Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
656 pages
Published September 2000

Sam Clay and Joseph Kavalier are cousins. When Joseph smuggles himself out of Prague in 1939, he comes to stay with the Clays. Sam has a dream to write comic books and when he sees the artistic ability of his cousin, he decides it's time to take action. Soon the cousins and a group of artists have spent a weekend developing a whole series of characters and stories and manage to get the ideas published. Soon the group is a huge success, particularly the character The Escapist, inspired by Joseph's own Houdini-esque escape abilities.

Joseph begins a passionate affair with the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will play a part in both Joseph's and Sam's lives. Joseph will deal with his inability to get his family safely out of Czechoslovakia, Sam with his homosexuality and Rosa with an unexpected and untimely pregnancy. But the biggest changes in their lives occur when World War II finally comes to the U. S.

I had previously read Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" and enjoyed it a lot. This one had been highly recommended; many people rate it as Chabon's best work. So my expectations were high. And I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed. Chabon again presented me with a completely unique story line and an impressive cast of characters.

One reviewer said that despite some very serious subject matter, the book never loses it's sense of humor. I'm not sure I agree with that assesment. There's a part of the book, when Joseph is stationed in the Artic, that is quite heavy. It does serve an important purpose in the book but it did really pull me out of the sense of the book.

Michael Chabon is simply brilliant when it comes to use of the English language. The New York Times calls this "a novel of towering achievement" and Newsweek says "Chabon has pulled off another great feat." I couldn't agree more and I'm looking forward to picking up more of his work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Open House by Elizabeth Berg

Open House by Elizabeth Berg
241 pages
Published May 2001 by Random House

Samantha's husband has just left her, saying that he doesn't think he ever really loved her and leaving her with their eleven-year-old son. After a major spending spree, Samantha realizes that she's going to need to do something to make ends meet. She decides to take in boarders and her first is 78year-old Lydia. When Lydia moves in, the moving man is King, and MIT graduate who is now working odd jobs and whom Samantha strikes up a friendship with. Eventually Samantha has taken in three boarders and is also working odd jobs. She's also started dating, with disasterous results, thanks to her overbearing mother. Meanwhile Samantha is trying to keep control of her son and deal with her estranged husband and his new girlfriend. Eventually Samantha discovers that her primary job is going to have to be to discover who she truly is before she can make the rest of her life work.

It's been several years since I last read any Berg. I don't remember it as being especially wonderful but I do remember liking it and finding it a very original story. I was hoping to find the same here. But the plot is well-worn--husband leaves wife, finds new girlfriend, wife has to find way to make ends meet while worrying about whether or not her son will prefer his father to her now, wife meets new man who is completely not her type but whom the readers will already now is the man she is destined to end up with. Even taking in boarders to make ends meet is not a new plot device.

Most of the characters in this book also struck me as being reworked stereotypes. The little old lady, the gay man, the rebellious young woman and even the wandering husband, the spurned wife off on an I'll-show-him spending spree. What was a surprise? The fact that Lydia has a boyfriend and she often spends the night with him. King being an overweight guy who spends part of the book working to on losing weight to attract Samantha.

All of that being said, Berg does a good job of finding the voice of Samantha and taking her on the emotional rollercoaster ride that you would expect this kind of situation would produce. And a telephone appearance by Martha Stewart is really funny.

Other reviewers seem to like this book. But it just wasn't for me. If it were the first Berg novel I'd read, I'm not sure I'd pick up another. But I won another of her books and I'll be coming at that one with an open mind, hoping that I'll enjoy it as much as I did the first Berg book that I read.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Salon - September 27th

So, what, last week or so I said when I reached 75 followers I'd do another giveaway. Then suddenly I was already to 82 followers and hadn't even put any thought into the giveaway. So that's on the agenda for this week, I promise. Thanks to all of my new followers!

I've been so caught up in watching football the past couple of weeks that my reading has really fallen off. Friday nights are the high schools' games. Having lived in Nebraska my entire life, I'm passionate about my Huskers; but I'll watch college football all day long on Saturdays. Then Sundays, I get professional football. Sadly, I'm a Raider fan so there's not much to cheer about on that front.

I do seem to be on a World War II reading kick of late. Not necessarily intentionally. Just got lucky in the books I've gotten for review. Having just finished "Night of Flames," I was really "wow'd" to receive a comment from a fellow blogger whose father was in the Italian resistance. So amazed by what those brave people did.

I'm off to find a snack and do some reading. Have a great week!

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
400 pages
Published 2008 by Little, Brown, and Company

When she was six-years-old, Joanna witnessed the brutal murders of her mother, sister and baby brother. Thirty years later, the man who was convicted of the crime is being released from jail. Joanna is now married, a mother and a doctor with a 16-year-old nanny named Reggie, who has had more bad luck than good in her life. Reggie has recently been orphaned and has a brother who is a criminal menace in her life.
When Joanna goes missing, Reggie seems to be the only person who believes that something terrible has happened. Joanna's husband steadfastly maintains that Joanna has left to visit an ailing aunt, but her car is still in the garage, Reggie finds the baby's favorite blanket in the yard, and Joanna is not answering her phone.

Meanwhile, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe has her plate full. She is obsessed with locating David Needler, a man who murdered several of his family members, and protecting his remaining family. Louise is also investigating an arson case involving a company owned by Joanna's husband. To say she is distracted when Reggie approaches Louise with her concerns would be an understatement.

