Wednesday, September 29, 2010

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton
Published August 2010 by Unbridled Books
Source: the publisher

At 1:44 a.m. Carol Meitzner wakes up certain that her son, Jonas, is in trouble.  She and Jonas have always been close but now she hasn't talked to him in days.  His girlfriend, Vic, feels that she's losing Jonas because she, too, hasn't heard from him in days.  Neither Carol nor Vic can get Jonas to answer his phone and he's not at his apartment.
"This is the way mother-love works, she'd explain to him.  There's no controlling it, and there's nothing like it, not the way a cleric loves his God or a soldier his country or a man his wife. This baby emerges, and that's it - you're sucked into a maelstrom so profound you never get out and so you worry, you overreact sometimes, all you want is to protect your baby."
They have every right to be afraid.  Even as Carol begins to worry, Jonas is holed up in a safe house, readying himself for a suicide attack on the New York subway system.  He's been trained by Islamic fundamentalists, although he does not entirely buy into their dogma.  But Jonas is so distraught by the state of affairs that he sees no other way to make people wake up and see what is happening.  And, at this point, Jonas feels that he'll be killed regardless of whether or not he goes ahead with the plan.

"He felt suddenly extremely fatigued.  If he changed his mind now, they would probably kill him.  It sounded melodramatic, but he believed it.  It would be a pointless death then.  They might kill his parents, too."

Over the next thirty-one hours, as Jonas cleanses and mentally prepares himself for what he is planning on doing, his mother frantically tries to track him down.  His father, at first believing that Carol is overreacting, soon comes to believe her.  But will they be able to find Jonas in time to prevent him from carrying out his mission?

Hamilton looks at the story from a lot of different points of view: Sonny, the homeless panhandler who has an uncanny ability to read situations and has a feeling that something terrible is about to happen.; Mara, Vic's sister who has traveled by subway and is on her way home in an attempt to patch up her parent's marriage; Vic, who is marveling that her long friendship with Jonas has lead to a much more intimate relationship and Carol, who recalls the sensitive young Jonas who has the "ability to see the wizard behind the curtain."

For a mother of young men, I was pulled into this book immediately.  I could completely relate to the idea of a mother feeling so strongly that something was wrong and Hamilton, for the most part, does a good job of building the tension since she lets the reader in on what Jonas is planning early on.  But in trying to introduce the reader to all of the characters that will play into later events, Hamilton is forced to let up on the reader.  In fact, I found that the chapters involving Sonny really pulled me out of the story.

But the whole story was so believable, the characters so well-written that I could not put the book down.  It was so easy for me to put myself into Carol's position, so easy for me to imagine how a idealistic young person could be led astray.  I loved the ending of this book but it will not be one that everyone will like.

Once again, Unbridled Books has given me a book that is unique and thought-provoking.  Book clubs would have a lot to discuss with this book.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Omaha Lit Fest - Part Two

As much as I enjoyed the first day of the Omaha Lit Fest, the next day, a Saturday saw me hesitant to spend a beautiful Saturday sitting inside.  I felt a bit guilty about taking the whole day to myself when there were so many things I felt like I needed to get done at home.  But again the nagging thought came to me "if someone who loves books as much as I do doesn't attend, who will?"

The first panel was "Literary Bibliophilia: Novels about Novels, Fiction about Fiction" and included Lit Fest organizer and author Timothy Schaffert, book artist Peter Kuper, and authors Melanie Benjamin ("Alice I Have Been") and Mary Helen Stefaniak ("The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia").  All three of the authors have written books that relate to other stories and Kuper has recently completed illustrating a Mexican edition of "Alice In Wonderland."  Benjamin defended her book against people upset that she "ruined" their memories of a childhood favorite because the book itself, "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland," was dark.  Kuper agreed; his recent illustrations reflect that.  He couldn't find a way to avoid Alice's horror.  Stefaniak said "The Arabian Nights" (as the stories are also known) were also dark.  Each story ended the same way, essentially saying "and so they were happy...until."

I skipped the next two panels, I must confess, because the day was just too beautiful to spend entirely inside.  I hit up my fav antique/second hand store, visited a new-to-me used book store and then I spent an hour drinking coffee and reading.

I really could have spent the rest of the afternoon there had not Melanie Benjamin and author Kevin Brockmeier not been doing a reading.  Benjamin told the audience about how she came to write Alice I Have Been and a bit about the history between Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll's muse) and Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll).  Benjamin was inspired by a photograph that Dodgson had taken of seven-year-old Alice that she saw in an exhibit; Alice struck her as an old soul in a young body with an expression that was very adult and modern.  Then she read from the start of the book and the lady can really make her book come alive.  It was like watching an actress inhabiting a character.
Brockmeier talked about a new book he has coming out inspired by his desire to write a modern story with a classic twist, much like the newer fairy tales.  He read a "fable" about a man who buys a used coat only to discover that prayers keep appearing in the pockets as slips of paper.

