Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Absence So Great

Jane Kirkpatrick's historical novel An Absence So Great has been a glorious read, a return for me to the type of writing I grew up reading.

Set in Wisconsin in the early 1900s, Jessie Gaebele is entering adulthood working for the town's photographer. (While I missed this portion of the story, not realizing there was a book prior to An Absence So Great, this novel can stand on its own). As An Absence So Great begins,Jessie moves to Wisconsin, after she believes she has caused her family shame with the relationship she has had with Mr. Bauer. While assisting at the Bauer Photo Studio, Jessie realizes she has feelings for the owner of the shop, Fred Bauer, who happens to be a married father, much her senior. Her move to Wisconsin allows her the opportunity to pursue her love of photography and get away from the feelings she feels it was wrong to have. However, when her help is no longer needed there, she moves back home and once again runs into Fred Bauer. The two continue to try and deny their feelings for each other, and as time passes Jessie once again leaves her hometown of Winona, MN, to try to make a fresh start. Yet even with Jessie gone from Winona, the feelings she and Fred have for each other don't end, and their story is not over.

Kirkpatrick's novel is based on people in her own family's history and different photographs are sprinkled throughout the novel, helping this book feel as though Jessie's story is indeed fact. This book is a romance, but also a wonderful historical fiction novel, providing a snapshot of life in the midwest during the early 1900s, even detailing the art of photography during that time. I truly loved this story and even though it can stand alone, I will be looking for the first book, A Flickering Light to read of the way in which Jessie and Fred's relationship began.

Click here to purchase this book.

This book was provided by Waterbrook/Multnomah Press.

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick is Promised to Keep by Jane Green. Due out on June 15, 2010.

From the New York Times bestselling author-a momentous new novel about a family suddenly thrown together
Callie Perry is a successful family photographer living in upstate New York. She adores her two daughters, has great friends, and actually doesn't mind that her workaholic husband gets home at 9 p.m. every night-that is, when he's not traveling six months out of the year. Callie's younger sister, Steff, on the other hand, has never grown up. She's a free spirit, living in downtown Manhattan and bouncing between jobs and boyfriends. Lately, she's been working as a vegan chef, even though she can't cook. Lila Grossman is Callie's best friend and has finally met the man of her dreams. Eddie has two wonderful children, but also a drama queen ex-wife who hates Lila. And then there are Callie and Steff's parents, Walter Cutler and Honor Pitman. Divorced for thirty years, they rarely speak to each other. The lives of these colorful characters intersect when they each receive a shocking note that summons them together for one extraordinary summer in Maine and changes their lives forever. This novel is about the hard choices we have to face, about having to be your parents' child long after you've grown up, and about the enduring nature of love.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tillie Lays an Egg

Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Golson was a favorite of mine from last spring. We gave a copy of it as a gift to my nephew who has also fallen in love with Tillie. Just the other day my oldest daughter decided to write about Tillie on her blog, Reading Fever, and was ecstatic to have the author comment. And equally exciting was the hen cam she directed us to. This morning the girls ate breakfast while sitting around the computer so they could watch Tillie and her friends.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Once Was Lost

Yesterday I lucked out. I had to run errands - more specifically, I had to make a trip to Target. Much as I love Target I already know that once I enter that store I am leaving with significantly less money than when I came in. And yesterday was really no different. But, on the way home I decided to stop at the public library nearest to my work. I hardly ever allow myself to go there because they charge fines for overdue books, and I have been fairly spoiled by the different small town libraries I frequent and the fact that they don't charge fines. Once I enter a library, though, I am totally unable to refrain from checking something out. I mean, it's free! And after I spent money at Target, getting a book for free sounds especially lovely.

This library is the biggest in the area, so I was so excited to look over their teen section and see lots and lots of books just calling my name. I tried not to be greedy, and I tried to restrict myself, but I have little control and ended up leaving with seven books to read - all from my mental TBR list. And, since my two youngest daughters were with me and wanted to stay and color for a while, I ended up getting to start one of my new selections right away.

Once Was Lost is the first book I have read by Sara Zarr. I have seen tons of reviews about this book, so I am definitely behind in reading this one. Yet, even with reading all these reviews, it has been such a long time since I read anything about it that I was happily surprised by everything I read.

Sam's dad is a pastor, and it seems that much of her life is defined by her dad's job. Her mother also feels the pressure, and has gone away to an alcoholic treatment facility after receiving a DUI. Sam doesn't want to tell her friends what is going on in her home - mostly because she feels they really can't understand what her life is like. Then, during the hot days of summer, a thirteen year old girl from their church goes missing. Sam questions her faith in God, as the town is caught up in the tragedy. Zarr's resolution to this story is believable - more a real-life ending than a trite, predictable ending that would have diminished the rest of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience with Zarr's work and will be looking for more in the future.
Check out some other reviews:

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Kate White's books have been favorites of mine for a few years. I love a chick lit mystery and her series featuring reporter Bailey Weggins were fun to read and suspenseful - and after a few in the series I really felt as though I knew the characters. This spring White has a new book out, but Hush is a stand-alone mystery, not one in her series.

I liked this book every bit as much as the others by Kate White, and found this book more than a little creepy from time to time. (One night I actually had to stop reading and didn't pick the book up for a few days after I scared myself thinking about the main character finding a dead body lying in bed).

Lake Warren is working in marketing for a fertility clinic in New York City. She has only been at the job for a short time, and her marriage is on the rocks as she now finds herself in a contentious custody battle. Just days after being instructed to live a chaste life by her attorney so her soon-to-be ex doesn't have any additional ammunition to support his custory claim, Lake finds herself leaving the scene of a crime - the doctor at the fertility clinic that Lake just slept with just happened to be murdered while Lake was out on his terrace. Strange things begin to happen to Lake, but instead of talking to the police, Lake keeps everything to herself because of the custody battle, and her unwillingness to admit she was with Dr. Keaton on the night he was murdered. There's a lot going on in this mystery and I will admit I wasn't even trying to determine on my own who committed the crime - I'm never very good at solving mysteries, so this might not be a very good measure of how good a mystery is - but I was a little surprised at the ending.

Hush will not be a book that everyone is talking about, but it is a fun chick lit mystery and one I enjoyed without being overly critical while I was reading. Whether White decides to add on to the Bailey Weggins series or perhaps create a series featuring Lake Warren, I will check in again next spring for White's newest installment.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Up until a few months ago I had never heard of Henrietta Lacks, yet I, along with the rest of the world, have her to thank for many scientific discoveries. Thankfully Rebecca Skloot, who was taking a junior college science course, was curious about where He La cells came from and decided to do some of her own research. What she uncovered was the very interesting story of a woman whose life ended prematurely because of the cervical cancer she suffered from and whose cells were then harvested and continued to replicate for decades to come, offering a wealth of information to scientists who used them for numerous studies.

Henrietta Lacks grew up poor in the 1930s and had her first child at the age of fourteen. By the time she died in 1951 she had five children to care for and had agreed to let doctors use her cells, unbeknownst to her. When her youngest daughter, Deborah, was contacted by Rebecca Skloot, the author, she resisted every attempt at contact. Finally after much persistence on Skloot's part, Deborah began to work with Skloot to trace her mother's history and the history of her cells and the work they had accomplished after 1951.

I had heard a lot about this book, yet wasn't sure if it was going to be one I really enjoyed. I do like memoirs, but this book is only partly the story of Henrietta's life, the other portion being information on the He La cells' history and also historical information about cells, science and research. The ease with which this book reads and the smoot transitions between the parts about Henrietta's life and the scientific information make this book readable by a wide audience. This is also going to be a book I gift to my father-in-law (whose birthday I missed this past week), a biology professor, who will find Lacks' story interesting in an entirely different way than I did based on his vast scientific knowledge.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Cool Is This?

This picture shows President Obama visiting my favorite Indie book store, Prairie Lights Book Store in Iowa City, Iowa. While there the President purchased Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotsen and the Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell for his daughters along with a Star Wars book for his press secretary's son.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mid-Week Library Loot

Usually I am a weekend library visitor. I enjoy my visits, but do note that it is a busy place on the weekends. It always feels a bit more relaxing when I can get to the library during the week. Tonight my older daughters were busy seeing Shawn Johnson, the Olympic gymnast, speak, and I was left with only my youngest daughter. What to do? Well, not clean, even though I should have opted for that. Instead I headed out for the library since I had an email that they had a book on hold for me.

This is what I picked up:

Heist Society by Ally Carter

Cookie by Jacqueline Wilson

Secrets at Camp Nokomis: a Rebecca Mystery by Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson

The Trouble With Mark Hopper by Elissa Brent Weissman

Here Burns My Candle

I have never read any of Liz Curtis Higgs' work before, but have seen her name floating around the internet for a while now, and have seen Here Burns My Candle on many Waiting on Wednesday posts these past few months. I am excited to be a part of the blog tour for this book, having received my copy from WaterBrook/Multnomah Press.

Here Burns My Candle is set in Scotland during the eighteenth century, sharing the story of the Kerr family - struggling with many things during these times. Lady Elisabeth Kerr was born a Highlander, but married a Lowlander, something that her mother -in-law is not very happy about, especially when the Jacobite Rebellion occurs. Everyone in Elisabeth's family is keeping secrets- Elisabeth is secretly keeping track of the moon's cycles and following her auld ways. Her husband Donald, although in love with his wife, is unable to stop his roving ways and is the subject of much gossip. And, Elisabeth's mother in law, Marjory, hides her money and has her own regrets. This story is also full of forgiveness and faith as Lady Elisabeth and Lady Marjory find ways to connect to each other.
Higgs' novel is authentic in its use of dialect and other descriptions of Scottish life during that time period. The different secrets that each character keep interested me and as the novel progressed I was drawn in to finding out how each was resolved. This is a definite must read for historical fiction lovers, and I will concur with the other bloggers' rave reviews.

Click here to purchase this book from Random House.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jane In Bloom

Deborah Lytton's Jane In Bloom is a middle grade novel that deals with loss and love and has Iowa Childrens Choice Book written all over it. There are just some books that as you are reading you can see how wonderful the lessons are that are written into the story, and how important these stories are for kids to read.

Jane has always been in awe of her older sister Lizzie. Lizzie has so much going for her- she is smart and beautiful and the sisters don't seem to base their relationship on sibling rivalry, but really enjoy each other's company. In addition to Lizzie being nearly perfect, she also suffers from an eating disorder. While her parents may be aware of the fact that Lizzie has a problem, things at home seem very rigid - everyone trying their best to adhere to the preconceived ideas they have about what a perfect family is supposed to be like. Lizzie's death from her eating disorder changes the family forever. While everyone in the family has great difficulty moving on, each grieves in their own way.

This book was so touching to me and so full of life lessons about loving and losing someone as well as the different ways everyone handles their own emotions. This is Lytton's first novel; I so enjoyed her voice that I hope there are more to come.
Visit Deborah Lytton's website.

Waiting on Wednesday

I loved The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books and now Ann Brashares has an adult novel coming out.
My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares - available on June 1, 2010

Below is an excerpt from Brashares' website:

"Well. It's a strange thing," I explained. "With each birth your body starts out fresh and mostly blank, but then you print yourself on it over time. You hold onto old experiences: injuries, injustices, and great love affairs, too." I glanced up at Sophia. "And you hold them in your joints and your organs and wear them on your skin.""You do." She was giving me that same look of indulgence, but it was less confident."We all do.""Because we live again and again?""Most of us.""Not all of us?" Her indulgence showed more signs of genuinely wanting to know."Some live only once. Some a very few times. And some just go on and on and on.""Why?"I put my head back on my pillow. "That is hard to explain. I'm not sure I really know.""And you?""I've lived many times.""And you remember them?""Yes. That's where I'm different than most people.""I'll say. And what about me?" She looked like she wasn't going to believe the answer, but slightly feared it anyway."You've also lived many times. But your memory is just average.""Clearly." She laughed. "Have you known me for all of them?""I've tried. But no, not all.""And why can't I remember?""You can more than you think. Those memories are in there somewhere. You act on them in ways you don't realized. They determine how you respond to people, the things you love and the things you fear. A lot of our irrational behavior would look more rational if you could see it in the context of your whole long life."It was amazing the things I was will to tell her if she was willing to listen, and she was. I touched the hem of her sleeve. "I know enough about you to know you love horses and you probably dream about them. You probably dream of the desert sometimes and maybe taking a bath outdoors. Your nightmares are usually about fire. You have problems with your voice and your throat sometimes--that was always your weak spot . . ."Her face was rapt. "Why?""You were strangled a long time ago."Her alarm was a mix of real and pretend. "By whom?""Your husband.""Awful. Why did I marry him?""You didn't have a choice.""And you knew this man?""He was my brother.""Long dead, I hope.""Yes, but bearing a grudge through history, I fear."I could see by her face, she was trying to figure out where to put all of this. "Are you a psychic?" she asked.I smiled and shook my head. "Although most psychics, if they are any good, do have some memory of old lives. And so do most of the people we consider insane. An asylum is about the densest concentration of people with partial memory you will ever find. They get flashes and visions, but usually not in the right order."She looked at me sympathetically, wondering if that's where I belonged. "Is that what you do?""No. I remember everything."
And from Amazon:
Daniel has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl. Life after life, crossing continents and dynasties, he and Sophia (despite her changing name and form) have been drawn together-and he remembers it all. Daniel has "the memory", the ability to recall past lives and recognize souls of those he's previously known. It is a gift and a curse. For all the times that he and Sophia have been drawn together throughout history, they have also been torn painfully, fatally, apart. A love always too short. Interwoven through Sophia and Daniel's unfolding present day relationship are glimpses of their expansive history together. From 552 Asia Minor to 1918 England and 1972 Virginia, the two souls share a long and sometimes torturous path of seeking each other time and time again. But just when young Sophia (now "Lucy" in the present) finally begins to awaken to the secret of their shared past, to understand the true reason for the strength of their attraction, the mysterious force that has always torn them apart reappears. Ultimately, they must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are ever to spend a lifetime together. A magical, suspenseful, heartbreaking story of true love, My Name is Memory proves the power and endurance of a union that was meant to be.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's On My Nightstand

I have never taken part of What's On Your Nightstand? hosted by 5 Minutes for Books. I certainly have plenty of things in my numerous TBR piles, but here's what I have plans of reading soon!
Currently am reading:
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (I am almost finished and am totally loving it!)
Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton (middle grade novel - fast, so I hope I can finish it tonight).
Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs- I am going to finish this one up, too, since I am on the blog tour for this title.
What's Up Next: Even though I have bought a ton of books that are just waiting for me, I have to look at my library pile. Coming up on the top of that stack:
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
I wish that my TBR pile wasn't so overwhelming - it sort of takes some of the pleasure out of reading. I love to read, but I would also love to relax a bit more while doing it. My pile of ARCs is getting bigger as is my own stack of stuff and the library books take up a pretty good chunk of space as well. This should be easy to solve since I am the one in control of all of the above, yet it is impossible for me to say no to a book - I would much rather have it in my stack with the opportunity to read it than let it go to someone else.
The weather is beautiful today, so I am hoping for some relaxation time to sit around and read later this evening.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Purple Heart

I have read several war memoirs in recent years, and one young adult book (that I can remember) about a soldier returning from Iraq, dealing with an injury (Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams), but up until now I had not read a book set in Iraq aimed at teen readers.

I absolutely love Patricia McCormick's book, Purple Heart.

The soldiers in Iraq seem like real people - the type of guys I went to high school with who might have enlisted in a war. Matt decides to enlist because he has grown up with a single mother and there is no money for college. His choice to join the army will allow his sister, who is a scholar, to attend college. While he develops friendships with the guys in his unit, he also attempts to maintain a relationship with a girl back home. Reading her letters about the stress of a biology quiz it was easy to see how little their lives had in common - one of them was worried about grown-up things, while the other was still living a carefree life.

When Ali, a Iraqi orphan, is killed in gunfire that Matt is a part of, Matt has to do a lot of thinking and remembering, despite how hard it is. Much of Matt's memory of this event has been forgotten - and he tries desperately to recover these memories to uncover what really happened to Ali. However, even when Matt thinks he knows the truth, there is more to the story.

McCormick's book is able to show the realities of war, the fear that many soldiers face, the struggle to serve their country, and the camaraderie that develops among soldiers.

Highly recommended for young adult readers, a great book for girls or guys - very enticing to the reluctant male reader.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Break Has Come and Gone

Spring Break is officially over - tomorrow we are back to the real world. I started spring break out strong- cleaning the refrigerator and vacuuming out the car, but as the week unfolded, I didn't really do much more spring cleaning. I felt busy running my kids to and from school, doing some errands, and just being at home. I did managed to connect with some neighbor gals for coffee one morning - something I usually miss out on. On Wednesday the girls, my mom, and I took a day trip to the Mall of America. I did read a few books, but not anywhere near what I had hoped. The weather this week was fairly nice - and maybe too much of a taste of summer for me to be very excited about going back to school. I am busy working on Liz Curtis Higgs new book, Here Burns My Candle, that I am reviewing for Multnomah Press this week. I also have several other books I have started and need to finish up, so if I am lucky this week I should have a few reviews to post.
I still have lesson plans to write tonight, books to read, and girls to put to bed. I am hoping not to fall asleep while reading and to be able to jump out of bed when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Privileges

I had so meant to get a lot of books read during my spring break this past week. My oldest daughters had school so I knew I would be having a little time to be by myself, yet my break is almost over and I have read only a few books on the TBR pile!

I started Jonathan Dee's book The Privileges early in the week. I had a lot of starts and stops early on making it hard for me to get into it. To make matters worse, this is one book that had a lot of words on each and every page! Finally yesterday I had a bit of time to sit and read for an extended period and was hooked. I tried to finish it up last night, but fell asleep while reading.

What the book is about: Cynthia and Adam are the golden couple. Married young, the two amass wealth beyond compare and lead a charmed life. Their children are beautiful, they travel extensively and have anything money can buy. Years pass, and while their children grow up, the wealth their parents have doesn't prevent them from experiencing their own suffering. This isn't a story with some suspenseful plot, but rather the story about the Morey family and their lives as they unfold throughout the years. While their wealth and lack of scruples don't make them particularly well-liked, they do seem human and real.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week's pick is the second in a mystery series by Linda Castillo.

Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo will be released on June 22, 2010

The product description from Amazon:

In the quiet town of Painters Mill, an Amish family of seven has been found brutally murdered on their farm. Chief of Police Kate Burkholder and her small force have few clues, no motive, and no suspect. Formerly Amish herself, Kate is no stranger to secrets, but she can’t get her mind around the senseless brutality of the crime. State agent John Tomasseti arrives on the scene to assist. He and Kate worked together on a previous case during which they began a tentative relationship, but each is wary of commitment. The disturbing details of this case will push them to their limits and force them to face demons from their own troubled pasts. When Kate discovers a diary, she realizes a haunting personal connection to the case. One of the teenage daughters may have been leading a lurid double life. As the case develops, Kate’s list of suspects grows. Who is the attractive stranger that stole the heart of the innocent young Amish girl? Did her estranged brother—a man with a violent past who was shunned by his family and the Amish community—come back to seek out revenge? Driven by her own scarred past, Kate swears she’ll find the killer and bring him to justice—even if it means putting herself in the line of fire. Topping her own bestselling debut, Linda Castillo once again immerses readers in the world of the Amish with a chilling story that is both a fast-paced thriller and compelling psychological puzzle.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are and a Give-away

This book review is a bit of a departure from the books I generally pick to read. Actually, I have several inspirational/self help books waiting for me as we speak, but this book was received from Multnomah Press as a part of a blog tour, and that has helped me to place it as a priority in my TBR pile.

Although directed at teens, Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are by Alex and Brett Harris is inspirational and practical, and could be easily adapted for adults. This is the follow-up book to the the Harris brothers' first book, Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. Within this second installment, Alex and Brett give detailed explanations and descriptions of ways to give glory to God. Their focus is on helping each individual find a way to contribute positively in this world - all while serving our Lord. While it may be your dream to help build a school in Sudan, in reality, small things such as setting the table without being asked may be one way to start doing hard things. Not all hard things have to be big, there are many small ways each of us can help every day. And, if the chance arises to help with a big hard thing, there is yet another way to serve God.

Things I liked about this book:
- this book is Scripture-based. The Harris' share the way they understand their role as Rebelutionaries, and provide Scripture to back it up.
-The vignettes in this book share real life experiences of other teen-agers, providing motivation and inspiration.
-the Appendix providing a list of 100 different hard things - giving some suggestions for those still unsure of how to make an impact.

While this is not my typical book pick, I am going to be recommending it to my minister to use with our church youth group. It definitely would give teenagers something to think about and discuss as they search for ways to incorporate their faith in their everyday lives.

I have one extra copy of Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are by Alex and Brett Harris to give away to one lucky person. Leave a comment and email address on this post by Sunday, March 21 at midnight to enter.

Steinbeck's Ghost

"The books he;d read and loved seemed to jump out at him, as if waiting for him. The Teddy Bear Habit, Henry and Ribsy, The Chocolate War, M.C. Higgins The Great, Bridge to Terabithia, Tuck Everlasting, Homer Price. Oh, Something Wicked This Way Comes - funny to find that one now. On and on. Every book he recognized opened up the world of that book to him. These weren't stacks of paper bound together with glue or string - they weren't items or products. Every book was an entire universe." (26)

Travis and his family have moved to a new housing development now that his parents have better jobs and are making more money. They also don't visit the public library anymore, despite spending every Saturday there for years. One day Travis decides to go back and visit the library- a place he discovers he has a great love for. When he finds out that the library may be closing due to a lack of money, Travis decides to step up and try and help save the library. Along the way, he continues his love affair with books, especially John Steinbeck's work. Steinbeck's home was in Salinas, and the public library is named after him as well. So, when book characters start appearing in Travis' life, he investigates a little bit further.
Buzbee states throughout the book the importance of reading and the influence it has:

"That night in his bedroom, in the attic of a perfectly ordinary home, Oster cracked open The Grapes of Wrath and read the first sentence: To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."
"It's hard to say how a quiet moment like that can have so much impact on one's life, Oster said, the silent reading of a few bits of prose. But such moments- at least Oster liked to believe - can change your entire life. You just have to be ready." (150).

I wish I had read more of Steinbeck prior to reading Steinbeck's Ghost, and it is obvious the author is well-versed on Steinbeck and other childrens literature.
I absolutely loved this book - a bit of suspense, a bit of fantasy, and a lot about the importance of reading and libraries. It seems like the well-known books are seen on numerous blogs, and this book is one I have never heard of, flying under the radar, yet deserving of some publicity. I'm already looking forward to Buzbee's next book, The Haunting of Charles Dickens, due out in October.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"She and Adam joked all the time about the social purgatory to which they had condemned themselves by having kids so young: some of their old friends were still hooking up in bars and setting up Hamptons shares, while people who actually lived the same sort of domesticated life the Moreys lived tended to be a dozen years older, boring as hell, and too covetous of their youth to befriend them in any case. They'd go to some school function and after a couple of drinks all the middle aged Wall Street husbands would be macking on hers; she thought it was hilarious and Adam did too, and then the next day their fat-ass wives would make a point of not talking to her, as if that was supposed to be some sort of punishment." (48-49).

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
I'm not very far into this one, but I am enjoying it so far, and hoping to get it read today because I can lounge around a bit more since it is spring break.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Brava, Valentine

I love Adriana Trigiani's books. I have read every single one of her books and each time I go away happy with my experience. Sure, there are some stories I love more than others, but the writing is always something I enjoy reading.

Trigiani has created another group of characters with her Valentine trilogy (Brava, Valentine, the second book was just published). This second installment picks up where the first left off. Valentine is still working for the family shoe company. The only difference is that now her eighty year old grandmother has married and moved to Italy leaving Valentine on her own, with the help of her brother, Alfred, who Valentine has had a contentious relationship with for years. Valentine also is working through her status as a single thirty four year old woman - perhaps hiding behind her work, or perhaps needing nothing more than that. When an opportunity for love arises, Valentine has to examine her own beliefs and look inside herself. The same characters that make up the first Valentine book, Very Valentine, are a part of this one - ex-boyfriend, Bret, Gram, Valentines sisters, her brother and their families, and her friend, Gabriel to name just a few. I love it when there is a familiarity with characters as a series continues. Trigiani is also known for the Italian flair each of her books contain - and this book opens with Gram's wedding in Italy, and continues following a big and loud Italian American family. Valentine shows us that even a person who is grown is constantly learning about themselves, life, relationships, love - she is easy to identify with.

I am always amazed at the number of people I talk to who have never read Trigiani's work. I look forward to her books months before they come out and feel like she is a must-read for anyone who enjoys women's fiction.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Lit by Mary Karr is a memoir- the author's third. This one deals mostly with Karr's adult life- her marriage and relationship with her family as well as her quest to become published and other aspects of her professional life. In previous years I had read Karr's other memoirs and enjoyed them. However, despite having read other work about her life, I never really felt as though Karr was repeating herself. Part of that is probably due to the span of time in between when each of her books was read, but Karr's writing is so good, it would be hard not to want to keep reading her work. Unlike many of the memoirs being published today, Karr is a writer. She began her career by writing poetry and the way she strings words together into sentences displays a talent for writing much greater than most of the memoirists out there.

This is the type of book that I continued to note while I was reading it how much I should be appreciating it and the quality writing it contained. And while Karr's writing is wonderful, I didn't just love this book. Karr's battle with alcoholism and her strained relationship with her family was interesting, yet I never felt like I cared about the author very much, despite everything she went through. I know I am most likely in the minority; reviews have praised this book and I have heard a few good things through word of mouth, too. So, if anyone else wants to offer an opinion, I would love to hear it.

Library Loot

Yesterday I worked at the library and then stopped at another public library to return books. Every time I do this I feel great that I have cleaned out my stack of books. Unfortunately, the area where I keep my library books doesn't look cleaned up for long. I came home yesterday with just as many books as I took back.

Here's this week's loot:

Adult Books:
Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
Hush by Kate White

Young Adult Books:
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli
Fat Cat by Robin Brande

Middle Grade Books:
Jane in Bloom by Deborah Lytton
Discovering Pig Magic by Julie Crabtree
Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick
Lifting the Sky by Mackie d'Arge
War Games by Audrey Couloumbis and Akila Couloumbis

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Map of the Known World

Last summer I read a number of reviews about A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell and I have had it on my mental list of a book to keep my eye on, ever since.

Lucky for me I found it at the public library a few weeks ago. Since it has been months since I read any review of this book, I didn't have a lot of preconceived ideas about this book before reading.

Cora is beginning high school, dreading the stares she will receive as the sister of the boy (her brother Nate) who was killed in a car accident less than a year before. While she has one good friend, Rachel, they seem to be growing apart as Rachel is ready to focus on high school fun - likes boys and fashion- and doesn't quite know how to help her friend who is grieving. Cora's home life seems to be unraveling, too, as her parents are consumed by their grief over losing Nate. They establish many rules for Cora, not allowing her to have any real freedom because they are so deparate not to lose their one remaining child. Cora ends up finding solace in her art, and when Damian, her brother's best friend (who also happens to have been in the car accident that killed Nate) shows Cora the artwork he and Nate created in secret, Cora realizes there was so much about her brother she never knew.

I liked this book for a lot of reasons. I liked how Cora's parents' grief seemed real, that it showed how profoundly the loss of a child affects parents. I liked Cora's voice in this book, the way she tells the story. And I liked her maturity and the relationship she finds with Damian. While this book doesn't tie everything up in a neat little bow, it does give resolution to some things and provides an ending that is full of possibility and hope.

Visit Lisa Ann Sandell's website here.
Check out other reviews:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Healing Hearts

Healing Hearts: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon by Kathy E. Magliato, MD, is an interesting account of a life spent working on a complex and vital organ, saving lives, and the way women are accepted in the medical field.

Kathy Magliato is a female heart surgeon, sharing different anecdotes about her life both at work and at home. Readers learn of her childhood in New York where she learned the value of hard work, her years as a resident and medical student, and later as a wife and mother. Magliato serves as a role model for other women entering the medical field and aspire to roles typically held by men. She advises women that "having it all" is possible. This memoir is educational and interesting - I learned a great deal about the heart, heart disease, and enjoyed the personal stories that were included.

As a memoir-lover, this book was great. I have read a few other medical memoirs written by surgeons, and no matter how many different ones I read, I am always fascinated by the science and the different strange but true stories that are included. However, I will admit to a very poor ability to read about blood and gore, and the memoir I read that was written by a neurosurgeon was far easier for me to stomach than this one. I began reading this book while running on the treadmill and quickly realized I should not read this one unless I was sitting down and not worried about passing out. The very vivid description Magliato provided about how patients are cut open for heart surgery and the sternum opened up was just a bit too vivid for me. I did really like this book, especially the way Magliato writes about her life, allowing us to see her as a real person - someone I could easily be friends with.

Click here to visit Kathy Magliato's website.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week my pick is
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: Family, Friends and Faith in Small Town Alaska by Heather Lende
Several years ago I read Lende's first memoir, If You Lived Here I'd Know Your Name about her life in small-town Alaska and absolutely loved it. My husband also read it and thought it was great. I think he talked about moving to Alaska for a while after that, even.
Lende's newest book is due out on May 18, 2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Little Piano Girl

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend by Ann Ingalls and Maryann Macdonald and illustrated by Giselle Potter is just the type of picture book biography I like best. I always enjoy reading about an important person who had been unknown to me. Having never herad of Mary Lou Williams I was interested immediately in her story and learning about her talent. This biography focuses on Mary Lou's musical ability, and would be most useable in a lower elementary setting since many details about her life are left out. Students will enjoy the illustrations and will be able to identify with this story since Williams is depicted as a child in this biography. Racism and the role of women in society at the time are touched on and also provide a springboard for further research or discussion. This is a great selection for people looking for a biography on a lesser known person in history.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"And with the phonebook-sized stack of papers on my lap still unmarked, I - once more, with feeling - take the pledge to quit drinking. Cross my heart. Pinky swear to myself. This is it, I say, the last night I sit here. (171)"

Lit by Mary Karr
I'm enjoying this memoir - having read one of Karr's previous books. Look for my review later this week.


TMI, or too much information, is something that I often think many people suffer from. Things that would have been considered private a few decades ago are shared with anyone and everyone. While sometimes it might be nice to know that other people have experienced things similar to you, there are times when it is truly tmi. I don't need to know the intimate details of someone's childbirth experience or their problem with yeast infections (both of these things have been described to me in minute detail by people I am friendly with, but not friends with). It is just TMI.
Becca is sixteen in Sarah Quigley's novel, TMI, and she suffers from offering up too much information. She finds it hard not to share everything she knows with anyone. At first her sharing seems harmless (although I did find it rather annoying), but Becca does realize that she doesn't have many friends and she knows that perhaps this is a result of her oversharing. When high school classmates start teasing her about some of her revelations, Becca decides to turn over a new leaf and keep her mouth shut. Becca does a good job of not giving too much information - amazing since her friend, Jai, has confessed he is gay and she is the only one who knows. Since Becca needs some outlet for her sharing, she begins a blog aptly named Too Much Information. Becca, like many people, believes that her blog is anonymous because she is never revealing her true identity and is stunned when someone at school makes a reference to something she only wrote about on her blog. Now Becca has a lot to answer for and feels horrible for the hurt and embarrassment she has heaped on herself, her friends, and family.

Luckily Becca is a likeable character because sometimes I felt that she was quite irritating. The message of the book is also a good one - as I teach groups of elementary children about internet use it is obvious they have given only a little thought to their privacy on the world wide web. Because Becca's friends are so mature and forgiving and her family so supportive Becca is able to carry on with her head held high, having matured from her experience.
At first I thought this book was going to be just fluff, but despite Becca's problem with oversharing, she is a good character with a bit more depth than I first thought to be the case. And as members of the information age, a book about sharing information on the internet is relevant to our lives today.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Home Front to the Vietnam War

When I signed up for the War Through the Generations challenge focusing on the Vietnam War I knew that I already owned several books that would qualify for the challenge. One book, Waiting Wives by Donna Moreau, I picked up a few years ago and came across when I was looking for a new book to read while I was running on the treadmill. Donna Moreau grew up during the Vietnam War and spent part of her childhood on Schilling Manor, an army base in Salina, KS, that had been closed for a brief time, and then re-opened as a home to military wives waiting for their husbands' return from the Vietnam War. Schilling Manor is the only such base to have existed and the women and children who lived there had a unique perspective on history.

In this book Moreau features the lives of three waiting wives: Lorrayne, who was responsible for organizing the wives of Schilling Manor and was one of the first wives to take up residence there; Bonnie, the wife of Bruce, a soldier missing in action, and mother to three children; and Beverly, Donna's own mother. Other women and their stories are a part of the book, but Lorrayne, Beverly and Bonnie's stories are the main focus. Moreau's account of the womens' friendships and worry about their husbands well-being is not so different from what I envision for today's military wives. The politics of the Vietnam War is not focused on so much - more importance is placed on the relationships among the women. Bonnie's role as the wife of a soldier who is MIA places her in the position of taking an active part in finding information about her husband and other MIA soldiers. Moreau is able to recall her own time spent at Schilling Manor - despite the worry her mother and other women experienced, life for a teenage girl was still about finding a boyfriend, stealing cigarettes from her mother (this was the 1970s) and being fairly self-absorbed. At one point, her father had to call her from Vietnam to discuss her behavior with her - a big deal for that time period.

This book was very interesting to me - I liked learning more about the women who were a part of the Schilling Manor Waiting Wives club. Written like a memoir, it was easy to read and gave a good deal of background about the Vietnam War. Because I read this over a span of time, only allowing myself to read this book while running on the treadmill, I did find the changing time periods hard to follow. Because the chapters are not read chronologically I had to make myself pay attention at when certain events were happening.

Schilling Manor was closed after the Vietnam War, its last role as a base for women and children. Those women and children who called this place home for a brief time are a small portion of the population, experiencing something no other military family before or after was privy to. Prior to reading this book I did not know of the existence of Schilling Manor or its role in the Vietnam War, either.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Wife's Tale

This week has flown by in a flurry in some ways, and dragged on in others. As usual I just didn't have nearly enough time to read. I worked on Dan Chaon's book, Await Your Reply for several days, never loving it the entire time. I would read each day waiting for some big aha moment, but my lack of interest and eventual skimming caused me to miss some important things - at least I hope that is why I still have a few questions after I was done reading.

Finally by Friday I started The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens, a book I had been waiting for. I have enjoyed Lansens' previous novels, and was not disappointed in The Wife's Tale at all. Lansens' characters in this book are so multi-faceted - real people - that I could feel myself finding something to like in each character she created, no matter their other faults. Mary Gooch, obese wife, married to Jim Gooch for twenty five years has just been going through the motions in her life. While she has always had a weight problem, except for a brief time when she had a parasite, Mary's weight continues to go up and up and up. Married young to a kind, and remarkably good looking man who has his own childhood demons he is fleeing, Jim Gooch and Mary have a hard time communicating with each other, yet remain together. On the eve of their silver wedding anniversary, Jim leaves for work but does not return home. This act finally causes Mary to wake up and helps her embark on an adventure she would never have had otherwise. Setting off to find Jim, Mary ends up finding herself and making new friends. Learning more of the backstory to Jim and Mary's marriage and childhood, I was rooting for them to find each other again. Mary still loved her husband, yet had neglected to show him or tell him, so much of her ineptitude tied up in her weight issues. And, despite the fact that most husbands who run off without telling their wives or making any form of contact would not rate very high in my book, Jim Gooch was also someone I was rooting for. I felt the entire time that Jim was a good guy, someone who had married too young and never had the chance to realize his dream, who needed Mary to make him feel as though he mattered, and who continually tried to do his best in a marriage that was not necessarily a match made in heaven. This could have been a book about a woman suffering the loss of her husband and losing weight to give her a fresh start. Mary does lose weight, but I enjoyed the fact that this was written about in a way that didn't seem predictable or the entire focus of Mary's new beginning. What Mary encountered inside of herself had more to do with her weight loss than a diet of deprivation and craving food could have accomplished.

I am sad I have finished this book. I would love to check in on Mary in a year or two, to see where her life has led her and how she has managed to go on. The Wife's Tale is a great women's fiction selection - I am betting many book clubs will enjoy discussing this title in the future.
Other reviews:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week's pick: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok,l which will be released on April 29. I have seen this one a few times on the internet and even have it waiting in my cart on Amazon.
Amazon's production description:
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life-like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family's future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition-Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles. Through Kimberly's story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about. Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Never Smile at a Monkey*

Never Smile at a Monkey *and 17 Other Important Things to Remember by Steve Jenkins is a great non-fiction animal book focusing on things that shouldn't be done around various wild animals. For example, it's a bad idea to harass a hippo or antagonize an African buffalo or swim with a squid. Each page's white background features an animal illustrated with collage art and accompanying text explaining why a certain behavior isn't a good idea. At book's end there is a more detailed explanation about the animal and behavior they may find upsetting. I have seen this format now many times, and rather enjoy the additional information that is given for those readers who are able to handle a more in-depth version.

My oldest daughter was quite happy reading this book last night, fascinated by the different interesting facts she was picking up. I think this will be a title most kids will enjoy - for the illustrations, animal information, and the interesting tidbits each page provides.
Visit Steve Jenkins' website.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

"The thought of going to school today makes me want to throw up, but I'm not sure that I have much choice, especially since I missed school last week. I don't know how I'm going to face Jai, not to mention Jamie, Lance, Josh, Evan, Matt, and God knows who else has found my blog and the stuff I wrote." (228) from TMI by Sarah Quigley

I'm not very far in this book yet, but already I can tell that Becca's mouth is going to get her in trouble; she just doesn't know when to stop talking!

Monday, March 1, 2010


I have never read any of Sandra Brown's work before, despite the fact that she seems to release a new book a few times a year. Her books are mysteries, and while I do read mysteries from time to time, that is not the type of book I would instantly pick up. Rainwater is a departure from the mystery genre. Set during the Depression, Rainwater is a beautiful historical fiction novel - one I started yesterday afternoon and finished before bed.

Ella is a single mother caring for her autistic son Solly. While autism is not diagnosed during this time period, his characteristics make his disorder easy to identify for readers today. To make money Ella runs a boarding house, cooking, cleaning and providing a room to several boarders. When Dr. Kincaid approaches her about taking in a relative of his, David Rainwater, she agrees, despite the fact that Mr. Rainwater has terminal cancer. Mr. Rainwater is different than other men she has known, and eventually Ella finds herself attracted to him. He works patiently with her son, finding some skill that Solly has with numbers. He also becomes involved in the community, trying to stop a group of thugs from their bullying of the colored and poor people living in shantytowns. Brown creates a beautiful love story, allowing the reader to know early on that tragedy is waiting. She does not disappoint, but to say more would give away the ending.

Rainwater is a book I could recommend to people of all ages and interests - easily readable, very enjoyable, and highly recommended.

Library Loot

I had to work at the library this weekend, and I stopped at another library later that same day. Visiting the library is a recipe for disaster for me. No matter how many books I already have waiting in my TBR pile, I can always find a few more good ones to read.
Here is this week's library loot:

Adult Books:
Too Much Money by Dominick Dunne
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
The Poker Bride by Christopher Corbett
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Summer House by Nancy Thayer
Devotion by Dani Shapiro

Childrens and YA Books:
Mudville by Kurtis Scaletta
Forever Rose by Hilary McKay
Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma