Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Perfect Red by Jennie Nash

Perfect Red by Jennie Nash
Published October 2012 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Source: my copy courtesy of the author in exchange for this review

Author's Summary:
It's 1952 in New York City, the height of the Red Scare. When the sheltered secretary of a prominent book editor becomes obsessed with the story of a glamorous French lipstick, she becomes convinced that it was the story she was born to write. To do so, however, she must overcome her belief that surrendering to passion of any kind is dangerous -- especially when she enters into a high stakes game of kiss and tell with the editor’s star author, who is in desperate need of a story and a muse. They fight for the right to tell the tale, and ultimately, for the right of an author to tell their own truth.  

My Thoughts:
Those of you who have been with me for a while will not be in the least surprised to find me reading Jennie Nash's latest book; I have, after all, read four of her other books, including The Threadbare Heart and  The Last Beach Bungalow. Nash writes women in a way that speaks to me and about families that are very real.

In Perfect Red, Nash has gone a new direction, with a young woman as her protagonist and setting her story entirely in the past. I must admit that this took some time for me to adjust to, so accustomed am I to being able to relate to Nash's protagonists. Certainly, though, Nash has not done away with the family dynamic, exploring the relationship between Lucy Lawrence (the secretary) and her parents, looking at the ways children become independent of their  parents and the things they don't know about their parents.

By setting the book in the 1950's. Nash is able explore the changing role of women at that time. Lucy works in an industry which has dominated by men but which was, at that time, beginning to be see women rising to the top including Katharine White (E.B. White's wife and the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine) and Ursula Nordstrom (who oversaw the transformation of children's literature from morality tales to stories designed to appeal to children and edited books by E. B. White, Margaret Wise Brown, Crockett Johnson, and Syd Hoff), both of whom plays roles in Perfect Red. Using Lucy and Perfect Red lipstick, Nash also explores changing mores regarding women's sexuality. This is, after all, the decade that brought us Marilyn Monroe.

Knowing the kind of extensive research that Nash does, brings an extra level of reading pleasure to her books for me. When she writes about Lucy living in a Barbizon hotel, makeup in the 1950's, or the witch hunt for communists, I know I'm getting facts and you know how much I love to learn something new as I read.

Bottom line: I still missed Nash's middle-aged woman and I had some quibbles with plot devices, but Perfect Red chick lit with the relationships readers expect but depth that is unexpected.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
Published July 2006 by Scribner
Source: I bought the audio edition at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Set on the high ground at the heart of Cape Ann, the village of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and "witches." Among the inhabitants of this hamlet are Black Ruth, who dresses as a man and works as a stonemason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of his aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself against all imaginable odds.

My Thoughts:
I know many of you love Diamant's The Red Tent. I didn't. I liked it well enough but I didn't love it and I wanted to know what it was about Diamant that everyone loved so much. I thought maybe if I "read" more of her work, I would understand so I picked up The Last Days of Dogtown when I found the audiobook on sale at the library book sale.

This one started off slow for me...and it stayed that way for 9 CDs. Which, once I got used to it and stopped trying to think of it as a novel, wasn't a bad thing. Diamant has written an unusual book, one which is more a collection of short stories, all centered around the same characters and all in the same setting. Throughout the book, Diamant focuses on one character at a time, using that time to give the reader the background of that particular character but always moving the story forward in time. This actually made the book a good choice for listening to while driving as there are is no particular plot line or twists and turns that can't be missed if you happen to be, oh I don't know, focused on your driving.

Readers on the Barnes & Noble website give this one an average of 3.5 stars. I'd have to agree. The Last Days of Dogtown is a quiet, well-written, well-researched novel about a real village that lacked the emotional attachment I crave in a book.

Remains Of A Dogtown Cellar
Dogtown, on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, was originally known as the Common Settlement and was inhabited by respectable people. It's location offered some distinct advantages but over time, the rocky landscape was largely abandoned, becoming known as Dogtown and inhabited only by widows, prostitutes and outcasts. The reason for the name remains unknown, it may have been that abandoned dogs breed and became feral or it may have been because the inhabitants lived like dogs.

Diamant included in The Last Days of Dogtown some real people and the facts that are known about them including Tammy Younger, who was reputed to be a witch, and Cornelius "Black Neil" Finson, a freed black man who was found living half-dead in a cellar and removed to a poorhouse where he died. Today Dogtown is rumored to be haunted.

