Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New York in the Fall

The past three books I have read have been heavier novels, emotionally charged and deep in content. That's why I'm ready to read One Fifth Avenue, the latest from Candace Bushnell. I need a lighter read, yet one that's still smart and well-written, and I think this one will fit the bill.

Plus, the fall always reminds me of when I moved to New York City, 11 years ago. It all happened very fast...I had an interview Halloween weekend, and I moved into my apartment the weekend before Thanksgiving.

So, right now, I'm feeling like reading a good NYC novel. I love reading about the people, the streets, the restaurants, the particulars of the city I loved and called home for awhile.

It reminds me of one of my favorite New York movies, You've Got Mail, when Tom Hanks' character says, "Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Between Here and April

In Between Here and April, author Deborah Copaken Kogan delves into the psyche of mothers, focusing on the choices they make to protect their children.

While watching a performance of Medea, former war journalist Elizabeth Burns experiences a long-suppressed memory of her first-grade best friend, April Cassidy, who disappeared from her life with little explanation. One day, she was there at school...the next, she wasn't.

Determined to find out what happened to her, Elizabeth embarks on a journey that will cause her to re-examine her own role as a mother to two young daughters.

Her research into the mystery reveals newspaper articles that spell out the incident. April's mother killed herself, along with April and her sister, in what Elizabeth finds out is dubbed "altruistic filicide." In this case, "mothers who kill themselves and their children simultaneously...think their children will be better off dead, rather than spending the rest of their lives without a mother."

Elizabeth, now a television producer, decides to turn the story into a documentary. Yet, faced with varying accounts of what led April's mother to this horrifying point, she wonders how to relay this story, with few "hard" facts to tell, realizing that empathy, which is hard to imagine, is the only way to successfully capture the emotions behind the decision.

I think this book will resonate with mothers, whether they agree with the emotions or not, and even though I'm not a mother, it still had an impact on me. There were a few distracting storylines throughout that made me impatient for the author to get back to the heart of this novel, but I still sped through the book.

This book seems largely autobiographical for this author, with some creative license engaged to fill in the holes of the facts to make it a novel. One thing that caught my eye as I started was a note on the copyright page that the "who, where, when and how" of April's disappearance were based on real-life events in the author's life...and that the "why" was the product of her imagination. Beyond that particular element of the book, I got the sense that it was the author's own story in every other way, as well, from her marriage and family to her career.

It makes the book more chilling to realize how much based in reality the events actually are...yet knowing how closely it ran to reality took something away from this for me, as a novel, as well. Does that make sense?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Salon: My Book Cup Runneth Over

Not that I didn't have enough on hand to read... but I logged into my library account earlier this week and had six books waiting on me. Sometimes I almost don't know where to begin. There's nothing like a stack of books calling your name and competing for your attention.

Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan
One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell
The English Major by Jim Harrison
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Goldengrove by Francine Prose

I have started Between Here and April...I'm buzzing through it pretty quickly, so I anticipate posting a review tomorrow.

Also: After suffering through Georgia's loss to Alabama last night, it definitely made me feel better to see that two bloggers, Mary at Bookfan-Mary and Avisannschild at She Reads and Reads, had honored me with an I Love Your Blog award. The love goes both ways! Be sure to stop by their sites and check them out...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tomato Girl giveaway!

The winner of Tomato Girl is...Ruth!

Shoot me an e-mail with your address and I will send it to you.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Never Tell a Lie

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Never Tell a Lie
By Hallie Ephron
Publication Date: January 6

A young couple are about to have their first child. A woman from their past shows up at their yard sale. She goes inside their house, and she never comes out. Relentlessly fast-paced and disturbingly creepy, Hallie's new standalone is a page-turning thrill ride about how well we know the people we love, and how far we are willing to go to protect the secrets of our past.

I'm not a huge fan of thrillers, but ever since I read the description for this one, I've been intrigued. Just the phrase "...and she never comes out" sucks me in...

Has anyone read her 1001 Books for Every Mood?

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Author Interview: Jayne Pupek + Giveaway!

After I read and reviewed the amazing novel Tomato Girl (review here), I contacted the writer, Jayne Pupek, to let her know how moving it was for me. She graciously agreed to an interview.

By way of introduction...Jayne is also the author of a book of poems titled Forms of Intercession. Her writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. A Virginia native, Jayne has spent most of her professional life working in the field of mental health. And...she's a blogger, too! Visit her here.

Okay, let's get to it...

What was your inspiration for writing Tomato Girl?
The novel grew out of a narrative poem I had written some time earlier. When I decided to write a novel, I turned to my poetry for an idea, and I was drawn to the characters in the poem, "Tomato Girl." I saw the skeleton of a bigger story and believed it was a good place to begin. I'd also have to say that my many years spent working in mental health inspired me. I care about the issues of mental health and child abuse.

This book deals with some heavy and emotional issues. How did this affect you during the writing process?
The heavy emotional issues weren't especially difficult for me. In part this may be because I knew that I would take care of Ellie, that I would find a way for her to survive and be loved. In that way, Ellie is fortunate; I have worked with many people who were not cared for as children, people who did not know the difference between love and abuse. My work in mental health introduced me to so many damaged and suffering people, and these are the lives that generally interest me, even as a writer.

This book is written soley from the perspective of Ellie, a pre-teen girl, which made the book so much more powerful to me than if everyone had their own narratives. How hard was it to tap into the mind and voice of someone her age?
I enjoy challenges, and maintaining Ellie's voice was certainly the challenge of this novel. I had to frequently pause and ask myself how an event would appear to a child. I generally enjoyed the process, though, because it was a way to revisit innocence and to focus on the things that most impress children. We forget what it is to see the world as a child sees it, and how the world can be both vastly wonderful and frightening all at once.

What's the one message you'd like readers to take from the book?
I hope readers will pause to remember that there are children like Ellie all around us. They may be disguised or hidden from view, but they are there nonetheless, and they are in need of care and kindness.

What's up ahead next for you?
I’m working on two poetry manuscripts and another novel that will be completed soon. I'm too superstitious to talk much about a work in progress. It's like opening the oven door while a cake is baking.

Guess what? Jayne has graciously offered an autographed copy of her book as a giveaway on the site. So, leave your comment below by midnight CT on Thursday, September 25, and I'll randomly pick a winner!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Salon: 9/21

What a great week of reading this has been!

I reviewed two excellent books: Tomato Girl (review here) and The Distance Between Us (review here). These are must-adds to your reading list.

I contacted the author of Tomato Girl, Jayne Pupek, after reading her amazing novel, and she agreed to an author interview. Given the intense nature of the book, I'm really interested in hearing the thought process behind it. Look for that coming up one day this week.

New books in my pile this week include:

Home by Marilynne Robinson
Belle in the Big Apple by Brooke Parkhurst
Godchildren by Nicholas Coleridge

Looks like some good reading ahead! What were new arrivals to your stack this week?

P.S. Don't forget to stop by on Wednesday for my weekly event, "Waiting On" Wednesday, to see what much-anticipated pre-publication book is in the spotlight.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Review: The Distance Between Us

"Nothing in my life has ever mattered more to me than my musical ability. Not my parents, not my children, not even Arthur. And I'm only beginning to understand the cost of this, for each of us."

In The Distance Between Us, author Bart Yates takes readers inside the mind and life of Hester Parker, a sharp-witted, 71-year-old retired concert pianist with a mansion in an Illinois college town, an estranged husband, two equally distant children, and a new boarder in her attic apartment.

When Alex arrives as Hester's new tenant, he discovers a woman whose humor he can't quite understand, but it is in this emotionally charged house that he chooses to live with his secrets.

Hester is in the struggle of her life, wondering where it all went wrong. When her brilliant career abruptly ended after a wrist injury in her prime, Hester turned to raising a family, two musically talented sons and a daughter, a gifted child in nearly every way...except in music. Now, years later, her family is as broken as her body.

Her husband, having recently left her for his mistress of 15 years, is threatening to take away her beloved home, and her children can barely stand to speak to her, holding her accountable for nearly anything and everything they can think of.

Hester and Alex form an unlikely friendship, sharing more in common than they would like...an older woman estranged from her children and a young man estranged from his parents. The two will soon need each other to weather the storms ahead of them.

While it is Hester's quirky, eccentric personality that sucks you into the book, it is soon evident that her humor, usually aided with a healthy amount of alcohol, is a mask for her immense pain. I was immediately drawn to her candidness and felt protective over the woman whose once-promising life had turned out so tragic.

I'm going to go ahead and call it...this book has a sure place on my list of the best books of the year. This is the story of a family at their very worst...and a book with writing at its very best. Alternately funny and unbearably sad, it is ultimately redemptive.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Autumn Reading

Here's this week's question:

Autumn is starting, and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?

