Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pin It And Do It: A Pinteresting Challenge August 2012

It's back! Trish's (Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity) May Pin It And Do It challenge was so successful, we talked  wheedled her into doing it again in August. In May I used the challenge to give me a lot of great recipes for Miss H's graduation party and I managed to know out eight pins in 31 days.

Because I hate to go backwards, I'm going to shoot for the Pin Obsessed goal again (8+ pins). I'll use my upcoming vacation to get me off to a good start. I've pinned several places to visit and eat. I'm sure recipes will be involved again and maybe even one of the books I've pinned recently. After that, I'm going to start working on Christmas gift ideas. I anticipate any craft that I'll be happy with as a gift will need to be done at least twice so I need to get going soon.

Do you pin? You should join us!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Salon - July 29

Books? What books? It has definitely not been a week of reading for me. It was too hot most of the week for me to do my usual lunchtime reading in my car - there was no such thing as a cool shady place. That meant I had to read in the lunchroom and it's too noisy to really sink into a book. I started a book last Sunday that just wasn't working for me. Generally I try to push through, afraid that if I give up too early, I'll miss what makes the book great. This time I took inspiration from Ti of Book Chatter, and set the book aside. If you are a fan of Philippa Gregory's books, The Women of the Cousins' War would probably make a great companion to the books about these same women. On it's own, for someone who hasn't read any of those books, it just didn't work for me.

We've spent the past two weekends moving our oldest back home - and after living in an apartment with up to five cats, every fabric thing he brought into our house had to be washed by this allergic mama. My entire house looks like another house blew up inside of it and I've been working like crazy to find a home for everything. The same kid has a birthday this week so one night we celebrated that.

 I'm going to struggle to find reading time for the next two weeks as well now that the Olympics have started. I will watch any sport when it comes to the Olympics (I confessed to my new found interesting in curling in February 2010). For the summer Olympics, I'm intensely interested in the swimming events but last night I even watched women's weightlifting. I don't even like weightlifting (and I'm not sure I'll watch any more of it if it's the only sport on). But I love the stories behind the athletes, the combination of individual effort and national pride.

I am finishing Thrity Umrigar's The World We Found today. Perhaps that's another reason I've been reading more slowly. Umrigar writes books that I like to take my time with - they are marvelously complex stories I don't want to be see end. Tomorrow I'll start Courtney Sullivan's Maine. What are you reading this week?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - A Fresh Take

My friend Teri and I have a lot in common.

Not really. She's an East Coast city chick; I'm a Midwest suburban gal. I'd like to be creative; Teri really is creative, very creative. Two things we do have in common: we both love books and we both love fairy tales.

Teri, who blogs at Quinceberry: My Artful Life, creates the most marvelous books out of papers, fabric, lace, all manner of media and all kinds of interesting embellishments. Her latest creation is this fairy tale book. All of the artwork is Teri's creation and she's also given her own spin to some classic tales. How fun is this version of Rapunzel?! I just had to share this with you.

To learn more about the inspiration behind this book, and to see more of the pages, check out Quinceberry: My Artful Life

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau
Published March 2012 by Blue Rider Press, Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

As a boy, Younis suffered the bombing of his village, the deaths of his entire family. As an orphan, he is brought to the United States by an aide society where he is raised by a family who can't begin to grasp what the young man (now Jonas) has been through nor what he needs to assimilate in a new culture.

With the help of a counselor, Paul, Jonas begins to explore the truth of what happened to him. But is what's in his head his memory or what he wants his memory to be? And what is the truth about Christopher, the American soldier who came to his aid and whose mother has become a crusader for all of the parents who don't know what has happened to their children in duty to their country?

Dau moves back and forth in time and place with entries from Christopher's diary interspersed. This can be tricky to make work; it's easy to get confused and things can get muddled. But in Dau's capable hands, this style pulled me through the book. The Book of Jonas engaged both my mind and emotions with an ending that, literally, made me gasp.

Dau thoroughly explores the conundrum that is war - who is right, who is wrong, what is the truth. Can the truth ever be known? Can memory be trusted?
"Occasionally Jonas hears the voice of this savior. It comes to him when he is unable to turn his thoughts to anything else. The voice he hears is gentle and deep. When he remembers it, he tries to get it right, tries to match the words exactly, but has the familiar feeling that he is adding and subtracting, substituting what should have been said for what he fails to remember accurately. What should have been said. What he fails to remember. He is haunted by both."

In The Book of Jonas nothing is black and white. The book is full of symbolism but Dau never uses it to hit the reader over the head with the meaning. Neither is it so subtle that it's easily missed, ensuring that Dau's message is not lost.

"This is not a rare occurrence, this penetration of solid rock by molten rock under pressure. It happens all the time. Deep in the earth, it is happening right now. Stones like this are not scarce. ... The invasion, the pressure. The magma has exploited the injured rock, and has made it beautiful."

I highly recommend this book for those who are looking for a book that will really make you think, a book that will stay with you a long time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Paris In July - "A Good Year"

 Paris In July 2012 is turning out to be much easier for me than I anticipated, thanks to movie and fortuitous timing. One night as we were flipping through channels trying to decide on a movie to watch, we happened to catch the start, on IFC, of "A Good Year," a movie neither of us had ever seen and knew nothing about. It struck us immediately as the kind of quirky little movie set in a foreign country that we're so fond of so we gave it a shot. The movie, released in 2006, was surprisingly directed by Ridley Scott. I had no idea he could direct anything other than blockbuster action movies. The movie's synopsis:

"London-based investment expert Max Skinner (Russell Crowe) travels to Provence to tend a small vineyard he inherited from his late uncle. When he gets suspended from his job under suspicion of fraud, he settles into life at the chateau, remembering the time he spent there as a child. Then a determined young California girl (Abbie Cornish) arrives claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of the deceased uncle and rightful owner of the vineyard."
Albert Finney and Freddie Highmore
 I'm not sure that synopsis does the movie justice. For one thing, the young girl does not come making claims on the vineyard, she has come to finally meet her father (played in flashbacks by Albert Finney) only to discover she's too late. From there on, she simply wants to immerse herself in her father's life, to learn about him. It turns out the girl knows a little something about vineyards but that only makes for comedy, not strife.

Russell Crowe
Max decides early on that if he fixes the place up a bit, he might just be able to make a nice profit off selling the chateau and vineyards and spends most of the movie working to that end.  But, as you've probably already surmised, he begins to grow fond of the chateau's quirky staff, the beauty of the land, and the ease of the lifestyle. Every where Max looks, he is reminded of the time he spent with his uncle, the lessons he learned, and the joy that he found there. Despite a rocky start, Max is also smitten with the gorgeous Fanny (Marion Cotillard), which just might make it even harder to sell the place.  

Marion Cotillard
Oh sure, it's fairly predictable and Crowe makes no attempt whatsoever to trade in his Australian accent for a British accent.  But both of us (The Big Guy and I) found the movie charming, although he would have liked to see a bit more of Finney. It's the kind of movie that, if I were flipping channels and came across it, I would watch again and enjoy. We would both recommend "A Good Year." 

That young boy pictured above? Is he looking familiar? For some strange reason, I immediately remembered him as Pete Llewellyn from "Finding Neverland" (another movie we would both recommend, starring Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie and Kate Winslet as the mother of the boys who ostensibly inspired Peter Pan). You'll probably remember him best, as did The Big Guy, as Charlie Bucket from 2005's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (also, of course, starring Depp).                                                                                                

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Salon - July 22

I have three whole weeks without any books that are scheduled for reviews - although I've been reading nothing but great books for reviews lately so I'm not really complaining.

Just finished up the High Summer Readathon hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict. As readathons go, this one was pretty successful for me. I always think I'll really try to clear the decks and devote all of my evenings to reading. Life never quite turns out that way. But I read 200 pages of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which I reviewed last week, as well as reading The Absent Traveler and The Book of Jonas, both of which I'll review this week.

Flavorwire's getting to be one of my favorite sites - they've been compiling some great stuff lately. Check out the artwork on their compilation of The 20 Most Beautiful Children's Books of All Time. I was delighted to find several fairy tale books; Maurice Sendak, Chris Allsburg, and David Wiesner all made the list as well. I was even more delighted to see that a book by Nebraska's very own Ted Kooser was included on the list - House Held Up By Trees.

This link courtesy of Mental Floss and Quirk Book's Facebook page: 17 Famous Literary Characters Almost Named Something Else. What do you think of "Pansy O'Hara?" Doesn't begin to do justice to the character's strength or spirit, does it? And Small Sam just doesn't tug at the heartstrings in quite the same way Tiny Tim does.Also at Mental Floss, I found this link to 14 Movie Cameos by the Authors of the Original Book. Be sure to scroll down and check out more in the comments. Makes me want to rush out to the video store and check out these movies for the camoes alone!

Last week I asked about bookstores or libraries you've seen in movies. Linda, of A Rich Tapestry, pointed out the Reading Room of the London Library. I tried to find an image from the movie but there wasn't one. Of course, I had to at least find an image of the Reading Room so I googled it and stumbled across Bibliolatry, a site where you can find images of famous libraries the world over. Some of them are so incredible, I don't know how anyone can actually focus on reading! The libraries are posted by country.

Congratulations to Joann, who won my ARC copy of The Chaperone! Thanks to everyone who gave me the great book suggestions; I'm looking forward to checking all of them out. This week my reading plans include The World We Found, Thrity Umrigar's latest, and The Women of the Cousins War by Phillipa Gregory. What are you reading this week?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
Published January 2012 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours for this review

My paternal grandmother's people were Scottish; one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre. How could there ever have been any doubt in my mind that I would read this book?

Gemma Hardy is an orphan who has been taken in my her uncle and his family. When her uncle dies, her aunt (who has never cared for her) ships Gemma off to a boarding school where she is a "working girl." Certainly Gemma spends more time working than she does studying and even among the other working girls, Gemma is unable to make friends. Eventually, Gemma is forced to find her own way in the world, taking on a job as an au pair for the niece of a Scottish gentleman. When a secret comes to light, Gemma runs only to find that she is not the person she thought she was but also finding that she can be loved.

As the book began, I worried that I liked the book because it was so very much like Jane Eyre and I knew that I would soon lose interest if things continued that way. I'm not a fan of derivative works; they really have to be able to stand on their own.

Much to my delight, things were enough different to keep me interested and then things really took a turn that veered well off the source material. Livesey has kept enough of the story so that those who have read Jane Eyre will recognize the essentially the same plot. She has also brought in enough new characters, altered the existing characters, and added enough plot elements to allow this book to stand on it's own.

Margot Livesey
For other thoughts on this book, check out the full tour.  You can also learn more about Margot Livesey and her other books at her website, "Like" her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Now I might have lost interest in the book during Gemma's wanderings a bit except of two words: Castle Menzies. Gemma finds herself talking refuge in the small town of Aberfeldy, Scotland and at one point, when she is out walking in the hills, Livesey has Gemma overseeing Castle Menzies. Which, of course, means nothing to most readers. Unless you happen to have ancestors who were of Clan Menzies. Oh yes, Gemma was wandering in the lands that my ancestors had roamed hundreds of years ago. I knew where she was at then - could picture the castle, the surrounding lands. I guess an author can never really know what will hook a reader!

Castle Menzies

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Paris In July 2012 - "Hugo"

Heck, this Paris In July thing is going much better than I anticipated! The other night The Big Guy came home with movies and what should he have in hand but "Hugo." Miss H and I have already seen it but it's so delightful, I sat down and watched it again. "Hugo" is Martin Scorcese's 2011 movie adaptation of Brian Selznik's The Invention of Hugo Cabret and is set almost exclusively in a train station in Paris and actually filmed, at least partially, in Paris. The soundtrack even includes music by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

Orphan Hugo Cabret lives alone in the a train station where he tends to all of the clocks, a job he started doing when his uncle took him in after his father died. Now that his uncle has died, Hugo is left to fend for himself. He is also left with his father's legacy, an automan Hugo is convinced is storing a secret message from his father, if only he can get it repaired. To that end, Hugo has been stealing parts and mechanical toys form a small toy store in the station until one day he is caught and the store keeper takes the notebook Hugo's father has left him. Hugo is drawn into working for the storekeeper and, in meeting his goddaughter, is drawn into a mystery the automan will revel. Perhaps not the message Hugo was hoping for but a message that will allow Hugo to finally live a happy life again and bring an old man the happiness he long ago thought was lost forever.

"Hugo" is largely the story of the birth of movies but it also features a marvelous bookstore, a library, and many references to books including "Robin Hood" a book Hugo and his father were reading together. The bookstore is filled with thousands of books but, books being heavy to move around for filming, some of the books you see in this scene are actually made of fiberglass.

So far, my Paris In July has been a journey to the movies. Who knows, I might just continue that route. After all, it's been a while since I've watched "An American In Paris." On the other hand, perhaps it's time to take up some French cooking and baking.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Almost five years ago, The Omaha Bookworms read and loved Ami McKay's The Birth House. To this day, it remains the book we spent the most time discussing, the book that generated the most conversation about our own lives. For five years I've been waiting, impatiently, for McKay's next novel. So, yes, I did squeal a little bit when TLC Book Tours offered me the chance to be on the blog tour for McKay's latest book, The Virgin Cure.

"I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart. 

My father ran off when I was three years old. He emptied the rent money out of the biscuit tin and took my mother's only piece of silver - a tarnished sugar bowl she'd found in the rubble of a Third Avenue fire."

"She never held my hand in hers or let me kiss her cheeks. If I asked to sit on her lap, she'd pout and push me away and say, "When you were a baby, I held you until I thought my arms would fall off. Oh, child, that should be enough." 

I didn't mind. I loved her."

Unfortunately for 12-year-old Moth, her mother didn't reciprocate those feelings, more concerned with her own needs and desires. Still, when Moth was sold to a rich woman, Moth believed her mother was sending her off not just to make money but to live a better life. Abused in her new situation, Moth escapes only to end up on the streets, in more desperate straits than ever and it's then that she's "saved" and brought to Miss Everett's "Infant School," a home where the proprietress grooms young girls for their deflowering by the highest bidder. In 1871 New York City, Moth knew she would have to make a sacrifice in order to survive in the style she'd for which she longed.

It's no secret that I love well-researched books that don't feel like the author is trying to cram every piece of knowledge they gained into the book. McKay does it right; her books are so immersed time and place that's it's easy to forget that the books weren't written long ago. Her unique style here, of adding asides, special notes, and "newspaper clippings" allow her to flesh out parts of the story without distracting from it.

Then there are McKay's characters. Moth, who will become Ada to be more appealing to men, is both worldly and naive, so trusting in each new situation. Mrs. Wentworth, who hires young girls to tend to her only so that she can abuse them for reasons that will later become clear to Moth. Mr. Dink, a P.T. Barnum competitor, who capitalizes on his acts and oddities but who genuinely cares for them. And Dr. Sadie, one of the first female doctors (modeled after McKay's own great-great grandmother) who does all she can to protect and comfort Miss Everett's girls and destitute of the New York's Lower East Side even though it has cost her a place in her own family.

As for the writing, I'll let McKay speak for herself:
"Sometimes, for  a moment, everything is just as you need it to be. The memories of such moments live in the heart, waiting for the time you need to think on them, if only to remind yourself that for a short while, everything had been fine, and might be so again."

Featuring strong female characters, issues that still resonate today, and an ending that it just right, I highly recommend The Virgin Cure. Like The Birth House it would make an excellent book club selection.Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour; for other opinions, check out the full tour here. Ami McKay is active on the internet - check out her website, "like" her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or check out her boards on Pinterest.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Guest Review: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich - Guest Review

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
Published in paperback February 2012 by Gallery Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher

I made a terrible mistake at Mother's Day. I had looked at the pile of books my mom had sitting waiting to be read and decided not to give her Catherine The Great by Robert Massie because she already had too many books. Me. I did that. Me, who wishes that people would give me books for birthdays and Christmas despite the fact that I have far more books than I will finish in the next few years. Plus, I had forgotten something about my mom - she's retired. So if she wants to sit down and read all day, she can. When I gave her The Midwife of Venice to read recently, that's pretty much what she did. Because she loved it, I suggested she write a review. Even with a cut on her finger that pretty much relegated her to resorting to the hunt-and-peck method of typing (and if you knew how fast my mom can type, you'd know just how frustrating that was for her!), she had the review for me in a little more than a day. Here's what she has to say about The Midwife of Venice:

When I sit down to read a book, I have several objectives: I want a good story, characters well-developed that come alive and that make me want to know them better and better and create loneliness when they are gone, descriptive phrases to help visualize the environment, and enough fact that I can learn something about the setting.  I am delighted to say that MIDWIFE OF VENICE filled my needs in each of these categories.  For several days after I finished the book (I was so drawn into the book that I abandoned all chores and just read), I thought about Hannah and wanted to know more.

Hannah is an Esthetic Jew living in the Jewish ghetto of Venice in 1575.  She is extremely poor and supports herself by serving as a midwife to the women of the ghetto.  Her husband Isaac has been captured as he set off to make his fortune and is now a prisoner (slave) on the island of Malta.  They parted with cross words so raising the money to earn his pardon is extremely important to Hannah.

Because of her profession, Hannah is used to late-night visitors.  But on this one night she was surprised to find a count and his brother along with the Rabbi at her door.  The count’s wife was in labor and had been for some time.  He wanted Hannah’s help.  The Rabbi forbid Hannah to go.  The rules for the Jews were very strict and she was forbidden to help a gentile.  After much haggling, Hannah finally said she would come with the count for the sum of 200 ducats–the amount she needed for the ransom.  The count agreed, the rabbi was furious, and Hannah was stunned.

She went with the count and took along her birthing spoons–a device she had created to assist in the somewhat unorthodox methods she used as a midwife.  When she reached the count’s home, she found the midwife there and the count’s wife in extreme distress.  She must negotiate carefully with the other midwife and try to save the baby (and if possible, the wife).  This is important to the count who must have an heir to save the fortune from his brothers. 

Hannah finally delivers a healthy son and from this point her life becomes very complicated as both of the count’s brothers try to destroy her, the baby, and all that is dear to both of them.  She is reunited with her sister Jessica who has abandoned her Jewish faith and she and Jessica find a way to help the baby and Hannah.

In the meantime, we also are provided with the life that Isaac is forced to lead as he is sold to Joseph who is cruel beyond measure.  Isaac is saved by a Catholic nun who will help Isaac only if he converts to Christianity.  He refuses and is given back to Joseph.  Isaac is clever and manages to keep himself alive, but barely, on the island.  The money for his ransom comes through but only if he will divorce Hannah which he refuses to do.

To tell more would spoil the story for the reader who will be taken into the ghetto of Venice and discover the rules that dominated, who will become acquainted with the plague, who will learn of intrigue and brutality.

It is an excellent book, well written, and one that captivates.  I am eager to read more of Roberta Rich’s work.  She spins a web and draws a reader into its depths.

Now adding Roberta Rich books to the idea list for my mom for her birthday. Because from now on, I'm not going to pass on giving her a book just because she's already got a pile of books on her nightstand! Thanks, Mom, for another great review!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Salon - July 15

I found this great article on Flavorwire highlighting the ten best fictional bookstores. Curiously I found it right after I finished a post about the movie "Hugo." My post included a paragraph about the bookstore in that movie. Lo and behold, that bookstore is on this list. Shouldn't be too much of a surprise, I suppose, it is a great bookstore. I kept thinking there was a movie where a bookstore played a big part in it. Then I remembered, it was a series of bookstores that John Cusack's character goes into in search of a copy of the book Love In The Time Of Cholera where Kate Beckinsale's character had left her phone number in the movie "Serendipity." I'm still a little annoyed at that film for convincing me to read that book!

Other movies that featured bookstores include one of my favorites "Notting Hill" (The Travel Book Co - a bookstore that seems to have no customers other than Julia Roberts), "The Big Sleep" starring Humphrey Bogart, "84, Charing Cross Road" starring Anne Bancroft and "When Harry Met Sally" starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Can you think of any other movies that have featured bookstores? What about movies that featured libraries?

Another coincidence - while I was looking for bookstores in movies, I came across this article about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. I posted my  review of Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone on Tuesday. One of the central characters of that book is actress Louise Brooks, a person I had never heard of before. But silent film fans clearly know about her. For this festival she comes up twice in reference to movies that she appeared in. She really was incredibly beautiful. But apparently such a pain to work with that rumors were spread that she had a terrible voice when the "talkies" came into their own and her career died.

So far, I'm feeling remarkable light since the great resolve to lift the guilt associated with blogging off my shoulders. I've given away books, passed on more than a dozen book offers (accepting only one that was too good to pass on!) without any guilt, and put together a calendar for review obligations for the rest of the year. That's allowing me to see where my challenge books will fit in and where I can just read whatever I want. I think there will be more paring on both my feed reader and my bookshelves but I've given myself a good start and I'm looking forward to a much more relaxed second half of 2012.

This week I read Ami McKay's The Virgin Cure and started Margot Livesey's The Flight of Gemma Hardy. What are you reading this week?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where In The World Are You Reading?

"Where In The World Are You Reading" is hosted by Trish of Love, Laughter And A Touch of Insanity, Kelly of The Written World, and Lisa of Books. Lists. Life. with idea to share a piece of your reading world through pictures and/or words. This month's meme prompt was to write about your local bookstore. Local bookstore can be any physical brick and mortar store--one you've visited on vacation or one local to you. The bookstore can be an Indie or Chain.

My local indie bookstore is one you've heard me talk about before - The Bookworm. The Bookworm has been in existence since 1986, moving to it's present location in the Countryside Village in 1999. There's been a bookstore in the Countryside Village since 1964 (back when all bookstores were indies!). I must say that I have kind of mixed feelings about The Bookworm (I'd prefer not to have dogs in the store with me) but they have everything I want in a bookstore and there's even a cafe attached.

The booksellers love to have fun at The Bookworm
Notice THE CHAPERONE on the shelf?

My go-to place for seeing authors, including Mary Helen Stefaniak

The Bookworm has eleven in-house book clubs including one for fans of Sherlock Holmes, one for Civil War buffs and even one called Aardbaark (Amiable Adults Readers Discussing Books Almost Always Read by Kids). Plus, they host over 100 book clubs, offering 20% discounts to book club members, and they will even order books just for clubs. If I could only get the members of the Omaha Bookworms to actually buy books!

Best part of The Bookworm? I can get there over my lunch break!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty - Giveaway

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Published June 2012 by Penguin Group
Source: I actually have two copies - one courtesy of the publisher and one I bought to have signed when I saw Moriarty

Soon to be Hollywood starlet, Louise Brooks was only a 15-year-old living in Wichita, Kansas when she was accepted to study at the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York City. Louise's mother, Myra, isn't much of a mother but agrees when her husband demands that Louise have a chaperone for the trip. Myra hires 36-year-old Cora Carlisle for the job. Cora is a wife, mother, and respected member of Wichita society but with her twin boys headed off to college, she has her own reasons for making the trip. Cora is in for much more than she bargained for - bob-haired Louise is every bit as arrogant and strong-willed as her mother led Cora to believe. While Louise is fighting Cora every step of the way, Cora begins to wonder at her own reasons for the beliefs she is trying to foist off onto Louise. Cora's own mission will lead her to make discovers that aren't exactly what she was expecting. Both Louise's and Cora's lives will be changed forever by their time in New York.

Louise Brooks was a real person who made over twenty films. Every events in this book involving Louise is true, according to Moriarty and even a cursory look at Brook's live confirms this. Although a chaperone did attend Louise to New York in 1922, almost nothing is known about the woman and Moriarty took this opportunity to craft a story around that character. Cora is very much a woman of her time - corseted, appearance above all else, luncheon with the ladies, good wife and mother. It's a role she's grown into after years of wanting nothing more than a family but it's come at a cost. She's also a woman who has worked to win the right to vote, showing strength even she may not know she has.

"His voice was so commanding, so loud that she complied, or tried to, reaching out for the knob. But her corset was tight against her ribs, and she couldn't breathe. She grabbed the edge of the door frame, believing she would faint, hoping she would faint, if only to escape what was happening, what she had just seen, and fall into nothingness as she had during the twins' birth. But something obstinate in her wouldn't fade out, and wouldn't go down to the ground. She was still conscious, still standing, still horribly aware."

I've waited a couple of weeks to write my review of this book to avoid the gushing I was certain would occur if I wrote it earlier. It may only have saved you from having to read the word "love" repeatedly. Perhaps having seen Moriarty speak before I started the book made a difference; I'm always prone to like a book more when I know the story behind the story. Perhaps it's because I'm a sucker for books that incorporate real people and events into a work of fiction (I'm a huge fan of E.L. Doctorow).

I'm more inclined to believe that I loved this book because it is a wonderfully written book about a woman who overcomes great odds and learns and allows herself to grow with every experience she has. From the young virgin discovering sex with her husband to the woman who champions birth control; from the woman afraid to admit to her husband that she enjoys sex to the woman willing to violate the sexual mores of Wichita; from the woman scandalized when Louise comes home drunk one night in New York to the woman who stands alone against Prohibition - Cora is a woman who grows into her own person as the years pass but never in a way that feels unreal. Moriarty is a force of passion in person and it shows in her writing. She is also a woman who has clearly done her homework and has managed to work it into her novel in a way that never feels forced.

Midway through the book, Moriarty begins making jumps in time after Cora returns to Wichita. It's a shift that might have seemed jarring to readers yet she makes it work seamlessly. I appreciated that Moriarty kept the book moving along and didn't get bogged down trying to feel in all of those time gaps.

Simon Doonan
Moriarty has even managed to work in little tidbits of Wichita history that added an element of humor to the story while also emphasizing the culture of the time. For example the story of the man who was arrested for wearing a flowered shirt in public. Oh my, what ever would those people have made of window dresser/author Simon Doonan whose wardrobe almost entirely consists of floral shirts?! Also included is the story of a baseball game pitting an exhibition team from the Negro Baseball League and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Seriously - in Kansas in the 1920's. They had to have the Catholics referee figuring they wouldn't favor either side!

I can't say this book was a surprise (reviews I'd read had all been favorable) and yet I struck by how much I liked the book. The Chaperone is a book I will gladly recommend to anyone who asks for books suggestions.

Several weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to read and review The Chaperone by the publisher. Given the reviews I was reading, I was happy to accept. The book arrived and I was swamped with books and life and put it on a shelf where I promptly forgot I had it. When I went to Laura Moriarty at my local indie bookstore, I still didn't remember I had the book and bought myself a hardcover copy to have signed. Which leaves me with an extra copy of the book and you a chance to win a copy. If you live in the U.S., just leave me a comment giving me a women's literature book recommendation by Saturday, July 14 for a chance to win. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Post - Doug Jacobson, Author of The Katyn Order

Please help me welcome Douglas Jacobson to Lit and Life today. Jacobson is the author of Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two (which I reviewed here) and the new novel The Katyn Order, which I'll be reviewing soon. I asked Jacobson to talk about creating believable characters

How to Make Characters Believable

Natalie Jastrow was a stunningly beautiful woman. She was also brilliant and filled with self-confidence to the point of being headstrong. Yet she had trouble with relationships and self-doubts about how she fit into American society. She could be cool and calm under duress, yet had serious lacks of judgment in making critical decisions. When Herman Wouk created this unforgettable heroine of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance he gave us a character we cared about from the very first page of these epic novels until the last. And, because of that, we cared about his story.

That is the fundamental goal for anyone writing fiction - make the readers care about your characters. If they care about your characters,  they will care about your story. So, what is it about characters like Natalie Jastrow, Scarlett O'Hara, Atticus Finch or Jane Eyre that make them so memorable?

It is because they are believable. They are as real as our best friends, our sisters or brothers. They have personality flaws and quirks, they don't always act in a predictable way. They can at times be bold and courageous, and at other times hesitant and filled with self-doubt. Just like we are. They are not supermen....they are real people.

My first book was Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two. After it was released in 2007, many readers contacted me to tell how much they enjoyed the character of Anna Kopernik. It was through her that they experienced and understood the story of Poland in WW2. The ironic thing about that is that she was not even on my mind when I started writing the story. She just evolved along the way and before long she became my dominant character, the person I cared about the most.

When I was writing The Katyn Order I wanted the readers understand what it was like to have everything and everyone you care about be suddenly and brutally torn away. Would you be able to carry on? Would you be filled with hate and a quest for vengeance  And, if you were ever given a chance for redemption, could you rise above your inner demons and seize the moment? Adam Nowak evolved into that character as I wrote the story. Time will tell if he is one of those memorable characters that readers care about.

Thanks, Douglas! I always love to hear about how authors develop their characters and it never ceases to amaze me how many of them happen organically. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Paris In July 2012

When I signed up for Paris In July 2012, I had no idea what I would do for it. I knew I probably wouldn't have time for a book, but since anything French was an option so I turned to my go-to place these days - Pinterest. Type in "Paris" in the search box and you get almost exclusively pictures of the Eiffel Tower which seemed like something of a cliched place to start. But in many of the pictures, there were balloons and that took me straight down memory lane. When I was growing up, there was a program on television called CBS Children's Film Festival, hosted by Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.

Kukla, Fran, and Ollie
With all of the programming available for children these days, there doesn't seem to be anything like it on television any more. The program showed live action films for children from around the world. It was my first real glimpse into life in other places and many of the movies have remained with me for all of these years. The movies dealt with topics including friendship, bullying, racism and bigotry, animal rights and sexism. They were marvelous films and I definitely recommend checking out this site if you have young children.

Of all of the movies that appeared on the series, my favorite was always The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge). Perhaps that's because it was also shown on other telecasts and in my school and I just saw it more. Perhaps it's because it was so cinematically different. Or perhaps it was Paris that stayed in my mind.

The Red Balloon, 1956

The Red Balloon is the story of Pascal who finds, one day on his way to school, an enormous red balloon. This is no ordinary balloon - this balloon seems almost human and patiently waits for Pascal while he's in school, plays keep away, and even torments the teacher who punishes Pascal for having the balloon. When the balloon is destroyed by a group of boys who have been chasing Pascal all over the city, poor Pascal is left standing alone in field, sad to lose his friend. Then, all over the city, balloons begin floating away toward Pascale in the field. When he grabs them into his hands, he is lifted up and the movie  closes with Pascale floating away over Paris.

I found The Red Balloon on YouTube recently and was happy to discover that it has lost none of its charm for me. The movie has a lovely soundtrack, almost no dialogue, and only carefully placed background noises which allow the viewer to really concentrate on the story. Color also plays a big part in the movie. Most of the background and all of the costumes are faded blues, greys, and browns making the colors of the balloons really pop. It made me wonder if Steven Spielberg has seen the movie and was inspired by that when he did Schindler's List.

The part of Paris that the movie is shot in no longer exists - it had fallen into decay and was torn down by the government in the 1960's. Already in 1956 when the movie was made, the decay is obvious but plays a part in bringing a depth to a story that seems so simple on the surface. Pascale's and the balloon's friendship and love are destroyed by a cruel mob but Pascale's goodness is rewarded in the end. Definite religious overtones I never noticed when I watched the movie as a child.

On an altogether lighter tone, here are some other things I noticed about the movie watching it as an adult:

Pascale's clothes are every bit as odd as I remember them being, very European.

There's a scene in a flea market that practically made me drool. Can you imagine the great things you might have found in a Paris flea market in 1956?

Why would so many boys be so eager to get their hands on that balloon only to destroy it? Oh yeah, back to the deeper meaning of the film. But still, why didn't I think that was really strange as a child? Even then it must not have struck me as odd that people could be that mean.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Salon - July 8

Today was supposed to be house cleaning day - instead it's turned into blog cleaning day. I've been struggling lately to have fun blogging - reading enough to be able to post reviews, coming up with content for the days without reviews, keeping up with all of the blogs I follow. Then there's trying to keep up with the conversations on Twitter, posts on Tumblr and my email. I've been thinking about a post Andi, from Estella's Revenge, wrote a few days ago in which she declared her desire to liberate her blog from outside influences.

It may sound silly to anyone who doesn't blog, who sees bloggers getting free books and thinks that nothing could be greater. Don't get me wrong - I love getting free books! Other than picking up used books and books from clearance shelves, I have only rarely purchased a book in the three years I've been blogging. It's great to come home and find another book in the mail and I have gotten a chance to read some wonderful books I might never have discovered otherwise.

Here's the problem - guilt. I get at least three offers for books everyday and every time I turn down a book, I feel guilty. Even when the person pitching the book has clearly not read my review policy or looked at the kind of books I like to read. I feel guilty every time I look at the books I have accepted for review but haven't yet had the time to read. Mostly, I feel guilty because I have hundreds of books that I have paid for sitting on shelves all over my house with very little hope that I will get to them.

So today, I'm taking my first steps toward making my blogging time fun again. First up - cleaning up my feed reader. I have almost 200 blogs on my reader. Even if there isn't a new post on all of them every day, there are well more new posts every day than I can read. I spend a part of every day trying to scan them and save the ones I want to come back to later and comment on. By the time I"m through all of that, though, there's no time left to go visit the posts I saved. Something has to give so today I've unsubscribed to more than 25 blogs, some obsolete, some I don't have a relationship with the blogger, some where we just don't have the same literary tastes. If we are friends and you don't hear from me in a couple of weeks, though, I may have accidentally deleted you. Shoot me an email!

Next up is a new review policy  - one that's going to the top of the page instead of being buried at the bottom. That way, when I get a pitch that doesn't fit what I'll review, I'll know the pitcher never even looked at my blog and I won't feel guilty saying "no" any more. Thank you so much for the offers, I'm delighted to have so many wonderful books to choose from.  But let's be honest, while I'm getting the chance to have a free book, these offers aren't coming to me out of kindness. I need to be able to recognize that it's okay to say "no, thanks," I don't have time to publicize your book right now.

After that, a calendar for the rest of the year. I'm going to schedule all of the books I've accepted for review (after I go through them and make sure I still want to read them) and get myself caught up. I will go into 2013 with a clean slate - and a review book shelf! While I'm scheduling, I'm putting in places for books to be named later. That is to say, what ever I darn well feel like reading.

I always feel better when I've got a plan and I'm feeling lighter already. And I'm looking forward to the next six months!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

A year and a half ago, I took a chance on Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets (my review here) and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually possible to mix a recession, drug dealing and humor in a way that worked really well. I've been looking forward to reading more of Walter's books and was thrilled to see Beautiful Ruins come up as a TLC Book Tour. It probably goes without saying that where I had no expectations for The Financial Lives of the Poets, my expectations for Beautiful Ruins were much higher. It's hard to surprise readers with a second book. We're already expecting a certain level of writing skill, a certain level of storytelling. It's not enough to be a good book; it's got to be at least as good as the last book. Beautiful Ruins is that good and, amazingly, just as surprising as Financial Lives.

In 1962 a beautiful, aspiring American actress shows up in the tiny Italian village of Porto Vergogna to stay at the equally tiny hotel recently inherited by Pasquale Tursi. It's to be a short stop for Dee Moray, while she waits for a friend before heading to Switzerland for treatments for stomach cancer.
"Then she smiled, and in that instant, if such a thing were possible, Pasquale fell in love, and he would remain in love for the rest of his life - not so much with the woman, whom he didn't even know, but with the moment."
Fifty years later, Shane Wheeler is preparing to pitch a movie to producer Micheal Deane. Deane's assistant, Claire Silver is a woman on the edge - to stay with Deane and her wayward boyfriend or cut all ties and move on to a job she's not sure she wants but knows she wants more than what she has. Pat Bender is once again chasing a dream all of the way to Europe while his long-suffering mother is dying of cancer. And Pasquale Tursi is coming to Michael Deane to ask Deane to help him find the woman he can't get out of his mind after all of these years.

The "stars" of Beautiful Ruins are clearly Pasquale and Dee but Walter introduces a large cast of characters that are much more than merely a supporting cast. Walters moves in and out of each person's story, in and out of places and times. It is sometimes confusing, sometimes jarring to leave one person's narrative and move into another decade and narrative. But it works in Walter's hands in a way that it could not have worked in any other way. As the stories began to come together, Beautiful Ruins becomes that book that you'll stay up much too late just to finish.

Authors rarely attempt to do blend comedy into love stories and even less rarely make it work without having it become cutesy. Walter is masterful at it - it feels like real life. After all, don't we all have lives made up of love, laughter and dreams?
"After the funeral, he begged his elderly mother to move to Florence, but the very idea scandalized her, "What kind of wife would I be if I left your father simply because he is dead?"
Jess Walter is the author of five novels, including The Zero, a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, and Citizen Vince, winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. He has been a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and the PEN USA Literary Prize in both fiction and nonfiction. His books have been New York Times, Washington Post, and NPR best books of the year and have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Spokane, Washington

For other thoughts on Beautiful Ruins, check out the full tour. Thanks, TLC Book Tours, for including me on this tour. Now it's time for me to go pick up some of Walter's earlier works.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July!


On the two hundred twenty-sixth birthday of the United States of America, let us all remember that this great country exists because the Second Continental Congress, a group of men with widely diverse opinions and beliefs, were willing to compromise to do what was best for the land they loved. In this time of such divisiveness, let us all remember that the first word in the name of our country is "United."