Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Looking For More Romance, Less Thriller? Rachel Ann Nunes Delivers.

Like many a young lawyer, 32-year-old Caitlin McLoughlin entered the profession to help people. But after putting in her time as a public defender, always scoring the worst possible clients, she's tired and bitter. Working long hours leaves her with little time for a social life, barely enough money to support herself and her mentally handicapped sister, and no energy for anything resembling exercise or a home-cooked meal. She longs to spend her time convicting the bad guys instead of defending them, but prosecuting jobs are not exactly plentiful. For the moment at least, she's stuck with a career that's less than fulfilling, a social life that's going nowhere fast, and an expanding waistline courtesy of Costco's frozen food aisle. Although she's an excellent lawyer, her future feels about as bright as Utah's dull winter landscape.

Saving Madeline by Rachel Ann Nunes opens with a frustrated Caitlin trying to deal with her less-than-satisfying life. Given the constant stream of lowlifes coming through her door, she assumes her newest client will be just like the others - creepy as heck and guilty as sin. Except that Parker Hathaway's not what she expected. She senses sincerity in his insistence that he kidnapped his daughter only out of desperation to keep her safe from her meth-addicted mother. The only problem is that there's no real evidence to back up Parker's claims. Without a solid lead, Caitlin can do little to protect him from rotting in prison. Still, she has to try - 4-year-old Madeline's safety is at stake.

Caitlin prides herself on never letting her personal life interfere with her work, but suddenly she seems to be starring in her own soap opera. She's finally caught a glance from pretty boy Mace Keeley; another co-worker's showing definite romantic interest; and she can't deny her growing desire to be in her client's arms. Parker obviously feels the same way about her, but acting on their mutual attraction can only end badly - for their case as well as for Caitlin's vulnerable heart. And there's always the possibility that Parker's playing her to keep himself out of jail. What if he's lying about his ex-wife's drug use? What if he really is the same kind of scumbag Caitlin always defends? And what about Madeline? Time's running out. How much danger is she really in? Can Caitlin sort the truths from the lies, and what will the answers mean for a desperate father, an innocent girl, and a public defender with her heart on the line?

According to Nunes, Saving Madeline was inspired by the recent case of a Utah infant dying after ingesting meth from a plastic baggie she discovered on the floor of her home. Sadly, the baby's fate is not uncommon. Every year, thousands of children are harmed as a result of their parents'/guardians' drug use. Thus, the idea of a non-abusing spouse "kidnapping" his child to rescue her from a dangerous situation, then being punished for it, intrigued me. I anticipated an exciting legal thriller that dug under the skin of a common occurence, probing, questioning and opening my eyes to all the legal and moral complications of such a case. What I got was ... not quite what I was expecting. For one thing, the novel is more romance than thriller, a fact that really started to bug me after awhile. I get that Caitlin's supposed to be beautiful, but seriously, every guy she meets falls in love with her and vice versa? Gag me. Luckily, the story had a little more substance than that. Although the reader pretty much knows exactly where the story's going, Nunez does throw in a few surprises. The novel would have benefited from tighter editing, better character development and more suspense, but overall, it wasn't half bad.

Although Saving Madeline is not an LDS novel, it's a clean read featuring characters who are flawed, but determined to do the right thing. It reminded me of a Mary Higgins Clark mystery - just add (a lot) more romance and subtract the heart-pounding finales for which Clark is known. Like the Queen of Suspense, Nunes offers a quick, clean read that's enjoyable if predictable. If you're looking for a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, you'll want to look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for a nice, easy romance with a little legal thriller thrown in, Nunes delivers.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild sexual innuendo and brief references to rape and murder

(Book image from Deseret Book)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Giff's WWII Stories Moving and Memorable

Gram says Lily's problem is that she doesn't think. But, that's not true. She does think. A lot. She thinks about her beloved Poppy, fighting the Nazis in some unknown land; she thinks about her friend Margaret, whose older brother's been MIA since D-Day; and she thinks about Albert, who worries about the family he left behind in Hungary. It should be another idyllic summer on the Atlantic shore - just like every other she's spent at Rockaway - but this is 1944 and nothing is the same as it used to be.

Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, is the touching tale of an impetuous 5th grader whose life changes irrevocably during one remarkable summer. As she fishes, swims and enjoys her liberation from the nuns at St. Pascal's, she becomes an eyewitness to the drama and heartache brought on by the Second World War. She's not thrilled about eating boiled cabbage, receiving censored letters that keep her father's location secret, or eating bakery cookies made bland by the scarcity of butter and eggs. The war's one big inconvenience, destroying the lazy summer Lily was hoping to enjoy with her dad. Although she's known for telling whoppers, she can't lie to herself anymore - the summer of 1944 is the worst she's ever experienced.

When Lily meets Albert, her whole outlook changes. A refugee from Budapest, he escaped his war-torn home with only the treasures sewn into the collar of his coat. He doesn't know what's become of his parents, his Nagymamma, or his little sister. While Lily has observed the war, Albert has lived it. Desperate to bring their loved ones home, the pair hatch a plan - one that will put not only their friendship, but also their very lives, in jeopardy.

With authentic period detail, endearing characters and an adventure-filled storyline, Lily's Crossing is a beautifully-rendered novel about a special friendship between two aching children. It's funny, tender and true. Sniffling my way through the end made me realize it's been way too long since a book moved me as much as this one did. Lily's Crossing is simply a lovely little read.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and suspenseful action scenes

Willow Run, the sequel to Lily's Crossing, follows Lily's friend Meg Dillon through her own adventures during the summer of 1944. The Dillons leave Rockaway, New York, for Willow Run, Michigan, where Meg's father has taken a job in a factory. A former pilot, his poor eyesight has kept him out of the war - anxious to help the war effort, he will be helping to build B-24 bombers. Meg wants the Germans defeated as much as anyone, but she's not happy about leaving her seaside home. Especially when she sees her new digs:

A kindergarten kid could have drawn it: a long low box that stretched from one end of the paper to the other, no paint, no color. And if you didvided the box into tiny sections, each family would have one to live in. Worst of all, there was no grass, nothing growing, only tree stumps near the curb, their tops pale and raw (33).

Compared to her grandpa's lush garden back in Rockaway, Willow Run might as well be the Sahara Desert.

Grandpa. Secretly, Meg's glad he didn't come with them to Michigan. With his German accent and odd ways, he was safer in New York, where everyone knew him. She had already caught some boys painting a swastika on his house - persecution would likely be much worse in a bigger city where Josef von Frisch was a stranger. Besides, he smelled like pickles, insisted on calling her Margaret, and whispered through every movie they watched together. An embarrassment.

As Meg acclimates herself to her new surroundings, she discovers that Willow Run may not be the worst place to have an adventure of her own. She has Patches and Harlan, who help her keep an eye on Arnold the Spy. In many ways, it's a typical summer for Meg - she's playing with her friends, watching movies and writing jingles in the hopes of winning a glamorous trip to New York City. Then, comes the telegram that changes everything: Her beloved brother Eddie is Missing in Action. His absence makes it all worse - the dismal apartment, her mother's worry, her grandpa's distance. All she wants is to go back in time, back to Rockaway, back to life without the war. That's a childish notion, of course, and if there's one thing she's done over the summer, it's grow up. Nothing will ever be the same, least of all her.

Like its predecessor, Willow Run is a simple, tender story about family, friendship and enduring tough times. It's moving and memorable, a worthy companion to Lily's Crossing. Both are lovely historical stories, well worth the read.

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and references to war violence

(Book images from Barnes & Noble)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Amen to That: How A Tweet Brought Me Black Angels

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Mama, are there any angels Black like me?

I've been as good as any little girl can be.

If I hide my face, do you think they will see?

Mama, are there any angels Black like me? (13)

When a writer like Sharon G. Flake Tweets about a book and says she "loved every word," doesn't it make you wonder what kind of story could be so moving? Doesn't it make you want to track down such a gem for your own enjoyment? It certainly did for me. After reading this post at The Brown Bookshelf, I clicked right on over to Amazon and ordered Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown for myself. Two days later, I'm sitting here trying to describe the power of this exquisite novel. Can I do it justice? I'm pretty sure I can't, but I'm going to try because this just might be the most outstanding book I've read this year.

