Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Salon - May 30

I'm enjoying a very quiet, relaxing Sunday afternoon following a very busy past couple of weeks which were capped, yesterday, with Mini-me's graduation ceremony and party. He had a great time at his party, but I've got to admit that I was exhausted by the time it was over and very happy when it was just down to family, a few close friends and a big glass of wine!

I'm a pretty emotional person, as a general rule and, when it comes to my kids, I really amp it up a notch. When the soon-to-be graduates started marching into Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp & Circumstance," I pretty nearly lost it. Nothing quite says "this is the end of one stage and the beginning of another" quite like that piece of music.

As I was sitting there, watching the kids cross the stage, I was struck by two things. First, I was appalled by how little regard some people have for other people. I really don't see the need to whoop and yell when your loved one crosses the stage (it is supposed to be a solemn occasion, after all) but if you really must, is there any need for you to yell so long that the announcement of the next student's name cannot be heard? Then I got to thinking "I forgot to tell Mini-me that there were to be no shenanigans once that diploma was in his hands." After all, one young man had just done a back flip as he crossed the stage. I need not have worried; he did his family proud.

My other big news this week was the publication of my first article as a regular contributor to omaha.net. I'll be writing a monthly column there about all things bookish--passing along a lot of the great things you all share with me, talking about things going on in the Omaha area, and introducing their readers to book-related experiences to be had. Even for those of you not in the area, there are a lot of great articles about everything from the arts to pets to workplace advice.


Welcome back to all of you who have been to BEA! Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Dismantled" by Jennifer McMahon

432 pages
Published June 2009 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Ten years ago, four college friends at a small Vermont art college band together to form a group called the Compassionate Dismantlers. Their motto is "to understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart" and they begin committing acts of meaningful vandalism. After graduation, they all move to a remote cabin where the pranks begin to become more dangerous and the motives less clear to some of the members. When one of the experiments goes wrong, though, the rest of the group leaves the cabin with only the clothes on their backs and a promise never to tell anyone about what happened.

But nine years later, someone has sent some of the members a postcard with a picture of a moose, the groups credo and their saying "Dismantlement = freedom." When a college acquaintance, who was involved with the group, gets the postcard, he commits suicide and the family hires a private investigator to find out what the postcard means and why it was found near the man's body.

Henry and Tess, two members of the group, are living only miles away from the cabin with their nine-year-old daughter (who suffers from OCD and has a not-so-nice imaginary friend). Things have fallen apart for Henry and Tess and only get worse when they hear of the suicide and when strange things begin happening, their sense of guilt over what happened ten years ago drives them to do things they would never have imagined.

I read McMahon's "Promise Not To Tell" and was so impressed with it that I accepted this book without any idea what it might be about. I'm a blurb reader, a review reader, and I usually go into a book with some idea what to expect. I did do that with this one so the surprises started coming at me right from the start and only built from their. The story alternates between the present time and the time of the Dismantlers and from different points of view; this can be a tricky thing to pull off but McMahon does a terrific job of using it to build the suspense. Except for Emma, Tess and Henry's daughter, none of the characters is particularly likable but McMahon makes the reader want to know what will happen to them. When I first got the book, I worried that it might be too long--it's hard to keep up suspense for over 400 pages. McMahon makes use of every page.

What's not to love about about a book that combines a murder, a possible ghost, a maybe not so imaginary friend, and a kidnapping? I couldn't put this one down. Thanks to Trish and TLC book tours for including me on this tour!

To learn more about McMahon, checkout her web site. McMahon has also written The Island of Lost Girls.

For more opinions about this book, check out the other stops on the tour. Now that I've read the book, I'm going to do that, too.
Tuesday, May 18th: Rundpine
Wednesday, May 19th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 20th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, May 25th: The Cajun Book Lady
Monday, May 31st: I’m Booking It
Tuesday, June 1st: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, June 2ed: Bookalicio.us
Thursday, June 3rd: Chick With Books
Monday, June 7th: Regular Rumination
Wednesday, June 9th: Booksie’s Blog
Thursday, June 10th: Take Me Away

Monday, May 24, 2010

Letter To My Daughter by George Bishop

Letter To My Daugher by George Bishop
148 pages
Published February 2010 by Random House Publishing
Source: the Publisher and TLC Book Tours

When Laura and her 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, get in a big fight and Liz steals Laura's car and takes off, Laura and her husband go through the usual parental reactions. They contact friends, they contact the police, they question they way they have handled their daughter. And they wait.

Liz's father's way to spend that time is to mow the lawn--twice. Laura decides it's time to tell Liz her own story of life as a young girl in a letter.

When Laura herself was fifteen, she feel in love with the wrong boy, a boy her parents strongly disapproved of, particularly when they found Laura and Tim naked on their living room floor. So off to Catholic boarding school Laura went. As one of the "charity cases" (Laura had to work to subsidize her education), things were not easy for Laura. But a continuing correspondence with Tim helps Laura keep her sanity. Until Tim's enlistment in the Army and time spent in Vietnam begin to have a much deeper impact on both of them.

I was impressed, from the start, by the way Bishop was able to write from a mother's point of view, even to the point where I felt like these were words I might say.

