Monday, November 30, 2009

Review: Poachers by Tom Franklin

Flannery O'Connor once said, "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic." This is nowhere more true than here in Alabama author Franklin's short story collection. I am, of course, a northern reader even if I am physically in the south and I want to call these stories both grotesque and realistic. Normally I am not a fan of short stories at all but when this book was pressed upon me with the assurance that it was fantastic, I could hardly turn such potential down. And while I am still not particularly fond of short stories in general, this was indeed a collection that challenged my assumptions about the form and left me satisfied without needing more for completion.

The stories are all interconnected in that they all take place in the same part of the Alabama countryside and backwoods and have a few overlapping characters. Franklin's introduction to his stories is impressive and sets the tone for everything that follows. His characters range from the eponymous poachers to a deadbeat alcoholic to a bookie and one of his marks to a drunken, neglectful husband and on and on. Each of the stories has a violence simmering close to the surface, eventually breaking through, devastating all in its wake. Franklin's characters aren't paricularly likable, living on the edge and over the bounds of society, choosing that which will bring about their own downfall. But at the same time, as a reader it is hard to look away from carnage so skillfully rendered. It's hard to say I enjoyed this collection but in some warped sense, I did just that. Franklin is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Southern Gothic writers, not to those who write of the charming, eccentrics here in the South-land but to those who drag up and expose the underbelly of morality and do so realistically and without flinching.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. A busy week all around, I read a bunch, reviewed some, and generally stayed on top of things for the most part. Amazing really! I even managed to buy a whole slew of books as gifts for my hapless young to find in their stockings a couple of weeks from now.

Books I completed this week are:

The Mistress by Susan Wiggs
The Dairy Queen by Allison Rushby
Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser
Apocalipstick by Sue Margolis
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Dracula Is Dead by Sheilah Kast and Jim Rosapepe
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Eliot's Banana by Heather Swain

Reviews posted this week:

Weekends at Bellevue
Divided Lives by Elsa Walsh
Meeting Mr. Wrong by Stephanie Snowe
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
Wicked Charms by Jayel Wylie
Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler
A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

Giveaway on the blog this week:

The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Girl From Mars by Julie Cohen
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James
Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Autumn in Scotland by Karen Ranney
Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

Monday Mailbox

Another week of being very good and having a rather forlorn mailbox for me. The good news is that I wasn't so good that it was empty of anything besides bills though. It's so delightful to win a contest to keep the mailbox from being the purveyor of doom and gloom (bill central), especially in this brief blip of time before Christmas cards come pouring in to keep the mailman busy. This past week's mailbox arrival:

Sex, Drugs and Gefilte Fish edited by Shana Liebman was a contest win from Kari at Five Borough Book Review.
How can you pass up such a title? And such an irreverent cover? I mean really: condoms, a hypodermic needle, pills, marajuana, handcuffs, and powder with a razor blade all artfully placed in a Passover plate. Best yet? This comes from The Heeb Storytelling Collection. I anticipate some really interesting stories out of this one.

Rebell Yell by Alice Randall was sent to me when I became a Facebook fan of BookPage. Cool, hey? The story of a first wife looking back at her late ex-husband's life in hopes of understanding him and who he became, especially for their son's sake, this promises to uncover lots about identity, family, and how each of us changes throughout our lives.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Marcia at The Printed Page and enjoy seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: Decorating

It's been a busy week here. Of course, there was the influx of family for Thanksgiving, which was preceded by a flurry of cooking and cleaning. More cooking than cleaning, I'm afraid. Then we all stuffed ourselves shamefully. (But I'm not a half bad cook so it was at least tasty gluttony: turkey, stuffing, squash, dried sweet corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry, green beans with almonds and dill, lemon and garlic spinach, rolls, chived yorkshire puddings, 2 pumpkin pies, cherry pie, and an apple crisp.) Once the tryptophan-induced coma lifted on Friday, while the others zoned out to the raucous cheers of yet more televised football, I decorated for Christmas. And I admit that in this, as in so much, I go a bit overboard. A few small pictures that by no means shows it all.

But when I am decorating (and yes, I realize the entire top of the tree is balder than a babies bottom--that just helps me know how tall the kids are, or in this case, are not, this year), as with any true bibliophile, I have Christmas books I set out to showcase. The collection as it stands right now includes:

The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza by David Shannon
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki
Letters From Father Santa by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

I can't figure out what happened to my copy of A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas but the collection would be incomplete without it so I'm on the hunt for it in my now emptied bins. Also, I need to dig out Truman Capote's Christmas Memories, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor and Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery and add the two of them to the pile that comes out every year to sit enticingly on the coffee table.

In addition to these much loved books, my poor children have to endure a mother who has advent calendars where the prize is to pull out a small, ornament book telling a portion of A Christmas Carol, which then gets hung on the already overcrowded tree. None of the stale chocolate goodness that other children find in their advent calendars! Just literary treats here, thank-you very much.

Of course, there are several Christmas-themed books I'm hoping to read for the first time this year as well but whether or not they find a permanent home in the close to my heart collection or not remains to be seen. So far the selections are: The Last Noel by Michael Malone, An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor, Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb, Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle (right before I re-gift this teen author collection to my own tween), and Christmas in Camelot by Brenda Jernigan. The latter is one of many Christmas-set romances I have sitting around here but I can only take so much holiday cheer in my reading before I turn into the Grinch.
Distinctly odd in a person with an appallingly large collection of decorations and festive books I'll admit, but I am nothing if not a contradiction in terms. Say, that's another book I need to pull off the general shelves and put in my permanent coffee table collection. Because really, who doesn't love the Grinch? Hmmmm. Wonder if there's a book with Heat Miser and Cold Miser in it or if I'll just have to watch the movie on permanent loop again this year.

Review: A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein

After opening with main character Pete Dizinoff directly addressing the reader from his altered circumstances: living over the garage in what used to be his son's apartment while his son and wife live in the family home just yards away, this novel conceals much of itself while only slowly unfolding its plot for the reader. Pete lets the reader know that he is facing malpractice charges and that his wife will be seeing a divorce attorney as soon as his professional fate has been decided but there is a tantalizing lack of information about why either of these things has been put into motion.