The next session was a reading by Schaffert, Brockmeier and Kate Bernheimer from the book "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me," which I just squealed about on Friday.  Each of them has contributed a story to the collection which I'll talk about more when I review the book.  Again I was impressed by Bernheimer's knowledge of fairy tales but the Brockmeier and Schaffert were no slouches on the subject either.

Kuper's session ended the Lit Fest.  He talked about his history of drawing (he started as a response to fear) and the difficulties in making a career of illustrating for books and magazines.  Kuper has done a lot of work for Time magazine, among other magazines and newspapers as well as illustrating his own graphic novels and a magazine that he has helped self-publish for 30 years. I'd had Mini-me and his best friend come down for the last two sessions as they are both creative types and they loved getting to see Kuper's work.

It was a really inspirational day but I can't tell you how hard it was for me to walk away without buying one single book--well, except for the two I bought for the boys to have signed.  Greatest signatures ever--I'll have to post pics soon!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Finds - "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

I haven't done a Friday Finds for a while but a book I actually discovered a couple of weeks ago at the Omaha Lit Fest is being released today and I'm eagerly awaiting a review copy from Penguin!

"My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales" includes stories Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates.  The title refers to an old fairy tale that's been told in many countries; in Germany it is known as "The Juniper Tree," in Scotland as "The Milk-White Doo," and in England as "The Rose Tree."

The authors of the new stories have taken as their inspiration everything from Hans Christian Andersen to Goethe and Calvino and from Japan to Norway, Russia and Mexico.  The book also includes a foreword from Gregory MaGuire, author of "Wicked" and was edited by Kate Bernheimer, who was lucky enough to meet at the Lit Fest.

Kate Bernheimer

I had no sooner posted this than the doorbell rang and the FedEx man handed me a package.  I must admit to embarrassing my daughter in front of her friend when I squealed with excitement as I opened the package and discovered that this very book had just been delivered into my hands.  Must go now and enjoy a beautiful evening on the patio with my new book and a big glass of wine!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stay by Allie Larkin

Stay by Allie Larkin
320 pages
Published June 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Books Promotions

Savannah Leone is at a crossroads in her life.  Three years after her mother died of cancer, she is still trying to find a way to live with her grief.  And six years after literally falling head over heels in love with Peter Clarke on her first day of college, Savannah, "Van," is now standing up as the maid of honor at his wedding to her best friend, Janie.  So after the wedding, Van does what any of us would do in this situation - she anesthetizes herself with Kool-Aid and vodka and, inspired by a Rin-Tin-Tin marathon, she orders a German Shepherd puppy.  From Slovakia.  When the puppy arrives, Van finds she's gotten more than she bargained for; her puppy weighs in a 35-lbs already and only understands commands in Slovakian. 

When Van can't get "Joe" to stop tearing through her condominium, she assumes something must be wrong with him so she takes him to the vet.  Who, as it turns out, is one very attractive young vet who is more than willing to help Van learn how to care and train "Joe."

When Peter and Janie get back from their honeymoon, things get complicated.  Peter isn't sure he's cut out to be married and he misses his best friend.  Van isn't sure how she feels about Peter any more and her relationship with Janie is rocky.  When vet Alex catches Van trying to host a party she'd rather not be hosting for the newlyweds when she told him that she was sick, he turns his back on Van.  Finally Van decides it's time to grow up and make some changes.

"You were just overthinking it,"Alex said.  "Sometimes, you need to to let go to get everything to work."
As I so often do in books like this, I had a hard time buying into the instant relationship between Van and Alex.  I know these things have to be a bit rushed for the sake of the length of the book but it just never feels believable to me.  The shenanigans that ensued once Joe arrived were predictable and there were, perhaps, a few too many supporting characters, leaving some of them caricatures.

 I picked up this book expecting light fun but inside of thirty pages Larkin surprised me with the depth of the story.  Van's relationship with her mother and her grief over her mother's death are very touching.  Van's mother worked for Janie's mother, Diane, and Diane is having just as much trouble coming to grips with life without her best friend.  The interplay between Diane and Van is very well written.  Larkin's writing reminds me a lot of Katherine Center's and if you've been following this blog for very long, you know how much I enjoy her sense of humor.

Publisher's Weekly called "Stay" a "cute story, nicely told."  I'd have to say I agree; "Stay" is chick-lit with depth.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

This week those of us participating in the read along of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood read Sections XIII through XV and this was a greater than ever proof to me that the movie version of this book should never have been made.  It reminded me of most Stephen King adaptations to the big screen--there's no way to make the horror you feel when you read the book translate to the big screen.

