Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Review: Family Tree

Summary: When a white couple gives birth to a baby with distinctly black features, a family is thrown into turmoil. Hugh Clarke, born into a pedigreed New England family that can trace its roots to the Mayflower, devotes his professional life to championing minorities but is blindsided by his daughter's color. He urges his wife Dana, whose heritage is unknown, to start digging for answers. Dana adores her baby and resents her husband's demands. Unearthing her family's past raises issues for her that go well beyond that of her daughter's racial mix.

Hugh's father, Eaton Clarke, a renowned writer, anxiously awaits the results of Dana's search. Eaton is weeks away from releasing a book based on his well-documented family tree, and will be discredited as an historian if the very foundation of his book is undermined. To make matters worse, his wife, Dorothy, is taking an uncharacteristically independent stand with regard to their newest granddaughter.

Family Tree delves into issues of trust, honesty, privilege, and identity. It debates the way we define ourselves, and explores the duplicity of political correctness and personal prejudice. --

I was very excited when a member of my book club scored an author chat with Barbara Delinsky, author of FAMILY TREE. (I'll be posting about the author chat later this week.) I thought I'd wait until the last minute to read this book so I'd be fresh for our discussion with Ms. Delinsksy, but then I found myself not reading it quite as quickly as I had intended. While I enjoyed FAMILY TREE, I didn't love it; and I actually liked a more recent book THE SECRET BETWEEN US better. I thought the premise of the book sounded wonderful, but for some reason the book didn't live up to my expectations -- maybe I was just expecting too much.

There was a lot going on in the book with all of the various subplots. I didn't quite understand the reasoning for having so many sub-plots, especially the one with Dana's grandmother and her husband's death. It seemed to me as if some of the stories could eventually be entire books of their own. I also found the ending of the book kind of predictable. I knew (as did many of my book club friends) from the first few pages of the book where the baby's African American blood came from.

What I did really enjoy about this book was Dana and her grandmother's interest in knitting. I read on Barbara Delinsky's website that she also has a passion for knitting that developed as a child. I just love the idea of escaping to a local knitting store for therapy (meeting with good friends and gaining an overall peace of mind.) I think it's wonderful that Ms. Delinksy has designed a Family Tree Collection with Berroco yarns; and I look forward to seeing the patterns named after the characters in the book.

I don't want to come across as not enjoying this book because I did -- I just didn't love it. Having said that I do think it will make a very good discussion book for a book club. There are a lot of controversial issues that might generate some very interesting discussion; and there is also a reading group guide to help steer you in the right direction. FAMILY TREE is coming out in mass market paperback on June 24th, so you will soon be seeing it everywhere. I'm sure it will be discounted from the $7.99 price at the wholesale clubs as well as some major retailers. That actually makes it a great bargain for an enjoyable summer read.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: The Uncommon Reader

Summary: A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading. When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, Bennett describes the Queen’s transformation as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word. With the poignant and mischievous wit of The History Boys, England’s best loved author revels in the power of literature to change even the most uncommon reader’s life. -- macmillan

I can safely say that I probably would not have picked up THE UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett if I hadn't signed up for The Novella Challenge. I haven't read a lot of novellas in the past, so I thought this challenge would expand my horizons and it definitely has. I am so glad that I found this book -- it is absolutely hilarious while also being extremely insightful about the love of books. Plus, you get a good "bang for your buck" since it's very enjoyable while taking only a short time to read.

I think anyone who has a love of the written word will appreciate this book. The reader follows the Queen of England as she discovers reading books for pleasure. I found myself laughing quite a few times as the Queen gets caught up in her books and eventually finds her daily responsibilities getting in the way of her reading time. I certainly understand those feelings as I'm sure most avid readers do! What I also found funny was when the Queen was offering reading suggestions to everyone she met (it is especially entertaining when she keeps offering the Prime Minister books about the Middle East.) My friends will vouch that I am always giving telling them books that they "just have to read."

I found Mr. Bennett's writing style to be wonderful. The prose was very eloquent while also being very funny. So much of what Mr. Bennett said about reading was spot on with my own feelings -- of course, I could never voice them near as well. For example, "What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do." Here's another wonderful quote, "I think of literature, she wrote, as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up." What a beautiful way to say that there are too many books and too little time!

I highly suggest THE UNCOMMON READER for pure reading entertainment. I think every book lover will recognize some elements of themselves in this book. I loved the story and Mr. Bennett's writing; however, I think the main reason that I enjoyed it so much was that I felt like my feelings about books and reading were somewhat validated -- I'm not alone in my craziness for books!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Still Life With Husband

Summary: Meet Emily Ross, thirty years old, married to her college sweetheart, and personal advocate for cake at breakfast time.

Meet Emily's husband, Kevin, a sweet technical writer with a passion for small appliances and a teary weakness for Little Women.

Enter David, a sexy young reporter with longish, floppy hair and the kind of face Emily feel the weird impulse to lick.

In this captivating novel of marriage and friendship, Lauren Fox explores the baffling human heart and the dangers of getting what you wish for. -- vintage contemporaries

When STILL LIFE WITH HUSBAND by Lauren Fox arrived in the mail, my husband (who usually doesn't keep up with what I read) skimmed the back cover and the accompanying promotional materials and didn't think he liked the premise of the story. It's about a woman who gets bored in her marriage to her college sweetheart and decides to cheat on him. You see, we were college sweethearts; and I guess he didn't see how a book about infidelity could be humorous and entertaining. I had my doubts as well, but I did find the book very readable; and I found myself not wanting to put it down.

I hesitated to label this post with the term "chick lit" because I'm not quite sure that STILL LIFE qualifies as this genre. While parts of the story are definitely light and funny, I actually think that the story and the characters are a little deeper than most chick lit books. The book was written from Emily's point of view; and while I can't say that I agreed with much of Emily's behavior throughout the novel, I still found myself laughing at her take on her life.

My favorite part of this book was the friendship between Emily and her best friend Meg. I absolutely adored the character of Meg, and I thought the way she supported Emily was so amazing. Even though she was dealing with her own difficulties, she was still able to be there for Emily rather than wallowing in her own disappointments. I think Emily summed up Meg best with this quote in the book, "The choices I make about me may be apocalyptic, but my taste in best friends is impeccable."

STILL LIFE WITH HUSBANDS is Lauren Fox's first novel; however, I have no doubt that we will be hearing a lot more of her in the future. I think she is an incredibly gifted writer, and the reviews of this book and her writing are very positive! I would love to have the opportunity to talk with her, but I did find a terrific interview with her that answered many of my questions.

I think this book will make an excellent discussion book for your book club. Emily's actions throughout the story will generate a lot of heated debate (at least it would in my book club.) I just wanted to yell at her so many times and tell her to stop being so selfish! I was actually very impressed with how Ms. Fox chose to end this book (and a little bit surprised.) For me, Emily's actions at the end of this book are what makes this book a step above most other women's fiction and ultimately make this book very discussable. There is a reading guide for this book available here.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Celestial Seasonings' Book Club Names a New Book

A few months ago, I blogged about Adventure at Every Turn, a Celestial Seasonings Book Club here. Two of my passions are drinking tea and reading books, so it was a sure thing that I would be joining this book club and following their selections. Just a few days ago, I received an e-mail announcing their new book. This time it's POMEGRANATE SOUP by Marsha Mehran. I wasn't familiar with this book; but after reading the summary, I think I'll be adding it to my ever-increasing TBR pile.

Summary: Beneath the holy mountain Croagh Patrick, in damp and lovely County Mayo, sits the small, sheltered village of Ballinacroagh. To the exotic Aminpour sisters, Ireland looks like a much-needed safe haven. It has been seven years since Marjan Aminpour fled Iran with her younger sisters, Bahar and Layla, and she hopes that in Ballinacroagh, a land of “crazed sheep and dizzying roads,” they might finally find a home.

From the kitchen of an old pastry shop on Main Mall, the sisters set about creating a Persian oasis. Soon sensuous wafts of cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron float through the streets–an exotic aroma that announces the opening of the Babylon Café, and a shock to a town that generally subsists on boiled cabbage and Guinness served at the local tavern. And it is an affront to the senses of Ballinacroagh’s uncrowned king, Thomas McGuire. After trying to buy the old pastry shop for years and failing, Thomas is enraged to find it occupied–and by foreigners, no less.

But the mysterious, spicy fragrances work their magic on the townsfolk, and soon, business is booming. Marjan is thrilled with the demand for her red lentil soup, abgusht stew, and rosewater baklava–and with the transformation in her sisters. Young Layla finds first love, and even tense, haunted Bahar seems to be less nervous.

And in the stand-up-comedian-turned-priest Father Fergal Mahoney, the gentle, lonely widow Estelle Delmonico, and the headstrong hairdresser Fiona Athey, the sisters find a merry band of supporters against the close-minded opposition of less welcoming villagers stuck in their ways. But the idyll is soon broken when the past rushes back to threaten the Amnipours once more, and the lives they left behind in revolution-era Iran bleed into the present.

Infused with the textures and scents, trials and triumph,s of two distinct cultures, Pomegranate Soup is an infectious novel of magical realism. This richly detailed story, highlighted with delicious recipes, is a delectable journey into the heart of Persian cooking and Irish living. - random house

Let me know if this book looks interesting to you or if you've already read it! I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Review: Mr. Fooster Traveling on a Whim

Summary: Mr. Fooster seems like your average fellow, albeit one who travels with an old bottle of bubble soap. One Tuesday morning, however, he takes us into a rich and vivid world unlike any we've seen before—a world where questioning your assumptions can set you free. Heading out the door with no particular place to go, Mr. Fooster is led by his boundless curiosity to reflect on questions like why is it you never see baby pigeons, and who figured out how to eat artichokes? Mr. Fooster shows us that pondering the little things in life can be a reward unto itself.

The pairing of Tom Corwin's lyrical prose and Craig Frazier's enchanting illustrations create a world where believing is seeing. MR. FOOSTER TRAVELING ON A WHIM is the perfect gift book for anyone looking to escape the rigid confines of reality. Take a vacation you’ll never forget and explore a realm of wonders and possibilities with Mr. Fooster. -- random house

MR. FOOSTER TRAVELING ON A WHIM, written by Tom Corwin and illustrated by Craig Frazier, is a very quick, enjoyable read. It is extremely short, a little over 100 pages; and half of those pages are illustrations (in fact, the cover of the book says that it is a "visual novel.") I thoroughly enjoyed the story of a man taking a very unique journey and realizing that you should always keep an open mind to truly appreciate life.

I especially love the messages in this book about living your life to the fullest and appreciating every moment. I think how the author presented these ideas is extremely creative and very special. The story is part fable - part dream - part magical - and part mythical which should appeal to a wide variety of people. I'm not sure that my 8 1/2 year old would fully understand the deeper meaning of the story, but I think that this book definitely would be enjoyed by children as well as adults.

I thought Craig Frazier's illustrations in this book were amazing; and they definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the story. I actually read the book twice because I felt that I didn't really appreciate the illustrations the first time through. To get a sneak peak of the drawings as well as a sneak peek of the first couple of chapters, check out the Mr. Fooster website.

MR. FOOSTER TRAVELING ON A WHIM is a delightful book with a wonderful message about life. I think it would make a wonderful gift for a graduate (if it's not coming out too late.) It will be available to everyone on June 17th.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Review: The Book of Mom

Summary: Tate, a stay-at-home mom, is burned out. Can she recover her lost self and regain her passion for life before she goes completely insane? With the help of a good therapist, an insightful friend, and her unfailing sense of humor, she find balance and authenticiy in her role as a modern mom.

Funny, inspirational, and thought provoking, this novel embraces the core of motherhood today as it takes readers along on Tate's journey of self-rediscovery and healing. Every mom will recognize the challenges of tackling the larger issues of life while keeping up with the exhausting day-to-day routine and will appreciate seeing that, with help, anyone can find inward and outward balance. - book jacket

When Tricia from Ollie Media asked if I would be interested in reading a book about finding the "me" in mommy, I thought THE BOOK OF MOM sounded like a perfect fit for me. I think any stay-at-home mom has wondered where her true self went once she gave birth! I want to make it clear that I know I am incredibly blessed that I am able to stay at home with my children, and I wouldn't have it any other way (most of the time.) But I have to admit that there are days when I think it would be a lot easier to return to the corporate world and actually see immediate results. (Who am I kidding? -- I didn't always get results there either!)

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat -- the cover of this book is adorable with all the iced animal cookies. I don't know if it's because I'm a mom or that I just love iced animal cookies, but I was immediately drawn to the book. The animal cookie motif continues throughout the book as a black and white sketch at the beginning of each chapter. For some reason, the animal cookies just make me smile.

Overall, I enjoyed the message in this book that a woman can find a balance between being a mother and staying true to herself. I liked that the author incorporated a great deal of spirituality and insight into the story. I also liked how the main characters admitted that they did need some help from friends, counselors and even God to get through their difficulties. However, I did get annoyed with how much the main characters bashed their husbands. I do know some women who feel that they have terrible husbands and take none of the blame for unhappy marriages, but I don't really enjoy listening to them either. I felt that both of the women in this book had pretty good lives with husbands who provided for them so that they could be with their children. I understand the message that no marriage is perfect and both partners need to constantly work on it and appreciate each other, but it certainly took the characters a very long time to get to this point.

The author, Talyor Wilshire, is an award winning author who worked in the corporate world before becoming an author. She also became an ordained minister in 1991 and teaches seminars based on A Course of Miracles, a workbook focused on spirtuality and personal growth. In fact, concepts from A Course of Miracles were referenced throughout THE BOOK OF MOM. I have to wonder how much (if any) of this book was based on her own life or someone close to her. She certainly has some wonderful insight into the insecurities and frustrations of mothers.

I did feel better once I finished this book. The characters eventually realized how blessed their lives were, and I have to believe that they continued on this course after the book ends. It was nice to see that these characters re-discovered themselves and their faith throughout the story. I did find the overall book uplifting, and I now feel pretty good about where I am in my "path of self-discovery" as a mother and an person.

I think that THE BOOK OF MOM might make a good book club selection for certain book clubs. There is a great deal of self-help and inspirational aspects to this book, so it would be a better fit for readers who have strong religious beliefs. I was sent a page of talking points (very differrent from discussion questions or a reader guide) with the book; however, I haven't been able to find them on-line anywhere.

I recommend this book to mothers who are definitely struggling with finding themselves as well as finding contentment in their lives. I can't say that I have ever read a book like this -- it's very unique because it's both a fictional story as well as a self-help book. Once I was able to get past the ugly comments about the husbands, I found that there were actually quite a few wonderful messages in THE BOOK OF MOM.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Interview with Kate Jacobs

I absolutely idolize authors and any contact I have with them is extremely exciting for me. That's why I consider myself very fortuntate that Kate Jacobs, author of THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB and COMFORT FOOD, agreed to answer a few questions for my blog. I recently read and reviewed her latest book COMFORT FOOD and enjoyed it as much, if not more, than her first book.

Booking Mama: How did you get the idea for COMFORT FOOD? Do you enjoy cooking or even watching food shows on television?
KJ: I LOVE cooking shows on TV. It's just so welcoming and inspirational, to see these great cooks whip up a meal. It makes me have these visions of myself being an uber-entertainer. (This isn't quite the reality.) And when I'm writing, it's nice to imagine a world I'd like to be in, which made it easy to focus on the foodie scene. At home, I really am a basic cook. No gourmet here! I like things to be easy: I love to just put something together and toss it in the oven. If I can roast it, I'm happy. Or, better yet, get my husband to fire up the grill.

Booking Mama: Are any of the characters in COMFORT FOOD based on people you know?
KJ: No, not really. There's not one character that I'd point to and say that it was a certain person in my life. For me, writing is also about imagining, and that involves creating fictional people. That said, some of the quirks and experiences shared by the characters are a bit closer to me. A fun one is Hannah's sweet tooth, for example. I didn't have to go far to imagine a writer who eats candies as she writes! As I answer your questions right now, I'm snacking on wine gums -- a gummy kind of candy -- that I brought back with me the last time I visited my family in Canada.

Booking Mama: Who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite books?
KJ: I love short story collections. Whenever I see the words "a collection of stories" on a book cover then I simply must buy that book. It's like kryptonite: I'm powerless against it. My favorite contemporary short story writers are Alice Munro, William Trevor, and Alistair MacLeod. Of course, I read a ton of novels as well. I love Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian MacEwan. Ann Patchett. Joanna Trollope. Different style, different voices: it's good to mix things up. I am also a sucker for any book about a dog. And I will always, always take a chance on a first novel. You never know when you might discover a new favorite!

Booking Mama: Are you currently a member of a book club?
KJ: No, but I feel as though I am, because I telephone book clubs and discuss my novels with them! I do that many, many times each month, and I love it! It's so nice to be invited to spend time with readers, even if only for a little while. (And if folks are curious, they can invite me to telephone their club when they discuss Comfort Food by emailing me via my website at . It's that easy.)

Booking Mama: What do you want your readers to take away from COMFORT FOOD?
KJ: I simply want readers to spend a relaxing, enjoyable time with my characters. My books are the sitting-down-with-a-cup-of-tea-and-having-a-bit-of-me-time kind of stories, I think. They're about having a fun read. Sure, I try out different themes. In Comfort Food, I wanted to look at the influence of expectations and also how our family dynamics shape us. Also the challenge of learning to accept and absorb all the different experiences that come at you; the main character is dealing with a full-on emotional overload while also trying to redefine who she wants to be. There's more, but I think every reader has the right to find their own take-away and to determine for themselves what a book means, or even choose to find no take-away at all. And sometimes, in exploring situations for my characters, I luck out and discover a few things for myself.

I want to thank Ms. Jacobs for graciously taking time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me. Her new book, COMFORT FOOD, will be available May 6th.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Comfort Food

Summary: Shortly before turning the big 5-0, boisterous party planner and Cooking with Gusto! personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson finds herself planning a birthday party she'd rather not—her own. She's getting tired of being the hostess, the mother hen, the woman who has to plan her own birthday party. What she needs is time on her own with enough distance to give her loved ones the ingredients to put together successful lives without her. Assisted by a handsome up-and-coming chef, Oliver, Gus invites a select group to take an on-air cooking class. But instead of just preaching to the foodie masses, she will teach regular people how to make rich, sensuous meals—real people making real food. Gus decides to bring a vibrant cast of friends and family on the program: Sabrina, her fickle daughter; Troy, Sabrina's ex-husband; Anna, Gus's timid neighbor; and Carmen, Gus's pompous and beautiful competitor at the Cooking Channel. And when she begins to have more than collegial feelings for her sous-chef, Gus realizes that she might be able to rejuvenate not just her professional life, but her personal life as well. ... -- penguin group

A few weeks ago, Matthew from Penguin Group asked me if I was interested in receiving an ARC of COMFORT FOOD by Kate Jacobs. I was positively thrilled since I really enjoyed reading Ms. Jacobs first book THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB. I was a little worried since some authors' second books are a little disappointing, however, COMFORT FOOD is just as good if not better than THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB. Of course, both books deal with things I love to do -- knit and cook (and eat!)

I read THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB when it first came out, so it's not exactly fresh in my mind; but I have to say that the basic premise of COMFORT FOOD did remind me a little of Ms. Jacobs' first book. Both books have a cast of characters who are brought together for a specific reason (this time it's a cooking show on television.) Each character is flawed (some more than others) and the reader becomes very involved in their healing process. While THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB was a sad, touching story, COMFORT FOOD was a little bit lighter read and actually had some very funny moments.

I am such a sucker for books like this one, especially when they have a happy ending. I love the quirky characters, and I enjoy "seeing" how they all interact with each other. What I most enjoy, though, is how the characters learn from their experiences and from each other -- and eventually become better (and happier) people. I think most readers will agree with me that some of the characters remind me of people that I deal with everyday.

COMFORT FOOD will be available to everyone on May 6th. I have no doubt that many book clubs will be talking about it this spring and summer. I didn't have any luck finding discussion questions for COMFORT FOOD (it must be a little too soon), but I'm sure that they will be available in the very near future. If you enjoyed THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB, you should really check out COMFORT FOOD!

Also review at:
The Written Word
Bloggin' 'Bout Books
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Book Club Classics

Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: The Ginseng Hunter

Summary: Set at the turn of the twenty-first century in China along the Tumen River, which separates northeast China and North Korea, The Ginseng Hunter is an unforgettable portrait of life along a fragile border.

A Chinese ginseng hunter lives alone in the valley and spends his days up in the mountains looking for ginseng and preparing for winter. He is scarcely aware of the larger world until shadowy figures hiding in the fields, bodies floating in the river, and rumors of thievery and murder begin to intrude on his cherished solitude. On one of his monthly trips to Yanji, where he buys supplies and visits a brothel, he meets a young North Korean prostitute. Through her vivid tales, the tragedy occurring across the river unfolds, and over the course of the year the hunter unnervingly discovers that the fates of the young woman and four others rest in his hands.

Spare, intimate, and strikingly atmospheric, The Ginseng Hunter takes us into the little-understood lives of North Koreans and confirms Jeff Talarigo's immense gift for storytelling.

The Ginseng Hunter is based on actual events that are happening today in North Korea, also known as the DPRK, and along the Northeast border of China, to where many North Korean refugees flee.

THE GINSENG HUNTER by Jeff Talarigo was a rather short novel; however, it certainly packs a powerful punch. I have no doubt that the story and the characters will stay with me for a long time. This book is actually based on present-day, real-life occurences along the Northeast border of China; and maybe that's another reason why the story touched me so much. I just can't believe what a desperate situation these people face under the North Korean government.

The main character was extremely complex and very human. At times he was weak and scared, yet he was also extremely sensitive and compassionate. He lived in the mountains totally in seclusion except for his once-a-month trip to town (and a brothel.) He becomes close to one of the prostitutes and has to choose between helping her and losing his privacy. He continues to face this decision a few more times throughout the story; and he is deeply troubled each time.

I thought it was odd that the reader never learns the names of the characters in this book. We are privy to their actions and their thoughts but it's still weird to me that the author never reveals their names. In an interview with Mr. Talirigo, he explains his reason for this: "I chose not to give my characters names because I wanted to whittle this complex story down to the individual, to make the story as simple as possible, and more accessible to the reader."

I read Mr. Talarigo's first novel, THE PEARL DIVER, when it first came out. I remember enjoying the book about a Japanese woman with leprosy and appreciating his writing style, but I think I liked this book even more. The author actually conducted in-depth research for this novel -- he camped on the Chinese side of the Tumen River and interviewed North Korean refugees. I am in awe of not only the story he tells in this book, but his writing style as well. His prose and descriptions are beautiful, and I could clearly visualize every scene in this book.

I love this quotation by Mr. Talarigo in which he explains the difference between fiction and non-fiction, "Non-fiction and journalism recount a story, whereas fiction, I think, recreates the story and thus it can reveal a deeper truth." I think he accomplished what he set out to do with this novel and definitely revealed a deeper truth. THE GINSENG HUNTER was an amazing piece of fiction.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Review: Keeper and Kid

Summary: Eight years ago, James Keeper fell in love with his upstairs neighbor in Boston, a sassy pastry chef with gray eyes and a fierce attitude. They got married, found a dog, and shopped for cilantro. But conflicting schedules and a real estate deal gone bad took its toll on the twenty-somethings in love. One divorce later, the hand-me-down chairs were separated, the potato masher custody settled, and Keeper moved to Providence to work with his best friend selling antiques at a quirky shop called Love and Death.

A new job, a new love, and a new life now in place, Keeper is in a comfortable situation. Business is steady, Leah (the new love) is intriguing and passionate, and Keeper’s friends always turn up for Sunday evening Card Night.
But one phone call from his former mother-in-law changes everything. And so days later, Keeper comes away with a son he never knew he had, and life all of a sudden takes on a new meaning.

Leo, the precocious three-year-old who sports Keeper’s square chin, is more than a handful---he eats only round foods, refuses to bathe, thinks he’s a bear, and refers to Leah as “that man.” For a guy who never thought he’d be a parent, Keeper is thrown headfirst into fatherhood---and has no idea what to do. As Keeper and Leo adjust to the shock of each other and their suddenly very different lives, Keeper begins to let the people in his life in, in turns strange and heartwarming, funny and painful. But some, like Leah, aren’t so eager for change.

In this humorous and poignant novel, Edward Hardy explores the depths of modern love, parenthood, and compromise. Keeper and Kid is the story of how a normal guy receives an unexpected gift and in turn must learn to ask more of others and himself. A coming-of-age story for the guy who thought he had already grown up, Keeper and Kid is a sharp and witty account of what we do for love. -- thomas dunne

A few weeks ago I saw a few, very favorable reviews for KEEPER AND KID, and I thought it looked like a book that I would enjoy. Then, Lisa from Books on the Brain had a wonderful review and interview (as well as a giveaway) that made the book a must-read for me. I didn't win the giveaway; but Edward Hardy, author of KEEPER AND THE KID, offered to send me a copy of his book. You have no idea how thrilled I when he sent me an autographed copy! I wanted to read it right away, even though I already had a huge pile of books that I "should" be reading.

I really enjoyed reading KEEPER AND KID! Being the mother of a very vocal three year old son made the book even more special to me. I found Leo's behavior and interests very similar to my son, and I think that's why I felt such an affinity with him. I thought Mr. Hardy did a wonderful job capturing the essence of a three year old boy. It's very clear to me that he has spent some time around young children (he has two sons.)

My emotions were all over the place while I read this novel. I think this in part is because I kept imagining how my son would react if he lost me and was thrown into an entirely new life. While parts of the books were very entertaining, I have to say that my heart just broke for Leo (I felt bad for Jimmy, but in a totally different way.) This book dealt with so many human emotions such as grief, shock, love, and fear to name a few. I loved how the author was able to take me on an emotional roller coaster ride with his touching words.

At times, I found myself almost yelling at Jimmy for being such a stupid parent. Then I reminded myself that I, too, have made many parenting mistakes. I also had nine months to prepare myself before I "met" my children where as he was thrown into an incredibly difficult situation in a matter of minutes. Even though I was mad at Jimmy for having some of his feelings (I know that you can't really help your feelings); overall, I did feel a great deal of sympathy for him, especially when he lost the love of his life, Leah. The whole situation just struck me a being so unfair, but I guess life isn't always fair.

KEEPER AND KID would make a marvelous book club selection, especially for my group since almost all of us are mothers of young boys. I could talk about Jimmy's feelings and behavior for a few hours myself. There are quite a few discussion questions posted on the author's website that I think are helpful for leading the discussion. I can't recommend enough how wonderful this book is -- it will definitely touch every reader's heart.

Also reviewed at:
Dog Ear Diary

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review: Journey From Head to Heart

Summary: Journey From Head to Heart is...

- A Toolkit for those who are exhausted from solving never-ending problems, working harder and harder and not arriving at the destination where they truly want to be.

- A Map for how to make the journey from head to heart and then integrate the two so that the power of ego is diminished and the Authentic Self can emerge to live and work from the power of the human spirit.

- A Reference book you can use for many years to come as the reader meets life's challenges with successes that satisfies both the head and the heart.

Journey from Head to Heart is exactly that, integrating logic, reason, emotion, spirituality, recover, science, and ancient wisdom from a variety of sources to create a recipe for wholeness. The tools and processes are designed for people who are a little wary of "touchy-feely" or "New Age" approaches. - book jacket

JOURNEY FROM HEAD TO HEART by Dr. Nancy Oelklaus is a wonderful resource for people who feel as is they aren't living up to their potential either professionally or personally. Dr. Oelklaus' book says that we all have what it takes to live our fullest, we just need some help in bringing them to the surface.

Throughout the course of the book, Dr. Oelklaus uses a variety of methods to get her points across including real-life stories, science, scripture, poetry, charts, and graphs. No matter how you process information, there should be something that resonates with you. At the end of every chapter, she has suggested exercises to help you incorporate her ideas into practice.

The author proposes that you basically have to let go of your current ways of doing things -- i.e. using your mental processes and problem solving capabilities to make decisions. Rather, she suggests that you should take a path of faith and respect your feelings as a guide. Throughout the twelve chapters of the books, she lays the framework (step by step) for making this transition.

One thing that surprised me about this book was the author's emphasis on personal faith and spirituality in the journey for wholeness. I don't doubt that having a strong faith would be extremely beneficial to help in attaining these goals; however, I didn't realize from the book description or cover that the author would citing scripture throughout the book to make her various points. I have to wonder how many people will pick up this book and be surprised by that as I was.

Dr. Oelkhaus wrote this book as a result of what she learned in a residential treatment program. It is evident that she is passionate about her beliefs and wants to help as many people as she can with this book. She is brutally honest about herself and her struggles, as well as what individuals need to do to live their lives to its fullest.

If you feel as if you aren't living the life you want to life and you are looking to live a more meaningful life, I recommend reading JOURNEY FROM HEAD TO HEART.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Cody Epstein, Author of The Painter from Shanghai

I first heard about THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI by Jennifer Cody Epstein from an Author Buzz giveaway. I didn't win the contest, but (lucky for me) the author sent me a copy to read and review anyway. This book is just wonderful; and Ms. Epstein Cody is a beautiful writer. I know how difficult it is to just keep up on my blog being a mother of two; so I'm pretty amazed that she was able to write this book with two young daughters. I was just thrilled when she agreed to guest blog about the challenges she faces as a writer and a mother.

Thoughts from a Fella Bookingmam

When people hear that I wrote my first novel--The Painter from Shanghai—around bearing and raising my two young daughters, their responses are often flatteringly awed. “Wow!” they say. “How on earth did you manage both?”

My response—accompanied by the prerequisite self-deprecating laugh--is usually something along the lines of “I’m not sure. But I lost half my brain cells in the process.” And this, actually, is true. In past months my maternal Alzheimers is striking worse than ever; I’m perpetually double-planning or entirely forgetting playdates; losing my credit cards only to find them (surprise!) in my wallet; losing entire chunks of prose (this blog, briefly and for example) in the labyrinth files of my computer because I can’t—for the life of me—recall what I named them.

But there’s something else that’s true as well, something which also surprises people when I tell them: that brain cell issue aside, writing a novel actually works really well with motherhood for me.

I’m aware that this assertion flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that career and children just don’t mix. That whatever your career path, pregnancy will at best make it bumpy (no pun intended)—if not block it off altogether. One would think that in the arts, at least, expectations would be less dire; after all, most artists make their own schedule. But when I began my first book—a sprawling historical novel—this was not the consensus at my writing workshop at Columbia. It was Natalia—a loud blonde Pole, childless (of course) and thrice-divorced--who voiced what everyone was thinking: “Are you crazy? You’ll never be a writer now!”

I mumbled something to the effect that it would all work out in due (again, no pun intended) time. But as an argument this felt tepid--even to me. I’d been struggling with the idea of my book for a year already, daunted by my subject (a Chinese prostitute who became one of China’s pioneering post-Impressionists), unorganized and hesitant, unsure of my right to write the story, I had no idea at all how I’d bridge the chasm between the insecure writer I so clearly was at that moment, and the selfless mother everyone expected me to be.

What didn’t occur to me in those early, hungry days was that the demands of a newborn would both open up hours I’d never considered (post-feeding, 5 a.m., for example) for working; hours that I’d find—despite being so exhausted I’d sometimes doze off at the keyboard--my muse surprisingly present. Writing, I found, also provided a perfect intellectual counterlife to the mind-numbing physicality of early motherhood; I was never more ready to dive into an opening paragraph then after singing “Wheels on the Bus” for two hours straight, and I was never more ready for Barney than after banging my brain against a page of dialogue that simply didn’t work.

Even the time constraints—counterintuitively--worked in my favor, in the end. Faced with such a dearth of free time that I spent a whole week crying over it (or perhaps that was just postnatal hormones), I developed a system of almost militaristic organization, working from five a.m. to nine a.m. every morning, while my husband (who, mercifully, has a director’s late-start to the day) fed, dressed and dandled Katie. I added on additional hours--or, sometimes minutes--while Katie napped. Which was often, as she was a lousy sleeper at night. It was a self-perpetuating cycle, and something that I—prizing writing time over Ferber-perfect sleep habits--did little to try to correct.

It didn’t all exactly work like clockwork. For one thing, as Katie’s nap schedule was erratic I rarely knew my writing schedule after nine, and so had to be “on” all of the time. In the years before motherhood this would have been unthinkable; like many writers I was a bit of a diva. I needed a certain mood to write, a certain set-up, a certain light to create. As a mother, however, I couldn’t indulge in such luxuries. I carried my computer and my history texts with me in the stroller, and pulled into the nearest café whenever my daughter dropped off. Oftentimes, I ended up deleting everything I wrote. Oftentimes, indeed, it barely seemed written in English—which is perhaps not surprising, given my perpetual state of sleep-deprived psychosis, my deep immersion in Chinese literature and history…and of course the brain cell thing (did I mention that?). But even these “failed” days didn’t bother me as much as they once might have. For as I watched my daughter grow and develop, in increments and in leaps, walking, falling, crying and walking again, I learned to take a longer view of my own work. And I had infinitely more patience for myself as a result.

A year after Katie’s birth I returned to Columbia. I had deep bags under my eyes and baby fat on my belly, but about a dozen very rough chapters of my novel. These were received encouragingly by my mentors and classmates—even Natalia—and so I ploughed on. My second daughter was born in 2004; the book’s first, full draft in 2006. It was bought by W.W. Norton and nine other publishers, and was published in March of this year in the U.S. It has, to my delight, been received very favorably; Vogue calls it “sparkling,” the New York Times “vivid” and “luminous,” the South China Morning Post “refreshing” (all things that, to be sure, I certainly didn’t feel myself during the writing process).

These days life is easier; Katie is in school until three, her sister Hannah until noon, and we have enough money for some limited sitting. I’m getting much more sleep, and my prime working hours tend to be from the far more civilized hours of eleven to five. P.M., I should note.

That’s not to say maternal/writing balance isn’t still wobbly at time. Katie (now seven) did lambaste me recently for missing every field trip in her short school life to date. “You’re always writing,” she complained. “You act as though your computer is more important than me.”

But she also brought my novel in for show and tell, and announced to anyone who would listen: “My mom writes books.” And as she shepherded the glossy volume from hand to small, sticky hand, the look of sheer pride on her face was just about the best review that any writer—or mother--could ever hope for.

I think it's kind of nice to know that authors (who are my heroes) are real people too! If you want to learn more about Jennifer Cody Epstein, there is an interesting interview from November 2007 on I'd like to give a special thank you to Ms. Cody Epstein for writing this essay for my blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Review: The Painter From Shanghai

Review: Down the muddy waters of the Yangtze River and into the seedy backrooms of “The Hall of Eternal Splendor,” through the raucous glamour of prewar Shanghai and the bohemian splendor of 1920s Paris, and back to a China ripped apart by civil war and teetering on the brink of revolution: this novel tells the story of Pan Yuliang, one of the most talented—and provocative—Chinese artists of the twentieth century.

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s epic brings to life the woman behind the lush, Cezannesque nude self-portraits, capturing with lavish detail her life in the brothel and then as a concubine to a Republican official who would ultimately help her find her way as an artist. Moving with the tide of historical events, The Painter from Shanghai celebrates a singularly daring painting style—one that led to fame, notoriety, and, ultimately, a devastating choice: between Pan’s art and the one great love of her life. - ww norton

THE PAINTER FROM SHANGHAI by Jennifer Cody Epstein is one of the best books that I've read this year. I couldn't put the book down even at the expense of a good night's sleep. I woke until 3:30 a.m., but at least I finished it. It was a weird feeling for me, though, because I wanted to know what happened to Yuliang; and at the same time, I didn't want the book to end. I am very concerned that my review won't be worthy of this book.

While the first part of the book does remind me a little of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (mainly because it deals with a young Chinese girl working in a brothel), I definitely think this books stands on its own merit. The book tells the story of Pan Yuliang, a young orphan girl who goes from a prostitute to becoming China's foremost female post-Impressionist painter. Little is known about Yuliang; however, Ms. Cody Epstein creates a beautiful account of her life to fill in the gaps.

I am so not-a-writer, but I'm pretty sure that this book was incredibly difficult to write. I think the author did an amazing job of creating this story, while sticking to the actual facts surrounding Yuliang's life. I can't even begin to imagine how much research she must have conducted both on Yuliang's life and art, as well as the history of China over four decades. In addition to the book being extremely interesting, it was also beautifully written. In my opinion, Ms. Cody Epstein is a wonderful writer -- her details throughout the book were exquisite.

I had never heard of Pan Yuliang, but that's not saying much -- I'm really not familiar with art and painters. I found some examples of Yuliang's paintings on the author's website, and I think they are beautiful. It's incredible to me that the paintings are actually what I imagined based on Ms. Cody Epstein's writing. After seeing the pictures, I can definitely understand why Yuliang was such a controversial painter during pre-Revolution China.

This book is also very much a love-story. A wealthy official, Pan Zanhua, bought her freedom from the brothel and made her his second wife. Given the time period, Zanhua was extremely supporting of his wife becoming an artist. Yuliang was very much "ahead of her time" both as a woman and an artist, yet Zanhua continued to love her even at his own detriment. I found it very touching when Yuliang is forced to leave Shanghai and Zanhua to continue her art in France. She had to choose her passion as an artist over her love for a man and love for her country.

I highly recommend reading this book, and even selecting it for your book club. There is an interesting essay by the author and discussion questions here. This book is more than just the story of an artist -- it is really about a woman struggling to find herself despite many constraints. While Yuliang was a very gifted artist, she was also an incredible woman who came from nothing to accomplish her goals. Her story is filled with heartache, yet she perseveres in a time and country which weren't exactly conducive to her plight to become an artist.

Make sure you come back tomorrow because Jennifer Cody Epstein will be guest blogging about being a writer and a mom!

Also reviewed at:
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
Dog Ear Diary

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: Bikini Season

Summary: Erin Merritt has returned to her scenic hometown of Heart Lake to plan her wedding, but when she repeatedly runs into her childhood crush, she wonders if she’s engaged to the wrong man. To make matters worse, all the stress is making her eat, and now she can’t fit into her wedding dress.

Erin enlists the help of her cooking club--Angela, Megan and Kizzy--and the Teeny Bikini Diet Club is born. The women make a pact to get slim enough to wear their bikinis to the lake by summertime, a pact that changes their lives forever. With a little help from her friends, Angela faces her fear that her marriage is crumbling. Megan confronts the self-esteem issues that have always held her back. Kizzy deals with her husband’s efforts to sabotage her diet and keep her overweight. And Erin learns some important truths about love.

Pull up your favorite beach chair and savor this funny, inspiring story about being true to yourself and following your heart, and the women who enrich our lives. - st. martin's press

BIKINI SEASON by Sheila Roberts was just the book that I needed this week. I have been home with two sick kids all week, and I'm starting to feel a little down. (Like many moms, I just can't stand to see my kids unhappy or in pain.) I decided to take a somewhat positive approach on being trapped in my home and figured that I could get a lot of reading done. I looked at a few books in my TBR pile and decided that I just wanted to read something fun and uplifting -- BIKINI SEASON was the obvious pick.

I have to admit, that every once in awhile, I enjoy reading a feel-good book about the power of female friendships. What made BIKINI SEASON special was that the their friendship centered around helping each other lose weight (for a variety of reasons.) The women in this novel were from all different backgrounds, different races, different ages, and different shapes and sizes; yet they all loved and supported each other through everything. I thought all the members of the Teeny Bikini Diet Club were extremely likable, and I found myself "rooting" for them in their diets as well as their lives.

I have been toying with the idea of starting Weight Watchers to take off a few pounds, and this book definitely motivated me. All of the low-fat, low-calorie food mentioned in the book sounded delicious, and the author provided the recipes at the back of the book. I thought the characters' weight-loss stories were very realistic and very inspiring. The characters' actions will sound familiar to anyone who has ever tried to lose weight. I also liked how the author made the women very human in their dieting struggles -- they did have "bad" eating days, but always went back to eating healthy the next day.

If you are looking for a light "beach-type" read, I suggest taking a look at BIKINI SEASON. It's just a fun read about the strength of women and their friendships.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Yesterday, my husband and I were talking, and I mentioned jokingly that I could go back to work if he wanted to start a second career in politics. My 3 1/2 year old son says in all seriousness,"Mommies don't work." I'm not sure how to take this since I think stay-at-home moms "work" pretty hard. So I asked him what does his mommy do, and he answered "Go to book club." At the very least, he does know what I enjoy!

As I was writing this, I remembered another funny story about my son. His daddy asked him what I needed for Christmas, and he answered, "A BREAK!" Needless to say, I fell over laughing. After thinking for a few seconds he changed his answer and said, "Mommy needs books for presents." I don't know about you, but I consider both answers to be awesome gifts!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Review: No One Heard Her Scream

Summary: Burdened by Grief, She Hunts a Killer
They never found her sister's body, but Detective Rebecca Montgomery knows her murderer is still out there. In the five months since Danielle went missing, there have been two more brutal abductions. A savage menace stalks the women of San Antonio, and the relentless detective will do anything to find him.

And a Seductive Stranger Shadows Her Every Move
But her latest case—the discovery of a young woman's remains inside the wall of a burned-down theater—plunges Rebecca from her grief into a brand-new nightmare. She soon meets handsome, mysterious Diego Galvan at the crime scene, and his shadowy connections will lead to her first break in both cases. But when Rebecca submits to his considerable powers of seduction, she will leave herself vulnerable to a merciless killer . . . and when he attacks, no one will hear her scream. - harper collins

I finally scored another book from Harper Collins First Look Program. This time it was an ARC of NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM by Jordan Dane. This book is technically considered a Romantic Suspense book, so I was a little concerned that I wouldn't appreciate the "romance" parts in it. I actually thought the suspense aspect of the novel was very interesting, and the romance part was really secondary.

I don't want to say the the plot was entirely predictable to me because it wasn't; however by the end of the novel, I had a feeling where it was going. That's not to say that I lost interest in the mystery -- the book kept my interest until the very end. I especially liked the characters of Rebecca and Diego, and I wanted their relationship to work out. The author did a very good job of letting the reader into the minds of the main characters. I felt like I had a great deal of compassion for their situations.

I have to warn you that this is not a book that deals with very serious issues including stalking and murder. I thought the crimes that were committed were incredibly atrocious -- I can't go into more detail because I would spoil the ending. At times, I found myself very uncomfortable while reading the story. I think that is exactly effect that Ms. Dane wants the reader to feel.

The book takes place in San Antonio, Texas -- the city where Ms. Dane grew up. It is very clear that San Antonio holds a very close place to her heart. She mentions a lot of historic places in her novel and does a wonderful job of describing them to the reader. Ms. Dane has a very nice website where she explains the "Story Behind the Story" and provides pictures of the places she mentions in the novel. I enjoyed seeing how closely the pictures matched her descriptions.

NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM is currently available at all book outlets for $6.99 (that's a bargain.) Ms. Dane has two more books coming out in the next few months -- NO ONE LEFT TO TELL in April and NO ONE LIVES FOREVER in May. I definitely thought her first book was an enjoyable read, and I wouldn't hesitate to read her next two novels.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hello...You Won Calling Home

And the winner of the CALLING HOME giveaway is... Karlie! Here is how I picked the winner: I assigned a number to each post in the order they appear. Then I went to and let it generate the winning number. Congratulations, Karlie! I really enjoyed reading this novel, and I hope you do as well.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: The Kindness of Strangers

Summary: A young widow raising two boys, Sarah Laden is struggling to keep her family together. But when a shocking revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another troubled young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet, reclusive elementary school classmate of Sarah's son Danny, has survived a terrible ordeal. By agreeing to become Jordan's foster mother, Sarah will be forced to question the things she has long believed. And as the delicate threads that bind their family begin to unravel, all the Ladens will have to face difficult truths about themselves and one another—and discover the power of love necessary to forgive and to heal. - harper collins

One of my very favorite blogs Book Club Girl had an offer too good to refuse. A few weeks ago, she announced that she would be hosting Katrina Kittle, author of THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, on her BlogTalk Radio show. She would send us the book if we were willing to read it and participate in the discussion. Of course, I jumped at the chance! I had listened to her show with Jamie Saul author of LIGHT OF DAY, and I thought it really enhanced my understanding of the book.

I loved THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS; and I was hooked on the story from the first page. The book dealt some horrific issues, but the author handled them extremely well. That's not to say that it wasn't difficult to read parts of this book, but there was absolutely no way that I could put it down. After I finished this book, I could not stop thinking about it or the characters in it. I think this story is going to stick with me for quite awhile.

The main characters were extremely likable, despite their issues; and I loved that everything ultimately worked out for them. Please don't think that I'm giving away the ending because Ms. Kittle's first chapter takes place in the present and the rest of the book is a flashback. (Thank goodness she wrote the book that way because I don't know if I could have handled reading the book otherwise). I truly loved that both Jordan and the Laden family were ultimately healed by helping each other --I was so touched by this story.

I thought the book was extremely well written, and I really liked how Ms. Kittle tackled a delicate situation. Each chapter was told from the third person perspective about a different character in the book. The reader really gets to know and care about each character because of the way it was written. I felt that all of the characters were very believable; and it's very apparent that the author understands children.

I was really looking forward to hearing Ms. Kittle discuss her book last night. I was very curious about what inspired her to write a book such as THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS. Her answer makes an incredible story too. I loved listening to her talk about her book, and I think I even like the book more (if that's possible) after the show. If you want to hear Ms. Kittle talk about this book on BlogTalk Radio, click here.

I think this book would be an amazing book club selection. Of course, there is a reading guide with lots of questions to get you started. I actually found myself wanting to talk about it with my book club the other night, even though none of them read it! There is just so much to talk about and reflect on. It's not a book that I will forget anytime soon.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

April 2008 Book Club Meeting and May Selection

Summary: Wisconsin, 1961. Evelyn “Button” Peters is nine the summer Winnalee and her fiery-spirited older sister, Freeda, blow into her small town–and from the moment she sees them, Button knows this will be a summer unlike any other. Much to her mother’s dismay, Button is fascinated by the Malone sisters, especially Winnalee, a feisty scrap of a thing who carries around a shiny silver urn containing her mother’s ashes and a tome she calls “The Book of Bright Ideas.” It is here, Winnalee tells Button, that she records everything she learns: her answers to the mysteries of life. But sometimes those mysteries conceal a truth better left buried. And when a devastating secret is suddenly revealed, dividing loyalties and uprooting lives, no one–from Winnalee and her sister to Button and her family–will ever be the same. - bantam dell

Last night, the Preschool Moms Book Club met to discuss THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS by Sandra Kring. We all agreed that it was a wonderful book, and we had so much to talk about. It says something about the quality of the book that we actually discussed it rather than venturing off on other subjects. We started out using the reader's guide to get the discussion flowing; however, we found there was still more that we wanted to talk about.

Our entire book club found that, by the end of the book, we loved almost all of the main characters. I can't tell you how unusual that is for us! We actually spent a lot of time discussing the personalities and traits of the characters and how they changed throughout the book. I don't want to give anything away, but our discussion kept coming back to the themes of redemption and friendship. There were just so many other issues that we touched on including self confidence, mother-daughter relationships, mothering skills, and "bright ideas."

I loved Ms. Kring's writing style, and I have much appreciation for how she set up the story. Her first person narrative, by a nine year old girl, seemed very real to me as did many of the characters. Even though there were some sad parts of this book, there was also a great deal of humor woven in. While we were a little upset in how the book ended (because we wanted what we thought was best for the characters, not because it was a bad ending), I found Ms. Kring's overall messages very uplifting. I strongly recommend thinking about THE BOOK OF BRIGHT IDEAS for a future book club selection.

Our May selection is MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin. I am just thrilled (and very nervous) that Mr. Henkin will actually be meeting with my book club to discuss his book. I have heard wonderful things about this book and can't wait to read it.

Summary: From the moment he was born, Julian Wainwright has lived a life of Waspy privilege. The son of a Yale-educated investment banker, he grew up in a huge apartment on Sutton Place, high above the East River, and attended a tony Manhattan private school. Yet, more than anything, he wants to get out–out from under his parents’ influence, off to Graymont College, in western Massachusetts, where he hopes to become a writer.

When he arrives, in the fall of 1986, Julian meets Carter Heinz, a scholarship student from California with whom he develops a strong but ambivalent friendship. Carter’s mother, desperate to save money for his college education, used to buy him reversible clothing, figuring she was getting two items for the price of one. Now, spending time with Julian, Carter seethes with resentment. He swears he will grow up to be wealthy–wealthier, even, than Julian himself.

Then, one day, flipping through the college facebook, Julian and Carter see a photo of Mia Mendelsohn. Mia from Montreal, they call her. Beautiful, Jewish, the daughter of a physics professor at McGill, Mia is–Julian and Carter agree–dreamy, urbane, stylish, refined.

But Julian gets to Mia first, meeting her by chance in the college laundry room. Soon they begin a love affair that–spurred on by family tragedy–will carry them to graduation and beyond, taking them through several college towns, over the next ten years. Then Carter reappears, working for an Internet company in California, and he throws everyone’s life into turmoil: Julian’s, Mia’s, his own.

Starting at the height of the Reagan era and ending in the new millennium, Matrimony is about love and friendship, about money and ambition, desire and tensions of faith. It asks what happens to a marriage when it is confronted by betrayal and the specter of mortality. What happens when people marry younger than they’d expected? Can love endure the passing of time?

In its emotional honesty, its luminous prose, its generosity and wry wit, Matrimony is a beautifully detailed portrait of what it means to share a life with someone–to do it when you’re young, and to try to do it afresh on the brink of middle age. -- random house

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review: The Secret of Lost Things

Summary: Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city. -- random house

THE SECRET OF LOST THINGS by Sheridan Hay is a truly unique book. I can't really say that I've ever read a book quite like this one, and I think that's what made this book so special (in a good way.) I guess I could say that the story was a coming-of-age tale about a young woman who finds herself in New York City after the death of her mother. But that description doesn't really seem to do it justice. It was so much deeper than that!

I don't even know where to begin talking about the cast of characters in this book. I found that most of the characters that worked in the bookstore were extremely eccentric and flat out weird. Even though I didn't really like many of the bookstore employees, their oddities did provide some opportunities for humor. It was very entertaining the see the jealousy and pettiness of the characters once they realized that there was a letter claiming a "lost" manuscript by Herman Melville.

I did like Rosemary quite a bit, and I wanted her to find happiness; but I found myself getting frustrated with her involvement/infatuation with a co-worker. Having said that, I really enjoyed the scenes at her apartment with her new friends -- she had never had real female relationships growing up. I also loved watching Rosemary find herself and become an independent woman by the end of the book.

There were many references to Herman Melville in this book, and I was a little worried that I wouldn't understand them because I am not very familiar with any of Melville's books -- of course, I've heard of that little book MOBY DICK but I haven't actually read it. I am happy to say that my lack of knowledge didn't affect my understanding of the book at all. The author did a terrific job of using actual letters that Melville wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne to explain the concept of the "lost" book. In addition, she wove many literary references (including Shakespeare) throughout the entire book -- it's pretty safe to say that I didn't catch most of them, but I still have an appreciation of what she did!

I actually really enjoyed reading this book. I thought the idea of the plot was brilliant, and I thought Ms. Hay did a wonderful job with writing the book. Of course, I'm sure that I was drawn to the book in part because much of it took place in a bookstore. But I also loved how the book ended -- I thought it was just perfect. I found myself reading that last 120 pages straight through just to find out what happened. This book had a little bit of everything in it -- fairytale, mystery, intrigue, romance, humor, and even a few surprises.

THE SECRET OF LOST THINGS would make a very interesting book club selection. I promise that there would be a lot to talk about, but there are also discussion questions to help get the conversation jump-started. It's hard to believe that this is Ms. Hay's first novel, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

Also reviewed at:
Passion for the Page

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review: Secrets of the Hollywood Girls Club

Summary: Life at the top of the A-list is fabulous, but it’s a long way to the ground if you fall—and the cameras are always waiting to publicly humiliate you if you do. Jessica, Mary Anne, Lydia, and Celeste have stayed at the top by sticking together. The last time they collaborated on a project, the film was a huge success, launching über-agent Jessica’s boutique management company, making Mary Anne the hottest new screenwriter in Hollywood, landing Lydia the top spot at Worldwide Pictures, and solidifying Celeste’s position as the queen of Tinseltown. But this time, as these powerful movie mavens are called to the set, each of them has a lot more to lose.

At thirty (ahem . . . thirty-six), actress Celeste Solange is starting to feel her age. Tiny lines are beginning to appear near her eyes, and she’s wondering how long she can hold on to her A-list status. But that’s not her biggest problem—not by a long shot. A compromising DVD she made with her husband during the wild early days of their marriage is making the rounds, threatening to break out onto the Internet and ruin her image and her career. So Celeste turns to her girlfriends for help—good thing they’re some of the most powerful players in town.

Mary Anne, Lydia, and Jessica have troubles of their own. Mary Anne has started seeing Holden Humphrey, the hottest leading man in Hollywood, and everyone in America is watching—including his crazy young stalker, who wants Mary Anne out of the picture. Lydia is busy running a studio, putting out fires, and playing politics with the big mouths and big egos of the entertainment elite, and now someone is trying to blackmail her. Jessica is juggling a family, a demanding career, and an even more demanding list of clients. And meanwhile, publicist Kiki Dee seems to have a hand in all the secrets . . . and she’s willing to do anything to keep her spot at the top of the Hollywood PR machine. Can the Hollywood Girls Club hold their lives together and get a film made amid all the craziness?

That’s life in Hollywood—where the right friends, and the secrets they know, can make or break a career. - random house

When Alisha from Crown asked me if I was interested in reading SECRETS OF THE HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB by Maggie Marr, she described it as a "vivid insider novel about the struggles of four female power players in the stiletto-wearing, black-card carrying upper echelons of the entertainment industry." I thought that sounded like a light, fun book perfect for the pool or beach. I admit that I have a little bit of interest in the whole "Hollywood thing" -- I mean I sometimes read People and watch Entertainment Tonight to catch up on the celebrity gossip (much to the chagrin of my husband.)

I actually found this book to be very entertaining. The characters were all powerful women with different roles in movie-making business, so the author was able to show you different aspects of Hollywood business -- actress, screenwriter, studio head, manager-producer and even a publicist. A few of the characters were over-the-top (by Central PA standards), but they were all smart and funny. I thought the author did a good job of incorporating the "whodunit" element into the storyline as well. Ms. Marr wrote each chapter from the point-of-view of the different women which gave us futher insight into their actions. I found the chapter titles very amusing -- each chapter was focused around various "rules" for surviving in the movie business.

I especially enjoyed "getting the scoop" on Hollywood celebrities, and Ms Marr certainly knows the industry. She is currently a writer and producer; and before that she was a motion picture literary agent. I have a feeling that she's seen more than a few weird things take place in Hollywood. Even as outrageous as a few of the characters were, I'm sure that you will recognize some current actors' and actresses' behavior in them.

I am extremely flattered that Ms. Marr took time out of her busy life (she's a mom too) to answer a few questions for me. If you want to learn more about her, read this Q&A from her website -- no, she doesn't name any names, but she has worked on some interesting movies.

Booking Mama: What inspired you to write SECRETS OF THE HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB?MM: This is a great question. I think, in part, it must be this fantastic crazy world of entertainment that I stumbled into when I went from being an attorney to an agent. Plus, I started to hear this voice in my head, telling me this great story that became Hollywood Girls Club.

Booking Mama: SECRETS OF THE HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB is the second book that you've written with this cast of characters. Do you intend to write more "HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB" books?
MM: I’d love to write at least one more book in the Hollywood Girls Club series. I think the ladies should go to Cannes. And I definitely want to see more of Kiki. I just love her so much as a character.

Booking Mama: Was it harder or easier to write the second novel in the series?
MM: Challenging is the word I’m going with. Book two was definitely more challenging. First writing with a deadline is much different than just writing as a hobby. Second the final draft and now book Secrets of The Hollywood Girls Club, is so different (thankfully) than the first draft of the manuscript. I rewrote Secrets several times, cutting and reworking. The book really turned out tighter than the first draft.

Booking Mama: You started your career as an agent in Hollywood. How much of this story is based on reality?
MM: 99% But I never consciously take a story and use it. My unconscious, I believe, shapes, twists, and reforms all the stories and secrets that I know and creates something very similar to real life but with a twist.

Booking Mama: Are any of your celebrity characters based on real-life stars?
MM: Yes.

Booking Mama: Which character do you relate to the most?
MM: One of my good friends, told me that he saw a little of me in each of the characters. I think when I wrote Hollywood Girls Club I related most to Jessica. She is an attorney turned agent. But now, I relate most to Mary Anne, perhaps because we’re both Midwestern and writers.

Booking Mama: How did you decide to make the switch from an agent to an author?
MM: After both books sold, I really thought I could do both; agent and write. But as I mentioned writing with a deadline is much different than writing as a hobby. Plus, I love my clients (now former clients) and I didn’t ever want them to worry about how I divided my time. Being an agent, a really good agent, is a lifestyle and the commitment to your clients is 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Booking Mama: Is there any chance that we'll see the HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB characters in a movie?
MM: Yes, of course. Film or television. We are in talks.

Booking Mama: Are you a member of a book club?
MM: I was before moving to LA. But LA is really a movie town, I haven’t found one if anyone has one...

Booking Mama: What type of books do you enjoy reading? Who are your favorite authors? What book are you currently reading?
MM: I read everything. I love Joan Collins, Carl Hiaasen, Sarah Mlynowski, Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, Pete Dexter, Tom Perrotta, Toni Morrison, Janet Evanovich, Ally Carter...the list goes on and on and on. Right now I am reading two fabulous books: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart and High Five by Janet Evanovich

Booking Mama: Do you write everyday at set times (like a job) or just when an idea hits?
MM: I write everyday unless we have company or are traveling. And I mean every day. I like to be at my computer by 8 am. I work form 8 to noon. Then my daughters come home and we have lunch and I put them down for their naps. I then try to write again from 2 to 4. I always say I’ll write once the girls go to bed, but I’m usually too tired. So I try to get some reading done in the evening or television watching...yeah I’m a tv addict.

Booking Mama: What are you working on now?
MM: I just finished a television pilot for Mandeville Films. I’m writing a young adult paranormal thriller with a director friend of mine, and I’m almost finished with a stand alone women’s fiction book; Mothers & Daughters. After I finish these, I’m thinking I’ll use my legal background and knowledge of Hollywood to write a thriller.

Booking Mama: What do you want the reader to take away from your book?
MM: Pleasure, lots of pleasure. I want them to close the back cover, sigh, smile and think, ‘wow that was fun. I can’t wait for Maggie’s next book!’

I'd like to thank Ms. Marr for taking the time to answer my questions! SECRETS OF THE HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB will be available on April 15th; however, if you want a head-start on meeting the cast of characters, HOLLYWOOD GIRLS CLUB is available in trade paperback right now.