From this beginning, we are plunged back in time to the events that will lead to the unravelling of the Dizinoff family, Pete's reputation as a doctor, a lifelong friendship, and the very life that he spent so many years building. Pete reminisces about his college years and young married life, his and Elaine's friendship with the Sterns and the eventual much-wished for birth of son Alec. Then he jumps to the Stern's daughter Laura, ten years Alec's senior, and the terrible event that defines her life and cements her character in Pete's mind. So when she returns to town and captivates a now adult Alec, Pete finds himself incapable of moving past his fixed idea of her and so steps in to, in his mind, save his son. His obsession with this relationship causes him to make several poor choices, directly leading to his position at the start of the novel.

Throughout the narrative, Elaine has maintained that he sees things in black and white and that he must learn to be more forgiving of the shades of grey. But Pete pushes to understand and question Laura as no one else does and the reader will find sympathy wavering back and forth between characters who are all deeply flawed and imperfect. Each of them is complex and complete, even when witholding information. The book itself is compelling and addictive and the need to discover Pete's transgressions and Laura's unspeakable act drives the reader to keep turning pages. But the story is about so much more than Pete or Laura. It is about trust and forgiveness and the nature of friendship. I greedily gulped through the story itself, pausing only at the end, briefly disappointed in Laura's parting accusation for its gratuitousness. The story stood strongly without it. Will it help me from trying to interfere in my own childrens' lives even for their own good? Probably not, but it certainly does stand as a monolithic cautionary tale about such interventions. More than just a family struggle, this is a tautly written gem of a novel.

Thanks to the folks at Algonquin Books for sending me a review copy of this book.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review: Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler

It probably takes an odd duck to think that traveling to Antarctica would be simply amazing. I am that odd duck. I would love to one day visit this ice bound continent. And that's not likely to happen any time soon so reading about someone who did make that trip is next best. And if I'm an odd duck for thinking I'd love to go, Sara Wheeler is probably an even odder duck (or perhaps that should be odder penguin) for having gone.

The book is both a travel memoir and a history of man's famed and forgotten travels in the frozen south. Wheeler interweaves her own travels, planned and spur of the moment, through the icy continent, visiting scientific bases and outposts, learning about the realities of life on the ice now with excerpts from Scott and Aumundsen and Shackleton's journeys. The historical information is never overwhelming, instead adding dimension to the experiences that Wheeler herself has in her journeys through Antarctica. Both the modern day and historical travels are fascinating. Wheeler also spends much time describing the other people who live and work on the ice. All of them are clearly a breed apart and all are moved by their time on the ice.

This is more contemplative than many travelogues but it is no less descriptive than most for taking place in a landscape that is, on first impression, so uniform. Wheeler captures the hardships that plague life on the ice in vivid language but she also celebrates this still so unknown continent also. Wheeler's trip to the actual South Pole is merely one instance of her travels around and given no more importance than her other camp visits. Her final weeks, spent with only one artist companion, in a hut set aside for their creative endeavors offers a sense of peace and closure to the end of her journeyings. Readers with an interest in history and the Antarctic will enjoy this slow and thorough narrative of a summer (and part of a winter) in the south.

Saturday Shout-Out

On my travels through the blogging world, I find many books that pique my interest. I always add them to my wish list immediately but I tend to forget who deserves the blame credit for inspiring me to add them to my list (and to whom my husband would like to send the bill when I get around to actually buying them). So each Saturday I'm going to try and keep better track, link to my fellow book ferreter-outers (I know, not a word but useful nonetheless), and hopefully add to some of your wish lists too. This week I have been so consumed with cooking for Thanksgiving that I haven't had much blog reading time so the offering here is small. I will eventually get back to all the blogs piling up in my blog reader but for now, here's what I found last week.

A Most Improper Magick by Stpehanie Burgis was mentioned at Advance Booking.

What goodies have you added to your wish lists recently? Make your own list and leave a comment here so we can all see who has been a terrible influence inspiring you lately.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Lost Dog Giveaway

Today being Black Friday and all, some of you are probably out scouring the stores for the best possible deals for the special people on your holiday shopping lists. In honor of that crazy generosity (I personally am still tucked warm in my bed), I thought I would offer up a giveaway I was told I could have months ago and kept putting off to save for something special. And now's the time. Enter to win a gift for yourself during the season during which you are focused on others. It is always better to give than to receive. So I am going to give, with a little help from the always generous folks at Hatchette Books, and 5 of you lucky readers get to receive. Win. Win.

In case the totally appealing cover hasn't already convinced you to enter the draw, here's what amazon says about the book:

De Kretser (The Hamilton Case) presents an intimate and subtle look at Tom Loxley, a well-intentioned but solipsistic Henry James scholar and childless divorcĂ©, as he searches for his missing dog in the Australian bush. While the overarching story follows Tom's search during a little over a week in November 2001, flashbacks reveal Tom's infatuation with Nelly Zhang, an artist tainted by scandal—from her controversial paintings to the disappearance and presumed murder of her husband, Felix, a bond trader who got into some shady dealings. As Tom puts the finishing touches on his book about James and the uncanny and searches for his dog, de Kretser fleshes out Tom's obsession with Nelly—from the connection he feels to her incendiary paintings (one exhibition was dubbed Nelly's Nasties in the press) to the sleuthing about her past that he's done under scholarly pretenses. Things progress rapidly, with a few unexpected turns thrown in as Tom and Nelly get together, the murky circumstances surrounding Felix's disappearance are (somewhat) cleared up and the matter of the missing dog is settled. De Kretser's unadorned, direct sentences illustrate her characters' flaws and desires, and she does an admirable job of illuminating how life and art overlap in the 21st century.

The rules are pretty usual:

1. US and Canada only.
2. No PO boxes.
3. Leave a comment for an entry. Any entries without an e-mail address will be ignored.
4. Enter no later than Dec. 4 at midnight.
5. Winners drawn Dec. 5 will have until Dec. 8 to send me their physical addresses to be passed along to the Hatchette folks. Any unclaimed books after that date will be awarded to the next name drawn by

Good luck and happy entering!

