Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: Dead Until Dark

Summary: Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of "disability." She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark, handsome -- and Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all her life... But Bill has a disability of his own: He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of -- big surprise -- murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next... -- Ace Fantasy/Mystery

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris. I am telling you up front that I would have never picked up this book if it weren't for the Sookie Stackhouse Challenge that Beth Fish Reads is hosting. I follow her blog everyday and I totally love her and her reviews, but I still wasn't entirely sold. And then I got involved in the discussions on Twitter and decided to take the plunge. If the rest of the books are as entertaining as DEAD UNTIL DARK, I think I made a good decision by signing up for the challenge.

I read DEAD UNTIL DARK one afternoon while I was at the shore. Beth Fish Reads told me that it was an ideal beach read, and she was so right. This book is a light, quick read that held my attention throughout. I absolutely love Sookie and I was pleased with how well Ms. Harris developed her character. I think my feelings toward Sookie are the main reason that I want to read more books in this series. I guess I just like "spending time" with her!

I also really liked the secondary characters in this story, especially Bill and Sam. I have a feeling that they are both going to be appearing in future books, and I can't wait to learn more about their relationships with Sookie. Both seem to have some secrets and I am excited to learn more about both of them. Right now, I'm not entirely sure about either of them; but based on this book, I think I like both of them. And I'm pretty sure that they are going to make things interesting in Sookie's life.

Another element I really enjoyed about this book was the mystery angle. I was anxious to find out who the villain was, and I admit that I was caught off guard a little. While I enjoyed learning about vampires and their lifestyles, I think I really appreciated the book because of the mystery storyline. I thought Ms. Harris did a good job building suspense, and she definitely kept things interesting with the twists and turns.

One thing that actually surprised me a little bit about this book was how graphic it was. Not surprisingly, there was lots of gore and talk about all things vampire. However, there was also quite a bit of sex-talk. I don't consider myself a prude, but I admit that I was blushing a bit while reading some of the scenes!

I have not watched the HBO series TRUE BLOOD which is based on the Sookie books, but I have heard so many terrific things about it from my friends. After reading DEAD UNTIL DARK, I'm thinking about catching up with Season 1 on Netflix. My husband has already told me that he's not interested in watching it with me so that makes it a little more difficult; however, I'm thinking that it just might be worth it.

I definitely recommend DEAD UNTIL DARK if you are a fan of the whole vampire thing or even if you enjoy a good mystery! I am so looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

The eagerly anticipated sequel to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

Laurie Viera Rigler’s debut novel,
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, was a hit with fans and critics, and a BookSense and Los Angeles Times bestseller. Its open-to-interpretation ending left readers begging for more—and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict delivers. While Confessions took twenty-first-century free spirit Courtney Stone into the social confines of Jane Austen’s era, Rude Awakenings tells the parallel story of Jane Mansfield, a gentleman’s daughter from Regency England who inexplicably awakens in Courtney’s overly wired and morally confused L.A. life.

For Jane, the modern world is not wholly disagreeable. Her apartment may be smaller than a dressing closet, but it is fitted up with lights that burn without candles, machines that wash bodies and clothes, and a glossy rectangle in which tiny people perform scenes from her favorite book,
Pride and Prejudice. Granted, if she wants to travel she may have to drive a formidable metal carriage, but she may do so without a chaperone. And oh, what places she goes! Public assemblies that pulsate with pounding music. Unbound hair and unrestricted clothing. The freedom to say what she wants when she wants—even to men without a proper introduction.

Jane relishes the privacy, independence, even the power to earn her own money. But how is she to fathom her employer’s incomprehensible dictates about “
syncing a BlackBerry” and “rolling a call”? How can she navigate a world in which entire publications are devoted to brides but flirting and kissing and even the sexual act itself raise no matrimonial expectations? Even more bewildering are the memories that are not her own. And the friend named Wes, who is as attractive and confusing to Jane as the man who broke her heart back home. It’s enough to make her wonder if she would be better off in her own time, where at least the rules are clear—that is, if returning is even an option. -- Dutton

Last year, I read
CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT by Laurie Viera Rigler. I thought it was just a great book -- you can read my review here. I knew at the time that Ms. Rigler was already working on a sequel, and I've been anxiously awaiting the book's release for months. I am so excited to say that RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT is now available and it's just a good, if not better, than the first book (in my humble opinion!)

I guess RUDE AWAKENINGS is technically a sequel, but it is really more like a story that occurs simultaneously -- now I've totally confused you because CONFESSIONS took place in 19th century England while RUDE AWAKENINGS takes place in modern day Los Angeles. Suffice it to say that there is some time travel involved. One thing that I liked about Ms. Rigler's latest novel is that the stories actually came together for me. CONFESSIONS had an ending that was purposely left open for the reader's interpretation. When I read RUDE AWAKENINGS, I felt as if some things were clarified. After reading both books, I certainly think they can stand alone; but I highly recommend reading both books. And if you can read them in order, all the better. I loved all the little references in RUDE AWAKENINGS about things that occurred in CONFESSIONS; and I just felt like I had a little bit of insider information by reading both of them.

While I most definitely enjoyed CONFESSIONS, I think one of the reasons that I liked RUDE AWAKENINGS more was because it took place in Los Angeles in the present. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how Jane saw our modern times with her nineteenth-century eyes. There were so many very funny scenes where Jane tried to figure out computers, cell phones, dance clubs, automobiles, etc. I loved all of her dealings with our modern lifestyles, and I found a few of her comments to be rather insightful -- they actually made me assess some of what I take for granted.

RUDE AWAKENINGS is a light, fun read; however, this book does delve into some serious issues -- I wasn't really expecting to think quite so much when I picked up this novel (I mean that in an entirely good way.) I loved Jane/Courtney and everything she symbolized about young women in today's society. When Jane "arrives" in present day, she is suddenly faced with everything she had hoped for back in England -- her own house, her own job, and even her independence -- but her new life wasn't without complications. Even though Jane's adjustment was especially drastic (she was living as another woman in the future), she still faced many of the exact same issues that women do when they leave home and begin life on their own. In addition, I thought Jane/Courtney's relationship woes were similar to many women's relationship problems with men. Her ability to work through these issues and make intelligent decisions that were best for her is a lesson that almost every young woman needs to hear.

I totally think RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT would make a wonderful book club pick. In fact if your group is feeling ambitious, why not pair both CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT with RUDE AWAKENINGS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT; or read one of Ms. Rigler's books in concert with an actual Jane Austen novel. There is a reading guide
available to help facilitate your discussion, and Ms. Rigler is even available to phone in to your meeting to talk about her books.

Thanks to the author and publisher for sending me a copy of this novel.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: A Circle of Souls

Summary: The sleepy town of Newbury, Connecticut, is shocked when a little girl is found brutally murdered. The town s top detective, perplexed by a complete lack of leads, calls in FBI agent Leia Bines, an expert in cases involving children.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Gram, a psychiatrist at Newbury's hospital, searches desperately for the cause of seven-year-old Naya Hastings devastating nightmares. Afraid that she might hurt herself in the midst of a torturous episode, Naya s parents have turned to the bright young doctor as their only hope.