I don't necessarily want a book to end with all of the issues settled and everything tied up neatly with a bow.  On the other hand, not doing that can feel very abrupt, as if the author just got tired of writing.  Atwood does not, by any means, give the reader all of the answers at the end of the book.  But she doesn't leave the reader hanging either; in fact, after all of the sadness and horror of the book, Atwood leaves the reader with the idea that there may be hope for Offred. Curiously, it's when the reader may start to feel better that Offred herself begins to feel badly about her actions and responses.  She begins to feel that she's the one committing a betrayal. 

If you haven't already read this book, read it.  Now more than ever, I think it's a really important piece of work that will make the reader think about the things that are happening in our own time.  To contemplate what happens in this book may just make you rethink your complacency.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Salon - September 19

This week, while many of us get geared up celebrate our right to read what ever we want during Banned Books Week (Sept 25-Oct 2), out there in Scaryville they're getting geared up to ban more books.  Laurie Halse Anderson, author of "Speak" and "Wintergirls," tweeted today about a man in Missouri trying to ban "Speak."

My daughter does not like to read.  I'm always trying to find books that will appeal to her and make her want to pick up more books. "Speak" was one of those books.  She read it in two days and couldn't wait to pick up "Wintergirls" when it came out.  I knew what the book was about, I knew that it depicted rape, and I didn't care.  No...that's not true.  I feel it's important for young people to read books that address things that happen in real life in a real way that speaks to them.

Ms. Anderson has written a blog piece about the battle she is now waging to fight this attempt to ban her book.  But, she rightly points out, the author has a vested interest in seeing that her/his work is not banned and may not carry much weight in a fight.  What she needs is for other people to speak up and let school boards around the country know that we're perfectly capable of thinking for ourselves and raising our own children.

To learn more about Banned Books Week, please visit the American Library Association's site which explains what the week is about and provides a lot of links for even more information. You might be surprised to find out which books you've read and didn't think a thing about that someone else thought should be banned. And lest we jump to the conclusion that it's only those on the far right that are jumping to ban books, liberals are just as likely to want to ban books that they feel are politically incorrect.

This week and again next week during Banned Books Week, I plan to exercise my right to read whatever I want by reading "To Kill A Mockingbird" while Mini-me sits next to me reading "The Catcher In The Rye."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Hypnotist (Reincarnationist Series #3 by M. J. Rose

The Hypnotist (Reincarnationist Series #3) by M.J. Rose
416 pages
Published May 2010 by Mira
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book Promotions

Lucian Glass, a special agent with the FBI's Art Crimes Team, is haunted by the murder of his fiancee twenty years ago and obsessed with bring Malachai Samuels to justice.  Samuels is a man equally obsessed with obtaining mysterious Memory Tools which he believes will allow him to discover this past lives, something he is desperate to do before his father dies.  Farid Taghinia, an Iranian diplomat has an obsession of his own--his country wants a 4th century statue of the Greek god, Hypnos, god of sleep, returned to them and Taghinia will stop at nothing to make that happen.  The Iranian government is not alone in wanting the statue, currently in possessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Darius Shabaz, highly successful movie director, threatens to destroy five prized paintings in an attempt to blackmail the museum into trading the statue for the paintings.

Samuels works for an organization called the Phoenix Foundation, an organization started by his great-uncle and dedicated to proving that reincarnation is real.  In order to get into the Foundation, Glass goes undercover and begins going in for therapy to help him figure out why he is waking up every morning needing to sketch faces of women his has never met but is sure he recognizes.  Although Glass tries to fight the hypnosis his therapist is using, he finds himself hypnotized and discovering that he has lived past lives directly related to the statue and the Memory Tools.

The case of the paintings being held hostage also brings Glass back into contact with the father of his murdered love, Andre Jacobs and her cousin.  It turns out that the first painting destroyed was a work that was stolen from Jacobs framing shop the night that his daughter was murdered.  Jacobs believes that his daughter's soul went into the body of his niece while she lay in a coma following a car accident that killed her family.  Seeing that painting show up again after twenty years and knowing that finding the man that destroyed it may lead to finding the killer of his love, gives Glass even more motivation to solve the case.

A lot of characters, a lot of plot lines, and a lot of shifts in setting make this story a bit of a trick to keep up with and the reader is well into the book before everything starts to come together and the pace really picks up.  I started taking notes, which helped me keep track of everything but eventually I just gave up and allowed myself to get caught up in the action. The writing is not great and the sheer number of  characters make it difficult to flesh out all of them.  But Rose does a fine job of keeping things moving even as she takes the reader from place to place and back and forth into history.