Review: Wicked Charms by Jayel Wylie

In this medieval set romance, Aiden is a knight worthy and true (or so we're told) and he is to marry the king's sister after fulfilling one last errand: taking and securing the Scottish castle of an English lord killed on the Crusades. Standing in his way is the lord's betrothed, Evelyn, and their toddler son. Evelyn has been waiting in the castle for her fiance to come back to her and when she hears he's died, she is determined that his son should have the castle as his birthright, not that an illegitimate child had any birthright. Aiden storms onto the scene arrogant and demanding, making snap judgements and riding roughshod over everyone. And he takes one look at Evelyn and decides he'll keep her around for his pleasure just as long as it suits him but that ultimately she'll have to go because she'll throw a monkey wrench in his plans to marry the princess. Evelyn, for her part, plays the tease in an effort to secure Aiden and the castle. As the two play off of each other, they uncover the pasts that have made them who they are. In Evelyn's case, she was bartered to her fairly indifferent English lord by her brother-in-law at her nasty sister's urging. She had a youth devoid of love and so it is not surprising that she doesn't recognize what she finds with Aiden until almost too late. Aiden is fighting against his wizard heritage, which he knows has always shamed his father. But Aiden and Evelyn have an indescribable connection that stems from the magic that entwines them.

Neither the hero nor the heroine were hugely appealing and the magical aspects of the story were fairly sparse until the author needed to invoke them to move the plot to crisis point, a sort of hastily constructed deus ex machina. The story of Aiden and Evelyn coming to trust each other, despite their initial cold-blooded plans for seduction solely for pleasure's sake was a much more interesting plotline than the magical history by the castle. I wasn't wowed by this one but it was a decent enough read.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review: The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner

Lauren Durough is the only child of a fabulously wealthy and successful entreprenurial father. She has spent her whole life trying to live up to the family legend of success and ability. But she doesn't want to do everything the way that she imagines her father wants her to and so she enacts small moments of rebellion, choosing to go to a state school instead of Stanford. She lives in a dorm with a roommate instead of alone in a fancy condo. And she has now decided that she wants to forgo the allowance that has made her college life so easy so she applies for a job. But Lauren is not finished walking off the beaten path, applying for a job in which none of the other English majors is interested. And when she goes to Abigail's gracious home and hears that the job is to transcribe Abigail's distant relative's diary from the time of the Salem witch trials, she wants the job desperately.

The novel weaves the stories of Lauren, the elderly Abigail, and the long deceased Mercy together. Mercy's diary was probably the most interesting bit of the story but instead of choosing to portray it in the language and tone of the times, Meissner chose to have the diary be in modern language which made it hard to distinguish between Mercy's voice and Lauren's. There was no real legitimate argument for having Abigail ask Lauren to not only transcribe the diary but to transliterate it as well to make it accessible to a modern reader. If Abigail's intention was to have the diary published, an intention she disclaims, that might be one thing but as she doesn't there is no compelling reason to her request, thereby robbing the novel of some of its authenticity.

The love story between Mercy and John Peter is sweet and charming as portrayed in the diary and certainly is a foil to the long ago love of Abigail's that Lauren pushes to discover. But the story of Abigail's love and loss is abrupt and never fully fleshed out making it hard to compare it to the sacrifice that Mercy makes. Many of the plot threads in the story are not so much left dangling as ignored completely once the end of the story nears and that is a frustrating thing. I don't think the strived for parallels between all three of the women were as successful as I suspect they should have been. I didn't love the book, because of these flaws but I'm not sorry I read it. There was potential there and the nugget of the story was a good one that just didn't fully work.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Meeting Mr. Wrong by Stephanie Snowe

Stephanie Snowe was handed lemons and she's made it into lemonade, spiked lemonade, in this entertaining account of re-entering the dating world after her cheating husband left her while she was pregnant with twins. Each of the chapters in this short, quite funny book details another of Snowe's disastrous dates. The men she finds on the internet are hilarious in their complete awfulness. And their total unsuitability is only funnier given that Snowe herself was brutally honest in her description of herself in hopes that she would maybe find a nice man who didn't have any unreasonable requests.

Snowe is not really a stereotypical Southern belle, although it was gold when her mother suggested that she needed to cultivate an interest in NASCAR in order to find herself a man. She could, instead, start a successful career as a stand-up comic with her throw-away comments and sass. The tone of this book is conversational and chipper, snarky and entertaining. Reading this feels like you're sitting with Snowe and dishing the dirt on each dreadful date while you laugh and drink wine and laugh some more. It's hard to believe that someone endured all those bad dates and cheesy lines but I'm glad she did or we wouldn't have this light bit o' fun. An easy and quick read, this will please the chick lit set even if it is a memoir rather than fiction.

Stephanie Snowe is a North Carolina author.

A-Z Wednesday

Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter P.

I thought about doing a post for my all-time favorite book: Pride and Prejudice but decided that I should be at last a little bit unpredictable so I chose one of my favorite middle grade books of recent years instead. Pure Dead Magic by Debi Gliori is delightful good fun. Get it for your kids but make sure to read it yourself (and I guarantee that you'll buy the rest of the series just for the therapeutic laughter it inspires).

Here's what amazon says about the book: Welcome to StregaSchloss, the ancestral castle of the Scottish clan Strega-Borgia. Ignore the sign at the gate that reads, "Warning! Trespassers will be (a) served for breakfast, (b) turned into frogs, (c) forced to eat Brussels sprouts." Cross over the drawbridge, try not to get eaten by the crocodile in the moat, ring the bell, and don't flinch when the butler, Latch, drags open the heavy door and intones "You rang?" Meet the inhabitants: Titus, 12; his sister Pandora, 10; the baby, Damp; their Mary Poppins-like nanny, Mrs. McLachlan; the grim housemaid, Marie Bain; and down in the dungeon, the large untidy house pets--a yeti, a griffin, and a dragon. Signora Strega-Borgia is away at her witchcraft class; Signor Strega-Borgia has been kidnapped by his evil brother, and at the bottom of the freezer in the wine cellar is the ancestral grandmother, Strega-Nonna, wrapped in several layers of aluminum foil, waiting for a cure for old age to be discovered. Now get ready for some of the most deliciously bizarre and hilarious goings-on ever to grace a cyber-gothic-gangster fantasy. Pandora accidentally shrinks Damp with her mother's Disposawand and the tiny baby crawls into the computer modem and is whisked away into cyberspace; some spectacularly inefficient gangsters (including one in a rabbit suit) arrive and are up to no good; Titus sends his pet spider, Tarantella, into the Internet (mother of all webs) to find Damp; and Mrs. McLachlan comes to everybody's rescue in an uproarious finale to the most original fantasy in years.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women by Elsa Walsh

Walsh has chosen three American women on the cusp of major decisions in their lives to represent all women and the challenges facing them personally and professionally in the late nineties in the US. I have had this book on my shelf probably since the time about which Walsh was writing but never made the time to read it until now which is a shame.

