journeys to the Congo, meeting the sponsored women and hearing their stories. Along the way Lisa is forced to confront herself and learns lessons of survival, fear, gratitude, and love from the women of Africa. A Thousand Sisters is a deeply moving call to action for each person to find in them the thing that brings meaning to a wounded world.

The horrors inflicted upon women never cease to unnerve me, but I don't seem to do anything about it. Lisa Shannon does. Also, if you haven't read Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, I highly recommend it.

From the bookstore discount table:

Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
Before Green Gables
Summary (from Goodreads):
Before Green Gables is the story of Anne Shirley's life before her arrival at Green Gables-a heartwarming tale of a precocious child whose lively imagination and relentless spirit help her to overcome difficult circumstances and of a young girl's ability to love, learn, and above all, dream.

Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

Summary (from Goodreads):
In 1957, at the age of 16, Melba Pattillo became a civil rights warrior. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock's Central High School. Here, in a special abridged young reader's edition, is Melba Pattillo Beals's remarkable story.

It's embarrassing to think that as an adopted Arkansan, I haven't yet read this book. Now I hope to change my ways.

So, due to my never ending influx of library books and book buys, I can't seem to make a dent in my TBR list, but I did read two books from my previous post, so that is progress!!

In no particular order, here is the latest (and very familiar) TBR list:

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
A Long Long Time Ago But Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
One Day by David Nicholls
A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

What are you reading this week?

Did Not Finish -- The Sound of Language

The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi

I read about 25 pages of this book and knew I couldn't manage another.  Do you ever pick up something and realize you just aren't "in the mood?"  Well, this was one of those mood books.  After recently finishing Nine Parts of Desire, I am saturated with information about Muslim garment requirements -- hajibs, burkhas, etc. -- that I couldn't read another book this soon that details those rituals.  I know that this books is MORE than that, but I will need some time and space before I attempt this one again (if ever).

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review -- The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Cellist of SarajevoThe Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A cellist; an act of defiance and of hope; three lives devastated by war and their ability to survive at all costs.

On May 27, 1992 a mortar shell struck a market during the Siege of Sarajevo, killing 22 people, injuring many others, who were simply waiting in line for a loaf of bread.

As a sign of humanity and resistance, Vedran Smailović, a renowned Sarajevan cellist, played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor for 22 days in the same bombed-out market square, to honor each of his fellow citizens.

In author Steven Galloway’s fictional account of the cellist and the siege, humanity is brought to the basic level of survival. Told through the eyes of 3 citizens – Arrow, a sniper; Dragan, a baker and Kenan, a father – the daily necessities of food, water and endurance are told in a bleak but astounding narrative.

Simply walking in the streets of Sarajevo was life threatening. Snipers sat in the hillsides taking aim at their targets as if they were ducks in a carnival attraction. What separated those who made it across bridges or streets to the safety of a nearby building was nothing more than luck or chance.

This novel was brilliant and poetic. The pallor of war settled on me while I was reading this book. I had to look at the window on occasion to make sure mortar shells weren’t dropping in my driveway.

I only wish there had been a map of the city – the topography of Sarajevo – mountains, hills, valley, rivers – was as much a character of this novel as were the actual humans – that it would have been nice to have something in the front of the book to refer to while reading. But that is a minor complaint.

I read this in one afternoon.  It was haunting.  Enough said.

For more from the author check out this related video:

Book source: Public library

View all my reviews >>

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review -- Backseat Saints

Backseat SaintsBackseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Rose Mae Lolley has been abandoned, physically beaten and left for dead. Now, trying to save her soul and herself, she blasts out of her father in law’s gun shop prior to what would have been the final thrashing by her husband, Thom, to embark on a journey to reconnect with her past that includes ghosts from her hometown of Fruiton, Alabama and her alcoholic father. Her destination: her mother, who left Rose Mae at the age of 8. Along for the ride – Rose Mae’s dog, “fat Gretel” and a host of Catholic Saints who vividly take up residence in the back seat.