The situations confronting Leia and Peter converge when Naya begins drawing chilling images of murder after being bombarded by the disturbing images in her dreams. Amazingly, her sketches are the only clues to the crime that has panicked Newbury residents. Against her better judgment, Leia explores the clues in Naya s crude drawings, only to set off an alarming chain of events.

In this stunning psychological thriller, innocence gives way to evil, and trust lies forgotten in a web of deceit, fear, and murder. -- Sweetwater Books

A few weeks after I attended Book Expo America, Preetham Grandhi contacted me asking if I would be interested in reading his new novel A CIRCLE OF SOULS. He and his wife -- both authors -- had both attended the Blogger Panel and were looking for ways to spread the word about their respective books. I read the book's description and thought it sounded like a book that I'd enjoy. It was being billed as psychological suspense, and I figured that I hadn't read a book like that for quite awhile.

I thought A CIRCLE OF SOULS was very suspenseful and entertaining book. The story was told in third person narrative and consisted of relatively brief chapters which alternated between the lives of the characters. I enjoyed the third person narrative, and it was probably a necessary element to build suspense and keep the reader guessing; however, I wonder how the book would have worked if a few of the chapters were told in first person narrative. You know, just to mix things up a little bit. It's not as if I didn't think the characters were developed well -- it's just that I kind of wanted more insight into Leia and Peter.

I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline and the characters; and I appreciated that the plot was something new to me. I especially liked how the author mixed in some psychological suspense and even some supernatural with the horrific crimes. Even though some of the concepts in this book are very different from my current beliefs, I didn't have any problems accepting them in the context of this book. However, I did sometimes wonder how the characters, especially Leia, didn't have a more difficult time believing (and accepting) some of what happened.

One of the best things about this novel was how the author did a great job of building suspense. Each chapter left off in such a way that I felt I had to keep reading. As a result, I read about two-thirds of the book in one sitting because I had to find out what happened. I have to admit that I wasn't entirely surprised by who the murderer was -- I figured it out pretty early on -- but there were a few times where I found myself questioning some of the other characters and their actions.

A CIRCLE OF SOULS is Dr. Grandhi's debut novel, and I hope it's just the beginning of his writing career because I think he can definitely weave a story. Besides writing books, he also has a private practice for children and adolescent psychiatry. It was apparent to me that his knowledge and experience of working with troubled children was useful in writing this novel. I could definitely tell that helping children is near and dear to his heart, and I felt as if I was getting an insider's look into parts of the medical profession. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Grandhi as well as read some of the praise he's receiving for his very entertaining new novel, then you should check out this website devoted to A CIRCLE OF SOULS.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Holly's Inbox

Summary: System alert: Inbox full of scandal, romance, and office hilarity!

Meet Holly Denham. It's her first day as a receptionist at a London investment bank and inexperienced Holly is struggling. How's a working girl supposed to have a love life with a demanding job, crazy friends, a dysfunctional family, and gossipy colleagues? Not to mention that Holly's been keeping a secret from everyone - and the past is about to catch up with her.

An affair with a sexy VP heats things up at the office, but when Holly's first flame (who, she thinks, left her in the lurch) gets a job at the same company, complications abound and Holly's inbox becomes a daily source of drama, laughter and scandal.

Repeatedly compared to Bridget Jones' Diary, became a website phenomenon, with thousands of daily visitors from all over the world. This novel tells Holly's story in full, and also includes exclusive extra material not available on the site. -- Sourcebooks Casablanca

When I opened the package containing HOLLY'S INBOX by Holly Denham, my first reaction was "This book is huge!" -- it's actually over 660 pages. My second reaction, which came pretty quickly after my first one, was "It better be good because it's a really big book." However, when I opened the book and saw that the story was written entirely in the form of e-mail messages, I realized that it wasn't that intimidating. Plus this book was already a huge hit in the U.K. and has been translated into six languages; so I knew lots of people had already enjoyed this book!

I packed up HOLLY'S INBOX to read at the shore because I figured it would be a light and funny book, and I really didn't want to concentrate too much on my vacation; however, I actually started the book on the way to the beach. It took me about 25 pages to get into the swing of things -- I had a few problems following the e-mails going back and forth and keeping track of who the characters were. But after I figured things out, I couldn't put the book down. I was shocked by how quickly the book moved and by how much I enjoyed it! I took the book with me to the beach later in the day and finished it within a few hours. It was just a perfect read for my vacation!

HOLLY'S INBOX is actually written by Bill Surie, not Holly Denham -- Holly is just the main characters in the story/e-mails. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about a chick-lit book being written by a man. I can a 40 year old guy really "get" women and their issues? Well, it's been awhile since I was working in an office and dealing with co-workers, but I swear Mr. Surie nailed it. All the office gossip and pettiness that I remember were incorporated into this novel (but they were a lot funnier to me now that I'm removed from all of that.) I read an interview with Mr. Surie in the New York Post, and I learned that he got the idea for this book from the e-mails of a woman he had just fired. For some reason, I thought this was just hilarious!

Before there was a book, there was a very popular website devoted to "Holly's Inbox." If you are interested in this book, then you have to check it out. The site looks just like an e-mail inbox with contacts and e-mails. The site has had thousands of people from 120 countries visiting it. You can definitely learn more about Holly and her friends/co-workers/family/etc. as well as the author's writing style. I think it's a great way to preview the book before you buy it.

I thoroughly enjoyed HOLLY'S INBOX and I definitely recommend it to all of you who are fans of the chick lit genre (especially Brit Chick Lit.) It is a very funny story with lots of cute storylines and even a little romance thrown in. I think it's a perfect summer getaway book -- whether you read it while you're away on vacation or just when you want to escape from everyday life!

Thanks to the publisher and author for sending me a copy of this very entertaining book!

Review: Kellogg's Cinnabon Snack Bar

Product Description: A snack bar with a world-famous blend of rich cinnamon, delicious fresh baked flavor, and melt-in-your-mouth frosting.

I recently received a box of the new Kellogg's Cinnabon Snack Bars (Original) courtesy of Mom Central. I was anxious to try one because I love cinnamon and cinnamon rolls, but I was participating in the Game On! Diet for the past four weeks and unfortunately wasn't able to try them out right away. I did, however, pass along two of the bars for my husband and his co-worker to taste so I could gather their opinions. They both thought they were pretty tasty, but they didn't feel like the portion size was enough for a meal.