In the introduction, Walsh details her belief that there are six different areas in which women need to find balance in their lives in order to be happy. Happiness is not having it all or balancing merely the personal and the professional but must also take into consideration a sense of self, a sense of place, and time for self in addition to the more obvious feelings about her job, relationship with a partner, and relationship with children.

To illustrate her point, Walsh followed and interviewed three succesful women over several years: Meredith Vieira, Rachael Worby, and Alison Estabrook. A chapter is devoted to each woman, her challenges, the roadblocks she faced in trying to balance family and work, and the resolution of the major decision facing her at the time of the interviews. Each of these three women are incredibly talented and from the outside they seem to have everything they could ever want. But each of them sacrifices something of herself in pursuit of the perfect life. Walsh's descriptions of the women is in depth and sympathetic. Some of the references are a bit dated given when the book was written. For instance, we know far more about Vieira's tv career now than when she agreed to be Walsh's subject. And a little bit of research will tell the reader that all of these women have gone on to become even more respected and celebrated than they were during their tenure as Walsh's interviewees.

Walsh offers no quick answers to the balance it takes to make a woman's divided life whole but her examination of these three women's lives highlights the difficulty everyone faces in trying to do so. This was a pretty easy and quick read with the interviews being straightforward narratives and only the introductory note to readers and the concluding chapter trying to tease out the deeper meanings in the particular stories. And interesting read, I'd be curious to know if women are still facing the challenges that were the hallmark struggles in this book.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Weekends at Bellevue by Julie Holland

Julie Holland spent nine years as a psychiatric doctor working the weekend night shift at Bellevue Hospital and this medical memoir is her recounting of those long years. She discusses some of the patients she saw, the therapy she herself underwent, her close friendship with a fellow doctor, and clashes with other members of the staff. It is fascinating to see what goes on behind the locked doors at Bellevue but it is equally interesting to see what Holland learned about herself during her nine years there. Obviously she detailed the more colorful patients and incidents as more mundane evenings probably wouldn't have made for particularly entrancing reading, at least long term. But in her reactions to patients and the medical system as it currently stands, she lets the reader into more of her own life than expected.

Holland pulls no punches and doesn't try to sugarcoat her confrontational style or hide her anger management challenges or minimize the abrasive, uncaring stances she was capable of taking during her stretch at Bellevue. While this doesn't make her a terribly sympathetic narrator, it does offer the perspective that she's a reliable and honest one. She doesn't mock the patients and while she learned to ignore the fact that she would be seeing these people over and over again until they finally fell through the cracks in the psychiatric medical system, she does have an air of caring about her which she tries very hard to tap into in her own therapy sessions. The odd assortment of people she saw, from the perfectly sane and lucid to the criminally insane were interesting to read about but fairly heartbreaking as well, given their likely outcomes in life.

The writing here is choppy and sometimes disjointed and her tale doesn't hold together as well as it could. The glossary in the back was helpful in terms of the plentiful acronyms and medical slang that Holland used to mimic the language of Bellevue's ER. But this same specialized language made it more difficult to fully sink into the book until quite far into the narrative. Some of the shifts between Holland's personal life and her public service in the ER were abrupt and roughly integrated but the fusing of the two topics was necessary to see that Holland wasn't just a cocky, uncaring doctor working to shove people through her ER as fast as possible. Instead, her own struggles show that she is human and working to conquer her foibles just as so many of the rest of us are. Julie Holland seems to have had something to prove in writing this book and while I don't know if she's proved it to herself or her intended audience, this was ultimately an interesting read for those of us outside the psychiatric community. People with an interest in psychiatry and or medical memoirs will generally enjoy this book.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for providing me with a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. Now, before you read on down, take a moment with me to do a happy dance. I not only finished one of the books that has been under the "bookmarks are still living in" section for weeks and weeks and possibly even months, but I am down to single digits in the number of books I still have left to review. Woohoo!!! Snoopy dance! Ok, dancing over. Procede with post reading. :-)

Books I completed this week are:

Autumn in Scotland by Karen Ranney
Seeing Things by Patti Hill
Eve's Ransom by George Gissing
Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
The Mistress by Susan Wiggs
Dracula Is Dead by Sheilah Kast and Jim Rosapepe
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Reviews posted this week:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
Lift by Rebecca O'Connor
100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair
The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

Monday Mailbox

Another week of being very good and having a rather forlorn mailbox for me. But what I got (not until Saturday, I might add, leaving me thinking I'd have no post at all) looks really good, doesn't it?! This past week's mailbox arrival:

When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge came from Joy at Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.
I have several of Shortridge's novels because they all sound so appealing but I have yet to read any of them. This one, about a young girl living in the woods with her vet father, and the police officer who is being pressed to intervene in their relatively happy way of life is simply enticing sounding.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Marcia at The Printed Page and enjoy seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon: Testing the boundaries

Last month was Banned Books Month and while I didn't weigh in with my opinion then, I have been busily putting my money where my mouth is this month, or at least testing the boundaries and resolve of the principal at my youngest child's school. A little background first. Last year, without sending a note home to warn anyone of his decision, the principal made an unusual announcement one morning. Twilight, the book, and all things associated with it, including clothing and accessories would no longer be allowed at school. Had he read the book and found it objectionable? I have no idea, because as mentioned, there was no note home explaining the action. And as a matter of fact, my neighbor's fourth grader happened to be wearing a Twilight shirt the morning of the announcement so she had to call home to her mother for a different shirt.