From the time you turn the first page of this book, you are immediately on board some kind of black-comedy, dysfunctional, NASCAR ride! As Rose Mae attempts to kill her husband, the author writes this brilliant, Abbott & Costello-worthy scene that has Rose rolling in bushes, while trying to take aim at her husband's head – and instead of shooting him, hits something far more valuable. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry or try to help her out.

The pace of the book is break-neck – there wasn’t a moment to catch my breath between Rose Mae’s beatings, her hospital stays, her “getaway” and her destination. My heart raced to the point I think I must have broken out in a sweat during some of the final scenes in this book.

The author has a vibrant, modern, quirky narrative style that just sucked me in from the first metaphor. To the point that I wondered, “why haven’t I read anything by her before?”

My only complaint about this book is the author often talked about “how long” Rose Mae had been away from her home town and how stuck in time her childhood home remained. In my mind, the story portrayed Rose Mae as much older than her barely 30 years – and her hometown a relic of the ‘50s not the ‘80s. Also, two characters from Rose Mae’s past are interwoven through Ro’s journey to safety, which I just didn’t quite get. Granted, Rose Mae is featured in one of the author’s previous books, “gods in Alabama” so it could be that not having read that, I was missing something, but their inclusion, seemed awkward.

But honestly, I loved this book! And the ending – wow – if there had been someone in my house listening to me, they would have heard an audible gasp when I got to that point. It was perfectly satisfying in every way.

For the sensitive reader: Graphic sex, domestic abuse and language.

Book source: Public library

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bedtime Stories

Another Wednesday, another night I'm left alone to read picture books to the kiddos.

A couple that I thought were cute:

A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him at Hat by Karla Kuskin

A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat

What's a boy to do when his mom buys him everything he wants? Should he take his new toys everywhere?

Is the spirit of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham or There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, this little boy takes his red hat and everything else with him wherever he goes.

The Very Fairy Princess by Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton

While her friends and family may not believe in fairies, Geraldine knows, deep down, that she is a VERY fairy princess. From morning to night, Gerry does everything that fairy princesses do: she dresses in her royal attire, practices her flying skills, and she is always on the lookout for problems to solve. But it isn't all twirls and tiaras - as every fairy princess knows, dirty fingernails and scabby knees are just the price you pay for a perfect day!

My Princess wasn't home tonight, and her brothers picked this to read anyway...I thought it was precious, and the boys liked it too!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review -- Tallgrass

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

My rating:  2 of 5 stars

Rennie’s home town of Ellis, Colorado is changed overnight when the government decides to build and internment camp for Japanese-Americans evacuees after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Determined to do what is right, in spite of what many of their fellow neighbors believe, Rennie and her family employee several of the boys to help work their beet crop and a young woman to help with chores around the house. After a neighbor is found murdered, many of the local residents are convinced that the perpetrator is an evacuee – but with little or no proof. With tension running high in town and families being torn apart by war, Rennie often wonders if life in Ellis will ever be the same.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas started out like the perfect coming of age tale – Rennie (at 13) had a clear, true voice of an adolescent stuck between childhood and adulthood. Her perspective on the internment camp and the refugees was innocent but with the knowledge that, things could get worse, especially if local boys started dying while fighting the Japanese overseas, including her brother.

This book never got off the ground for me. What seemed like an interesting premise – never developed. The author, in her foreword, admits that as a non-Japanese, it would have been presumptuous of her to write from the Japanese point of view (take that Kathryn Stockett!). But honestly, that’s the story I would have preferred to read. It would have been far more interesting to read about what went on in the internment camp then what happened on the farm. Also, there were several story lines; it was as if the author couldn’t decide what type of novel to write: historical fiction, murder mystery, quilting-genre fiction, or coming of age novel.

And with the exception of Rennie and her Dad, nearly all the characters and their dialogue were flat. I never felt one single emotion that that author was trying to evoke from the page. In one scene, the Strouds learn the fate of their son, Buddy. In what should have been a gut wrenching reaction from the reader, just died on the page.

Also, and this is silly and minor – but Rennie’s older sister’s name is: Marthalice. Now – how did you read that? If you were like me, for the first dozen pages I read it: Martha Lice – and I thought – who on earth would use a name like that for a character? Because we’ve had lice in our family and they are evil! It didn’t occur to me until later that her name was: Martha Alice. Doh?! But it bugged me throughout the book.

So, this didn’t do anything for me. I still have Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on my bookshelf as a contribution to Japanese Internment Camp historical fiction – I hope it is more successful.

Book source: borrowed from a friend

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. It's is a weekly event to celebrate what we are reading for the week as well as books completed the previous week.

Lots of books acquired this week, not very many finished.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (not yet reviewed)

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

See previous post!

The Cellist from Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
The Cellist of Sarajevo

From B&N
This brilliant novel with universal resonance tells the story of three people trying to survive in a city rife with the extreme fear of desperate times, and of the sorrowing cellist who plays undaunted in their midst.

The Sound of Language by Amulya Malladi
The Sound of Language: A Novel

From B&N:
In this luminous story of bravery, tradition, and the power of language, an Afghan woman and Danish widower form an unexpected alliance.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 50th Anniversary Edition (won from She Is Too Fond of Books)
To Kill a Mockingbird

One Day by David Nicholls
One Day

This is the stagnant To Be Read List -- I'm beginning to think I will never make a dent!

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
A Long Long Time Ago But Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Evangeline by Ben Farmer

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Sale!

 I hit the used book sale this morning, and although I didn't get nearly as many as I had on my list, I did get a few to add to my ever growing stack of never before read books.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriett Scott Chessman
From B&N:

Readers will be transported to the vibrant art scene of late nineteenth-century Paris in this richly textured portrait of the relationship between Mary Cassatt and her sister Lydia. Beginning in the autumn of 1878, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper dreams its way into the intimate world of Cassatt's older sibling. Told in the reflective, lyrical voice of Lydia, who is dying of Bright's disease, the novel opens a window onto the extraordinary age in which these sisters lived, painting its sweeping narrative canvas with fascinating real-life figures that include Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, Cassatt's brilliant, subversive mentor.   Featuring five full-color plates of Cassatt's paintings, this is a moving and illuminating exploration of the illusive nature of art and desire, memory and mortality, romantic and familial love.

I think I first heard about this book from Molly at My Cozy Book Nook, but I honestly can't remember.  I adore Mary Cassatt's paintings.  When I was an intern in Washington DC, the moment I got off work I would head to the National Gallery and absorb myself in one particular painting of hers, Children Playing on the Beach:

I have since been a huge Mary Cassatt fan, and one day, when there is a CNN headline announcing that this priceless work of art is missing, don't come looking for me!

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
From B&NThe Washington Post -- Marie Arana
There is something altogether haunting here. Perhaps it's the way the story advances, peeling its way from layer to layer until the truth of each character lies bare. Perhaps it's the way Lee shows us that war can make monsters of us all. Most memorably, however, it's her portrait of Hong Kong, which having witnessed so much cupidity, moves on with splendid indifference. Like a piano under different fingers. Or a siren with another song.

Leah from Amused by Books gushed about this not too long ago, especially when I was going thru my reading rut of bad books.  If nothing else, the cover is pretty!

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
From B&N
Cassandra Mortmain is 17. Her journal describes the weird and wonderful world in which she lives: housed in a crumbling castle, with her writer father (who is “blocked”), her beautiful older sister Rose, her brainy younger brother and her unconventional artist stepmother, Topaz. The sudden arrival of two handsome American strangers is the catalyst for this touching coming-of-age tale, which sees Cassandra taking her first forays in womanhood not without her fair share of grief and giggles.

This is currently on my TBR stack from the library, but for $2, now I will never have to worry about returning it.

For my husband:
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon
From B&N
The Washington Post - Mameve Medwed
…a picaresque, swashbuckling adventure, each chapter charmingly illustrated by Gary Gianni…Chabon's highfalutin writing is an object lesson in style perfectly matched to genre…If any good adventure is all about the journey, there is also, as Amram remarks, "an appeal in the idea of seeing some business through from start to finish." And the lark Chabon has in getting there translates into a hoot for the reader. Still, such an arch, lickety-split odyssey won't be everyone's cuppa. The pulp-averse, the history-challenged, the Khazar-illiterate might feel at a disadvantage without a glossary of 10th-century terms. Not every reader will be willing to take all this on literary faith. Nevertheless, if you stick with this tale, you'll be rewarded with a slalom course's worth of twists, not to mention a suitable moral.