Black Angels is the story of 3 orphans on the run. With war raging all around them, the trio are all lost in the woods of North Carolina, each following the river for his/her own reason. There's Luke, an 11-year-old runaway, heading north to escape the cruel hands of his master; 9-year-old Daylily, terrified and confused after watching Union soldiers murder her mistress; and little Caswell, a 7-year-old white boy who's running from his burning home, trying desperately to find his mother. Fate brings them together, need keeps them that way. Feeling responsible for the youngsters, Luke becomes their fearless leader. As they trudge north, hunger, fatigue and hopelessness settle in. Still, they march onward. Leaving wild animals, fever, soldiers, spies, and vast, bloody battlefields in their wake, they emerge from the woods changed forever.

Their dangerous trek forges an unbreakable bond - the ragtag children become the strongest sort of family. But, two escaped slaves and a rich, white child can't be brothers and sister, at least not in the eyes of a nation divided by race. Even when the war ends "times were bad. It seemed as one war got over, another, trickier one had started. It didn't look good for Black people and freedom" (253). Fearing punishment for abandoning their plantations, Luke and Daylily live in constant fear. After surviving the loss of their homes and kin, how can they bear to lose their newly-formed family, too? If there are angels in God's heaven - Black or otherwise - where are they now? Where and how will three children find the strength to survive in a world ripped apart by fear and hate?

Strong and hopeful, Black Angels is the incredible story of an extraordinary friendship. It celebrates courage, faith and family in all its forms. Unflinchingly honest, but beautifully rendered, it's simply a triumph. A rich, touching, powerful triumph. I can't say it well enough, so I'll let Flake convince you:

"Young people will be reading Black Angels for generations. Teachers will be assigning it and studying it for ages. It's a history lesson, adventure story, and a lesson in love, surviving tough times, and depending on God and one another, all at the same time ... I loved every word."

All I can say is, Amen to that.

Grade: A+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and violence related to war and slavery

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's Wednesday Night - Time for Some Winners!

The winner of the audiobook of Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink is:


Bingo!

The winner of Horse Song by Ted and Betsy Lewin is:

Stacie!

Congratulations, ladies. Shoot me an email (blogginboutbooksATgmailDOTCOM) with your snail mail addresses, and I will get your books to you ASAP. Thanks to all who entered!

The Sari Shop Widow: Little India Pops; Unfortunately, Not Much Else Does

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ever since her husband died, 37-year-old Anjali Kapadia has thrown herself wholeheartedly into revamping her family's sari shop. Located in New Jersey's Little India, it's now a posh little boutique selling pricey jewelry, exquisite wedding attire and traditional Indian clothing. Silk & Sapphires is Anjali's baby, a child of whose transformation she's very proud. So, when her father - the store's bookkeeper and part owner - announces that the boutique isn't making enough money to sustain itself, Anjali's crushed. It's not just the money the shop brings in, but the opportunity it gives her to create and showcase her unique clothing designs. Without this creative outlet, she doesn't know who she'll survive.

Her father's plan to save the family business - which he sets into motion without consulting Anjali or her mother - involves flying his brother in from India. Critical and demanding, Jeevan Kapadia is no one's favorite houseguest. Still, his wealth and business acumen may be the only thing that can save Silk & Sapphires. When Jeevan arrives, he surprises them all - not only has the once plump old man slimmed down, but the greedy businessman has also taken on a partner. Rishi Shah, a handsome Idio-Brit, specializes in rescuing failed businesses. He will also be staying with the Kapadias. Anjali can barely control her anger at the pair, who whoosh in with their opinions and aggresive tactics. Since she lives with her parents, she can't even escape them at home. Her frustration drives her into the arms of Kip Rowling, a white bar owner with whom she has a convenient, if illicit, relationship. Despite their mutually fulfilling encounters, Anjali finds her thoughts turning toward the confounding Shah. Even as he makes over her baby with a swift, moneyed hand, Anjali can't deny that she's drawn to him. Still, he's only in New Jersey for a short while. There's also the matter of his live-in girlfriend ... With everything on the line, can Anjali hold on to the shop that's become most precious to her? Can she resist the magnetic Shah? Or is she doomed to have her heart stomped on once again? Will she ever find true happiness? Or did she lose that chance forever when she buried the husband she adored?

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal invites readers into the exotic world of cardamom-laced, curry-spiced, sari-swathed Little India. Anjali represents the collision of the old world and the new - she's a smart, successful career woman who's loyal to her traditional Hindu upbringing. As much as she craves independence, she's also dedicated to supporting her parents and younger brother. She's strong, brave, and fiercely protective of her injured heart. All this should make her sympathetic, which she is to a point, but I also found her cold and irritatingly hypocritical. Like the other characters in the book, she isn't developed enough to really come alive. The plot doesn't help - it's as predictable as the rising sun. I did enjoy my glimpse into the Indian world, which Bantwal describes with authenticity, pride and tenderness. In fact, Bantwal brings her setting to such vivid life that it eclipses her characters, who are not quite stereotypes, but not quite fully rounded either. If the writing had been a little more polished, the cast a little more colorful, and the plot even a little bit surprising, I would have liked this book a whole lot more. As is, I found it readable, but also very putdownable.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blue Bloods vs. Secret Society: A Few Too Many Similarities?

So, I've seen features comparing book covers, but what about plots that are eerily similar? When I received an ARC for Tom Dolby's Secret Society (available 9/29/09) from Harper Teen, my first thought was, "This sounds just like Blue Bloods." At that point, I hadn't even started Melissa de la Cruz's vampire series, but, since I happen to have copies of all the books (Thanks, Disney!), I decided to delve into it first. After reading both books, I realized just how right my first impression was - the books are very similar. Not enough to be called copycats, but enough to be a little ... weird. I'm not accusing the authors of anything, I'm just saying ... well, you be the judge ...

The first book in de la Cruz's series - Blue Bloods - introduces us to the creme de la creme of New York society. Graced with wealth and privilege, it's a group whose family roots stretch back to the Mayflower. The new generation swaggers through the doors of the elite Duchesne School swathed in True Religion jeans, tottering on Manolo Blahnik heels, and swinging the newest Prada handbags. Chauffered Town Cars whisk them home to their Park Avenue penthouses or off to Neiman Marcus for a session with their personal shoppers. The Manhattan social scene cares less about their age than about the limitless funds on their credit cards - weekends sail by in a swirl of frothy drinks, glittery parties and celebrity companionship. With their trust funds, $500 highlights, and closets jammed with designer pieces, the new generation is just as rich, just as powerful, just as glamorous as its elders.

Although her blue-blooded ancestry makes her one of the elite, 15-year-old Schuyler van Alen hardly fits in with the snooty, moneyed crowd. Although her family's fortune made Manhattan what it is, the money's long gone. It's just as well - Schuyler's style has always been more vintage than Versace. She's content enough dressing like a bag lady, hanging out with her best friend Oliver, and watching the in-crowd from afar. There's only one problem: Schuyler's changing. Not only is she seeing weird things, but her blue veins seem to be popping out of her skin. Oddest of all, Duchesne god Jack Force is suddenly paying a lot of attention to her. Then comes the invitation that changes everything. A summons from The Committe reveals the secret of the Blue Bloods, the secret of what she and her friends really are - vampyres. Only Schuyler's not quite the same as the others, which makes her a very enticing target.



Secret Society begins with a familiar scene: wealthy teenagers lined up outside a trendy nightclub, waiting admission into an inner sanctum filled with drinks, drugs and pretty playboys. The kids come from the upper echelon of New York's high society - their parents are business tycoons, society ladies and politicians. Like their elders, the new generation sops up the designer labels, the Upper East Side prep schools, and the VVIP lounges in the city's glitziest clubs. The most promising of them are inducted into The Society, a group so hush-hush no one's sure if it really exists.