There ensued long discussions at the bus stop, amongst the mothers, discussing the action and to confirm that there had been no warning note home. And while I might have loathed reading Henry David Thoreau long ago in high school, I do still harbour a bit of the good ole civil disobedience tendency in me when I think there has been an injustice. For instance, long before I had kids, I heard that our town (in another state entirely from the one we are in now) had pulled several books off the library shelves after an outraged patron complained. I immediately forked over the money for Anne Rice's erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy in response. In that case, I will say not that I agreed with the patron but that I thought the books were poorly written (although some people surely find nipple clamps erotic, I don't, but more troubling was Rice's inability to use more than one description in the entire book--and I certainly don't find banal repetitious writing erotic either) and so I very much regretted my kneejerk response. I haven't learned from my mistakes though and so I immediately plotted a reading of Twilight that would be a bit in your face to the school. Because you see, I have gotten older and nastier and I am no longer content just to spend the money on a forbidden item. I have to rub it in. Won't I be just a delightful old lady once I reach that stage and age? So I decided that I would read Twilight on my volunteer shifts at school. Mwuhaha!
Now, before people get their knickers all in a knot, I am completely and totally okay with the school librarian choosing not to have Twilight in the school's library. It is, after all, an elementary school and the book's topic, themes, and reading level better suit it to middle school or high school libraries. And I know that school librarians make decisions about the suitability of books for their limited shelf space everyday. That is not what I'm protesting. What I am specifically huffed about is the fact that children were told that they were no longer allowed to bring their own copies into school to read during their silent class reading time. And yes, the principal enforcing this is the same one who is so adamant that reading logs be used school-wide. So in my head, he's all about making reading a terribly unpleasant activity for children and needs to see a bit of civil disobedience. I've already fired my salvo against reading logs (which the teacher forwarded to him) and now it's time to tackle the Twilight thing (although I concede that he loosened the restriction on clothing and accessories this year).

So I forsook the books I was reading and enjoying and trotted in to work my library shift with Twilight held against my chest, face-out, as I wandered through the office to the library. Once in the library, I set it on the desk face-up while I checked in the morning's returns. And then I picked it up, this book of Stephanie Meyers' that has caused so much kerfuffle, and started reading it. I set it down several times to check books out for classes and to straighten the shelves but most of my shift was spent in the pages of Twilight. A couple of teachers looked askance at it either sitting on the desk or in my hands and the assistant principal slowed way down as she passed me on her way to her office but not one person said one thing to me about the verboten book. My shift ended, I collected my things, checked out in the office and left. I think I heard a big sigh of relief from the building as the doors closed behind me. ;-)

Now, in my 2 hours there in between the actual work I had to do, I read over 100 pages of the book. So far it is a very quick read and has nothing even remotely objectionable in it besides the writing. Yes, my apologies to all the Twilight fans out there, but this is one pedestrian novel with mind-numbingly dreary writing to it. Obviously I'm not hooked. And that is going to make it all the worse for the school because I decided that I would *only* read it every other Monday when I am at the school for library. Not being terribly engaged in the story made this an easy decision (told you I'm getting nastier and more underhanded as I get older). So tomorrow, I will trot into the library with Twilight tucked in my arms again. And I will be as Thoreau and test the patience of the principal yet again. I can't remember how many pages the darn book is (I leave it in my car and can't be bothered to check right now) but I know it's long, which should mean I will be poking that nerve for a couple of months with my "only twice a month" library schedule. It may be poorly written, but it shouldn't be banned, especially if kids want to bring their own copies from home. I may be an irritant but I prefer to think of myself as a grain of sand in an oyster though I suspect the principal is starting to think I am more like a boil on the school's ass. Either way, I will have proved my point, don't you think?

Review: The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

This is a memoir in a graphic format. It tells the story of Sandell's discovery that her father was not the man he claimed he was all throughout her childhood. Sandell grew up idolizing her larger than life Argentinian father. He told wonderful stories about his exploits a a young man, he bragged about his extensive education, and name dropped all the famous people with whom he had come into contact. This enchanted and impressed his daughters. But then Sandell discovered that her beloved father had opened up credit cards in her name and never paid them off. And once she peeked behind the curtain, there was no turning back. Facing her father's false past meant also facing her own present and whom the hero worship of a lying narcissist had caused her to become.

The memoir is very honest and pulls no punches about the wrong decisions Sandell has made in her own life over the years. And it details the angst she felt about "outing" her father and betraying the secrecy that her mother and sisters preferred to exposure. It is a quick read, but one that I wanted more from than I found. Perhaps it is a function of the way the story was told in pictures and in text that made me feel it was just brushing the surface. I certainly don't feel as if I am qualified to judge it in terms of its graphic content nor how it marries the two mediums together. But as I felt the only other time I've dipped into a graphic novel/memoir, I wanted more textually and felt the pictures detracted from an in depth story. I would have loved to hear more about the stories her father told her that so captivated her and inspired so many people to tell her to write it down. Somehow I just didn't connect with this one. It was a quick and reasonable read but it just didn't draw me and keep me like I'd hoped.

Thanks to the folks at Hatchette Books for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen

Surreal, confusing, draining, stilted, hyperreality, posturing, self-consciously clever and ultimately unsatisfying. These are just some of the words that immediately come to mind as I sit here trying to articulate my feelings about this book. For a different reader, one who enjoys postmodernism or post-postmodernism, perhaps these words would add up to a more enjoyable reading experience than they did for me.

Superficially, the novel opens with psychiatrist Leo Liebenstein's assertion that his wife has been replaced with a simulacum, one who is so close to the original that only the most astute (his) observation could prove otherwise. Ostensibly, the reader is supposed to be clever enough to follow and accept his arguments as truth as well. And so Leo, after failing to convince this doppelganger to admit to her complicity in his real wife's disappearance, takes off on a mission to find the real Rema. His peripatetic journeyings are driven by signs he finds in the scientific (mind numbingly so) writings of meteorologist Tzvi Gal-Chen and by his disappeared pyschiatric patient Harvey, who believes that he controls the weather in his role as a secret agent.