Although this is the third book in the Reincarnationist series, in reading the book I never felt like I was missing out on something by not having read the previous books.  The art aspect of this book was what drew me to it; the reincarnation theme was something I knew I would have to force myself to go along with.  I rarely read this type of book and I did have to make myself suspend disbelief but it ended up being a nice change of pace.  Thanks to Dorothy of Pump Up Your Book Promotions for offering me the chance to review this book.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW Blogger Interview--Ramblings of a (Future) Librarian

Introducing Laura Ashlee of Ramblings of a (Future) Librarian, my BBAW interview partner!  Laura Ashlee is a college student, living in Alabama, who says she'll read just about anything.  Given that her favorite book is "Jane Eyre" but she also loves young adult books and mange, I'd say she's telling the truth.

Since I'm such a huge college football fan and she lives in Alabama, the first thing I had to ask Laura about was whether or not she was a fan.

I actually don't attend UA right now. I go to Samford University in Birmingham. But I will go to UA for my master's next year. I guess my statement in my "about me" is a little misleading. I'll have to change it. But back to the original question! I've never been a big football fan, but this year I've actually started watching the games. My boyfriend is a huge football fan and he's been explaining the rules to me and I'm starting to like it.

Ramblings of a (Future) Librarian is a fairly new blog so I asked Laura Ashlee what made her want to start blogging about books.

I've actually had some sort of blog since I was about 15. All of my friends and I made personal blogs (which is silly since we saw each other all day, every day). I'm much more private now and there's just not much I want to broadcast to the world about my life. Books are the exception. I love to talk about books and write reviews. It's just fun!
Laura Ashlee has recently read The Time Traveler's Wife and seen the movie.  I wanted to know if there were any movie adaptations of books that she thought really did the book justice.
Hmm.. that's hard. I always watch movie adaptations (if there is one) after reading books, so I've seen a lot of them. The Lord of the Rings is probably the most well-done adaptation I've ever seen. I also really love Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's such a cute movie and it's just like the book! I'm pretty good at separating book and movie so I don't get too picky unless it's completely butchered.
I was curious what kind of librarian Laura Ashlee wanted to be when she was done earning her master's degree.
I wouldn't mind working in a public or college library. I don't want to be a law or medical librarian because that sounds incredibly boring. I think I'm going to focus on administration and management, so hopefully I can be in charge of a library one day!
Manga books show up frequently on Ramblings of a (Future) Librarian and I wondered what it was about manga that L.A. enjoyed and if she might have any recommendations for someone new to the genre.
I just got into manga this year so I'm not familiar with all of series. I also tend to read shoujo manga, which is targeted to teen girls so it can get dramatic or silly at times. I just think it's adorable and fun, and I really like the artwork. I really loved Sand Chronicles. It's more serious than any of the others and the story is very touching. I also really like Fruits Basket, though it's incredibly silly. I just think Tohru is so cute!
Does someone who lives in the South have any favorite Southern literature books or authors, I asked.
You know, I haven't read that much Southern Literature. I did like Breakfast at Tiffany's  by Truman Capote, but I have yet to read anymore of his stuff. Obviously, here in Alabama, Harper Lee is a big deal. I mean, I understand why To Kill a Mockingbird is important, I just didn't get into the way other people did. I might have to ponder reading more lit about the south.
LA. told me that she's a musician and I wanted to know more about that.

I'm actually a vocal performance major right now (I was originally going to go into musicology). I only have a few more classes to take, then it's off to grad school for library science! I grew up in a musical family so I've been singing since I was little, but I didn't start taking lessons until I got to college. I really love singing midieval and baroque music, and I love love love to sing in French and German. I also played the clarinet in high school and in my first few years of college.
Which, of course, brought up the question of what kind of music she listens to and if she had any recommendations.
As far as listening to music goes, I'm all over the board. Obviously, I love classical music. I'm a HUGE Mozart fan. I also like J.S. Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Stravinsky, John Dowland, some of Schubert's lied, and only recently a few Beethoven symphonies (I used to hate him). I listen to a lot of "indie" music, I guess. My favorite is Neko Case, who I would recommend to anyone. She's has a wonderful voice and amazing lyrics. My favorite find within the past year is a band called Buildings Breeding. They're great.
Since L.A. lives in the South and mentioned that she likes to cook, I asked her if there was anything in particular she would make if I dropped by for dinner.
I think I would go for the good southern chicken and dumplings (home made dumpling of course) with fried potatoes. I haven't made that in a year, but it's so good. Then, my favorite dessert in the world... lemon squares. 

Lemon squares?  I'm booking my plane reservation right now!  Desserts are my favorite food group.  Which lead me to wonder what L.A.'s guilty pleasure might be.

I read vampire books like it's going out of style. I don't know what it is about vampires, but I just seem to gravitate toward books with them. That's how I started read YA novels in the first place. Lately, I've been making myself read other things because I don't want to get stuck in a genre. Plus, how much brain stimulation can you really get out of paranormal books?
 Please stop by Ramlings of a (Future) Librarian and welcome Laura Ashlee to the book blogosphere!  It's always great to meet another young person with a passion for reading. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

"The moment of betrayal is the worst, the moment when you know beyond any doubt that you've been betrayed: that some other human being has wished you that much evil.