"Well. Things don't always turn out the way we want them to, do they? Sometimes when I'm yelling at you for coming in late, or criticizing your choice of friends, or your taste in clothing, or your apparent indifference to anything having to do with family or school or future, I hear my mother's voice coming from my mouth. My mother's very words even."

Which is not to say, at all, that I feel the same way about my mother that Laura feels about hers. Just that all mothers, I think, feel like the things we are saying to our children are for their own good and are universal. And, maybe, that all of us fear that we are turning into our mothers when we say certain things. Which, of course, means that maybe our moms were right.

Bishop also brings up great points in the book about why some "unfortunate people" seem to resist help and the way two different sides of any conflict look at the conflict in the same way, just from two different perspectives. And Elizabeth Barret Browning's poetry play heavily into the story, which I liked.

I read the book quickly, just a few hours, not only because it's short but because it did draw me into the story. I really wanted to find out what Laura had to tell Liz that she felt was so profound that it might change their relationship. And, when I finished it, my overall impression was that I enjoyed the book. But as I've thought about it, there little, niggling things that bothered me while I was reading it, started to pop to the surface. I could picture a mother sitting down to write a letter to her daughter while her daughter was missing--but not a 100 page plus letter. I found it hard to believe that Laura was so distant from her parents yet raised her daughter to call them Gramps and Mams. I couldn't imagine two teenage kids being so stupid about the first time they had sex as to do it in the middle of the living room and losing track of time. I think I might have liked Laura's story better told in a different way; so much of it felt very true to life as a teenager. But I'm not sure, in the end, if I felt like the lesson Laura was trying to teach Liz was clear.

There's nothing heavy here but, overall, I enjoyed the book and it is one that I will pass along.



To read more about Mr. Bishop and his debut book, check out his web site. To read an excerpt of the book, click here. Thanks to Lisa, and TLC Book Tours, for including me on this tour!

For more opinions about this book, please check out the other stops on the tour:
Tuesday, May 4: Savvy Verse and Wit
Wednesday, May 5: Luxury Reading
Thursday, May 6: Overstuffed
Monday, May 10: Juggling Life
Tuesday, May 11: Suko’s Notebook
Wednesday, May 12: Diary of an Eccentric
Monday, May 17: Books and Movies
Tuesday, May 18: Book Club Classics
Wednesday, May 19: Book Nut
Thursday, May 20: not that you asked
Monday, May 24th: Feminist Review

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon - May 23

I can't tell you how happy I am to be done with last week! Loads of reading to be done--to the point where it ceased to be fun. Until Friday when I sat down with "Letter to My Daughter," by George Bishop, which I flew through. This week I'm finishing up Jennifer McMahon's latest, "Dismantled." I read "Promise Not To Tell," by McMahon, and thoroughly enjoyed it and got this one without a clue what it was about. So far, so good. When I looked it up on bn.com, I thought it was funny that in the section of "people who bought this, also bought this," the other books included "The Forgotten Garden" by Kate Morton and Chelsea Cain's "Evil At Heart." How different are those two books?!
It will be another busy week with Mini-me's graduation and party on Saturday. The house is starting to shape up--thanks to the Big Guy who really chipped in yesterday, rather unexpectedly. Not to say that he doesn't help out around here. It just isn't always the things I need done or on the timetable I'm working on! I can't wait for the weekend to be here--so excited for Mini-me and I can't wait to relax, finally, with my family.

Mini-me is currently reading E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" and chomping at the bit for "The Road" to come out on DVD this week. He's heading off to college this fall to study studio art and history but I would not be the least bit surprised to see him work in quite a few literature classes. If so, I might just have to read along with him--what fun!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guest Post - Minrose Gwin, author of The Queen of Palmyra

Please join me in welcoming Minrose Gwin, author of The Queen of Palmyra, to Lit and Life!

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Thanks for the chance to do a guest posting and talk about the weird work habits of writers. Flannery O’Connor, victim of lupus, wrote in bed. William Faulkner wrote with a gin and tonic in his hand. Virginia Woolf shut herself up. Eudora Welty watched people in the street in front of her house as she clattered away on her typewriter. Gertrude Stein stomped around. I guess there are as many ways to write as there are writers.
It’s late afternoon, my favorite time for writing, the time I usually get a spurt of energy before calling it quits for the day. I’m sitting at my “desk” in my favorite work pose, feet propped on a footstool (padded). My desk is actually my lap, and my “chair” is a well worn futon with a sizable dent on the side I always sit. I’m in my little sun room, lined on three of the four walls with windows, hot in the summer, cold as ice in winter. Around me things are a mess. There are left-overs from last month’s income tax and today’s lunch. There are binoculars to watch the progress of the bluebird hatchlings in my back yard, several pairs of glasses, a calendar, a printer and copier, a globe, some graduation cards I’ve been intending to send, pictures, books, you name it.
I have everything I need to write. At least one cat; this late afternoon it’s the fat one named Violet, as in Not-A-Shrinking-Violet, who digs her claws into my thigh to signal her contentment and keep me alert. Violet tries to bark at people when they come to the house, but it comes out something between a scream and a hairball cough. My dog, Sylvie, named after the character in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping who couldn’t stay put, rolls around on her back and chews on something I don’t recognize. Sylvie’s primary attributes are her ears, which stand straight up and look twice as monstrously large when she’s flayed out like this. Beside the dog and cat, I have a whole sack of 94 percent fat-free popcorn; I can’t write in the late afternoon without it. And a full glass of water.
When I wrote my novel The Queen of Palmyra over the course of several summers, I didn’t have the luxury of my futon. I’m a teacher, so summers are the times for getting away and writing, which often don’t go together. I found myself writing on airplanes, in motel rooms, in friends’ apartments, even in the car until I made myself dizzy. I’ve decided I’m a homebody when it comes to writing, but the truth is most writers have other jobs and we have to write on the fly, sometimes literally. We have to make the writing fit the situation, or else we’re doomed to constant frustration and little satisfaction. We have to be stubbornly intent on writing, come hell or high water, family reunions in Indiana or friends’ crises in California. That’s all too easy for me to say this late afternoon, comfortably ensconced on my futon. Violet has just given a quick nip, as if to say practice what you preach.
Thanks, Minrose! I love to be able to picture authors at work.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin

410 pages
Published April 2010 by Harper Collins
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Florence Forrest has just missed the entire fourth grade, thanks to her father who has taken Florence and her mother off on a search for the perfect job. But now they're back in Milltown, where Florence's father has a job as a burial insurance salesman and her mother is once again settled into her position as the town's "cake lady." With a father that's wrapped up in all of his committees, including one that involved getting a very special box out of the basement for meetings in the evenings, and an alcoholic mother who makes regular trips to the bootlegger, Florence finds herself under the care of her grandmother's maid, Zenie. Zenie is not Aibilene of "The Help;" it is clear that watching Florence is a job to her and that there is a clear line in her head between the black people of the Shake Rag area of Milltown and the whites. But Zenie does tell Florence wonderful stories of Zenobia (for whom she was named), Queen of Palmyra, which Florence loved to hear.

"Zenie liked her mother's stories about the Queen of Palmyra and she liked to make up her own. You never knew how Zenie's Queen of Palmyra stories were going to end up. You only knew that, like Uncle Wiggily, the Queen was going to come out on top."
Zenie does offer Florence advice as well, some of clearly lessons she has learned from the experience of being a black in the South.

"Listen here, girl. You can be made inside and nice as spice outside. Won't hurt you non. Just zip it up. Zip it up and stay out of the doghouse. Me, I get made as fire at that woman every day of the week, but she don't know the first thing about it."

For a girl that had spent all of her life growing up in the South, Florence was remarkable oblivious to the tension between the blacks and whites. Considering that her father was a raging racist, it seems odd that she wouldn't have been more clued in. But then, she may have thought that it was largely her father, since her mother clearly felt differently. Florence begins to notice the tension when Zenie's niece, Eva, comes to live with Zenie and makes up Florence using her own foundation and powders. When Florence looks in the mirror and shouts, "I'm colored," it's clear, even to her that she has said something wrong. And when she tries to call herself Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie puts her back in her place.

In other ways, Florence is wise beyond her years. When her mother tries to give fan to a black woman, Gertrude, she is stunned when Gertrude refuses the fan. When she gets back in the car, Florence says,

"Maybe she didn't want charity."

Mama looked at me, shocked. "This wasn't charity. It was just a fan, for God's sake."

"Maybe it felt like more than a fan."

This being Mississippi in 1963, it's a given that very bad things are probably going to happen, particularly if you think about what might be in that box that Florence's daddy totes around. And when they do start to happen, they come fast and furious, changing Florence's life.

"I should have been worrying about how sad everyone was, but this was before I knew how sadness can ride the wind, planting and reaping itself over and over, and not always in the same plot of ground, before it leafs out and flowers."
I probably should have done a better job of avoiding other reviews of the book before I started. In particular, I started the book thinking of Rebecca's (Book Lady's Blog) review. Rebecca had a problem with all of the similes Gwin uses in the book and as soon as I started reading the book, those similes jumped off the page at me. There are a lot of them. Many of them are really wonderful, but there are just so darn many of them.

On the other hand, so many other reviews raved about the book and my expectations were so high it was going to be difficult to live up to them. I did really enjoy this story and the characters in it. The tone and events of the book felt very realistic for the time. Whereas my only complaint with "The Help" was that it didn't live up to the tension that it had built up to, this one delivers.

Minrose Gwin will be back here tomorrow with a guest post talking about her writing habits.

Minrose’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS

Tuesday, May 4th: five borough book review

Wednesday, May 5th: The Bluestocking Society

Monday, May 10th: Rundpinne

Tuesday, May 11th: Natty Michelle

Wednesday, May 12th: Pam’s Perspective

Wednesday, May 12th: My Reading Room

Wednesday, May 19th: Staircase Wit

Tuesday, May 25th: Dolce Bellezza

Wednesday, May 26th: Take Me Away

Thursday, May 27th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Monday, May 31st: Green Jello

Tuesday, June 1st: Crazy for Books

Monday, May 17, 2010

Folly Beach by Karen White

414 pages
Published May 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Emmy Hamilton's husband passed away six months ago and Emmy is having trouble coming to grips with it. When her mother finds out that the store on Folly Beach that the store on which she modeled her own bookstore is for sale, she encourages Emmy to buy it. Paige feels like Emmy needs to try to move on in a place without memories of Ben. But what really sells Emmy is some notes she finds in the margins of some of the books that came to Paige's store from Folly's Find. They seem to hint of a affair from long ago and Emmy is so intrigued that she agrees to buy Folly's Find.