The secondary characters are essentially incidental to the story, even Rema herself, as Leo's thoughts and feelings reign supreme here, even if the reader has determined that he is suffering from a mental illness (Capgras Syndrome for anyone curious enough to research it). Is this an appropriate conclusion on this reader's part? I can't say for certain but it made Leo slightly more sympathetic to me and so I had to go with it. Because honestly, aside from feeling that the main character was fairly delusional and therefore pitiable, I wasn't engaged by the story at all. It was, quite simply, tedious reading. I understood the line blurring going on between reality and perception and the juxtaposition between the scientific and the emotional but none of this questioning within the framework of a very slight story made for an appealing read. A book which isn't immediately accessible is not necessarily bad but it isn't automatically elevated into the pantheon of worthy and complex writing either, a place to which this particular book seems to aspire too graspingly. Obviously I didn't love this book but there certainly are loads of academicians and much higher brow reviewers who think it's all that and a bag of chips so look widely at the reviews before coming to any conclusions. As for me though, I'm sticking with my assessment: "The emperor's naked."

Thanks to Picador for sending me a review copy of this book.

Saturday Shout-Out

On my travels through the blogging world, I find many books that pique my interest. I always add them to my wish list immediately but I tend to forget who deserves the blame credit for inspiring me to add them to my list (and to whom my husband would like to send the bill when I get around to actually buying them). So each Saturday I'm going to try and keep better track, link to my fellow book ferreter-outers (I know, not a word but useful nonetheless), and hopefully add to some of your wish lists too.

I haven't been getting to other blogs as much as usual this week so I haven't added anything to the wishlist as a result. But if the rest of you found good stuff, by all means, leave a comment here so the rest of us can go and check it out.

What goodies have you added to your wish lists recently? Make your own list and leave a comment here so we can all see who has been a terrible influence inspiring you lately.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

This is a big, gorgeous, appealing mix of a book. It's an epistolary novel. It has recipes. It has pictures and doodles. In short, it is a beautifully designed, lovely feeling book. All of it wrapped up together should have equalled a book I'd rave over. And it was good, it just wasn't great.

Opening with childhood friends Lilly and Val reconnecting after years of silence, the friends start exchanging e-mails, thrilled to be speaking again. Until they have to face the issue that originally tore them apart, where it becomes obvious that each is still laboring under a cloud of hurt and recrimination and their versions of what destroyed their friendship in the first place are diametrically opposed. Before things get acrimonious between them again, they did recall fondly the Recipe Club they created as children whereby they sent each other letters and recipes on a regular basis.

The second part of the book takes the reader back to the beginnings of the Recipe Club and to the innocent times of their childhood. As they exchange letters through the years, their characters are revealed more fully as are their perceptions of their parents and others around them. The recipes included with the letters refer to something discussed in the letter or created as a reaction to an event. And the letters from these girls turning into young women continue on until the betrayal that is too big to be forgiven.

The third section of the book initially eschews the letter and e-mail format of the previous sections, instead using third person narration whereby Val discovers that Lilly's father has passed away. And this is the catalyst for a second reconnection between the women and the exposure of an explosive secret that changes everything. Lilly and Val must come to understand and forgive events far beyond their own control if they want to have any kind of relationship at all.

I love the premise of the book and the presentation but I thought the letters exchanged by the girls early on were a bit too sophisticated and in depth for their ages. I wrote letters to friends from the time I was in 3rd grade and saved all of their letters to me and the letters from Lilly and Val seem far more introspective and thoughtful than the letters my friends and I exchanged. The argument could certainly be made that Lilly and Val were just more sophisticated girls than my friends and I were but the fact that the letters never change in tone or point to emotional maturation on Lilly and Val's parts would then be incredibly troubling given their ages at the start of their Recipe Club.

The narrative arc of the story is well managed and the gaps in the narrative, while frustrating, would be true of a friendship based mainly on letters. As time went on in the story, the recipes did become more sophisticated, as would be expected. I flagged many of the recipes and they look really tasty. The theme of family and friendship and how they are created and maintained, how they inform and shape a person, and how they can break down is strong here. Having lost several very close friends over the years, I empathized with Lilly and Val's plight. But I had a tough time getting past Val's neediness and Lilly's superiority. Obviously this is a personal reaction to the characters as they are drawn and other readers might react entirely differently. I so wanted to be wowed by this book but was left vaguely disappointed and feeling just a little flat.

Thanks to Caitlin of FSB Associates for sending me a review copy of this book.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: 100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair

A novel with alternating narration, this is the story of Nalini and her children, Maya and Satchin, reluctant Indian immigrants to England. Starting with Maya's recall of their life in India before her handsome and charming father moved them to London, the novel progresses through the death of Maya's beloved Achan. Or at least her understanding of his death as created by Nalini in order to spare her children from the devastating knowledge that he has abandoned them, leaving them to fend for themselves without money in this foreign land. Because when Nalini takes over the narration, she admits that she has created out of whole cloth the story of his death, thinking this white lie is less terrible than the truth. And this is just the first of the shades of grey that teem through the pages of this novel.

Adrift and penniless in London, the family is taken in by the older sister of the young man/boy who delivered spices to Nalini in better times. And so they move to the East End of London, amongst so many other immigrants, while Nalini tries to eke out an existence for the three of them. And in time she not only finds her calling, in cooking spicy pickles to cure the problems people might not even know they possess, but she also falls in love again. But the white lie she has told her children still lurks in the background, lying in wait for the right moment to reveal itself.

There is much about families, families by blood and families created, and the sacrifices we each make for others, including the un- and under-appreciated sacrifices, in this novel. But the overarching theme, is, of course, that of honesty and the need for truth. Nalini's secrets, Maggie's secrets, and so many other secrets coursing through the narrative ultimately cause pain. But they also highlight the fact that life isn't lived in black and white and that intention is just as important in the telling of stories as the truth. Most importantly of all, regardless of the actual truth, it is most important to know the truth of yourself and who you are, as Maya finally comes to know in the end.

The novel is much less cheerful than the cover would indicate and far less about the differences between East and West but once you adjust your expectations accordingly, there is still much enjoyment to be found between these pages, especially for those who enjoy reading about the immigrant experience. There is some difficulty in separating the voices of Maya and Nalini, especially in the beginning of the novel but that becomes easier as the novel progresses. And it is well handled when the truth of Nalini's fib comes out, with each of the characters acting in character. Overall, this had a few problems structurally but I did enjoy it and would recommend it to those interested in Indian diaspora writing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review: Lift by Rebecca O'Connor

What do you think of when you think of falconry? In my head I see medieval knights atop warhorses with a raptor perched majestically on their chain mail clad arm. Obviously I have wild imagination issues. (Did people ever hunt with falcons from horseback? Probably not.) But even with my overactive imagination, I never really considered that people still practice falconry today. They do though, and author Rebecca O'Connor has written a beautiful memoir weaving falconry with her life.