Detective Jackson Brodie is dealing with his own issues when he finds himself on the wrong train. Which really turns out to be the wrong train when it hits a car on the tracks and derails, leaving Brodie badly injured, with someone else's i.d., and with a case of amnesia. Reggie, who is staying in a nearby home, hears the accident and saves Brodie's life then won't leave him alone.

Atkinson explores a lot of themes in this book. There are a lot of marriages that she explores and none of them makes much of a case for ever getting married. Memory is also a big theme in this book and Atkinson does a fine job of exploring the different ways that people deal with memories. Despite this being Atkinson's third novel featuring Jackson Brodie, he is really not the star of this show. The female characters in this book are the strongest characters, all of whom are survivors dealing in their own ways.

The critics loved this one. I can't say that I felt the same. This is both a mystery and a book about relationships. I felt a little bit like each distracted from the other. And I felt like there was just too much going on in this book; had the Needler family been left out of the story, it would have flowed more smoothly for me. But I was also listening to this one, rather than reading it and I have wondered, since I listened to it, if that made a difference in my appreciation of this book. Atkinson does write terrific characters and the ending completely took me by surprise. Both of those are excellent things in a book. And more than enough to make me want to pick up one of the Atkinson books in Mount TBR.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Meet Douglas W Jacobson, Author of "Night of Flames," And Find Out About One Of The True Heroes Of The Resistance

Douglas W Jacobson is an engineer, business owner, and World War Two history enthusiast who has traveled extensivley in Europe. Night of Flames was inspired by the war-time experiences of his Belgian relatives and his own Polish heritage. Doug and his wife, Janie, live in Elm Grove, WI.

Mr. Jacobson has a website where he has posted stories of some of the real heroes fictionalized in "Night of Flames." One that really piqued my interest was Andree Dumon. Mr. Jacobson wrote of Ms. Dumon:

Andree Dumon (code name, "Nadine")was recruited at age seventeen by a local school teacher into Belgium's covert escape line for Allied aviators. We met for a luncheon along with another of her fellow agents from the war years, Denise Claycomb, and Comete Kinship Belgium at Maison des Ailes (the House of Wings)in Brussels. Operating out of her parents' home in Brussels from 1941-43, Nadine escorted more than twenty Allied airman shot down over Belgium to a safehouse in Paris. Traveling by trains at night she would lead the aviators, all of them older and a lot taller than she was, through checkpoints, advising them to keep quiet whenever German soldiers demanded to see their falsified identification cards. In Paris she would hand them over to another agent, known to her only by a number or codename. This agent would in turn lead them on another route and the clandestine action was repeated over and over until the aviator was safely across the Pyrenees mountains into Spain and on his way to safety in England. Eventually, like most agents of the Comet Line, Nadine's luck ran out and she was arrested by the Gestapo along with her mother and father. During more than two years in three different German concentration camps, suffering from typhus, Nadine managed to survive until liberation by Allied armies in 1945.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Night of Flames by Douglas W. Jacobson

Night of Flames by Douglas W. Jacobson
384 pages
Published October 2008 by McBooks Press

Thanks to Dorothy, at Pump Up Your Book Promotions, for providing this book to me for review.

This book opens on the first night of the German invasion of Poland on most closely follows the lives of Anna, a university professor, and Jan, her husband and a major in the Polish cavalry through World War II. Jacobson introduces the reader to a vast cast of characters including Anna's father, her friend, Irene, and Irene's son, Justyn.

From the opening pages, Anna is running for her life after the building she is sleeping in is bombed in the opening throes of the invasion. Then when her father is sent to a death camp, Anna fears that his possible ties to the resistance will put her in danger so she, Irene and Justyn make their way out of Poland and into Belgium. There Anna becomes involved in the resistance movement.

Jan spends the first days of the invasion, on the other hand, waiting for something to happen, as the Polish army sits waiting for instructions. Soon enough, he is seeing more than enough action. Eventually he ends up with the British forces, making forays back into Poland. Through all of the war, Jan and Anna have no idea what has happened to each other.

More plot driven that character driven, Jacobson still is able to get the reader to care what happens to his characters, although they are not fully fleshed out. To be fair, we only see the characters in the context of the war and it would have been difficult to add more depth, given the number of characters and the scope of the novel.

"Night of Flames" is Jacobson's first novel. It is well-researched and his passion for the subject it evident. Throughout, Jacobson shifts chapters between Anna and Jan, a device which I general like in a book with tension and this book is no exception. Jacobson does a wonderful job of showing the stress of war and, without being too graphic, the horrors of war. From the opening pages, when Warsaw is first bombed, this book does not let the reader go. This book was a real learning experience for me but I would also recommend it to any one who is interested in World War II.

To read an interview with Mr. Jacobson, visit Beyond The Books, where he reveals that this book was rejected 30 to 40 times before it was finally accepted by McBooks Press but that he feels that this is a great publisher for the book because they specialize in action-oriented historical fiction.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Smart One And The Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik

The Smart One and The Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik
292 pages
Published September 2008 by Hatchette Book Group

Ava and Lauren Nickerson are sisters who look a lot alike. And that's about where the similarities end. Ava is a sucessful lawyer who doesn't care much about her appearance and has hardly dated in years. Lauren is all about her looks, to the point where she has spent herself right into moving back home because she's been evicted.

Ava, in trying to help Lauren, sets Lauren up with a credit counselor and makes her sign a spending agreement. When Lauren finds an old "marriage contract" betrothing Ava to the son of old friends of her parents, Lauren decides to get even. She contacts the "fiance" and arranges for Ava and him to reconnect.