It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top.  Falling, Falling, and not knowing when you will hit."

Offred is talking here about the moment her family was trying to cross over the border into Canada and are discovered but she might as well be talking about what happened to all women in the new society.  Certainly there were some men that didn't fare well in the change but we really haven't seen a single woman that has fared well.  Even the Commander's Wives, who certainly appear to have it the best, are prisoners of their homes and, if they are unable to bear children, have to put up with having a Handmaid in their home and watch their husbands having sex with the Handmaids in their own beds while they also in the bed.

In these chapters we also find out that some of the women, particularly the older women, have been sent to The Colonies where they are on cleanup detail.  That is to say, they are exposed to radiation and have to clean up dead bodies.   Others are made to go into prostitution, something that is officially not allowed but which is an option for punishment.  Any of these women, as well as Handmaids that don't give birth to a viable child soon enough, have a very limited lifespan.

Since this book has all along felt like it was showing me a very real possible future, the idea that there are women out there already clamoring that a woman's place is in the home, looking after their man and having babies alarms me more than ever.

Thanks to Trish for hosting this read-along and to Margaret Atwood who has given me so much to think about in this book!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Omaha Lit Fest - Part One

The sixth annual Omaha Lit Fest was held this weekend and what a treat it was for book lovers!  Taking a cue from Lewis Carroll, who wrote "what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversation," this year's event examined the very concept of the book, right down to the shape of the words, with an emphasis on fairy tales.

My experience with the fest kicked off Friday evening with a panel discussion titled "A Tender Violence: The Peculiar Nature of Fairy Tales."  The panel included Lit Fest organizer and author Timothy Schaffert, interdisciplinary artist Janet Davidson-Hues, and author Kate Bernheimer, who is also the editor/found of the Fairy Tale Review.  While the entire discussion was very interesting, the highlight for me was listening to Bernheimer who is not only extremely knowledgeable about the subject but also extremely enthusiastic.  My mind immediately began wondering how I can work more fairy tales into my reading.

After the last panel of the day, there was a lovely champagne and chocolate reception - two of my favorite things!  It was a nice chance to get to meet some new people as well as introduce myself to the panelists.

Saturday there were six sessions; I opted to attend four of them so that I could get out for part of the day to enjoy downtown Omaha.  I spent time in my favorite antique shop, tried a new coffee shop, and visited a used book store that is a story unto itself.

The first session of the day was a panel discussion: "Literary Bibliophilia: Novels About Novels, Fiction About Fiction."  Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, GA headed up the panel; the other panelists were Schaffert, author of The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters; Peter Kuper, graphic author and illustrator, most recently a Mexican edition of "Alice in Wonderland:" and Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been.  Each of these authors has either included a novel in their novel or used another piece of fiction in their own fiction.  Each of the panelists also talked about books that had meant a lot to them as a child.  Interestingly, Benjamin did not like Alice in Wonderland as a child but Stefaniak cited it as one that she had recognized her own psyche in that things that happened in the book.  Again the discussion returned to the idea that fairy tales were originally quite dark.  Stefaniak reminded us that all of the stories of the Arabian Nights ended with the message "and so they were happy...until."

Omaha Lit Fest - Part Two will appear on Tuesday.  I'd only planned to do one post but there's just so much to tell.  I can't believe I haven't been to the Lit Fest before!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends...

The Rhodies have discovered another author they are recommending for readers who enjoy a good thriller.  Like Scott TuroMw and John Grisham, Michael Fredrickson comes from a legal background.  He has worked both as a lawyer and as the general counsel to the state agency that polices lawyers.  But Michael Fredrickson has something that those other guys don't - he studied English literature, as a Rhodes scholar, at Oxford University.  He's also worked as a singing telegrapher, hippy farmer and college professor.  So he's got the literary chops to go with the legal background when it comes to his writing, as well as a rich background to pull from.

Of Fredrickson, the Rhodies say:
"writes a really interesting "suspense" (I guess) novel.  Incorporates the qualities of legal intricacies, police procedure, dialogue a la George V. Higgins, interesting twists and turns and a feel for Boston streets.  I've read three of his titles and wait eagerly for more.  His earliest is "A Cinderella Affidavit".  Well worth looking for."

Macmillan Books says that Fredrickson's "fascination with the ethical dilemmas lawyers face is evident in his crime novels."  I had gotten kind of burned out on crime thrillers, they all seemed kind of formulaic and the writing didn't impress me.  But I think I'm going to have to give Fredrickson a chance.