When Emmy gets to Folly Beach, she meets the store's current owner, Abigail Reynolds, daughter-in-law of the woman, Maggie, who owned the store when Paige was growing up in Folly. Emmy also meets Lulu, Maggie's sister, who makes bottle trees in the back of the store and sort of comes in the deal although Emmy's first impression of Lulu makes her want to have nothing to do with Lulu. Heath, Abigail's son, owns the house Emmy is renting while she tries to get settled in Folly. He's got his own issues--the house was built for his fiancee who left him when he found out he had a brain tumor. Emmy finds a lot more of Maggie's old books in the house and begins to search all of them for margin notes, soon piecing together enough clues to make her start asking the family questions. Along the way she also gets to know Abigail's husband, John and her daughter, Lizzie, along with the town regulars as she settles into life in Folly.

In a style reminiscent of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood, the reader is privileged to the story of the past in a way that Emmy is not as we travel back on forth in time between Emmy's story and Maggie and Lulu's story, set during World War II. In Maggie's story, we also met Catherine, Maggies's cousin, who's father left the family and mother passed away; Peter, a man from Iowa visiting the island because he's doing business with the nearby naval base; and we learn about Jim, who Maggie and Lulu both loved but who married Cat...and then died at Pearl Harbor a few months later.

Having read the first two books in White's Tradd Street series, I knew going into this book that it would have a light feel and a sense that everything would be alright. Despite the World War II time period of much of the story and the loss of Ben that Emmy is dealing with in the present time, "On Folly Beach" never feels heavy although White does a very good job of conveying the emotions the characters are battling. What I didn't expect going into this one was to like it as much as I did. I had some problems with the idea of Emmy feeling comfortable asking so many really nosy questions of the family and a hard time believing that they would be so willing to share. But all of that was, I suppose, necessary to tell to the story of Maggie, which I really got caught up in. And much of what that story was about tied into the present. Maggie, Lulu, Emmy and even Heath were all dealing with issues of knowing when to left go and move on.

While I don't think that White is going to win any prizes with her writing, she does manage to weave together a lot of different things here which, for the most part, works. Book clubs, would have a lot to discuss. Paige and Emmy's relationship for instance. Paige had a lot of miscarriages which greatly altered her relationship with Emmy. The way people deal with grief--Maggie and Lulu have lost both parents but seem much better equipped to handle their loss than does Catherine, whose mother also died but who spends her life trying to find a man to fill her father's shoes. The role children, or not having children, plays in someone's life...Emmy and Ben opted not to have children until he returned but now she is wishing she had a part of him to hold onto. There were some parts of the book that I found predictable, and some parts that I found hard to buy into, but, overall, I got so wrapped up in solving the mystery of the past, and there were enough surprises, that I was willing to forgive White for any problems I found.

For more information on White and her writings, check out her website.

Thanks to Trish, and TLC Book Tours, for including me on this tour. It will make a great summer read! For other opinions, check out the rest of the tour:

Monday, May 3rd: Rundpinne

Tuesday, May 4th: Downtown Southern

Thursday, May 6th: Life in the Thumb

Friday, May 7th: Café of Dreams

Monday, May 10th: Diary of an Eccentric

Tuesday, May 11th: Peeking Between the Pages

Wednesday, May 12th: Write Meg

Thursday, May 13th: Savvy Verse & Wit

Friday, May 14th: Luxury Reading

Tuesday, May 18th: Red Lady’s Reading Room

Wednesday, May 19th: Books Like Breathing

Thursday, May 20th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, May 24th: From the Land of Cotton

Tuesday, May 25th: Natalie’s Sentiments

Wednesday, May 26th: A Tale of This Newlywed

Thursday, May 27th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Friday, May 28th: Flower Patch Farmgirl

Monday, May 31st: Sasha and the Silverfish

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon - May 15

It's going to be a busy week at my house. I've got two books to get reviews done for, a book club meeting and an online book club, and oh so much to get done to prep the house for Mini-me's high school graduation. I can't for the life of me figure out how I managed to plan things so that I had four books that needed to be finished in the same week so close to the big event!




I did find some fun bookish things to share with your this week. This clip from YouTube is making the rounds but if you haven't already seen it, do take a few minutes to watch!



From Abe's Books comes a list of books that make us angry--sometimes in a good way, sometimes in not. The 25 books listed include "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," "The Pilot's Wife," and "To Kill A Mockingbird."


The organizers of the Book Blogger Convention have put together a terrific auction to raise funds to benefit First Books. Items up for bid include a $100 Powell's gift card, a signed ARC of Sarah Blake's The Postmistress and, for those attending the convention, a literary lunch with Unbridled Books authors Masha Hamilton and Emily St. John Mandel. Oh, yeah--and a Kindle! You may have noticed how much I love Unbridled Books--makes me wish that much more that I was going to Book Blogger Convention!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends...












This week's recommendation once again comes from Rhode Island. The Rhoadies have both read and enjoyed Paul Adam's "The Rainaldi Quartet" and "Paganini's Ghost" - and recommend they be read in that order. Here's what they have to say:

We just finished reading "Paganini's Ghost" by Paul Adam. His earlier "The Rainaldi Quartet" set the stage with a group of old friends in northern Italy who get together to play chamber music. The protagonist is a luthier, who makes his living repairing stringed instruments. His policeman buddy occasionally involves him in solving crimes. There is much music history; much of the pleasure of music and of the companionship of dear friends; some obligatory obeisance to Italian cuisine and a lot of the pleasure of a story well-told.

Booklist describes "The Rainaldi Quartet this way:
In Cremona, Italy, a violin maker is murdered, stabbed through the neck with a chisel. When his devastated friends, including police detective Guastafeste, discover that the dead man was obsessed with finding an immensely valuable violin called the Messiah's Sister, built by the legendary Stradivarius, they decide to continue his quest. There are only two problems: the violin might not actually exist, and it looks like the murderer hasn't completed his grisly work.

And this to say about "Paganini's Ghost:"
A day after a heavily promoted violin recital in Cremona, Italy, at which prize-winning Russian prodigy Yevgeny Ivanov plays the priceless violin once owned by Paganini, a visiting French art dealer is found murdered in his hotel room. When a scrap of paper torn from a Paganini piece played by Ivanov seems key to opening an ornate gold box found in the victim’s possession, violin maker Gianni Castiglione (introduced in The Rainaldi Quartet, 2006) is called into the case by his friend, police detective Antonio Guastafeste. Castiglione cracks the code to find that the now-empty box once housed a small violin, setting him—with Guastafeste—on a cross-continental search, during which other murders are committed, and Castiglione must call on his knowledge of history, genealogy, and provenance to find long-missing treasures and solve the crimes.

As a lover of classical music and pretty much anything to do with Italy, I think I'm going to have to add these mysteries to my summer reading list.

Girolamo Rainaldi (1570 – July 15, 1655) was an Italian architect who worked on the whole in a conservative Mannerist style, often with collaborating architects, yet was a successful competitor of Bernini. His son, Carlo Rainaldi, became an even more notable, more fully Baroque architect.

Niccolò Paganini (27 October 1782 – 27 May 1840) was an Italian violinist, violist, guitarist, and composer. He was one of the most celebrated violin virtuosi of his time, and left his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique. His Caprice No. 24 in A minor, Op. 1, is among the best known of his compositions, and has served as an inspiration for many prominent composers.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

400 pages
Published December 2009 by Random House
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

On an August day in 1974, one man has done the impossible. Philippe Petit has brought the city to a stand still as he performs an exhibition of funambulism. That is to say, Petit was walking a tightrope---between the twin towers of the new World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, others are doing their own tightrope walking.

Corrigan, an Irish monk living in the Bronx amongst the thugs and prostitutes is battling his own demons as well as taking on theirs. On Park Avenue, Claire is playing hostess to a group of women who meet to help deal with the loss of their sons in Vietnam. Tillie, prostitute and mother of teenage prostitute Jazzlyn, deals with the consequences of the choices she has made in her life and the chances she never had. And Lara, an artist who is involved in a car accident that has consequences far beyond anything she could have imagined.

It is no surprise to me that this book won the National Book Award--not just because it is brilliantly written but because it has all of the elements that make books award winning. It is sweeping story while at the same time being intimate portraits of people at a particular moment in their lives. McCann says in an interview in the back of the book that he wanted it to be "Whitmanesque" with everything in it--highs and lows; rich and poor; whites, blacks, Hispanics. It truly is the song of the city that he envisioned.

The book did have slow points for me. After falling in love with the book within fifteen pages, I felt like the next section, talking about Corrigan, dragged a bit and I had a hard time connecting to him. But then we were introduced to Claire and things picked up again for me. As a mother of nearly the same age, with sons about the age that her son was when he died, I could completely relate to her pain as she tried to move on with her life while dealing with a loss that I cannot begin to imagine. A chapter that involves a group of computer nerds hacking into the phone system to call pay phones in NYC to get more information about the tightrope walker they have just seen mentioned on the press wire, is light and funny. And then, bam!, McCann hits you with Tillie's story and it is heartbreaking.

McCann has an unusual style--there are no quotation marks, no indication of who is speaking in coversations--and it can be difficult to follow. Some of the subject matter and language may be difficult for some readers. And there were a couple of things that made me stop and wonder "would that have existed in 1974?" which took me, momentarily, out of the novel. But there was so much here that redeemed any flaws for me and Let The Great World Spin will almost certainly be amongst my top ten books of the year when it comes time to wrap the year up.

"A stupid, endless menu of death.

But death by tightrope?

Death by performance?

That's what it amounted to. So flagrant with his body. Making it cheap. The puppetry of it all. His little Charlie Chaplin walk, coming in like a hack on her morning. How dare he do that with his own body? Throwing his life in everyone's face? Making her own son's so cheap? Yes, he has intruded on her coffee morning like a hack on her code. With his hijinks above the city. Coffee and cookies and a man out there walking in the sky, munching away what should have been."
Thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for allowing me to be on this tour. For other reviews, please visit:

Monday, May 3rd: Stephanie’s Written Word

Tuesday, May 4th: S. Krishna’s Blog

Wednesday, May 5th: The Literate Housewife Review

Thursday, May 6th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Friday, May 7th: Luxury Reading

Monday, May 10th: She is Too Fond of Books

Tuesday, May 11th: My Friend Amy

Wednesday, May 12th: The Brain Lair

Thursday, May 13th: Diary of an Eccentric

Monday, May 17th: Book Club Classics

Tuesday, May 18th: Beth Fish Reads

Wednesday, May 19th: Book Chatter

Thursday, May 20th: Evening All Afternoon

Friday, May 21st: Brunette on a Budget

Monday, May 24th: Ready When You Are, CB

Tuesday, May 25th: The New Dork Review of Books

Wednesday, May 26th: Life and Times of a “New” New Yorker

Thursday, May 27th: Nonsuch Book

Friday, May 28th: Caribousmom


For more information about McCann, this book and his other works, please visit his website.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Sister's Voice by Mary Carter

352 pages
Published June 2010 by Kensington Publishing
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book Promotions

Twenty-eight year old Lacey Gears is finally exactly where she wants to be--she has a terrific boyfriend, a fulfilling artistic career and a large group of friends in the Deaf community. Then one day she finds a letter in her mail that reads:

"You have a twin sister. Her name is Monica."

The letter directs Lacey to a poster on the window of a bookstore. Lacey isn't sure what to think--she wavers between wondering if someone is playing a joke on her and wondering if this might actually be real. Lacey grew up in a foster home, never knowing anything about her biological roots but her first reaction upon seeing her likeness on the poster is that someone has stolen her image from the computer. Determined to get to the truth, Lacey begins plotting ways to ambush the phony in a very public way.

Monica Bowman is on tour with her self-help book, doing weekend workshops when she is approached to do an interview. Unbeknownst to Monica, the "journalist" is actually Mike, the artist that Lacey share space with who's been talked into trying to get information on Monica. Mike is sure the minute he sees Monica that she is, in fact, Lacey's twin but doesn't say anything about it to Monica. When Monica goes to spend a weekend with her parents and Aunt Grace, she finds out that she did have a sister, but her parents tell her that the sister died as a baby.

When Lacey finally shows up at one of Monica's workshops, the two find that they have an immediate bond. Lacey isn't ready to let a sister into her life; Monica is desperate to hold on to this sister that she has just found.

The idea of twins separated and then reunited years later intrigued me and books about the relationship between sisters are always of interest to me so I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, almost immediately realized that I was going to have problems with it.

Early on, Carter does a lot of brand name dropping which I always hate in a story. I'm sure it's done to give an instant visualization of a thing but I'd really rather you described it to me--if it even needs to be described. It's probably sufficient for me to know that Lacey rides a motorcycle; I didn't feel like I needed to know exactly what model and color she rides.

Then there were things that happened throughout the book that I just was not able to buy into. When Lacey finds the flyer in the bookstore window, she immediately believes that the author has stolen her image. But the author is supposed to be coming to the bookstore for a reading--how would it not become immediately obvious that the image on her book was not real? And the fact that Mike is immediately attracted to Monica is a little odd--he's known Lacey for a long while and doesn't seem to be attracted to her despite them being identical twins.

Carter clearly knows a lot about the Deaf community; she is a graduate of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and a certified sign language interpreter. I'm all for learning while I read but whole passages here felt like lessons rather than part of the natural flow of the story. That said, I had no idea that there were "deaf idioms" or that every country has it's own sign language.

About now you're probably thinking there was nothing I liked about this book. Not true. I really did enjoy watching the sisters try to develop a relationship, particularly as they feel into the same roles that they had played as toddlers. Carter did a terrific job of making me feel Lacey's pain as she relived her life in the foster home, being raised by an unpredictable alcoholic, and her pain and anger as she dealt with the fact that her parents had gotten rid of her.

And Carter can write vivid descriptions:

"Lacey entered a small mudroom. It was crammed with coats, and shoes, and boots, and caps, yet there was a clear order to the chaos. A stacked washer and dryer combo sat to her left. The dryer was on; the flipping clothes looked like children jumping up and down in a bouncy hut. A sleeve waved at her, and she couldn't help but wave back. She started laughing then slapped her hand over her mouth, remembering hearing people could actually hear."
And I've got to admit that Carter got me--I had no idea what was going to happen in the last fifty pages. I'm generally not the easy to surprise so I give Carter big props for pulling that off.

Book clubs would find a lot in this book to discuss. Beyond the relationship between Monica and Lacey, there's also the question about what exactly makes someone a sister. Of course, because of Lacey being Deaf, and the girls' relationships with their boyfriends, there would be a lot to discuss about communication between people.

Thanks to Dorothy and Pump Up Your Book Promotions for including me in this tour!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book List Meme -- What Books Are You Intimidated By?

Rebecca, of Lost In Books, hosts The Book List meme and recently asked us to list the books that intimidate us. Piece of cake for me. While these are all books I probably should read, the only one I'm even remotely considering is The Canterbury Tales for The Gilmore Girls challenge. But I'll bet I'll find something to substitute for it!

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer










The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka








Ulysses by James Joyce

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Winner of A Signed Copy of The Threadbare Heart

Congratulations to Lori, the winner of a signed copy of The Threadbare Heart by Jennie Nash! Of course you all know how much I love The Gilmore Girls so Lori caught my interest with that and I love how she compared her own situation to the fictional family to show why she likes them so much.

"This was really tough. I wanted to say Vivi and Sidda from Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but they don't have a tremendous relationship. So I had to go with my standby. I love Lorelai and Rory from The Gilmore Girls. Their relationship is so natural and comfortable to them. I wish that I had that with my own mom. I guess ours is more like Lorelai and Emily, but in the later seasons, after some level on understanding is found. We get along for the most part, but it can turn really quickly. I think that my feelings towards Lorelai and Rory are because I find so much of myself in both of them that I can't help watching and loving them. "


Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers, mothers-to-be, and everyone who has ever mothered a child in some way!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Last Chance To Enter For A Signed Copy of Jennie Nash's The Threadbare Heart!

Entries are due by midnight, Saturday, May 8th. Winning entry will be posted Sunday, May 9th! What fictional mother/daughter pair is your favorite?

Wuthering Heights Wednesday, er, Friday

Welcome to Wuthering Heights Wednesday, hosted by Softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts! I'm late this week because I had so many other great things to share with you but I didn't want to miss playing. Things are are really starting to heat up now--big, big drama is building!

Chapter 13
Two months has passed and Cathy is only just now starting to recover from her brain fever but she's by no means the same person despite Edgar's best nursing attempts. Yeah, bleeding will do that to you.

Heathcliff and Isabella finally return, married, and Nelly receives a letter from Isabella detailing how miserable she is and how much she regrets marrying Heathcliff and how awful things are at Wuthering Heights. And will Nelly please have Edgar come to visit Isabella and won't Nelly please come.

Chapter 14
Ellen (Nelly) goes to Wuthering Heights but Edgar won't have anything more to do with Isabella so he sends nothing. Ellen is appalled to find that things have fallen into even worse disrepair than the last time she was there, including Isabella. Heathcliff, who looks quite the gentelman, brags to Ellen about how he hanged Isabella dog and how he has made her hate him.

Heathcliff is desperate to see Catherine, especially when Ellen tells him how bad she's been, and finally convinces her to take a note to Cathy to see if she'll allow him to come visit.

Chapter 15
Heathcliff comes to the Grange while Edgar and most of the servants are at church. He can't believe how different Catherine is.

"The flash of her eyes had been succeeded by a dreamy and melancholy softness: they no onger gave the impression of looking at the objects around her: they appeared always to gaze beyound, and far beyond - you would have said out of this world. Then the paleness of her face - its haggard aspect having vanished as she recovered flesh - and the peculiar expression arising from her mental state..."

He's distraught when Cathy curses him to suffer after she dies and the more upset he becomes, the meaner she gets. Finally, she sees that she's pretty much crushed him and begs him to come to her and they fall into each other's arms, kissing.

Ellen sees Edgar coming but Cathy begs Heathcliff to stay so, of course, he does. Cathy passes out just before Edgar returns and before Edgar can even think about raising a hand to Heathcliff, Heathcliff hands Cathy to him and walks out

My Thoughts
I know I should be feeling sorry for Cathy; she's in a terrible state. But, come one, she completely brought it on herself. Heathcliff I'm having mixed feelings about. Seriously, the first thing he did when Isabella came to him was hang her dog? On the other hand, he is so obviously painfully in love with Catherine and devastated by her condition. Isabella--don't feel a bit sorry for her; she brought what she got on herself and made it so much easier for Heathcliff to wreck havoc.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

David Ebershoff On The Mystery Of Inspiration

Please join me in welcoming David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl and The 19th Wife to Lit and Life. I'm always curious to know where authors ideas come from and David has kindly agreed to tell us about his inspiration.

Where do your ideas come from? It’s a question I’ve heard before and it’s a question I often wonder about other writers. Even so, I’m never confident in answering it because the process of finding ideas is a mystery, even to me. I do not write from a well of inspiration, or a trunk, or a wheelie bag – or any other container I can unlock, lift the lid to, and search through in order to come up with the core idea of a new novel. Yet the ideas must come from somewhere, for there is evidence of them right there on the page. If my inspiration has a source, if I must identify it, I should tell you about my eyes and my ears. I look and listen for stories. I try to press myself through my day with my mind open. I am scanning the horizon for a good tale. Or a partial tale with a promising set up and no discernible ending. Like how did that puppy end up leashed to that post? Who would do something like that? That’s the beginning of a story, or might be. Or maybe it’s a memorable character who, at first meeting, is difficult to explain. You know that person at work or at school who shows flashes of irrational behavior? Most of the time we dismiss him or her as a pain in the ass. But I try to remind myself that the more creative reaction is to ask what made him or her that way? Or, sometimes, my mind has a strange ability to hold back a memory for years and then thrust it to the forefront, where I can see it freshly and evaluate it in a way I had never before. Just last night I recalled the summer job I had when I was twenty: I was a messenger, delivering packages all over Los Angeles. For the first time in years I remembered the woman who ordered three dozen lemon muffins every day and the man who tipped me twenty dollars after I served his wife divorce papers and the pair of screenwriters who messengered their revisions across town each afternoon. I don’t know what I can do with this memory, but already it feels like enough material to bend into a narrative. If there is a trick to inspiration, then that’s it: I must keep my mind open to all that comes before me every day. Of course I will never be able to do this all the time, but if I try to, if I remember to, if slow myself down to simply listen and see, then an idea will shove its way up and soon I will be on my way.

Thanks, David! I'm looking forward to seeing The Danish Girl come to life on the big screen and so glad you're doing the screenplay so I'll know it's done the way the author envisions it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
288 pages
Published February 2001 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Tall, beautiful, rich Greta Waud, born and raised in California, doesn't really fit in with the "in" crowd and doesn't particularly want to. When her family moves to Denmark for her father to be an ambassador, Greta falls in love--with Denmark and with her art teacher, the petite, pretty, shy Einar Wegener. Rumblings of World War I send the Wauds back to California where Greta meets ceramics artist Teddy Cross. He is entirely the opposite of Einar except in one key point--Greta's mother is not pleased and that makes Teddy all the more appealing. Teddy and Greta marry but life is not easy for them and before the war ends, Teddy has died. Greta returns to Denmark and immediately seeks out Einar.

Soon the two are married and settled into an apartment where both of them have room to paint. Einar is modestly successful; Greta is not. But one day, when the model for the portrait that Greta is working on can't come to Greta asks Einar to put on a pair of women's shoes and stockings to pose. When he does, it awakens something in him. When Greta convinces Einar to also try on a dress, she teasingly calls him "Lili." But several days later, Greta returns to the apartment to find that "Lili" is sitting in her studio. So begins the emergence of the woman that has been living in Einar all of his life. Greta, who may stand up to anyone else, devoted to doing what makes her husbands happy so, despite misgivings, she allows Lili to become more and more a part of their lives, going so far as to convince everyone else that Lili is Einar's cousin and taking her for outings. Soon Lili is appearing more and more frequently, taking over the body entirely. Greta is terribly conflicted--on the one hand, she appears to be losing her husband; on the other hand, Lili has become an inspiration for Greta's painting and Greta is now becoming very successful. The fight is taking it's toll on the body with frequent bouts of unexplained bleeding, loss of appetite and an inability to get enough sleep. Mentally, Einar/Lili have become so separate that one can often not recall what the other has done.

Greta, with encouragement from her brother, Carlisle, in whom she has confided, begins to look for ways to help make Lili whole. Carlisle tries to find psychiatrics who can help but Greta finds a doctor who says he can physically make Lili the woman that she is mentally. Now Greta has to find a way to live with Lili/Einar's decision.

You may have already heard the premise of this book and think that it is a book about gender and sexual identity. It is but it is much more a love story, a book that examines how much one person is willing to give to make another person happy. It's a book about finding our true identities--here the main focus is Einar but the book looks beyond Einar at Greta as well. Ebershoff does a wonderful job of making this a story about people and their motivations and feelings rather than a sensationalist story. I found Greta, in particular, fascinating. As we learn more about her history with Teddy, we learn what may be the reason she is so willing to do whatever it is that will make Einar happy but Greta is also encouraging Lili to come to the fore for her own selfish reasons. And for a woman who is forward thinking enough to encourage her spouse to act out on his desire to become a woman, Greta is terribly old-fashioned in that she remains faithful to Einar despite the fact that they are clearly not a married couple any longer in the usual sense.

"Part of Greta wanted to be married to the most scandalous man in the world. It had always annoyed her when people assumed that just because she had married she was now seeking a conventional life."

"Although she didn't like to admit it, she was like many young women from Pasadena who thought of divorce as a sign of moral faccidness...She found herself unusually concerned about what others might think and say about her--as if she were so week-minded that she had simply married the wrong man."
Ebershoff has a terrific way of making the setting a true part of the story--using just enough words to convey the scene without making the reader's eyes glaze over.

"Inside the Radhuset there was a covered courtyard decorated in the style of the Italian Renaissance. On three sides were open galleries supported by pillars. Above, a canopy of crossing timberbeams. On the stage was an orchestra, and there was a long table with trays of oysters. Hundreds of people were dancing, hands of handsome men on the slender waists of women whose eyelids were painted blue. Two girls on a bench were writing a note to someone, giggling over it. There was a circle of men in tuxedos with their hands in their pockets, their eyes roaming."

Although the book is divided into four place/time periods, it does go back and forth in time within those parts and it was, on occasion, hard to get back into the main story after a flashback. Some of the time spent exploring the past began to feel repetitive to me, as did the descriptions of the paintings of bogs that Einar was known for. But Ebershoff handled what could have been a sordid story without making it sordid. There is some talk of sex and, of course, bodily parts but only what felt like was necessary.

This is not a book for everyone and I'm not sure that I would have picked it up on my own. But I did enjoy it very much and think there would be a lot here for book clubs to talk about--provided the members of your book club are openminded. Thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

"The Danish Girl," starring Nicole Kidman as Einar, will released as a movie sometime in 2012.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0810819/.


For more opinions on the book, check out these tour stops:
Monday, May 3rd: Peekin’ Between the Pages
Tuesday, May 4th: Bermuda Onion
Thursday, May 6th: Rundpinne
Friday, May 7th: Redlady’s Reading Room
Monday, May 10th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, May 11th: Book Addiction
Wednesday, May 12th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, May 13th: The 3R’s Blog
Monday, May 17th: The Zen Leaf
Tuesday, May 18th: Eclectic Eccentric
Wednesday, May 19th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, May 20th: Worducopia
Monday, May 24th: She is Too Fond of Books
Tuesday, May 25th: The Feminist Review
Wednesday, May 26th: Regular Rumination
Thursday, May 27th: Book Club Classics