No matter the season, I'm always going to set aside time to read.

One of my favorite warm-weather reading spots is in the front of our boat anchored down in the middle of the lake...but I can just as easily change that spot in colder weather to right in front of the fireplace.

(Note: College football does put a dent in my fall Saturday reading time.)

As far as content, I probably let some books slide through in the summer that I wouldn't other times...that is, I'm much more likely to pick up a lighter read for the beach/pool/lake, one that may not have made my list any other time of year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day Three

As part of BBAW, festivities-host My Friend Amy posed the following questions today:

What is one thing you wish you knew about blogging when you started or what advice would you give a newbie blogger?

When I started my blog, it was for purely personal reasons. I was reading so many books and then not able to make good recommendations when asked by friends because everything started to run together. I started the blog to put my thoughts down on paper, which has ultimately made me a much more thoughtful reader.

I had absolutely no idea about the amazing book blogging community that existed. It is a welcoming, supportive group that truly makes me feel like I'm surrounded by very well-read friends.

What is your best blogging tip?

This may sound obvious, but...make time to read. It's so much fun to read everyone's blogs (I myself can spend a couple of hours reading the Sunday Salon), but remember that it's important to stay true to yourself, and that is that you're a reader first...so read, and then share your finds with the rest of us!

Only a few people I know can actually post reviews every day (how do they do that?), so it's also important to have a few events that you join in to supplement your reviews. I try to have two book reviews up a week (although that's not evident lately, with two relatively back-to-back vacations!), and I supplement my posting by participating in events such as Booking Through Thursday and Sunday Salon.

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Sing Them Home

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Sing Them Home
By Stephanie Kallos
Publication Date: January 6

From Books-A-Million:

The eagerly anticipated second novel from the author of the national bestseller Broken for You is a deeply moving portrait of three grown siblings who have lived in the shadow of grief since their mother's ascent into a tornado when they were children.

I read Broken for You when it was a Today Show Book Club selection several years ago, and I absolutely loved it. I'm thrilled that her latest is just around the corner.

What's your "waiting on" pick this week?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

House & Home Winner + Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day Two

Congratulations, Gwendolyn! You're the winner of the House & Home giveaway!

Thanks to everyone who participated...I loved reading about your obsessions!

Also, today is Day Two of BBAW...so I wanted to include a link to the list of participants this week (here). This is a huge list of great book blogs, and it's a great opportunity to check out new blogs to add to your favorites.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day One

It's finally here...the chance to celebrate book blogging and find out about others' blogs. My Friend Amy has done a great job organizing this.

The gloom and doom news tries to tell us that reading is dead, we say look at our addiction. We transform reading books from solitary activities to shared conversations through our blogs. We carve out extra time to share book club tips, interview authors, and learn about the technical aspects of blogging. Our blogs are like a part-time job and the only payment is the pleasure we get when someone takes us up on a recommendation.

To get us started...write a post thanking or highlighting the book blogs you love to read!

I know we all have a HUGE list of blogs we follow, and it's hard to narrow it down to just a few to spotlight. Like picking a favorite child (or, in my case, niece)...they all bring different personalities to the table, and you love them all.

Here are three that come to mind:

Lesa's Book Critiques: This is one of the first blogs I started following when I launched my own. This gal updates every single day, and she was so very helpful when I came to her with questions.

S. Krishna's Books: We share the same taste in books, and she's a very frequent updater, which I love.

Booking Mama: Again, same taste in books, and her blog is just fun to read.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Review: Tomato Girl

"I need to tell what I remember. I need to tell the story of a girl whose world unraveled like a torn scarf..."

In Tomato Girl, author Jayne Pupek explores the story of a girl who is caught between the issues of her age and those far beyond her years.

For a middle-school girl, Ellie Sanders has a full plate and a heavy load.

During her life, she and her father have dealt with her mother's mental illness together, balancing her mood swings and erratic behavior as a united front. But, in one instant, things take a turn for Ellie.

Her mother takes an accidental fall down the basement stairs when alone in the house one day. Meanwhile, her father, the manager of the town's grocery, has fallen in love with Tess, the store's "tomato girl," an epileptic, motherless young woman, with a knack for growing tomatoes, who lives with her abusive father.

Upon Ellie's mother's hospitalization, her father brings Tess into their home to live to presumably help out during the aftermath of the fall. Tess moves in like a hurricane, arranging the house as her own and demanding Ellie's father's undivided attention.

At once, Ellie loses her father as a teammate in helping with her mother and keeping the household together, and she is left to fend for herself, especially when her mother returns home worse than ever.

In a word, this book is Tragic (capital T intended). It seems that Ellie meets tragedy at every turn, as her heart is broken again and again during this novel. Just when it seems that the weight on her shoulders couldn't get any heavier, it does, and the burden is unimaginable.

That said, the book is also utterly compelling. On one hand, I almost hesitate to recommend it to others to read, as it's dark...and it gets darker and darker. So, be warned. But, I really want to recommend it, as the writing is amazing, especially for a debut novel, and the story is beyond engaging. I think I read this book in one single breath.

(Side note...I do think that the book's whimsical cover belies its serious nature.)

I know that several bloggers have this on their list, so I'll be interested in reading other reviews.

Sunday Salon: Catching My Breath

Happy Sunday, bloggers!

Last Sunday night saw our arrival home from the trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was a great vacation...beautiful weather, brand-new resort, fun friends, plenty of relaxation time. We flew back over Cuba just hours before Hurricane Ike stormed through that area.

I took several books with me (post here)...and I ended up reading Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs the entire time. It was a perfect choice...I'm not a great flyer, so I stick to lighter reading material, like magazines and beach books, so that I can keep my mind on other things, like helping the pilot fly the plane! :) And, we traveled with such a large group that what I read at the beach/pool needed to be something I could pick up and put down easily.

It's probably not something that I would have finished/enjoyed at home, but it was what it was...an easy vacation read.

I've got stacks upon stacks of books that came in while I was away, so my choices are almost overwhelming! But, it's a good problem to have, right?

I'll be finishing up Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek today...and maybe sneaking in a movie with my mom (The Women).

Couple of housekeeping notes...I'd love you to join in on "Waiting On" Wednesday, a weekly event that spotlights a soon-to-be-released book that I'm greatly anticipating.

Also, it's not too late to register for my giveaway of House & Home by Kathleen McCleary. Scroll down for details!

Friday, September 12, 2008

TLC Book Tour: Author Guest Post and Giveaway!

I'm so excited to host a guest post from Kathleen McCleary, author of House & Home, courtesy of TLC Book Tours.

I read the book back in July (review here) and dubbed its first page one of the best I've read in a long time.

Kathy suggested writing a post about obsession, one of the major themes of the book, and I readily accepted. I'm a classic first-child, Type-A personality, and, believe me, I do some obsessing over things...so I thought it was a great fit for my blog.

I'll let her take it from here:

One of the more controversial aspects of my book for some readers has been the main character’s obsession with her house. Some find it puzzling and inexplicable; others instantly relate; many understand that Ellen’s real obsession is with her husband and children, and the house is just a poor stand-in for her passionate need to create—and protect—a loving, close-knit family.

While I’ve never been obsessed enough with anything to consider arson, I certainly relate to Ellen’s obsession. I loved my house in Portland deeply, and was truly heartbroken when I had to sell it and move. And I was, to be honest, a little obsessed. I dreamt about it for almost a year after leaving. My obsession turned into a novel. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that obsessions fuel many terrific books.

I’m in the middle of reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight right now. Clearly, Bella and Edward are mega-obsessed with each other. This year I’ve also read Anna Karenina (another major love obsession story), as well as Emily Giffin’s Love The One You’re With (old boyfriend obsession). Lisa See’s Snowflower and the Secret Fan, which I read with my book club, covers many obsessions, from the passion in 19th-century China for foot binding to the intensity of female friendship. In Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, an ancient manuscript is the obsession at the center of the novel. Even minor obsessions can make for memorable storylines or characters; witness Cornelia’s obsession for old movies in Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos.

It seems to me that the reason obsession lies at the heart of so many novels is because it is, by definition, about wanting something you can’t have. That desire—and the attempt to fulfill that desire—lies at the heart of the human condition.

Who has not longed for something— a house, a man, a child, a pair of shoes—that was just beyond reach? The people, places, and things we love and the ways we attempt to get or keep those loves is the stuff of great stories.

What’s your obsession? What’s your favorite book about obsession? Thanks so much for letting me share mine.

Guess what? Leave a comment in response to Kathy's question, and you'll automatically be entered for a giveaway of her book. You have until midnight CT on Monday, and I will post/contact the winner on Tuesday, September 16th.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Villainy

Today's BTT question ties into the anniversary of the September 11 tragedy:

Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?
Honestly, I never really read Clancy-type books before 9/11, so I can't answer from that perspective. I typically lean toward women's fiction, and while I wouldn't say that my choices are "frothy," I do enjoy a feel-good book.

However, I read Andre Dubus' Garden of Last Days recently, which focused on a Florida strip club and its various inhabitants, including the fictional perspective of one of the terrorists in the last days before that fateful Tuesday. As you're reading, you know what the book is heading toward...and there was a knot in my stomach anticipating the final events. I remember thinking, "I can't believe this really happened."

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Millionaires

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Millionaires: A Novel of the New South
By Inman Majors
Publication Date: January 26

From Amazon:
A brilliant novel of new money and old manners, crossing The Great Gatsby with the spirit of Tom Wolfe.

I haven't read anything by this author before, but when I read the pre-pub alert in Publisher's Weekly, it immediately made my TBR list.

What not-yet-released book are you anxiously awaiting?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Off to Jamaica!

I'm off to Jamaica (via Atlanta overnight)!

Hopefully, we'll dodge any tropical storms/potential hurricanes out there (stay away Ike and Josephine!) .

Here's what I'm taking with me...I know, it's a lot, but you never know, between beach time and flights/airports, I need options!!

I'm currently reading City of Refuge, so I'm taking two choices to start once I finish that. I have heard so much about American Wife...but then, Just Breathe seems like a perfect last-beach-read-of-the-summer choice. I'll read both...it's just a matter of which one first!

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Hour I First Believed

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Hour I First Believed
By Wally Lamb
Publication Date: November 11

From The New York Times:

"The novel begins with a married couple moving to Littleton, Colo., in 1999 to take jobs at Columbine High School, where the wife ends up cowering in the library the day two students go on a shooting rampage. In the aftermath the couple moves to the husband’s family farm in Connecticut. She tries to recover, while the husband stumbles on a series of family secrets."

Lamb's latest release comes 10 years after the wildly bestselling She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True. At 700+ pages, you'll want to set aside a good chunk of time to delve into what is sure to be one of the best books this fall.

Want to participate? Grab the logo, post your own WoW entry on your blog, and leave a link in the comments section!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Inside the Readers' Studio

In a "getting to know you" post, Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog decided to "borrow this questionnaire from my good buddy James Lipton (love him!) at Inside the Actors Studio," so I thought I'd participate.

What is your favorite word? Y'all

What is your least favorite word? Ya'll

More on this here.

What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? Well-read people

What turns you off (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)? People who, amazingly, profess openly not to read...at all

More on that here.

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of my three young nieces calling my name

What sound or noise do you hate? Leaf blowers!! Why oh why is it that every time I go outside to read, every single homeowner in my neighborhood fires this contraption up for what seems like forever?

What is your favorite curse word? S*it...more precisely, preceded by "piece of..." (Not at my husband, for clarity's sake! It's just what I most commonly use to describe anything or anyone I don't like.)

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I would love, love to be a librarian. Also, and this may sound strange, I've always wanted to be a postman (woman?) for a day.

What profession would you not like to do? Nurse...I'm so glad there are people out there that can/want to do this. God love 'em...

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Welcome. You deserve to be here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Musing Mondays: ReReading

Miz B at Should Be Reading poses this question:

Do you ever reread books? Do you have any favorites that you like to reread over and over, maybe once a year? What are they? What do you think you get out of rereading a book? Why do you do it?

I can honestly say that I'm not a re-reader, even if it's one of my favorites.

In fact, I remember one morning a few years ago when my mother-in-law was having outpatient surgery...I got ready to leave with her for the hospital and realized I was in between books with nothing on hand to read. I grabbed a favorite book on my way out the door...and found myself unable to read past the first few pages, even though I had hours at my disposal in the hospital waiting room.

Once I read a book and know how it's going to go and end, that's it for me. I can't read it again with fresh eyes, and I feel no need to read just to re-visit my favorite passages.

That leads me to my next reason...any phrase that I love in a book makes it into my book journal, so the best of that book lives on for me in those pages.

Finally, now that I'm book blogging and more serious about my TBR list, the stack of books that constantly begs for my attention leaves no time for rereading!

What about you?