Does your family like to give each other recommendations?  Do you ever find any hidden gems?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
507 pages
Published November 2009 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: TLC Book Tours and the publisher

 Young Harrison William Shepherd is living on Isla Pixol in Mexico when we are first introduced to him in Kingsolver's latest book, that follows Shepherd's diaries from 1929 to 1951.  His mother, a selfish woman who never seems to think of the effects on her son, encourages Harrison to begin his first journal when they are living on Isla Pixol and listening to the howler monkeys in the trees at night.

"Their food might be us, mother and son agreed, when they huddled together inside the spiderweb of bedspread, listening to a rising tide of toothsome roars.  You had better write all this in your notebook, she said, the story of what happened to us in Mexico.  So when nothing is left of us but bones, someone will know where we went.  She said to start this way: In the beginning were the aullaros, crying for our blood."

 Harrison's mother had fled the U.S., leaving his father behind in order to begin an affair with a Mexican attache. But she hates it there and Harrison feels invisible to all the people around him with the exception of the home's cook, from whom he learns valuable life lessons.  It's also on Isla Pixol that Harrison discovers the lacuna:
"Not a cave exactly but an opening, like a mouth, that swallows things."
The image of the lacuna recurs throughout the book as Harrison begins his life journey traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, never really at home in either.  Along the way, Harrison finds himself immersed in the fiasco that was the Hoover administrations handling of the veterans living in a tent city in the middle of Washington D.C., working for Diego Rivera and involved as well with Frida Kahlo and Leo Trotsky, and esconced in Asheville, North Carolina as a writer of sweeping Mexican epics.

Shortly after I had finished Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible,"  Trish wrote me about this tour.  I had my choice of a number of her previous titles in addition to this one.  As much as I loved "The Poisonwood Bible,"  I was willing to read any of Kingsolver's books but was thrilled to have the chance to read this one.  I went into it expecting to love it every bit as much.

Which, as it turns out, I did.  Just in a different way.  Where as "The Poisonwood Bible" pulled me in immediately with it's beautiful writing and amazing story but let me down some toward the end of the book, "The Lacuna" was a slower start for me but once I fell into it, I never felt a let up.  Kingsolver's writing remains beautiful as ever and her knack for dispensing history lessons while telling a story is unparalleled.  There is no doubt that Kingsolver has an opinion on the events that she's writing about but this book felt less preachy to me.   The book is written as though it were the diaries of a real person, something I wasn't sure about when I started the book, but it worked for me.

I'm not prone to read a lot of books by the same author, which the except of Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.  There are just too many great authors out there whose work I want to sample.  But having now read two of Kingsolver's books, I can't imagine that I will not, at some point, feel the need to read more of her books.  They are just that good.

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finny by Justin Kramon

Finny by Justin Kramon
368 pages
Published July 2010 by Random House
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Finny Short feels out of place in her own family.  Her dad is always quoting "great men" and her brother, Sylvan, falls right in with him.  Her mom is vastly more concerned about appearances and manners, it seems, than she is about her children.  Finny, 14-years-old and defiant, seems to rub her parents the wrong way at every turn.  When Finny meets Earl Henckel and his father, a narcoleptic piano teacher, she finally feels like she's found a place where she's comfortable.  But when she and Earl are caught kissing, Finny's parents ship her off to boarding school where she meets the one-of-a-kind Poplan (not Miss, not Mrs. and no first name, if you please) and her roommate, Judith Turngate, who immediately pulls Finny into her orbit.

Over twenty years these people will move in and out of Finny's life as she comes of age, learns the highs and lows of love and deals with loss.
"Finny felt sick herself, like no one would want to touch her or be near her.  Loss always did this to you, pushed you in a corner where no one wanted to go."
Although the novel might be considered sweeping in light of its span of years and geography, it never losses a feeling of intimacy.  One reviewer says that Kramon fills the books with characters worthy of Dickens and I'd have to agree.  From the narcoleptic Menalcus Henckel, to the screeching headmistress to the sneezing morticians, there is no shortage of odd characters in Finny's life. Fortunately, unlike Dickens, Kramon doesn't need 500 plus pages to tell Finny's story. Yet he manages to fully flesh out all of the major characters and even make New York City and Paris feel like integral characters.
"Every little thing thrilled here: the language, the beautiful women, the sour odor of the man holding the pole next to her; the little crank on the metro door you had to turn to get the door to pop open when the train stopped."
 Kramon has split the book into three sections: "Growing Up," "Reunions and New Friends," and "From Here On Out."  Each section deals with a particular part of Finny's life, youth, college years, and adult life, hitting on the high points of each period and ending each section with a brief chapter that brings the reader up to date on other events that pass before the next time period.  Those ending pieces did feel a bit jarring to me--here we were on this lovely slow trip and then suddenly we were accelerating at breakneck speed. While there is plenty going on in the book (a con man, a pickpocket in Paris, death), the book is much more character-driven than plot-driven.  Finny is a character that most of us can probably relate to, at least in some part of our lives--the once strong young girl who finds herself disappearing when in the presence of those she's chosen to surround herself with and then fighting to find herself all over again.