On top of dealing with these issues, the girls mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer. While taking her mother to chemotherapy, Lauren meets the son of another patient and they strike up a relationship.

This book reminded me a lot of "In Her Shoes" by Jennifer Wiener and it certainly falls in the same chick lit vein. This one is saved by the fact that these sisters feel much less one-dimensional than the characters in most chick-lit books and by LaZebnik's handling of cancer. It is in those parts of the story that the book shines; LaZebnik does a lovely job of showing the emotional and practical aspects of dealing with cancer.

Both of the sisters learn somethings about themselves, each other and their parents as they work to overcome their personal issues. And they do feel like real sisters; some fighting, some embarrassing moments, some fun, some jealousy.

The male characters were more one-dimensional and I really didn't buy that the sisters would be attracted to these guys for anything other than their looks. But at least the girls' father turned out to have some redeeming qualities.

It's mostly light and it's mostly fun--the beach read you didn't get to this summer.

Now for the best part! The five winners of a copy of the "The Smart One and The Pretty One" have all been contacted by email for their addresses. And the lucky winners are:

Heather of Gofita's Pages
Care of Care's Online Book Club
Nadia of A Bookish Way of Life

Thanks to everyone who entered! Be sure to enter for a copy of Christopher Buckley's "Supreme Courtship." And I promised another giveaway when I reached 75 followers. As of tonight, I'm at 74 so it looks like that giveaway will be here soon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
562 pages
Published September 2009 by Harper Collins

Edgar, born mute, grows up the only child of parents who raise and train a very particular type of dog on a farm in the countryside of Wisconsin. Despite his handicap, life is very good for Edgar who communicates with his family and the dogs in sign language. But when tragedy strikes, sign language is not enough. Then Edgar is forced to flee the farm with only three of his yearling pups. Learning to survive, Edgar comes of age during his time on the run. Ultimately, Edgar must decide whether to leave home for good or return and try to reveal the truth of what happened on the farm.

This is Wroblewski's first novel. It has received almost universal praise for both the story and Wroblewski's writing style. He writes without sentimentality (despite including a handicapped child, pets, and death) while really making the reader feel the joy and pain of his characters. Wroblewski's writing is beautiful.

 But, once again, I felt like there was just too much of it, particularly when explaining the training, upkeep and record keeping of the dogs. And it felt like Wroblewski tried to incorporate every trick that might be taught in a writing class; he incorporates elements of Homer's "Odyssey" and Shakespeare's "Hamlet." It might be, too, that I have just read too many "dog" books lately, having recently read Garth Stein's "The Art of Racing In The Rain" and Carolyn Parkhurst's "The Dogs Of Babel." I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the last third is tense and shocking. All in all, I liked this book a lot. I just don't know that I would call it a classic.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Salon - September 20th

With everything that's been going on around here lately, I've been very remiss in a couple of areas lately. I've been saving up links I thought I'd like to pass along to you and I've been getting awards **blush** that I haven't been getting acknowledged. It's definitely time to get caught up and back on track. Today it's time to get to those links.

Jessica, at Book Sale Manager, sent me this link. Book Sale Manager is a site for non-profit organizations to advertise their book sales for free. Better yet, it's a great place for us to find the book sales nearby that we might not otherwise know about. What they need us to do is to make the non-profit organizations in our area aware of this resource.

Reviews, interviews and so much more can be found at Right now they're featuring an interview with Michelle Moran, author of "Cleopatra's Daughter," and the feature book being made into a movie is the children's book "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs."

Have I mentioned that I love E. L. Doctorow? I do, I love E. L. Doctorow. So I was excited to find this New York Times interview with Doctorow, discussing his latest book "Homer & Langley."

NPR has done several stories on mommy bloggers recently. Michel Martin, host of "Tell Me More" talked to a group of bloggers about parenting blogs. On "All Things Considered" the talk was about the issue of blog-ola, getting products for free and the ethics involved.

Monday is the last day to enter for one of five copies of "The Smart One and The Pretty One." Winners will be announced Tuesday.

Tomorrow I'll get myself caught up on those awards and get caught up on Mailbox Mondays. Then it's back to actually reviewing books!

Giveaway - "Supreme Courtship" by Christopher Buckley

"President of the United States Donald Vanderdamp is having a hell of a time getting his nominees appointed to the Supreme Court. After one nominee is rejected for insufficiently appreciating To Kill A Mockingbird, the president chooses someone so beloved by voters that the Senate won't have the guts to reject her -- Judge Pepper Cartwright, the star of the nation's most popular reality show, Courtroom Six.

Will Pepper, a straight-talking Texan, survive a confirmation battle in the Senate? Will becoming one of the most powerful women in the world ruin her love life? And even if she can make it to the Supreme Court, how will she get along with her eight highly skeptical colleagues, including a floundering Chief Justice who, after legalizing gay marriage, learns that his wife has left him for another woman.

Soon, Pepper finds herself in the middle of a constitutional crisis, a presidential reelection campaign that the president is determined to lose, and oral arguments of a romantic nature. "

Buckley is the author of eleven books, many of them national bestsellers, including Thank You For Smoking, God Is My Broker, No Way To Treat A First Lady, and Florence of Arabia. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Russian and Korean.