The prologue opens with O'Connor and her peregrine out on a hunt. The falcon has injured a duck and O'Connor knows that she should put the duck out of its misery, as other professionals do, but she finds herself incapable of the quick, merciful pulling out of the duck's heart, wondering instead just who exactly she in relation to to this quick and impressive falcon, master, partner, or servant. From this somewhat grisly but introspective beginning, O'Connor peers into the very heart of her life, her love of birds, and the seductive appeal of the centuries old art of falconry.

Intertwined with the story of buying and training a peregrine, an act equal parts skill, luck, and trust, is the story of O'Connor's life with her falconer boyfriend, her somehwat estranged mother, and the grandfather who introduced her to and fostered her love of birds. While the chapters on the raising and training of Anakin were fascinating, the portions where O'Connor reflects on how her life is wrapped up in the majesty and religious experience of hunting with her bird are equally appealing. She has woven the threads of her life and relationships skillfully around and through the story of the frustrating and magnificent bird. Her descriptions of the natural world, the nature of prey and predator, and the delicate balance that exists between us all, human and animal, are lush and vivid, evocative and elusive, thoughtful and startlingly insightful.

It was lovely to be let into the world of this slight memoir and to examine the arc of relationships through the world of falconry. O'Connor's choice of working in concert with Anakin seems to mirror her own conscious choice to build a relationship with her mother. And although this metaphor could seem forced, it doesn't. It simply works and works beautifully. The writing is lyrical and yet somehow spare at the same time. The revealing nature of O'Connor's struggles with training Anakin let the reader into her life and head and also cause much self-reflection as well. This hypnotic glimpse into an ancient pastime will entrance more than just the falconry community. It should please anyone interested in memoirs.

Thanks to author Rebecca O'Connor for sending me a copy of the book for review.

A-Z Wednesday

Reading at the Beach is hosting A-Z Wednesday where bloggers take the time to highlight one book that starts with the letter of the day. This week is the letter O.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens is a book I have had for going on twenty years now. And I've never read it. Yes, I am aware how pitiful that is (and it's not the only one of that vintage still languishing unread on my tbr shelves either). I have always liked every Dickens book I've read, starting with Great Expectations when I was in 7th grade. I feel certain I've mentioned this before but the boy who played Pip in the short dramatization the class above us did was cute as a bug and I fell hard (for him and for the book). Wish I remembered his name so I could send him the bill for all the Dickens books I've acquired (and not read) since then. Of course, in AP English in high school, we read Bleak House, a book that was such a doorstopper that I sort of drifted along reading a page here and a page there and falling farther and farther behind. That is, until I noticed that I was in serious danger of doing poorly in my very favorite subject, at which point I curled up with the book one weekend and emerged from my room that Monday morning, having finished the entire thing, and thoroughly enjoyed it to boot. So obviously Dickens, no matter how much past experience tells me I'm going to enjoy it, requires a hook for me to crack the covers (not literally, I can't break spines, just can't). And apparently I haven't had the correct hook with this one for almost 20 years. But I intend to dive into it as soon as I finish this post. And you can quote me on that!

Here's what amazon says about the book: Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. The mood is set in the opening scene in which a riverman, Gaffer Hexam, and his daughter Lizzie troll the Thames searching for drowned men whose pockets Gaffer will rifle before turning the body over to the authorities. On this particular night Gaffer finds a corpse that is later identified as that of John Harmon, who was returning from abroad to claim a large fortune when he was apparently murdered and thrown into the river.

Harmon's death is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. It seems the fortune was left to the young man on the condition that he marry a girl he'd never met, Bella Wilfer. His death, however, brings a new heir onto the scene, Nicodemus Boffin, the kind-hearted but low-born assistant to Harmon's father. Boffin and his wife adopt young Bella, who is determined to marry money, and also hire a mysterious young secretary, John Rokesmith, who takes an uncommon interest in their ward. Not content with just one plot, Dickens throws in a secondary love story featuring the riverman's daughter, Lizzie Hexam; a dissolute young upper-class lawyer, Eugene Wrayburn; and his rival, the headmaster Bradley Headstone. Dark as the novel is, Dickens is careful to leaven it with secondary characters who are as funny as they are menacing--blackmailing Silas Wegg and his accomplice Mr. Venus, the avaricious Lammles, and self-centered Charlie Hexam. Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens's most satisfying novels, and a fitting denouement to his prolific career.

Now I'm off to investigate skullduggery. (Man I love that word!)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate

While Rebecca sits at her dying father's bedside, he confides in her the fact that she has a half-sister, the product of an affair he had when Rebecca was just a toddler herself. Then he directs her to a safe deposit box that contains letters written but never sent to her half-sister Joy on each of Joy's 26 birthdays. In her grief, Rebecca cannot wrap her brain around the idea of her father, who had always claimed her mother was the love of his life, having an affair and turning his back on both the pregnant woman he abandoned and the child they created. And so she decides to search out Joy, her only remaining family, in the picturesque town where it all happened. But Joy hasn't been daydreaming about her half-sister and she just wants Rebecca to go away. She has more than enough stress in her life without a long-lost sister showing up unannounced on her doorstep. So much for an instant bond of sisterhood.

While Rebecca tries to absorb (and overcome) Joy's reluctance to be drawn into Rebecca's life, she is also trying to sort out her feelings for her live-in boyfriend. She loves Michael's mother and cares for him but she just doesn't know if loving a future mother-in-law is enough on which to build a hypothetical future marriage. Michael is having trouble understanding Rebecca's need to be in Maine near Joy when he thinks she should come home to New York, him, and the paralegal job at his divorce mediation firm that she detests instead. Obviously communication issues abound between Rebecca and Michael. And that might be another of her reasons for staying in Maine.

As Rebecca tries to understand Joy's position on their shared father, she must also examine her own stagnant relationship with Michael and the promising relationship with Theo that seems to be developing in up there in Wicasset. But Rebecca isn't the only one examining the meanings of commitment, marriage, and loyalty. Joy runs a singles tour company whose best customers are the divorced wives of Wicasset and Rebecca, who would prefer to be a therapist who helps people reconcile than a paralegal who helps mediate divorces, steps in to try and help these entertainingly endearing women and then to help the couples who go on a Rocky Couples weekend also under the aegis of Joy's company. This variety of characters gives Senate the opportunity to showcase many different examples of marriage and commitment.

The plot lines here run seamlessly, all having equal importance and none overshadowing the others. The characters are all thoroughly interesting and unique and I found that I really liked and sympathized with both Rebecca and Joy. The one slightly unreal character was probably Theo in that he was just a little too good to be true but don't we all need a little of that kind of magical and omniscient person in our lives sometimes?

The writing itself flowed nicely and kept me turning the pages because I needed to see how the characters would all get to the right (and best) place in their lives. One of the conventions that helped suck me into the narrative so easily was Senate's use of Rebecca's father's letters to Joy. I was initially frustrated not to be able to read all of them in one fell swoop but the way they were spaced out just ended up enticing me all the more. And I do generally like the use of correspondence in novels.

This novel examines some pretty deep subjects in it and the characters don't come to any easy answers. Ultimately they must all decide what feels good and right to them and what they can and are willing to accept from a partner, just as in real life. This was definitely a feel good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I sat down with this and before I knew it, the book was finished in one short afternoon. It was definitely a book to devour greedily, even as it has left me a lot to think about post reading.

Be sure to check out the other blogs on this blog tour and see if they felt the same way about this book as I did:

Books, Movies & Chinese Food
Booking Mama
Frugal Plus
All About {n}
Brizmus Blogs Books
Psychotic State
Books Reviews by Buuklvr81
Starting Fresh
A Sea of Books
That’s A Novel Idea
Book Junkie
My Book Views
Drey’s Library
Me, My Book & the Couch
Just Another New Blog
One Person’s Journey Through A World of Books
Booksie’s Blog
Keep on Booking
My Life In Not So Many Words
Beth’s Book Review Blog
My Reading Room
My Book Addiction and More
Crazy For Books
Bella’s Novella
Blog Business World
Reading at the Beach
My Friend Amy
Book Magic
The Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object
So Many Books, So Little Time
Jeanne's Ramblings
Red Headed Book Child
Reading with Tequila
Books, Gardens, and Dogs
Jens Book Talk
My Own Little Corner of the World
Lit and Life
Entertainment Realm

Thanks so much to Sarah at Pocket Books for sending me the review copy of this book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

One of my book groups chose this for this month's book. When I heard what we would be reading, I wrinkled my nose and sighed. This was a book I intended to give a miss as it just didn't much interest me and had such potential for the treacle that was evident in Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook (a book I loathed). I can't begin to explain how glad I am that I was forced to read this. The group's discussion was more personal than focused on the book but the book is really well done and viscerally effecting.

Alice is a Harvard professor whose specialty is cognitive psychology, specifically in the way that we make langauge. She is well respected in her field and frequently off giving speeches at conferences. Her husband is also a Harvard professor and their children are grown and pursuing their own lives. So when Alice starts to forget small things, she chalks it up to stress, tiredness, or perhaps even menopause, knowing that her symptoms are indeed normal for any of these situations. But when she goes out for a run and gets lost in harvard Square, a place she has been in countless times on countless days, she knows that she should see a doctor, still hoping that she'll be told that everything is normal and knowing that it isn't.

As Alice starts down the path of a probably diagnosis of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, followed by genetic confirmation, Genova continues to have Alice herself narrate the story so the reader lives the denial, poignancy, and helplessness of the patient rather than the caregiver. And this decision adds to the power of the novel. Alice is a very intelligent woman. She knows exactly what she's losing, and it's more than her memories. It's the sense of herself and those things that make her uniquely Alice. In the early stages of the disease, she tells of her relationship with her grown children, and especially her youngest daughter, the family rebel. There is no suggestion that Alice has been the perfect mother, she details her failings honestly and believably, but it is the imperfect mother that they had whom each of her children wants to hold onto.

This is not a handbook on how to handle a loved one's descent into the fog of Alzheimer's. It is a powerful and heartbreaking look at the breakdown of the person, the family, and the relationships with outsiders that Alzheimer's strips from its victims. Alice's intention to leave this world before she can't answer her touchstone questions, the questions which define her sense of self is shattering, understandable, and begs the question of who a person is if those things that defined them, internally and externally are all gone.

Genova's novel is really exquisitely done. The characters are human, with the failings and frustrations of real people. And Alice is, of course, the central character, showing the reader, through the eyes of the afflicted, the great extent of this horrible disease. Each of the women in my book group who had had a family member affected by this disease, early onset or not was grateful for the insight into the mind of the sufferer, even when that insight was necessarily painful. And all of us admitted to sobbing in the end. This disease ravages so many, those with the diease and those caring for someone with the disease. It truly is a thief and Genova has shone a light on the great need for better understanding, more research, and ultimately a cure. Highly recommended.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?

This meme is hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog. I still have 10 reviews to write but since I finished several books this week, the fact that the outstanding review number has stayed static instead of climbing is actually rather a plus!

Books I completed this week are:

A Coventry Wedding by Becky Cochrane
East of the Sun by Julia Gregson
The Great Divide by Daniel Evan Weiss
The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James
Nobody's Baby But Mine bt Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon
Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Reviews posted this week:

Reed City Boy by Timothy James Bazzett
The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
Me, Chi and Bruce Lee by Brian Preston
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Pink Slip Party by Cara Lockwood

Monday Mailbox

As expected last week, this week found a much emptier mailbox for me. But what I lost in quantity, I made up for in quality. Oh, and I was rather unfortunately bad at the bookstore too so don't feel too badly for me about having such a lonely mailbox week (and please don't tell my husband about my lapse either). ;-) This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie came from Deb at Belle Bridge Books.
I really lurve Southern fiction. And I heart fiction about coming home. So fiction that is a Southern coming home? What's not to love? And double bonus that the author is a North Carolina author I can spotlight for my stop on the Literary Road Trip.

Also in my mailbox this week was a beautiful, handmade, ribbon and beaded bookmark from Laura at I'm Booking It. I can't begin to explain how much I love bookmarks so winning this from Laura was just fantastic. That it's totally gorgeous is just icing on the cake.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Marcia at The Printed Page and enjoy seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

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