One of my favorite parts was when Poplan came to visit Finny during a break from school.  Finny didn't really want Poplan to meet her family so she had Poplan visit her at the Henckels.  As a gift, Poplan had brought a durian fruit.  Have you ever heard of durian fruit?  They are rumored to be one of the ugliest and nastiest smelling foods on the planet.  Earl and Finny can't stand the smell or taste of the fruit but Poplan and Menalcus eat the entire fruit.  Just as some of the characters found the fruit unpalatable while others enjoyed it very much, I felt like these four characters were much like the durian fruit.  Some people would just not "get" them while others would form lifelong bonds.

Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour.  For other opinions, view the full list of tour stops at TLC Book Tours.

 "Finny" if Kramon's debut novel.  To learn more about Justin Kramon, visit his website.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

This is the third week of our The Handmaid's Tale read along, hosted by Trish at Classic Reads Book Club.  I am finding it harder and harder to put this one down once I've read the assigned chapters for the week!  We've reached the point where it's becoming hard to tell you anything about the book without spoilers and, because I really hope that you'll pick this one up yourself, I don't want to do that.

The Commander and Offred are spending more and more time with each other and Offred is gradually realizing how to use the power that this affords her (such as asking for hand lotion) but is also acutely aware of the risk involved.  The Commander's Wives are in charge of all the women in their households so if she is caught, the Commander will have no say in what happens to her.  During their time together, the Commander has allowed Offred to read some of his secret stash of magazines--such racy titles as Vogue.

"What's dangerous in the hands of the multitudes, he said, with what may or may not have been irony, is safe enough for those whose motives are...

Beyond reproach, I said.

He nodded gravely.  Impossible to tell whether or not he meant it.

But why show it to me?  I said, and then felt stupid.  What could he possibly say?  That he was amusing himself, at my expense?  For he must have known how painful it was to me, to be reminded of the former time."

Offred discovers that there are others, like her, that are not firm believers in the new ways.  Just knowing this makes her nervous but hopeful. 

In these chapters, we learn more about how the world as it was became the world that it now is.  I'm almost certain at this point that Margaret Atwood, when she wrote this book, had a crystal ball and was looking into the future.  I can't tell you why; you'll just have to trust me that my jaw dropped when I read Chapter 28!

"I guess that's how they were able to do it, in the way they did, all at once, without anyone knowing beforehand.  If there had still been portable money, it would have been more difficult."

Aren't we already headed to a currency free society, what with the almost prevalent use of credit and debit cards?  What happened in this this book almost makes me happy that our most recent economic problems have pushed people back into using more paper money.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Salon - September 5

I can't believe it's September already!  Where did the summer go?  Or the rest of the year for that matter.  It doesn't seem like that long ago that I was making grand reading plans for the year.  Now I'm looking at those plans thinking it's going to take some crazy amounts of reading to get it all in before the end of the year.  I've been accepting fewer and fewer books for review but, for some reason, my pile of books I need to read for review doesn't seem to be dwindling.

I had every intention to start with the "Bleak House" Readalong, hosted by Zen Leaf, that started on August 25th.  But I just didn't get started on the book until this week.  I am going to try to catch up in the next couple of weeks.  I'm glad I've already seen the BBC adaptation of this book; it's greatly helping me to appreciate the book.

I've had another article published (finally--I was quite a slacker on submitting over the summer).  This time I've got some recommendations for the readers of  None of them will come as any surprise to those of you who read this blog regularly.  I do wonder if you can figure out which book it was that ruined my summer vacation reading!

 At, I found this list of 11 literary holidays that every book lover should know.  The list includes Bloom Day on June 16th, which featured so prominently in "South of Broad" by Pat Conroy which I read and reviewed earlier this year, as well as Winnie the Pooh Day (January 18th) and Limerick Day (May 12th).

And from The Guardian comes this article about the bookcase you want to live in.  It's called The Ark, has a spiral staircase and is lined with 6,000 books.  Think you might like one in your house?  You'll need a soaring ceiling--it's five stories tall!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fall Catch-Up Read-A-thon

Michelle of The True Book Addict is hosting a Fall Catch-Up Read-A-Thon beginning at 8 a.m. on September 20th and ending at 8 p.m. on September 26th.  Michelle has chosen to make the read-a-thon an entire week so that everyone who wants to participate can, not matter their real life schedule.

I'm going to be using the read-a-thon truly as a catch up week.  I have a ridiculous number of books that I have started but have yet to finish and my goal this week will be to get through all of them.  This will set me up perfectly for the Dewey 24-Hour Read-A-Thon scheduled for October 9th.  I like to have all new books to work on for the day (as well as a stash of yummy snacks, of course!).

Are you looking for an excuse to spend all of your waking, non-working hours, reading?  Head on over to sign up to join us!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Crying Tree--A Giveaway

Many of you expressed on interest in this book and now you're in luck!  The publicist for Naseem Rakha's "The Crying Tree" has generously offered to give a copy of the book to one of my lucky readers.  This is one you won't want to miss--and don't just take my word for it.

"Oregon author and winner of the 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, Naseem Rakha's best-selling debut novel, The Crying Tree, has just been chosen as the only American title of eight “page turners” featured by the Richard and Judy Book Club based in London. Just returning from hiatus, the Richard and Judy Book Club is back as the biggest book club in the UK and perhaps the most influential force in British publishing. It is the equivalent to Oprah's book club here in the U.S.

Streaming interviews with Rakha will be featured in a dedicated area of the Richard and Judy Show website (, along with reviews and reader feedback. The Crying Tree has been given a new cover especially for this occasion, sharing the spotlight with a pool of bestselling international authors, and one other debut novelist."

To enter the drawing for this giveaway, just leave a comment with a way to contact you.  I'll post the winner next Friday, September 10th.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha
368 pages
Published July 2009 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: the publisher and Terra Communication

Nate Stanley has uprooted his family from the only home they have ever known in Illinois and moved them to central Oregon.  A terrific job opportunity, he tells his wife, Irene, and that it will be good for their son, Shep.  A year and a half later, Shep is shot to death in their home, held in his father's arms as he takes his last breath.  The nineteen-year-old who pulled the trigger is arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

"At the grave she reached for her daughter, but the girl broke free and took off for the tree.  It was a scraggly-looking thing, with a thick trunk and wizened branches holding fanlike tassels of green.  A few minutes later, Bliss was back with a small handful of yellow, sap-filled pearls. "They look like tears," she said, showing them to her aunt Carol and then her mother.  "Like the tree's crying." Irene ran her hand down her child's arm, then looked away.  There are certain things you should never have to see in life.  A crying tree standing beside your son's grave was one."

Nate, Irene and their daughter, Bliss, all deal with Shep's death in their own way.  Irene is so filled with hate that she becomes all but incapable of dealing with life.
"Each day since they moved back in, Irene had hauled herself from her living room chair and gone into this room, allowing herself to touch one thing: a book, a blanket, a rock, a piece of paper, the horn.  Then, with that item in hand, she would close her eyes and conjure her boy, calling him, talking, praying, crying. "
Until one day her daughter's boyfriend suggests that he and Bliss will marry as soon as she gets out of high school.  Not wanting Bliss to follow in her own footsteps, Irene pulls herself up enough to make sure that Bliss, instead of getting married, goes to college and begins to live her own life.  But still Irene is living with so much despair that on the day Shep would have turned 25, Irene takes an overdose of pills.  It's only then that she realizes that she doesn't want to die and that she can no longer spend her life wishing for Daniel Robbin's death.  She makes the radical decision to write to him and tell him that she forgives him.  To her surprise, Robbins writes back and the two begin a correspondence that lasts for the next nine years until the day that Irene receives notice that Robbin's execution date has been set.  Irene knows then that she must see Robbins and that doing that will mean that she will finally have to tell Nate and Bliss what she has been doing for all of these years.

 This book started off slowly for me, which was surprising considering how soon into the book Shep's death occurs.  I fully expected to be devastated by the emotions the family was going through.  But Rakha pulled me in as I watched a mother deal with the grief of losing a child in such a horrible way and get dragged down by her inability to focus on anything other than hatred for her son's murderer.  Knowing, going in, that she was going to be able to forgive Robbin, I was compelled to read on to find out how Irene came to that point.  I have always found it inconceivable that a person could forgive someone who did something so heinous to a loved one.  Rakha takes the reader on Irene's journey through all of the emotions and thoughts it takes her to reach that point and I think that she has made me finally understand how that could happen.

The story moves back and forth in time and between various points of view.  Occasionally the changes in time were confusing as I had to try to recall what had happened when last we were in a particular time period, but it did help explain what was going on now by looking back. One of the points of view Rahka uses is that of the superintendent of the prison in which Robbins is confined.  It helps to take the reader into that part of the story but, in order to make him an appealing character and to explain later actions, we get a look into his history that I wasn't entirely sure was necessary.

As the story progressed, I couldn't imagine where Rahka was taking me or how the story would pan out.  Along the way, she throws in some surprises, some tension, and ultimately, some grace and peace.

This would make a terrific book club selection.  There is so much to discuss.  You just know that you're in for an interesting read when it's recommended by Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking."