Friday, February 29, 2008

Review: Carpool Diem

Summary: Annie Fleming's family has adjusted well to her hard driving career. How could they not? Annie keeps her husband, daughter, and babysitter in line with typed, edited, and proofed To-Do and Not-To-Do lists. (No TV on school nights, please!).

But when an obnoxious coworker conspires to force Annie out of her job, she finds herself not only out of work, but face-to-face with a family that isn't quite as well adjusted as she'd thought. For one thing, husband Tim has been traveling more than usual, and he's not always where he says he'll be. Worse, daughter Charlotte is showing little interest in joining the Lightning Bolts—a legendary, elite, work-till-you-drop soccer team run by Winslow West, a man who dreams of the Olympic gold his young charges will someday win for him. How could Annie, undefeated even when unemployed, have a daughter with a quitting attitude? Now, Annie is determined to do whatever it takes to get Charlotte on the A team, but the soccer sidelines turn out to be more cutthroat than the corporate boardroom ever was.

Is it possible Annie's "Plan Hard/Work Hard" credo isn't the key to success after all? - Hachette Book Group USA

When I received a copy of CARPOOL DIEM by Nancy Star, I was very anxious to read it. I know it's wrong to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is just adorable! I think many women will see this book displayed in a book store and buy it strictly for that reason. However, I do think that this story will strike a chord with many moms because we can all relate to craziness of organized sports for kids.

While my 8 year old daughter does not play soccer (we tried when she was 5, but she didn't really enjoy it -- she wanted to play goalie so she didn't have to run, and she was easily distracted by the flowers growing on the field), she did participate in cheerleading for a few years. I'm not going to go into the crazy details, but let's just say that cheerleading is a very big deal in our town. I have to admit that I felt a little like Annie when she started going to the soccer practices -- clueless! I guess that's why I found myself chuckling at what occurred between the coaches and the parents in this book. So much of the competition between the parents and the parents' expectations of their children was very realistic to me (in a very scary way). I think I've now realized our experience and all the bizarre things that happened are pretty much "normal" for kids' activities in today's world!

I liked the idea of a chick lit book aimed at moms that are my age (so many of these books make me feel ancient!) I thought comparing a high profile job to being a soccer mom could make for some very entertaining situations. The book did have lots of funny moments, especially the letters from the soccer coach to the parents. One thing I did appreciate was the development of the relationship between Annie and her daughter Charlotte. For the first half of the book, I found myself disliking Annie because I felt she was so out of touch with her daughter. I realize that the author did this on purpose, but I just felt so bad for Charlotte. I was so glad to see that Annie realized what was important in her life and changed for the better by the end of the book.

I thought Ms. Star did an excellent job of writing a novel that is a satire, yet actually very close to reality. Many people are going to see either themselves or someone they know within the characters of this book. If you are interested in learning more about Ms. Star, you might want to check out this interview with her. She gives insight into why she wrote this novel as well as advice on how to be a successful writer. CARPOOL DIEM is a hilarious book that will certainly resonate with all you soccer (and other sports) moms out there! It will be available to everyone on March 13th.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Down and Out

I mentioned a few days ago that I was feeling a little bit under the weather. That's now a major understatement. I have been basically on the couch or in bed for days! Usually if I were home this much, I would be getting a ton of reading done, but noooooooo....I just space out. I'm feeling a little guilty that I'm abandoning my blog duties too, but I don't really have a choice!

Even though I haven't been reading or writing much, something exciting did happen to me yesterday. I received an e-mail from an author who ran across my blog. Her name is Xujun Eberlein and she wants to send me a copy of her new book APOLOGIES FORTHCOMING. It is a collection of stories centered around China's Cultural Revolution. I know next to nothing about the history of China so I'm hoping that I can learn a lot by reading her book.

After I responded to her e-mail saying that I would love to read and review her book, I started doing a little background research on Ms. Eberlein. She has a interesting website which also features her blog. As I was reading her bio, I found out that she has an amazing background -- she moved to the United States in 1988 from China and received a PhD in Transportation Engineering from M.I.T. in 1995! In 2003, she gave up her job with a high tech firm to become a writer in 2003. Since then, she has won numerous awards for her writing including the 2007 Tartt Fiction Award for APOLOGIES FORTHCOMING! There was absolutely no mention of any of these honors in her e-mail. I jokingly wrote back to Ms. Eberlein and mentioned that if I had her credentials, I would be doing a little more bragging!

It goes without saying that I am extremely flattered that she even asked me to read her book! I am so looking forward to reading APOLOGIES FORTHCOMING, and I will be sure to share my thoughts with you after I receive it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Review: Earthly Pleasures

Summary: Welcome to Heaven. Use your Wishberry to hustle up whatever you want. Have an online chat with God. Visit the attractions such as Retail Rapture, Wrath of God miniature golf and Noctural Theater, where nightly dreams are translated to film.

Your greeter might just be Skye Sebring who advises her newly dead clients on what to expect now that they're expired. "Heaven is like a Corona Beer commercial" she assures her charges. "It's all about contentment."

So different than Earth where chaos reigns. Unfortunately for Skye, she's been chosen to live her first life. She's required to attend Earth 101 classes, which teach all the world's greatest philosophies through five Beatles songs.

Skye has no interest in Earthly pursuits, until lawyer Ryan Blaine briefly becomes her client after a motorcycle accident. Just as they are getting to know each other, he is revived and sent back to Earth.

She follows his life via the TV channel "Earthly Pleasures" but discovers he has a wife as well as a big secret. Why then does he call a show for the lovelorn to talk about the lost love of his life?

In Earthly Pleasures, great love can transcend the dimensions, narrowing the vast difference between Heaven and Earth. - Simon and Schuster press release

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Karen Neches, author of EARTHLY PLEASURES asking if she could send me her latest book to read and review. I don't know about most of you, but I think of authors as celebrities (except way better.) I was so excited, flattered, thrilled, etc. that I celebrated by doing a little dance with my kids.

I had started to read a few things about the book in preparation for receiving it, and I thought it looked like an interesting concept for a book. There are many complementary reviews about it on Amazon as well as from various authors including Megan Crane and Melissa Senate. The book was even selected to be a Booksense Notable for the month of February. I was totally looking forward to reading it; and it's just the type of book I needed right now!

I thought EARTHLY PLEASURES was a very pleasurable read. I don't usually say the word "pleasurable," but reading this book just made feel good! I thought the images of heaven were very creative and at times very funny! I found myself clearly visualizing the author's concept for heaven because her descriptions were so vivid. I loved the overall messages that this book left with me -- love is so very important in our lives, we all have a little voice that can help us (if we just listen), we should always have hope. I think every reader could probably list a few more themes that resonated with them.

One thing that I really appreciated about the book was the Earth 101 classes where the teacher lectured that all of life's lessons can be learned from five Beatles songs -- With a Little Help From My Friends, Help, Do You Want to Know a Secret, Let it Be, and All You Need is Love. The author then creatively wove these lessons and songs throughout the lives of the characters on Earth. I thought it was such a cute theme - and it actually does make a heck of a lot of sense. I have always liked the Beatles, but now I think of them as great philosophers too!

While parts of the book may have been a little predictable, it didn't alter my enjoyment of the book in the slightest. I wanted the book to have a happy ending -- how could a book about heaven not end well? I found myself hoping that many of the characters, even the supporting ones, could find happiness and peace in their lives on Earth.

Karin Gillespie, who wrote this book under the name of Karen Neches, has authored quite a few books in recent years. She is a very active member of the blogging community and is the founder of the Southern author grog A Good Blog is Hard to Find as well as the virtual tour The Girlfriend Circuit. I think it's wonderful that a bunch of authors are coming together and supporting each other's books -- not to mention that their blogs are hilarious.

If you are looking for a light, "pleasurable" read, I suggest checking out EARTHLY PLEASURES!

Also reviewed at:
S.Krishna's Books

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chance to Win $75

Yesterday in the mail, I received a packet of information from Reading Group Choices full of book ideas as well as a survey to complete. Reading Group Guides wants information about your book club, and they are willing to pay $75 for it (if you are the lucky one chosen from all of the survey responses). I had already completed the survey on-line when I was visiting their site a few weeks ago. The survey did take a little bit of time, but most of the questions were relatively easy. All you have to do is click here and answer a few questions. I recommend having a list of your book club selections for 2007 available - it will make answering the survey much easier. You have until March 28th to complete the questions and become eligible to win the $75.

Not that I don't want to win the $75, but I was thrilled to get all of the promotional literature from various publishers (my husband would probably call it junk mail.) I spent quite a lot of time reading through them, visiting their websites and signing up for their newsletters. Most of the literature had book suggestions for book club meetings; and many had brief summaries of the books as well as sample discussion questions. I was amazed by how many of the books I had never heard of. Of course I was busy adding books to my TBR list!

If you are not familiar with Reading Group Choices, you should be. It is an excellent resource for book clubs with author interviews, conversation starters (reading guides to you and me) and recommended books. And another added bonus: there are always a few giveaways going on as well!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Our First Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting

I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to our First Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting. My husband and son have been very sick with flu-like symptons, and I have been feeling terrible with a bad cold. Needless to say, we have major cooties in our household, but I was able to take a few hours yesterday afternoon to meet with my friends and their daughters to discuss SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL by Patricia MacLachlan.

I actually was pleasantly surprised how well the meeting went! We had four moms and four 7 and 8 year old daughters (2nd and 3rd graders.) Earlier this week, my friend and I talked about our expectations for the meeting. We were allowing 1 1/2 hours for the entire meeting -- the first 1/2 hour for a snack and the rest of the time would be to discuss the book and visit with each other. We figured we'd get about 15-20 minutes of discussion from the girls. Much to my surprise, they talked about the book for almost 40 minutes! I'm embarrassed to say that my grown-up book club doesn't always stay on track that long! All of the girls were very outspoken and willing to share their ideas about the book. There were lots of laughs and giggles; and everyone had a terrific time!

Both the girls and the moms really enjoyed reading SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL. None of us had ever read the book before -- I think the moms were all way past grade school when the book was first published. I wasn't sure how to "run" the meeting, but there is quite a bit of information on the internet including discussion questions. I used some of these questions to get the conversation going, but we really just ended up asking the girls our own questions about the book and their feelings. My 8 year old daughter also came up with some questions of her own last night (after we watched the Sarah, Plain and Tall Hallmark movie). I have to brag a little here because I'm so proud of her. Her first question was, "Is there something else you wanted to know in the book that the author didn't tell you?" I think I have a future book club leader in the making!!!

It does say something that all of the girls want to read the sequels to SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL -- SKYLARK and CALEB'S STORY. I have already reserved from the library a copy of SKYLARK for my daughter to read, as well as the Hallmark Movie of the same name.

Our next Mother Daughter Book Club selection is ANNE FRANK: LIFE IN HIDING by Johanna Hurwitz. I remember being fascinated by Anne Frank's story, and I read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK many times. I have not read ANNE FRANK: LIFE IN HIDING yet, but I love that there is a book about her specifically geared to 8 year old girls.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bring on the Challenges!

As many of you know, I am still very new to this whole blogging thing. I now find myself spending hours every day reading blogs about books. One thing that kept popping up on everyone's blogs was reading challenges. At first, I thought I didn't need anything else to pressure me to read. I am what most of my family and friends refer to as a Type A+ personality who makes my own stress (even when something is supposed to be fun or a hobby.) I totally thrive on making lists (for everything) and I love to cross the line items out as I complete them - I'm kind of result oriented. But as I saw more and more of these reading challenges popping up, I thought "what is a reading challenge anyway but making lists of books to read and then crossing them out?" I figure that I'm probably doing this already.

The first challenge that I signed up for was the 100+ Reading Challenge sponsored by J Kaye's Book Blog. It looks pretty easy. Basically, I just keep track of the books I read in 2008. I'm already doing this on my blog here, so count me in!

Then I kind of felt a little guilty because I know I will read 100+ books this year -- is this really a challenge for me? So I signed up for something way out of my comfort zone -- The Novella Challenge hosted by Trish. In summary, I have to read 6 novellas (books between 100 and 250 pages) between April and September 2008. I found a listing of novellas on Barnes and Noble that should get me started. I really haven't read many novellas in my life so I'm sure this challenge will make me branch out.

The final challenge that I found appealing is The Chunkster Challenge. How could I resist a challenge that says "Chunky Isn't Always Bad?" I have to read at least four chunksters (books that are 450+ pages) this year and share reviews on them. I thought this would be fun because I often read the shorter books in my pile first -- back to that results oriented thing. I actually started my first official chunkster a few days ago -- MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION (I think I've already read one or two this year before I signed up for this challenge.)

I think these challenges will be a lot of fun! I'm sure I will meet many new bloggers and learn about many great books. I can't wait to get started!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Review: Jezebel

Summary: There is no woman with a worse reputation than Jezebel, the ancient queen who corrupted a nation and met one of the most gruesome fates in the Bible. Her name alone speaks of sexual decadence and promiscuity. But what if this version of her story, handed down to us through the ages, is merely the one her enemies wanted us to believe? What if Jezebel, far from being a conniving harlot, was, in fact, framed?

In this remarkable new biography, Lesley Hazleton shows exactly how the proud and courageous queen of Israel was vilified and made into the very embodiment of wanton wickedness by her political and religious enemies. Jezebel brings readers back to the source of the biblical story, a rich and dramatic saga featuring evil schemes and underhanded plots, war and treason, false gods and falser humans, and all with the fate of entire nations at stake. At its center are just one woman and one man—the sophisticated Queen Jezebel and the stark prophet Elijah. Their epic and ultimately tragic confrontation pits tolerance against righteousness, pragmatism against divine dictates, and liberalism against conservatism. It is, in other words, the original story of the unholy marriage of sex, politics, and religion, and it ends in one of the most chillingly brutal scenes in the entire Bible.

Here at last is the real story of the rise and fall of this legendary woman—a radically different portrait with startling contemporary resonance in a world mired once again in religious wars. - random house

Some of you might remember that I won JEZEBEL by Lesley Hazleton a few weeks ago from Author Buzz. I had seen the book on a few website and I thought it would be a book that I would enjoy. For whatever reason, I was under the impression that it was a historical fiction book - couldn't tell you why. It's actually a well-researched biography of one of the most infamous women in the bible Jezebel.

Receiving this book in the mail (autographed too!) was so timely for me. I just recently started a bible study about courageous women in the bible. Unfortunately Jezebel isn't included in my study guide - the author must not think she showed courage in her actions. After reading Ms. Hazleton's book, she might have to rethink not including her.

I do have to admit that I do not consider myself to know much about the bible (that's one of the reasons that I'm taking a bible study), but I had heard of Jezebel and knew that she was considered a harlot. Beyond that, I had never read all of Kings (the books of the bible that tell Jezebel's story), and I didn't fully realize Jezebel's actions or even her brutal death. I think Ms. Hazleton did an amazing amount of research for this book and made many good points to support her view that Jezebel was framed.

I found this book to be absolutely fascinating! Whether you agree with Ms. Hazleton's basic premise or not, you will no doubt be impressed by her knowledge of the bible's characters and the times during which they lived. I loved that Ms. Hazleton had visited the Holy Land and her descriptions of the places were so real to me. I find all of the different countries, tribes and wars extremely confusing, but the author did a terrific job of explaining the finer details of them to a person with little Old Testament knowledge.

If you want a change of pace from the typical fiction picks, I highly recommend reading JEZEBEL. It would even make a terrific book club selection, and there is already a reading guide available. There are so many issues to discuss and even some controversial opinions in the book which could definitely spark discussion!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Review: News Blues

TUNE IN: All 27-year-old Maddy Madison wants is a cute guy, a designer handbag and to work at Newsline. What she has is a dead-end job at News 9 San Diego, a psycho boss and a counterfeit Kate Spade. One with a badly glued-on label. Oh, and no guy.

TURN ON: Just when Maddy’s sure her days of producing sensationalistic puff pieces will never end (“Perilous Pets!” “Deadly Dishwashers!” “Clay that Kills!”) she’s offered a promotion. She’s now an investigative producer—and that’s not all; she’s also partnered with the station’s newest photographer: sexy, motorcycle-riding bad boy and former moviemaker Jamie Hayes. But every silver cloud has a stormy lining. Her new job is with News 9’s narcissistic anchor, Terrance Toller; Jamie’s getting married (not to her); and reporting the truth is about as easy as watching your divorced parents get remarried (not to each other).

TAKE OFF: So, how does Maddy get to produce real news, bag her boss and win her man? Stay tuned. It’s the story of a lifetime. - dorchester publishing

Sometime in my internet surfing, I ran across a contest on Dorchester Publishing's website to win an ARC of NEWS BLUES by Marianne Mancusi. A few days later, I received an e-mail telling me that I'd won and a book was on its way. I read a few blurbs about the book and thought it looked like a "fun" read. So I thought, what the heck? -- why not read something a little different than what I'm used to?

NEWS BLUES was actually a hoot! The book was very fast-paced and I found myself wanting to continue reading (even when I had other things to do). I liked the main characters, especially Maddy, her boyfriend Jamie, and her co-worker/best friend Jodi. I enjoyed following Maddy on her "spying" adventures as well as her life's ups and downs (and there were quite a few.)

NEWS BLUES was written by Marianne Mancusi who is a two-time award-winning news producer. It was very evident to me that someone with an insider's view into the TV news business wrote this story. The portions of the story that made fun of the fluff pieces done on local news as well as the egotistical anchorman were very entertaining. I also thought the little chapter breaks -- e-mail messages, letters, notes, etc. -- that Ms. Mancusi used to move the plot were hilarious at times.

I think the book would make a great beach/pool/vacation read, but I just had to settle for reading it during our rainy (yet slightly warm) weather here in Central PA. While the book is for the most part is a very light romance read, there were some issues that made the book a little deeper. For example, Maddy's parents were going through a divorce, her sister was going wild with drugs and guys, and her boyfriend Jamie was engaged to another woman. I liked how the Maddy's character matured as a result of her challenges.

Overall, I'd say that NEWS BLUES is a light, fun read; and since it's only $6.99, it's quite a bargain. The book will be available to everyone on February 26th.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

February 2008 Book Club Meeting

The Preschool Moms Book Club met yesterday afternoon. That was the first time in our 5 1/2 year existence that we didn't meet in the evening. Last week, we were blanketed with snow and ice so we had to postpone our meeting. Most of us were able to meet during the day, so we packed up a few of the kids and met to discuss THE TORTILLA CURTAIN by TC Boyle.

Summary: Topanga Canyon is home to two couples on a collision course. Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community: he a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor. Mexican illegals Candido and America Rincon desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. And from the moment a freak accident brings Candido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding. - penguin group (usa)

We all thought it was a good book for discussion, but none of us was quite willing to go so far to say that we enjoyed the book. I don't mean that in a negative way, but the subject matter (illegal immigrants) was such an unsettling topic that to say we "enjoyed" the book would be difficult. We all thought that the book was extremely well written and handled the issues of immigration in a very thought provoking way. We agreed that Mr. Boyle is a terrific writer and his use of symbolism thoughout the story was very well done. An interview with TC Boyle as well as the reading guide can be found here.

One point of frustration for all of us was the overall problem of illegal immigration. Not to say that we thought we'd find answers to the questions at our little old book club meeting, but a few of us voiced concern that there might not be a "good" answer for everyone involved. That we live in the best country in the world and can't find a solution that benefits everyone (or at least almost everyone) is so depressing. What we all found to be incredible is that this book was written in the mid-1990s and is still incredibly pertinent today. Because we found the topic so exhausting, we tended to start straying from the book (that's not unusual for us anyway -- we're a bunch of moms who don't get out a lot)!

Our March selection is THE DARKEST CHILD by Delores Phillips. Click here for my prior post about this book. I'm sure that this book will generate a lot of discussion as well; and I'm looking forward to our next meeting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review: Names My Sisters Call Me

Summary: Courtney, Nora and Raine Cassel are about as different as three sisters can get. Nora, the oldest, is a typical Type A obsessive who believes there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. She maintains a constantly-updated spreadsheet of slights and alliances, and six years later has not forgiven Raine, their middle sister, for ruining her wedding day.

Raine is Nora’s opposite – wild child, performance artist, follow-your-bliss hippie chick who fled to California after the wedding fiasco. The only thing the two sisters have in common is their ability to drive Courtney, their youngest sister, crazy.

When Courtney’s long time boyfriend proposes, she decides it’s finally time to call a family truce and bring the three sisters together. After all, they’re all grown ups now, right? But it turns out that family ghosts aren’t easily vanquished, and neither are first loves. Reconnecting the sisters also means re-examining every choice Courtney has made in the last six years, right down to the man she’s about to marry. - Hatchette Book Group USA

Once again, 5 Spot comes through with another fun chick lit read called NAMES MY SISTERS CALL ME by Megan Crane. This is the first book that I have read by Ms. Crane, but you might remember her as the author of FRENEMIES -- I just love that title! This book should appeal to many women since it deals with issues that many of us can relate to: first love vs. real love as well as dysfunctional families!

The main character of Courtney is forced to really examine herself and her relationships once she decides to get married. Ms. Crane blended in a lot of humor with the characters of Courtney's two sisters -- Norah (the uptight, serious one) and Raine (the free spirit type). At times, however, the book was rather serious as Courtney delved into her behavior and the motivations for her choices.

There were many times throughout the book where I just wanted to hit Courtney upside the head, especially when she was "remembering" her past with Matt. Courtney was so incredibly lucky to have her patient and loving fiance Lucas ; and she didn't always appreciate him. In the end, Courtney redeemed herself to me and I was happy with her revelations about herself and her relationships. She resolved many of her issues and came to terms with her situation (there isn't always a perfect resolution when it comes to families.)

There is one quote near the end of the book which I felt summed up the book pretty well. "It seemed funny to me that growing up involved so much shedding of selves. And when you least expect it, you tripped over your own ghosts again, because there always seemed to be something else to learn."

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to read this book a few months before its official release; however, NAMES MY SISTERS CALL ME will be available to everyone on April 11th. If you are looking for an enjoyable book that also touches on some deeper issues, I suggest giving this book a chance.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: The Sky's Not Falling!

Summary: In The Sky's NOT Falling! natural resources policy expert Holly Fretwell shows kids 9-12 that it's human ingenuity and adaptability, harnessed to an "environprenuerial" mindset - and not a mindless fear of change - that are most likely to guarantee the Earth a healthy future.

Prof. Fretwell brings genuine educational credentials and practical experience to the environmental debate, giving kids the straight scoop about global warming -- and the potentially devastating human and economic consequences of politically motivated responses to it. - world ahead publishing

When I received THE SKY'S NOT FALLING, WHY IT'S OK TO CHILL ABOUT GLOBAL WARMIING by Holly Fretwell to review, I was a little concerned about the subject matter. I have to admit that I know little, if anything, about global warming. I am embarrassed to say that I have never researched global warming; but if pressed, I would say that it's probably a pretty serious issue. Since I know so little about it though, I was not reading the book with any preconceived notions. I figured a children's book outlining the issue of global warming would most likely be at the right level for me to understand!

For the most part, I found the book very interesting and I did agree with the author on many of her points; however, I'm not sure that my daughter at 8 years old could understand a lot of the explanations. While I do think that the book was geared for young children, I think the higher age range (maybe 11 to 12 years old) would appreciate the book more.

I felt like the author did a very good job supporting her ideas on global warming; but I have to warn you that she is coming at the issue from a very conservative stance. Having said that, I do think that any child interested in the issue of global warming should read this book as well as other books that have arguments supporting its existence. I think the author would basically agree with this premise since she advocates that our children should learn to be critical thinkers - critical as in carefully evaluating the world around them.

One thing I really enjoyed (and I'm sure my 8 year old daughter would love as well) were the Fun Facts which were interspersed throughout the book. I also liked the charts, graphs and pictures that she used to support her arguments. There is a section in the back specifically for parents where the author tells why she wrote this book - "to show readers, young and old, the connection between our freedoms and environmental quality." I also really liked the message at the end of the book for children: "Learn all you can about our amazing planet and the people that live on it. Learn how to think for yourself. Look at the big picture before deciding what you believe and keep and open mind."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Trip to BJs Wholesale Club

Last week, I went to BJs in search of a birthday gift for my friend. Of course, no trip to BJs would be complete for me without visiting the book section so I headed there right away. As I was walking around the tables, I decided that a book might be a good gift since she's a member of my book club and an avid reader. I mean -- what could be better than getting a book, right?

There were three books that immediately caught my eye -- GARDENS OF WATER, THE LIAR'S DIARY, and THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS. I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of GARDENS OF WATER by Alan Drew a few months ago; and I absolutely loved it (click here for my review). I was a little hesitant to purchase either of the other two since I hadn't read them yet, but I still thought they looked terrific. I immediately checked both books out of my local library, and I read them right away. Let me just say that while both of the books were extremely different from each other, they were both very, very good reads. THE LIAR'S DIARY was suspenseful and kept me guessing until the end; and THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAT HEAVEN BEARS was just a wonderful book that was beautifully written.

Bottom Line: Since I had read GARDENS OF WATER and loved it, I went with the "safe" choice and gave her this book. Knowing what I know now, any of the books would have made a wonderful birthday gift. I highly recommend reading all of these books!!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review: Gardens of Water

Summary: Powerful, emotional, and beautifully written, Alan Drew’s stunning first novel brings to life two unforgettable families–one Kurdish, one American–and the sacrifice and love that bind them together.

In a small town outside Istanbul, Sinan Basioglu, a devout Muslim, and his wife, Nilüfer, are preparing for their nine-year-old son’s coming-of-age ceremony. Their headstrong fifteen-year-old daughter, İrem, resents the attention her brother, Ismail, receives from their parents. For her, there was no such festive observance–only the wrapping of her head in a dark scarf and strict rules that keep her hidden away from boys and her friends. But even before the night of the celebration, İrem has started to change, to the dismay of her Kurdish father. What Sinan doesn’t know is that much of her transformation is due to her secret relationship with their neighbor, Dylan, the seventeen-year-old American son of expatriate teachers.

İrem sees Dylan as the gateway to a new life, one that will free her from the confines of conservative Islam. Yet the young man’s presence and Sinan’s growing awareness of their relationship affirms Sinan’s wish to move his family to the safety of his old village, a place where his children would be sheltered from the cosmopolitan temptations of Istanbul, and where, as the civil war in the south wanes, he hopes to raise his children in the Kurdish tradition.

But when a massive earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the Basioglu family is faced with greater challenges. Losing everything, they are forced to forage for themselves, living as refugees in their own country. And their survival becomes dependent on their American neighbors, to whom they are unnervingly indebted. As love develops between İrem and Dylan, Sinan makes a series of increasingly dangerous decisions that push him toward a betrayal that will change everyone’s lives forever. - random house

Every once in awhile I receive and Advance Readers' Copy from Random House. Last October, I was fortunate enough to receive GARDENS OF WATER by Alan Drew. I absolutely loved the book! Recently, I found the e-mail message that I sent to Random House immediately after reading the novel. Here it is:

"When I read your letter describing this novel (and the back cover), I knew it was going to be a book about which I would feel very passionately. I cannot express what an amazing book this is! When I learned that this book was about the aftermath of the 1999 Turkey earthquake, I became even more intrigued. I vividly remember the tragedy because I gave birth to my daughter the day after this horrific event.

I loved this book for so many reasons that I actually hated to finish it. I am absolutely positive that my book club (and many others) will be reading this next year after it's published. I am so anxious to see the discussion questions for this book. There are so many issues to discuss such as religious differences, cultural differences, relationships and loss (on many levels) just to name a few. I like how this book deals with a father/daughter relationship -- usually the parent/child relationship is that of a mother/daughter.

Given the current environment in the world, I think it is so important for Americans to see how they are perceived outside of the United States. I truly believe that the more we can understand about various cultures, the more tolerant we will become. One huge lesson from this book is that a lack of tolerance will lead to much unhappiness and loss. I also want to add that the interview with Mr. Drew in the back of the book really enhanced my reading experience. His insight into the culture, characters, etc. brought the book to a whole, new level! I would love to see more of these types of "conversations" in the back of Random House books."

As I read back over my initial comments on this book, I have to say that it still resonates deeply with me. I would love to have the opportunity for my book club to read and discuss GARDENS OF WATER in the very near future. I have now had a chance to look at the discussion questions, and I think it would be an incredible book to discuss among friends.

Friday, February 15, 2008

March 2008 Book Club Selection

Even though we still haven't had our February book club meeting, my friend made her selection for March. It's THE DARKEST CHILD by Delores Phillips.

Summary: Rozelle Quinn is so fair-skinned that she can pass for white. Yet everyone in her small Georgia town knows. Rozelle's ten children (by ten different daddies) are mostly light, too. They sleep on the floor in her drafty, rickety three-room shack and live in fear of her moods and temper. But they are all vital to her. They occupy the only world she rules and controls. They multiply her power in an otherwise cruel and uncaring universe.

Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but insists that they all love and obey her unquestioningly. Tangy Mae, thirteen, is her brightest but darkest-complected child. Tangy wants desperately to continue with her education. Shockingly, the highest court in the land has just ruled that Negroes may go to school with whites. Her mother, however, has other plans.

Rozelle wants her daughter to work, cleaning houses for whites, like she does, and accompany her to the "Farmhouse," where Rozelle earns extra money bedding men. Tangy Mae, she's decided, is of age. - soho press

I haven't done much research on this book so far except for reading the summary and the discussion questions. I think THE DARKEST CHILD looks fantastic and I can't wait to read it and talk about it with my friends. Please let me know if you have read this book or heard anything about it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Review: The Art of French Kissing

Summary: 30-year-old Emma Adams is in desperate need of a change. Her fiancé just dumped her and she's lost her job at a top record label. So when her old friend Poppy offers her a chance to move to Paris and manage hot international pop star Guillaume Riche, she jumps at the opportunity.
Once in Paris, Poppy is determined to help her get over her ex. And Guillaume is determined to make her job very difficult! In between her clients wild antics (including stripping down at the top of the Eiffel Tower!) and all the blind dates Poppy has lined up, Emma has to deal with the pesky—but cute—reporter trying to ruin Guillaume's career. How will she handle all the pressure—and still master the "art" of French kissing? - hatchette book group usa

I'm on a little Chick Lit reading binge lately. About 10 years ago I couldn't get enought of this type of book about single women; but I have to admit, since I got married and had kids, that I haven't read a lot of them. After reading some in the past few weeks, I have been pleasantly surprised how much better they are now. The latest one that I really enjoyed is THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING by Kristin Harmel.

Ms. Harmel has done a great job of making so many of her characters likeable, especially the main character Emma. After losing what seems like everything -- her fiance, her home, and her job -- she sets off to Paris to visit a friend from college. I found myself a little envious of Emma and her ability to just pick up and jet off to Paris (I never would have had the guts); and I loved how she "found" herself in this amazing city. Many of the supporting characters were also very likeable especially her love interest Gabe. Emma's client Guillaume provided a lot of the humor in the book with his crazy antics. While I felt that the ending was fairly predictable (as well as the relationship between Gabe and Guillaume), it didn't matter one bit to me because it was the ending I was rooting for - I wanted her to end up with her true love.

The descriptions of Paris were wonderful, and now I'm dying to go visit sometime. I could tell that the author (who lived there herself for awhile) definitely believes that Paris is the City of Love. The details were so vivid that I could almost see the quaint bars and restaurants that Emma visited. Ms. Harmel even has a section at the end of the book where she describes "Five Places You Must Visit on Your Next Trip to Paris."

Although I would consider this book to be about finding Monsieur Right, it was a lot more than that too. In the "About the Author" section at the end of the book, Ms. Harmel has wonderful advice for the reader, "You don't need to go to Paris like Emma and me to become a better version of you. You simply need to open your mind, to step out of your comfort zone, and to believe you can do anything you set your mind to." I think that pretty much sums up what this book was really about! THE ART OF FRENCH KISSING will be available on February 25th.

Also reviewed at:
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chance to Win Rhett Butler's People

I am so bummed because I thought I would be reporting out on my Preschool Moms Book Club meeting. We were supposed to meet on Tuesday evening to discuss THE TORTILLA CURTAIN, but we were unfortunately snowed out. I so needed a girls' night out, especially after being snowed in all day with both kids! We are planning on meeting next Tuesday afternoon so I'll let you know how it goes next week. I'm suspecting that we will have quite an interesting discussion since the book touches on the very controversial issue of illegal immigrants.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you a contest that I ran across on St. Martin's Reading Group Gold. They are giving one reader the chance to win up to 15 copies of Donald McCaig's RHETT BUTLER'S PEOPLE for his/her reading group. Click here to enter (note: the contest ends on March 7th.) In addition to this contest, St. Martin's Reading Group Gold is a great resource for bookclubs. Among other things, there are numerous reading guides and opportunities for author chats. There is even a section called Early Access where you can sign up to get free books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Review: Seeing Me Naked

Summary: Elisabeth Page is the daughter of Ben Page, yes, that's right, THE world famous novelist. And yes, she's also the sister of Rascal Page, world famous novelist in his own right. So what does Elisabeth do? Much to her family's disappointment, Elisabeth is a pastry chef. And a pretty damn good one, at Beverly, the hottest restaurant in LA. The last relationship Elisabeth had was with Will, a man she grew up with and whose family ran in the same social circles as her family. But Will's constant jaunts around the world have left her lonely and brokenhearted in L.A.

That is until Daniel Sullivan bids on one of Elisabeth's pastry tutorials at a charity auction. Daniel is everything her family is not: a basketball coach, a non-intellectual, his family doesn't summer on Martha's Vineyard, and the only metaphors he uses are about passing the ball and being a team player. But somehow they fit. Between her family, Will, and the new cooking show that Elisabeth is recruited to star in, Elisabeth's life is suddenly incredibly new and different—the question is, can she embrace being happy or has her family conditioned her to think she's just not good enough? - hatchette book group usa

Last week, I was absolutely thrilled to receive a copy of SEEING ME NAKED by Liza Palmer in the mail. I had seen this book pop up on some websites the past few weeks, and I thought it looked like a book that I would enjoy. I have to admit that I haven't read a lot of Chick Lit books the past few years, but it's only because there are just so many books out there and so little time. After reading SEEING ME NAKED, I now remember why I used to love this type of book.

The early reviews that I had seen were pretty good -- and I have to say that I totally agree. SEEING ME NAKED was a terrific book and I had so much fun reading it. Although it falls into the category of Chick Lit, the book actually has some substance. Ms. Palmer does a great job of developing the main character of Elisabeth - I absolutely loved her and found myself rooting for her throughout the entire story. Many of the supporting characters were also very real to me and likable as well.

There is a great deal of humor in this book, and at times, I found myself laughing out loud. Many of Elisabeth's observations, both about herself and others, were dead-on (and hilarious to boot). I also have to admit that I was touched (and maybe a little emotional) by the final pages of the book. Who doesn't love a book that makes you both laugh and cry?

I wasn't familiar with Liza Palmer or her last book CONVERSATIONS WITH THE FAT GIRL, but I definitely want to read it. I will certainly be including Ms. Palmer on my must-read author list from now on. If you are looking for a book that is highly entertaining, I strongly recommend reading SEEING ME NAKED.

Monday, February 11, 2008

My New Mother Daughter Book Club

Now that my 8 year old daughter has developed an insatiable appetite for books, she has been asking me about starting a Mother Daughter book club. I floated the idea last summer with members of my book club, but there weren't any real-takers (you know how busy everyone is with their kids' activities). I tried again a few weeks ago with some friends, and it looks like we're really going to do it. Right now, we have five pairs of moms and daughters either in 2nd or 3rd grade.

I probably could have surfed some blogs to get book ideas for our group; however, I found some great boxed sets at Costco last summer that I thought were perfect. These boxed sets, based on Shireen Dobson's book THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, are put together by age group - 8+, 9+, and 10+. Each set contains five different books as well as complete discussion guides and suggested book club activities. I also purchased Ms. Dobson's THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB to supplement these boxed sets. (Last year in honor of the book's tenth anniversary, she updated and re-released this book.)

We are going to have our first meeting on February 24th, and I will be sure to let you know how our it goes. Our first selection is the Newberry Medal winner SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL by Patricia MacLachlan. I actually haven't read this book before (I know it's a little embarassing), but I'm really looking forward to it.

I can't begin to tell you how I excited I am to have this opportunity to share my love of reading with my daughter. I think reading these books and hearing her thoughts about them will be an amazing experience.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Win a Gift Basket!

One of my favorite websites is having a terrific giveaway (again.) To celebrate the paperback release of FORGIVE ME, they are giving away a gift basket with a copy of the book, two bottles of South African red wine, two red wine glasses, a cork screw, a wine pourer/bottle stopper, four coasters, a set of wine charms, a disposable digital camera, a photo album and a copy of FODOR’S SOUTH AFRICA. Five runners up will win a paperback copy of FORGIVE ME. I actually read the book months ago when the hardcover came out because I really enjoyed Amanda Eyre Ward's other books (we even read one in my bookclub a few years ago.) FORGIVE ME is the story of an American journalist who returns to South Africa after her last assignment there ended in trajedy. It has many great themes for a bookclub discussion including love, motherhood, and redemption; and the reading guide is a great way to get the talk started. If you would like to enter this contest, please do so before 11:59 pm on February 29th. I really want to win this one, but I'll be a good sport and wish you luck!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

My Daughter's Review: Sophie's World

Summary: Sophie isn't happy. She's convinced that her parents, especially her father, don't love her as much as they love her high-achieving sister; her grades are poor; her classmates think she is weird; and her teachers tell her she daydreams too much (indeed, she does). If Jesus could only help her make just one friend . . . Then Fiona, new to the community, arrives on the scene. She is smart and self-assured, but best of all, she shares Sophie's love of make-believe. Suddenly, Sophie's life doesn't seem so bleak. But, of course, it's not quite that simple, and before long Sophie's doing a little more praying and paying closer attention to following God's plan by finding the best in herself and doing the right thing. Without heavy sermonizing, Rue smoothly works the idea of prayer in daily life into the story of an insecure kid whose problems with parents and "mean girls" have the ring of truth. -

SOPHIE'S WORLD by Nancy Rue is the first book in the Sophie Faithgirlz series. The Faithgirlz series is aimed for girls between the ages of 8 and 12 years old. The series promotes that "as girls of faith we know that our real beauty is inside of us, because we were created in God's image and God didn't make anything that wasn't beautiful." I bought a few of the series for my 8 year old daughter for Christmas. I was hoping that she'd enjoy them, but she actually loves them and can't stop talking about them. So much so that she wants to write a review for my blog.

In the words of Booking Daughter (with a little help from Booking Mama): I enjoyed the book Sophie's World because I really liked the character of Sophie and her story. Sophie became confident after she met her new friends, Fiona and Maggie. She didn't care if she was part of the popular group (the Corn Pops) anymore. Instead, she made new friends and they called themselves The Corn Flakes. I liked how Sophie helped her friend when other people were being mean to her. The book taught me that you don't have to be popular to be happy, that you just have to be nice to be a good friend. I can't wait to keep reading more of the Sophie Faithgirlz books.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Review: Girls in Trucks

Summary: Sarah Walters is a less-than-perfect debutante. She tries hard to follow the time-honored customs of the Charleston Camellia Society, as her mother and grandmother did, standing up straight in cotillion class and attending lectures about all the things that Camellias don't do. (Like ride with boys in pickup trucks.) But Sarah can't quite ignore the barbarism just beneath all that propriety, and as soon as she can she decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she and her fellow displaced Southern friends try to make sense of city sophistication, to understand how much of their training applies to real life, and how much to the strange and rarefied world they've left behind. When life's complications become overwhelming, Sarah returns home to confront with matured eyes the motto "Once a Camellia, always a Camellia"- and to see how much fuller life can be, for good and for ill, among those who know you best. Girls in Trucks introduces an irresistable, sweet, and wise voice that heralds the arrival of an exciting new talent. -

I was so excited to get a package of books this week from Hachette Book Group to review. They all looked really good, but I just had to read GIRLS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch first. I thought the cover was absolutely adorable and it just drew me in. I read the summary of the book and thought it looked like a "cute" chick lit kind of novel. My initial impressions were totally off - this book definitely doesn't fall into what I consider to be a light read. This book is much deeper and more intense than the back cover indicates.

I really enjoyed the first half of the book and actually read it in one sitting. The book begins when Sarah and her friends are at the Cotillion Training School learning how to be "Camellias." Throughout the next few chapers, the book is very entertaining and humorous with tales of Sarah growing up and meeting boys. I thought the author did a great job of developing her character and I really liked Sarah! There were some hints in the early chapters that the book might become more serious, especially the story of Sarah visiting her sister Eloise at college and Sarah's experience with her boyfriend Max.

When I picked up the book for the second time, I thought its entire tone had changed. While I still thought it was a coming of age novel, life for Sarah and her friends was very different after they had moved away from Charleston. There were many serious issues discussed in this book including depression, adultery, cancer, drug use, alcholism, and physical abuse. It was NOT a light, chick lit book anymore! While at times I felt sorry for Sarah and her friends, I found myself a little angry at the characters, especially Sarah since I had been so fond of her. I was frustrated with Sarah because I could see that she had so much to offer someone, yet she didn't like herself enough to be a stable factor in a relationship. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but Sarah did redeem herself to me in the last couple of chapters.

I felt that the author did a good job with the ending. Even though it seemed like she was going to just wrap things up with a tidy bow (and I wouldn't have liked that), she ended with a thought for the reader that things probably weren't going to be perfect, but there is always love. I also believed that Sarah was going to start accepting herself and be a better person.

This was Katie Crouch's first novel and I definitely don't think it will be the last we hear of her. (By the way, Ms. Crouch really was a "Camellia" who grew up in Charleston.) I would love to talk to her and find out how much, if any, of the book is autobiographical. She showed a lot of talent with her writing -- she was able to switch voices very effectively in a few of the chapters -- and she kept the book interesting.

GIRLS IN TRUCKS will be available on April 7, 2008, and is available for pre-orders from most retail book outlets now. I do think it would make a good discussion book for a female bookclub; however, I couldn't find a discussion guide yet.

Also reviewed at:
Everyday I Write the Book

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I Can't Believe My Luck!

I know that I'm a major book geek, but something really exciting happened to me this week. I was surfing around on various book blogs, and I saw that there was a contest on Joshua Henkin's website to win a free copy of his latest book MATRIMONY. I had seen this book featured on various websites (it was also selected as one of the top 100 books by the New York Times), and I knew it was a book that I would enjoy. I entered the contest and found out the next morning from Mr. Henkin that the contest had ended (he said that he needed to update his website); BUT.....he said that he had something else to offer -- he would come to my book club to discuss MATRIMONY!!!! I can not begin to tell you how excited I am. I absolutely love author chats and what could be better than an author chat in person? It's not going to take place until the middle of May, but I'll be sure to let everyone know how it goes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Review: Once in a Promised Land

Summary: They say there was or there wasn't in olden times a story as old as life, as young as this moment, a story that is yours and is mine. Once in a Promised Land is the story of Jassim and Salwa, who left the deserts of their native Jordan for those of Arizona, each chasing mirages of opportunity and freedom. Although the couple live far from Ground Zero, they cannot escape the dust cloud of paranoia settling over the nation. A hydrologist, Jassim believes passionately in his mission to make water accessible to all people, but his work is threatened by an FBI witch hunt for domestic terrorists. A Palestinian now twice displaced, Salwa embraces the American dream. She grapples to put down roots in an unwelcoming climate, becoming pregnant against her husband's wishes. When Jassim kills a teenage boy in a terrible accident and Salwa becomes hopelessly entangled with a shadowy young American, their tenuous lives in exile and their fragile marriage begin to unravel. Once in a Promised Land is a dramatic and achingly honest look at what it means to straddle cultures, to be viewed with suspicion, and to struggle to find safe haven. -

I won a signed copy of ONCE IN A PROMISED LAND by Laila Halaby a few weeks ago, but this book was actually on my TBR list before that! I was very intrigued by the summary of the book, and I had seen the book featured on a couple of my favorite websites. The Washington Post named this book as one of the 100 best fiction books of 2007, and it was also a Notable Book by Book Sense and a Barnes and Noble Great New Writers Selection. I very much enjoyed the book even though it was a difficult and uncomfortable read for me. Having said that, I hope I don't scare anyone away with that comment because the book was definitely a worthwhile read.

At the beginning of the novel, I had a difficult time relating to either of the main characters. I felt as if the husband Jassim was kind of reserved and a little cold. I also felt that his wife Sarwa was shallow and deceitful. Not to say that my initial opinions entirely changed; however, as I continued to read the novel, I began to feel a great deal of compassion for both of them. Even though I didn't always agree with their actions (especially Sarwa's), they both were so misplaced and lost in their lives that I felt sorry for them. A lot of their problems were brought about by lies, deceit, and a general lack of communication, but so much of their world was out of their immediate control.

I found Ms. Halaby's writing style to be very good - at times, her writing seemed almost poetic. I love how she incorporated the theme of water and cleansing/rebirth throughout the novel. I have to give her a tremendous amount of credit for causing me to feel something towards her characters (usually, I'm not the most compassionate reader). I also feel that she has done a tremendous service to the reader by bringing cultural issues as well as prejudices to the surface. Maybe one of the reasons that I felt so uncomfortable reading this book is because I saw the truth in her portrayal of so many Americans following the trajedies of 9/11.

I think this book would make an excellent bookclub choice. I think a discussion of this book would cause a lot of people to examine themselves and their opinions on America and the Mid-east. There are so many human issues to delve into such as adultery, deceit, cultural differences, fear/paranoia, prejudice, etc. There is also a reading guide in the back of the paperback or here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club Book Giveway

One of my new blog friends, Stephanie, has a great blog called The Written Word. Today, she posted a chance to win a free copy of THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB by Kate Jacobs and a Starbucks gift card. Click here for your chance to win!

Review: Have You Found Her

Summary: And every week, there was the unspoken question, the one I didn’t know enough to ask myself : Have you found her yet? The one who reminds you of you? Twenty years after she lived at a homeless shelter for teens, Janice Erlbaum went back to volunteer. Now thirty-four years old and a successful writer, she’d changed her life for the better; now she wanted to help someone else–someone like the girl she’d once been. Then she met Sam. A brilliant nineteen-year-old junkie savant, the product of a horrifically abusive home, Sam had been surviving alone on the streets since she was twelve and was now struggling for sobriety against the adverse health effects of long-term drug abuse. Soon Janice found herself caring deeply for Sam, following her through detoxes and psych wards, halfway houses and hospitals, becoming ever more manically driven to save her from the sickness and sadness leftover from Sam’s terrible past. But just as Janice was on the verge of becoming the girl’s legal guardian, she made a shocking discovery: Sam was sicker than anyone knew, in ways nobody could have imagined. Written with startling candor and immediacy, Have You Found Her is the story of one woman’s quest to save a girl’s life–and the hard truths she learns about herself along the way. -

A few months ago, I received an ARC of HAVE YOU FOUND HER by Janice Erlbaum. I read the book in less than a day and I must admit I was just blown away by her story. There is no other way for me to describe what happens in this book besides -- WOW! This book definitely proves that truth is stranger than fiction. I found that I couldn't put the book down, although at times I felt as if I were waiting for a huge train wreck to occur.

Just as Ms. Erlbaum did in GIRLBOMB, she once again shows that she has the ability to really "tell" a story. I loved her writing style -- it was engaging as well as brutally honest. While I was fascinated/apalled by Sam's story, I really enjoyed seeing the maturation of Janice. I appreciated her honesty about being "conned" by Samantha, but I really loved seeing how she ultimately handled the situation.

This book would be great for any book club. In fact, there is a reading guide available to jump-start your discussion (not that you'll need a lot more than just the book to get conversation rolling). There are so many issues to discuss such as friendship, support, addiction, betrayal, and love. The book will be available as a trade paperback on February 12th.

Also reviewed at:
Leafing Through Life

Monday, February 4, 2008

Review: Girlbomb

Summary: At fifteen, sick of her unbearable and increasingly dangerous home life, Janice Erlbaum walked out of her family’s Brooklyn apartment and didn’t look back. From her first frightening night at a shelter, Janice knew she was in over her head. She was beaten up, shaken down, and nearly stabbed by a pregnant girl. But it was still better than living at home. As Janice slipped further into street life, she nevertheless attended high school, harbored crushes, and even played the lead in the spring musical. She also roamed the streets, clubs, bars, and parks of New York City with her two best girlfriends, on the prowl for hard drugs and boys on skateboards. Together they scored coke at Danceteria, smoked angel dust in East Village squats, commiserated over their crazy mothers, and slept with one another’s boyfriends on a regular basis. A wry, mesmerizing portrait of being underprivileged, underage, and underdressed in 1980s New York City, Girlbomb provides an unflinching look at street life, survival sex, female friendships, and first loves. -

A few months ago, I received a copy of HAVE YOU FOUND HER by Janice Erlbaum, and I thought it was an amazing book (I'll try to review it in the very near future). After reading that book, I just knew that I had to read her first one GIRLBOMB: A Halfway Homeless Memoir. I must admit that I was blown away by this story too. I read the book in two sittings (which isn't easy when you have two kids) because I couldn't put it down. I just had to keep reading because I wanted to know how she managed to "survive" her experience. At 15 (which I still consider a little girl), she left home and was basically on her own living in various homes and shelters. Although she says that she never slept on the streets, she went through more in her first 18 years than most of do in a lifetime.

I think the book affected me even more because Ms. Erlbaum grew up in the 80s - she actually graduated from high school the same year that I did. I was fascinated by her story because it couldn't have been more different than mine. The stories of her friendships, drug use and promiscuity were frightening for me (especially as a mother of a young daughter); however, I did feel better after I finished the book. The reader was left with the positive feeling that Janice was an extremely smart young woman, had realized her weaknesses, and would find her way.

I was very impressed with Ms. Erlbaum's writing style. It was a very readable, honest book about a time in her life that must have been very difficult to write about. She also managed to infuse some humor into a very sad, scary book. I highly suggest GIRLBOMB -- it's a great read and there are a lot of issues to think about and discuss. If you are interested in learning more about Ms. Erlbaum, she also has a very interesting website.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Contest: Valentine's Basket and Book Giveaway

Bookreporter has a great giveaway just in time for Valentine's Day. Five readers will have the chance to win a basket of Valentine goodies along with seven books: BEGINNER'S GREEK, BODY SURFING, FOUR LETTER WORD: Invented Correspondence from the Edge of Modern Romance, LOVE IS A MIX TAPE: Life, and Loss, One Song at a Time, THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE, OTHER PEOPLE'S LOVE LETTERS: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant To See, and SOCRATES IN LOVE: PHILOSOPHY FOR A HOPELESS ROMANTIC. All you have to do is fill out the contest form and answer the question: What character in a book would you want to share a Valentine moment with? Enter to win right way - the contest is only open until Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 11:59 p.m.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Review: Sin in the Second City

Summary: Step into the perfumed parlors of the Everleigh Club, the most famous brothel in American history–and the catalyst for a culture war that rocked the nation. Operating in Chicago’s notorious Levee district at the dawn of the last century, the Club’s proprietors, two aristocratic sisters named Minna and Ada Everleigh, welcomed moguls and actors, senators and athletes, foreign dignitaries and literary icons, into their stately double mansion, where thirty stunning Everleigh “butterflies” awaited their arrival. Courtesans named Doll, Suzy Poon Tang, and Brick Top devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. Whereas lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac.Not everyone appreciated the sisters’ attempts to elevate the industry. Rival Levee madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the Everleighs, including an attempt to frame them for the death of department store heir Marshall Field, Jr. But the sisters’ most daunting foes were the Progressive Era reformers, who sent the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of “white slavery”——the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. This furor shaped America’s sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, including the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.With a cast of characters that includes Jack Johnson, John Barrymore, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Howard Taft, “Hinky Dink” Kenna, and Al Capone, Sin in the Second City is Karen Abbott’s colorful, nuanced portrait of the iconic Everleigh sisters, their world-famous Club, and the perennial clash between our nation’s hedonistic impulses and Puritanical roots. Culminating in a dramatic last stand between brothel keepers and crusading reformers, Sin in the Second City offers a vivid snapshot of America’s journey from Victorian-era propriety to twentieth-century modernity. - and bookjacket

Although I read a lot of books, I usually find myself picking up fiction ones. Occasionally, I want to actually read something that is true and that's what led me to SIN IN THE SECOND CITY by Karen Abbott. I have heard some good things about the book, and I must admit that I thought the premise of the book sounded very interesting -- madams, ministers, playboys and the battle for America's soul. Needless to say, I was not disappointed!

Call me naive, but I had no idea that Chicago's Levee district was such a huge business in the early 1900s. A commission which reported in 1911 claimed that there were no fewer than 1020 brothels in Chicago and at least 5000 full-time prostitutes (that didn't include thousands of streetwalkers or girls who hustled on the side.) I found the major characters in the book to be very interesting -- proving that truth may indeed be stranger than fiction. Minna and Ada Everleigh, the owners of the most famous brothel in American history, were fascinating and very much ahead of their time. I was actually impressed by the background research and marketing they conducted as owners and managers of their exclusive "resort." The stories of the other characters in the Levee district were also quite amusing, especially those involving the Everleigh's competitors. As the story unfolds, the religious and political figures who want to shut down the vice businesses are also quite intriguing. I really enjoyed learning about Chicago in the early 1900s and the games that were played by the different factions involved in the "white slavery" controversy.

I was also very impressed with Ms. Abbott's writing style -- the way the book was factual, yet read like a novel. I think she started out with a wonderful story and colorful characters, but it is obvious that she conducted a great deal of excellent research to make this a very good book. I was touched by the author note at the beginning of the book explaining why she was so interested in this topic. Ms. Abbott's great-grandmother lost her sibling on the way to America from Slovenia and would never discuss it. I imagine she was never the same wondering what happened to her sister. Many of these "lost" girls ended up murdered, raped and in places like the Levee district in Chicago.

There are a lot of issues in this book which will make it an interesting non-fiction selection for bookclubs. The reading guide poses many questions including ones about ethics, morality, religion, sexual change, personal identity, and women's rights. There is also a SIN IN THE SECOND CITY website with more book reviews and information on the characters and Levee district. Once you are there, you will also find how to contact the author and invite her to "visit" with your bookclub. If you are looking for an entertaining non-fiction book which also has some thought-provoking issues, I highly suggest checking out this book.

Also reviewed at:
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore

Friday, February 1, 2008

It's a New Month (and That Means New Contests)

I know it's going to sound weird, but I get very excited the first day of each month. There a quite a few websites out there that run monthly book giveaway contests, and I always spend the morning of the 1st signing up to win free books. Harper Collins has a program called First Look which gives readers the chance to read and review books before they are published. All you have to do to get started, is register! At the beginning of each month, Harper Collins will have a list of books on offer that you can sign up to review. Once you find which books you are interested in, you will be asked to write a few sentences on why you want to read and review this book. Whether you are chosen or not, you will receive an e-mail letting you know at the beginning of the next month. If you get selected, you will be sent an Advance Reader Copy of the book and have about one month to submit your review (via Harper Collins website). Good luck!