Thanks to Valerie, and Hatchette Book Group, I have five copies of this book to giveaway. Here are the rules:

1. U.S. and Canada residents only; no P. O. boxes.

2. One entry for leaving me a comment.

3. One additional entry for being a follower.

4. One additional entry for spreading the word via Twitter, on your blog or by using Stumble Upon. Please leave me a link.

5. Contest will run through October 7th and the winner will be announced on October 8th.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Red Tent by Anita Diamond

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
336 pages
Published September 1998 by Picador
Source: my copy

This is primarily the story of Dinah, only daughter of Jacob (grandson of Abraham). Dinah is only mentioned briefly in the Bible but Diamant takes that piece and weaves a sweeping saga around it.

The book begins with the courtship of Jacob and both Leah and Rachel, both of whom he marries then takes their sisters Zilpah and Bilhah as consorts. The red tent of the title is the place where women of that time and place were sequestered during birth, menses and illnesses. In the family of Jacob, it was also a place of bonding and learning for Dinah. As the only daughter, Dinah was beloved by all of her mothers, each of which gave her gifts to help her deal with her future.

The Bible tells us that Dinah was raped by Shalem, son of Hamor the Hittite. Then Shalem said he wanted to marry Dinah and was even willing to be circumcised. But Dinah's some of Dinah's brothers could not accept this and set in motion a terrible chain of events. But Diamant suggests that perhaps Dinah was a willing partner and from there develops a story around the life of Dinah, although she was never mentioned again in the Bible. She takes us on Dinah's journey from daughter to wife to mother to widow to servant and midwife.

The book is told from Dinah's point of view and reveals the traditions and daily life of ancient women: the daily weaving and spinning, the use of herbs for everything from seasoning food to inducing childbirth, the worship of various gods, the practices of the midwives, and the caravans as the entire clan moves.

Diamant paints a vivid picture without being overly florid or fussy. Without becoming too dramatic, she is able to convey the full range of human emotion. My only complaint with the book is that, sometimes, in trying to move the story along and get in all of the characters she wants to introduce, Diamant can begin to sound a little dry. I know that there are a lot of you out there that love this book, that rate it up there among the top books you have ever read. I wouldn't go that high with this one, but it is a wonderful book, well worth reading.

Friday, September 18, 2009

BBAW #5 Where I'm At And Where I'm Going

So today BBAW is asking that we write about what we like about our blog in 50 words or less and where we want our blogs to be by next BBAW, also in 50 words or less. Normally, this sort of brevity doesn't work well for me, but I seem to be working much better at that this week.

I feel like I'm really starting to find my voice with my blog after four months. I love putting the quotes in and have worked to make the blog less cluttered while including all of the things I want to include.

For the coming year, I'm hoping to move to a 3-column format, put the awards into a slide show, and get a real header. I'm constantly working on ways to make the blog look better. I'm also working on putting together a challenge.

Whew--I did it. Now I just need to get back to reading because next week it's going to have to be back to have book reviews to post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW Thanks Bloggers For Introducing Me To...

Today for BBAW we are asked to share a book that we read because of a blog. I've discovered a lot of books since I first started blogging. Sadly, most of them are still on the TBR list. Between books I already owned and book clubs, I haven't gotten to many of the books I've seen on blogs.

I have found on audio The Piano Teacher and The Uncommon Reader, both of which I've reviewed on this blog and both of which I first read about on blogs.

 But, by far and away, the book I have most enjoyed that I've found on blogs is The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which I recently reviewed. When it first started making the rounds on the blogs and was getting good reviews, I was intrigued. But a part of me was thinking that it's just not possible to add every book that is reviewed on blogs to the TBR list and can every book really be as good as billed?

 Then one day I was in the library and there is was. And I was powerless to keep my hands off a book that had come so highly recommended by so many of you!

*Update: More than five years later, I'm interested that this is the book that I chose. As much as I enjoyed it, the book that I really loved best of the three mentioned was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. I had only been blogging a few months at this time - I had no idea how many books I was going to add to the TBR list from blog recommendations!*

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nostalgic For Children's Books

All this talk of books plus the start of fall is making me nostalgic. I'm missing the days when my kids used to crawl up in my lap to read. I'm missing the days when book order forms came home from the school and it was not uncommon for me to spend $50 on new books for the kids. It's been long enough now that I'm even missing the books that were read so often I didn't even need to look at the words any more. We liked to take our favorite books and use them for projects--right down to once mixing paint colors with our foot just like the mice in "Mouse Paint!" I always knew I could count on any book written or illustrated by Eric Carle, Ellen Stoll Walsh, Bill Martin Jr. and Lois Ehlert. One of the most beloved book in my house when my children were very little was "The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything" by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd. Even as toddlers, my kids liked to act it out. With Halloween creeping up on us, I think it's time to bring this one back out for old time sake!