I think since I am on an Ayelet Waldman kick, my husband is going to do a literary tango with me while reading her husband.

Finally, for the kids:

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
From B&N

Who needs a ladder when you've got a giraffe with an extending neck? The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company certainly doesn't. They don't need a pail, either, because they have a pelican with a bucket-sized beak. With a monkey to do the washing and Billy as their manager, this business is destined for success.

Just when I thought I had heard of ALL the Roald Dahl books, I find this surprise!

So, for $10 and 5 books, I think I deserve the bargain shopper of the day award!

Friday, July 16, 2010


There is a temperance zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.
Henry Ward Beecher

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July Book Group and Book Review -- Nine Parts of Desire

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

I've read nearly all of Geraldine Brooks' books -- and for the most part -- have loved them all.  This one just didn't do anything for me.

The consensus amongst our book group members was mixed as well -- the majority of them didn't finish the book -- or -- skipped various chapters and moved on to others.  I read all but the last two chapters, because I felt like the author just continually repeated herself through out the book.  From the discussion we had tonight, I don't think I missed anything substantial.

Ms. Brooks experience in the Middle East is legendary.  She spent many years covering the first Gulf War as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  I don't doubt her expertise. My biggest complaint about this book was from the opening page, then author seemed to have an agenda against the Islamic faith.  That she was out to prove that all Islamic women should abandon their religious garments, and in many ways, "burn their burqas" (much like burning your bra) in order to become feminists.  Granted, in the forward from the publisher it reads, "Brooks' acute analysis of the world's fastest growing religion deftly illustrates how Islam's holiest texts have been misused to justify repression of women, and how male pride and power have warped the original message of a once liberating faith." But I was hoping for more balance in her writing and less "axe grinding."  Also, as a Mormon, who is often reading about my religion from a non-members perspective, I kept wondering, "How much of this is correct?"  Because when reporters or writers are writing about my faith, inevitably, they always have something wrong. 

Another issue I had, and this isn't the fault of the author, but the book seemed dated.  This was published in 1994, long before 9/11, and our wars with Afghanistan and Iraq.  Islam has become far more militant since these events, with the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- and her stories and analysis didn't measure up to current events.

None of our book group members know anyone personally that is a Muslim.  It would have been nice if we could have had a a guest speaker at our book group -- a Muslim woman who could explain where Ms. Brooks was on track, and where she wasn't.  Unfortunately, we had to decipher those things on our own.

But as is ALWAYS the case, the discussion was lively and I came away having learned so much from the book and my fellow groupies. 

This book was one of my original selections for the Women Unbound Challenge.

 Book source:  Personal copy

Book Sale!

If you happen to be driving along I40 this weekend thru the state of Arkansas, it would be worth the effort to stop in Little Rock and take in the Central Arkansas Library System's quarterly book sale!

Hardbacks are $1 and paperbacks are 50 cents.  You won't find a better bargain anywhere!

Additionally, River Market Gifts and Books, the used book store associated with CALS, will be selling their gently read books at 50% off.

You know where I will be this weekend -- I already have a list of authors and books I am looking for -- not that I need to add to my already over crowded shelves.  But, I can NEVER turn down a book sale!

Hope to see you there too!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. It's is a weekly event to celebrate what we are reading for the week as well as books completed the previous week.

Books finished:
The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly McNees (4 of 5 stars)

This was a delightful, romantic, and breezy novel. Perfect for summer.

I also finished for book group:
Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. I haven't reviewed this one yet and will wait until after book group, so I can incorporate some of my fellow groupies' thoughts.  But my initial thoughts: I was really disappointed.  I'll leave it at that for now.

I got in the mail this week:

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff
From B&N
Phoebe Swift, the proprietress of a new vintage clothing boutique, forms the center of this richly layered novel filled with the luxurious fashions of a bygone era. As Phoebe discovers, when you buy a piece of vintage clothing, you’re also buying a piece of someone’s past. There’s one item in particular that will unexpectedly change her life. Seamlessly blending humor and heartbreak, A Vintage Affair is a great summer read.

This was a "Barnes & Noble  Recommends" book selection and I was totally suckered in by the promo.  I've read other BN recommended books with varying success.  I'm hoping it is worth the "recommendation."

Additionally, I have on the HOLD SHELF at the library:

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
From B&N:
BACKSEAT SAINTS will dazzle readers with a fresh and heartwrenching portrayal of the lengths a mother will go to right the wrongs she's created, and how far a daughter will go to escape the demands of forgiveness. With the seed of a minor character from her popular best-seller, GODS IN ALABAMA, Jackson has built a whole new story full of her trademark sly wit, endearingly off-kilter characters, and utterly riveting plottwists.

I will pick this up on Tuesday.

The TBR stack remains disappointingly untouched -- it's a carbon copy from last week:

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
A Long Long Time Ago But Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Evangeline by Ben Farmer (I just won't let this thing go! I'm determined to read it even though I've re-checked it out 5 times! Ugh!)

What should I start this week?  Any votes?

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Top Tens: Biographies and Memoirs

Suey at It's All About Books posted her top 10 favorite biographies and/or memoirs today. I am going to follow her lead:

I didn't think I was a big biography/memoir reader, I was surprised at what I came up with!

I no particular order:
  1. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  2. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
  3. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  5. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
  7. The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
  8. Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman
  9. Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher
  10. Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen
  11. My Life in France by Julia Child (thanks to Jayna for the reminder, I ADORED this book!!!)
Another one I would have added, but it's not really a memoir or biography is The Johnstown Flood by David McCollough.  A fascinating book -- I highly recommend it. 

Do you have a top 10 list?  Are you a big memoir/biography reader?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Guest Book Review -- Percy Jackson and the Olypmpians: The Titan's Curse (#3)

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #3)The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Guest Review by Daisy Dad

When I started the third installment of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Titan’s Curse – I really didn’t want to like it. I read and reviewed the first two and you may remember that I was hung up over the similarities to the Harry Potter series. The characters, the situations, even the games that they play (I still enjoyed the Quidditch matches of HP over Capture the Flag and/or Chariot Races of PJ). But then I was talking to another father about the two series and he is a HUGH Percy fan and said that Harry was “just o.k”. JUST O.K.???? I almost fell over. I bit my tongue and allowed him to explain. He felt that while the Potter books were extremely entertaining, he really appreciated the teaching of Greek Mythology in a new, interesting and original way. I mentioned in my first review of The Lightning Thief that I wanted to go back and read D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths or maybe Homer’s The Odyssey, but have I? I’m not going to answer that, but I will let you know that I did finish The Titan’s Curse reading it differently.

Did I like it? Yes. Was it great? No. Unfortunately, I think Mr. Riordan missed a couple of opportunities to make his work stand above the critics (like me) that his books are subtle knock-offs of another series that “will not be named”. The best example of this is when the di Angelo siblings are introduced as the newest half-bloods in the story. An opportunity to explore these character’s feelings as they learn of their new identities as a daughter and son of a god was lost. I thought it would be interesting to see a different perspective than that of Percy’s, but that was not to be so. This installment is also basically the same as the first – a journey across the United States to save the world from the return of the Titan Kronos.

But the true craft that I have finally appreciated is the way Riordan weaves Greek myth into a modern day adventure. The Lightning Thief was the myth of Odysseus, The Sea of Monsters was the myth of Jason & the Argonauts, and now The Titan’s Curse is the myth of Hercules. And not a glossing over of those myths – a full telling with many of the side stories and details of the mythology that I would doubt would be learned in any elementary school or junior high. I lost myself in the adventure and spent less time making comparisons. I am a sucker for young love and the author does a nice job with the awkwardness of it, and I look forward to see how it develops further in the next two books. Knowing his audience, I also appreciated how death and the loss of a loved one were handled in this book.

I may have to read something else now and let some anticipation build for The Battle of the Labyrinth. What new Greek myths will I learn next?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Book Review -- The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott

The Lost Summer of Louisa May AlcottThe Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O. McNees

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reimagining the lives of deceased women authors is literary vogue: Jane Austen and The Brontë sisters have all been recreated in memoir-like fashion, as have the characters from their many novels.

Kelly O’Connor McNees has now added The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott to the list of “biographical” fiction – and I’m so glad she did.

Louisa is the fiercely independent daughter of Bronson and Abigail Alcott – and along with her three sisters, has settled in Walpole, Massachusetts, much against Louisa’s desires. At 22, she is eager to become a writer and to set off on her own in Boston to pursue her dreams. However, because of her father’s ideals and lofty philosophical beliefs (which results in no job and no income) she must stay at home and help her family subsist on virtually nothing.

In spite of the meagerness of their lives, Louisa enjoys the friendships of a group of young Walpolians – they entertain themselves with picnics at the swimming hole and producing theatre for the community. One such friend is Joseph Singer, a dashing young store clerk who shares Louisa’s love of poetry and literature. It is clear that Joseph is smitten with Louisa’s verve and intellect, but Louisa is determined that she is above and beyond having a relationship with this suitor. What proceeds, is a wonderful, if not bittersweet love story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The character of LMA is exactly how I had her imagined – extremely independent and willing to sacrifice most everything for the sake of her writing (including her romantic/personal happiness). From what little I know of LMA, I thought the author did a skillful job of interweaving fact and fiction – including the use of the known friends of the Alcotts – Emerson and Thoreau. She vividly recreates 19th century rural life, which although harsh, seems very bucolic. She also had a spare, but beautiful prose that reflected the style of LMA.

I’m eager to indulge on the writings of LMA after reading this book.

And if you are looking for a “summer read” then The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott should be on your list!

If you are interested in a "reading challenge" Margot at Joyfully Retired is hosting All Things Alcott Challenge. There is still time to participate.

Also, not too long ago, PBS produced a fabulous docu-drama on Louisa May Alcott. Here is a snippet, but I highly recommend viewing the entire episode!

Book source: Personal copy

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Monday, July 5, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. It's is a weekly event to celebrate what we are reading for the week as well as books completed the previous week.

I finally had a break out book this week -- Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother.  I highly recommend it for a book discussion or for girlfriends who are mothers. She is a brilliant writer, PLUS, there are many potential hot button issues to discuss (or debate, which ever you prefer). 

Books finished this past week:
Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain (2 out of 5 stars)
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (3 out of 5 stars)
Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (4 out of 5 stars)

Currently reading:
So far, this is a delightfully quaint book.  Nothing particularly new for this genre, but very enjoyable.  Louisa has been a fun character to follow.

To be read:
Ah -- the dreaded To Be Read list!!  Once again my impulsive nature sabotaged me this week.  I was so excited about Ayelet Waldman's writing that immediately upon finishing, I went to the library and checked out this:

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Summary from Goodreads:
In this moving, wry, and candid novel, widely acclaimed novelist Ayelet Waldman takes us through one woman’s passage through love, loss, and the strange absurdities of modern life.

I think this has been made into a movie -- but I'm not sure if it was ever released.  One of my "goodreads" friends finished this in one day, she said it was so good.  I want to believe her!

Another impulse check out:
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle

Summary from Goodreads:
I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over a six-month period, first in a sixpenny book, then in a shilling book, and, finally, in a splendid two-guinea book, to hone her writing skills. And it is within these pages that she candidly chronicles her encounters with the estate's new, young, and handsome American landlords, the effects of her sister Rose's marital ambitions, her writer's-blocked father's anguished and ultimately renewed creativity, and her own hopeless, first descent into love.

So, the current stack of books (including the above) on my beside table looks like this:

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks (book group choice, must be read soon!)
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas (borrowed from a friend, must be returned soon!)
A Long Long Time Ago But Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (carryover from last week)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (yep, another carryover)
Evangeline by Ben Farmer (this was only a 2 week check out, and I've reached my limit of renewals for this book -- I wonder if I will get to it or not?!)

For me, I've actually accomplished a lot this week.  My PTA duties begin in earnest this week, so I'm not sure July will be as literary prolific as June -- but I'm trying to keep up the pace until school resumes, because I know my reading time will take a hit once I'm fully ensconced as Madame President! Ugh!

What are you reading this week?  Anything to recommend?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review -- Bad Mother

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the moment I brought my daughter home from the hospital 9 ½ years ago (and the two other children that followed) there hasn’t been a day go by that I haven’t thought of how bad I am at mothering. When trying to embrace “co-parenting” and allowing my then 3 week old to sleep on my chest, I fell desperately asleep, then was suddenly startled awake to realize she had rolled off my chest and onto the floor. When my second son was born, I spiraled into previous unknown depths of depression and misery. I couldn’t stand the sight of him and wondered where this foreign looking creature came from and how I could give him back. When my third child was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at 28 weeks gestation, I blamed myself for drinking too much Dr. Pepper, forgetting to take my prenatal vitamins for two weeks while we were on vacation in New York – even going so far as to blame my proximity to the microwave for his malformed heart.

Now my “bad” mothering encompasses yelling too much, spending too much time on the computer, throwing away countless school assignments, and not being a presence at school parties.

In Ayelet Waldman’s treatise on motherhood – Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, she writes in brilliant and witty prose that, guess what moms, we are OK and our kids will be just fine.

Her commentary covers everything from her relationship with her husband to her mother-in-law (a chapter I actually skipped, because my mother in law died a year after our daughter was born); she tackles breast feeding Nazis, her personal battle with bipolar disorder, her son’s failure to thrive at 2 weeks and another son’s ADHD. The most poignant, painful and heartbreaking is the chapter on “Rocketship” her third child, who was diagnosed with a chromosomal defect during an amniocentesis. After an intense internal battle, she decides to terminate her pregnancy. Bluntly she admits, “…I killed him.” I’m not here to cast judgment on Ms. Waldman, but, boy, that was a tough chapter to get through.

Ultimately, Ms. Waldman councils: I think it’s worth trying to be a mother who delights in who her children are…a mother who spends less time obsessing about what will happen, or what has happened and more time reveling in what IS. A mother who doesn’t fret over failings and slights…a mother who doesn’t worry so much about being bad or good, but just recognizes she’s both and neither. A mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad.

I want to be that mother – a mother that knows her failings and limitations, but also knows that she loves her children desperately, and that even when I think I’m bad, I’m still pretty darn good.

Book group:  For those in a book group -- I think this would be a fascinating book to read along with others and a potentially firecracker discussion!

Book source: Public library

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Book Review -- When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Author Rebecca Stead has created a totally unique juvenile novel featuring time travel, middle school angst, friendship, and of all things, Dick Clark and ‘70s game show, The $20,000 Pyramid.

Sixth grader Miranda, has to navigate a neglected friendship with neighbor Sal, a budding friendship with classmate Annemarie, and a conflicted friendship with Julia – all the while try to help her mother “practice” for her upcoming appearance on the game show, The $20,000 Pyramid AND figure out who the heck has been sending her very freaky and cryptic notes.

I’m not sure what to say about this novel – on one hand it was great:

• I loved Miranda’s spunk; she was a delightful character to follow, as was her mother and her group of rag-tag friends, supporting cast of school employees and Jimmy, the deli counter guy.

• I loved the time period – I was a grade schooler in the ‘70’s – so the essence of the book was very familiar and comforting – and who my age hasn’t watched The $20,000 Pyramid at least a gazillion times. And it’s true, Dick Clark never ages (at least until recently when he had his stroke).

On the other hand, I thought it was odd:

• The time travel thing just didn’t work for me. I understand that the author was trying to pay homage to A Wrinkle in Time – dare I say I’m not too fond of that book either (is that literary sacrilege?). But it was awkward and confusing.

• And who was the audience for this book? Once again, all of the 5 star reviews are primarily from adult, white women -- are the 9-12 year olds (for whom this book is intended), liking it as much at the adult audience? I can’t answer that – because I don’t think they have Goodreads accounts. I do know this book would be over the head of my 9 year old and the majority of our Mother/Daughter book group participants. And when I read juv fiction – that’s who I’m trying to “channel.”

So, it was quirky and somewhat endearing, but it didn’t meet my expectations.

Book source: Public library

When You Reach Me was the 2010 Newbery Award Winner.

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