In the 1930's, a man named Roger Babson hired unemployed stone cutters to carve inspirational sayings into the rocks along the Dogtown road and to number the stone remains of the homes in the village.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy 200th Anniversay Pride And Prejudice

Stiletto Storytime and author Alyssa Goodnight have teamed up to host a Pride & Prejudice 200th Anniversary Party Hop in honor of, well, the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's masterpiece. Which, as I may have mentioned, once or twice, is my all-time favorite book. It's one of the few books I've read multiple times and each time I find something new to love about it. I am clearly not alone.

In Pride And Prejudice, Jane Austen penned one of the most beloved stories of love, family, society and discovery of self ever written. While the writing style may show the age of the novel, the themes and the characters stand the test of time resulting in:

Numerous Film Adaptations

1940 film starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier
1995 BBC adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth
2005 film starring Keira Knightly and Matthew McFayden    

Hundreds of Book Spinoffs

Quirk Books 2009 Pride And Prejudice And Zombies 
Marvel Comics 5-volume graphic novel set
And an ever expanding number of books exploring the background of the characters, the lives of the characters after Pride and Prejudice, and the lives of the secondary characters.

Amazing Covers Of The Many Editions

 Fantastic Merchandise

And The Neverending Debate - Who Is Your Favorite Mr. Darcy?

Colin Firth

Matthew McFayden

 Thank you, Jane Austen, for bringing so many readers so much happiness for 200 years!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winter's Respite Readathon

A Winter's Respite Read-a-Thon is hosted by Michelle of Seasons of Reading and kicked off yesterday. I'll be working on readalong books (Persuasion and Les Miserables) as well as finishing up Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home. 

I've done fairly well with the readathon. I did get the reading of Persuasion done that I wanted to get done, although I'm still lagging a week behind. I'll try to finish that up today and I'll be done with that readalong. I finished A Land More Kind Than Home (read it, read it, read it) and I've read 175 pages of Les Miserable. I'd call that a successful readathon, even if I'm STILL not caught up with the readalong for Les Mis. Dear god, did Victor Hugo like to go on. Anything you want to know about the Napoleonic wars? I hear that I've got a long section coming up about the sewers of Paris. There's something to look forward to!

Sunday Salon - January 27

Happy Sunday! We've had a lovely break from the cold the past couple of days here and it's done wonders for my continued efforts to try to keep a more positive attitude. This is how well I'm doing - woohoo! we're half way done with winter already (never mind that we still have half of it left)!

I'm shooting to read (and listen to) 80 books this year and so far, I'm on track. Les Miserables is going to slow me down, though. I just cannot read more than about 25-30 pages at a time. If I'm every going to get caught up for the readalong (let alone finish it), I have a feeling skimming will be involved.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To:
In books I'm still listening to, and loving, David Gillham's City of Women. Gillham has managed to find a new angle to tell the story of World War II from which is no easy feat. In music, I'm feeling all of the emotions; I swear I've listened to half of the stations I have on Pandora this week. Yesterday alone I went from Violent Femmes to the Avett Brothers to South Pacific and Beethoven. My new find this week was Ray LaMontagne.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships being held in Omaha this week. I'm disappointed by the size of the crowds, but then I'm not there either. Usually we turn out big for sporting events. Still it's fun to watch.

Charlie Neibergall/AP - Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir

As I mentioned, I'm still chugging along on Les Mis and I need to finish Persuasion. That'll be my week. Next week I think I want to throw something in with Les Mis that's completely different. Maybe time to read Gone Girl?

Potato soup for my mother-in-law. She is in rehab right now and so, so tired of hospital food. It's time for some comfort food. I wish I lived closer so I could bring her food more often.

This week I'm ready to get back to the purging and organizing and I'm getting everyone on board. I don't know how I can keep getting rid of so much and we still have so much. I want to make my life easier.

Grateful for:
All of the quiet time I've had lately. Miss H has been working a lot this past week and The Big Guy has been out of town quite a bit. Much as I love being with my family and my friends, I adore having time to myself. No t.v., lots of music, lots of reading.

My new faux uggs. The Big Guy bought me a pair a week ago and goodness, gracious it's nice to have really warm feet during the winter. I'm not sure I would ever need to own the real thing, though - at half the price these are working quite nicely.

Employers are weird. The other night at Miss H's restaurant a customer punched a waiter in the face. The waiter used an expletive (okay, THE expletive) and was fired. Seriously? The guy just got punched in the face! It's a wonder he didn't punch the customer back. I know you can't have your employees using that kind of language in front of customers but I think an exception should have been made in this case. What do you think?

Looking forward to: Miss H finally getting her driver's license. I'm getting really tired of having to pick her up from work now that she's working longer hours. She's almost ready but we've had so little time to get her out driving recently; when we're home, she's at work. But I'm bound and determined to have her behind the wheel on her own before she turns 18!

What are you reading this week? Do you have any music recommendations for me?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash - Plus A Giveaway

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Published April 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when you get caught spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to—an act that will have repercussions. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. He now knows that a new understanding can bring not only danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance.  

Top Ten Reasons Book Clubs Will Want To Read A Land More Kind Than Home

If your book club decides to take Wiley's suggestion, here is a reading guide from HarperCollins. 

My Thoughts:
A Land More Kind Than Home was all the buzz in the book world last year among bloggers. This can be a turn off for me, as I've said before. I find it hard to believe that one book can be so loved by such a wide range of readers. Eventually I find myself reading most of those books and sometimes I do find that those books just don't work for me in the way they worked for everyone else. A Land More Kind Than Home isn't one of those books. It is a book that I found to be more than deserving of all the accolades it earned. It is a lovely, heartwarming book, that reminded me in tone, somewhat, of To Kill A Mockingbird. From the start Cash pulls you into his Southern tale with an intriguing plot and both unusual characters and the very characters you expect to find in this kind of book. He can do that because Cash has a way of making those characters come alive; there is nothing about his characters that felt stereotypical to me.

I found myself surprised by the tension in the book. I suppose that the mention of "danger and evil" in the publisher's summary should have been a clue and the first chapter tells readers that there is going to be trouble. Even so, I was unprepared for it. Perhaps that's what Cash intended. He builds toward a powerful ending throughout the book but pauses long enough throughout to flesh out the background of his characters and ease up a bit on the running plot line. Cash uses multiple first-person narrative to weave the lives of elderly Adelaide Lyle, Jess Hall and his family, fire and brimstone pastor Carson Chambliss, and Sheriff Clem Baresfield together in a way that made me feel deeply for each of them.

Wiley Cash is right - your book club should read this book. There is so much to discuss: love, guilt, justice, redemption, religion, loss. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour; to read more opinions about this book, check out the full tour. To learn more about Wiley Cash, check out his website, like him on Facebook, or find out what he's thinking about by following him on Twitter.

Now for the good news! I have one copy of A Land More Kind Than Home to give away (sorry, U.S. residents only). To enter, just leave a comment below telling me your favorite novel set in the south. I'll announce the winner on Sunday, January 27th.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Day The World Ends (Poems) by Ethan Coan - A Guest Review

The Day The World Ends (Poems) by Ethan Coen
Published April 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: our copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

It's not that I have no interest in a book of poetry but when the pitch for this book landed in my inbox, I knew it wouldn't be me who would be interested in it, but The Big Guy who "gets" the Coen brothers' movies. Plus it's short and short works for The Big Guy. Strangely, a short book of poetry took longer to read that most other books he's read. Here, at last, are his thoughts.

Publisher's Summary:
From one of the most inventive and celebrated filmmakers of the twentieth century, and co-creator of such classics as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit, a collection of poems that offers humor and insight into an artist who has always pushed the boundaries of his craft. Ethan Coen's screenplays have surprised and delighted international audiences with their hilarious vision and bizarrely profound understanding of human nature. This eccentric genius is revealed again in The Day the World Ends, a remarkable range of poems that are as funny, ribald, provocative, raw, and often touching as the brilliant films that have made the Coen brothers cult legends.

The Big Guy's Thoughts:
I guess my lovely spouse believes I am a bit slow or attention deficit with her comment about my enjoyment of short reading (the latter is true).

I also don't have a strong background in poetry.  I have about 33 hours of undergraduate English literature, but lost my mind when I enrolled in a graduate level Browning and Tennyson poetry class for my first exposure to any type of poetry outside of music.  A bit over my head. 

I also must clarify like many I love a number of the Cohen bros movies especially O'Brother Where Art Thou, Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple and Millers Crossing.  I am probably forgetting a few others.

In the Day the World Ends,  Ethan tears open his soul and provides is yet another view into the wild world of Ethan.  A very interesting read that addresses a large number of topics and ideas.  Some of the poems might be a bit too graphic and a bit degrading to females.  I am guessing he is being playful and really does not have disdain for the fairer sex, but depending upon the condition of the relationships in his life at the time maybe he means it. 

Ethan discusses the female form, growing old, love and death, travel and sheep and much, much more.  It was a fun frolic.  I enjoy having it around and pick it up from time to time to read a poem or two.  I much prefer to read poetry this way rather than trying to sit down and read it from cover to cover.  I noticed it is out on Google for no cost.


Monday, January 21, 2013

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Published October 2011 by Knopf Publishing Group
Source: This one is mine.

Publisher's Summary:
This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony Webster thought he’d left all this behind as he built a life for himself, and by now his marriage and family and career have fallen into an amicable divorce and retirement. But he is then presented with a mysterious legacy that obliges him to reconsider a variety of things he thought he’d understood all along, and to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

My Thoughts:
The literary critics love this book (it won the Man Booker Prize in 2011) and most bloggers did as well. But books the critics love don't always do it for me and there were enough bloggers who didn't care for The Sense of an Ending, that I've been hesitant to pick it up. Still I picked it up when I found a good used copy and when my friend Teri (Quinceberry) raved about it on Twitter, I decided to give it a chance. When I got to the end of the year and I needed one more book to reach my reading goal and only a couple of days to squeeze one in, I figured this title was the perfect book to end the year with. And The Big Guy had picked it up and read it in a couple of days, faster by far than he usually reads a book.
"History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation."
The Sense of an Ending is all about the imperfections of memory. Forty years after college, Tony is called upon to rethink his memories of that time, memories that have formed the basis for his life. Tony has never tried to think too deeply; he is a man who lets things happen to him and, except for once in his life, has tried to life a peaceful life. The legacy he receives causes him to reflect on his life, pondering what he has done, what he thinks he knows, and what he has learned.

Barnes' writing reminds me very much of Ian McEwan's. The Sense of an Ending is a story you almost don't see coming, at first appearing to be little more than one man rethinking his life. And what an ending - whoa, I did not see that coming. It is also a book filled with little yellow sticky notes of passages that made me think.
"Does character develop over time? In novels, of course, it does, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. Our attitudes and opinions change, we develop new habits and eccentricities; but that's something different, more like decoration. Perhaps character resembles intelligence, except that character peaks a little later, between twenty and thirty, say. And, after that, we're just stuck with what we've got. We're on our own. If so, that would explain a lot of lives, wouldn't it? And also - if this isn't too grand a word - our tragedy."
There were times I got frustrated while reading The Sense of an Ending, reading it makes you work and one character in the book just grated me the wrong way. Of course, that is precisely what Barne's intended, as every word of this book was intended, carefully constructed to be both a good story and a great piece of writing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Salon - January 20

Well now, this has been a week. I first heard about the "Panini Generation" while listening to Lian Dolan's "Chaos Chronicles" a few years, that generation which finds itself squeezed between caring for their children and taking care of ailing parents. This past couple of weeks, The Big Guy and I have found ourselves squarely in that press. The saving grace for us is that our children are largely independent. Still, it's not an easy place to find yourself - it's hard to see someone you love failing.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Hallelujah Radio on Pandora while I'm reading in bed; it's lovely, relaxing music to end my day. Hallelujah as in every version of the Leonard Cohen classic ever done plus songs by Jack Johnson, Sarah Lachlan, Elton John, Ben Harper, some new-to-me artists (including Trace Bundy and Eva Cassidy) and Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole. His version of "Somewhere Over The Radio" is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Watching: Nothing. Seriously. The television has been on but I have not been tuned into it at all this week.

Reading: I finished "reading" The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamont on audio but this past week was mostly about balancing two readalongs and A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash (which I will be reviewing this week for TLC Book Tours). I'll start listening to David R. Gillham's City of Women (thanks, JoAnn!) this week and start reading Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls. Oh yeah, I'll also continue to read Persuasion and Les Miserable (I may never catch up enough to join the Twitter Tuesday chats but now that I've started, I'm hell bent to finish this sucker). What are you reading this week?

Making: I'm starting scrapbooks for my mother-in-law this week. She'll be moving soon to a much smaller place and I want to get her pictures and mementos into albums so she can take all of them with her. It's something I'll be doing at home but also along with her. I'm looking forward to the stories doing the albums with her will inspire.

Planning: On spending the day getting my house back in order today. Between overtime and trips out of town, I haven't been home much and it shows.

Grateful for: Do I say this every Sunday? Family. I am blessed to have wonderful in-laws I love and to have families which blend so well and are so supportive of each other.

Loving: Crooked Still which I just discovered, literally, as I was writing this post. Thanks Facebook and Jennie Shortridge for introducing me to new music!

Looking forward to: This afternoon. I know it's not looking forward very far but I've got the afternoon to myself and I'm really looking forward to a quiet house, quiet being a relative term. Given the chance to have the t.v. off and the music I want to hear on, I'm liable to have the music cranked. Always inspires me to get moving and get something done. My only question - CD's, Pandora, or iPod?

Oh, yeah, and the Winter's Respite Readathon this week hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

All In The Family

Mine is a family of readers (including, at long last, Miss H) from our parents to our siblings to our children. I may be the only book blogger in the bunch, but I'm not the only person who makes reading plans for the year. I thought I'd share what other members of my family will be reading in the next few months.

For all of the years I brought Miss H fiction book after fiction book, disappointed in her inability to focus on the story, I was missing the obvious. Fiction is not for Miss H. She is a girl who wants a book she can relate to and that means it needs to have a connection to something real...a true story she has heard about, a musician she loves. Or, in the case of the book she is reading right now, a comedian who makes her laugh without fail. Right now she is thoroughly enjoying Ellen DeGeneres' latest Seriously, I'm Kidding. Up next, I think is Caitlin Moran's Moranthology, a book of Moran's columns that include a lot of subjects I know Miss H be interested in, including Amy Winehouse. Which brings me to the next book Miss H will buy, Mitch Winehouse's biography about his talented daughter, Amy, My Daughter.

Mini-him will be moving on to the fourth book in George R. R. Martin's Game of Throne series, A Storm of Swords: Steel and Ice.  He's always been a guy who likes to read series; the first Harry Potter book came out when he was eight and he read each of those as quickly as they were released. He's recently reread them. He's also a fan of the classics but, for the time being, they're taking a back seat to his imagination

Mini-him's also working on putting together a sci-fi/fantasy book club at the university. I'm not saying it's the only thing that attracted him to his new girlfriend but it certainly didn't hurt that she's also a fan of sci-fi and fantasy books.

Mini-me is currently reading Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions. He read Danielewski's House of Leaves last year and thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of that one. When asked what book/s he'd like for Christmas, Only Revolutions is the only one he would tell me to make sure that he got it. Mini-me has always liked to challenge himself when he reads and enjoys books with an edge. On his bookshelves he's got Chuck Palaniuk and Bret Easton Ellis but also Herman Hesse and Edgar Allen Poe.

The Big Guy just finished The Princess Bride. He's been reading up a storm lately, but mostly out of my piles of books as well as books I've gotten for him to review (he's got three guest reviews coming up in the next few weeks) but what he'll read next is a mystery. He is the one person in the family that doesn't like to think ahead about what he'll be reading, preferring to read as the mood strikes him. He pondered reading Les Miserables with me...until I told him how many pages it is.

My parents have both gotten new books for Christmas (and my dad even got a Kindle!) so I'm looking forward to more guest reviews from them in the coming months. My dad is really enjoying Hellhound On His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt For His Assassin by Hampton Sides which we gave him for Christmas thanks to book blogger recommendations. My mom just finished one of Susan Ella Macneal's Maggie Hope books which were kindly sent to me by Stacy of Life In The Thumb and which I passed on to her knowing she'd enjoy them.

Some time ago, I started a feature called "Mama Shepp's Family Recommends." This year I'm hoping to get that started up again soon so I can pass along recommendations from my aunt and uncle in Rhode Island, The Big Guy's brother and his wife, and my siblings. I'm looking forward to hearing more about what they're reading and enjoying. I hope you'll enjoy it as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
Published November 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
Possibly the only drawback to the bestselling How to Be a Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman. Moranthology is proof that Caitlin can actually be "quite chatty" about many other things, including cultural, social, and political issues that are usually the province of learned professors or hot-shot wonks—and not of a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar and got it stoned. Caitlin ruminates on—and sometimes interviews—subjects as varied as caffeine, Keith Richards, Ghostbusters, Twitter, transsexuals, the welfare state, the royal wedding, Lady Gaga, and her own mortality, to name just a few.

My Thoughts:
Caitlin Moran is a very funny lady. My family probably wishes she were not so funny - they got a bit tired of me reading funny bits to them (if you've ever tried to do this, you'll know that the funny bits are much funnier if you're reading them in full context). She is also self-effacing and completely open, willing to share even her least than stellar moments.
"From the very start, I was a terrible stoner. Not in any sense of being hardcore, and wild, like some crazy-eyed loner on a voyage to Valhalla. I mean literally terrible. Every time I smoked I passed out. I once got so stoned interviewing Radiohead that I had to be put to bed in the bass player's spare bedroom."
I sometimes wondered how Moran kept her job!  Moran shares stories of her hippy upbringing, her married life, her failures (a less than perfect ending to her interview with Paul McCartney, for example) and her successes (she and Gaga are now great buds). Having had a son who was, literally, addicted to the online game "World of Warcraft," I read Moran's piece on it with interest and amusement and being a fan of both BBC's "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey," I loved getting Moran's impressions.

Moran's writing is not limited to humor. Moranthology includes her articles on libraries and the need for public assistance which make great cases for both, bringing a face to the case for funding for both.
"Everything I am is based on this ugly building [the library she spent time in as a child] on it's lonely lawn - lit up during winter darkness; open in the slashing rain - which allowed a girl so poor she didn't even own a purse to come in twice a day and experience actual magic; traveling through time, making contact with the dead - Dorothy Parker, Stella Gibbons, Charlotte Bronte, Spike Milligan.

A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination."
Isn't that just fantastic? If I were a politician looking to make budget cuts reading this, there is no way I could put the library system on the block.

Reader be warned: Moran has very definite opinions about feminism, politics, abortion and she is unapologetic. I found it refreshing and rarely had an argument with her points. I'm sure there are others who will.

Perhaps the best thing about this book for me is that as I was reading it, I kept thinking it was something that Miss H would enjoy. Miss H, my reluctant reader who on her goals for this year actually including reading. I must find books to put in her hands that will encourage her to find a love of books. Moranthology will, I think, help me in this. I can't wait for us to be able to compare our thoughts on some of the columns.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Published January 2009 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought both the paperback and the audiobook

Publisher's Summary:
As Rehana Haque awakes one March morning, she may be forgiven for feeling happy. Today she will throw a party for her son and daughter. In the garden of the house she has built, her roses are blooming; her children are almost grown up; and beyond their doorstep, the city is buzzing with excitement after recent elections. Change is in the air. But none of the guests at Rehana's party can foresee what will happen in the days and months that follow. For this is East Pakistan in 1971, a country on the brink of war. And this family's life is about to change for ever.

My Thoughts:
I first heard of this book years ago on NPR and bought it before I started blogging. Then, like so many books, it never seemed to make it off the bookshelf and into my hands. Recently I was browsing the audiobooks at the library sale and found it on audio; even though I already owned the book, for $2 I picked it up, knowing I would finally be able to find the chance to "read" this one.

What a wonderful decision - Madhur Jaffrey's narration is marvelous, her voice capturing the beauty of the prose perfectly. I was captured by this novel from the first sentence:

"Dear Husband,
I lost our children today."

When Rehana's husband, Iqbal, died, leaving her with limited means, she was powerless to prevent her powerful, childless brother-in-law and his wife from winning custody of them in court. Without money, there is little hope she will ever be able to win them back. Set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh civil war to earn independence from Pakistan, A Golden Age is, at it's core, the story of a mother's love and the length's a mother will go to for her children. It is Rehana's story, a story of sadness, hope, courage, love and sacrifice.

Anam has crafted a story the blends the reality of everyday life with the terror of war (although on an intimate scale; it lacks the grittiness of a true war story) in a way that focuses primarily on the relationships between the characters. The writing made the time, the place, and the characters come alive for me.
"The city slowly adjusted to occupied life. I t adjusted to the stiff-backed soldiers who manned the streets, their uniforms starched, their pale faces grimacing. It adjusted to the tanks sitting fatly in the middle of roads, and to checkpoints where soldier leaned into car windows and barked orders at drivers who held up their hands and shook their heads, protesting their innocence. And it adjusted to the silence, because there were no more speeches, or marches, or processions, just an eerie, still quietness, interrupted twice a day by the wail of the curfew siren; but otherwise all was ghostly, only the rustle of trees and the sizzle of the April sun to draw the line between day and night."
Here's what I knew about Bangladesh going into this book: it is a small country by India. And, when I was very young, my favorite Beatle George Harrison put together a concert for Bangladesh. I was too young to understand why then; by the time I was old enough to understand, Bangladesh was off my radar. A Golden Age gave me a jumping off place to learn more about what drove Harrison to pull together some of the biggest names in music for two Madison Square Garden concerts in 1971. Anam's book is a peek into the war; the reality was, as you would expect, much more horrific. Eight to ten million people fled then East Pakistan into India as the West Pakistani troops escalated the war. Figures for the number of dead vary between 300,000 to three million. All of this followed on the heels of a massive cyclone, torrential rains and floods in 1970 that killed up to a half million people. It's easy to see why Bengali native Ravi Shankar turned to his friend Harrison to help his people. The concerts themselves raised nearly $250,000; sales of the album of the concert raised millions more.

George Harrison performing at The Concert For Bang

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Salon - January 13

Boy am I ready for this week - it means that last week is over! The Big Guy's mother has been in the hospital since last Monday and Mini-me moved this weekend. I'm not sure what this week will bring but at least it's a fresh start. Hope you've all had a good week!

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: I've been releasing my inner rock chick this week, partly because of more car time with Miss H, partly just to relieve stress. Sick Puppies, We Came As Romans, The Used and even some Limp Bizkit on my way home from work the other day. I refuse to worry about what the people in the cars next to me thought about that one!

Watching: A "Live From Daryl's House" marathon on Palladia on Friday. Found some interesting artists that were new to us.

Reading: Persuasion by Jane Austen for a readalong, Jennie Nash's latest Perfect Red, and I might just start Les Miserable this week and try to play catch up on another readalong.

Making: Breakfast for supper. Mini-me moved yesterday and I fed the moving crew pancakes and eggs. I know, I know, it's not the usual moving day meal but I had to. The first time Mini-me's old roommate ever ate dinner with us we had pancakes and for some reason it turned into a big joke between us.

Planning: Stripping down the Christmas decorations and the first of the year always inspire me to do some rearranging and reorganizing and this year is no exception. Some of what I want to do is going to require The Big Guy to move some wiring - that's going to take some major sweet talking!

Grateful for: The support of family and friends this week.

Loving: Special K Cracker Chips. Miss H and I are working on eating better and you get to eat a lot of these little babies for only 110 calories. Plus they taste good, always a key to helping convince me to pay that extra money that diet foods cost.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. I hope that some of the ladies took the time this month to read the book, Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. So much to discuss and I purposely picked something that was quick and not too long.

What are you looking forward to this week? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret Sense by Amy Tan
Published December 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:

Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of Southwestern China, Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses is a tale of American assumptions shaken by Chinese ghosts and broadened with hope. In 1962, five-year-old Olivia meets the half-sister she never knew existed, eighteen-year-old Kwan from China, who sees ghosts with her "yin eyes." Decades later, Olivia describes her complicated relationship with her sister and her failing marriage, as Kwan reveals her story, sweeping the reader into the splendor and violence of mid-nineteenth century China. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, Tan conjures up a story of the inheritance of love, its secrets and senses, its illusions and truths.

My Thoughts:
Years ago, after seeing the movie adaptation, I read Tan's The Joy Luck Club and enjoyed it a lot. I liked the way Tan blended her own American upbringing with her Chinese heritage but for some reason I never picked up another one of her books.  When I was approached about reviewing The Hundred Secret Senses I didn't hesitate to say "yes." And then it sat on my shelf ... for months.

It was a slow start for me but Tan soon wrapped me up in the story largely because of the relationship between Olivia (or as Kwan called her "Libby-ah). Olivia has grown up her whole life embarrassed and irritated by Kwan but Kwan never seems to notice, her love never seems to flag. Kwan's stories about past lives eventually reveal the reason for this but are they just stories or do Olivia and Kwan have ties from the past that can't be broken? Like Olivia, I'm willing to go along for the ride because it's such an interesting ride, particularly once the sisters travel to China. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Salon - January 6

Good morning, all, from sunny and warmer than average Omaha. While 32 degrees might sound cold to many of you, here we are delighted that it is warm enough to melt snow and allow us to go without hats, scarves and gloves for at least a part of everyday. This is life in the midwest in January.

Here's What I'm:

Listening To: Anita Diamont's The Last Days of Dogtown in my vehicle. Two discs in and the jury's still out on this one. On Pandora, it's all Broadway musicals all of the time, prompted by seeing "Les Miserables" on New Year's Eve. Oh lordy, I do love me a play where people burst into song.

Watching: People, we are a mere month away from the end of the football season (and only a few days away from the end of the college football season). I'm watching as many games as I can to build up my football happiness before we head into the long dark months. Yes, I know I have a problem.

Reading: Persuasion for a readalong with Wallace of The Unputdownables. Week one under our belts and can I just say that it's a little startling to be rereading a book and three pages in find yourself utterly confused? For some strange reason, as I started reading, I had in my head the plot of Mansfield Park. Duh. I'm also reading Caitlin Moran's Moranthology. This is one funny lady - I'm quite sure my family's happy this is a relatively short book; I've been reading quite a lot of it to them.

Making: Very little - I've been something of a vegetable since the holidays. Work's been ridiculously busy and when I come home I make the easiest meals I can get away with and do nothing creative whatsoever.

Planning: On getting back into a routine this week. Back to regular work weeks, back to a Christmas decoration-free home, back to regular eating habits (although, hopefully, more healthy habits). I'm actually ready for it.

Grateful for: Sunshine. We've had a lot of gray, cloudy days recently, very unNebraska-like. I need the sun; I'm a happier, more productive person when the sun is shining.

Loving: Clearance sales. I'm stocking up on peppermint mocha creamer, picking up some new things for next Christmas, and finding some great deals on winter clothes just as winter finally hits its stride.

Looking forward to: A delivery from Barnes & Noble this week. I preordered Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls (which the Omaha Bookworms are reading in February). To save $3.99 on shipping, I only had a spend another $8.75 (see, Trish, I do it, too!) so I also ordered Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I'm hoping to get caught up quickly once it arrives to join in a readalong. Yeah, I really am going to try to balance more than one readalong at a time. Notes will  definitely need to be taken!

What are you looking forward to this week?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon

The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon
Published January 2013 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review

Publisher's Summary:
The summer of 1985 changes Reggie’s life. An awkward thirteen-year-old, she finds herself mixed up with the school outcasts. That same summer, a serial killer called Neptune begins kidnapping women. He leaves their severed hands on the police department steps and, five days later, displays their bodies around town. Just when Reggie needs her mother, Vera, the most, Vera’s hand is found on the steps. But after five days, there’s no body and Neptune disappears. Now, twenty-five years later, Reggie is a successful architect who has left her hometown and the horrific memories of that summer behind. But when she gets a call revealing that her mother has been found alive, Reggie must confront the ghosts of her past and find Neptune before he kills again.

My Thoughts:
After having read and enjoyed by Promise Not To Tell and Dismantled by Jennifer McMahon previously, I was happy to have the opportunity to read and review The One I Left Behind. McMahon's previous books kept me engaged throughout and she included twists I never saw coming. The One I Left Behind is no exception.

The books is as much a book about relationships as it is a murder mystery (the relationship between friends, the relationship between family members) as well as a coming-of-age story. McMahon moves the story back and forth in time, from 1985 to 2010, from teenaged Reggie to nearly 40 Reggie who is still struggling to overcome the sorrows and things she's missed in her life. McMahon keeps things taut, moving along and never staying in one place long enough for the reader to forget where they were previously. There are is a lot of foreshadowing that keeps the reader interested and enough red herrings to keep you guessing.

My one quibble with the book is that every character is so flawed. This may be my Pollyanna upbringing coming into play; I always have a hard time believing that every person surrounding a lead character can be so flawed so I try to not let this distract me from stories.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! For other opinions on this book, see list of the full tour.  I don't know about the others on the tour, but I know I'll definitely be reading more of McMahon's writings. They never fail to entertain me - and give me the creepies.

To learn more about Jennifer McMahon, check out  her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reading In 2013

I'm not much one for New Year's resolutions; they never seem to work for me and then, failing them, I feel both guilty and disappointed. That's no kind of way to start the year! I prefer to think in terms of goals - an end point I'm shooting for. While I may not reach the goal and still be a bit disappointed, goals still allow me to look back and see how far along I got striving to reach the goal.

I like to do the same thing with  my reading. Some of my reading goals for 2013 are carry overs from previous years, things I would like to continue trying to improve on or maintain; others will be new for 2013.

1. Read More Non-Fiction: I did a great job with non-fiction in 2011 but kind of lost speed in 2012. In the coming year I'll be trying to read at least one non-fiction book a month.

2. Read Books Set In Other Countries or Translations: I do a pretty good job of reading books from around the world (my love of books set in the Middle East helps) but I'd like to expand my reading to new countries and to read more translations.

3. Join In More Readalongs: It's always fun to be able to discuss a book you're reading with other people and readalongs nudge me to read books I may have been putting off.

4. Listen To More Audio Books: I'm still working on getting audio downloaded to my iPod which will allow me to listen to books while I'm doing other things. Having discovered that my library sale has audio books, I'll continue to listen to books on CD in my car. Speaking of which, do any of you have experience with "Playaway?" I was surprised to open the audio I bought of John Green's Paper Towns and find that it was a self-contained player and not CDs as I had anticipated.

5. Complete My Challenges: I've signed up for a number of challenges but really tried to pick challenges that fit in with my other goals and my reading patterns. I've also signed up for the lowest level of most of the challenges. I suppose this means I haven't really challenged myself by signing up for these challenges but given  my inability to complete all of the challenges I sign up for each year, I still think I'll be racing at the end for 2013 to finish up.

6. Read More Classics: I joined the Classics Club in 2012, essentially committing myself to reading a classic a month. I promptly fell ten books behind. What? I always read a lot of classics. How could that even happen? So, to get myself back on track, I really need to shoot for 22 classics in 2013.

7. Have Fun: Reading was much more relaxed in the fall after I quit accepting so many review books and started reading for me. My number one goal for the coming year is to continue to read what I want, when I want and to enjoy my reading!

How about you? Do you make plans for your reading?