Todays post for BBAW is a meme about books. I think I pretty much covered these questions here a while back. Let's just say that I treat my books pretty carefully these days; must better than I used to when I was more prone to think of paperbacks as disposable.
To get the book cover pics for the recommendations, I went to the site for Scholastic Books and was excited to see that their bloggers are also participating in BBAW! Here are their responses to todays meme.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW--My Interview With Lesley of Falling Into Words

When I started blogging in May, I figured it would be a great chance to keep a record of what I've been reading. I didn't hold out much higher expectations. What a wonderful surprise blogging has been; it never occurred to me that blogging would be such a wonderful way to meet new people! So I was excited to get the chance to participate in the interview exchange part of BBAW. And now I'm excited to introduce you to Lesley, of Falling Into Words. Lesley and I could not be more different in our lives which makes getting to know her so much fun. But like me, Lesley is new to blogging and shares a passion for books. Lesley has this to say for herself:

1. What made you decide to start blogging? What's been the highlight so far?

I have a terrible habit of reading a book, declaring that I love it to one and all, and then not being able to remember what actually happened in it. I thought that if I set up a blog--something public to keep me honest, so to speak--and posted a review for every book I read, I'd be less likely to forget them. In my short time blogging, the highlight has been the fact that things have gone in a very different direction from where I thought they could go. I'm doing author interviews, hosting giveaways and reviewing new and unreleased books. In generally, I just feel lucky to be involved in this amazing community

2. Have other bloggers helped you out with suggestions and tips?

Absolutely! (And that absolutely can't be big enough!) When I was first starting out, I was completely clueless, and was happy to chug along doing my own reviews (and getting no readers, incidentally). But then I started following other book blogs, and I saw what they were doing. What a blast it would be to review new books and host giveaways and all that exciting hoopala!With that in mind, I reached out to a couple of bloggers whose blogs I particularly admire. (I would love to name names and give credit where credit is due, but I know I would miss someone, so let me just say: thank you from the bottom of my heart to those who know who you are.) From there, I've had a lot of hard work, and my blog still isn't where I want it, but I couldn't been close to where I am without the help of other bloggers.

3. Beside blogs, what other sources do you use to discover new books?

Well, I suppose I could use the metaphor of a tree. The trunk consists of the authors I already know and love; I'll almost always buy their new books. Then there are branches: authors that the original authors mention, authors I hear mentioned in the same context with the original authors, and so on. Then--in a separate, nearby shrub--there are the recommendations I cull from non-blog reviews. I don't follow many particular publications, so it's mostly what catches my eye in waiting rooms or check-out lines.Sorry for the completely nonsensical answer to your very simple question. The idea seemed like it was going to go somewhere.

4. I see in your blog, that your grandmother owns (ed?) a used bookstore. Do you tend to buy a lot of your books at used bookstores? Would you rather shop in the store or online?

Yes, my grandmother did own a used bookstore; she retired and sold it when I was about twelve, to my great sadness. And your question brings me to a very, very awful confession: I have a big problem with used books. I never did when I was younger, but at some point towards the end of college, some OCD part of me took over. Anything used that couldn't really be washed started making me feel creepy-crawly. I so strongly support the plight of the used bookstores, too. I saw how difficult my grandmother had it, and I see how much worse things have become. In my entire neighboorhood, there's one used bookstore. One! In a entire Manhattan neighborhood! So I do buy from used bookstores and just close my eyes and repeat a silly little mantra to get past my OCD. All this also answers your second question: I prefer brick-and-morter; however, I'm not immune to economic incentives, so I also shop online for new books.

5. I see that you just celebrated a wedding anniversary; congratulations! How long have you been married? Any human or furry children?

Thanks! We've been married the big one (that sounds so silly). It's been one wonderful, lovely year, and if ever my blog makes it seem that I'm reading very slowly, that's all my husband! No children of any kind yet; our small apartment makes the former unworkable and my husband's allergies make the latter undoable.

6. You're a writer, too. Is that something you studied in school?

Sadly, no. If I could go back in time, I definitely would take some classes! I hope to have the opportunity to study creative writing in the future, but for now, it remains a very fun and fulfiling hobby. And if ever I were to become indepentantly wealthy, writer would suddenly become my full-time profession. (Well, maybe travel writer.)

7. What brought you to Manhattan's Upper West Side?

My husband's job was what brought us to New York. We chose the Upper West Side for a few reasons. A sense of community is very palpable, and the little things that are important to us--mainly, quick access to great food--were right there. It's somewhat odd being among the younger members of the neighborhood; most of the people in our building are about ten years older and have families already. In that sense, maybe the West Village would've made more sense!

8. Last book you bought?

Ooh, you're asking me to remember "the last" something; that never turns out well! I'm almost positive that it was The Curtain by Milan Kundera. Kundera is one of my favorite authors, so I snatch up anything of his that I don't already have.

9. What was your favorite book from childhood?

Now this one is absolutely impossible to answer; I could never pick just one. Top contenders, though, would include: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Little House on the Praire by Laura Ingalls Wilder, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, The Islands of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss, The Giver by Lois Lowry. You know. Just to name a few.

10. Where is your favorite place to read?

Oddly, I almost never read in those comfortable places that invite curling up to read: the couch, the park, the bed. I'm the type that finds time to get reading in wherever and whenever I can. Typical places include on the bus, while cooking, waiting in lines, even--and I wouldn't recommend this--while walking. While walking may be my favorite; even the dullest book gets a little more spice that way.

You've got to admire someone who's favorite way to read is while walking! Be sure to check out Lesley's site and you can find her interview of me

Monday, September 14, 2009

There Goes My Google Reader!

Just before I came here to add this post, I went to my Google Reader. I was going to take a quick run through and be done with that for the night. But I have 225 posts out there waiting for me to read. And that's after I just cleaned it up this weekend. But before you all started adding your posts today to tell me about all of the great blogs that I have yet to discover. I hardly have time to read books any more!

I wanted to kick off BBAW by thanking the two ladies that really helped me get my blog off the ground in May. Mari, at Bookworm With A View, is a friend, leader of my face-to-face book club and her blog was the first book blog I had ever looked at regularly. She made blogging look like so much fun, I just had to give it a try. Thanks to Mari, I started reading Books on the Brain, where I met Lisa. Lisa was a wealth of information and support, particularly when it came to ideas on how to get people to start noticing my little blog.

Also a big thank you to all of my followers and readers. I have had such a great time in the past four months getting to know so many of you and enjoying so many new-to-me blogs!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Salon - September 13th

I wish I could say I've gotten a lot of reading done in the past week, but sadly, I haven't. On the heals of the H1N1 outbreak at my house, I caught a cold and missed another day of work which I spent sleeping. I am almost done with The Red Tent. I had it sitting out yesterday and my dad mentioned that he'd heard of it and was interested in reading it. I'm thinking that it's more a book my mom would enjoy, but what do you think? Would a man enjoy this one?

I've got several awards I'm remiss in not getting posted and passed on but that'll have to wait until later this week. My middle child is anxious for me to get off the computer and scratch his head. He's something of a cat in that way--I sometimes think I can hear him purring! I'd put him off but it's also the time that we get in our best chats. And anytime you can get a seventeen-year-old to open up, it's a good thing!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
464 pages
Published February 2009 by Penguin Group

Life in early 1960's Mississippi as told primary from the point of view of "the help." Aibilene is a widowed African-American woman who hires out to families with small children. They were her babies, but when they start to get older and start to take on the racist attitudes of their parents, it's time for her to move on. Minny can cook like no one else and would be able to get a job in any household except for the fact that she is unable to hold her tongue and is constantly losing her job. Miss Skeeter is a recent college graduate and a member of the Junior League who has moved home and is struggling to find her way. Most of her friends didn't even attend college and are content being mothers and wives. But Skeeter wants to be a writer, not an easy task for young woman in the South at the time. When Skeeter is told that she should write about something completely different, she comes up with an idea that will put the three of them in danger.

Stockett could so easily have missed when slipping into the voice of 1960's African-American domestics, but she captures the cadence, rhythm and diction perfectly. How would I know, you might ask, particularly if you know that I grew up in the Midwest? Partly because I've seen a lot of documentary footage from the time, partly because of reading I've done but mostly because that's what the people that did live in that time and place have said about the book.

In addition to Minny, Aibilene, and Miss Skeeter, Stockett has filled the book with a number of memorable characters. Here again, it would have been easy for Stockett to slip into stereo types but these characters are nearly all multi-dimensional. She makes the reader understand the thinking behind the way some whites treated their help. And she makes it clear that not all of the help was mistreated.

Because the project the women take on is so dangerous (Medgar Evers is killed during the book only blocks from where Aibilene lives), the book is filled with tension. And here is my one and only complaint with the book. Even when the project begins to be discovered, nothing much happens and I felt a little bit like the build up was for nothing. But I was happy that Stockett did not end things too neatly. The rest of the book had felt so realistic, an ending where they all lived "happily-ever-after" would have felt wrong.

Wendy, at Caribou's Mom, reviewed this book here. And Mari, at Bookworm With A View, posted her review here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs By Richard Russo
656 pages
Published August 2008 by Knopf, Doubleday Publishing Group

Lou C. Lynch has spent his entire life in the small town of Thomaston, New York. But now his wife, Sarah, has convinced him to take a trip to Italy to see Lucy's (Lou C.--get it?!) former best friend and rival for Sarah's affections. The idea of this trip causes Lucy to take a trip down memory lane and he begins writing his memoir.

Over 600 pages of memoir about a guy who has never left his small town doesn't sound like much of a basis for a book. And it might not be in lessor hands. But this is Richard Russo we're talking about here. There are a lot of stories in this book--Luce's, Luce's parents, Sarah and Bobby. It's also the story of growing up in a small town, dealing with bullies, racism, alcoholism, spousal abuse, and infidelity.

What I liked about this one: Russo made Thomaston come alive. I could visualize the town; the dynamics between the citizens were true to life. I really liked the relationship between Lucy's parents and the store that the family liked felt like stores that I have been in. Russo switchs voices from the voice of young Lucy to old Lucy, school-aged Bobby to young Bobby in a way that only Russo could make work. He introduces a tremendous number of characters and few of them feel one-dimensional.

What I didn't like: I felt like a few parts could have been cut from the story without hurting it. There is a long part that tells about Sarah's visits to stay with her mother in the summers. It seemed to be there just to set up some of the latter part of the book, but I didn't think that part was necessary either. There was also a part of the book that dealt with Lucy and Sarah's high school years when Lucy and Bobby had Sarah's father for a teacher. The story also swings back and forth into Bobby's time in Venice and those parts did seem a little disjointed from the rest of the book although they ultimately tied back in to the rest of the story.

Overall, I liked this story; it was beautifully written. I just wish it had been 150 pages shorter.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Off Season by Anne River Siddons - Guest Review

Off Season by Anne River Siddons
368 pages
Published August 2008 by Grand Central Publishing

Summary from Barnes & Noble:
For as long as she can remember, they were Cam and Lilly—happily married, totally in love with each other, parents of a beautiful family, and partners in life. Then, after decades of marriage, it ended as every great love story loss. After Cam's death, Lilly takes a lone road trip to her and Cam's favorite spot on the remote coast of Maine, the place where they fell in love over and over again, where their ghosts still dance. There, she looks hard to her past—to a first love that ended in tragedy; to falling in love with Cam; to a marriage filled with exuberance, sheer life, and safety— to try to figure out her future.

Two days ago I got an email from my sister raving about a book she had just finished. I wrote back and said I hadn't read it but since she had I was going to shoot her off some questions and she was going to do a guest review. And she answered yesterday because, well, I'm the big sister and I made her. And this is what she had to say about "Off Season:"

"So, I just finished a book that I truly had a hard time putting down. It was one of the best that I have read in a long time. I have stayed up way too late the last two nights because I couldn’t put it down, and this morning I was almost late for work because I didn’t want to leave until I was done with it.

What really drew me into this book was the characters. The author made me genuinely care about the characters and anxious to know what was going to happen to them. It drew me in emotionally, at times I found myself feeling just what I felt Lilly must be feeling at that time. I'm not sure that I related so much to Lilly, so much as I envied her strength, and suffered with her through her grief. I have never been an adventurous person, and certainly not when I was young, but I have always loved the water and have had a fascination with the sea. Lilly's exploration of the Maine shore drew me in.

I had only one complaint with the book. There is a pivotal turning point that I feel could have been expanded on.

While I am not a "big" reader I do enjoy reading a little each night. Few books draw me in like this one did. I am drawn to fiction novels, and always take a closer look at any that indicate that the setting involves time spent by the water. I have also read Siddons' Outer Banks, Low Country, and Colony."

Thanks, Lora! I think I'm going to have to borrow this one. It would be my first Siddons book; clearly I've been missing out on something great.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
352 pages
Published March 2009 by St Martin's Press

Freya is the daughter of an Icelandic-Canadian and an American. Her father is dead, her mother has kept her away from her Canadian relatives for eight years. Then one summer her mother finally relents and the two travel to Gimli, where Freya finally gets to meet her grandmother (the keeper of the family records) and her unpredictable aunt, Birdie. Almost as soon as they have arrived, Freya accidentally breaks almost all of her grandmother's tea cups. When her mother sees what has happened, and the blood on Freya, she passes out, hitting her head. Although she eventually comes home from the hospital, she is never the same and Freya spends the rest of her life feeling that her mother's condition is her fault and it entirely changes the person she becomes.

Birdie is intense about maintaining the family's Icelandic heritage, particularly that of the writers. She is appalled that Freya does not speak the language or know the myths and makes it her job to indoctrinate the young girl during the summers. Freya absorbs it all and, despite Birdie's erratic behavior, adores her aunt. Until the summer when Birdie tricks Freya into joining her on a terrifying journey, Freya turns her back on all things Icelandic.

Twenty years later, Freya is leading an isolated and lonely life in Manhattan, when she is called back to Gimli to help celebrate her grandmother's birthday. While there, she uncovers the tip of a major family secret. Unraveling the secret will require a trip to Iceland, across it's lava fields and vast glaciers, until Freya uncovers the shocking truth.

This book is a finely crafted exploration of the immigrant experience. Like the great poets she is writing about, Sunley's writing is often poetic. The plot is unique, the characters intriguing. Although I had figured out the major twist before I reached it, it was no less devastating and Sunley was able to surprise throughout with smaller twists.

This is Sunley's debut novel. Her family history is Icelandic but she was not raised with family, not raised with the family stories that fill Freya's life. But she's heard enough to know that there was a story here and headed off to Iceland to do research. And it shows. At times it can feel like Sunley must have included everything she learned and I'll admit that there were places that I began skimming. But two days after I finished this book, I say a documentatry on t.v. set in Iceland. Iceland was exactly what I had been picturing in my head throughout the book. And it was then I realized what a superb job Sunley had done.

For more on this book and an interview with the author, check out Bookworm With A View here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And The Winners Are...

Thauna is the winner of "The Dogs of Babel"
MoziEsme is the winner of "The Story of a Marriage"
Teri is the winner of "Two Years, No Rain"
Celia is the winner of "Unaccustomed Earth"

Congratulations to all of the winners! I've sent you each an email for your address. Thanks to everyone who entered! I'm now up to 60 followers and I'm thinking that another giveaway will be necessary when I reach 75!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mailbox Monday - September 7th

It was a very good week at my house, with several visits from the Fed Ex and UPS men. From the publishers, I received "The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Allison Hoover Bartlett, "The Evolution of Shadows" by Jason Quinn Malott, "Bending Toward The Sun" by Leslie Gilbert-Laurie and "The Way Home" by George Pelecanos. I'm hoping to have dual reviews for a couple of these. From the author, I received "Intimations of Austen" by Jane Greensmith.

I have definitely got to pick up my reading because I've also recently been to the library and still have the challenges to complete! At least my family is all on the mend, so my nursing duties seem to be at an end.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
120 pages
Published September 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

When The Queen goes in search of one of her Corgis, she inadvertently comes across a mobile library on the palace grounds. Feeling that she must check out a book now that she's there, she takes the advice of Norman, one of the kitchen workers.

"She had never taken much interest in reading. She read, of course, as one did, but liking books was something she left to other people. It was a hobby and it was in the nature of her job that she didn't have hobbies. "

The first book doesn't necessarily grab her but now she must take it back, and once she's back, she again feels compelled to check out another book. Bennett takes us along as the Queen becomes an avid reader, much to the chagrin of her entire staff and even the Prime Minister when it begins to effect her work.

"Still, though reading absorbed her, what the Queen had not expected was the degree to which it drained her of enthusiasm for anything else. "

The Queen has to sneak books in, her chief of staff keeps assisting in making them disappear, and the Prime Minister sends an aide to see to it that the Queen cease and desist immediately.

This book is charming and witty and it's easy to see why Bennett is so popular in England. He is able to skewer the whole of the system of royalty and while still making the Queen look good. He even has a go at writers, as well. When the Queen hosts a party for writers, she finds them to be quite boring. And he's able to throw in a surprise ending, just in case you weren't enjoying the book enough all ready! At 120 pages, this is novella is the first thing I have read in a very long time that ended much too soon for me.

Sunday Salon

Oh, do not let that cute little guy below fool you! The H1N1 flu has swept through my house this week and it is not fun at all. Two of my kids missed three days of school so they get to spend their long weekend trying to get caught up on schoolwork. Now my oldest and I are working our way through it. My husband is staying as far away from the rest of us as possible! The kids' doctor tells us that the flu is "rampant" in this area. By the time they finally get the immunization ready, it will be too late for eastern Nebraska. More for the rest of you, I guess!

I've been so out of it the past couple of days that I've hardly gotten any reading done and no posts added and struggled to get through my Google reader. I've been trying to read the posts, but really haven't had the energy to leave comments. Did finish "Last Night In Montreal" today and started "The Red Tent" for the Whitcoull Challenge.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ABC Meme

Heather at Gofita's Pages tagged me for this. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Share your ABC’s
3. Tag three people at the end by linking to their blogs
4. Let the three tagged people know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website
5. Do not tag the same person repeatedly but try to tag different people, so there is a big network of bloggers doing this tag

Available or married? married for 27 years next month

Best Friend? my mom and my husband

Cake or Pie? cake but only if there's no ice cream handy

Drink of choice? Diet Coke, white wine

Essential item for every day use? computer

Favorite color? white and black (how dull is that?!)

Google? sometimes

Hometown? Lincoln, Nebraska

Indulgences? blogging, books, chocolate, Dolce & Gabanna cologne

January or February? January--such a let down after the holidays and I'm so sick of winter by then with so much of it left
Kids and their names? Sons Alex and Max and daughter Hannah

Life is incomplete without…? my family

Marriage date? 10/30/82 (I know, I'm old!)

Number of siblings? one brother and one sister; I'm the oldest
Oranges or apples? Apples--so many things you can do with them

Phobias and fears? crowded places, heights

Quote for the day? "Be the change that you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

Reason to smile? when my 21-year-old gives me a hug and tells me he loves me

Season? fall because the weather is so great, the trees are so beautiful and the apples are ripe
Tag 3 people?
Sarah at Sarah Says
Unknown fact about me? I collect frogs.

Vegetable you hate? Celery

Worst habit? Eat too much junk food

X-rays you’ve had? dental, kidneys, lungs

Your fave food? Chocolate, Mexican, Italian
Zodiac sign? Scorpio

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Death Of A Village: A Hamish MacBeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton

Death of a Village: A Hamish MacBeth Mystery by M. C. Beaton
272 pages
Published January 2004 by Grand Central Publishing

Hamish MacBeth is a constable in the small Scottish Highland village of Lochdubh. He's content there and does everything in his power to avoid being transferred. He's got a reputation as a maverick and his immediate superior would like him to move on, in no small part because MacBeth keeps showing him up.

 In this book, MacBeth first solves an insurance fraud scheme and then, with help from a neighbor, the killings for profit of nursing home patients. But the big case in this book is that of the mysterious goings on in the village of Storye. The people suddenly aren't talking to anyone, they've taken to attending church at all hours, and strange things are happening in the village.

M. C. Beaton has been recommended to me often, both the Hamish MacBeth series and Beaton's other series featuring Agatha Raisins. So I was excited to find this on audio in my library. Turns out that Beaton makes a great book to listen to while I work. This one, at least, is mystery lite. There are not a lot of clues dropped that you have to pay attention to, not a lot of depth in general. But the characters do come alive, as does the countryside. I'll definitely look for more works by Beaton, particularly on audio.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Book Giveaway: The Smart One And The Pretty One by Claire LeZebnik

When Ava Nickerson was a child, her mother jokingly betrothed her to a friend's son, and the contract the parents made has stayed safely buried for years. Now that still-single Ava is closing in on thirty, no one even remembers she was once "engaged" to the Markowitz boy. But when their mother is diagnosed with cancer, Ava's prodigal little sister Lauren comes home to Los Angeles where she stumbles across the decades-old document.

Frustrated and embarrassed by Ava's constant lectures about financial responsibility (all because she's in a little debt. Okay, a lot of debt), Lauren decides to do some sisterly interfering of her own and tracks down her sister's childhood fiancé. When she finds him, the highly inappropriate, twice-divorced, but incredibly charming Russell Markowitz is all too happy to re-enter the Nickerson sisters' lives, and always-accountable Ava is forced to consider just how binding a contract really is . . .

About the Author:
Claire LaZebnik lives in Los Angeles with her TV writer husband and four children. She is the author of the novels Knitting Under the Influence (5 Spot, 2006) and Same as it Never Was and co-author of Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child's Life. Learn more on Claire LaZebnik's website.

For Hatchette's reading guide for this book, click here.

Thank you to Miriam and Hatchette Book Group for allowing me to be a part of this giveaway! I have five copies to give away. Contest ends September 21st.

1. Contest is open to U. S. and Canadian residents. No P.O. Boxes.
2. For one entry, leave me a comment below.
3. For a second entry, follow my blog.
4. For a third entry, tweet about the giveaway and leave me a link to see the tweet.

I'll email the winners on September 22nd.