So now that my "official" diet ended yesterday, I finally got around to tasting one of these bars for myself! While the bars are ready to eat from the pouch, I decided to microwave one according to the directions on the box. I did enjoy the bar and thought it had a good cinnamon flavor, but I admit that it didn't fill me up enough for a meal. I think these Cinnabon Snack Bars are probably best for a little snack or dessert. The only issue I had was the amount of calories in the bar -- 150 calories -- not a huge amount and definitely less than a real cinnamon roll, but still.... There was also 4.5 grams of fat (although there were 0 grams of trans fat so that's a plus) and 13 grams of sugar. Check out the nutritional information for more details.

I actually think kids are going to really like these bars. They are yummy and good for on-the-go activities as well as packed lunches. I'm sorry to say that I can't attest to whether either of my kids liked them because my daughter has issues with trying new foods and my son is allergic to the bars (they contain wheat, milk, egg, and soy.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: The Game On! Diet

Summary: The Game On! Diet is not a diet. It's a bold new approach to fitness that turns the latest, smartest, most successful health science into a fun, fierce, and exhilarating game. Developed by Az Ferguson, to help Grey's Anatomy writer Krista Vernoff shed forty pounds of postpregnancy weight, it is the ideal program for busy people who should be working out but have a thousand good excuses not to.

Az keeps you motivated and Krista keeps you laughing as they show you how to organize opposing teams, set goals, and compete to earn points for daily exercise, healthy meal plans, and positive lifestyle changes. With The Game On! Diet, the process of losing weight, for the first time ever, is actually fun. After all, what's better than a bikini body . . . and bragging rights?

Get out there and lose . . . to win! Game on! -- Harper

THE GAME ON! DIET: KICK YOUR FRIEND'S BUTT WHILE SHRINKING YOUR OWN by Az Ferguson and Krista Vernoff is a new diet plan that I just tested for four weeks. The idea of this diet plan definitely appealed to me because there are lots of rules. I am a major rule follower so I knew that having these rules would help ensure that I would stick with this diet -- I hate not doing things "right." In addition, there is a nifty little checklist (I get very excited about lists) where I could track my progress each and every day.

What I can most assuredly say after participating in this diet is that there is going to be something in it that appeals to everyone. If you are like me (Major Type A personality), then you might like the rules and the checklist. There is also a game element involved that will appeal to those of you who are competitive. I really liked that aspect too because I love to win! And if you are a people pleaser, then I think the team aspect will help you stick to the diet because you will be concerned about letting down your team when or if you have any lapses.

I have to admit that I'm glad to be done with this first round of The Game On! Diet. I don't regret doing it one bit, but I do need a break from all the rules. Plus, I have three family birthday celebrations coming up in the next month, and I don't think I can get through that many parties without eating any sugar! (Although I did have two mini vacations during the past four weeks that I did survive with only one lapse.)

If you'd like to learn more about my 4 week diet, you can read my prior posts:
Week 1 Recap
Week 2 Recap
Note: I didn't do a Week 3 Recap because I was on vacation and didn't have computer access.

Here's a brief summary of the basic idea behind the program:

Rather than focus on losing weight, you get to focus on winning points. You can earn a maximum of 100 points a day for doing the following:

1) 30 Meal Points - 6 points per meal -no snacks
2) 20 Exercise Points - 20 minutes of exercise per day
3) 10 Water Points - 3 liters a day
4) 15 Sleep Points - at least 7 hours a night
5) 20 Transformation Points - 10 points for a healthy new habit and 10 points for dropping an old unhealthy one
6) 5 Communication Points - being in contact with your team members every day

You can also lose points if you:
1) 10 Points - snack between meals
2) 20 Points - if you collude with another player
3) 25 Points - alcohol penalty per portion

The diet does cut you some slack:
1) One day off a week when you don't have to follow any of the rules
2) One meal off a week when you can eat what you want and have one unit of alcohol
3) Each day you can have 100 calories of anything as a bonus treat

Overall, I think The Game On! Diet is a terrific program. And while I didn't lose as much weight as I had hoped, I think I developed some really good habits like eating smaller portions, drinking more water, eating more veggies, and doing five sun salutations every day. I do feel like I'm eating a lot healthier because everything I've consumed is fresh rather than packaged. I also like the idea of exercising six days a week, but in reality I was almost doing this anyway prior to the diet.

The thing I liked the most about the program was the team aspect. I loved being able to talk/complain about this diet and my lack of weight loss with others in the same boat. I enjoyed all the good-natured teasing that went along with the diet; and I especially liked how there were always lots of people to encourage me when I was frustrated!

And I realize that no diet is perfect, but I have to vent about the things I didn't find ideal about this plan. Keep in mind that these are my complaints and my complaints only.

- Eating five small meals a day - I understand the reasons for this rule, especially since it's supposed to increase your metabolism. On one hand, I liked that I always knew I could eat again in two to four hours; so if I was a little hungry after a meal, no problem - I knew I could make it a few hours until the next one. My main problem with this rule was when I was forcing myself to eat the fifth meal when I wasn't even hungry. My dieting mentality is one that says I shouldn't eat just to eat -- I felt like they were wasted calories. And one day last week, I binged on a lunch. I absolutely wasn't hungry and didn't "need" to eat the rest of the day, but I would have had to take not only the six point penalty for my lunch, but also another 18 penalty points if I didn't eat the rest of the day. As a result, I forced down two more mini meals so I'd only end up taking 12 penalty points for the day.

- Frustration with weight loss - Last year, I did Weight Watchers and felt like I had a little more luck losing weight. I ended up losing around six pounds with The Game On! Diet which isn't too bad, but I was hoping for a little more . While I did take my day off each week, I didn't take my extra meal off until week 4. I felt as if I ate that extra meal, I would have never reached my 1% weight loss goal each week -- I found that quite annoying! And to top it off, I was running almost three miles every day when only 20 minutes of activity was required. Upon further assessment of the meal plan, I think I might have been consuming too many calories even without that "free meal." The book does warn against this problem for some people (in fact, Ms. Vernoff herself counts calories for her meal plan.) If/when I try this diet again, I will definitely count calories or use the Weight Watcher point system.

- Punishment for not reaching goal weight - Since I had only a little weight to lose, I felt like it wasn't always realistic to lost 1% of my body weight each and every week. Next time, I think I'll set a different goal so I feel like I'm not failing! Since I am one that likes to follow rules, I only had one meal the entire four weeks where I slipped. Fortunately, I reached my goal weight the first three weeks, so I didn't have to take any of the penalties (like losing alcohol for the remainder of the diet.) I guess I was just really frustrated that even if I followed all the rules and scored a perfect 850 points, it was still a very realistic possibility that I couldn't lose 1% of my weight.

I am definitely planning on keeping with some elements of this game. I love the girls (and guy) that I competed with/against, and I hope to continue communicating with them regularly. I also plan on eating a lot healthier and especially taking in more veggies and water on a regular basis. I think everyone who participated agrees that there are some wonderful things to take away from this diet plan!

Overall, I do recommend The Game On! Diet if you are want to make some major lifestyle changes. It is a great way to eat better, increase your physical activity and implement some new habits in your life. Plus, it's a great way to get healthier along with your friends!

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of THE GAME ON! DIET.

Mother Daughter Book Club Meeting #13

Summary: For as long as she can remember, twelve-year-old Emily Windsnap has lived on a boat. And, oddly enough, for just as long, her mother has seemed anxious to keep her away from the water. But when Mom finally agrees to let her take swimming lessons, Emily makes a startling discovery - about her own identity, the mysterious father she’s never met, and the thrilling possibilities and perils shimmering deep below the water’s surface. With a sure sense of suspense and richly imaginative details, first-time author Liz Kessler lures us into a glorious undersea world where mermaids study shipwrecks at school and Neptune rules with an iron trident - an enchanting fantasy about family secrets, loyal friendship, and the convention-defying power of love. -- Candlewick

Last night, our Mother Daughter book club met to discuss THE TAIL OF EMILY WINDSNAP by Liz Kessler. I have to admit that I wasn't really part of the girls' "meeting," but I have it from two sources that their discussion went very well. Apparently, all of the girls loved the book and were very excited to talk about it with each other. You can read an excerpt here.

I think the girls all agree that they want to read some more "tails" about Emily; and I can't say I blame them since I thought the book was positively adorable. I have to admit that I wanted to pick up Book 2 right away, especially after the way THE TAIL OF EMILY WINDSNAP left off. Ms. Kessler definitely leaves open the possibility for lots of fantastic (or should I say "fintastic"?) adventures for Emily and her family.

All of the girls really liked Emily and her friend Shona. One of the girls pointed out to me that she is definitely more like Shona because she's very adventurous. I thought that was so precious. I've found that the girls often try to figure out which character in a book they are most like. I guess we all do that in some form or another -- I know I enjoy reading book when I can relate to the characters.

When my daughter and I discussed the book after the meeting, I was curious to see her reaction to it. I knew she enjoyed the story, but I wanted to see if she grasped some of the deeper themes. And I wanted to see if she could make sense of those themes and apply them to her life. We began talking about the theme of friendship and what makes a good friend. We talked about how Emily and her friend Shona were both considered to be "different" and didn't really have any good friends; and we also talked about how fortunate they were to find each other. I pointed out that they were both excellent friends because they weren't selfish and competing against the other one. Their friendship was so special because they tried to put the other one first. I think she understood all of that, but I'm not entirely sure she could have articulated it to me before our little talk.

In August, we will be reading EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles. I wasn't familiar with this author or this book, but after reading the summary, I think it looks terrific. This will be the last book that we read before heading back to school, so I'm glad that it looks like one the girls will enjoy. Next month, Booking Daughter and I get to pick the book! Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Summary: Ten-year-old Comfort Snowberger has attended 247 funerals. But that's not surprising, considering that her family runs the town funeral home. And even though Great-uncle Edisto keeled over with a heart attack and Great-great-aunt Florentine dropped dead--just like that--six months later, Comfort knows how to deal with loss, or so she thinks. She's more concerned with avoiding her crazy cousin Peach and trying to figure out why her best friend, Declaration, suddenly won't talk to her. Life is full of surprises. And the biggest one of all is learning what it takes to handle them.

Deborah Wiles has created a unique, funny, and utterly real cast of characters in this heartfelt, and quintessentially Southern coming-of-age novel. Comfort will charm young readers with her wit, her warmth, and her struggles as she learns about life, loss, and ultimately, triumph. -- Harcourt

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win

Summary: Stand-up comic and comedy writer Carol Leifer faced a critical dilemma and had only two options: either continue sharing her greatest childhood memory (seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1966) or lie about her age. But the choice soon became clear: “I see now that when you deny your age, you deny yourself, and when you lie about your age, you become your inauthentic twin. But most important, when you lie about your age, they win. (And of course by ‘they,’ I mean the terrorists).” Now, in this uproarious book, Leifer reveals all—her age, her outlook, her life philosophy—no holds barred.

• On technology: “I am overwhelmed by anything that involves a cord.”

• On motherhood: “Never put your baby’s length on a birth announcement. It’s a baby, not a marlin.”
• On collagen injections: “Your lips are not meant to be flotation devices for your face in case it capsizes.”

• On tattoos: “If you plan on having your lover’s name tattooed on your arm, always leave room before it for a possible ‘I Hate’ down the road.”
• On etiquette: “Never refer to a woman as ‘ma’am,’ even if she’s ninety years old. Nobody likes it.”

After years of stand-up and a wave of successful television shows, Carol Leifer finally (and hilariously) puts it all down on paper–the wise thoughts, witty stories, and wonderfully way-out observations guaranteed to have you nodding in agreement and laughing out loud in sheer delight. -- Villard

by Carol Leifer is not a book that I would normally read; but when I read all the praise surrounding this book, I thought I'd give it a try. Ellen Degeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Chris Rock, Larry David, and Bill Maher all have blurbs on the back cover of this book. At the very least, I figured this book would have to be somewhat funny, right?

I have to admit that I didn't absolutely love this book -- it was just alright for me. The book was made up of more than 25 short essays on a variety of topics including plastic surgery, finding love, becoming a mother, and adopting pets. I was expecting to find a lot of humor in these essays (you know more like entertaining insights into regular life), but I found this book to mainly be Ms. Leifer's opinions (and strong ones at that) about her life.

Prior to this novel, I wasn't that familiar with Ms. Leifer as a stand-up comic or as a television show writer; and I'm thinking that might have been one of the reasons I didn't appreciate this book as much as some readers will. Of course, I am a fan of some of the shows she has worked on including Seinfeld and Saturday Night Live (and I won't swear that I haven't seen her do a little stand-up on some show), but I think not really "knowing" her might have made a difference in my ability to really care about her opinions.

I don't want to make it sound like I didn't find anything of value in this book because that's definitely not true. There were some really funny things in this book. And even though I have almost nothing in common with Ms. Leifer, I did find myself agreeing with her on some issues. We might not have arrived at these opinions the same way, so I found it interesting to learn the reasons why she has her beliefs. And even on those topics where we disagree, I still thought I could learn something by getting another point of view.

Probably the stories that I enjoyed the most were at the beginning of the book. I thought the sections where Ms. Leifer talked about her father were extremely touching because it was obvious she loved him deeply. She also managed to tell a few stories about him that were quite funny. Another section I enjoyed was when Ms. Leifer discussed aging and plastic surgery. I thought she made a lot of valid points for just accepting who we are and what we have!

I recommend WHEN YOU LIE ABOUT YOUR AGE, THE TERRORISTS WIN if you enjoy memoirs that also include some humor. In addition, I think readers who enjoy short essays about life would find this book to be entertaining.

Thanks to Anna from FSB Associates for sending me a copy of this book.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Wilson and Miss Lovely

Summary: Wilson had just finished his first week of school and could not wait for the next one to begin. He was very fond of his new teacher, Miss Lovely. But something was wrong that day—very wrong. There were no school buses, the school itself was empty, and something strange was approaching. Undeterred and ever-hopeful that he would see Miss Lovely soon, Wilson went through his normal school day alone—he did his math lesson alone, his science lesson alone, sent himself to the principal’s office when he was naughty, and more, but still . . . something was approaching. Stadler skillfully uses gatefold flaps to keep the suspense mounting until we find out just who—or what—was approaching. Readers will love following Wilson and his day at school right out of a Twilight Zone episode in this funny, sweet, and sometimes scary story. -- Robin Corey Books

I though it was interesting that both of my kids really enjoyed reading WILSON AND MISS LOVELY: A BACK-TO-SCHOOL MYSTERY by John Stadler. I think the almost 10 year old girl liked it for different reasons than the almost 5 year old boy, but I guess it says something about a book when they both like it. One thing they both agreed on is that this book was very funny.

Poor Wilson begins his normal school day routine only to find that he is the one one there. He does his math work, his science work and even sends himself to the principal's office when he misbehaves. Wilson is confused and also a little bit scared when he doesn't see his teacher or his friends anywhere. As I read this book, I could tell that my son was wondering where everyone was and what was going to happen to Wilson.

One thing that was very cute about this book were the illustrations. Wilson is just the cutest little rabbit with adorable facial expressions. My son in particular liked that the book had some pages which folded out -- he always likes to "help" read his books; and I think he really enjoyed seeing the "monster" that kept appearing behind the flaps. He also seemed to like that the book had a surprise or two thrown in at the end, and he thought the last page of the book was very funny. As for me, I thought the author did a terrific job of building suspense for the young readers. I had a good time seeing my son's reaction to the scary monster at the end of the book.

I think WILSON AND MISS LOVELY is the perfect book for this time of the year when we are starting to think about the end of summer and the beginning of school. I also think teachers are going to enjoy reading this book to their students come fall. WILSON AND MISS LOVELY should help ease the back-to-school anxieties that many children have because it shows that Wilson loved his first week of school so much that he couldn't wait to go back for more. Another added bonus is that this book has a character who is excited about school and learning.

The author, John Stadler, has written almost 30 children's books, including BIG AND LITTLE and HOORAY FOR SNAIL! Many of his titles have been selected by ALA Editor's Choice, the Children's Book Council's Children's Choice and Reading Rainbow. He has also been featured in the New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children. Needless to say, he is most definitely an accomplished author of children's books.

Thanks to the publisher for sending us a copy of WILSON AND MISS LOVELY.

Review: Egg Drop

Summary: A mother hen tells her chicks about the egg that wanted to fly. “The egg was young. It didn’t know much. We tried to tell it, but of course it didn’t listen.” The egg loves looking up at the birds (yes, it has eyes). It climbs 303 steps (yes, it has legs) to the top of a very tall tower—and jumps. It feels an enormous egg rush. “Whee!” it cries. “I am flying!” But it is not flying, it is falling. Hold your tears, dear reader—there is a sunny ending for this modern-day Humpty Dumpty. Impossible to categorize, Egg Drop is Mini Grey at her zaniest. -- Knopf

EGG DROP by Mini Grey is a very cute book! My son and I both thoroughly enjoyed reading about a little egg who really wanted to fly. Of course, we both knew that the egg was asking for trouble from the start, but that only made the book all the more fun to read.

EGG DROP is an ideal book for preschoolers. The pictures are just adorable and there are only a few words on each page so even the most active youngster will be able to sit through the entire story. I thought the pictures definitely enhanced the story, and I actually think we spent more time looking at the pictures than reading the words. I also like that this story was really funny. The humor in this book will appeal not only to young children but also to the adults who have to read it!

Besides the story, I also thought the lessons in this book were cute. It's no surprise that the egg wasn't able to fly; and we also know from Humpty Dumpty that you can't fix a broken egg. But the ultimate lesson in EGG DROP was really about patience -- if only the little egg would have waited...

My son and I definitely recommend EGG DROP! Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Review: Blue Boy

Summary: Meet Kiran Sharma: lover of music, dance, and all things sensual; son of immigrants, social outcast, spiritual seeker. A boy who doesn't quite understand his lot—until he realizes he's a god...

As an only son, Kiran has obligations—to excel in his studies, to honor the deities, to find a nice Indian girl, and, above all, to make his mother and father proud—standard stuff for a boy of his background. If only Kiran had anything in common with the other Indian kids besides the color of his skin. They reject him at every turn, and his cretinous public schoolmates are no better. Cincinnati in the early 1990s isn’t exactly a hotbed of cultural diversity, and Kiran’s not-so-well-kept secrets don’t endear him to any group. Playing with dolls, choosing ballet over basketball, taking the annual talent show way too seriously. . .the very things that make Kiran who he is also make him the star of his own personal freak show. . .

Surrounded by examples of upstanding Indian Americans—in his own home, in his temple, at the weekly parties given by his parents’ friends—Kiran nevertheless finds it impossible to get the knack of “normalcy.” And then one fateful day, a revelation: perhaps his desires aren’t too earthly, but too divine. Perhaps the solution to the mystery of his existence has been before him since birth. For Kiran Sharma, a long, strange trip is about to begin—a journey so sublime, so ridiculous, so painfully beautiful, that it can only lead to the truth. . . -- Kensington

When I first read the description of BLUE BOY by Rakesh Satyal, I thought it sounded like an interesting take on a coming-of-age story. Kiran is the only child of traditional Indian parents who have immigrated to the United States and started a new life in Cincinnati. As a young Indian boy in America, he knows he looks different from the other kids; but it's his other interests which really set him apart. He just happens to like ballet class, talent shows, Strawberry Shortcake, make-up, and a pink backpack; and he doesn't exactly hide his feelings from his classmates. As you can probably tell, BLUE BOY most definitely was a very unique story about a very unique boy.

One thing that I have to point out about this book is that it is extremely entertaining. Even though a lot of what happens to Kiran really isn't very funny, the author has incorporated so much humor into this story. Kiran is an extremely funny character. There are numerous scenes where I found myself laughing at Kiran's antics, and I couldn't help but smile at Kiran's insights into life.

This novel was written in first person in Kiran's voice, and I think that's what made this book so special. Getting inside of Kiran's mind and truly understanding his feelings really caused me to think. Kiran was such a lost and confused young boy, and my heart really went out to him. Poor Kiran just didn't "fit in" on so many levels. Even though his parents moved to Ohio, they were still very involved with their Indian friends and that culture. Kiran was stuck between wanting to belong with his family and their friends while also trying to fit in with the American kids at his school. In addition, there was absolutely no doubt that Kiran did not relate to the other young boys that he met. While he tried to have the same interests, it was apparent at a pretty early age that Kiran was his own unique person. He not only had his own insecurities about pleasing his parents, but he also had to deal with constant teasing at school.

Because he didn't feel quite "normal", Kiran gets the idea that he is the embodiment of the god Krishna. He even uses his mother's make-up to color his face blue so he would look more like Krishna. I actually really liked how the author incorporated this imagery into the story, and I thought it was very well done. I thought it was very telling how Kiran wanted to embrace something bigger than himself while also trying to come to terms with his differences.

As I read BLUE BOY, I had to wonder how much of this story was autobiographical. The author points out that his parents were not like Kiran's parents in BLUE BOY, but I do know there was one very funny scene where Kiran dresses up as Abraham Lincoln for a school project that was based on the author's real-life experience. So much of Kiran's confusion and pain just seemed to be so real and heartfelt that I'm guessing that the author was speaking from a lot of his own personal experiences as a young boy.

The author, Rakesh Satyal, is definitely a well-rounded individual to say the least. Besides writing this novel, Mr. Satyal is also an editor at Harper Collins. In addition, he is a musician who has performed in a cabaret show. He also is on the planning committee of the PEN World Voices Festival and speaks frequently at writers' conferences. If you'd like to learn more about Mr. Satyal, you can check out his website or read this Q&A with him.

BLUE BOY would make for an interesting book club pick if your group likes books about other cultures and life styles. I do think there is a great deal to discuss about this book especially pertaining to parent/child relationships. I think groups like mine that are made up of mothers might really appreciate discussing the challenges that Kiran and his parents faced. I also think talking about the differences in the Indian and American cultures would be very interesting. There is a reading guide available which contains ten thought-provoking questions.

Since Kiran is at the age where he is coming to terms with his emotions and his body, I have to warn you that there are parts of this book which are rather blunt about sex. I didn't have a problem with them as I thought they helped to tell Kiran's story, but I do think some of you might be offended.

A big thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of BLUE BOY. You can read an excerpt of this novel here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Alert: The Devil's Queen

Summary: From Jeanne Kalogridis, the bestselling author of I, Mona Lisa and The Borgia Bride, comes a new novel that tells the passionate story of a queen who loved not wisely . . . but all too well.

Confidante of Nostradamus, scheming mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots, and architect of the bloody St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Catherine de Medici is one of the most maligned monarchs in history. In her latest historical fiction, Jeanne Kalogridis tells Catherine’s story—that of a tender young girl, destined to be a pawn in Machiavellian games.

Born into one of Florence’s most powerful families, Catherine was soon left a fabulously rich heiress by the early deaths of her parents. Violent conflict rent the city state and she found herself imprisoned and threatened by her family’s enemies before finally being released and married off to the handsome Prince Henry of France.

Overshadowed by her husband’s mistress, the gorgeous, conniving Diane de Poitiers, and unable to bear children, Catherine resorted to the dark arts of sorcery to win Henry’s love and enhance her fertility—for which she would pay a price. Against the lavish and decadent backdrop of the French court, and Catherine’s blood-soaked visions of the future, Kalogridis reveals the great love and desire Catherine bore for her husband, Henry, and her stark determination to keep her sons on the throne.-- St. Martin's Press

Today at BJ's Wholesale Club, I discovered a book that I'm dying to read. It's called THE DEVIL'S QUEEN; and it's the story of woman with whom I have always been interested -- Catherine de Medici. THE DEVIL'S QUEEN is written by Jeanne Kalogridis, author of I, MONA LISA and THE BORGIA BRIDE so I'm sure it's a treat. So many of my family and friends have just raved about her writing.

St. Martin's Press is so excited about the release of THE DEVIL'S QUEEN that they have created a bonus mini e-book to complement it! This e-book is filled with Catherine de Medici's "black magic" spells and dark charms. I read through the mini e-book and it has definitely piqued my interest in this exciting new novel!

If your book club is anything like mine, then you enjoy reading and discussing good historical fiction. I can only imagine how many groups will be reading THE DEVIL'S QUEEN in the next few months; and I was excited to see that there is already a reading guide available.

I absolutely can't wait to read this book, and I have a feeling that I'm not alone. Is THE DEVIL'S QUEEN a book that you're planning on reading?

Guest Review: Ravens

Summary: The Boatwrights just won 318 million dollars in the Georgia State lottery. It's going to be the worst day of their lives.

When Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko pull up at a convenience store off I-95 in Georgia, their only thought is to fix a leaky tire and be on their way again to Florida-away from their dull Ohio tech-support jobs. But this happens to be the store from which a 318,000,000 million dollar Jackpot ticket has just been sold -- and when a pretty clerk accidentally reveals to Shaw the identity of the winning family, he hatches a ferociously audacious scheme: He and Romeo will squeeze the family for half their prize.

That night, he visits the Boatwright home and takes the family hostage, while Romeo patrols the streets nearby, prepared to murder the Boatwrights' loved ones at any sign of resistance. At first, the family offers none. But Shaw's plot depends on maintaining constant fear-merciless, unfaltering terror-and soon, under the pressure, everyone's sanity begins to unravel . . .

At once frightening, comic, and suspenseful, RAVENS is a wholly original and utterly compelling novel from one of our most talented writers. -- Grand Central Publishing

When I saw that there was going to be a book blog tour for RAVENS by George Dawes Green, both Kathy (aka Bermuda Onion) and I immediately thought that Booking Pap Pap might be game for reading this novel. I called him and read the book description to him, and he said it sounded interesting. Here are his thoughts about RAVENS:

Writing reviews for Booking Mama has certainly exposed me to literature genres that I normally would not be inclined to read. First it was a spiritual thriller, then a horror novel, and now a psychological suspense novel. RAVENS by George Dawes Green races you through one week in the lives of the Boatwright family who has just won $318 million in the Georgia State Lottery and are being held hostage by a psychopath and his partner for half the prize.

It all begins when Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderco leave their boring techie jobs in Ohio for a fresh start in Florida and make a stop at a convenience store in Georgia. While there, a store clerk inadvertently reveals the name of the recent lottery winner to Shaw. By browsing the Internet, McBride obtains enough information about the family to develop a diabolical scheme to get half the prize. His plan is to hold the Boatwright family hostage while his friend Zderco drives around the town ready to murder the Boatwright’s family and friends at the first sign of resistance.

The most interesting aspect of the book to me is the well developed and memorable, sometimes bizarre, characters. Shaw McBride as a teenager learned of his ability to control and manipulate others. Romeo Zderco was always desperate to be accepted by others and falls under Shaw’s influence early on. Although Romeo is not a cold blooded killer and actually exhibits signs of kindness and compassion during this ordeal, he cannot say no to Shaw. Mitch Boatwright is the Christian zealot who spends significant time reading scripture and shows more anger when Shaw attributes his lottery success to faith in Jesus Christ than he shows with the threat to his family. His wife, Patsy is the family drunk and obsessive lottery player. His daughter Tara is more or less a typical twenty-one year old. You realize early on she will have an important role as this drama plays out. Other characters such as Tara’s card playing Grandmother Nell, her brother Jase, her friend Clio and Burris, the old city cop considered to be a buffoon, provide humorous and unusual elements to the story.

The author does an excellent job in showing how an unusual situation such as winning the lottery can change ordinary people. He also shows the members of the Boatwright family falling victim to the Stockholm syndrome. Interestingly, the author utilizes the imagery of Christianity throughout the novel as Patsy prays after winning the lottery, Tara tries to pray during the crisis but can’t, and Jase feels guilt after telling his friends about the lottery. Mitch’s faith is tested throughout the ordeal, and Shaw is accepted by the townspeople as a sort of messiah. Another interesting aspect of the book is the use of technologies such as text messaging and computer monitoring devices.

The novel moves along at a brisk pace building the suspense right up until the surprising conclusion. It is hard to believe that all this suspense can be crammed into just seven days. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.

Check out these other tour stops:

July 20

July 21

July 22

July 23

July 24

A big thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his insightful review and to Miriam from Hachette for organizing this book tour.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: LTDchix Tees & Totes Plus Giveaway

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to win an adorable LTDchix tee-shirt from Book Room Reviews. I had a hard time choosing which tee-shirt I wanted because they are all so darn cute! I ended up selecting the Cleaning Mom design (pictured below) because it's quite appropriate, but I could have just as easily picked the Workout Mom, the Referee Mom, the Multi-Tasking Mom and probably a few more. I absolutely love these shirts! They are sure to be a conversation piece, plus they are very stylish with the two-tone trim.

I liked the tee-shirt so much that I placed another order. Just last week, LTDchix came out with a new theme -- the Happy Hour Mom! It's available in both carolina blue and key lime; and I knew I had to order one for a friend. It's just too cute!

LTDchix items are just perfect for moms. Consider one as a treat to yourself or as a gift for a friend. If you are considering ordering either a fitted tee or a tank, I have to warn you that the fitted shirts do run a size small and the tanks are rather generous -- so order appropriately!

I also ordered one of LTDchix's new shopping bags -- the natural colored one with the Yoga Mom. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice these bags are, and I loved that the images were in full color! Not only will I be carrying my stuff around in a cute bag, but I will also be doing a little for the environment.

LTDchix has graciously offered to giveaway one of their shopping bags to a lucky Booking Mama reader. If you are interested in entering this contest, visit the LTDchix site and leave a comment after this post telling me what color and style bag you would like to win. Please leave a valid e-mail so I have a way to contact you. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until August 5th at 11:59 p.m. EST, and I will notify the winner the following day. This giveaway is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Finding Susie

Summary: A “perfect pet” story from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sandra is growing up on a desert ranch surrounded by animals, but she wants one to have her very own pet. A tortoise isn’t really friendly, a little rabbit is too fearful, and a young coyote howls to rejoin his pack. A bobcat almost fits the bill, but soon grows too big and fierce to be a housecat. Sandra’s parents let her learn for herself that these animals are best suited to the wild, though it is often hard to let them go. Finally, a smiley little stray dog finds Sandra. Sandra names the dog Susie, and the two become wonderful friends. -- Knopf

FINDING SUSIE written by Sandra Day O'Connor and illustrated by Tom Pohrt is a beautiful picture book for youngsters. In case you are wondering: yes, it is that Sandra Day O'Connor, the former Supreme Court Justice. I was so excited to see that an amazing female role model from my childhood has turned her skills into writing a children's book that my kids can appreciate.

I read this book to my son (who is almost 5 years old) and he enjoyed it. He understood the entire story, but he did become a bit antsy towards the end of the book. Don't get me wrong, he was able to sit for the entire story; however, FINDING SUSIE is longer than our usual night-time reads. The book is probably geared for kindergartners and up based on his reaction. Although there are definitely preschoolers who will love this book (the recommended age range is 4-8.)

FINDING SUSIE tells the story of Justice O'Connor's childhood adventures with the animals that lived around her family's ranch. She absolutely adored animals of all types and kept bringing home wild animals with the hopes that she could turn them into her pet. Some examples of the animals that found their way into Sandra's heart included a tortoise, a rabbit, a coyote and a bobcat. She finally ended up with a stray dog which she named Susie.

In addition to the story, I thought the illustrations in this book were just wonderful. Mr. Pohrt's pictures have appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in addition to many other picture books. The details on both the animals as well as the people's faces are exquisite; and I found the illustrations to be a perfect compliment to the text.

I also really liked the messages in this book. I especially appreciated the overall idea that some animals are not meant to be pets -- they are better suited to living in the wild. There is also the message that it's not always easy to do the right thing. Sandra learned this lesson the hard way when she had to keep giving up the animals that she loved because they weren't happy being pets. I also liked that Sandra was persistent and never gave up throughout this story. She knew she wanted a pet more than anything and she kept on trying over and over again. I have a feeling that these same personality traits that Justice O'Connor had as a child served her well in her adult life.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me this gorgeous picture book.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Dune Road

Summary: Set in Connecticut’s tony Gold Coast town of Highfield, Dune Road tells the story of Kit Hargrove, whose divorce has granted her a new lease on life. No longer a Wall Street Widow, with the requisite diamond studs and Persian rugs, Kit revels in her clapboard Cape with the sea-green shutters and sprawling impatiens. Her kids are content, her ex cooperative, her friends steadfast, and each morning she wakes up unable to believe how lucky she is to have landed the job of her dreams: assisting the blockbuster novelist Robert McClore.

A mysterious tragedy drove this famous writer into seclusion decades ago, and few besides Kit are granted access to his house at the top of Dune Road, with its breathtaking views of Long Island Sound. But all that is about to change. At a rare appearance at the local bookstore, McClore meets Kit’s new friend Tracy, whose weakness for older men rivals her powers of self-reinvention. Are the secret visits of her boss’s new muse as innocent as Kit would like to believe? When a figure from her mother’s past emerges with equally cryptic intentions, just as the bear financial market is upending her best friend’s life, Kit discovers her blissfully constructed idyll—and the gorgeous man who has walked into it with creamy white roses—isn’t as perfect as she’d thought. Ties to friends and family are farther reaching than she had realized—and more crucial than ever before.

Warm, witty and gloriously observed, Dune Road is Jane Green at her best, full of brilliant insights into challenges that come with forging a new life. -- Viking

I am a pretty big Jane Green fan, so I was really looking forward to her latest novel DUNE ROAD. I wanted to be able to write this review and say that I absolutely loved it, but I just can't. I liked the book okay, but it didn't resonate with me the way some of her earlier books did. I guess I'd have to say that it's a good summer read, but it's probably not a book that's going to stick with me for very long.

I think my biggest problem with DUNE ROAD was that I didn't really relate to any of the characters. To be totally honest, a lot of characters in the book got on my nerves at times, especially Kit. Don't get me wrong, I did feel bad for Kit because her marriage ended; however, I thought her ideas of love and marriage were very warped and she came across for most of the book as being extremely selfish. That's not to say that she wasn't a good person -- she was just very self-centered and oblivious. I was also rather annoyed by Kit's friend Charlie. When she and her husband lost their entire fortune, she totally blamed him. I guess that's kind of natural, but she didn't seem to even wonder if she was at fault as well. I guess all of her shopping expenditures were her husband's fault too.

Not all of the characters in this book were annoying -- there were actually a few characters that I did really like. One in particular was Kit's neighbor Edie. She was a wonderful mentor to Kit and provided a lot of funny moments in the story. She was supportive of Kit and acted as a mother-figure; however, she wasn't afraid to tell Kit exactly what she thought. Like many older women, she had a lot of life experiences and her advice sure seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

I know I sound like I had a lot of gripes about this book, but it really is a good story. I especially liked how the book ended. Everything pretty much worked out for all of the "main" characters; and as far as I'm concerned, that's what I want when I read these types of stories -- happy endings. I actually really appreciated the evolution of Kit's character, and she did redeem herself in my eyes. In fact, I even marked a passage towards the end of the book because it is something my husband and I wholeheartedly believe.

"Loving, she realizes is a verb. It is an act. It is not enough to say you love someone, and then forget about them, or trust a relationship will stay strong simply because you share a house or children or a life.

Loving requires acts of love. It requires thinking of your spouse, doing things for them to make them happy. It requires acting in loving ways, even when you are tired, or bogged down with work, or so stressed you are waking up every night with a sore jaw from grinding your teeth."

I'm sure that you could find lots of things to discuss if you read DUNE ROAD for your book club, and it would probably be a terrific meeting. I couldn't find any discussion questions for the book, but some topics you could discuss include: mother/daughter relationships, financial security, marriage, new beginnings, parenting, trust, and self-awareness. I actually think DUNE ROAD might be an ideal book for women in their 30s and 40s to read because I'm pretty sure that you will recognize people you know in these characters.

Jane Green is a favorite author of mine and I definitely recommend reading some of her earlier books. Ms. Green has a pretty cool website where you can learn more about all of her novels. She actively maintains a blog, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that she includes some fantastic-looking recipes. You can also check out the locations for her DUNE ROAD book tour.

As a little aside, when I was on Ms. Green's website I noticed that DUNE ROAD was released in England with a different name -- GIRL FRIDAY. I actually didn't love the title of DUNE ROAD, and I do think GIRL FRIDAY is much more interesting and meaningful! I also liked the British cover a little better too! What do you think?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review: The Embers

Summary: A once-charmed family is forced to confront the devastating tragedy that struck it years ago in this fiercely tender tale of betrayal and reconciliation

It’s the fall of 2007, and Emily Ascher should be celebrating: she just got engaged to the man she loves, her job is moving in new and fulfilling directions, and her once-rocky relationship with her mother, Laura, has finally mellowed into an easy give-and-take. But with the promise of new love

Settling into old comes a difficult look at how her family has been torn apart in the many years since her brother died. Her parents have long since divorced, and her father, Joe, a famous actor and playwright who has been paralyzed with grief since the tragedy, carries the blame for his son’s death—but what really happened on that winter night? Why has he been unable to clear his name, or even discuss that evening with Laura and Emily?

As spring looms—and with it Emily’s wedding in the Berkshires and an unveiling of Joe’s new play—each Ascher begins to reevaluate the events of long ago, finally facing the truth of his or her own culpability in them. Moving between past and present over the course of sixteen years, The Embers is a skillfully structured debut novel of buried secrets and deep regrets that crush a family while bonding its members irrevocably. -- Henry Holt

Remember a few days ago when I said that I am always on the lookout for some good summer reads? Well, I have found another great book that is just perfect for reading by the pool or on the beach. It's called THE EMBERS (an absolutely perfect title!) and it's written by Hyatt Bass. It's an intriguing story about a family who has been dealt a horrible tragedy, and I honestly could not put this book down. I was intrigued by the story and the characters, but I think the real beauty of this novel was in how the story was told.

I am definitely not alone in thinking that this book was just fabulous. People Magazine selected THE EMBERS as a "Get Ready for Summer" Pick, and Instyle Magazine chose it as a "Top 5 Beach Read for Summer 2009." It seems like everywhere I look, someone is raving about this novel.

The Ascher's are a family who seem to have it all until tragedy strikes a member of the family. THE EMBERS explores what happens to the remaining family members and how each one responds to the loss. These characters were all flawed as well as being extremely complex; and I can't begin to tell you how real they were to me. I felt their intense pain and even understood their self-destructive behaviors which came about as a result of how they handled the tragedy. As I read their story, I became so absorbed in their lives and I wanted them to find some sort of peace. I was desperately hoping that they could forgive not only each other but also themselves. These characters are bound to remain in your thoughts long after you finish reading the book.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved the story and the character development; however, the writing is this novel was really something special. Ms. Bass did a remarkable job of telling this story through a variety of very effective methods. First, she went back and forth between the present and the past extremely well. The transitions really were seamless, and the writing was so good that it appeared almost effortless. I loved how she went back in time to give clues about the tragedy as well as providing the reader additional insight into the characters and their actions. In addition to the flashbacks, Ms. Bass also gave the perspectives of each of the family members rather than focusing on just one character's viewpoint. I found this to be extremely effective because it allowed me to understand each character; and I think I became more fully involved in each of their lives. Truly, this story just unfolded beautifully -- I was caught up in these characters from the very first page until the very last.

THE EMBERS is Hyatt Bass' first novel and I'm sure hoping it is just the start to a long career of book-writing. Prior to writing THE EMBERS, Ms. Bass wrote, directed, and produced the movie "75 Degrees in July." Since I'm not much of a movie-goer, I can't speak to it; however, I'm certainly glad that she decided to write novels -- now that I can appreciate! I think THE EMBERS is a terrific debut novel, and Ms. Bass is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

As I read THE EMBERS, I thought it would make a terrific movie; and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see it go to the big screen sometime in the near future. In fact, THE EMBERS actually started out as a screenplay before Ms. Bass felt she had more freedom to develop the characters in the form of a novel. I'm already very curious to see who would be casted as the central characters. Instyle Magazine mentioned Jack Nicholson, Angelica Huston, and Liv Tyler as their ideal cast, and I have to say that I can certainly see them in these roles.

I think THE EMBERS would make a wonderful book club discussion book. There are few things more interesting than delving into the dynamics of a troubled family. Plus, this novel really made me think. Some of the issues that kept running through my mind and that I'd love to talk about with friends include: grief, redemption, family dynamics, loss and love. There is a reading group guide available which includes some thought-provoking discussion questions, along with some praise for the book and an excellent Q&A with Hyatt Bass. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ms. Bass' interview answers, and they definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the novel.

Check out the trailer for this book:

A huge thanks to the author and the publisher for sending me a copy of this wonderful book.