Phoebe Dowling, a 16-year-old transplant from L.A., hardly considers herself among the elite upperclass. Sure, she's attending the prestigious Chadwick School, but inclusion into its in-crowd hasn't been exactly forthcoming. A chance encounter with handsome Nick Bell changes all that. Suddenly, she's getting invitations to the most exclusive parties, one of which leaves her with a woozy head, an ankh tattoo on her neck, and a forced loyalty to The Society. Before she really knows what's happening, Phoebe's jumping at The Society's every command, attending a dizzying array of late-night parties, moving in circles approved by its leadership, and asking no questions. At first, it's incredible - she's finally experiencing the New York she's always dreamed about. By some miracle, she's even managed to land a show at an exclusive art gallery. Everything she's ever desired is now within her grasp. So, why is she so unhappy? Why does the silly little club terrify her? And why are her friends disappearing? It's becoming more and more obvious that The Society doesn't just give - it also takes. Everything.

Like I said, the plots of these two books diverge enough that they're not identical, but the similarities are many. The New York settings, the privileged cast members, the prestigious prep schools, the secret societies - it's all there. Both books feature teenagers with absent parents who don't notice or don't care that their underage children are parading all over the city drinking, smoking, snorting coke and cozying up with anyone who's willing. Speaking of parents (and grandparents), characters in both Blue Bloods and Secret Society discover theirs are harboring some serious - and similar - secrets of their own. There's also the issue of Schuyler Van Alen and Patchfield Evans - the former lives with her grandmother in a once stunning, now dillapidated palace, muses on her family's dwindling wealth, visits her comatose mother on the weekends, and wonders about the father who died when she was an infant; Patch (of Secret Society) also lives with his Gram in a crumbling dwelling with a prestigious address, ruminates that "he and his grandmother had the oldest kind of old money: the kind that didn't exist anymore" (17), spends time at the hospital where his mother has been institutionalized, and misses the father who died when he was a child. Uncanny, don't you think?

The other big similarity between Blue Bloods and Secret Society (note the matching 2-word, alliterative titles) is that I didn't love either one. None of the characters in either book develop much, the writing's similarly stiff, and both plots need work. That being said, I think Secret Society is the better book. It has more depth, more believable conflict, and more sympathetic characters. I still don't get all the whys and wherefores of it, but at least it didn't get as ridiculous as Blue Bloods did.

I know you're all dying for the answer to the big question: Will I be reading the sequels? Since Disney so kindly sent me the rest of the Blue Bloods series to review, I will be reading it. If I didn't have the books on hand, I wouldn't bother. As for Secret Society, the semi-cliffhanger ending makes it pretty obvious that a sequel is forthcoming. Yes, I will be reading it. Why? Because even though I didn't love the book, I liked it enough to care about what happens to the characters. So, yeah. Pretty ho-hum about these two.

Okay, here's how it all stacks up in my grade book:

Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language; some sexual content; scenes with underage drinking, smoking and drug use; and violence

Secret Society by Tom Dolby

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some language; some sexual content; scenes with underage drinking, somking and drug use; and violence

(Book images are from Barnes & Noble)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Time Management Book Not For Desperate Housewives

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Between my home, my family, church duties, blogging, volunteering and everything else, I've got a lot going on. Like most desperate housewives (desperate for more sleep and more hours in the day, that is) I can use all the advice on time management I can get. Unfortunately, not every principle used in the corporate world transfers to household management; otherwise, I would have found Nicolas Soergel's Happy About An Extra Hour Every Day much more helpful. Not that I didn't get any new ideas. I did. Overall, though, the book's designed for career people, who will no doubt find it much more useful than I did.

Soergel, who has been a successful businessman for many years, insists that by using time more efficiently we can all make better use of the 24 hours/1,440 minutes/86,400 seconds we're given each day. He encourages us to "spend time as consciously as you spend money" (3). How, exactly do we do this? Soergel gives us the usual advice: Get up early, so that you can work when it's quiet and you're less likely to be interrupted; Tackle difficult tasks first; Avoid procrastination; Watch less tv; Keep your desk clean and organized; Reduce clutter; etc. He's also got a few unorthodox solutions such as ridding your desk of "decoration" (i.e. framed photographs, personal books, etc.); eliminating the use of Post-It notes; programming your mouse so that you can single-click instead of double-click, etc. Soergel also addresses sticky situations like how to deal with a boss who's constantly interrupting your work; how to get chatty people off the phone; and how to configure your office in a way that maximizes efforts and minimizes unwanted visitors.

Not all of Soergel's suggestions deal exclusively with the corporate world. In the chapter titled "How to Save Time at Home," he discusses standard strategies such as decluttering, creating a cleaning schedule, planning weekly meals, taking a Polaroid of shoes to glue on the outside of shoeboxes, etc. A couple struck me as funny: He encourages readers to reduce primping time by keeping hair short and "us[ing] a decent color for your nails" (34). I did learn a few things, but I'd heard most of it before.

The biggest thing Happy About An Extra Hour Every Day has going for it is that it's a fast, easy read. It's not particularly engaging or well-written, but it does move right along. It also has some excellent links (I especially like http://www.gubb.net/, which Soergel recommends for list-making). I do wish the book was more focused, more upbeat, and better edited, but all in all, it's not bad. Most of it wasn't really relevant for me, but business people should find it helpful.


Grade: B-


If this were a movie, it would be rated: G, but man, would it be boring!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Movin' On Up

Everybody's doing it. I've been wanting to do it for a while, but didn't want to pay the money unless it was really worth it. Then I found out it's only $10/year. That, I can handle. So, I now on the domain name www.blogginboutbooks.com . It may take a couple of days to update, so if things are a little wonky around here, that's why. Blogger automatically re-routes traffic from the blogspot.com address to this new one - you should probably still update your feeds, though. I wouldn't want to lose you :)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Purple Heart Definitely Engrossing, Definitely Affecting, But Definitely Not For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I avoid books about war as a general rule. Although they can be both exciting and inspiring, they're also usually violent, profane, gory and depressing. If I want that, I can watch CNN or read the newspaper (two things I rarely do). Still, the premise of Patricia McCormick's Purple Heart intrigued me: Private Matt Duffy wakes up after a mind-jarring encounter with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), feeling confused and anxious. Although he's been awarded with a Purple Heart, he knows he's not a hero. He's too shaken up to make any sense of them, but his mind keeps flashing images of a terrified Iraqi boy. Matt recognizes the urchin, a street kid who trailed the American soldiers begging for candy - What happened to the kid? Why does he look so scared? Was Matt somehow responsible for his death?

As Matt recovers in an Army hospital situated in Iraq's Green Zone, he tries to sort out what happened to him. He can't find the truth and no one else seems willing to talk about it, not his psychiatrist, not his buddy Justin, and definitely not the brass, who seem to want the incident swept under the rug ASAP. But, Matt's haunted by the boy's face. What happened to the child? Could he have murdered a civilian, a kid, no less? The questions still plague Matt as he's sent back out on patrol. Memories come fast and furious, making him jump at every sound, spook at every Iraqi he sees, but also allowing clarity. Can he finally figure out the truth? Can deadly mistakes made in the battlefield ever be pardoned? Most importantly, will Matt ever be the same - in his head or in his heart?

Even though Purple Heart is geared toward young adults, it's got the same grittiness as all war novels. It's gory, it's filled with profanity, it's violent and it's depressing. It's affecting, for sure, but just too bleak for me. The story does end on a hopeful note, although it's a case of too little too late. Teen boys, in particular, should find this book fascinating. It's a quick read about tough, cynical soldiers fighting a bitter war against Iraq and ultimately, themselves. It's about right and wrong and the grey areas in between. It thumbs its nose at authority, blasting military leaders for turning a blind eye to civilian suffering. Right up a teen boy's alley. It's definitely engrossing, definitely affecting, but definitely not for me.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence and some sexual innuendo

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Trigiani's YA Novel Needs A Little Spice, Spice, Baby

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Viola Chesterton knows she's never going to fit in at Prefect Academy for Young Women. She's more than a fish out of water - she's a fashion-forward filmmaker from Brooklyn who doesn't do happy, abandoned among preppy, peppy girls in sherbert-colored twin sets. In South Bend, Indiana, of all places. All she wants is to return to Brooklyn, but of course, she can't. Her parents rented out the family home and jetted off to Afghanistan to shoot a documentary about women's rights. Thus, her current predicament.

When Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani opens, our angsty heroine has resigned herself to a long, lonely year at Prefect (or "the waiting room of hell itself" [24] as she prefers to call it). At least she's got her camera - she can chronicle her misadventures in a video diary, edit the footage and send it off to her faraway friends and family. Uploading her preliminary shots gives her a shock, a first indicator that her freshman year at Prefect might hold some surprises yet. To her astonishment, she finds her roommates becoming family; a cute filmmaker becoming her boyfriend; and the school she despises becoming a sort of refuge. Sure, she misses her family; her BFF back home seems ... distant; and then, of course, there's the ghost. Is she getting messages from beyond the grave or just missing home so much she's hallucinating? A school competition gives her the chance to find the answers, prove herself as a filmmaker, and win back the affections of the two boys she most wants to impress. Will Viola succeed? And how will the most difficult year of her life play out?

First off, I have to say that I admire Trigiani for trying something different. Not only is this her first YA novel, but it's also a giant leap away from her trademark Trigiani Trifecta (Italian families, Italian food and New York fashion). A little bit of Italian spice is sprinkled here and there, but Viola in Reel Life is basically a flavorless story about a semi-interesting (non-Italian) Everygirl navigating through her first year away from home. It's sweet, but slow, unfocused and just kind of ... blah. It needs some (okay, lots) of Trigiani's signature spice to stand out. The book seems lost without it.

Even though I've found her last couple books a little disappointing, I still love Trigiani. She writes with great warmth, especially about families. You can feel that closeness with Viola, her roommates, and their kin. None of the characters are particularly well-developed, but at least you can feel a bond between them. I liked that about the book, but otherwise, it was just really hard for me to get into. Maybe it's my fault - I was expecting a teen version of Big Stone Gap - but this one was just too bland for me. My advice to Trigiani? Spice, spice, baby.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG

It's Your Lucky Day Giveaway

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

And I thought today couldn't get any better! UPS just dropped a box from Hachette on my doorstep. A couple weeks ago I requested a copy of Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. You've heard of it, I'm sure. It's another novel that's getting all kinds of buzz on the Internet. The only problema is this: they sent me an audiobook. I never listen to audiobooks unless I'm on a long road trip. Even then, it has to be a squeaky clean story because of the kiddos. I really, really want to read this book, but I just don't do audiobooks. I know lots of you do, so here's your chance to win a copy.

The details:

Since I'm going to make this an "official" Book Blogger Appreciation Week giveaway, it's going to be another short one. I'll draw the name of a winner on Wednesday, September 23. The contest is open internationally. If you don't have a public blog, please leave me a working email address. For extra entries, you can do the following:

Post about this contest on your blog/sidebar (+1)

Follow me on Twitter (if you're already following, that counts) [+1]

Become a Follower of my blog or subscribe via feed reader (if you're already doing this, it counts (+1)

Mention the contest on Facebook, Twitter or a similar site (+1)

Just let me know which you've done in your comment. Good luck!

My I'm-Geeking-Out Giveaway

So many things are making me happy today that I just had to celebrate with a giveaway. Before we get to that, though, don't you want to know why I'm so giddy today? Of COURSE you do (If you really don't, just scroll down to the bottom for the contest info).
  • It's still a million degrees here in the Phoenix area, but some of the bushes in my yard just popped out with some gorgeous colors. They're vibrant reds, purples and even white. "How can white be vibrant?" you ask. I don't know, it just is. Anyway, when we pulled up to our house this morning, my 4 year old gasped. "Mom!" he exclaimed. "Look at all those colors. Who made that?" At a loss, I answered, "Um, God?" In astonishment, he replied, "You mean God is our yard guy?" LOL. I'm still chuckling.

  • As of last night, I have read 100 books this year. I should be more than able to hit my goal of 150, but I'm wondering if I can get to 200. What do you think? Reviews of Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani and Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick are coming soon.

  • My oldest nephew (13) and my youngest niece (3) are both celebrating birthdays today!

  • I talked to David Boreanaz on live tv this morning! Well, not exactly, but I'm still geeking out. Let me explain: Rick D'Amico, a local reporter, often interviews celebrities on his morning show. The night before these chats, he sends a message to all his Facebook friends/fans (one of whom is my husband) asking which questions they want him to ask. So, last night, I was glued to something on my computer (probably one of your addicting book blogs) when I heard some white noise. It sounded something like this, "RickD'Amico'sinterviewingthatBonesguytomorrowWhaddayawannaaskhim?" When I came back to Earth, I realized this was my chance to ask Booth himself a deep, scintilating question. What I came up with was, "Has he read the books?" by which I meant the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs, on which Bones is based. The query came off the top of my head, wasn't all that intelligent, and didn't fully convey the depths of my lust for him, but, I was still interested in the answer.

    So, this morning as I was bathing the baby, my husband yells, "Hey! He's answering your question." And he was. David (see how we're on a first name basis now?) said that no, he hadn't read the books on which the show is "very loosely based" because he didn't want them to influence his performance. He wanted to make Booth into his own kind of character. Smart, no? I've wondered why the producers chose to bring Tempe's character to life, but not Detective Andrew Ryan's. Is it because female readers can handle seeing literary leading ladies brought to life but not their leading men? I can't imagine any actor playing Ryan to perfection, even Boreanaz.

    I do have the sinking suspicion that the very handsome Boreanaz might night be much of a reader. Even if he doesn't want Reichs' books to influence his performance, wouldn't he be too curious to resist? I would. Now, I could be wrong. Maybe he reads acres of books, but somehow, I doubt it. I'll ask Dave about it next time we chat :)

  • It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week. 'Nuf said. If all the bloggy love floating around isn't making you giddy, I don't know what can. Oh, maybe a giveaway ...


  • I've actually had this book for a while, but it got a little buried under mount TBR (To Be Reviewed). Now that I've unearthed it, I'm excited to give it away. Last year, Ted and Betsy Lewin visited my kids' school. I bought two copies of Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia, which the Lewins signed. Of course, my children got one copy, but the other will go to one lucky winner. Recap: This is a brand-new hardcover signed by the authors. You can check out the details on its Amazon page.


    To enter: Leave a comment on this post telling me what's making you happy right now. Each of the following will earn you one extra entry: Post about this giveaway on your blog or stick a blurb on your sidebar (leave me a link); mention it on Twitter and/or Facebook; follow me on Twitter (there's a link on my left sidebar); and become a Follower of my blog. Now, I have to say that this last one is very hypocritical, because I don't follow any blogs. I have you all on Google Reader and I can't handle another feed management tool. If you have similar issues, you can subscribe to the blog via your reader (just let me know). That being said, I love my followers. You will all be making an appearance on my sidebar very soon. Oh! If you're already a follower/subscriber, that counts! The nitty gritty: I will draw the name of one winner on Wednesday, September 23. It's a short contest, so sign up now. This giveaway is open to all of my readers, wherever in the world you may happen to be! If you don't have a public blog, please leave me a working email address. If I can't reach you, you can't win.

  • That's it. Have a happy day, everybody!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roll Out the Red Carpet ...

... 'cause it's awards time. I'm sure you know by now that it's Book Blogger Appreciation Week. This is such a fun idea. Huge shout out to Amy and her crew for putting it all together. Congratulations to all the winners and to every book blogger out there - we have truly transformed the book reading universe. As I've said, my favorite part about BBAW is all the new blogs I find because of it - my Google reader is positively groaning under the weight of new feeds. It's so exciting to realize just how big the book blogosphere really is! Considering how many excellent book blogs are out there, it's a wonder mine gets any traffic at all, let alone earns prestigious bloggy awards :) Thanks so much for passing these on - receiving them just gives me the warm fuzzies. Who doesn't love recognition for their hard work?


First off, the lovely Chantele presented me with the Honest Scrap award. It's given to bloggers whose posts come "from the heart." I'm supposed to pass it on to 7 bloggers, then answer a little meme. Since I'm all about living dangerously (ha!), I'm going to do it in reverse order. So, without further ado, here are 10 Random Things About Me:

1. I was born in the middle of a snowstorm on my dad's 37th birthday. I've been a big daddy's girl ever since :)

2. Although I'm not a very adventurous eater (just ask my husband - I'm always the last one perusing the menu, even though I pretty much always order the same thing), I have sampled dog, monkey, pig's brain, alligator and a thing so disgusting I shudder every time I think about it - balut. If you really want to know what it is (you don't), click here at your own risk. And, remember, I told you not to look!

3. I like soft ice cream. Not soft as in from-the-machine-soft-serve, but like hard-ice-cream-softened. I've been known to stick ice cream in the microwave if it's not melting fast enough for me.

4. I always sing along to the radio/CD/iPod when I'm driving. You'll never catch me singing in public, though, unless it's with a very large group of people.

5. I can't stand sports.

6. My husband says that Nascar is the most spiritual sport (and thus appropriate for viewing on the Sabbath) because there's a prayer before every race. I contend that praying for the safety of people winging around a track at ridiculous rates of speed is absurd - if the drivers are doing something that stupid, they deserve every lump they get.

7. Once upon a time, I really was able to burp the ABCs.

8. I could eat custard-filled Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Reese's PB Cups and mashed potatoes for every meal. I'd wash it all down with Mt. Dew, of course. Mmmmm ...

9. I'm a cold weather creature. I love sweaters, blankets, fires crackling in the fireplace, snow, heavy comfort foods - yet I live in the desert. Go figure.

10. Although I come across as a "tell it like it is" person, I'm really the least acquiescent girl you'll ever meet.

But, enough about me. Let's talk about you. The 7 bloggers that came to mind for this award are:

Gaye from Inside a Book. She's one of my favorite bloggers because she's so nice. All of her posts come from her heart, and you can tell just by reading them what a kind, noble heart it is.

I just discovered Kristin's brand new blog, The Readers Chat. Probably because she has a son battling brain cancer, she wears her heart on her sleeve. This makes her reviews both poignant and moving. I can't wait to see her blog grow and develop.

Chris at Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. Not only does Chris blog about all the great sci fi/fantasy books he reads, but he's written about living through Hurricane Katrina, working in the mental health field, and lots of other things. His words definitely come straight from the heart.

Ari at Reading in Color. This high schooler writes passionately about something that's close to her heart - books about people of color. I love her sass, her confidence, and the fact that she willingly helped me out with a project that is so close to my own heart :)

Stephanie at The Written Word. I've "known" Stephanie for a while. When I announced my decision to adopt, she was one of the first to offer encouragement and advice. Like many of you, I've watched her battle cancer with strength and courage. And, oh yeah, she writes excellent reviews.

Laughing Stars at Stark Raving Bibliophile. This is one lady who's been making my day lately. I love her comments on my blogs as well as the reviews she posts on hers. She's a devoted mom and "unschooler," who's obviously passionate about what she does.

Cath at Read Warbler. Cath's another lady I've enjoyed reading for some time now. She always picks interesting books, about which she writes informative, intelligent reviews. I heart her, what can I say?

Mari gave me the Literary Blogger Award, which "acknowledges bloggers who energize & inspire reading by going the extra mile. These amazing bloggers make reading fun & enhance the delight of reading!" Thanks so much, Mari!

Here are the 3 bloggers I thought of for this one:

1. Katie at Katie's Literature Lounge. Maybe it's because she's a teacher, but Katie's one organized lady. I love her "Weekly Blog Plan" as well as the way she organizes her reviews. If you're an elementary school teacher, you're going to want to bookmark this valuable resource.

2. Jodie at Book Gazing just makes me laugh. She's chatty and friendly and fun. Reading her blog always gives me a lift and, of course, adds great books to my towering TBR mountain.

3. Sam at Book Chase. This is another blog I've been reading for a while. Sam writes a great book review, but I think what I love most about him is that he really stays on top of what is happening in the book/publishing industry. He finds interesting news items, gives his opinion and opens all kinds of issues up for discussion. I'd say that's "energiz[ing] and inspir[ing] reading by going the extra mile."

Thanks again for the awards. With the BBAW nomination and this bloggy love, I'm just flying high.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just Answer the Meme, Already. It'll Be Fun, I Swear.

Thanks to BBAW, I've added all kinds of new book blogs to my Google reader. I spied this fun meme on Sandy's blog, You've GOTTA Read This. Since no one IRL cares this much about my reading habits, I thought I'd share my answers with you. I love to get a glimpse into other people's book-related OCD, so let me know if you've done this one on your blog.

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback? I prefer hardback books, just because they're so ... substantial. They feel good in my hands, ya know? They're also expensive, so I usually buy trade paperbacks. For some reason, I'm not big on mass market paperbacks. I'm not sure why that is. I'll have to discuss that one with my therapist ...

Waterstones, Borders or Amazon? I've never heard of Waterstones (is it in the U.K.?), but I'm a little too familiar with the last two. Borders is my bookstore of choice, because (1) it's close and (2) the coupons and Borders Bucks get me every time. I actually don't buy a lot of books off Amazon, although I do all my pre-ordering through them.

Bookmark or dog-ear? Dog ear? *gasp* Who would do such a thing? I bookmark, baby. I do, however, have a bad habit of leaving books open, facedown on tables, couch arms, my desk, etc. The practice makes my book-lovin', retired librarian MIL shudder.

Amazon or brick-and-mortar? Evidently, I'm not a very patient person (just ask my kids), because I prefer a brick-and-mortar store over Amazon. There's just something about being able to see, touch and skim through a book that makes me prefer IRL buying encounters.

Alphabetize by author, or alphabetize by title, or random? I was that nerdy kid who alphabetized her CDs. Books are another matter. My bookshelves (which don't contain any ARCs or review books - they're in another spot) are kinda sorta organized. I have shelves for adult fiction, YA fiction, LDS fiction, LDS non-fiction, dieting/health books (I have a lot of those), homemaking/craft/organizing manuals, parenting, etc. My fiction shelves are double and triple stacked. Either I need to start weeding or I need more bookshelves. I'm thinking the latter.

Keep, throw away, or sell? Throw away?? What kind of savage are you? I actually answered this question in a recent post. In a nutshell: I keep the books I love, donate those I don't to the library and my kids' elementary school, and store ARCs in a box in my garage since I'm not sure what else to do with them. I've only trashed one book. It was really, really, really bad.

Keep dust jacket or toss it? *Shudder* Dust jackets remain on at all times. I repeat, on at al times. Remind me never to loan you a book.

Short story or novel? I avoid short stories like the plague. Novels only, please.

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket? HP wins every time, although I like Lemony Snicket, too. I'm somewhere in the middle of the Unfortunate Events series. I love Snicket's voice, but I'm getting a little tired of the redundant plots.

Buy or borrow? Both. I love to buy books, but they cost a lot of moola, which I don't always have on hand. Therefore, I wait until there's a sale, I have a coupon, or I have Border Bucks. If all of these things happen at the same time, I do a dance of joy. Then, I head to Borders.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendations, or browse? Good question. Usually I have an idea of what I'm going to buy before I head into a bookstore. Not always, though. I'd say 90% of the books I buy have been recommended to me either by an IRL friend or through a review on a blog, in a magazine, or on the Internet somewhere. About 10% of the time, I pick up whatever looks interesting.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger? Call me old-fashioned, but I love me a happily-ever-after. Actually, I don't like stories that end perfectly - I just want the finale to be satisfying. Give me twists, turns, cliffhangers, whatever, but make the ending ring true. That's all I ask.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or nighttime reading? I have to choose? Tell me it ain't so! I read whenever and wherever I can - in bed, in the car (while waiting, not driving), in the bathtub, laying in bed, while I eat, while feeding the baby, while on hold,
etc.

Stand-alone or series? Either. I love series', because I love "knowing" characters well, but I'm also delighted by standalones. So, I guess my answer's really, both.

Favorite series? I have a million: HP; Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan books; Grace Valley by Robyn Carr; Virgin River by Robyn Carr; Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series; Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani; tons and tons.

Favorite children’s book? Hm. I'm too indecisive to have just one favorite. I like so many: Little Women; Anne of Green Gables; I Love You, Forever (makes me cry every time); Green Eggs and Ham; The Polar Express; Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes; tons.

Favorite YA book? The Hunger Games comes to mind. Also, The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak.

Favorite books read last year? I can barely remember what I read this year, let alone last year. The Hunger Games probably.

Favorite books of all time? I'm going to go classic with Little Women, Gone With the Wind, Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre.

Favorite book to recommend to an 11-year-old? If you happen to have an almost 11-year-old boy like I do, I'd recommend A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket; the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books; and anything by Gordon Korman. If your kid is a little more ambitious in his reading than mine is, I'd definitely suggest Mr. Harry Potter.

Favorite book to re-read? I rarely re-read books. The only book I've read more than once is The Book of Mormon. And picture books. I'd go with the picture books if I were you. Kidding, kidding.

Do you ever smell books? I'm not sure you can help smelling books. I happen to love the scent - old, new, doesn't matter, I love that book-y scent. I agree with Sandy - someone should make book-scented air freshener. And perfume!

Do you ever read primary source documents like letters or diaries? You mean like Anne Frank? Or primary source documents that aren't actually books? Yes to the first, no to the second - unless they were written by family members.

What are you reading right now? An ARC of Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani. It's her first YA novel, and I don't think it has anything to do with Italians. It already seems as if it's missing something ... My bathroom read is Diane Mott Davidson's Catering to Nobody. Obviously, I don't spend enough time in there (do I need more fiber in my diet?) because it's taking me forever to read this one. It's just okay.

What are you reading next? I was just debating that. I've had Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke out for months, so I need to get to it. I've also got a mountain of review books, many of which I'm dying to read. Then, there's Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, which I finally got from the library. Decisions, decisions ...

If you're dying to dish about your reading habits, I'm dying to listen. Really. Just do the meme, already.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Me to Tempe: I Ain't Quittin' You. Yet.

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

What happens in your worst nightmare? Are you drowning? Running from a monster? Falling into a snake-filled pit? Being buried alive? That last one's definitely in my Top 10. Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan isn't too fond of the idea either - especially since she's living it. 206 Bones, the 12th installment of Kathy Reichs' popular series, opens with Tempe waking up. She's cold, confused, in pain. Obviously not in her nice, warm bed. A little wriggling around proves she's underground, in some kind of enclosed space. Fighting panic, she probes her fuzzy memory for answers - How long has she been in this predicament? Who hates her enough to bury her alive? And, most importantly, how the heck is she going to escape before she's offed by the frigid, moldy air?

While Tempe fights to stay alive, her mind travels over recent cases, probing for answers. In Charlotte, she's been looking into the death of a family friend. In Montreal, she's hunting a serial killer who preys on elderly women. In so doing, she's ticked a few people off - she's received a threatening letter, an anonymous phone call alleging incompetence, a shattered window at home, and several verbal assaults from her cat-hating neighbor. And that's not even the half of it. Her boss is angry, her assistant's chilly, and something's definitely up with the new pathologist. Maybe the real question is, who doesn't have a reason to want her dead? As the story see saws between the present and the past, it becomes clear that someone wants Tempe out of the way. Badly. It also becomes pretty clear who that person (or persons) is. Will our favorite forensic anthroplogist make it out of her hole in time to expose the evildoers? Or is this the end of the intrepid Tempe Brennan?

As much as I love Kathy Reichs, I have to say that her newest books haven't been her best. I still love her characters - Tempe's voice is always engaging and sexy Detective Ryan still sets my heart aflutter. The banter between the two of them keeps things lighthearted. Their on-again-off-again romance makes it interesting. It goes without saying that the science is always fascinating. It's just that Reichs' storylines have been getting predictable. And the subplots have been getting ... well, they haven't really been getting on at all. So, it's all a little frustrating. I'm still hanging on because I enjoy Reichs, I enjoy Brennan and I enjoy Ryan. I'm not willing to give up on any of them. I just want a little more - more mystery, more excitement, more twists and turns. Just more. And, even though I was a bit disappointed in this book, I still want more of this series. I'll be grabbing up the next installment as quickly as I snagged this one - I ain't quittin' you, Tempe Brennan. Not yet, anyway.

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language and murder/autopsy-related violence and gore

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Grammar Snobs, This Ones' Four Ewe

Is anyone else missing Jay Leno on The Tonight Show? I don't know what it is about Conan O'Brien, but I'm just not that into him. Quirky little leprechauns aren't my thing, apparently. I know Jay's going to be back on tv very soon - in the meantime, I'm boycotting O'Brien on principle. And because he bugs me. Anyway, one of the features I liked best on Jay's show was "Headlines." He read funny snippets from newspapers, bulletins, signs, etc. - lines full of grammatical errors, misspellings, and idiotic comments. If you, like me, are missing "Headlines," try this new book on for size: I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar by Sharon Eliza Nichols (available September 29 - the book, that is, not Sharon). The blogger and law student has collected dozens of error-filled signs into a collection sure to send grammar snobs into fits of laughter.

From the classic "Kids With Gas Eat Free" sign to bizarre spellings ("Bokay for $5") to "apostrophe catastrophes" ("Mow'in Joe's Lawn Cutting") - this book documents it all. Since most of Nichols' examples have to do with punctuation errors, they're more embarrassing than funny, although there are some downright hilarious signs (like the "peonies" example on Page 31). Nichols' commentary is sometimes witty, sometimes ... not so much. Luckily, most of the signage speaks (poorly) for itself.

Now, I don't know that punctuation errors and "creative" spellings technically come under the grammar umbrella, but they are pretty entertaining, if only because they help English majors (like myself) feel superior. I did get a little tired of Nichols' numerous examples of its/it's, their/there/they're, your/you're mistakes - they're only sometimes funny. Pathetic is more like it.

I love the idea of this book, I just thought it would be more humorous. I don't know how Jay finds such gems for his segments. Nichols' version doesn't come close, but it will do in a pinch. It's instructive, anyway. After all, gooder grammar doesnt come naturally to most folks - its a learned kind of thing. No what I mien?

If you want to connect with other grammar snobs, check out the I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar Facebook group.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: I'm not sure how Hollywood would make a movie out of this one, but there is a little bit of profanity and one reference to, um, "peonies."

(Book image from Barnes & Noble)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Do Yourself A Favor: Don't Read Catching Fire! (UPDATED)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


Avoid Catching Fire? Are you kidding? It's the hottest book in town. Everyone's reading it. Yes, yes, I know. But, really, you shouldn't. Why not, you ask? Is it:



Boring? No, not for minute.

Predictable? Not at all.

Disappointing? Uh uh. In fact, in some ways, I liked this one better than The Hunger Games

Oooookay, so why shouldn't I read it? I'm actually not suggesting you never read it. I'm suggesting you might want to wait until next year when you've got the final Hunger Games book in your hot little hands. Why? 'Cause once you finish Catching Fire - you know, once you're breathing again - you're not going to want to wait for the rest of the story. You're going to want the conclusion right away. Not a year from now. *Sigh* Another year? Why didn't someone warn me?


Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence



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In my excitement over Catching Fire, I somehow forgot to mention Michelle's awesomeness. I don't know if she designed these buttons herself or what, but aren't they fun? It made me laugh, especially since Laura mentioned how much the Gale-Katniss-Peeta thing reminded her of a certain vampire-teenage girl-werewolf triangle. If you want to show your love, click here and steal some buttons for yourself. Click around while you're there - she's up for a BBAW nomination, and would no doubt appreciate your vote.

BTW: I vote Gale. I also vote Edward. What does that say about me? Hmmm ...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Feathers: What Happens When Jesus Meets the '70s?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

January 6, 1971 - That's the day Jesus walks into Frannie's 6th grade classroom. At least that's what the new kid calls himself - he doesn't pronounce it the Spanish way, either, but the regular, Bible way. As if that's not enough to make him stand out, the kid is white. Not just light brown like Trevor, who has a caucasian daddy, but white white. Almost blue-white. White like no one else at Frannie's school, like no one else on her side of the highway. The only explanation for his strange, sudden appearance, according to Frannie's friend Samantha, is that he really is Jesus. Even though Samantha's a preacher's daugher, Frannie can't help but wonder if she's a little delusional. Still, the boy's calm, cool in the face of ridicule, and forgiving of his tormentors. Frannie's not exactly the churchgoing type, but she's beginning to wonder if there isn't something to Samantha's theory. After all, as Samantha says, "If there was a world for Jesus to need to walk back into, wouldn't this one be it?" (33)

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson brings Frannie's world to vibrant life. It's a time of Afro picks, Black Pride, Michael Jackson moves, and bridges over troubled water. It's also a time of war, worry and racial tension. When Jesus walks in, it also becomes a time for Frannie and her friends to confront their own prejudices. The girls avoid the kid, preferring to discuss him from a distance; some of the boys, however, decide to confront the problem with their fists. When Jesus shows them his true colors, the questions really start to fly - who is this kid?

Frannie knows firsthand how ignorant people can be - she hates it when people assume her brother's stupid just because he's deaf. Still, Frannie's not exactly ready to sit with Jesus at lunchtime. She just wishes she could get the white kid out of her mind. His gentle example's making her think of hope and miracles and healing the world. If that's not God's influence, what is? The more Frannie questions, the more it all makes sense. Maybe not the world's kind of sense, maybe just her own kind. And, maybe, just maybe, that's enough.

It's hard to describe this middle grade novel, except to say that it's exquisite in its simplicity. It examines the idea of hope from the standpoint of the most hopeful among us - the children. It also looks at prejudice in its many forms - against those with impairments and disabilities, toward those with nontraditional families, and between different races/cultures. I've read countless books about racism, most of which focus on mistreatment of African-Americans by caucasians - it's oddly refreshing to read a story about racism exploding in the opposite direction. I don't mean refreshing in a "See-it's-not-just-white-people" kind of way, but in a "See-we're-all-just-human" kind of way. Feathers makes a brave admission: All of us harbor prejudices of some kind. The important thing is to be able to look past them, to judge people not by their appearance, but by their actions. I think Frannie's mother sums it all up very nicely: "If that's the way he came into the world, that's the way he's staying. It's us we need to change" (51-52).

This kind of understated eloquence is what made Feathers stand out to me. I know several reviewers rank it among their least favorite of Woodson's books, so I guess I'm in the minority when I say I love it. So be it. I loved it.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG - Although there's no profanity, Feathers contains some mature subject matter (like miscarriage, racial slurs, etc.) that may not be suitable for children under 10

Book on Over to the Voting Booth

So, the shortlists for Book Blogger Appreciation Week were announced yesterday - sadly, BBB was not on there. *sniff* Ah well. The fact that even one person thought I deserved an award for Best Writing made my day. Truly, it was an honor (and such a confidence booster!) just to be nominated. So, thanks, y'all. Be sure and hit BBAW's "voting booth" to show some love for your favorite shortlisted blogs.

Did you notice how many book blogs Amy and her team sifted through? Over 1000. 1000! That's incredible. I have several hundred on my feeder, but that's not even a fraction of the awesome book blogs out there. My favorite part of BBAW is exactly this - I'm always thrilled to discover fantastic new book blogs. Thanks to Amy and her hardworking crew for putting this fun event together.

Friday, September 04, 2009

When My ELLE-o-quence Escapes Me

Since none of you seemed too offended by my last post of complete randomness, I figure why not do another one? I just thought you might like to know that I finished up the non-fiction portion of my commitment to ELLE. Emboldened by Megan, I decided I have no reason to feel guilty over abandoning the last two of the nominees. After all, the magazine only requires that I review my top 3 choices; I read enough of the last two books to know they didn't have a chance of toppling my Holy Trinity of non-fiction picks. Just because I didn't care for them, however, doesn't mean they aren't worthy of consideration, so here (for your reading pleasure) are quick synopses of the two memoirs I didn't finish:

Losing Everything by David Lozell Martin - This is Martin's story of growing up with a rage-filled father and a mother who is literally insane. It's about how history repeats itself, and how one man finds his way home after going through hell on Earth. The beginning is well-written, but a little slow and a lot depressing. When I got to the part where Martin's mother tries to seduce him and his hormonal teenage self actually considers it, I was sickened to the point that I couldn't read anymore. I appreciate his honesty, but it was just way too much for me. I believe - and hope - that his story comes to a hopeful end - I just couldn't stick around that long. The book is garnering excellent reviews on Amazon, which you can see here.


I Love A Man in Uniform by Lily Burana - Although it sounds fluffy-duffy, this is a very heartfelt memoir about a former stripper who marries an officer in the U.S. Army. The unlikely match sets tongues a-waggin'. Burana, a once anti-establishment punk goth, now has to navigate the "arrow straight" (7) world of the military, complete with acronymns, deployment, PTSD and, scariest of all, the other Army wives. Burana is candid and real - military wives, especially, will relate to her story. I just got tired of the raunchiness. This one, also, gets rave reviews on Amazon - check them out here.

So, my Top 3 picks are I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) by Mark Greenside (my review), Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland, MD (see my review), and Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood (my review). I'm not going to tell you how I ranked them. I'm just sneaky that way. I believe the results will come out in the December issue of ELLE, but I'm not positive.

I'm still working on my Top 3 fiction picks. I'll keep you informed.

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And now, for the even more random portion of the program ...

One of the FAQs around BBB is: How do you snag all those great books? And what do you do with them after you read them? Excellent questions. I think I'll answer them.

The easiest way to snag ARCs and other books for review is to - get ready - ask for them. If you're a book reviewer, stick a note on your blog saying you're willing to receive them. Soon, you'll be getting more requests than you can handle. You can also sign up to host authors on blog tours, which not only gets you a free book, but also drives traffic to your blog. Pretty soon, you'll build up a network of contacts in the publishing world and you'll be drowning in review books, just like I am. Easy, no?

What to do with the hundreds of review books I receive? That's a tougher question. My home is already filled to the brim with reading material, so I can't keep every book I receive, nor do I want to. If I really enjoy a book and it's clean enough for my bookshelves, then I keep it. I especially adore signed copies of books I love. It doesn't get better than that. If I get a published book that is just okay, or that has too much sex, profanity or violence, then I donate it to my public library. Donations either get added to its collection or sold to generate more funds for the library. If I get a MG novel that doesn't exactly thrill me, or that my kids aren't interested in, that book gets donated to their elementary school. ARCs, of course, can't be donated, so if I like them, I keep them; if I don't, well, that's where it gets tricky. I've trashed one, sent a couple to other book bloggers, and loaned/given some to friends. The others are sitting in a box by my desk.

Now, this is the part you need to pay attention to - I donate most of the review books I receive to the library. Since I'm giving them away anyway, you are welcome to them. There's a catch, of course - as much as I'd like to, I don't have the money to mail books all over the world. However, if you're local, you're welcome to come by and grab what you'd like. Just email me if you see a review of a book in which you're interested - if I have a copy, it's yours. Book bloggers - I'm open to swapping books via mail or IRL contact (if you live near me). Shoot me an email or leave me a comment and we'll set it up.

Authors - I know these books are like your children. Rest assured that even if I don't enjoy them, I always try to get them into the hands of other readers. Your babies are going to get the least amount of exposure sitting on my bookshelves, so I go out of my way (literally - my favorite library's about 10 miles away) to get them read. Promoting books and reading is extremely important to me. Don't fret - I've only trashed one book. So far.

How about the rest of you book bloggers? What are your secrets to getting the best, most sought-after ARCs? What do you do with your review books when you're finished with them? Inquiring minds want to know!

Oh, and if you're curious as to which titles I have in my hot little hands, check out the handy-dandy Google spreadsheet I made. I update it regularly, although I'm a tad bit behind at the moment.

Now that I've blogged twice in one day, I think I'm going to pay some attention to my very messy house. Of course, Catching Fire is just sitting here, begging me to pick it up ... I'm nothing if not obliging :)

Village Idiot's Fish-Out-Of-Water Tale: C'est Magnifique

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Do you have book prejudices? Are there certain genres you avoid because, even if you've never tried them, you just know they're not your thing? I definitely do. I stay away from anything science/tech-y, avoid chick lit, ignore high fantasy, and give travel memoirs a wide berth. At least I did. Then, I read I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) by Mark Greenside; now, I'm re-thinking my travel memoir avoidance. There might be something to this genre after all.


Greenside's tale begins with a girl, as all good stories do. The female in question is Kathryn, his poet girlfriend, who decides they should spend the summer in Europe. Brittany, to be exact; situated in the far west of France, it might as well be Finistère - The End of the World. Greenside is reluctant to say the least. Says the intrepid traveler, "I hate to fly and don't speak French. This isn't a good idea. I was in Paris in 1966, and they loathed me, and I don't think I've changed all that much" (3). Still, when Kathryn informs him she's rented the perfect summer cottage, that's the end of the argument. They go.

In the small Breton village where they settle, Greenside (l'American) stands out like, well, an American in France. His only saving grace is that he's not English. Otherwise, he's pretty obviously "an affront to the village, France, and humanity" (192). Kathryn's dream cottage turns out to be a filthy nightmare, "each room its own disaster" (30). But, somehow, what should be a miserable excuse for a summer, turns into a love affair. Not between Mark and Kathryn - they don't survive the experience - but between Mark and his new home. Through daily interactions with the villagers, he comes to understand (not exactly through words, since he still can't understand the language) that he's in a graceful place, where "the small things are large, a bonjour, ça va, a flower, a glass of water. It's a good way to live" (135).

Still, he never plans to actually live there live there. Yet, somehow, his formidable landlady convinces him to buy a house. When he has no money. How does this come about exactly? In a way that is wholly un-American and quintessentially French: it's all based on trust. The whole transaction befuddles the cynical Monsieur Greenside, who exclaims:

My dad was a lawyer -- a Philadelphia lawyer -- we were all taught never, ever, under any circumstances, with the possible exception of a birthday card, to sign anything without having it vetted by someone, preferably a lawyer, but at least a professional, definitely a Jew. And here I am surrounded by Christians -- Catholics -- initialing a document I can't read and don't understand, in a language I'll never master, the whole thing being explained and translated by the person I'm buying the house from. The only saving grace in this whole process is I don't have the money, so what's to lose? (114-15)

From buying baguettes at the local boulangerie to dealing with Breton contractors to blunders big and small, Greenside punctuates his travelogue with a healthy dose of humor. Even better, it's the humble, self-deprecating kind that makes you fall instantly in love with its bearer. His voice is lively, engaging and just funny. Where I expected a long, dull monologue about places I've never been and people I've never met, I got a colorful fish-out-of-water stale spun by a master storyteller. Rarely have I encountered a village idiot as entertaining as Monsieur l'American, Mark Greenside. Want my opinion of I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do)? C'est magnifique.

Grade: A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language

Thursday, September 03, 2009

An Official Unofficial, Not-Really-Official-At-All Mailbox Monday


This isn't an official Mailbox Monday for two reasons: (1) It isn't Monday and (2) Not all of these books actually came in the mail. Really, this is just a (very subtle, I know) way of bragging about the awesome books I've acquired lately. I'm so excited.

The worst thing about having these titles is that I can't read them. Not yet, anyway. I'm still in the middle of reading books for Elle's Reader's Jury Prize, which is the magazine's Best Books of the Year contest. I'm almost done with the non-fiction selections, but I've still got a total of 5 1/2 books to read for them by September 16. Funny thing is, after addressing Shannon Hale's complaints about bloggers, I keep hearing her voice in my head saying, "Are you choosing a winner based solely on its merits or are you just picking the ones you LIKE the best?" I'm currently torn between two novels, both of which I liked. One, however, is a grand, sweeping story that's impressive in scope; the other is less impressive, but more engaging. Which should be my choice for first place?

Okay, chew on that tidbit while I brag a little. Here are the incredible (seriously, I'm so excited to read them) books that entered my home (all on their own, I swear!) this week:

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs - Temperance Brennan is one of my favorite characters in crime fiction. I love how she is portrayed in Reichs' books; the Bones chick, on the other hand, drives me crazy. Read the books to find out what Tempe is all about. This is her latest caper, but you'll want to start with Deja Dead, the first in the series.

Where'd ya get it? I hate paying for books, but this one was 20% off at Borders, plus I used a $1 off coupon and $5 in Border Bucks. The cashier let me stack another coupon on top of that, although she complained, "With all the coupons and Borders Bucks being used today, I just don't know how we're going to make any money." To which, I replied, "Waaaaa!" Not really, but seriously, I wouldn't have been in the store if it wasn't for the discounts. So there.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - This one needs no introduction. Everyone's got it. So. Excited. To. Read. It.

Where'd ya get it? A month or so ago I did a review for which I was "paid" with an Amazon gift code. I pre-ordered Catching Fire. Since I also bought another book, I ended up shelling out a grand total of 37 cents. We have the Super Saver shipping, or whatever it's called, so I didn't even pay postage and handling. Ya gotta love that.

Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison - Remember how much I loved Morrison's first novel, Taken By Storm? She's working on a sequel, but Sing isn't it. This one's a stand alone, and several people have told me they like it better than TBS. I'm excited read this second novel.

Where'd ya get it? Okay, I don't actually have this one yet. Angela's supposed to drop the ARC off this week. She lives a couple miles from me, which is just cool.

Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani - If you read this blog regularly, you know I love me some Adriana Trigiani. This is her first YA novel. I'm curious to see what it's all about.

Where'd ya get it? This one actually did come through the mail. It's an ARC from Harper Teen.

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers - I've never read a book by Myers, although my son has been begging me to read Monster so that he can (I'm not sure it's appropriate for a 10 year old - opinions?). Can't wait to delve into both books.

Where'd ya get it? Another ARC from Harper Teen. Love them.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman - Everyone's reading this one. That's why I bought it. I'm a sheep - I admit it. I'm interested to see if it lives up to the hype.

Where'd ya get it? This is another one I bought with my (husband's) hard-earned money. I didn't even get a discount. Actually, I did have a $100 Cash Back check, but it hardly made a dent in my Costco bill. Let me tell ya, I cannot wait until my baby hits the 1-year mark and I can wean her from her very expensive formula habit. Anyway, Costco's book section doesn't have a lot of variety, but it has consistently low prices. It also has the best kiddie dinner in town - 2 very large slices of pizza for $1.25. Really, you can't beat that.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson - I still need to finish the Mistborn series, start the Alcatraz series and read every other thing this man has written. Despite the fact that I've slacked on his backlist, I'm a huge Sanderson fan. This one is a stand alone.

Where'd ya get it? Funny enough, I had this one in hand at Borders. I was so going to buy it, but prices on new hardcovers are ridiculous, so I put it back. Then, I saw that the folks at Phenix & Phenix were in charge of Sanderson's blog tour. Because I have no shame, I emailed his publicist and begged for a copy. I didn't hear back from her. I figured, "Oh, well, I tried." Then, lo and behold, what should appear on my doorstep but a beautiful, new copy of Warbreaker. I believe you can read this novel on the Internet - only, I prefer real, live books to the electronic kind. I'm still doing a happy happy joy joy dance over this one.

Hate me yet?

Concerning the object in the photo which is not a book ... well, I'm going to have to start mainlining the green (yellow?) stuff in order to read all of these. If I had stuck a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in the picture, it would have been a perfect "Wordless Wednesday" shot depicting my addictions. Ahem. Moving on ...

A funny: According to my husband (who put the kids to bed since I was at a church meeting - I'm the Beehive leader for those "in the know" - for the rest of you, it means I'm in charge of the 12-13-year-old girls at my church - another lady and I teach them on Sunday and supervise them at weekly activities. ANYWAY ...), our 4 year old tried out this line on God: "Dear Heavenly Father (only he pronounces it "fadder"), Please bless it to be Christmas tomorrow." Considering all the great books now in my possession, I think He came through in a big way. The 4 year old's still waiting for his prayer to be answered in Legos.

Since this post can't get any more random, I have to tell you about this morning's conversation with the 7 year old. Getting her ready for school is never easy - every morning, I have to pry the book out of her hands in order to get her to put her clothes on, comb her hair, brush her teeth (you can see how she gets around this in the picture above), etc. Today, she just about stepped into the shower, book in hand. Not for the first time, I informed her that "your book is not waterproof." Then, it occurred to me - why hasn't anyone invented waterproof books? For those of us who like to read in the bathtub, reclining on a floatie in the pool, or on the beach, wouldn't it make sense? I think it would. Just do me a favor - if you steal my idea, and make millions with waterproof books, just don't tell my daughter. Otherwise, I'll never get her out of the shower :)

For the two of you who are still reading, thanks for your patience. I'm a little gun shy on the reviews since I totally libeled an author on Tuesday. Yikes. Thank goodness she was so understanding. My current read - I'll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) by Mark Greenside - is a nice little travel memoir (that also happens to be hilarious). So, I should be safe on this one. Let's hope ...
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